Below are the images and text of a Pecha Kucha talk I gave in Champaign, IL. The Pecha Kucha format is 20 slides x 20 seconds per slide. Hopefully the video will be online within a few months.
You are an information portal. Information enters through your senses, like your ears and eyes, and exits through your expressions, like your voice, your drawing, your writing, and your movements.
In order for culture to stay alive, we have to be open, or permeable. According to Wikipedia, Permeance is “the degree to which a material admits a flow of matter or energy.” We are the material through which information flows.
It’s through this flow that culture stays alive and we stay connected to each other. Ideas flow in, and they flow out, of each of us. Ideas change a little as they go along; this is known as evolution, progress, or innovation.
But thanks to Copyright, we live in a world where some information goes in, but cannot legally come out.
Often I hear people engaged in creative pursuits ask, “Am I allowed to use this? I don’t want to get in trouble.”
In our Copyright regime, “trouble” may include lawsuits, huge fines, and even jail. ”Trouble” means violence. ”Trouble” has shut down many a creative enterprise. So the threat of “trouble” dictates our choices about what we express.
Copyright activates our internal censors. Internal censorship is the enemy of creativity; it halts expression before it can begin. The question, “am I allowed to use this?” indicates the asker has surrendered internal authority to lawyers, legislators, and corporations.
This phenomenon is called Permission Culture. Whenever we censor our expression, we close a little more and information flows a little less. The less information flows, the more it stagnates. This is known as chilling effects.
I have asked myself: did I ever consent to letting “Permission Culture” into my brain? Why am I complying with censorship? How much choice do I really have about what information goes in and comes out of me?
The answer is: I have some choice regarding what I expose myself to, and what I express, but not total control. I can choose whether to watch mainstream media, for example. And I can choose what information to pass along.
But to be in the world, and to be open, means all kinds of things can and do get in that are beyond my control. I don’t get to choose what goes in based on its copyright status. In fact proprietary images and sounds are the most aggressively rammed into our heads. For example:
“Have a holly jolly Christmas, It’s the best time of the year “I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer “Have a holly jolly Christmas, And when you walk down the street “Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet!”
I hate Christmas music. But because I live in the U.S., and need to leave the house even in the months of November and December, I can’t NOT hear it. It goes right through my earholes and into my brain, where it plays over and over ad nauseum.
Here are some of the corporations I could “get in trouble with” for sharing that song and clip in public. I wasn’t consulted by them before having their so-called “intellectual property” blasted into my head as a child, so I didn’t ask their permission to put it in my slide show.
Copyright is automatic and there’s no way to opt out. But you can add a license granting some of the permissions copyright automatically takes away. Creative Commons, the most widespread brand of license, allows its users to lift various restrictions of copyright one at a time.
The problem with licenses is that they’re based on copyright law. The same threat of violence behind copyright is behind alternative licenses too. Licenses actually reinforce the mechanism of copyright. Everyone still needs to seek permission – it’s just that they get it a little more often.
Like copyright itself, licenses are often too complex for most people to understand. So licenses have the unfortunate effect of encouraging people to pay even MORE attention to copyright, which gives even more authority to that inner censor. And who let that censor into our heads in the first place?
Although I use Free licenses and would appreciate meaningful copyright reform, licenses and laws aren’t the solution. The solution is more and more people just ignoring copyright altogether. I want to be one of those people.
A few years ago I declared sovereignty over my own head. Freedom of Speech begins at home. Censorship and “trouble” still exist outside my head, and that’s where they’ll stay – OUTSIDE my head. I’m not going to assist bad laws and media corporations by setting up an outpost for them in my own mind.
I no longer favor or reject works based on their copyright status. Ideas aren’t good or bad because of what licenses people slap on them. I just relate to the ideas themselves now, not the laws surrounding them. And I try to express myself the same way.
Like millions of others who don’t give a rat’s ass about copyright, I hope you join me. Make Art, Not Law.
