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Me Politics Writing

On Responsibility and Human Society

responsible humans

(Originally published 2008)

It’s never been easy being a human being. From the dawn of time, we have struggled to survive, struggled to find shelter, struggled to find safety, and struggled to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and alive. The way we do this has changed, but the necessity to do so has not. The world is a brutal place, even without the brutality we cause to one another. One need only look at the headlines to see this is true. The world is a deadly.

When one adds to all the natural disasters, the threats posed by other human beings, the world becomes that much more dangerous…and complex to survive in. In Hawai’i are fortunate that we have more deaths from drowning each year than from disasters, both natural and man made. Unfortunately, that is not the case throughout most of the planet. My purpose in writing today is to explore the reasons why we, as humans, tend to create political and social institutions that make basic survival that much more difficult for our fellow human beings.

When I speak of human disasters, I am referring to the worst that we are capable of doing to each other. I am referring to genocide, murder, rape, and looking on as others starve, die from disease, and suffer in plain site. How have we let this happen? How have we allowed these things to become our reality? How have we let this world come to be a place where we look on as these things happen and feel that we can do nothing to stop it.

Strange as it may sound, I think I actually have an answer. At some point in creating societies and civilizations, it was necessary for individuals to take on different specialized roles of responsibility. This is a necessary and good thing, within limits. For instance, one person took on the responsibility of growing food, another person took the responsibility to create tools, another person became a builder, and so forth. This specialization allowed for the refinement of crafts and trades which in turn allowed us to develop more sophisticated technologies. These technologies created the means for us to live in abundant, secure, and peaceful communities. This division of labor was a successful strand in the cloth of our cultural evolution.

Imagine, the first community of farmers, builders, weavers, and tool makers celebrating after their first truly successful season. The shelters were warm, the clothing was functional, the tools were efficient, and the specialized techniques of farming had created a surplus of food. Great stuff! Suddenly, there was the time to create art, the time to create music, enough surplus food to try new recipes, and perhaps even the impetus for a harvest celebration.

And that is when another band without these advances wanders into our peaceful setting. Since they speak a different language, they cannot understand why some should have so much when they have so little. They begin to take from the efforts of our young society. They are doing so without contributing.

As you might imagine, this quickly becomes a problem. Since our young society has been so successful in assigning specific responsibilities and leaving other responsibilities to others, they decide rather quickly to assign responsibility for this new challenge to a specific sector of the population. Thus are born the first lawmakers and the first law officers to enforce those laws.

RESPONSIBLILITY IN ANCIENT TIMESThe farmer can now keep farming and the lawmen will protect his crops. The builder can build and the lawmaker will decide where the property line is. The cloth maker can weave and the law will set a price and be sure it is paid. When there is a problem, refer it to the law. When there a question about the law, refer it to the lawyers. When protection is needed, seek it from the soldiers and police. In order to make these protectors more efficient, give them the means to create new laws and the strength of arms to enforce them.

Responsibility was given away. Personally, I think this was our first mistake. Think about it. Maybe it is time to start taking the responsibility for our lives back. The question is, how do we do that?

I would love for this to be one of a series of ongoing dialogues so I encourage you to respond with your thoughts and comments. Even you mom!

 

5 THOUGHTS ON “SOME THOUGHTS ON RESPONSIBILITY- LET’S HAVE A DIALOGUE.”

  1. Although widely attributed to the (almost) immortal George Burns, it was apparently Voltaire who said, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
    Cheers to personal responsibility and taking control of your own little part of the avalanche. It might seem like nothing, but if some other snowflakes join you, it can be very powerful.

