The musical and technological dialectics of the body (draft)

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More raw thoughts.

– why a keyboard? why not a keyboard? why this chair and not that one?
– why the piano? why not the piano? is the piano dying?
– are electronics killing us or saving us, as musicians, as sound designers? as people?
– is the piano being engulfed into electronics? this is simple: yes.
– but wait: is the synthesizer the new piano? not so fast. there’s little in the way of tradition – synthesizers are new, and not as in service to royal courts and the like as pianos and orchestras were in their respective early-to-mid years.
– further, many people are more ignorant of how synthesizers work than they’d sometimes care to admit. contrast this with the requisite knowledge of your average “serious” piano player – not just techniques that end up being stored in the body, but practices (frequently that were figuratively or literally in service to colonialism and to no small part, imperialism), techniques, and at least some knowledge of the mechanics of the piano itself, as a machine of metal, wood, felt and last but certainly not least in this pantheon of early consumption-as-destruction, ivory.
– this ignorance of synthesizers is not necessarily a bad thing, although the machines themselves are arguably every bit as destructive as pianos were, and are. (virtually all synthesizers are a type of contemporary machine, even analog synthesizers – and in the case of many digital and hybridized synthesizers, computers that are dedicated to a specific set of tasks.)
– past this, the relative ignorance of how synthesis works on the part of many players, as well as ignorance of the math that drives them, at least has the benefit of not tethering musicians to the machinations of programming, of dsp, of circuit design, of all the underlying traditions that have emerged from, and remain in service to, Empire in general, and all too often, the wars of said Empire in specific.
– however, ignorance is not bliss, nor is it liberation. using tools without understanding them provides its own set of dangers, frequently foisted on users of said technologies.
– in contrast, the people who make said tools are exploited, pure and simple. it’s not just “that’s a problem” as so many apologetic hand-wringers and “green tech” advocates are quick to assert, but it’s raw oppression every bit as much as cutting down forests to make condos, or extracting diamonds to sell marriage vows, and so on.
– don’t necessarily count yourself out of all this if you exclusively play electric or even acoustic instruments, either. i trust this speaks for itself.

Much respect to @codemesh for being part of my sorting all this out.

Why I’ve become suspect about artistic fame, liberal or otherwise

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“Art is anything you can get away with.” ― Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

– there was a time not that long ago – as in, late 1980s to early-to-mid 2000s – when being a performer who had some sort of actual dialectic content was possible, including content that included so-called identity politics. that’s mostly been replaced by ever-shifting matrices of membership in a given oppressed group, combined with a very thick glass ceiling.
– the net effect of this is in service to capital, of both the commercial and non-profit varieties, inasmuch as there is a relevant difference between the two at all.
– if you’re not a stakeholder in a non-profit, a corporation, or both, you effectively don’t matter – unless you work for one or both. everything else is some version of dark matter, in arts and letters overall.
– all of which presumes being allowed into the club as it were to begin with, which is anything but a given.

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– social media has liberated hundreds if not thousands to become active producers of politically charged content. while this has its benefits, it’s not automatically a panacea, either. the ever-increasing amounts of infighting (frequently over smaller and smaller differences in view, combined with actual mistakes inflated to a point of active, acrimonious contention for days or even weeks) is anything but healthy for individual and collective consciousness, including as part of liberation struggles.
– in specific: the constant risk of being fractured apart into ever-smaller groupings of sanctioned behavior, with what amounts to mobbing people (online or off), is of tremendous benefit to capitalism. not only because it keeps people dividing and fighting, but because the resulting confusion serves both as good cover, and an effective means for liberalism to have power-over, and all too often, power within as well.
– none of which is to say that the issues themselves are unworthy of attention (frequently, it’s quite the opposite). the process itself though frequently engages a palpable-if-not-combative mode of criticism that quickly becomes collectively destructive, in practice — even if contained within the realm of words, accusations and sometimes, reputation.

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– remember #cancelcolbert? who won? who lost? who was demoralized? who was emboldened?
– when is being emboldened just another means of control? what if demoralization and emboldening wind up as similar if not identical moves on a chess board?
– what if demoralizing and emboldening in this context are both forms of liberalism? who benefits? who doesn’t?
– if we are all artists now, does this mean that we’re all taken advantage of?

