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

Friday, July 23, 2004day link 

 Psychogeography and the Dérive
picture What is Psychogeography:
Psychogegraphy is the study of the effects of geographical settings, consciously managed or not, acting directly on the mood and behaviour of the individual".

Psychogeography research is carried through non-scientific methods such as the derive, aimless drifting through the city, trying to record the emotions given by a particular place; and mental mapping, the production of mood-based maps.

Psychogeography was developed as a critique of urbanism by the Lettrist International and then by Situationist International in the late fifties. Today, it is pursued by artists, radical thinkers and, on an academic level, geography researchers.
Hm, sounds intriguing. But I'm not sure I get it. What exactly do you do? Wikipedia has some more details and types of psychogeography:
Disagreements have led to many variations in the practice which have included the following forms: Debordian; Literary; Generative or Algorithmic; and Quantum. Various factions claim to be or accuse each other of being: academic; occultist; avant-garde; proletarian; or revolutionary.
Just makes me more confused. I seem to get a better idea from this text: Psychogeography and the dérive.
...The situationists' desire to become psychogeographers, with an understanding of the 'precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals', was intended to cultivate an awareness of the ways in which everyday life is presently conditioned and controlled, the ways in which this manipulation can be exposed and subverted, and the possibilities for chosen forms of constructed situations in the post-spectacular world. Only an awareness of the influences of the existing environment can encourage the critique of the present conditions of daily life, and yet it is precisely this concern with the environment which we live which is ignored.

"The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places - all this seems to be neglected."
So, like an awareness of the stuff of pattern languages in the environment. Charting how environments influence us, based on some kind of non-linear exploration. Mapping outer invironments based on inner states. And changing the rules about how we relate to the environment. An infinite game. What is a dérive?
Concealed by the functional drudgery of city life, such areas of psychogeographical research were seen as the ground of a new realm of experiment with the possibilities of everyday experience.

One of psychogeography's principle means was the dérive. Long a favorite practice of the dadaists, who organized a variety of expeditions, and the surrealists, for whom the geographical form of automatism was an instructive pleasure, the dérive, or drift, was defined by the situationists as the 'technique of locomotion without a goal', in which 'one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there'. The dérive acted as something of a model for the 'playful creation' of all human relationships. [...]

To dérive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed. [...]

...the situationists developed an armoury of confusing weapons intended constantly to provoke critical notice of the totality of lived experience and reverse the stultifying passivity of the spectacle. 'Life can never be too disorientating,' wrote Debord and Wolman, in support of which they described a friend's experience wandering 'through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London.'
Hm, what a weird and splendid idea. Anyway, this all seems to fit into my ongoing quest for the deeper patterns of life, beyond the superficial and confusing details that are swirling around us.
An example of a situation-creating technique is the dérive. The dérive is the first step toward an urban praxis. It is a stroll through the city by several people who are out to understand the "psychogeographical articulation of the modern city". The strollers attempt an interpretive reading of the city, an architectural understanding. They look at the city as a special instance of repressed desires. At the same time, they engage in "playful reconstructive behavior". Together they turn the city around. They see in the city unifying and empowering possibilities in place of the present fragmentation and pacification. This "turning around" or détournment is a key strategic concept of the Situationists. Détournment is a dialectical tool. It is an "insurrectional style" by which a past form is used to show its own inherent untruth-- an untruth masked by ideology. It can be applied to billboards, to written texts, to films, to cartoons, etc., as well as to city spaces. Marx used it when he "turned Hegel on his head." He used the dialectic in the study of history to expose the ideological nature of Hegel's idealism. The Situationists use détoumement to demonstrate the scandalous poverty of everyday life despite the plenty of commodities. They attempted to demonstrate the contrast between what life presently is and what it could be. They wanted to rupture the spell of the ideology of our commodified consumer society so that our repressed desires of a more authentic nature could come forward. The situation is based on liberated desires rather than alienated ones. What these desires are cannot be stated a priori. They will emerge in the revolutionary process of situation-creation, of détournment. Presumably, communality, unification, and public urban space will emerge as more desirable than commodification, fragmentation, and privatization.
OK, not the easiest stuff to read, but I like it. Wonder who's doing things like that around here. Sounds like something French avantgarde art and philosophy types would easily get into.
[ | 2004-07-23 15:35 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, July 21, 2004day link 

