If The Pirate Bay loses, we all lose.

It may seem trite to talk about file-sharing without taking into consideration the rights of copyright holders, but copyright holders are just as much to blame for the growing knowledge gap in the developing world, as they are for the contemporary movement which appears to have reached its apotheosis in the shenanigans surrounding The Pirate Bay.

Take a moment to reflect on the irony facing today’s torrent user, no longer restricted to the predominantly white, European upper classes able to afford computers and bandwidth. As is increasingly the case, the average torrent downloader is more likely than not a newly enfranchised and computer literate African or Asian. Having survived the isolation of life without the Internet, and the phenomena of the digital divide, and eager to catch up on lost time, he or she will be entering a more restrictive, less free Web than the one which created the torrent file-sharing craze in Europe and America, and only to find that the sites which gave birth to the epic destruction of copyright values, no longer exist.

Can we blame these new Africans and Asians from being angry with the double oppression, so emblematic of political studies textbooks which must now inform any debate on the subject of file-sharing?

What a depressing state of affairs then to be greeted with the apparent demise of The Pirate Bay exactly at the same time that we Africans have enought bandwidth to download anything of any significant value? Having sung the joys of free and open societies, Europeans and Americans are simply closing doors and moving on to another economic universe.

Arguing for a stay of execution then, in the Pirate Bay judgement which could see the worlds biggest file sharing service close for good, may appear like  sheer opportunism, a Johnny-come-lately wanting rights over a rich mans kingdom, knowing full well that expressing such a wish, is sheer advocacy of criminality, but surely there is nobody who can deny the injustice of capitalist exploitation, so harshly illustrated by such a digital delay – As South Africans we are about 15 years behind the dominant culture on this planet.

Look at it another way, our American and European brothers, having grown exceedingly wealthy in terms of piracy, now appear content to let content simply vanish into a mashup culture as we are all forced to embrace a world in which creative production has been liberated from the shackles of copyright.

So not only are we expected to share our productive wealth, freely, we are also expected to conform to the many innovations in copyright law which have given us, Creative Commons, Copyleft, FOSS and so on, all handed down to us like the proverbial fleece.

Be that as it may, we really do have some form of right to the collective commonwealth of the planet, in a time in which there has been more information produced in the last year than the entire span of human history.

Why should we be remain shackled by exchange control inequalities and monetary policies (such as that the World Bank) which has garnered our national debt, and sold subsequent generations to the factories and sweatshops from which many will never escape?

Torrents and filesharing would appear to be one way of softening the blow — in exchange for decades of colonisation and slavery we all get to share in the collective commonwealth, copyright notwithstanding?

Such pleas to the collective gestalt may seem like a giant guilt trip, more sound arguments must therefore be deployed. The danger in not in opening society to a post-propertied, and post-copyrighted world, but that we Africans and Asians will simply continue on our schizophrenic way, in the process dismantling what remains of our former colonial masters and their fixations with torrents and file-sharing.

Our culture and civilisation will fall into the breach.We wil be the ones being torrented and sampled and will we want to behave like those masters who wage war merely to assert property law?

The popular perception of value which the supposed goods you and I  wish to liberate (steal would be a better word) is merely that, a perception.

Online will Africans simply buy the discarded remains of the 20 and early 21st Century – all that has already been deprived of value by torrents and filesharing? Are we just another market, to bolster the failing economies created from the exchange of intangibles?

Surely this is what the Pirate Bay represents, a giant remainders section in which the files themselves have no intrinsic worth other than the fascination any one individual may have for what many suppose  to be a rivelrous resource. Yet in a world of instantaneous duplication, where the  usual property law do  not apply, where is the rivelry? There is surely more than enough to go around?
I am reminded of the days of yore in the old South Africa when Record Libraries were still legal. For a small fee anyone could join and the resulting clubbing together of finances meant we all benefitted from rare acquisitions which no single person would make in their sane mind.

After the Libraries were banned, because “Home Taping is Killing Music” and in order to enforce control over the occasional hit, the social fabric went back to self-serving greed. We instantly became poorer for it. Instead of wonderfully obscure and complete collections of audio, – music as a resource — we ended up with the usual Top Twenty scarcity and the resulting loss in sensation reduced our culture to a poor facsimile. In other words, Home Taping didn’t Kill Music, Banning Record Libraries did. (Isn’t it strange that to achieve anything like popularity, a song has to be ubiquitous, but to be economical it must also be considered scarce?)

