A look into the dynamics of creation and production, subtly modifying both the almost fetishistic belief in ‘originality’ that remains dominant in Western culture, and contesting the centrality of copyright and ‘intellectual property rights’ and other artificial tolls that are some dominant in post-industrial capitalism.
Month: June 2011
On Anagorism: ‘As a free market socialist and a free market anarchist, I simply seek the kind of society Kropotkin described, in which the state is replaced by voluntary associations and federations of such associations. Whether people associate through the cash nexus, the informal economy, or the gift economy, is entirely up to them.’
African Village Uses Tech to Fight Off Rape Cult: This is mutualism in action: in the absence of even the semblance of ‘official’ State security, the enterprising people of Obo are working out ways to resist the ‘primitive accumulation State’ of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Planting Seeds of Hope: How Sustainable Activism Transformed Detroit: ‘And they lament that small dialogues—between youth and elders, between neighbors, between people of different backgrounds, and between activists from various cultural and political traditions—cannot match the force of large demonstrations involving tens of thousands. What they don’t understand is that our goal in creating Detroit Summer was to create a new kind of organization. We never intended for it to be a traditional left-wing organization agitating masses of youth to protest and demonstrate. Nor did we intend that it become a large nonprofit corporation of the sort that raises millions of dollars from government, corporations, and foundations to provide employment and services to large populations.’
Government Attempt to Get Dirt on Prominent Anti-War Blogger: Slow-creep repression of dissent. Not really surprising, though.
Consumer Group Asks Congress to Fight Catch Shares: Another instance of ‘privatization’ that is in fact a socialization of costs and a privatization of profits, favoring already powerful and wealthy entities.
Ghazali on Plants, Astrology, and Some Other Stuff
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (450-505 AH/1058-1111 AD) wrote about pretty much everything. He is best known for the work from which the translation below comes from, the Ihya Ulum-al-Din, the Revivification of the Religious Sciences; he is often referred to- not incorrectly in many respects- as the great synthesizer of Sufism and ‘mainstream’ Islam. He is also remembered for his engagement with philosophy, which included both thorough-going critiques and (sometimes unintentional) integration with his theological and mystical concerns. In this passage, drawn from volume four, book two, section four of the Ihya, Ghazali describes the operations of nature as understood through his particular reckoning of Islamic philosophy. He limits his analysis to the nourishing nature of food and where it comes from; this however leads him down several paths, including a short excursion into a critique of astrology. Most of it is pretty self-explanatory; some terms like ‘traces’ are rather technical but I think are still understandable in the context. There are a couple of spots where I was not entirely sure of the meaning- as always, suggestions for a clearer or more accurate translation are always helpful.
Know that there are many sorts of food, and that God has, in creating them, given great wonders beyond reckoning and consecutive causes without end, and the mentioning [of these things] in every food can be stretched out on end- food providing healing, pleasure, and nourishment. But let us take nourishment [as our topic], as it is the root of the rest. And let us take from all we have gathered the grain of wheat, leaving off every other nourishing thing. So we say: When you find a grain or grains, but do not eat it, but rather resolve [to save it] and so remain hungry, then what you need is for the grain to grow in itself, to increase and multiply until it meets the full measure of your need. God created in the grain of wheat potency (al-quwa), which nourishes it, just as He created in you. While He divided you up into sense and motion, unlike in a plant, He did not make you different in nourishment, because a plant is nourished by water and draws it up into its insides by means of roots/veins [the Arabic word means both roots and veins], just as you are nourished and draw up [water].
But we will not remain mentioning the means of the plant attracting nourishment to itself, but instead we will simply point out its [sources of] nourishment. So we say: Just as wood and soil do not nourish you, but rather you need specific food, likewise grain is not nourished by just anything, but rather has need of something specific. For instance: if you leave grain in your house, it will not increase, as there is nothing there for it other than air, and air alone does not suffice to nourish it. And if you leave it in water it will not increase, and if you leave it in land without water it will not increase. On the contrary, whenever earth has water in it, its water mixes with the earth making mud, and this is pointed to in His words: ‘Let man look to his food: We pour out water, then we split the earth, and we plant in it seed: grapes, herbs, olive trees, palms…’ et al. However, water and dirt do not by themselves suffice. If you leave it in damp, hard, packed earth, it will not sprout due to the lack of air. It needs to be left in in ground that is stirred up, worked loose, so that air can penetrate it. But then air cannot move to it by itself, so it needs winds to move the air, and to strike with power and force upon the ground until it penetrates it- and this is pointed out in His words: ‘We send vivifying winds.’ Verily, their vivification is in the occurrence of the coupling of air, water, and earth. But all of that does not profit you if it is excessively cold or in wintertime, but rather the seed needs the heat of spring or summer.
