A Soviet Dystopia Under Late-Stage Capitalism

This article from yesterday should be required reading. It begins with the latest kerfuffle about some NBA manager’s tweet in support of Hong Kong’s right to self-determination. It should be a given, right? The United States is for freedom (despite hardly living up to that ideal, ever). But capital, the incessant desire to expand into global markets, stomps all over that. We’ve seen it with Apple, the NBA, even Hollywood rewriting Bohemian Rhapsody to remove all references to homosexuality, apparently.

Relatable Brand on Medium:

Late-stage capitalism has this Soviet-esque quality to it, with all its pointless bureaucracy, collectivism, propaganda, burnout, and helplessness.

If capitalism fosters human creativity, then why does our economy produce an extremely limited demand for artists, musicians, academics, researchers, or scientists, but has a seemingly insatiable appetite for corporate lawyers and rehashing the same Marvel superhero movie every six months? Well, if the 1% controls most of the wealth, what we call “the market” is merely a reflection of their desires, and it’s imposed a privatized tyranny on us all.

There’s a lot of talk in the American public sphere about socialism, communism, capitalism. But if, like many say, capitalism is the best system to organize an economy and nation, why does it feel so terrible to so many people?

I’ve heard all the talking points. I’m not convinced. And each day brings new examples of corporate greed, lack of dignity for normal people, and the suppression of freedom, even for rich basketball coaches.

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s Allegiances

Source: Annie Spratt

I signed up for Facebook sometime in 2006, whenever they allowed non .edu email addresses to register. I deleted my account late 2012 when I realized I was spending far too much time looking at old acquaintances and friends (“Facebook stalking”) rather than job-hunting after returning from Sierra Leone. The decision was personal. I didn’t have a political stance against Facebook all those years ago.

Things are markedly different in late 2019. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, numerous incidents around the world where Facebook has wrought havoc (elections, genocides, etc.) and pretty much every other seemingly “minor Facebook scandal”, it’s obvious that the company is not interested in empowering discourse. But Its massive user base, its monopoly on social media, its grip on political and civic institutions, and the media landscape means Facebook is everyone’s problem, including non-users.

Jacob Silverman in the Baffler writes that by now, we must treat Facebook as a “right-wing political force”, one resistant to any and all attempts at criticism, regulation, and reform:

That [Facebook] has come to so thoroughly dominate our public sphere is a tragic indictment of American civic life and American techno-capitalism, which has confused the pitiless surveillance of today’s internet with utopian empowerment.

Bearing the perverse logic known only to authoritarian state propaganda, Zuckerberg wishes us to believe that Facebook is a benevolent sovereign, a gateway to flourishing connectivity and public discourse, instead of an all-seeing surveillance apparatus that attempts to predict our needs, guide our behaviors, and monetize our dearest relationships and communications for obscene profits. It may not be the death knell to democracy that some claim, but it would be dubious to say that targeted advertising—and the coercion that attends it—has done anything to improve our lives. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg argues otherwise. Part and parcel of the new rhetoric is that Facebook’s technologically enabled users represent “a fifth estate,” a new member of the public sphere.

The Public Sphere Between Blogging and Social Media

John Naughton’s Guardian article about blogging’s 25th anniversary (which he counts from the appearance of Dave Winer’s Scripting News) makes some interesting points about the evolution of online civic discourse. When blogging became mainstream with services like Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, and Typepad, user-generated content was blog posts. People linked and responded, praised and critiqued. A public sphere was emerging, with (1) universal access, (2) rational debate, and (3) disregard for social rank. Then came social media companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

[…] two awkward realities intervened. The first was that “discussion” on these platforms was curated by algorithms that were geared more to increasing user “engagement” (and therefore profit) rather than rational deliberation. The second was that many users of social media seemed to have a limited appetite for rational discussion.

In hindsight, it seems obvious. When phones became pocket computers, it became a race to monetize our attention spans. I’m not very hopeful of the online landscape going forward, but there are certain online communities, bloggers included, who rebel against algorithmic online life in different ways.

