Quakers and the ethics of fixed pricing

From a 1956 issue of the then-newly rebrand­ed Friends Jour­nal, an expla­na­tion of the ethics behind pro­vid­ing a fixed price for goods:

Whether the ear­ly Quak­ers were con­scious­ly try­ing to start a social move­ment or not is a moot point. Most like­ly they were not. They were mere­ly seek­ing to give con­sis­tent expres­sion to their belief in the equal­i­ty of all men as spir­i­tu­al sons of God. The Quak­er cus­tom of mark­ing a fixed price on mer­chan­dise so that all men would pay the same price is anoth­er case in point. Most prob­a­bly Friends did this sim­ply because they want­ed to be fair to all who fre­quent­ed their shops and give the sharp bar­gain­er no advan­tage at the expense of his less skilled broth­er. It is unlike­ly that many Quak­ers adopt­ed fixed prices in the hope of forc­ing their sys­tem on a busi­ness world inter­est­ed only in prof­it. That part was just coin­ci­dence, the coin­ci­dence being that Friends hit upon it because of their con­vic­tions; the sys­tem itself was a nat­u­ral suc­cess.
 — Bruce L Pear­son, Feb 4 1956

 

A reply to The Theology of Consensus

L.A. Kauffman’s cri­tique of con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing in The The­ol­o­gy of Con­sen­sus is a rather peren­ni­al argu­ment in lefty cir­cles and this arti­cle makes a num­ber of log­i­cal leaps. Still, it does map out the half-forgotten Quak­er roots of activist con­sen­sus and she does a good job map­ping out some of the pit­falls to using it dog­mat­i­cal­ly:

Con­sen­sus decision-making’s little-known reli­gious ori­gins shed light on why this activist prac­tice has per­sist­ed so long despite being unwieldy, off-putting, and inef­fec­tive.

All that said, it’s hard for me not to roll my eyes while read­ing this. Per­haps I just sat in on too many meet­ings in my twen­ties where the Trot­sky­ists berat­ed the paci­fists for slow process (and tried to take over meet­ings) and the black bloc anar­chists berat­ed paci­fists for not being brave enough to over­turn dump­sters. As often as not the­se shenani­gans tor­pe­doed any chance of real coali­tion build­ing but the most bor­ing part were the inter­minable hours-long meet­ings about styles. A lot of it was fash­ion, real­ly, when you come down to it.

This piece just feels so…. 1992 to me. Like: we’re still talk­ing about this? Real­ly? Like: real­ly? Much of evi­dence Kauff­mann cites dates back to the frig­ging Clamshell Alliance—I’ve put the Wikipedia link to the 99.9% of my read­ers who have nev­er heard of this 1970s move­ment. More recent­ly she talks about a Food Not Bombs man­u­al from the 1980s. The lan­guage and con­tin­ued cri­tique over large­ly for­got­ten move­ments from 40 years ago doesn’t quite pass the Muham­mad Ali test:

Con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing is a tool, but there’s no mag­ic to it. It can be use­ful but it can get bogged down. Some­times we get so enam­ored of the process that we for­get our urgent cause. Clev­er peo­ple can use it to manip­u­late oth­ers, and like any tool those who know how to use it have an advan­tage over those who don’t. It can be a trib­al mark­er, which gives it a great to pull togeth­er peo­ple but also intro­duces a whole set of dynam­ics that dis­miss­es peo­ple who don’t fit the trib­al mod­el. The­se are uni­ver­sal human prob­lems that any sys­tem faces.

Con­sen­sus is just one mod­el of orga­niz­ing. When a com­mit­ted group uses it for com­mon effect, it can pull togeth­er and coör­di­nate large groups of strangers more quick­ly and cre­ative­ly than any oth­er orga­niz­ing method I’ve seen.

