THE SHARING PROJECT in sculptures and videos

JOEL TAUBER’S Installation

at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach

By Joel Tauber

JOEL TAUBER, video still from “Happyville”, one of the videos in “The Sharing Project” installation

JOEL TAUBER, video still from “Happyville”, one of the videos in “The Sharing Project” installation

In 1905, Charles Weintraub and a bunch of his Socialist Russian Jewish friends decided to leave New York City and head South. They pooled their savings, took out some loans, and purchased 2200 acres of land near Montmorenci, South Carolina. They didn’t know how to farm, and the land that they purchased wasn’t conducive to farming anyway. But, those minor practical issues didn’t dissuade them. They were determined to realize their dream of living on a Socialist commune.

It’s amazing what the 50 settlers were able to accomplish in Happyville. They grew crops and raised livestock. They built a dam, a water turbine, a saw mill, and a cotton gin. They worked together as equals, and they shared their resources fully.

They made their utopian dream a reality. But, it didn’t last. Unusually severe weather made it even more difficult to grow crops on the sandy soil. And, for whatever reason, not enough of their neighbors wanted to buy their crops and products. They were in debt, and they were forced to sell their land to appease their creditors. In 1908, it was all over. Happyville had disappeared.

JOEL TAUBER, “The Sharing Project”, Installation at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 2015

JOEL TAUBER, “The Sharing Project”, Installation at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 2015.

It’s hard for me to share my video equipment or to let anyone into my studio. I tell myself that I would face all kinds of problems if anyone damaged my gear, and that I need peace and solitude in order to work effectively. Yet, my rationalizations leave me feeling guilty. I sense that I’m not acting generously enough, and I worry about what my behavior is teaching my kids.

One day, my son Zeke, crying profusely, banged on my door, and demanded to know why I wouldn’t share my space with him. I didn’t have a good answer. Then, Zeke showed me his secret hiding spots and offered to share them with me. He argued that there was plenty of room in his “office” for my tools and that I didn’t need another space for them. 

Zeke’s generosity overwhelmed me, but I wasn’t able to accept his offer. Safeguarding my personal possessions in my own space was too important to me.

As I tried to justify my feelings, I thought about John Locke’s claim that we should have the freedom to acquire our own land and wealth and that it shouldn’t bother anyone – unless we do so excessively, or during times of scarcity.

Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten about Locke’s restrictions, and we’ve created a tremendous amount of inequity in the process. While a few of us enjoy excessive amounts of wealth, far too many of us struggle with scarcely enough – if anything – to eat.

JOEL TAUBER, “The Sharing Project”, Installation at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 2015

JOEL TAUBER, “The Sharing Project”, Installation at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 2015.

The installation features 15 short films plus 21 interviews. The foregrounded video, the one presented on the largest screen, tells the story of Happyville; while the other 14 films operate as a kind of dialogue between Zeke and me about the meaning and challenges of sharing.

Tablet(s) feature 21 experts in different fields offering their thoughts. 

JOEL TAUBER, “The Sharing Project”, Installation at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 2015

JOEL TAUBER, “The Sharing Project”, Installation at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 2015.

Audiences explore the videos interactively. They are invited to share their toys and help arrange them in the gallery / museum. Then, at the end of the show, they are invited to take the toys and give them away to whomever they think will enjoy them.

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

 

 

SHARED RESOURCES AND EXPECTATIONS

– The Sharing Project –

6 :  SHARED RESOURCES AND EXPECTATIONS

By Joel Tauber

 I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Boston that felt both nurturing and stifling. If anyone in the community struggled financially, they knew that tzedeka (or charity) would be raised to sustain them. If they needed emotional support during a crisis – or even if they didn’t – they knew that people would gather around them to comfort them with meals and conversation.

Yet, all of this support had a cost, which I felt in quite a pronounced way during my Bar Mitzvah. One person after another gave me a volume of Talmudic text and encouraged me to follow its many laws. The mountain of Talmudic tomes that I received that day and the expectations that they embodied felt overwhelmingly oppressive to me.

