Monday Night — Army/Future of Ideas — Discussion w/ Drazen Pantic

Comments Off on Monday Night — Army/Future of Ideas — Discussion w/ Drazen Pantic

1. About Monday
2. About Drazen Pantic
3. Summary Article
4. Text by Jamie King — An Army of Ideas
5. 10 Principles of Digital Democracy
6. Text from Salon.com (2002 Broadband article)
7. Suggested Links
As promised, our event from last
week will take place this Monday.
First a special thanks to Francois
Bucher, Yates McKee, Diane Ludin and
our guest Drazen Pantic for helping
put together the framework for this
1. About Monday
When: 7:00pm
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 5th Floor
Who: Everyone is Welcome
Recently, the FCC voted to ease restrictions on media ownership. On June 19 some members of Congress will vote on legislation which will attempt to overturn those new rules. In light of these events and our ongoing interests in the changing/evolving landscape of media and broadband this Monday, all interested parties are invited for a discussion about these and related topics.
On hand will be Drazen Pantic, a long time advocate of independent media, he has been and continues to be involved in a variety of initiatives working to expose/utilize the potential of emerging technologies.
In addition to getting his input on the recent events, we will work from a series of materials ranging from screening a powerpoint presentation by Laurence Lessig to a recent article by Jamie King (which has been posted below).
In these writings, central questions emerge about certain framing concepts like “the information commons” or the “digital frontier” and their relation to (in Lessig’s case) the “Future of Ideas” and (in King’s case via Negri via Marx) a revamped notion of a “general intellect”, a term used by Marx.
We will take up these terms to formulate/discuss some of the key positions of “resistance” to corporate/state elements looking to privatize and limit free exchange of information.
As always, all are welcome and we hope that you will be able to join us!
2. About Drazen Pantic
Drazen Pantic, a native of Belgrade, is the founder of OpenNet, the Internet department of Radio B92 in Belgrade and Serbia’s first Internet service provider (est. 1995). For the the use of new media technologies to counter political repression in the former Yugoslavia Pantic was rewarded by the Pioneer Award of Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1999. He has established numerous public Internet access centers, including the cultural center CyberRex. Co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Advanced Media in Prague (C@MP), established in 1998 by the Open Society Institute. He has taught, lectured and published widely on use of the Internet to support independent media and free expression. Pantic has given interviews, written articles and been cited in New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Herald Tribune, Washington Post, MSNBC, Boston Globe, Independent, Times, Wired etc.
3. Summary Article
In the first week of June 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by a slight majority voted to eliminate certain restrictions on media ownership. Under the new guidelines, for example, the FCC agreed to let a television network own local television affiliates that collectively reach 45 percent of the national audience, as opposed to the original 35 percent. Despite public outcry over the impending “vote” and an unlikely “coalition” of groups (ranging from the NRA to NOW) protesting the new guidelines, the decisions were made mostly behind closed doors. Major news organizations downplayed or ignored the story, and the FCC made little effort to alleviate any of the fears voiced by those against the rule changes.
Dissenting members serving on the FCC made the uncommon move of voicing publicly their concerns, fears, and scepticism for the new guidelines minutes before the votes were to be cast. Among a litany of grievances, those who dissented warned that the proposed rule changes would only serve to further consolidate and monopolize the avenues through which people (at least in the United States) receive their information and decrease the viability of multiple local news outlets.
Chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, a G.W. Bush appointee and the son of Gen. Colin Powell, led the charge to support the rule change by making the case that emergent forms of media (particularly online) have made the current guidelines outdated. Morever, proponents like Powell, argued that these outmoded regulations only serve to impede the markets (a.k.a. “innovation”) and that the incredible variety of information available via the internet only serves to deflate any of the accusations that these rule changes pave the way for furthering a media monopoly.
Now as a response to the FCC vote, a bi-partisan group of Senators has promised to overturn these new regulations by introducing specific amendments and rule changes. It has been announced that the Senate Commerce Committee will consider a bill to roll back the national television cap to 35 percent on June 19. Although the head of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Billy Tauzin, has already voiced his opposition to a similar bill in the House; the possibility remains that a significant turn out against these regulations will pressure a majority in Congress to vote to rescind these new regulations.
Although contacting and voicing our concerns to local, state, and FEDERAL representatives is in this case (as if most often the case) necessary, questions do remain about the overall plans and counter-plans, strategies and counter-stragies, tactics and counter-tactics that are at play/or remain to be worked out.
Although a large number of Senators for example have at least initially expressed their outrage over the June 2nd FCC decisions, other instances or examples of collusion between corporations and states to control and monopolize the future of information and media are more common. From the genetic code and more general scientific data to extensions of copyrights, limitations on “Fair Use”, many countries like the U.S. in lock step with international trade organizations like the WTO have fostered a ‘propertarian ideology’ and supported the privatization of what is and should be essentially public.
In addition to developing many of the issues raised above, in his article “Towards an Army of Ideas”, Jamie King points to glaring examples (e.g., U.S. Senator Hollings’ introduction of a bill allowing companies to engage in licensed sabotage of peer to peer networks, Microsoft’s ‘Palladium’ project which attempts to control/regulate/govern the files/programs/software that will be able to run on its Operating System, etc., …) by which ‘propertarian ideologies’ or strategies of ‘enclosure’ manifest themselves.
But again, even in this case, what first appears to be a clear cut case of those bent on privatizing information and those tied to protecting access to and the ability for exchanging information becomes for King a troubling question of how certain notions of or relations to “piracy”, or to terms such as the “digital frontier”, and even more “sympathetic” metaphors like ‘information commons’ may work against their stated “well meaning” intentions. One of his central concerns comes back to how certain arguments for digital democracy may in fact be misguided (e.g., relying on “free market” analogies to fight for digital democracy is not altogether consistent).
He also ponders whether these very acts of “enclosure” on the part of corporations or states are not significations of a desperation, signs of the impossibility for shutting down the openness of thought, the sharing of information, the power that belies the intellectual labor of the multitude.