Your machines are amazing. There is so much I could do with one! I could render a vector-based animated movie, convert each frame into a simple embroidery file, and sew out a frame at a time as a quilt. It would be amazing. I want to do that so much! And your domestic embroidery machines could do it. They are reasonably priced – a few thousand dollars is quite reasonable for a machine that can do that, and many are priced even lower. Such potential! The artist in me is drooling.
But the software. For some reason you sell software for insanely high prices. All I need is software that converts common vector formats (like .eps or .ai) to an embroidery file, and allows me to size it to fit your hoops, and get it into your machine.
To do that would cost me a minimum of $900*. And is Windoze only. Brother’s PE Design NEXT (which is the minimal “level” of software I’d need for my simple vector-to-stitches conversion) appears to cost about $1,000. But I’m not sure – Brother’s web site doesn’t say, and they don’t offer it for sale online, only through “dealers.”
I understand it costs money to develop software for your machines. It also costs money to develop the machines. That’s why you sell the machines. Here’s a tip: The more useful your machines are, the more you will sell! Under the current regime of ridiculous embroidery software prices, you are selling fewer machines. I am not buying your potentially amazing machines because of the software issue. And I really really want an embroidery machine and would be happy to pay many thousands of dollars for one. I’m a ready and eager customer! But no sale.
I would buy one if I could design my own stuff for it.
Imagine a sewing machine that shipped with a limited set of licensed Disney® dress patterns, with a few more online you could download for $5 to $20 each. But sewing your own dress pattern would require expensive proprietary software, closed-source of course so it can’t be improved or debugged or customized. Or how about a sewing machine that uses only proprietary fabric? Which the sewing machine company has a monopoly on, so they sell it for $500 a yard? Sewing machines are popular and diverse because fabric is inexpensive, widely available, and can be used in any machine. The cheaper fabric is, the more sewing machines sell. Expensive proprietary fabric would mean fewer machines would sell. But that is exactly the idiotic business model embroidery machine makers have locked themselves into.
The more useful your machines are, the more you will sell!
Sewing machines are great because you can sew anything with them. Computers are great because you can make anything with them. Computers+automated embroidery machines would be great if you could embroider anything with them, but you can’t. Embroidery software for my Mac is $2,299!
Functional, accessible software makes your machines more valuable. Expensive, restricted software makes them useless.
Let me repeat: functional, accessible software makes your machines more valuable. Expensive, restricted software makes them useless. Which is a pity because they have so much potential.
*P.S. Yes I know there is Embird, which would “only” cost me $309 ($164 basic module + $145 font engine, to convert vector files) to be minimally useful for me (maybe – I can’t even be sure of that). Plus the cost of a PC (which isn’t actually that much because PC manufacturers, unlike embroidery machine manufacturers, know the value of their product increases the more useful it is, and so they encourage lots of software and even support Free Software so they sell lots of PCs, thus driving the price down further even while their manufacturers’ profits increase – think about that!) But Embird only converts EMF, WMF and CMX vector formats, so I’d need yet another program to convert a .eps sequence (or .ai or .swf) first.
QCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley’s interview with at Baixa Cultura, conducted by email with journalist and photographer André Solnik. The English below is the original; Baixa Cultura translated Nina’s answers.
1. When your interest on free culture has begun?
For a long time I thought copyright terms were too long and the law could use reform, but I didn’t really understand Free Culture until October 2008, after months on the film festival circuit with my then-illegal feature Sita Sings the Blues. Free Culture was too audacious a concept for me to think about clearly until then. One morning I finally got it — freeing my work would be better for the work — and I spent the next half-year preparing for a Free, legal release of SSTB. That finally happened in March 2009, when I finally cleared all the necessary (and bullshit) licenses at a cost of about $70,000 to myself.
