Tag Archives: community

Hell no, we won’t bro: the Vancouver hockey riots

Sincere apologies to Canuck readers and the easily offended, but I found the pictures from the Vancouver riots to be… well, pretty hilarious, actually. For possibly the first time in my life, I find myself pretty closely aligned with the vibe at Hipster Runoff, which – to spare you the effort of beating your head against deliberate and doubtless ironic subliterate txtspk – can be summed up with the phrase “sportsbros rioting LOL WHUT”.

Vancouver sportsbros REPRAZENT, YO

Obviously I’m not tapped into the local news sources, but from the more internationally-visible side of things there seems to be a tone of Official Condemnation tempered with a subtext of Boys Will Be Boys, very similar to the one trotted out in the UK media when football fans decide to commiserate a major loss (or sometimes even celebrate a win) for their home team by, er, smashing the hell out of their own town. (No, I don’t understand it at all, especially as I’ve been repeatedly told that supporting your local team is all about civic pride. Um, OK.)

Compare and contrast, then, to the weeks of media handwringing over Anarchist(TM) actions at things like the G20 summit or the London marches earlier this year. Clear subtext for the hard of thinking: dumb violence is just one of those things, especially when propelled by a vague sense of regionalistic fervour; however, dumb violence as part of an anti- or counter-state agenda is a shameful waste of taxpayer’s money, a threat to the security of decent people everywhere, a sign of the end times and a justification for swinging changes in the public order statutes, blah blah blah. Bread and circuses, business as usual. Plus ça change, non?

Leaving aside media coverage, though, the Hipster Runoff person raises a valid point: why are these people rioting? He suggests that the pictures explain it all: because, dude, it would be totes sweet to have a Facebook picture of you throwing fake gang signs in front of a burning car! Thanks to ubiquitous cameras, every event is instantly mediated; even riots are now performative displays, a chance to grasp at an authenticity and prove that you were right there man, SRSLY, no fakin’. Personally I’ve never been a big fan of the riot as political tool (though I understand the arguments in favour of it), and I think that this sort of thing is going to make violent protest look increasingly facile to the passive masses in Western nations; it’s gonna take more clever things to catch anything more than their kneejerk disgust.

That said, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that if you can get a mob scene like this over sports results in Canada, we’ve got a good metric for how generally tense and willing to leap across the line folk are feeling right now. As I said last night on Twitter (in my best Eeyore voice, naturally), if you think that’s bad, just wait until the Arab Spring starts turning into the Arab Autumn, or for the next raft of bad harvests in Africa. Food and water riots are going to happen, and they’re going to make Vancouver look like a fucking picnic in the park.

Interesting sidebars, though: some local citizens attempted to face down the mob and organise a clean-up the next day, [via MeFi], while Vancouver PD are crowdsourcing the tricky task of identifying the rioters [via SlashDot]. Funny how people act on “civic pride” in such different ways, isn’t it?

Crowd Power

Last month I wrote about good design. Some of my research for developing world designs took me to a crowdfunding site called “The Unreasonable Institute” where I found One Earth Designs and Cal Sol Agua. That intrigued me. In the manner of synchronous events, I saw a tweet from Neil Gaiman that day about a project on the crowdfunded art site Kickstarter. Which is how I started down the path of the changing (and growing) power of the crowd for this month’s column. Continue reading Crowd Power

Walden3.0, or “why can’t we be citizens of the internet?”

Yeah, I know the versioning-suffix gag went stale in 2008, but I think it fits here. Two posts where people think aloud about post-geographical communities; the first is from Ian “Cat” Vincent, who wants to be considered a citizen of the internet (emphases mine):

I do not trust the government of the country of my birth. I do not feel any loyalty to them, or any other country, whatsoever. At best, I see them as an especially powerful mafia I have to kowtow to and buy services from. The closest thing to patriotism I have ever felt is to the Internet.

So, why can’t I take Internet as my nationality?


My own country’s government – run by a weak coalition government which is acting like they have a landslide mandate – is cutting vital services to the poor and disadvantaged to pay for deficits caused by their banking pals’ having been caught running the largest Ponzi scheme in human history… and their representatives have the gall to blame those poor and disadvantaged for the financial mess. Students are taking to the streets in protest. They are not my rulers, except by virtue of monopoly of violence and general habit.

When we’re at the point where The Economist refers to Anonymous as “a 24-hour Athenian democracy” I think it’s time to at least consider the idea.


Citizenship implies abiding by, and contributing to, a social contract. Doing Your Bit. I have to tell you I’m far happier doing that for the internet than for any state. It’s rules, customs and rituals make more intuitive sense to me than any state I have ever heard of. And yes, I would cheerfully give up my right to vote in the UK and EU for the rights and responsibilities of Internet Citizenship. (Dear David Cameron – that’s what a Big Society really fucking means.)

