© Fernando Caracena, 2019
Creeping Dependence and Loss of Self-reliance
During my lifetime I have seen people grow more dependent on buying stuff from far off companies and accept conditions imposed on their lives by someone else in a far corner of this vast land. A hundred years ago people were more self-reliant and they lived in communities that they organized themselves. The towns' people ruled themselves. They also provided from themselves and from their individuals strengths helped each other. The strength of the country was local and it resided in individuals who exercised their talents in freedom. In those days, businesses catered to customers' interests. Today, big corporations see these people as consumers to be manipulated through advertising and credit. There are no more service industries. Governments do not serve their citizens either. Instead we have nanny states that try to manipulate and to impose their will on the people.
I was born after these self-reliant times, but the spirit of independence yet ruled. My grandfather was the first generation in our family subject to income tax as well as its evil twin the Creature from Jekyll Island (The Federal Reserve Bank). In 1913, the income tax was sold as a "tax on the rich" and the Fed, as a way of eliminating panics and and depressions. Later, the Great Depression struck the USA, and if the Fed did anything, it contributed more to its severity than to its avoidance. (See the discussion by Milton Friedman.)
In those days, my grandfather had his own business, which was a cafe. He could afford to offer a free lunch to those ordering drinks. Further, when the Great Depression hit, he sold drinks on credit. This is when the banks were not loaning out any money, because the central bank in some far-odd corner of the country the central bank was contracting the money supply and hoarding gold, which in effect, collapsed large sectors of the economy. My ancestral family had lived in economic conditions where physical money was scarce, yet they had economic abilities. They promoted the local economy by doing business on credit. In that case, money really consisted in ledger entries and a system in which honorable people paid their debts whenever money was available. Such folks survived the Great Depression with flying colors, because officially there was no economy, they just kept working going about the business of making a living.
The real value of an economic system is from the grass-roots level. Money is only symbolic; but it becomes a slave taskmaster when people are convinced that money is of intrinsic value. Our present economic system is a please-may-I-? system, in which the average person is, in effect, asking the bank for permission to do anything. As a result of being allowed to do what they petition, they pay an extra fee as interest. Bankers have been able to extract a progressively increasing portion of the total domestic product by rendering more of the do-it-yourself tasks of the public into service products that are bought and sold.
To increase your personal wealth, take more charge and responsibility for your own living. Learn to do more things for yourself. Accumulate tools that allow you to do more in less time. Form cooperatives with friends and neighbors. The results will be that you can do more with less money and that you will not see money as a limitation.
Assault on the Internet
The most recent victim of this creeping authoritarianism and take over of please-may-I_?-ism is the Internet. I welcomed it when the Internet first appeared. It happened among researchers who were technically adept. It was a cooperative system, a protocol invented by researchers to collaborate with each other around the globe. This protocol for computer-to-computer networking spawned an intellectual commons. On the hardware level, people and organizations dedicated some of their equipment to act as servers in the Internet. As they shared code and data, they sparked the beginnings of a new renaissance and exponential growth. Computer aficionados rapidly developed great tools by working independently and freely sharing their results. This intellectual commons resulted in great concentration of intellectual wealth. Historically, concentrations of wealth in the commons invites fat cats to take over and steal this wealth for themselves, in the process impoverishing the original developers of that wealth (see, "A Brief History of How We Lost the Commons").
The Personal Computer
The Personal Computer (PC) came on the scene as the Internet was still the esoteric domain of researchers. The PC became popular among gamers, who often coded up their own creations. These were hobbyists who often built their own machines, which were experimental devices. Two young guys, both named Steve, who were part of a home-brew computer group in California decided to put out a kit for building a personal computer. You know the rest of the story.
Basically, what happened was that big companies that manufactured large mainframe computers for industry and laboratories had not realized the potential popularity and profitability of a computer for the public at large. Kids who had grown up having limited, furtive (because they were expensive) access to mainframe machines craved having better access through a personally owned one. Further, a PC would allow them to do frivolous things such as play games and try to get the computer to do unusual things such as drawing pictures, animating them, and have the computer speak out text. Through friends who worked for computer firms, they were aware that there were processing units and memory chips that could be put together as a PC. They organized into clubs where they shared their experiences.
Piracy on a Vast Scale
The biggest pirates have gained control everywhere in technology and cyber space, and now that they have control, they like to remind us that piracy is not a victimless crime. But if you think about it, you may realize that we the people are the victims of intellectual and technological theft to the tune of trillions of dollars and still counting. This should never have happened in a system that preserves individual rights, which include rights of ownership of what you invent and produce. The truth is that law is often used by the fat cats to steal on a mega-scale, now really, on a giga-scale. without the common's people being any wiser.
Some people who use computers for their own purposes are beginning to realize that they have been had and betrayed by the "high-tech industries". Other people are just going on into uncharted areas and not worrying about ownership rights. They are just trying to contribute to the common good. In the future the cool stuff that they develop may be stolen one way or the other by the fat cats. Then, what was offered freely to the public by a clever and generous inventor may become a consumer product sold by a giant company that is run by a micro-dosing narco odd-ball, and manufactured by slave labor in a communist country.
A Finnish computer science student using one of the commercially available PCs decided that its operating system was really a pile of junk. He thought that he could do better. He wrote a UNIX-like kernal for that PC and shared it out on the emerging Internet for others to contribute to it. With a group of interested contributors, Torvalds was able to quickly develop what was called the Linux operating system.
The Free (as in Libre) software movement
Meanwhile, Richard Stallman at MIT had been advocating the development of free (as in libre) software called GNU, which is a recursive name that stands for GNU Not UNIX. Various proprietary versions of UNIX had been developed by computer companies. UNIX was the usual computer operating system for computers operated by big institutions, such as government laboratories. Scientists wanted to be able to freely share a variety of algorithmic codes to facilitate the development of models and to process experimental results. A proprietary platform was not a good basis for supporting such free sharing.
When Linux suddenly came on the scene it was a free operating system, which the free software people found to be amenable to their purpose. Stallman insists that the name should really be GNU-Linux, because the bulk of its content is really GNU software.
Application of PCs to Everyday Life
Meanwhile, people are using PCs in managing their own lives. Rory Aronson’s of San Luis Obispo, California has developed a gardening system that is controlled by a small computer and driven by solar power, which he calls FarmBot. Here the computer acts as a controller of actions on the garden plot, which are responses to conditions that are monitored also by the computer. The result is a robotic gardening system that needs very little user attention, and which gives the robo gardener a lot of resh produce.
The computer can be used to monitor and act in various capacities. For example, computers can be used to design a wood carving, then by driving a router under computer control, render that design on a wooden plate. See an example of this in the video by Small Scale IndustrieS. The equipment to do robo-cyber wood-carving may not be available at your local hardware store, but it is not difficult to find through a good search engine. With no trouble, I found a site that offers such equipment.
This Website is an Example of a Do-it-yourself Project
What I am advocating here is the same motivation that led to the development of this blog. If you want details, read About this Blog and FAQs.
I think that we are at a critical bifurcation point in human history. The great wealth produced by technological advance has not been used by the citizenry to make their life better and more secure. Instead they have succumbed to the siren song of gadgets and easy credit. It is the bankers and fat cats that have reaped the harvest of vast inflows of wealth. An how have these so-called "elites" used their windfalls? These ideas may be the subject of a future post; however, I remain reluctant to spend too much time in such work because I fear that many who cruise webpages are functionally illiterate and mentally lazy.