[Note -- because of some difficulty figuring out this site, I originally put what amounted to a bio into a "Share Your Ryde" post. So I'm copying it here.
Also, the choice of shark as a totem was pretty arbitrary, because I couldn't find anything that really sounded like me. My main skill, as an xNTx on the Myers-Briggs typology, is noticing and correlating trends, and creating a theoretical framework or model around a limited number of data points.]
I've followed a fairly crooked path to get where I am. Back in the early '90s I'd have been what Rod Dreher calls a "crunchy conservative," heavily influenced by the Nashville agrarians and the Catholic distributists, and so forth. My affinity for decentralization, localism, and a petty bourgeois society of small ownership, self-management and direct democracy, all caused me to drift leftward. At the same time, I tended to take neoliberal self-identifications with the "free market" at face value, and consequently to identify all talk of markets, entrepreneurship, the Internet, and network society as loathsome doctrines associated with Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp (much as Thomas Frank and Andrew Keen do today).
Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale was a sort of catalyst for me. He first drew my attention to just how dependent corporate capitalism is on the interventionist state, with information on such things as the effect of the railroad land grants on the structure of robber baron capitalism, figures on corporate welfare almost equalling corporate profits, and so forth. Just mining his endnotes for further reading was a grand adventure. It led me to a lot of reading on false economies of scale and the superior efficiency of most small-scale production, and the role of the state in cartelizing the economy.
In the course of my reading, I came across references to individualist anarchism and particularly Benjamin Tucker's work. Tucker argued that the best way to authentic socialism was a genuinely free market in which all state subsidies, state-enforced artificial scarcities, entry barriers, regulatory cartels and artificial property rights were abolished. In such a free market, unfettered competition would drive artificial scarcity rents down to zero -- drive rent down to the value of buildings and improvements, and interest to the bare cost of administration -- so that "the natural wage of labor in a free market is its product." I also stumbled across Silverman's anthology on the "American libertarian tradition," with work by individualist anarchists, libertarian socialists, and libertarian capitalists. It was this that brought my attention to Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess, whose analysis influenced me heavily (despite the fact that I integrated it into my Tuckerite libertarian socialist framework).
I continued to read work by the New Left historian Gabriel Kolko and Ron Radosh, the Power Elite sociologist G. William Domhoff, and Frances Piven on the essentially corporatist nature of the "progressive" regulatory/welfare state. I also read the Anarchist FAQ, of which Iain McKay is the primary author, and studied in depth the histories of other anarchist traditions. As with Rothbard & Co., I had a great deal of affinity with anarcho-communist and syndicalist thinkers, and considered them anarchist comrades, while only selectively and skeptically incorporating their ideas into my framework.
So by the time I emerged from this process, I was firmly on the Left and had settled into a fairly stable individualist anarchist or left-wing free market ideological framework. I considered myself on the marginal fringes of both the libertarian socialist and free market libertarian movements, and tended to think of more mainstream thinkers in both traditions as comrades who were misguided in some particulars but who I could work with in many others.
As you can imagine, I saw the Seattle demo and subsequent AG movement, which emerged about this time, as a very exciting time.
In the meantime, I began reading Chomsky's analysis of world politics and American foreign policy -- the first book of his I read was Deterring Democracy, and I read most of the others in the year 2000. I played hunt-the-footnote with him as I did with Kirk Sale, reading William Blum's Killing Hope and a lot of other material on the continuity between Washington's role and Nazi Germany's as the chief anti-insurgent superpower, assorted coups and death squads, and the oceans of blood that were spilled to keep the world safe for corporate power.
In Summer 2001, having discovered the Internet the previous year, I began to gravitate toward Proudhonian mutualist groups like Larry Gambone's Voluntary Cooperation Movement, as well as participating in debates in more mainstream anarchist venues like Iain McKay's anarchy list and the A-Infos news list. My first real work in print, "The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand," was published by Gambone's Red Lion Press about the time of the 9/11 attacks.
In 2002, becoming increasingly tired of smug assertions in the Austrian economics discussion venues I frequented that Bohm-Bawerk and Mises had "disproved" the labor theory of value, I began the intensive reading in classical political economy, Marx and the Marxians, and the Austrians and marginalists, that led to Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. My purpose was to rehabilitate the labor theory of value and the associated socialist theory of exploitation, but to do so within a Tuckerite market framework and in a way that responded to marginalist critiques by Bohm-Bawerk, Jeavons and Marshall.
Around this time, I began to discover that "free market anticapitalism," of the state as the friend of big business and the enabler of exploitation, was a meme whose time had come. It was "steam engine time." I encountered a number of thinkers like Roderick Long whose analysis was very similar to my own. We began to coalesce into a conscious movement, eventually culminating in Center for a Stateless Society (about which more below).
Mutualist Political Economy, in developing the thesis of state-enforced monopoly as the source of exploitation, included a lengthy section on historic capitalism (with heavy reliance on Marxist analysis of primitive accumulation) and the crisis tendencies of developed capitalism (with heavy reliance on vol. 3 of Capital and the neo-Marxists at Monthly Review). As I said tongue-in-cheek in the Preface, it was intended as an analysis of the laws of motion of corporate capitalism, past, present and future.
Reading analysis of the Seattle movement and earlier networked movements of the '90s initially sparked my interest in network culture and organization as a tool of resistance. I did a lot of reading in the work of David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla at Rand on swarming attacks, netwar, etc., and Rheingold on flash mobs, as a new form of resistance made possible by the Internet.
