Sunday, September 13, 2009

Philosophical Musing #3: No Good Choices

Influences on my thoughts the last couple days: prospecting neighborhoods where we might like to move, reading Douglas Rushkoff's Life Inc. and this zine from Non Fides and seeing Mike Daisey's "The Last Cargo Cult" on Thursday night. These influences come together to create a kind of crisis of decision where it seems like any option I choose will be the wrong one, in some way or another.

Looking to move makes gentrification hard to ignore. "How soon before the rents are going to be more than I can afford?" is an unavoidable question. Being an artist who's looking to move makes "culture first development" or Richard Florida's "Creative Class" inspired city planning even harder to ignore. At this point, Florida (and Jane Jacobs, etc) have explained gentrification in a way that politicians and power elites can understand, which is accelerating the process and turning artists into a resource to be exploited for the eventual benefit of corporations. Chapter 3 of "Life Inc" follows this process to it's logical and dismally shitty end.

Choosing a neighborhood to live and work in is like choosing which stage of this process we'd like to insert ourselves into. For example, our first impression of West Philly is that its already lost, South Philly is on it's way and there must be other places a few artist pioneers are begining to explore (i hear rumors). We didn't look closely at neighborhoods in Baltimore yet, but did talk to artists and do some research and that whole city seems to be going through hyper-gentrification so I'm almost certain we'll have these same sorts of choices there.

What these choices mean as far as our future actions are concerned, is we will be trying to: 1. help reverse gentrification in someplace like West Philly. 2. help contain it in someplace like South Philly, or 3. help not start it somewhere else. This is all assuming we can overcome our role as midwesterners experimenting with east coast city life, which is no small part of the problem itself.

Each option invovles joining a fight, often a fight allied primarily with other artists, defending our interest and places as artists. The Non Fides zine makes these alliegences look both enormously unattractive and tactically fucked.

I don't agree entirely with all the claims Non Fides is making, I think they overlook people like us who are artists only as a means to a political end. The zine's design, word choices, etc are creative decisions no less than our script and acting. I could argue that our play proliferates revolutionary ideas and discussions as much as Non Fides, and enacts revolutionary practices in a more direct and personal (but less widespread) manner than their downloadable pdf's do.

On the other hand, their statements are an accurate description of the vast majority of artists in our present society. Any of the above described positions relative to gentrification require us to ally with these artists, which makes me not want to move to any of these neighborhoods, because we'll join a class of artists who, to paraphrase the zine, "do our creativity for us". The delineation of some activities as "art" helps break people up into little isolated peices that interact primarily through monetary exchange, allowing capitalist mediators to get in there and skim off the top.

Which brings us to Mike Daisey's peice, which is really wonderful, even better than his peice on the patriot act we saw before. It's basically all about money. One part of the show is he gives 100% of his cut of the ticket sales to the audience as they enter the space, then, at the end of the show, after talking about money for almost two hours, he asks us to give it back. It was very exciting and surprising to see him basically conducting our same experiment on a much larger scale with much more wide array of audiences, and somewhat more dramatically as well. I really wanna see the results!

The thing about this experiment (both ours and his) is it's not really that experimental. There are tons of punk shows going on every night accross this country and around the world that are based on trust and voluntary donations. The only thing we're doing differently is focusing on it and publically tracking it. Daisey focuses on it even more.

Which rasies two questions: 1. by publically focusing on this are we (like Jane Jacobs and gentrification) making it easier for capitalists to understand and thus recouperate? Or, does allowing the consumer to decide the value of our work themselves escape any possibility of recouperation?

If the value of a dollar is determined by consumers and tied to trust, fairness and a human connection to the producer, rather than tied to gold or floating on the supply and demand of the market, that seems to radically change the nature of money. This new nature might not be so incompatible with "custom" of communal societies. In fact, it might acheive the best of both worlds, or it might destroy money entirely.

The second question is: Where does that leave me in my search for a new home? If I'm going to chase after some place where gentrification/colonialization isn't happening, I'll end up in Tanna. It's really a trap, and of course, compromise is the only answer, but "which compromise?" only makes the choice more nuanced and harder to make.

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