Needless to say, the essay has been included below and it is an interesting read, but the critical questions for the upcoming Monday will be related back to the plans, strategies, tactics being executed by corporate and state bodies and the implications those moves have on the future of information, “ideas” as Laurence Lessig puts it, media, the information commons, the general intellect, … . Moreover, we will attempt to discuss and outline the main arguments/points/contentions in Lessig’s book “the Future of Ideas”, as well as points brought out in Jamie King’s stimulating essay “Army of Ideas”.
– R. Gabri
4. Essay by Jamie King
[KEYWORDS: Commons, Information Commons, General Intellect, Frontier, Bad
Frontier, Immaterial Labour, Affective Labour, Paolo Virno, Karl Marx,
Grundrisse, Fragment on Machines, Fixed Capital, Internet, ARPA, ARPANET,
Piracy, Kingdom of Piracy, KOP, Enclosures, Diggers, Hobbes, Sovereignty,
Oppositional Intellect]
Towards an ‘Army of Ideas’ –
Oppositional Intellect & The Bad Frontier
J. J. King
[…] you strive to take away my livelihood, and the liberty of this poor
weak frame of my body of flesh, which is my house I dwell in for a time; but
I strive to cast down your kingdom of darkness, and to open hell gates, and
to break the devil’s bonds asunder wherewith you are tied, that you my
enemies may live in peace; and that is all the harm I would have you to
Gerrard Winstanley [1]
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
William Shakespeare
To commence anecdotally: I recently ecountered, uncoincidentally in a part
of London that has over the last five to seven years been gentrified beyond
anything but the barest degree of recognition, in a cafe that has got itself
up in some sort of impression of a souk, and in which coiffed quasi-bohos
lounge with lattes and smouldering joints, a young ‘cracker’ who had until
recently been part of a pirate community which took part both in the
‘chipping’ of mobile phones (releasing a user’s hardware from indenture to a
particular service provider), the copying of DVDs, modification of gaming
consoles, so on. The person in question had been engaging in such activities
for years, he explained, until realising that, far from challenging
traditional market structures, his group was actually performing a form of
underground marketing that had already been recognised by certain
corporations – he named Sony specifically. Increasingly those corporations
were using underground ‘cracker’ communities to distribute early versions of
their products which, with their readymade illict halo, had an instant
appeal to the youth market at which they were largely targeted. Disgusted,
the young activist immediately ceased his activities. [2]
This anecdote speaks very well to the problems of ‘piracy’ and its status as
a form of oppositional culture. It gives us cause to remember that there can
be no Kingdom of Piracy without a Kingdom of Property, and, therefore, to
think through the ways in which we sustain and constitute the very economies
we want to operate against. In this essay, by exploring a series of
proximate and crosslinked ideas, I will attempt to articulate the reasons
why a ‘Kingdom of Piracy’ must, if it is to ever move beyond the position of
intolerable ‘counterculture’ naivety expressed by the subject above,
actively configure itself as opposition , and not assume that it posseses a
privileged oppositionality which, in fact, is all too easily co-opted by
commodity culture.
This argument is not only not as esoteric as it might first appear, but is
in fact aboslutely timely in discussions that have been going on for a while
(in one circle) around the so-called ‘information commons’ and ‘intellectual
property’, and (in entirely another) around ‘immaterial’ or ‘affective
labour’ and the ‘general intellect’. It seems to me that we can profit by
bringing these two discourses into proximity, for a limited period only, and
letting them duke it out. Finally we shall progress onto a terrain that I
want to call, tentatively, ‘the bad frontier’, the best place to begin the
vital business of working towards oppositional intellect , the final
neologism of this investigation, by which I mean a general intellect that
constitutes itself in deliberate opposition to (and perhaps flight from –
they can amount to the same thing) market capitalism.
The Information Commons
A new phrase, ‘information commons’, has gained significant currency as a
way of describing community-shared information, particularly that enabled
and enacted through information networks. Proponents argue its value as a
theoretical premise lies in its ability to ‘provide a coherent framework and
language for explaining phenomena that are otherwise ignored or
misunderstood’ [3] today, to whit, certain ‘constitutional and cultural
norms that are increasingly threatened in the new digital environment.’ [4]
‘Information commons’, it is held, is a metaphor that can help us
understand the importance of the new kinds of ‘social spaces’ opening in and
around networks. ‘Commons’ itself is also, no less importantly, a way of
suggesting the commonality of certain key resources- genetic code, for
example, or, more generally, scientific data – and promotiong our shared
responsibilities towards such resources by emhpasising their universal
value. But the term takes us analepetically to the commons of feudal europe,
an extraordinarily complex system of open fields and common rights which
supported Europe’s agrarian community throughout the 1500s. These commons
were under community regulation: the peasantry had customary rights over
them which had never been encoded in law, [5] rights premised on the
‘self-governing and customary elements in the structure of the
pre-capitalist village community’, [6] and on that community’s ‘collective
memory’. [7]
Ominously, the first point of similiarity often drawn between the feudal
commons and the ‘information commons’ is with regards to the Enclosures,
through which the landed classes of England, and a rising class of mechant
farmers, siezed and developed these lands in the advance of what Hannibal
Travis terms the ‘propertarian ideology’. [8] The Enclosures asserted over
free farming peasants and their land near-absolute rights of perpetual
duration, substituting communal land regulation for individual tenure. [9]
Through the the 1700s and early 1800s, a series of 4,000 acts of English
Parliament authorized the seizure of some seven million acres of commons.
Village-held lands were fenced off and given to private interests, as
customary relations fell, piecemeal, to the forces of law and coercion which
supported this ‘propertarisation’.
