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Archive for the ‘civilisation’ Category

The Bachelor Century by Jon Rich

In civilisation, ethics, Europe, government, history, North America, politics, religion, society, war, world on March 2, 2014 at 21:07

From: The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job by Jon Rich, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Since the sixteenth century, writing has aspired towards permanence. That horrific century brought a succession of powers, churches, popes, writers, politicians, and artists who made attempts at immortality by making their marks on the rocks of time. The Catholic Church has remained tenaciously faithful, in a sense, to the fifteenth century. The Church’s guards, popes, teachings, sermons, and its Bible have been the center of attention since Michelangelo finished his marvelous works at the Sistine Chapel. As is the case with other holy books, the Bible is a hymnal. Its hymns are recited and sung in the same fashion as the hymns found in other holy books. The fact that the Bible is a hymnal means that there’s a strong tendency, which has remained strong for centuries, to convert it from the written to the oral realm. In the latter realm, it is no longer simply a book, a physical artifact that will fall victim to the deleterious effects of light and humidity, but an invocation that unites all, regardless of their faith. The recitation and the sound of bells are meant to be familiar even to heretics and infidels. This phenomenon finds a perfect match in other holy books like the Torah and the Quran. Religions have, since the beginning, sought to make the word of God familiar and approachable. People who treated divine texts as primarily written words became priests, irrespective of their vocational inclination: infidels, heretics, atheists, priests, or theologians. Voltaire is no less priestly than St. Augustine.

Let’s go back briefly to Nietzsche to remind ourselves that collective human memory—what makes us human—is activated by pain and suffering. To oversimplify Nietzsche, we could say that our collective memory has privileged reactive thinking as a tool of evolution. A man who likes a woman for purely physical reasons is ready to reproduce with her but calls this attraction love. This reactive thinking extends to food, sleep, comfort, sport, work, and achievement. In fact, this sense of urgency to react is directly connected to scarcity. When we read Joseph’s story in the Torah, or the Quran, or The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, we are taken by the pain and joy of very specific people. For these people to invest so much effort into finding their better halves elevates love to a universal human value.

With the supremacy of television and the ubiquity of the internet, this elevation of love becomes nearly impossible. No woman is a man’s better half and no death is pure and final on TV. Television recycles better halves infinitely, giving them new names, new bodies, and new faces. It also portrays death and suffering in myriad ways, creating a variety that impels us to admire and be entertained by it. This bombardment by images of horror leaves little room in one’s heart for a tinge of discomfort, like the one Lionel Messi might feel upon missing a shot on goal.

All of this was impossible to predict before the events of the Arab Spring. It has become clear, with the abundance of images of death and bloodshed coming out of Syria in the past two years, that death itself has become incapable of pushing us, even for a tiny moment, to think about the death of an individual. More deaths will follow, and staying up to date with them will mean having no time for sorrow, and certainly no time to mourn.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

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Non-Indigenous Culture by Derek Rasmussen

In civilisation, community, economy, environment, nature, North America, society on July 18, 2013 at 17:21

From: “Non-Indigenous Culture”: Implications of a Historical Anomaly by Derek Rasmussen, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

When Canadian government surveyors first ran across Gitskan people in their traditional territory, the Gitskan asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Surveying our land,” answered the surveyors.

Incredulous, the Gitksan responded: “If this is your land, where are your stories?”

We non-indigenous are the weird and exotic ones. It’s shocking to realize that although we study indigenous societies to death—”you’re always putting us under the microscope” says my Inuk friend Tommy Akulukjuk—we don’t have a single university department or textbook looking into this weird new invention: non-indigenous societies.

Thanks to fossil fuels and our ideology of possessive individualism (en masse you might call it “capitalism”), we are the first civilization not enmeshed within networks of communities and relations with the land. The West’s 200 year-old industrial civilization is the first to try to split itself off. This is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom,” according to anthropologist Wade Davis. “Ours is a new and original culture that celebrates the individual at the expense of family and community.”