2. Tell me in short why artists should free their work. Is it a good choice for both renowned and new artists?
Why should you Free your work? To make it as easy as possible for people to share your work — as easy as possible for your work to reach eyeballs and ears and minds — to reach an audience. And to make it as easy as possible for audience support — including money — to reach you…. Copy restrictionsplace a barrier between you, the artist, and most forms of support. By removing the barriers of copyright, you make it possible to receive money and other kinds of support from your audience, both directly and through distributors, thereby increasing your chances of success.
3. Creative Commons has recently released the final draft of the version 4.0 of its licenses. What changes would you like to see? Do you think CC should keep on supporting the nonfree licenses?
Yes, CC should stop supporting the non-free licenses. What kind of “commons” is that?
4. Although they are probably the most known alternatives to more restrictive ones, they still remain unpopular compared to the “all rights reserved“. Why is that? Do you reckon people get confused by the many possibilities given by the CC licenses?
Most people who use CC licenses don’t understand what the different licenses mean; they just call all of them “Creative Commons” as if that means anything. CC’s modular system was a good idea, I see it as an experiment that was worth doing. But the results are in: it didn’t work. What we have now are a mess of incompatible licenses, most of which fail to contribute to any real “commons,” and an increase of confusion and misinformation.
You can’t really blame Creative Commons though — the problem is copyright law. Nothing can fix it at this point. Even CC-0, a valorous attempt to opt out of copyright, doesn’t work in practice, as my experience with the Film Board of Canada showed — even after placing SSTB under CC-0, their lawyers refused to accept it was really Public Domain, and made me sign a release anyway, just to allow one of their filmmakers to refer to it. I will be saddled forever with permissions paperwork even with CC-0. I’ll probably keep using CC-0, of course, but I have no expectation it will work as it’s supposed to.
5. The BY-NC-SA license, although nonfree, it’s pretty popular. Why do you think so? What are the main issues about licensing a work using it?
People are high-minded when they choose the -NC restriction, but it accomplishes exactly the opposite of their ideals. They want to “protect” their works from abusive exploitation from big corporate players. They don’t realize those big corporate players LOVE the -NC clause, because it’s a commercial monopoly. Big corporate players are all set up to deal with commercial monopolies: they have licensing departments and lawyers. It’s the big corporate players who can afford to license your -NC works. It’s your peers, small players with no legal departments and limited resources, who can’t. The -NC clause screws over your fellow artists and small players, while favoring big corporations.
The way to avoid abusive exploitation is to use CC-BY-SA, a Share-Alike license without the -NC restriction. This allows your peers to use the work without fear, as long as they keep it Free-as-in-Freedom. Big corporate monopoly players, however, are unwilling to release anything Freely: if they want to use your work, they’ll have to negotiate a waiver of the -SA clause. For this they will pay money. It works like a regular licensing deal: for $X you waive the -SA restriction and allow them to re-use the work without contributing to the community. I have had many corporate licensors offer me such contracts, although I didn’t sign any because I was such a Free license booster.
The only reason BY-NC-SA is popular is because people really haven’t thought it through.
6. Money seems to be one of the main worries artists have when they hear someone saying “free your work“. Is this “fear“ justified? Have you recovered all the money spent in the making of Sita Sings the Blues?
7. You have recently announced that SSTB is now in the public domain. Although now you are finally free of burocracy envolving copyright stuff and this action could help your movie to have more visibility, on the other side it could favour restricted modifications of your work (e.g.: a book inspired by SSTB released under “all rights reserved“). How do you weigh these two sides?
Eh, honestly I just don’t care any more. Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. If something terrible happens because I shared freely, I’ll learn from that. But I think it’s stupid to worry about what other people do, and try to control it, especially with broken laws. Even Free Share-Alike licenses require copyright law to be enforced, and copyright law is hopelessly broken. I don’t want to validate or support it in any way.
Licenses are not going to fix our problems. What is fixing our problems is increasing numbers of people simply ignoring copyright altogether. Instead of trying to get people to pay more attention to the law, as CC does, I’d rather encourage them to ignore the law in favor of focusing on the art. Licenses are the wrong solution. Art is the solution. Make art not law.
