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The Almighty Buck

Geeks, Silicon Valley, and Politics 79

A reader wrote to us saying that The Economist has an interesting article/editorial in this week's issue about Silicon Valley and politics. Mostly that they just don't get it, but are finally coming around to playing the game the same old way and trying to change it at the same time. It's an interesting, changing landscape - maybe this is the election that the Internet really starts to matter.
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Geeks, Silicon Valley, and Politics

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  • One of my Senator's senior staff once said, and I paraphrase, 'Congress sees how the Internet has become so important to this country, and is frustrated that they had next to nothing to do with it. Most Congressmens' egos are too large to let that kind of thing exist without them having control over it.'

    I think that's why you see all of these laws all of a sudden that attempt to regulate the Internet. All of these politicians jumping on the "protect our children" bandwagon is one example of what happens when large egos and small CQs (Cluefulness Quotients) are added to the mix.

    As legislation focuses on the Internet, people with an interest in that legislation either way SHOULD involve themselves in the democratic process.

    What's news here (whether or not the Economist thinks so) isn't that geeks are getting politically involved, but that
    1. the involvement of geeks in the political process is leading to the infusion of cluons where they are needed on issues of importance, and
    2. the fact that geeks are a force in politics at last will eventually lead to more clueful politicians and to the clueful consideration of issues that matter to geeks.
    As geeks, we're past the point where we can ignore and subvert the idiots in politics and just reroute our online selves around the points of idiocy that exist on the Net. Eventually, the G-men will come to take us away (a la Mitnick, et al) if we don't take charge ASAP.
  • I guess this is where Rob shld start singing "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss..."
  • NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!

    Our dollars buying politicians is just as bad as anyone elses dollars buying them. It might not me as bad for us, but it is still bad in general. I don't want anyone's dollars buying politicians.
  • Perhaps its just that The Economist think its perfectly acceptable that politics is only who can buy which politicians and why

    I subscribe to The Economist, and I can assure you that this is not its editorial position. A month or two ago it had a large article on US campaign finance, what is wrong with it, and the various proposals to fix it.

    Part of the point of this article is that the geeks are not buying politicians because they want to own them, they are buying them to defend themselves against other people's politicians.

    Remember the old definition of an honest politician: one who stays bought. (I first read that in Robert Heinlein. Stranger In A Strange Land ISTR).

    As an aside, I would say that The Economist is almost the perfect Geek Newspaper. It is intelligent, never emotional, well informed, and has the view that politics is about fixing things rather than ideology. It favours ideas which are free market, "liberal" in the old sense, and meritocratic.

    As for syndicalism, I've read the anarcho-syndicalism FAQ and not been impressed. There does not appear to be any real difference between A-S and pure lassaiz-faire capitalism.

    Terry Pratchett put it very well in "Interesting Times": no matter how many revolutions you have, the Rulers are still in charge.


  • You left out the only reasonable option:

    Oppose them.

    Don't accept their parasitic system. Don't let Silicon Valley get sucked into the self-destructive system of political lobbying.

    The internet community has the most effective tool for opposing the system: The internet. Let's use it.
  • This article seems to blur the difference between geeks, and the technology industry. Let's be honest: these are NOT the same thing.

    Yup. Exactly what I was going to say.

    What do we want? - where "we" is some stereotypical /. reader... okay, geek if you like.

    • The freedom to manage information - including software - without annoying restrictions that don't make any sense; specifically, we don't like silly encoding schemes that attempt to stop us copying music for our own purposes, or the likes of DIVX - even though all such schemes have proven in the end to be ineffectual;
    • The freedom to create information without annoying restrictions that don't make any sense; specifically, we don't like software patents that can stop us using simple ideas and algorithms - even when we thought of them ourselves;
    • The freedom to distribute information without annoying restrictions that don't make any sense; specifically, we don't like crypto regulations that can stop us from using universally well-known algorithms anywhere we like - even though these rules, too, are ineffectual.

    Now, what does the average company boss or political lobbyist want?

    • The freedom to make as much money as possible, when necessary by using any annoying restrictions they can make legal.

    It's an issue of control, I think. We don't like it. Many companies love it. Overly glib, perhaps, but I believe there's something there.

    This comment was brought to you by And Clover.
  • We're not philosophers? What the hell are we then?

    We are not the kind of philosophers who write books about [social|economic|political] philosophy which then shape the course of debate and policy.

    The only counter-example I can think of is Bill Gates, and his books were more of an ego trip than real philosophy: everyone agrees that they were pretty lightweight.


  • ...I'd rather say that Politicians, like most of us, are quite clueless on 99% of all areas.
    C'mon, the average geek would be just as lost in capitolium as a politician on comdex.

    From a politicians view, the net is just another media. What "they" have a hard time grasping is that it is a distributed media. You can control a newspaper by controlling the editor, but without the editor, and with global distribution "they" just dont have any tools to control it.

  • sir, you may talk like that in the privacy of your own home, but this is a family web site that is often frequented by children .. it is not the boiler room of some steam ship in the middle of the atlantic. please try to keep a civil tongue.

    Up yours, you bloody stupid AC..

    Welcome to free speech. BTW, this is not a site for children.

    (yes, I know it was a joke to begin with)

  • Because politians are:

    1) Old (I know there are older slashdotters/geeks/nerds, bear with me).
    2) Doing other things with their time than compiling a linux kernel (notice I said "other" not "better").

    If I was out trying to convince X amount of people to vote for me, then I have a preportionally less time than X to do other things (boink my wife, play on the computer, beat half-life again, play music, actually care about other things).

    The older thing is the kicker. Sorry, older nerds, but you're outnumbered, and you aren't the ones running for office.

