Christopher Fahey
Since the beginning
Works in Brooklyn United States of America

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BIO
Christopher Fahey has been making computer games and graphics since childhood, and he continues to experiment with new ideas in computer art and design. He is the creative force behind the online laboratories http://www.graphpaper.com and http://www.askrom.com. Christopher is a founding partner of Behavior, a New York-based interaction design firm, where he serves as the Information Architecture practice lead. He has led many interactive productions as an art director, game designer, interface designer, and information architect. Christopher graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art in 1993 with a focus on interactive sculptures and installations, and has worked in the new media business ever since.
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DISCUSSION

Re: Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates


> What if other people's minds are wrong? I am not so detached
> from the world to think that some people are driven by their
> beliefs to do things that I detest.

Er, I meant "I am not so detached from the world to *not* think that
some people are driven by their beliefs to do things that I detest."

-Cf

[christopher eli fahey]
art: http://www.graphpaper.com
sci: http://www.askrom.com
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com

DISCUSSION

Re: Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates


Someone who has a similar name but different email address from someone
I blocked wrote:
> How about you try something real for a change?
> How about you try to liberate and raise yourself
> which you can perceive what is really going on
> instead of getting cheap highs?
>
> Now that'll require some true effort and courage.
>
> CONVICTION and "changing people's minds" does not.
> http://userpages.umbc.edu/~vijay/tg/lyrics/convincing_people.html

We don't want to convince people
Let me tell you
I'll tell you what I want you to do
It's no way, no way, no way
To convince people

Those Throbbing Gristle lyrics you pointed us to actually exemplify what
I'm talking about. It's a state of hopeless resignation, a self-exile to
a world of powerlessness. This kind of subcultural self-righteousness, a
principled stand against the use of influence, is a mask for the
underlying abdication of responsibility to the world. "Fuck society",
right? Maybe I was wrong to call it a "liberal" idea: it applies to any
person who condemns the power of influence, and I just happen to see a
lot of liberals who share that belief.

People who like to think of themselves as free from the influence of
propaganda like to also think that exercising intellectual influence
over another person is inherently wrong. They think that it is an insult
to attempt to use any rhetorical or emotional means to change another
person's mind. I sympathise with that point of view, I really do, but I
also ask: what's so wrong about changing someone else's mind?

What if other people's minds are wrong? I am not so detached from the
world to think that some people are driven by their beliefs to do things
that I detest.

In such cases, it's not an affront to free thought to want to change
someone's mind. It's politics. If you find the idea of politics and
influence so disgusting, then why did you suggest some ways for me to
"try to liberate" myself? Why did you respond to my email at all?

-Cf

[christopher eli fahey]
art: http://www.graphpaper.com
sci: http://www.askrom.com
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com

DISCUSSION

Re: Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates


Eryk, we have two areas of disagreement: One first has to do with the
dynamics of political debate. The second has to do with my accusation
that you are promoting hopelessness (and my idea that "human sheild"
protests, etc, are pathetic).

Okay, first the dynamics of political debate. The "stereotypical liberal
weakness" I spoke of comes from my (possibly mistaken) perception that
there are *millions* of Americans who would or could act like liberals
but who don't because of two reasons: (1) Society paints nearly all
flavors of liberalism as weak (and all the stuff that comes with the
word "weak"), and (2) Liberals don't think they can change the world
anyway. I apologize if my statement appeared to drip with right-wing
bile. I didn't mean to equate liberallness with weakness - I meant only
to accuse you of having the self-defeating but unfortunately common
liberal opinion that one cannot change the world.

I agree that thinking "If only people knew the facts!" is not a terribly
powerful way to begin a campaign to change the world. I agree that there
are plenty of comprehensive and, I daresay, even intelligent arguments
in favor of the war. There are even intelligent people in favor of the
war, for whom no amount of argument will change their minds. They are
obstinate, they are liars, they are evil, whatever. People have lots of
reasons for being in favor of this war.

But you also said this:

> And the idea that "if I get out enough information
> people will change thier minds and agree with me" is
> presumptuous and assumes a moral and intellectual
> superiority over the people who disagree with us on
> the war itself. I think this is a sad way to live ones
> life.

