Friday, 2 December 2016

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part I


WARNING: some of the terms in this series of articles may be offensive to some readers... which is probably a good thing!




Twenty-sixteen was probably the worst year for online hate speech to date: a year when a grassroots network known as the alt-right managed to overwhelm many forums and comment boards with their bigotted posts. 

Mobilizing mobs of sock puppet [fake] accounts, members of this small far-right network stormed Disqus and Twitter, flooding them with near-identical, right wing comments on a wide range of global issues.

It was a clear attempt to mould a new popular consensus: one of contempt for Jews, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists, refugees and Muslims... plus anyone else not in their own demographic. The alt-right was, quite frankly, open about this goal; it's unofficial leader wrote on white nationalist site the Daily Stormer:


..."we" being white straight males.

However, it would probably be more fair to call theirs an 'unpopular consensus' because, no matter what the alt-right would like you to believe to the contrary, their views are still in the minority - both abroad and in Germany.  It is easy to forget that fact, though, when right wing voices like theirs are commandeering an increasing proportion of the online discussion.

How big of a proportion is it? One set of statistics that comes to mind is a study undertaken by the Anti-Defamation League into antisemitic hate speech on Twitter. It found that 2.6 million hate tweets had been posted by just 1,600 individuals in 2016, the majority of them during a six-month period.  (By way of contrast, the writer of this piece has only sent 1,300 tweets within the last five years). Together, these tweets were seen around 10 billion times.

The study's authors wrote that, 'Waves of anti-Semitic tweets tend to emerge from closely connected online “communities.”  These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, or part of the “alt-right."'

Since some of the websites connected to the alt-right ( 4Chan and Daily Stormer for instance) organize "troll raids" and "twitter storms" with the express intent of normalizing their bigotry, this figure sounds like it could be connected to them. Alt-right sites have openly and repeatedly mobilized sock puppet mobs to produce phoney "public outcries" over issues as trivial as the new Ghostbusters film, or as big as Brexit.



... not to mention, the U.S. election.

More locally, the alt-right seems to be targeting English language sites in Germany like TheLocal.de, mainly to protest the CDU's open immigration policy. One needs only enter "thelocal.de" + "[any white nationalist website]" into a search engine to see how often articles from The Local are referenced and re-posted in the extremist backwaters of the internet. 

Since distorting and inflaming white / male outrage is the alt-right's whole raison d'etre, it seems likely there is a connection between those references and the influx of right-wing posts on The Local.  Even more incriminating is the fact that the rise in such comments tracks back to 2014 - the same year that the CDU announced its open-borders policy, which was quickly commended by President Obama.

Even when The Local doesn't oblige its right wing trolls by providing fodder for their doom-and-gloom predictions about a looming, non-white ‘invasion’, those trolls still manage to force a connection between refugees and social unrest.

The site recently published a piece about a man who had saved a woman’s life after dialing her number by mistake… a cheery outcome, one would think. Yet one troll who apparently hadn't fulfilled his daily quota of hate felt the need to comment that it was, "a much better outcome than the man that died trying to burn his estranged wife up in the refugee home." (Emphasis is author's own). 



While it's true that far-right membership in most Western countries has increased somewhat (a fact which should not be ignored) there is still an irreconcilably big chasm between the proportion of bigoted views that one sees in society, and the proportion of those views one sees online.

A glance at some slightly more official documents provides a timely reminder that you can't always trust what you see on Twitter and Facebook though.  The  Verfassungschutz's 2015 publication on right-wing extremism in Germany gives an estimated membership of 11,800 people across all far-right parties in Germany. Meanwhile, up until recently comments on The Local were almost 100% in favour of far -right views.
The results of a 2015 World Values Survey, one of the biggest of its kind, clearly shows which proportion of the population in Germany and America (which is included for comparison) holds views which are compatible with the Alt Right. It's a far, far lower number than online discussion forums would suggest:

Racist tendencies: (does not want a multiracial neighbour):
Germany 14,8%, United States 5.6%
Alt Right: mostly against

Anti-immigrant: (does not want a migrant neighbour)
Germany: 21.4%, United States: 13.6%
Alt Right: mostly against

Anti-equity (women's work rights):
Germany 15.5%, United states: 5.7%
Alt Right mostly against

This is just a quick selection, but the scores are similarly low for all biases surveyed in the study.

