amateurs do it for love
January 9, 2010 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Mohandas K. Gandhi’s critique of the modern identification of society with the state was devastating. He believed that it disabled citizens, subjecting mind and body to the control of professional experts when the purpose of a civilization should be to enhance its members’ sense of their own self-reliance. He proposed instead that every human being is a unique personality and participates with the rest of humanity in an encompassing whole. Between these extremes lie proliferating associations of great variety. [...] But what is most relevant to us is his existentialist project. If the world of society and nature is devoid of meaning, each of us is left feeling small, isolated and vulnerable. How do we bridge the gap between a puny self and a vast, unknowable world? The answer is to scale down the world, to scale up the self or a combination of both, so that a meaningful relationship might be established between the two. Gandhi devoted a large part of his philosophy to building up the personal resources of individuals. Our task is to bring this project up to date. ~ From The Digital Revolution and me by John Keith Hart
posted by infini (15 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Wow that was an incredibly long way of making a pretty short point.

I'm not trying to be all pissy, but it read to me like "the internet is great! People do stuff on the internet, we (anthropologists) should study it and use it more! It really is great!" Seriously asking, is there a point I missed?

Anthropologists already are studying this, he's aware of it. I don't know, who is supposed to read this piece and what are they supposed to take from it? Old guy uses new technology? Young people use new technology more than old people? The internet is kind of a big deal?
posted by smoke at 5:29 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

since part of why i made an FPP was to spark a discussion, let me jump in way too early in the thread to attempt an answer to your question.

who is supposed to read this piece and what are they supposed to take from it?

I don't know who is supposed to read this piece, and most likely neither does the author. individually owned publishing platforms free one from such considerations, a 'move along now, nothing to see here' if what is being said goes over one's head. you two left behind, pour yourself a cuppa and squat here by the fire.

on the other hand, the second part of the question, what is one supposed to take from it, i can only answer subjectively. here's what I took away from reading it and why it inspired me to fpp it, blog it and share it with others.

this goes deeper into the abstraction layer of what the influence of pervasive communication enabled by technology is on a global scale. beyond the "colour of people on one social network vs another" study of the webz (k, that was gratuitous but irresistible) and in another sense, it steps way way back from such minutiae to attempt to grasp an understanding of how being able to do all of this, from our desks, with our head in the clouds, is influencing humanity.

why is it important to me? why did it inspire me to read it?

one factor is certainly what I know of the man - he is credited with the term 'informal sector' (informal economy) - a 'temporal' 'dynamic' activity leading him to eventually write these lines,

The two great memory banks are language and money. Exchange of meanings through language and of goods through money are now converging in a single network of communications, the internet.

the second factor, best demonstrated by linking to Engadget's post yesterday on the keynote at CES by Nokia's CEO where the essence of their future strategy (I do not work for this organization if my location inadvertently implies this) is to focus on the emerging markets of the developing world offering such information services as life tools to empower farmers or money services to enable transactions

Given that today's dots may imply that one future evolution is an "Internet" society of 7 billion people, of which the minority would be educated, english speaking and [developed? first world? rich? dunno] does it not make sense then to begin considering what this emerging merger [that mythical bridge across the digital divide?] would be like? what it might mean for "society" as a whole?

What will happen when you can buy your green beans directly from the Kenyan farmer?
posted by infini at 6:22 AM on January 9, 2010

What will happen when you can buy your green beans directly from the Kenyan farmer?

You'll be in a 1999-era Nortel Networks ad on CNBC?
posted by Space Coyote at 6:32 AM on January 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

a good giggle, but is Nortel around today? this is happening now
posted by infini at 6:39 AM on January 9, 2010

I'm not trying to be all pissy, but it read to me like "the internet is great! People do stuff on the internet, we (anthropologists) should study it and use it more! It really is great!" Seriously asking, is there a point I missed?

This reads like any number of insubstantial articles I've read over the last several years by academics who have something very simple (and often interesting!) to say but are up against academia's general disdain for any idea less than twenty pages in length. It's like, if you can't spend a certain number of words saying it, it's not worth saying. Or something.

