Arasmus

John Winthrop’s City upon a Hill (1630)

Posted in History by Arasmus on November 27, 2008


Below is the 1630 sermon by John Winthrop, locus within American culture, of the influential concept of the “city on the hill” (a perfected society).  I don’t subscribe to any of the religious invocations, and I am uncomfortable with the notion that any single immigrant’s story should speak for the rest of us that came in our own time with our own reasons.  I do however subscribe to the vision that our fates are more shared than they are separate, that history should be a progressive march to a higher, more civilized, more egalitarian, more humane way of living and that we are called to contribute to that progress.

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going. John Winthrop is constantly (and subtly) made reference to in politics.

And to shut this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. “Beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good and evil,” in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with Him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it.  Therefore let us choose life, that we and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.

Groupthink

Posted in Literary, Short Story by Arasmus on November 25, 2008


Something big is now gone. Each second feels amazingly new. I think. Is it just a matter of time before the Narrative returns? Where are we all going to go? What is this town? Former train-passengers now mill around the entrance to the station, neither leaving nor arriving. I smell coffee and wonder why the seller made it. I see a man with wooden tennis rackets in one of those square wooden vice braces with the wing nuts that you use to prevent the wood from bending. Is this Trieste or Sitges? It feels like it could be both, either, neither.  I look up around the station for signs but there are none. I try and tune into the words being spoken around me but I can’t detect the language. Everyone is understandable to me even though I know they are not speaking in English. They are all asking themselves the same question. Four or five people in addition to me have spotted the man with the tennis rackets and we are all speculating as to what he was planning to do. Someone recognizes the colors on his sweater as those of Oxford University. Another wonders why anyone has wooden tennis rackets anymore. Someone else thinks he might by Bjorn Borg. Two people think its funny to arrive at a place of not-knowing ready to play tennis. I feel on my face that I too am smiling. I fall back on the comfort of old habits and decide a coffee will help. The vendor rises to meet my eye as I walk towards him and he pours me a cup that reaches my hand in perfect timing as I arrive beside him. I feel the coffee is comforting. A large number of people turn, look at me and walk past me to the vendor. I head for the space opening up behind them. I can feel the observations of everyone about every detail of our location though no one seems to know where we are. The crowd moves across the tiled floor like a flock of starlings. I think about emergence. A tall, elderly man, with white hair smiles at me. I feel he is from Zurich, a professor, physics, quantum. He needs coffee. It is funny to see everyone drinking coffee at the same time. Are people talking? I don’t see mouths moving but I feel chatter, constantly. Where am I going to sleep tonight? Everyone looks at me. The crowd moves towards the exit. This is annoying. We are all sharing the same thoughts. Can I have a private thought anymore? Let me try and remember something. I remember drinking fresh water from a mountain stream and biting on a pine needle and how bitter that was. No one is reacting. Was that a private thought? It had no information in it. That memory is worthless to them – why should they react to that? Let me give them something they want. Oh look, there is a sign over there, its Milan, we are in Milan and there is a bus that says city center. I crane my neck forward looking to what must be West, given the position of the sun. The crowd moves in a rush. Someone drops a coffee cup as they run to catch up. Another steps on it. Okay so they heard that. The crowd turns and heads back towards me. They give me the look of death. Two people intentionally walk into me. Hmmn okay, I guess that’s what Google would call page-ranking. I begin to wonder if I issue a series of these false-thought messages, will the community’s ranking of me drop sufficiently that I will be then capable of having a free-thought since no one will pay any attention to what I say? (Did I read somewhere that Google does not even rank a majority of the internet?) In effect yes, but the thought will not be private, just not treated as credible – it will still be public. Damn. The Lear’s Fool strategy doesn’t quite work and I have already dropped some credibility points on that experiment.

