material alienation

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In the indigenous language of the Suyá (Brazil), the word kande (owner-controller)

‘not only refers to the possession of tangible and intangible wealth (such as ritual knowledge) but also to the potential ability to produce these goods. It also forms expressions designating social functions endowed with prestige and political power: thus war leaders were called
weropakande, ‘owners of our village,’ while the ritual specialist is known as mërokïnkande.’ (Fausto 2008)

This concept, which has its roots in the egalitarian view that humans are not seen distinct from animals and other beings on earth, has been fascinating me for a while now and dominated my academic research throughout my MA in anthropological linguistics. Being the kande of an entity involves not only power and control but also maintenance, protection and care. Therefore, the act of owning-controlling stops being a monodirectional exertion of power and becomes a reciprocal exchange. What is also crucial is the incorporation of knowledge, the knowledge of how something works and how to reproduce it.

One of my professors told me a great story about an exchange with a local after he had seen her flying into their Amazonian village in a small airplane. ‘Can you show me how to do it’? he asked – ‘show you what?’ – ‘how to build such a thing; you arrived in it, surely you must know how it works and can be rebuilt.’

First, naturally, this story made me chuckle, but at second thought I realised that what is actually ridiculous is not that this man thought that every Western person possesses the knowledge and skill to build an airplane, but the fact that we don’t. Okay, we don’t all need to be airplane-builders, but seriously, most of us have no idea how this metal buckets make us travel from one end of the world to another. And it does certainly not end there, just consider things such as: the internet, computers, cd’s, smartphones, radios, TVs (just to name a few).

Unless a person possesses special knowledge of these things because they are involved in their production process or specific application, we have NO idea how things which we use on a daily basis and which constitute integral parts of our lives work. Through decades and centuries of industrialisation, division of production processess and outsourcing we have arrived at a point where all most of us know is that ‘stuff’ is ‘somehow’ produced ‘somewhere’ by ‘someone’, as if these things just magically appeared in our stores.

One effect of this is the rapid alienation of relationships between human possessors and possessed material objects. We ‘own’ and ‘possess’ everything, but most items means very little or nothing to us. In many Amerindian societies it is believed that every manufactured object carries a part of the identity of its maker in it and the knowledge to produce goods is in turn considered as an essential part of people’s identities.

As far as I remember, the last thing I produced might have actually been a clay picture frame I made for my mum in kindergarten. Since then I have been either involved in schooling or worked in service jobs of some sort, where I pressed buttons, input data, filled in forms but never actually played a part in the creation of anything. Only during my time as bartender I felt much more satisfied and useful than in office jobs, simply because I could directly see the influence of my presence and actions on actual, present people.

This has made me realise that I no longer want to work in impersonal jobs, producing immaterial products to satisfy imaginary needs. I want to be curious about the world that surrounds me, do things, acquire new skills. I want to learn how things work, how they are produced and share this knowledge with the people around me.

I don’t care for being an owner – I want to become a kande.

alternative housing

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What is considered a form of housing today?
The answer is usually renting an apartment or room or buying a place.

The main up- and downsides of both options are quickly explained:

Renting:
+ flexibility
+ no major repair and maintenance costs
– not owning anything after years of renting

Buying:
+ owning a roof over your head
+ not paying rent
– high acquisition/construction costs that an average person cannot handle without a substantial loan or mortgage
– (possibility of) being in debt
– losing flexibility

So the two options were are generally presented with today are either going into massive debt or paying rent in order to live in places that belong to other people. Having looked into ways of simplifying my life for a while now, I could not believe that there wasn’t another way. Too many people today blindly accept the fact that having a house and mortgage is ‘just the way it is’, get a loan for 200.000€ and live the next 30-40 years in a modern form of indentured servitude, paying back their debt 2-3 time in value to banks.

A video that really opened my eyes in this respect is this TED talk by Jon Jandai, a farmer from northeastern Thailand, who puts this issue it in a beautiful and simple nutshell:

So since the simple thought of being in debt to a financial institution sends shivers down my spine and the fact that I’ve grown sick of spending a considerable amount of my income for rent, I thought about alternatives to escape these two options which both are quite unappealing to me.

That is when I started thinking about the possibility of a mobile home. I got the idea from Rob Greenfield (http://robgreenfield.tv/tinyhomeliving/), who is about to move into his first ‘tiny home’ (yes, that’s the witty name they came up with for … well, for tiny homes) which, admittedly, is super tiny but it really sparked one main idea in me:

How amazing would it be to stop paying rent in our twenties/thirties, without being in debt, while keeping our flexibility? Having more free time to explore the world and ourselves, getting by easily on a part-time salary? I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty desirable to me.

