Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Review: Digitize This Book

May 22, 2009

The question of access is totally political. Democracy, and to be clear we do not live in a democracy, needs an open environment to be possible. Without access to relevant information, we are incapable of both our highest self-development and informed participation in social questions. Today information is exclusive in its distribution. Decision making is also an exclusive process. In capitalist systems of government, the decisions that affect our lives are not ours to make, and the information on which those decisions are made is not ours to scrutinize.

New media has given the potential of broadcasting to everyone with internet access. This growing access has been revealing the limits of access, as well as the possibility of information distribution. It has called into question notions of authority, and the control of ideas. The lines between the private and communal right to ideas have been blurred. The control of ideas by commercial organizations has become an active question, the situation has become political. In Bolivia when private commercial organizations tried to control the flow of water, the question of the possibility of democracy in a country controlled by private interests erupted in a wave of social organization. And while information is not as important to life as water, the question of who controls the flow of substances necessary for human development in each case, nonetheless, is activating the political.

Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now is a completely frustrating read. What are the politics of new media? And why do we need open access? Those  questions have radical implications. The title, however, with its allusion to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book!, is misleading. I had expectations of a freedom-loving-people-first radical “we” in need of open access, but, unfortunately, the “we” in the title refers to career-building professional academics.

And unfortunately the politics in this book limits itself to the institution. Hall delivers a book on using open access for professional political purposes. The idea of open access as it relates and presents the  possibility of free education and real democracy is the idea I’d have liked to see written out. But Hall didn’t do that. Hall limits himself to an academic discussion in a way that makes the book nearly irrelevant to anyone outside that world. I’ve been putting off writing up the book.  My reaction is to write off the academic world as career-minded, grant-chasing, intellectual conservatives, and while the academic world is definitely heavily populated by this type, of which Hall fits, the academic world is also all we’ve got. The main space left where thinking happens is the academic world. So writing them off isn’t really an option. This book of Hall’s is a disappointment for sure, but in it there are some points on which to get started.

First, there’s the difficult concept of a desire for changing one’s place in the order of things. This concept — and you can correct me if I’m wrong, or out of line – may not be a concept so much as a cognitive disorder; a desire for change without anything changing. Gary Hall seems, and he’s not an activist, to suffer the same affliction as a lot of activists. He wants a better world for himself — and others — without making a change in the world. Sure he calls the institution into question, but finds it necessary, it’s just maybe if he had a little more control over his work. This idea of a little change is something that needs to be thought through. Any change is a leap, a little change is a big change. In the case of institutional legitimation, where an author’s work needs to go through a series of controls, these controls can seem oppressive. Hall has found the process of publishing online can bypass these controls, but without the control, his status as a legitimate academic is at risk. Hall needs the oppressive control to exclude others and maintain his identity.

Hall conceals this return to a desire for oppression and control in the face of the possibility of freedom, in the terminology of Derrida. He uses Derrida as a cover, but also a legitimate currency. He draws on Derrida like one draws on a bank.

This is another starting point, the academic use of the names of our most radical thinkers as coinage. Hall does this on a number of occasions. The issue of legitimacy and authority, through drawing on the value of names. But the name becomes separated from the body of work, legitimating in this case a Cultural Studies critique.

Halls desire to maintain, in the shift toward digital publishing, the authority of print is just not a concern that anyone outside the university would have. It could be seen as similar to the grumbling of journalists, and Hall’s dismissal of the amateur is very similar but the question is New Media. What are the politics? What is happening to whom and how? But can an academic, especially one with an interest in career building, clearly think the university? How does the commercialization, the manipulating market forces on the practice of the university look to an academic? And in Hall’s case an “academic with no preconceived politics”? How much of this thought was forged in the free-market furnace?

On authority, and it’s similarities and difference to worth, an essay of Derrida’s is difficult to follow, and a book like Hall’s which trades on Derrida’s style and terminology is difficult in its counterfeit. The question of worth. It’s something to think about. No one is going to take the time to read anything I write. They might be interested in a quote from Deleuze. But Hall does something less. He drops names, Benjamin, Foucault, Deleuze, he drops these names without a direct reference to their work. Nietzsche  says something about those who use superlatives reaching beyond their grasp. And in this instance, the use of these names to legitimate his book, Hall completely steps out of his depth.

Taboo: Mind Control

March 29, 2009

The internet can make it look like you’ve got some wicked memory. For instance, I know someone once said something like “if you feel in control you’re not going fast enough.” And I want to comment on that.  Voila:

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” Mario Andretti (Italian born American Race driver. b.1940) (site)

What I’m talking about in this post is revolutionary thought, or thought itself. In the years that I’ve been around critical thinkers, I’ve seen a number lose mental control. It happens and it’s just happened to another friend, so I wanted to say a few things about revolutionary thinking.

