On intellectual feudalism

September 18, 2022 by Lucian Mogosanu

This article indeed echoes back to that old piece on intellectual ownership.

A Romanian fellow calling himself Undead Alien1 seriously expects his readers to comment on his blog via email, an expectation which as sure as hell I won't indulge, because... why? That aside, he writes2:

E timpul pentru web0

Internetul în momentul de față a ajuns un mediu centralizat, asta nu e ceva nou. Viitorul internetului sau web3 de care se tot discută de ceva ani buni a plecat de la idea descentralizării dar pe parcurs au apărut concepte și tehnologii ca blockchain, NFTs, metaverse, (+ altele), ce nu au nimic de-a face cu descentralizarea. Internetul meu îl doresc să fie ceva personal, descentralizat la maxim, o întoarcere la începuturi cu acces la tehnologiile și conceptele actuale, un reset după o actualizare la web0.

Fucking hell, allow me to translate:

It's time for web0

Nowadays' internet has become a centralized medium, this is not something new. The future of internet or web3 that has been a subject of discussion for a few good years started from the idea of decentralization, but meanwhile new concepts and technologies have appeared, such as blockchain, NFTs, metaverse (+ others), that have nothing in common with decentralization. I want my internet to be something personal, decentralized to the maximum, a return back to the beginning with access to current technologies and notions, a reset after an upgrade to web0.

First off, I hope we understand each other that the huge network called "the internet" has nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of "web", be it zero, one, three or a zillion. The internet is a collection of interconnected computers, each with its own unique identifier, also known as an IP address. The web, on the other hand, is indeed a medium running over the internet, first and foremost comprising hypertext, but also, as a secondary consideration, images, audio, video and JavaScript code, if you will. Adobe Flash files too, if you insist, but really, why?

I shan't delve into the confusions on "blockchain, NFTs, metaverse (+ others)", as I've happily ignored them so far. I can't help but notice that the author doesn't even mention the wreckage wrought by HTTPS and I'm willing to bet that his web0 should also come with TLS and PKI preloaded, because that's what his masters told him. I wonder if he understands that implicit trust, not "centralization", is the primary driver behind this wreckage. I also wonder if he understands how this phenomenon of centralization emerged and from what causes precisely; but I very much doubt it, since he "wants to", but he doesn't propose any solutions to the thick and thorny problems underlying all this.

But we all agree Google is bad, mmkay. Fine. Moving further down a few paragraphs:

Web3 Web0 (Web Zero) trebuie să fie orientat pe simplificare, pe oferirea posibilității ca orice persoană fără abilități tehnice să fie capabilă să dețină controlul absolut al datelor personale prin deținerea și folosirea de servicii descentralizate.

And translated:

Web3 Web0 (Web Zero) must be oriented towards simplification, towards providing every person without technical abilities with the possibility to be capable of having absolute control over personal data through the ownership and usage of decentralized services.

I can't even. Can you even? Since when does holding personal data require access to the internet? If anything, internet access constitutes a fundamental risk for data integrity, confidentiality and so on and so forth. In other words, the author not only lacks basic technical education pertaining to security, but he also expects there to exist such a wonder as "decentralized" "services", and for persons without technical abilities nevertheless! Și cu pula-n cur și cu sufletu-n rai, as they say over in ye olde Rahovian hoods.

Leaving aside the rest of the referenced text... this was, mind you, only a lengthy introduction into the subject matter. The problem is that this kind of stuff keeps trending on the web and folks read it and so... I'm stuck refuting it, and in order to refute it we need to take a trip a few decades down history lane.

Historically, technology wasn't accessible to the common man; it wasn't accessible either from an economical standpoint, since economy at scale is a fairly new invention; nor was it accessible from an intellectual point of view, since the "person without technical abilities" lacked the impetus to get off his ass and learn. This need gave birth to modern education, which at some level managed to educate some in, say, using a lathe, while at some lower level it educated townsfolk to use the washing machine, to drive a car and so on. As technological artefacts became more and more accessible the bar was also lowered, but it also put upon the system the weight of a complex chain of dependencies. For example, if thirty years ago one would be able to look behind the hood of their automobile and do some basic fixes, or even go beyond that, nowadays that same person is in the best case stuck calling the service folks, or otherwise in the worst case he has to call the vendor to help him figure what the fuck.

Now, as the economy turns more and more into economy at scale and as the bar gets lowered further and further, this chain of dependencies has evolved necessarily towards a star topology -- and from this point of view, ancient Rome pales in comparison to the situation today. Let's leave aside for a moment the simple fact that software processes have become centralized through GitHub et alia; in order to make a first small step towards the so-called "decentralization", one would have to begin by tearing down the cloud, which is, whether you agree with me or not, a piss against the wind; a small one, but it's going to get one full of piss either way. And this doesn't even cut it close: how does one face the fact that making the hardware is expensive as shit and there is as of yet no way to produce it independently?

That aside, that first small step would begin by considering the available alternatives, of which the first and foremost is... building a personal computer from components, as I'm sure even the quoted author has done at some point during his life. Here the more orthodox technician can search the second-hand markets for older, untainted hardware components3, while otherwise I'm sure that most stuff available on the market can nowadays run, say, a GNU/Linux. And let's not even get into GNU/Linux, how many people still bother to bootstrap their systems "by hand" via Gentoo or whatever? Last I heard, the latest Ubuntu was still infested with bloatware -- although I haven't looked in a while, to be honest.