    When I posted earlier (yes, I was the one that said I was running for president, and moderated, down! "off topic" my ass, it was on topic, stupid, but on topic), I wasn't joking. I am RUNNING for president of the US, but I can't win, because I just turned 21. I can't become a senator or even a representative, even if I wanted to.

    Yeah, it sucks, but until a larger segement of the geek popluation grows up just a little, there isn't much we can do, unless it's convince the older people to run for office.

    Have a good day
  • oh, I forgot, this is the Internet, you have to very carefully point out what you mean by a statement unless you want someone to misinterpret it. My point was that they tend to act like experts on any given subjects even though most of them are just reading the stuff some writer gave to them. I shudder to think of what George Bush or whoever would write.
    I think I'll also say, "good for you." It's not like it takes that much energy to drive to a polling station. I happen to also be an american and a voter, because I want my complaints to be heard in a more influential way than blowing hot air. Any one can complain about whatver they want, it might not get anything done but they can still complain.
  • Ignore them - and let the "Internet is a haven for pedophiles" crowd buy their votes on censorship.

    Ignore them - and let the "Internet is a haven for drug dealers and terrorists" crowd buy their votes on crypto.

    Ignore them - and let the "Internet is a great way to track all customers and send them offers which will interest them" crowd buy their votes on privacy.

    All those things happen - and will continue to happen - whether "we" ignore it or not.

    Buy their votes ourselves.

    That's only an option because a lot of "us" have money now. "They" used to do Bad Things (buying the favors of politicians is, IMHO, a Bad Thing) that "we" were unable to do. Now some of "us" are in a position to do those same Bad Things. That doesn't make it right.

    Politicans are for sale. Deal with it.

    Oh I do deal with it. But I don't have to like it, and I don't have to believe it's a Good Thing. It's not. It wasn't when The Opposition was buying all the votes, and it won't be when you and I are buying them. A Good Thing would be if politicians voted their conscience without regard for who was lining their pockets this week.

    Surely it's better that it be our dollars doing the buying than those of our opponents.

    It's not better. Just different.

  • I do like the comment that says they should "start acting on Internet Time rather than Washington Time".. Struck me as supremely true.

    Oh deary, dear. Nothings scarier than a legislative body or agency acting quickly. That's when you know The Fix is in.

    Like it or not, governing works best with lots of sunshine, and sunshine adds time to the process. It takes more time to be inclusive, to open the process up to a variety of points of view, and then to try to reconcile those points of view.

    Democracy's not at it's best when adapting to rapid change (which explains monstrosities like the CDA). As we settle into our new cyber habits, our elected representatives will eventually catch up. In the mean time, please don't rush them.

    -- Posted from Inside the Beltway

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This article raises several good points about some of the politics underlying the culture surrounding the hitech industry. However, if fails in so many other regards.

    From the article, you'd think that the only people who care about politics are "Tech Bosses" who have enough money to lobby politicians with. Perhaps its just that The Economist think its perfectly acceptable that politics is only who can buy which politicians and why... thats not democracy, its an indictment against the corruption in our political system.

    The competing interests they talk about are the competing interests of corporations. How it could ever seriously talk about small nimble companies and the death of big business has got to be some kind of joke. Faster than the Federal government (with continually increasing powers and budget) can bust trusts and monopolies, are they not combining into larger and larger corporations.

    About the only thing Big that they were right about getting small is Big Unions. This is largely their own damn fault, becaused they stopped being unions that fought on the job and became political machines, lobbying groups and pension/insurance plans. And, suprise, they never have the money to buy politicians like corporations can. Which is ultimately why efforts like Washtech [] are doomed as long as they try and compete with corporate money in electoral politics. Ofcourse, anti-democratic practices, corruption, organized crime, capital flight to the third world (GATT, NAFTA and the WTO), and being outmoded by new technology have heart Big Labor alot.

    If unions are to ever work for geeks, they've got to be portable, decentralized, democratic, focus on direct action (instead of electoral lobbying), free (like in speech, not beer) and of a generally anti-authoritarian/libertarian culture. They've got to be willing to fight over issues like censorship (remember when the Web turned black against the CDC?), privacy, spam, standards, accessiblity, etc... I only know of couple humble attempts at that [].

    The complete cyberpunk fake book has a better hold on geek politics than the Economist. Fringe parties... if geeks are in parties are all... are like the Libertarians and the Greens. The number of out right anarchists growing in the industry is pretty astounding.

    Most geeks don't identify themselves with any particularly ideology (and certainly not any party). They have a patchwork of issues they care about, if they vote registere independent or which ever party has dominance so they'll have a better choice during primaries. Political geeks would rather take action [], or support their local communities, in the streets []. If geeks want to get rid of propietary software, they out evolve it, they don't try and lobby it away; Anarchism Triumphant! [] If they think corporations have bought up to much radio spectrum, they help people take the airwaves back [] from FCC sellout. Or take out satellites [].

    But none of these things are politics, as far as The Economist is concerned. But then, civil disobedience is pretty hard to buy off.

    When geeks start applying what they are already doing on other issues to work... then you'll really begin to see something. Syndicalism [] might get a rebirth for the new millenium yet.

    Demand the Impossible! []

  • >Politicans are for sale. Deal with it. Surely it's better that it be our dollars doing the buying than those of our opponents

    I dig it. But my real question is, why do geeks have such a narrow platter of political issues? Obviously there are a few things that are close to the heart... but there's an awful lot of stuff in the world that's still a hideous mess, and still would be even if all of our concerns over privacy, etc, were suddenly resolved the way we'd like.

    Geeks talk about the "geek elite", but as a political entity it's a no-show -- geek activism is for the most part only concerned with the geek world. Which is fine, sort of. But I believe geeks have the potential to hold real power as an electorate, because the current economy is geek-driven. This means that the old utopian dreams (information liberates, etc) could finally have force behind them. Why shy away from this?

