Taginterview

Wired Interviews Vegan Black Metal Chef

Wired did an interview with the famous Vegan Black Metal Chef. I posted his first video here:

Wired.com: Are you also in a band?

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Yes, my main project is called Forever Dawn. You can hear some old, shit recordings on the MySpace.

I would describe it as industrial symphonic black metal. I play all of the instruments in this and have a live keyboardist and bassist to play shows. I like the songs a lot, but the recordings were done when I had no idea what I was doing.

I am currently recording a new album for this project and putting together a new stage show. I also play keys in an eclectic metal band called Fields of Glass. I was not on the first album, though.

Wired.com: Do you perform in makeup and outfits similar to what you wear as Vegan Black Metal Chef?

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Yes, that is my Fields of Glass band attire.

Wired: Vegan Black Metal Chef Is Still Cooking With Hellfire

Here’s the most recent two episodes, one on quick and easy meals and the other on vegan sushi:

Binaural Beats with SbaGen Developer Jim Peters – Technoccult Interview

Binaural Beats

Jim Peters is the developer of the cross-platform, open-source binaural beat generator SbaGen. Although the application has been available for free online since 1997, an commercial application called I-Doser, which used SbaGen’s source code without permission, has been in the news lately. I took the opportunity to ask Jim a few questions about binaural beats and his program.

Jim Peters

Can you tell us a bit about binaural beats and how they work?

The mechanism behind binaural beats is very simple — on the face of it, at least. Two pure sine-wave tones are fed to the brain, one in each ear. For example, you could play a 200Hz tone to the left ear, and a 210Hz tone to the right ear. The end result, as far as the listener is concerned, is that they hear a tone of 205Hz but pulsating or ‘beating’ at a frequency of 10Hz. This 10Hz stimulation is what leads to the entrainment.

This could be viewed as simple wave interference, but actually it is a lot more complex than that because the sound waves never get to mix in the air. They do not meet until they have already been converted into
signals in the nervous system of the brain.

Our hearing centres do a lot of complex processing on the sounds that we hear, especially to determine the direction and distance of objects in our environment. If an object is to our left, then sounds from that object arrive first at the left ear, then slightly later at the right ear. There is a part of the brain dedicated to detecting these delays which gives us our sense of sound direction.

When the brain is fed tones of slightly differing frequency, this is interpreted as a sound with a delay that is constantly changing. The direction-detection part of our brain reacts to this sound, resulting in the beating effect that we perceive.

Directional hearing is a very low-level, primitive function of the brain, and the centres dedicated to it are right on the brain stem (the ‘superior olivary complex’). This means that causing a beating stimulation here with binaural beats has the potential to cause entrainment effects quite different to those produced by light glasses or other methods of entrainment. Certainly it is valuable tool.

Binaural Beats diagram

Binaural beats diagram from Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Binaural Beats

How did you first learn about binaural beats?

I first heard about binaural beats through attending a workshop with Ken Eagle Feather (Kenneth Smith), a Toltec teacher. He had been a test subject in the labs of Robert Monroe.

Why did you decide to create SbaGen?

I wanted to experiment with binaural beats, so the obvious thing to do was to create a tool to allow me to do that. However, I now realize that I am not a genius like Robert Monroe! It is one thing to build a tool that generates tones to a high standard, but quite another to have the inspiration to create sequences that take people to other places. This is like the difference between a musical instrument maker and a virtuoso player. So, whilst I’ve been able to create the tool, I have to leave it to others to create interesting sequences.

SbaGen screenshot
SbaGen screenshot

What programming language is it written in?

It was originally written in C for Linux /dev/dsp, a long time ago when a fast machine was a 75MHz Pentium and I was still thinking like an assembler programmer. So, apologies for any poor style! Over the years it has been adapted for Windows and Mac, and even things like Blackfin boards. It uses integer-only arithmetic, even for MP3 and OGG decoding, which is an advantage when porting to ARM, for example.

However, modern processors are capable of a lot more and if I were to rewrite it today, I’d consider the use of other techniques.

What happened with I-Doser and SbaGen’s source code?

As far as I can gather, the guy behind I-Doser calls himself Christopher Canavan, based on messages to the SBaGen list and WHOIS data. It seems that he had a bright idea of how to make lots of money from binaural beats, and he contracted some programmer “for hire” to develop a GUI wrapper around SBaGen that added encryption and some means of packaging sequences. However, he did not pay any attention to SBaGen’s GPL license — he just took what he wanted.

As it happens, he violated the SBaGen license by modifying it and not redistributing the source code of the changes, as required by the GPL. With a little more care, he could have got what he wanted without any
license trouble or payment.

For a long time I knew nothing about this. Then I started getting E-mails from SBaGen users bringing the problem to my attention. I could see that I was dealing with someone who was a bit shady, and I really didn’t look forward to having to negotiate with him, especially as I am based in the UK and he is based in the US. Eventually the pressure from users was so much that I had to act and try to resolve the issue.

I’m sure that Christopher Canavan (or whoever he really is) is making huge amounts of money from I-Doser — I’ve heard stories of individuals spending hundreds of dollars. I’m also sure that with enough money spent on lawyers I could have had a large slice of his cake. But in our discussions he gave me the impression of being completely evasive and untrustworthy. I considered the stress and cost of protracted legal action in a foreign country, and decided on something symbolic instead. On moral grounds, I’m not sure that I would have wanted a slice of his cake in any case.

So I settled for putting the source code in order, and him paying me $1000 (which he paid without hesitation), and having a link from his site to mine so that there was a ‘way out’ for people looking for more information.

I-Doser has gone global — I’ve heard reports of worried parents and officials from as far away as Russia and Korea. What I-Doser has done is very clever from a business and marketing point of view, but also quite corrupt (in my eyes). But then you could say the same of Coca Cola or McDonalds. You can see why I am not a successful businessman!


Coil – “Methoxy-N, N-Dimethyl,” from their album Time Machines

Do you believe that I-Doser can actually deliver on their promise of providing a variety of discrete recreational psychoactive experiences? My own experience working with SbaGen, Brainwave Generator, and sound and light machines is that it does feel like “something happens,” but I haven’t found that the specific experience each one is aiming for (“relaxation,” “creativity,” “stimulation,” etc.) In fact, I actually conducted some controlled experiments with classmates as a research project in college. We investigated whether the “intelligence enhancement” setting of a particular sound and light machine was effective at improving MENSA test exam scores. We didn’t get statistically significant results.

No, I don’t believe that I-Doser can deliver on their promise. If I hit you over the head with a mallet you will see stars, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve had a marvellous journey through the universe. However with a good enough sales pitch maybe I can make you believe that you have.

I-Doser uses quite high-amplitude binaural beats, much higher than is recommended by organizations such as The Monroe Institute or CenterPointe, where the beats are generally only just audible under the soundtrack.

I guess you could compare I-Doser’s use of binaural beats to typical teenagers’ use of substances like alcohol — i.e. excessive. Actually, I think that this may be the key to it. For some reason people of that age are attracted to self-destruction in various forms, and I-Doser are tapping into that with their fantastical and exaggerated descriptions of their sessions’ properties. It is on about the same level as teenage experimentation with alcoholic drinks.

Whether listening to high-amplitude binaural beats does any harm, I really don’t know. But would the harm be more or less than the harm done by getting completely intoxicated with alcohol? Who knows.

In some ways I am sad to see binaural beats used in this way, but on the other hand it does raise interest in a tool that is very valuable for people who are past their teenage self-destructive phase and who are looking to do something rather more constructive.

There is great potential for new research combining binaural beats with other techniques such as biofeedback or EEG. By a happy accident, nature has provided us with a direct signal feed into the brain stem without any surgery required!

The applications of binaural beats are varied, but they will never be a ‘silver bullet’ to instantly give you high MENSA scores or whatever.

I’ve heard from Buddhist monks who found that binaural beats took them to places in consciousness that required years of meditation to reach by normal means. But again this sounds better than it is — they were
practiced meditators, so they could follow the guide provided by the beats to reach those places. Someone who is not practiced in meditation would fall asleep or pop out of entrainment under the same conditions. Meditation takes time to learn, but binaural beats can be used as a guide for practice.

The late Robert Monroe used binaural beats, sometimes combined with flotation chambers and sensory deprivation, to guide people to places he knew from his journeys out-of-body. This could be seen as another
form of meditation.

Then there are organizations such as CenterPointe who see binaural beats as a means of emotional cleansing. They use both carrier frequency and beat frequency to plot a 2-D map, which they traverse slowly, session by session, stimulating and clearing blocked emotions. I can testify to the strength of some of these clearing effects through my own experiments with similar sessions. ‘Overwhelm’ is a condition where you have stimulated too much emotional material, and you feel half-crazy and a bit on the edge. The advantage that binaural beats have in this application is that they are 100% under your control. You choose how often to listen, or when it is time to have a few days break to let things calm down again.

I have even heard from someone who lives in constant pain due to a spinal injury who found that binaural beats of a certain frequency allowed him to sleep. He appreciated the way that he could tune the frequency very precisely to meet his needs.

Again, it is the precision, controllability and repeatability of binaural beats compared to other means of influencing the organism that give them a real advantage here.

Are you still working on SbaGen? Will there ever be a GUI?

Unfortunately I don’t have time to work on new features due to having to earn a living. Whilst I would love to write a GUI, I think that realistically other things are going to get my attention before that in the limited free time that I have. So, unfortunately probably not.

Have you considered creating an iPhone or Android app?

No, sorry.

Further Resources

I-Doser doses reverse engineered for SbaGen

Monroe Institute entry on WikiPedia

Gnuaral Another cross-platform, open-source binaural beat application

Technoccult interview with HipGnosis, an electronic musician who uses binaural beats in his work.

