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Scratching the Surface — 86. Anab Jain
"Anab Jain is a designer, futurist, filmmaker and educator. As Co-founder and Director of Superflux, she hopes to realise the vision of the Studio as a new kind of design practice, responsive to the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. She also teaches at the University Applied Arts in Vienna and gave a TED Talk last year on design’s role in imagining new futures. In this episode, Anab and I talk about Superflux’s blend of client and speculative work, her background in filmmaking, and pushing up against disciplinary boundaries."
anabjain  jarrettfuller  2018  jamescscott  simonedebeauvoir  superfluc  speculativefiction  speculativedesign  design  andreitarkovsky  film  filmmaking  education  teaching  transdisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  jean-lucgodard  criticaldesign  designeducation  kellereasterling  infrastructure  lcproject  openstudioproject  camerontonkinwise  scratchingthesurface 
august 2018 by robertogreco
a rat is killed, a man broken, a horse splashes | sara hendren
"Take small steps. In an experimental approach to social change, presume that we cannot know the consequences of our interventions in advance. Given this postulate of ignorance, prefer wherever possible to take a small step, stand back, observe, and then plan the next small move. As the biologist J. B. S. Haldane metaphorically described the advantages of smallness: “You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mineshaft; and on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man broken, a horse splashes.”

Favor reversibility. Prefer interventions that can easily be undone if they turn out to be mistakes. Irreversible interventions have irreversible consequences. Interventions into ecosystems require particular care in this respect, given our ignorance about how they interact. Aldo Leopold captured the spirit of caution required: “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.”

Plan on surprises. Choose plans that allow the largest accommodation to the unforeseen. In agricultural schemes this may mean choosing and preparing land so that it can grow any of several crops. In planning housing, it would mean “designing in” flexibility for accommodating changes in family structures or living styles. In a factory it may mean selecting a location, layout, or piece of machinery that allows for new processes, materials, or product lines down the road.

Plan on human inventiveness. Always plan under the assumption that those who become involved in the project later will have or will develop the experience and insight to improve on the design."
2018  sarahendren  seeinglikeastate  jamescscott  urbanplanning  socialservices  government  everyday  maps  mapping  legibility  highmodernism  socialengineering  reversibility  small  slow  humanism  humans  ecosystems  markets  community  cooperation  scale  scalability  taylorism 
january 2018 by robertogreco
Why a leading political theorist thinks civilization is overrated - Vox
"So the early agricultural societies created the basis for systematic class distinctions that could be perpetuated between generations, and that’s how you get the kinds of massive hierarchies and inequalities we see today."
jamescscott  anthropology  civilization  culture  additivism  2017  hunter-gatherers  seanilling 
december 2017 by robertogreco
Impakt Festival 2017 - Performance: ANAB JAIN. HQ - YouTube
[Embedded here: http://impakt.nl/festival/reports/impakt-festival-2017/impakt-festival-2017-anab-jain/ ]

"'Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts': @anab_jain's expansive keynote @impaktfestival weaves threads through death, transcience, uncertainty, growthism, technological determinism, precarity, imagination and truths. Thanks to @jonardern for masterful advise on 'modelling reality', and @tobias_revell and @ndkane for the invitation."
https://www.instagram.com/p/BbctTcRFlFI/ ]
anabjain  2017  superflux  death  aging  transience  time  temporary  abundance  scarcity  future  futurism  prototyping  speculativedesign  predictions  life  living  uncertainty  film  filmmaking  design  speculativefiction  experimentation  counternarratives  designfiction  futuremaking  climatechange  food  homegrowing  smarthomes  iot  internetofthings  capitalism  hope  futures  hopefulness  data  dataviz  datavisualization  visualization  williamplayfair  society  economics  wonder  williamstanleyjevons  explanation  statistics  wiiliambernstein  prosperity  growth  latecapitalism  propertyrights  jamescscott  objectivity  technocrats  democracy  probability  scale  measurement  observation  policy  ai  artificialintelligence  deeplearning  algorithms  technology  control  agency  bias  biases  neoliberalism  communism  present  past  worldview  change  ideas  reality  lucagatti  alextaylor  unknown  possibility  stability  annalowenhaupttsing  imagination  ursulaleguin  truth  storytelling  paradigmshifts  optimism  annegalloway  miyamotomusashi  annatsing 
november 2017 by robertogreco
How Civilization Started | The New Yorker
"In “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States,” James C. Scott, a professor of political science at Yale, presents a plausible contender for the most important piece of technology in the history of man. It is a technology so old that it predates Homo sapiens and instead should be credited to our ancestor Homo erectus. That technology is fire. We have used it in two crucial, defining ways. The first and the most obvious of these is cooking. As Richard Wrangham has argued in his book “Catching Fire,” our ability to cook allows us to extract more energy from the food we eat, and also to eat a far wider range of foods. Our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, has a colon three times as large as ours, because its diet of raw food is so much harder to digest. The extra caloric value we get from cooked food allowed us to develop our big brains, which absorb roughly a fifth of the energy we consume, as opposed to less than a tenth for most mammals’ brains. That difference is what has made us the dominant species on the planet.

The other reason fire was central to our history is less obvious to contemporary eyes: we used it to adapt the landscape around us to our purposes. Hunter-gatherers would set fires as they moved, to clear terrain and make it ready for fast-growing, prey-attracting new plants. They would also drive animals with fire. They used this technology so much that, Scott thinks, we should date the human-dominated phase of earth, the so-called Anthropocene, from the time our forebears mastered this new tool.