There has never been a non-indigenous civilization on planet Earth before. It’s even a bit of false flattery to call ourselves “settlers”—we don’t actually settle anywhere. The numbers may be slightly better in the United States, but the average Canadian moves once every six years—we have to in order to find work. As Jack Turner writes in The Abstract Wild:

We no longer have a home except in a brute commercial sense: home is where the bills come. To seriously help homeless humans and animals will require a sense of home that is not commercial. The Eskimo, the Aranda, the Sioux—all belonged to a place. Where is our habitat? Where do I belong?…We know that the historical move from community to society pro­ceeded by destroying unique local structures—religion, economy, food patterns, custom, possessions, families, traditions—and replac­ing these with national, or international, structures that created the modern “individual” and integrated him into society. Modern man lost his home; in the process everything else did too.

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Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine

Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization… by Rachel Armstrong

In civilisation, ecology, nature, technology on May 27, 2013 at 18:26

From: Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature by Rachel Armstrong, IEET, http://www.ieet.org/

In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [1]

 

With the advent of ‘living technologies’ [2], which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.

Alan Turing noted in his essay on morphogenesis that mathematical abstraction couldn’t capture the richness of the natural world [6]. Life is a complex system that is governed by a variety of unique processes that machines simply do not possess. Life responds to its environment, constantly changes with time and is made up of functional components that enables life the ability to self-regulate [7]. Complexity challenges the epistemological basis on which modern science and industry are grounded.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

You Are Where You Live by Susan Griffin

In civilisation, ecology, film, nature, politics, society on April 8, 2013 at 17:59

From: You Are Where You Live: How the sky, rain, geography, and cultures of our place shape us by Susan Griffin, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Concerned about the loss of forests, increasing pollution, and the diminishment of the ozone layer, I was beginning to make connections that I had not seen before. For instance, between the oppression of women I experienced and the wanton destruction of nature I was witnessing.

Slowly it dawned on me that the imaginary boundary, drawn centuries ago, that separates nature from culture is the same boundary that has also separated us from each other too, creating categories of gender and race, in which women or those with darker skin or those who earn a living with their hands are described as less able intellectually than the men at the top of the scale; by the same token, we are deemed untrustworthy because we are so mired in sensual experience and extreme emotion, or to put it more succinctly, since we are closer to the Earth.

But another world is possible. As a child, I found more than one refuge. All through the year I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, the rush of water in my ears singing to me of a vastness way beyond what was indicated in the strange dystopic landscape I thought of as ordinary. In the summer I camped in the High Sierras, the sound of wind through conifers becoming an inextricable part of my soul. Occasionally, my family would take a trip to the Mojave or the Baja Peninsula where I learned to see the subtle eloquence of deserts. And since I was very small, I took an interest in Native American cultures, which, though they spoke in languages I could not translate, seemed redolent with another response to the lands we shared, the diverse wisdom of earthly existence, voices, to paraphrase Gary Snyder, that capture the pitch of the phenomenal world “totally living, exciting, mysterious, filling one with a trembling awe, leaving one grateful and humble.”

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Artificial wombs by Dick Pelletier

In civilisation, medicine, nature, research, science on March 12, 2013 at 15:38

From: Artificial wombs: is a sexless reproduction society in our future? by  Dick Pelletier, IEET, http://ieet.org

Although naysayers believe that this bold science makes us less human, most experts predict that artificial wombs will one day be accepted by mainstream society as more people recognize its many benefits. Babies would no longer be exposed to alcohol or illegal drugs by careless mothers, and the correct body temperature would always be maintained, with 100% of necessary nutrients provided.

Concerns over losing emotional bond between mother and newborn are unwarranted, say scientists. Artificial intelligence advances expected over the next two decades will enable doctors to reproduce exact parent emotions and personalities via vocal recordings, movement, and other sensations. The developing infant would be maintained in a safe secure environment, connected electronically to the mother 24/7.

In the near term though, experts predict most women will probably gestate their children the old-fashioned way; but career-minded females might welcome a concept that allows them to bear children and raise a family without becoming pregnant, a physical condition that often weakens their job status.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Featured Essay: Happiness by John Zerzan

In anthropology, civilisation, Featured, nature, philosophy, society, theory on March 12, 2013 at 15:24

Featured Essay: Happiness by John Zerzan, http://www.johnzerzan.net

Reposted in full with permission from: John Zerzan

Is happiness really possible in a time of ruin? Can we somehow flourish, have complete lives? Is joy any longer compatible with the life of today?

