Crowdfunding future subversion

While crowdfunding has a long history that far predates the internet, online platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo pushed the relentlessly positive and entrepreneurial spirit any crowdfunding exercise demands into new territories. By contrast, Silvio Lorusso’s is an archive of Kickstarter projects which not only failed to meet their target, but in fact failed to gain a single financial backer. The site’s ‘Random Campaign’ button offers an eclectic mix of failure ranging from overly-optimistic labors of love (a man who simply wishes to upgrade his camera for his YouTube channel) to what constitutes plain trolling (an individual wishing to mass produce meatloaf cupcakes to be posted from an undisclosed location). Silvio Lorusso, by creating Kickended and immortalising these financial failures, also gave them “a second life”; a chance to “retain the purity of abstract ideas”.

Pure as they may be, abstract ideas often remain impotent and unable to affect reality. In this year of ‘post-truth’, the necessity for enactable ideas – the ability to positively affect our current politico-economic reality – is glaring. In order to help facilitate this, we at the Institute of Network Cultures wish to produce a second MoneyLab reader, in order to provide a platform on which critical thinkers, economists, platform cooperativists, and activists can share their projects. The first reader was published in 2015 and is still freely available here. We wish to act as a catalyst, and accelerate the spread of critical discourse beyond academies to individuals across the societal spectrum. Although the second MoneyLab reader is (at the time of writing) already over 25% of its way towards its funding target, there is still some way to go before it can shake off the purity of being an idea alone, and become a concrete – that is, printed on paper – reality.

There is of course a stark irony to the process of crowdfunding the reader. The current economic climate has forced us to become entrepreneurial in our approach to providing this platform for counter-entrepreneurial work. We are reaching outside of the sphere of state funding to further discussions of Universal Basic Income. In order to achieve our goal, we need ironically traditional help via ironically traditional means. Reflection on the last MoneyLab conference – two days of “interventions and experiments with digital economy and financialization” – and explorations into the new ideas formed there can only be funded via channels controlled by the dominant, if outdated economic framework we strive to change; no alt- or crypto-currencies can be accepted as donations, and you can’t realistically shoehorn Eventbrite onto a blockchain for a goal of just €5000.

Amusing as it may be, this need to crowdfund highlights a key aspect of the topics of to be discussed within the upcoming reader – their ideological slipperiness. Bitcoin has become mainstream and blockchains are being lauded by the financial industry as yet another chain with which to shackle the populous to debt. Platform cooperatives are subverting Uber whilst Universal Basic Income is potential ammunition to those on both sides of the widening political void. The thread running through these disparate topics is that of transgression. Direct action creates only fleeting results, and as neo- and ethno-nationalist lexicon instantiates itself in every sphere of popular discourse, we must become insurgents and change the system from within, to provide an alternative vocabulary with which to positively build towards something new.

Inge Sørensen’s ‘Go Crowdfund Yourself! Some Unintended Consequences of Crowdfunding for Documentary Film and Industry in the U.K.’ – which featured in the previous MoneyLab reader – highlighted the fact that crowdfunding problematically “feeds into, supports and enforces traditional production and distribution paradigms and hierarchies”. This alone – in the ideologically inflexible politics of yesteryear – would be grounds enough to reject this tactic as a flirtation with the enemy. However, the urgency for positive action – of any kind – must outweigh any residual guilt. Since we are stuck inside the politico-economic machine we are under-funded by, we must accept any help in our attempts to steer it in a more sane direction; funding the printing of the next MoneyLab Reader is funding a how-to guide for grassroots economic subversion. Because of this, any initial complicity with traditional economic mechanisms can be excused in the long-run.

Indeed, we’ve had to come to terms with what Cassie Thornton has referred to as ‘financial realism’. Whilst this adjustment of our financial desires to our means is discussed by Thornton in regards to children during their early school education, the rolling waves of cutbacks and financial crises of the last decade has reduced everyone to a state of child-like gawping at politico-economic reality. Yet Thorton’s ontology of economics is the mechanism by which we can also understand how we can make change. Crowdfunding, although complicit in problematic economic systems, is the only financial avenue that can’t (very directly) be exhausted by state budget cuts. As such, it is a means to an important end, initial irony aside.

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