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robertogreco : commodities   18

After Authenticity
"Meanwhile, years of semantic slippage had happened without me noticing. Suddenly the surging interest in fashion, the dad hats, the stupid pin companies, the lack of sellouts, it all made sense. Authenticity has expanded to the point that people don’t even believe in it anymore. And why should we? Our friends work at SSENSE, they work at Need Supply. They are starting dystopian lifestyle brands. Should we judge them for just getting by? A Generation-Z-focused trend report I read last year clumsily posed that “the concept of authenticity is increasingly deemed inauthentic.” It goes further than that. What we are witnessing is the disappearance of authenticity as a cultural need altogether.

Under authenticity, the value of a thing decreases as the number of people to whom it is meaningful increases. This is clearly no longer the case. Take memes for example. “Meme” circa 2005 meant lolcats, the Y U NO guy and grimy neckbeards on 4chan. Within 10 years “meme” transitioned from this one specific subculture to a generic medium in which collective participation is seen as amplifying rather than detracting from value.

In a strange turn of events, the mass media technologies built out during the heady authenticity days have had a huge part in facilitating this new mass media culture. The hashtag, like, upvote, and retweet are UX patterns that systematize endorsement and quantify shared value. The meme stock market jokers are more right than they know; memes are information commodities. But unlike indie music 10 years ago the value of a meme is based on its publicly shared recognition. From mix CDs to nationwide Spotify playlists. With information effortlessly transferable at zero marginal cost and social platforms that blast content to the top of everyone’s feed, it’s difficult to for an ethics based on scarcity to sustain itself.

K-HOLE and Box1824 captured the new landscape in their breakthrough 2014 report “Youth Mode.” They described an era of “mass indie” where the search for meaning is premised on differentiation and uniqueness, and proposed a solution in “Normcore.” Humorously, nearly everyone mistook Normcore for being about bland fashion choices rather than the greater cultural shift toward accepting shared meanings. It turns out that the aesthetics of authenticity-less culture are less about acting basic and more about playing up the genericness of the commodity as an aesthetic category. LOT2046’s delightfully industrial-supply-chain-default aesthetics are the most beautiful and powerful rendering of this. But almost everyone is capitalizing on the same basic trend, from Vetements and Virgil Abloh (enormous logos placed for visibility in Instagram photos are now the norm in fashion) to the horribly corporate Brandless. Even the names of boring basics companies like “Common Threads” and “Universal Standard” reflect the the popularity of genericness, writes Alanna Okunn at Racked. Put it this way: Supreme bricks can only sell in an era where it’s totally fine to like commodities.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean that people don’t continue to seek individuation. As I’ve argued elsewhere exclusivity is fundamental to any meaning-amplifying strategy. Nor is this to delegitimize some of the recognizable advancements popularized alongside the first wave of mass authenticity aesthetics. Farmer’s markets, the permaculture movement, and the trend of supporting local businesses are valuable cultural innovations and are here to stay.

Nevertheless, now that authenticity is obsolete it’s become difficult to remember why we were suspicious of brands and commodities to begin with. Maintaining criticality is a fundamental challenge in this new era of trust. Unfortunately, much of what we know about being critical is based on authenticity ethics. Carles blamed the Contemporary Conformist phenomenon on a culture industry hard-set on mining “youth culture dollars.” This very common yet extraordinarily reductive argument, which makes out commodity capitalism to be an all-powerful, intrinsically evil force, is typical of authenticity believers. It assumes a one-way influence of a brand’s actions on consumers, as do the field of semiotics and the hopeless, authenticity-craving philosophies of Baudrillard and Debord.

Yet now, as Dena Yago says, “you can like both Dimes and Doritos, sincerely and without irony.” If we no longer see brands and commodity capitalism as something to be resisted, we need more nuanced forms of critique that address how brands participate in society as creators and collaborators with real agency. Interest in working with brands, creating brands, and being brands is at an all-time high. Brands and commodities therefore need to be considered and critiqued on the basis of the specific cultural and economic contributions they make to society. People co-create their identities with brands just as they do with religions, communities, and other other systems of meaning. This constructivist view is incompatible with popular forms of postmodern critique but it also opens up new critical opportunities. We live in a time where brands are expected to not just reflect our values but act on them. Trust in business can no longer be based on visual signals of authenticity, only on proof of work."
tobyshorin  2018  authenticity  culture  anthropology  hispters  sellouts  sellingout  commercialism  kanyewest  yeezy  yeezysupply  consumerism  commercialization  commodification  personalbranding  branding  capitalism  shepardfairey  obeygiant  tourism  sarahperry  identity  critique  ethics  mainstream  rjaymagill  popculture  aesthetics  commentary  conformism  scale  scalability  venkateshrao  premiummediocre  brooklyn  airbnb  wework  local  handmade  artisinal  economics  toms  redwings  davidmuggleton  josephpine  jamesgilmore  exclusivity  denayago  systems  sytemsofmeaning  meaning  commodities  k-hole 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Orion Magazine | No Man's Land
"In 1500, no one sold land because no one owned it. People in the past did, however, claim and control territory in a variety of ways. Groups of hunters and later villages of herders or farmers found means of taking what they needed while leaving the larger landscape for others to glean from. They certainly fought over the richest hunting grounds and most fertile valleys, but they justified their right by their active use. In other words, they asserted rights of appropriation. We appropriate all the time. We conquer parking spaces at the grocery store, for example, and hold them until we are ready to give them up. The parking spaces do not become ours to keep; the basis of our right to occupy them is that we occupy them. Only until very recently, humans inhabited the niches and environments of Earth somewhat like parking spaces.

