Las Indias in English

An interesting life

las Indias Cooperative Group

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 51 ~ April 8th, 2014 ~ ~ 4 0

Was Go played in ancient Europe?

jugandotibetA game board engraved in rock (right) is discovered in Tibet, and is dated to the seventh century a.C. Immediately it’s assumed that the game in question is Go, and it is incorporated into Tibetan history, and in general, to the constantly-debated origins of the game.

calculiBut similar boards appear throughout the celtic geography between the first and second centuries BCE. Spread by contact with Rome, it looks like they won widespread popularity, because the museums of Western Europe are full of them. Just in Asturias, boards and pieces have been found in the fortified villages of Allande and Chao Samartín (photo on the left).

piedra de cristalBut, what was being played in Europe on that board? If we listen to the vox populi on the Internet, five-in-line. Something doesn’t work. In Rome, they played not only 12 marks, knucklebones, and tesserae (dice), but also sophisticated and relatively well-known board games  like the brigand’s game (latrunculi), a game halfway between Go and chess that required small boards, generally 10×10. We know that to play five-in-line, latrunculi boards were good enough and were used, in the same way that in China, Go boards were used.

So, to presume that these boards of 17 and 19 lines are manufactured specifically to play five-in-line, a younger game, is very risky. But, then, why these larger boards with those cared-for stones (calculi) of ivory or glass in two colors?

DorchesterFrom the Middle East to the British Isles, and especially in Rome, ludus calculorum, “the game of stones,” or “of counting,” left a broad archaeological record in taverns, houses, military fortifications and fortified villages… but not its rules. In fact, it looks like the name by which we know it actually refers to a large set of games ranging from the Greek “pente grammai” — whose rules we don’t know beyond the board being 5×5 — to “tavili” –the ancestor of backgammon — and, on occasion, to the aforementioned “latrunculi.” Archaeological tells us that some of them traveled from the Orient to Egypt and Greece, surely around the eighth century BCE, and from Rome to Western Europe.

But something still doesn’t fit: all these games had boards with colored squares, like chess, while the large-sized boards that appear throughout the west of the Roman republic between the first and second centuries BCE are “intersection” boards, like Go. What if this sudden appearance of a new kind of board in ancient Europe points towards a specific phenomenon, to an “import?”

The theory of the importing of Go in the second century BCE

Alea EvangeliiDuring the Han era (206 BCE-220 CE), Chinese emperors established links with many states with territory currently occupied by India, Iran and the Roman Empire (Ta Ching). The historian Sima Qiang (145-86 BCE) tells of a diplomatic mission accompanied by caravans of goods. There are various records of missions and commerce since the second century BCE, and by the middle of the first century, the “periplus erithreum” seems to have been an established route.

As a result, some historians think that this is the origin of the boards that we find in the fortified villages: pure and simple Go.

It is this direct origin, the product of commercial exchanges and direct diplomacy that would explain the sudden appearance of a new kind of “calculi” throughout the West of Empire. The new game, or at least the new boards, had so much success that there are many who identify them as possible origin of other later games, like the Viking hnefatafl, or its Anglo-Saxon derivative, Alea Evangelii.

According to this hypothesis, Go would have appeared in Europe as a result of commercial and diplomatic exchanges with Han China, and would have  quickly become fashionable throughout the western zone of Roman influence through merchants and legions, and, given that its pieces are stones that are indistinguishable from each other, would have been known as what Latin-speakers called all such games: calculi, “counting.”

A meager literary record

jugadores_griegosUnfortunately, there are hardly any remaining literary records about counting games that could clear up doubts about their rules. Apuleyo, in “Golden Donkey,” tells us about a game move that would work in both lantrunculi and in Go. Pliny talks in his letters about the octogenarian mother of a friend who maintained her mental agility with “lusu calculorom,” and reading Martialis, we know that calculi boards — and also dice — were part the ideal of Roman “good living”:

Give me a barman and a butcher and a place to bathe, a barber and a calculi board and some dice, a few books personally selected, only one companion, not too crude, and an smooth-faced older boy with a sweetheart to content him: give me these, Rufus, even at Butuntum, and you may keep for yourself the Thermae of Nero.


aquiles y ajaxThe Roman West knew, by the name of “counting games” or “games of stones,” a whole series of board games in which, in contrast to chess or latrunculi, the squares were not colored, but rather, only the intersections were marked. Some of these games, like latrunculi itself, were based on surrounding the opponent’s pieces, and were associated with mental agility and the development of intellectual faculties. And we know that, as lighter entertainment, just as in Asia with Go boards, their boards were also sometimes used to play five-in-line (gomoku).

As with so many other things, “counting games” were lost in Europe with the decomposition of the Roman Empire, and were not rediscovered until the seventeenth century when the writings of Matteo Ricci uncovered Go for contemporaries as illustrious as Selenius and Leibnitz.

Were they really rediscovering a game that had already triumphed in Republican times? Had the ancient Romans and Iron-Age Celts played Go, as suggested by the proliferation of 17×17 and 19×19 boards throughout Western Europe coinciding with the first exchanges with Han China? The truth is that it’s possible, even probable. Data, artifacts, and references seem fit better than, for example, the common assumption among Asian historians that the most ancient boards found in Tibet were dedicated to Go.

But, what is certain is that neither in Tibet nor in Europe, with current archaeological and literary data, can we be certain about the rules. There simply is no record of them — we only have stones and boards. So, at least for the moment, the mystery continues, even though with what we know, representing Romans and Celts playing Go shouldn’t be shocking.

Neal Gorenflo

Neal Gorenflo 1 ~ April 7th, 2014 ~ ~ 5 0

A Life of Great Conversations

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that my happiness is directly correlated to the frequency of great conversations. The more great conversations are part of daily life, the happier I am.

More than anything, I enjoy talking with people. But a great conversation is more than just talking. It’s about connecting with people on what matters. What matters to people differs, but a conversation that’s about a mutual discovery about what matters, even if it’s in a casual context, can connect people in incredibly strong ways.

In 2005, I started a monthly salon called The Abundance League with some friends. It was mostly about facilitating great conversations, conversations that matter focused on how to lead lives of purpose, sharing, and collaborating. I co-hosted the event for five years.

This series of great conversations changed my life more than anysingle thing I’ve ever done.

The main lesson I learned is that it is through conversations that we actually create one another. Through conversations that matter, I was able to explore more fully who I am and why I am here while helping other people do the same. That is an incredibly rewarding experience.

And it strongly informs my work today at Shareable where we host a global conversation about sharing and the commons. We do our best to host conversations that matters, and set the stage for a world in which we co-create the best version of ourselves by how we converse, create value, and share value. And through this process, we tell a new story about ourselves, that we can all thrive by working together.

To paraphrase Plato, it’s those who tell the stories that shape society. So what kind of person do you want to become and what kind of world do you want? It might depend on what kind of conversations you’re having.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 51 ~ April 7th, 2014 ~ 2

Phyles and the new communalism

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most people identified only with the real communities they were part of. An average European saw scarcely a hundred different faces in their whole life. The small, local, real community, with its barely-monetized agrarian economy, gave each person an identity that allowed him/her to understand who was who in the social system, and what role each one was playing in the production of everyone’s well-being. This is still the dominant identity in a good part of the rural world in developing countries.

But when the mercantile economy and the market, in larger settings, brought together production and consumption, a large part of the things people consumed no longer came from their immediate surroundings; the result of their labor could travel hundreds, even thousands of kilometers, and tens of thousands of people already lived in cities. The old, real identities no longer explained who they were for others, and what their work meant for them.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, there appeared the seeds of what, two centuries later, would become the great imaginary identity of the industrial world: the nation. The nation had the new dimension of the state and the market, and allowed each one to imagine him/herself as part of the joint effort that kept afloat the economy in which they and their own real community lived. The world of nations was the world of the Industrial Revolution, but also that of the ascent of large representative democracies and of nation-states. The world understood itself as a puzzle, as the sum of pieces, which were territories, states, and markets.