  2. Difficult to have a dialogue with someone who’s thoughts are so credible…..However, I
    have been given permission to respond, and so here it is. Not all the snowflakes (thanks Mink Hippie) are the same. Not even one. I believe those humans who have leadership talents, and a drive to attain the almighty dollar and material possessions, stepped up to the plate and created these political and social institutions that keep the common folk in chains. We are so busy trying to raise families and meet the cost of living that we cannot JOIN TOGETHER to make change. Not even the million truck drivers who are on the road will join together to protest the rising cost of diesel. They could stop the country by doing so for just a day or two. No one can “afford” the time nor loss of money. Over many years I have written letters to congressmen, signed petitions, voted, protested via email, and even have written more than one senator and president. The result. NADA. A standard letter in response to some concerns – “thank you for your comments – blah blah blah.” There is a point you decide that the only thing you can do anything about is within your own world of family and friends-your daily communication with those in your life. My mama told me that the industrialization of man was the ruination of man.
    In many ways I concur. Our technology has surpassed our growth in loving one another and finding true peace on earth. The media has convinced us we NEED it all – the bigger, the better. The obsession with “stuff” is ruining us. You have the right idea about releasing things and I am in the process of trying to do just that. Afterall, the sentiment is lovely, but that isn’t
    anything but a memory attached to a thing. The memory of those who shared, those who love…that is within and takes no room to store. It can be recalled instantly and happily.
    I do think having a governing body and laws is important. Those who are bullies and tyrants would run amok if allowed to do so. I do appreciate the fact there was a police officer to kill the man who beat his 2 year old to death. He was simply to late to change what happened. The problem is, again, those with connections and $$$$$ have control. I may have wandered
    to different subjects in this reply, but honestly, I believe the only way we can take back our
    lives is to live them within our circle of life. Be it on the level of a neighborhood, or the neighborhood of the world. If we learn to love one another, not judge each other, and be honest and honorable in our deeds, we could change the world, one person at a time.
    Thanks for stimulating my brain cells. Really, without prejudice, I am enjoying the hell out of your new format of WRITING what’s on your mind. My brain appreciates it too…I can hardly wait to see what’s next!

  3. A lot of my older, wiser, anarchist friends definitely have a similar attitude. I remember a guy I met in Eugene who had retired from the post office and THEN become an anarchist who told me that young anarchists are focused on changing the world, middle aged anarchists become focused on changing their community, and that old anarchists decide that changing themselves is challenge enough. I asked him if that wasn’t a bit of a cop out, maybe because the old anarchists were too tired or jaded and he smiled and told me that the hardest challenges are reserved for the elderly.

    I think this is when I started to reflect seriously on the idea of personal responsibility as a means to change the community and the world.

    Around that same time I was introduced to the idea that autonomy creates community, that is, if you are able to take care of your own needs, it frees you to contribute to the needs of others.

    Any thoughts on this?

  4. Autonomy produces insanely powerful positive leverage. I would argue that the only real battle is the one you have with yourself, all others are a waste of time because they’re fake. Too soon we get old, too late we get smart.

    For want of a nail the horse couldn’t be shoed to be able to pull the cannon into the key position where it could have fired the shot that won the battle that would have led to winning the war. Instead, all was lost.

    Young anarchists concentrate on winning the war with no clue regarding the critical importance of a single nail doing exactly what it was meant to do. To say that’s a copout is an understatement, and that’s why they always lose, even when they win according to their way of measuring. They are top down…usually liberal and favoring big government solutions that the less evolved should help pay for for their own good.

    Old anarchists focus themselves like laser beams into being a good nail, once they understand its place in the web of reality. Old anarchists work on themselves creating the ripples that turn into tsunamis the farther they radiate. They work from the bottom up, having fatigued of seeing their castles in the air fade with the breeze. The sooner an individual sees that working on himself is not only the best battle to choose to fight, but that it’s the only battle that actually exists, the sooner he will be a positive force in the wider society.

    The Rev has spoken, and he’s at least as good as the pope.

Categories
Politics Writing

A Question of Authority – Can there be Authority in an Anarchist Society?

I wrote this back in 2000 and as has been pointed out by anarchist friends and colleagues, the whole thing is rather un-anarchist in its perspective. Thirteen years later, I have to say that I’m still not certain what box I fit in, with regards to political and economic pigeonholing. It may be that not fitting in any box is the only answer I can give with certitude.

Second update 2020 – after many years of looking, what I’ve realized is that this vision most closeley aligns with the ideas of Murray Bookchin and Abdullah Ocalan – these ideas are known collectively as Democratic Confederalism, and Libertarian Municipalism. The ideas are truly revolutionary and were changing the way things were done Rojava and other places in Northern Syria among the free Kurdish and Peshmerga forces until collaboration between the U.S, Turkey, Russia, and Syria ended the experiment.

 

A QUESTION OF AUTHORITY

Often with the topic of anarchy comes the question “But what about authority? Who will be in charge? And how will they stay there and be kept from corruption?”

The answer is much simpler than you might think. A nearly perfect example is the cooperative movement. Co-ops are owned by the workers who operate them and the customers who purchase the goods or services being manufactured. They are run democratically and have checks and balances built in to protect against abuse of power. Authority is granted by the workers and patrons of the co-op.

To the average American, this formula sounds good. Democracy, checks and balances, responsibility. Sounds just like what we all learned about America, but the truth is, America has changed.

One of the more obvious changes from the ideal is the representative democracy made up of the two political parties, the delegates, and the electoral college. Democracy has been subverted. The popular vote is meaningless. The mainstream media has even taken to calling the popular vote the “beauty contest”, implying that true democracy is only for show. The real decision is decided by delegates. Who are the delegates? Ask anyone, someone is sure to know. Good luck.

