"haters are motivators"

—said my dance teacher tonight.

I finally got back to a class for the first time since last summer and it was awesome…if also frustrating and awkward because I’ve lost the strength in my choreography-memorizing muscle (that is a thing). I love dance, but I also really like the social setting of those classes. In addition to the hiply-dressed teens and twenty-somethings who remember new choreography like they already learned it yesterday, the classes I go to often has a couple of people who must be at least 50 years old. No matter what their level (and some of them are quite good), seeing them dance makes me really happy.

Part of it is the fact that they’re actively participating in a subculture that doesn’t typically have or represent older folks. There’s never anyone over 30 dancing in any hip hop music video I’ve ever seen. But they’re there, picking up moves and getting yelled at by the teacher, “where the hell is your attitude?? It is ALL ABOUT the AT-TI-TUDE.” I love watching them both take it seriously and having a fantastic time of it.

The other reason? I can tell how much they don’t give a single fuck what anyone thinks of them being there. I admire that so much. So much of the stupid crap that I’ve done in my life can be attributed to the fact that I cared what people thought more than my own reasoning or desires. My hope is that by the time I’m 50, my DGAFness has been refined to a whole new level. That I’m open-minded enough to try whatever and experience whatever I feel like despite what anyone says. I don’t think I see that with most people that age, and the idea of maintaining a monotonous, predictable life terrifies me.

~ weird segue ~

It’s hard to live perfectly aligned with your ethics, but sometimes you have to be a hypocrite and be practical about your choices so you don’t drive yourself insane. I bring this up because I decided not to quit Instagram. Despite the fact they’re now owned by the same assholes as Facebook, I’m keeping my account. I’ve got a few reasons:

1) It’s not Facebook.

2) It stores much less information than FB. Even if they do whatever the hell they want with it to profit off of me, it’s not as daunting than everything they could get otherwise.

3) I miss being on a social network with my close friends, and it’s nice that it’s so limited in how you can communicate so that it’d never substitute for a real conversation.

Again, the fact that it’s just an extension of FB does bother me, and all the privacy changes they introduced late last year were ridiculous. But I’ve decided to justify it to myself, even while a piece of me is still very judgmental about it. It’s the worst, but sometimes the biggest hater can be yourself, and you just find a way to deal with it.

Picking up where he left off

I’d only met Aaron Swartz once on the couches of the EFF office during the 2nd week of my new job. I had no idea who he was during that very brief exchange, but I went to my browser afterward and looked up his name. When I read about his work and the roles that he had played in freeing information and knowledge, I felt like an idiot for not having heard of him before. I was in awe of his dedication and inspired by the courageousness of his acts. I really looked forward to when I could get another chance talk to him again.

There are so many things wonderful about the hacking community…the celebration of curiosity, the open-mindedness to acknowledge the interconnectedness of things, but most of all, the ethic of seeing a problem and doing what you can to fix it. Learning about his life and reading about the kind of person that he was, it seems Aaron embodied so fully what I find so beautiful about the hacker spirit. His craft was coding, but his intellect was the fuel for his art: creating tools, building campaigns, and demonstrating acts of civil disobedience that were meant to expose deep societal, political flaws. To me, he represented the quintessential 21st century activist.

The more I delve into the world of intellectual property, the more I learn about its intricate failures and abuses. The amount of distrust, insecurity, and greed that is continually involved in the creative-industrial complex, and worse, the fact that they claim to do it in the name of furthering progress, is horribly nauseating.

Despite all of this, I know that the movement to free culture and information will win, not just because the old edifices of creative production and academic publishing are already crumbling. But more importantly, the movement is full of brilliant, committed people who are fighting for justice and the liberty of culture.

On Friday, we lost one of our very best. The amount of public outpouring of grief is a testament to the amount of love everyone had for him and everything that he stood for. And maybe he hadn’t been feeling it, or didn’t know to ask for it, but it’s obvious that it was there all along.

When we’re fighting a system that seems so rigged, so ethically rotten to its core, it’s really hard not to fall into a cycle of despair. With Aaron’s tragic passing and the sudden public revelation of the gross maltreatment of him by the justice system, these horrific events serve as a rallying call for this movement to pick up where he left off. That begins by finding the courage to face up to the powerful, institutionalized system of insecurity and greed, and do so in whatever form that may take. We also need to remember to be fair to ourselves, and knowing our limits so that we don’t burn ourselves out. We need to be able to trust and support each other enough to ask for and give help whenever we can.

Let’s keep working until we recognize a world we, and he, would want to live in.

RIP Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

"The Great Swindle": the Self-Perpetuating art of fakery

I just read this incredible thought-provoking piece by Roger Scruton, an English philosopher and writer, whom I’d never heard of before. It’s a long piece breaking down the modern obsession with what he calls “fakery” and kitsch. He describes it as a cultural ouroboros, where artists, their critics, and the public, are trapped in an endless delusional cycle of attempts to reject, and then embrace, the value of cliché.

It touches on a lot of issues I’ve been having with the post-modern art movement (or whatever the fuck we call it now). So much of the “art” and “culture” that I feel force fed on me, through museums, but even radio, magazines, and mainstream movie theatres, feel empty and contrived. In varying ways, they tend make me feel inadequate.

