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An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

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C'est pas Mécanique

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I get many hundreds of e-mail messages per day and my inbox is becoming increasingly useless to me. So, if you write to me, don't count on an answer unless we know each other really well, or your communication is short and clear. Oh, I'm very friendly and approachable, but I don't have hours enough in my day to read everything.
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Thursday, May 3, 2012day link 

 An evolving path
picture I've spent the last couple of months doing quite different things from what I normally have. I've been outside, digging in the garden, tinkering, using power tools. And I've been studying a bunch of new things I knew nothing about. Aquaponics, fish, plants, plumping, permaculture, forest gardens, and many sub-subjects of each. Now, this is really quite uncharacteristic. I.e. I've never been interested in any of those things before. But maybe it is not so uncharacteristic of me to dive deeply into a new subject.

And, looking a couple of posts back, 2011 Accomplishments and 2012 Aims, I notice that this is actually exactly what I said I would do.

What is new is that I might be writing more about it. Doing more physical things, building stuff, watching nature, surprise, that actually leads to lots of deep things to talk about. But I'll also just talk about those practical things, without any need for them to be deep. Resilient, local, distributed, empowering action has always been part of the subtext here. And there's lots of practical stuff it might be a good idea to start paying attention to.
[ | 2012-05-03 00:04 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, January 24, 2012day link 

 Intellectual Property
picture There's no such thing. Certainly it isn't something you can steal. Quite the contrary, it is a license to steal. Specifically, it is a legal construct that gives an exclusive license to one party to stop all other parties from using certain words or certain pictures or certain designs or certain patterns of arranging things, simply because they were the first to claim that they invented those words or pictures, and that they own them. And the purported owner can then extort money from all the other people, or simply stop them from doing anything that looks like what they did.

It is a tired, tired old discussion, but intellectual property is not property. It is not in any way the same as when you own a physical object of some kind, and somebody can steal it. It is not even remotely that way, and you should be insulted if anybody suggests it. If you have a car, and somebody steals that car, by removing it from you and taking it into their possession, then obviously you don't have your car any longer, a car that took quite some resources to acquire, and which took raw materials to build. As opposed to that, with our modern technologies, ideas, words and pictures are extremely easily copied, for almost no cost, while leaving the original completely intact. Your car is still there, even if somebody took a picture of it, just like your website is still there, even though somebody saved a copy of it. Your car is also still there, even if somebody went to the trouble of building a copy of it. Copying is not stealing. Not even close. If you claim so, you're running some kind of scam.

The scam of Intellectual Property is quite similar to how you meet a con artist on the street. They seem friendly and they might ask you for a favor or invite you to play a little game. And before you know it, you owe them 100 dollars, and it isn't quite clear how it happened.

There's a lot of apparently friendly Intellectual Property around. If you turn on the radio, there are dozens of channels playing music non-stop. They actually broadcast songs over all civilized areas, from high powered emitters. Apparently free for anybody to pick up, as long as they have the receiver, which is cheap and ubiquitous. Nowhere are you presented with any contract that says that you'll be punished for saving any of this music, or sharing it with a friend. Turn on your TV and it is the same thing. Dozens of channels broadcasting high quality content to you non-stop, for free. The same people broadcast much of this content for free on the Internet. But if you ever get the idea that you can save some of it for replaying to yourself and your friends, you're suddenly a criminal, because you didn't then drive to a store to buy a CD or a DVD with the music or film you wanted to keep.

Intellectual property is like those apples one always hears about at Halloween, where some wacko embedded razorblades in them. They looked like a nice and friendly gift, but if you go off and actually try to eat them, you get hurt. Or it is like a crack dealer distributing free samples. Seems like a nice and friendly thing to do, but it is a gift you'll pay for later.

There are a lot of bogus cover stories you'll be presented with. It is to support the starving artists and musicians. They need to be paid for their hard work. It is just that those people are rarely the actual people you're being asked to pay. Sony is not an artist. Neither is Warner Brothers. They are businesses trying to make a profit. If you look into the accounting that applies to the majority of artists or authors that have record deals or publishing contracts, you'll find that the vast majority of them make nothing whatsoever, or they even have to pay out of their own pocket to be published. The people who make money are the very few really big names. The Madonnas and Brad Pitts. But much more so the media companies. The rest have been scammed as much as you have.

If you think it is a problem now, it can get much, much worse. Think about patents on DNA. Think about copyrights on 3D wireframe models. Think about big companies using courts to stop people from growing certain things in their gardens and from creating certain objects in their garages. In addition to stopping us from using certain words and certain melodies and certain images and likenesses. What could be a glorious future of local production and distributed creativity could instead turn into a nightmare dystopia where a few multi-national megacorps have the government backed power to turn off the things you create, or use, or grow, because they "own" them. Or have you pay them handsomely for the right to create.

