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15 December 2008

Ritual and Power in U.S. Elections



In my last post I put up a Wordle of Barack Obama's DNC acceptance speech, and I said I'd explain why later. The following is an excerpt from a paper that I recently wrote for my Intro. to Cultural Anthropology class on the ritual purpose of the presidential election. In it I analyzed the role of ritual in the election process from an anthropological standpoint. Essentially, I found that the function of the election ritual is to renew our vision of America and our sense of national identity. However, looking deeper, I found another explanation as well - it's still largely in the philosophical stage, but it's an interesting approach that I hope to pursue further someday.
Let me know what you think - perhaps a little discussion will help me flesh these ideas out a bit more.


Ritual, Values, and the Oppression of the American People

For those of us who view the world with a more cynical eye, the election ritual can present another, somewhat more sinister face. Behind the ritual sociodramas in which values and ideals compete for dominance, lies another motivation: the pacification of the American people, and the redirection of energy for change into a predictable and institutionalized format. This is accomplished through the ritual performances in a sort of symbolic slight of hand. Following his own unique interpretation of Marxist economics, David Graeber argues that value which is created in the domestic or industrial spheres – that is, either human beings or useful goods – is co-opted by the economic elite through the symbolic manipulation of money (Graeber 2001). Money is an abstraction and reification of value, and it obscures the human relationships involved in the creation of that value (Graeber 2001). Many economic interactions are highly ritualized themselves, and it is through these transactions that the economic elite is able to manipulate value in the abstracted form of money (Graeber 2001). A similar thing can be said to occur in the election and other political rituals. The symbolic values that politicians project and manipulate in the ritual theater are abstracted and reified forms of values that were created in the mundane world of ordinary human relationships (i.e., family values, community, hope, freedom, prosperity, democracy, compassion). These ordinary human relationships are obscured by the abstracted values, and politicians can claim those values as their own and offer them back to us in exchange for votes, service, and loyalty, despite the fact that we were the ones who created them in the first place. This effectively usurps our ability to take initiative to implement values on our own because we think the politicians will do it for us. That's not to say that all politicians are malicious and consciously try to disempower the people. For the most part they are merely taking advantage of a structure that has been in place for a long time to achieve other ends – the pursuit of personal status, power, money, or even out of a genuine desire to make America a better place.
In this election, the recurring theme was change, and both candidates took on that mantle for themselves. Indeed, the desire for change has permeated American society in recent years, to the point where even supporters of the Bush administration are uneasy. However, by symbolically identifying themselves with the abstracted value of change through the medium of ritual, both Obama and McCain have implied that they are the change for which Americans have been searching. Obama was the candidate who projected this value most effectively, and this, more than anything, got people out of their houses and into the voting booth resulting in the highest voter turnout in 40 years and a win for Obama. However, the president is not a miracle worker, and the legislative process is extremely slow and conservative; even if Obama wanted to implement real changes, it's doubtful that he would be able to.
Certainly, there will be differences between Obama's administration and that of George W. Bush, but the kinds of deep structural changes that many people have been hoping for are not likely to happen under Obama. Obama himself hinted at this in the days following the election, when he downplayed the hope that had permeated his campaign until then, and his choices for the leaders of his administration are anything but signs of change. Real, substantial change in the fabric of American society does not come from the government or elected officials, it comes from ordinary people taking a stand for their values. This was the case in the civil rights movement, in the women's suffrage movement, in the anti-war movement, even in the Revolutionary War itself – they may have ultimately resulted in legislative changes, but they were all started by ordinary people and ordinary actions. It remains to be seen if the current desire for change will bear fruit, but it certainly won't if people believe that electing Obama President is the change they were seeking.

07 December 2008

New Toy



So I found this new toy - Wordle - a while back, but I've only just had a chance to play around with it for myself. Basically it's a tool that creates an artistic looking word cloud from any text you enter. That is, it counts the words in the text and shows the frequency the words by their size in the image. Then it arranges them randomly on the page - and you can change the colors, font, style, etc. - to make it look the way you want it. Above I have a wordle that I created using the text of Barack Obama's DNC speech (I'll explain why later). And this one is a wordle of this here blog of mine. Fun stuff - let's see what you guys can come up with!

23 September 2008

Dismantling

Apparently some Green Peace folks in the U.K. have already begun the work of dismantling power structures - literally! (click on title of this post for the full article). I'm always encouraged when I hear about this kind of revolutionary action - not guns and bombs and vanguardism, but a decentralized group taking action to make the world a cleaner and healthier place. It's also encouraging that they were able to exploit a loop-hole in the British legal system and get off - it's too bad we don't have such a loop-hole here in the States, but that shouldn't stop us.

06 September 2008

On Voting

Why I Vote
Some of you who know me or who have been reading this blog on a regular basis may be asking yourselves why I don't give up on the U.S. Political system all together or why, as an avowed anarchist, I continue to vote. It's really very simple. As far as I'm concerned, we need to use every tool for change that we have no matter how seemingly useless and ineffective it may be. Not casting a vote, even as a form of protest, doesn't do anything to change the status quo. Those who refuse to vote are merely lumped together as people who simply don't care and their silence causes no stir in the vast political machinery. By voting, on the other hand, I can at least put my voice into the din, knowing full well that it won't get heard, but perhaps having some minor effect.

A Brief Interlude
In his sociological study of the Holocaust (Modernity and the Holocaust), Zygmunt Baumann found that the Nazis used a peculiar, but ingenious tactic to get the Jews to do what they wanted. Rather than simply forcing them to move to ghettos, turn in their comrads, pack themselves onto cattle cars, and walk quietly into the death showers, the Nazis offered them choices. "You can either move to ghettoes, or we'll destroy you all." "You can either turn in a few of your comrads or we'll destroy you all." "You can either get on the cattle cars or we'll destroy you all." "You can either walk quietly into the shower or we'll destroy you all." And so by continually choosing the "least bad" option, the Jewish people were lead to their own slaughter.

Why I Vote the Way I Do
Having explained why I choose to vote, let me go on to explain why I vote the way I do. I refuse to vote for either of the two major parties (Democrats and Republicans). The reason is that they are both heavily invested in the status quo. Barack claims to be the agent of change and hope, but I seriously doubt it - you can't get as high as he has in the Democratic party if you're trying to stir up waves (just look at Cynthia McKinney and Dennis Kucinich). I want to see some serious changes made in this country, and I think that there are a lot more people out there who feel the same as me. The problem is that most people have been lead into believing that they have to vote for the "least bad" candidate so that life will at least be reasonable for a little while.
In this election I will vote for the Green party. I don't expect McKinney to win, but I hope that she will at least get the 5% of the vote that she needs to get the Green Party status as a major party in the U.S. If that happens, then they get access to government funding, and they will have to be admitted to the debates. We will finally have a multiple party system with a genuinely viable option for change. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want this to happen, so they have done everything they can to prevent it - including passing laws to limit third party funding. It's time to realize that the Democrats will not give us what we want (corporate accountability, national health care, sound environmental policy, etc.), they are just as heavily nvested in the economic system as the Republicans. The only difference between the two is that the Democrats are willing to make some minor concessions to keep us happy.

