Technoshamanism and Wasted Ontologies

Interview with Fabiane M. Borges published on May 21, 20171

By Bia Martins and Reynaldo Carvalho – translated by Carsten Agger

Fabiane M. Borges, writer and researcher

Fabiane M. Borges, writer and researcher

Also available in PDF format

In a state of permanent warfare and fierce disputes over visions of the future, technoshamanism emerges as a resistance and as an endeavour to influence contemporary thinking, technological production, scientific questions, and everyday practices. This is how the Brazilian Ph.D. in clinical psychology, researcher and essayist Fabiane M. Borges presents this international network of collaboration which unites academics, activists, indigenous people and many more people who are interested in a search for ideas and practices which go beyond the instrumental logic of capital. In this interview with Em Rede, she elaborates her reflections on technoshamanism as platform for producing knowledge and indicates some of the experiences that were made in this context.

At first, technology and shamanism seem like contradictory notions or at least difficult to combine. The first refers to the instrumental rationalism that underlies an unstoppable developmentalist project. The second makes you think of indigenous worldviews, healing rituals and altered states of consciousness. What is the result of this combination?

In a text that I wrote for the magazine Geni2 in 2015, I said this: that techno + shamanism has three quite evident meanings:

  1. The technology of shamanism (shamanism seen as a technology for the production of knowledge);
  2. The shamanism of technology (the pursuit of shamanic powers through the use of technology);
  3. The combination of these two fields of knowledge historically obstructed by the Church and later by science, especially in the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Each of these meanings unfolds into many others, but here is an attempt to discuss each one:

1) When we perceive shamanism not as tribal religions or as the beliefs of archaic people (as is still very common) but as a technology of knowledge production, we radically change the perception of its meaning. The studies of e.g. ayahuasca show that intensified states of consciousness produce a kind of experience which reshapes the state of the body, broadening the spectrum of sensation, affection, and perception. These “plants of power” are probably that which brings us closest to the “magical thinking” of native communities and consequently to the shamanic consciousness – that is, to that alternative ontology, as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro alerts us when he refers to the Amerindian ontology in his book Cannibal Metaphysics3, or Davi Kopenawa with his shamanic education with yakoana, as described in The Falling Sky4. It is obviously not only through plants of power that we can access this ontology, but they are a portal which draws us singularly near this way of seeing the world, life itself. Here, we should consider the hypotheses of Jeremy Narby in his The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and origins of knowledge where he explains that the indigenous knowledge of herbs, roots and medicine arises partly from dreams and from the effects of entheogens.

When I say that shamanism is a technology of knowledge production, it is because it has its own methods for constructing narratives, mythologies, medicine and healing as well as for collecting data and creating artifacts and modes of existence, among other things. So this is neither ancient history nor obsolete – it lives on, pervading our technological and mass media controlled societies and becoming gradually more appreciated, especially since the 1960s where ecological movements, contact with traditional communities and ways of life as well as with psychoactive substances all became popular, sometimes because of the struggles of these communities and sometimes because of an increased interest in mainstream society. A question arose: If we were to recuperate these wasted ontologies with the help of these surviving communities and of our own ruins of narratives and experiences, would we not be broadening the spectrum of technology itself to other issues and questions?

2) The shamanism of technology. It is said that such theories as parallel universes, string theory and quantum physics, among others, bring us closer to the shamanic ontology than to the theological/capitalist ontology which guides current technological production. But although this current technology is geared towards war, pervasive control and towards over-exploitation of human, terrestrial and extra-terrestrial resources, we still possess a speculative, curious and procedural technology which seeks to construct hypotheses and open interpretations which are not necessarily committed to the logic of capital (this is the meaning of the free software, DIY and open source movements in the late 20th and early 21st century).

We are very interested in this speculative technology, since in some ways it represents a link to the lost ancestral knowledge. This leads us directly to point 3) which is the conjunction of technology with shamanism. And here I am thinking of an archeology or anarcheology, since in the search for a historical connection between the two, many things may also be freely invented (hyperstition). As I have explained in other texts, such as the Seminal Thoughts for a Possible Technoshamanism or Ancestrofuturism – Free Cosmogony – Rituals DIY, there was a Catholic theological effort against these ancestral knowledges, a historical inhibition that became more evident during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance with its inquisitions, bonfires, prisons, torture and demands for retraction. The technology which was originally a part of popular tradition and needs passed through a purification, a monotheist Christian refinement, and adhered to these precepts in order to survive.

