Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Master Takes Away

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Nov 30, 2006

Responding to Will Richardson talking about the decline of a racist website after some Google-bombing.

It's still at number 2 on

But this remark is interesting: "there is something unsettling about this whole process in terms of how, for ourselves and for our kids, do we get our brains around the scope of the potential manipulation of ideas and information on the Web?"

I heard a saying recently, I can't remember where, and I can't remember the exact quotation (it was only at the periphery of my perception), but it went something like this:

The master gives the workers the tools they need to work. The master takes away the tools when they begin to tear down the house.

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.

It's pretty easy to test.

I got an invitation recently to talk at some conference in Florida or Carolina or something, a conference for executives. Asked what I would talk about, I outlined how in order to function in the new economy they would have to give up power, to function through networks of equals rather than through coercion. I never heard from the conference organizers again.

Oh, I'm happy to see that site drop in the rankings. I looked at it; it's a piece of racist crap and deserves oblivion.

But what do I do if I'm next? If some major society, say, were to decide that socialists (which I am) or communists (which I'm called) are as bad as racists.

Suppose even that I simply attract the ire of some major company that sponsors conferences. Could they silence my voice? See to it that my rankings drop?

The master takes away...

I'm just wondering what happens when the other shoe drops. If it drops.


"There's been a flurry of news about new video downloading services - BitTorrent, Wal-Mart, Time Warner - as copyright holders get busy taking back control from consumers. YouTube just cut a deal with Verizon that gives users so little control that the blogosphere couldn't find enough pejorative adjectives to describe it.

"The glory days of consumers in control of copyrighted content seem to be coming to an end - people who still want to control copyrighted content are being driven underground, or to sites like, where you can find the location of copyrighted content still available online."

Scott Karp

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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