So, inasmuch as its nourishment needs these four conditions, see what it needs of each one: if it needs for water to be led to agricultural land from large rivers, springs, and streams, then see how God created large rivers, gushing of springs, and streams flowing from them. But perhaps the land is elevated and water does not rise to it- then see how God- exalted is He- created clouds and how He directs the winds upon them in order to lead them, by His permitting, over the quarters of the earth (they are the rain-bearing clouds). Then see how He sends rain-bearing clouds over the earth during the spring and fall, according to need, and see how He created mountains conserving water, springs flowing out of them gradually- for if they burst out suddenly, then the lands [below] would be flooded, and the crops and cattle would be destroyed. And it is not possible to enumerate all of the graces of God in mountains, clouds, rivers, and rain.
And as for heat, it does not arise by means of water and earth- rather both are cold, so see how the sun dawns and how He created it distant from the earth, warming the earth at times and not at others, so that cold arises according to need for cold, and heat arises according to need for heat. And this is but one of the wise matters concerning the sun- the wisdom evident in it is more than can be reckoned. Then the plant, when it rises from the earth, the fruit becomes congealed and hardened, so that it requires moist softness in order to ripen. So see how He created the moon and made among its specialties the capacity of making moist and soft, just as He made among the sun’s specialties the capacity of heating. So it [the moon] ripens fruit and transforms it, through the power of the Wise Creator. And because of that, if there were trees giving off shade which blocked the shining of the sun, the moon, and all the stars, then they would rot and decrease, just as small trees rot if large trees overshadow them. And you can know the moist softness of the moon in that if you uncover your head at night, then moisture that passes over from it through clouds will alight on you head. And just as your head is moistened, so fruits are also. But we will not linger, as we do not here desire a deeper investigation.
Rather, we say: every star in the heaven manifests some sort of benefit, just as the sun manifests heat and the moon moistness, and not one of them desists from great wisdom which the power of man is incapable of enumerating. And were it not so, then He created them as jest and emptiness, and His words would not be sound: ‘Our Lord did not create this in vain,’ and His words, ‘We did not create the heavens and the earth and is between them in vain.’ And just as there is not in the limbs of your body any without use, so is there none among the limbs of the earth a limb without use. And the whole world is as a single person, and the units of its bodies are like limbs- the limbs of your body are mutually reinforcing and aiding in the whole of your body, and the explication of that is lengthy. And it not seemly for you to speculate; rather, faith [holds] that the stars and sun and moon are subject to the command of God, glorified is He, in occasions which were made as means of wisdom. The differing with Revelation is under the heading of prohibition against the belief of the astrologers and the ‘knowledge of the stars.’ Rather, the prohibition against faith in the stars is twofold: One: that you believe that they are the doers of the actions, independent in them, and that they are not subservient to the power of a Director which created and controls them- and this is unbelief. Second: the belief of the astrologers in the detailed description of what they report regarding the traces which are not comprehended by the whole of creation, for they say that out of ignorance. And know that the precision of the stars is deficient before but one of the Prophets, upon them be peace. Then that knowledge is obliterated and does not subsist until it is unmixed, the right in it not being distinguished from the wrong. So belief that the stars are a means for traces which occur through the creating of God, exalted is He, in the earth, plants, and animals- [this belief] is not repugnant to religion, but on the contrary is truth. However, the allegation of knowledge by means of these traces regarding unknown particularities is repugnant to religion. And that is as if you had a garment that you washed and wished to dry out, and someone said to you: Take your garment out and spread it out, and the sun will rise and the day and the air will become hot- his deceit is not thrust upon you, and attribution of wrongdoing by the speaker is not incumbent upon you through his assignment of the heating of the day and air. And if you ask someone about the change of his face and he says: The sun beat down on me in the road, and my face was darkened- he is not being deceitful towards you.