The checks and balances are in place to keep the executive from cheating the supreme court and the congress, but what if they work together? Even if the visible figures of the government are kept in line, who is responsible for the un-elected and mysterious delegates.

So to start, my answer to who would be in charge in an anarchist government is ‘Who the fuck is in charge now?’ Where does authority come from, because it certainly is not coming from the people. In the paragraphs that follow I will attempt to outline an anarchist society from the ground up. My postulations are based upon my own studies of government, human systems, and human events.

1) The Group (neighborhood, office, school, or other place of grouping)
Groups are simply people who have reason to be in contact discussing the rights and wrongs as they see them in their lives. A representative from a group takes these concerns to a city or county referendum where all group representatives meet and vote on issues. No laws are passed, instead people talk about the problems and how to solve them. No time is wasted in legislation that deflects interest from the actual problem.
Ex: There are homeless people in our group, how can we help them?

Current Authority: We will hold a conference telling everyone that your group has homeless people, we will condemn homelessness and offer our sympathy, after some time we will give some money to a foundation so that they can run more ads to tell people that people are homeless. We will pass more stringent laws about residences so that people who don’t think they are homeless get to become homeless.

Anarchist Authority: Okay, we’ve got some wood and so and so has that old house, do we know any carpenters? Lets build a house? Wait..but what about permits and rules and regulations? Ha..don’t be silly there are no rules when someone doesn’t have a house to stay in.

This same group process is taken up to the next level if it needs to be. Decisions are made as close to the bottom of the ladder as possible. Eight is the age required to vote.

Pride in self rule brings about innovative solutions to keep problems from needing to go beyond the group. The group and the individual are allowed to do whatever they like so long as no other individual or group are affected. If other groups are affected than a meeting of groups gets together and finds the problem and the solution.

Ex: Group A is strip mining and the slag is running into the river which Group B and C require for agriculture and human use.

Current Authority: Acknowledge everyone’s right to either mine or suffer the consequences of mining. Build up ill will between miners and farmers by making it a mine or don’t mine scenario. Ignore all other possibilities. Create legislation which allows strip mining and limited polluting of the water source. Rename strip mining and pollution to mineral extraction and emissions.

Anarchist Authority: Shut down the mine. The groups get together and figure out exactly how to provide the same income and needs to the mining group. If a satisfactory answer is achieved it is implemented. If it is not, the mine is reopened until an answer can be found.

Taxes, revenues, records, and land ownership.
There is no authority for collecting taxes. Revenues are collected from a portion of all business operating within a group. Land is owned by title and deed by individuals and groups. Corporations cannot own land.

Corporations are taxed upon the amount of revenue generated by their product or service in each city group, a percentage of this is used to fund education.

Education
From grade school, children would be encouraged to explore their interests in elective classes and apprenticeships.Schools would be funded primarily by the students labor and the “wages” earned in apprenticeship programs. The Mondragon cooperatives have a beautiful working model.

Roads and Transportation
Gasoline tax would be used to maintain roads. Tolls would be collected to fund massive public transportation projects using “clean” energy.

Of course, the collective could decide on completely different criteria. The one constant would be to avoid creating laws which require a police force to enforce the laws. In the case of murder, let a jury decide and the family sentence.

AUTHORITY RESTS WITH THOSE AFFECTED BY YOUR DECISIONS.

Categories
Movie Reviews Writing

Looking for Richard – A Film Review

Looking for Richard and Looking for Relevance

by Vago Damitio

It would seem that one of the major tasks facing filmmakers and story tellers of all stripes today is to find relevance between the story being told and the lives we lead. This search for relevance is not simply a way to achieve funding and production for a story, it is, more importantly, a way to connect the audience to the tale being told.

The all important connection can be through such obvious means as utilizing current events that the audience is familiar with. This was done to great effect in The Queen, where director Steven Frears reveals the very foreign and bizarre lives of the British royal family during the events which unfolded after the death of Lady Diana Spencer.

Another method might be to set a movie in a well known location. This worked wonderfully in Robert Altman’s classic expose of Hollywood, The Player. There are countless ways to create relevance.

In Looking for Richard, director Al Pacino seeks to show the contemporary world that one of the most important ways to create relevance is through raw human emotions such as greed, envy, jealousy, pride, fear, and the lust for power. Pacino takes his love of Shakespeare to the masses and finds that many of them don’t recognize the relevance of the Bard Poet in the modern world. Rather than simply explaining why the works of William Shakespeare have survived the test of time, Pacino takes Richard III, Shakespeare’s most performed play and breaks it into meaningful bits that clearly demonstrate the relevance to how we feel and think today.

