Owning Is the New Sharing

What if we owned the Internet? Would we get paid for our likes and comments? What privacy policies would we write for ourselves?

Last month, the Silicon Valley-based network Shareable dispatched me to write a report on the growing movement to experiment with new forms of economic democracy online. The folks at Shareable recognized that, more and more, the so-called “sharing economy” is being recognized as extractive and invasive. In search of alternatives, I looked at cooperatives, networks of freelancers, cryptocurrencies, and more. A popular mantra among sharing-economy boosters has been “sharing is the new owning.” What I found is the opposite: Read my report at Shareable.net.

As soon as the article appeared last week, I started hearing from entrepreneurs and activists around the world who were excited about it. Trebor Scholz, who recently hosted an extraordinary conference on digital labor at the New School, told me that he had been polishing an article on the same topic. It’s up now at Medium, and is a helpful companion to mine: “Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy.”

So old that it looks like new?

I said that this stuff is new, but I was kind of lying. Lately I’ve been trying to keep my eye out for things that are old and new at the same time—or, as Catholic Worker founder Peter Maurin put it, “so old that it looks like new.” That’s why I also wrote about cooperative ownership in my latest column for America magazine, with a focus on the long legacy of Catholic cooperativism, from monastic communities to Mondragon, the largest network of cooperatives in the world.

In the column, I said that this tradition is mostly dormant in the United States and should be awakened—but readers wrote back to tell me that, happily, I was wrong. Though they’re not terribly visible, faith-driven cooperatives are making a comeback. Pope Francis once recalled something he heard his father say about cooperativism: “It goes forward slowly, but it is sure.”

This deeper kind of sharing is present in many traditions—especially those suffering gross injustice. As we wrestle to come to terms with the disparities of economic and police power that plague our communities, now is a good time to be reading Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s recent book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. But business will only get us so far; now is also a good time to be in the streets.

A Generation of Hackers

Wisdom Hackers

Hackers are fascinating—the good ones, the bad ones, the ones in between. From corporate elites like Bill Gates to fugitives like Edward Snowden, we look to hackers to provide for us, to excite us, to liberate us. But why?

This is the question that took hold of me in the midst of my summer’s journey with the Wisdom Hackers—a group of artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and activists exploring elemental questions together. I traveled to Paris, Berlin, southern Italy, to Ecuador, and Silicon Valley, and wound up at a hacker congress in New York. This week, my chapter appears as part of our serial digital book. For just a few bucks, you can read my essay in your browser or in a dedicated app, along with Anna Stothard in defense of hoarding objects, Brett Scott on the creepy ecology of smart cities, Tom Kenning on festival temporality, Lee-Sean Huang on the thinking body, Alnoor Ladha on mystic anarchism, and our instigator Alexa Clay on being the Amish Futurist. And more.

Read a short teaser of my 7,000-word chapter, just published in Vice—”Our Generation of Hackers.” But don’t let that keep you long from subscribing to the book today. Spread the word about it if you can, too.

I’ll also be discussing my chapter on Twitter this Thursday morning at 8:30 am EST / 13:30 GMT (the Europeans set the time!). Join us on the hashtag #wisdomhackers.

Other odds and ends

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, I profiled Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian of struggles for shorter working hours and the dream of leisure. His latest book, Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, is a must-read (and would make a lovely holiday gift).

As part of ongoing reporting on efforts to build a more cooperative, just economy, I wrote in Al Jazeera America about a historic conference on the commons, and published columns in the Catholic weekly America on the commons and cooperatives—oh, and a guide to the recent election with Simone Weil.

My books on God and Occupy are also no less available, either directly from University of California Press (God here, Occupy here) using the special discount code 13M4225, or wherever else books are sold.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

Signature

Wisdom Hacking

Starting this Thursday, October 9, tune your radios and podcast machines to On Being, Krista Tippett’s extraordinary, nationally syndicated public radio show about the meanings of life—I will be the guest.

Krista interviewed me this summer at the Chautauqua Institution about my books, God in Proof and Thank You, Anarchy, as well as my recent reporting on the politics of technology. During our conversation, under the canopy of a Greek-temple-ish structure with more than a thousand listeners, I felt I was in the presence of a mentor and a kindred spirit—someone who shares my love of exalted topics, as well as someone who had taken the time and energy to engage deeply with my work. Choose a way to listen to the show here.

Both books are still available, either directly from University of California Press (God here, Occupy here) using the special discount code 13M4225, or wherever else books are sold.

On to the hacking

Sometimes exalted topics need to get hacked. That’s why I’m taking part in an experiment called Wisdom Hackers, a kind of philosophy incubator. After spending our summers exploring burning questions, this band of artists, explorers, and instigators are sharing the results in a collaborative book, thanks to a new serial-based publishing venture called The Pigeonhole (which my new bride Claire explains here).

My contribution, which formed during a search for new social contracts around the world, ended up becoming a reflection on our culture’s fascination with hacking itself—the allure and the trouble. It will become available on November 10, but in the meantime, subscribe to the book here (yes, you can subscribe to books now) and read the work of my fellow hackers.