Ownership is different from appropriation. It confers exclusive rights derived from and enforced by the state. These rights do not come from active use or occupancy. Property owners can neglect land for years, waiting for the best time to sell it, even if others would put it to better use. And in the absence of laws protecting landscapes, the holders of legal title can mow down a rainforest or drain a wetland without regard to social and ecological cost. Not all owners are destructive or irresponsible, but the imperative to seek maximum profit is built into the assumptions within private property. Land that costs money must make money.

Champions of capitalism don’t see private property as a social practice with a history but as a universal desire—a nearly physical law—that amounts to the very expression of freedom. The economist Friedrich Hayek called it “the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.” But Hayek never explained how buyers and sellers of real estate spread a blanket of liberty over their tenants. And he never mentioned the fact that the concept, far from being natural law, was created by nation-states—the notion that someone could claim a bit of the planet all to himself is relatively new.

Every social system falls into contradictions, opposing or inconsistent aspects within its assumptions that have no clear resolution. These can be managed or put off, but some of them are serious enough to undermine the entire system. In the case of private property, there are at least two—and they may throw the very essence of capitalism into illegitimacy."

"Private property’s second contradiction comes from the odd notion that land is a commodity, which is anything produced by human labor and intended for exchange. Land violates the first category, but what about the second? As the historian Karl Polanyi wrote, land is just another name for nature. It’s the essence of human survival. To regard it as an item for exchange “means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.”

Clearly, though, we regard land as a commodity and this seems natural to us. Yet it represents an astonishing revolution in human perception. Real estate is a legal abstraction that we project over ecological space. It allows us to pretend that a thousand acres for sale off some freeway is not part of the breathing, slithering lattice of nonhuman stakeholders. Extending the surveyor’s grid over North America transformed mountain hollows and desert valleys into exchangeable units that became farms, factories, and suburbs. The grid has entered our brains, too: thinking, dealing, and making a living on real estate habituates us to seeing the biosphere as little more than a series of opportunities for moneymaking. Private property isn’t just a legal idea; it’s the basis of a social system that constructs environments and identities in its image.

Advocates of private property usually fail to point out all the ways it does not serve the greater good. Adam Smith famously believed that self-interested market exchange improves everything, but he really offered little more than that hope. He could not have imagined mountains bulldozed and dumped into creeks. He could not have imagined Camden, New Jersey, and other urban sacrifice zones, established by corporations and then abandoned by them. Maximum profit is the singular, monolithic interest at the heart of private property. Only the public can represent all the other human and nonhuman interests.

Unbelievably, perhaps, the United States Congress has done this. Consider one of its greatest achievements: the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The act nails the abstraction of real estate to the ground. When a conglomerate of California developers proposed a phalanx of suburbs across part of the Central Valley, they came face to face with their nemesis: the vernal pool fairy shrimp. In 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the shrimp’s status as endangered and blocked construction. It was a case in which the ESA diminished the sacred rights to property for the sake of tiny invertebrates, leaving critics of the law dumbfounded. But those who would repeal the ESA (and all the other environmental legislation of the 1970s) don’t appreciate the contradiction it helps a little to contain: the compulsion to derive endless wealth from a muddy, mossy planet."

"Should private property itself be extinguished? It’s a legitimate question, but there is no clear pathway to a system that would take its place, which could amount to some kind of global commons. Instead I suggest land reform, not the extinguishing of property rights but their radical diffusion. Imagine a space in which people own small homes and gardens but share a larger area of fields and woods. Let’s call such legislation the American Commons Communities Act or the Agrarian Economy Act. A policy of this sort might offer education in sustainable agriculture keyed to acquiring a workable farm in a rural or urban landscape. The United States would further invest in any infrastructure necessary to move crops to markets.

Let’s give abandoned buildings, storefronts, and warehouses to those who would establish communities for the homeless. According to one estimate, there are ten vacant homes for every homeless person. Squatting in unused buildings carries certain social benefits that should be recognized. It prevents the homeless from seeking out the suburban fringe, far from transportation and jobs (though it’s no substitute for dignified public housing). Plenty of people are now planting seeds in derelict city lots. In Los Angeles, an activist named Ron Finley looks for weedy ground anywhere he can find it for what he calls “gangsta gardening,” often challenging absentee owners. In 2013, the California legislature responded to sustained pressure from urban gardeners like Finley and passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, which gives tax breaks to any owner who allows vacant land to be used for “sustainable urban farm enterprise.”

Squatting raises another, much larger question. To what extent should improvements to land qualify one for property rights? The suppression of traditional privileges of appropriation amounts to one of the most revolutionary changes in the last five hundred years. All through the centuries people who worked land they did not own (like squatters and slaves) insisted that their toil granted them title. The United States once endorsed this view. The Homestead Act of 1862 granted 160 acres to any farmer who improved it for five years. Western squatters’ clubs and local preemption laws also endorsed the idea that labor in the earth conferred ownership.