Years later, I live a secular life with my family in Winston-Salem in a house that was built by a Moravian couple whose heritage seems similar – in a number of ways – to my own.

As historian Michele Gillespie explained to me, Moravians migrated to what they called Wachovia from Central Europe – via Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – in the 18th century in order to escape persecution and to establish communities for their pietistic, Protestant sect.

The Moravians were communitarian. They shared property, work, and responsibilities. Everyone was educated at the same schools, and no one had to fear going hungry. They were defined by their status as single brothers, single sisters, or married couples; and they were treated similarly within those groupings.

The Church was paramount, while individual choice was somewhat limited. The Moravians were expected to dress similarly and to leave certain decisions – like who to marry – to God.

Over the course of the 19th century, the Moravians’ communitarianism faded, and they became more individualistic. They stopped speaking German, grew more similar to other Protestants in the American South, and even adopted the abominable practice of slavery.

Then, in 1913, Salem, which was the largest Moravian community in Wachovia, was asked to merge with its neighbor, and new economic powerhouse, Winston. Even though the Moravians in Salem had long been successful artisans and merchants, they didn’t identify with the textile and tobacco entrepreneurs, like R.J. Reynolds, that had settled in Winston. They felt that these businessmen were too greedy and individualistic and that their ethos threatened whatever remained of their communitarian culture.

Nevertheless, the merger occurred, and the communitarian lifestyle of the Moravians continued to fade away. What they had built in Salem became a relic of the past, frequented by tourists.

I was thinking about all of this, when we went to Wachovia Bank to open an account. I knew that the bank had Moravian roots, but I couldn’t see them anywhere other than in the name. As I glanced around the shiny walls, I wondered what the communitarians who had settled here in the 1740s would have thought of the powerful instrument of Capitalism that their descendants helped create.

My mind continued to wander, as a banker offered me bottled water. I thought about how the Moravians had come to this fertile spot with abundant creeks and rivers with the intention of sharing those resources collectively. Could they have imagined that anyone would offer water from across the globe as a gift when there was such wonderful water right here?

As I watched Zeke and Ozzie chase bubbles one day in our backyard on Robinhood Road, I wondered what it would be like if we shared more of our resources with each other, like the Moravians once did. The possibility felt beautiful to me; and I prayed that we could achieve it, while restraining ourselves from imposing the types of shared expectations that I experienced in my childhood.

 

Joel Tauber, "SHARE" (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, "The Sharing Project"

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

 

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

CAMPFIRES, SOCIALISM, AND MULTI-LEVEL SELECTION

— The Sharing project —

N.5: CAMPFIRES, SOCIALISM, AND MULTI-LEVEL SELECTION

By Joel Tauber

When we went camping late last summer, I was struck by a sense of increased communal spirit, both within our family and with our neighbors in the campground. Somehow, sharing labor, equipment, and food felt easier than it normally does.

Without needing to be asked, Zeke and Ozzie eagerly and proudly gathered twigs and leaves to help build the fire. A neighbor noticed that we were having some trouble in the wet weather, so she gave us some of her highly flammable logs to make our lives easier. After Alison and I had trouble sleeping on a leaky air mattress, the boys let us use their sleeping bag pads. Then, we all worked collectively to make smores, and we took turns eating them.

Philosopher G.A. Cohen believes that our behavior on camping trips is both a model and an argument for Socialism. Since egalitarian and community principles motivate us when we go camping, they should also guide us when we return to “civilization” and lead us to adopt a type of Socialism that guarantees equal income (or at least equal hourly wages) for everyone.

Unfortunately, we haven’t developed enough mechanisms for this kind of Socialism; and we haven’t sufficiently explored models that have already been envisioned, like Joseph Carens’ method of redistributing all earnings via taxes in a market based economy.

As we returned from our camping trip, I tried to imagine what it might be like to live in Carens’ Socialist world; but I started worrying if I was capable of sharing enough to do so. The communal spirit that we had enjoyed in the mountains had already dissipated; and, in the process, a familiar ambivalence about sharing had overtaken me. I was entranced by the egalitarian and community principles of the camping trip; but the very thought of sharing all my income through taxes was terrifying, and it made me want to cling to my possessions even more selfishly.