    For example, there's a growing sentiment in the US Congress (particularly, but in no way exclusively, the GOP) towards a sort of new isolationism. To a geek, this seems pretty bogus. And on top of that, it seems unbelievably dangerous. I see a lot of discussion on /. about the thinning of international boundaries and how people/politicians don't understand what it's going to mean to be part of a global economic/political/information architecture in the 21st century. Perhaps this is because no one ever bothered to tell them?

    Which brings us back to buying votes. Perhaps I'm no longer cynical (realistic? :)) enough to list that as the key step, but surely we could do more. I guess making sure everyone votes is a good step.

  • Doh. The next century begins with the end of 2000. Next year will be the two thousandth year of the Common Era (or anno domini, however it's spelled). Therefore, when we complete the two thousandth year, we will begin the two thousand first in 2001. The millenium ends in 14 months.
  • But please ... buying govt handouts with campaign contributions has been going on since before the transistor. The technology changes, the players change, but the game remains the same: buying taxdollars or other regulations cheaply.

    Please, don't accept this as a given! The only way to avoid getting pulled into the game is to challenge the premise of a centralized regulator. We geeks/nerds, more than anyone, should recognize that it doesn't scale, and therefore kills efficiency (not to mention a few million property rights).
  • Don't take this the wrong way but what was the point of your comment? It sounds like you have something on your mind that loosely relates to the Economist article,in a mostly ephemeral way, but your point didn't come across well. Or maybe you were in a rush or something ?!?

    The best writers employ the tried and true adage of KISS -- Keep it simple stupid.
  • ...campaign donations are implicitly exchanged for influence over the political process.

    Perhaps slightly off topic here, but in Canada [], we frown on politicians accepting bribes. This applies to most other democratic countries too, I think.

    This is the American definition of "politically active", is it? Campain donor? I've always been a bit confused by the way the U.S. has so much of this going on and nobody seems to want to do much to change it.

    More practically, are there ways that American geeks (not all of us are, remember) can influence the political process with less of a go-home-and-shower feeling?


  • First a minor /.ing from the falover from the BillParrish article, and now a full bore /.ing. Is anyone safe from our effect.
  • If this is the election where the Internet matters, then its inventor should fare very well indeed. Cyber-George Washington, the father of our digital nation.
  • I actually read somewhere that if Silicon Valley was an independant country, it would be the worlds 11th largest economy system :o) how about that.

    I've often wondered what it would be like if Silicon Valley would be a country. What is your oppinion on that?

  • Heh... isn't "Internet Time" those Beat things Swatch was pushing for a while back? Didn't everyone hate them? (I know I did.)

    Personally, I'd rather live on London Time. (I live in Georgia, USA... and all my clocks are set to GMT.)

    b underscore geiger at hotmail dot com
  • you mean father Al Gore?
  • This is just more typical writer-needed-something-to-write-about bunk.

    My thoughts:

    1. Geeks are not getting into politics more. There seem to be more geeks running around becuase there are more high-tech companies. I am almost positive that there was the same percentage of geeks into politics as there were 3 years ago as there is now. The ratio hasnt changed much.

    2. Not everyone in the IT industry is a geek. Look around at your co-workers, not all of them are geeks. I work at what would seem to be an uber-geeky organization, yet aside from myself, there are maybe 2 other geeks.

    3. The only reason there are more financial contributions is that there are many more companies today that can afford such. Besides, they give the money to who will enhance their business. It's all about making money. Just another way to earn a buck.

  • I can't say for sure, but I bet the military would be based around either Quake III or AD&D.
  • by Otto ( 17870 )
    Interesting article that doesn't say much..

    Yay.. Politicians realize the internet is a big deal. Whooptie-friggin-doo! The rest of the world figured it out when every TV commercial started having a web address 3 years ago..

    I do like the comment that says they should "start acting on Internet Time rather than Washington Time".. Struck me as supremely true.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure they can. The whole government is setup to be slow from the start. It's almost intentional. The whole system of checks and balances is not there just to keep it fair, it's there to prevent government from doing things. Any things. I simply don't think the government can cope with any speedy processes.

    The internet (and the computer world in general) moves in exponential time. Witness Moore's Law. Governments seem to move in inverse linear time. The more important a thing is, the longer it will take to do.

    Oh well. It'll all come crashing down anyway. :-)

  • I don't think the internet will matter very much because only a very small percentage of the population compose the cyber-lite. Most people online just use the internet occasionally and don't really care about crypto export laws and things of that nature. Al Gore even said he invented the internet and I doubt thats making people want to re-elect him.
  • I am convinced that 99% of politicians are totally clueless... however the article is better than a lot of other ones I've seen.

    "The average computer geek is convinced that the rise of clever machines and interlinked networks is inexorably shifting power from organisations to individuals, decentralising authority and accelerating innovation."

    I don't know about shifting power; but it certainly allows a pretty big soapbox for individuals; and a wider array of opinions for others to read.

    Politicians will also find it more difficult to sweep the dirt under the rug; and passing idiotic legislation like that recent Uniform Copycrap Act can not totally avoid public scrunity and outcry anymore.
  • When they start using phrases like "the culture of real virtuality", "the space of flows" and "timeless time", my eyes begin to roll over. I think we are getting inundated by shovelfuls of vague mish-mash from futurologists, philosophers, sociologists and other assorted "academic experts" analysing the internet phenomenon. Just read some stories from 4 yrs ago, and these kinds of philosophical musings about "identity in the chat room" start looking incredibly corny and stupid. Internet time doesn't spare journalists and academics, anymore than it does politicians.

