The EpicuriousThe Garden of Epicurious includes some things that are very close to home for me. From my own personal blog, Lawrence von Zahn, where I post my drawings of birds and stories about futuristic pirate hunters, among other things; to the old Random Hat Studios, based on a really childish (and wholly horrible) play and comic I wrote and drew starting when I was sixteen; to a more serious endeavour called Final Draft, a proofreading and translation service for poor students, which grew out of my experience as a native English speaker in Germany.
Over the years I have made an attempt to collectivise these projects, to collaborate with other people, and to make whatever services I provide affordable and accessible, with varying degrees of success. Lawrence von Zahn and Random Hat Studios have undergone multiple transformations over the years, and in the end the former has become my platform for writing and ranting, while the latter a space for drawing, photography and graphic design.
Final Draft, on the other hand, has remained largely unchanged, which is due in no small part to the flexibility of the model I have developed: GIFT -- Giving Incentivised Fair Trade. In short, I will take on any proofreading or translating job (barring lack of time or capacity) as a gift to you, "free of charge", with the understanding that you will gift me the value of my work in return. GIFT has two main advantages: First, because whether I get paid or not really does depend on how well I work, I have more of an incentive to do a good job. Second, both sides of the exchange are freed from the alienation of trade: by gifting my services to you, I take into account your individual situation and perhaps limited resources; by gifting a monetary value to me in return, you take into account that I am indeed a human being who has to pay rent and health insurance and put food on the table. How do I guard against exploitation? Good question, how do you do it when your employer takes a cut of your wages? I have the full freedom to call the person out for scamming me, without consequence, retaliation, or repercussion. Anyone else might lose their job. My plan is to expand Final Draft and the GIFT concept, so that others can use the model and free themselves from exploitation.
What else? I describe myself as a writer, and there is no best place to showcase that than at Lawrence von Zahn. Definitely my most mature project is A Fish out of Water, formerly known as The Pirate Hunters, a sprawling, epic sci-fi that I began in 2006 and began again and again ever since :D It's not as flaky as it seems: I work in spurts, and often jump from one project to the other, which is how I keep myself moving. A Fish out of Water is a dystopian novel set three hundred years from now, when global warming and capitalism have ravaged the planet, and the world is divided between two militaristic powers: the Contra and the Pirates (I won't say whom I'm rooting for ;)). Needless to say, if I am going to make a living from my writing, then I need to finish my works. My goal is to finish the first book of six by the end of 2017. Wish me luck!
Random Hat Studios is the oldest project that I have running, dating back to 2002, when the internet was still a mass of dancing hamsters but web content was still free. To be perfectly frank, the origins of Random Hat are shady to say the least. Like many people I grew up in a racist, sexist, ableist environment (no doing of my parents!) and I reflected the values around me in my art. I have since grown -- who hasn't? -- and distanced myself from the original comics depicting an albino with a bad haircut and a man with a rat on his chin. Nonetheless, "Random Hat Studios" is too good a name to throw away, and as I still like to draw comics and produce other media, I hope to one day turn Random Hat into an actual studio. For now it's the home to the free flyers, posters, and promotional work I have done for various people.
Mainstream IdeaMainstream Idea had one goal above all others: Make humanitarianism a mainstream idea. Forget what you think about humanitarianism being co-opted by liberal capitalism, the initial idea is sound: Ethically speaking, we should treat people in need halfway across the world the same as we would a drowning child right before our eyes. Peter Singer argued for just this in his famous essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality, and he made a strong case that we, as affluent Westerners, should set aside a significant portion of our income for humanitarian causes. Granted, the utilitarian argument doesn't hold up in all cases, and the notion of equating ethical action to donating income is reductive to say the least. What about making ethical choices on the level of what you consume, such as with local, fair trade, organic food? Or better yet, why don't we transform the very relation between what is produced, how it's produced, who produces it, and who benefits from the who process? Ethical consumption under capitalism is probably impossible, but Singer's essay still rings true in that we as human beings need to make ethical considerations an everyday part of our lives. What we need is more democratic decision-making.
Hence sprang forth The Moral Economy, "an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary group of writers, researchers, artists and activists." As our website goes, "In very real terms we wish to understand the underpinnings of our economic, political and moral world, as well as to develop practical models for applying and living those understandings, to in other words be the change we wish to see in the world."
The Moral Economy is still going strong, having organised two Moral Economy Congresses and started a weekly podcast currently in its third season: The Propaganda Podcast, which puts a philosophical twist on political and economic news, presenting and analysing current events in the Global Political Situation (GPS) and then digging deeper in the Current Issue Analysis (CIA). "The Propaganda Podcast is so called, because we see propaganda everywhere we look. In the news, on the TV, in our favourite books and films, propaganda permeates the very fabric of our symbolic world. And like the drifter from the classic movie They Live, all we want to do is make you wear the glasses and see the propaganda that is right before your eyes. The Moral Economy is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And we're all out of bubblegum." How cool is that?
The Moral Economy wants to do more! And under Mainstream Idea we also hope to create Hamburg's first English language street magazine: Rabbl. But that's exactly where the pipe dream of activism runs into the brick wall of reality. Unlike Mainstream Idea, which is an online academic journal of sorts, Rabbl would be a physical object that you could hold in your hands (or potentially download to your tablet). Without funding such a project is difficult, though supposedly not impossible.
You MoveYouMove is the first project that seeks to collaborate with outside groups, and bring them together. Here in Germany we have the Kurdish movement as well as activists agitating against the upcoming G20. In the United States there is Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. In the Western hemisphere people are reeling back against a right-wing insurgence, and overall people are fighting against globalisation and global warming. How do we show solidarity? The internet provides one platform in order to do this, and YouMove's aim is to make that platform a collaborative, grassroots democratic one.
Other ProjectsYou might think that there are enough projects, but you'd be wrong! Returning to The Epicurious, we have a cooperative café in the works, whose aim is to make its workers autonomous and independent while providing a space for people to meet, inform each other and organise! In the summer months we'll be launching the Red Tour, a free walking tour of the radical and revolutionary areas of Hamburg.
So what do you say? Help a guy out?