In his book La comunidad de los espectros5, Fabián Ludueña Romandini discusses this link between science and Catholicism, culminating in a science that was structurally oriented towards becoming God, hence its tendency to omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. Its link to capital is widely discussed by Silvia Federici in her book Caliban and the Witch6, who states that the massacre against witches, healers, sorcerers, heretics and all who did not conform to the precepts of the church was performed in order to clear the way for the introduction of industrial society and capitalism. So two things must be taken into account here: first, that there has been a violent decimation of ancestral knowledge throughout Europe and its colonial extensions and secondly, that the relationship between science/technology and the wasted ontologies was sundered in favor of a Christian theological metaphysics.

Faced with this, techno + shamanism is an articulation which tries to consider this historical trauma, these lost yet not annihilated leftovers, and to recover (and reinvent) points of connection between technology and wasted ontologies, which in our case we call shamanism since it represents something preceding the construction of the monotheisms and because it is more connected to the processes of planet Earth, at least according to the readings that interest us. But there are several other networks and groups that use similar terms and allow other readings such as techno + magic, cyber + spirituality, techno + animism and gnoise (gnosis + noise), among others, all talking about more or less the same issues.

The result of this mixture is improbable. It functions as a resistance, an awakening, an attempt to influence contemporary thinking, technological practices, scientific questions as well as everyday practices. These are tension vectors that drive a change in the modes of existence and of relation to the Earth and the Cosmos, applied to the point where people are currently, causing them to associate with other communities with similar aspirations or desiring to expand their knowledge. These changes are gradually taking shape, whether with clay or silicium technology. But the thing is crazy, the process is slow and the enemy is enormous. Given the current level of political contention that we are currently experiencing in Brazil, associations and partnerships with traditional communities, be they indigenous, afro-Brazilian, Roma, aboriginal or activist settlements (the MST7 and its mystique), seems to make perfect sense. It is a political renewal mixed with ancestorfuturist worldviews.

You’ve pointed out that conceptually technoshamanism functions as a utopian, dystopian and entropic network of collaboration. What does this mean in practice?

Fundamentally, we find ourselves in a state of constant war, a fierce dispute between different visions of the future, between social and political ontologies and between nature and technology. In this sense, technoshamanism manifests itself as yet another contemporary network which tries to analyze, position itself with respect to and intervene in this context. It is configured as a utopian network because it harbors visionary germs of liberty, autonomy, equality of gender, ethnicity, class and people and of balance between the environment and society that have hitherto characterized revolutionary movements. It is dystopian because at the same time it includes a nihilistic and depressive vision which sees no way out of capitalism, is disillusioned by neoliberalism and feels itself trapped by the project of total, global control launched by the world’s owners. It sees a nebulous future without freedom, with all of nature destroyed, more competition and poverty, privation and social oppression. And it is entropic because it inhabits this paradoxical set of forces and maintains an improbable noise – its perpetual noisecracy, its state of disorganization and insecurity is continuous and is constantly recombining itself. Its improbability is its dynamism. It is within this regime of utopia, dystopia and entropy that it promotes its ideas and practices, which are sometimes convergent and sometimes divergent.

In practice, this manifests itself in individual and collective projects, be they virtual or face-to-face and in the tendencies that are generated from these. Nobody is a network, people are in it from time to time according to necessities, desires, possibilities, etc.

This network’s meetings take place in different countries, mainly in South America and Europe. Can you give some examples of experiences and knowledge which were transferred between these territories?

Some examples: Tech people who come from the European countries to the tecnoshamanism festivals and return doing permaculture and uniting with groups in their own countries in order to create collective rituals very close to the indigenous ones or collective mobilization for construction, inspired by the indigenous mutirão. Installation of agroforestry in a basically extractivist indigenous territory organized by foreigners or non-indigenous Brazilians working together with indigenous people. The implementation of an intranet system (peer-to-peer network) within indigenous territory (Baobáxia). Confluence of various types of healing practices in healing tents created during encounters and festivals, ranging from indigenous to oriental practices, from afro-Brazilian to electronic rituals, from Buddhist meditation to the herb bath of Brazilian healers, all of this creating generative spontaneous states where knowledge is exhanged and is subsequently transferred to different places or countries. Indigenous and non-indigenous bioconstructor’s knowledge of adobe, converging in collective construction work in MST’s squatted lands (this project is for the next steps). Artistic media practices, performance, live cinema, projection, music, and so on, that are passed on to groups that know nothing about this. In the end, technoshamanism is an immersive and experiential platform for exchanging knowledge. All of this is very much derived from the experiences of other networks and movements such as tactical media, digital liberty, homeless movements, submediology, metareciclagem, LGBTQ, Bricolabs, and many others. In the technoshamanism book, published in 2016, there are several practices that can serve as a reference.

