The Carceral Gaze

We live and die under the carceral gaze. Obey, or be Punished.

We have done this to ourselves, in the name of progress, safety and civilization. I can only wonder at the folly we might be regarded with, if we ever make it so far as a species to recognize it.

The carceral gaze. The all seeing, all judging eye of the Zeitgeist, lingers heavy over all of us. Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is on camera.


Technofascism marches on.

War is Peace.

Information is Ownership.

Ignorance is Strength.

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz
July 2008, Eremo, Italy



The Open Access Movement

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto is Aaron Swartz’s legacy, and I believe it is time to ask what manner of society we shall be. I’ve been asking those sorts of questions, but I think it’s time we as a society did so. Will we be cruel, indifferent hoarders of information? Will we allow the promise of truly open innovation to collapse as we destroy the lives of geniuses like Aaron? Or will we rise to the challenge of rewriting the laws that govern information so that more of it is free?

Are we willing to end monopolies and find ways to benefit information generators at the same time?

Aaron’s intent and this entire story means to ask us this: Are we really willing to let archaic laws about types of information access take more lives?

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto asks us to reflect on these important questions.

My only hope is that we can heed this manifesto, and what it means for us all. I challenge you, embrace the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. Download it here. Or here.

Aaron Swartz: Persecuted Genius

Aaron Swartz: Persecuted Genius

Aaron Swartz: Persecuted Genius

I didn’t write yesterday. I don’t know why. I just didn’t. I don’t read the theses ahead of time, instead I take them one day at a time usually. Today I’m playing catch up again, and given their new context, these theses have taken on a whole meaning. So, forgive me, but I think this is relevant.
Just look at Number 11: People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
Allegedly, Aaron Swartz was arrested in 2011 for allegedly stealing over 4 million online documents from MIT and academic publishing repository JSTOR. Where does one even begin?
Aaron co-founded Reddit, created RSS and was deeply involved in opposition to attempts to SOPA and PIPA, the internet regulation and surveillance bills. He founded to combat internet censorship, and was a visionary who I would have loved tow work with. Not only that, he was funny.

Aaron Swartz: Ally


I dunno


Just…when you see someone like Aaron, and you believe the same things, hold the very same ideas, and proceed in the same direction…


It’s hard to lose someone like that…someone so in step with what you’re doing.

It’s like losing an iteration of your own philosophy, like the sudden extinguishing of something true.

It’s funny that CNN has taken liberally to prescribing Swartz as a depressive. Performing diligent propaganda duties that undermine the role that the DOJ”s Indictment obviously played. No one can say everything that can or should be said, especially in times of great peril and injustice. But it is my simple attempt to light a little vigil to the truth, and to keep his memory alive.


We’re living in an age where the bureaucrats have decided that innovation, sharing and free information are one of the greatest threats to the security of the world. In a world where the academy has locked itself in an echo chamber, helplessly enslaved to information gatekeeping, Aaron was a visionary. Allegedly.

Aaron was genius. Is genius. His work testified to the new possibilities of information liberation. While the entrepreneurs call for disruptive startups, geniuses like Aaron Swartz are systematically reviled and ground into a legal system that is soul-crushing, isolating, and full of arbitrary exercises of power. What could possibly be more disruptive than actual disruptions? Startup gurus are often mistaken by the way they play the numbers, or attract a following. When your tech causes shifts in politics, then you’ve earned the moniker, disruptive.
My only hope is that MIT, JSTOR and the entire academic community tell the DOJ where to stick it. Because without a strong response from academics, systematic abuses of copyright law will lead to witch hunts against information activists like Aaron.
12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

Aaron Swartz: Activist

The Defense’s expert witness speaks, and already citizens are outpacing the media in handling the information. There are no secrets.
Aaron allegedly acted on number 12 and was able to produce data liberation that encourages education, and fostering knowledge. That’s disruptive, it’s innovative, and it was persecuted.
The DOJ Is squarely responsible for a technological witch-hunt. Our networks know it, but whether they act will be the question.
Everything about information now depends more explicitly on its politics. Will the Academy, students, teachers and independent news media, citizens and everybody draw their line in the sand and call for enough?
One can only hope.
In Aaron’s Own Words:

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

In memoriam Aaron Swartz, the funny genius, the persecuted visionary, sending karma your way.