The same travesty of selfishness will happen if The Pirate Bay disappears completely. We will go back to our usual predilections, which are informed by bad Hollywood bestsellers and lowest common denominator compositions on MTV and SABC. Might I therfore suggest some kind of a rule which might appease the industry which is now killing torrents, and which has its sites on your hard-drive – do you have receipts for the latest copy of  Lady Gaga, Madam?

A ban on anything uploaded which was created in 2010.

At least with time-based scarcity, we would not have to argue against the novelty of intellectual property  but rather against the insane idea that copyright should last over a lifetime and beyond into the grave. Copryight should really be reduced to one or two years at the maximum. That way, we all won’t be 15 years out of date, or end up living in a time-warp in which none of the major influences have any chance to influence. Musicians will still get paid, because a one hit wonder which lasts for week will still make money. But the argument that this should be extrapolated out ad infinitum has surely been done a death by the surge of copyleft items which are drowning out copyright works. The sheer volume of free stuff on the Internet is levelling everything, because who wants to be forced into paying for last week’s news? Nothing is sold, everything fades into oblivion, even the memories we once treasured as a species before the computer age came along.

Less torrents = less influence.

It is copyright which is killing the pop music industry.

Timebanking creating next wave alternative economy

It took a global economic collapse for timebanking to emerge as the next wave  of the alternative economy. While readers may already be familier with the concept of a local energy trading system or LETS, and South Africa already has a well-established complimentary currency in the form of the Talent, timebanking brings with it a particular form of equality — we are all timebound and the only constraints we have are therefore time-based. Exchanging one hour of your time for another person’s hour may seem absurd, but it is the basis for the time-banking system, a system which allows users to trade services.

There are over 80 timebanks in the USA and a several in the UK and Scandenavia alone. Unlike the LETS system where users still set prices of goods and services, but in a complimentary currency for example, the Talent, timebanking is done on a one-to-one basis, i.e. one hour = one currency unit.

Voluntary currencies such as the Time Dollar are therefore not competing with traditional complimentary currencies such as Australia’s Shell and Pip, and South Africa’s Talent but rather creating a third tier currency based upon volunatrism and mutual aid.

Remarkably instead of competition, allthese alternative and complimentary currencies are based upon community cooperation and have faired a lot better than mainstream fiat currencies which are based upon the failed global banking system and a corporate-capitalist military which has to occupy neighbouring countries in order to enforce the law.

If local energy trading with Talents and time-banking doesn’t grab you, there’s always COGS, a Swedish system which utilises the gift economy to “pay forward”. Instead of accepting the one-to-one exchange, users give the proceeds of the exchange to a third party as a “gift” thereby changing economic patterns which may have become too straightjacketed or  outmoded  by todays fast changing customs and traditions.

Open Source economics to rescue World banking system

THE “New Depression” has suddenly made poverty fashionable. After a decade in which wealth ruled and the needs of the majority succumbed to those on top of the pile — the elite few, capable of leveraging assets and staking future earnings against the bond market — the realisation has dawned — today’s economy no longer resembles the pyramid scheme invented by Capitalism. Power is no longer in the hands of stuffy bankers. There is a “new world order” and it is not based upon tangible assets, real-world property prices, or even monetary value inside the banking system. It is a virtual economy that includes the rest of us, and it is based upon a collective notion of the digital commons, advocated by electronic pioneers and visionaries like Lawrence Lessig, John Perry Barlow, Richard Stallman and Joichi Ito.

Whether or not you own a computer, enjoy your own Internet access or just know about the Net because of the prevalence of Internet Cafes, you undoubtedly share in the collective wealth of the millions of people who have chosen to share their Intellectual property via the Creative Commons and other forms of digital distribution systems. The GNU open source license advocated by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation, for example, gives users of software carrying a free and open source logo, the ability to modify, redistribute and alter the software, which on the whole is freely available. The net worth of the free Linux computer system for instance has been estimated to run into the billions.(1) Ubuntu, a South African distribution of Linux which has taken the computer world by storm, is said to have increased the wealth of its billionaire founder, Mark Shuttleworth, a thousand-fold.

