IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > Economic > Contributors > Piero Scaruffi
We Are All Pirates
piero scaruffi   Jan 25, 2012   piero scaruffi  

When the Soviet Union divided Berlin in two, US president John Kennedy went to Berlin and shouted “We are all Berliners.” Now that another evil empire has divided the World Wide Web into good and bad websites by shutting down Megaupload, the motto should be “We are all Megaupload users!” even the ones who never used it and don’t even know what exactly it is (was).

This comes at the same time that the government of the USA is planning to shut down websites at will, based on two anti-piracy laws (named SOPA and PIPA) that have been sponsored by the big entertainment companies (corporations for which, admittedly, i feel absolutely no admiration, and that cause the world to be a worse place than it would be without them).


Wikipedia, Google and other popular websites are complaining that those laws severely alter the free nature of the Web. This is precisely what the entertainment industry wants, and it never made a mystery of it: it wants total control of what you can see (their products) and of what you can do (buy those products).  


Unions representing 182,000 actors, directors and assorted Hollywood staff backed the proposed laws: your children and grandchildren will live in the world that you created, and they won’t be grateful for it. 
Virtually nobody dares to talk about who are the real pirates. Take a look at this bio that has been on the Warner website for several years: this is a carbon copy of my bio on the Deftones.

They scientifically removed the copyright line and the name of the real author. This has happened countless times: millions of us have been robbed by these corporate thieves. Warner never responded to my emails, and never will: they know that i cannot afford to hire an attorney. On the other hand, if a teenager downloads some of the garbage that they sell, they do have plenty of attorneys and can bribe plenty of politicians to get that teenager in jail for the rest of her/his life. Who’s the real scumbag in this picture? The corporations that routinely steal, terrorize and bribe, or the penniless teenager who is forced by their marketing pressure to watch a lousy movie and ends up downloading it where s/he can find it for free?


Note that these Hollywood corporations who want to shut down websites at will are the same people who promote violence, rape, drugs and all sorts of amoral behavior in their movies and songs. However, when it comes to cashing in the revenues, they label as “amoral” the behavior of anyone infringing their copyrights. In other words, they hold the copyright law as more important than the whole nightmare of rapists, thugs, junkies and mass murderers that their stinking blockbusters and hits contribute to create in every high school of the world.


Even on purely economic terms, i am not sure who would benefit from these “anti-piracy” laws. There are thousands of independent musicians whose work has spread worldwide thanks to what is, technically speaking, illegal file-sharing. Their work would be known only by a handful of people if everybody, from Japan to Brazil, had to pay for their CDs. I wonder if anyone has done an accurate study: how much did an independent musician earn in the days when his music was only known through magazine coverage and live shows, and how much does a musician earn in the days when his main income does not come from selling CDs but from being invited to countless music-related events because file sharing made him more famous than he would have been in the old days? I suspect that someone at the major music corporations knows this and fears the power that file sharing has to market independent musicians instead of their lousy pop stars.


The government of mainland China is certainly watching amused: wasn’t China the evil country that blocked websites at will? It is time that the world comes up with an alternative to the Internet. 
Meanwhile, let’s download and store somewhere else as much content as we can before they shut everything down and leave us only the choice to listen to the most stupid pop star around and watch the most ridiculous movies ever made. That’s their ideal world: you are just a consumer, just buy their garbage and shut up.


There is another way to look at this story. If you (whether a conservative bigot or a liberal intellectual), think like me that their garbage is worth nothing, and in fact, even a danger to our society (either because it promotes amoral behavior or because it degrades culture), then you almost have the moral obligation to do anything you can to damage their business plan. Hence let us rejoice if they indeed lose money out of the Web. Dear entertainment industry, if you go bankrupt, i would personally come and dance on your corporate graves. We do miss Megaupload (even those who never used it) but we will NOT miss you.


In fact, i would propose that we simply kick out the major labels and major studios from the Internet. The Internet was doing just fine before they arrived. Let simply band any music and any film from the major labels and the major studios, and then, once they are completely out of the Internet, let’s ban any reproduction of their products. Let the Internet be completely free of any reference of any kind to the music and the films of the major entertainment corporations. That solves the problem, doesn’t it?


We know who the real enemy is. We know where to find it. We don’t really know how to fight it because it is so much more powerful than us and their armies of attorneys and lobbyists can easily throw us in jail, but we will find ways. You can throw in jail one person one time, but you cannot throw in jail all people all the time.


We are all pirates, and proud of it.

piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who has written extensively about a wealth of topics, ranging from cognitive science to music.



COMMENTS

Great article, Piero. I am a pirate, and proud of it.

The U.S. Pirate party has just released its first book, No Safe Harbor:
http://us.pirate.is/archives/60
http://www.nosafeharbor.com/

The essay THE WORST PART OF CENSORSHIP IS [THIS PHRASE HAS BEEN SEIZED BY ICE] by Ryan Moffitt says it all about the “entertainment industry”:

An industry that has to suspend civil liberties to make money is an industry the world needs to be without.

The book has menu good essays, including one by IEET Senior Fellow Bill Bainbridge, as well as Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lesssig and many others.

Will let someone else comment on your piece, but, though not to be a simpering fanboy, your website is my favorite, esp. the music reviews (for starters, if you give Uncle Meat a ‘9’, then you know “poprock” - or whatever someone might want to label the genre).

There was an interesting talk on Ted talks about how Youtube manages copyright. They point out that having people do cover versions etc without paying royalties actually makes money for the owners of the songs. This is a reality that too many of the big companies don’t get. For them making money is about control and the idea of losing control is just to foreign for them to deal with. There are an increasing number of independent companies that are going the other way and the corporate giants will eventually crumble because no one will care about them any more.

Also, musicians ought to want to be artists because they have talent, not so much (as is frequently the case) because they want to be onstage wearing glam outfits, with fancy instruments, and for the big acts, sensational choreography. The situation is better, though, than in the ‘80s when Big Hair, small talent, ruled.
Personally, I don’t mind it; yet it’s not something you want more than once in a blue moon. Lady GaGa is worth seeing in concert once- but purchasing her music is not appealing; however if it is to be considered entertainment rather than music, and doesn’t beg to be considered art, then no problem.

Not to forget, electronics are often used to hide lack of talent.

It is up to each of us to oppose any potential obstructions to freedoms and restrictions to Internet access. The Internet does not belong to any Corps. Organisations or governments, it belongs to humans collectively, (humanity).

“The Internet is a Human Right! Vinton G. Cerf is Mistaken”

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/keith20120107


As far as copyright ethics is concerned, I am of the mind that “artistic” copyright should belong to the author/artist for some enduring period of time, (their mortal life?) Which I think is currently 100 years for an author, and may sound a little extreme is this modern era, and perhaps may be up for review? However, I feel artists and authors are unique and their unique works should be protected against plagiarism and theft in some manner, (unless they choose otherwise)?

“Google Books”

“The initiative has been hailed for its potential to offer unprecedented access to what may become the largest online corpus of human knowledge and promoting the democratization of knowledge, but it has also been criticized for potential copyright violations”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Books


“Google Books - Amended Settlement Agreement (in English)”

http://www.googlebooksettlement.com/agreement.html

Where innovation, ingenuity and ideas applied to industry and the betterment and progress of humanity are concerned, I feel there is a need to both reward and value the contributions of hard working peoples, but there should be no ultimate copyright on ideas that benefit all humans and the world? Therefore copyright periods should be limited to some greater extent?

For example, copyright on software apps should be limited to a life-span and practicable period, (usefulness already limits the copyright worthy for such works, old software is hardly useful after only several years). This limits not only the powers of big corps. to buy out, pursue, (hostile take-overs), and hold onto patents and copyrights, (and thus eroding their abuse of corporate powers and position), it should help promote even greater innovation supported by continued reward and merit?

Shareware, trial software and other methods have proven a great success in rewarding and protecting the hard works of innovators, via a free market ideal and use of the Internet and widespread access. This is a provider and potential for individual enterprise and innovation in a future of greater mass unemployment?

The era has changed for music copyright ownership, which seems to lie mostly in the hands of corps and big music companies for no good reason. Where this may have been acceptable in the past when large investment, promotion and industry was required for the success or artists, the Internet has changed this dramatically and made the life and work of big music companies redundant? Why should they be permitted to buy and hold onto the artistic works of individuals for no other reason but to pursue continued and long-term profit?


“The first album from indie band Arctic Monkeys has become the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was released on 23 January and has sold more than 360,000 copies.

Internet

He added: “In the space of just a few weeks the Arctic Monkeys have gone from being relative newcomers to becoming a household name.”

Arctic Monkeys built up their fan base on the internet, after demo CDs they handed out at gigs in 2003 were put on the web for other people to hear.

They were eventually signed by independent record label Domino Records.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4660394.stm


Downloads available here
http://www.arctic-monkeys.com/

Listen to the Arctic Monkeys here
http://www.last.fm/music/Arctic+Monkeys

 

“I feel artists and authors are unique”

They may be uniquely untalented as well.
To say the least, the market is saturated with product.
Has music gone anywhere in decades? don’t think so. Today it is like asking for a song, and 10,000 musician/songwriters stand up to say “listen to me, listen to my ‘art’ .”
I don’t care diddly about intellectual property rights, the ‘artists’ of course do have their rights; however litigation? what a waste.

“Has music gone anywhere in decades?”

Well perhaps popular music does not really progress anywhere? Instruments are mostly the same, strings and keyboards and drums still reign supreme. And the 80’s did have its virtuoso players despite all the glam?

The Arctic Monkeys, like most UK indie bands are quite retrospective, nothing flash, its the lyrics that count, (and a sense of timing and ability to sing in key). Check ‘em out you may just like them?

I say good luck to anyone that has integrity, tenacity, a love for music and puts in effort to get some place, and the Internet can help them get at least some reward for their efforts?

Authors deserve to have their hard work and efforts protected don’t they? Painters and sculptors are a strange bunch, and have always been keen to sell off anything they produce asap, so they can move on to the next expression of self?

In the future I guess we may well be listening to Krell music, if we don’t nuke everything first?

If it’s true that the big entertainment labels are behaving like corporate thugs, then it’s only like any other industry where there are significant economies of scale. So let’s not get things out of perspective. It’s just one more example of concentration, and subsequent misuse, of power.

Of course market concentration has its advantages as well. Big corporations (in this case art and music) are able to sell products that people are willing to buy more cheaply than smaller ones. That they then abuse that by shutting smaller companies and behaving like monopolists is deplorable, but it no way restricted to the entertainment industry. That’s why we have anti-trust laws.

I also question the apparent assumption that small artist music is necessarily “better” (whatever the hell that means), or less culturally harmful, than that promoted by the big labels. Where is the evidence for this? All genres started small, right? Including gangsta rap.

