Humanity Minus

This post started off as a reflection on Douglas Rushkoff (1961-) media theorist professor and author of, Survival of the Richest – The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind:  https://medium.com/s/futurehuman/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1

Survival of the Richest

Article summary. Rushkoff wants us to be so annoyed with the richest among us, that we will rush off (pun intended) and buy his new book!

At a certain level of income , a discussion of technology changes from a discussion of its acquisition costs, to a discussion of the opportunities it offers for professional work. For affluent people, it becomes a discussion of investment opportunities. Beyond this, the opulent seldom need to understand technology, even as an investment. Hired minions understand it and deal with its practical application. Rushkoff is a minion, who sold his soul for an hour to a group of five hedge funders.

While the article is probably just the introduction of his new book, it hints that the author may have had some moral issues with his gig. Writing the book is probably some form of self-imposed quasi-penance. Real penance would have resulted in the book being published under a Creative Commons license.

The opulent already have retreats in areas of the world less impacted by crises, be they social or climatic. They have the financial means to buy them in New Zealand or Alaska or anywhere else that suits their fancy. There will always be a discussion about the level of fortification needed, where an underground bunker is the minimum. If such a retreat is too large and extensive, there will also be a need for another class of hired minion, the mercenary, to defend it. But mercenaries are fickle, and they are only loyal to money. What happens if money becomes worthless?

As we all know, the opulent have no interest in making the world a better place. Their major concern is their personal transcendence of the human condition. Preventing this are any number of potential challenges. Rushkoff lists them for us: climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. The opulent code this in one word, the event, which in turn precipitates just one response, the escape.

Transhumanism reduces reality to data, and humans to information-processing objects. Human evolution reduces to a video game, won by finding the escape hatch.

Rushkoff identifies a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when technology seemed open-ended,  an opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future. This faded quickly in the dotcom crash. The future was no longer created through creative decisions, but predetermined by passive venture capital investments.

Rushkoff questions the morality of unbridled technological development turning an exploitative and extractive marketplace (think Walmart) into an even more dehumanizing successor (think Amazon). Downsides include automated jobs, the gig economy, the demise of local retail, the destruction of the natural environment and the use of global slave labour to manufacture computers and smartphones.

Fairphone

As an aside Rushkoff mentions Fairphone, founded to make and market ethical phones. Except this was impossible. Bas Van Abel, Fairphone’s founder now sadly refers to their products as “fairer” phones. Interestingly, I had had discussions about these phones on several occasions during the days immediately before reading this article. The main question being, how much more would a person be willing to pay for a moral product? Note your guess before checking the answer at the bottom of the article.

At some point mining of rare earth metals by slave-labour ends, as reserves cease to be viable. Mines are replacing by toxic waste dump filled with disposed digital technology, “picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers.”

Yes, Rushkoff’s prose can be visible and moving. If people ignore technology’s social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the greater these problems become, resulting in more withdrawal, isolationism, apocalyptic fantasy and more “desperately concocted technologies and business plans. The cycle feeds itself.”

Rushkoff notes that this world view promotes seeing people as the problem and technology as its solution. Human traits are treated as system bugs. Technology is defined as neutral. “It’s as if some innate human savagery is to blame for our troubles. Just as the inefficiency of a local taxi market can be “solved” with an app that bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade.”

Repo! The Genetic Opera.

In 1996, Darren Smith (1962-) was inspired by a friend’s bankruptcy to write of a future where not only property, but also body parts, could be repossessed. In collaboration with Terrance Zdunich (1976-) this resulted in The Necromerchant’s Debt, a 2002 preliminary theatrical version of Repo! This was then expanded and transformed into assorted incarnations through 2005.  In 2008 it emerged as a science fiction musical horror comedy film, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (1979-).

As a media theorist Rushkoff is programmed to include film references in his works, especially those with post-apocalyptic zombies, where the future is a zero-sum game between humans. One tribe survives at the expense of another’s demise. Repo! is a transgressive film, a genre I appreciate more than most. I am awaiting a sequel, or perhaps, prequel where consciousness is uploaded to a computer. The only challenge is that the Matrix, seems to have had that as its plot.

