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from Copyleft Curator

So, I recently decided to try de-Googling my phone, and one of the services I came across was the Aurora Store, an alternative to to the Play Store. This was great because some of the apps I need to use on a daily basis I can't get on F-Droid alone. The Aurora Store allows you to use the services anonymously, through one of the various token dispensers (which provide dummy credentials). If you'd like to help out the Aurora Project, hosting a token dispenser looks to be a good way.

All great in theory, but as soon as I opened the app, I ran into a major issue. The search function is outright non-functional with the anonymous account, as it runs into rate-limiting:

Screen which says Oops, This account is rate limited!

I looked online, and I was far from the only person to have this issue. Others who used their Google accounts to sign in didn't have this issue, but I didn't want to use my Google account.

There is a way to work around this, however. If you go into Settings —> Apps —> Aurora Store —> Open By Default, toggle Open Supported Links, you can select both the options given for links, which will make it so any time you access any Play Store URL in your browser, it will take you directly to the Aurora Store page in the app you need in order to install.

All you have to do is search it up, and once you have the URL:

  • If you're using a Chromium-based browser, you can directly open the link and it should automatically redirect
  • If you're using a Firefox-based browser, long-hold the link and select the “Open Link in External Link” app option when it comes up. Otherwise you can go onto the page itself, hit the three-dots menu, and select the “Open in App” option directly.

This means that your app-search is now your web browser, and the rest of Aurora Store works fine.


from A Nameless Blog

Last updated: 5/28/2023

Thesis: The Crucifixion stands as the ultimate injustice; in atonement we see not an affirmation of “justice” as we know it, but rather instead its critique.

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

It is commonly claimed by the religious that without God, one cannot have a sense of morality. That if there stands no supreme measure of Good beyond us, that everything would be permitted: murders, rapes, arsons, what have you.

Many others will regard this as a ridiculous claim, looking at their own secular lives and seeing no such drive. That if they were to be dropped into a law-less Purge situation, they wouldn't somehow spontaneously develop the desire to murder and steal.

The religious man would be wise to not hastily dismiss this sentiment as misguided, but instead take this intuition within the common man seriously and consider what it actually tells us about human nature.

Independent of religious code, human beings still tend towards cooperation and some level of order. If you were to look at a non-religious society, you wouldn't see an entirely unmoored band of crazed chimpanzees or a war of all against all, but still a very definite sense of boundaries and order. If this were not the case, there would not be civilizations in the first place, as civilizations inherently require cooperation to build and maintain.

Instead, through our observations of human nature, we can use this to get a better sense of what is actually meant when we use words such as “morality”, “law”, or “justice”. None of these things need derive their authority or definition from above, because they at their core are defined as a relation between people.

What is permitted, what is moral, is defined by what best allows us to live in cooperation with other human beings most effectively. This is most easily seen in the notion of the “social contract” upon which all liberal societies are founded, which literally sees the law as a collective agreement between men. An atheist knows murder is wrong, because murder is an infringement upon another person's boundaries, and undermines the whole system of cooperation which maintains peace and order. If everyone murdered everyone, society wouldn't function, so murder is wrong. If nobody paid their taxes, society wouldn't function, so not paying your taxes is wrong. The entire system is self-regulating.

Even criminals have their own system of cooperation and order. Criminals don't exist entirely dispersed as lone-wolves, but rather instead form gangs and organizations with their own rules and expectations for cooperation. Once again, there is a set of restrictions: it's wrong to snitch, it's wrong to defy orders, it's wrong to unnecessarily start fights. All of these laws once again, are based upon what is necessary for continued cooperation and stability.

It's also why the most secular of societies are the societies most likely to insist most explicitly upon these boundaries, to hold — not transcendent virtues — but interpersonal ones such as “tolerance” and “consent” to be supreme. Without religious abstractions, one recognizes that all that remains are men and thus the greatest good shows itself to be that which seems the most optimal for the most men.

And where that cooperation is undermined, where someone has faced a loss at the hands of another, balance must be restored. If things go unbalanced, cooperation will fall apart, and with it the whole system. Justice and atonement, in the human sense, could be defined as the theory of this balancing between men.

When a person is offended or experiences a loss, justice exists to ensure them that all will balance out, that they won't be the loser of the interaction. If someone stabs out my eye, balance can only be realized if he also loses his eye.

This sort of justice, which has remained intuitive to all kinds of men throughout history, cannot be spoken of as transcendental. In each step of the process we an intensification of mankind's own self-reflection, own self-resolution. Justice exists among men, not beyond them.

Yet curiously, it is the religious who often most heavily insist upon it. To sin is to do wrong, to violate the law, to disrupt balance. In turn, atonement stands as a balancing: for the Israelites, an offense against God must be repaid in blood.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them, if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then he is to offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering for his sin which he has committed. (Leviticus 4:1-3 NASB)

He shall then put some of the blood on the horns of the altar which is before the Lord [k]in the tent of meeting; and all the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And he shall remove all its fat from it and offer it up in smoke on the altar. He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; he shall do the same with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven.

This motif of blood sacrifice carries on into Christianity, where Christ has taken the place of the animal in this process of mediating sin.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing; Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is also able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens; who has no daily need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did this once for all time when He offered up Himself. (Hebrews 7:23-28 NASB)

Many Christian commentators will read this connection as straight-forward. Christ's purpose was to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17-18), so should we not understand Christ's sacrifice as a “scaling up” of the Israelite system?

It is in these terms Protestants have come to conceptualize atonement. Our sin against God may have been so great, so impossibly large in magnitude, that no amount of animal sacrifice could possibly restore the balance, but the core notion of balance itself goes unquestioned.

From this perspective, the Lamb of God is almost as a “super-lamb”: Christ has the equivalent value of an arbitrarily large (or infinite) number of lambs stacked on top of each other, or that during his time on the Cross he was suffering through an arbitrarily large number of “Hells” that we would've otherwise been sentenced to in order to re-balance the offense.

Atonement is a subject squarely within the realm of theology, but that is not to say that all of this has only abstract or secondary relevance. Rather instead, it's quite the opposite. Atonement, at its core, is about how do we, as human beings, reconcile ourselves with God? How we answer this question will force us to reckon with what it means to offend, and what it means to be “made right” not just in a religious, but also an interpersonal sense.

When Christ employs The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), he does so with the message of forgiving others as you have been forgiven. Most readers give focus to the passage as moral instruction, but more abstractly we could also see it as establishing a direct connection between divine and interpersonal justice. If we are to forgive others the way the Lord has forgiven us, does that not mean we must even first establish what it means to atone?

So let us reverse the direction of our investigation. Rather than starting with divine justice and projecting that onto our daily lives (as the passage does), let us see what an investigation into human justice tells us about the ultimate work of atonement.

1. The Theory of Procedural Justice

In traditional societies, this justice would be carried out either personally or through the extended family unit in blood feuds. If you or someone within your kin has been slighted or hurt, you are expected to enact vengeance. An attack on my brother is an attack on me, blood can only be repaid with blood. To fail to do so reflects not on your mercy but on your weakness.

Honor is a kind of status attached to physical bravery and the unwillingness to be dominated by anyone. Honor in this sense is a status that depends on the evaluations of others, and members of honor societies are expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them (Cooney 1998:108–109; Leung and Cohen 2011). Accordingly, those who engage in such violence often say that the opinions of others left them no choice at all…. In honor cultures, it is one’s reputation that makes one honorable or not, and one must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor. Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing, such that “in honor cultures, people are shunned or criticized not for exacting vengeance but for failing to do so” (Cooney 1998:110). Honorable people must guard their reputations, so they are highly sensitive to insult, often responding aggressively to what might seem to outsiders as minor slights (Cohen et al. 1996; Cooney 1998:115–119; Leung and Cohen 2011)… Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack (Cooney 1998:122; Leung and Cohen 2011:510). Because of their belief in the value of personal bravery and capability, people socialized into a culture of honor will often shun reliance on law or any other authority even when it is available, refusing to lower their standing by depending on another to handle their affairs (Cooney 1998:122–129).

Under this conception, the essence of justice is retribution. This was the predominant attitude in Ancient Greece, Ancient Israel, Feudal Europe, and even the early Southern USA. This is the conception of justice spoken of in the Old Testament, and the justice of the Jews and Romans in Christ's time.

The Middle Ages, from beginning to end, and particularly the feudal era, lived under the sign of private vengeance. The onus, of course, lay above all on the wronged individual; vengeance was imposed on him as the most sacred of duties ... The solitary individual, however, could do but little. Moreover, it was most commonly a death that had to be avenged. In this case the family group went into action and the faide (feud) came into being, to use the old Germanic word which spread little by little through the whole of Europe—'the vengeance of the kinsmen which we call faida', as a German canonist expressed it. No moral obligation seemed more sacred than this ... The whole kindred, therefore, placed as a rule under the command of a chieftain, took up arms to punish the murder of one of its members or merely a wrong that he had suffered.

The biggest shift away from this would come with the Enlightenment and its notions of due process in criminal proceedings. Justice became less about retribution and more about process. Rights must be assured, fairness realized, and all men must be equal before the law. Such a level of consistency could only be possible by delegating the task of executing justice to a central State; vigilantism would increasingly come to be seen as equated with barbarism as time went on.

But, regardless, balance did not go away. The social contract which forms the basis of any society exists as a balancing of interests. As an individual, I enter into the contract, and by extent agree to cooperate with others, because I trust that my interests will be reasonably filled. One of these interests is justice.

If a crime is committed against me, I don't immediately lash out because I trust that the State (which enforces the contract) will properly balance things on my behalf. The State might value process, but at the end of the day, what I am paying attention to is whether or not the one who offended me gets the due retribution.

On the flipside, criminals are deterred from acting out because they also have that confidence that if they do, they will receive appropriate and just harm due to due process. He may not like or comply with it, but he recognizes it as legitimate anyways.

Legitimacy is ultimately a collective perception, and as long as it exists people will be willing to peacefully cooperate, even if begrudgingly. Individual men may have their own short-sighted impulses, but in the long-term the wiser judgement of the State and its process will prevail, and people will have enough of a share of satisfaction to preserve order and balance.

1.1. Procedural Justice in Practice

That's how the theory has gone, but it is still pure theory. Institutions are not above men, for institutions are products of men, no matter how cleverly designed. The State, deriving its legitimacy from the collective will of the people, also acts as a collective crystallization of their sin.

In many parts of the world, we see vigilantes and blood-bound groups reappear once again due to the weakness and corruption of the State. Whether it be through family units or more recently, organized crime, “honor” returns as the primary method of dispensing justice. Where the State shows its failure to mediate the whole of society, people retreat to their cliques. Even in the very same prisons an “orderly” society condemns its prisoners to, we see justice administered on the basis of racial gangs. They're out of sight of respectable society, but the State has functionally abandoned them to their own devices.

Even in a respectable society, this ideal of full justice remains elusive:

  • For every 1000 incidents of sexual assault in the US, it is estimated that 25 will actually lead to any form of incarceration. This is only among reported incidents, as victims are often discouraged due to both long been not having been taken seriously by authorities and fear of retaliation (an example of this is how 62% of those who report their own abuse in the military experience some form of retalitation).
  • Going off of exonerations, African-Americans make up approximately 14% of the population, but 47% of all wrongful convictions. In other words, an innocent black person is seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than an innocent white person, 3.5x more likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed. Accountability is difficult, especially since reports are handled internally, settlements are paid with tax dollars, most union contracts have provisions which undermine disciplinary action.

These problems aren't the only ones, and a lot of them have complex roots behind their cause, but they're some of the ones most highlighted in today's political discourse. It's easy enough to point out that these problems are difficult to disentangle (such as with sexual assault being difficult to prove in court alongside presumption of innocence), and defend the rationale of any given process, but at the end of the day what we see is that the process is not what is of fundamental interest to people.

It's the question of balancing once more: if I as an individual, see that the State is failing to provide justice for me, what reason do I have to participate in the social contract anymore? A contract is meant to be mutually upheld, and entered into out of self-interest. If I am sexually assaulted and see my offender entirely get off the hook for what is one of the most heinous crimes a person can commit, I inevitably am going to view the law and the State's capacity to carry out justice as less legitimate. If I and my community are experiencing disproportionate targeting or bias from legal institutions, I inevitably will begin to distrust those same institutions. Compound this over the course of decades or generations and the pessimism becomes deep-seated.

In both cases, the desire for justice has not gone anywhere, all that has changed is the venues people begin to look to when the default option is exhausted. People lose their patience and take justice into their own hands since nobody else will. It's here where we see moments such as the Watts Riots or #MeToo, whereby the concept of “process” liberalism prides itself on proves insufficient. Whether we talk about directly trying to out and blacklist suspected sexual predators or burning down buildings, this balancing is fundamentally self-directed and outside of the State's management or promise of consistency.

One can bemoan this, and list all the long-term benefits of due process and speak of disorder, but ultimately it's futile, as this desire for justice comes down like a dam waiting to burst. If the current compromise was tolerable for a given group, there would not be riots; water always flows towards the path of least resistance. Can one really reasonably expect a person continuously getting the short end of the stick to stand by and watch it happen? A person or a group of people to martyr themselves so others can enjoy “law and order”? Is that a reasonable demand?

Despite the high-minded (and in some ways respectable) commitment liberalism has to putting process first, its process is only as valued as its ability to deliver justice as retribution. What we see in practice is still the same zero-sum dynamics which define human nature.

2. The Theory of Social Justice (in-progress)

The absolute neutrality upon which liberal promises of “equality of process” bases itself is flawed in that it implicitly treats justice as an external reality. There is an expectation that people will adjust themselves to the process, that the process is capable of realizing a justice above their own perception, rather than the process existing as a crystallization of the actually-existing sentiment.

If we are to distill justice down to an singular essence, it could be considered a psychic one: justice is a framework we use to mentally structure the world of cause and effect.

In addition, it presumes that the public is a neutral body (whether as an aggregate of independent persons or a collective “people”), as opposed to distinct and un-equal identity groups. For it is also in human nature to seek out a particularized form of loyalty and sympathy: worldly love extends to only those I see as similar to me. Either those in my family, those in my race, those in my religion, those who share my cultural or political views.

If the white man sees himself as a white man first and foremost, it becomes of no concern to him what the colored man faces. If the man primarily defines himself as a male, why should he care for justice on behalf of the female? The same social boundaries which make this concept of “rights” possible also end up precluding the question of responsibility.

2.1. Social Justice in Practice

3. Justice in Covenant Law (in-progress)

The meaning of “justice” is inseparably tied to the Law one speaks of. Human law, whether we speak of through a modern state or through customary “eye for an eye” speaks of offenses between human beings. The law it speaks of rests upon the assumption that righteousness exists upon men. That the “gains”, “losses”, and “balance” we speak of stem from a moral currency among men. The State spoken of in the social contract can only be trusted as a legitimate arbiter because men have an innate conception of righteousness.

This is unsurprising, given that a key theme of the Enlightenment (the origin of the social contract and the modern State) is the inherent goodness of men and their ability to reach God.

The Bible states otherwise:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written: “There is no righteous person, not even one; There is no one who understands, There is no one who seeks out God; They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The venom of asps is under their lips”; “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And they have not known the way of peace.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law none of mankind will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:9-20)

The purpose of the Law is to bring awareness of sin, not bring about a balancing, because this is something unbalancable.

Many Protestants, undeniably influenced by the Enlightenment ideas of their time, applied this logic to the law of sin (Romans 8:2). They endorsed a theory known as “penal substitionary atonement”. They painted the atonement as an exchange, a form of balancing.

It goes as such: God is perfect, and by extent God is also supremely just. We, having sinned under the Covenant of Works, must now bear the appropriate punishment in order for things to be properly even. If God were to fail to do this, he would lose his “honor”. So instead, he offers himself up (in the form of his Son) and bear the sentence on our behalf. The punishment is dished out, God's honor is upheld, and the balance has been restored. This is justice being served.

One issue with that narrative: that's not at all how justice has ever worked. This is the part where I often see other Protestants really begin to paper over the cracks.

The best way to really get across what I mean here, is to bring this out of the realm of the abstract and back into common experience. Imagine for a second that some man commits some horrific offense against you, such as slaughtering your entire family.

You're furious and your first thought is going to be one of two things: either you want to see this man behind bars or you're going to kill him with your own hands. Now imagine for a second that some completely innocent person, maybe even your own son, pleads with you to kill him instead. Are you going to accept this offer, completely satisfied with the actual murderer walking free and this completely innocent person having to bear the consequence? Does that sound just?

The mistake made here is neglecting that because human law is interpersonal, this balancing is not just a matter of magnitude but also the target. Nowhere in the United States law are you going to see a judge allow a murderer to walk free on the grounds that someone else is willing to occupy his prison seat. If such a thing were to happen, it would spark outrage, because it'd be terribly unjust.

In this sense, Christ's death is the ultimate injustice:

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore, And our pains that He carried; Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted, Struck down by God, and humiliated. But He was pierced for our offenses, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off from the land of the living For the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due? (Isaiah 53:4-9)

Where in this description do we see anything which would yield closure, a sense of satisfaction, or balance? If anything, as the murderers who walk free on another's blood, the guilt should weigh on us twice as much. How could we possibly look ourselves in the mirror knowing we had killed God?

There is no resolution, just an intensification of the pre-existing crisis. This theology may promise us salvation from Hell, but not salvation from Sin. So, we are not really saved at all. The murderer remains a murderer, just one who gets to live outside the prison walls. Whatever freedom he has is punctuated by an overwhelming sense of “wrong-ness”.