My guess is that the music scene is better off, not worse off, than it would be without the big labels. We just need to make sure they are properly regulated, and are not allowed to draft laws that suit their own interests and nobody else’s. Again, this is nothing unique to the entertainment industry.

By the way, I don’t really see the big problem with shutting down a website that engages in illegal activity. We may not like the law in this case, but are we seriously saying the Internet should be completely unregulated? That would be stupid.

“but are we seriously saying the Internet should be completely unregulated? That would be stupid.”

Right yet again, Pete. Ethics to one side, legalism invariably comes into play. The most obvious example is that child porn is not going to play in Peoria or Brussels and the citizens of Brussels and Peoria vote and pay taxes, so though they may not like big government they will unhesitatingly utilize big government to do what they want big government to do.

“Instruments are mostly the same, strings and keyboards and drums still reign supreme. And the 80’s did have its virtuoso players despite all the glam?”

The ‘80s were no worse than the ‘70s albeit such is damning with faint praise.
Only thing I really appreciate about the ‘60s is its music, from ‘64 to ‘68 *poprock* did move quickly; afterwards it went slowly nowhere. IMO what happened was after ‘Rubber Soul’ and other lesser-known albums, artists had to try harder. Optimistically, if they did try harder perhaps they can be considered artists. John McLaughlin the guitarist recognised why the music biz hasn’t done so well: the “hamburger mentality” of music corporations large & small—Pete is correct size does not matter (no jokes please) the quality of the music—what music corporations call product—does matter. Quantity rather than quality matters for an obvious reason.. to sell a cheap hamburger it has to be pre-made, made in quantity. And this segues into the lowest common denominator aspect of why culture has to be dumbed down, assuming culture isn’t anything more than a construct to begin with.

...“I also question the apparent assumption that small artist music is necessarily ‘better’ (whatever the hell that means)”

Right as rain. In fact “better” only means more sophisticated:
Stravinsky was more sophisticated than the kid banging two chords on his guitar;
Rembrandt was more sophisticated than the artist who did the crucifix in urine.

@Peter re “We just need to make sure they are properly regulated, and are not allowed to draft laws that suit their own interests and nobody else’s.”

We just need to abolish the law of gravity, and things will become much better.

How can they be regulated, when they write the regulations? They have bought the government, and its armies of idiocrats. There is a strange thing with modern capitalism: its winner-take-all practices create monopolies, which self-perpetuate by buying politicians and administrators, and the economy becomes like the worse cases of central planning, with all its inefficiency and corruption. “Free market” is a fairy tale. But I don’t want to spoil an article that I am writing, wait a few days for the full set of arguments.

The answer is less regulations, not more. I don’t think the Internet should be completely unregulated, but regulations should be reserved for very serious, extreme cases. If it must be black or white, then better unregulated than over-regulated.

Re megaupload, the site does not engage in illegal activities, but provides tools for people to exchange large files (like video of birthday party in the garden with children and dogs). Of course, some people use it for things that are currently illegal.

I cannot and don’t incite others to break current laws, but I can and do say that these laws are stupid, and I will support and vote for parties that want to change them.

Instead of breaking laws, I incite everyone to massively boycott the “entertainment industry.” Kick them hard in the wallet where it hurts. Just don’t buy from them. For news and opinions, there is enough high quality content on the free Internet (just think of TED talks). Films cost more to produce, but alternative distribution systems are emerging for films as well (e.g. vodo.net). Every magazine, CD or DVD that you don’t buy is a nail in the coffin of the “entertainment industry” and their bribed buddies.

@Giulio

Oh dear, we’re back to the “bureaucrats are idiots” meme again. And you’re supposed to be the one who doesn’t, like pissing contests!

There is nothing strange about winner-take-all practices in modern capitalism: it has always been a drawback of capitalism, as Marx pointed out. Like I say, that’s why we have anti-trust laws, and anti-trust authorities, populated for the most part by conscientious officials who are not at all in the pockets of big business. (I know this, not least because my wife used to work in one.)

We are not going to fight effectively against policy capture with defeatist nonsense like “How can they be regulated, when they write the regulations?” Nor by lumping public officials together and condemning them all as “idiocrats”.

@Peter re “There is nothing strange about winner-take-all practices in modern capitalism: it has always been a drawback of capitalism, as Marx pointed out.”

Not as much as these days, and I see regulations not as an antidote to, but rather as one of the originators of, the savage nature of today’s capitalism. The first who makes enough money to buy the regulators wins, and and all the others lose. I know that there are exceptions of course, but the exceptions don’t reach the top, are not invited to the important meetings, and nobody really listens to them. Come on, you know that.

I may have already pasted this in another thread:

Capitalism can be good:

Smart and hard working baker Joe knows how to make good bread. He finds a capitalist partner and opens a bakery. At the beginning he works in the bakery himself with his family, then he hires some workers. Then he opens a few other bakeries, treats and pays his workers well, and continues to make good bread and sell it at reasonable prices. Everyone wins, Joe and his family, the workers, the investors, and the rest of us who can eat good bread.

And capitalism can be bad:

Finance shark Jim bribes his buddies in government to pass regulations that put Joe (and all other small bakers) out of business. Then he opens a chain of bakeries that produce tasteless and toxic bread and sell it at outrageous prices. Of course, he continues to bribe his buddies in government to protect his monopoly. After a few years he is a billionaire who scams financial markets to bring entire currencies and economies down. He owns banks protected by the government and bailed out with citizen’s money when he needs. Every few years he (and his buddies in government) engineer a financial crisis to force people out of their homes and buy them back cheap. Everybody loses but Jim and his buddies.

I suggest that we forget the terms “capitalism” or “anti-capitalism”, and just build a system where Joe’s methods work and Jim’s methods don’t.

@Giulio No disagreement re Jim and Joe. But I wonder why you think the situation is worse now than in Marx’s day.

In any case I don’t intend to argue about whether current regulations are better or worse than no regulation at all (you seem to be claiming they are worse). The better question is: what kind of system will favour Joe over Jim, and what kind of regulation, if any, does it need to include. Only once we have designed the system can we set about building it.

@Peter - I don’t think the situation is worse now than in Marx’s day, but at least at that time you could escape somewhere else if you were not happy with things. For example, you could go to Russia and try to build a better society there (of course, this has been tried and has failed:-) Today, the whole world is becoming Jim’s feud, with nowhere else to go.

I am not against regulations that take from the rich and give to the poor. But today’s regulations take from the poor and give to the rich. Which is not surprising, because they are written by lawmakers paid by the rich, and enforced by administrators paid by the rich.

When Joe wants to open his first bakery, he is strangled by regulations that make his life impossible with paperwork, controls, compliance expenses, road blocks, and taxes. The same regulations are (meant to be) powerless against Jim, who can always buy his way out (and often by “legal” means).

What kind of system will favour Joe over Jim, and what kind of regulation, if any, does it need to include?

I am very attracted by the idea of a new monetary system that makes accumulation of idle wealth structurally impossible. Copying from an article where Hank asked a few people how to build a more egalitarian society:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pellissier20110516

——

Giulio Prisco was initially adverse to my query, replying, “I don’t want an egalitarian planet where everyone is the same as everyone else because this could only be achieved by suppressing personal autonomy, free-thinking and diversity, and would result in an extremely boring planet. But I do want a MORE egalitarian planet…”

After thinking about it a little more, Prisco offered a fascinating proposal, inspired in part by the work of a famous German anarchist.

“Extreme inequality depends on how the economy is structured,” Prisco explained. “A possible solution to this is the idea of Perishable Money—money with an expiration date, a concept originally devised a century ago by Silvio Gesell. In this financial system, there are no taxes and you keep all the money you make, but as soon as you are paid money, it starts to ‘decay’—perhaps losing all value after one month, or a certain % per day. So, you want to spend all your money on basic goods like food and rent. If you wish to accumulate money and save it for later, you must go to an exchange center operated by the community and convert your extra money to a non-perishable form, but you must pay fees to do this. The fees would be the equivalent of taxes, they would provide the money that the community needed for public works, health care, etc.”

In Prisco’s analysis, “this system would be as fair as the current system—or fairer—and much simpler for everyone. It would also be very easy to implement now, with e-money.”

——

This is basically a negative interest rate and, as you noticed in the same thread, its effects could be achieved by inflation alone (with inflation and without interests, you better use your money before it goes).

@Giulio Yes, I’ve thought about this as well. An alternative to having an explicit policy objective to have moderately high inflation, e.g. of 5% per annum, would be simply an annual wealth tax. Taxing capital, rather than transactions, employment, or indeed capital *gains*, has the effect you want.

I see two problems with this approach, however. Firstly, I’m not convinced that this is compatible with a healthy, growing economy. I’m willing to be convinced, but at the moment I’m not. Secondly, and more fundamentally, what you are talking about is nothing more than monetary and fiscal instruments. Marx focused on the concentration of wealth, but this is only really a special case of the more general problem of concentration of power. If the monetary system makes concentration of wealth impossible (already a gargantuan task given the possibility for loopholes) people will find other ways to concentrate power.

At the same time I still think you’re being too pessimistic about the current situation compared to the past. You could not escape somewhere else if you weren’t happy with things. People did not escape to the Soviet Union. Communism was imposed on Russians largely against their will. We should be thrilled that we are living in the miracle that is Western liberal, social democracy, that we are rich, talented and connected enough to thrive in that society, and that this applies to a far larger proportion of the public than it has probably at any other time in history.

If we insist that today’s world is worse than in the past, then we indeed need to look at new innovative ways to reverse this trend. If instead we think it is better (as I do), then then the challenge is to understand why this has happened (against the natural tendency for power to concentrate), identify threats to its sustainability, and then design appropriate policies to reinforce the positive tendencies, reverse the negative ones, and build resilience against future threats. Anything that takes us away from that central focus undermines the system on which our current prosperity and unprecedented levels of equality are based.

“Communism was imposed on Russians largely against their will.”

And it does appear Communists in Russia attempted to go from the 12th to the 20th century in a short period of time, doesn’t it? relevant to the articles on OWS, too many appear to think they can jump on the horse of history and yell “giddyap!”, knowing Middle America, it is such a stodgy-yet-rebellious old horse it will want to throw the riders on the ground—Middle Americans are contrarians, radical conservatives. Giulio and Pete: many of us Yanks don’t know Europe well enough- and you fellows may not know N. America all that well, either. People are the same; institutions are different relative to time and place.
One more mercifully brief monologue concerning the subjectivity of aesthetics. In Brussels I ate one day at a McDonald’s (because they serve wine and beer in certain European McDonalds), then at night at a fancy restaurant. The McDonalds patrons enjoyed eating at McDonalds as much as the restaurant patrons enjoyed their fare. Depends how hungry one is!
One more example, if you will bear with it: Robert Christgau, as Piero, knows music, is relatively objective on the subject. However one can always miss an important point; Christgau gave Emerson Lake and Palmer low marks, and in fact they are not the first choice in listening pleasure. Yet Christgau’s oversight is that at one time ELP helped introduce middle and lowbrows to serious music… how many Rockmonsters would have even heard of ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’, or ‘The Barbarian’ without ELP?