The ‘Enclosure’ of the ‘information commons’ is taken by James Boyle [10]
and others to be an apt way of describing the attempts of commercial
interests to maintain or gain control over, for example, the information
shared over various social and information networks, and the valorisation of
this information as ‘intellectual property’. The landmarks in this process
are already well-documented, and since it is beyond the scope of this essay
to provide a thorough review of them all, a few examples will have to
suffice here. 1998’s US Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which added
twenty years to the copyright protection of works produced after 1923,
ensured that many thousands of works that had fallen or were due to fall
into private hands would not re-enter the public domain until 2019; the same
year’s infamous Digital Millennium Copyright Act, prohibiting the
circumvention of any technical measure that controls access to a work,
criminalised not only the manufacture and distribution of software that can
bypass technical protection measures, but even the mere sharing of
information about that protection [11] ; today Microsoft’s ‘Palladium’
project attempts to secure information as ‘intellectual property’ by
engineering its operating system such that the average user will find it
very difficult to run anything other than Microsoft-‘authorised’ files. The
intended outcome of all of these initiatives is to convert disrete sets of
freely shared or shareable information into privately controlled commodities
– and to ensure that those sets whose commodity-status is currently
challenged retain that status.
The last few years have seen longstanding provisions for access to
scientific knowledge begin to fall to a similar set of processes. Patent
claims increasingly reach further ‘upstream’ from end products, covering
fundamental discoveries that provide the knowledge base for future product
development. [12] The patent is taken to play a critical role in the
development of pharmaceutical products, and the support of aggressive
patenting extends through government and legislature of both North America
and Europe. The TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights)
agreement, formulated by the World Trade Organisation, means that all WTO
states are forced to introduce patent legislation into national law that
makes patents available for any invention or product that meets the criteria
of novelty, inventiveness and industical applicability. [13] This definition
includes biotechnology, and provides for the patenting of life-forms.
It is not at all in question that these are significant and concerted
attempts at preventing various networks – public, academic, scientific and
agrarian – from the free sharing of information and common-wealth through
the construal of such as ‘property’. But whereas, in the case of a commonly
shared physical resource – aquifers, for example, forests, or the gene-pool
[14] – it might be possible to imagine a kind of ‘enclosure’, is the same
true of purely informational economies involving audio, text, film and
spoken language? What are the consequences of using the notion of
‘information commons’ to conceptualise such attempts as ‘enclosure’? [15]
There are serious consequences, first of all, to reading information as
constitutive of a space in its own right . The internet-as-territory
(‘cyberspace’), and specifically as ‘frontier’ are obvious exampes of such a
reading. Via the imaginary-historical frontier of Frederick Jackson Turner,
with its radicalising economic, social and political potentials, the
science-fictional frontiers of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert A. Heinlein and
William Gibson, the militarily enacted frontiers of the Cold War, and the
‘Final Frontier’ of ‘outer’ space, the Internet became constituted in the
popular mind of the last decade as a ‘new frontier’, a ‘wild west’, a
‘place’ in which exploration, innovation, self-fulfillment, self-realisation
and wanton speculation were, as on the original imaginary frontier, the
rule: the grand narrative of the American Idea played out over this novel
information network. Internet-as-cyberspace-as-frontier is still a powerful
formulation today. The fact that both the latter terms have fallen into
disuse does not change one iota its instrumentality in the net’s development
as a socioeconomic architecture. And, in the shape of the ‘information
commons’, we can see a new spatial imaginary rising up to take its place.
But, as with the ‘digital frontier’, there are signs that the ‘information
commons’ is not necessary or sufficient or to its object. In what sense is a
‘second enclosure’ now underway? In point of fact, the distribution of
‘intellectual property’ may be systematically checked and contested, but it
is nonetheless virulent: not only unabated, but more rife than ever. Media
types currently traversing various networks include audio files (most
popularly in MP3 and Ogg Vorbis formats), images (JPEG, GIF), video (MPEG,
AVI, DivX;-) ) including but not limited to full feature films, works of
literature in ‘plaintext’ or other forms, essays, academic papers, textual
discussions on Web-based boards (using, for example, software like Slashdot
or Kuro5hin) and Usenet, weblogs (most often a form of public diary),
databases (for example of search queries), software and code libraries (
‘Free Software’ under the GNU copyleft license, but proprietary software
also circulates freely) scientific data, molecule research, and so on and so
forth. All of this despite the bilateral legislation and trade agreements,
despite attempts at hardware restriction, despite systematic erosion of
freedom of speech rights: the expansion of this shared body of information
continues apace.
A very recent example speaks volumes about the degree of desperation now
being experienced by the establishment as a consequence of this burgeoning
‘Kingdom of Piracy’: the attempt by Senator Hollings of the U.S. Senate to
pass a bill allowing companies to engage in licensed sabotage of peer to
peer networks. What is revealed in this declaration of war on the multitude
of p2p users seems to depend on personal prediliction. The media owner sees
in it gloves-off support by the American legislature for IP rights – to the
extent of legalising corporate warfare. The commons-protectionist sees in it
doom for the commons and a statement of the intent to decimate peer
information architectures. We, on the contrary, can read in it an implicit
admission that other forms of civil control are simply not working, and
indeed that the legislative and technological ‘enclosures’ so bemoaned by
commons proponents are more or less ineffective. In what other context would
state-licensed corporate sabotage manifest itself as a possible strategy?
It possible that the ‘information commons’ is not only beyond protection,
but beyond control? Is it realistic to maintain definitive enclosure as a
possibility, and to conceive of (a sort of ‘ecological’) protectionism as
the best or only solution to that enclosure? [16] Is it possible that, in
the case of our informational communities, we need to think not of defending
against , but of attacking with?
Introducing the General Intellect
In an interview for Mute magazine conducted by Ted Byfield, ‘information
commons’ proponent James Boyle explicitly links his project to a ‘Marxian’
one. [17] This is curious for two reasons: first, since Boyle often carries
out defense of the ‘information commons’, posed against the Draconian
‘fencing’ off of ideas and social knowledge, by arguing that such
‘enclosures’ are a counterproductive check on innovation. The argument that
a regulated, shared, common resource is the best, most productive and
‘ethical’ way to structure capital in the tertiary ‘informational’ economy
seems about as far from Marx and Marxism as it is possible to get.
The second reason it is suprising is that Marx has already come up, in the
Grundrisse, with a very potent way of understanding the ‘economy of
information’, one which presents a set of serious challenges to proponents
of the ‘information commons’. Marx’s idea, which comes complete with its own
phrase, the ‘general intellect’, has enjoyed its own popularity in the last
six years or so, particularly with Italian autonomist theorists such as
Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno, who have rather successfully sought to take
it beyond the bounds in which Marx’s text deliniated it.
