Category: Uncategorized

How to build a new identity in the age of surveillance

in 2013, photographer and artist Curtis Wallen managed to buy the ingredients of a new identity. After purchasing a Chromebook with cash, Wallen used Tor, virtual marketplaces, and a bitcoin wallet to purchase a fake driver’s license, insurance card, social security number, and cable bill, among other identifying documents. Wallen saw his new identity, Aaron Brown, as more than just art: Brown was a political statement on the techno-surveillance age.

Its a fascinating story. Read it here.



Computer prediction, fake news and an eerie story of Market Forces

Chris Faulkner is a rising young investment banker in the mid-21st century. A typical business day for him goes something like this: He receives a panicked call from an employee in Colombia. The employee is trapped in a hotel, stalked by government police — stooges of a corrupt dictator. From his office in London, Faulkner puts in a call to Langley Contracting, requesting ”five extreme prejudice deletions with immediate effect.” He’s only slightly taken aback when asked what level of precision he would prefer: ”surgical, accurate, scattershot, blanket, atrocity.” And just like that, the bad guys are iced.

The snippet above is from a review of Market Forces, a dystopic novel describing what was at the time a near future. Today this story about computers supposedly being able to predict violent outbreaks caught my attention. Remember the imaginary ISIS attack on Louisiana?

It seems that some of the dynamics sketched out in the book may already be playing out on a social media channel and stock exchange near you.

“i bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. A source of life for our species.”

Apparently the above photo by poet Rupi Kaur was removed by instagram. Whenever a controversy of this kind erupts I like to read comments in the hope that someone will challenge my own interpretation, or better yet offer some new knowledge about the themes, ideas or cultural contexts presented.

While many of the commenters interpreted this as a sign of diminishing of the value of women in society, I thought this comment offered an alternative explanation which is interesting, regardless of whether or not it applies to this example:

In native culture, it is not allowed around sacred objects because a woman on her menstr[u]al cycle is considered very powerful. She is connected to the oceans, the tides, and the moon, and this has always been respected. It’s not because it is considered a sin. Women used to go into Moon Lodges away from the rest of society during their cycle to practice their medicine traditions. A woman’s “magic” far outweighs that of a man’s, so men were not allowed to be anywhere near it. In fact, we have old traditions that a man has to go on 4 vision quests and ultimately find a woman in order to be considered a medicine man, and even then, the only reason he would be considered powerful, is because of her lending him her power.

I’d be willing to bet since your culture’s spirituality is also quite ancient, that women also used to be considered powerful as well, maybe those ways were lost. Men have always feared and misunderstood menstral cycles and were not allowed to be involved in women’s medicine. All that being said, that makes it even more important to respect the menstral cycle and I’m not entirely sure if I personally agree that posting photos of it all over the internet is [not] very respectful.

You can read the post and comment thread here.

Ethiocracy: Love, land and peace

A big part of my family is Ethiopian. This is also the main reason I packed my bags and headed off to Addis Ababa

… to participate in my beautiful cousins’ weddings.

My cousin made clear I was expected to show up in a Habesha Kemis. So on arrival I headed off to Shiro Meda to find a tailor.

The wedding itself was a ball. With our family being spread across the globe it is rare for so many of us to be in one place at the same time. I really appreciated being able to spend time together in celebration of the most important element of a happy life… love.

On the ride to venue where we would dance and try to keep the groom from picking up the bride (yes, literally- tradition), we came into the topic of religion.

I was asked about my religious beliefs which struck me as quite an odd question. .

… Until I found myself in the middle of a massive Timket (Epiphany) procession in a different part of the country a week later.

The same thing happened on numerous occasions in different parts of the country.

Religion is a big deal in Ethiopia. So is peace.