@Imtomorrow You certainly ow Middle America better than me, and I’d be interested to know in what sense, if at all, you think that what Giulio and I have been discussing doesn’t apply there. One thought that springs to mind, though: the “contrarian, radical convservati[sm]” of Middle America has doubtless served as a strong balwark against concentration of power. The problem in my view comes when this conservatism becomes neurotic, in the sense that, rather than being simply a set of values that are freely embraced, it becomes bound up with a commitment to empirical beliefs that are not justified by the evidence. So, for example, warnings that climate change is real become “attempts to take away our freedom”, rather as for Mbeki the idea that the transmission of AIDS is linked to unprotected sex was an attempt to decolonize Africa by reducing birth rates. In such cases it can weaken, instead of strengthening, our defences against concentration of power.

That should be “recolonise”, not “decolonise”.

PS Imtomorrow, why don’t you write an article on “barriers to transhumanism in Middle America”?

“@Intomorrow You certainly know Middle America better than me, and I’d be interested to know in what sense, if at all, you think that what Giulio and I have been discussing doesn’t apply there. One thought that springs to mind, though: the “contrarian, radical convservati[sm]” of Middle America has doubtless served as a strong balwark against concentration of power. The problem in my view comes when this conservatism becomes neurotic, in the sense that, rather than being simply a set of values that are freely embraced, it becomes bound up with a commitment to empirical beliefs that are not justified by the evidence. So, for example, warnings that climate change is real become ‘attempts to take away our freedom’, rather as for Mbeki the idea that the transmission of AIDS is linked to unprotected sex was an attempt to decolonize Africa by reducing birth rates. In such cases it can weaken, instead of strengthening, our defences against concentration of power.”

Thought about the above yesterday, but nothing came, it is too large a subject and I generalize quite enough as it is. What is most depressing is how so many want to live in the past and move into the future at the same time.
#2 for me is hooliganism (a subset, say, of anomie), albeit most people I know aren’t bothered by it as much, the majority take it in stride along with death & taxes; whereas I perceive anomie as mocking my futurist pretensions. Anomie, IMO, transforms life into mere existence. Exacerbating the control freaks at the top are the feral at the bottom: someone such as Bleivik in Norway or Jared the Arizona shooter remind you of the dicey nature of life/existence. What are we most afraid of?: other people… war is real though it is an abstraction to all except those involved; other people are real and though a sizable fraction are decent, even they harbor a combination of positive and negative traits.
Middle America, as you alluded to above (”...Middle America has doubtless served as a strong bulwark against concentration of power”) in some ways is hyper-democratic, i.e. the leveling spirit of Westward Expansion. Yet what made ‘sense’ in 1862 makes lesser ‘sense’ a century and a half on. Covered wagon sensibility is incongruous—but not thoroughly outmoded—in the age of autos, trucks, and jets. And the tastelessness! taste is subjective?- well unfortunately such is all too apparent and unpleasant. John Lennon pegged it just so,
“people with no taste deciding taste;
people with no standards deciding standards.”
He could have been thinking of Mid America, if he had known about it.
Climate change is a good reminder, Pete; so many are in denial.. for emotional reasons they do not wish to admit we have been affecting climate since hunters in prehistoric times burned foliage, large scale, to flush out game.
As for writing a piece here, it would take one with a more organized mind, my ability to write masks disorganized thinking
Better to ask ipan to return to IEET to write a piece or two—beg him or her if you have to.

Giulio seems to be in touch with iPan over at Kruzweil AI - perhaps he can make the suggestion?

Living in the past while wanting to move into the future: yes, that’s almost a definition of neurotic denial, isn’t it? We all want to move into the future, unless we ate clinically depressed, but we’re not always very good at understanding and accepting the present first. We form beliefs - mostly based on what we were taught as a kid, I guess - become emotionally attached to them, and then systematically filter out all evidence that might undermine them. Not only that, but we perceive any give situation as a kind of amalgam of similar situations we have been in in the past. And that’s *before* dementia sets in. We cannot help but live in the past.

So what’s to be done? Depression isn’t the best reaction. Acceptance is better: that’s just the way it is, not even worth writing about really. And then, having accepted it, recognise that we do nevertheless have options. I find various forms of mindfulness techniques immensely valuable as a way to connect with and accept the present, as it is now, with a minimum of past-driven filtering and judging. And - I haven’t said ths for a while, but I’ll say it again now - developing positive visions of the future. We desperately need positive visions, Intomorrow. Maybe Lincoln’s “God becoming God” isn’t so stupid…

I just passed the message at iPan at KurzweilAI. In a previous discussion iPan said he had lost the password, I advised to reset.

Thanks Giulio - would be nice to get him back here!

If my presence here is a drag on ipan and others, can leave the site for a few years; am simply not optimistic about this decade, no pain no gain—you gotta go through the ‘80s to get to the ‘90s. What was meant by “the joke is over” is:
no one above room-temperature IQ (save for someone on a high dose of Prozac or some other happy pill) is prepared to ‘believe’ in ‘smaller’ govt. When was the last time govt. was ‘small’ in America? when Herbert Hoover was president? small govt. is a romantic standard- similar to daydreaming about the days of 10 cent hamburgers, 20 cent per gallon gasoline. Or a guy tells his kids Santa Claus will come down the chimney, Jesus will Return, and govt. will be ‘small’, we’ll just have to wait a century or so—patience is a virtue.
I have great difficulty discerning that which is for public consumption from what is delusion.

“Living in the past while wanting to move into the future: yes, that’s almost a definition of neurotic denial, isn’t it? We all want to move into the future, unless we ate clinically depressed.”

Really strange thing, Pete, is how otherwise normal these old fashioned people are. They were brought up to think the Bible is to be taken literally (‘I believe everything the Bible says everything’), and they live in the distant past—anywhere from the 1760s to the 1950s—yet they are otherwise sane and undepressed. Or take conspiracists who think the Apollo Program was staged on Earth in the desert somewhere. They are otherwise sane. A perfectly sane person actually told me the world is flat but photos of a round Earth had been altered starting with photos from Apollo 8. And certain sane people think UFOs visited Roswell NM. All these people are saner than me however they believe such preposterous things?
Do some voters actually think if Gingrich is elected president he will make sure a border ‘fence’ is built by 2014? do they think he will have a Moon colony going by the end of his second term?

PS, Pete,
there’s something else, having to with Prisoner’s Dilemma, which gets to the heart of it.

Taking Mid America as an example because of having lived there a long time, it is as productive as anywhere.. so the question of biting the hand that feeds one comes into play:
if one goes along with outmoded memes, one is not only (unless one is silent)  a mouthpiece for the status quo, one is thus going-along-to-get-along—which is insincere.
On the other hand, if one tries to alter the status quo one is altering people’s lives, their families, traditions, memes having existed for thousands if not millions of years;
and they often do not like that at all. They may like the benefits that eventually result from change, but do not want interference from outsiders. When they say ‘get the government off our backs’ it may mean they want big government, yet big govt. to protect their own status quo, not someone else’s.
The unspoken message:

“we built this world, we keep it going, we own the store, don’t rock the boat.”

So it isn’t that I don’t look forward to this decade, it is I do not look forward to ‘communicating’ (or lack thereof) with others if they want to waste time with outmoded memes. After three decades of listening to talk concerning old-fashioned religion; old-fashioned—often quite corrupt—politics; and all of it, I just don’t want to talk anymore because to do so is as smarmy as the rubes themselves are.
Only response you could have to this is “tough it out, keep your eyes open”... and such is valid and proper. Nonetheless, there is no way to escape Prisoner’s Dilemma, is there, Pete?

 

Good points Intomorrow - except the one about leaving the site 😊.  Indeed, challenging deeply held beliefs, however insane they may appear to us, is never going to make us popular, and can be destructive. There is a time and a place. Extreme example: if someone is praying to Jesus on his deathbed, you’re not going to take that precise opportunity to convert him to atheism, are you.

“Tough it out, keep your eyes open”.....yes, that sounds about right, but there IS a way to escape the prisoner’s dilemma. You have to change people’s perception of their self-interest. If people like Gandhi - or Bobby Sands, for that matter - are willing to go on hunger strike for a cause, then others can be made to go against what would appear to be in their own interest.

I don’t find it at all strange that those old fashioned people are otherwise normal. And don’t think this is limited to middle America either. We tends to think that sanity, or normality, means having an accurate world view that we adapt I response to evidence, but the truth is very different. The vast majority of people cling to beliefs that should be well past their sell-by date as far as evidence is concerned. Far from making them abnormal, this is what makes them normal.

But gradually, over time, I believe it’s possible to break down those neurotic defences, and yes that can sound incredibly smarmy, but as you say: “they may like the benefits that eventually result from change”. Like I say: there is a time to challenge, and a time to just live and let live.

“Extreme example: if someone is praying to Jesus on his deathbed, you’re not going to take that precise opportunity to convert him to atheism, are you.”

Yes, and it isn’t so much religion per se. Here’s a vignette: last night I volunteered at a soup kitchen; I asked why they pretend they care(which would be Agape love) about those outside their family circles but they merely smiled and nodded and looked expectantly towards where dessert was being heaped on plates.
So it is tradition and little else; agricultural myths: “dying and reviving Gods [cyclical harvests], the myths of agriculture…”
At any rate, perhaps I could be an intern for IEET by contacting local universities to see if anyone is interested..
Problem is, not many are, sports alone is 50x more important.

I fail to see what your vignette proves other than that there is a time and a place for everything and that theological discussion is best held after dessert.

I certainly don’t see it supporting your conclusions. Perhaps a conversation with the people on who they are and why they are important would lead to more useful information, not to mention showing some of that agape you were talking about.

Alex, tell me why it isn’t already good that Intomorrow was volunteering at the soup kitchen in the first place.

Alex! they refused whatsoever to discuss agape after dessert as well, they didn’t even look at me; just smiled and walked away. People here are uncommunicative. Sure, people are the same where you are in Canada yet there are differences in institutions—Kampala Uganda is not the same as Stockholm Sweden.

BTW, practically everytime someone asked you about your experiences, you mentioned sleeping in your van for awhile;
not to be rude, but out of curiosity: what can a guy see of import from the windows of his van?