And so it is with all the traces, other than that some of the traces are known, and some unknown. As for those which are unknown, it is impossible to allege knowledge in them, while of those which are known, some are known to everyone, like the occurrence of light and heat through the rising of the sun, while others are limited to some people, like the occurrence of dew through the rising of the moon. Therefore, the stars were not created in jest; on the contrary in them is abundant wisdom beyond enumeration. For this reason, the Prophet of God, upon whom be peace and prayer, looked to the heavens and recited His words: ‘Our Lord did not create them in vain- Glory to You! Deliver us from the torment of the Fire.’ Then Muhammad said, ‘Woe to the one who recites this verse, then wipes his moustache with it’- meaning that one would recite but abandon further contemplation, limiting his understanding of the realms of heaven to knowing the color of the sky and the shining of the stars- things even the beasts know. So the one who is content in knowledge of that is ‘the one who wipes his moustache’ with the verse. But God- exalted is He!- possesses in the realms of the heavens, the stars, people, and animals wonders which those who love God seek to know.
Whoever loves a certain knowledgeable person, he does not cease being occupied in seeking out his writings, in order to increase in the full measure of understanding regarding his wonders out of love for him. It is likewise regarding the craftsmanship of God, exalted is He: verily, the entire world is of His composition; indeed, the composition of writers is from His composition, which He composes by means of the hearts of His servants. Are you amazed over the composition but not amazed at the composer? On the contrary, whoever makes the composer subject to his composition according to what benefits him in guidance, payment, and knowledge, it is as if you thought that it was the playthings of the juggler that were themselves dancing and moving in rhythmic, proportionate movements. But in fact you do not marvel at the playthings- they are clumsy things, without motion- rather, you marvel at the skill of the juggler, moving them through subtle connections hidden from sight. Likewise, the nourishing of plants is not accomplished save through water, air, sun, moon, and stars, nor is that accomplished save through the celestial spheres in which they are embedded. Nor are the celestial spheres complete save through their motion, and their motion is not complete save through the celestial angelic beings which set them in motion. And so the mention of the distant causes could be extended, but we will leave off their mention, letting what we have mentioned clarify whatever we have neglected- so let us confine mention of causes to the nourishing of plants.
Yes, It is a Police State: ‘Since 9/11 the biggest threat to the American people is not radical Muslim terrorists, nor deranged domestic terrorists, but the terrorists with the blue uniforms, badges, and body armor. Their weapons of mass destruction are not bombs, but state-approved guns, latex-gloved hands, and a profound disregard for our rights. Until we stand up and say, “Enough!”these terrorists will keep winning and our rights will continue to be lost.’
A Trojan Horse in ‘Higher Education’: Nothing terribly new here, but still good analysis with considerable justified heat: ‘higher ed’ as we know it has long been a racket, the dual streams of state and big capital flowing in and out of the academy, leaving it in ruins.
Prison Break: ‘Certainly the incarceration of people who have violated no rights is an important part of America’s prison problem. But I don’t think that covers all of it. There are also moral problems, I think, with the incarceration of rights-violators — which means that high incarceration rates are going to be something worth complaining about even when the prisoners are guilty as hell.’
‘Public Service?’ I’m Taking my Business Elsewhere: It’s not the sort of service anyone needs; it’s certainly not indispensable as our progressive friends seem to think.
U.S. Special Ops Troops Deployed in Mexico, Leaked Briefing Confirms: Not really all that surprising.
When Only the ‘Crazies’ See the Bank Bailout for What it Is: A good leftist review of one of the American State’s most spectacular interventions on behalf of financial ‘capital’ (one hesitates to call it capital, which implies something substantial…): ‘From the outset in 2009, the Obama Plan has been to re-inflate the Bubble Economy by providing yet more credit (that is, debt) to bid housing and commercial real estate prices back up to pre-crash levels, not to bring debts down to the economy’s ability to pay. The result is debt deflation for the economy at large and rising unemployment – but enrichment of the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population as economies have become even more financialized.’
Dialogue With a Young Communist: A good overview of market anarchism and its relationship with other forms of libertarian thought and praxis.
Budd on the Fourth Amendment, The Home, and the Poor: The welfare-warfare State never acts with mere benevolence. Welfare is as much a device of control as anything else; in this case through acts of supervision and invasion of privacy.