So if less than 22% percent of the German (or U.S.) population holds bigoted views, then why are some 50-100 percent of online comments on hot-button topics (feminism, Islam, refugees, the Brexit) so outrageously biased? Somewhere, somehow, someone has loaded the dice for this vocal minority. In many cases, it's the vocal minority that is doing the loading, itself.


Yet right wing troll raids like these are the reason why not a day goes by without some media outlet writing a rushed article about the "shocking" increase in right wing views in society - essentially, swallowing the troll illusion hook, line and sinker. Some journalists don't look far from their favourite social media platforms for information, it seems. 

One can see a mirror image of the alt-right effect in the likes of Pegida which, despite claiming to speak for some sort of silent majority, rarely gets more than a couple of hundred people to their events... at least, outside of the mostly-white east, they do.  (This writer once saw a demo of theirs which consisted of a dozen people, with nearly half that number again being made up of press trying to cover the event).  

To some extent, the rise of the alt-right is the fault of the online community as a whole for allowing its own focus to be monopolized so.  Those who look at troll comments and take them at face value are obviously contributing to the problem, too. Made-up "facts" like, '12 billion Turkish people plan to move to England if Turkey joins the EU', or, 'Trump voters are sick of the establishment' are unfounded, unproven and most likely a hoax.  Both were originally picked up and promoted by far-right sites, though. 

With only a bit of investigation it's possible to figure out that the alt-right's insidious plot is to foil the people: in fact, it openly admits as much on its own websites.  It discusses how best to mislead people by twisting facts, planting faked news items and organizing Twitter raids right out in the open. The Daily Stormer even has a [now private] section for organizing such raids (TRS).


Why is it that the Alt Right is so upfront about its trolling? Probably because its members know no one is looking, just like so many online consumers don't bother looking into which ideas wind up on their plates... not even journalists, it seems. This is why it was possible for a "news clip" about a pro-Trump student getting beaten up at school to viral without anyone realizing that the clip - which was shot on a phone and circulated via YouTube - did not contain a single word about Trump, or the election.  The probable-hoax was broadcast on at least one local station; it obviously didn't do its homework.
 

The alt-right is counting on internet users being in a hurry and glomming on to the most shocking snippets they find, and then quickly passing them on without question. It's a tendency all internet users eventually fall victim to, however intelligent they might be.  So in this one sense, the alt right is teaching us 'normies' an important lesson: shock-trolling only works if millions prioritize shock value over worthwhile information.  

However high profile the alt-right may be, though, it hasn't commandeered so many big discussion platforms with its right wing views all on its own. In the next installment, find out what the alt-right has in common with government-led troll operations from both the East and the West.  




Part II will be published next Friday, December 9th

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Social Distortion on Unscene Berlin

http://unsceneberlin.blogspot.de/2016/09/social-distortion-what-berlins-election.html
Right wingers across the world are claiming that the CDU's fall in popularity in Berlin is due to their pro-immigration, pro-asylum stance, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Read what the Berlin election results really meant here

Give Up Activism on Unscene Berlin

http://unsceneberlin.blogspot.de/2016/09/give-up-activism.html

I just posted a new entry on Unscene Berlin. Check it out here or by clicking on the image above!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Right Way To Be "Left"




One Cause, One Tribe

At Easter weekend, I went to the talk by Spiral Tribe members at Mensch Meier.  Taking place in a wood paneled bar area that was full of yellow-lit smoke and boozy air, the talk had the ambiance of being at a 1920's meeting of banned radicals in some working man’s club (albeit one that was plastered in absurdist posters and satirical signs from modern Berlin).