“Alex, tell me why it isn’t already good that Intomorrow was volunteering at the soup kitchen in the first place.”

It is true, Pete, I don’t like them anymore, and they can tell- they aren’t stupid. But if they wont be sincere on caring for others save for their own people, then why should I care about them? in fact it would better to tell them I am tired of them than to suck-up to them.
So let the soup kitchen be a place to put food in stomachs, not love in hearts. let’s not be overambitious.

“what can a guy see of import from the windows of his van?”

It depends on where the van is parked. Or perhaps more importantly where your brain is while the van is parked.

My issue is that the discussion you want to have with the people at the soup kitchen is for your benefit, not theirs. Bravo for volunteering at the soup kitchen, but what would it look like to have the discussion that the people you are talking with want to have instead of your own?

It is important to feed the heart and the stomach. In fact it is very difficult to feed the heart if the stomach is grumbling.


You complain about the people not wanting to change, but in fact they have been in constant change. They drive cars not horse and buggies; they talk on cell phones and their children are scattered around the country if not the world. The little communities in which they live are dying and being replaced by bigger centers with Wal Mart and other box stores. The skilled jobs that they used to do are replaced by part time work that involves asking “Do you want fries with that?” or some equivalent. The question shouldn’t be “How do we get them to change?” but maybe, “How do we help them choose change that will help them?”

What has soup kitchens got to do with this article?

Maybe they are soup kitchens for pirates, I don’t know.

I think it is more the problem of changing the people around him and Intomorrow used the people at the soup kitchen to show that people don’t want to change.

Some folks have been serving soup for so long they fail to see there is more to life than just soup?

Cygnus is right.
At any rate, pirates are the 1 percent, and rubes are the 99 percent. Alex, I just don’t like it that churches use their faith as a weapon to push their corniness that is far more grating than Walmart or fast food franchises—at least Walmart and McDonalds don’t push agape love that Walmart checkout workers, hamburger flippers and Management don’t believe in themselves.

Ronald McDonald merely entertains children as a clown, he doesn’t pretend to love them 😉

@CygnusX1 You’re right, we’ve moved a long way…maybe we should discuss the ethics of going off-topic 😊

Anyway it’s bee fun to read through the thread and see how we ended up at soup kitchens! It seems to have been more or less:

- I point out that the monopolistic tendencies in the entertainment industry are no different to countless other sectors where economies of scale apply, and suggest we just need to ensure they are properly regulated, in much the same way as those other sectors;

- Giulio posits the impossibility of regulating a sector that is basically in charge and writing the regulations itself; there ensues an interesting discussion about what kind of system we need to replace/improve on the current one;

- Intomorrow draws on his knowledge of Middle America to caution against unrealistic expectations re people’s willingness to change and, as Alex pointed out, eventually mentions his soup kitchen vignette to illustrate the point.

It’s a theme that tends to come up quite a lot: just how ambitious should we be, and what we can realistically expect to happen, at least over the coming decade or so, in the face of deeply entrenched attitudes. And it’s an important issue. Intomorrow has a lot of human knowledge of those around him, and if he sometimes seems unduly pessimistic I think that’s a good counterweight to the competing idealisms and utopias, religious or otherwise that the rest of us like to argue about.

“but what would it look like to have the discussion that the people you are talking with want to have instead of your own?”

It would look like Howdy Doody drooling on his animal crackers.
But perhaps your church is more sophisticated.
The reason I challenged them is because they are always meddling with everyone around them.

@Intomorrow You’re a Freudian at heart, I think! Or maybe a “Fliesian”, as in Lord of the Flies - an expression I’ve got from Emergency by Neil Strauss, a great read by the way.

“It would look like Howdy Doody drooling on his animal crackers.” Lol!

“Lord of the Flies”

It is like being on an island with savages.
Back to the topic: I do not care how large an entertainment biz corp is, what matters IMO is that they hire those with talent, and not those who have the right hairstyles and clothing. Nothing wrong with choreography in a film, but it doesn’t matter to the ears. If you look at Piero’s site, you’ll see he has a knowlege of music that goes way beyond three chords, a leather skirt, and a bouffant.
You guys have your agendas, I have mine.

@ peter..

Thanks for the recap on what’s been goin’ on, I don’t know what we’d do without you?

You should have a word with Hank perhaps he can get you on the board at IEET?

iPan may be right about this site slipping in quality?

Ask ipan if it has been me and a few others who were the main culprits in degrading IEET.
If ipan replies in the affirmative, I’ll leave. Might be the right thing to do to trade a half-assed me for a full-scale ipan.
It’s up to you; it is your site.

I don’t think the quality is slipping, but the discussion is raging further afield. Initially the discussion was around using drugs/technology to upgrade human beings and the ethics of those upgrades.  That discussion is still happening. (See the fascinating article on ableism and exoskeletons)

What is also happening is we are digging into the much messier subject of changing people’s psyche. As Intomorrow points out, correctly as much as it irritates me, (the fact, not Intomorow) is that changing people’s insides is hard. Some people just don’t want to change.

The discussion around we are all pirates has become a doorway into that discussion of change. If we are all pirates, then we are also all producers. Our information is out there even if it isn’t music or writing. The internet may very well become the high seas with some people trying to control traffic while others are determined to range far and wide and free.

The notion that art should not be contained is not a new one. It was discussed when the printing press was invented. Warhol made a career out of mocking standards of art and copying. I agree that the idea of copyright (which protects the big business much more than the individual artist) is going to shift radically and perhaps disappear entirely.

If we are all pirates, then, as I said at the start, we are also all potential prey for other pirates.

I am not a Pirate! (see my previous comments for clarification), however, sometimes I do like soup?

Enough with the soup already! (Judaism)

“Enough with the soup already! (Judaism)”

As long as the Germans are kept down, Cygnus: keep the Russians out and the Germans down.
Alex, I don’t even say people have to change in any way; as far as I know, it is for they and those close for them to decide. They can be treehuggers if such is their fancy.
But, please, can’t they make up their minds about the future? they can’t live in 1776 and 2012 without time machines, holodecks, VR.

” I do not care how large an entertainment biz corp is, what matters IMO is that they hire those with talent, and not those who have the right hairstyles and clothing.”

OK Intomorrow, but who gets to decide on such matters? To what extent does Piero’s knowledge of music make him an arbiter of talent? And if not he, than who? The market? I’m no free-market ideologue, but there is something to be said for letting the people decide, no? Again, I don’t really see a big difference between this and any other sector. And it is precisely the size of the corporations that creates the problem: of it weren’t for those economies of scale we’d have lots of small corps, and plenty of choice. No domination by businesses that have an incentive to provide dumbed down “art for the masses”.

@CygnusX1 Why the sarcasm?

“As Intomorrow points out, correctly as much as it irritates me, (the fact, not Intomorow)...changing people’s insides is hard. Some people just don’t want to change.”

Indeed, and this raises the (IMO) crucial question: how hard should we be trying, and with what purpose? Should we be trying at all, or by doing so are we just like the guys in Intomorrow’s soup kitchen: always meddling with those around us?

What we sometimes forget, though, is that even by crossing the street we are changing people on the inside. Just by being, we are changing the world that other people inhabit,  and therefore their perception of it, and therefore their experience of life, and therefore themselves. So the frustration is not so much that we don’t manage to change people, as that they generally don’t change in the way we’s like them to.

I try to make a distinction between what I think people around me want, and what I think they need, while bearing in mind that I may he completely wrong about both, and where by “what they need” I basically mean what I think is likely to make them happier in the long run. That can be a thankless task, of course, and leaves one vulnerable to accusations of pretention, smarm, sanctimony, hypocrisy, presumption, etc etc. But that’s OK, provided one avoids two equal and opposite traps: (i) to get discouraged and give up, and (ii) to become impervious to criticism on the grounds that it was to be expected anyway. It IS to be expected, but it also provides valuable feedback.

This is why I don’t try to change people. I change myself. While it may be trite, it is still true. We need to be the change we want to see in the world. The great thing about focusing on ourselves is that we don’t need anyone’s permission.

That’s fine Alex, but if we only focus on how we are changing ourselves, and not on how we are changing others, then we are missing part of the picture. And from a consequentialist perspective it’s an important part. If we favour some form of virtue ethics that focuses only on our own behaviour, as an end in itself, then perhaps we can get away with focusing only on ourselves, but the risk (from a consequentialism perspective) is that we end up doing harm inadvertently, because we didn’t pay enough attention to the effect we are having on others (which means, equivalently, how we are changing them).

It is fashionable these days to repeat that we can’t and/or shouldn’t try to change others, but I don’t buy it. By all means focus primarily on your own behaviour - that’s also what I try to do - but most of the virtues that we consider, well, virtuous, only make sense because they lead to more positive consequences in the world.

You certainly know sayings of the type: if you give someone a fish you feed them for a day, if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime. This is about changing people: not only helping them to maintain homeostasis for 24 hours, but giving them knowledge and knowhow that will help them in the future. I think we should all be trying to change each other - meddling, if you will. The reason we should focus primarily on our own behaviour is that this is something we can directly control, and how we change others (for good or for ill) depends on it. But if we *only* focus on this we might become 100% virtuous in terms of our own conception of virtue, but end up doing more harm than good - or at least less good than we could - because of inadequate understanding of how our behaviour affects, i.e. changes (often quite profoundly) others.

“I don’t really see a big difference between this and any other sector.”

Something of course to what you write, we do interfere with others’ standards/taste- but this is where it gets fast: if we perceive art/entertainment as commodity it can be a race to the bottom in taste. We all know taste is subjective—and such may say something quite negative about us; if Pink Flamingos is aesthetically equal to A Man For All Seasons then taste-standards do not exist. I’d rather watch the most vile hard core porn than a GOP debate; but the latter is socially acceptable on prime time TV- not the former. So in some ways we always arbit for better and worse.
The bloodiest slasher film is socially acceptable, but not the ‘Story Of O’. No getting around it: violence sells and is acceptable, not merely tolerable. We honor our vets who burned alive the enemy with daisy clusters because they served our nation by reducing the population a bit and making the Mideast safe for Burger King and Wendys.
Don’t think Piero is setting himself up as a music arbiter, he writes music reviews and so forth, his readers fill in pieces of their knowledge concerning a given artist (or entertainer) and the works in question.
One cannot write “IMO” before or after every review.
Piero’s comprehensive critique of the Beatles demonstrates how much of their music is poor- fair, and they were not great musicians. Did puncturing Beatle-hagiography make Piero an arbiter? if so, a case could be made of it being positive arbitration. Now, it was interfering, as your good example of walking across the street. By pressing the button and stopping traffic, we interfere with traffic; so let’s stay indoors and not cross the street and interfere with traffic. I shouldn’t have written a music review last month because if my article had not been published, someone else’s would have been and thus I undeniably disrupted the flow of cosmic events via the local magazine. Perhaps I should always stay indoors, watch old sitcoms on TV Land, and pet the cat all day. Yet then the question of sending out for meals arises—isn’t sending out for food interfering with delivery routines? Even the Jains, and Gandhi for instance, interfered with events albeit probably their interference was of a lesser magnitude.

