Stealing What’s Free

/ Kleptocracy /

I’m streaming a movie, Copenhagen, with an appealing young actress, Frederikke Dahl Hansen playing “Effy”, annoyed with thing after thing about the film but evermore sticking to Effy.

thanx columbusalive

She’s supposed to be fourteen, she’s hanging around with a guy in his later twenties: he’s shallow, I guess she’s teaching him love: meaning compassion, identification; not just fucking: which is all he’s been used to. As I say, I’d been enjoying exposure to Frederikke Dahl Hansen, but what really caught my attention was Copenhagan’s system of sprinkling rent-a-bikes around the city. You see, in the early 1960s distributed rent-a-bikes were my solution to Manhattan traffic: beyond a certain population everyone with his own car is insane. Ecologically everyone with his own car is insane no matter the population density. My buddy was in architecture school, he mentioned considerations of transport as a design-class subject (city-planning tinged): rent-a-bikes, public bikes (public everything) came into my head:
We’re already choking on roads, on cars, on noise, on pollution — not to mention poor health, obesity: I imagined a way to distribute and to keep distributed an inventory of bicyles. You walk from your apartment or your office: before you’ve gone more than a block you should come upon a rent-a-bike: inserting a token (a penny, a nickel) unlocks it. Ride it to where you want to go, park, and walk the last few steps.
Before long the bike location you started from may be short of the statistical-average-of need for that location: there should be “three” bikes available, right now there’s none. Maintenance has gotta bring three bikes. Conversely, you get off at Time Square, there should regularly be x-“hundred” bikes there, right now there’s two hundred. A maintenance team can correct everything: pick up the extra hundred bikes at Times Square, top up the tire pressures, smooth the gear shifts, tune the brakes, drop “three” at Broadway and 52nd Street, four at 7th and 59th, two at Claremont and 116th

(Commie? No! Christian! Build human cities! Encourage, facilitate a Christian, convivial civilization.)

Expand the idea: You come down to street level at Claremont and 119th. You help ourself to one of the bikes maintained there, you pedal to the IRT station (116th, 125th), you subway to the airport, the moving sidewalk takes you to a ticket counter, you board the plane, the plane takes you to Paris: for lunch, for a whim … Sane transportation could be budgeted much cheaper and less destructively than stupid selfish transporation: if things could be discussed rationally among human beings.

No one listened to my idea long enough to get a grip on it. Google me and you will not find the idea, apparently now a reality at least in Denmark, attributed to me. Neither will you find anyone but me pointing out the non-statist internet I offered in 1970, and ran till 1974: when my wife kidnapped the kid and moved out, no longer paying the rent. The books tell you who invented something, but the books don’t really know: neither do I, neither does anyone. We imagine God knowing everything but we haven’t actually met God, not publicly: and how would we know if his knowledge were perfect or complete if we did? take his word for it?

Dont take God’s word for anything; take Christ’s! (The Christ I imagine: the Christ the best of our imaginations imagine.)

Anyway, I loved seeing my idea as a familiar reality fifty-odd years later.
I do not enjoy seeing this internet as a reality forty years after I got schmeared for touting the ideal anarchist internet, the Illich-Christian internet: running an attempt at it, for three or four of the best, always bankrupt, years of my life.

Anyway: in this movie, Effy wants to show something to her twenty-eight year olds. She has a public bike, her friend has a public bike: his friend doesn’t, there isn’t another available at the local depot. There are bikes galore, but they’re all parked as “in use”. The two just say to the friend, Just take one. He says, You mean steal it? Effy says, How can you steal something if it’s free?

How can you steal something if it’s free?

Funny, it’s a common mistake, a familiar stupidity. I liked the actress, I didn’t blame her. But I had to pause the stream, sleep a bit, come here, and say this (putting it as I always do in mythic terms) (that is to say, alas, terms that the contemporary civilized individual hasn’t a chance in hell of understanding):

Jesus is sent to earth, to civilization, by God, the perfect schlep, the perfect boss, to offer salvation to the aching-to-be damned. It’s free, he says. All you have to do is be nice: become human that is. (Become Axially human that is, a bodhisattva. see Karen Armstrong.)
Oh yeah? say the damnation-bound.
They knock Jesus down, they put him on a cross. They torture him, kill him, murder him. And: they think they’ve stolen the “salvation”! that immortality is now theirs!

And we’re so stupid we don’t see that we haven’t stolen any salvation, we’ve made the perfectly simple divine life impossible!

I can’t remember who if anyone knew about my bicycle system (or my bicycle to transAtlantic plane, lunch in Paris idea), but lots of people knew about my Free Learning Exchange, 1970. In 1972 Time called me down to Madison Avenue to discuss it with them: they stood poised to tell hundreds of millions about it! (They would have, I don’t doubt, if I hadn’t made it clear that Time was one of the institutions I was trying to eliminate by it: the school system, Time … everything polluted by kleptocracy.

It’s not an accident that no one knows what I thought in 1961. It’s no accident that however many people understood what Ivan Illich said in 1970 (or what I did in 1970), no one will admit to knowing it today. Nearly everyone thinks that if you knock Crazy Horse down, then say that his land is “free”, then we haven’t stolen it.

The other day I saw President Obama talk about “our digital world”. He meant “ours” as belonging to the US. But it doesn’t belong to the US; it belongs to Ivan Illich, and God, and Jesus … and me!

Yes. It’s stolen. Is there much of anything that isn’t?

I used to believe that everyone would know everything, see everything, understand everything once God presented it at Judgment. Now I don’t believe that humans would understand no matter how God explained it: any more than rehearsing a gerbil in calculus would develop its skill in calculus.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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