Just about every suc­cess­ful move­ment for social change works because it builds a diver­si­ty of sup­port­ers who will use all sorts of styles toward a com­mon goal: the angry youth, the African Amer­i­can cler­gy, the paci­fist vig­ilers, the shout­ing anar­chists. But change doesn’t only hap­pen in the streets. It’s also swirling through the news­pa­per rooms, attor­neys gen­er­al offices, investor board­rooms. We can and should squab­ble over tac­tics but the last thing we need is an enforce­ment of some kind of move­ment puri­ty that “calls for the demise” of a par­tic­u­lar brand of activist cul­ture. Please let’s leave the lefty puri­ty wars in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Preaching our lives over the interwebs

Hel­lo Jon, A.J. and Wess,

So we’ve been asked to write a “syn­chroblog” orga­nized by Quak­er Vol­un­tary Ser­vice. It is a week­day and there are work dead­li­nes loom­ing for me (there are always dead­li­nes loom­ing) so my par­tic­i­pa­tion may be spot­ty but I’ll give it a shot.

The top­ic of this par­tic­u­lar syn­chroblog is Friends and social media and in the invite we were asked to riff on com­par­isons with ear­ly Friends’s pam­phle­teer­ing and the web as the new print­ing press. I’m spot­ty on the details of the var­i­ous pam­phlet wars of ear­ly Friends but the web-as-printing-press is a famil­iar the­me.

I first man­gled the metaphors of web as print­ing press nine­teen years ago. That sum­mer I start­ed my first new media project to get paci­fist writ­ings online. The metaphors I used seem as fun­ny now as they were awk­ward then, but give me a break: Mark Zucker­berg was a fifth grader hack­ing Ataris and even the word “weblog” was a cou­ple of years away. I described my project as “web type­set­ting for the move­ment by the move­ment” and one of my sell­ing points is that I had done the same work in the print world.

Frac­tured as my metaphors were, online media was more like pub­lish­ing then that it is now. Putting an essay online required tech­ni­cal skills and com­par­a­tive­ly high equip­ment costs. The con­sis­tent arc of con­sumer tech­nol­o­gy has been to make post­ing ever eas­ier and cheap­er and that has moved the bar of qual­i­ty (raised or low­ered depend­ing on how you see it)

Back in the mid-1990s I remem­ber jok­ing snark­i­ly with friends that we’d all some­day have blogs devot­ed to pic­tures of our cats and kids – the humor in our barbs came from the ridicu­lous­ness that some­one would go to the time and expense to build a site so ephemer­al and non-serious. You’d have to take a pic­ture, devel­op the film, dig­i­tal­ly scan it in, touch it up with a pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive image soft­ware, use an FTP pro­gram to upload it to a web server and then write raw HTML to make a web page of it. But the joke was on us. In 2014, if my 2yo daugh­ter puts some­thing goofy on her head, I pull out the always-with-me phone, snap a pic­ture, add a fun­ny cap­tion and fil­ter, tag it, and send it to a page which is effec­tive­ly a pho­to­blog of her life.

The ease of post­ing has spawned an inter­net cul­ture that’s cre­ative­ly bizarre and won­der­ful. With the changes the print­ing press metaphor has become less use­ful, or at least more con­strained. There are Friends who’s inten­tion­al­i­ty and effort make them inter­net pub­lish­ers (I myself work for Friends Jour­nal). But most of our online activ­i­ty is more like water cool­er chitchat.

So the ques­tion I have is this: are there ways Friends should behave online. If we are to “let our lives preach,” as the much-quoted George Fox snip­pet says, what’s our online style? Do we have any­thing to learn from ear­lier times of pam­phle­teer­ing? And what about the media we’re using, espe­cial­ly as we learn more about elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance and its wide­spread use both here at home and in total­i­tar­i­an regimes?

Visual storytelling through animated gifs and Vine

NPR’s Plan­et Mon­ey recent­ly ran an arti­cle on glass recy­cling, How A Used Bot­tle Becomes A New Bot­tle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image for­mat file that web design­ers leaned on a lot back in the days of low band­width. It’s espe­cial­ly good for designs with a few dis­creet col­ors, such as cor­po­rate logos or sim­ple car­toons. It also sup­ports a kind of prim­i­tive ani­ma­tion that was com­plete­ly overused in the late 90s to give web­pages fly­ing uni­corns and spin­ning globes.

