Lego Metaphysics: The Engineering View of the Universe, and the non-assemble-ability of life creative..: A morning of Lego's: Finn turns 6!

My kid doesn’t play with Legos the way that Lego wants you to think that people build Legos.

Instead of those lush displays with those thousand dollar co-branded sets with odious media corporations that only have pieces that you can use in one way once and then it’s not really usable again for just playing and improvising and making your own stuff, my kid makes Franken-lego disturbing constructions. A reason for this, is because I’ve actually never bought a set of Legos for my son. When I was a kid all the pieces interlocked so if you bought a set it would transfer to your overall larger collection of pieces to be used for an infinite number of future builds. But now the pieces don’t really work that way. Instead I see my son looking at the collection that we inherited, and he regularly asks why the Lego men and women – Lego people – are missing their arms or hands or heads. It seems like an aberration to him, and so he always asks why.

He asks why because obviously nothing in nature is piecemeal snaps together or is take-apartable; it doesn’t work that way. So when he’s asking questions about why does this guy have no hands or why does she have no head and he instead just snaps on a computer console piece where the head should be, it makes me understand how deeply ingrained in our society is a mechanistic view of the universe. The idea that it’s all disposable and interchangeable. This is the metaphysics on which Western philosophy and engineering is based on. It’s an engineering view of the world. But nothing living works that way, so there is a discrepency. And that’s why my three-year old is puzzled and disturbed by these missing parts; precisely because they point out that in life, nothing is simply missing.

Previously, no doll simply was toted around without their head unless there was a very intense story about how it got that way. Now we’re able to open cognitively to chimeras of all sorts, because almost all interactions in our lives are based on this hybrid interchangeability, a instrumentalization of everything. Technomedicine tries to accomplish the same interchangability of parts. Replace this organ here (never mind who it comes from, or what black markets exist for some entitled person who blew their kidneys or liver out from years of abuse), get an artificial heart there. If we are not the body, as the Cartesian metaphysics of mis-interpreted Christianity claims, then, you can hack up the whole thing and sew it back together however you please with no remainders.

Of course the shadow side of this, is that nothing has any value if it can just be exchange for something else. No matter how much you can exchange it for, if it is exchangeable and bollocks to the remainder, there is lacking certain forms of value, even if it might have a different sort of value and exchange economy. But it’s important to not collapse these two different types of value into one. Value is contextual. My heart is uniquely clocked to the rest of my body. My hands bear the battle scars of my events and decisions. The tenderness in their weaknesses would not be valued if they were given to another – those sentimental reminders would be interpreted only as weakness, not as years of service.

Thus, the things we play with, engage with, on an everyday basis, form the models we hold for how to treat people and the rest of nature. If our models are fragmentable and fragmentizing, it is all too easy to believe that such fragmentation, such dispensibility and replaceability, is an innate quality of reality, and that life is reducible to things that can be swapped out. If we take this view, we have grasped but half of reality, the digital code aspect, and ignored the analog, the gestalt, the élan vital, which is irreducible to mechanics. We need better toys to represent these aspects of reality, so that we’re not just coding for solely left-brain halls of mirrors, feeding back to us a fragmented self and reality.

San Francisco BART’s Unpleasant Design

Introducing: The inverted guillotine

Having lived for the better part of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have put in my time on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. From it’s loud, overcrowded, clunky, and infrequent trains, to the spate of BART police shootings of young men of color, this privatized (militarized?) operation has a monopoly on public transport, and unashamedly has its will with the region with little grace.

The latest offense is the instillation of “skull crusher” “inverted guillotine” pop-up spring-loaded barriers, that could hurt or maim (it’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen).

Instead of pouring money into education, or helping the homeless, the Bay Area has now apparently prioritized metal spikes shooting up from their BART turnstiles. Way to go, gentrification!

The fact that “fare jumping” is solved by violence is telling. Instead of maybe just making the BART – a public service – into a public company, free for all riders, payed by a corporate property tax (or some other public funding in the insanely overpriced Bay), as many other localities such as Tallinn in Estonia have done, doubling down on menacing design elements further marginalizes the marginalized. BART really doesn’t lose much money at all on fare jumpers. Their financial mismanagement is sui generis. Yet, like all administrative classes, the propensity to pay themselves more to harm the poor is too tempting; it exculpates their responsibility for mismanagement (and points to the need for the region to re-buy the service to run it correctly), and instead finger-wags at “scofflaws” for being bad people, when all they really are doing is what is necessary to get around their own town when they haven’t benefited from the Silicon Valley boom.

The book Unpleasant Design discusses the epidemic of public infrastructure that makes being in public an injurious experience for those worst off. From bus benches in shelters that slope so you can’t sleep on them (you’d fall off), to “anti-homeless spikes,” sonic warfare (projecting odious or repetitive noises, like that corporately-engineered “hit” “Baby Shark“), ordinances against “sitting” or lying in public spaces for too long — rich countries, especially English-speaking ones, have declared war on public space.

London, UK. 10th June 2014. Anti-Homeless Spikes Protest outside Stock Photo: 70030582 - Alamy
Anti-homeless spikes

Unpleasant design takes what little of the commons are left – the nooks and the crannies – and puts money into destroying them to keep out “undesirables.” This racist and classiest action is often the result of gentrification; justified to keep the zoos of the rich free of those who can’t pay their entry fee.

These artists are tackling London's anti-homeless spikes head on
Activists in London combat the painful anti-homeless spikes

The psychological warfare of guillotine turnstiles makes the entire experience of public transportation less comfortable for everyone. Instead of dealing with the 80-20 principle that 80% or 90% of riders will pay no problem, and that there will always be a remainder of the population that for what ever (often very legitimate) reason cannot or will not pay, BART has chosen to harm the public, pushing more people into their polluting cars.

I’m sure before long, people will be defacing these violent turnstiles. And it is likely that the accumulated rage against BART will reduce paying ridership (despite their monopoly), actually bringing them less money than they had before–the exact opposite result than they profess to so-desperately and so-forcefully want.

The public outrage on Twitter is already loud and clear against BART’s weaponization of its service. Such aggrandizement activities miss the point of their charge: they are in the business in providing a public service, and some people can pay more, some less, and not at all. Perhaps peg BART tickets to income. Then the rich might pay $100 per ride, the poor the normal $3.40 trip, and the very poor nothing. That would be a fair approach. Our society is far from that enlightened thinking, sadly, even in that hotbed of *potential* San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and environs.

But let’s not deceive ourselves. There’s a reason why you can’t take the BART to Marin County: racism. Back in the 1950’s there was a plan in place to extend the San Francisco BART to Marin (North Bay), but because of vocal refusal by residents, it failed. And now, no easy public transportation (besides the ferries) go to Marin. The Bay Area is disconnected by design, an open gated community in a natural and cultural paradise predicated on class, race, and exclusion.

Have we not evolved as a city in 70 years? Are we still just as violent towards those less fortunate than us. San Francisco is a mess because of its wealth. But at least on this case of BART structural violence, the people are having their day of reckoning.