Marx uses this term ‘general intellect’ to refer to the social knowledge or
‘collective intelligence’ of a society at a given historical period. Just as
collective corporeal power is necessary to complete certain tasks of
production, so too production employs collective intellectual power .As
technologies and machines become more important as a means of production,
Marx says, the creation of real wealth will come to depend not on the direct
expenditure of labour time in production, but on two interrelated factors:
technological expertise – ‘scientific labour’ – and organisation – ‘social
combination.’ [18] The crucial factors in production become the ‘development
of the general powers of the human head’; ‘general social knowledge’;
‘social intellect’ and ‘the general productive forces of the social brain.’
In other words, it is during the translocation of the business of production
into productive technologies – ‘fixed capital’ – that social knowledge
becomes a ‘direct force’ [20] in market capitalism.
In three distinct moments just such a translocation has occurred in the
predominant capitalist countries; from economies driven by agriculture and
the extraction of raw materials in the Middle Ages, to industry and the
manufacture of durable goods in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to
the current paradigm in which services and the manipulation of information
are the dominant economic factor.
In the move towards an industrial-informational economy, ‘intellectual’
labour has become a critical driver of the entire capital system, even of
what might be called ‘traditional’ industries. We could think of the crucial
role of the ‘creative’ in selling products, of artist communities in city
‘regeneration’, or, more generally, of the centrality of traditionally
‘cultural’ discourse in establishing what we ‘buy into’ across the board.
One only need to look at today’s stock market to understand that the
intellectual work that goes into ‘representing’ a company, that labour
undertaken by such as Arthur Anderson, Accenture, by CEOs, by marketing
companies and PR gurus, by city ‘analysts’ and stock-pumpers the world over,
is far more important to that company’s ‘value’ than any ‘honest’ assessment
of its ‘bottom line’, profit and loss account, or even projected earnings.
(And indeed, the combined ‘free’ and immaterial labour of hundreds of
thousands of day-traders and more casual private investors and speculators,
has already been observed to have extraordinary market-moving power.)
The formula is simple. Once fixed capital takes care of the mass of
production, what becomes important is the knowledge that operates, designs,
maintains, directs and deploys it . The key innovation of the Italian
autonomists is the vital observation that this ‘mass intellectuality’, this
ensemble of `know-hows’ which supports capital, is not limited to those who
‘directly’ minister capital’s machines, but actually is comprised of ‘the
social body’ itself, a ‘repository of knowledges indivisible from living
subjects and from their linguistic co-operation’ [21] , comprising a whole
gamut of qualifications, modes of communication, local knowledges and
language games. For Antonio Negri, this ‘mass intellectuality’ is indeed the
defining activity of a whole ‘post-Fordist proletariat’. For Paolo Virno, t
he ‘general intellect’ extends right the way down into the ‘epistemic models
that structure social communication’ itself, the ‘intellectual activity of
mass culture, no longer reducible to ‘simple labor,’ to the pure expenditure
of time and energy’:
There converge in the productive power of the general intellect, artificial
languages, theorems of formal logic, theories of information and systems,
epistemological paradigms, certain segments of the metaphysical tradition,
‘linguistic games’ and images of the world. In contemporary labor processes
there are entire conceptual constellations that function by themselves as
productive ‘machines’, without ever having to adopt either a mechanical body
or an electronic brain. [22]
What does all this mean? Let us return to the example of the stock market.
The value of a company, of course, is not only supported by the various
actors and institutions immediately orbiting it, not merely by ‘economic
factors’ but also by the economy of social life itself ; by the entire gamut
of ‘language games’ (meant, roughly, in the Wittgensteinian sense) that
surround, inform, and provide the ‘bedrock’ upon which the company’s idea of
itself is founded, and upon which it sells itself and (decreasingly) its
product back to the very communities that substantiate that value. One can
see this clearly in the intimate relation of the stock market to social
change. Each of us, insofar as we act, speak, read, write, think and move
through our culture in various modalities, are more or less implicated in
the processes of valorisation and de-valorisation that cause the market’s
peaks and troughs. In this sense, we never stop ‘working’. The so-called
‘production of affect’, the constitution of subjectivity, is a full time
job. So is the production of desire. And it is clear that this mobilisation
of the general intellect in the service of capital’s machinery is more
critically important than ever before. Capital has become utterly dependent
on our ability to conceive of, and constitute desire for, new products, new
markets; we have trained ourselves to appreciate subtle variegations in all
products (cars, houses, clothes, and so on) and to link those variegations
not only to notions like ‘status’ and ‘style’, but to the fundamentals:
‘happiness’, ‘pleasure’, ‘freedom’. The general intellect, our own
form-of-life, is therefore discovered as absolutely complicit in the
production of the horrible state of abjection in which we currently find
ourselves. And capital has become absolutely dependent upon this complicity,
this willing domestication of our ways of life to its imperatives.
It is more important than ever to the market that ‘knowledge, skill, and
[…] the general productive forces of the social brain’ [23] are put to
work, and put to work in the right way.
And in that very dependency lies a striking political potential.
‘Information Commons’: Meet ‘General Intellect’
Surely the shortcomings of ‘information commons’ are obvious from even this
cursory reading of ‘general intellect’. ‘Commons’ promotes the idea of the
‘shared space’ of ‘ideas and information’ as somehow distinct from (although
linked to) the market, to capital, a privileged ‘zone’ that, on the one
hand, requires ‘protection’ from market forces, and, on the other seeks to
satisfy the demands of that market through its putative ‘freedom.’ ‘General
intellect’ allows us to see the always-already implicated nature of social
communities, right down into the very fabric of sociality, and therefore the
retarded nature of conceiving of a ‘space of ideas’ that could ever subsist
‘outside’ it. What could be the meaning of ‘enclosure’ or of ‘protection’
against enclosure in such a context? How, after all, could capital more
thoroughly contain or ‘enclose’ ‘this plural, multiform constantly mutating
intelligence’ [24] of mass intellect within its structures than it does
already? Is the ‘information commons’ not already folded into capital? Is
capital not also folded into it? ‘Enclosed’ or ‘unenclosed’, won’t the two’s
mutual embrace remain as tight?