But towards the end of the 20th century, the breakdown of the Eastern bloc and the collapse of the USSR changed the map of the world. Western governments realized that the large companies that dominate their economies had symptoms that are alarmingly similar to those that led to the Soviet collapse. In an effort to alleviate these symptoms, which inevitably arise from from the oversized scale of capitalist corporations, they launched a series of initiatives to enlarge markets by reducing barriers to commerce. In 1993, the European Community became a European Union with the signature of the Maastricht Treaty, which consecrated market unity; in 1994, the free-trade agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada was signed; and in 1995, the World Trade Organization was finally founded, after almost 42 years of delays and fruitless negotiations.


María Rodríguez

María Rodríguez 4 ~ March 18th, 2014 ~ 1

The thousand and one nights of stolen words

And Scheherezade said:

Sultan_Pardons_Scheherazade (source Wikipedia)I have come to know — fortunate alien! — that there once occurred a thing called “globalization,” which very bad reputation, and in part, rightly so, for what the people really lived through was a half globalization, a truncated process. What Earthlings experienced should not be called that. Being very generous, it would be a semi-globalization, and even being called this way, it would resemble the unattained objective so little that it would continue to be a misleading name. The supposed globalization they experienced was really an abortion.

True globalization would have involved three inalienable principles: freedom of people, freedom of goods, and freedom of financial movement. The funny thing is that that the three freedoms were global, and functioned in all directions — that’s why they called it globalization. Well, that didn’t happen. For example, the kingdoms of the European Union enjoyed considerable freedom of movement of goods among each other and spent a fortune in gold coins on subsidies to the PAC [Common Agricultural Policy]. However, they put restrictions on the entry of the Moroccan tomato (among many other products and many other distant countries), which meant that many Moroccan farmers had to emigrate a Spain to cultivate tomatoes in greenhouses in Almería in precarious conditions… conditions partly caused and aggravated by the fact that they couldn’t enter Spain freely. Border guards did not let anyone pass who did not carry a safe-conduct that very hard to get.

What was most noticeable about “globalization” was the processes of de-localization, or transfer of factories from the developed nations to the underdeveloped nations, or nations in development. Costs were pushed down because the land and workforce were cheap, and the problem of industrial exploitation of the Third World for the mass production of consumption goods emerged.

China_grwothLabor exploitation, of children or adults, was bad and should have been eliminated, but in many cases of de-localization, as much as the working conditions of the workers were not those of a unionized European paradise, they were minimally decent, improved, and above all, they got something authentically revolutionary: millions of people escaped poverty.

Those people did not live like us, their houses were not pretty like ours, nor were they as well equipped, their countries continued to be authoritarian political regimes, and sometimes unstable, and still they had union victories left to win. But they ate every day, their children had shoes, and even were able to move to houses of better quality. Sometimes it was neccesary to be careful how quickly the impact of relocation was criticized. Of course there were unscrupulous businesses that took advantage of the situation of the countries where they put their factories. In other cases, the alternative to working in those factories was simply to keep watching their children die of hunger.

Standalone_1175X1290A country was rich when it had what was called “First-World problems,” and the richer the country, most existential those problems became. Occupational therapy for senior citizens, sensory stimulation programs for day-cares, psychoanalysis, dental aesthetics services… I am talking about rights provided by the State, not bourgeois consumption. The possibility of turning these demands into rights emerged long after guaranteeing minimal levels of nutrition and hygiene for the whole population.

We wanted all those things, everyone wanted them. But some of us wanted to be able pay for them with our money, not have the State guarantee them. While it may not seem like it, it had many advantages, like to be able to choose the provider, and not bankrupt the State with all the demands that could well become rights. Surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones. The Chinese, Senegalese, Filipinos… they also wanted it!!! What a surprising coincidence! They didn’t just want to eat, they also wanted have a dishwasher in their apartment, fix their teeth, and take their children to a day-care where they would come out smarter. Although, of course, we were talking about many millions of people, and more than one sensitive soul in the First World wondered if it wouldn’t endanger their own dishwasher.

childcare_kinder There were sensitive people who even thought that Africans being Africans, Chinese being Chinese, Indians being Indians, etc., meant they had an existential peculiarity that made them need different things, have different attitudes, different desires, different impulses… others thought that they had some kind of handicap, when they were simply poor. That’s why cultures of aid to the poor have never worked, because what they needed beyond tools and knowledge was to be able sell things to the world, sometimes beginning by working in someone else’s factory. What they didn’t need was to be given subsidies to spend on low-quality products, without leaving your degraded neighborhoods, where they didn’t have anything to occupy the time.

They needed to grow, progress, change neighborhoods, buy a car, a new TV, orthodontics, and a shirt for each day of the week. What ended up messing up the picture is that it wasn’t just the fault of politicians in the countries where those strange characters, the poor, lived. It was also the fault of politicians in all those countries that spent so much on cooperation and development, but didn’t let goods from other countries enter freely, countries that often only had one, two, or three things to export.

MDG : Agriculture in Africa : Ghana men cultivating soybean beansImagine Telefónica being told it could only sell 5,000 phone contracts a year. It would reach its limit in 3 days, and have to spend the other 362 days of the year doing nothing. It would have had to pay its workers for the whole year with what it made on 5,000 customers, and sell at very high prices to be viable, but then no one would buy. Something like that happened with many agricultural economies, which were not viable because the market was restricted for them, and they ended up having to swallow the terms of any buyer good enough to help them out.

And then the Xenomorph…

He asked in wonder what it was that that restricting them, and Scheherezade told him that “market” was another stolen word. At this moment in the narration Scheherazade saw the morning appear, and discreetly fell silent.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 51 ~ March 12th, 2014 ~ ~ 4 0

Why does Bill Gates want to be a better Go player?

If anyone is doing serious work on the cool idea that fascinated us all in The Diamond Age, it’s a little company called BrainRush: adaptive games that anyone can create using the platform, thought up so that teachers could help children reach their highest potential. Its creator, Nolan Bushnell, is not a young entrepreneur in search of capital. Although he once was.

Nolan BushnellIn 1972 Bushnell was the first to think that a new kind of games, until then considered hacking, could become a marketable product. With a modest program, Pong, he set a new industry in motion: the videogame. He created a comany and called it “Atari,” highlighting, right from the beginning, how his business philosophy was identified with the spirit of the old game:

It is a game of patience and influence. I think that it is the best strategic game. Its strategy helps the weakest player defeat a much stronger opponent, which Atari had to do with a large enterprise from Chicago during the days of the first little coin-operated videogame machines.

At the time, Nolan was obsessed with applying the concepts of the game to the design of his machines themselves. To make them more powerful and ethereal at the same time, to flee from that terrible heaviness in Go. When the first out-of-order machines started to arrive, and support costs soared, Bushnell reached a conclusion typical of someone who frequents the board: it’s not about placing chips better or of having better chips, it’s about having the smallest number possible of them, of being light. With two spreadsheets, he demonstrated to his team that Atari would save approximately 100,000 dollars for each chip that they simply took off the board.

nintendo-goIt seemed like a lovely and poetic approach to everyone, but none of the engineers actually felt like doing it. They had just hired a new guy, worker number 40 at the business, one Steve Jobs. He was so unbearable that he had to go on the night shift so as not to have to socialize with the rest of his peers. It is tempting to imagine, in the nocturnal silence in that rickety suburban office, full of machines to be repaired and smells of soldering irons, Jobs and Bushnell laying stones on the board. Jobs had a friend, Steve Wozniak, who was developing the Apple II at the time. He convinced him to take on the challenge that Bushnell posed: reduce the Pong machines from 100 to 75 chips. Woz, one of the geniuses of his generation, worked for 72 hours straight. In the end, he needed only 20 chips. Atari became the first enterprise with explosive profits in the world of innovation. And Apple learned something important. But that is another story.