Social Physics with Kyle Findlay – Technoccult Interview

Kyle Findlay

Regular readers of this site may have noticed a large number of posts on this site credited to “Social Physicist” – the Twitter handle of Kyle Findlay (and yes, you could be forgiven for confusing our names). Kyle works for a group within one of the world’s largest market research companies, which he describes as a “mini-think tank” with the purpose of exposing people to new ways of thinking and doing things. Having enjoyed his Twitter stream for the past year or so, I got in touch with Kyle Findlay to ask him about the practice of “social physics.” He talked to me by instant message from from his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

Klint Finley: What, as a “social physicist,” do you actually do?

Kyle Findlay: Well, at the moment I’m on my own in this “field,” if you can call it that. It just seems like the best description of what I do and what interests me so hopefully it sticks.

Basically, my interest is in understanding how people act as groups. As emergent entities that have their own (hopefully) predictable and describable topological forms. That’s the lofty idea anyway. And the tools of chaos theory, systems theory, network theory, physics, mathematics, etc. help describe this.

Do you have a background in physical sciences?

None at all. I studied “business science” at the University of Cape Town. My first job was for a company with a strong academic background, started by a professor of religion and a statistician. They used a 5-dimensional catastrophe cusp model to describe people’s relationships with ideas.

The moment I was exposed to this thinking, something clicked. A lot of contradictions that I saw in the world around me were resolved. Ever since I have had an insatiable desire to understand these areas. Which led me to interact with experts in many disciplines from neuroscience to economics, math, physics, AI, ecology, biology, etc. Every field has a piece of the puzzle. I am lucky to work in an environment that gives me free rein to indulge my passion.

Fractal Zoom
Sketch: Fractal Zoom by Kyle Findlay

Do you think what you do is different from systems thinking or social cybernetics?

They are definitely components. Systems thinking is a broad umbrella term. Cybernetics definitely helps us to understand and describe the patterns and multi-dimensional shapes that society creates. But I think that you need the hard sciences like math and physics to really get at the heart of it. Which is why I am feverishly trying to catch up on many years of missing education.

Do you think there are any dangers in applying models designed for physical systems to human behavior?

Yes there are – you will always be at least slightly wrong. There are a lot of parallels between the way people act in groups and other types of particles. But you also have the same problems of predictability in complex systems: sensitivity to initial conditions, 3-body problem, etc. It’s kind of the paradox of it all, something I am still trying to come to grips with.

What’s the most surprising insight you’ve discovered since you started studying this?

Everything is the same and everything is just information. The universal nature of nature is astounding. You see the familiar signs everywhere: from the atomic through to the cosmic level. It makes me think that there really is only one true science or line of inquiry and that most specialised fields are just facets of this. The more fields I delve into, the more commonalities I discover. It’s become par for the course for me now I think. But in the beginning, it really blew my mind.

Man's Part in the System
Sketch: Man’s Part in the System by Kyle Findlay

Have you been able to apply this stuff in any interesting ways? For example, I know you’ve prepared presentations on network theory and power laws for work.

Those have gone down really well within the silos I work in. People have really been amazed when I’ve shown them these kinds of things. It gets their minds racing.

I’m also doing some work applying systems theory to sports science, which can really benefit from changing the way they view the human body. Music is another area that makes a lot more sense from this point of view.

One of my favourites is understanding how human attention works and how to synchronise communication so that it becomes internalized, but that is very theoretical and could be seen as slightly Machiavellian so I won’t go there.

Also, I’ve been having some interesting chats with a neuroscientist around decision-making, attention, etc. The applications are really endless, it’s just where you choose to focus you own attention.

How would you suggest someone interested get started studying social physics?

Well, considering I’m not 100% sure what falls into the bounds of the field myself, it’s difficult to say. There’s no university course for it as far as I know. I would say that you need to have an intense desire to understand why people do what they do. And a slightly perverse fascination with the human condition. Looking at life from a systems perspective is a good start. Understand that patterns are formed internally, that change is the only constant. You can then use tools like network theory, noise analysis, entropy, etc. to understand these ebbs and flows.

Are you familiar with Stephen Wolfram? He wrote a book called a New Kind of Science.

Yes, I know of Stephen Wolfram from his software and Wolfram Alpha. I’ve been intimidated by the size of his book, though. I struggle justifying devoting so much time to one book, which probably says more about me…

Yeah, I haven’t picked it up yet either.

He sounds like a really bright guy. I think I watched a talk of his at the Singularity Summit or somewhere similar, but to be honest, can’t remember much of it.

Most of my reading is in the scientific literature, interspersed with a good book or graphic novel.

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Speaking of which, do you know of any works of fiction that demonstrate the principles you’re interested in?

Good question. Not too many spring to mind. A classic is Flatland by Edwin Abbot – the quintessential metaphor for perceiving multiple dimensions. The guy wrote a book about perceiving multiple dimensions in the 1800s! Impressive.

A recent book that blew my mind was Accelerando by Charles Stross. He has a great worldview but his insights were more in terms of extrapolating the directions technology is going in.

Yourself? Any suggestions?

Snow Crash seems like it might be relevant. Or the film Run Lola Run.

I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t read Snow Crash. Why do you say Run Lola Run? Time? Sensitivity to initial conditions?

Yep. It shows how tiny changes in a system can have far-ranging results. A starting delay of only a couple of seconds radically changes things for several characters in the different timelines.

True. I’m not going to mention Back to the Future 2 or The Butterfly Effect (although I just did).

Have you heard of the 1990 film, Mindwalk?

No.

It was co-written by Fritjof Capra and consists of several characters discussing the nature of the world from a systems perspective. I have to admit that i fell asleep during it… but I was very tired.

That sounds pretty amazing though.

Yeah – good credentials right there.

My personal favourites are any films or books that push society’s limits. Subversive materials rule in my book (no pun intended). Anything that helps me push back my pre-conceptions and shatter my expectations. They were great at that in the 70s, in music, film and literature. Probably a side-effect of the 60s experimentations. I’m a big fan of exploitation flicks.

Let’s see, what else… I haven’t read Alan Moore’s Big Numbers. But Moore seems to have a pretty good grasp on complexity, judging by Watchmen and From Hell.

I haven’t read Big Numbers either. What elements do you think he draws on in those books?
Watchmen

Watchmen itself seems to be very mathematical – the use of symmetry and so on. In terms of themes, maybe it doesn’t touch on this stuff much, apart from some of Dr. Manhattan’s comments.

Yeah, he definitely weaves a non-linear richness into his tales that is admirable. The way he weaves the various threads of a story together.

I forget why I thought From Hell was relevant. Maybe it’s not.

Also, he calls himself a chaos magician. Watching an interview with him a while back, I could actually identify with a lot of what he was saying.

I wasn’t going to go there, but… have you studying chaos magic or the occult at all?

No I haven’t. That Moore interview is probably as far as I have gone. It’s just not a direction I feel I can go in and remain “grounded” if I want other researchers to take me seriously. But I can definitely see how he got there.

Well, I have and I think you’re better off studying natural sciences, systems, and complexity IMHO.

[Laughs] Cool, thanks for the advice.

But the book Techgnosis by Erik Davis examines a lot of parallels between information theory and cybernetics and mysticism and the occult. I think it stands up pretty well, even if you’re not interested in magic.

I think you have to have a certain detachment to take a step back and observe the world. And when you start seeing everything as inter-related and part of the same thread it becomes easier to start imagining that you can define the tapestry with your perceptions. I guess I don’t want to open that Pandora’s Box. In my view it untethers you. Again, talking from an inexperienced point of view in this area.

Davis’ book sounds interesting though.

From an interview with Manuel DeLanda (who you might be interested in) -conducted by Davis, incidentally:

As Deleuze says, “Always keep a piece of fresh land with you at all times.” Always keep a little spot where you can go back to sleep after a day of destratification. Always keep a small piece of territory, otherwise you’ll go nuts.

Yeah exactly. I find that the concepts I deal with in my day job challenge me enough, and that’s all based on empirically grounded ‘fact’ in the scientific literature.

Most people work very hard to maintain their reality, but I do think that you have to have an affinity towards detachment. A certain world view that is open to having your illusions shattered and actually enjoying that experience. And the cutting edge of science delivers those experiences in spades.

Kyle Findlay

More Info

Kyle on Twitter

Kyle’s Slideshares

Kyle’s Flickr

Cult of Zir and Ogo Eion – Technoccult Interview

Cult of Zir with Ogo Eion Shortwave Ministry for Theatre Noir

<a href="http://cultofzir.bandcamp.com/album/shortwave-ministry-for-theatre-noir">south by cult of zir</a>

For the past decade, Nolon Ashley (aka Cult of Zir) and Ogo Eion (aka An Exquisite Corpse) have been gracing the pacific northwest with their audio experiments. Now the two have release an album together: Shortwave Ministry for Theatre Noir (available for free, I might add).

The duo talked to me from an undisclosed porch in Portland. Hit play on the embedded album above, kick back and do whatever you do to get into that special headspace, and read what they have to say about their latest work.

Cult of Zir and Ogo Eion
Left: Nolon Ashley. Right: Ogo Eion. Photo by Gabriel Schroder

Klint Finley: How did this collaboration come about?

Nolon: The material itself was requested by a man named Nathan HG who is putting together some theatre noir pieces with a troupe of dancers he’s assembled. He came to me and wanted the central theme to be “white” noise, and the first thought that hit my head was Ogo’s impeccable shortwave radio toys. It was an easy decision. Ogo and I have been friends for years and have worked together in several different ways.

