in the beginning was the word

14 June 2009 12:28 PM (scheme | flib | money | eisenstein | unwelcome guests)

shamanic rites

You see, magico-religious thinking normally works. Whether it is a shamanic rite, the signing of an appropriations bill, or the posting of an account balance, when a ritual is embedded in a story that people believe, they act accordingly, playing out the roles the story assigns to them, and responding to the reality the story establishes. In former times, when a shamanic rite was seen to have failed, everyone knew this was a momentous event, signaling the End of the World, a shift in what was real and what was not, the end of the old Story of the People and the beginning, perhaps, of a new one. What, from this perspective, is the significance of the accelerating failure of the rites of finance?

We like to scoff at primitive cave-dwellers who imagined that their representations of animals on cave walls could magically affect the hunt. Yet today we produce our own talismans, our own systems of magic symbology, and indeed affect physical reality through them. A few numbers change here and there, and thousands of workers erect a skyscraper. Some other numbers change, and a venerable business shuts its doors. The foreign debt of a Third-World country, again mere numbers in a computer, consigns its people to endless enslavement producing commodity goods that are shipped abroad. College students, ridden with anxiety, deny their dreams and hurry into the workforce to pay off their student loans, their very will subject to a piece of paper with magical symbols ("Account Statement") sent to them once every moon, like some magical chit in a voodoo cult. These slips of paper that we call money, these electronic blips, bear a potent magic indeed!

How does magic work? Rituals and talismans affirm and perpetuate the consensus stories we all participate in, stories which form our reality, coordinate our labor, and organize our lives. Only in exceptional times do they stop working: the times of a breakdown in the story of the people. We are entering such times today. That is why none of the economic measures enacted so far to contain the crisis have worked, and why the current stimulus package won't work either. None go deep enough. The only reform that can possibly be effective will be one that embodies, affirms, and perpetuates a new story of the people (if we can agree on one)...

This from Money and the Turning of the Age, by Charles Eisenstein. I prefer the audio version while doing the dishes: harness the desire to scrub out capitalism!

Lyn Gerry has been doing readings from Eisenstein's book on her radio show, and it's really quite a compelling story. I like the episodic audio delivery of the book, but if that's not how you roll, the whole text is available online as well: The Ascent of Humanity.

There's something about Eisenstein's perspective that really feels right. To me, his work has the quality without a name.

fringe languages in barcelona

The other day Jao and I had lunch with another Schemer in the area, Jos Koot, and we decided it's well past time to have a fringe languages group here in Barcelona.

The name comes from a blatant rip-off of what the charismatic Conrad Barski does in DC. Here's what he has to say about FringeDC:

It is commonly believed...

...that most programming languages languages are essentially identical. However, anyone who has spent any significant time studying languages such as Lisp, Haskell, or Prolog knows that some of these uncommonly used languages not only are fundamentally different from more popular languages but can actually give you a glimpse into the future of mainstream programming!

If you think ideas such as Aspect Oriented Programming or Microsoft's new LINQ system in C# 3.0 or Declarative XML programming in .NET or C++ Template Metaprogramming are entirely revolutionary new ideas, you are mistaken: They are all innovative but also evolutions from ideas developed long ago in Lisp, ML and other older fringe languages...

There's a fine line between being on the leading edge and being in the lunatic fringe.
-- Frank Armstrong

So it's in that spirit that I'd like to invite all in the geographical vicinity to our first meeting on this Wednesday, 19 edit: 17 June. Jao has more details as to the first meeting, but in any case check out the new evil empire Google Group, Flibug.

Jao is on deck to talk about Factor and FUEL, Jos to talk about PLT Scheme's Redex operational semantics debugger, and we'll go out for beers later. Good times!

2 responses

  1. Kevin DuBois says:

    Its not so much that money is a 'talisman' as it is a real tool used for getting something done, and when legally acquired in good conscience, a manifestation of positive change that you helped create. If I were to liken a hammer to a talisman, I could make the same analogy. "This [wooden stick] that we call a [hammer] ... bear a potent magic indeed!"

    It sounds to me like this is promoting a utopian vision of a money-less society. A money-less utopia though, can be nothing more than a dystopia, as the precepts you must adopt to envision such a future neglect to take into account intrinsic human traits, like jockeying for social position, and exerting your influence over others. In neglecting these facts, the moneyless utopianism falls into the same trap that manifested itself into the countless utter failures of socialism.

    Money might suck, but it, along with other property rights, functions to maintain a civil society, and to spur individuals to produce goods and services that better their lives, and the state of humanity as a whole. I'd love everyone to run around doing whatever they please, but at some point, someone's gotta maintain the powergrid, grow the corn, etc...

  2. wingo says:

    Hi Kevin. You mean, someone has to take out the garbage? :)

    You should check out the whole article, by the way, if you haven't done so.

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