Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tale of Two Worlds.

(Caption: Will Smith and Jeff Goldbloom portray heroic suicide bombers who commit a noble genocide in "Independence Day.")

We live in one of two worlds, but I can't be sure which.

Both of these worlds have people who suck ass and who screw everything up. Both worlds have their BPs. Their Hitlers. Their Crocks....

But one world is oh sooooo exciting, for it's filled with EVIL!!! And the bad things that happen in this world are done by bad people. People who WANT to do evil. They want to wreak havoc and destroy things. Their BP was the work of a criminal master-mind, some source of evil which WANTED to be evil. And the gulf coast was a consequence of this evil.

On the other world there are no evil people. What a boring world! Nobody wants to live here. On this world, MOST sane, competent people actually try to do good in their lives. Somehow or another, they look around, create some kind of rubric for themselves about what a good life is, and then they try to live it. Of course, this world DOES have religious fanatics who believe silly things are EVIL--things like consensually touching a few certain parts of the human anatomy without wearing the proper jewelry, or cooking a burger in the same kitchen you pour a glass of milk, or not wearing the correct underwear--stuff like that. They like to believe that stuff's evil, so they can be "evil" sometimes and make life on the boring planet more interesting and exciting. Mostly they do it so they can feel good when they stop doing it and become "good"again. It's really EXCITING to have that kind of arch to your life. But when it comes to the big stuff, stuff with real consequences and where real people get hurt, all the really sucky stuff on this world, even these people TRY to be "good."

So, all the really shitty stuff on this world is done by the "good" guys. You know, they TRY--how they try! But, because their rubric's screwed up, they just end up making stuff on the planet worse instead of better.

Now, everybody lives on one of these two worlds, or at least some mix, where one of these two options is more or less prevalent.

I'd like to live on the first world. Nice and exciting! And easy. Black and white! Everybody wants to live on this world, that's why most of our art, fiction and stories take place on worlds like this.

But I'm afraid that if I'm honest, I live in a world that's about 98% like world 2. Crap. This world's boring and hard and it takes a really sort of mature perspective to accept that.

But most importantly, if YOUR world is even 20% like world 2, that means a lot of the bad stuff is caused by good people. And if everybody's basically trying to do good, and to help people, (even if they're just helping themselves or their families, their towns, their countries...) but they're making things worse...

Then how can you and I tell the difference? How do I know that I'm not one of the jerks fucking everything up? I mean, OBVIOUSLY I'M NOT! Right? But, then, shouldn't that be obvious to those jerks who ARE screwing stuff up? But not only do those jerks think they're right, but some of them think I'm actually the one screwing stuff up!

Oy! What a confusing world to live on! No wonder we want to live on world 1.

Well, thinking like this can get YOU or ME so tied up that we don't try to help! That would be a problem, wouldn't it!?

Unless, or course, we're the people screwing stuff up....


Ok, ok, ok... here are my cards:

If you're the kind of person who thinks about this sort of thing, then you're probably less likely to be one of the screwer-uppers. Ayn Rand would say that the Invisible Hand of blind self-interest is the best way to help. But I wonder if BP did an outcome analysis of how their drilling would positively impact the people in the gulf region? Non-profits DO. So people really trying to help are more likely to not screw stuff up, because they; consider the ethics of their actions, establish rubrics for assessing their impact, they don't impose their will on others and they TRY to avoid conflict of interest. Isn't it illogical to think that a business model that does none of this is as likely to do good for everyone involved?

But still, there are non-profits that suck--people who do these things above and still generate bountiful suckiness...

So there's more here? Or do you live on world 1?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Please help me.

(Caption: The Dalai Lama "helped" a Tibetan religious minority by; calling for a boycott of their businesses, asking businesses not to serve them, kicking them out of their homes and otherwise persecuting them. Awesome.)

Please help me. I have a problem. It's a problem of "helping." I don't know how to help. I don't think anybody does. And I want to help.

This is not a "criticism" of those who help. It's more a zen "Koan."

My artwork always explores a "problem" or "koan" like this, things that truly and deeply trouble me, and "help" is the topic of my current novel. With the Gulf Coast, and so many other recent man-made quagmires, I cannot get this problem out of my head. So my request for help is not ironic, but sincere.

And this problem is intractably wound up with the topic of this blog, central planning VS. organic, evolving culture.