I was wrestling with similar thoughts when I reluctantly shared my tripod with Zeke and Ozzie. Zeke must have sensed my ambivalence, because his behavior oscillated between different positions about sharing, just like my feelings did. At first, he was happy to share the tripod with Ozzie, and they explored it together quite harmoniously; but then Zeke insisted on “privacy” and a chance to play with it by himself. Zeke enjoyed his time alone with the tripod, but he seemed to regret how things had evolved once it became Ozzie’s turn. After giving Ozzie some time, Zeke returned and wrested it from him. He stopped me from scolding him by saying that he was merely showing Ozzie “how to do it”; and then he proceeded to work on the tripod with Ozzie, sharing it beautifully with him like he had done initially.

While all of this unfolded, my mind turned to Darwin’s theory of multi-level selection, which describes how we’re simultaneously driven by the opposing forces of individual selection to act selfishly and group selection to act altruistically.

Our genes send us mixed messages and confuse us. They encourage us to be greedy, but they also ask us to share. They promote altruism towards family members via kin selection (Fisher, Haldane); towards friends and colleagues via group selection (Darwin, Wright, Wilson); and even towards strangers, if there is a reasonable chance of reciprocity (Trivers).

I’m certainly grateful that I have biological impulses to act altruistically, but I’m also aware that I can’t rely on them. They won’t free me of the fundamental conflict between altruism and selfishness that is wired into my DNA, and they won’t enable me to reach beyond my current limitations. I will have to look for inspiration elsewhere, as I strive to live in ways that are at least a bit more aligned with the egalitarian and community principles that Cohen describes.

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

 

HOW DO WE FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH TO SHARE?

— The Sharing Project  —

4. HOW DO WE FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH TO SHARE?

By Joel Tauber

There are so many different kinds of sharing that it makes me wonder why our language lumps them all together.

We share time, energy, space, information, stories, and feelings. We also share food, money, tools, cars, and toys. We share with immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers.

Sometimes we share our personal possessions via loans, gifts, or charity. Other times, we decide that certain things belong to all of us (or at least some of us), and we share them in communistic ways.

Alison and I tell our son Zeke that everything in the family room belongs to our family collectively. Zeke can keep his special tools in his bedroom and moving box boat; but he can’t hide any books, blocks, or train tracks in his secret compartments, because they belong to everyone.

Before his brother Ozzie started crawling, Zeke had full control of almost all the toys. He shared them on his terms. He loaned them to Ozzie with the understanding that he would get them back; and, if he was feeling particularly generous, he offered certain toys to Ozzie as gifts.

When Ozzie started asserting his right to use the communal toys, Zeke realized that he didn’t own as much as he had previously thought. He had been taxed significantly, and he wondered why he should share his remaining prized possessions.

If I wanted to scare Zeke, I could have told him about Thomas Hobbes. He paints a picture of brutish, short, and miserable lives for those who don’t act altruistically. If Zeke is perceived as selfish, then Ozzie and others are less likely to embrace him; and he might be left to fend for himself in a competitive, harsh world.

I don’t want to motivate Zeke through fear, so I tell him that sharing his special tools will make him happy. In fact, sharing will make him happier than almost anything else. After all, that’s what John Stuart Mill suggests when he describes the particularly wonderful kind of pleasure that we experience when we act ethically.

Sometimes that line of thinking resonates with Zeke, and sometimes it doesn’t. Zeke recognizes that it’s sometimes quite hard to share, and sometimes it even makes him sad.

So, I turn to Plato and his claim that if we exercise our reason and act justly, we become more perfect human beings. I tell Zeke that he becomes a better boy when he shares. He becomes Super Zeke when he acts generously.

Zeke loves that idea, especially because he has a super hero costume with the letter Z on it.

There may be certain problems with Plato’s approach, just as there may be limitations to every other philosophical argument for altruism. Yet, ultimately, I don’t think it matters. There are plenty of reasons to embrace the value of sharing, even if it’s difficult to lump all of those reasons together into one philosophical framework.

