What is the #Occupy Movement?

The Intellectual Roots of the Occupy Movement

#occupy wall street poster

The #Occupy Wall Street movement is primarily a Dadaist expression. Dada originated out of anti-war sentiment during World War I. Participants classified it as a protest against the bourgeois nationalism and colonialism. They also saw it as a protest against intellectual conformity during wartime.

According to Wikipedia:

Many Dadaists believed that the ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality. For example, George Grosz later recalled that his Dadaist art was intended as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction.”

Already at this point, there is a clear resemblance to the apparent chaos and disorganization of the Occupy Movement and the Dadaist Movement. However, this is only where the roots of the movement began. There is a very rich cultural and revolutionary history behind the Occupy Movement.

Situationists and the French Protests of ’68

The Avant-garde Dadaist Movement paved the way for the Situationist International group in 1957. The Situationists were primarily a restricted group of European revolutionaries spanning across several borders. The other heritage they drew from was the Marxist ideology. They were very involved in creating situations where people could experiment with alternatives to the group think of society. They created fields such as Unitary Urbanism and Psychogeography. Détournement is a particularly important practice of Unitary Urbanism.

Civil Unrest - France May 1968This group played a large role in supporting the General Strike of May 1968, in France. This strike lasted two weeks and brought the economy of France to a halt. Nearly 11 million people went on strike for the entire two weeks of the protest. This counted for nearly a quarter of nearly 49.9 million French citizens in 1968 and two thirds of the working population. The movement caused massive changes in society as a result of the total disaster it caused. Initially, it focused on educational system. Then it branched out into workers.

The Situationists called for workers to occupy the factories. They established the Council for Maintaining the Occupations. This instituted a democracy with equal voice for all participants:

The council implemented a policy of equal representation for its participants. It was described by Situationist René Viénet as “essentially an uninterrupted general assembly, deliberating day and night. No faction or private meetings ever existed outside the common debate.” It was formed on the evening of May 17, by supporters of the Sorbonne Occupation Committee.

The factory occupation was to prevent workers from being locked out of the factory. It resulted in the workers taking over and directing the factories through a democratic process.

Some may say that similarities abound between the French protests of ’68 and the Occupy Movement. Sure, they were both started by culture jamming societies. You could say they are nearly the same play from very similar organizations. Unfortunately, they were not organized in the same way and a very different intellectual history make them entirely unlike. These two events unfolded drastically differently due to many differences and concerns that may not have been thought out.

The Reality of Occupy

The Occupy Movement was started by Adbusters, a Canadian culture jamming publication and organization. It was formed in 1989, in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Bill Schmalz and Kalle Lasn (author of Design Anarchy). Adbusters describes themselves: “We are a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.” Culture Jamming, coined in 1984, is a modern example of détournement, revived in the 1970s with the punk movement.

The Occupy Movement was inspired by the Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests, and the Spanish Indignants. The Egyptian Revolution wanted to overthrow an entire government regime. The Spanish protests have a little more in common with the Occupy Movement:

Even though protesters form a heterogeneous and ambiguous group, they share a strong rejection of unemployment, welfare cuts, Spanish politicians, the current two-party system in Spain between the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and the People’s Party, as well as the current political system, capitalism, banks and bankers, political corruption and firmly support what they call basic rights: home, work, culture, health and education.

Notice again, there is a definite similarity of the composition of the group and the demands between the Occupy Movement and the Spanish Protests. Occupy is a group of really different people all rallying around demands that each member has. Their focus is wide and there are a diverse range of needs represented.

Democracia real YA

A grassroots movement organized in March 2011 and became known as ¡Democracia Real YA!, which apparently is also the name of the social network that was used to organize it. This organization has created a manifesto and has brought about a (broad) set of demands and became an actual political platform to operate from. The real momentum behind organizing ¡Democracia Real YA! came from a prior timeline: On 29 September 2010, labor union strikes broke out in Spain. More strikes happened on 27 January 2011, when unions in Catalonia, Galicia, and Basque Country also protested. Both of these strikes were for reasons similar to the Wisconsin Labor Strikes in February 2011 and March 2011. On 7 April 2011, 5,000 people organized a protest in Madrid around the demands of Jovenes sin Futura (Youth Without a Future). On 1 May 2011, a riot broke out in Barcelona and destroyed many businesses in the richest neighborhood. The first occupation planned by the ¡Democracia Real YA! came on 13 May 2011. Two days later, 50,000 protesters joined in and showed support. The protests have continued since (over 6 months).