A deep sense of well-being has become an endangered species. How often does one hear “It is good to be here”? (Matthew 17:4, Luke 9:5, Luke 9:33) or Wordsworth’s reference to “the pleasure which there is in life itself”[1] ? Much of the prevailing condition and the dilemma it poses is expressed by Adorno’s observation: “A wrong life cannot be lived rightly.”[2]

In this age happiness, if not obsolete, is a test, an opportunity. “To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without being frightened.”[3] We seem to be desperate for happiness, as bookshelves, counseling rooms, and talk shows promote endless recipes for contentment. But the well-worn, feel-good bromides from the likes of Oprah, Eckhart Tolle, and the Dalai Lama seem to work about as well as a Happy Meal, happy hour, or Coke’s invitation to “Pour Happiness!”

Gone is the shallow optimism of yesteryear, such as it was. The mandatory gospel of happiness is in tatters. As Hélène Cixous put it, we are “born to the difficulty in taking pleasure from absence.”[4] We sense only “a little light/in great darkness,” to quote Pound, who borrowed from Dante.[5]

How do we explore this? What is expected re: happiness? In light of all that stands in its way or erodes it, is happiness mainly a fortuitous accident?[6]

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Henry Miller on Art, War, and the Future of Mankind by Maria Popova

In art, civilisation, culture, history, literature, society, war, writers on February 4, 2013 at 19:16

From: Henry Miller on Art, War, and the Future of Mankind by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

The problem of power, what to do with it, how to use it, who shall wield it or not wield it, will assume proportions heretofore unthinkable. We are moving into the realm of incalculables and imponderables in our everyday life just as for the last few generations we have been accustoming ourselves to this realm through the play of thought. Everything is coming to fruition, and the harvest will be brilliant and terrifying. To those who look upon such predictions as fantastic I have merely to point out, ask them to imagine, what would happen should we ever unlock the secret patents now hidden in the vaults of our unscrupulous exploiters. Once the present crazy system of exploitation crumbles, and it is crumbling hourly, the powers of the imagination, heretofore stifled and fettered, will run riot. The face of the earth can be changed utterly overnight one we have the courage to concretize the dreams of our inventive geniuses. Never was there such a plentitude of inventors as in this age of destruction. And there is one thing to bear in mind about the man of genius — even the inventor — usually he is on the side of humanity, not the devil. It has been the crowning shame of this age to have exploited the man of genius for sinister ends. But such a procedure always acts as a boomerang: ultimately the man of genius always has his revenge.

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova

Echoes of the Phenomenon by Ben de Bruyn

In civilisation, ecology, interview, nature, philosophy, theory on January 29, 2013 at 18:18

From: Echoes of the Phenomenon – A Conversation with Robert Pogue Harrison by Ben de Bruyn, Image & Narrative, http://www.imageandnarrative.be

What if forests are not simply natural but also cultural sites? If deforestation is not only depleting our oxygen supply but also our cultural memory? And what if living human beings are always already dead, being fundamentally connected to the afterlives of their predecessors and of their offspring? What if our expulsion from the Garden of Eden was not a curse, but a blessing? If paradise was not – andcan never be – paradise? These are just some of the fascinating questions Robert Pogue Harrison has raised in his seminal studies on Forests, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens. As I have tried to show in my essay on Harrison‟s work in the previous issue of Image & Narrative, these studies have established the Stanford professor as an important critic with regard to topics such as ecology, memory, and humanity. His oeuvre lends a voice to the cultural echoes of phenomena, the things in the world. But how did this oeuvre about the earth and its dead, about natural and cultural conservation first emerge? And what is the relationship between these three studies which, as Harrison suggests, actually constitute a trilogy? How does he position himself vis-à-vis issues as diverse as Deconstruction and ecocriticism, humanism and existentialism, modernity and Christianity? What is the nature and value of literature, to his mind? And what, finally, does the future hold in store for him? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed in the present interview with Robert Pogue Harrison.

