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Thursday, July 31, 2003
The big advantage of humans was the ability to learn and to pass on that knowledge: culture. Humans, like wolves and lions, lived in groups and what you eventually begin to see is competition between those groups. Individuals were subject to evolutionary pressure, but you also had competition between tribes, small groups of humans who lived together and were usually genetically related to one another. Much of their success overall came because of the characteristics of the tribe, rather than the characteristics of individuals within that tribe. The members of the tribe maintained a body of knowledge which helped them survive.
Some of that was direct practical knowledge. Knowing about some specific kind of food, where it could be found, and how it might need to be processed in order to remove toxins or to make it more nutritious, was clearly valuable. Techniques for making weapons and learning how to use them was equally valuable.
Some of it was more indirect.
I said in one of my previous posts that the Chinese were “disgusting and revolting people”. I know that is a harsh assertion to make but I stand by my words. This was my third trip to China. On my previous two trips I had seen the best of China (which is still remarkably difficult to deal with). I traveled around Beijing, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, Sha’anxi, Henan, Hubei and a few others of the true ‘Chinese’ provinces. They were excellent trips, being that they were some of the ‘easiest’ parts of China to travel in. I was prepared to brave the revolting habits of the Chinese: spitting, farting, slurping their soup very loudly, smacking, eating with their mouths open, talking with mouths full of rice, grains of the same rice flying away and towards me in the air, insanely foul toilets, poorly prepared food with bugs in it from time to time, their fantastic rudeness and all around lack of what we in the West would call ‘manners’. These they lack completely. Even their arrogance, their claims that Americans have ‘no culture’ and that America is a country only two hundred years old I brushed aside as I wandered about the countryside of China. “Remember,” I would tell myself, “you’re in China. It is their country.”
But no more.
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Monday, July 28, 2003
For decades our understanding of economic production has been that individuals order their productive activities in one of two ways: either as employees in firms, following the directions of managers, or as individuals in markets, following price signals. This dichotomy was first identified in the early work of Nobel laureate Ronald Coase, and was developed most explicitly in the work of neo-institutional economist Oliver Williamson. In the past three or four years, public attention has focused on a fifteen-year-old social-economic phenomenon in the software development world. This phenomenon, called free software or open source software, involves thousands or even tens of thousands of programmers contributing to large and small scale project, where the central organizing principle is that the software remains free of most constraints on copying and use common to proprietary materials. No one "owns" the software in the traditional sense of being able to command how it is used or developed, or to control its disposition. The result is the emergence of a vibrant, innovative and productive collaboration, whose participants are not organized in firms and do not choose their projects in response to price signals.
In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.
The paper also explains why this mode has systematic advantages over markets and managerial hierarchies when the object of production is information or culture, and where the capital investment necessary for production-computers and communications capabilities-is widely distributed instead of concentrated. In particular, this mode of production is better than firms and markets for two reasons. First, it is better at identifying and assigning human capital to information and cultural production processes. In this regard, peer-production has an advantage in what I call "information opportunity cost." That is, it loses less information about who the best person for a given job might be than do either of the other two organizational modes. Second, there are substantial increasing returns to allow very larger clusters of potential contributors to interact with very large clusters of information resources in search of new projects and collaboration enterprises. Removing property and contract as the organizing principles of collaboration substantially reduces transaction costs involved in allowing these large clusters of potential contributors to review and select which resources to work on, for which projects, and with which collaborators. This results in allocation gains, that increase more than proportionately with the increase in the number of individuals and resources that are part of the system. The article concludes with an overview of how these models use a variety of technological and social strategies to overcome the collective action problems usually solved in managerial and market-based systems by property and contract.
It is clear that the convergence of world markets and the internet has multiplied opportunities for scale-free networks. If corporate hierarchy was well-suited to the era of mass production for national markets, the rise of a web or network model of economy involves a shift from vertical to flat virtual integration, as Castells (The Internet Galaxy, 2000) has long insisted. The detachment of the money circuit from real production and trade (Hart, Money in an Unequal World, 2001) has accelerated recognition that the market is a weighted and directed network, with the mass of ordinary stocks following a few market leaders. Already the power-law has been harnessed to predictive models based on analysis of the movement of the eight or so main stocks in a given sector.
"Nature normally hates power-laws", says Barabasi who has done more than most to promote their visibility. Hitherto physicists have found them most often near the critical point of phase transitions, as when a metal is magnetized by heat. The bell-curve is empirically preponderant in the natural world, we are told. Interestingly enough, the Americans have long held that income inequality is inevitable, while the Europeans have tended to deny it. Today webloggers or peer-to-peer activists, the radical democratic wing of internet society, accept the fact of the power-law and claim that as long as choices can made freely (equal opportunity), this inequality is acceptable, one might say normal. Even if it can be shown to be regular, exponential growth is unpredictable. Statistical physicists can only say that sometimes a variable crosses a threshold and then it takes off into the curve described by a power-law. The stakes are high, but anyone can play.
