Stuff Pete’s Thinking About

I realised it’s been months since I wrote anything for myself, and that might explain why I’m feeling a little constipated in the brain-department, so I need a method of loosening all those ideas up without the pressure of turning them into coherent explanations or statements, and that’s what this ever-evolving blog is now going to be now. A place where I sketch out stuff that’s floating through my brain in the hope that it’s useful both to me as an exercise and to you as something to ponder.

Anti-semitism in the Labour party has been on my mind for a long while. Initially I was cautiously dismissive as conflating criticisms of Israel-as-a-state with bigotry to Jews-as-a-race always feels like a bit of a stretch. And it feels like a given that those “of the left” are going to be the anti-racists, the anti-bigots. Look at all the great leftist Jewish heroes! Socialism would be nothing without the Jews! But of course it’s not that simple.

Two articles of late nailed it for me. John Harris’s Why do antisemites think Labour is the party for them? and Jonathan Freedland’s For 2,000 years we’ve linked Jews to money. It’s why antisemitism is so ingrained.

It would appear that leftists are just as susceptible to conspiracy bollocks as the right, which is depressingly not a surprise really, and that our lot can be dragged astray by YouTube’s sidebar of doom or Twitter’s abstraction of nuance as much as their lot. In some ways it reassuring to know that the corporate social silos aren’t just producing fascists - they’re weaponising ideologies into all sorts of unhealthy comfort zones. Algorithmic shaping of humanity into furious bigot-bots is a politically neutral thing.

Related to this, probably, is Olly’s Philosophy Tube’s piece on Brexit which isn’t really about Brexit, thank god, but more about figuring out what democracy is actually for. He splices his video essay with an analysis of the film Arrival, which I like a lot, specifically the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis or Linguistic relativity. This argues that the language we use affects how we process our perception of the world, a common idea amongst the bilingual who will switch languages they think with.

My train of thought led me down the path of language and literacy in the broadest sense, about how it serves as way to frame, contextualise and connect abstracted ideas in our brains, and how it doesn’t have to be words. I’m using words here to corral my ideas into lines that make sense, but it’s just an organising system like many others. I could use a mind-map, or a mood-board or some other graphical system. I could use some code that takes an input of ideas and organises them through some algorithmic pattern matching. I could put them on Twitter and see what happens. Hell, I could write them in a newsletter which is then processed by your brains.

I’ve identified this kind of thinking as related to Vilém Flusser’s ideas about cameras, specifically that the system that designed the camera is as much an author of the image as the photographer, and that the practice of photography is a collaboration between the human and the camera-as-programmed-device. This can be a fruitful collaboration, but it cannot be dismissed. The Medium is the Message, and all that.

But it hadn’t really occurred to me that this applies as much language-shaped things as much as physical objects and computational systems. Language is a tool and it is shaped as much by external forces as by ourselves. And language is not just systems like English and French but the countless non-verbal and systemic ways we communicate stuff between humans.

I haven’t made any art over the winter. Partly this is because I’ve been too busy to do much at all for myself, which hasn’t been a massive problem as I’ve been enjoying it all on the whole. After a couple of bumps I think I’ve found how to balance my 3-day-week job at Loaf with my freelance work and the next year feels like it should go well.

No art production also hasn’t been a massive problem as my inability to knuckle down and make something has given me a bit of space to consider why I might need art in my life, especially now I’ve pretty much decided I don’t want to be An Artist in the professional sense.

I found myself going back to the start of this “I might be an artist” adventure where I’d done a bunch of what I then called “projects” (they’d now be “works” because language matters LOL) which, in aggregate, looked a bit like an art practice. Since then I’ve effectively tried to reverse engineer that into an art practice than produces works (projects) that give me the same satisfaction, and while it hasn’t been a failure it’s kinda left me a bit stuck, second guessing the outcomes of things before I even start them.

I reminded myself the other day that the fundamental power of art is letting other people see the world as you see it, and the way you do that is by showing them stuff you made. That’s it. It might not work, but it’s that simple.

And it can be anything. It could be this blog post.

I chose the art world because it gave me much more space and freedom to do stuff than the internet culture stuff I was playing around in. I wonder if I’ve found the edges of the art world now and I need something bigger, something less defined. Of course that could be fatal. One always needs a framework.

You might notice I’ve moved the email arm of this communication operation away from Tinyletter to Buttondown, a newsletter service that lets me write in Markdown and isn’t owned by Mailchimp, who are giving me the bad-tastes with their surveillance-capitalism of late. (Sidenote - if anyone knows of a more ethical Mailchimp alternative for marketing emails, please let me know). Buttondown seems OK so far, but the beauty of a newsletter is I can move this list again if I feel the need.

OK, that’s enough bloodletting for today. I feel better now. Thanks for reading, as ever.