This is not value in any normal sense of the word. Neither the Creative Commons, nor the GNU-Linux scheme refer to actual monetary gain. Rather, they are what Lawrence Lessig refers to as the increasing prevalence and importance of non-rivelrous resources, a new social good that is infinitely reproducible and whose substance reflects a fundamental shift away from capitalist power relations which rely on scarcity (and rivalry) towards a new world in which abundance and post-scarcity have become buzz words.

The problem with our current banking system and financial markets which rely upon securities, stocks and bonds is that none of these terms reflect anything tangible in the real world. This is through no fault of our own, but rather the propensity to treat everything online, as somehow absent, as if it did not exist. As John Perry Barlow says, “there is no there over there in cyberspace”. The abolition of property in favour of a new virtual economy in which digital assets are freely available threatens to turn Capitalism on its head. How are we to value the entirety of the World Wide Web, the grand social project we call the NET without taking into account all those who stand to benefit in the future, as well as the current users of today?(2)

It was not so long ago that a part of the online world experienced what was known as the Dot.Com Bubble. For a short while, there was a rapid increase in stock prices associated with companies with online profiles such as Microsoft and Yahoo. The boom was short-lived. The first virtual economy based upon growth in terms of new electronic objects which were still valued in the old way (in which shares price was supposed to reflect consumer demand), turned out to be unsustainable.

Revisiting Sex Work in the light of Capital and the Pleasure Principle.

PROSTITUTION is considered the world’s oldest profession. The entry of which marks the beginnings of capitalism as an ideological construct through which all labour is differentiated.

 It has been argued that women’s work is sex work, and therefore sex workers should be free to charge for their services, and in effect to gain a living wage.

I will argue that far from being an exchange of labour, the sex act is one of the focal points of human existence, and should rather be seen as vital to the well-being of our species, in effect, an important part of the medicamentum through which all of life is constituted and thus stripped of secondary meanings which various philosophical and religious traditions may attribute it. 

While the recognition of the crucial link between the exchange of labour, on the one hand, (for which very little gained), and the pursuit of pleasure on the other (through which most of humanity has been constructed), is an important part of the equation, a just and equitable work week necessarily includes p-leisure –the pursuit of wealth, health and happiness –, there is however something terribly ironic in attributing all acts of p-leisure to the exchange of labour.

UNIVERSAL SERVICE: ADSL and the story of industrial-strength greed

IN THE beginning, the so-called dot-com economy was based upon the notion of a frictionless environment i.e. the internet. The idea was the massive savings created by reducing distances and communicating easily across the planet would be passed onto the consumer and everybody would win.

Then along came the robber barons of the service industry, basking in the glory of “managed complexity” and new acronyms like ICT. They were all good capitalists and saw a good opportunity at cleaning up the competition, siphoning off all those fads and novel savings and patent banking the difference, instead of passing on the friction-freeness to the consumer.

Lets give you an idea of why Telkom is stuck in a virtual freeze, attacked by Hellkom and MyADSL — unable to provide half-a-service while charging exhorbitant rates for its “pipes”, its own network that is already paid for by our tax rands, but which invariably turns into a shopping mall for ICT engineers who think they can outsmart us, blog-rats.

The fact is once a line is installed and paid for, there is no real cost to ADSL except for the small service fee which goes towards upkeep. How much should one be paying for service? What would you charge to keep the network up and running? What would your rates be for watching the 0s and 1s go around and around?

However, since the service-side of the sector was privatized, TELKOM does not provide a service as such. What it provides is an excuse to simply fleece the consumer and siphon off profits to its shareholders who want locked in dividends and locked in clients.

This means that we are paying double for a line that must first be hooked up to a private service providing company in order to fully function. Result? ADSL is enormously expensive. Forget about those glossy ads spinning lies about R240 a pop. What you get is double-dibbing down the line as busker after busker rips off the “locked in consumer”.

