[sea-dp] Reading Response #7 – Authorship, open source as a counterculture

Countercultures supposedly counter the gatekeeping of “authorship”, at least so I think, and it often crosses over into the (il)legality of “appropriation”. “The notion that culture should actively be in the creative hands of the people, not just something produced by corporations and consumed by passive audiences”, Evelyn McDonnel wrote so in Never Mind the Bollocks when describing the ethos of the punk movement, which I believe embodies most of the countercultural movements I relate to, from Riot Grrrl, Hip Hop to Open source and free sharing of software. 

Rowland Barthes said that “it is language which speaks, not the author.” In reading about the open source initiatives I think about how Barthes and Foucault argued in the 60s that authorship is a cultural product invented to unify and standardize, which closes off possibilities of interpretation of the texts. This reflection on subjectivity in creations is further complicated in the digital realm, but much of these ideas translate well into the remixing, reproducing nature of new media (sub)cultures. Even before Barthe Foucault and the counterculture movement in the 60s, IBM 701 users already created SHARE Inc. in 1955, a user group that shares software, makes small modifications and exchanges technical information. I’d like to think the community impulse to create collective experiences exists beyond mediums and technologies, and that the disruptive attitude against the mainstream, corporation and hegemony is a response to their active efforts of standardization and obfuscation in valuing “efficiency over fairness”.

Reading about the Creative Commons licenses and the Open Source initiative made me realize how much logistics works are put into helping people navigate copyright in the public domain (I’ve also noticed that the Public Domain book is also under Creative Commons license). There’s an emphasis on standardization and transparency in these initiatives, which formed a loose connection to the three characteristics of a WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction): opacity, scale and damage, raised in Cathy O’Neil’s Weapon of Math Destruction. O’Neil believes that WMDs are “inscrutable black boxes”, and it’s often due to companies that developed these algorithms purposefully hiding them, justified as protecting intellectual property. 

The chapters also brought to attention that there’s no true subjectivity in data models that collect proxies and deduct conclusions; they’re less accurate than the ones that collect pertinent datas, and the translation from data to result is more or less influenced by the biases of the people who create the models, and therefore data and result create a negative feedback loop. In the specific cases of policing, I find the “broken window” thesis sitting somewhat in the middle of the “benign” (baseball model) and the “destructive” (WMD), which encourages an objective of adjusting to “the neighborhood’s own standard of order”, helping to maintain rather than impose a standardized value. This example makes me think about how this mediocre model causes larger harm to the communities that it is on paper largely because of how people carry it out and how the prison/police system of punishment is corrupt and regressive, not entirely the biased association of geography, wealth distribution and nuisance crimes.

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