I was hanging out at a local bar with a fellow geek, enjoying the Vietnamese style happy hour.
Portland was still taking in lots of refugees from Southeast Asia when I moved back here, the American War there having started around when my family left, to live as expats.
Dad was not a draft dodger. He was planning to be a conscientious objector. I remember seeing the paperwork being eaten in Bangladesh — by insects that had taken over the storage closet.
As a civilian clerk, dad rode a troop ship to Japan. But they never called his number for later wars and he made it through grad school, with degrees in International Relations from Johns Hopkins, and in Planning from the University of Chicago. My decision to avoid grad school and go straight into high school teaching may have been influenced by my not even having to register with the Selective Service.
An Oregon team was playing on the big screens at Short Round, women’s basketball. I was reminded of how cities play each other.
We have the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Portland Timbers, which play basketball and soccer (football) respectively, against teams from other cities.
Portland is not the legal capital of Oregon. On the contrary, a tradition with many states is to not have the biggest city be the capital also, as that concentrates too much power in one place. However, a city may be informally, or extra-legally, a capital in many dimensions.
Wilmington, Ohio is a Hog Capital.
Portland was once designated a capital of open source, by the Christian Science Monitor, a badge we wore with pride, back in the day.
I’m leading up to my own private meaning for “capitalism” which I shared with my geek friend: “a capitalist plays capitals off against each other”. In other words, the many world cities vie with one another for reputation, in various dimensions, seeking ascendancy.
Competition is there.
Capitalism is a great game, played by capitals.
Of course no one in the world means “the game of capitals” but me, one more denizen of Portland, one more citizen of Cyberia. No one cares that I mean that. Indeed, how possible is it for someone to “invent a meaning” in the first place, for any word?
That’s a deep question actually, and is explored by more than just philosophers. Marketers make up new words (such as Tylenol and Corolla) and apply spin to existing words. Spin doctors pop up in all walks of life. Isn’t every original communication in some sense an invention, in the domain of the meaningful?
That last paragraph might be read as defensive, as me saying “I have as much right as any capitalist to make capitalism mean what I say it means”. In going head to head with other capitalists, I’m demonstrating my ability to capitalize on my tiny edge, and to pry it wider.
Once I gain a fat margin, others will call me “fat cat” and a consensus will develop, that in fact I know what I’m talking about, when I talk about capitalism. That’s a business plan.
I’ll give some more background about where this thinking comes from. Lets go back to ancient Greece, the age of the Polis, the City. From this word “polis” we get “politics” and “polling” and “police,” as well as “polite”. In school we learned about Athens and Sparta, the latter more into warring as a lifestyle. Two cities in contention.
Classical education, which I brushed with, had a strong city state meme going, as an historical phenomenon.
Later, we’d get to the hill towns dotting the landscapes of Europe. Machiavelli advised his prince. City states. Capitals. Merchants.
Lets take a side trip at the point, to Florence in 1299. Do a search on the web and you will find restrictions against doing bookkeeping with Arabic numbers.
The new sifr or cipher language, popularized in Liber Abaci by Fibonacci, was too opaque, too alien, too unfamiliar, in the eyes of the legislature. The banks were in danger of being outlawed, if they used the reckoning system of the seafaring cultures, those people from over the horizon. This form of suppression could not last. The Renaissance was upon us (we the Florentines).
I bring up this story in part to introduce encryption, the technology for sharing information with only the intended parties. The “parties intended” may be simply defined, as “those able to decipher the code”.
That’s how everyday reading works, when the writing is intended for the generic reader.
“If you’re able to read this, then you’re entitled to receive the messages it contains” reads like a truism, in some circumstances.
Back to city states… It’s not “every city for itself” against all the others. That’s not a fun game, as one is always outnumbered. Playable games include doable roles.
Partly why some games are no fun anymore, is some of the roles have become unplayable as defined. The players, unable to do the undoable, get written up as corrupt, which gets the scapegoating going.
When games become unplayable, they descend into finger pointing. “Who broke the game?” is more the question.