8. Are you keen on the free software movement as well? Any of your works was made using free softwares?
A few years ago I started thinking about taking a vow of non-violence: a commitment to never sue anyone over Knowledge (or Culture, Cultural Works, Art, Intellectual Pooperty, whatever you call it). Copyright law is hopelessly broken; indeed, the Law in the US is broken all over the place. Why would I resort to the same broken law to try to fix abuses that occur within it?
We live in a messed-up world. My choices, however principled, will not change that. People will continue to censor, suppress, and enclose Knowledge. Share-Alike – the legal requirement to keep Knowledge Free – has ironically resulted in the suppression of same.
I learned of Aaron’s death on Sunday; on Monday, the National Film Board of Canada told me I had to fill out paperwork to “allow” filmmaker (and personal friend) Chris Landreth to refer to Sita Sings the Blues in his upcoming short, Subconscious Password, even though Fair Use already freed the NFB from any legitimate fear of Share-Alike’s viral properties. I make compromises to my principles every day, but that Monday I just couldn’t. The idiocy of NFB’s lawyers was part of the same idiocy that Aaron fought in liberating documents from JSTOR. I couldn’t bear to enable more bad lawyers, more bad decisions, more copyright bullshit, by doing unpaid paperwork for a corrupt and stupid system. I just couldn’t.
So the NFB told Chris to remove all references to SSTB from his film.
There are consequences for taking a principled stance. People criticize you, fear you, and pity you. You get plenty of public condemnation. You lose money. Sometimes the law goes after you, and although that hasn’t happened to me yet, it could as I do more civil disobedience in the future.
But the real victim of my principled stance isn’t me, it’s my work. When I took a principled stance against Netflix’s DRM, the result was fewer people saw SSTB. When countless television stations asked for the “rights” to SSTB and I told them they already had them, the result was they didn’t broadcast it. When publishers wanted to make a SSTB-based book, the Share-Alike license was a dealbreaker, so there are no SSTB books.
My punishment for opposing enclosure, restrictions, censorship, all the abuses of copyright, is that my work gets it.
Not using knowledge is an offense to it.
So, to the NFB, to Netflix, to all you publishers and broadcasters, to you legions of fucking lawyers: Sita Sings the Blues is now in the Public Domain. You have no excuse for suppressing it now.
Am I still fighting? Yes. BUT NOT WITH THE LAW. I still believe in all the reasons for BY-SA, but the reality is I would never, ever sue anyone over SSTB or any cultural work. I will still publicly condemn abuses like enclosure and willful misattribution, but why point a loaded gun at everyone when I’d never fire it? CC-0 is an acknowledgement I’ll never go legal on anyone, no matter how abusive and evil they are.
CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence. The law is an ass I just don’t want to ride.
I cannot abolish evil. The Law cannot abolish evil; indeed, it perpetuates and expands it. People will continue to censor, silence, threaten, and abuse Knowledge, and our broken disaster of a copyright regime will continue encouraging that. But in fighting monsters, I do not wish myself to become a monster, nor feed the monster I’m fighting.
Neither CC-BY-SA nor CC-0 will fix our flawed world with its terribly broken copyright regime. What I can say is SSTB has been under CC-BY-SA for the last 4 years, so I know what that’s like and can share results of that experiment. Going forward under CC-0 I will learn new things and have more results to share. That seems like a win even if some bad scenarios come into play. I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is “better,” and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.
“40 Years in the Desert,” a talk I gave at Copycamp in Warsaw, Poland, on November 26 2012. Audio is a bit messed up until 02:49, so just start there. I talk a bit about Questioncopyright.org and Minute Memes, liberally quote Rick Falkvinge, mention Fair Use and Creative Commons before getting into Intellectual Disobedience. Toward the end I discuss Seder-Masochism’s release plan.
With all the false copyright claims happening on Youtube, I’m lately asking myself why I use it at all. I guess the main reason is the Network Effect: Youtube is the most popular video host, so that’s where most people go to find videos. If my vids aren’t on Youtube, there’s a chance they won’t be found.
