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robertogreco : revolutions   5

A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse | David Graeber | The Baffler
[Now here: ]

"What is a revolution? We used to think we knew. Revolutions were seizures of power by popular forces aiming to transform the very nature of the political, social, and economic system in the country in which the revolution took place, usually according to some visionary dream of a just society. Nowadays, we live in an age when, if rebel armies do come sweeping into a city, or mass uprisings overthrow a dictator, it’s unlikely to have any such implications; when profound social transformation does occur—as with, say, the rise of feminism—it’s likely to take an entirely different form. It’s not that revolutionary dreams aren’t out there. But contemporary revolutionaries rarely think they can bring them into being by some modern-day equivalent of storming the Bastille."

"Revolutions are thus planetary phenomena. But there is more. What they really do is transform basic assumptions about what politics is ultimately about. In the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate. Before the French Revolution, the ideas that change is good, that government policy is the proper way to manage it, and that governments derive their authority from an entity called “the people” were considered the sorts of things one might hear from crackpots and demagogues, or at best a handful of freethinking intellectuals who spend their time debating in cafés. A generation later, even the stuffiest magistrates, priests, and headmasters had to at least pay lip service to these ideas. Before long, we had reached the situation we are in today: that it’s necessary to lay out the terms for anyone to even notice they are there. They’ve become common sense, the very grounds of political discussion.

Until 1968, most world revolutions really just introduced practical refinements: an expanded franchise, universal primary education, the welfare state. The world revolution of 1968, in contrast—whether it took the form it did in China, of a revolt by students and young cadres supporting Mao’s call for a Cultural Revolution; or in Berkeley and New York, where it marked an alliance of students, dropouts, and cultural rebels; or even in Paris, where it was an alliance of students and workers—was a rebellion against bureaucracy, conformity, or anything that fettered the human imagination, a project for the revolutionizing of not just political or economic life, but every aspect of human existence. As a result, in most cases, the rebels didn’t even try to take over the apparatus of state; they saw that apparatus as itself the problem."

"In retrospect, though, I think that later historians will conclude that the legacy of the sixties revolution was deeper than we now imagine, and that the triumph of capitalist markets and their various planetary administrators and enforcers—which seemed so epochal and permanent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—was, in fact, far shallower."

"In fact, most of the economic innovations of the last thirty years make more sense politically than economically. Eliminating guaranteed life employment for precarious contracts doesn’t really create a more effective workforce, but it is extraordinarily effective in destroying unions and otherwise depoliticizing labor. The same can be said of endlessly increasing working hours. No one has much time for political activity if they’re working sixty-hour weeks.

It does often seem that, whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former. The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future. Yet as a result of putting virtually all their efforts in one political basket, we are left in the bizarre situation of watching the capitalist system crumbling before our very eyes, at just the moment everyone had finally concluded no other system would be possible.

Work It Out, Slow It Down

Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with utopian visions. Or even blueprints. They just need to be kept in their place. The theorist Michael Albert has worked out a detailed plan for how a modern economy could run without money on a democratic, participatory basis. I think this is an important achievement—not because I think that exact model could ever be instituted, in exactly the form in which he describes it, but because it makes it impossible to say that such a thing is inconceivable. Still, such models can be only thought experiments. We cannot really conceive of the problems that will arise when we start trying to build a free society. What now seem likely to be the thorniest problems might not be problems at all; others that never even occurred to us might prove devilishly difficult. There are innumerable X-factors.

The most obvious is technology. This is the reason it’s so absurd to imagine activists in Renaissance Italy coming up with a model for a stock exchange and factories—what happened was based on all sorts of technologies that they couldn’t have anticipated, but which in part only emerged because society began to move in the direction that it did. This might explain, for instance, why so many of the more compelling visions of an anarchist society have been produced by science fiction writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Starhawk, Kim Stanley Robinson). In fiction, you are at least admitting the technological aspect is guesswork.