I'm going to lay this out in a syllogism. If you disagree with my logic, or with any of my priors, let me know and I'll see if I can convince you, so that you can appreciate this problem and try to solve it with me.

I. We humans are full of illusions about reality and nature. This causes most, if not all, of our problems. For example, we treat nature and reality themselves as "problems" which must be overcome. Or for another example, that this current "system" of unending and exponential resource consumption is sustainable and that "security" can be had by conforming to it.

II. Human intentions to "help" are usually based on the same illusions that caused the problems, so our "help" often makes things worse, or at best, only makes our problems more philosophically... "pure."

This is far more complex than just:

I. Humans are flawed.
II. Human solutions are flawed.

Here's a quick and incomplete list of these "illusions" so you can understand why I use that word:

--Humans believe we are in conflict with nature, but in truth, we are a part of nature and we've evolved within it. Man Vs. Nature is such a fundamental assumption that its even dealt with in our art and literature. This is the human desire to re-create the world in our image. We build floating castles despite gravity, then curse nature when they come crashing down. You can see this in the current response to the Gulf oil spill.
When we pollute the water with oil, we "fix" it by adding a billion gallons of detergents containing toxic dioxin. This "disperses" the oil, keeps it from sticking together and coming on shore, where nature would have dealt with it better. Next we'll add 70 miles of artificial sand dune to that ecosystem, to again keep the oil from coming on shore where natural decomposing organisms would deal with it. This will destroy the water flow that the ecosystem evolved in and force the oil into a deep-sea area that 90% of Gulf life spends part of its life-cycle in. Which is why politicians say we need a new work program to completely "re-engineer" the gulf ecosystem that's evolved over millions of years--a project that will require a huge escalation of fossil fuel consumption and increased deep-water drilling in even more hazardous and risky conditions....

All to keep the Gulf the way we want it, to make it in OUR image, and not nature's. This also highlights a second illusion:

--We believe that "change" is a problem. Again, change is inherent in the universe. God damn the laws of thermodynamics. Natural systems are dynamic and in constant flux. But we try to "help" by fighting this. We beat our heads against reality like a wall.

--We also believe that uncertainty is a problem. Insurance has become a "responsibility" in our nation, because we believe we can mitigate every risk. But uncertainty is the nature of the human condition.

--We believe our way is best. We judge according to our own egocentrism, our ethnocentrism, our "manufactured desire" for ideas and certainty, so anything that doesn't "fit" requires "fixing."

--We believe WE know what a human being should want. But we've spent generations "manufacturing desire" for crappy products nobody needs. We can no longer tell the difference. The Hummer: Most expensive vehicle in its class, universally ranked as the worst in its class--worst quality materials, worst performance, highest complaint/vehicle ratio, horrible aesthetic design, most expensive to own and operate, bad for the planet, bad for society...

And also the best seller.

--We believe we are entitled to something for our help. But it's illogical to think that if helping OURSELVES is priority, that we will do the best job for the people we're helping. Yet, we've institutionalized "incentive" in our Western conception of "help." So mostly, we end up "helping" people into servitude to our own interests. When I examine the "help" being given these days, it's this illusion that fucks things up the most. And yet, in 'Merka, it's the most intractable of our ideals about helping.

So, how can a person "help?"

Friday, June 11, 2010

US aid puts Haitians out of Business

This is something Vonnegut would write.

"Aid" food has flooded the Haitian market, driving Haitian farmers in the north out of business. They can't compete with the free food, mostly from the US. Now, they must choose between selling their rice for $Ass, or eating.

So, our "help" is literally starving Haitian farmers.

Philanthropy is the devil in disguise. And the quickest road to lichdom.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Art Liches, Bitches...

This isn't about videogames. It's about power corrupting or some such thing.

But yeah, spooky picture, from Battle for Wesnoth. Because there are community-sourced independent computer games too.

Vampires, warewolves, zombies... we all know they have to "mean something" these days, because if they don't then it's supposed to be silly for adults to be interested in them.

A good straight scare and its ability to shock us out of convention and rut is "immature."

You know, zombies represent modern consumers, vampires represent some attraction to death, or perhaps a faustian bargain, or dangerous sexuality and warewolves represent the Tea-bagger movement.
It's all very simple.

