Saturday, June 30, 2012

"Power, Propaganda, and Purpose in American Democracy" by Andrew Gavin Marshall

One central facet to the development of the modern institutional society under which we live and are dominated today, was the redefining of the concept of ‘democracy’ that took place in the early 20th century.
This immensely important discussion took place among the educated, elite intellectual class in the United States at that time, and the consequences of which were profound for the development of not only American society and democracy, but for the globalization that followed after World War II.
The central theme that emerged was that in the age of ‘mass democracy’, where people came to be known as “the public,” the concept of ‘democracy’ was redefined to be a system of government and social organization which was to be managed by an intellectual elite, largely concerned with “the engineering of consent” of the masses in order to allow elite-management of society to continue unhindered.
The socio-economic and political situation of the United States had, throughout the 19thcentury, rapidly changed.
Official slavery was ended after the Civil War and the wage-slave method of labour was introduced on a much wider scale; that is, the approach at which people are no longer property themselves, but rather lend their labour at minimal hourly wages, a difference equated with rental slavery versus owned slavery.
While the system of labour had itself changed, the living conditions of the labourers did not improve a great deal. With Industrialization also came increased urbanization, poverty, and thus, social unrest.
The 19th Century in the United States was one of near-constant labour unrest, social upheaval and a rapidly growing wealth divide. And it was not simply the lower labouring classes that were experiencing the harsh rigors of a modern industrial life. One social critic of the era, writing in 1873, discussed the situation of the middle class in America:
Very few among them are saving money. Many of them are in debt; and all they can earn for years, is, in many cases, mortgaged to pay such debt… [We see] the unmistakable signs of their incessant anxiety and struggles to get on in life, and to obtain in addition to a mere subsistence, a standing in society… The poverty of the great middle classes consists in the fact that they have only barely enough to cover up their poverty… their poverty is felt, mentally and socially, through their sense of dependence and pride. They must work constantly, and with an angry sense of the limited opportunities for a career at their command.[1]
As immigrants from Europe and Asia flooded America, a growing sense of racism emerged among the faltering middle class. This situation created enormous tension and unease among middle and working class Americans, and indeed, the industrialists who ruled over them.
Yet many in the middle class viewed the lower class, which was increasingly rebellious, as well as the immigrant labourers – also quite militant – as a threat to their own standing in society. Instead of focusing primarily on the need for reorganization at the top of the social structure, they looked to the masses – the working people – as the greatest source of instability.
Their approach was in attempting to preserve – or construct – a system beneficial to their own particular interests. Since the middle class survived on the backs of the workers, it was not in their interest as a class to support radical workers movements and revolutionary philosophies. Thus, while criticizing those at the top, the call came for ‘reform’, not revolution; for passive pluralism not democratic populism; for amelioration, not anarchy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Digital Culture and Sustainability" by Michel Bauwens

The Rio+20 mandate recognizes three pillars of sustainable development – the economic, the social and the environmental. However, the process does not challenge the fundamental toxicity of the current operating system, and ignores that such a ‘faulty’ DNA has strong culture roots.

What do we mean? The following is not based on the stated ideals of Rio+20 but rather on the actual practice of the really existing economic system.

The current global system is based on three erroneous premises:

1. the first premise is that nature is an infinite resource that can be exploited without regard for its regenerative capacity.

The results of this culture of natural exploitation are devastating. In 2009, Johan Rockström and a group of leading Earth-system scientists# proposed a set of nine fundamental processing affecting the overall health of the planet (like freshwater use, climate regulation, and the nitrogen cycle), and after calculating a safe operating zone for each of them, concluded humanity had overstepped the bounds of at least three of them. Putting excessive stress on these critical processes could lead to tipping points of abrupt and irreversible environmental change, in addition to the well-studied climate change effects. The 2010 Living Planet Report finds we are currently using 1.5 Earths and are projected to be using 2 Earths by 2030 under “business as usual” conditions#. Linking these type of data together, and calculating their interconnection (for example: less oil means less fertilizers means less agricultural production), Graham Turner and a team of MIT scientists produced a series of computer models leading to disquieting conclusions and a clear timeframe: “The business-as-usual scenario estimated that if human beings continued to consume more than nature was capable of providing, global economic collapse and precipitous population decline could occur by 2030.

