jon lebkowsky on 15 Feb 2001 19:08:36 -0000

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Re: <nettime> Usenet archives sold?

I have to respond to some of Ronda's points...

> The point I am making is the opposite. That business entities with bottom
> line considerations aren't able to make the decisions that will support
> the archiving, dessimination and scaling that Usenet and the Internet
> require for their development.

Ronda, usenet is still usenet, anarchic as ever. You're not really talking
about usenet - you're talking about a particular archive.

> The public library or academic library in the US has taken on such a
> responsibility. In societies there are other forms of institutions than
> corporations that are needed to serve the needs of citizens, to provide
> for the public welfare.
> And the Internet and Usenet have grown up out of those very institutions
> themselves. However, in the US (and perhaps other countries as well)  in
> the last 5 years there has been a form of slaveholders' rebellion where
> suddenly there are not to be any institutional forms other than the
> corporate.  See for example

The corporate form of organization proliferates because it is effective.
There are probably other effective means of organization, and we should try
those, too. But I think that's a separate issue.

If you feel that academic institutions should archive usenet, then you
should work to that end.

> In the US there is a government research institution like the National
> Science Foundation that is charged with providing for the support of basic
> research in science and technology. And ARPA was created for a similar
> purpose and was able to perform the function with regard to the
> development of computer technology in a very significant way. In the US it
> had been the government that would be in a position to provide for
> institutional forms for science and technology that would look ahead 10 or
> 20 years.
> Corporations only look ahead 3 years in general.

Can you cite a reference for that?  I believe some corporations have 5-year
and 10-year plans.  I'm also not sure that you can generalize about
corporations, give that there are so many and they're so diverse.

> To subject all the institutions of society to the viewpoint and
> capabilities of corporations is to distort the society.

Corporations emerge from the society. How can you argue that they are more
apt to "distort" it?

> Government officials in the US, for example, have a constitutional
> obligation to provide for the public welfare and the national defense.
> When Bush was inaugurated he said that charities would take on the public
> welfare, not the government, or that government would fund charities.  In
> the US it is government's constitutional obligation to provide for the
> public welfare, neither charities nor corporations nor religious groups
> can be substituted if that constitutional obligation is to be upheld.

As an individual, I agree that  the government has an obligation to provide
for the public welfare.  However I think there is an ongoing conversation
about how that obligation is to be interpreted.  Some feel that poverty
programs are a disincentive and a crutch, that they sustain a condition of
poverty rather than faciliating a better life for recipients of program
benefits.  Having worked in poverty programs for almost two decades earlier
in my life, I see some merit in this argument, though I think the problem is
more complex.  However as a democratic society we have to achieve consensus
about the meaning of "public welfare," and I think the concept of charity is
still quite open to debate.

> But in the past decade (or two) the emphasis of the US government has been
> oriented to how to help corporations prosper, not how to provide for the
> public welfare.

There is an argument that promoting the welfare of corporations, which can
be seen as the backbone of the world's economies, is the best way to promote
the "public welfare."  Yes, this is open to argument, but facile arguments
won't do.

> It is important that the public institutional forms, the public purpose be
> reinvigorated, not that one claim that because this is capitalism this is
> irrelevant.
> Citizens, not corporations are where sovereignty lies.

Corporations are comprised of individual citizens, and there is a concept of
'corporate citizenship.'

> In the US this is a piece of the constitutional crisis that is facing US
> society. When corporations prosper they get stronger and more powerful and
> they seek to influence government and other institutions so that they
> prosper further.

I would agree here, saying that the problem is not 'corporations,' but
'large corporations with excessive power.'  How we define 'excessive' is
another item that is open to debate, also how we mitigate the problem of
corporate power without stifling economic growth.

> But corporations don't have a long range perspective. They don't look to
> the future for the society. The society has developed other institutional
> forms like public libraries and academic libraries to help provide for the
> dissemination of printed literature.

You haven't supported this case (that corporations lack a long-range
perspective) with evidence, and I suspect that it is quite incorrect.

