The guerrilla architect

The joy of faire soi-même

The other day I stumbled upon a recent issue of Femme Actuelle, a French women’s magazine, that had the following tagline on its cover:

DO IT YOURSELF: A TREND THAT LIFTS US UP

So obviously I had a look, because like everyone else I could use a lift-up now and then.

The inside:

image (71)

image (72)

 

And a translation for your reading pleasure:

Do it yourself: a trend that lifts us up

If DIY is catching on as much as it is, it’s because it goes far beyond being just a trend. It offers to those who take it up a space for expression and self-realization that carries real reasons to feel good.

By Isabelle Gavillon

To work with one’s hands and creativity is no old-fashioned notion — enough with the old jokes about macramé sessions — DIY is a real trend. We can no longer keep track of the blogs that explain how to make your own beauty products, jams, jewelry, hand-knitted sweaters, furniture … If the shaky economic situation is forcing us to be more creative in order to spend less, we can also find a real pleasure in it. “There’s nothing depressed or pathetic about doing it yourself. DIY has a practically metaphysical dimension because it transforms us,” says Ronan Chastellier, sociologist and author of Tous en slip! Essai sur la frugalité contemporaine et le retour aux valeurs simples (editions du Moment). [Down to our skivvies! Writings on contemporary frugality and the return to simple values…. Is that not a great title?] An enticing proposition.

Continue reading…    

More links + call for submissions

To read: Work and Idleness in the Age of the Great Recession – a special issue of Periscope

And:

Essays on Frugal Abundance: Degrowth: Misinterpretations and Controversies, part 1 of 4 (Serge Latouche, via the Simplicity Collective)

And:

Urban Backyard Food Production as a Strategy for Food Security in Melbourne, Australia (Permaculture Research Institute)

Also, veering quite a bit off topic but it’s via a friend and the context of the journal is interesting: a call for submissions to Project Freerange

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR FREERANGE VOL.9: THE WET ISSUE

Heraclitus, the old pre-Socratic philosopher, said that you cannot step into the same river twice.

Sensuous and fluid yet powerful, raging and unforgiving – from Styx to bottled water, from great lake to babbling brook, from poetic vessel to trade route, water exists in a myriad of states and is characterized by its many forms and expressions, its imaginative potential and raw impact upon life on earth. Its changeable nature and ability to hold contradictions (it is both life-sustainer, provider of food and abundance yet bearer of disease and destruction) has leant water to art, metaphor, songs, philosophy, literature, science and a myriad of other disciplines. Revered in religious and cultural practice, yet continually degraded by industry and human activities, water has a symbiotic relationship with cities, politics and of course, pirates.

Freerange thought it was time to pay tribute to the most abundant substance on earth, the universal solvent. Water shapes landscape; it creates and reflects history. It defines where civilisations have established themselves and has forced them to move (whether through diversions, dams or rising sea levels). It has appealed to pilgrims, explorers, scientists, philosophers, weather forecasters, town planners and swimmers. And now with rising sea levels, pollution, increasing reports of natural disasters, water criminals, water degradation and privatisation, water is set to be the definitive resource of time to come.

So we are calling for submissions on the big issue for our next issue: Freerange Vol. 9: The Wet Issue.  We want to hear your thoughts, experiences and artistic expressions on water: from holy water to mythical flood, from ice cap to desert, from Moby Dick to naiads, from Atlantis to Venice, from resource to privatisation.

Some things to think about: Poseidon, armadas, treasures, foreshore and seabed, watery graves, climate change refugees, erosion, purification, Old Man and the Sea, astrology, battles on it and battles for it, tropical storms and big snows, river highways, irrigation, tears, Shackleton…..

Please send your abstract of 100-200 words toemma@projectfreerange.com by April 1 .

Catching up on some reading & whatnot

I’m working my way through all the articles big and small (plus some videos) that I let linger during crazy week last week…

Also this weekend I discovered the work of the New Zealand-based artist Xin Cheng. Sounds like my kind of stuff. I shall follow up. After coffee #3.

How to Be Useful and Contribute to Society

I put down Debt a little while ago, at the precise time that I’d told myself I would stop reading and come over here to my desk and force myself to write something. After a few seconds of staring at the screen I googled “What makes someone useful to society?”

If you happen to know the answer to this question, do tell. In the meantime, while you’re thinking it over, you might consider consulting the wikiHow “How to Be Useful and Contribute to Society.”

