Complexity and Simplicity

The thing that struck me about the talk about the haiku in the reading was how it became a union of complexity and simplicity. A simple poem could be an expression of much greater complexity, and a large, complex problem may arise from a relatively simple issue.

In response to this comment made in the blog that I was reading just now:

“We live in a postmodern age where singular solutions have become incompatible with convoluted, compound problems. ”

I would like to talk about something that I learned in some computer programming classes that I’ve taken in the past, and that is “elegance”.

When talking about “good” computer code, one of the words used to describe such code is “elegance”. There has been much discussion about elegance and what it means in computer programming, so I don’t hope to provide an answer or repeat every side of the discussion here. But I would like to offer it as a response to the above quotation.

An elegant solution does not necessarily mean it is a singular solution. It also does not mean it is a “simple” solution to a complex problem. An elegant solution (in the context of computer programming, and elegant piece of code, or in the context of international relations, an elegant diplomatic policy) can be multifaceted, intricate, and address a variety of topics.

Maybe it’s easier to define it by what it is not. It is not convoluted. It does not have a list of exceptions that must be checked off each time you wish to implement the solution. It is not cumbersome. It does not lumber through an issue each time it makes itself known.

It is subtle, nuanced, efficient, effective, and neither more simple nor more complex than it absolutely needs to be.

I think we tend to view things in a binary of “simple” and “complex”, and that duality clouds our vision from seeing what needs to be seen. Rather than looking to solve a “simple” or “complex” problem in a “simple” or “complex” way, we should instead focus on finding the most “elegant” solution. Sometimes this may lead us to performing a simple act. Sometimes this may lead us to a series of actions. The emphasis should be on how we can solve the problem in the best way, and not how we can keep it within some framework of “simplicity” or “complexity”.

And, of course, we must maintain awareness of the larger issues at hand:


When reading Pollock, a couple of things jumped out at me.

The first was the idea that performance can be a way of transmitting oral history. I specifically thought about how that fits in to our modern society, which is full of smart phones which can record video and audio, as well as security cameras which can record events, along with dozens of news media outlets that keep cameras rolling on something 24/7. A common phrase to be heard on the internet is “pics or it didn’t happen” or “vid or it didn’t happen”. The era that we live in prizes rational doubt and skepticism, and that has gone to the extreme in places like the internet, where as soon as anyone tries telling a story that might be amazing, it is met with disbelief.

Given our recent talk about protests, as well as areas like Oakland that have been the source of conflict between protesters and police, I thought of this video:

I’m imagining the story, or performance, if you will, that one of my friends would tell me if they had been at that game, and if they had rushed the field, or if they had attacked one of the members of security. Most likely I wouldn’t even believe them if they had told me, even if they had filled in very tiny details. I’d probably say “vid or it didn’t happen”.

And that leads me to the second point that I thought about, and that is questioning where our cultural memories are stored. In fifty, a hundred, or five hundred years, who will be telling the stories? People? Or twitter archives? Will we even need to read about history in books, or can we just watch archived newscasts and uploaded videos?

Where does performance take place if we can actually record and re-watch the original event over and over to our heart’s content?

Theater of the Oppressed – Boal

The Boal reading was interesting, and while I found the prison story at the start to be interesting, I was left skeptical as to how it would be put in practice.

Sure, in theory we can say “we are all just people” as we sit back and watch a tear jerker play. But where the rubber meets the road?

After class the other day I was talking to Jonathan about issues surrounding police brutality in the general “Occupy” movements. Members of law enforcement are really put in an unfavorable situation. There are many people out there who don’t like cops, and having a uniform on literally puts a target on your back.

On top of that, law enforcement is reactionary. It’s illegal for a cop to “make the first move”. In an unregulated crowd full of people angry at “the system”, and cops as enforcers of that “system”, it could be very likely that there could be people targeting cops in that crowd. And if a cop has to wait for someone else to make that “first move”, that “first move” could be to use a knife or a gun. Which means that cops in those situations are pretty on edge.

The same goes for prisons, and I daresay this attitude exists all around the world.

