Tech Activism — For IDProject friends

If you come from IDProject to this blog, this article is written for you.

As for myself, I feel very lucky to have the chance to be exposed to the teaching of Buddhism. Having gone through training in the monastery, I know this world needs a monastery where people can go for practice, wake up, and find out who they are, where they are from and where they will go. At the very least, we need people to pass the teaching down. But I asked myself how much percentage of the population has the chance to be exposed to this kind of teaching. Throughout of the history, it is always a very small percentage of people that had this chance. So how can we make the world better and thus a higher percentage of people will have the chance to get to know this teaching, or maybe even without being exposed to Buddhism teaching, they can come to the same kind of understanding through their own life long pursuit of arts and happiness. I would love to help build a better world where more people can pursue what they like to do, engage their lives in a specific kind of art, experience the relationship of separation and unity through their arts, experience beauty, power and thus love, and obtain freedom.

But how to build a better world?

I don’t know if you can agree with me that this world is generally becoming a better world. I know there are a lot of arguments on this. But if we look at a person, do we think that a person generally is becoming better as s/he gains more experiences in life and learn from his/her past experiences? A society, as a whole, if capable of keeping its memory and learning from its history, is becoming better or more accurately speaking more beautiful and having more life. So to find out how to build a better world, we need to look at our history around the world.

When I look at the history, I feel that human history can be summarized as a history of how human being organizes together. Briefly speaking, we went through agricultural society, which is an important step in the progress of civilization. And then we built cities. Then we invented machine, and thus mass production, division of labor and capitalism. So where are we now in the history? In my opinion, we are in a transition from the era of mass production to the era of empowering individuals. It is a totally new era in human history.

I personally think that the invention of machine and mass production is a great historical advancement for the human being. The short history of capitalism (according to Karl Marx, about 200 years from around 1640-1840) produced more value than all the previous history combined. So surely capitalism is very efficient. When we first invented machine, we were so excited, and came up with division of labor and mass production to utilize the great power of machine. After almost 400 years of exploring the changes brought by the machine, it is time for us to reflect, just as a rational human being will do. It is the same as how a rational human being grows. When s/he has a breakthrough in his/her growth, s/he needs to let that new change to stay for a while and become stable to fully experience all aspects of it. Then s/he can reflect on it, analyze it and look for the next breakthrough, which starts partly from negation of current self. So as a person can keep renewing himself/herself and keep growing. The same is a society, if that society can keep its memory and learn from its lessons. As we start criticizing the mass production, we still need to recognize all the benefits mass production had brought us. Although to many people it appears that the world today has more trouble, it is probably just because the world today is becoming more and more interdependent, and thus we are faced with a lot more challenges than ever before.

Coarse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_H._Coase), in his paper The Nature of the Firm , pointed out that the allocation of resource and labor in a firm are not free market based, but dictated by the boss (Note: mostly finance and business people). Coarse pointed out that the reason for the existence of the firm is to lower the cost of transaction in the market. Because of this dictatorship in the firm, individual professionals have to sacrifice their individual freedom and quite often their professionalism to the demand of finance/business people. Basically individual professionals are just employed by the finance/business people’s money machine (the business model). Thus we can see that the record company going against the will of musicians, and the main stream media controlling the voice of their journalists. Google is a good company largely because it is a technology based company and the professional technology people are making the key decisions. We want this to happen in other industries as well. The new technology, especially web2.0 is making this happen. Web2.0 lowers the cost of transaction down. For example, to collect the payment is a financial cost, which is greatly lowered by automatic online payment. Also the cost of hiring lawyers can also be lowered. As the cost of transaction goes down, individual professionals are more able to cooperate with other professions to directly build product, provide service or build up their small business. This is actually what is happening now across various industries.

The invention of computer, software, internet and thus web (Software/Web in short) is a very unique technology breakthrough in human history. Its uniqueness lies mainly in the following two aspects:

  • Software/Web is about empowering individuals and connecting individuals. It empowers individuals in the sense that it levels the playground for individuals and organizations and thus individuals are more able to fight against various organizations. So it is really not “neutral” in this sense. Web connects people together. Most people have good conscious. But why our conscious is not reflected in the behavior of government and corporations? Why US invaded Iraq although more than 60% of the population is against it? How can people’s conscious be better connected? How can people organize more flexibly and thus the core values of the people can be reflected in the behavior of the organizations? Software/Web definitely changes the way people organizes together.