Technoshamanism arose from networks linked to collaborative movements such as Free Software and Do It Yourself with the same demands for freedom and autonomy in relation to science and technology. To what extent has it proposed new interventions or new kinds of production in these fields? Can you give an example?

First is important to say that these movements of free software and DIY have changed. They have been mixed up with the neoliberal program, whether we’re talking about corporate software or about the makers, even though both movements remain active and are still spaces of invention. In the encounters and festivals, we are going as far is possible, considers our precarious nature, lack of dedicated funding or support from economically stronger institutions, we rely mainly on the knowledge of the participants of the network, which come into action in the places. I also know of cases where the festivals inspired the formation of groups of people who returned to their cities and continued to do work related to technological issues, whether in the countryside, in computer technology, and in art as well. Technoshamanism serves to inspire and perhaps empower projects that already function, but which technoshamanism endorses and excites.

I think that a fairly representative example is the agroforest, the Baobáxia system and the web radio Aratu that we implemented with the Pataxó in the Pará village. It is an exhange and simultanously a resistance that points to the question of collaboration and autonomy, remembering that all the processes of this planet are interdependent and that autonomy is really a path, an ideal which only works pragmatically and to the extent that it’s possible to practice it. So we’re crawling in that direction. There are networks and processes much more advanced.

What we’d like to see is the Pataxó village Pará (home of the II International Festival of Technoshamanism), to take one example, with food autonomy and exuberant agroforests and wellsprings, with media and technological autonomy and very soon with autonomous energy. We’d like to see that not just for the Pataxó, but for all the groups in the network (at least). But that depends a lot on time, investment and financing, because these things may seem cheap, but they aren’t. We should remember that corporations, entrepeneurs and land-owners are concentrating their forces on these indigenous villages and encouraging projects that go totally against all of this, that is, applying pressure in order to take their land, incorporate them in the corporate productive system and turn them into low-paid workers, etc.

In May 2017 we met with the Terra Vista Settlement in Arataca (Bahia, Brazil). They invited the leaders of the Pataxó village to become part of the Web of Peoples8 which has this exact project of technological and alimentary autonomy and I see this as a kind of continuation of the proposals which were generated in community meetings in the Pará village during the preparations for the II International Festival of Technoshamanism. Everything depends on an insistent and frequent change in the more structural strata of desire. And when we understand that TV channels like the Globo network reach all these territories, we see the necessity of opening other channels of information and education.

Do you believe that insurgent knowledge and anti-hegemonic epistemologies should gradually take up more space in the universities or is it better for them to remain in the margin?

Fabiane M. BorgesIn a conversation with Joelson, leader of the MST in the Terra Vista settlement he gave the following hint, which was decisive for me: “Technoshamanism is neither the beginning nor the end, it is a medium.” His suggestion is that as a medium, technoshamanism possesses a space of articulation, which rather than answering questions of genesis and purpose functions as a space of interlocution, for making connections, uniting focal points, leveraging movements, expanding concepts and practices concerning itself and other movements – that is, it plays in the middle of the field and facilitates processes.

As yet another network in the “middle”, it negotiates sometimes within institutions and sometimes outside them, sometimes inside academia and sometimes outside it. Since it consists of people from the most diverse areas, it manifests itself in the day to day life of its members. Some work in academia, some in healing, others in a pizzaria. That is, the network is everywhere where its participants are. I particularly like it when we do the festivals autonomously, deciding what to do and how to do it with the people who invite us and we don’t have to do favours or do anything in return for the institutions. But this is not to say that it will always be like that. In fact, the expenses of those who organize the meetings are large and unsustainable. Sometimes the network will be more independent, sometimes more dependent. What it can’t do is stagnate because of the lack of possibilities. Crowdfunding has been an interesting way out, but it’s not enough. It’s necessary sometimes to form partnerships with organizations such as universities so the thing can continue moving in a more consistent and prolonged form, because it’s difficult to rely on people’s good will alone – projects stagnate because they lack the ressources.

Notes

4 Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, The Falling Sky, Belknap Press (2013).