The second decimating feature of ‘general intellect’ for the ‘information
commons’ is its illumination of the political potential of contemporary
social consciousness. ‘Information commons’ relegates social knowledge to
the status of a ‘threatened ecology’, immediately subjugating it to those
powers nominally able to articulate its ‘protection’ – in this case,
presumably, the liberal-democratic regimes of Europe and North America,
prompted into action by some ungodly admixture of left-liberal-lawyer
lobbyists, NGO gonks and wild-eyed info-ecologists. [25] In doing so, it
only promotes the role of intellectual labour in the production of
consumption, in market-regulated cultural and scientific ‘advances’ that
only rarely equal more than the development of new products and new markets.
For reasons that I will now expand on, assuming this subjugant position can
be seen as mistaken and unnecessary. The absolutely crucial role that we all
have, as intellectual or ‘immaterial’ labourers, in the current scene should
not be underestimated. It is crucial to understand the extent to which the
general intellect, given its paramount importance and complete imbrication
with the processes of capital, can begin to do more than simply facilitate
production, and more than demand ‘protection’ on the basis of such
facilitation. We must go further, and ask at what moment this shared force ,
already mobilised by capital, could begin to constitute itself against
capital. In doing so we arrive at the root of ‘oppositional intellect’.
Internet As Fixed Capital
A brief aside may prove productive. Without wanting to initiate a lengthy
meditation on the relation between technology and paradigm change, what
seems clear here is that underestimations of the oppositional power of peer
information relations stem from fundamental failures to follow through
identifications of the essential conditions of digital mediation itself. Let
us re-analyse at this point the development of the Internet at the Advanced
Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the 1960s as a deliberate streamlining of
the general intellect (in the first instance, of its scientific hemisphere)
both in order to extract maximum value from the machines (computers, et
cetera ) invested in by ARPA and in order to put that intellect to work in
creating fixed capital (ICBMs, more computers, transport systems, et cetera:
whatever proved necessary to ‘beat the Russians’ or at least pacify the
general public terrified by the success of Sputnik.) [26] Paradoxically it
was in the end ARPANET itself, designed to network the general intellect and
produce it as a properly efficient factor, which developed most rapidly of
all ARPA’s ‘blue-sky’ technologies, a direct consequence of its efficiency
not only a facilitator of the general intellect for the creation and
operation of fixed capital, but as fixed capital in its own right, a ‘social
machine’ that brought network architecture to human discourse.
It seems that two key factors contribute to the Internet’s radicalisation of
the communication process: digitality itself (form), which provides for
non-finite, zero-cost multiplication of media objects, and ‘distribution’
(structure), which allows those multiplying objects to reach potential
recipients with the minimum of resistance. This particular form and
structure massively augments, for example, the research potential of a
scientific or academic community- ARPANET’s original function. As has been
explained many times, a major consequence of this innovation is that an idea
(musical, theoretical, scientific, poetic, whatever) is no longer limited to
a cumbersome physical instantiation, but may immediately take flight, in a
variety of digital formats, across the network, multiplying as necessary at
zero cost. [27] Discounting all the mistakes made, in the last five years or
so, about ‘making money “on” the internet’, which of course stem in no small
measure from identifications with that ‘frontier’ metaphor, it is
immediately obvious the ways in which these radical qualities have
benefitted capital. ARPANET, becoming Internet, has underwritten a massive
increase in the potential of the general intellect both as affective labour,
as biopower, and, at the same moment, as a force for change. But a further
consequence of these same communicative qualities, inscribed as they are
into the Net’s basic protocols, is their production of a systematic
contestation of the whole category of ‘information property’. What can be
the meaning of ‘owning’ a musical idea if that idea is potentially in the
hands of everyone with a computer and connectivity within moments of its
release? And what algorithm, what legislation, can protect one’s
‘information property’ if, once finding its way on the network, it is prey
to the liberatory intent of the multitude? Indeed, what could be the sense
of retaining the category of ‘information property’ in such a context?
The establishment must now face the conditions brought about by its own
piece of fixed capital, conditions which it itself now requires to operate .
Ideas, ‘memes’, desires, must mutiply in order to generate new markets,
products and so forth. But the system that provides for the multiplication
does not provide, at least not in any systematic way, for the sort of
‘top-down’ control needed to enforce exceptions to this rule of
multiplicity. [28] Reintroducing such control is not only problematic, it is
very probably impossible. Perhaps the only way to achieve it would be to
shut down the net, to remove this fantastically efficient and critical piece
of fixed capital, certainly the most essential social technology of the past
decade. This would mean not only uprooting the net backbone-and-all, but
outlawing all networks independent of global control at the operations
level, outlawing TCP/IP, and taking into account the independent, DIY
networks being built in cities across the world under the 802.11b
architecture. All of this seems as unlikely as it is difficult to carry
through. [29]
In this context, it is only possible to see the ‘information commons’
movement as entirely wrongheaded. Why demand protection for our common
information if attempts at ‘enclosure’ are necessarily failing and doomed?
Why, if the general intellect is so fundamental, should we ask for anything
at all? Such a posture will only, after all achieve the wresting of
political, oppositional potential from the multitude in return for the
granting of certain ‘freedoms’, freedoms that are anyway ours .
Instead we must try to draw out the oppositional possibilities of the peer
community as general intellect.
