Saturday, January 26, 2008

"They" need us more than we need "them."

Over the last, oh, fifty to a hundred years, there has been a great effort toward shaping a general belief (and legislating to place stumbling blocks in front of those who have contrasting views), that for every problem of humanity there is a corporate solution that is better than any other means of dealing with that problem.

Even when some of those problems would not exist, had there been no corporate interest in solving them.

You may may suspect this is one of those "go back to the land" pieces that crop up like dock and dandelions in your yard. It IS an apt symbol - freely reproducing edible greens being considered the "enemy" of inedible, chemical-intensive grass.

But illustrative as it is of the principle, the principle is not going back to subsistence agriculture, or indeed, subsistence anything. Corporations exist as they because individual productivity has become very high indeed, and there is a great surplus to sustain their excesses.

And while many really do pay their own way, many are frankly parasitic, forcing choices upon us that are individually disadvantageous.

Consider, if you will, the twin evils of Asparatame and High-Fructose Corn Syrup.

If you live in the United States, and you want a soft drink, you get your choice of two substances that may well be worse for you than the sugar they replace. Neither one is possible to produce without the sort of huge, complex infrastructure that only a corporation could possibly afford, made possible not by honest market competition but by corrupt regulation and corn subsidies.

But you could choose to drink tea or coffee instead. Then you still get a choice of sweeteners, ranging from honey to sugar to saccharine to Aspartame and Sucralose.

Or you could simply do a bit of research on the web and find out how to carbonate your own water in bulk, or simply from a small appliance on demand. That's not a paid link. It just happened to show up on the first page of my Google search, lucky them, as I was thinking that the most difficult ingredient in pop is the bubbles. It used to be quite the difficult enterprise - back when soda was a novelty. Nowdays, though, the technology is actually quite simple, and probably accessible to anyone with a few wrenches and a Home Depot card. Soda Club obviously realized this ahead of me.



Jones Soda got started that way, realizing that the absence of honest soda in a wide variety of flavors was something they could build a business on. And now they have gone to pure cane sugar as a replacement for HFCS sweetener, again due to direct demand.

To sweeten sodas, and a multitude of other food and beverages, companies typically use the sweetener high fructose corn syrup (or HFCS for short). But here at Jones we’ve decided to do things a little different. Thanks to phone calls from our fans, consumer research, and one passionately loud Jones Soda Receptionist, we are tossing out the HFCS. You may have seen that our 12-ounce cans of soda are now made with pure cane sugar, and by mid-2007 all of your favorite Jones products will be available with real sugar.


Soda club goes a step further, saying "what would you add to seltzer water if you had fresh seltzer to start with?" This is a P2P idea, and they expand on it - as does Jones - by maintaining direct relationships with their customers.

Here's what they have to say about sweeteners:

6. How do you sweeten your regular flavors?

Soda-Club regular sodamix flavors contain sugar (sucrose), not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). While many of our labels do say “sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup”, we have chosen to formulate without high fructose corn syrup and have not yet updated our labels to reflect this fact. The exception to this is Energy Drink, which indeed does contain fructose and dextrose, in addition to sucrose. In addition to sugar (sucrose), regular sodamix flavors contain sucralose (Splenda® brand) and some also contain acesulfame potassium. If you have dietary concerns, please read the label of every Soda-Club product before purchasing, available by clicking the sodamix images on the Flavors Galore page of this website. When in doubt, consult with your physician.

Consumer preference rules - when companies don't have any involvement with other companies that would prefer consumers didn't have preferences. It's getting a lot easier for consumers to find out which sort of company they are dealing with and making a silent choice based on that information.

But ven the worst corporation has to produce something of arguable value, or sooner or later it will be revealed as a vast ponzi scheme. Consider Enron.

Alas, this is not true of governments; governments have no commonly agreed objective measure of success, other than "not being replaced." Generally, they maintain a monopoly or near-monopoly on organized force, so they are damn difficult to dislodge, even if they act in ways that would have scandalized the board of governors of the Astoria Corporation.

But even governments can be and will be erased by this sort of philosophical, economic and infrastructural sea-change. When they cease to matter to "the people who matter" - they will no longer matter much at all. And who will be "the people that matter?" Well, that's hard to say precisely, but it's certain that there will be a lot more of those of us that matter, at the expense of the influence of "them."

You see, in life, you get a choice. You can choose to be "one of us," or one of "them." The "usses" are those that share your interests, needs and desires. "Thems" are the folks that "would rather be a hammer than a nail." For a particular sort of aspirant "them", government is the natural choice. While it does not offer the potential financial reward that climbing a corporate ladder does, it offers something better - individual access to power.

That, or one is blessed (or cursed) with a greater than usual need for rules and structure, so one is drawn to becoming a tiny cog among a great number of other cogs, without the need to make any choices at all.

This brave new world brings to light the possiblity of a political and economic universe for each of us that contains no "thems." You deal only with those who you need to and want to, from a wide range of possible choices. You almost never encounter a "them," much less have to submit to them, unless your own personal needs cause you to seek "them" out.

