Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

I don't actually live in Baghdad, but was invited to dinner March 20th to celebrate the opening of a new cultural center in the main city. Musicians from all over the world are performing first in a low-key atmosphere of peacefulness and shared comfort. Among the groups playing short sets tonight that I recognize are the Armenian Navy Band, Sigur Ros, and John Zorn's International Circus. There are dervishes accompanied by spoken poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, with the cosmic rhythms of some of the world's most ancient instruments played by Jaron Lanier and the Troupe. This all leads to the main event which is the world premier of a new Cirque de Soleil performance, Caravan.

I'm eating falafal in an exquisitely warmed pita, with all the spices you'd expect for a finely-contrasted local creation. There is wine aplenty, which indicates a more relaxed social interpretation of Islam.

I'm wearing a teal-green tye-dyed turban with a traditional tye-dyed flowing robe, it remind you vaguely of something you see in Ghana. I consider it the height of fashion, because it makes me feel exalted. However, it could be the hashish talking.

As for who prepared the meal, all the guests are aware of a climate of sustainability at the root of the community center's mission statement. Local ingredients, well-trained chefs from ancient traditions, celebrating life and embracing the other as one. It's an experiment in international communication, and it wasn't funded by any government. No. This was a project dreamed up by social innovators seeking to provide a culture-space for experimental engagements such as this. Throughout the first two decades of this millenium governments and large banks attempted to fund big parties in the hope of constructing an international spirit of collective play. Usually these efforts were less successful, and less fun, than their participants would have hoped for. International social innovation networks have picked up the slack and thrown some genuinely transformative parties at major cities around the world, opening centers like this one in Baghdad in a number of countries, including Mali, Ethiopia, Morocco, Tibet, and Laos. Each center is extremely unique, and a global community of social innovators travel from center to center participating in the production of cultural innovation events. Local farmers generally offer their wisdom in the form of elaborate video courses on local agricultural legends, farming techniques, seed cultivation; and they also accept apprentices to work the land, which makes them eligible for land grants through the innovation network. Not only local farmers get involved. Any arts and crafts, musical or dance styles are seen as jewels of wisdom. The mission is not to package indigenous wisdom for export. The mission is to do indigenous wisdom justice.

So we're celebrating in Baghdad tonight. Celebrating the human community. This is the surface of vast innovation, of green technologies, sustainable architecture, and media-enhanced social networking. This is the surface of alternative currencies and finance mechanisms. This is the surface of things to come.

peace // cameron

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Comment by cameron michael keys on March 26, 2010 at 2:37am
yes, this is why i invoke "surfaces", because i'm self-aware that I don't really know what the heck I'm talking about. Like almost everyone, I should not be in control of envisioning the actual future.
I've written in my reply to Panamericana's questionnaire that local cultures should opt out of a centralized development plan organized by a prop-central-government designed by north atlantic democracies and market mechanisms. I focus on the works of Roberto Mangabeira Unger for possible solutions to these problems you mention, "trapped in serfdom" "social mobility" et al.
Unger's approach is radically experimentalized democratic systems and trade regimes. localizable, customizable, and yet still internationally legitimate. we need alternative currencies in local environments that are culturally nuanced, which will allow upward social mobility without the person being forced to get a degree in international business. the infrastructure of the world i envision simply must be experimentalized compared to our current operating procedures. That's why I acknowledge i'm only seeing 'surfaces'. As far as making this future worth-while, that's a matter of infrastructure, bare-bones work, legal changes, et cetera. I don't know how to do that stuff, but I like Roberto Mangabeira's work and point to it for envisioning how to make things better from beneath the surface. I also am disturbed by the things you point to. A friend of mine traveled to India just to build houses in a poor village. It was like he got a badge of honor for it, really kind of silly. Now he's well-traveled and compassionate, and they still need more houses. They didn't even build the right kind of houses! World music is another aspect of this. I LOVE african music and classical indian rhythms. I'm mystified how historically many forms of musical nuance -- such as ancient peruvian melodies and tonal systems -- get transformed to coincide with the preferences of the colonial invaders. The nuances of these cultural forms get lost in time, and I think the world suffers for it, including the indigenous cultures themselves. So I think it actually IS cool for local cultures to preserve the wisdom of their musical scales, for example -- but I don't think they should be financially coerced into preserving their culture's traditional rhythms on records. Make whatever music you want! There are many disturbing processes still at work here. So I envision a surface and hope that I can find a way to experience an authentic future without forcing serfdom upon the local populations if I ever travel anywhere. What can I say? I'm almost entirely clueless what's best.
Comment by Michele Baron on March 27, 2010 at 2:59am
Thank you for the post.

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