society

Freestyle and Building the Future

Hip Hop Architecture Camp

I argued back at the end of June that LIFE IS A FREESTYLE was not just a tagline, but was the name for a serious and detailed conceptual metaphor. Also, I gave some examples of how it can help people understand and live life better. A freestyler is aware to context, reading the room and responding to others, and someone who lives life according to this metaphor will be. A freestyler is able to deal with it when the beat changes, and someone who lives life according to this metaphor will be able to do so, too. This is not just an offhand and trivial idea. It means that when the context and the “beat” (rhythms of life) change radically because of something like the COVID-19 pandemic, a person able to freestyle, and able to apply that skill to life, will be better able to adapt and keep up a positive flow. In a situation like this, the metaphor provides more than the common idea LIFE IS A JOURNEY does. Being able to freestyle as you live your life can mean the difference between personal happiness and progress on the one hand, or stagnation and “choking” on the other.

But let’s consider what that means on a grander scale, beyond an individual life. Can freestyle, and this metaphor, help us deal with 400 years of racial catastrophe in the United States and a president who refuses to clearly denounce white supremacy? With climate change and a president who has decided to withdraw from a major agreement to work against it? With a possible constitutional crisis if a leader of a major democracy refuses to give up power, even if defeated in an election? In other words, is LIFE IS A FREESTYLE just an individual coping strategy, or can it actually help us confront major issues in life and work toward a better future?

There are two answers to this, as I see it.

First, even if LIFE IS A FREESTYLE does just add to our capabilities to deal with crises on an individual, family, and work level, as when COVID-19 disrupts our contexts and rhythms, that can still be pretty important. It can be a very useful complement to other metaphors. We use several conceptual metaphors together to understand very challenging target domains, such as LIFE. So we could bring in LIFE IS A FREESTYLE to give us some perspective that LIFE IS A JOURNEY or LIFE IS AN UNWRITTEN BOOK doesn’t offer. Those metaphors don’t highlight social context or the rhythms and cycles of life in the same way and may not be able to offer us the same personal help.

Second, it seems like there is more to LIFE IS A FREESTYLE. We can, if we choose, freestyle (in the “off the top” sense) as a way of beginning to compose verses. We can use a freestyle (in the sense of “goes all over the place”) as a way of exploring metaphor, allusion, and the musicality of language. We can learn from what we freestyle rather than just letting it be something in the moment. Eventually, we can build on that. If we think that LIFE IS DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION, or maybe LIFE IS COLLABORATIVE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION, we can think of freestyle as a way to perform brainstorming, to intensely generate ideas. This process in design and architecture is called a charette, as was discussed by Mike Ford of Hip Hop Architecture in a recent Freestyle Friday.

The brainstorming is only part of the process of design. In creative writing terms, you follow a cycle (as Mike Sharples describes it) that goes through “engagement” and “reflection” repeatedly. First brainstorm, then be critical and revise and pare down, and then do it again and again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. In this way, you can use the freestyling process to develop something organized, honed, and highly effective.

To deal with the all the challenges of life today—not just the disruption of the pandemic, but also racial injustice, climate change, even the potential crumbling of democracy—we need to do more than freestyle a response and freestyle our way through life. We need to organize. We need to design solutions. We need to strategize beyond the next bar. LIFE IS A FREESTYLE is not the one absolute ruler of our concepts, some sort of dictator metaphor. It’s a contributor to the community of thought, one that can be useful if it’s taken seriously. It works alongside other metaphors that also have their uses and that highlight other important things about life.

[Photo of Hip Hop Architecture Camp by Urban Arts Collective, thank you!]

A Modern Global Pandemic: The Turning Point?

sun peeking from behind cloud

It’s possible that this is a once in a lifetime scenario we’re in today, with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the planet. Perhaps what it’s ‘sweeping’ is our complacency with the way the world we’ve built together (but mostly at the whims of dictators and capitalists) operates. Clearly this is not advanced civilization if a disease such as this can do so much damage in so many disparate places, but it’s got it’s shining moments. Underneath it all is a self-correcting mechanism that has begun–likely sometime around 2012, and well before this new coronavirus.

We were apparently warned by the ancient Mayans that the world was going to end around what we called ‘2012,’ but of course that number was agreed upon for nefarious reasons I won’t waste your time with here. But even since 2000 with the Y2K crisis, we’ve seen swells of political unrest, dramatic climate change, social adaptation to digital methodologies, and many other phenomena that we could list under the category of ‘the end of the world as we know it.’ Some people may think that the ‘end of the world’ means that the planet would be hit by some kind of space object or that somehow things would just blow up. Still, more see biblical apocalyptic scenarios with winged, horned, red demons with pitchforks swarming the countryside, slinging fire and brimstone. However, while we’re still here, and it’s not quite Armageddon (the movie or the prophecy) outside, we have a unique opportunity to shift the arrow (or, since I’m a rapper, Turn the Point) of human progress away from the fear, despair, and doubt about our future.

A magnifying glass has been placed over so many aspects of society in the last decade–but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown–that some long-awaited, severely painful healing processes are beginning to happen now on a personal level, a social level, and even all the way up to a civilization level. Our collective existence is a little too easily threatened for MY personal liking, but regardless, human beings have shown that we’re capable of unifying against a common threat. We may not know exactly how we’re going to get through the next 10-50 years together knowing that we were almost wiped out by a lack of pandemic preparedness, but I’m confident that there are enough people formulating and activating better systems, infrastructure, and plans for the future despite the shade of this dark cloud of negligence currently hovering over our livelihood as a species.

As it’s been alluded to before, one of the missions that the team here at LIFE IS A FREESTYLE wants to strive to achieve is the mental flexibility to problem solve in situations when it seems like all is lost. And if there’s anytime to test out your mental flexibility, it’s at a time like this when social distancing, raging debates over the validity of pandemic vaccination, and political absurdity is the new norm. Constraints are only filters of expression. Now is the time to peek behind the veil of constraint and see what one’s true makeup consists of. Many people are hitting the reset button on the lives they once led, whether it be because they’ve lost their previous jobs, or because technology is allowing them to learn a new skill while at home, or because they are beginning to reassess what their choices really are in the grand scheme of things.

As long as our freestyles are coming from a place of love, we just might be okay after all.