... PS,
to get on-topic (which is socially acceptable); are you sure the size of a corporation is important? take for instance:
aren’t some large Japanese corporations ‘better’ than some smaller companies in Japan?

In music, can’t a large company that signs on talented artists be ‘better’ (i.e. more sophisticated) than a small one giving contracts to guitar-bangers who can growl into microphones when they aren’t nodding out from pills?

“Even the Jains, and Gandhi for instance, interfered with events albeit probably their interference was of a lesser magnitude.”

Well I think Gandhi’s interference was quite largely actually, but…yes, you got it! Even by breathing I am interfering…turning all that oxygen and sugar into carbon dioxide and water. So yes to interference, yes to believing we can change people, yes to trying to change people for the general good, yes to being cautious and mindful in the way we do that, and yes to paying the greatest attention to our own behaviour and being crystal clear about our values.

Your “race to the bottom” point contrasts interestingly with David Brin’s celebration of markets and competition in his recent piece. Following David’s “sane libertarian” logic, one might ask why shouldn’t a market-driven approach to entertainment lead to a race to the top? And reviewers are then simply market actors, reviewing art in the same way others might review the latest techno gadgets. People crave opinion, preferably combined with specialist knowledge in the field in which they are giving their opinions, so there will always be a market - and a legitimate role within a market economy - for reviewers. The question is to what extent we need government regulation, and for what purpose.

There have been a couple of interesting pieces on libertarianism - I like Hank’s approach of grouping articles/videos in themes - David’s being one of them, another being the talk by Penn Jilette. They go to the heart of this issue: what do we actually need government for? Both accept we need it for something, but they look to libertarianism as inspiration for paring down the role of government to its bare essentials.

What would survive? I submit that anti-trust laws would be among the things that should survive the libertarian fire. You’re right: large companies can be “better” than small ones, of course they can, but if allowed to achieve dominant position they WILL behave as monopolists, to the detriment of the market - and therefore artistic standards, and therefore people’s welfare - as a whole. I am a Fliesian too.

@Peter re “the heart of this issue: what do we actually need government for”

I think we need government for global system management. Everything needs management, from a small bakery with 2 workers to a large corporation with 200k workers, and also a society needs management.

But one of the principles of good management is that micromanagement should be avoided, and decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. This is not what governments do: on the contrary, they tend to micromanage the private life of citizens. One of these days, a government will issue regulations on which hand we must use to wipe our own butt. On that day, I will think that the time for a revolution has come 😊

Another principle of good management is that poor performers must go, or be given something less challenging to do. Giving a huge pay rise to a very poor performer would be seen as a management mistake. Yet, this is exactly what has happened with the bank bailout.

What is the problem? One word: corruption. Being our nature what it is, governments are corrupted, and that is why they should be strictly limited on what they can and cannot do.

“One of these days, a government will issue regulations on which hand we must use to wipe our own butt.”

In more traditional societies, I believe it’s the left one 😊

More seriously….I share much of your analysis, but the final prescription - governments should be strictly limited - begs the same question: who limits the limiters, how will it be ensured that the “limiters” are any less corrupt than those (government officials) that they are limiting?

To answer this I think we need to go deeper in our analysis of the causes of corruption. Yes it’s in our nature, but that doesn’t make it inevitable. Some societies have gone further than others in eliminating it, albeit at the expense of exploiting, and developing racist and intolerant attitudes towards, other cultures. I’m convinced that the second law of thermodynamics is relevant here: it’s easy to corrupt a good system, much harder to cleanse a corrupted one.

So we need to treasure what we have - including the positive role that government plays - and design, in a bottom up way, strategic instruments that will nudge the system towards more competent governance and less pettifoggery. In the West, one particular challenge is the fact that we vote for politicians that we think we know, when what we really know is a grossly distorted, media-generated image. We can’t expect people to vote on the basis of sound policy, it’s just not how people think. But if we could somehow close the gap between what people think they know of the politicians they vote for, and what those politicians are really like, then I think it would help a lot. Not least by reducing the pressure on the most well-intentioned and least venal politicians to lie, cheat and compromise on their values merely in order to stay in power.

@Peter re “In more traditional societies, I believe it’s the left one”

Well, I claim the right to choose. It is my hand, which I use to wipe my crap from my butt.

The bureaucrat would reply that I cannot use the right hand because I use it also for shaking people’s hand, and I can pass germs to them, and think of the children, and blah blah and blah blah. I reply that I use to wash my hands many times a day and add that, if Big Brother wants to put a surveillance camera in my bathroom, then I think the time for the fourth box has come. Seriously.

Re “who limits the limiters, how will it be ensured that the “limiters” are any less corrupt than those (government officials) that they are limiting?”

I think the only answer is to limit _all forms_ of power. Distribute power, geographically and across society, and nobody will have too much power to abuse of. We used to have a great concept called “separation of power,” but I am afraid it belongs to history books now.

@Giulio

Glad to see we can post hyperlinks now, but that fourth-boxology there scares the bejeezus out of me. Far more than incompetent bureaucrats. How can they say we are down to the third box when we still have basically free and fair elections, and almost unlimited freedom of expression? Clearly they’re not using the first and second boxes very effectively, perhaps because their message is too obviously paranoid for most people to take seriously. God forbid that they start to do so. And what’s that gun doing in the top left-hand corner?

The “left hand” comment was meant flippantly, but there’s a serious point here. Bureaucrats did NOT invent the taboo against eating etc with the left hand. Most traditional societies did not have significant bureaucracies: it’s something we got from the Chinese, and it caught on because it works. Bureaucrats, like bankers, are SO easy to hate, tongue-tied as they are by the nature of their jobs, which is essentially to obey instructions and not to try to “win people over”. Bureaucrats do the unpopular things, take the unpopular decisions, like football referees. Whereas we LOVE celebrities…of course we do, they become celebrities by being loveable. Even when they’re basically extremely silly.

I’m not even convinced that “separation of power” is eroding, let alone being consigned to the history books. It was in Hungary for a while, but now the Commission is doing something about it (better late than never). In general I agree with you that power needs to be distributed, but by focusing so exclusively on the most overt forms of centralised governance, despite the (albeit imperfect) democratic safeguards that are in place, and arguing for limitations of their power, you leave the door open for more clandestine, less democratic forms of government (multinationals, mafias, populist politicians) to fill the void.

Please don’t interpret this as coming from someone who wants to defend the status quo. Europe (and not only Europe) definitely needs some fresh air. Its institutions and politicians are failing us in important ways. But we need to be careful about what we wish for, otherwise we risk getting something worse.

@Peter re Hungary

Let’s not start about this. Many people here do not welcome Brussels’ interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. There has been enough interference in the past already.

Re the fourth box. I am sure Falkvinge mentions the fourth box as an extreme scenario that will not and must not happen. Let’s hope it is so.

Re “Bureaucrats, like bankers, are SO easy to hate, tongue-tied as they are by the nature of their jobs, which is essentially to obey instructions and not to try to “win people over”. Bureaucrats do the unpopular things, take the unpopular decisions, like football referees.”

Yes, this is a good point. I am sure that most of them are very nice people in their private life, and I will try to remember that.  But there are instructions that should not be obeyed.

I’m generally curious about your views re Hungary Giulio. I can VERY well imagine that many people don’t welcome Brussels’ interference, but do you really think it ill-advised? Erosion of separation of powers and other basic liberties (like radio stations critical of the government) is precisely the kind of thing the Commission (and IMF re the central bank, and the US State Depaetment) is worried about. I found them rather slow and tentative.

Indeed there are instructions that should not be obeyed, and this is indeed one of the reasons why I decided to remove myself from the Commission’s payroll. There’s an appalling wastage of talent and goodwill there. But again, the problem is not too much centralisation of this (relatively traditional and at least partly democratically accountable) form of government. It is rather its ineffectiveness (compared to its potential, and cost to the taxpayer), and the ease with which it is captured by special interests. Of these two, I’m honestly not sure which is the more serious problem with regard to the welfare and fundamental aspirations of Europe’s citizens.

@Peter re Hungary. OK, let’s open the can of worms. For the record, I _have_ said “Let’s not start about this.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the city last week to say that they don’t welcome Brussels’ interference. The number of participants was grossly understated by the foreign press.

As far as I can see, most of what is reported by the foreign press is disinformation spread by the opposition that has been in power until last year, when it has been ousted by the citizens who have given an absolute majority (actually 2/3) to the current administration.

Lessons of “basic liberties” by the US State Department, in the days of Guantanamo and NDAA, are surreal to say the least.

Re “I decided to remove myself from the Commission’s payroll.” - Oh my, I hope we Euroskeptics are not to blame for this. Please say more. What will you do?

“large companies can be “better” than small ones, of course they can, but if allowed to achieve dominant position they WILL behave as monopolists”

No doubt about the above, Pete. Perhaps my differences are aesthetic, not economic. Or idiosyncratic differences. I don’t care if a corporation is the smallest in the world- if it plugs a product I don’t want to know about let alone purchase, such is..
disheartening, that someone would sell a ‘bad’ product—even calling it product is denigrating.
Because for instance if ‘art’ is a construct, the Louvre is one might say displaying entertainment, not art; maybe the Louvre could exhibit blank canvases rather than paintings and call them conceptual (i.e. hoaxes) work.
In other words it calls into question art vs. entertainment vs. hoax, possibly.
However you are correct on antitrust—no way around big business oligarchs vs. free market fragmentation. It is ongoing; we’ll be discussing it at IEET years from now, decades probably.

“What will you do?” Been a subject of recent reflection, but something around revitalising the European project seems promising. To be continued. (And don’t worry…taking leave from the Commission is an idea that has been cooking for quite some time! Haven’t severed my links just yet - I’ve taken unpaid sabbatical - but my first two months of freedom have done nothing to dent my conviction that there are better ways to live…)

Re Hungary, like I say I’m generally curious about this. I’m aware that the current government is popular, but are there factual errors in what has been reported by the foreign press? What is clear is that there is a perfectly sincere belief here in Brussels that the constitutional changes taking place in Hungary are genuinely undermining the basic institutional fabric of democracy in that country. The fact that such measures, and the government generally, is popular there means nothing, of course, but if there’s another side to the story that is being under-reported, then I want to know about it!

