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In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Occupy Gotham, published in Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman, commemorating the 1000th issue of Batman comics. It’s an essay about the serious hard problem of trusting billionaires to solve your problems, given the likelihood that billionaires are the cause of your problems.

A thousand issues have gone by, nearly 80 years have passed, and Batman still hasn’t cleaned up Gotham. If the formal definition of insanity it trying the same thing and expecting a different outcome, then Bruce Wayne belongs in a group therapy session in Arkham Asylum. Seriously, get that guy some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy before he gets into some *serious* trouble.

As Upton Sinclair wrote in his limited run of *Batman: Class War*[1], “It’s impossible to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it.”

Gotham is a city riven by inequality. In 1939, that prospect had a very different valence than it has in 2018. Back in 1939, the wealth of the world’s elites had been seriously eroded, first by the Great War, then by the Great Crash and the interwar Great Depression, and what was left of those vast fortunes was being incinerated on the bonfire of WWII. Billionaire plutocrats were a curious relic of a nostalgic time before the intrinsic instability of extreme wealth inequality plunged the world into conflict.

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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.

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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.

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(Image: Todd Dailey, CC-BY-SA)

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I just published the 300th installment of my podcast, which has been going since 2006 (!); I present a reading of my EFF Deeplinks essay Adversarial Interoperability: Reviving an Elegant Weapon From a More Civilized Age to Slay Today’s Monopolies, where I introduce the idea of “Adversarial Interoperability,” which allows users and toolsmiths to push back against monopolists.
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A couple of weeks ago, I recorded a long, in-depth discussion on the subject of “What does it mean to keep the internet free” with Jack Russell Weinstein from Why?, the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life’s program on North Dakota Public Radio (MP3). Weinstein and I ranged pretty far and wide about what internet freedom really means, what threatens it, and how we can defend it.

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I appeared on this week’s Canadaland podcast (MP3) with Jesse Brown to talk about the promise of the internet 20 years ago, when it seemed that we were headed for an open, diverse internet with decentralized power and control, and how we ended up with an internet composed of five giant websites filled with screenshots from the other four. Jesse has been covering this for more than a decade (I was a columnist on his CBC podcast Search Engine, back in the 2000s) and has launched a successful independent internet business with Canadaland, but as he says, the monopolistic gentrification of the internet is heading for podcasting like a meteor.