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Archive for November, 2013

I found the third essay in IMPASSES to be a ramble of mashed up of cited works that largely relies on hyperbolic semantics to make a point.  What the point really is I’m unable to decipher other than some vague notion of not being controlled by “society.”   Some passages that illustrate what I’m referring to above:

“One of the unifying factors between us all is that we have been socialized into capitalism, by capital. Our minds have been colonized in a way where all all of our social relations are imbued with the nature of capital.” page 51

“The world we inhabit prizes the future in such a way that one’s present self is always going to be subjected to its ability to create the future-child and the future-capital.” page 52

“The Shoah was only able to occur because people were classed as Jewish. We must reject these identities if we are to make the leap towards now-time, the revolutionary process of transformation.” page 64

Some of the more basic problems I’m having with this essay is that it fails to lay out operating definitions of the considerable amount of terminology is uses.   And from there the essay goes on to make grandiose claims like the first statement above.   There’s no falsifiable evidence offer that all of us have been “socialized” into capitalism.   I don’t know what it means to have my mind colonized or what “the nature of capital” actually is.

One central idea of the essay is that of “identity” and that often the “identities” labeled on any of us can be restrictive or oppressive.  While this point certainly can be said much more directly than the essay puts it I can agree with the basic premise.  We, on the whole, do categorize and label the world to create efficient ways to communicate.  We group people by their ethnicity or group like objects into a category so we can reference them without having to spell out in gross detail all that we might reference.   This likely springs from the very way in which our nervous system pattern recognizes.   It can be very efficient for managing our experience of the world i.e. makes it faster to decide what’s a threat and what isn’t.   In it’s efficiency it can also be fatally wrong i.e. all red berries are yummy! can often lead to eating a poisoned berry.

The violence referenced isn’t that of military resistance or physical force.  The violence discussed I would more simply just call awareness and learning.   I agree that the best sort of resistance against inaccurate and potentially threatening “identities” (aka labels) is through helping people be more aware of the considerable nuance to life, starting with oneself.   I completely disagree with one strategy cited in the essay that one way to deal with not wanting to be labeled is simply refusing to have a future (don’t have kids, etc).   No, I’m not making a case to have kids, what I’m saying is that there’s no need to resort to a fatalistic solution to eliminate labels and have a more nuanced identity.   Reading, paying attention, engaging others generally gets the job done.

By the end of the essay we get to a sentence of the concluding paragraph:

“But anarchist violence renders theory, navel-gazing and reasoned conversation obsolete.”

WAT?!   what does this even mean?   and no where is actually given any evidence of truth.  In the preceding paragraphs of that statement there’s discussion of “a transformative force of experience through action”  and all “that remains is the experience of resisting.”  To which I guess simply the act of resisting anything is the point?  the way towards not having an identity forced upon oneself?

Beyond the nonsense, literally nonsensical, statements one will never escape some amount of label making.  The author of the essay starts by labeling the world as Us and Capitalist, etc.   I cannot take the point of eliminating labels too seriously by an author that uses too many “ism” words.

Like previous essays there are questions presented at the end of which i can only respond to the question I understand, that is question 2:

One critique of the language you, like Camatte, use, is that it tends to substantialize capital.  Marx worked hard to define capital as a social relation, but we end up talking about it as though it were a thing, or some kind of subject.  Do you agree that some of your language substantializes capital? Do you think this might be a component of the absoluteness with which you describe it, and thus of the extremity of your response to a world so described?

I think the question asker is correct in that the author of the essay treats capitalism as a thing unto itself.  My point above is basically that! for an author that’s trying hard to reject inaccurate labels the use of “capital” conceptually the way the author does violates that idea.  We all know the word “capital” has strong connotations.  So it would be much preferred for clarity for the author to spell out exactly what behaviors we’re attempting to change instead of simply rejecting “capitalism.”

I myself do not think it’s a sound strategy for a society that wishes to sustain itself to deplete important resources simply in pursuit of financial gain.  Sustainable living is a very nuanced activity that indeed does require much deeper awareness and exploratory strategies than I think our society at large is engaged in.   We are far too focused on amassing money – the hoarding of future potential –  instead of not destroying natural resources, providing each other essential health care, participating in education and so on.   That is, we amass money at the expense of doing life giving things that do not require it!

I would LOVE for the author to get into the discussion of actual strategies instead of ranting with extreme language against vague notions of oppression.

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In “Tent City, Tent Tent City” we learn of the movement in Austin to create a roaming Tent City to inspire awareness and legislative change around ideas of homelessness.  The tent city uprising piggy backed a little on the occupy Austin movement due to the fact that the laws used to restrict occupy Austin activities were the same laws preventing homeless people from squatting in public places.

