Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Crowd Of Monopolists


 - I keep reading about companies working on ways to revive the publishing industry.
- Do they talk about corporate ownership, six companies that own 90% of all cable, broadcast television, magazines, radio stations?
- No. They talk about collecting personal information, then sending out personalized products.
- How would that solve the problem?
- The publishers would stop producing the cheapest, crudest products that people could be persuaded to accept.
- Wouldn't they still be producing cheap and crude products within the separate categories?
- How?
- Say I've been observed listening to rock and classical music, and the internet publisher sends me rock music and classical, and maybe them together in the same piece of music. I'm not being exposed to kinds of things I don't already know I like. And like before, the publishers will look for the best sellers within each category to economize on expense and maximize profits.
- But at least people can now get known in those sub-categories. They couldn't before the music and publishing businesses disintegrated.
- Each sub category is enclosed in its own bubble. And will begin to enclose us within the bubbles too.
- You have to explain that.
- When we write music, paint a picture, we start with our usual ways of stringing notes and sweeping the brush, habits we've developed in our individual experience. If the results are good, we let ourselves continue going the same way, when not, we see what happens when other ways, other habits we've developed are given a chance. When we do science, we experiment with what happens with the habits the world has of doing things, we try to discover laws, which means discover what happens when one habit of the world is put into relation with another. Ok?
- Yes.
- In our own lives, the habits we give a chance to are put into relation to all our other habits, in some degree or another. While I speak to you now, choosing my words, I am going on with all my other habits without reconsideration, how I'm talking, what I expect from talking, how much effort I'll invest, everything including the habits of unconscious basic continuous maintenance of my body. When we do science, we can choose any two habits of the world and try to put them in relation. We don't take our past habits with us into the new experiment.
- Physicists do, don't they? When they try to take all past science with them and discover how to unify gravitation and electromagnetism and strong and weak forces and the rest of them.
- Rest of them is right. No matter how much of the world you put into relation to itself, each part will be like one of our habits in relation to the others. We have no knowledge of what goes on within us, how our habits affect each other, and we have no knowledge of how in nature one law affects another. All we can do is pile up laws one on top of the other.
- And?
- And in our personal lives we do the piling on the basis of our own experience, testing each new choice by the result it has on the progress of our lives. In science there is no fixed path. We could choose to begin anywhere, we look at this habit of the world, then that. The beginnings are arbitrary, and then we see what works best in establishing more relations. The more tightly connected the laws the better, the fewer the laws the better, because fewer laws means fewer to be put in relation to each other. But in our personal lives neither reduction is an absolute advantage. It depends on circumstances whether we'll be better off loose with our habits, or able to call upon a large range of habits.
- Actually, I see where you are going with this.
- Then take over.
- The internet publishers give you your rock and classical music, gives other people their jazz and rock and roll, everybody together gets everything in the world, laws on top of laws.
- And remember, there are no communications between our habits, brush stroke does not know word choice.
- Our rock 'n' roller doesn't know our punk rocker.
- Being fed specialized content, produced and selected for our feeding by a scientific corporation: this is different from individuals with different habits developing new habits in doing things with each other.
- Because both the rockers bring to their meeting their whole lives of habits.
- Yes. Their own personal history accounts for the habits they have now, the new shared history accounts for the new development. Nothing is arbitrary.
- So giving everyone what the internet can discover they already like is literally science: the simplest possible laws of relation will be discovered between all those so identified, and a product produced that satisfies most efficiently those requirements, like the simplest most elegant theory of how nature works.
- And that is where we started, the garbage we are getting now from our publishers.
- What do we do about it?
- We either start over with small communities or we change the technology.
- Change the technology how?
- At the moment the technology feeds us more of what we are. When we meet others fed on a different diet, we perform an experiment, pile law upon law, see if any relation is discovered. If there is, it is because the over- and under-developed parts of themselves produced by unbalanced feeding complement each other. But keep in mind, there is no real connection between laws, between habits. Human beings caught up in such a system remain strangers to each other, and become strangers to themselves, because they are allowed to express only those specialized habits that complement other people's specialized habits.
- Yes, yes, I know that story. Alienation, specialization of labor. What can be done about it?
- Putting people into class, describing them by laws, sending everyone in the same class all the same products keeps people alienated and specialized. Right now the internet delivers things and information. It instead could send people to each other for the purpose of making things with each other. We change out of our specializations when we do things together. When we look for new ways of doing things we can use our whole selves. We call upon our individual experience, we lose our sense of most of ourselves being wasted. Let's say I want to build a school. The internet site sends people to me who it determines, on the basis of the personal information already collected, might want to work with me, it delivers documents, case studies to me that may be useful in building my school.
- I'm thinking about what you said earlier. We're being trained to show ourselves to each other like we're different physical laws, and through experiment the relations between different laws are discovered, and people put in contact with each other. All of us are collected together in society like Einstein's one great unified field theory. For what purpose? Science is beautiful for its own sake, and it gives us technology. This is ugly. We're people, not laws. We're alienated from others, from ourselves.
- But what the publishing companies are doing also has its technology, economic technology that makes money.
- We don't have to be ruled by money.*