One possible avenue, to avoid this, is to stay far away from anything that looks like Intellectual Property, to refuse to use it, to block it, ban it.

A new Internet2, free from copyrights and patents and any other kind of IP looks like a better and better idea. No, I don't mean a pirate network for sharing their stuff. I mean a network where intellectual property is banned. We just won't play their game at all.

Software has been created for the purpose of identifying "owned" materials, like music or film. Imagine using it in reverse in a new Internet. I.e. anything that is "owned" will simply not be transported. Not by its owners, not by anybody. It simply won't go anywhere. Nobody wants it. In other words:

If you have intellectual property, please keep it to yourself!

Which is what should have happened in the first place. We call your bluff. If you made it and you think it is yours alone, fine, keep it. But don't let us catch you handing it out as a free sample to anybody that you could hope to later entrap. If you really think it is YOUR photo, keep it to yourself in a shoebox or on your computer. Don't post it to thousands of people on the Internet, and then later claim that they stole it from you. They didn't. You gave it to them. So, don't, if you don't want to.

Hefty fines would be in order for anybody trying to distribute their own intellectual property in any way. Some number of dollars for each person you knowingly have distributed it to for free would be quite reasonable, if you then later make demands of money for the very same thing.

So, I'm suggesting reversing the game. Blow the cover off the game when you see it. Don't allow this kind of thing on your networks. It's a crime.

I'm well aware that there are very large and rich corporations that have made themselves the cultural gate keepers who somehow seem to own most of all music and film, and a lot of the words, despite them not having created any of it. And others corporations who seem to own any thinkable way of manufacturing most of the things we need. And, yes, I know that they somehow have bribed the governments of most countries to do their bidding, and their plan of turning their scheme into international law is well advanced. And they have plenty of ways of expanding their scam. Just like they can patent the vegetables in your garden and the cells in your body, they can of course also think up ways of making it seem like the music you create yourself and the videos you record violate their copyrights. They could very well have the power to position a copyright-refusing Internet2 as a haven for pirates.

But if, instead of buying into their game, feeling guilty when they entrap us into pirating their stuff, you recognize it for what it is, it will be a lot harder for them. If you create spaces where their stuff isn't allowed, it will slow them down. If you call them on it, fewer people will be fooled. There's still a chance that this civilization-killing scheme can be stopped and reversed.

Support people who create. Writers, musicians, photographers, artists, makers. Directly. Support their creativity. Help them make a living from it. Oppose corporations and their lawyers and politicians who make a system out of owning and stopping creativity and communication, profiting unscrupulously from the creative work of others.

Create loads and loads of new stuff. In new ways, in new media. Make it altogether impractical for them to keep up. Expand the commons faster than they can privatize it. Use and support stuff that is free. Pay for and reward added value, route around ownership.
[ | 2012-01-24 00:50 | 20 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, January 2, 2012day link 

 2011 Accomplishments and 2012 Aims
picture It can be stimulating and rewarding to once in a while take stock of what one has accomplished and what one aims at doing next. The new year is traditionally a good time for doing that. And, I'm in part inspired by such a post from Vanessa Miemis.

To illustrate one good reason for writing it down, when I at first think about what I might have accomplished in 2011, I draw a blank. Didn't really do much, and hadn't really planned anything either. But when one looks a bit closer, there's of course more there...


In 2011 I regained hope. Not that I was particularly hopeless, but there was a certain cynicism that had crept in. A "been there, done that, it didn't work" kind of attitude, hovering behind my habitual optimism. Now, suddenly, there are lots of reasons to be hopeful. The right people are starting to connect in the right ways. Ideas gain traction that previously didn't. Conflicts that previously existed, no longer have much power. On the world scene, the centralized control system is crumbling fast. We have a unique opportunity to put something better in place. For the first time since the 1990s do I feel really energized and hopeful about this being the time when it is possible.

In 2011 I found my philosophical voice in a new way. That was actually a life hack. I'm a member of a local Toastmasters club where people practice public speaking. It is a good piece of advice for a public speaker to collect material that will be ready for use whenever one is called upon to say something. Stories, jokes, quotes, that kind of thing. So, I made a document for recording good material when I ran into it. I made one of the categories My Own Quotes, i.e. stuff I've said that I can be quoted for, because I wasn't able to come up with anything at the time. Surprisingly, it turned out that I suddenly started saying more things that were quotable, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc. Which in turn, ironically, means I have little use for my list, as it is more fun to make up something new.

I've met a lot of people. Specifically, I now feel part of a global network of the "right" kind of people, which is really a mix of different kinds of people, but one that fits. And it is not one thing. Rather, I notice overlapping groups coming together, sort of under the surface, without formal leaders. Things are more likely to happen in hidden Facebook groups or private hangouts. Not that there's anything secret going on, but it seems more productive with self-selecting groups that invite new members personally, rather than very visible public groups and causes that people go and join for abstract reasons. The Next Edge is one name for a loose group that is quite happening.

