A Visit from the Left

The five communists arrived in a trickle to my company’s Bay Area offices. First Geoff and Jake, bringing some good-natured grumbling about the difficulties of hosting Frank, who was visiting from Germany. I had prepared a batch of fresh bagels. “Was the salmon raised in an ethical manner?” Frank asked immediately upon arrival, assuming my bourgeoise sensibility, emitting a satisfying laugh at my response: “it would be unethical to serve bagels without salmon.”

Frank took out a page of handwritten notes. I was in the center of an operating theater: there was a conversation, but also a clear didacticism. Frank was modeling to the younger generation a style of argumentation—with the enemy, me—and this gave a tenderness to balance the harshness of his analysis.

We spoke of rules and rule, grasping for evidence of capitalism’s particularities. Why did the chapter on lawyers (from The Jobs of the Elite, published by their fellow revolutionary thinkers in the 80s) open with a tale of domestic abuse? Frank asked, seemingly holding back a deep answer that would vindicate the wisdom of the text, or else puzzled at the text, or some combination of the two. Frank married his girlfriend so she could take him off life-support, if need be. Various digressions into the personal, into our individual compromises with the systems and memories around us, as if they would take us to an answer.

Frank’s mother was a California pothead hippie, his explanation for his dislike of secondhand smoke. And yet there was something of a stoner’s wonder to him. Stripping the world down to the manufactured antagonisms of individuals, the pathology of capitalism and incessant competition, he had a shaman’s inkling of another way of being. The room held its collective breath imagining the institution of roads and traffic lights and mass agreements without the need for a police state to enforce standards that nobody would have any reason to oppose. I was assigned the role of technocrat, who could simply figure out a correct answer to various social matters. A collective calm: no speeding tickets, because we needn’t be in such a rush without capital’s incessant demands.

The next day, I visited the headquarters of our corporate lawyers for the first time, meeting in person the three-person team that had been working around the clock for the past weeks on the 632-page financing documents that bound 27 pages of signatures and the distribution of several million dollars “worth” of shares into a single venture. They appreciate working with startups because we’re creative, they said, unlike themselves. They leave the office by six or seven, commute and dine for an hour or so, and then sign back online from home. The conversation drifted to seniority and property ownership: you could tell how long someone has been at the firm by their home’s distance to the office in Palo Alto, which now priced out a young lawyer. A recent home purchase drew one lawyer’s retired father to town at his own initiative to renovate, but she feared the entanglements and obligations that would likely result. She didn’t think to use her trade to draw up a contract or agreement.

This was the same firm that represented the fraudulent medical testing company Theranos, but they only did the corporate work, and that with their usual diligence, nothing to be ashamed of, they represent many firms, they told me. How different is the everyday experience at two organizations, one of which is premised on an outright lie? Is it a rotten core on which no healthy flesh may hang or a molten core around which with some luck can bind a peaceful and serene surface? Is even imagining a “core” to human organizational relations an implicit ideology that denies networked and emergent behaviors?

Central to the work of programmers is “reification,” to make ideas more “concrete,” to swim in metaphors and mathematical models, routines and subroutines, automation and interaction. There is a constant negotiation between one’s personal vocabulary and the mechanisms that connect one’s work to society, either through an exchange of source code, a network protocol or hardware interface, a lexicon of interactions, or the syntax, nouns, and verbs in a synthetic “language” of expression. The designers of the archetypal “C” programming language promoted humility. De-bugging a program is twice as hard as creating one, they said, because you must understand not only how it was supposed to work, but where it went wrong. They therefore advised writing programs in the simplest possible way. I often think of social analysis as a debugging process, tracing observed behavior to underlying cause, which may or may not be intentional or even within the system you’re debugging. To propose a revolutionary utopia is to gander at perturbing a deeply held assumption.

A constant temptation of the programmer is to challenge an abstraction or assumption that others hold. The virtual is synonymous with the possible: what if a “bit” of information were tri-state, as the Soviets designed it? what if the World Wide Web had links that worked in both directions? what if computer programs were pure mathematical functions rather than imperative procedures? what if a society could allocate resources directly from abilities to needs?

As far as I could tell, the impasse in my conversation with the comrades hinged on assumptions concerning the intrinsic difficulties of collaboration. I find glimmers of alignment between humans to be a hard-won triumph, not a natural order disturbed. It strikes me that corporate lawyers, with echos of violent imperialism in every paragraph they emit, do hold some insight into a challenging and poorly-understood process of consensus-building.

We took a walk from the office to the top of Dolores park and tried to name the trees. A homeless man carried out a conversation with himself and Frank theorized that this was a rare sight now that cellphones have normalized the practice. Moments later, another ragged monologue, this one carrying a frightening and volatile memory of Vietnam. We shared an extended silence for the first time, offering no theories or criticisms or anecdotes until distance returned us to a sense of physical safety.

I left surprised with my reflection in the eyes of these visitors and thinking of my lonely years trying to live a life in line with my beliefs and collective possibility, even if my beliefs in those years were inchoate and in formation. As they still are.

Starship 19: Apokolypse of the praktikal moment - Cover Nora Schultz
  1. Whales Nora Schultz
  2. John Boskovich John Boskovich
  3. Anonymus Place Nong Shoahua
  4. Plants and Fruits Rosa Aiello
  5. Freedom and control of others (including myself) Cornelia Herfurtner
  6. Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis in 5 chapters Jack Smith
  7. Talking with Elizabeth Ravn Julia Jung
  8. Entropic Delusional Culture Eric D. Clark
  9. How to tell a story? Francesca Drechsler
  10. A Visit from the Left Robert M. Ochshorn
  11. Lies don’t fact. On voices and fake news Mihaela Chiriac
  12. Unwirklichkeit und Wirklichkeit von sozialem Sadismus Stephan Janitzky
  13. things are scattered Max Schmidtlein
  14. Inferius Sorbilis Tinctura Elijah Burgher
  15. Looking like a human cat Stephanie Fezer, Vera Tollmann
  16. María Galindo Maria Galindo
  17. Introducing the parliament of bodies Paul B. Preciado
  18. Spukken trippen 2 Lars Bang Larsen
  19. Pieces and Masterpieces Jakob Kolding
  20. Still Lifes Vera Palme
  21. Nullerjahre Tenzing Barshee
  22. No Dandy, No Fun Hans-Christian Dany, Valérie Knoll
  23. Triplets Mark von Schlegell
  24. Kontaktlos ist nicht der Standard Ulla Rossek
  25. The Mythology of Modern Law David Bussel
  26. Another Fish Story Jay Chung
  27. A biographical interview with Huang Rui Ariane Müller, Huang Rui, Bei Dao, Mang Ke, Gu Cheng
  28. dp how many times Karl Holmqvist
  29. Save digital tech Mercedes Bunz
  30. Two dark patches Haytham El-Wardany
  31. Reflecting in Sizes Yuki Kimura
  32. Amazon Worker Cage Simon Denny
  33. La Escuela Nueva Florian Zeyfang, Lisa Schmidt-Colinet, Alexander Schmoeger
  34. I hope you keep in mind you and I are left behind Michèle Graf, Selina Grüter
  35. da ich nichts weiter tue als mich in mir umzutun Elisa R. Linn
  36. Basketcase part 1 Gerry Bibby
  37. A conversation between Daniel Herleth and Samuel Jeffery Daniel Herleth, Samuel Jeffery
  38. Dear Starship Julian Göthe
  39. The Boulders Amelie von Wulffen
  40. Other people's clothes Carter Frasier
  41. Damn Forest Mark van Yetter
  42. Imprint 19 Starship
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