Wikipedia & the Commons

Wikipedia is a strange success story. Rarely does a giant function without excessive remuneration in today’s society. But given the sites function, the dissemination of knowledge, Wikipedia paradoxically presents itself as a pariah of the internet, and a microcosm of society. It is the 5th most visited site in the world, and regarding sites that provide information about our world, Wikipedia has established itself as the source of factual consensus in a world of competing perspectives, using peer-reviewed sources from as many competing perspectives as possible to create sophisticated overviews of the issues we face.

Briefly, Wikipedia uses a unique business strategy to exist, its’ target market is as broad as possible, incorporating everyone it can. This mass exposure leads to mass interaction whether it be anything from web traffic to contributing to articles, the wider the population, the richer the site. (A simple video explaining how this works can be found here, I also wrote a paper on Wikipedia’s innovation model which you can access here).

The Wikipedia model has been adapted by behemoths like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and countless other online hotspots. Free content, ultra-accessibility, and degrees of user autonomy result in ample user created content. Wikipedia stands alone amongst its contemporaries. The ‘free knowledge project’ alongside Project Gutenberg (the oldest online library) and many other open-source organisations lack several features that are integral to their contemporaries business models.
Firstly, they are not-for-profit, and furthermore do not accept advertising, opting to rely on donations for funding. Their deliberate omission of advertising revenue as a possible income stream is representative of their desire for transparency and neutrality, issues that lie at the heart of discourse on the ethics of internet. Instead of the gargantuan privately owned apparatus of Facebook, Wikipedia’s non-profit, state size presence is uniquely public. But Wikipedia’s open platform belongs to no singular government or sovereign; it exists in the domain of the commons.

This means that Wikipedia is a political force, albeit subtle. Its status as an apparatus of the digital commons, one that (quoting Kropotkin) “strives to maintain and enlarge the precious kernel of social customs without which no human or animal society can exist”, Wikipedia’s precious kernel is the dissemination of knowledge to the world. This humanist betterment of desire harkens back to the praxis of Thomas Edison, and Otis Boykin, in which research resulted in technologies that revolutionised societies capacity to care for its people.

Wikipedia as a commons allows for international cooperation in a space uninterested in monetary influence; this is a powerful thing. Individual agents on the internet exist as digito-ontological nomads, and Wikipedia presents itself as a Multitude of autonomous actors engaged in grand scale international mutual-aid. Wikipedia exists as one of the single greatest existing examples of ‘positive anarchism’ the world has ever seen, proving humanity’s capacity to cooperate without financial incentive.
However, the commons exist in a fragile state. By its’ very definition, what is common is accessible to anyone, and this opens it up to exploitation. The ‘tragedy of the commons’, the outcome of over-exploitation of shared resources, exists in the digital space as much as the physical. Where in our physical world excessive pollution by private actors results in problems that affect everybody that must coexist within a shared common space, the digital space is susceptible to its own tragedies.

Wikipedia’s biggest criticism is its factual uncertainty, which is an entirely valid criticism. Its articles are comprised of peer-reviewed sources, yet when compiled can still result in errors. However both Nature and Epic (in partnership with Oxford University) have published papers testifying to Wikipedia’s near mirror accuracy to Britannica in multiple languages, Wikipedia attempts to disseminate information to the public like our rigorous empirical knowledge production system.
Knowledge, information; these are the heart of the digital space, and there is fierce debate over it. Our contemporary context presents a tragedy for the Commons: ideological influence in the domain of truth.

Truth is a peculiar word, at first, it seems self-contained and easy to define, but it appears this is becoming increasingly difficult as societies, global integration and competing subjective interests cast doubt on the concept of truth. It’s all too easy to forget that Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 word of the year was Post-Truth and that scepticism is in vogue.

The result of this is a site called Infogalactic. Created by Vox Day (a pseudonym) in 2016, very much in the spirit of Post-Truth, Infogalactic mirrors the Wikipedia model exactly; it is a copy of the site. However, this version has very different fundamentals.

Firstly it rejects the need for peer reviewed articles, to quote the site: “Infogalactic is not Wikipedia, it is a dynamic knowledge core designed to be a useful, up-to-date reference for the user consulting it. Only the user can define his perspective; no one else can define what is true for him or force him to accept their subjective interpretation of reality, no matter how reliable their sources might be.”