So Ethiopia is home to oh about 200 ethnic groups and around 80 languages. However diverse I knew the country was, in my mind always was associated with Christianity and Judaism… a long history that began over 2000 years ago. The Hebrew influence and identity is pretty clear when you wander around Gondar and Lalibela. Especially if you dig into historical information about different dynasties that ruled and shaped Ethiopia throughout the centuries.

So I was surprised to learn just how large a proportion of the population the Muslim minority is. Almost 40 percent, if I’m not mistaken. And that the one jew in the Bet-Israel village is the guy running the museum frequented by tourists on pilgrimages. Where is everyone?! Oh yeah. Pretty much everyone was evacuated to Israel after the massive drought in the 80s.

I feel a link to this diaspora, all diaspora really. There is something those of us born with feet in many worlds discover sooner or later. That we are not one or the other, but something else.. ours are third, remix, cultures. Religion is one of those sensitive areas we have to develop mechanisms for navigating.

Within my family there are ties to several mega-cities of Africa and Asia where more than half of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, and around sixty percent of the world’s 2 billion Christians, live. I was born and have lived in different parts of a Western liberal Europe not sure how to deal with growing tensions between different social groups.

Here and there, what we think of as religious and or ethnic conflicts are often intimately tied to underlying conflicts over resources like land or water.

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa and the pressure on land has often been put forward as an important factor in the 1994 genocide. I cannot remember where I heard that in the case of Rwanda there were more intra-ethnic murders than between different ethnic groups… the genocide was partially fueled by the need to free up resources. If memory serves me, they had a system ( currently being reformed) in which all land would be passed on to the first son. Which left a class of landless, disenfranchised young men with no hope of accessing a brighter economic future unless some of that land could be freed up…

Israel and Palestine is another example. At the source of this conflict, according to Bo Rothstein, lies mixing of religious rhetoric with what is essentially a fight over assets. He claims that you would create the foundation for lasting peace by focusing on resolving the land/economic disputes with compromises for everyone (Swedish article):…/markavtal-kan-stoppa-valdet_3777014

Other examples of legacy injustice include (thanks @Jaycousins ):

Egypt – land is divided amongst all children so within a couple of generations everyone has a tiny patch they can’t profit from – the result is illegally constructed tower blocks on most of the rare and fertile land in Egypt and a lot of in-family tensions.

Likewise In England or any other Western Country, the peasantry had their inheritance stolen out from under them long before the lords and merchants started robbing foreign soil.

… There is much to be learned from Ethiopian history about the importance of tackling inequalities in distribution of property and use rights for building lasting peace. Especially in societies where formal property laws and customary property rights arrangements exist in parallel. I believe some of those lessons are also relevant in societies where land rights are secure but ownership of property is highly concentrated.

Fixing legacy injustice: Reforming dysfunctional property laws and peace between ethnic groups

Justice is a prerequisite for peace. While the murderous authoritarian regime known as the Derg got a lot of things wrong, they did push through land right reforms.

Prior to the civil war against the old feudal order (Haile Selassie, also known as Ras Tefari), the Muslim population was excluded from being able to access land as they were passed along hereditary lines. So your family had to own land in order for you to have hope of owning land. This was the Ristegna system.

Then there was the Gultegna, the nobility, which were granted the right to a fat chunk of the surplus from the land tended by farmers. Basically a rentier class that contributed little or nothing to the development of the country and life of their fellow Ethiopians.

Both were upended by the revolution and land redistributed and finally nationalised. Why?

One of the persistent calls for social justice in the revolution, also during the Derg period, was “land to the tiller”. All the different interest groups got behind this reform as a fundamental requirement. The military dictators could not back out on this demand as they would loose legitimacy amongst the soldiers, many of whom hailed from the southern parts of the country where the problems of unfair distribution of land was particularly strong for historical reasons.

There are still problems, and new ones. Ethiopia is also undeniably doing a lot better than many of the other countries in the region- my impression was that there is a fundamental belief that things are improving, also for those at the wrong end of the power spectrum. Clearly the picture painted depends on who you ask but I could see for myself that e.g. infrastructure is much better in many parts of the country than it used to be.