Christian Miller believes that we probably haven’t embraced the value of sharing – or charity – enough. He points out that many of the philosophical models that so many of us believe in ask more of us than we seem to realize. The Bible commands us to love thy neighbor as yourself, Kant tells us to treat everyone as ends, and Utilitarianism mandates that we maximize happiness in the world. None of those ethical systems imply that we have the right to share or give charity only when we feel like it.

In fact, at least according to Peter Singer’s vision of Utilitarianism, we may be required to give our money and food to those who are starving up until the point that we are in danger of starving ourselves.

I feel chastened when I think about Peter Singer and my conversation with Christian Miller. I believe in the value of sharing, and I aspire to be a generous person. Yet, the ideal that Singer describes seems much too difficult to achieve.

Should I feel guilty about enjoying certain material comforts? Should I feel bad that I hope that Alison, Zeke, and Ozzie will live easy and even luxurious lives?

I was taught in my religious Jewish high school that we are acting selfishly if we don’t offer ten percent of our income to charity, but we are acting too selflessly if we give away more than twenty percent.

These guidelines sometimes feel completely arbitrary, but I’ve tried to follow them, nonetheless. They remind me to share at least some of my possessions, and they alleviate some of the guilt that I feel when I notice how many people are suffering.

Yet, I wonder if I’m blindly following convention. I contemplate sharing our 2800 square foot house with as many homeless people as possible. I consider giving away almost all of our possessions and living in a tent. The thoughts appeal to me momentarily, but then they pass. I continue living my comfortable life, and I pray that I share enough to be a good role model for Zeke.

 

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

JOEL TAUBER, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

 

TO WHAT EXTENT ARE WE TEACHING OUR KIDS TO SHARE?

— The Sharing Project —

3: TO WHAT EXTENT ARE WE TEACHING OUR KIDS TO SHARE?

By Joel Tauber

I went to school with my son Zeke one day when he was almost 2 years old, and I remember being surprised by the number of skirmishes that erupted when multiple boys claimed ownership of the same balls. Even though the balls were communal and meant to be shared by everyone in the school, Zeke and his friends wanted to possess the balls themselves.

Sharing a ball is not an easy thing to do or to teach. The act of playing catch requires relinquishing possession, repeatedly. What is mine and thine, as philosopher Win-chiat Lee says, is blurry when one shares, and it’s blurry when one plays catch. 

Zeke’s teachers didn’t force them to play catch, but they did encourage them to take turns. They didn’t allow anyone to hoard or steal. They enforced and taught their vision of the kind of sharing that was appropriate for the kids in their class. 

There’s tremendous variation in different classrooms about the values that are being taught, and there’s a long history of ambivalence in our country about whether values should even be taught in our schools. 

However, it’s clear that values have always been taught, since they are embedded in everything that we say and do. Education scholar Joe Milner describes how the McGuffey Readers, which were used as early as 1836 in so many of our public schools to teach our kids to read, explicitly promote values like cooperation and sharing. 

Sometimes we seem to be teaching opposing ideologies. On the one hand, as Robert Dreeben explains, the very structure of our schools teaches kids that they are one among many. On the other hand, we often tell children that they are special and unique individuals. 

It’s certainly possible to celebrate the individual and the group at the same time, but it’s a precarious balancing act. If we promote individualism too much, then we are at risk of encouraging selfishness. If we want to teach our kids to share, then we have to value the Other at least as much as we value the Individual

Jeffrey Faullin, principal of Brunson Elementary School in Winston-Salem North Carolina, believes that while we may be teaching our kids to share in certain ways, a hidden curriculum teaches the opposite. 

Corporate advertisement preaches that individual consumption and accumulation are the keys to happiness. The American Dream promises this vision of happiness to all of us, as long as we are able to beat the competition. Then our schools present a structure for this competition to take place. 

When I was in elementary school, I must not have understood that school was the ticket to the American Dream. I kept getting kicked out of class, and I would have failed all of my exams if my friends hadn’t shared their exam answers with me. 

