Liked Half a billion on Halloween pet costumes is latest sign of America’s out-of-control consumerism (The Conversation)

In the late 1890s, an economist named Thorstein Veblen looked at spending in society and wrote an influential book called “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” which explained reasons why people spend. It laid out the idea that some goods and services are bought simply for conspicuous consumption.

Conspicuous consumption is designed to show others you are rich, smart or important. In Veblen’s mind, conspicuous consumption was spending more money on items than they are really worth. Veblen pointed out that people buy homes with rooms that are rarely used, just to show off the owner’s wealth.

If Veblen were writing about the world today, he would probably not focus on real estate. Instead, he might be using examples of people trying to attract attention on Instagram by dressing their pets in expensive costumes.

Bookmarked The mindfulness conspiracy (the Guardian)

It is sold as a force that can help us cope with the ravages of capitalism, but with its inward focus, mindful meditation may be the enemy of activism

In this extract from McMindfulness, Ronald Purser argues that paying closer attention on the present is not revolutionary, but rather magical thinking on steroids. Stripped of spirituality and ethics, mindfulness is nothing more than concentration training. Sadly, it becomes something another commodity to market to people, with little done to resolve the underlying conditions. This reminds me of a point made by Audrey Watters about the problem with blaming people for social media addiction.

Marginalia

Anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. And yet mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids.

The problem is the product they’re selling, and how it’s been packaged. Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training. Although derived from Buddhism, it’s been stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.

What remains is a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help.

People are expected to adapt to what this model demands of them. Stress has been pathologised and privatised, and the burden of managing it outsourced to individuals.

By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.

Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.

Kabat-Zinn, a dedicated meditator, had a vision in the midst of a retreat: he could adapt Buddhist teachings and practices to help hospital patients deal with physical pain, stress and anxiety. His masterstroke was the branding of mindfulness as a secular spirituality.

A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct.

If mindfulness just helps people cope with the toxic conditions that make them stressed in the first place, then perhaps we could aim a bit higher. Should we celebrate the fact that this perversion is helping people to “auto-exploit” themselves? This is the core of the problem.

Liked Reaction of the rich to the Notre Dame fire teaches us a lot about the world we live in | JOE.ie (JOE.ie)

If two men in a world of more than 7 billion people can provide €300million to restore Notre Dame, within six hours, then there is enough money in the world to feed every mouth, shelter every family and educate every child. The failure to do so is a matter of will, and a matter of system.

via Kottke
Bookmarked I dare you to read this and still feel good about tipping (Washington Post)

If you knew the history of tipping, you’d never see it the same way again.

Roberto Ferdman and Saru Jayaraman discuss tipping and its origins. Jayaraman discusses the two dollar hourly rate that waiters are often paid, how there is a confusion for who they are working for and the association with slavery. This practice is so deeply rooted as was demonstrated in a post from Jason Kottke.

Marginalia

Our research shows that all of that sexual harassment—from customers, coworkers, and management—can be traced back to this whole culture of forcing women to make their income based on pleasing the customer. To me it’s all summed up by this one quote from Texas, where they earn $2.13 an hour before tips. This waitress was speaking at a Senate press conference, and she said: ‘Senators, what would it be like for you if your income depended on the happiness of the people you serve? Because my income depends on the people I serve, I have to put up with a guy groping by butt every day so I can feed my four year old son every day.’

via Daniel Goldsmith

Read Walkaway by an author (Craphound)

Quotes

Communist Party

Not entrapeneourahip, post-scarcity

“We’re not going to entrepreneur our way out of anything. This isn’t entrepreneurship.” “Anti-entrepreneurship’s been tried, too — slacking doesn’t get you anywhere.” “We’re not anti-entrepreneur either. We’re not entrepreneurial in the way that baseball isn’t tic-tac-toe. We’re playing a different game.” “What’s that?” “Post-scarcity,” said with near-religious solemnity.

