Posts By: David Bollier

David Bollier

There Are Plenty of Alternatives

By on August 15, 2017

Below is the opening paragraphs from an article of mine that originally appeared on TheNation.com on August 9, 2017. The full article can be found here: https://www.thenation.com/article/to-find-alternatives-to-capitalism-think-small. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking election victory, a shattered Democratic Party and dazed progressives agree on at least one thing: Democrats must replace Republicans in Congress as quickly as possible. As... Continue reading

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There Are Plenty of Alternatives

By on August 11, 2017

Below is the opening paragraphs from an article of mine that originally appeared on TheNation.com on August 9, 2017. The full article can be found here: https://www.thenation.com/article/to-find-alternatives-to-capitalism-think-small.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking election victory, a shattered Democratic Party and dazed progressives agree on at least one thing: Democrats must replace Republicans in Congress as quickly as possible. As usual, however, the quest to recapture power is focused on tactical concerns and political optics, and not on the need for the deeper conversation that the 2016 election should have provoked us to have: How can we overcome the structural pathologies of our rigged economy and toxic political culture, and galvanize new movements capable of building functional alternatives?

Since at least the 1980s, Democrats have accepted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the free-market “progress” narrative—the idea that constant economic growth with minimal government involvement is the only reliable way to advance freedom and improve well-being. Dependent on contributions from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Big Pharma, the Democratic Party remains incapable of recognizing our current political economy as fundamentally extractive and predatory. The party’s commitment to serious change is halfhearted, at best.

While the mainstream resistance to Trump is angry, spirited, and widespread, its implicit agenda, at least on economic matters, is more to restore a bygone liberal normalcy than to forge a new vision for the future. The impressive grassroots resistance to Trump may prove to be an ambiguous gift. While inspiring fierce mobilizations, the politicization of ordinary people, and unity among an otherwise fractious left, it has thus far failed to produce a much-needed paradigm shift in progressive thought.

This search for a new paradigm is crucial as the world grapples with some profound existential questions: Is continued economic growth compatible with efforts to address the urgent dangers of climate change? If not, what does this mean for restructuring capitalism and reorienting our lives? How can we reap the benefits of digital technologies and artificial intelligence without exacerbating unemployment, inequality, and social marginalization? And how shall we deal with the threats posed by global capital and right-wing nationalism to liberal democracy itself?

In the face of such daunting questions, most progressive political conversations still revolve around the detritus churned up by the latest news cycle. Even the most outraged opponents of the Trump administration seem to presume that the existing structures of government, law, and policy are up to the job of delivering much-needed answers. But they aren’t, they haven’t, and they won’t.

Instead of trying to reassemble the broken pieces of the old order, progressives would be better off developing a new vision more suited to our times. There are already a number of projects that dare to imagine what a fairer, eco-friendly, post-growth economy might look like. But these valuable inquiries often remain confined within progressive and intellectual circles. Perhaps more to the point, they are too often treated as thought experiments for someone else to implement. “Action causes more trouble than thought,” the artist Jenny Holzer has noted. What is needed now are bold projects that attempt to demonstrate, rather than merely conceptualize, effective solutions.

The challenges before us are not modest. But it’s now clear that the answers won’t come from Washington. Policy leadership and support at the federal level could certainly help, but bureaucracies are risk-averse, the Democratic Party has little to offer, and the president, needless to say, is clueless. It falls to the rest of us, then, to figure out a way to move forward.

The energy for serious, durable change will originate, as always, on the periphery, far from the guarded sanctums of official power and respectable opinion. Resources may be scarce at the local level, but the potential for innovation is enormous: Here one finds fewer big institutional reputations at stake, a greater openness to risk-taking, and an abundance of grassroots imagination and enthusiasm.

For the rest of this article, go to https://www.thenation.com/article/to-find-alternatives-to-capitalism-think-small

Why Use Creative Commons Licenses?

