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Meidosem

Future compliance

Ingrid Burrington, in her fascinating newsletter on mineral resources, commenting on a Volkswagen slide deck:

The phrase “more future compliant” is so fucking resonant and weird, isn’t it? It kind of perfectly sums up what’s at stake in the transition away from carbon energy and the politics of extraction.

“Compliance” is the word corporations use to police their own employees; in my own experience, it appears when legal and accounting departments gain power over other company functions. “Future compliant” is a phrase used by those who are coerced into taking their own externalities seriously.

(Also: public debate has a tendency to take old technologies and institutions, such as mining, as granted and uncontroversial. The idea of writing about natural resources – in a way that never focuses on a single aspect but tries to intertwine political, social, commercial, technical, ecological ramifications – has a Shock of the Old vibe: both subversive and introspective. Rather than the trite “what should we do know” of ethical discourse, this asks “on whose bones are we standing”.)

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Interfaces of counter-democratization

William Davies, arguing that the online political discussion is set up around the idea of Carl Schmitt’s plebiscite:

A polity that privileges decision first and understanding second will have some terrible mess to sort out along the way.

The article explores how false debates, organized around insane alternatives (“is history something to be proud of or ashamed of?”) reinforce othering. I liked the idea of this structuration being the product of devices:

In a society of excessive choice, we become reliant on what the French sociologist Lucien Karpik has described as ‘judgment devices’, prosthetic aids which support us in the exhausting labour of choosing and preferring. Karpik studied such comfortingly analogue examples as the Michelin restaurant guide.

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There’s a vacuum of design criticism because “design thinking” doesn’t offer a framework or vocabulary for criticizing capitalism, and most culturally significant digital design at the moment is the rendering of raw capitalism.

I think that for some of us it is almost impossible to have a cohesive identity or, rather, there are some whose inconsistent and conflicted sense of self is their identity.

Weird is not a thing, it is a process. It is also an emergent product which somehow precedes every combination of events, genres & skills it can be said to emerge from. Good luck with planning to be weird, see you at the ceremony.

Paul Ford, on how online writing has changed in the last 15 years:

I think, back then, you could tell a person who had good opinions because they’d say offensive things, while the fewer offensive things a person said, the worse their opinions. Contrast Dave Chappelle to George W. Bush. But now to speak without offense is good, while the awful people feel obligated to say absolutely terrible things to demonstrate their freedom.

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“What else have you stolen?” I ask Warren.
“Everything,” he says, “Absolutely, everything.”

Supply chains and corporate lifeforms

Miriam Posner, in a piece on the opacity of supply chains, remarks on software’s role in removing visibility and control (and ultimately, responsibility) from the actors:

Leonardo Bonanni is the founder and CEO of a company called Sourcemap, which aims to help companies map their own supply chains. Bonanni suspects that companies’ inability to visualize their own supply chain is partly a function of SAP’s architecture itself. “It’s funny, because the DNA of software really speaks through,” said Bonanni. “If you look at SAP, the database is still actually written in German. The relations in it are all one-link. They never intended for supply chains to involve so many people, and to be interesting to so many parts of the company.”

It’s not a software issue – but SAP is culture much more than it is software.

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Wilderness Solo

Mark O’Connell spends one day sitting in a forest, doing nothing:

At some point it came to my attention that I was no longer bored, and that I had not been bored for some time. This is not to say that I was in a state of high mental stimulation, but that the hours of inactivity had induced in me a kind of meditative stupor, whereby I was receptive to the information of the environment – to the ceaseless clamour of the river, the chattering of the birds overhead, the urgent whisperings of the leaves in the breeze, the modulations of temperature and light – but uninclined to think much about this information, or anything else. I had, I realised, become attuned to the frequencies of the forest. I had found the secret level.

Design research from sense-making to map-making

Venkatesh Rao, discussing the crafts traditionally involved in understanding systems, makes the distinction between map-making and sense-making:

Map-makers try to make one map that accounts for everything they see happening to things they care about. Then they try to craft narratives on that one map. Maps can be wrong or incomplete, but they aren’t usually incoherent or entropic, because they represent a single, totalizing, absolutely interested point of view, and a set of associated epistemic, ontological, and aesthetic preferences.

Sense-makers on the other hand, try to come at the territory using multiple maps, as well as direct experience. Theirs is not a disinterested point of view, but a relative, multi-interested point of view. We want various points of view to agree in a certain limited sense, lending confidence to our hope that we’ve made sense of reality through triangulation.

(Map-makers might be more adequately characterized as map-users.)

Design research is very much a sense-making operation that aims to establish a new map. The clients of design research are in possession of an outdated, and possibly biased, map.

Research is often presented as a reality check, with field studies helping debunk and update old maps. But entrenched map-makers need more than a check from reality, they need an injection of possibilities. A multiplication of the point of views, through direct ethnographic studies, social sciences, experimentations. A good research narrative is the resolution of a controversy, in the form of a new map.

