Las Indias in English

An interesting life

las Indias Cooperative Group

María Rodríguez

María Rodríguez 7 ~ December 18th, 2014 ~ 0 1

Band of Brothers and the sense of beloning

In the study of human relations according to Adler, and of the formation of so-called intentional communities, it is interesting to note those that arise “accidentally,” but that nonetheless are still authentic communities. This is not the case of the traditional family, which despite being a non-intentional community (children do not choose to be part of that community) has a will for union and is based on a communal culture. We are talking about communities that arise as the result of union against adversity.

Easy-CompanyAnd as we are in times of rain, hail, snow, and evenings that invite telethons, let’s remember a jewel of 2001, “Band of Brothers,” again by HBO, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, where we can see examples of community-building and many of the Adlerian theories about human behavior in action.

The series of ten chapters recounts the experiences of the “Easy Company” of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army in World War II, from the Normandy landing until the Victory in Europe Day. The script is based on Stephen Ambrose‘s famous book, which in turn is based largely on the testimony of surviving members of the “Easy” Company.

Although the series has its so typically American cheesy moments it is quite realistic, and above all it manages to convey very well the emotional dynamics that take place within a group of men undergoing protracted stress, who have to share everything sometimes in situations of extreme scarcity, and whose lives depend mainly on luck but also largely on their peers.

The case of Captain Herbert Sobel

Desembarco de NormandíaThe first company commander before going into battle on D-Day was Captain Herbert M. Sobel, famous for his hardness and inflexibility during trainings. Thanks to that the Company became one of the best in the battalion, but all agree that many of his disciplinary measures were excessive. When combat simulations started, Sobel proved to be totally null, practically unable to read a map.

The arbitrariness of his hard punishments and his incompetent maneuvers made him loose the respect of his men. When this became evident, the arbitrariness and disproportion of the punishments increased, which led to the mutiny of several sergeants when Lieutenant Winters (an official just below Sobel and true leader of the company) was going to be court-martialed for refusing to accept yet another absurd punishment.

The mutiny of the sergeants was the first manifestation of true union of the Company, and Sobel’s excess was his first serious pathological behavior. Apparently Sobel came from a traumatic childhood with many unresolved issues, and expressed his insecurities causing fear and abusing his power. This behavior increasingly distanced him from his men, who in turn could not help but censoring his defects in the field rather than helping him to solve them. In short, Sobel was left alone: none of his men was willing to die for him, much less to die for his fault.

The sergeants mutinied being aware that they risked the punishment of being shot. Only the proximity of D-Day delivered them from death, and the high command was smart enough to move Sobel to another destination.

Replacements and casualties

band-of-brothers-picDuring D-Day and the Battle of Carentan the Company lost many of its men, who had lived, suffered, and fought together for more than two years (counting trainings). When replacements arrive before the start of Operation Market Garden, most of them young, inexperienced boys, they are received with coldness and even hostility. The reason is clear: they will die soon, no one wants to assume the emotional cost of getting to know them, of getting to feel they are part of the family.

The prophecy about their fate is a consequence of their lack of experience, but it is also self-fulfilling. As nobody wants to grow fond of them they never manage to integrate, and that that “lack of belonging” makes them make more mistakes, feel weak and vulnerable, more alone, and therefore with more chances of being caught by the hail of bullets and mortars than their peers.

Private Webster receives a similar treatment when he comes back after a long time off, as well as Lieutenant Jones, a pretentious replacement officer fresh out of West Point with no real experience. While other wounded soldiers voluntarily asked to go back to battle in the Ardennes, Webster uses all the time off he is allowed, including rehabilitation, and arrives when the worst has passed and company morale is at rock bottom due to tiredness and the large number of men killed in combat.

Despite his attempts to regain the affection of his colleagues, all treat him with contempt. He is also one of the few universitie graduates in the company. This, coupled with his absence during the worst times make others stop recognizing him as an equal. He no longer shares any context with the rest of the company and abandoned them when they needed him most. Although he feels he did what he had to by complying with the established layoff time, for others his behavior only shows a clear lack of commitment. “If he was a true brother” he would have asked to go back to battle with his people.


liptonIt is hard to believe that after a hard training with Captain Sobel and parachuting in a hail of enemy fire someone can suffer a panic attack, but it’s actually quite normal. In fact, for them the real war began after the landing.

During the first battle, Private Blithe is disabled by what is known as “hysterical” or “psychosomatic” blindness. He goes blind due to panic. When Lieutenant Winters tells him not to worry about anything and that he will be sent back, Blithe starts crying and only manages to say “I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.” His panic comes from the fear of failing his equals, of not being up to the task. Paralyzed by fear of failure and being excluded, he self-sabotages by excluding himself.

Lieutenant Winters, whose natural leadership comes from his capacity for empathy, simply takes his hand and gently reassures him, making him feel that all is well, that even if he leaves he will not lose his love and respect. Automatically, Blithe regains his sight.

The next panic attack occurs in a decisive operation. Dike, the commanding officer, occupying that place due to his seniority and good family connections, cannot lead even a lapdog. In the middle of the operation (the assault on Foy), a classic example of what not to do, he suffers a panic attack and only his replacement by Lt. Speirs in the middle of the battle keeps all his men from dying (see video).

Again, Dike is simply well connected and his insecurities result in a gross incompetence and an almost permanent mental absence (in the words of Sergeant Lipton, “Dike is simply not there”), and this produces a total lack of integration and connection with others that feeds the vicious circle.

“We happy few”

photography8After Victory Day, Sergeant Powers wins the lottery to be sent home before the official date. When leaving, he expresses a deep concern: “I don’t know how I’m going to explain all this at home.”

The problem with this kind of communities is that they are temporary and its members are forced to separate and return to environments where no one can understand what they have been through. The ties that bind them can never be broken and the distance between them can sometimes be very traumatic. Winters said in his memoirs that 50 years after the end of the war not a single day went by without him thinking of his men.

In the testimonies of veterans included in the series there is a remarkable thing they all do, each in his own way: they all place themselves in the background to cede the leadership, heroism, and merit, to others; they all highlight how proud they are to have been part part of a group conformed by their companions. Again, at the center of all, we have the sense of belonging. Winters ends up saying, with tears in his eyes, that when his grandson asked him if he was a hero during the war, he answered “No, but I served in a company of heroes.”

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 77 ~ December 15th, 2014 ~ 0 38

A very brief history of the meaning of “community”

KibutzFew words have become so polysemous as “community.” During its medieval origins, it became the basis of the earliest forms of democratic sovereignty, but the Revolt of the Comuneros of 1520 made the term synonymous with rebellion and assembly revolt. Quevedo uses the term in that sense, as well as, to some extent, the subtle and always critical Cervantes.

The Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert recovers its guild meaning, defining it as the “union of individuals exercising the same art or occupation under certain common rules, forming a political body,” a definition that prepared the extension of its use during “the century of revolutions” to mean any form of local sovereignty supported by schemes of shared ownership.

cabetCabet, much more popular than Fourier in the 1840’s, calls his egalitarian colonies “communities,” and therefore defines a social system based on them as “communism.” The term was so successful among the “anti” of the moment that it came to define movements with little or no interest in creating phalansteries or cooperative colonies. Thus, within a decade, “community” and “communism” were claimed by two groups that were rarely openly antagonistic, but definitely competed for the attention of the restless and discontented as their respective propaganda apparatuses ignored each other.

On the left, only some Jewish emigrants, influenced by the ideas of an ultraminoritary Russian socialist party, Poale Zion, recover from 1909 onwards the term to name their settlements in Palestine. Based on sharing goods, labor, and savings, the movement “of the communities” will become the largest voluntary social experiment of the century. Paradoxically, it will not renew the term “community” in the rest of the world, but only its Hebrew form: “kibbutz.”

kibutzFrom the thirties, however, Tönnies and Weber in the field of sociology, and Adler in that of psychology, develop a definition of community – “Gemeinschaft” – that will gain momentum in the eighties, reaching political science and history as “real community.” The distinction is highlighted by Benedict Anderson in opposition to the nation, the quintessential “imagined community.”

