Saturday, October 19, 2013

Creative Content

Oh man a lot of stuff has happened lately, yet I haven’t written at all. I don’t even know what writing is any more. I’m just hitting buttons and this little counter on the bottom corner keeps going up. I’m already at 42! “Word” is the best game Microsoft has made since “solitaire.”
I keep reading these articles (I read all the articles) about millenials and the generation gap and junk like that and reading about the ways that millenials are terrible or like the world is going to become a hellish collectivist totalitarian state and all individual identity will be absorbed into some kind of freakish union. Dave fucking eggers just put out a book about this. Apparently in some kind of dystopic future privacy will be theft from the people and some megacorporation is going to eat us all. The WSJ, a Murdoch mouthpiece, is hailing it as a The Jungle of our times (while simultaneously promoting policies that created the situation the book described, naturally) and is really excited about it. I think it’s pretty clear that this is some kind of Randian break-point for Eggers, who is probably just pissed that writing is worth shit-all today and totally blames it on some amorphous collection of internet entities disrespecting the individualist right of ownership of ideas and the ability to profit off of those ideas.
Depending on who you’re talking to we’re either on the teetering edge of a massive conservative/capitalist backslide or we’re watching the death throes of capitalism and its mealy-mouthed adherents. I’m leaning toward the latter, as the industry of packaging and selling thought is less and less profitable according to a capitalist system and these are not small industries. They’re too big to fail, or more accurately if they collapse a lot of our economy collapses with them.
Recently there was a government shutdown, a shutdown that was initiated by a group of radical conservatives elected in based on racially charged anti-government fanaticism and a successful system of aggressive gerrymandering. Those conservatives did what they said they’d do, which is oppose the black man in the white house at all costs. They finally did it, the bastards. They damned that dirty ape. Seriously none of what just happened is even remotely okay. This is a situation where in a modern era a group of politicians attempted to seize control of the entire government through rule-changes and absolutely insane stubbornness. The double-talk is just as crazy. Every one of them is either citing this event as a victory or as a painful tragedy invited upon them by a stubborn white house+supreme court+senate that refuses to kowtow to the minority. It’s crazy. They’re terrorists. Everything they say is carefully designed to create more terror to the benefit of their party. They’re not interested in you. They’re not interested in anyone other than their party and their power and they’ll tell you anything they can get away with to maintain their positions. Come 2014 they’re not going to lose the elections. Come 2014 they’re going to win even more seats for their moral courage and ability to believe the shit they’re saying. Come the next debt ceiling or other manufactured crisis, they’re just going to push a little farther, since this has barely hurt their chances of re-election thanks to the insane gerrymandering. We need a new system. We don’t need to fix the old system with incremental reforms or whatever the democrats might push for. We need to throw the system out and start designing a system that from the start recognizes that politicians are people and not rational automatons (or fuck, even neutral advocates for their constituency) and people will find ways to abuse the system in their favor.
Speaking of the breakdown of capitalism, I’ve been reading a handful of stuff by prominent older musicians condemning streaming music sites for paying shittily. Pretty much all of these articles follow a certain tone, one where the primary issues with these site’s poor pay is that it’s hard for new musicians to make any money from them and consequently people who are musically talented will have to pursue their art as a part-time hobby instead of a full time occupation, leading to a dearth of creativity. Or something along those lines. People aren’t being paid what they’re worth is the general gist of these. It’s really odd to me because all of these articles seem to rely on this idea that capitalism can and should be compassionate, that it should pay musicians enough to make a living and acquire food and shelter and so on (say, 40k a year per person). From a purely rational standpoint this makes no sense. If music is not worth 40k a year according to the market, it’s simply not worth it. There’s no such thing as a basic income guarantee under a purely capitalist system. So there’s nothing actually wrong happening here. Music has simply become less valuable owing to its more frequent creation and distribution. The creators of music are more often than not already wealthy so they have the time and energy to learn and create music, but this has literally been the history of all music since the time of poets and lyrists and people like that. Beethoven wasn’t exactly some urchin off the streets. Gottschalk didn’t just up and decide to leave his life farming and go music. So I’m not seeing what’s changing here, other than the profit margins of the handful of prominent older musicians.
