on activism

magyar duda this time

i’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with activism in general. maybe a seed was planted in our previous project, but more and more we are seing a pattern in our “activist” guests, so here is a small note on that.

our guests claiming to be:

  • human rights/political activists were just looking for a way to be arrogant towards everyone around them
  • genderqueer, feminists and what not, were actually just looking for an excuse to be arrogant towards men
  • anarchists were actually just looking for a way to impose their point of view over everyone else
  • open minded and tolerant turned out to be the most arrogant and self obsessed
  • squatters were actually just looking for a way to justify the luxurious way they lived in at home and to show up on tv during eviction
  • chefs actually were just looking for a way to never do dishes
  • vegetarians and vegans actually were just looking for an excuse not to eat other people’s food

our guests not claiming to be any of this, did the exact opposite:

  • republicans, conservative, even shallow, turned out to be extraordinarily polite, tolerant and giving
  • capitalists, economics and business majors turned out to be better at reciprocity than all the non profit supporting activists i met
  • normal people turned out to be the best at helping, caring and listening
  • homeless people turned out to be the best squatters i ever met, squatting places for decades

so what is going on? are we natural born hypocrites and liars?

what i think is going on is that people in the west confuse the superficial aspects with the essential aspects.

this is very obvious in an episode we had at the squat. frequently we would have young teenage punks, dressed in rigor, hanging out. one of the times, we were building a solar panel and one of the guys went down to call the kids. only one came but quickly left and the rest stayed playing cards downstairs, making time until they could get their parents’ lift to go home and post on facebook “just had a wonderful afternoon at the squat”.

what we have here is a confusion between what it is to be “X”. is it wearing the clothes, reading the books and knowing the spiel, or being something that is categorized later?

at work i had a similar case. we do a lot of logistics apps. in fact, we do amazing logistics apps, that allow you to control everything you can imagine, optimize all processes, etc. we had several customers, but here are two distinct cases, lets call them company A and company B.

company A had a problem with theft and a problem with optimizing routes. so they went on and bough many different tools to track everything that the drivers did. stopping, eating, all the way to all doors open, weight changes and so on. in fact, the system was so elaborate, one could reverse engineer all the steps of a task, with such an amazing detail it could be enough to charge someone and/or fire them. so it worked. the problems were solved by spending a lot of money and treating all the symptoms.

company B had a different approach. their accuracy was top line and they had no thefts at all. the manager, in confidence, told me one day: “you know, we don’t have thefts because we provide good job stability, good benefits and treat our employees well. they don’t steal because they are proud of what they do.”. their answer to the millions spent in software packages to optimize routes and deliveries was simple. they had a white board and a highly paid, highly specialized worker.

what is the difference between A and B? in practice, none. they both would be industry leaders. but the way they fixed the problems is radically different. one (A) is treating the symptoms. the other (B) is treating the cause.

more and more i find that we westerners tend to confuse one with the other. we think that by shouting and wearing an anarchist shirt we will become anarchists, when in fact what we are doing is replacing essence with superficiality.

in this video, a somewhat unscientific approach compares west and east. in fact, what we are seeing, is the essence perspective versus the superficial perspective. westerners don’t care if a cylinder is wood or plastic, even though the two materials are dramatically different. easterners, on the other hand, tended to choose substance, which is the strongest common thing between the objects.

to understand deeply what these things are about is essential for distinguishing flair from essence, and in my opinion, what is leading the west into a downwards spiral of unnecessary complexity.

today, i code apps that run in a browser that runs in an operating system that runs in a computer. back in the day, it used to be coding apps that run in a computer. and i expect, again, since we are depth blind in the west, to see this become deeper and deeper. more and more layers of abstraction, to the point that it is completely unintelligible whether we are dealing with a fact of flair.

and when these systems become so complex they can’t be grasped by a single mind, there will be no one that can analyze them properly, and surely they will collapse under their own cognitive weight. not because they are necessarily complex, but because they were unnecessarily built to be complex. this is the essence of business, and this is why i keep my day job. we have made computing into a behemoth that only experts can do. and this is just my tiny slice. many other areas are suffering the same illness. so i’ll end with an interesting question i heard in comparing western and eastern philosophy. if you want to know about pots, who do you consult with? the geologist or the potter? or, more appropriately, if you want to know about bagpipes, who do you consult with? the ethnographer or the bagpipe maker?