Interestingly enough, the Spanish protests have also been compared to the French Protests of ’68. The similarities: both started around education and employment. Both were in countries small compared to the US. Sure, there was some unrest and an area of Barcelona was trashed, but it has not caused a whole third of the country to cease their daily activities. It has not brought Spain’s economy to it’s knees.

The Intellectual Heritage of Modern American Protests

During the period of 1954-1968, the most recent African-American rights movement happened. Voting rights and racial desegregation were brought about in the south. The Black Power Movement also happened. It sought to bring about a true relief of oppression from white Americans and a power balance with white Americans. This movement was steeped in non-violent practices.

Second wave feminism emerged during this period, too. Women worked hard to gain equality in society. Women worked to attain equal pay, and equal footing economically. More generally, women worked hard to dispel the media’s portrayal of women’s role in society. This movement was also rooted in non-violence to achieve its goals.

Parallel to the development of the Situationists in Europe, the development of Happenings came about in the US during 1957. Allan Kaprow coined the term to describe performances happening that spring on George Segal’s farm. These happenings were meant to involve the audience and draw them into the art, to interact with it and become a part of the performance itself. In Kaprow’s words, “The line between the Happening and daily life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.” A happening depends entirely on the audience that participates. Since the audience changes every time, each performance is never the same. This idea would go on to inspire others.

In San Francisco, The Suicide Club formed in 1977 by Gary Warne (also the founder of SantaCon). This secret society involved itself in urban exploration and social exploits borrowing ideas from happenings. They started The Billboard Liberation Front (one of the first US culture jamming groups) as a result of their bridge climbing antics. They performed street theater — sometimes this involved riding the streetcars naked. They hosted elaborate games in strange places like a cemetery. They also infiltrated organizations — such as the Unification Church and the American Nazi Party.

In 1986, ex-Suicide Club members founded the Cacophony Society. According to their website:

The Cacophony Society is a randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society through subversion, pranks, art, fringe explorations and meaningless madness.

This group is responsible for creating Burning Man during Zone Trip #4. One of the co-founders, Kevin Evans, conceived it as “a dadaist temporary autonomous zone with sculpture to be burned and situationist performance art.”

The idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone, came to Hakim Bey as early as 1985 while he was studying pirate utopias. The book on TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zones) was published in 1991. The book skirts around defining the meaning of the TAZ, leaving the term as a floating signifier. Fortunately, the context of the book creates enough of a boundary around the meaning that one can grasp in intuitively. A protest, a happening, a Burning Man event, a Lost Horizon Night Market, a ComicCon, and the Oregon Country Fair are all examples of a TAZ (and happening) to one degree or another.

Hakim’s book on the TAZ begins with a section entitled “CHAOS: THE BROADSHEETS OF ONTOLOGICAL ANARCHISM”. At this point, we can see that the Situationist legacy had been united with the anarchic tendencies of the US Cacophony Society and earlier Suicide Club. Most likely the notions presented so shortly after Adbusters was founded would have been on the radar of Lasn, since Lasn is such a proponent of the anarchy of design and ideas. It would seem that much of the ideology behind the Cacophony Society would have made it into the minds of those planning the Occupy event.

What Does This Mean for Occupy?

Politically, the French protesters of ’68 failed. President De Gaulle tried to fight back with Police action. This was not met well and streets broke out with battles against the police. Fearing a revolution, President De Gaulle fled to Germany, staying at a French military base. He dissolved the National Assembly and held re-elections. His party emerged even stronger after the elections. The aftermath only included sweeping changes to French society because so much of society was effected by a fourth of France protesting.