Here we have an attempt to establish a hub for the world’s information, based on subjectivity. The site’s founder was interviewed by Wired magazine, in which he stated that it was created in opposition to Wikipedia which is run “by the left-wing thought police who administer it”. We can see that it’s very inception is fuelled by subjectivity, despite what peer reviewed evidence says. Regardless of the reader’s political view, this statement reveals a purely political drive behind the site’s existence.

However, there is some confusion in the fundamental code (what it calls the 7 Canons) of Infogalactic. Despite it’s first and most defining dedication to subjectivity, regardless of validity; it states its goal is to uphold the truth. Canon 2 states that “Infogalactic is non-ideological and seeks to present objective points of view.” Which contradicts its former goals.

The most confounding of its Canons is the 7th and final, encapsulating all of the contemporary confusion regarding the subject of truth: Facts are facts: Facts are not context, they are not logical conclusions, and they are not justifiable opinions. Only externally verifiable facts belong on the Factual level of a page… personal experiences, interpretations, or subjective opinions are welcome, but only on the appropriate level. That is not the Fact level. If there is any doubt, put it in Context.” Here we are given no formal definition of what a fact entails, facts are subject to manipulation (for here they exist outside of the boundaries of empiricism) as long as they fit the bill of the site’s moderators. The very thought policing the site states it is dedicated against.

Here is a world where words are altered, and meanings are changed, where Alex Jones appears on Wikipedia as an “American far-right radio show host, filmmaker, writer, and conspiracy theorist” he appears on Infogalactic as an “American radio show host, conspiracy analyst, documentary filmmaker, and writer.” Regardless of the many logical potholes that riddle the site’s philosophy, it gains traction, people contribute (this time without statements necessitating empirical evidence), and the model that works so well for Wikipedia succeeds here; albeit on a smaller scale.

The commons are a fragile domain, and susceptible to tragedy. Our digital commons are young, and we have yet to fully understand the ethics surrounding them, let alone create the policy to regulate our use of them. Wikipedia shows that success without compromise can push the boundaries of the commons, widen them and allow humanity to experience itself in new ways. Recent developments like Infogalactic are a reminder that the commons must are vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation.

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Wikipedia & Innovation

Introduction – Where Did the Edisons go?

It is out of place in contemporary society that an organisation thrives without profit margins, production goals and brutal market strategies. The success of Wikipedia shows a radically different portrayal of innovation to its contemporaries, one that trusts in its ability to advance society. By placing innovation at the core of its business model, Wikipedia succeeds at internationally distributing its core business service through mutual co-operation with its’ stakeholders.

This radical approach to an old medium: the encyclopaedia, and it’s revolutionary results place it’s founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in the same echelon as Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. Public genius for the betterment of society is a notion waning out of fashion as companies like Monsanto create genuinely revolutionary technology only to be caged by intellectual property laws, to the detriment of everyone. Not only is Wikipedia a case study for business success, it is a beacon of humanism in an economic climate dominated by numbers, and as a platform for human collaboration, it offers a glimmer of hope for the future.

Innovation – Wikipedia, A Singularity

Wikipedia, A Different Kind of Success…

Two interesting strategic insights come from Wikipedia’s approach to innovation: Firstly that their unique product allows them to pursue a very unique target market, and that this target market bolsters the value of their service.

Wikipedia is a free to use, international, web-based encyclopaedia. The Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation that runs the site calls it “a free knowledge project” (Wikimedia, 2017). Its proportions are gargantuan with “the combined Wikipedias for all other [and including English] languages greatly exceed the English Wikipedia in size, giving more than 27 billion words in 40 million articles in 293 languages” (Zachte, 2017) In the spirit of its name, each article is open for editing to anyone (the word Wiki denotes an online collaborative space). This is its current service, which it goes to great measure to remain free and open. Once a user sets up an account with Wikipedia, they are free to begin contributing to the site. It is these contributions, almost entirely sourced from the site’s users, create the fabric of Wikipedia.

From this logic, we can see that a wider user base creates a better, more detailed, diversified site. The nature of its service: an easily accessible online encyclopaedia that is consistently updated, pairs well with its business model. Users act like nodes spread across the world to discover and maintain information. The value of the service hangs on the quantity and variation of users willing to contribute, and only through attempting to cater to everyone, could Wikipedia gain the critical mass needed to cater to everyone, which it succeeded in doing. Their business model is designed to target the widest market possible: any customer from anywhere in the globe in pursuit of information regarding anything. Strategically, this is clearly shown through the deliberate removal of all major consumer barriers to entry, with service being free, in nearly 300 languages. This is also evidence that Wikipedia actively encourages users to create content for the site, with user sign up also being free, granting immediate autonomy to contributors. Their marketing funnel is as wide as it gets.