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– ultimately, whether or not i make art doesn’t matter. but it is what i do, it’s in my muscle memory (by which i mean, my entire muscle structure, not just hands-to-arms, the classic autoamputational (a la McLuhan) interface between the body and the loving machines we call instruments). resisting this means fighting against my body, which results in some sort of deep confusion of the self, which is debilitating if not emotionally/psychically paralyzing, and no amount of well-heeled post-fill-in-the-blank theories can erase that. not at least, without some sort of deeper cataclysm, and not necessarily one of actual merit, or even use. not all catharsis is good catharsis.
– to make matters worse, we left-minded creative labor types frequently get corralled into some sort of gatekept sub-category, where we are allowed even smaller amounts of access, frequently for smaller amounts of time, if we’re allowed access at all. i was able to hobble together a sort of sustainability – by which i mean, barely surviving, but somehow keeping afloat – for years.
– that all said, this sort of thing is clearly not indicative of reality for any number of people, and i am grateful for the experiences that were provided by even this sort of teetering-on-the-brink form of access to self-expression. but unless i will myself into some sort of capitulated, “celebrity left”-like status, as things stand in 2014, at least? this form of access is done, and has been for some time now. further, as my body slowly ages, my more-or-less-manageable physical limitations (allergies, small lungs, some sort of predisposition to infection) keep reminding me that they provide their own glass ceilings on top of the cultural and economic ones.

//

– so now what? well, my body still loves writing, making music and sometimes, video and design work as well. so much so that day jobs are out (tech ones especially, which imho has always been about leeching people out of and away from creativity, not towards it), and i’m aged out of the sorts of service work that may provide some sort of sustainability. i’m not about to starve, but i’m not able to move forward in any way that’s not a significant step backward politically, if such pathways even remain open. also, i’m not about to become an entrepreneurial anything. that’s at least as bad as celebrityism, if not far worse, including if not especially in the service sector.
– so what does this leave? for one thing, people talk about design as being effectively identical to “making art,” in the literal sense of “art” as a fine arts discipline, so given my particular skillsets, that might work. however, even without the obvious servitude to capital (again, both in for- and non-profit forms) that this entails, i’m not sure that the similarities to creative practice and creative results map here. is making a poster as part of an ad campaign truly the same as making a painting? were basquiat and warhol one in the same, due to proximity, not just in their persons, but in the work itself? i’m not buying it. by which i mean, i’m not about to steal back ideas that are that potentially toxic, even away from the corporations that defile them. fuck all of that as well. on the other hand, not that being some sort of art world darling has ever been on the table, but the art world is perniciously corrupt. so for the record: fuck that double.
– if the only way forward is a militant rejection of everything, including most creative and political practices, out of design, necessity or both – now what? doing nothing is an option, but that’s a net “at least i’m not making things worse.” (this may have more merit than it would seem at first, though.) ignoring the memories of muscle and brain is unworkable. traditional models of political engagement frequently require some sort of rejecting creativity (or at least, being in humbled service to it), while being anything but effective, even within whatever limited scope said politics cast for itself, let alone within transformative or revolutionary frameworks.
– so, once again – now what? i think i’ll leave it there, for now.

h/t to @neverw0rk for ideas around the limits of even radically-minded, self-checked artmaking, and @codemesh for brain food around art and the body. i’m determined to get things right here, hell or high water.

Art as Revolution

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More things in draft form. Slept on this, and did a 1.1 pass on the “But what about art that, while corporate-produced, challenges dominant hegemonies?” section.