Contrasted to the French protests of ’68, Occupy is definitely not a large movement concentrated in one area. It is not a sizable force that can recon with a cities economy, much less an entire country’s economy (maybe a neighborhood economy). Now, the Occupy movement is being confronted with police force in many states. If it were to get violent, that would be the end of the movement. Fortunately, there is a great heritage of non-violent protesting in the US. If this were not the case, the moment a violent fight broke out between protesters and cops, the movement would be dismissed and would have no political power. There is no way this movement as it stands will be able to bring about the social change the French protesters brought about through force.

Occupy may appear to be a grassroots movement, but it only became one after Adbusters manipulated the psychogeography by placing posters around the area Occupy Wall Street would happen. Unlike both the French protests of ’68 and the Spanish Indignants, it did not grow out of groups already protesting. Sure, there were union strikes in Wisconsin. Where were students already protesting about the educational system? The sentiment was not nearly as widespread as it was in May ’68 in France. There is a similarity between Spanish protesters and Occupy, the length of time occupations have been happening. Occupy has been going on for about 1/3 of the time as the Spanish Indignants, and the protests have lasted 1/3 of the time. They do seem to be very similar in action.

Occupy is seemingly artificial, not to disqualify it, but it was not an organic grassroots movement where lots of people decided to start protesting. It is an idea piggybacking on generally felt sentiments, sentiments felt very deeply by some. It was provoked, not by the government or economy itself, but rather by a culture jamming collective with a nod towards ontological anarchism. Occupy is a work of art. It is a readymade art installation and a happening. Kaprow and Duchamp would be proud.

Occupy quickly evolved into a special type of TAZ. It reminded people that there is more to life than this rat race of consumerism and capitalism. People’s belief in reality must be suspended when coming into contact with Occupy. If someone’s beliefs are not suspended, they, like many others, will probably be in conflict with Occupy. They might yell, “Get a job!”, as I heard many times around Occupy Portland. This is a city bound Zone Trip #4, the origin of Burning Man. As Matt Taibbi phrased it:

This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

As Occupy stands, it cannot be sustained for long. If their sentiments are true, let them stop being a non-commissioned art installation occupying public space. It needs to get off the lawn, before too many anti-protest protests break out.

What Occupy Can Do to Be Taken Seriously

Occupy needs to realize it is a happening, a deeply heartfelt, everyday performance art gathering. It needs to realize that the needs of its actor-participants influence the outcome. The needs of its members must be met. Occupy represents a large cross section of people everywhere on Maslow’s hierarchy of self actualization (let us not delve into it being a hierarchy, just needs that people have). At Occupy, peoples needs include: physiological (air, water, food, sanitation, etc.), safety (health, shelter, clothing, employment, property, etc.), love & belonging (friends, family, sexual intimacy), esteem (to be accepted, valued, and respected), and self-actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts).

This provides an interesting strain on Occupy. It is based on volunteerism, which is a very hard way to manage social services. The strain becomes pronounced in places like Portland where Occupy Portland held a march that ended in occupation of three blocks of parks — parks where a few homeless people already slept. Some of them didn’t know what was going on, but it was “cool” that all of these people came to join them. Word of the camp spread and soon there were a lot of actual homeless people with many needs living in the camp. Even today, there has not been any funding sought out to provide mental health and drug addiction counselling to people that desperately need it.

Occupy has a real need for expert facilitation to sort out the needs of people that are a part of the movement and firmly establish groups in charge of meeting those needs. They need to be groups separate from the people with the needs, so there is accountability. There needs to be a definite schedule for meetings around these different needs and concerns, not like the currently ad hoc situation. This would allow more representation in the spokes council meetings. General Assemblies seem to be derailed because of the number of needs represented by each participant.

In Portland at least, passers by and the media have noticed the homeless people, the drug problems, and the mental health problems. Having continuing issues around these untended needs presents many issues to having a consistent and positive view of Occupy by outsiders. Finding a way to take care of these needs will improve communities and improve the outlook for Occupy.

The language of the original poster for the Occupy Wall Street gathering, “What is our one demand?”, failed to specify any specific demand(s) but rather left it up to the Occupy group to democratically decide a set of demands, or rather, needs. Adbusters left demands wide open, greatly contrasting with the origin of the Spanish protests. This needs to happen soon. Once the needs and demands are sorted out they can be used to drive powerful changes that people can rally behind.

