Yesterday’s Trickle-Down Hype Is Today’s Post-Capitalist Meme

Speaking truth to power is a brave thing in any era, in any moment.

Trickle-down theory. Critiques of this neoliberal belief, its ironic usage, once a slam relegated to smaller progressive and academic circles now seems to be growing as a default critique. Meme-worthy even. We are moving beyond questioning the myth of trickle-down assumptions, now distrusting it by *default* for the scam that it is.

More people, feminist women writers especially, noted below, are making erudite clarifications around this worn out Regan-era trope.

Our contemporary lifeworld is heavily colonized by neoliberal consumerist cultural assumptions. Assumptions that remove us from ourselves. Assumptions that remove us from those we are together with as we move about our cities and neighborhoods. Decolonizing this is a huge task; the connection to sexism and other forms of oppression, of reducing life to transactional relations, users using users, is no coincidence.

That’s why it’s damn exciting to see these recent awakened punchy posts… needed in all our informal and formal organizing efforts now more than ever.

  1. Laurenellen McCann‘s Sept. 30 post:
    • “we have an imperative to identify the real people and communities our work is seeking to impact and to ensure that we are not acting on their behalf, but working together with them (as part of “them”) from day one.”
  2. Sarah Jaffe‘s Oct. 17 post:
    • “Neoliberal feminism is a feminism that ignores class as a determining issue in women’s lives. It presumes, as Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out in [a 2012] article on her personal website, that giving power to some women will automatically wind up trickling if not power, than at least some lifestyle improvements down to women with less power.”
  3. Sarah Lacy‘s Oct. 22 post: The horrific trickle down of Asshole culture: Why I’ve just deleted Uber from my phone
    • “You can certainly invest based only on the place you expect to find maximum return. That’s your job and your prerogative. But when it comes to the mounting misogyny in the tech world, you can’t sit on stage at industry events and say you care deeply about the state of women in the startup world and silently support assholes like these.”

This is all part of a continuum, seeing these three posts within less than a month just triggered my pattern detector this morning. Have you seen other recent posts playing with this same meme? Share’m on twitter with this not often used but existing hashtag: #trickledownmyth

Moving from Transactional to Intentional Cultures

The Preface Story…

And The Post:

When teachers and students are seen as sellers and consumers that’s transactional culture.

When the people in local government and in a city are seen as service providers and consumers, that’s transactional culture.

In the U.S. since the Reaganite 1980s the U.S. became a largely transactional culture. Today the language of much innovation, design thinking, service design, etc. is still thoroughly colonized with this hyper-corporate transactional hollowed out reduction.

Intentional communities care about broader and deeper impacts in the way our short brilliant lives are lived. The Net and a desire to renew local and longer lasting values is allowing the deliberative space and speed to spread a renewal of more intentional community living. From the rise of Meetup groups and Twitter leading to the addition of the words meetup and tweetup to the Oxford English dictionary, to collectives united by all sorts of shared values, to hyper local community groups, and more… the pattern isn’t just about making, hacking, or meeting up… more deeply it’s about an explicit awareness of intention.

Any sort of viable future for everyone will not be centered on efficient transactional cultures, so if you start noticing this in your work and conversations speak up and turn to those you’re with and ask, how can we find and meet the deeper intentions people have about life today and in the future? How can we organize and work on *that*?


(Photo: Park surveillance camera, McGolrick park, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY, 2014)

Smart Cities Or Wise Cities?

Smart cities, smart politicians, smart leaders, smart writers, smart journalists, smart policy makers, smart planners, smart consultants, smart authors, smart… people.

When most people use the word “smart” in civic life they are really saying some person: has technocratic or corporate efficiency, or has skillful rhetoric regardless of logic or ethics, or has an exemplary command of status quo worldview. When these so called “smart” people let society down people don’t often ask why. The reason why is that we praise what is “smart” rather than debate what is “smart” and debate who defines what is “smart”, all of which distracts us from asking, “what is wise?”

Living Within The American Lie, On The Passing of Vaclav Havel

Occupy Wall Street protesters and police line, Liberty Square aka Zuccotti Park, NYC, October 2011

“In highly simplified terms, it could be said that the post-totalitarian system has been built on foundations laid by the historical encounter between dictatorship and the consumer society. Is it not true that the far-reaching adaptability to living a lie and the effortless spread of social auto-totality have some connection with the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity? With their willingness to surrender higher values when faced with the trivializing temptations of modern civilization? With their vulnerability to the attractions of mass indifference? And in the end, is not the greyness and the emptiness of life in the post-totalitarian system only an inflated caricature of modern life in general? And do we not in fact stand (although in the external measures of civilization, we are far behind) as a kind of warning to the West, revealing to it its own latent tendencies?”

– Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” 1978, Prague

Reading this essay earlier in the Spring of 2011 stuck with me and continues to motivate my choices in making a better world to live together in. Vital voices like Havel’s, worth passing on to future generations. Meditating on why his dissident voice still matters today here in America.

(* Updated quote with full paragraph for more contextual punch, but it’s that last sentence that rings so loudly here in 2011.)

Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008

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I’m interested in the connections between Urbanism and the public space occupation movements that have come to prominence in 2011 amidst the environment of our new Media Ecology that’s infused with fast flowing ICT networks.

This post and my last three posts mark a little exploration into these threads.

Below I’m just sharing my notes on this talk from Winter 2008 on how The Right to the City weaves together many approaches in a new way. It’s insightful in the face of Occupy Wall Street today in the cool Fall of 2011. Scan my notes below or watch the 58 min video, or both! Continue reading Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008

World Charter for the Right to the City

(Liberated into HTML from one of the many PDFs of this document, this text in particular was found at UrbanReinventors.net on October 2, 2011. See wikipedia for more on the idea of the Right to the City. I posted this after mulling over the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City posted by the blessed unrest that is the General Assembly at @OccupyWallStNYC. -danlatorre)

[begin full text]

Social Forum of the Americas – Quito – July 2004
World Urban Forum – Barcelona – October 2004
World Social Forum – Porto Alegre – January 2005
Revision in preparation for Barcelona – September 2005

PREAMBLE

The new millennium dawned with half of the world’s population living in cities, and experts forecast that by 2050 the world’s urbanization rate will reach 65%. Cities are potentially territories with vast economic, environmental, political and cultural wealth and diversity. The urban way of life influences the way in which we link with our fellow human beings and with the territory.

However, contrary to these potentials, the development models implemented in the majority of impoverished countries are characterized by the tendency to concentrate income and power, generating poverty and exclusion, contributing to environmental degradation, and accelerating migration and urbanization processes, social and spatial segregation, and privatization of common goods and public spaces. These processes favor proliferation of vast urban areas marked by poverty, precarious conditions, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Today’s cities are far from offering equitable conditions and opportunities to their inhabitants. The majority of the urban population is deprived or limited – in virtue of their economic, social, cultural, ethnic, gender or age characteristics – in the satisfaction of their most elemental needs and rights. Public policies that contribute to this by ignoring the contributions of the popular inhabiting processes to the construction of the city and citizenship, are only detrimental to urban life. The grave consequences of this situation include massive evictions, segregation, and resulting deterioration of social coexistence.

This context favors the emergence of urban struggles that remain fragmented and incapable of producing transcendental changes in the current development model, despite their social and political importance.

In the face of this reality, and the need to counter its trends, urban organizations and movements linking together since the First World Social Forum (2001) have discussed and assumed the challenge to build a sustainable model of society and urban life, based on the principles of solidarity, freedom, equity, dignity, and social justice, and founded in respect for different urban cultures and balance between the urban and the rural. Since then, an integrated group of popular movements, nongovernmental organizations, professional associations, forums, and national and international civil society networks, committed to the social struggles for just, democratic, humane and sustainable cities, has worked to build a World Charter for the Right to the City. The Charter aims to gather the commitments and measures that must be assumed by civil society, local and national governments, members of parliament, and international organizations, so that all people may live with dignity in our cities.

The Right to the City broadens the traditional focus on improvement of peoples’ quality of life based on housing and the neighborhood, to encompass quality of life at the scale of the city and its rural surroundings, as a mechanism of protection of the population that lives in cities or regions with rapid urbanization processes. This implies initiating a new way of promotion, respect, defense and fulfillment of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights guaranteed in regional and international human rights instruments.

In the city and its rural surroundings, the correlation between these rights and their necessary counterpart of duties can be demanded in accordance with the different responsibilities and socio-economic conditions of its inhabitants, as a form of promotion of: just distribution of the benefits and responsibilities resulting from the urbanization process; fulfillment of the social functions of the city and of property; distribution of urban income; and democratization of access to land and public services for all citizens, especially those with less economic resources and in situations of vulnerability.

For its origin and social meaning, the World Charter for the Right to the City is, above all, an instrument oriented to strengthen urban processes, vindications, and struggles. We call on the Charter to be constituted as a platform capable of linking the efforts of all those actors – public, social and private – interested in allocating full validity and effectiveness to this new human right through its promotion, legal recognition, implementation, regulation, and placement in practice.
Continue reading World Charter for the Right to the City

John Dewey 2.0 – We the P2P Public, Reassembling, Eclipsed No More

John Dewey wrote 2.5 human generations ago (in 1927) about what we now find so valuable in digital peer to peer systems of communication that enable better freedom of Expression, Transparency, and Collaboration. Dewey’s writing was in response to Walter Lippmann who wrote cynically about the “Phantom Public” and in that era of broadcast-top-down-one-way-media on the rise it’s no wonder Dewey offered that the public was just temporarily “eclipsed.”

Today, not only are we the Public able to return, but we now have technology systems for constant rewriting of social code, laws, relations, power dynamics.  Jay Rosen’s aphorism hits on this, that the publics are “the people formerly known as the audience.” The struggles that lead to Lippmann’s cynicism are far from behind us, the concentration of power has also increased in our digital networked era, and we the Public will need all the smarts and collaboration we can muster to remove the constant obstructions and restrictions continually put in our paths.