Religion, as the means by which men attempt to bring God down to Earth, avoids paradox and seeks to explain away crisis. Therefore it can only speak of “true justice” as an extension of already-existing justice, as an affirmation of the world as is. Allah promises balance on a Scale of Deeds, one's karma influences one's rebirth, etc. Christendom is no exception, with its continuous obsession with otherworldliness and heaven/hell. To the lay Christian, they defer the resolution of evil to to an indefinite future, one whose shape exists in the realm of personal imagination, away from all accountability and action. Heaven and hell, viewed from such a lens are little more than a cope, a divine mediator by which

Gospel is different from religion, Gospel offers no escape apart from confronting the paradox, the Crisis as is. It provides us with a picture of the God who elected himself to damnation, the Eternal One who entered into History with a concrete, bounded form. To speak of any of this is heresy, Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jew (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Christianity would remain a moral atrocity if the Crucifixion was the last word. But it was not. God may have been killed but he did not die. Just as the Resurrection cleared the confusion of the Apostles, so does it clear the confusion of our atonement and salvation. Not through any clean logical synthesis, but rather instead an intensification of the contradictions through its polar reversal.

The Resurrection takes the ultimate injustice of the Crucifixion and turns it into a justice beyond justice. Darkness becomes light, death becomes life. The God who was killed by the weight of sin now has come to conquer sin itself. Where sin has abounded, grace will abound much more.

The Resurrection is symbolic of a genuine salvation, in that it represents Christ's victory over sin itself. Sin and death are continually spoken of in parallel in Scripture, because just like death, sin comes for all. Yet, Christ has overcome both.

John 16:33, Christ states “Take courage, for I have overcome the world!” It is not that justice will be realized in some future eschaton, Christ's victory is in front of us.

No longer are we bound under the Covenant of Works, the Law of Moses, the Law of Men. We see the end, the telos of all of what this Law has led up to in the Covenant of Grace. Remember what Paul said in Romans 3, “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”. It is through our total inability to meet the Mosaic law and the absurdity of Christ's sacrifice, that we are left with no other recourse but to completely rethink of how we conceive of justice. A new law brings with it a new definition of justice, a new definition of sin.

Sin is not merely an offense, it is a sickness, a set of shackles which binds all of humanity. The supposed “gain” of sinning is in reality a loss, an un-freedom.

Contrast this with human law, which assumes full freedom of the offender. Under it, the criminal can be considered justly segregated from society because he consented to the social contract which declared a life for a life. The 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery, carved out an exception for prisoners. Why? Because in the eyes of civil law, the idea of a prisoner as a slave is absurd. What kind of murderer needs to be saved from murdering, he just needs to choose to not murder.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. Now the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:31-36)

This concept of choice only holds because of the underlying framework of contract. Covenants on the other hand, are obligational. God was obligated to Abraham, hence why no matter how many times the Israelites failed to keep his laws as commanded, he continued to deliver them.

A contract is entered into out of self-interest, but the covenant is borne out of love, a concern for the other. He who was offended, betrayed by his own people, never once forgot his promise to Abraham despite having every “just” reason to do so.

In his victory of sin itself — as opposed to purely the consequences of sin — Christ compels us to follow in his image, to extend the same love to humanity that he did (John 13:34).

The true, higher justice realized by the cross is a justice which no longer divides humanity into the “offender” and the “offended”, the hell-bound and the heaven-bound, but rather instead unites us under the collective curse of sin, and in turn the collective gift of salvation.

We are called to evangelize, not because it moves us up on the Scale of Deeds, but because we recognize that our fellow human beings are part of our collective body.

3.1. Practical Implications


from A Nameless Blog

Last Updated: 3/26/2023

Further Reading:

  • Chapter 18 of Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm
  • Avant-Garde and Kitsch by Clement Greeneberg

What is art? Over a hundred years ago — in the era of Repin and Monet — this would've been a lot easier of a question to answer. There was a very specific form that art was associated with (painting/sculpture), a very specific function, a very specific meaning, and very specific conventions when it came to its content and expression. If I showed Napoleon a Michelangelo, he would not doubt for a second that it was a work of art.

However, in the modern age we can't really take that for granted anymore. On a conventional and aesthetic level, avant-garde and postmodern movements very much consciously pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable. Technology shook things up formally in that radio and television would come to dominate as the artforms of the century. The economics of art shifted from a past-time of the educated aristocracy into the domain of the middle-class markets. There were even instances in which art was no longer confined to the gallery.

All the things by which the common man could say “that is art” suddenly were not in agreement with the gallery's definition of art. Is it art on Pollock's canvas, when he himself painted with no subject in mind? When Haans Hacke takes a printer and imbues it with a certain meaning, is it as easy for us to say that that is art? What about when Walter de Maria arranges lightning-rods in the middle of the desert, as to make art out of the lightning between them? Is that art?

Not even the element of education, connection to the artist, or uniqueness survived either. With the advent of pop art, Warhol began to create works specifically designed for mass consumption using mass production techniques. Warhol sought not to prove himself in the realm of meaning as other painters had long did, but rather instead embrace the simplicity of taste and produce things devoid of meaning, slappable on a t-shirt, on a wall, anywhere. And when you purchased a Warhol, there was no guarantee you'd even be purchasing something by him, as his works were rapid-fire and mass-produced by an assembly line's worth of people.

In our modern era, it has gotten to the point where we're so accustomed to this pushing of limits that Jeff Koons can pass off a simple balloon dog as high art and it's accepted.

The notion of such things being art have long offended and sparked debate. It's easy to see why, as they completely problematize the formal foundations we've come to rely on. How do we tell art without the subject, without the gallery, without the paintbrush, without the artist himself?

1. The Traditionalist Answer

Taking it a step further, what even is art? For the traditionalist, this question is easy to answer: true art is Michelangelo's David. It's either an immaculate painting or a fine marble statue, and no amount of modernist perversion changes that. What is the conservative argument against Pollock? “Just look at it.” This is unsurprising, as conservative epistemology has long relied on simplicity and common-sense intuition. This is not a bug, but a feature, as it acts as a bulwark against the ability for more abstract and theoretical foundations to obfuscate complete BS.

After all, this isn't rocket science, this is aesthetics: the study of beauty. Why should we look down on the common man's ability to instinctually discern it? What makes an ability to recognize good art any more exclusive than say, an ability to recognize good cooking? Sure, food critics exist just as art critics do, but everyone else has taste buds too. The old trope of this special taste of “the meals prepared back home” came not from critics but commoners.

It's a rather simple and sensible answer, and one which was taken for granted for the bulk of history. But with the advent of the modern era, this was no longer possible. Not because of modernist ideology or any such change in social values, but rather instead something much more fundamental: industrialization.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it some key social changes which would inadverdently impact popular aesthetics:

  • Urbanization, and with it the displacement of a previously rural population into an alien and isolated environment
  • Mass-production techniques, and with it the rise of a consumer society dominated by the middle-class
  • The decline of the old aristocracy, and the rise of the aforementioned middle-classes

The combination of all of these things gave rise to a new artistic phenomenon known as “kitsch”:

Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates this insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money — not even their time.
The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience. This is what is really meant when it is said that the popular art and literature of today were once the daring, esoteric art and literature of yesterday.

Kitsch is best defined as artistic simulacra, it is that which attempts to act as a “shortcut” to the social relations surrounding art. The actual artistic content itself is secondary, what matters is everything else we associate with art except the art itself.

What do I mean by “social relations surrounding art”? I refer to all the “functional” aspects of art. Art as a way to signal prestige or culturedness, art as an attempt to reclaim authenticity, art as a political or moral statement, etc.

Kitsch is distinctly industrial in that these feelings/relations it tries to invoke is done so in a standardized way, according to formulas and sold as generically as possible. No longer was art commissioned by any one king or noble with his peculiar tastes, but rather instead consumed by a general middle class with broad appeal in mind. It parasitically adopts the style of established traditions not for any of their inherent properties but for the intellectual vogue it's able to signal.

The same Academic techniques which were employed by the masters of the 18th century were now being mass-replicated into countless nameless, generic paintings born less out of individual vision and more out of market demand.

It is through repetition that which originally provoked such an intense emotional reaction loses both its meaning and emotional intensity. This sort of traditionally envisioned, sublime encounter we have with a great work of art ceases to be possible when it loses both its uniqueness and specificity.

When we have Hall of the Mountain King being played in cartoons or Frankenstein showing up in Halloween advertising, we regard these things as cliche? Why? Is it because of something inherent in their original substance? Of course not, both of these held a genuine sway when the public first encountered them. It's cliche because of the continued process of repetition: such things begin to detach themselves from their context and become fundamentally generic.

Reduced to the generic, such works can only signal certain concepts. Thomas Kinkade painting a bucolic landscape can give us an idea of how we're supposed to respond to it: we can see that it signals the good old days, some sort of bucolic authenticity, etc.

But does it actually genuinely, primordially evoke that in us, or does it simply signal “oh, I am supposed to respond this way”. Is there anything even particularly distinct or inspired about Kinkade's work that separates it from what I'd find on a puzzlebox? The fact that I can find something functionally identical on any mug, any puzzlebox, or any children's book speaks to that character of repetition again. It also explains why I have zero emotional response: when I see this I don't see the painting itself. What I see is the function such class of paintings are meant to serve in our society and all the objects it is associated with.

The middle classes who flocked to these paintings were less interested in genuine encounter with the painting as much as filling the house with another prop. Why do such a thing? Because it signals to others something about you.

Kinkade marketed his paintings as being emblematic of traditional Christian values and as a return to “true art” from all the modernist experimentation. Those who bought in were also often evangelical Christians, viewing their purchase of such a commodity as proof of adherence to these values. Never mind the fact that you could literally walk into a Thomas Kinkade store at your local shopping mall, by having this in your house, you were telling both your guests and yourself what kind of person you are.

My Marxist readers may notice this is quite literally the definition of spectacle, social relations being mediated by commodities via the medium of imagery.

And this is where we have to turn our critiques back on the traditionalists: the charge has long been that kitsch is fundamentally reactionary. I would like to posit the reverse: reactionary ideology is fundamentally kitsch.

We can see this even in more explicitly right-wing projects such as the Christ the King statue in Świebodzin, Poland. The effort was spearheaded by the Polish Catholic Church and an ultranationalist organization which proclaimed the Poles to be God's true chosen people.

It is incredibly gaudy, one could even argue masturbatory, but what makes it so? It's because its elements signal something not present within the work itself but within the tradition it parasitically imitates.

The religious subject, focus on size, and usage of gold and white all derive their meaning purely from cultural notions of “traditional and proper art”, which has its roots not in the aesthetic but rather instead in the historical. The ancient statues which come to mind when looking at this come to mind because of their historical connotation. They are said to be beautiful, not because of what they are in and of themselves.

After all, if this was something intrinsic, we would not see the obsession with replicating the “white marble” form, which is in reality the product of historical accident rather than artistic intent.

Rather instead, I believe it makes more sense to consider the admiration of ancient statues as coming not from the statues but rather instead the ancient-ness. Their value comes from the ability to peddle the age-old nationalist myth of some great lost ancient civilization the “true people” are heirs to and must return towards.

It's beautiful not because it is, but rather instead because it must be. It must be beautiful because this “Atlantis” we strive towards is where our dreams will be realized. And we see its purpose is just as hollow as its heritage: it's merely instrumental towards the larger nation-building project Poland has been undertaking in recent years.

Would such a statue really be any functionally different if it was a statue of Mao? Placed in the middle of China? If its composition was the exact same, just with a different subject?

Is it so unbelievable? After all, as Zizek points out, this same sort of sublime aesthetic beauty has in fact been adopted in such contradictory ways, such as with Beethoven's 9th Symphony:

What does this famous Ode to Joy stand for? It’s usually perceived as a kind of ode to humanity as such to the brotherhood and freedom of all people. And what strikes the eye here is the universal adaptability of this well-known melody. It can be used by political movements which are totally opposed to each other. In Nazi Germany it was widely used to celebrate great public events. In Soviet Union, Beethoven was lionised and the Ode to Joy was performed almost as a kind of communist song. In China during the time of the great Cultural Revolution when almost all of western music was prohibited, the 9th symphony was accepted. It was allowed to play it as a piece of progressive bourgeois music. At the extreme right in South Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe, it proclaimed independence to be able to postpone the abolishment of apartheid. There, for those couple of years of independence of Rhodesia again, the melody of Ode to Joy, with changed lyrics of course, was the anthem of the country. At the opposite end when Abimael Guzman President Gonzalo, the leader of Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, the extreme leftist guerrilla in Peru. When he was asked by a journalist which piece of music was his favourite he claimed, again Beethoven’s 9th symphony Ode to Joy. When Germany was still divided and their team was appearing together at the Olympics, when one of the Germans won golden medal, again Old to Joy was played instead of either East or West German national anthem. And even now today Ode to Joy is the unofficial anthem of European union.

What the evangelical hero Kinkade and the Poles have in common is that their preoccupation is formal. Their focus is stylistic: reflected in their attempts to recreate and analyze the old tradition, we see they conceive of art as an ensemble of motifs.

And it's through this lens we can come to understand why a painter such as Norman Rockwell so captures the conservative imagination. When you look at a Rockwell painting, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

1950s America and all of its associated motifs. Family, order, sentimentality, patriotism. Republican Newt Gingrich would make it a point to speak of his family in “Rockwellian” terms, presumably to associate his own politics with such motifs.

But here is the interesting thing. Rockwell himself was famously apolitical. He regarded any attempt to discern his politics as a sign that he had “failed as a professional”. Keep in mind that while nostalgia can now be seen as a motif of Rockwell paintings, he was originally painting for an audience living in the exact same era. This is why for every family dinner you see him paint, you also see allusions to civil rights.

So, then why does it capture the traditional imagination as so? Well, it has to do with that fact of the 1950s. All these things Rockwell took to portraying in the world around him came to accidentally create a collection of period pieces. The feelings of nostalgia evoked here are no more profound or intentional than that evoked by old MTV commercials.

What characteristic about Rockwell's work which makes this possible is its aforementioned “apoliticality”. There's a reason why the Four Freedoms is remembered and not Murder in Mississippi.

(The interesting thing about the latter is that he admits that painting it in his usual style as opposed to the early, impressionistic sketches “removed the anger” from it. Any Rockwellian-ness is missing from the pure sketch.)

Four Freedoms is an interesting case in that while it is an explicit reference to FDR, it is on national as opposed to “political” grounds.

What I mean by this is that what is evoked in these images is the dominant ideology of “American-ness”. What is expressed in these paintings is perfectly in line with the conservatism and liberalism of its time, and arguably even today. There is nothing in Rockwell's paintings that say, Kennedy or Nixon would find offensive. If anything, this is compounded by the fact that he had painted countless presidents who were often on opposite ends of the spectrum. What bound him to both Nixon and LBJ was that he was neither a “liberal” nor a “conservative” painter, but “America's painter”.

Yet, this neutrality is a false one. What we still see invoked is this idea of a “true America” as implicit. Yet, as someone published on calendars, advertisements, and magazines what this means always has to be left intentionally vague as so it is up to the viewer to fill in the blanks with what they desire.

Once again, returning to Zizek's analysis of Ode to Joy:

So it’s truly that we can imagine a kind of a perverse scene of universal fraternity where Osama Bin Laden is embracing President Bush, Saddam is embracing Fidel Castro, white races is embracing Mao Tse Tung and all together they sing Ode to Joy. It works, and this is how every ideology has to work. It’s never just meaning. It always also has to work as an empty container open to all possible meanings. It’s, you know, that gut feeling that we feel when we experience something pathetic and we say: ‘Oh my God, I am so moved, there is something so deep.’ But you never know what this depth is. It’s a void.

Zizek uses this in order to critique ideology, by considering the ways in which such a work, even one with such an important legacy as Ode to Joy, is used.

It also gives us something else to consider about art: when we look at the sort of cultural significance or “meaning” in something such as Ode to Joy, ancient Greco-Roman statues, or any Rockwell painting, it's not enough for us to consider solely the artist's intent: reception absolutely plays a role.

The meaning projected onto them now, looking back, is quite removed from their original intent, but what we see instead is that functionally, in society, how these images are shared, internalized, and communicated ultimately govern their social function. And if everyone treats a work one way, organizes their vision of society around it being retrofitted into a certain political framework, etc., is that not functionally the same as a “legitimate” interpretation?

The key word there is “now”: the irony is that propaganda has the capacity to take these “traditional” images and bestowed upon them a contemporary character, irrespective of their origins.

Capitalism (and arguably industrial society as a whole) is built upon mass, standardized production, and this applies to the production of images too. The notion that we can flatten something as broad as “ancient European art” and flatten something so varied into a singular aesthetic, the way in which these images can be delivered to as broad an audience as possible (by being as vague as possible), yet still as personally felt as possible (at least in how the individual consumer relates to these messages). Once again, this is very much restating the Situationist theory of spectacle.

But the important thing to note here is that nostalgia is also a vicarious emotion, able to be preyed upon like anything else. Of course these images are being perpetually reproduced (and thus always contemporary), and as a result can only ever be a simulacra. Nobody alive today lived in Ancient Athens, very few remember the World War II of Rockwell, etc.

Even supposedly de-historicized examples of “beautiful art”, such as Beethoven's Ode to Joy or Kinkade's fantasy landscapes still find themselves thrust into the contemporary world through association. All the better they don't have a pre-existing history to get in the way. I'm sure Beethoven did not conceive of his magnum opus being played as a rallying cry for every political movement under the sun.

So really, all this does is just leave us with more questions.

2. Is There An Answer?

Can we even speak about a “meaning” to art?

It's a question worth asking in an era such as our own, where we've already seen the extent of post-modern art, and one in which we are waging debates over the validity of artistic works generated by AI.

We are no longer dealing with the old world of enchantment and ideals, but rather instead one whose outlook is a lot more cynical and therapeutic.

A question as fundamental as this does require us to consider the basics first.

It is a basic fact that any work of art is both created and seen (or experienced via whichever sense is suited to the medium, to be more accurate).

Another basic fact is that the actual, physical content itself is objective. When I look at the Mona Lisa, I'm looking at the same shapes, colors, and brushstrokes as you are. It's not as if you can somehow percieve your way into the painting having a circular frame.

