Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rise of the Robots and Technological Unemployment

When I was in grammar school and high school I'd often ditch class and go to the library. One of the things I'd learned was good for laffs and the imagination: look at microfilm of old Life magazines, or if the library had bound versions of the entire year for old magazines I'd love to read those. The ads in magazines like Colliers that showed a doctor saying he prefers these cigarettes over all others because of their fine, smooth taste. His stethoscope around his neck, smiling. Wow! How things had changed since...1952!

Always wondrous were ads for gadgets that would eliminate drudgery and free up the woman of the house (it was always a woman) to live a life of leisure. The rhetoric of machines that would eliminate soul-numbing work captured my attention at a very early age because all you had to do was extrapolate...wouldn't it be cool if dad didn't have to go to work and he and mom would be there when I got home from school...doing...whatever it was they wanted to do? What would my world be like when I was an old man of 30?

As I began to study the history of the Industrial Revolution up to present days, I found this rhetoric of labor and machines a constant: at some point in the future - possibly my own future - we would enter another Epoch: robots and computers (same thing) would do all the horrible work, leaving humans to create, socialize, dream. How would the bills get paid? I didn't know, never having paid bills. I figured the money went to others...who worked. But: their work would have gone away too, right?

Everyone would be playing games, painting, writing poetry or learned papers and books, learning new languages or music, or joyously goofing off.

         "Because everything in her house in waterproof, the housewife of 2000..." Wow!

It doesn't look like it's going to happen like They Promised, does it? Why?

Well, the simple answer: instead of the populace understanding that any machine that puts people out of work was invented not only by a genius and his team, but the genius and his team built upon millions of hours of previous work by previous toilers and tinkerers and basic scientific research funded by everyone - all of who were supported by farmers and mothers - we instead allowed the idea that whoever could buy the biggest and fastest machines, owned All Of That.

There seem to be a few hundred choice entry points to tell this story to myself and y'all, but for now I'll cut to December of 2012.

Paul Krugman
In one of his shorter posts for the NYT, Krugman published "Rise of the Robots" on December 8, 2012. He notes that the "college premium" had been stagnant for a few years. In other words, the payoff for getting a degree was not showing its previous earning power in the marketplace. When he first started writing about income inequality twenty years earlier, it was about the gap between laborers and CEOs and other assholes, like hedge fund managers. Now it seems to be between workers and capital...and OMG Marxism! The dreaded Karl Marx, hibernating for a hundred years, suddenly stirs. Production rises, income of labor stays the same and then begins to lose. Why? Automation. Read the article. "If this is the wave of the future, it makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality." Education won't help when what we really have are a few people who own machines. The biggest and fastest machines. Those with the biggest and fastest machines are reaping all the rewards; everyone else gets the shaft. You buy the biggest machines, you pay 100-1000 of the brightest PhDs to collect data, write algorithms, maintain the data servers...you win! Everyone else is fucked.

Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier, computer whiz/prodigy/generalist/genius says he was there (and he was, as numerous books on the history of Silicon Valley attest to) when this really got going and he and his famous friends thought it was going to be this incredible "information is free" thing that would make everyone's lives better. Now he says they were horribly wrong. Because it turns out that the NSA, Wal-Mart, Facebook, Goldman Sachs...all bought the biggest, fastest computers and hired an army of gifted geeks. He has ideas about how to save us, and I think they're good to begin our thinking with.

I've followed Lanier's career for a long time. I think he's one of the best and most interesting thinkers in the world, but rather than talk about his ideas, I'd rather you took the time to watch what he's saying about the existential situation we're in now:

Here's 4 minutes on "Why Facebook isn't free."

Here he is interviewed by Andrew Keen, about Lanier's book Who Owns The Future? It's about 10 minutes and 40 seconds:

Finally, for 27 minutes or so - I think you'll find it well worthwhile - he's interviewed about his books and his changed thinking and what we might do to remedy this "jobless recovery" situation. NB around 5:20 to 6:00, in talking about the structural changes from Kodak to Instagram: "We pretend that the people who do the work don't exist." Another notable moment: from around 8:00 on: "honesty in accounting" could solve the mess the middle class is in. Also a fascinating point: around 11:30: "levies" and their history:

I have a bee in my bonnet and I'm afraid you're going to be hearing more from the OG on income inequality, American fascism, mob mentality, robots/automation/computers, Real Wealth vs. Money, the college loan bubble, Missing Public Discussions, and social fallout of Winner-Take-All Hypercapitalism and Privateeing, and ideas about how we might extricate ourselves from rising misery.


Dave said...

Thank you. Very interesting post.

There are so many interesting rabbit holes the mind goes down on these subjects.

What are the sources of downward pricing pressure? In my field as an engineering consultant, the computing tools we use are not free, but they are very cheap relative to the equivalent work in human brain power. The natural assumption is that it's a good thing, but is there fair accounting for the overall loss of opportunity? We have already seen how CAD tools have effectively eliminated an entire career, the draftsman, and by doing so removed a lot of human art.

It makes me wonder about the morality of activities like blogging. Are we collectively reducing opportunity for paid work and eliminating people's jobs as a hobby?

In a recent This American Life there was a discussion of how church volunteer groups take work from the contractors who would normally do disaster cleanup and provide free work for the profit of insurance companies.

Part of me loathes these thoughts as they sit along the edge of the Ayn Randian, Fascist, garbage heap. Maybe we just need a much more sophisticated anti-trust system. Google may not be a monopoly; but, by a process of dumb self destructive collective action, maybe it's users are.

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific post. The Eric Wagner robot wants to ignore what you wrote and ramble on about Brahms and the Decembrists, but I will stop him. Your childhood vision of a world without wage slavery reminded me of Bucky Fuller.

Monday night's "Mike and Molly" told of an overweight teacher who quits their job suddenly to find a more meaningful life. I found it interesting, but perhaps someone programmed me to find that interesting.

