By now, there are two related, well-worn cliches bandied about regarding our current situation. Stay with me, this will have some importance for business purposes. I promise.
The first historic cliche is the fall of the Roman Empire. What I find interesting about this comparison are the lesser known facts. On the economic side, the Romans tried, in part, mining their way out of their problems by continually expanding their gold prospecting. Then we have the cultural side. And while many people talk about the destabilizing attacks from outside the empire, few talk about the violence from the inside, the urban revolts.
Both are issues facing small business owners today.
Next, the second, related cliché is that we’re already living in feudalistic times. Or what could be described as a digital terra incognita, where Silicon Valley has herded us onto cyber-plantations. You know, where damn near all communication, economic activity, and political influence take place. Here we toil at the leisure of algorithms designed to server better masters.
And where you can easily find yourself locked outside of the city walls.
Durand gives us the example of Android to illustrate the extractivist logic in action. Google made Android free for all smartphones so it would acquire a strategic market position, beating the Apple ecosystem and thus becoming the default internet entry point for virtually the whole planet. That’s how a de facto, immensely valuable, online real estate empire is built. […]
The key point is that whatever the original business – Google, Amazon, Uber – strategies of conquering cyberspace all point to the same target: take control of “spaces of observation and capture” of data. […]
So now we are facing not a mere clash between Silicon Valley capitalism and finance capital, but actually a new mode of production: a turbo-capitalist survival as rentier capitalism, where Silicon giants take the place of estates, and also the State. That is the “techno-feudal” option, as defined by Durand.
No complaints here, yet.
Escobar also charts what I’ve been saying for decades. And that’s how the government and the megacorporations have been in bed together since the very beginning. Like, the very beginning of the early Internet.
And you small business owners? You’ve been taught to believe you’ve got a fair shot in the marketplace. Instead, what we find is that your business is rapidly becoming a serf-like entity with little power, little control, and not much autonomy in the cyber-realm.
But since we’ve already also talked about how Woke Capitalism de-grows the marketplace for its own political benefit, we’ll skip that point. And move along.
So, if it’s true that major corporations are purposefully corralling us and stripping us down, how are business owners supposed to take this? Worse, some of us would aspire to be the ones corralling and stripping, if we could. Hell, some of the executive I’m friends with are the ones doing it.
Escobar presents us with a solution as a choice.
Is there a possible way out? The temptation is to go radical – a Blake/Burroughs crossover. We have to expand our scope of comprehension – and stop confusing the map (as shown in the Magna Carta) with the territory (our perception). […]
Here’s our future: hackers or slaves.
Although he means it for general political consumption, this observation is astute.
In business, the megacorporations are showing us the map of their lands. The labyrinth of a digital utopia under their power. But despite what they say, it’s not totally accurate yet. A sort of crude, incomplete Magna Carta Mundi of it’s day.
And what they tell us about our role, as merchants, in their new feudalism isn’t exactly true either.
Without question, like many people, you can accept your indentured service in an economy cannibalized by techno-financial interests. And you can try to go along to get along. In this situation, your business could merely be cut off. Suddenly, you’re unable to make transactions simply because you said the wrong thing to the wrong aristocrat.
Think it couldn’t happen? We’ve already been seeing it in various industries for years.
But there is another choice. To expand on Escobar’s idea of hackers and slaves, you can adopt the attitude of a high-tech mafioso.
And you can operate in the spaces between what is owned and what is still wild.
In our smaller businesses, it means being wise to the new world but not forgetting the old. Similar to hackers, it means having a moral code. And like made men, being a man of honor among those you know. It means an arms race of AI, legal shenanigans, and outright refusal to cooperate.
In the communities in which we do business, this means knowing who to trust. And earning your keep. It also means bringing your genius to the table, a cleverness in the balance between big and small. And who’s fucking over who.
It’s a willingness to push the rules, online and off, and to operate in the dark.
Above all, it’s to employ the very weapons of trade used by the dominate class in Silicon Valley, extraordinary or otherwise. And to build a network around it, our network.
In either case, in our day, you’ll live by the algorithm or die by the algorithm.