We move to a meta-game, where the rules come into question.
Might the game be salvaged?
People ask that about capitalism.
The Atlantic Monthly did an article not so long ago, picked up by NPR, about how the new media presidency as we get through contemporary screenwriting, has only a tenuous connection to any actual job a mortal could fill.
People have let their expectations of a president get way out in front of the actual physics. The theatrics stay real. The props. Given it’s a media presidency anyway, bare theatrics is enough for day to day operations.
But when will the miracles be performed? The circus-goers get antsy.
I’d like to see Portland help take some of the pressure off these other hill towns that have painted themselves into a corner. In rescuing perfectly good cities from dire straits, Portland could win some good friends, adding strength to our Pacific Rim alliance.
However, when I say “Pacific Rim” I do not thereby mean “American Lake” in the same way as some of the other spin doctors.
But again, no one needs to care about these cryptic remarks, by someone with a private meaning for “capitalism”.
So what if I don’t sound like your average Anglo?
Who has the time to decipher whatever occult meanings may lurk here?
Life is short, right?
The District of Columbia is a kind of Mecca to many well-meaning people, including Friends and their FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation). The Quakers actually have their own lobby, as well as their social activist arms, which include Peace Teams and QVS, in addition to the better known AFSC (American Friends Service Committee).
My work with the AFSC helped me appreciate the refugee influx that was going on when I returned here, in the 1980s.
Quakerism enters the picture as helping to inform capitalism, which in 1700s England meant a kind of feudal industrialism. Labor was mostly exploited, treated as an expendable expense, but then some Quaker businesses, mindful of “that of God in everyone” were pioneering more utopian practices.
This made them both annoying and a threat, but also a goldmine for memes for budding ideologues.
“Quakernomics” would resonate into the future, as a vision of a benign capitalism that could have been.
Perhaps the Russians would one day embrace it?
Quakers helped establish the “fixed price catalog” wherein the identities, and social class, of parties to the transaction, were irrelevant. The price was not consequent on future favors.
The “fixed price” ethic was well suited to commerce among strangers, where a high degree of anonymity was preserved. A lot of that same ethic is evident in the crypto-currencies of today, as preceded by public key cryptography more generally.
Capitalism helped erode classism in some dimensions, even while instituting new forms of more transient snob appeal.
The royal pedigree might not mean as much, but you could still afford a certain stink (archaic meaning), a perfumed smell, that might signify social rank in some way.
British urban centers served as launching pads for this new business-minded sect, with Meetings for Business at the core of its worship-based practice.
Was this a religious cult based around money?
The cynical might have thought so, but then the activist wings would take up unpopular causes, such as the plight of prisoners and the insane. Few Christians cared about those, at least at first.
Quakerism became more fashionable as doing good spread, as a way of increasing business and profitability.
Portland’s capitalism, the way I define it, boils down to (devolves?) into boosterism at some level. I work to put Portland on the map as a world capital, top ranking in this or that.
But I might do this in ways that assist Philadelphia, and by extension some of the other Quaker cities, such as Whittier.
I’m all for getting a kind of civic spirit going, whereby the more utopian vibes of Quakernomics give more hope and career juice to the Refugee Scientists.
You may have seen some of my stories on Refugee Science already. I have some sites picked out by PDX, near the airport, which I imagine might someday showcase what Pacific Rim engineering has to offer, when it comes to shelter solutions, and I’m not talking about wooden houses necessarily, which is what our area is well known for.
Nor am I talking about the prison, another housing solution, not by choice, for many desperate Americans.
Take the tour. See what our experimental prototype communities of tomorrow look like.
They don’t always have to be close to airports, but it’s good to have models to look at close to shippers. Ikea is nearby too, and has already provided some domicile designs.
That’s right, we could make Portland a world capital of Refugee Science.
We experienced the American War period.
We have many refugees from capitalism (the old one).
We have Mercy Corps.
We have Quakers.
The question is whether we have the engineering savvy. As an open source capital (as well), I’m guessing we do.