Las Indias in English

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David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 76 ~ November 15th, 2014 ~ ~ 10 0

Why you should take Go to your kids’ school

jugando go
ganadora
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.

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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 76 ~ November 12th, 2014 ~ 5

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

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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.

Europe

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.”

Today

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)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 76 ~ November 4th, 2014 ~ ~ 2 0

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 76 ~ November 3rd, 2014 ~ ~ 10 0

When Go moved to the Internet

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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 rec.games.go 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.

Appendix

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 rec.games.go. “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 76 ~ October 23rd, 2014 ~ ~ 2 1

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.

Summary

  • 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

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.

las Indias

las Indias 21 ~ October 13th, 2014 ~ 0

Beyond the “sharing economy”

JUAN URRUTIA.-GIJON9.10.2014 FOTO DE P. CITOULA
When Natalia published her post about the origins of the anchovy as we know it we surely found it inspiring, and quite a few friends called us for comment. But we never imagined that the conversation it opened up and of which we would take part of, would end up mobilizing a hundred people from four continents.

darwin ancovoligoOf course, in reality the credit was not at all ours, but of our friends from Gijón, whom we had known for many years from soirees and activism initiatives with ASATA, Pensar Consulting or Periodismo Humano. A few months ago they offered us to be part of a project to revitalize the “Sharing Economy” and new forms of social economy in the Atlantic Arc, and we loved the idea. We couldn’t get Bordeaux out of our heads after the trip with Teresa Querejazu and “Open Network Bilbao,” David was arriving from OuishareFest, where he had met Neal, Matt, Albert, and Antonin, and the Edgeryders experience in Tbilisi had reaffirmed the idea that a very interesting movement was taking shape around the world.

gps-project-ancovoligoAt the time of that first meeting, the movement was still not called The Anchovie League yet, but the idea of having the anchovy as a symbol had come up already. The first encounters with Neal in California and Sharon in Australia couldn’t have been more positive. Soon we were carrying out virtual meetings all together. The idea of an activity soon turned into that of a partnership, and the names of potential partners and allies began to emerge one by one. Everyone showed great enthusiasm, and so we started working on a first encounter.

During recent weeks we the Indianos have involved ourselves with all our heart and given a hand in everything we could. But we have received much more: an amazing participatory spirit -cheerful, constructive- of all attendees, and enjoyed wonderful conversations. We could not be happier.

desayuno ancovoligoThe format of the event was especially helpful. Instead of the TED format (12 minute monologues) or the traditional succession of “powerpoints” with questions, we decided to conduct interviews as a “prologue,” -as if projecting a video but in a much more personal fashion- and center the experience on spaces conducive to establishing a direct, personal relationship between respondents and attendees. We finally found a format that embraced the P2P spirit and put it above the old liturgy of traditional events. The breakfasts at the hotel, a very nice Asturian Espicha, Malena’s wines, a thousand walks along the beaches, and the many cider houses in Gijón, broke down the divisive barriers and allowed everyone to enjoy getting to know everyone else, which was the main objective of the meeting.

espicha ancovoligoObviously the format can’t take all the credit: it was all about the spirit and the desire to share of those who came, gave meaning to the title of the event, and went “beyond the Sharing Economy” to bring together all sorts of ideas and projects with no strings attached and out of genuine generosity, giving rise to new projects which we hope to continue having news of.

As Indianos, we have many people to be thankful for: first of all, our hosts – Cris, Alex, Jacinto, Lorenzo, Javier … – they have been amazing, wonderful, dedicated, and enormously generous. But mostly for our friends that we personally invited and who came from all over: from Bilbao, Orereta, Murcia, La Coruna, Madrid, and Badajoz, but also from Bordeaux, Stockholm, Buenos Aires or Rancagua. And of course, our wonderful musical accompaniment, “GPS project,” and our interviewees: Neal, Matt, Antonin, Carlos, Jean-Pierre and Christian. And even if it sounds a bit inappropriate, a little self-referential… we want to thank Juan Urrutia for coming along, for explaining the most complex ideas with amazing clarity, for opening our minds to new worlds and strategies, and having been, as always, the first willing to listen, to socialize, and to contribute something of value for each and every one of us.

Thanks to all!! These have been wonderful, energizing, and hopeful days. Count on us in the Anchovie League always and for everything, it is the most beautiful and rewarding associative project in which we have taken part so far!