The universal need to learn and adapt to life and society’s collective desire to categorise and produce knowledge ground Wikipedia’s broad value proposition. The desire to understand the world has lied at the top of humanities concern, all from Plato, to Russell agree it is the key component in what we know as self-actualization (Maslow, 1943). Wikipedia’s service, with its low barriers to entry, provides a high-value solution to this universal need.

Its competitive environment consists of one direct competitor: Encyclopaedia Britannica, which is also an online encyclopaedia. It charges a fee for its service, which it justifies through an emphasis on its accuracy of information and credibility as citation material; however both Nature and Epic (in partnership with Oxford University) have published papers testifying to Wikipedia’s near mirror accuracy to Britannica in multiple languages (Taraborelli, 2012). Wikipedia’s substitute competitors consist of academic journals and libraries which have high barriers to entry like costs and memberships in exchange for advantages like further reliability, primary research and citation value. All of these competitors somewhat exercise closed innovation models which use expert-centric hierarchies produce content, placing rigour and quality over the efficiency of Wikipedia’s decentralised model (Gerybadze, et al., 2010)

In the Business of Knowledge

The competitive ecosystem of online knowledge is vast but size-asymmetrical, with the majority of the market share at Wikipedia’s disposal, gaining the 5th highest internet traffic of any website in 2017 (World Economic Forum, 2017.). Its competitive advantage over its closest competitor is orders above a normal competitive relation. As mentioned above, the business model Wikipedia employs is respectively different to their competitors in size, cost, dynamism and resources.

While knowledge production is a market flooded by many smaller decentralised actors: university faculties, R&D departments and individual agents, its dissemination and publication is a market which, hitherto Wikipedia, functioned in a strictly hierarchical manner. Knowledge would be submitted to journals which ensure each article is peer reviewed, journal articles are reported on by the news and books are written. Britannica would also act as a channel for distribution.

Wikipedia’s success is quite unique, it has taken a service which has a universal demand and large potential for utility, a business model based on the open-source modelling of the time (Linux and Firefox are both open-source alumni’s), and combined it with mass user adoption (Muller-Seitze & Reger, 2010). The result is a sprawling mass of user contributions, anarchically borne of mutual aid and cooperation. The size of Wikipedia acts in the same manner as a black hole, pulling in more leads as it grows bigger, absorbing the information of those who encounter it, therefore reifying the value creation process. In this manner, it is similar to the ancient Hellenic Library of Alexandria (Quattrocelli, 2012).

For many organisations, despite its’ benefits, a large market share can be burdensome. Powerful actors become targets for legal investigation, political pressure and have more rigid standards placed on them by the public and their stakeholders (Schein & Greiner, 1988).  Wikipedia takes market share dominance to another level, and so theoretically exposes itself to disproportionately higher risks, which led Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard University to state that it “works well in practice, but not in theory” (BigThink, 2016). Two reasons allow for this model to work: firstly, lower costs and continued innovation lower the risks involved; and secondly, the nearest competitors have resource pools so small in comparison to Wikipedia that they pose little threat. In short, Wikipedia’s size, Innovative capacity, cost advantage, and resource advantage lever the risks they take on as a size-asymmetrical competitor (Bloom & Kotler, 1975).

If You Build It, They Will Come

Wikipedia’s master-play was creating a business model for knowledge distribution based on what exists already for knowledge production. Many actors, each contributing based on autonomous impulse. At the time of conception in 2001, the technological world was capitalising on developments in open source technology, which allowed users to modify the program itself; organisations like Mozilla and Unreal followed the footsteps of Linux, which saw great open-source success and released Firefox (2002) and Unreal Engine (1998) respectively.

Open-source can be messy, and for organisations that want a recognisable service, the endless modifications of open-source work against them. What Wikipedia adopted was an Open Innovation method, incorporated into the business model with user value co-creation at its core. The scale they achieve this at is orders above anything else a non-profit organisation.