– If all roads towards making art that isn’t inherently corporate are road-blocked by capital itself, then the terms and conditions for making this specific sort of art are essentially revolutionary.
– The struggle leading up to this goes back decades. As paid avenues for art-making went from having at least a few byways that allowed for work of substance to be created from the late 1950s to the early 1990s (for example, more militant forms of hip-hop – if not hip-hop period – as well as experimental works that challenged norms in politics, culture, consciousness or all of the above in a variety of mediums), to the present conditions that require a combination of self-promotion, entrepreneurship and non-threatening, palatable work, artists that were outside of the corporate-owned mainstream struggled with finding ways to finance their own work. The internet provided a means for a much wider range of people to at least have the potential to have sustainable careers, although not necessarily in ways that challenged the status quo or that even required a form of critical engagement. That potential is essentially gone, and is quickly being replaced by means that are completely corporate-controlled, and/or so driven by self-promotion and entrepreneurship to effectively act as an increasingly restrictive gatekeeping mechanism for anything that is more significant than the next pop song, conventional narrative or self-help book.
– “Why does self-promotion and entrepreneurship have to be a negative?” Even when the goal of such an endeavor is not to become part of corporate infrastructure in one fashion or another, it places people in a sort of self-censuring opinion vacuum that requires obedience for even the most paltry forms of freelance work. While there are some partial exceptions to this (such as some of the work that Buzzfeed publishes), they are so limited in number and constantly challenged by competing brands that are even more clickbait-driven than they are to make these exceptions limited in relevance, if not beside the point altogether.
– “But what about art that, while corporate-produced, challenges dominant hegemonies?” What about it? What appears to be a challenge to hegemonic power via paid byways, is in fact a de-toothed form of propaganda far too often, with the clear goal being freezing out anybody who resists. Presently, this takes the form of lauding a select few who, at best, come off like they’re storming the bastille (although always in some pre-packaged, controlled-message sort of way), while actually railroading audiences into safe, “Lean In”-like forms of everything-can-be-transformative-if-you-only-click-your-heels-and-try gibberish. The fact that this can include people who are part of marginalized groups at times is not necessarily a meaningful counter to this dynamic. If anything, it’s part of a self-contained immunity to criticism and analysis, made all the more effective by long-standing historical prejudices, including prejudices embodied — at times — by recipients of said laudations, as well as — at times — the people doing the criticizing. (In short: identity is important, but it’s a mistake to assume that it’s an inherent solution.) This complex form of side-lining and rejection wasn’t necessarily the case not that long ago – more challenging works that involved varying degrees of compensation/recognition were in play up until the early 1990s, as noted above – but it most certainly is now.
– It is becoming clear to me that those of us who have some sort of in-the-bones need to make art that wakes people up and challenges dominant norms in art, society overall or both, are not so much losing as being forced into conditions that require a significant amount of praxis just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone to actually keep producing work. I call this process “art as revolution” – not art in service to revolution, but as part of building grass-roots revolutionary movements in and of themselves.

Underground arts, respectability and resistance – notes and thoughts

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More things in early stages, but getting on a roll with something here. Enjoy.

As I said a while back on Twitter:

“If there’s no $ in arts, nobody will make it”, more like “Only people with time and resources to make art, will.”

There’ll still be art around. Celebrity art. Famous person art. Well-off professional artist art. Independently wealthy art.

Otherwise, *crickets*, save for the occasional person who dares challenge the dominant hegemony, creatively, politically or both.

– Mainstream society acknowledges that you have to work hard to be an artist, but paradoxically thinks that art happens as if by magic, including the means by which people have successful careers. This is a smokescreen. Art is life, life is hard, making art is life, art is hard. This doesn’t have to be true, but it frequently is, especially if you’re an underground artist and/or person who is otherwise gate-kept away from respectability.

– The urban gentrification cycle typically gets underway when underground artists start being capitalized upon by mainstream taste-makers, including in some cases eventually becoming part of the capitalization cycle themselves, via opportunistic business enterprises, “get in first” real estate deals, and so on.

– This is typically followed by whoever doesn’t get harvested for potential future returns getting bulldozed over and sent off into the hinterlands, or to struggle against mounting challenges to remaining put, while the larger culture as a whole is driven out, then finally, most if not all of the city becoming unaffordable, save for the most well-paid workers on up.

– What may be shifting in terms of gentrification: a marked increase, if not simultaneous occurrence, of the above stages of gentrification, as well as fix-is-already-in promotional campaigns for “arts-friendly’ second-tier cities, who plan to use migrating artists as quick fodder in downtown development schemes.