Translated by Alan Furth from the orignal in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 76 ~ October 12th, 2014 ~ ~ 10 0

For elites only?

gustos y clases de los cincuenta en eeuuOn August 1st 2014, the New York Times reflected about the cultural effects of the growing economic inequality. The article vindicates Russell Lynes,

…a brilliant [TIME] magazine editor and pop sociologist whose 1949 Harper’s essay “Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow” remains instructive and amusing to this day. Even more influential (and infinitely entertaining) was the chart it inspired, published in Life, which neatly divided American taste into four echelons, splitting the middle rank into “upper” and “lower” and identifying, with an anthropologist’s precision and an ad man’s brio, typical preferences in food, drink, clothing and art.

As noted by the article, in 1949, with World War II as a recent episode, the scholarship systems and the growing global prestige of the Ivy League consolidated the myth of the new American meritocracy. The idea was that brilliant people managed to enter expensive universities, and that passing through them enabled them to reach the higher income levels. The most “clever” became the “rich.” Their demands were crucial in the materialization of the Maslow pyramid. “Aspirational” consumption, that of the ones who like to imitate the consumption habits of those who earn higher levels of income, also starts emulating higher cultural levels. A new type of intellectual conspicuous consumption is not limited to art.

Go as an expression of the intellectual elite

Einstein y MasayoshiThe NYT article took the idea from a couple of articles on other blogs that appeared during the previous months that emphasized the role played by Go. A buzz was emerging, and the blog of the American Go Association picked it up in June. Soon the complaints from offended readers began due to the classist assumptions projected on the game. When the NYT published its article, the debate was already there. A reader noted:

At the time of the article [1949] the only places to find go in America would be in the math and physics departments of universities. My dad learned, around that time, in a science laboratory from a mimeograph of a German article, because German scholars collaborated with Japanese scholars after the Russo-Japanese war [1905].

In “The Art of playing Go” we have seen that although this claim has a basis in reality, it is not accurate. Indeed, technical-universitary collaboration brought Go to Germany, but half a century before the Russo-Japanese War. Then Edward Lasker, brother of the chess world champion at the time, promoted the first groups of American players, which were closely linked to those science university departments. An environment that, with the world war and the R & D it led to, would see more and more Central Europeans developing a passion for the game, and the propagation of the game in the sixties and seventies in libertarian environments and the culture of the new technological revolution.

Only for geniuses?

In the USA of the late forties and fifties, everything considered to be cool and highbrow had the European and intellectual touch of those engineers, physicists, and mathematicians, so it is quite natural that Go was a symbol of the intellectual elite. Some of that has come to us through movies like “A Beautiful Mind.”

Surprisingly, according to surveys performed in our time in the Anglo world, Go remains associated with those environments, and therefore is seen as too “difficult,” too “intellectual,” or simply “out of reach” of the respondents. So all the evidence about the beneficial effects of Go on the ability to calculate, the resistance to frustration, or the ability to develop goals and long-term perspective, are of little use: it only reinforces the notion that the game is an intellectual passtime for the elite.

Go Nation

go-nationMeanwhile, Go is enjoying unprecedented growth in China: Go schools are emerging all over the country, and the middle class sends their children to them en masse. Berkley anthropologist Marc L. Moskovitz spent two years immersed in Beijing’s Go milleu, from the most prestigious university departments to groups of retired workers playing in the parks. The result, “Go Nation,” is an anthropological map of the values ​​and ideas associated with Weiqi in the new China.

Again, the association between the game and elites appeared clearly in the stories, but unlike USA or Britain, in China “becoming part of the elite” that comes from the best universities is considered possible. It takes great effort, family sacrifice, hours and hours of study and bombproof tenacity. But it is achievable. And this is projected in the game.

Go is associated with elites in China as much as in the USA or Britain, the difference is how the elites are preceived in each case. In China, as a desirable place one can arrive at through hard work; that’s why Weiqi in Beijing thrives in the hundreds of schools that flourish in the city, even more than in clubs or parks. In contrast, in the USA and Europe people increasingly suspect that becoming part of the famous one percent has nothing to do with effort or self-improvement. The elites are inaccessible and incomprehensible in their closed logic. And that’s also how they think about Go.

Alternative models

pintura xi copiando clasicos chinosBut there is an even more interesting idea that is repeatedly found all through Moskovitz’s book. The game is described by interviewees as an educational tool for “values​​,” as a way to “build character” that links to deep cultural models of citizenship and masculinity.

