Thursday, November 5, 2015

Singing my little song

In one of his interviews, Francisco Varela, the great Chilean neurophenomenologist, says that scientists are like a modern troubadours, singing their little song from place to place and getting food and shelter for it. And so, he says, I go from country to country telling my story about how to the human mind works.

But the modern scientist goes from conference to conference by plane, stays in a good hotel, gives a 15 minutes talk, and gets drunk with taxpayers' money. And to organise that you apply for grants, you work for institutions and need to comply with several rules that you don't really agree with but say it's ok as long as I can keep doing my own little thing.

This weekend I sang my song, a song composed of shavings flying from the wood and metal vibrating to the pass of a file, in the misty flatness of northern Holland, also known as Friesland. We sharpened saws, eat bean soup, and set up and planed with some beautiful kanna.

All this was possible since Don had the great idea of making me give a course/demostratie in his workshop, and arranged everything for it to happen. We came here, got fed and had a bed to sleep in so I could sing my little song saturday in front of a few people and a dog. And we didn't get drunk with taxpayers' money nor costed 4000 euros to organise it, as the conference for the scientists costs.

That was something really funny when I was going as a student to critical philosophy school in Birkbeck, in central London. The school was 600euros or so, we had lectures the whole day in the university, and then later we hit an italian restaurant and kept talking of Derrida and Kant and their relation to Capitalism and how to overthrow it (while eating a very tasty capitalist pizza that's it.)

In that way, the explicit content of their philosophy was undermined by the material organisation of the workshop, or so I felt.

(A similar irony was at play in the Leipzig degrowth conference, where from 50 people 5 years ago the last conference was 5000 or so.)

As usual when we handtool workers meet, we talked about the lost knowledge and how the government, universities and the market are not doing anything to preserve it. Well, that knowledge was created and maintained long before universities, nation states and capitalism existed, and it was alive simply because people cared enough to teach it to others and to learn it from others. From which follows, I think quite clearly, that as long as we learn from and teach each other that knowledge will be alive. We need nothing but to meet and share what we know, and learn what we don't (and hopefully doing it in a way that doesn't destroy what we actually want to save, if you catch my drift.)

Anyway, nuf said. It took me 15000km to finish writing this post, not something I usually do. I leave you with some pictures of the workshop (of course I forgot to take pictures, was too busy checking people file. When my friend Pauli comes to Chile in 2 years I will hire her for taking analog pictures of it.)

Thanks again Don.


  1. May I paraphrase you, in that a great deal more can be accomplished in learning to sharpen a saw, than a week of university philosophy instruction?

    You've really outlined the hypocrisy that is rampant surrounding parts of the green movement. Too many can recognize the economic disparities, the gross material waste, but never to cast off first world "comfort" for a life of healthy possibilities. Its always a forest somewhere else we are asked to save, never to replant the one in our back yard that was cut down long ago. I am so tired of hearing people speak of humans relation to the environment as somehow in separate spheres, as if we were not all born on this earth to be a part in it.
    How about a life that is like orishigane, re-created from the scraps of industrial society, re-purposed around common ethics of good use and right living? By the way, I love the shot of beer and cured meat, making me hungry!

    1. "By the way, I love the shot of beer and cured meat, making me hungry!"

      aka, cured Zoë.

  2. I like your orishigane idea. And that's exactly what I envision sometimes... we have made so many cool things already, that we have enough, more than enough, materials to have a healthy and beautiful living handmade. All the steel of Ikea machinery turned into blades that an army of revolutionary carpenters will use to build little shrines in the newly planted forest of what was once wall street.

    1. I might have been making some concrete piers today, but happened to find a copy of Thoreau's "On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience" with forward by George Woodcock, which was so good I googled the name, which led me through anarchism, and satyagraha, to this:

      "Crack Capitalism", argues that radical change can only come about through the creation, expansion and multiplication of 'cracks' in the capitalist system. These cracks are ordinary moments or spaces of rebellion in which we assert a different type of doing.

      John Holloway is a Professor in the Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades of the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Mexico.,%20

      from the contents:
      Part III Cracks on the Edge of Impossibility
      8. Dignity is our weapon against a world of destruction.
      9. Cracks clash with the social synthesis of capitalism.
      10. Cracks exist on the edge of impossibility, but they do exist. Moving they exist: dignity is a fleet-footed dance.
      Part IV The Dual Character of Labour
      11. The cracks are the revolt of one form of doing against another: the revolt of doing against labour.

      Hopefully, non-doing is an even better revolt against labor!

  3. All of this philosophy talk reminds me a lot of Animal Farm, or Brave New World, or 1984...

    Marx was an upper middle class kid, married a wealthy baroness, dressed in suits and did that weird 'I'm rich and important' hand tuck in his portraits. College activists drive miles and miles to protest a logging operation in gas-powered cars. Everyone talks and goes on about what some rich guy came up with while sitting in an armchair, then goes to Mcdonalds or Starbucks and tweets about it.

    The actual people that follow through 100%, odds are you won't hear of them, or they'll be ostracized. You know, that old man who doesn't buy anything, he lives on the beach and cleans up the waste? The scientists who grow their own food, while designing new things to help people while critics drink their fancy drinks and write about what the doers are doing wrong?

    And then, all the people that romantically talk of the 'good ol' days', but don't know how to hunt, odds are they would feint at the sight of a skinned deer, and conveniently forget just how many people would die painfully or die at birth due to genetics or bad luck. Billions of good honest people, often people that contribute much to the world, dead without medicine. In the 'good ol' days', odds are I myself would have died at childbirth, if I lived I would have been thrown into the river, if they kept me around I would die from asthma.

    I think the only philosophies I follow are from the Hitchhiker's Guide. The universe is insane, nothing makes sense, the 'answer' is only more confusing, enjoy life anyways and drink tea when you can.

    Gabe's comment reminds me of a comic I saw: A little boy goes up to Mother Earth and apologizes for what He (Man) has done, Mother Earth just hugs him and explains humans are just another species: We aren't destroying life, we're committing a long, drawn out suicide and the rest of the world won't give a crap. There's already fungi and bacteria that has evolved to digest plastic and radiation.

  4. Wow, that looks like an earth floor! What I plan in the forge.

    1. Recipe for clay floor: Let your clay stand outside at least one year so it gets well frozen and a more consistent structure. Mix with stale beer or horse urine to minimise cracking when it dries. The floor is made with a layer 25 cm in thickness.