The model for contributions is Anarchic, based on non-hierarchical free associations (Suissa, 2006), the technical term for this is non-pecuniary outbound innovation (Gabison & Pesole, 2014) which is marked by freely shared resources without financial incentive. Most of these contributions are filtered through several layers of automatic moderating, fact checking and source-checking before deemed publishable. Unfortunately, this process isn’t perfect, latest estimates state that Wikipedia displays an average of 3 errors per article, however, the 2012 paper published by Epic shows that this is similar to Encyclopedia Britannica’s error rate (Casebourne, et al., 2012).

User contributions are sorted and reviewed, particularly if Wikipedia intends to promote any particular article. For example every day, Wikipedia hosts a different article on its front page as their ‘featured article’ (at the time of writing this, Saturday the 27th of may’s featured article was on the 2015 Indian comedy-drama “Waiting”). For an article to be placed on the front page it has to go through rigorous peer review before it can be accepted (Viegas, et al., 2007). The Minimal centralised framework is complemented by the enfranchisement of autonomous agents under Wikipedia’s system.

These markings: open access to resources, the enfranchisement of agents, no-cost service, ubiquitous accessibility, are the markings of exceptional treatment of stakeholders, which is further incentive for agents to cooperate under a model of non-pecuniary outbound innovation. Wikipedia’s greatest resource lies in its stakeholders; responding to this, Wikipedia successfully observes and improves the stakeholder space: building a rich community for contributors and providing an immense platform for readers. This is a clear sign of attention being paid to “critical stakeholders with a potential to contribute to the organisational resources” (Sharma & Starik, 2004) (See Appendix 3).

A Victory of the Commons…

The Wikipedia model has been adapted by behemoths like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and countless other online hotspots. Free content, ultra-accessibility, and degrees of user autonomy result in ample user created content. Yet Wikipedia stands alone amongst its contemporaries. The ‘free knowledge project’ alongside Project Gutenberg (the oldest online library), and many other open-source organisations lack several features that are integral to their contemporaries business models.

Firstly, they are not-for-profit, and furthermore do not accept advertising, opting to rely on donations for funding (Wikimedia, 2017). Their deliberate omission of advertising revenue as a possible income stream is representative of their desire for transparency and neutrality, issues that lie at the heart of discourse on the ethics of internet (Quail & Larabie, 2010). Instead of the gargantuan privately owned apparatus of Facebook, Wikipedia’s non-profit, state size presence is uniquely public. But Wikipedia’s public platform belongs to no singular government or sovereign, it exists in the domain of the commons (Fuster-Morral, 2010).

This means that Wikipedia is a political force, albeit subtle. Its status as an apparatus of the digital commons, one that “strives to maintain and enlarge the precious kernel of social customs without which no human or animal society can exist” (Kropotkin, 1898), Wikipedia’s precious kernel is the dissemination of knowledge to the world. This humanist betterment of desire harkens back to the praxis of Thomas Edison, and Otis Boykin, in which research resulted in technologies that revolutionised societies capacity to care for its people.

Wikipedia as a commons allows for international cooperation in a space uninterested in monetary influence; this is a powerful thing. Individual agents on the internet exist as digito-ontological nomads, and Wikipedia presents itself as a Multitude (Hardt & Negri, 2000) of autonomous actors engaged in grand scale international mutual-aid. Wikipedia exists as one of the single greatest existing examples of ‘positive anarchism’ the world has ever seen, proving humanity’s capacity to cooperate without financial incentive.

Beyond this its historical significance must be noted: Wikipedia is an anthropological artefact. Many markers of what anthropologists call “The Anthropocene” (Edwards, 2015): the human epoch, are in reality disastrous negative externalities of human activity (see Appendix 4); the extinction of species, environmental degradation, and so on. Wikipedia, a key player in the information revolution, provides humanity with the richest documentation of our global culture, with both objective, empirical accounts and subjective, hermeneutic accounts of our history. Not only does Wikipedia contain what humanity has accomplished, but also the subjective desires behind these accomplishments. In short, Wikipedia, through its unique model of open innovation, captures the very historicity of the human species.

 

Conclusion – Wikisociety?

Wiki (adj) – Hawaiian: Fast, Quick. Ward Cunningham’s proliferation of the loanword ‘Wiki’ stems from Hawaiian roots. Yet its contemporary meaning is strictly without borders. The digital commons are a better place thanks to the success of Wikipedia. Globalisation is still a process in motion, and alongside its benefits society must experience growing pains. We know have a model, albeit limited, for successful global cooperation, and its main ingredients are transparency, enfranchisement of individuals and mutual aid, all stemming from it’s unique innovation methods.