Refrain
A very few Jews during the Holocaust realized that there was a third option. Instead of choosing the "least bad" choice that was presented to them by the Nazis, they choose not to comply - even to fight. Now I'm not saying that the Democrats and the Republicans are Nazis - it's an extreme example of a common situation. What I'm saying is that if we continue to simply choose the "least bad" of the choices that are put in front of us then we are going to march ourselves right into our own demise. We have to stand up, we have to fight, and we can't be afraid to use every single tool we have to make some real changes.

30 August 2008

Choices

Everyday we make choices. Sometimes Choices are made for us. But we have no way of knowing how those choices will play out in the long run - we can only guess. We try to make the best choices we can or to deal with things in the best way possible, but we can only hope that what we think is going to happen actually happens.
In reality, there's nothing we can do. We make our choices and we deal with the consequences - good or bad. For the most part, life goes up and down - there are good times and bad times no matter what choices we make. Really, our choices only determine the particular character of the good and bad times, not the actual quality of the times. We can't really choose the good over the bad because we can't know for sure how things will play out.
So we go through life. That's all we can do. We make our choices, based mostly on what we want right here and now or on some vague sense of what we'll want for the future. We deal with the consequences. That's all there is to it. It's not beautiful. It's not deep. It's not philosophical. It is what it is and nothing more. The End. Happy Friday!

24 August 2008

Economics

I'm going to make a bold statement here. It's something that has seemed obvious to me for a long time, but looking at the currents of economic theory and the dominant economic model in the world today (i.e. neolibealism) it seems to be far less obvious than I had thought. I'm going to call it Jeremy Trombley's Economic Principle No. 1. It's likely the only economic principle I'll ever declare, but it's so fundamental, in my opinion, that it's the only economic principle anyone ever needs to understand in order to create a balanced economic system.
So, without further ado, here it is...get your pens and pencils ready because this is it!

Jeremy Trombley's Economic Principle No. 1

Wealth may "trickle down", but it fucking FLOWS upward!

I can't wait to write my textbook! :)
Doesn't that seem obvious to you? I mean, how much simpler can it get? If you give $1000 to the wealthiest person in the U.S., what's going to happen to that money? It's going to go into a bank account or an investment portfolio and merely add to the monetary value of that individual's assets. On the other hand, if you give that same $1000 to the poorest person in the U.S. and allow them to spend it on anything they want to - whether it's a car, rent, bills, drugs, alcohol, or whatever - what happens then? That $1000 is going to pass through hundreds, even thousands, of different hands as it makes its way toward the top of the wealth ladder - as the people above are always trying (and succeeding) to grab money from those below them. What's more, on its way up that $1000 is enriching every person that it comes in contact with. Every person who touches one of those dollars is a little better off than they were before. So, in effect, that $1000 becomes tens, hundreds, or thousands of thousands of dollars! Not only that, but every transaction that that money goes through is going to generate tax revenue for the city, state and the country which can be used to further enrich the nation as a whole if used properly.
Unfortunately, I don't have concrete data to back up these claims - it would be interesting to get, though. It would be a fairly simple study of the flow of money, but as far as I know, no-one has conducted such a study yet. However, despite this lack of data, I feel quite confident in espounding my principle and the resulting economic theory.
The central idea is that there has to be some redistributive structure built into any economic system. Without such a structure, wealth becomes concentrated and concentrations of wealth create an unhealthy and unstable economy. In tribal groups, redistribution occurs through the economy of gift giving and through prestige granted through generosity. More complex societies, such as cheifdoms and proto-states funnel wealth through a centralized redistributive structure - namely the chief or the emperor.
Laissez-Faire
Capitalism lacks any such redistributive structure - theoretically relying on the "invisible hand" of the market to distribute wealth efficiently. Realistically (because true Laissez-Faire Capitalism has never and can never exist), in a modern nation state it is the responsibility of the government to provide for the redistribution of wealth through taxation and the funding of public projects that benefit everyone. What's happened recently, as a result of the dominance of neoliberal economic theory (which is essentially a revival of the concept of Laissez-Faire Capitalism), is the creation of a corporate welfare economy. Instead of using tax revenue to provide for the public good, the government has directed that money toward enriching corporate entities in the skewed notion that this will in turn benefit everyone. However, knowing Jeremy Trombley's Economic Principle No. 1 we can see that this is not the case - it may benefit some people, mostly those at the very top of the economic ladder, but certainly not everyone.
In my opinion, since we live in a nation state and taxes are our primary form of wealth redistribution, all tax money should go to benefit First and Foremost those at the very bottom of our economic system. This will, in turn, benefit everyone above as the money makes its way up the ladder.

03 August 2008

Eva


It was almost exactly two years ago. Man, it seems like so much longer than that. That was when I met my Goddess, my dream girl, the one I'll always want, but can never have - Eva. But, wait, some background first.
I was about four months out of a really tough relationship. Don't get me wrong, I loved Jill, passionately. Loved her more than anyone before and probably since. Loved her so much that I lost all sense of myself. It was a disaster from the start.
I had been planning a trip abroad, my first ever, for a little while. First it was to be Belize, but when that fell through I set my sights on Peru. I pulled together the money, with a little help from my family, and in the middle of August I was off.
The plane flew all night and into the morning. I don't remember whether or not I slept - probably a little bit - but in any case I was tired when I arrived. When I got to the hostel in Lima where I would spend the first night it was only about 10 AM - I breakfasted on a hamburger bought at a small stand on the way and then went upstairs to my room and passed out.
I can't remember how long I was actually asleep, but it couldn't have been too much time because I still had the whole day ahead of me. I grabbed a book, and rather than sitting alone in my room, I went down to the living room and read on the couch.
That was the first time I saw her. I looked up from my book over to the computer. She turned and looked at me and I was caught by the two bright sapphires the glowed beneath her ebony hair. I tried to go back to reading my book, but could not resist looking back up at her only to see her looking back at me. She actually noticed me, saw me, and seemed to want me to come to her. However, being too shy, I let her go. Eventually, she drifted back up the stairs and disappeared into one of the rooms.
Shortly after she came back down with a friend of hers. I was on my way up, but she stopped me. SHE approached ME! She said they were going to go to the beach, would I like to come along? Sure, I said. I ran upstairs, put my book away and went back down to her, shocked that she would even recognize my existence.
On the walk to the beach we all talked, the three of us. There was a bit of a language barrier. I learned that Eva was a French Basque - she spoke French, of course and fluent Spanish, but was embarrassed by the little English she knew. I spoke only a very small amount of Spanish, and so we spent most of the time talking to and through the other girl who spoke fluent English, Spanish, French and German. I didn't care, though. When we got to the beach Eva shared her towel with me. She read for a little while and then we talked. I told her that I was studying anthropology and she told me about her fascination with ancient relics, and museums. The more we talked the more I felt her come down to my level - she was just a woman, a beautiful woman, but someone I could talk to, someone I could see myself spending time with, someone who would care about me. The three of us spent the rest of the evening walking around Lima and then returned to the hostel and watched Harry Potter in French with English subtitles.
The next day I had to leave, to go to Huancayo where I would spend the next month teaching young children and living with a Peruvian family. I saw her one last time before I left. I was on the computer checking my email, she was leaving to go to the museum in Lima. She said goodbye, wished me well on my trip and kissed my cheek. I kissed her cheek, a standard salutation in Latin America and Europe, but in that moment it was ecstasy for me - to feel her soft skin on my lips.
I never saw her again. I have no way of contacting her, no way of knowing what ever happened to her. She was in my life for an instant - washed all trace of Jill from my mind, like one of those magical cleaners you see on TV that get out any stain - and then she was gone. But I'll always remember her, for her beauty, for her humanness, and for showing me that life does go on. I can never have her, but she will always be mine.