We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period—ninety-five per cent of human history—during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers. “Why human fire as landscape architecture doesn’t register as it ought to in our historical accounts is perhaps that its effects were spread over hundreds of millennia and were accomplished by ‘precivilized’ peoples also known as ‘savages,’ ” Scott writes. To demonstrate the significance of fire, he points to what we’ve found in certain caves in southern Africa. The earliest, oldest strata of the caves contain whole skeletons of carnivores and many chewed-up bone fragments of the things they were eating, including us. Then comes the layer from when we discovered fire, and ownership of the caves switches: the human skeletons are whole, and the carnivores are bone fragments. Fire is the difference between eating lunch and being lunch."



"It was the ability to tax and to extract a surplus from the produce of agriculture that, in Scott’s account, led to the birth of the state, and also to the creation of complex societies with hierarchies, division of labor, specialist jobs (soldier, priest, servant, administrator), and an élite presiding over them. Because the new states required huge amounts of manual work to irrigate the cereal crops, they also required forms of forced labor, including slavery; because the easiest way to find slaves was to capture them, the states had a new propensity for waging war. Some of the earliest images in human history, from the first Mesopotamian states, are of slaves being marched along in neck shackles. Add this to the frequent epidemics and the general ill health of early settled communities and it is not hard to see why the latest consensus is that the Neolithic Revolution was a disaster for most of the people who lived through it.

War, slavery, rule by élites—all were made easier by another new technology of control: writing. “It is virtually impossible to conceive of even the earliest states without a systematic technology of numerical record keeping,” Scott maintains. All the good things we associate with writing—its use for culture and entertainment and communication and collective memory—were some distance in the future. For half a thousand years after its invention, in Mesopotamia, writing was used exclusively for bookkeeping: “the massive effort through a system of notation to make a society, its manpower, and its production legible to its rulers and temple officials, and to extract grain and labor from it.” Early tablets consist of “lists, lists and lists,” Scott says, and the subjects of that record-keeping are, in order of frequency, “barley (as rations and taxes), war captives, male and female slaves.” Walter Benjamin, the great German Jewish cultural critic, who committed suicide while trying to escape Nazi-controlled Europe, said that “there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” He meant that every complicated and beautiful thing humanity ever made has, if you look at it long enough, a shadow, a history of oppression. As a matter of plain historical fact, that seems right. It was a long and traumatic journey from the invention of writing to your book club’s discussion of Jodi Picoult’s latest."



"The news here is that the lives of most of our progenitors were better than we think. We’re flattering ourselves by believing that their existence was so grim and that our modern, civilized one is, by comparison, so great. Still, we are where we are, and we live the way we live, and it’s possible to wonder whether any of this illuminating knowledge about our hunter-gatherer ancestors can be useful to us. Suzman wonders the same thing. He discusses John Maynard Keynes’s famous 1930 essay “The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.” Keynes speculated that if the world continued to get richer we would naturally end up enjoying a high standard of living while doing much less work. He thought that “the economic problem” of having enough to live on would be solved, and “the struggle for subsistence” would be over:
When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession—as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life—will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.

The world has indeed got richer, but any such shift in morals and values is hard to detect. Money and the value system around its acquisition are fully intact. Greed is still good.

The study of hunter-gatherers, who live for the day and do not accumulate surpluses, shows that humanity can live more or less as Keynes suggests. It’s just that we’re choosing not to. A key to that lost or forsworn ability, Suzman suggests, lies in the ferocious egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers. For example, the most valuable thing a hunter can do is come back with meat. Unlike gathered plants, whose proceeds are “not subject to any strict conventions on sharing,” hunted meat is very carefully distributed according to protocol, and the people who eat the meat that is given to them go to great trouble to be rude about it. This ritual is called “insulting the meat,” and it is designed to make sure the hunter doesn’t get above himself and start thinking that he’s better than anyone else. “When a young man kills much meat,” a Bushman told the anthropologist Richard B. Lee, “he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. . . . We can’t accept this.” The insults are designed to “cool his heart and make him gentle.” For these hunter-gatherers, Suzman writes, “the sum of individual self-interest and the jealousy that policed it was a fiercely egalitarian society where profitable exchange, hierarchy, and significant material inequality were not tolerated.”

This egalitarian impulse, Suzman suggests, is central to the hunter-gatherer’s ability to live a life that is, on its own terms, affluent, but without abundance, without excess, and without competitive acquisition. The secret ingredient seems to be the positive harnessing of the general human impulse to envy. As he says, “If this kind of egalitarianism is a precondition for us to embrace a post-labor world, then I suspect it may prove a very hard nut to crack.” There’s a lot that we could learn from the oldest extant branch of humanity, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to put the knowledge into effect. A socially positive use of envy—now, that would be a technology almost as useful as fire."
jamescscott  fire  technology  hunter-gatherers  2017  anthropology  johnlanchester  anthropocene  sedentism  agriculture  nomads  nomadism  archaeology  writing  legibility  illegibility  state  civilization  affluence  abundance  jamessuzman  bushmen  kalahari  namibia  khoisan  mesopotamia  egalitarianism  humans  self-interest  jealousy  greed  inequality  accumulation  motivation  society  happiness  money 
october 2017 by robertogreco
Books that have shaped our thinking – Nava PBC
"Recommended reads related to civic tech, health, government, behavioral science, design and engineering

At Nava we have a living Google Doc where we link to books that help us understand the systems and architecture we use. The intention of this document is to form a baseline of readings that new employees will need and to share with other employees good resources for being productive.