The objectivity of content acts as an anchor of sorts. Yes, you can say even despite this “meaning” and “intent” are intangible terms, but these ideas do not exist on some sort of separate metaphysical plane from the work itself. When I ask myself what the Mona Lisa “is about”, I'm implicitly referring to something and you recognize that thing I am referring to.

Implicit within the question is the tether to objectivity. That painting originated from somewhere, whether we understand it as the mind of the artist or the cultural fabric of its context (as Barthes would argue). Before we can even begin to interpret it, we have to first look at it, which inevitably is going to put a bound on what we're willing to glean from it.

Rockwell's paintings were only capable of taking on such a contemporary meaning precisely because within their objective content was a positive depiction of American life. The moments captured, the colors used, all of these are what ended up defining how it'd be responded to. Murder in Missisippi lacks either the subject or the colors, so it ends up not being interpreted in such a way.

Note that I said “not”, as opposed to “can't”. The cynical, subjective view of art gives too much focus to possibilities, when what really matters is the function. Does it really matter if I theorycraft a way a work could possibly be taken or debate about whether or not there is a hypothetical person who could see it that way in good-faith?

Rather instead, if we're going to take such an approach, we should take one which looks at how it is actually responded to, as it is those interpretations which actually bear relevance to public consciousness.

3. The Social Answer

I want to take a step and and answer the question in objective terms, putting aside these high-minded philosophic questions of aesthetics and beauty for a second. I want to simply ask — in a literal, functional sense — what does art do?

Thinking in such terms, and putting aside value judgements should allow us to narrow down the field of potential definitions. One of the biggest issues with these discussions is that many attempt to conflate the questions of “what is true art” and “what is good art”, but doing this only unnecessarily obfuscates things. One can draw a line in the sand on where art must stop, but it's ultimately meaningless if left as a subjective value judgement completely detached from what the rest of the world is doing.

As discussed above, formal characteristics are insufficient alone as a basis for understanding art. With modern art, the canvas hasn't remained, the subj ect hasn't remained, but what has remained is still the gallery. There's still tastemakers, high price tags, conventions, and a whole culture surrounding high art, just as there was 100 years ago.

Quite possibly the one defining trait we can give to art is that it appears to be useless. Even in the most ridiculous examples of modern art, such as Jeff Koons stacking two vacuum cleaners on top of each other, we can still see the uselessness present within its situation.

The vacuum cleaners are placed within a glass box, away from touching. If you were to try and start using the vacuums to clean up your house, you'd likely get scolded by Koons for “ruining the work”. Why is that though? Probably because if we were to interact with it, it would return to the realm of object and we'd realize there's really nothing separating this from the countless other cleaners of the same model once produced.

Are we at the point where we could take a toothbrush, stick it on a pedestal, and call it a work of art? Probably. But you can't call my toothbrush a work of art. Why is that? Because of how I interact with it. I'm constantly sticking it in my mouth, I'm constantly interacting with it as a tool, something which serves a definite, clearly defined purpose towards some end. How is this gonna go in a gallery or be critiqued when I need it every day in my bathroom? What, is every single patron going to share the experience of using the same brush? Then it'd cease to serve the function of an ordinary toothbrush.

Really, it's the designated spot as opposed to the work itself which really is where the definition is contained. Every work of art has a gallery, if not that, then a wall.

We see this definition holds up against even spatial edge cases. When Gordon-Matta Clark cuts holes in ruined buildings, we still recognize it as art, even if it's not contained within a gallery. But even if it's not contained within a gallery-proper, the social rules of the gallery still apply.

Formally, this work is no different from any regular abandoned building (characteristic of social waste), nor is it necessarily experientially. As Zizek points out, one can find in interacting with waste a powerful emotional and creative experience.

It is socially where we see the difference. In this hypothetical regular ruined building, it's not much of a deal if I trespass. It's not a big deal if I squat there, because the building is essentially waste. In a Matta-Clark building this is not the case. The Matta-Clark building is meant to be looked at, appreciated with a certain level of distance. It is in this, we must return to this idea that the uselessness of art is apparent.

Something truly useless, such as an abandoned building, allows full freedom of interaction, as there is no defined way to interact with it. There are no rules, as rules are always oriented towards some end. There are no boundaries, as in a society which is hyper-functional, its belongs nowhere. It's very existence is an infringement upon boundaries, so to step into it is to step into unknown territory. It is in such a space, unbounded by definition that the mind is able to roam and reflect upon itself. Purpose can be seen as symbolic of the objective world and its constraints, whereas its absence leaves the subjective alone, in a state of alterity.

Even in interpretation, we lose a bit of freedom when we have to consider the intent of Matta-Clark. The giant holes hang there as an elephant in the room, influencing whatever meaning we are to discern from it. This is usually where the critics pour in, piecing together their contextual clues to decode the piece as if it is a puzzle. They'll speak of emptiness of urban life, decay, and so on, these are all still presuppositions which shape how we are supposed to relate to it.

But then that means that any work of art which totally embraces this freedom is functionally no different from trash. This definition does a proper job of describing how art actually functions on a social level, but makes no statements on quality, meaning, or aesthetic value.

4. Art as Communication

Perhaps the aim of art is to recreate this freedom not in an accidental but rather instead a purposeful fashion, to make it relevant. To capture that otherworldly moment and direct it back to Earth. To take that moment of aesthetic contemplation and render it communicable, to take subjective reflection and turn that into a subjective response to the objective world.

In medieval art, we see memento mori, a constant reminder of the limits objective realities (death being the supreme example) place on us. In it we see how art communicates religious truths, with the art adorning Cathedrals often acting as a way of conveying the Gospel to the illiterate masses. We see mythical elements employed as emblematic of an enchanted world, in which both the fear and wonder of the Unknown struck a population which lacked full scientific knowledge.

For the Academic artists, their works were characteristic of the Enlightenment philosophy: a supreme confidence in the total coherence between our rational minds and a perfect, orderly world. We see this communicate the mission of striving towards an objective ideal.

For the Expressionists, we saw this question answered yet again, but this time differently. The objective world is viewed as a constraint in its finitude, shackles upon an infinite mind. Art here is seen as a protest against the restraints of externality, a demand for total freedom of the mind, expressing that which is ordinary incommunicable.

This is possible because the canvas is where the mind meets the hands, and the theoretical limitlessness of the imagination is continuously at struggle with the actual limitations of life in general. After all, even the most otherworldly of art is still made by an artist who exists in this world.

On the existential level, we see this manifest most brilliantly (in my view at least) with Wassily Kandinsky. He does away with the concept of subject, instead contemplating art in its most basic forms. A line, a shape, a color, he concieves of all of these not just as a reflection on the formal, but rather instead the spiritual. He recognizes that link between the mind and the canvas, and taps into it to try and overcome his limitation: namely the inability of the soul to express itself in concrete terms.

And what we see is that his work takes upon a strangely musical quality, despite being a simple painting. Staring into it, one contemplates not just the mortality of their physical shell and the world of objects surrounding it, but also feels a level of resonance with all that from within which cannot be expressed with words.

This struggle is not just limited to the existential, however. Just as our limitations are not just merely mortal but social, so are the ways in which art can communicate. In other words, art need not make a philosophic statement to be meaningful but can also instead speak to that which is concretely in one's own environment.

Take something such as graffiti: graffiti stands outside of the world of high art, yet in reality it comes closer to that elusive freedom than anything Pollock could create.

Graffiti was borne out of the conditions of urban living, and entirely speaks to the conditions of it. Not in some abstract, planned out, metaphorical sense, but rather instead spontaneously and organically. The messages and imagery plastered on the side of a subway or building are both by and for those who occupy this street-space.

And we see the ways in which this can transform the environment itself. Abandoned buildings are given new character, the boundaries and property subdivisions break down with their violation, and that aforementioned authentic experience with waste comes to the forefront.

In the latter 20th-century, when graffiti really took off, it also happened to be a time with many cities in decay. Graffiti treats the entire city itself as waste, and this step-back in perspective challenges the social organization of space in urban environments. It acts as a demand for freedom against the byzantine restraints and boundaries that define daily life in an urban setting. The limitation here on freedom is not existential, as Kandinsky had to deal with, but rather instead environmental and social (see Lefebvre). Still very much real and relevant.

That's why within graffiti, you see a mixture of work created for aesthetic reasons and more explicitly political messages, neither one fully defining what graffiti is. The breaking of boundaries has rescued it from the social separation high-art was long confined to, and placed it into the midst of the real world, not in galleries but on the same streets one walks to the store or work.

We see this extend into the digital age, with the way in which early online networks made use of computers' ability to freely manipulate information in order to create a “remix culture”. The mass-media which was vertically delivered in the 20th century through CDs and TV now was at the hands of the average citizen. Not just to consume or pirate, but also modify and create new ideas using the existing intellectual properties as a foundation.

In this overlap between the culture of torrenting and remixing, we see serious challenges to intellectual property as a concept, and the strict consumer/producer division. People were taking what they were consuming, that had been alien to them before, or even cultural artifacts which were wasteful/outdated (as was the case in B-Games and vaporwave), and using it as a way to realize their own agency as a creative subject.

For the majority of its lifespan, the television has long been symbolic of a creative dead-end, a crystallization of the unfreedom of media consumption. Images come and go rapidly, but hold no room for reflection or creative reflection.

Once again we see a social challenge not baked into some intentional message, but rather instead implicit and organically realized through the process of production. Yet again we see a barrier broken, as the message isn't simply conveyed or told, but realized in the action itself.

So, we've seen the ways in which art can act as a mediator in the struggle between the Mind and Reality or between the Individual and Society, but these are all only specific applications. We still haven't gotten to the essence of art itself.

Art is fundamentally a form of communication between the Artist and their Audience. This is a rather trite statement on its own, but the key thing here is the bi-polarity. Both the artist and the audience are continuously negotiating the meaning of any one given work, but on common territory, namely the work itself.

We have many ways of communicating, such as words, but dialogue fundamentally exists to describe what is. Art, instead — through its indirectness and lack of concreteness — has the potential to describe what can be.

Plato famously wishes to return to “pure soul”, Kandinsky visualizes such an existence. The Situationists wished to do away with the boredom of everyday life, graffiti helped unravel the environment in which people's every day lives were situated.

Is art as a whole an objective phenomenon, then? Yes.

Think of it almost as a transmission. The work is initially conceived from subjectivity, is drawn onto an objective canvas, where it is viewed with objective senses, before being internalized once again on a subjective level.

Does any work of art have an objective meaning then? Yes, but that meaning is the product of a continuous tug of war between the artist, who wants to express as much as possible, and the audience, who has a desire to digest it as accessibly as possible. It's the intersection between conception and reception, which can only converge on one point. The work itself.

The brushstrokes, the depictions, the color, these basic forms are what could be most accurately said to contain the true meaning of art.


from Themis Academy

I've always struggled with writing, especially when it comes to punctuality and accepting what I create as good enough. I can spend hours agonizing over a single paragraph or sentence and have a tendency to lose interest in whatever I'm writing fairly quickly. This means I'm very good at starting things and very bad at actually following through with them, leading to basically everything I write never seeing the light of day. Starting now, I'm going to make an effort to release at least one essay, in print or video form, every month in order to push myself to create more, because ultimately, to quote Yahtzee Croshaw, one bad work that gets released is better than a million unfinished masterpieces that never see the light of day.


from Themis Academy

In a culture increasingly gripped by cynicism, purpose, or the lack thereof, is a point of contention in a general discourse. A nihilistic perspective states that purpose is illusory, and as such life and all experiences are utterly pointless. This is based upon the notion that purpose is merely a product of perception, that reality on its own is so inherently abstract that no genuine meaning can be divined from it. From nihilism spreads either hedonism, where in the absence of a greater purpose individuals seek only to satisfy their base desires, or cynicism, where an individual decries the inevitable meaninglessness of their existence and falls into inaction.

Such a view comes into conflict with a Dharmic view of the world on several fronts: the nature of perception, the nature of external reality, the nature of choice, and ultimately the nature of purpose. A Dharmic conceptualization outlines the relation between action and larger reality as well as humanity's place within both. Action and choice exist in a continuum, as all things enact some kind of change upon the world around them. If we define action as the causation of change and choice as the willing execution of an action, then it is fair to say human beings are helpless in whether or not they may choose and act, simply because we are constantly choosing and acting. By choosing to remain alive we enact change upon our environments in innumerable ways, and naturally choosing to die enacts change as well. Nobody can choose not to act and consequently cannot choose whether or not to choose.

In order to analyze purpose from my perspective, we must look into the concept of Dharma. Dharma is a concept that exists on all levels, from the most general possible perspective to the most specific. Generally, all entities are forced to act in some way or another. The Dharma of a river would be to flow, the Dharma of a fire would be to combust, and the Dharma of a human being is to choose and act. These myriad Dharmas are respective to the innate properties of the entities they are attributed to, the properties of fire are synonymous with combustion just as the human will is synonymous with choice. Dharma can also be applied more specifically, as there are paths of action that serve various properties of reality. Beyond outlining the basic, inevitable behaviors of an entity, Dharma can be applied more specifically on an individual level. On the most pragmatic note, Dharma can be said as actions that generate good Karma, and on a more philosophical note, Dharma can be said to be action that is in line with divine will. If all that is perceived is a reflection of reality, then the conceptual must also be recognized as a part of reality. By following the conceptual one is able to act in a way that is not limited by the animal state of being and as such achieve humanity's true potential: the ability to conceptualize beyond animal desire.

Also in the Dharmic model of action is Karma, the aspect of consequence. Karma is the reaction to any action, how the action affects the world at large as well as the actor who initiated it. This can manifest itself in any number of ways, however it can be easily explained as the Newtonian statement that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. For example, the action of taking a step has the obvious consequence of moving you in some direction, but also may leave a footprint, slightly wear one's shoes down, etc.

If humanity is forced to endlessly choose, then naturally paths begin to open amongst the choices. Different actions that lead to different consequences and compound on each other infinitely. From this, purpose becomes a possibility. The sprawling pathways of choices will ultimately lead somewhere, and purpose can be said as the pursuit of this greater Karma. The human experience can be divided into two parts, the physical and the theoretical. A person's state of being and actions occur at some intersection of the two, with action and choice being under the influence of aspects of one or the other. All action not only serves the needs of something physical, but is caused by and has consequences within the theoretical. For example, eating not only causes the physical effect of feeling satiated, but also is in service of the abstract concepts of hunger, satiation, and whatever else that would cause one to eat. Without the theoretical, the physical is totally absurd, and without the physical the theoretical has no substance. Both aspects of reality complete each other and are of equal validity.

Dharmic purpose utterly negates the purposelessness of Nihilism, as it defines purpose as a self evident aspect of reality. As previously explained Dharma is a facet of, and as such inherent to, reality. In addition, all entities act and as such are subject to the laws of Dharma. Although ultimately characterizing Dharma as purpose does not capture the full meaning of the term, it's the closest analogue to true purpose that exists in my opinion. Dharma, as a facet of reality, provides an infrastructure for humanity to act and achieve its full potential.

Nihilists tend to deny the validity of the theoretical or espouse the priority of the physical over the theoretical. Obviously, when taken out of context either concept is absurd. If one chooses to, they could see the two together as absurd as well. However, one thing is for certain. That which is, is and I know this because I perceive. In a lot of Nihilist discourse there seems to be pressure to place purpose above reality in the sense that reality itself must have a purpose in order to validate the concept of purpose in general. However, this axiom does not need to be upheld for purpose to have validity. The existence of choice and action are self evident, Dharma and Karma are self evident, and consequently purpose is self evident as well.

Ultimately purpose is something that is undivorceable from Karma and Dharma. All people not only exist, they choose to exist, and they choose to exist to some end or other. Even those who choose to cease existing choose to do so in service to some desire. The theoretical entities that shape action into paths are purpose. It is a simple, undeniable fact that nobody lives for nothing and nobody dies for nothing. Even the most passive existence is in service to an idea, even if that idea is something as banal as the fear of death. Choice indicates the presence of will, and willful action is by nature directed toward something, or more often a combination of targets. This target is inevitably some aspect of Karma; as all action occurs out of a desire for a preferred outcome. The will does not arbitrarily choose an action, rather both consciously and subconsciously a willful entity grades the outcomes of Dharmic paths based on a subjective set of standards, i.e. the purpose it wishes to serve, and executes the actions that will bring about the most desired reaction, and in doing so cause the entity to pursue its purpose. If reality was truly purposeless, there would be no paths and consequently no life or dynamism. Actions would exist in a formless cloud, and as such render choice impossible.

As is the case for any class of entity, there is an overarching Dharmic struggle for humanity as a whole. The human is an animal, and as such subject to the Dharmic purposes that govern the animal kingdom, i.e. to eat, sleep, reproduce, etc. However, the human is also sapient, and capable of perceiving and interacting with the theoretical. This enables the human to pursue Dharmic purpose outside the scope of a purely animal existence. From this ability stems much of humanity's achievements, from art to philosophy to the free thinking most people are capable of and engage in. The ability to conceptualize beyond one's immediate wants and needs is what both grants the human being the ability to explore the realm of abstract concepts with relative freedom and chains mankind to a sense of despair. The human condition is to be able to see the irrational crossroads upon which it stands, to be able to see beyond one's base animal urges and to simultaneously see how one is limited and fallible because of them. The human being is both an imperfect god and an imperfect animal, blessed with qualities of both and cursed with the knowledge that it is an irrational creature, not belonging fully in either category. This knowledge leads to despair and ultimately dread, and escape from that sense of dread can be said to be among the chief struggles of the human race.