This wikiHow’s potential as mockery target aside, I find it fascinating to consider the wider meaning of small, disposable cultural artifacts like this. Step 1 is wrought with youthful angst:

670px-Be-Useful-and-Help-Contribute-to-Society-Step-1

Step 1. The feeling of being useless can come from deep psychological mechanisms. Simply being useful may not stop the feeling of being useless. In contrast, not contributing to society (leeching society’s benefits) may create or amplify many negative feelings.

(Yikes.)

What was immediately interesting to me was that whoever wrote this at first used “being useful” and “being productive” pretty much interchangeably (before redefining usefulness in completely different terms, as we shall see). In Step 2 the author defined “human productivity” as “taking one kind of good and turning it into another kind.” Explaining that:

In order to make some output, you need input. Take some thing or material, move it to a more useful place, or combine it with other materials to make something. Not all of us have access to the best inputs. There are no free inputs, but forward-thinking individuals have created things like the internet, which can be the next best thing to free inputs. Your local library is another source of cheap or free inputs. It may seem counter-intuitive when you intend to create something out of yourself, that the first thing you need to do is take some things in. But the truth is that in order to be a producer, you must first be a consumer. You cannot be productive based on a blank slate.

On my first reading I shuddered at the suggestion that being useful was defined as just making objects, but after I read the rest I went back and reread this step and tried to see it in a different, overly analytical light. Don’t read this as (e.g.) to “Be a producer of Consumer Electronics” you must “Consume unsustainably mined minerals from a Developing Country.” Read it as: “To produce thought, art, poetry, critique, you must consume these same things.” And “You can start by going to your local library.” Thus with one mighty blow, Step 2 has defended the public library as an invaluable institution, as well as dispelled the myths of uniqueness and single authorship by reminding us that all our creations are part of a web of creation and innovation that influences us and that helps us influence others. I’m very okay with that. If you think I’m being a little pollyannaish and reading into this with my rose-colored hippie spectacles, read on, friend, read on.

Step 3 invites us to consider the impacts our actions have on others (paired with an illustration of a guy playing idly with his iPhone while his poor spouse is slaving away dusting the living room; his look says, “Babe, I am not at all bothered by this unbalanced division of labor”) and Step 4 continues that we should be kind and smile to everyone. Step 5 says “Give more than you take (think karma)” and Step 6 is to be a good listener. Step 7 is to give a Snickers bar to the homeless guy on the corner (?).

Step 8 calls on us all to stand up against injustices and — !!!!!to be whistleblowers against corporate corruption.

Step 9 says “Give blood.” Step 10: “Don’t discriminate.” Step 11: “Protect the weak.”

Step 12: “Join a charity. Raise money and awareness for a cause.”

Step 13: Be a stem cell donor (to save people from leukemia).

Are you confused? I’m confused. I know I shouldn’t be — I think wikiHows are written by 14 year olds anyway, right? Which, actually, makes me even more confused because (weirdly specific examples of giving away blood and Snickers bars aside) these ideas about “how to be useful” are by and large ideas of communism. So this was written by a 14 year old communist?

I don’t mean communism in the Communist Party sense. (Tangent: The other night I had a dream that my mother was being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee.) Those are two different ideas, one being social and moral and the other being a political structure. To explain, how about I cite directly from Debt:

Starting … from the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” allows us to look past the question of individual or private ownership (which is often little more than formal legality anyway) and at much more immediate and practical questions of who has access to what sorts of things and under what conditions. Whenever it is the operative principle, even if it’s just two people who are interacting, we can say we are in the presence of a sort of communism. (p. 95)

As I understand communism as an abstract idea, as a system of relations (not of exchange), it’s about seeing the needs of one’s neighbors as one’s own needs, which translates into the free sharing of essential goods as well as standing up for wrongs done to others as though wrongs had been done to us. It’s about seeing communities as they should be seen, not as geographic groupings of isolated household units, but as groups of people sharing resources and know-how in order to collectively prosper.

This 13-step how-to on being a useful member of society has unexpectedly made me slightly more optimistic about humanity’s future. I thought I lived in a world where being relevant to one’s community was all but tied up in obligations to earn money and participate in a market economy — if you are not a buyer nor seller, you do not exist. But if ever one of my fellow humans finds him or herself in existential doubt about the point of it all, and asks the Google Gods the answer to the meaning of life, they, like me, will discover that the answer is: Be Kind and Share with Your Neighbors.