Update: The Family Has Spoken: “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement read. “Decisions made by officials in the U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
Update: Links
DOJ Persecuted Internet Activist Aaron Swartz Please watch the video at the end of this.
The Movement to Free American Case Law
The Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom Federal copyright persecution leads RSS co-author and anti-SOPA activist Aaron Swartz to kill himself

The Social Recovery Movement #95Thesis

 Thesis 9: These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

All I have to say about this is: This.

Markets? Whatever. Human organization has reached new and dizzying labyrinths of possibility that are both promising and scary.

I don’t even know where I got markets. Perhaps I’m not reading.

Networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange. A conversation is an exchange, and when done rightly, when real conversation is happening it’s a mutualism, a sharing. A good conversation happens when the ideas themselves become the hierarchy and the people both respect their grandeur. At least, if not, forgive me for being poetic.

Anyways, long story short: Occupy Sandy and the Sandy Recovery efforts as well as The Rolling Jubilee prove that activism is branching into new forms of consequential action. It started with conversation, it started with sharing ideas. That’s where it always begins, and without these massive conversations, we’d be less enriched, though we might not necessarily know it.

Globalization has brought about some seriously fucked up consequences, and we have a long way to go to undo the worst of it, but it has also brought a global community. Though, perhaps we won’t really know what lies ahead, without stopping to reflect on War and Peace in the Global Village.

The Strange Loop of Social Business

Thesis 8: In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

I probably shouldn’t be writing. Because I don’t want to write about the ways employees are speaking to each other, because it presumes that the employee class is a fixed permanence of the new economics.

So instead, I’m going to write about cats. Because everyone likes cats.

People do lots of talking about cats on the internet. In fact, there’s an entire #hastag dedicated to #Caturday. Sure, humans are sharing cats. And sharing cats is cool. So are bowties. But where is the meaning behind all the bowtie cats and angry cats and laugh out loud moments?

Cluetrain seems to think that it’s in the way we speak to each other, and I’ll grant that there’s even in this little circle of interlocutors a great deal of novelty to some still. But I grew up with international pen pals. I’m a child of the web forum, and a surfer of the multiculture.

Forgive my snide manner, but I just don’t see novelty here anymore. Sure, Google has built a better social network for my generation. And yes, there are more ways than ever to connect with others and things. But as I stated in my previous post, I just don’t get the novelty of it all. Maybe 20 years ago these things needed to be said, and maybe I’m ignorant for taking them for granted, but yes, we’re speaking in new ways. It’s a given.

I suppose now I can blather about what this means for markets, so here goes: Markets are becoming conversations while at the same time turning conversations into markets. Yes, the one thing is becoming the other becoming the other. What a Strange Loop.

Social media advertising and email marketing are just extensions of the human tendency since the invention of advertising, which is, to turn mediums into message. Every advertiser has the same tendency to stamp a medium, to place their mark on it, to in some measure privatize a part of the conversation.

However, given the rise of social mediums as a predominant force on the internet, marketers are trying to leverage community building as business. However, part of me doesn’t see where this is different than the tendency to privatize anything. Privatized conversations are a human fact, it’s why we have the whisper. Private conversation, is important, and we value custom, we like things to be “special,” or “one of a kind.” We prize dissimilarity even as much as we value conformity. Oh humans, what strange yet typical things we are.

In any case, I think one of the good things emerging from the markets becoming conversations is a propensity to try social models of business more readily, and a more open approach to the usefulness of such models. In fact, I have experimented with adding to the social business conversation. I tried a mashup of open source, co-operatives, and tech. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It didn’t really take off, but I tried, and that matters.

I’m not really too keen on answering much of anything, or writing anymore. Just enjoy some thoughts, and take it easy. I know I need to. Have a great night, and thanks for reading.

LinkedIn: Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchies #95Thesis

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy

Wait, what? Weren’t we just talking about markets and the internet and conversation? Where now all of a sudden does the ontology  of hyperlinks come into play. If you’ll remember last time, Johanna, Les, Myself and Jakob wrote these pieces dealing with thesis 5, namely: The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

How do we get from there to Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy? At face value, for the radical, this is all well and good. For the critical thinker this seems like a digital equalizer. But do hyperlinks actually subvert hierarchies? This article from SEOBOOK seems to posit that hyperlinks are a Google phenomenon in the new age of search. This then becomes tricky especially when it comes to books and their publishers producing digital content.