This whole paradigm shift in scientific and statistical models seems to coincide with the breakdown of the nation-state as the monopolistic framework of society and with it of the corporate premises of 20th century economy, jobs for life and all that. Since the late 70s the neo-liberal consensus has valorized global markets over national economy and the digital revolution of the 90s has given us a new emergent model of society in the network of networks, the internet. This new world market in commodities and information has revealed stark inequality as the norm. Winner takes all is now understood to be a general principle. The egalitarian premises of nation-states, seeking to curb the polarizing tendencies of markets and capitalism, have given way to an emergent world society in which the rich get richer is now taken to be axiomatic. This may be a transitional stage on the way to a new world order capable of curbing the natural excesses of the market. But for now the power-law is king. It's a different model of statistics, for sure. Perhaps it captures society poised between national and world forms. Or society between state and market, having reverted to a balance between the two more like that of the mid-19th century, before national regulation aspired to curb the domestic excesses of capitalism. The question before us is whether new political forms will enable humanity to curb the polarities of the network economy or market.
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Friday, July 25, 2003
Now in a game like Everquest, the go-forth-and-kill is your day job. What could be more quotidian? It is hardly a departure from the ordinary into a non-understood realm. The danger here is not that it gets boring, clearly people find it amusing enough, but that by definition it is incapable of capturing an important aspect of the hero's journey. And as such, it will lack an important mythic and emotional resonance.
socializing intellectual property
Whether it would be technically, organizationally and, most of all, legally feasible to pull this off for music, I have no idea. What I love about this idea, though, is the way it takes the thoroughly capitalist organizational form of the mutual fund and twists it around to produce what is, in effect, socialized property. This could be a very important way of undermining the increasingly insupportable demands of intellectual-property owners, without having to perform a frontal attack on intellectual property law itself. Thus, comrades, does the new system incubate within the old...
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Tuesday, July 22, 2003
can japan change: first of three articles (via pop top)
By no means do all Japanese support nuclear armament. But the world has changed since Japan accepted a Constitution, written by the United States during its postwar occupation, that renounces war as a tool of diplomacy. The question now is, can Japan change too?
The country's 13-year economic slump is pushing forward a host of issues — immigration, the role of women, a steep decline in population — that are testing whether this tradition-bound society will adapt or face inevitable decline.
No issue is likely to have a greater impact on the region than how Japan takes up the burden of its defense after a 20th-century past that traumatized it and its neighbors.
a generation on the move in europe (via the economist)
Lunden is part of the new "Generation E" -- E for Europe, a continent that has been essentially without borders for most of Lunden's and her peers' adult lives. For them, traveling from Sweden to Spain is about as simple as it is for an American college student to take a spring break drive from the Northeast to Florida.
While bureaucrats in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, toil away at highly technical regulations aimed at forging a single, more integrated Europe -- with rules on everything from aviation to how to store fresh cheese -- a new society is being created much faster on the ground, by people in their twenties and thirties for whom the ability to live, work and study anyplace on the continent is now taken as a birthright.
Educated young people like Lunden are traveling farther from home, crossing borders to study and work, learning more languages, building cross-cultural friendships -- and chipping away at the old national stereotypes and animosities of their parents' generation.
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Saturday, July 19, 2003
keith: It's not so much that Houellebecq's characters are unattractive (though that, too); it's that they don't understand how to behave. The social universe is utterly opaque to them. (In this Houellebecq follows Dostoevsky, Celine, et al.) [...] Aaron, we have a few days in which to solve the sexual malaise of the Western world. I understand you're in Paris, which is a good start. Incidentally, I heard that Baudrillard liked the second Matrix movie; is that true?
aaron: "We have created a system," Houellebecq writes at the end, "in which it has simply become impossible to live, and what's more, we continue to export it." I'm curious if you think Houellebecq does in fact give in here, or whether his Orient is just the Occident with more cheerful prostitutes. [/monday]
keith: Sex in Houellebecq is not, as it is in Mailer, a question of power or, as in Roth, a scene of existential revelation. The sex is most like a consumer purchase. In Platform of course it's patently that—Michel pays the prostitutes money—but even non-commercial sex is still inflected with capitalist images of happiness. "Back in Paris, they had happy moments together, like stills from a perfume ad." [...] The chapter ends with the sentence, "He had never felt such fulfillment in his life." This is pure pleasure because the sex is exactly as advertised.
aaron: For Houellebecq anything that's supposed to bring us outside ourselves—that is, tourism and sex—only leads us right back to where we started. "It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves," he writes aphoristically, and since this is Houellebecq we know what's coming next—"it's that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable." [/wednesday]
la la la...
Reality shows, as controversial, inane, and, frankly, terrible as they are, may turn out to be the most important social innovation of the last ten years.
Like blogging, reality shows are one of those things that could have shown up years ago but didn't. The first network executives at CBS could have had the idea to find six attractive idiots and film them trying to, I don't know, live in a bomb shelter. (Maybe one of them would really be a Communist spy. Hey! That's pretty good. Let's do lunch.) But they didn't, just like Tim Berners-Lee didn't stick a blogging interface into the first browser.