Myself, I am less interested in deciding what sort of economic system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decisions for themselves. What might a revolution in common sense actually look like? I don’t know, but I can think of any number of pieces of conventional wisdom that surely need challenging if we are to create any sort of viable free society. I’ve already explored one—the nature of money and debt—in some detail in a recent book. I even suggested a debt jubilee, a general cancellation, in part just to bring home that money is really just a human product, a set of promises, that by its nature can always be renegotiated."
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may 2013 by robertogreco
Future Perfect » 40 Qs About The (Coming) Revolution
"Coming revolution? Those that don’t understand the causes, dynamics, will mis-read what happens next, will be surprised at what occurs down line. Revolutions are relative to your reading of the situation, which begs the question what do you read?"
janchipchase  2011  egypt  libya  revolution  revolutions  change  reading  dynamics  causes  twitter  perception  perspective  motivation 
april 2011 by robertogreco
What is social information? « Snarkmarket
"Wallace has already signaled that this is going to be a paragraph about repetition to exhaustion or even injury before he even does it. You could say he needs to keep clarifying & repeating these things because his sentences are so convoluted that otherwise you couldn’t follow them, but 1) his syntax is pretty clear 2) it’s not like he’s a freak about specifying everything… But it’s also just Wallace — who understands all of this, by the way, better than we do: communication, information, redundancy, efficiency, purity, the dangers of too much information, and especially the fear of being alone and the need to find connection with other human beings — creating a structure that allows him to ping his reader, saying “I am here”… and waiting for his reader to respond in kind, “I’m alive right now; I’m a person; look at me.” 
timcarmody  snarkmarket  davidfosterwallace  infinitejest  language  solitude  loneliness  human  need  information  redundancy  efficiency  purity  clarity  communication  infooverload  connectedness  connection  freemandyson  malcolmgladwell  devinfriedman  ycombinator  dailybooth  expression  jamesgleick  congo  kele  languages  words  pinging  drums  2011  northafrica  revolution  revolutions  media  raymondcarver  history  cannon  signaling 
february 2011 by robertogreco
The following is from Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut (22 January 2003, Interconnected)
"Paul Slazinger has had all his clothes and writing materials brought here. He is working on his first volume of non-fiction, to which he has given this title: The Only Way to Have a Successful Revolution in Any Field of Human Activity.

For what it's worth: Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening team with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.

The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise, the revolution, whether in politics or the arts of the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.

The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius -- a person capable of having seeminly good ideas not in general circulation. 'A genius working alone,' he says, 'is invariably ignored as a lunatic.'

The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. 'A person working like that alone,' says Slazinger, 'can only yearn out loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be.'

The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain anything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. 'He will say almost anything in order to be interesting or exciting,' says Slazinger. 'Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.'"

[Update 13 May 2013: Now also here: and here ]
mattwebb  bluebeard  vonnegut  genius  innovation  specialists  communication  translation  cv  revolutions  movements  mindchanges  via:tomc  humans  specialization  generalists  trust  explainers  explaining  testimony  2003  kurtvonnegut  mindchanging 
january 2011 by robertogreco
10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books - Science and Tech - The Atlantic
[Great question: ]

"1. The phrase "reading revolution" was probably coined by German historian Rolf Engelsing. He certainly made it popular. Engelsing was trying to describe something he saw in the 18th century: a shift from "intensive" reading and re-reading of very few texts to "extensive" reading of many, often only once. Think of reading the Bible vs reading the newspaper. Engelsing called this shift a "Lesenrevolution," lesen being the German equivalent of reading. He thought he had found when modern reading emerged, as we'd recognize it today, and that it was this shift that effectively made us modern readers. …"

[More here
and, on the images, here: ]
books  ebooks  history  literacy  media  print  publishing  reading  writing  timcarmody  alexismadrigal  change  revolutions  classideas  cv  readinghabits  howwework  learning  gamechanging 
august 2010 by robertogreco

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