Below are some of our favorites from that list:

Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences
by Susan Leigh Star and Geoffrey C. Bowker
This covers, in great detail, the astounding ways that the models we make for the world end up influencing how we interact with it. This is incredibly relevant to our work: the data models we define and the way we classify and interpret data have profound and often invisible impacts on large populations. — Sha Hwang, Co-founder and Head of Creative

Decoded
by Jay Z
Decoded is Jay Z’s autobiography and describes his experience as a black man growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in NYC. In particular, there is a passage about poor people’s relationship to the government that changed the way I think about the perception of those government services that I work to improve. This book showed me that the folks we usually want to serve most well in government, are the ones who are most likely to have had profoundly negative experiences with government. It taught me that, when I work on government services, I am rebuilding a relationship, not starting a new one. Context is so important. It’s a fun, fast read and I used to ask that our Apprentices read at least that passage, if not the whole book, before starting with our team at the NYC Mayor’s Office. — Genevieve Gaudet, Designer

Seeing like a State
by James C. Scott
A reminder that the governance of people at scale can have unintended consequences when removed from people’s daily lives and needs. You won’t think of the grid, property lines, and last names the same way again.— Shelly Ni, Designer

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
Cain uses data and real world examples of how and why introverts are overlooked in American culture and then discusses how both introverts and extroverts can play a role in ensuring introverts get a seat at the table and a word in the conversation. — Aimee Barciauskas, Software Engineer

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty
This book analyzes the long-term fluctuations in wealth inequality across the globe, from the eighteenth century to present. He exposes an incredibly important issue in a compelling way, using references not just to data, but to history and literature to prove his point. — Mari Miyachi, Software Engineer

Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III
by Robert A. Caro
Our most underhanded president also brought us Medicaid, Medicare, and civil rights. Was Machiavelli so bad after all? — Alex Prokop, Software Engineer

Praying for Sheetrock
by Melissa Fay Greene
A true, close-up story of McIntosh County, Georgia, a place left behind by the greater Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. This is a story about the civil rights movement that shakes up the community in the 1970s, and this is also a story about burnout, and organizing, and intergenerational trauma. — Shelly Ni, Designer

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care
by T. R. Reid
Reid explores different models for healthcare in nations across the globe. He’s searching for an understanding of why America’s system is comparatively so expensive and unsuccessful, leaving so many uninsured and unhealthy. There is a great chapter on Ayurvedic medicine which (spoiler alert) seemed to work for the author when he was suffering from a shoulder injury! — Aimee Barciauskas, Software Engineer

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
A very enjoyable and inspirational read about the history of Pixar from founder Ed Catmull himself. It delves into what sets a creative company apart and teaches lessons like “people are more important than ideas” and “simple answers are seductive” without reading like a typical business book.— Lauren Peterson, Product Manager

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
The magnum opus of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman is a psychologist but his Nobel is in Economics, and unlike other winners in this category, his win stands the test of time. You will be a much better decision maker after reading this book and understanding the two modes our brains work in: System 1 intuitive “fast” thinking and System 2 deliberate “slow” thinking. It is a beast of a book, but unlike the vast majority of (pop) psychology books, this book distills decades of groundbreaking research and is the basis for so many other psychology books and research that if you read this book carefully, you won’t have to read those other books. There are so many topics in this book, I’ll just link to the Wikipedia page to give you a flavor.— Alicia Liu, Software Engineer

Nudge
by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
This covers how sensible “choice architecture” can improve the decisions and behavior of people. Much of what’s covered comes from decades of research in behavioral science and economics, and has a wide range of applications — from design, user research, and policy to business and everyday life. — Sawyer Hollenshead, Designer

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
by Atul Gawande
This book is about how checklists can help even experts avoid mistakes. Experience isn’t enough. I try to apply the lessons of this book to the processes we use to operate our software.—Evan Kroske, Software Engineer

The Soul of a New Machine
by Tracy Kidder
This book details the work of a computer engineering team racing to design a computer. While the pace of work for the team is certainly unsustainable and perhaps even unhealthy at times, the highs and lows they go through as they debug their new minicomputer will be familiar to engineers and members of tight-knit groups of all varieties. The rush to finish their project, which was thought to be a dark horse at the beginning of the book, is enthralling and will keep you engaged with this book late into the night. — Samuel Keller, Software Engineer

Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software
by Michael T. Nygard
One of the best, most practical books I’ve ever read about creating resilient software on “modern” web architectures. While it may not be the most relevant with regards to cloud-based infrastructure, the patterns and processes described within are still very applicable. This is one of the few technical books I have read cover-to-cover. — Scott Smith, Software Engineer

Design for Democracy
by Marcia Lausen
From an AIGA project to improve the design of ballots— both paper and electronic— following the “hanging chad” drama of the 2000 election, comes this review of best practices for designers, election officials, and anyone interested in the intersection of design and voting.—Shelly Ni, Designer

The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman
This is a classic for learning about design and its sometimes unintended consequences. I read it years ago and I still think about it every time I’m in an elevator. It’s a great introduction to a designer’s responsibility and designing in the real world for actual humans, who can make mistakes and surprising choices about how to use the designs you create. — Genevieve Gaudet, Designer

More recommendations from the team
• The Unexotic Underclass
• Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice
• Everybody Hurts: Content for Kindness
• Poverty Interrupted: Applying Behavioral Science to the Context of Chronic Scarcity [PDF]
• Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-Based Graphic Design
• Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels
• The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on their Craft
• The Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times
• The Effective Engineer: How to Leverage Your Efforts In Software Engineering to Make a Disproportionate and Meaningful Impact
• Effective DevOps: Building a Culture of Collaboration, Affinity, and Tooling at Scale"
nava  books  booklists  design  education  health  healthcare  sawyerhollenshed  jayz  susanleighstar  shahwang  geoffreybowker  decoded  jamescscott  seeinglikeastate  susancain  introverts  quiet  thomaspiketty  economics  melissafaygreene  civilrrights  socialjustice  creativity  edcatmull  amyallace  pixar  teams  readinglists  toread  howwethink  thinking  danielkahneman  government  richardthaler  casssunstein  atulgawande  tracykidder  medicine  checklists  process  michaelnygard  software  ui  ux  democracy  donalnorman  devops  improvisation  collaboration  sfsh  journalism  kindness  socialchange  transparency  participation  participatory  opengovernment  open 
may 2017 by robertogreco
An Interview with James C. Scott - Gastronomica
"Tracey Campbell:

Given that few societies, if any, are now fully independent of the kind of market forces that you have been discussing today, how should ethnographers consider corporations as actors when they’re doing their research? To elaborate a little further, a lot of people studying peasant agriculturists bemoan the presence of a market or corporations who extract value from the peasants, but there doesn’t seem to be any robust methodology for dealing with the corporations on the other side of those transactions so that there’s a corporate perspective on the transaction. It seems to be a sort of “here there be dragons” area of ethnographic research.

