power makes violence a home

power uses violence to create an inside

power has windows and curtains

power has arms creating distance between eyes and hands

power maintains a safe space for violence

power is fertile ground for shallow justification

power makes violence just

power makes justice directional

power makes violence necessary

power doesn’t know how and when to let go

When I am moved to speak, I don’t have the words yet.

I become a boat pushed onto water, wiggling with unguided potential.

I become an untrained runner hearing the starting signal, ready for a false start.

I become a bent match breaking without a spark.

If language is supposed to be a medium, a mediator, an adapter, how come it feels like a wall to run against, a hole to squeeze through, a confinement to burst out of?

Leuchtende Flächen strahlen mir in den Sinn,
jeder Ausschnitt ist für sich bedeutungslos.

Formen erscheinen mir durch Erinnerung,
mit der ich das Gewirr ertaste.

Die Idee der Ferne ist niemals fern,
sondern immer hier.

Dort bist du für dich
mir hier.

This is a post about collective action.

But let’s rewind to the beginning.

Bacteria are weird birds: instead of having a specific audible call that allows them to identify members of their own species — “Me! I am here! I am me! I am here!”—bacteria emit and receive an identifying chemical which tells them whether enough of their own kind are in the same place, in which case they can justify spending energy on individual action which translates into collective action (this is called “quorum sensing”, see video below).

One chemical for an entire species.

Within such a group, in and through their chemical language, they are all the same.

Human language is incredibly complex. Why would we need such a complex mesh of meaning to identify ourselves and identify others? We could also ask the question in a way that puts us in a more passive position: what justifies such complexity for the purpose of being identified, being made visible, audible to other participants in the medium of language, more or less consciously and intentionally?

One answer might be that identification is only one function of language and so you wouldn’t expect its complexity to be justifiable solely by that.

But consider the implications and consequences of identity rephrased not just as a superficial label, but as a characterization of who we are, how we relate to others, what trajectory we are on, who we share experiences with, what we want to work towards: by that meaning, it becomes difficult to draw a boundary around identity and separate it from aspects of life independent of it.

When I say, through my varied elaborately assembled audible or visible sculptures, strings of words, signs: “this is me, I am here” and, through the responses I receive, I feel seen and accepted: that is a connection, a first step towards acting together.

Birds find each other over long distances. “Come over here!”

Bacteria team up for collective action when they’ve reached a sufficient density. “We are many.”

And humans?
How do we act collectively?

Sometimes a hurt psyche doesn’t need the soothing touch of harmony bathed in rainbow light; sometimes what it needs is to have its particular shape and configuration matched by a relentless, shrieking thunder repeatedly covering up the seedling of hoping for release until through acceptance it grows strong enough to break through the ceiling, growing within, through, out of, and beyond it.

What I look for in a conversation, apart from just being together, is shared discovery, a collaborative extending, shifting, reshaping of our worlds, like putting two hands on a piece of clay, yours and mine, entering into a dialogue with it through the touch of our fingers, but instead of fingers and clay, there is only a complex web of traces we know how to follow, paths we know how to tread, up until the point where a step in a direction is suggested to us from the outside, the other, whose web we are given selective access to as a source of undiscovered associations, new paths that are neither mine nor yours but ours.

An excuse can be a sponge soaking up potential.
“I wasn’t really trying as hard as I could.”

An excuse can be a way of hiding yourself from your own view.
“I wasn’t really into it that much anyway.”

An excuse can be an inner contradiction.
“I wasn’t myself.”

With excuses we find ways to reject and at the same time justify what is and what was. If there is something that shouldn’t be, a suitable excuse can deflate the differential. By identifying a cause as an excuse, the effect becomes legitimized, rationalized, naturalized. “It may not be nice, but at least it makes sense.”

Saying goodbye to excuses can be painful.
“I really tried. And yet, I failed. I wish I hadn’t tried quite as hard. Then at least I would have an excuse.”

Allowing ourselves to care about some things, and especially some people, deeply, to leave no room for excuses, raises the stakes. What previously may have seemed like a game or a dream we could just exit and dismiss as insignificant becomes inescapably real. Real tensions, real failures, real successes, real satisfaction, real connection, real acceptance and acceptedness.

