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Culture and Empire: Digital Revolution Paperback – November 2, 2013
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About the Author
Pieter Hintjens is a writer, programmer and thinker who has spent decades building large software systems and on-line communities, which he describes as "Living Systems". He is an expert in distributed computing, having written many protocols and distributed software systems. He founded the ZeroMQ free software project in 2007, and in 2013 launched the edgenet project to build a fully secure, anonymous peer-to-peer Internet. He is the author of "ZeroMQ - Messaging for Many Applications" (O'Reilly), "Code Connected", and "Culture and Empire: Digital Revolution". His blog is at hintjens.com.
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Top customer reviews
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Yes, it's reductive (but knowingly so)... but it's dealing with giant sweeps of history, so it rounds off a few details to make what I think are some very valid points.
I like the way the author thinks, and his internationalist perspective. I like the introduction of implicitly libertarian themes, without the seemingly joined-at-the-hip right-wing views on race, poverty, immigration, etc. Hintjens seems to be both a realist in his analysis, and a hopeful humanist in his desire to see more equality, democracy, and self-determination for the people of the world.
A cynic might say that his techno-libertarianism is naive; and perhaps it's true; the future will know. But again, it's there to make some points, and I think that they were worth making.
The metaphors at play: the para-state, the city-builders, etc... all are simplistic, but very useful constructs. Remember, all models are false, but some are useful. I found Hintjens' models very useful.
Some things you'll learn:
- How Africa got online
- The power of crowd wisdom
- How Germany got collectively insane in 1939
- How South-Africa survived Apartheid
- How to built an online community
- How a bandit creates a gang or a guru a sect
- Extraction economies
The other half talks about the continuous fight of the old guard (spy agencies, para state, financial world) against the digital society.
Let me finish this review with the following quoted story from the beginning of chapter 4:
"Once upon a time, there was a great Empire that ruled the
known world. It owned all the lands, the wealth beneath, and
the wealth above. The Empire was run by an old, faceless soci-
ety of criminals. It ran on cheap oil and cheap blood. It
smashed its opponents in the name of Peace. It burned their
lands in the name of Reconstruction. It enslaved them in the
name of Freedom. It built massive castles of edict and punish-
ment to govern its populations, and it fed them a river of pap
to keep them docile. It was powerful, invincible, and paranoid.
Far away, in a different place, a civilization called Culture had
taken seed and was growing. It owned little except a magic
spell called Knowledge. The Culture ran on light, and built
little bubbles of fire and hope. It seduced its critics by giving
them what they wanted, no matter how unusual. And as it
pulled in more people, it grew and built more of its bubbles.
When the Empire first encountered the Culture, it was
puzzled. There were no armies to crush, no statesmen to cor-
rupt and recruit, no castles to loot and burn. So it ignored the
Culture and its pretty bubbles, hoping it would go away.
The Culture grew, and grew faster than you could follow. In
less than a generation, it had started to build cities, impossibly
beautiful spheres of fire and hope, massive, and yet gentler
than the breeze. More people quietly left the castles to move to
the cities of the Culture, where they too learned to build their
own bubbles of flames and joy.
The Culture seemed harmless. However, the Empire depended
on its vassal masses. If the masses left to go to the Culture’s cit -
ies, the Empire would starve and die. Total War was inevitable.
Both the Empire and the Culture knew it, and prepared for it
in very different ways.
The Empire attacked. It tore down the cities closest to it and
told the Culture, stop building or we will come back. And for
each city it burnt, a hundred others sprang up. Culture
shrugged and said, “We enjoy building new cities.” So the Em-
pire sent its infiltrators and spies into the cities to try to cor-
rupt them. And the Culture laughed, clapped its hands, and
exclaimed, “We do much worse to ourselves every day. Look,
we enjoy this game!” And it opened its hands. And there lay
some of the Empire’s darkest and deepest secrets, for all to see.
So the Empire, the cold finger of fear touching its heart, smiled
its most sincere smile and welcomed the Culture into its lands.
And then it began to erect a far wall so wide and so high that it
could cover all the cities of the Culture in darkness. If the Cul-
ture ran on light, thought the Empire, then it would destroy
Note that you can also read it for free as a pdf (as I did) and its free to share and remix under CC-BY-SA-3.0.