Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Means of Production are Decentralizing: the MAID and the MOPD clean up the MOPPPO


This is a commentary on the Implications of the Internet for the SocioEconomic Configuration of the Future (IISECF). It proposes that the old question of the MOPPPO, namely, of whether or not the Means Of Production should be Publicly or Privately Owned, is much less relevant today, because the MAID (Means of Acquiring Information have Decentralized) and the MOPD (Means of Production are Decentralizing) are cleaning it up.

The MAID and the MOPD clean up the MOPPPO

Classic socioeconomic debate often assembles itself about a the question of whether or not the Means Of Production should be Publicly or Privately Owned (MOPPPO). Most attempts to answer this question quickly dissolve into a seeping sand storm of confusion about the role of an entity notoriously known as, "The Government." What most discussions don't seem to take seriously in the debate is the Implication of the Internet in the SocioEconomic Configuration of our Future (IISECF).

Isn't that silly?

Up till now, mostly, the IISECF has materialized as silicon valley and high-speed globalized financial markets. San Francisco is beautiful, but it mostly smells like pee, and high-tech bankers commit fraud on a daily basis. More recently, we found out that the IISECF entails large scale surveillance systems. Terrorism is real, but you have a much better chance of stopping it by not committing war crimes than by spying on the entire world. These, however, are foolish implications of an internet which has hardly gotten its feet wet in the spirit-of-creativity-and-openness-and-growth for which its inventor's (humans!) are so noted in the animal kingdom.

Of course, the IISECF has meant unlimited porn, extraordinary shopping convenience, and instantaneous video communication. Not to mention the havoc that facebook has wreaked on most of our lives. Blogging is fantastic, webpages are wonderful, and Wikipedia is perhaps the greatest and most wonderful thing the Human species has managed to do (though it's unfortunate that it's so very unprofitable as a business). And then, of course there is YouTube, which won YOU Time Magazine's Person of the Year, 2006.

What is clear, in each case, is an acceleration of experience and of information exchange, which facilitates rapid discovery and entertainment. On the flip side, there is naturally the boredom and paralysis of infinity. But it is now possible, like never before, to be engaged for as long as you'd like with high quality written, verbal, and visual material pertaining to any which subject matter you can think of. The How-To will Show-You to Tie-Shoes, Make-Booze, and gear up your Rocket-Suit. There is no shortage of tales of individual humans using information available on the internet to achieve feats which would have been unthinkable by teams of experts only decades ago.

So the Means of Acquiring Information have Decentralized (MAID), dramatically. Yet Educational Institutions (EI) have plowed forward in their allegiance to the industrial past. In response, the IISECF gives you The Khan Academy and other Massive Open Online Courses. It is now possible to go from 1+1=2 straight through to multivariable calculus with a series of short videos by the world's best online teacher. There is very little you can't learn online. There is very little you can't do, online, either.

While the MAID is beautiful in her late teenage years, rebelling wildly and flaunting her perky breasts, her little brother, the MOPD, has only just figured out how to shit in the toilet. But this is a major stepping stone. The Means of Production have begun to Decentralize (MOPD), and getting your shit in the toilet is no small score.

So what is MOPD? Well, it basically started with the Grateful Dead, and the introduction of massively open sharing of recorded music. It took a few more decades for Napster to pick up the slack (just a few years after Jerry Garcia's death), and bring the means of producing copies of recorded music to the masses. Then YouTube hits, and suddenly everyone is a celebrity. The means of producing entertainment are highly distributed and decentralized. But that is only where it begins.

If the Grateful Dead are the Grandparents of MOPD, Richard Strassman is the Father. Strassman GNU (read: knew), as do many of us today, that software will eat the world. It could either devour it ravenously, or savor it, delectably, tastefully. GNU is devoted to the latter, through its commitment to open source, to sharing, to community. But software is unquestionably a means of production, and in the context of massively open online sharing of source code, software becomes the foundation around which the Means of Production Decentralize.

The MOPPPO question repeatedly comes up against the problem of dishonesty, of cheating, of lies, and of greed. It has been unable, on all accounts, to avoid it. But open source software platforms are immune to dishonesty, cheating, and lies (nothing is immune to greed), as they are open, available, and free. They embody the fundamental premises on which we would like to organize society.

The Open Source Software Movement (OSSM, pronounced, "awesome") has in turn given birth to an "Open Source Hardware Movement" (OSHM, or, "awesome" with a lisp), that brings you little $50 computers in the form of RaspberryPi and BeagleBones and is very nearly knocking on your door with a 3D printer. So now you have a webserver the size of your palm, plenty of free code to run it on, free instructions on how to do everything, and printers that'll print you parts for whatever clever little piece you think of.

I'm telling you, the MOPD and the MAID are here to clean up the MOPPPO. And most recently, that clean-up process has emerged as Bitcoin, the decentralized virtual currency with distributed computational power larger than that of the world's 50 biggest supercomputers combined. With no central issuer, no third party, no implication of military support, and no regional home, bitcoin is the worlds first decentralized financial system. She is a MAID, with a very special kind of MOPD.

Bitcoin deems irrelevant some of the most oppressive institutions in our society: banks and money-lenders. But it also lays the foundation for a host of software suites that radically change the way we interact and exchange. Just like the HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) used by your browser, and the TCP/IP (Transfer Control Protocol, Internet Protocol), which HTTP runs on top of, used by your computer, Bitcoin is a networking protocol that facilitates exchange by ensuring the co-operation of all participants. You cannot defraud bitcoin. Just like you cannot defraud HTTP. That is not say you cannot find hacks in the infrastructure that surrounds and supports the protocol (like bitcoin exchanges and web browsers), but the protocol itself is un-voidable.

In the past, communities were bound together by religion, whose original form is the Latin 'religere', 'to bind.' But religions are often violent, emotional, irrational creatures which destroy populations and corrupt their bearers. In the age of the internet, a hundred years after Nietzsche pronounced the death of the divinity, that which binds us is no longer an arbitrary and violent belief system, but an open and honest internet protocol. Without even thinking of it, we participate in these protocols by default every time we open a browser, or spend a bitcoin. We do it daily, peacefully, co-operatively, and efficiently. It is truly a marvel of design.

But that is precisely it. Design is not a zero sum game. And it is very possible to design one's self out of any circumstance and into another. Today, the IISECF is the new flurry of protocols which will be designed and shared freely for use in the constructive, decentralized, and efficient organization of society. Bitcoin is the first of these. Facebook is the zeroth. But we can expect to become linked to each other in the co-operative organization of society in ways unimaginable to anyone seriously involved in the MOPPPO debate. This is the story of the MAID and the MOPD, and it will be very exciting to see it pan out.

And you know what the best part is? You can contribute. Just start writing code.

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