Ogo: Yeah – Nolon asked me to bring my shortwave radio over to the Octopus Templi (his house) and we sat down and he recorded some samples.

Nolon: I did a bunch of work for other performance troupes last year, probably more than I did as Cult of Zir itself, and this time I meant to at least make sure more folks heard it than those who just went to the performances.

What equipment and/or software did you use? How was it recorded?

Nolon: We used a lot of SCIENCE. It’s all done in Ableton. No plugins.

Ogo
Photo by Gabriel Schroder

Ogo: I brought my “trademark” shortwave radio, which i scored at a thrift store some ten years ago maybe – it’s seen much use since then. It’s a Sony FM/AM multi-band receiver ICF-5900W. It never breaks and keep battery charge for years. And I’ve always been quite impressed by the variety of sounds I can conjure up from this little beast.

Nolon: For this volume of the Shortwave Ministry, I gave the radio sounds the lead, and all my synth/vocal/guitar work is more or less there to reinforce the textures that came from that. Volume 2 will be more focused on abrasive sounds, with pianos instead of guitars.

Is the shortwave radio modified in any way?

Ogo: It’s not circuit bent, no. Though it’s seen some wear over the years that has seemed to affect it.

Nolon: I ran it through the same filters and delays and reverbs as everything else. There was some ham radio christian we tapped that night a few times. Something about homosexuality, a real bigot.

Ogo: Right. Mostly I ride those “sweet spots” between channels – static frequency sweeps and whatnot. But there’s some real interesting stuff that happens when a channel starts to bleed through and intermix with that. Sometimes I swear it’s channeling alien transmissions.

Nolon: He’s playing it right now, in fact! I thought we were listening to the album. I went “Wow it sounds so different than it does thru my system!”

Ogo: It’s the remix.

Was it recorded on the porch?

Ogo:It was recorded on the porch inside Nolon’s bedroom.

Nolon: Chez Cephalopod is a porch inside a bedroom built into an attic, in the bottom of the ocean, floating in space…

Zero
Ogo as his character Zero in Bogville. Photo by Chrisopher Perez

Some of it reminds me a lot of Bogville [a live musical that Nolon, Ogo, and several other PNW artists were a part of].

Ogo: Well, the radio made its theatrical debut in the Bogville series. It was both a ‘prop’ and an instrument for the Prophets of Doom contingent of the swamp.

Nolon: I loved that. He used it to find the dead reverend at one point, like Ghostbusters. ‘Cause his character was blind.

Ogo: Recordings of it appear on the Bogville soundtrack compilation for chapter one.

Nolon: Yes, please buy that. Several copies.

Actually, my wife and I each bought a copy of it not realizing that the other was buying it, so our household has 2 copies. I hadn’t realized his character was blind. So he used the radio as both a means of expression, and as a way of sensing the world.

Ogo: Right. That and the static noise emitted had a forceful sonic quality, so it was used to intimidate/indoctrinate our “cult followers” (in the play, not the cult in “real” life).

Nolon: I’m pretty sure it worked in real life, too, right? Like, my character didn’t, but I certainly joined the cult of doom, at least privately.

Yeah, it convinced me too. I’ll sign up for the Prophets of Doom.

Prophets of Doom
The Prophets of Doom. Photo by Chrisopher Perez

Nolon: The Prophets have their pitch down damn well.

Ogo: Heh. I think we disbanded last year. But feel free to start your own Doom Cult, please.

That’s sad, so we won’t be seeing the Prophets of Doom on stage any more? That was a great outfit.

Ogo: Well, I suppose I can’t really say anything with certainty. But the myriad of creative creatures involved in that outfit have sort of gone different directions now. I mean, some of the stars of the show don’t even live in Portland anymore.

We’re all still collaborating together though, in different forms and times. Myrk and I have some experiments we are conducting.

I was hoping Prophets of Doom would do more shows independent of Bogville, actually.

Ogo: Oh totally. We did toss that idea around. Scott’s up in Olympia these days and seems pretty busy revitalizing Hall of the Woods at the moment.

Nolon: I’d like to see them take over city hall

Then the state building!

Ogo: P.O.D. initially came about as sort of a theatrical parody of pre-existing projects at the time anyway. There was also this real life cult that inspired a lot of our imagery: Do Not Seek the Light. Though I don’t really know much about the group’s origins or extensive history.

Ogo, you and Scott were working on another project together weren’t you?

Ogo: I performed with Scott, and at times other collaborators, as Blood Seeks Blood for a time, yeah.

Nolon Ashley aka Cult of Zir
Nolon Ashley. Photo by Petr Sorfa

I thought the first track from Shortwave Ministry had a distinct krautrock flavor. Was that deliberate or did it just happen? (Or am I crazy?)

Nolon: I’m not going to say you’re not crazy. I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m a mad artist. The album kind of made itself. I’m inspired by that movement though, yeah. Terribly. It’s the first time I’ve used a guitar on a Cult of Zir recording if that’s what you mean.

Was it actual guitar or was it sampled?

Nolon: There’s actual guitar. The shortwave really lended a sort of analogue synth and/or theremin feel that reminds me of early psychedelic stuff, and I balanced that with some virtual analogue synth work in the software domain.

It also reminded me a lot of musique concrete, and that was definitely the radio.

Nolon: Yes.

Sonic Terror
Photo by Gabriel Schroder

How did the two of you meet? What was your first collaboration?

Nolon: Oh shit, I guess it was the first CACOPHONY. I was in a band called Autism for a minute.

Ogo: I booked Nolon’s first show (right?) as Cult of Zir for CACOPHONY. After getting to know him over various porch sits at Doll House.

Nolon: Oh that too!

Ogo: Oh right, I forgot about Autism.

Nolon: It was porches, whatever it was.

Ogo: That was really the first CACOPHONY, in the vacant space that became Someday Lounge.

Nolon: Autism. It was spearheaded by Guy Tyler who had done work with John Zorn and still plays with the Portland Opera. He’s an incredible cracked academic musician and Autism was his way of shrugging that all off in favour of getting out of his brain. A kind of throbbing sound. He played bass and sang. Noah Mickens played scrap metal in Autism, and Andrew of Sonic Alchemy and Stalking Jane played synths.

Ogo: Then later you played the first CACOPHONY as Cult of Zir, in Someday Lounge once it had become an actual legal venue and everything. So you were there “at the beginning”, both times.Cult of Zir at Pocket Sandwich in Portland 7/11/08

Nolon: Ogo lured Cult of Zir out of the basement.

Ogo: Totally, that was one of the goals of the series: luring noise musicians and other audio/performance experimenters out of their basements and getting them out in front of people.

Nolon: That show was on Friday the 13th of October, the anniversary of the Knights Templar execution (at least mythically,) and Maya Deren’s death as well.

2006?

Ogo: Autism played May of 2005. Then Cult of Zir was October (Friday the 13th) of 06.

With this album in the can, what’s next for the two of you?

Nolon: There’s another two on the way. This is a series. If you notice, the tracks mark out the major cardinal quadrants on the compass. The next one will fill in the other four: SE, NE, NW, and SE. And the third release will be above, below, and center. I basically want to get Nathan as much material to choreograph to as possible and exhaust my need to obsess on these gorgeous shortwave samples ever again.

Cult of Zir has two more records in the works too, now that I have lots of free time. One is the material I made in the last two years, mostly experienced on stage. The other is a release of all the other stuff I’ve already done for performance troupes. One being the Bogville material, perhaps reworked a bit, and Meghann Rose’s Mirror Milk being the other. Lots of great stuff got made outside of Cult of Zir last year, as I was saying.

Cult of Zir live
Cult of Zir live at the Seattle Occultural Music Festival

So it will be released as a Zir record?

Nolon: With appropriate hat tips to the projects the material was made for.

Ogo: I’m trying to put out a solo album as An Exquisite Corpse this year, but I said that last year too.

What about live work? Will both you be performing, or are you focusing on studio work?

Nolon: Nothing booked right now. I’m unemployed and taking advantage of the time I can spend creating. Thanks mostly to only having time to perform outside of the office grind, I’m pretty prepared to record the material that mostly only Portland has heard now. Seattle and Olympia seem to like it though.


Exquisite Corps at the Oceans Within event at Christoff Gallery in Seattle, 11/16/07.

Ogo: My process has always been focused on performance. Getting out there and making something in the moment. It’s only recently that I’ve even thought about studio work. But it’s a definite goal, though a different yet useful process. More mediated. Spontaneity vs process of Refining. Actually, all the recorded tracks I have released have been one-take recordings.

Nolon: Seems the “responsible” thing to do, anyway, no? For that matter, Shortwave Ministry was done pretty one-off. Every track was done in one take. It took a single evening to produce, once the samples were taken down.

So the radio samples were recorded before that session?

Ogo: Yes. I sat down with Nolon and we spent maybe an hour recording samples, I gave him some different dynamics. Slow sweeps and more active spastic channel switching. How he put it all together, up to its release date, was all a surprise to me.

Nolon: Yeah, there were some minor directional cues or whatever but mostly I wanted Ogo to do his thing. The production process happens pretty naturally at this point. I mean, you can map any function to any knob you want then get into an altered space and intuit the direction in the moment. That’s pretty much how it all happened, an immediatist process.

Ogo: Totally. Like the hardware as a sensory extension of your body.

Nolon: The album made itself, I almost want no fucking credit for it.

Ogo: Nolon gets all the credit.

Nolon: But I’ll take the money, all zero dollars the record costs. I think it’s just that we’re that comfortable with the process at this point this is the way we live, we breathe this stuff. It’s second nature.