Play on ‘party’ associated with Communist Party

“What about ‘communist’?” “What about it?” “That’s a label with a lot of history. You could be communists.” She waved her beard at him. "Communist party . That doesn’t make us ‘communists’ any more than throwing a birthday party makes us ‘birthdayists.’ Communism is an interesting

Meta, a drug for the status quo

“Meta,” she said. “Or something like it.” He’d heard of it. It gave you ironic distance — a very now kind of high. Conspiracy people thought it was too zeitgeisty to be a coincidence, claimed it was spread to soften the population for its miserable lot. In his day — eight years before — the scourge had been called “Now,” something they gave to source-code auditors and drone pilots to give them robotic focus. He’d eaten a shit-ton of it while working on zepps. It made him feel like a happy android. The conspiracy people had said the same thing about Now that they said about Meta. End of the day, anything that made you discount objective reality and assign a premium to some kind of internal mental state was going to be both pro-survival and pro-status-quo.

Putting on a mask to prevent detection

“Seth, masks!” Hubert, Etc shook his friend. There had been a good reason for Seth to carry both of their masks, but he couldn’t remember it. Seth sat up with his eyebrows raised and a smirk on his face. Tucking chin to chest, Hubert, Etc swarmed over Seth and roughly turned out his pockets. He slapped his mask to his face and felt the fabric adhere in bunches and whorls as his breath teased it out and the oils in his skin were wicked through its weave. He did Seth. “You don’t need to do this,” Seth said. “Right,” said Hubert, Etc. “It’s out of the goodness of my heart.” “You’re worried they’ll walk my social graph and find you in the one-hop/high-intensity zone.” Seth’s smile, glowing in the darkness of his face, was infuriatingly calm. It vanished behind the mask. That was the stupid Meta. “You’d be screwed then. They’ll run your data going back years, dude, until they find something. They always find something. They’ll put the screws to you, threaten you with every horrible unless you turn narc. Room 101 all the way, baby –”

Jacob Redwater’s surveillance

“My father spies on me,” Natalie said. “That’s why he’s here.” Jacob shrugged. “It could be worse. It’s not like I have your phone tapped. It’s just public sources.”

You All Meet in a Tavern

Ledger

The menu evolved through the day, depending on the feedstocks visitors brought. Limpopo nibbled around the edges, moving from one red light to the next, till they went green, developing a kind of sixth sense about the next red zone, logging more than her share of work units. If there had been a leaderboard for the B&B that day, she’d have been embarrassingly off the charts. She pretended as hard as she could that her friends weren’t noticing her bustling activity. The gift economy was not supposed to be a karmic ledger with your good deeds down one column and the ways you’d benefited from others down the other. The point of walkaways was living for abundance, and in abundance, why worry if you were putting in as much as you took out? But freeloaders were freeloaders, and there was no shortage of assholes who’d take all the best stuff or ruin things through thoughtlessness. People noticed. Assholes didn’t get invited to parties. No one went out of their way to look out for them. Even without a ledger, there was still a ledger, and Limpopo wanted to bank some good wishes and karma just in case.

Theory versus practice

In a gift economy, you gave without keeping score, because keeping score implied an expectation of reward. If you’re doing something for reward, it’s an investment, not a gift. In theory, Limpopo agreed. In practice, it was so easy to keep score, the leaderboard was so satisfying that she couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t proud of this.

That’s what walkaway is …

In a gift economy, you gave without keeping score, because keeping score implied an expectation of reward. If you’re doing something for reward, it’s an investment, not a gift. In theory, Limpopo agreed. In practice, it was so easy to keep score, the leaderboard was so satisfying that she couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t proud of this.

Being Generous

“Out here, we’re supposed to treat generosity as the ground state. The weird, gross, selfish feeling is a warning we’re being dicks. We’re not supposed to forgive people for being selfish. We’re not supposed to expect other people to forgive us for being selfish. It’s not generous to do nice things in the hopes of getting stuff back. It’s hard not to fall into that pattern, because bribery works.”

Being a walkaway is …

Limpopo surveyed the boys’ baskets, trimmed to more modest proportions. She nodded. “This discussion usually gets to parenting and friendship. Those are the places where everyone agrees that being generous is right. Your chore list is to ensure that everything gets done. The kid who spends her time watching her sisters to make sure they have the same number of chores is either getting screwed, or is screwed up. It sounds corny, but being a walkaway is ultimately about treating everyone as family.”