    OTOH, the mix of silicon valley and politics is something new, and a lot of it was spurred on by the MS trial. (Did you know Bob Dole was hired by Netscape and Sun to lobby against MS?) I don't think it's a good idea that govt. is getting so fascinated by the smell of new money that hi-tech companies are forced to do political lobbying (because their competitors are). Sure, we may cheer the focus against MS because Novell, Sun, etc. bankrolled some senators to twist the screws on Redmond, but ultimately, this is a bad thing. Some day MS will be gone, but the necessity of lobbying will be there.


  • The politicians rarely pay any attention to what the geeks think. Now that the elections are drawing near, they want to convince the heads of the large tech companies that "they care". It's the same ballyhoo that they've always done. How many politicians do you think have ever used Linux, written a Hello World program or troubleshot a network?

  • Alright, so what's amazing about politicians joining the Internet fray of greedy self-promoters? Perhaps that they're doing it so quickly, instead of the next century. (Oh, wait, that's just two months away.)

    But the march was a slow but inevitable one. Let's see. First, there were the intellectuals and the perverts. Next, the businessmen walked in. Then, normal people with barely a clue on computer use (thank you AOL!). After that, lawyers.

    Politicians joining the Internet are a logical conclusion.

    Is the Internet and the geek community empowered by all the legal, commercial and political interest vested in their playground? I think not. It's a simple fact that all political parties are self-serving, and I don't think the big companies will find much solace in the political game. If anything, they'll get burned.

    But personally, I think if we leave the politicians alone, they'll just use the Web for self-promotion without doing much harm. From Isaac Plutonium to that "TIME IS INERTIA" dude, wackos trying to promote their ideas are nothing new to the seasoned Internet veteran.

    I hardly see the Internet matter yet. It matters as a promotional tool, a publicity stunt. To me, this further points to the crumbling of the Internet as a tool of societal transformation, and its transformation into an interactive TV.

    "Knowledge = Power = Energy = Mass"

  • Silicon Valley has a very, very strange demographic.

    Like the traditionally liberal university cities (Berkeley, Boston), SV is highly educated and intelligent. Unlike those cities, SV is not an ivory tower.

    Like the conservative cities based on a military economy (San Diego, Norfolk), SV has Moffet, NASA, Lockheed, etc. Unlike those cities, it is not a "soldier town".

    Unlike any other location, SV is the current center of entepreneurism. There may be a lot of rich corps and financiers around, but it's still the little guy with the big idea that gets things done.

    In short, you can't characterize Silicon Valley. If you try to do so, you'll be wrong. SV is quasi-libertarian with smatterings of socialism; compassionate conservatives and hard-nosed liberals; extremist moderates.

    None of the current crop of presidential candidates fit this mold.
  • show me a politician who can write a program in any decent language and he/she/it has my vote. I doubt that vast majority of them can even use windows well much less anything else more advanced than a telephone... They make promises now and it doesn't matter if they're broken later, once they are in office the chance of them being re-elected rises dramatically unless they make some _major_ mistake.
    well, I may be overly critical but they are supposed to be our representatives after all so if you dont push for someone that is exactly the way you want them (issues, intelligence, the ability to do anything with out huge amounts of lackeys/PR, SomeQualityIwantInMyCanidate, etc...) then they arent going to represent you as well as you wanted them to.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday November 01, 1999 @11:36AM (#1571756)
    For years, Washington ignored the 'net. For years, the 'net ignored Washington. It was a happy coexistence, but those days are over. Now that DC has noticed us, we are faced with a choice. Either:
    • Ignore them - and let the "Internet is a haven for pedophiles" crowd buy their votes on censorship.
    • Ignore them - and let the "Internet is a haven for drug dealers and terrorists" crowd buy their votes on crypto.
    • Ignore them - and let the "Internet is a great way to track all customers and send them offers which will interest them" crowd buy their votes on privacy.
    • Buy their votes ourselves.
    Politicans are for sale. Deal with it. Surely it's better that it be our dollars doing the buying than those of our opponents.
  • I think one of the major premises of this article is flawed. The trend is not that internet companies are becoming more interested in politics. It is that politically active companies are becoming more interested in the internet.

    I grant that there is more involvement in politics from some of the more notable names on the net. That is simply because net companies are maturing, changing from start-ups to more settled, fully managed (ahh!) companies. It is certainly understandable for a company, as it matures, to become interested in a larger scope of influence. Therefore, it is natural for these companies to become interested in politics inasmuch as they can use a little money to gain a little influence to shape a little law to gain a big-ass profit. This is no different from what traditional companies do.

    Nevertheless, the growth of existing net business does not explain the growth in campaign contributions from net companies. Rather, this is the result of more and more large (traditional) companies becoming "netified." These companies, after establishing their net presence or spinning off their internet-based "child" companies, continue to make donations as always. The only change is that they are now considered "internet" companies.
  • > Our dollars buying politicians is just as bad as anyone elses dollars buying them.

    Morally, you're absolutely right. Politics, however, isn't about morality, it's about power. Getting it. Exercising it. Keeping it.

    > It might not be as bad for us, but it is still bad in general. I don't want anyone's
    > dollars buying politicians.

    Nor do I. But until someone comes up with a solution to the fact that power corrupts, and that power and politics go hand-in-hand in damn near any form of government, and given that there appears to be little support amongst the "great unwashed" for anarchy, buying a piece of the current system appears to be the least ethically-offensive option open to us. Yes, they may be the "Great Unwashed" - 250,000,000 cluebies, if you will - but if the notion of "Washington Knows Best" is bogus, isn't "Geekdom Knows Best" equally bogus? Or are we somehow infallible in our political judgement and incorruptible in our souls?)

    To the AC who advocated armed revolt ("Shoot the thief"): Leaving aside the improbability of a few thousand pocket-protector-clad individuals pulling off such a feat, do you really think that those of us who rose to power in the chaos following your Glorious People's Uprising would be any less-corrupt than the ones presently in power? If your answer is "yes", may I humbly remind you that the historical record (France, Russia, China) doesn't exactly bear you out.

