The Idiot – a topical figure again?

ἰδιώτης,idiōtēs I) N. 1) the individual man, private citizen in oposite to the state, att.Pr.; b) the common, ignoble man 2) a) the ignorant, layman in oposite to the trained person, e.g. in oposite to a physician b) someone ignorant to poetry, a prosaic person. […]

Totski muttered to himself: “He may be an idiot, but he knows that flattery is the best road to success here.”
Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Open systems don’t always win.
Steve Jobs.

Dear Igor Barinov,

The status for the following app has changed to Removed From Sale.
App Name: WikiLeaks App

Techcrunch, 21.12.2010

The iPad as a particular device is not necessarily the future of computing. But as an ideology, I think it just might be.
Steven Frank,

An idiōtēs in the Greek Polis was a man, who did not separate the public from the private – in most cases for economic necessity, like the merchants or for social restraint, because he or she would be denied political action, as was the case for slaves or women.

Plato in his Republic describes what he finds pathetic about this: An Idiotes only cares about his own Oikos – his own fire in the hearth and not about the society, the Polis. However, even a rich Idotes can only survive by the society’s mercy. Only, because he can be confident on the society to always be on his side, he can take for granted, not to simply get murdered by his domestics. He would be totally helpless without the public, that he contemns by his Idioty.

Net-Politics is on everyone’s lips these days. This word, so you may think further, might imply, that there is something like a Polis, a public, in the Internet.

We have been writing several times here, that a political public can only unfold, if their rules can be negotiated free of purpose. As long as the net is in fact completely controlled by private economy, a liberal, political discussion, driven by values, is hardly possible. Companies control content over CDN, backbone, DNS, ISP, and recently even by means of the operating systems of the terminal devices; the argument for censorship is hardly ever something political or ethical; like the Wikileaks-App, deleted by Apple, just the Standard Terms and Conditions are brought in.

The situation with Social Networks an platforms is similar. Twitter could block my profile at any time with regard to the STCs, Youtube might delete videos just with regard of alleged infractions. And net neutrality – i.e. treating all data packages in the same way – so only as good as the fair chance for all Websites, to get found over search.

All the more interesting, I take the observation, how devotional whole legions of Net activists make of themselves lackeys to the telecom industry, to Google, Facebook and especially to Apple – and confound the partial openness of these with the public.

The shifting of information power from content producers, authors, film makers, musicians and their publishers and copyrights collectives towards the content platforms, the social networks and search engines is probably the irreversible consequence of a much deeper cultural change. Therefore the answer on the question how (and if at all) a political public, a society nevertheless will aliment the economic needs of people in creative professions, is crucial for the future shape of culture and creativity. I think, the Pirate Party’s demanding to “regard as natural” and “explicitly support” non-commercial copying and use of works, while at the same time make authors “more independent of existing structures of power” is utopian. Right now, only Telcos benefit from content free to copy, by better utilising their bandwidth – and of course the platform operators, who generate traffic through this and thus provide better advertising vehicles. And even though I earn my money also with advertising, I would see it as rather poor, if that would be all that can sustain.

Xenophon thus used the Idiot already in the fourth century BC in some metaphorical meaning: an idiot is inartistic person, ignorant to poetry.

Read more:
The Illusion of the Free Internet
Everything is Turned into Highway

The Army of Technological Slaves

[Original German Blog Post]

“καρπὸν δ᾽ ἔφερε ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
αὐτομάτη πολλόν τε καὶ ἄφθονον”
Hesiod, Έργα και ημέραι

“Machines exist to serve us. There is something to learn from culture of the Hacker formedia makers: not to submit to the machines, neither reject, but to take advantage of the machines, to even downright exploit them! Benedikt Köhler

“For that being who by nature is nothing of himself, but totally another’s, and is a man, is a slave.”

For if every instrument, at command, or from a preconception of its master’s will, could accomplish its work (what the poet tells us of the tripods of Vulcan, “that they moved of their own accord into the assembly of the gods “), the shuttle would then weave, and the lyre play of itself; nor would the architect want servants, or the master slaves.”

Aristotle, Politics

Why don’t the Gods keep slaves? Because they let, by virtue of their power, their work be done of its own volation, automatically. From these thoughts Aristotle in his Politics derives a dialectic path which the history of humanity moves along – from beast to god in three steps; in our time of automatisation, this seams fantastically up to date: first man learns to walk upright and thus to use his hands, to speak, to think. He is freed from the elementary necessities. Second, man discovers that the most powerful tool is man himself – or better, fellow men, that can be made use of: “A man provided with paper, pencil and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine.” (Alan Turing). This is the beginning of slavery.

Yet even Aristotle sees the chance, that mankind can liberate itself again, to resort to ever keeping some proportion of men in the indignity of being mere means: to someday approach the gods by better and better tools, by Automatoi, technological slaves,

Technological slaves.
“Brain of Steel- no overexertion, no errors!”

In Modernism, the term Technological Slave’ was introduced by the discoverer of the macro molecules and later Nobel price laureate Hermann Staudinger. Already in 1915, Staudinger warned in an expertise for the German Reich’s war ministery, that the outnumbering of technological slaves on the side of the Allies would be superior to the Central Powers’ greater number of human soldiers. Unfortunately, the government did not buy into that; neither ten years later, when Staudinger used this simple argument to belie the Stab-in-the-back legend.

For the last time, Herman Staudinger spoke up in this case in 1946 with a visionary forsight on the consequences of nuclear power and his warning of a “Rise of the Technological Slaves”, so that satisfying the hunger for energy of these slaves would finally lead to total dependance of mankind.

