Some Personal Observations Regarding the CopySouth Workshop:
Trivandrum, Kerala, December 2008. Trevor Batten, Manila January 2009
SECTION 3. Technological and Social Networks:
1.0 Questioning the ICT Paradigm:
The "Free Software" and "Open Source"
movements are conceptually related but also apparently conflicting
ideologies which claim to oppose (in their various ways) the
"limitations" of proprietary software.
The arguments differ slightly but (loosely) concern the preservation of
control over digital technology by the user and the development of a
wider public participation in technological development than is
achievable via the protected secrecy of privately owned and
commercially exploited tecnological systems.
Unfortunately, together, niether movement seems to be able to transcend
the apparent limitations of a "club of nerds". Perhaps too much time is
spent on arguing with each other and imitating their main commercial
rival, so they are unable to (or unwilling) to spend enough time and
effort on educating the public. "Computer literacy" still seems to
imply the ability to use computer software-and not the ability to write
it -a situation that would surely be conciderd absurd if any
educational system only taught children to read and not to write.
Surely, there is little point in publishing software and encouraging
people to adapt it -if the majority of the public not only cannot
understand ot -and/or have been encouraged not to bother. In the
meantime, commercial versions of "Linux" available for "sub-notebooks"
(apparently a commercial derivation of the supposedly altruistic "One
Laptop per Child" project) could be undermining the "open" nature of
the alternative operating system which uintil now has been free and
enabled users to configure their machines with the minimum amount of
restriction (provided they have the knowledge). Unfortuately, most
Laptops currently available in the shops have modems that cannot be
operated satisfactorily without the use of a commercial operating
If more people were initiated into the secrets of programming then they
would presumably be less open to commercial exploitation, would provide
a wider user base for software development and perhaps would develop a
wide range of cognittive skills that could be usefull outside the
narrow confines of computer programming. Perhaps then, it would become
more obvious to a wider range of people that programming a computer is
more of a linguistic challenge than a purely technical challenge. The
creation of original programmes (according to the self-invented
specifications of the programmer) is also a highly philosophical
experiment which explores the relationship between the epistemology of
the computer programme and the ontology of the result. Such experience
might even promote a better understanding of the role of "formal
systems" in a whole range of social contexts -including art and
culture. In turn, such an understanding might well function as an
effective antidote to the destructive forces of postmodern consumerism.
- Is "Open Source" a contrasting alternative to copyright, or is it a complimentary
system providing the exploitable creative space which is is being
destroyed by copyright?
- Free beer, free Speech -free understanding?
Free Society -or free Societies?
- Common Market?
- Does "Bridging the Digital Divide" merely force people into the arms of "Digital Feudalism"?
Technological Liberation or Digital Feudalism?
Increased digital access (and
availability of digitized materials) increases the possibility of
interpersonal communication and the access to digital information for
those who are connected. it also increases the (social) dependancy on
software providers (commercialor otherwise) -and opens one up to
data-mining which is both a pwerful marketing tool which knows what the
customer wants -as as well as being a commercially valuable commodity
that can fund the apparently free services that attract the users who
provide the information used to exploit commercially them.
"Open Source" software frees the user from dependancy on commercial
software -but it still relies on commercial hardware providers and
commercial comminication providers if one is connected to the internet.
Without accurate and fairly detailed knowledge of how the technological
infrastructure operates, the user is easilly exploitable -and unable to
comprehend or avoid the control mechanisms set up by infrastructure
owners operators (communication companies and internet service
providers) which tend to limit access to material that does not support
the interests of those who control the infrastructure.
The "Creative Commons" is another apparent attempt to avoid
restrictions on the (public) circulation of knowledge caused by the
commercial exploitation of copyright by giant global corporations.
However, it is possible that the creative commons could degenerate into
a publically maintained creative "pool" which can be commercially
exploited by companies appropriating and commodifying the contents.
Additionally, one might query the conceptual value of a contant and
uncritical "rehash" of the contents by all participants. Such an
approach to the cultural dialogue might also end up excluding all forms
of fundamental innovation and research -iether structurally,because
their is no
mechanism for evaluating new concepts -or because the "remix" culture
becomes so deeply entrenched that nobody ever thinks of looking
for fundamentally different approaches. The tautological nature of a
selt-reinforcing network culture might prove to be totally
counter-creative in the long term. Once all existing cultural diversity
had been entered into the network -then indeed, Fukiyama's prediction
might finally prove correct -and the "end of history" may well be the
If the copyright system does become dysfunctional and block the
creative access to "new" products -then perhaps a population
conditioned to accept a lack of revolutionary changes might not even
notice: -Until a general lack of social creativity proves itself unable
to find solutions to the problems created by its own commodification.
