How to think property liquid - lecture Jan Ritsema


From the economy of a factory to the economy of a public park

This is about change and transformation and transduction and transportation.
When somebody else speaks to us we verify the things said with what we know, we need a point of reference of recognition and with this we assess what we hear, we agree or disagree with it. This technique is oriented towards stability, towards fixation rather than floatation and flexibility. Would it be possible to imagine that you just listen without checking it with-what-you-think, with-who-you think-you-are and with-what-you-think-is-right-or-wrong? I call these opinions and positions one’s mental property.
In this lecture I will try to think physical and mental properties liquid.
Physical properties are the things you think you own, like your car, your laptop or your child. Mental properties are defined by the same rigid, stable or fixed positions as the physical properties. To liquidize both is what is discussed here.

I will question in this lecture, why a position of potentiality, of, it can be this but it can also not be this, is not the permanent one and on the contrary the state of appropriation, zueignung, of property, es gehört mich, is the leading one, the state of I am right, the state of it is like this, the state of they are wrong, stupid, fixated, consumers. These are dead positions, that do not move anymore, like all opinions and value judgements. Fixed statements aren’t sensitive for complexity, to say it more simple: don’t allow doubt.
But you know also that everything around us, moves/changes/transforms/metastasises. You also know that our brains are to small to know, just like you know that the brains of a butterfly or a pigeon or a cow are too small or too slow to know many things. Your brain is made for chance operations, to guess, not to know, your brain is very well equipped to consider different options at the same time, but God never gave you, nor wanted to give you the ability to really know undoubtably. One pretends to know. Although you know also that people that know a bit more than you of a certain field, would never say that it is like this. Scientists happily enough know that they don’t know, therefore they doubt. Doubting is a natural habit of scientists. Where there is no doubt there is no science. Religion, on the contrary, unhappily enough, does not doubt, has no sense for complexity, religion is always an operation to reduce, to simplify, religion knows how things are, work and will be, now and in the future, here and in the country, called heaven, where we don’t know anything of. My foot. When one undoubtably knows, one uses the techniques of religion.

Besides the many mental properties you own, you have many material properties. And when I talk about property further on, I always talk about both: mental ànd material property.

In this lecture I will try to celebrate this infinite pool of potentiality we are swimming in. Or when you want: this infinite pool that God gave us. I don’t deny that there is something smarter than us going on. But I cannot grasp it, my brain simply can’t grasp this. This God, that manifests itself in everything in and around us, is something beyond our tools of understanding. Not one grain of my brain wants to bother about this.

Yes, it is boring to hear and boring to say, but we still organize our lives based on the conditions formulated in the late 19th century industrial society with its Fordist workforce, his hierarchies, and exclusions, his belief in inequality, his concept of master and pupil, boss and employee, his educational classroom teaching, his task orientation. Based on the one-thing-at-a-time, one-thing-after-another. But the common space and the common time are continuously changing. And it is in this common time and space which we are producing continuously and which is producing us at the same time, it is there where our productivity finds its place, it is there where value is produced. Value is nothing else but the ability of a thing to change, to transform.

Maybe this lecture will sound to be very little about art. It might look like this, but all notions and concerns are addressed to artists, addressed to this army of artists of which many are still working from what Beckett tends to call one of the three deceases most artists suffer from. Decease no.1: can I do it, can I paint, can I dance, can I direct… Instead of taking the position of “I can do it, but I also can not do it”, enjoying this state of infinite potentiality and have this potentiality work for them.

In this lecture I will talk about fixation versus flexibility, nomadic versus sedentary, specific versus unspecific, defensiveness versus hospitality , stability versus liquidity, time versus space, history versus potentiality.

