Friday, April 17, 2015

H is for Hacktivism

Over the last few decades, computers have changed the world.  Later in this challenge I'll have at least one more post about how they might continue to change our lives in the fuuuuuture, but for now I'd just like to look back.

The highly individualistic "hacker ethic" is something that's attracted manifesto writers since the early 1980s.  Combine a love of sharing and openness with pie-in-the-sky dreams about changing the world, and you've got a perfect storm of virtual optimism.  Back in 2013, I discovered some early manifestos that took the form of magazine ads.  Another early codification of this ethic was set down in writing in Steven Levy's 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution:
  1. Access to computers -- and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works -- should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative.
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust authority -- promote decentralization.
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position.
  5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.
Right about the same time, Richard Stallman (sometimes called the last of the old-school hackers) began the GNU project...

...which of course came along with its own honest to goodness manifesto.  Stallman's purpose was to use grass-roots collaboration to create quality free software that wasn't beholden to corporate interests:
I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.
It becomes more manifesto-ish when the ultimate societal goal is revealed: increasing everybody's leisure time!  :-)
In the long run, making programs free is a step toward the postscarcity world, where nobody will have to work very hard just to make a living. People will be free to devote themselves to activities that are fun, such as programming, after spending the necessary ten hours a week on required tasks such as legislation, family counseling, robot repair and asteroid prospecting. [...] We have already greatly reduced the amount of work that the whole society must do for its actual productivity, but only a little of this has translated itself into leisure for workers because much nonproductive activity is required to accompany productive activity. The main causes of this are bureaucracy and isometric struggles against competition. Free software will greatly reduce these drains in the area of software production. We must do this, in order for technical gains in productivity to translate into less work for us.
In subsequent years, Stallman came to realize that people came to have different expectations of the word "free," so some clarifications had to be made to the manifesto.
When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.”
See more details here.  I'm not sure I understand all the nuances.

Of course, a wild west mentality can produce black-hatted villains alongside the white-hatted heroes.  We're all familiar with the bad stuff that can be done with computers.  However, dipping our toes back in the original wellsprings of idealism can remind us why the wildness was (hopefully!) worth it.

No gnews is good gnews

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

G is for G'Kar

Back in the 1990s, I was a big fan of the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5.  It was a weird show... part action adventure, part philosophical and political intrigue, and part break-your-heart melodrama.  It pioneered the use of long, planned-out story-arcs that are much more common these days.  Creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski also loved him some long, eloquent speeches that could double as manifestos.

Toward the end of the series, the main characters were involved in creating a new Interstellar Alliance, to help rebuild the galaxy after some awful wars.  It was natural that they turned to the tragic, messianic figure of G'Kar to write the preamble to their new constitution.

Without further ado, let me give you G'Kar's "Declaration of Principles:"

The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim, or Minbari.
It speaks in the language of hope.
It speaks in the language of trust.
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion.
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul,
But always it is the same voice.
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born.
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one.
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star,
We are one.
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear,
We are one.
Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize this
singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another.
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost
diminishes us.

We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire
that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.

What more can I say?  In the dark days after 9/11/2001, I posted excerpts from the above on an old web page of mine.

- - -

Oh, I can say one more thing:  Another reason that I loved this phase of Babylon 5 was that the Interstellar Alliance ended up being the new home of the Rangers, an elite chivalric order of space-faring warriors.  Sorry Klingons, the Rangers were just too cool for school...

Entil'Zha veni, baby

Monday, April 13, 2015

F is for Futurism

‘Let’s go!’ I said. ‘Friends, away! Let’s go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We’re about to see the Centaur’s birth and, soon after, the first flight of Angels!… We must shake at the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges. Let’s go! Look there, on the earth, the very first dawn! There’s nothing to match the splendor of the sun’s red sword, slashing for the first time through our millennial gloom!’

Whoa... Although I had heard about the Italian Futurist movement of the first few decades of the 20th century, I'd never read Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 Futurist Manifesto.

I'm not sure why, but I feel like a better person now, for having read it.

Does it make much sense?  Not really!  The art and architecture that eventually bore the name "futurist" developed more slowly... It took a while for the raw feelings of the manifesto to gel into a distinct visual style.