There are so many ways Occupy could incorporate and become a driving force for local economies. By doing so, Occupy would be setting an example for others to follow. A lack of skilled workers may arise, but this really only presents an opportunity to partner with local organizations and create training programs.

The environment of Occupy’s TAZ is ripe for experimentation and innovation. Occupy needs to involve the right people and generate ideas that spread and cause measurable change in society. Once people’s needs are met and actual progress and community improvement is made by Occupy, people will start taking it seriously.

What’s The Big Deal About Transgender Rights?

Chaz Bono is going to be on Dancing with the Stars. For people who don’t know, I’m reluctant to let you in on the fact that he’s transgender. He was assigned to the female gender at birth, but didn’t fit the mold. People who know about his past have conniptions — or at least they still want to classify him as a woman, and then say that what he’s doing is all wrong and messed up (or sinful in some cases). For more on those type of comments, I’ll direct you here.

I will bring up one nasty comment from The Hollywood Review. A person who’s handle is Bellcindy wrote, “I do not hate Chaz as a person. I just resent the media shoving so much of anyone’s personal life choices down our throats.” The problem I have with this statement is it wouldn’t apply to people who are similar to Bellcindy. The personal lives and choices of hetro-normative people are constantly shoved down everyone’s throats. TV would have no substance to it if that were not the case. There would be no sitcoms, no reality TV, and no soap operas if it were not for constantly having hetro-normative life choices presented in the media. Bellcindy (and to all those out there like you), I’m sorry to inform you that your statement is just plain ignorant of reality.

Transgender people get to deal with many things in addition to harassment and abuse. For instance, the US (or at least now days, the SSA) doesn’t recognize the gender that one lives in, but rather the gender one was assigned at birth. The only exception is when one has had sex reassignment surgery and a letter from the surgeon is presented to the SSA (Social Security Administration). As of last year (see here), passports can be changed if one gets a letter from a doctor saying they have been undergoing clinical therapy towards living in the other sex (at least two years of it, otherwise a temporary passport is issued).

Some states do not recognize transgender people as their lived gender. There’s the question of, “Does his drivers license says M or F under sex?” In Oregon, one is able to change the sex marker with a notice from a licensed psychologist stating that one has been living as their intended sex for two years. This is not true in all states; other states that do allow it have differing requirements.

In a few states, one can have their birth certificate amended with the new gender once the surgery has happened. There are states in which the new gender is not recognized, even if the person has had surgery. Those states also make it nearly impossible for a transgender person to get married.

In some states (such as Oregon, if I remember), it is illegal for a person to use a public (multi-stall) restroom designated for the opposite gender (according to one’s state recognized gender on their ID). At the state level it becomes an issue of, “Is it legal for me to be who I am? If it is, what protections of my rights are there? If I were attacked or harassed, would I just be mocked in the justice system, or would someone uphold and respect my right to exist?” All of these questions and more are a daily reality for most transgender people.

I tend to dislike people who are narrow minded enough to define who a person is based on what is between their legs, and then expect that person to always live up to what the other thinks it means to have those genitalia. Then, when the gendered person deviates from the assigned gender, they are coerced (by humiliation, punishment, abuse) into conforming to the expectations others have for how others have gendered them.

Unfortunately, there are far too many of these people in the world. Unfortunately, people make laws that may discriminate against transgender people based on the assumption that having a penis makes one attracted to women, and that if one has a vagina they were meant to be penetrated by a man (with a penis, of course). GOD FORBID a man who doesn’t have a penis whom is attracted to women and sexually aggressive. It goes against their moral fiber.

It makes the world seem like an elementary playground where rules are arbitrarily created by the majority — a majority unable to think about other people and other experiences because they are not mature enough. Each one of them thinks they are the whole of the universe. Anyone who seems similar to them, but doesn’t conform to how they would behave is marginalized by them because they aren’t acting right. This happens no matter who the majority is, so it is not about hetero-normative people — it’s about marginalization through group think that becomes enforced as religious dogma in the resulting group.