Under this definition, a community is any group united by interpersonal relationships where all members know and recognize others in an equal belonging that implies personal and collective rights. The nuclear or extensive family, and to a lesser extent the premodern guild, become the model of “community” for an educated person.

Meanwhile, in the US the word community overlapped territorial characteristics with ideological meanings. The importance of dissenting religious groups in the culture of the Anglo-Saxon colonization of North America associated towns and settlements to certain Christian cults. The tension between the illustrated political values of the young state and the particular beliefs of each church was in part transferred to the always controversial definition of powers between states and federal government. But it also gave gave birth to a new concept: the “community standards,” which reinforced the association between place of residence and voluntary acceptance of a more or less lax and extensive set of particular rules.

The “community standards” had in Anglo-Saxon America a similar role to local cultures in Europe: showing a diversity boasted by the growing national identity, but still constituting the definition of the primary group to which good part of the farming population belonged, and thus arousing suspicion among the illustrated urban classes. But as religious identity was diluted as the main feature of belonging within North American culture, the word “community” increasingly evoked the faint obligations of good neighborliness materialized in voluntary and charitable work organized by churches. “Community” tended to mean a set of people, regardless of whether they knew each other, who shared a physical or social space. Universities, developments, associations of all kinds, and more recently, online networks, became defined as communities with their own “standards,” which were now only tacit or explicit rules of coexistence and cooperation.

So when the conversation became global, “community” started to mean almost anything, from living in the same city to sharing everything. “Community” is now one of those words that arouse an emotional and positive consensus. But it is relevant to ask ourselves, when two people use it in the same conversation, whether they really mean the same thing.

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

Natalia Fernández

Natalia Fernández 10 ~ December 4th, 2014 ~ 4 ~ 0 39

Space makers

Astronauta en el espacio3D printers have reached space. The first, installed in the International Space Station, just printed its first object. The astronaut excitedly said, “It’s a big milestone, not only for NASA and Made In Space, but for humanity as a whole.” Both Neal Armstrong and “Butch” Wilmore are leaders of this unique moment, from which there is no turning back. They blazed a trail, which was as uncertain as all trails are that lead to better futures.

Placa Made In SpaceForty-five years ago, the symbol of the conquest of the space was the first footprints on the moon. They marked the beginning of exploration. The faceplate that recently came out of the 3D printer has a very different purpose, that of the construction of a new world. Following this first achievement, little by little, space stations will stop being sites where everything arrives in packet-mail from the Earth, in those little compartments where all kinds of trash accumulates until they are abandoned, like we saw in Gravity.

How does a 3D printer get into space?

Aaron KemmerJason Dunn grew up on the Gulf of Mexico, convinced that when he was big, he would work at NASA or for one of its big contractors dedicated to space exploration. But investment in the space program was shrinking little by little. The aerospace industry underwent restructuring, facilities were dismantled, hundreds of jobs were lost… being an employee of NASA didn’t seem to be the best route.

Jason DunnIn 2006, when Dunn first heard about the new private aerospace industry, he accepted the challenge. In 2008, he created his first space business, EarthRise Space Incorporated, and participated in the Google Lunar XPrize. In 2010, he signed up at Singularity University, where he met Aaron Kemmer. Together, they decided to found Made In Space.

Made In Space was created with the objective of allowing humanity be an interplanetary species. The first step to achieve that objective is the possibility of building hardware in space.

A roadmap in 3 steps

Zero Gravity PrinterIt was an ambitious mission that began with a very simple goal: to reduce the cost of shipping of materials and supplies to space stations by starting industrial production in space. For this, he designed a roadmap with 3 steps: Learn how make a 3D printer work in a atmosphere of microgravity; Design a printer; Launch it.

And so was that Dunn came to NASA, not as a hopeful employee, but as a project member. After 30,000 hours of testing and 400 orbits, the Zero Gravity printer was ready to go into space. This past September, it was launched to the International Space Station, to be installed on its base after a long trip. After some minor adjustments, a few days ago, it finished printing the first object, a faceplate that proudly bears the logo of Made In Space… and that of NASA.

When someone asks Dunn what his are plans for the next ten years, you knows the answer will be impressive. He assures us that the next Industrial Revolution will be in space.

Moon base 3d printedMade in Space is the beginning of a change in the surroundings of programming and design, a dizzying development of free repositories to print all kinds of objects (including nano-satellites) that allow us to go further in exploration and in semi-permanent settlements. In the near future, sending and following a satellite from a mobile app will be as common as flying a drone is today. For Dunn and Kemmer, the P2P aerospace revolution will bring hundreds of thousands of citizens into the exploration of space and will go far beyond what any State has been able to do so far.

It might give us vertigo or seem incredible, but P2P production could finally open the doors of the lunar colonies of Philip K. Dick or Heinlein. The first human settlers will be makers who will accept the challenge and the joy of creating their own tools.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

María Rodríguez

María Rodríguez 7 ~ December 1st, 2014 ~ 0 4

What is not seen

Family-Watching-TVThe evidence that the film industry is in critical condition is stronger than ever. A general identity crisis is reinforced by professionals fleeing towards the production of TV series. It is hard to find more than five or six films a year worth seeing. We no longer ask that films blow our minds or make us think: only that they entertain us for a while, or that at least they don’t upset or depress us.

We see this happening with Interstellar, one of the latest bets of the year which, despite having a somewhat tired theme, is headed by Christopher Nolan, who at least passed all the film directing courses at school. In the world of romantic comedy, which is going through one of its worst moments, it seems that the classic formula of the hero overcoming obstacles and frustrations through bravery and effort to get the love of the girl is the only one that works, at least as long as the pace is sustained and the actors know what they are doing. See Cuban Fury or Chef.

But the audiovisual addicts among us have no reason to complain. The quality and variety of television productions have remained constant since HBO revolutionized the small screen earlier in the century. Diversity and webTV allow us to watch more series than ever, series that will be better or worse, will help us think or disconnect, and will engage more or less – but at least they are well done.

But regardless of their quality, there are assimilated absences, incomprehensible errors, things that become invisible by force of habit: a phenomenon caused by the dominant culture.

el-principeThe numerical superiority of American and British productions over Spanish, French, German, etc., is obvious. But here we run into a serious and intractable problem: Spanish productions are, with few exceptions, terribly bad. They are poorly directed, poorly produced, poorly interpreted, and scripts, despite often being the only decent element, also cry to the heavens. So it is normal to see more series in English. If we decided to boycott the “audiovisual Anglo-invasion” the only option would be to stop watching TV because there is no way of putting up with so much trash, and the solution, as we are seeing, is not to “protect” the national product.

But even in the interesting Spanish productions we see these strange invisibilizing effects I’m talking about. First, the series are shot and happen by default in Madrid unless they are produced by a regional chain. When the script requires breaking with that centrality, as in Caso Wanninkhof, or recently in El Príncipe, we find that the main characters speak with a strong Valladolid accent (which is how well-off people from Madrid speak), despite being locals from Mijas, Castillejos, or Ceuta.

crematorioThe friendly and conservative series, which aspired to represent the average Spanish family – Farmacia de guardia, Médico de familia, or Los Serrano – happened in Madrid with Madrid characters except these significant exceptions: the assistant in Médico de familia is Andalusian; in Los Serrano – the story of a remarriage with children from previous marriages that start living together – the Andalusian is a waiter, and the wife and daughters are from Barcelona.

When a series – a quite good one, for a change – happens in Valencia, it is because the plot is about corruption in the real estate business. When set in Asturias, it is to make a local version of Northern Exposure: a cold, strange, distant, and extremely isolated location (Alaska).

And the fact that Anglos produce good quality series doesn’t mean that they don’t do the same. It’s hard for me to watch Tyrant, despite being so interesting, due to how artificial it seems that the dictatorial court of an imaginary country of the Middle East communicates entirely in English, albeit with a perfect Syrian-Lebanese accent. The same happens in Homeland, where every single Pakistani or Iranian informant speaks English as if they just came out of Oxford. It is surely quite complicated to make a series for the English-speaking public in another language, making subtitles necessary, but if Mel Gibson did it, why not Fox?