And more

This fall I’m honored to begin a new column at America magazine, a leading Catholic weekly. Follow my columns and blog posts at my author page.

In August The Nation published my dispatch from a hacker monastery in Matera, Italy.

The first in a series of articles on working hours appeared in Vice magazine in August as well: “Who Stole the Four-Hour Workday?” It kind of blew up.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

From Occupation to Reconstruction

Who's Still Occupying?Ever since I wrote a book about Occupy Wall Street, I’ve often found myself being asked, “What happened to Occupy, anyway?” Now, more than two years since the movement faded from the headlines and in the wake of French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-selling diagnosis of economic inequality, the urgency of the question is mounting, not diminishing. The answer is also becoming clearer: The networks of activists that formed in the midst of 2011’s worldwide wave of protest are developing into efforts to create durable economic and political experiments. Rather than focusing on opposing an unjust system, they’re testing ways to replace it with something new.

More at Al Jazeera America.

Happy birthday, Catholic Worker

Dorothy DayTo celebrate the Catholic Worker movement’s 81st birthday today, I snuck Dorothy Day into two articles in the space of a week. Today, at Al Jazeera America, “What’s Left of May Day?”:

On May 1, 1933, the Catholic journalist and activist Dorothy Day went to New York’s Union Square to distribute copies of the first issue of her newspaper The Catholic Worker. As she made her way through the crowd, she had a ready audience of thousands: men in coats, ties, and hats — as low-wage workers and radicals apparently used to dress — gathered around a maze of signs for labor unions, fraternal societies, and parties representing the various varieties of socialism then on offer. These groups disagreed in every way they could think to, but they shared the square regardless. For decades, in the U.S. and around the world, May Day was International Workers’ Day, commemorating protesters killed in Haymarket Square, Chicago, during the 1886 strike for an eight-hour workday. It also had earlier roots as a spring holiday of maypoles and flower baskets.

Dorothy Day was only one among many at Union Square trying to suggest a way out of the economic crisis of the time. This was well into the Great Depression, when the breadlines and the legions of unemployed people posed an existential threat to American capitalism; skirmishes between fed-up workers and abusive employers were common and often bloody. Day proposed a synthesis of Christian love and communist solidarity, militant pacifism in pursuit of “a society where it is easier to be good.” The Catholic Worker quickly became the script for a new religious and political movement. Within months, circulation grew from a first run of 2,500 copies to 10 times that, and it reached 150,000 before Day’s pacifist convictions caused subscriptions to drop during the lead-up to World War II. Each May Day, New York’s Catholic Workers still celebrate the birth of their movement with a communal supper and singing.

And something shorter a few days ago for Reuters on the double canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII:

The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, nearing the end of a long restoration, has a new mural over its main doors. Surrounding the Holy Spirit, in the form of an incandescent dove, is a gathering of women and men flanked by angels. Most have soft yellow halos, but three figures, including the pair closest to the dove, do not.

The three are local icons. Activist and writer Dorothy Day wears a hat with the inscription “NO WAR” and holds a stack of Catholic Worker newspapers, the publication she founded. Beside her is Bernard Quinn, a priest who served Brooklyn’s African American community at a church just blocks away, and whose Long Island orphanage was twice burned down by racists. Pierre Toussaint, who looks intently toward the dove, was a slave-turned-philanthropist who, on gaining his freedom in 1807, adopted his surname from the leader of the Haitian revolution.

Code Your Own Utopia

My latest at Al Jazeera, on Bitcoin’s most ambitious successor, Ethereum. This may or may not be the future, but for now it’s the hype:

Even the most flexible platform comes with certain built-in tendencies. Ethereum, for example, makes it easier to build organizations that are less centralized and less dependent on geography than traditional ones and certainly more automated. But it also creates a means for corporate ownership and abuse to creep ever deeper into people’s lives through new and more invasive kinds of contracts. To perceive the world through a filter like Ethereum is to think of society as primarily contractual and algorithmic, rather than ethical, ambiguous and made up of flesh-and-blood human beings.

How this new ecosystem will take shape depends disproportionately on its early adopters and on those with the savvy to write its code — who may also make a lot of money from it. But tools like Ethereum are not just a business opportunity. They’re a testing ground for whatever virtual utopias people are able to translate into code, and the tests will have non-virtual effects. Idealists have as much to gain as entrepreneurs. As for any utopia, though, the power struggles of the real world are sure to find their way in as well.

A Father Can Also Be a Woman

Photo by William Widmer for Al Jazeera America

Years in the making, my profile of a Catholic nun with a secret ministry to the transgender community has been published at Al Jazeera America. I hope that, above all, it points to some ways in which transgender experience not merely challenges Catholic faith, but is poised to deepen it:

[Hilary] Howes told the story of her life as a parable, a tale of a girl born with a penis and expected to live like a boy. “She died a little each day.” The girl grew up into a man, married a woman and became a father. Yet the dying continued. She decided to reveal herself, at last. Her wife and daughter stuck with her through it all. With the help of hormone treatments, father and daughter went through puberty together.