This (problematic) kind of sharing soon stopped. My classmates and I realized that only some of us would make it into honors classes and only one of us would become valedictorian. Many would not be accepted into the most exclusive colleges. So, we strove to differentiate ourselves from our peers. We continued to share notes with each other and we worked together on group projects, but our individual agendas became our dominant preoccupations. We competed more and shared less. 

On the basketball court, we faced similarly confusing dilemmas about sharing and competition. I was the starting point guard, and it was my job to share the ball with my teammates and steal the ball from the opposing team. We won more games when we played selflessly and made the extra pass, as long as we didn’t forget to be ruthless competitors towards the other team. 

Thankfully, I’m more able to deconstruct all of these mixed messages about sharing than I was when I was a kid, but now I’m overwhelmed by the enormity of trying to teach Zeke to share when he is bombarded by at least as many contradictory ideologies as I was. 

Joel Tauber, "SHARE" (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, "The Sharing Project"

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

 Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

 

PRIVATE PROPERTY AND INEQUITY

(Editor’s introduction:  “The Sharing Project”  already appeared in this blog with its first manifestation, “To Restore Happyville.” It’s a proteiform project, a body of work that will be presented in the end as both a sculptural video installation and a feature film. Obviously, not in this blog anymore. I publish here its still configuration: 7 episodes each made with one text and one image. 

It’s an unusual art project, an invitation to rethink and question our system of values and behavior with philosophical and psychological tools. Further more, Joel Tauber merges into his family life as he did at the beginning of his art making: to experience the air he built a balloon and became a wise Icarus flying over the California desert, to really know the earth he dug a hole and lay inside. I’m proud to introduce in this blog an artist who is inspired by feelings and by the little creatures he has generated with his wife. One more artist after Rembrandt painting his mother in the act of reading; Seurat drawing the most expressive portraits of his family;  my grandfather Oreste Albertini often placing in his painted landscapes wife and sons; Bill Viola revealing the most dramatic events of his life, his mother’s death and his son’s birth; Rebecca Campbell transforming family images into symbolic portraits. Only a few of the many. Judy Fiskin and Nicole Miller in this blog, for instance. R.A.

“With nostalgia we dream a universe in which humans, instead of furiously fighting for their visible appearance, would engage themselves in getting rid of it, not only refusing to act in that direction, just making themselves naked enough to discover that secret place, within,  from which a completely different human adventure could have started to exist.” (Jean Genet)

— The Sharing Project —

1. PRIVATE PROPERTY AND INEQUITY

By Joel Tauber

It’s hard for me to share my video equipment or to let anyone into my studio. I tell myself that I would face all kinds of problems if anyone damaged my gear, and that I need peace and solitude in order to work effectively. Yet, my rationalizations leave me feeling guilty. I sense that I’m not acting generously enough, and I worry about what my behavior is teaching my kids.

One day, my son Zeke, crying profusely, banged on my door, and demanded to know why I wouldn’t share my space with him. I didn’t have a good answer. Then, Zeke showed me his secret hiding spots and offered to share them with me. He argued that there was plenty of room in his “office” for my tools and that I didn’t need another space for them.

Zeke’s generosity overwhelmed me, but I wasn’t able to accept his offer. Safeguarding my personal possessions in my own space was too important to me.

As I tried to justify my feelings, I thought about John Locke’s claim that we should have the freedom to acquire our own land and wealth and that it shouldn’t bother anyone – unless we do so excessively, or during times of scarcity.

Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten about Locke’s restrictions, and we’ve created a tremendous amount of inequity in the process. While a few of us enjoy excessive amounts of wealth, far too many of us struggle with scarcely enough – if anything – to eat.

Gene Nichol; who runs the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina; tells me that 18% of North Carolinians live in poverty and that there are higher levels of poverty in the United States than in any of the other wealthy Western Democracies.

As I eat dinner with my wife and our two young boys in our home in Winston-Salem, I think about how there might be more childhood hunger in our city than anywhere else in our country. How can we allow that horrific reality to occur in such a wealthy place?