– This city-and-corporate-led “pro-arts” agenda runs the risk of not only driving out present art-making residents out via a combination of gate-keeping and escalating living costs (including but not limited to rent), it also prevents people who co-habitated with or preceded underground artists – frequently communities of color and poor/working class people overall – from returning. Even leading up to periods of economic decline (which frequently include an influx of artists, due to the increase in more affordable housing), the potential of keeping people out when the gentrification cycle eventually reverses, and housing becomes affordable again – typically when middle-class and up whites leave the city, developers abandon future projects, and things start to decay – is real. In other words, the pro-arts agenda provides the convergence of moneyed, powerful interests that drive gentrification with an additional cultural and economic weapon against keeping undesirables out, if they so choose, by labeling them as “the bad sort of creatives” or otherwise less-than, while keeping the semblance of being pro-artist intact, to be utilized as needed. This utilization may include implementation during periods of decline, depending on the plans, interests and future needs of capital, in a local/global context.

– The solution to this is for communities to organize for the sorts of transformative conditions that allow people the practical and life-altering means to make all kinds of art, not for artists to be played by corporate arts entities that collude with downtown interests – while collectively resisting gentrification as soon as it starts to happen. The Right To The City is real. We are not your puppets!

Collaborative publishing – a new model: some initial thoughts

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This is going to have to be out in the world in draft form, until I have the time (and patience) to flesh things out more. Or perhaps, this will exist permanently in this form, demarcating where I see my life going from 2014 onwards. In any case, here it is.

Preface:

– I’m frustrated with what mainstream publishing looks like; every time I go to the bookstore (if I can find one), I don’t see much of anything that captivates me. It’s as if the same thing is being reworked over and over on the same plateau, both creatively and sociopolitically.
– I’m also deeply frustrated by the widespread sentiment in activist and even community organizing circles that making art is by definition reactionary. This is against most everything I believe in, all the way down to my cells. The work (defined here as art that actively challenges not just the status quo, but the nature of internalized oppression itself, and not just in terms of overt social constraints, but in the modes of thought itself) is both labor and transformative praxis. The-work-as praxis both as concept and practice got debated and sorted out in the period from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Most if not all “criticisms” of this reality are long since debunked, and are about as relevant as phrenology.
– For me, and many others (whose work-as-praxis is frequently shunted off to the margins of the margins within the larger society), the-work-as-praxis is the revolution, or at least, my and others’ contribution to it. Creating work that challenges, inspires AND deepens, that is fundamentally a form of praxis, and secondarily a “product”, when it is a product at all? That is what i’m interested in.
– I also hope/long for this sort of work becoming strong enough again that it can co-exist with modes of community organizing, rather than being viewed as in opposition to it (a tension that I view as a form of false consciousness, although a very specific one that is easily mistaken for tired ideas, such as “I just make art, I don’t care about politics”), or worse yet, as something that inevitably is funneled into teaching, hobbyist pursuits, or just destroyed outright. In other words, yes, I can teach, many (although not all) artists can. But teaching is predominately not my transformative work, making art is my transformative work, by-in-large. And if you want to destroy what I’m doing? We have nothing to talk about, although hopefully at some point in the future, we will.
– That all said, there needs to be new models for making art, as well as collaborative ownership of both content creation and distribution. This potential for creating new modes of creating art collaboratively, as well as a fruitful and potentially collaborative co-existence of the-work-as-praxis with community organizing, is by definition unachievable without building new models, so here goes.

The model:

– I am focusing on writing here, because it is the medium I’m most well-versed in; what follows could be applied to any art form, especially if it exists digitally.
– The creation of writer/reader communities should be focused on the “long tail”, including experimental/innovative lit authors, and authors otherwise shut out of the mainstream. The idea is to allow the kinds of works that transform thought and being alike to flourish, as opposed to the upholding of various sorts of status quo thoughts and existences that heavily dominate the mainstream.
– In keeping with this concept, the focus should be on developing close bonds within respective niches, both currently in existence and ones yet-to-be-formed, rather than large-scale fame. The idea here is sustainability, not celebrity.
– “People in the mainstream marketshare can fend for themselves”, both via digital distribution and traditional publishing; not so much “fuck you” as “we have our own work to do,” readers and writers alike. (The literary world is full of famous “fuck yous”, most of which are used as fodder for high society rags, and increasingly, that get used as quick fuel in a 24/7 news cycle, if they are acknowledged at all.)
– Openly friendly authorial mindset to reader feedback/criticism, including harsh criticism; readers as “long tail editors” a la wikipedia.
– If feedback occurs after a piece has been released commercially, efforts should be made to take said feedback into account for the future, including possible inclusion in future editions, as appropriate.
– Conversely, authors have a right to ignore feedback, just as they would with an editor; and as with editors, readers have the right to critique this ignoring. In other words, the author/reader relationship should be focused on nurturing transformative yet critical dialogues, not celebrity worship.
– Sidebar: what would inclusion of feedback look like for fictional works? I think this is where collaboration could truly shine, if done right. Imagine multiple versions being available, cross-referenced and annotated as relevant, leading to a deeper social/political understanding as a result; not just work-as-praxis, but editorial-as-praxis as well.