More Info

Cult of Zir official web site

Cult of Zir on Bandcamp

Cult of Zir Technoccult TV interview

An Exquisite Corpse

Tessellate (Ogo’s clothing designs)

iokaos (Ogo’s graphic design)

Cult of Zir and Ogo Eion

Boing Boing’s David Pescovitz – Technoccult interview

David Pescovitz
Photo by Bart Nagel

David Pescovitz (aka Pesco) is an editor of Boing Boing, research director with the Institute for the Future, and editor-at-large for MAKE. Perhaps the most mysterious of the Boingers, Pesco joined me by instant message to talk about his lifelong interest in the weird and wonderful.

Klint Finley: How did you get involved with Boing Boing? Were you a contributor to the original magazine?

David Pescovitz: I read Boing Boing when I was in college in the early 1990s. When I moved to San Francisco in 1993 and started working at Wired, I met Mark because he had just started as an editor there. Mark took me downstairs to meet his wife Carla Sinclair who was running the ‘zine out of a basement office. We quickly became very close friends and I started writing for the print ‘zine. From there, we took it online and the long strange trip continued. Back then, the print ‘zine had maybe 10,000 readers if that. Now the blog has 5 million.

A journalist once asked Timothy Leary what people should do after they “turn on.” Tim said, “Find the others.” Every day, I feel incredibly fortunate that Boing Boing helps me do that.

I’ve noticed that most of the time there’s something about the occult on Boing Boing, it’s posted by you. Sometimes Mark, but mostly you. How did you get interested in the occult? What attracted you to it?

Well, I’ve been interested in weird phenomena and fringe ideas since I was a child. I was always looking up Bigfoot, UFOs, and telekinesis at the library. Now, I realize of course that the Occult doesn’t necessarily connect to those things, and those things don’t necessarily connect to each other. But in my head at least it’s all related as a curiosity about the strange.

Yeah, I think that’s how it starts for a lot of people. It was exactly the same way for me.

Much later, I discovered Robert Anton Wilson and Cosmic Trigger became a port of entry for me. Or maybe a “port of exit.”

Are you now, or have you ever been, a practicing magician or are you just interested in the history, the culture, etc.?

The latter. I find the history, the “characters,” and the aesthetic to be fascinating. I guess I’m a bit of a poseur in that regard.

It reminds me of something that Rudy Rucker once said about the psychedelic side of the early cyberculture. He said he liked reading about people’s drug trips, and hearing what they learned, but didn’t have much interest in taking drugs himself.

That’s how I am now, actually. I tried a lot of magical experiments over the years, but now I’m mostly interested in history and how ideas from the occult have ended up penetrating science and other areas.

Exactly! The historical connections between science, technology, art, and the occult are fascinating. In many ways, it seems that people were using different metaphors to describe the same amazing, wonderful things.

I could be wrong, but it seems like occult related posts on BB have actually increased over the past couple years – you had Mitch Horowitz guest blog there, for instance. Has this raised any eyebrows, elicited any significant negative response?

My interest in the subject, in any subject, ebbs and flows, probably based in part on the people I encounter in the “real world.” And perhaps it’s been flowing again recently.

Boing Boing is a group blog, and we have as many opinions as we do contributors. We usually don’t discuss what any of us are going to post about, and we certainly don’t judge what each other may be interested in at the moment. The only filter I need to have when determining whether to post something is if it’s interesting to me.

Now, we also post a great deal about traditional science on Boing Boing. And are often critical about organized religion. So some commenters who may be Rationalists or Skeptics (note the capitals) might experience a disconnect when a post about James Randi is followed a few days later by an essay by my friend Jacques Vallee. But in my opinion, that perceived dissonance is part of Boing Boing’s magic. Or rather, magick. ; )

As my friend Jody Radzik of Guruphiliac pointed out to me, Boing Boing as a whole appeals to the full spectrum of “geekdom.” And that spectrum includes scientists, conspiracy theorists, hardcore rationalists, diehard skeptics, New Agers, Forteans, paranormal investigators, cryptozoologists, etc. And I appreciate that diversity!

And while there may not be enough evidence, in my opinion, to support a far-out idea that someone is presenting on Boing Boing, I still enjoy pausing for a moment and saying “What if?”

What is the most far-out, fringe or incredible idea that you think might actually be correct?

From the very first time I encountered Jacques Vallee’s idea that we’re living in a Control System, and also read similar ideas from John Keel, Hans Moravec, Rudy Rucker, and others, I’ve always gone back to that notion whenever I want to blow my own mind.And this was decades before The Matrix.

Could you elaborate on that idea?

In recent years, mathematicians, phlosophers, and physicists like Nick Bostrom, Ed Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, Seth Lloyd, and others have explored the idea that we’re living in a simulation or that the universe is a quantum computer.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand the physics or math underlying these theories, and I recognize that they are just theories and difficult to prove, but the very fact that so many brilliant people from a variety of disciplines are seriously asking these questions delights me to no end.

You’re the lowest profile of the Boingers. You don’t have any books that you’re promoting on the site, or anything like that. Do you have any books or anything like that coming out?

I don’t have any books in-the-works at the moment. I’ve written several proposals over the years, but was burned out on the ideas by the time I finished the outline. To me, that’s a good sign I haven’t found the right topic yet.

Also, I’m happily busy with my other work outside of Boing Boing, as a research director at Institute for the Future.

The Institute for the Future just finished up its 10 year forecast, correct?

IFTF does a 10 Year Forecast every year. Each year, my colleagues look at the technological and societal trends — from demographics to disease, sustainability to science — most likely to have a large impact on the way we live.

I’m not directly involved in IFTF’s Ten Year Forecast research program, as my work is more focused in the Technology Horizons program.

Are there any interesting trends you’re researching now that you can tell us about?

Actually, my research in the last year or so is related to what we just discussed about life in a “control system.”

My colleagues and I were exploring what a world might look like if “everything is programmable.” As we have access to more data about ourselves and our environment than ever before.

Sensor networks, bio-monitors, pervasive computers, and a host of other new technologies have given us unprecedented insight into the chaos and patterns underlying our world. Once we understand what the data means, we can act on it. We live in a control system and are developing new techniques — from social software to gene therapies to geoengineering — to tweak the dials and see the results in real-time.

And so we’re using genetic engineering to reprogram DNA, drugs to reprogram our brains, digital media to reprogram our social networks, etc.

Pesco with a Dreamachine
Above: Pesco with a Dreamachine

So instead of a control system controlled externally, we’re building a control system of our own design?

To some degree. More that it seems useful as a metaphor, to look at the world through a computational lens. And that metaphor raises huge questions and dilemmas, of course.

How do you make sure it’s not just an elite group that knows how to do the programming? What unintended consequences might emerge when you start fiddling with the knobs of reality?

That reminds me of Burroughs’s idea of the Reality Studio, which reminds me that you’re a fan of Burroughs – would you say his thinking has influenced your own, or do you just find him interesting?

Indeed, Burroughs and Brion Gysin both had a big impact on me. Burroughs’s notion of Control and finding ways to derail it are tremendously provocative. And I think their work with cut-ups predated much of the language of media used by MTV, Madison Avenue, and even the hyperlinked Web.

And as a futurist, I have to love this Burroughs quote: “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”

Burroughs also had a terrific sense of humor, of course.
I have art by both Burroughs and Gysin hanging above my desk and it inspires me every day.

Whenever I start to feel a bit too complacent I end up thinking of Burroughs’s writings about control. That usually fires me up a bit.

He was a master at shifting your perception with just a single sentence.

Vale of RE/Search Publishing once told me that Burroughs advised him to always look up a lot when you’re wandering around a city. It’s amazing the things you can see by just looking in non-obvious places.


Pesco on The World as a Wunderkammer at TEDx SoMa

Beyond Growth – Technoccult interviews Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller

Duff McDuffee
Above: Duff McDuffee

Eric Schiller
Above: Eric Schiller

Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller run the blog Beyond Growth, a site dedicated to bringing some much needed criticism to the modern “personal development” business. Duff and Eric joined me via instant message from Boulder, CO and Belingham, WA respectively to answer some questions about the field.

Klint Finley: I suppose we should begin by first talking a little bit about “personal development” – what is it, how did this business emerge?

Duff McDuffee: You mean the field itself?

Klint: Right. Personal development as a business.

Eric Schiller: Duff is probably a bit more of an expert on that particular question, but I’ll add my thoughts to his response.

Napoleon Hill holding a copy of his book Think and Grow Rich
Napoleon Hill holding a copy of his book Think and Grow Rich

Duff: Ok. Well, from what I understand it largely emerged in the early 20th century when New Thought religious ideas became popular and were applied to worldly success. The basic idea was contained in such books as Think and Grow Rich and As a Man Thinketh.

The notion was that you could create stuff with the power of your mind. The correlary is that if you aren’t getting what you want, you need to do a kind of mental hygeine and clean up your stinkin’ thinkin’ (to quote Zig Ziglar).

So you have people like Napolean Hill, who died broke by the way, writing books on how to get rich by visualizing and affirming one’s future wealth.

Eric: In Douglas Rushkoff’s book Life Inc. he argues that ‘personal development’ or self help found its place in corporations, in order to help the remaining staff become more efficient after job cuts.

Thus personal development has deep capitalistic roots, based in becoming more useful for society, and or your particular corporate persuasion.

The Bobs

Duff: Yes, an excellent point Eric. Books like Who Moved My Cheese encouraged employees to “embrace change” and stay positive while they were being downsized for no fault of their own to make short-term profits for stakeholders. Barbara Ehrenreich covers this too in Bright Sided.