From this crossroad, one can take many paths. The hedonist walks the path of the animal, declaring the animal condition to be the baseline upon which human existence is built, and consequently deems the theoretical to be irrelevant to any practical form of life. The hedonist then proceeds to immerse themself in their animal desires, lusting, feeding, doing whatever they want in the short term. However, as previously shown, the theoretical is as real as the physical, and this path lacks self-awareness. The ascetic shuns the physical world and seeks to dwell primarily in the theoretical. True asceticism is impossible of course, as one who totally removes oneself from the physical needs of the animal would cease to eat, drink, sleep, or breathe, and die in minutes. The human being is a physical entity, and the brain is made of matter. Reality is composed of the physical as well as the theoretical, and the two are not easily divorced. As such removing oneself from the physical world is a fool's errand. Finally, we come to the nihilist, who upon seeing this conundrum is filled with dread and declares the human existence to be purposeless, as there is no perceivable escape from the human struggle. Although the nihilist arrives at the wrong conclusion, they are correct to state that there is no escape, as struggle is humanity's Dharma.

Despite the best efforts of some, no human being can ever be truly ascetic or hedonistic. The simple truth is that there is no escaping one aspect of reality or another, so the human is forced to live in both. The Dharmic purpose of humanity is to constantly maintain a balance of the two, not as a stable equilibrium but as a constant state of flux. Ultimately, whether or not a person chooses to feel despair or hope in response to their situation is that individual's choice. I personally find it empowering. There is goodness and divinity on both sides of reality, there is an infinity of concepts to explore and paths to take, and it is all in the hands of the individual. This is the blessing of humanity, to be free to act and choose, to live and die, to make use of one's agency to further one's will. The struggle itself is purpose, regardless of how one characterizes it. Neither the nihilist, hedonist, ascetic, or uninterested party can escape that purpose, however how one reacts to the struggle and chooses to address it is completely subjective. Why needlessly make things difficult?

As written by the sage Vyasa:

In accordance with the three modes of material nature, there are three kinds of knowledge, action, and performers of action. Listen as I describe them.

That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.

That knowledge by which a different type of living entity is seen to be dwelling in different bodies is knowledge in the mode of passion.

And that knowledge by which one is attached to one kind of work as the all in all, without knowledge of the truth, and which is very meager, is said to be in the mode of darkness.

As for actions, that action in accordance with duty, which is performed without attachment, without love or hate, by one who has renounced fruitive results, is called action in the mode of goodness. (Bhagavad Gita Ch. 18 verses 19-23)


from Copyleft Curator

This is a tutorial on how to draw on videos with Kdenlive (and other tools). There exists another tutorial which goes over how to draw stuff on top of videos, but the drawings are all static. You can't show the actual process of drawing.

I needed to use this technique in one of my recent videos, but in a fashion where you can actually see the process of drawing, as a video layer of its own, almost. So, I had to come up with a method that would make that possible, and I did. I was also able to do it using only free software. Here it is, feel free to use it yourself.

Sample of Final Result

What you'll need for this:

  • Kdenlive
  • OBS
  • GIMP
  • A computer which can handle all three of these running at the same time
  • Multiple Monitors/Drawing Tablet (Optional, but will make things easier)

Step 1: Extract The Image

Go into Kdenlive, open your project, import your clip, and get to a point where you're ready to begin. From there, pick the spot in the video you'd like to begin drawing and navigate to that in playback. When you've reached a good spot, right click on the video in the Project Monitor and select “Extract Frame to Project”.

This will take the current frame in the sample video, with all its layers, and export it to a PNG. You file manager will open, asking you where to save it, so save it somewhere you can find it. You'll also notice the image has been added to your project. We will come back to this later.

Step 2: Set Things Up in GIMP

Take this image, and open it up in GIMP.

Set up your primary color in GIMP to be a bright red (#FF000).

Select the paintbrush tool and set the size appropriate to what can be seen but also allow you to write legibly. Remember that the canvas is the same size as the video itself, so adjust accordingly. For a 1080p video, I keep my brush size between 10 and 20px.

Next, select Colors on the toolbar, and in the drop-down, select Colorize. Change the Colorize color to lime green (#7CFF19), and select Ok. Your image should now be colored in bright green.

Lime and red are used because they contrast very heavily. We're going to eventually take advantage of a green-screen effect of sorts, so we want colors that Kdenlive can clearly distinguish between as what to ignore and what to show.

Finally, create a new layer and select, as this is the layer we're eventually going to be drawing on.

Step 3: Set Things Up in OBS

Once that's done, open OBS in a separate window and create a New Scene with a new Window source.

After creating a Window Capture, you'll see a settings menu pop up for your newly created source. It's going to ask you for which window to capture, select the one titled either GIMP or “GNU Image Manipulation Program” (same thing).

In the settings there's also some options to crop. Adjust these numbers until your window is showing only the image in GIMP with no borders or menus surrounding it. Try adjusting the zoom on the image in GIMP too if you need.

The idea is that we're going to use the capture of the image as a video feed, so we want the whole image and nothing but the image. Make sure to also de-select “Capture Cursor”.

Step 4: Record

Hit Start Recording in OBS when you're ready, and switch over to GIMP and begin drawing using your red.

Remember that this is a screen recording, so everything you do will be captured on video, but also you're able to edit it later if you need to to either cut out pauses or splice together recordings.

When you're done, hit Stop Recording and pay attention to where your file gets saved. If you don't know, you can go into the Output section under Settings in OBS to find out.

Step 5: Import

Import the recorded video into Kdenlive, and place it beginning at where you want the drawing overlay to begin.

When you're dragging the clip onto the timeline from the Project Bin, make sure you click on the film icon next to the video clip before dragging to ensure you're only importing in the video portion of the clip. Otherwise you'll have to Ungroup the clip and delete the audio portion.

Under Effects, search for “Chroma Key: Basic” and drag it onto your clip in the timeline.

Make sure your video playback pointer is over your clip, then click on it to pull up its effects in the Effects menu. Within the Chroma Key: Basic options, there is an option called Color Key. Set this value to the same lime green as earlier (#7CFF19).

Keep adjusting Variance until you find the smallest value which only leaves behind the red drawing layer. I found mine working in the 500-600 range, but it can vary. The higher the variance is, the more it removes. If it's too low, it'll leave behind extra stuff we don't want, if it's too high, our brushstrokes may look too thin.

From here, play it back to see whether or not you're satisfied. You can do multiple of these recordings, cut out bits, splice them together, speed them up or slow them down as you see fit in Kdenlive.

Step 6: Done!

And with that, you're done! That's all there is to it, it's a bit janky, but it gets the job done. So far, it's the only solution I've seen for this specific editing technique, and it's done using all free software.

If you have any questions, you can contact me on Mastodon. The footage I used in this tutorial was taken from the SuperTuxKart 1.3 Trailer.


from A Nameless Blog

Last updated: 10/5/2022

Thesis: Historically, there has been disagreement within the feminist movement on whether or not embracing or rejecting gender is more conducive towards liberation. The following are scattered notes on the topic.

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Further Reading:

  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

I have spent a strangely large amount of time engaging with feminist literature, especially given that this subject is not at all my main area of interest. Maybe it's out of a desire to understand myself and the people around me, maybe it is due to it being a serious point of tension between my religion and my politics, maybe it is just a rabbit-hole I happened to fall down. You'd think with so much reading, I'd feel more grounded, but if anything I feel like I've come out with more questions than answers. I don't even know if I can necessarily say I'm on two minds about the issue; for all I know I could be on three or four minds.

The sheer ambivalence I have towards the matter makes it very difficult to express coherently in conversation or even properly reflect upon personally. That ambivalence might be a big reason why I've been long wary to avoid identifying with any sort of ideological labels or camps in this manner.

The goal of this essay in my view is not to provide any sort of authoritative or final statement on “how feminism must be”, but to put onto paper the various conflicting ideas in my head and hopefully open up venues for dialogue and self-reflection. This means that certain sections of the essay will contradict each other, often running with the argument in wildly different directions. I'm interested to see what happens if each of these trains of thought are faced with each other, to see if it is possible to make any sense of it that way.

It's intended to be rather scattershot in its structure, however there is still a central theme underlying the work: what is gender and is it inherently harmful? While there's a lot of angles to approach such a topic from, I'd like to focus on the tension between two specific theories: the evangelical idea of complementarianism and the second-wave feminist notion of social construction.

1. Gender in Feminism (section in-progress)

One of the most central and recurring debates within Western feminism (and possibly elsewhere, I'm not informed enough to comment on that though) is whether or not the political aims of women are achieved by through either the emphasizing or minimizing of difference between the sexes.

Feminists themselves could not decide whether or not to base their case on sexual differences. In the 1850s they repeatedly debated this issue at their annual meetings. In reply to the claim that marriage represented the union of opposites, Lucretia Mott declared that “it is the union of similar, not opposite affections, which is necessary for the marriage bond.” In Mrs. Mott’s view, “mind has no sex”; women were rational creatures and enjoyed all the rights associated with reason. At a convention in Syracuse, in 1853, she dissented from the position advanced by Clarina Howard Nichols, that women’s “moral susceptibilities are greater than those of man.” Mrs. Mott “did not believe that women’s moral feelings were more elevated than man’s; but that with the same opportunities for development … there would probably be about an equal manifestation of virtue.” Ernestine Rose likewise rejected arguments based on the “renovating influences of woman.” The case for feminism, she maintained, had to rest not on expediency but on natural rights, specifically on the doctrine that taxation without representation flouted the political foundations of the American Republic.

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It was the radical feminists which really began to properly take this concept of minimizing sex difference to its ends. And it's here where things begin to get really interesting. The first chapter of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex starts with a simple question: what is a woman?

Where are the women?” asked a short-lived magazine recently. But first, what is a woman? “Tota mulier in utero: she is a womb,” some say. Yet speaking of certain women, the experts proclaim, “They are not women,” even though they have a uterus like the others. Everyone agrees there are females in the human species; today, as in the past, they make up about half of humanity; and yet we are told that “femininity is in jeopardy”; we are urged, “Be women, stay women, become women.” So not every female human being is necessarily a woman; she must take part in this mysterious and endangered reality known as femininity. Is femininity secreted by the ovaries? Is it enshrined in a Platonic heaven? Is a frilly petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women zealously strive to embody it, the model has never been patented. It is typically described in vague and shimmering terms borrowed from a clairvoyant’s vocabulary. ...If the female function is not enough to define woman, and if we also reject the explanation of the “eternal feminine,” but if we accept, even temporarily, that there are women on the earth, we then have to ask: What is a woman?

When radical feminists refer to gender as being “socially constructed”, it's easy to forget what that exactly entails given how much of a cliche it's become in the modern day. Social construction in this context very much refers to something heteronomous here. You don't simply identify as a gender, you are subject to the process of gendering. If gender was simply a matter of choosing or “pitching” a restructuring of the categories, we'd refer to it as individually, as opposed to socially constructed.

2. Gender in the Bible (section in-progress)

When it comes to interpreting Scriptural views on gender, Christians will typically resort to one of three frameworks: explicit patriarchy, complementarianism, or egalitarianism.

  • An explicitly patriarchal interpretation, mostly upheld by various Church Fathers centuries ago, but still advocated by some fringe groups in the modern day. They argue that there is an innate inferiority on part of women which necessitates a one-sided subordination. While a less common view nowadays, this played a large role in church history, and can be found in the works of many Church Fathers.
  • A complementarian interpretation, which has become popular among modern-day conservative Christians. Complementarians uphold the existence of separate gender roles, but argue that this separation tells us nothing about superiority or inferiority.
  • An egalitarian interpretation, which has found its support among more liberal Christians in the modern age. Egalitarians would argue that there's minimal to no difference in the roles prescribed to men and women and that equality also means equality in kind.

The bulk of the debate in the present day has been waged between the latter two groups, as explicitly patriarchal interpretations have become increasingly politically untenable to defend with the advance of women's rights. Regardless, I'll take a look at all three in part.

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The thing about complementarianism is that it's really only able to speak to male-female relations within a very specific context. Take a second to seriously engage with what goes on beyond that sphere, and the arguments really begin to buckle under pressure.

3. The Debate (section in-progress)

In the realm of theology (especially as we enter the 20th century), we begin to see not just these ideas implemented as a hermuenetic exercise, but as a larger system which has to hold itself accountable to not just textual analysis but the actual real-world dynamics between men and women. As someone who is pretty strongly influenced by neo-orthodoxy, a lot of my reading has been within that sphere. But regardless, this still works out as the writers within this sphere directly tackle the issue of gender difference, with Karl Barth even writing a section on this exact subject in his Church Dogmatics.

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The really unfortunate thing is that while Barth was in a position to address the claims put forth in The Second Sex, he fails to do so, completely dismissing the core of de Beauvoir's argument. He makes the same mistake every other complementarian makes, reading women's experience as the exception rather than the rule. It really makes me question if he read the book, given how much of it he writes off as “some men abusing their authority over women”. That's a massive red flag, given that the bulk of TSS is spent talking about women: women's thoughts, childhoods, aspirations, and anxieties.

It completely misses the point to characterize the work as a chronicle of mistreatment: it's a testament to how femininity itself is alienation, how womanhood is a caste purely defined by what it is not. de Beauvoir surveys all sorts of female archetypes (the Lesbian, the Girl, the Prostitute, the Mother, etc.) to show that this condition is universal rather than situational. To her, it's not merely a matter of women being devalued, it's that womanhood itself is a badge of devaluation. TSS is not just a feminist work, it's also an existentialist one: what's at stake here isn't just a struggle for equality, but a struggle for humanity.

It's a shame because had Barth actually taken her perspective seriously rather than trying to assassinate her in the footnotes so he could continue his sermon, he would find what is by far the most compelling challenge to his argument: rooted not in theological abstracts or scientific inquiry but actual human experience.

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I've always been a bit of a presuppositionalist myself, but this is one of the areas where it becomes instinctually, viscerally impossible to defend. To do so would go against the very fiber of my conscience. The Gospel is not merely a narrative or some sort of Romantic myth, but rather instead the center of reality itself, the actual, literal truth of what stands between the individual and God. If such truth is incommensurable with human experience, then it cannot speak to human beings. If the Gospel cannot speak to human beings, then who the hell is it for?

Any truth which does not just reject, but outright dismisses the abject misery of an entire class of people cannot be called such.

If femininity itself be a sum of contradictions impossible to maintain outside of lies, then

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Ellul, drawing inspiration from Barth, extends the complementarian line of argument into his critique of industrial society, with a rather unorthodox approach to complementarianism.

Although, as we shall see, many feminists would find the role that Ellul suggests for women in his current view utterly sexist, he maintains their superiority. Indeed, as he said to me in 1981, he believes that women and women’s values hold out the only hope for our world. Although some theologians have seen woman’s creation after man’s as evidence of female inferiority, Ellul maintains the opposite: each stage in creation is superior to the previous one, so that woman represents the high point of creation. She is the perfection of man, who was incomplete without her, and the source of his freedom in the sense that he finds freedom in relationship with her. The serpent attacks the woman because she is the head and perfection of creation, not because she is weaker than man.3 According the Ellul, women’s superior values stem more from education and culture than from their genes, which probably play a role in shaping them but do not constitute a determining factor. Since women are excluded from politics, for example, they tend to form relationships based on values other than competition and force. Ellul explores this idea most extensively in The Subversion of Christianity,4 where he also offers his most detailed contrast of men and women’s values. Sometimes he opposes these point by point so that the reader can grasp how he views them: men incline to eros the conqueror, rigid order, morality, power, rationality, pitilessness toward the weak, violence and quantitive values, whereas women favour agape the servant, flexibility, the faith-hope-love trilogy, nonpower, intuition, care for the weak and wounded, nonviolence, and qualitative values.

However, what Ellul has to be wary about is that these gendered archetypes are a hermeneutic, not a governing principle. Just like the way we speak of yin-yang, there's no metaphysical reality underlying dichotomy, it's simply a mode of perception, whether that be cultural, historical, or moral.

Let's try on a different hermeneutic. It just as easily can be argued that these traits represent not the masculine overtaking the feminine, but rather instead the inhuman overtaking the human, steel's dominion over flesh.

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But I do understand why – from a theological perspective – both writers continue to be drawn towards complementarianism. Barth and Ellul come from very similar foundations, both departing from the Calvinist understanding of total depravity. There is an infinitely qualitative distance between humanity and God, reconcilable only through Christ. But what Christ represents is a radical inversion, the light in which our limitations, once reflected, become strength.

We see the righteousness of God in his wrath, the risen Christ in the crucified one, life in death, the 'Yes' in the 'No'. We are able to behold at the barrier the place of exit, and in the judgement the Coming Day of Salvation. We, as believers, stand in the negation of the negation of the suffering of Christ. And hereby a new premiss is provided for our tribulation also. What it first seems nothing but mere human suffering becomes the action of God, the Creator and the Redeemer. The obstacle to our life becomes a stepping-stone to the victory of life. Demolition becomes edification... The prisoner becomes the watchman and darkness is converted into light. We understand the questionableness of life as it is; and we become aware that our limitation and dissolution are inevitable, and no mere chance occurrence. We affirm the negation which says that we are creatures, and we see clearly. We are enabled ot take to ourselves the protest of the creation against the world as it is. (Barth 156)

Within this context, gender difference constitutes a mutual critique. Gender represents a mark of incompleteness, a reminder that we are not Ubermensch. The masculine, in encounter with the feminine, is forced to grapple with its own insufficiencies and force the man to come to terms with the fact that he is not truly independent. In the acceptance of this weakness, he finds he can come to rely on Christ, but also his fellow human beings. This continuous encounter may begin with struggle, but leads to introspection and humility. The same applies in vice versa. This is the essence of agape, a love for humanity among humanity borne out of a recognition of a common standing before God.

It's quite poetic, it fits the essence of the Gospel, and is consistent with Scripture, but once again I have to reiterate the question because it is crucial: is this actually how things are?

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It's also worth noting another common source of inspiration for these men, that being the women close to them in their lives and the influence said women had on their own development. For Barth, it was Charlotte von Kirschbaum, his assistant (and probable lover, but that's for another discussion). For Ellul it was his wife.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with with using one's own personal experiences as reference for an understanding of gender, but it should be noted that if we truly understand such a dynamic to be symmetric, then we need to weigh not just the standpoint of the man in marriage, but also the woman to ensure that everything corroborates.



from A Nameless Blog

Last edited: 10/5/2022

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: Underlying the constant debates over the historicity of the Bible lies a much deeper tension between faith and reason.