I was wrestling with that dilemma when I went to the Moral March in Raleigh last February. It was a big protest, maybe the biggest in the South since 1965 and perhaps the biggest in North Carolina history. I saw buses from Tennessee, Virginia, and elsewhere. There was a giant traffic jam, as buses filled with activists tried to park. Everyone on our bus was feeling antsy. They knew that there was a lot at stake, and they wanted to be a part of it.

I had taken Zeke to smaller protests in Winston-Salem, and I wanted him to experience the March in Raleigh and hear why people were protesting; but it just seemed too dangerous. Too many people had been arrested – including some people I knew – in previous Moral Monday events, and I couldn’t justify putting our young son in danger.

The crowd was large, and it was loud. Zeke would have been impressed, and he would have enjoyed seeing all of the signs. They were inventive, and they expressed people’s thoughts about a plethora of things, from the torture we’ve done in Guantanamo Bay to the wars we’ve waged overseas; but mostly the signs and chants reflected what’s happening in North Carolina right now.

North Carolina has a high unemployment rate. People need help, but we’ve decided to eliminate significant social safety nets that are essential for those who can’t find jobs. We’ve decided to cut unemployment benefits and reduce the number of weeks of eligibility. We’ve declined expanded federal funds for unemployment benefits and for Medicaid.

Is this what sharing looks like these days? Is this what we want to teach our kids?

Reverend Barber insists that the laws that we have passed are immoral. He talks about how we cannot be silent and how we must insist on change.

We were all hoping for change at the Moral March, but it hasn’t occurred yet. So, we will gather in Raleigh to march again.

Joel Tauber, "SHARE" (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, "The Sharing Project"

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who is developing the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – will be presented as both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.

http://thesharingproject.net

TO RESTORE HAPPYVILLE

From Joel Tauber : THE SHARING PROJECT

I’ve been struggling for the last couple of years to understand the concept of sharing and how to teach it to our young son Zeke. We have a lot of questions. Why should we share? When should we share? How much should we share? Are we acting consistently? If sharing is a value that we should all embrace, then why is there so much poverty in our very rich country? 

As we’ve been wrestling with these questions, I’ve been talking to experts in philosophy, evolutionary biology, psychology, history, anthropology, economics, politics, and education. 

A conversation with the anthropologist David Graeber is one of the many that continues to resonate. He described how the Nuer in South Sudan share food and other necessities freely with members of their camp, but they never share their cattle with each other. Indeed, they will literally defend their cattle with their lives. 

I was thinking about the Nuer and my conversation with David when Zeke invited his friend, Zev, over for a play-date. At the time, Zeke’s prized possession was his guitar. Zev wanted to play with it, and Zeke, quite reasonably, refused. I asked Zeke to share his guitar, even though I had made it clear to both Zeke and Zev that I was not willing to share the camera that I was using to film them. Indeed, I would not even let them touch the camera, fearing that they might damage it. Zeke, probably sensing my inconsistency, clung to his guitar as if his life depended on it. Zev grabbed it too, and they spun around the room. Eventually, Zeke relented. Zeke and Zev took turns playing the guitar, and they both seemed happy. It was beautiful, but I was left feeling like a hypocrite. Why should Zeke share his most special possession when I was not willing to do the same thing? 

I want to be a good man, an ethical and generous person, but I also want to make sure that our family is comfortable. I want my wife Alison and our sons Zeke and Ozzie to have easy and happy lives. How do I balance those two quite different desires? 

This is not an easy question, especially if Darwin’s theory of multi-level selection is correct, as Alex Rosenberg and others now believe. Group selection encourages us to share and behave altruistically, so that we will be part of stronger groups; while individual selection encourages us to behave selfishly, so that we can advance within those groups. We are fundamentally conflicted on a genetic level. We have impulses to both share and to not share. 

