"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Threads of Opportunity

As a follow up to the previous post declaring my new tag -- The New Cultural Movement -- I'd like to outline some of the specific threads of opportunity that I see as being germane here. This is kind of internally remedial for me, but seems like a good exercise anyway, and probably helpful for others to get a sense of the scope of things.

  • There is a broad general movement away from consumerism and towards Participatory Culture. This isn't precisely new -- it's the source of punk, hip-hop, burning man, the diggers, the beats, and a whole lot of other contemporary cultural niches -- but it is emerging as an real force, and sapping away the power of concentrated broadcast/consumer entities.
  • Specifically, a lot of people are making compelling culture on a human scale, out of their own lives or targeted at an community audience. My "blogfather" hooked me with his market-leading take on the whole deal, but there are bazillions of others. You may have heard of LiveJournal; there's plenty more where that came from. I even know some people.
  • On the political side, there's a still-progressing shift towards open grassroots organizations, and towards the left in general. Why, respectable people even have the temerity to stand up against imperialism these days.
  • At the same time, we are all outlaws in the eyes of America, and I have the specific experience of living in an outlaw haven and running with quasi-underground connections when I travel. Street cred, you know?
  • I've also recently blogged about the philosophical trendline from religion to philosophy to culture. That's what I meant on my old site when I said "Art: my church." The gospel is poetry, and the mic is open.
  • Open-source is huge.
  • And yet, as I observed on my trek across the land, people still live in pretty spiritually crushing situations. There's a lot of anomie out there, a lot of energy locked up in the 31 flavors of status quo.
  • And finally, the Big D is in the mail, the Red Dawn is on its way, etc. I don't believe in appocalyptic thinking -- just like conspiracy theories, they're nothing but disempowering -- but I do recognize the reality that real changes are coming. The debt-based economy isn't sustainable, and macro-level environmental shifts are already under way. It's not the end of the world, but we are going to have to deal with this stuff in our lifetimes.

All this to me adds up to the conclusion that the time is now -- now while I'm flush with cash and connections and don't have any kids to worry about -- to start pushing through to the next level on this stuff, start actualizing the potentials, putting the theories into practice; pedal to the metal and rubber on the road, so to speak. If not now, when? If not us, who?

Pithy, yes, but very real questions.


Regarding all this "the time is now" jazz: have you read [[http://www.kurzweilai.net|Ray Kurtweil]]? He reads a little like Nader ("BOY DOES THIS SOUND CRAZY! but wait, which part of it doesn't make sense? Errr....") and talks a good bunch about coming social changes based on technology (extrapolate Moore's law and ZOMG HAI CAN HAS JETPACK?? KTHXBAI!!) I'm about 3/4ths through [[http://www.amazon.com/Singularity-Near-Humans-Transcend-Biology/dp/06700...|The Singularity Is Near]] and it's some heady stuff.

Another red flag comes from part of a [[http://www.alterati.com/blog/?p=741|Doug Rushkoff interview]] that I didn't get all the way through. He suggests something to the effect of "once you start talking national politics, the corporations win" in the sense that a human being can't really grasp what a "nation" looks like. Corporations can (insofar as they're "alive" enough to "grasp" something, which they arguably are in a non-trivial sense). In order to be effective, you need to stay on a scale you can relate to.

I'm reaching a bit to tie it all together (and maybe I'll come back and try again once I've had a full listen to the interview) but the link bw politics, anomie, and participatory culture seems to lay at this juncture.

I'll have to look at Kurtwell, but when I say the time is now, I'm referring more to a personal sense of opportunity, not some impending worldchanging inflection-point. I don't tend to think there really are many of these watershed moments, and if there is a singular tipping point for what I'm feeling, it may actually already be past.

As for Rushkoff, well I hope he's wrong.

Once you start talking national politics, the corporations win

That's a scary thought, because the only entity that can effectively regulate an increasingly international corporate armada is the national government. And they do need to be regulated.

On the other hand, it may be game over there, and we're on the way down the slippery slope to the dark future of corporation-states. I tend to think not, but it's possible.

"We're looking at the wrong scale. Even looking at politics on a national scale, once you've done that you've already lost the game. That's corporatism, that's how corporatism works, getting you to think on a non-human scale... and not through true human-scale social capital."

There's a way in which this is true. Dewey talks about this in The Public And His Problems, relating how the advent of globalized mass media had a paralyzing effect on the public by informing them of terrible things which they are powerless to affect. It's also true that in power-politics, power-organizations have the upper hand, another reason it's bad that unions have been atrophying, and that it's good that more human-centric power-organizations are emerging.

Ultimately, though, I think its imperative to strike a new balance. A simple rejection of scale in favor of local-thinking is, I believe, a dangerous cop-out on par with Pirate Utopianism. Human progress away from organized oppression and institutionalized injustice is largely the story of larger-scale interests trumping local prejudices, customs, and "primary loyalties." We have to keep that going. It's One World, baby, and I'm not about to leave that to the corporations to manage. I believe it's possible to engage scale without becoming a bureaucratic toolbag by somehow (???) utilizing network rather than hierarchical thinking. That's where I see the alternative to primitivism or neighborly parochial ignorance.

The tilt of the whole conversation reminded me of why Communists are no fun to hang out with and why Anarchists will probably never get anywhere; there's a level of fixation with the wrongness of the now, coupled the guilt of complicity, topped off with a failure to clearly articulate an alternative world-system. This kind of thing is also debilitating to effective action. This guy is beating himself up because he's thinking about getting an assistant. Dude! Try having an assistant! Be more productive in the things you love and help someone just getting their start get some great experience! You can existentially reject the status quo all you want, and it's probably a good thing to do, but if that's as far as you go you're just a critic. And there's nothing more boring than a critic who's primary motive is guilt.