Since then I’ve found out that there are growing numbers of great companies and people out there who develop small ‘low impact’ (and sometimes fully energy-independent) houses which cost less than a tenth of an average apartment.

Here are some examples:

http://tinyhouseblog.com/

http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/tiny-project-less-house-more-life.html
http://www.tinyhouseuk.co.uk/
http://www.offgridworld.com/off-grid-tiny-house-deep-in-the-carolina-woods-built-for-1000/

Especially the TED talk by Andrew Morrison, a tiny house owner, is very inspiring. He talks about how moving into a tiny home gave him much more than personal and financial freedom, it also helped him and his family to declutter their lives. Furthermore, he says that the closeness within their home even managed to foster the relationships between the family members.

This is something I will be definitely considering in the future; for now, I am looking into the possibility of buying and living in an old trailer or caravan and seriously, I never knew how many restrictions there are concerning living in mobile homes and how much the state apparatus doesn’t want you to live in something that is not a ‘proper house’ (even if someone provides you with a piece of land you can put it on).

Anyway, I am seriously excited about this and wanted to share it with you, I hope you find it equally inspiring!

breaking down borders

In order to reflect on our own language we need to be confronted with a new language system and its concomitant values and traditions. The isolated Amazonian languages that I am currently studying show that self-reflection can hardly take place without the presence of difference.

Intercultural communication and the reflection on one’s own cultural values functions just in the same way as languages. Without otherness there can be no self evaluation. Only if we challenge the very core of our ideologies, the foundation of what we always thought is infinitely true and universal can we be truly perceptible to expand our tolerance and understanding of the world and its inhabitants. In such a process, the very understanding of humanness can be renegotiated and the revelation of one’s cultural imprint shows how we have come to construct our own reality along the social input we have been given. If we manage to question these nuclear imprints and break down the imaginary borders of humanness, we can meet our environment with a truly open mind and in the process redefine our place in it.

new year’s resolution

What was the most important lesson I’ve learned in 2014?

I believe it was that only if we confront ourselves with truly alien cultures and ontologies can we seriously reflect on the very nature of our own understanding of humanness and deconstruct what was disguised as ‘nature’ or ‘natural’.

In the words of social anthropologist Stephen Hugh-Jones, we need “fine-grained ethnography, one that returns us to the messy, lived worlds and not always tidy and consistent views of real peoples. This return to the ground not only mediates between structuralism and phenomenology but also reminds us of the limitations of Western categories applied to non-Western contexts – like ships that carry invasive alien species to our shores, these categories sometimes carry unwanted freight”.

In order to understand our own self, we need to be open to understand otherness, embrace it, learn from it and not be afraid to contradict ourselves and challenge established notions and beliefs.

It is this openness to otherness that I will strive to develop further in 2015, that is my new year’s resolution.

the documentation of thoughts

The idea of starting a blog has been on my mind for quite some time now. I always wanted to write a diary but until today, the little black book I bought still only has one entry from about three years ago in it. What I started doing around the same time, though, was to write longer texts about my thoughts and philosophical views, which I saved in a folder on my desktop named ‘thoughts’, but never looked at again afterwards. This led me to an important question, namely “Why was I doing this?”.

I suppose my initial motivation stemmed from my inherent fear of forgetting, unlearning, going one step forward and two steps back, so to speak. Until a while ago, I felt a strong need to document my thoughts in order not to lose them and stop progressing as a person. Luckily, I have since then realised that we can never go back in life and that every experience, be it negative or positive, inevitably contributes to our personal growth. As a result, I stopped worrying about my personal degeneration and began to enjoy beautiful moments and inspiring thoughts without asking myself why a certain situation made me happy or how I could recreate a joyous feeling in the future, which was ultimately an attempt to identify a pattern of stimuli that would dictate specific moods in order to create a guidebook for my own self-manipulation. Without the need to cement moments and thoughts in history, the use of a diary all of a sudden seemed entirely unnecessary and even counterproductive because I felt that dwelling on my past experiences would make me lose focus of the present.

However, I have only recently really come to understand how important the reciprocal exchange of personal thoughts and ideas with others is. Even though I have always engaged with a great number of people, I kept the questions that concerned me the most to myself, thinking that I would first have to figure them out for myself or that others wouldn’t be able to assist me with them. Only with time I realised that essentially all of us are concerned with very similar things in life and how invaluable a new perspective on an idea can be.

Some of my friends and people that inspire me started writing blogs about their experiences in life which have since had a real impact on my own development and showed me that truly ‘personal’ interpersonal exchange can also happen via the internet and social media. Because of them, I decided to start this project.

I hope that this blog of my personal thoughts and experiences will not only provide me with a source of self-reflection but also establish a personal exchange of ideas with others, stimulate interesting thoughts and create folders on their desktops.