Shoshana Zuboff’s ‘Big Other’ and ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ as Future Economic Models
Shoshana Zuboff’s recently published article on what she has termed Information Civilization is a compact and helpful analysis of the kind of internet economies that are emerging in the early twenty-first century. This blog post is a commentary on that text. She takes Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian as her foil, referencing his two articles Computer Mediated Transactions (2010) and Beyond Big Data (2013).
Dan Byman’s defence of drones in Foreign Affairs (July / August 2013) sets out the case for drones, a highly effective, low risk method of taking out terrorists. The changed nature of terrorism, with its globalised, stateless, and highly distributed character certainly presents significant challenges to the defence of the realm. There are advantages over conventional military options – air strikes, ‘boots on the ground’, covert operations – and, in particular, the speed with which weaponised drones can be deployed makes them far more flexible tools for the military. The politics, Byman adds, can be tricky, but most governments within drone strike domains are tacitly acquiescent.
If the objective of the exercise is to defeat terrorism, or, rather, the immediate threat of terrorism, then Byman is right – drones are extremely effective. However, he is wrong in not addressing whether they advance the long term strategic interests of the United States. He limits his discussion on this to the prospect that drones create more terrorists in people whose families are killed or injured, perpetuating the hatred that turns people against America. The problems are deeper than that – and impact the core of who and what America is.
I posted just yesterday about the Informal Economy described by Robert Neuwirth as System D, where it is projected that by 2020 two thirds of the world’s workers will operate. That’s an economy almost entirely independent of the state, and the nation state structure. It all harks back to the Industrial Revolution, which spawned Marxism and the labour movement, a movement that brought communism and great intellectual struggle. We have to believe that within those workers there will be able leaders; English as a language is increasingly unifying peoples. It could be an interesting century yet!
I mentioned in passing yesterday that ‘In Africa, many tribes operate … with their own systems of justice’, though I did not have a reference. This morning, my attention was brought to a recent UN Development Program (UNDP) report entitled Informal Justice Systems. In it, the report states that ‘…80% of disputes are resolved through informal justice systems in some countries’. The claim is based on research by Ewa Wojkowska . The combination of the Informal Economy and Informal Justice is of course mesmerising. If those two beasts can find some resonance with an Informal Security apparatus, then hey presto, you have a de facto State, but not one in the conventional family of nations, rather is it more like some globalised feudalism, a million miles from Manhattan.
Glenn Greenwald’s most excellent series on Security and Liberty in The Guardian addresses most recently the definition of terrorism, and in particular the case of a gangland shooting where a man called Morales shot and killed an innocent 10-year-old girl by mistake. The State of New York convicted him of being a terrorist, defined by state laws as acting with ‘intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.’ The interpretation of the court was that Morales actions were designed to coerce the entire Mexican-American community, and were therefore terrorist. On appeal, the court not only rejected the terrorism conviction, but also sent the entire case for retrial, as the standards by which terrorist trials were conducted were different to those of non-terrorist offences.
A draft declaration from talks in Marrakech on the situation in Syria from the Friends of Syria has recognisedthe opposition as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’. Which is nice for them, I guess. Not so nice, one would presume, for the president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad and his friends. Syria has generally been on the wrong side of US foreign policy, and even when the US has needed its support, for example in the lead up to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, the extent to which it was willing to court Syrian support was arms length and defensive. President Obama’s declaration of support for the opposition coalition yesterday was not unexpected, and is likely to hasten the demise of the ruling family in Syria, which has been in place for over forty years.
I attended the inaugural meeting of The Constitution Project last night, a new academic research unit at UCC, whose meetings are open to the public. Groups and projects on The Irish Constitution and Irish Constitutional Law seem to be springing up in many places, some by the lunatic fringe, some deep in sheltered academia, and others – like this, it seems – trying to find a balance between the two. It was a well organised, well chaired event, with a good range of subjects within a reasonably tight framework. Kicking things off was the subject of the Referendum Process, with Mr Justice Gerard Hogan speaking on the history of referendums, or more accurately the amendment structure under the 1922 constitution and why it was bad. He was followed by Mr Justice Bryan McMahon (who taught me Tort in Galway 22 years ago) who had been chairman of the Referendum Commission in the two most recent referendums, speaking of how the commission works – a rare and insightful discussion. Dr Theresa Reidy then outlined some opinion poll based research into why people voted as they did in the Oireachtas Inquiries referendum, which was very interesting, particularly in the context of Mr Justice McMahon’s comments. And finally Dr Maria Cahill revisited the Crotty decision, one that began to get at why we have so many referendums (not just in EU cases).