I am completely with Vincent on pretty much everything in that post… which will come as no surprise to regular readers, I suppose. But I’m sure we’re not alone, even if the urge to join a community where one feels one truly belongs may express itself a little differently. Jeremiah Tolbert:

I never seem to have much trou­ble find­ing com­mu­nity online.  This year, my com­mu­nity online seems to be cen­tered around Twitter.  I have some qualms about hav­ing my major sense of belong­ing tied to some­thing that is lim­ited to 130 char­ac­ters at a time, but it does work.  And when you work from home alone day in, day out, hav­ing some way of feel­ing like you’re not alone is help­ful.   Twitter fills that role for me now.  In the long run, I would like a “real world” com­mu­nity to belong to—something Rockwellian, only full of artists and cre­atives maybe. John Joseph Adams and I have talked sev­eral times about his notion of Geektopia—a com­mu­nity pop­u­lated entirely by geeks who relo­cate to cre­ate a com­mu­nity of their own.   If such a place existed—I would seri­ously con­sider mov­ing there.  We’ve been eye­balling the parts of the coun­try where you can get free land.   Problem is, build­ing an entire town from scratch costs mil­lions.  So until we get some mil­lion­aire back­ing the idea, it will remain a pipe dream.  But it’s one that I would love to see become a real­ity.  Some day.

Until then, the inter­net is my com­mu­nity, for bet­ter and worse.

I suspect Jeremy’s not alone in feeling that way… and think about it: if an increasing number of people dissatisfied with the meatspace communities available to them all flock to the internet – which is, as if we needed reminding, a non-dimensional space largely defined by its proliferation of tools for community-building and its corrosive effect on geography – they’re in the best possible position to start building and planning a world that runs on their own terms.

And I suspect that’s exactly why the deep implications of the Wikiwars are so terrifying to authoritarians and nation-states; it’s the same reason the beech tree fears the ivy.

Building the Big Society: can reward schemes encourage civic volunteering?

While our American readers have their own political maelstrom to deal with at the moment, over here in the UK we’re starting to get our first stable glances at the Janus faces of our new coalition government. David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea aims to replace Big Government social schemes with localised and voluntary civic involvement… which on the surface sounds rather wonderful (in a utopian minarchist kind of way), until you realise that cutting costs in social welfare is primarily aimed at being able to avoid taxing the highest earners any harder (you don’t wanna upset that power-base, Dave). It’s all about how you sell it to the peons, after all.

Ignoring the politics for a moment, though,  it’s interesting to start thinking about how the kind of community self-support that the Big Society idea seeks to create can be encouraged. I’m always a little wary of anyone who starts harking on about The Good Old Days (you could leave your door unlocked all the time, apparently), The Blitz Spirit and so on, but I am fairly convinced that the much-lamented decline in our sense of community is a genuine phenomenon, encouraged by years of policies and law that effectively tell people that almost everything is someone else’s responsibility: take away that sense of ownership and communal responsibility, and you’ve disincentivized participation. (“It’s not my canal, so why should I fish shopping trolleys out of it? I pay taxes so someone else can be paid to do it; not my job, mate.”)

So the problem is: how do we encourage people to voluntarily contribute to the upkeep of their communities? One potential solution is being tried out in the Windsor and Maidenhead areas, and it’s already a familiar one from the world of commerce – a voucher reward scheme.

Officers are still working out the practicalities, but it is likely residents would get a loyalty card similar to those available in shops. Points would be added by organisers when cardholders had completed good works such as litter-picking or holding tea parties for isolated pensioners.

The council says the idea is based on “nudge theory” – the thought that people don’t automatically do the right thing but will respond if the best option is highlighted. Points would be awarded according to the value given to each activity.

Users could then trade in their points for vouchers giving discounts on the internet or high street.

The points would be given free by the commercial partner in return for the publicity and marketing opportunities, with the local authority picking up the relatively small cost of administering the scheme. The scheme might be extended to reward improved behaviour in areas such as school attendance and healthy living…

As Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber points out, there’s an obvious flaw with the idea:

Maybe the Council should have read more widely, since according to another body of literature (Bruno Frey, Sam Bowles ), they risk sending out a signal that only a mug performs good works for no reward.

Which is a good point, though I feel we may be a fair distance down that road already. Another valid criticism is that only the able-bodied will benefit from such a system, effectively recreating the social burden of welfare dependence and placing it on the shoulders of the not-quite-so-unfortunate members of the community, instead of on the shoulders of the government (who, it could be argued quite fairly, are the root cause of that hierarchical dependency in the first place). Think about it: anyone who’s getting by well enough to be meeting all their bills every month has no motivation to volunteer for food vouchers, so your volunteer pool is going to comprise those already closest to being welfare dependent themselves. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that such a system is going to enhance the stratification of society rather than help flatten it…. which may go some way to explaining its appeal to the conservative mind-set.