So why reality shows? For one, they're dirt cheap. You think a million dollar prize is expensive? Each member of the cast of Friends earns that every week. To be financially competitive, a show like Survivor or Idiots in a Box hardly needs to beat "regular" shows to turn a profit. And, it turns out, people watch this stuff in droves. (There are a couple interesting potential explanations for that, but I'll limit myself to the observation that sticking a bunch of people off the street with no special training or, apparently, personality still produces a more interesting show with better dialogue than 90% of what the networks turn out. "Perhaps," mull the networks, "the problem is that the audience wants higher definition signals." Yeah, perhaps.) These shows thrive on feeding a never-ending appetite for more and more intimate/embarassing/private/dreadful behavior, and this drives an arms race to the bottom (as if there were a bottom). So why I am heralding them as being so important?
Because, magically, weirdly, just in time, they are teaching us what it means to be watched, all the time, and have all of your actions and interactions not only observed by millions of anonymous strangers, but analyzed, judged, and preserved forever. And this is a lesson that we, especially in the United States, desperately need to learn, because it is about to happen to all of us.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2003
tele-vision (via oolong)
The difficulty arises when people strongly sense that they ought not to watch as much as they do and yet find themselves strangely unable to reduce their viewing. Some knowledge of how the medium exerts its pull may help heavy viewers gain better control over their lives.
real-life (via dashes)
Volumes have already been written about real life, the most accessible and most widely accepted massively multiplayer online role-playing game to date. Featuring believable characters, plenty of lasting appeal, and a lot of challenge and variety, real life is absolutely recommendable to those who've grown weary of all the cookie-cutter games that have tried to emulate its popularity--or to just about anyone, really.
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Sunday, July 13, 2003
capturing the cultural revolution (via gulfstream)
His newspaper published only positive images of the Cultural Revolution, but Mr. Li photographed everything. "I had had a teacher, a famous photographer, Wu Yingxian, who said we were not only witnesses of history but also recorders of history," Mr. Li said. "I felt the positive images were only part of history, so I also photographed the negative scenes so that one day there would be a complete history."
the río negro massacres (via pov)
When I arrived, I saw the patroller Pedro González Gómez trying to murder Vicenta Iboy Chen. Even though this woman had a baby on her back, she fought back trying to defend herself from the rapist. She picked up a rock and threw it at Pedro. The patroller took his machete from its sheath that was on his belt and gave her two blows. The patroller not only wounded the woman badly, but he cut in half the baby around her back. Vicenta fell down heavily at the edge of the ravine. Pedro immediately came up to her and gave her two machete blows in the neck.
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Thursday, July 10, 2003
progress without parity
out of eden
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Monday, July 7, 2003
hey so besides city of god the only really good/watchable! movies i've seen so far in theatres this year (that actually came out last year :) are the good thief, spun and 28 days later -- also noting the similarities with reign of fire :D but much better!
haven't been to cananopie for awhile but rob has a great poem up, "but Rob, it's so overdone!" so does tony (about kobe bryant) and some neat pictures. oh and my favorite astronaut ed has a spacelog going :D (via slashdot) "Greetings, EARTHLINGS"
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Friday, July 4, 2003
he owned hard (via cheesedip)
I saw the best fucking thing today in Chinatown. I mean for real. This older Chinese man, like maybe in his 50s, was walking down the street in a white shirt with crazy neon colors that said "It's not a beer belly, it's a fuel tank for a sex machine!!!" I fucking wet myself. He owned hard.
i got malaria (via dirtynerdluv)
KP: First time, 1939. I went to my brother; he was working in the sugar factory. Nothing around there. Nothing but all the sugarcane and coffee and small factories down there. Miles and miles—nothing. I visited him and I thought, "Biggest mistake I've ever done." And then I got malaria.
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Tuesday, July 1, 2003
I tried to understand how Poincaré and Einstein radically reformulated our ideas of time and space by looking at the way that philosophical abstractions, physical theories, and the technological problems of keeping trains from bashing into each other and coordinating mapmaking across empires might cross in a single story. I began with an extraordinarily simple idea that marked the last century: two events are simultaneous if coordinated clocks at the two events say the same thing. How do I coordinate these clocks? I send a signal from one to the other and take into account the time it takes for the signal to get there. That’s the basic idea, but all of relativity theory, E = mc2, and so much of what Einstein does followed from it. The question is, where did this idea come from? Albert Einstein and Henri Poincaré were the two people who worked out this practical, almost operational idea of simultaneity, and I want to see them as occupying points of intersection—of technological, philosophical, and physical reasoning. They were the two people who stood at those triple cross-sections.
We propose a theory of how systems of thought arise on the basis of differing cultural practices and argue that the theory accounts for substantial differences in East Asian and Western thought processes. We find East Asians to be more holistic, attending to the entire field and assigning causality to it, making relatively little use of categories and formal logic, and relying on "dialectical" reasoning. Westerners are more analytic, paying attention primarily to the object and the categories to which it belongs and using rules, including formal logic, to understand its behavior. The two types of cognitive processes are embedded in different naïve metaphysical systems and tacit epistemologies. We speculate that the origin of these differences is traceable to markedly different social systems. The theory and the evidence presented will call into question long held assumptions about basic cognitive processes and even about the appropriateness of the process-content distinction.
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