For my personal archive, here is the talk I gave at Thingscon Amsterdam last year.
Here or there, our blood will plant olive trees.
Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk.
I ask: Is it true, good ladies and gentlemen, that the earth of Man is for all human beings as you say? In that case, where is my little cottage, and where am I?
Can a people be born on a guillotine? We have the right to die any way we wish.
In this hymn we lay a dream, we raise a victory sign, we hold a key to the last door, to lock ourselves in a dream.
I gaze upon trees guarding the night from the night and the sleep of those who would wish me death.
The stars had only one task: they taught me how to read. They taught me I had a language in heaven and another language on earth.
I will come out of these walls a free man, like a ghost when he floats freely out of himself. I will go to Aleppo. Dove, fly with my Byzantine ode to my kinsman, and take him this greeting of dew.
Who am I after your two almond eyes? the male stranger asks. Who am I after your exile in me? the female stranger asks.
Every time she hits a certain note, her jinn casts its spell on us. And we are transported to another time.
Nothing causes us pain— not the final parting of the doves nor the cold in our hands nor the wind around the church.
Do not glance at the twin partridges sleeping on her chest.
I saw three of my friends crying, sewing my burial shroud with golden threads.
I was born in spring to keep the orators from endlessly speaking about this heartbreaking country, about the immortality of fig and olive trees in the face of time and its armies.
Homeland for him, he tells me, is to drink my mother’s coffee, to return at nightfall.
He used to arrive like a sword dipped in wine, and leave like the end of a prayer.
And I died, I died utterly. How tranquil and peaceful is death without your crying? How tranquil and peaceful is death without your hands pounding on my chest to bring me back? Before and after death I loved you, and between I saw nothing but my mother’s face.
One for the archives, this a talk I gave last summer that I thought went pretty well.
Modern! How quickly that word had surged forward and multiplied itself like bacteria throughout the world.
Thomas Aquinas, she said, once saw two people who were born in the same year, in the same month, on the same day and at the same hour, even in the same place. The joke played by astrology was that one became a great landowner and the other his slave.
In his body ran some Native blood. Who knows how many drops or clots.
Under the illusion he was actually a Dutch citizen he strove to act as one for the sake of his grandchildren’s future.
She is just a nyai, living in sin, giving birth to illegitimate children, low in moral character, selling honor to live easily and in luxury.
Her attitude toward her daughter was refined and wise and open, not like that of Native mothers.
The Dutch generals almost gave up. The Dutch were only ever able to destroy the children, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the ill, the pregnant women.
Once in their lives people must take a stand. If not, they will never become anything.
My world was not rank and position, wages and embezzlement. My world was this earth of mankind and its problems.
I felt so totally Javanese. But when the ignorance and stupidity of Java was mentioned, I felt European.
So don’t indulge yourself. Strengthen your heart.
You are among the first of the educated Natives. Much is demanded of you.
“May I ask why Mr. Mellema did not like Dutch literature?” “I don’t really know, miss. But he used to say that it was dominated by triviality, had no spirit, no fire.”
If that vengefulness was missing, she’d be truly, brilliantly outstanding, Minke.
“Shame is not a concern of European civilization.”
Last Tuesday I gave a talk at EMERCE Tech Live on the main stage of the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. It was a lovely event and it was fun being back in Amsterdam however briefly.
It was a business focussed practical riff on my ‘Designing Conversational Interfaces’ talk that may have blown some people’s minds. So it goes!
Ik heb me de afgelopen weken geërgerd aan en gegeneerd voor de domme venijnige kritieken die het boek ‘Hallo Witte Mensen’ van Anousha Nzume kreeg. Zoals de uitgever van het boek Ebissé Rouw zegt: Nederland is een intellectual wasteland. We zijn nu eenmaal een klein taalgebied waar iedereen zich heel slim en onschuldig kan voelen door het Engelstalige debat over een onderwerp compleet te missen en zelf wat bij elkaar te verzinnen.
