Sunday, May 20, 2012

Practice makes perfect

I just realized that the one reason I don't go to the gym is that it's unfamiliar territory. In abstract theory, I know the virtues of strengthening ones body through the use of various techniques and strategies developed for that very purpose; in concrete social reality, it's unfamiliar terrain, filled with strange people, even stranger customs and - strangest of all - seemingly arbitrary demands on what I'm supposed to do and not do.

Which, as a result, means that I don't go there. Despite my theoretical grasp on the benefits of doing so.

The thing is that this isn't limited to me or the gym. We all do it, and we do it with various aspects of our lives - since we all have things we usually do and things we don't usually do. Those things we do comes naturally, those things we don't do - well, don't.

The thing about unfamiliar territory is that the unfamiliar has a tendency to become familiar after a while. You learn the ropes, the situations, the injokes, the whole ecology of relations - by virtue of just being around.

The best thing about being a newbie is, after all, that you stop being one if you persist long enough.

So. I'll be seeing you at the gym!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Barking with bite

I must say I just love @anti_racism_dog. If only because of its beautiful simplicity - it didn't do much, but it did it in a straightforward manner. Which is enough to Get Things Done, sometimes.

Here's the rundown of what it did: it sought out overtly racist tweeps and barked at them. Not in a specific way - just barking in general. Which was enough to make the more self-conscious among them get all defensive and trying to argue against this generalized bark.

You could call it a Rorschach test for racism - those who responded by saying they weren't racists, were. And as they tried to tangle themselves out of this Althusserian knot, they drew more and more attention to exactly how racist they were.

Which is all fine and dandy, except - the account got suspended, on grounds of being flagged for spamming. By these very self-same racists.

Which is kind of a bummer, and I hope the good folks at Twitter unsuspends our suddenly-famous doggie soon.

In the meantime, what I want to say to all of you is that it usually takes less than you think to make a dent in the world. As our new best friend showed us, all one has to do is to bark up the right tree. Literally as well as figuratively.

So let's do that. In oh so many ways. Right here, right now - right today.

Us and them

Nationalism is a funny thing.

One the one hand, we have people running around telling just about anyone that has sensory input enough to listen that their particular part of the world is the best things since sliced bread. That the people who happen to live in their particular neck of the worldwood are something special indeed, and that they are that on very specific grounds. That they are ever so eager to tell you all about, should you happen to look as if you have ears.

To say that they are quite vocal about it would be to silence the quite vocal people of the world by comparison - it is, after all, quite hard to live up to their example.

Suffice it to say you hear them before you know them. Especially when international sports happens.

On the other hand, all this loudmouth talking flies out the window under certain very specific conditions. For instance when it comes to poor people. These people may quailfy as a true, bona fide, one hundred percent, chop of the ol' block members of the oh so celebrated national community, but every special treatment that citizens of this particular part of the world deserve by virtue of belonging - suddenly doesn't seem to apply anymore.

Am I really my brother's keeper?

One would think that all this loudmouthing about "us" being special would translate into a sense of solidarity with others of the "us" category. Especially when it is obvious that there are people among us that could use that solidarity right about now.

One would think.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There is a clown on the wing

Imagine you are on a plane, on your way to someplace far, far away. You've gotten through the airport security theatre without incident - not even one single snake! - and now watch through the window in calm anticipation of getting to where you are going slightly before the expected time of arrival. The sky is blue, the clouds are cloudy, and in the distance there are always new horizons to behold.

And just as you are about to doze off, you see a clown on the wing. And it seems to be using a hammer in ways that definitely are not described in the book of sound aerodynamic practices. And, more worryingly, it seems to know exactly what it does.

When you try to tell your fellow passengers about this, there is a surprising lack of belief going on, and those who can be bothered to look out on the wing sees - a wing. After a while, they start to get tired of you, and a vague suspicion that you don't have all your clowns at home starts to take hold among the gathering. You are mad, radical, politically inconvenient, a nuisance, someone they'd rather not be afflicted by -

At the same time, the hammer is being swung all the more wantonly, and all thoughts of sound aerodynamic practices are thrown to the winds. Along with pieces of the wing, it would seem.

No one other than you seem to notice.

Some time later the captain ask you to come speak with him. With a certain firmness in his mediated voice. With a slight sense of dread, you make our way to him, walking past your fellow passengers. But when you get there, you discover that the captain isn't going to apply sound aerodynamic principles on you. Instead, he starts to explain exactly why there is a clown on the wing. Something about an international treaty of aviation signed 1823, that stipulates that anything and everything that flies over a certain height must have at least one clown on it. And that every design of flying machines since then have incorporated this in such a way that they simply do not work if they don't have a clown in place.

And, he continues, there are conferences, magazines, contests and whole subcultures dedicated to the various aspects and nuances of the clown. And at least one secular religion based on a particular reading of the Treaty.

