Butterflies, Wheels, Worms: and the Turnings Thereof

It’s all about books.

Ok, first you have to watch this.WTF? It’s 47 minutes long?

Ok – you don’t have to watch it, but it would be better if you did.

It’s one of those tarted-up dramatized documentary things that someone’s pirated and put up on google. It’s about the Venetian Inquisition back in the 1500s. There are two horrible bits – to do with burning and boiling – you can skip past those – but please do donate some money to Amnesty International, because in the name of religion and politics, this stuff is still happening today.

It’s about books.

The First Gutenberg Shift in fact – the church had a monopoly on the flow of information – and in particular the flow of information from people to God. This gave them an Empire, and license to create laws, and enforce them. Brutally. They had every thing sewn up, from top to bottom.

Then people learned how to make books (skipping-the-bishops) and the church responded with The Inquisition, and an interpretation of scripture that granted them (again) license to behave as cruelly as blind faith and the the medieval imagination will allow. All under the strict oversight of the law. Their law.

The reason I’m going on about this is (as well you know) that exactly the same forces are at work today. Digitisation has allowed people to do for themselves what they once had to pay corporations to do. “To Replicate and Distribute” – this is the value that corporations once provided… and it allowed them to hegemonise our culture, but now we no longer need them.

So now the Copyright Cartels (big publishers, owners of “IP”, et al) are attempting to change laws to maintain their empires.

True to prototype, they’re using the law as a terror-weapon against people who try to route around their distribution systems – this is why the original students (students again) sued for file sharing, were hit for something like 18 trillion dollars each. This is as close as a modern lawyer can get to burning someone alive.

In addition to this, they’re using the tried and true tactic of conflating this new freedom with “indefensible” crimes. So you will hear about child-abuse and terrorism – it used to be heresy and witchcraft. (and somewhere out there, circling in the dark is a nagging irony that these new “indefensible crimes” of child-abuse and terrorism, have this uncanny habit of turning up in shadows of the old monster, religion… but let’s leave that for now)

Still, The Corporation today is not as powerful as the church of yesterday, and this pattern of prosecution/persecution has now fallen back into something a little less theatrical and a little more pecuniary – people are sued at a level where they’re frightened of going to court, so settle for a justice-free fine.

Corporations after all are not generally staffed by monsters – it’s the system that’s the monster, the people are just people.

Anyway, it’s about maintaining empire in the face of a sweeping environmental change.

So the first Gutenberg shift was about books. Watch the video.

And now:


Although this probably isn’t going to shake the new empires of control to their cores, it does represent a nice symbolic circularity. There are now communities of people experimenting with the digitization of books.

And it only started 6 months ago – in June 2009.

This is Web 3.0… aka, The Next Sweeping Change. It’s memospheres of hardware. If you think it’s anything else you’re dreaming.

This technology has been around for a while of course – there’s a 4 year old ad here for an ATIZ for $35.000 (LOL)… and the 1000 frames a second Japanese variant. It’s only a matter of time before someone makes one out of lego. (actually, they already have)

I do find it massively ironic that some of the companies making this technology actually try to patent it (similar to the irony of the video at the top of the page having been pirated, in a 500 year old echo of the subject matter)… but – it’s a little more interesting when people do it themselves. It creates a kind of tech evolutionary fast-breeder.

People doing things for themselves (eg: The Whole Earth Catalogue Generation, Punk, Rave etc) is like a cultural flooding of the Nile. What went before is swept away and a new fertility is distributed – to anyone willing to pick up a shovel, or a guitar, or a typewriter, or an Arduino.

DIY Book Scanner Introduction and Motivation from Daniel Reetz on Vimeo.

I find the justifications given by the book-scanners interesting as well. They all seem to have this “morality” which is all about rescuing books that are out of print, or unavailable. It’s all about the long tail. It’s all about bringing literature to the blind, the disenfranchised. It’s all about fearfully avoiding stepping on the toes of the “owners” of mainstream information.

Well I say to hell with them.

The real reason for uploading information is to get the whole of human knowledge into the universal-mind, and make it universally available. That is the end that we’re driving for… that is the New Protestantism that hasn’t yet coalesced around a single unifying morality – that hasn’t learned its own name yet.

The “rights” of massive corporations in the big-picture are about as morally important as the “rights” of the Medieval Church to sell indulgences. They can spin it any way they want… they can back it up with force… but in the end, they don’t matter. The actual, physical environment in which they (and we) exist is now different, and it will never go back to how it was before… and really, why would we even want that?

It was the responsibility of previous generations to commit all human knowledge to writing… for future generations, so knowledge would not be lost. It is the responsibility of our generation(s) to digitize human culture. Not just our own, but all previous generations as well – so it is universally and freely available. “Money” will have to adapt – we’re don’t exist to serve money, it exists to serve us.

We have a moral obligation to artists, and art, not to economic systems.

So that’s my thought for the day.

1 Comment » for Butterflies, Wheels, Worms: and the Turnings Thereof
  1. And what a thought.

    I love your notion that “we don’t exist to serve money, it exists to serve us.” I’m increasingly gathering to the conclusion that money doesn’t even exist at all. That it only points toward a perceived value, and is without value in itself. Certainly is has been spent as if the numbers are mere toys. Perhaps it’s more energetic than actual.

    And I appreciate your placing a higher value on art, over economics.

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  1. […] Inquisitions shifted to the banning of books… those bypassing the authority of The Church. I mentioned a video about the Venetian Inquisition a while back… telling you to skip the bits were they burned people or boiled them alive […]