I am talking about property and appropriation. What does it mean property? It looks like as if property, as if ownership, equals the using of it. When we see children play in the sandbox and hear them screaming: “no no, go away this is mine” we think that they talk about property, “it is mine” but they only talk about the use of it: ‘I am now playing with it, so dont take it away from me’.
When things you are working with are taken away from you, with violence, or without asking, we enter an area of suppressiveness. I support the protest against violent interferences in whatever mental or physical territory you find yourself in and in whatever sense.
But with the use of property or better to say the not-use the same sort of violence is at stake. In a certain way it is mirroring, the violence in the sandbox. It is the violence of ‘do not use what i dont use either’.
Do you see all the dead things lying around you in your sandbox that are not allowed to be used, when the owner does not use it. What a cemetery of dead objects. And crazy enough this bad example propulses others to build their own cemetery of not to be used objects.
Property is the right to have things NOT used, although the things are available.
There is something to be discussed here, isn’t there? Because I don’t know what is worse: do not take what I am using , OR, do not take what I dont use either.
It seems we live in a world constructed not of using and moving, but of not using, of arrest, of dead objects. Not at the still point of the turning world, there is the dance. But at the still point of the turning world there is inertia, there is the dead.
In the meantime the world does, on the surface, in its shopwindow as if it is energetic and moving. But this is window dressing of the funeral parlour behind this theatre of energy.

Bon, time to bury the dead.

BURNT NORTON part2 second part
(No. 1 of 'Four Quartets')

T.S. Eliot

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

So far T.S.Eliot.

Back to property and potentiality.
You know that you are not an egocentric consumer, not a propriator, you know, you don’t want to exclude others, you are an embracer, you know that you want to give, better to say, that you want to share, everything that you have, because you understand that when we share what-we-have and what-we-think with eachother, we all will be much richer. You say to yourself: that when one street can share all the time and space and objects that are available in that street they all would be much much richer. But this can only happen on one condition that everybody takes care of everything, maintains everything as if they were the owner themselves, just like the renting contracts tell you to take care of the goods trusted to you as a good father of the house, or mother of the house, but this will never work, collective responsibility wont work, we know this, we have experience, communism top down. So I propose a mix. Its very simple. It works like this: You keep the property over the object, over your objects, it is your chair, your car, your laptop, your child, but you make its use available for everybody who offers, like you, their objects to you. There are no other rules but to make it possible for each other (as you know: when everybody makes it possible for each other it will be very nice for you too). And you do this with every thing or many things you have, -this making it possible for each other. But you can keep, for only private use, as many things as you want. Sharing is not an obligation, it is free. You are free to decide with how many others you want to share of course. Just like the many different connections that define the many different qualities of so many different carbon compounds.

We live in a carbon driven world. Everything we made and everything that lives, that works, that moves, that spend energy or has spend energy does this by burning carbon. The basic building stone of our world. It is present in all known life forms. In the human body carbon is the second most abundant element by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen. This abundance, together with the unique diversity of organic compounds (it forms more compounds than any other element) and their unusual polymer-forming ability, make this element the chemical basis of all known life. Natural carbon biopolymers such as DNA and proteins are as we all know and experience essential for life.
Carbon can appear in many forms. The best known allotropes of carbon are graphite, diamond, and amorphous carbon. Amorphous carbon is the name used for coal, soot and other impure forms of the element carbon that are neither graphite nor diamond. Besides carbon being the building block of our world, it is also the abundance of forms through which it manifests itself that have my interest. Their many different qualities depend on how they are organised, in a line, or bend, or three dimensional, or as a cone, or square or flat and of their quantity of connections, of, if each carbon is connected to 2,3,4, other carbon elements. The huge variety (there are ten million pure organic compounds) and the differences of organisation make the many different qualities.
One of them, the renewable carbon, of which the use is highly subsidised by many governments to replace the wellknown fossile carbon.
These ten million pure organic compounds described to date, are a tiny fraction of compounds that are theoretically possible. The myriads of combinations and forms that are possible with our building blocks seem to be also possible with the elements called humans themselves.

Where was I, before i got trapped into the carbon?
You are free to decide with how many others you want to share of course. Just like the many different connections that define the qualities of so many different carbon compounds.
You do this with the things you own ànd that can be returned in your property, and that you can take back for and only use by you.

The reasoning is simple. What I propose is to twist the way we organize the accumulated capital that is in our possession a bit. We now say: what I own is by exception and under strict conditions sometimes available for selected others. Lets twist this to: what I own is in principle for free available for others, unless I use it or need it myself, I have the first choice of its use, by exception I exclude it from being used by others than myself, but I have always the right, without being reproached or in any way punished to prevent others or any other of using it.