If a police officer or security guard has a family, if that family is dependent upon the salary brought in by that officer or guard, then that person needs to remain alive and around to help his or her family. And when that person is surrounded by hundreds of potential threats…

Well, suddenly it means that person has to weigh two things: their own personal survival, and their ideal dream of “everyone is just human”. And in my experience, most people tend to think of themselves and their own survival based on an “ideal” theory they have in their head. And they’ll rationalize their behavior later.

Organizing for Social Change- Roland

Reading about the dialectics in this section also made me think about the Occupy Wall Street movement, but in a different way. For me, the dialectic that it made me think about was Dissemination and Dialogue. I don’t get much of my news from traditional media sources. Instead, I rely primarily on internet news sources, chat forums, etc etc. So I’ve always had a lot of news on how various Occupy movements are going. But others on those resources have noted that there has been very little coverage of the Occupy Wall Street in their more traditional/mainstream news media. Of the coverage that has been shown, they say it has focused on the unemployed or the uneducated members. In which case, the main groups can be disseminating a message that the Occupy Wall Street is made up of people who are a “drain” on society, rather than the Dialogue that the movement is trying to start about how our society is run.

Which makes me think of Jonathan’s post where he talks about the issue of making demands, and how the OWS doesn’t really have a set demands, or any real leadership. For me, that shows the movement is more about dialogue. It’s to get discussion moving. Rather than providing a solution, it’s trying to get through on a much more fundamental step: getting everyone to recognize that there is a problem.

And that takes me to the subject of counter narratives, which was brought up in the second part of the reading. In conjunction with the OWS movement, there has been a movement on tumblr where people post their stories about how the economy has affected them, called “We are the 99 Percent” :

Thanks to the internet, people can share their stories and connect. “Even being able to talk to another person about one’s troubles represents a positive in comparison to being lonely in sorrow.” (p. 253)

Ritual to Preserve

In class on Thursday the subject of preserving culture came up. A couple of people had mentioned ASA’s “Journey Into Asia”, and there was some concern over whether traditional Asian cultural components, which some thought may be “boring”, were being replaced by other cultural components that were seen as more “exciting”. This got me thinking about the concept of cultural imperialism and how, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we lose track of our cultural heritage and roots.

The introduction and poem readings seemed to reference more of a “physical” dominance. But cultural imperialism seems to be less about overt dominance, and more about social “pressure” to adopt certain norms, usually at the cost of one’s traditional ways. The resulting oppression is no less severe. In fact, when one stops identifying with one’s own culture (through a loss of tradition), one can more readily adopt and assimilate into the encroaching culture. But even in those instances, there is no guarantee that the new culture will accept an assimilated person (as indicated in the introductory reading).

In this way, rituals serve to preserve one’s identity. Not only does it preserve one’s individual identity, but it helps to reproduce the group identity. This identity can then be passed on to others and survive through the generations.

In high school one of my best friends practiced kendo, the art of Japanese swordsmanship. He talked to me about how as modern “sport” kendo became more popular, there was concern that traditional sword forms, the foundations of the techniques that comprised the up and coming sport, would be lost. As a result, several different styles got together and compiled a list of forms which practitioners of kendo learn. These forms are standard, so everyone practicing will be practicing the same form. This allows people to practice together, no matter where they are coming from. For instance, this video depicts the forms being practiced in a training hall in Hungary:

These forms would be the same in Japan, Brazil, the United States, or anywhere else it is being practiced.

What’s interesting to note is that while these forms could have been created for “insular” purposes (to keep culture from being eroded by external factors), standardization has actually allowed for the spread of these traditions beyond language or cultural boundaries. Someone who doesn’t speak Japanese training in Japan would have the same pool of knowledge as everyone else.

So when asking “who gets to share what meaning?”, initial observations would say that it is the Japanese practitioners of traditional sword arts that get to share the origins of their practice among themselves and others for the sake of preserving their art. But when delving further, it can be seen that even “outsiders” to a culture can experience, learn, and potentially even fully adopt these forms so that they can preserve a portion of history.

These rituals can provide a center around which a group of people can gather define and preserve their identity so that they might resist oppressive forces.