The manifesto proper was a list of 11 points, embedded in the midst of Marinetti's first-person bombastic stylings.  Here are the first five:
  1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
  2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
  3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
  4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
  5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
The succeeding points took a slightly darker detour, wherein war ("the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers") was exalted and these young turks reveled in the destruction of the old (museums and libraries!).  But this was all prior to the Great War, and in some parts of Italy the weight of history can be quite heavy.  Should they be forgiven?  Maybe not -- Marinetti ended up supporting Mussolini quite strongly -- but in 1909 it was all quite honest and fresh.  Let me skip to the 11th and final item in the manifesto:
11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.
The remaining parts of the manifesto talk a lot about how the oldest of their cadre is just turning thirty, and that in ten years they expect the next generation of revolutionaries to put them out to pasture.  A bit Logan's Run I think, but again, I'm swept up by their passion.
You have objections?—Enough! Enough! We know them… We’ve understood!… Our fine deceitful intelligence tells us that we are the revival and extension of our ancestors—Perhaps!… If only it were so!—But who cares? We don’t want to understand!… Woe to anyone who says those infamous words to us again!
Lift up your heads!
Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars!

Friday, April 10, 2015

e is for edward estlin

The lower-case in the title is in honor of poet e. e. cummings, who often preferred that typographic format.  Most people wouldn't consider him in the same breath with the word "manifesto,"  but have those people ever read the introduction to his 1938 edition of Collected Poems?
The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople.

-- it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings; mostpeople are snobs.
His style takes some acclimation, but his intent is soon clear.  A quick reading might make you think he's being a bit snobbish himself, but I think the main goal is intimacy... it's just you (the reader) and him (the writer) and you've shut everyone else out of your conversation.  And the main thing he's telling you (yes, you!) is that you've got to remain open to the possibilities.
you and I are not snobs.  We can never be born enough.  We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery, the mystery of growing; the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves.  You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming.  Life, for eternal us, is now; and now is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.
Manifestos are all about a better, more intense, more real future, and he paints that into his word-picture, too.
Miracles are to come.  With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are by somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn, a human being; somebody who said to those near him, when his fingers would not hold a brush "tie it into my hand" --
I have a feeling that he's quoting some actual artist who may have said something like that.  The ultimate ginger, perhaps?  Searching the interwebs for this quote just gives me back this essay.

I referred obliquely to Doctor Who with my Van Gogh link up there.  As one gets to the end of this slightly garbled manifesto, it increasingly reminds me of the Doctor's wide-eyed, unblinking perspective on the universe...
nothing proving or sick or partial.  Nothing false, nothing difficult or easy or small or colossal.  Nothing ordinary or extraordinary, nothing emptied or filled, real or unreal; nothing feeble and known or clumsy and guessed. [...] Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and yesno, impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong; never to gain or pause, never the soft adventure of undoom, greedy anguishes and cringing ecstasies of inexistence; never to rest and never to have: only to grow.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question

Epilogue:  I couldn't have written this post -- which mentions e e cummings, intimacy, and gingers -- without thinking of something, someone very specific.  So I might as well spill the beans.  Yes, it was a girl (a redhead more ginge' than Amy Pond or Geri Halliwell) who first got me interested in this strange poet.  If I ever get back to that fiction piece that I started tinkering with last fall, you'll see her immortalized as a Nobel Prize winner.  :-)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

D is for Dorian Gray

True confession time: I've never read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I enjoyed Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest, and have heard great things about his only novel.  (Though some online plot summaries make it sound like a veritable chemistry lesson of Victorian potions and poisons.)

After the novel initially appeared serialized in a magazine, Wilde republished it in 1891, putting back in the naughty bits that the magazine censors cut out.  He also added a manifesto-like preface, which I'll include first as a verbatim page view -- to preserve his strange indenting typography -- then later call out some choice quotes.

All art is immoral, but you should still click to enlarge.

I find it a bit incoherent and dream-like, but I think that's part of Wilde's overall charm.  This preface sounds a bit like a mathematical proof, which starts out with a postulate,
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
and ends up with a conclusion,
All art is quite useless.
Q.E.D.?  But there are winding byways in between that shouldn't be missed, such as...
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
Wise words for all works of art, and for Biblical exegesis, too!  :-)

Wilde also treated this fugue-like series of propositions as a quasi-legal defense of his subject matter, which tended to go beyond the prudish norms that were supposed to constrain a respectable upper-class artist like himself...
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
My favorite part, about critical responses to art,
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.
kind of sounds like something that Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) would have said in his memorable soliloquy from the end of Pixar's Ratatouille, doesn't it?