@Intomorrow re “if ‘art’ is a construct…it calls into question art vs. entertainment vs. hoax, possibly.”

Indeed it does. I have a similar - that is to say subjectivist - view on aesthetics as I do on ethics (which I see essentially as a branch of aesthetics: it is an aesthetic about how we should lead our lives). That is not to say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but neither is it a property of the object. It resides in the interaction between the two.

Art differs from entertainment, of course (though they can overlap), in that entertainment is more about distraction, amusement, something to help us unwind after a day in the office, while art is something that we expect to enrich us, to challenge us. We might not even particularly enjoy it at the time. As for hoaxes..yes, why do people pay through the nose for “concept” art that you or I could have produced? Many theses have been written on that subject, no doubt, but at least to some extent I believe it to be linked to Giulio’s gripe about incompetent politicians: the most meritorious don’t always get the job. (That said, I don’t subscribe to the view that all concept art is bullshit.)

“disheartening that someone would sell a ‘bad’ product”.......indeed,, but we need to deal with it. Why would we expect the arts to be exempt from snake oil salesmen?

“but we need to deal with it. Why would we expect the arts to be exempt from snake oil salesmen?”

Aye, we would not expect the arts to be exempt from snake oil.
Though I know you are correct on big corporations, I’d rather purchase a good jazz CD from Columbia (a large corp.) than an inferior CD from a more ethical smaller company, even though it would thus be unethical to do so:
However, better to follow Giulio’s advice to boycott big companies.
Will merely listen to the radio 😉

“I’d rather purchase a good jazz CD from Columbia (a large corp.) than an inferior CD from a more ethical smaller company, even though it would thus be unethical to do so”

And that, of course, raises an essential issue that we don’t discuss much on this blog: how ethical do we want to be anyway? We can have all sorts of interesting discussions about ethics, emerging technologies and whatever other subjects flit past our radar screen, but how does all that relate to our personal lives? And how hard should we be trying to ensure that it does?

The thing I love about utilitarianism, despite it having been dismissed as “the lazy man’s ethical framework” on another thread, is that it provides a coherent logical framework within which to think about what it means to be ethical. But motivation is different, and even froma utilitarian (that is to say wholly altruistic) perspective I believe it is possible to try TOO hard to be ethical. After all, one of the many ways in which I “interfere” in the lives of others, merely by breathing, is by acting as positive or negative role models. I prefer to be seen as a positive role model, of course, and we don’t do that by trying so hard to be ethical that people end up being put off.

@Peter re “The fact that such measures, and the government generally, is popular there means nothing”

WHAT ???

Do you mean that the will of the people, expressed by a very large majority in democratic elections MEANS NOTHING? Democracy means less than the “belief here in Brussels” ??? Really now.

Re “something around revitalising the European project seems promising”

It seems very promising indeed. Europe has been a powerful positive force in history, and I hope it will be a powerful positive force in the future, but it really needs to wake up. Otherwise, other cultures deserve the lead.

@Giulio

Sorry, I thought my meaning was clear, but I’ll spell it out: by “means nothing” I meant “does not tell us much, in itself, about the FACTS of the case”. As you know very well, truth cannot be determined by democracy, and there are factual questions - and assumptions that people here in Brussels are making about the facts of the case - which you appeared to be challenging by suggesting that what we’ve been worrying about here are essentially trumped-up charges by a disgruntled opposition. This is what I would like to understand better. Hitler was pretty popular in Germany in the 1930s, that’s why Germany, even more than other countries, has cast-iron safeguards against this kind of demagoguery in its constitution. This is what we are trying to protect in Hungary too. Is it possible that the Hungarian people have somewhat lost sight of that perhaps having been brainwashed by a nationalistic, pro-government media?

Re Europe, I’m not sure all would agree that Europe has been a “powerful positive force in history”. Very much depends which side of colonialism you were on. But we shouldn’t go into a millennial guilt trip about it. Indeed, Europe needs to wake up. As Benjamin Franklin said of the American Revolution: “we indeed need to hang together, otherwise most assuredly we will all hang separately”.

@Peter re “is it possible that the Hungarian people have somewhat lost sight of that perhaps having been brainwashed by a nationalistic, pro-government media?”

Everything is possible, but I find such a mass hallucination improbable. People were saying the same things two years ago when the old government was in power (and therefore the political influences on the press were different) , and they have voted en masse for the current government.

Re the heavy-handed treatment of banks (because, of course, this is what the fuss is really about):

The perception here is that Orban is damn right in imposing control on the banks. We have discussed this in other threads. In many countries the banks have been bailed out with our money. This is equivalent to a re-capitalization, where the new shareholder is the State. But then the new shareholder should have:
1) Nationalized the banks
2) Fired the incompetent
3) Jailed the corrupted
4) Restarted to loan money to the citizens in need
5) Put the banks on the right track with new management and then maybe privatize them again

We all know what happened instead. After having purposefully screwed up the economy for financial gain and forced the people out of their homes, the bankers have been compensated with our money, and the people have been screwed up again. This is _a ahame_.

Is the fuss really ONLY about the heavy-handed treatment of banks? Even as far as the central bank is concerned, independence of CENTRAL banks (as opposed to banks in general) has been axiomatic since sterling was forced out of the ERM. It was just too easy for Soros to win a bet against a Bank of England that was directly and immediately accountable to a government that didn’t have its heart in the process anyway. Result: Soros one billions, UK taxpayer (via the Bank of England) lost billions. Independent central banks are generally seen as helping to ensure a stability of monetary policy that gives investors confidence in investing. That’s why the IMF was alarmed,  and while the IMF does many stupid things (mainly pushing anti-growth policies on countries that desperately need growth) I don’t really think that’s one of them.

So no, I don’t find a mass hallucination that improbable. Most of us are hallucinating, most of them time, largely regurgitating whatever we read in newspapers and watch on TV. And then suddenly we get fed up and throw off our masters, whether they are Arab dictators, Russian quasi-dictators or Western governments that suddenly fall out of favour. Then we fall in love with the new masters and the cycle repeats.

“how ethical do we want to be anyway?”

Not very; the majority of men and a sizable fraction of women will give into temptation, as Christians rightly call it. Who can say for sure pastor Alex and other serious Christians are mistaken in their ethics? it is probably better to live a clean life.. but then you miss out on a great deal of the fun. So naturally it is a trade-off,
what isn’t?
Even Martin Luther said (unless it is apochryphal) words to the effect of “he who does not like wine women and song is a dullard.”
Or, as don Corleone said, more on-topic:
“every man measures his own greed”,
with few exceptions.
One thing for sure: those who ride in the fast lane don’t stay there long. Bernie Madoff could run his Ponzi operation while dining at the best restaurants and riding in limos, however it was inevitable his scheme would eventually be discovered. One advantage of a smaller corporation would be that a Madoff might *only* wind up losing say $50 million of his clients funds, not $50 billion or whatever the amount was.
At any rate, after reading what Giulio wrote (and the book ‘Small Is Beautiful’), it doesn’t appear to be a good idea to patronize Columbia or another such large corporation.

Temptation comes in many guises, of course. There’s what you naturally want to do on the spur of the moment (as that chocolate dessert stares you in the eyes), there’s what you think you should be doing (assuming you are having such thoughts at all), there’s how you want to live your life, generally (which may include not eating too many chocolate desserts), there’s how others think you should be living your life (pray five times a day towards Mecca) and there’s how you should be living your life from an altruistic, utilitarian-ethical point of view. And that last one will depend on your personality and circumstances: maybe “clean living” is right for some, wrong for others.

What interests me currently, above all, is the distinction between the third and fifth of these: how you want to live your life (assuming you can muster the discipline to do so) and what utilitarianism (or your preferred alternative ethical framework) might suggest you should be living it. Again it will depend who you are: some people don’t give a rat’s ass whether they conform to some overall ethical standard, others do. Some have come to a workable compromise, while others are quite conflicted about it.

I think this is an important issue for the future. On the whole I think enlightened self-interest has the best potential to be workable in practice and lead to reasonable results. Anything more ambitious will probably lead to a backlash. Yes, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s bad to try too hard to be good. Alex will disagree perhaps? (He has in the past.)

“Yes, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s bad to try too hard to be good. Alex will disagree perhaps? (He has in the past.)”

Those who try hard to be good can be called ‘saints’, they are anomalous; if you survey men’s behaviors, you will see they are less ethical than one who is unaware of what goes on behind closed doors might think.
We have touched on SNAFU in the past: situation normal, (all predatory and productive); Nietzsche’s ‘Will To Power’ means more to most men—those who are conventionally Real Men—than ‘Forgive Thine Enemy’.
The Golden Rule is to get more gold! dollars and sensitivity don’t mix. Such is what Rightwing libertarians know and some of us don’t know or don’t want to know. The entrepreneur doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, he just goes out and does things and lets the pointy heads worry about ethics.

 

The problem with trying hard to be good, is figuring out which good. As you point out standards are different. I had friends of twenty years stop talking to me because I refused to travel far away to find work and chose instead to stay close to my son. His mom had been in a car accident and was unable to parent him.

Their idea of good was work, pay the bills, never, ever take money from the government. A check in the mail for the kid was better than a poor Dad at home. I didn’t agree and we’ve never talked since.

The most difficult choices are not choices between good and evil. Those are usually blindingly obvious. Choosing between two apparent evils is tough (Hobson’s Choice), but it is possible to follow the path of each choice far enough to determine the lesser evil.

The really hard stuff is the choice between two apparent goods. People think that good is always clear but rarely think through the consequences of a good action as well as they might think through the consequences of a Hobson’s Choice.

Add to the mix evidence that we use a different part of our brain for making decisions based on “sacred” values. http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/science/5618/where_do_“sacred”_values_live_in_the_brain/ This research suggests a reason that people rarely are argued out of a strongly held opinion. If it falls into the “sacred” category then it will not change easily or quickly. Sacred here doesn’t necessarily mean religious, but rather opinions that are strongly held and important values. For some people buying a Ford is a “sacred” value.

I do have to argue with the latter point of Intomorrow’s comment. The reason some business people don’t appear to care about the issues the rest of us care about is that there is a lack of peer pressure. If the community that they were a part of saw lack of caring as shameful, then business people would work hard to be seen as sensitive individuals. That begets a chicken and egg question about how to change business culture to be more sensitive to the issues of the day.

Makes sense in the abstract, but now it starts to get real fast. Agreed on ethics as far as standards, as far as the moral high ground goes; yet academia is so different from business it’s difficult to even set parameters on discussing it. However to start with:
a Christian perceives the need for ethics;
the businessman sees the need for expediency.