I wasn’t fully aware of this reality because I was so caught up in the basic ideas being reported about occupy.  I was more focused on the 1% vs. 99% message.  Which in reflection isn’t even close to the more fundamental problem of property ownership.

What is property?  What in the world are these empty parks and buildings and old alleys?  All these public spaces and abandoned privately owned spaces?  These are opportunities for the “owners” of these spaces to extract revenue.  And the essay makes a powerful point in that the revenue increases the more people are kept on the move.  The key to property value isn’t in having people inhabit it!  It’s actually about the potential to inhabit!  Creating desire to inhabit is what we call development!  As long as people inhabit a space one can’t be improving it and selling it to others.

Ultimately the tent city movement fizzled for a variety of reasons. The participants made, in my opinion, a wise choice in disbanding the movement once a point a been made and the media started to get weird.

This issue of laws against homelessness – you can’t occupy public spaces in some cities (see this great report for overviews) – and that of property as something are far too big to be tackled in one movement.  Property ownership is the basis of civilization.  Our entire world is drawn into nations, states, cities, zones, personal real estate.  Ours is a history of conquest over those who occupy property we want to claim as our own.  This history will not be easily overthrown.

Though I do believe as we move into a more predominantly digital existence the idea of property ownership will erode.  I don’t see a short term end to property ownership because even the digital requires physical resources.  The difference though between the past and the digital future is that it is much more difficult to lay claim to digital property because it is so easily reproduced and modified and shared and expanded.  The idea of protecting intellectual property is already cracking for mostly practical reasons – it’s not physically possible to do so, even my offensive measures.   Beyond the digital I wonder how comfortable younger generations are getting with “renting” or “sharing” property.   (stats on rent/own in housing and some rent/own survey here)

The essay closes with a thought that perhaps it’s best to “keep on the move” as a means of experimentation towards a better world order.   It’s hard to argue with the idea of experimenting with ways of living that don’t include property ownership is probably a worthwhile exercise.   The way we do things currently – increasing income gaps, more punitive laws against homelessness, climate change – seems hardly sustainable for ANY way of living for lots of people.

Impasses Questions at the end of the essay responses follow.

Question 1: “How does the noting of profit involving bodies being set in motion intertwine with the idea that camps in order to survive, must be on the move?  Is this tactic playing into the profit-based motion or is it a form of subversion, a way out? Would standing ground and defending a camp be a resistant tactic, and in what capacity, to what degree?”

It’s all about the type of motion that’s inspired.  The intent to own a home or own a different home is what drives property valuation.   Simply being on the move from camp to camp doesn’t necessarily do that.  Though if we were in a fight for camps in more opportune places for survival the camps would be competing for space and thus there would be an opportunity to profit off of offering campers better places to camp.   The fact is this isn’t a new problem in the world.  It’s always been a competition for resources.  What’s changed is that people abide by various laws and/or give into various trade offs for survival.  One of those trade offs is going with the flow in society vs. subverting it.   Camping in places where it’s legally not ok to camp is subversive.  It is resistant and could be useful.  I believe the Occupy movement made a good case for taking over spaces that people in power frequent can stir a discussion that might just lead to change.

Question 2: “How do we move from homeless camps being a method of survival to a method of offensive resistance? Are the participants looking to just find a more comfortable way to live or a new way of living?”

I don’t know if there’s any relevant response to this.   The later part strikes me as nonsensical.   In either  case it’s a new way of living.   And in the former, EVERYTHING WE DO IS A METHOD OF SURVIVAL.  all of it, even resistance to existing power structures.

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Homelessness, then, is a social relationship produced by an archipelago of vacant property and those who keep it so. This system of properties and their managers manifests itself in laws, vouchers, rent, in the police officer, the code enforcer, the fence, and the plywood-covered door, reserving places for some, excluding others.

– page 29, IMPASSES

The Tent City essay from IMPASSES is potent.   I probably will have a multi-part response to this essay because there’s a lot going on.  At a first read I dismissed it mostly because I have yet to fully support the Occupy movement and the essay, while not 100% aligned with Occupy, had enough coincidence to turn me off a bit.

But then I thought more deeply about one of the main points presented in the essay: the concept of homelessness.   Sadly, I’ve never really thought too deeply about homelessness other than thinking about ways to eliminate it in the traditional ways society thinks about it – get people into homes.   When I threw that notion out and asked, “why should we force people into homes?”  I didn’t come up with any satisfying answers.   This then lead to an even more fundamental question, “What is property?”.