Psuke said...

Definitely a needed discussion that almost no one is talking about.

I read an article awhile back on Chinese noodle house owners buying robots to make their noodles, because the robots are cheaper (in the long run) and faster. I wondered what would be the economic impact in the long run of all those noodle rollers now out of work? I wonder how many noodle houses will be put under by this new pressure?

If there is one thing I wish Unistat (and a few others countries, too) it is the unconscious Protestant work ethic, or the idea that one needs to "work for a living" even when the jobs don't exist...or at least, no one with money is willing to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

As one of Stallmans fanboys, I think
he did a slight mis-interpretation.

However he has brought up a lot of
valid points that truly need to be
presented in the forum. When the
methods of production are disconnected from the workforce who
used to benefit from their efforts
how do you maintain any form of the
real economy. Robotics that can do
anything tirelessly and efficiently
are obviously a better way to make
things for the consumers of goods.
Destroying the ability of those
who need the goods by cutting them
out of the economy is quite the
feat of counterproductivity. This
needs to be in the discussion and
I am not aware of anyone in what
they call leadership who has taken
the time to mention it even in a
passing aside.

All the economic models are 300
years old and consist of obfuscative fluffery around a
defunct core. Isn't there a more
reasonable way to handle it than
clinging to models built around
scarcity of resources ? Doesn't it
make sense to have the discussions
which might propose solutions ?

One of the real dangers I see in
the current trends is if your top
heavy pyramid of wealth is eroding
its own base all it takes is a tiny
push to topple the whole mess.

I'm looking forward to the next 2
Eben Moglen lectures, his previous
work on Freedom Box individual
servers might be a possible path
to control of our own information
if it can be made to work. Just
tossing everything in to the cloud
doesn't seem to be a solution.

By all means continue with this
I am looking forward to what you
come up with.

michael said...


Thanks for your thoughtful, considerate comment. Indeed the draftsman. Also: why go to the tax-preparer when you can buy Turbo Tax and do it for so much less? Remember the "travel agent"? How about all those booksellers in bookstores?

This list will get quite long over the next ten years, according to my recent researches.

If I could get paid for writing that would be fucking fantastic, Dave. As it is, I'm a hustling, freelance whatever. And it sucks. If you read my blog, am I the stupid American asshole who deserves to lose out because I never got an "education"?

The "1%" have ALWAYS preferred charity over welfare. I'm no religionist, but Bless those who give to those less fortunate...but the State should be helping too! (As a libertarian socialist I think helping people recover from disasters is one of the legit purposes of a State...I won't go into abstrusities over my anarchic theory...)

Despite the recent anti-trust push against airline consolidation, a resurgence of some very robust anti-trust moves? That was over by 1981. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

Re: Google users and "dumb destructive collective action": all of what this particular blogspew addresses seems a Missing Public Discussion: the things Rushkoff, Turkle and Lanier - all former RAH RAH "Internet and freedom will change everything for the better!" types and now all three are severely criticizing how it's played out, a mere 10 years later - most people seem still oblivious to what they're saying. I have very well-educated friends who, when questioned, have no idea how FB derives its value for Zuckerberg and those in his employ and shareholders.

I have always snidely laffed at the Humanist academics who wrote "Late Capitalism" in their books. But since...oh, Sept of 2008, I've started to think of the idea as possibly legit.

It's good to have an Engineering Consultant chime in with his perspective in this relatively unknown blog. Thanks!

michael said...

Prof Wagner-

I've had Bucky on my mind a lot lately. It does seem like even dunderheads like myself see Utopia or Oblivion as looming in the rearview mirror now. Maybe with one of those loud "La Cucaracha!" horns blaring, too.

If you started a blog and wrote about the Decembrists (music group and/or Russian freemasons?) and Brahms, I'd be one of your first readers/subscribers.

Is Mike and Molly TV? Man, I am sooo out of it.

-Robot #23 AKA "Overweening Generalist"

michael said...


As all this plays out, the life-stories of Stallman and someone like Ted Nelson and a few of the original wresters of Arpanet from the military guys - Silicon Valley olde skool dudes - their stories take on a new, far more nuanced dramatic dimension. I recall reading a lot about guys like Stallman (Aaron Swartz's hero) and Nelson around 2000. I feel compelled to revisit their philosophies of information, freedom and social connectivity.

I think the day I hear a politician talk about these ideas is maybe the same die I die. Of shock. For obvious reasons.

As you so well understand the almost reductio ad absurdum of the business model of Wal-Mart and Facebook, et.al, I'm reminded of Robert Anton Wilson's great riff on conspiracy theories: something happens and most human will react, "Who did this?" But I think Lanier is right - or he makes sense to me - no one saw this coming; there's some inexhorrible (<- I may have stolen that from Joyce) logic to the way things are playing out. It's like self-assembling systems or the Tao: who knows what's driving it, besides Everything. Even CEOs of Google have to answer to the quarterly report and the shareholders.

Gawd, there's almost something suspiciously too-Marxist about this all! It's making him look prophetic. Again. And yet Jaron says fuck Marxism.

"Obfuscative fluffery around a defunct core": can I use that in future blog posts? I like the poetry and sardonicism.

You're right: all this seems to bring out in bold relief how painfully passe the great ideas of Adam Smith (1776) are, with info having doubled at least 67 times since then.

Finally: thanks for the name Eben Moglen.

michael said...


The Chinese noodle shop: I've collected over 1000 articles in the last 6 months on stuff like that, and it's why I wrote in response to Dave that we're going to see a LOT of jobs disappear in the next 10 yrs.

If you want to see something truly frightening along these lines - and we're right on the cusp of it - research "self-driving cars." Imagine all the jobs lost there. I can see it possibly pushing UBI or similar ideas into the public discussion. Maybe.