The ideal Chinese citizen is often seen as a manifestation of the Confucian gentleman. Men whose lives were centered on knowledge, and emphasized the importance of developing an iron will and unshakable integrity. In this sense, contemporary Weiqi players learn to be that certain type of man in an uncertain world.

Consistently, dozens of the Anthropoligist’s interviewees

recount the ways in which, from an early age, they learned from Weiqi the pleasure of getting personal rewards through a sound work ethic, and to use their intellectual capacities to meet the challenges they would face as adults. They are grateful to the game for giving them intellectual tools that helped them find their place in the world, and for showing them roards that led them towards becoming better people. (…) They believe that the game teaches the right balance between aggression and restraint. They say that it is instructive on how to direct others and, in turn, how to avoid being dominated by them.

This reassurance and reinvention of the Confucian ideal is therefore also used as an alternative and as a tool for criticizing to certain degree the Anglo-Saxon discourse on success that is all the rage in the country: models of masculinity that are associated with “wu,” individualism, and initiative-based competitiveness symbolized by physical strength and which distance themselves from intellectual effort and moral integrity.

van-gulik-pinturas-eroticas-ming-51In the Chinese tradition, the intellectual (the “wen”) is considered superior to the physical, the protein (“wu”). That’s why the Chinese military and martial arts practitioners have taken great care to give an appearance of intellectuality, a “wen” dimension to their disciplines throughout the centuries. Traditionally, instead of the criticisms of “weakness,” “clumsiness,” “impracticality,” or “separation from the real world” to which the image of the intellectual has always been associated in the West, the Confucian idea of ​​the “enlightened” projects an ideal of masculinity to which values ​​like subtlety, taste, and intellectual curiosity are linked. The physique of this archetype doesn’t have big muscles, and yet, as in the case of our dear Judge Dee, represents folk heroes and well established models of beauty and masculinity. The semblance seems dissociated from physical force, and bound to forms of competition that do not involve physical, but intellectual development such as Go (in fact, Weiqi in China is regarded by the state as a sport at the same level as athletics or basketball).

rebelion boxer china en la prensa americanaOn the toher hand, when colonialism arrived in China in the 19th century, the stereotype about the West was associated with the predominance of the physical among the new visitors, the martial, the “wu.” While in the West physical strength and bravery are associated with masculinity, in traditional China the keys for “becoming a man” were associated with strength of character and intellectual refinement. Western values started to be regarded as simply barbaric.

But the “barbarians” exercised immense power, ending the imperial system forever. In a historical synthesis of sorts, the exaltation of the army, the peasantry, and the industrial proletariat that characterized Maoism tried to create a Chinese identity capable of competing with the West by placing value on the “wu.” The contradictions between this new ideal and a CCP that saw itself as a new Confucian class were not few. And of course, they were reflected in the way that Maoism related to Weiqi until the rise of Deng Xiaoping.

It seemed that the opening and rapid development of China would reinforce this “wu” and “Westernizing” trend. But China’s development has not been military, not even predominantly industrial. It has been commercial and technological. The great models of Chinese success, like Alibaba, project a different logic, different ideals of the worker, and a strong sense of community responsibility that synthesize the contemporary “nerd” with the ancient Confucian models.

This is the spirit that Moskovitz’s interviews in the areas of science and engineering at the University of Beijing exude:

The people I interviewed used Weiqi to celebrate a tireless work ethic and determined, permanent intellectual development, while also criticizing the dangers of modern society.

The “nerd” as Confusian ideal

Gu-LiNo wonder that the “nerd” stereotype of technology innovator is associated to the Confucian ideal of masculinity:

Characteristics of what in the West would be considered “nerd” (studying or working from morning to night, avoiding heavy physical activities, intimacy with parents) are components of an idealized model of masculinity in China

And if Go is a matter of “nerds” and Meritocrats in the new China, playing the game is what was missing for them to become a new avatar of the old ideals. As Moskovitz points out, Weiqi incorporates a sort of minimalist ritual in the Confucian way: from how to grab the stones to the value of silences or the greetings among players. And the closing ceremony of the matches (the loser thanks the winner for what she learned during the encounter) points to the value of knowledge as a driving force for life, typical of the archetype of the Confucian hero … and of the contemporary techy.

