Friday, April 22, 2005

Give me your apathetic...

...your disaffected, disenfranchised, suburban middle class yearning to make a difference!

Thomas criticizes a group of World Bank protestors over at Mile Zero. They probably deserve a great deal of his criticism, if not the vitriol. Nonetheless, I see a problem with his exhortation to go through legitimate channels in order to create change.

After all, I've seen the legitimate channels. What would we have these protestors do instead of protesting? Gather together a team of experts and interested parties for a conference? A nice dinner party with iced tea, cocktails, and some sort of free-range chicken dish with a vegan option for the animal rights conscious or simply finicky? Light entertainment afterward followed by workshops with self-important development gurus?

Those are your so-called legitimate channels - and not only can these folks not afford the price of admission (although with such nice signs I have to wonder if they do have the money...) but you have to wonder if our "convenings" are any more effective than their protests. They're certainly more boring. When you think of all the resources that are pumped in to putting together one of those development conferences and getting the attendees to the site, you can't help but ponder the irony of hundreds of people attending a five-star resort and conference center to talk about how they deplore world poverty. Telling these people to go through these channels assumes that these channels are going to create the kind of change that they wish to see. The nature of these somehow more privileged channels is, to these protestors, part of the problem, and they're partly right.

I understand that there will always be nuts out there who won't be happy with anything any authority does. I understand that being an anarchist for a day is a whole lot easier than being an activist for life. That being said, the political means available to the disenfranchised masses are always going to look less than sophisticated and be less than effective... but that's why we call them disenfranchised.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Jonathan Swift on Blogging

From Part III, Chapter 5 of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels:
The first Professor I saw was in a very large Room, with forty Pupils about him. After Salutation, observing me to look earnestly upon a Frame, which took up the greatest part of both the Length and Breadth of the Room, he said perhaps I might wonder to see him employed in a Project for improving speculative Knowledge by practical and mechanical Operations. But the World would soon be sensible of its Usefulness, and he flattered himself that a more noble exalted Thought never sprung in any other Man's Head. Every one knew how laborious the usual Method is of attaining to Arts and Sciences; whereas by his Contrivance, the most ignorant Person at a reasonable Charge, and with a little bodily Labour, may write Books in Philosophy, Poetry, Politicks, Law, Mathematicks and Theology, without the least Assistance from Genius or Study. He then led me to the Frame, about the Sides whereof all his Pupils stood in Ranks. It was twenty Foot Square, placed in the middle of the Room. The Superficies was composed of several bits of Wood, about the bigness of a Dye, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender Wires. These bits of Wood were covered on every Square with Paper pasted on them, and on these Papers were written all the Words of their Language, in their several Moods, Tenses, and Declensions, but without any Order. The Professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his Engine at Work. The Pupils at his Command took each of them hold of an Iron Handle, whereof there were fourty fixed round the Edges of the Frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole Disposition of the Words was entirely changed. He then commanded six and thirty of the Lads to read the several Lines softly as they appeared upon the Frame; and where they found three or four Words together that might make part of a Sentence, they dictated to the four remaining Boys who were Scribes. This Work was repeated three or four Times, and at every turn the Engine was so contrived that the Words shifted into new Places, as the Square bits of Wood moved upside down.

Six Hours a-day the young Students were employed in this Labour, and the Professor shewed me several Volumes in large Folio already collected, of broken Sentences, which he intended to piece together, and out of those rich Materials to give the World a compleat Body of all Arts and Sciences; which however might be still improved, and much expedited, if the Publick would raise a Fund for making and employing five hundred such Frames in Lagado, and oblige the Managers to contribute in common their several Collections. (Emphasis mine.)

Far be it from me to engage in the usual sniping about bloggers but this is a pretty fair description of the medium - a fairly primitive computing machine designed to allow anyone to put any combination of words together on art, science, politics, and theology and archive it, however broken, nonsensical, or ignorant, for anyone and everyone.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Instead of a Manifesto

When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government.

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man