Although we have seen that localizations are gaining variety, the number of them that take place in New York or Los Angeles is still much higher, followed closely by Washington and surrounding areas. When series take place out of the East Coast or California it is only to tell sordid stories in disturbing scenarios, to say the least: True Detective, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, or Fargo. It seems as if although the series might be a masterpiece, it tries to make sure no one ever dares go to these places, much less go there on vacation or move there. People will surely think, as they probably already do, that Louisiana is a dangerous and violent place full of sects and strange people.

true-detective-fieldOf course, there also are serial murderers in New York, but they are accompanied by Carrie Bradshaw wearing heels, Rachel and Ross wondering whether they should marry or not, Patty Hewes intimidating the court, or Don Draper drinking a dry martini. New York, like Madrid or Barcelona, engulfs the periphery, invisibilizing it except for showing the anomalies of others.

As the history of spaghetti sauce has shown, there is not (or should not be) a correct culture. Let’s not forget that value is almost always born in the periphery and that the center swallows and homogenizes, so the innovation and diversity necessary to continue living swept up by change are not usually accompanied by the “right” accent, the “right” language, or the “right” origin.
Nueva York

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 77 ~ November 15th, 2014 ~ 10 ~ 0 0

Why you should take Go to your kids’ school

jugando go
In Europe, the growing success of the European youth and student championships points to the game’s development in increasingly younger ages thanks to the first school programs.

In France, the city of Strasbourg became a pioneer in 2008 with a training program at three schools. The program not only remains in operation today, but has also generated a vibrant local school league. Teachers tell how the practice of the game has improved children’s behavior, reducing the bickering among them, and helping them gain concentration.

But it is in the United States where Go school programs are now succeeding, driven by USGO and the evidence that links the practice of the game in high school to better results in University admission tests. Moreover, thanks to the support of the American Go Foundation an American Little League has come up, as well as a North American championship with Mexican, American, and Canadian children that thrives on the growing number of school teams.

What did French and American schools see in Go?

irvington-go-groupThe most famous Chinese legend that explains the birth of the game attributes its creation to the mythical Emperor Yao (2100 BCE). The emperor wanted to name his eldest son, Danju, heir, but he was disorganized, had difficulty carrying things through to the end, and according to many stories, very little capacity to endure frustration. So the king devised a game that would allow his son to develop a capacity for purpose, the ability to concentrate, and serenity in life.

This is just a legend, but it is surely interesting that the myth presents the game as an educational intervention. Because the truth is that scientific studies show something very similar. Neuroscience tells us about the brain’s executive function, specifically in charge of providing us with the capacity for concentration, calculation, for developing purpose and a long-term perspective. The good news is that this function can be developed through exercise, and that evidence shows that it reduces frustration and violence by increasing the capacity for self-control in children.

What neuroscience tells us

edmontonWhat would the best exercise be for achieving this? Of course, chess is very successful in MRI brain studies. But when in 2003 the same neurologists studied the effects of Go, they reached a surprising conclusion: it not only mobilized more brain areas, but it also “lateralized” more and differently than chess. To say it bluntly, playing Go helps interconnect the various functions of our brain. Even more interesting were the results of a landmark study conducted in 2013 by Korean neurologists comparing the brain activity of players undergoing professional training with that of amateurs. According to this study, playing Go on a regular basis “rewires” our brain, allowing greater integration of various functions, improving not only the executive function but also “intuitive thinking,” that is, the automatic recognition of patterns in new situations.

In light of this, in 2011, a protocol was created in Japan for studying the impact of the inclusion of Go as an extracurricular activity on children’s executive function, under the hypothesis that it would improve “emotional and behavioral control.” The practical results seem to support this idea. So far, the results of empirical studies tell us that Go improves cognitive function, and brain activity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A moving story

yasuda1And the inclusion of Go in Japanese schools has a history and a name: Yasuda Yasutoshi. Yasutoshi was a professional Go player. He reached the ninth dan, the highest level, in 1998. In early 1993 he was moved by a story: a child died at his school’s gym choked by a rope “while playing.” Yasuda blamed bullying: “There is something terribly wrong in Japan,” he thought. And he felt helpless.

He shared his anger with his friends, most of them professional players like him, members of a generation which was then facing the sweeping “new style” of Korean baduk, with its televised games and its emphasis on speed.

At one point I became obsessed with doing something about the social problem – bullying – beyond simply popularizing Go.

yasuda3And Yasuda started volunteering to teach “atari Go,” a simplified version of the game, in kindergartens. The magic of the union between play and a minimum of ritual – the greetings before a match, thanking the opponent upon finishing- started to bear fruit almost immediately. Teachers observed that children extended their circle of relationships. More kids played with other kids beyond the gameboard. Their ability to concentrate increased. Against all odds, children four to six years old were able to sustain attention for more than an hour.

A Go match never follows the same pattern as any other. So children develop the ability to concentrate while trying to anticipate the opponent’s moves. It seems that this type of activity had not hitherto existed in early childhood education.

Given the results, the program quickly spread through primary schools in the region. Yasuda visited them, giving a sample class for teachers. Within a year, the experience was already relatively well known in the educational world and Yasuda received new invitations regularly. Then came the first special schools. First, for children with mental disabilities, and later a center for deaf children.

yasuda2And new “miracles” emerged: children who exhibited violent behavior and tended to isolate themselves discovered a way of relating through symbolic communication. A traditional way of referring to the game in Japanese literally means “speaking with your hands.” Children who showed no expression smiled for the first time in front of their peers and tutors.

On my third visit to Himawari-no-sato, Tsuru – a child with a mental disability, usually withdrawn, inexpressive and prone to violent reactions- was playing with another child while I did the same. Then I realized Tsuru was trying to ask me something by looking at me straight in the eyes. At that time he had already become a good player, by far the best player in the center. When I looked at the board, it was his turn to move. He could capture the opponent’s stones if he wanted. He sent me a silent message with his eyes: “Can I eat these stones?” I didn’t say anything but I indicated a “yes” with my eyes and he proceeded to capture them. We repeated the same thing three times. The fourth time Tsuru didn’t capture the stones, even knowing he could. Instead, he put a stone where his opponent could capture it. The opponent captured a stone for the first time and ran around the room with joy. Seeing the joy of his opponent, Tusru smiled as well. His face showed that he was happy.

The program later expanded to day centers and nursing homes. And they began to organize play dates between primary school children and children in special schools, between children and adults, between parents and children, between elders from different centers… Yasuda’s project was beginning to build intergenerational communcation channels and spaces that had been swept away by economic development. “By playing Go with elders at the day center,” says the director of a primary school, “children have learned to develop kindness and care for others. Each seems more independent and self-confident than before.”

yasuda4Soon, more than 10,000 children and adults participated regularly in the project initiated by Yasuda and his friends. And the experience was later extended to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland… and the US, where the American Go Foundation gives Yasuda’s book to teachers who request it and provides additional educational materials to schools in the belief that teaching Go contributes child development.

Today, Yasuda’s work even serves as a basis for the work of pedagogues with minority children at risk of exclusion in the US, and continues to spread, even without an NGO supporting it, through Asia, Africa, and Europe, exclusively through the work of volunteers offering demonstration lessons to teachers, educators, and cultural promoters worldwide. The simple method he developed for approaching children today is much more than a social project.


What does Go contribute?

