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Old January 21 2013, 06:13 AM   #1
Sci
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Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

Just came across this, and thought it was interesting:

A little over two years ago, Jacobin Magazine published this article, "Four Futures" by Peter Frase, about different manifestations Socialism and Capitalism might take in the future, and it draws upon pop culture imagery to help illustrate its speculations. One of the influences it draws upon is Star Trek. (In a recent primer pubished as a result of Jacobin making the New York Times, managing editor Connor Kipatrick calls the article "socialism for Star Trek: The Next Generation fans.")

Some quotes:

Peter Frase, "Jacobin" wrote:
But getting past wage labor economically also means getting past it socially, and this entails deep changes in our priorities and our way of life. If we want to imagine a world where work is no longer a necessity, it’s probably more fruitful to draw on fiction than theory. Indeed, many people are already familiar with the utopia of a post-scarcity communism, because it has been represented in one of our most familiar works of popular culture: Star Trek. The economy and society of that show is premised on two basic technical elements. One is the technology of the ‘replicator’, which is capable of materializing any object out of thin air, with only the press of a button. The other is a fuzzily described source of apparently free (or nearly free) energy, which runs the replicators as well as everything else on the show.

The communistic quality of the Star Trek universe is often obscured because the films and TV shows are centered on the military hierarchy of Starfleet, which explores the galaxy and comes into conflict with alien races. But even this seems to be largely a voluntarily chosen hierarchy, drawing those who seek a life of adventure and exploration; to the extent that we see glimpses of civilian life, it seems mostly untroubled by hierarchy or compulsion. And to the extent that the show departs from communist utopia, it is because its writers introduce the external threat of hostile alien races or scarce resources in order to produce sufficient dramatic tension.
The mutation of the property form, from real to intellectual, catalyzes the transformation of society into something which is not recognizable as capitalism, but is nevertheless just as unequal. Capitalism, at its root, isn’t defined by the presence of capitalists, but by the existence of capital, which in turn is inseparable from the process of commodity production by means of wage labor, M-C-M’. When wage labor disappears, the ruling class can continue to accumulate money only if they retain the ability to appropriate a stream of rents, which arise from their control of intellectual property. Thus emerges a rentist, rather than capitalist society.

Suppose, for example, that all production is by means of Star Trek’s replicator. In order to make money from selling replicated items, people must somehow be prevented from just making whatever they want for free, and this is the function of intellectual property. A replicator is only available from a company that licenses you the right to use one, since anyone who tried to give you a replicator or make one with their own replicator would be violating the terms of their license. What’s more, every time you make something with the replicator, you must pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing. In this world, if Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard wanted to replicate his beloved "tea, Earl Grey, hot", he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea.
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Old January 21 2013, 12:43 PM   #2
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

Amazes me when people take the time to write some giant-ass essay without actually researching first.

He states: "Suppose, for example, that all production is by means of Star Trek’s replicator." Why are we supposing that? We know it's not true. Chateau Picard produces wine, not via replicator. Ben Sisko's dad produces food, not from a replicator.

And: "In this world, if Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard wanted to replicate his beloved "tea, Earl Grey, hot", he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea." Does this need to be true? First off, we almost always see replicators on-board Federation starships/bases, suggesting that the individual would not need to pay for what's being replicated. Additionally, has the author never heard of a library? Perhaps there are publicly owned replicator patterns, and Fed citizens have access to those, much the way that you can read a beloved book by getting it from your library.
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Old January 21 2013, 02:45 PM   #3
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

I imagine replicator patterns would be available two ways:

1) Sold the same way 3D meshes are sold on the internet. Transfer the credits, download it, and it's yours to make as many copies as you want. This could apply to things you'd use often, like food, pencils...

2) Sold the way licensed software sold - purchase it for a single use, get a serial number, make one copy. Toys, clothes, tools, household items...
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Old January 21 2013, 04:12 PM   #4
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

LobsterAfternoon wrote: View Post
Amazes me when people take the time to write some giant-ass essay without actually researching first.

