BRETT BLOOM AND N55 EXCHANGING
Brett Bloom lives in Chicago and works with the group
Temporary Services (www.temporaryservices.org). This exchange is based
on an email conversation that took place in the spring of 2001, before
LAND nearby Copenhagen was included in LAND by N55.
What ever happened to your idea of getting some land/LAND in the country
and creating an open community there? This could be something that we
could work on here in the USA as well.
We investigated the possible sites near Copenhagen. We found that we would
spend too much time making the places we could afford liveable (we can't
and won't use bank loans), and that the risk of being isolated and marginalized
was too strong. We decided to stay in the city, live on the water and
we made FLOATING PLATFORM as artificial self-made land. As you know, Quintusholmen
(the harbor area in Copenhagen where FLOATING PLATFORM is situated) has
been like a little self-seeded village or kind of a collective. It is
a very satisfying experience. Perhaps the best social situation we have
ever lived in. However we know that this situation is going to be destroyed
by concentrations of power. And at the moment, as you are experiencing
it as well, concentrations of power are dominating cities totally. City-centers
are being taken over. So no matter where you start fighting entropy and
create some energy locally, you end up being thrown out. (One of the funny
things is that, without wanting it, you are helping to make areas more
attractive for capital interests to invest in, by doing what you do.)
At the moment the N55 response to this situation is to be more mobile,
to move around and do things with a local consequence.
The family of LAND-related projects (ROOMS, SHOP, WORK) and the YTEICOS
project could be seen as ways of creating a large, dynamic collective,
that would enable persons to "live together" and use "small
group behavior and ethics" on a larger scale. If you look at a small
group, like a village, a family or friends, they are sharing a lot of
things without the use of money or many rules. In fact, most rules are
actually implicit. We are trying to make systems that would make some
of the behavior that is defined implicitly in language explicit: in easy
understandable forms like "manual for ROOMS". The hope is that
we don't need ideologies or religions to control our behavior. All our
efforts point in the direction of trying to exist with as small concentrations
of power as possible.
We now clearly see the line of work from our Studiestræde apartment,
trying to communicate with basic things from everyday life that anybody
could relate to. Making art useful, as visions and signs, and also on
a prosaic level. Removing the snobbish aura. Rebuilding the city from
within. Indoor farming with HOME HYDROPONIC UNIT. Changing things by changing
your own behavior and taking the consequences of what you have done, learning
and trying to do it better the next time. Concentrate on significance
and the situations we live in together with other persons. When we moved
out of Studiestræde, we also started to work directly in public
space: N55 SPACEFRAME and PUBLIC THINGS, and we even created new public
space with FLOATING PLATFORM and tried to produce land with SOIL FACTORY.
You see a movement towards larger and larger social structures and how
to deal with them.
Your concerns about moving to the country are the same ones I have. It
is frustrating that you have to be in a city to feel like you are connected
to the things you want to do - or for people to pay attention or feel
connected to what you are doing. Maybe when you come we could try and
secure some cheap land for LAND.
I don't think you can really understand how hard it is to live in the
US until you have done it for a while yourself. Here in the US, most of
the accomplishments that were won in the 60s are being eroded right now.
The right wing has become the mainstream and downright vicious. America
is prosperous right now and that breeds apathy. Most Americans are apathetic
and unwilling to personally risk their comfort to help others or make
this a better society. Starting another cold war seems to be what George
W. Bush wants. This will allow his friends that own companies that get
contracts from the government to have more work. It is a pretty transparent
There is no solution other than that all governments should be smashed...
but here we are talking about mega-concentrations of power. How can art
be put in relation to these things when we can't even adequately house
Accomplishments in the right direction are disappearing here as well.
The whole welfare system and, what is even worse, the basic will to work
together in symbiosis instead of competing is destroyed, from the education
system to hospitals and basic relations between persons. It's happening
because of the neoliberalist movement starting in the eighties in the
Western part of the world. Of course, the feeling of losing for the humanists
in the Nordic countries is bad too, because here the concept of social
responsibility and solidarity has been much more developed than in the
The USA is basically an undeveloped Christian, fundamentalist state. Of
course, the level of technology is highly developed. But when you look
at the society on other levels, the USA somehow managed to use the surplus
it creates to make rich people and powerful companies more and more powerful.
For a long period of time, the surplus in the Nordic countries was used
to improve the social conditions for persons. The irony here is that the
USA now is the role model for the Nordic countries concerning healthcare
and so forth. The concept of profit is dominating everything. We have
let the economists and their terrifying Victorian misinterpretations of
Darwin rule. As a well educated but stupid American woman once told us:
"In the USA persons choose to sleep under a bridge. So anyone is
free to do what he wants to do."
It is not nice to live in the Nordic countries now. Everything is going
in the wrong direction. But we sincerely believe that it matters to do
something about it. If we try doing something different we must have a
better chance of changing things than if we don't try. And even though
it's hard for us to house ourselves, we just have to use this situation
in our work as well. It will make it more and more visible what's going
on. Trying to keep creating consciousness about the situation is what
it's all about. We won't get rid of states or police, etc. in a long time.
Sometimes it is better to have a large concentration of power like a state,
than a smaller concentration like a company because representative democracy
is better than corporate fascism. The UN is very much necessary at the
moment. What we say is that we must find ways of existing with as small
concentrations of power as possible. Not that we must get rid of every
concentration of power immediately. That would be utopian thinking. But
if we always try to minimize power structures, it must change something.
If politicians first and foremost were concerned about trying to respect
persons' rights, it would change things. We can learn from understanding
language that we should always try to exist with as small concentrations
of power as possible.
Last night was the kick off to the Department of Space and Land Reclamation
[DSLR - a weekend-long convergence of artists, activists, and others doing
actions and art in public reclaiming city spaces towards more democratic,
open and radical ends] here in Chicago. My friends Nato Thompson, Emily
Forman, and Josh MacPhee organized it.