By on August 10, 2017

Even though Creative Commons licenses have been around for more than a decade, I am always surprised to learn that many progressive-minded activists, artists and academics – the people who should be most enthusiastic about the licenses – know nothing about them or at least don’t use them. A big welcome, then, to a new... Continue reading

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Book of the Day: The Mushroom at the End of the World

By on August 6, 2017

In a world that is falling apart (no further elaboration needed), how shall we understand the dynamics of survival and collaboration?  How does life persist and flourish in a world that is hellbent on commodifying and privatizing every aspect of human relations and the natural world? For anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, the answer is to... Continue reading

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Why Use Creative Commons Licenses?

By on August 3, 2017

Even though Creative Commons licenses have been around for more than a decade, I am always surprised to learn that many progressive-minded activists, artists and academics – the people who should be most enthusiastic about the licenses – know nothing about them or at least don’t use them.

A big welcome, then, to a new book Made with Creative Commons, by Paul Bracey and Sarah Hinchliff Pearson. The book – subtitled “A guide to sharing your knowledge and creativity with the world, and sustaining your operation while you do” – explains the licenses to a new generation of users. It also offers two dozen case studies about the legal sharing of textbooks, music, data, art and other works, thanks to CC licenses. There is a short video that introduces the themes of the book.

CC licenses are widely used elements of many popular platforms these days, including Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, the video sites YouTube and Vimeo, the scientific journals published by the Public Library of Science, MIT’s OpenCourseware, and Europeana, among many others.

For newcomers to Creative Commons licenses:  They are standard public licenses that a copyright holder can use to alert people that their works can be copied, re-used, and modified (depending upon the license) without permission or payment.  They are free to use and easily used.  Since the suite of licenses was released in 2003, it has been adapted to the legal systems of more than 170 countries in the world.  An estimated 1 billion works have been tagged with CC licenses, as of 2015.

Made with Creative Commons chronicles the benefits of using the licenses and illustrates those points with profiles of an individual musician (Amanda Palmer), a university textbook publisher (Knowledge Unlatched), an electronics manufacturer (Arduino), and a global community of furniture designers (Open Desk), among many others.

As Bracey and Pearson explain, the licenses speed the dissemination of creative works and information because they ensure access to everyone.  They maximize participation and collaboration in creating new works.  They spur innovation because more people can build on existing ideas with new twists.  CC licenses also boost the reach and impact of works because there are no artificial market or distribution constraints.

Because each re-use of a work adds value to the shared pool of knowledge and creativity, CC licenses are generative to our culture, not extractive, as conventional copyright tends to be.  Finally, there is a social solidarity that the licenses tend to encourage by enabling groups of people to create and manage their own knowledge commons.

Made with Creative Commons discusses how using the licenses can help a creative newcomer get discovered. “You can stop thinking about ways to artificially make your content scarce, and instead leverage it as the potentially abundant resource that it is,” write Bracey and Pearson.  Thus the makers of Arduino printed-circuit boards make their designs openly available under a CC license, enabling Arduino to build a different sort of revenue model around an open community of tinkerers and innovators.  The science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow has used CC licenses on his commercially successful books for years.  It has helped him attract a wider audience while also boosting sales for the physical copies of his books.

Creative Commons, the organization, has come a long way since its founding, and this book reflects some new thinking.  For example, the book situates the commons within the larger spheres of the market and state, contrasting the different logic and roles played by each.  The beginnings of a critical analysis of the political economy are evident. 

When first introduced, the CC licenses focused on the emancipation that come with openness, which was indeed a significant advance over the closed, proprietary publishing world of the 20th century. But as open networks have become dominated by Google, Facebook, Amazon and other digital giants, the upside of openness per se has diminished – and the appeal of self-managed commons has grown. 

That’s because big tech companies often make significant profits by becoming default platforms for user-generated content and social sharing.  They in effect monetize social sharing without rewarding the communities or original authors.  They make social collaboration a vulnerable resource that the biggest market players see as “free for the taking.” Made with Creative Commons implicitly acknowledges the limitations of openness, suggesting that perhaps the organization is ready to move beyond some of its libertarian, Silicon Valley roots.

Made with Creative Commons is published under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license, and available in many formats, including a printed book.