Sunday, 20 November 2011


"We have nothing else cheap left to exploit. We are completely in danger from lack of culture. We were all trained up to be consumers...throw away the past, the future will take care of itself, catch the latest thing and suck it up." -- Vivienne Westwood, addressing Occupy activists (
 "There is no doubt in 1933 that the collapses of the older systems which we witness are probably irrevocable. Sir Auckland Geddes, the British Ambassador to the United States of America, foresaw them when he said in 1920: 'In Europe, we know that an age is dying. Here it would be easy to miss the the signs of coming changes, but I have little doubt that it will come. A realization of the aimlessness of life lived to labour and to die, having achieved nothing but avoidance of starvation, and the birth of children also doomed to the weary treadmill, has seized the minds of millions.'" -- Science and Sanity, p. 49, Alfred Korzybski
What does 'human' mean? What differentiates human from animal? Alfred Korzybski suggested we classify life on Earth as follows:
  1. Plants: static, synthesize sunlight and other chemicals in order to grow. Hence we define them as 'chemical-binders'.
  2. Animals: like plants, they synthesize chemicals to grow, but also have the ability to move around. This movement in 'space' differentiates plants from animals and hence we define them as 'space-binders'.
  3. Humans: like plants, synthesize chemicals to grow, and like animals move around in space. Humans add to this the ability to learn from previous generations - one generation can start from where the previous left off. This ability to transmit knowledge across time leads to the definition of humans as 'time-binders'.
Korzybski argues first in Manhood of Humanity, and later in Science and Sanity, that this definition of humans as 'time-binders' describes functionally what humans actually do. One only needs to look around to verify the claim. The presents from the past rest all around us.

The time-binding capacity of humans means that I can learn from Korzybski, despite the fact that he died 60 years ago. I can learn from Einstein, despite the fact he died 60 years ago. I can learn from Aristotle, despite the fact that he died 2000 years ago. Civilization arises because of the time-binding capacity. Imagine a world where every generation starts afresh, unable to use the fruits of the previous generations' efforts. We would still be living in the trees, picking flies off each other.
"NYPD & Brookfield have taken the People's Library again. and we love you all." --!/owslibrary/status/136970287601291265
By building a People's Library, the Occupiers in NY implicitly recognized the uniquely human capacity of time-binding. Bringing together books in that way honours the time-binding capacity that defines humans. What does destroying them signify?

So far, the mass media has focused on the occupation of 'space' in cities all around the world. But this space-binding activity is incidental to the more important time-binding activities, the creation and propagation of memes.

OWS Teach-In with Douglas Rushkoff from Douglas Rushkoff on Vimeo.

Pepper spray doesn't work against ideas. You can't kettle a meme. Animalistic, space-binding tactics may work in the short-term, but in the long-term, human-nature, the time-binding capacity, will assert itself.

To live life as a human means to live life in order to learn and progress, not simply to labour and die. To live a life of culture, rather than consumerism. To exercise the uniquely human time-binding capacity.