 Pornolize This
If my weblog is a little too dull for you, try to pornolize it. That'll give you the dirty pornstar version. It seems to do a particularly good job at insulting (or flattering) everybody in my blogroll. You can do the same with any site. OK, it is tacky, and not particularly smart, but it is a good laugh.
[ | 2004-07-21 14:04 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, July 2, 2004day link 

 Multi-linguals keep their mind longer
Mentioned by Allan Karl and by Nick Temple, studies seem to show that people who speak several languages will keep their minds alert and flexible in old age more than those who speak only one language. Article in the Economist.
It is certainly useful to be able to speak more than one language. But, according to a paper by Ellen Bialystok, of York University in Canada, and her colleagues, in this month's issue of Psychology and Aging, it is useful not just for the obvious reason that it makes it possible to talk to more people. Dr Bialystok found that "bilinguals"—individuals who grew up speaking two languages and continue to do so—performed significantly better on a variety of simple cognitive tasks than people who speak only one. Furthermore, the differences between the two groups increased with age, leading her to hypothesise that knowing and using two languages inhibits the mind's decline.
Seems logical enough, I guess. The mind works to a large degree on recognizing similarities and differences, and if one speaks multiple languages one naturally stays aware of how things are similar and different. Whereas people who speak just one language more easily slip into a habit of thinking that things always mean the same. Of course one can make up for it by many other kinds of familiarity with diversity.
[ | 2004-07-02 18:32 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, June 28, 2004day link 

 Sleepy City
picture I am terribly fascinated by underground exploration. Like natural caves, or the artificial tunnels and lost places under our cities. Exploring such things vicariously suits me just fine, so I'm glad there are folks who have the guts to crawl around in dangerous underground cavities. There are many sites for these activites. I mention some here. One I just ran into via wood s lot is Sleepy City, which has amazing pictures.
Sleepy City is a photography site dedicated to the secrets of the city... your city. Underground tunnels, derelict industrial components and urban ruins are where I like to play. Discarded by society these interesting and historical sites wait quietly for the occasional urban explorer. Grab a torch and have a wander.
Lots of photos. And beautiful words too.
The city sprawls in all directions, a hectic mass infecting the earth it rests on. The buildings reach upwards and the root like tunnels burrow below. Citizens run madly, never considering the back alleys, tunnels and buildings of yesteryear. However these are places that, if you recognise them, hide the history and secrets of your city. Through the decaying doorframe or that unnoticed metal hole wait adventure and sights few will ever see. All it takes to step across into this parallel world is a torch and a curious spirit. No joining fees, no ridiculous contracts and nobody looking over your shoulder. You might be surprised how little of your city you have ever appreciated.
Oh, and here's an interview at Creativity/Machine with the "mysterious urban explorer" behind Sleepy City.
[ | 2004-06-28 16:15 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, June 14, 2004day link 

 24-hour dotcom
As an art and business project, some folks at a conference in Berlin created a dotcom company in 24 hours. Including a kick-off party, planning, nightly coding, various milestones, release, and a public IPO. I.e. they put the company for sale on ebay. There's still time to go and bid.

Well, it is in part performance art, but not altogether crazy. Why shouldn't it be possible? Getting the right people together, with a good deal of creativity, some intensive work, good promotion, no big reason it shouldn't happen really quickly. It is not really the time that matters, but whether they can come up with a unique product niche and selling proposition. I can't quite see what their product ended up being, and it is somewhat doubtful if it is useful. But the best of luck. The company is up to only $1225, so if it is anything at all, there should be possibility for some profit there. Now if that turned into a billion dollar company, that would be really fun.
[ | 2004-06-14 16:32 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, May 31, 2004day link 

 Carnival in Copenhagen
Well, I'm not there, but it would be fun. The Carnival in Copenhagen started in 1982. Samba rhythms fill the strees for a few days in May every year. Seemed a little out of place at first glance, but it instantly became a tradition.
[ | 2004-05-31 05:29 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, May 30, 2004day link 

 Assemblage Points and Instant Change
picture In Carlos Castaneda's books, his teacher, the mysterious sorcerer Don Juan Matus, taught him about what he called the "assemblage point". It is thought to be the point where one's perception is assembled, which determines the particular world one is seeing and living in. In normal humans it is considered to be an armslength behind one's back, between the shoulder blades. And that is the point that allows us to live in the normal human world, with our normal limited human perceptions, and our normal attachment to human self-importance. And that we're pretty stuck with that point. But if one manages to shift that assemblage point to a different location, one moves into a different world. A slightly different world, or a very different and bizarre world. Either way, it is in no way easy, but can be accomplished with the right kind of practice.