In October I was in New York for a week. Participating in ContactCon, a MetaCurrency collabathon, and hanging out on Liberty Square with Occupy Wallstreet. All of it very inspiring. Meeting a bunch of kindred souls I otherwise knew only online. And the Occupy movement added a very tangible and present focus, an incarnation of much that we're talking about, and a surprising inspiration that sends things in a new direction. It was enlightening to see how a small group of people sleeping under tarps in Zuccotti park could hold the world's attention. Very inspiring to experience the consensus process in a General Assembly.

In 2011 I began to see Dialogue happening online. I.e. it seems possible for small groups of people to share a space with each other in a mindful manner, without agenda, without posturing, without conflict, exploring the unknown together. I have previously attempted that, and failed, so it is new.

I decided to move forward with some of what I consider my own online projects, stuff I haven't gotten around to for years, despite not really having time. Ironically, since I'm busy being a paid programmer for other people's projects, I am now experimenting with outsourcing some of my own programming projects to others. It is still unclear whether it will bear fruit, but it is nevertheless satisfying to see activity.

I started adjusting my work environment more to my liking. I'm now working on a standup desk most of the time, which I think is more healthy.


I'm intending to revamp my web presence, including sites that I'm responsible for that have been stagnant. Most important will probably be a long-awaited re-launch of newciv.org, with a somewhat different spin. But I'd also like to make my personal web presence more coherent, as it is spread over a number of sites now, hard to follow in one place. I also hope to launch one or two useful tools on the web that might gain some traction.

I'm right now really excited about taking up aquaponics. I.e. cultivating fish and vegetables together in a small eco-system. I'm right now learning what I need to know, but I plan on getting that all going this year. In a greenhouse, I'm thinking. I'm not otherwise somebody you're likely to find outside with his hands in the dirt, so this will require some learning. What motivates me is in part that it involves technology, besides it being completely organic and producing no waste. We already have chickens, we have a large backyard with fruit trees, and a well on the property, so we have good potential for being able to be quite self-sufficient.

The aquaponics thing will be one thing to inspire/force me to be more handy. I'm a software guy and haven't traditionally been somebody you'd find in the garage with power tools. But I'd like in various ways to be more of a maker and tinkerer. In part for the fun, in part for the self-sufficiency aspects, in part because I think the economy is going in that kind of direction. So, if I don't run out of money from buying aquaponics equipment, I'm thinking maybe 3D printing, maybe some kind of solar panel setup. We can't use the standard government sponsored approach to that, as we only rent this house. Oh, and I need webcams, so I can monitor my aquaponics setup, etc.

I have almost no network here locally of the kind that is in sync with what I'm into online. That is rather odd, if I compare with how it was for us in California. I hope to remedy that this year. That might be local groups that are into permaculture, local economies, the local fablab, co-ops, dialogue, etc.

My current choice for exercise and socializing and being more in my body is dance. So, I'll continue going to dance classes 3-5 nights per week. This year I hope I will master it to a sufficient degree, or maybe just relax with it, that it can be mainly the form of creative expression and social fun that I love, and not about remembering steps and sometimes awkwardly failing.

Oh, and I need to make money too. I'm aiming to become independent of paid work this year. I'm 1/3 of the way there. That is, 33% of my income is residual income from my own website projects. I'd like to get that to 100%, so that I can concentrate on doing what needs doing, not what I must do in order to make a living.

I intend to spend more time speaking the truth, or looking for it, if it isn't available. Less time being worried about what anybody else will think. Less time trying to please others even though things don't really fit. I will aim at being a conductor, not a resistor. Preferably a superconductor.
[ | 2012-01-02 13:52 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, January 1, 2012day link 

 New year wish

Here's to our 2012 being magical, synchronistic, surprising and resilient.
A year where everything might change, but what's truly important is found to be indestructible.
A year where dreams are no longer just dreams, where reality grows on trees, and people can do what they imagine.
A time where you'll meet exactly those you need to meet.
A space where those things connect that fit.
May you feel at home in the fabric of life.

[ | 2012-01-01 00:20 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, December 1, 2011day link 

 Are jobs becoming obsolete?
picture [This was one of my answers on Quora a while back.]

The idea that there's a paying job waiting for everybody is going away.

It was a somewhat odd idea in the first place. Before jobs were invented, people mostly worked to house and feed their family. Quite strikingly, they did this by actually building the house and by actually growing the food. Nowadays, that's close to being illegal, as you most likely would violate building codes and zoning laws if you tried to do that in a western country. What happened in the meantime was that a very complicated system was invented, where one would go out and work for other people, then buy what one needs from others, before one can go back home and enjoy it.

One of the problems with the scheme is that there's no very good regulating mechanism for jobs. There's one for money, albeit a flawed one. If there is not enough money to pay for stuff, central banks have the job of putting more money into circulation. If there's too much money out there, it is their job to get rid of it, thus keeping the money supply fairly stable, corresponding roughly to what is there to pay for. Again, there are many problems with this, but at least there's a system to keep it stable.