30 June 2008

Happy 10K Day to Me

Well, today is my 10,000th day on this planet - quite an achievement in some respects. I had hoped to make a big deal about it; get some friends together, have a party, maybe brew some chicha, etc. But things just didn't work out this time. C'est la vie. Maybe it will work out better for my 15K day (when I'm about 40 years old, I suspect).
In any case, I'm thinking of all of you, my friends, and I hope you're having a wonderful Summer.

28 June 2008

Independence is a Lie


I'm getting really sick of hearing about this value we have in the US of independence. People are supposed to be independent, conjuring up the old rugged individualism fantasies that our nation was built on. The problem is that nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, is truly independent. Everyone needs something from somebody at some point in their lives whether it's a home cooked meal, a piece of clothing, reassurance, love, or a kind smile.
The only reason that we're able to see ourselves as independent is that our social relations have become so abstracted - you need a new shirt? Just go down to the shirt store and buy one. You don't have to know who made it, where it was made, what the working conditions were like, how much they were paid, or anything. All you need to know is how much cash to put down to claim it as your own.
Not too long ago, and you can still see this many places around the world, families - parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, etc. - lived together all in the same house or close by. They took care of each other when life was rough, they played together, they worked together, they dreamed, laughed and cried together. But now, here in the US, we live in a fragmented world. If we live with our parents into our twenties then there's something wrong with us. In a relationship, if we show our partner that we need them and act vulnerable then, again, there's something wrong with us and we risk driving the other person away because we threaten their own sense of independence.
It's an illusion anyway, though. We can never separate ourselves from the people around us and everyone needs some kind of social support. The strongest, most confident, most apparently independent people are that way precisely because they have that underlying social network to hold them up.
I would like to hear less talk of independence and more of caring and helping, of supporting each other rather than leaving each to his or herself to deal with the vagaries of life on their own. We need more dependence and less independence.
PS - sorry this post is a little rough - it's kind of off the cuff.

25 June 2008

Shameless Self Promotion Wednesday

The past month or so I've been visiting the Rad Geek website (on the links list) every Sunday to post about my latest blog entries on their "Shameless Self Promotion Sundays." I like the idea so much that I've decided to give it a try here, but on Wednesdays so I don't compete with the Rad Geek. Basically, anyone who wants to can leave a brief description of their latest work and a link to their website in order to catch other people's interest. I'll try it out for a couple of weeks, and see what kind of response I get. So let us all know what you've been up to!

20 June 2008

The Story of Stuff


I meant to post this video a few months ago with some of my own thoughts on consumerism and our culture of consumption, but I was busy and never got it together enough to post. In the last month of posts I've addressed most of the issues that I wanted to originally - the filling of needs, abstractionism versus materialism, and feedback systems (covered in the Bateson post) - so I'm not going to rehash those here. I just want to point out, with regard to the linear system that she illustrates, that linear systems like that are generally very rare or non-existent in the real world. Every relationship involves feedback. The video is a good, concise explanation of the consumer system, and I just wanted to share it with all of you. I hope you enjoy it (click on the graphic above to view it).

15 June 2008

Gregory Bateson


Even for an anthropology student, at least at the undergraduate level, I'm pretty familiar with most anthropological theory and the major players in the field. I'm not bragging about how smart or dedicated I am, just pointing out how pathetic my life is. There is no-one, though, who impresses me more than Gregory Bateson. His ideas and the way he viewed the world were truly unique, and, as a result of his idiosyncratic vision he was able to lay the foundation for a vast theoretical framework which has gone largely unappreciated so far. Here I would like to introduce you all to some of his ideas in a very basic way and direct you to further readings to find out more. I really believe that, if we were to use some of the analytical tools that he developed, and apply them to our own society, then we would have a better understanding of how to proceed toward a sustainable future.
I first encountered Bateson when I was a teenager. One of my high school teachers recommended his books to me on a regular basis, particularly Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. I picked up copies of both at one time and tried to read them, but back then it just seemed like overly scientific chatter - I had no idea what he was saying, and the little I did understand seemed uninteresting to me. Things have changed since that time, though. Just as a side thought, it seems to me that I am a completely different person than I was just a short while ago - so much so that I really think that I've been replaced by somebody else, and that my memories were engineered to give me the illusion of continuity. That might make a good sci-fi story at some point, but for now, on with Bateson. Recently, when I picked up Bateson again (because I had been coming across references to him fairly frequently) I found him far more readable and much more interesting than I had before. It's true that he does use a lot of scientific or simply obscure terminology, but if you're willing to do some work push through all of that then there are some significant rewards. Here are just a few of his ideas, as I interpret them, which are revolutionary to say the least.

Logical Types
Bateson didn't invent the idea of logical types - it's actually been around in western philosophy for a long time. The most prominent explication of the concept was written in the early twentieth century by Bertrand Russell and Albert North Whitehead - I forget the name of the book at the moment. Bateson borrowed the concept from them and began to apply it to all kinds of different themes.
Fundamentally speaking, the theory of logical types explains the relationship between classes and their components. For example, "apples" is a class of objects with certain general characteristics, "granny smith apples" is a narrower class of objects that falls into the category of apples, but doesn't include all kinds of apples. These classes can be further narrowed until you get to a particular apple on a particular day at a particular time and place (and you could probably go even further if you liked). Thus, we can create a hierarchy of orders of abstraction. On the first order is the particular apple with all of its particular characteristics, on the next order are "granny smiths" with various characteristics that define those (green, bitter, hard, etc.) and on the highest order of abstraction are "apples" with a different set of characteristics (roundish fruit, thin skinned, grows on trees, etc.). Each lower class includes the characteristics of the one above it, but adds a few more to narrow the scope a little more.
There a lot of applications of this concept, and Bateson used it in almost everything he did, but I'll only explain one here, for the sake of brevity - the concept of deutero-learning. Deutero-learning is essentially learning to learn or learning to deal with classes of circumstances rather than particular circumstances. For example, in one particular case we may be asked to learn the fact "the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th 1776," so we write it down, study it, look up more information about it, etc. and get it memorized. This set of actions can be applied to the memorization of any kind of fact not just this one, so making this a habit would be deutero-learning. This type of learning is, often by necessity, unconscious. We aren't aware of how we do it, or what exactly it is that we do, but it's there anyway. Deutero-learning is learning on a higher order of abstraction from first order learning. It is more generalizable, and so more likely to become habitual. There are even higher orders of learning, natural selection, for example, but the higher the order of learning, the more abstract it becomes and the more rigid it becomes. So it's best to keep the lower orders more flexible and the higher orders more generalized. Bateson went on to use this idea and a more complicated extension of logical typing in communication to explain the origins of schizophrenia in what became his most well known theory - the double-bind theory of schizophrenia.

