Letters From the November 21, 2016, Issue

Letters From the November 21, 2016, Issue

Letters From the November 21, 2016, Issue

State of denial… Platform fetishism?…  Breath of fresh air…  Drive the vote…


State of Denial

The Nation is the last publication I would have expected to engage in a “partnership with valued advertisers” to produce content [see the advertising spread for Denial, pp. 8–9, Oct. 24]. No matter how dire the financial pressures, this is extremely disappointing. I’ll take this as a cry for help, and say that I’m prepared to increase my contributions, but only if this disgraceful practice ends forthwith.
Jon Reinsch

The Nation Replies

While I appreciate Jon Reinsch’s concern, I can assure him that when we say “partnership,” we mean it. The Nation isn’t engaging in any subterfuge, as our explanatory copy makes clear. I agree the result is different from a typical advertisement, but this reflects a desire to innovate within the media landscape, not a bow to market pressure. After all, color, images, and addressing the reader directly—now our standard practice—were all departures from the first text advertisements in The Nation.

Partnership also implies equality, which is why we innovated with Bleecker Street, an independent distribution company (staffed, as it happens, by readers of The Nation). While my colleagues in fund-raising sincerely appreciate the offer of an increased donation, it isn’t as if we’ve partnered with Big Pharma or Lockheed Martin. They won’t return my calls.

Tim Johnson
Associate Publisher, Advertising

The Nation

Platform Fetishism?

Being the party pooper in a left-wing fiesta for cooperative ownership may be unbecoming, but Nathan Schneider’s piece on platform cooperativism [“An Internet of Our Own,” Oct. 31]—which I read in light of the revelation of a possible takeover of Twitter (for which Schneider is agitating)—made me feel the need to polemicize.

Platform cooperativism exemplifies the critique of the social Web as a factory that exploits voluntary and free labor while undermining unions and traditional labor. Indeed, platform cooperativism is late anticapitalist collectivity on crack, fueling the direct-peoples’-action pundits with hope (who doesn’t want Twitter back?). It promises all of us workers a chance to reinhabit the platforms on which we sacrificed the most surplus value, hand in hand with their workers.

Yet, while platform cooperativism promises to intervene in high-tech neoliberalism, it does little to change its workings. And this, coupled with the fact it is not being attempted against platforms that were commercial success stories, is unfortunately its Achilles’ heel. Can symbolic value, real labor, and collective cognitive labor, once exploited, really be taken back? If so, can this really be done by using the same disruptive form that was invented by neoliberalism—the same factory form? Isn’t there an issue with the type of normative liberal politics we have to accept to recast that form? Does power really just wither away only because something is run by its workers or users? How will the collective cognitive labor floating from and toward the platforms be valued to the co-op’s credit and not to the system’s? Why fetishize the platform and not hundreds of other forms of cooperation people are struggling to get back? What collaboration could be narcissistic enough to redecorate and relaunch the alienating hydra of individualism and personalization of online work, leisure, or a combo of both? And if it is not a traditional form of labor that we are talking about, isn’t it too cynical to just accept that we can own a factory we aren’t working at and that we know is exploiting the exchange value of whatever we do? In other words, sure, platforms did disempower us collectively, but I am not really sure if such collectivity can actually form the basis for reinhabiting the same spaces differently, let alone our politics.

Korinna Patelis
athens, greece

Nathan Schneider Replies

When I opened the November 2015 Platform Cooperativism conference, I shared a few working principles that have guided our thinking from the start. One of them was that platform co-ops are “not a solution.” Which is to say: This is not solutionism. We are not, in the mold of Silicon Valley, proposing a simple fix that will magically solve everything. Nor is the idea of cooperative models for online platforms a complete politics; one of its strengths, I believe, is that it appeals to the better angels of people working from a variety of political frameworks. This is why the idea—as well as the growing network of actually existing platform co-ops—has spawned collaborations among unlikely partners, including the off­line co-op movement, labor unions, entrepreneurs, ethical investors, and leftist politicians looking for something to say “yes” to. Bringing democracy and solidarity to the economy of the Internet won’t usher in all the answers. We do, however, believe this strategy poses a much better set of questions than what presently passes for Internet politics, as well as the means for addressing them together.
Nathan Schneider
boulder, colo.

Breath of Fresh Air

Many thanks to Eric Alterman for taking up the much-ignored topic of climate change in his poignant article “Hot Air” [Oct. 31]. Most people want to reject the fact that this existential threat to planet earth is anthropogenically propagated. In particular, politicians and elected officials prefer to remain in their comfort zones of skepticism and rejection as to the root causes of our changing climate. By my observation, the threat is so real and ominous that I want to urge the editors of The Nation to please endeavor not to release any article, Web post, e-mail, or newsletter without this crucial topic incorporated into the content! Climate change is the looming threat to our national security, our food security, and our civilization as a whole!
Werner Loell
portsmouth, r.i.

Drive the Vote

I live in Oregon, and I can confirm what Ari Berman has reported [“Texas’s Jim Crow Voting Laws,” Oct. 31]. There are many more voters registered in Oregon today than at any previous time, and new voters are being registered every day in droves. We also conduct all elections by mail, so nobody needs to take time off from work to go to the polls and vote. It works extremely well, and voter fraud is virtually nonexistent—on the order of 0.000001 percent!
Henry J. Bennett

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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