To sum up the modest list of examples provided above, of which there are many more, tertium non datur: you either ride the wave of centralization that's been ongoing for the past two decades or more, or otherwise you start spending money on stuff that ain't going to get any cheaper in the future and you start spending time to educate yourself. Now go ahead and pick.

Taking another step back, the so-called "wave of centralization" is perfectly transparent. The postmodern West is built tall around this resource of "intellectual property"4 that its so-called "big tech" started amassing as soon as it possibly could. And it's been hoarding everything: from the otherwise worthless music and other forms of expression that lie on the tubes nowadays; to whatever capable heads it could find that would build the next generation of tech. And we're naïvely discussing such wonders of intellect as computers, but it's going to be a sad day when you find out that on a radius of a thousand miles you won't be able to find anyone able to produce basic household items. Or will you? I don't know, let's wait and see, amirite? Meanwhile I guess it's (finally?) becoming painfully obvious that all the buzzwords are leading you down the path to serfdom; and it's getting more and more painful, costly and difficult to turn back.

Until then, consider this: my humble blog, an insignificant collection of web pages on the web, runs on a machine which I fully own, hosting completely unsexy software that I maintain with my own two hands, on my own time and dime. Freedom costs -- everything in life costs and there's no other way to go about it, but sure, feel free to search that elixir while the world keeps burning.

Anyway, my blog is an entirely decentralized piece of the interwebs and the average derp can still easily build his own for the time being. What else the fuck do you want?

  1. From his about page: born in the mid '70s, used to play with Z80s, likes computers, technology, minimalism, "science" (quotes are mine), not a geek but not too far off.

    Doesn't sound all that bad... in theory. 

  2. Archived, for what it's worth. Yes, the web is made up of feeble and ephemeral pieces of fabric, what can I do! 

  3. Say, motherboards without EFI, but that's only a small part of the taint. Now do you even begin to grasp the knowledge needed to "decentralize" computing? 

  4. Have you ever wondered what would have happened had the Soviets discovered the integrated circuit before the US? or have you ever wondered what would have happened if the US hadn't outsourced most of its manufacturing to Asia

Filed under: asphalt, olds.
RSS 2.0 feed. Comment. Send trackback.

5 Responses to “On intellectual feudalism”

  1. #1:
    Verisimilitude says:

    I accept comments by email, and occasionally get one, but this is more because I can't be bothered to make and connect a usable submission form for it. He doesn't even run a Gopher hole; I checked. He'd probably use that bastardization of Gopher I won't bother naming, if he ever had the idea to move off the WWW partially and beyond email.

    I, however, agree with the idea that the common man should have an easier time of using these computer systems; we agree their complexity imparts little or no worth, and the complications are mostly artificial. Still, if I make the usual analogy with plumbing, well I get something that looks very similar to the present centralization, now don't I?

    As one takes more ownership, one must also eat more of the useless knowledge contained within current computer systems; much preferable is to retreat to something comprehensible, like the Forthwrites. Just yesterday I was explaining to a fellow who struggled with programming, and felt bad about it, that stupid programmers love feeling as if they've not wasted their lives learning stupid shit, so they try to reinforce it, and this made him feel he should change careers; I believe not a career in programming is worth the problems, and believe it to be part of the problem, probably.

    Anyway, the best towards which most can journey is cobbling together a lifeboat in case a usable computer be made to be feasible. That's what I'm slowly building as well, a distilled bottle I may one day pour into a worthy vessel.

  2. #2:
    spyked says:

    > I accept comments by email

    That's fine, I ran my blog the same way for a while, before switching (back) to Wordpress. I just make very limited use of email nowadays, it's much easier for me to publish my comment in an article.

    > I, however, agree with the idea that the common man should have an easier time of using these computer systems

    I don't necessarily disagree, but the nuance I'm reading in your comment is slightly different. For the sake of argument, let's leave aside programming, complexity and purity (that is, the essential ingredients of computing) for a moment. Instead, I will provide a personal example:

    I did much of my early computing using Windows, thus I worked a lot, for example, with the visual metaphor of "icon", that thing you double-click in order to open a file, a program or whatever. However, it did not take me long to understand (after, for example... right-clicking!) that there are multiple types of such icons, for example links; and furthermore, that the link contains, in addition to the pretty image, a path to some file, for example. At the moment when I realized that, my representation of that which I used also changed, it went beyond simple pretty double-clickable items to, well, something more complex.

    That is, in the end what makes the difference between, say, Android and a classical Unix. Android has, for better or worse, simpler representations, that even a five-year old can employ, even before he learns how to read -- the fact that said representations cannot be revealed to the user (as Windows did in my example) is deeply problematic, however. Unix (or some other environment that you like) has, also for better or worse, much more complex representations, but said complexity is not accidental, but rather essential to the type of tasks that can be performed with a Unix.

    From this perspective, Excel is an excellent intelligence amplifier for all practical intents and purposes, and it need not be used by "technical-minded" people. In fact that's the problem: had education worked, there would be no such sort of distinction as a "technical-minded" person. That is all I'm talking about: if one wishes to take ahold of the way he uses computers, then he needs to fully grasp the abstractions he wishes to work with. And I dare say that there is nothing ideological in this; after all, computers are mere tools.

  3. [...] sure, whatever intellectual resources are left are to be concentrated in the hands of a [...]

  4. [...] not only is today's entertainment industry way more expensive and bereft of (primarily intellectual) resources, but they've recently decided to outsource it to AI! Which means that you'll finally get [...]

  5. [...] individual is not really relevant nor is it interesting with respect to this discussion. The same feudal principle applies whether the political environment you inhabit is nominally democratic, communist [...]

Leave a Reply