In fact another blogger has posited that hyperlinks do not in fact, subvert hierarchies.

I don’t agree with either. In fact, I’m going to side with Johanna’s previous post and say hyperlinks de facto are powerful, and can do much, but they are inherently politically apolitical. A hyperlink of Kim Kardashian selling milkshakes is as subversive as a coupon clipping from a newspaper. Although I admire the ambition and the optimism about redefining our spaces through digital content, let us remember that power structures are not so easily bested. In fact, just like television, hyperlinks can be used as promotional tools, for propaganda, and for disinformation.

I did some cursory reasearch on what others had said, and saw an interesting analysis that stated that hierarchies are just networks.

The ability of the internet to link to additional information – information which might exist beyond the formal hierarchy of organizational structure or published material from such an organization – acts as a means of subverting, or bypassing, formal hierarchies.

I mean, sure, we have examples of this, we have wikileaks, and anonymous, and other hacker groups. We have the Steubenville case, various information sources on that, and Local Leaks. We’re still witnessing the Arab Spring play out in Syria, Bahrain, and now Iraq. We have evidence on both sides of this little thesis. Here’s another example of how hyperlinks do subvert hierarchy.

Then there’s Barret Brown‘s case. Barrett faces charges for hyperlinking to stolen credit card data.

His Indictment states:

Brown transferred the hyperlink ‘’ from the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel called ‘#AnonOps’ to an IRC channel under Brown’s control called ‘#ProjectPM’… [B]y transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor Global Intelligence and the card holders.

The data linked to over 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information and authentication codes, but Brown himself had not compiled or categorized this information.

Yes, in case you didn’t know: Hyperlinking can get you into big trouble. So, here we find ourselves with two very different ends of a spectrum that prove both the truth and falsehood of the given thesis.

Instead of positing one over the other, or saying how awesome it is that fascism is creep-cropping into the way we internet, I’m going to instead try my best to rewrite the little thesis.

Johanna said:

The internet is as revolutionary a force for social change as the process of industrialization. And it is no longer new – it has, in fact, had over two decades of brutal, ruthless, ceaseless, overwhelming and subversive effect on the world we live in. It has ravaged, transformed, made inprofitable and in any other imaginable way made the practices that depended on a few, well ordered and well controlled monopoly medias that much harder to maintain. It has empowered people and disempowered elites, and will continue to do so until we no longer recognize the monopoly of communication we call the past.

This statement can be read in either one of two ways. It can either be read as a radical political statement amounting to a declaration of war on the old order, or as a matter of fact statement without any political underpinnings whatsoever.

There’s so much good in her post, but since we’re talking about hyperlinks, hierarchy and more, let’s just let her say this:

Either you see the internet as a threat, or as a set of useful tools for getting communication done. And it tends to be that this ‘either’ is very depending on your relation to the old monopolies. Either you think it’s a good thing that humans from all over the world suddenly have access to a very large percentage of the accumulated cultural heritage of the world, or you don’t.

Then there’s the counter-argument, that despite our best attempts to read revolutionary history into hyperlinking, we find ourselves dealing with an illusion. And just for good measure, here’s another interesting read.

Hyperlinks might in fact subvert hierarchy, but they just as readily do not. What can happen on the other side, is we find ourselves in intellectual ghettos, sequestered off into cubby holes where we read our preferred digest: The New Yorker, Gawker, The Atlantic, Alex Jones, The Gothamist and so on and so on.

So what are we to make of this unbridled power of hyperlinks and all their discontents?

I’d rewrite the thesis as follows: Hyperlinks Be.

There’s not much more we can or should say. Hyperlinks obviously have huge political implications, having links to pornography in a hacked email inbox can make or break a political campaign, sharing certain ones can land you in jail, sharing others can define you as astute, well informed or able to conduct extensive wide sweeping effective internet searches.

Maybe my agnosticism about the nature of hyperlinks is too much. But here’s a hyperlink to a social network that de facto maintains hierarchy by being an exclusively paid service. What about hyperlinks that promote propaganda, lies, disinformation, injustice, racism?