  • Software or web based software finally offers a tool to work with a human world. Ever since the founding of modern science, we excluded human being from the scientific research for the sake of not letting subjectivity interfere with objectivity. Misled by such kind of principle, the human science is going nowhere. Alexander Christopher, however, builds a new framework of science, which brings in human’s feelings into scientific research. Briefly, his basic argument is that when asked to compare two paintings, more than 90% of people will point out the same painting as the more beautiful one. So, Alexander argues, that our subjectivity is indeed objective, and that we cannot fully understand the world without bringing in the human subjectivity into our exploration of the world. This kind of view, is indeed in tune with Buddhism’s view. Actually, Alexander’s book Nature of Order (http://natureoforder.com/) is the best book I read outside Buddhism books. It indeed reads just like a Buddhism book. Alexander’s books are the foundation of computer software development. Without going into too much details, let me say that software finally gives human being a tool to explore human world. The new ideas in liberal arts/human science can be verified by software. Human world cannot be analyzed as we did with physical world, classifying things into various categories, and analyze separately. Software is a bridge between physical world and human world.

I am afraid I am going into too much detail above. It actually needs a lot of explanations.

For more details regarding the uniqueness of software, you can read my blog: Why IT/Software makes our world more human (https://freestone.wordpress.com/2004/05/18/why-itsoftware-makes-our-world-more-human/). It was written many years ago. Some the content might needs to be updated.

To give you an example of how the web empowers individual professionals, let’s look at the music industry. It is very difficult for the independent musicians to be independent. They have to make a living with something else, such as working in the restaurant or doing construction work. Web is actually a very low cost way of distributing music. But the record companies don’t like it because the record companies get the most profits from recording selling. The musicians, however, like people to download their music because if more people listen to their music, more people will come to the band’s concert and that is where the musicians’ profit comes from. So we see that the individual professionals (the musicians here) are dictated by the business people. The web2.0 is now changing this. A website allows independent musicians to publish and distribute their music online. And they came up with a very innovative pricing model. If you are not famous yet, the songs are free for downloading. But as more people start downloading, the price goes up. They also have a mechanism to encourage users to sample new music. For example, if you review and recommend some new musicians and if the recommended music gets more downloads, you can get some credits to download more music.

This is just one example. I am also thinking about some platform where individual musicians can cooperate with individual photographers to make some albums. Or a platform where musicians can review venues, look for other musician to jam with, and build a community.

Similar things are happening in the journalism world as well. So we can see that individual professionals are more taking control.

Here I want to talk about the cause that I am most concerned and spent most of my time on: the education/learning.

If you haven’t read John Taylor Gatto’s books, I highly recommend you reading them. (http://johntaylorgatto.com/) He is the best teacher of New York city and state for several years. Then he quitted, saying he couldn’t do it any longer without hurting the children. After he quitted, he went around the country giving speeches about the purpose of schooling and the history of it.

His view on the purpose of schooling is that school is not to teach you how to learn, but to make you unable to learn. School is not to teach you how to learn math, but to make you hate math. School does so by forcing you to learn math when you are not ready and use the tests to make you totally disgust math. School is not to teach you English literature, but to make you hate English literature. It forces you to memorize some facts without ever to connect the dots. Whenever you generate some interests in literature, school try to kill those interests by occupying you with meaningless homework and exams. Some people start math earlier, some later. Some people start reading earlier, some later. Some start music earlier, some later. It is totally normal. But compulsory government schooling, by forcing children to learn things at the same pace and pass the standard tests, humiliates children who develop some of these skills later and essentially passes this message to them: you cannot be good at math/literature/music so you should just be… or a message that you cannot be good at intellectual/mental work, so you should be made into manual labor or keep you satisfied by your test scores and turn you into mental labors. we, essentially free human being capable of learning many different things, are enslaved.