Cal Newport’s New Yorker article about “Indie” Social Media ends with similar pessimism:

For the exhausted majority of social-media users, however, the appeal of the proverbial quiet bench might outweigh the lure of a better Facebook. In this vision of the future, there will be many more social-media platforms but far fewer people spending significant time on any of them. Social media has reshaped our culture, and this has convinced us that it is fundamentally appealing. Strip away its most manipulative elements, though, and we may find that it’s less rewarding than it seems.

I advocate blogging, on our own servers, our own words, our own thoughts, and our own communities, away from tech giants. It’s easier now than ever.

Galician Culture and History on WordPress with Tim Ginty

I’m drawn to places very easily. It could be the way I feel while there, or something read or imagined about the history or contemporary culture of the place. I start daydreaming about what life would’ve been like in the recent or distant past and what it might look like years from now.

What has changed recently is my desire to understand these places through the perspective of others rather than facts and dates. And so, I’m interested in reading more about my new home of Galicia much more than what’s happening in U.S. politics for example.

Other than Wikipedia and information about walking the Camino de Santiago, I don’t see much blogging on Galicia in English. While I can read castellano, it does not come as easy yet, and I struggle with written conjugated verb forms and less-frequently used vocabulary, slowing down my progress.

So I was delighted to stumble onto Tim Ginty’s blog Lives and Times this morning. He has a few posts about Galicia from last year:

  • Unearthing Gallaecia: The Ruins of Monte O Facho for an overview of castro culture, their subsequent romanization by the Roman legions, the unique syncretism of the society it produced, as well as photos of O Facho. “Even today, in Galicia there still exist signs of this fusion of Latin and Pagan, hints of a latent indigenous culture found in their Carnivals and Solstice celebrations, and in their mythology of mouras (siren-like women of the forest) and stories of meigas (witches).”
  • A Conversation with César Lema: On a Rural Return for a window into Lema’s worldview on communalism in rural Galicia and within the long-arc of history, the possibility of utopias. “Modernity, in contrast, offers an atomised community and alienated production, living beside people you might not even know and working to generate a profit you will never possess – that is, the absolute contrary of the shared life.”
  • The Eternal Wall of Lucus Augusti for a look at the fortified wall of Lugo and the building of of them symbolizing power and splendor but also insularity. “Only a few decades after the construction of the wall Lucus Augusti would fall. Its formerly all-powerful rulers – a slave-holding class of indolent elites – would wave the white flag to the invading Suave tribe from the north. The Germanic barbarians did not even need to lay siege upon the fortified city, and some say that the elite of the city were celebrating a feast when the occupiers came, too drunk on sweet wine to organise a resistance.”

I’m inspired by Tim’s writing. The posts on Galicia are just a small sample of what he has. He also wrote about Marinaleda, the communist pueblo in Andalusia. He effortlessly blends history with personal essay and photos, which makes for interesting reading.

I feel allergic to blogs that try to push or sell something; an ebook, a course, ads, more posts, etc. Blogs give everyday people a platform and a space to flesh out ideas, share something with the world, valorize practices and ideas. As I go on with Among the Stones, I hope it can also be a place to share like Lives and Times.

How to Be Okay Being Online in 2019: A Listening List

“We’re not meant to be able to understand everything, to be able to take in an unlimited supply of horrible information everyday. Our brains aren’t built to allow us to identify what we can do about something, and what we’ll never be able to do anything about.” — Jia Tolentino

I’m finishing up Ezra Klein‘s interview with Jia Tolentino this morning and also thinking about other recent interviews both she and Jenny Odell gave to the guys at Longform.

Both resonated with me, in part because I feel like they, in different ways, identify the tension of being a person online in an age of social divide while recognizing the personal and systemic themes that come up; trying to live morally in a late capitalist economic system, dealing with attention and time, creating art, self-promotion, having an opinion on the internet, self care, and learning to live and grow in a strange time.

Actually, upon reading that, I’m sure I’ve mischaracterized these interviews. But this is what I got out of them. Anyway, next is to find the time (or rather, a peaceful gap in my scattered attention) to read Tolentino’s Trick Mirror and Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.