For R240 one should get ADSL plus service and whatever benefit one deserves. But in order to keep service privides in business, companies like MWEB running, the South African consumer is ripped off by the only provider of ADSL lines in the country — TELKOM, the monopoly provider.

THEY SAID THEY WOULD BRING THE WORLD CLOSER, AND ALL I GOT WAS A HUGE PHONE-BILL

NUCLEAR POWER: Erwin’s Folley is Manuel’s Madness

FIRST, our own finance minister, gets his facts all wrong by spending R500 000 000 on radioactive toasters and nuclear kettles –the so-called Mini-Koeberg “Pebble-beds”. Then Erwin, contradicts his own finance minister and announces a further R500 000 000 or so to be spent on a “second” Koeberg, that’s right, lets push South Africa to the brink of nuclear empowered disaster.

Where do our politicians get the time to push dirty Nuclear Energy that is not only expensive, but a major source of pollution and background radiation to boot. Don’t we know that radiation from the nuclear chain is bad for us, and the Uranium Mining industry is worse than the Asbestos Industry? Remember Asbestos “perfectly safe for you and that’s a guaranteed promise with no money back
from Alec Erwin, Trevor Manual and the South African government.”

Why not simple spend the money on world trip to push nuclear powered outboard motors for the next big spend grand prix?

The anti-nuclear lobbey is one of the longest running environmental campaigns in South Africa. In fact, alongside Nan Rice’s Dolphin Action Group, Mike Kantey’s Koeberg Alert, it predates the formation of Earthlife Africa

Despite the Koeberg Alert’s concerns about the so-called “peaceful use of nuclear energy”, and the fact that South Africa’s own nuclear bomb industry was finally exposed to be a giant fraud. (De Klerk and his National Party only came clean after 1994). South Africa and our own Erwin & Manual, continues to espouse the doctrine of nuclear power for peaceful ends. An oxymoron of a ministry if ever there was one.

Unfortunately, the debate around Koeberg has swung from mass rallies against nuclear energy, to self-satisfied and smug debates of the bourgoisie vs labour;the pros and cons of nuclear safety and of course, the energy issue. The public is confused, politicians are hamstrung, tongue-tied, and bound up by Patricia De Lille and Helen Zille and just nobody knows what to think as the 25 year old debate about renewable resources vs peaceful nuclear energy which continues to give partriarchy a hard-on, and male cabinent members a re-usable condom.

Enough is enough. Let’s top debating the issue. Lets stop haggling over renewable minutia and strategic advances on the quantum-micro-macro economic level. Let’s stop buying into the lies about Koeberg and Koeberg 2 and focus our efforts instead on demonstrating that the nuclear industry is exactly what it says it is, “As safe as the Asbestos Industry”.

Getting rid of dirty Asbestos-siding is one of the green movement’s few success stories — local industrialists once claimed “asbestos was good for everything,” just like nuclear energy. And of course, “blacks asbestos miners don’t need environmental awareness or green leftists to save them from cancer”.

Asbestos the Uranium of the Sixties was forced to close down and pay reperations for health loss and damage to lungs to countless workers, by the actions of Koeberg Altert, ELA, EJF and the Cape Town Ecology Group

And with nothing to gain, except notoriety for effecting change in society, change that lead to transformation and sustainable development.

Get the message straight;keep it simple: We don’t want safe nukes, or peaceful nukes, what we demand is no nukes whatsoever.

Close down Koeberg, Stop the Refueling Shipments, and Forward to a Nuclear-Free, Non-Racist, Non-Sexist African Continent.

ELECTION: The Middle Class is Dead.

THE “revenge of the middle class”* has turned into a fiasco. Instead of national cohesion we now have an internicine class war between wealthy property owners and their poorer cousins. The only thing that will save us, is acceptance that nothing stands between them and the street, nothing accept a decent wage and a job, and that means you, the working class, full stop.

The insane notion that a middle class can be created on the seat of a property boom, has merely shifted the struggle for equality to a different platform. Middle class values are nothing but bunk created by real estate agents and wealthy advertising executives who believe that equality can be created out of branding, products and brochures from Constantia.