He states: "Suppose, for example, that all production is by means of Star Trek’s replicator." Why are we supposing that? We know it's not true. Chateau Picard produces wine, not via replicator. Ben Sisko's dad produces food, not from a replicator.
He's making an argument about how a productive economy that need not rely on human labor might work, using Star Trek's technological capacities as an example. He's not actually describing the events of the Star Trek universe.

And: "In this world, if Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard wanted to replicate his beloved "tea, Earl Grey, hot", he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea." Does this need to be true?
Well, no, and the article says as such. He is, again, describing four possible future economic systems; one in which scarcity is artificially created by intellectual property law is the one being described in that part of the article.

Did you actually read the article?
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Old January 21 2013, 06:31 PM   #5
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

Forbin wrote: View Post
I imagine replicator patterns would be available two ways:

1) Sold the same way 3D meshes are sold on the internet. Transfer the credits, download it, and it's yours to make as many copies as you want. This could apply to things you'd use often, like food, pencils...

2) Sold the way licensed software sold - purchase it for a single use, get a serial number, make one copy. Toys, clothes, tools, household items...
Or perhaps this is the way Federation credits are used. We know the Federation does have a system called credits - although we don't really know exactly what those are (I prefer to believe it's a simple monetary unit, like any other, only it's all electronic - no physical currency). Anyhoo, perhaps the use of a replicator automatically incurs a charge of X credits on the user's account. Seems simple enough.

Similar to when Sisko once talked about using up a lot of "transporter credits" because when he was at the Academy he would beam home to dinner every night.
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Old January 21 2013, 06:36 PM   #6
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
Forbin wrote: View Post
I imagine replicator patterns would be available two ways:

1) Sold the same way 3D meshes are sold on the internet. Transfer the credits, download it, and it's yours to make as many copies as you want. This could apply to things you'd use often, like food, pencils...

2) Sold the way licensed software sold - purchase it for a single use, get a serial number, make one copy. Toys, clothes, tools, household items...
Or perhaps this is the way Federation credits are used. We know the Federation does have a system called credits - although we don't really know exactly what those are (I prefer to believe it's a simple monetary unit, like any other, only it's all electronic - no physical currency). Anyhoo, perhaps the use of a replicator automatically incurs a charge of X credits on the user's account. Seems simple enough.

Similar to when Sisko once talked about using up a lot of "transporter credits" because when he was at the Academy he would beam home to dinner every night.
My sense would be that the Federation uses a hybrid system -- that some things are done socialistically, and some things done capitalistically. For instance, I'm sure there's a wide assortment of generic but useful goods that are considered public domain, which any replicator may produce for free; but I'm sure there are also numerous goods that are subject to copyright, which can only be replicated through payment of a fee.

My sense is that anyone can live a happy, healthy, reasonably comfortable life in the Federation for free, but that going for luxuries beyond that requires labor and capital.
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Old January 21 2013, 07:00 PM   #7
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

In essence you're talking about post-scarciyty economics, under which a lot of traditional thinking about economics goes out the window. It wouldn't be socialism, as the term is currently understood, but it sure would look like it to a present-day observer.

The best artriculation of the socialist ideal is the old maxim: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Under the kind of system described, it would be: "From each according to his inclination, to each according to his desire."
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Old January 21 2013, 07:31 PM   #8
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

Sci wrote: View Post
He's making an argument about how a productive economy that need not rely on human labor might work, using Star Trek's technological capacities as an example. He's not actually describing the events of the Star Trek universe.



Did you actually read the article?
So wait, he's using Star Trek as an example but not actually obeying what we've seen in Star Trek? What's the point of that? That's like saying "I wonder how the sun works" and then assuming that it's made of candles.

I did not read the article, just the pull quotes you put up.
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Old January 22 2013, 02:07 AM   #9
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

LobsterAfternoon wrote: View Post
Sci wrote: View Post
He's making an argument about how a productive economy that need not rely on human labor might work, using Star Trek's technological capacities as an example. He's not actually describing the events of the Star Trek universe.