Hyperlinks, like markets, are conversations, which is why what they say matters. I suppose the more important question than whether or not hyperlinks are subversive is the ways in which hyperlinks lend themselves to politics one way or another. Hyperlinks like conversations happen in culture, and they say a lot about what we intend to say and who we intend to be.

Instead of a hard and fast proof of the binary creating thesis, let’s just ask a series of questions:

What sort of hyperlinks am I creating?

What are my links saying about me as a person?

Do my hyperlinks reflect the ethics and politics I hold? Why or why not?

What do my hyperlinks say about the culture I’m integrating with?

What sort of politics are my links promoting? Are they creating injustice, or are they spreading truth?

What could my links be doing to lend themselves to subverting injustices?

I’m just going to leave my rewrite of thesis 7 right here: Hyperlinks are extensions of ourselves and our politics, they have a lot to say about who we are.

And just for fun, here are some hyperlinks everyone should be exposed to:

The No Excuse List

The Gutenberg Project

Wired Magazine Creative Commons

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

Maybe with some clarity we no longer need to assert that Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchies.

Can You Hear Me Now? Good. #95Thesis

This is a #95Thesis post. You can find all of the posts here. This one is on the second revolution of the book. Enjoy.

Editor’s Note: You have to see this post that Johanna wrote. It’s epic.

The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. 

Yes, and as I mentioned before, it’s awesome. My fellow interlocutors are from various places across the globe.

The internet is indeed enabling new conversations. However, there are unwanted conversations creeping into the benign and benevolent conversations we’re having. I’m not going to spend yet another post bitching about surveillance, suffice it to say, it’s happening, to all of us, and these conversations are a side effect of the internet’s allowing us to have mass communications.

Is the internet really changing things? Yes.

How those changes will play out remains to be seen. Anonymous and other digital rights groups have mounted protests against various copyright bills, but still can’t seem to muster the power to turn back the tide of digital fascism. I said I wasn’t going to spend this post bitching about surveillance, so I won’t.

The internet has returned humans to the visual age once again. While we’ve been primarily auditory for thousands of years, the internet and the television and the book have shifted the way humans organize information. I won’t labor the point. Suffice it to say, read McLuhan.

I’d like to instead spend some time thinking about the content of the internet’s capacity for conversation and what it means moving forward. The future of human information will be predominantly visual. Youtube and other video media collect more and more hits each day, and while sound figures into the medium known as video, it does not necessarily define it. The reason this is important is because we are, in my opinion about to undergo another “revolution of the book.”


WTF is this?! Apparently, a blow to the spoken word as a medium, and a horrible branding campaign. Play with my V spot…seriously. So, as you can see, the internet makes for all sorts of interesting conversations, every single day.

Anyways, back to the revolution of the book. I think the internet has and continues to have drastic impact on our culture. 2013 is the year where mobile internet usage will outgrow traditional computer use. It’s been predicted, here. It’s not just that the internet is mobilizing previously impossible conversations, it’s doing so on the go. I’m in advertising and I read a lot of marketing blogs, so I see that really big companies are either taking hits or winning big from their ability to have a conversation. The Play with my V Spot ad proves how VOCO dun’ goofed.

But the rise of social media metrics goes in tandem with the whole idea of conversations becoming markets.

Three years ago, people said there was no social media ROI, even Forbes said so in August of last year. Others now are saying that there is, here and here. Now, the reason this is all very interesting is because what’s happening is that conversations themselves are being forcedly turned into markets. This is the very inverse of the markets imagined by the theses, the markets whose primary ontology is conversations. Social media ROI and social metrics are interesting to me because they show our innate trend to want to measure impact, voice and conversation, even if ultimately those desires are then beaten back into conformity with other agendas through normalization. I suppose it was pretty cool a few years ago, when you could just tweet all day and the suits hadn’t really a clue what was going on, only knowing they wanted a social presence.

What does all this have to do with the second revolution of the book? McLuhan in his Gutenberg Galaxy asserts that the printing press altered our consciousness and made us into beings primed for linear thinking. Such thinking began with the birth of the alphabet but was accelerated by the printing press and visual culture. The Printing press, he argues brought about the cultural predominance of the visual over the aural/oral. In a world where every word is written, each sound carrying a letter still predominantly, is a sound, a verbal conversation transmitted to page. Life after Gutenberg means that each sound is no longer predominantly a sound, but a symbol, the product of moving type, of glyphs whose primary function is now the page.

