Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Darkest Hour

Tonight Wikipedia is scheduled to go down for 24 hours, prompting somewhat of a media frenzy. TIME has, in fact, released an article about "how to survive Wednesday's Wikipedia Blackout". As one of the most popular sites on the internet, Wikipedia is more that just a go-to for information on science, history, and popular culture: it acts as a portal for the international community to share knowledge.

It is no secret that totally love Wikipedia: it is perhaps one of the greatest things the internet has to offer. While there are many sites out there that garner a lot of traffic, like Twitter, Google, and YouTube, Wikipedia is free of advertising and there is no need to sift through junk. The internet revolution has brought democracy to our day-to-day lives in ways that we never could have imagined. This morning I watched a new video about Oscar-winning films that is going viral. After watching this, I thought of how media like this would have been produced and consumed a decade ago. While something like this would have been produced by a major television network and only could have been viewed at scheduled times on the air, it is now created by anyone with vision, ambition, and resources, and can be viewed by virtually anyone, anywhere.

One of the major ramifications of this democratisation movement has been trying to figure out copyright laws. That is, in fact, why Wikipedia is shutting itself down for 24 hours. In the United States (as well as many other jurisdictions), pressures from governments have led to various websites and forms of media to be closed and taken down. Wikipedia's management have termed these attempts to regulate the internet "censorship" and have decided that it is time to raise awareness.

What I find particularly interesting is that censorship legislation has always been framed as affecting filesharing sites (such as the Napster suit from over a decade ago). However, many industries, like publishers, are suffering lower sales as a consequence of sharing information on the internet (think of how Sparks Notes has been effectively replaced by Wikipedia). The influence of these industries on government through lobbying and through sponsorship is immense and not to be taken lightly.

The battle between the regulatory aims of state-corporate partnerships and the democratic people of the internet has been raging for as long as the internet has been a household item. It's truly a battle of capital versus the freedom to share. In the context of personal liberty, or in the interests of building communities of knowledge, the democracy of the internet is something that needs to be vehemently defended.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

People For Good

Last year there were plenty of movements that made some serious ground. As usual there were trends in art and music and all sorts of new internet memes, but what is astonishing to me is the variety of interesting social, economic, and political movements that garnered attention. You've heard me go on about Occupy at length, but there have been others that were pretty significant.

This first to look at is the movements taking place in the Middle East and North Africa this year. Collectively, they have been termed the Arab Spring (in homage to the much less successful Prague Spring of 1968), but these movements became autonomous and locally focused, much in the same grain as Occupy has.

Another movement that was popular last year was of course the Tea Party Movement. Although it started in 2009, the Tea Party really was a force in the last year, particularly with so much attention given to American politics in the run-up to the 2012 election.

There have been plenty others, in fact, which took place all over the world. My list so far is rather western-centric, but populist movements are expanding and, with the power of the internet as an organising tool, becoming far more effective.

The movement which I wanted to focus on in this post is something to which I have given passing mention already: People for Good. This campaign started last year and, thanks to some brilliant advertising, has become quite well-known, at least here in Canada. In principle, the movement is about doing small things to help others. The philosophy is that it not only helps others, but in doing so we make ourselves feel good. I agree. We should be nicer to other people, but I feel that this movement runs pretty shallow.

While I certainly applaud people for doing random acts of kindness, I am weary of this as a revolutionary idea. Moreover, being nice to each other is a pretty effective distraction for dealing with some of our more serious problems in society. Rather than just putting on a face of being nice to others, why shouldn't we actually care about them by rebuilding our society? I find it quite exciting that Occupy and People for Good came out at roughly the same time and that they have been so differently received. It's certainly not astonishing that these movements have sparked opposite reactions. People for Good is a movement that doesn't require us to really change our lives - Occupy actually challenges the status quo. I'm all for high fives and giving up my seat on the bus, but what would be far more effective in my opinion is having a healthcare system that works for everyone and investing in sustainable energy.

Just to provide an example - let's look at some of these recommendations provided by the official website. The one that stuck out most to me was number 21 - "buy a sandwhich for a homeless person". While I fully agree that we should help people who are in difficult places, I think it is ridiculous and unsustainable for homeless people to rely on the niceness of some passersby. Would it not make more sense to invest in better shelters? Why don't we find ways to give them better mental health support? Why not help them if they are struggling with addiction? Why can't we take the time to help them build skills and find employment?

Short term solutions may sound warm and fuzzy, but in the end, People for Good is just a pipe dream for a better future. It's unfortunate that attention that could go toward actually solving some of the rampant social and economic problems in our society often gets easily diverted.