We Tell Stories that Reinforce Power: God, Royalty, and Professionals in Popular Culture

Borgen

The stories in our culture reinforce the power structure of society. And western culture has become so globally dominant that it’s big enough to contain any story of rebellion against authority (emphasis on contain) without itself being threatened. Anyone want to buy an Occupy T-shirt? Even protest can be commercialized. True story: I met someone starting college with a desire to work in forensics and asked why and they said their favorite TV show had been CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. And that became their path to the professional class. That investment of time, money, and work will reinforce a certain kind of power structure. And so what? What modern culture has a different class structure? They might be speaking a different language, but do they support a different use of power? Continue reading

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Precedent for Digital Democracy: Comedy, the Best Party, and the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland

Jón Gnarr, Mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland

Reading Jón Gnarr, How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World, I found that a platform for citizens to inform each other and vote on issues had been implemented in Reykjavík beginning in October 2011. He has a chapter called “The World is Getting Better and Better” where he talks about the online platform Betri Reykjavík for citizens to find all the information about plans and projects for city districts and “read the ideas, opinions, and suggestions of others, discuss the proposed concept, present your own ideas, and then vote for or against.” In the chapter “And Now?” he writes: “Democracy is the key to a progressive society. I believe in direct democracy. More precisely: in direct digital democracy.” Continue reading

The Nordic Countries and a Winnable Campaign for Women’s Rights in the US

Vigeland Family

From the audience, listening to Sanders, it sounded like harangue. This is completely different, the opposite of the inspirational tone delivered by Obama, and it was different in another way. Sanders, in an early televised debate, lauded Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. This is the real difference between the candidates: Sanders didn’t present an amorphous hope, an idealized change, he pointed directly at social policy that works, that’s currently in place in other countries, social programs where the citizens have placed a significant portion of their income to public rather than private consumption. In the Nordic countries when they pay taxes, they’re paying for benefits: paid parental leave, day care, universal public K-PhD education, health care, home health care for the elderly. It’s not individuals making sacrifices for other people, when someone pays taxes in the Nordic countries they are buying services for their own benefit. And through their collective effort, they created a place where one would want to live. Sanders directed our nation’s attention at smart social policy that works. Rather than repeat the self-referencing common to America, he directed attention to other countries, people who have made choices to create social benefits.

I wanted to share this idea with my friends. Continue reading

Networked Humanity: How Do We Know What is Right or Wrong?

Paris

In The Anatomy of Inequality, author Per Molander describes one of the ways conservatives defend the status quo, a tactic called knowledge skepticism. By saying we can’t know a thing for certain, over the years conservatism has attempted to undermine egalitarian theories from advancing an alternative to the status quo. In human history, the status quo has been conditions of great inequality—an exception being the period after World War II to the 70s and on to present day in the Nordic countries. But in the United States, beginning in the early 70s with the Powell Memo, a concerted campaign by the right has been advanced to dismantle the social welfare state and, asserting the small government rhetoric now familiar to us, has succeeded in cementing rule by wealthy and corporate interests effectively crafting policy for their benefit without regard to the public.

A recent application of knowledge skepticism has been to create doubt in commonly understood science—probably the most extreme case is denying the Holocaust. Obviously knowledge skepticism is applied selectively in conservative rhetoric. When it is convenient to defend one’s interests with absolute certainty in the knowledge that one is right, conservatives can be unequivocal. Moral relativism is another way to defend the status quo, and Molander mentions its use as a bulwark against Enlightenment thinkers asserting the natural rights of all human beings.

The inability of humanity to take a valid course of right action could suggest there is an awareness of right action that people have no access to—due to self-interest or eternal ignorance—or that no right action exists for the world because humanity embodies natural forces that we have no ability to direct. Biological drives, instincts, and desires take their expression through humanity. And seen this way, we are expressions of a force of nature that is beyond our control. There is no right or wrong way about it: we are a force of nature. But Western Civilization is nothing if not an attempt to subdue nature, to have dominion over nature, and so long as civilization exists it will attempt to control human nature. Continue reading

Why Mars? A Multiplanetary Species, But It Won’t Be Humanity: Outer Space as Salvation Myth

It’s powerful, practical even, to charge your employees with great purpose. Scientific discovery, satellite communications, asteroid mining are all useful and practical reasons to launch rockets, and where humanity steps back in awe, Elon Musk takes his SpaceX employees further by saying they’ll make us a multiplanetary species. Granted our technology will explore and work in outer space, but to understand how earthlings would fare on another planet you only have to visit the zoo. Continue reading

Facebook Credits: Getting Paid to View Ads and Creating an In-Platform Economy

Facebook MoneyAttention, our free time, is the only scarcity online. With so many pages, videos, and podcasts to experience, no one wants to waste time on ads—unless it pays. Let’s say the advertiser pays people to view an ad. Currently advertisers pay Facebook to get their ad in front of customers. What if along with the standard ads and Friend updates, there appears a narrow white bar with a button you can click to unfurl an ad, crediting a dime to you. That ten cents would be an in-platform digital currency.

To seriously consider this scenario with its attendant why-nots and impossibles, let’s attempt to answer: what is the purpose of our economy? With the billions in advertising revenue Facebook collects annually, it might seem the economy works best when money is extracted from an ecosystem and converted to share price and ten-figure entries in the company’s bank account. It’s easier to measure and make sense of the accumulation of money, watching the scoreboard in a global economic contest, than measuring the velocity of flow. But what if the economy actually functions better when money circulates more? Continue reading

Illustrated History

My senior year at the University of Oregon a visiting professor looked at my painting and asked what I wanted to do. I said, “History painting.” The art department in the 90s was like experiential art history, learning to do what artists centuries ago had accomplished. I lived Impressionism. It was like acting the part of an artist, packing my easel and going out to the field. Then I got into Cubism. And the Romantics, their grand canvases. But I had come to school wanting to be a comic book artist, and that strand wove itself into the picture.

Abraham, Don't Kill a Man Continue reading