5 Fabián Ludueña, La comunidad de los espectros: Antropotecnia, Mino y Davila (2010).

6 Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia (2004). Available here: https://libcom.org/files/Caliban%20and%20the%20Witch.pdf

7 MST, the “landless worker’s movement” is a social movement in Brazil that fights for workers’ access to land through demands for land reform and direct actions such as establishing settlements on occupied land.

ownCloud and free software in the cloud: Meet Frank Karlitschek in Open Space Aarhus

I’m co-organizing this event, involving our hackerspace and the FSFE local group in Aarhus:

Frank Karlitschek, creator of ownCloud, will give a talk centering on ownCloud, free software in the enterprise and data protection in a post-Snowden world.

The talk will be followed by a discussion with the audience and a discussion panel consisting of:

  • Frank Karlitschek, Debian developer and creator of ownCloud
  • Christian Orellana, CEO of Cabo, a company that build enterprise clouds from free software
  • Carsten Agger, local group coordinator in Free Software Foundation Europe and software developer in Magenta, a company that specializes in free software mainly for the Danish public sector.

The event will take place in Open Space Aarhus on

Wednesday, October 1 at 18:00 hours

Do bring  a friend, this is going to be interesting!

 

Technoshamanism: Collaborating with the Pataxó

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One of the more important parts of the 1st Festival of Technoshamanism (previously covered here, here and here) was several points of collaboration with the local Pataxó Indians.

The Pataxó is an indigenous people of about 12,000 people who live in the extreme south of the Brazilian state of Bahia, mainly in the area between Porto Seguro and Caraíva. Traditionally, the Pataxó have lived near Monte Pascoal, in the aldeia or settlement (or “village”) called Barra Velha. In 1951, they suffered a devastating massacre at the hands of the Brazilian military police, who basically burned down the settlement and dispersed the Pataxó, who for many years hereafter often had to be  discreet about their heritage. In the 1980′s and 90′s the Pataxó started fighting for their lands and succesfully reclaimed several of their old settlements, among them the Aldeia Velha located in Arraial d’Ajuda and the area around Monte Pascoal near Caraíva. A retelling of the struggle of the Pataxó for their lands can be found here (in Portuguese).

Today, the Pataxó live in 29 aldeias mainly located in the area between Monte Pascoal and Porto Seguro. Their main source of income is agriculture and tradional craftmanship, and though they have made great advances, their claim to their lands is by no means secure. The area is home to vast financial interests in agrobusiness, who would love to be able to clear what remains of the Atlantic rain forest and plant high-yielding eucalyptus everywhere, and their relationship with the rest of society is still precarious, as craftmanship and tourism are a somewhat insecure financial foundation.

After the massacre, the Pataxó might have opted to simply integrate into Brazilian society, abandon their culture and adopt a more assimilated lifestyle as workers and farm hands. But many of them also recognize that if they fail to conserve their culture, they will disappear and become nothing more than a few thousand urban and rural poor – while if the do conserve their culture and remember who they are, they may yet conserve an incredibly rich historical and cultural heritage.

The collaboration between the Pataxó and the participants in the festival was  natural because the concept of technoshamanism is, as has been discussed, all about reconnecting with ancestral knowledge and a connection to nature. In fact, one of the reasons for selecting Arraial d’Ajuda as the location of the festival was that several of the activists behind the festival already had good relations with the Pataxó. One of those people is Regis “Bailux”, who lives in Arraial and founded the hacklab called “Bailux”. At the festival’s opening (pictured above) Regis explained how his life changed completely ten years ago, when he discovered free software. His passion for free software led him to create Bailux with weekly meetings around free software, and for years he has been working to bring free software and free technology to the Pataxó to enable them to connect to the new digital world. For the Pataxó, collaboration with and solidarity from social movements as well as from other independent people are important, as they may yet need all the support they can get in the struggle for their culture and their land.

As a European and a person from a very different culture, I was honoured to be invited as a friend and a guest of these wonderful people.

The village pajé, or medicine woman, in Aldeia Velha:

Scenes from a wedding and sports contest in Aldeia Velha on April 29, 2014:

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Various snapshots from the village:

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sou indio pataxó

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Elections ’14: Not much to celebrate

The result of the Danish referendum on the European patent court and the unitary patent was, in spite of a rather intense campaign by Prosa, IT-Politisk Forening and Bitbureauet (and, to a lesser extent, our local FSFE group), a clear victory for the “yes” camp. In our defense, the other side had more money and were constantly pounding on the allegation that if the 0,3% of Danish companies that have patents would have to continue validating their patents simultaneously in Denmark, it would somehow destroy the economy. We were also told not to worry about software patents, since the rules explicitly forbid them and of course the European Patent Organization would never issue a software patent. The good news is that very few countries have yet ratified the new patent rules, and the general political squabble may yet mean that the unitary patent may in fact never become a reality. There’s still time to fight against software patents on the European level.