I agree with the Work Ethic conditioning. I do think we all want to work on SOMETHING. The canard about other people - not Moi! - who, if not forced to work, would only sit around and watch TV and smoke dope (like that's a bad thing?) has always seemed cartoonishly stupid to me. Whenever I hear/read some asshole say "I'm morally opposed to welfare because..." I (figuratively) reach for my gun. (Pointer: ask 'em about the "Defense Budget" or the bank bailouts.)

W. Reich's "work democracy" seems a variant of every decent anarchist theory I've read about men and women getting together and deciding what they want, what they don't want, how to compromise, how to avoid Authority, how to get together and WORK to reproduce themselves and a world that began in imagination. There's so much work I'd love to do...but I've got to get some sort of what Lanier calls "formal benefits" from it. The electric company doesn't seem all that impressed when I write to them and ask if I can have the rest of the year free, because I'm a Good Guy, helping others for no pay.

Eric Wagner said...

Mike and Molly - TV show, not archangel and Leopold's wife.

I had in mind the Russian Decembrists. I find myself teaching a dance history class this year & I chose the book Apollo's Angels as a textbook. It mentions the Decembrists in its discussion of the political background for Russian ballet.

Rafi has played a lot of Brahms on his wonderful radio show at Taintradio.org lately, so that has put me in a Brahms mood. I don't think Proust mentions Brahms once in his massive novel which mentions Wagner many times. This made me think of Wilson's notion of the presence of the absent. I overloaded on Wagner's music over the past few years with his bicentennial last May and with listening to his music to complement my first trip through Proust. I find Brahms a nice response to that (although right now I have Coltrane playing).

Psuke said...

Yeah, it's always "that other guy" who's the problem. Like when I try to discuss anarchy with most people (who, before the discussion I considered thoughtful, self aware folks) 90% of the time say "Who's going to protect you from the guy down the street?"

Who protects him from me? Not the cops. And, of course, if I even give the appearance of harassing a financial institution, I could use some protection *from* the cops.

Since Life, Inc came out (and possibly before, even), there have been some movements towards trying to develop a community currency in SF. Transitions, and the Community Time Bank are two that spring to mind. But, alas, until you can get your landlord and the utility companies to accept it, it will be of limited usefulness. Baby steps!

michael said...

Mike and Molly was a TV show I pitched to HBO, Showtime, AMC and the Food Network in 2007, years ago. It was about a much-beloved sports announcer (modeled on Chick Hearn), who, after a family tragedy, has his very hip Leary-like psychiatrist turn him on to Molly - AKA Ecstasy/MDMA - and it changes his life. At the end of the pilot episode, he confides to longtime sidekick commentator "Sweat Larson" that he's gonna try Molly before calling the home opener next week. Sweat tries to talk him out of it, and we think maybe he was successful...Ah, but of course he'll be on the mike on Molly, and the oddness begins...and his longtime listeners will become subtly influenced by Hall of Fame announcer Mike Standage's sudden "good vibes."

AMC said they already had a new "meth" show about to go into production (fat chance with that idiot premise!); HBO said it seemed "too light," with not enough sexy female characters (but I can write that in!); Showtime said they already had a marijuana show. The Food Network said they thought my scripts were "solid" but they were afraid their viewers might think they were "glorifying drugs." Then, as I was leaving, three production assistants and a gaffer asked me if I could get them some E, and I said "I'll get back to you on that."

How odd that another show that has nothing to do with my premise is on TV now...and have I gone hermit enough that my old TV-watching friends couldn't pick up the phone to tell me there's another "Mike and Molly" on TV now?

michael said...


The cops - some cops and their local cop culture - are becoming a huge problem, esp, with the increasing income inequality. I find it truly frightening. It seems worse wherever you have very wealthy people living not too far from poverty...which describes every City in Unistat over 150,000 in population. Former Republican operative Radley Balko has done some ballsy journalistic work on this the last few years. It's becoming a FAR bigger problem - berserker cops all over Unistat, committing cold-blooded murder with impunity - that, aside from Balko and a few others who are going out of their way to highlight this fascistic stuff, this issue qualifies as a Missing Public Discussion also.

In anarchist theory that works for me, the community - not just the "business community" - decides what are the top priorities for cops, and even whether they should carry guns. Presumably, those groups who don't want anything to do with guns will try that, possibly making agreements with other groups to help out if they come under violent attack from predatory gun nuts, which...who knows?

RAW thought no anarchist scheme could really get going unless they got an alternative currency working - under "voluntary association" - and he probably influenced Rushkoff there.

Anonymous said...

I find the variety of anarchism to
be quite interesting. The one thing
I rarely see is any practical use
of the ideas to succeed, wouldn't
it make more sense to identify those
State elements which are most egregious and work to curb them in
some way.

Think of the possibility inherent in
the rabid cries for budget cuts, by
a simple nudging we can propose that
5 billion for Guantanamo and 52
billion for NSA and its ilk would
make a nice start on curbing the
so-called budget crisis. Ordinary
people would not even notice if
those items were left out.

Likewise a cut to the local police as less than useful might curb the
shoot first mentality.

I also favour a highly publicized
demonstration which brings them
out in full Darth Vader armor in
search of blood which has by word
of mouth among trusted folk been
moved to another venue for a

The business community will not be
willing to increase funding for
the disruptive police tactics if
there's no media event with the
usual burning cars and smashing
glass. Anything else is counter
productive because it is an excuse
for the storm troopers to ask for
a bigger budget.

A few towelheads living in a hole
in the ground have diverted USA
into a giant Whack a mole game
that has cost us our dignity and
morality, not to mention any
shred of credibility we once had.

If you're not bouncing between a
set of hysterical laughing and
crying bouts over this you're not
paying enough attention to the
hand of the Goddess on the tiller
of the ship of State. A deadly
serious enemy is a defeated one.
Because they cannot afford to be laughed at.