Nintendo_Playing_Card_Co_LtdAt the same time, other entrepreneur, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had inherited a small family business founded by his grandfather in 1889 dedicated to make cards, was looking to turn his business around. He had tried everything: a high-tech sex hotel that went broke, a taxi company that never took off, a machine for making cotton candy at home, a low-cost photocopier for offices, and even merchandising for Johnny Walker. Yamauchi wasn’t a man with just one idea. A sixth dan in Go, the only game he practiced in his life, he did not have a business philosophy, but rather a praxology formed in thousands of hours of games. He knew that it doesn’t matter if you make a thousand plays that lead to nowhere, the important thing is to find the answer that makes sense in the moment when it’s your turn to play, and keeping in mind only what’s on the board. It matters what the other wants. It doesn’t matter what may have happened before.

YamauchiAt the end of the Sixties, he is already aware that what works best is games that he designed on their own template for geeky youth. At the beginning of the ’70s, he imports the technology for ray guns, and he starts to turn old bowling alleys into spaces for role-playing games with ray guns. It is his first big success in a new generation of games. And, in some way, the direct ancestor of the Wii. But the best was yet to come: the first arcade, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros, Zelda…

Yamauchi regularly met with his best collaborators around a Go board to get to know them better and think about strategies with them. Henk Rogers, the man who made Tetris a global hit, was one of his usuals. While he collaborated with Nintendo, they met every day to play at the end of the workday:

Yamauchi was the most intelligent person I ever met. He ran his company like a game of Go, and never yielded on a single point. Since I met him, I knew that he would not give me anything, that I would have to earn it all. This is how I got his respect: it was the way he played.

gnugoBut Yamauchi wasn’t the only innovatior formed at the board. Ken Sakamura, the creator of Tron, the first free operating system, thought up for mobile devices and therefore nearly invisible, but prior to GNU/Linux and—despite being little-known in the West—much more extensive than Windows, is one of those who gathers his disciples around the goban.

And in California, where free software grew out of the same milieu in which the game was spreading, Richard Stallman included GNU-Go among the first nine basic programs of GNU(/Linux), together with the terminal and the C compiler.

doodle_goNo wonder Bill Gates confesses in a book-long interview that one of his desires is to become a strong player of Go… which has made him, like Paul Allen, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and the creators of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, among other well-known businesspeople that have voiced similar desires, one of the most sought-after people to sponsor tournaments in the US.

And the innovators who base their ideas on what they learn from the game keep showing up. It’is the case of Luke Biewald, the creator of Crowdflower. A business model that aims to substitute automated processes and leadership positions (marketing, sales, etc.) with groups of thousands of people that receive a small sum for expressing what their decision would be in view of a series of data. The results, apparently, are amazing.

biewaldAlthough it is only now that the business has started to see numbers in the black and media response, it was really in 2010, with the earthquake in Haiti, when it had the opportunity to demonstrate their power for the first time. In that moment, with all infrastructure destroyed, only the mobile telephone network survived. Quickly, the main telephone company begun to offer the possibility of sending free SMSs to a special number with messages for help. Those short messages, sent by tens of thousands of people, became practically the only source of information to make an initial evaluation of the disaster and start planning international aid. Crowdflower took charge of translating these messages, geopositioning them, and converting them in a real-time reporting system.

3dgoBiewald, who often uses metaphors about Go on his blog, and who, when he was a student at Standford, programmed a three-dimensional version of the game which he continues developing for mobile devices, points towards Go as the origin of their carreer path and way of thinking:

I was an exchange student in Japan mostly because I wanted to play a lot of Go. I think it has helped a lot in business, or at least it has shaped my style of management.

There’s something beautiful that happens when simple rules lead to a complex system. It also teaches me patience and composure and handling ambiguity. Go is all about handling ambiguity. For example, do I want a region of the board to be well defined or undefined? Beginners stress out too much about leaving territory unclaimed or stones half-captured. But you learn that this is often advantageous. I think a big part of running an early stage start-up is not freaking out about things being left undefined.

The nueroscience of Go… and of innovation

fnhum-07-00633-g0004Actually, there are more than a few things that can be learned from the game. But the attraction innovators and entrepreneurs feel for the game can have a material basis in itself that is as interesting as the reflections that the game evokes.

Neurological studies that compare the brain’s response to playing Go with chess, agree with others carried out in Korea with professional players which point toward two interesting things. The first is that the practice of the game improves “executive function” in our brain much more than any other kind of mental exercise. Executive function is what lets us gain self-control, determmine and articulate purposes, and among other things that are no less important, overcome dyslexia or control anger. The second is that the repeated and prolonged practice of the game “rewires” the brain, increasing the degree of interconnection of its different parts. As a consequence, a multidisciplinary study is being developed in Japan with primary-school children, measuring for the first time the impact of the game on their capacities. The authors predict that:

the children of the study group, compared to the control group, will gain higher cognitive functions, especially executive function, and will have better emotional and behavioral control.

What does this have to do with the pioneers of the business world? If we think about it a bit, this capacity to resist frustration, articulate purposes, sustain them over time, and adapt to circumstances to execute them, is what determines probabilities of success for anyone who wants to turn an idea into a project. And that’s exactly the process that starts when you lay your first stone on the board. Click!

Brian van Slyke

Brian van Slyke 1 ~ March 10th, 2014 ~ ~ 5 0

Gaming Our Way to Revolution

My worker co-op, The Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA), is a movement-building organization. We create educational resources that help people learn about and create social, economic, and environmental change. However, we do something different than a lot of other movement-building organizations: we make sure to have fun. Too many organizations focus exclusively on the serious side of social change, which, as a result, leaves many people behind.

One of the core examples of how we at TESA have fun is embodied in our flagship product, Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives. In Co-opoly, players start and run a democratic business. Players must survive as individuals and keep their co-op afloat by wrestling with tough choices regarding big and small challenges, while simultaneously putting their teamwork abilities to the test. Throughout Co-opoly, there are many mini-games—such as charades, drawing, and unspoken—which creates heart-pounding fun and a room full of laughter; but are also the way that players earn money for their co-op. Co-opoly is an exciting game of skill and solidarity, where everyone wins—or everybody loses. You have to struggle to make sure everyone’s interests are met: if a single person goes bankrupt, everyone goes under. At the same time, you can’t ignore the collective whole, because if the co-op goes bankrupt, again, everyone loses.

Through an atmosphere of laughter and raucous shouting, Co-opoly forces players to unconsciously balance individual and collective interests in order to persevere together. What’s more is that while playing Co-opoly, players discover both the challenges and the benefits of cooperatives. They begin to explore and test the skills needed to succeed as a co-op. I’ve been to too many lectures and presentations that struggle to explain to the audience how co-ops work, where people still walk away confused at the end.  Certainly, Co-opoly doesn’t give people all of the information about co-ops, but through the gaming medium it allows the players to search for and experience the answers themselves. This is the best way to learn about a subject, especially one that is so distinctly opposite of the norm—like creating an economy based on democracy and equality. The best way to learn is not by being shown, but by doing. And that’s something that games and fun allow us to incorporate into our efforts to cultivate a new world. They create unique and powerful avenues to engage, excite, and energize people about our movements.