- Monopoly. It seems almost mystical in its power. Where does it come from? Publishers already had established their monopolies before the internet. The difference is now the internet has got us all competing to become monopolists too.
- And publishers profit both by our failures and success at the game of monopoly.
- How do they profit from failure?
- The most popular Youtube video manages to form a crowd of people transmitting one to the other the message, "take a look at this", popularity increasing popularity. Only the producer of the most popular video makes money, like only the writer of the best seller makes money. Youtube is a marketplace for would be monopolists. But people don't use Facebook to establish monopolies, rather to make the best of their lives as failures to become monopolists. Facebook is a research tool used to come up with the laws relating all the different kinds of lives people have forced themselves into in the competition for monopoly.
- We try to form monopolies, for however short a time, dig a channel of communication, get everyone talking about us and buy what we have to sell. When we fail we, the collection of failures, organize ourselves to feel more comfortable.
- Exactly.
- And the internet publishers now profit from the failures as they already profited from the successes. They collect information about the categories, those bits and pieces of crowd coalescence people trap themselves within by their failed attempts to become monopolists. Products are made specially for members of those categories, and the publishers sell to advertisers information about and access to the self-categorizing failed monopolists. But the social networks are not crowds.
- They are bodies of complementary parts.
- And this happens spontaneously, through everyone trying to win the game of monopoly?
- Through everyone trying to profit from the movement of a crowd.
- Complex organized society results from numbers of individuals trying to profit from crowd behavior. Some succeed in forming monopolies, the rest try to recover from their failure to form monopolies. And the publishers who used to profit only by the successful monopolists now profit from both the successful and failed monopolists.
- Yes.
- How did they figure it out?
- You mean, how did they get everyone to want to become monopolists?
- Yes. How did they manage it?
- By making it impossible to live any other way.
- How?
- Progressively, as a crowd is formed. One person pushes another who inadvertently pushes another who inadvertently passes on the movement to another.... People specialized by their attempts at monopoly, or by their attempts to form relations with other failed specialized monopoly seekers, push hard against those who want to live lives as individuals. The surviving individuals can't easily find friends or make a living, they are attracted by a way out offered by the chance of winning the lottery, being the successful monopolist, or as losers in the game of monopoly being able to at least to get along and stay alive.

Further Reading:
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
How To Read Plato's Republic


- There's one more thing we have to say about monopoly.
- What?
- Monopoly is the product of a crowd. For us to have monopolies first we have to be a crowd. Do you know how crowds are made?
- How?
- By frightening people.
- Fear creates crowds, crowds lead to monopolies.
- A monopoly gets control of what the crowd wants. Predicts and profits from its flight.
- Then monopolies will deliberately create fear. That's why they buy up means of communication.
- They monopolize communication, and use communication monopolies to create more monopolies.
- If this is right, then our social networks should be creating fear, and then calming fear with fewer but more pervasive monopolizing products.
- Do you see that happening?
- Yes. But we don't seem to be acting like a crowd.
- Because we're all trying to be monopolists.
- Which the monopolists...
- ... the successful monopolists**
- ... are frightening us
- ... the failures
- ... into doing.
- We're a crowd of monopolists.


- Can you give me an example of how monopolies create fear?
- A New Yorker article published this week argues that empathy is unreliable and shouldn't be the basis of our decision making: We care more about one little child suffering from a hurt finger next door than one million dying of starvation on another continent. Do you see the problem?
- Not really.
- It's assumed that empathy must operate like the corporate monopoly owned New Yorker itself, a social network, or Youtube celebrity. If empathy really is good it should be extendable indefinitely and comprehensively like a monopoly.
- And that's wrong?
- Absolutely! We empathize with those we know, who are usually those close to us.
- Still the article seems to be right, we don't care equally about everyone.
- The only reason we think we should is the habit of thinking in monopolistic terms. Individuals in their own worlds act with sympathy. Do you know what really is scary about the article?
- What?
- It tells us our monopolies - the interest groups which bribe the government, the monopolies of communication, the monopolies of business, all have the same simple logic, and the logic excludes sympathy. The message is, give up hope the tyranny of monopoly will ever be softened. It's only going to get worse.

* "Over the past 20 years, corporate profits have quadrupled while the corporate tax rate has dropped by half." (from: We’re Living In An Ayn Rand Economy)
"Conservatives believe that enriching individuals will eventually enrich society, and that government should not get in the way of the process. This is what happens as a result:
(1) The tax loss from one scheming businessman could have paid the salaries of 30,000 nurses. The lack of regulation in the financial industry allowed hedge fund manager John Paulson to conspire with Goldman Sachs in a plan to create packages of risky subprime mortgages and then short-sell (bet against) the sure-to-fail financial instruments. The ploy paid him $3.7 billion. Deregulation in the tax code allowed him to call his income “carried interest,” which is taxed at a 15% rate. More deregulation allowed him to defer his profits indefinitely.The lost taxes of $1.3 billion (35% of $3.7 billion) could have paid the salaries of 30,000 LPNs, 10 nurses for every county in the United States. Instead, one clever businessman took it all.
(2) The 10 richest Americans made enough money last year to feed every hungry person on earth for a year. The richest 10 Americans increased their wealth by over $50 billion in one year. That’s enough, according to 2008 estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN’s World Food Program, to feed the 870 million people in the world who are lacking sufficient food." (from 5 Ways Corporate Greed Is Bankrupting America)

** The most common management strategy for large companies is to increase the value of their stock by any means, and the result is the salaries of executives increase - they're tied to success in increasing stock price - and a steady decrease in productivity: now 1% or less "return on money invested" is normal, whereas businesses, small or large, operating for the purpose of making good products or providing good services have returns on investment of 20% or 30%. The corporate managers, making more money for themselves than at any time in history, know and are unconcerned. Their job is to establish monopolies and they are doing it: high stock price reflects confidence, confidence is based on monopoly status.
"If free enterprise becomes a proselytizing holy cause, it will be a sign that its workability and advantages have ceased to be self-evident."(Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, 1951)