I feel this conflict in myself, and I sense it in Zeke as well. Zeke loves his tools. They’re part of his identity, as a “worker man.” When Ozzie started crawling and messing with his stuff, Zeke responded by hiding his tools in secret compartments to safeguard them. A big part of him clearly does not want to share his special tools. They are too intertwined with his identity. But, Zeke also loves building things with Ozzie, and he is often willing to share even his most special tools with him so they can complete their projects.

Christian Miller talked to me about how philosophy may not be able to tell us precisely how much we should share. There are too many ethical theories, and they all may be flawed in some way. At the same time, all of the models – or at least the dominant ones adopted by Western Civilization – suggest that we aren’t sharing or giving enough.

The notion that we aren’t sharing enough may be the root of the anger driving all of the protests in North Carolina right now. I went to one of the protests with my camera recently, and I talked to Zeke about it afterwards. It proved to be a very confusing conversation, especially because of all of our previous conversations about sharing. How am I supposed to teach Zeke to share when I also have to explain to him that we slashed unemployment and healthcare benefits precisely at a time when there are so many people who are suffering?

There were moments in our history when we had a far more expansive view of what should be shared by everyone as part of the public domain.

was thinking about how far we’ve moved from that perspective, when I stumbled upon the forgotten Socialist Jewish commune of Happyville. As a Jewish guy who recently moved from the Big City to the Carolinas, I immediately felt a lot of kinship with the 50 Russian Jews who left New York to start a Socialist commune in South Carolina between 1905 and 1908. And, it seemed quite clear to me that the Happyville pioneers could teach Zeke and I a lot about sharing. While it’s too late to speak to the Happyville settlers, perhaps some of what they discovered about sharing is buried in the traces of their utopian community.

Zeke and I have been exploring the 2200 acre site of Happyville, determined to uncover those mysteries. I’m not sure how much we should be sharing or if we’re capable of living like the Happyville settlers, but I’m saddened that we’re so distant from the forgotten utopian past that it represents. It may be absurd to try to restore Happyville, or even the dream of Happyville, but Zeke and I are trying to do so anyway. Zeke selected his most special tools, and he offered to share them with me. Now, we’re busy in Happyville, working away: probing and digging, prying and tweaking.

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who is developing the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – will be presented as both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.  http://thesharingproject.net

JOEL TAUBER, "Attempting to restore Happyville" 2013, photo from the art installation and movie "The Sharing Project" -Courtesy of the artist

JOEL TAUBER, “Attempting to restore Happyville” 2013, photo from the art installation and movie “The Sharing Project” -Courtesy of the artist

Joel Tauber: CONDIVIDERE, COSA VUOL DIRE?

Mi sono rotto la testa, negli ultimi due anni, per capire cosa vuol dire condividere e insegnarlo a Zeke, il nostro figliolino. Le domande sono tante. Perché dovremmo condividere? Quando? Se condividere è un valore per tutti noi, allora perché c’è tanta miseria nel nostro ricchissimo paese?

Lottando con gli interrogativi, ho parlato con esperti di filosofia, biologia evoluzionistica, psicologia, storia, antropologia, economia, politica e educazione.

Una conversazione con l’antropologo David Graeber non smette di turbarmi: nella sua descrizione i Nuer del Sudan del Sud condividono liberamente cibo e altri beni necessari con i membri dell’accampamento, ma in nessun caso condividono il bestiame. Anzi, letteralmente difendono il bestiame con la loro stessa vita.

Pensavo ai Nuer e alla conversazione con David quando Zeke ha invitato a giocare con lui a casa il suo amico Zev. La chitarra, a quel tempo, era la cosa piu preziosa che Zeke possedeva. Zev voleva giocarci e Zeke, in maniera ragionevole, disse di no. Chiesi a Zeke di condividere la chitarra, benché avessi chiarito a tutti e due Zeke e Zev che non avevo nessuna intenzione di condividere la cinepresa che stavo usando per filmarli. Per paura che potessero rovinarla, non volevo nemmeno che la toccassero. Zeke, forse consapevole della mia incoerenza, si attaccò alla chitarra come se la sua vita dipendesse dallo strumento. Anche Zeb la afferrò, e si rotolarono nella stanza. Alla fine, Zeke mollò. Zeke e Zev suonarono la chitarra a turno, e parevano felici. Bella cosa, ma a me rimase la sensazione dell’ipocrita. Perché mai Zeke avrebbe dovuto condividere il suo gioco più prezioso mentre io non ero disposto a fare lo stesso?