But I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason, in light of all the Content ID abuse. Thanks to Brewster’s comment yesterday, I’m embedding archive.org video below. If this works, it’ll be an ideal alternative.
Another alternative to Youtube is Vimeo. I’ve had problems with Vimeo’s speed, and have embedded videos fail to load. But maybe those problems will resolve.
A bonus feature of both of these: they don’t seem to use Flash (which my current Chrome browser doesn’t support anyway).
Anyone care to comment on the quality of the archive.org and vimeo embeds above?
Youtube has been so rife with Content ID abuse – including multiple false claims on our Free Culture anthem, Copying Is Not Theft – I decided to try a Chinese video host. I’m embedding it here just to test how it works. So far the audio seems a little out of synch – anyone else getting that? Comments welcome below.
If anyone needs to download Sita Sings the Blues or copy Mimi & Eunice or anything from any of my web sites, including this blog, do it now because they’re all going dark for 24 hours in protest of SOPA/PIPA and the lobbyists and bought politicians who wrote them and will write the next stupid bills attempting to break the internet even after SOPA and PIPA “die” only to be resurrected zombie-like under new stupid acronyms.
Although I’ll truly miss Wikipedia while it’s down tomorrow, maybe I’ll use the time to get some actual animation done instead of just “research.”
Over at Techdirt.com, pro-SOPA/PIPA commenters continue to call copying “theft.” Since their main argument for breaking the Internet is fundamentally erroneous, now seems like a good time to re-post this riposte:
After one or two (or more?) years of being blocked on German Youtube, the full-length noncommercial Sita Sings the Blues movie is once again viewable in Deutschland:
I assume this is because last week I posted this video, complaining about why my 100% legal and painstakingly and expensively licensed movie was blocked in Germany:
Apparently many Germans are none too pleased with GEMA themselves, as indicated by interesting comments here. Some industry shills weighed in as well, but it looks like popular sentiment is against them. The story was shared widely, including in Der Spiegel and the New York Times online editions.
It’s not clear how an American YouTube user is supposed to contest takedowns in Germany. When I was in Berlin recently, it was suggested I find a German lawyer to take some sort of action. At the very least, I would need someone in Germany to contest the takedown on my behalf. I imagine that would have been a slow and possibly expensive process. Then I thought of making this video. Although it took some work (writing a statement – yes I know it’s an imperfect statement, I did the best I could with the knowledge I had – shooting the video, recording the audio via a separate mic, transferring files, editing, compressing, etc.) it was less work than managing an international legal process. And it got results fast! Better still, it contributed to ongoing debates about GEMA and Intellectual Pooperty in general.
My thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about this, and especially people in Germany who checked the Sita Sings the Blues URL and confirmed when the movie was blocked, and when it was unblocked.
Because a commons is a publicly or collectively owned good, and culture can’t be owned. Page 12 in Lewis Hyde’s Common As Air (see article on why air isn’t a metaphor I’d use) refers to “the old idea of ‘the commons’ as a way to approach the collective side of ownership.” Whoa there. We agree that Culture shouldn’t be privately owned, but where I differ is that Culture shouldn’t – and can’t – be owned at all. When we call Culture a commons we remain in the framework of culture-as-property, the framework of ownership.
But: Culture. Can’t. Be. Owned.
The correct answer to the question of “who owns culture?” is “no one.” Not Sony. Not “The Author.” Not “The Public.” No one owns Culture, because Culture isn’t property. So I prefer not to talk about it like it is property, or something that can be owned. So I don’t call it a commons.
Also, I wrote that real commons – real collectively owned goods – need to be regulated and/or managed, because they are rivalrous and/or scarce. Calling Culture a commons implies that it needs to be regulated and/or managed. That sometimes betrays an unexamined belief that copyright is “natural,” that private interests could somehow step in and “own” Culture without interference. But Copyright and cultural ownership are completely artificial, legal fictions, State-granted monopolies that can only exist if Culture is artificially (and misguidedly) “managed.” So again, calling Culture a Commons implies it needs to be “managed”, reinforcing the same mental framework that allows copyright and the private ownership of ideas to thrive.