So ownership, property, will be kept the base of this society, but we make ownership liquid, floating. Contrary to what it is supposed to be: stable, protective, exclusive,defensive.
Again, we only talk about that, that can be returned to you.
So we talk about your space, your rooms, your chair, your books, your car, your tools, your kids, your laptop and your reasonings, your opinions. We dont talk about your bread or food, your petrol, or your bankaccount, about things who’s existence can evaporate, can be consumed too easily. We talk about sharing the use of your property, not of the consumption of it.
Isn’t this just the same as lending, borrowing but then a bit easier?
In principle yes, but with this difference that lending here is not an exception, but a principle. And also with this rule that when the used thing breaks or get lost, the car or the child or the laptop one uses, one does not need to replace it. The original owner can decide himself to have it repaired or replaced.
This might look strange to you. But as all things are tools, are machines, are means of production, everybody raises his productivity by a more intensive use of these tools, whether this is a car, a child or laptop, so they can easily pay for the replacement. Félix Guattari: try to look at things not as an object, but as a means, as a machine to bring you somewhere. Not a machine does something, a machine does not function for the machine itself, it is a machine that makes you to become something. You have to allow yourself to give up the idea that a machine has an on or off mode. A thing, a tool, a machine is always already an offer to be used. It is always in function. Just like a chair is an ongoing invitation to sit. It produces you to sit. There is this overwhelming amount of potentiality. Constantly this being surrounded by these many invitations that you càn do or not do something, specially when we share the things we surround each other with.

“The key of potentiality is its being potential: not just as potentiality to do this or that thing, but as potentiality to not do, as power to not pass into actuality. There is always the position available of “I can” and of “I also can not”.”
I quote and I paraphrase here and there in this lecture, the Finnish sociologists/economists/philosophers Jussi Vähämaki and Akseli Virtanen when they describe potentiality in this article: Arbitrary Power or organizations with an open end.
What characterizes potentiality is its dwelling outside of any task or function – its opposition to energeia, actuality – its dwelling outside ‘history’: it tends always towards surpassing its own time, its own historical situation in which it is never fully translated.
Imagine our existence as potential beings, as beings which can do, say and think anything and of which anything can be expected. We experience this swimming in a pool of possibilities, which can and can not come to existence, and it is not only us, but also all others around us, experience at the same time this abundance of possibilities and the arbitrariness of all reasons and constraints.
But to go for this, to acknowledge this, modern economy must give itself up. It is the only way it can spread from the factory-office to every corner of society and life. From the factory to the public park.
According to André Orléan, the French economist, economics have come to the point in which it must include among the conditions that affect economic fluctuations, the knowledge of persons, their beliefs and the way they understand their surroundings and justify their actions. Production of economic value and production of society have a tendency to become one.
This means that economy and economics have to move from the limited sphere of rationality towards the totality of social life.
Jussi Vähämaki and Akseli Virtanen continue “New uninstitutional “institutions” will be born from the inadequacy and failure of the modern institutional forms of power.
(...) If the labour force of industrial societies was material in the sense that it was defined as an ability to say or do something particular or to belong to a particular place or a community and it could thus be organized through this particular meaning, action, place or a community, the mental labour force is something indeterminate and moving, something invisible and without a particular place or community. It moves on the level “spirit” rather than on “matter”, it is determined by time and not by space. It “is” only in time where there are no clear boundaries for what was before and after, where clearly defined and bounded actions and places grow dim. Henri Bergson defined this indeterminateness as “time”.
(…) The flexibility of humans, their capacity to live in almost every imaginable environment, to bask in any conceivable ambiance, is an active and not a passive faculty. The human being creates its own ambiance and its own problems. It is an animal that is able to change its fate.” So far the Finnish.

A society of sharing increases potentiality.
I was active in the sixties. Quite some of the political goals we embraced those days are realised, many others not, but not because wè made the change, finally society made the changes itself. We expressed them, society did it. Therefore what I propose is not a radical change, but a change that can propell changes. Therefore I propose that still you stay full owner of the things you own, with all the duties and rights you can excercise and which can be excercised on you, now; you are the one that decide under which restrictions and conditions your things can be used, but in principle you allow generously to share the use of the things you think you own, your car, your child or your laptop, etc.
I propose to turn Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s Proprieté c’est le vol, Property is stealing, into La Proprieté c’est nous, property is us. Meaning here: the opposite of ‘we are what we own’, by turning it into ‘we own what we are’. What we own is our stinginess or our generousity.
What we own is our means of dividuation. We can become dividuals. Dividabels. Contrary to individuals. Undividabels. Who always have this tendency to become one, that is, to become indivisable.