By growing out of excuses, we become able to open up to others.
“This is me. I am here with you. I care about you. I support you. I want you in my life. I want us to be real.”

Goodbye, excuses.

We know that sound is pressure fluctuations over time. And we know that a vinyl record is a translation of pressure fluctuations over time into space. As the needle moves through the grooves at a constant speed, sound is reproduced in time.

Now imagine a special room in which air pressure at every point in space is controlled so precisely that you can walk through it and hear a sound. You can walk faster to hear the sound speed up and become higher pitched, backwards to hear it backwards. Stop and you hear nothing: you just experience the particular air pressure at that point in space.

A physical installation of air pressure fluctuations in space.

A sound installation.

Reflecting on my 15-year-old self with the concepts and experience I have now, it seems to me that I was drawn to drumming because it felt abstract, because the meaning it constructs can’t be translated into any other form.

Drumming is physical. Drumming (and this is no coincidence) is emotional expression in the same way dancing is: not reliant on words, or even symbols. On the surface, drumming divides time, but underneath, it creates space for the body to be in time, and time for the body to be in space. Even the simplest of phrases, a single hit repeated at regular intervals, creates space for bodies to be: here, here, here, here. Add the most minimal variation and you get movement: left, right, left, right. Bring in differentiation of frequency ranges and you bring awareness and mobility to hips, shoulders, ellbows, hands, finger tips.

Drumming helps a body be grounded without becoming immovable. It helps a body be here without getting stuck in an anxious memory of being here. We can be here while also going forward, forward in time. Here, here, here, here. Drumming is an interactive reminder of the fact that going anywhere with intention and awareness is only possible because our being here is itself dynamic. Being here is movement.

It becomes a bit more obvious how limited the scope of science is if we summarize what it is about in a way that emphasizes its inherent restriction rather than its expansiveness:

Science is about what we can all know about the world.

I’d like to emphasize the “we all” part. A search for universals is necessarily quite limited compared to the vast space of anything that doesn’t fit the strict requirements of universalizability.

And then there is the aspect of knowledge. While some degree of knowledge can enhance our ability to appreciate certain experiences, it is not generally a precondition. Being emotionally manipulated by a skilled speaker is one example. A baby crying for mysterious reasons is another. In both cases, it is precisely a specific lack of knowledge that is required to experience them.

Our separate streams of individual experiences, the taste of an orange, the complexities of our daily interactions with people, our ever-changing and evolving personal attempts at making sense of it all, our intentions and what motivates them, our sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad: those are not in the realm of “what we can all know about the world.”

Sure, we can sciencify all of that by asking many people questions, grouping their responses and applying fancy variants of counting, but what can be gained by doing that will always be at least one level removed from the real deal.

There are things we can know individually that will never be in the (admittedly surprisingly voluminous) bucket of what everyone (in principle, if given access) can know. And there are things we can experience individually that knowledge itself doesn’t give us access to.

Appendix

Imagine science on a date.

1

Science: “Tell me something about yourself that anyone should be able to confirm.”
Date: *leaves the scene*

2

Science [preparing for a date]: “How might I disprove the hypothesis that we are a good match?”

3

Science [preparing for a date]: “Taking into account confirmation bias, it would be wise for me to prioritize excluding false positives.”

Science [after the date]: “Welp. Maybe, under certain circumstances, this could have been good, but it wasn’t.”

we remember so we can find again.

so if we don’t need to find something again because we know there will always be more, then we don’t need to remember.

but how can we know that there will be more?

that, too, we need memory for. by remembering that there were other moments than the present one, we free ourselves of an unduly attachment to the now.

this here right now is good, but i don’t need to hold onto it anxiously, because i’ve allowed other moments to leave a trace.

my memories orient me.

Whiteness: the luxury
of seeing yourself
as human first
and everything else second

Consistent with that:
what is available to any human being
must also be available to you,
because “we are all human”

The entitlement to take from anyone
rides on the saddle
of defining human universality
from the perspective of power

It is true, we are all human.
But not in that sense.