Ani­mat­ed gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tum­blr. They are often derived from fun­ny sce­nes in movies and come with humor­ous cap­tions. The Plan­et Mon­ey piece uses them for sto­ry­telling: text is illus­trat­ed by six gifs show­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the recy­cling process. The move­ment helps tell the sto­ry – indeed most of the shots would be visu­al­ly unin­ter­est­ing if they were sta­t­ic.

The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video ser­vice from Twit­ter which I’ve used a lot for sil­ly kid antics. They can also tell a sim­ple sto­ry (they’re par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed to repet­i­tive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).

In my work with Friends Jour­nal I’ve done some 7 – 12 min­ute video inter­views with off-site authors using Google Hang­outs, which essen­tial­ly just records the video con­ver­sa­tion. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the qual­i­ty depends a lot on the equip­ment on the oth­er end. If the band­width is low or the web­cam poor qual­i­ty, it will show, and there are few options for post-production edit­ing. But hon­est­ly, this is why I use Hang­outs: a short web-only inter­view won’t turn into a week­long project.

Pro­duc­ing high-quality video requires con­trol­ling all of the equip­ment, shoot­ing ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work con­dens­ing and edit­ing it down to a sto­ry. And after all this it’s pos­si­ble you’ll end up with some­thing that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actu­al­ly watch videos all the way through to the end, drift­ing away to oth­er inter­net dis­trac­tions in the first few min­utes.

I like the com­bi­na­tion of the sim­ple short video clips (whether Vine or ani­mat­ed gif) wed­ded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight sto­ry about a sum­mer after­noon project. Yes­ter­day, I tried again, shoot­ing a short ani­mat­ed gif of Tibetan monks vis­it­ing a local meet­ing­house. I don’t think it real­ly worked. They’re con­struct­ing a sand man­dala grain-by-grain. The small move­ments of their fun­nel sticks as sand drops is so small that a reg­u­lar sta­t­ic pho­to would suf­fice. But I’ll keep exper­i­ment­ing with the form.

Religion in the mainstream press

They default to the same bor­ing tropes, says Amy Lev­in at TheRe­veal­er:

Reli­gious wars, reli­gious dress, reli­gious mon­ey – the­se are the real and yet superbly com­plex ele­ments of our cul­tur­al exis­tence. Scout any crack or cran­ny of pop­u­lar cul­ture and you find reli­gion cre­at­ing a glo­ri­ous maze of top­ics for writ­ers to dis­cov­er and sift and sing to the mass­es.

But late­ly, I find that a repul­sive plague of rep­e­ti­tion and banal­i­ty has swept over the dis­en­chant­ed cyber­sphere. Each day I begin my reli­gion news search with hope­ful eager­ness, sift­ing close­ly through main­stream and fringe out­lets, hun­gry for signs of a new trend, move­ment, argu­ment, study – any­thing oth­er than what I con­sumed the day before. But I search in vain, and my dol­drums have led me to take action.

(H/T to David Watt on Face­book)

“The drafters of the statement included Quaker Symon Hill who has written of…

“The drafters of the state­ment includ­ed Quak­er Symon Hill who has writ­ten of the state­ment: “As one of the drafters of the state­ment, I want to make clear that we want to act in sol­i­dar­i­ty with peo­ple of oth­er reli­gions and of none, not impose our reli­gion on them or claim to be a more impor­tant part of the move­ment than they are. This point is made in the open­ing line of the state­ment.”

Embed­ded Link

A Quak­er pres­ence at Occu­py Lon­don
Almost 100 Quak­ers attend­ed a Meet­ing for Wor­ship on the steps of saint Paul’s cathe­dral in Lon­don on Sun­day after­noon. The Meet­ing for Wor­ship took place in sup­port of the Occu­py Lon­don move­ment that… 

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