Friday, April 7, 2017

Watership down.

There he was, quite tiny, feasting on clover in the bright spring sun. I was able to get up quite close to observe him.

"A foraging wild creature, intent above all upon survival, is as strong as the grass."

Richard Adams Watership down.

He suddenly sensed my presence and in a instant had disappeared into a hole under the concrete steps of the ugly campus building.

I would feel privileged to be able to watch him, to take his photo, to tell his story to my daughter on arriving home.

I walked over to my car, and stopped an instant to look at the blackened, decomposed corpse of a larger rabbit.

It's astonishing how memories from long ago spring up in ones mind.

I remember roaming freely in the field next to the rectory, to play with the hay bales, to lie in the sun and to watch the clouds tell me stories.

Cowslip's warren.

I remember being read the story of "Watership down." by Richard Adams at bedtime.

I am seeing  it with new eyes today.

There is a passage in particular which comes back to me.

It appears that anonymous authors have generously shared it in synthesised form in Wikipedia.

What a marvellous luck we have to live in the age of easy access to information, the internet!

Cowslip: Although he is not a Chief Rabbit, his strange warren is usually referred to as "Cowslip's Warren" because he is the first resident therein that Hazel's rabbits meet. Cowslip is laconic and almost too refined, with great size and a strange scent, perhaps from a life of superior food, and he seems typical of his fellows. As Fiver soon discovers, a farmer leaves vegetables out so that he can trap rabbits coming and going, but this is a severely taboo subject in the warren, and Cowslip and his fellows refuse to talk about it, and instead pretend that all is well. Cowslip later refuses to help or even acknowledge Bigwig, when he is trapped and nearly killed by the farmer's snare. When Holly, Bluebell, and Pimpernel later happen into the area, Cowslip leads an attack upon these last surviving Sandleforders. However, while the locals have remarkable cultural sophistication (even art), they are woefully unskilled at fighting, and succeed in killing only the sickened Pimpernel. His warren—a harvesting ground of rabbit meat for a human—goes down in lapine history as being "bewitched"

It suddenly occurred to me that we, open educators, are residents of Cowslip's warren, for if we have remarkable cultural sophistication, even art, we are woefully unskilled at fighting for our freedom.

We have become laconic, of great size, perhaps from a life of superior food.

I remember all of this having thought about Chris Gilliard's wonderfully succinct provocation at OER17 for a discussion session, featured in Jim Luke's blog post: "Open Ed, Trump, Brexit, the #Trexit discussion"

In some edtech circles and adjoining expo halls such critical questions are to be avoided.

"As Fiver soon discovers, a farmer leaves vegetables out so that he can trap rabbits coming and going, but this is a severely taboo subject in the warren, and Cowslip and his fellows refuse to talk about it, and instead pretend that all is well."

Domesday book.

On watching Chris's video, I went and did a Google search for "Digital Serfdom" (as one does).

I found a really interesting article about the transition from feudalism to capitalism, it talks of the Domesday Book, a census of every man, woman and beast made to control the newly conquered kingdom by the Norman, Guillaume Le Bâtard, known in English as William the conqueror.

Ironic really that a conqueror might be remembered as a bastard after all these years....

There were images which immediately connected with the idea of OPEN.

One of the British government's GCHQ (Government communications head quarters) which is a circular building recalled images I had seen of the new flying saucer shaped Apple Park.

There is something inescapably totalitarian about circles, about globes.

I went and played with the images.

Open world.

I couldn't but notice that put together the GCHQ and the Apple park building become 00 eyes.

Take away the O o o from OPEN and you have a PEN.

Take away the O o o from Facebook messenger and you have a PEN.

What was capitalism grounded in if it were not enclosure?

What was public commons became enclosed by farmers for sheep grazing to sell wOOl?

Feudalism gave way to local capitalism, with a rise in the power of merchants, global adventurers, the slave trade, colonialism, whole countries, and peoples were enclosed, this brought in wealth to drive industrialisation and a rise in a middle class - people such as I.

Opening borders, boundaries, free movement of capital, free movement of labour, technological revolution was only ever about opening the playground for the elite and their lackeys - people such as I.

Freedom of movement was never really free for the poor, they were only of interest in times of economic need as chattel or worse.

We had a brief renaissance of hope after two world wars, with a new deal.

