Revolution and American Indians ⊗ Don’t blame social media ⊗ Coupling digital with the environment — No.144

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

This week → Revolution and American Indians: “Marxism is as alien to my culture as capitalism” ⊗ Don’t blame social media. Blame capitalism. ⊗ The green taming of the smart shrew: Coupling digital with the environment ⊗ Design for the future when the future is bleak

A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.99 was Counter Mapping.

One of the fun moments when putting together a newsletter is when things click together in a way that makes sense. Friday I was reading the Carlota Perez piece (third one here) and thinking that it’s imperfect but has some interesting notions; then I read Paris Marx’ (second) and realized that it provided some broader neoliberal context, much needed as a backdrop to the first; as I was reading it, my friend Boris sent me the Russell Means speech from1980 (first) and it’s another level of abstraction higher (or deeper, depending how you want to picture it), looking at European culture as so alien to Means’ American Indian culture.

Think back to pace layering, which I mentioned a couple of times including at more length in No.139. Articles one, two, and three can be seen as respectively the culture, governance, and infrastructure + commerce layers. They move at different speeds and have an effect on each other, Perez’ piece has it’s useful points, but is incomplete when it does not even hint at the effect the underlying layers have on it (to be fair, it’s the second in a series and the third is supposed to be looking at policies but we’ll see).

Revolution and American Indians: “Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism”

Quite an incredible read, a speech from 1980 by Russell Means, member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, and an important figure of the American Indian Movement. He goes through a fascinating exercise, looking at European culture (which includes current North American culture in this framing) through the influence of the works of important thinkers. In his words: Newton reduced the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation; “Descartes did the same thing with culture; John Locke did it with politics; and Adam Smith did it with economics.” Each taking some of the spirituality of human existence and converting it into code, an abstraction.

Means then goes through Hegel and Marx, and in perhaps the most useful insight for today and the oft mentioned re-connection with nature and re-discovering of native values and practices, he shows that even Marx, who’s resurfacing today and part of the inspirations in visions of socialism and more common good, is far over on the other side from the American Indian (the term Means prefers) view because he’s part of the “European materialist tradition of despiritualizing the universe” and in a posture against capitalism, not removed from it. There’s a lot more in there, highly recommended.

Being is a spiritual proposition. Gaining is a material act. Traditionally, American Indians have always attempted to be the best people they could. Part of that spiritual process was and is to give away wealth, to discard wealth in order not to gain. Material gain is an indicator of false status among traditional people, while it is “proof that the system works” to Europeans. […]

Revolutionary Marxism, like industrial society in other forms, seeks to “rationalize” all people in relation to industry—maximum industry, maximum production. It is a doctrine that despises the American Indian spiritual tradition, our cultures, our lifeways. […]

There is another way. There is the traditional Lakota way and the ways of the American Indian peoples. It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth, that there are forces beyond anything the European mind has conceived, that humans must be in harmony with all relations or the relations will eventually eliminate the disharmony. […]

A lopsided emphasis on humans by humans—the Europeans’ arrogance of acting as though they were beyond the nature of all related things—can only result in a total disharmony and a readjustment which cuts arrogant humans down to size, gives them a taste of that reality beyond their grasp or control and restores the harmony. […]

Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That’s revolution. And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.

Don’t Blame Social Media. Blame Capitalism.

I haven’t read all the (or that many, really) pieces opposing the Social Dilemma in part or completely, but this one by Paris Marx is quite good because instead of focusing on who’s speaking, on their background, and on which detail or line of inquiry its missing, he looks at the broader picture and focuses his argument on the substrate for social media and much of tech today; capitalism, consumerism, decimated public goods, and the all mighty commercial imperative.

It is important to understand what effects these technologies are having on us, both personally and collectively, but failing to recognize the longer history of these problems and the broader structures that contribute to them will lead us to solutions that don’t actually get to the root causes. […]

What all of this tells us is that reducing growing social problems to new technologies is simply not accurate. Framing the problem in that way makes it seem as though if we create better platforms, our problems will be solved — but if the platforms are responding to the economic incentives of the capitalist system, maybe that should get more scrutiny. […]

We need to recognize that the internet was the product of public funding and research, and maybe improving it requires returning to a more non-commercial structure where public companies own key infrastructural pieces, cooperatives operate a range of platforms with far different incentives given the lack of profit motive, and average people can collaborate on new digital tools without a commercial imperative.