And WTF is a Lich? In fantasy culture a lich is any dude who's used magic to unnaturally prolong his life. But what it takes to become immortal is usually pretty unpleasant and it usually leaves the individual a pretty grumpy old fellow.

Voldemort is the first big "Lich" in popular culture. What does he represent? Sure, "pure evil." I never buy the pure evil BS. "I'm going to take power for its own sake and rule the world!!!" From what I've seen of life, nobody with an IQ high enough to tie their shoes really has that kind of aspiration. No. The people who suck the most are always trying to do some kind of "good."

Another angle is: power corrupts, aboslute power blah, blah, blah....

But I like the liches that bisect this set of themes:
Power over life and death.
To become "immortal," everything that's "you" must die.
What lives on is no relation to what once lived, and what's left is so corrupted, so bizarre that it destroys its original values and ideals.

Look no further than any family business that's ever gone corporate.
Or look at a "Project for a New American Century" seeking immortality for their county and in the process sticking us in a "war without end."

But the best example is religion.
Look at the Buddha. Way back when, some small group of people started a movement of "noble atheism" to fight against the injustice and authoritarian abuses of the popular religion at the time. He ordained women, decentralized the religion and taught non-attachment to things like tradition and taught that God was irrelevant to living a good life.

2,000 years later what's left of the Buddha is a lich, worshiped as God by often centralized, authoritarian structures that use tradition as an excuse to keep women from being ordained, and marginalize ethnic groups or those who disagree.

And the biggest lich of them all?


2,000 years back a social movement formed around a person or persons named (or not actually named) "Jesus" that sought to fight the injustice of abused religious authority. Again. The Roman Empire did what every empire does (what the US is doing in Iraq) divide and conquer.

They gave the "Pharisees" authority over everything, including religion, then armed them, knowing other ethnic groups would fight back. And if they were fighting among themselves, easy time for Rome.

And the Pharisees made getting into heaven an expensive goal, keeping their adversaries in the poor house.

Jesus fought that, teaching you should follow basic principles, "love thy neighbor" and such. And taught the radical notion that wealth did not equate with religious "purity" by living like a slob in the desert. And he ran the fucking "money changers" who charged for purification rituals out of their own temple.

Now what's left of that movement and their "Jesus" is a lich who grants authority to a huge bureaucracy of money changers who use notions of "purity," tradition and ritual to further enshrine their own power. "Jesus" is big business.

So I wonder about all the artists who share that goal: immortality through their work... more later.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

DIY Film: Holdfast

Yep, this is film on a small scale, but don't worry, it's not that artsy fartsy film your friend in film school made during his David Lynch phase.

Believe it or not, this film was made on a budget far, far less than your average film student flick.

And it's probably better too.

First-time director/writer/hacker/ and maniac sailor "Moxie Marlinspike" cut this DIY film about DIY sailing on a single cheap camera and edited and narrated it himself.

Holdfast tells the tale of 4 friends who go out to sea in a boat that's barely sea-worthy and sail the Bahamas. But first we get a brief people's history of sailing, and more, "maniac sailors:" a class of lunatics and hermits who set sail to escape the banality of civilization. These sea-dwelling hermits are the inspiration for Moxie and his crew. Moxie tells us his greatest fear is routine, and the way of the maniac sailor is his escape.

The Pestilence, our worthy vessel, never sinks, but it comes close a few times. Such is the nature of DIY sailing in a derelict boat purchased for $1,000 and put back together with stolen lumber, few tools and no budget by anarchist kids living at the margin of society by skimming off modern corporatism's excesses.

As a story, Holdfast follows a different arch than what we've come to expect from movies. It lacks the climactic pace of modern reality teevee. Instead, it more closely resembles a long Vlog, or podcast, giving us a more honest documentation of the voyage. It doesn't end with a bang, it ends by dissolving into ennui. It seems that eventually, even life at sea becomes a routine for Moxie...

But what I love is the freedom of the thing. We need more of these parables of freedom, the thought that we can just cut loose from the doc and plot our own way through life. Holdfast illustrates this through an extreme, but the mental space it represents: that you can just say "fuck it" and shove off, is an ideal most of us would like to move towards. And in Holdfast, we get that twice over: through the idea that "real people" can just get on a boat and sail, and the perhaps more radical idea that "real people" can create film, can create culture on their own.