These admittedly simplistic observations do illustrate the unavoidable choice we are all facing - assent or dissent regarding the overriding model for the next age of human civilization - given that some aspects of it are simply inevitable outgrowths of our communications, logistics and transport infrastructure. Whatever we think of the result, a flattening of the pyramids of authority and capital seems both overdue and inevitable, and the righting of the balance will likely be more violent the more government and capital conspire to put off the inevitable with "globalization" strategies that are simply a means to keep power and wealth in the same few hands.

Of course, that's way too complicated for most folks. But that doesn't matter, because that choice will be made, for the most part, by people who don't understand it at all, justified by the words of those who barely comprehend it. (Had they really comprehended what they were saying, they would have written it comprehensibly.)

In the current historical configuration, our technological infrastructures are often taken the form of a distributed network, such as the point to point internet, or the generalized self-publishing features of the web which allow any internet user to produce and diffuse different type of content. Humanity has therefore a technology which has the fundamental effect of allowing the global coordination of small teams, which can now work on global projects based on affinity. Well-known expressions of this is the production of the alternative computer operating system Linux, and the universal Wikipedia encyclopedia. But the over a billion already connected people are literally engaged in tens of thousands of such collective projects, which are producing all kinds of social value. The alterglobalization movement is one expression of a movement born out of such networks, which can globally organize and mobilize without access to the decentralized mass media, using a wide variety of micro media resources.

In the business environment, we see the increasing importance of diffuse social innovation (innovation as an emerging byproduct of networked communities, rather than internally funded entrepreneurial R & D), and we see the emergence of asymmetric competition between for-benefit institutions based on communities of peer producers), which are successfully competing with traditional for profit companies. In addition, for profit companies are now themselves adapting and therefore using practices pioneered by such communities. This is not the right context to explain in detail such trends, so interested readers are referred to the Wiki Encyclopedia at P2PFoundation.Net . We are witnessing a similar process as when imperial slaveholders were freeing their slaves into serfs, or smart feudal lords where sponsoring merchants and entrepreneurs.

Perhaps they were writing for a particular audience. I can write like that too, when I wanna sound all smart and inarguable, but that usually means I'm a wee teense weak on the ground. But never mind the presentation, there is a solid core to this article - and the site.

This is about Peer-to-Peer relationships, which is a strange and bloodless way of saying that the future will be made from relationships of choice between persons, using mechanisms that essentially network around choice limiting hierarchies and authoritarian decision-making processes, and whatever structures that persist from our time into that future will have done so because they have adapted to that new reality.

In other words, I will drink Coke if the only alternate is Pepsi - unless I'm eating mild foods, in which case, I'll have Pepsi - if the coffee is typically bad. But if RC Cola is in the fountain, neither competing soft drink nor coffee stand a chance.

Now, why is RC not in the fountain? It's not because of equipment issues, distribution issues or even cost. It's due to exclusive marketing agreements. Most places get to choose Coke or Pepsi, and whatever other beverages the bottler chooses to hand them. They get a small choice and their customers none at all.

P2P enterprises are about giving your peers - friends, customers, suppliers - what THEY want in exchange for what YOU want. Most often that will be money, but there are other valuable considerations, such as prestige, such as market share, such as "being the best."

For myself, were I opening a food joint today, I'd be tempted to choose "none of the above" and go with making my own designer pop, even though I suspect I'd have to invest more for less return. It would significantly difference myself in a marketplace filled with franchises and "might as well be franchises;" it could well allow me to prosper without a liquor license!

The fact that proper "soda fountain" culture has not reappeared is because it's more expensive and supplies are probably hard to come by, and the old-fashioned technology requred a good deal of skill.

Still, with more modern controls, it could well be the next "Starbucks" phenomenon, when various local and then national and international entrepreneurs realized that people like choices - and LIKE the option of a better than average product.

Incidentally, the very existence of a Starbucks on every corner has raised the quality of American coffee at least two ticks on the "Joe Scale."

Five basic grades: Coffee, java, jamoke, joe and carbon remover. (Author Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road)
Joe usta be what you got, jamoke in a fancy place. Brewed 80 cups to the pound in a drip machine that hadn't been cleaned in a week, then left on the hob until it was empty, the best one could say for it was that it had caffeine, it was hot and it wasn't actually poisonous. Nowadays, you often find Java, if not actual coffee. The marketplace DOES work, you see, when nobody futzes with it. But that's what both governments and huge multinational corporations do, almost by design - futz with otherwise free markets. But, short of actual force, that is accomplished mainly by restriction on the distribution of and access to both education and information - and both of those are structural issues that the existing order depends on, but did not create and really cannot enforce.

So we can see this as being essentially an emerging, gradual phenomenon, the de-institutionalization of US culture.

