Free Culture

Pragmatists and Idealists On The Commons

I wrote below that I have no time for this “pragmatists vs. idealists” false dichotomy that some people are trying to set up in free culture. There are social idealists and economic idealists in the free culture community, and the social idealists have ceded far more to economically-oriented “pragmatism” than the economic idealists have ceded to socially-oriented “pragmatism”.

Politics is always the business of the other side, one’s own politics is simply pragmatism. Concentrating on tools or noncommercialness is an ideological decision, and serves someone’s ideals. These may not in reality be your own ideals. Concentrating on tools or noncommercialness may in fact undermine your ability to concentrate on tools or noncommercialness, as you serve ideals globally that are different from the ones you pursue locally.

Success and popularity are not the same thing. The latter may or may not be a measure of the former, the former is not implied by the latter. The millions and millions of noncommercial works that will never be re-used, built upon, transformed or even used to start with are a good illustration of this. And they will make millionaires no more effectively than the studio systems of music, media and publishing. Which is to say not very.

Reflexivity is the key to the commons. Venture Capitalists and Marxists can both benefit from reflexive projects, projects that exist to serve the commons and do not prevent the commons being used pluralistically, to whatever ends people wish as long as those ends do not harm the commons.

The most-used, and largest, free culture project is Wikipedia. That is a copyleft project, reflexive, and it allows commercial use (I must come up with a word for that which has the trance quality of “noncommercial”). These two facts are not unrelated. Wikipedia’s strong social ideology allow people to get on and work on tools, not worry about noncommercialising anything, and, dare I say it, to just have fun.