I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the last few months. it’s been quite an eye-opener, so I thought it might be good to document what I’ve been reading and how it changed my perspective on stuff. I really should have started this at the beginning, since my bookmarks have gotten all jumbled up, but back then I hadn’t a clue what I was in for. :) so I guess I’ll just have to do my best now.
it all started way back in october-ish, really. one of my required courses for my first semester at SFU was PHIL 120, an ethics course. in one of my essays I was using the word ‘anarchy’, and the TA kept crossing it out, so I realised maybe it didn’t mean what I thought it meant. at the time I was too lazy to even check a dictionary, though, so I didn’t think about it again for quite a while.
then sometime in winter, I discovered some songs I liked that were by David Rovics, so I got some more of his songs… they seemed kinda nutty at the time, but I almost never delete music (even the pokemon songs downloaded by a kid I used to babysit) so I kept them, and they kinda started to grow on me.
sometime around the end of june or beginning of july, before our week-long vacation, I remember mentioning to pete that I wanted to actually learn some history – I had never paid much attention in school, ’cause school makes almost everything boring, but devon’s knowledge of history made me realise it could be interesting. I’m not sure what made me decide I finally wanted to do something about it this summer – maybe a video we watched, or maybe something I saw on pete’s computer… who knows.
anyways, pete recommended a book: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – and since it was one of the few books available entirely online, I started reading it. I didn’t really fancy the idea of searching for history books in english at a chinese library, and buying stuff on amazon can get kinda expensive, even before shipping.
It’s quite a good book. I’ve only reached chapter 6, though, because from there I started finding more things to read. and more. I discovered the site it’s on has a bunch of other interesting documents, most of which I also haven’t read yet.
I came across an assortment of random articles, either from irc, wandering wikipedia, or googling other stuff. I found this one on a bad day, and it made me sad, but somewhere on the internet is an article about some group who got to keep their garden – that lifted my spirits back up. I wish I could find the darn link. articles like this and this raised my curiosity – life seemed to be a whole lot more complicated than I had believed.
I started poking around more; I read a bunch of wikipedia articles (unfortunately I didn’t bookmark those) about various models of government and decision-making methods, like direct democracy and consensus democracy. I signed up to rss feeds for sites like mostly water. one thing that really shook me up was finding out that canada wasn’t above all the nastiness that made me not want to enter the US; our police could be kinda mean too, and our “peacekeeping” nation has been involved in some rather unsavoury incidents.
it’s pretty depressing to find out that the world isn’t the nice happy peaceful place you thought it was. I had a pretty sheltered childhood – I thought that most countries had learnt to get along, and that there wouldn’t be much war left. I thought organisations like the WTO were meant to *help* poor countries, not keep them poor so that we could have cheap sweatshop labour to support our modern lifestyles.
the more I read, the more I realised what a mess the world really is, and how unfair it is to all the poor exploited masses. it’s easy to put such thoughts out of your mind when you’re surrounded by shiny malls and everyone you know has enough food to eat, but out here in china I’m a little less insulated from the poor, and the pollution here is a constant reminder of how little the government cares for these people. at least the people here *know* that their news is censored, though.
one thing I noticed eventually was that some of the things I was reading about were mentioned in Rovics’ songs. also, one of those mp3s was missing the ending, and it was really starting to bug me, so I went and downloaded lots more. then I started looking into the stuff mentioned in the songs that I didn’t understand… like the situation with Israel and Palestine.
I found some really interesting articles along the way, including one about pirates. youtube’s got some good stuff too – video can be a bit more interesting than pages and pages of text, sometimes. :) I also ran across some stuff that sounded interesting at first, but then turned out to be totally loony.
after spending a large part of the day reading, I’d often go up to pete’s room to watch a movie in the evening. sometimes just fun movies, sometimes serious ones. The Corporation was a very interesting one. another must-see is The Take – it’s about workers in argentina taking over factories and making stuff work again after their economy collapsed (thanks to US guidelines on how to ‘improve’ their economy).
what’s most depressing is the feeling of helplessness – I mean, these a big multinational corporations and strong governments killing people and selling off our resources and generally screwing the planet in their insatiable thirst for power (which these days is equivalent to oil). movies like The Take gave me some small amount of optimism for the future. it’s also good to remember the great accomplishments of the past – outright slavery is now illegal, women can vote and are pretty darn close to having equality in canada, and we do have laws to protect the environment. people had to fight for all these things, and in the end they won. we still have to protect those things, though – our pesky human rights have a tendency to get in the way of corporations’ profits, so they keep trying to get rid of them.
eventually I remembered that phil paper, and decided it was about time I found out exactly what that word meant (well, I had read the wikipedia article already, but that had left me with more questions than answers). damn, that faq is big. I’m only on the second page so far – partially because I still have a bunch of other huge things I’m trying to read, and partially because there’s still this pesky studying thing I have to do occasionally. ;) however, what I’ve read so far makes a lot of sense, and reminds me a lot of the lessons I learnt from Free software. while I’ve noticed I have a tendency to want control, and want to act like microsoft, in the end I’m really happier when I’m working on GPL’d stuff and not trying to control anyone. I think a lot of the same lessons apply to real life – we just have some pesky problems to work around, like not being able to copy real objects so easily ;)
This post isn’t entirely accurate – I think there was some stuff that I thought I read online but actually heard about in RL, and simply writing the post has made me go dig up better links for some topics… I have a bad enough memory as it is, so trying to remember stuff that happened several months ago is hard. especially since I started writing this post over a month ago – it got interrupted by my vacation. :) anyways, I’m fairly busy with school stuff again, so I’ll just have to put my perfectionism aside and post what I’ve got.
I guess I might get some trollish comments on this post… whatever. I’m not so interested in getting into a silly internet debate about this stuff – I still have so much to learn. I just wanted to share some of what I’ve discovered, in case someone out there finds it interesting.