 

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Me Writing

Smooth Living: Beyond the Life of a Vagabond

2013 Tips and Tales of a Vagabond

After more than 4 years abroad and on the road – my time to come home is rapidly approaching. I hope. My Arab wife’s final (I hope) immigration interview is tomorrow in Casablanca. If they approve it (which they have no reason not to) – I will be finishing this 4 year, around the world journey and coming home to a completely different world than the one I left.

To celebrate that and the ten year anniversary of Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond – I’ve launched my latest book Smooth Living: Beyond the Life of a Vagabond and an updated and expanded version of Rough Living. I’ve also re-edited, re-formatted, and re-published Liminal Travel, Meliptimous Taggle, and my other fiction.

All of my published books can now be found at http://vagodamitio.com/books-by-vago-damitio/ with links to them or direct buy buttons.

I’m nervous, scared, and might have lost my mind from being in Morocco for too long. Coming home with a wife, a baby, and no idea of what might happen next is a BIG BIG thing. I look forward to sharing it with you, just as I’ve tried to share everything else.

If you’ve read my books and have reviews or notes, please don’t hesitate to share them with me or other readers.

~Vago

smoothliving2

Categories
Me My Mission Politics Writing

Using Religion to Save the Environment

star fishby Vago Damitio

While it would be nice to say that religion is the answer to the ecocrisis (and all the rest of our problems), the truth is not so simple. While there are many passages in holy books of the world that instruct believers to preserve, protect, and value nature  ; the problem is that through interpretation and distortion, the same books and faiths can encourage humankind to continue dominating, exploiting, and attempting to control or destroy nature. For example, fundamentalist Christians interpret the story of Adam and Eve as God telling Adam that he should dominate the earth, animals, and Eve (women). This sort of religion is certainly not the answer to the ecocrisis that we face.

The solution is probably similar to a religion but with a less hierarchical organization, less dogma, and more emphasis on personal responsibility. Spiritual practices such as Taoism, Buddhism, and other philosophies that encourage mindfulness and positive personal responsibility. Events such as Earth Day founded in 1970  create more of an awareness of the environment without putting the dominating power of religion at the top of a power dynamic but some claim that this secular approach hasn’t done enough to solve our problems  but certainly the first step to stopping a trip to hell in a hand basket is to recognize that you are on such a journey in the first place. This identifying stage is, perhaps, the role of the intellectual approach. The next approach is to apply solutions . The final approach is to adopt those solutions into a standardized ethic or philosophy. Such a philosophical approach could be termed spirituality, but without the centralized power that would make it a religion.

In the video Radical Simplicity, activists seem to be implementing the second stage in which they adopt solutions to identified problems and they seem to be in the process of turning these solutions into an ethic that borders on the spiritual. By only buying the things they need, using less resources, and shifting culture via conscious choices towards sustainability; activists are acting on an ethic that if it is not already, will certainly be considered spiritual in the future. While this sort of Gaia worship is not likely to develop a powered clergy and become religion, certainly it is already a spiritual practice. Living in a small house is as much an act of sacrifice as carrying a cross in an Easter parade.

It is easy to confuse the spirituality that leads Buddhist Monks to frequent caves in Southeast Asia with the religion they practice, but in actuality, it is the ethics of Buddhism and not the hierarchy that protects and preserves sacred caves.  The same can be said for the caves that are sacred and protected around the world in all religions. Caves act as comforting wombs to the human spirit. The human spirit goes beyond the religions that attempt to bind it and embraces the spiritual energy of nature as a more worthy object. The powerful religions of the world recognize this and have either attempted to ban nature or to incorporate it’s power into their mechanics.

Sacred places are sacred, not because of religion, but because of the spirit of the places. While Townsend seeks a separation from the word spiritual , spirit is actually just another word for energy. Energy is something that exists in all things and if we take the time to acknowledge the energy that is around us, we might notice that the entire universe and everything in it are actually sacred and imbued with spiritual significance. Can religion solve our eco-crisis? No, but perhaps acknowledging the sacred that exists within everything can bring us to a more spiritual way of life that will work towards solving not only the eco-crisis, but all of our other problems too.

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Pictures of Me Writing

Van is Dying – Uh-oh (Flashback to 2004)

In 2004, I was living in a minivan I bought for $175. I should have stuck to VWs. I called this one Pig and usually had hands black from working on it’s horrid engine. As I re-edit and prepare to launch Rough Living 2013 and Smooth Living: Beyond the Life of a Vagabond, I can tell you…I don’t miss the Rough Life…

An abandoned sugar mill on Maui that worked just about as well as my van, Pig.
An abandoned sugar mill on Maui that worked just about as well as my van, Pig.