JS:

I suppose that would be remedied by the kind of ethnography in which people who either undercover, or with permission, go and do ethnographies of corporations as they’re dealing with them, right? So I would recommend a hero student of mine who’s named Tim Pachirat. He had an idea which was not politically correct for a political scientist; he was interested in what it did to people to kill sentient beings every day all day for a living. And so what he did, although he’s originally of Thai-American background and was going to work in Thailand, he learned Spanish and got himself a job in a slaughterhouse working for a year and a half, including working on the kill floor of the slaughterhouse, and ended up writing an ethnography of vision in the slaughterhouse in a book that I promise you, you cannot put down, it is so gripping. Everybody said that this was a career-ending move as a dissertation, but he wanted to do it and the book is an astounding account of the way in which the clean and dirty sections of a slaughterhouse are kept separate from one another and workers treated differently, and the way the line works. You could only write this ethnography, I think, by actually doing this work. And if he asked permission they never would have given it to him, so he just did it. So, he avoided all of the protocols for the people you’re interviewing, etc., he just ignored it all and did it. To begin with nothing much happened; he spent three months hanging livers in a cold room with another Hispanic worker. I mean, three months just taking a liver that came on a chain and putting it in a box and passing it on. And so he didn’t think that there was a lot of ethnography coming out of the room where he was packing livers, but he gradually worked his way into other parts of the plant. But I wish more people would go into the belly of the beast, either of corporations or supermarkets or institutions. At the end of his book he suggests making slaughterhouses out of glass and allowing schoolchildren to see how their meat’s prepared. I always believed that social science was a progressive profession because it was the powerful who had the most to hide about how the world actually worked and if you could show how the world actually worked it would always have a de-masking and a subversive effect on the powerful. I don’t think that’s quite true, but it seems to me it’s not bad as a point of departure anyway.

HW:

Moving on to the state now, you associate developing technologies of rule historically with ever more exploitative forms of hierarchy, and of course revolutionary states come in for focused critique in your work, as you distinguish between struggles over and through the apparatus of the state and you point out that these struggles have generally been disastrous for peasants and the working poor. But in a globalized world where decisive forms—and here I’m thinking about things like vertically integrated food supply chains—operate at ever greater distances and seem ever less controllable to ordinary people, is there not some role for the state; is resistance possible without engaging the state, without using the state in one way or another?

JS:

It’s hard to see any institutional structure that stands in the way of the homogenization and simplification of these supply chains in international capitalism, unless it is the nation state, right? Unless it is a kind of authoritative state structure. So, “yes.” [laughs] Now, qualifications that will leave little of the “yes” standing. First of all, most states aren’t even remotely democracies and most of the people who run these states by and large do the bidding of their corporate masters and take bribes and are servants of international capitalism, right? So we can’t rely on those states, can we? And then you take contemporary Western democracies, let me use my own country which I know best as an example, yes, you have an electoral system, yes you reelected the first black man president, yes there are some changes. On the other hand, the concentration of wealth has grown steeper and steeper and steeper, it allows lobbyists and people who provide campaign finance to basically control a campaign and its message, these people tend at the sort of high echelons of the corporate world to control most of the media and its messaging—right? These people are also able to sit on the congressional committees and write the loopholes in the legislation. Even when there is reform, they’re able to so influence the wording of the legislation that the loopholes are built in, they don’t have to be found, they’re actually legislated. And so then you get a state that in a neoliberal world is less and less able to be an honest mediator, a representative of popular aspirations, to discipline corporations. I want to leave a little bit of the yes standing, because as the result of the financial crisis there were slightly more stringent rules on bank capitalization, on regulation, on some consumer protection, but I think by and large there is not much in that way. Now, Scandinavian social democracy is a better picture, but North Atlantic, Anglo-American neoliberalism is not providing the kind of state that I think can provide this kind of discipline and regulation. I’m pessimistic."
jamescscott  via:shannon_mattern  epistemology  agriculture  academia  geography  2015  harrywest  celiaplender  interviews  agrarianstudies  southeastasia  anarchism  toread  resistance  vietnam  burma  thailand  timpachirat  ethnography  hierarchy  thestate  goverment  governance  capitalism  socialdemocracy  homogenization 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Continuous Monuments and Imaginable Alternatives - Amateur Cities
"In 1969, Superstudio, a radical Italian design group, made a proposal for what they called the ‘Continuous Monument’. It was a homogenous block of architecture that would encircle the earth depicting the global and total dimension of design and architecture of that time. We currently live in the time of a similar monument that harvests and feeds off ‘data’ – the golden ambrosia of the 2010s."



"In an ideal situation the model of a mesh network has the potential to become a platform for broadly horizontal networked politics as defined by its inherent structure. It could bring a new type of commons in the face of the death of network neutrality, government and corporate surveillance and exploitation as embodied by the current network structure.

Too often we are confronted with visions and stories of the future that say: ‘In the future everyone will live this way or that way. In the future everyone will have these things. In the future everyone will want that thing.’ This can often lead to acceptance of the idea that the future has been predetermined by powers greater than us. We need to imagine instead, what futures might bring. There are dozens of other small, niggling but significant alternatives that can challenge the theoretical basis for how the future might open up to a plethora of possible imaginable alternatives. Take for instance; domestic solar power, crypto currencies, end-to-end encryption or personal manufacturing. They are but a few that have the potential to either become incredibly empowering or to be sucked into our current continuous monument.