The green taming of the smart shrew: Coupling digital with the environment

As I mentioned in the intro, this piece is imperfect, it almost entirely abstracts neoliberalism and the business models of the technology companies mentioned. In my view, you can’t talk about self-driving cars as an interesting service removing ownership and making for fewer cars, without also mentioning that in the current model they actually pollute more and that the only way they could work is as one publicly-owned fleet integrated in public transit.

The piece is in here nonetheless because it’s true that information and communications technology (ICT) is part of many solutions and greens can’t just disregard technology because of the current malfeasance of multiple companies. I also found interesting the notion that as more and more physical products turn into accessed services, the products leased will need to be better built since they will now be part of the assets of these organisations, not consumer products meant to be replaced. But again, that works overall only if platforms don’t multiply and compete on low prices with no sustainable business model, as did the VC backed share-bikes for example. (I’d also link to Degrowth and MMT: A thought experiment again and suggest viewing the taming piece above within the vision of degrowth and MMT.)

But the energy and materials-intensive model based on the mass production revolution has made us pay an exorbitant price in a dramatic increase of natural catastrophes and environmental destruction as well as in resource depletion. […]

[W]ind or solar power, interactive smart grids, the controls of all renewable energy (as well as their design and manufacture): all depend on ICTs. The computer-aided provision of water, nutrients and light is enabling hydroponic cultures around cities, supplying fresh vegetables and reducing long-distance transportation, energy consumption, canning and freezing. […]

We could be setting up a rental market of extremely high quality durable products, built with the best materials, that last as long as a century. Cutting edge appliances or machines, can have a long life cycle of permanent maintenance, upgrades, updates, repairs and final disassembly for reusing and recycling.

Design for the Future When the Future Is Bleak

“At its core, design is an inherently futurist medium.” Starting there, the basic premise it that in our bleak futures how should design change, how should it stop designing things that do damage, and how can they help designing better futures.

I’m sharing it here because ultimately, even though design should change and can certainly have an impact, the argument of the article simply reminded me of the individual actions we’ve been encouraged to take to stop environmental degradation, extinctions, and climate change. They are all good actions to take individually, as would changes in the practice of design, but ultimately it’s collective action taken to change policies and control the excesses of Capital that will make the needed large-scale changes possible, not individual action, and not better design. Focusing on either one without the collective vision is somewhat of a smokescreen.

[T]he fundamental paradox of contemporary design — that in an attempt to make our environment more and more comfortable, we have destroyed that environment itself. […]

If design has always been about looking forward — and doing so with the hope that what was to come would be better than what happened before — it now must also be about looking back in regret that our lives, in the end, have not been improved by all our expansion and growth.


  • ? “When innovations disrupt, there must also be repair to realize effective functioning in the world. Repair does not re-establish a status quo, but rather creates a new set of practices that brings into being the full extent of possibilities imagined for a technology.” (End of a short ? by Robin Sloan.)
  • ? ? Great new video by Leap and drawn by Molly Crabapple. A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair “an animated short film that dares to dream of a future in which 2020 is a historic turning point, where the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and global uprisings against racism drive us to build back a better society in which no one is sacrificed and everyone is essential.”
  • ? ? Crows possess higher intelligence long thought primarily human. “Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals.”
  • ? From garden streets to bike highways: four ideas for post-Covid cities – visualised. “We asked four architecture firms to share their visions of what cities should do, now, to better design everything from offices to streets to transport – and we have analysed each one – to help inoculate our cities against a disease that is proving so difficult to inoculate against in our bodies.”
  • ? Covid-19 Is Not The ‘Death Of The City’ – It’s The Rise Of The Neighborhood Center “An increased focus on neighborhoods gives us the chance to plan for the non-peak commuter — such as parents taking kids to and from school, shift workers, caregivers, seniors — and the results could be tremendous for health and well-being, much akin to the promise of the 15-minute city.”
  • ? ?? DEAL. “Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) is part of the emerging global movement of new economic thinking and doing that is rising to this challenge. Our aim is to help create 21st century economies that are regenerative and distributive by design, so that they can meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet. We call this Doughnut Economics.”
  • ?? ✍? Will be watching this event and likely trying to get in this workshop. What could possibly go wrong?. “[T]his workshop turns lazy headlines into writing prompts for thinking critically about the future. Learn how cynicism, snark, and satire can be useful tools, and how always thinking about the worst that can happen can actually help to both predict accurate futures and imagine more hopeful ones.”
  • ? Wait what?? Supernatural. “Supernatural is an immersive, virtual reality fitness experience that combines the best music, coaches, destinations and movements into an incredible home workout. A new workout is released every day.” (Via Ben Hammersley.)

Header image: Badlands, Brule Township, South Dakota, by Solen Feyissa.

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