Oppositional Intellect… And The Bad Frontier
It is worth noting that Gerrard Winstanley, ‘representative’ of the
anti-Enclosure ‘Digger’ movement, never limited his demands to the
‘protection’ of common land or to arguments against enclosure. Winstanley’s
claims went far further than reeastabling the pre-enclosure situation and
the removal of the Norman Yoke; he wanted the restoration of the ‘the pure
law of righteousness before the Fall’ [30] . True human dignity would be
possible only when communal ownership was established as a general
condition, and buying and selling of land and labour ceased altogether .[31]
For Winstanley, like Marx, the state would wither under such conditions:
‘What need have we of imprisonment, whipping or hanging laws to bring one
another into bondage?’ he asked. ‘Only covetousness made theft a sin.’ [32]
Winstanley challenged property theory at its strongest, not arguing for a
privileged zone of free exchange, but for the absolute abolition of
individualist property relations, the only thing that could get rid of the
coercive state and the preachers of sin, both of which had come into place
to protect property:
Wheresoever there is a people […] united by common community of livelihood
into oneness, it will become the strongest land in the world, for then they
will be as one man to defend their inheritance […] Whereas on the other
side, pleading for property and single interest divides the people of a land
and the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed
and contention everywhere […] But when once the earth becomes a common
treasury again, as it must, […] then this emnity of all lands will cease,
and none shall dare to seek dominion over others, neither shall any dare to
kill another, nor desire more of the earth than another. [33]
(To the accusation that his beliefs would ‘destroy all government and all
our ministry and religion,’ Winstanley replied cooly, ‘It is very true.’
[34] )
We too need to expand the scope of our ambitions as immaterial labourers.
Marx, we hope, was right to argue that the motion of scientific knowledge
and social co-operation, capital’s motors, would ultimately destroy capital:
but it seems likely that the development of the deliberate intent of the
general intellect to produce this destruction is one of its necessary
conditions. The expected huge increase in the value of intellectual labour
is occurring, and for the ‘information class’, as I have argued in a recent
essay, private ownership of material objects has become absolutely relegated
to the value of the ‘brand of me’ [35] . But let us leave aside the notion
that automation and socialisation together create the possibility of—or
necessity for—the ultimate dispensation with wage labour and private
ownership. Capital may be working towards its own dissolution as the
dominant social form, [36] but oppositionality can only help expedite the
What forms of action might this oppositionality dictate? I want to end this
essay by offering some tentative suggestions. The first hinges on the notion
that ‘frontier’, this dialectics of ‘ sectional cleavage’, of economic
expansion and innovation in ‘wilderness’ zones, underpins the capital cycle.
[37] It reverses the valency of this sectional dialectic, producing what I
am tentatively calling ‘bad frontier’. (We need not fall back into the
practice of conceptualising the general intellect as territory in order to
do this. Let us simply preserve the idea of frontier as a dialectical
process of innovation and co-option. This always-already co-opted nature of
territories-yet-to-be-exploited has far more in common with general
intellect than it does with ‘information commons’.)
Can we conceive of activities that the general intellect could undertake ‘in
the wilderness’ that, once co-opted, might begin to operate against capital?
Can we imagine constituting a shared community of ideas that, expecting such
co-option and acting in prescience, deliberately designs itself to appear,
perhaps, palatable, but to be, in fact, poisonous? [38] The ‘dot com’ bubble
manifests itself as something of a template here: the production of
‘business plans’ which, glittering brightly with the promise of future
accumulations, in fact only drained money from venture capital coffers and
burned it systematically in the ridiculously consumptive lifestyles of the
information class masquerading as ‘entrepeneurs’. Might there be other
actions that could be equally damaging to capital that could take into
account this formula, ‘bad frontier’?
Returning to the Italian Autonomists’ notion of the centrality of language,
of the constitutive social structures of the everyday, in the operation of
capital, I want to finally suggest that, in formulating oppositional
intellect, a return to Artaudian insanity via Burrough’s ‘language-virus’
might be a potent strategem. Of course we must confront the problem that
capital itself, even on its own bizarre terms, is ‘insane’. Nonetheless:
could an institutionalisation of discrete ‘insanity’ within the class of
immaterial workers, this ‘new proletariat’, inform a series of actions that,
when subsumed into capital, would be productive not merely of the fiscal
atrophy associated with the ‘dot com’ boom, but of a more thorough
discombobulation, a warp in the weft, the folding-in of something too
corrosive to contain? If the development of communications networks truly
has an organic relationship to the emergence of the world order— effect and
cause, product and produce – then our communications must not only express
the movement of globalization, but must organise it through the
multiplication and structured interconnections of its networks. Let us
formulate disconnections and abhorrent structures. Let the next ‘enclosure’,
the next folding-in of our life-world to capital, find us clutching
something wicked. Let us not beg a ‘protection’ for which we have no need.
Let us attack, instead, with the full force of our ‘Army of Ideas’.
[1] G.H. Sabine, Ed., The Works of Gerarrd Winstanley (Cornell University
Press, 1941), p. 333.
[2] The individual in question wishes to remain anonymous.
[3] David Bollier, ‘Why we must talk about the information commons’,
presented at the American Library Association retreat on ‘New Technology,
the Information Commons and the Future of Libraries,’ November 2-4, 2001,
Wye River, Maryland. See also Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our
Common Wealth (Routledge, 2002, forthcoming.)
[4] Ibid.
[5] George C. Comninel, ‘English Feudalism and the Origins of Capitalism’,
in The Journal of Peasant Studies (July 2000) pp.1-53.
[6] E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Penguin,
1991), p.238.
[7] Thompson, English Working Class , p.238.
[8] Hannibal Travis, ‘Pirates of the Information Infrastructure:
Blackstonian copyright and the First Amendment’ in Mark Berkely Technology
Law Journal (Spring 2000)
[9] It is worth noting, however, that the right of ‘perfect usufruct’, of
utilising the land without altering or depleting it, had never existed free
of contestation . Even in the sixteenth century it had been in direct
antagonism with the Common Law established by William the Bastard after the
Norman Conquest of 1066, the so-called ‘Norman Yoke’ which rested upon the
individual rights of freehold tenure. In this light, the prolonged and
systematic elimination of custom by Common Law that occurred from the
sixteenth century onwards can be seen merely as the realisation of a
longstanding ideological conflict.
[10] ‘We are in the middle of a second enclosure movement; it sounds
grandiloquent to call it “the enclosure of the intangible commons of the
mind” but in a very real sense, that is just what it is….’ Boyle writes in
the introduction to his paper in the proceedings of the Duke Conference on
the Public Domain (available as a PDF online).
