FLEX as Improved Record Keeping

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Order / NoHier / Deschool /

How were the documents in the great library of Alexandria organized? Were the scrolls alphabetized? By author? By Title? By first word?

In his Name of the Rose Umberto Eco depicts a monastery known in certain circles for its library as being conspicuously without a card catalogue, without a Dewy Decimal System, without easy or equal access, without the books being well preserved. Indeed the library burns in order that one particular book be destroyed.

We have book burning on the one hand. Even the supposedly enlightened United States burned the books of original scientist Wilhelm Reich: before jailing him where he died. On the other hand we have record keeping. Someone in Sumer counted the sheaves of grain. Some symbol for the number was marked in wet clay which was then dried. Other parties stored the grain and tried to secure it against fire, rot, rodents, theft …

Kings have long had treasuries but we know of no monarch before Henry VII who commissioned anyone to actually count the money. Before then not even Alexander the Great knew where his treasure leaked to. He didn’t even know it was leaking.

Anyway, great strides have been made in record keeping. I concede that only to caution us that our record keeping is not ideal. Indeed, ideals have been offered and spurned. Good record keeping is touted by those with an informational advantage. Democratization of information is subverted, as my work with FLEX demonstrates.

In the human bands we are descended from, every toddler would have soon learned who was who and what was where. No card catalogue or Dewey Decimal System was needed. But now there’s lots and lots of too-manies of us: and no good inventories exist. What inventories do exist are not shared. Information becomes property: to be hoarded: and Capitalized.

But before returning to my social criticisms, let me first concentrate merely on what sorts of progress have been made with record keeping. In 1604 Robert Cawdry’s dictionary of “hard and unusual” English words was published. The words were alphabetized! The most important inventions, like the container (having pockets or a purse), like alphabetizing … become swiftly invisible to us. Such an invention, so huge as to be hard to see, was uttered on Guy Fawkes Day in 1857. Richard Chenevix Trench proposed an English dictionary which was to be complete! [note] That task, with only the tiniest flaws, was accomplished in seventyodd years, the Oxford English Dictionary from afirst to zlast was available on New Years Eve 1927. That Herculean task became possible only because huge exclusions were made. Samuel Johnson in planning his dictionary of the previous century decided to discover his “English” in the written word only, not at all in the spoken word. The OED followed suit: the published language is finite; the spoken language is a river without clear banks. That decision is inevitable, however artificial it renders the result. But the speech of Guy Fawkes Day in 1857 made another restriction: not at all obvious: one that modern scholarship flows from: including pk’s linguistics and pk’s FLEX! Dean Trench recommended that the new dictionary inventory the language assiduously; but make no attempt — zero — to guide it. Dr. Johnson had defined “good” words, words to feign aristocracy by; Oxford would make a democracy of a dictionary. Shakespeare had been free in his English. Swift and the Eighteenth Century tried to prescribe our English for us. The Oxford scholars formed an avant garde that describes our English. Star Trek would not likely have it’s galactic golden rule about non-interference among civilizations were it not for Dean Trench and the Oxford Dictionary movement!

There’s more to say about record keeping. But I’ve gotten to the point where I can return to my valuations: school systems of the Twentieth Century are still very eighteenth-century in their purpose: they prescribe. You must have x years of English and y years of math. You must be segregated (or not segregated) by age, by gender, by race … FLEX offered an alternative: to the whole society. Get off kleptocracy’s ridiculous feudal-industrial bandwagon. Be complete. Meanwhile, the institution itself will be open to completeness: and be descriptive; not prescriptive.

2003 01 15 Until information is complete all judgments are in doubt. Until information is unmanaged, it’s all a stage show: illusion. Authority and completeness are incompatible. Complete information would make responsibility for our judgments possible for the first time. Until then, all judgments have implicit tags that we should endeavor to make visible: the Nobel price for [all] Literature [published] [that we notice]. (If we don’t want Blake to run against Keats, all we have to do is ignore him. If we don’t want pk to be compared to Blake, all we have to do is make sure he’s never published!) If we don’t want the school system to find itself short versus FIX / FLEX, all we have to do is not notice it: write history books that don’t mention it.

In my idea of “Judgment Day,” “God” will have complete (and un(stage)managed) information.