When we dream at night, the assemblage point is naturally more loose and moves about. The hard part is to do it consciously and deliberately. A person who has an unstable assemblage point in waking life is what we'd call a schizophrenic. Typically one has a very hard time remembering anything that happens in other points than one's normal position. So, if somebody manages to switch you between several points, you might not remember what happened in the other position. You might be somebody who works at night on a secret black government project, while being somebody else during the day, and yourself having no clue about it.

It relates to the more palatable concept of world views. If you have a certain world view, based on certain beliefs and assumptions, you tend to mentally wear a certain set of colored glasses, that makes you see only what fits into that world view. What fits within it seems normal and reasonable, and what doesn't seems crazy and non-sensical or non-existent. But the assembly point idea is really much more radical than that. Not just a set of pre-conceived ideas, but more like the ability to switch between different realities. In a multi-dimensional many-worlds universe, the dial gets turned to a different position, and you perceive a totally different band filtered out from the quantum soup. If you can turn it, that is, which most people can't.

Not that I can see such things as assembly points, and I have no clue if the position given is correct, of if it is altogether more useful as a metaphor. But that kind of thing does fit with my own view of how the multiverse works. And it provides some clues for how to solve big problems. In my own experience, transformative changes happen in the form of shifts, rather than as gradual and incremental change. Personal change happens that way. The actual change is instantaneous. Suddenly things are different. All sorts of things might have led up to it, and there might be all sorts of reasonable explanation for how somebody might have come to change, by working through their issues, or whatever, but the actual change is typically instant. And few people actually notice it themselves, exactly because one kind of becomes a different person, and it is very difficult remembering being anyone different. So, instant shifts give rise to a considerable amount of denial.

Likewise with societal change. Sure, all sorts of trends of change are happening. More of this, less of that. Plans, influences, discussions, memes. But the real changes are usually from a moment to the next. We suddenly notice that things seem different in our culture. And then we rationalize it away, analyze it, coming up with good reasons for believing that it was a gradual thing that logically happened. It usually wasn't.

The most important changes are discontinuous and disruptive. Sure, it might be based on an identifiable event. We see man walk on the moon - the world is different. The IBM PC goes on sale - the world changes. 9-11 - bing - the world is never the same again. But not all big changes have obvious trigger events. And I claim that the real change is the instant shift in consciousness, individually or as a group. The whole world changes in a moment, without going through any steps in-between. It goes from a world with certain rules to a different world with different rules. And most people don't notice, again, because they're not capable of being conscious of shifts, and because it is so easy to explain it away. There are still trees and cars and buildings and cottage cheese in the world, so it must be the same world.

Potentially there's an important point here, which might give cause for optimism on many fronts. On our planet we've collectively gotten ourselves into a great deal of messes that we have no obvious or easy way out of. And if we extrapolate various trends into the future, it is not in any way obvious that we'll solve them, or that we'll survive for very long. But that is because what will make things work is almost all shifts and disruptive changes, which we mostly can't predict.

Or, maybe we can to some degree. Or we can learn how instant world shifts work, rather than trying to master incremental change. But it is a different way of thinking. We might consider how to step into the world that works, where humanity will survive in harmony with ourselves and the world, without necessarily passing through the space in-between. Non-local change.
[ | 2004-05-30 09:29 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, May 26, 2004day link 

 Moblogging from the front and the new Reformation
picture Clay Shirky talks on Corante about how grassroots sharing of powerful information and pictures are changing things:
Jaques Barzun, author of the marvelous history of modernity From Dawn to Decadence (1500 - present), makes the point that the Catholic Church as a pan-European political force was done in by the Protestant Reformation, itself fueled by the printing press. Once the Church lost the ability to control the direct perception of scripture, thanks to the printing of (relatively) cheap bibles in languages other than Latin, their loss of political hegemony followed.

This is what we are seeing now relative to the military’s control of information. A year or so ago, someone in the DoD told me that the thing that would most affect the prosecution of the war in Iraq would be images of DAB’s — Dead American Bodies. The unplanned spread of photos of coffins, and now of torture victims, means that control of this part of the war is outside the military’s hands.

The spread of images from Iraq, both relatively plain ones like most of what’s on the YAFRO blogs to the horrifying images of torture and abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison are all part of the removal of bottlenecks that will change the political structure in ways we can’t predict.[...]