RIP Sourdough starter #2, plus today’s reading

Quite a lot of blood on my hands here. To be fair to myself (though certainly not to my poor levain), I’m slightly overextending myself these days with projects so it’s not surprising that keeping alive a vat of yeast is low priority. It shouldn’t be — it’s part of my research after all — but these things happen.

#2 is also not entirely dead, just mistreated. I was out of flour over the weekend, which meant that the starter wasn’t getting fed. I’d already missed feedings for two days last week went I was in Lausanne, which caused the starter to exhaust itself and start smelling like nail polish remover. Fun fact: it does that because, having eaten through all of the sugars in the flour, the starter begins feeding on dead yeast as well as its waste products. Repulsive (or awesome, depending on your p.o.v.) if you think about these things too hard.

So anyway, beginning Sunday I started feeding the levain twice a day to try to bring it back to health (I wound up finding a quarter-full bag of flour that had been hiding) but it hasn’t cut down on the alcohol smell. Part of me wants to stick it through and try to revive it, but since this is a new starter that I haven’t yet used for bread and thus have no emotional attachment to, I’m leaning towards tossing it and beginning anew. We’ll see how the day goes.

I’m reading David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years right now. I started writing some thoughts on it Friday that I’m still trying to work some sense out of, but for now I wanted to note down these two excerpts which I found interesting:

In a discussion about several examples of communities that function economically and socially in part on the idea of reciprocity (broadly speaking — meaning there are no tit-for-tat accounts kept):

What is equal on both sides {of the exchanges} is the knowledge that the other person would do the same for you, not necessarily that they will. The Iroquois example brings home clearly what makes this possible: that such relations are based on a presumption of eternity. Society will always exist. Therefore, there will always be a north and a south side of the village. This is why no accounts need be taken. In a similar way, people tend to treat their mothers and best friends as if they will always exist, however well they know it isn’t true. (p. 100)

(emphasis mine)

The Iroquois example that he references here is that each village or clan was split in two, and the understanding was that certain relations and exchanges, such as marriages and some food provisions, can only happen with people from the other half. “Among the Six Iroquois, each side was expected to bury the other’s dead,” he adds. “Nothing would be more absurd than for one side to complain that, ‘Last year, we buried five of your dead, but you only buried two of ours.” (p. 99)

Tangent: strange that Graeber has thus far (I’m up to chapter 5) referrered only to mothers as being an example of a parental relationship involving one-sided exchange (meaning the child is not considered to have debt per se to his or her mother for all that she does). Here above we have again a reference to mothers in this sense. I am certainly very close to my mother, but I’m close to my dad too, and I have zero doubt that both of them love me unconditionally. For me at least, I identify with this remark about treating certain people as though they’ll live forever, but it’s true for me in the case of both my parents. I find it to be really a shame that so often all mothers are painted as warm and loving and all fathers as distant, cold and strict. Why do people keep writing these sorts of stereotypes into otherwise rigorous work? I’m really enjoying Debt so far, except for this aspect of it. There was another spot too (can’t remember off the top of my head, but I’ll try to find it), where Graeber made some sort of weirdly gender-biased statement that made me cringe. Too bad.

Anyway, moving on to the second excerpt…

On the Nuer people, a Nilotic pastoralist people in southern Sudan who, Graeber writes (referring to anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s work):

… find themselves unable, when dealing with someone they have accepted as a member of their camp, to refuse a request for almost any item of common consumption. A man or woman known to have anything extra in the way of grain, tobacco, tools, or agricultural implements can be expected to see their stockpiles disappear almost immediately. However, this baseline of openhanded sharing and generosity never extends to everything. Often, in fact, things freely shared are treated as trivial and unimportant for this reason. Among the Nuer, true wealth takes the form of cattle; in fact, young Nuer men learn that they are expected to defend their cattle with their lives; but for the same reason, neither are cattle ever bought or sold. (p.98)

I find it fascinating that the marker of wealth for this community is something that is not subject to buying and selling.

That’s all for now, back to reading…

Tyranny of the Clock

By George Woodcock, originally appeared in War Commentary, mid March 1944:

In no characteristic is existing society in the West so sharply distinguished from the earlier societies, whether of Europe or the East, than in its conception of time. To the ancient Chinese or Greek, to the Arab herdsman or Mexican peon of today, time is represented in the cyclic processes of nature, the alternation of day and night, the passage from season to season. The nomads and farmers measured and still measure their day from sunrise to sunset, and their year in terms of the seedtime and harvest, of the falling leaf and the ice thawing on the lakes and rivers. The farmer worked according to the elements, the craftsman for so long as he felt it necessary to perfect his product. Time was seen in a process of natural change, and men were not concerned in its exact measurement. For this reason civilisations highly developed in other respects had the most primitive means of measuring time, the hour glass with it’s trickling sand or dripping water, the sundial, useless on a dull day, and the candle or lamp whose unburnt remnant of oil or wax indicated the hours. All these devices where approximate and inexact, and were often rendered unreliable by the weather or the personal laziness of the tender. Nowhere in the ancient or medieval world were more than a tiny minority of men concerned with time in the terms of mathematical exactitude.