“Trial by Social Media” vs. Abolition

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Trying people in the court of social media is not inherently better than trying them in media, period.

If anything, social media doesn’t even have the illusion of a code of ethics on its side. At least mainstream media arguably had one once upon a time, which although it was frequently shunted aside when it wasn’t busy being smashed on the almighty rock of the bottom line, it still required lip service on occasion.

There are potential liabilities to seeking justice via social media, as well as in media, period.

  • It’s only a matter of time before someone is set up, if this hasn’t already happened;
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone goes to jail who didn’t commit what they’re accused of, if this hasn’t already happened;
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone has their life destroyed, only to have it turn out later that they were not guilty, set up, or both, if this hasn’t already happened.

There are countless examples of all these things happening via mainstream media; at best, it’s only a matter of time before it happens in social media as well.

There are increasing numbers of media outlets that are fast to publish gratuitously salacious and/or violent clickbait, and slow to address underlying causes – especially if the person being covered happens to be famous.

I don’t think reporting and/or tweeting et. al. on the newest alleged dirtbag becomes news just because they happen to be celebrities. I think going after them IS a very good way to increase the number of clicks for a website, which in turn, means more potential advertising revenue.

This tendency overall has nothing to do with providing solutions, otherwise there would be an equal or greater amount of in-depth journalism on the underlying issues – it’s predominately about money.

You can’t advocate for prison abolition (or for that matter, actual justice) on the one hand and retribution on the other.

Revenge isn’t justice, it’s revenge. Consider how casually Michael Jackson was tried and convicted both in the press and online – and not just by white people – despite his having been exonerated. Even when revenge may arguably be justified, the risks involved – from injustice to a McCarthy-like snowballing effect – remain intact.

All of this is why I advocate for abolition. In my view, abolition is not just a rejection of the prison industrial complex; it’s a wholesale tidal shift in how society views justice. Prison is bad enough, but what of the mindsets that lead to imprisonment seeming like a legitimate virtue, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? There needs to be a shift in consciousness, not just a shifting of blame.

On the futility of challenging vacant buildings

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From long haul organizing platforms to “burn it all down” militancy, radicals online and off are working to dismantle institutionalized, hegemonic power structures that have changed their scope and mechanics from those familiar to any student of global capitalism in the 20th century, to the emerging globalized networks of the 21st. These attempts at resisting Empire are based all too often exclusively on assumptions hard-won from struggles throughout the previous two centuries, even as long-standing forms of oppression are exacted in ever-widening and deepening levels. While these attempts are more often than not serious in nature – which is to say, what motivates said attempts are a result of actual conditions and considerable thought – this means that radicals are fighting against specific implementations of systemic oppression that no longer exist, although the oppressions themselves, and those who implement them, are still very much with us.

So what causes this disparity? At least in the U.S., the sentiments driving this are in no small part are rooted, either directly or indirectly, in left-wing and/or third world nationalist nostalgia based on prior victories and near-victories, both global and national. Despite all well and apt intentions, this is in essence fighting a manifestation of institutionalized power that has long sense re-centered and altered its means; an empty office complex with all of its intellectual property safely sequestered in the homes of telecommuting professionals, far removed from the negative impact of lock boxes and bricks.

Resisting an imagined 20th century institutional leviathan, on 20th century terms, in order to overcome a decidedly real 21st century one runs the risk of creating an army of golems, with potentially unforeseen consequences. A movement that attempts to achieve victory based on these rules may well be out-maneuvered by more well-informed actors both known and unknown from across the political spectrum, not to mention the architects and maintainers of institutionalized power itself, well before such victory is even possible. You can’t win at chess on a mutable board controlled by your stated opponent, especially when the real opponent owns the board, and quite possibly, both players as well, adversarial assertions notwithstanding.