Uh oh…..van is dying rapidly…..

Uh oh, the van is dying rapidly. I’ve got work lined up, but it requires that I have transportation. Scary thing with the van is that when I look at how much money the people I bought it from put into it, it makes me worry….can you say money pit?

So now, it just loses all power and the throttle goes dead. It always restarts and after stalling and starting for an hour or so, it begins to run perfectly.

Yesterday, I woke up with one of those hangovers that says “I’m going to give up drinking once and for all” OUCH! I bailed from Waikiki where I was parking next to the zoo and drove around the south shore. Past Hanauma Bay, the van stopped stalling. Words can’t emphasize how shitty I felt. If you’ve been there, you know.

So anyway, I just wanted to find a quiet and uncrowded beach park to make coffee in, set up my hammock, have a swim, and sleep it off. Sundays are crowded. Even at usually uncrowded spots like Wamimanalo and Bellows Beach. So I continued driving up the beach to my old haunt of Punaluu. I picked up a hitchhiker who smoked a bowl with me and then parked and made coffee near Chinamans Hat on the windward side.

Oahu
Long walk around the perimeter of Oahu

I went to Laie, the mormon enclave of Oahu to buy a steak, but everything is closed on Sunday there. Finally found a steak and drove back to Kahana Bay where I napped and then barbecues a steak and some potatos with garlic. Yum. I was starting to feel a bit better.

Night before last I made Hobo Packets….here’s the recipe…

Ingredients
1 pound ground pork
2 medium potatoes skinned and sliced
1 sweet potato, skinned and sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
lots of garlic, peeled and sliced
lemon juice
soy sauce

Directions
Form ground beef into patties and place each on a square of aluminum foil. Divide potatoes, garlic, and onions equally and arrange on top of patties. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place lemon and soy on top of vegetables. Seal foil tightly and place on grill or directly on coals for about 45 minutes to an hour. Can also be cooked in the oven at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Delicious and easy

That made enough to feed my friend Steve and myself. Plus there was a third packet in case someone came along. I had it for breakfast yesterday.

So anyway, back to Kahana Bay where it began to get dark and I lit a fire. I was just chillin by myself and a Hawaiian guy came along. I invited him to sit. He offered to smoke a joint. Why not. Then he offered me some ice (it’s like crack but made form crystal meth instead of coke) I declined so he smoked some himself. Then he offered me cigarettes (I also declined…almost two months smoke free), candy, and we talked about life. When I told him I was worried about money, he insisted on giving me five bucks. I told him I was okay and he refused to take it back. Crackheads can be really nice people. He was.

None the less, I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping there (ice does strange things to people) so I drove back down to Chinamans Hat and slept until this AM. STill feeling slightly wretched. Now I’m here in the library working on my novel (Slackville Road) and doing a little promotion for Rough Living.

 

Categories
Me Politics Writing

Anarchy as Religion – Religious Anarchy in Social Context

This is another essay from 2000. Again, my credentials as an anarchist are not clear since I can’t put myself in a box. I’m not sure what to call my beliefs in a religious, political, or economic sense, though I am clear on what my beliefs are…more on that later.

I thought that the first time I heard of anarchy was when I was 15. I was listening to the Anarchist Collective “CRASS” and had become fascinated by the anarchist symbol. My understanding of anarchy then was simply a world without rules, that was why I thought I’d never heard of anarchy before. As years went by I studied anarchy along with the usual curriculum of subjects taught in American schools. On occasion, I would come across amazing people in history who stood out as individuals, even when the odds were against them. Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Jefferson, Sacco and Vanzetti. Remember Sacco and Vanzetti? We learned about them in grade school history. A couple of “anarchists” who were convicted of murder and executed on August 23rd, 1927. A cobbler and a fish peddler found guilty of being anarchists before being given a fair trial. The teachers in grade school glossed over what anarchism was. It was thrown in with Communists and Socialists as uniquely European ideas. That was why I hadn’t thought much about Anarchy prior to CRASS.

Below is the full length documentary, “There is no Authority but yourself” my article continues below the video.

In my studies since, what has anarchy come to mean to me? Before I go into that, I need to explain that I have always wanted to learn the truth about souls, and in particular my soul. Do I have one? What is it? Where does it go? Where is it? I studied many of the worlds major religions and learned the following more or less:

There is more to everything than anyone knows. Each of us has
the potential to be anything. We have free will and can make the
choices which define our “soul”. If we have choice, we can soar with
angels or wallow in mire, it is up to us.

