Category: Quotable

Something to aspire to…

Good writers define reality; bad ones merely restate it. A good writer turns fact into truth; a bad writer will, more often than not, accomplish the opposite.

Edward Albee

Why I’m against space travel

This is indeed the oddest thing about SETI—that we are so plainly surrounded with alien intelligences—bees, whales, porpoises, chimpanzees, DNA molecules, computers, dung beetles, slime mold, even the planet as an ecosystem—but still feel lonely and unable to communicate. How much intelligence and wisdom are found in Chinese civilization, for instance, and how ignorant the West continues to be of it! Why do we seek distant alien intelligence when we hardly know what to do with our own? The huge barrier here is the strangeness that we never see: our faces. We haunt ourselves like aliens. The main ghost that stalks me is my self, the only person whom everyone else knows but I never can… Our failure to recognize ourselves fuels our thirst for confirmation from alien intelligences.

John Durham Peters, Speaking into The Air (p. 256)

Lakoff explains environmental frames

“Frames” are cognitive circuits that determine how we think about things. Corporations spend billions convincing us to go against our better interests using their own frames. Here are some suggestions to change the discussion surrounding climate chaos:

How We Talk About the Environment Has Everything to Do with Whether We’ll Save It | Environment | AlterNet:

First, the public’s very understanding of nature has to change. We are part of nature; nature is not separate from us. Nature nurtures us. The destructive exploitation of nature is evil. What is good is the use of nature that doesn’t use up nature.

Second, the economic and ecological meltdowns have the same cause: the unregulated free market and the idea that greed is good and that the natural world is a resource for short-term private enrichment. The result has been deadly, toxic assets and a toxic atmosphere.

Third, the global economy and ecology are both systems. Global causes are systemic, not local. Global risk is systemic, not local. The localization of causation and risk is what has brought about our twin disasters. We have to think in global, system terms and we don’t do so naturally. That is why a massive communications effort is needed.

Fourth, the Right’s economic arguments need to be countered. Is it too expensive to save the earth? How could it be? If the earth goes, business goes.

Fifth, we are the polar bears. Human existence is threatened, and the existence of most living beings on earth.

Sixth, we own the air jointly and we can’t transfer ownership. Polluting corporations are dumping pollution into our air. They need to gradually be made to stop, two-percent less a year for 40 years: that is what a “cap” on carbon dioxide pollution is about. And meanwhile the polluters should pay us dumping fees to offset the cost of fuel increases and pay for the development of better fuels.

Seventh, even the most successful emissions cap would only take us halfway. Business needs to do its part to take us the rest of the way. Large corporations need to face up to reality and join in the effort.

Finally, for those in the business world: Corporate interests are constantly putting forth arguments based on cost-benefit analysis. But the very mathematics of cost-benefit analysis is anti-ecological; the equations themselves are destructive of the earth.

Clay Shirky: open source environmentalism

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From the author of Here Comes Everybody, some inspiring ideas…

A Wiki for the Planet: Clay Shirky on Open Source Environmentalism | Wired Science from Wired.com:

Wired.com: Can you talk about how social applications could help solve environmental problems?

Clay Shirky: There is no larger collective-action problem than the environment. The three biggest lies of the environmental movement is that every little bit helps, you can do your part, and together we can do it. [Compact fluorescent lightbulbs] are nice, but people going down and changing CFLs in a handful of fixtures isn’t going to cut it.

It’s a collective-action problem. The difference between what all the people can do individually and the global consumption of nonrenewable resources is huge. The tension is … what will it take to get people to act in concert? There isn’t any additive solution to the problem. It will be both governmental and social because that’s the scale of the problem.

And this little zinger about Bill McKibben, who wrote The Age of Missing Information. I concur with Shirky about the book, but for slightly different reasons. I found the book problematic because it makes a false dichotomy between nature and media by using the logical fallacy of a straw electronic man. Of course sitting in a room for a weekend and watching nothing but cable is going to be benal compared to the experience of nature. But few people live in a prison cell watching nothing but TV (but thanks to Bush, that is a reality for more and more people). People’s lives are far more complex, and they don’t own a duck pond. (Still, 350.org may be a solution. More later.)

Wired.com: What do you think about organizing efforts like Bill McKibben’s 350.org?

Shirky: I sort of reflexively dislike McKibben. He wrote a book with a section about the value of a duck swimming around a pond and contrasting that with the vast wasteland of television. But he made a whole point of not telling people about where it was. It’s private property. He owns it and he’s able to go there. Any solution that doesn’t work for cities doesn’t work. McKibben’s natural splendor argument is so unfit for the 21st century. That said, I haven’t seen 350. Maybe his thinking has changed.

PS If you haven’t read Here Comes Everybody, you really should. Along with Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, it’s required reading of understanding the emerging media paradigm.