A group that spoke during the DSLR meetings called the Carbon Defense
League was fucking amazing. They are doing some incredible things with
hacking technological systems and devices. You should hear them talk about
how technology and the devices that are created socialize us and the need
for having control and opening the technology up to more radical, less
repressed, free and open processes. They have this approach that I have
heard echoed in your own concerns - this need to shape the world around
you and doing this through understanding how things work and applying
that knowledge to basic ends. I think that you would really like meeting
them. I am going to try and talk to them today and start some kind of
I think police, states, governments and corporations are going to be controlling
things long after you and I are dead and forgotten. I don't think it is
utopian to want to smash these power structures. It is utopian to think
that you can do it and do it easily. Capitalist apathy is one of the biggest
barriers. Until all the people in this country have their comfort level
taken away, nothing is going to happen.
I identify very closely with anarchist thinking. I am currently reading
a biography of Mother Jones - one of the greatest activists, agitators
and union organizers in American history. She was a steamroller. It is
incredible the struggles that people went through just to work a fucking
alienating job. Being murdered and beaten just because you wanted to work
eight hours a day instead of twelve. The book states that while Mother
Jones was in Chicago (during the late 19th century), the city was a pantheon
of anarchist thought and action - it was the epicenter of an international
movement. I have spent the entire weekend hanging out with unpretentious,
anti-ideological, anti-authoritarian artists and general hell raisers
- people with generous and maliciously (as defined by a state that wants
to control the minds and actions of its people) creative minds. It has
been inspiring to say the least. Nato, Emily and Josh have really done
something amazing. I can't wait to see how they build upon it.
Anarchism is an ideology, and ideologies per definition don't necessarily
respect the rights of persons. Ideologies can be defended but they are
always representing points of view, subjective opinions. Parts of Marxism
are very interesting and Marx's criticism of power is very useful. Different
religions are also interesting. Parts of eastern ways of thinking are
parallel to some of the things we have understood. Anarchism is of course
an ideology, which is sometimes close to what we are talking about in
N55, but the difference is, that like a religion, it is based on subjective
opinions and social conventions, and not necessarily on objective knowledge.
History clearly shows it is a fact that religions and ideologies are not
the solution to anything. Whenever you base political actions on conventions
and on subjective opinions, you cannot respect the rights of persons because
subjective opinions don't necessarily respect objective knowledge. And
we know that it is objective knowledge that persons have rights and therefore
should be treated as persons.
So no matter how nice anarchists might be there is a fundamental problem
in their way of thinking completely parallel to the problem with the way
Nazis think. Because religions and ideologies are based on subjective
opinions, you can use them to defend any kind of action, even murder of
other persons who think in a different way.
Language is what we have in common. And understanding the way things we
have in common work, seems intelligent in order to find out how we ought
to act. What we have shown in N55 is that we have to try to find ways
of existing with as small concentrations of power as possible. It is obvious
that the only reason why ideologies and religions work is because of logical
relations, or conditions for description. Logical relations are what make
language a language. But as soon as you don't respect logical relations
you can say and mean anything. And ideologies and religious assertions
normally are a mixture of right assertions and wrong assertions. Unfortunately
the wrong assertions can be lethal to opponents. Ideologies and religions
have always been tools for persons in power to manipulate the masses.
And intellectuals like Marx of course represent power too. The only way
to avoid this situation is to understand things for yourself. Every person
must understand. This is one of the problems.
We know that we keep repeating ourselves, but we have the feeling that
you think you understand what we are saying when we talk about logical
relations, but we know you don't really get it yet.
We will soon work on establishing YTEICOS, ROOMS and WORK. The important
thing about these projects (including LAND), compared to previous projects,
are the fact that they can only be realized in collaboration with other
persons. We always worked together with other persons, but in a slightly
We seem to sometimes have a parallax in communication. It is good to go
over this stuff again and again. You think I don't understand logical
relations. I think that I have a basic understanding of them. I don't
think that I can have the understanding you have because of how long you
have worked with them. I also think that there is a problem of your reliance
on them - or insistence that they be the guide. There is this strange
denial or slip that happens between your commitment to them and also your
need to live in and nearly fully participate (not because you want to,
but because you are forced to) in a globalizing capitalist economy. I
say I identify with anarchist thinking and will call myself an anarchist,
but I also have a relation to it that I think is anti-ideological (this
is greatly influenced by my conversations with N55). My understanding
of anarchism isn't one of concentrated power and one kind of way of thinking.
It is more about the relation it takes to all concentrations of power
- they are abusive and must be dismantled and/or resisted when organizing
yourself. I don't see anarchy as a fixed ideology in the same way that
Marxism is. My political beliefs and practices are pulled from so many
things. I think my understanding of anarchy is really different than groups
like the Black Bloc that show up at a lot of anti-corporate globalization
rallies. I was on several of their list serves and took myself off when
their inherent ideological positions became apparent - they would oppose
oppression, but when someone was speaking and saying something they didn't
like they would organize to "smash" that person's ability to
speak freely. This is fascistic. I also find local "anarchist groups"
alienating and highly ideological. I think that anarchy is still a useful
word and I have to give it a different use and meaning through my own
We had this conversation about creating autonomous systems of communication
when you were in Chicago. You didn't feel the need to have complete autonomy
and I can't understand not having it - this was in relation to your future
internet server and YTEICOS project. I live in a society where everything
is so highly controlled and regulated and constant assaults on freedom
are being written into law. A series of "red squad" laws were
recently overturned by the United States Supreme Court. This basically
allows police and intelligence groups to infiltrate and do surveillance
on any group they feel is a threat to mainstream society. There has been
no lack of time (and I think they have been doing it illegally all along)
in resuming this practice. I just talked with a friend who went to Quebec
City to oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit. He was falsely
arrested and forced to leave Canada. This happened to a lot of people.
Police just started making things up to deny people their freedom and
ability to participate in democratic dissent. I don't want these motherfuckers
(police and corporations) having access to my communications and to my
personal life. I want systemic independence and see this as the only way
where freedom - and what you are talking about when you talk about logical
relations and living in relation to language and respecting the rights
of persons - can exist free from control and ideologies.