Which, obviously, I’m not the first person to think about this and ask these questions.  In fact a French thinker, Proudhon, wrote a book with this title in 1840.   I have not finish this book but am quickly working my way through it.  He calls for the abolition of property as a concept calling it robbery.    I have yet to find anything particularly wrong with the IMPASSES essay nor Proudhon’s basically argument.  I mean how can any of us claim rights over anything on the earth? over ideas?  over information?   the idea of property simply makes no sense.

If property as a concept doesn’t make sense the idea of forcing people into homes seems rather unfounded. Eh?

I will discuss the specifics of Tent City, Occupy and the essay itself in a follow up post.

 

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Computing Technology enables great shifts in perspective. I’ve long thought about sharing why I love computing so much. Previously I’m not sure I could articulate it without a great deal of confusion and vagueness, or worse, zealotry. Perhaps I still can’t communicate about it well but nonetheless I feel compelled to share. 

Ultimately I believe that everything in existence is computation but here in this essay I am speaking specifically about the common computer on your lap or in your hands connected to other computers over the Internet.

I wish I could claim that computers aren’t weapons or put to use in damaging ways or don’t destroy the natural environment. They can and are used for all sorts of destructive purposes. However I tend to see more creation than suffering coming from computers.

The essential facets of computing that gives it so much creative power are interactive programs and simulation. With a computer bits can be formed and reformed without a lot of production or process overhead. It often feels like there’s an endless reservoir of raw material and an infinite toolbox (which, in reality, is true!). These raw materials can be turned into a book, a painting, a game, a website, a photo, a story, a movie, facts, opinions, ideas, symbols, unknown things and anything else we can think up. Interactive programs engage users (and other computers) in a conversation or dance. Simulation provides us all the ability to try ideas on and see how they might play out or interact with the world. All possible from a little 3-4lb slab of plastic, metal, silicon flowing with electricity. 

Connecting a computer to the Internet multiplies this creative power through sharing. While it’s true a single computer is an infinite creative toolbox the Internet is a vast, search-able, discoverable recipe box and experimentation catalog. Each of us is limited by how much time we have each day, but when we are connected to millions of others all trying out their own expressions, experiments and programs we all benefit. Being able to cull from this vast connected catalog allows us all to try, retry, reform and repost new forms that we may never have been exposed to. Remarkable.

Is there the same creative power out in the world without computers? Yes and no. A computer is probably the most fundamental tool ever discovered (maybe we could called it crafted, but I think it was discovered.) Bits of information are the most fundamental material in the multiverse. Now, DNA, proteins, atoms, etc are also fundamental or primary (think: you can build up incredible complexity from fundamental materials). The reason I give computers the edge is that for the things we prefer to make we can make within our lifetime and often in much shorter timeframes. It would take a long time for DNA and its operating material to generate the variety of forms we can produce on a computer.

Don’t get me wrong there’s an infinite amount of creativity in the fundamental stuff of biology and some of it happens on much shorter than geological timescales. You could easily make the case that it would take a traditional computer probably longer than biology to produce biological forms as complex as animals. I’m not going to argue that. No do I ignore the idea that biology produced humans which produced the computer, so really biology is possibly more capable that the computer. That said, I think we’re going to discover over time that computation is really at the heart of everything, including biology and that computers as we know them probably exist in abundance out in the universe. That is, computers are NOT dependent on our particular biological history.

Getting out of the “can’t really prove these super big points about the universe” talk and into the practical – you can now get a computer with immense power for less than $200. This is a world changing reality. Computers are capable of outputing infinite creativity and can be obtained and operated for very modest means. I suspect that price will come down to virtually zero very soon. My own kids have been almost exclusively using Chromebooks for a year for all things education. It’s remarkably freeing to be able to pull up materials, jump into projects, research, create etc anywhere at anytime. Escaping the confines of a particular space and time to learn and work with tools has the great side effect of encouraging learning and work anywhere at anytime.

There are moments where I get slight pangs of regret about my choices to become proficient in computing (programming, designing, operating, administrating). There are romantic notions of being a master painter or pianist or mathematician and never touching another computing device again. In the end I still choose to master computing because of just how much it opens me up creatively. Almost everything I’ve been able to provide for my family and friends has come from having a joyous relationship with computing.

Most excitingly to me… the more I master computers the more I see the infinitude of things I don’t know and just how vast computing creativity can be. There aren’t a lot of things in the world that have that effect on me. Maybe I’m simply not paying attention to other things but I strongly suspect it’s actually some fundamental property of computing – There’s Always More.  

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