[11] As has been lamented on many occasions since ’98, the DMCA eliminates
the public’s right to ‘fair use’, which has allowed people to quote and
re-use works in certain contexts and venues. The DMCA also overrides the
‘first-sale’ doctrine, the legal rule that allows people to share the books
or videotapes they buy with whomever they want. The perceived need for this
strict control is a direct function of the ‘non-excludable’ nature of
digital media, for a brief discussion of which, see the body of this text,
below. Controlling the flow of works in society to serve private commercial
ends, the DMCA is a direct affront to America’s much loved First Amendment.
[12] See Arti K. Rai and Rebecca S. Eisenberg, ‘The Public and the Private
in Biopharmaceutical Research’, also part of the Duke Law Conference
[13] TRIPS Article 27(1)
[14] And the potential to ‘enclose’ the gene-pool, it seems, is directly
related to the low level of penetration of information on genetic
engineering into the public domain. Heath Bunting’s ‘Biotech Hobbyist’
project sardonically tried to address this issue. In time, if the shifting
and splicing of genetic information becomes plausible in a home lab, the
‘enclosure’ of genetic data will also be problematised.
[15] Although it is quite crucial to note the constant, constitutive
relations between ‘intellectual’ and material propety, it is to the
‘information commons’ that this essay restricts its critique.
[16] I will avoid examining here, because it seems unnecessarily confusing,
Boyle’s related notion of ‘an environmentalism for the Net,’ which seeks to
turn the defence of the ‘informational environment’ into a movment,
presumably replete with NGOs given over to this protection. ( The notions of
‘commons’ and ‘environmentalism’ are quite distinct, as Ted Byfield points
out, arising in different regions with dramatically different social and
political conditions.)
[17] Ted Byfield, ‘Control Shift Commons’, in Mute magazine, archive
available at
[18] Marx, Grundrisse , p. 705.
[19] Marx, Grundrisse , pp. 694, 705, 706, 709.
[20] Marx, Grundrisse , p . 706.
[21] Paolo Virno, ‘Notes on the General Intellect,’ in Marxism Beyond
Marxism , ed. Saree
Makdisi, Cesare Casarino, & Rebecca E. Karl (London: Routledge, 1996), p.
[22] Paolo Virno, ‘Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of
Exodus’, in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt, eds., Radical Thought in Italy, A
Potential Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996) , p.
[23] Marx, Grundrisse , p. 694.
[24] Jean-Marie Vincent, ‘Les automatismes sociaux et le “general
intellect.’”’, in Futur Antérieur 16 (1993), p. 121 (trans. by Nick Dwyer
Witherford in Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology
Capitalism (University of Illinois: 1999), available at
[25] It is difficult to sense which way Boyle and the others are coming at
this: defending the ‘Commons’ in order to defend market capitalism; or
preaching the language of market capitalism in order to defend a commons
whose perceived ‘autonomy’, at any rate, they seem prepared to ditch in the
cause… Were establishment forces to agree to ‘protecting’ the ‘commons’,
to hold off from ‘enclosure’, they would do so simply because they had
understood the sophisticated argument that this was they best way of
valorising ‘free’ intellectual labour, of putting it to work. This is a
point not all that difficult to comprehend; think again of the ‘pirate’
fileshare community which in fact operated as a trailblazer for music
consumption of the typical form; or of bloggers who are the prey of idle and
incompetent journalists; of the fact that ‘free software’ is now a
recongised and operational business model; or of the incorporation of
intellectual and theoretical discourse taking place in public discussion
lists and forums into state- sponsored and –sponsoring academic discourse..
[26] In the mid sixities Bob Taylor developed the first stages of ARPANET as
a solution to the problem of computing resources becoming monopolised by the
work of particular research groups within ARPA’s funding suite. The
principle of networking turned out to satisfy a series of economic
imperatives: the isolation of ARPA’s computers was leading to costly
machines being underutilised, and the general lack of communication between
research efforts was leading to unnecessary duplication of work. By building
a system of electronic links between machines, researchers undertaking
similar work in diverse locations could share their results and resources.
There was a consequent relief on DARPA’s budget.
[27] Or, to put it technically, digital information is ‘ non-excludable’.
Let us by all means avoid Stewart Brand’s 1984 anthropomorphisation.
Information does not ‘want to be’ anything!
[28] This is not the place to enter into a discussion about the
possibilities for centralised control within the ‘distributed’ structure of
the internet. Suffice it to say that the political experiment of the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers as a center of ‘net
governance’ and enforcer of digital IP ‘rights’ seems to be in the final
throes of failure. New IP enforcement initiatives are already having to
contend with the ‘post-web’ context, for example peer-based information
distribution architectures that do not rely on domains and therefore can
dispense with the DNS, registries, registrars, ICANN and the ruins of the
tendentious IP enforcement structure botched together by WIPO and the rest.
In fact the best way to conceive of ‘control’ is not through the attempt to
instigate centralised or ‘top-down’ power within distributed systems, but in
terms of bio-power. See, on ICANN, J.J. King, ‘They Came, They Bored, They
Conquered’, in Mute Magazine , Spring 2002; on distribution and biopower,
see J.J. King ‘Cyberspace as ‘Technology of Power’, Chapter Six in ‘The
Cultural Construction of Cyberspace’
[29] One popular argument is that stronger encryption will secure media and
therefore prevent its wholesale unauthorised copying and distribution. And
yet it is plain that these underlying conditions of digitality and
distribution mean that in any particular instance an encryption algorithm
need only be broken once for a multitude of copies to be produced and
deposited across the network. In other words, to be useful, an algorithm
must never be broken , a condition which, despite claims to the contrary
from various security companies, is demonstrably impossible to satisfy. The
legislature understands this, and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is its
attempt to make the very attempt of breaking an algorithm illegal, to
provide a meta-layer of legal protection around the encryption. (Fortunately
that layer does worse than provide no protection: it actively erodes the
protection provided by the algorithm. By effectively outlawing those
professionals who study such matters, it not only prevents the advance and
development of more robust security provisions but also antagonises the
security community, motivating them to want to break encryption algorithms
as a matter of defiance against an idiotic law. In the act of driving those
expert communities underground, the DMCA does the establishment it tries to
serve a grave disservice. The rest of us should, therefore, be glad of it.)