    I want either less corruption or more chance to participate. Given that "less corruption" is a non-starter in a world in which corruption is rampant, that leaves only the latter choice.

    We're geeks. It's in our nature to fix things. But if we lack the power to fix it, it's also in our nature to tweak it or work around it. Given the impracticality and improbability of fixing the current system, I'd rather tweak it by purchasing legislators friendly to our interests. The likely consequences of the "ethical" alternative - ignoring the system and ceding control of the debate to our opponents - are too dire for me to stomach.

  • I just want to be left alone.

    This article seems to blur the difference between geeks, and the technology industry. Let's be honest: these are NOT the same thing. The companies mentioned (3COM, for example) certainly employ geeks. But I seriously doubt these are the people behind the lobbying efforts.

    I can't speak for every coder, or even most of them. But for myself: I just want the government to stay out of my hair. Let me do my job, which I enjoy. Tax me fairly. Give me a channel to voice my opinion to my representative. And just be straight up about policy and don't lie to me.

    Hmm I guess there ARE some things that need work eh? However, for those things, I trust grass roots efforts and non-profit organizations more than any Silicon Valley corporation trying to lobby the government. Lend support to groups like the EFF (or whichever ones you feel best represent your interests).

    Large corporations, on the other hand, are only looking out for #1. If you think for a moment that they are lobbying for the greater-good, geek-rights, or any "noble" cause, you're fooling yourself. Their lobbying dollars are usually spent only when it will increase their profit.

    Best regards,

  • As I see it, geeks have nothing to do with it -- our favorite PHBs became a target of courting for campaign contribution, and politicians most likely will either support some more generous "groups" of companies, or just companies. First thing may be bad or merely annoying, second one definitely will be bad for everyone else.

    I don't see geeks influencing politicians at more extent than those geeks influence PHB and marketing people at their work, so this is definitely useless for us. Probably helping a politician to make a decent web site and explaining him issues that geeks will vote for at the next electons can give geeks much more influence over government than millions donated to the campaigns. Regardless of what will politicians will now use those money for, it will either alienate us by exposing ignorance, arrogance and stupidity, or it will never reach us at all, but very inexpensive process of getting a clue and expressing it in the way acceptable to the person with a brain, using the media, suitable for people with 12 hours work day and little tolerance for listening to bullshit, can go a long way.

  • "Liberal" originally was an anti-church philosophy. In the US, which never had a monolithic church, the implications of this of this are easier to forget. Yes, individual freedoms and enlightenment were of high importance; but an opposition to "vested" interests, to any principle in law that treats property as anything but transferrable capital, was just as important.

    But the old, inflexible laws which protected church property also protected peasant and (in the Americas) native lands held in common. When liberals didn't steal these lands outright by refusing to recognize the old commonholdings, they divided up the lands, forced the peasantry into mortgaging it, and soon were able to reposess. That's why "neoliberal" is a bad word among progressive economists, especially from the Latin American crowd.

    Laissez-faire capitalism put capital (personal wealth) in charge, and with this powerful new engine both progressive change and regressive inequality accelerated to a new level.

    The modern geek is exactly an inheritor of this liberal tradition. This time around, big business and big labor are the Church and the Commons, and government pork their vested property. The freedom to innovate [][1] is our rallying cry, and we forsee and are bringing about a major shakeup of society. The truly open question is, have we learned our lesson from the last time around?

    Money rushes in to fill any gaps in the new power structure; and money loves inequality. As we smash the old shackles, it's important that we invent new ironclad protections for equality. That's why the GPL, with all its flaws, is very important politics.

    [1] Yes, that's a Microsoft URL. Astroturf or not, I think they've hit a nerve.
  • All they really had to do would be to offer the US a little dicount on software and then they'd be in the green. I that wouldn't work they could always use the "give us what we need or US computing will be back to stone age" phrase. As was pointed out in a slashdot article not so long ago (I'm to lazy to find it and link to it) Silicon Valley has a vast resource of people who would be brilliant in politics. I think Silicon Valley could do very well for itself simply by either threat or diplomacy for food and other necessities. I think Russia or China f.x. would happily assist Silicon Valley with whatever they want for some up-to-date software. And they cant exactly invade Silicon Valley can they, being in the middle of the USA. If USA would try to invade Silicon Valley they'd misteriously lose control of everything remotly connected with computers. I can see it now, thousands of US troops throwing stones in a random manner at people with pocket protectors (I think military supplies might get sent to Alaska "by computer mistake")

  • Which if was an independent country, would weigh in at 8th largest economy. Agriculture (especially marijuana, largest cash crop) + Hollywood + SV + Pacific commerce...
  • by goliard ( 46585 ) on Monday November 01, 1999 @02:03PM (#1571765)

    ("...Say ya want a rev-o-luu-uu-tion....")


    1. Geeks make up, on a good day, some 10% of the US population (defining "geek" generously, at that).
    2. Geeks are incredibly fractious. Getting a group of nerds to all vote in the same direction is like the probverbial herding of cats

    Ergo, at the voting booth we have the political clout of fuck-all. There's not a politician alive who doesn't grok this reality deeply. That's reality, boys and girls.

    Buying politicians with political donations is stupid. It's the brute-force solution. Everyone and his mom has a PAC. Our money would just compete on an even footing with everyone else's money. That's pathetic. Not an elegant way to fight, and not sufficiently reliable.

    There's an elegant way to fight: we buy our politicians in kind. We pay for them in services they could not possible afford - services they wouldn't have dreamed to ask for - without us. We buy them with hours, we buy them with resources.

    We host their web sites. We design their web sites. We set up the kind of informational infrastructure for coordinating volunteers which are a campaign manager's wet dream. We take over their internet presence so they don't do anything idiotic.