How this will affect the historical process is unknown, but meanwhile, Wikipedia stands testament to the positive effects of effective innovation; it can benefit the world, but its spoils must be accessible to all for it to be truly revolutionary.

 

Resource List

Bloom, P., & Kotler, P., (1975) Risk Management: Strategies for High Market Share Companies, Harvard Business Review, Accessed at https://hbr.org/1975/11/strategies-for-high-market-share-companies on 30/05/2017

Casebourne, I., Davies, C., Fernandes, M., Norman, N. (2012) Assessing the Accuracy and Quality of Wikipedia Entries Compared to Popular Online Encyclopedias, Epic, Oxford

The Economist, (2011), A Man Made World, found at http://www.economist.com/node/18741749?story_id=18741749 accessed on 30/05/17

Edwards, L. E., (2015). “What is the Anthropocene?”. Eos. 96

Franke, N., & Shah, S. (2003). How communities support innovative activities: an exploration of assistance and sharing among end-users. Research policy, 32(1), 157-178.

Gabison, G., & Pesole, A., (2014) An Overview of Models of Distributed Innovation, European Commission, JRC Science & Policy, Luxembourg

Gerybadze, A., Hommel, U., Reiners, H. W., & Tomaschewski, D., (2010) Innovation and International Corporate Growth. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Hardt, M., & Negri, A., (2000), “Empire”, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard University Press

Kropotkin, P., 1898, “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal” Free Society, San Francisco

Maslow, A.H. (1943). “A theory of human motivation”. Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96. doi:10.1037/h0054346 – via psychclassics.yorku.ca.

Muller-Seitz, G. & Reger, G. (2010), “‘Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia’ as a role model? Lessons for open innovation from an exploratory examination of the supposedly democratic-anarchic nature of Wikipedia”, International Journal of Technology Management, vol. 52, no. 3-4, pp. 457-476.

Quail, C., & Larabie, C., (2010) Net Neutrality: Media Discourses and Public Perception, Global Media Journal, Vol.3  Iss. 1, pp 31-50

Quattrocelli, L. (2012). Library of Alexandria. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. John Wiley & Sons

Schein, L. E., Greiner, V. E., (1988). Power and organization development : mobilizing power to implement change (Repr. with corrections. ed.). Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley

Shah, S. K., Smith, S. W., & Reedy, E. J. (2012). Who are user entrepreneurs? Findings on innovation, founder characteristics, and firm characteristics. Kauffman Firm Survey, Kauffman Foundation, February.

Sharma, S., Sterik, M., (2004) Stakeholders, the Environment and Society, Edward Elgar Publishing

Suissa, J., (2006) Anarchism and Education: a Philosophical Perspective. Routledge. New York. p. 7

Taraborelli, D., (2012) Seven years after Nature, pilot study compares Wikipedia favorably to other encyclopedias in three languages, Wikimedia Reports

Viégas F.B., Wattenberg M., McKeon M.M. (2007) The Hidden Order of Wikipedia. In: Schuler D. (eds) Online Communities and Social Computing. OCSC 2007. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 4564. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

Wikimedia, (2017), Frequently asked questions,  found at https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/FAQ/en, Accessed 30/05/17

Zachte, E., (2017) Wikimedia Statistics, Accessed at https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaEN.htm 29/05/2017, Wikimedia

Zittrain, J., (2016) Why Wikipedia Works Really Well in Practice, Just Not in Theory, BigThink, Accessed at http://bigthink.com/videos/the-model-for-wikipedia-is-truly-unique on 30/05/17

 

A Brief History Of Violence (Dear America)

America.

You were raised in a house of violence. Your primal father, the British Empire, disregarded you as a child, spat on you and beat you before you were aware of what was going on. Growing pains resulted in a polite split from his clutches, but the schism left scars.

You ached to fill his shoes, enslaving foreigners to bolster power. This proved contentious; you knew how it was to be captive to another Nation. Your adolescence saw bloodshed as you forged a new identity through civil war, the world was about to meet you.