It’s worth remembering that there is nothing about private property that says it must be for private use. Conservation land trusts own vast areas as nonprofit corporations and invite the public to hike and bike. It’s not an erosion of the institution of property but an ingenious reversal of its beneficiaries. But don’t wait for a land trust to be established before you enjoy the fenced up beaches or forests near where you live. Declare the absentee owners trustees of the public good and trespass at will. As long as the land in question is not someone’s home or place of business, signs that say KEEP OUT can, in my view, be morally and ethically ignored. Cross over these boundaries while humming “This Land Is Your Land.” Pick wildflowers, watch sand crabs in the surf, linger on your estate. Violating absentee ownership is a long-held and honorable tradition."
2016  onwership  capitalism  land  friedrichhayek  stevenstoll  squatting  property  socialpractice  socialsystems  privateproperty  homeless  homelessness  ronfinley  farming  gardening  agriculture  commodities  markets  adamsmith  us  law  legal  society  karlpolanyi  enclosure 
march 2016 by robertogreco
6, 68: Questions
"Imagine a big-budget documentary series on coffee, tea, and chocolate. I’m thinking of something between Planet Earth and Parts Unknown, but with special attention to problems of representation. It’s very easy to imagine this being full of clichés, talking down to both its audience and its subjects. I want to see something that has lovely 30 second panoramic shots of Sri Lankan hills and can hold the camera on a tea-picker talking about their economic conditions in their own words for the same length of time. I want something that can mention certain points about coffee prices and the IMF’s structural adjustments in Rwanda leading up to 1994. I want something that can talk about why several hundred Guere people died in Duékoué on 28–29 March 2011, and what that has to do with a Hershey bar.
I’m not looking for muckraking in particular. I want the interviews with the louche tasting-master, and the gruff operator of the cocoa butter mixer, and the slightly prickly olfactory researcher in the paper-filled office saying something counterintuitive. We all know coffee, tea, and chocolate are touchstones – of shared sensory experience, as social nucleation sites, casual drugs, conduits of globalization, economic staples – we get this. So someone should go out and ring the changes. Walk us through it. Let’s see it. There have been many good, small documentaries about these things, but I want a big one, something with a bank and an arc – crack out the fancy cameras, hire the good interpreters, add some zeros to the travel budget.

Look, I can pitch some episodes right now:

• The Chain. First episode if they’re 40 minutes, first three if they’re 20. For each of the drinks, we go from a plantation, through processing, to a shelf. I don’t care if we have to blur out logos because we don’t have permission. All we’re doing is orienting the viewer in the jargon and in our style.

• Health. What does caffeine do in the brain? What is addiction, like medically what is it? We talk to long-distance truckers. Why does green tea make some people sleepy? Are coffee, chocolate, and tea good for you? (Not: Is there a negligible trace constituent of chocolate that, if you feed ten grams per kilogram per day of it to rats, they have infinitesimally lower blood pressure? Not: “Black tea has long been said to be…”.) Why do these plants have caffeine at all?

• Land, Part 1. We’re at the edge of the Mau forest in Kenya. It’s the largest highland forest remaining in East Africa, and it’s disappearing fairly quickly – for, among other things, controversially, tea. And there are suspicious evictions: some people don’t seem sure where various park borders really are on the ground. Tea is economically complicated because it’s valuable but the markets are variable. We think about how multicropping, banking, a welfare system, trade, and hierarchical ownership are all ways of aiming for economic sustainability. We hear from two different tea smallholders, and one who had to make the switch to dairy. We hear from optimists, and from environmentalists talking about how hard it is to balance conservation against development. Comments from insightful academics who have worked in the area (say, Pratyusha Basu, who has looked at gender and dairy farming here) are recounted to and remarked upon by the smallholders. As in every episode, precedence is given to academics with more local experience – say, in this case, Naomi Shanguhyia, who grew up in the area and did a doctorate on tea farming among other things. What’s this? A grandparent remembers the UK and Canada’s program of persecution, encampment, and torture in the area in the 1950s, and how the montane forest was used as a redoubt. We think about the fact that coffee and tea both like high elevations in tropical climates, and bring this to James C. Scott’s ideas about using hills to hide from state power, and the taxability of tea.

• Everything Else. Stuff people do with cocoa that isn’t candy bars or hot chocolate: Why is cocoa butter used so much in beauty products? How do you make tejate? Or mole Guatemalteco? We talk with Mexican experts to reconstruct a plausible recipe for the earliest known drinking chocolates, and taste-test it. Coffee: How good a fertilizer is coffee grounds? Tea: Check it out, you can make cellulose from kombucha.

• Fermentation and Oxidation. How are washed and unwashed coffees different? What does the “washing” look like? When chocolate pickers cover the beans with banana leaves, what’s going on? How could it be that as recently as ten years ago we thought Pu-erh tea fermentation was led by black mold fungus, but now we think it’s primarily Aspergillus luchuensis? What do completely green/unfermented versions of each drink taste like if you make them in the ordinary way? What about over-fermented versions? We visit several tea processing facilities in China, taking flavor and microbial profiles of the leaves at various stages, and talk to people in Tibet for whom Pu-erh is the primary source of certain micronutrients.