Limpopo on statistics and C

“I don’t look at stats. Which is the point. I couldn’t write the whole thing on my own, and if I could, I wouldn’t want to, because this place would suck if it was just a contest to see who could add the most lines of code or bricks to the structure. That’s a race to build the world’s heaviest airplane. What does knowing that one person has more commits than others tell you? That you should work harder? That you’re stupid? That you’re slow? Who gives a shit? The most commits in our codebase come from history – everyone who wrote the libraries and debugged and optimized and patched them. The most commits on this building come from everyone who processed the raw materials, figured out how to process the raw materials, harvested the feedstock, and –”

Limpopo on not being like an Ayn Rand novel

We can live like it’s the first days of a better world, not like it’s the first pages of an Ayn Rand novel. Have this place, but you can’t have us. We withdraw our company."

Limpopo on his:

“That feeling of happiness and intensity you get? Did you ever wonder whether it was something we were meant to experience more than fleetingly? Take orgasms. If you had an orgasm that didn’t stop, it’d be brutal. There’d be a sense in which it was technically amazing, but the experience would be terrible. Take happiness now, that feeling of having arrived, having perfected your world for a moment – could you imagine if it went on? Why would you ever get off your ass? I think we’re only equipped to experience happiness for an instant, because all our ancestors who could experience it for longer blissed out until they starved to death, or got eaten by a tiger.”

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Rethink what it means to be alive

The local Dis didn’t know about her instance-sister in Jacob Redwater’s bolt-hole, but that Dis left Gretyl with a letter to other Dis instances, encrypted with a key protected by the private pass-phrase Dis had used in life. The local Dis accepted the file, decrypted it, thought about it for a computerish eyeblink. “This is crazy.”

Freedom and cognitive liberty

“Don’t worry, when we simulate you, we’ll ensure you’re in a state that’s comfortable with the idea. Ha-ha-only-serious. It’s like Meta, being like this. Sometimes I dial back and watch the lookaheads, see how close I am to the edge of full panic. It’s interesting to tweak that shit in realtime. You haven’t known freedom until you’ve experienced cognitive liberty, the right to choose your state of mind.”

Zottas do suveliwnce to themselves

Zottas do surveillance to themselves. It’s not done to them. You could build a house like this with no sensors, retro, with strings running along the walls to tinkle bells in the servants’ quarters. You could line the walls with copper mesh and make it a radio-free fortress.

Natalie faced with the challenge of what to do when walking away is not an option.

This woman wasn’t her enemy, she just had a job. Natalie didn’t care. She swung a wild roundhouse the woman easily sidestepped. Had she smiled a little? It was weird to be here, silent except for breathing, her father’s muttering from the bedroom. Wordless intimacy. She swung again. Again. If she’d had a gun, she’d have shot the woman, her father, herself. What does a walkaway do when she can’t walk away?

Helping people is the best world.

She [Limpopo] bridged in Etcetera. “Jimmy, you’ve come a long way since we met, but you’re still coming along, if you don’t mind my saying. I came back to help you because helping people is what you do, whether or not they’re in your thing, because that’s the best world to live in.”

On being an idealist:

“First days of a better nation,” Jimmy said. “If you could see them now, what would you say to them?” His feet crunched irregularly through the snow. Limpopo could tell that he was stung by what she’d said. “If they were trying to kill me, I’d say don’t shoot. I’m an idealist, not a kamikaze.” “Fair point. What if you had them at a table?” “I wouldn’t say anything. I’d offer them dinner. Or I’d just go about doing what I do. I’m an idealist, not a preacher.”

Clothes printed old:

All the clothing had a printer-fresh smell, still offgassing pigment-infusions. When she looked closely, she saw the dirt and the gray and even the faded ROOTS letters all printed on, the dirt betraying itself with minute compression artifacts. These clothes had been printed to look like they weren’t brand new.

Normal and resistance:

Epilogue: Even Better Nation

You’d be amazed at how quickly you get over it. Normal is hard to resist. Everything becomes default, no matter how new."

Interviews

The B&N Podcast: Cory Doctorow and Will Schwalbe

Cory Doctorow suggests the differences between disaster and dystopia is often defined by what people do when things breakdown. And things always breakdown. He defines Walkaway as ‘techno realism’, where the particulars maybe wrong, but the shape of the future is right. Having said this he points out that the future is always contingent. Reflecting on predictive novels, Doctorow suggests that the thing you get from a book is an authors fears and aspirations, while a reader’s bookshelf tells you which of these resonated with them. In the end he argues rather than being optimistic or pessimistic, he would describe himself (and with that his novels) as hopeful.