This would be a good place for a new paragraph.  If the discovery of any opportunity is immediately communicated to everyone then either we find an opportunity that benefits everyone or communication will crowd out everything less than that. But. Communication is not the same as reaction. If I leave the crowd and discover a way out of here, with sufficient distance between me and the crowd they will be unable to take the opportunity before me. They know what you are trying to do – they will follow you. Only if I am credible and apparently I have just dropped a few points on that front so perhaps I can slip away. Perhaps it would work. More coffee. Four people beside me all put their cups out for more coffee. This is nonsense. The vendor in a single moment fills each one. If I am going to harvest the advantage of lost credibility then others are going to do the same. This room is going to rapidly fill with pointless gibberish. You’re such a pessimist. Okay, wait. There will be those that believe in open-source thought and those that do not. Those that open-source will lose every opportunity because they can’t extract a value for their contribution, in fact they themselves won’t be able to utilize the advantage they have discovered. At least those that wipe themselves out with a credibility-bomb have a better chance of finding a place to stay for the night. I think about a nice spacious hotel room, with fresh crisp clean sheets, an elegant relaxing interior, large bath tub, powerful shower and fragrant lavender scent throughout. The crowd sighs. And its upstairs for just a hundred bucks a night. A small group of people look disapprovingly at me. A few head to the stairs. One spectacled executive comes right up to me and asks if I am some kind of nut. I tell him I am a macadamia. I walk around the edge of the train station towards the exit. I notice a beautiful woman as I exit. She looks at me with a very matter of fact look. I smile until I realize she can read my mind. Awkward. I take the main road away from the station. In my experience these invariably lead to a city-center. Twenty people who still believe in me follow me down the streets. They are mainly young people, some techy-looking guys, a Goth, an up-tight looking couple and a girl in a Laura Ashley dress.  Behind them an old woman with one of those two-wheel shopping trollies hobbles along. I feel like I should go back and help her, but if I do then where will we go?  Jesus, what a following. Oh, sorry . . . I mean, oh whatever.

Blooming Terminus

Posted in Essay, Literary by Arasmus on November 25, 2008

For the last nine months I have not written an extended blog entry. Instead, I have posted shorter entries in what I call my “microblog.” In fact, things have gone even further so that now, my Twitters, Flickr postings and Lastfm annotations are automatically gathered into an even shorter form of micro-blogging known as a lifestream. With the gestation period now rapidly coming to an end I feel that I can give birth to a conclusion, and moreover to a comment by way of meta. Narrative is dead. Isative remains.

Life begins with the separation from mother. In that horrendous moment, the other is born. I become we and we become you and me. In becoming the other I become many others. I am the baby, the son, the infant, the grandson, the toddler, the youth, the writer, the teen, the adventurer, the quiet, the brave, the foreigner, the lover, the man etc. Beneath all these labels their remains some common-part of what existed before. It senses the fiction of all signifiers, a semiotic cynic, sloping through doss-houses, for the sake of love and dissolution.

The desire for love drives the search for truth. From tyrants to artists each human longs for acceptance of their true self. In essence; if I could dispense with label and narrative and find my true self, I would know love, and other would disappear within mother. All human activity is equivalent to the scream of the newly born infant. The new does not consent to its separation. Thereafter, everything is valued for its transcendence.

Separated and lost, the self reaches for the paternal narrative. In the beginning there was Chaos and from the void emerged the Word. Art depicts the evolution of the Word and the evolution of art describes the collapse of perspective. Previously, a collection of exhausted hunters, seeking to enlighten and sooth, exchanged at best an oral tradition around an itinerant camp-fire. With the success of agriculture came a societal surplus. Narratives and narrators emerged and the latter increased over time. The single druid became the intelligentsia. From the cauldron of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment emerged the idea of the educated everyman. Through blogs we are all now narrators and Narrative is dead. In literature we can see this evolution from the age of the epic, in which the unlikely is subsumed into the form, through the age of the omniscient narrator to that of the subjective unreliable narrator. James Joyce was close to the end. In Ulysses he took Homer’s epic and substituted the inglorious quotidian. Finally, in Finnegan’s Wake, the hyper-subjective becomes functionally opaque. Since then the blog-train has brought us all to the same terminus. Disembarking. We stand around. It may or may not be Trieste. Bloom eyes the descending petticoats. The station air is filled with the thick soot of subjective rantings, commentaries, analysis, perspectives, debates, overviews, summaries, speculations etc.

Each passenger searches his knickers for awareness. I am breathing. I am thinking. I am seeing. I am sweating. I am afraid. I don’t know where I am. Micro-blogging, a narration of “isness” is born. Plot, arc, structure are no more. We recognize the ignorance of a character in a narrative with no indication of his fate beyond the next paragraph. We pitied them once. Now we live among them. There are no trains departing or arriving at this station anymore. All I can hear is the others, they are, they are, we is. The death of Narrative has dropped us all into a story beyond our control. There are no moo-cows here.