    Whatever you may think of his politics, Ventura has proved that the net can have quite an impact on politics.

    Are we wizards or aren't we? If we aren't kingmakers, we're pretty lame wizards, aren't we?

    Once upon a time (turn of the last century, actually) Boston was taken over by a new political force consisting entirely of immigrants. This was done via a form of social engineering called a political machine.

    We know about machines, don't we boys and girls?

    A political machine is an organization which gets large number of votes out (and pointed in the same direction) when it matters, and it does so (hence the analogy to a machine) reliably and pretty much regardless of who the candidate is.

    The political machines of the last century were not scalable, because - get this - networking limitations. The resource cost (mostly volunteers, time, and money) grew linearly with the size of the constituency being influenced. National elections were really beyond the serious influence of political machines.

    But we could fix that, couldn't we? If there's any kind of problem we can solve, it's how to route large amounts of information correctly.

    One big difference, oft lamented by geeks, between then and now is the extent to which our elections have become a media game. But that's to our favor . We control a medium! We rule in this medium, we can make it do things no one else can.

    I'm not even talking about compromising the enemy's services. I'm talking about putting up web sites 1000% better than the opponents:

    • e-commerce for accepting donations
    • serious content about the candidates positions
    • serious content about the opponent's positions (even if no one reads it, a thorough and professional looking site makes the opposition look like cheesy amateurs!)
    • a /.-ish forum for the supporters to discuss strategy, tactics, news of note - and thus make the campaign fantastically responsive.
    • similarly a /.-ish forum for the uncommitted to discuss issues.

    I'm talking about political coordinating through:

    • Email lists, sophisticatedly implemented
    • Industrial strength db for tracking regional response, w/ extranet for distributed volunteers

    What if our candidate were to challenge opponents to an "on-line debate" - NOT in real-time, but in a series of posts, which the public can comment on, a la the way /. collectively interviews interesting people. "On-line" has such cache right now, we could probably pull it off. We geeks may be few, but we're hardly the only literate people. If we can get the newpapers to pick it up and report on it, we'll own that debate, simply because any candidate we advise will look about a hundred times less stupid on-line.

    And once we nail them down in print, we have have fun with them. Twenty+ years of flaming on Usenet has taught us nothing if not how to discredit fools in print.

    If we control the medium (and we do) we can force the campaign onto whatever rhetorical ground we want. We can make it "issues centered" if we like.

    In summary: if we wielded our real power for those politicians we choose to support, we could own them. Money be damned; if we can hand them elections on a silver platter, they'd do anything for us. And our real power is finessing systems.

    If we want the world run our way (for any definition of "we"), we need to bring our considerable intellectual prowess to bear on the problem. We understand FUD. We understand networking. We understand image. We understand manipulating media via manipulating the medium. We have the technology. :)

  • More practically, are there ways that American geeks (not all of us are, remember) can influence the political process with less of a go-home-and-shower feeling?

    No, actually.

    American politics are pretty disgusting. I recommend the movie Primary Colors.

  • A pretty generalizing piece, I think. I mean, so some tech companies are lobbying DC, and some techie PAC's are forming to whisper sweet nothings in the the whor^^^^politicians ears. But I think there's a gap here in exactly WHO is doing this kind of stuff. Hard-core geeks - coders, sys admins network gurus, hardware hackers, and so on, typically don't have the time to keep up with the miasma that wafts out of DC.

    So, does the real SV care for politicos and DC? I don't think so. Just the CEO's CFO's and political management types from tech companies that either dig that kind of thing anyway, or are heading companies that are big enough to get hassled by tax, export or other silly legislation that often comes from our elected representatives.

    The fine folks in Washington don't get the 'net - or technology for that matter - they just want to regulate it: makes 'em feel like they're doing something :)

  • I've read The Economist for 25 years, and recently the cluelessness of the editorial writers has been striking. In English, "they're having us on", or what we would call flamebait.

    How could they miss Bill Gates/MS big ($25M?) contribution to Clinton's '92 campaign? It was even more remarkable because it wasn't balanced by a comparable contrib to the GOP [as most corps do].

    Now perhaps The Economist doesn't consider Mr Gates a geek. The subject is indeed debatable, but I doubt they know that.

    But please ... buying govt handouts with campaign contributions has been going on since before the transistor. The technology changes, the players change, but the game remains the same: buying taxdollars or other regulations cheaply.

    -- Robert

  • I do like the comment that says they should "start acting on Internet Time rather than Washington Time".. Struck me as supremely true.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure they can.

    Unfortunate?!? Are you mad? I can think of nothing scarier than a government able to operate on Internet time!

    The only reason we have anything even remotely resembling liberty in this country is that "gridlock" is designed into our government.

    God forbid that we ever get the government we (are forced to) pay for!

  • show me a politician who can write a program in any decent language and he/she/it has my vote.

    What an utterly stupid statement. Show me a politician committed to the fair and just governing of the people and he/she/it has my vote.

    (Yes, I am one of the rare Americans who does vote. If you whine about politicians, and don't vote, Shut the fsck up and do something about it.)

    Leave the programming to the programmers.
  • Unfortunately, I'm not sure they can [start acting on internet time]. The whole government is setup to be slow from the start. It's almost
    intentional. The whole system of checks and balances is not there just to keep it fair, it's there to prevent
    government from doing things. Any things. I simply don't think the government can cope with any speedy

    It's not just almost intentional - it's intentional. The government is supposed to be slow, for a couple reasone: To give individuals time to work out their own problems and only act when that isn't effective, and to keep a tyrant from warping it into a monster before the citizens can react.

    It was a good idea then, and an even better idea now - when information technology can give the government tools to accomplish oppressive survailence and interventions that were impractical before, due to excessive manpower and paper-shuffling requirements or the gross nature of the weapons of the time.