Ik probeerde bij te houden wat voor onzin er gepubliceerd werd in de mediahype rondom het boek maar op een gegeven moment was dat ook geen doen meer. Morad van FunX vond dat Nzume dit boek niet had moeten schrijven, Pieter van der Wielen ventileerde in Nooit Meer Slapen al zijn persoonlijke frustraties eventjes, de Volkskrant liet een radicaal een totaal onleesbaar stuk schrijven (niet gelinkt) en Sylvain Ephimenco liet in Trouw zijn gebruikelijke ding uithangen (direct weerlegd in diezelfde krant door Seada Nourhussen).
Ik heb het boek wel maar ik heb het net zoals Morad ook nog niet gelezen. Ik vind niet dat je een cultureel product geconsumeerd moet hebben om erover te kunnen praten, zeker niet als het zo uitgebreid behandeld is in de media. Ik ga het daarom ook niet hebben over de letterlijke inhoud van ‘Hallo Witte Mensen’ (Waarvan ik wel geloof dat het snor zit. Koop dat boek!) maar over het debat.
Ik ben zelf redelijk bij in dat debat al weet ik zeker niet alles en ben ik ook niet overal mee eens. We hebben allemaal nog veel te leren dus laten we blij zijn dat zo’n handleiding anti-racisme nu bestaat.
Maar niemand lijkt in staat tot een kritische benadering. De ene kant doet het niet omdat een afwijkende mening hebben wordt gezien als overlopen. De andere kant doet het niet omdat ze (zie de voorbeelden boven) zo vastzitten in hun eigen hangups dat ze niet meer na kunnen denken.
Ik denk dat kritiek kan én moet. Hier drie voorzetjes.
Nzume zegt dat ze dacht dat ze op een gegeven moment ook zou kunnen meepraten bijvoorbeeld over racisme. Dat lijkt me erg goed. Je hoeft niet zwart te zijn om te zien dat racisme nog steeds een groot probleem is.
Ik vraag me dan wel af waarom zwart Nederland er niet voor zorgt dat ze politiek vertegenwoordigd worden. In de afgelopen Tweede Kamer verkiezingen stonden er geen Afrikaanse-Nederlanders op een verkiesbare plek (zie Kiza Magendane). Artikel 1, een politieke partij aangevoerd door een prominente zwarte vrouw met een krachtig verhaal, slaagde er niet in om ook maar één zetel te halen.
Turkse-Nederlanders bijvoorbeeld die ook van ver moeten komen zijn erg goed vertegenwoordigd met een handjevol kamerleden en zelfs een eigen politieke partij.
Wat mij betreft zijn dit vier verloren jaren niet alleen voor zwart Nederland maar voor ons allemaal. Waarom is dit niet gelukt en waarom waren Nzume &co. tijdens hun gesprek met Sylvana Simons in Dipsaus zo terughoudend?
Zoals ik het concept intersectionaliteit begrijp gaat het erom dat we allemaal meerdere identiteiten hebben die elkaar voeden, raken en soms met elkaar botsen. Dat betekent dat iemand die zwart en rijk is en iemand die wit en arm is allebei lijden aan onderdrukking. Het is dan ook beter om ze allebei serieus te nemen dan ze met elkaar te willen vergelijken.
Dat vergelijken wordt ook wel ‘Oppression Olympics’ genoemd, een wedstrijdje wie het meest onderdrukt wordt. Het beste doen we niet aan dat soort wedstrijdjes omdat ze veel leed en geen winnaars opleveren.
Nzume zegt dat ze in het boek opzettelijk de tegenstelling wit/zwart heeft benadrukt. Zo’n harde scheidslijn doet geen recht aan de echte levens van mensen en zorgt ervoor dat witte mensen aanslaan. Dat aanslaan is onterecht maar ik vraag me dan wel af: Waarom zouden witte mensen mee willen doen aan een ‘Oppression Olympics’ waar ze toch altijd als verliezer uit de bus komen?
Verreweg de meeste weerstand in het racisme-debat komt van boerse Nederlanders (Hallo mensen buiten de Randstad!) die niet zoveel van de wereld hebben gezien. Hadden ze dat gedaan dan waren ze erachter gekomen dat witte mensen wereldwijd verreweg in de minderheid zijn. Discriminatie op basis van huidskleur is in een geglobaliseerde wereld achterlijk, onhoudbaar en onproductief.