2. artificial scarcity

The second principle of our current operating system is that sharing innovation is basically an illegal activity. Scientific and technological advances are privatized through patents and copyrights, which are often monopolized by large companies which may have a vested interest in slowing down technological innovation that threatens them. Young and old people are under attack of the courts and the police for sharing cultural expressions, even though those that share the most are also the best ‘clients’ of the cultural industry. Many aspects of sharing are illegal. Jane Orsi of the Sustainable Law Development Center in San Francisco has given examples of how many U.S. states forbid: 1) gardening in front of your house: 2) collecting free rainwater; 3) drying your clothes in the sun; 4) making marmelade for your neighbours. The system is rigged against sharing.

3. social imbalance

The first and second aspect are combined with a total disregard for equity and social justice, which are increasing, not decreasing. For example, Oxfam calculated that of 11 social foundations for the sustainability of human society, 8 of them were deteriorating#.

Such a fundamental anti-natural and anti-social operating system needs fundamental restructuring, based on a value inversion that can only be rooted in new cultural practices.

It has happened before. At the end of the Roman Empire, the cultural revolution spurred by the Christian communities re-embedded the runaway power system back into the moral authority of a spiritual community. In 1789, feudal privileges were abolished in one single day, as they had become anathema to the new sensibility.

Today we see the birth of a new culture of sharing and cooperation that is not just mutualizing knowledge, but also material resources, and aims to turn our operating system ‘upside down’, to a new configuration where the externalities of nature are respected, the sharing of culture, science and innovation becomes the norm, and both of these changes generate a more just social order.

These new cultural revolution takes on many different forms. In the collaborative production of knowledge, as achieved by Wikipedia; in the sharing of software code, as exemplified by the Linux Operating System, and in the sharing of open designs for distributed production, such with Wikispeed and Arduino. The new culture is born in the horizontal socialization that is effected through the internet, and leads to natural collaboration around the creation of common value.

For this new culture, it is copyright that is theft, as it takes away the enjoyment of a abundant good. For us, it is unethical to withhold medicines from poor people who cannot afford to pay the superprofits that come from intellectual property. For us, it is unethical to withold to the world and nature the benefits of a design for an electric car, or a solar generator. The new culture and emerging generations are building business models and enterpreneurial forms that respect the limits of nature and promote the sharing of innovations. No open design community wants to design for planned obsolescence.

All this activity is not rooted in a stress on economic logics, but on a culture and practice of sharing that is strongly linked to our cultural life. Mass movements like the Occupy and the Indignados, are a direct expression of the culture of sharing through social media; and the German Pirate Party, which is credited with 10% of the vote in the next elections, are directly rooted in the music filesharing communities in Sweden. In Brazil, Fora do Eixo is an example of a successful artistic network whose economic practices derive from the new values of sharing and cooperation.

Our new politics, our new economics, are born from a culture of sharing, and from new forms of socialization and creating common meaning and value.

Any approach which denies that a cultural revolution is the prerequisite for more fundamental change, denies the value of human intentionality and sociality, and is bound to fail in its ambitions for change. This is why culture is the absolutely indispensable fourth pillar of sustainablility. Not an add-on, but the source from which the other changes proceed. It is through culture that we change our vision of the world, both the existing one, which increasingly shocks our ethical sensibilities, and the one that we are co-constructing to replace it.

About the author: Founder of Foundation for Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Alternatives. Works in collaboration with a global group of researchers exploring peer production, governance and property. Co-producer of FrankThey’s documentary TechnoCalyps, an analysis about the ‘metaphysics of technology’. Bauwens is currently a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam, and also founding member of the Commons Strategies Group, community that defends the commons.

