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Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck

In government, literature, philosophy, politics, science, science fiction, sexuality, society, sociology, writers on May 18, 2014 at 08:24

From: Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

 

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

But an even more telling comparison can be made — that Brave New World is a modern counterpart to the “city in speech” built by Socrates and his young interlocutors in Plato’s Republic. Whether Huxley saw the similarities himself is far from clear. In neither the “Foreword” added to the 1946 edition nor his lengthy 1958 essay Brave New World Revisited, which is published together with the novel in some editions, does he indicate any consciousness of a parallel. Nor do his Complete Essays (published 2000 – 2002) shed light on this. His biographer Murray mentions no such connection in Huxley’s mind either; nor does his earlier biographer Sybille Bedford. Yet it may not be necessary to confirm any precise authorial intention on Huxley’s part to imitate Plato. Whereas Huxley’s other novels are largely forgotten today by the general public, and his later visits to the themes of Brave New World are those of a crank whose imaginative gifts have deserted him, in writing his greatest work he seems to have been in the grip of an idea larger than himself. Plato’s Socrates tells us in the Apology that when he “went to the poets” to “ask them thoroughly what they meant” in their greatest poems, he found to his surprise that “almost everyone present, so to speak, would have spoken better than the poets did about the poetry that they themselves had made.” For as Socrates said (not without some biting irony) in Plato’s Ion, “all the good epic poets speak all their fine poems not from art but by being inspired and possessed, and it is the same for the good lyric poets.” Perhaps during the mere four months it took Huxley to write Brave New World, he was “possessed” in this way and remained forever unconscious of his debt to Plato.

In its political teaching, the Republic is as much a dystopian poem as is Brave New World. With every step in his radical project of instituting uncompromisingly perfect justice — from the noble lie, to the abolition of the family among the guardians, to the eugenics program that brushes aside the incest taboo with a wave of the hand, to the impossible proposal that the city be ruled by philosophers, to the absurd suggestion that the city be founded by exiling all of an existing city’s residents over ten years of age — Socrates reveals humanity’s inability to overcome the limits that our nature imposes. We love the good, but we also love what is our own. Nature draws us toward other particular persons whom we embrace and love as our own; it gets in the way of our commitment to the collective good of the community, which has, in the best case, its own just yet conflicting demands on our love. Nature, or nature’s God, has made us embodied souls, or ensouled bodies. We can live neither wholly for others nor wholly for ourselves, and this is no less true for the philosopher than for others. The project of perfect justice in which each of us is a “cell in the social body” is not within our grasp.

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Reposted with permission: The New Atlantis

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Is it Love? by Brian Kuan Wood

In art, economics, economy, information, politics, society, sociology on May 18, 2014 at 07:59

From: Is it Love? by Brian Kuan Wood, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Now it becomes easy to see how love translates to economic terms as a union based in mutual debt. When the debt is paid off or called in, the union dissolves. And now that pretty much everyone is in debt, love abounds! Professionals are moving back in with their parents, people are returning home to their countries to depend on their extended families, contracts are increasingly backed by personal relationships, and even the values of goods and currencies are backed less by bonds and legal tender and more by the trust and intimacy that gives them their character. Shared associations and affinities expressed over communication lines produce pockets of enormous value in an otherwise lonely ocean of random data streams. Musicians record reams of songs without ever thinking about wanting a record contract from major labels that are still struggling to understand how to make money off computer files.

Love is the most recently introduced member in the family of inflation and bloat. It is a burst of fresh air fed straight into the bubble. It gives the Ponzi scheme at least another decade before people start to think about cashing out. Remember when you would run out of time and replace that with energy? Push a little harder and move a little faster and you can trick time, because darling you’re a superhero. But when you run out of time and energy alike, you run into a problem. You need help. You need support. You need love and a bit of tenderness. Now, with the help of others, you can feed the machine again.

Without time and energy of your own, love is the conduit through which you extract the time and energy of others. You then start to take the shape of that loving conduit. But you have also become a professional lover—or a diabolically good flirt. You are a kind of Marilyn Monroe or Don Juan in the labor of other Marilyns and Dons. This arrangement actually makes for a beautifully collective endeavor so long as you can stay beautiful, tender, and kind to your lovers, and so long as they stay that way to you. This tenderness is a force of resynchronization. Maybe it is a new kind of force altogether. Maybe it is love time. Let’s inhale and exhale together.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

The Ethics of Suicide by John Danaher

In ethics, philosophy, religion, society, sociology on May 18, 2014 at 07:39

From: The Ethics of Suicide: A Framework by John Danaher, IEET, http://ieet.org

A. The Competency Question: Was the person mentally competent and sufficient rational and self-governing to be responsible for the act of self-killing?