There's no system that automatically creates more jobs when there are some people who need them, or that retires some jobs if there's nobody to fill them. Governments try to do it, but unless they're centralized socialist governments, they don't have direct ways of doing it. A direct way would be to hire more people if there are people without jobs. What they do is indirect stuff, in the form of "stimulating" the economy in various ways. Sometimes they do this in ideological ways that might not even work, or that might do the opposite. For example, there's the supply-side philosophy that is popular with neo-conservatives in the United States. The idea is that if you give more money to rich people, they're smart enough to do things with it that creates more business, and thus more jobs. Then again, they might just invest it in some other ways, or buy gold-plated swimming pools for it. Or they might buy robotic factories, not creating very many jobs. Supply-side is seen in contrast to demand-side economics, which would stimulate the economy by giving regular people more money, inspiring them to go and spend it, thus getting the wheels turning. There's no guarantee that this creates more jobs either, as the stuff people are buying might still be produced in robotic factories and in another country.

More things are being produced with less and less effort. Production is becoming automated. Fewer and fewer people can create more and more. This increased efficiency could potentially do many good things, but what it certainly doesn't do is produce more jobs. It naturally produces fewer jobs. And the benefits of the increased efficiency are largely kept by the owners of the production machinery. Yes, people get cheaper stuff too, but they don't get the jobs that would pay them so they can afford to buy it.

This system is going to break sooner or later, but that's a different discussion.

In the meantime, jobs are being replaced, increasingly, with being in business by yourself. You'll have noticed, even if you have a job, that you've had to compete to get it, to market yourself, to track down prospective employers, package yourself right, etc. There are rather few jobs just standing around waiting for you. Jobs aren't secure either, even if you have them. It is extremely unlikely to last your whole life, so you'll have to do it over and over. So, more people are going on to the next step, of being freelance and learning how to actually market their services, find customers, etc. Since you're becoming freelance anyway, you're also more likely to choose a line of activity that actually interests you, more than a regular job would.

Another intriguing trend is likely to close the loop and take us back to a more sustainable and local way of living. As technology advances, it becomes possible to manufacture more stuff by yourself. Think about 3D printers and open source hardware and software. As the global economic system is becoming more uncertain and unstable, we perceive more of a need for taking care of our needs locally. The right combination of technologies will increasingly make it possible.

So, one way or another, we're actually quite likely to get back where we started, but at a much higher level. I.e. that you work on what you actually need and what you feel like working on. You will need to network economically with other people, but no job needs to be involved.

It would be a good idea to start right now to get used to the idea. Drop the job thinking. Think about having skills that will be needed and useful, whether there's a job for it or not. Think about understanding who needs your services and how you can reach them. Think about organizing your life so that you might still eat and have a place to live, even if business is slow.
[ | 2011-12-01 17:56 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, November 28, 2011day link 

picture We're likely to get to the future we desire, not through methodical and linear progress, but through discontinuous quantum jumps.

The idea that life progresses linearly, logically, and fluidly, is an illusion. Just like how you make a motion picture out of a sequence of still pictures. We imagine the stuff in-between, thinking that we're seeing fluid, continuous motion. Our brains hold on tight to the concept of linear experience, which unfortunately means that they are easily fooled by constructed sequences.

Discontinuous change isn't random and unknowable. Change in jumps and shifts doesn't mean that intelligence and knowledge and preparedness are all out the window. It just means you need to do better than linear projections. What happens tomorrow isn't just a little more of what happened today. Things actually change.

To keep up and maybe stay ahead of the game, we might need some different senses, a different type of logic, some different institutions.

You might need to be able to perceive patterns, to sense the energetic or meta version of what is going on, directly, not just as a constructed mental picture. You'll get much further if you can feel things that want to happen, before they happen, even though they currently are nowhere to be seen.

You might need fractal, multi-dimensional logic, that includes the movement of the whole, at multiple levels. You might want to see logic as the unfolding of the universe and its laws, rather than as a separated mental activity. Expect phase changes. Disruptive change might not be linear, but it doesn't have to be a huge surprise either.

We might need educational institutions that help us flourish as the unique and creative individuals that we are, rather than shape us mentally and emotionally into clones. We might need economic institutions that value what enhances life, all of life, not what perpetuates and secures the status quo for a few of us. We might need governments that flow with the energy of the people, rather than try to rule us and render us harmless and immobile.