Quotable: beginner’s media mind(fulness )

Zen

I read the following and wondered if the “big mind” that Suzuki speaks of could also be applied to media:

That everything is included within your mind is the essence of mind. To experience this is to have religious feeling. Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure; it is just like clear water with a few waves. Actually water always has waves. Waves are the practice of the water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one. Big mind and small mind are one. When you understand your mind in this way, you have some security in your feeling. As your mind does not expect anything from outside, it is always filled. A mind with waves in it is not a disturbed mind, but actually an amplified one. Whatever you experience is an expression of big mind.

The activity of big mind is to amplify itself through various experiences. In one sense our experiences coming one by one are always fresh and new, but in another sense they are nothing but a continuous or repeated unfolding of the one big mind.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Quotable: Warhol the Zen master

Warhol

One of my favorite books is The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again). This might sound unbelievable, but I actually think Warhol was an enlightened master who simply spoke in the language of his time: mass media. What makes his contribution so important is that he went against the grain of a 2000 year legacy that distrusts images. While it is necessary to be skeptical of visual illusions as a kind of perceptive magic, at the same time the reaction to it can be just as bad. The striving for some unattainable Utopia also causes incredible suffering. Is it possible to interact with media in a way that is both skeptical but also incorporates a willingness to take responsibility for our own happiness here and now instead of blaming society?

The solution may be to mindfully engage the illusion, and I think that is what Warhol was cryptically alluding to.

Some of the best quotes from his book are:

“The camera turns [people] on and off.” (p. 80)

“Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there. I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television— you don’t feel anything.” (p.91)

“At the end of my time, when I die, I don’t want to leave any leftovers. And I don’t want to be a leftover. I was watching TV this week and I saw a lady go into a ray machine and disappear. That was wonderful, because matter is energy and she just disappeared. That could be a really American invention, the best American Invention— to be able to disappear. I mean, that way they couldn’t say you died, they couldn’t say you were murdered, they couldn’t say you committed suicide over somebody.” (P.113)

“Space is all one space and thought is all one thought, but my mind divides its spaces into spaces into spaces and thought into thoughts. Like a large condominium. Occasionally I think of about one Space and the one Thought, but usually I don’t. Usually I think about my condominium.” (p.143)

“Before media there used to be a physical limit of how much space one person could take up by themselves. People, I think, are the only things that know how to take up more space than the space they’re actually in, because with media you can sit back and still let yourself fill up space on records, in the movies, most exclusively on the telephone and the least exclusively on television.” (p.146)

“You should have contact with your closest friends through the most intimate of and exclusive of all media— the telephone.” (p.147)

“I always bring everything back to chemicals, because I really think everything starts and finishes with chemicals.” (p.?)

PS Another fave is POPism: The Warhol Sixties. It’s a great chronicle of life and experimentation at the cusp of the social revolution.

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Lovink on politics and social media

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The Surveillance Camera Players doing tactical media.

One of my favorite media theorists, Geert Lovink, wrote the indispensable Dark Fiber, a collection of critical essays published by MIT about media activism and networks. His discussion of tactical media as an alternative to culture jamming is why I put any kind of media activism under that category of the same name.

In a recent interview, he discusses politics and social media.

net critique:

SBJ: Have social medias taken over the political debate and activism or do real life debates and organisation still serve a purpose–and if so which?

GL: Taken over? No, there isn’t any statistical evidence for that. Television, assisted by newspapers and radio, are still dominating the political agenda. The Web is playing a strange, new role in all this. For many, Internet is the perfect place to hang out and escape the boring, pre-programmed world of the ‘old media’. Simultaneously, society is moving into the Internet at the same time, just think of the re-invention of advertisement out there. What we see happening is not an easy convergence of media. Real and virtual mix but in unexpected manners. That’s the fun of it. However, the current crises are not properly addressed either in cyberspace. It’s really questionable to think that the paperless Internet is contributing in a positive way to the global warning and environmental pollution that we have in China as the place of production and Africa as the waste basket. But I remain positive. Remember that all these hyped-up self-important dotcom people in the late nineties had no idea about their own upcoming crash, let alone about the social aspects of Web 2.0. This makes me optimistic about Web 3.0, 4.0 and so on. Why won’t some Afro-Brazilian consortium draw up the principles for the Internet architecture in 20 years time?

Quotable: Marshal McLuhan

When I say the medium is the message, I’m saying that the motor car is not a medium. The medium is the highway, the factories, and the oil companies. That is the medium. In other words, the medium of the car is the effects of the car. When you pull the effects away, the meaning of the car is gone. The car as an engineering object has nothing to do with these effects. The car is a FIGURE in a GROUND of services. It’s when you change the GROUND that you change the car. The car does not operate as the medium, but rather as one of the major effects of the medium. So ‘the medium is the message’ is not a simple remark, and I’ve always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. It is the environment that changes people, not the technology.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews.

