The Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged book app for iPad has been awarded the App Fiction prize in the 2012 Publishing Innovation Awards. The award was handed out at the recent Digital Book World Conference.
In addition to the novel itself, the app “includes some of Rand’s lectures, additional articles for further reading on Rand and her philosophies, a timeline of events in Rand’s life as well as the works she published, and other materials.” If you own an iOS device, you might want to check it out, but it will cost you $14.99.
In related news, filming for Atlas Shrugged: Part Two is scheduled to begin in April. The first film was not great (see Matthew Alexander’s review) and didn’t do so well financially. It doesn’t bode well that the second film will have a smaller budget and a new director and may have some central characters recasted.
But back to Apple-related news, one P.J. Rey over at The Society Pages: Cyborgology has an interesting article about “How Cyberpunk Warned against Apple’s Consumer Revolution.” There are at times anti-corporate progressive and Marxist overtones in the article — Rey even references Marx’s notion of “false consciousness” — but nevertheless Rey’s criticism of Apple in light of cyberpunk’s tendency toward individualist anarchism should be of interest to radical libertarians of all stripes.
Rey argues that “the values coded into Apple products are passivity and consumerism; it is at this level where it is most distinct from the Cyberpunk movement,” which “is characterized by the marriage of a deep interest in (and embrace of) modern technology with pessimism regarding the potential social consequences of this technology’s pervasive use.”
Cyberpunk authors, Rey claims, almost invariably have the loss of individual liberty as their central concern. But he then proceeds to distinguish between anarchist and libertarian conceptions of freedom. Curious, I followed the link he provides to an earlier article of his titled “Julian Assange: Cyber-Libertarian or Cyber-Anarchist?”
Here it becomes clear that he conceives of anarchism more in the leftist, anarcho-socialist sense and libertarianism more in the minarchist, Constitutionalist, Libertarian Party sense. He defines anarchism as aiming at the abolition of hierarchy. But he seems wholly unaware that this dichotomy between anarchism and libertarianism is a false one, that is in fact a thriving tradition of libertarian anarchism (aka anarcho-capitalism or free-market anarchism) in the United States and even around the world. It is true that even libertarian anarchists generally do not aim at the abolition of all forms of hierarchy, but then not all forms of anarchism do.
In both articles, I noticed what I think is a common mistake among left-anarchists, or cyber-anarchists as Rey calls some of them, and perhaps also cyberpunk authors. For example, in the cyberpunk article, Rey mentions that in Snowcrash, Neal Stephenson
portrays worlds in which government institutions have become ineffective at regulation so that life or death decision are left to whims of market forces. In light of such conditions, Stephenson details a world with stark contrasts between those who have power and status and those left to languish on the margins.
And in the Assange piece, Rey writes that “cyber-anarchists tend to be as much against private consolidation of Internet infrastructure as they are against government interference.”
But see, libertarians (and libertarian anarchists) would tell him that “the whims of market forces” are not the only things deciding life and death absent effective government regulations, and that it is simply wrong that government regulations prevent the stark conditions described in Snowcrash and that their lack leads to such conditions (the truth is rather the opposite, actually), and also that the private consolidation of Internet infrastructure he opposes is actually driven by government interference.
Libertarians oppose corporatism too, but we understand the failures that markets are typically blamed for are usually caused by governments. Rey writes, “Freedom for libertarians is freedom to individually prosper, while freedom for anarchists is freedom from systemic inequalities.” No, libertarians are opposed to systemic inequalities too, generally not because we are opposed to inequality as such, but rather because we understand that the cause of systemic inequalities is (usually) the state and that the state is most certainly never the cure.
Cyberpunk authors in general, and Stephenson in particular, also view technology as contributing to a decline in centralized authority, which is supplanted by a patchwork of various organizations that are, at the same time, both more local and more global (i.e., “glocal“) than traditional states. The lack of a central government produces a Wild West type atmosphere, where danger and violence are pervasive, creating the conditions for a particularly masculine breed of heroism.
I know a certain someone who may offer a conflicted nod in reluctant hope and private vindication at the belief that technological advances are contributing to a decline in centralized authority. I, for one, certainly hope so. But again, I don’t see why the absence of effective state power must necessarily result in a Wild West atmosphere (not that the Wild West was quite as wild as portrayed by Hollywood, mind you). It’s a popular notion people have regarding anarchy, but absent power vacuums resulting from suddenly collapsing states, and provided the evolution of alternative institutions and a liberty-friendly culture, I expect an anarchist society would be quite peaceful and prosperous.
There is more to the cyberpunk vs. Apple article than I’ve touched on here, so do check it out.
In yet more Apple-related news, when Apple launched its user-friendly ebook creation app iBooks Author recently, there was a strong negative reaction when people realized that the EULA’s wording suggested that ebooks created with the app could only be sold in the iBooks store.
Well, Apple has just clarified, or rather caved to public pressure, by changing the wording of the EULA so that it unequivocally states that only ebooks produced in the .ibooks format have this restriction. Ebooks published in PDF or “Text” format are not limited to being sold in the iBooks store.
I don’t see this as much consolation, however. Who wants to sell PDF or “Text” files? I’d give those away. We want to sell ebooks in epub and Kindle/mobi formats, and we don’t want to be tied down to Apple’s relatively tiny iBooks store. It’s also disappointing that Apple pushed for the development of the epub3 format, but has now turned around and forked it to create a proprietary, not 100% epub-compatible, epub format with the .ibooks extension.
Even with Apple’s “clarification,” who is actually going to use the iBooks Author app?
And, finally, I’ve mentioned forward-thinking genre publisher Angry Robot Books a couple of times before. They are devoted to selling DRM-free epub versions of their books on their website and have adopted a subscription model as an option for purchasing their books. I recently got wind of another of their innovative entrepreneurial gambits.
They have launched WorldBuilder, a collaborative project between the author of a novel, the publisher, and fan-creators. Rather than threaten fan-fic writers and waste their time fighting piracy, as some misguided publishers and authors are wont to do, they are embracing fan creators. Think of it as a kind of shared-world project in which the fans, not just other professional writers, are encouraged to contribute. And if a fan’s creation is good enough, he might wind up receiving an offer from Angry Robot.
The first book, or shared world, in the WorldBuilder project will be Empire State by Adam Christopher. It’s got an interesting pitch: a superhero noir fantasy set in a parallel Prohibition Era New York City. I’m looking forward to reading it.
There are some restrictions, however. WorldBuilder operates under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, meaning that you can’t sell any of your fan creations independently and your derivative works must have the same license (i.e., you can’t drop the NonCommercial and ShareAlike restrictions). So the license is not as good as it could be from a libertarian perspective.
Further, and I’m not sure how this squares with the CC license they’e adopted, Angry Robot states “You may create any form of art or literature based on the world – and characters – of Empire State, with one notable exception: You may not create any direct narrative adaptation of the novel, or identifiable scenes within the novel.” This means
that, while you are free to create film, comics, etc, these should be your own stories, and not – for example – a filmed version of the book, or of scenes within the book. The same goes with audio – you can write your own stories and record them, but not simply read from the book.
Still… This is a step in the right direction, and more than most publishers seem to be willing to do.
Prometheus Unbound operates under the least restrictive of the commonly recognized CC licenses: Attribution-Only . If we knew of a way to effectively release our work into the public domain, we would do so. Unfortunately, at least in the United States, copyright is automatic and very sticky.