You can start at anytime by not expecting only what you already had, but by staying present, paying attention, noticing the unique opportunities that are here right now, and acting on them. If the bus you want to be on comes by, get on it. Don't wait. If there's no bus, make one. The current scenery isn't going to last, so there's no reason to bet everything on that it will.
[ | 2011-11-28 22:15 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, November 24, 2011day link 

 Blind and Automatic Punishment
picture I got my first HADOPI warning in an e-mail today. If you didn't know, HADOPI is the French three-strikes law that bans people from using the Internet if they 3 times have been caught downloading something that somebody has a copyright claim to. Not caught by the police, mind you, not verified by anybody. It just means that a few multi-national media companies have been given the power to just send an IP address and a date/time to a certain government agency, and whoever happens to have been using the IP address at that time will be punished. They don't have to even mention what I possibly might have downloaded.

This is one example of a dangerous and growing trend: For people in power to use automated means of catching and punishing people who don't follow their rules.

Politicians are notoriously bad at making rules. As are lawyers, and most anybody who appears to have the job of making rules for everybody. To make good rules that actually would work for everybody would require some kind of basic understanding of abstraction and the limitations of words. If not, it becomes simply a string of thinking fallacies. And, if connected with automated enforcement, very destructive things happen.

The rules (laws) in most countries are considered absolute, unless they clearly can be shown to have been ambiguous or conflicting with other laws. Per definition, a law is something that is just supposed to be exactly as it says, or somebody will be punished. The trouble is that most laws are based on something that makes sense in a very specific context, but they're applied generally, at all times, in all contexts. The law maker might really just have tried to make a statement, to communicate the importance of an idea, but he unfortunately used the medium of law.

If there are humans involved, such as police officers, or judges, or juries, or public opinion, there's a chance that an unfair application of a law gets corrected. If you have a good enough reason, the police officer might let you go. If you explain yourself to the judge, he might see that you did the right thing, despite what the law said. If everybody can see that it is a silly law, it might just be ignored. Humans process complexity, they can take all sorts of things into consideration at the same time, at many levels, consciously as well as sub-consciously. If the law says one can't spit on the sidewalk, any reasonable person would grant an exception to somebody who's choking on a piece of food. The law assumes a situation where there's no real reason to spit, and somebody does so for some kind of malicious or careless reason, but the law isn't likely to say so. It says that you will be punished if you spit on the sidewalk. Most laws are much too specific in the wrong way.

Most bodies of law are a mishmash of missing context, self-contradictions and exceptions. The practice of law is a mishmash of argumentation and reasoning and decisions that might go in one direction or another. If asked to actually look at it, most anybody would recognize that the words of the law itself aren't enough. At least anybody but the guys who get the clever idea of automatically enforcing laws.

Most people are now familiar with automated speed radars that measure your car's speed, take a picture of your license plate, and send you a ticket in the mail. No humans are involved. If you were measured as driving 91 and the sign said 90, you'll have to pay. Even if you weren't in your car at all, even if there was a reason for doing so, even if the speed limit isn't reasonable. In the town where I live, the 90km/h limit on the Periphérique circling town was chosen not for safety or traffic flow reasons, but because somebody calculated that gas would be saved if everybody had to drive max 90.

The current examples you see are fairly harmless. But that's only while technology is catching up, and while simple-minded politicians catch up to the idea of what one can do with technology.

Automated drones are increasingly being used in warfare. Actually, most of them are still mostly remote controlled unmanned aircraft. But that will change as the technology becomes better. Imagine high definition cameras with face recognition, reading of license plates, interpretation of body language, combined with offensive weapons, mounted on small flying drones. The military will use the first. But police forces will very happily use stuff like that as soon as they're allowed to. Just imagine how much easier their work would be in, say, policing the current Occupy protests. Automatic tear gassing of people who walk on the street when they've been told not to. It isn't particularly far fetched.

Again, the problem is that most rules are much, much too over-simplified and specific for a complex world. If somebody makes a law that says you're not allowed to talk on a telephone in your car, they'll probably be quite self-satisfied with the reasonableness of such a law. Lots of people will agree and think it is a great law, as they think of lots of people who're distracted, while driving, and therefore not driving as well. But the law says nothing about that. It doesn't define what is considered a phone, and it doesn't define the actual target, driving as safely as possible. Imagine that it was enforced automatically, that some device in the car automatically would kill any cell phone signal, if a call is attempted. Because, again, the law maker thought about how much better it would be if drivers weren't distracted. But it would also kill potentially live saving calls. It might also stop somebody from inventing a service that you could talk to that would help you drive better. It would stop a lot of things that the law maker just failed to imagine. If he were presented with the potential exception, he'll of course admit that, yes, of course it isn't meant to stop that. But his law didn't say so. And if we take the humans out of the equation, nobody else will be there to say so.

Overall, it is one of the prime insanities of humankind. The idea that you can take some words, put together into some sentences, and somehow they'll remain true and appropriate in all possible situations, forever. Forgetting that those words were in the first place merely abstractions of something more real. Maybe the author of the words clearly could see the picture of what he felt that those words applied to. But those words don't mean exactly the same thing to everybody else. And if we go ahead and apply those words to all sorts of other situations, very different from what their author was thinking of, they might not fit very well. Which is not such a big deal if we can notice and talk about it. But if the words have been put on automatic, crazy things can happen. There's a consciousness of abstraction that's largely unknown to the ruling class in most areas.