Netzpolitik-Podcast 160 mit Cory Doctorow: Dystopie kann doch jeder

Cory Doctorow at the Wheeler Centre

Another discussion, including a reading from chapter two.

Reviews

In ‘Walkaway,’ A Blueprint For A New, Weird (But Better) World

Jason Sheehan on NPR

His novels read less like speculation than prediction — a hardcore nerd’s careful read on technology and biology and entropy, impeccably sourced and, in their own way, as real and present and hopeful as the augury of a Bizarro World Cassandra with carpal tunnel and grease under her nails.

It’s the story of a utopia in progress, as messy as every new thing ever is, told in the form of people talking to each other, arguing with each other and working together to solve problems. It’s all about the deep, disturbing, recognizable weirdness of the future that must come from the present we have already made for ourselves, trying to figure out what went wrong and what comes next.

The economics of Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway

Bookmarked ‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism (the Guardian)

Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is a chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world. Observer tech columnist John Naughton explains the importance of Zuboff’s work and asks the author 10 key questions

In an interview with John Naughton, Shoshana Zuboff touches on the feeling of ‘informed bewilderment’ that marks that current transformation associated with platform capitalism. This includes the many aspects which feed into the surveillance economy, such as smartphones and digital assistants. Zuboff argues that the goal is to automate us. Rather than reviewing what should and should not be collected, the question that needs addressing is why is it collected at all.

Marginalia

We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead.


So our contemporary state of awareness is – as Manuel Castells, the great scholar of cyberspace once put it – one of “informed bewilderment”.


“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”


Surveillance capitalism was invented around 2001 as the solution to financial emergency in the teeth of the dotcom bust when the fledgling company faced the loss of investor confidence.


Nearly every product or service that begins with the word “smart” or “personalised”, every internet-enabled device, every “digital assistant”, is simply a supply-chain interface for the unobstructed flow of behavioural data on its way to predicting our futures in a surveillance economy.


Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free.


It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination. As one data scientist explained to me, “We can engineer the context around a particular behaviour and force change that way… We are learning how to write the music, and then we let the music make them dance.”


Surveillance capitalism is a human-made phenomenon and it is in the realm of politics that it must be confronted. The resources of our democratic institutions must be mobilised, including our elected officials.


For example, the idea of “data ownership” is often championed as a solution. But what is the point of owning data that should not exist in the first place? All that does is further institutionalise and legitimate data capture.


Users might get “ownership” of the data that they give to surveillance capitalists in the first place, but they will not get ownership of the surplus or the predictions gleaned from it – not without new legal concepts built on an understanding of these operations … In any confrontation with the unprecedented, the first work begins with naming.

Listened Ep. 117 Book Launch: A Live Team Human Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff and Seth Godin | Team Human from shows.pippa.io

In a role reversal, Douglas Rushkoff is interviewed by Seth Godin on the release of the Team Human manifesto. Douglas reveals the dynamics of this antihuman machinery and invites us to remake these aspects of society in ways that foster our humanity.

Seth Godin and Douglas Rushkoff discuss why ‘team human’. They address how we got to now, the challenges that we face in being human, the hope for the future and whether it matters that ‘NPR’ does not care.

I purchased the book and corresponding audiobook. I loved Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and Programming or be Programmed. I have also enjoyed the podcast. I also enjoy listening to Rushkoff read his own work.

Bookmarked To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism by an author (BuzzFeed News)

As we head for the edge of a climate change cliff, neoliberal market capitalism is chewing up the biosphere and the lives of everyone in it. But it’s not too late to act.

Kim Stanley Robinson argues that change is still possible to alivate the crisis of global warming. However, this is not individual change, but rather political change.

Any such resistance will have to emerge in forms borrowed from the system we have now, in a stepwise process using the political tools already at hand. This is a depressing thought, but as methods go, it’s the lesser of many evils. The other options include things like world revolution (messy, murderous, prone to failure or blowback); or a fall into a new Dark Age, followed by a renaissance some centuries later; or — well, what else is there? Alien or divine intervention I leave to others to imagine. In our timeline, it seems to me the only real option is politics. Or to be more specific, political economy.

This ‘political economy’ would be post-capitalism. In many respects this touches on Douglas Rushkoff’s push for more human intervention and involvement.