[30] Sabine, The Works of Gerarrd Winstanley , p.292., quoted in
Christopher Hill, The World Turne Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the
English Revolution (Middlesex: Penguin, 1972), p. 134.
[31] Sabine, pp. 316, 519-20, 595-6, cf. pp. 192 and epigraph to that
chapter; again quotes in Hill. P.134.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Sabine, pp. 262, 253-4.
[34] Sabine, pp. 567-9.
[35] See J.J. King, ‘Break Down: Landy’s (Failed) Gesture and the General
Intellect’, in Metropolis M (2002, forthcoming).
[36] Marx, Grundrisse 700.
[37] Territorial gains in the move ‘out’ and ‘away’ are accompanied by the
capital benefits arising from the exploitation of new resources: following
such gains an increasing saturation of newly-taken territory produces the
need to expand (‘go West’) again.
[38] I keep wanting to use the phrase ‘bad snacks’ here, for which –
admittedly in a different context – I have Dr. Angela Piccini to thank.
5. 10 Principles of Digital Democracy
Declaration of Digital Democracy
Choice. Competition. Diversity. Equal Opportunity. Free Expression. Equitable Access. Self-Determination. These are among the basic values that must govern our communications systems in the digital age. The digital media environment must accommodate a competitive array of commercial and noncommercial services that meet citizen and community needs, reflect our diverse society, and ensure that all of us share in the abundance that the digital revolution has brought forth. While there will always be room for a growing range of products and services designed to tap the commercial potential of telecommunications (everything from long-distance calling plans to premium cable channels), these must be offered in a fair and equitable manner.
Above all, as traditional communications systems converge onto a unified broadband network, communities should have a voice in how that network is constructed and operated. Citizens and local governments have the right to, and indeed must participate in the decision-making process to determine how essential communications resources (including production, transmission, and access to facilities and services) can best serve public needs. Specific strategies may differ from community to community, but the principles that guide open, diverse and democratic media are likely to remain the same. A “Declaration of Digital Democracy,” then, includes the following ten citizen rights:
Right to “Open Access” to the Internet : The broadband networks of tomorrow should be as open and as competitive as the dial-up Internet of today, with a full choice of access providers, content, and services. Not only should citizens have the ability to choose the ISP of their preference, but ISPs should be able to operate freely without any artificial restrictions on the character or quality of service imposed by network owners.
Right to unrestricted communication : The principle of nondiscriminatory communication has long governed our telephone system and the Internet itself, allowing any party to transmit any message to any other party without interference by the network operator. This principle of free expression should be extended to broadband as well. High-speed Internet users should be allowed unimpeded communications with any network device, use of any lawful service, and transmission of any data. Governmental entities should insist that their information and services be accessible on multiple platforms and in multiple formats, including open source and no-cost platforms and formats.
Right to robust community networks : As communications technologies advance and increase in capacity (bringing more elaborate digital cable systems into our homes, for example), community networking resources should progress accordingly. Such resources include high-speed institutional networks that link municipal agencies and community organizations, streaming-media servers that deliver noncommercial programming, and next-generation public-, education-, and government-access channels that bring two-way communications to all segments of the community.
Right to a “Digital Television Dividend” : The impending transition to digital television will vastly increase the power of stations to deliver new streams of simultaneous programming. A portion of this multicasting capability should be used to bring new public-service offerings (e.g., children’s, educational, cultural, and public affairs programming). Revenues derived from the auction of spectrum surrendered by the stations once the transition to digital broadcast is complete, moreover, should be used to support such public service programming.
Right to online privacy : As new forms of interactive media, e-commerce, and video-on-demand make their appearance, so too must new forms of privacy protection be implemented as safeguards against consumer profiling and monitoring. Citizens should have communications systems that are secure from outside monitoring and manipulation, and protected by strong government policies for privacy and corporate accountability. Freedom to enjoy creative works anonymously should be preserved.
Right to a “Spectrum Commons” : New wireless technologies make unlicensed uses of the radio spectrum possible, services that should be open to all users on an equal basis (as distinguished from the current system that grants exclusive licenses to specific frequencies). A portion of such a “spectrum commons” should be devoted to noncommercial, public interest applications and services, and supported by auctions in those frequencies in which exclusive licenses are still deemed advisable.
Right to unshackled hardware : Computers, recording and playback equipment, and other digital devices should not be burdened with technological encumbrances designed to prevent users from employing their equipment in any manner they see fit. Nor should set-top boxes, cable modems, and other end-user equipment be deployed by network owners and service providers in our homes without being fully open to user configuration and operation.
Right to unfettered software : Copy protection and related digital rights management schemes and access-control technologies must not be permitted to interfere with fair use and other legally protected rights of consumers and citizens, or to expand the scope of the copyright holder’s control beyond the limits established in the Copyright Act. Copyright rules should strike a fair and productive balance between the rights of creators and those of citizens and future innovators.
Right to a “Dot-Commons” : Just as we have set aside public space (e.g., parks, beaches, town squares) in the real-world landscape, so must we protect and promote a portion of the online world for noncommercial speech and public interest applications. Such a virtual commons will play host to programming that ranges from community information resources and educational projects to cultural expression and social services – the building blocks of democracy that are not always well served by the commercial marketplace.
Right to digital universal service : The longstanding principle of ensuring that all citizens have access to basic telephone service must now be expanded to include advanced telecommunications services as well, reaching those in low-income, rural, insular, and high-cost areas in particular.
6. Getting a lock on broadband from Salon
From Salon.com
Getting a lock on broadband
How the FCC is paving the way for a few big companies to control everyone’s high-speed Internet access.
7. Suggested Links
Doc Searls Weblog:
Weblogs At Harvard Law School
Information Technology, New Media and Social Issues
International Conference on Collaboration and Ownership in
the Digital Economy
Andrew Orlowski
First Monday
Democratize Media
Lessig’s Blog: