AgainstNetocracy (ThoughtStorms)

There are two ways of being "against" netocracy.

1) I don't believe in it. (the epistemological objection)

2) I believe it, I don't like the sound of it (the ethical objection)

Don't believe it

Isn't it just hot air?

I notice that on Google, ThoughtStorms owns "Netocracy". (Perhaps the original Swedish term is different) But I'm apparently one of the biggest fans. The other prominent reviews are pretty scathing.

So am I just a sucker for trendy scandinavian hype-merchants? Is the book anything more than the intellectual equivalent of boo.com?

Well, I'd be quick to admit the book isn't actually all that great. I was several chapters into it before I started to think it was anything more than breathless net hype. But yep, I think the idea has real substance. Its core is neat and coherent : that we're moving towards an economy where social connections are an important kind of wealth, and that people will learn the two economic behaviors of NetoCracy/Exploitation and NetoCracy/Imploitation. The rest of the book is ambitious in trying to work out the implications of such an economy, based on existing post-Marxist cultural theories that relate economic behaviours to the wider philosophical zeitgeist.

Q : But Phil, is it true?

That's the real question. What would it mean for this theory to be true? Is it a scientifically testable hypothesis? Well, it's a theory about a broad political / economic system. It's only testable in the same way that "we live in a state of capitalism" or "we are a democracy" or "we have freedom" are testable. There are social symptoms : patterns of behaviour, institutions, legal concepts, and widely accepted narratives etc. which we take to indicate we are living in a democratic, capitalist economy and have a lot of freedom. There are counter-examples to all these symptoms : government restrictions on trade, a royal family and hereditory peers (in the UK), inherited wealth and status which is still looked-up to by some, departments of Homeland Security and MI5. Corruption. Crime. Conspiracy. Lack of freedom because of lack of opportunity.

These falsifying observations kill "capitalism", "democracy" and "freedom" as strict scientific hypotheses. Yet as models, we keep them.

Secondly, the claim is that this is a coming "trend". Such claims are doubly dangerous. Trends are infamously unscientific beasts (though see OnHistoricism for my caveat) and if you claim to be identifying a trend at it's inception you are going to find the majority of observations against it. OTOH a critique like this (is http://www.computerweekly.com/Article113248.htm) is) clearly protesting too much when it complains that Bard and Soderqvist are mad to assume netocracy has replaced capitalism after only 8 years of the web when capitalism is still supplanting feudalism after 800. I'm pretty sure they make no such claim. And netocracy may well take another thousand years to become as unquestionably obvious as capitalism is to us.

Is it true? I dunno. Might be. Is it worth taking a punt on and adding to our stock of explanatory models of the social world? Yeah.

It's about symptoms such as patterns of behaviour, institutions, legal concepts and widely accepted narratives.

First, as a theory it does a good job of subsuming / connecting with other prominent InformationAge theories. TheAttentionEconomy is an interesting way of looking at the "economy for information / knowledge" which has several attractive explanatory features : it can explain why people give information and knowledge away (and therefore subsumes EricRaymond's theory of TheFreeSoftwarePhenomenon). It explains why famous people get paid so much to appear in adverts and other bits of the economics of celebrity. The attention economy is a good story to tell ourselves about what's going on.

And the attention economy slots right into the theory of netocracy. Essentially it's half of the theory of netocracy. That part corresponding to "exploitation" : turning social connections and attention into material wealth. Any observations we make of the increase in attention economy activity are also increases in netocracy activity, and so symptoms of that.

Institutions. Remember Netocracy came out before the world went crazy for RyzeNetworking / Friendster / TribeNet / Orkut and all the other YASNS and the subsequent boom in SocialSoftware thinking. But these are all institutions to explicitly respresent (and leverage) social connections. It's hard to believe that the book doesn't mention this phenomenon. Nevertheless, the arrival of these institutions is absolutely in line with the theory.

to be continued ...

Isn't it just more capitalism?

(Moved from FeudalismCapitalismInformationalism)

A question for those seeing NetoCracy coming: can it really work as an alternative and not a subsidiary system to capitalism?

The argument that Informationalism really supplants Capitalism has two parts.

The first is an analogy with the transformation from Feudalism to Capitalism. It's pointed out that the transition was not catastrophic, but had some gradation. The Feudal form of wealth, ownership of land and it's produce, retained it's value into the capitalist epoch.

But it's importance shrank relative to the importance of other wealth - agriculture is now calculated at around 4% of the economy of industrial societies -; and it flowed easily towards owners of the new wealth. Typically, families with feudal titles to land, often ended up selling the land to capitalists. And often out of need. Their wealth, and the power it brought, was unequal to the wealth of the capitalists.

The second is by illustrative case studies (or thought experiments) of how this new Informationalist wealth can induce similar flows.

For Goldhaber (TheAttentionEconomy) these case studies include celebrity actors, sportsmen and women, models etc. who can often earn large amounts of money for neither working nor manipulating capital, but by selling on the attention they have; by, for example, promoting a product in an advert, or appearing at a party.

The Netocratic equivalents might be the freelance journalist who gets employed to make a television series because her contact book has a large number of people the producer would like to have interviewed in the program. Or as in the exploitation / imploitation example, knowing the right person may mean an introduction to a great beach, which you then exploit by buying a share in a bar/restaurant and promoting more widely.

However, these examples mean very little without the context of the larger claim that the importance of this Informational wealth (Attention or connections) will overtake the importance of capital.

There are problems with this claim. How can we test it without a metric? (Measuring it in money would be like trying to measure capitalist wealth in acres.)

We can look for symptoms, as people start to perceive the pattern : for example, an increasing recognition among the young that they'd rather be famous than rich; a desire to work in the media and other industries that promise fame; a willingness to work, unpaid, on projects which bring them attention or contacts (FreeSoftware, TheAgeOfAmateurs); increasing use of imploitation rather than exploitation strategies; conflict between groups best described as networks and traditional institutions of cpaitalism (companies and nation states)

I think it's clear no one is claiming that this overtaking has happened yet; but all these symptoms are currently exhibited.

That hasn't answered the question ... so it shows an Informationalism becoming prominent, but why isn't this just PART OF capitalism?

What is it for an economic pattern to replace rather than suppliment something? This must return to the analogy with Feudalism - Capitalism transition. Feudalism didn't entirely go away. In some parts of the world it's still strong. There still is inheritance of property within families. We can see modern property rights as some kind of continuation of feudal land rights. So why don't we say that all this economic activity based on buying and selling stuff is just feudalism supplimented?

I guess there are two responses :

Anyone up for suggesting the real demarcating criteria between the feudalism and capitalism?

One discussion of transition between feudalism and capitalism here : http://slash.autonomedia.org/analysis/03/04/03/1353215.shtml

Isn't this the old "elite"?

Could it not be that the elite, the ruling classes etc? Always had a netocratic, "old boy's network", component? Isn't it also the case that there was a shadow network of intelligentsia, artists, journalists, minor politicians or political activists, minor aristocracy and celebrity? These people have operated netocracy and lived by its rules forever. But they don't rise above a small subset of capitalist society. It's certainly not the case that everyone will fall into this economic mode?

Don't like it

NetoCracy is the transition towards a world where network, connection, attention power starts to be more important than rights of participation guaranteed by an institution like TheNationState.

A world without rights, constitutions or citizens.

It's attractive because networks are fun. And because hierarchies are oppressive and slow. And because we all hope to become succesful netocrats.

But ...

NetoCracy denies the fundamental notion of rights of access. It denies aspirations towards inclusivity or egalitarianism. So lets have a hub for stories and criticisms of it.


How do we make a NetocraticPolitics?


Netocracy or netarchy

Comment by Michel Bauwens, http://integralvisioning.org/article.php?story=p2ptheory1

I've read Bard's book and found it to be underwhelming. Of course there are people at the 'nodes' of information networks, who may have some influence, but have they coalesced as a class, do they really own and control the world.

I find the hypothesis of 'cognitive capitalism' more likely. It says that we still live in a capitalist society, BUT, that it now has new rules, it is focused on the accumulation of information assets. A proof would be of how so many companies are divesting from their physical assets, focusing on their core competences and knowledge, and protecting them through IP and patents. This hypothesis explains both the sameness and difference of the current situation. It has been mostly advance by French-Italian thinkers around the magazine Multitudes. Names are Carlo Vercellone, Maurizio Lazzarato, Yann-Moulier Boutang, etc..

Another twist comes from Mackenzie Wark, and his vectoralist hypothesis. If the key value is now immaterial, it is produced by a 'hacker class' (i.e. knowledge workers), but for their use value to be realised as exchange value, they need information vectors, and these are owned by a new type of dominant capitalists, the vectoralists.

I've added my own twist in my manuscript, see url above, on peer to peer theory. I see P2P as the relational dynamic at work in distributed networks, creating peer production, peer governance and new common-property regimes, which in part support capitalism (as its informational and collaborative infrastructure), but also in part transcends it, and gives hope for a new social order. In my opinion, there is a new wave of for-profit entreprises that neither thrives on owning IP assets (the cc hypothesis) nor owns the vectors (Wark), but enables and exploits the new participative networks. Think eBay, Google, etc.. I've called them netarchists to distinguish them from Bard's concept.

Michel Bauwens, michelsub2003@yahoo.com


Sp!ked criticise blogeoisie : [Sp!ked http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/00000006DDA4.htm Sp!ked online on the "blogeoisie"] - "This isn't about not liking blogs. It's about not liking unaccountable concentrations of influence" -- SebPaquet


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