In other news, the nationalist and racist Danish People’s Party gained 26,7% of the votes and is now the largest political party in the country. This could be coupled with the similar victory for the Front National in France. Given our country’s history of xenophobic policies induced by the Danish People’s Party, my analysis of Denmark’s political future is this: “God help us all! Where’s my passport?”

Speaking against the European patent court

This afternoon, I will give a talk at Aarhus University School of Engineering, recommending a no in the upcoming referendum about Denmark’s accession to the unitary patent and the European patent court.

Our main motivation for working against the unitary patent is that the rules about software patents are very unclear, and given a closed-circuit patent-lawyer-only system as created by the European Patent Organization and the court in conjunction, we have every reason to fear the worst. I wrote more about this here.

Below, you can see one of the posters from our campaign. Basically it says that we have to vote NO to patent trolls, as the unitary patent risks creating a patent troll-friendly environment in Europe which did not previously exist.

A NO in the referendum will not immediately help the rest of Europe, but at least unitary patents won’t be valid in Denmark. And, if Denmark votes no because of software patents, and Ireland follows suit in a year’s time when they have their referendum, it may yet help us campaign to change things. And, hopefully, kill software patents (and bio-patents, but that’s another story) once and for all.

Mozilla sells out, adds DRM to Firefox

This is sad and a huge blow to the free software movement, I think.

I’ll just repeat the FSF’s press release, as I can stand by every word:

FSF condemns partnership between Mozilla and Adobe to support Digital Restrictions Management

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA — Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 — In response to Mozilla’s announcement that it is reluctantly adopting DRM in its Firefox Web browser, Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan made the following statement:

“Only a week after the International Day Against DRM, Mozilla has announced that it will partner with proprietary software company Adobe to implement support for Web-based Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in its Firefox browser, using Encrypted Media Extensions (EME).

The Free Software Foundation is deeply disappointed in Mozilla’s announcement. The decision compromises important principles in order to alleviate misguided fears about loss of browser marketshare. It allies Mozilla with a company hostile to the free software movement and to Mozilla’s own fundamental ideals.

Although Mozilla will not directly ship Adobe’s proprietary DRM plugin, it will, as an official feature, encourage Firefox users to install the plugin from Adobe when presented with media that requests DRM. We agree with Cory Doctorow that there is no meaningful distinction between ‘installing DRM’ and ‘installing code that installs DRM.’

We recognize that Mozilla is doing this reluctantly, and we trust these words coming from Mozilla much more than we do when they come from Microsoft or Amazon. At the same time, nearly everyone who implements DRM says they are forced to do it, and this lack of accountability is how the practice sustains itself. Mozilla’s announcement today unfortunately puts it — in this regard — in the same category as its proprietary competitors.

Unlike those proprietary competitors, Mozilla is going to great lengths to reduce some of the specific harms of DRM by attempting to ‘sandbox’ the plugin. But this approach cannot solve the fundamental ethical problems with proprietary software, or the issues that inevitably arise when proprietary software is installed on a user’s computer.

In the announcement, Mitchell Baker asserts that Mozilla’s hands were tied. But she then goes on to actively praise Adobe’s “value” and suggests that there is some kind of necessary balance between DRM and user freedom.

There is nothing necessary about DRM, and to hear Mozilla praising Adobe — the company who has been and continues to be a vicious opponent of the free software movement and the free Web — is shocking. With this partnership in place, we worry about Mozilla’s ability and willingness to criticize Adobe’s practices going forward.

We understand that Mozilla is afraid of losing users. Cory Doctorow points out that they have produced no evidence to substantiate this fear or made any effort to study the situation. More importantly, popularity is not an end in itself. This is especially true for the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit with an ethical mission. In the past, Mozilla has distinguished itself and achieved success by protecting the freedom of its users and explaining the importance of that freedom: including publishing Firefox’s source code, allowing others to make modifications to it, and sticking to Web standards in the face of attempts to impose proprietary extensions.

Today’s decision turns that calculus on its head, devoting Mozilla resources to delivering users to Adobe and hostile media distributors. In the process, Firefox is losing the identity which set it apart from its proprietary competitors — Internet Explorer and Chrome — both of which are implementing EME in an even worse fashion.