At this point Taoism became a force in my life. Again choice determined everything.
Anarchy is everything. To me, anarchy is teaching a society to take responsibility for their collective actions. The ideal anarchist society would prohibit nothing and simply have well known ramifications for certain acts. People must be allowed to make whatever choice they need to. The responsibility of society is to be sure individuals are educated about the consequences in broad terms.

Anarchism is the absence of absolute authority.

In many ways, our society has been undergoing an anarchist revolution from the moment the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. The expansion of the west was about moving beyond the reach of the government. The West, where ideas ranged free with the cattle. Unfortunately, the forces of repression followed quickly on the heels of the anarchist trappers, hunters, and settlers. The long arm of the law reached further and further into the homes of the fleeing masses. A system of property taxation quickly established a virtual leasing agreement between “owners” and “landlord government.” The long arm kept reaching, first into schools, then into transportation, then into the pockets of the peasants. Income tax became standard, mind control media systems were in place, the constitution was violated by one president after another. The high hopes and ideals of the founding fathers were gradually subverted.

Labels were quickly established for political parties which called for alternative administrative techniques. Anarchists were labeled as angry revolutionaries based on the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley by self proclaimed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. Socialists, communists, labor unions, and anarchists were lumped together as enemies of the American way of life. A way of life which increasingly took liberty and replaced it with legislated morality, community, and a decided lack of financial integrity.

Some anarchists took matters into their own hands in an effort to break the publics glossy eyed perception of their “enemies”. No sacrifice could be too big. These were people who accepted the consequences of their actions. Vinzetti wrote:

If it had not been for this thing I might
Have lived out my life among scorning men
I might have died unmarked, unknown, a failure.
This is our career and our triumph. Never
In our full life could we hope to do such
Work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s
Understanding of man, as now we do by accident.
Our words- our lives- our pains- nothing!
The taking of our lives-the lives of a good
Shoemaker and a poor fish peddler-all!
(Coull)

The struggle for freedom is at its best, the struggle to control our own souls. We don’t wish for people to suffer, we see the opportunity to avoid most of that, and we see the other alternative. Anarchy is the chaos in nature which controls the population of a food chain. Extremely good conditions can create an abundance of grain, which in turn causes the rabbits to breed excessively, which attracts a number of foxes which in turn multiply. The result eventually is that a regular season comes, there is not enough food for the rabbits and they die or migrate, the foxes are faced with the same problem and either die or migrate…eventually the populations reach an equilibrium. Now consider humans and the food chain. If the governmental foxes collect the grain before the rabbits and trade them meals for whatever they want. They create a class of consumer rabbits dependent on handouts. Within the consumers create a system of subclasses with varying degrees of affluence. Demonstrate how certain rabbits can become foxes by complying without question to fox authority ( in fact, the compliant rabbits are gobbled up by foxes who replace them and smile at the rabbit masses) . The consumers are given one luxury item after another while their freedom to collect grain, lie in the sun, dig burrows, or browse meadows is taken away. Soon the consumers are working longer to collect the grain for the foxes, in order to collect a smaller portion of the grain, while giving up liberties from shear exhaustion. The rabbits can never win…even if they did, the foxes would eat them.

Emiliano Zapata said “A strong people do not need a government.” Strength comes from knowing you are right. Having faith in your beliefs, your values, and yourself. Strength does not come from having your individuality undermined by “what is right” by society’s standards.

Categories
Book Reviews Politics Writing

Amazon’s Amazon Coins are No Play Money – Exploring Virtual Currency

The world of virtual currency is nothing new. However, Amazon.com just unveiled a new virtual currency. It will be coming in May and lots of people are excited about it…but not everyone.

I remember hearing about this phenomenon a few years ago. I laughed, I thought it was a media sensation, I pretty much forgot about it. The whole idea was just too ridiculous to take seriously. However, in the first three parts of Play Money by Julian Dibbell, he gives enough background, enough empirical data, and enough of an introduction to the real people who are making real money in MMORPG’s (Massive Multi Player Role Playing Games) to bring the idea from the realms of the ridiculous and into the realm of the real, albeit with a certain surreal quality to it all. Amazon, of course, is going one better and making it very very real.

