"All right action flows from the breath"
- Hajakujo

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Revolution in the Third Age

I read this article recently, bringing me a little up to speed on the tone and mood in Zimbabwe right now which concerns me mainly because my beautiful ex-pat Zimbabwean friend is visiting her family there right now. Despite the non-occurrence of significant events, and negativity of the situation in general, the author ends on a hopeful note:

"I remembered Arthur Hugh Clough's "Say not the struggle naught availeth:

"For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, Seem here no painful inch to gain, Far back, through creeks and inlets making, Comes silent, flooding in, the main."

Despite all the fear and depression in Zimbabwe today, I sense that the tide of popular opinion is silently flooding in and that this dreadful regime will find itself overwhelmed from within.

David Coltart is the shadow minister of justice in Zimbabwe's Parliament and a member of the Movement for Democratic Change. He has been a human rights lawyer there since 1983."

Personally, I'm looking at this from the perspective of socio-political theory, since I have never been to Zim and have no on-the-ground experience of the place. From that perspective my thoughts are largely in line with this article, in that we are talking about a second order implied dictatorship. History has shown this kind of establishment is doomed to instability and thereafter some failure state, often brought about through the will of the people. The people probably must be their own saviours here, as few outside influences or economic factors seem to apply. Perhaps Brown’s recent position offers some hope of an guardian angel. Still, I would prefer to place my faith with the Zimbabweans.

Indeed, during the recent economic trouble, I have been told that the ordinances of the government amounted to little more than a comparison baseline for the price-fixers of the black market, where the bulk of trading was done. Reports of food and supply shortages were, I was informed, greatly exaggerated. Walk into a local grocery store, and the shelves were bare, white, cleaned out. Be a pretty local girl though, and have the shopboys offer you whatever you need. Connections, not power, was what counted. The people will have their way - the main surges in.

My motive for opening with Zimbabwe was not really to bring that issue to the table. I want it instead to serve to provoke thought on this – if it were necessary, what strategy would you use to effect some change of regime in our own society? The issue that Zimbabwe raises for me is, what constitutes 'the main' in the third order society of the west? Is it any longer possible to say what the tide of social change represents, never mind where it is flowing?
What would one be fighting for if the moral foundation on which one justified one's struggle was in fact the rhetoric of another age, another system long obsolete, and co-opted by the ideas and social structures whose birth-pangs killed what one thinks of as one's civilisation?
There is supposedly a clear exposition of this uncertainty, loss of bearings, in John Berger's new book Hold Everything Dear. I've only managed to read the review, but it suggested to me a good place to get a synopsis of the base, the material outcomes of the acting in this our third order society. However, one needs to go further to hypothesise about the motivations of society's actors, including ourselves - the individual and his/her collusive death-denial*. While one can't deny the feeling that we have moved beyond the enlightened despotism of the Leviathan - the necessary tyranny of government-controlled labour market societies - what can one say for certain about the norms that bind us now?
To understand one's role in society as a producer of worth in a labour market is to ascribe oneself a proactive role in a collusive market economy, which role seems for the most part to be a great illusion. I have maintained that such an illusion is foisted upon the citizenry of the systems of economic and political governance, by those actual systems. This is a claim unsupported by evidence and highly opinionated (somewhat supported by opinion here), but at the core is the idea, I will even say the fact, that society by definition is the very anti-thesis of personal freedom. We must constrain and restrict ourselves in order to live with other people (and of course, at heart this is a good thing). In the modern world, as the definitions of our societies become ever more blurred, should we not ask ‘wherefore do the constraints and restrictions that affect us spring’? What is their source, their process and their goal? Can we ever know, from our lowly individual perspectives?

Aside : : I won’t deny it is possible for a small number to control their own destiny, but for the most part the great societal forces that shape our lives seem so immutable – for example, so many demonstrate against globalisation, but change nothing. Why is this? And what effect does it have on our actions?

By control of destiny, I don’t mean those starred subjects of history and celebrity. Ben Cousins (go here and scroll down to the fourth article "Myths of Process and a Nonlinear View of History") illustrates rather nicely how this is a misapprehension of the nature of the achievements of these kinds of titans of history of modern society. What I mean rather is simply people who maximise a natural potential, irrespective of societal influences rather than because of them.

To get back on track, where do the forces that move our everyday lives originate, and how do they grow to have such irrefutable power? I think this quote (even though it was really addressing another topic) gives a clue “We’ve implemented these systems in the first place, [because] we’re trying to ensure we can experience desirable human contact while minimizing harmful contact.”
We built the systems ourselves. Of course we did, they’re not spontaneously arising entities (unless you’re a Creationist). I suggest that even though we created them, these systems are now well beyond our control.

