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Public Secrets and Private Agony: Talking About Work!

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What (or whom) does knowledge serve? a good question on the wall of a closed school in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We might ask the same about work!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jobs Don’t Work! The whole structure of modern life has at its center the waged job. It doesn’t really matter if you’re making a paltry minimum wage (or less!) or nearly six figures (or more)—well, it does matter to YOU, since more money is better than less, self-evidently. But the deeper logic of our relationship to how we make life, how we reproduce the material and social conditions of our daily existence, is quite similar regardless of pay scale.

In this era, if you’re not pushing a shopping cart around looking for cans and bottles, or riding in your private jet to the next country club or gallery opening you probably describe yourself as “middle class.” This self-labeling carries social consequences that we don’t think or talk much about. If someone asks you what you do, you’ll probably answer with what your paid job is before quickly changing the subject, since talking about how unsatisfactory your work probably is just makes you look bad. It is socially forbidden to discuss how much money you actually make, even if comparing pay and benefits in a more transparent way would actually be extremely helpful to everyone. Instead, we are expected to glow with pride over how we trade our human capacities for creativity, engagement, sharing, skills, etc., for a vague but always apparently adequate amount of money. Complaints are frowned upon, whether regarding the work itself, the company, or the mysterious level of compensation. It’s ok to bitch about the boss, but all complaining is answered with the same pat solution: get another job! It is simply not allowed into the conversation—or most imaginations—that the “job” is itself the problem. That humans organized into a capitalist economy based on wage-work (whether by the hour or by the annual salary) necessarily leads the vast majority of us into profound loneliness, frustration over our inability to affect the world around us through what we do all day, despair over the emptiness of our daily lives, and a self-reproducing closed circuit of confusion and self-delusion. More »

Mais Amor: Forum Mundial da Bicicleta III in Curitiba, Brazil

Mais amor, or "more love" was the recurrent theme running through the 3rd World Bike Forum in Curitiba, Brazil.

Mais amor, or “more love” was the recurrent theme running through the 3rd World Bike Forum in Curitiba, Brazil.

After almost a week of travel and visiting Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo, it was time to fulfill my primary reason for travelling to Brazil this time. I took the plane to Curitiba in Paraná state, south of Sao Paulo, and was met at the airport by Danilo, a bicycle transportation coordinator for the City, but also a major activist and participant in organizing the Forum Mundial da Bicicleta III (3rd World Bike Forum) here. He was just the first of many wonderful people I met in Curitiba, characterized by warmth, generosity, enthusiasm, and huge hearts!

Goura and Luis Patricio were stalwarts on a team of wonderful people who made the Forum a great success. Me? I just hung around pointing at things I like!

Goura and Luis Patricio were stalwarts on a team of wonderful people who made the Forum a great success. Me? I just hung around pointing at things I like!

Here I am giving my Talk on Friday night before the wet Critical Mass on Feb. 14 in Curitiba.

Here I am giving my Talk on Friday night before the wet Critical Mass on Feb. 14 in Curitiba.

I was an invited guest to the first Forum two years ago in Porto Alegre, so it was an unexpected pleasure and honor to be invited again so soon. I had always wanted to see Curitiba, a city famous for being an early innovator in Bus Rapid Transit and garbage recycling programs a couple of decades ago. Today it is probably the calmest city I’ve been to in Brazil, fairly prosperous, and full of long pedestrian areas and a few wonderful bikeways that run many kilometers from the center to the outer edges of the city. The one I took every day runs just a half block from the home of Cassinha and Joaquim, my amazing and super generous hosts. Cassinha was also a key player on the organizing committee for the Forum, helping get a big donation from the local Industrial Association among her many talented contributions.

Cassinha on one side, Luis Patricio on the other, at the World Bike Forum.

Cassinha on one side, Luis Patricio on the other, at the World Bike Forum.