While I understand what you are trying to do with logical relations, I
have to say that the world isn't going to let you have room to live by
them yet. Your systemic approach to politics is by its very nature abhorrent
of concentrations of power. It seeks to limit them and break down abusive
ones. No matter how loud you are about concentrations of power and how
they abuse persons, the fact remains that they are there and aren't going
away without being countered by oppositional politics and yes, ideology.
I understand the parallel you are drawing between Nazism and ideological
anarchism and I think you are absolutely right about how concentrations
of power act and will always abuse.
I know you have heard this before, but you can't act according to your
own understanding of logical relations yet. I think no matter how hard
you try and want to, you are still immersed in a world that doesn't respect,
understand or have space for them. Taking grant money or institutional
funding to produce your work isn't the precondition for your own autonomy.
You are a full participant - even if you have a critical relationship
to these organizations - in the culture that is the very thing you oppose
and this DOES affect the way your ideas impact the world. Doesn't it scare
you that all the assholes in the Chicago art world so easily lined up
to welcome you and to grab what power and recognition they could just
from being around you? This is a huge problem with the way you work. Don't
think that people don't see this and that it doesn't color their understanding
of N55, because it does.
Another problem I have with your insistence on logical relations is that
it seems not to allow for what is just as important and that is our entire
range of emotions. I don't think that you can just live your life according
to logical relations. Humans are not just logical and won't ever be. Compassion,
anger, love and these things are just as important. They inform my ideas
and actions just as much as my ability to rationally identify oppression
and abusive power structures. I think that you really need to address
human emotions in your discussions of logical relations in a way that
fully integrates them and utilizes their strength. I know that you are
going to say at this point that emotions cause relativistic thinking and
that they obfuscate logical relations and thus don't allow persons to
treat persons as persons and so on. I don't think that this has to be
the case. I think that you need to address human emotions and really find
out where they fit in all of this.
In relation to this, I have had a very hard time understanding why you
eat meat. I consider the eating of meat another kind of concentration
of power - human oppression of creatures that we control and destroy for
our own needs. An understanding of the unity of all oppression needs to
be discussed. Eating meat and refusing other non-human animals the right
to exist is an abuse that takes human being as a privileged kind of being
and thus justifies all sorts of atrocities. The slaughter that is taking
place in Great Britain right now because the animals have the "flu"
and thus won't produce a high yield of product is just one example of
a tremendous amount of suffering that is heinous, immoral and not at all
logical. Eliminating concentrations of power (or organizing in as small
as concentrations as possible) must also be coupled with identifying oppression
in all its forms and resisting it as well.
I truly do struggle with what you say and your work with logical relations
and also needing to balance it with fighting concentrations of power that
are always abusing me. Logical relations can't be the only tool for me
yet and participation in oppositional (what you call ideological) practices
still needs to happen.
We have always tried to create situations where concentrations of power
had as little influence as possible. This is a key to understanding important
levels of what we do. As an example, N55 SPACEFRAME is an investigation
of how to house yourself in a low cost way without the influence of the
concentrations of power with interests in the building industry (the government
wants houses to be expensive because then people have to work a lot to
get them and then persons are easy to control. Architects and producers
also have their interest and so forth).
You can see this attempt to avoid being controlled in all our work and
the attempt to share knowledge we gain with other persons. But, we still
believe in not being marginalized: to work on the edge of institutions.
The idea of a total autonomous situation is utopian for many reasons.
One reason is the fact that we are too many people on this planet to live
without industrial production of food etc. In order to solve environmental
problems, hunger problems etc., we have to be less people. This is very
difficult, because concentrations of power gain from overpopulation. Overpopulation
increases competition among persons for food, land, space, work and so
forth. This is good for concentrations of power.
To master language is to possess power - scientific language and logical,
practical use of language. Some persons misuse the power of language.
They use it to turn night into day and wrong into right. This is how politicians
operate. Instead of trying to respect the rights of persons, they secure
their own position. Scientists misuse language to try and get away with
things they know are wrong: things like the atomic bomb or letting uncontrollable
genetically modified organisms into nature. By understanding logical relations,
we can show that persons who misuse language are wrong, without leaning
ourselves at ideologies that are by definition misuses of language. In
this way it is right assertions against wrong assertions instead of another
power game based on subjective opinions.
If you understand the profound difference between this way of thinking
and any other way of thinking you must realize that understanding logical
relations are of decisive importance if we want to change anything!
N55's practice is what we do and what we think. We cannot reduce N55 to
anything specific. We can describe N55 in endless ways, but we can't tell
exactly what N55 is. Working with logical relations and understanding
the implicit can tell us something about what is right and what is wrong
and what persons ought to do on the most fundamental level. As an example,
we can learn from logical relations that persons have rights but not exactly
what those rights are.
The point is: what you actually do in a situation is endlessly complex.
What we say is that we try to respect other persons' rights, but not that
we always succeed. However, it might help if we try to respect other persons
instead of not trying. Logical relations don't tell you how to live, just
what you ought to respect while doing it. And what we do also comes out
of fascination. Sometimes it is fun and it creates a surplus for everybody
involved. This leads us to the next subject, significance. Quoting from
"ART AND REALITY":
"The part of the world we can talk rationally about can be defined
as the part we can talk about using logical relations. But we do not have
any reason to assume that the world is identical with what we can talk
Though concrete situations can only be identified in space and time, they
cannot be reduced to only existing in space and time. In any concrete
situation significance plays a decisive role. If we say: they sat there
and they were fine, but nothing was of significance, it does not make
sense. Significance is decisive for concrete situations, but significance
does not exist in time and space. What is the durability of significance
and where does it exist? We do not know what significance is, but we know
that significance is something that is decisive to our experience of the
world. If we do not assign persons, their behavior, things and concrete
situations any significance, then there is no reason to concern oneself
with persons, their behavior, things and concrete situations."
What we are pointing out here is that the world is not identical with
what we can talk rationally about and that significance cannot be described
rationally. How big is love and what color does it have?
If we can't use or refer to rational language at all we are per definition
insane, unconscious, or doped. On the other hand we have no reason to
presume that our decisions are only based on rational language. But if
we know that we should respect a person's rights and at the same time,
we kill him because we don't like him, we prefer that persons listen to
logical relations. Making the implicit explicit is about creating room
for that which is significant for persons in the situations they are in.