As we noted when we tried to understand why so many tech entrepreneurs were big fans of Go,

this ability to withstand frustration, to determine a purpose, sustain it over time and adapt to circumstances to execute it, is what determines the likelihood of success of everyone who wants to turn an idea into a project. And that is exactly what starts when you put your first stone on the board.

atariThat is, in a long game where every move completely transforms the future course of events, children learn something else: responsibility. As we mentioned when we talked about the relationship between Go and language, Takeo Kajiwara (1923-2009), a great professional player who focused his career precisely on “finding the truth among the stones,” wrote about this idea:

Each time you place a stone on the board you are showing something of yourself. It’s not just a piece of slate, shell, or plastic. You have committed to that rock your feelings, your individuality, your power, and once you’ve played there is no way back. Each stone carries a heavy responsibility on your behalf.

estudiandoSurely most Go players would agree that one of the most fascinating aspects of the game is precisely that combination of challenge and fun with the practice of a well-understood responsibility. The other player is for each “a fact of nature,” someone with whom we play and of whom we may learn, but who can’t be blamed for what we do wrong or for our defeats.

Regardless of how much it physically improves our brain, how much it contributes to building our determination and intuition, Go teaches us how to face an unpredictable world from a position of serenity, to understand the opponent as someone that far from ruining our chances, the better they are, the more they will help us improve our game; Go is also a world in which we understand our gestures as meaningful decisions, as words we say to each other. And all that means something more important than a mental workout. For generations burdened with anguish in the race for results, Go becomes a tool for something completely different: maturing and learning to develop serenity by practicing a fine art.

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 77 ~ November 12th, 2014 ~ 4 ~ 5 117

A brief history of contemporary “consumerism” and anti-consumerism


History books usually study social movements of the second half of the nineteenth century from the point of view of the split between anarchists and Marxists. Both theories played an important role in debates of the great workers’ movements of the following century, and for a long time, no one seemed to question the root they shared: the idea that the origin of the “social problem” was in the way in which the production of things was organized.

la huelgaIt’s normal for that powerful idea to occupy, almost without question, the center of historical stories: from the First International to the fall of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, the story of European reforms and revolutions was written in terms of work stoppages, general strikes, “wildcat” strikes and factory occupations. In the world of alternatives in the same days, not much was different. For two centuries, to say “cooperative” in continental Europe or in South America automatically meant “worker cooperative,” and it was the most powerful community movement of the time. Israeli “kibbutzim” (communities) were founded to create a productive base in the wastelands of Jewish migration in Asia. Even when the Catholic Church started to develop its “social doctrine” with the encyclical Rerum Novarum, its focus was on the same starting point as the theoreticians of the IWA: the drama of proletarianization of the artisan and the peasant, the transition from the workshop and its culture to the factory and alienation.

Social Anglicanism

Principios cooperativos de RochdaleBut the Anglo-Saxon world was going the other direction. In Great Britain, a strong philanthropical tradition existed, linking both liberals and conservative social Christianity, which was afraid that unions would be “contaminated” by the radical ideas of the continent. At the end of the nineteenth century, this tendency had little influence on unions, but had a strong relationship with different experiments of workers’ stores and little mutuals, often linked to the social outreach of Anglican parishes. Little by little, from this effort there emerged a “friendly cooperativism.” The worker cooperative showed the possibility of a world where capitalists were not the owners of the businesses; however, a consumer cooperative can put in question the need for a shopkeeper-owner, but not owners as a group, so it didn’t question the social order.

These are the cooperatives that met in the “First British Co-operative Congress” in 1869. Wanting to create an “alternative” to the dominant workers’ movements, they will rewrite the history of cooperativism as it was then commonly understood, placing its origins in Robert Owens, a liberal philanthropist–rather than in Fourier–and will date the birth of cooperativism to “the Rochdale Pioneers,” an English consumer cooperative, ignoring the fishing, agrarian and artisan commons that had been modernizing and becoming modern [worker] cooperatives for at least sixty years prior.

Sello ACI Gran Bretaña 1970For a long time, this reductionist interpretation was almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon. In 1895, when the first assembly of the “International Cooperative Alliance” took place, the delegates belonged almost exclusively to the British Empire: England, Australia, India, and Ireland. The Anglo-Saxon homogeneity was only broken by the participation of German Christian cooperativism, born of the Lutheran Church, a minority in an environment of overwhelming development of social democracy.

United States

Eleanor Roosevelt y John F. Kennedy en la inauguración de la International Ladies Garment Workers Union co-op n 1962.After the Second World War, “consumerism” took off in the United States. US unions spread consumer and housing cooperativism across the country as a way to protect their members from the economic crisis following the Japanese recovery. The idea that “conscious consumption” can not only relieve crises but transform the very international economic structure is made manifest in 1946, when the Committee Central Mennonite creates “Ten Thousand Villages,” the first “fair trade” association.

Meanwhile, society is stunned to discover the proportions of the Jewish genocide, and the media have to explain how “Hitler’s madness” could have led to electoral success and social consensus in enlightened Germany.

consumersThe attention of academics and creators of opinion turns to techniques of mass manipulation. There is a growing distrust of the power of the media and the effects of the then nascent television. The publicists of Madison Avenue (“Mad Men”) will soon become the epitome of the new industrialist fascism, which is able to use Goebbels’ mass techniques in a new way, to make us consume what we don’t need. Alternative consumption and what soon will be called the “counterculture” are then defined as a new form of resistance. And in ’59, when the Cuban Revolution demands an ideological response from the Kennedy administration, the model to export will be the consumer cooperativism of conservative unions, so that in the ’60s, the ground was already prepared in all possible places for the idea that “the system” would be renewed not by politics or the redefinition of forms of work, but by organized consumers.


arte recuperado situacionistaIn Europe, during the ’70s, a good number of college kids–then much less numerous than today–discovered the radical Left. After failing again and again to convince the workers that they needed a revolutionary party, they wonder the same thing that, years before, Bordieu and Castoriadis had asked in the magazine Socialism or Barbarism: “Why is the proletariat no longer revolutionary?” Castoriadis’ answer, and above all, Bordieu’s, later followed by his Situationist disciple Guy Debord, will be very well developed intellectually. According to these authors, capitalism had entered a new phase, where the determining factor of the social order, including the control and the generation of identities, was carried out not in the direct relationship between capital and labor, in production, but rather in the system of reproduction of the labor force, consumption, where the new contradictions of the system were concentrated. More than capitalism, we would have to call the new mode of social production/reproduction “consumerism.”

Die Grunen/ WahlplakateThe discourse is soon taken up by the non-parliamentarian German and Dutch Left: the fundamental contradiction of capitalism is no longer between capital and labor, as Marx described, but between capital, culture and natural resources. The enemy was no longer capitalism, but consumerism and industrialism. The discourse recovers the priority and urgency of an alternative: the dream of a world revolution–something that the people make, and would have to make–will gradually be substituted with a global ecological catastrophe, something that would be beyond people’s control if they don’t change their lifestyles and consumption habits. In that ideological framework, die Grünen, the Greens, are born, the first European political party to systematically organize campaigns of alternative consumption.

The fall of the Communist regimes of eastern Europe, with the consequent loss of influence of the parties of Marxist inspiration, gave even more relevance to anti-consumerism–and therefore to “consumerism”–in alternative discourse in a wide variety of forms and topical associations: from catastrophism and radical ecologism to the discourse of movements against climate change and a good part of the “sharing economy.”


Sharing generationAnd in fact, it has been the development of a whole series of movements born in the English-speaking world over the two latest decades that has ended up establishing the argument of the “centrality of consumption” among new social sectors in Europe and Latin America. Alternative discourse has gone from the productive kibbutz, still a major point of reference in the ’70s, to “ecovillages” that only share ownership of common services, from cooperatives with houses to “co-living,” and even from consumer co-ops themselves to “collaborative consumption” platforms listed on the stock market. And if there is no belief that production is the center of social organization, it is difficult to understand the nature and distribution of property as the determinant institution of an era.

consumerismThe “consumerist” discourse, the idea that consumption patterns can modify the social structure through the market, has gained extraordinary strength. Paradoxically, it has fed and given legitimacy to a certain sense of “guilt” about consuming and enjoying doing so, a certain ascetic and degrowthist ideal, closer to Christian millenarianism than to the dream of abundance of the utopian and revolutionary movements of the nineteenth century. A new social consensus about how to change the world seems to have formed.

