Friday, April 28, 2006

Alternative Freedom: documenting the war on culture

In the AlterNet Mix, Deanna Zandt wrote: "Free as in speech, not as in beer. Increasingly, the battle to control what culture is, does and where it goes is getting hotter in the U.S. At the forefront of this battle, fighting for the rights of independent artists and audiences is the Free Culture movement, a largely student-run collective organization. From their manifesto:

The mission of the Free Culture movement is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person -- and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.

A new documentary film featuring Lawrence Lessig, Richard Stallman, Danger Mouse and other "stars" of the movement has been released: "Alternative Freedom." The reviews are coming in strong and opening the eyes of this culture war beyond the somewhat geeky domains of developers and coders. [...] Check the movie blog regularly for more details."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Canadian Left at a crossroads

Since the election of Stephen Harper, the Canadian Left has been gloomy and anxious. According to the usual explanation, a right-wing wind is blowing across our country since the Conservative Party succeeded in retaking root in all the provinces. This conclusion is misleading! If the Right was opportunistic during the last federal elections, let's keep in mind that it only got 36% of the popular vote. The four other parties, by hammering on left themes, received the support of more than 60% of electors.

However, without any risk of error, we can note that the Left is strongly divided. This isn't surprising. For 20 years now, it has promoted a philosophy which exalts the differences between citizens. By doing so, it condoned the idea there isn't a united people to defend but an archipelago of tribes, all of them estranged from each other: women, ethnic and linguistic minorities, homosexuals, outcasts, prisoners, students. The Left embraced a client approach with as much as conviction as Wal-Mart but with far less competence.

This balkanization is the logical conclusion of a path started in the 1980s. Remember: the elites of the Left, which had always believed in the revolutionary potential of the working class, began to turn their backs on it. The thankless people didn't want the Revolution, whether it was televised or live. The era of the Left wanting to amend policies and institutions for the benefit of the working classes was over. It was the people itself that now needed to be changed without its knowledge. Adopting a therapeutic credo, the Left wanted to heal the people of its stereotypes and prejudices. The enemy was no longer the capitalist system nor the upper classes but the silent majority.

Abandoning the popular classes didn't cost the Canadian Left elections. They had already deserted it. It thus implemented a coalition based on feminism, multiculturalism, bilingualism and homosexualism. The Charter of Rights and Freedom, adopted by Prime Minister Trudeau in 1982, gave a quasi-religious sanction to tacit complicities that were being forged between partisans of these ideologies. Relatively well-funded militant organizations invested themselves in a grand mission: defend the Charter to the most remote regions of the country.

The preference given to struggling against discrimination, rather than wealth redistribution, translated a relinquishment of healthy materialism, which had always connected the Left to the common sense of ordinary people. Voting for the Left had always been a calculated risk but often rewarding in order to hopefully see one's economic situation improve itself. The turn towards a less materialistic philosophy was done, strangely, at a time when the popular classes were becoming more vulnerable at the economic level.

By neglecting the growing gaps in income between the social classes, the therapeutic Left opened a great breach the Right is now exploiting quite skillfully. The latter puts on a good smoke-and-mirrors show about economic opportunity improvement for the electorate. If we forbid the people from hoping for a more just redistribution of wealth, it can nonetheless hope that the party of economic growth while negotiate it a modest place under the sun.

Recent trends, however, makes us think that the Canadian Left could soon change face. The struggles of multiculturalism and feminism risk becoming antagonistic. Recent waves of immigration have spawned delicate debates on polygamy, female genital cutting and the sharia. Affirmative action policies are also losing their appeal, as they continue making breakthroughs in the labour market. Young women, in particular, are far more attached than their elders to notion of competition. Without a doubt, they will, in the near-future, favour a universalistic concept of equality. If the Left does not take this into account, it will pay dearly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Social Democracy in Second Life

I just joined the Second Life Social Democratic Faction (SDF) [SL Wiki entry] in the virtual world Second Life. Clearly a harbinger of victory for socialism in the virtual world. There are also smaller socialist groups in Second Life, but the SDF has the most members. They are also working on building a social democratic, collectively-owned and democratically-run city-state in SL called Neualtenburg.

Social Democrats Unite!

The Second Life Social Democratic Faction (SDF) has been created to unite and empower artisans of SL in their creative and political endeavors. Social democrats are reformists who are in favor of change through gradual reforms to the capitalist system. We uphold the concepts of equality and individual freedom and support moral capitalism. This group is dedicated to create change through focused political action.

The SDF differs from other in-world political affiliation groups in that it is a true political party. We seek to create, guide, and participate in SL governments through
- the creation of written works,
- the organization of public rallies, and
- the submission of candidates for office.

All avatars are equal and all deserve to be heard, even if their opinions differ from ours.

The SDF was created as a faction to counter the pressure politics of the Libertarian (Anarchist) party who was stifling free speech in the forums and using majority-rule logic to marginalize dissenting views.