• At Home. We look in detail at how some people who grow and collect the drinks use them. How does a Nilgiri tea picker brew it, or do they? Do cocoa farmers in rural Côte d’Ivoire know what chocolate is? (Spoiler: many of them do not.) When I hear that some Ethiopian coffee-growers like to roast their beans with butter, is that the same butter as is in my fridge? (This is, of course, an excuse to look at living conditions. But also I’m just mundanely curious about recipes.)

• Hipsters. Where does American third-wave coffee come from? What was the causal braid from Ethiopia through invasion to Italy through occupation to GIs on the US’s West Coast to hipsters to the national fashion for Seattle in the 90s to people being mad at the word “barista”? We talk to competitors and judges at the World Barista Championships, treating them with the dignity and assumption of subjectivity that is due to any human being, and with the people who write lengthy tasting notes that make you kind of embarrassed for them. How has the flat white been spreading over this last decade? Can people with bangs and beards tell the difference between Blue Bottle and Starbucks in a double-blind taste test? We talk to mom and pop coffeeshop owners about the economics, difficulties, and pleasures of the business. (I know just the ones. The rumors that I liked their coffeeshop so much that I moved into their spare room, 2011–2012, are slightly exaggerated.)

• Timing. We visit with a commodities day-trader, a logistics expert at a processing plant, a logistics expert at a shipping company, someone who works with agricultural prediction, meteorologists, trendspotters, whatever you call the people who develop and test things like Pumpkin Spice Latte®, and so on. Starting with recollections from farmers, we look at how weather and politics in given years affected prices. (What happens in Chiapas if the belg was late?)

• Final Episode. We look at behind-the-scenes footage. How did the interviewers talk to the interviewees when the (main) cameras weren’t rolling? We meet the fixers, the translators, the camera operators. The presenters talk about what they learned: as cliché as it is, do they think about a latte differently now? We watch people who were interviewed watching episodes they were in – or rough cuts, at least. What about the time in New Guinea when rain got in the $50,000 camera? How many shots did the medical insurer insist they get before equatorial travel? What news has there been of issues covered in the first episodes? A producer explains how they persuaded someone at the head office to sign off on some inadvisable travel that produced a single 30 second subsegment. An editor describes how they tried to wedge that shot in but there was just no way. We see that shot.

Is this making sense? We could easily brainstorm as many again – on history, on economics, on botany. I want something that would mostly fit inside this decade’s dominant documentary formats, but which wouldn’t take the “look at the quaint poor people” stance that is still mostly normal. (Nor the “anything called development must be good” stance, nor the “look what corporations did” stance, nor, nor, nor.) I want to learn why the Japanese market buys almost all the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee produced. I want to learn why Coffea liberica isn’t more popular, and what’s up with the boutique chocolate market segment since Dagoba got bought, and whether tea pickers can talk to each other while they work. I’m willing to have a slightly square documentary if that’s what it takes to talk about the effects of theobromine, and a slightly radical one if that’s what it means to talk about why people making luxury goods can be hungry, and a slightly Vice-y one if that’s what it takes to look at child labor up close. It seems like such an obvious topic, so woven into timely and visually appealing issues."
charlieloyd  questions  curiosity  2015  coffee  tea  interestedness  howtoaskquestions  questionasking  learning  howwelearn  commodities  systemsthinking  food  drink  health  history  geography  science  politics  askingquestions  interested 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Intervention – “Vernacular Values: Remembering Ivan Illich” by Andy Merrifield |
"Illich had it in for professional institutions of every kind, for what he called “disabling professions”; this is what interests me most in his work, this is what I’ve been trying to revisit, trying to recalibrate and reload, in our own professionalised times. I’ve been trying to affirm the nemesis of professionalism: amateurs. Illich said professionals incapacitate ordinary peoples’ ability to fend for themselves, to invent things, to lead innovative lives beyond the thrall of corporations and institutions. Yet Illich’s war against professionalism isn’t so much a celebration of self-survival (letting free market ideology rip) as genuine self-empowerment, a weaning people off their market-dependence. We’ve lost our ability to develop “convivial tools”, he says, been deprived of our use-value capacities, of values systems outside the production and consumption of commodities. We’ve gotten accustomed to living in a supermarket.

Illich’s thinking about professionalisation was partly inspired by Karl Polanyi’s magisterial analysis on the “political and economic origins of our time”, The Great Transformation (Beacon Press, 1944). Since the Stone Age, Polanyi says, markets followed society, developed organically as social relations developed organically, from barter and truck systems, to simple economies in which money was a means of exchange, a mere token of equivalent worth. Markets were always “embedded” (a key Polanyi word) in social relations, always located somewhere within the very fabric of society, whose institutional and political structure “regulated” what markets could and couldn’t do. Regulation and markets thus grew up together, came of age together. So “the emergence of the idea of self-regulation”, says Polanyi, “was a complete reversal of this trend of development … the change from regulated to self-regulated markets at the end of the 18th century represented a complete transformation in the structure of society.”

We’re still coming to terms with this complete transformation, a transformation that, towards the end of the 20th century, has made the “disembedded” economy seem perfectly natural, perfectly normal, something transhistorical, something that always was, right? It’s also a perfectly functioning economy, as economic pundits now like to insist. Entering the 1990s, this disembedded market system bore a new tagline, one that persists: “neoliberalism”. Polanyi’s logic is impeccable: a “market economy can exist only in a market society.”