Cybernetics
When most people think of cybernetics they think of robots and computers, at least I do. However, cybernetics mainly deals with recursive or feedback systems. The best example of a cybernetic system is the thermostat. As the room cools down a switch is triggered (by the cold) which turns on a heater. As the heater warms the room the switch is then turned off (by the heat) causing the heater to shut off, and allowing the room to cool down again. The process is then repeated endlessly, keeping the room within a certain range of temperature. Cybernetic systems remain in equilibrium as long as they are not self-reinforcing. If the thermostat, instead of turning off the heater as it got hotter, continually turned it higher then you would get a system where the heater would heat up the room causing the thermostat to turn the heater up causing the room to get even hotter and the thermostat to turn the heater up even more endlessly until something breaks.
This concept of feedback helps to explain a variety of things including biological systems, ecosystems, social interactions and behavior. One way that Bateson used it was to explain how different groups interact with each other and how those relations can escalate beyond control, what he called schismogenesis. He defined two types of schismogenic relationships - complementary and symmetrical. A complementary relationship is where the actions of one person or group bring about a different action in response from a second person or group. For example if the first person exhibits pride then the other may exhibit adoration, this then causes the first person to feel more pride and the second to display more adoration until the system becomes unstable and "something breaks" - this break is the schismogenesis where one party breaks off to form their own independent group. The symmetrical relationship can also lead to schismogenesis. In this case the first person's behavior is responded to by the second person with the same type of behavior. Boasting is a good example here. Person one makes a boast causing person two to make his own boast, forcing person one to make an even grander boast which person two must then top and continuing until the two parties break off. Another good example of this is the nuclear arms race. Schismogenic relationships can relationships can attain a certain level of equilibrium in a number of different ways. One is to inject a small amount of the opposite form of relationship - so two groups engaged in a complementary relationship would inject a small amount of symmetrical interaction, which helps to neutralize the runaway effects of the complementary feedback (and vice versa). An example of this is when two groups are engaged in a dominance-submission relationship (complementary) such as that of an empire to any of its colonies then they may engage in some form of competitive game (a soccer tournament, for example) and this competition (a symmetrical interaction) will take the edge off the dominance submission for a while - kind of a cathartic or orgasmic experience to relieve the tension.
This kind of analysis could be used for relationships between individuals as well as between large groups such as nations. Gaining a better understanding of how these relationships work and how to maintain equilibrium within them could lead to more enlightened foreign policy and better psychological treatments, among other things.

Teleological Versus Stochastic Processes
Again, these concepts are not new to Bateson, they were around for a long time, but Bateson explained them in a more complete way and applied them to areas where they had never been applied before. The best way to explain the two is to look at different theories of evolution. Most people aren't aware of it, but there were actually several different theories of evolution put forward around the same time as Darwin. Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection, however, proved to be the best explanation for the evidence. One competing view of evolution was put forward by a guy named Lamarck, and so is often referred to as Lamarckian evolution. Lamarckian evolution is teleological because it is purpose and end driven. The most often cited example is that of the Giraffe's neck. Why does the giraffe have such a long neck? Lamarck would say that long ago the giraffe had an ordinary neck, but then this particular giraffe wanted to reach some particularly tasty leaves at the top of a tree. In order to do this it had to stretch its neck, making it slightly longer in the process. This trait was then passed down to the next generation which again had to stretch its neck a little further which was passed to the next generation, continuing until the present day where the giraffe has a very long neck and can reach the leaves on the very tops of the trees. So essentially, the giraffe saw an end, the leaves on the trees and a long neck to reach them, and purposefully adapted itself to those circumstances gradually over its own life as well as over several generations until it achieved that end. There are many flaws with this theory, including the problem of inheritance of acquired characteristics, but the important thing here is that it's an example of a teleological model.
Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection, however, is stochastic. A stochastic process is one characterized by underlying (lower order) randomness which is filtered through a (higher order) set of simple rules to create a seemingly ordered system. For Darwin, the randomness was provided by variation within a species - no two chimpanzees are exactly alike. The set of rules was natural selection - competition for scarce resources, variable reproductive success and the heritablity of traits. These two combined explain most of the diversity of life on the planet as well as the complex but ordered interaction of organisms in ecosystems.
There are several other examples of stochastic and teleological processes - one that occurs to me is capitalism, which is stochastic versus Marxism which is teleological. It's important to recognize that social and cultural change is stochastic rather than teleological. Revolutionaries would have us believe that it is the latter, that they can set a desired end and direct the culture to that end. What ends up happening, though, is a lot of violence, bloodshed or misdirection. The revolutionary force gets caught up in fighting ideas and things that it views as being counter-revolutionary, forcing people to accept a particular doctrine with which they may or may not agree, or its grand design is revealed as being inconsistent with on-the-ground realities. For this reason, those of us who are seeking a transformation in culture must seek it through stochastic processes by recognizing that we can't direct or predict the ends, we can only preserve and encourage diversity within the system (the problem with capitalism is that it tends to discourage lower order diversity, this diminishing the "gene pool" upon which it relies).

Further Reading
All of these different concepts intertwine within Bateson's work to form a larger picture of the world. As I mentioned before, understanding and using these tools that he's laid out for us will give us a much better understanding of the world in which we live. Unfortunately, little has been done in the way of applying or testing his theories - the only recognition he got was from the counter-culture movement of the sixties and seventies which saw him as a kind of scientific guru (a role he wasn't very fond of, I suspect). I hope I've sparked some interest in those of you who read this. I know it was a long post, and probably not very exciting, but maybe some part of it caught your attention and you'll want to delve deeper. Well, here is a list of some books that explain this stuff further:
Steps to an Ecology of Mind
by Gregory Bateson
Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity
by Gregory Bateson
Angels Fear: Toward and Epistemology of the Sacred
by Gregory Bateson
Naven
by Gregory Bateson
Ecology, Meaning and Religion
by Roy Rappaport (he applies some of Batesons ideas to ecological anthropology)
A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson
by Peter Harries-Jones
Here is an essay by the Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen which uses Bateson's concept of flexibility (which is based on all three of the above ideas) to analyze the "new work."
Here is a site dedicated to Gregory Bateson with some interviews, essays and such (by the way, he was married to Margaret Mead and their daughter Mary Catherine Bateson continues to develop some of his ideas).

09 June 2008

Ten Things To Do Before the Collapse


I figure we've got at least a few years before civilization falls apart and leaves us scrambling to survive, so I've been thinking a lot about how I would like to prepare for the big event. I figure, it's best to get started with this stuff before the collapse because then I'll be a step ahead when it happens, and if it doesn't happen in my lifetime, then at least I'll have some cool skills to show off. Here I've come up with a list of ten things I'd like to learn or do while there's still time.

1) Garden - we're going to need a lot of food and we won't be able to rely on the current large scale, processed food infrastructure to supply it, so the more gardens we can get going now the more food we'll have when things hit the fan. Medicinal plant gardens would be nice to have too.

2) Learn to hunt - I seriously doubt that vegetarianism will be a viable option after the fall, and one of the best sources of food will likely be hunted meat. Therefore, it will be important to know how to track, hunt, and kill an animal as well as how to skin and butcher it and preserve the meat.