Nelson's Xanadu was breathtaking
in it's scope considering the
crappy comps that were 'state of
the art' when it was first imaged.
The web is only half of his vision
the other half still hasn't been
implemented. We do have the rest
of the hardware to do it now.

I loved McKenna when he said that
VR pioneers were strange people
with a gleam in their eyes that
meant you wouldn't leave them alone
with your chickens, and included
himself in that group.

michael said...

I find intentional communities, worker's co-ops, alternative money schemes, black market economic machinations, and esp internal migrations everywhere I look...but they're small, and not covered in the MSM at all, for obvious reasons. I think there's always attempts to implement more social/libertarian ideas, almost everywhere. Secessionist ideas, right wing xtian gun nuts who want to build some walled city in the hills of Idaho, the Basque Mandragon co-op in Spain, etc, etc, etc.

When I wrote "internal migration" it's a term I copped from Chomsky. I don't know where he got it. But he means that you may still be bodily living among 2013 vulture capitalist Unistat, but in your thinking, you're against all of it. You've relocated, but internally. It seems some form of internal migration must occur for anyone to opt in to a new anarcho-syndicalist start-up or...there are too many configurations of alternative ideas once we start reading about anarchism/libertarianism (NOT THe Libertarian Party in Unistat), and other philosophical ideas. One that I've followed for a long time but hardly anyone seems to have heard about: a Zero Work movement, surrounding John Zerzan, a pen pal of Ted Kaczynski's.

Then there's Green Anarchism and people like Murray Bookchin and Derek Jensen, all kinds of earnest, concerned, thinkers and doers. The only time the MSM covers them is when they do a story on ELF...

Have you read Hakim Bey's TAZ? Sometimes I think it's the only do-it-now user-friendly anarchist idea out there. You've probably found yourself in a Temporary Autonomous Zone many times in the past but didn't have a name for it. RAW read that book and had a blurb on the back cover, something like Hakim Bey writes like a Blake angel on bad acid. But he meant it as a compliment.

Your points about Authority that cannot tolerate being laffed at: tremendous and underrated observation. I think it's right in front of the populace's face, but they can't see it, because Fear is blocking their line of sight.

Cut the "defense" budget in half and use that money to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure and do a massive Manhattan Project for dirt cheap efficient solar. Return to an Eisenhower-era graduated income tax. What are the billionaires gonna do? Leave the country? Their interests are ALREADY global. Fuck 'em, let 'em leave. If they want to stay they're gonna have to pay their fair share. Neoliberal economics is intellectually bankrupt. Get rid of Citizen's United and/or make all elections publicly financed, with everyone who qualifies for the ballot getting equal time. I'd actually WATCH TV to see a 30-sec spot for the fascist Republican, followed by a 30-second spot for the Green Anarchist Party's candidate, followed by the Lesbian Separatist's spot, then 30 seconds by the Guns and Dope Party candidate.

Pardon my verborrhea: too much coffee.

Have you read Ted Nelson's stuff? I have: he seems like some really out there whacked genius. He's hilarious, but a lot of the time I can't follow him. He should be much better known. Jaron Lanier loves Ted dearly, but thinks he's not his own best advocate.

Eric Wagner said...

I like your Mike and Molly pitch. In the 80's I used to imagine William S. Burroughs and Laurie Anderson announcing basketball games.

I appreciate your suggestion that I start another blog. Perhaps inspiration will strike me.

Did you happen to see Dave Grohl playing drums with the Zac Brown on the Country Music Awards last night? Weird world. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=zac+brown+dave+grohl&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=FFF2519A2C0402C82DB4FFF2519A2C0402C82DB4

Bobby Campbell said...

Thanks for the intro to Jaron Lanier! Seriously great stuff. Much to consider!

I love the idea of a social network making its users shareholders, a natural digital age update to Bucky's idea of doing so for a nation's citizenry. (FEEDBACK = CURRENCY) I share in the bewilderment of these huge businesses actively and nefariously undermining their own customer base. RAW used to sign his e-mails w/ various quotes, and one that always stuck w/ me was "No, no, Mungo, never eat the customers." The prevalence of doing business via leverage and coercion will eventually wear itself out by way of its own unsustainability, but sheesh, not soon enough for my taste!

I had the exact same thought about the occupy movement unintentionally infantilizing itself and consequentially reinforcing the established hierarchical power structures. (I have young children who deploy the exact same strategies in opposition to unfair bedtime legislation!) Again, back to Bucky, don't fight the old, build the new. The idea of 'taking down' the elites seems dumb to me. Why take anyone down when what we really want is to lift everyone up? I really think any movement w/ a conflict based narrative is inherently flawed.

A movement capable of enacting true reform should be able to say:

I tend to be one of these creative commons, info wants to be free, open source people, but Lanier makes a good enough case about thinking all that over again. Though as an observation, if his book was available for free download I'd probably read it this weekend, instead of probably never, but that may be more my problem than his!

michael said...

@ Eric-
I did not see Grohl; thanks for the link.

I can hear WSB: "And the hometown boy scores again. And the fanatics go wilder. They're whipped up into a frenzy now as the team that rep-re-sents their turf ties the scorrrre. The mob energy threatens to spill out all over the court as the opposing coach calls a time out. 'I'm packing a Tommy Gun in my gym bag, boys! If these yokels go berserk get back to the locker room pronto; I'll cover ya. Legs Diamond taught me how to handle the machine gun. He said to me, 'It's an instrument, son" play it.'

"And now the game resumes...some of these giants are sweating so profusely that the sweat hits the court and evaporates, causing small cumulus clouds to form up near the nosebleed seats...and here's Laurie with the weather forecast the next 45 minutes in this madhouse gymnasium. Laurie?"

michael said...


I thought Jaron's ideas about Occupy cogent. In a twist on Alan Watts's discussion of going into psychotherapy, they put themselves "one down" to Authority. And yet: look at quality of some of the minds behind the Occupy mvmt: Graeber, Rushkoff, Solnit, a few hundred others. Occupy is going nowhere. If they're not camping in Manhattan and other places, they've taken to meme warfare and they're making decent inroads.