Undoubtedly, some number of users just want restricted media like Netflix to work in Firefox, and they will be upset if it doesn’t. This is unsurprising, since the majority of the world is not yet familiar with the ethical issues surrounding proprietary software. This debate was, and is, a high-profile opportunity to introduce these concepts to users and ask them to stand together in some tough decisions.

To see Mozilla compromise without making any public effort to rally users against this supposed “forced choice” is doubly disappointing. They should reverse this decision. But whether they do or do not, we call on them to join us by devoting as many of their extensive resources to permanently eliminating DRM as they are now devoting to supporting it. The FSF will have more to say and do on this in the coming days. For now, users who are concerned about this issue should:

  • Write to Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal and let him know that you oppose DRM. Mozilla made this decision in a misguided appeal to its userbase; it needs to hear in clear and reasoned terms from the users who feel this as a betrayal. Ask Mozilla what it is going to do to actually solve the DRM problem that has created this false forced choice.
  • Join our effort to stop EME approval at the W3C. While today’s announcement makes it even more obvious that W3C rejection of EME will not stop its implementation, it also makes it clear that W3C can fearlessly reject EME to send a message that DRM is not a part of the vision of a free Web.
  • Use a version of Firefox without the EME code: Since its source code is available under a license allowing anyone to modify and redistribute it under a different name, we expect versions without EME to be made available, and you should use those instead. We will list them in the Free Software Directory.
  • Donate to support the work of the Free Software Foundation and our Defective by Design campaign to actually end DRM. Until it’s completely gone, Mozilla and others will be constantly tempted to capitulate, and users will be pressured to continue using some proprietary software. If not us, give to another group fighting against digital restrictions.”

References

Participating in the 1st International Festival for Technoshamanism

This Monday, I’ll be boarding a plane for Brazil in order to attend the First International Festival of Technoshamanism, which will take place from April 23 to April 30 in Arraial d’Ajuda, Bahia.

Which kind of raises the question: What is “technoshamanism”?

It can best be described as an attempt to unite science with religion, and to integrate the worldview of indigenous peoples like the South American Indians with modern technology. It is also about finding a new way for humanity in the era we could call the anthropocene, where not only indigenous people all over the world, but practically speaking all of us arfe threatened with impending destruction.

In that respect, and in integrating the indigenous worldview, technoshamanism is inspired by the perspecitvism introduced by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. This includes an epistemological inversion, where the split between living, conscious human beings and the “dead” Nature inherent in European thought is replaced with a more general view of the world, where animals and things can be considered “living” and “conscious” as well, albeit usually in another way. In that sense, Viveiros’ perspectivism could be considered a formalization and generalization of an Amerindian philosophy.

There’s a more comprehensive explanation available in an article by Brazilian writer and pshychologist Fabiane Borges, which was the basis of her presentation at Transmediale 2014 (in Berlin). I’ve translated this article to from Portuguese to English, and it’s now available as a PDF here.

Borges describes Viveiros’ perspectivism as follows:

The difference between the evolutionary and the Amerindian perspective is that the former believes that there is one nature and many cultures, while the latter thinks of it as many natures and one culture. For the Indian, the only culture that exists is human culture. Everything that exists is human. A stone, the moon, a river, a jaguar, the deceased – all of these are human, but they are dressed in different clothes, behave differently and have different views on reality. For the Indians, a meeting of shamans may mean the same thing as that of a congregation of tapirs in a mudhole – each group is performing its own rituals.

Of course, if we delve into the differences between groups, we will find different priorities for each species and a particular creation myth for each of them, but the important thing here is to understand that the human foundation shared by all beings also serves to connect them and keeps them in a state of constant communication. This understanding is very important: behind the nature of a stone lies a human culture which is also the basis for inter-species communication. (…)

The shaman is a kind of diplomat who has the ability to assume several of these points of view. He is able to contact all those different forms; he can change his clothes and visit the points of view of many different beings. There may be a pact between him and those beings, a mutual affinity but also a repulsion. He is able to leave his own point of view behind and see himself from the outside and see the Indians of his tribe from the point of view of the tree or of the birds, the moon, the stars, or any other object or material. This ability means that the shaman has a deeper insight into the nature of things than most Indians, because he has improved this technique by intense training. That is why his madness, his schizofrenia and his perceptual deviation is considered to be wisdom.