And this:
> I am afraid of my own desire to prove how right I
> am to everyone on the planet, constantly. I think
> this is the disease that leads to war, and I am sick
> of it. I have convinced people in the past to change
> thier minds about war, and I went home saying "yes!"
> but then realized that it didn't amount to anything
> outside of the empowerment of my "right and
> correct" ideology.

THIS is exactly what I am talking about: You don't believe that your
ideas are intellectually and morally superior to those who disagree with
you? What kind of way to live a life is that? I emphatically believe
that my ideas are intellectually and morally superior to those who
disagree with me, particularly my political and moral ideas. I am quite
open to debate, and I am willing to listen to differing opinions, and I
have often had my mind changed from a seemingly immovable position. But
I am certainly not going to approach a political disagreement from a
position that the two or more oppositing positions are morally and
intellectually equal. That's what I meant by "liberal weakness". You
don't seem to believe your own convictions enough to use them with
strength and to use them to influence others.

What is so wrong about changing someone's mind? Your suggestion to get
into politics is precisely this, writ large and with a heck of a lot
less fact and more rhetoric.

> And even to talk requires a delicate balance of prescence
> vs assertion. If we simply assert, then that leads to the
> overbearing alienation of people. To commit to an honest
> conversation re:war is way harder than screaming
> opinions at the people who disagree with you and calling
> GW Bush a moron. Again, even if you're right.

Do you remember the screaming mobs of Republicans who descended on
Florida to intimidate the chad-counters in 2000, while the Democrats
stayed at home and politely, futilely, waited for the chads to magically
get counted with fairness and civility? I remember wishing that the left
could pump themselves up to be as boorish as the right. I remember
admiring Gore's dignity during the process, but I wished he had Bush's
cutthroat team.

Yes, I pussyfoot around the issue of the war around my conservative
relatives, if only because I realize that calling them ignorant right
wing zombies would probably not help me win my argument. But when I'm
around someone who is confused on the issue, or is afraid to say
something against the war, nothing beats an assertion. Ask any
politician.

> However, if one wants to actually stop the war, there
> are actions that could be taken.

All of the actions you suggest are actions that would require enormous
amounts of courage and sacrifice, above and beyond the abilities of
regular people (no offense to regular people - of which I am one - but
we regular people really don't have a good track record of showing moral
courage in mass numbers). I used the word "ridiculous" because I thought
you intended to be ridiculous. I honestly thought that your three
suggestions were meant facetiously, as if to say "you can't make a
difference unless you are willing to make a huge sacrifice". You seem to
suggest that a dissenter has only two options: (1) make a radical
personal sacrifice to actually change the world, or (2) accept your
insignifigance because nothing you say or do will change anything.

[I particularly thought your human shield suggestion was meant
facetiously with regards to Iraq (Israel/Palestine is a different
story). These folks are almost universally perceived as supporting
Saddam, which seriously dilutes their ability to embolden people to be
against the war.]

I think that your post was needlessly disempowering, that's all. I think
that a simple movement to encourage people to state their opposition to
the war can (and, in fact, already has) change the course of the war.

My mom in Vermont went over to her neighbor's house a while ago, knocked
on the door and talked to the retired farmer for a few minutes. She
asked him, nicely, but with clear emotional conviction in her beliefs,
to remove the anti-gay billboard he had constructed in front of his
house. She asked him to do this as a personal favor to a neighbor. He
took it down. Maybe he still hates gays, who knows. But I think the
anti-gay zeitgeist in Jacksonville Vermont changed for the better that
day because of my mom's little bit of courage and conviction.

> Also, that "right on!" has nothing to do with education
> or thought, it has to do with the feeling of mass
> agreement, and I don't believe it is an entirely good
> thing.

I sort of agree with this, but again: why is the left always so afraid
of mass agreement but the right is not?

> ... for every person that protests embolden against
> the war, it emboldens others to the war as well.

This is also quite true, and it is admittedly troubling to me. Does the
emboldenment of the left compensate for the obvious enragement of the
right? I'm not sure.