In this passage [Ivins] not only notes the ingraining of lineal, sequential habits, but, even more important, points out the visual homogenizing of experience of print culture, and the relegation of auditory and other sensuous complexity to the background. […] The technology and social effects of typography incline us to abstain from noting interplay and, as it were, “formal” causality, both in our inner and external lives. Print exists by virtue of the static separation of functions and fosters a mentality that gradually resists any but a separative and compartmentalizing or specialist outlook. – McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, pages 124-26

All that to say, the internet, represents another rise of the visual culture and the culture of the written word. The late 90’s and mid 2000’s rise of the blogger goes to show this too. What does the second revolution of the book look like? It is centralized on visualization, visuals, and logic. We see this already in data visualization set to be a major trend of 2013, and in the ways in which metrics, logic, analytics, ROI, and the culture of visual representation are spreading again. Video and mobile video consumption are growing and there are fears about running out of bandwidth on the internet.

Either way, the Internet is the Second Revolution of the Book, it is Gutenberg 2.0. What comes of it remains to be seen, but we’ve already had Anonymous and the Arab Spring.

The Medium is the Mass-Age #95Thesis

Is It Any Wonder People Are Afraid of Technology? Marshall McLuhan and Digital Technology

Many people have trouble accepting the idea that the medium is the message. But it’s a matter of integrity that the speaker and the spoken are in the moment of hearing one and the same. A lightbulb is a medium in its own right.

Thesis 5: People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice

A Medium according to Marshall McLuhan is “any extension of ourselves” has “psychic and social consequences” through “designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes.” This change is always considered noteworthy, and completely different from predecessors, even though related. Mediums are extensions of ourselves. Each new medium is both an extension of the self and also an amputation.

As I write these words, I am literally both the words, the human writing them, and the keyboard which they are used to develop themselves through.

It is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and forms of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium (McLuhan, 1995, p. 152).

To be human is to recognize and interact with other humans. I’ve touched on this before in posts about Being as Communion. This relational ontology is still at the core of how I conceive human being, and human doing. To exist humanly is to exist in the presence of other humans, in relation to the world we all share. This does not mean one cannot choose to be a hermit, or that hermitage makes one subhuman, but it does mean that at the core of humanity is a relational element without which one is not quite dealing with humans. It is why we consider things like solitary confinement a form of inhuman punishment.

Conversations and community are natural to humans, exchange in some ways is too. However, Corporate Intelligence is obscuring our ability to recognize this voice. People recognize each other, but analytics, data, surveillance, targeted advertising and the other new realities we have to live with are making that distinctive voice harder and harder to hear. They are stepping to those spheres and attempting an analog SQL injection, filling the gaps in our lives with snippets of purchased narrative. Defacing the content of our lives with insertions, filling the spaces and making it harder for recognition to take place.

Markets aren’t the only party responsible for this though. Racism is an older form of this very same process. Diffferent rhetoric, near identical praxis which breaks down as follows:   An identity (in this case, race) is rewritten in a new way, by a new narrator, who delineates new boundaries, identities, and associations allows. The ideological underpinning is the same: rewriting identity for various economic, social and cultural purposes, with economics at the fore. Once, for plantations; now, for advertising. Both for profit.

Markets in their natural state, as conversations perhaps* do not obscure the deep connections that we long for. In my last post I discussed the difference between thin and thick markets. I believe that this thesis is about that thick market connection I mentioned previously.

The obfuscation of this recognition of the human voice, as noise crawls into the spaces once shared by quiet voices, the listening that creeps into our lives through Siri, and smartphones in general, and the new standard of warrantless spying for anything and everything are rewriting the rules of interaction for some, and changing the way we handle information the entire planet over.  McLuhan said “Every new technology necessitates a new War” and while looking for some sources on that, I found this.

The ways in which we can understand each other ‘from the sound of this voice‘ are being obscured, made more incomprehensible. Surveillance and information fascism are creating the general anxiety of a generation that socially shares everything information related, but can’t seem to feel relevant, heard, or significant. Perhaps we feel instinctually what McLuhan has said. Perhaps we know that we’re losing ourselves.

