In Antoine de Saint Exupéry's tale the Little Prince meets a businessman who accumulates stars with the sole purpose of being able to buy more stars. The Little Prince is perplexed. He owns only a flower, which he waters every day. Three volcanoes, which he cleans every week. "It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them," he says, "but you are of no use to the stars that you own".
There are many businessmen who own knowledge today. Consider Elsevier, the largest scholarly publisher, whose 37% profit margin1 stands in sharp contrast to the rising fees, expanding student loan debt and poverty-level wages for adjunct faculty. Elsevier owns some of the largest databases of academic material, which are licensed at prices so scandalously high that even Harvard, the richest university of the global north, has complained that it cannot afford them any longer. Robert Darnton, the past director of Harvard Library, says "We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labour at outrageous prices."2 For all the work supported by public money benefiting scholarly publishers, particularly the peer review that grounds their legitimacy, journal articles are priced such that they prohibit access to science to many academics - and all non-academics - across the world, and render it a token of privilege.3
Elsevier has recently filed a copyright infringement suit in New York against Science Hub and Library Genesis claiming millions of dollars in damages.4 This has come as a big blow, not just to the administrators of the websites but also to thousands of researchers around the world for whom these sites are the only viable source of academic materials. The social media, mailing lists and IRC channels have been filled with their distress messages, desperately seeking articles and publications.
Even as the New York District Court was delivering its injunction, news came of the entire editorial board of highly-esteemed journal Lingua handing in their collective resignation, citing as their reason the refusal by Elsevier to go open access and give up on the high fees it charges to authors and their academic institutions. As we write these lines, a petition is doing the rounds demanding that Taylor & Francis doesn't shut down Ashgate5, a formerly independent humanities publisher that it acquired earlier in 2015. It is threatened to go the way of other small publishers that are being rolled over by the growing monopoly and concentration in the publishing market. These are just some of the signs that the system is broken. It devalues us, authors, editors and readers alike. It parasites on our labor, it thwarts our service to the public, it denies us access6.
We have the means and methods to make knowledge accessible to everyone, with no economic barrier to access and at a much lower cost to society. But closed access’s monopoly over academic publishing, its spectacular profits and its central role in the allocation of academic prestige trump the public interest. Commercial publishers effectively impede open access, criminalize us, prosecute our heroes and heroines, and destroy our libraries, again and again. Before Science Hub and Library Genesis there was Library.nu or Gigapedia; before Gigapedia there was textz.org; before textz.org there was little; and before there was little there was nothing. That's what they want: to reduce most of us back to nothing. And they have the full support of the courts and law to do exactly that.7
In Elsevier's case against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis, the judge said: "simply making copyrighted content available for free via a foreign website, disserves the public interest"8. Alexandra Elbakyan's original plea put the stakes much higher: "If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge."
We demonstrate daily, and on a massive scale, that the system is broken. We share our writing secretly behind the backs of our publishers, circumvent paywalls to access articles and publications, digitize and upload books to libraries. This is the other side of 37% profit margins: our knowledge commons grows in the fault lines of a broken system. We are all custodians of knowledge, custodians of the same infrastructures that we depend on for producing knowledge, custodians of our fertile but fragile commons. To be a custodian is, de facto, to download, to share, to read, to write, to review, to edit, to digitize, to archive, to maintain libraries, to make them accessible. It is to be of use to, not to make property of, our knowledge commons.
More than seven years ago Aaron Swartz, who spared no risk in standing up for what we here urge you to stand up for too, wrote: "We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we'll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?"9
We find ourselves at a decisive moment. This is the time to recognize that the very existence of our massive knowledge commons is an act of collective civil disobedience. It is the time to emerge from hiding and put our names behind this act of resistance. You may feel isolated, but there are many of us. The anger, desperation and fear of losing our library infrastructures, voiced across the internet, tell us that. This is the time for us custodians, being dogs, humans or cyborgs, with our names, nicknames and pseudonyms, to raise our voices.
Share this letter - read it in public - leave it in the printer. Share your writing - digitize a book - upload your files. Don't let our knowledge be crushed. Care for the libraries - care for the metadata - care for the backup. Water the flowers - clean the volcanoes.
Dušan Barok, Josephine Berry, Bodó Balázs, Sean Dockray, Kenneth Goldsmith, Anthony Iles, Lawrence Liang, Sebastian Lütgert, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Marcell Mars, spideralex, Tomislav Medak, Dubravka Sekulić, Femke Snelting...
In fact, with the TPP and TTIP being rushed through the legislative process, no domain registrar, ISP provider, host or human rights organization will be able to prevent copyright industries and courts from criminalizing and shutting down websites "expeditiously". ↩
This message is long overdue (cca. 10 years) but this delay was necessary to check and double-check my impressions.