Inherent vices nonetheless embed themselves in this disembedded economy. Land, labour and money become vital parts of our economic system, of our speculative hunger games. But, says Polanyi, land, labour and money “are obviously not commodities” (his emphasis). “Land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man”, he says; “labour is only another name for human activity which goes with life itself”; “actual money … is merely a token of purchasing power which, as a rule, is not produced at all, but comes into being through the mechanism of banking or state finance”. Thus “the commodity description of labour, land and money is entirely fictitious”, a commodity fiction, the fiction of commodities.

Still, we live in fictitious times (as filmmaker Michael Moore was wont to say): land, labour and money as commodities provide us with the vital organising principle of our whole society. So fiction remains the truth, and fictitious truth needs defending, needs perpetuating; the postulate must be forcibly yet legitimately kept in place. But kept in place how, and by whom? By, we might say, a whole professional administration, by a whole professional cadre, by a whole professional apparatus that both props up and prospers from these fictitious times. Professionalism is the new regulation of deregulation, the new management of mismanagement, an induced and imputed incapacitation."

"Vernacular values are intuitive knowledges and practical know-how that structure everyday culture; they pivot not so much—as Gramsci says—on common sense as on “good sense”. They’re reasonable intuitions and intuitive reason: words, habits and understandings that inform real social life—the real social life of a non-expert population. Illich reminds us that “vernacular” stems from the Latin vernaculam, meaning “homebred” or “homegrown”, something “homemade”. (We’re not far from the notion of amateur here.) Vernacular is a mode of life and language below the radar of exchange-value; vernacular language is language acquired without a paid teacher; loose, unruly language, heard as opposed to written down. (“Eartalk”, Joyce called it in Finnegans Wake, a language for the “earsighted”.) To assert vernacular values is, accordingly, to assert democratic values, to assert its means through popular participation."

"Illich chips in to add how professionals peddle the privileges and status of the job: they adjudicate its worthiness and rank, while forever tut-tutting those without work. Unemployment “means sad idleness, rather than the freedom to do things that are useful for oneself or for one’s neighbour”. “What counts”, Illich says, “isn’t the effort to please or the pleasure that flows from that effort but the coupling of the labour force with capital. What counts isn’t the achievement of satisfaction that flows from action but the status of the social relationship that commands production—that is, the job, situation, post, or appointment”.

Effort isn’t productive unless it’s done at the behest of some boss; economists can’t deal with a usefulness of people outside of the corporation, outside of stock value, of shareholder dividend, of cost-benefit. Work is only ever productive when its process is controlled, when it is planned and monitored by professional agents, by managers and the managers of managers. Can we ever imagine unemployment as useful, as the basis for autonomous activity, as meaningful social or even political activity?"

"Perhaps, during crises, we can hatch alternative programmes for survival, other methods through which we can not so much “earn a living” as live a living. Perhaps we can self-downsize, as Illich suggests, and address the paradox of work that goes back at least to Max Weber: work is revered in our culture, yet at the same time workers are becoming superfluous; you hate your job, your boss, hate the servility of what you do, and how you do it, the pettiness of the tasks involved, yet want to keep your job at all costs. You see no other way of defining yourself other than through work, other than what you do for a living. Perhaps there’s a point at which we can all be pushed over the edge, voluntarily take the jump ourselves, only to discover other aspects of ourselves, other ways to fill in the hole, to make a little money, to maintain our dignity and pride, and to survive off what Gorz calls a “frugal abundance”.

Perhaps it’s time to get politicised around non-work and undercut the professionalisation of work and life. In opting out, or at least contesting from within, perhaps we can create a bit of havoc, refuse to work as we’re told, and turn confrontation into a more positive device, a will to struggle for another kind of work, where use-value outbids exchange-value, where amateurs prevail over professionals. If, in times of austerity, capitalists can do without workers, then it’s high time workers (and ex-workers) realise that we can do without capitalists, without their professional hacks, and their professional institutions, that we can devise work without them, a work for ourselves. Illich throws down the gauntlet here, challenges us to conceive another de-professionalised, vernacular non-working future. He certainly gets you thinking, has had me thinking, and rethinking, more than a decade after I’ve had any kind of job."
via:javierarbona  ivanillich  professionals  experts  amateurs  economics  conviviality  karlpolanyi  politics  capitalism  neoliberalism  empowerment  self-empowerment  unschooling  deschooling  production  consumption  corporatism  corporations  institutions  self-survival  invention  innovation  markets  society  labor  land  commodities  nature  money  michaelmoore  andymerrifield  bureaucracy  control  systems  systemsthinking  deregulation  regulation  management  incapacitation  work  vernacula  vernacularvalues  values  knowledge  everyday  culture  informal  bullshitjobs  andrégorz  antoniogramsci  marxism  ideleness  freedom  capital  effort  productivity  socialactivism  maxweber  time  toolsforconviviality 
july 2015 by robertogreco
THE CHAGALL POSITION: Tidy Words & the End of the World: LeRoi Jones Reads a New Yorker Poem
"Baraka nails the essential quality of the New Yorker poem in a compact formulation: a carefully put-together exercise published as high poetic art. And when it comes to literary standards nothing has changed in the half century plus since the poet shed tears over that alienating poem – New Yorker still puts a premium on carefully put-together exercises that it publishes as high poetic art. This is just as true of the magazine’s fiction, which represents the “quality” apogee of the MFA cookie-cutter “epiphany story.” Wrapped up in tidy packages of psychological realism, these stories reflect the spurious “humanism” of the liberal professional-managerial class that is really a form of fatuous, self-congratulatory narcissism and an apologetics for a racist, imperialist, and exploitative status quo. Such work is “well-crafted,” meticulous, careful, “clean,” and absolutely risk free – the literary equivalent of a gentrified neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood (Baraka even calls it, perceptively, a “place”) where people like the aspiring Black writer are not welcome, where they are the excluded Other.