I'd like to see the progressives/Occupiers call for the UBI and not make alliances with the Tea Party on that, because they would have very different motives. Tea Party types would like it as an excuse to end ALL previous social safety net stuff...I think there can be a universal micropayment system tagged to HTML, as Lanier thinks AND some areas of the Net could negotiate a way to stay outside of that and remain a Creative Commons.

When I think of you downloading Lanier's Who Owns the Future?, I think no big: Campbell gives back to the community in value.

Lanier's biography and his other intellectual interests might be something to look into. Check him out on his craze for octopi, something he shared with Terence McKenna.

Eric Wagner said...

Great Burroughs take. I found it a nice coincidence that I opened the new Rolling Stone yesterday to find a full page article by Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed.

I love the fact that in 1965 three bands called the Warlocks got record deals, and they all changed their names. The one in New York became the Velvet Underground, the one in Texas became ZZ Top and the one in San Francisco became the Grateful Dead.

BrentQ said...

Another very interesting post and discussion.
I've been thinking more and more about Marxism lately. I've noticed for some reason every time I go to Chapter's(Canada's Walmart of bookstores) and peruse the Philosophy section, my eye is always drawn to Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton, which stands out like sore thumb. Maybe I'm being a Cosmic Schmuck and should actually read this.

I like to think Terence McKenna was on to something when he used to say that the only way out of our current historical predicament is a forward escape into new technological and psychedelic domains.

Where do you think BitCoin and 3-D printers fit into this scenario?

michael said...


Weird and interesting point about Vandals. In my reading about earlier versions of bands, part of me noted that "Vandals" showed up quite a lot, but I never took the time to list how many bands were Vandals before they changed their name. (I do not include Martha and the Vandals.)

Are there any pop/rock music encyclopedias that you like or recommend? I remember at age 17 I had Logan and Woffinden's (sp?) Encyclopedia of Rock, and I studied it like a Talmudic scholar...but those books become horribly dated in five years.

michael said...

@ Brent- I think Marx has a lot of valuable things for us to learn from, but as much as he seems the intellectual par excellence for the 19th c, I think it's far too simplistic to say that he was "right," implying he was right about everything, He was not. Who knows, maybe his teleological dialectic-forecast of the true path of History will play out very much like he said. However, he seems less than stellar on "value" and money; he did not foresee the incredibly powerful role of ownership of the means of communication. He did not see the rise of the Labor mvmt in the 20th c.

He does seem prescient enough to study, though.

And brilliant young people, newly minted thinkers with degrees from the finest universities and massive student loans to pay back and hellaciously bad job prospects, are turning to Marx.

Great Qs about Bitcoin and 3-D printers. I've been trying to understand Bitcoin for the last six weeks and am not ready to weigh in yet; I agree with Jaron Lanier that 3-D printing seems fun and amazing and will put more factory-type jobs (esp Chinese jobs) out of biz. And Lanier says 3-D is an ideal area in which to try new micropayment schemes for the use of other people's information. We will see how it plays out.

Psuke said...

I think BitCoin may be suffering from a bit too much popularity to be able to go far...there's now quite alot of, well, all kinds of attention that make it ripe for hacking, manipulation and regulation. Or perhaps that's just my own bias, taken from Hakim Bey's essay on Tongs. But the overall idea of crypto-currencies fascinates me.

I am also fascinated to know where 3-D printing will take us in the future, but it seems too clumsty and expensive just now. (Based on 2nd hand testimony of a friend's tribulations)

Anonymous said...

Marx has been the poster boy of the
academics for quite awhile. Mostly
because his ideas have permeated
the system they work under. The
stalinist state of the Rus was not
what he had in mind but it was as
predicted by Bakunin.

Bitcoin has far too shady a beginning
to convert me to a fan. I know you
can easily adopt unworkable ideas if
you get enough converts. That might
not be the ideal way to do currency.
But it would be hard to make something worse than the fiat
stuff we use now.

3D printing is going to do a lot
to the future but saying just what
is very difficult. Putting super
computers on every desk seemed
like it would give everyone power.
It gives everyone information, but
then the task of sorting it has to
be done via trusted networking.
This hasn't spread good ideas as
much as was planned since the comp
ran into Sturgeons Law.

The silliest idea anyone came up
with was 3D printed guns. An 850
year old tech easily done with a
much cheaper apparatus ( a lathe).
It makes a perfect red herring to
drag in front of politicians to
get some ridiculous laws passed.

I do like the idea that people
can make stuff, that is the reason
it will have an effect. Look at
the BJD (ball jointed dolls) crowd
someone with a scanner system can
do a template of you and then you
can build a scale model or game
miniature of yourself. You would
have needed a Michelangelo for a
friend to do it until now.

The new Zeitgeist movie points
out a few ramifications of 3D
but quite conservatively.

michael said...

@ Psuke-

Bitcoin Studies (is what I call it) has, for me, after chipping away at its outer shells, revealed a chasm of new ideas, conflicting reports, provocations, and - pun intended - speculations.

The idea that it is "too popular" seems revealing enough. I'm not sure. Obviously, it's ripe for hacking. but then everything is, right?

If it seems prone to "regulation" by what lawful, philosophical right do the regulators assume that role?

I went into Bitcoin Studies thinking I could get a solid line on it in a few days of reading, but the more I read the less I know. The most interesting aspect - to me - is that it's popular enough to get all sorts of people who never even considered alternative currency to think about the nature of money as technology.

I really liked Brett Scott's article in Aeon: in order to learn about the nature of money, start your own currency! He was trained as an Anthropologist:

Re: 3-D printers: I've seen videos and read articles, but I want to see one in action, in person. The very idea seems overwhelmingly science fiction-y, but it's real. Like everything else, it'll probably be twice as efficient in 10 months.