Modern, Western man, however lives in a world which runs according to the mechanical and mathematical symbols of clock time. The clock dictates his movements and inhibits his actions. The clock turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas. And because, without some means of exact time keeping, industrial capitalism could never have developed and could not continue to exploit the workers, the clock represents an element of mechanical tyranny in the lives of modern men more potent than any individual exploiter or any other machine. It is valuable to trace the historical process by which the clock influenced the social development of modern European civilisation.

It is a frequent circumstance of history that a culture or civilisation develops the device which will later be used for its destruction. The ancient Chinese, for example, invented gunpowder, which was developed by the military experts of the West and eventually led to the Chinese civilisation itself being destroyed by the high explosives of modern warfare. Similarly, the supreme achievement of the ingenuity of the craftsmen in the medieval cities of Europe was the invention of the mechanical clock, which, with it’s revolutionary alteration of the concept of time, materially assisted the growth of exploiting capitalism and the destruction of medieval culture.

There is a tradition that the clock appeared in the eleventh century, as a device for ringing bells at regular intervals in the monasteries which, with the regimented life they imposed on their inmates, were the closest social approximation in the middle ages to the factory of today. The first authenticated clock, however, appeared in the thirteenth century, and it was not until the fourteenth century that clocks became common ornaments of the public buildings in the German cities.

These early clocks, operated by weights, were not particularly accurate, and it was not until the sixteenth century that any great reliability was obtained. In England, for instance the clock at Hampton Court, made in 1540, is said to have been the first accurate clock in the country. And even the accuracy of the sixteenth century clocks are relative, for they were only equipped with hour hands. The idea of measuring time in minutes and seconds had been thought out by the early mathematicians as far back as the fourteenth century, but it was not until the invention of the pendulum in 1657 that sufficient accuracy was attained to permit the addition of a minute hand, and the second hand did not appear until the eighteenth century. These two centuries, it should be observed, were those in which capitalism grew to such an extent that it was able to take advantage of the industrial revolution in technique in order to establish its domination over society.

The clock, as Lewis Mumford has pointed out, represents the key machine of the machine age, both for its influence on technology and its influence on the habits of men. Technically, the clock was the first really automatic machine that attained any importance in the life of men. Previous to its invention, the common machines were of such a nature that their operation depended on some external and unreliable force, such as human or animal muscles, water or wind. It is true that the Greeks had invented a number of primitive automatic machines, but these where used, like Hero’s steam engine, for obtaining ‘supernatural’ effects in the temples or for amusing the tyrants of Levantine cities. But the clock was the first automatic machine that attained a public importance and a social function. Clock-making became the industry from which men learnt the elements of machine making and gained the technical skill that was to produce the complicated machinery of the industrial revolution.

Socially the clock had a more radical influence than any other machine, in that it was the means by which the regularisation and regimentation of life necessary for an exploiting system of industry could best be attained. The clock provided the means by which time – a category so elusive that no philosophy has yet determined its nature – could be measured concretely in more tangible forms of space provided by the circumference of a clock dial. Time as duration became disregarded, and men began to talk and think always of ‘lengths’ of time, just as if they were talking of lengths of calico. And time, being now measurable in mathematical symbols, became regarded as a commodity that could be bought and sold in the same way as any other commodity.

The new capitalists, in particular, became rabidly time-conscious. Time, here symbolising the labour of workers, was regarded by them almost as if it were the chief raw material of industry. ‘Time is money’ became on of the key slogans of capitalist ideology, and the timekeeper was the most significant of the new types of official introduced by the capitalist dispensation.

in the early factories the employers went so far as to manipulate their clocks or sound their factory whistles at the wrong times in order to defraud their workers a little of this valuable new commodity. Later such practices became less frequent, but the influence of the clock imposed a regularity on the lives of the majority of men which had previously been known only in the monastery. Men actually became like clocks, acting with a repetitive regularity which had no resemblance to the rhythmic life of a natural being. They became, as the Victorian phrase put it, ‘as regular as clockwork’. Only in the country districts where the natural lives of animals and plants and the elements still dominated life, did any large proportion of the population fail to succumb to the deadly tick of monotony.