We can look to the success of Co-opoly as one piece of evidence of how hungry people are for this kind of approach. Co-opoly has been extremely well received by people who have played it as well as professional reviewers, and has been featured in such publications as Rethinking Schools, Truth-Out, and The Guardian. We’re already nearly half-way through our second pressing, and we’ve shipped the game all over the world—from Argentina to the United States, the UK, Spain, India, Peru, Norway, and so forth. Roughly thirty countries, total. And as I write this, Co-opoly is being translated and localized to be distributed for Argentina, Spain, South Korea, Germany, Brazil, and more.

Co-opoly began when I wanted to make a workshop that simulated the cooperative experience. As the concept behind the workshop evolved, I quickly realized that I didn’t just want people to get a taste of what it was like to run a democratic organization. Even though my participants could make decisions about whether they should buy advertising or insurance or launch a new product for their fictitious co-op, it became clear that it’s difficult to simulate mental investment and dedication to these kind of decisions in a ninety-minute workshop. I’ve run many workshops like these, where we set up a scenario and tell people to discuss the situation and come to a democratic decision about where they should invest their organization’s resources. But the experiences are always largely artificial, because there are no stakes, and the participants don’t truly care about what happens as a result.

That’s when I realized I could use a game to get people excited and interested. I didn’t just want the participants to make democratic decisions for the sake of it; I wanted them to experience what it was like to be invested in the outcome and have to struggle together to get there. I wanted them to be engaged in the process. I wanted them to learn without necessarily thinking “I’m learning right now.” So I converted the aforementioned workshop into an early prototype of Co-opoly, with the goal to create an atmosphere of fun and engagement, so that the participants would actually feel like they were a part of a cooperative. Thus, in theory, they would become much more involved and invested in the process. Right away, after the first time playing the game, I knew this was the right path to take.

Below is an interview from people who played Co-opoly at a conference in the UK in 2012, describing how they couldn’t stop playing the game, and the lessons they took away from it.

The end of the video is my favorite part: just as it’s fading out, a kid says, completely earnest, “yeah, it is really fun.” Here’s a young person playing a game with several adults, willfully and excitedly learning about a complicated subject and engaging with in-depth conversations – all because it is fun. Because it is a game. If this young person had sat down with three other adults to watch a powerpoint presentation or hear a lecture on the benefits and challenges of the cooperative model, how long do you think he would last before his eyes went dull, he started fidgeting, and his mind wandered? Not long at all.

Quite frankly, however, “fun” and “gaming” should not just be something that is perceived as a way to engage children and young people in social justice topics. It’s something that adults should be more open to as well. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that it allows you to experience the issue at hand in a no-risk fashion. You can practice cooperation without actually starting a business. You learn by doing, not just by hearing someone else tell you what’s important. You put your practices and beliefs into action. You get lost in the experience and absorb so much more as a result. Your emotions become part of the process, and you truly experience what it means to you.

That’s one of the reasons Co-opoly has been so successful: it’s another way to engage a complicated and at times overwhelming concept (cooperative economics) in a casual and enjoyable fashion. And this principle can and should be applied to other movements as well. In fact, TESA recently released our second game: Loud & Proud. It’s a fast-paced, social justice trivia game that has been called “catnip for activists.” Loud & Proud is a political conversation starter and ice breaker for activists, leftists, radicals, organizers, and educators – covering a large range of issues, from civil rights to anti-war movements to your own personal beliefs. Quincy Saul, a main organizer behind the organization Ecosocialist Horizons, has this to say about the power of using Loud & Proud:

I had a fantastic time playing Loud and Proud with my mom, sister, and two nieces, aged (about) 7 and 10. The game provided excellent educational opportunities all around. The girls were excited enough with the shouting and the pace and the occasional opportunities for silliness (i.e., What would you protest? Not enough toast! Or, once that had already been used, The toaster is too slow!), that they were receptive to a pretty heavy trip down the rabbit hole about the state of the world. What are political prisoners? What is politics? What do you mean this country was founded on slavery?

But moreover, the adults learned just as much because it put us on the spot to explain these things. All the adults realized how little they knew! All of us extend gratitude to TESA for the game. It is challenging in good ways, especially for intergenerational groups, I think.”

That’s the power of integrating fun and games into movements: it can engage people across barriers of age, class, gender, sex, race, and so much more. It can bring people together in formal settings like schools and workshops, but also within people’s homes and cultural spaces. By bringing gaming and fun to the forefront of our efforts for social, economic, political, and environmental change, we will make it so that people can experience and engage our movements within every aspect of their lives.

So, what movements do YOU think would benefit from more games?

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 51 ~ February 20th, 2014 ~ ~ 4 0

Reason against force

primer bomba atomica los alamos

This post is dedicated to my existentialist friend, Alan Furth.

We remember the Cold War as a time of polarization, but it was worse than that. It was the golden age of the raison d’etat. If I had to summarize its moral legacy, its message, it obviously wouldn’t be the value of freedom — remember McCarthy or the dictatorships supported by the United States – nor the unity of Europe against the totalitarian threat (Salazar, Franco or the Greek colonels had agreements of association with what was then the European Economic Community). No, the moral legacy of the Cold War, without a doubt, was “anything goes,” “the means don’t matter, only winning.” This left hundreds of thousands of dead bodies behind across the planet, and a good deal of cultural changes. The death of chess as a challenge and mystery was not the least of them.

From Torres Quevedo to Los Alamos

torres_quevedo_ajedrecistaEven though all histories of chess played by machines begin with the famous imposture of “The Turk,” the prehistory of computational chess doesn’t begin until 1912. In that year, Torres Quevedo presented a true automaton that played exclusively by electromechanical procedures. The machine had the rules programmed in, could recognize when traps were set for it, and tried to checkmate the king and rook, whatever the game of the adversary was. Actually, it was little more than entertainment, a demonstration of power of automation and the very first electronics, as understood by the genius of Molledo.

In the middle of the Second World War, the first to think of a chess program as a software exercise was Alan Turing. His main problem was that he didn’t yet have a machine capable of running his program, so the first test was carried out with Turing himself doing the program’s calculations on a piece of paper. The truth is that Turing preferred Go to chess, and the program, which tried to evaluate the positions on board after seeing only one play, using the minimax theorem, reflected, according to critics, his poor conception of the game.

los alamosMeanwhile, in Los Alamos, the team that was working on the atomic bomb developed their own approximation, improving Turing’s focus: positionally evaluating every one of the possible movements and choosing the most strategically valuable. In this case they reduced the board to 6×6 and eliminated bishops. The result was stunning at the time: the program “beat” advanced players.

From reason to force

So far, the first computerized chess had followed the same logic: make algorithms that evaluated all possible positions after one play and compared them, recommending the most valuable. But it was like trying to reach the moon by climbing a tree — at first there’s rapid progress, but the path quickly disappears.

It would be another illustrious figure, the creator of the theory of information as a branch of mathmatics, Claude Shannon, who would figure it out. Shannon had worked with Turing and knew the Los Alamos team. He did not share the media fantasies of an “intelligent machine,” because he knew perfectly well that you can’t program what hasn’t been previously described as a process, which was very far from the current state of the discussion on intelligence and its nature. He defined two possible strategies this way: pure brute force and brute force based on heuristics.

nasa-computer-1970The path of the pure brute force consisted of simply accumulating catalogs of board situations from real games that the computer read prior to beginning the game, the famous “Opening Books.” In each situation, understood in a more or less broad sense, a value was assigned on the basis of the real result of the game and the following movement was considered preferred or not on the basis of the results.

That was the path professional Soviet chess was following at the time, using a gigantic system of paper punchcards. Although, as the current world champion tells us, today that whole vast database fits on a CD that costs 150€, at the time it was kept in a special building and was considered a state secret.