Vorrei essere una brava persona, morale e generosa, ma anche vorrei essere sicuro del benessere nella famiglia: vorrei una vita facile e felice per mia moglie Alison e i nostri figli Zeke e Ozzie. Come equilibrare la diversa natura di questi desideri?

Non è una domanda facile, specialmente se la teoria darwiniana della selezione a livelli multipli è corretta, come Alex Rosenberg e altri ritengono. La selezione di gruppo ci incoraggia a condividere e ad essere altruisti per rafforzare il gruppo, mentre la selezione individuale ci spinge all’egoismo, e a prevalere nel gruppo. Il conflitto è dentro di noi a livello genetico. Entrambi gli impulsi ci appartengono, condividere e non.

Sento il conflitto dentro di me, come lo sento in Zeke. Zeke ama i suoi attrezzi. Fanno parte della sua identità di “lavoratore”. Quando Ozzie cominciò a muoversi carponi e a far confusione con la sua roba, Zeke rispose nascondendo i suoi attrezzi in un posto segreto per salvaguardarli. È chiaro che buona parte di lui non vuole condividere gli attrezzi speciali. Sono troppo intrecciati con la sua identità. Ma a Zeke piace anche fare costruzioni con Ozzie, per cui spesso mette in campo anche i suoi attrezzi più speciali per completare un progetto.

Christian Miller mi diceva che la filosofia non ha modo di dirci con precisione quanto dovremmo condividere. Le teorie dell’etica sono troppe, ognuna con qualche difetto. Nello stesso tempo, tutti i modelli di riferimento -almeno quelli adottati dalla civiltà occidentale- suggeriscono che non condividiamo o non diamo abbastanza.

La nozione che non condividiamo abbastanza potrebbe essere la radice della rabbia di tutte le proteste nel North Carolina in questo momento. Sono andato di recente a una di queste proteste, con la mia telecamera, e tornato a casa ne ho parlato con Zeke. Specialmente dopo gli scambi verbali precedenti sul problema del condividere, questa conversazione fu molto confusa. Come posso instillare in Zeke il valore del condividere quando devo anche spiegargli il taglio dell’assegno di disoccupazione e dell’assistenza medica proprio mentre ci sono cosi tante persone che patiscono?

In altri momenti della nostra storia abbiamo avuto una visione più larga di quanto bene pubblico ciascuno dovrebbe condividere.

Pensavo quanto lontani siamo da quella prospettiva quando mi sono imbattuto nella comunità Ebraico-Socialista di Happyville. Da ebreo che si è trasferito da poco dalla Grande Città alle Carolinas, mi sono sentito intimamente vicino ai 50 Ebrei Russi che lasciarono New York per avviare una comunità Socialista nel South Carolina fra il 1905 e il 1908. Ho anche avuto la chiara impressione che i pionieri di Happyville potevano insegnare molto a Zeke e a me sull’importanza di condividere. Mentre è troppo tardi per parlare dei coloni di Happyville, forse qualcuna delle loro scoperte sul condividere è seppellito fra i resti della loro comunità utopistica.

Ho esplorato insieme a Zeke i 2200 acri del sito di Happyville, con la determinazione di scoprire quei misteri. Su quanto dovremmo condividere oppure se saremmo capaci di vivere come i coloni di Happyville, non ho nessuna certezza, però mi rattrista che siamo così lontani dal passato utopico, dimenticato, che Happyville rappresentava. Anche se può essere assurdo cercare di restaurare Happyville, o anche il sogno di Happyville, Zeke e io stiamo cercando di farlo lo stesso. Zeke ha scelto i suoi attrezzi più speciali, e mi ha offerto di condividerli con lui. Adesso, abbiamo un sacco di lavoro da fare a Happyville: sondando e scavando, strappando e torcendo.