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We have been talking quite a bit about the DIY tactics we can use to solve systemic problems from the ground up, but we haven’t quite yet gotten into Gnarly Civics. What is Gnarly Civics? Simply put, it’s the kind of Civics you need when things get Gnarly. What does that mean? It’s the application of alternative subcultural attitudes, identities, philosophies, and approaches to contemporary political and social challenges, with an emphasis on applying their lessons to dealing with Gnarly (read: really bad and generally seen as unsolvable) problems. What do we mean when we say alternative subcultural? Though this is a broad term with a very broad set of emphases one can choose, my focus is on the cultures connected to the development of skateboarding culture. Things like punk rock, surfing, hip hop, and elements of the hippy culture. Why this set of cultures? Think about the people who are seen as causing the problems in contemporary society. On one hand, we have disaffected young, mostly white, people who think that society has abandoned them due to impositions of diversity and inclusion that limit their freedom of expression. They have a hardcore form of art called “memes,” are brash and bold, and don’t care what other racial groups think of them. They claim that the liberals’ restrictions on this art form legally in the EU and on social media platforms are because they “can’t meme,” rather than the old “can’t kickflip.” They even explicitly say their culture is “the new punk rock.” If you didn’t guess already, these are the alt-right. Liberals and much of established politics would probably call them “freaks.” True or not, hold that in suspense for a moment as we move on to our next group.
These are people who started making machines in their garages in the 80s or so. People thought they were interesting but perhaps not very useful. But they caught on, one brand urging people to “think differently.” These machines are now known as computers. These people built enterprises worth in the billions of dollars and starred trends that shape how we communicate and view the world. They inspired new clans called “start ups” to follow their highest principle of “move fast and break things,” creating social media networks and this very medium. Try to think of the similarities between this motto and another motto of skate culture popularized by Thrasher magazine. Some tried to maintain their principles of creativity and community with a motto of “don’t be evil.”
However, many lost their souls and started to become destructive enterprises called to account by politicians and the media for causing political division, taking people’s data to sell as fool’s gold to misinformed and overhyped marketing organizations, leading people to extremism to maintain their attention to view aforementioned marketing, encouraging people to decimate and demoralize those professionals who focus on people rather than algorithms as being dumb and worthless, and adopting the labor practices of the most abhorrent industrialists with added technological control, running humans like machines. These are the “geeks.” And now I will explain these classifications.
Jeff Grosso once stated that two of the main groups of skateboarding are “freaks and geeks.” So our alt-right members are the “freaks” and the tech industry are the “geeks.” Both are seen as problems in society. Much like the skaters of old that people wanted away from their handrails and empty swimming pools. These people, much like extreme thinkers and nonconformists throughout history, have gained quite a bit of traction. They also have some things they can learn from predecessor alternative cultures and some things we can learn in engaging with them from these cultures. The first is that their bad actions are often either a response to reality that they feel is the best one or what I call a “mistake of flow,” going in a direction that feels positive but isn’t principled. The second is that there is unbelievable potential for positive change but only if the seeds of positive change are there and planted authentically without imposition. Imposition and anything short of cooperation backfires when dealing with an independent culture. Ideally, the culture self-corrects and that is where we want to be.
There are then unique lessons for each culture, conditions, and set of people that we can draw from. Those will each require their own installment.
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