Whether or not this was intended, personal development functions as a perfect religion for capitalism. Pray for money and consumer goods and social status, and take 100% responsibility even when your circumstances are largely determined by social structures and institutions that are not in your direct control.

Eric: The early gurus cherry picked from Maslow and Jung – whatever ideas sounded good at the time.

Duff: Today’s gurus still do

Klint: OK. So how does this – or does it – tie into other areas like “self-help,” “lifehacking,” and, most recently, “lifestyle design”?

Eric: Personal development and self help are effectively the same, personal development is a more recent name for the same thing.

Duff: They are all synonyms as far as I’m concerned, rebranding.

Eric: Life hacking is different, but I think it is in effect, part of the same trope. Life hacking is a branch of hacking culture, it is really technologically based, but is all about “bettering oneself” so it has taken on the goal of PD or self help.

Duff: “Lifehacking” seems to me to be another name for geeking out on consumer gadgets and software for the most part. I mean if you really want to hack your life, do Vipassana meditation, or read Hegel, or take acid (not my preference, but that will seriously hack some stuff up).

Tim Ferris
Above: Tim Ferris goofing off while his employees do all his work.

Eric: The strange place is where the lifestyle designers and the life hackers collide, there you get people like Tim Ferris

Duff: Lifestyle design is interesting because only the privileged count as designing their lives. When a Mexican immigrates to the U.S. in order to have a better life for himself and his family, it isn’t lifestyle design. In fact, most lifestyle design focuses on 1st world young men with laptops who do freelancing living in developing nations to get a good exchange rate.

Eric: Yeah, lifestyle design itself is very priveledged, and only high-end consumers tend to get into it. They believe it is not consumption, but in reality it functions as a higher almost more evil form of consumption.

Duff: Part of the lifestyle design ethos involves an “escape from corporate jobs” which is of course nonsense. The first thing a lifestyle designer does is create an LLC in his or her own name, then engage in personal branding, and often exploit cheap overseas labor. The corporate ethos has been driven deeper, not avoided.

Klint: Well, it’s been escaped for the person doing the designing – but not for anyone who’s being outsourced to.

Duff: Right. So lifestyle design is really in the same boat as those business books on how to think like a CEO. But it plays off a countercultural branding.

Klint: Well, let me ask you guys this: is there anything so wrong with wanting to escape the corporate 9-to-5? Are they really hurting anyone by bringing business to these countries?

Eric: I think that question isn’t really getting at what is going on on these blogs. Tim Ferris offers to his readers “escaping the 9-5″ but in reality, he hasn’t done it himself. To him, “work” is doing stuff you don’t like, and the rest is fun. To him, a lot of the “fun” makes him money. Ferris works his butt off on his image and his books.

Klint: You’re right, becuase most of what’s actually going on, so far as I can tell, is these guys are going around having a blast and selling shady “info products” to marks with the promise that they can do what they do.

Eric: Ferris is offering a facade to his readers, that they can “make it” by doing very little work. This is really not a new idea, and has been offered in a multitude of self-help/business bookis.

Duff: What’s remarkable about Tim Ferris is that in his book he openly brags about cheating at Tango and martial arts. He used a radical dehydration technique to enter a much lower weight class, then pushed his opponents out of the ring and won on a technicality. This is the kind of business sense he is teaching–how to exploit loopholes in the rules for personal fame and profit.

It’s not really that surprising that Ferris is therefore the guru’s guru when it comes to shady internet marketing schemes that promise get rich/lifestyle quick.

Jonathan Mead
Jonathan Mead. What a rebel!

Eric: Additionally “escaping” is an extension of the American dream, of beating capitalism and making it your bitch. It isn’t an emancipatory dream like Ferris likes to pitch it. Someone I’m critical of, Jonathan Mead took Ferris’ ideas further and claimed that he was part of a “revolution.” This is a bigger problem.

Chris Guillebeau is also guilty of ‘revolutionizing’ lifestyle design. The problem is that it makes business as usual capitialism seem like a new revolution to the consumers, thus making it impossible for a real anti-capitalist movment to take hold. People are mesmerized by the same old promises.

Seth Godin

Duff: The revolutionary rhetoric really goes all the way back to Seth Godin, the ur-guru of personal development bloggers. Godin encourages marketers to use the techniques and rhetoric of grassroots political organizing to sell your info products to 1000 true fans. Instead of white papers, you get these PDF “manifestos” which are all a variation of a neo-liberal capitalist manifesto.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with selling stuff on the internet and making a living doing it, to pretend that this is a revolutionary political act is ludicrous.

In more than one PDF white paper “manifesto” that I’ve read, the authors have specifically said that one should not vote or engage politically in any way. Steve Pavlina has said similar things. Most personal development bloggers advocate for avoiding the news because it is “negative.” All these things combine to destroy our political power by solely focusing on personal power.

Klint: I always thought that militant apoliticalism was a way of appealing to more people by avoiding taking any controversial political stance.

Duff: Could be, yes. But within that apparently apolitical view, when you scrape past the surface, is a radical neo-liberalism.

Eric: Klint, have you read the Porto Davos essay by Zizek? His notion of liberal communism fits perfectly to these lifestyle design gurus.

Klint: I haven’t read that essay, no.

So it sounds like it’s a pretty greasey business. Is there any value at all in it – is there anyone out there in that business worth commending?

Duff: Sure, there are some. I like Scott H. Young for the most part, although I don’t agree with him on a lot of points.

Eric: There are some people we like, but it really isn’t cut and dry to derermine who. I think it is important for individuals to develop themselves, but there is a lot of merit to the idea that you cannot just read what someone is telling you to do, and then directly apply it to your life. There is some barrier there, that prevents the ideas from becoming real habits.

Lucy from Peanuts

Klint: OK. So where does life coaching fit into this?

Duff: Life Coaching is interesting. I was a life coach for a while.

Life coaching feels really good for both coach and client. It’s really easy work and you get paid really well. It’s like being a therapist with only sane clients.

Klint: And without having to get a master’s degree. Or any degree for that matter.

Duff: Honestly, I think people really benefit from coaching, probably because we are so alienated that many people never have any meaningful conversations in their lives at all. But it is waaaaaaaaaay too expensive, and quickly becomes a massive ego trip and a huge financial scam. I don’t think there is any significant difference whatsoever between a $40/hour life coach and a $5000/hour life coach.

Another potential problem with coaching is that it outsources our meaningful conversations to specialists. If you have a Big Win in your life, who do you share this with first–your wife, or your life coach? Maybe your wife is stressed out and not that good of a listener anyhow. It is more efficient to share with your coach who will celebrate you unconditionally. But this takes away intimacy from your marriage, increasing your alienation.

Klint: So you don’t think that life coaching should be regulated like professional counseling?

Duff: Not really, no. I don’t like regulating meaningful conversation.

Eric: “Life coaching” is very broad. Most “life coaches” in reality are business coaches.

Duff: Yup.

Eric: Overall few focus on personal problems like getting along with others, self-esteem etc. These people are in it for the money.

Duff: The field overall is highly problematic and structured like a pyramid scheme. The most “successful” coaches are meta-coaches, i.e. they coach coaches on building their practice.

But within that, there are some really great people who are very helpful to their clients.

Eric: I asked a coach recently what the breakdown was of his clients, and a lot of them were bloggers and life coaches themselves. Very masturbatory.

Duff: To be fair, many healing professions are circle jerks. Massage therapists often have many massage therapists as clients

Klint: I can imagine if you spend all day giving massages, you’re really going to want a massage at the end of the week.

Duff: Yeah, my lady is a massage therapist. She needs her own bodywork to do bodywork on others. You get really sore.

BTW, my life coach is currently in jail for running an illegal Ponzi scheme.

Pyramid scheme

Klint: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that Duff, in relation to regulation Because if this guy is found guilty and sentenced and goes to prison – he could come right out and go right back to life coaching.

Duff: Sure. But he wouldn’t go to prison for life coaching fraud, but securities fraud. If he robbed a house he shouldn’t be barred from driving a car. Two different fields.

Klint: Yeah, but do you really think someone who goes to prison for securities fraud should being giving life advice?

Duff: I actually have a blog post in the works about this. The issues are complex and the facts aren’t all in yet. I’m not sure anyone is qualified to give life advice. But some people are pretty good at listening and asking poignant questions.

Eric: Who should be giving life advice anyway? It all comes down to the dispersion of a variety of ideologies.

Duff: Agreed.

Eric: Securites fraud just means that they broke the rules of capitalism.

Duff: The funny thing is his “Dharma Investments Group” was making similar errors as the big wigs. Who’s fault was the bubble anyway? Certainly fraud is fraud, but when the conservative bankers are doing similar things, all the normal rules go out the window.

Eric: Capitalism encourages people to stretch the rules, some people just get caught. I’d consider a full-of-air guru to be a worse person than someone comitting securites fraud.

Duff: It’s a spectrum of fraud and we’re all on it. Personally I think we can’t go much longer with interest-bearing currency before the whole monetary system collapses.

Klint: I don’t know the details of what that guy got himself into, but it’s hard for me excuse a guy who’s getting normal people to fork over their savings for some investment and then basically stealing their money. It doesn’t really matter what level he’s playing on…

Duff: I understand. It looks really bad for him! I certainly won’t be receiving his services anymore. But I stopped going to him about 5 years ago anyhow.

Klint: …that sounds like someone who’s pretty ethically challenged, y’know?

Duff: Or manic. Making impossible promises.

Klint: But yeah, he could get out of jail, move to another town, assume an alias, never have to disclose any of this… It’s very problmatic I think.

Eric: My point is that gurus do similar things. They take lay people and promise them all sorts of things, lead them on, and then leave them with nothing. James Ray was convincing his followers to go into debt to pay for his $10,000 seminars.