Concentrations of power do not necessarily respect persons, or what is
significant to them. In order to make room for persons and what is significant
for them, we have to try to find ways of existing with as small concentrations
of power as possible.
Your house is "legally" defined as a boat and despite all the
other points at which you avoid concentrations of power, they still have
a hand. They get to define you or make a space for you within their own
system if they want. You are using city power... okay, I know I am getting
ridiculous, but on a personal level it really pisses me off how far down
the level of control goes. It now goes down to the genetic level of our
food and our own DNA. The IDEA of total autonomous situations is utopian,
but the DESIRE for it is entirely the opposite. I operate with this desire,
but not the delusion that this is possible. Six billion people on the
planet make it impossible for autonomy - of course. Yes, I do think concentrations
of power can help fight concentrations of power. This is why oppositional
politics (direct action, interventionist tactics, sometimes violent acts)
must be used as well. They are tools for fighting concentrations of power.
This is why identifying with anarchist tendencies is useful and not JUST
ideological. You have to understand that this is where I am in relation
to it. In relation to art, we have heard for many years that "people
are working to change the system from within" rather than totally
replace it or really undermine it significantly. This is a major source
of my frustration and not something that has directly to do with you or
Here are some of my concerns about language and I wonder how you have
dealt with them: I have heard you say directly that language or a word
isn't the same as the real thing being talked about - you said something
very close to this.
My own understanding of language is that it is a metaphysical filter for
the gap between our minds and everything that isn't our minds. There are
these relations between the thing in our minds (in our language) and those
things that aren't really what we call them but are what they are in themselves.
Cultural differences are real and they also affect language. Different
languages effect how people think and are in the world. This makes things
very messy. This makes the possibility of even communicating logical relations
all the more difficult - not a critique more a concern I am trying to
I wonder how much you can claim that the logical relations that you have
found and claim are so basic as to be true across all languages and/or
human experience when we know that different languages take different
relations to the world. There are certain cultures that have no words
or concepts of ownership at all. I think that they were Native American,
but I can't remember which group of people. Their relation to the environment
around them was profoundly different from the Europeans who came and "owned"
the land out from under them. I am not trying to raise relativism because
I don't think it exists in that I don't believe that any ideology exists
as a fundamental condition of existence. I wonder how the Native Americans
would find your conclusions and what they would mean. There is a part
of me that thinks intellect is totally foreign to the universe and that
it is a total mistake that shouldn't have happened or is absurd and beyond
meaning. I struggle with this constantly. All of this shit is just trying
to give you a sense of how I am processing things.
You say: "If you understand the profound difference between this
way of thinking and any other way of thinking you must realize that understanding
logical relations are of decisive importance if we want to change anything!"
But, you acknowledge above that there are other things that factor in
and must be used as well: using concentrations of power to fight concentrations
of power. This is where you don't give me any room and sometimes don't
see the parallels between us. I understand what you have found with the
logical relations, but for some reason they are not resonating with me
as strongly. They don't have the weight that other things do for me and
this is more for how they are received or potentially received in the
world. I still think that people have to make space for them in their
heads and the world is nowhere nearer that than it is to ending all governments.
You are smart enough to know that most of the proteins that sustain your
body are found in plant material. There are also vitamin supplements that
will replace what vegetables can't. You don't have to eat meat at all.
I really want you to engage your human biases and acknowledge them for
what they are - yet another concentration of power. Related to this, I
heard a great report on the radio about dolphins. Dolphins are capable
of MSR (Mirror Self-Recognition) making them with humans and chimps (I
think some other great apes as well) the only beings on the planet, so
far, that have this high cognitive ability. Animals deserve the rights
that you extend to humans. To not do this denies your humans rights too.
Human-centric thinking is a major problem and is why the earth is being
super fucked over right now.
Concentrations of power do not always respect the rights of persons. They
usually cannot be trusted to respect the rights of persons. The kind of
resistance we see at the moment in the world against the WTO, for example,
is interesting, because it isn't organizations, but persons, who will
not accept what is going on. Large powerful organizations like political
parties or unions are concentrations of power. They will fight other concentrations
of power and if they win territory they will grow and they will become
an even larger concentration of power.
It is not likely that things will change decisively before persons become
aware that they should first and foremost be concerned with trying to
find ways of existing with as small concentrations of power as possible.
We are not saying that socialistic parties, for example, can't do good
things. But in order to change things decisively, persons must understand
things for themselves, not through the force of ideologies.
Logical relations are something you can choose not to listen to, but you
can never say something right without respecting them. Even when you try
to deny the existence of logical relations you use them to argue to the
point where you are wrong. When you are wrong the only way to continue
is to use force in order to convince others. So the difference between
ideological thinking and understanding logical relations is that ideologies
always use power. Knowledge of logical relations probably won't have decisive
influence before persons understand. Or before enough persons act according
to this knowledge for changes to appear. This is more subversive than
We cannot say anything if we try to communicate in a rational way without
referring to logical relations. Even when we make jokes, they play with
logical relations. Even if the assertions are crazy, they seem crazy because
we know what is right. In poetry we refer to logical relations. You can't
tell me about your feelings without referring to logical relations.
You are explaining where language is placed, as you say between the mind
and the things outside our minds. And that language is a filter. So we
now know that language is a filter and where this filter is placed. This
is of course complete nonsense. You are trying to explain things in a
way in which they cannot be explained. You are confusing the relation
between language and reality.
We will try to explain some of the historical background of what we are
saying. Maybe it can help making things clearer, maybe not.
Western philosophy is full of discussions about the status of the material
world versus the realm of ideas and the human consciousness.
Plato renounced the real world for the world of ideas, which he thought
was more real. The Christian Church and other religions could agree with
this. The methodical removal of humans from their grounds of existence,
to make them focus their attention on more "real" realities
is a good tool for religiously founded power.
Descartes formulated the divide between mind and body, Berkeley, Hume
and others have posed different related problems, which may be summed
up as the problem of the existence of the material world and whether it
exists independently of human perception of it. The point here is that
this kind of problem is an absurdity in itself, but it's hard to find
out why. Kant wrote that it was a scandal for philosophy that it was unable
to prove the existence of the material world.
