when you wanna, gotta know more...
A bit of the philosophy behind Swap-O-Rama-Rama, written in 2003
It is each generations birthright to inherit the ideas of those who came before and leave behind the voice of their time. The inheritance is dual in nature. Gifted with thousands of years of innovation and an abundant planet received at little cost we also find ourselves the captives of thought patterns that have outlived our time. Observation proves that ideas old and new are held in place by structures that order our world: governments, religious institutions and now more than ever corporations. Generation after generation people struggle with these systems as they try to express their uniqueness, adding a distinct fingerprint to an ever-evolving picture of what it is to be human.
Our inheritance is a complicated one. Today corporations hold in place a hearty structure that contorts the nature of reality into a peculiar form created by one motive, capital. The human experience is meticulously determined by geniuses of psychology and marketing. They work for geniuses of capital. Disguised as choices, we are being asked to do primarily one thing, consume. As inheritors of the mega-mall the spirit of our generation looks for its voice through advertisements, and isles of products.
Industry offers us innovations, if youre lucky enough to live in wealthy country, and material goods can be found in a variety unmatched in history and this would appear on first glance to be a great abundance. Yet world struggles, war and impending environmental disaster have made clear even to the most resistant that material abundance comes at a great cost. The days of naivete are over. The blandness that industry permeates requires a great deal more than our dollars, it asks that we give up our very humanness: knowledge, compassion, community, creativity and our innate connection to all that is natural and innate.
Commodification breeds ignorance. The wheels of the machine of capital, the never ending production, buying and selling of goods requires that people buy objects rather than make them. Simply put makers are not good consumers. The less we know the more we buy. In our time creativity and independence are not profitable, ignorance is! And so we find ourselves a culture of helplessness unable to perform the simplest of tasks, hemming a skirt, or fixing a flat tire, growing food. The skill involved in the making of things, once viewed as a creative endeavor, passed down lovingly from generation to generation are now left to the machine which manufactures most of the goods we use today. The average person is ill equipped to make or fix anything. So far removed we are from the skills required to care for ourselves, growing food, producing power, building a home, that if ever the structures weve become so dependent on should fail our very lives would be in jeopardy.
But Industry would have us believe that our role is creative. Consumers are asked to view shopping as a creative endeavor, when in actuality only the designers and engineers of things play a creative role even if limited by the constraints of profit margins. The consumers creativity is simply selection. We interpret. We choose between things, between styles, between prepackaged lifestyles that we are each to find ourselves residing in chosen from a predetermined set designed by marketing, and this is the means to which we’re asked to express our uniqueness.
After we play our part and buy our goods we continue to do the work of industry as we transform our very selves into advertising billboards that tote logos and labels on all areas of the body and on goods used in all aspects of living. Branding does a whole lot more than assist in the selling of goods. It creates distinct social divisions. Labels broadcast the spending power of the individual. And so consumers are separated into visible categories that reflect the size of their wallet rather than the expanse of their creativity.
Should we question our role in this process we are reminded that the making of things prevents us from having leisure time. Why spend an hour hemming your pants when you can pawn it off on someone else and obtain more free time for yourself? What follows is the question, what does one do with all that leisure time? The answer of course is we shop. In exchange for our creativity we engage in an entirely uncreative endeavor that offers packaged promises, false experiences and a multitude of ways to escape understanding ourselves through the buying of meaningless objects. These products have come to represent our fears and our unhappiness, each one a small and impotent band-aid applied to fast spreading disease - consumerism.
Often the consumer digs for meaning by purchasing more and more hoping to fill an innate yearning. Yet the more we buy the clearer it becomes that these objects can fill our homes but not our hearts. Industry does its best to turn the meaningfulness into myth. Trend molests whatever we make precious. Little plastic Buddha’s swim down factory conveyer belts along with music, culture and art which have been pumped through the commodification grinder.
Less than a hundred years ago things were quite different. What people owned is what they created or what someone they knew created for them. Imbued with the stories of our lives our material goods embodied our creativity and spoke of our community. Before the industrial revolution objects were not likely be tossed to the trash like the heaps of plastic that line our streets and overload landfills today. These objects were made of sacred stuff, the energy and intention of people. You could say that one difference between 100 years ago and today is that 100 years ago we were all makers, that is we made the objects that filled the landscape of our material existence. In less than 100 years we've lost sight of the discovery that the making of things is not an activity to be avoided in order to attain leisure, but rather a playful and leisurely endeavor unto itself.