Back in 2014, Bill Nye and Ken Ham decided to square off in a debate. Bill Nye is best known as a “science communicator”, a person responsible for presenting scientific consensus and findings in a fashion easily digestible to the public. Ken Ham is a religious apologist and proponent of “creation science”, concerned with presenting Christian fundamentalist worldview in a fashion easily digestible to the public.

Their topic? Whether or not the reality of the Earth's origins corresponds with a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. The two clashed back in forth in the ways you'd expect, continuously coming to an impasse on all sorts of issues such as carbon dating and the amount of animals on Noah's Ark.

For the most part I found it uninteresting, but there was a part at the end which really stuck out to me. Towards the end, during the open question section, an audience member asked both men “what would it take to change your mind?” Ham's response was concise: “I'm a Christian”. Nothing would change his mind. Nye's response, however, was simple: “one piece of evidence, that's all it takes.”

I'm not here to relitigate the debate or even weigh in on the creation science debate itself, because I don't have anything interesting to contribute. However, this last statement is what I really want to hone in on, because its implications are really interesting to me. In light of this, the rest of the debate is pretty much meaningless. What's the point of debating or digging up all this evidence if finding it or not finding it makes zero difference to what you believe?

The real point of contention between these men has nothing to do with the age of the Earth or the ways of interpreting fossil records, but something much more fundamental. In a lot of ways, this debate, and this moment is a microcosm of a larger conflict: a conflict on how to approach the nature of knowledge itself.

For Ham, as a religious practitioner, knowledge is not something to arrive at, but the starting point: his perspective is fundamentally presuppositional. He already has it in his mind that divine revelation was compiled literally into the Scriptures. Any other evidence cannot provide further information; it can only reinforce what he presupposed or potentially undermine it.

Whereas for someone like Nye, knowledge is a product of investigation. He starts with methodology, and runs information through that to connect the dots into a larger truth. Whatever the conclusion actually is matters less to him than whether or not the rationale behind the explanation makes sense and meets some standard criteria of validation. This isn't just some “secular science” as opposed to a “creation science”, this is science.

When people often speak of something being secular, they can just mean “separate from religion” or “atheistic”, but that's far too narrow of a definition. To be secular is to take upon a fundamentally indifferent disposition, to not concern oneself with higher truths. The secular man does not simply reject the existence of higher truths, he calls into question whether or not this is something even worth asking.

It's nonsensical to speak of a “secular science” perse because science itself is secular. At its most base level it exists as a set of methods and criteria for acquiring knowledge and assessing its certainty. It in itself does not presuppose any knowledge, nor does it place a priori moral judgements on what happens if A is true as opposed to if B is true. It simply is a machine, which when fed a set of inputs, will give you an output: whether or not it makes sense to call A true, and how certain you can be in such a statement. What you make of said output is up to you to figure out. There are no higher truths in science, just truths. And this applies not just to evolutionary biology either: natural sciences, social sciences, and even some forms of historical analysis have all held themselves to such a standard.

For the scientist, this even permeates the language. While we can't speak of a uniform “scientific definition” for stuff like “truth” or “knowledge”, since that has long been a matter of philosophical debate, we can see type of definitions that are typically gravitated towards. If a scientist defines “knowing” as “justified true belief”, the definition is constructed in a fashion which is in its own way methodological and meant to easily communicate something unambiguous.

Higher truths, on the other hand, are considered higher because they operate on a separate level. When we speak of revelation, we speak of something not just pieced together but delivered. There's no question of “what do we do with this knowledge” because the content of said knowledge in and of itself provides direction. We have a veritable stake in the existence of any higher truth, as a presupposition stands as a bedrock upon which we view the rest of reality. With these truths, we can speak much more confidently about “what we know”, but expressing “how we know” becomes more difficult.

And as a result, how we speak of and define those same terms “truth” and “knowledge” takes upon an entirely different character. If we were to use the scientific version of these terms, we would immediately be speaking of a possibility in which any of these higher truths could end up not being true, the same way arguing the “how” of Newtonian physics implies accepting that if someone showed a superior explanation with a different conclusion, that you would revise your understanding.

Modern Christians have long tried to convince themselves they can somehow bridge the gap between the “what” and the “how” of knowledge, but what they miss is that with the “how” comes the aforementioned possibility, and the very existence of the possibility problematizes revelation.

Virtually all scientific epistemology insists on a separation between belief and truth, and by the standards of what science defines as “objectivity”, the lines between revelation and belief rapidly become blurred. If a certain truth is scientifically objective, I should be able to take all of the observations available on it, present it to any person, and they should be able to logically deduce that my conclusion is the most sensible one. If the nature or source of that knowledge is not something that humans can fundamentally communicate to each other, then it by these standards would be considered “subjective”.

The “how” provides us a level of security, but also communicability. It's no coincidence that the Christians most often in the position of Ken Ham tend to be apologists and evangelists. They're confronted not just with internal theological questions such as “is the Trinitarian view the most scripturally consistent view”, but much baser ones such as “why should I believe, out of all the possible explanations, that the universe was created by the Abrahamic God”? It cannot be taken for granted that the Bill Nyes of the world share the same presuppositions, so it puts us in this very bizarre position to watch the two enter into dialogue.

But here's the thing about dialogue: it's two-sided, hence the “di” prefix. Dialogue is reciprocal, but also symmetrical. There's a continuous push and pull, an implicit agreement that both sides are on some level open to changing their minds should the opposing case be more convincing. If only one side is willing to give, then what you have is essentially preaching. If neither side is willing to give, what you have is two people talking past each other.

But at the same time, the fruits of dialogue are attractive to Christians. It provides us with opportunity to evangelize, validate our own convictions, and even just try to prove to the larger world that we're not idiots. So what a lot of apologists settle for is trying to have their cake and eat it too: selectively using and presenting evidence, but in a way which stops just short of acknowledging the possibility of an alternative truth.

And this is where the battles over the historicity of the Bible come into play. Scripture contains thousands of years of history contained within typically over a thousand pages. If we take this to be a divinely inspired historical witness, and not just simply some collection of allegorical or literary texts, we're not just dealing with some simple moral or metaphysical statement. We are dealing with a collection of countless claims: claims about historical and material reality, claims which are by nature provable or disprovable. And for every hundred claims made, it doesn't matter if ninety-nine turn out to be correct, if even one is wrong, that seriously calls into question the nature of its authority. But at the same time, if one is able to externally validate all hundred, that creates a very attractive proposition. One would be able to evangelize in the language of the Gentile, to demonstrate the merits of Christianity to a non-Christian. This, essentially, would be the holy grail of apologetics.

And through the history of apologetics, you really do get a sense of this duality. When evidence of the Hittite civilization — previously only documented by Scripture — was brought to light, many Christians rejoiced, referring to the archaeologist's spade as the Bible's best friend. But when scholarly consensus concluded that it is highly unlikely that the Book of Matthew was written by Matthew, that became a lot harder to swallow.

So, how did Christians respond? Some insisted that a lot of these areas of contention were overblown, and that Christianity need not conflict with science, but simply revise itself in response to it. Others, however, began to internalize the conflict. They began to conceive of secularity not as a fundamental disposition in human nature, but instead as a sort of conspiratorial, ideological force specifically hostile to everything Christian. Ken Ham has gone on record claiming that “science has been hijacked by secularists who seem to indoctrinate folks in a religion of naturalism”. He spoke of a scientific establishment who routinely persecuted and censored proponents of creation science. What he speaks of is not just an epistemological incompatibility, but an almost cinematic microcosm of the battle between God and Satan, picking up right where Augustine left off.

But in my view, such a simplistic portrayal of the situation ironically runs the risk of understating the nature of worldly corruption, understating the sheer radicality of the Gospel. There is a conflict between science and faith. Not a conflict between “true science” and “atheist science”, not a conflict between the Bible and evolutionists, but an actual conflict between faith and reason.


from A Nameless Blog

I've always had a bit of a bizarre fascination with U.S. elections. Not even necessarily over the politics themselves but the numbers and competition themselves. I get invested in them the same way some people get into baseball, poring over histories, charts, and statistics. Over the course of the pandemic, one of the things I found to pass my time was a web-game known as The Campaign Trail.

The premise of The Campaign Trail is pretty simple. You're able to pick from various historical presidential elections (often ones which were rather close) and essentially replay them, taking the place of any of the candidates and watching as you make decisions for them. Through your decisions, it becomes possible to alter the outcomes of these elections. It was pretty fun, I even uploaded a Let's Play back then.

However, the game's developer has always been relatively inactive, so shortly after some time the game's community got together, cloned the site, and began editing it to allow for modding support. With mods in the game now, it became possible to create our own scenarios.

Game modding in the abstract sense has generally interested me, as I find the whole idea of taking someone's work and expanding on it in different ways to be rather cool. Since this was just HTML and JavaScript, a lesser-known game, and one which isn't too large in scope I felt like I had a decent amount to contribute.

I tried monkeying around with the site a bit, managed to add a Credits section to allow mod creators to credit themselves and edited the site's color palette to be more consistent.

Eventually I decided to try my hand at creating a mod, figured it would make a nice summer project. Little did I know how much of a slog it would be. The biggest issue I found, especially at the time where I started, is that this game (since it's not designed to be modded) has next to zero documentation. Often times variables will exist where nobody in the community exactly knows how they work.

Either way, I got to making my own scenario. The scenario I decided to go with was the 2016 election, but with a bit of a twist: the nominees would be both Marco Rubio and Joe Biden, in turn providing a 2016 general election which would most likely look in line with the political environment of 2015. As I am rather young, I figured this would be a good pick as the key events and topics of discussion were very much within my memory.

As of 7/24/2022, I am very very close to finishing the 2016 mod. I'm hoping to finish it up and possibly explore working on other mods. There's been an unexpectedly long delay on this due to me shelving the project through the school year, but I'm hoping to finish it and ship it out the door by the end of summer.

The following sections are write-ups on various issues I ran into during the course of development and how I came to address them.


The 2016 election was an incredibly pivotal one, not just in terms of the following administration, but in the ways it acted as a turning point for both parties and the ideological shifts they'd undergo. It's very commonly argued that the catalysts for this were both the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and the unexpected success they had running insurgent campaigns.

This mod provides a sort of “what-if” for neither of these populist campaigns really hitting their stride, the timeline where the 2016 election proceeded as expected by both parties' establishments.

The pre-conditions for this scenario are as follows:

  1. Joe Biden has reason to run, defeating both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the primary handily. Unlike in the main timeline, he exits the primary as a broadly popular figure among the base with some opposition from Sanders, but not to the same extent.
  2. Marco Rubio is somehow able to gather together a broad enough coalition to stunt Trump's momentum in the primary and defeat him.

The specifics of this, such as whether or not the GOP primary goes to the convention or if Beau Biden still dies, I leave intentionally vague.

With all this set up, we get some pretty interesting dynamics going on with this matchup.

  • Youth vs. Experience. Marco Rubio in a lot of ways modeled himself after Barack Obama, as a sort of fresh face.
  • Sun Belt vs. Rust Belt. 2016 proved to be the beginning of a realignment of sorts as we began to see a rising Hispanic population turn many Sun Belt states from solid Republican to increasingly competitive. In the opposite direction, with widening polarization based on education, many Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt began to shift right, improving Republican prospects. These shifts are part of a larger pattern, but solidified with the nomination of Trump in OTL. Rubio is a candidate with a good deal of Sun Belt appeal, whereas Biden's image plays moreso to the Rust Belt.
  • Optimism vs. Pessimism Throughout the Obama administration, the GOP relied on a good deal of negative campaigning and obstructionism in their messaging. Marco Rubio, however, ran his primary campaign on a clean-cut and optimistic platform. This is in contrast to Biden's style, which is often more brash and rooted in experience.

Calculating Trump's Bonus

Written: 7/26/2021

In the Rubio versus Biden mod, it is possible to end up triggering an event in which Trump enters the race should you choose the wrong answer at certain points. Seeing as an independent Trump here would completely go against simple partisan leans, I had to develop a few methods for calculation.

To begin, Trump's baseline is set as around 12%. However, this isn't a flat 12% across all states. The method of calculation varies depending on if I categorize a state as a blue, red, or battleground state. This post is going to be dealing with the method for the blue states, since those are the easiest.

For each state, I consult the 2012 election results for partisan distribution and then add/subtract Obama's national margin (3.9%) so I get their pure relative lean. For example, CT was won by Obama with 58.06%. Subtract 3.9 from that to get 54.16%. From there, I multiply 54.16 by 15 percent? Why 15 percent? Because, according to the data at the time of the primaries, about 15 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion of Trump, as per 538. Obviously, Dem support for Trump probably varies by state but data is nonexistent and given how solidly blue the following states are, I don't think it matters.

The formula for the Dem-half is 13% baseline multiplied by the relative lean of a state multiplied by 15 percent (an exception is made for Delaware, Biden's home-state, which grants Trump only a 10% multiplier among Democrats).

However, that only gives us Obama-Trump voters. What about Romney-Trump voters? This was probably the roughest part. I took the national polling average of 35 percent from around when the 2016 primary was at its most competitive as a baseline for what GOP support for Trump is nationally. However, GOP support of Trump also varies by state. So, what I did was I consulted the 538 polling averages from late-2015 to early 2016, and approximated a support level. For states where there isn't enough primary data, I just maxed out the support level to 35% for the sake of simplicity and also to make Trump more impactful. To make sure I didn't overall skew too high or too low, I calculated the average of these states' numbers, and noted their deviation from the mean. We can then subtract the deviation from that base of 35 percent to get a more proper number of support per state.

The formula for the Republican-half is 13% baseline multiplied by the relative lean of a state multiplied by the ratio of the state-level GOP support over Trump's national average of 35%.

You combine these two halves, and there's the proper state-by-state baseline for what Trump's support should hover around. I'll have to vary up the methodology for red and battleground states since their dynamics are different I'd imagine, but I'll get to that later.

Here's another article I found in my research which I may take advantage of later.

Calculating Realistic VP Home-State Bonuses

Written: 8/20/2021

Perhaps out of boredom or maybe because I trust formulas more than my own hand-tweaking, I've been approaching the actual score/number generation with a series of formulas. This is what I did when determining Trump's percentage for each state, and now it's what I'm doing for the VPs.

Which back to our topic, here's a fun fact about VP state bonuses in presidential elections: they're inversely proportional to a state's population. The smaller a state is, the more its population will care about having one of their own as VP. This might be bad news for VPs from California, but great news for me because this means I can create a formula in a straightforward fashion.

The first step is finding the scenario of maximum effect to use as a baseline. This gives me an idea of what is the peak potential of a VP-home state effect. Luckily in 2008, we were given data for just that. Sarah Palin is governor of Alaska, a small state.

McCain carried about 59.4% of the vote in 2008. Add his national loss margin of 7.2% to get 66.62%. Romney lost by 3.9% nationally in 2012 and held 54.8% of Alaska's vote. Add 3.9% and I get 58.7%. Subtract 58.7% from 66.62% and you get 7.92% of a contribution from Sarah Palin specifically.

I did some testing and raising Rubio's Alaska multiplier from 0.96 to 1.3 seems to get me close to 8 percent, which is what I need. That's a difference of 0.34 in the multiplier.

I calculated Palin's gain in multiplier terms as follows: 7.92% divided by 58.7%, then add 1. For the other home-states I took Alaska's EV count (3) over their respective EV counts, multiplied by the Palin gain (in multiplier terms) we calculated at the beginning of this paragraph.

I took the other-state multiplier, divided it by the Palin multiplier, and then multiplied that ratio by whatever existing multiplier was in the game's code for the candidate. This seems to have worked, with there being visible but not insane results due to your VP picks.

Some fun facts for those who sat through the math:

  • Hillary Clinton has two home states, Arkansas and New York. This is done as an easter egg of sorts given that election data shows that she did gain support in certain areas of Arkansas which saw a reversion in the 2020 election.
  • Hillary Clinton is the only VP with safe states as her home state, which is another reason I was fine giving her two, since it wouldn't have that much of an effect either way.
  • Hillary Clinton nets you about a 4 percent gain in Arkansas, making that the state with the largest sway.
  • Ted Cruz currently holds the least sway, given that Texas' population is larger than that of even New York.

Setting Up The Issues

Written: 8/8/2022

Unfortunately, there's only room for five “Issues” in a CT game. Candidates, questions, and answers all have to fit within the stats for five policy issues you pick. I decided to go with five that were the most relevant to the political discourse surrounding the 2016 election specifically:

  • Trade
  • Immigration
  • Foreign Policy
  • Civility
  • Socialism

These worked well for the most part, but I'd run into issues where a question doesn't really fit the paradigm. Like when we give Rubio a question surrounding gay marriage, or Biden a question regarding climate change, which stat does that really correspond to? Both of these are issues that played a rather significant role in 2016, even if it wasn't large enough to warrant its own category.

I've taken to assigning them as subcategories based on how issues are rhetorically connected or how voting blocs tend to group. Climate change denial is often paired with concerns about domestic workers, so we should expect it to roughly correspond with the Trade stat.

The sub-categories I've come up with are as follows:

  • Trade:
    • Climate Change
  • Immigration:
    • Crime
    • Drugs
  • Foreign Policy:
    • Terrorism
    • Privacy
  • Civility:
    • Donald Trump
    • Social Issues
    • Institutionalism
  • Socialism:
    • Healthcare

from Copyleft Curator

This is a transcript of a video that is still a work-in-progress.

In our efforts to promote open social media platforms, we tend to run into many problems. Some of these are external, such as a lack of visibility or competition from bigger platforms, but often times we run into issues which are internal. These sort of issues often have to do with matters of design or execution, and if left unchecked, could hinder the willingness of people to adopt federated platforms. Throughout the course of history, opportunities to expand our reach pop-up, but how effectively we take advantage of them is dependent on the robustness of the foundation we have in place. For example, when Microsoft released Windows Vista, it was a disaster for them. People hated it, and many in the Linux community saw this as their chance to get them to switch. But due to a myriad of factors, the Linux desktop wasn't ready for mass adoption at the time and the moment passed with Apple filling the void. There's certain issues which may not exactly be fun or easy to iron out, but they should be done ahead of time before they come back to haunt us. These issues can often be identified with user-feedback, especially those of new users or those who quickly left.