Such a worldview, however, doesn’t always match modern society very well. Borges discusses the French sociologist Bruno Latour and his distinction between “humans” and “earthbound”, where the “earthbound” are those who are more bound to our planet and its well-being, while the “humans” are more dedicated to human society, not least its financial aspects:

On one side we have the poor, dirty bums: lazy, retarded, subjectivist infantile hippies, losers, misfits, spiritualists, barbarians. On the other side the urban people, committed to modernity, growth, development, enrichment, security, productivity, objectivity, and expansionism. These opposed camps are, in spite of not being very clearly defined, disputing modes of existence and ways of relating to Earth and to Life itself.

The point here is, that in the overall economic management of our Western societies (or of all the world’s societies, if we want to tell the truth) the “earthbound” are losing or being neglected, while the “humans” are dominating; “financial responsibility” dictates constant “growth”, i.e., we must burn down the planet in order to preserve it. But if we want to survive in the long run, we might do worse than starting listening in earnest to the earthbound, or at least to the scientists from the IPCC.

Technoshamanism, by following this thread, becomes a kind of spiritual search for everything for which there is no room in the harsh realities of modern industrial societies. It thus becomes a philosophy of garbage – of all the things we routinely throw away: Madness, hallucinations, nonconformity, the compassion for the unemployed and the sick and the poor in general, if and when they are perceived as obstructive to the juggernaut of growth. This means that even though the refuses of society are not necessarily healthy, we are obliged to search for our lost humanity precisely on the garbage heap.

Borges summarizes this position as follows:

This is equivalent to saying that technoshamanism apart from arising directly from a transversal shamanism is also dirty and noiseocratic. It belongs in the garbage dump, is unclean. A significant part of what technoshamanism affirms originates in the leftovers of scientific thinking, from precarious laboratories, uncertain knowledge, hacking, electronic garbage, workarounds, cats, originates from the recycling of materials, from the duplication of already thoroughly tested scientific results.

To this we may add particular questions from social movements related to feminism, to the movements of queers, of blacks, for free software, of the landless, of indigenous people, of river communities, of homeless people and the unemployed among countless others who also perceive through their own noises, their own dissidency, their own garbage.

The last paragraph also tells us what this has to do with free software. In fact, the festival is arranged in close collaboration with the local hacklab Bailux, whose volunteers for several years now have been working with the Indians from the nearby Aldeia Velha to do things with free software; precisely, among other things, helping the Indians preserve their ancestral knowledge using free software. The Brazilian hacker bus, one of the “crown jewels” of a local hacker movement which is completely dedicated to political change through free software, will be driving down to the festival from São Paulo. So, while the overall political and philosophical ideas behind the festival are not related to free software as such, they have everything to do with a culture where free software is completely ingrained. And that, one might add, is not without its own significance.

Links:

FSFE in the news

I’ve been quoted in the Danish newspaper Arbejderen (“The Labourer”) under the headline “IT Employees Launch Campaign Against the Patent Court“. The campaign is  about the upcoming referendum on the Danish accession to the new EU-wide Unified Patent and the related Unified Patent Court. The work of the FSFE and especially our Fellowship group is mentioned.

It is very important to campaign for a “no” in this referendum, since the Unified Patent will make the current problems with software patents from the European Patent Office much worse. If Denmark votes no, its businesses will be at least partially shielded from European-wide enforcement of software patents. The campaign is organized by PROSA and the IT-Political Association of Denmark.

This is more relevant than ever, as the EPO now openly admits that “technical software” can be patented.

See this, and this.

The quote is:

Carsten Agger is active in the IT-Political Association of Denmark and in  Open Space Aarhus, an association of people interested in technology[1].

He is also a coordinator in the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) which fights for the right to develop and distribute software freely.

This Friday, the FSFE joined a campaign to ask all  candidates for the upcoming elections for the European Parliament to join a pact which states that free software is a common good which is worth fighting for.

If you want to read the rest of the article, I propose you use Google Translate, as I don’t have the time to translate all of it.

Tonight, there’s going to be a public meeting in Aarhus to launch the new campaign against software patents and the Unified Patent. I hope there’s going to be a lot of people and that we can get the “no”. That could also help get the movement against software patent going in all of Europe.

Our local group in Aarhus will contribute as much to the campaign as it can. The patent court and the referendum will be the subject of our next fellowship meeting on February 20.

Notes:

[1]: Also called a HACKERSPACE. That’s the term we prefer.

[2]: Actually, the original article states that the FSFE launched that campaign. This is wrong and is not what I told the journalist. APRIL has launched it, the FSFE and specifically our local group wants to join it. The journalist has now fixed this in the online edition.