It’s especially telling when none of these older dudes decide to actually question the system that creates the situation they seem to be mad about. At the most they’ll make some flippant statement about how terrible the recording industry that made them moderately rich is while ignoring any and all of its influence or the fact that they’ve made a number of conscious decisions to stay in the business and help it thrive. These aren’t just anyone, but people who’ve made their names as “alternative” musicians who hate all that nasty injustice stuff, names like David Byrne and Thom Yorke and Bono. It’s an act. It’s an act borne from a need to protect a system rather than create a new one. Solving the problem where musicians don’t have the time to create music is easy: you create a basic income guarantee, allowing musicians to work on providing their craft without having to worry about providing food or shelter for themselves. It’s a galling idea, but it’s a galling idea only under a capitalistic premise that all money is a zero-sum game and everyone has to fight for it or get crushed (or the premise of the actual system we work under, which is that rich people are born rich, stay rich and die rich, and the poor likewise are poor from cradle to grave). Under a system that gave a shit about people (i.e. not designed by the sociopathic wealthy) this would make perfect sense. Everyone gets to live at some basic level.
Part of this goes back to a complete (and deliberately cultivated, on the part of those with an investment into a capitalist system) misunderstanding of the premise of communism. The idea isn’t that no one works and the state gives you everything, the idea is that you get everything you work for. Sounds kinda weird, right? It’s not nearly as weird once you recognize how badly you’re paid for your actual labor. Say you work at McDonalds, right? You make burgers. Those burgers sell at a rate of around $400 an hour averaged out over the day. Those burgers (and coke and fries and electricity and stuff) cost the store maybe around $100/hour. So between you and your four co-workers, you generate $300 an hour in profit! So that comes out to about $60 an hour, yeah? Oh but there’s the manager, so let’s make it $50 an hour for everybody. Pretty sweet, huh? Oh but hang on the mcdonalds is owned by someone else and he decides to pay you guys as little as possible, since after all he owns the place. You did the work, the manager ordered the food and regulated hours and handled disputes, and the owner did… jack shit. But the owner knows he can get away with paying you guys literally as little as he can because that’s what makes rational economic sense, so you all make $8 an hour and the manager makes $15 so you’ll listen to her and the owner pockets the other $245 and calls it a day.
Massively injust? Maybe, but it’s only rational for the owner to do this. It’s a great way to make money. It’s rational to not provide health benefits, rational to skimp on customer amenities, rational to do literally anything it takes to make more money. The owner put forward the money to open the building after all. The basic premise of communism is to do away with the owner controlling the building and providing the opportunity for people to, if they so choose, work at Mcdonalds and receive /all/ the fruits of their labors (here, $50/hr). Pretty crazy, huh? Anyway that’s the general premise of Marxist communism. There’s a lot more interesting ideas in there (paying women for domestic labor, for example, or paying parents for the work of raising children) but this isn’t really what this post is about.
In this heady modern era, we’re watching all of our information become easily and cheaply translatable to a handful of machine signals, and not just all of our modern information but all of every form of information that can be put into a machine language. One of the core concepts of Marxist theory is that industrialization needed to be able to produce goods on a massive scale, that systems needed to exist to be able to sell millions of burgers per year. At the time of writing, which saw the tripling of crop outputs and an insane influx of available goods, this was a perfectly good prediction. Numbers that were going up were going to keep going up and so on. Here 100-odd years later, anyone with a computer and some spare time can produce a song, anyone with a computer who’s literate can write a book, and anyone with a camera can get their videos uploaded to a potentially gigantic audience. The cost to create and transmit media has dramatically fallen in the last two decades and this is the result of that: a complete collapse of capitalism in the face of virtually nil value for its products. The reality that stuff can be supported solely through advertising and data-mining shitty quantitative userdata reflects the alternate economic reality the internet lives in. The recent phenomenon of not paying writers or artists or photographers for their work isn’t because the internet has made people evil, it’s because writing, art, and photography have no scarcity value and minimal cost to transmit. There are millions out there sharing their stories, drawings and photos simply because they want to be heard and to participate, not because they want money. Millions of people derive value simply in being a part of something greater than them. That attitude does not mesh well with capitalism, and it certainly doesn’t mesh well with prominent older artists who made a living under the old rules and are now defenders of the status quo.
My argument? Pay those motherfuckers for their contributions to society. Don’t pay them what their contribution is “worth” but what they need to survive and keep contributing. Pay them because they worked hard and they work hard every day and there’s no good reason for life to be some kind of rigged competition. Kill the rich and kill your heroes and burn everything down until it’s better.

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