I wasn’t there when you, like a shark in the womb, tore apart the Spaniards, their ships and men sent to the depths. Your people flourished during the great war, Mr Wilson ensured that: it was corporate, the way in which you ran the greatest shock the world had ever seen so efficiently, everyone needed guns, and you were excellent at making them. The gears kept turning, and 19 years later Hitler emerged, you couldn’t sit on the sidelines, and everyone backed you. When he shot himself in that bunker, and you stormed the camps in the name of liberation one can only assume the joy under the surface, with the knowledge that violence could make money and prestige.

The other humble nation states understood you were the alpha male of the pack, beneath the conventions, multilateral agreements, and the alliances laid the naked barbarism of dominance, which you were always the best at.

The Iron curtain fell owing to your persistence; we now know there is no other way than yours. The soft touch you gave during the cold war was honourable, but we hid under the covers while you argued out your divorce terms with Soviet Russia. Of course, every bitter marriage results in a messy residuum, but the lawyers were on your side, and when the desert storm occurred, you got every penny you wanted. You’ve been scarred, you’re confused; you can’t stand the sight of a Kalashnikov; how can a man who bought that gun for $100 from the Afghan black market possibly own the right to take another’s life? That right is yours and yours alone.

All you’ve ever known is war. You like war, so much that the war on drugs wasn’t a metaphor. Now your County Police force can exercise their rights, given by God, and in style, one might add: armoured cars, body armour, fully automatic justice. Your fully loaded magazines, Mise en place for the forthcoming children of your cities.

People like to exercise their rights, your people find the most peculiar time and place to do so, and their timing and placement grow more peculiar every day. Your people found their passion for murder in the Civil War, and continue that legacy now in schools all over your country. It’s a shame this had to happen, for now, your situation calls for more.

People learn quickly, and your people were taught by the best. As long as you pay a buck, you have the right to free speech, and your people love to pay, and they love to exercise their rights. The combination is potent, particularly when you throw terrorism into the mix, which your people now seem to be extraordinary at. While your Patriots parade around in glossy leather boots, scalp exposed, oddly reminiscent of the villain so disdained by history that catapulted you to the top of the western world, and yet you say nothing; they have the right to do and say what they want.

And it is such a shame when two men on a train in Portland are stabbed and bludgeoned to death for defending women; perhaps your chivalry was just an illusion all along. But rights are rights, and America must have them for its people love to exercise their God given rights.

On Wednesday you achieved what the big other: The Mujahideen, Hezbollah, The Taliban, ISIS, never could do, the shooting of an American top dog. The Senator was shot in public by another American; I’m sure Raqqa is blushing with embarrassment for missing out on that one. It appears that America is still the best at violence, and while that big other sets Paris alight, or rapes Berlin (whatever the tabloids say), your children will grow to be the most prolific terrorists the world has ever seen, only towards each other. It’s only just getting started, they’ve been taught the method, given the means and now the seal has broken. Progressives will continue to be stabbed by skinheads, and conservatives will be shot because Americans must have their rights.

If history shows us anything, it’s that your children will only get better at it, and as the armoured cars roll out, and civilians buy the entire stock of AR-15’s; each for the same price as a new phone, America will continue to profit. Indeed their favourite child, the NRA will flourish, ensuring that every American, even the mentally disabled, can get in on the fun.

From the Antipodes, the view of your future is dim, but what do we know? Lapdogs are rarely insightful, and we’ve been told to sit and stay, what else can we do? It would seem that the master of the free world has a bad temperament, best not to anger him. Biting the hand that feeds you, whether you are foreign or American, can only end badly. There is a queue of people waiting to exercise their rights.

I wasn’t there to watch you grow America, it’s a shame that you were so tormented as a child in a violent household, but now that you’ve grown to have a house of your own, it shows that this entire time your only friend has been the gun. You know no other warmth than that of blood.

The world weeps knowing your story, and how disturbed you grew to be. I wish I had been there earlier. But now you’re scaring us; you scare everybody. We see the signs of what’s to come. We shouldn’t be so confused the next time a Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech or Columbine occurs because we know the narrative: it’s yours.

So before the levee breaks, and America’s people begin to tear each other apart. I beg you, talk to us, listen. You are not alone, and you needn’t be angry anymore, and we must work together from now on, but things need to change.

Product Review – MASTERS LVXKOONS

In teaming up with Jeff Koons, Louis Vuitton (LV) has cemented itself as the essential brand for the economically stupid and the socially disabled. Their ambitious new series of handbags combines the classic Veblen Good with the newer trend of commodifying art to spectacular effect.  Its status within society, combined with its clever marketing disarm its target market to significant effect.