That said, it's amazing how much the character of a public protest
changes as they get larger. An anti-war protest of several thousand
people will contain hundreds of literal pacifists who are against all
violence no matter what, a hundred people who genuinely want to see the
destruction of Israel, a couple of hundred people who are there for
unrelated liberal causes, etc. TV images of such events tend to see
nothing but mohawks, burning flags, obscene placards, etc. Such protests
likely do more harm than good, in my opinion.

But when you get into the tens of thousands, an interesting thing
happens. All of the radicals show up, as they always do, but the bulk of
the crowd starts becoming just normal people. At that scale, the
stereotypes of teenage anarchist protesters don't apply. When you get
into the hundreds of thousands, you have hundreds of thousands of normal
looking people on tv, and hundreds of thousands of people going to work
on Monday and (hopefully) telling all their friends they went to an
anti-war demonstration over the weekend.

It's a lot easier to stand up for what you believe in if you think
someone else, your neighbor perhaps, might stand up with you. If nobody
on the left protests and nobody on the left argues for their opinions
with real conviction, then it's no wonder we think we are lone, minority
voices.

> But standing in a crowd that agrees with your sign is
> something that makes you feel good, it doesn't stop
> a war. It didn't in Vietnam, either, though its
> something the Boomers seem to like to pretend about
> themselves.

Agreed again. For context, November 15, 1969 was the biggest anti-war
protest during the Vietnam war. It was a national gathering in DC, and
there were only 250,000 people there. We've already exceeded that number
in NYC, even before the war started. Protest is often more of a symptom
than a catalyst, but as a catalyst its effects are slow and indirect.

> A protest expresses opinions openly and with
> conviction and that is where it stops. What you are
> talking about occurs in dialogues and in
> conversations. I convinced a co-worker to be
> against the war a while ago, but guess what? We're
> still at war.

You ask for so much, Eryk, no wonder you are disappointed! You ask for
the world, and failing to get it, you think you have failed to get even
a clump of it.

> And when people talk about Rachel Corrie, let them
> know that she is the embodiment of pathetic
> defeatism because she decided on a possibility
> outside of the wholly useless ideology that protest
> amounts to anything.

I'm sorry to be crude, but her tragic death accomplished what, exactly?
This is a rhetorical question, meant to point out that the difference
between her act and the act of a "Bush Sucks" protester is a matter of
degree, not of kind. Both may embolden others to have courage in their
beleifs, but both fail to accomplish their short term goals.

Peace,

-Cf

[christopher eli fahey]
art: http://www.graphpaper.com
sci: http://www.askrom.com
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com

DISCUSSION

Re: Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates


Eryk wrote:
> So usually I wander around with indictments of
> these people in my head. I would never say
> anything to the guy in the gas station,

Eryk, I profoundly disagree with your state of hopeless resignation and
your stereotypical liberal weakness.

Protests are, IMHO, incredibly effective, but not in the direct way that
many protesters hope it might be. It's not like Bush looks out of his
window, sees protesters, and has second thoughts about waging this war.
But, as you pointed out, it gives some people a "right on!" sensation.
This, to me, is the critical function of outspoken protest. Emboldening
others is the key to all political expression (and it is why even the
tinyest bit of vocal opposition becomes a target for ostracism and
suppression).

You mention that a lot of Americans are chock-full of opinions, and that
we constantly express them. You also argue that the opinions of a couple
of guys-at-the-gas-station don't affect the world. I think they do. I
think that the direction of our country's policies is determined by the
tides and currents of the street-level conversations we have - and by
those we don't have. Opinions that are voiced are immeasurably more
powerful than those that are not voiced.

I'm talking about having the courage to express your opinions openly
with conviction, and to use that conviction to encourage people you meet
to not only agree with you, but to have enough conviction in their own
beleifs to actively express them.

People on the left have a particular aversion to the day-to-day
expression of their political beleifs. The appellations "liberal",
"feminist", and "anti-war activist" are, in America, perceived as highly
negative, even by people who actually fit those descriptions. Most
American women have a distate for the word "feminist". No guy who wants
to maintain their machismo wants to be called a "pacifist". From a
purely avian standpoint, Hawks are *much* cooler than Doves. Who wants
to be a dove!? Many liberal political positions, because of the emphasis
on egalitarianism and peace, require one to take a position of weakness
or softness.