Bitcoin and 3-D printers are just two things that can make me spiral into some sort of intellectual vertigo.

michael said...

NB: Psuke mentioned Hakim Bey's writing on Tongs.

Here are two links to the topic, by Bey/PLW:


michael said...


Thanks for pointing out how Bakunin was right when he answered his contemporary Marx about his ideas, which if implemented, would have led to sort of Red Authoritarianism.

While Marx thought, in his upside-down Hegelianism, that a dictatorship of the proles and then Edenic Anarchism would only begin after a State had thoroughly passed through a phase of Industrialism (that would be the US, right?), he gets hammered by Idiots as evil because of what Mao and Stalin did...both of them taking over in a State just _beginning_ to industrialize.

Also: Marx was wrong: no intellectual proles led revolutions by convincing other proles in factories to throw off their chains. It was academic-like intellectuals who led peasants in revolutions, and Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies seems criminally underappreciated, eh?

I didn't know there was a new Zeitgeist movie, so thanks for the head's up!

Psuke said...

I suppose it depends on what, really, you want your currency to do. this seems like such an obvious question, but - like questioning time or consciousness, leads to a yawning pit of assumptions. Which is awesome, to my mind, but I find questions much more interesting than answers, mostly.

It is true that practically anything one does on the net is ripe for hacking, but the popularity and visibility of BitCoin makes it, shall we say, a more attractive target. Same with the regulation (and raiding) by governments. By what right do they do this? That's an excellent question, and one I don't think they'll answer adequately, even as they are (and have been) doing so.

Or perhaps they will point to the "shady" beginnings as reason enough. Drug dealers! Possibly terrorists and pedophiles! Who will protect the children?! It's always worked for them before.

Which is why I think BitCoin is kind of a victim of its own popularity, or perhaps visibility is a better term. Given the nature of its early adopters, it might have been wiser for it to stay further below the radar. (Not a moral judgement, merely a practical one).

michael said...

It seems most people who start alternative currencies want to ultimately challenge the...for lack of a better word: hegemony of the dominant currency.

I agree with you: Qs rule over As.

If Bitcoin gets big enough to threaten Federal Reserve notes, I suspect there would be a Fear campaign and all sorts of unlawful arrests and persecutions by the owners of the country.

Aristotle's studies of money led him to use the word metathemenon: when a person or group chooses a new currency over and old one.

After all, who really believes that the paper money we have in our pocket is "really" "worth" the value it says on the paper because there's gold hidden somewhere backing it, or because "we're good for it"? It's only useful if enough people believe in the money.

Bitcoin and a another new alternative currency, Litecoin, are accepted by high end call girls in the UK:

I'm reminded of William S. Burroughs's "words of advice for young people," one of which was:

"Beware of whores who say they don't want money. The hell they don't! What they mean is they want MORE money. Much more."

And if they can get it, they're worth it. Even in Litecoins or BitCoins. Hey: they're providing a vital service. They know what they're doing. If whores are accepting some sort of currency, it persuades me even more that I'm willing to BELIEVE.

Very interesting points on alt currencies that go mainstream vs ones that stay local and underground. Economists who write about the black market have always seemed both troubled and incredibly intrigued by these "below the radar" currencies: they're hard to get a line on, for obvious reasons. So they bluff.

Of course you're right about the early drafts of the script by Control if BitCoin gets too big: drug dealers, child sex traffickers, terrorists, and America-haters. With luck, enough people will have bought a loaf of bread using the new currency that they won't take it seriously?

I take moral judgements as anything that involves, "If I/we/they do X, then Q, Z, N, or Y might follow from that. Are we ready to assume responsibility for that?" By taking some action, certain consequences will follow. Neither you nor I play the xtian game, so their semantic sense of "morality" doesn't come into play. (Although we're well aware that game is being played all around us, and most of the players assume it's the ONLY game.)

I take, say, Nietzsche's sense of "morality" as part of the very engaging Nietzche Game about "morality."

Poll after poll shows that people in their 20s in Unistat are rejecting Evangelical xtianity; the way in which they've rejected it seems tricky to me. It seems they've internalized a fat chunk of the xtian morality game anyway...because it permeates the kulch-system here. And yet: the Christers are so fucking persecuted! By everyone!

What DO we want our alternative currency to do, in our most optimistic imaginings?

Psuke said...

Following the Silk Road seizure, I suspect the mainstream kulch will already be ready to accept gov't regulation and oversight of BitCoin, and be somewhat more leery about accepting it lest they be tarred with the same brush. The acceptance of it by high end call girls just feeds into that. Not because it's rational, but because BitCoin was already fringe, and therefore suspect. I don't say that's true of *all* crypto-currencies, but it seems to be true of the BitCoin "brand." My other point of caution regarding BitCoin is it's increasing similarity to a pyramid scheme - i.e. they are becoming harder to "mine", which may make it a different currency, but one that looks too much like what we've got now to build a truly alternate system on.

But it's been a few months since I dove into it, maybe things are a little different now?

What I would love for an alternate currency to do, in my heart of hearts, would be to *fade away* and with it the whole concept of the "medium of exchange." I don't really understand why it's necessary, and the people who defend it usually point to Adam Smith's debunking of the idea of barter, which has always felt specious to me, especially after reading "Debt: The First 5000 years", probably the only book on the history of economics which has made sense to me (in the sense of a more accurate reflection of how the world actually works instead of some made up model).

michael said...

Jeez! What did I do to deserve such vibrant, thoughtful commenters?

I've spent a couple hours with Graeber's book Debt and found it a gem, stellar. He gets predictable shit form conservative Ivy League academia, gets pushed out and/or leaves, and now he's one of the most cited intellectuals in the world, according to this study of intellectual influence:

Graeber comes in 4th in the world in influence according to their algorithms (and very smartly, they used sociologist Randall Collins's ideas of "networks" of thinkers surrounding a person), and NB that fellow Occupy intellectual Rushkoff comes in 6th.)