A short while ago, progressives believed that human rights could bring people together, a mere slip of paper, a document could forge the nation. Not so, since when push comes to shove, it is the middle class that is going to give way. For South Africans to truly feel as though they belong, we need more than empty promises of equity and land. What we need is a guarantee from the state against the liklihood of ever becoming indigent, homeless, a wage slave.

Like so many social democrats, I believe the only thing that can accomplish this is social welfare, a living wage. Whether this wage is paid by the state or a large corporation is none of my concern; what we all require then, is reason not to wage war against those who would starve us into submission, trade our land for foreign investment and make off with the proceeds, while ignoring exploitation and profit-taking on the backs of the oppressed.

The working class will rise up and eat the middle class unless something drastic is done. Now is not the time to trust spin doctors and politicians who recite the cant of the bourgoisie, rather it is time to forge a wider national unity, a greater class of South African, created from the guarantee of a basic income grant for all.

* Cape Times lead story of the day.

SA’s new class system entrenching inequality.

THE idea that SA can convert its “masses” into an incipient “middle-class” whose affiliations are with Levi’s not Lenin, Mercedes Benz instead of Marx, and consumerism instead of Fidel Castro, needs to be dispensed with along with Trevor Manual’s trickle-down economics and Thabo Mbeki’s market fascism.

Firstly while South Africans may be marginally better off than they were before 1994, inequalities in society have deepened. Instead of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, the government’s liberal trickle-down economic policies has failed to address the problem of successive “middle classes”, each following upon the creation of South Africa’s first middle class arguably under Verwoerd.

The new, mainly black, politically empowered, commercially viable and attractive second “middle class” touted by the media, is in reality nowhere near as rich as the old middle class under apartheid, comprised of mainly whites, coloured and indians. Trickle down economics coupled with market fascism can never address such vast inequalities and neither can race-based affirmative action.

In order to buy into the myth of an emerging black middle class, conforming to the Bell Curve in which the majority of SA families occupy the centre bulge, creating a new market for business, one would have to search out and discover the actuality on the ground — the stark reality, instead of pipe dreams invented by advertisors and propogandists.

The second middle class is however, just as poor relative to the old middle class as they were under apartheid, and while the first middle class still occupies the upper strata of society, the distinctions based upon race and class remain. In other words, the rich are still rich, and the poor are still poor. The only direct changes we have experienced in our economy are shifts in the form and structure of wealth — producing the so-called hour-glass effect, in which there is no “middle class” to speak of occupying the centre, but rather the insane perception of “middle class values” shared with a state brand which is in reality a vacuum of unfulfilled desires seldom realised.

The mythology of an emerging second middle class, dreamt up by market fascists, is really an attempt to prevent agrarian and peri-urban revolt caused by narrow empowerment deals and market radicalism. The new mantra of “the middle class will save us” is just another way of depriving the working class of their power as workers. Wealth as we have witnessed from BEE does not trickle down, instead it continues to accumulate at the top, as industrialists continue to extract labour.

Even with a growth rate of over 6 percent, the majority of South Africans will still be poor in comparison to the upper echelons of society. One or two black billionaires do not make an equal opportunity society and cannot persuade us that change is occuring for the better. In fact as old “middle class values” whither and the second middle class fails, the minor gains to be had from such narrow attempts at propoganda and state tinkering with enterprises will diminish.

In short, we will lose the opportunity to create a great society built upon human rights and equality instead of the marketplace. South Africa may never escape its developmental phase, without a coherent debate about citizenship, the role of diversity and the global commons, and we could be doomed to an institutional failure to address fundemental inequalities within our society as South Africa splits into two states, comprised of the haves and have-nots.

[copyleft, some rights reserved, reprint with permission]

WELFARE STATE: Give VAT back to those who deserve it most.

WE’RE not asking for bread, although this used to be a rallying cry for the poor, the world over. We’re not asking for government subsidies on milk, or delivery of food parcels to those in need. No, all we are asking for is for our VAT BACK!

Giving VAT BACK to the poor, will alleviate pressure on other social services while enabling us to take control of our lives. VAT is an example of the most direct form of taxation, yet for those who spend all their income on food, clothing and shelter, VAT is just another example of big government and its hidden hand in our pockets, what economists euphemistically call “indirect taxation”.