The contemporary reality is that the locus of hegemonic power that reached maturity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (plantation, factory, church, family, et. al.) has become increasingly if paradoxically fractured yet ubiquitously networked, and modes of oppression are following suit to the point of rendering collective knowledge of past forms of strategy and tactics moot, no matter how completely just said mechanisms were in times past, and the intentions behind them, valid still. This is not to say that resistance will eventually be rendered pointless. If anything, its potential is stronger than ever, in no small part because the networked means of oppression has become embodied to such a degree en masse – which is to say, biopower is a real phenomenon, effectively in universal terms – that individual actors can use their personalized agency to act together as a collaborative fulcrum against Empire, even within corporate-controlled forums, such as social media. In turn, this collaborative experience can potentially be utilized to build decentralized, lasting networks of resistance and transformation. But asserting that such an engine of collaborative power will miraculously change networked hegemony back to its prior 20th century state in the hopes of a lasting victory for the bulk of humanity in the 21st century onward, is about as useful as an alchemy-based engine of democratic wealth redistribution as a means of transcending global capitalism.

Further reading:

Multitude, Hardt and Negri
History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Foucault
Liberating Theory: Sklar et. al.
Horizontalism, Sitrin

Originating chess metaphor via @jonubian.

Anarchist Cybernetics

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The shortest path to anarchism – in particular, classical left anarchism – as a transformational political model can no longer regularly be found in Anarchism in all its myriad contemporary forms; new approaches are needed. New models are emerging from the work of left-oriented market anarchists; in addition, I propose a model based on a compassionate cybernetics in combination with post-structuralist theory.

Consider: the systemic union of organized crime and government IS organization – it is the means by which both are attracted to each other, in terms of economic viability. The oppositional tension between both systems provides an engine that fuels the economic power dynamics of both, symbiotically. This relationship demonstrates how both speak the same language, sometimes via polarization or mirroring, at times literally – and as such, contain the potential to understand each other.

From a purely cybernetic standpoint, this dynamic is not necessarily bad or good, it just exists. Both are systems to be analyzed and understood, not to be critiqued, especially since the loudest of critics are ensconced in one or both systems. The synergy between both systems could be construed as structurally robust – elections are won and lost over the war on drugs, the global economy was briefly kept afloat by drug money in an early phase of the collapse of 2008-09, and so on.

This dispassionate review of the nature of both institutions provides a framework not unlike what can be found in the anarchist critique of the state; prisons in the U.S. (largely fueled by the war on drugs) in turn create criminals out of whole cloth, which in turn fuels a sector of the drug market (in the form of the buying and selling of drugs within prisons), prisons (the construction of which drives both capitalism and political campaigning), service providers (in the form of overpriced phone calls, black market commissaries, etc.) and global branding (in the form of cheap labor). As Kropotkin noted, prisons are a university for crime; more crime means more options for illegal commerce, as well as more criminals. I would add that this also means “more prisons” and “more campaigns based on locking up said criminals”; not so much a vicious cycle as a systemic girding of institutionalized crime, and in turn, institutionalized punishment.

This analysis clearly borrows from Foucault; it also borrows from systems theory, in its ability to look at an entire system, including the people pointing fingers within said system, such as criminologists, theoreticians, pundits and politicians. What it lacks is the basis for an ethical analysis that operates alongside the systemic one; the notions of solidarity and mutual aid that can be found in classical anarchism, as well as pockets of the left overall, are needed in order to raise such analysis from a blank slate for myriad ideologies across the political spectrum, to a model for global justice and systemic change.

As such, I’m proposing that all parties who want to build a better, more just world look carefully not only at the notions to be found in such corners, but in the works of cyberneticians – in particular, second wave cyberneticians such as Bateson, systems theorists such as Kenneth Boulding – whose work in popular collectivization of nationalized trucking extended the work of Salvador Allende, and post-marxist academics such as Foucault, Hardt and Negri, and Illich. The works of such individuals provide a variety of roadmaps to the changes that started in the post-WWII era (especially in the U.S. and Western Europe); in turn, it is my view that they can provide a basis of rebuilding systems of change and resistance that were lost in the aftermath of both world wars during the 20th century.