Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pieces Together

The Pieces Together column from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

A WORLD WITHOUT LEADERS

"For about 94,000 of the 100,000 years of human history, people lived and organised themselves as hunter-gatherers without a centralized leadership apparatus. Hunter-gatherers began the transition to early chiefdoms and embryonic states between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago. Only in the previous 100-500 years have there been state-level polities. The earliest human societies were acephalous: they existed without formal rulers or leaders. For this reason, they were also probably without heroes, a pattern which is starkly at odds with what has been claimed of human history generally and which also contrasts with the contemporary leadership field." Taken from the inaugural lecture on "Leadership: Its genealogy, configuration and trajectory” by Peter Gronn, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge . (Independent, 17 June)

OWNERSHIP AND KNOWLEDGE

"Ten years ago, a piece of software called Napster taught us that scarcity is no longer a law of nature. The physics of our universe would allow everyone with access to a networked computer to enjoy, for free, every song, every film, every book, every piece of research, every computer program, every last thing that could be made out of digital ones and zeros. The question became not, will nature allow it, but will our legal and economic system ever allow it? This is a question about the future of capitalism, the economic system that arose from scarcity. Ours is the era of expanded copyright systems and enormous portfolios of dubious patents, of trade secrecy, the privatisation of the fruits of publicly funded research, and other phenomena that we collectively term ‘intellectual property’. As technology has made a new abundance of knowledge possible, politicians, lawyers, corporations and university administrations have become more and more determined to preserve its scarcity. So will we cling to scarcity just so that we can keep capitalism?" (New Scientist, 24 June)

CANCER AND THE PROFIT MOTIVE

"Supplies of vital medicines, including those used in the fight against cancer, are running short because UK pharmacies and drug wholesalers are selling them abroad to maximise profits. ... The shortage is being caused by the falling value of sterling which has meant that UK pharmacies and drug wholesalers can earn greater returns by selling medicines to the continent. ... Last night leading cancer charities expressed alarm at the situation. ‘Cancer Research UK urges the Department of Health to ensure that no patient experiences any delay in getting prescription drugs,’ said Hilary Jackson, the organisation's policy manager. ‘We are concerned to hear of cases where patients have been delayed access to prescribed medication or have to find an alternative supplier. This causes extra distress at an already difficult time’" (Observer, 5 July)