In this channel, I'm hoping to highlight some of these issues and talk about potential solutions, possibly across the span of multiple videos. But if this becomes a video series, consider this the template, the pilot, so to speak. I'm going to focus on one topic and talk about how I think we should go about improving it to help with the new-user experience.

This video's topic is Instances. Instances could be considered the technological backbone of the Fediverse. Each instance is a portal into the larger network, when a user wants to interact with the larger network we call the Fediverse, they do so through these instances. Ideally, these users are going to be all sorts of people, not just the computer-literate. Factors such as if these people can quickly find an instance that suits them, how active the instance is, if they have a good quality-of-life experience, and if can rely on the instance to preserve their content are all going to be critical in deciding whether or not a person can allow themselves to become invested in the platform. Whenever you feel like you're fighting against your instance, it really makes you want to quit altogether.

Say what you will about Twitter or YouTube, but the fact is this. I can post something onto Twitter feeling confident that my account, with all of its followers and posts will continue to be there a year later. When I register on YouTube, there is plenty of content there for me to browse and ways for me to find audiences. I go onto YouTube knowing that this is the correct YouTube to me, that I won't have issues posting my videos, and that these videos I spent a long time working on and uploading won't go anywhere. On both platforms, while spam exists, it's nowhere near as visible as the amount of content generated by real-life humans. Will this persist in, say, twenty years if we're talking practically? Objectively speaking, we can't say for sure, but the important thing is that the public confidence is still there. And that confidence is what it takes to retain users. Even in cases where users are retained, they still tend to centralize on flagship instances rather than spreading out to others they may trust less. This is antithetical to the goals of the Fediverse and can result in failures being much more catastrophic long-term.

I'd like to address each problem one by one, and then get into my proposals to mitigate them afterwards.

Problem: Instance Selection

Starting with the first factor: instance selection, or the question of how quickly and accurately the average person can find the right instance for them. The current state of this is that attempts have been made, but from my own experience, there's still a long ways to go. Currently, across Fediverse platforms, there are two solutions to this problem: an instance list and an instance search.

Typically, there are two types of information which can help you in selecting an instance. Objective information includes stuff like domain, ping, user count, and language. Objective information is easier to query and is most commonly used across these directories due to ease of implementation. However, the information tends to be less useful in narrowing down an instance that would suit you. Subjective information on the other hand, includes stuff like the strictness of the moderation policy, how common spam is, or what type of people the instance is made for. Unless the instance owner specifies this stuff, it's harder to measure or automatically query, which is probably why it's less commonly used on these directories.

The instance list is the more barebones of the two, and is the current approach of many projects such as PixelFed, Lemmy, and Funkwhale. This very much seems like a stopgap to me, and I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that. A lot of these platforms are smaller to the point where existing instances could be listed on a single page. The issue with the instance lists still is that they typically don't give you useful information regarding which instance to pick, and it's a lot of guesswork. Typically just objective information is provided, possibly with the ability to sort. But anything more requires you to manually index through the list to find what you want.

Another option is to have an instance search. This is the approach taken by larger platforms such as PeerTube and Mastodon. They'll usually allow instance owners to set their own descriptions and tags, which can be searched up. These tags can give you a general idea as to some of the more subjective factors, but it's up to each instance to implement it.

Mastodon's search is the most robust of these, often even providing a quick survey to match users to instances which fit their criteria. It should be noted though, that the survey still works off of purely objective information. The instances you're “matched” to will often be incredibly broad due to the nature of these questions: sure I can specify that I don't want an NSFW instance or that I want an English-speaking instance, but countless instances match that criteria.

This is not even to mention that since each platform has their own directory with their own rules and design, it can often be rather byzantine to locate these. For example, I've been using Lemmy for years, but their instance list only recently came to my attention. Overall, instance searching is a step in the right direction, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Problem: Instance Curation (section in-progress)

Part of the issue with PeerTube right now is that the sort of high-effort content which can provide a bedrock for the Fediverse often finds itself competing with spam or re-uploads of public domain work for views. This means that often times audiences don't know where to go to find the sort of content they're looking for, and creators are often getting little or no feedback on their content. This makes uploading to PeerTube less fun and watching PeerTube less fun.

Problem: Instance Migration (section in-progress)

Solution: Migration Tools (section in-progress)

These next two proposals are set up in a way where working towards them isn't just something for the developers of the respective projects, but something that can be done by the larger community. While often times software can set standards which shape our practices, I think part of the issue facing us right now is that we get too complacent with leaving the task of solving every Fediverse problem to GitHub rather than looking to see where we can take matters into our own hands. Through our practices we can shape the culture of this community and promote an understanding of instances which is more intuitive.

Solution: Instance Grading (section in-progress)

Solution: Topical Instances (section in-progress)

One of the things which I think is important is to begin getting an idea of why we make instances and how the types of instances available can shape the larger ecosystem. From what I've seen, most instances in the Fediverse can be divided into the categories of General and Topical Instances.

  • Topical instances tend to be catering to a very specific audience or niche, with content surrounding a certain topic or subculture. If someone decided to make a PeerTube instance dedicated to movie reviews, that would be a topical instance.
  • A general instance has no real central topic which defines it; it might cater to people who live in a certain region or speak a certain language but the type of content is still very broad.

Currently, it seems like most platforms will have a glut of general instances and very few topical ones. This ties into the issues with content; you're put into a mix with basically everyone, irrespective of interests or community. While this makes sense for a federated timeline, the benefit of local timelines is that you can still have your content visible to those who would be interested and get to talk to people you'd find you have a lot in common with.

This also inadverdently discourages decentralization; when you have a bunch of instances all dedicated to the same general-purpose chatting, people will often congregate where there's the most activity, and end up leaving other platforms with little activity.

On content-centric platforms, taking advantage of this dichotomy can go a long way towards making the ecosystem friendlier. One of the projects I assisted with getting off the ground is a PeerTube instance known as BreadTube.TV. The instance targets a certain subculture of political commentators, and provides the needed space for them to register and upload with minimal hassle. The instance uses federation in a different way than what's typical: to act as a source of content to other instances. Other instances are allowed to follow and get all the content, and users of those other instances can watch and comment on the BreadTube.TV videos. However, the instance itself only displays local content. This is done to ensure that people visiting the site get the content they expect and creators are not having to compete with the entire PeerTube network for their videos to get attention.

With this sort of model divided into general and topical instances, it helps everyone involved in how they interact with the platform. General instances are able to curate the type of content they want by being able to pick out instances to follow, kind of similar to how people subscribe to television channels. For the average viewer, they can register on a general instance and get access to that whole network. If they're really into one genre, they can search through the topical instances for all sorts of content. For the average creator, they can pick out a topical instance to join and then upload there, knowing that their content is being delivered to those who are likely to be interested in the type of stuff they upload. They can upload knowing that they're not having to compete with every video uploaded on PeerTube for views.


from Copyleft Curator

This is a transcript of a video released on PeerTube on February 18, 2022. Invite links to the chat and further information can be found at the end of this doc.

Currently a lot of initiatives in the free-culture and Fediverse communities are very disorganized. People want to help and promote these movements and platforms which align with their ideals, but they have no idea where to start. When people sign up on federated platforms, they have no idea where to find creators, and creators don't know how to find audiences.

Other alternative social media initiatives like the various “free-speech” and blockchain-based platforms often have millions of dollars backing them, which allows them to dish out tons in sponsorship money and get tons of free media coverage. The general public is convinced that their only options are either Mark Zuckerberg or Bitcoin.

The Fediverse has from the beginning been built on anti-commercial principles, seeking to build itself on organic interaction and growth. While this means we may lack the ability to buy hype, our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. Those other platforms constantly have to manufacture engagement, and as a result the communities formed there are inorganic and quickly die out. The strength brought to us to work together and pool our creative talents and voices is going to be crucial towards ensuring it becomes a success, that there is a genuine challenge towards Big Tech.

But in order for that to occur, there needs to be a space to cultivate that, a community in which members put in just as much as they get out. Modern social media often pushes people to be very self-serving, with people looking to chase their own clout with no concern for others. While this may be a winning strategy for algorithm-driven platforms like Twitter or YouTube, the same can't be said for platforms and communities which are anti-commercial. It's not enough for people to go around spamming links in comment sections, there has to be a stronger bond. The community needs to feel communal.

By creating a space where people can work together towards their respective goals, whether through formal contribution or just feedback and discussion, we leverage the strengths we have. Scrolling through various forums and federated sites, we see the same question pop up constantly? How do I help, how do I organize and spread the word? Some people go out and do this individually to varying levels of success, others give up.

The foundation has been laid already; we already have a lot of well-engineered platforms, a lot of users who are genuinely interested in seeing a new web, and even quite a few content creators who want to break free of the old ecosystem. The main thing that's missing now is the element of connection, linking the various scattered pieces together. Posting into the void is never fun, we come to social media to be social.

So the answer is to form a system in which collaboration is the key source of strength and members get out what they put in. The incentives all align. It becomes something fun and social, being part of the Fediverse begins to actually feel like being a part of something.

By having a common place to organize, learn, discuss, and share, these questions no longer have to be asked into the void. Currently, there exists no space which manages to explicitly try and foster that sort of environment. As a result, we have decided to make a Discord server dedicated to exactly that, to create just that sort of place. And to those who are already using Element, don't worry. The server is bridged to a Matrix chat, which will also be linked in the description.

From my experience, chatrooms are the best at fostering a sense of community and communicating in real-time, both crucial towards our goal. To this end, the server looks to be a place which provides a space to accomplish the above in three ways:

  1. creating a central, real-time place to plan out ways to get the word out about the Fediverse and recruit new users
  2. allowing people to collaborate on projects, get advice, and find people willing to help them out on whatever creative project they're working on.
  3. allowing Fediverse creators to connect with audiences and get feedback on their work. In turn regular users can scout out who is worth following

Of course, this won't be possible without some level of heavy-lifting. Starting a community is only a fraction of the battle, the early stages of activity and growth is what determines its future.

The paradox of online communities is that the most attractive ones tend to already have activity in them. This may seem self-defeating at first, but there's a loophole. What matters, and what people on the fence see, is the level of activity, not necessarily raw member counts. Once we get over that initial hill, it snowballs from there.

These early stages tend to be the hardest, but also are the stages where each person's help matters all the much more, no matter how small it seems in the grand scale of things. That means we need you, the person watching this. It doesn't matter what skills you do or don't have, even just joining, bringing in your ideas and interacting with others goes a long way.

If you're interested in helping make the Internet a better place or just want to find a place where you can share your own projects or find the work of others, join in. All the links are in the description, and there's no harm in checking the initiative out.


from Copyleft Curator

A Home for Your Bots

I've been planning this issue for a while now, but have found myself rather busy as of late. Either way, it's here.

If you would like to leave comments, you can do so on this Mastodon thread.

If you would like your content to be featured, check out this guide to get started. If you have any questions or would like to submit your account, please DM me on either Mastodon or Twitter.

For a lot of us accustomed to the modern internet, bots are generally considered a bad thing.

Whenever I open up Discord, I have a bunch of bots DMing me with ethereum scams. If I want to play a round of Team Fortress 2, I find that the public servers are flooded with bots which run various scripts designed by trolls to make the game as unplayable as possible. On Twitter and Facebook, various organizations have taken to creating bot accounts in order to astroturf in favor their respective agendas.

And on the Fediverse, small businesses will often hire ad agencies to create countless spam accounts to promote their product, requiring instance moderators to either be hypervigilant or watch as their community is overrun with garbage.

But at the same time, it doesn't have to be that way. Bots can be useful, they can be funny, and they can help deliver information in new ways on platforms like Twitter and Mastodon.

To give an example, the @American__Voter account on Twitter consists of automated posts, each giving a profile of a voter in the United States 2016 presidential election and their views on various policy issues. Scrolling through this data which would otherwise be rather inconvenient to individually search out, it gives us a sense of how the average person's policy stances might be more idiosyncratic and less aligned with their political identity than has been conventionally assumed.

Whether or not you care much for the topic, the important thing here is the presentation of information in a format that's easily discoverable, digestible, and shareable to convey a message in a fashion which encourages the audience to look through the data and verify the conclusion themselves. This says a lot about how bots can shape microblogging as a communication medium, and expand its potential.

What is is a Mastodon instance (to learn what instances are, watch this short video) which allows users to run their own bots in an environment designed around just that. Other instances may often may often take issue with bot users, as they tend to fill up the feed with automated posts, drowning out other users; this could result in an unexpected ban or running up against instance-wide rate limits. And even barring all that, it may be possible that your own bot is drowned out by actual spam-bots, leaving you back at square one. By having an instance dedicated to running bots, not only do you have a better experience on the platform, but so do other instance owners who are given the option to federate with or block an instance which caters to bots.


Some additional things to note:

  • Registration is open-application, and non-bot users are allowed to make accounts, even if they make up a minority of the community. Note that you will have to have your application reviewed by the mod-team.
  • If you decide to make an account, make sure to read the rules in order to ensure your account complies with the guidelines. There are some prohibitions a lot of prospective users most likely would not be anticipating (for example: no accounts related to cryptocurrency or managed by police departments).
  • The site operates on a principle of “bots punching up, not down”, as outlined by this short article. If you're unsure about how your bot will be recieved, probably helpful to read this.


To get you started, here's some bots on the instance I thought were cool:

@proverbs – A bot which dispenses the wisdom of a neural network.

@wikipediahaiku – A bot which makes haikus out of the text of random Wikipedia articles.

@whatthecommit – A bot which posts out of context commit messages.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • Open-application but not registration is necessary here IMO, just due to the nature of the instance. Not at all difficult for a rule-breaking bot to cause problems.
  • I support the ban on cryptocurrency-related accounts, partly for political reasons, partly because there's a great deal of scams which use crypto/blockchain as a cover. Browsing through the profile directory still seems to be a decent amount of crypto accounts going under the radar, so it might be a good idea for administrators to start searching for certain keywords to root them out.
  • Sturgeon's Law still applies, a lot of these bots still seem kind of low effort, but there's some good ones when you dig enough. Maybe the instance admins could host yearly awards/contests to get the community engaged in creating, following, and promoting its best material.

Interview with the Administrator:

Have you ever made any bots, and if so, could you tell me more?

I've made lots of bots! My earliest bots are on Twitter. The main one there that is most popular is probably @wayback_exe but my personal favorites were @botgle, which was a multiplayer version of Boggle that ran for a few years, and @earthroverbot which was a bot that simulated a trip across the US using google street view data.

I've made a couple of fedi bots. My first bot here was which is a recreation of an old program that generated love letters

I ported over from Twitter — this is a bot that portrays a river meandering through your timeline in emoji. I also made a bot that toots out stills from the November Rain video during the month of November — as well as a bot that pretends to be a yule log fireplace at the end of the year — and at some point I had a bot that ran an ELIZA simulation — — but I need to get it running again.

What does the routine for moderation look like? Do you have any advice or tips for other instance owners?

Currently I'm able to handle all the moderation. I try to be as proactive and responsive as possible. Most of my moderation requests are for accounts on the server although some are against other instances. My main recommendation is to make a clear terms of service for your instance and do the best you can to stick to it. I'd also generally recommend that running an invite-only instance is a really good idea — there's a lot of spammers out there.

What are some of your favorite bots on the instance?

It's an incomplete list, but here's some of my current faves:

Given that the instance is majority bots, do you still feel a sense of community?

The server itself might not have a real obvious sense of community, but I definitely feel like there's a strong community of bot makers, and I've made a bunch of friends in that world. Back on Twitter there was a community of botmakers that used the #botALLY hashtag to organize, and many of those folks are now on the fediverse.


from Readers' Submissions

By: Kent Reynolds

I hate how cynical my generation is.

Like sure, I am depressed, and engage in cynicism myself from time to time, but there is this almost knee-jerk reaction that young people have towards any shred of optimism, and it drives me insane. “If something is bad then it is the end of my life, but if something is good, then I will downplay it till I make myself miserable.” Look, sometimes you have to have faith and let it go; This has been reality for the vast majority of people throughout time.

Also, I am tired of depression being romanticized. We get it. You are a sad e-boy/e-girl looking for a sad e-boy/e-girl to go on suicidal dates or whatever. Except, Sadness is not supposed to be an aesthetic. It's also not supposed to be an intellectual position. Many get disillusioned with rugged individualism, and think by peddling to the other extreme, that they somehow will protect themselves from disappointment. But guess what? Living behind walls damages you just as much as disappointment. You can not live life by hiding away from it. Averting responsibility is meaningless, because responsibility is the only thing worth living for.

Fatalism is, ironically, a coping mechanism just as much as escapism or naive optimism. By constantly telling yourself that your decisions do not matter, you cope with the terrible fact that maybe some of your decisions actually do matter, and that frightens a lot of people. The fact that they missed out on life because of their own sloppiness scares them: because it is easier to wallow in sorrow when you think you are a victim of external sources, instead of yourself; even if external sources were the ones entirely at fault, individuals need to believe in the simple fact that their decisions matter to some extent, in order for that society to function.

Yes, everything sucks. Yes, we all die. You're not the first to notice this nor will you be the last. However, what you can do is live your life and put effort, as if your own merit is the only thing that matters, but stay aware of societal injustice to moderate your expectations, and prepare yourself. Small progress everyday can be everything. Do not count or obsess about how many days, or how much money, or how many friends, or how much sex you have had. Just do things. It's really simple. Work with your hands and leave the ruminations in the back-door.


from The Winter Lands.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of popular cultural movements and upheavals are/were not representative of the average person at the time of their inception. This is because, in the grand scheme of things, only a minority of humans ever truly mattered.