While it is easiest to have no opinion at all, it is clearly socially,
intellectually, and even emotionally easier to be a conservative hawk
than it is to be a liberal dove. It is easier for two guys in a gas
station to talk about "flattening Iraq" than it is to talk about how to
achieve a just peace and political stability in the troubled region.
People who disagree with the war and wish to engage in a more
substantive debate have a lot of social pressure against getting their
voices heard at all. At a broad level, it's clear that the media doesn't
like to let them on the air for fear of pissing someone off somewhere.
But even at the grassroots level, it's hard for many people who question
the war to bring it up in conversation - even over dinner with their
friends, even with family.

You estimate (believably) that 20% of protesters are probably marching
for stupid reasons. But the bigger picture is worse: I would estimate
that a quarter of all Americans would be for ANY war against ANYBODY no
matter what, because they beleive that to think otherwise is to be weak
and unpatriotic. IMHO, 25% of us will simply always be in favor of
America as a global bully. These folks find it quite easy to express
their opinions in this country, for the aforementioned reasons. They
speak from the lizard parts of their brains, and I fear it will always
be so.

I estimate that another 50% of Americans have opinions that are so
shallow and flexible that they will simply believe whatever is in the
general zeitgeist, what's on TV, what people are saying at the gas
station, etc. They may be variously inclined towards liberal ideas and
conservative ideas, but they are always flexible (currently, this group
is in favor of the war in Iraq).

So let's say the remaining 25% of people in this country are decisively
opposed to the war for whatever smart/dumb reasons. Most of these
people, in today's political climate, are still afraid to express their
opinions (again, for fear of being labelled "a liberal" or "weak"). They
won't go to protests, they won't talk about the war at work, they won't
bring it up with their families, they won't even say anything to the
guys at the gas station.

The result is that the country *looks* overwhelmingly like it is in
favor of the war, when it need not be. Not just in Gallup polls, but in
the the spirit in the air, in the national "conversation". If Americans
are not having war debates at the dinner table or at the gas station,
then they won't have war debates on television or in Congress.

I encourage everyone I know (and who has what I think to be "good"
politics!!) to be outspoken and even argumentative about their politics.
If the 25% of us who are against the war were to lose our fear of saying
so, and if we all encouraged others tp also have the courage to express
themselve, maybe those in the "undecided 50%" who are willing to listen
will change their minds.

Don't call the White House, call your parents. Don't become a human
sheild, just talk to folks you meet every day. There are some people
whose pro-war opinions are so weakly held that meeting and conversing
with an intelligent, passionate, and outspoken liberal might make them
change their minds. You could be that liberal! There are some who would
change their minds if only they knew that a few of their friends or
colleagues were against the war. We could be those friends!

There are friends of yours who already agree with you but who lack the
conviction to speak up about it anywhere. Perhaps your conviction,
expressed through your outspokenness, will embolden your friend to open
his or her mouth and change someone else's mind.

Your 3 suggestions (run for office, join the military, become a human
shield) are all comically ridiculous, and I think you intended them to
be an expression of your own frustration with your seeming inability,
and indeed the inability of the left in general, to make a difference in
the world. Your post is filled with a kind of pathetic defeatism that
has long been the Achilles heel of liberal ideology. I wholly reject
your hopelessness. I exhort you to take strength from your very beliefs
and to try to change someone's mind this week. One person. It sounds
corny to say that you can make a difference by changing one person's
mind, but right-wingers do the same thing all the time by scaring
lefties into keeping their mouths shut.

Anti-war protesters are great, I love them and I am profoundly grateful
to them. They embolden me to speak out more to my friends, to
co-workers, to my conservative extended family, and to you, right now,
today on this mailing list.

Peace,

-Cf

PS: This is why, with all his flaws, I really admire Michael Moore. A
liberal who is not afraid to speak out in protest at every opportunity
he gets. His key strength is his shamelessness. The weakness of
liberalism is its incessant embarassment with itself. Lefties, get over
it!

DISCUSSION

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-Cf

[christopher eli fahey]
art: http://www.graphpaper.com
sci: http://www.askrom.com
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com