You’d have to take it from there, and Peter as well, because I don’t know that higher ethics are relatable to business. The market has to cover everyone, including the lowest common denominator. And this ties in with aesthetics, as we can’t expect proles to have high aesthetic values anymore than high ethical values. If you were to read Sarkar you would know more about it.
Marx had high book knowledge; Sarkar looked more carefully at the world outside the library.

What is needed is for the consumer to force business to see ethics as expedient. Look at the pressure being put on Apple to bring the production of iPads to North America because of the use of child labour and unsafe working conditions. If enough people put on the pressure changes will happen.

I would also argue that there is no such thing as higher ethics. One is either ethical or not. That isn’t to say that one follows the rules or not, but rather that the decisions are made following a model that approaches what Peg talked about in her article on ethics and business.

I would suggest that the idea of ‘higher’ aesthetics is problematic too. That would suggest that there is ‘pure’ aesthetic that can be measured objectively. As one learns, taste changes. It is possible for someone to make fun of Lady Gaga, but does that mean that her stuff is less ‘real’ then say Stravinsky or Mozart?

Now you are getting somewhere. BTW, it is only that Lady Gaga is far less sophisticated, not less real, than the esteemed Mozart; perhaps Lady GaGa is excessively *real* in the manner Marilyn Manson is all too real—or say the film Night Of The Living Dead.
There are always unofficial standards: the obvious one is that parents want their children to be exposed to more ‘wholesome’ fare than depictions of violence and sexuality.
What was meant by ‘race to the bottom’ aesthetically, is how proles (what Sarkar termed laborers) are usually crude; we can’t expect a laborer to listen to Mozart or Beethoven, or eat fine cuisine. The laborer generally wants crude music and greasy spoon diner food, etc.
An interesting symmetry exists. If a communist-type revolution or two had broke out in Europe in 1848 it might have been relevant to the conditions of its day: the deplorable working conditions of the literal wage slavery of the time (which is why the Confederates had something in saying Northern American industrial slavery was worse than Southern black slavery). 70 years later the Russian Revolution occurred, but by then Marxism was being outmoded. It took another 70 years for Communism to play out. After 70 years of Sarkar (IMO a 20th century update of Marxism), it too must pass, as automation reduces the importance of laborers. Sure Sarkar’s theories are constructs, mere template—but so are Paul of Tarsus’ theories. Paul of Tarsus was merely Jesus Christ’s press agent.

Hmm, nice discussion. One of the nice things about discussing across time zones is that good things happen while I’m asleep 😊

Alex you make some good points, and I especially like the one about how we are more careful choosing between “evil” options than between good ones. Makes sense: choosing between evil/unpleasant options is kind of depressing, and “studies have shown” (as the saying goes) that we are more judicious when mildly depressed. Happy people are more likely to take mental shortcuts.

Where I seem to disagree with both of you, especially Intomorrow, is the apparent assumption that business-people are unethical, or at least less inclined to be ethical than us “pointy-heads”. Notwithstanding Peg’s recent article on the poor standard of ethics teaching in business, there is positive peer pressure within the business community to do good, and rein in the tendencies that exist to put expediency first. I’ve seen by working with environmentalists how we can undermine our effectiveness by believing that the rest of the world is essentially hostile to our cause, when in fact the reality is much less bleak. We need to see the positives as well as the negatives, because it is on the already existing positive processes and structures that we can (in general) most effectively build further progress.

Re aesthetics, I do agree (with Intomorrow) that one person’s aesthetic sense can be (a good deal) more sophisticated than another’s. Same goes for ethics (which, as noted above, I see basically as a branch of aesthetics anyway). There’s a balance to be struck, I guess, between bourgeois elitism (the pointy-heads know best) and dumbed-down relativism. Haven’t read Sarkar, but fascinating point about the Confederates Intomorrow, I hadn’t thought about that. I guess the counter-argument is that industrial wage slavery was a transitional and relatively new problem brought about by the industrial revolution, which as you’ve argued would eventually pass away (a process that is not yet complete, of course), whereas black slavery was already by then an obviously and deeply immoral anachronism. Less so perhaps in Benjamin Franklin’s day.

Correct, Pete, it wouldn’t be accurate to write business-people are less ethical, nevertheless there is (to return on-topic) an inference to our mistrust of large corporations: at best we might suppose large corporations are politically neutral; business is primarily concerned with profit—all the same, we know due to bias, neutrality doesn’t actually exist.
Go go back off-topic (similar to the second law of thermodynamics, I drift from an on-topic state to a state off-topic), if taste/standards are so subjective, then does aesthetics, values even, count for anything? is it random, arbitrary and capricious? why teach lit and music appreciation, fil studies, at universities? why not let students wander through libraries choosing whatever books they want to read, films they want to watch, music they wat to listen to?: that is if taste/standards are random, arbitrary, then ‘art’ is entirely a construct and can be chosen randomly and arbitrarily.

Indeed, we shouldn’t trust large corporations, but because they consist of people, not because they consist of business-people.

Re aesthetics and values, yes I am pretty staunchly subjectivist in my thinking. Does that mean they count for nothing? Well, even THAT is then subjective, isn’t it? Ultimately, we determine whether something “counts” or not. We determine what kind of society we want to live in, and then empirical laws of cause and effect determine whether, in order to create such a society, we need to let students wander through libraries at will (something to be said for that by the way), or whether we’d better thrust the whole curriculum down their throats.

The subtle difference here is between believing (i) that what to value is something we choose, not something we “discover”, or (ii) “anything goes”, and we should just let ourselves and others do whatever without any reference to aesthetic or moral principles. (ii) simply doesn’t follow from (i). I want to live in a world where people love happy, enriched lives, and for that we need both ethics and aesthetics. The fact that I don’t believe there is any absolute law that says this HAS to be doesn’t change this.

In other words: yes, art CAN be chosen randomly and arbitrarily, but that doesn’t mean it should, It’s up to us, and when we understand this it’s very liberating.

To continue perseverating on the subject of aesthetics until it is exhausted (my modus operandi):
without being excessively postmodern concerning the following, it appears higher aesthetics, standards, taste, culture, values, can be considered to be made up out of whole cloth. Take the Beatles since they are so well-known; they have been described as “not being formally trained, thus free to break all the rules in music”, and “untouched, self-contained”. So hypothetically children could be allowed to grow up as themselves (sans the Lord of the Flies scenario), they could be more original—though still derivative of course—composing music like John Cage for instance; prose like James Joyce; poetry like Gertrude Stein; dancing like Isadora Duncan; fine arts like… well… you name it; films like ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’, albeit unintentional horror films.

That looks about right Intomorrow. Too much knowledge can inhibit creativity instead of promoting it. No coincidence that jazz was born in a brothel, right?

“No coincidence that jazz was born in a brothel, right?”

Yes, but now watch what you say about my family 😉 
For some reason when thinking of
innate, “untouched” painters, Jackson Pollock comes to mind; but there is two ways of thinking about such: it is art or it is *squiggles*
—though squiggles are acceptable. Same goes for John Cage: he is music and he is noise. And to finally get somewhat back on-topic, a dichotomy also exists re commercialization whether the entertainment/art corporation is small, mid-level or large. I accept commercialization for one reason: proles, frankly, can’t be expected to appreciate finer things. A truck driver might get so enthralled listening to Beethoven’s 5th while driving that when the crescendo arrives (you know which one) he drives off the road in rhythm to the symphony 😉
However there is a serious point above, highbrow and even middlebrow entertainment and art can be too distracting for proles and we shouldn’t deny it in service of PC.
Another factor re the “hamburger mentality” of entertainment/art is in music a symphonic work is very expensive to produce; while Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa, or grunge, hip hop, rap of course, and all the rest are not particularly expensive to produce.

PS
“there is two ways of thinking about such: it is art or it is *squiggles*”

That is, there are two ways; more than two ways in fact: a work can be art, entertainment, or junk—or all three.
And right away one can think of three reasons for the “hamburger mentality” of entertainment/art corporations whether large, mid-sized or small:
a) obviously, maximizing profits while minimizing quality to save costs.
b) the *artists* themselves seeking commercial success and or possessing little talent to begin with.
c) dumbing down to the lowest common denominator to please proles and other lowbrows.

The expense issue is about complexity, right? But there’s another issue that I became aware of recently by reading the excellent “Cut-ure: Ideas Can Be Dangerous” by Rian Hughes, namely the connection between original work and copy/performance. Beethoven’s Fifth is, in a sense, pure information, which then has to be manifested every time it is performed, whereas a Lady Gaga hit arguably IS the performance. So when we say one is more expensive to produce than the other we have to make sure we are comparing like with like. Strictly speaking, I guess there is (much) more information (complexity) in a Lady Gaga video than in the essential content of a Beethoven’s Fifth score. (I’m not talking an the paper on which it is printed, since this is NOT generally considered to be an essential part of the work.)

In fact, I think what really makes Beethoven more high-brow is that his work appeals to more cerebral parts of us than Lady Gaga, and the appeal is therefore more durable, if arguably less intense. We are less likely to feel embarrassed at having once been enamoured of a Beethoven symphony.

We can agree that Beethoven’s Fifth is not ‘better’ than Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, only more sophisticated. But we might also agree that the latter appeals to a baser crowd of listener. You say to a biker listening to Whole Lotta Love,
“what do you think of transhumanism?”,
and he replies:

“you mean them nuclear-tipped Japanese killer robots? I like ‘em.”

@Intomorrow Not wishing to be suffocaatingly PC, but let’s be a bit cautious about describing certain categories of people as “baser” than others. Let’s rather say that certain kinds of art appeal to baser instincts…which is more or less what I was saying about the “higher brow” arts appealing to more cerebral parts of us. And even then, by “baser” I’m not intending any kind of moral or other kind of inferiority, any more than I necessarily regard homo sapiens as being “superior” to amoebae. We each have our role to play in the global ecosystem.

What I would rather say is that the most pointy-headed of homo sapiens have a special responsibility to try to steer humanity, and the global ecosystem, towards sustainable prosperity and harmony. If we are to judge art, it is ultimately against this yardstick that we must do so (that’s the utilitarian coming out in me again).

By the way here’s an anecdote. I had a very classical musical upbringing: piano, french horn, church organ, singing in choirs, all the way from Monteverdi to Stockhausen. These days I’m more into Coldplay and the like. The other day my neighbour was listening to a Mozart piano concerto and I actually found it quite off-putting. Too much Sturm und Drang, and it’s not even romantic! What do you make of that?

What I make of it is that these days I look to transhumanism and such to appeal to my more cerebral parts, and meanwhile have become more aware and accepting of my “baser” instincts. Or perhaps I’m still rebelling against elements of my upbringing… 😊

@Peter re “a very classical musical upbringing”

Same here. My mother was a professional piano player and teacher, and half of my family were professional musicians and singers, some very well known.

