Ownership Sucks

There was a great article on Worldchanging a little while ago discussing the wastefulness and increased cost of owning things like cars and power tools rather than borrowing or renting them. As the owner (actually lessor) of a car I don’t need, this resonated especially well with me.

So for instance: someone figured out that the average power tool gets used for ten or twenty minutes in its entire lifetime. So let’s say that instead of having 400$ of tools around the house you pay a few bucks a day to borrow tools from a power tool library. Plus you don’t have to worry about upkeep of the equipment and you can be reasonably sure that the equipment you’re borrowing is of decent quality, assuming capitalism does its job and motivates the providers to offer a good service.

Someone was telling me that his folks eventually realized it was cheaper to rent a car whenever they needed one — a few times a year — than to own their car and pay for insurance and upkeep. There are a few organizations around that provide short-term loans of vehicles. Streetcar, in the UK, comes to mind, as well as Communauto, here in Montreal and Flexcar, in eight cities around the US. All are very generous about charging for gas — Streetcar gives you 30 free miles per day and Communauto and Flexcar just pay for all the gas themselves!

The net effect of increasing the availability of borrowed resources would ideally be a change in the way we see “stuff”. Currently we are taught that owning stuff reflects our self-worth. People have started movements to divest oneself of stuff, but without a system set up to borrow stuff as needed this is unattractive. So coupling the desire to divest oneself of stuff with the ability to obtain, on a temporary basis, whatever stuff we need moves our focus from “what we have” to “what we use.” The stuff itself loses importance and what we want to do with it gains. It really doesn’t matter that I don’t own a table saw because any time I need to use one I can either bring my project down to the local community woodshop or borrow a table saw for a weekend.

Obviously there are people for whom it is better to own certain stuff. If I use my table saw every weekend it may be more cost-effective for me to just buy one, and it avoids the hassle of transporting stuff all the time. But I should think that the vast majority of people would do well to subscribe to a stuff-lending service.

I Oppress Women.

crossposted from feministallies

This post was going to be a response to nobadges in this thread, but it grew into its own post.

I wrote:

I would look at the [patriarchy] not only as [a system] that places men on top of a hierarchy, but as one that encourages men to oppress women.

nobadges wrote:

I agree that individual men do oppress individual women through the current system. Of course, individual women also oppress individual women, and every other iteration you can think of.

nobadges misunderstood me here. I didn’t mean “there are some individual men who oppress women.” I meant that all men, in being men, oppress women.

This is not to say that every man is a rapist, nor that there aren’t any men who treat women as equals. Thing is, though, by living in a sexist society men do things every day that oppress women — sometimes things that can’t be avoided even if we are aware of them.

For instance, let’s say I go into a bank with my female partner to get a mortgage. The person we’re speaking to might defer to me more than to the woman with me, asking me all the relevant questions. The assumption (perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not) is that I am the one in charge. So who is to blame for this? Well, certainly the bank employee takes some blame, and society in general is to blame for creating and maintaining a situation where the banker is likely to behave that way. I do not necessarily hold any of the blame in this situation, but my presence caused the oppression of my partner.

This is not a great example, but it shows the insidiousness of privilege. I don’t even have to be in the same room as a woman to cause her oppression: if I am one of two equally-qualified candidates for a job, and the other is a woman, I am more likely to be hired. The blame here is not mine unless I played up my maleness in the interview or something, but because my privilege caused me to gain to the detriment of the female candidate I am in a way taking her job opportunity away from her without ever meeting her.

So I as a man, I as a white person, I as a non-poor person, I as an able person and so on through all the privileged classes I am a member of, I contribute to oppression of oppressed classes simply by being who I am. I can’t or won’t change who I am, so instead I try to change in whatever way I can the structures that cause me to be an oppressor. Yes, it’s rather a sisyphean undertaking, but it is the right thing to do.

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Organizing neural networks

An israeli group is raising the bar for people working with artificial neural networks. Yael Hanein of Tel Aviv University and her team have construed a way to get neuron clusterss to arrange themselves in neat patterns on a sheet of quartz, by using 100-μm-thick bundles of — you guessed it — nanotubes. This greatly increases the efficiency and lifespan of these neuron clusters, and is the first step toward sophisticated biosensors, neuronal grafting and — as one of the commentors on the New Scientist article said — “Cylons that behave like mice”.