I have to admit I was feeling a bit jaded before the Forum began, having been to the first one two years ago, and before that to two different “Towards Car-Free Cities” conferences (Portland in 2008 and Guadalajara in 2009) and also a “Congreso Nacional de Ciclismo Urbano” conference in Guadalajara too. Similar experiences were had too in various international gatherings (albeit not about bicycling per se) in the World Social Forum in Belém, Brazil, and the Copenhagen Climate Change conference in 2009. But after four days of meeting, attending various presentations, riding in a “Bicicletada” (Critical Mass) in the rain on Valentine’s Day (actually in Brazil Valentine’s Day is June 12, same day celebrated as Mother’s Day in Mexico I think), getting a side trip in to visit Nova Primaveira (a squatted quasi-nowtopian community in the shadow of a big modern Toshiba Factory in the City of Industry section of Curitiba) and topping it off with a day-long journey to ride down the famous “Serra da Graciosa” yesterday, I have had a fantastic time here. So many wonderful people converge on these gatherings, mostly Brazilians from all over the country, but this time we also had Elly Blue from Portland, Carlos Marroquin from Bicimaquinas in Guatemala, Mona Caron (and Dustin Fosnot) from San Francisco, Carlos Cadena Gaitán from Medellin (via Maastricht, Holland), Lars Gemzøe from Copenhagen, Uwe Redecker from Kiel Germany, Olga Sarmiento from Bogotá, Galo Cardenas from Quito, Charlotte Fagan from Boston’s Bikes Not Bombs, and so on. I tend to think of this as a “Brazil Bike Forum” with international guests, akin to the annual Ciclismo Urbano conferences in Mexico (especially when you consider that the opening night’s session featured 6 guest speakers, all Brazilian, all in Portuguese without translation).

A soggy Critical Mass in Curitiba, here I am in conversation with Brazilian bike activist pioneer Renata Falzoni.

A soggy Critical Mass in Curitiba, here I am in conversation with Brazilian bike activist pioneer Renata Falzoni; Danilo and Goura in front.

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Nowtopia in Brazil

I gave my Nowtopia talk in front of Cafe Bonobo in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Sunday, February 9.

I gave my Nowtopia talk in front of Cafe Bonobo in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Sunday, February 9.

I decided I should read the excerpts from Nowtopia in the new Portuguese translation... wasn't easy, but I'm pretty sure I was at least understandable, though no doubt I mangled a lot of words as well as the proper rhythm/emphasis.

I decided I should read the excerpts from Nowtopia in the new Portuguese translation… wasn’t easy, but I’m pretty sure I was at least understandable, though no doubt I mangled a lot of words as well as the proper rhythm/emphasis.

The Brazilian edition!

The Brazilian edition!

Just wrapping up a fantastic 12 days in Brazil which started with flight delays and lost luggage as I arrived in Sao Paulo, only to rush on to Porto Alegre with borrowed clothes for the release of the Brazilian edition of Nowtopia. The publisher, Tomo Editorial of Porto Alegre, who I didn’t really know much about before arriving, turned out to be a very well organized, intelligent, respected small publishing house there, and I am very happy and proud to be associated with them. João Carneiros and Nazareth and Krishna and the rest of the staff were wonderful, and did a great job on book production and setting up a couple of events for me to launch the book and handling sales. And we had very good results: over 200 books sold in a little over a week of its availability!

I was in Porto Alegre for the 1st World Bike Forum in 2011, which was held on the 1st anniversary of a mad businessman driving through Critical Mass at full speed along this street. There is now a dedicated, separated cycletrack on this same street. Looks like progress to me!

I was in Porto Alegre for the 1st World Bike Forum in 2011, which was held on the 1st anniversary of a mad businessman driving through Critical Mass at full speed along this street. There is now a dedicated, separated cycletrack on this same street. Looks like progress to me!

My friends at Café Bonobo hosted me and the presentation in Porto Alegre, and I had a great time trying to read the translated version of Nowtopia excerpts in Portuguese. Apparently I didn’t mangle it completely because many people told me they were very happy with my effort, even if I knew I did a pretty terrible job on pronunciation and emphasis. I was asked during the question-and-answer period about my attitude towards veganism and I suppose that left a bad taste in a lot of mouths in Porto Alegre. There are a lot of vegans among the cycling crowd there who were the natural constituency for Nowtopia, but some at least are disgusted by my alleged “hypocrisy” for not being vegan. I explained that I was a liberal on this question—people are of course free to choose what they want to do in terms of eating and ethics. But that was not an adequate answer for the neo-Calvinist vegans in the crowd, for whom their choice is the only ethical choice. I tried to explain how some of my friends who were once vegan had stopped for health reasons (in some cases) and the last person to ask me a question instead launched into a diatribe about how those friends of mine were “not failed by veganism! They failed veganism!!” Wow! Between that, and a facebook commentator by the name of Waldimir Evangelista Vegano, I don’t think there’s any response at all. They have strongly reinforced my first comment, which was that too many vegans are somewhat authoritarian about their attitudes, which seems to be rooted in a puritanical neo-Christian moralism. Not all vegans are like that, and my hosts are lovely people who do not impose their principled veganism on those around them, by contrast. In any case, I love Porto Alegre and look forward to more visits in the future.

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