Small wins, but no victory… “The glory days… seem to be coming to an end”

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.” ~ Audre Lorde

Stephen Downes cites that passage in today’s Half an Hour post:

The implication is: so long as what we’re doing online (such as messing around with Google rankings) benefits them, they are happy to let it continue. But if it begins to threaten their lordship over things (’tearing down the house’) they take the tools away.

I have been thinking about this small saying a lot recently. About how much of our new empowerment is genuine, and how much exists only through the benevolence of the masters.

In some completely unrelated news, Pandora is now US-only. So long music genome project, it was nice to know ya…

And the masters have granted net radio a 60 day reprieve. And there is activity in Congress — but you don’t need a weatherman to know which way this wind is blowing…

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Small wins, but no victory… “The glory days… seem to be coming to an end”

  1. Gardner says:

    I’m in such sympathy with you and Stephen here, especially when it comes to music (of course), and yet, and yet….

    I’ve heard that Audre Lorde aphorism a lot. There’s some truth to it, but in my view not enough. Why? Because those tools are not the master’s tools. They’re the tools the master used. I think there’s a difference.

    I’ve heard iambic pentameter, sonnets, Hollywood movies, Milton, “Moby Dick,” popular music, classical music, standard written English, even representative democracy called “the master’s tools” (not by you!). I’ve heard computers called that. I truly believe that most of these tools–even many social practices–are simply tools, and belong to no one, no matter who’s using them for advantage just now. Abuse of tools doesn’t confer ownership.

    I’m not getting this out very well. Perhaps it’s that the most insidious master’s tool of all is sometimes the idea of “dismantling” itself. I dunno. I hate DRM as much as anyone, but I also think that “information wants to be free” is glib and just as destructive. What to advocate?

    I’m tired and should go to bed, dreaming of Moon’s best solo, the one in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

  2. Jon Haupt says:

    I agree that there’s this feeling of dread and it seems like the winds of change are going the wrong direction. However, while it’s possible it’s just the usual short-sightedness, it’s hard to figure out exactly what things will look like should “they” “win”. So, say that the new rules actually happen, and Pandora and others simply go bankrupt. Then what? We all just lay down and take it? I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s hard to know what is coming, but I don’t think that we’re just going to go back to the dark ages or anything. Obviously the industry isn’t going to just do anything just because it’s good for society either. Anyhow, these articles are awesome and I’m glad that we’re talking about this, and I just thought I’d add my two idealist cents.

  3. Brian says:

    Gardner, thanks for your thoughts. It’s quite possible I don’t fully grasp the distinction you’re making, but I can’t get past fairly simple issues of ownership. Personally I think “information wants to be free”is glib and destructive as well, in part because it feeds a certain easy optimism that the forces of history and the structures of technology inexorably lead us to a happy ending.

    I look at the major web players that have been eager to support the Chinese government’s efforts to create a cleaned-up and locked-down internet. That includes companies that make much of their commitment to open source principles. And I look at the consolidation of investment in old media and new media, and observe who stands to benefit from the worst legislative and regulatory activity. The patterns align with what I think are the most dangerous threats to decent human life in a lot of other areas.

    And Gardner, I swear, I though about quoting “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in this post.

    Jon, to follow up that point — in this case “they” are large media companies (which often have broader interests, see General Electric), and they “win” when they are able to make it harder for smaller, independent operators to work effectively. The threat to web radio (and the backstory of why it is in peril) is but one example of this. If you want an example of what happens when they win, turn on your TV, or worse, turn on your radio.

    And aren’t we “just lying down and taking” all sorts of really awful stuff these days?

    But I certainly have no better idea of what the future holds than anyone else. I really do hope my persistent sense of dread turns out to be unfounded. But it seems like every time I hope to be wrong I end up being right.

    Thanks for the link Andy, I much appreciate it.

  4. Scott Leslie says:

    I am trying to hold (not resolve) in tension

    – that there is change afoot that seems inevitable and inexorable in some ways and

    – that doesn’t mean there aren’t people (often with power and vested interests) who will try very hard to prevent and forestall that change and

    – that we must resist them and work for change and yet

    – still, we can be our own worse enemies, that creating and working against a ‘them’ can be one of the best ways to avoiding our own work.

    How much should we be doing to resist? As much as we can. How much should we be doing to ignore it and create something different? As much as we can. Can we make these the same, let’s hope so. But I don’t need to tell you this Brian, you are a Happy Mutant if I ever met one. Me, I’m a “Trying to cheer up” mutant. Late, good night.

  5. Jim says:


    Amazing how much you can say with so few words and a couple of links. I entirely agree that ownership is at the root of much of the dread you speak of. And I am particularly interested in the Manichean dynamic that emerges -that of master and by linguistic extension servant, slave, abject laborer, etc. Part of thinking through power dynamics is tracing the way in which we all have internalized the predominant logic at work in what we both accept and expect – Downes discussion of Lourde’s quote does this quite well.

    I think spending time analyzing, tracing, and deconstructing the relationships amongst ownership, capital, and power is both difficult yet important for us to engage in order to help re-frame the space we all have so much hope for. There is a conceptual struggle underway right now, and it is sites like this one I come to to be reminded of the importance of having fun as well as remaining acutely circumspect of the tools we premise so much of the “revolution” upon.

    I think much of the struggle we are talking about has everything to do with making new archives of information readily available. I am not convinced the copyright and ownership are going to quell alternatives. In fact, I think the alternative rivulets are ultimately going to out pace the mainstream. This will be possible by a more rigorous attempt to reclaim different archives of creative, quotidian, scholarly, and historical works that have heretofore remained unavailable.

    Working towards make alternatives more readily accessible is the key -and this is labor -but a labor towards a multiplicity of surface visions that offer us the possibilities to re-imagine both the future and the past -not a panacea but a reason to struggle on!

  6. Signy says:


    And unrelated comment on your “comments”. Actually, a question. Do you have any ideas, suggestions or best practices (or can you send me to someone who might) around how to best use students to give feedback on the kinds of podcasts that might interest them, the length that works best for them, etc.


Comments are closed.