Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Circle the Herd!

Years ago, around the 1880s to 1890s (and perhaps a little bit beyond) Unions such as the Knights of Labour struggled to give the working man a chair in the board of their company.

The logic was that management at the upper levels was not profoundly affected by their own decisions, as evidenced by Enron. When things go bad due to poor CEOs, the Unions reasoned, the people who really get the shaft are the employees and wage slaves. They are the ones who lose the jobs when the company has to cut corners. And because of this fact, don't they deserve at least a chair in the room when these momentous decisions are being laid?

The problem was that this was a pipe dream for numerous reasons. The first was that the layoffs really hit into the portion of the company which was easily replaceable. If I fire ten high school drop outs, I can hire ten more at the drop of a hat. The workers had no real leverage to exercise against the company in question, since if you didn't like it, you were shown the door where you would see a line coming in waiting to take your position.

Then there was the other more emotional level, which was that there was no way those plebes are going to butt into our affairs. Honestly. Do you really think the CEO of GM is going to listen to his factories when he has to cut jobs due to the fact that no one wants his Suburbans? Look out for number one, after all. Plus you then have a conflict of interests, since the Board is trying to hold a business together while the workers want decent pay against inflation and some semblance of job security. It was doomed to fail.

And that's why you see the rise of Unions that abandoned this ideal. It was a compromise between an idealistic long term goal (the chair in the board) versus a realistic short term (pay raise). It also helped that many Unions switched to more skilled and less easily replaced trades, such as police or screen writers. People who have a skill you can't reproduce with any old Joe, Jack, and Jane.

Of course, some may argue this reduces creativity since you're going to see the same old, same old, from the schools and masters who train the apprentices. This isn't entirely the fault of Unions. The counter argument itself is something of an American dream, that to be properly healthy you need to give everyone a chance. Who knows, you might have someone who single handed builds a multi billion dollar Fortune 50 company. That we could have a Bill Gates (a high school drop-out, I believe) on our hands if we only looked beyond the pale.

Of course, you could also point out that such people have came and went and made their mark. We went everyone to be able to do it, though. Everyone including ourselves. And there is nothing wrong with that, because it's perfectly human to want to succeed and to want to see others succeed. I don't think anyone takes delight in lording over the homeless that you can afford to pay rent and have a roof over your head. The human thing is to try to help them out, give them a leg up.

As with the chair on the board, however, this is an unattainable ideal. There will always be not enough for everyone not matter how hard you try to share the wealth. And if you do succeed it's not sustainable because someone will try to take advantage. Someone will try to take more than their fair share, and others will follow his or her example in a desire to get ahead and you end up back where you started.

Unions look out for number one: themselves. Because if they went and tried to cover everyone, as history proved, they get nowhere. And to those who have the talent but just don't have the credentials (since Unions force membership, and of course the company itself likes to have some evidence you really know your stuff), it's an up hill battle. Those who manage, though, truly shine. One could say it's a form of natural selection.

Prokofy is horrified that the tech industry, video games specifically, displays similar solidarity. That they always seem to circle the wagons, especially when someone (in this case a journalist) challenges them and they perceive it as an attack. And that is where we see this trend towards unionism. They will naturally defend any of their own. I am not being paranoid, either. It may not be conscience, but it's similar to meme propagation.

Meme propagation isn't evil. It just is. It's a trait that slowly evolved in humans, because coordination with your mates is key and if you can't see eye to eye with them, you're going to be picked off by some saber toothed cat. And some memes (thoughts) are very good. For instance, I don't think anyone would argue that spreading democracy is a bad thing. I don't think anyone would debate whether compassion should be eradicated. Memes just... are. The idea of memes isn't good or bad, it's just a fact of life that people will ingrain themselves with whatever seems to be popular at the moment. For these people in technology, they are just defending what they think are destructive memes.

The problem is zealotry. It seems that people cannot compromise. Perhaps, like Unions, in the future there will come to be some middle ground. But these people, and those that push back, are seeing this false dichotomy of 'us versus them'. 'We're always the good guys, that other guy is nuts'. I think Dawkins dabbled into this idea that memes themselves follow a kind of evolution, where the information will fight to survive. And I suppose we can see that kind of thinking here. These people have invested time and money into it, and to watch it die is a blow to be sure.

What annoys me is the condescending attitudes of all parties. In the above mentioned case, tech blogs were calling for the journalist to essentially zombify journalism. Their conditions were an apology and a redo (like the past can be reset, heh) with a set of questions predetermined and set boundaries for ad libbing. In essence, they want to deny the very nature of journalism.

At its heart, journalism is investigating the stories behind the news. It is NOT what you usually see on ABC or NBC or CNN. That is called reporting the news, in fact, it used to be called reading the news. That isn't really journalism to me. True journalism isn't satisfied with the press release, whereas news reading would. Journalists are public and civilian detectives. These days, they have drifted into sensationalism, but the heart is in the right place. Some of the best journalism have found stories that have informed and helped the public effect change that otherwise would never have happened. This is not to say it's always good and pure, sometimes it has been detrimental and even harmed society. But nothing is ever black and white, and on the whole journalism is a good thing. It's even a vital rating in the United Nations as an indication of a healthy, good, and free nation by measuring the amount of freedom the press has.

