Responsibilities of Activists and Citizens

Warning, poorly written.

Our responsibility as activists

I try to do good as an individual, be informed, make good decisions based on that information and my values etc.  It seems like other people try to do the same thing too, but I think maybe I have been going about it in the wrong way.  I have been trying to be informed across the board and make decisions from my own knowledge and values.  Instead, I think maybe I have to find organizations and groups I can trust.

These groups would be the ones who do the footwork for my knowledge gaining and decision making.  Ideally they would get the information, filter it and share the most important with me so I can stay up to date along with vouch for certain other organizations and actions which will help forward the cause of that organization and support my own values.  That’s a massive responsibility and amount of trust in others, but maybe that will be the way to strengthen the social movements that support these causes.  What if everyone who really cared about the environment and focused on it also worked with groups who tried to get social justice and vice-versa; sharing information, teaching and giving recommendations for how to act and what to buy and who to support etc.  I’m beginning to wonder if trying to go at everything as individuals is not the way to get the change that some people want, or that I want.  Maybe the Occupy Movement was actually onto something in trying to take everything on all at once.  Just the needed community, communication and sharing wasn’t there, or wasn’t as strong as it needed to be.

It seems that what activists need is the ability to focus and someone who can then focus all of the other foci in order to cause the change that is wanted, for environmental policy, for justice and everything else.  As members of the activist community it seems that we need to not only focus on one specific thing to be able to do good work for it, we also need to make sure to reach out to others and create strong networks with them and take responsibility for the information we share with those others so that they have the right information that allows them to also work on their own focus and help your own important goals too.  Maybe it is time we try to see the elephant in the room instead of just our aspect.

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The Difference Between the Internet and a Walk

Earlier this week I brought up that apps are not necessarily the solution to every problem in our society.  I then went ahead and gave a description of two general types of society and which one apps and internet things are a part of, but I failed to go into a better explanation of why, so here is the beginning of that:

Let us look back at the idea of a vertical society, part of a vertical society is limiting the journey from point A to point B.  Cars, metro and if it was ever physically possible I guarantee it would be taken up–teleportation.  All of these things make it so that a person can go from one place (their home) to another place (their workplace on usual work days) with minimal time, effort and dealing with others.  Yes, one has to interact with others while driving or elbowing your way into the bus in the morning, but it is not the same as walking through a marketplace or walking through a park.  How often do you stop and enjoy the moment in any of these forms of transportation?  You listen to music or read a book probably on the bus, while driving you listen to the radio or focus on just not getting into a wreck, plus, mostly, you have a specific goal in mind and attempt to get to that goal in the shortest way possible.  The internet is just like this, only, you actually can teleport!

Think about it, one cannot go for a walk through the internet, there is no “public” space which one can explore and see what there is to see, you have to either be looking for something or know the actual end goal that you have.  You can end up in random places through say stumbleupon or something like that, but that is not randomly “strolling” through the internet.  That is a violent jumping all over to specific places, akin to being able to go from your room to the art museum, to the library, to the grocery store, to the police station and on and on without having to actually take a step.  This is how the internet and how I think computers work in general.

Computers are like this in a more complicated way and it becomes easier to approach computers through a different image, that of a conversation.  When you are having a great conversation with a friend of yours, stories are told, facts are shared among who knows what and you and your interlocutor randomly talk, no specific goal, just talk about whatever comes to mind and where ever you end up.  Computers, how I understand them, cannot handle this though, they cannot just go anywhere for no reason, there has to be a specific goal.  Solve this mathematical problem, execute this command, share this data and so on, a conversation between computers would be amazingly boring.  I imagine it would be like two people just sharing their current health status without anything else:

“I have a heart-rate currently of 60 beats per minute, my blood pressure is 120/80, current body temperature is 98.6 degrees Farenheit….” and the other responds with their information and then walk away and continue onto something else, preferably whatever their original end goal was.

Anyway, it appears that apps and computers and the internet is limited by this, the thing that I think we can begin to point at and say “this is part of being a human.”  It is as simple as taking a walk.  I use this in comparison to the teleportation through a city.  In going for a walk, you, as an individual have infinite possibilities every single moment on that walk.  You can continue to walk forward, you can turn left, right, make a 180 degree turn, a 90 degree turn, a 78.675 degree turn, you could literally stop and sit down, you can stop the enjoy the sun on your skin.  Transportation in a vertical society attempts to avoid this, there is no end goal in any of these things, they are simply being present in the moment (to use meditation language).  While going for a random walk through your neighborhood you have all of these options and more, you can also randomly see a friend of yours, a neighbor, an enemy, a person you’ve never seen before but decide at that moment you want to get to know better, you could see someone in need of help and give them that help, or not.  On this walk you also have the option of deciding you have somewhere to go, to a friend’s house, to the park, to get some groceries and you can immediately act upon that decision.  None of this is possible on computers or the internet.  Yes, you can change your mind but outside of canceling, you can only make the change after you have hit the end goal that you started off with.  It would be like if you decided to go to the library but half way there decided to stop at a cafe but you physically could get to that cafe until you have been to the library, or reset back at your starting point.  This is essentially what has to happen in apps and computers.  This is also the essential limitation of apps and computers and why they cannot be considered the best solution to every problem.