I aim to be in accord with myself.

Monday, April 6, 2015

C is for Closer to the Heart

Long-time blog readers will know that I'm a die-hard fan of the Trio from Toronto... the Three Men of Willowdale... the prog-rock band Rush.  Their music is great, but the main draw for me has been the lyrical literature of Neil Peart.

Peart has written thousands of words of song lyrics, and tens of thousands of words in his autobiographical books.  Today, though, I'm focusing on one of his shortest songs -- and one of the few on which he collaborated with someone else on the lyrics (more on that below).  It's the opening number of Side 2 of their 1977 Farewell to Kings album, "Closer to the Heart."

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones to start
To mould a new reality
Closer to the Heart

There's certainly a manifesto-like feel to it, right?  Crafting a new reality is pretty monumental, and it makes some sense to look to the experts -- the people in the know (not necessarily the people in power) to get it started.

The Blacksmith and the Artist
Reflect it in their art
[They] Forge their creativity
Closer to the Heart

Here Neil harkens back a bit to his quasi-Objectivist roots (i.e., songs like Anthem) to sing the song of the sole auteur, reaching for lonely pinnacles of creativity.  But I think he had broadened his perspective a bit by this time, since the next verse says that

Philosophers and Ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart

I don't think he went to the opposite extreme here, despite the fact that it kind of sounds like "from each according to his ability; to each according to his need."  (And you may still be surprised that I used the letter "C" for this song and not that other famous manifesto!)  But no, it's still individuals he's championing here, and the point of "the Heart" is to work together harmoniously and freely...

You can be the Captain
I will draw the Chart
Sailing into destiny
Closer to the Heart.

Thus, I guess it's only fair that this song be one of the few lyrical collaborations that Neil Peart has undertaken.  The album credits a friend of the band named Peter Talbot with writing the first verse, and then Neil filled in the rest.  I couldn't find much about Peter Talbot online, but I did find one site that claimed he is the same person as John Michael Talbot, a wizened Christian evangelist and songwriter.

I can't vouch for the truth of it, but the timing is about right... he's close to the same age as Peart, and he put out a solo album titled A New Earth the same year that "Closer to the Heart" was written.  (Oh, and when did famous atheist Neil Peart decide to release the single?  Christmas Day 1977!)  A quick look at John Michael Talbot's life and work also conveys a mystical and visionary side, for which Neil has shown some appreciation.  Although the sentiment behind Revelations 21:1 (where "a new earth" probably comes from) is probably one with which Neil Peart doesn't agree literally, it certainly shares the renewal-vibe of this righteous manifesto of a song.

From: The Word and the Pictures, Vol. 2

Friday, April 3, 2015

B is for Ben Franklin's Virtues

After the last post's defiant anarchism, let's calm down a bit.  And there's no better guide to moderation and joviality than Poor Richard himself.

I say the above with a bit of tongue in cheek, since Benjamin Franklin had his own troubles and excesses.  But he spent a lot of his life thinking about the best way to live.  At the tender age of 20 he composed a list of 13 "virtues," and he spent many of his remaining days checking off lists to see how well he lived up to them.

FYI, I've loved the above portrait, by Joseph Duplessis, since childhood... I still have a three-ring binder with this on its glossy cover.  (Hey, it was the 70s... bicentennial fever was everywhere!)  Anyway, that subtle smirk is just so him.  The gold frame that houses this painting in the New York Met is etched with just one word of description: "VIR."  Latin for da man, of which Ben was a unique archetype.

His list of 13 virtues aren't quite an official manifesto, but I'm sure they can be as inspiring and life-changing, if put into honest practice.  Here they are:
  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
You can track them yourselves with some modern technology.  Numbers 4, 6, and 11 are particularly troublesome for me.  By the way, you may not have ever heard the word "venery" before reading number 12; I hadn't.  The primary definition is blushingly obvious, but I think it's kind of interesting that a secondary definition is "the art, act, or practice of hunting; the sports of the chase."  Ol' Ben was definitely known to enjoy that art, act, and practice.  :-)

Franklin also tried to order the hours of his days toward specific ends:

I particularly am fond of his morning question ("What good shall I do this day?") and evening question ("What good have I done to-day?").  I wish you all voluminous answers to these, if and when you ask them of yourselves.