Hayek in Tuscaloosa: Market anarchy at work: not individualistic scrambling for gain and advantage over one’s neighbors, but voluntaristic and mutualistic working together for common good- without a central entity with coercive force directing and compelling everyone. Examples like this are one of the most potent counter-arguments to statists who argue for the necessity of a strong and omnipresent State, or any State at all for that matter. This is not an isolated example, either: read stories from the tornado outbreak in the Midwest, or go back to stories from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. Order did not in fact break down (there was no epidemic of rape and murder and such in the Superdome, for instance, despite fevered media reports); if anything, order and social cohesion increase in these situations.
Mom-and-Pop Stores vs. Big-Box Stores in the Food Desert: ‘Unfortunately, we will get what we measure. The $400 million that the Obama administration has set aside to create greater food access in these so-called food deserts will likely go to attracting full-service grocery franchises that heap upon our children megatons of empty calories like those in high-fructose corn syrup and corn oil — yes, the very products that emerge from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s own great state of Iowa. But the profits made in those big-box stores will drain away from our neighborhoods and communities, bound for distant corporate headquarters, further impoverishing most food producers and consumers.’
Practical Rules, Strategies, and Tactics For Building a Civilization of Life and Love: Older but good. ‘How to build a just and sustainable society within the shell of the collapsing ruins of the old unjust and unsustainable culture of death and its associated structures of sin and violence. This is a non violent little way of justice and peace.’
Even When He Chatters a Lot
One can never be faulted who speaks of Love and Beauty,
For however far his speaking goes, it will never reach the end.
A child speaks to his parent with love,
While his father listens affectionately to all that he says to him.
And when he hears the questions that are posed to him,
He accepts them just as if someone were speaking of serious things.
Even when he chatters a lot without making clear what he is saying,
He is happier with his speech than he would be the speech of philosophers.
So I, like the child before his father,
I am going to speak now before God with great love.
Now I am going to speak, and if I say too little- oh, I will not say too little!
For it is easier for love to speak too much, as much as it desires!
Jacob of Serug (d. 521), Homily on the Judgment of Solomon, ll. 37-48, trans. by Stephen A. Kaufman
Distance From You is Death and Nearness to You is Life
The world confines us when You are absent from us,
And our souls abandon us because of desire.
Distance from You is death and nearness to You is life,
Were You absent for but the moment of a breath we would die.
Far from You we die and in nearness to You we live,
And if good tidings of reunion reach us from You we revive.
We remain alive in remembrance of You when we do not see You,
For only remembrance of the Beloved enlivens us.
Were it not for the quintessence of You that our hearts perceive,
In wakefulness or sleep, when we are absent,
We would surely die from grieving and yearning out of separation from You;
Yet, in reality, Your essence is within us.
Remembrance motivates us without need for word of You;
Were it not because of the desire for You within us our limbs would not move.
So say to one who would forbid ecstasy from those who experience it,
‘If you have not tasted the draught of Desire with us, be off!
‘When souls tremble, desirous of reunion,
‘Even phantoms dance, oh uncomprehending one!’
Do you not see how a cage bird, oh youth,
Breaks into song when it recalls its ancestral home?
With its chirping that which is in its heart bursts forth,
And its extremities are agitated with feeling and spirit.
It dances in the cage, desirous of reunion,
So that even sentient beings are moved when it sings.
Such are the souls of lovers, oh youth,
Desires propel them to the most sublime world.
Are we to force patience upon souls when they are enraptured?
Is one who has perceived the Quintessence able to be patient?
If you have not tasted the desire that true human beings have tasted,
Then by God, oh empty husk, do not defame us!
Concede to us what we advocate, for
When our desires overcome us we are likely to cry aloud.
Our hearts vibrate during sessions of invocation,
And when we cannot hide our ecstasies we lose control.
In the Divine Mystery are fine and subtle secrets
That perceptibly surrounds us. If only we could utter them!
Oh Distractors of Lovers, arise and openly proclaim!
Fill us to the brim and refresh us with the Name of the Beloved!
Because of our gratitude, preserve our secret from those who envy us,
And if Your eyes disapprove of something, then forgive us.
When we have become light-headed and carefree,
And the wine of Love intoxicates us, we are exposed.
Do not blame the drunkard for his state of drunkenness,
For in our drunkenness we have been absolved of responsibility.
Abu Madyan Shu’ayb ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari (1115-1198), Qasida in Nun, trans. By Vincent J. Cornell