In the yearning for social mobility that painfully inflects his response, the young poet of the autobiography implicitly realizes how this “high poetic art” functions as a marker of status, what Pierre Bourdieu calls “distinction.” New Yorker verse and fiction are indeed high-end consumer commodities, of a piece with the tailored clothes, pricey jewelry, and haute cuisine dining spots that share its pages. It’s a cultural “address”, but – as commentators such as Sharon Zukin and David Harvey have shown – one that is eminently available to be cross-mapped onto real space, in urban neighborhoods across the US and around the globe.

One way that this type of “cultural address” manifests itself in the contemporary urban arena is the phenomenon of “cultural districts,” specially designated clusters of arts and humanities venues which then become the focus of public-private investment partnerships. There are many such districts in Massachusetts already, including two here in Boston, the Fenway Cultural District and the new Boston Literary District. According to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the state body that awards such designations, the ultimate goal of cultural districts is “enhancing property values and making communities more attractive” – i.e., gentrification."

"Social exclusion and symbolic violence inflict real damage and pain, the pain of marginality, invisibility, and muteness – cultural apartheid. It is precisely the type of pain that Amiri Baraka’s younger self experienced while reading that New Yorker poem. The passage from Baraka’s autobiography struck me because I encountered it at the very time I was writing about the Boston Book Festival’s failure, for the fifth year in a row, to select a local African American or Latina/o author for their flagship “One City One Story” program. One of the “Executive Partners” in organizing the Boston Literary District, the BBF states that this citywide “Big Read” event is supposed to promote literacy and “create a community around a shared reading experience.” Yet what kind of community are they creating? Boston is at least 42% Black and Latina/o, but in the 5 years of One City One Story’s existence they’ve chosen 4 white authors and 1 Asian-American author. The stories themselves, moreover, are very much of the same “carefully constructed exercises” (white and uptight) that continue to be published “as high poetic art” in the New Yorker.

I wonder how many minority youth in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan were assigned the book festival’s 2014 offering, Jennifer Haigh’s “Sublimation,” in their high school English classes. No doubt they were exhorted that they were participating in civic life, and that the story’s values and outlook were somehow “universal” and relevant to their own experience. And no doubt that many of them felt the same confusion and shame and anger that LeRoi Jones felt reading that New Yorker poem in San Juan over a half century ago.

I hope none of them shed tears over it, though – the story wasn’t worth it."

[via: ]
amiribaraka  leroijones  newyorker  mfa  writing  realism  narcissism  racism  imperialism  statusquo  gentrification  literature  edmondcaldwell  socialmobility  commodities  consumerism  mainstream  elitism  culture  sharonzukin  davidharvey  arts  art  humanities  marginality  invisibility  muteness  culturalapartheid  race  homogeneity  2014 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Design in Times of Crisis
"What is it?

Design in Times of Crisis is a work-in-progress reflection for a scenario of the everyday present and near future. It is also a series of short-term block seminars (TBA).

It is part of the PhD investigation of two Brazilian design researchers located in Berlin, Germany: Pedro Oliveira - - and Luiza Prado -

It is through an observation of the current state of affairs mostly outside the so-called “developed world” that we aim to construct our scenario. Of course many of our concerns also do apply to other places in the world, but our focus is more looking home.

This is, of course, nothing new. Its idea stemmed from the very nice "Design for the New Normal" developed by Superflux (if you ended up here, you should definitely check out their work). We think that their outline is indeed fruitful and very necessary, but coming from a different political and social background there are some elements we’d like to disagree, and others we’d like to suggest.

Differently from them, however, we decided to call it the "Times of Crisis" because it does concern the immediate present and the probable future. We think that, as design researchers, it is of paramount importance that we investigate this projection and prepare ourselves for it.

In a nutshell, the links posted here will fall in a few categories, which are the characteristics we are framing as constituents of this scenario. They are:

All Technology is Proprietary

Brands and the State will control your technology. What they do is only to lure you into using their services in order to collect data about everything, everywhere. Crowdsourcing at its best. The obsession with the “quantified self” only leads to the loss of privacy and the more proprietary the technology is, the less control you have over your data. In these times of crisis, people comply with giving their data over to brands and the state under an alleged “full disclosure” of their use. In poorer and emergent countries, particularly, the use of proprietary technology, that is, branded tech, is still a form of social and economical affirmation and status, particularly in lower classes. Open-source tech can and will come to the empowerment of small groups and initiatives, but consumerist ideals and patterns are likely to boost, particularly when formerly poorer classes/countries start to gain more economical power.