There's many critiques to be made of the higher educational system, but one of the ones that interests me the most is that exposure to it seems to absolutely destroy concision.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:50 AM on January 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hm. Well, I'm convinced, I'd like to know more about this "internets."
posted by fuq at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2010

The Internet Gets To The Point :P

posted by kliuless at 8:24 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the single comment:

Keith Hart: “I have studied alternative approaches to money, especially the community currency system known as LETS, and they have not yet found the right combination of social and technical principles to help them take off.”

Jct: Just like a bicycle, the technical principles of LETS are not the problem, it’s users failure to ride it right that’s the social problem.”

Sees the recent bicycle thread, laughs ass off.
posted by fixedgear at 8:37 AM on January 9, 2010

why do I get the feeling the abyss just winked back at me?
posted by infini at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2010

(i dunno ;)

so i was watching c-span yesterday on (the eve of) the anniversary of common sense [1,2,3] and how it galvanised popular opinion for independence. um, i guess what struck me most was the unique set of circumstances (history!) for a popular revolt against injustice and oppression from what's generally considered the natural or 'normal' state of human affairs, i.e. a political-economy dominated by the rich and the powerful.

liell talks of an anonymously penned 46pp. pamphlet that ignites the popular imagination and launches a nation founded upon (admittedly lofty) universal principles...

anyway, from a social anthropology perspective i think what hart is describing is mini-agglomerations (micronations?) arising from a multitude of 'pamphleteers' -- everyone a paine :P
...the Latins invented 'society' to describe their aspirations for collective order, the word they used had as its root sekw-, meaning to follow. If anyone was attacked, the others agreed to support them in battle. The hierarchy was temporary. Well so too on Twitter. The idea of society as a state with fixed boundaries came a lot later. The new social networks are personal and unequal; they often have a commercial feel that puts off many intellectuals. But there is something exciting going on that it would pay us to understand...
well-trod territory by numerous techno-visionaries, among others, trying to capture the zeitgeist -- the recognition that something is happening -- and that there is more to be written, if not directed; i like the way cowen put it recently: our own detriment. As human beings, we are prone to focus on very dramatic, visible events... of good guys versus bad guys and... to neglect the underlying forces that improve life in small, hard-to-observe ways, culminating in important changes...
probably the best practitioner of identifying and, uh, hermeneutically unifying 'the underlying forces' (in my mind!) was gellner, like (in my intellectual development) i've (sub)consciously been trying to fill out an imaginary addendum to plough, sword and book (or looking for others to do so ;) about how the internet is rewiring the industrial-age institutions of 'production, coercion and cognition' that, very broadly speaking, would be something along the lines of 'the social' over 'the economic' with 'information' replacing 'money' in terms of primacy and then in turn how that is affecting the power structures of 'the political' (given to 'the ideological'?) ... or something!
posted by kliuless at 5:32 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

kliuless, indeed ;p

anyhoo, thank you for the very informative comment, i've got a nice amazon xmas gift card waiting to be spent that needed some help :)

some (rambling, in no particular order) thoughts on your last few sentences, however,

about how the internet is rewiring the industrial-age institutions of 'production, coercion and cognition' that, very broadly speaking, would be something along the lines of 'the social' over 'the economic' with 'information' replacing 'money' in terms of primacy and then in turn how that is affecting the power structures of 'the political' (given to 'the ideological'?) ... or something!

My first impulse on reading these few lines was to say "No" ~ that is, yes (so I contradict myself, and am not whitman, so sue me ;p) what you say is an evolutionary path that I do indeed 'see' happening, but only among the "heads in the clouds ones" or the 1% who are creators of UGC (wonder if MeFi is their concentration camp?). this was primarily because I've spent much of 2009 immersed in understanding how those on irregular income streams from a variety of sources manage their household expenses (and thus a) why prepaid works and b) any insights to help better design payment models). the informal economy tends to be "cash" based if its urban, for the most part, and if rural, tends towards a range of cashless transactions from simple barter to sophisticated annual retainers. cash is used for "trade goods" like oil, salt, tea etc

Thus, if what you have said is to emerge, I felt that it wouldn't necessarily 'trickle down' to these lower income demographics - how could 'information' replace 'money' in this context, when there are legacy systems of credit or of "storing wealth" existing prior to the advent of "money" in the form that your quote on Locke describes.