Peter Zinkernagel, with whom we discussed and worked for four years, in
the 50s discovered what he later called logical relations, or conditions
for description - a set of rules. Like formal logic, which are also conditions
for description. His point was that formal logic was not sufficient to
state conditions for description and could even lead to great fallacies
if not extended.
Formal logic, which was formulated by Aristotle, showed explicitly what
every person implicitly knew: that if you say one thing and then deny
it, you can't expect to be understood in a rational way. And this has
nothing to do with what kind of language is spoken: it is a condition
for description. Likewise, there are the rules of syllogisms and so on.
They also in general pertain to all languages.
The point of Zinkernagel is that up till recently the laws of formal logic
have been regarded as the only absolutely strict rules one has to observe
when using language: As long as one does not contradict oneself nor is
inconsistent with facts, one can say anything, and one thing may be as
right or wrong as the other when talking about politics or ethics. Of
course, one has been able to discuss ethics, but not on an objective basis.
It has been grounded in religion and a lot of complicated theories of
altruism, utilitarianism, etc. But this meant that postulates like "I
am the only person who exists in the world, and the rest is a hallucination.
Perhaps I am also a hallucination…" and the accompanying arguments,
couldn't be refuted logically (strictly and forever). It remained a discussion.
Also postulates like: "Jesus is the son of God, lives in Heaven,
and will soon return to earth in a human shape," were regarded as
sound and could be posed by people who regarded themselves as authorities
and not as lunatics.
By saying that our only problem is to use language right, Niels Bohr said
something right. This was when he had a discussion with Einstein about
how to deal with scientific description. They discovered things in quantum
mechanics that were so strange that it forced them to change their concepts
of causality, time and space. Yet they could only describe them using
their known words and concepts of time, causality and space. Scientific
language is rooted in everyday language and must obey the same conditions
Bohr also said that we are suspended in language in a way so we don't
know what is up and what is down. We can't ask about the relation concepts-reality,
we can only try to approximate our language to the scientific situations
we are trying to describe. He also pointed at another banal and totally
overlooked fact, namely that every person who uses language finds him/herself
in a concrete situation, this fact in itself influences the situation
and how we can talk about it, and these situations can be described in
an infinite number of ways.
Peter Zinkernagel used Bohr's discovery to solve the above-mentioned philosophical
problem of the existence of the material world. Logical relations are
on a level deeper than formal logic. We learn to respect these logical
relations as we learn to speak our mother tongue, but are normally not
conscious of them.
When a person says "Only I, or only my doubting mind, exists,"
this person forgets that the thinking is done by a person, and a person
has a body, the thoughts are written down by a hand which is a material
thing, and it is expressed in language, which is a social phenomenon,
brought to each person by other persons whose existence is denied by the
language, the hand and the person who makes this assertion.
That is a contradiction of another kind than contradictions in formal
Logical relations: persons-bodies, persons-concrete situations, concrete
situations-assertions, persons-the rights of persons, are conditions for
description and anybody who wants to use language rationally must observe
them. This is horribly banal and trivial but totally overlooked. Maybe
because it removes the foundations for a lot of speculative thinking,
a lot of fine distinctions and so on, people don't want to acknowledge
it. Even worse: they don't want to acknowledge it because it's right.
In short: One logical relation is the relation between language and reality.
We don't know exactly what language or reality is, but we know that they
are different factors, none of which we can refer to without the other.
We can't distinguish between knowledge of language and knowledge of the
world. Instead of trying to characterize the relationship between language
and reality, we should try to understand what this relationship means.
Why is all this philosophical stuff so important? We have already talked
about the power of language. There is a tendency that we lock ourselves
up in language and concepts and identify the world with them. We have
this ability to perceive our knowledge as a way of mastering the world.
This becomes increasingly a danger because our daily surroundings are
increasingly products of our language.
If we don't respect logical relations, language can very easily become
a tool for manipulation. But if we are able to talk rationally about things
that require a rational dialogue, we can open space for other kinds of
language as well. Of course persons are not entirely rational beings (perhaps
not at all). We have however the possibility of acknowledging logic, as
a decisive factor which everyone must observe - and logic is not a question
of power, who is right or wrong, but of what is right and wrong.
There is also a tendency in us to view our consciousness as a kind of
container that holds parts of the world. However, it's very hard to know
how our consciousness relates to the world and to other persons' consciousness.
We know little about this.
We tend to regard language as a mere tool for communication. However it
also shapes our perception of the world and influences the ways in which
we communicate, as you pointed out.
When we first encountered these things through Zinkernagel, we were really
starving to hear someone talk about reality and politics. At that time
nobody dared to do that, probably because of Marxism. When things are
so bound up with power as they were at that time in that climate, and
still is, the most important thing is to keep up with the power talk which
during our studies was a certain branch of aesthetic philosophy with a
whole inventory of distinctions which you had to learn by heart. And to
speak in this banal way about persons and bodies was equal to making a
declaration of imbecility. So that was what we did.
And we showed that when we talk about art we must always talk about persons
and their meaningful behavior with other persons and things in concrete
situations. Because persons are something that have rights and therefore
should be treated as persons, the rights of persons must also be decisive
for art. This is a discovery that has a potential for making us understand
how we can talk about art in an objective way, for the first time. To
understand things about art - this could, together with facts, be the
basis of an art criticism based on objective knowledge instead of on subjective
opinions, habitual conceptions and conventions. This would do away with
art institutions and concentrations of power related to this human behavior,
and make art an obvious part of everyday life, if persons take it seriously
and understand what logical relations mean to art.
The significance of logical relations is of course not something one can
mediate, it's something one has to experience. That's why it is so difficult
to talk about. It already sounds like a credo: "logical relations".
You know for all the talk of logical relations and consequences there
is still a level of belief in all of this that you refuse to acknowledge.
