“Digital Maoism”: Not Much There, Really

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 But with the digital economy stuff, it’s either outdated like Shapiro and Varian or sloppy like Lanier, to the point where the terrain of the digital seems more and more like a limit case for the economic logic of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.

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