In the Library of Alexandria you might bump among the scrolls for a life time without ever stumbling on the very one that just happened to have a cure for your disease. The monks with access to Eco’s Rose library lived amid stacks of rotting jumble. Nowhere was there a universal catalogue to compare their ignorance to.

He who is unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his knowledge.
Richard Whately

On the one hand, FLEX was limited to NYC: just as the OED was limited to “written English.” FLEX had no designs on becoming a monopoly for the world. FLEX did have designs on linking up with other FLEXs till we had a universal mosaic: an unregulated internet.

The best I can tell FLEX was the first offer of complete record keeping. It was local, but if every locale followed suite and networked the nets, then the webbed web would be totally complete: with the public having access to the 24/7 updates. Thus, FLEX was the first offer that implicitly was to be both universal and complete: without being your normal kind of monopoly.

Schools, governments, churches … never offer complete information. Such a thing was never conceived before 1857! But in 1970 we still didn’t have it: except in the Oxford Dictionary.

The best I can tell I remain the only person ever to actually offer complete information-keeping to the public. And people have such a poor understanding of anything that isn’t prescribed, that I can’t even communicate what the public missed. Couldn’t communicate it then, can’t communicate it now. Can’t get the historians (ahem) to acknowledge the facts: historians being (trained to be) blind in the same way as other passive members of the regulated culture.

Telling the “truth” is a waste of effort when people can’t be told the truth.

(If people recognized it as true I suppose my reward would be worse than the one I received: being shunned and impoverished.)

Of course there are paradoxes. All the FLEXs would have had to obey the Illich constitution. No censorship. No licensing. No degrees. … If we couldn’t have free information without a police force, then we can’t have free information, period.

I’ll be back to add more, but there’s a good start. (A couple of later inserts create a bit of redundancy, rendered more efficient in a future edit.)
A bibliography would have to include Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman, NY 1998.

My file Libraries is an earlier essay at this subject. I may merge them as I reorganize.

See also:
Library: Actual vs. Potential
among my personal stories / Theme / State vs. Community.

I must also write something on the absurd lack of coordination of governent records, doctor’s office records … With a developed FIX / FLEX, people who wanted their address known could have registered it: once. Move? Change it: once. With digital data bases, one shouldn’t have to tell the post office, then the post office again, then the mail man, then the other mail man … the social security office, the motor vehicle bureau … Let them all just ask FIX.
I take crippled, blind, 94 3/4 years old Catherine to the doctor’s office. I have all I can do to handle her, let alone carry her wallet with her ID, her emergency rations, her cane, her sun glasses, her hat … Then the doctor loads me up with medicines, forms …. I have to make three trips to the car, trying to empty my hands. Meantime, no one’s there to hold her up. Then the desk asks to see her medicare card …

They have a copy of it in her records. I made sure they did. Then they ask her to sign something. I have documents in her records asking them to ask me to sign for her: she’s too old to write without it being a torture: to her and to all around her, trying to help. But do they know the contents of their records? Of course not.

Last week, the doctor’s office kept her waiting for an hour past her appointment time. Once inside the doctor kept her waiting another hour. She’s severely hypoglycemic. She has only one kidney, half a bladder, needs to pee ever ten minutes … No wonder the ahem, health care industry is the number two killer: only after heart disease. They don’t know their records, they don’t know their patients, and they certainly don’t have a clue what they’re supposed to be there for.

(I tell the phone company that they are not to publish my data line phone address: use my mailing address. They publish it. They send bills to my studio. They send phone books to my studio … How does a society that doesn’t know even what it does know expect to survive?


We have the local phone book: but it only lists phone owners with listed phones. Then there’s the county phone book. But there was never a state phone book or a national phone book. We have the court house with its lists of properties and owners, but in Sebring how can I look up who owns what property in Tel Aviv? How do I find a particular street beggar in Bangladesh?
Well, if the street beggar doesn’t want to be found too easily, then you shouldn’t be able to find him too easily. The kid should volunteer the information. Public information is different. A kid should be able to be anonymous, not a president, not a CEO …

Privacy for the private; no privacy for the public.

Keywords: information, FLEX, Record Keeping, prescriptive, descriptive

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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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