This entry was posted in Unconference 

Monday, June 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Everyone who Thinks I’m a Worthless Lazy Bastard

First of all, don’t be so harsh.  There’s a lot of terrible things in this world and someone not working isn’t one of them.  Actually, you’ve got to be a hard worker to accomplish anything really bad.  The Nazis were hard workers.  And hardcore criminals doing all that running around, I don’t have the nerve for it.  I’m simpler than a bump on a stump but I took a test one time that said I’m in the top %90 of people in MENSA.  I’ve met lots of people drinking under bridges that are that smart, too.  Maybe being simple isn’t so stupid, and that’s why I see so many things other people don’t.  Lots of butterflies this last spring, but I’m the only one who said anything.  No one else ever sees eagles or hawks until I point them out.  I’m not saying I’m great, I’m just saying that’s all I care about, and that’s why I’m lazy.
I work hard when I find something worth working for.  Building a shelter to sleep in that can last the rain and wind, making a walking stick that will last me a few years.  I dance harder than anyone I know.  These things get me working because they have meaning.  I like to laugh, and learn about the things people have been talking about for centuries.  I don’t care about the latest research into quantum physics, give me a good Taoist poem from 423AD, or a good verse from the Bible, or some good anarchist propaganda.  I’ll sink into myself and chew it over for hours like a Mexican on a siesta.  Although I heard they don’t have siesta any more in Spain, because there’s too much work to do, which is why I don’t do it.  Hell, I’ll sit for hours doing nothing at all but buzzing to myself about this or that.  Sitting in silence, that’s even older than the Bible, and they were a lot better off back then.  Plenty of space, endless wilderness to explore, simple meaningful lives.  That’s the good stuff, but there’s nowhere to do it anymore.  Just being born isn’t good enough to be on this earth, you gotta bust your hump for ten times umpteen trillion hours a week for year after year after year just to get a couple acres of land (on the windy side of a godforsaken hill if you’re lucky).  I resent that land isn’t free for the taking.  How are we free if it isn’t free to just do nothing in one place for a while?  It’s pay to stay in America.
I love the working people, they’re all good for the most part.  But I see they’re at the end of their strings.  I look at my family and they’re frayed like dead rope and wound up like hungry dogs.  Even my young friends, what do they have to
look forward to?  So much paperwork they’ll need iPods to do their signature!  I take some kind of pride when I choose to write my name down, and it’s rare that I do, like it’s rare that I photograph.  It has to be a moment.  If I go to the bank I feel like a very official man, it’s not just a round in the washer for me.
People hardly work for any of the good stuff in life.  A better way to waste the hours, iPods and iPads and blast-your-head-off game boys, all that shit.  But I see a lot of people who work for nothing but good food and good times.  That’s the way to work.  But how do I get a job when I’ve been living in the woods for three months on end?  It’s impossible.  Even when I clean up I look dirty.  Every time I get some good clean boots or jeans or a new shirt I go on a nice long hike through the brush and they look (and smell) a year old after just a day with me!  And besides, everything’s tanking, and it’ll probably just get worse until there’s no work for people but trying to scratch some corn out of the grooves in the sidewalk.  So the way I see it, I’m on the cutting edge.  This thing can’t last forever, it’s brand new and failing fast.  The old ways will make a comeback if we don’t kill the whole planet first.  If there’s even anything left when we get there.  I hope America with all its stinking McDonalds and Chevrons withers back to DC and STAYS THERE.  It’s got no right to be way out here across so many mountains and prairies and valleys that I couldn’t shake hands with the president if I set my life on it.  Trying to tell all our friends and family what to do with their lives and making it harder than hell if they don’t do it just right.  It’s not fair, everyone has to worry about messing up their credit all the time or screwing up their maybe promotion, just so they can have a dry safe place and food for their kids.  And no one ever told them it’s just one way to live, and everyone is free by right of life to do whatever the hell they please.
The American Way will kill you, if you’re lucky.  If you’re not you’ll just get sick and have to take pills that make you sicker.  Or you’ll go to jail and leave all your life abandoned for nothing maybe.  I’ve gone to jail for riding trains, sleeping under trees, and above all not going to court.  They’ll put you away for that little stuff, especially not going to court, and that’s as good as taking your life.  They think that the death sentence is just a lethal injection, but that’s not so bad.  They just free your spirit.  But making you live without life, when life is nothing but what you love and care for, that’s the death sentence.  Jail is worse than death.  Maybe.  And maybe life these days is worse than that.  But my point is the whole thing is tragic.  If it’s gotta be like this for some people then at least let me have it my way too.  I aint hurting anyone, I like things to grow and laugh and be healthy.  I just don’t like to work.
Thomas Elpel feels the same way, read his article The Art of Nothing.  And read The Heart Sutra, doin’ nothin’ aint so bad, maybe it’s even holy.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adorno, Brecht and Debord: Three Models for Resisting the Capitalist Art System by Gene Ray