Now we are in a mirror world, where the newly free production and distrubution of images is the novelty. Hearing about DABs or torture victims is nothing like seeing them — I had to rip the cover of the Economist this week because my wife can’t stand to see the image of the man on the box with the electrodes in his hands.

New tools for spreading of the word are powerful, of course — witness the weblog explosion in all its complexity. But the spread of images is a different kind of thing, not least because images pass across linguistic borders like a lava flow. Now that production and distribution of images are in the hands of the laity, it’s a safe bet that we are entering a world of “That will kill this.” We just don’t know what parts of society “this” refers to yet.
No wonder Donald Rumsfeld wants to forbid American soldiers from having camera phones. But it is hopefully too late. Shirky's right: we can maybe more easily ignore words, but pictures are much harder to get around. Rumors of atrocities don't carry nearly the same weight as pictures of them. Particularly unregulated pictures leaked by people who just happened to be around with a digital camera. What made 9-11 hit so hard was to a large part the pictures. The video of the burning and collapsing towers, and the pictures of the individuals who died, and their families. But that came through the centralized media. Now imagine that the government and media could no longer control what images are widely shared. That, whatever happens, some casual bystander will have taken pictures, and the pictures will be on a bunch of people's blogs the same day.
[ | 2004-05-26 16:33 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, May 17, 2004day link 

 Correct Writing
picture Dave Pollard wrote a post about punctuation a little while back, referring to a New York Times op-ed piece on the same subject. Both speaking for the inevitability of relaxing all the rules for how one is supposed to write.
Anyone under 25 would probably think this post, and Mr Rosenthal's op-ed, pointless and esoteric. The young are learning to think and write almost entirely in real time, precisely the way they talk, and they have willingly traded off the time and the value that comes from careful composition, editing and reflection, in favour of an iterative, 'successive approximation' means of communicating. In such a world, punctuation may soon be seen as an affectation, not a tool for comprehension.

I suspect that this conflict of language cultures will bring about a revolution in the way in which we use language. That revolution will face its first bloody battles in the universities, where the established elite are heavily invested in old ways of written communication. Once that battle has been won, the war front will move on to business, where the carnage will be even worse, and will I suspect produce a 'generation gap' unlike anything we've seen since the 1960s. The next generation will have no tolerance for formal meetings, PowerPoint slides and long reports, and with their more oral culture will quickly learn to blow us away when they speak impromptu from the podium or look for learning or consensus in self-organized workgroups that will be substantially paper-free.

After this revolution, all we'll have left to write about is whether the result has been more understanding, or less.
It is probably true that anybody under 25 won't even care, or have no clue what any fuss would be about.

The only reason I'm interested in punctuation and the 'correct' way of writing is because I'm very aware that I'm not following the rules, and I don't intend to. So, discussing the subject a bit gives me a bit of a cover and a chance to explain.

I frequently start sentences with 'and' or 'but' or 'so'. I often write sentences without any verb. The rule says that if you need a comma after a section in quotes, the comma goes inside the quotes. It looks stupid and I ain't doing it. I feel a little guilty using an apostrophe to say MP3's, but it just happens to be more clear. I guess I've found that I communicate better if I write somewhat like I speak. So, I tend to use commas as much to indicate natural pauses as in any references to where they're 'supposed' to be.

So, yes, maybe the different cultures will clash. Or maybe the old rules will just die quietly as nobody cares any longer. To be understood is more important than being correct.
[ | 2004-05-17 09:24 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, May 10, 2004day link 

 The Geography of Thought
From Adina Levin:
I've wondered idly whether the naming game between adults and infants was universal, or culturally-specific. It turns out that Western children learn nouns faster than verbs "that's a ball. see, ball" and East Asian children learn verbs just as fast.

Richard Nisbett's "The Geography of Thought" includes a variety of experimental evidence showing how East Asians and Westerners think differently.

When shown pictures of a cow, a chicken, and some grass westerners are more likely to group the cow and the chicken, while East Asians are more likely to group the cow and the grass. Westerners are more likely to organize things in categories, while Asians are more likely to organize by relationship (the cow eats grass).

Westerners perceive things as objects (a bowl), easterners as substances (wood). Westerners will group a wooden bowl and a silver bowl; easterners will group a wooden bowl and a wooden spoon. Westerners more likely to group items by rule, Easterners by similarity. Westerners are more likely to attribute human behavior to essential traits, Easterners to social context.

Some of the differences covered in the book are well-known -- the individualism of the west, compared to eastern group identity. Western culture -- particularly US culture -- thrives on debate, while East Asian cultures value harmony.