At that point global network culture will possibly be unable to prevent
its own extinction.
2.0 Network Ecology:
Inside or Outside The System?
is a corporate and academic need to define and describe a body of
order to exploit it economically or scientifically. Indeed, one might
even ask -what is the purpose of scientific reasearch if it does not
eventually lead to some form of economic gain? Do people need
scienentific explanations in order to be happy? Why does everything
need to be explored, ordered and "understood"? Who's interests are
served by scientific research?
Some people might live more directly and
use resources without the need to "encapsulate" them. From a scientific
viewpoint, such, unmonitored resource management might
lead to disaster if resources are being used in unsustainable ways.
However, if social practices have already evolved sustainable solutions
to local environments, having survived for many generations -then why
should they be forced to join a system which has not yet proven its own
It is said that the Public Domain is not (easilly) accessable if
not in "digital" format. Perhaps this is true -but does it need to be
accessable to everybody worldwide? If information is contextual
-perhaps knowledge is too. Is knowledge really knowledge if there is no
living tradition which knows how to interpret it? If only a limited
number of people have access to this knowledge -because only they know
how to search for it -then who will benifit most from a global access?
Will this digitally available knowledge be translated into all the
languages of the world -or will it only be accessable to those who
understand certain dominat languages? Will we all be forced to speak
the same language-so that we can all access the same content? How will
people know what to look for -and where to look for it amongst such a
vaste collection of information -which is increasing daily? What
happens if some of this material is offensive to some people? Will the
access to this information be filtered by search engines-or by
political or religious agents? What will become of the social dialogue
if everybody has access to the dame material?
A "Public Owner" (the government?) could maintain, preserve and
protect the public
domain -but this too is open to abuse by a (institutional) "public
owner". Until now, many governemts seem to have a poor record in
protecting public resourses -and often seem nore keen to find ways of
protecting them than preserving them. Even protection of the "commons"
via copyright might open them up to destructive exploitation. What
happens to "collective property" in societies that are not based on
financial exploitation? How would introduction of "money" based
economic principles affect them?
The Ecology of Up/Down and Inside/Outside interactions:
Initially, linking various independant
nodes into a network of colaboration can create productive synergies
that generate ideas and working strategies that were previously
impossible of unlikely. The new connections seem to produce a
stimulating creative explosion.
However, as time progresses, these new ideas get fed back into the
network and thus pass through a filtering system which discards
some ideas while encouraging the spread of others as they get
propagated and recycled through the network. After a while, creativity
decreases as a result of the intellectually incestuous nature of the
network. This effect is enhanced when the information circulating
within the network is restricted for political or economic reasons.
In order to counteract this, some form of "creative" dialogue becomes
essential if the system is to survive. Dialectic theory suggests that a
dialogue between "thesis" and "antithesis" (inside and outside the
system) leads to a creative" synthesis" (a new node in the conceptual
Some kind of creative conceptual; "dialogue" seems to be required -perhaps the following:
- Privatisation of Knowledge and
- Top-Down Control System (not very creative)
- Closes down the creative social dialogue
- Open Source and the Creative Commons
- Exploitation of Social Synergy
- Bottom-Up Creative System (not easily controlable)
- Not directly profitable
- Opens up the creative dialogue
and allows commercial exploitation through "intellectual farming"
- Interactions between Legal and Illegal systems
- "Illegal systems" acting as "testing ground"
- Testing Social Tolerance
- Implementing experimental innovations
- Exploring Rules defining "inside" and "outside" the system
- Provides invisible funding to support and motivate "outsiders" wanting to become
The network survives by opposing itself via the legal/illegal dialectic
Created and sustained through the "Rule of Law" (defining the limits of freedom)
-But who defines the laws, and whom do they benifit?
-Who underatnds the "rules of the game" well enough to play it successfully?
-Why are we ecouraged to believe that "rules don't matter"?
3.0 Questioning the Social-Economic Paradigm:
Communal Synergy, Collective Farming or Farmed Collective?
How does one prevent unfair sectoral exploitation of the communal?
(rights and responsibilies)
-what are the rules for preserving the communal amenities?
-what are the rules for (destructive and non-destructive) use?
-what are the rules for disposing of (unwanted) surplusses (waste products, etc.)?
How emancipated did the peasants really become through the various "peasant revolutions"?
How does one prevent erosion of the commons?
- The destruction of rural environments for the benifit of city dwellers
- The "enclosures" in England
- The destruction of the praries in US
- The rise of "money" based economies and the destruction of barter systems
- Exploitation of the financial system to the cost of the production system
How does one protect "nomads" against settlers?