Instead of working men, the place was bustling with a restless, flushed cluster of Generation Y techno hippies.  The strikingly youthful Tribe members didn’t look much older than their audience, despite being part of a much earlier rave generation.

They were energetic and chatty and seemed up for a debate, but it wasn't forthcoming from the crowd which was awed and sitting back in typical German reverence, allowing the speakers to say their piece, and the wisdom to seep in.

One comment sticks in my mind, which was made by Debbie of Spiral Tribe. She said,  “We’ve been together for 25 years and it hasn’t been smooth sailing the whole time. There are some big personalities in the collective. We haven’t always gotten along.  It takes a lot of hard work to stick together.”

It resonated with an off-the-cuff comment made by Laurie Penny, two weeks later, when she was speaking at HAU.  It was something to the effect of, “We should avoid perfectionism in left wing.” About a third of the people in the audience sat up and started nodding their heads in affirmation. 

Maybe it's because Penny's talk was also taking place in a wood-paneled theatre with a 1920's ambience - a place where you could imagine Rosa Luxemburg giving a speech to a disgruntled crowd, back in the day - but I connected her words with what the Tribe members had said two weeks earlier. A new consensus seemed to be suffusing Berlin's linke scene about the right way to be left. 


There is good reason for people on the left to have divisiveness on their minds, lately.  On the news, and on social media, the leftists that we see most often are those who take a critical stance: ranting and raging at each other, calling each other out over this badly-phrased thought or that impulsive tweet, exposing one another as less liberal or tolerant than their comrades are.  We're also regularly force fed images of 'activists' who are dressed identically in black and who are attacking cops that seem to be dressed for a round on Robot Wars.

There is a common theme underlying both kinds of coverage: in it, we only ever see the left wing in a state of attack and rejection, rather than a state of defense and inclusion. At a subconscious level, this preconditions us to view activism as a war on order, a retaliation, a negation: removing and destroying what it says is 'bad' rather than creating and implementing what it says is 'good'. This isn't a balanced view, but perhaps it's the only view that the media is capable of giving us. Media is a mirror that only reflects what it knows how to see, and conformist execs who sacrifice their lives to the 'cause' of higher ratings will tend to identify more closely with activists who seem to behave the same way.

The modern anarchist scene, especially, has been reduced in the media's lens to a one trick pony that uses purely aggressive means to achieve 'the revolution'. Unfortunately there are anarchists who definitely embrace that view, and the media welcomes them all with open arms; each act of vandalism they take part in is recorded and replayed gleefully.  The media pounces on such incidents - not, as some activists like to think, because they are scary or even newsworthy, but because they reinforce the popular view that anarchism is a fringe movement, depriving it of the mass appeal that could make it a real threat.

By limiting themselves to forms of attack that the authorities are perfectly equipped to repel, these kinds of anarchists are an absolute godsend to the system. To watch them in action is to believe that everything that exists beyond the confines of capitalism is bleak and angry, humourless, painted black and, usually, on fire with its windows smashed in.  Who would ever really want to live there, let alone stand in solidarity with the people who already do?

Many anarchists would tell you that capitalism's underlying mentality is the one that truly is bleak and deadly. Indeed the likes of McDonalds, Primark, Ikea et al, shield themselves with a carnivalesque array of products in a rainbow of colours, tastes and sounds that mask their destructive business ethos; they paint their brands in shades as vibrant as the planet used to be before capitalism came along.  While not every activist out there feels the need eschew everything that's beautiful and enjoyable - fine arts, music or even happiness and hope - in their efforts to distance themselves from the system, those that do tend to get a lot more representation in the media. The more repellent the better, seems to be the mantra.

Instead of fighting back against this marginalization though, I increasingly see activists mirroring the mass media's approach: cherry-picking the traits that they like best from within their own scenes, and discarding those that don't reflect a rather purist ideal of perfection.  For example, I recently heard about a certain queer collective in Berlin that is refusing to admit anyone who wears dreadlocks or ear plugs, on the grounds that such styles amount to 'cultural appropriation'.