Therefore, there is no cause for concern. The clown is there for the sake of goodness, and whatever it does is for the best. Therefore, there is also no need to criticize it - we should on the contrary have more of it, to prove that we are forward thinking!

Every flight since 1823 has, after all, had at least one clown somewhere, and flying is the safest way to travel! Just take it easy, relax - here, have a free drink and a brochure! We are still going to arrive a tad bit before our expected time of arrival.

Despite the obvious, experienced confidence, you cannot help but feel a certain lingering doubt creep into your mind. It should be possible to do things another way, and the brochure makes quite a point of not mentioning the fact that Hindenburg happened.

Without doubt, things can only get better.

It may or may not come as a surprise that what you just read is somewhat of an allegory. There are undoubtedly many clowns present in our lives, with just as savage disregard for sound principles as the one described above. And yet, there doesn't seem to be any real possibilities to talk about these things without being regarded as somewhat of a nut. Things, such as the fact that capitalism actively creates soul killing environments and cityscapes. Such as the fact that our way of life is an ecological disaster not waiting to happen. Such as the fact that any attempt to enforce the ever stricter regulations on intellectual property inevitably will lead us to a centrally planned economy of unrights. Such as the fact that politics is turning into a perpetual marketing scheme, far from any cries of collective decision making. -

It sure does feel like one cries out about a clown on the wing every time one mentions these things, doesn't it?

And it sure doesn't feel like an answer when people respond with - but capitalism creates jobs! but our way of life is the pinnacle of social evolution! but the artists must get paid! but you get to vote in every fourth opinion poll!

It sure does feel like we could do with some more criticism of the negative aspects of modernity, despite and because its tendency to have good aspects. Instead of just accepting the bad with the good.

We know that airplanes don't need to have clowns on their wings in order to fly. Yet we design in so many clowns in everyday life that it seems somewhat of a miracle that just about anything works without massive subsidies and brutal monkeywrenching.  When the clown is put into everyday action, the individual seems to become powerless.

(Have you ever noticed that when technology is discussed, just about anything is possible, but that when even the slightest of improvements to social conditions is mentioned, things suddenly get all the more difficult?)

No one particular individual can put an end to the clownery. And thus it is thought meaningless to try and do something about it, or even to make a critique of it in an effort to eventually do anything about it. To change the eternally unchangeable (est. 1823) is impossible, and thus any attempt is doomed to public ridicule.

But any particular individual can make a proverbial boatload of money off of it. And, indeed, even today the individual who invents a machine that can make the cutting down of irreplaceable rainforests is still considered an economic hero and a bringer of wealth to the nation. Not to mention a bringer of joy to politicians - right and left alike - whose whole political careers hinge on the moderns clown's ability to create jobs.

To criticize the clown generates social alienation. To help it along brings social success.

It's not hard to see how mental health is deteriorating among just about everyone. There is a clown on the wing, and it's more in tune with the times than you will ever be. And when you criticize it and its blatantly pathological behavior, the common response from just about everyone is that there is something wrong with you.

And it's definitely not hard to see why nationalism is on the rise. For all its being a propaganda move by the nineteenth century states of Europe, it's far easier to take it at face value than looking oneself in the mirror and say:

There is a clown on the wing, and my participation in modern life helps it to remain there, in a thousand systematically subtle way.

Welcome to the present.

Originally published November 4, 2011

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Education ltd

The key to education is limits.

First off, it's a limited social situation. Not everyone gets in, and those who are in are usually determined beforehand. The participants are either enrolled, self-selected, enlisted, drafted or outright coerced - in either case, there is a boundary between participants and nonparticipants. Which might be for reasons of learning - for example when the course proceeds along some thematical line where you have to have been there from the beginning to get it - or for reasons other than learning - which oh so many pupils can tell you all about if given half a chance.

Given that education is a social situation, it is a limited one. It's something that happens only there and then, and after that you are just going about learning things.

Secondly, the goal of this social situation is to limit what you can do. You have to read these specific texts, do these specific things, achieve these specific goals - is short, make a predetermined list of things happen. It may or may not be up to you exactly how these things are done, but done they must be when the deadline rolls around.

The key point is not that these limits exist. They do, by default and design. What's important is where these limits are placed, and what you learn while doing the things that you do within them.

Since I understood this, participating in various form of educational activities have become so much easier. That, and planning them.

Thirdly, it defines limits in terms of who's gone through a specific education and who hasn't. Especially when it comes to those educations who confer degrees on people. Ontologically nothing changes with the degreed person in question (they still have a beating heart, two arms, two legs and so on), but socially it's a different story. One might hear stories about how degrees are getting worth less and less for each year, which may or may not be true - but the social difference between having one and not having one remains.

Limits. Limiting.