It is often said by military strategists, business leaders and alike that knowledge is the most powerful weapon. But imagination is also a significant one.

The political theorist David Graeber writes about how, since the protests of the late 1960s, the same entities pursuing the project of legibility have pursued a ‘. . . relentless campaign against the human imagination.’ It has resulted in ‘. . . the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future.’

Activating imagination in everyday practice is hard. Financial imperatives and competition do not give space and time to explore alternatives and freely play with ideas without consequences. But there is a great reward in giving time to exploration. Inspiration can be found in things like mesh networks, but there are other examples. Jugaad culture – the repurposing of technology predominantly occurring in India is an excellent example. It provides an alternative by giving a particular design a different lifespan and shows how, in William Gibson’s words – ‘the street find its own uses.’ The speculative design cannon proposes objects and systems that are not intended for our world. They aim to stimulate our imagination about the hidden effects and repercussions of our design culture.

The purpose of such design and of introducing imagination is to widen the scope of possibilities. It could prevent the carte blanche master plan of the Smart City to become the inevitable endpoint of the current technological narrative. Furthermore it could perhaps lead to the development of real, functioning designs, such as mesh networks that will work better for people.

Knowledge of the systems, structures and technologies at play in our own continuous monument is vital for technologists, designers, urbanists, architects and everyone involved. It is impossible to be a wholesome practitioner and to remain ignorant of the wider context in which one situates one’s work. But what is equally as important is the activation of imagination; imagining beyond the given context to what could be, not just what, as is often presented, inevitably will be."
tobiasrevell  superstudio  architecture  government  resistance  cities  data  jamescscott  seeinglikeastate  davidgraeber  infrastructure  internet  privacy  surveillance  technology  design  systemsthinking  smartcities  legibility  illegibility  imagination  meshnetworks  2015 
may 2015 by robertogreco
6, 35: Moonlight
"Things I wish someone had explained to me sooner…

• To people who don’t love you, your intentions don’t matter. If you hurt them accidentally, you’ve hurt them.

• Broadly, experts get that way because they care about what they do. Because they care about it, they want to tell you about what they know. It’s easy for them to leave out what they don’t know. And so, accidentally, they tend to make their fields sound more boring than they are. On either side of an expert–layperson relationship, remember to talk about the mysteries and frontiers.



• In any complicated situation, what people can tell you about why they came to their conclusions is virtually unrelated to the truth, effectiveness, or worthwhileness of those conclusions. We’re right for the wrong reasons, and vice versa, all the time.



• Argument from origins – etymology, philosophical genealogy, institutional history – takes special humility. It’s easy to make a point that’s only a complicated, smart-sounding version of “Hitler was a vegetarian, so vegetarianism is evil”.

• Programming is more like writing than like working an algebra problem.

• Your attention is the most valuable thing you can give. It’s what lets you do anything intentionally. Put some aside to spend where it might be badly needed. That’s usually not on anything that a million people are already attending to. It might be, but more often it will be something that most people around you, with perspectives like yours, are not thinking about."



"Earlier today, a moment in the presence of the systemic sublime while drinking Yirgacheffe coffee and watching Ethiopian kids singing while sorting coffee beans – Wote, Yirgacheffe. And watching Typhoon Hagupit/Ruby crawl up on the Philippines: this tweet, my word. Not only can I track the typhoon half-hourly in infrared, I have access to two separate instruments that can see it in visible wavelengths by moonlight: VIIRS and astronauts with DSLRs. Moonlight. A lot of my life is lived as part of this stringy confederation of nerds interested in perception over distance and mediated by algorithms, in the river rapids where culture flows around protuberant lumps of technology, in volition and encoding, in the connections, separations, and flavors of the network itself, in scale, in long chains of molecules and routes of IP packets and corten containers and coffee beans, and in the submerged cathedrals and unmapped data halls that they build. And I make fun of us, our rhizome or distributed pocket, with jokes about James C. Scott and so forth. But I feel the weight when I wonder whether the children who sorted the beans I’m drinking were singing. Moonlight."
charlieloyd  2014  systems  systemsthinking  systemicsublime  coffee  jamescscott  certainty  uncertainty  programming  coding  writing  attention  experts  mystery  frontiers  unknown  intentions  love 
december 2014 by robertogreco
“Two Cheers for Anarchism” reviewed
"There are lots of stories about follies arising from central planning. One such is that a factory was incentivized based on the number of shoes it manufactured. It ended up producing a lot of shoes — but only for left feet. Contracting out with performance measurement in ultra-modern capitalism can generate similar results, not least, God help us, in the public education of children. When you attach high stakes to a narrow measurement, hijinks ensue.

For Scott, performance measurement and testing are futile efforts by a state to regiment what would otherwise be more productive, creative, unplanned work. Such practices are an over-extension of meritocracy. Meritocracy is an improvement over rewards according to the accidents of birth, much less to predatory behavior. But meritocracy can degrade itself, as society’s winners massage the rules to perpetuate their privileges for their less-deserving descendants. Such practices of course build on the inherent advantages derived from gender, race, and class that provide unequal advantages in the establishment of merit.

One of Scott’s more compelling passages is about how the ubiquity of regimentation in schooling and large organizations, both public and private, for the purported exercise of a benign meritocracy, actually generates an attitude of fear and supplication that is not conducive to democratic citizenship.

Again I’ll resort to one of my pet peeves. The corruption of the American institution of the “town meeting.” In folklore, if not in fact, the town meeting was a setting where citizens gathered as equals and engaged in democratic discussion and debate. In small towns, familiarity made it difficult for people to promote their own narrow interests above those of the community, because everybody knew everybody else’s business.