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Reposted with permission from: Image & Narrative

Sloterdijk’s Moment by David Beer

In books, civilisation, culture, media, philosophy, science, technology, theory, writers on December 16, 2012 at 16:44

From: Sloterdijk’s Moment by David Beer, berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Bubbles: Spheres I
by Peter Sloterdijk, translated by Wieland Hoban,
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 663 pp.

This weighty text is the first part of what is seen as Sloterdijk’s defining and most important intellectual contribution. In this particular text the focus is upon small-scale microsphereology. Volumes two and three build upon this foundational text through a focus upon the macrospherology of globes and the plural spherology of foam (see Couture, 2009). The book itself highlights a genuine openness, resourcefulness and creativity in Sloterdijk’s thinking. He pulls together wide-ranging points of reference in his writing, many of which are unexpected and revealing. His use of art in particular opens up a visual imagination that sits alongside a set of knowing encounters with a number of important philosophical figures. Soterdijk carves a way through the tangential possibilities of bubbles by drawing upon this type of intellectual eclecticism. Actually this is something of an understatement, this book runs-riot as it lurches across the major issues of our time. These issues include globalisation on a small scale, the understanding of the divergence of nature into culture, how history shapes the now, how the individual becomes isolated into social connections, and so on. There is a rhythm at work here, with long takes interspersed with short cuts. There are slowly argued explorations of all-sorts of references juxtaposed with sudden, and sometimes disoientating, blasts of philosophical proclamation.

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Reposted with permission from: berfrois

Becoming a Cyborg should be taken gently by Tyger.A.C,

In biology, civilisation, science, sociology, theory on December 12, 2012 at 18:46

From: Becoming a Cyborg should be taken gently: Of Modern Bio-Paleo-Machines by Tyger.A.C, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

We are on the edge of a Paleolithic Machine intelligence world. A world oscillating between that which is already historical, and that which is barely recognizable. Some of us, teetering on this bio-electronic borderline, have this ghostly sensation that a new horizon is on the verge of being revealed, still misty yet glowing with some inner light, eerie but compelling.

The metaphor I used for bridging, seemingly contrasting, on first sight paradoxical, between such a futuristic concept as machine intelligence and the Paleolithic age is apt I think. For though advances in computation, with fractional AI, appearing almost everywhere are becoming nearly casual, the truth of the matter is that Machines are still tribal and dispersed. It is a dawn all right, but a dawn is still only a hint of the day that is about to shine, a dawn of hyperconnected machines, interweaved with biological organisms, cyberneticaly info-related and semi independent.

The modern Paleo-machines do not recognize borders; do not concern themselves with values and morality and do not philosophize about the meaning of it all, not yet that is. As in our own Paleo past the needs of the machines do not yet contain passions for individuation, desire for emotional recognition or indeed feelings of dismay or despair, uncontrollable urges or dreams of far worlds.

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

America’s Love Affair with Cars by Leigh Donaldson

In civilisation, culture, economics, North America, politics, psychology, sociology, transportation on November 18, 2012 at 22:47

From: America’s Love Affair with Cars by Leigh Donaldson, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

In his essay, “Driven Societies“, Daniel Miller writes about telling his young son a story about seeing the earth from the sky and discovering that it is the car and the infrastructure associated with it, not the human being, that dominates the landscape. He expounds on what he terms the humanity of the car, what people achieve through its use, and how it is an integral part of our cultural environment within which we see ourselves as human. He writes: “The car today is associated with the aggregate of vast systems of transport and roadways that make the car’s environment, and yet, at the same time, there are highly personal and intimate relationships which individuals have found through the possession and use of cars.” Personally, I resist any implication that a piece of tin, chrome and plastic, in any manner, defines me as a person. Short of having to live in a car because I was rendered homeless, knock on wood, I don’t see how a person could get that intimate with a noisy, gas-guzzling, money-eating machine you can never quite fully rely on. But, I can see that the car can, for many, be an extension of self and a communicative device. These days they are readily available with innumerable credit arrangements, including no money down, so that almost anyone can drive off a car lot in one the same day. Here, we find that the product, especially  the pricier model, represents dreams and aspirations, and this often trumps whether or not a person can afford it or not. Advertisers, more than ever, create and nurture appetites for products outside the consumers pocketbook limitations. Catering to the general buyers’ irrationality, their psychological vulnerabilities, they make the car a “must have” item for everyone.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

