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Wouldn’t you like to be a Marxist too?

May 27, 2009

This will be the last post for a few days; unlike Caroline I do have a couple friends, one of whom is coming to visit for a couple days. 

There’s an article in Wired with a well-marketed title, The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online – guaranteed to grab the eyeballs of every panicky Ron Paul-loving technophile anxious to see how the soshulists are tryin to take their guns today.  Of course The Coming One World Government is not really the message of the article; rather it describes the crowdsourcing of everything.  Nothing new, really, but it’s an interesting take.  (And Clay Shirky seems to be everywhere I look these days; I need to read Here Comes Everybody soon.)  “Sharing” is the first step on the slippery slope to collectivism, as any Aynrandian could tell you (a photo is put up on Flickr), followed by “Cooperation” (many people tag the photo or vote it up on Reddit), then “Collaboration” (the photo gets Photoshopped or repurposed by Shepard Fairey) and finally drowns in “Collectivism” (the photo gets put up as part of a Wikipedia article or a political poster and belongs “to us all”).

But relax, it’s okay, because it’s a genuine collective – the power of the people is still in the hands of the people, not the state:

Most people in the West, including myself, were indoctrinated with the notion that extending the power of individuals necessarily diminishes the power of the state, and vice versa. In practice, though, most polities socialize some resources and individualize others. Most free-market economies have socialized education, and even extremely socialized societies allow some private property.

Rather than viewing technological socialism as one side of a zero-sum trade-off between free-market individualism and centralized authority, it can be seen as a cultural OS that elevates both the individual and the group at once. The largely unarticulated but intuitively understood goal of communitarian technology is this: to maximize both individual autonomy and the power of people working together. Thus, digital socialism can be viewed as a third way that renders irrelevant the old debates.

Author Kevin Kelly even uses the word “hybrid” to discuss these new economies, familiar to you if you’ve read my recent posts on Remix

The one thing that’s lacking from his article is any mention of the fact that while the masses may control the means of production at Flickr and Reddit and YouTube and Twitter, they don’t control the capital that is generated, nor, with the exception of YouTube videos carrying ads, do they share in any of the ad revenue.  I would have liked to have seen some mention of a possible future economic model, a true “collective farm” in which uploaders split all profits generated after operating costs, rather than watching them go into the pockets of Google or Conde Nast.  Now that would be socialism.

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