I think this is possibly the most important question. In many cases, the default assumption is that the person who commits suicide lacks mental competency or rationality. Indeed, the act of killing oneself is often taken to be conclusive evidence of this. People don’t accept that the reasons typically stated for suicide (feelings of hopelessness etc.) can be embraced by the rational mind. That this is the default assumption seems to be proven by the fact that people only accept the rationality of suicide in certain extreme cases, e.g. terminal illness, self-sacrifice to a greater good. The thought of a rational, fully competent adult, who faces nothing more than the ordinary slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, ending their lives is too much countenance. Such an individual must be mentally or rationally deficient.

I’m not entirely convinced by this default assumption. This is for two reasons. First, it’s not clear to me that, say, a nihilistic worldview which holds that all lives are meaningless and devoid of hope, is all that irrational. To be clear, I don’t accept this worldview and I have argued against it in the past. Nevertheless, it doesn’t strike me as being significantly more irrational other philosophical commitments that we are we don’t judge in the same way (say: moral anti-realism or epistemic internalism). If a person can competently and rationally embrace those views, why can’t they competently and rationally embrace nihilism?

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador

In Africa, culture, literature, North America, writers on May 3, 2014 at 01:20

From: Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

*Chapter VII: On Libraries and  Those Who Inhabit Them

Fifty-six

In Mogador, every open book is always ready to dance inside us. A blink of the eye or a brush of fingers over its pages is all it takes for it to penetrate us swiftly with joy. Once inside, each book meanders through the channels flowing within us and settles, in its own way, in unexpected regions of our flesh. In some they become discernible love handles around the waist, while in others they are converted to muscle, ready for action. And there is always someone who feels that books enhance their sex in thickness, finesse, and depth. In his indispensable Anatomy of Melancholy, the 17th century philosopher Robert Burton provides evidence that the consumption of many books may lead to reflective sadness. Their weight in the blood and the color of their ink increases black bile in avid readers, while the bile of those who limit their reading to only one book has a tendency to turn yellow, the bodily humor of anger, perhaps because they absorb more paper than ink. Quick-tempered dispositions nourish themselves exclusively with those unique books revered as sacred by certain vicious circles.

Fifty-seven

Each new book is considered a metaphor of a birth in Mogador. Or the announcement of the welcome arrival of a foreigner. And the quantity of volumes preserved in the city is always a multiple of the number of its inhabitants. This is why each day one of the librarian’s greatest responsibilities is to maintain that precious proportion whose fluctuations are sensitive to increases and decreases in population, emigrations and wars, as well as euphoric reproduction and plagues.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Architecture & the merits of being a generalist

In architecture, Europe, society on May 3, 2014 at 01:10

From: Architecture & the merits of being a generalist: “Very few people connect the dots” by Lars Mensel with Reinier de Graaf, The European, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

de Graaf: Architecture is a very hermetic profession. So subjects that are very marginal in the world of architecture are often mainstream in the real world. Architecture is excellent at ignoring things that are important and instead focuses on things that are ultimately footnotes. We aggressively try to do the opposite.

The European: For instance?
de Graaf: In the 1970s, Rem Koolhaas focused on New York City. At the time, “metropolis” was a dirty word in the European architectural debate. We looked at the emergence of cities in China – which was a very unfashionable thing to do– or the expansion of shopping. The amount of square meters of shopping spaces that are being constructed throughout the world exceeds almost everything else. They are constructed without any architectural attention – and yet a whole lot gets built. Architecture, by focussing on things that might be small, beautiful and culturally accepted, contributes less and less to the built environment and instead retreats into a voluntary marginalization.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Letters to Slavoj Žižek

In Europe, performing arts, philosophy, politics, society on May 3, 2014 at 00:57

From: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Žižek, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

Dear Nadezhda,

I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.

You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.

For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?

The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”

But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.

With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!

Slavoj

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

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