  • I got a warm fuzzy feeling reading that article. It's nice that I'm seeing signs of trend back towards getting back some liberties and that the gov't is having a hard time infringing on them. Somebody sent a link to
    a related article []
    out across my office and its worth taking a look at. It has this same kind of theme. And there are people in congress that actually (believe it or not) seem to be intent on supporting this kind of decentralization... Actually, I can't tell you how reliable that news network is (anyone know?), but its still comforting to see that I'm not the only one who just wants big brother to leave me alone!
  • >I am convinced that 99% of politicians are totally clueless... however the article is better than a lot of other ones I've seen. Clueless as to what? To many aspects of computers maybe, but I assume most of them are quite adept at politicking. That is generally why most are politicians rather then running Internet companies. Almost everyone is clueless about a huge amount of things that you and I consider vitally important, that doesn't make them any less knowledgeable, they just have a different focus. The Internet companies are just behaving as every other company that lives within the confines that our capitalistic democracy dictates; in order to gain more representation within the government they are "investing" in various officials and parties. Money always buys power, and the Internet is a newfound panache of wealth that has not yet grown into the power that it should command, what we are seeing now is just the natural filling of a vacuum.
  • Two points:

    It's not just Silicon Valley; it's the entire community/industry represented there. I have no idea in what part of the world you are, and vice versa -- and it doesn't matter. At least to some extent, /.ers are by and large a central (perhaps even vocal) portion of this techie population, and our physical location is (nearly) irrelevant.

    It seems to me that the techie community is "liberal" -- in the classical sense. IOW, not part of the currently chic liberal/conservative dichotomy, but in favor of classical freedom and enlightenment. The article makes a subtle point that I've long held: the tech community/industry tends to favor a sort of neo-Jeffersonian outlook, much more laissez-faire and "get the hell out of my business". This is the real sea change. Crypto, immigration, privacy, censorhip, &c. are all part and parcel with that issue.

    So what we have is a decentralized, economically powerful, fairly intelligent community that passionately believes in freedom. Pretty good place to be, I think.

  • A couple of comments:

    It was Archimides Plutonium, not Isaac Plutonium, and he was on Usenet. I learned quickly to ignore almost everything posted on sci.*

    >First, there were the intellectuals and the perverts.
    Let's hear it for the perverts!!!

  • The natural state of mankind is freedom. Laissez faire is thus the natural economic system. Managed economies can only occur if the government steps in and curtails the rights of certain economic participants. Whether this is right or wrong is a matter of opinion. But it is mistaken to call it freedom. Utopia is not an option.

    If Free Software is the natural state of software development, then the government is not needed to curtail anyone's rights to ensure that Free Software prevails. If certain rights are already held hostage by existing laws (patents as an example), then we should demand their repeal, but anything beyond this in the name of freedom is hypocracy. Specifically, mandating the distribution of source code (for sharing can only be done voluntarily) and calling it freedom is hypocritical and orwellian.

    This is why I am confused that you call the GPL "important politics". Politics is about laws. Are not the authors of BSD, AL, or other free software entitled to exactly the same rights and laws as all others? Can you really call a law fair that promotes only one license out of dozens? Are not even proprietary software authors entitled to equal justics?

    So what would you do with software "inequality"? Send the cops over to the Gate's mansion and force him under penalty of imprisonment to hand over the Windows source code? Will there be citizens spying on citizens, and turning neighbors in to the committee for hoarding their own code? Will the teenager who unwittingly mixed GPL and QPL code together and "shared it with his friend" be fined by the magistrate?

    Freedom is the absence of coercion. As long as the GPL remains voluntary I can live with it. But the instant it gains the power to coerce is the first day in an era of unparalleled injustice.
  • Does it really make any sense to paint 'internet politics' as if it was some sort of libertarian populist outburst, when the reality of the matter is that those voluble, libertarian technogeeks are basically all _employees_ and don't vote?
    I'm not claiming this is 100%, but I am suggesting this is a mere smokescreen for a power grab by corporate influence. Suggesting that this in any way represents libertarian geeks, or is at all likely to increase their influence, is absurd...
    We're looking at same-old same-old with a new mask. The mask is US. We're the lie. We look very inspiring, but we aren't the ones in control. The reality is the ever-increasing influence of large commercial interests, and this is largely incompatible with small business and with the success of individuals. It's a zero-sum game unless the corporations can invent not only a process for producing more consumers, but also a way for them to have jobs.
    Frankly we're better off _not_ having 'The Internet Era' take political control. It's not us, it's big business as usual only with even less responsibility than usual, less honesty than usual... the last people you'd want bribing senators. It's all very well when (for self interest) they want to open crypto, or fight net-content restrictions, but what are you gonna do when they boost IP law to give patents even more teeth, get government rules for software development which corporations could trivially pass (paperwork and fees for being allowed to code) but which would be a barrier for individuals, or ban or restrict Linux on trumped-up grounds? Personally, I'd like to see those concepts _stay_ paranoid fantasies. This is the Internet Era and paranoid fantasies seem to have a nasty tendency of turning quietly real when tech corporations are involved. I'd prefer that we don't have a government variation of the RealNetworks espionage story, or of Microsoft's insane business practices and accounting fantasies. The government does enough of that nonsense all by itself and does not need help...
  • I seem to recall that So Cal gets most of their water from No Cal.

    Check your map. SV is ugly enough to be in SoCal, but it's not. It also gets a lot of its water from local reservoirs.

    What kind of farming/arable land do they have?

    Very good land. Most of it went directly from orchards to subdivisions and parking lots (with no planning in between).

    Still, I doubt if SV could ever sustain its unique culture without help - unless Matt Groenig could be persuaded to defect.