Following Threads

Here’s a story. It’s not well documented. It’s a singular case; an amateur archeological find that I interpreted  quite quickly. The story could go in any direction, but the way I tell it fits with what I’ve seen, what I’m seeing. I found a small library of books in a paper recycling dumpster. And the books, at least to me, told a story. The older books, from the 60s and 70s, were all about social organizing, socialism, union issues (this paper dumpster was in Windsor, Ontario) and other radical works. It’s where I got my totally used copies of Rules for Radicals and The Human Use of Human Beings. But the fresher books, the books from the 80s and 90s (this was the 90s) we more mystical. There were books on angels and conspiracy theories. And some more right-wing writers. I don’t know why the books were being recycled. But I guessed the owner had died, or was taken to a home. But that movement to the mystical right interested me, maybe scared me. If you’re a thinker you probably find yourself freely following lines of thought, it’s almost as though you’re out of control. I’m not advocating control. That’s why the Andretti quote. You should feel out of control as a free thinker. Andretti had a track. Thinkers need friends, someone to say, “come back to us.” If only to keep us in the habit of communicating our thoughts. There is always the danger when going out too far alone, of not coming back.

Sure I’ve been actively following my interests as a reader, but the lines I’ve taken from the Beats and William S. Burroughs, to Nietzsche and Julian Jaynes aren’t really completely controlled by an “I.” What I’m saying is, our minds form in a way that can’t be rock-solidly linked to a directing self. What I mean is that it’s not an “I” forming thought. You don’t believe in God because you’ve chosen to believe. And I didn’t choose the opposite. There is no “I” involved, no agency, we could argue this, but to ask me to believe, is like asking you to accept the opposite. It’s not going to happen. In this round about way, I’m thinking through the necessary conditions for a turn, development, even the stasis, of thought.

Here’s another story. I remember the exact moment my world became godless. As a child, I’d see ghosts, dead people, and maybe once, at the foot of my bed, Jesus. But I’d also heard sleigh bells on Christmas Eve. My very-real-to-me-at-the-time experiences with the spectral world weren’t limited to a consistent plane of the cultural imaginary. Santa and God were aware of my every move. The Devil was there. For whatever reason, I imagined him in the breaker box in our mudroom. If Santa could make it down the chimney of our wood burning stove, Satan could sure as hell wait in the power lines to nab my eternal soul.

When I was ten, my grandfather died. It was a turning point. He’d been eaten away by cancer. A bed had been set up in his living room, because he wanted to die at home. Seeing him skeletal, on the terminal edge of life, the world became very real for me. Looking back now, I started to see and feel things differently. After his death, my family made the move from Catholicism to a more fundamentalist sect of the lightbulb turning, tongue speaking and wailing reborn. I didn’t make the move with them. They questioned Catholicism, and I questioned the existence of God. It’s not something a kid talks about with his parents. Even friends and relatives don’t go there too easily. I still dreamed of ghosts, and demons, but slowly the spiritual world became less real.

So the godless world moment: I was in my last year of high school in a history class, the teacher was talking about World War II, and as an aside he said, “This is the one event that confirms my belief that God has an active hand in history.” He was talking about the race to build the Atomic Bomb. And for him the Americans winning that race, confirmed the hand of God. And this is what I was talking about earlier, the moment he said this, I didn’t think about it, it was instant, I had no control over what happened in my head, but right there my consciousness of a spiritual dimension vanished. It was like I was immediately snapped into this world. I was all in. I am not arguing that it’s worked out well for me, what I’m arguing is that “I” didn’t think it. “I” didn’t reason it. My own consciousness is out of my control, this consciousness is not my own.

So when a radical union activist who I used to know, would go off at local meetings about the government’s plan to launch a mind reading satellite into orbit… I’ll say this in his defense, he was waving a book that laid out all the details, and he was offering it to anyone willing to read it. From my own experience, from what I’ve seen, or at least what I think I’ve seen, there is a question of control. And if we’re not in control, who is?

Ending the War on Sharing

February 17, 2009

Richard Stallman spoke on the issue of community and copyright law. After Kate Milberry asked if the practice of software development and sharing he’d been talking about can be applied in the wider world. Stallman replied that his whole talk has been about that very question. Stallman refused to make the links between his issue and larger liberatory movements. He is pushing one issue. There are other issues, but he will leave those to the interested parties.

Some ideas Stallman dropped – Don’t use their terms. Once you take on the terms of the status quo you reproduce dominant meaning. The terms themselves contain meaning that limits our freedoms. We need to develop a language of freedom. The concept of an alternative language.

Fighting the war on sharing. Sharing is anti-capitalist. Sharing is socialist. Sharing removes the price fetish of capitalist imaginary.