Westworld is Rushkoff’s media product of choice, depicting a world where human beings are simpler and more predictable than general artificial intelligences. Humans are feeble. They deserve nothing. In contrast robots are far superior. I am looking forward to seeing it, if only to appreciate Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (1980-) as Armistice, a host. She is a brutal and ruthless bandit and a member of Hector Escaton’s gang. In real life, she was born in Inderøy, and attended the same rural elementary school as my children.

Convivial Technology

Surviving the event seemed to be the primary goal of the hedge funders. Rushkoff’s advice was to treat everyone well. The more the world develops sustainability and the wider wealth is distributed, the less chance there will be of an “event”. The challenge was that the hedge funders didn’t seem interested in avoiding a calamity, convinced the world had deteriorated too far. Wealth and power couldn’t affect the future, it could only buy insulation.

As one retreats from the opulent to the affluent, to the middle class, and the working poor, there are better options available for using technology. Convivial technology, where people can have fun, learn and develop, but simultaneously treat each other with respect. Being human is not about individual survival or escape. All individuals die. It is survival of the species that counts in the biological world. Humans thrive through co-operation.

[Answer: A Fairphone costs about 100% more than equivalent phones, about NOK 5 000 for a NOK 2 500 phone. ]

Artificial General Intelligences

From a previous post …

haves will indirectly control artificial intelligence agents, while the majority have nots will be required to obey the whims of these agents, and their overlord handlers.

Post-modern bread and circus equivalents will pacify the great unwashed. If that doesn’t work even more direct, negative action will be taken.

Neural networks will live a life of their own, so it may not be possible for even the “haves” to exercise direct control over these agents. However, one proposed approach is to frame control, with an AI agent constitution, based on Isaac Asimov’s (1920-1992), Three Laws of Robotics.

In this post, these and other robotic laws will be examined and commented upon.

Sawyer (left) & Baxter (right) are collaborative robots. Just the sort of creatures that might end up in a dispute with living humans. (Photo: Jeff Green/ Rethink Robotics, 2015 CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics were proposed in a 1942 short story Runaround. According to Asimov they had their origin in a meeting between himself and John W. Campbell on 1940-12-23.

The Three Laws are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Normality 2020

Voice activated actuators wait patiently to serve you. Invisible logistic trails ensure an orange (Citrus × sinensis) is peeled, split into boats, if that is your preference, and placed in front of you on a dish of your own choosing, when you demand it.

Your own speech controls your digital assistants, not only commercial varieties such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant, but also open source Lucida (formerly Sirius), Abot, Jarvis and Jasper.

On a clear day, the sun shines, oranges are peeled and served, and there is no need to reflect on the laws of robotics underpinning digital assistants.

A snake in the garden of Eden

I have nothing against snakes, personally, but use the term to describe an unwelcome intruder into Eden, subsonic commands hidden in music, videos, or even white noise. This is done by using software to cancel out the sound that the speech recognition system was supposed to hear and replacing it with sound at subsonic frequencies that would be transcribed differently. Instead of an orange, an apple (Malus pumila) is peeled, sliced and served on a dish of someone else’s choice. A humorous change in the eyes of many, but in our family, some people are allergic to apples. Other substitutions can be more serious, even deadly. There can be significant security risks. It is at this stage that laws of robotics, or their AI equivalent, need to be applied.

One challenge with these three laws, is the assumption that all human actions are legitimate. What happens if a human wants to harm another human? With these laws, it would be impossible for a robot to intervene on behalf of the person being harmed. So, it will undoubtedly not go many milliseconds before some enterprising hacker ensures that these three laws are voided.

Asimov was well aware of this shortcoming, which he would have undoubtedly described as a feature. He has referenced Arthur Hugh Clough’s  (1819-1861) satirical poem on the ten commandments, The Latest Decalogue, as its inspiration: “Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive:”

Asimov introduced a zeroth law in Foundation & Earth (1986) but it seems of limited use in conflict situations:

0. A robot may not injure humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

In western films, the cliché is that the good guys always wear white Stetson hats! In real life, it is more difficult to distinguish good people from evil doers, or white hackers from black hackers.

