Letter from a Newbie to an Old Master

I've been moseying through e2, learning its ropes, and so far all is well except for one thing that bothers me a bit. That is the voting thing. I have never cared for voting. When it is legitimate, it often leads to the tyranny of the lowest common denominator; when it isn't, it often becomes just another tool for those currently in power to use against the rest of the population. And I have never much cared for hierarchical political structures.

An example of how voting can be a bad thing is when voting with one's wallet can affect a society's cultural level. For example, we live in a runaway capitalistic society today where the only value anything has is its market value. Because of this, "popular music" has become the only music readily available, and serious music like Vivaldi's beautiful Concerto a due Chori in B-flat Major "Con Violino Discordato" (second movement: Andante), or the early music of Albinoni, say Op. 2, is no longer either played in public or recorded -- after all, if the multi-national corporations who control the industry can't make a quick buck off of something, then that something will remain off the market. This is what B&N is all about, and it is what Microsoft is all about. So this voting thing (in this case with one's wallet) is one of the forces that is destroying the intellectual life in this society, along with many of the other things that make life worth while. For if it ain't "popular", it ain't gonna be.

I have run across traces of this on e2, where mention has been made of writing what folks want to hear so as to gain votes and status. This is not a good thing if literary quality is to survive. Much better is the old hacker ethos (which is now beginning to fade away because of the media focus and commercialization of their subculture):

We reject kings, presidents,
and voting. We believe in rough
consensus and running code.

Actually, this concept was not discovered by the hacker subculture, since it has been in existence for a very long time. It is, in fact, where I parted company with guys like Burroughs and Ginsberg so many years ago. They were rebels against the system, and very focused politically. But from my earliest years I saw this rebellion as a futile cause. Part of my reasoning was that the system was just too large and entrenched (they have the guns and the courts and the laws and the money, after all); but even more important was the herd factor -- the hard fact that most people are (as the Direct Marketing Association points out) busy, not very thoughtful, not very well-informed, not very intelligent, and impatient. Focused on the bottom line, their bellies, their entertainment, and their comfort. And therefore easy to manipulate.

So I rejected the idealistic movements of my time, Beatnik, Hippie, New Age, as a lost cause, and just walked away from the McCarthy Era mindset and police-state conformity of my youth and the single-minded greed-infested consumer society of my dotage. Decided to create my own world where I could live according to my own values. Which I did, both in Alaska and, later, the Sonoran Desert. Places where a life of music and books and the natural world was my day-to-day reality.

These worlds are fragile, though, and soon population pressures and corporate greed and the control fetishes of the "Outside" world invaded Alaska, and the lifestyle I (and many others) had there faded into the past as civilization and progress and development came and did their thing. So I moved on once again. For as a friend of mine (the aviation writer Doug Ritter) once noted:

It seems inevitable that frontiers will
be tamed for the masses, then abused, and
those who must be on the frontiers to
exist will always have to move on.

Today that type of life is more difficult to obtain (since the wilderness is almost gone, and serious music and literature have been depreciated almost into non-existence), but along with those changes technology has provided us the means to create on-line communities, and within these on-line communities we have the tools to make virtual worlds which are more to our taste. This is what was going on in that sf novel we were discussing, though none of the book's readers whom I have spoken to so far seem to have noticed it (it was one of the book's minor themes).

Two of the earliest of these on-line communities were The Well and Compuserve's AVSIG. AVSIG in the late 80s and early 90s was quite successful because it was based on an informal meritocracy -- one's position within the community was based on their postings, along with their intelligence and knowledge and wisdom and willingness to help others within the community. This success lasted until the discovery of the net by the outside world, then quickly died (as did the Dakotas and Alaska and every place else once it has been "discovered"). But while it lasted it was a pure example of our modus operandi (though, of course, they didn't run code).

Well, enough with a first message, for these subjects can be dwelled on for eternity. The thing for me is that I have a problem with voting, and because voting is something that is expected of one on e2 I may have a bit of a problem adapting to the community. Only time will tell. And, of course, these thoughts are based on the very briefest, most cursory of impressions, and with more experience I may well discover they were incorrect. Anyway, it makes a good place to start, and suggestions are most welcome.