At first this new attitude to time, this new regularity of life, was imposed by the clock-owning masters on the unwilling poor. The factory slave reacted in his spare time by living with a chaotic irregularity which characterised the gin-sodden slums of early nineteenth century industrialism. Men fled to the timeless world of drink or Methodist inspiration. But gradually the idea of regularity spread downwards among the workers. Nineteenth century religion and morality played their part by proclaiming the sin of ‘wasting time’. The introduction of mass-produced watches and clocks in the 1850’s spread time-consciousness among those who had previously merely reacted to the stimulus of the knocker-up or the factory whistle. In the church and in the school, in the office and the workshop, punctuality was held up as the greatest of the virtues.

Out of this slavish dependence on mechanical time which spread insidiously into every class in the nineteenth century there grew up the demoralising regimentation of life which characterises factory work today. The man who fails to conform faces social disapproval and economic ruin. If he is late at the factory the worker will lose his job or even, at the present day [1944 – while wartime regulations were in force], find himself in prison. Hurried meals, the regular morning and evening scramble for trains or buses, the strain of having to work to time schedules, all contribute to digestive and nervous disorders, to ruin health and shorten life.

Nor does the financial imposition of regularity tend, in the long run, to greater efficiency. Indeed, the quality of the product is usually much poorer, because the employer, regarding time as a commodity which he has to pay for, forces the operative to maintain such a speed that his work must necessarily be skimped. Quantity rather than quality becomes the criterion, the enjoyment is taken out of work itself, and the worker in his turn becomes a ‘clock-watcher’, concerned only when he will be able to escape to the scanty and monotonous leisure of industrial society, in which he ‘kills time’ by cramming in as much time-scheduled and mechanised enjoyment of cinema, radio and newspapers as his wage packet and his tiredness allow. Only if he is willing to accept of the hazards of living by his faith or his wits can the man without money avoid living as a slave to the clock.

The problem of the clock is, in general, similar to that of the machine. Mechanical time is valuable as a means of co-ordination of activities in a highly developed society, just as the machine is valuable as a means of reducing unnecessary labour to the minimum. Both are valuable for the contribution they make to the smooth running of society, and should be used insofar as they assist men to co-operate efficiently and to eliminate monotonous toil and social confusion. But neither should be allowed to dominate mens lives as they do today.

Now the movement of the clock sets the tempo men’s lives – they become the servant of the concept of time which they themselves have made, and are held in fear, like Frankenstein by his own monster. In a sane and free society such an arbitrary domination of man’s functions by either clock or machine would obviously be out of the question. The domination of man by the creation of man is even more ridiculous than the domination of man by man. Mechanical time would be relegated to its true function of a means of reference and co-ordination, and men would return again to a balance view of life no longer dominated by the worship of the clock. Complete liberty implies freedom from the tyranny of abstractions as well as from the rule of men.

***

I wish I’d discovered this text a long time ago but right now is also a good time. It’s included in the essay collection Why Work: Arguments for the Leisure Society, which was part of my haul from a trip to CIRA this week. I was very happy with myself to finally return the books I had borrowed in the fall and repeatedly renewed, but then I wound up coming away with more books than I’d returned. Those were in addition to a book my friend Elise gave me yesterday, plus four I bought on a trip to Lyon this past weekend (in all fairness they were for Alvaro too), which sets the book aquisition tally for the week at 10. I think I just need to shut up about wanting to streamline my book collection and accept the fact that I’m a hoarder. At least I get some things from the library. (But believe me I’d buy them all if I had unlimited disposable income.)

I’m not going to write much now in response to the ideas here, other than to say that it resonated with me so much given that a big preoccupation of mine is the equation of time with money, analyzing value in terms of time rather than in more mainstream economic value judgements. Clock time is, of course, an entirely artificial concept, I realize this — I’m not so interested in the precise measurement of time that Woodcock points out here (seconds, minutes) as I am in the fuzzier denominations of days, seasons, etc.

The ideas here are also interesting to me because lately I’ve been mulling over what to call a different sort of economic relationship/structure/tradition that is based not on the clock but on cycles and seasons. There are names for such structures already but I’m not really happy with any of them. And many words that spring to mind, such as “slow,” carry connotations that would be negative to some in this world of speed.

Anyway, to ponder. Right now I have a meeting to run to and I don’t want to be late. (ha.)