One example of this is a modern art exhibit. When I go to them, I usually feel as though the museum is trying to explain an inside joke to me. Those walls written with an explanation for why you should think that particular collection is important, might give me a history of those works, why it may have been groundbreaking, or maybe what it’s supposed to say about the society that I live in. If I don’t understand, or even if I do understand but don’t find it meaningful, there’s this underlying message of these statements that seem to say, “Well, you had to have been there.” Maybe that constant feeling of inadequacy has something to do with the lack of agency I feel in determining what is or isn’t culturally valuable, and how so often it’s not based on anything but a commercially-driven motive.

It’s late and I’m starting to feel like I’m talking in circles. Anyway, I took out a bunch of excerpts that I liked and compiled them below, mostly for my own personal keeping.

UPDATE: A twitter friend pointed out to me that this Scruton fellow faced a bit of controversy himself 10 years ago, when he wrote a seemingly objective, independent report on the impact of tobacco on health while receiving money from the industry itself. While I agree that’s definitely ironic, given that he lambasts “fakery” this entire piece, I don’t think that undermines it one bit.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The kitsch work of art is not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it. Yet both producer and consumer conspire to persuade each other that what they feel in and through the kitsch work of art is something deep, important and real.

The fake intellectual invites you to conspire in his own self-deception, to join in creating a fantasy world. He is the teacher of genius, you the brilliant pupil. Faking is a social activity in which people act together to draw a veil over unwanted realities and encourage each other in the exercise of their illusory powers. The arrival of fake thought and fake scholarship in our universities should not therefore be attributed to any explicit desire to deceive. It has come about through the complicit opening of territory to the propagation of nonsense.

To gain the status of an original artist is not easy, but in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. There is, therefore, an incentive to fake it, to produce a complicit circle; the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.

…beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and passing through Andy Warhol’s silk screen portraits and Brillo boxes to the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case, the critics gathered like clucking hens around the new, inscrutable egg, and the fake was projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing.

….

Real emotion allows no substitutes, and is never the subject of a bargain or an exchange. Fake emotion seeks to discard the cost of feeling while receiving the benefit. It is therefore always ready to exchange its present object for a better one. The sentimental lover who enjoys the warm feelings of self-approval that accompany his love is also the one who moves quickly to another object should the present one prove too arduous — perhaps because he or she has developed some debilitating illness, or has grown old, weary and unattractive.

Kitsch art, by contrast, is designed to put emotion on sale: it works as advertisements work, creating a fantasy world in which everything, love included, can be purchased, and in which every emotion is simply one item in an infinite line of substitutes. The clichéd kiss, the doe-eyed smile, the Christmas-card sentiments: all advertise what cannot be advertised without ceasing to be. They commit the salesman to nothing. They can be bought and sold without emotional hardship, since the emotion, being a fantasy product, no longer exists in its committed form.

Fear of kitsch led to the routinisation of modernism. By posing as a modernist, the artist gives an easily perceivable sign of his authenticity. But the result is cliché of another kind. This is one reason for the emergence of a wholly new artistic enterprise that some call ‘postmodernism’ but which might be better described as ‘pre-emptive kitsch’.

In the place of modernist severity comes a kind of institutionalised fakery. Public galleries and big collections fill with the pre-digested clutter of modern life. Such art eschews subtlety, allusion and implication, and in place of imagined ideals in gilded frames it offers real junk in quotation marks. It is indistinguishable in the end from advertising — with the sole qualification that it has no product to sell except itself.

Perhaps the destiny of culture is to induct us all into a Disneyland dream whenever the dangerous lust for realities sweeps across us. When you look at the cultural institutions in democracies today, you might well be tempted to think that faking is their purpose, and that it is a purpose pursued for the good of us all.

Yet culture is important. Without it we remain emotionally uneducated. There are consequences of fake culture that are comparable to the consequences of corruption in politics. In a world of fakes, the public interest is constantly sacrificed to private fantasy, and the truths on which we depend for our rescue are left unexamined and unknown.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

A few quick thoughts for the New Year while the Nyquil kicks in

Happy New Year. Woooooo. Despite this oncoming cold, my bike getting stolen out of my house and the impending home move, I can tell this is gonna be a great year.

Like many people, I completely buy into the whole New Year’s Resolution shtick, and enjoy the chance to brutally self-evaluate and subsequently guilt trip myself over the things I don’t already do and/or haven’t yet done. I always thought being “realistic” about them was totally not the point, that they are meant to be depressingly unachievable and happily forgotten by the end of January. This year, I decided to be fair to myself and actually resolve to achieve something. I decided I needed to change my approach, so I restricted it to no more than five, be as specific as possible, and insert them into the calendar (where applicable).

Here it goes:

  1. Regularly send packages/snail mail to people I love: 2 parcels minimum/month.
  2. Make visual art: sign up for a drawing and/or painting class or join another art collective; 3 pieces minimum/month.
  3. Write more: I quit Ironblogger SF near the end of last year but I’m joining again. With a vengeance. 1 post/week minimum.
  4. Read more books: Requires cutting down my Internet time, which would be a good thing. 2 books minimum/month.
  5. GO CAMPING: I haven’t done for real camping in *years* and it is tiiiiiime. 1 trip minimum/year.

Yup the drugs are kicking in now and my brain is shutting down. 2013, here I come.