The book seems naive at times -- ancient Chinese images of bucolic scenes are taken as typical of Chinese life, rather than as conventional subjects of art, produced (I don't know, but guessing) for the wealthy. The book makes broad-brush assumptions about how East Asians are content with the hierarchical structures of their societies, an assumption that's falsifiable with the barest minimal familiarity with literature.

The most compelling evidence in the book was about low-level thought constructs that one might think are universal but aren't.
I've myself noticed many differences in how people focus on different things depending on what culture they come from. Like how one makes "mistakes" in other languages than one's own. The Korean yoga teacher who'll say "Touch your left shoulders". Maybe because he sees a whole bunch of shoulders in the room, whereas a westerner might expect that he'll talk to me personally. Or my Chinese co-worker who said he'd bring "noodle" to the company potluck. More than one noodle, I'm sure, but he focuses on the substance, I suppose, rather than the separate items.
[ | 2004-05-10 16:01 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, May 9, 2004day link 

 Goldilock Pricing
picture Via Seb Paquet, Goldilock Pricing by Narasimha Chari:
The traditional product segmentation is to offer two versions: a high-end version and a low-end version. However, in some circumstances, it is preferable to offer three versions: low-end, mid-range and high-end. The rationale is that people tend to exhibit 'extremeness aversion' and will tend to choose the mid-range offering. Consider the following experiment (from Hal Varian's paper on Versioning Information Goods):
Simonson and Tversky [1992] describe a marketing experiment in which two groups of consumers were asked to choose microwave ovens. One group was offered a choice between two ovens, an Emerson priced at $109.99 and a Panasonic priced at $179.99. The second group was offered these ovens plus a high-end Panasonic priced at $199.99.

By offering the high-end oven, Panasonic increased its market share from 43% to 73%. More remarkably, the sales of the mid-priced Panasonic oven increased from 43% to 60% apparently because it was now the 'compromise' choice. According to Smith and Nagle [1995], "Adding a premium product to the product line may not necessarily result in overwhelming sales of the premium product itself. It does, however, enhance buyers' perceptions of lower-priced products in the product line and influences low-end buyers to trade up to higher-priced models."
In other words, adding a 'premium' version to the product line actually boosts the sales of the mid-priced version. The newly-introduced premium version steals market share from the mid-range version, but this is more than offset by the market share that the mid-range version gains at the expense of the low-end version - this is the Goldilocks effect. Note that this is purely the result of a cognitive bias - there is no objective rationale for such trading-up.

This may explain the tall/grande/venti segmentation: even though few will order the venti, its mere presence on the menu will induce some buyers to trade up from the tall to a grande. Similarly, it makes sense to add expensive wines to the wine-list that realistically no one is going order.
Seems to be another example of a Support Theory style of human thinking fallacy. By having a set of choices presented in a certain way, we make different choices than if they were presented in a different way. The grande cup of coffee remains the same size, but we feel differently about it if it is the middle choice than if it is the top choice.
[ | 2004-05-09 13:23 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, May 7, 2004day link 

 Virtual Toulouse
picture Gilles Vidal is a photographer who makes panoramic 360 degree images. I saw him at work today at an event here. He has, amongst other things, made some wonderful Quicktime panoramas of Toulouse and surroundings. And they're, well, just like being there. Here are some:

Toulouse, dans le quartier Saint-Georges, sur le Quai Saint-Pierre, Place Saint-Etienne et Place du Capitole

La Canal du Midi en Lauragais ; de Toulouse à Agde, le Canal aux couleurs automnales traverse la région du Lauragais

Toulouse: Cathédrale Saint-Etienne

Toulouse : la Basilique Saint-Sernin

la Fête de la Musique, Place St-Georges, Toulouse

Manifestation générale du 13 mai contre la politique gouvernementale, Toulouse

Château de Montségur : tous les 21 juin, plusieurs dizaines de personnes se retrouvent pour admirer les premières lueurs du soleil le jour le plus long de l'année.