In the process of writing the parts of Mutualist Political Economy on crisis tendencies of late capitalism, I read intensively from Ivan Illich and Paul Goodman, and R.A. Wilson. This inspired my next writing project, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective. I won't describe it in any detail here beyond saying the original picture on the tin -- that virally popular "head up ass" picture of a guy with necktie and briefcase inserting his head into his own rectum, which I had to replace when a copyright troll claimed "ownership" of it -- was a fair indication of the contents.
About the time I finished Organization Theory, at the end of 2008, I was hired as a research associate and commentator at Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS), a left-wing market anarchist think tank. Starting on 2007 I also made some progress as a freelance writer, selling articles to The Freeman (edited by my good friend Sheldon Richman) and other periodicals. Writing hasn't been enough to live on without my work as a hospital orderly, but it's been enough to pay off my debts and accumulate a nice little pile of F.U. money.
In the process of writing Organization Theory, in turn, I developed even more of an interest in networked culture, and particularly in the open-source/free culture movement. I became aware for the first time of the micromanufacturing and open-source hardware movements, and the kind of stuff going on in places like Factor e Farm. It was in this period that I made the acquaintance of Michel Bauwens and began hanging around e-lists like the P2P Foundation's email discussion list and the Open Manufacturing Google Group. It brought me into contact with a lot of people whose work influenced me heavily like Sam Rose, Eric Hunting, Vinay Gupta, Athina Karatzogianni and Andy Robinson.
It was this new complex of ideas that became the subject of my next book, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto. It started with an analysis of the old mass-production economy as a historical dead-end, a state-subsidized dinosaur, and proceeded to describe the forces that would supplant it: relocalized micromanufacturing with cheap open-source CNC machine tools, and household microenterprises producing for the informal and barter economy.
As with my previous books, ideas I touched on in Homebrew inspired my next writing project. That would be my next book, The Desktop Regulatory State. In writing Homebrew, I presupposed -- and mentioned in passing -- the effect of the desktop revolution on immaterial production, and destroying the material basis of corporate power in the information and cultural realms. I decided to develop that idea in depth as a book in its own right.
A second contributing current to the Desktop Regulatory State originally came to my attention when "Doocing," or the firing of bloggers for negative comments about employers. I synthesized this with my earlier reading of Ronfeldt and Arquilla on netwar, along with Naomi Klein on culture jamming, the Wobblies on open-mouth sabotage, Frank Kernaghan's "culture jamming" against Kathie Lee Gifford, and networked labor models like the Coalition of Imolakee Workers. The result of this line of thought appears, in roughly similar form, in several places: "The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective," "Open-Mouth Sabotage, Networked Resistance, and Asymmetric Warfare on the Job," "Chapter Nine -- Special Agency Problems of Labor" in Organization Theory, and "Labor Struggle -- A Libertarian Model" (Center for a Stateless Society, 2010).
My next book involves putting these two strands together and generalizing them. The wage-factory system was originally justified by the shift from individually affordable craft tools to enormously expensive, specialized, capital-intensive machinery. The latter could only be afforded by enormously rich people pooling their resources to buy it and then hiring others to work it. Administering the costly machinery and the large workforce required large, hierarchical institutions run by professional managers. In Galbraith's model of countervailing power, only other large, hierarchical institutions, run by professional managers, could restrain the power of business corporations. The problem was that these regulatory bodies tended to cluster, in practice, in complexes of allied institutions.
As I pointed out in Homebrew, the desktop revolution had destroyed the rationale for the factory system (for the music studios, giant publishing houses, etc.) in the realms of desktop publishing, garage recording and sound editing, open-source software, etc. And the micromanufacturing revolution, by lowering the cost of a "factory" by two orders of magnitude, is doing the same for physical production. We're going back to individually affordable, general purpose craft tools. As Tom Coates remarked, in the immaterial realm, the desktop computer has destroyed the gap between what can be produced at work and what can be produced at home. So there's no need for "work" any more.
My argument in The Desktop Regulatory State is that the desktop revolution has done the same thing to regulatory state functions. The desktop computer, network organization with near-zero coordination costs, stigmergic cooperation on the Wikipedia/Al Qaeda/file-sharing model, streaming video, and the possibilities opened up by Web 2.0 for "open-mouth sabotage" against all kinds of corporate malefactors, enable what John Robb calls "superempowered individuals" to take on giant authoritarian institutions on an equal basis. The desktop revolution has eliminated the barrier between the kinds of "regulation" that can be carried out from an office in a government agency, and what we can do at home.
As you can guess, the emergence or newfound prominence of Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, Occupy and Anonymous, in the middle of my work in writing this book, has been enormously encouraging to me. I'm beginning to think I may have understated my thesis. Streaming video, as I argued here, is more effective than a police commission in exposing and punishing evildoers. And "doxing" operations, like those LulzSec and AntiSec have carried out against HBGary, the BART police and Stratfor, are achieving what the lapdog regulatory state never could.
As I'm fond of saying, the twentieth century was the era of the giant organization. By the end of the twenty-first, there won't be enough of them left to bury. We'll display their bleeding heads on our battlements.
Besides the sense of hope from living in a time like this, when authoritarian institutions are getting curb-stomped every time I turn on the news, I can't get over the sense of undeserved grace I have from my writing career. Before the Internet, I would have been one of millions of (if you'll pardon the phrase) mute, inglorious Miltons, piling up manuscripts that would moulder away in someone's attic, and never seeing print except via the occasional cranky letter to the editor. I'm sure some people like Andrew Keen would consider that a good thing. A few centuries earlier, I'd have been an illiterate jug-eared Lowland Scots peasant hoeing turnips to pay rent to some lord.
So I'm amazed at my good fortune in being able to "own my own printing press," and write stuff that's read by thousands of people. I've been able to contact activists and scholars all over the world, just by Googling their email to comment on something I read. I'm very lucky to be living in these times.