Growing a brain garden

Brain Revenge 1

I Heart NY designer Milton Glaser has some heads-up advice about how to treat your brain. If you click the link below you can see the other nine things he’s learned about life.

Milton Glaser Inc.:

7 – HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN.

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

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Quotable: an eater’s manifesto

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Photo of LA billboard by Antonio Lopez
ChangeThis :: An Eater’s Manifesto:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.

We are entering a postindustrial era of food; for the first time in a generation it is possible to leave behind the Western diet without having also to leave behind civilization. And the more eaters who vote with their forks for a different kind of food, the more commonplace and accessible such food will become. This is an eater’s manifesto, an invitation to join the movement that is renovating our food system in the name of health—health in the very broadest sense of that word.

Michael Pollan

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Quotable: Burroughs on Castaneda

I stumbled on this nice little interview snippet with William S. Burroughs talking about Carlos Castaneda. Meanwhile, it reminded me of the Burroughs’ piece, Thanksgiving Prayer, which is posted above. Gobble Gobble.

Burroughs on Castaneda:

BURROUGHS: …You’ve read Castaneda’s Don Juan books. Don Juan says that nothing can be accomplished magically. Stopping the internal dialogue, in effect, enables you to have access to your will. Stopping the internal dialogue enables you to will without desiring. Don Juan says that you can’t advance until you achieve that. see, If you want money without desiring it, you get it, but if you desire it and are thinking, ‘I’m going to do this, that and the other with it,’ that desire becomes a hindrance.

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Technology is glorified graffiti

Barnet
A terrific interview with media scholar Belinda Barnet. It covers a lot of ground, from the impact of mobile phones on our attention, to the difficulty for universities to catch up to technology (they had 500 years to deal with books– now what?).

framed: Belinda Barnet:

Since the beginning of time, physicists tell us, the entropy of the universe has been increasing. Matter has a tendency to disintegrate, to lose energy and form over time, to move towards disorder and chaos. As I see it personally, life is about the preservation of form in this flux. One way it does this is through that most primary form of writing – DNA. On another level, we preserve things as a species in artefacts, in language and in culture; in technics. Human beings have always felt compelled to capture fragments of their lives, to store and transmit memories; we have inscribed ourselves in books and on cave walls, in folk songs and on New York subway benches. I think it is one of the most primary reflexes of human life – preserving memories. Technics as a form of memory is also something Stiegler explores in his book, Technics and Time. I think I should stop there, or I’ll rabbit on forever! If you want to read more about human evolution and technology, Niles Eldredge and other interesting bits, see my essay in CTHEORY.

Quotable: Naomi Wolf

Do you have an hour? Sit back and put your seat-belt on, Naomi Wolf deconstructs the steps towards a fascist state. This has everything to do with media because media are responsible for diseminating the big lie. To quote the master propagandist himself, Joseph Goebels:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie … The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the state.

Take her very seriously. To read her cliff notes version, click here.

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Another outstanding Rushkoff interview

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Mediacology readers know that I am a big fan of Douglas Rushkoff. His recent interview for WorldChanging is full of beautiful gems, but I’ll highlight one in particular, his insight that we unconsciously inhabit an architecture of centralized currency, and its fraking us big time.

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Doug Rushkoff on the Technologies of Persuasion:

WorldChanging: I’ve been hanging out with people who want to transform economic thinking – build an economy based on sustainability… “economics as if people mattered,” as Schumacher said. How do we get to that kind of transformation? It feels like we have to sell, but selling it is sort of antithetical to the intention.

Doug: I don’t think you can do it without first revealing the underlying biases and false assumptions of the money we’re using.

Centralized currency — invented during the Renaissance, really — favors the kinds of business practices and centralization of power that actually works against good, honest, local commerce. In short, it favors Wal-Mart over, say, Community Supported Agriculture.

There are other kinds of money – and they were in existence until they were outlawed by kings and queens looking to centralize authority. Money that is lent into existence by a central bank will tend towards scarcity and competition. Money that is earned into existence by people in a specific place has very different properties, and works on a model of abundance.

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Quotable: Paul Hawken

AlterNet: Paul Hawken: How to Stop Our Political and Economic Systems From Stealing Our Future:

I estimate today that there are between one and two million organizations in the world that are addressing social justice and the environment, human rights and ecological restoration. It’s not only the largest movement in the world, it is so large compared to any other thing that exists or has existed, that there is really no second place. And I think the reason we don’t see it as a movement is because it is so different from anything we’ve seen before. We see movements as ideological, as starting in some center and spreading out from that place, as having leaders that we look to for inspiration, and who then manage and guide.

At the same time, most movements have wanted to amalgamate power to themselves in some form or another. They’ve looked at concentrations of power and said, “We want some.” But this movement is very different. It’s not ideological, it’s based on ideas. Ideologies constrain and dictate what you can and cannot do.