Klint: But to be honest, I don’t think there’d be a decent way to regulate life coaching anyway.

Duff: I don’t think so either. Some fields like coaching/healing and miracle cure supplements will always consistute the wild west …that and spirituality, faith healing, charismatics, etc. And yet, that is what is beautiful about these things too. You get these really wild characters with amazing insights or healing abilities or compassion etc. in the same arenas with the psychopaths and scam artists.

A total shitbag
Above: a complete and total shitbag

Klint: So it kind of leads me to another question – does it really matter that much? If people are willing to shell out obscene amounts of money for whatever – personal development products, life coaching, snake oil… are they basically getting what they deserve?

Duff: Well, personal responsibility does come into play to some extent, but we don’t want to go as far as blaming the victim.

Eric: I think they’ve been effectively brainwashed. So I suppose the question is, does a brainwashed person deserve the consquences of things they did not initiate?

Duff: I went to this particular life coach out of my own greed to be a wealthy life coach, for example. But his investors in his scheme retain their legal rights to sue. One of the reasons I like living in Colorado is that there is little regulation over healing practices and therapies. You can practice as an unlicensed psychotherapist here. So we have tons of innovative approaches to healing and changework. Yet the flipside is we have tons of new wage snake oil and BS. It goes together.

So…I’ve got to run now as I’m meeting up with someone. Hope that is ok. You guys can continue chatting if you’d like. I enjoyed this and would be happy to do it again. Let me know when it is posted, Klint!

Klint: OK, thanks for your time Duff!

Duff: Thanks to you too for the suggestion.

Klint: Do you guys have any further plans or is Beyond Growth winding down?

Eric: We’ll see. A lot of the reason we haven’t been posting much lately is that we are bored of where the field is going, and it is difficult to get excited about the same old. Both Duff and I had dreams of writing books and being guru-like long before we started BG.

I’ve thought about opening it up to more authors, or changing the scope a little. Once we start writing again we’ll definitely be taking a different direction. Less harsh criticism, more covert, careful writing with perhaps a few more ideas for people to ponder. Just going after gurus gets a bit tedious after a while.

Considering how harsh we are, we’ve been recieved very well by the community though.

Recommended Beyond Growth posts

The 4-Minute Mile and the Myths of Positive Thinking

Social Media: Moving Towards A Brave New World? (Here are my comments on this post)

The Dark Side of The Secret: Reading James Arthur Ray’s Sweat Lodge Disaster through a Magickal Lens

Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio – Technoccult interview

Mika Vainio

Pan Sonic, originally known as Panasonic until the electronics company made them change their name, was a collaboration between Finnish electronic musicians Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen. The pair recently announced that their new album Gravitoni, now available from Blast First Petite, will be their last. Mika spoke with me by phone about the reason for the split, the new album, and his plans for the future.

Klint Finley: I guess I’ll start with, just to get it out of the way, the announcement has been put out that Pan Sonic has split up, so was this an amicable split?

Well, let’s say that we don’t have any plans to start again, but maybe we do one day. It’s still open, but I don’t think, at least for a couple years, we will not do it.
Pan Sonic

So are you willing to talk anymore about the reasons behind the split or do you want to leave it at that?

Yeah, why not. There has been no argument or bad spirit or anything like that. It’s just that after, we’ve been doing this for over 15 years, it’s time to stop and concentrate on our own solo things.

So is that what you’re going to be concentrating on now, solo work?

Yes. Solo work, then I work with a couple of other people also. There are lots of projects going on.

Will Jari Lehtinen still be working with you and/or Ilpo?

Not really, not for a long time actually.

Pan Sonic Gravitoni

What can listeners expect from the new Pan Sonic album?

Compared to the one before, it’s more minimal and basic. We kind of wanted to go back to the old style, minimal tracks with quite strong sounds.

Are there any guest artists on it or is it only you and Ilpo?

It’s only me and Ilpo this time, yes. It’s quite basic.

Did you collaborate long distance on this album, with you working in Berlin and him working in Finland, or did you get together in the studio to work on it?

No, we were working here in my studio in Berlin.

Pan Sonic is known for recording live instead of using overdubs and sequencers. Has that changed at all?

Well, since the last album before this new one we’ve been using multitrack, so we’re doing overdubs now.

Have you experimented with using software – like software synthesizers or sequencing – or are you still using only hardware?

I’m using only hardware. I don’t really want to do any computer thing. I think it would change my whole approach to the music. It feels quite boring for me, I don’t want to go for that.
Pan Sonic live

The record business has been going through a lot of transitions lately through music piracy through the Internet and there’s also the economic crash that makes it harder for people who might want to pay for music to actually pay for music. Has than been affecting you at all? Do you have any thoughts on that?

No it’s not affecting me that much, I think it’s only a problem of the record labels and big major artists. But for smaller artists and people like me we get very little money from the record sales altogether. The main source is playing live, that’s where the income is coming from. And I possibly think the music is available on the net because there are a lot of people, for example in South America, who could not afford to buy any CDs but this way they can hear the music, the music is available.

Mika playing live at In Touch Festival, Minsk. 2009-02-28

So you say most of your money comes from playing live, so will be touring solo to support your new work?

Yes, and I’ve been doing different things also. I’ve been working with a dance company making music for them. And I do sound installations too from time to time, so there’s income coming from that also.

Can you tell us about some of your sound installations?

Yes, sure. I would like to do them more often now that Pan Sonic is over, if I have more time. My last piece was in Brussels in November. It contained 6 off-tune radios. And I created the sound in the gallery with these radios.

Do you have any advice for new experimental musicians who are just starting out?

I would say they should just trust themselves and not think too much about what others think.

More Info

Video interview with Mika from Brainwashed.com. Mika talks about the history of Pan Sonic.

Unofficial Pan Sonic site from Phinnweb. Most complete resource for everything Pan Sonic.

Mika Vainio page from his booking agent. Watch here for tour dates.

Justin Landers of The Steven Lasombras – Technoccult interview

Steven Lasombras

Front: Justin Landers Back: Ben Blanding. Photo by Tony Vu.

Justin Landers is Portland based artist and musician who records and performs under the name The Steven Lasombras. His new EP A Diamond Eye Shines in Failing Light was released today on To the Neck Recordings. You can download the EP for free here or buy it here. Disclosure: I’m opening at the CD release show 4/30/10.

Klint Finley: What’s the meaning of the name Steven Lasombras?

Justin Landers: Oh Jesus… Should have seen that one coming! “Steven Lasombra” was a fictional character in a long-running Vampire: The Dark Ages campaign. When I originally started recording songs I labeled them Steven Lasombra Recordings, right around when a lot of “The” bands were getting big (The Strokes, The White Stripes, etc. etc.) so taking the name The Steven Lasombras was a really satisfying goof. I always meant to change it when I found a better name, but after a couple years it became a thing where nothing else fit.

Basically, it started out as a really stupid in-joke.

So he was one of your characters or one from a published series of books?

Sighh… it was my first character.

C’mon, do you think SPIN is going to be any easier on you?

“LOL”! It’s true.

How would you describe The Steven Lasombras to someone who’d never heard your music?

I would say I write and illustrate stories in the form of “songs”, and that they usually end up big and loud and dark, with lots of different parts. And I would feel like a pretentious ass. But that’s the quickest way to put it.

You’re also a visual artist. How has that impacted your approach to making music?

I have no training as a musician or anything, all my training is in visual arts. So I approach recording in the same way I would a painting – begin with the initial idea (whether it’s a half-finished story, imagery from a dream or a movie, a phrase, something from “real life”), then flesh it out and heap on as much detail as I can.

Moving forward, the visual element will be a bigger part of it. I’ve always made all the accompanying artwork for SLs releases but the new thing I’m working on which should be finished by the end of the year) is a bit more involved, the visual and sound elements are equally important. In that way, The SLs should become less of a “band” and more… I don’t know, something else.

That probably answers my next question – You spent some time last year studying wayang kulit in Indonesia, will that find its way into your work?

YES, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The new EP is a transition between my way of working before going there and the way I’m going about it now. The next project I mentioned definitely has some elements of wayang, especially in the visual side. I started compiling ideas for a wayang show to try here, but I am not sure if that’s ever going to happen. Not only would it be insanely expensive, I was a severely mediocre dalang.

A Diamond Eye Shines In Failing Light

So The Steven Lasombras is just you in the studio, and you work with various musicians for live shows, is that right?

Correct. The live line-up has shuffled a bit, mostly between friends or relatives who I’d played with in other bands (my brother Alex, our cousin Chris Ryan, who I played with in Animal Beard, Jevon Cutler from Chevron and Animal Beard, Michael Ferguson, Ben Blanding…) and who I was comfortable giving orders to. Since I’ve been back, everyone’s schedules were hectic enough that I just ended up playing alone live, and I think that’s been reasonably successful. With a guitar/bass/drums band the songs come across as a little more straightforward, the one-man versions pull them to a slightly weirder place.

How long have you been performing and recording under the name?

I believe the earliest four-track recordings date back to 2001 and the first proper live performance was March of 2006.

We don’t play live too often since a lot of the songs are tricky to learn. The parts themselves are simple enough (I think), but getting them practiced to a point of being really presentable is a challenge, especially when everyone has a job/school/wife/whatever.

(I should find some unemployed believers and then get comfortable giving them orders.)

It shouldn’t be that hard to find unemployed musicians in Portland.

How did you get your first gig?

First gig was by request! It was the release party for the Dragging An Ox Through Water record “Rebukes!”