Chess has been the Western metaphor for intelligence since Alfonso X, who defined it, in contrast to the others games of his court, as the only one “that depends on brains alone.” This association, as seen in the movies, was transformed, in the context of the Cold War, into a true “chess race” to discern the intellectual superiority of the socialist “new man” versus the American “homo economicus.” The war-propaganda machines’ exaggerations would culminate in the famous game between Fisher and Spassky in 1972.

So, in the Sixties, the world of chess was much more than a tournament. It was yet another battle line of the war, and as such, got military funds. And here is where Shannon’s heuristics strategy begins to make sense. Shannon’s proposal consisted of not using real games, but rather, incorporating programs that generated massive “plausible results” and then analyzing the decision trees that were generated.

The leap is important for the open path in Los Alamos, because it would end up basing the chess played by computers on a kind of calculation that, together with the bomb, is the most enduring legacy of the Manhattan Project: the Monte Carlo Method. In 1970, NASA presented its own chess software and organized the first “computer chess” championship in the US. In 1974, the first world championship was organized in Stockholm, which the Soviets won. More funds for this byproduct of the arms race. The famous Moore’s law, according to which computers double their power every two years, starts to take off. The idea of brute force takes on a new meaning: pure calculation capacity and processing speed. Everything is on the path towards Deep Blue (1997) and Deep Fritz (2002).

The last victim of Hiroshima

Deep-BlueThey arrived late. By the time computers were able to defeat the best players in what had been the USSR, it no longer existed. But nor did chess exist. The players were taught to play by imitating the evaluation system of the computers. The new champions of the world were no longer considered beings of vision and exceptional intelligence, but rather people with prodigious memories. And chess declined rapidly throughout the world.

What is being “revived” today is really a new game of centaurs: half computer, half human. The chess that is characteristic of our time is the so-called “freestyle,” in which program and player form a pair. But regular chess, or what seems like it, is only differentiat in that humans must try to remember what his/her machine tutor recommended in a similar situation.

Chess, as it was known from Alfonso X to Kasparov, is dead. It was severely wounded in 1997 and died definitively in 2002. It was the last victim of the shock wave of Hiroshima.

Go against the bomb

 Chen Zhixing 1931 - 2008The contemporary history of Go could be told, even literally, as the resistance to the logic that the bomb imposed on the world, and which, in good measure, we continue to live. It’s not just about the fact that there are 1.5×10768 positions (10110 more than chess); the combinations in Go demand much more processing capacity. It is the very essence of the game.

In 1989, Ing Chan-ki, the banker that challenged the world of Go, established the “Ing Prize,” a social challenge of $1,400,000 for the first program that defeated a professional Taiwanese Go player. Although smaller quantities were given out for the best programs of the times, in 2000, the challenge was retired, being considered useless.

doshayThe challenge had mobilized resources and programmers, above all, in the West. And it continued to do so after being declared cancelled. Victory in Go on the basis of brute force is a challenge in itself, but it has intrinsic problems. In 2006, in an interview with Wired, Remi Coulom, who was trying to apply Monte Carlo, commented on how the random results that the method provides are extremely difficult to evaluate, and how their program was then the most advanced, not by incorporating, but by throwing out a large number of them.

In 2009, the same magazine published a report on the first victory of a program based on Montecarlo over a professional player. Nobody seemed too happy. The magazine itself insisted that the person was a professional, but of a lower level, and made it clear that in any case, given the complexity of the game, it would not be like in chess: the players would not become memorizers of “solved games.” And in the words of the creator of Deep Blue, informatization of chess had come to “substitute [human] judgment with a search [in a database].”

So no one seemed to pay much attention to the event that had earned the Ing award: it wasn’t going to change the way of playing or the abilities demanded of players, and above all, it wasn’t going to teach us anything. As Bob Hearn, an artificial intelligence programmer at Dartmouth College, commented in the same report:

People hoped that if we had a strong Go program, it would teach us how our minds work. But that’s not the case. We just threw brute force at a program we thought required intellect.

One kind of reason that defeats force

igoenToday, little remains of all that effort, of that last breath of the atomic bomb and the Cold War. Things like an XBox game or an Android app that, for 3.80€, let you connect as many times as you want to a supercomputer and play with a program equivalent to a 6d, a high-level amateur. It’s not, by any means, among the most sold or downloaded applications. Go players continue to prefer playing on online servers with other people.

But a lot can be learned from this story. The step from pure brute force to brute force accelerated through heuristics in chess seems like the perfect metaphor for going from the military theory of overwhelming superiority, created in the years of the Vietnam War, to the theory of overwhelming technological superiority that sank in the Gulf War. In both crises, part of the US strategists have looked at Go, intuiting a way of thinking in the adversary that eluded them, and returning over and over to the comparison between chess (metaphor for the West) and Go (the East).

Because chess and Go respond to completely different logics. Chess is the child of a caste society, India, in which each piece has a well defined role and a constant value, which is — barring extraordinary events — easily computable and invariable. To calculate the value of positions on the board is relatively simple. In Go, in contrast, all the pieces are, in principle, “equals,” that is, like in life itself, the value of each one is relational, does not depend on its origin, or on what they were prior to to beginning the game, but on their relationship to other pieces at every moment and to the general situation on the board.

le voie du goIn «La voie du Go», Flore Coppin and Morgan Marchand indicate that the way of conceiving the pieces in chess dovetailed spontaneously with the essentialism of Platonic thought.

Essentialism — emphasized by monotheist readings of the Greco-Latin classics — has defined a good part of Western thought. It values the why and the origins of things more than action, adopting a linear conception of time — another very “chess” thing — in which, as we move farther from the origin, subjects degrade, always seeking after a final redeeming victory (national plentitude, the classless society, paradise, etc.), in which they will recover their original purity.

In contrast, according to the authors, Go is the “playful expression” of a praxeology: a kind of non-essentialist and non-linear thought, oriented towards action, and which privileges “what can we do?” over “how did we get here?”. Existentialism told through a game, something similar to what Stephenson wanted to describe with his«Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer».

sanjuroIndeed, all Go players know that to think linearly during a game turns out to be simply illusory, that the nature of a stone or a group changes throughout the game, and that with them, the board can “turn” even without mediating conflict, which is essential in chess but almost dysfunctional in Go. The issue is that this non-linear “building together” that the authors remark is characteristic of the game of Go, can learn very little from a program that works by “replacing judgment with search,” selecting movements in a database with a conception of game time that is necessarily linear, geared only towards the achievement of a final result.

That’s why Go has been relatively unaffected by pressure from programs based on Montecarlo. In contrast to chess, professional players do not study decision trees with a computer at their sides, nor does there exist a “freestyle” in which the human player selects between the branches suggested by a program. There must be something in this praxeology that, for once, enables human reason to overcome brute force.

Alan Furth

Alan Furth 3 ~ February 12th, 2014 ~ 0

The divided brain and the development of the discontent of decomposition

cerebrodivididoA couple of years ago, I read The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Fabrication of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist, but it wasn’t until a few days ago, following one of our conversations at the editorial table with the Indianos in which we circuitously arrived at the topic of the destructiveness of the scientificist notion according to which reality can be grasped perfectly rationally, that suddenly I understood how profoundly clarifying the thesis central of the book can be to understanding the ultimate causes of decomposition.

In The Master and his Emissary, McGilchrist, a pyschiatrist and professor of English literature, presents a fascinating synthesis of 20 years of research both in neuroscience and in the history of Western culture, which rescues the analysis of the hemispheric division of the brain, which, for as popular as it became in the ’60s and ’70s, became so banal that the neuroscientific community completed excluded it from its research agenda.

