Cardboard Castles and Other Amenities...

I am really interested in using different forms of cultural action to help build better communities. Communities are a vital social model, allowing us to tackle problems beyond the ability of individuals with the focus of a defined (usually relatively small) group of people. How do the arts and cultural work in general help communities grow more sustainable futures? If you have a cool website or project or your own ideas on these subjects please let me know.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Another Way to Get Things Done

The several hundred vigilante women of India's northern Uttar Pradesh state's Banda area proudly call themselves the "gulabi gang" (pink gang) striking fear in the hearts of wrongdoers and earning the grudging respect of officials.

(Picture credit BBC)

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Green Jobs, Needed Jobs

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times about Van Jones’ “Green for All” campaign, which is trying to go get 30,000 youth trained in environmentally sustainable industries through a $125 million appropriation by Congress.
Mr. Jones’ whole point is that environmental sustainability is a non-starter without inclusion of all sectors in society, including low-income and people of color. He also thinks that green jobs can be the solution to social inequality and environmental degradation.
"(A) big chunk of the African-American community is economically stranded." (Said Mr. Jones) "The blue-collar, stepping-stone, manufacturing jobs are leaving. And they’re not being replaced by anything. So you have this whole generation of young blacks who are basically in economic free fall.” Green-collar retrofitting jobs are a great way to catch them.
(Photo credit

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Success is Failure

I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately. How should I define it for myself? What is material success in the context of a life of service? Is there security in this context, and if so, what? These are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about.

Recently I read a 1983 commencement address Ursula K Le Guin gave at Mills College, in which she says that success is a macho term in relation to someone else’s failures. That instead of success, she hopes that people begin to make their homes in the (feminine) spaces of failure.

I do not entirely get what she is proposing, however, here are my thoughts. It is not so much that “failure” is the goal, that it is something so wonderful. Instead, it is understanding that if some people are going to live in “success” others must live in
“failure” and that, given those options, that which will be called “failure” is closer to how we should seek to live our lives. Let us take an example to better understand this. A “successful” housewife use to be (and maybe still is) a woman who kept her house, family, and life in such a way that promoted her husbands (material) “success.” Conversely, a “successful” husband* used the work of his wife to promote his ability to gain material wealth. All this “success” takes place ONLY because other people fail, living in poverty and despair. We must orient our lives away from “success”; away from dependence on other’s suffering; away from the subjugation of some people to others.

Instead we must find comfort and fulfillment in the “…helplessness, weakness, and illness, (in) the irrational and the irreparable, (in) all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal, unclean - the valley of the shadow, the deep, the depths of life (Le Guin, 1983).” Le Guin is right in that we do not really even know what this looks like. We only have vague “pioneers' tales” about this space (one I might recommend is The Fifth Sacred Thing). However, I think one big part of the puzzle is learning a kind of communalism. Doing away with our desperate grasps on our individualism, what we Sufis would call our nefs.

For me, a large part of this is reorienting my life towards being of service and away from being the problem solver, the Important One With Answers. It means viewing my life, and the work I spend it on, as a part of a whole that is larger, smarter, and more capable than “I” (the great individual) will ever be. In other words, whether I become a mechanic or a community artist I am still one person performing one function of a community made up of many individuals performing many different functions. Whether I keep my communities cars running or keep its eyes open to the world, it is all part of what keeps the community healthy. Thus, it is not about being important, but about being connected to a community I can be of service to and from which I can draw upon.

I do not think this is exactly what Le Guin was going for, but I think it is a good start. What do you all think?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Le Guin Rocks

This is what I wish Sarah Lawrence had the courage to be. What I wish we all had the courage, permission, support to be. In 1983, addressing graduates at Mills collage Ursula K Le Guin said:

Success is somebody else's failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don't even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you're weak where you thought yourself strong. You'll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself - as I know you already have - in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign…

So what I hope for you is that you live there not as prisoners, ashamed of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but as natives. That you will be at home there, keep house there, be your own mistress, with a room of your own. That you will do your work there, whatever you're good at, art or science or tech or running a company or sweeping under the beds, and when they tell you that it's second-class work because a woman is doing it, I hope you tell them to go to hell and while they're going to give you equal pay for equal time

Tute Rocks

Desmond Tutu spoke out against the Anglican Church’s stance on gay priests. YAY.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Articles of Note

A couple of articles I thought were interesting.