Several things jumped out at me from these sections of Dibbell’s Book 1) The population of the virtual countries that serve as the backdrop for the games he describes is often in excess of the population of real countries, i.e. a game like Ultima Online has more real people in it’s virtual confines than a real country like Tonga has real people 2)The gross domestic product per capita is actually higher in a game like Ultima (in real world dollars produced) than it is per capita in a real world country like Russia and finally 3) That a worker in Mexico or other less industrialized nations can earn more real world money through playing an MMORPG than through labor or other forms of real world work, that is, by producing fake ingots of fake gold and selling them on a real dollar ebay, a worker can earn more real dollars than by digging ditches, picking fruit, cleaning rooms, or cleaning schools. Unbelievable, and yet this is the reality that we are living in.

Another aspect of this phenomenon that Dibbell blew my mind with is the idea of scarcity and value. Using real world economics and virtual world statistical data, Dibbell shows that given a choice between a garden of Eden ease or a dog eat dog world, people will choose the dog eat dog. His examples of online world’s where people could have anything they want for free that lie unpopulated while online worlds that incorporate real world values of scarcity fill up with more and more people shows that we value what we have to work for. It shows that we don’t want the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve probably left the garden willingly and have never really wanted to go back. Why would you want to simply pick the fruit you want to eat when instead you can find the seed, dig a hole, water the dirt, tend the tree, protect it from predators, and finally, pick the fruit you want?

One has to wonder if perhaps the string of necessary steps in the real world is artificially lengthened in order to make our lives feel more satisfying. Do we all go through massive numbers of extra steps to achieve a sense of purpose? For instance, if we want a new car, is it really necessary to get a degree, get a job, pay off loans, build credit, get another loan, test drive, set up a payment plan, get insurance, and finally drive it off the lot? Or have we simply created all of these steps to keep us occupied, locked up in our own little virtual world of mining fake ore to make fake ingots to buy fake armor, to get to the next artificial level? It’s only one example, but it is definitely worth thinking about on a greater scale. Is Eden still all around us but we choose not to see it?

Jumping ahead to parts 7 and 8 of Play Money Dibbell cranks up the intensity meter as he gets serious about meeting his financial goals in the virtual world and doing it by any means possible. At the beginning of part 7 he is feeling confidant and has even started to make more money in an easier fashion. He takes this mental break to delve into the realities of real world taxes from real world money for virtual world income. He doesn’t find answers yet, but explains the totally bizarre concepts that he is thinking of in regard to his new vocation and the tax consequences thereof.

In the meantime, he is facing ethical dilemmas as he considers whether to make a profit from a virtually stolen ‘bone crusher’. He is ultimately, okay with fencing the item, mainly because it is within the rules of the game. Also, Dibbell is taking huge strides in the virtual world’s and even acquires the tower he described in the beginning of the text! None the less, Dibbell is becoming desperate to meet his self imposed goals and does the math to see how far he has to go…it is not looking like he will make it. His desperation leads him to start dealing in manufactured gold from notorious gold farmers. His profits go up…a lot.

He gets ripped off finally and finds that the authorities don’t take this sort of thing very seriously. Sometimes, this has bad consequences….as he points out that it has led to murder in China. Meanwhile he continues to try to figure out what exactly it is that he is selling. He goes to San Francisco and starts meeting the bigwigs of the virtual gaming world. Dibbell seems to be undergoing an identity crisis as his life is falling apart, his life in the virtual world is becoming more important than his life in the non virtual. Finally, he sets up a Chinese virtual sweatshop and hopes for huge profits.

In these sections, we see Dibbell slowly compromise the values he thought he had and justify his decisions. At the same time, we see him exploring the ramifications of virtual actions within the real world. Violence, death, fraud, and taxes. Sounds like the two worlds aren’t that different after all.

Let’s see if Amazon Coins can make a bigger difference between the real and the virtual world than Dibbels experiments did.

Categories
Oddities Work Writing

Kingdom of Loathing – The Best Game on the Web

Link to the Game.


Kingdom of Loathing: Virtual Society of the Spectacle

Kingdom of Loathing, located at kingdomofloathing.com, is a game that began as a joke. The joke requires some historical background in order to be understood. In 2003 online games were becoming increasingly sophisticated with 3-D type graphics, complex imaginary worlds, and sophisticated character creation systems and classes. At the same time the ‘hipster’ culture typified by such websites as ‘BoingBoing’, ‘WeMakeMoneyNotArt’, and ‘GrowABrain’ were reaching new highs in site visits and overall web popularity. Here is the joke: In 2003, a couple of hipsters created a sophisticated online game with stick figure 2-D graphics, ridiculous parody worlds that ridiculed popular culture, and ironically named character classes based on hipster culture and making fun of traditional RPG categories. This resulted in character classes such as ‘accordion thief’, ‘disco bandit’, ‘pastamancer’, and ‘saucerer’. The punch line is that despite all the ridiculous pop-culture and hipster references, Kingdom of Loathing is actually a well crafted game and has attracted more than a million players so far.