One of the most central ways that humanity is likely to shoot itself in the foot, or even collectively commit suicide is by ignoring, denying, or removing complexity. You see it in many fields of human activity: government, religion, even science. One size fits all solutions tend to kill life. One moral code for everybody. One crop to grow for miles and miles. Volumes and volumes of laws that tell everybody how they always must do under all circumstances. While totally overlooking what it is that makes the world work. Life is a continuum, multi-dimensional, multi-level. There is somebody home. Something is aware, something evolves, changes based on circumstances. Humans have found themselves able to create stuff that doesn't change based on the circumstances. There are some advantages to that, and a whole bunch of potentially world-killing dangers.
[ | 2011-11-24 00:54 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, November 20, 2011day link 

 Order and violence
picture The governments and the culture of many countries will enforce order, no matter what amount of violence is necessary. United States is noteworthy among them, as most of the rest are non-western dictatorships, like a number of middle eastern countries such as Syria, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, and countries such as China, North Korea, Iran, etc.

In countries that are ruled by violent enforcement of order, even the most innocent offense will escalate to deadly force, if the offending party fails to succumb and comply. As an example, let's pick a quite innocent event like a parking violation, and as the stage, let's pick the United States. Most Americans will vehemently deny that a parking violation would ever escalate to anything violent, but that just shows how well conditioned they are to accept such a system without question.

Let's say I park my car in some annoying spot, like on a corner in a busy intersection. People can just drive or walk around it, so it isn't like it would stop traffic, but many people would be irritated about it. A cop will probably be around to leave a ticket on the windshield rather quickly. If I simply drive away and pay the ticket, nothing else happens. If I choose to stay, a tow truck is likely to show up. It it really was a very annoying spot, it will show up quickly, otherwise it might take days. The tow truck will try to move the car away. If it succeeds, nothing much more happens, other than that I would have to come up with quite a bit of money to get my car back. But imagine that I take steps to make sure my car stays there. Maybe I drive steel pylons into the roadway under my car, welded to the frame. The police will command heavier equipment into operation. In case I'm still inside the car, they'll break open the doors or smash the windows, and put me in handcuffs and drag me away. But say I passively resist them doing that, insisting on staying there. My car might well be armored, equipped with bulletproof glass. They'll get more creative and bring bulldozers and they'll inject teargas or similar stuff into the air supply. Imagine that I've taken steps to still stay exactly where I am. Sooner or later, and it won't even take long, they will bring in tanks and there will be snipers on the roof tops. Remember, I'm still not doing anything other than staying in an illegal parking space and failing to be removed. Along the way there will be a continuous stream of opportunities for me to do something that would be interpreted as being worse. If I stand up on the roof of my car and yell and wave my arms, that would be a sufficient excuse for one of the snipers to take me down. Let alone that I had the thought of actively defending myself against one of the assaults they would think up, such as throwing the tear gas back to them, or disabling the bulldozers that try to remove my car. But even just by staying there, successfully not being removed, I become guilty of more and more serious crimes. Resisting arrest, destruction of public property. Won't take long before it is considered some kind of terrorism. And sooner or later, either I succumb and obey, or they win and force me to obey, or they kill me. No other outcome is likely, unless I somehow became very popular and public opinion starts supporting me very loudly. If not, I either obey or I'm forced to obey, with deadly force if necessary.

A typical law-abiding citizen will say that this is a really stupid example. All I'd have to do at any time would be to do what the police tells me to do. The escalation stops the moment I obey. So, if I don't, it is surely my own fault. I've been given every chance to comply, and if I then still don't, I'm obviously an idiot and a criminal and I deserve anything that happens to me.

I should note, for the sake of my American friends, that this kind of escalation is not what would happen in any European country. And, sure, in some countries it would happen much faster, and they might just shoot you up front to get it over with. But in most Western countries, there's no system of automatically escalating violence used against regular citizens. If you really can't be moved, even after reasonable measures have been put into play, you'll obviously be giving a big problem to some kind of governmental agency. But that will most likely lead to a lot of talk and negotiations and thinking. It would be much more likely that they would move the whole street than for anybody to consider using deadly force.

This is a very current subject, as police forces all over the U.S. currently are using excessive violence on peaceful protesters that are guilty of no other offense than not moving when they're being asked to. They're beaten up, subjected to chemical weapons, acoustic weapons, their property is being destroyed, they're arrested for charges made up on the spot. And the consequences are only this "mild" because the police manages to drag these people away relatively easily, because they're unarmed and not actively resisting. If they actually were able to stand their ground more effectively, however non-violently and passively, they would be subjected to much higher degrees of violence and deaths would be inevitable.