How does one protect natural habitats essential for life outside the system?
- Private Riches and Public Sqalour?
- Personal Poverty and Public Wealth?
- Social Synergy?
Political Evolution and Evaluation:
- What is the effect of successive governments inheriting the policies of the predecessors?
- Imposing (undesirable?) restraints and commitments
- Providing loopholes for (desirable?) exploitation
- Does the public require some external threat or internal pressure forcing it to respond in certain ways?
- Can "Morality" triumph over "Pragmatism"?
- Does the (social, political, economic) "environment" condition our behaviour?
- Can people be "programmed" by changing their environment?
- Should People control their Governments -or should Governments control their People?
- Who has access to the required Information, Knowledge and Wisdom?
The Cultural Imperialism and Global Fascism of "One World":
- The (academic/computer/bureaucratic?)
"systems" cannot deal with anything until it has been entered into system
(as in the film "TRON")
- (opening up digitzed commercial and academic farming)
-Only those with access to advanced technology have access to the
resources and knowledge that are the basis for commercial and political
exploitation and power.
-Giving access to internet, without access to knowledge that drives and
controls the system encourages "digital feudalism" and opens the user
up to exploitation -both as "client" for -and as "provider" of useful
Science, Art and Politics reflect similar processes and similar problems
-Brain/Body (Autonomous/Applied) Conceptual Division
-Closed academic communities dealing only with "accepted"knowledge (in that discipline)
-(unescapable) National and International Political/economic systems
-What happens to "non-formal processes" (outside the "system")?
- -Can one "Opt in" or "Opt out" of the system?
- How do these systems affect those "outside" the system?
Exploiters of the Knowledge Network?
-US political and economic hedgemony in the Post-WWII New World Order
- United Nations and other "world bodies"
- US dollar as "reserve currency"
- The import and exploitation of foreign knowledge
-Eisenhower and the Industrial-Military (Edutainment) Complex
Neo-liberalism, the Global Market and the destruction of Human Rights
- (health, free-speech, etc.)
- Dematerialised products as the new
colonialism (controlling the flow of intellectual goods and income).
-Robert Maxwell and the commercial exploitation of the academic network
- Tautological Systems: What goes around, comes around
- Are majority opinions always right?
- Garbage in, garbage out?
- Who guards the guardians?
- -The need to present all human activity and meaning in standardised pre-programmed format (for distribution via the network)
- Bridging the Digital Divide
- The Invisibility of all those outside the system
- Socially Ineffective
- Potentialy subversive
- Potential new Customers
- Enforcing Digital Feudalism
- Consumer Ignorance
- Social Networks
- Social Exploitation by intellectuals of alienating concepts such as:
- The historical uniqueness of digital technology
- The "freedom" of dematerialised (digital) space
- The uncritical promotion of technological products
- via the educational system
- via the media
- -The possibility of improved information and communication
- if not filtered to preserve interests of:
- the communication companies
- the governments
- vulnarable groups
- The need to search, protect and destroy illegal practices
- Protected Spaces with powerful gatekeepers
- Efficient surveilance
- Agressive Policing
Protection or Theft of Freedom?
- The War against Alcohol (Prohibition and the rise of the US Mafia)
- The War against Communism
- The Wat against Drugs
- The Wat against Terrorism
- The War against (Software) "Pirates"
- The War against Spam?
- the Search for and blocking of dubious words and phrases on the internet
- Protection against Illegal Social Visionaries and Revolutionaries
- Establish unfair systems and then criminalise those who oppose
- Freedom Fighters (American Revolution)
- Activists (Suffragettes)
- Anarchists (Spanish Civil War)
- Digital freedom
- The United States as "global policeman" (judge and jury?)
- Setting the rules and standards that other countries have to live by
- Establishing global investigation and enforcement procedures that benifit US interests
- International Isolation (demonisation) for all those who do not comply
Exploiting Networks of Inequality?
The Knowledge (Edutainment) Industry
Exploiting the multip[le natures of "knowlege"
As an exploitable commodity for commercial/political advantage in the global power game
As a source of "entertainment" for the "media" industry.
Commercial consumerist market drives scientific research
-more research on teenage acne than on malaria
-increased research supporting sport (materials, practices and marketing)
-increased research supporting art (materials, practices and marketing)
Academic conferences and Journals on:
Interactive Game systems, etc.