I’m not going to fight against anyone calling Culture a commons. Most progressives do it, and we should be working together, blah blah etc. But I did want to clarify why I wrote that Culture is not a commons, since it may freak some people out. Sometimes I refer to “our shared cultural heritage,” which is about as close as I come to calling it a commons myself. Language is tough. For example, there’s no word for the opposite of property. Until there is, it may be difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that something actually isn’t property and can’t be owned, collectively or privately.
Economists talk about rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods, but Culture is neither rivalrous, nor non-rivalrous; it is anti-rivalrous.
Rivalrous goods diminish in value the more they are used. For example, a bicycle: if I use it, it gets me from here to there, if you use it, it gets me nowhere. If I acquire your bicycle, you don’t have it any more. Only one of us can have the bicycle at one time. We can share it to a limited extent, but the more it’s used the less it’s worth; it gets dinged up and wears out. The more people use the bicycle, the less utility it has.
If I steal your bicycle, you have to take the bus
All material things – things made of atoms – are rivalrous, because an object cannot be in two places at the same time. Everything in the physical world is rivalrous, even if it’s abundant.
A commons is a rivalrous good. Hence the “tragedy of the commons“: the more people use a square of land, the less valuable it is to each of them. The grass gets eaten too fast to grow back, the soil can’t handle the incoming rate of sheep shit, and degradation ensues.
Fig. 1: a lovely day for grazing on the commons
Fig 2: Tragedy strikes
Rivalrous and non-rivalrous are often confused with scarce and abundant, but they’re not the same thing. Air is abundant, but it is still rivalrous – some “users” could make it toxic for the rest of us, because air is not infinite. Land and water are so abundant in North America that Native Americans couldn’t imagine owning or depleting them, and look what happened. We treat the oceans as infinite, but they are not; human pollution and exploitation is killing ocean life. We also pollute the vast ocean of air – hence acid rain. Air and oceans are commons.
Commons are commonly-held rivalrous goods. Because they are rivalrous, some uses (or over-use) can poison them or otherwise diminish their value. For that reason, Commons(es) actually merit rules and regulations.
Non-rivalrous goods, as their name implies, don’t diminish in value the more they are used. A favorite example of a non-rivalrous good is the light from a lighthouse. It shines for everyone. No matter how much you look at it, I can see it too.
Everyone can see the light from the lighthouse...
This is a pretty good example, but it’s not quite right. Theoretically, if enough tall boats are in the harbor, they actually can crowd out your lighthouse light.
...except when they can't. Once again, too many sheep ruin everything.
Consider sunlight in Manhattan; yes, the sun shines for everyone, but if they build a high-rise next to your apartment you won’t see it any more. There’s only so much sunlight that hits a certain area, and that light is rivalrous. You can always move, of course – except land, while abundant, is definitely rivalrous and not infinite, so you’ll have to engage in some rivalry to do so.
The light metaphor has another problem: is light a particle, or a wave? If it’s a particle, then light is rivalrous. If it’s a wave, then it’s not. Thomas Jefferson used the example of candle fire, writing “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Of course candles burn out but it’s not the light that’s diminished, it’s the candle. That’s a great metaphor for attention, which is scarce: once our attention is used up, the light goes out. But Culture is not non-rivalrous either.
Anti-rivalrous goods increase in value the more they are used. For example: language. A language isn’t much use to me if I can’t speak it with someone else. You need at least two people to communicate with language. The more people who use the language, the more value it has.
Which language do you think more people would pay to learn?
More people spend money and time learning English, simply because so many people already speak English.