This essay outlines three modes or models of radical cultural practice. Each begins with a critical appropriation of the traditions of art and aims at resisting the social power that passes through art, as an institutionalized field of production and activity. Each of the three modes establishes a set of productive strategies. Together, they are the three historically demonstrated and available models for resisting the political neutralization of art and for challenging the power of the capitalist art system. For convenience, I link each model with a name or names closely associated with it. They are, first, Adorno’s dissonant modernism epitomized by Kafka and Beckett. Second, Brecht’s “functional transformation” or “re-functioning” of institutions through estrangement and dialectical realism. And third, Debord’s Situationist détournement of art, aiming to rupture and decolonize naturalized everyday life. Each model works on a different level of social reality. Each produces different kinds of effects at different points or moments of the social process, and is affected differently in turn by the global conjuncture of struggle. Typically, the advocates of one model treat the others dismissively; there is, we know, a long history of rancorous debate regarding their relative merits. I doubt the rancor is still needed or helpful today. Each of the models is still capable of generating radically critical and resistant effects. While these effects are different in kind, they can all contribute something to a culture opposed to capital. None of the three models should be discarded, so long as their strategies can still be realized. Here I briefly outline each, before discussing their relative strengths, advantages and limitations.
Some general remarks. We are evidently stuck in a global social process dominated by the logic of capital accumulation. Art, obviously, isn’t going to deliver us from that. The passage beyond capitalist relations is a matter of struggle, however that’s conceived. Art remains a dominated field of activity, and thinking about its possible contributions to radical social transformation has to begin by situating art within the global social process that dominates it. Very briefly: art is a field that is organized and saturated by capitalist power. There very clearly is a capitalist art system, with its rules, conventions and institutions, relations and tendencies, enjoyments and enforcements, and so on. Seen dialectically, what happens within this system does have its utopian and critical moments. As long as such moments are not utterly excluded, we have to acknowledge art’s relative autonomy and oppositional use-value. Art is not utterly reducible to exchange value and affirmative social functions. But it is also clear enough that the administered art system channels the activity of art as a whole in ways that are affirmative and stabilizing. This has been well-marked and elaborated: art in sum contributes to the reproduction of the given global process. The question is what specific works or practices may be able to do within and against it.
The first two models, Adorno’s dissonant modernism and Brecht’s re-functioning of institutions, operate within the existing art system. In different ways, both accept this dominated nexus of institution and tradition as a valid field for a practice that resists it. The third model, Debord’s Situationist intransigence, refuses to participate in the administered art system and takes up a position outside it.

Today we hear claims that the character of art has been fundamentally altered under post-Fordism or “creative capitalism.” Some still want to collapse art into the culture industry, others to dissolve it into a general technics of subjectivation or a “distribution of the sensible.” I haven’t found any of these approaches convincing. Art may have gained some additional affirmative social functions as the global process has unfolded. But I doubt these essentially change the double character of art under capitalism. There is still a capitalist art system that grants art a relative autonomy. This being so, certain positions and strategies are immanent to art as a social process: they reflect the contradictions and antagonisms of art under capitalism. As the demonstration of these positions and strategies, these three models remain available for artists to appropriate and reinvent – and will remain so as long as the capitalist art system persists.