The big deal about transgender rights is not just about transgender people. It is about making a more just, open, and loving society in which anyone can be free to express themselves without fear of being marginalized because they are different than other people. To finish this off, I’ll quote from my friend Maymay’s recent post, “That’s why ostracism is so powerful and so harmful: it is the epistemic equivalent of rejecting the instrument of liberation being offered.”.

Music, Information, and Society

I just found this and had to publish it. I originally wrote it on 28 November, 2007 — but I had not remembered it until now:

It is my observation that, in general, people like music that is analogous to their lifestyle. By lifestyle I mean cultural norms, societal norms, amount of information that bombards them, and just about everything else that would effect day to day activities. I was noticing how The Brian Seltzer Orchestra and Voodoo Daddy played popular music from the early 20th century and I was mentally comparing it to recordings from the time period. The period recordings of the same music seem rather innocuous compared to the modern versions of them, which are very rambunctious and edgy. This made me think upon how music has changed over the years from the earliest piece of music till now and I began to wonder what drove this change and I began thinking about the earliest music I learned about as a music education major during my freshman year of college.

The earliest surviving piece of music is on the Seikilos epitaph. It is written in ancient Greek and is incredibly placid, so placid that I think it would quickly put anyone from the last few centuries to sleep. If you compare that with song from the next few thousand years it does not change much. Then we come to the common era, and many things start changing within 300 years. Musicians start to develop organum, which is the precursor to the renaissance polyphony. From that simple parallel harmony of perfect fourths and fifths comes the harmony best characterized by the work of Perotin. His music uses mostly perfect fourths and fifths, but also throws in a few thirds and sixths – which are treated as dissonances.

Another era is reached when the rules of harmony are codified right before the 11th century. In this set of rules the sounds of organum are outlawed. The only allowed parallel motion between voices is that of thirds and sixths. These harmonies, which were harsh to the ears only a few hundred years ago, became the most pleasing sounds to the ear. Of course, there is an increase in the dissonance that is allowed. The leading composer, Palestrina, taught that dissonance creates space for more beauty in its resolution.

Then, starting in the late 18th century, dissonant sounds are increasingly allowed in music. Why? It is because it sounds beautiful to the ear (or it at least jives or resonates with the listener). Then the romantic period came and ushered in a era of beautiful dissonance. This progressed into the modern or contemporary period, where Arnold Schönberg wrote music with his tone row technique and atonal music reached it heights, receiving such rave reviews by famous people like, “I wanted leave after the opening phrase” or “It sounded like a bunch of cats clawing and scratching on a blackboard”.

Starting in the romantic period we see an increase in the use of rhythm and faster and heavier percussive sounds. We see Rock ‘n’ Roll evolve and take over popular music. My father still calls most new popular music “noise”. It is “noise” to him, but it is completely tolerable music to me. By the same token, he cannot stand listening to the renaissance polyphony that I enjoy – and neither can most of my friends and acquaintances. The say, “It’s too mellow,” “It doesn’t have a beat,” or “It hurts my ears.”

What is the driving force behind these changes in musical taste? I’m sure there are cop-out answers such as “People are just always pushing the limits.”, but I don’t think that really says anything. It begs the question, “Why do people always push the limits?” I think the answer comes from physics and modern research on complexity and complex adaptive systems. The real answer lies in entropy and information density of the world populace. I don’t think any other phenomenon could correctly underly such an incredible diversity of social behavior.

When I thought about this and the problem of changing musical taste, I came up with the following picture. Music must correspond in some manner to what we experience in our daily lives. Or to rephrase that, the information content of the music must correspond to the information content of our daily lives. Things may get a bit tricky here, because we need to define what is meant by information content of music. I will avoid the trickiness by not defining anything that specifically relates to music, because that is not my main goal. Information is anything that can be perceived by a human through the senses and at any level of cognition (in my papers context). It is anything that can be thought about and turn into knowledge by the brain. I suppose that my main thesis of this section is that music is a measure of a society’s entropy.

Entropy and information are related concepts. Information is something most know about from daily experience. But I want to introduce a definition that I will use. Information is a pattern that is meaningful to some entity at some level. Meaningful means that something can be done with it. It does not imply understanding. Entropy is related to information in that it measures the amount of information is a system. It could also be said to measure the disorder, but I do not like that because it is misleading in systems which are constantly self-organizing. It could also be said to measure the possible configurations you could find a system in. That is what it really means in this context. When you reach a level of information density, or enough people know about a certain trend or belief, then the entropy is increased.