These laws have been modified many times, by Asimov as well as others. One extreme is represented by Jack Williamson’s (1908-2006) novelette With Folded Hands (1947), rewritten as the novel The Humanoids (1949), deals with robot servants whose prime directive is “To Serve and Obey, And Guard Men From Harm.” The Williamson robots take the robotic laws to the extreme, by protecting humans from everything, including unhappiness, stress, unhealthy lifestyle and all potentially dangerous actions. All humans may do is to sit with folded hands.

Some feel three laws are insufficient.

The Lyuben Dilov (1927-2008) novel, Icarus’s Way (alternative title, The Trip of Icarus) (1974) added:

4. A robot must establish its identity as a robot in all cases.

This law appears to have been violated in the celebrated Google Duplex restaurant reservation (2018-05-17): https://mashable.com/2018/05/17/google-duplex-dinner-reservation/#X7ChNbJ3baqw

Harry Harrison (1925-2012) also produced a fourth law, found in the short story, The Fourth Law of Robotics, in the tribute anthology Foundation’s Friends (1989):

4. A robot must reproduce. As long as such reproduction does not interfere with the First or Second or Third Law.

Reproduction, here, is asexual but sensational. Why not a fourth law requiring a robot to maintain itself, by undertaking necessary hardware and software repairs? There are robots who can and do reproduce themselves, the most famous being RepRap, a low-cost, self-replicating 3D printer, initially made at the University of Bath in 2005: http://www.reprap.org/

Nikola Kesarovski (c. 1935-2007) published the book The Fifth Law of Robotics (1983):

5. A robot must know that it is a robot.

I am not quite sure why. Is it so that it knows that it isn’t human? Should it know that it is a particular type of robot? For example, a vacuum robot, rather than a lawn mowing robot.

Roger MacBride Allen (1957-) wrote a trilogy set within Asimov’s fictional universe. Caliban (1993), Inferno (1994) and Utopia (1996) are each prefixed with “Isaac Asimov’s”. Here, there are four New Laws, which treat robots as partners rather than slaves to humanity.

1. A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must cooperate with human beings except where such actions would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence.
4. A robot may do whatever it likes as long as this does not conflict with the first three laws.

Discussion

The various robotic laws are very vague, with concepts such as human and robot undefined. This can give rise to people or equipment being regarded as something other than what they are, such as cyborg or actuator, respectively, in an attempt to avoid following the laws. Ambiguity is a literary device that is masterly exploited by Asimov, and other science fiction authors.

Another challenge with the Asimov approach, is that it is only concerned about the adversarial relationship between two groups – robots and people. Nothing else matters. Robots do not seem to have any ethical obligations with respect to the environment, for example.

Even if the laws were amended or expanded to take other aspects of the world into consideration, these laws would still not work. The only reason for positing laws is to have them fail, in interesting ways. It is not the laws, but the storytelling that is important. The lesson to be learned is that it is not possible to restrict ethics to a set of a few simple rules. If one does, the entire system will at some point fall apart.

In many science fiction worlds, robots only have mental capabilities that are less than, or equal to, their human controllers, for lack of a better word. What happens when artificial intelligence advances beyond human levels? Superintelligence is a key challenge, a situation in which artificial intelligence, or machine intelligence to distinguish it from organic intelligence, will require more advanced ethical considerations, than those that can be stated in a literary work.

Deontology judges the morality of an action based on rules. It is a field I know almost nothing about, except that it is regarded by many professional philosophers as a dead end.

Perhaps it should be stated here and now that robots are another dead end. The future belongs not to robots but to Artificial General Intelligences (AGI). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_general_intelligence These are machines with consciousness, intuitive, flexible and adaptive, even in terms of ethics. Like humans, AGIs do not rely on rote knowledge of rules, ethical or otherwise, but use them – if at all –  as guidelines to nudge ethical instincts and intuitions. It is a situation highly dependent on the environment people and AGIs are brought up in.

