An article that appeared recently at Common Dreams about the rise of something called “the sharing economy” provides some minor insight into the deep delusions progressives suffer from.
Examples of the sharing economy include Minneapolis’ Car2go car sharing service, where for a membership fee you are given access to “smart cars” that you can drive and then leave at your destination for the next Car2go member who finds herself in the general vicinity and in need of transportation.
As the rich get richer and rarer and the masses gain in mass and poverty, I suspect that this sort of thing will become more popular as a way for corporations to continue to sell their products to people who are no longer able to afford them individually.
This sort of thing has superficial appeal to those of an anarchist persuasion as well. It smacks of the collectivist ideal and provides an illusory sense of cooperative community involvement that is compelling.
But the author takes a trip to the emerald city by invoking the idea of “the commons,” calling the cellphone signal airspace and city streets that are being used by the Car2go members part of the commons, and then claiming that by combining a sharing economy with the commons we are on the verge of “a whole new economic and political paradigm.”
By expanding the notion of the commons and reducing the reliance on private ownership, we are heading toward an economic techno-utopia, a “techonomy” that, “With a few tweaks, an Uber-like system, for instance, could help low-income people get to work” (which is of course where all zeks belong—forced labor being the reason they were created in the first place). Eventually the masses won’t need to own anything themselves, so they will be able to live on far less than the exorbitant wages their corporate masters have to pay them now.
The article ends with: “For when we operate as though we are all in this together—because we are—we will discover a tremendous abundance of goodwill, imagination, and the drive to create the kind of future we want to live in.”
Welcome to Oz.
I’m going to set aside the “who’s we?” for now. I’m also going to forgo discussion about how one would go about ensuring mass cooperation in a “techonomy” without resorting to massive coercive force. Instead I want to focus briefly on the chimeric incoherence of combining industrial mass technology with the idea of the commons. The idea of a technological commons makes no sense outside of utopian (or dystopian) science fiction fantasy.
Lets’ take the example she uses of cellphone airspace. The commons is supposed to represent a resource shared by all, something that everyone has access to or can participate in as they pursue their own goals and needs (the original commons was a pasture that anyone in the village could use for grazing livestock—food, unlike portable Facebook access, being a real need). The sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum allocated to cellphones hardly qualifies as something shared by all. For one thing, you and I would never be allowed to set up our own personal two-way intercity radio system and talk to each other over frequencies in the cellphone range. In addition, cellphone communication requires—duh!—a cellphone, and, typically, monthly payments to a cellular service provider. The industrial infrastructure supporting cellular communication is commercially owned and under the control of immense corporate bureaucracies and buoyed by intricate international trade agreements underwritten by an unimaginably massive and incomprehensibly deadly military. It does not qualify as a commons if there are restrictive entry conditions, if you and I are free to use it as long as the corporate gate-keepers get their ransom.
Maybe the internet would make for a more potent example. The internet has long been referred to as a kind of commons. But the same corporate entry conditions apply here as will. I need a device to access the net. Yes, I could go to the local library and get access on devices there—but someone (you and I) had to purchase those computers through offerings of corporate tribute called tax dollars.
The gatekeepers must have their blood sacrifice one way or another.
In order for cellphone airspace or the internet to be true commons, we would first have to eliminate corporate industry. We would have to eliminate the need for factory wage-slaves. We would have to dissolve the entire commercial consumer fabric of industrial society.
We can have a technological commons, perhaps, but not while the leviathan still breathes.