There are times when waves of solipsism (that ancient and maniacal way
of thinking that just can't be dismissed totally) wash over me... intense
doubt as to the existence of anything but myself. Berkeley and Hume reduced
humans to nothing but sensations happening in a mind. Kant came along
and said this isn't true basically because we don't act as if it were
true. I haven't read this material in years, but I vaguely remember with
Kant that this was a stumbling block. It frustrated him that a total proof
wasn't possible that we aren't just in our heads. I don't act as if I
am just in my head, but there is doubt.
I am going out of town in an hour and will work on this during the weekend.
I need to give some thought to a lot of the last email. I have a great
deal of skepticism about logical relations and what it is you think you
have found and need to think through my responses.
Hello Okay! I finally understand logical relations. I will be sending
an enormous email tomorrow.
Okay, so like I said, I finally understand logical relations - or maybe
it is more like I have a beginning understanding. I have been thinking
about your email all weekend long. My Western-Man-Judeo-Christian-Greek-Philosophy-Anarchist-American-White-Middle-Class
worldview has finally come into focus. Thank you for being so persistent
in trying to get me to understand logical relations. I am a little bit
embarrassed that is has taken me so long to understand. I have been trying
to understand your writings for a long time now and worked hard to grasp
what you were saying. Seeing my "world view" for what it is
was the hardest thing - it was the step that I was unable to take until
the email you sent really clearly articulated where your ideas are coming
from. It is interesting that I have had an intuitive understanding of
a lot of these things, but have not been able to articulate them concretely
until now. I have several questions and comments now that I would appreciate
your feedback on: (Some of them are my own attempts at understanding the
thinking process of the past few days) Concentrations of power (schools,
churches, socialization, cliques, art clubs...) use concentrations of
power (circumscribed knowledge, prejudices, ideologies, isms...) to impart
understandings of the world and relations of persons to other persons
and therefore obfuscates logical relations.
Concentrations of power (Western Philosophy, mind/body split, metaphysics...)
forced me to frame my understanding of my own existence INSIDE of a concentration
or power - an ideological framework. Irrationality isn't a position from
which to understand the world, but is one of an infinite number of ways
of describing one's relation to the world. The logical relation here is
that the irrationality of a person is "in a concrete situation"
that exists in a potentially infinite number of ways of description but
isn't the decisive description or understanding. I know what I mean, but
it is hard to say. How is it possible to work just from logical relations
alone? They don't allow us to say an enormous amount about things. They
seem to be more like broad guidelines - but this is too much of a metaphysical
description that I know causes confusion in relation to logical relations:
it seems inevitable that this will happen over and over again no matter
how careful you are.
I think that it would be incredible to generate some new statements -
based on logical relations - specifically about ideology, Judeo-Christian-Western-Philosophical
Thought and other "world views".
I am quite serious about applying our discussions and thoughts to this
question of eating meat or more broadly the rights of animals to exist
(or maybe logical relations would show no such right - I am curious to
see where this goes). If you can locate human rights in logical relations,
then it will have to follow that at least some animals deserve rights
as well. We certainly don't need to eat meat to survive. There are historical
examples of pre-historical vegan human cultures as well as herbivorous
primates. This is complicated by the fact that the great majority of our
human ancestors ate meat. I really want to explore this in terms of the
historical concentrations of power that have allowed humans to force animals
to be food, slaves and so on. There are also ideas that hunting and destroying
animals is a patriarchal construct that contributes to the subjugation
of women to second-class citizenship. There are clear studies as well
that show that children who abuse animals are almost certain to be violent
and abuse other people. There are certainly animals that clearly have
intelligence or cognitive capacity that is not so far from ours. They
also have social and power structures. We have a sliding scale of rights
that we "allow" animals to have. This is tied into how we think
of ourselves - human-centered thinking is a concentration of power that
needs to be seriously contended with.
You say that you have had an intuitive understanding of these things but
haven't been able to formulate them until now. That reaction corresponds
with ours as we first encountered this way of thinking. That is very interesting.
You understand that logical relations are the most radical repudiation
of western-man-Judeo-Christian etc, by its own means, within the same
tradition, language / logic. This is a much stronger way of criticizing
than for example importing worldviews from other cultures. You ask how
it is possible to work from logical relations alone. The answer must be
that it is impossible to work without them. But of course it is possible
to violate them. Logical relations represent an articulation of things
we have had an intuitive understanding of as you say. When we worked with
them explicitly our experience was that this reinforced some of the things
we had said and done before. For example: our relationship to authorities,
language, how we tried to work with the whole situation and not only objects,
and many things.
Furthermore the articulation that art has to do with persons and their
behavior with other persons and things in concrete situations felt like
an enormous opening up of possibilities and that we had a way of arguing
logically for making steps outside of conventions. We were well founded,
so to speak. There was no need of institutional frames in order to convey
strange and visible behavior.
Of course there is the guideline in logic that if you want to speak rationally
you have to observe the relations of logic, including those that pertain
to persons and their rights, and therefore you have to try to exist with
as small concentrations of power as possible.
Where in logical relations does the idea of a person having rights come
from? Where does our notion of rights come from and why do persons have
What specifically does it mean to say, "Treat a person as a person"
or where does your idea of a person as being a thing that has rights come
from? What is the logical relation that you have worked out here? I know
that you say there is an infinite number of ways to describe a person.
If this is the case, how can you attach rights to a person without attaching
ideological thinking to it?
"Treating persons as persons and therefore as having rights".
This is something many people ask about. A common argument against it
is that issues of morality are outside of the area that we can talk objectively
about. That questions of how we should treat each other are treated differently
in different societies and that for example women have no rights in Saudi
Arabia. This doesn't prove that women have no rights. It only proves that
they have no legal rights in Saudi Arabia. The argument doesn't convince
us that we cannot say that women should be treated as persons and therefore
as having rights, also in Saudi Arabia.
The core point is the should-word. Persons should be treated as persons
and therefore as having rights. If we deny this, there are two possibilities:
either to say that persons should be treated as persons, but not as having
rights. But here you overlook the inextricable relations between the words
persons and rights and therefore, if you try to talk of a person as if
this person has no rights, it is in fact no longer a person you are talking
about, but something else, that has no rights. The other option is to
say that the person should not be treated as a person, which makes even
less sense. Therefore we cannot talk of persons without talking of the
rights of persons.