We feel our conversations becoming markets, as markets look less and less like conversations. But what if we imagined another world? What does a world with markets where we recognize ourselves and each other really look like? The world we find ourselves in operates in ‘thin markets’. These thin markets aren’t conversations, in fact they’re barely markets at all.

Using only the immediate, the choices we’ve made, the trends we engage, they ignore the deep, communal nature of being. Perhaps, as we think about Being, markets, technology and fascism, it is best we try to delineate a path for thick markets, and business models that could do this. If we would dare to have a better world, perhaps it is time we admit our fear of technology, and confront the abuses along the way.

Please Check Out Les and Johanna and Jakob too.


Technology OH MY GOD McLuhan

*I emphasize perhaps, because I am not certain.

Information Wants to Be Free

You can find links to all the posts by all authors tackling these 95 theses and what they mean, according to their interpretations here.

There’s one @sushi_goat who wrote this little diddy that I think is worth reading, and I’m glad he’s entered the conversation. He even cited something I can’t wait to read. But the points he elucidated are very cogent, and he asked “Are Conversations also Markets?” An interesting question, and one I hadn’t touched since my fellow interlocutors had touched on advertising and its impacts. Anyways, do us all a favor and read this.

I feel the need to pull out of this question a fundamental aside before we can move on.

“Are Conversations also Markets?” Big Data seems to think so, yet the people say otherwise. Privacy concerns are the talk of anyone who’s watched things like targeted ads. Currently, I work in advertising, so I get to enjoy watching ethical dilemmas and their discontents, or occasionally get asked by a client how much we can know about the people engaging their website.

The question of whether conversations are markets is an important one. As we sit on the cusp of another digital spy bill that allows the government to engage in warrantless wiretapping at whim. Not only is the government interested in turning conversations into markets, they’re actively recruiting.

I need to get to thesis 4, but I thought to leave you with this little bit of questioning about what it means that markets have assumed the very inverse of the first thesis.

Anyways, thesis 4: “Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

It’s a bit wordy, but related to thesis three.

You’ll remember that based on the previous two, I stated “Markets among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

The author[s] of the theses then go on to say that when humans engage each other, often they are typically open. Human actions are full of agency. Going back to thesis one for this one, Markets are a body of text. They are a conversation, a locus where exchanges happen, primarily and often the exchange of ideas.

Agorism is rising among libertarians and other kinfolk of theirs who long for markets that aren’t defined by the commoditization of basic human necessities, and who long for markets that aren’t defined by a very thin market philosophy. They long for a more critical economics, which I think will be our century’s version of the Enlightment’s “more perfect union” By thin market philosophy, I do not mean a market in which the trade volume is low, but rather, a market defined only by trade volume in commodities. There are others who have quested after this.

The internet and digital services have shown that tangible goods are not the only means of organizing trade, or exchange. Open source communities have redefined sharing, markets, goods, services and so on ad infinitum. These markets are open, unconstrained, organic, in other words, they are communities. I don’t know that i can say much more, I’m actually very, very tired. But needless to say, check out this link on critical economics, and think seriously about the commodifcation of communities, and what it means to you.

Is there really no other way to live than in the thin world of markets defined by economic goods? I think we’re beginning to move past that, but there’s also a serious counter-cultural trend asserted by the major players in media. Media, is attempting to bring the everywhere else right onto the internet and make it as droll, fascist and asinine as every other ad filled place we go. From pay walls to censorship, it’s a cold, harsh internet, and I feel less safe. I’ve watched closely as the internet has gone from a wild and untamed free space into an increasingly commoditized exchange. Data aggregators have turned connection, community building into product. Social networks sell you, they sell me, and they see little wrong with this.

I guess I was finishing this post when the coffee kicked in so: What are thick economics?

I guess I’d define thin economics as a market philosophy concerned with the exchange of things. It is the market as defined by the over excesses built into capitalism. I gather the next quote from Jakob, the Sushi Goat:

…it is groups, and not individuals, which carry on exchange, make contracts, and are bound by obligations; the persons represented in the contracts are moral persons—clans, tribes, and families; the groups, or the chiefs as intermediaries for the groups, confront and oppose each other. Further, what they exchange is not exclusively goods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances, and feasts; and fairs in which the market is but one element and the circulation of wealth but one part of a wide and enduring contract.


