Remix: Part 2

OK, I’m hooked. I left off my last Remix post by asking what Lessig was advocating and what it looks like, and hoping that I’d find out in Parts 2 and 3. Lessig delivered in Part 2.

This is the part of the book that the title comes from: “Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.” Lessig is suggesting a hybrid between sharing and commercial (or thee and me) economies, and he provides numerous online models for what this looks like. My only real complaint at this point is that I, the reader, still have to do the hard work of mapping those examples onto non-online interaction. If the U.S. were to model copyright/trademark law after YouTube practices, what does that really mean? (Is it even really possible?)

On the bright side, we (the U.S.) already have one of the components that Lessig describes as integral to a sharing (and thus also a hybrid) economy: diversity. “Diversity in experience and worldviews, so s to help a project fill in the blind spots inherent in any particular view” (165). True, some will argue that most U.S. citizens have a very Westernized worldview. I would argue, though, that the necessary diversity does exist here … if only the powers that be are clever enough to seek the expertise of those with perspectives different from their own. (The anecdote that immediately springs to mind is Abraham Lincoln’s filling his Cabinet with his political “enemies” so as to have a broader diversity in his think tank.) What I’m not sure of, though, is if any government endeavor will ever be able to command the sort of volunteer power necessary to do something like this. Lessig hints in this part that he may feel the same way, but he seems more perturbed by the particular practices of our government rather than the inherent trappings of any government. I’m hoping there is more wisdom on this subject to come in Part 3.

I also really enjoyed Lessig’s inclusion of Sherry Turkle (starting on page 217). Theoretically, he could have done a lot more with her work on online identities, but I think the point about shifting identities demonstrating the value of generosity is well made. In the end, the thing that destroys the goodwill of hypertextual communities is greed. And, interestingly, the greed/generosity balance is both political and religious hotspot for many people even outside online culture. (I’m thinking income tax debates for politics, and for Christianity, at least, the passage about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to Heaven. I can’t speak for any other religions, but I do get a sense of the same ideal from those that I have any experience at all with.)

Perhaps my favorite bit of this part of the book is on page 130, where Lessig says, “For reasons at the core of this book, inspiring more creativity is more important than whether you or I like the creativity we’ve inspired.” This passage really resonated for me. Part of that is probably because of my pedagogical stance regarding creativity. For every project I assign in my English 101 and 249 classes, I explain the learning goals and tell students that I am open to creative reinterpretations of the project as long as they still meet those goals or similar goals that I approve. Although I haven’t always liked my students’ creative reinterpretations (a wiki on alcohol-related expertise, even by non-minor students, could seem suspect), they have always responded excitedly to this possibility. There is no doubt in my mind that the students who take this option spend more time thinking in more ways about the rhetorical situation they are placing their work into.  I also have reason to believe that there investment in the project makes them more likely to continue writing for the public in the future. (My evidence for this includes both email updates from and Facebook groups formed by former students.)

But, really, I think my attraction to that observation on page 130 goes even deeper than pedagogical ideals. There is something very instinctual that tells me that creativity is important to humanity, even when it’s creativity I don’t like. I suppose I’m interpreting creativity to mean most of the things mentioned in the First Amendment, which has been so basic to my upbringing that acting on it does feel instinctual (though I recognize it’s learned). But I also think there’s the possibility that it goes even deeper. Things like art therapy make me believe that there’s something a little more basic in human nature that really needs to embrace Lessig’s RW culture.

For now, I’m excited to read Chapter 10 in Part 3, which Lessig said in Part 2 will deal with the Creative Commons license.  Since Lessig is a cofounder of that project, it will be really intriguing to learn about his vision for it. I particularly like his summary of it on page 226: “Take and share my work freely. Let it become part of the sharing economy. But if you want to carry this work over to the commercial economy, you must ask me first. Depending upon the offer, I may or may not say yes.”

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