January 01, 2013

Old Year's Disillusions 2012

New Year's Resolutions are a tradition of listing things in the next year you would like to do - but (realistically) you know that you won't (I think there should also be a tradition of "Dissolutions", things you actually did do in the past year, and wish you hadn't - but that's another topic, for a different type of blogger). I'm going to turn it around, and list "Disillusions", a few items I would have liked to have done, but couldn't.

Every so often I think about writing out some of my thoughts on the activism strategy in Lawrence Lessig's "Republic, Lost" anti-corruption efforts. I agree with him overwhelming in terms of the general topic of the corrupting influence of money in politics. However, when it comes to proposed solutions, there's a set of patterns which are very common and well-worn. For example, the Work Within The System types constantly argue with The Outsiders (or at least those who style themselves that way - some outsiders are too far away socially to even argue with "liberal" reformers). And thus, recursively, I fear I'd be falling into one of the bad patterns myself, the Pundit Pontificator. That's useless, and for me, dangerous. It's useless because anything of the form "I agree with your goals but not your tactics" is one of the oldest cliches of activism. And it's dangerous for me as I'm not at the power-level to argue at any sort of reasonably risk/reward ratio. Moreover, it doesn't seem like there's any great need for me to say anything. Lessig might even end up eventually shifting via the Ignored Insider pattern (where reformers become more radical after years of contention with other insiders). Being too early in politics is another endemic risk, with no rewards.

During the fight over the proposed "SOPA" law for new copyright enforcement powers, I blogged a few times about being torn over the ends-vs-means dilemma. I opposed SOPA, but the tactics used against it were extremely manipulative (yes, politics, that's the point). Then there was another UN-to-take-over-the-Internet manufactured panic. That last moved Marc Rotenberg, president of Electronic Privacy Information Center (a dedicated organization that doesn't get corporate sugar-daddying) to write

But where once advocacy efforts were aligned with international human rights instruments and decoupled from the lobbying efforts of particular companies, increasingly the debate over Internet freedom is one that pits governments against large corporations, with the advocates in tow.

I'm glad he said it. Somebody needed to. I'm disheartened by the extent of the transformation of Internet civil liberties advocacy into corporate liberties advocacy via application of that's-where-the-money-is. However, I'm not going to go through that battle again myself. Once was enough.

Wikipedia still fascinates me, even though I've basically given up on getting policy people to think about the points I've made about its dysfunctional dynamics and being a creature of Google's page-ranking algorithm. I found the Philip Roth Wikipedia controversy (about his inspiration for a novel) extremely revealing about one aspect I keep noting, the status hierarchy differences between experts and Wikipedia editors (i.e. the different worldview between Roth, etc. vs extensive Wikipedia contributors about who is high-status and who is low-status, which group should defer to the other). But there was a large amount of nastiness flying about, I believe exactly because of the hierarchy difference being in such stark relief over such a prominent literary figure. I decided not to stick my head into that storm. Roth hardly needs me to defend him, while enduring the attacks of Wikipedian flamers just didn't seem worth it for something which wasn't going to have any effect.

Anyway, Happy New Year, especially to anyone who is still reading down here way under the tail.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on January 01, 2013 05:44 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage  Twitter


Happy New Year I hope.

But I can see a lot of the bad and unresolved issues from last year (and the decade before that) being fought over again this year.

With added bonus of dissent potentially getting you listed as a terrorist (cf Occupy & the FBI et al).

I see nothing on the horizon that is going to stop the rise of corporate power & influence. Right now down here in Australia we have 2 major newspaper outlets - one owned by Murdoch & the other being sized up by a mega-rich billionaire who has made her distaste for it's slant on the news well known. And she is lining up other media assets as well.

More? You wanted more - Trans-Pacific-Partnership (SOPA for the rest of us) whether it lives or dies, will probably come back stronger with another name by different means.

I see a lot of things to get disillusioned about before the year has much begun.

Posted by: tqft at January 1, 2013 10:44 PM

It sorts of put in perspective the cliche of "endless vigilance" - and the costs thereof.

Ironically, getting listed as a terrorist might not affect my life at all. I don't travel much, especially by plane, so I don't fear the "no fly" list. I've never had a job which required a security clearance, and I'm unlikely to work in such areas in the future. I don't go to events attended by important government people, so I don't deal with that sort of guest vetting. And at least it'd be considered a downside without argument (i.e. people would be unlikely to say "Oh, so you're on the terrorist watch list, here's the world smallest violin, stop whining about your FBI file, don't talk about it unless and until you're sent to Gitmo").

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 3, 2013 01:42 PM