Graeber showed that Aristotle's idea - that everyone believed, even me - that money started when barter became too unwieldy: take your two cows over those tow hills to exchange for 2 big sacks of flour? How 'bout you come to me with some coins, pick up your cows and leave? I'll gladly give you some drachmas next week when I need flour, etc...there's no evidence for this; it has nothing to do with the unwieldiness of goods.

Dawkins thinks money is part of a delay in reciprocal altruism.

The whole thing about money and "value" to me is that it seems entirely made up; it's a complete social construction, we've reified the system and have forgotten that the whole damned schmeer is a rationally agreed-upon mass hallucination.

Who says magick is bunk? We're all engaged in this stuff every day. As RAW wrote, money is the Schrodinger's Cat of economics. (see pp.473-476 of the SCT, omnibus ed.)

"Let me control a planet's oxygen supply and I don't care who makes the laws." - Great Cthulhu's Starry Wisdom Band

Ezra Pound thought the reason most people were ignorant about money and credit was it had been made taboo to talk about it. This reminds me of Vico and Nietzsche and their talks about the Ruling Class and control over what words mean. It's not naked force behind the curtain! It's our hotline to God...we've been in this territory longer than you; we've built these farms and forges: who are YOU??? End of discussion about money, credit, value, equanimity.

Another outrageous, scandalous radical wrote during the early yrs of Unistat:

"All the perplexities, confusion, and distress in America arise, not from defects in their Constitution or confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation." - John Adams

"The naked facts of our economic game are easily discoverable and undeniable once stated, but conservatives - who are usually individuals who profit every day of their lives from these facts - manage to remain oblivious to them or see them through a very rose-tinted lens." - RAW, in 1964, collected in Email to the Universe, "Damnation By Definition"

Barter has always worked and is going on right now.

Bitcoin ATM and trading, article from yesterday:

Psuke said...

"Jeez! What did I do to deserve such vibrant, thoughtful commenters? "

Have a vibrant and thoughtful blog?

That's an interesting idea of Dawkins, money as delayed altruism, or a system of delayed altruism. I wonder where he came up with it, because it certainly doesn't fit how it works when you're riding the poverty line. There it seems more like a less messy way of transferring blood and flesh.

I don't think it's the conservatives who see the economic game (and the fiat currency it's based on) through rosy-colored glasses, or maybe they just see it like Hobbes' Leviathon as a necessary evil that just needs it's teeth and claws de-sharpened when possible? I sort of see the point of that argument, but I don't really buy it. Anymore than I buy that the US is a "two party system." But that rant would take up a lot of comment space, so I'll leave it.

Your comment of Ezra Pound's belief reminds me of a Lewis Black joke - talking to his college professor as to why Econ is an 8 am class: "What are you trying to do, keep this stuff a secret?" It doesn't help, of course, that most econ classes and books on it I've seen are lies and damned lies anyway.

michael said...

Psuke- Very sweet of you.

I liked the Lewis Black riff! Love that guy...he's one of the few who seems to be carrying on Carlin's tradition of being hilarious and informed and philosophically provoking.

Re: two-party BS and conservatives and money as RAW saw it in 1964: Lakoff's work shows Strict Parent metaphors and actions as a fluid: he's a Berkeley guy and has seen Nurturant Parents act Strict with their pupils, and Strict parents act Nurturing with students. The conservative paranoia about money seems to be closer to Fear of the sort that seems too ready to divide everyone between who is On My Side and who might be Against Me and My Money. And they're not going to sit and wait until the perceived Them do something that might lower their status (money) as primates. I think this might be getting to the deep structure of the reasons why, as structural unemployment rises, they are willing to cut food stamps, slit their own political throat by shutting down the government over a probably-more-humane and efficient health care system for those unfortunates they despise so much.


I few years ago I read a lot on Leo Strauss, the Mind behind the NeoCons. He had some very telling things to say about Hobbes. So much so that I now equate the NeoCons with Hobbes, which seems unfair to Hobbes, but there we go.

Psuke said...

I'm not so sure you're unfair to Hobbes...I'd have to read Leo Strauss (oh, what a reading list I've got now. Now I just need a pocket universe so I have time to read it all), and it's been awhile since I've read The Leviathon, but his thing was mostly stability at any cost. Which is sort of NeoCon-y. Certainly entrenched interest view of things.

I don't think Hobbes had a very good opinion of the masses, washed or otherwise. Sort of like Alexander Hamilton and his crowd. Which is why I prefer Locke and Jefferson.

I've sort of skimmed what's happening with the whole BitCoin thing lately, which a) makes me regret not getting a wallet back in February, and b) mkaes me think that while BitCoin certainly is an interesting study in the sociology of economics, the rampant speculation does not make it an interesting alternate currency for me. Because it is now playing by the same economic rules. If that makes sense...

michael said...

There's a readable, scholarly and thrilling short book on Leo Strauss and his secret readings and teaching called Cloaked In Virtue by Nicholas Xenos that sheds light on NeoCons and Hobbes.

Remember The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom? He was one who'd studied at the right hand of Strauss. He hated rock, open expressions of sexuality...everything the counterculture stood for. It was ruining this country, and we should all turn off the TV and read the Great Books. He was the tweediest of academic homosexuals and he died of AIDS.

If you've ever cracked Karl Popper's amazing 2-vol work The Open Society and Its Enemies...clearly the NeoCons were a perfect example of who Popper said we should avoid as if they were a plague. But then: who reads?

Maybe the best we can hope from BitCoin is a significant disruption of the world money-markets?

Hamilton that social climber seems Hobbesian in that he was more honest about seeing the non-landed gentry as a Mob that should be kept in check, although we have to give him close reading to see that. I have a soft spot for that nut Burr just because he shot AH. Hamilton won that ideological fight over Jefferson though, right? Big centralized bank, financial systems concentrated. Dreamy Tom's vision of a nation of small farmers? Not so much.