And yet, we realize that something substantial is diluted when we ignore production. Maybe it’s because our empowerment as consumers, by definition, has a ceiling. Perhaps because we realize that unemployment and poverty can’t be addressed by changing only our purchases, or only distributing production another way. Perhaps because consuming “less,” or “even less,” is the immediate result of the crisis (economic “degrowth”), and we see that it means nothing but poverty. Or simply because, inside, we know that, for as valuable and important as sharing culture is, our sovereignty and that of our communities continues to depend on our ability to satisfy the needs of our loved ones, and that that, beyond cultural change, in the end has to do with capacity and the mode of production of goods, both material and cultural, that satisfy them.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 77 ~ November 4th, 2014 ~ 4 ~ 0 43

Practical anti-capitalism

kickstarterCapitalism is not the market. Capitalism is taking for it granted that those who provide the capital (one among the many factors of production that converge in a productive project) are automatic and exclusively the owners of the business.

A little more than five years ago, we dedicated ourselves on this blog to studying how Kiva in the world of cooperation, Kickstarter in the world of entrepreneurs, and microcredit systems in traditional SMEs put the traditional idea of commercial banking in check.

We began to understand that the bottom of the financial crisis was, in reality, a crisis of scale that financial capital hasn’t been able to adapt to. Or rather, instead of adapting to the new optimal scales imposed by technology, it preferred to try to modify the optimal scale, backed by political power, so as to avoid changing its models and structures–and pick up some extra rents along the way.

We were on the right track. But we put the framework in the wrong place. Crowdsourcing systems only pressure banking indirectly. What’s really transformative about what Kickstarter and crowdsourcing sites have done is allow hundreds, thousands, of small businesses to be born, obtaining financing with no more guarantee than an idea, and without having to cede portions of ownership in exchange.

They have created a market supported by “early adopters'” desire for innovation and consumers who “want to send a message,” the ones who use their money as a way to vote for what they believe in. And that market, having been discovered by pioneers of the direct economy, has become the demonstration that, with the new optimal scales, there are more and more industrial environments where it is not as important for monetary capital to automatically be synonymous with ownership. And that, in practice, seems to me more anti-capitalist than all the anti-capitalist theory I’ve heard and read in my life.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 77 ~ November 3rd, 2014 ~ 10 ~ 0 25

When Go moved to the Internet


Today, Go is, more than anything else, an Internet game. There have never been so many matches played every day in so many places around the world. Even if all the federated players or members of any European club played a tournament at the same time, they would not generate the figures that the main Go servers churn out any single day.

KGS-TakemiyaThis massive virtualization of a millennial social practice was not the product of massive Internet giants. In fact, some, such as Yahoo!, tried and failed miserably. Go resisted the recentralization of Google, Facebook, and others, by itself. It led to an ecosystem in which a dozen large servers – most of which are specialized SMEs – coexist with hundreds of small community servers where classes are held and games are shared daily. No doubt, in the West, the cultural background that ties the game to libertarian and technological environments played an important role in this process, but like all complex processes, like a Go match, the result was not the product of planning by a sole, powerful visionary mind or company, but of the interaction among many individuals looking to create their own spaces and freedoms.

The birth of an ecosystem

igs-estilo-telnetIn the late eighties, players had already start using the tools of the time, basically Telnet, to play with each other over those green phosphorous screens in the university libraries of the time. We were far from the virtual boards which we are used to today, but the momentum was strong. In 1992, a group of volunteers from the University of New Mexico create the first Go server: IGS (“Internet Go Server”). The protocol was still very simple, the Internet was young, the WWW still didn’t exist, and the communication logic is still based on the transmission of text. René Grothmann, then a young student of mathematics in Bavaria, tells us:

Before I started with JaGo (about 1993), I used the text-based Telnet with an ASCII display of the board. You can see the remainders of this in the Telnet protocol of the Internet Go Server (IGS). In fact, one of the main obstacles when writing JaGo was to decipher text messages and translate them into Go positions, moves, game requests, and other transmitted data.

jagoSoon the first installations of IGS in Europe appear (at the Pasteur Institute), with the associated problems of maintaining a then very expensive hardware infrastructure and connections. Meanwhile, JaGo, developed in Java, becomes the first widely used graphical client and one of the main vectors of online innovation and expansion for the game. Its creator tells us:

One of the main aims was to see a beautiful board. For this I used a method similar to ray-tracing to design the stones with brightness and shadows. The wooden structure of the board is a mathematical function. Another aim was to be able to edit games with variations. Other aims were added later. E.g., it was obvious to me that XML should be used to store games. So JaGo got the first XML based game format besides the ubiquitous Smart Go Format (SGF). JaGo has a point-to-point protocol that still looks modern today. It can build a network of players without any server. The possibility of playing against the computer via GnuGo and its Go Modem Protocol was added later.

nngsMeanwhile, in 1995 a Korean company buys the IGS network, covering the costs of running it, and in 1997, a Japanese communications company begins selling subscriptions in Japan. The massive influx of Asian players allows for the refinement of the rough original business model, and finally the IGS server network becomes PandaNet, locating its machines in Tokyo. A business model based on virtual services for players is emerging. The most important part is to allow them to play against each other.

Immediately, competition arises. Still in 1997, “No Name Go Server,” an “international club” of players that releases the code of its server creating the first open standard (still using Telnet as the transmission protocol), appears.

A young engineer at Intel, Bill Shubert, adapts CGoban 1 for the occasion: a client program for IGS he created as free software and which still appears by default in most Linux distributions.

bill shubert

The first version of CGoban was a client for IGS and (later) NNGS (NNGS was an IGS competitor). My problem was I really wanted to add features to CGoban that could only be done with the cooperation of the server, which wasn’t going to happen, so I scrapped that and wrote my own server. Originally it was “VGO,” the Virtual Go Server.

On April 30, 2000, a message on the newsgroup announces the launch of IgoWeb, a new alternative to both IGS and Cosmic, the first public nngs server.

Soon after, I wrote Olaf, a friend of mine who was in Japan and met Richard Bozulich; he was looking for a Go server that he could use to promote his business, so Olaf showed him VGO. He liked it, we made an arrangement, and VGO became the Kiseido Go Server.

Bozulich’s company, Kiseido, was then the largest English-language publishing house on Go and sponsored the server until 2006. During those years the server had become so popular that Shubert decided to keep the name as an acronym: KGS.

The recentralization of Go

cgobanIn May 2005 nngs stopped working as a service. Most players had moved to KGS, by then the main Go server outside Asia. In 2006 Shubert completely rewrote the server code. Without significant updates, nngs stalled against a closed-source model that seemed to have discovered the path to sustainability without external sponsors.

No few players criticized Bill for abandoning open-source development, but he surely is right when he notes that the cause of the relative backwardness of free software for Go must be sought elsewhere:

I decided to do the premium content because I was hoping I could make KGS into a business. It was successful enough for KGS to be profitable, but just barely!

rene grothmannRene Grothman makes a more in-depth analysis:

As usual, there are two reasons for lack of innovation. First, there is now a monopoly with the KGS Go server and its closed protocol. Almost everyone goes there. It simply attracts the most players and makes the most money. To compete with this you would have to build enough mass. That is very difficult. Secondly, there are now lots of nice programs to make diagrams and study games. There simply is no urgent need to write a new one.

Another reason is the decay of Java. It is still widely used, but not in the browser, where it has been incorrectly accused of being insecure. Now it is very difficult to produce a Java applet that runs on client browsers without a lot of fiddling with the security settings. So nobody is willing to invest in this technology.

Shubert agrees:

In the future I see the [KGS] Java client going away, replaced by an HTML one. I have done a fair amount of work towards that but more is needed. Oracle has done all they can to kill Java as a client platform, so I have given up and will not do any more real work in that direction; HTML+javascript, while in many ways a terrible coding platform, is at least well supported and thriving, so that (along with the Android clients) is the direction I need to take.

Grothmann also highlights the difficulties with the new standard:

It is, on the other hand, very difficult to do in JavaScript what JaGo can do. And the only other system that could compete, Flash, is dead too. The new way of doing things like JaGo would be a web service, where only the board display is done by JavaScript. But that requires a lot of server power. Not even KGS did that.

