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:

Open Source?

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 system.

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.

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 hard and software providers (commercialor otherwise) -and opens one up to exploitation through 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 result.

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?

There is a corporate and academic need to define and describe a body of knowledge in 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 sustainabiliy?

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 network).

Some kind of creative conceptual; "dialogue" seems to be  required -perhaps the following:

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?
-for humans
-for animals

Political Evolution and Evaluation:

The Cultural Imperialism and Global Fascism of "One World":

Exploiters of the Knowledge Network?

Exploiting Illegality:

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:
Wearable computers
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)?)

The destruction of localised (intellectual or physical) ecologies as a result of cheap or free (intellectual or physical) resources which are used in the production of expensive goods for profit (at a cost that many cannot afford)

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 advantage.

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?

MANILA, Philippines- 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 Vietnam, 145th.

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.

Source: US think tank says RP economy ‘mostly unfree'

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., 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 record." <>

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 which 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 private adventures.

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 collapse.

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 of interest" because the system has a need to satisfy the needs of its components and 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 "inside" -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 own inertia.

Some Remaining Questions:

Trevor Batten,  Manila  January 2009