As an ethical amateur, I am attracted more to virtue-ethics than deontology. It is in the discussion of virtues, individually and collectively, that one can relate to behaviour that is beneficial, as well as that which is less so.

Rosalind Hursthouse writes in https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/ethics-virtue/ :

A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be helpfully specified as a “desirable” or “morally valuable” character trait. It is, indeed a character trait—that is, a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say “goes all the way down”, unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker—but the disposition in question, far from being a single track disposition to do honest actions, or even honest actions for certain reasons, is multi-track. It is concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities. To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action.)

Yes, this is a difficult act for a machine to follow, but absolutely essential if one is to have autonomous cars, autonomous surgeons and other tools that will interact intimately with humans.

The one recent book on ethics that I have enjoyed the most is After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre. But that is another story …

Notes

  1. I taught Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Nord-Trøndelag Regional College from 1988 to 1991. My focus was on expert systems.
  2. I do not normally enjoy reading science fiction. However, I do find it rewarding to read about the topic.
  3. Currently, my main interest in AI relates to robotics in general, and assistive devices in particular. However, I also see a need to look beyond the present to a future where machines acquire a form of consciousness.
  4. Personally, if I needed extensive care in the future, I would prefer that care given to me by a robot rather than a human.

 

Truthing

Are you truthing?

That is a question that I have asked on numerous occasions. It allows the person being questioned, to focus on the positive, to discuss how a statement can be perceived as being true. I even confront myself with it, in those rare, passing moments, when honesty and truthfulness take command over my soul. Unfortunately, in many social situations, people focus on the negative, and ask: Are you lying?

Yesterday, (2018-05-16), former American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made what should have been unnecessary comments, that news media described as “a growing national crisis of ethics and integrity [that] has put American democracy at risk.” See: http://www.thestate.com/news/business/national-business/article211260029.html

There were, of course, many things that I did not understand in Tillerson’s speech to graduates of the Virginia Military Institute.

For example, Tillerson used the words free, freedom and related words as if they actually meant something. Unfortunately, no biological creature is free – at least on this plane of existence. They are bound by constraints, if only a need for nutrition and oxygen. So, I am unable to comprehend what Tillerson meant when he laments assaults on facts that would lead to a loss of freedom if not countered.

Perhaps you can help?

Task #1: Exemplify how an attack on a fact (of your own choosing), would result in a loss of freedom (again, of your own choosing).

Tillerson states, “Only societies able to pursue the truth and challenge alternate realities can be truly free.” The difficulty here is the assumption that every statement can be assessed objectively, that there is a truth. There are many alternate realities at play in American (and every other) society. Perspectives are tainted/ coloured by gender, age, ethnicity, educational background, social background and life experiences. Demanding that there only be one truth is an unrealistic goal.

It may be necessary to rephrase the initial question in this post, (Are you truthing?) with, How are you truthing? In order to understand why a person says something, people need to know something about their background, and why they react the way they do. There are a lot of different reasons why people say and do things, not all of which are morally acceptable.

What Tillerson did not seem to be saying, but which I believe should be said, is that society needs greater empathy, a greater understanding of what people need to have fulfilling lives. I am not convinced that Tillerson is aware that this means that people who are part of society’s “haves” must be willing to contribute more to those currently suffering as “have nots”. The most equitable way to do this is to provide poor people with more income (yes, money!), and to make many services to them free of charge. This has to be financed by raising taxes and prohibiting tax deductions.

Task #2: The following statement was said by Tillerson.

“When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem to be the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America. If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society among our leaders in both public and private sector, and regrettably at times in the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.”

Reflect on this statement

A. What distinguishes a free person, from an unfree person?

B. What does “go wobbly on truth” mean?

C. Can there be multiple versions of truth? Yes, this is a rhetorical question, so please explain.

D. Is truth more important in American than elsewhere?

E. Should people be focused on only that which is happening in their own country, or is it better to focus on regional or world issues?