You Are what You Consume

Brands and consumption are the biggest form of social insertion. Brands explore that ad infinitum and you belong to those groups where your favorite brand fits in. With the rise of a “new middle class” in developing countries, the patterns of consumption are likely to change and grow; the brand is the greatest form of social status. Musical movements in favelas and ghettos praise brands as something to be desired and proudly worn or used, while at the same time brands try to detach themselves from these movements to protect their capital.

Surveillance is Desired

Reality shows become the norm, they are a preparation for an acceptance of a Police State (cf. Laurel Halo in The Wire). Surveillance gives the false illusion of safety, of “watching out against the other”, but also of being watched against yourself. Drones and Bugs are everywhere for the sake of peace maintenance and the quantified self. Proprietary Tech collects your data with games and research projects. Your data is everyone’s data.

Cities are Corporations are Cities

The association (both legal and illegal) of Business and State leads to a City whose form of social and urban control relies on the interests of brands. Big industries support “eco-initiatives” in order to promote a false state of sustainability while securing their own profit through exploring real estate, mobility and other issues that should be of concern from the State. (cf. Carlos Vainer) - also, prices go crazy because regulation is left to a “minimal State” (Estado Mínimo). Giant sporting events and conferences sell an image of a city devoid of its poorer and “unwanted” social components in favor of its market value as commodity.


Here in this blog we aim to collect evidence, reflections and projections for this scenario.

A good starting point for the scope of this discussion you can find here. In this text, we pointed out some things we think that are problematic when approaching Speculative and Critical Design from a narrow perspective of the world.
Naturally, this is an open, stream-of-consciousness idea. Comments, critique and additions to it are more than welcome.

Shout it loud at pedroliveira [at] udk-berlin or luiza.prado [at] "
luizaprado  pedrooliveira  design  everyday  present  future  nearfuture  superflux  tomesofcrisis  crisis  technology  crowdsourcing  data  control  consumption  brands  branding  surveillance  policestate  laurelhalo  safety  privacy  security  cities  corporations  corporatism  urban  urbanism  socialcontrol  systainability  carlosvainer  estadomínimo  minimalstate  commodities  business  law  legal  specialinterests 
march 2014 by robertogreco
On Animism, Modernity/ Colonialism, and the African Order of Knowledge: Provisional Reflections | e-flux
[Part of a series from multiple authors. Introduction, with contents in the sidebar:

a link to the Animism issue: ]

"How do we account for the recent resurgence of interest in animism and animist thought? Once considered a kind of cognitive error, as evidence of cognitive underdevelopment and epistemological failure, animism has once again become an object of discursive attention and intellectual inquiry, in addition to serving as a platform for political action, particularly around issues of ecology and the environment. It has become an acceptable if not entirely respectable way of knowing and acting in the world. Although E. B. Tylor’s nineteenth-century definition of the concept has remained foundational, we have come a long way from the modernist understanding of it which Emile Durkheim summed up in these words:
For Tylor, this extension of animism was due to the particular mentality of the primitive, who, like an infant, cannot distinguish the animate and the inanimate. […] Now the primitive thinks like a child. Consequently, he is also inclined to endow all things, even inanimate ones, with a nature analogous to his own.

This new interest has overturned the old prejudice which equated animism with everything that was childlike and epistemologically challenged, everything that was the negation of the mature, the modern, and the civilized."

"If the new convergence of interest in animism is to bear any advantage for those on the other side of modernity, it is here that we should begin with a conception of time that rejects linearity but recognizes the complex embeddedness of different temporalities, different, discordant discursive formations, and different epistemological perspectives within the same historical moment. And then we should search for a language to represent this knowledge."
animism  art  harrygaruba  2012  modernity  colonialism  africa  knowledge  brunolatour  wendybrown  karlmarx  objects  vymudimbe  alfhornborg  knowing  masaomiyoshi  talalasad  ramongrosfoguel  fetishism  commodities  mysticism  foucault  materiality  science  scientism  frederickcooper  time  knowledgeproduction  johannesfabian  dipeshchakrabarty  ebtaylor  technology  dualism  linearity  embeddedness  temporality  michelfoucault  linear 
january 2014 by robertogreco
Radical alternatives? Surely we can do better? « The Third University
"2. …Mimicking what we are railing against is comfortable but changes little. It simply gives us a new, safe space in which to rail and exclude.