3) Learn to shoot a gun and a bow - In conjunction with learning to hunt, it's important to know how to handle a gun safely and effectively. However, I'm almost afraid to suggest, it might be useful to know for self defense purposes as well. Hopefully it won't come to that, but it's good to be prepared. As bullets and powder become more and more scarce, the bow will be the next best thing - easily made from simple materials, effective and deadly in a variety of situations.

4) Lean flintknapping, arrow fletching and similar skills - the ability to make your own tools from materials that are easily found in nature (rock, wood, bone, etc.) could be one of the most useful things to have. In this same vein, the ability to fix industrial machines with easily found materials would be useful as well, at least in the early stages.
5) Learn about edible and useful wild plants - another source of food and medicine.
6) Work on team building, strategy and tactics - again, I hope it doesn't come to this, but the ability to organize as a group for the purpose of armed combat might be useful. This could be done with games such as ultimate frisbee, soccer, paintball, etc. Anything that involves several people and requires organized effort.

7) Get in Shape - A lot of us have become very slothful and out of shape with the abundant food and lack of physical activity. People who are physically fit - those who can run or bike long distances, lift heavy objects, climb or jump well - are going to have a great advantage.

8) Learn Self Defense - learning some hand to hand combat techniques may be necessary. This is especially true for women, but men will do well to learn too.

9) Build community networks - As I've said time and again, no one ever survives without a complex network of community support. Even hermits rely on goods produced by the community. We've become atomized and individuated, so we have to build from scratch a lot of those structures that will break down during and after the fall, but rebuild them on a local, sustainable level. The key is to get out into your community and help out the organizations that exist. Also, if you see a need that isn't being filled on the local level then start putting something together to fill that need. Most importantly, get out and make friends, talk to people and build relationships.

10) Enjoy some of the things I'll miss - I don't mean to be glutinous, but just to cherish the small things that won't be around afterward - ice cream and chocolate, for example. Enjoy them - don't consume them.

I'm sure there's a lot more that I could do, but this is what I came up with in a few minutes at work. I'd love to hear what other people think about my list or if you have any suggestions for additions to the list.

06 June 2008

Mark Osborne's "More"


Hey everyone. I just came across this video and thought that it goes well with the theme that's been going on here for the past few weeks. It's a video called More by Mark Osborne. In my opinion it's about how we seek to fill those empty spaces inside of us (brought about by the alienation and individuation of modern life) with products (advertising works by implanting in our minds the idea that product X equals happiness, social life, sex, love, comfort, etc). It always fails because those products don't fill those spaces - they can't. But instead of looking for the actual things that will fill those holes we continue to buy products that we mistakenly think will fill them for us, thus driving the consumer economy.
It's not our fault though - there are a lot of things going into this relationship that are beyond our control. For example, for the most part we simply lack those social structures that would fill the spaces - in a lot of cases they need to be rebuilt or rediscovered. The modern system requires the disintegration of social networks (family, community, etc.) otherwise no-one would buy the products and no one would be willing to work for it.
That's all for now. A warning, though, the video is a little depressing.

24 May 2008

Living In a Material World


I am a materialist - I'm not ashamed of it. I love material things - the earth, the oceans, plants and animals. I think it's amazing how everything is connected through material processes, one thing feeding off another in a great interconnected system. I love things that are well made, designed to last, because those are quality goods. I love good food - the way it tastes, the way it feels on my tongue, the way it looks with all of those bright healthy colors. I love my friends. There's nothing better than going out on a nice sunny day and playing Frisbee or tag or climbing a tree with some good people, and there's nothing like building a community through face to face interactions - those kinds of relationships really mean something.

I look at most of the people around me, though, and get the feeling that they're way too abstract. I wish they were more materialistic. They're always buying things, not because they love them but because they love the idea of having them. They love the idea of power, or happiness, or sex, or love that is promised with those things, but never actually comes. They use those things to fill an empty space inside of them, but it never really fills it. So they buy more things! Most of those things just get thrown away and replaced with other things that aren't much better, but the people think they are. What's worse, other things like plastic bottles and plastic bags get thrown away and forgotten about. But they don't really go away, they just sit somewhere unused and wasted for the millions of years it takes for them to degrade. These people don't love material things, they love to consume!

You should see the food that they eat too. Have you ever seen a Twinkie? What the hell is that thing? It's not food, it's sugar filled, fortified foam! And fast food? There's no telling what that crap is made out of! It's not colorful, it's not tasty and it's certainly not healthy.
They don't even have real relationships. Their "Friends" are little images on the TV. They sit there watching this little glowing box pretending that they're part of that imaginary world in front of them instead of talking to real people building real communities. No wonder they have to take drugs to stay happy!

Then there's money. It's just paper and metal to me - maybe I could use it to buy some food or something. But the people around me love it; they work their asses off for it, then hoard it, fight over it and die for it. Most of the time it's not even paper and metal - a lot of it is just numbers in a computer or floating around on electromagnetic waves. What could be more spiritual than that?!

The worst part is that they are always complaining about how materialistic they all are and try even harder to separate themselves from the material world. Not me though, I don't go for all of that crap. I like the real world, the material world. Maybe someday those other people will figure out a way to transcend their physical forms. I don't know, maybe with drugs or machines or something. I don't care - that just means I won't have to deal with them anymore.

23 May 2008

What's to be Done? - A Post in Three Parts


Part I - The Parable of the Unsteady Building
Once upon a time...A long long time ago...actually, I think I read about it the other day...There was a great big building. Now the building wasn't always so big; it had grown over many thousands of years until it dominated the landscape and housed thousands of millions of people, and it continued to grow every day. The people inside were comfortable for the most part, but the building had grown so large that it was beginning to fall apart under its own weight.
The people at the bottom of the building saw that it was breaking down, and they tried over and over again to warn the people higher up. The people at the very top of the building, however, had an awful nice view which they didn't want to give up, so they didn't listen, and told the people in the middle floors not to worry - the building would be fine, and, in fact, it must continue to grow. Even when the whole building began swaying back and forth in the breeze, the people at the top continued to say that the building must grow, and that only by growing bigger could they ever hope to overcome the current instability.
The people on the bottom could see that the building was going to topple over any day now, so they gave up trying to convince the people up above. Instead they began taking apart the building so that when it did fall, it wouldn't hurt as many people on the way down. They also began to build smaller buildings right below the big one (because there was nowhere else to build unfortunately) so that they would have someplace to live when the big one fell.
Soon some of the people on the middle floors began to get worried. They felt the swaying all too much and saw the people on the lower floors taking the building apart and constructing new ones in its place, so they began to go down to live with the people on the lower floors in their new buildings. The people on the top saw this and, sensing that their beautiful view was threatened, sent armies to keep people from leaving and to stop the others from dismantling the building and constructing new ones. However, all of this running up and down the stairs only made the building sway even more.
Then one day, as everyone knew it would, the building fell, crumbling into a billion pieces destroying much of what was left beneath it. Most of the people who remained in the building didn't survive, unfortunately, but many of those who were living in the smaller buildings beneath it did and many of their buildings remained intact or were only slightly damaged. Now these buildings would never grow as high as the big building - in fact, many of them were designed not to - but they were strong, built on firm foundations, and would last for a very very long time. Soon the people were able to clean up the mess left by the fall of the big building and fix up their own buildings that were damaged in the wreckage. They even found new ways of constructing buildings that had never been thought of before or had been forgotten over the years. The people lived very happily for a very long time to come.
The End, for now anyway....