This message is for those who never experienced living effectively in socialism and for the few of those who lived in it but missed grasping its meaning.
There's no doubt left in my mind now, when closing to the age of 50 and having lived in both the socialist and capitalist worlds: I lived in a better world.
The world I'm talking about is a socialist, communist aspiring, world. That world assumed a human is built, not born. One's born an animal, but the socialist society around understood and took responsibility to educate any such animal and see to its healthcare. One's gender, race(??), height or wealth did not matter. We were bound to live a lifetime with each other, therefore the social commitment was recognized as necessary and written in the Constitution.
In comparison, capitalism is poverty, a failure, to put it mildly.
1.Education is a merchandise
2.Science is a merchandise
3.Healthcare is a merchandise
4.People are, naturally, given the above, scarcely educated, and, when they "are", they only have a set of "skills". You need a few tens of "educated" individuals surviving in capitalism to cover the horizon of one properly educated in socialism.
5.Magical thinking and wishful thinking are endemic: that's what you get when education is for sale.
You also get to live in a new sort of religion: the numerical religion, aka capitalist economy (a bulshitting discourse formulated in meaningless numbers).
6.You get to be born and to live under a few private dictatorships: the monopolies, the natural outcome of the points above; all this while you're being told you're free, yes, free to serve the sociopath of your choice. Capitalism is mobile feudalism.
7.Capitalism is the result of sociopaths keeping tabs on each other.
8.The basic principles of capitalism are fundamentally wrong and the result is unphysical: this kind of "society" has no chance of surviving.
8.a A tragedy of the commons is possible only among uneducated people, or people educated over the counter, that is, only among people grown in capitalism or in something similar to it (see the points above).
8.b The "rational self-interest" is in fact the sociopathic self-interest of the uneducated.
8.c The "free market" does not exist, in fact it is a continuous coercion exercised by those who happen to become wealthy upon the rest;
8.d To be wealthy is only a post random-factum tag without content, it has nothing to do with wisdom, intelligence, or anything rational or belonging to human "nature"; it may have to do with sociopathy, i.e. with the lack of some basic human building blocks.
8.e If you make money out of something it doesn't mean you proved anything; you've just been "lucky" or savage enough to snatch them from somebody else, there's no other virtue to it.
8.f You have to earn a living only when you were asked if you want to live by "earning" it and answered yes.
8.g egoism is just an ignorant's take on the world, it's not a feature, it's a bug, and probably clinical at that
8.h. ...it's actually not worth going further with such a derisory subject, it really spoils my evening, you may continue filling these points after you pop your head off your own ass or your facebook account.
As for the socialism, I'll let you research the subject on your own, after all, it's about your and your children's future; the only hint I'm going to give you is that it's nowhere near to what you learned in a capitalist "school" and nowhere near the crap enumerated above: imagine a world where, after some time spent in the public school, you understand you are an organic part of the society, anybody's life has a meaning, a historically heroic one, albeit locally mundane most of the time, by emancipating the human from its animal condition. Socialism, and then Capitalism: the Internet, and then facebook.
I lived in a better world and I'm happy I had the luck to have been a part of it: the humans can do it, I saw it. You'll have to rebuild it to get a glimpse of what its meaning is. Socialism is where the capitalist "freedom" bullshit ends and the meaningful human freedom, the real history, the history that has a future, begins.
There's a billionaire. And he's a philantropist. His name is Soros. He talks at Davos about solutions for the humankind, he actually wrote some books about the structural crisis of capitalism. But guess what, his books still have a price, the billionaire philantropist can't afford to publish them online for free. If you wanna find out what he's thinking, you still have to shell out some $15. Can there ever be imagined a more ridiculous situation?
And there are many philanthropists like him. Well, I guess the word philanthropy is currently to be found in the newspeak dictionary.
No, thank you, I really don't care what these types think: real knowledge is part of the commons; don't buy their books, ignore them as long as you can, switch on the other channel when you notice their appearance; these guys talk for themselves, your existence was not intentional.
My preferred definition of socialism/humanism sounds like this: it is recognized the fact that any human being is immersed in a society of human beings and that the society is part of, and completes, the human being's definition, it is also recognized that any human society is immersed in nature and that the nature is part of, and completes, the human society's definition.
Socialism/humanism is the given natural context of humans, it's not a matter of adherence to it, it is a matter of choosing to be aware of it or not.
The State is the practical form of this awareness at the scale of the society. It is the minimal administrative agreement between the humans in a society; the State is designed and delegated by all of us to administer our agreements and settle our disagreements on this common agreement background, the public property.