Fourthly, you get all kinds of benefits from being a student. To use and abuse, within limits. One is, as Bourdieu said, put in social stasis for the time being, temporally placed outside the field of the social. For a limited time, some boundaries are lifted while others are imposed.

Pro tip: abuse your library privileges. Especially the digital ones.

Hmm. This might be a good place to draw a line of conclusion. Can't let these meanderings go on into an unlimited (albeit slightly educational) rant, now can we? -

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Getting the picture

Consider the lolcat.

It packs quite a bit of semantic density into a small package. An image says more than a thousand words, it is said, and an image with a few words plastered on it says more than two thousand.

And they are quite easy to make, too. For fun and nonprofit.

This sudden increase in communicative efficiency has caused concern with some. They fear that people will stop writing and talking with each other, and replace their wordy discourse with lolcats alone. They pack so much of a semantic punch that one really won't need to use any other form of communication to get things done -

They are, in short, too effective.

The fact that the very same people who say this doesn't seem to have a problem with the same happening with regards to paper money perplexes me. You'd think the similarity between pictures with words on them and pictures with words on them really wouldn't need spelling out.

Maybe there is a place in the world for a lolcat about that?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sext: My feminist material dialectics brings the boys to the yard

Consider the sext:.

You may already know what sext is. It is - to use this very Wikipedian word - a portmanteau of sex and text, and is used to denote the activity of being very explicit in various forms of social media. Preferably to people one knows, and that one knows approve of such things.

That this happens isn't really that big of a deal. People use the new form of media to talk to each other, and when people talk to each other, sex is bound to become a topic.

This is a given.

Then we have the sext:. Which is a genre all of its own, found primarily on Twitter. It takes the form of tweets that start with the opening "sext:", and then proceeds with what might or might not be a sext proper.

Let me show you some examples of what this might look like.

You may notice that the sex part isn't really that present. It might be, but it is not the point. Rather, it is the inferred relation between sender and reciever that makes the sext: what it is: a fragment, taken out of context. A piece of intimate - or not so intimate - conversation, giving hints and clues about the persons involved in the exchange. A piece of ecorelative plant life, transplanted to right where we are sitting now.

We don't know the people involved. All we know is what can be inferred from the fragment at hand, - but what can be inferred is a great deal indeed.

The reason there is a post about this, is because I absolutely love the infoecological density of the genre. First off, one need to know about sexts - a topic worthy a lengthy discussion in itself. Then there is the question of who is sending that message to who. What are they doing, thinking? What is what we see a response to? What are the discursive and material conditions for the production of the sext that we have in front of our eyes? -

What's going on in the implied fictional universe of the sexted: narrative? Why is that message?

And why is is a sext?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The purpose of advertisement is to make you buy or do things you wouldn't do otherwise. This might sound strange, but think about it - if you'd buy/do these things anyway, there wouldn't be any reason to remind you that you're about to do it. You'd just go about and do it anyway, and nothing would have been achieved.

And, contrary to popular belief, companies are not in the business of spending money on useless things.

No, the purpose of advertisement is to sell customers to someone. In essence, to sell you and your behavior. For profit.

Now, most of us don't like being sold off for profit. So we develop strategies for not being sold. On the internet, we can just blast the ads out of the water. Boom, gone, out of sight, out of mind. Good riddance.

In our less virtual environments, it's a tad bit harder, though. The code required to block out physical ads are not as open source as the one available to block digital ads. To paraphrase Virilio: electrical light is more insistently visible than virtual light.

Something tells me Edison didn't quite intend his invention to shine a light on all those ads all over town.

Yet, there is still code available for blocking out those ads. But instead of literal code, it's literary code. Infoecological code - a way of thinking that puts it all in context, perspective, better use. The first part of this is, of course, the realization that whatever ad you happen to be looking at right now is intended to make you do something. And if/when you realize this, you are able to decode what this is, and how they are trying to weasel their way into your behavior.

You see, they are tricky about it. They don't just say "BUY OUR PRODUCT" in big capital letters; that kind of direct marketing is a thing of the past nowadays. Instead, they try to create some sort of narrative and lure you into it. It may not be the most intricate or complex of narratives, but a narrative it is nonetheless.

Most of them have to do with achieving social and/or sexual success. And the product they are trying to sell just happens to be a part of the process of achieving this very success. And, moreover, it just happens to be indispensible for this achievement - it creates a need for itself.

It takes a while to realize that you really don't need all those advertised things to get along in life. It takes more than a while to realize that you really don't need most of those things to be happy in life.

The code for blocking out these ads is to simply know who you are, what you are about, what you want and where you are going. Which, admittedly, is not as simple as it sounds. But it's well worth it, - more so than whatever the admakers are earning from selling you short to those who clutter our cityscapes with their imaginary products.

We are the protagonists in our own epic adventure. So let's begin hacking some literary code, for fun and nonprofit. -