While McGilchrist agrees that there is much that is cliché and gross oversimplification in the idea that the left hemisphere of the brain is in charge of rational thought, and the right, creative and intuitive thought, the error is based on the fact that, while there isn’t a clear functional division between the two hemispheres — both are used in large measure for a broad gamut of cognitive tasks of a diverse nature — each one has a particular way of approaching a given task.

mercedes-benz-left-brain-right-brain-einsteinFor example, even though both hemispheres are used intensively for math, the majority of its great discoveries were perceived as complex patterns of relationships, an ability that we owe to the right hemisphere, while the laborious translation of those discoveries to linear sets of propositions calls primarily on the left hemisphere.

According to McGilchrist, the world born of the Industrial Revolution, based, as it was, on engineering of large-scale manufacturing, owes both its wonders and its discontents to the cultural rise of the instrumental rationality characteristic of the left hemisphere, a rise that he tells us began when Aristotle formulated the principle of noncontradiction.

And one of the most important discontents of that rise is our growing inability to reason about the limits of reason, which depends mostly on the right hemisphere.

The loss of meaning

cerebrodividido1The capacity to commit ourselves to the achievement of a life full of meaning is directly proportionate to that capacity to understand the limits of reason, and, to be sure, is the fundamental decision to which leads the hacker ethic, which, in the end, is based on dedicating our time and energy to a line of work that we find intrinsically valuable and pleasant beyond any instrumental consideration.

So, I differ from McGilchrist’s somewhat pessimistic perspective, which tends to see the strengthening of the “tyranny of the left hemisphere” in the future evolution of industrial capitalism as inevitable.

cerebrodividido2If it’s true that technological advancement tends reduce the optimum scale of production, making it more and more feasible to live a life based on the hacker ethic, the tyranny of the left hemisphere should tend to lose strength. Although that does not mean, of course, that that tyranny is going to cede its power without a fight, which translates to the profound crisis of internal transformation that is inevitably reflected as the counterpart of the socioeconomic turbulence characteristic of transition.

And while the rise of instrumental reason was what allowed the flowering of the industrial production on a large-scale, it was also what allowed the strengthening of the state to the point of become the contemporary Leviathan, undertaken like never before in the history of mankind in the social engineering sustained in the scientificist drive that Hayek characterized, in one of his most sublime ideas, as a “fatal arrogance.”

In the light of the McGilchrist’s conceptual framework, it turns out to be especially ironic that the progressive Left, generally so attractive for humanist intellectuals, artists and other personalities that are supposedly “right-brained,” prescribe, as a remedy for decomposition, to strengthen state control of the economy even more.

In reality, the distrust that many proponents of that false remedy have of genuine market freedom is a perfect example of the tyranny of the left hemisphere in action.

The hacker work ethic is impossible without the fundamental capacity to jump into the abyss, to dedicate yourself to living for meaning without being able to predict what you are going to find along the path. That process, as nothing other than a profound act of faith, depends fundamentally on the right hemisphere, and is also, as McGilchrist rightly says, the basic ingredient of true innovation which is so lacking in the institutional context of industrial capitalism (the emphasis is mine):

In research today, one has to be able to say in advance what one is going to find, and no one finances a project unless it looks like it has a possibility of leading to a “positive” discovery, which really means that it should be something very similar to what we already know. We’re not prepared to trust – we feel that we must micro-manage. The objective is to increase efficiency, avoiding what is conceived of as waste or error, but this assures only one thing: mediocrity. Sadly, many of those who do the truly interesting work in any field are more and more obliged to do it outside of the mainstream.

The only possible way out of the unhappiness about the loss of meaning caused by the “tyranny of the left hemisphere” so characteristic of decomposition is, precisely, to dare to carry out one of the acts that never, in the history of our evolution, have required so much ability to use the power of the right hemisphere.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 51 ~ February 1st, 2014 ~ ~ 4 2

How Go became the favorite game of anarchists and libertarians

alan turingWhen the British Go Association proposed to fund a strategy to promote the game and comissioned a study on its image, the result was surprising: Go was described in the responses as too “difficult,” too “intellectual,” or simply “outside of reach” of the respondents. Part of this image problem could be due to the fact that its introduction in Europe and the US was led by mathematicians, physicists and engineers linked to the scientific vanguard and elite universities. Perhaps it also has something to do with how Go has ben portrayed by North American cinema: a game which even geniuses like John Nash are incapable of mastering, overwhelmed by the “chaotic nature of the universe” that the game supposedly reflects.

What’s interesting is that there’s some truth to that. Ultimately, the main precursor of the game in England was none other than Alan Turing. While directing the famous team that would decipher the Enigma machine and create Colossus, the first computer in history, he was playing almost daily. The scene of Turing studying the goban [board], or inviting others to play, became so common that today, in Bletchley Park, his old office is decorated with a board and two baskets of stones. That was where he taught a young mathematician from Oxford to play: I. J. Good, who would continue working — and playing — with Turing after the war in the famous studio in Manchester where The Baby and Mark 1, the first civilian computers, would be born.

goodHe is considered the successor to Turing’s work, and we owe Good things as important as the Fast Fourier transform, surely the most used algorithm in history. Beyond informatics and Baysian statistics, the truth is that he had an interesting life, including milestones like the first theorization of the “technological singularity” and having advised Kubrick on HAL and the information systems in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

But in reality, Good had already become popular among restless young students years before the movie, when, in his column in the New Scientist of January 21, 1965, he published an article called “The mystery of Go.” Today, the British Go Association recognizes that article as the true beginning of the spread of the game in the islands, and a whole generation of players remembers it as the starting point of their attraction to the game.

Memoirs_of_a_DervishThe curiosity awakened by the article materialized in dozens of clubs, almost all linked to university environments in which the student movements of ’68 were brewing. The famous Arabist Robert Irwin tells in his memoir how “the craze for the Japanese game of Go was at its height,” and his alter ego, Harvey, star of the moment in the “Oxford Anarchist Society” teaches him to play and use shi, the logic of encircling, as a way of approaching discussions of all kinds.

Go in May of ’68

Go is jumping from the science faculties to the social faculties, and from the islands to the continent. In 1965, a mathematics professor, Chevalley, that began playing the game because of Good’s article, teaches Jacques Roubaud to play. Roubard is one of the founders of the Oulipo group, and, though he will go down in history as a writer, a mathematician by training. Soon two more members join the group: Pierre Lusson and the great Georges Perec. Perec is captivated by the game, and in the middle of 1968, writes “The Disparition,” which uses more than a few metaphors that begin in situations on the board, and in 1969, with Lusson and Roubaud, the famous “Petit traité invitant à la découverte of l’art subtil du go.”

go-vs-chessAlthough manuals had already been published in French, the book unleashes the interest of the young French intellectuals of the times, who take Go as symbolic of otherness, of the opposite of thought of traditional power symbolized by chess.

Go becomes something alternative and cool. Even a young North American science fiction writer, Ursula K. Leguin, includes it in her latest novel, “The left hand of darkness,” winner of the Hugo award that year (and the Nebula the following year, 1970).

Years later, Deleuze and Guattari, who had seen a goban for the first time at Perec’s home, will pick up this Perecian and spirit-of-’68 idea of the otherness of Go, in one of the most important books of libertarian European thought at the end of the century, “A Thousand Plateaus” (1980):

Guattari-DeleuzeChess is a game of State, or court; the Emperor of China practiced it. Chess pieces are codified, they have an internal nature or intrinsic properties, from which their movements, their positions, their confrontations are derived. They are qualified, the horse is always a horse, the bishop a bishop, the pawn a pawn. Each one is like a subject of enunciation, gifted with a relative power; and those relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, the chess player, or the form of inner self of the game.

The pawns in Go, on the contrary, are balls, cards, simple arithmetic units, whose sole function is anonymous, collective or third-person: “It” advances — it could be man, a woman, a flea, or an elephant. The pawns in Go are the elements of a non-subjectivized mechanical agency, without intrinsic properties, but only situational. The relationships are also very different in the two cases. In their means of inwardness, the chess pieces maintain two-way relationships with each other, and with the adversary : their functions are structural. A pawn in Go, on the contrary, only has means of outwardness, or extrinsic relationships with cloudy consteallations, according to which it carries out functions of insertion or situation, like bordering, surrounding, breaking. A single pawn in Go can synchronously annihilate a whole constellation, while one chess piece cannot (or can only do it diachronically).