The future that is arriving

qgoThe path that Grothmann talks about is precisely the one that a new generation of fans and developers seems to be following. The success of OGS, which hosts a growing number of new tournaments, reinforces the ideas of the pioneers. But OGS, even despite being built on free software, does not seem willing to open its code, and the only way to overcome the need for large servers that the new programming paradigm entails would be to count on a new open standard installed by many user groups who would then connect with each other.

The idea is in the air. Free tools are beginning to flourish again. Machi Mizumaki launched a version of JaGo for Android in September 2014. qGo, one of the most serious attempts to build a good cross-platform, free desktop program that was abandoned in 2008, was resumed in 2013 by Pavel Zorin-Kranich. Pavel says he maintains “qGo for private use” and that it “has at most a couple hundred users.” Presumably most of them are also nngs server users, because together with JaGo his is surely the best free compatible program available today.

torneo-mx-clAnd the fact is that in 2012 a Japanese developer, Shigeaki Matsumura updated nngs for the first time in a long time, uploading the code to GitHub. Perhaps there is no urgency, but there is certainly demand and consensus on the next level of Go software: a free online platform with exits to both client programs and the Web, starting from the legacy of code and functionality of the first generation of software and services for the game.


What is it that motivates people like Grothman or Shubert to dedicate so much effort and even to change their career paths for Go? We asked both of them. Bill Shubert:

When I was very young my father taught me to play Go, but he was a beginner himself so we only played a few games. Later, in my early 20’s, I was browsing newgroups and stumbled across “Hey, that was that game my dad taught me!,” I thought. In the newsgroup I saw a reference to the go server “IGS,” so I logged in, played a game, and was hooked!

pritchardRene Grothmann goes back to the tumultuous Germany of 1978:

In my youth, I played a lot of chess. I was never a master but a decent tournament player. I discovered Go in 1978 on my own from a book in the library: “Go, a Guide to the Game” by D.B. Pritchard. I talked about the game with a friend, and we visited a club in Heidelberg together to play there.

When asked about his relationship with Go, Shubert emphasizes relationships with others:

As for how it contributed to my vision of the world, learning, and social relations? Hard to say. I’ve had a lot of fun playing Go and met lots of nice people that way.

Grothmann highlights the intellectual challenge:

The attraction of Go for me as a mathematician were the simple rules, which nevertheless lead to surprising complexity. Especially, the logic of Chinese counting is astonishing.

For the beginner, it appears as if Go is a game of strategy. It looks as if the right strategical attitude is all you need. You read a lot of talk about the Eastern way of thinking versus the Western way of brute force. As I have been demonstrated by playing against stronger players, Go is also a game of tactics where a small oversight can cost the game. The masters tell you that the golden way to get stronger in the basics of the game is the study of problems. I second that. I liked solving problems.

The motivations and their relationship to the game couldn’t have been more different. Maybe the only thing they have in common is a hacker spirit of sorts, a certain way of understanding that an interesting life, one way or another, is guided by curiosity.

If that were extrapolatable in some way, it is quite possible that the new revolution of Go on the Internet, the one who will ultimately make the software that will change the overall ecosystem of the game, is reading this post now. Maybe it will be you.

Translated into English by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 77 ~ October 23rd, 2014 ~ 4 ~ 1 57

Sharing economy, direct economy, p2p production… what a mess!

atfab_opendeskFirst of all: this post is long, but it’s well worth reading it all (although there is a summary at the end). It aims to clarify the conceptual map that is gradually being drawn between the notions of “sharing economy,” “direct economy,” and “p2p production,” as well as taking stock of what each one brings to the table and understanding what are the requirements for them to make a real contribution against the crisis.

From the start of the crisis, the concern for small industry has been an issue for what it represents in terms of wealth and employment. A few years ago, Natalia argued on this blog that it was time to leave fabbing as a prototype, and that we had the opportunity and the need to incorporate tools and resources from the p2p mode of production to industrial SMEs in order to address the crisis. Why? Quite simply because the perspective of the p2p mode of production offered a horizon of higher productivity at a smaller scale of production. That’s why it already represents an alternative mode of production in sectors such as free software – that’s why it represents the future in the industrial sector, even if it’s still green.

Being aware of that contradiction between the urgency of the crisis that was coming and how green “pure” p2p tools were, the Garum Fundatio invited John Robb to Montevideo in 2011. The aim was to stimulate debate on what would end up being called the “direct economy”.

We thus define the direct economy as a series of production methodologies based on the binding of alternative funding schemes (such as crowdsourcing or selling in advance), the globalization of the small (producing at low cost in large facilities anywhere in the world) and the potential to increase marketing scope through the Internet. A cocktail that allows for astonishing productivity in small-scale organizations.

A turn that entailed an important loss of meaning

Cuaderno de la Ruta ArtesanaBut beyond this brilliant idea, John, concerned by the breakdown of the American middle class, began to prioritize the most basic resilience in his proposals, incorporating low-productivity yet useful elements for generating cash and income in case of the total destruction of the market. Things like putting a chicken farm in the yard or using “sharing economy” platforms in order to transform a room, a car, etc. into a tool for generating small amounts of income.

It was from this second interpretation by John that our friends from ARssa! and SomosReding incorporated the concept of direct economy to their conceptualization of the “Route of artisan entrepreneurs“: microentrepreneurs doing arts and crafts as a way of generating additional income. Domestic production was at the forefront.

The truth is we never felt comfortable with that idea. In another post, Nat insisted on the capacity for innovation as the key for the model beyond small tools in order to strengthen resilience or a more rational use of resources. The fear of a loss of meaning of that conceptual treasure that is the direct economy was definitely present there.

The encounter with the “sharing economy”

JUAN URRUTIA.-GIJON9.10.2014FOTO DE P. CITOULADuring the Anĉovoligo meeting in Gijón, the very title, “Beyond the Sharing Economy,” aimed at a better assesment of the relationship between the two worlds.

Juan Urrutia‘s interventions were especially helpful in this sense: the direct economy – which becomes the prelude to the p2p mode of production when united with devolution – appears as an engine for the dissipation of rents, and this as a adriver of new spaces based on the logic of abundance. The “sharing economy,” as protagonist of the actual moment, was rescued as a social practice that served mainly as a driver for cultural change, but that is also capable of generating social transformation when it becomes an engine for the direct economy through collaborative funding systems such as crowdsourcing.

It’s the cider!!

gijondesidra-votacionesBut the key was the return to the original definition of the direct economy as a form of highly productive small-scale industrial production. Of course, in order to realize this we had to go out on the street and stumble upon… cider.

During the days of the meeting the “2014 Gijón of Cider” was taking place, a true showcase of the year’s productions accompanied by cider routes throughout the city. A poster at each door informed about the brand of the cider one could try, its location, the founding year, and the production volume. The productions, of more than half a million liters in many cases (e.g., over 650,000 liters for Viuda de Palacios, pictured), are impressive when compared to the world of natural beer or artisan wine. Even more if we consider that over forty llagares participated in the event!!

viuda de palacioOur international guests were surprised and fascinated by the vivacity of a small scale industry and local market of this sort, rooted in local culture, with many established producers and so much diversity. “Diversity is the result and the claim,” we told them, but “the key is productivity.”

Insisting on the diversity of the cider industry is important because cultural diversity has to do with the ability to produce diversity among products and within each product. There would be no real culture of cider if there were only one or two companies, or if it were a very standardized product almost indistinguishable between llagares.