Because of its nature as a meme intruder, those under fire naturally fire back. This is what we are witnessing here. The industry and its followers are fighting back at an attack. And their return fire is to make demands, OR ELSE. The question that follows is what exactly they are threatening. They are fighting back by passing word around and smearing and skewing the incident. The actual original cause of this incident was rather stupid in hindsight, but it was an intruder, it must be destroyed. This person, and what she represents, is a danger that must be stopped according to them.

And that makes me sad, that they cannot discuss the actual question, but instead attack the messenger. You would think if it was a stupid and easy question, it could be easily answered. I can think of a few instances where a very probing question could be easily answered by those under the gun. Why assault when you can defuse? It's ridiculous on so many levels. If the question warranted the level of disdain as they would have you believe, then what exactly is the big fuss? Wouldn't the person's acts speak for themselves as a reporter and earn them a reputation that isn't so nice? One can debate up and down the pros and cons of Michael Moore, but you cannot deny his films have sparked debates and new views on issues that previously were more or less swept under the rug and forced the 'other side' to reexamine and reinforce their arguments, if they had any.

Nothing is black and white. And as I have said, the initial question was fairly lame. But the response was worse. And the response will probably provoke more examination. Such is journalism, that when one of their own is attacked the rest circle like sharks.

Or nothing may happen at all. This kind of antagonism between older and newer media isn't exactly new. But what the internet has provided is a voice for everyone to weigh in on it. When television supplemented the radio, consumers really didn't have a say except in purchasing (in buying either a radio or a tv, which would reinforce the media of whichever). Now, on the internet, we are encountering something of a true democracy where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, can voice their opinion and force memes and propagate them.

The problem in democracy is noise ratios. Take the United States. Look at the electoral college. In order to really force a change, one has to convince the entire district to follow whatever it is you're pushing. You cut out all kinds of fringe groups such as complete fascists or communists or anarchists, because those groups would really destroy the system, and what you get is a compromise between many things. You really have to campaign and think through a bill or a candidate, to determine the best for the most amount of people. There is a call to abolish the electoral college and have direct democracy. This would never work that well, for the noise ratio would be too great. It would cause division and less thought, since you now are just considering the base majority. And people can be insanely stupid. Direct Democracy, like Socialism, is a great idea in theory. Too bad people just can't keep it.

The internet is kind of proving the point. Ron Paul is an internet super star. If I turned and trashed Ron Paul on this blog, I would get nine million angry people wishing me hot fiery death. Yet, despite this passion and seeming majority, Ron Paul gets at most seven to five percent of the vote, which is about typical for a third party candidate of sorts. Ron Paul and his somewhat extreme ideals just do not resonate with the interests of districts and states overall. Ron Paul garners on the internet a greater share of supporters than McCain, Hillary, or Obama combined. According to the internet, he should be president.

But that is not what every district wants. Some of his ideas would cause some serious hurt to the economy. Bringing back the gold standard unleashes a hilarious can of worms. You either will instantly render lots of dollars worthless or cause high inflation as prices adjust for too much money being backed by too little gold. Gold itself is traded on the market just like the dollar, so I don't understand the argument that it would stabilize the dollar. There are reasons, you see, why things happen, and the abandonment of the gold standard is one of them. People do not want the consequences. Each district overall does not vote for Ron Paul. He may have the majority of supporters but in each district they sound off that they do NOT want his revolution. And so we come to today. By the way, I'm assuming he has a majority as that is what some folks on the internet would have you believe. The fact that he isn't getting back large returns is due to conspiracies, I am told.

There is no filter on the internet to help you determine who and who isn't credible. And the internet itself isn't exactly verifiable. I could make ninety blogs which all agree with me and to an outside observer it would seem I really do have ninety supporters. Hell, you can see this with campbots. Stores boost traffic, and people trawling for stores cannot see if it's due to camping or not. Some bots are clever and not easy to find which makes it much more difficult.

And this leads to a culture of suspicion among those who don't hold the mainstream internet values and try to cut the bullshit, and even to some degree those in the internet culture. Everything is suspect. You see conspiracies everywhere and you can never be sure if the person on the other end is really keeping his word or not. I used to get this all the time, where someone would believe that I had scripted my saxophone to spy on this, or that I would steal it back somehow. People, especially on the Herald, trash trust based business such as the (admittedly stupid) meta card idea and banks.

We have this culture of suspicion. And that is where we then encounter this unionism style attitude and the defensive attitude that follows. When you do hit someone who agrees with you, you defend them unto death. Or if you hit someone who disagrees, who's to know it's not a troll trying to incite an argument? The very freedom of which the internet is so proud is a double edged sword. There are reasons why some limits to freedom are imposed. They are a necessary evil, which in real life serve to protect the greater good (like the fire in a movie theater clause in the first amendment). SL, and virtual worlds and games in general, is experiencing the growing pains as people bringing this common sense idea into a formerly lawless and anarchic meme land.

If only there could be compromise.

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