And this is what encourages Chinese parents to take their children to Go schools en masse: the dream that their children embrace the ideal of moral strength, determination, community responsibility, and passion for intellectual life and lifelong learning that the game inspires and its surrounding culture exalts:

The wonder is that those values are ​​associated with forming the true elite of their society, that they understand, as a student at Beijing University said, that

it’s not only rules or ways of playing, but also a set of behaviors what gives the game its meaning


Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

Alan Furth

Alan Furth 4 ~ September 28th, 2014 ~ 0

When the economic aspect is the excuse for getting together

cecosesola40aniosThe flood of bad news about the economic and political situation in Venezuela that has prevailed in recent years is overwhelming and even depressing. That’s why the case of CECOSESOLA (Central for Social Services of Lara State), surprisingly (expectedly?) ignored by the media, is a breath of fresh air, a cheerful reminder that when people decide to take responsibility to live an interesting life and cooperate to achieve this, there is nothing to stop them – even when the decomposition of the social and economic environment reaches critical levels.

Half a century of Venezuelan cooperativism

feriacecosesolaCECOSESOLA is a network of communities devoted to cooperative production spanning five states of western central Venezuela. Most of its operations are concentrated in Lara state, specially in its capital, the city of Barquisimeto (home to more than a million people), where CECOSESOLA hosts popular fairs every week through which one third of all fresh food in the city is sold, mostly produced locally by small producers – a feat in a country that today imports the vast majority of the food consumed by its inhabitants. The 31 retail spaces distributed in Lara, Trujillo, Barinas, and Yaracuy states, mobilize among all 600 tons of fruit and vegetables each week, with annual sales exceeding US$100 million. And all this at prices that despite not being subsidized in any way, are usually lower than those of the PDVAL State-owned food-shop chain.

The history of the network goes back to the early 60s, when it became necessary to create a funeral service for the ten cooperatives operating in Barquisimeto at that time, created years before by Jesuit priests linked to the Gumilla Center. Today, in addition to food distribution and funeral services (in fact, the funeral home operated by CECOSESOLA is the largest in the region), the network has expanded its activities through 50 community organizations engaged in a wide variety of activities: agriculture and small-scale agro-industrial production, household goods, savings and loans, and a holistic health center that involved an investment of three million dollars and serves, in addition to members, thousands of barquisimetanos every year at affordable prices.

That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

centrosaludBut it was in the mid-70s when CECOSESOLA underwent a profound transformation in its culture and organizational structure. And that change was the result of an experience that brought it to the brink of financial collapse.

During those years, the government launched a program intended to organize the urban public transport system cooperatively, and CECOSESOLA embraced the initiative taking a government loan to buy 127 buses.

But almost immediately the prevailing mentality in a government-administered sector began to pollute the management of the business. A large part of the cooperative’s workers were seduced by corrupt municipal authorities, and cooperated with these and local entrepreneurs on a looting operation that resulted in the forcible seizure and dismantling of the buses.

That crisis led, first, to the idea of ​​getting into the food-distribution business: they removed the seats of some of the buses they managed to recover, filled them up with vegetables, and started going around neighborhoods selling what they bought at the wholesale market, at producers’ associations, and the only agricultural cooperative that existed in the region: “La Alianza.” The success of the initiative was what allowed them to pay the debts they had contracted with the State to buy the buses.

But mostly, the disastrous episode made ​​it clear that the root of the problem resided in CECOSESOLA’s organizational structure, which by then was as hierarchical as any traditional company, and therefore capable of being exploited by internal or external actors who might capture the higher echelons of management in order to take advantage of the cooperative spirit of the rest of the members.

From then they gradually began to test a number of organizational changes until reaching an almost perfectly horizontal structure that today is characterized by several interesting features.

Spontaneus order

reunionesabiertasThe more than 20,000 CECOSESOLA associates coordinate their activities through a series of open meetings and spontaneous formation of ad-hoc working groups where the boss/subordinate figure is nowhere to be found. They define all this as “an organization in motion, whose only formal organizational body is a flexible and changing set of open meetings: get-together spaces that do not obey a previous design, and are created or disappear according to the needs of the moment.”

Equitable compensation and rotation of duties

feriacar 0021,300 of the 20,000 CECOSESOLA memebers are associate-workers receiving the same weekly anticipo, an advance on a bonus charged at the end of the year. There actually are some differences among the advances received by associates, especially when it comes to people with higher consumption needs like parents that sustain their families.