From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm. It fascinates me, as an avid believer in the power of the individual, how if you take enough of use you can boil us down to some pretty simple rules of behavior. It reminds of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series.

Investment Firm Names Gore as a Partner is another sign of our ascendance into a sustainable society. It is good news that investment firms are taking an interest in sustainable business.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Green State Requires a Green Mind

I Just read The Fifth Sacred Thing  by Starhawk, which describes a post-apocalyptic San Francisco (Ahh, home sweet home) where an eco-friendly pagan revolution has transformed the city into a bastion of sustainability and witchcraft at odds with the corporate/theocratic totalitarian government to the south (go Nor Cal.)  One of the big tenets of the book is the interdependence and co-creation necessary to make an sustainable city work.  

State-Based Sovereignty Towards Bright Green Governance, explores what it will take to move our conceptions of government into alignment with a sustainable world.  The article proposes a model (See picture) of the historic and future arc of governmental thought (in Western society) from a group consciousness in response to nature to individualism, into the future, back towards a group consciousness in co-creation with the natural world.

The story I am trying to tell here is a cultural journey from society and family of origin (no choice), to isolated individual (no choice), to autonomous individual (chosen), to empowered community, to co-created society.

The article goes on to tell an alternative story of the Maori arriving in New Zealand, to find their new home had a power they could not rule.

… when the voyagers did arrive in sight of the shore they were greeted by a land fully cloaked in red. The Pohutukawa (or New Zealand Christmas tree) that covers the coastline of much of our northern island was in full bloom. In response to the overwhelming statement of sovereignty before them, the Rangatira took off their small red cloaks and cast them into the sea, ceding their authority and that of their people to this new land. 

The American Declaration of Independence is sighted as an example of a document that “…didn"t immediately result in votes or rights for "all men" [or women] (but) it did open a space to have a conversation about those rights. The idea that "we the people" have both the opportunity, and the responsibility, to self govern.”  The idea that at the very least a space is needed within our conceptions of governance to allow for conversations is important.

However, the article fails to deal with how contradictory the idea of a union with nature is in Western society.  Western capitalist society has been built on notions of the individual conquering nature and acting within society for his/her best interest.  Although this is best displayed in American cultural ideas like Manifest Destiny, it can be seen throughout the Western world (think colonialism). 

The shift in the model from group or individual at odds with nature and his/her society maybe necessary, but is going to be extremely hard. It is not only going to take the redefining of success away from individualistic accumulations of wealth, but will also require convincing people that the security that comes with wealth is better achieved through collaborative co-creation.  It means addressing some of the most primal fears inherent in Western culture.  That the forest (nature) is not full of big scary wolves that will eat our children if we do not cut down all the trees and kill all the animals, and that defending the children from real dangers is not best achieved through the individual actions of the father or mother, but through the collaboration of the entire community.  This might be a necessary transformation, but it will not be an easy one.

Finally, it is important to point out that this cultural shift is what western cultures must go through.  Throughout the world (and in reality, throughout Western society) different cultures will have to make the shift to a collaborative co-creative society in their own ways, dealing with their own cultural and historic baggage.  Then these cultures undergoing massive transformations (never an easy thing) will have to find a way to fit together in some way in order to (at the very least) maintain our global ecosystem.  

Friday, November 09, 2007

Public Transportation, a Whole New World

As a first time big city liver, I am just beginning to be able to seriously imagine my life without the need of a personally owned car.  Want Better Transit? Unionize! Is an interesting article about the benefits to be had through Bus Riders Union’s. 

The Straphangers Campaign is perhaps the best model for the kind of resources transit riders unions can provide. But with advances in mobile technology, it's easy to envision a role for riders unions that goes much farther than online resource clearinghouses and communities. Imagine if it were possible to text complaints to a central online forum that automatically forwarded them to your transportation agency; let other riders know through a mobile network when there were problems on certain transit lines; upload a photo of someone who's harassing you on the bus automatically to a dedicated Flickr page, à la Hollaback (a place where women can post photos of their street harassers); or, contribute to interactive, user-generated maps of problem spots in the system that could help make the case for improvements.

It continues to amaze me how mobile technology is changing the way problems are conceived and dealt with.

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