In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my May Locus column: Steering with the Windshield Wipers. It makes the argument that much of the dysfunction of tech regulation — from botched anti-sex-trafficking laws to the EU’s plan to impose mass surveillance and censorship to root out copyright infringement — are the result of trying to jury-rig tools to fix the problems of monopolies, without using anti-monopoly laws, because they have been systematically gutted for 40 years.
A lack of competition rewards bullies, and bullies have insatiable appetites. If your kid is starving because they keep getting beaten up for their lunch money, you can’t solve the problem by giving them more lunch money – the bullies will take that money too. Likewise: in the wildly unequal Borkean inferno we all inhabit, giving artists more copyright will just enrich the companies that control the markets we sell our works into – the media companies, who will demand that we sign over those rights as a condition of their patronage. Of course, these companies will be subsequently menaced and expropriated by the internet distribution companies. And while the media companies are reluctant to share their bounties with us artists, they reliably expect us to share their pain – a bad quarter often means canceled projects, late payments, and lower advances.
And yet, when a lack of competition creates inequities, we do not, by and large, reach for pro-competitive answers. We are the fallen descendants of a lost civilization, destroyed by Robert Bork in the 1970s, and we have forgotten that once we had a mighty tool for correcting our problems in the form of pro-competitive, antitrust enforcement: the power to block mergers, to break up conglomerates, to regulate anticompetitive conduct in the marketplace.
But just because we know where to find the copyright lever, it doesn’t follow that yanking on it hard enough will make it do the work of antitrust law.
In my latest podcast, I read my new Locus column: Fake News is an Oracle. For many years, I’ve been arguing that while science fiction can’t predict the future, it can reveal important truths about the present: the stories writers tell reveal their hopes and fears about technology, while the stories that gain currency in our discourse and our media markets tell us about our latent societal aspirations and anxieties.
Fake news is another important barometer of our societal pressure: when we talk about conspiratorial thinking, we tend to do so ideologically, asking ourselves how it is that the same old conspiracy theories have become so much more convincing in recent years (anti-vax is as old as vaccination, after all), and treating the proponents of conspiracies as though they had acquired the ability to convince people by sharpening their arguments (possibly with the assistance of machine-learning systems).
But when you actually pay attention to the things that conspiracy-pushers say, there’s no evidence that they’re particularly convincing. Instead of ideological answers to the spread of conspiracies, we can look for material answers for the change in our public discourse.
Fake news, in this light, reveals important truth about what our material conditions have led us to fear (that the ship is sinking and their aren’t enough life-boats for all of us) and hope (that we can get a seat in the lifeboat if we help the powerful and ruthless push other people out).
Ten years ago, if you came home from the doctor’s with a prescription for oxy, and advice that they were not to be feared for their addictive potential, and an admonition that pain was “the fourth vital sign,” and its under-treatment was a great societal cruelty, you might have met someone who said that this was all bullshit, that you were being set up to be murdered by a family of ruthless billionaires whose watchdog had switched sides.
You might have called that person an “opioid denier.”
Today, we worry that anti-vaxers represent the resurgence of long-dormant epidemic. Tomorrow, we may find that they presaged an epidemic of collapsed trust in our shared ability to determine the truth.
For many years, I’ve been arguing that while science fiction can’t predict the future, it can reveal important truths about the present: the stories writers tell reveal their hopes and fears about technology, while the stories that gain currency in our discourse and our media markets tell us about our latent societal aspirations and anxieties. In Fake News is an Oracle, my latest Locus Magazine column, I use this tool to think about the rise of conspiratorial thinking and ask what it says about our world. more
I’m coming to Houston on July 31 to appear with Hank Green at an event for the paperback launch of his outstanding debut novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: we’re on a 7PM at Spring Forest Middle School (14240 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77079); it’s a ticketed event and the ticket price includes a copy of Hank’s book. Hope to see you there! (Images: Vlogbrothers, Jonathan Worth, CC-BY)
Yesterday, the New York Times published my “op-ed from the future,” an essay entitled “I Shouldn’t Have to Publish This in The New York Times,” which tried to imagine what would happen to public discourse if the Big Tech platforms were forced to use algorithms to police their users’ speech in order to fight extremism, trolling, copyright infringement, harassment, and so on. more
I was honored to be invited to contribute to the New York Times‘s excellent “Op-Eds From the Future” series (previously), with an op-ed called “I Shouldn’t Have to Publish This in The New York Times,” set in the near-future, in which we have decided to solve the problems of Big Tech by making them liable for what their users say and do, thus ushering in an era in which all our speech is vetted by algorithms that delete anything that looks like misinformation, harassment, copyright infringement, incitement to terrorism, etc — with the result that the only place where you can discuss anything of import is newspapers themselves. more
From 6PM-730PM this Thursday, May 23, I’m presenting at the Exposition Park Library (Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Regional Library, 3900 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90062) on the problems of Big Tech and how the problems of monopolization (in tech and every other industry) is supercharged by the commercial surveillance industry — and what we can do about it. It’s part of the LA Public Library’s “Book to Action” program and it’s free to attend — I hope to see you there!