Republicans tend to see that as a bad thing, Democrats tend to see that (guardedly) as a mostly good thing, and neither party has any more choice in the matter. Being varieties of authoritarian, both will have to cope with a general decrease in the social value of authoritarian personalties - "decision makers," "movers and shakers" who make wholesale choices on behalf of entire demographics.

They will have to learn to be content with offering choices, instead.

This, of course, brings me to the current political situation, where our only choices seem to be cosmetic and meaningless.

Again, if the choice is between Coke and Pepsi - perhaps it's tea-time!

In other words, concentrate on the aspects of government that affect you and yours and work to change those things so that they either go away or become more benign. This may seem selfish, but if everyone does it, it will all come out in the wash.

And then of course, whenever government is completely foolish or criminal, ignore it when possible, evade it if necessary and resist it if unavoidable. This approach makes a great deal of difference over time; consider, for instance, how greatly the war on drugs has degraded general respect for drug laws and lawmakers - to the extent that entire state governments are at loggerheads with the federal government on this issue. The outcome is quite inevitable in law because it's fait accompli in practice. The social use of marijuana is widely accepted and it's medical use - at least in principle - has reached near universal acceptance, or at least tolerance.

Certainly it's become evident that the risks of growing a little weed for personal use are trivial, even though the potential penalties are draconian; outside of the DEA, few law-enforcement officials can be bothered with that "vice" when there are crimes that really matter.

(Nor does it likely escape the average cop on a night beat during a full moon that more widespread usage of pot might make their job a LOT easier.)

So, take a good solid look at to what degree government affects you, and to what extent the investment of your energy into a national presidential election keeps you from using it in more directly profitable ways.

For most Nevadans, that might be ridding ourselves of Jim Gibbons and his cronies, or working to diversify our energy and economic infrastructures. It may probably boil down further to your county or your town. It used to be that we needed central knowledge bases and centralized decision makers. Now we have the world wide web, FedEx and all kinds of "appropriate technology" options that can be implemented in a cost-effective way on an individual or neighborhood basis - given the proper and appropriately respectful climate of regulation.

So let's see to that.

It's been many years since our elected representatives had to do much personal interaction to get our votes - or lose them. It's time we paid closer attention, and consider how many of them we need at all. Both political and appointive structures are hierarchical, and governments as well as profit-making entities will HAVE to adapt to a new reality of Peer to Peer approaches - or wither away.

Not in the happy fun Marxist wet-dream sense. As in being entirely replaced, made irrelevant, bypassed; becoming a vestigial, ceremonial residue not unlike various European monarchies or the Canadian Senate.

What WILL the "top ten," the cheerleaders and the homecoming queens (of all genders) do with themselves?

Well, as people persons, they should do rather well for themselves in a Peer to Peer world. They will just have to do it differently. Along with the rest of us, who may well have to employ them as our surrogate peers.

In the intermediate term, consider what your candidate actually says about the issues that matter to you. And by "Says," I mean what they say in practical terms, not the airy generalities and High Concept specification. That's all very fine and good, of course - if it has a practical implementation.

You see, our new and bravely webbed world means that there will be a change in how business and government is done, for good, for ill, and likely both. The only question NOT at issue is whether change will occur; it will occur just as surely as the growth of a good road network made the Roman Empire possible. Possible - but not inevitable, other than there was a need for some entity to maintain roads and trade nexi. It could just as well been a federation of trade guilds as a consolidation of power in the hands of traditional authorities.

Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you. Because in a Peer to Peer world, your peers are just as likely to be in Afghanistan as next door, so a government that presumes to pick and choose your peers - and your friends - is not acting in your interest at all.

Considering the expense of the damn things - national governments - they are overdue for an audit both in concept and practice. That is to say, if they wish to continue being of service past the first decade or so of this new millennium.

UPDATE: I investigated Soda Club, since I stumbled across it, and found out that I COULD become an affiliate. So I applied, and it will appear in my sidebar as a permanent sponsor. Why?

Not because I expect to make a ton of money. It's because I believe you are known by your friends, and what they stand for. This firm seems to me to be representative of the thrust of this whole article, and what Graphictruth is all about. I mean, I'd LOVE to make a dime or two off this, don't get me wrong. But it's more about investing in the idea, even if it's just vicariously.

Here's their link. And here's the link to their Affiliate page, just in case you might like to spread the word yourself.

Love soda? Get a Soda-Club soda maker! About the size of a coffeemaker and even easier to use, you’ll make fresh seltzer and soda at the touch of a button, with no clean-up. No more lugging, storing and recycling. Over 25 great-tasting flavors.
And their diet varieties come with "Splenda" instead of the other. In case that matters to you. Me, the idea of being able to make fresh juice-based drinks is even more attractive. Alternately, you could carbonate your Kool-Aide - or even your gelatin desserts.

The point is, you get to choose, and the marketing is not about making you want something in particular, but wanting to become empowered to choose what YOU really want.

Even if it's Jones Soda's "turkey and gravy" flavor.

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