Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Sunday, September 23, 2012

(Ancient and Modern) Technologies of Globalization and Identity Formation

 In this post I want to explore processes of social change and shifts in notions of identity that take place during globalizations or instances of cosmopolitanism, which aren’t as new as we sometimes think they are.

Christianity's origins as a sect are in the first few centuries of the Common Era, when it was one among many religious cults that worshiped a single god and were characterized by private, secretive, or exclusive rituals, and a certain degree of tension with the encompassing society (little known fact: the Isis cult was also suppressed and persecuted by some Roman Emperors, and yes, this included crucifixions. The cult of Dionysos was also persecuted by the Roman government in 186 BCE, when according to Roman historian Livy the rites were banned and some 7,000 adherents were either imprisoned or executed).

The mystery cult of Isis, as well as the cult of Dionysos, were popular and spread across the entire Roman Empire by the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, which it's worth noting was at that time at it's height of geographical expanse. This is no coincidence—these cults that centered around "foreign" gods (Egyptian and Greek, respectively) spread through trade and along the itineraries of Roman sailors, or through the movements of imperial armies, which were often stationed at the boundaries of the empire and in unstable provinces. Communication and physical travel—in those days of course one in the same—was more swift, reliable, and safe because of the infrastructure maintained by the Romans. Technically you could consider the Jesus movement a "foreign cult" too, since Palestine wasn't acquired by Rome until 63 CE. The Jesus movement stood out among the mystery cults because it arose within a Jewish context, was contingent on the sacred history and scriptures of the Israelites, and some (namely Rabbinic scholar Daniel Boyarin) argue was not that distinct from Judaism until the fourth century. Specifically, much of the distinction as been retroactively constructed by theologians and historians, often who have some degree of allegiance to one side or the other (which may or may not be conscious). In contrast to this, it helps to envision the Jewish religious landscape around the advent of the millennium as characterized by a wide range of sects, and Jewish Christians were merely one of the most messianic and apocalyptic of these. Rabbinic, or "Orthodox" Judaism developed out of this spectrum of Jewish religion just as Catholic Christianity did, and in fact, they played off of one other, using each other to demarcate the boundaries of orthodoxy and heresy. Such is the history of groups that actually have more in common than not—a sort of rhetorical coupling that produces discourses of difference.

One of the most interesting aspects of Christianity to scholars in our field, especially because we're looking back from our vantage point in the 21st century West, is that it essentially began as an underground, urban liberationist movement primarily patronized not by aristocrats but by the poor and illiterate. To compare early Christian theology with liberation theology is anachronistic but still a helpful comparison. Not only was Christianity an urban phenomenon, but the urban centers in which the cult thrived were part of a "globalization" set in motion by imperial conquest. In this case it was due to colonial domination by the Roman Empire, but the Hellenistic period, inaugurated by Alexander's eastward conquests is analogous. Throughout the history of civilization, globalizations differ proportionally and are constrained by the communication, transportation, and military technologies of the time, but significant elements remain in common.

I concur with Wikipedia's current definition of globalization, which is "processes of international integration arising from increasing human activity and interchange of worldviews, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture."

"International" is an apt word to describe globalization today, but one can find these processes as agents of cultural change long before the rise of the nation-state. I think globalization is any instance where some sort of common technology is used to unite economies and cultures who don't share the same ethnic, national, or religious identity, and of course, don't necessarily live in the same region. Today this technology might be the internet, and systems that it enables, like global banking. There are several primary technologies who's synergy produces our current notions of globalization—telecommunications and transportation are two big ones. However, there's another that I'm leaving out, perhaps the most important of all. Language! Language—and what it enables, which are world-views—constitutes technology, in my view. And this is exactly what allowed both Hellenistic and Roman culture to assimilate so many other cultures, and to flourish, and adapt....for example, in Greece in the 3rd century BCE, if you learn the "programming language" (the Greek language) then you are no longer considered a barbarian... you can now plug in and be an agent ("programmer") of culture, and not an outsider. Roman culture proved even more "open source", and perhaps post-industrial capitalism even more so—although there is a dark side to "universal language".