Rao, on what makes an existing map cease to work:

Things stop making sense when it sounds like the different maps are about different territories altogether, and aren’t even talking about the same story. When that happens, sense-making fragments. Instead of an assemblage of almost co-extensive stories that refer to the same assumed underlying reality territory, it begins to seem as though entire diverging stories are playing out, which are only incidentally connected at the margins.

He calls the structural divergence of point of views a “weirding”. Designers who have striven to reconcile a business’ interest with individual needs and interests know this kind of divergence very well. Another divergence currently getting exposure is the one between caring for individual experiences and caring for environmental sustainability. Different maps, different ways of looking at the world, previously not distinguished, now irreconcilable.

William Gibson:

“With each set of three books, I’ve commenced with a sort of deep reading of the fuckedness quotient of the day,” he explained. “I then have to adjust my fiction in relation to how fucked and how far out the present actually is.”

Superstition Today

Nicolas Nova, sifting through examples of “magical thinking” in technology use:

Obadia also points out that although the concept of “superstition” is rooted in a condescending othering of “backward“ or non-Western modes of thinking, it does not mean it should be abandoned.

Examining these examples in a pragmatic way, it appears people will sometimes ascribe agency to devices when they have difficulty understanding how those devices work. And this agency giving is part of a domestication process of technology. (Sometimes, Nova argues, people’s ignorance is maintained on purpose, and “magic” is used as part of marketing discourse.)

What’s interesting in this behaviour – giving agency to technology that does not behave in predictable ways – is that it is almost never leveraged on purpose. It behaves like an unwritten script for the object, one that no designer has anticipated. It’s revealing of the wildness of machines beneath the domesticating efforts of code and design.

The political debt we hide behind technical debt

Or, further evidence of computing used as a tool for centralization.

Joseph Weizenbaum, via Audrey Watters:

I think the computer has from the beginning been a fundamentally conservative force. It has made possible the saving of institutions pretty much as they were, which otherwise might have had to be changed. For example, banking. Superficially, it looks as if banking has been revolutionized by the computer. But only very superficially. Consider that, say 20, 25 years ago, the banks were faced with the fact that the population was growing at a very rapid rate, many more checks would be written than before, and so on. Their response was to bring in the computer. By the way, I helped design the first computer banking system in the United States, for the Bank of America 25 years ago.

Now if it had not been for the computer, if the computer had not been invented, what would the banks have had to do? They might have had to decentralize, or they might have had to regionalize in some way. In other words, it might have been necessary to introduce a social invention, as opposed to the technical invention.

What the coming of the computer did, “just in time,” was to make it unnecessary to create social inventions, to change the system in any way. So in that sense, the computer has acted as fundamentally a conservative force, a force which kept power or even solidified power where is already existed.

But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them—even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.

N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky, p. 210

The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind

Douglas Rushkoff:

There’s nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society. But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else. It’s less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human: the body, interdependence, compassion, vulnerability, and complexity. As technology philosophers have been pointing out for years, now, the transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that “humans are nothing but information-processing objects.”

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the only mofos in my circle are people that I CAN LEARN FROM. i believe THAT is the first and foremost rule to a successful life.
you are going to be as educated and successful as the 10 most frequented people you call/text on your phone

I’ll say let the phones be smart. I want to be wise. I want the courage to love. I want the courage to sacrifice. I want the courage to be nonconformist in the face of injustice. Adolf Hitler was smart. I’m not impressed by that, you see.

La consolation et la violence

Marie Richeux :

Oeil pour œil, dent pour dent, n’existe pas. Pour une violence subie, une violence faite n’a rien à voir. Ne soulage pas. Ne rembourse jamais. Ne ramène aucun mort à la vie. La colère d’Achille et son immémoriale tristesse ne se résorbent pas avec le massacre d’Hector et je crois qu’il le sait. De le savoir creuse son désespoir, et creuse son impuissance, les deux font le lit de sa violence.

Le passage à l’acte violent rend dévastatrice une pensée qui n’était violente que pour consolation. Devenue action, elle ne console de rien. Mais c’est l’enfer de la répétition que de le savoir au fond et de le faire quand même.

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Fire attention economy

Jack Cheng:

Something I noticed for the first time last night was how little eye contact there is around a fire. We talked to each other but we stared at the flames. It’s called soft fascination, E said, in to the fire. It happens with clouds and rustling leaves, too, a lot of things in nature. You can leave the fire and come back to it without feeling like you’ve missed something, without needing to pick up where you left off. You can tune out partially and bathe in the variant light, and at the same time hone in on specifics, like how flames in different sections can flicker at different speeds. How smoke swirls and the heat-side of a new log fissures. How the charcoals fall off the bottom and pulsate orange-red. Fire’s interesting in a different way than a TV or phone, is more a flat surface you set your attention on than a hole it falls into. Fire seems to work on its own channel, visual white noise with a little extra something.

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C’est en vain que tu as compris si tu n’aimes pas ce que tu as saisi, car la sagesse est dans l’amour. L’intelligence précède l’esprit de sagesse et ne goûte que d’une manière transitoire, mais l’amour savoure ce qui demeure.