The process of dividuation is a process that celebrates differences and variations. That does not celebrate the one or any wholeness but that celebrates the falling apart, the decaying, pieces, transformations, metastases, homelessness.

What we own is our ability to grand growth and opportunity to all and everything around us. Again: Imagine when a street would be able to share all the time and space and objects that are available how much richer EVERYBODY in this street would be.
I know that the creation of individual property was once the means for individuals to liberate themselves from the power and repression of the (feudal) state. But now it is time to liberate us from the liberator. As the liberator became the repressor. Like so often in history. We have to defend us, to defend us against the prison in which we have locked up ourselves. And we all know, international travellers as we are, that the apparatusses and investments that are spent to protect our property become gross.
What am I saying here is: think and make property liquid, think and make it floating.
And don’t wait too long as many things are meanwhile getting liquidised in one way or another.
Let me give two examples:
1. the art market. The art market is somehow the place where material and mental property coincide. Since the exponential growth in quantity of artists the days of money value of art based on uniqueness and exclusiveness are over. Differences and variations define an intelligent art market nowadays. Damien Hurst, the cleverest businessman among succesful artists understood this and quickly dumped most of his stock of 200 works in december 2008 on a Sotheby auction, passing his galerists and making a more than expected turnover. The art market is losing its feeling for property. Art is many, it manifests itself in numerous different situations. And just by its mere quantity no longer artists will operate as individual change agents, but Art as such, this whole army of artists will lever changes.
2. the internet. free software, music, films and information on the internet. Chris Anderson, WIRED’s chief editor, wrote ‘FREE, enter in the economy of free’. The internet becomes a market of free and generous exchange. And the generous experience on the net will set the tone of making it possible, for each other, whatever the “it” is in your fysical life. Like couch-serving. A way of sharing, that jumps from the virtual into your real life.

And of course things have their specific properties
And of course things exclude merging
And of course each thing has its different DNA, that it protects
And of course we build houses to prevent us from cold and rain, to protect us against wind and snow
But a house is a tool, like any other object, an immobile tool, but not an unpenetrable tool.
Why prevent others, when you have enough space, not to share it with others?
Because they don’t protect you, they will make noise, they will penetrate into your world.
You are right.
Ok. I understand. But then what if you are not there.
No, No. No. They will steal, break things. Unique things, my antique, the portraits or plates from the family, valueble things.
Prevent your things from the danger of others.
Prevent yourself from the tools of others.

And keep your own castle well equipped and prepared for the end of your life and longer, for your family to live long after your death in it. Completely understandable in a world where the others are the hell, the danger. A world created on the principle Me for myself and God for all of us, and on, one has the luck to be born on a safe and relatively rich place or one happened to be born in more unlucky circumstances. For the first this means defend your position,for the second, fight yourself into it when you can. This mostly means when you are smart enough. This mostly means that you can be of use, mostly means that the rich can tap money out of you, mostly means that you adapt to their values, mostly means that you internalize their values, mostly means you become one of them, as them.

But what if when not only your things are available for you, but for all others too? You are paid, for making the use of your things available by others, by others who make their things available for you. So, your Rolls Royce is available for the private Cessna helicopter owner, two villa’s away from you, and so is his Cessna for you.
The only thing is that the users treat the used things as if they themselves owned it, that they dont leave traces, that they maintain it as if it was their own. If not, one does not borrow his Rolls Royce anymore, but then the helicopter might no longer be available either. This is part of the social exchange between people, who started with the principle that they want to make it possible for each other, without leaving traces.

When this would be possible we need far less investments to make things possible. All tools to produce are available everywhere for everybody and are used super intensely.

Is it that simple, Jan?
Yes, it is that simple and exciting.
Because: Most people are much smarter and much nicer than they allow themselves to be treated, by the society and its institutions and the representatives of these institutions, whether these are government officials, or private responsabels, whether they work at their limited task behind a desk, at a phone or in the street, in the hospital, at the townhall, in the school, in traffic, the news or in the arts.
Most people are much smarter and much nicer than they allow themselves to be treated.

Jan Ritsema

For ‘Woodstock of political thinking’. Munich, november 22, 2009.