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EsoZone Portland 2011 starts tomorrow! Here’s some brainfood you might enjoy as you prepare for the event:

1. Technoccult Interview with Tom Henderson Prepare for Tom’s talk on Friday by getting up to speed on his ideas:

1) People use the average Joe’s poor mathematics as a way to control, exploit, and numerically fuck him over.

2) Mathematics is the subject in which, regardless of what the authorities tell you is true, you can verify every last iota of truth, with a minimum of equipment.

Therefore, if you are concerned with the empowerment of everyday people, and you believe that it’s probably a good idea to be skeptical of authority you could do worse than to develop your skills at being able to talk math in such a way that anyone can ask questions, can express curiosity, can imagine applying it in the most weird-ass off-the-wall ways possible.

This does not entirely mesh well with the actual practice of learning mathematics, because that is mostly time spent alone or in small groups being very very confused almost all the time, but it’s still the bullseye I keep in mind.

2. The Rise of Digital Hipsterism by Eric Schiller. Eric’s going to be talking about this idea and delving into some particular examples:

Digital hipsterism is purely anti-intellectual. Depth of research and well reasoned arguments are not valued, but merely the appearance of depth is regarded as the ideal. Criticism is dismissed by way of suggesting that the criticizer is ‘just being negative,’ that they should go and do something else ‘useful’ by creating a movement of their own, or that they simply aren’t sophisticated enough to understand the new paradigm being created.

3. In TED We Trust. I like to think of EsoZone as the anti-TED:

Any critique of TED that focuses exclusively on the conferences’ guest lists has the grating tendency to veer off into the sweat-damp world of Alex Jones-style conspiracy theories. TED doesn’t represent a looming plot to establish any sort of menacing “New World Order.” It represents the world order as it exists now, one on the wane. With TED, an assortment of “Davos men”—a term coined by the late Samuel Huntington, referring to the handful of hyper-wealthy men who transcend national boundaries and see things like governments as scalable nuisances—have shifted the popular image of the elite from that of privileged, authoritarian “masters of mankind” to that of kindly wise men (and women) who just want to share their alchemistic “ideas worth spreading,” ideas that could turn our gloomy world of lead into a shimmering gold planet.

There’s something irritating, if not infuriating, about listening to exhortations to “do something” from people who are or were in the position to do exactly that. Perhaps, though, we should feel lucky that the TED class is so apparently lazy or incompetent. The problem of TED isn’t with who presents the talks or that the proposals found therein are seemingly, tragically beyond our grasp; the problem is the ideas themselves.

Taken individually, there’s nothing particularly dangerous or upsetting found in most TED Talks, certainly nothing that would warrant a mass run for the hills. Please, don’t lose sleep worrying that a speech on AIDS activism by Annie Lennox is going to kick-start a putsch. And please, do listen to Ken Robinson’s incredibly moving TED Talk on education reform—I dare you not to tear up a little. However, the numerous presentations seen and heard at TED are informed by the same larger vision: that scientific and technological advancements can fundamentally overturn the human condition, and for the better. History books are littered with human wreckage strewn in the wake of similar utopian thinking.

See also: The Liberal Communists of Porto Davos

4. An Invocation Against the Inevitable. That said, it can’t be all doom and gloom:

Skilluminati Research has been a very cynical project…until now. Change of policy: there are no sufficient excuses for inaction. There is no point to all this research if I’m not capable of using it for something real. What interests me now is Synthesis. How can we build a politics that takes all of this horrible shit for granted and still provides a master plan?

In 2011, Hope and Change are hollow brand names and representative Democracy itself is hollowed out, broken for decades. Distrust of government has gone from a fringe position to a bipartisan consensus. If you think all that adds up to a “Now is the Time” pep talk, you’re not hearing me at all. We are more fucked than ever. The situation is not “ripe,” it is fundamentally out of control and irreversible. …so what then?

5. Occupy to Self Manage. The “General Assembly” format employed by Occupy and the concept of the Unconference feel related, and it’s impossible not to feel like the Occupy movement is on the precipice of something. What can the Unconference learn from Occupy and vice versa? I don’t know, but this is a good starting point:

Greek and Spanish activists said that at assemblies initially people spoke with incredible passion of their plights and desires. Their voices often broke. Their hands shook. Each time someone rose to speak, something real, passionate, and persistent happened. It was enchanting and exciting. People were learning not only new facts and interpretations – and, indeed, that kind of learning was relatively modest – they were also learning new confidence and new modes of engaging with others. But after days and then weeks, the flavor of the talks shifted. From being new folks speaking passionately and recounting their reasons for being present and their hopes for their future by delivering deeply felt and quite unique stories, the speakers shifted toward being more seasoned or habituated folks, who lectured attendees with prepackaged views. The lines of speakers became overwhelmingly male. Their deliveries became overwhelmingly rehearsed. Listening to robotic repetition and frequent predictable and almost text-like ranting got boring and alienating. Sometimes it was even demeaning.

At the same time, new people, who were still far more prevalent, didn’t know what to do while they were occupying. We could assemble, they reported. We could talk and engage with each other. We could listen to others and sometimes debate a bit – the Greek and Spanish Assemblers reported – but, how long could we do that and feel it was worth the time we had to spend away from our families, friends, and jobs, not to mention from rooms with a roof?

See also: Occupy Wall Street – New Maps for Shifting Terrain