Free software, technology and curiosity – celebrating 30 years of GNU

[ Celebrate 30 years of GNU! ]

On October 5, 2010, I gave a tech talk about free software at Open Space Aarhus, the only and at the time very new hackerspace in Aarhus. The talk was scheduled in celebration of Free Software Foundation’s 25th birthday the day before.

After giving the talk, I wrote a longish article from my notes, explaining free software from a non-programming but technical and scientific point of view. Today, I have published the article on my Danish-language blog in celebration of 30 years with the GNU project, and you’re free to read it and share it as you want.

Well, if you can read Danish, at any rate. If you want to get an impression of the article, you can try reading the Google Translated version. I can’t guarantee for its accuracy, though. But happy belated birthday to the GNU project, and especially to the rest of us who enjoy its fruits every day when we boot up our computer.

Link: Fri software, nysgerrighed og teknologi (Google translated).

Open Data – how to make it succeed, how to make it fail

This is a talk I gave on September 26th as part of an Ignite session for the hackathon Hack4DK. The hackathon was organized by the Danish Agency for Culture and was centered around recently released cultural heritage data. The talk was an Ignite talk, which means I had to talk exactly five minutes, accompanied by exactly twenty slides (PDF) which display for exactly fifteen seconds each.

Below, the actual speech I gave:

As you can read in the program for this event, I’m a software engineer at Magenta and a board member at Open Space Aarhus, our local community hackerspace. I am also an active Fellow of Free Software Foundation Europe.

This means that my background is in professional free software development AND in the hacker community around Open Space Aarhus. You might say that I represent a hacker’s point of view.

In free (or “open source”) software, the things you need to be able to do with a program are quickly described: You need to be legally entitled to USE, STUDY, CHANGE and DISTRIBUTE the software you work with. This enables sharing and user freedom and avoids expensive licensing.

In the hacker community, our slogan is, somewhat more playfully:

Build what you need, share what you build

AND

Be awesome (and have fun).

From both perspectives the requirements for open data are the same: We must be legally entitled to use them AND to share them – to distribute them ourselves.

If I am to build a free software app from your data, anyone must be allowed to use it, for any purpose. If people are to share what I build, it must be legal for them to do so. If not, my users might get sued.

This means that open data must always concede their users the following rights:

  • A free license, for instance the Creative Commons license used by Wikipedia
  • Redistribution and copying must be allowed
  • The data must be available in formats following open standards

Conversely, data are NOT open if they

  • have a license that limits commercial use in any way, or
  • don’t have a FREE license, or
  • if they don’t have any license at all, or
  • if they are only available in closed or patented formats.

Apps built on such data are not freely hackable and distributable as embodied e.g. in the Open Definition (http://opendefinition.org/okd/).

People from Wikipedia, from Creative Commons and from a plethora of excellent organizations have spoken at last year’s Hack4DK event, and everybody contributing to this year’s event should be aware of these things. But if I look at this year’s contributors of data, several present data with no license or with non-open licenses which are useless from an open data perspective.

One site affirms that its data are experimental and not to be used for commercial purposes. I wouldn’t dream of touching such data in an “open” context like a hackathon.

Worse, the data in question are apparently graphical renderings of maps that are hundreds of years old and thus in the public domain. So these contributors are not just offering data, they are simultaneously removing these data from the public domain and limiting their usefulness to the public.

On another site I find lots of nice and useful data – but, in many cases, no license!

I might claim good faith and use the data anyway, but if no license is given this implied permission could always be revoked and my customers might get sued. I do trust their good intentions, but I frankly think that someone who choose to call themselves “Open Data Aarhus” should know better than that.

And finally, an image offered for download by an art museum is accompanied by very hostile copyright language – which is also pointless, as that statue passed into the public domain centuries ago.

The point here is: If you want to open your data, don’t do it grudgingly. You don’t need hostile copyright language; what you do need is a nice and clear license allowing everybody to use, share, remix and distribute your data.

Cultural heritage data could play a very important part in a free and open society. The possibilities are virtually endless. But we must be free to use them.

Put your data out there under a clear, permissive and non-revokable license and allow users and businesses to share and redistribute them.

In that way a lot of very valuable knowledge and a lot of very valuable works of art may form the basis of many valuable contributions to our modern, digital culture.

Happy hacking! And thanks for having me here today.

I believe the organizers recorded the event on video, and I’ll post the video here as well when it’s available – which is, unfortunately, not just yet.