The Gift: Form and Reason of Exchange in Archaic Societies – Mauss, Marcel

In late capitalism we’ve seen the corporation demolish all other affiliations, even affiliations to life itself. Leaks, corporate espionage, patent wars, etc., have made for a world where civics are less and less important. In fact, most of our civics happen in or as markets, and not the benevolently free kind. Every day, public education, city transit, prison policy, punishment, police work and police brutality march forward in the commons. They are not the only things there, but there they are, and increasingly, these various institutes, schools, hospitals, and more, have come under pressure to privatize.

This excessive focus on profits is a very thin market philosophy. It’s an economics devoid of culture, an algorithim without a real world to measure. It can calculate freight, or GDP, but it cannot contend with the essential humanity of the market.

Thick market philosophy contends with Mauss, and connects identity to economics in ways both inside and outside pure numerical exchange, and does so for the good of all involved. I’m not an idealist wishing for a granola laden toga party, but I am saying that thick market philosophy goes deeper than just the numbers on a billing sheet, or the invoices going in and out every day.

Thick markets are about communities in exchange, which brings us back to another point I made “The market isn’t autonomous, but rather what emerges from its participants.” A market is the conversation of a people. Markets aren’t the nebulous otherworld ethereal demi-gods that economists make them out to be with maxims like ‘the invisible hand,’ and the agnostic implications about the ethics thereof. Thick markets understand their place in the wider world, a place defined not only by trade and exchange, but by environment  community, identity and history. They understand the link between history, civics and the nature of exchanges. Thick markets are where civics and markets meet, without commodifying the commons, or turning citizens into products.

We have to listen and understand one another if we are going to participate and be in a conversation.” –Les

Increasingly the ability of both markets and the civic square to deliver the freedoms that both markets and civil rights are supposed to guarantee are under attack. This is no accident. And yet, information wants to be free.

Thesis Two and Three: Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice

In my previous post I started blogging through these theses.

The point being presented to us is: Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

When one shifts the word conversations back to markets, the point becomes immediately clear: “Markets among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

One can see my mutual interlocutors on thesis two here and here.

Thesis three from the project from other blogs is here and here.

I addressed point two in brief at the end of my first post, and thought to highlight them through my fellow interlocutors and their efforts.

Suffice it to say, in brief: Markets are a human medium, and as such, their control is not a nebulous divinity to which we ascribe wisdom and power. Markets are in fact the opposite, they are earthly, grounded in transactions, and conversations, and that as markets conduct themselves, they should do so with a human voice.

This is not to say economics is the locus of humanity, but we do an awful damned lot of trading, and to pretend that ethics and consumption have no interaction is silly. Even though most people don’t actively deny the link between ethics and purchase, we tend to avoid it. We tend to defer the impact of our economic choices, or cloak ourselves in the mask of the indignant when factory workers producing cheap goods die in fires.

Markets conducted in a human voice take stock of themselves and their participants, recognizing that the ethical choices made by such markets are in fact not only good for participants, but as we expand these examinations in the near future, they may even be good for business.

I’m no expert, but when I conduct business I have found anecdotally, that being honest and direct about expectations, trade offs and etcetera have made for better business for clients and myself.

When a market chooses to have ethics, it can put aside the binary bullshit of Left vs. Right and start to address real issues, like: What sort of market are we? What are we saying as a market? What sort of markets shall we be? What is our market’s purpose? What needs does this market meet? Who has access to the goods of this market?

Of course a market by itself cannot answer these questions. That’s silly. Which is why in the digital age we must accept the market as culture, and at the same time defer this market as it currently stands from being tomorrow’s culture through injections of rupture, deferral and cultural disobedience.

The entrepreneur calls this disruption, but often his disruptions are the self-same method of doing things, under the guise of a new idea, or product. Instead of being caught up in the glitter of such uselessly nebulous marketing artifacts, and their difficulties, let’s instead think honestly about rupture in the market that is a conversation.

On the one hand is a glorious utopia where everyone considers human rights, the environment and actually does things to make the market more human. On the other is that place which is nearer where we find ourselves, where the market uses its attempt at humanity to mask the barbarism that fuels it.

Neither is correct. We must always be wary of what the current market would assert is humanity, because that selfsame human voice is often the product of our own self-imposed ignorance, blindness, and greed.