Part II - Dismantling
There are two general categories of action that I think need to be taken to preserve some portion of humanity and to limit the destruction caused by the fall of our civilization. The first is Dismantling and the second is Constructing. I'll talk about the Latter in a moment, but for now I want to discuss Dismantling.
Dismantling is mainly geared toward limiting the spacial and temporal scope of civilization's harmful tendencies. It asks the question, "How can we stop the violence and oppression caused by this destructive system?"
Large scale, abstract, and hierarchical power structures are inherently oppressive, violently destructive and fundamentally unsustainable. In order to create a freer, healthier social system these structures must be abandoned or destroyed through any means necessary. They are all around us, dominating our lives and dictating our actions. Fighting back might be as simple as refusing to carry out their demands, or it might involve taking up arms - it depends on the circumstances, of course - but we must fight back.
If we don't fight back, if we don't take down this system, then it will fall on its own. However, the larger we allow it to grow and the longer we allow it to exist, the harder it will fall and the more damage it will do - the more people it will hurt. Conceivably, if we work hard enough and fast enough we could dismantle the whole system with only minor damage done to those around it. In other words, the more we dismantle now, the easier the transition will be later and the less damage will be done all around.

Part III - Constructing
When the current system falls, people will need a lot of support. In fact, social support structures will be more important than ever. But they can't simply replicate the old structures or they will suffer from the same limitations. Instead we have to build new structures that will help people survive and persist, with built in mechanisms for preventing them from growing beyond a human scale. Most of this work can be done within the confines of the larger system so that when it does fall the new structures will already be in place.
Constructing involves finding out what people need or will need and figuring out how to provide those things without large scale power structures. Building a localized food system, decentralized energy, localized social networks, support groups, self-defense - all of these are good places to start. The important thing is to recognize that there is no one way to do any of these things and no one thing that needs to be done. We'll have to experiment with new ideas and be innovative.

Conclusion
In reality, the dichotomy I've created between constructing and dismantling is not so clear cut - it serves the purpose of explanation, but they can't really be separated. The fact is, any act of dismantling will require the construction of social networks that are small scale and localized, whose role could easily be expanded to include some of the support systems that will be needed. Also, constructing localized, community based organizations is itself a subversive act that threatens the prevailing power structure. So, as I've said many times before, do what you can, what you know how to do best. Don't let the burden of fixing everything fall on your shoulders alone - do your part and trust that others will do theirs. We're all in this together! :)

19 May 2008

The Political Economy Of A Rock Concert


Last week Allison and I went to see Wilco play outside in downtown Lawrence. We met her brother and sister in law there with a couple of their friends and spent the evening with them. It was a nice night and we had a good time, but I wasn't very engaged in the music. Instead I was looking around through my anthropological goggles, making some very interesting observations.
It seems obvious to us, I suppose, that the band should be raised up, bathed in light and projecting outward while the audience is lowered, immersed in darkness and focused inward toward the band. Ostensibly it's a matter of practicality - after all, the people came to see the band not the rest of the audience. But what is merely practical on the outside obscures a deeper relationship that is far more dynamic. The way I see it the physical structure of the concert belies the inequality that exists between the two groups - "the band" and "the audience."
The band is at the top of an hierarchical social system with proximity to the band determining an individual's status. That means that friends of the band members are given a high status while those who just heard of the group are given almost none. Also, the band, because of it's position is able to demand more from the audience than it is expected to give in return. But the question in my mind is, why do we want to see the band anyway? Why do we pay so much money? Why are they put above the rest of us? Why are they in the light while we remain anonymous in the dark?
Lewis Mumford, a brilliant historian, speculates, with a great deal of accuracy I believe, that in small scale cultures that have existed and continue to exist outside of civilization, everyone is called upon to participate in the various rituals and celebrations (like rock concerts). Somewhere along the way this changed so that the spectator and the spectacle became separated and the performers of the spectacle became more powerful than the spectators. Originally, Mumford speculates, this gave rise to organized religious rituals and the priestly class, but I'd suggest that it also gave rise to professional entertainers who have been granted varying levels of status in different periods. This relationship has been handed down to us in several forms, one of which is the rock concert as I described it above another is the spectator sport and yet another is politics.
However, the urge to take part in the rituals continues to persist. In the rock concert any audience demands some degree of participation or they won't find it entertaining. Also we see various other forms of participation springing up around any band including groupies, tapers, fans, etc. each doing different activities to feel as if they are part of the event.
It should be remembered that this rock concert culture is embedded within a larger cultural system. Importantly, this system involves a high degree of labor specialization. As a result, for its members the band is just another job, while the audience is made up of people who have their own jobs (though with significantly less power in many cases) during the day. This kind of specialization feeds the hierarchy and justifies the power of those on top.
I should say that I'm not saying anything against Wilco in particular or rock concerts in general. I like them both, and will continue to attend because they're fun and I don't really begrudge the musicians their influence. All I'm trying to do is offer a different perspective on the relationship. It also points to one tool that we have for bringing down the dominant power structure (not bands playing music at concerts, but the system of exploitation and destruction that currently controls the world) - that is, conviviality. More on this later perhaps, but for now... it's time for bed. Good Night!

16 May 2008

Time and Money


For several years now I've had this idea developing in the depths of my mind - periodically rising to the surface only to drift back down again as I become engaged in other things. You know how they say that time is money? Well, I have this sense that money, in one sense, is really time. Maybe that's not all it is, but I'm certain that it's part of it.
The way I first understood this concept was in terms of jobs. Looking back to when I was in high school I never liked the idea of jobs. There's something inhuman about them; the fact that you are compelled to do the same thing day after day for eight hours with a half-hour lunch break until you find something better, retire or die. It's almost impossible to escape too - even the people we think of as not having jobs (movie stars, athletes, musicians, etc.) have them too, only on different terms.
The way we're told to think about it is that we are selling our talents, abilities, or labor to a company for a certain period of time, but that's not how I see it anymore. Somehow that never truly made sense. Now, however, I understand that what we're actually selling is our lives. It seems so obvious when you think about it, but we're told not to think about it that way. We sell our lives away, hour by hour, to the highest bidder or for the most appealing form of work. Every hour that I spend at work is an hour that I could be reading a book, writing a book, listening to music, meditating, taking a class, swimming in a lake, watching a movie, eating cereal, making love to a woman, or just sitting on my ass. And I can't get that hour back! So how much is it worth? Is one hour of reading a book worth $10? $20? $10,000? Are all of my hours worth the same amount? Is 3:00 worth the same as 4:00? Is the morning worth the same as the evening or the afternoon? Is an hour of making love worth the same as an hour watching TV? Why should they all be counted equally? Then again, why is there so much difference between the value of one of my hours and the value of one of a CEO or a movie star? Is my life that much different than theirs? Hell, I bet they'd just waste their hours anyway, so aren't my hours actually worth more?!
But that's just the beginning. Money is time in so many other ways too. We sell our hours in which we could be doing so many other, more interesting, things, but then money can be used to buy those hours back too! Look, you can pay a little extra money for a meal that's already prepared, and there you have another hour back. You can buy clothes that are already made and there you have 4 hours. So many of our little transactions are merely buying back the time that we sold to somebody else. But at what cost? If I can buy back an hour in a meal, then who is selling that hour? Is it a fair trade (one hour for one hour) or am I buying somebody's three hours for the price of one? That girl in the sweatshop in Pakistan, how many hours did she sell to make my shirt?
Think about it. How do you sell your life? How do you buy it back? I promise, it will change the way you look at the world.