The point is that this is a very bad system. Not the specific laws and punishments. Not the particular local police chiefs. They might or might not be bad too, but the problem is the overall principle. The basic idea that there MUST be order, that people MUST do what they're told, and if they don't, an increasing and limitless amount of force will be applied to make them comply, even if the force is totally out of proportion to the initial offense.

Luckily, these things attract a lot of attention. No, not my fictitious parking violation. Police brutality against peaceful protesters attracts a lot of viewers in a variety of media. A woman being stoned for adultery in Afghanistan, that easily attracts international attention as well. The world is indeed watching. Lots of people still think that the victims of such brutalities should just have "done what they were supposed to". But a growing number of people think otherwise. If clear attention is focused on the central model that is at fault, it can be changed.
[ | 2011-11-20 23:39 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, November 19, 2011day link 

picture I think it is the first and most important target and focal point for a public uprising against the 1%, The Man, the Ruling Class, or whatever we call the predatory elite that somehow has ended up owning most of everything and violently policing their property. Corruption. That's largely how they got there and how they stay in control. It isn't democracy, it isn't business success in a free market. It isn't the will of The People that got them there, it is them successfully subverting the public interest by bribing people in key positions with money and power, and installing their people and their institutions and their laws in place of what would have best served most of us. All oriented towards privatizing profits into the hands of those few people, protected by government armies and police forces, and leaving everybody else stuck with the bill for it, including the real costs for the damage caused.

Corruption: The use of a public position of power for private gain and counter to common public interests.

That's my definition. Most official definitions are somewhat fuzzy. Most talk about corruption focuses on the particular act of somebody paying off a government official to give them special consideration. But it really doesn't matter whether money is involved. And it doesn't matter who's private gain we're talking about. The money flow is often hard to prove, and it is likely to be shifted in time in relation to the favors it pays for. A Treasury Secretary might have worked for a particular investment bank in the past, or he will do so after he resigns. Makes no difference. It is a lot more expedient to look at what people do, rather than starting backwards with how they might have been rewarded for doing it. The motive in a crime is maybe interesting, but it is more important to recognize the crime, and secondly to catch the criminal and get them out of the way. And in case of corruption, it is usually glaringly obvious to anybody who even pays half attention.

If a bunch of politicians are campaigning to pass a "piracy" law that increases the income stream of large media conglomerates, despite their failing business model, and that law is against the interests of 99.99% of the population, subjecting them to huge arbitrary fines and being kicked off of the Internet, there's no great reason to have to find the smoking gun where money changed hands, even though that's quite easily found in the form of large campaign donations from those companies to those particular politicians. But the mere fact that they, while being trusted to act as our government, will work on enacting such laws is a clear sign of corruption. It should be reason enough for a prison sentence, even if their specific payoff was never located.

It doesn't matter what branch of government they're in, or whether we even are talking government. The point is that somebody who's trusted to act in the common interest of the people they serve deliberately acts very counter to that interest, in order to serve particular private interests.

A police force that terrorizes certain types of people in certain places and looks the other way when other people do similar things in other places, we're obviously talking about some kind of corruption. The cops on the street, beating people up, it usually isn't them who came up with the plan, but a bit further up the line you'll quickly find somebody who's playing special interests. And who belongs on the other side of prison bars.

It isn't just the people who are bought off that are culpable. If somebody pays an assassin to kill somebody, sure, that assassin will be guilty of murder. But the more important people to catch are the ones that paid for it. Strangely, in some countries it isn't even illegal to pay off government officials. The United States comes to mind, where most politicians receive large contributions from corporations, while being continuously lobbied in order to do what they want. Presidential candidates receive hundreds of millions in the same way. Congress members are not subject to insider trading laws. A more sane system would make them instantly be disqualified for receiving pay-offs or from profiting privately from the inside knowledge they're exposed to. As to the corporations, being closed down when found to be paying politicians would be a perfectly reasonable consequence. Yes, the whole company, whatever its size.

In case it isn't clear, I'm not talking about some isolated case of the Mafia paying off local cops. I'm talking about something that all but a handful of members of U.S. Congress are guilty of, and which most Fortune 500 companies are guilty of. And it isn't just an American thing. I live in France. The current government has enacted a horrendous "three-strikes" copyright law, HADOPI, which is in the interest of nobody in France, other than a few lawyers and media company executives. The corruption obviously reaches high, as President Sarkozy personally championed that law. I don't know what his payoff is, but shame on him for having sold out.

A big obstacle in dealing with all this in the normal ways available to us is that the system has already been rigged so that most of it is perfectly "legal". Corporate personhood is legal. Lobbying is legal. Campaign contributions are legal. It is perfectly normal that banking executives responsible for huge frauds in the financial system go straight on to government positions where they draft the regulations, or the lack of same, for their industry. Goldman Sachs employees are now the heads of state in two European countries, Italy and Greece. It is usually pharmaceutical companies that write the laws that would regulate their industry, particularly on Federal, EU and international levels. Which strangely turns out to be mainly in their own interest, outlawing any competition from smaller players, and completely counter to what most people would need or want. It is all legal. But it is corruption, nevertheless.

