Saturday, August 29, 2015


(none of these pics are my own stuff)

My new hobby, making little things with the lumber salvaged from forklift pallets.  These things are the grown-up version of tinker toys, blocks, Legos, magna-tiles, all wrapped into one.  Been making modest, periodic investments in a few power tools - circular saw, sawzall, table saw, miter saw, (still don't have the jigsaw), sturdy sawhorses, a decent framing hammer, and a cordless drill/driver.

It's an avocation.  It is a practice.  It is propaganda for a re-use ethic.

We don't study practices much nowadays - not the culture, at any rate.  We study and debate and posture - as a culture - in own own practices:  which assume scarcity, and thereby assume conflict,  each of us is out there getting ahead.  Thank you, Mr. Hobbes.  You spoke it into existence.

Re-use, re-purposing things, intentionally converts waste streams into things we make, and from which we are not alienated as we generally are from pretty much everything associated with "the job" (purgatory in the here and now).

We struggle with all the ways we are helpless, and that we helplessly collaborate with those social structures that are sinful.  Structural sin. Means you can't talk your way out of it.  Your life is blocked in by covenants (love) on the one hand and dependency (subjugation) on the other.  Mine is, anyway.

We also struggle with the passage of time.  Unlike the commercials that want to sell you a long, active life as an attractive and respectable person, who we will never see dead, we are all entrained by the hurtling, one-way arrow of time.  And a good deal of most of the time that you and I and most other people have is spent suffering one way and another.  You can throw  down Ozzie and Harriet hallucinations all you like, but Time never gets the memo.  Mortality.  Morbidity and mortality.  This middle-class metropolitan mass delusion of "life" being as many "good days" as you can have (then you disappear); it's very dark behind all that stage lighting.  The stage lighting only serves to stress the bottomless darkness in the background.

Often we are talking and thinking and thinking about talking and talking about thinking; and when  we do that long enough together, we will eventually get into an argument.  The problem with thinking and talking (I like both, don't see this as a blanket indictment) is that its a textual realm that easily escapes a direct connection with the material realm.  So it doesn't have those kinds of clear boundaries.  Water at the same altitude and barometric pressure will always boil at exactly the same temperature.  That's a limit on what you can and cannot do.  If we are talking about doctrine or politics or psychology or social theory or economics - whatever - what we say and think does not encounter that kind of physical limitation.  The thing about a physical limitation is that it "works" whether anyone is paying attention to it or not.  We may not understand why, but we are not wrong about the boiling point of water. No such anchor exists in the realm of used-language or the ideas it expresses.  Alasdair MacIntyre suggests in his books on philosophy that one of the problems we have encountered along the march-route of Progress and Modernity is we have a culture comprised of various and incommensurable philosophical premises, and that we are ruled by a class of bureaucrats (whose hidden philosophical premise is utilitarian . .  in the service of a dominant class).

We made a mess of things politically, because we let money-changers not only flourish in our culture, they are now producing culture and selling it back to us as a commodity.  This consolidation of the power to buy and sell alongside the ability to manufacture and distribute ideas has led to a situation wherein - barring some utter natural or social catastrophe (I'm not expecting this.) - this moneyed club will continue to run things.  At the end of the day, that means they are who you answer to on the job - maybe doing something that is repugnant in order to "produce."  Structured complicity.  Structured dependency.  Structured sin.  That aversion to your job is alienation.

Can we overthrow this?  As a lefty, I once thought so, even if the "we" and the "this" got shifty from time to time.  There is so much shit going the wrong way these days, and my own inclination (as a product of this culture, and as an ex-soldier) is to hit back.  Always reads better than it lives.  Hitting back adds to the sum of all suffering.  It is hard for me to forget that now.  On a more practical note, hitting back is also absolutely Unpredictable.  Violence always makes a change, fast.  But the knock-on destruction in the wake of violence can take forms too numerous to count.  Look over the math from history.  Over time, it's always been subtraction, not addition.

Some people gonna hit back.  Some of us, I hope we can refrain.  Someone has to be the first to stand down.  Something to aspire to.  A mitzvah, a blessing (for the peacemakers).

I'm making these pallet things.  I'm not even a very good carpenter (quite mediocre, in fact).  What if we had a group of people - who may not be in perfect concurrence on other matters - who all adopted this same hobby.  You can be a Baptist deacon, a hausfrau, a volleyball player, and old semi-retired guy (tankou mwa mem), a high school kid, a Marxist, a gossip, a drunk, a newlywed . . . no matter. You can make pallet stuff.  Boys and girls.  Young and old.  You can send notes back and forth to discuss your pallet stuff.  You maybe collaborate on making pallet stuff.  But the basis of your unity - in this hypothetical and unlikely situation - is not a set of core beliefs or a shared episteme or your interpretation of Spiderman. Your cohesion is around a practice, the good of which you can agree upon, and any proofs or limitations to what you do together will not be as free to scatter as they are in your imaginations - in that phenomenological ether where ideas live - because in a practice, everyone encounters physical phenomena about which they share an understanding.  This punch was too small; and I know that because when I used that size, it snapped in two on the first strike.  These sandpapers are the ones you will need.

You are not rational qua person (this is a sieve of disagreements) .  You are rational qua participant.

The practice of re-using, re-purposing, etc., is - in reality, symbol, and imagination (incorrectly channeling Lacan . . . woo-ooo) - is a little NO.  And a little YES.  It says, "no," to sending something further down the waste stream.  Think about that in all three Lacanian tenses.  We are saying No with a small act, in the material world, a fact now on the ground!!!  We also become exemplary. Watch those pallet re-purposing videos on the internet, and you get hooked.  But the YES, that is in the work.  When you are doing this, you are not struggling with moral ambiguity, and you do not feel apart from your work. When you finish something, you go back again and again to see it.  Something of you went into it, and it didn't get taken away like it does on a "job." (I don't understand why we collectively believe that we should be grateful for jobs.  They come with bosses and clocks and long stretches of meaninglessness.)

No institution is in a better position to generate and support the kind of non-commercial, low-impact, relocalized activities and enterprises (not in the commercial sense) than a church. More and more, churches - of every confession - are planting gardens.  They can also re-purpose pallets if they put their minds to it, or re-purpose number ten food cans (I have hundreds a week from one cafeteria . . . what can they be?), or make a food forest, or make soap.  Doesn't matter.  It just needs to have that No and that Yes.

Facts on the ground.  Far, far easier to defend than any idea.  And not nearly as confusing.

Churches as the pioneers of a compassionate and resilient way of being apart from (and to the degree possible, independent of) this dumbed-down, de-skilled, over-specialized, and money-fueled regime under which we all now love, labor, suffer, and unwillingly collaborate.

and a lovely link


  1. Remember----measure twice, cut once! PS---pick up some good quality handsaws and a hand drill...for when the electricity goes. And learn how to be a cobbler.

  2. Yes. This reminds me of when you recommended grocery shopping by bicycle as a revolutionary act, back on Insurgent American I think. I've gotten a lot of good bike rides out of that inspiration for the past couple years, thank you! :)

  3. I think I'm going to sign up for the pallet re-volution! Thank you Stan.