07 May 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Ultimo Día

This will be the final post on chicha for now. Yesterday I tasted the it and it was sort of sour with a little sweetness remaining, so I decided to let it go for another day and then I'd share it. Tonight after classes I tried it again - it has a slight wine-like aroma, but still tastes kind of watery. I think I just added too much water during the mash, so next time I'll try to keep a better ratio. After drinking a couple of cups I did notice some slight intoxication, similar in intensity to beer, but my mind was a bit clearer than it normally is when I drink alcohol. I don't know if there are different properties to this alcohol (it's just ethanol after all) or if there is something else going on in it that changes how it affects me. It's also possible that this was entirely psychosomatic.
I brought some over to Natalya Lowther who loaned me the grain mill, and Dianna Henry who does seed saving and has given me some advice on future possibilities for corn varieties (she also told me today that the sweet corn I used is referred to as the "mother of all sweet corns" implying that it's the original and all others are somehow descended from it - interesting, no?). Tomorrow I'll share it with a few other people, but it won't be drinkable for much longer.
In the future, my plan is to use locally grown corn and my own yeast culture to brew it. This should give some local flavor to the finished product. Also, I won't use quite as much water in the mash. Some things I'd like to fix, but I'm not quite sure how are the head and the flavor. I Don't know why, but this brew has no head - it started out frothy a few hours after I pitched the yeast, but then the froth dissipated and there's nothing but a few big bubbles now. For some reason, the spices that I added - cinnamon and nutmeg - didn't come through at all in the final product. It's possible that the flavor boiled out, and I should add them later in the boiling stage, or that I should add more, perhaps, but other than that I don't really know.
In any case, I'll keep experimenting, and I'll keep everyone who is interested informed of my progress.

05 May 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Decimo

I can't seem to get this picture to appear upright...you get the idea though.

Today I began the fermentation of the chicha. After class, I drove out to the invasive retail district of Lawrence and went around to Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, World Market, Pier One, and finally Target to find something to ferment it in. The best thing I found was this 2.5 gallon glass jar with a glass lid. It'll do, but for next time I'd like to try to find something better - what I need is a friend who throws clay who can make me a large jug, but I'll probably just buy a carboy.
When I got home, I cleaned it out thoroughly, borrowing some of my roommate's mouthwash to sterilize it a bit. With it all cleaned out I poured it in, sprinkled the yeast on the top and waited 10 minutes like the guy at the brewing supply store said. When I came back the yeast had dissolved on the top and begun to sink down into the chicha, so I gave it a little stir and then carried it into my room. As I write it's sitting in the corner by my bed with a towel over it (yeast likes the darkness) and it's bubbling away. When I put my ear to it, I can hear the bubbles forming and popping - really cool!
Thursday afternoon will be three days. I might see how it tastes tomorrow, but I'm thinking of getting some friends together for the final tasting on Friday (Stop Day...Wooohoo!). Happy cinco de mayo everyone!

04 May 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Noveno

Today's bustle of chicha related activity adequately made up for yesterday's lack. This morning I went to the house of Natalya Lowther, the owner of Pinwheel Farm out in north Lawrence, to grind my corn. First I had to work on the mill a bit to get it taken apart and cleaned, but it wasn't too much trouble. After that I ground the corn, starting with a coarse setting which Natalya sifted and then I ran the coarse flour through again on a finer setting. It went well, and we had a nice conversation while we worked. At the end of the milling we tasted a little of the resulting flour and were quite pleasantly surprised at how sweet it was! When civilization comes to an end and there is no more cheap sugar coming in this process will definitely be useful for supplying our desire for sweet stuff.
I helped clean up and then brought the corn flour back home for the rest of the process. I started the mash by pouring the flour into my big pot, and covering it with warm water. I then heated it up until it reached around 160 degrees Fahrenheit, took it off the stove and wrapped it in a towel to hold in the heat. I let it set for two hours while I worked on my ethnobotany paper and then strained it. I started out trying to strain it through the cloth, but that wasn't working so well because there was just too much stuff and it was going too slow. So instead I strained it through a regular strainer, dumped the remains (hanchi) back in the pot and mashed it again. When this was done I strained it again mixing the two batches together, and then I strained the liquid through the cloth.
When this was done it was ready for boiling. Here I added a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon for flavor and a glob of organic dark brown sugar (which smelled like rich molasses). With everything mixed in I began to boil - I let it boil for about 3 hours, replacing the water as it boiled down. Now it's sitting in the kitchen cooling off.
Tomorrow, after classes, I'm going to go searching for something to ferment the chicha in. When I get back I'll pour it in to whatever I find and let the yeast at it. The liquid I have right now is very sweet, so it should be a great substrate for the yeast. In a few days the whole process will be finished, and I'll have some homemade chicha to share with my friends.

03 May 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Octavo

The corn is all dried up. I had it in the machine for a while and the sprouts didn't really change - they're drier, but they didn't shrivel up or anything - but I stopped it anyway, hopefully it won't matter too much. Tomorrow I'd like to mill the corn; I don't know if I'll have time, though. That's it for today - sorry it's not very eventful, plus it's late and I'm ready for sleep. If all goes well, this should be an eventful weekend in chicha brewing, though, so stay tuned!

01 May 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Sexto


This evening, I came home from work and looked over my corn sprouts. They were still happy and healthy and the acrospires had grown to about the size of the kernels. I sat on my bed debating whether or not to start the drying phase - the article says th acrospires should be twice as long as the kernels, but it's been three days and I don't want them to start molding on me. So to see how things were going I popped one into my mouth and chewed. Almost instantly my mouth was flooded with sweet goodness that tasted remarkably similar to your average high fructose corn syrup drink. Taking this as a good sign I decided to go ahead with the dry.
We've had this dehydrator sitting around the house for a long time with no-one putting it to any use. I cleaned it off and plugged it in to see how it worked and low and behold we got air flow! I loaded the kernels onto a few layers of racks and set it going on the lowest temperature (I want to protect the fragile sugar molecules). Hopefully I'll have them dry this weekend and then it's time for the milling!

30 April 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Quinto

Well, there's nothing really new to add today. The corn is still germinating - it looks as if I'm getting pretty close to 100% germination rate on these. The black corn was a little slower, but even they are beginning to sprout. I've just been keeping the kernels moist and well mixed.
Tomorrow I should be able to start drying them, depending on how long the acrospires are. We have a food dehydrator in our kitchen here that's just been sitting around since the dawn of time, so I'm going to see if that works and use it to dry the kernels if it does.
One thing that's been on my mind, though, is what I'm going to ferment it in. I guess I should have given it more thought beforehand. Now I'm looking at carboys, but they don't have wide mouths. What would be great is to find a clay pot like the one in the guide, but those aren't very plentiful in this area. I think I might try to visit some gardening stores and look for clay vases. We'll see - something will turn up eventually.

