A Sorry Bowl

Being A Public Record Of Baslow's Efforts To Have Something To Say

At various times in my life I aspired to be:

Now I am realizing that if I manage to be anything at all it will be:

  • an irritant

...but, you know, irritate enough oysters...

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The following was originally intended to be a thread on Mastodon. Since I don't yet fully understand how posting to Mastodon works, I managed to screw up the sequence by deleting and re-drafting one of the posts. Here is the sequence as it was originally intended:

  • Since the late 19th century the world has seen several threats to the continued existence of global civilization. Two of these were world wars, which took terrible tolls but did not end global civilization. The crypto-theologically inclined, believing in inexorable historical progress, have tended to conclude that the world, overall and despite some glitches, is in most ways better than it was. This tends to be the belief of economists and the privileged. Others have doubts.

  • Another big threat to the continued existence of global civilization has been nuclear conflict. It has been (indefinitely) avertable and (so far) averted because a relatively small number of people have managed to exercise enough restraint. The crypto-theologically inclined have concluded (emotionally, if not propositiionally) that nuclear catastrophe is no longer a significant prospect.

  • The current most urgent threat is the one that is most directly enmeshed with physical, chemical and biological processes. It will be resolved not just with changes in laws and attitudes but will require massive, rapid changes in the way all of us interact with the physical world we inhabit.

  • If we try to meet this threat simply as individuals we will fail. Global civilization will end in the lifetimes of our children, our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren.

  • If we do not urgently address this threat we will not have the time to reap the benefits of any other economic, social or moral improvements we manage to achieve.

  • We need a 21st-century form of revolution... not the 19th-century sort of violent confrontation with power in the streets so much as the organized, mutual, collective undertaking of rapidly examining and altering the values and assumptions that have been inculcated in us, progressively, over centuries, and have rendered us so individualistic that we have lost most of our ability to act communally with solidarity.

  • We need to collectively, deliberately develop forms of community

    • small enough that each member can know and care about each other,
    • purposive enough that its members are motivated to inform themselves and each other about what needs to be done and then organize to do it
    • inter-connected enough that perspectives are not merely local, fit within larger understandings and efforts

This approach doesn't guarantee success but it is our only hope.

#SeizeTheMeansOfCommunity


Here are the original posts as they each appear on Mastodon (but presented in their intended sequence)

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Hello, people!

I am an alter kacker (Yiddish, translates roughly to “old fart”, only less sanitary) who is very likely a crackpot (my wife, on occasion, leans to this characterization).

I just listened to Eli Pariser on On The Media (not sure how I missed it the first time it aired) and felt that there was significant overlap between what he said and what I just got finished saying here: https://asorrybowl.blog/seizethemeansofcommunity ... that I wended my way to your website (via Civic Signals... you changed your name, you sneaky devils!) and eagerly clicked on your Community link, hoping to find some sort of forum where I might encounter other interested citizens looking to conduct a conversation on how to form robust, diverse, egalitarian civic spaces online...but all I got was an invitation to sign up for a newsletter (which I did, BTW).

Don't get me wrong: I think newsletters are (or, at least, can be) great. It's just that, as far as “community” goes they're a little...one-sided (I believe the Talmud says they are “asymmetric” [^1])

[^1]: No it doesn't. That was a joke.

So I guess I'm asking: Do you know where I can go to actually commune with people concerned about these matters? Because, as edifying as it is to listen to people tell me about how I ought to engage in community, and about the sort of community it would be good to engage in, there comes a time when a fella just wants to get on with the business of building the kind of community that will see us into the future. (Ask Astra Taylor: Isn't that what David Graeber would have advised?)

So: If not at your site, do you folks have any suggestions where I could start trying to do this?

P.S. I ended up spending enough time composing this missive that I went ahead and made it an open letter, posted on my blog.

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I recently posted this to Mastodon:

( https://mastodon.social/@baslow/108204952942939268 )

I followed it with:

( https://mastodon.social/@baslow/108205004897421294 )

I understand that it's a long shot but I'm hoping to find people interested in rolling up their sleeves and building, bottom-up, robust and enduring online collaborative communities of broad, egalitarian purpose. This will, I think, require the development of a new kind of organizing, digital community organizing, which borrows from the traditions of voter organizing, civil rights organizing, community organizing and labor organizing that precede it.

If we are going to build for an uncertain future we cannot specify in detail what our community will eventually look like; we're just going to have to work that out as we go along. Which means that, in order to conduct all-inclusive discussions, the community will have to be of a humanly-manageable size, small enough that everyone stands a chance of getting to know and to trust each other.

We'll all have to be engaged participants (no lurkers!). We'll need to cover a wide range of interests and abilities: concerned citizens, activists, academics, techies, designers, coders, writers, organizers, etc.

As multiple communities of this sort form we can undertake to establish robust and mutually supportive relations among them.

Even though I cannot (and don't want to) dictate the final form of these communities I can describe some initial hopes, wishes, and thoughts about what might emerge from this effort:

I hope it will be possible to build a community which will serve as a model for a network of online, general-purpose, communities-for-community's-sake that are —

  • small
    • (members numbering no more than the population of, say, a NY neighborhood);
  • intentional (which is to say, elective and with some degree of mutually agreed common purpose);
  • cooperative;
  • commons-oriented;
  • self-formed, self-supporting and self-maintaining;
    • members (who are able) should collectively pay for its hosting; and
    • develop the technical capacity to keep it running (either within their ranks or by recruiting those who can); and
    • regularly participate in the “chores” that must be done to administer the site;
  • committed to mutual aid;
    • actively greeting and educating new members;
    • actively monitoring the ability of members to negotiate the environment and keeping an eye out for those who may need help;
    • actively working to maintain the site as a safe and hospitable environment for as broad a range of people as possible;
    • seeking to find other ways members can assist and collaborate with each other, both online and in the real world;
  • built exclusively out of software that is freely shareable and whose code is openly readable;
  • with clear, democratically-developed and communally-enforced rules of conduct, standards of participation and constructive criticism which are regularly collectively reviewed and periodically revised;
  • engaged in active, robust efforts at inter-community relations (not just individual cross-community relationships);
    • which is to say, a community whose members understand their membership to entail constantly collectively negotiating the character and identity of that community;
  • transparent (in terms of finance, governance, technical design and maintenance, inter-community relations, etc.).

In future posts I will try to explain why I think such communities are necessary, some of the history that has brought us to this point, some of the principles and theories which I think can inform our decisions, and some of the goals which I think we should adopt.

But, for now, I hope I've given you enough to start thinking about.

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I'd intended to post a second entry to my blog before this but there were too many deterrents:

  • I've been feeling unwell. Not COVID-unwell; more old-Jewish-man-stomach, constant-slight-headache unwell. It has impeded my ability to concentrate on any writing beyond a few sentences in length;
  • There was that subway shooting in Brooklyn. Remember that? It was a big deal — around the world, I think — for a few days. The shooting happened many miles from where we live but it was in a neighborhood in which my son used to live and, somehow, that made it seem more immediate;
  • My son's dog is visiting. I love the dog...but the presence of another sentience in our apartment is somehow disequilibrating;
  • I do suffer from life-long writer's block; it is not so easily overcome;
  • I'm old and tired and find it increasingly arduous to summon up the — for lack of a better word — hopefulness that would impel me to share my observations of and/or thoughts about the world.

I'm pretty sure I could use help but — cantankerous introvert that I am — I'm not sure what kind of help that could possibly be...

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