Deze mensen zijn verliezers van de globalisering en ze zitten vast in het verleden. De toekomst wordt gemaakt in Afrika, China en de Golfstaten, allemaal plaatsen waar weinig witte mensen wonen.
Op lokaal niveau binnen Nederland zijn witte mensen in de meerderheid en houden er nog te vaak racistische ideeën op na. Maar zelfs daar is er meer wat zwarte en witte Nederlanders economisch met elkaar gemeen hebben dan dat ze van elkaar scheidt.
Is het racisme-debat zoals het nu gevoerd wordt (wij-tegen-zij) geen kadootje voor de financiële elites die ons willen laten geloven dat sociale voorzieningen een beperkte taart zijn waar om gevochten moet worden?
Hasan Bahara wilde graag dat mensen het racisme debat naar een hoger plan tillen. Misschien kan hij hier wat mee.
“Let us not mix up heaven and earth
In works produced by anthropologists abroad, you will not find a single trait that is not simultaneously real, social and narrated.
The ethnologist will certainly not write three separate books: one dealing with knowledge, another with power, yet another with practices.
the representation of nonhumans belongs to science, but science is not allowed to appeal to politics; the representation of citizens belongs to politics, but politics is not allowed to have any relation to the nonhumans produced and mobilized by science and technology.
Hobbes’s and Boyle’s followers succeeded in carrying out this task – the former by ridding Nature of any divine presence, the latter by ridding Society of any divine origin.
By playing three times in a row on the same alternation between transcendence and immanence, the moderns can mobilize Nature, objectify the social, and feel the spiritual presence of God, even while firmly maintaining that Nature escapes us, that Society is our own work, and that God no longer intervenes.
The critical power of the moderns lies in this double language: they can mobilize Nature at the heart of social relationships, even as they leave Nature infinitely remote from human beings; they are free to make and unmake their society, even as they render its laws ineluctable, necessary and absolute.
By separating the relations of political power from the relations of scientific reasoning while continuing to shore up power with reason and reason with power, the moderns have always had two irons in the fire. They have become invincible.
It is the impossibility of changing the social order without modifying the natural order – and vice versa – that has obliged the premoderns to exercise the greatest prudence.
By rendering mixtures unthinkable, by emptying, sweeping, cleaning and purifying the arena that is opened in the central space defined by their three sources of power, the moderns allowed the practice of mediation to recombine all possible monsters without letting them have any effect on the social fabric, or even any contact with it.
Seen as networks, however, the modern world, like revolutions, permits scarcely anything more than small extensions of practices, slight accelerations in the circulation of knowledge, a tiny extension of societies, minuscule increases in the number of actors, small modifications of old beliefs.
With the postmoderns, the abandonment of the modern project is consummated. I have not found words ugly enough to designate this intellectual movement – or rather, this intellectual immobility through which humans and nonhumans are left to drift.
A single modern example will illustrate the abdication of thought as well as the self-inflicted defeat of the postmodern project.
It is the double contradiction that is modern, the contradiction between the two constitutional guarantees of Nature and Society on the one hand, and between the practice of purification and the practice of mediation on the other.
There is only one positive thing to be said about the postmoderns: after them, there is nothing.
They are simply stuck in the impasse of all avant-gardes that have no more troops behind them. Let them sleep till the end of the millennium, as Baudrillard advocates, and let us move on to other things. Or rather, let us retrace our steps. Let us stop moving on.
As Lévi-Strauss says, ‘the barbarian is first and foremost the man who believes in barbarism.’
Nature and Society are no longer explanatory terms but rather something that requires a conjoined explanation.
We want to gain access to things themselves, not only to their phenomena. The real is not remote; rather, it is accessible in all the objects mobilized throughout the world.
The collectives we live in are more active, more productive, more socialized than the tiresome things-in-themselves led us to expect.
Our collectives are more real, more naturalized, more discursive than the tiresome humans-among-themselves led us to expect.
Real as Nature, narrated as Discourse, collective as Society, existential as Being: such are the quasi-objects that the moderns have caused to proliferate.