Guiges II le Chartreux

On the War on Drugs

Johann Hari offers a pragmatic, rethought and really, downright fascinating approach to drugs and addiction.

On the forgotten roots of prohibition:

If you look at the reason why drugs are banned in the United States, and then in Britain, the real reason was a race panic. There’s a deep belief that African Americans and Chinese Americans are using drugs to attack white people, and therefore drugs have to be banned in order to put these ethnic minorities back in their place.

What to expect from the end of prohibition: less violence.

If you or I go to the local off-license [liquor store], and try to steal the beer or vodka, the owner will just call the police. He doesn’t need to be violent or intimidating. If we go up to the local coke dealer or the local weed dealer and try to steal their product, they can’t call the police, because the police will arrest them. So they do have to be violent and intimidating. The sociologist Philippe Bourgois says that prohibition creates a culture of terror. (…)

The best way to test that is to ask, where are the violent alcohol dealers today? Does Oddbins go and blow up the drinks aisle in Sainsbury’s? Do they go and shoot the people that work in the Sainsbury’s aisle in the face? Does the head of Guiness send people to go and torture the head of Smirnoff? No. But under alcohol prohibition, there were a huge number of violent alcohol dealers. Nothing’s changed about alcohol, the drug remains the same. The method of how you sell it has changed, and therefore the murder rate massively fell.

On the kind of violence prohibition has caused in Mexico:

If you’re the person who says, we won’t just kill their pregnant wives, we’ll put it on Youtube, you gain a brief competitive advantage. If you say, we’ll cut off their faces, sew their faces onto a football and send the football to their families — this is a real thing that happens — you get a brief competitive advantage.

Legalizing drugs would conceivably reduce children’s exposure and access to the market:

Legalisation is a way of imposing regulation on that, currently completely deregulated market, and one of the things you can do when you regulate drugs is put barriers between people. So, for example, no one in my nephews’ school is selling Jack Daniels or Budweiser, but there are loads of people selling weed and pills. There was a study in the United States that found that teenagers find it easier to get hold of marijuana than they do to get hold of alcohol, precisely because drug dealers don’t check I.D. So, if your main motivation when approaching the drug war, and it’s a very good one, is to say you do not want your teenagers to have access to drugs, that’s one of the strongest arguments I know for legalisation.

Funny how little the Portuguese experiment is talked about, compared to, say, the Netherlands:

One thing we can say about the drug war is that we gave it a fair shot. We gave it 100 years and a trillion dollars. We can compare the results we got from that, to the results of countries where they’ve spent most of their money on turning addicts’ lives around. In Portugal, nearly 15 years ago, they decriminalised all drugs and spent the money on treatment for addicts, and turning addicts’ lives around, in particular through subsidised jobs. The results are that injecting drug users are down by 50%, overdoses are massively down, and HIV transmission among addicts is massively down. We can see how these models work, there’s nothing theoretical or abstract about this debate anymore, there are countries that have tried the prohibitionist approach, there are countries that have tried approaches based on compassion, and we can see the results.

Ultimately:

The evidence is clear: A system based on stigma and punishment and hatred doesn’t work. A system based on compassion and care and love does work. It turns people’s lives around. So now we have a choice. Do we want to have another century of charging off in the wrong direction? Or do we want to listen to the countries where they are trying the new approach, and it is having amazing results?

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When we have exterior accomplishment without the interior, that’s when, I think, we most strongly feel like we are imposters.

bell hooks talks to John Perry Barlow

A magnificient moment.

John Perry Barlow: It seems to me that what we’re here to do is to learn about love in the presence of fear.
bell hooks: I have been thinking about the notion of perfect love as being without fear, and what that means for us in a world that’s becoming increasingly xenophobic, tortured by fundamentalism and nationalism. Even about meeting you—the idea of being able to let fear go so you can move towards another person who’s not like you. I’ve never met anyone from Wyoming before.
John Perry Barlow: Much less a Republican cattle rancher.
bell hooks: When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.
John Perry Barlow: I was just describing you to someone in terms of the externalities that would end up on your curriculum vitae, and the person said, she sounds like your polar opposite. On paper, you are my polar opposite and yet I feel none of that in your presence.
bell hooks: I actually feel that my heart was calling me to you. The first time we were in the same room for a prolonged period of time together, I sought you out. I wanted to hear your story.
John Perry Barlow: I felt the same way.
bell hooks: And what I see in a lot of young folks is this desire to be only with people like themselves and only to have any trust in reaching out to people like themselves. I think, what kind of magic are they going to miss in life? What kind of renewals of their beings will they never have, if they think you can have some computer printout that says this person has the same gender as you, the same race as you, the same class, and therefore they’re safe? I feel that intuition is so crucial to getting beyond race and class and gender, so that we can allow ourselves to feel for and with another person.

(…)

bell hooks: I feel that especially when it’s chores I don’t want to do, like taking out the garbage or doing my laundry. It’s in the act of having to do things that you don’t want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.

(…)

bell hooks: One of the guiding issues of my life right now is thinking about the difference between being fear-based and faith-based. When we think about the history of science, so much of it is rooted in this quest to find answers that will silence fear.

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