It has been said that we live in the information age, but that is nonsense in some ways. Every age has been an information age. Information has always been around and will continue to be around in increasing quantities. That increase is what drives the changes that we see in society and the products of that society – including their music. I see information as a fundamental aspect that drives reality. We each respond to it by creating more information throughout our lives. Everything that we perceive is information and everything we do creates information. It is this fundamental action that causes all change and growth.

We are complex autonomous organisms that are capable of self-organizing and creating order. We are imbued with intelligence and therefore the ability to create and learn. Our basic activity is responding to information by creating more information. This increases the entropy of our society. Which increases the possibilities of what can happen and will happen. We see examples of this throughout history. Clothing, horseback riding, the radio, TV, the automobile, the microwave, the computer, the Internet, and Google: Each of these required several parts to happen, increase in knowledge, increase in ability, innovation, acceptance, mainstream acceptance, and paradigm shift. These stages can be abstracted down to three different stages: information increase, entropy increase, and paradigm change.

A paradigm is really part information and part change of practice. The relation between entropy and paradigm is that an increase of entropy will allow a paradigm to gain or loose a foothold. A change in paradigm signifies that the increase in entropy has allowed the configuration of society the change. In this context I will define a paradigm to be a functionality within a society. That is to say, it is a way of living, such as: stories & myths, social norms, customs, traditions, religions, ways of thinking & doing, philosophies, technology, and music.

Music was at first very slow and calm because that is how life moved. Their were no cars, no planes, no telephones, no computers, no fast food restaurants, no radio, no electricity. One had to grow their own food, gather their food from the naturally growing fruits and nuts and herbs, or go and hunt down some animal to eat. All of this involved a long process that took lots of time. Also one might spend a long time walking from place to place, or – if one were lucky enough – one might be riding a donkey or some other animal. The main point is that everything took time. There would be lots of time spent waiting for things to happen. The information created by this society would take lots of time to be made and would probably not be that much. Since there would be relatively little change throughout a lifetime, I think it would be safe to say that their music would be slow and calm. The major exception would be societies that did hunt large animals in herds and groups of people ran to after them to hunt them. The would have a template in their mind of the motions and rhythms that were experienced during those times. This, being a part of their daily lives, would have greatly influenced their music and aesthetic sense. It probably would have created fast steady rhythms in their music. This can be heard in African and Native American musics.

As time progressed all sort of inventions were created that would start to influence all of society and therefore music. Society clustering into towns and villages created an environment for information to increase faster. The invention of the press, industrial age, trains, electricity, light bulb, automobile, radio, telephone, computer, & Internet have influenced and still influence every aspect about society by allowing information to flow more freely to people and throughout society.

TED | Talks | Clifford Stoll: 18 minutes with an agile mind (video)

I was browsing through the TED website and I found these videos that I would like to share. These are talks by some interesting people. Clifford Stoll has written several books. One of which is his personal account of tracking down a hacker who was hired by the KGB to gather any information the US was gathering on the Soviets. He also worked with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer (think Wendy Carlos and the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack along with many other musicians and musics). His second book explores the effects of computers and technology on society. I actually have mused upon this same topic and wrote down some thoughts that are based on neuroscience research and just all the nuances of physics in human interaction. I’ll have have to write up a blog about it someday.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.ted.com posted with vodpod

Democracy and Education (or something like it)

I have been thinking about some democracy centered items over the past few years. About three years ago while I was still in Lincoln, NE. I was working at a place called Taco Inn and reflecting upon my life experience – the only logical thing to do when you have a job that solely utilizes your basal ganglia (essentially the reptilian part of the brain). The first thing that came to mind was about rights vs. duties.

I starting thinking about a phrase that I had heard in pop culture and in dialogs between people: It’s my right! I contemplated how this was used in several circumstances and finally settled that the context always implied a rights versus duties point of view. Let me explain: It seemed as though people would use the reality of having certain inalienable rights and freedoms as an excuse to neglect any duty or obligation that they had. I’m my own person. I can do what I want to. Just do it. This was our right. It seems very adolescent and it seems indicative of our culture.