Brian Mumford is actually one of the first people who really seemed to like the SLs stuff when he heard it, going back to like 2003. He had a CD-R label for a while called Publisher’s Clearinghaus that put out an Animal Beard record. He was going to put out another SLs record in 2004 but the project folded or he lost interest or something… He was really nice about it, though. He apologized to me for years.

Steven Lasombras

Left: Justin Landers. Right: Alex Landers. Photo by Tony Vu.

So were you passing recordings around to friends or actively seeking local labels?

Just to friends, and barely that! At that time Chris Ryan was still living in Eugene and was friends with Brian and the other guys in (the sadly now-defunct) Chevron, I believe that’s how he heard it, probably by accident. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve been comfortable actively sharing this music with people outside of my immediate circle of friends. That might be a mental thing on my part, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m much better now and know what I’m trying to do.

When were you in Animal Beard? Was that before The Steven Lasombras?

Yes! Animal Beard started when Chris was still living in Eugene, during my two terms at U of O, late 2000. That also started as a bedroom four-track recording project, but… in more of an indie-rock style. Chris wrote perfect little pop songs and then sang them in a bizarre, often kind of ugly way. I played bass with him, when he was in town Jim Edwards played drums and keyboard (often at the same time)… We played a lot and made some really nice recordings that just fell flat. We played a fair amount, the line-up changed (added upright bass and Brian Mumford on theremin) but people just didn’t know what to do with us. To this day, I still think Animal Beard was solid gold and everyone else was crazy.

There’s an Animal Beard full-length that’s 99.9% finished that I think I’ll be able to put out this summer. It’s weird and lovely.

Was that your first band? You said you don’t have any training as a musician, how did you get started?

I bought a bass in 2000, I think because I thought it would easy to teach myself. Outside of aimless “jamming” with friends I think Animal Beard might have been the first “band” situation, where we were focused on writing and making something good.

Was bass easy to teach yourself?

It definitely was! I mean, it’s not easy to play *well*, but it’s not too hard to figure out.

Resilient communities with Jeremy O’Leary – the Technoccult Interview

Jeremy O'Leary

(Photo by Audrey Eschright / CC)

Jeremy O’Leary is a steering committee member of the Multnomah Food Initiative and was an initial organizer of the City of Portland Peak Oil Taskforce. He’s a member of Portland Peak Oil, Transition PDX, and the Portland Permaculture Guild. He’s a contributor to the online publication The Dirt and maintains his own blog Biohabit. You can view his presentation on “20 Minute Neighborhoods and Emergency Response” here.

Klint Finley: What do you think the biggest/most important food security problems we have in Portland are?

Jeremy O’Leary: During the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Taskforce, we had a conversation with the management of Safeway where we learned that, for example, an apple from Hood River would be driven to LA and then back up to Portland. I think this example indicates one of the many problems with the food system. Many of the food issue we have in Portland are similar in other areas.

One of the things we have discussed in the steering committee meetings for the Multnomah Food Initiative is our area has one of the highest levels of hunger.

Which personally I’ve always found odd as we are also one of the leading cities for the local food movement. The following is from Multnomah Food Initiative:

Why a Food Initiative?

Multnomah County is at the epicenter of the local food movement. There are countless food-related, grassroots efforts being made in the community, as well as numerous projects and initiatives led by local government. The prevalence of local Farmers’ Markets and growing interest in organic gardening indicate strong community support for local food, but we must do more. To achieve a truly sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, all partners must help reach a common vision and share responsibility for the implementation of a strategic action plan.

It makes more sense than ever to implement a local food initiative. Despite the energy generated by local food in communities throughout Oregon, statistics show that our food system is broken:

Oregon is ranked second in hunger by the United States Department of Agriculture.
About 36,000 Multnomah County residents access emergency food boxes each month.
Half of all adults in Multnomah County are either overweight or obese.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are on the rise
Half of all Multnomah County children will be on food stamps at one point in their childhood.
Only a small percentage of the food that we consume is grown locally (estimates indicate 5-10%).
We lack a coordinated strategy to ensure the vitality of our local food system.

One thing I’ve been puzzled by is how if you don’t have food in your house for tonight, it is a social justice issue. However if you don’t have food in your house for 72 hours (standard Red Cross recommendations) it is an emergency management issue.

Just to narrow the conversation a little, as the food system is more than a little complex, just talking about organic food sold at places like People’s Coop, New Seasons, Wild Oats … the fact that stores only have a three day supply of date sensitive food is one aspect that I’m concerned about.

More broadly speaking I sometimes think that the best way to describe our food system is (mind you I have a somewhat dark sense of humor) is Death by Convenience.

MFI Goal Framework - Graphic 3-11

How is that even though we’re one of the leading local food cities, we still only produce about 5-10% of the food we consume here?

It is in the same vein as the discussion of Portland being the Greenest City in the US, basically we are being graded on a bell curve. I’m always filled with pride and terror when it is pointed out that Portland is leading the charge on sustainability.

Just how problematic is the fact that we only produce about 5-10% of our own food? Do we export a lot of food? And do you know what they’re counting as local? For example, would they be considering Forest Grove local?

This may seem like an aside but it is related….

In Yellowstone national park, analysis of trees prior to 1850 shows that 50% of the nitrogen was of marine origin. 50% of the nitrogen arrived in the form of salmon. So it is not as if a long supply is necessarily a bad thing.

Efforts like the 100 mile diet are interesting, but it really depends on how the food arrives. Grain shipped in via trains from the mid-west is considerably better then strawberries flown in from Chile.

As for what food we export, I don’t have specific information about that.

Taking a completely different angle on things… I did my own sociological experiment by going to the one of the local gun shows and talking about sustainability to self-described “right-wing gun nuts.”

Basically, if you ask whether it’s a good idea to take a typical single family house and re-design it so you can live without power fairly well for a week if it is January or July, to have a large pantry, rain water cisterns, veggie gardens, fruit trees, … the response to this was basically “duh.”

My conversations with the “gun nuts” led me to the view that it is much better to focus on what you want and stop. The key detail when talking about a problem: you can debate whether that problem is actually a problem then never actually start effectlvely talking about actions.

It seems like the environmental movement has progressed from talking about renewable resources, to sustainability, and now to resilience. What exactly is resilience?

I can’t speak for the environmental movement, just for what I’m focusing on which is community and resilience. I think part of the focusing on resilience is that it is a more accurate meaning of sustainability…. how you sustain yourself/family/community is a rather important detail.

Sustainability seems to have been mostly about a long term vision, which is great, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a vision for tonight or next week.

I think resilience is an example of what folks want.

Based on your experience on the gun show, do you think there’s more overlap between the left and the right if you re-frame what you’re talking about as resilience instead of “environmentalism”?

On the community level, very much so. On the level of Washington DC, I have no idea.

Rainwater cistern

(Above: an example of a rainwater cistern at Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver)

What can individuals do to improve their community’s resilience – whether that be in Portland or elsewhere?

I would suggest one of the 1st steps is to re-enforce the school buildings to withstand an earthquake, use the food certified kitchens in the schools to process locally grown food, and store emergency provisions at the schools.

If you mount solar PV panels on the roofs and place HAM radios there you can be fairly sure of having islands of communication even if things go really sideways.

You would need to have rain water cisterns at the schools, which could also be used for the urban orchards and the veggie gardens.

More broadly speaking, knowing your neighbors and being on good terms with them is possibly the 1st thing to do. It’s only then that conversations about sharing resources can be possible.

It sounds like you’ve picked schools as the epicenter for resilience in communities. Why?

At least in the case of Portland, they are arranged so there is usually a school within a 1/2 mile of you at any point in town. Community centers, churches, a mall…. these would of course work as well.

Columbia Ecovillage

(Above: The Columbia Ecovillage)

Transition PDX is interested in applying permaculture principles to the city. Are there good working examples of urban permaculture already?

As applied to dirt, very much so. The Columbia EcoVillage would be a good example that is more or less open to the public. For me permaculture comes down to good design, which translates into other disciplines.

In the case of my backyard, I have things lined up so I’m getting fruit consistently from early may until late Sept. Once the Kiwi matures, I can get another harvest in late November.

People who rent, instead of own, single family houses can have a hard time applying permaculture to their homes. Is there anything at all people who live in multifamily housing can do in terms of applying permaculture?

Yes, for this I would refer folks with what Leonard Barrett has been doing – Permaculture for Renters.

Container Food Forest

Above: Image from the Permaculture for Renters post Create a Container Food Forest

So what Leonard is doing is also applicable in multi-family housing?

Admittedly I’m not the best source of suggestion around permaculture for folks who don’t have some land to work with. You can do some pretty nifty things with container gardening on a balcony for example. But there are also examples of folks finding ways to share resources or buy things in bulk together.

What is the minimum amount of space needed to grow enough food for one person to survive? And for one person to have a reasonably healthy diet?

Quite a bit fits inside. I would point to books by John Jeavons such as How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I would also point to materials by Toby Hemenway such as The Self-Reliance Myth.

I guess we’re just about out of time, so I will ask one last question: If people reading this interview come away with only ONE message, what message should that be?

Using “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” as a point of reference, society seems to spend the vast majority of our focus on whether we are sufficiently amused. This is an arrangement that by definition is unsustainable.

Revolution – history and praxis. Technoccult interviews Johnny Brainwash

Johnny Brainwash

Johnny Brainwash is an armchair activist and disaffected leftist. His past political activity has ranged from blockading logging roads with Wild Rockies Earth First to coordinating a state campaign for Nader in 2000, with lots of other stops along the way. He mostly organizes Discordian bullshit now, because when he fucks up, no forests get cut down and no one goes to jail. He blogs occasionally at Dysnomia and Shut Up You Are An Idiot. You can read his open letter to Obama-haters here and his follow-up here.

