This week → The theft of the commons ⊗ A conversation about civilizational collapse ⊗ The innovation delusion ⊗ A new kind of renaissance ⊗ The new Nomos of the planet
A year ago → A favourite in issue No.180 was The real urban jungle: how ancient societies reimagined what cities could be by Patrick Roberts.
I’ve included a number of articles about the commons in the past, this is probably the best one. Eula Biss goes to the UK to explore a history of the commons, one still existing in Laxton, and on the way explores the value of commoned resources, enclosures, capitalism, feudalism, othering, a form of autonomy for women, rights of commoners turned into theft through literal land grabs, independence, luddites, the American cowboy, gleaners, “improvement,” and the fascist roots of the myth of the “tragedy of the commons.”
Very recommended if you are into ideas of the commons or curious of the history. One quote I’m especially filing for re-use, and that’s especially relevant to all my mentions of commons or luddism, is this one by Zadie Smith, on the nostalgia accusation: “‘Would you go back?’ strikes me as the wrong question to ask of nostalgia. The question, as Zadie Smith puts it, is how to ‘restate the things you find valuable in the past … in a way that’s livable in this contemporary moment.’”
In Laxton, villagers who held rights to Westwood Common could keep twenty sheep there, or the equivalent in cows. No one was allowed to keep more animals on the commons in summer than they could support in winter. Common rights were continuously revisited and revised in the course of centuries, as demand rose and fell. […]
Whereas personal nostalgia peoples the mind with real memories, political nostalgia often travels back to a time that is as unreal as time travel itself. In this past, white people imagine themselves free from competing claims to land and property, to rights and recourses. This is a past in which we had no obligation to other people. Such a past never existed, but that sort of freedom remains an enduring fantasy. […]
The history of the distant past is often speculative. Like science fiction, it gives us a way of thinking about what might be possible, as much as what might have been. In this sense, both the past and the future are imaginary, but real, too, as ideas. […]
How to locate the commons in a world that is mostly enclosed. How to recover a tradition of rebellion against monied claims to property. How to use machines rather than be used by them. How to be canny, like the workers of the past, and how to be conservationists, like commoners. We can learn from the time before enclosure, but we can’t go back there.
A couple of weeks ago I linked to a piece by Alex Steffen saying I wasn’t sure if he was a bit delirious or if I had yet to accept completely our current predicament. I’ll say the same about this bit of abyss gazing by umair haque. It’s bleak af, but I’m still recommending the read because other than perhaps some stridency, I can’t really disagree with what he’s saying and I’m very intrigued by his framing of “investment” (first quote below). He says that the US is currently operating at 20% investment, Europe at about 50% and we need to flip the whole planet to 50% investment, and on renewables, within a couple of decades. To me it’s adjacent to maintenance and a social safety net, and provides one number to measure actual progress. What percentage of your country’s budget is spent investing in itself and its future?
Everything for a civilization has to do with investment. Investment is the linchpin of the project of civilization. Town squares, universities, science, art, literature, medicine — all these come from investment. Civilization in a very real sense is just the act of collective investment. That is how we come to “be” civilized, to have things like schools and roads and hospitals and drugs and books and so forth. And then we live, hopefully, in peace, and intelligence, and with empathy. Everything depends on investment. […]
Why do I say that? 20% needs to become 50%. But how big is that number, in hard terms? Our economy as a civilization is — let’s call it $100 trillion for simplicity’s sake. We invest $20 trillion of that back. It’s not high enough. That number needs to rise from $20 trillion to $50 trillion. That’s $30 trillion, in a decade or two. […]
Inflation is surging, and the cause isn’t just war. It’s Cataclysm, the Event. Extinction. Harvests are beginning to fail. The water is beginning to run out. What dirty fuel there is is left in the hands of fascists and lunatics. Inflation is here, and it’s not going to stop. […]
Our investment rate is still exactly the same. This is why, every year, the UN has to do this sad dance — goals and pledges unmet, the worst case scenarios come true. The investment rate — our investment rate civilizationally — isn’t rising.