3. The process of consensus is disabling where it is shackled to a perceived need to be productive or by self-imposed time constraints or by the fear of being bogged down in long discussions, and by the desperate, unquestioned desire to act now. However, we’ve seen the allegedly direct democratic process of consensus used in time-limited ways to marginalise or simply give voice to those more experienced in the process. In this way it is no different to standard institutionalised forms of governance. But what is worse is the subtext that it is more open and transparent, and that somehow at every point we don’t have to out power relationships. The network, for all our trite statements about newness, is neither new nor power free. It is just as hateful and disabling, or just as counter-hegemonic and different."
technology  principles  answers  commodities  gandhi  vinaygupta  alternativeeducation  radical  criticalpedagogy  permaculture  place  employability  pedagogy  anarchy  anarchism  education  deschooling  unschooling  lcproject  hypocrisy  organizations  capitalism  process  consensus  democracy  change  2011  thirduniversity  hierarchy  control  power 
december 2011 by robertogreco
CYBER-COMMUNISM by Richard Barbrook | Imaginary Futures
"Within the Net, working together by circulating gifts is now a daily experience for millions of people. As well as in their jobs, individuals also collaborate on collective projects in their free time. Freed from the immediate disciplines of the marketplace, work can increasingly become a gift. The enlightened few are no longer needed to lead the masses towards the future. For the majority of Net users are already participating within the productive relations of cyber-communism…Having no need to sell information as commodities, they spontaneously work together by circulating gifts. All across the world, politicians, executives and pundits are inspired by the rapid expansion of e-commerce in the USA. Mesmerised by neo-liberal ideology, they fail to notice that most information is already circulating as gifts within the Net. Engaged in superseding capitalism, Americans are successfully constructing the utopian future in the present: cyber-communism."
communism  cyberspace  capitalism  richardbarbrook  internet  networks  networkculture  networkcommunities  communities  cyber-communism  californianideology  gifteconomy  economics  sharing  copyright  modernism  modernity  commodities  abundance  cognitivesurplus  1999 
june 2011 by robertogreco
Tax the Super Rich now or face a revolution Paul B. Farrell - MarketWatch
"1. Warning: Super Rich want tax cuts, creating youth unemployment… 2. Warning: rich get richer on commodity prices, poor get angrier… 3. Warning: Global poor ticking time bomb targeting Super Rich… 4. Warning: Next revolution coming across ‘Third World America’… 5. Warning: Super Rich must be detoxed of their greed addiction… 6. Warning: Politicians infected by Super-Rich Delusion, revolution"
politics  economics  taxes  us  superrich  wealth  2011  thirdworldamerica  poor  poverty  unemployment  disparity  incomegap  global  rich  youth  revolution  paulfarrell  greed  instabiity  greatdepression  greatrecession  greatrepression  commodities  food  wealthdistribution  instability 
april 2011 by robertogreco
Joe Bageant: Round Midnight: Tortillas and the Corporate State
"The commodity economy long ago enslaved Americans & other “developed” capitalist societies. But Americans in particular. The most profound slavery must be that in which the slaves can conceive of no other possible or better world than their bondage. Inescapable, global, all permeating, the commodities economy rules so thoroughly most cannot imagine any other possible kind of economy.
consumerism  consumption  stuff  ownership  us  economics  capitalism  commodities  joebageant  society 
february 2010 by robertogreco / Comment / Opinion - Mother of all carry trades faces an inevitable bust
"This unraveling may not occur for a while, as easy money and excessive global liquidity can push asset prices higher for a while. But the longer and bigger the carry trades and the larger the asset bubble, the bigger will be the ensuing asset bubble crash. The Fed and other policymakers seem unaware of the monster bubble they are creating. The longer they remain blind, the harder the markets will fall."
us  policy  economics  bubbles  commodities  finance  2009  nourielroubini  currency  government  trading 
november 2009 by robertogreco
No one knows how to make a pencil
"I, Pencil is a 1958 ode to mass production, industrial specialization, commodity economics, and the invisible hand using the manufacture of a simple graphite pencil as an example. ... Really great. A nice illustration of embodied energy to boot."
kottke  energy  massproduction  industrialspecialization  manufacturing  pencils  embodiedenergy  commodities  economics 
july 2009 by robertogreco
Financial crisis may worsen food crunch it eclipsed |
"Although commodity prices for a wide range of crops have fallen by as much as 50 percent from record highs in June, the financial crisis is expected to make food shortages dramatically worse."
finance  food  crisis  2008  commodities  world  global  economics 
december 2008 by robertogreco
Get Ready For 'Stag-Deflation' -
"In conclusion, a sharp slack in goods, labor and commodity markets will lead to global deflationary trends over the next year. And the fiscal costs of bailing out borrowers and/or lenders/investors will not be inflationary, as central banks will not be willing to incur the costs of very high inflation as a way to reduce the real value of the debt burdens of governments and distressed borrowers. The costs of rising expected inflation will be much higher than the benefits of using the inflation tax to pay for the fiscal costs of cleaning up the mess that this most severe financial crisis has created."
nourielroubini  crisis  deflation  2008  inflation  markets  commodities  banking  recession 
november 2008 by robertogreco
IFTF's Future Now: Peal River Downturn - "China's economic boom often compared to West's industrialization, only running in fast-foward...
"looks like decline...playing out on same accelerated time frame...perfect storm of recent developments - US housing market, soaring commodity prices, new labor regulations - shuttering factories in Peal River Delta at alarming rate"
china  industry  industrialization  economics  development  labor  markets  housingbubble  commodities 
march 2008 by robertogreco
:: Douglas Rushkoff - Weblog :: Why Not to Buy Gold
"If you want to invest your money in something real, improve the quality & maintenance of your property & equipment, support local businesses & agriculture, put some people through school, clean up some toxic waste, develop a natural fishery."
douglasrushkoff  money  value  investment  society  community  gold  commodities  hedgefunds 
march 2008 by robertogreco
Future Farmer - Business World -
"History records that previous commodity booms were not followed by mass starvation, resource wars and the end of civilization. John Atkin is out to make sure it doesn't happen again."
agriculture  energy  food  russia  brasil  population  future  markets  commodities  globalization  freetrade  trade  geneticallymofifiedfoods  world  global  policy  biofuels  brazil 
january 2008 by robertogreco

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