As a North-American boomer, I have been shaped by the religiosity of the 1950s. I would like to end this post with two images by one of the main contributors to this religiosity, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), a person who has shaped my ideals.

Norman Rockwell 1943 Freedom of Speech. I don’t care for this painting because all of the major characters portrayed are male, and “white”. Where are the women? Where is ethnic diversity? One does not have to like a painting for it to have influence.
Norman Rockwell 1964 The Problem We All Live With. This one painting did much to rehabilitate Norman Rockwell in my eyes. It depicts Ruby Bridges, 6 years old, of African American heritage, on her way to William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans, an all-white public school, on November 14, 1960.

Trust

Trust

Society cannot function without trust. Of course, this implies that there is such an entity as society. Not everyone accepts that there is. Former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013) stated in an interview in Women’s Own in 1987, “They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”

Thatcher’s understanding of the world differs from my perception of it. However, she is not alone. I do appreciate that she was the first British prime minister with a science degree, which she regarded as more important than being the first of her gender. However, with only individuals optionally organized into some sort of reproductive unit, I am not quite sure how her world view could equip Britain to organize economic production, yet alone fight wars in the Islas Malvinas.

Her admiration for Friedrich Hayek, and his Road to Serfdom does fit in with her economic policies, including the imposition of a community charge ( a poll or head tax), first in Scotland, then in England and Wales, to replace the rates system based on the market value of one’s residence.

Thatcher’s economic policies emphasized deregulation, especially in the finance markets but also extending into labour markets accompanied with the reduction of the power and influence of trade unions, the privatization of state-owned enterprises from British Gas and British Telecom, even waterworks and atomic energy providers as well as railways  and airlines.

While Britain’s economy expanded under Thatcher, the prosperity of the rich was paid for by millions of working class people, with bitter social divisions. The City of London financial district reorganized, eliminating safeguards, but bringing riches to an elite. Yuppies, short for Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals, made huge bonuses in finance but contributed little or nothing to society.

Coal miners lost their jobs as mines closed, and were attacked by police if they went on strike. By February 1984, two million manufacturing jobs had been lost. Coal was increasingly imported from Australia, Colombia and Poland. Many power stations had converted to gas. Much of the railway coal transport had been replaced by small haulage contractors’ trucks. Power station workers and police had been given large pay rises just before the strike. For more information see: http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2014-02-26/30-years-on-the-miners-last-great-strike-today

Miner’s Strike 1984. An observer being attacked by police on horseback. (photo John Harris: http://www.leftcom.org/files/miners-strive-orgreave.jpg)

At times Thatcher appears to have modern values such as decriminalization of abortion and homosexuality. At the same time she wants to reimpose capital punishment.

From a trust perspective, Thatcher appears to have chosen to trust certain classes of people, such as bankers, but not others, such as coal miners. She trusts those close to her background, but is reluctant to trust those diverging from her personal experience.

It is left to the reader, as a personal and ungraded exercise, to examine the consequences of this failure to trust, and to draw lines to today’s situation in the US and Britain, with their isolationist policies.

 

Social Media

English version. Norsk tekst under.
Adapted from a Facebook posting
I am still actively avoiding Facebook, and making other adjustments to my life to minimize its influence. Today’s suggestion is to ask you to avoid “liking” Facebook posts! For Facebook, your “like” is a tool that can be used to manipulate you.
 
It is now several months since I made a comment in Facebook, in fact. Previously, I have stated that Facebook is restricting interaction by directing people only to other users who mirror their own values, be they right/ left, up/ down or vanilla/ chocolate. This gives a very false picture of the world.
 
Now I’d like to go one step further and discourage everyone from liking posts. Every time you like a post, Facebook learns a little more about you, and is in a better position to manipulate you.
 