Naturally when we are makers we are part of communities of people connected through the history of ideas and even the natural world from which all of our materials arise. No maker can exist on their own. Knowledge, teaching and the sharing and collectivizing of ideas are inherent in the creative process. The maker learns that every craft and skill tells a story that involves the evolution of an idea that lead to this moment in time. Time collapses and we sit face to face with our brothers and sisters of the past. If we look back far enough we see our materials as they come from the planet in the form of raw material. From here a maker can see that we can never really take credit for the creation of anything as we are never independent of this history or the earth - the ultimate and only real maker.
As we learn about materials and their origins inevitably we're exposed to the many injustices inherent in our modern means of production. Child labor, harmful synthetic materials and gross wasting of resources are just a few blaring problems in what is today the standard means of production. As our ignorance shatters and our hearts open we become the inheritors of something of real value, responsibility. It logically follows that we must insist that these systems change. With the burden of knowledge comes the promise of meaning if we are willing to do the work. As we make (rather than buy) the objects that surround us the world we live in our lives transforms into lives steeped in meaning. In essence, we create the sacred from the ashes of the commodified.
The world we share is made by makers but these makers are creating under the umbrella of capital and they are the few not the many or the all. As such what is made is also contorted, controlled and dispensed by a small tier of people who hold in balance a system which creates economic categories of haves and have nots. Should a maker come forth with a good idea, one that might benefit the whole of life on earth, the system encourages him/her to franchise, copyright and ultimately horde the idea. As such a once original thought, revelation or inspiration digresses quickly into redundancy. The maker becomes the caretaker of their good idea. Oddly, should a good idea be released into the community to be shared (perhaps through the Creative Commons) the idea would then be free to transform the world. The maker is free to have their next good idea. You could say that capital asks us to assert “this is my last good idea” by suggesting that ideas benefit from being concretized by these systems. In this way the maker is the revolutionary of our time as the maker is in a position to say resist this process, to choose to share, and to say to themselves and the world community “there is abundance” and give their good idea freely knowing that more is yet to come. Nothing masks abundance better than capital.
Through the ages philosophers, artists and cults of a magnificent variety have offered ways to revivify the human adventure. They are the caretakers of wisdom, and visionaries who make apparent the distinctions between what is real and what is the bi-product of the hands and minds of man. They help us find authenticity, meaning, and self-expression. What are being co-opted today are ideas - namely the idea of what it is to be human. Our generation is asked, are we limited and mechanistic or unbounded and creative? It is a task of our time to take back creativity from industry, reclaim independence, replace ignorance with knowledge and accept our own birthright as creators.
Breathing life back into living is no easy task but it does offer great rewards of the spirit. Revivifying the human experience is a mission of purpose, something commodified life has taken from us. What we have to gain is intimacy, creativity, the revival of community, a healthy planet and ultimately happiness. We can each embrace a do-it-yourself spirit and use it to break down the barrier between consumer and creator and by doing so begin to reclaim the creativity that has been lost to industry.
Of course a problem so complex cannot be solved with one courageous swoop, it requires process, one that begins in the context of our current situation and grows from it. Today we sit upon a fantastic resource, the greatest surplus the world has ever seen. In this surplus exists an opportunity to improve the care of the planet and the soul of the individual. Our surplus can be seen as materials to create the new at little cost, without consuming raw materials.
Of course surplus is temporary, perhaps enough to bide us time to relearn how to live in harmony with the earth and each other. But for a time surplus is what is here, and it gives us a starting point, training wheels. No real change can occur if industry continues to perpetuate a need for new regardless of surplus, a polluted planet and destruction to people who share the earth with us. We must face the whole monster, the corporations as well as the governments that support them. Today they are closer than cousins; they are one in the same.
Like all magnificent things the journey begins with a leap of faith, arms in the air, falling back while questioning if there is a net to catch you. This is the task of our time, to scream with full lungs "we are unbounded" not limited and mechanistic. We are creators.
"The merchant of Love's Bazaar is none other than the customer himself. where then is the profit in trying to buy and sell?" - Javad Nurbakhsh