Most of all people are very aware of how fragile and important peace is. The story of a popular revolution co-opted by a military regime that then did its best to murder an entire generation is still fresh in the collective memory. I am reminded of this every time I hear any talk of revolution: the move towards a western style liberal democracy is not one that Ethiopians I spoke to value highly. Rather, it is economic rights and development that seem to be at the heart of their concerns.

If we are to achieve peace at home, we need to think about how we tackle legacy injustices against people in different parts of a globalised world. The central pillar is property law and ownership. As Ethiopians learned, it makes sense to start there and not let up till an acceptable solution is reached.

There will be losers. However if they are taking up so much space that it threatens the ability of others to survive. Well, they… all of us, may end up losing a lot more than a little excess capacity.


This post was originally published on the Edgeryders blog.




Living Social in Brussels is moving! Want to move in with us?


We (Nadia, Alberto, Kasia and Pierre) have been in Brussels for a few years now, and are experimenting with a more collaborative way of living and working- cheaper and more fun. Inspired by our friend Simone’s co-housing project in Milan, we have been sharing a lovely duplex apartment situated in front of the Parc Du Forest. Our landlord is moving back to Brussels with his family. So we are looking for a new, bigger place, and nice people to share it with from April/May and onwards.

We could just rent a place by ourselves but we have really enjoyed the co-living experience, and would like to explore it further. So we thought we would take the opportunity of moving to find a bigger space, and invite more people to join us.

We’re a diverse mix of open-minded people; I’m a designer/engineer and Alberto is a former rock musician turned economist, Kasia is a dental assistant and Pierre works in the fashion industry. We come from Sweden, Poland, France and Italy, and speak a variety of languages (we all share English and French, and those tend to be the languages spoken in the house). In these years of living together, we have discovered that we really enjoy this diversity: so, we are considering as future housemates people of any age, gender, nationality and walks of life – as long as they are prepared to explore how we can be convivial while absolutely respecting each other’s spaces and privacy.

Every now and then we host secret supper clubs and throw great parties.

Our preferred location is south-of-center Brussels: Canal, Ixelles, Forest, St. Gilles or other buzzing, well connected areas in or near the city center.

Size: minimum 2 bathrooms, and three bedrooms.

Type of space: Ideally one that allows both living and working (can be rented by a company) for 4-8 people.

Budget: Right now we pay 1150 Eur/Month and 80 Eur/Month for utilities. Of course, with one or two extra flatmate, we would have to rent a larger, more expensive place, but then there would be more of us to share the rent!

If you know of a space, or want to join us, write to:

Life and death at the unMonastery

A while ago I met an acquaintance at an airport. We have some friends in common and since our time at university together he has gone on to build something quite remarkable so I had been following his journey.

We had not met in a long time. Well, not sat down and had a conversation at least. I asked him how things were. And we had one of those conversations of rare honesty. His father was very unwell, dying. I asked him if he was getting any support and he told me how strange it was that no one really wanted to get into the subject. How utterly alone he felt. I told him that in my parents’ culture, mourning was a communal experience. That when a family member died, for the next fourty days friends and neighbours would share the reponsibility of bringing food to the homes of those who had lost a loved one. And ensure they were never alone. I remembered my own grandmother’s funeral, how loud and busy an affair it was with women wailing.

I mentioned having visited the British Museum for an exhibition on the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. How strange I found the absence of death in our contemporary culture, almost as though it were banished to a parallel world. We spoke of how wish for death and wish for life may well be intertwined. Where does it go when banished from the public sphere? How does the absence of rituals to deal with it affect our behaviours and our spiritual resilience in the face of adversity? Especially for those who are not religious?

This article brought back that conversation. This time I would like to give it some serious reflection. If ever there was an opportune time, the building of the unMonastery might be it…


Originally published on the Edgeryders blog.