Result? I am one of those people who can live without music. The only genres that I really like are classical jazz and rap (unusual for people my age).

This is going further off-topic, nevertheless, aesthetics ought not be neglected; as the individual attempts to balance the intellect, emotions, and that which might be termed spiritual (escapist), there should be an attempt to balance science, social ‘science’, and art/entertainment. We shouldn’t hide behind analytical objectivity in saying we accept baseness if we do not.
I’ve never quite understood the difference between toleration and acceptance- toleration appears as acceptance-Lite. As you yourself might have mentioned recently, Pete, we either like something or we do not: we are not neutral concerning our mothers-in-law. No one is neutral about root canal work at the dentist.
As we shouldn’t hide behind analytical objectivity, we shouldn’t hide behind value-neutrality. For us to think/say we accept or even tolerate base entertainment is smarmy, we are saying (if only to ourselves): “eating soggy hotdogs, listening to guitar-banging music, and watching ‘Porkys Revenge’ or ‘Debbie Does Texas’ is fine for a knuckledragger but not for me.”
Such is in some way playing at neutrality:
“I accept your taste (even though I do not- because you lack taste).”
Perhaps modus vivendi comes closer to the mark than acceptance or toleration, yet modus vivendi is getting a bit too abstract about it.
“I don’t like crude entertainment, however I will come to a modus vivendi with you, Mr. Knuckledragger.”
And he replies:
“what is Modus Vivendi? a new Grunge band?”

It’s true that acceptance and tolerance have varying, and overlapping meanings, which often lead to misunderstandings: appearing to agree when we disagree, appearing to disagree when we agree. My position on both ethics and aesthetics goes something like this.

1. Don’t go looking for absolutes. There aren’t any. There are likes and dislikes, and there are causes and consequences. But no-one can tell you what to like, nor what (for you) it means to be “good”. That’s your personal decision.

2. That doesn’t mean we have to “tolerate”, or accept, everything. Or anything for that matter. What we choose to tolerate or not tolerate also falls under 1., i.e. it’s our personal decision.

3. Most of us are basically sane, which means partly selfish (I look after myself and my own first), partly altruistic (capable of empathy towards strangers, having a genuine interest in helping society to function better). The details vary from person to person, from culture to culture, however, (see what Naomi Wolf says about the hijab, for example); this determines our values. Attitude towards various forms/levels of “art” also falls under this.

4. Our values then determine - in the best of cases, i.e. once we’ve learnt to be mindful about these things - what we tolerate, and what we don’t tolerate. Our intolerances then bring us into conflict with others, which we will deal with in accordance with our values around conflict resolution. (Again, this presupposes a certain level of mindfulness, otherwise we just behave according to our natural stress response.)

So faced with someone eating soggy hotdogs, listening to guitar-banging music, and watching ‘Porkys Revenge’ I don’t think I’d be hiding behind anything (except perhaps earplugs), but my attitude would be something like:

First reaction: eat, listen to and watch whatever the hell you want, as long as youndon’t do it around me.

Second reaction. Wtf?

Third reaction: curiosity: do you REALLY like that stuff?

And that would be _genuine_ curiosity. If I had some kind of a relationship with that person such that I had some legitimate reason to care about their aesthetic preferences I might look for signs that they reflected some kind of superficial, pseudo-addictive vice and encourage them to pursue nterests that were somewhat more meaningful. The kind of things that give you a sense of accomplishment and senerity over the long haul, not just a moment of blissful amnesia. But I’d want to be slow to judge. After all, we all need to relax from time to time: we can’t be doing “meaningful” things (like appreciating higher brow art) ALL the time. Can we? Should we? Would that make us happier?

Now, of all these “base” pursuits become so prevalent that they start to seriously pollute our own environment, then we have a _really_ legitimate cause for concern, but again without needing to be remotely absolutist or judgemental about it. Perhaps we just don’t want to be surrounded by all that kitsch, in which case point 4. above applies.

Pete, my bias is towards Sarkar’s theories (Sarkar filtered through Ravi Batra, because the original is a little too Bhagavad-Gita-and-flowers mystical for a Westerner to take undiluted).
So IMO it is the commercialization which is most irksome: those one might consider of lower taste can be thought of as victims of over-commercialization: he chooses Cheetos brand name snacks, listens to brand name Goth music, watches brand name Slasher films, contemporary brand name Grunge-type films (very common today), plus brand name oldie-but-moldies such as “Porky’s Revenge”, ‘Debbie Does The Entire Southwest’.
So if I were more tactless, undiplomatic (brave) I would tell such a person of how I object to what might be deemed in the colloquial itself “trash” culture not only on aesthetic grounds but also due to what is IMO over-commercialization.

Pete,
so there’s no misunderstanding: you are without doubt correct one must be kind to the sort of people we have been discussing above- yet not be trimmers; it doesn’t do them any good, nor us.
If someone shows us a canvas we don’t like—say they vomited on it and called it art—I would first tell them it is interesting, a catch-all answer; then, if pressed, tell them it had a certain savoir faire; then if that didn’t work, simply walk away.

@Imtomorrow I was reminded again of this exchange a minute ago while responding to Giulio’s latest re “bureaucrats and bankers and Internet freedom”. In his comment he made the claim,  “Nobody wants to kill off commerce,” a claim I am inclined to dispute.

You talk of _over_-commercialisation, but this begs the following questions. Where is the line between legitimate commerce and “over-commercialisation”? Who gets to decide? And should art be treated fundamentally differently to other “commodities”?

Any ideas?

In the age of nano the notion of overcommercialization may be outdated.
Still, there is double-think involved: to begin with, parents might say taste is subjective but impose their own standards/taste/values on their children—
and on the larger world by way of statutes and aggressive campaigning via intense pressure, because for starters parents want things their way. As I was telling Alex at his latest piece, if the boss tells you to wear a tie around your ass, you wear a tie around your ass: it’s not based on force so much, but it is accompanied by hardsell, pressure.
In America, baseball, football, drinking, even possibly cigarette smoking, are not only permitted but also help shape taste. Drinking alcohol (which is very frequently substance abuse) shapes our taste. Standards, taste, values are relative to time and place and can be thought of as random, arbitrary and capricious; statutes are enforced by force of course. or by coerscion, manipulation- including subliminal advertising.
So who gets to decide?? as in politics, international relations, it ultimately comes down to those who have the bigger guns!

.. who makes the statutes arbits standards/taste/values; whether commissar, captain of industry, jurist, parent, priest, policeman… that’s who gets to decide. And should art be treated fundamentally differently to other “commodities”? it isn’t and wont be. The tune is de facto decided by the boss in every sphere and we dance to the tune using our own steps.

Taking another stab at it, Pete, power growing out of the barrel of a gun is too remote in its causation; however that courts have the power is in no doubt- as arbiters of law and also a case could be made for courts arbiting taste as well. As economies are the sum total of all our transactions, it would be artificial to separate everything we do from taste and, esp. standards & values. If not power then certainly the influence of peer pressure to say the least. We cannot actually compartmentalize these aspects. The following is a good link to the author of the piece we are commenting on; and Piero is not promoting himself as an arbiter of taste, on the contrary, he is pointing out how taste can and very often is de facto arbited by actors having influence all out of proportion to their true stature:

http://scaruffi.com/vol1/beatles.html

“Piero is not promoting himself as an arbiter of taste”

Hmm…..isn’t he? I read the article on the Beatles, then I read his Wikipedia entry, then I read his fascinating 2010 article about how Wikipedia had become a force for evil. That last one was very thought-provoking, but rather (to my mind) confirms the first comment I made on this thread: what he complains about both in that article and in this one is just one more example of the problems caused by concentration of power. Perhaps THAT is what we should mean by “over-commercialisation”, or perhaps we should use a different word. The problem isn’t that art has become “over-“commercialised, it’s that it has become _badly_, that is to say monopolistically (or more correctly oligopolistically) commercialised, with all the corporate thuggery that this entails, and of which Piero is clearly a victim.

In fact I think Piero _does_ promote himself as an arbiter of taste. He has a website, and he opines about the merits (or lack of them) of different artists. But I have no problem with that. Clearly he has tastes that are based on huge knowledge and an equally huge passion and commitment to, and indeed love for, music. Does that mean that Piero is expressing “truths” when he says that this or that artist is good or bad? I still don’t really think so. Is he worth listening to? Most definitely. And indeed, it’s the _sophistication_ of his taste that makes him worth listening to.

“In fact I think Piero _does_ promote himself as an arbiter of taste. He has a website, and he opines”


There has to be a degree of assertiveness; we can’t appear to be timid by writing,
“... I think, er, that is to say, I mean.. if you’ll pardon the expression… on the other hand…”
We’re men, not mice. We can’t qualify all our opinions with “IMO” all day long (at least IMO 😉).

This is the place to start for alternatives in music, and not merely music. As the artist himself said, to paraphrase,
“we offer music, art, and comedy- that’s more for culture than Babe Ruth ever offered”:

http://www.scaruffi.com/vol1/zappa.html

“There has to be a degree of assertiveness; we can’t appear to be timid by writing,
“... I think, er, that is to say, I mean.. if you’ll pardon the expression… on the other hand…”“

Agreed, absolutely!

Naturally Piero, as everyone, has to make some compromises.. as you alluded, commercialization is to some degree unavoidable. What I like most about his music reviewing is the lack of grade inflation, Elvis and the Beatles—merely for two—don’t get higher marks than they deserve at the Scaruffi site. But then giving Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” a 9.5 on a scale of 1-10 appears too high a grade:
it is challenging, unusual, interesting; yet depends how much dramamine one takes before one listens to it.

And in fact, I’m sure Piero would be the first to agree that his grades are, ultimately, subjective. Of course, giving celebrities low marks is not in itself a sign of knowledge or good taste - plenty of people dislike celebs just because they are celebs. But Piero himself seems to have enough credentials to be credible. What Elvis and the Beatles had was luck, charisma and self-perpetuating popularity, and indeed that says very little about their musical quality.

“But Piero himself seems to have enough credentials to be credible.”

Cred. Credentials are equivalent to credibility.
Piero isn’t Siskel and Ebert when Siskel was alive, telling America not to watch a fluffy Hollywood romance, but rather to go see a good clean wholesome gangster film about Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro kicking a recalcitrant in the face. The finer things, Pete: la dolce vita.
We say we don’t want to be judgmental concerning art/entertainment, yet we do; most parents would much prefer their children watching Disney than torture-snuff films. Most parents want their children to see ‘Beauty and the Beast’ instead of vampire-slasher flicks. The rating system for movies is to just that end, of course.

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