At the moment, I am engaged in one-way communication through my blogs:
 
brockmclellan.wordpress.com (yup, that’s what you are reading now!)
designeeds.wordpress.com
unitwon.wordpress.com
 
I am hoping that two-way communication can be effected through Diaspora. For more information about it, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(social_network)
 
Norwegian version
Jeg fortsatt prøver å unngå Facebook, og gjøre andre tilpasninger i livet mitt for å minimere sin innflytelse. Dagens forslag er å unngå å “like” innlegg på Facebook! For Facebook er “like” et verktøy som kan brukes til å manipulere deg.
 
Det er nå flere måneder siden jeg kommenterte her, faktisk. Tidligere har jeg uttalt at Facebook begrenser samhandling ved å lede folk bare til andre brukere som speiler sine egne verdier, enten de er høyre/ venstre, opp/ ned eller vanilje/ sjokolade. Dette gir et veldig falskt bilde av verden.
 
Nå vil jeg gjerne gå et skritt videre og motvirke alle fra å “like” innlegg. Hver gang du liker et innlegg, lærer Facebook litt mer om deg, og er i en bedre stilling til å manipulere deg.
 
For øyeblikket er jeg engasjert i enveiskommunikasjon gjennom bloggene mine:
 
brockmclellan.wordpress.com
designeeds.wordpress.com
unitwon.wordpress.com
 
Jeg håper at toveiskommunikasjon kan skje gjennom Diaspora. For flere opplysninger om det, se: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(social_network)

Workshop Core Values

Even the most notorious motorcycle gang has a set of core values that is hung on the wall near their club house entrance, for all to see and follow. The same applies to the Unit One work space.

Mission Statement

By appointment to the citizens of Ginnunga Gap, the Unit One work space is a supplier of a work area equipped with tools and machines, and helpful people with insight, skill and knowledge, all organized to transform individual and collective visions into practical products that make the world a better place.

Core Values

Work at Unit One is comprehensive. It involves using one’s brain, as well as one’s body. Creativity finds expression through mental and physical work processes.

In terms of health, safety and the environment, the work space is equipped with fire fighting and first aid equipment, bright lighting and air purification equipment. Workers are expected to use protective equipment including, but not restricted to, ear plugs, gloves, respirators, safety glasses, safety shoes and comfortable workwear.

Researching and developing useful and environmentally friendly products and services is an essential part of the work space experience.

Training is an ongoing activity. Almost all tools require a safety checkout or training to ensure that all users have the necessary skills.

Products and services require documentation. These may take the form of technical drawings, written notes as well as videos. Everything made in the workshop shall be open source design.

Power to the workshop is provided by renewable energy.

Material used in the workshop are organically or technically recyclable, using cradle to cradle principles.

Socially useful products and services are to be made in the workshop.

Peace, Equality, Integrity & Simplicity

There are four important traditions within the Society of Friends, or Quakers as they will be referred to here, that promote spiritual life. The first is the testimony of peace; the second, the testimony of equality ; the third, the testimony of truth or integrity; the fourth, the testimony of simplicity.

My religious path involves three and a half stages. First, was a childhood, where I was brought up in a methodist tradition in the United Church of Canada. I left that as a young adult because I could not accept the concept of the trinity, and became a Unitarian. This was followed by a half stage where I investigated the Quakers, before becoming a member of the Baha’i Faith.

Much of the appeal of the Quakers was their testimonies. These emphasized that one’s spiritual life and character is more important than anything else. The focus was not the next world, but the current world. It implies that resources, including money and time, should be used to make life truly better for everyone.

The main reason I never became a Quaker, is because I had reservations about some aspects of these testimonies. As an example, some Quaker groups forbid drama because it involves the assumption of non-truthful roles. For me, this was one step too far.

Quaker usage of the term testify is often misunderstood. It is a commitment to action, in which spiritual ideals require a physical expression. Integrity requires personal wholeness, consistency, honesty and fair dealings. It necessitates not only telling the truth, but also the avoidance of statements that are technically true but misleading.

The testimony of peace requires committed action to promote peace, to refrain from violence, to actively oppose participation in war. Most Quakers are conscientious objectors, and refuse to carry or use any form of weapon. Many Quakers refuse to pay that share of taxes that goes to the military.