Leaving aside the question of which culture can claim to the be the true originator of dreads or plugs, is that even a practical model of how the left can achieve meaningful social change - through exclusion based on looks alone? Or is it another case of leftists slotting themselves into a pre-exisiting media construct, limiting their efforts to negation and division?

Being More Than Just "Against"

Stories like the one above make me want to put my head in my hands.  In my own activist lifespan, I’ve witnessed materialist anarchists bashing pagan anarchists; first-wave feminists being trashed by third-wave feminists; queers trashing trans people; vegans getting trashed by vegetarians.  For a while, all this griping and sniping nearly put me off politics altogether.

Eventually, though, I realized that rejection is is just the first step on a long road that takes you from the lesser person that society says you are, to the better person that you can be. Recognizing a bad pattern of behaviour is the first step, but dealing with it is the essential second one. Attack, denial and avoidance are all just ways of postponing the hard work that's involved in doing that... but again, they are the only modes of reaction that the media ever presents us with.  Little wonder, then, that some destructive behaviour sinks in to the best of us.

In an age where people socialize alone, through the medium of a computer screen, the habit of unfriending and blocking people who one disagrees with has become an almost unquestioning first resort for dealing with disagreement, using a third party server to whitewash undesirables instead of facing them head-on.  Each time this happens, the prospect of true unity - which takes effort, as Spiral Tribe so effortlessly explained - grows dimmer.

This tendency to reject rather than reform is hardly a modern issue for activism, nor is it even a Berlin issue. Way back in the 1940's, Orwell was already griping about the hyper-critical tendencies of his contemporary lefties:

"The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power." [From 'England Your England', 1941]

Besides, arguing over the "right" way to be feminist, socialist, environmentalist seems like it's kind of a waste of energy when there's an ever-present threat that one might be beaten, raped, exploited and murdered.  But maybe that's just my weirdly subjective view, getting in the way of the bigger picture...?

However, I also don't believe that the left wing scene should turn a blind eye to unethical behaviour in its own ranks - just that it should try confronting it instead of shouting it down or shutting the door in its face.  We all have colleagues, school friends, neighbours and family members who sometimes say racist, sexist or other stupid things, but we carry on making the effort to relate to them a) because we have to and b) because we want to.  We’re deeply enough entwined in their existence that we can see the benefits as well as the drawbacks in the relationship.  Why should it be any different with our fellow activists?


Even as I'm writing these words though, I'm aware that they also sort of fall into the category of critical statements. So far, I haven't actually said anything about what the left wing activist scene can do to become more balanced.

Perhaps action groups could try organizing meetings where the only goal is for people to share their personal, everyday experiences and backstories... without judgement.  A safe and non-defensive space for leftists is sorely lacking in activism today, and it has been as far back as I can remember - except for that short period of time when Reclaim the Streets was active in London.  Their approach was entirely flexible, leaving decisions and reactions up to everyone; the only mandate seemed to be to stick together and stay on the streets.

Activists still need that kind of a space where they can just be together; where the ever-present pressure to be the "best" or the "most egalitarian" person is gone.  They need a place where they can create a balanced scene by being a balanced person, who is allowed to have strengths and weaknesses, ups and downs.  And they need space to experiment, too, instead of expecting to hammer out the perfect rhetoric and then go about fixing the world without any doubts or hesitations whatsoever. Rhetoric has a dangerous tendency to narrow the world down to blacks and whites, when it's mostly made up of grey areas. 

Any unstructured meet-up could achieve that same result as a street reclaiming action.  Hanging out, making music together, having a picnic or party. Alternatively, one could organize a 'talking stick' group where people take turns to talk freely about any subject that comes to mind without fear of accusation or rejection.   This would make it easier for activists to see each other as people, works in progress rather than just symbols of a cause.


