The Next Revolution

I think I'm starting to see the boundaries of the next social revolution. Let me lay out a little context of recent references that I believe are related.

First, I talked last year about the "monkeysphere" idea.  The basic idea is that our primate brains can only accept about 150 people who we consider part of our clan, tribe, or village, and beyond that, all the other people are equivalent to "things" in the world.

Next is related to things I've seen in discussions about Burning Man and the idea of "community".  To me, the notion of "community" is like a lot of words: they are there to provide a spectrum upon which to measure.  So when one says, "the community", that is a reference to a specific group of people with traits that tie them together.  The thing that is important is that being "in the community" means you have the traits of the community — it does not mean that you must adapt your behavior because of your physical location.  In other words, actions cause description; description does not cause action.

Related to that, I recently found a new term: POSIWID.  According to Wikipedia at least, Stafford Beer coined the term as an acronym for "[the] purpose of [a] system is what it does".  The underlying principle is that the intended function of a system is irrelevant: its purpose (or function) is solely defined by what it does.  If, for instance, you set out to create a community of people who share art and resources, you might end up with a big party in the desert: the purpose of that system is a big party in the desert, no matter what your intentions were.

I have observed (especially in the last 10 years) that people I encounter are much more polarized by political party or political views than ever before.  It is probably most attributable to whom I hang out with, but I also believe there is a trend.  What I mean, specifically, is that I was finding prejudice in myself concerning politics: that I would judge someone favorably or unfavorably solely based on their political party affiliation.  I thought this was interesting to observe, and generally not good.

I also see the strong opinions of people concerning socialized health care. Although there many facets to it, the one I find most interesting is the debate on whether an arbitrary stranger should be cared for.  I'm neglecting any specifics because you can create straw men to support either side (i.e. abusers of a taxpayer-funded system versus a hard worker who circumstantially loses access to care).  The question is: will you help someone you don't know anything about?

So finally, what's this next revolution?: it's how we treat strangers.

I see people lining up along a spectrum.  On one side are people who are only willing to help those people they know personally (i.e. who are within their "monkeysphere") at the expense of the well-being of people they don't.  On the other are people who willing to support everyone equally, even if that means they may not have resources to help people they know personally.

I think it is more noble to lean toward helping everyone, and a testament to the superiority of humankind.  However, I also know that such civility is frail: a small percentage of people working to their own advantage can poison the whole system.  All societies have blind-spots and points of leverage for the advantage-seeker, but civility is maintained by the unspoken agreement among people that they not take advantage at those points.  And in America, there are socially-acceptable points to find advantage: that permission is specifically what allows capitalism to work.

Anyway, I find myself playing both sides of the fence for the time-being.  I have a network of friends who I help freely (with my time, skills, money, and resources) and who will do likewise for me.  I also strive for a better solution that is more inclusive because I feel better when my behavior also helps other people.

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Duck, You Sucker at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Giù la testa (A Fistful of Dynamite, or Duck, You Sucker). According to Michael Neault in his introduction of the movie, Sergio Leone — after having made several movies celebrating political revolution — Duck, You Sucker takes a much more cynical view of it.  It also happens to be that there are no fewer than four versions of the film, and the one we got to see was presumed to be the "original" director's cut.

I immediate thought that as much as The Bridge on the River Kwai is a testament to the rational insanity of war, Duck, You Sucker shows war as a black comedy. In the film, John — a former Irish Republican Army explosives expert — gets paired up with Juan — a poor thief in Mexico. That is, despite John's best efforts to avoid it. And to avoid getting roped into another revolution … sort of … it seems that getting involved in revolution is more of an addictive habit than anything. Juan, in the mean time, is also trying to avoid getting into the revolution. But he accidentally keeps saving people and making terriffic progress for the revolutionaries.

As revolutions are, there are advances made by each side, making it seem like no progress is made on either front overall until perhaps, one of the parties involved just gets too tired of fighting — or forgets what the point was in the first place.

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July '64 at the Little

I headed to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see July '64 for a second time. It's an interesting view of what happened (in detail) on three nights in July, 1964. The flash point — shortsightedly referred to as the "cause of the riots" — was when police attempted to arrest an intoxicated man. Friends of the man had it set in their minds that they'd take care of him and keep him out of trouble; police had it set in their minds that he was to be arrested.

Taking one step back, this is an indication that the police were not trusted — they were not welcome in the neighborhood as protectors and more likely considered thuggish oppressors. Take another step back and you'll find that the blacks were forced to live in the 3rd Ward and 7th Ward of the city (if I remember correctly): if they applied for housing in other areas, they were either rejected or their application ignored, so college students and day laborers alike were crammed into crowded housing. Take another step back and you'll see that blacks were similarly dismissed for positions in the cornerstone companies like Kodak and Bausch and Lomb — unless they were willing to work as janitors.

So now you have a situation where you have to put up higher and higher walls to keep the "dangerous element" in the 3rd and 7th Wards contained in their prison. At some point they revolt, though, and July 1964 was a taste of that.

Filmmakers Carvin Eison and Chris Christopher were on hand to answer questions. They said they wanted to compare the situation to today and see if things have changed so they had The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) (1 South Washington St.) perform a study. The results were, well, frightening: the social and economic conditions in the two Wards compared to the City of Rochester in 1964 are almost exactly replicated when comparing the City of Rochester to the County of Monroe today. As "zero tolerance" efforts escalate, as relatively well-off people move to the suburbs and take industry with them, and as suburbanites soak in the belief that the city is a dangerous urban wasteland, conditions are ripe for another revolution.

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