But as I said above, there’s a nugget of validity in the Big Society idea which, stripped of the politics and spin and hidden motives, might be well worth chasing after… because it implies that people are waking up to the idea that the old left-right polar politics is dead in the water. As Vinay Gupta puts it:

If the big society is not ever an alternative to the market, then it logically exists only in the space being relinquished by government through spending cuts and withdrawal of services. It exists purely to buffer public service cuts.

On the other hand, if the big society is sometimes an alternative to the market, then we are seeing government suggest that people turn away from market capitalism and the state for provision of some of their services.

In the first instance, Big Society would be an utter sham and a diabolical lie. The Tories would be suggesting that we simply work for free to do the things that government used to do for us rather than, say, taxing the rich to continue doing the jobs at hand. This accusation has become standard rhetoric already.

In the second instance, however, something more subtle is going on. The State is telling us to organize to take back territory from it and from the market. We can logically deduce that we must be in this second case, too, because the state has no power to compel the Big Society not to fill some needs which would otherwise go to the market.

Gupta is more optimistic than myself (and, it would appear, the British body politic), because everyone bar the Tories themselves seems pretty much convinced that the first interpretation is the accurate one. But Gupta’s second option has many of the hallmarks of an unpalatable and inconvenient truth, and is worth considering in more detail:

… this turn of the wheel is not privatization. Not even [the Conservatives] believe in the power of the market any more, and into this loss of faith rush new archetypes, which is to say old ideas reborn. No longer is the Market the panacea, the universal solvent for all of our social woes. They cannot sell it because they themselves no longer believe it. It has been tried, and failed.


The Big Society could turn out Victorian, Feudal, Democratic Socialist, Swiss, even Anarcho-Syndicalist. It could draw influences from anywhere. But it is unambiguously a move off the traditional left-right axis of politics and I believe this is why we are all so confused by it.

I’m inclined to agree, and I’d suggest that the confusion is born of suddenly finding that those who’ve always maintained their leadership over us by proclaiming that they had all the answers have pretty much called their own bluff. And as such, an opportunity arises for us to start taking back control of our communities from the apparatus of the state, an opportunity to start thinking – and working – for ourselves.

The council reward schemes mentioned above, whether by design or not, are a way of replacing the welfare state with a sort of feudal corporate patronage (one wonders what incentives participating corporations might be offered by the government in return for their freebies… perhaps Vodafone could answer that one for us?); they represent an abdication of responsibility for civic duties by both the government and ourselves, and I find myself thinking of remixed double-page spreads from the 2000AD comics wherein every tower-block is sponsored by a corporation, of which the government is simply one of many*. It might work, but it’ll be pretty grim if it does.

What would be better, I believe, would be to reinstate a sense of community which is its own reward, a sense of community where we look after ourselves without having to be bribed with junk food or consumer goods. I’m not claiming to know how to do it, either, but – given that it’s the option that reduces government power and our dependence on such – I think it’s a question well worth considering.

[ * Yeah, I’m a child of my generation, no mistake. 🙂 ]


This month’s fiction from Nancy Jane Moore takes us back to a post-collapse America, but this isn’t your average post-apocalyptic story. “Or We Will Hang Separately” brings together a bunch of favourite Futurismic themes – post-capitalist lifestyles, changes in climate (environmental, political and social), and resilient communities – and dares to dream that the end of an era doesn’t have to be the end of the line, that our technology can rebuild as well as destroy. Quiet, powerful and optimistic, this is where determined people work together to transcend a difficult future. Enjoy!

Or We Will All Hang Separately

By Nancy Jane Moore

Marty Shendo knew both the truck and the roads best, so she drove. Ooljee Yzaguirre rode shotgun – literally: She kept a rifle in her lap. Tomas Perez sat in the back, his gun also in easy reach. Within most communities – or at least the ones Ooljee knew – no one went armed. Traveling between them, everyone did.

The dust blowing in the open windows made it difficult to talk. Both Marty and Ooljee had covered their mouths and noses with kerchiefs, like old fashioned bandits, and Tomas had pulled his cap down over his face to block the worst of it. It was too hot to close the windows.

Ooljee stared out at the parched southern New Mexico landscape. Even before the extended droughts brought on by climate change, this had been harsh country to live in. Now, though, most people had given up trying to make a living out here. Even goats, who can survive on land incompatible with any other domesticated animal, need water.

She wondered what they would find up at Los Alamos — the enclave of scientists they were hoping for or just another group of people trying to survive in a world in which few things worked any more. Or maybe bandits, or, even worse, nothing at all. It was a long way to travel if it turned out to be nothing, especially in a jerry-rigged solar-powered truck that hit its high of 25 miles per hour only on downhill stretches.

“Please don’t let it be for nothing,” Ooljee thought. It might have been a prayer, if she’d known of any gods to pray to. Continue reading NEW FICTION: OR WE WILL ALL HANG SEPARATELY by Nancy Jane Moore