The above map from Muckety.com shows some of the business interests and politicians that are linked to Monsanto

It's funny how the leading corporate and political bodies never seem to limit themselves to working with people that have the exact same sets of beliefs that they do. They don't just choose Christian or white male partners to work with, either at home or abroad. The Bush administration was infamously happy to work with the Taliban until September 11th happened, and competing companies merge to increase their profits all the time. The powerful aren't closed minded about exploring all avenues and alliances to get what they want. They definitely don't limit themselves to meeting up at massive conferences full of allies they barely know and swapping strategy tips - which is what many left wing meetings and protests are like.

No: they also meet in restaurants and bars, go on holidays together, and party together. They sleep together, have families together, and live in communities that they established together. They also argue together... and then stay together in spite of it all, much as Spiral Tribe itself has done.   In fact, you could say that the super-wealthy are a sort of dark twin of freewheeling music collectives like Spiral Tribe.  They spend an inordinate amount of time in direct personal contact and stick together no matter what kinds of scandals hit them.  The capitalists of the world are defined by a tendency to form larger and larger alliances, not to subdivide and self-segregate as the left wing currently does. 

Now look at how they tell us plebians to act, by comparison; they say, "Vote on our own.  Stand on our own two feet.  Express yourself.  Rely on yourself.  Be your own boss.  Strike out on your own. Stand out from the crowd. Be unique."  And all the while they speak as a faceless & unified collective.  It's a stark an illustration of, 'Do as I say, not as I do' as there can be.  Why? Because they know that, if we did as they did, we’d suddenly become a force to be reckoned with.  

In order for any activist movement to be as effective at attracting and maintaining the support of the masses as capitalism has been, it would have to be just as integrated, and become as relevant on every level of our lives as capitalism currently seems to be.  No matter how "unrelated" to the cause an activity might seem, if people are doing it, it should be incorporated into the rhetoric... somehow. And if it cannot be incorporated, then it's probably the rhetoric that needs to change, not the people.

Many modern activists seem to believe that it should be the other way around - that they should abandon any parts of their lives that don't fit the rhetoric.  This is a surefire way to open up a chasm between the cause and the people affected by it.

The left wing really can't afford to be elitist, in times like these. There aren't enough Spiral Tribes around, but there are countless Money And Power Tribes in the world and the only way to even out that balance is to find a way to work together, even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard. The answer isn't to diss the tribal mentality or 'rise above it', it is to embrace it. When the media is so clearly desperate to fragment society at the grassroots level, then the only possible defence is to become even more whole.  

It also just makes sense. Because, eventually, you run out of things to stop, reject and be against.  After that, you’re left with whatever you are and the strange, discomfiting fact that it is all that you will ever have to work with.  That's when the real work starts to happen. 

Breaking up is easy, but sticking together?  That's the real test of one's ideals.



FOR ANOTHER ARTICLE LIKE THIS ONE, CHECK OUT THIS POST ON UNSCENE BERLIN BLOG.



Friday, 20 November 2015

Terrorism follows a scary logic. The system's logic is scarier.




Not long after moving to London in 1997, I went to the tube station one night to take the train to my boyfriend's place, only to find out it had been closed due to a "bomb alert".  I got the bus and met him anyway, telling him the story of my close encounter with terrorism with wide-open eyes. 

"Oh no," my boyfriend said and clapped his hands to his face, parodying the look on my face.  "Not a bomb threat... we're all gonna dieee!"

As he fell about laughing I asked him, earnestly, why he thought that someone putting a bomb on the train was so funny.

"They have those threats every week," he said, composing himself. "Nothing ever happens.  Well, maybe there is a bomb but so what?  There's nothing they can actually do to stop some nutter getting on the train and blowing it up."  

It made a cool, rational kind of sense that I couldn't argue with.  There was no way to neutralize the threat of a bombing, even though the panic alarm of fear ringing in my head made me want to race around trying to find a way to deal with it.

That's the same alarm that people are hearing now, in the wake of the latest terror attacks on Paris and Brussels, etc.  But it's an irrational alarm. 