Chorizo_RiojanoNot too long ago, a friend who worked in a public R & D center told us how they were creating, in order to “save” the artisan production of sausages in a Spanish region, a standard for taste, size, and composition as a precursor to a brand. Without standardization, earning scope was counterproductive because each individual producer didn’t produce enough to satisfy even a medium-sized distribution chain. Because contrary to what is often argued, low productivity makes diversity impossible. Diversity, as shown in cider, is a product of small scale industry, but it can only break free from the strictly local, sell in larger markets, and generate real wealth, through gaining scope, and that is only possible by being able to cater to new demands, and thus increasing production without substantially increasing its scale. Exactly like many of the examples of the electronic marketplace that we use in our presentations.

etsyThis is true even in sectors such as handicrafts. In the Spanish-speaking world it is common to conflate handicrafts with crafts, the tiny scale of the individual producer that works with production runs of negligible volume. But one just needs to take a look at what today is the largest market for artisans in the world, Etsy, which reached 1.2 billion dollars in sales last year, to realize that the type of artisan who succeeds in this century is that who incorporates sophisticated production tools that allow for strong productivity without giving up the individuality of their work. Scope-enhancing platforms, such as Etsy itself, would not be of much value for them if they could only serve a few customers.

What we have learned

asidrasPutting it all together, the most important thing we’ve learned so far in this long discussion is that if the “sharing economy” teaches us how to live in an economy with ever widening non-market spaces, the development of small-scale productivity implicit in the rent dissipation model is the key that deconstructs the false alternative between culturally-impoverishing product homogenization, and the socially-impoverishing search for scale for its own sake that destroys real resilience and our capacity for innovation.

So what today drives us towards a “beyond,” towards a new way of producing and sharing, is the continuum between the direct economy of high productivity and scope that is flourishing in the many KickStarters of the web, and the p2p mode of production, already consolidated in the world of software and increasingly close to the SME thanks to the ever growing industrial design and 3D-printing commons.


  • The base for the new economy is the «sharing economy»
    • as a cultural change that reinterprets the nature of public goods and
    • as an industrial funding scheme for projects that aim to develop the productive commons and the direct economy
  • But most importantly, the key that allows for sustainable change in economic relationships is found in increasing productivity, and that is being driven by

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

Paul Blundell

Paul Blundell 1 ~ October 16th, 2014 ~ 6 ~ 0 13

A commonard’s interesting life

What is an interesting life? That’s something I’m in the process of figuring out. In fact, for me, an interesting life is the very process of figuring out. It is the freedom to act, to try new things, to experiment, to explore your life and your world. But this freedom necessarily includes the symmetrical freedom from fear and from want; freedom from the things that might stop me from making those leaps and taking those roads less traveled by.

I live in an egalitarian commune of 30 adults called Acorn Community where we share everything we can, including our land, labor, and income, and where we govern ourselves by consensus. Our economy runs on personal initiative and responsibility and is organized as a strict adhocracy. On the other end of it, all members have free equal access to all the community’s resources and can take from them as much as they need. We have both of the freedoms I described above and we have them in spades. We are each forging our own path and making our own life but we never want for anything and when any one of us stumbles the other thirty of us are there to catch them.

For me, life is interesting in its vast diversity. Most interesting and diverse of all are its free people, each with an internal life at least as rich and complex and idiosyncratic as my own, and each free to pursue and explore their own fleeting whims, bizarre passions, crazy theories, and mad schemes. And so I find that to enrich myself I must enrich my world, I must tend to my people that they might be as free and interesting as they can be. This is my true work and it is endlessly fascinating.

The commune is an incredibly supportive place and easily the most effective educational institution I have ever been a part of. There is a great diversity of valuable projects to undertake and all the tools you need to undertake them. There is enthusiastic support for personal experimentation and the development of new creative pursuits. There are many insightful and experienced people to help you with self exploration and political development. And people take advantage of these resources constantly! A constant parade of self-transforming communards marches past me year after year, to my never ending delight.

Opposing my project and keeping me busy is the very world in which I work. Accidents, shortages, disasters great and small, unintended consequences, neglected problems, and the thousand competing desires and plans of my beloved people. A variable but never ending challenge. The project is hard enough with just that but I also find myself opposed at every turn by a bunch of deeply uncreative people. People who have such a lack of imagination that the only way they can see to meet their own needs is to use violence to shut others out of the negotiation or to horde all of the toys to themselves.

The deep project at Acorn, highlighted and honed by our use of consensus, is the continuing challenge of finding the creative solutions that work for everyone; the process of figuring out how to meet your needs within the context of the needs of others. It is the utilitarian project realized. Knowing how successful we and others have been in running complex and diverse micro-societies with the principles of consensus it becomes clear that violence, as Isaac Asimov was fond of saying, is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Violence, whether taking someone’s home away or denying medicine to the sick, is an admission that you’re not clever enough to figure out that creative solution. The market, based on the sanctity of private property and the myth of the independent self-made person, has become a Procrustean bed on a global scale forcing a mind-bogglingly diverse humanity to squeeze into or stretch to fill a narrowly defined economic format or suffer the consequences. Should our ideas and ideologies stretch and scrunch to fit our people or should we refashion our people to fit our ideology?

At Acorn, and in all the communes in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, we cast our economy instead as a collective project that we are all responsible for maintaining. That project needs all sorts of labor and resources to do what we want it to do and all of that labor is necessary. And so we treat all labor as equal and expect of our members an equitable contribution, based on ability. An hour of order fulfillment is equal to an hour of programming is equal to an hour of accounting is equal to an hour of auto maintenance is equal to an hour of child care is equal to an hour of cooking is equal to an hour of policy making etc. And from the riches created by our labor, whether money, food, knowledge, or what have you, we take whatever we need to be happy, healthy, and satisfied. We have achieved the old dream: from each according to their ability to each according to their need.

But what of the tragedy of the commons? What of the supply and demand curves? Won’t collective property be destroyed (or never purchased in the first place)? Won’t a pile of free things be instantly snapped up and horded by the first person to come across it? Luckily humanity is more complex than that and has evolved for a long time as a social species. Numerous studies and histories show that the true tragedy of the commons is its privatization and the loss of social control that it entails. Deforestation, pollution, over grazing, over hunting, degradation: all these ills have come in spades with privatization. And a rational person only hordes or over consumes if they fear for a future lack. Calm fear and secure supply and hording becomes costly and irrational in addition to being anti-social.

For us, sharing, cooperating, and trusting has made us incredibly wealthy, just not in money. Wealth, really, is an experience: the ability to always get what you need and often get what you want. To want for nothing would be the ideal, would make you truly wealthy. And we want for little. We are always fed well and housed, we are cared for when we are sick, we have friends and entertainment, we have meaningful work and flexible schedules, we both travel and receive visitors, we raise our children and pursue our passions. And yet we do it all working only 40 hours per week (income and domestic work) and with an annual income well below the poverty line.

My commune is a bubble within which we have rewritten the rules of our economy and our society, keeping the violence and cruelty of the mainstream at bay with a sturdy but permeable membrane. I have lived here and it is beautiful. For me, I could spend an interesting life as a blower of such bubbles.

What is «las Indias»?

David de Ugarte77 ~ October 30th, 2014 ~ 4 0

News from Spain

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Manuel Ortega4 ~ August 24th, 2014 ~ 0 3

“Not-English” is the world’s most spoken language

bla_blaIn many conversations about the expansion of languages and the use of English as a lingua franca, we hear statements about English being the most spoken language in the world. It is important to remember that the reality is quite different, the most spoken language in the world is “not-English,” i.e., all the other languages. The figures, which can be found in “The World Factbook,” clearly reflect this reality. In the light of this fact, it should also be noted that beyond the figures, the important points to note in the discussion about overcoming language barriers and the adoption of a lingua franca, are others, namely the rents and power structures supported by the adoption of a national language as a lingua franca, in this case English, and its limitations beyond superficial interactions.

Functional English, like all jargon, is useful for superficial interactions. For example, when a waiter in a cafe in Antalya describes the view of the sea as very beautiful. But it reaches its limits in the context of university education, a higher intellectual function that fully mobilizes our language skills. Because only on rare occasions do we see the same level of precision and nuance in a learned language as in the mother tongue. That iron law of linguistic competence is confirmed even in countries known for their knowledge of English.

