Friday, June 22, 2007

Waves of Neocommunism

For me, America has always represented an extreme ideology: of personal freedom, of individual identity, and a justice system that would let nine criminals go free if it means possibly condemning one innocent man. If this were Dungeons & Dragons or Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion, they'd be working for the forces of Chaos. The "East", on the other hand, represented the extreme opposite. In China, there was rigidness and too much traditionalism and duty. The value wasn't on the individual, but in the community. Again, using the same analogy, in my mind, they represented the forces of Law.

Of course times change and that's not exactly the current political climate. Ever since 9/11, America has slowly been shifting more towards Law than Chaos. Numerous countries on the East, on the other hand, have given up ideologies like Communism, and slowly veering away from tradition.

Now to me, Communism isn't this evil ideology or belief. It's simply a system--perhaps a flawed system but not necessarily an inherently evil one. For me it's more akin to dictatorship--it's not the perfect solution to every occasion, but there will be occasions when choosing it over the alternative might be the best choice. Personally, I don't like it because there's little incentive for person achievement, but if it's equality you want (as opposed to equitable), you can't deny its effectiveness. And perhaps what you have to bear in mind when it comes to Communism is that it really places value more on the community rather than the individual.

Property, on the other hand, is always something I associated with the individual. We assert our ego on an inanimate object or idea. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are similarly extensions of the sense of property, albeit abstract senses of the word. Patents for example aren't tangible per se. When I make a design or a formula, it's not something I can touch or feel, but rather something I imagine or simply potential waiting to be converted to actuality.

Lately though, thanks to the Internet, there's been a slow but certain shift to ideas of Communism. Sense of property, especially over abstract ones, is slowly being swept away. And of course most of it is taking place over the Internet.

It's easy for me to blame fandom but that's not the only area where it's taking place. But for me, using fandom best explains why people are all for it. Simply put, people are spreading their love for a particular title, be it a TV series, a comic, a cartoon, or a book. More often than not (because I accept that such forms of distribution helps promote the product) however this is done without the approval (whether legitimate or informal) of the owners or license holders. And perhaps what's scary about this phenomenon is that fans are expecting that they're entitled to a certain title or series. A few days ago, when Viz gave an ultimatum to fansubbers to desist in releasing fansubs of Death Note in the US, many fans were angry and said they wouldn't purchase any stuff from Viz. Never mind that Viz paid for the US rights and while I'm someone who similarly depends on fansubs, they are well in their rights to ask the fansubbers to stop their activities (of course not all companies choose this action but again, it's Viz's choice). And then there's almost automatic response of the community against any entity trying to regulate and monitor P2P distribution networks. Sometimes the community doesn't get its way (i.e. Napster). Sometimes they fight (i.e. Digg). But the point is, the skirmishes are already present and the battle won't end with those examples.

Another example of "communal property" are the property from which fan fiction is based on. Many pro-fan fic readers/writers expect that once a text is out there, it's for anyone's use what to do with them and they don't really need the author or the publisher's permission. Of course fans might qualify that statement by saying they're not earning anything from it or depriving the publisher of any money, but it remains the fact that they're doing it without permission. It's like your best friend borrowing your car without your permission. Permissible? Perhaps. But it can be annoying or insulting depending on your frame of mind.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not against this phenomenon, merely observing and detailing it. The one currency fandom retains is fame since "credit" to an author or fan fic writer or fansubbing group remains. That's not the only instance however. Wikipedia is another example I'd like to throw into the mix. This time it's not property that becomes communal property but knowledge. And unlike fandom, the currency that's eliminated is credit. When you contribute to a Wikipedia entry, the entry itself doesn't attribute who wrote it and who added which and what part. Not that I'm saying that's wrong or that it's unfair (since the contributors knew this fact beforehand), simply that individual rights are being forsaken for the good of the community.

There's also a point when I ask myself if maybe we should embrace this form of Neocommunism and do away with copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Google for example has been trying to make every book published available but it's limited to the rules and regulations of every country and what's public domain and what's not. If every book was made public domain, then everyone, whether rich or poor, educated or not, will have access to it (assuming they have a computer and an Internet connection). Of course I'll admit that part of my hesitation in embracing this idea is that I'm an aspiring writer and in the future, I'd want to have control over the pieces of fiction that I write. But this idea doesn't simply extend to books. What if I'm an inventor and I come up with a design that will benefit humanity and at the same time become a lucrative endeavor on my part. But if other people copy it without paying me fees or without my approval, sure, the design will be propagated but I'm not earning from it (and the other effect of this is that there's no quality control over the clones and derivatives). With that situation, the only inventors we'll have will be the purely altruistic ones and might shift the balance towards the opposite of what Communism is trying to achieve: the hoarding of personal accomplishments.

In the next few years, it'll be interesting to note how this all plays out. I'll probably be making a list in my head of phenomena that I'll list as "Communism" and "Anti-Communism" and see how it all balances out. Of course given the reputation of Communism, proponents of this ideology will call it something else or give it a new label. Open Source for example is one item that I'll file under this Neocommunism mentality. As to whether we're all the better for it, who can say? We can make the most of it or we can do what humans do best: exert their own ego.

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