How much tax actually reaches the poor when we are most in need? The answer is nothing or very little. More often than not, our pennys are handed over to the state to be spent on big budget items, such as military frigates, luxury airliners for presidents, and state banquets for foreign politicians.

By demanding VAT BACK — welfare in the form of a tax rebate, a leg-up rather than a hand-down — citizens are merely asking for what is rightfully theirs: How can you be 100% sure that you will never be left without a job? Homeless or without food on the table? Desperate or in need of assistance? Often dire straits coincide with other unexpected problems in life: A death in the family, a new-born child, a situation out of ones control, even marriage, separation or divorce.

Currently the only citizens to receive any welfare grants are those who qualify for assistance as a result of old-age, mental or physical disability, and children up until age 14. Which means that unless you are aged, infirm, or the legal guardian of a child, you could be left walking the street at night, seeking shelter, begging for aid, coerced into red-light employment or worse.

THE SIMPLE SOLUTION: DEMAND YOUR VAT BACK!

DEMAND your VAT back. Believe it or not, the average South African will hand over the government *R33 600 spent entirely on food and given to the exchequer in the form of VAT. This is money out of your own pocket! What do we get in return for that expense? Very little. A parliament that does nothing but pass laws. A judiciary that does nothing except complicate the law-making process, and a president who spends most of the time outside of the country, fixing other country’s problems.

Where is the government when you suffer from unemployment? Who is their to look after you when you are ill? State Hospitals in spite of their elegant sounding names, do very little and still expect you to pay for services at the end of the day. Receiving your VAT BACK could be the start to a new life. Just imagine what the money could do. Suppose for argument sake that you considered VAT not as a tax paid over to the state but as an interest-free loan given to the fiscus on the understanding that it would eventually be given back, a loan instead of the forced hand-out to big government, red-tape and bureacracy that it really is.

Over the years your stake in the South African fiscus and the economy would be enormous, pure capital given away at zero percent and used to loan out to banks and other institutions at 8%. So why not ask for your VAT BACK now? Supposing a 30 year old male went on welfare payments today, “the dole” would take thirty years of paying back R500 a month directly into his account to pay off the initial “loan” granted to the fiscus, a loan given without much thought, just via the extraction of value-added capital through the course of ones lifetime.

HOW MUCH IS YOUR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIAL WELFARE REALLY WORTH?

A FIFTY year old female citizen put on the dole today would never hope to receive all her money back, private money given to the fiscus through the course of ones lifetime, considered as a loan, and would probably die before reaching the ripe old age of 100.

Whichever way one looks at the figures, even if one reduces the amount spent, say on consumption for the first ten years of life, *see figures below, the Welfare State is affordible not only in principle but in reality. Of course R500 is only an estimate — some people spend less others more. There’s also clothing and shelter to consider. The repayment of VAT spent on food alone over the course of ones lifetime does not half compensate you for the initial loans made to big government.

Ask yourself the question: how much is my personal contribution to the state’s coffers worth, ie. what would social welfare cost not just through direct income tax but via indirect taxation of goods and services ie VAT?

An impossible problem since one is always taxed, even if you receive a welfare cheque, that cheque gets taxed the minute you spend it.

South Africans are one of the most taxed nations on this planet yet receive very little in the form of social support. Think about the needy, isn’t it time we eliminated some of the worst forms of poverty such as begging? Or restored peoples dignity with the knowledge that each and every citizen is looked after, without race and class distinction, all taken care of without exception?

By demanding a direct payment of welfare in your hour of need, you will not only destroy the lie that you don’t deserve such a payment, but the illusion that this kind of money does not exist. Call your MEC, phone your political party, campaign for a welfare state that meets the needs of all its people.

(* a simple guess-timate based upon an average life expectancy of 40 years, x est R6000 pa spent on food, ie R500 per month = R240 000 spent in total, that includes a startling R33 600 or 14 % VAT handed over to government in the form of indirect taxation.)

WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?
For more proposals for a better future, send a R100 cheque or money order and a self-addressed envelope to:

D R LEWIS
(Engineer of the Imagination)
PO Box 4398,
Cape Town 8000
South Africa

Or for a short pamphlet on overcoming the master-slave-worker state, R50 cheque or money order to the same address.