Everything changes if the staunch discipline of the principle of symmetry forces us to retain only the causes that could serve both truth and falsehood, belief and knowledge, science and parascience.
Marc Augé when he resided among the lagoon-dwellers of the Ivory Coast, sought to understand the entire social phenomenon revealed by sorcery
A symmetrical Marc Augé would have studied the sociotechnological network of the metro itself: its engineers as well as its drivers, its directors and its clients, the employer-State, the whole shebang – simply doing at home what he had always done elsewhere.
Western ethnologists cannot limit themselves to the periphery; otherwise, still asymmetrical, they would show boldness toward others, timidity toward themselves. Back home anthropology need not become the marginal discipline of the margins, picking up the crumbs that fall from the other disciplines’ banquet table.
Her tribe of scientists claims that in the end they are completely separating their knowledge of the world from the necessities of politics and morality (Traweek, 1988). In the observer’s eyes, however, this separation is never very visible, or is itself only the byproduct of a much more mixed activity, some tinkering in and out of the laboratory. Her informers claim that they have access to Nature, but the ethnographer sees perfectly well that they have access only to a vision, a representation of Nature that she herself cannot distinguish neatly from politics and social interests (Pickering, 1980). This tribe, like the earlier one, projects its own social categories on to Nature; what is new is that it pretends it has not done so. When the ethnologist explains to her informers that they cannot separate Nature from the social representation they have formed of it, they are scandalized or nonplussed.
This is the stance that makes it possible to respect the differences (the dimensions of the helixes do vary) while at the same time respecting the similarities (all collectives mix human and nonhuman entities together in the same way).
Modern knowledge and power are different not in that they would escape at last the tyranny of the social, but in that they add many more hybrids in order to recompose the social link and extend its scale.
Yes, science is indeed politics pursued by other means, means that are powerful only because they remain radically other (Latour, 1990b).
Nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else. Never by itself, but always through the mediation of another.
The past was a barbarian medley; the future, a civilizing distinction.
But before long they will have achieved modernization, they will have liquidated those islands, and we shall all inhabit the same planet; we shall all be equally modern, all equally capable of profiting from what, alone, forever escapes the tyranny of social interest: economic rationality, scientific truth, technological efficiency.
Having been slapped in the face with modern reality, poor populations now have to submit to postmodern hyperreality. Nothing has value; everything is a reflection, a simulacrum, a floating sign; and that very weakness, they say, may save us from the invasion of technologies, sciences, reasons.
The moderns’ greatness stems from their proliferation of hybrids, their lengthening of a certain type of network, their acceleration of the production of traces, their multiplication of delegates, their groping production of relative universals. Their daring, their research, their innovativeness, their tinkering, their youthful excesses, the ever-increasing scale of their action, the creation of stabilized objects independent of society, the freedom of a society liberated from objects – all these are features we want to keep.
I don’t think you can draw a lot of conclusions from this bit of selectorate theory but it’s interesting to get a feel for the numbers.
German population in 2013: 80’620’000
Interchangeables (registered to vote): 61’946’900 (76.8%)
Influentials (turnout): 44’309’925 (55.0%)
Votes for CDU: 16’233’642
Votes for SPD: 12’843’458
Votes for CSU: 3’544’079
Winning coalition (votes for CDU + SPD + CSU): 32,621,179 (40.5%)
Dutch population in 2012: 16’800’000
Interchangeables (registered to vote): 12.689.810 (75.5%)
Influentials (turnout): 9.462.223 (56.3%)
Votes for VVD: 2.504.948
Votes for PvdA: 2.340.750
Winning coalition (votes for VVD + PvdA): 4,845,698 (28.8%)
The USA example of resistance against Trump in the form of Tech Solidarity quickly gained a following in the Netherlands with TechSolidarity.nl and here in Berlin with some Tech-Solidarity-Berlin. I’ve had a small role in both of those groups’ creation but I’m currently not an active participant.