Social networking platforms increase in value when more people use them. I use Facebook not because I love Facebook (I certainly don’t), but because everyone else uses Facebook. I just joined Google+, and will use that instead of Facebook if enough other people use it. If enough people flock to yet another platform, I’ll use that instead. Meanwhile I love Diaspora in principle (I was an early Kickstarter backer, before they surpassed their initial $ goal), but I don’t use it, because not enough other people do. When it comes to social networks, I am a sheep.
A classic "Nina's Adventures" comic, which I only realized was anti-rivalrous a few years ago. ♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy and share.
Culture is anti-rivalrous. The more people know and sing a song, the more cultural value it has. The more people watch my film Sita Sings the Blues, or read my comic strip Mimi & Eunice, the happier I’ll be, so please go do that now and then come back and read the rest of this paragraph. The more people know a movie or TV show, the more cultural value it has. Monty Python references attest to the cultural value of Monty Python – we even use the word “spam” because of it. Shakespeare‘s works are culturally valuable, and phrases from them live on in the language even apart from the plays (“I think she doth protest to much,” etc.). The more people refer to Monty Python and Shakespeare, the more you just gotta see em, amiright? Or not, it doesn’t matter whether you see them, you’re already speaking them. That all culture is a kind of language, I’ll leave for another discussion.
Cultural works increase in value the more people use them. That’s not rivalrous, or non-rivalrous; that’s anti-rivalrous.
IV. Some Exceptions That Prove The rule
I know what you’re gonna say now: “what about my credit card number? That doesn’t increase in value if it’s shared!!” That’s right, Einstein, because your credit card number is not culture. Here are two things that aren’t made of atoms and are nonetheless rivalrous:
1. Identity 2. Secrets
Identity is some mysterious mindfuck that my very smart friend Joe Futrelle says no one has satisfactorily defined yet. But whatever identity is, it’s rivalrous. If more people were named Nina Paley and had my home address and social security number, I’d be screwed. But that should highlight that my name, home address, and social security number aren’t culture. They may be information, but they’re not culture. They don’t increase in value the more they are used.
Secrets have power as long as they’re secrets. They lose their power when they are shared. When I become conscious of some secret that’s weighing on me, I share it with at least one other person (even if they are a confidante also sworn to secrecy): I can feel the secret’s power diffused just by the act of sharing. Notice I use “power” here instead of “value.” Secrets may be of little or no cultural value – most people don’t really care who that guy slept with 6 years ago – but they can certainly have power, especially when used for blackmail. Which is why it’s important they remain secrets, so they’re not used for blackmail, or harassment, or any reason at all. Privacy is important. Because secrets aren’t culture. Culture is public. Secrets are, well, secret. Until they’re public, whereupon we get scandalous stories that are culture – humans love to gossip – but aren’t secrets any more. The story might gain value, but the secret loses it.
Money vs. Currency
And how about money? Money is scarce, right? It has to be, or it doesn’t work (thanks Wall Street & Federal Reserve for screwing that up). But currency has more value the more it is used! Would you rather have your scarce 100 Euros in Euros, or in giant immoveable donut-like stones on a remote island?
A large rai stone in the village of Gachpar
I remember when the US dollar was a valuable currency; markets all over the world wanted dollars, because they were so widely used and exchangeable. So you want your money to be scarce, but you want your currency as widely used as possible.
It’s important to treat scarce goods as scarce, abundant goods as abundant, rivalrous goods as rivalrous, and so on. Wall Street treated money, a scarce and rivalrous good, as though it were infinite/non-rivalrous, and look what happened. Power companies, and the politicians they own, treat the environment, which is a rivalrous commons, as though it were non-rivalrous, and we have dying oceans and mass extinctions and other events you don’t want to think about so much that you’ll just get mad at me if I point them out here so I’ll stop. The RIAA and MPAA, and the politicians they own, treat Culture, which is anti-rivalrous, as though it’s rivalrous. They are doing for Culture what Wall Street did for the economy. If you want to help make this better, treat Culture like what it is: an anti-rivalrous good that increases in value the more it is used.