Knowledge flows through network to areas of most connectivity
(from each according to ability, to each according to need (or greed)?)
destruction of localised (intellectual or physical) ecologies as a
result of cheap or free (intellectual or physical) resources which are
the production of expensive goods for profit (at a cost that many
Problem of preventing the "commons" becoming a "fishing ground" for commercial systems?
The "universal lurker" -who has advantage of hearing all
conversations, contributes nothing to the dialogue but exploites the contents for their own commercial/political/military
Teachers often encourage students to give copyright to university
(putting knowledge in private domain of research intiture)
(destroying the creative social dialogue)
Science and art do continue (out of human interest?) despite patent system
(censorship/shaping of content) where not compatible with (commercial)
power system) but can this continue if subject to continued commercial
exploitation (by outsiders or insiders)?
Creation of archives with a search and retrieval system to identify and preserve "cultural base"
-Is the concept of "cultural base" itself an "imperialistic" desire to access cultural heritage for commodification?
-How much does a reliance on digital tools open one up to commercial
exploitation by hard- and software companies via data-mining and information farming?
Perhaps there is a need for "disconnected" systems
4.0 A Network of Action and Reaction:
What happens when "Corruption" connects in a Network?
The Philippine economy remained “mostly unfree" owing to pervasive
corruption and weak judicial system, a US-based think tank said.
The 2009 Index of Economic Freedom by the Heritage Foundation placed
the Philippines 12 spots lower at 104th out of 179 countries included
in the poll from its last year's ranking of 92nd. The group gave the
Philippines a score of 56.8 percent from 56.9 percent in 2008. In Asia
Pacific, the country ranked 20th out of 41 countries with its overall
score slightly below the world average. Hong Kong retained its title as
the freest economy in the world,
followed by Singapore, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, United States,
Canada, Denmark ,Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Of the
Philippines' peers in the region, Malaysia and Thailand ranked
higher, at 58th and 67th, respectively. Indonesia placed at 131st and
The dismal score of the Philippines was blamed owing to perceived
pervasive corruption. "Corruption is perceived as pervasive. The
Philippines ranks 131st out
of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions
Index for 2007," Heritage said. It noted that a culture of corruption
is long-standing in the country. "Enforcement of anti-corruption laws
is inconsistent, and the public
perception of judicial, executive, and legislative corruption remains
high," the US think tank added.
Heritage Foundation also said that country's judicial system is weak
and only scored 30 percent. "Judges are nominally independent, but some
have been appointed
strictly for political reasons and are corrupt. Organized crime is a
strong impediment to the administration of justice, and delays and
uncertainty concern investors. Despite some progress, enforcement of
intellectual property rights remains problematic," Heritage Foundation
said. "The judicial system is weak and vulnerable to extensive
political influence," it added.
The (Commercial) Exploitation of the Commons?
Almost the entire collection of 1911 census documents at the National Archives in London go online for public access:
"Among the eight million returns are family secrets that have
lain undiscovered for generations and pages inhabited by the previously
unknown relatives of those alive today.......
......The last census to become publicly available was that of 1901, which
went online in 2002. Then, the website was overwhelmed by demand - 1.2
million requests an hour - and had to be withdrawn five days after its
launch, reopening seven months later.
Since then, interest in family history has continued to grow, with many
more useful records becoming available online and TV shows such as Who
Do You Think You Are? helping to raise awareness.
Findmypast.com, which is hosting the details on a pay-per-view
basis, carried out some testing of the service over the festive period,
which was deemed to have gone well. It is confident its offering is
"pretty robust", although it is bracing itself for huge demand. Even
so, some users might balk at having to pay about £3 a pop to download a
Connectivity and Commons -Evolution (Revolution) or Design?
Connectivity (which is inherently in
the western concept of homogenous,
universal truth, is fundamentally manifest in the colonial process
has now become magnified by the internet -so that almost every
individual is virtually forced to accept it as a way of life -just as
every indigenous person previously had to accept the reality of
colonialism (if only to rebel against it). Inherently, colonialism
leads to a reconcideration of the concept of the "Commons" because the
concept of "common-wealth" is a
natural result of the "environment of interconnectivity" (in its
technical manifestation now called cyberspace)
that is phenomenologically experienced by those who participate on a
global scale (in some way or another).
However, "Connectivity" does not just link individuals geographically.
It also links then socially -and provides a new social context in which
their old social habits are no longer so relevant as before.
Nevertheless, (some) people are not easilly separated from their
histories. This is true of both those who pioneer the establishment of
the connecting infrastructure (be it the ancient colonial sea traders
or their modern electronic counterparts).
As the centralising network expands it encounters internal
contradictions as a result of its own historical traditions as well as
encountering resistance from the local communities that it tries to
bring within the unifying system. Colonial resistance is certainly not
a new phenomenon.