La vie au grand air - MagritteChess is clearly a war, but an insitutionalized, regulated, codified war, with a front, a rearguard, and battles. What is unique about Go, on the other hand, is that it is a war without battlelines, without confrontation and rearguard, and in the ultimate extreme, without battle: pure strategy, while chess is semiotics. Finally, it is not about space itself: in the case of the chess, it is a game of distributing a closed space, hence, of going from one point to another, of occupying a maximum of squares with a minimum of pieces. Go is a game of being distributed in a open space, of occupying the space, of conserving the possibility of emerging at any point: movement no longer goes from one point to another, but rather becomes perpetual, without goal or destination, without departure or arrival.

Smooth space of Go versus striated space of chess. Nomos of Go versus State of chess, nomos versus polis. Because chess codifies and decodifies space, while Go proceeds in another way, territorializing and desterritorializing it (turning the exterior into a territory in space, consolidating that territory through the construction of a second adjacent territory, deterritorializing the enemy through the internal rupture of their territory, deterritorializing oneself by retreating, going somewhere else…). Another justice, another movement, another space-time.

The Internet era

In the ’80s and ’90s, in Europe and the US, Go no longer depended on concrete people to develop. It was a minority cultural element within a minority. But that excentric and often erudite minority, almost always university-associated and technophile, was fermenting in something new: hacker culture, which, in turn, was going to shape a good part of the new world that would come with the Internet. When, in the second half of the ’90s, HTML and the newborn World Wide Web opened the tap of massive socialization of the new medium, Go gained a sudden visibility simply because the percentage of Internet users who are players is far above the average in the population.

bozulichRichard Bozulich, author of some of the best-known books on the game in the West, is a good example of that environment and that evolution. He studied at UCLA and graduated in mathematics from Berkeley in ’66. In ’68, he went to Japan, where he created his first publishing house — in English — specializing in Go, Ishi Press, which will be succeeded, in the ’90s, by Kiseido. In 2000, when the first game servers had appeared, he absorved through Kiseido, one of the pioneers go servers -Igoweb- transforming it in KGS the exchange and gaming space for Go most used by Western players. A resident of Japan, he became a go-to person in the world of online libertarian activism, in which he became involved to the point of standing as a candidate for several testimonial formations, the latest being the Personal Freedom Party. He is not the only one. By 2003, it was already relatively common to find voices that called for a “Go strategy at the libertarian fringes of Republicanism. One discussion permeated those surroundings to the point of normalizing references to the game among electoral strategists.

The go’ing insurrection

goinginsurrectionIn the insurrectionist and collectivist side of anarchism, a similar phenomenon was taking place, though with constant references to the idea of Go given by Deleuze and Guattari. In the second half of the nineties, the first groups that begin to think about Go as a metaphor to theorize libertarian alternatives that incorporate the Internet and free software into their design were already appearing. But it will be with the crisis, starting in 2010, that the strategic metaphors based on Go begin to multiply.

And thus, in November 2013, The Go’ing Insurrection appears, the little book that is fashionable among afficionados right now. Anonymously written, its title is an homage to The Arriving Insurrection (or The Coming Insurrection, depending on the translation), the famous and polemic post-Tiqqun text attributed to Joulien Coupat, to whom, however, it owes little beyond a few quotes: the idea that in politics, as in Go, territory is a relational concept, not spatial or scenic, does not begin with Coupat, but is, rather, commonplace in non-nationalist European thought since Walter Benjamin. In any case, the result is forty very suggestive pages, and recommended for anyone regardless of their ideology.

Go and the interesting life

The idea of Go as a school, or at least as a strategic language to think in terms of liberties and conflict resolution, surely has won more people over to Go than to libertarian ideas.

What’s true is that the game of Go is a terrain on which new situations and problems are constantly presented in an intellectually elegant manner. To solve them, to learn, to create knowledge for the pleasure of knowing, is doubtlessly more than enough motivation in itself. According to Desmond Morris, to learn, to discover, is the pleasure that evolution taught us to enjoy so that we would be able to adapt to the medium without having to wait millions of years to see if mutations responded better or not.

The libertarian ethos of all times has intuited that it is in that pleasure where the meaning of existence resides. So have totalitarian and paternalistic regimes of all times, of course, but they reject the frivolity of that “empty knowledge” that disperses society from the dream — their dream — of a one and only objective.

Surely that is the truth underneath the old Chinese saying that “no Go player is a bad person.” A game so abstract generates a kind of knowledge that is so hard to instrumentalize, that it necessarily raises a contradiction between the political will to impose on others, and the personal pleasure of an interesting life. You have to be a bit of an anarchist to be able to incorporate Go into your life. And if you like it because you’ve turned the desire to learn into the engine of your actions, it’s more than likely that you also have a minimalist in you, and you’re not very interested in fighting over resources or wealth with anyone.

Certainly, that pleasure in serial learning and discovery is what Desmond Morris called happiness.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish).

Alan Furth

Alan Furth 3 ~ January 27th, 2014 ~ 2

Michel Bauwens on the democratization of the means of monetization

michel bauwens speechMichel Bauwens sent us a work that will soon be published, in which he summarizes and clarifies what he sees as the possible evolution of the means of monetization in a world in which the P2P mode of production has gained strength.

[D]emonetization will be a good thing in many sectors under a regime of civic domination, we will also need new forms of monetization, and restore the feedback loop between value creation and value capture.

Netarchic capitalism, the direct result of recentralization, has established a new model of value, in which capital extracts it as an intermediary in the creation of platforms for P2P interaction between individuals, gradually renouncing its role of directly controlling information production.

So, cognitive capitalism can be said to be suffering a severe “value crisis,” in which the use value of production grows exponentially, but its exchange value grows linearly, and is almost exclusively captured by capital, giving rise to exacerbated forms of labor exploitation, especially with respect to the new informational proletariat:

It could be said that this creates a sort of “hyper-neoliberalism”… in classical neoliberalism, wages stagnate; in hyper-neoliberalism, salaried workers are replaced by isolated, and mostly precarious, freelancers.

For example, Bauwens cites preliminary studies that indicate that the average hourly wage of “digital workers” doesn’t exceed two dollars an hour, citing as a prototype of this phenomenon aggregation services like TaskRabbit, in which workers can’t communicate with each other, unlike clients.

The light at the end of the tunnel

bitcoinsIn spite of the hard reality of netarchic capitalism, Bauwens continues to highlight its transitional aspect, reminding us that this is still a period in which we’re seeing modalities of production P2P be born in all spheres of life, and of special relevance for the central topic of the essay, the creation of P2P currencies. This phase could be defined by the “value crisis,” but also is characterized by an increase in monetary diversity.

In this sense, Bauwens celebrates the growth of Bitcoin, but not for the virtues of the currency itself, since he believes it doesn’t offer a fundamental solution to the value crisis that affects the global system of netarchic capitalism; still, he sees it as an important milestone in the monetary history of mankind, demonstrating that alternative currency can constructed in a scalable way, and as the beginning of an evolution towards multiple crypto-currencies, some of which “will integrate different social values in their protocols.”

From “communism of capital” to “venture communism”

telikomIn his efforts to imagine the transition to a model in which the relations of production are not in contradiction to the evolution of the mode of production, Bauwens launches a very concrete proposal as a basic institutional mechanism for a system of political economy in which the logic of voluntary contribution that works on production based on the commons is recognized and compensated.

