April 17, 2013

[insert here random ramblings on food, gamification, activism, and parecon]

I help produce a monthly television show -- Chicago Independent Television, the monthly TV series of the Chicago Independent Media Center ("Chicago Indymedia"). In the most recent episode of the show, we had a segment about a corrupt Chicago politician -- Alderman James Cappleman -- who decided to crack down on "unapproved" efforts to feed hungry people in his ward (neighborhood). Citizens in his ward then staged a protest of Cappelman's aldermanic office in defiance. That protest included a public "feeding": one of the Chicago "branches" of the anti-hunger group Food Not Bombs offered food at the protest for anyone, homeless or not, hungry or not.

In watching this segment, I was set thinking: "Wow. These volunteer activists are defying the local political system for what they believe with just the resources they have at hand. If there was a way that they could get other volunteers and other activists to help contribute, with resources and assistance... They could engage in socially-valued labor, and maybe even earn credit for their effort and sacrifice, and track the tasks that they do, make sure that they're balanced for desirability and empowerment, and coordinate larger requests with other groups, and -- HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!"

That was what inspired me to want to create a participatory economics simularity, and hopefully help bridge a variant of C. P. Snow's famous "two cultures" argument. But instead of bridging the sciences and the humanities, who too often don't connect with one another much to their (and our) respective, detriment, I'm talking about another cultural divide that I've seen among activists -- those who "talk" versus those who "do".

Some activists who are engaged in "getting their hands dirty" -- feeding hungry people (like Food Not Bombs), defending unjust foreclosurers (like Occupy Our Homes), trying to build a trauma center on Chicago's south side (like Fearless Leading by the Youth) -- will critique other activists who don't get involved for not getting involved. Such criticism is often justified, but I feel that, a lot of the time, the nose-to-the-grindstone activism that does take place fulfill its potential. People much of the time don't know about it, or efforts fizzle out over time or after a big event (e.g., the biennial WTO Ministerials or the 2012 NATO Summit), or the campaign doesn't get enough in the way of resources to keep going, or isn't part of a larger cohesive whole and feels like just another random act.

This, I think, is the highest calling of "armchair" activism -- to help provide that support, in getting wider attention, providing resources, offering strategic advice, any of the sundry "abstract" tools that can help in any and every way with those efforts. I just wonder aloud if we can go beyond, so that the activism involved in, say, helping to provide food for Food Not Bombs can be somehow incentivized more effectively, but in solidarity fashion. So that those who want to help can be incentivized to plug in, offer help.

Here's where I state my personal bias yet again: I saw the videos of an online course on Gamification, and if anything it got me thinking: I wonder if political activism can be "gamified" in a constructive manner, or maybe even an entire participatory economy can be "gamified", to help provide incentives that might help spur the action that we sorely need to address pressing problems and ultimately to transform society for the better.

People could find out about the protest at Cappleman's office and get a reward of credit for providing food, cooking some of the food, providing it to protesters or to the hungry. That credit could then be offered to those who are also participants in activism, to do or get -- what exactly? Exchange to provide others? How is that different from a credit market? I suppose the credit earned would need to be balanced for desirability and empowerment with effort and sacrifice at some other tasks, and the credit could be offered to those who agree to be part of this economy, who themselves provide goods and services that are balanced for desirability and empowerment. Maybe start out with some smaller subset of work tasks for desirability and empowerment, rather than a whole new economy?

It might go somewhere, but I think I need to think through the details a bit further.

(Note to self: Next time you write a blog post, be sure to have some overall point or structure in mind before starting to write.)