ManBitesBlog points out, “human beings have this tendency to strongly identify each other based upon our affiliations–our tribal affiliations... But when the tribe is thousands, millions, of people large and those individuals that make up the tribe are scattered across the globe, each one a member of a culture with different traditions, different needs, different available resources, is it still appropriate to consider the larger system a composite of the will of the individuals within the system? Or to ascribe the properties and traits of the system to an individual whose efforts sustain it?”

The problem in our third order society seems to me to be then, that all the goals of all the individuals who might side with some idea or another, some formal social way of life, will be drivers of social change in directions that are neither mappable nor static. So everyone who is not living purely for themselves, every PTA member, green activist, right-wing separatist etc. is pushing toward something that nobody can identify. To see how this unguided activity can be dangerous, one need look no further than the common practice of science, which as ‘everyone knows’, very often drives towards a utility that is not forseen by the scientists, and not understood by the other stakeholders. Or, as ManBitesBlog again says so succinctly “If every single person lending their passion, drive and labor to the system is steering it towards goals which are to the benefit of the culture, then there probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue.”

But they don’t do that, do they? Individuals identify their energy and output with the system they do it within. To justify this, they can go so far as to claim “Greed is good”. Or, they may simply not forsee the ends to which their means allow - a striking example of this is the Iranian pro-democracy revolution which ended with the absolutism of the Ayatollah. I found it nicely summarised here.

In such a situation as we find ourselves today, it may be the best we can hope for is that conflicting drives in the general impetus, and possibly also apathy, lead to a zero sum game - but that would be a remote hope. The only constant is change.

* If it seems like I’m getting jargon-y in this piece, it is probably the influence of Baudrillard. Reviewing what I’m reading is beyond the scope of what I’m writing though, so I’ll just say it’s worth picking up but is quite a brain-fuck.

The opening image is the Great Zimbabwe, the largest and oldest stone structure in Africa south of the Sahara, after which the country is named.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Reason for Atheism

I had never pursued a biography of Alan Turing, someone I admire greatly for his contributions to computing and the dedication and brilliance that allowed him to achieve so much so young (something I cannot hope to emulate anymore - he was 24 when he solved the Entscheidungsproblem).
But I have just read of how he died, and the gross injustice and humiliating details of the case sparked a sense of outrage I rarely feel about this jaded world. In short, having been forced by circumstance to admit to a homosexual affair in 1952, he underwent a bizarre hormonal treatment to avoid jailtime and had his security clearance revoked so that he could not continue his current work. Two years later, he was found dead, apparent suicide by eating a poisoned apple.

The whole thing, though it was long ago, disgusts me in a way I can't really express. The fact that it is close to home (geographically, not personally) is important, I think. With all the religiously apologised (if not motivated) pain and suffering caused around the world, it strikes me that perhaps it is time for a third way. Liberalism has been neutered. Conservatism has been overtaken by fundamentalism. Can there be a role for our creaky old continent to show a way to live by application of reason, following of common sense and respect for others? Not just on the level of the individual, but on that of nationstates as well.

I can't claim to be politically well-informed, but if there is a power other than China that is at least partly aetheist, and thus neutral in the religion wars, it must be Europe. If we could have risen above such dogma-driven intolerance as the Turing denouement within 50 years, perhaps a more proactive role in world affairs would allow us to show that the means by which we rose did not produce the end of apathy and impotence, but nor did it take us full circle back to technologised barbarism, as in the U.S. How far they have fallen from their Enlightenment founders! As for a new European Enlightenment - could we define it as a counting problem: how many places in the world today would it be safe to be Alan Turing? As to that, two things are needed: the generation of ideas, ideas powerful and universal enough to be worth following even in competition (though preferably not) with religion; and the organ of transmission that will allow people to hear. And I have no idea where to find either (mayhap it'll come in time). I imagine Turing would have had one or two.

[A nice article on Turing in the New Yorker]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A game survey...

From the onlyagame weblog, where resides the mastermind behind the survey I am using in my current research, comes the survey to end all surveys (until the next one :P ). This is important research, please take part. Think of the children.

"Ultimate Game Player Survey

This is a copy of a press release issued at the International Hobo site.

International Hobo Ltd is pleased to announce it’s new study into patterns in the game playing audience. Following the success of the company’s seminal DGD1 model, the subject of the acclaimed book 21st Century Game Design, we are now conducting a new survey in more detail than the original, from which we will develop a new DGD2 model of the gaming audience.

To take part in the survey, click here, or upon the Survey link in the site menu [at the ihobo site]. As an added incentive, you could win the game of your choice (terms and conditions apply) just for taking part!

We encourage everyone to pass the relevant link onto anyone who might be interested. Thanks for your support!"