 It is easy of course to perceive today's globalization as definitive, or somehow comprehensive. This is far from the truth. Objectively, globalization is always to some degree an illusion because inevitably there are "invisible" groups that are, for a wide variety of reasons, either not included at all or are somewhat included but are not beneficiaries of "globalization" and therefore don't perceive it in the same way as the "globalizers". This is not to say that these processes of integration are not two-way, and that the categories of "conqueror" and "conquered" are rigid and polar. There is no such thing as complete cultural assimilation or rejection—contact with "others" fuels culture, and it always has. But perhaps what is most interesting to me is not the physical or geographic details of these processes but perceptions of these "processes of integration" by those who are part of that "globalizing" culture, whether it is Ancient Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, or the United States, to name a few. It is necessary, then, to talk about the consciousness(es) engendered by globalizing processes and the social constructions of notions of culture and empire. As you can see, globalization and imperialism go hand in hand. Not surprisingly, empire is often wrought in the name of unity and peace and processes of globalization are seen as a beneficial, civilizing force. One ironic part of it seems to be that as empire unfurls, whether in physical or digital space, it eventually becomes unstable, it can't be centrally governed in a top-down way. I almost want to compare it to a virus that kills the host, but that sounds too negative. What seems to happen is that the "host" relinquishes power eventually and the "language" of empire, which can't be contained by virtue of it being language, spawns other, new "hosts" and/or gets co-opted, altered and hacked.

But it's true that today's globalization integrates far more, in sheer numbers, than ever before. So of course, it is unique. An interesting aspect of the industrial city in 20th century is how it was so good at producing interest groups, coalitions born out of the fragmentation of time and space, and the unmooring of the individual person from their colonial homesteads. New identities came out of this, neo-tribalisms born from the simultaneous closeness and distance of people. Then in the post-industrial age and the 21st century, urban space wasn't necessarily physical anymore because of the internet. Cyberspace was the new, hyper-urban space. And today, I'd contend, the condition of cyberspace destabilizes the dichotomy of "urban" and "rural", at least in the U.S. and Europe.

Still, parallels can be drawn between this instance of globalization and, for example, the Hellenistic period. After the conquests of Alexander, the Greek Empire was socially, politically, and economically destabilized and as cosmopolitanism rose, local institutions became less cohesive. But again, new solutions to the need for group/tribe arose, and some scholars (like Ross Kraemer) would point to the subsequent rise of certain mystery cults as evidence of this.

Interestingly enough, individualism and "identity", which we place so much value on in the U.S., emerge from new forms of collectivity, I think—though sometimes they are subtle, noetic, hard to spot. I think this was true of Christianity. What enabled the early Christian martyrs to stand strong alone in the face of unspeakable torture was their understanding of the ways in which their identities were collective in nature—their representation of an idea much larger than themselves is the very thing that enabled them to make a such a declarative and all-encompassing statement about their personhood. The famous confession in the face of Roman persecutors "I am a Christian" is actually a group identity manifesting as individual identity. Is this the individuality that we so often piously lay at the feet of Christian culture? I don't know—it appears to me that individuality as many folks understand it today just doesn't exist. Please know that this is not an insult to Christianity or some sort of argument for brainwashing—for if you know my affinity with the politics of libertarian socialism and social ecology you'll understand that this corroborates the Zapatista notion that the only way to achieve true individuality is through the collective. And let me qualify the use of "true" here. "True individuality" simply stands for a positive, inspiring feeling of individual purpose. It is phenomenological and subjective. One has to be positioned within a network of nodes, or companer@s, who can reflect your position in the group back to you, and also hold "you" in place so that you can even pin your "identity" down. Without some form of this system, you can expect a degree of existential despair—especially in modern/civilized contexts, because when you aren't grounded by other people and common activities that relate somehow to survival (which can be variously defined) you are basically free-floating in an infinite oblivion. There's nothing wrong with that, but if  you want to play that game, there's a group identity for that, too! (It's called monasticism)

And yet, the Borg are NOT the apotheosis of this "communist" logic—although many conservatives would love to have you believe that. Today, Protestant Christianity is famously associated with our modern notions of freedom and individuality that are ostensibly pillars of a great society. Well, maybe this is true, I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But I would just like to point out that Christianity, just like all cults or groups that end up revolutionizing culture and mobilizing very very strong personal notions of identity and purpose are at their root socialist movements. And as for how this applies to modern culture... I would emphasize that the networks by which personal notions of identity and agency are achieved are sometimes invisible, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Notions of personhood that we take to be individual are often products of innovations in affinity and coalitional behavior. There is no agency in a vaccuum. Agency is the emergent end-product of a vast and complex system that is hive-like. It's just hard for us end-users to see.

1 comment:

T. Roger Thomas said...

I find the concept of learning the dominate language of the day being similar to learning computing languages today to be intriguing.