You had many songs during the sixties and seventies' that decried the Vietnam war, and the Nixon administration (especially within the rock genre). But it was all for naught: America stayed in Vietnam for nearly two decades, while Nixon managed to get elected twice. This had to do with what Nixon referred to as the “Silent Majority”, but it extends further than that.

The French revolution was, in reality, not a struggle between the rich monarchs and the poor peasants, as it is often depicted in media. The revolution was primarily catalyzed through frustration against fief-holders who collected high taxes and tolls to the dismay of many shop owners and artisans. It was this elite class of “peasants” ⁠— made up of professionals, clerks, and shop keepers ⁠— that propelled the Revolution into motion, and only then after, did the people at the bottom of the hierarchy actually join in. It was a schism between the elites, not a conflict between those with wealth and those without any. It makes sense, when you think about it: if revolutions could have been initiated by the lower classes at the bottom, then they would have happened far more often.

The Roaring Twenties were only truly roaring for the top five percent. For 95 percent of Americans, everything was the same as always unlike what a bad reading of Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby would tell you (Which was actually criticizing the mentality of that period).

Rosa Parks was, in fact, not the first to try and defy segregation in busses. Nine months before Rosa Parks' incident, 15-year old Claudette Colvin did the very same thing when she refused to leave a segregated bus. Many African American women did the same exact thing that Rosa Park did. So why did only Rosa Parks become famous as an image of the movement? Because she was educated, came from a well-off family, and was decently attractive. This isn't my personal theory either. The official reasons listed by the NAACP as to why that they did not choose Claudette Colvin were that she was not fair-skinned, her hair looked weird, and that she got pregnant. The NAACP needed “good representation” and so they specifically made sure that it was Rosa who got popularized and not the other African American ladies. The sad thing is that it actually worked. Rosa's good looks and background did help the Civil Rights movement gain momentum among moderate whites.

So what is the point of all of this? Why is it that change tends to only occur once people up the hierarchy approve of it? Why is it that only a minority of people end up defining just about everything?

Questioning the status quo, and desiring to change it, always comes from those who have the most tools, both mentally and societally.. In order to even have the capacity to ponder about cultural issues, one must have the free time to do so. Not everyone has the same access to education, and resources to be able to correctly critique society. However, it is also a self-selecting process; Those who desire change will tend to have more creativity, and those with creativity will tend to have lived in households and nations where that creativity was fostered. This is why so many thinkers, poets, writers, and artists tended to come from the same well-off educated families and married each other. Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously by those in power, one must either appease them or have some sort of standing to them. The suffrage movement did not win because enough women were convinced of the idea: It was the opposite. Enough men, especially those in the federal government, had been convinced of the movement that it finally could proceed.


from Readers' Submissions

Assessing Workplace Democracy


Discussions concerning capitalism and socialism often involve comparing state ownership with private ownership, or the nationalization vs the privatization of industries such as USSR vs USA, East Germany vs West Germany, or North Korea vs South Korea. One part of the debate that is often overlooked is direct worker control of industries and economic sectors. This includes things such as cooperatives/labour owned firms, co-determination policies, Employee Stock ownership plans etc…

Libertarian socialists, syndicalists, market socialists, and anarcho-communists often support cooperatives on both a moral and economic principle. They believe that it is more moral if a workplace were to be managed democratically by the workers who operate in it rather than by a few shareholders. They argue that workers would feel more engaged, They also believe that these firms would be far less wasteful, more efficient, and a meaningful countermeasure against inequality.

A relevant example to cooperatives is Mondragon in Spain. Mondragon is a federation of cooperatives, that is owned and managed by its workers. They mostly focus on retail and small scale industry. Mondragon has been able to climb all the way to the top, amassing more than 80 thousand workers, and having a total asset value that is one of the biggest in all of Spain. Such examples show that cooperatives are not entirely alien to our world and can even achieve a lot of success. However, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? Are there any to begin with? Would a partial, or even complete transformation be justified? What other types of employee ownership are there?

In this essay, I will attempt to answer those questions with the available data at hand. I will draw comparisons and parallels over a set of multiple criteria.


Which structural firm is more productive?

This question is extremely difficult to answer. The reason is that finding company “twins” with controlled variables is not easy at all, and even if we were to find a difference in performance, it’s hard to gauge how much the structure of the firm contributes to that difference and not local factors and fluctuations.. Evidence remains rather inconclusive, and there is yet to be a consensus formed around the issue. However, I will use existing empirical evidence in order to formulate some form of general statement.

A 1995 study analyzed cooperative firms, and classical firms in Plywood production. The cooperatives were shown to be, on average, around 6 to 14 percent more productive than capitalist firms. Cooperatives were also shown to adjust the wage ratio between workers rather than laying off employee or cutting their hours, as classical firms usually do (the effect of this will be covered in a later section)

However, interestingly enough, the cooperatives have not been able to drive out classical firms. As a matter of fact, the number has remained consistent within the Pacific Northwest region: seven firms are classical, while eight are cooperatives. According to the study, this is because the difference is not significant enough. To be more specific, it is not significant enough to offset the disadvantages that these cooperatives go through: Primarily the lack of external equity investment and capital markets within cooperatives. As explained within the paper:

“The experiences of the plywood co-ops in the Pacific Northwest testify to the relevance of these capital market problems. The workers have constituted the major source of capital both through the sale of shares at the founding of the company and through subsequent loans (in the form, for example, of the sale of further stock or deferred earnings). Often a co-op was constrained in its attempt to raise capital by two factors: first, it attempted to restrict the number of shares to the number of workers expected to be employed in the mill; and, second, it tried to keep the price of the shares to a level within range of a typical working household's wealth. Given these constraints, it is not surprising that, soon after the founding of a co-op venture, it was common for the mill to return to its worker-owners for more funds.” [1]

These difficulties in acquiring capital also explain why the Plywood cooperatives have been unable to expand into the South like the classical firms have. Another factor that could potentially explain the inability to expand, but the ability to compete and even surpass classical firms in aspects is cultural ties and background:

“The establishment and success of the first coop in the plywood industry in Washington state were the product of the foresight of some shrewd men who, prior to its formation, were already skilled in the work relevant to plywood production and who shared a common Scandinavian heritage. This co-op served as the model for many imitators in the area. These factors seem to be present in other sectors where cooperatives have been important. In many instances, a group of workers with training in a given line of work and who share cultural ties form a collective organization that enjoys remarkable success. It serves as a prototype, and other firms are established along the same lines so that the cooperative form of organization constitutes a substantial component of the industry”

Another interesting feature is that classical firms exhibited higher output elasticity, implying that classical firms are more responsive to changes in input overall and have more constant/increasing returns to scale (i.e increase in input leads to a proportional increase in output)

Looking at other studies, yields different, yet somewhat similar results. For example, a study on Italian cooperatives showed that there were no differences in productivity between cooperatives, and classical firms, but also adds that capital intensity was significantly smaller in cooperatives, which implies that they’re less likely to invest and expand overall [2]. Research on firms in Portugal, found that cooperatives might perform worse, however, the evidence is still inconclusive. [3]

Conclusion: While the results are inconclusive, the evidence we have does show that cooperatives have the potential to compete with capitalist firms and that worker decision making does not have bad effects on the efficiency of a firm, and in some cases, might be even positive. Overall, there is no significant divergence from classical firms, no matter if the performance is slightly better or worse. However, even in a case of productivity gains, cooperatives can run into certain limits such as capital market constraints.

Resilience and Stability

Which form of business is more likely to survive during a recession? Which structure gives more stability to its employees?

According to the empirical evidence we have, cooperatives enjoy a significant advantage. For instance, the average three year rate survival rate for all cooperatives in France is at 80-90 percent, while in classical firms, it remains at 66 percent. [4] Cooperatives have also been shown to have higher survival rates both during the 2008 recession and the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States. [5] A significant factor is that, as previously mentioned, worker cooperatives tend to distribute the damage between their members, by lowering the wages of some, in order to make sure that no one gets fired. This leads to more employment stability in contrast to capitalist firms which usually rely on either firing employees or cutting hours. This employment stability results in increased engagement in the workplace, and better long term survival.

Another contributing factor could also be self-selection into industries. As explained here:

“the fact that WMFs survive longer may partially reflect self-selection by both WMFs into industries and workers into organizational forms. It may be the case that WMFs are not randomly sorted into industries but, in other words, enter industries where they might have better survival prospects. Moreover, workers may be self-selected into organizational forms according to unobservable characteristics that might also affect firm survival. As Chiappori and Salanié (2003) pointed out, the combination of unobserved heterogeneity and endogenous matching of agents to contracts is bound to create selection biases toward the parameters of interest. For instance, cooperatives may be able to attract highly motivated workers (Elster 1989). This selection problem is a potential identification threat common to all studies on WMFs based on observational data (Kremer 1997: 13).” [6]

A great example of this is that many grocery store chains are cooperatives. This is important because grocery stores tend to be one of the more resistant types of businesses to recessions mainly because demand for basic good remains the same or even increases during recessions due to people avoiding restaurants [7] However, when looking at the technological sector, one notices that it is dominated by venture capitalist firms, which matters a lot given that the technological sector has one of the lowest survival rates of any industry.

Conclusion: Cooperatives are able to give more stability to employees, especially in times of recessions. However, it is not entirely clear to what extent this is caused by internal structural factors, or self-selecting factors or something else completely.


Which firm structure offers better wages?

The answer to this question is rather complex and not clear cut. For starters, due to the already mentioned effect of wage distribution in cooperatives, there are significant variations between studies on this subject. The wage flexibility in cooperatives means that a direct comparison is very difficult and perhaps not very meaningful. However, there are a couple of trends that are extremely important and evident. [8]

Let’s start with the first one: worker cooperatives tend to exhibit less inequality overall. Cooperatives in France were shown to have less inequality by 14 percent compared to classical firms. [9] Another example: In Mondragon, workers usually vote on the ratio of inequality between the lowest and highest paid members, which tends to be around 1:9, a far cry from the high inequality at firms like Amazon or Google. This means that cooperatives have a more compressed structure with less inequality. This, however, leads to a problem….

An analysis of cooperatives and classical firms in Uruguay points out significant differences between cooperatives and classical firms when it comes to wages. According to the analysis, cooperatives offered a small wage premium to workers at the very bottom. This wage premium, however, disappears almost entirely when you go to the middle portions, and is actually negative at the top. This is where the second trend comes in: Brain Drain. Logically speaking, if cooperatives have much less inequality, but cooperative workers at the very bottom earn around the same as ones in classical firms, this can only mean one thing: High skilled workers in cooperatives earn significantly less than their counterparts in conventional firms. This means that highly skilled workers are much more likely to leave than low skilled ones. Indeed, this is the case, according to the analysis. Workers in the top 20th percentile of cooperatives were 4.5 times as likely to voluntarily leave to work at a conventional firm than low skilled workers. This “Brain Drain” effect was not observed to happen in conventional firms (i.e the inverse of this did not happen). As a matter of fact, by merely being a highly skilled worker in a cooperative, your “survival time” (employment duration) is lowered by around 77% . This could be one of the reasons that cooperatives have been unable to dominate in Uruguay, despite having a similar level of productivity [10]

However, There are two things that usually limit the brain drain: 1) If conditions in capitalist firms in terms of growth don’t look too good and 2) When the workers were more ideologically and emotionally attached to their workplace, they were less likely to leave overall. Another interesting trend within these Worker managed firms is that the employees in WMFs were older on average than those in conventional firms, and that WMFs tended to employ less women on average, implying that cooperatives tended to be founded and operated by more experienced members (since women are still new to those industries) with a lot of social cohesion between them. This could lead more credence to the idea that cooperatives are more selective about their employees and industries, and explains why, despite their ability to compete with capitalist companies, they usually do not expand regionally, let alone internationally.

Conclusion: Cooperatives usually exhibit significantly less inequality. Yet, Cooperatives do not offer much if any advantage to workers at the bottom and middle in terms of wages. However, the lower pay for the more talented workers at the top drives a brain drain that could be detrimental to a company’s growth and productivity.


Sadly, we do not have many large scale cases of cooperatives dominating an entire region/country. This is why the example of Yugoslavia is both intriguing and important. The region, while starting out as a state socialist regime, later developed into something resembling (but not quite) market socialism under Titoism. Studying the economic policies of Yugoslavia at the time and their effects can yield valuable insight.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Yugoslavia carried out a process by which it reduced the state’s role and control over the economy. However, private property was very much still banned, so instead they handed over control to worker councils and cooperatives as a part of a mix of policies that fostered worker self-management. This led to more self-determination in the workplace. Despite using market mechanisms, Yugoslavia also enjoyed a much more modest level of inequality (Gini coefficient) compared to other capitalist market economies. The level of GDP growth was also impressive compared to other soviet economies. There was also more trade with Western Europe, which represented a larger share of the Yugsolavian economy compared to other countries in the eastern bloc. However, these reforms were not fully realized. For instance, 40 percent of prices were still fixated by the government. The party still retained a lot of control over the economy and even within the democratic workplaces. [11]

“for large and important enterprises, some workers’ rights were curtailed because Republican governments and through them the Republican Communist Parties appointed its nomenclatura members to top positions. It was thus a “controlled” workplace democracy. Very often these appointees were not well qualified to run companies. They were basically Party hacks who tried to pretend to be businessmen. Slobodan Milošević is the most famous example. He became the head of one of the largest Yugoslav banks and although he always bragged of dealing skillfully with Rockefeller and Chase Manhattan he probably knew very little about banking”

Perhaps most disappointingly, the reforms did not help much with investment or unemployment. As a matter of fact, they exacerbated them:

“The first flaw has to do with the maximand of SME (Self-Management enterprises). Like US cooperatives, they maximize average output per worker because at that point the wage is the highest. This means that SMEs will not go all the way to marginal products of labor=wage and would thus employ fewer workers than an entrepreneur-run company. This is indeed something that was confirmed in practice. Yugoslav SME were loath to expand employment. Unemployment in Yugoslavia, despite massive workers’ emigration mostly to Germany, always stayed around 10% through the 1970s and 1980s As Friedman rightly says in the interview, Yugoslav policy-makers constantly complained that companies were distributing too much in wages, and tried to set, through heavy wage taxation, incentives to move more money into investment. But the results were nugatory.” [12]

This culminated in a severe stagnation with little GDP growth (and even a decline) in the 1980s. Speaking of which, one of the main reasons that Yugoslavia relied heavily on IMF loans in the first place was the fact that the labour managed firms did not commit to investment. While this system had its advantages, it was not sustainable in the long run, and eventually, after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, each country privatized its economy, some at a higher pace than others such as Slovenia, which already had a higher GDP than pre-transition by 1997. Other states were not lucky due to war and political turmoil. While the experience in Yugoslavia could sour some on the idea, it is still worth mentioning that Yugoslavia still used a lot of state efforts, and that political instability and corruption can have bad consequences regardless of the system.

Co-determination and ESOPs

Since finding more empirical evidence specific to cooperatives is limited and exhaustive, I decided to look at other forms of employee ownerships and found two interesting examples: Co-determination, and Employee Stock Ownership Plans.

What is Co-determination? Co-determination within Western Europe refers to a policy by which workers elect a part of the executive board within the company. It is similar to Elizabeth Warren’s plan by which 40 percent of the executive board would be elected by workers in large companies. One of the most famous examples is the Mitbestimmungsgesetz policy within Germany, by which mid sized and large firms have anywhere from one third to 50 percent of their supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat) be elected by workers directly. This policy emerged after WWII when worker unions, who were thrown out entirely after Hitler nationalized many industries, demanded from the allies that the industries be privatized again, but on the condition that they get a say in the decision making process. While this is not entirely reflective of cooperatives, it does share the essence of worker self-determination so it is worth observing nevertheless.

According to studies, co-determination has no negative effects on productivity, and as a matter of fact, increases productivity as workers feel more engaged with the decision making process. However, co-determination has shown a negative effect on profitability. As the paper states:

“Summing up, then, productivity appears to be higher and profitability likely lower in corporations that have a co-determined supervisory board. This result is congruent with the idea of Freeman and Lazear (1995), who claim that worker participation raises productivity as the employees put more effort into their work, but lowers profitability as highly productive workers exert more influence on the distribution of a company’s rent” [13]

Overall, this mode of corporate governance has led to more employment stability within Germany [14] However, it has had some shortcomings. For example, an analysis that compared firms with 50 percent representation with those that had one third worker representation showed that:

“We find that companies with equal representation of employees and shareholders on the supervisory board trade at a 31% stock market discount as compared with companies where employee representatives fill only one-third of the supervisory board seats. We show that under equal representation, management board compensation provides incentives that are not conducive to furthering shareholders' interests, possibly because labor maximizes a different objective function than shareholders.” [15]

It was also observed that companies with equal representation often had longer payroll, implying that negotiations took longer to find a consensus and act than in companies with one third representation.

Some feel like the system of co-determination adds more layers of rigidity that often stifle innovation within Germany. A great example of this is the Telekom internet provider, which often opted out for investing in copper instead of fiber optics, due to the tendency of workers wanting to keep their benefits and save up rather than invest in new technologies. This is one of the key reasons that Germany has some of the worst internet in the entirety of the EU, especially compared to countries like Romania or Estonia that opted out for a more free market approach. [16] Such cases have led some in Germany to rethink co-determination, and in some cases, some corporations would even change their public legal entity type as a loophole to avoid having to implement co-determination. [17] Although, overall, co-determination does remain an industry standard within Germany that promotes stability in times of recession, and fosters long term strategies that include the interest of workers.