Also, almost all job posts at the cooperatives that comform the network are rotative. This not only reinforces the sense of fairness regarding the realization of tasks, ensuring that all members, regardless of their qualifications, conduct cleanup activities and others that in principle would require less skilled labor, but also celebrates and reinforces multi-specialization as a core value ​​of the community. Although highly knowledge-intensive positions that require the realization of more complex tasks rotate less frequently, all members go through virtually all positions in the organization throughout their lives. Some members learn to write while performing office tasks, and even the health center’s doctors work at some point as cashiers at food fairs.

Individual responsibility as a basis for cooperation

The concept of responsibility has a strong presence in the vocabulary of CECOSESOLA members. As expected, when people put aside the notion of authority and understand how fruitful it is to work in an environment of freedom, they assume and internalize responsibility quite naturally. It is not only understood that long-term success will depend solely on the dedication and effort of each one of the members, but constructive criticism is celebrated as a tool to improve performance and, from a pragmatic, day-to-day point of view, members assume full responsibility for the financial losses caused by mistakes as much as they enjoy the financial fruit brought about by the successes: cashiers assume missing money at the cash machines they operate during fairs, merchandise losses are assumed by the team responsible for the corresponding area, etc.

Consensus as directing principle

Another important organizational change implemented gradually from the bus-business 70’s crisis that naturally complemented horizontalization, was the overcoming of electioneering as a collective decision mechanism, and replacing it for the search for consensus.

Today, members spend approximately 25 percent of their time meeting, discussing, and reaching consensus on management. For example, the design of the holistic health center building entailed three years of debates, and food fairs are held only three days a week, in order to devote the rest of the week to deliberate on broader issues related to them.

But beyond ensuring that management, products, and services are in line with the values ​​of the community and with the desired quality, the most interesting thing about these meetings is that members see them as an end: they are open conversations that more than being the basis for management planning, are also occasions for sharing meals, experiences, and strengthening the fraternal ties that in the end are what fuels their quality of life.

Or, as explained by one of the founding members in his own words, the meetings are not subject to economic management, rather the opposite: “the economic aspect is our excuse for getting together.”

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 76 ~ September 25th, 2014 ~ 1

Separatists: migrate to continue being

Utah

For some time, I’ve wanted to edit and update all the strange stories I’d written for the first paper edition of “Phyles: From Nations to Networks,” and which in 2010, disappeared from the final edition of the “Network Trilogy.” Some, like the one dedicated to the origins of Esperantism (which would have been impossible to write without Pere Quintana‘s research) came to mind again and again while I was reading and researching contemporary movements.

nova-izrael-san-javier-urguaySo, these last few weeks, I dedicated my few free moments to it. The result is a small, short, and entertaining essay of 9,842 words: “Seperatists,” already available in html and which we will soon move to epub format in the Library of las Indias.

To rediscover “separatism” has been very interesting. In these recent years, its last avatars have evolved towards positions that no longer allow them to be classified as such. Seasteading has gone from being a foundation dedicated to making the dream of creating cities floating in international waters a reality to proposing “start up cities” to States that are discussing creating “charter cities” and “special development zones.” The movement closest to the original separatism that Zamenhof once espoused (a neutral community, with a neutral language, in a neutral place), the Esperanta Civito, is very far from proposing any kind of collective migration and is more evocative of any association for the defense of a “diasporic” culture than classical separatism.

And there’s no point even talking about attempts to create virtual countries. Following the bitter original experience, the disappearance of the recent Spanish replica less than a year after its foundation, and the similar fate of much-touted European attempts, there are few who will trust that new experiments in “digital Zionism” will amount to anything more than role-playing games. To summarize: separatism is dead.

wagontrainplains1And that’s partly why we can now enjoy the grandeur of their histories without having to focus on the miseries of one or the failures of another. If these stories have any use today, it’s as myths, as literary references. And in any case, it’s not bad to remember those who, in full effervescence of nationalism were able to advance their beliefs, their people and the desire to build a future for themselves, rather than simply accept the imagined community imposed on them by the State.

So with no need to say that, obviously, that things are very different today, I hope you enjoy Separatists.”

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

What is «las Indias»?

David de Ugarte76 ~ October 30th, 2014 ~ 4

News from Spain

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Manuel Ortega4 ~ August 24th, 2014 ~ 0

“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 Ugarte76 ~ July 26th, 2014 ~ 1

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 Ugarte76 ~ ~ July 13th, 2014 ~ 0

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

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

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

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 Ugarte76 ~ 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 Indias21 ~ 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?

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