For this, he calls our attention to the fact that “In today’s free software economy, open licences enable logic of the commons, or technically, (each contributes what he/she can, each uses what is needed), but created a paradox: the more “communistic” the licenses, the more capitalistic the economy becomes, since it specifically allows large for-profit enterprises to realize the value of the commons in the sphere of capital accumulation. Hence, ironically, the growth of a ‘communism of capital.’”

Because of this, Bauwens proposes the replacement of the “communist” licenses with others, based on the requirement of reciprocity, such that the use of a peer production license would require a contribution to the commons in compensation to its use free, at least from for-profit companies, to allow those who work in the commons under the P2P logic to capture a part of the exchange value.

This kind of license would reinforce the autonomous initiatives of P2P producers to create market entities that would create added value based on the commons, allowing us to capture still more exchange value generated through the production of rival goods.

Among that type of initiative, Bauwens highlights the “venture communist” model proposed by Dmytri Kleiner, in which cooperatives raise capital that allows them to acquire means of production. But those means of production would belong to the commons, and be rented to the producers. At the same time, the income generated by the rent would be shared between workers, which would amount to a basic salary.

Evolution at the macro level

mirco-macroNone of these changes at the micro level would survive without important changes at the macroeconomic level, and this is where we see the relevance of Michel’s tireless work to analytically lead the way to preparing a new consensus in which broad social and ideological sectors fit.

Because it is starting from this consensus that the foundation could be laid in practice for “the maturation of monetary biodiversity regulated by a Partner State, as well as by others models of global governance that are difficult to predict at this stage.”

In this system, local and regional currencies would co-exist with business-to-business credit systems, which, organized cooperatively, and globalized in the form of phyles, would permit scaling of these currencies and credit systems, such as currently happens with Bitcoin, facilitating the capture of exchange value by P2P producers without sacrificing economies of scope, which enables globalization of the small.

To conclude, Michel discusses the role in the system of new “open-book accounting” systems, which would allow producers to register their contributions to be subjected to review by their peers, and post hoc redistribution of value co-created by them based on the statutes of the cooperatives: “These contributions would remain de-commodified, but the promise of fair value distribution would preclude any exploitation of free labor.”


In this new work, Michel continues to propose powerful ideas that not only demonstrate his capacity for synthesis, but more importantly, his capacity to articulate ideas that facilitate points of convergence between broad sectors that are sympathetic to the ideas of production based on the commons.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

las Indias19 ~ February 11th, 2014 ~ 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 Ugarte51 ~ February 7th, 2014 ~ 0

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 Indias19 ~ February 5th, 2014 ~ 0

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

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?

Steve Herrick7 ~ December 14th, 2012 ~ 2

Buscando retroalimentación sobre la traducción

¿Qué pensáis los lectores?

Hay un movimiento cooperativista vigoroso tanto en España como a lo largo de Latinoamérica. El mundo de habla inglesa, y EEUU en particular, lo desconoce (con la excepción de Mondragón). Algunos miembros de mi cooperativa (ubicada en EEUU) quiesieramos cambiar eso. Pensamos hacerlo en la forma de un e-libro con unos seis artículos escritos por académicos y participantes en el movimiento, y traducidos por nosotros. Lo venderíamos por unos US$2, y si tiene buena acogida, publicaríamos más. Varias personas me dieron donaciones generosas por mi trabajo en el Manifiesto Indiano (¡gracias de nuevo!), lo que me da la esperanza de que más personas apoyarían este esfuerzo con cantidades menores.

Mi pregunta es, ¿creéis que vale la pena crear semejante fuente de noticias para una audiencia de habla inglesa? ¿Cuáles son los temas más importantes — o, por el contrario, menos importantes?

Steve Herrick7 ~ November 19th, 2012 ~ 0

Flattr us!

On the advice of a reader, Evan, we’re beginning to integrate Flattr buttons into this site. Flattr lets you make online donations to sites you want to support — see the site for more details. The first page we’ve put a button on is the English version of the Indiano Manifesto. All contributions will go to Las Indias, although if this proves as successful as we hope, I’ll add another button, so readers in English can also support these ongoing translation efforts.

David de Ugarte51 ~ September 27th, 2012 ~ 0

The devil through the window

Club Esperantista de BilbaoSometimes, you throw the devil out the door, and he comes back in through the window. No one would suspect us “Indianos” of encouraging imagined communities. We’ve spent years working on our criticism of them, and we put out a decent text on it, and all. But then… we approached the Esperanto community, we got them worked up with the way we talked… and we annoyed them. Last Friday, three of us “Indianos” asked to become members of the historic Esperanto club of Bilbao. They rejected us. The people we met, mostly older and pretty unfamiliar with the ‘Net and our history, were afraid that we would somehow co-opt the association and use it to advance the Esperanto Urbo. If you think about it, it’s logical: we’re people whose primary source of belonging is our real community, which, in turn — thanks to the cooperative — allows us to have certain economic resources for social actions, and if there’s one thing that’s indisputable, it’s our capacity for work. The truth is that they said it in a way that came off as rather offensive. But they were right, maybe not in their logic, but in ours: what we had to do and what they offered, was to work as equals, community with community, las Indias and the club: to offer to let them participate in concrete projects, not to integrate ourselves individually and assume the imagined identity of members of a community of speakers. But we felt offended, and over the weekend, a huge debate broke out, both on our blog and on other publications in Esperanto. And, in the end, we saw it — it was our mistake: it didn’t make sense to dissolve ourselves into a real community that we don’t know (the club) in the name of a presumed common belonging, or, even worse, of the implicit acceptance on our part of what they would represent, the imagined community of speakers (Esperantio). What it’s about — and we appreciate the lesson — is working coherently on our ideas, which is to say, on the P2P mode, community with community, people with people, everyone from their own contexts, from their own traditions and values, without catching the ever-destructive virus that is accepting any imagined community.

Translated from the original (in Spanish) by Steve Herrick

David de Ugarte51 ~ September 18th, 2012 ~ 0

TEDxMadrid: Thanks!

Thank you very much, everyone. Thanks to Antonella, who saw the topic and encouraged us to tell about it at TEDxMadrid. Thanks to the whole team at TEDxMadrid, who made us all feel so comfortable. Above all, thanks for the generosity of those who listened to the talk and gave Esperanto such an exciting ovation. Thanks to Toño del Barrio and Manolo Pancorbo, who helped us polish our Esperanto and encouraged the Esperanto world from the very beginning. Special thanks, among the “Indianos,” to Manuel, who’s been a patient teacher to us all. And thanks always to Nat, without whom I wouldn’t have gotten over my fears, and who, like always, pushed us all in this adventure. Dankon!!

Translated from the original (in Spanish) by Steve Herrick

las Indias19 ~ September 15th, 2012 ~ 0

Watch the streaming of our TEDxMadrid talk live today

In few hours, as part of this year’s TEDxMadrid, David will talk about the indiano universe and the way we think. You can enjoy it live through streaming around 08:30 UTC. Click here for knowing which UTC time is now. And enjoy the talk!!

las Indias19 ~ July 28th, 2012 ~ 2

Las Indias’ new book: «The P2P mode of production»

make it coopDuring the next weeks we will be writing a new book: «La samtavolana produktadomaniero» («The P2P mode of production»). All the contents will appear in real time in its own special page. Written in Esperanto language, once finished it will be translated into English and Spanish and formated also as epub ebook. Tentative index is already uploaded including public domain declaration and the book dedication to our readers, Juan Urrutia, Michel Bauwens and Kevin Carson. We will keep you informed about new developments in this blog…


In Spanish

Nao VictoriaEl Correo de las Indias is our original blog. We use to publish everyday a couple of posts. Visit us.

El Correo de las Indias es el blog colectivo de los socios del
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