Although we are still far off to have all our labour and work taken away by the automats, the Aristotelian idea of technological Slaves gives a good picture of the role, machines should play in our lives.

“Experience has also show you the difference of the results between mechanism which is neat, clean, well arranged, and always in a high state of repair; and that which is allowed to be dirty, in disorder, and without the means of preventing unnecessary friction, and which therefore becomes, and works, much out of repair. […] If, then, due care as to the state of your inanimate machines can produce such beneficial results, what may not expected if you devote equal attention to your vital machines, which are far more wonderfully constructed?” (Robert Owen, A New View of Society)

In contrast to Utopian-socialist Robert Owen’s advocating to give human workers the care that would likewise be given to machines to prevent them from premature abrasion, the social ethics of the 20th century turned this and made man the end and not the means for the existence of machines:

“At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable.” (Gaudium et Spes)

Prometheus was nailed to the Caucasus for bringing man the ability to rise above nature – and in return the Olympian gods gave us the present of Pandora’s Box – that we would have our own Automatoi. Machines are our technological slaves. They have to serve us. Where they would still oppose, we have to learn to subject them in a cunning way.

That is Benedikt’s call, cited above: take advantage of the machines, they are made for this! And that means: also creative professionals, mind workers, editors, journalists, should think like hackers. Hacker for me is a neutral to positive term. Hacker make use of technology as completely as possible. Like the famous investigative journalists, they don’t let themselves hold up by arbitrary rules which are supposed to tell us, how we should use information.

In Google’s algorithms, in the depths of Wikipedia and in the flow of letters on Twitter, there is much more to find, as the approved way of using these tools would show. The response of the publicists and journalists on news aggregators like Google News should sound: Hurray! Finally we are liberated from rewriting boring agency reports; finally a machine takes from us, what in fact has never been valuable work. Instead of sabotaging the Looms like the weavers, we should see to get the most out of the new technology – to make technology our slave, for Pandora’s Box is opened and the Automatoi that escaped from it cannot be captured again.

Technological Slaves and Pandora’s Box.

Virtual Broadcasting

[Original German Blog-Post]

“What men share with all other forms of animal life was not considered to be human.”

“Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality … this plurality is specifically the condition — not only the conditio sine qua non, but the conditio per quam — of all political life.”

“The distinctive trait of the household sphere was that in it men [sic] lived together because the were driven by their wants and needs.”

“Force and violence are justified in this [oiconomic] sphere because they are the only means to master necessity.”

“Society always demands that its members act as though they were members of one enormous family which has only one opinion and one interest”

Hannah Arendt, ‘The Human Condition’

The body – our Conditio Humana – ties us to the earth and sets natural boundaries to our longing for freedom. This common perception leads Hannah Arendt to the central thoughts of her philosophy of the ‘Human Condition’. In opposition to that is our ability to act, at least from time to time, to step outside the bodily confinement, to differentiate us as person, and jointly with others form the Polis, the public.

In this Aristotelian picture, Labour, Economy lie in contrast to that completely within the realm of the private, the Oikos. In modern societies, a restriction of work and production to the private household is no longer possible; the public is mixed with privacy – a “publication” of the economy and thus a “privatisation” of the public takes place – with grave consequences:
by this socialization, that was called “rise of the social” by Hannah Arendt, the freedom, which had been integral to the public space is subordinated under the “animalic” satisfaction of economic needs. In an oikonomised Polis it is only hardly possible, to set immaterial goals and to follow values outside the economy.

The Internet has been often called a modern Agora – also the term Forum is used in the Net with a purpose. In deed the Internet seamed to form the perfect public space in which a liberal society could unfold perfectly.

Economic enterprises like Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. make an elementary part of today’s Internet infrastructure. To stay in Hannah Arendt’s metaphor – an inleakage of economy into the political sphere.

One example shall make clear the very tangible consequences of this – in my opinion necessary and hardly avoidable development>

The ‘Collateral Murder’ video which Wikileaks had published had been known to the Washington Post for a longer time. When Wikileaks at last put the Video on Youtube, it was removed at once – likely after invention of the US government. Only international pressure and the illustriousness of Wikileaks made Google restoring the Video online.

Here we see how basically the freedom of the press is touched by this topic – what use is in independent journalism, when the publication does not reach out to anyone anymore, because (private run) enterprises that have monopolistic control on access or even execute censorship? And not out of evilness but for economic reason.

A Website not indexed by Google does de facto not exist; a book not offered by Amazon just as well be pulped right away; music that is not listed on i-tunes will hardly be listened to. It is high time that we – as the society – become active again, take initiative, raise our voice. And not by trying to keep everything in the old tracks by regulations and laws (which is effectless anyway). No, it is thus important to take an active role and not just to react.

For decades there was no doubt that media are part of the Polis and not of the Oikos. For media as public there are minimum requirements>

  • Non-discriminatory access (all information is equally available for all users)
  • Net neutrality (every publisher has the same right of distribution of his content)
  • Plurality (of choice)
  • Societal influence (transparent representation of ethic and cultural values)

In Europe’s and especially federal German media tradition since WWII this becomes particularly visible with broadcasting law. Out of these rules of democratic-political media culture the large public service broadcasting institutions were shaped, that took an important position in the public life of the European Societies.

As the Internet does not just substitute broadcasting (to adopted the regulations more or less unchanged would then be an easy task), but lead far above this classic media concept by displacing classic media in their relevance, the influence of these media on our society fades away.

Therefore we need a discussion on ‘Virtual Broadcasting’, on public or public-law Internet.

Thereto we want to invite to and hope for active participation!