So, what to do? Call it when you see it. That it is "legal" shouldn't stop you. So, don't buy into the complexity of why it is legal, or why nobody can prove anything. Look at the actions taken and the results. If the police is beating up and shooting unarmed peaceful Occupy protesters, but heavily armed and angry Tea Party groups can hold rallies without there ever being any police in sight, then clearly there's corruption in the police force. You don't have to know how come, or who paid for it. Just locate who is in charge, who gave the order, and the corruption is surely close by or further up.

There are other things very, very wrong in society, like the foundation of the whole interest-bearing debt-as-money system. Or multi-national corporate personhood. But the key leverage point that most people can understand is corruption. Get commercial interests as far away from government as possible. Don't let them get away with it. People should be going to jail. Presidents, ministers, CEOs, bankers, police chiefs, judges. Unfortunately, these are the very same people we have entrusted to be responsible for such things, so that makes it tricky. The weapons on our side is open communication, and the fact that there are many, many more of us. But it is necessary to stay focused, to not flinch, to not be dispersed and confused. A big part of the system that governs our society is corrupt. But not all of it. Most people are good people who can recognize the truth when they see it, if they can stand still for long enough.
[ | 2011-11-19 22:50 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, November 17, 2011day link 

 Your inner piece
picture It is one of the metaphors I most readily reach for when called upon to say something motivational. It isn't terribly original, but it is easily understood and perfectly reusable.

We all have a piece of the puzzle. Everybody knows, of course, that all of the pieces of a puzzle are different, and that we need all of them to complete the puzzle. It is awfully unsatisfying if there's a piece missing. There'll be a glaring hole in the middle of the puzzle.

Now, we're talking about some kind of global puzzle. So, here, all of us have a piece, maybe even several, and we're not going to complete the puzzle unless everybody's getting their piece out, unless everybody's placing it in the place where it fits. That takes a little bit of work, to find out where it fits. But if you don't bother doing it, if you just leave the piece in your pocket, or in the box, or you lose it, thinking it doesn't matter, that piece will always be missing.

Some pieces might be just one of many that are more or less the same color or texture, in the middle of an ocean or a wall, or whatever's on the picture. That doesn't make them any less important, as they will be equally missing if they aren't there.

As mentioned, the pieces are different, and each one fits in a particular place. It's no good to try to change a piece into looking like some of the other ones, and it is no good to try to force it into fitting some place where it doesn't. Which should remind you of some of the things we humans do, en masse trying to do the exact same thing, in order to "fit in". Consuming the same products, commuting to work at the same time, to do the same kinds of jobs. All the while spending no time looking at what our actual piece is and where it fits.

There's a nice unity and diversity thing to the metaphor. We're all unique, but we also have something to do together. Everybody's important.

We could develop it in different directions. Like, we could say that there's your external piece of the puzzle. What you do in the world, what you're available for, what you have to offer, and your particular style of doing it, the shape of your piece.

But we could also say that there's an inner piece that you have. That which makes you unique, but also what makes you feel at home, and what makes you feel complete. Because there's nothing missing to that piece. Sure, it might fit with other pieces, but it doesn't have to, it is perfect as it is.

The thing about your inner piece is that if you haven't found it, or you don't know that you already have it, you might be running around looking for pieces of yourself, or looking for places to fit in. But you can keep looking outside yourself for it forever, without result, because it isn't out there. On the contrary, it is the only thing that isn't out there. It's who you are. Once you find it, or at least realize you already have it, you can relax. There's no longer anything you urgently have to seek. Rather, surprisingly, things suddenly become easier. Because you're now being something that actually fits, and maybe not that surprisingly after all, the universe around you fits you.

We could well say that it is two sides of the same thing. The inside and the outside. Your particular inner being and the universe around you. They're maybe one and the same thing, but that's a little theoretical for practical use, unless you're unusually enlightened. But, if we stick with my puzzle metaphor a tiny bit longer, it gives a perfect explanation for how we each are unique, and how we each have a unique perspective on the universe. Just imagine the cutout of one puzzle piece, in the middle of a puzzle extending to infinity in all directions. In such an infinite field you can cut out different pieces in an infinite number of ways. And for each single one, the rest of the universe will look different, because it is the mirror image of the cutout. And none of the pieces will quite fit in if it tries to be just like any of the other ones. And none of them will quite feel at home if it tries to fit into the world that one of the other pieces sees. But if there's harmony and agreement between what one is and the world one is in, then things suddenly flow. The truth opens things up.

So, grab your inner piece in any way you can. Or just be confident that it is there.
[ | 2011-11-17 02:20 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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