By analyzing the history of schooling, Gatto pointed out that schooling actually is a product of mass product. It serves the mass production, to produce labor for it. No one wants to be a Wal-Mart clerk for life. To make people willing to be a part of the social machine, “the managers” have to come up some way to dumb people down. They do that by schooling. So schooling uses standardized tests to enslave people’s minds. It makes some people, who are not good at passing those tests, into manual labors. It makes some other people, who are good at passing those tests, into mental labors. We, essential free human being, are thus enslaved. People do this based on a belief that people are different and some people should be made into machine and sacrifice for other people suitable to be elite. Schooling, essentially is to teach people that they are not smart or cannot do something well, so they can be sorted and put into different parts of the social machine. And people are taught to believe so, and passed down such believes down the future generations.

By occupying children with schooling and TV, they successfully rip children from community and family. Community and family are places children learn about love. Without experience of love, people are alienated.

With so many people dumbed down and lost touch with love, you can understand why we have so many social problems today.

Schooling, indeed is the root of all social problems.

Mr. Gatto advocates using free market to break the government monopoly. Mr. Gatto also points out that education actually doesn’t cost much. Of course, Sudbury Valley School (http://www.sudval.org/) proved this. People can teach themselves. Web will make this a lot easier. In addition, we will open the profession of teaching up so everyone can teach, spare time, half time or full time. We will also have many independent teachers.

So indeed, we are at the beginning of a great era. It is about empowering individuals and giving people more means to organize together. It is a very good time to do the practice in the real world.

Last, I need to warn that as we are engaged in activism, we should be careful not to wander away from the root. As far as I know, Buddha never talked about Buddhism’s view of how the world should be governed or what kind of government we need. I guess there is a reason for that. As we wander off the root, it is very easy for us to get lost. We cannot do B just because we realize A in our meditation. It is not like that. My limited knowledge of Taoism tells me that although their descriptions of emptiness are quite similar (actually Taoism’s experience of emptiness is not deep enough. Laozi felt he achieves some understanding and thus tried to apply that understanding to how human world should be governed. But to Buddha, the emptiness is not a concept to be attached to. If you are still attached to any form of thought, you cannot achieve nirvana.) , but when Laozi tried to apply his understanding to emptiness to how the real world should be governed, he got a lot of things wrong. So as practitioners in the real world, we have to be wary of that. If we analyze some Buddhism countries, we might have more insights into this.

Sometimes to achieve unity, you need to separate first. Separating Buddhism and activism from each other are preparing for their unity later. Separation is for unity. Unity is for separation. It is an ongoing process, never fixed. You cannot stay in unity. Actually that is one very wonderful thing that Buddhism teaches. It says it is ok to separate. If what the sutra says is truth, you don’t have to learn that truth from the sutra. You can learn that truth from the real world without having to rely on the sutra. This kind of teaching, is indeed very wonderful. Actually you don’t have to practice Buddhism. Buddhism is just like medicine. It is for people who have disease. If you don’t have disease, you don’t need it. However, it is very important that you work hard at whatever you do. Be open minded and keep interacting with different kinds of people. If you do these well, you will come to the same understanding as what Buddhism is trying to teach. Indeed, it is said that there is nothing Buddhism can teach you.

So while you are working hard to make this world a better place for yourself and other people, I hope you don’t do it as a Buddhist, but as a human being living in this world. Buddhism is not a religion, although some branches are more religion based (religions, in those cases, are just teaching methods employed).

It seems to be a serious matter and it is a lot of responsibility. But I hope you enjoy it and play with it. To do well in an activity, just responsibility and love are not enough. You have to play in it and really enjoy it. Only by playing, can you best coordinate all your senses and your body. If you play music or sports, you should know what I am talking about.

So let’s play. It should be a lot of fun.

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2 Comments

Filed under Chan/Zen, Essay

2 responses to “Tech Activism — For IDProject friends

  1. Pingback: Space and Learning « A hacker of the Internet for the purpose of growth, fun, and creation

  2. Pingback: Build a better playground « A hacker of the Internet for the purpose of growth, fun, and creation

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