30 August 2014

The Commodification of Activism

The commodification of activism is a term I've coined to describe the popular culture phenomenon whereby everyone who creates awareness for their personal bugbears considers themselves an activist.

 Commodification as she is commodified

Commodification is a term I've borrowed from Karl Marx.  I'd be sure to pay him his royalties for all his hard work, but fortunately he frowns upon these notions of property and ownership.  We're all standing on the shoulders of giants, or even on the shoulders of midgets since everyone is equal in Marx's Utopia.  Much obliged, Comrade.  I took according to your borrowed ability to satisfy my needs.

The way I understand Marx is that he fell victim to Hume's guillotine by implying that things like love and labour really should not become commodities.  They're too valuable to put a price on them.  The phenomenon whereby these invaluable things become saleable commodities is what caused Marx to turn up his nose.  Those heartless capitalists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

For our purpose, commodification refers to social status credits being accumulated by cheerleading for the socially acceptable causes.  Conversely, not cheerleading for the socially accepted causes or even rallying against them may result in the accumulation of social status debits. 

The commodification of activism is therefore not commodification in Marx's sense, whereby invaluable properties become saleable goods and services.  It's more of a conceited metaphor for activism itself becoming a commodity in the social status sense.  What have you done for the cause, Comrade? Oh, liked and shared? Very well.

Simple social commodity production in theory and practice

Let's start with the practice first, then see if we can formulate a hypothesis from that:

The most obvious example of the commodification of activism is sharing pictures of neglected animals on social media.  Pass that buck to everyone who becomes a potential scapegoat if they dare question the holy cow cause or object to your noble intentions of aiding it with sensationalist sensitive material spam.  We're all primates here.  I groom you and you groom me.  I groom you by placating you with the values we all should share, and you groom me back or I question what kind of monkey's uncle you truly are.  Not grooming back doesn't make the circle bigger and results in a vicious cycle!

Another example is the mass hysteria surrounding animal testing and hunting.  On one hand, this would satisfy Marx since is-ought problems abound when we ought not conduct testing on animals even if we're not turning a profit or if we are helping to progress towards a cure for regressive diseases.

If these facts conflict with the neatly packaged, bite size version of reality where testing on animals is just wrong wrong wrong, we simply play Procrustes until it fits.  No direct cures are obtained via animal testing, you see.  Despite the purpose of animal testing being pre-clinical trials to ensure safe testing on humans, or determining the causes of diseases in addition to finding cures, when only 8 out of 100 treatments even make it beyond animal testing, what's the point?  When 92 of those 100 treatments are potentially harmful and they don't get tested on humans, what's the point? 

How about veterinary treatments? Shall we test them on animals?

A few more esoteric examples:  The barbarians at the gate rallying against a fractional reserve banking system, whatever that may be in their minds; those tiresome ribbons that we're not quite sure which one is for which noble cause any more but it's very important to support it because we all make a difference; the movement to label GMO food because we can't really tell the difference between organically grown, free range products and their inorganic, God-playing scientist spawn but we're convinced that it's bad for you; stop bombing the children in Gaza you heartless Jews; the ice bucket challenge for those who can't feel the shivers down their spines; and socially responsible investing because if we're going to be egalitarian we may as well get rich from it.

In theory:  Take up thy soapbox and megaphone.

 What are some of the characteristics of these examples of slacktivism?
  1. Misinformation.  Those who partake in these sacraments just point and click.  It appears that not much effort is expended on informing oneself on the topic at hand in order to present a balanced view, nor is there much thought given to the quality of the sources.
  2. HypocrisyL'Oreal fired a teenage model because  of their official stance on animal testing in an effort to create a charade of wholesome family friendly goodness, yet they're quite happy to comply with mandatory animal testing for their Chinese market.  Slacktivists view it as a victory that cosmetics animal testing is outlawed in the EU, but they don't consider the consequences and implications beyond a mere Pyrrhic victory.
  3. Petulance.  Thou shalt not second guess someone with good intentions, less so when it's for a good cause.
  4. Ignorance.  Do I need to remind anyone of the dihydrogen monoxide scandal?
  5. Bigotry. This is mostly experienced by hunters from what I can make out.
I could go on but that is sufficient to comply with the Law of Fives.