> It isn't that we expect companies to provide for libraries.
> The digital forms are new forms. They need new institutional forms to
> provide for their development. They need new public and academic
> institutional forms.

I think we have all been guilty of overemphasizing what's 'new' in the
'digital revolution' without acknowledging that digital tools are an
extension of the human, that they reflect human realities, and in that sense
are less 'new.'

> Instead we are suddenly faced with the situation that corporations are all
> that we are offered and only the narrow kind of activity they are capable
> of will be allowed for the development of the Internet.

Evidence does not support this.  There is an explosion of growth outside the
corporate Internet. See Jon Katz' piece that Geert sent to nettime.

> This not only flies in the face of the birth and development of the
> Internet itself which came out of government supporting computer
> scientists, supporting researchers in academic and other research
> institutions, but also this flies in the face of the current development
> of society.

Do we suddenly have a dearth of support for researchers? I see evidence that
researchers are working away, what are you seeing?

> >This Usenet argument isn't an argument about Usenet, or copyright, or
> >kind of stuff.  It's just an expression of people's feelings toward
> >capitalism.  If we're going to debate this, let's debate the relevant
> >argument --- is capitalsim bad?  Does capitalism ruin the things that we
> >like because it is capitalism?

Capitalism is an effective means of economic organizations, problematic in
its potential for abuse.  Though capitalism has its down side, it has
brought capitalist countries such as the U.S. to a superior standard of
living.  Even the poor in the U.S. do pretty well.  There's so much that we
could do to improve our conditions, but I don't think the answer is in an
abandonment of capitalism or that this is likely to occur.

> Are you are saying that public libraries are about people's feelings
> toward capitalism? Somehow this narrows down the question to a world where
> only corporations are able to exist and there are no social institutions
> only corporate ones.

Also extremely unlikely to occur.

> There would be no Internet or Usenet if what you seem to be saying were
> the case.
> Those with the view that the corporate sector is everything would probably
> agree with what you are saying, but they are only a very narrow sector of
> modern society.

Even corporate folks (speaking as one who knows a few) don't believe that
"the corporate sector is everything."

> >Or maybe it's just about elitism.  Does making a resource more available
> >the masses ruin it for me because I am no longer a cool, unique
> >for using it?  Believe me, I felt the same way once Dave Matthews Band
> >became popular.
> It's not that the corporations can or have made the Internet available for
> the masses. In the US the free-nets perhaps set out to make the Internet
> available to the masses but they needed more government support (and the
> view that there was a need for government support)  to have succeeded.

Freenets actually get quite a bit of corporate as well as government

> The narrow kind of corporate focused - "big pipe into the home and small
> pipe out" that the corporate sector has as its vision is *not* the
> Internet.

Can you cite a reference for this supposed "corporate vision?"

> The corporate sector could create Compuserve, for example, not the
> Internet. Compuserve didn't succeed, the Internet did. The myth of
> corporate capability with regard to what is needed for Internet
> development, is a significant myth.

By what criterion do you think the Interent "succeeded"?  Its proliferation
and broader accessibility came only after corporations became more involved.

> If corporations were so capable they would be supporting the development
> of the needed research to look 10 and 20 years forward for the development
> of the Internet. They aren't so capable. But too much of the public
> resourcs is going to support the corporate activity.

I believe they are supporting quite a bit of research.

> >No, this is probably more about capitalism.  Let's discuss that if we're
> >going to discuss this subject at all.
> Then the discussion should be focused on corporations, not on what is
> needed for the public dissemination and development and scaling of Usenet
> and the Internet?
> To the contrary, it would be more fruitful to look at how the Internet was
> created and developed, at how governement can fruitfully support basic
> research and what kind of basic research is needed for the scaling and
> development of the Internet and Usenet.
> What is needed to get access available to all.

I don't think you'll do that without corporate support... but it's great
that you're committing to work on broader access.

> There is a need for a public agenda, not to endlessly discuss the
> corporate agenda.

Actually, we need both.

Jon L.

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