A Tragic Interlude


I'm apologize in advance for interrupting the chicha brewing experiment with some sad news. I just learned that Albert Hofmann, the father of LSD, died today at the age of 102. I'm not generally very enthusiastic about drugs, and LSD is not unique in that regard, but I feel strongly that Albert Hofmann, along with Aldous Huxley, was one of the few sane voices in the research of psychedelic experience. It's unfortunate that his wisdom continues to go largely unheeded on both sides of the issue.
With that in mind, I've decided to dedicate this batch of chicha to Albert Hofmann - the father of LSD, and a brilliant ethnopharmacologist. Cheers!

29 April 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Cuarto

WE HAVE GERMINATION!!!! Words cannot express how excited I am now. I came home for lunch and checked on my corn kernels and saw little tips poking out of the germs of some of them. Now, at 10:30 pm I see that most of the yellow corn is sprouting and much of the black corn has cracked down the middle. You probably can't see it in the picture, but these kernels have sprouts.
In my opinion, this is the key phase - after this, if it gets screwed up it's my fault not Mother Nature's. Now I just have to wait patiently for the acrospires to grow to about twice the length of the kernel - keeping them moist, clean and rotated - and then it will be time for drying.
On a side note - a man named Ted Maclin contacted me today from the Environmental Anthropology listserv (I told them about my experiment and provided the link to my blog). He sent me this link on his experiment with Cock Beer - yes, that's beer with chicken in it...interesting don't you think? Maybe those of you who are not vegetarians would be interested in repeating their experiment...Brendan, I'm thinking of you in particular. :)
Well, friends, keep checking back - this is only the beginning!

28 April 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Tercero

This morning I made a comparison of my soaked corn to some dry kernels I had left over, and they were noticeably bigger and softer. They probably gained about 1.5 times their original size and I could bite through them, but couldn't bite through the dried corn without hurting my teeth. Another interesting thing that I noticed on the soak stage was that the water would eventually turn slightly reddish from the black corn - this makes me hopeful for a nice rich color for the end product.
So with my confidence bolstered by that discovery, I decided to begin the germination process this afternoon. As soon as I got home from classes I cleaned out the large pyrex baking dish, drained the water off of the corn, wet a cloth and laid it over the kernels. The corn fills the dish almost to the top, and I put a little bit of water in the bottom to keep it moist. I'll probably rinse it off and mix up the kernels a couple of times a day until the germination is finished to prevent mold or other nasty creatures from growing. That's it for today - in a few days I'll know if the corn is viable and if I'll be able to continue the experiment - I'll keep you posted.

27 April 2008

Brewing Chicha - El Día Primero

Chicha is a corn based alcoholic beverage popular throughout South and Central America. It's not really mass manufactured, but rather brewed in small batches in homes, particularly for large celebrations. My first experience with chicha was in Peru where I stayed for about a month in August of 2006. I arrived in my home pueblo just in time for their annual patron saint celebration which lasted about a week. The second night I was there, Faustino Maldonado - the father of the family I was staying with - brought me to the house of one of his relatives where they would be preparing and practicing for the celebration (they were part of the processions that were held every night which converged in the plaza for a grand party all night long). When we arrived, our host brought out a bucket with a mug, which he dipped into the bucket and offered us each a cupful of chicha. It's sweet, slightly sour, and mildly carbonated and tastes a lot like apple cider (without the apple taste). After that night I visited several other homes, and found that most of them had some chicha on hand to offer to guests whenever they stopped by.
Today I began the process of making Chicha. I've been preparing for about a month now by buying supplies and researching the process. Here and here are the two recipes that I've combined to develop my own process - both recipes have minor flaws, but they complement each other well. I ordered Peruvian sweet corn (Maiz Chulpe) and some Peruvian black corn (Maiz Morado) from here. The sweet corn is the main source of fermenting sugars while I'm hoping that the black corn will lend it a unique color (we'll see). I also visited Topeka and bought some brewers yeast from here - I was looking for nottingham yeast like the recipe says, but he was all out so I bought some Fermentis Dry Ale Yeast instead (we'll see). I'm still searching for a grain mill - preferably one that I don't have to buy, but can borrow for the short amount of time that I'll need it - and a large narrow mouthed jar for the fermenting.
With most of the supplies together and some confidence derived from my research I initiated the process by pouring the corn into a large stew pot, rinsing it and then covering it with water to soak. I'll keep posting periodically over the next two weeks to let you know how it's going, and with any luck I'll have a nice batch of Chicha to celebrate the end of the semester!

20 April 2008

Reconsidering Anger

All of my life I've been afraid of anger - afraid when it's directed at me, afraid when it explodes near me, and afraid to express it openly. This fear, I believe, stems from a mythology in our culture which tells us that anger is bad, uncontrollable, and should be repressed at every turn (just think of Star Wars). To a certain extent, that's true; anger is a powerful emotion which can cause enormous harm if applied inappropriately. However, lately I've begun to reconsider this mythology of anger, where it comes from and what it means to my life.
We live in an oppressive and destructive society. If you need proof of it just look at US foreign policy, or the destruction of the environment. I would never diminish the suffering of people in the South or the lower classes, but those of us who seem to be free because we are more affluent or prosperous are also oppressed, though in a different way. We are oppressed because we are trapped within a system that is devouring the richness and beauty of the world. We are oppressed because we are forced to work for this system, to promote it and expand it throughout the world - just try to escape, I dare you!
In this context it only makes sense to be angry - it's a perfectly natural and reasonable reaction to the conditions in which we find ourselves. Why, then, don't we see more people joining revolutions or fighting against environmental destruction? The answer, I believe, lies in the mythology of anger.
Anger is dangerous. When it's mis-directed it can bring harm to innocent people, and when it's properly directed it can bring about the disintegration of the prevailing power structure. So again and again we are told, by the media, by loved ones, through religion, by psychiatrists and in a hundred million other ways to suppress our anger, to keep it inside and not allow it to escape. If we burst out someday at work, we are sent to a counselor for 'anger management' - if we try to fight back we are labeled as lunatics and sent away. But anger is a powerful emotion and it demands expression; we are torn between our natural sense of frustration and oppression and the mythology that tells us that this anger is bad.
So what becomes of it? A few people (mostly men I suspect) re-direct it onto those around them who they perceive as being weaker - they beat their wives and children, they rape a woman on the street, or they take a gun to school or work and shoot up the popular kids or the executives before turning it upon themselves. This is unfortunate.
Most of us, however, internalize the anger; that is, we re-direct it toward ourselves instead of toward the system that oppresses us. We become fearful, depressed, and give in to despair. We demean, devalue, condemn, punish and, in the worst cases, mutilate or even kill ourselves. I know because I've been there - in many ways I still am, but I've been lucky to have found people out there who have been through the same thing, who have seen through the mythology of anger and lifted the veil from before my eyes. I understand now that what I felt was not despair, but anger turned inward. I also know that this anger is not a bad thing - it gives me the power and the courage to fight against oppression, as long as I am conscious of where it's directed and how it is used.
Does this make me an angry person? Maybe. But it's this anger that keeps me going in a world dominated by a destructive and oppressive system. I'm not about to join a revolution or buy a gun - those of you who know me also know how ridiculous the idea is - but I will fight, with whatever weapons that I do possess and I refuse to give in to despair.
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