Did you actually read the article?
So wait, he's using Star Trek as an example but not actually obeying what we've seen in Star Trek? What's the point of that?
To use Star Trek's fictional technologies to illustrate how an economic system might work in real life, not to talk specifically about Star Trek minutiae. Obviously.
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Old January 22 2013, 02:31 AM   #10
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

LobsterAfternoon wrote: View Post
Amazes me when people take the time to write some giant-ass essay without actually researching first.

He states: "Suppose, for example, that all production is by means of Star Trek’s replicator." Why are we supposing that? We know it's not true. Chateau Picard produces wine, not via replicator. Ben Sisko's dad produces food, not from a replicator.
Luxury goods, not necessities.

He's describing a world where replicator patterns are basically 'matter mp3s'. And we all know how easy it's been for corporations to regulate mp3s. Worst we'd get is a 'Replicator Spotify' where they get people to pay just by first offering a free product then offering to remove ads.
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Old January 22 2013, 02:31 AM   #11
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

E-DUB wrote: View Post
In essence you're talking about post-scarciyty economics, under which a lot of traditional thinking about economics goes out the window. It wouldn't be socialism, as the term is currently understood, but it sure would look like it to a present-day observer.

The best artriculation of the socialist ideal is the old maxim: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Under the kind of system described, it would be: "From each according to his inclination, to each according to his desire."

I agree with this. Non-utopian socialism tries to deal with the world as it currently is, where we engage in social relations to make a living to gain the necessities we need. In a post-scarcity society, the compromises you need in any kind of economy, capitalist or socialist, don't really need to be made. In the Federation, you could have a third or half the population just sitting at home with replicators, playing in the holodeck, and it wouldn't really matter.
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Old January 22 2013, 03:57 AM   #12
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

I don't think it's just luxuries that are manufactured via non-replication methods. We know Chief O'Brien needed some supplies for repairing DS9/the Defiant that couldn't be replicated.
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Old January 22 2013, 07:02 PM   #13
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

" Why are we supposing that? We know it's not true. Chateau Picard produces wine, not via replicator. Ben Sisko's dad produces food, not from a replicator.
DS9 was interestingly ambiguous whether there was any real difference between replicated and "real" things. Didn't Eddington claim to be able to tell the difference between a replicated and naturally grown tomato? Klingons are also affected by this. Jadzia butted heads with Mrs. Martok when she tried to take a shortcut in replicating a ritual candle, which was totally without honor!

It could be that there's no difference but what's in people's minds, and wine could just as well be made via replicator but the ones that can advertise "naturally grown" on the label have more cachet. Which is no different than what happens today, when "premium brands" can command higher prices for products that are no better than the generic alternative.
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Old January 23 2013, 06:13 PM   #14
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

Temis the Vorta wrote: View Post
" Why are we supposing that? We know it's not true. Chateau Picard produces wine, not via replicator. Ben Sisko's dad produces food, not from a replicator.
DS9 was interestingly ambiguous whether there was any real difference between replicated and "real" things. Didn't Eddington claim to be able to tell the difference between a replicated and naturally grown tomato? Klingons are also affected by this. Jadzia butted heads with Mrs. Martok when she tried to take a shortcut in replicating a ritual candle, which was totally without honor!

It could be that there's no difference but what's in people's minds, and wine could just as well be made via replicator but the ones that can advertise "naturally grown" on the label have more cachet. Which is no different than what happens today, when "premium brands" can command higher prices for products that are no better than the generic alternative.

yep, I get the impression that the "I can taste a difference" crowd are more like snobs expressing a certain elitism toward those who eat replicated foods rather than meant to be showing us that there's a significant difference between replicated and non-replicated.
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Old January 28 2013, 12:02 AM   #15
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Re: Jacobin's "Four Futures:" "Socialism for Star Trek fans"

I think Mr. Frase's analysis is based on humanity in it's current evolutionary state. Didn't Picard say that we have evolved past greed, want? Perhaps when we reach that stage a new social organization will arise, something beyond socialism or capitalism... and is most definately something we cannot conceive of now.

I don't know, but the idea of eliminating want, hunger and need doesn't sound like socialism but like something that we all deserve: a certain peace in our lives that allows us to grow intellectually, creatively and spiritually.

But continue, I love these conversations....
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