June 4 2016

The stage is set

The first president of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich Ebert, was inaugurated at the National Theater in Weimar. One of the first big “Reichstage” of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party was held here. During the socialist era in the GDR was a prestigious place and now, today, we are at a historical crossroads again. We are entering the second day of the Digital Bauhaus Summit 2016 – Luxury Communism. In this notion, conference host Sebastian Olma finds a productive way of thinking about the future: “Its intention is to put communism back into design and we can see it as a different approach to technological structures today.” We are joining a cadre, we are on our way to a manifesto.

Yet, “luxury communism will not come easy even if it is a life of ease”, Bruce Sterling says in his opening address. Even Marx “never gave leisure a serious thought”. Sterling, futurist, activist and novelist gave examples of where people are/were actually pulling off some of what might be Luxury Communism. Or, at least, an early stage of it. The following is an incomplete list of what Sterling was illustrating on stage. Beware, the lines blur between quotes and the blogger’s words here:

Prospects No. 1: Rural communes; people living in geodesic domes which originate in a concept by Buckminster Fuller; amish people, who are successful rural refusniks who work really hard – the crowd in the National Theater doesn’t seem much like they’d appreciate that lifestyle.

Prospects No. 2: Squats. See Christiana in Copenhagen, for example. Bruce Sterling: “I could probably live in Christiana”. Yet, are they real dropouts?

Prospect No. 3: Retirement villages. The elderly don’t collapse from social decay but from age. Soft living for everybody – that pretty much says it all.

Prospect No. 4: Cruise ships. They are rootless.

Prospect No. 5: Armies. They live in barracks and work in social services. A popular luxury communist army could do a lot. At last, military service is pre-capitalistic.

Prospect No. 6: Monasteries and pilgrim centers. The are keen on labor. Take hindu Sadhus for example. They walk, pray and beg. They can manage by the social kindness of people: “It’s a backpacker’s life without the backpack.” It’s post-economical, post-nationalist and post-family.

Prospect No. 7: Academies. There’s plenty of room in schools. They stay busy even if they don’t have jobs. Bauhaus, Black Mountain College – they are like artistic communes, there is some semiotic pressure, maybe, but, hey, they design.

Prospect No. 8: The discipline of a police state. It would be rooted in surveillance and informants. Social media would play an important role. The human flesh search engine would massively troll you if you were out of line.

Prospect No. 9: Hospitals! The healthcare sector is growing, we have a need for more human care. There are even beauty treatments.

Prospect No. 10: Refugee camps. Gigantic, modern pop-up cities. You don’t understand capitalism if you don’t understand the mechanics of such camps. It takes 1200 dollars per month to maintain you there.

Prospect No. 11: Machine slavery? It’s something like imagining cats as lunch.

By the way, there is a Weimar in Texas, the state, where Bruce Sterling comes from. People there wanted to live in a different way. They were refugees from 1848 who were looking for a new life after the defeat of the democratic revolution.

Prospect No. 12: Honestly, the blogger drifted off here when Sterling started to talk about Goethe in Italy.

According to Sterling, Charlotte von Stein is the luxury communist of Weimar, actually: “She didn’t even have a job. She was a lady in waiting. But she was a social engineer of Weimar.” She had good manners, was polite, nobody paid her for it. Ha! She even wanted to become a great figure in literature without writing anything. And she could, since she was a muse to that Goethe guy.

You already guessed prospect No. 12? Right! It’s Charlotte herself. And what about Weimar 200 years later? Once it was a leading city, in the 17th century, had a very moved history. The awareness of the past allows us to make “better mistakes”, Sterling resumed. Ending with “Sturm und Drang”, he set the stage for the conference. On with it, comrades!

Keynote on the second day of the Digital Bauhaus Summit 2016: Bruce Sterling. Photo: Thomas Mueller
Keynote on the second day of the Digital Bauhaus Summit 2016: Bruce Sterling. Photo: Thomas Mueller

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