Categories
Me Writing

Critical Mass Honolulu – Making the Streets Safe for Bicyclists.

16-12-08_1633This article first appeared in Ka Leo, the University of Hawaii student newspaper in 2008, but there were a few things in it that were cut that I thought were important.

For those who don’t know, Critical Mass is an event typically held on the last Friday of every month in cities around the world where bicyclists and, less frequently, unicyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters, roller skaters and other self-propelled commuters take to the streets en masse.

While the ride was originally founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets.

Critical Mass: Making the Streets Safe for Bicyclists
By Vago Damitio

If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle in Honolulu, you know that it can be a death defying adventure. Far too often drivers don’t see bicycles when they pull out, change lanes, or turn into driveways. Bicyclists also seem to be invisible to the City and County of Honolulu if one uses the criteria of bicycle lanes, signage, and maintenance of the few bike lanes that do exist on Oahu. For those who ride commuter bikes, a bike path filed with gravel, glass, or trash is almost worse than not having a lane. As a result of all of this, nearly every bicyclist on Oahu has at least one story of near death, honking and yelling motorists who think bicycles don’t have the right to use lanes, angry pedestrians who rightly don’t think bicyclists should be on the sidewalks, or flat tires caused by badly maintained bike lanes.

Much of this frustration boiled over on Friday, February 29th when hundreds of bicycle riders took to the streets in a flash mob style critical mass ride through rush hour traffic on some on Oahu’s busiest (and most dangerous to bike riders) streets. The ride was spread from person to person using word of mouth, text messaging, craigslist, and cellphones. Since it is against the law to have an unregistered parade, organizers didn’t really organize anything. There was no set route, no official rally cry, and no agenda. In fact, there weren’t really even any organizers- simply a bunch of people who are tired of being treated like they don’t deserve to be able to use Oahu’s busy roads.

Among those who rode were visitors from mainland cities who saw the notice on craigslist and decided to rent bikes and participate. “We ride in critical mass rides in Chicago,” a visitor said. “It’s crazy there. Thousands of riders blocking traffic for hours on end. It’s really paved the way to make Chicago a more bike friendly city.”

Her husband pointed out that Chicago officials have tried to make the Critical Mass rides illegal but they continue to happen on the last Friday of every month. “It’s like trying to put protestors in a protest zone,” he said. “It goes against the main point.”

And the main point of Critical Mass is that if enough bike riders band together, they can turn the tables on who rules the road. Motorists on Oahu got a taste of what it’s like to play second fiddle with Friday’s ride. Riders gathered at the state capital starting at 4:30 pm and then rode through busy downtown streets, Chinatown then on to King Street all the way to Kalakaua and a slow ride through Waikiki. Riders occupied all lanes and made the larger, usually dangerous vehicles wait. Some motorists became irate and began to lay on their horns, aggressively bump the rear tires of the bicycles in the rear, or yell foul epithets from their air conditioned interiors.

Riders generally responded with the much used call and response “Who’s streets?” “Our streets.” Several riders were ticketed by police in Chinatown though most chose not to stop when the police turned on their siren. One bystander on Nu’uanu asked “Is the point of this that you can break the law?” a rider responded by saying that the point was that bicyclists are treated as second class citizens on Oahu. The overwhelming response of pedestrians was to cheer as the bikes went by. Numerous bicyclists who were heading the other direction turned around and joined the fun ride and this caused cheers from spectators and riders alike.

Noticeably absent were the colorful faux-Lemond bike jerseys and expensive bicycle shorts, though at least one such rider sprinted through the mass and cussed about how it was slowing him down. Friday’s riders were mostly un-helmeted, casually dressed, every day people who like to use their bikes to get from place to place. Some riders wore political messages on their shirts such as “One less car on the road” or “Bikes are zero-emission”. Slogans seemed to be the exception rather than the rule though and overpriced bikes and gear were not observed amongst the crowd- except for the one angry Lemonde wannabe.

The critical mass was a huge success with the ride finishing where it began around 7 pm.
One sad personal note, after the Critical Mass I joined friends at the Ward Entertainment Complex. While I was eating spaghetti, someone snipped my bike cable and made off with my ride. Security was nowhere to be found. Don’t worry though, I have another bike. If you’d like to become involved in bicycle politics or just meet for a casual weekly ride, you can join us at Manoa Gardens on Thursdays at 4:30 pm. We plan on riding for an hour, then drinking beers and talking story. See you there. </blockquote>