These days the town meetings one usually finds are commanded by a local elected official. He or she controls the microphone. Constituents — supplicants, really — are allowed brief questions. Ushers will escort troublesome people out, aided if necessary by the local police. The fun part of these affairs is when control breaks down and critics reach critical mass. Meeting adjourned!"
jamescscott  2014  twocheersofranarchism  anarchism  meritocracy  education  townmeetings  democracy  us  society  governance  government  inequality  corruption  incentives  elites  control  power  piolicy 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Eh, Flynn on Twitter: ""Oh, I guess I should see if anyone made a solarpunk board on pinterest." THERE ARE 46 OF THEM."
[great thread here]

[Starts with:]
"Oh, I guess I should see if anyone made a solarpunk board on pinterest." THERE ARE 46 OF THEM."
https://twitter.com/Threadbare/status/517715485106790400

[some highlights:]

@Dymaxion Been reading Seeing Like A State for book club and reflecting on how much of solarpunk comes out of 'fuck high modernism.'
https://twitter.com/Threadbare/status/517726051984633856

"@Threadbare Yeah. I confess I'm still unsure about it. I guess I feel like the way forward is half solarpunk, half walmart+socialism."
https://twitter.com/Dymaxion/status/517738774298886144

"@Dymaxion Yah, I ponder that; even if you have a bunch of idyllic yeoman maker communities, you still need an industrial base + governance."
https://twitter.com/Threadbare/status/517739529277427712

".@Threadbare Yes - "Maker" is a charismatic not-that-megafauna playing tricks with the last mile of the global infrastructural supplychain."
https://twitter.com/Dymaxion/status/517739932732096512

"@Threadbare And everything that really makes an impact is basically in the infrastructural/governance layers."
https://twitter.com/Dymaxion/status/517740048050315267

"@Threadbare Hong Kong and Sinagpore still feel more like the future than your average hackerspace, problematic governance and all."
https://twitter.com/Dymaxion/status/517740166220640256

"@Dymaxion My friend @ChrisBurkeShay once described Hong Kong as "eighties-future.""
https://twitter.com/Threadbare/status/517740315243851776

"@Threadbare @Dymaxion theme of fictional something I'm working on: how much does getting 'off grid' become an abandonment of solidarity?"
https://twitter.com/timmaughan/status/517740324492685313

"@timmaughan @Dymaxion This is partly why I've tried to focus on communities, not households, as the place to do things."
https://twitter.com/Threadbare/status/517740548719792128

"@Threadbare @timmaughan That's a big step in the right direction, because if nothing else we need to reinvent communitas anyway."
https://twitter.com/Dymaxion/status/517740732422316034

"@timmaughan @Dymaxion Communities/cities as largest polity a public can reasonably affect, lived experience transcends filter bubbles..."
https://twitter.com/Threadbare/status/517740795365830656

"@Threadbare @Dymaxion of course, but what differentiates those communities from say, seasteaders?"
https://twitter.com/timmaughan/status/517740990556557313

[continues]
solarpunk  anarchism  infrastructure  community  communities  cities  2014  communitas  polity  future  futures  governance  seeinglikeastate  jamescscott  highmodernism  modernism  yeomen  eleanoraitta  timmaughan 
october 2014 by robertogreco
▶ No Neutral Ground in a Burning World [30c3] - YouTube
"The news of the past few years is one small ripple in what is a great wave of culture and history, a generational clash of civilizations. If you want to understand why governments are acting and reacting the way they are, and as importantly, how to shift their course, you need to understand what they're reacting to, how they see and fail to see the world, and how power, money, and idea of rule of law actually interact.

Our relationships with work and property and with the notion of national identity are changing rapidly. We're becoming more polarized in our political opinions, and even in what we consider to be existential threats. This terrain determines our world, even as we deal with our more individual relationships with authority, the ethics imposed by our positions in the world, and the psychological impact of learning that our paranoia was real. The idea of the Internet and the politics it brings with it have changed the world, but that change is neither unopposed nor detatched from larger currents. From the battles over global surveillance and the culture of government secrecy to the Arab Spring and the winter of its discontent, these things are part of this moment's tapestry and they tell us about the futures we can choose. The world is on fire, and there is nowhere to hide and no way to stay neutral.

Speaker: Quinn Norton Eleanor Saitta"

[Slides: http://dymaxion.org/talks/NoNeutralGroundInABurningWorld.pdf ]

[Reading list: https://gist.github.com/dphiffer/9a583e4a4da169eee436

Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott
Moral Mazes by Robert Jackall
The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer
Debt, The First 5000 Years by David Graeber
Fellow Prisoners by John Berger
Secrecy, Film (2008)
]
via:caseygollan  2013  quinnnorton  eleanorsaitta  capitalism  marxism  anarchism  anarchy  endtimes  geekculture  politics  ethics  communication  hackerculture  internet  web  online  coding  civilization  history  culture  technology  outsiders  seeinglikea  state  jamescscott  legibility  architecture  brasilia  surveillance  authority  power  money  ruleoflaw  control  positionalethics  brasília 
october 2014 by robertogreco
sprout & co :: Rendering Learners Legible
"Educators talk a lot about ‘personalization.’ Is the animating purpose of “personalization” in to render students legible? If it is, could Sal Khan take the Hippocratic oath?"
alecresnick  education  legibility  jamescscott  2013  salkhan  ethics  unschooling  deschooling  personalization  individualization  sprout&co  data  inbloom  schools  facebook  google  khanacademy  netflix  sprout  salmankhan 
june 2014 by robertogreco
18. Webstock 2014 Talk Notes and References - postarchitectural
[Direct link to video: https://vimeo.com/91957759 ]
[See also: http://www.webstock.org.nz/talks/the-future-happens-so-much/ ]

"I was honored to be invited to Webstock 2014 to speak, and decided to use it as an opportunity to talk about startups and growth in general.