Ever since 9/11 the media has been acting as if there's something that can be done about terrorism, but they're wrong and they know it.  Terrorism is not new, and it's not the preserve of any one group.  It endures because it's so extreme.  It's also rare because it's so extreme.

In 1999, I was still living in London when, one day, a customer in my pub told me that his boyfriend had been blinded in the nail-bombing attack on a gay bar in Soho.  Another friend of his was walking with a crutch after losing his leg in the same attack.  In 2005, I got up late for work one day, only to discover that the train I was meant to board for work had been blown up by a group of radical, Islamic Britons with bombs in their backpacks. 

By then, I had realized that what that first boyfriend had told me was true: no amount of planning in the world can prevent a terrorist attack.  That's why it's a very successful strategy for scaring the hell out of people.  A terrorist is malevolent, determined, and can go unnoticed when he's living in a massive, faceless urban centre. That helpless realization makes our fear explode with more force than a dozen suicide bombs.

Because, how do you protect everyone in a dense urban sprawl, when a network of disguised madmen are running amok, armed and dangerous? The answer is you don't. You can't.  The threat is always there whether you are aware of it or not.  Dense urban sprawls contain plenty of  murderers and rapists, serial killers and child molesters, power mad cops, corrupt politicians, gay bashers, neo-Nazis and gangsters.

The last time that there was a serial rapist on the loose in London, though, I don't recall the government issuing a code red alert.  I don't recall them telling every man in the city that he should stay indoors and not approach women or else he would be considered as a suspect, beaten and possibly shot. 

Why, then, is this deemed an acceptable response when there is a terror threat on the go?  Why suspend all civil liberties or treat peace activists like they're a threat, without provocation or explanation?

Because we tolerate it, and we don't stop and think about how little sense it makes. 

Terrorism plays on our worst fears about what can go wrong someone throws a spanner in the works in a sprawling urban centre.  But then, so do escalator fires, train crashes and mall roof collapses.  The thing is, escalator fires and train crashes are usually caused by  political and corporate wrongdoing, whereas terrorism is a usually caused by an  individual, ideological wrongdoing.  When individuals and idealists are to blame, our leaders are only too happy to pull out all the stops and stamp the problem out.  But for some strange reason, ordinary citizens are forbidden from taking the same hardline approach toward their leaders when they fuck up.  (See: Guantanomo Bay, Jean Charles de Menezes etc).  The blame only ever flows in one direction, which speaks volumes about another kind of tyranny.

Besides, history shows us that peace only actually comes out of listening to terrorist factions and taking their demands seriously. Stomping them out does not work.  George W. Bush infamously said that the American government wouldn't negotiate with terrorists, but the US utterly failed to kick the Taliban's ass and actually hastened the spread of radical Islamic factions in the Middle East.   The UK government, on the other hand, finally tried to negotiate with the IRA after almost a century of bloody skirmishes and, lo and behold, peace was established within a few years.  Lesson learned.

Except it wasn't.  Every terror attack that has happened since 9/11 has resulted in ham-fisted overreactions that seem intended to inflame the situation. Could it be that that is exactly what they are designed to do?

'Fighting' terror doesn't work, yet many policy makers and media shakers embrace it.  Why?  The fact is, going into military overdrive has huge financial benefits for the well-connected rich.  If you dont believe me, take a look at what happened to the share prices between March 22-March 30th for  BAE Systems and Rheinmetall , two huge weapons manufacturers.  They both jumped by about a dozen points.  Why?  Because the Brussels bombings happened on March 23, silly.  BAE Systems shares some of the same directors as Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, Reuters, and the New York Federal Reserve do. They are typical of arms manufacturers, in that respect.

So the hardline approach to terrorism also boils down to money.  'Fighting' terror with weapons, surveillance and armed police is sexy for us because it's sexy for the people who print our news, who are able to buy that much more cocaine, prostitutes and flashy cars thanks to it. 

