Robert Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes notes the importance Keynes placed on socially-based “conventional expectations” (93, emphasis in original) in the face of pervasive uncertainty, and contrasts those “conventional expectations” to the perfect-information wishful thinking of the proponents of the rational expectations hypothesis. Keynes’s insight was that what makes economics work and fail is adherence to conventional expectations and expectations of the conventional, and this is as true of social-epistemic models of knowledge work in composition as it is of economics. Collaboration as a generative activity is sustained by and generative of conventional expectations in the face of uncertainty, not by the perfect-information utopia of rational expectations. Writing is social, and exists in uncertainty: both those circumstances are what make it work.
I was intrigued to see two abiding concerns of compositionists rolled into one in the recent controversy over Helene Hegemann’s plagiarized/remixed novel Axolotl Roadkill. There’s the usual breast-beating and hair-tearing and garment-rending about these kids today from the usual choristers, but what I thought was interesting was the use of the trope of authenticity in service of defending representing someone else’s writing as one’s own. Hegemann, in her own defense, asserted that “There
I finished Jaron Lanier’s 2006 essay on “Digital Maoism,” and as I’d suspected not far into the article, there’s not much there beyond oversimplifications, weasel words, straw men, and sweeping generalizations. More than anything else, Lanier sounds like a snubbed Ayn Randian railing against the unwashed masses of the internets who don’t deserve or recognize his brilliance. He gets spanked hard and deservedly in the responses, most notably by Douglas Rushkoff and Yochai Benkler, but also — as you’d expect — by Clay Shirky and Cory Doctorow.
And that’s kind of the problem I’m finding: I very much agree with folks like Benkler — especially like Benkler — and so I want to seek the counterbalancing argument. When I find myself nodding my head in too-easy or too-vigorous assent, I look for the other side; I want to hear what the critiques say. Metonymically speaking, I’ve got my Wealth of Nations just as full of notes as my Kapital, and I’ve got Friedman and Hayek rubbing shoulders with Wolff and Gibson-Graham. But with the digital economy stuff, it’s either outdated like Shapiro and Varian or sloppy like Lanier, to the point where the terrain of the digital seems more and more like a limit case for the economic logic of capitalist exclusivity.