David de Ugarte77 ~ July 26th, 2014 ~ 1 31

Bruce Sterling against the disguised recentralization of the “Sharing Economy” and “Smart Cities”

brucesterlingWhat happens if the taxis of major cities are replaced by Uber? What if a central part of your urban transportation system depends on an app based on California? Do you think that a city hall could stand up to an multinational with the kind of battles it wages against taxi unions? What happens when your streets and your cars are commodities that are coordinated thanks to software and a set of rules that you don’t control? And perhaps the most clarifying: Do you really think that in California would let its transportation system be run from Barcelona?

All these questions are part of the conclusions Bruce Sterling draws about “Smart Cities.” The discourse on the “Sharing Economy” has detoured the debate and hidden the project of recentralization of networks and the power of the Internet giants. But it’s still there. And as the father of cyberpunk reminds us, it not only has political consequences in the city, but globally, and geopolitically.

So, does Sterling want to close the door on the “Sharing Economy” or the “Smart City?” Absolutely not. He’s simply reminding us that is a battlefield on which the different subjects must recognize what network structures and what architectures of power create a world where we have space. And in recentralization, there’s no space for citizenship.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte77 ~ ~ July 13th, 2014 ~ 0 21

Community and happiness

imageThe Philosopher’s Mail, the blog of Alain de Botton and the followers of atheism 2.0, published an article about the Epicureans. Its most interesting aspect is that, in a nutshell, it proposes that Epicurean communitarianism is based on its founder’s minimalist definition of happiness:

With his analysis of happiness in hand, Epicurus made three important innovations:

Firstly, he decided that he would live together with friends. Enough of seeing them only now and then. He bought a modestly priced plot of land outside of Athens and built a place where he and his friends could live side by side on a permanent basis. Everyone had their rooms, and there were common areas downstairs and in the grounds. That way, the residents would always be surrounded by people who shared their outlooks, were entertaining and kind. Children were looked after in rota. Everyone ate together. One could chat in the corridors late at night. It was the world’s first proper commune.

Secondly, everyone in the commune stopped working for other people. They accepted cuts in their income in return for being able to focus on fulfilling work. Some of Epicurus’s friends devoted themselves to farming, others to cooking, a few to making furniture and art. They had far less money, but ample intrinsic satisfaction.

And thirdly, Epicurus and his friends devoted themselves to finding calm through rational analysis and insight. They spent periods of every day reflecting on their anxieties, improving their understanding of their psyches and mastering the great questions of philosophy.

Epicurus’s experiment in living caught on. Epicurean communities opened up all around the Mediterranean and drew in thousands of followers. The centres thrived for generations – until they were brutally suppressed by a jealous and aggressive Christian Church in the 5th century. But even then, their essence survived when many of them were turned into monasteries.

De Botton forgets that that Epicurean, familiar, and mixed monasticism of the 5th century, common and even dominant in places like the Iberian peninsula and the island of Ireland, was gradually enclosed from Rome and finally removed with the Gregorian reform. The spirit of Epicurean communitarianism would then begin to thrive in a very different environment. But that’s another story.

Translated by Alan Furth from the Spanish original.

las Indias21 ~ May 17th, 2014 ~ 1 5

Market activism

Aesires en acción (From Indianopedia) Market activism is our term for the design and trade of products with the goal of spreading values and ideas. The name was coined in 2012 by Juanjo Pina from “aesirs,” based on a previous debate on entrepreneuralism held by “las Indias Group of Cooperatives” since 2009, linking the idea of the phyle to the medieval arts and guilds:

We believe the kind of knowledge that enables us to make beautiful and socially useful things cannot be reduced to technical knowledge. It must contain a social meaning, a work ethic and a worldview. Goods offered in the marketplace carry with them a vision of the world, of social projects and a moral points of view.

Some examples

  • In 2007 the indianos combatted «rankism», a narrative on the blogsphere spread by the media that we saw as a danger to its distributed structure. As a response, we developed feevy, the first dynamic blog-roll for blogs. It not only made it easy to link and share audiences between blogs, it made it obvious that the “star blogger system” was just a media myth. Feevy had soon 60,000 users/blogs, making it possible to map hundred of thousands of blogs in Spanish and how they were connected. We called this map the map of flowers, and was, itself, a refutation of the narrative imposed by the mainstream media. Feevy, carefully developed not to use personal data, was programmed as free software, and its platform sold later to a a big firm.
  • Since 2011, the whole “neovenetianist milieu” did its best to transform its knowledge into useful tools to combat the European unemployment crisis:
  • In 2010, Alain de Botton launched his atheism 2.0. His main tool would be “The School of life,” an international chain of stores supplying consumer goods, courses and motivational seminars for businesses

las Indias21 ~ April 22nd, 2014 ~ 0 3

Vote for Guerrilla Translation in the 2014 OuiShare Awards

Our friends of Guerrilla Translation are among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. You can vote for them or in any case know a little more about them and this Awards.

las Indias21 ~ February 11th, 2014 ~ 3 2

The fruits of an interesting life

festival-de-las-linternasToday our front page has a new banner: series. That’s what we have called the thematic threads that have been forming since we started to focus “El Correo de las Indias” on the idea of an interesting life. And in fact, the first series tries precisely to answer the question what is an interesting life? This leitmotif that was born in another series, the only one now finished: “Towards a new narrative,” by Juan Urrutia. And of course, we can’t leave out our love of cooking, our pulp heroes, and Go. They all continue growing and will appear again in the future. For the moment take a peek, and we hope that you’ll like them.

(Note from your translator: if there are older posts you want to see translated, please leave a comment!)

David de Ugarte77 ~ February 7th, 2014 ~ 0 15

What’s left when the state falls?

These days, the press all over the world is talking about the Michoacan self-defense movement, since the Mexican State is confronting them, after letting the “Knights Templar” camp there for years. This mafia was the beneficiary of decomposition, accelerated by the State itself, of the formerly, and sadly celebrated “Michoacan family.” The debate is now the typical trap of decomposition between the defense of the monopoly on violence by the state and the verification of a captured and corrupt state that for years abandoned the life and treasure of thousands of people to a terrible mafia.

So rather than entering the debate, I’d like to draw attention to an element of “self-defense” and the form that its process of legitimation took: the reemergence of a series of forms, like open town councils, which come from the birth of urban democracy in medieval Europe.

These forms are not “natural,” but rather cultural and historical. Born with urban development, they became revolutionary in community revolts, and reappeared in the open crisis of the Napoleonic wars – which led to the birth of the Mexican State – and during the large civilian conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. And now they return in the middle of decomposition. Quijote told Sancho on the path to the island of Barataria to “be careful of your vassals or they will take the government from you or form communities by themselves.” The “Long live the commoners!” shout is heard in the Michoacan town halls. In my view, there are issues here to reflect upon and learn from.

las Indias21 ~ February 5th, 2014 ~ 0 1

Interesting people

marianoypilarTomorrow we will publish a beautiful post by Mariano Gistain answering what is an interesting life to you?

Before him, Michel Bauwens and Kevin Carson paved the way, and Steve Herrick, Daniel Bellón and Mar Abad not only wrote and provided posts, but joined the team to present us with new articles.

So, the most gratifying thing about “El Correo de las Indias” in this new stage is not, as we expected, debates about the direct economy, or even the exploration of new topics and ways of living… but rather the friends, the people who are joining us to do it… and surely, those still to come!

Steve Herrick7 ~ December 14th, 2012 ~ 9 9

Seeking feedback

English-speakers, I need to hear from you.

There is a thriving cooperative movement in Spain and throughout Latin America. In the English-speaking world, and in the US particularly, we hear nothing about it (apart from Mondragon). Some members of my co-op want to remedy this situation. This would likely take the form of an e-book with around a half-dozen essays in it, written by academics and established movement members, and translated by us. It would sell for around $2, and assuming the first one does at all well, there would be more.  I received several generous donations for my work on the Indiano Manifesto (thank you again!), which gives me hope that a larger number of people would support this work with smaller amounts.

So, the question for you is, would it be worth $2 to you to hear what Spanish-speaking cooperators are doing these days, in their own words, professionally translated by fellow cooperators? What topics would be most interesting to you, or, conversely, least interesting?


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