Anthropologically/sociologically, it's always been very difficult to write an ethnography about a certain Tribe: the ruling class of Unistat. I've read as much as I can get my hands on. There's some great stuff in libraries if we are willing to take the time and piece stuff together. No one would have any idea of this from watching TV, or even listening to "public radio."

Psuke said...

I have not yet read Popper, although someday.

Back when I had much more reading leisure time, I did a big dip into Jefferson (who I loved), and then did a big dip into AH, just because he seemed to play such a big part in Jefferson's career (and possibly alienating TJ from Washington?). What I found hilarious was that even the biographers who seemed to agree with his stance didn't seem to like him as a human being much.

He did do one thing I admired, though - he defended a case of "libel", arguing that if a story was factually true, it should not be considered "libelous" even if it was defamatory. He lost, alas.

If BitCoin disrupts the money markets enough to make the monied classes tremble, I'll give it total props. Don't know where I'll live in the collapse, but then, that seems to be a concern for some many even before that happens.

michael said...

I've run into a lot of people who think Hamilton was the smartest and best and their favorite of the Founders. I can't help but think of them as The Loyal Opposition.

Popper's 800 pages, summarized in under 30 words: beware of those groups of intellectuals who think they have found the One True Key to reading History, and where History is meant to go. And he includes Platonists and Marxists there. (32 words)

Psuke said...

I certainly have run into my share of people (and biographers) who think he was brilliant, and that Unistat wouldn't be what it was without him. Which may possibly be true, but I'm not sure I consider that a winning argument, i.e. is where we are now the best we could do? This has always marked me as a whackjob in the conversation.

Of course, if you really want the people's candidate, you're on the side of Patrick Henry. Aside from his fabulous pre-Revulotion quote, he seems to get short shrift in the history books.

Popper's opinion is one that should be spread far and wide, especially if you expand that to: "beware of those groups of intellectuals (or even non-intellectuals) who think they have found the One True Key" to *anything*. I try to think that even about the stuff I personally agree with...which is hard, but practice, practice!

michael said...


Sorry to have taken so long to respond. Hamilton's ideas may have goosed industrialism, but they ought to have been seen as a means to an end, not gospel everlasting.

Speaking of Patrick Henry: here's something that was conveniently overlooked by every Unistat history teacher I've ever had: the Citizen's Share:


I agree with you - of course- about Popper's ideas being extended to what RAW called "model agnosticism."

Psuke said...

The idea sounds very interesting, and I think I recall Jefferson being a big believer in something similar - the small family farmer as being the best basis for the state.

A lot of people bag on Heinlein's Starship Troopers for being proto-fascist (or whatever), but having read some of his essays I have a little more sympathy for it. It was, at bottom, an experiment in trying to solve that problem - the problem of giving people (the voting people) a stake. Heinlein did a lot of trying to solve the Leviathon problem in his writing, and also trying to work out how to get those who vote to pay more attention. Can't say I'm a huge fan of that particular solution, and I don't think he was, either...but I admire his dedication to exploring alternatives.

michael said...

I'd like to read an essay on the trajectory of Heinlein's economic ideas over his career. Do you (or anyone else here in Netville) know of a good source?

One of the most sobering aspects of attempts at ameliorating the unjust economic system seems to be that most people either 1.) don't really have much of a clue about it in the first place, or, and worse 2.) What they think they know that just ain't so, to paraphrase Mark Twain.

This is why I think you're really hot and onto something when you value Heinlein's exploration of alternatives: thinking and reading about radically different visions about how things could be done gets us out of "Should the rich be taxed at 39% rather than 36.5%?" game.

Psuke said...

I do not, alas, have a source. It's been over ten years since I did my big Heinlein phase, My, how time does fly...

I've only had two friends with opinions dissenting from mine about these things (re: economic systems and governments) that I've been able to have conversations that were more than knee jerk reactions on the part of the dissenters (and thus more than knee jerk counter-reactions on my part). Which makes me sad because those discussions helped me to revise and refine my own opinions. And they were much more interesting, too.

I think there's a lot of the NFCS (just read that post yesterday) at work here. There is so much uncertainty regarding alternatives, and most people think they do know how this system works - or how they can make it work for them, even if it's not all that great, they "know" it and that makes it less scary than the thing they don't know at all.

And I understand that...it's horrible to have put all into something and have it not work. Like the end of "Zorba the Greek". Zorba laughed and danced because he was Zorba and he simply liked life, whatever came his way...but I doubt the majority of humanity would be so open-minded. And the prospect itself is enough to keep most from even looking at it.

Still, on some level I find it weird, and counter-evolutionary. "Don't rock the boat! It's the only one we've got!" "Dudes! We're about to go over a *cliff.* Get out of the boat!"

michael said...

Some old poet once wrote something along the lines of, "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all/And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought..." Something like that. I see this in evolutionary terms of the relatively low percentage of the population who take neophilic POVs towards ideas. Most of our brothers and sisters are neophobic, which is "normal." Conserving what we (think) we know. Human. All-too human.

RAW paraphrased that poet by saying "And thus poverty does make cowards of us all." With a major illness or two lost paychecks being the only thing that insulates most Murrkins from destitution...I sorta feel like I get it. Enough, anyway.

I can't get over the idea that any significant amelioration of the economic order will involve something almost like psychic warfare between the Ruling Class and the Cultural Creatives, if only because FEAR is so primal. We must be Strong Poets; simple appeals to rationality or ethics will only get us so far.

Non-violence? Probably. Organization? Probably. Firing the Imagination? Yes.

I remember watching Zorba with a few friends, and then one of us got on the IMDb and read some of the reviews there out loud. One person didn't like Zorba The Greek because of his "idiotic zest for life," which made us almost fall on the floor laffing.