You need to have installed the free Quicktime, of course.
[ | 2004-05-07 15:03 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, May 1, 2004day link 

 Social Norms
Le Danois:
"An example of the differences between the French and the Danish social norms is the fact that in France you act much more politely with your colleagues than you would in Denmark. French people might not see themselves as being very polite, but as a Dane I see it that way. Let's take an example: When I get to the office in the morning I go from office to office and kiss the girls on the cheeks and shake the hands of the guys. I also have a short chit chat with most of them. Now this might not seem like odd behavior for a French person, but for a Dane it's quite different from what we're used to. First of all in Denmark I would rarely shake the hands of the colleagues I see everyday, actually it can sometimes be a way of showing distance, in the sense that you approach them in a more official way. One thing's for sure, you definitely shouldn't try to kiss the women at the office, at least not if you don't know them very very well. In Denmark we also have a strong tendency to not hide which persons we like and which ones we dislike. It's not weird to ignore people at an office in Denmark. It's actually very weird for a Dane to be very polite with someone you don't necessarily like or respect."
It takes a little getting used to. Not the being polite part itself. But I'm not totally into the French rhythm yet. One shakes hands with the men and kisses the cheeks of the women. But what when one first is briefly introduced to them? The same mostly, and shaking hands with women isn't really what one does. [Correction: See the comments] But it can be hard to develop the right reflex. When we first got here, I thought I had figured out what cheek one kisses first, but really there's no rule for that. Anyway, it is a pleasant ritual, actually. Although I miss hugging, which the French interestingly tend to find a little too intimate compared with kissing on the cheek.
[ | 2004-05-01 18:42 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, April 26, 2004day link 

 Beyond Civilization
picture This is from a synopsis of "Beyond Civilization" by Daniel Quinn:
One of our most fundamental cultural beliefs is this, that Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance. This notion seems intrinsic to the human mind --self-evident, like The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Implicit in this belief about civilization is another: Civilization is humanity's ULTIMATE invention and can never be surpassed. Both these beliefs exemplify the cultural fallacy, which is the notion that one's beliefs are not merely expressions of one's culture but are intrinsic to the human mind itself. The effect of this fallacy is that it's almost impossible for the people of our culture to entertain the idea that there could be any invention beyond civilization. Civilization is the end, the very last and unsurpassable human social development.

No one is surprised to learn that bees are organized in a way that works for them or that wolves are organized in a way that works for them. Most people understand in a general way that the social organization of any given species evolved in the same way as other features of the species. Unworkable organizations were eliminated in exactly the same way that unworkable physical traits were eliminated--by the process known as natural selection. But there is an odd and unexamined prejudice against the idea that the very same process shaped the social organization of Homo over the three million years of his evolution. The people of our culture don't want to acknowledge that the tribe is for humans exactly what the pod is for whales or the troop is for baboons: the gift of millions of years of natural selection, not perfect--but damned hard to improve upon.

Civilization, in effect, represents an attempt to improve upon tribalism by replacing it with hierarchalism. Every civilization brought forth in the course of human history has been an intrinsically hierarchical affair--in every age and locale, East and West, as well as every civilization that grew up independently of ours in the New World. Because it's intrinsically hierarchical, civilization benefits members at the top very richly but benefits the masses at the bottom very poorly--and this has been so from the beginning. Tribalism, by contrast, is nonhierarchical and benefits all members with notable equality.

It's out of the question for us to "go back" to the tribalism we grew up with. There's no imaginable way to reestablish the ethnic boundaries that made that life work. But there's nothing sacrosanct about ethnic tribalism. Many successful tribal entities have evolved inside our culture that are not ethnic in any sense. A conspicuous example is the circus, a tribal enterprise that has been successful for centuries.

Beyond civilization isn't a geographical space (is not, for example, somewhere you "go and start a commune"). Beyond civilization is an unexplored cultural, social, and economic space. The New Tribal Revolution is our "escape route" to that space.
I haven't read the book. I've read Ishmael, though. And I probably agree with him. We've got to get over that big monolithic hierarchical civilization thing. I'm not sure I would call that "beyond civilization". I've called it a "new civilization", which would a more bottom-up, distributed, self-organizing, free, collective intelligence way of organizing. Which is contrasted to the "old civilization" which is hierarchical and centralized. Somebody is in charge, somebody owns and controls most elements you need to live your life, and collective stupidity is the norm.

I agree as well that a new kind of tribes might be a key. Get together with the people you're in sync with, and work together. There's no need to try to impose your view on everybody else in the world. But there are problems to solve as to how it would work. I don't know if Quinn gives the answers to that. I'm not sure if it will do it just to work for more simplicity in general. The problem might well be too much simplicity in the old civilization, too much simple-minded centralized decision making, and what is needed is more complexity. Complexity in the good sense - a more intelligent and flexible system, distributed but inter-connected in a synergetic and self-adjusting manner.