World Conservation Energy

Posted in Environment by Arasmus on November 8, 2008

This video contains the conclusion of David Attenborough’s exploration of life on our planet in his ground-breaking documentary The Living Planet. In this short clip, David, (in my opinion one of the great human beings alive today), describes the three fundamental pillars of a plan developed by environmental scientists to preserve our planet. This plan is known as the World Conservation Strategy and it’s three pillars as follows:

  1. That we shouldn’t so exploit natural resources that we destroy them.
  2. That we shouldn’t interfere with the basic processes of the earth on which all life depends, in either the air, the ground or the sea.
  3. That we should preserve the diversity of life on earth.

Human 2.0

Posted in Singularity, Technology by Arasmus on November 8, 2008

This is a multi-part BBC documentary examining the Singularity. The Singularity is a point in time, predicted by Ray Kurzweil to occur in 2029, when the processing power of computers will surpass that of human beings. In his book, The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil argues that this point is inevitable because while human processing power is finite, computer processing power, in accordance with Moore’s Law, has doubled every year for the last 50 years. This program examines the progress being made today towards this imagined point in time and the potential advantages and disadvantages of a post-Singularity world. As each part of the program ends, the next parts can be found in the related-videos carousel that pops up at the bottom of the video-window.

An Army Marches On Its Stomach

Posted in Politics by Arasmus on November 3, 2008

The final preparations are complete and everything is packed and ready to go. An army marches on its stomach and so I’ve planned for some sustenance in the event of being unable to get away from the polls. The champagne should tell you that I am, cautiously, optimistic. L’audace!

Tools of A Modern Citizenry

Posted in Politics, Technology by Arasmus on November 3, 2008

One of the many reasons why I am so excited about this election is because it is astonishing evidence of the impact of technology on the political process. Technology is of course agnostic and depends on humans for its moral value. In this election we have seen the Obama campaign use technology to devastating effect on the Republican Party. By contrast with the Republican power base, the Democrat base is diverse and encompasses various interests at all levels of society. This great umbrella has been the weakness of the party, until now. The campaign’s proficient use of the internet has allowed it to reach out with their message, organizational instructions and requests for finance.

Here is a picture of the plethora of gadgets that I will be taking with me tomorrow with the goal of communicating my experience to the world, something that was beyond the ability of the normal person just several years ago. I will probably not use half of them but I am bringing them just in case. With these tools I can transmit, photos, voice, text and even video anywhere in the world – focusing the eyes of the world on any undesirable behavior or alternatively to just record what will be a historic day. This is the awesome power of the citizen in the modern age. On an aside, it is power that must never be concentrated – it must always remain like a mist, protecting our freedom, everywhere and nowhere. This collection of circuitry is probably the worst nightmare of both the traditional media and nefarious actors everywhere. And that seems just to me. The traditional media failed to ask George W. Bush the tough questions that might have prevented the Iraq War, because they were afraid of losing their seats in the White House press corps. Their ability to act as the fourth estate became concentrated and neutered. And as for nefarious actors, I can only say; cheese! The world is watching.

For those interested, above we have:

* Canon Digital Rebel SLR camera
* Sony high-definition video camera and charger
* Blackberry 8800 backup phone and charger
* Canon Powershot and charger
* Apple Powerbook 17 inch and charger
* Garmin navigatorand charger
* Android G1 and charger
* Plantronics headset for VOIP calls
* Olympus dictaphone
* SD Card adaptor – this allows me to take high quality photos with the cameras and insert the card into my phone and send that file anywhere in the world.

Precinct 414 – Thelma Crenshaw Elementary School, Midlothian, Virginia

Posted in Politics by Arasmus on November 3, 2008

This is where I will be spending election day tomorrow, Precinct 414 just southwest of Richmond, Virginia. I am going, with others, to ensure that the election process is run fairly and to help anyone who has questions or needs help to vote. The polls open at 6 am and close at 7pm and we will be there from 5:30 am until every vote is counted. I’m very excited to take part in what is a historic election, not just for the United States, but for the world. I will be Twittering and photoblogging my progress throughout the day so if you are interested you can follow me.  I will upload my thoughts througout the day as well as photos of the action on the ground.  Precinct 414 is in Chesterfield County and a report on the February 2008 Primary Elections in that county found that a number of polling stations ran out of ballots. This issue, and excessive wait times are my two main concerns at this point as I think across the nation, this election will see unprecedented turnout. It is going to be long day, but I hope a happy one.