16 February 2013

The Resource Based Economy mind virus

We've seen the Zeitgeist films and sadly they're still taking a hold on impressionable young minds that could be doing something useful instead. Despite its shoddy research, its baseless assertions and its gross generalisations (or perhaps because of them), a few things about the films stand out:

  1. We have to get rid of all monetary systems.
  2. The answer to all our woes is a Resource Based Economy.
Bad ideas have a habit of outliving good ones, perhaps because they are neat, plausible and wrong. These are all hallmarks of the kind of thinking that does not require much thinking, and as we know thinking is the hardest work of all. Perhaps this is why the bad ideas keep being perpetuated, while paradoxically the good ones are also neat, plausible and slightly less wrong. Why the good ideas don't get perpetuated as readily is beyond me.

Here's an image of Frank Zappa. Because Zappa is god.


Why should we get rid of a monetary system?

The Zeitgeist films try very hard to blame all our current problems on a monetary system. This is probably because the Zeitgeist movement conflates a fractional reserve banking system with monetary systems everywhere. Most people are economically illiterate and the notion that money is the root of all evil is not exactly a hard-earned conclusion.

"Money is a matter of functions four, a medium, a measure, a standard, a store".

Let's picture a world without money to highlight why there is money in the first place: If all we have are commodities without a currency to mediate, we are reliant on the coincidence of wants. To simplify the point, let's forget all the other complications such as a lack of a store of value, a lack of a unit of account, a lack of a standard for deferred payment, and all the other benefits that money gives us. Let's just focus on the coincidence of wants.

Suggest that you are a dental floss salesman from Montana. You go to the dentist. Your dentist is already well-stocked when it comes to dental paraphernalia and he does not require more dental floss. You are living in a society that has been exorcised of all money. How do you pay for your dentist visit?

This is perhaps why some anthropologists claim that debt is the first instance of money. Maybe some barterers got sick of getting the same goods from the same people and just said let's stick to I.O.U.s. Just like Menger's original account of where money originated, this is pure speculation and the functions of money do not rely on the order of things. It does however show two things:

  1. Without money, we still need a coincidence of wants. This coincidence of wants presents an unsolvable problem. To be more succinct, it is impossible to please everyone.
  2. The Resource Based Economy relies on commodities and conveniently ignores services that are provided by skilled people. This is perhaps because its chief evangelist is not a trained engineer and is unfamiliar with the kind of perseverance it takes to become skilled in a discipline. The Resource Based Economy just assumes we'd all be happy to get our daily bread from spambots and go on our merry way while automatically just obtaining the kind of skills required to maintain the spambots. If this is the case, why is there such high incidence of crime amongst people on welfare who do have the bare minimum that anyone could ask for given to them? But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's see what an RBE is.

 What is a Resource Based Economy?

Before we get to the Venus Project, it is worth noting what economics is. Economics is a social science primarily concerned with the production, consumption and distribution of resources. A Resource Based Economy thus refers to an economic problem per definition. Any notions that a Resource Based Economy is a radically new idea are thus misguided and testifies plainly of ignorance of economics as a field.

The Zeitgeist evangelists are familiar with the term as a reference to a system where information, goods and services are freely available. Their Resource Based Economy (RBE) relies fundamentally on the "average man" - a notion that first inspired the Socialism and Communism from which Zeitgeist bildungsphilisters are trying to separate themselves at all non-monetary costs.