Hopefully this helps make something a little bit clearer.  If not, I hope it makes something more confusing and makes you stop and think some more.

Happiest People

One thing that comes up a lot is happiness, yet, when discussing the idea of happy people in academics I think there is a group that is forgotten often: construction workers.

Construction workers, although not perfect, could actually make a solid claim for some of the happier people in society.  As long as happiness for an individual means having a sense of community, being active and creating.  Construction workers have all three of these, or at least can.

Honestly, the active part I feel like that is obvious enough, they actually walk and do not look at a computer all day.  Creating is pretty easy too, take a group of workers who are tasked with building a house.  They start with nothing and each day they get to visibly see their progress on the house until it is finished.  Plus, in their creation they have a craft that they can take pride in.  A carpenter is a carpenter, they specialize in a specific craft that (at least for union members) they have to go to school for and practice and apprentice in before they can become just a plain worker.  This craft takes specific skill sets and a certain amount of creativity to deal with unforeseen problems on the job too.  On top of this they get to do this with others, some of whom they can be quite close to.

Community, one of the biggest buzz words that seems to be arising.  Presumably, we do not always feel like part of a community in our society anymore.  Something which, construction workers may not, or at least I think, they do not have a problem with, or at least not as much of a problem.  It’s amazing how close you get when you have to work with a person every day for weeks or months on end, create something together and have to be careful of each other’s safety.

That last comment opens up a different discussion, but next time looking at construction, think about it, that worker may be happier than you are in your office job.

There’s An App for That

So I just finished participating in an amazing leadership conference.  The name and other info I will not be sharing but, at the end of this conference the ten groups of students made pitches to three somewhat powerful people and these pitches were of ideas that would make our city better.  All of the ideas though were apps/websites or some combination thereof, which I find somewhat problematic.

Besides access problems, which people think can be solved by access to library computers and other public places with computers, the problem with apps, especially those to create a sense of community or connection, is that they do not actually work against the problem they are trying to solve.

What I mean is, we now live in what I will be calling a vertical society.  By a vertical society I mean a society in which public spaces are small and generally places to be avoided and as much as possible is cut off from public spaces as possible.  Think of all of the doors one has to pass through every single day, I know there are security and weather concerns too, but in a metaphorical sense, think of all of those doors.  Each one is open only to you and those who meet the same or similar requirements as you do.  I do not know for sure but say a library, is someone who is homeless allowed to actually step in without being herded out by security?  I am pretty sure this holds true for the university doors I step through every day.  The homeless individual does not meet the requirements of looking like a student or VIP and then gets shuffled out probably, back into the limited public space there is.  In short, in vertical cultures there is a clear line between private and public life and the various types of public life one can have.  Apps and websites do not actually fix this.  Instead, they operate within the confines of this type of society.

Apps and websites allows one to stay within their private life until they decide to go into a public place and meet with specific others to do something, in another policed, more private public space.  To put an image to it, one person lives on the 8th floor of an apartment building and is on their computer and gets in contact with a group of people who also live on various floors in various apartment buildings.  This group decides to get together to chat, so they go downstairs onto the street, the purely public space, meet at some pre-determined point and then proceed to a restaurant, cafe, bar, club, another apartment etc.  All of these are “public” yes but not purely public like the street is where one can bump into every single possible type of individual there is.  The only equivalent in a city might be a public park but that probably depends on the specific laws within the city.  Apps and websites are useful in this sort of situation in getting people to meet with each other and possibly form communities, but these non-spontaneous sorts of meetings are limited in various forms.

The first and probably most important is, it means one can avoid meeting people with different views from themselves.  Access to the internet has made everything customizable, including who you talk to, the main exception to that is family probably since you can avoid talking to you co-workers to an extent.  This customization though can cause problems I think, it allows for the extreme viewpoints who just screech at each other across the room instead of people being able to hold discussions.  This also weakens the sense of a need for public spaces which then allows stricter laws to be put into place thus weakening our rights of public assembly and putting marginalized groups into even harder situations.   I do not think apps and websites can actually fully solve this sort of a problem.  Instead, to deal with this will take a conscious decision by each individual and our society as a whole, to become a more horizontal society.

By horizontal society I do mean the opposite of a vertical society.  A horizontal society would have much less clearly defined private and public lives, have much larger and broader public spaces.  Life would be focused on the public life and lived mostly there, it would be like Ancient Greece I guess with the Agora.  Everyone and anyone can stroll around and end up there without being pushed out.  Things would happen spontaneously too, meetings, speeches, etc.  No, everyone would not sit in a circle and sing peace songs, but it be much harder for an individual to entirely customize their experience of their surroundings and friends.  You could actually end up speaking to someone you consider an enemy or opponent, in person, you would have to find some way to deal with the fact that they are another human standing in front of you.  It suddenly becomes a lot harder to act in some ways towards that opponent when you are forced to accept that they are a living, breathing human who also has a life I expect.

Apps and websites are great, do not get me wrong, I am not saying we need to step backwards technologically, I think we just need to be aware that technology is not the solution to everything, especially not human community.