Vancouver, BC

(Here’s a liveblog of one of Stallman’s talks in Vancouver: humminbird604)

Another software related presentation: Jim Andrews spoke in the New Media Building. The talk is well blogged here. After hearing Stallman, Andrews was a disappointment. (Here’s my cut and pasted review of the presentation, originally from gmail chat)

me: The presentation wasn’t that interesting, in and of itself, but there were a number of moments when the philosophical deficiencies in the room became the interest.
social foundation of intelligence.

me: the fear of AI
is the fear of an asocial intelligence
the development of a psychopath
Capitalism does a very similar thing, when people say “makes sense”
what they mean sometimes is “it makes financial sense”
which is a bit asocial and as a result psychopathic
me: I asked the guy if the software he was developing was open source
he said it wasn’t for financial reasons
he wanted to be the only one… but if you’d have seen how derivative his software was…
I didn’t push it for fear of confrontation, telling an artist his work is derivative…
them’s fighting words

Freedom not power

January 26, 2009

[This was a facebook note]

Watching the Chicago 8 trial documentary I was struck by the forced conformity. There was a very large group of Americans who were expressing a different way of being. The point is that a social dialogue about social change was in play, and the state mobilized its armed forces to silence the peaceful movement for change. It became apparent that conformity is the only option. Sure we are free to live within the parameters of the system, and sure those parameters are quite broad and loose, but we are not free to change the system. We can try to change the system, but there is a power at work that will fight you all the way to your bedroom. (Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton’s bedroom. ( http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAhamptonF.htm ))

A distinction needs to be made between freedom and power. That I have health and nutrition, social and manual skills, and access to credit means I can exercise most of my charter rights and freedoms, but this is a “power to exercise” granted by the system. I am bound to this system or powerless. Now, begrudging this dependence is seen as selfish and ungrateful. I should be grateful for the power given me. And if I were a selfish individuated person with no desire to be social, maybe I would revel in the power that is mine, but I do desire to be social, so like the Chicago 8, I speak out against the hierarchal systems that condition the social. I speak out against, to name a few, the family, the state, colonialism, the military, capitalism.

I’m not content to live under a capitalist state system that grants more personal power to the individuated agents of its middle class than it allows in the colonies. I’m not fascist, I want freedom not power. This system, where we work beyond the necessary for a profit while others starve, needs to be considered.

When we fear human nature, we fear freedom, because freedom is social self-determination, freedom is the opposite of external controls. Restrictions impede freedom. Restrictions impede human development. That a material necessity exists, that there are material limits to freedom, shouldn’t be reason enough to accept these social limits to freedom. We can do better than this.

John Barth Beresford at 1:04pm January 27

Every damn day we’re changing the system but it’s gonna take years decades to notice. I’m not interested in too much change in one noticeable gulp. It would be perceived as a mass hallucination that would terrorize the happy, undermine the progressive, and make all the powers that be even more powerful. So go about your good deeds quietly and keep up the good work! Thanks for your support and cooperation Rodger X.

Rodger Levesque at 6:39pm February 1

Was it your plan to enrage me? Was it some flippant move, like aiming for the chest in air hockey? Or maybe putting on a Nashville hockey jersey? Were you trying to antagonize me?

Rodger Levesque at 6:42pm February 1

Luckily I thought it through before responding like Dan Ackroyd on SNL “John, you ignorant slut.”

Rodger Levesque at 7:00pm February 1

You know I’ve never been much of an activist. Have you seen “Into the Wild”? I recognize that rage and frustration. Activism drove me nuts, and then journalism wasn’t much better. Hey have you ever read my blog? (Don’t worry about it. No one reads it. Who could? It’s a ridiculous expression of complete confusion. But…) Something I’ve been writing about speaks to what you wrote. The blog is called “Not Left To Chance” and it gets its name from a line about education being socialization that isn’t left to chance. I liked that, not the cynicism of it, but the reality. When you write that “we’re changing the system” like by some sort of chance one day the system will be something other than it is. But the system is reproduced by command and control. Our socialization hasn’t been left to chance. We’re conditioned by the system to reproduce it. Have you ever seen A Clockwork Orange? After Alex has been reconditioned, the thought of violence incapacitates him.

Rodger Levesque at 7:01pm February 1

What thought incapacitates you? That’s the thought you need to put into action if you want to change the system.

John Barth Beresford at 10:33pm February 2

You express such optimism to began and then complete resignation to finish. If you can’t see a positve result, why pitch it happening at all? You’ve already decided you won’t make a difference. That’s alright, that way you won’t be disappointed by hope and perhaps might even be pleasantly surprised by a change you never expected to make.That’s some pretty serious resocialization you’re talking about and besides Alex at the end pulls off another fast one, it’s suggested with raised eyebrows. He’s all about ego-based will, anarchism. I’m saying the more anonymous your approach and the more random per-chance your focus, as opposed to your obessed ‘incapaciting thought,’ the more effective your result for a greater number of people in a freer self-empowering way.

Finally, yes, I was saying if you think more that way, if you observe and follow, ironically you’ll be defining yourself as an individual.