I prepared for this talk by collecting links, notes, and references in a flat text file, like I did for Eyeo and Visualized. These references are vaguely sorted into the structure of the talk. Roughly, I tried to talk about the future happening all around us, the startup ecosystem and the pressures for growth that got us there, and the dangerous sides of it both at an individual and a corporate level. I ended by talking about ways for us as a community to intervene in these systems of growth.

The framework of finding places to intervene comes from Leverage Points by Donella Meadows, and I was trying to apply the idea of 'monstrous thoughts' from Just Asking by David Foster Wallace. And though what I was trying to get across is much better said and felt through books like Seeing like a State, Debt, or Arctic Dreams, here's what was in my head."
shahwang  2014  webstock  donellameadows  jamescscott  seeinglikeastate  davidgraeber  debt  economics  barrylopez  trevorpaglen  google  technology  prism  robotics  robots  surveillance  systemsthinking  growth  finance  venturecapital  maciejceglowski  millsbaker  mandybrown  danhon  advertising  meritocracy  democracy  snapchat  capitalism  infrastructure  internet  web  future  irrationalexuberance  github  geopffmanaugh  corproratism  shareholders  oligopoly  oligarchy  fredscharmen  kenmcleod  ianbanks  eleanorsaitta  quinnorton  adamgreenfield  marshallbrain  politics  edwardsnowden  davidsimon  georgepacker  nicolefenton  power  responsibility  davidfosterwallace  christinaxu  money  adamcurtis  dmytrikleiner  charlieloyd  wealth  risk  sarahkendxior  markjacobson  anildash  rebeccasolnit  russellbrand  louisck  caseygollan  alexpayne  judsontrue  jamesdarling  jenlowe  wilsonminer  kierkegaard  readinglist  startups  kiev  systems  control  data  resistance  obligation  care  cynicism  snark  change  changetheory  neoliberalism  intervention  leveragepoints  engagement  nonprofit  changemaki 
april 2014 by robertogreco
6, 6: Asymmetrical information
"I have so little interest in grand pictures of the world with nothing to say about children. This assumption in cultural discussions that people step out of a wall sometime between 18 and 21, well, it’s not good enough; it’s not serious enough. If you want to talk to me about surveillance and censorship, tell me about baby monitors and when you would let kids in your care read 4chan. Your approach to that matters more than your approach to the finer connotations of the word “Orwellian”, e.g., whether the figure of thzzzZZZZZZZZ whistling exhalation ZZZZZZZZ whistling exhalation ZZZZZ[snort]ZZZ whistling exhalation ZZZZZZZZ whistling exhalation ZZZZZZZZ."

(Removed from this point a good deal of grumping about people who use arguments in the form “we should be treated like adults” without saying what that means to them other than “down with bad stuff, up with good stuff”, nor how non-adults should be treated; and then kind of halfheartedly trying to shame people for treating Foucault’s geneological method as if it were The Path And The Way Of Criticism rather than a useful tonic; and getting sad that sometimes children’s experience is treated as if it counts only insofar as it will be remembered by the adult they will become.)

"Something I tell myself: Assume you’re teaching. More often than thinking “Oh, I figured something out, time to share”, ask “What am I teaching right now, and am I doing it well?” Sometimes what I’m teaching is not pretty: “Don’t expect too much from strangers” or “Everyone has their quirks” or worse. All the more reason to think about it.

Like a lot of intrapersonal advice, this is tricky to explain: too obvious, too precious, too odd. The principle comes partly from reflecting that many of the most important things I’ve learned were from incidental actions of people working on something else. (I remember flipping through my mother’s MTW and learning about graphic design, poetry, pedagogy – everything but gravity.) It also comes from an idea put well in XKCD 1053.

(And this gives us one of the distinctive flavors of work made for the internet: layerednes. A blog post about some small issue will carry coded gestures to connections with highfalutin’ academic work; deniable hints of limits and risks might appear when a conscientious engineer is made to work hard-sell PR; and who among us has not seen something on a controversial topic flying a big red herring to distract zealots? And we have art like this [http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/for-shame-the-giant-poster-that-shows-drone-pilots-the-people-theyre-bombing/360257/ ], which works entirely by lying about its audience: that isn’t for drone operators at all, but by saying it is, it works on its actual audience: people like me.)"



"One of the things that’s been bringing OODA to mind is what you might call legibility capture. Let’s take it as read that we’re surrounded by giant translucent surfaces, and we’re trying to see inside them, and to understand their shapes and connections, in order that we might discern what their deal is. They meanwhile are examining us, covertly, with consent, obliquely, loudly, by proxy, for unknown future use, and in many other ways, which is worrying.

There are many ways to think about this; for me it’s phrased most naturally as “legibility” in the way that John C. Scott has developed it. His brilliance is perhaps fogged by his prose style, which with time becomes its own painfully funny effect, a kind of Marx Brothers–esque absurdism, as he over and over again, in the same book, with placid deadpan, re-introduces legibility as if for the first time.

(Thinking of this becase a couple friends spent the weekend at some kind of Data Tragicomedy conference – my ignorance of the details is a small pleasure but a sincere one – which it pleased me to believe consisted entirely of artbros in their off-blacks standing up, clearing their throats, smiling, and saying “I’ve discovered – or perhaps invented – something that I like to call ‘legibility’…”.)

One of the things that OODA is concerned with, in its productively unsatisfying way, is initiative. In go, this is sente. Alice has sente in a game with Bob when she’s made a move that Bob must respond to, instead of building his own position. To hold sente is to keep Bob on the defensive, so that he can’t plan or build; he’s always a turn behind. (Every time I think about this stuff I’m startled again by the illumination of psychological violence, from domestic abuse to torture-as-interrogation.) Boyd wants you, the student of OODA, to have initiative, because to have initiative is to have options. (Cough cough Nussbaum’s capability approach cough cough sneeze.) You have initiative because you can read the opponent better than they can read you, and so you can at least partly decide how they read you.

