Musing about Digital McCarthyism and Digital Nonviolence

While researching aspects of the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, I was reminded of the works of Richard B Gregg. While I had come across Gregg while reading Economics, I hadn’t appreciated quite how influential he’d been on King, or for that matter just how dedicated he’d been in seeking to understand Gandhi. If you don’t know about Gregg, do take a look at his Wikipedia entry.

I’m currently reading a 1938 Gregg pamphlet titled What is The Matter With Money? It’s a reprint from the Modern Review for May and June 1938. In it, Gregg spends a lot of time looking at trust, and some of the things he says jell with me.
I quote from Gregg:

…A money economy makes security depend on individual selfish acquisitiveness instead of on trust. Trust grows when men serve first and foremost the community and the common purpose. There has sometimes been an element of service and community purpose in the making of private fortunes, but it has not often been predominant. Money splits up community security and plays upon men’s fears, — fears of the future and of each other’s motives, fears that compel them to compete with one another to a harmful degree.

Gregg concludes the paragraph with an interesting assertion:

Money has worked on us so long that it is now hampering the further development of science, art and technology.

At reboot last year I spoke about the things that had to die before we can regain some of the things we’ve lost, in keeping with the conference theme of renaissance and rebirth. [Hey Thomas, what’s happening with reboot this year?]
Gregg’s words have served to remind me that concepts like identity and trust are fundamental parts of community and not individuality; culture too is a community concept, be it about arts or sciences or even forms of expression; community itself is a construct of relationships at multiple levels. Maybe the reason why much of what is now termed IPR (and its cater-cousin DRM) is abhorrent to me is that these things focus on the individual and not the community.

I am all for making sure that creativity is rewarded, in fact I believe that any form of real value generation should be rewarded; but not at the price of stifling the growth of culture and of community. This, I believe, is at the heart of what Larry Lessig speaks of, what Rishab Aiyer Ghosh speaks of, what Jerry Garcia believed in, what opensource communities believe in, what democratised innovation is about.

Culture and community before cash.

I recently bought a book by Gregg called The Power Of Nonviolence. When describing the book, the bookseller noted that it [the particular copy I was buying] was signed by Gregg; unusually, the recipient’s name had been erased and carefully at that; the bookseller surmised that it may have had to do with fears about McCarthyism.

You know something? At the rate we’re going, the battles about IPR and DRM are going to get uglier, to a point where we’re going to see something none of us wants. Digital McCarthyism. What we’re seeing in the software and music and film spaces already begins to feel like that.

We need to find a better way to work it out. And it makes me wonder. What’s the digital equivalent of Gandhian Nonviolence?

3 thoughts on “Musing about Digital McCarthyism and Digital Nonviolence”

  1. As I see it, Gregg took the first step along a path that was continued by John Kenneth Galbraith (particularly in his treatise on money that was then presented, in abbreviated form, in THE AGE OF UNCERTAINTY) and most recently picked up by postmodernism, which I have tried to invoke in previous comments:

    The extent to which the money economy reflects the postmodern condition has probably best been articulated by Gabor Steingart in his book, WELTKRIEG UM WOHLSTAND: WIE MACHT UN REICHTUM NEU VERTEILT WERDEN (which translates as “War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity”). In my last blog I reported on the excerpts from this book that were translated into English and appeared on SPIEGEL ONLINE:

    As I see it, the postmodern condition affirms Gregg’s provocative assertion that JP quoted. Science, art, and technology have now all been enslaved to funding processes based in the money economy; and, just as money itself is nothing more than a “fiction of convenience,” the practices of science, art, and technology now all depend on similar fictions of convenience. This is the politest way in which I can describe a situation in which nothing gets done without submitting and getting approval for a proposal for funding. (I defy anyone who has written such a proposal to deny the the critical role that fiction plays in such documents!)

    JP seeks inspiration from Gandhi. I sympathize, but I think JP is looking in the wrong direction. It is not the lesson of nonviolence that applies here, but the lesson of homespun. The globalization of science, art, and technology has taken all three practices from Gregg’s “hampering” to the threshold of undoing. They can only be recovered if we think about their practices in a far more localized (community-based?) context. Can we really do that when all three technologies have locked themselves into a dependency on expensive equipment? I have my doubts, but I suspect that it is the only path that would honor Gandhi’s teachings!

  2. One of the things I remember from gandhi (& that humbles me every time) is “you must become the change you want to see in reality” (quoted from memory)… so what does it say about DRM?
    I’m not sure…

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.