After all these years of living next door to terrorism, I'm still not really sure what the bad guys look like.  One year they're neo-Nazis, the next they're Muslim.  Quite often, they're guys in suits.  I can, however, imagine that acting paranoid, detached and avoiding authority figures are the standard characteristics of someone who is carrying a home made bomb.  So scaring peple off of the streets with armed police and randomly searching them creates the perfect environment for terrorists to blend in to.  It puts us all on the same level as them, thereby adding fuel to the flames. 

My boyfriend was right.   You can't ever be sure that the person standing next to you isn't a crazed maniac.  You can't be sure that they're not carrying a bomb, or a gun, or a knife.  But you can make sure that they never have a reason to use it.  Standing up for freedom, peace and equality is the only surefire way to do that. 



For more background, read this piece about  9/11 and the anti-WTO protests


Friday, 25 September 2015

Magpies

There was a family of magpies bouncing around in the tree outside of my window last week, shaking its feather boa branches, bustling with leaves.  They squawked and squeaked and pecked playfully at each other. 

Oradually, one started to make a gentle drilling noise, which slowly changed into something more like trilling.  A few seconds later, I hear an answering trill from the car park behind the tree.  A mobile phone ring was answering the magpie call.  No: it was the other way around.  The magpie was mimicking the phone ring just for a lark (no pun intended).  That ancient bird habit of echoing and relaying sounds, transmitters and receivers, sending out a signal to see if one comes back.  One sentience broadcasting to the other. 

I heard the human in the car park answer his phone.  He didn't return the magpie's call though, abandoning another ancient tradition of our own.  Like all our new technology the phone fulfills ever more basic functions in ever greater diversity of ways, sends ever more than it receives.

Later on, I had to take a train and started to read a magazine I'd found from 1999.  Back then it seemed that people broadcast signals both ways: to each other, to everything, using their evolving technology to make sense of patterns of information. A din of news was coming from everyplace at once, a rainbow of views approaching universality.  Today there's the same din but the underlying views is singular and resolute: saying the same thing in a million different ways: 'Welcome to the dog-eat-dog world.'

Everyone on the train was staring downward, as one, at small rectangular cases in their hands.  Shoulders hunched, looking cowed.  The possibility of seeing patterns was gone; only one pattern can fit in there at a time.  All other patterns had to be fit into its lines.

Smart phones are a visualization, concretization of dogma, of the dog-eat-dog mindset itself.  The reason why we're screwed, hidden in plain sight under a shifting screen.  They tune out all messages except the one in isolation: a single, byte sized, narrow perspective of 'I'.  'My' view.  It's only functional in the absence of all others, just like the device.  Only valid for as long as it can shut out the din.

However imminent the crisis our eyes remain down turned, searching for a way to tackle it in isolation.   Muttering vacantly that, ‘There's a button for this, I know there is, but when I press it nothing happens.  Why??  (Maybe the IPhone 6 will have a fix)'.  As if this tool can somehow be reprogrammed to do what we haven't learned to, haven't had time to, rendering ourselves obsolete just to prove it works.  Waiting for the final update that'll justify the beta-test.  It's just life, after all.    

Meanwhile, nature sends messages on a frequency we're not receiving.  Even when the magpies call us, we're unable to echo their concern.  Maybe we're too fixated by the shiny objects in our hands.

That would be ironic.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Underground for e.V.er!

"London's not the center of techno anymore. It's definitely in Berlin!"


...said my friend, Mel.  This was not your usual hyperbole coming from a tourism board PR rep whose never been clubbing in his or her life. This was coming from a 20-year veteran of London's deepest, darkest underground parties and a kickass artist, to boot.  She was shouting the words in my ear in the warehouse techno room at Sisyphos, in Rummelsburg.

Back when I first moved to Berlin, the clubs here were kinda boring but those days are hard to remember now. You would never have found proper banging techno or house playing in places like Sisyphos.  It was all slow, drugged-out and commercial; the sound of someone limply writhing in Ketamine and glitter (not as cool as it sounds). There weren't any techno openairs like those that Sounds For Berlin, Reclaim the Gorli and so on have been doing.  The temple of bass called Gretchen did not exist and Stattbad hadn't yet started up its Boiler Room sessions.  Even the F*ck Parade used to have half a dozen boring floats.   The shunkel music sound was as inescapable and annoying as that loud ringing noise it left in your ears the next day.