"Rights" is a word that is loaded with references to political
struggles, the French revolution, UN conventions etc. Still it is the
closest we can get to a term that strictly tells of the necessity to treat
each other in an ethical way. Others words would either be too weak or
too specific. It still works in relation to different cultures: There
is no reason to assume that Native Americans or Inuit people had no notion
of each other as persons with rights or that they had no notion of the
difference between "I do" and "I ought to do" (and
this doesn't mean that every language has a word corresponding to "ought
to") They may have acted differently than we would and done things
that in our view would be considered unethical. One has to remember that
all actions are anchored in concrete situations with complexities which
are difficult to assess. However, just the fact of discussing ethics in
relation to other cultural practices implies acceptance of fundamental
rights. We can only say that rights are a factor which is present in concrete
situations, even if they are not considered in the moment of action.
So to try to put it differently, it is a fundamental characteristic of
persons that we have rights. To say this isn't any more ideological than
saying that persons have bodies.
About animals and rights: It is a different discussion and we think we
should wait a little. It is very important not to mix animal rights and
persons´ rights. We understand that you feel strongly about this
but you must agree that we have bigger problems?
Okay, we can put this aside for now and focus on the rights of humans.
I just needed to put some of this out there. It is clear that I have really
strong feelings about this, but you know from experience that I have never
tried to impose them on anyone.
Having the understanding that you do of logical relations, what compelled
you all to do the work you have been doing since first formulating "ART
ART AND REALITY creates space for the artist to make art. It has the potential
to make you understand what characterizes your situation. You understand
the influence of concentrations of power and that we should try to find
ways of existing with as small concentrations of power as possible. And
it becomes obvious that to create situations where persons become conscious
about the significance of persons and things is in itself very subversive.
Logical relations can't tell you exactly what to do. They tell you that
you should try to respect the rights of persons, but not how to do it.
They tell you that it is of the outmost importance to find ways of living
with as small concentrations of power as possible, but not how to do that.
They tell you that if you can create consciousness about the situation
persons are in, it could make them change the situation. But not exactly
how they should do it. Ideologies would often tell you exactly how to
act and what to feel while doing it. This is not the case with logical
So we have been trying to create significance in all the ways we have
the possibility to do it: Using everyday life things that anybody can
relate to, demonstrating, intervening factories, intervening public space,
using all kinds of media, creating our own distribution systems, our own
living and production facilities etc., etc. Our motives are various and
often influenced by totally irrational fascinations and feelings and social
relations. But we try to use all these talents and interests to create
One of the beautiful things we understood when we started to explore the
almost unexplored land of conscious knowledge of logical relations, was
that this knowledge respects diversity. And language is something we have
in common, and therefore we must be able to learn something from this.
To make the most basic thing we have in common the basis of understanding
our life in common, somehow makes sense?
About relations to the art institution: Art institutions do away with
art and persons. To work with them is of course a problem. But if we manage
to create meaningful situations even in the frame of an institution, we
are minimizing the influence of institutions. But the basis of our life
and praxis must be outside and self-made. It is possible to have a subversive
relation to the institution and to use its surplus at the same time.
We just found out last night that we (Temporary Services and the Stockyard
Institute) are being kicked out of the new building. The Catholic Church
owns the building and when they saw how much work we had done renovating
it they got greedy - fucking asshole capitalists. I am not doing any more
work there now as they want to raise the rent 2500%. This is a big setback,
but one that actually frees us to go and possibly buy a place of our own.
No one had a written lease so we can't take the Catholic Church to court.
We don't have any option but to pick up and leave. These cocksucking priests
are purely evil and can't see the value in what we are doing. They won't
get anyone to rent the building because businesses have been leaving the
neighborhood. This is disgusting! The Catholic Church is one of the most
evil organizations in the history of humans... this is business as usual.
It is good to read your articulations of the decisions you made of how
to practice after writing the ART AND REALITY text. I also enjoy what
you have to say about art institutions. This makes sense to me.
When I asked how it is possible to work from logical relations alone,
I think I was trying to point out a problem rather than directly ask that
question. I think that there are going to be many times (at least for
me until I understand logical relations better) that I will need to act
in ways that respond to things rapidly and which don't directly take logical
relations into consideration. Another way to put this is that I am always
going to slip back into the Western-man way of thinking even when I don't
realize it. This is the way that I have been raised and taught to think.
This doesn't mean that I won't work against thinking in this way, just
that it will be difficult to always identify it, vis a vis logical relations.
It was a long process for me to finally recognize what logical relations
are. No matter how anti-ideology or anti-hierarchical I was, it didn't
come close to the step that was needed to see it all as still a part of
an even larger ideology. How can we make this process easier for others?
Now this difficult stuff of "rights": This is what you wrote:
"Persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights.
If we deny this, there are two possibilities: either to say that persons
should be treated as persons, but not as having rights. But here you overlook
the inextricable relations between the words persons and rights and therefore,
if you try to talk of a person as if this person has no rights, it is
in fact no longer a person you are talking about, but something else,
that has no rights."
Persons should be treated as persons... Okay, I am with you this far.
This is a tautological relationship. It is the next part that I don't
see as logically connectable to being a person, and therefore as having
rights. What is it about people that says that they have rights at all?
If you say that there are an infinite number of ways to describe a person,
then how does the quality of "having rights" bear any more significance
than another quality - or as being a quality of definitive meaning? This
is an assumption on your part, not a logical consequence of being human.
If it is a logical consequence then you need to show me. To say, "Persons
should not be treated as persons" is totally absurd. But the sentence
"Persons should be treated as persons, but not as having rights"
is a slippery way of "locating" rights as a part of persons
being. This sentence sounds awkward to those of us still hanging on to
Western-man sentimentality and notions of humanism. But if you can't locate
rights as something concretely attached to persons and only find it in
a sentimental appeal it just isn't a strong enough statement or one that
seems like it carries the weight of the other things you have showed me.
You say that the word "should" is crucial here, but it only
says how persons might treat one another. I don't see where this implies
the presence of rights at all. Where in the world do rights exist? How
do we logically locate them and talk about them? We can logically locate
language and the world and persons saying things and other things. Where
do we logically find rights outside of a backdoor proof?