Tech Solidarity’s success is of course unique to the local environment and Pinboard’s prior activism in tech. That said there are a lot of similarities that make similar movements over here possible and necessary. The Netherlands and Germany have elections this year and are faced with similar populist disruptions. The technology industries here are also very heavily dependent on expat workers who have specific issues and interests. The time seems ripe for people in technology to organize themselves.
The idea of the Berlin organization is not to duplicate efforts. There are already lots of initiatives in Berlin that address most parts of this agenda. What tech solidarity should do here is 1. posit an encompassing vision of what we want to achieve and that it is possible to achieve that together 2. function as a switching board to match people who want to do things with things that need people.
I’m associated with the Berlin meetup but I haven’t attended any of the American events so we had to piece together what we thought would be an agenda for our local context. I suggested these five points that I personally think are relevant and critical right now.
- Maintain the freedom of movement and other liberal values that make Berlin and Europe an amazing place to live and work.
Europe is an unique place in the world—increasingly so, though not as unique as we might like to think. The high standard of living and freedom enjoyed here attract people from all over the world.
Those positive qualities and the new people they attract are not seen as positive by all Europeans alike. Populist movements want to close borders, go back in time and tear down the institutions of our liberal open societies. These measures will affect foreign workers and immigrants much more than they will local residents.
What can we do to maintain and strengthen our local social democracies, the institutions that make up Europe and how can we scale out these values?
- Make it so that foreigners in Berlin can and do participate in local civil society.
This is not just a problem for foreigners but they suffer from much higher hurdles when it comes to this. Foreigners are often here temporarily, usually do not speak German and do not get to vote. It is harmful to both residents and to society as a whole for people to be disenfranchised.
What can be done right now to circumvent those limitations and what needs to be done in the future to create a more vibrant and inclusive civil society?
- Support diversity initiatives of all kinds in the workplace.
In most tech companies in Berlin diversity is neither valued or practiced. Diversity has proven benefits to everybody involved. Also by not starting to practice this now the industry is putting themselves on the back foot when it comes to the future.
What can we do to increase the awareness and practice of diversity?
- Use our skills and resources to help local immigrants and refugees.
People working in technology have access to an immense amount of economic and social opportunities. People who are new to Berlin or who have already lived here for a while should have access to the same opportunities and be able to contribute their efforts and perspectives.
How can we educate and include people without traditional paths into technology and make the sector as a whole more open and inclusive?
- Formulate actionable positions on professional ethics (data retention, car exhausts etc.).
We need to formulate ethical standards for people working in technology and back them up when they need to abide by them. The potential to do things that are unethical and harmful is increasing just as quickly as technology’s influence but not everything that is possible should be economically determined. Laws are not a sufficient protection since they can be weakened or removed due to changing political circumstances.
What are ethical red lines that we can agree upon and what is practical support we can offer people?
”there are also visions of books as yet unwritten.”
He seemed unable to think save with his hands, an attribute I considered then worthier of a mechanic.
Such is the power of the truth that, like good, it is its own propagator.
It does not seem to me that they were preaching things contrary to the Gospel, but when the session of earthly things is in question, it is difficult for men to reason justly.
When female nature, naturally so perverse, becomes sublime through holiness, then it can be the noblest vehicle of grace.
In the Italian city, on the contrary, you must have noticed that goods serve to procure money. And even priests, bishops, even religious orders have to take money into account. This is why, naturally, rebellion against power takes the form of a call to poverty. The rebels against power are those denied any connection with money, and so every call to poverty provokes great tension and argument, and the whole city, from bishop to magistrate, considers a personal enemy the one who preaches poverty too much.
The simple are meat for slaughter, to be used when they are useful in causing trouble for the opposing power, and to be sacrificed when they are no longer of use.
He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies.
“But why do some people support them?” “Because it serves their purposes, which concern the faith rarely, and more often the conquest of power.”
I was upset. I had always believed logic was a universal weapon, and now I realized how its validity depended on the way it was employed.
Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.
I was told that in that period, for fifteen days and fifteen nights, the rhetoricians Gabundus and Terentius argued on the vocative of ‘ego,’ and in the end they attacked each other, with weapons.
Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept that the commentators of the holy books had very clearly in mind.
Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.
Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.