Klint Finley: I suppose you should start by defining what you mean when you say “revolution.”

Johnny Brainwash: Well, it’s one of those slippery words, like freedom or democracy, that gets used a lot of different ways. I’m assuming here a political and social aspect, and really focusing on what are sometimes called “social revolutions” or “the Great Revolutions.”

The basic definition for me is a rapid and fundamental change in not only political leadership, but also economic and social relations.

So the American Revolution or the various colored revolutions (like Georgia’s Rose Revolution) don’t make the cut, but the French or Russian Revolutions do.

Johnny Brainwash

True Story: Johnny Brainwash and his compatriots once, while in jail, went on a hunger strike because the guards wouldn’t feed them. It worked.

What made you decide to study the revolutions and their history?

I was an Earth First! activist in the 90s, and had been involved in various other causes as well. We talked a lot about revolution, but never had a solid foundation to build on. It was always based on the world as we thought it ought to be, but rarely took into account the world as it is.

When I bailed on that type of activism, I went back to school to finish my history degree with the pretty clear intention of learning how it had actually worked in the past. I’m drawing especially on a poli-sci class called “Political Violence and Revolutions,” but also on a broad range of other sources I’ve encountered both in school and out.

What are the essential conditions required for a revolution to take place?

Surprisingly, revolutions don’t typically happen when things are bad and getting worse. The classic phrase is “the miserable don’t rebel.” Revolution usually happens when things are getting better but not as fast as people expect, or when things were getting better and have now taken a dive. The key is the gap between reality and expectations. Obamanauts, I’m looking at you.

Also, a very important caveat: anything that meets this standard of revolution has happened in a society that is entering the modern world- typically transitioning from agrarian to industrial economy, and from rural to urban. So to some extent, social revolution belongs to the past. The models I’ll be talking about give us some good ideas of what’s important and what to look for, but I wouldn’t expect them to play out the same way today except in narrow circumstances.

Iranian Revolution

Protesters in Tehran, 1979

Well then, what models are you going to talk about?

I’m drawing pretty heavily on Samuel P. Huntington here, so let me warn you that he’s a bad man. He did a lot of this work in the 70′s on behalf of the military dictatorship of Brazil, helping them forestall a revolution. But that meant he had to get his hands dirty with the details of history, and he’s always insightful, even when serving the dark side.

Huntington basically divided revolutions into two categories, eastern and western. The names are unfortunate, so don’t be fooled- there’s no real geography involved. It’s just that one is modeled on China and the other on France.

Eastern revolutions we can cover quickly and dismiss, since they’re not terribly relevant to our situation. These are the classic guerrilla uprisings, like we saw in China, Cuba or Nicaragua. They involve a revolutionary actor building its strength in the countryside until it’s strong enough to take cities, and ultimately to take the capital. Very exciting, but not likely to happen in our society.

Much more interesting is the western model, such as France, Russia or Iran. Typically this involves a long period of troubles or unrest, leading to the collapse of the ruling elite. Then others can step in to pick up the pieces. There’s typically a struggle at this point, and if the military or another faction of the old elite come out on top, you don’t get real social change. If a group with a different power base and a different agenda end up in power, however, you’ve got a revolution on your hands.

So that’s why you say the American Revolution and the “color revolutions” don’t count? Because the new powers were old elites?

Essentially, yes. The American Revolution, for instance, may have made some huge localized differences, such as in upland New England, but the big landowners were still big landowners, the wealthy merchants were still wealthy merchants, and the slaves were still slaves. Representative government wasn’t a big change, and no big changes occurred (on the large scale) in who was represented. We could say that a lot of big changes followed, but if it takes 150 years, it ain’t a revolution.

Policemen and flowers

What about the Velvet Revolution?

I’m torn about how to view the various post-Soviet changes. A lot of them ended up with party bosses still in charge, but Czechoslovakia was a clearer change. There was a shift from state capitalism to market capitalism, but I’m not too clear on how much social change occurred.

What many of those post-Soviet changes had in common is that the waters are muddied by the absorption of the former communist states into the Western institutions such as NATO, the EU, etc.

Why do you say an eastern revolution unlikely to take place?

A couple of reasons. For one, the traditional model requires a large agrarian base, and all the angry farmers in the US just don’t add up to enough people anymore. More important is the simple question of military power. The only way a movement could grow strong enough to take on the paramilitarized surveillance state backed up by an enormous and well-prepared military is if it recruits its own military power from the army and the police.

I don’t say this is unlikely- in fact, it’s a more valid concern than it has been in decades. But by drawing on the institutions of power, it guarantees that it will not be revolutionary in nature. Just a different set of goons on top, and no more hiding behind veils of democracy or what have you.

Are there means by which groups can engineer revolutions?

Um… maybe. Like I said at the outset, the social revolutions are all a product of the transition to an industrial urbanized society. So we can reason by analogy, but there are limits to how far that goes.

I would say it’s important to look at Huntington’s western model and see how much we would be relying on stepping into a political vacuum. In that case, it’s a matter of organizing ourselves today for something that might not happen for a long time, and pursuing goals short of revolution in the meantime.

You can’t rely on calling up your friends in a moment of crisis. By the time the crisis occurs, you want to have a large network that is ready to go. The only way I know how to do that is to organize today for the things that are in our reach and don’t frighten people away from us. As the crisis approaches, we can ask for more.

Sooner or later, the choice may be stark enough that people will have to choose.

Zapatistas

Are there any countries that are close enough to collapse to have a revolution? Mexico, for example?

Mexico is interesting. Close to collapse, sure, maybe. But who would step in to fill the vacuum? Maybe the Zapatista networks could carve out a region in the south, but I don’t know if there’s a strong enough revolutionary movement to succeed nationwide. The worst case is that the drug cartels end up ruling big chunks of the north.

Pakistan, now, that’s a whole ‘nother question. They’re still in the transition to urban and industrial, their government is in pretty bad shape, and there’s a revolutionary movement already taking power in some places the government can’t hold. It’s not the kind of revolution I’d want, but it’s certainly revolutionary.

10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution

Above: photo from 10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution

What revolutions have been the most successful overall – the ones you’d most like to see emulated?

I’m careful about saying I’d like to see any of them emulated- the Terror was a logical outcome of the French Revolution, and similar outcomes can be seen in nearly every example. As an old lefty, I’m inclined to point out Nicaragua as a revolutionary state that had less of that sort of atrocity than most, but we never got a chance to see how things would play out there.

In general, revolution is always violent and bloody, and the violence is often indiscriminate. The older I get and the more I learn about history, the harder it is to close my eyes to mass murder. On the other hand, leaving our society as it is amounts to closing our eyes to massive indiscriminate violence as well.

I would like to spend more time learning about how the relatively bloodless colored revolutions work, knowing that they only happened with support from outside powers (like the US) and served only to bring those countries into the western institutions. But the use of civil society as an organizing principle might be of some use in making future revolutions less vicious.

Rose Revolution

Above: Demonstration at the Mayor’s Office, Freedom Square, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2003

Are you suggesting that radicals might be better off working within civil society to bring about change gradually rather than revolutionarily?

I think the choice of whether to commit revolution or not isn’t necessarily in our hands. It depends on material conditions. I suppose at some point we could work on bringing about a collapse, but trying that before we build the strength to exploit the collapse would be silly.

To me, the argument between revolution and reform is old baggage we need to get rid of. We don’t know what the world will do around us, so we should be prepared for whatever awaits. If we start organizing and find we’re strong enough when a vacuum occurs, then great, we’ve got a revolution. If we start organizing and find that the vacuum never happens, then we’d better do what we can with what we’ve got.

Demanding revolutionary action or none at all is simply hubris.

What do you think radically minded activists can do to make a difference in their communities or the world?

Well, I keep using the word “organize,” and I’m not sure it’s one people really get. We’re mostly stuck in the “activism” paradigm, which is very individualistic and focuses on people getting to express themselves. It’s egotistical in that the goal is for the activist to feel fulfilled, rather than to achieve anything concrete.

Real organizing means you have to work with people you might not have a beer with otherwise, and focus on what’s important to them instead of you. It means building an organization or a network that is capable of responding to events instead of building ad hoc groups for every issue.

If you’re thinking of revolutionary change, it means recruiting people who are not as revolutionary as you, and helping them become radicalized as their expectations of Obama are continually dashed.

It also means leadership, organization and discipline, three things that are anathema to many radicals with roots in the old “new left.”

Anti-fur activists

Above: anti-fur activists

Can you point to any good examples of the type of organizing you’d like to see more of?

I’ve got a knee-jerk reaction to say the teabaggers, but without Fox News on your side, you can’t get the coverage that they did. And besides, it’s not like they’re winning or anything.

I have a hard time pointing to much that I like from the aughts, but in the 90s, the two most effective movements (and therefore those worth studying, if not necessarily emulating) were the anti-abortion crowd and the anti-fur people.

More broadly, I would set political baggage aside and study how the modern conservative movement went from the political wilderness in 1960 to the Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Bush years that reshaped an awful lot of how the country is run. They had a genuine grassroots, combined with a slick political operation that invented a lot of our modern techniques of mass politics.

Do you have any other messages for would-be organizers before we sign off?

Be patient. You can build something that can fit into the flow of events, but no one can simply grab the world by the collar and issue demands. You need time to build, and you need time to understand. A good dose of humility helps as well- you’re not the messiah, and you’re not the only one trying to do good.

Finally, just stay grounded in the world. It’s good to have lots of theories, but nothing gets done until you’ve got some dirt under your nails.

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