With the collapse of Western economies post 2008, the party really was over for many people.

Take away the O o o from Obama's presidency and you get a increase in drone warfare, Wall street profits, and government/private corporative surveillance.

From New Deal to Art of the Deal.

Fuck the "New deal" now we have the fucking "Art of the Deal".

In this age of casino capitalism Trump has gone from fucking Atlantic city over with his fucking Taj Mahal to fucking the country over with his White House.

There is now no difference between corporative surveillance and government surveillance (if there ever really was).

We have opened up our friendships, our interests, our relationships, our movements, our homes, our schools, our universities, our cars, our lives, our dreams, and fears to Google, to Amazon, to Facebook, to the GCHQ, to the NSA.

Our lives, our bodies, our souls, have been enclosed in the name of corporate gain.

Open is open only in name.

Open is and perhaps always was a story of enclosure.

We play at being fascists gazing proudly at our Tweetmaps.

Aren't we making proper Charlies of ourselves?

With the death of a middle class, our enclosure threatens this time to be total.

Domesday codes.

This time we have Trump the bastard with his hands on the Domesday code.

I don't see much fucking difference between 1066 and 2016.

Democratic "freedom" was a historical anomaly.

Welcome to Cowslip's warren.

Being caught in snares is fatal.

Burrow deeper.

Unburrowing ourselves.

How do we dig ourselves out of the burrow we are digging for ourselves?

Please leave your droppings in comments.

I search for inspiration in Watership Down.

"Before such people can act together, a kind of telepathic feeling has to flow through them and ripen to the point when they all know that they are ready to begin. Anyone who has seen the martins and swallows in September, assembling on the telephone wires, twittering, making short flights singly and in groups over the open, stubbly fields, returning to form longer and even longer lines above the yellowing verges of the lanes-the hundreds of individual birds merging and blending, in a mounting excitement, into swarms, and these swarms coming loosely and untidily together to create a great, unorganized flock, thick at the centre and ragged at the edges, which breaks and re-forms continually like clouds or waves-until that moment when the greater part (but not all) of them know that the time has come: they are off, and have begun once more that great southward flight which many will not survive; anyone seeing this has seen at the work the current that flows (among creatures who think of themselves primarily as part of a group and only secondarily, if at all, as individuals) to fuse them together and impel them into action without conscious thought or will: has seen at work the angel which drove the First Crusade into Antioch and drives the lemmings into the sea.” 

― Richard AdamsWatership Down


  1. To me, the first step is an awakening, an awareness, that something is not right, or as it should be. Like understanding that the farmer is using the warren to harvest rabbits for his dinner table.

    A second step is looking for information to help expand this awareness into understanding, and in doing so, find others who are also awakening to the same problem.

    It gets more difficult, and perhaps easier, as time progresses. The difficulty is finding ways to engage, and be part of the conversation, research, and thinking of others...and finding time search out and join in these conversations.

    The "easier", as if any of this is easy, comes from seeing how some people may be solving the problem a bit better than others, and finding ways to apply that idea to your own situation. No need to start from scratch if someone else has already set the table.

    You're already involved in steps one and two.

  2. One of my young students (11 years old) has been carrying around and reading Watership Down, which brought back my own flood of reading memories. I asked him how he is liking it, and he tells me: "It's rather slow paces but good." Now your post comes along in my feed, and I feel like its another one of those strange intersections of ideas.

    "It's astonishing how memories from long ago spring up in ones mind."


    1. This is the book that proves DisneyVision is a lie. Hakuna matata my ass.

  3. I live on the metes and bounds, the edges, the mycrorhizzal root hairs, where complexity abounds. The Marginal Human. Join me in the hedgerows.

  4. As always Simon, beautifully written/woven, harrowing.

    Your chosen last quote has me really thinking about both the significant empowerment in the "telepathic feeling that flows and ripens" verses the "fusing together which impels them into action without conscious thought or will".

    Is there any promise in new forms of digital art and activism? Forms that might shift these currents from mere digital serfdom to new freedom? Perhaps a freedom to be discovered in economies of reciprocity, the ethics of generosity, and the poetics of connectivity?

    1. Thanks Mia!

      As always there are ways to subvert hard lines/times.

      We must not freak out when faced with dinosaurs who will disappear with the rest of us.

      In the meantime let us dance.