Here's more, from a review at Amazon:
Futurist Daniel Quinn (Ishmael) dares to imagine a new approach to saving the world that involves deconstructing civilization. Quinn asks the radical yet fundamental questions about humanity such as, Why does civilization grow food, lock it up, and then make people earn money to buy it back? Why not progress "beyond civilization" and abandon the hierarchical lifestyles that cause many of our social problems? He challenges the "old mind" thinking that believes problems should be fixed with social programs. "Old minds think: How do we stop these bad things from happening?" Quinn writes. "New minds think: How do we make things the way we want them to be?"
Indeed, I'm all for that. The old civilization is woven of a material that doesn't really serve most of us. A lot of the structures were created with an eye towards how to control large populations, and milk them for their productive output. Our economic system is a pyramid scheme, and there's not much democracy anywhere - despite what it is made to appear like. It is sometimes possible to very locally create good conditions of democracy, freedom, and healthy economy. Which makes most people think that the system is inherently alright, and stand up to defend it. But there's a hole in the bottom of the barrel. The system is slanted so it is always an unhill battle and synergy is hard to attain. There will be somebody standing on top of the hill to tell you that the weather is nice and everything is fine, and you just need to work harder. But most people are stuck trying to get up the hill, while powering somebody else's water wheel. And it doesn't have to be that way. This planet can quite well support that we all live comfortably, even abundantly, and without destroying it in the process. But, yes, we need to get beyond our old kind of civilization, which isn't really ours anyways, but that of our kings and emperors and bankers who managed to harness our collective irresponsibility to their advantage.
[ | 2004-04-26 10:03 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, April 23, 2004day link 

 Virtual Communities are Real
Adina Levin:
Just took an online survey for this conference on Virtual Communities. What struck me was the assumption that virtual communities are supplementary to non-virtual communities.

Perhaps this is the old bbs/usenet model, where people gather online to explore new identities; the 20th century equivalent of leaving the small town for New York or Chicago.

But my experience these days is different.

I work with a team that's spread around the US, working with customers spread around the world. We meet a few times a year. EFF-Austin people communicate daily by email, and interact in person a few times a month. I belong to a book club that meets monthly, and plans using email and wiki.

There is no such thing as a "virtual community." There are only real communities that meet more or less frequently in person.
Right on. There's really no such thing as virtual in that regard. There are communities that are more or less tightly bound together, and more or less distributed. Some "virtual" communities are more real than many "real", local communities. And just because people are next to each other every day, it doesn't necessarily form a "community". It is most often bogus to call a city a "community", as most of them aren't. Just a political sleight-of-hand from people who pretend to speak for the community, even when they don't.

But, of course, communities tend to grow stronger if one actually can see and touch each other once in a while. More dimensions to the relations make them stronger.
[ | 2004-04-23 11:29 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, April 21, 2004day link 

 Gross International Happiness
picture Via Bird on the Moon, Gross International Happiness:
The Gross International Happiness Project (‘GIH’) is based on the insight that conventional development concepts such as GNP and Per Capita Income do not properly reflect the general well being of the inhabitants of a nation. In order to develop real progress and sustainability and to effectively combat trends which compromise the planet’s natural and human ecosystems, GIH aims to develop more appropriate and inclusive indicators which truly measure the quality of life within nations and organizations. GIH is inspired by the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) proposed by the King of Bhutan, which puts the well being of individuals on top of the national development agenda. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy and values, GIH presents a radically different development paradigm, but one that holds a promise for achieving real sustainability. GIH aims to connect the international efforts which are taking place in the field of developing alternative development indicators, human economics and happiness psychology, so that individual efforts can benefit from each other and that collectively these efforts more strongly impact international development agendas.
I think that is just great. Maximizing Quality of Life should be the guiding principle of society. I don't see any details on how exactly you would calculate it. Seems like some conferences will carry forward the conversation about that. Next one in Mongolia in July.
[ | 2004-04-21 18:54 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, April 15, 2004day link 

picture What an odd word. OK, I don't know everything, and I thought I spoke English, but I certainly missed that word as an adjective. I see a website that says it is designed with a "bespoke front end". And they don't seem to be talking about the past tense of "bespeak". So I suddenly think I've missed some kind of new technology I should know about. A search on "bespoke" brings up a bunch of web design companies that say they do it, but not what it is. OK, "bespoke web design", about 30 matches down in Google, somebody finally admits that it means a custom website. Meaning, eh, a website built to somebody's specifications. I suppose that is contrasted to selling somebody a website that isn't to their specifications. Anyway, it must be a British word. Webster's dictionary clears up for me that it is a word used about clothes that is made to individual order. Tailoring. One can be a "bespoke tailor", when one makes clothes to somebody's order, rather than just adjusting what people have bought in a store. OK, I'll try to get used to it. "Well met, my lord, pray thee, let me be thy bespoke web design bloke!"