In general we support:

- Private enterprise, but regulated to protect the interests of workers, consumers, and small enterprise.We believe in ethical capitalism and seek to remove parasitic wealth extraction from the economy through the creation of artisan cooperatives and the use of taxation and regulation to discourage unethical practices.

- Environmental protection. We seek to protect the beauty of the sims, maintain open space, and enhance the quality of builds in Second Life through the use of covenants and themes.

- Antixenophobic and nonfundamentalist legislations (pro-choice, antiracist, antihomophobic). We believe that all avatars are equal and have a right to be heard.

- A policy supporting multilateralism and compromise between factions.

...If you believe in the democratic process and the inalienable rights of all avatars, then join the SDF! The SDF allows open enrollment. Use "Find" in Second Life to search for "Social Democratic Faction" and join the group.

SDF Requirements

- Respect the intellectual property of artisans
- Collaborate and share with other artisans
- Generate income through creative contribution
- Avoid income generation through exploitation
- Eliminate class distinctions by sharing infrastructure
- Enjoy the delicious crispiness of tacos

...The SDF wants to implement a progressive tax on land transactions to remove the incentive for land speculation. This tax will only effect ...the top 1% of the land-trading population.

...We support political affiliation groups such as LLL and artisan cooperatives such as the RATE group.
Don't think real estate land barons in Second Life are a real issue? Check out this article in BusinessWeek on people making a living off of their real estate deals in Second Life.

On April 22 technoprogressive leader and entrepeneur Giulio Prisco held a public talk on Transhumanism simultaneously in a Barcelona gallery and at his MetaXLR8 conference facility in Second Life. See his excellent article about the future evolution of virtual worlds and related articles by George Dvorsky and Jamais Cascio.

This stuff really does appear to be taking off. Check out the virtual world stats site which tracks the subscription histories and marketshare of all the MMOGs since the mid 1990s. Fascinating stuff. The exponential growth rate of MMOGs is straight out of Kurzweil.

Looks like every atom in the solar system will be a part of World of Warcraft by 2050. S/he has a recent market analysis here:

For those interested in a technoprogressive political mission in MMOGs I also suggest a read or listen of Cory Doctorow's "Anda's Game" [read] [listen] which is a very inspiring critique/re-imagining of MMOG economic exploitation and citizenship.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Asexuals Unite!?

"In a flurry of media attention that began with the March 24 airing of a segment on "20/20," Cox and other Asexuality Visibility and Education Network members have appeared on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC's "The Situation" with Tucker Carlson to make the case that asexuality is as valid, normal and healthy as heterosexuality and homosexuality. They've booked engagements at universities and conferences. The exposure has brought hundreds of new members to the 8,000-strong network.

"Sexuality is like any other activity," says David Jay, AVEN's 23-year-old founder. "There are people for whom skydiving, chocolate cake and soccer are their world. But some people don't like skydiving, chocolate cake or soccer. There's no reason to focus your energy and attention on something you feel no reason to do anything about."

Asexuality is not celibacy, abstinence or escapism, Jay says. "Whatever sexual orientation is, it works like that. It's not something we choose. It's something we intrinsically feel."

But questions remain -- big questions. Mainly: "Are you sure you're not gay?""(AlterNet)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How societies choose to fail or succeed

"[Terence McNally:] One of the things I noticed in several of the cases is that during good times when everybody has plenty to eat, the political and religious elites fatten up, but when hard times hit, people seem less willing to indulge the ruling class's power trips. Where do you think we are today?

[Jared Diamond:] As I came toward the end of work on my book [Collapse], I asked myself what are the deep lessons? I realized that in successful societies the governing elite could not or did not insulate themselves from the problems of the rest of society. They suffered along with everybody else, and so were motivated to solve the problems.

You can then ask yourself, in the United States today, are our elites suffering the problems of the rest of society? Within the last 10 years we've had an increasing phenomena of what's called the "gated community" in which rich people do their very best to insulate themselves. Instead of worrying about the water supply, they drink bottled water. Instead of worrying about the public police force they've got their private security guards. Their children don't go to public schools. They're not worried about the social security system because they've got private pensions. They're not worried about Medicare because they've got private health insurance. That is a blueprint for trouble.

The subtitle of the book is "how societies choose to fail or succeed" -- what are the choices we need to make?

For the United States the two overarching things would be for our elite not to think that they can save themselves while everybody else goes down the tubes. The elite have to think long term about the rest of American society and they have to think long term about the other societies in the world.

The United States can't insulate itself from the problems of remote, ravaged countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, because nowadays remote countries have ways of creating problems for us. They can send terrorists, they can unconsciously send emerging diseases, they can send unstoppable waves of immigration.

The other broad issue is reappraising deeply set values. Among past societies the ones that succeeded were ones that were willing to undertake painful reappraisals as Japan did with the Maji restoration, and as Europe has in the past 50 years in getting away from nationalistic states that have caused so much misery." (AlterNet)