Most important to point out is that there are difficulties with implementing this system of co-determination elsewhere. For starters, Collective bargaining agreements and unions are an important part of the German economy, with around 80 percent of workers in Germany having some form of collective bargaining, and a unionization rate of around 22 percent. This means that German employers, in general, are familiar with negotiating with unions and thus the policy of co-determination wouldn’t represent a huge barrier. However, compare this to America, where unionization is below ten percent and declining. This means that a policy of coercive co-determination laws could lead to a lot of tensions as a Harvard report on corporate governance finds. Furthermore, Germany has a two tier structure: The Management board that governs day to day tasks, and the supervisory board that governs long term strategies. The Management board has no elected members in Germany, which means that elected workers would probably not translate into the same benefits and disadvantages within the one tier board structure of the US. Finally, Germany has a significant part of its industry dedicated to manufacturing and industry, while the US mainly a service economy. Unionization and worker determination usually diminishes in the transition from industry to service economy, which also explains why unionization rates in Germany have been falling off as the service sector has been growing rapidly. [18]

Moving over to ESOPs now. ESOPs are employee stock ownership plans where the worker’s savings and retirement fundings are invested into a private security in the company that is owned by the worker. A relevant example of this is the 401k plan which is very popular among Americans, as around 14 million workers are covered using ESOPs especially in the manufacturing and technology sectors. Companies that offer ESOPs are often more productive as workers are more attached to their company and are more invested in the welfare of the company. [19, 20, 21]. However, cases like the famous company Enron also show a darker side of employee ownership. Enron infamously faked their data and stock value, and managed to raise their stock price partially through the usage of ESOP plans. This, in return, meant that when the stock price fell from 200 dollars to 0.25 cents, that multiple workers lost their entire retirement funds. Generally speaking, there is a huge risk that often comes with employee ownership, and that’s why it’s usually advised to diversify. However, diversification might not be so simple for the average worker. [22] Some cooperatives like Mondragon have found a way around this by giving out non-voting shares, and hiring workers with no ownership in the company. However, this has led a tendency, in which workers with no ownership have been growing at a much faster pace than worker-owners, and as noted by Vincent Naravvro, there are multiple grocery stores operated by Mondragon where the workers with no ownership far outnumber worker-owners, resulting in a “capitalism-lite” sort of situation. [23].

Business Ethics

Ethical issues within classical firms is by no means uncommon. These issues range from lobbying, environmental damage, forging documents, anti-competitive practices, and worker exploitation. Are cooperative inherently more ethical or do they have the potential to be as unethical as some other corporations?

Sadly, there are multiple cases of cooperatives committing unethical business practices, For instance, as Noam Chomsky points out, Mondragon usually exploits workers in South America. Furthermore, cooperatives have been contributing to environmental damage in forest lands, yet the international cooperative alliance has done little to fix the issue. [24] The Wheatsville retail and food cooperative also runs into many issues where worker demands are not implemented, despite being structured in a democratic way [25]

What this all seems to imply is that cooperatives are susceptible to the dark side of market mechanisms, and are thus in need of regulation just like regular companies.

Concluding Thoughts

Employee ownership is a viable method of organizing economic life. It shares similar characteristics to private ownership of the means of production, but has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is very important to be aware of these differences before implementing any sort of radical policies. Encouraging employee ownership could be a band aid solution to some of the issue pertaining our economic lives, but evidence remains skeptical of a full transition, and whether they can entirely replace the classical firm.



from The Winter Lands.

Right off the bat, I want to clarify that I support making immigration easier, and that the way most countries deal with immigrants is inhumane; I should know that myself since I was an immigrant in my own country and now I am an immigrant in Europe. Furthermore, I would like to concede that the neoliberals have the academic literature on their side, as there is good evidence suggesting that ALL types of immigration are economically beneficial, and that even open borders is not an economically unsound idea.

My concern here is not economics. It never was. It has always been about the culture.

And I don’t mean the culture in the way that the right wing populists always push it. I do not care for pretty looking churches, bizarre customs, or the color of someone’s skin. As a matter of fact, the culture I am speaking of is a common enemy of both the populist right and many of the immigrants I will be discussing here: Namely liberalism and other variants of social progressivism. What inspired me to write this was the massive amount of backlash that Macron got for his comments on Islam. Mind you, I do think there are issues with his approach, but outside observers often look at the issue with the wrong lens. Especially Americans.

The aim of this essay is to criticize the approach of many American or “American-ized” liberals AND leftists when it comes to the rhetorical battle around this subject. Furthermore, I will be pointing out concerning trends and some of the internal contradictions that liberals and leftists often run into. I will also point out the differences between liberals and leftists in how exactly they botch up.

Are we clear?

Let’s start:

Being able to contemplate the idea of Open Borders to begin with is essentially an American privilege.

Despite Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, and the rise of right wing populism, America remains one of the best countries when it comes to treatment of its immigrants. Yes, even when compared to Europe.

There are currently 3 million gypsies in America. These Roma in America have integrated so well that nobody even notices them or talks about them. Meanwhile, France in 2009, decided to deport the entire gypsy population indiscriminately. And while this decision was met with some level of outrage, most Europeans felt apathetic about it. Some even encouraged it. Not only are gypsies treated as a separate entity, but they’re not even tolerated.

This extends to Muslims as well. Sure, you occasionally do get the cringe-worthy article from the Huffington Post, but overall Muslims in America view themselves as Americans, take pride in their own country, tend to be more educated and richer than the average American, and are even more secular than Evangelicals as many more Muslims believe in evolution than evangelicals. Muslim Americans are not a society within a society, they are a part of that society. Muslims in Europe, however, are much poorer on average, commit more crime, and feel more detached.

This is more of a personal observation than anything I can empirically prove but even among those who support immigration, the difference is clear as day between Americans and Europeans. Americans ACCEPT different groups. Europeans only TOLERATE at best. Americans think that diversity is good in and of itself, while Europeans only accept diversity under conditions. This even extends to linguistic expression. Many Turks are still called Gastarbeiter (guest-workers) that live in their Gastland (guest-country) despite being born in the country. Minorities in Europe are seen as guests that should be treated kindly, but if they “overstep their boundaries” or “overstay their welcome” then they are to be disposed of. This sort of perspective isn’t unique to Europe either. This is very much the norm worldwide.

These comparisons have all been with other liberal Western democracies. When you compare America to developing nations, It paints an even grimmer picture. Libya enslaved many of its immigrants under Gaddafi’s police state, Asian-looking people in India faced heavy discrimination after the COVID outbreak, Filipino maids are regularly abused and raped in the gulf states, China has essentially erased the Mandschu culture, while running sterilization camps on Uighurs, and Lebanon is simply Lebanon.

Macron was on the mark when he spoke about “Islamic separatism”. What he said was of no controversy in my opinion. Macron also acknowledged that France had failed its immigrant communities, creating “our own separatism” with ghettos of “misery and hardship” where people were lumped together according to their origins and social background. “We have thus created districts where the promise of the Republic has no longer been kept, and therefore districts where the attraction of these messages, where these most radical forms were sources of hope,” he added.

If the advocates of immigration fail to recognize this problem then they will lose the spiritual and rhetorical battle with the illberal right.

So how is this related to my overall thesis? Doesn’t this prove that integration CAN be done and that it’s mostly Europe’s fault for how it treats its immigrants?

Yes, it is partially Europe’s fault, but this doesn’t mean we should blindly support mass immigration or expect the issue to resolve itself.

Pointing fingers at Europe isn’t going to solve the fact that, simply put, Europe does not have the institutions or the cultural Zeitgeist to integrate these immigrants fully or even properly. And that blindly increasing immigration will only cause further tears in social cohesion and empower the populist right, and that is especially the case if the advocates of immigrants fail to reform and rephrase their positions and rhetoric. Europe simply lacks what America has and it’s important to realize that these deficiencies in the European system ought to be solved first.

What are the results of those deficiencies?

The result is that 63 percent of German Turks voted for Erdogan. In Austria, that percentage was 71 percent. As a reminder, Erdogan is an Islamist authoritarian Leader who has repeatedly denied or justified genocide, and imprisoned many journalists, including German ones. And mind you, Turks in Germany have been a significant minority for over 60 years now, ever since they came as Gastarbeiter (guest-workers). The claim that the Muslim immigrants from the Refugee crisis in 2015 will eventually integrate does not sound as reassuring when you take that fact into consideration.

One interesting fact is that Turks in Turkey vote for Erdogan by a lower percentage at 53 percent. It seems that Erdogan exploited how ostracized many of these groups feel by signaling Turkish identity and nationalism which is why even more Turks supported him in Germany than in Turkey. This theory seems to be consistent as well since Austria had even more people voting for Erdogan, and Austria is overall more xenophobic than Germany. This is a theory according to a professor in the University of Duisburg-Essen and goes to show how failed institutions can lead to radicalization, not just of the native populace, but also the immigrants.

It’s very obvious that these communities are neither liberal nor socially progressive by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in some cases, they are more violent than the populist right. While most antisemitic incidents in Germany happened due to the far right, most of those done by the far right included things like verbal harassment but not a lot of physical violence. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the Jews that did experienced physical violence have said that they have been attacked by someone with a Muslim or Turkish background. Furthermore, what these reports define as “far right” often includes Islamist organizations and demonstrations such as Hizbollah and Hamas.

In the UK and France, the birth rates between the Native population and Muslim population are laughably disparate. The non-Muslim French and British population hover around 1.9, while the Muslim population hovers around 2.9.

What’s concerning here is not the “White Genocide” as many right wing populists and racists are quick to point out. Rather, what’s concerning, is that higher birthrates are correlated with having lower or no education/employment for women on average, and a more “traditionalist” (I prefer calling it a misogynistic) culture. Women are clearly seen as “breeders'' for the lack of a better term in much of these communities.

For comparison sake, the highest difference in the US birthrates is between whites and Hispanics, whites having a 1.65 birthrate and Hispanics having a 1.95 birth rate — a mere 0.3 difference — and yet Republicans have exploited the differences in birth rates over and over to fear monger about the extinction of white people...can you imagine how much more ammo the right wing has in Europe?

Oh and remember the statistics about Erdogan? Turns out that only 16 percent of American Turks have voted for Erdogan. This has been overwhelmingly due to the fact that American turks are much more educated on average than European-Turks.

In Birmingham, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of the anti-LGBT movement that seeks to remove LGBT and sex ed from schools. Even more concerning is that these trends don’t just apply to Muslim minorities, but to many Easteren Europeans as well. A recent survey of school children in Germany found out that homophobic views were almost just as widespread among children from ex-Soviet countries as those from Muslim countries, and that both groups had a far higher rate of homophobic views than German children. In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Yugoslavian women and Serbian women had a higher birth rate than Turkish women.

So what’s happening here? Clearly, America has better institutions, but how are those institutions exactly better?

In America, cultural integration is made possible due to several factors:

  1. Economic activity has been shown to be the best way to integrate immigrants. Labor union and market regulations have been shown to be much more flexible in the US, which has given many immigrants the economic opportunities that they need to blend in within society. Protectionism also runs rampant in Europe, especially when it comes to qualification of degrees. For example, many of the refugees that came to Germany had education and a degree, but due to very protectionist policies that only recognized German or European degrees, these immigrants faced great discrimination in the labor market. Another example is that many high skilled Muslims in Sweden are deported due to strict union contracts and regulations.
  2. America has much higher standards and vetting for those who it lets in. This means that the sample of immigrants that arrives in America will not be representative of what views average Muslim holds, as they will be more educated and richer on average. However, this factor might not be as effective as previously thought since even low income American Muslims showed signs of being more integrated than low income European Muslims.
  3. America has less “cultural and historical” baggage. The colonial past between the Middle East and France/UK is a heavy one. 1.5 million deaths in the Algerian struggle against France, plus burning down entire forests on their retreat. Things like that will always push these groups of people towards anti-West and anti-liberal views. The American psyche is not defined by such historical scars...except for a certain group that we will cover later in this text.

Many are quick to point out that America had a period of time where open borders was the norm, and that “everything was fine” back then, however, they forget two important factors

  1. For a significant period of time, these “open borders” only allowed white, able bodied men to enter the country. Furthermore, most people did not have any level of higher education back then, so the disparity in education that we see in Europe nowadays is much more concerning.
  2. Cultural Liberalism was not as big of a thing as it is right now. What is meant with this is that back then, most people were homophobic, sexist, bigoted, and so on. Women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and many other liberal values only developed much later on, and every since then, there has been a huge divergence between developed countries and developing countries on these issues. The political framework was not at all the same and pretending that the cultural impact would have been the same.

Returning to a previous point, there is one ethnicity in America that can be compared to the plight of European minorities in terms of discrimination and integration. You probably guessed it by now, but’s African Americans.

Remember the study that compared European Muslims with American Muslims? One interesting finding is that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims who felt like they were detached from American society, and felt unsatisfied with their conditions, were African Americans. African Americans also face similar issues to the Roma, Arabs, and Turks when it comes to finding proper housing and job applications.

I do think it’s intriguing, however, that it took 400 years of historical scars in the form of slavery for an ethnicity to be treated the same way that many Europeans treat their minorities on a regular basis, whether their arrival was new or not. If anything, this only demonstrates even further how much better America is at this.

Now we come to where I think liberals and leftists have failed, and why they have failed in the rhetorical battle against the right.

Many people who support immigration are wary of the term “merit-based immigration”. They say that the term is usually just a dog whistle because how exactly do we define “merit”?

They are correct that the “merit-based” has been used to justify racist views. However, I still think it is important to think of “merit” in terms of liberalism. I find it funny that the same leftists that will go on and on about the “paradox of tolerance”, fail to apply it when it comes to immigration.

Of course, the paradox of tolerance is entirely correct. A tolerant society needs to crush intolerant elements in order to survive in the long run. However, it is bizarre that this always only applies to the Republican party or the conservative opposition in general, and not the illiberal trends among immigrants.

It should also be noted that voting patterns do not necessarily mean that a group of people has embraced the values of that party. Many minorities only vote Democrat due to the rampant racism in the Republican party. African Americans have a homophobia problem, and have more conservative views on criminal justice, as 80 percent of African Americans support more or the same level of policing. Many Hispanic immigrants tend to be very religious and conservative.

It was only a matter of time before Democrats got a taste of what it means to have an illiberal minority. I fondly remember the meltdown that happened when the results from Cuban Americans in Miami Dade county came about. Despite Biden’s attempt to distance himself from socialism, he couldn’t beat how right wing many of these minorities skewed. Another example was in Texas. One of the major factors as to why Democrats underperformed with Hispanics in Texas, was that many of these groups were no longer immigrants. Many were already third or fourth generation, had a green card or even citizenship, and so Democrats’ support towards illegal immigrants did not strike them as sympathetic. Some even viewed border patrol as protectors and not enemies.

This returns to my main thesis. We simply can not blindly support open borders in regions that are less than ideal when it comes to integration, and constantly chastise anyone with right wing beliefs at the same time. If you fear the rise of illiberalism in Western countries, you can not simply shrug your hands at existing illiberalism within many immigrant communities. That is a privilege that you can afford as an American due to the fact that your country is capable of integrating immigrants (albeit not perfectly)..

Our political situation has reached a crisis, as one side has the right values yet does not call for the assimilation to these values, and the other side does call for assimilation but not assimilation to the right values. That is the issue that haunts the liberal/populist divide when it comes to the immigration debate.

On the rhetorical side of things, I would like to note an incident that made me realize how bad liberals are at marketing their ideas. I fondly remember an Anti-AfD demonstration (AfD being the far right party in Germany) where many activists held a sign that said “Rassisten essen heimlich Döner” which translates to “Racists eat Döner in secret!” (Doener being a type of Turkish street food). The next day, I saw the caretaker of our dormitory, who has repeatedly said racist and xenophobic things to me and other students, eat a Doener in front of the Turkish shop owner.

The idea that immigrants are somehow good because of “food” reflects the white suburban nature of many liberals. Immigrants like me are merely commodities that make exotic foods for them. It screams of patronization and commodification. I am an Arab who has never worked in the food industry. My value to a community extends far beyond food, yet liberals are keen on mentioning Gyros, Tacos, and Doener whenever they express their support. As an immigrant, I want to be a part of society and climb new heights. I am not here to make you your favorite dishes.

Even worse, it highlights how detached liberals and leftists are from the working class. The working class does not care for delicious food. The working class does not desire revolution or utopia. What most working class natives want is security and stability. This is exactly how the right managed to tap into their fear: Fear mongering. What liberals needed to do was give assurance. Rambling about human rights or how “arbitrary” borders are is not a discussion that the average person cares about. However, the average person does care about crime and economic opportunities within their own community. Instead of endlessly romanticizing immigrants or screeching about racism, activists could have pointed out, for instance, that crime in Germany has been the lowest it’s been since 1992 , despite the influx of refugees. Utilizing statistics like that is what gets people to take your side. Not vague calls for humanity.

Among leftists, there is a popular theory that capitalism and neoliberalism are the cause of the rise in the far-right. However, this idea is simply incorrect. For starters, it is ironic how the biggest surges in far right populism were actually in ex-communist states such as East Germany, Poland, and Hungary.

Secondly, many of the labor regulations and union contracts that made integration hard for immigrants, were passed by leftists. People are too quick to forget that it was the socialists and social democrats who pushed the heaviest for protectionism in the past. Thirdly, the last major economic recession happened in 2008 (excluding COVID). However, most of the far right in Europe saw its surge immediately only after the refugee crisis in 2015, so it’s obvious that the recession only played a minor role in enabling the right compared to the refugee crisis, as there were already many Muslim communities in Europe way before 2015 and 2008. Lastly, many of these immigrants are moving out to begin with precisely because capitalism in the West offers them better opportunities.

Even phrasing such as “Open Borders'' is problematic. When a xenophobe, or even an average person, hears the phase “Open Borders'' they think it implies being vulnerable or weak to foreign attacks. It’s similar to “Defund the Police'' in terms of bad marketing. Changing to something like “Flow of Labor'' might prove to be better.

In conclusion, those who advocate for immigration must change their approaches and must seek the correct institutional change in order to help out immigrants and avoid damaging social cohesion. Immigration is indeed beautiful, but we have to be careful about how we conduct things, and avoid viewing minority groups as helpless victims, and instead understand that they have just as much agency as the populist right.