The testimony of peace can be broadened to include what is referred to as active non-violence: protests and demonstrations in opposition to government policies of war. Some confront others who bear arms. Restorative justice can also be part of Quaker peace testimony, while only a minority include vegetarianism.

The British Friends Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their work to relieve suffering and feed many millions of starving people during and after both world wars.

The testimony of equality involved equality of the sexes and equality of races. It encouraged the women’s suffrage movement and the anti-slavery movement. Yet, there were other areas where equality applied, especially the humane treatment of the mentally ill, and of prisoners.

In their relationships with others, words and actions had to flow from beliefs. This meant not only speaking the truth, even when it was difficult, to use grace and tact to say difficult things, but also to receive difficult messages gracefully.

Quakers took responsibility for their actions. They fulfilled their commitments, such as taking care of people and things entrusted to their care. They learned to assess people and situations fairly and accurately, but also guarded their reputation for honesty, fairness and fidelity. They were noted for their openness to the ideas of others, and for giving credit to others for contributions. At the same time, they avoided being swayed too easily. They were expected to confront lapses in the integrity of themselves and others.

In terms of economics, the testimony of integrity had many implications. Not only did people have to be paid fair wages for their work, but employers had to be given the right amount of labor for pay received. Quaker businessmen operated with fixed but fair prices to avoid haggling. Similarly, debt financing was avoided to prevent people from spending beyond their means.

They assiduously avoided class distinction by refusing to use honorific titles and by using familiar forms of thee and thou, instead of the respectful you. Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr are avoided. Instead children and adults address people using only the first or both first and last names without a title. They use the term friend rather than sir or madam with someone whose name they do not know. In writing, this becomes Dear Friend instead of Dear Sir or Madam. Letters typically end with yours in truth or yours in friendship.

In the Testimony of Simplicity, there are three areas where this is most pronounced: dress, speech and material possessions.

The Quaker dress code varies today. Avoiding extremes, one would not be out of place at many Quaker meetings wearing generic, dull coloured work wear, without any form of jewelery or cosmetics. In terms of body fashion, piercings, tattoos and hair colour would be avoided.

Plainness in speech, naturally, had to address issues already noted in the other testimonies. In its early years, especially, the vestiges of paganism concerned many Quakers, especially because the names of the days and months referred to Roman or Norse gods or Roman emperors. This resulted in referring to both the days of the week and the months of the year by number.

Quakers often limited possessions to what they needed, rather than accumulating luxuries. It is not the goods themselves, but one’s attitude towards them that is important. There have been many wealthy Quakers, who have used their wealth for spiritual purposes, including helping the poor and oppressed. Others found their wealth a spiritual burden, and gave it away. Three of the largest chocolate manufacturing companies in the world – Cadbury, Roundtree and Fry – were started by Quakers.

Even in death, simplicity is important. A Quaker grave marking will ideally be a simple and low-lying stone.

Despite being only a half-stage in my spiritual development, many of my fundamental beliefs originate in reflecting on Quaker values. This reflection resulted a rejection of some values, but an acceptance of others.

 

Workshop Ethics

DIY, Workshop or workspace activities encourage people to undertake a wide variety of tasks rather than relying on paid specialists. These activities require people to develop skills needed to complete these tasks. but they also require an ethical underpinning.

Workspace ethics empowers both individuals and communities. It encourages the use of novel solutions when facing bureaucratic or societal obstacles.

Many of the earliest examples involve punk music, notably the proto-punk band Death and the third-wave feminist band Riot Grrl.  Ideally, demos are recorded with amateur equipment in bedrooms, while albums and merchandise are promoted and distributed through nebulous channels outside the established music industry. Concerts are even held in house basements.

Betsy Greer invented the term craftivism in 2003: “craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.” http://craftingagreenworld.com/2009/04/04/what-is-craftivism-division-over-the-definition-explodes-an-etsy-team/

Craftivism is especially noted for its assorted forms of needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch. However, the social aspects are more important. By combining collective empowerment, creative expression and negotiation, critical social comments are produced and spread.