  • I agree with all the assesments that this article had nothing to do with geeks, but everything to do with technology companies being able to buy a piece of your local representative just like everyone else. Very dissapointing, considering there is a surprising lack of political awareness or activism among geeks, one which I always find confusing, and find myself part of as well. I'd love to see a feature on that. After all, aren't college campuses, essentially a similar demographic (though skewed to the younger end) one of the more active spots for political interest? Hmm.

    It's not a matter of anarchism, as some would point out, but of indifference. Politics starts at home, that is in your local communities - and I don't ever hear anyone talking about local issues (which are numerous) and when I had cable I rarely saw many from the geek community at city council meetings. These are open to everyone, and anyone who cares can attend, speak their piece, and hear what's going on with local politics.

    It sort of seems like if the US is doing something important enough to get Big News coverage, like bombing someone or restricting civi liberties, in general the geek community will become interested. But aside from that, I get the feeling that most geeks don't read outside the business section of the local paper. And I'll say this - it's hard to. I listen to NPR on the way to and from work to at least *try* to know what's going on with the world, but a lot of my time is spent keeping up with news specific to the industry. Global and local politics take a back seat. A lot of people I've asked about this have said the same.

    On a last note, something which I don't understand - how come the South Bay area (Silicon Valley to you, I guess) never has any campaign posters or anything? Is there an ordinance against it, or does nobody care here? I always knew when it was election time everywhere else I ever lived, because if nothing else, there was high visibility for even the smallest candidates. I always thought that odd.
  • This article struck me as being quite clueless about the internet, the IT community, and the world in general.

    "The place is full of bright immigrants willing to sacrifice their ancestral ties for a seat at the table;"

    WTF is that? Just because people move to Silicon valley doesn't mean they're "sacrificing their ancestral ties"... Come on!

    "Technologists tend not to be philosophers."

    We're not philosophers? What the hell are we then? We're a bunch of monkeys playing with a new world, endlessly finding new ways to do and think about things, and we're not philosophers? Hrm. Guess I need to review my definition of a philosopher.

    The writer shows a sad lack of understanding... It seems he's blissfully ignorant of much of what goes on in the wired world.
  • Don't they do all that stuff already? Any community, independent or otherwise, has a way to import, or produce, all the goods needed to sustain that community.

    I'm not saying they wouldn't have ties with their neighbors; most countries do already. There wouldn't be a 'big oil crisis' if Silicon Valley didn't produce its own oil... many nations depend on imported oil, or did you think every little country has massive oil fields?

    Silicon Valley could clearly make enough money as a nation to sustain itself. Just think of all the cash there already is in SV. Now subtract a bunch of taxes and add heavier import fees. I think the equation works itself out pretty much, don't you?
  • Well put. I didn't mean to imply graft should be accepted. But it must be recognized, and out in the open before it can be cured.

    I'm not sure I follow your "graft is unscalable therfore inefficient" argument. But I will certainly agree it is inefficient. However, I am far from certain how it could be stopped without incurring unintended consequences.

    If you ban political contributions to candidates or other campaign finance reform, the parties become stronger, and the individual representatives weaker. You get party-line voting like is seen in the British Commonwealth, or in Europe. And since money dones't talk, the parties all pander to the lowest common denominator in search of votes. Business gets the short shrift. It takes a powerful recession (like NZ) to wake people up, but not for long.

    Ultimately, the public purse is a powerful magnet. The best way to control it is to limit it's size.
    -- Robert
  • The Internet will not create a "new politics" in which there are no big bosses. It will only change who the bosses are.

  • It would still be on the brink of poverty since it doesn't exactly have an overabundance of natural resources.

    Or do you mean what would happen if after sopping up billions of dollars of government welfare over the years what would happen if they were made independent today? :-)

    I think they would probably run out of water awfully quick. I seem to recall that So Cal gets most of their water from No Cal. I'm sure California would be more than happy to sell water to SV at an exhorbitant rate, though. Does SV have any oil or coal reserves? So they would also be completely dependent on importing fuel reserves. What kind of farming/arable land do they have? So they also have to import all of their food. And I don't think they really have all that many institutions of higher learning given the size of their economic system; plus their population base is pretty small. So they would need to import all of their workers from other nations. All of their stocks would need to be delisted from NASDAQ and NYSE. New regulatory agencies would have to be set up before they could be relisted. I forget, does Silicon Valley have any ocean harbors or would all their imports have to be flown in (or perhaps the US could charge hefty usage fees for their ports and interstate road system to get goods to SV)? They probably wouldn't have to worry a whole lot about a military, being stuck in the heart of America but they might want a milita or National Guard to help clean up the ashes when a fire burns down several square blocks. And the couple of months of no trade with the US while Most Favored Nation status (or whatever it is called nowadays) and all the other trade treaties are negotiated would probably destroy the economy permanently.

    No, I don't think Silicon Valley could be an independent, self-sustaining nation.
  • No one, to my knowledge, has ever organized computer folks as a political force, at least not directly. The indirect examples I have seen are companies pooling PAC contributions and .org's like IEEE taking positions on immigration (which didn't exactly delight all the members).
    I would like to see some web sites that would let you vote with your pocketbook to influence specific issues in the same way that large corporations and overseas governments do: by aggregating large sums of money and brib^H^H^H^H donating money to political campaigns.
    Speaking for myself, there have been a lot of occasions lately where I would have whipped out a credit card and typed it in to a secure advocacy site....
  • I do like the comment that says they should "start acting on Internet Time rather than Washington Time"..Struck me as supremely true.

    They forget one thing. The people in Washington are nothing more than priveleged, spoiled little brats who don't give a rats ass about regular people. They will do anything to make their political point. See government shutdown of 1995.

    When you have people like Helms, Burton, Armey, Delay, McConell, etc. making decisions, you can bet your ass that there will either be something in it for them or someone will get screwed.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!