This began to upset me, because I realized that rights brought along with certain duties. It is your right to take a loan, but it is your duty and obligation to repay it. Otherwise, there are consequences – personal and corporate. Take the sub-prime mortgage crisis for example. Duties and rights – these are the Yin and Yang of freedom. It is your duty to vote on everything you possibly can, otherwise it is you fault that your freedom was taken away from under your nose.

One other thing that I also thought was incredible that has some relation to democracy was that a lot of people in Europe have installed their own network infrastructure. Each person installed it on their property and owned it. No telecommunications company owned it because the people owned it. I have since thought about how awesome it would be if we overthrew all of the telecommunications companies by creating our own small grassroots tel-co movements. Along theses same lines, in Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and in so many places around the world people are installing their own wireless networks that let people access different things, especially the internet. With how cheap technology is, it would be easy for a group of people to form a Wi-Fi cooperative and provide internet access. Of course they would need to find out how to get access to the internet, either a direct T1, OC-n, or distributed access through local internet providers. Any number of ways would work.

Now what would happen if people started to create their own cell phone networks? Cable networks? What about starting to broadcast in the now up for grabs TV spectrum when TVs go blank in February of 2009. Better jump on that quick before no one can get any bandwidth because Google or Nextel have bought all of it.

This brings me to my thoughts on education. Those ideas wouldn’t fly is because people aren’t taught enough about technology, science, engineering, and mathematics in elementary and middle school. I won’t point fingers here. I’ll say that there isn’t enough money and I don’t think we know the best way to educate students about those subjects. Now, I will put in my two cents worth (or more):

I started a research project and I wrote an eighteen plus page paper (which is going to turn into a book soon if I keep working on it). I have integrated different aspects of different disciplines and, in short, the book is very multifaceted and interdisciplinary. It draws on the ideas of neuroscience, artificial intelligence, artificial life, anthropology, sociology, education, and psychology. I wrote a short paragraph about learning in the earliest societies. It stresses how most learning took place in the field.

There were hunter-gatherers who would need to learn how to survive through experience. By doing so they were also helping the clan. There were also the early agrarian societies. These would learn the same way. They would learn by doing – not just to be doing something, but to help in a meaningful and rewarding way in society. This is how we evolved for many thousands of years. If you happen to be a creationist, there is still the mechanism of micro-evolution that is fully compatible with your world-view. It still allows for the fine tuning of the learning mechanism in our species over time.

We are very maladapted to learning things in the absence of societal reward. This is a profound statement that has prolific consequences for education and democracy. In this paradigm, learning about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects becomes rewarding (perhaps even financially?) and interesting. Since it immerses them into society, they will learn about all of the societal structures that are in place that they need to know about to bring their ideas to fruition. If they want to start a business, what type of business will it be? Sole proprietorship? Partnership? LLC? LLP? C or S Corporation? A variant of one of the above? Does their state support chartering their choice? Where will they get financing? What is the business plan and exit strategy? Since they are embedded in society, they will succeed or fail. Either way, they will learn and gain experience that will enable more success.

It is through this paradigm that they will dream and bring that dream into existence. They will learn higher level cognitive skills than they will if we just focus on the basics. I should stress that would “just” in the previous sentence. The basics will be there and they will be drilled over the basics. However, the reason will be the same about for any concert performer or athlete to practice and drill basics: it improves your capabilities and chances for successfully implementing your dream.

This paradigm also brings duties and rights to the forefront. It is your duty to learn this to earn your right to bring your dream into reality. If anyone argues, “We have that in the current system, it is one’s duty to graduate and earn your right to do what you want to. What makes this any different?” One major reason: this paradigm is more relevant, it makes sense to the innate learning mechanism. Students will see the reason for learning and perfecting the practice of the individual steps required to reach their goal.

I hope that this doesn’t seem like a Utopian dream. I know the nature of people and this vision only optimizes one aspect of a societal structure. It does not change people. It only uses our brain in a way more suitable to how it evolved.