Widely recognised as one of the original masters of the Veblen Good, LV again displays their prowess in marketing and capitalising on the rich, weak and stupid. LV’s strategy has always been bold, encourage conspicuous consumption, that is to encourage sociopaths with lots of money to buy their goods in order to show off their economic prowess. They invest heavily on emphasising the surplus value of their products. Because in reality, all they are selling is a handbag made from unnecessarily expensive materials, they have worked tirelessly to ensure that they communicate the exaggerated (and often questionable) benefits of their product: status, quality, beauty.

While there’s no empirical way of measuring any of these surplus value benefits, society’s obsessive focus on fetishising goods into statements of identity, has it covered. While most consumers are aware that the finished products they buy aren’t worth what businesses charge for them, LV have bypassed this by specifically targeting wealthy idiots. Economically this is represented as the Veblen good demand curve. Where demand usually goes down as the price of a good goes up, LV and other companies produce products that display a reversed form of this, where demand coincides with price, high or low. Proof that having money doesn’t guarantee any economic prowess.

Image result for LVXKOONS
The LVXKOONS Montaigne, $5,350AUD

What makes purchasing a bag from LV so ethically wrong? Money can be spent on far more effective things, the magic of LV is that they are brilliant at convincing their target market that their money is meant to be spent on their products. Here’s an example: Givewell, one of the leading charity review organisations, estimate that preventing the death of a child under 5 costs around $900 of donations towards the Deworm The World Program. The Against Malaria Foundation estimates that it costs only $5 in donations to purchase and distribute anti-mosquito nets (which have proven to be effective) around the world. LV brilliantly entices its customers to forget that with the $5,350 they plan to spend on a Montaigne MM LVXKOONS Handbag they could have saved the lives of almost six poor, sickly children, or gifted the world with 1,070 life saving anti-mosquito nets. Marketing at it’s most effective.

 

Related image
Koons’ Gazing Ball rendition of Ruben’s “Tiger Hunt”

Perhaps the newest series adds enough value to make this justifiable, after all, they have collaborated with a world class artist in designing their new masters series. Surely this imbues the series with real value? The collaboration uses Koons’ newest ‘Gazing Ball’ Series of works and places the images (which are copies of historic paintings by classic and modern masters) onto the bags, which then overlays the original artist’s name in large reflective letters, alongside some additional reflective buttons.

In an interview with Koons featured on LV’s website, he explicitly states “I believe these bags are art”. While being renowned for widening the discourse around the central question “what is art?”, Koons has always been boundary pushing. The boundaries he aims to push, primarily the boundary between the public and private sphere, are questionable to many. The primary argument, that art should be accessible to all humans, as it is the product of human expression is one that LV artfully dodge. Koons states that the reflective text on each bag performs the same function as his gazing ball does: to encourage introspection and reflect on the value of our shared artistic heritage. LV do a brilliant job of hiding the hypocrisy in relegating this to the private sphere of those able to afford $5000 handbags or $1000 iPhone cases.

But perhaps the gazing ball that is the new line of Louis Vuitton products are not supposed to engage the owner of the product, but the passer-by that gazes upon it. While some will undoubtedly see it as the whoring out of art for profit, spitting in the face of a world that needs to share its resources; their message is actually to promote a consciousness of art, and that one can support art by owning their handbag. In Koons’ words, he describes the bags as “a continuation of my effort to erase the hierarchy attached to fine art and old masters.” The choice to go with LV in pursuing this goal mustn’t have been hard; they were never renowned for supporting hierarchies of any kind.

It may be the case that Louis Vuitton’s latest collection: LVXKOONS, prays on the rich people of the world that have lots of money but no self-control, understanding of practicality or consequences, and make confident decisions based on ignorance (the three main foundations of stupidity according to cognitive scientists Balazs Aczel, Bence Palfi & Zoltan Kekecs). It may be that their products have no real, inherent value, and are by most aesthetic standards, crude and hideous (beauty is subjective though!). And it may be that their collaboration, in an act of bitter irony, stands for nothing more than the privatisation of our shared artistic heritage. But it must be said that Louis Vuitton’s latest series is nothing short of masterful, for, against all odds, people still buy it in spades.