Paradoxically, the antidote to the communalism of colonial resistance
is "individualism" (a long term and highly values concept in western
culture). By fostering individualism the advantages of collective
wisdom become unavailable to the opponents of the growing network.
Individualism can be encouraged by opposing the group and by rewarding the
individual who is willing to personally satisfy the needs of the expanding
network. However, this approach is fundamentally contradictory to the
basic functioning of the network -which is a collective connectivity.
The "collective" aspect of the (colonialising) network is not only
manifest in an abstract way by the network itself. The construction and
maintenance of the (physical and conceptual) network is also a
collective effort where all the cooperating individuals are themselves
subserviant to the network (some perhaps to a lesser degree, depending
on how hierarchical the network is). The financing (and profit taking)
of the network is also usually a "collective" effort in the form of a
(commercial) institution. The western colonisation of the rest of the
world was also based on, and developed by, commercial companies
especially established for the purpose of funding and exploiting the
colonies they established (or sometimes developed out of their trading
links). In America, the commercial colonies revolted against trading
rules opposed on them directly by their (British) government. In other
places, rather like in the present financial crisis, governments
intervened to prevent excessive abuse by private companies -or (in some
cases) "bought" (or were perhaps "given") territories conquered by
The post-World War II fight against communism (which has charaterised
most of the early period) seems to duggest that "social collectivism"
is an evil that must be fought tooth and nail wherver it raises its
ugly head. However, it seems to be conveniently forgotten that the
chosen means to fight this apparent evil has been "commercial
collectivism" as manifest by "Consumerism". This has resulted is a
bizarre contradiction where commercial comunalism is used to promote a
global individualism that can present no collective opposition to the
massivly connected and increasingly all consuming consumerist system
that claims to satisfies all needs while apparently suppressing the
collective intelligence which might solve the problems that create
these commercially exploitable needs.
From historical evidence it appears that social systems evolve until
the evolving system becomes no longer self-sustaining. At which point
it collapses and iether gets taken over by another (at that time more
vigourous) culture, reinvigorates itself or remains in a state of
One suspects that the only way to escape collapse in this social
lifecycle is for the social system itself to develop a form of
"self-reflective wisdom" that enables it to understand the dangers
inherent within itself, so that it may develop stratefies that can
minimise the dangers facing it. Presumably, in order to be most
effective, this needs to be a collective effort. A project which is
somewhat opposed to the current system of "divide and conquer".
Because the "Commons" (the "company", the government, the system, etc.)
is a fundamental manifestation of the network (in some form or another)
-it poses an interesting question: Can the "commons"f
Perhaps the concept of "democracy" is structurally entangled with the
process of "colonisation". This does not reduce the problems of
enfranchisement with regard to social structure and control -but it
does perhaps dissolve the polarities with which condition the thinking
of so many (powerful) people. Connectivity destroys the simple
divisions between "this" and "that" -between "us" and "them" and
between "cause" and "effect".
Within any fully connected system, anything produced by the
system (from excrement to the most valued of
products) must be fed back into the system -and utilised in
some way. In technical terms this is called "feedback". Generally
(in small systems?) "feedback" has one of two effects: iether it
reinforces (amplifies) activities already existing in the system
-or it inhibits them. Reinforcement leads to an "explosion" (over
-stimulation) while inhibition leads to a "collapse"
(under-stimulation). What will be the conditons caused by feedback in
alarge, complex (global) system with many internal nodes and many
connections? How stable or unstable will it be? How does one balance
(continuously) all the opposing forces?
In a fully connected system, there might be no (external) "conflict
because the system has a need to satisfy the needs of its components
act as interface between any apparent opposing interests they might have -if the network is
itself to survive. However, ultimately, the network only (fully) understands
-although it may be able to comprehend there is an "outside". On the
other hand, internal conflicts (as a result of integrating the external
contradictions as the network expands) will probably remain inevitable.
So will the "network" be able to use these differences effectively in a
creative dialectic -or will they become irreconcilable -so that the
network fragments? If all internal conflict is removed, then the
network will probably not be able to provide creative solutions to its
Some Remaining Questions:
- On which level/domain are we
operating on (or in): Is there a single (amorphous) "system" or a
(structured) "nexus" of systems -possibly functioning in different (and maybe opposing) ways on different levels?
- Can the system/network be improved (in some specified way, at the appropriate level)?
desirable (or possible) is it to remain "outside" the system -and what
are the alternatives?
- What languages (conceptual structures) are available to help us solve these problems?
Trevor Batten, Manila January 2009