On the other hand, once I allowed my instinctive first response to ebb away and actually thought about what you have written, I can understand how 'information' does indeed have a relationship to 'money' even among this demographic - it has been said that the paucity of information is the essence of poverty - and my own findings above showed that a mobile phone enhanced the existing span of control over "time" and "money" - frequency, periodicity, amount and "kind" - for those managing a "portfolio of investments" and sped up their response time and decision making ability, leading me to muse upon its impact on income so generated.

So, while "information" per se might seem the obvious replacement to "money", I'd rather say that perhaps its "time" that "information" might "replace" (or rather have the power to influence far more effectively) basing all of this on the premise of "instantaneous real time communication" that we know have access to OR even "control" ---> that is, instead of receiving a bill from your utility provider telling you how much to pay and by when, YOU get to choose how much, when and how often to pay, putting control over your cash flow back in your hands (which is what prepaid does, for the most part, the philipines being a crazy exception bla bla bla long story)

time is not money outside much of the developed world, social networks and relationships are

I dunno... maybe... just bla bla here now
posted by infini at 7:08 AM on January 10, 2010


re: time/information/money, to the extent they're fungible, well, the more you can place them in quotes! i would argue they're becoming more fungible... i guess i was thinking more along the lines of mutual credit systems, reputation economies and flabdablet's personal currencies as information or trust networks, like where 'value' cannot be easily transferred or exchanged, 'control' is not a measurable cost but the marginal willingness to pay or provide 'utility' -- the organising principle of 'social' production over more 'economic' activities.

[if that makes any sense! i kind of think i know what it means ;]

anyway, point being that it seems to me like there's sort of an ice-9 moment crystalising in the same way that industrial organisation swept away the agrarian age (whether capitalist or socialist was incidental to gellner ;) the internet is turning 'all that is solid into air'! like i came across this 'manifesto' yesterday that i think helps illustrate the revolution:
In the midst of the current crisis, which will be long and protracted, many on the left want to return to the golden age of public education. They naïvely imagine that the crisis of the present is an opportunity to demand the return of the past. But social programs that depended upon high profit rates and vigorous economic growth are gone. We cannot be tempted to make futile grabs at the irretrievable while ignoring the obvious fact that there can be no autonomous "public university" in a capitalist society. The university is subject to the real crisis of capitalism, and capital does not require liberal education programs. The function of the university has always been to reproduce the working class by training future workers according to the changing needs of capital. The crisis of the university today is the crisis of the reproduction of the working class, the crisis of a period in which capital no longer needs us as workers. We cannot free the university from the exigencies of the market by calling for the return of the public education system. We live out the terminus of the very market logic upon which that system was founded. The only autonomy we can hope to attain exists beyond capitalism.

What this means for our struggle is that we can't go backward. The old student struggles are the relics of a vanished world. In the 1960s, as the post-war boom was just beginning to unravel, radicals within the confines of the university understood that another world was possible. Fed up with technocratic management, wanting to break the chains of a conformist society, and rejecting alienated work as unnecessary in an age of abundance, students tried to align themselves with radical sections of the working class. But their mode of radicalization, too tenuously connected to the economic logic of capitalism, prevented that alignment from taking hold. Because their resistance to the Vietnam war focalized critique upon capitalism as a colonial war-machine, but insufficiently upon its exploitation of domestic labor, students were easily split off from a working class facing different problems. In the twilight era of the post-war boom, the university was not subsumed by capital to the degree that it is now, and students were not as intensively proletarianized by debt and a devastated labor market.