“There can be no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences which concern it. Whatever obstructs and restricts publicity, limits and distorts public opinion and checks and distorts thinking on social affairs. Without freedom of expression, not even methods of social inquiry can be developed. For tools can be evolved and perfected only in operation; in application to observing, reporting and organizing actual subject-matter; and this application cannot occur save through free and systematic communication.”

– John Dewey, The Public & its Problems, 1927


(Image: RHoK Nairobi, Kenya, photo by whiteafrican)

Renewing Networks: Egypt & “Losing Control”

(Image: “Thursday 10 February 2011 – Day 17 Al Qasr Al Aini Street, Cairo as doctors and nurses walk peacefully on one side of the street, others take video from mobile phones in the other side of the street.” photo by sierragoddess. cc-by-nd)

A lot of the recent talk about what’s going on in Tunisia and Egypt, about organizing today, digital media, anxieties about political organizational transitions… this all reminds me of this passage:

“Losing control is more important than trying to gain it. One distinguishing characteristic of the digital world is that power is being pushed to the edges away from organizations and towards people. This shift is good for organizations that need to engage many people in their work; yet to successfully power the edges, organizations have to be willing to lose control.

“Losing control” is a frightening phrase; it connotes flying through space without a parachute or a net. In this respect, social media are kryptonite for people who feel a need to control their efforts too tightly. But the reality in our connected world is that spending energy trying to control what other people do and say is counterproductive.

Organizations still need to be intentional about their efforts, they still need messages and plans, but they also have to expect that people and organizations in their ecosystem will march to their own drummers. More important, imperfectly coordinated efforts can be enormously successful, even exhilarating, as they unfold in unexpected ways.

Only by letting go and throwing off the yoke of control can organizations unleash the power and creativity of many people to do amazing things on their behalf. …”

— Beth Kanter & Allison Fine, The Networked Nonprofit

Some group of outside commentators frame changes like this as “chaos” or fog. But isn’t change the norm in life, and stability the exception often accomplished via some spectrum of repression? As the pre-Platonic adage goes, we never walk through the same stream twice. Where are we? We’re in an “unscripted time,” as Harvey Sarles has said in his essay “Responses To Change“— “a moment in history in which our ideas of the future seem really murky, unclear, unsure”— and what some in grappling with this recognition over the past 30 years have labeled: The Third Wave, The Aquarian Conspiracy, Blessed Unrest, or the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

Those involved in the the Egyptian and Tunisian protests are operating with a new spirit— the spirit of this age we’re in— and are doing amazing work to accomplish simple goals that have been articulated widely and for some time… a social code perhaps most eloquently documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adapted and focused in on for local context. Some people focus on freedom to communicate, or freedom from want, or freedom of representative choice, or all of this and more.  How we’re doing this now has augmented, morphed, or in many ways is renewing long standing ways of human association that have been repressed via the narrow abstraction of printed words.

“Leaderless organization” is another phrase for networks. “Chaos” as used today is another word for networks, often used by idealist print-centered minds who’ve yet to reboot their awareness with actual human communication reality.

What can an organization learn from these recent events? The value of articulating outcomes and improving skills in sharing them, to then learn and co-create with like-minded peers… that’s the positive phrasing of what is meant by “losing control.”

That shock we feel over and over these days?
Sparks from reconnecting networks of human trust.

My answer to How can New York City use technology to serve citizens?

    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” – Peter Drucker

    4 suggestions related to the cultural and human factors dimensions. Probably not where you want to start out, capacity building would be a better focus, but something to consider and plan for sooner than later.

    1. “How to engage with City Staff” tech training
      Info for *both* tech-innovator citizens and city staff on how to work together on Open Gov tech projects. — Speaking from my experience with city staff on http://fixcity.org I found that the biggest bottleneck to civic innovation is informing & training of civil staff about OpenGov concepts. OpenGov needs to become part of the civil employee culture. This is a new interdependent virtuous cycle type of relationship between citizens & city staff that many excellent city staff veterans are not used to. Behind great tech are great ways of working with people to do it.
    2. Add qualified social/anthro ethnographic tech researchers to city staff.
      Since many civic tech projects are social tools about social life in this city huge quality improvements could be made with wise understanding of Urban dwellers & tech. Who to hire? Start with Keith N. Hampton at U Penn. See his research on “The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces” and PEW reports. The city’s investment in research entrepreneurs often can’t afford, for social human understanding technologists are often not aware of would be a great service. These researchers could also provide the best approach for success measurement. Keith’s site. http://www.mysocialnetwork.net/ I can also recommend others.
    3. Weave in human-centered Placemaking approaches and assessments for projects related to actual places in NYC. What is Placemaking? http://www.pps.org/placemaking/a…
    4. Work with Meetup.com to learn best strategies to encourage bringing people together face to face in the places they care about. This must be key. As Douglas Rushkoff simply put it, digital media have an inherent bias towards dislocation– using dislocation technology for local connection has a built-in trap. The solution? Use it to get people to meet together.

    How can New York City use technology to serve citizens?