As the parable caught up with the present, Howes turned to a discussion of the hierarchy’s official position, or lack thereof, and the basic comfort she feels in her church, and in her faith, day to day. “I make a good spokesperson because I’m disarmingly normal,” she said.

She’d observed over the years that liberal Catholics — the kind likely to be friendly toward LGBT rights, the kind likely to be in the room — often feel uncomfortable with the masculine language Catholic tradition tends to use for God: Him, Father, Lord. Some prefer to discard those words altogether. But Howes had noticed that the old-fashioned words have never really bothered her.

With her dimples hinting at a sly smile, she said, “I suppose it’s because I know that a father can also be a woman.”

Read the rest (and see William Wedmer’s moving photographs) at Al Jazeera America.

Astrology as Metaphor

The Jantar Mantar observatory complex in Delhi. (Flickr/Tony Young)

Jantar Mantar Road, a short passageway through the administrative center of New Delhi, takes its name from a complex of gigantic red astronomical instruments at its north terminus, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1724. The Jantar Mantar consists of a series of geometric jungle gyms that surround the all-important shadow of the Supreme Instrument, a four-story, right-triangular sundial surrounded by semi-circular wings. The complex reflects the style of politics practiced by its autocratic creator — one based on charting the positions of the sun and planets across the zodiac with maximum pomp and precision.

The road named after the Jantar Mantar, however, better reflects the aspirations of India’s past few decades as the world’s most populous democracy. In the space of several hundred yards between two sets of hand-painted red-and-yellow police barricades, an assortment of political and religious outfits have set up tents, encampments and shrines each dedicated to some particular cause — for the prosecution of a high-placed rapist, for the rights of migrant workers, for various flavors of spiritual-social awakening. Several tents contain men on hunger strikes, each reclining on a couch and nursed by supporters, on behalf of a petition like airline employee pensions or voting rights for Indians living abroad. Despite the amplified speeches and droning chants, Jantar Mantar Road is a respite from Delhi’s non-stop hustle; people slowly mill through to listen, strike up conversations and eat deep-fried snacks.

Read the rest at Waging Nonviolence or openDemocracy.

Give the Gift of God & Anarchy

God in Proof and Thank You, Anarchy

What better gift to give friends and loved ones than stories of grasping at the impossible?

According to the Los Angeles Review of Books, God in Proof “breathes life back into proofs” and is “entertaining, well written, and historically comprehensive.” Says former Washington Post columnist and peace educator Colman McCarthy, Thank You, Anarchy is “rich with metaphors, historical allusions and clearheaded reflections.”

Buy direct from University of California Press

Use discount code 13M4225 for 20% off the list price

You can also get both books pretty much anywhere else if you ask for them. Try your local bookstore. And don’t forget to share your reaction on Amazon or Goodreads.

Sleigh-bells a-ringing

In the coming months, I’ll be making the following live appearances:

Other great gift ideas

  • Contribute to the online communities that made these books possible, and which support countless other writers in doing uncommon work—give the gift of membership to Waging Nonviolence, which covers movements for justice and peace around the world, or Killing the Buddha, a literary magazine of religion, politics, and culture. Both are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, and membership dues are tax-deductible.
  • Last month, The New Press published a new edition of Noam Chomsky’s anarchist writings, On Anarchism, and they asked me to write the introduction. The result is a slim, sweet little stocking-stuffer that presents anarchism as a tradition with both a long history and particular relevance today.
  • The growing revival of interest in my favorite theologian, William Stringfellow, continues with a new reader published by Orbis and edited by Bill Wylie-Kellerman. It’s the best introduction yet to a thinker who will turn your cosmic situation upside down.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

Signature

‘This Isn’t, Thank God, Another Book about the Proofs for God’s Existence’

The filter blog Arts & Letters Daily is great, and it’s even greater that today it featured Robert Bolger’s excellent Los Angeles Review of Books review of God in Proof. Writes Bolger:

Schneider tips his hand a bit with the title God in Proof. This isn’t, thank God, another book about the proofs for God’s existence, but rather a search, at once historical and personal, for the God that lives in proofs. The reversal — from proof for God to God in proof — is both linguistically nifty and philosophically important. It isn’t that the proofs for God lead us to God, but rather that God may be found — or may be shrouded — in the language of proofs. People see God in different settings. Some see God in song, others in nature, and others still in humanity as a whole. Schneider, in searching for his God, finds it revealed in the souls who historically sought out proofs for what they believed in.

The review was also picked up two other wonderful blogs, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish and 3 Quarks Daily. The quasi-New Atheist Jerry Coyne even says he’ll read the book. Based on his earlier assessment of my writings on proofs, I don’t expect he’ll like it, but you never know.

1 2 3 4 5 30