Full disclosure: I had 3-4 articles I was considering as the last featured piece, wondering which should go here and which should just be a quote below, I ended up picking this short article about The Innovation Delusion, a book by technology historians Lee Vinsel and Andrew L Russell. The book is a couple years old but it’s one that’s been circulating around maintenance and in the context of the above two articles, with commons and investment, it’s a great fit. It’s basically the tug between speed and ‘innovation,’ and maintenance, care, and true slow innovation. We need a lot more of the latter.
Vinsel and Russell make a distinction between innovation hype, which they dub innovation-speak, and actual innovation. Much like maintenance, actual innovation is done quietly and only acknowledged once a breakthrough is made. Hype is what makes the headlines and you hear about from your uncle at the BBQ (“is AI really going to kill us all???”). […]
Preemptively fixing systems, practicing gratitude for what we have, and turning away from optimizing time, material, and energy towards growth and instead towards preservation seems nearly impossible in today’s tech industry. […]
Creating a maintenance culture is more than just investing in maintenance (raising salaries for workers, etc). It’s about creating a culture where people’s input is valued and there is time to devote to a backlog of tasks.
Bruce Mau is betting on a new kind of renaissance → “The Nexus argues that the complex problems of our generation can be solved only if art, technology, and science converge like they did during the Renaissance. … transformation affirms that art, science, and technology are interacting components of the total human enterprise. But today they’re too often treated as if they were cultural isolates and mutually antagonistic.”
The new Nomos of the planet → “A geo-civilizational planetary paradigm implies a non-universal mindset and more of a live-and-let-live approach to relations among spheres. It means greater mutual respect for civilizational ways of seeing and being, more cultural autonomy and less integrative arrangements with respect to security, trade, capital flows and digital platforms. In short, one world, many systems.”
Who owns the future(s)? → “[A] future where everyone can thrive; where we reward redistribution and contributing to the commons rather than growth; where we regenerate and care for each other and for the earth, not extract; and where we look after each other with justice and solidarity, not charity.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → What our fantasies about futuristic food say about us ⊗ Futures Methods — Thinking about Driving Forces ⊗ Re-imagining the future: city-region foresight and visioning in an era of fragmented governance
No.226 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🇨🇳 👀 🎥 China’s Surveillance State Is Growing. These Documents Reveal How. “A New York Times analysis of over 100,000 government bidding documents found that China’s ambition to collect digital and biological data from its citizens is more expansive and invasive than previously known.” (Via nothing here.)
- 🟡 🌽 🤯 Introducing peecycling: how human urine could be the sustainable answer to healthier crops. “[G]iven how human urine is very nutrient-rich (containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), it is a great alternative to chemical fertilisers. Esculier went on to state that it is also a lot less polluting than its chemical counterparts, as they contain ammonia.”
- ⬟ 🔗 🇺🇸 Pentagon finds concerning vulnerabilities on blockchain. “The findings of the report are a cause of concern for a wide range of sectors, but especially serious for security, fintech, big tech and the crypto industries, which continue to grow.”
- 🌳 💚 The hybrid tree that conquered the world. “[S]somehow, amid the chaotic meeting of the so-called New World and the Old, two plants from continents thousands of miles apart – an American sycamore and an Oriental plane – met and reproduced.”
- 🤯 🇺🇸 ☀️ Artificial photosynthesis can produce food without sunshine. “Scientists at UC Riverside and the University of Delaware have found a way to bypass the need for biological photosynthesis altogether and create food independent of sunlight by using artificial photosynthesis.”
- 🤔 ♻️ 🇨🇭 New PET-like plastic made directly from waste biomass. “EPFL scientists have developed a new, PET-like plastic that is easily made from the non-edible parts of plants. The plastic is tough, heat-resistant, and a good barrier to gases like oxygen, making it a promising candidate for food packaging. Due to its structure, the new plastic can also be chemically recycled and degrade back to harmless sugars in the environment.”
- An Arena board to dig into, Technology and Magic.
- 📖 🤩 🎥 If you’re into print magazines. How We Made HODINKEE Magazine, Volume 10 (Via Zine.)
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