The administration of the society is a rational attempt at problem solving, there should be nothing emotional about it. Socialism/humanism is not a special sort of abstract social passion, but a collaborative, continuously sustained, personal drive to get along or brush with each other; no romantic heroism necessary, but an authentic human life. You get there not through revolution but through evolution: a cultivated and well-tempered (non-hysterical) personal awareness (check, for a critical preparation, The Society of the Spectacle by Guy-Ernest Debord).
Here are some excerpts (the section about the rights and duties of the citizens) from the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Romania (RSR), issued in 1965:
The RSR citizens, without discrimination based on nationality, race, sex or religion, are equal in rights in all the domains of economical, political, juridical, social and cultural life.
The state guarantees the citizens' equality in rights. No restriction of these rights and no discrimination in their application can be tolerated on grounds of nationality, race, sex or religion.
Any manifestation aiming at establishing such restrictions, nationalist-chauvinist propaganda, encouraging race hatred or national hatred, is punished by law.
In RSR, the citizens have the right to work. To each citizen it is offered the possibility to perform, according to one's skills, an activity in the economical, administrative, social or cultural domains, payed by quantity and quality. To equal work corresponds equal pay.
The law establishes the work security and protection measures, as well as special protection measures for the work of women and youth.
The RSR citizens have the right to rest.
The right to rest is guaranteed to those who work by establishing the maximal duration of workday at 8 hours, of a weekly rest and by paid yearly holidays.
In the hard and very-hard work sectors, the duration of the workday is reduced under 8 hours, without lowering the pay.
The RSR citizens have the right to material insurance of age, disease or work disability.
The right to material insurance is implemented, for workers and civil servants, by pensions and disease-related support through the system of state-based social insurance, and for the members of cooperatist or public organisations, through their own forms of insurance. The state provides medical assistance through its sanitary institutions.
The paid maternity holiday is guaranteed.
The citizens of RSR have the right to learn.
The right to learn is secured through the general obligatory teaching system, by providing gratuitous teaching at all levels, and by the system of state-based financing.
The teaching system in RSR is a state-based system.
In RSR, it is provided, to the citizens of other nationalities, the free use of their mother tongue, as well as books, newspapers, magazines, theaters, teaching at all levels in their own language. In the administrative-territorial units inhabited by populations of different nationalities, all the institutions use also the corresponding population language, verbally and in writing, and name civil servants from these populations or other persons who know the language and the way of living of that local population.
In RSR the woman is equal in rights with the man.
The state protects the marriage and the family and protects the mothers' and children's interests.
RSR provides the youth with the necessary framework to develop their intellectual and physical aptitudes.
The RSR citizens have the right to elect and get elected in the Grand National Assembly and in the local councils.
The vote is universal, equal, direct and secret. All the citizens over 18 years old have the right to vote.
Those citizens having the voting right who are over 23 years of age can be elected members of the Grand National Assembly and local councils.
It is guaranteed, to the citizens of RSR, the freedom of speech, of the press, of meetings, gatherings and demonstrations.
The freedom of speech, press, gatherings, meetings and demonstrations cannot go against the socialist system or the interests of the workers.
Any association of a fascist type or antidemocratic type is forbidden. The participating to such associations and the fascist type or antidemocratic type of propaganda are punished by the law.
The freedom of conscience is guaranteed to all of the RSR citizens.
Anybody is free to have or not a religious belief. The freedom of religious cults is guaranteed. The religious cults exist and function freely. The way of organization and functioning is established by law.
The school is separated from the church. No confession, congregation or religious community can open or maintain teaching institutions other than those special schools for training the cult personnel.
The inviolability of the person is guaranteed to the RSR citizen.
No person can be retained or arrested if there are no strong proofs or indications that one committed an act specified and punished by the law. The prosecution institutions cannot retain a person for longer than 24 hours. Nobody can be arrested without a mandate from the tribunal or prosecutor.
The right to be defended is guaranteed over the whole course of the process.
The residence is inviolable. Nobody can enter in somebody residence without inhabitor's agreement, except the cases specifically stated by the law.
The secret of correspondence and telephonic communications is guaranteed.
The right to petition is guaranteed. The state institutions have the obligation to solve the citizens' petitions regarding personal or public rights and interests.
The one whose rights are hurt through an illegal act committed by a state institution can request, to the competent institutions, in the framework of the law, the annulment of the act and damage recovery.
The right of personal property is protected by the law.
The income and economies from work, the home and surroundings, as well as the goods for personal comfort and use, constitute the object of the right to personal property.
The right to inheritance is protected by the law.
RSR gives the right to asylum to foreigners under pursuit for activities supporting the workers' interests, for participating at the fight for national liberation or for protection of peace.
I ommitted a few section which are specific to the military domain or political/ideological technicalities, which are irrelevant to humanism.
Reading this document again, after 31 years, makes me a tad sad: the RSR citizens themselves did not take seriously this document, it seemed too good for them to be true; that's how it remained.