The Thinkery is a developing education program currently being lead by Raymond Wharton and Matt Holzapfel; our goal is to develop educational practices for reskilling Americans for the economic challenges of the present, the infrastructure problems of the near future, and the sustainable life we hope to be aimed toward; and turning these skills toward the work of preserving and adapting our cultures intellectual history into the future.
Monday, November 28, 2011
More Thoughts on the History of an Idea:
The project has been an ever-evolving idea, which has passed out of the circumscription of philosophy where it started as a means to an end--and was furthermore a means designed by the processing of the activity that was to be its end. That is, the goal of philosophizing. The farm is not to be a utopia by the design of philosophy, nor for the purposes of philosophy. Nevertheless, there is a certain logos (a living word; a word that sets forth a life and a world, that in turn speaks the word) to the place, as we have planned thing so far, and it differs both from the society at large, and from other attempts at communities or Eco-villages. This fact is what makes me not underestimate the value of attempting to gain land for ourselves, rather than separately joining communities that are already established.
The attempts at community in the 1960's (and most places today are reformed continuations of the ideas of the 60's communes) were constituted very much out of the peculiar self-understandings of the time. It is important to note, in this, that something like McLuhan's "the medium is the message" is true here, and in the broadest of senses. McLuhan suggested that when studying the way people communicate, it is more important to discover how the message is transmitted, than to discover what the content of the message is. In fact, this equalizes this dichotomy between medium of exchange and message entirely; it suggests that what are experienced as wholly private inner feelings generated in isolation from a world we interact with, and merely expressed by means of manipulating that world, are actually the product of that world itself, and thus to the same degree manipulated by it.
This is a surprising statement, and one that goes beyond many of our self-conceptions about how we hold ourselves aloof form technology as individuals and are able to use it at a distance, not affecting our own inmost being, even as it becomes enmeshed in our personal sustenance, thoughts, feelings etc. which we then "express" to the world using those very means of exchange. Take the telephone, for instance, and its effect on American families over the course of its existence. it enabled families to move away from each other--which still using each other for emotional help, advice, to assist with money, and to be alerted to all of life's big events from afar. This ability to speak with one's family no doubt furnished much of the courage to move away, and participated in the excited movement of people around the country for work, school, travel, & etc. And this technology, as it shaped people's lives, filled in the content with which they spoke--and, indeed, changed the way they relate fundamentally to each other, over such distances.
This is not a technological determinism, and I don't mean to deny here that there are idiosyncrasies of human expression that cannot be captured by a mere history of technology. In fact, such a thing would be precisely opposite what I'm saying. The way human beings exercise their understanding of things, and of themselves, is contingent and variable and based on the accidental and intricate nature of people within their psychical and mechanical environment; however, this contingent and variable human thought neither exists as content to the form of mechanically reproduced expression; nor as the master of this expression. Rather, it is coupled into it, and part of it. machines of various types--media machines--produce symbols that can change the minds of humans who then produce more symbols. It is impossible to say that, in this arrangement, one or the other--the human or its "environment" are in control.
And I would stress that this includes not only machines that are directly related to media, but the whole built up horizon, and natural horizon, in which people exist. And, again, it can't be said that one is particularly the master. There is a world that speaks our voices, yet our voices speak this world. The world of streets and cars and skyscrapers speaks and is spoken in a different way from a world of steppes and cattle and yurts.
The particular world that expressed and was expressed by the discourses that led to the formation of the communes, and then served as the form by which relations between humans were thereby conducted, was a very different one from that which we face. It was the world at the very zenith of technological triumphalism, whose horizons appeared to stretch out far into the heavens with a limitless supply of nuclear power. This power, in turn, was seen as the natural continuation of the then constant surge of energy from fossil fuels, which in its early period grew with exponential strength and was still increasing in that time. Our current system of global, technological economy had no limits, and was of such a determining character that it imposed its own internal logic upon the natural world that was still partially outside of it, also on the relations between human beings within it.
This was a logic of energy and engineering, and the first beginnings of a computational revolution, a revolution that understood the entire world in terms of mecha-materialistic natural processes that left no room for feeling and living, except as brushed into the bare corner of an inexpressible personal (private) subjectivity, in which to even talk about was meaningless. The world in its own significance and living connection, separate from human beings yet still including human beings, was understood symbolically insofar as it evokes certain forms in the human psyche.
As a result, the communes existed under the auspices of an environmentalism and Eco-spiritual aestheticism. They proceeded out of an understanding of the world as "spaceship earth" which could be regulated as an ever more fertile techno-utopia, and which furnished a symbol of mother earth which was of intrinsic psychological value and significance, which could only be cultivated by consciously setting aside wholly natural places from the touch of human machinery.
They also existed under ecological notions of balance or homeostasis and a moralistic diagnosis of the ills of society. That is, the understanding that the earth was comprised of interlocking Eco-systems, which each had their own special operating range that was set by the close cooperation of different parts according to a longstanding process of evolution. This balance was upset by specific western technologies and understandings, which were said to have treated the world as something to be raped and exploited.