But that's all changed.  These past few years have been like that boiling-frog analogy, in reverse. Berlin has gradually crept toward a richer convergence of its various dance music styles, but it's done so in such tiny increments that we didn't even realize it was happening.  It was only when I brought my friend Sisyphos that I suddenly felt the heat.  Finally, Berlin is living up to its hype: this scene is in a full-on boil.   Not just in Sisyphos, either.  But it's a good example of a club that has come into its own, blending the surreal elements of Renate with the atmospheric warehouse techno of Berghain and the house music intensity of Wall of Sound into some sort of perfect Berlin all-in-one experience. They even have a massage parlour and a sweet shop.   And a lake.  (The chickens aren't there anymore, though, unfortunately).

It wasn't hard to see why my mate was blown away.

I was relieved that it's not just me who thinks things are improving, here.  Most Berlin promoters used to seem like were only interested in finding a misguided shortcut to glamour and fame.  Now, they're doing parties for a purpose, as a concept, as a protest.  They're doing them to change things now, and more importantly, for a good time.  And they seem less inclined to use the industry's coke-covered credit line to judge how good the night is, instead going by mood on the dancefloor.

My friend and I went outside and stood under the lampshade trees by the lake and she said, "Yeah, I reckon this is what would happen if one of the squat parties in London kept on going on for years. Why don't they do something like this in London, in fact?'

The answer is always the same: the authorities don't let it. At the slightest sign that some group is putting down roots, the government goes into overdrive trying to uproot them, or (if they go legal) forcing a profiteering mindset on them.  It bogs their ideals down with licensing fees and absurd health and safety regulations.  This way, it constantly seals up those untapped veins of creativity in red tape, so only the most obsessive bean-counters can succeed at a game that was created by and for an autonomous and anarchistic elements of society.

"They always have to kill the golden goose, don't they?" Mel lamented.

"Yep, that's England for you."  Insist on the impossible. Slash and burn all your potential for an immediate return on your investment.  Expect more potential to simply arise from the ashes, fully-grown, somewhere down the road without any investment or support. Write off as worthless anything that takes time.  Kill off as a pest anything that is slowly growing toward a more promising future.  You have to wonder how these people raise kids.  You have to wonder how they even raise gardens.  (Or are those all covered in concrete, in anticipation of becoming a fourth runway for Heathrow...?)

How does Berlin avoid this same fate?  In part, it's the history - no one knows what to do with a vast, underpopulated city, so people here get a lot of slack from the officials.  But mostly, it's because the government here concedes the German people's right to direct their own cultural evolution, vis-a-vis the Eingetragener Verein (or e.V. for short).  Germany's  B├╝rgerliches Gesetzbuch or civil code enshrines the right for its people to create community-interest groups which bring people together in some way.  Any way at all that you can imagine.  If more than seven people with a shared set of ideals and goals get together, they can legally run almost any kind of venue as a non-profit organization - along with all the attendant tax deductions and exemptions that that entails.  Just as long as it brings people together and profit isn't its primary aim.  That's why it's rare to find anything grassroots going on in this city without that mysterious suffix e.V. at the end of its name.  (Schokoladen, Megaspree, RAW Tempel, Supamolly... even Holzmarkt and Kater Blau have an e.V. underlying their existence).  The majority of Berlin's 'squatty' venues rely upon their e.V. status to survive without too much interference from the officials. 

Virtually all of the smaller venues and organizations that fight for Berlin's right (including the right to party) are categorized as e.V....  and one day, any one of them could rise up to be the next counter-cultural complex.   Someone in government seems to know that there are limits to what bureaucracy and capitalism can achieve on their own. And a large segment of Berlin's population is constantly reminding them of that fact!