A political economy like this would be a “post-capitalism” one in which everyone could live at adequacy, including wild and domestic mammals, birds, fish, insects, plants, bacteria, and all the other parts of Earth’s living symbiosis. What we’re doing now makes it harder to get to that good future, but the goal is still physically possible to attain. This is the project that human civilization has to take on to survive, and one that will provide not just employment, but purpose. We all crave meaning in our lives, and by a strange twist of fate, a very meaningful project has been given to us: Prevent a mass extinction event, and build a better world for the generations to come.

Liked Universal Basic Income Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam by Douglas Rushkoff (Medium)

Under the guise of compassion, UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers. Once the ability to create or exchange value is stripped from us, all we can do with every consumptive act is deliver more power to people who can finally, without any exaggeration, be called our corporate overlords.

No, income is nothing but a booby prize. If we’re going to get a handout, we should demand not an allowance but assets. That’s right: an ownership stake.

Bookmarked John Pat Leary — Innovation and the Neoliberal Idioms of Development | boundary 2 by John Pat Leary (boundary2.org)

As its contemporary proliferation shows, innovation has never quite lost its association with redemption and salvation, even if it is no longer used to signify their false promises.

John Pat Leary provides a lengthy history of innovation and capitalism. This is something also touched upon by Rolin Moe. He highlights its association with neo-liberalism.

Marginalia

This essay explores the individualistic, market-based ideology of “innovation” as it circulates from the English-speaking first world to the so-called third world, where it supplements, when it does not replace, what was once more exclusively called “development.” I am referring principally to projects that often go under the name of “social innovation” (or, relatedly, “social entrepreneurship”), which Stanford University’s Business School defines as “a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions” (Stanford Graduate School of Business)

For most of its history, the word has been synonymous with false prophecy and dissent: initially, it was linked to deceitful promises of deliverance, either from divine judgment or more temporal forms of punishment. For centuries, this was the most common usage of this term. The charge of innovation warned against either the possibility or the wisdom of remaking the world, and disciplined those “fickle changelings and poor discontents,” as the King says in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, grasping at “hurly-burly innovation.” Religious and political leaders tarred self-styled prophets or rebels as heretical “innovators.”

As Lepore (2014) has argued about its close cousin, “disruption,” innovation can be thought of as a secular discourse of economic and personal deliverance.

One undergoes development to achieve development; innovation, in turn, is the pursuit of innovation, and as soon as one innovates, the innovation thus created soon ceases to be an innovation. This wearying semantic circle helps evacuate the processes of its power dynamics, of winners and losers.

my point is to emphasize the political work that “innovation” as a concept does: it depoliticizes the resource scarcity that makes it seem necessary in the first place by treating the private market as a neutral arbiter or helpful partner rather than an exploiter, and it does so by disavowing the power of a Western subject through the supposed humility and democratic patina of its rhetoric.

Innovation, in its modern meaning, is about revolutionizing “process” and technique: this often leaves outcomes unexamined and unquestioned.

Max Weber argued that capitalism in its ascendancy reimagined profit-seeking activities, which might once have been described as avaricious or vulgar as a virtuous “ethos” (2001, 16-17). Capitalism’s challenge to tradition, Weber argued, demanded some justification; reframing business as a calling or a vocation could help provide one.

The TED Talk, with which we began, is in its crude way the most expressive genre of this contemporary version of the entrepreneurial romance.

The throat-clearing self-seriousness, the ritualistic gestures of humility, the promise to the audience of transformative change without inconvenient political consequences, and the faith in technology as a social leveler all perform the TED Talk’s ego-ideal of social “innovation.”

When we consider innovation’s religious origins in false prophecy, its current orthodoxy in the discourse of technological evangelism—and, more broadly, in analog versions of social innovation—is often a nearly literal example of Rayvon Fouché’s argument that the formerly colonized, “once attended to by bibles and missionaries, now receive the proselytizing efforts of computer scientists wielding integrated circuits in the digital age” (2012, 62).

Liked Private equity bosses took $200m out of Toys R Us and crashed the company, lifetime employees got $0 in severance (Boing Boing)

Private equity’s favorite shell game is to take over profitable businesses, sell off their assets, con banks into loaning them hundreds of millions of dollars, cash out in the form of bonuses and dividends, then let the businesses fail and default on their debts.