Ah, here's an article that explains well what bespoke web design implies and how it fits in historically. The idea is that one size doesn't fit all. I.e. it isn't necessarily good enough for you to just use some ready made template, or to just rip off Yahoo's look. And the idea is also that you might not be able to make a good site by yourself, even if you have Dreamweaver or Frontpage. So, it is a setup for telling you that, if you really want a website you'll be very happy with, and that fits your unique circumstances, requirements and goals - you need to hire a professional to do a custom job for you.
"I call this the "Bespoke" period of Web design, named for the time-honored, English process of hand-tailoring suits based on the customer's individual characteristics and needs. Done right, the suit fits like a glove and lasts a lifetime – or until the waistline needs to be altered."
OK, so find a real professional, in other words, who'll listen to what you want, take your measures, work for a month, and come back with a product that fits you perfectly. Which will cost you a hefty penny, but you'll feel good wearing it for years.

The only problem I'm having with it is that most of the websites I could find, used as examples by bespoke web design companies, DO look like templates, even if they maybe aren't. But then again, tailor-made suits don't look noticably different from other suits, other than that they fit their owner.
[ | 2004-04-15 11:16 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, April 11, 2004day link 

 Project Entropia
picture Project Entropia is a new online multiplayer VR universe. There are a bunch of those already, with many users. But now see this Business Model. Several of the others have economies where one can buy and sell items for some internal virtual currency. But in this one they go a bit step further. One can convert the currency back and forth from normal currencies, like dollars and euros. And people can set up businesses inside the world. There's a stock market, there are casinos, there are stores, you can buy a house. Most everything is for sale, or is convertible to real money. So, if you find a hidden treasure, you can go and cash it out.

My son Zach, who's quite a veteran in some of these games, told me about it. He and some of his friends were plotting how they could finance their playing of the game. The game itself is free, but you need some cash for buying things you need in the start. If you're successful, you might become self-sustainable later of course. But now they were exploring money making ideas they could find elsewhere on the net, like being paid for looking at ads.

Maybe this kind of thing just becomes another clever way of relieving subscribers of their money. Or this kind of virtual/non-virtual economy starts something new that somehow is meaningful. If nothing else, making teenagers think like entrepreneurs.

If the economy is a little slow in the meat world, and there's unemployment and prices are rising - can you then drop into a virtual world and start creating value there instead, and feed that back into the real world? It's an idea.
[ | 2004-04-11 09:32 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, April 10, 2004day link 

 Motorcycling the Chernobyl Dead Zone
picture It has been posted widely, but it is a good story, so let me mention it too. This lady lives in the Ukraine and rides a big Kawasaki. One of her favorite excursion targets is the "dead zone" around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Nobody lives there, and there's nobody around for miles and miles and miles. It is a ghost town that looks exactly like it did 20 years ago, a frozen snapshot of Soviet era life, just without the people.

The trick is that on the asphalt in the middle of the road, the radiation level isn't bad. Go to the side of the road and it doubles. One meter away from the road and it is 4-5 times higher. So, if you stay moving on your bike, and you go alone, without anybody else to turn up dust, and you bring your geiger counter, you're probably alright.

Not that it is anything to take lightly. The whole area will not be fit for human habitation for another 600 years or so, and it will have heightened radiation for around 48,000 years.

And don't forget, many people died from the radiation released here. There are no good official numbers, but it might well have added up to several hundred thousands.
[ | 2004-04-10 11:01 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Toulouse VR
picture This is a picture of Place Capitole in Toulouse from the air.

And here is a Quicktime VR 360 degree image from down on the square.

Now, when are we going to see more live Quicktime VR for webcams? Should that really be that hard? Regular webcams are nice, but I'd love to drop in and visit the cities of the world in a 360 degree format, where I can turn around and zoom in, and see what is actually there now. Is it because the cameras are so expensive? Like, $28,000 for a camera that can do 360 degrees in one movement in 14 seconds. Can be done much cheaper of course.

Actually there are a few live Quicktime VR cameras. Here's one of a beach in Australia. But not much.
[ | 2004-04-10 10:08 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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