This begs quite a few questions:
  1. Where do these skills and services come from? The information content of virtually any tertiary education is already freely available (see Khan Academy for one), but this has not yielded the masses of skilled semi-professionals that it could have yielded. By contrast, voluntary free association has yielded many fruitful projects, amongst them Wikipedia and SETI@home (and no, these are not examples of gift economies, these are examples of Collective Intelligence). 
  2. What about people who prefer having more of a given commodity than is provided by the spambots? We are told that the Venus Project does not rely on bartering or on a monetary system. What if I like hoarding chickens and I end up with more chickens than anyone in the Venus Project? Are the spambots going to dish my chickens out to all and sundry, in which case I have no more incentive to keep them in addition to experiencing the tyranny of social engineering first hand? What if my chickens require more land than my allocated land? Will the Venus Project assure me the property rights to enlarge my coop, or will I have to conduct a chicken coup d'edat? Death to the naked apes! Power to the flightless birds!
  3. How does this system deal with scarcity? Some commodities are in fact scarce and this is more or less reflected in their monetary value, give or take a few hiccups. If we share scarce resources equally, we'd all be fitted with essentially a pittance of that resource that is of no use to anyone.
  4. How does this system prevent bartering, trading and all the other innately human impulses that give rise to inequality in the first place?

The dangers of this system are not contained in its misguided calls for getting rid of currency, but in its social engineering implications. Social engineering is nothing new: It has been tried and tested and it doesn't work. The reason why it doesn't work is because the needs and wants of a group of individuals cannot be accurately portrayed by merely averaging out their individual whims and conveniently ignoring the outliers. Many of the brightest, most highly qualified engineers have tried, and failed. This is nothing but the principle of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need' in denial and in disguise.

Is it a good idea to unravel all the gains of the Age of Enlightenment to return to a serfdom? Except now it's an improvement because of social engineering, scientific socialism, and the consolement that the serfdom is run by the same kind of bots that crashed Wall Street?

14 November 2012

Open letter opposing etolls

This is my letter of complaint regarding the etolls. I decided to replicate it here because I received no acknowledgement that my letter has in fact been received. Government seems hellbent on rubberstamping this bullshit through, so I am merely putting this out there so they can't act surprised when they sit with the tax revolt and the civil disobedience when they try to go through with this highway robbery.

If you'd also like to add your voice, feel free to get the details from the government gazette and email these clowns. Also please support Outa if you can. Government is a gang of thieves at large (apologies to Rothbard).

Kindly note that I am opposed to etolling and any means of tolling any public road. I feel that the fuel levy should be sufficient to maintain roads and that tolling is not an efficient nor desirable means to pay for road maintenance. The treasury should foot the bill, as we pay taxes for maintaining infrastructure. We do not pay taxes for upgrading official presidency residences like Nkandla, nor do we pay taxes for petty lawsuits to protect the 'dignity' of a certain privileged elite. Taxes should go towards the benefit of the public. Everyone benefits when government does its job of maintaining public resources.

I am opposed to the user pay principle, because many road users from as far as Durban and even Cape Town do in fact use the Gauteng roads to transfer goods into and out of the province.  Furthermore, if one would like to maintain the user pay principle, then ALL of the road users - including ministers of parliament and public transport users - should pay for the privilege of using the road. A principle is only valid if it counts for everyone. There can be no exceptions, because if there are, the principle does not hold.

Since the government has been collecting fuel levies for quite some time, from all users, by means of the national fuel levy, there should have been enough funding available to maintain the road. The fact that there may not be, is not a valid reason to fleece the public some more. Rather, it is reason enough for the powers that be to abdicate.

In addition, I feel that the government is being dishonest here. We were not given 30 days to comment on the tolls, we were given less. Also, we should have been given this opportunity BEFORE any construction on the gantries started, not AFTER they have been constructed. Most of  the costs go towards paying for toll collecting fees (85c out of each Rand according to public information sessions), so this is ridiculous. These are externalities and do not relate directly to building and maintaining the road at all. Also, the tariffs are allegedly not new, this according to the Justice Project SA.

Finally, I feel that government should be responsible with managing public resources. It was irresponsible to gamble public pensions on this 'white elephant'. The road should have been maintained already, we already paid to maintain it and this was arguably the least efficient means that government could have gone about maintaining the road. Government should foot the bill and stop fleecing the public every time it makes a mistake.

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