Finally, they were characterized by the ideology of human progressivism; Western subjectivist Buddhism and generically Eastern thought; and a utopian understanding of human nature. The possession of human beings with the symbolic understanding of systems eliminated the misguided understanding of people apart from each other, and of mankind apart from nature, with these illusions being dispelled personally in individuals by the application of meditation, yoga, and related techniques. These techniques, as taken up in the west, aimed at reaching a silent inner core or kernel of a person, which could serve as a "groundless ground" from which to divorce one's self from one's upbringing, and rebuild a masterful self that could be in harmony or homeostasis with the world, while dispassionately applying a systematic understanding.
All of this was united under the overarching logic of systems theory, which in turn is actually just abstracted from formal logic--the highest construction of western philosophy--first into computers, and then as an analogy (sometimes hidden in assumptions) from the computers that were increasingly used to analyze the world, into the world which was analyzed. Like a computer, which is just electricity directed through really small switches (or "logic gates") the world was seen through the eyes of ecology, which said that there was a universal energy following through natural systems, and these systems consisted very much of the same sorts of things one sees in a computer, to control, regulate and organize the input of energy into organized systems, before it is dissipated--much like in an engineer's diagram--as heat.
In the midst of this, the communes and subsequent experiments were very much the product of the high fantasies and ideals that were produced by people who lived and aged in the zenith of technological, industrial civilization, and in its most privileged place. Combined with these very modern ideas was an unrealistically rosy nostalgia for the innocence before.
If this sounds like I am describing what could broadly be called the liberal streak to off-grid communities (as opposed to the post-political,) its because I am. in general, attempts to exit society and live off the land are over-determined by the political discourse from whence they came, and instill the logic of one of its extremes into the constitution of the living and built environment in the empty and marginal spaces of rural America. The communes and their successors were political acts, and this in the sense of existing within our ineffectual ideological binary which serves, on both ends, to uphold things largely as they are--rather than in actually touching upon a way of life that could operate outside of, and come to challenge, this system as it is so constituted. They were defined by a choice, rather than for example the inheritance of rural peasantry.
And I don't mention the right-wing alternative because it is either characterized by an ineffectual representation of existing rural populations, whose anger and despair at their own continued impoverishment by impersonal economic forces is cynically misdirected by way of an increasingly paranoiac and self-contradictory ideology. Or else it is childish survivalism, which (in my experience) consists of folks area sustaining a fantasy of self-sufficiency only through the constant input of funds from military pensions and disability cases. And this is also not to say that the hippies are bad or wrong: I have no problem with hippies; I like hippies.
Yet, I don't think places inherited from the counter-culture will work in the coming age without drastic changes, and we are uniquely positioned--that is, our age and generation--to effect a mutation in the logos governing betwixt human beings; this is because we have seen the absolute pinnacle of technological civilization--but also we will see its slow, crushing decline; the catastrophic, despairing decline and the revelation it shows. I don't think we yet have seen a living example of a particular living machine that has mutated out of the mode set forth by civilization broadly construed.
Permaculture, to be sure, has developed ways of individuals existing on the earth in a way that effectively works for their co-sustenance with the natural and built environment around them. Holtzer and Fukuoka, for instance, have fundamentally mutated in regards to their relation to non-human life; and Jaimie Mantzel has a mutated relation to work, construction and the body that has unleashed a potentially awesome power, if it could spread to others. But this doesn't extend quite yet to social existence, and this is the problem we must participate in.
The difference between us and previous attempts is hard to quite quantify, but to give a bit of the flavor: whereas before there was systems theory and homeostasis, we have a machinics of rhizomatic arborescence. Whereas before there was the construction of surrounding natural phenomena to psychological symbols (the Jungian inheritance) and Western Eastern spirituality, we have a pan-materialist animism. Whereas before there was progressivism we have, in effect, a hybrid theory that places the Marxist concept of alienation in juxtaposition with energy economics and its reality of breakup and decline, all in the face of the potentially limitless evolution of humankind and the vast, superhuman intelligence it, as life, participates in. Whereas before there was a moralistic reaction against society, we have a dispassionate study of the economic pattern of centralized statist exploitation that addresses all levels from the intra and inter-personal level of desire, to the global world historic. And whereas before there was a utopian understanding of human nature, we have an understanding of humans as an assemblage with a desire and psyche coupled into and reflective of the group, and the various co-assemblies found in conjunction with it.
Our hope is ultimately to build something out of the future generation (though, of course, accepting folks whatever their age,) whose consciousness was shaped both by the decentralized networks of computing that were the absolute zenith of technological power, but also young enough to enter in this this period of decline with a consciousness that is adaptable; that can mutate out of its technological milieu and reapply itself to collective arrangements of humans and other things in an environment where one's power and place is in the things that are build and which grow out of the hands of a worker, who works no longer under the auspices of money, except insofar as the community needs it in order to exist as a "liberated space" in a wider world. But rather, a worker who works instead as the exercise of their own strength and potential as a marvelous hominid body, with a brain grown out of its early monkey milieu, and reapplied to a world of words and thoughts by which their wider world may be re-related to itself in building and growth, according to those words and the labor of those hands, which are built out of the dwelling other hands have made.
This, of course, stresses the differences rather than the commonalities, but the commonalities, I think, are obvious.