"So to try to put it differently, it is a fundamental characteristic
of persons that we have rights. To say this isn't any more ideological
than saying that persons have bodies."
It is though. To say that I have a body is something that I know without
any thought. To say that "Persons should be treated as person, but
not as having bodies" is really different than saying "Persons
should be treated as persons, but not as having rights". I am just
not convinced yet. Give me more.
Our postulate is:
Persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having rights. You
cannot deny this without saying something wrong: There are two possibilities:
Here is a person, but this person should not be treated as a person or:
here is a person who should be treated as a person but not as having rights.
This does not make sense. So why don't you understand this? Would you
also deny that 2+2=4?
You are confused by the word "rights". You think about law and
so forth. But we are talking about rights on a much more basic level here
- the keyword here is "should" or "ought to". "Ought
to" always implies certain demands on behavior. Persons should be
treated as persons. Persons should not be treated as bubble gum because
persons are very different from bubble gum.
"Here is a person who should be treated as a person but not as having
rights." We could translate this to something like: Here is a person
and persons exist in concrete situations, but we cannot say anything about
how this person should be treated, not even that he or she should be treated
as a person, even though he/she is a person, because this would imply
that he/she had rights and we do not understand anything by the word rights
that has to do with the word "should" for "ought to".
Persons and bubble gum are the same and rights do not mean anything.
Please try to imagine yourself in a concrete situation. There are other
persons there, and you are not at all concerned about how to treat them.
Does it make sense?
It is our experience that persons have an intuitive feeling about how
they should act towards other persons. Not precisely what to do, but what
one has to do not to harm other persons.
You are mixing up different levels of language. When we talk about logical
relations or conditions for description, we talk about a very primitive
level that can tell us very little about exactly what rights are. But
the quantity "rights" exists. This is a fact that you cannot
deny. And if we don't talk about rights as something persons can have,
it does not make any sense to talk about rights.
A common complaint from Asian countries when the UN or the US insists
on upholding standards of international human rights is that the notion
of "rights" is a Western one that doesn't take into consideration
the more Asian "rights of the community" or the "larger
common good". People are tortured, or so the argument goes, to preserve
the body of the population (can't remember the Latin word that means this
more precisely - corpus populi or something like that). Yes, this sounds
offensive to Western ears, but is something that is understood and accepted
as an important value in some countries. This highly complicates notions
of rights as something found in the world as concretely as bodies or the
need to eat food, have shelter, breathe clean air...
Persons should be treated as persons and therefore as having the need
to eat. If we deny this we get, persons should be treated as persons,
but not as having the need to eat. The need to eat doesn't imply at all
what we should eat. It is logical to say that we need to eat. If we don't,
we will die and can't exist as persons. It doesn't follow at all that
we should eat animals, at the same time it doesn't follow that we should
In this we can't say that the "need" to eat is the same as the
"right" to eat. Maybe we can. The right to eat comes from the
need to eat. If we have the need to eat, and can only retain being persons
through eating, then depriving us of food deprives us of being a person.
YES! Here is where the rights are - those things that don't allow us to
exist as persons or to continue existing as humans indefinitely. Okay,
I am beginning to see where the rights are. Please make this clearer to
Animals... A human is an animal. The embryos of most animals look identical
at a certain point of development. Our DNA is a lot closer to that of
rats than we ever thought until recently. Animals have discrete personalities
and intelligent presences in the world. This is the case outside of anthropomorphic
sentiments. It is experienced directly and intuitively after spending
any significant time with an animal.
I am curious to know how you would have handled the goat you roasted and
ate if first you had to care for it for many years, be its friend and
companion and then destroy it yourself for your own pleasures. You tell
me you want to be outside of ideology and work from logical relations,
but this seems to me like an all too easy participation in the abstraction
of the animal into its opposite: meat. Meat is devoid of suffering, personality,
pain, individuality, passions, instincts and so on. It has been processed
by a mechanism of ideology and denial. Some feminists argue that eating
meat is eating a patriarchal structure or is ritually reinforcing a division
of labor that has historically suppressed women. Maybe this is the case.
We are drawing lines all the time. You have drawn your line at humans
and only recognize their rights. I have put the line into a somewhat murkier
place and sometimes the line extends to beings that I feel nothing for.
Eating eggs is problematic for me, but also a necessity for a host of
social and biological reasons - none of which stand up if I really think
about them, but I choose not to deal with this. Why? Probably because
of the position of power I am in over chickens. I do choose only to eat
eggs from free range, corn fed chickens. Their suffering is reduced. This
is something that has slowly changed in the US. There are a lot more free-range
eggs available now. I can't help thinking that the actions of a few scattered
individuals started this. I think that individual actions always have
an impact even if we can't see their results. Your actions are already
having an impact by participating in patterns that exceed your perceptual
To say that rights are an invention by the western societies is a typical
relativistic way of thinking. But it is wrong. We have no reason at all
to believe that language on the level we are talking about here is different
because of different cultures.
Asians have bodies. They cannot walk through walls. They are persons and
they have rights. Just like western persons. The quantity rights exist
as well as the quantity person. It does not make any sense to talk about
the quantity rights without talking about rights as something persons
have and it does not make sense to talk about persons without talking
about persons as having rights. Mankind has discovered the quantity persons
and the quantity rights, not invented them.
The logical relation between persons and rights is of decisive importance
when we talk about persons. Rights are something that characterizes persons,
in contradistinction to minor things like somebody's hair colour.
The discussion of how close humans are to animals is a different discussion
that doesn't have anything to do with whether persons have rights. The
biological borders may be blurred, still, everyone understands what is
meant by "person". You don't think of cats and dogs.
I have an intuitive understanding of my body, concrete situations and
other things. I am just not to the point where rights are intuitive in
the same way. Maybe it is the word "rights" that is too loaded.
If the word were something closer to what it is that I actually think
you are talking about, but is much harder to articulate, then I think
I do have an intuitive sense of it - but I can't use the word "rights".
Back to manual for DISCUSSIONS
Back to manuals
Back to HOME