One brand of craftivism is the knit-in, where knitters access a public space and knit. This might involving sitting in a park or occupying a public building. They use the knit-in to focus attention to an issue of concern.

Jack Bratich notes, “Knitting in public also creates a gendered question of space. It rips open the enclosure of the domestic space to public consumption, exposing productive work that has contributed to women’s invisible and unpaid labor”.  “The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender”. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. That means that women gain power from an activity that previously symbolized their repression.

Ellen Lupton will be allowed the final words in this post. “Around the world, people are making things themselves in order to save money, to customize goods to suit their exact needs and interests, and to feel less dependent on the corporations that manufacture and distribute most of the products and media we consume. On top of these practical and political motivations is the pleasure that comes from developing an idea, making it physically real, and sharing it with other people.” D.I.Y. Design It Yourself, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006,p. 18

Peace

This post began as a reaction to yet another senseless bombing in Syria. The only problem was, why should I react to that particular act of injustice, when the world was witness to countless acts of injustice daily?

The challenge for me is knowing where to put my energies. Is war violence worse than, say, domestic violence? Both result in trauma, injuries and death.

There is very little that I can do about situations on the world stage, with one exception. Ignore them. In particular, I can ignore the journalism that causes news items and other forms of frustrated agony to reverberate through the world’s households.

This misplaced time could be redirected towards my current activity focus: Workshop Activism.

I seldom read Norwegian news items. I know that people on my contact list will inform me of important events.

I have cut out Facebook. Instead, I have redirected my time to writing blog posts, and to reading other people’s blogs. Here, there is room for improvement.

Today, I will avoid reading the Guardian and the Independent. Rather than replacing these with yet more media, I want to spend more time in the workshop. If nothing else, I have a dust extraction system that has to be put in place, as well as a work surface along Machine Alley.  I have also agreed to spend the next two Wednesdays, supervising work at Hastighet Teknogarasje (Velocity Techo-garage) in Straumen.

Hopefully, both that workshop as well as a more private one at the nano-nation of Ginnunga Gap, will be able to teach peacefulness and co-operation, not through words, but through actions.

Every Soul …

Every soul needs a fortress to protect it against the onslaught of the modern world. Life isn’t for weaklings. Living demands effort. Surprisingly, the Baha’i Faith does not promote work, or even careers, as this fortress. Rather it comes from marriage. A true marriage is not just confined to this world, but lasts almost perpetually.

“The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God.”

Bahá’u’lláh described marriage as a “fortress for well-being.”

I don’t think Bahá’u’lláh was just talking about passionate nights. Living with someone 24/7 requires more than just sex to sustain a relationship. Living together may be a normal state, it might even promote health and longevity, and result in greater happiness, but these positive elements will only develop if there is friendship, at the heart of the relationship.

They “must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity…”

Soon my beloved and I will have been married for 40 years. I would like to be able to say that we have learned to live together in perfect harmony, and to work together as a team. But that isn’t always true. Disagreements can arise. Frequently, we have separate areas of expertise. I will never have the culinary skills, nor the interest in textiles that my beloved has. Then again, she is less interested in woodworking and fixing computers. Hopefully, our interests and abilities complement each other.

“The love between husband and wife should not be purely physical, nay rather it must be spiritual and heavenly. These two souls should be considered as one soul. How difficult it would be to divide a single soul!”

Children seem to be an essential part of marriage, despite the world heading to a state of overpopulation and global warming. When those children arrive, they have to be raised. This can strain a relationship, because most people are come unprepared for parenthood. Children don’t always follow the book, with respect to their behaviour. Sometimes, differences can arise between parents, because they see things from different perspectives. Yet somehow, with a little prayer and reflection we muddle through, and children develop into adults.

“The foundation of the Kingdom of God is based upon harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not upon differences, especially between husband and wife.”

There is a life after children. There is even life after retirement. Yet, I am eternally grateful that I have my beloved to share my life with me.

“The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other. If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favour in the Kingdom of heaven.”