Just because the defense market passes itself off as humanitarian, and for the safety of all, shall we accept this human voice? Shall we accept the cascading indifference that marks our sentiments about drone warfare, spy technology or the nano-weapons arms race? What do we do with all this seeming benevolence? And what about surveillance? Should we accept that Big Brother is a human market like all others? No.

Instead the market has to recognize its own humanity, (which is a clusterfuck since the market is never technically outside humanity, but we’ll get there down the line,) admittedly, this is the great and overwhelming challenge of our era.

Markets are a human medium, but what is their message?

Playing Catch-Up: The 95 Theses or Why Markets Matter

So, long story short, I’m gonna join this project I saw being conducted by some people I follow on Twitter. I do so alongside them.

The project, if I have my bearings right, is to elaborate on, consider and blog through these 95 theses

You should check them out. Here’s One. And here’s another. Anyways, today, I’ll be playing catch up, so in all likelihood, this post will be tl;dr.

Anyways, it is what it is. I’m not gonna labor on the first three, since I want you to read these other two posts here and here.

Thesis 1: Markets are conversations

This is a biggie. It’s the fundamental opening salvo in a radical redefinition of market structures outside the Left-Right Binary. Instead of setting out to focus on the economics, politics, or other aspects of markets, this thesis places markets where they happen: in culture.

In college I had this big suspicion of capitalism, and I still do and I’m not alone. I doubt that the culture it creates is the way to a better world, a more just world, or even a world where the most people have the most access to the most goods. But my fundamental disagreements with capitalism came from the place where I dealt with them the most: Culture. I opposed the culture of capitalism, and I still do. Capitalism, when it becomes the culture we find ourselves in, is a culture of death.

Blessed Pope John Paul II put it this way:

In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated.

Put quite simply, I disagree with Capitalism because I am a Christian. I’m not going to defend that position explicitly, shoudl anyone choose to comment on it. Because what I hope unfold through my readings of these theses, is a project that conveys what a personal hero of mine would call, ‘a better hope.’

To put it simply, my reading of the first thesis counters both Marx on the one hand, and Locke on the other.

Markets are Conversations

Put quite simply, I think this thesis takes McLuhan’s now obscured albeit famous maxim: The Medium is the Message and applies it wholeheartedly to economic frameworks.

To state that a market is a conversation is to collapse all the means of production and their effects into what’s really going on: people having conversations. It’s to ground Marxist theory in a medium that makes it available to the 21st century, and the medium is culture.

In the 21st century, the market is the medium, but as such it is also the message. It is why our right wing tends to hail democracy as equivalent with consumer choice. It is why liberty constitutes  not acts in civics, but acts in purchase, or the lack thereof. Driving to work the other day, I was reminiscing about how black Friday has eclipsed so many other things and come to symbolize the new American civics. On Black Friday, Americans exercise their central politics in their favorite sphere: consumption.

In the digital age, capitalism, as it exists, cannot help but be a culture. The medium, the market, is the message. In Egypt, it’s turned out to be a depressing sight for many Americans. The age of digital technology has brought us to a place where the ways in which we do things are communications about why we do that, and to what ends.

When we consider American imperialism, and its effects upon the rest of the world, what we see is the American market at talk. Lockheed Martin and Halliburton talk to Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and leverage that conversation to their own ends. In other words, we arrive at yet another famous maxim, “Few are guilty, all are responsible“. The market isn’t autonomous, but rather what emerges from its participants. Markets consist of human beings, which is why we can’t plead agnostic when it comes to their ethics. Which brings us to thesis two: Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

Markets are indeed conversations, which is why what they say matters. Because a market isn’t an abstract all powerful entity existing in some platonic otherness like the flying spaghetti monster, but an actual grounded system of interactions between differing agents. Which is I agree with market regulation, as does the Pope. Because a market without regulation is simply a culture willing to abstain from conscience, as is often the case even now.

I could go on at length about how if markets are conversations, the people controlling what markets say…the voice of the commons…hegemony, patriarchy and so on and so on, but I think I’ll just leave that there. There’s plenty more theses and I’ll always revisit these topics, maybe.


Editor’s Note: In my haste, I forgot to mention thesis two, I updated to reflect the change. Thanks for reading.