Skip this paragraph if you like me are easily disturbed by violence. This gruesome Amnesty briefing on the violence this year in northern Nigeria and this SSP report on the famous body bags in Kadugli both explain (partly) how they did their satellite imagery analysis to identify or confirm mass graves. This is in an obvious way highly responsible: conclusions should be presented with the evidence that led to them; theories should be falsifiable. It also bears risks, because by showing methods to identify mass graves they necessarily show how to hide from those methods, and even how to play into them by creating fake graves to distract and discredit.

That risk is the thing. It’s what I think about when people are like “Ah ha, I figured out I can look at tail numbers, or shell casing markings, or IP addresses owned by spyware companies; now we know what’s up!” Once they know you know but before you know they know you know, you’re at their mercy; they’re feeding you. Legibility capture.

I don’t know. I keep thinking of XKCD 1053, and the kind of empathy it calls for, and of the epigrams Joe Armstrong throws around about Erlang (e.g., p. 9):

The world is parallel
The world is distributed
Things fail

I said at the beignning of the year that my theme would be scale: communicating the sizes of stuff. I’ve done very little about that. I keep remembering things, little parcels of spacetime. Sleeping on a boat under a Saltillo blanket, listening to a flag’s rope ring against the pole in the wind. With a flu, in a parked Volkswagen Golf, reading Elfwood. When you GPS-track yourself you start to find that a lot of what it tells you is about where you weren’t."
charlieloyd  2014  teaching  learning  xkcd  legibility  scale  allsorts  learningallthetime  howwelearn  howweteach  perspective  understanding  layerdness  datadrama  jamescscott  violence  ooda  johnboyd  competition  initiative  offense  empathy  children  legacy  surveillance  censorship  babymonitors  4chan  adulthood  childhood  parenting 
april 2014 by robertogreco
James C. Scott, Farmer and Scholar of Anarchism - NYTimes.com
[Forgot to bookmark this last year, but Anne has brought it back up.]

"“I’m as proud of knowing how to shear a sheep as I am of anything,” Mr. Scott, who turned 76 on Sunday, said during a recent interview in the living room of his rustic 1826 farmhouse, seated across from a pair of rocking chairs draped with skins of home-butchered Montadales. “I’ve been a better scholar partly because I’ve had this other activity.”"



"“I just love raising animals,” he said before inviting a departing visitor to pluck a dozen freshly laid eggs from his ramshackle chicken coop. “It’s good to have something that requires your body and leaves your mind alone.”"
jamescscott  farming  2012  agriculture 
october 2013 by robertogreco
Anarchist Calisthenics | Bleeding Heart Libertarians
"You know, you and especially your grandparents could have used more of a spirit of lawbreaking. One day you will be called upon to break a big law in the name of justice and rationality. Everything will depend on it. You have to be ready. How are you going to prepare for that day when it really matters? You have to stay ‘in shape’ so that when the big day comes you will be ready. What you need is ‘anarchist calisthenics.’ Every day or so break some trivial law that makes no sense, even if it’s only jaywalking. Use your own head to judge whether a law is just or reasonable. That way, you’ll keep trim; and when the big day comes, you’ll be ready."

"I think I’m going to print that on a poster and put it in my kids’ rooms."

[via: http://obliscent.tumblr.com/post/32907364062/you-know-you-and-especially-your-grandparents via http://reading.am/jenlowe ]
parenting  anarchy  deschooling  unschooling  rationality  justice  legal  jaywalking  lawbreaking  law  civildisobedience  2012  jamescscott  anarchism  philosophicalanarchism  via:jenlowe 
october 2012 by robertogreco
The Battle Over Zomia - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"Scholars are enchanted by the notion of this anarchic region in Asia. But how real is it?"

"He [James C. Scott] argues that those many minority ethnic groups were, in a sense, barbarians by design, using their culture, farming practices, egalitarian political structures, prophet-led rebellions, and even their lack of writing systems to put distance between themselves and the states that wished to engulf them.

As Scott develops his thesis, concepts that many scholars might hold dear vanish. Longstanding notions about the meaning of ethnic identity: Poof, gone. The idea that being "civilized" is superior to being uncivilized. Poof. The perception that absence of a written language signals a group's failure to advance. Poof.

Instead, Scott asserts, "ethnic identities in the hills are politically crafted and designed to position a group vis-à-vis others in competition for power and resources.""
zomia  jamescscott  anarchism  asia  society  culture  academia  anthropology  history  2011  books  southeastasia  civilization  classideas  uncivilized 
september 2011 by robertogreco
A Big Little Idea Called Legibility
"The Authoritarian High-Modernist Recipe for Failure…

• Look at a complex and confusing reality, such as the social dynamics of an old city
• Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
• Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
• Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like
• Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality
• Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary
• Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly

Central to Scott’s thesis is the idea of legibility. He explains how he stumbled across the idea while researching efforts by nation states to settle or “sedentarize” nomads, pastoralists, gypsies and other peoples living non-mainstream lives…"
politics  history  philosophy  problemsolving  imperialism  colonialism  jamescscott  design  architecture  urbanplanning  urbanism  nomads  nomadism  gypsies  pastoralists  mainstream  radicals  radicalism  2011  venkateshrao  legibility  illegiblepeople  illegibles  stevenjohnson  patternmaking  patterns  patternrecognition  complexity  unschooling  deschooling  utopianthinking  india  high-modenism  lecorbusier  forests  brasilia  bauhaus  control  decolonization  power  nicholasdirks  rome  edwardgibbon  civilization  authoritarianism  authoritarianhigh-modernism  elephantpaths  desirelines  anarchism  organizations  illegibility  highmodernism  utopia  governance  simplification  measurement  quantification  brasília 
august 2011 by robertogreco

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