That is why our struggle is fundamentally different. The poverty of student life has become terminal: there is no promised exit. If the economic crisis of the 1970s emerged to break the back of the political crisis of the 1960s, the fact that today the economic crisis precedes the coming political uprising means we may finally supersede the cooptation and neutralization of those past struggles. There will be no return to normal.
and placed in a larger context:
...there would seem to be two possibilities inherent in the current financial crisis: post-Bretton Woods capital has erred by its primary reliance on a money form and accompanying social bond — credit and debt, respectively — that are incompatible with it, and so a readjustment, a reversion, will be necessary; or capital's overcoming of the current crisis will represent not simply surpassing a limit but also the crossing of a threshold — the integration of financialization into a new capitalist assemblage.

The social-democratic calls for a new deal and the locating of debt as capitalism's dirty little secret are, of course, reterritorializing demands banking on the former solution, a weird kind of desire to conserve an ontology that no longer exists. The latter, though, seems the more likely solution, one that will, as Melinda Cooper and Angela Mitropoulos note, be based on and pave the way for the "renewed deterritorialisation of capital flows on another scale and another basis." If capital is able to overcome the first huge crisis in financialization, it will be, according to Graeber's scheme, an epoch-making change. It will also, as both Cooper and Mitropoulos and Graeber agree, be achieved in blood: "there is no possibility of a peaceful exit" from the current crisis because of "the absolutely crucial role of violence in defining the very terms by which we imagine both 'society' and 'markets' - in fact, many of our most elementary ideas of freedom..."
viz. kropotkin's spirit of revolt:
There are periods in the life of human society when revolution becomes an imperative necessity, when it proclaims itself as inevitable. New ideas germinate everywhere, seeking to force their way into the light, to find an application in life; everywhere they are opposed by the inertia of those whose interest it is to maintain the old order; they suffocate in the stifling atmosphere of prejudice and traditions. The accepted ideas of the constitution of the State, of the laws of social equilibrium, of the political and economic interrelations of citizens, can hold out no longer against the implacable criticism which is daily undermining them whenever occasion arises, — in drawing room as in cabaret, in the writings of philosophers as in daily conversation. Political, economic, and social institutions are crumbling; the social structure, having become uninhabitable, is hindering, even preventing the development of the seeds which are being propagated within its damaged walls and being brought forth around them.

The need for a new life becomes apparent.
indeed :P


(btw, the quote on locke is hart's ;)
posted by kliuless at 7:11 PM on January 11, 2010

in summary:




now, to quote hart ;p, what next? here's his subsequent post to the FPP (which I'm sure you've already read)

The world is much more socially integrated today than two centuries ago and its economy is palpably unjust. We have barely survived three world wars (two hot, one cold) and brutality provokes fear everywhere. Moreover, the natural (we would say “ecological”) consequences of human actions are likely to be severely disruptive, if left unchecked. Histories of the universe we inhabit do seem to be indispensable to the construction of institutions capable of administering justice worldwide. When Roy Rappaport wrote recently that “Humanity·is that part of the world through which the world as a whole can think about itself”, he was repeating the central idea of Kant’s prescient essay. The task of building a global civil society for the 21st century is an urgent one and anthropological visions must play their part in that.

For some time now I have been wondering what it would be like to study world society , either as a seeker of Enlightenment like Kant or even as an academic anthropologist. This essay is mainly about the methods we might adopt for that purpose. Method comes from Greek meta-hodos, meaning before (or after) the road, preparation for a journey or perhaps its destination. Each of us makes an idiosyncratic journey through life and absorbs a personal version of society in the process. The life journeys of anthropologists are more varied than most. So, what version of society do we end up with and how? Could it be improved upon if some of us made it an explicit vocation to study world society as such? But, before discussing how to study world society, it might be worth reflecting on why now is an appropriate time to start doing so.

posted by infini at 1:02 AM on January 12, 2010

ugc = user generated content
posted by infini at 1:11 AM on January 12, 2010

well I was born in '66
posted by infini at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2010

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