Why You’re Crazy: The DSM Story by Mark S. Roberts and David B. Allison

In biology, civilisation, culture, gender, government, history, medicine, philosophy, psychology, sociology on November 14, 2012 at 20:35

From: Why You’re Crazy: The DSM Story by Mark S. Roberts and David B. Allison, CABINET, http://cabinetmagazine.org

Nearly one thousand pages long and boasting over one thousand contributors, the latest version of the manual has an editorial staff that reads like the Who’s Who of clinical psychiatry. In fact, in its current rendition, the DSM is so impressive that it is often referred to as “the Bible” of mental disorders. Yet modern editions of the DSM manuals have grown into virtual monsters of social control, attempting to set the transgressive limits of virtually every human action and capacity. Behaviors such as caring, bereavement, anger, love, hatred, sexual desire, reading, nose-picking, writing, shitting, pimple-picking, nightmares, delusions (both “bizarre” and “non-bizarre” versions), hair twirling, and body odors all have their reasonable limits, which are set strictly by the DSM and its clinical interpreters. Twirl your hair to the extent that the damage is undetectable, and you may not be subject to a diagnosis of Trichotillomania (312.39)—that is, unless you express significant distress about hair twirling. Have a delusion that lasts for only twenty-nine days, rather than thirty, and you may escape being diagnosed with the dreaded Delusional Disorder (297.1). Fail to overcome your fear of mathematics, and you may be tagged with the equally onerous Mathematics Disorder (315.1)—unless, of course, it is medication-induced. But don’t despair. According to the DSM-IV-TR, the fourth and most current edition, you may have the dreaded Mathematics Disorder (315.1) and at the same time sexually abuse a child, but only have that recorded in the manual as a problem (see V61.21, Sexual Abuse of Child) rather than a full-blown disorder.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET

The Raw and the Cooked by Justin E. H. Smith and Cătălin Avramescu

In books, civilisation, Europe, government, humanities, interview, philosophy, science, sociology, theory on October 15, 2012 at 03:16

From: The Raw and the Cooked: An Interview with Cătălin Avramescu by Justin E. H. Smith and Cătălin Avramescu, CABINET Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The beginning of the modern age is heralded by the discovery of the New World, whose human inhabitants were principally noteworthy for their custom, real or imagined, of eating other humans. Scarcely had Columbus returned from his first encounter with the Arawaks of Hispaniola when this point of apparent cultural difference became for European moralists the centerpiece of their search for the ultimate grounds of morality and for the causes of the diversity of moral systems. The figure of the cannibal, in this sense, plays a leading role in the emergence of early modern moral and political philosophy.

The Romanian philosopher and political scientist Cătălin Avramescu is the first scholar to notice the importance of the cannibal in modern European thought, and to attempt to write a comprehensive intellectual history of anthropophagy. His book first appeared in Romanian in 2003 under the title Filozoful crud (“the cruel philosopher” or “the raw philosopher,” depending on context), and in 2009 was published by Princeton University Press as An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. In June 2010, Justin E. H. Smith spoke with Avramescu in Bucharest about, among other things, the difficulty of intellectualizing such a bloody topic as this. This interview was subsequently fleshed out in a series of e-mail exchanges.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros

In aesthetics, architecture, art, civilisation, culture, education, nature, society on October 7, 2012 at 04:01

From: The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros, New English Review, http://www.newenglishreview.org

We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism. The modernist aesthetic, which dominates our age, takes a variety of forms in the respective arts — in architecture, a lack of scale and ornamentation combined with the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete; in the plastic arts, a rejection of natural forms mixed with an unmistakable tendency towards the repulsive or meretricious; in literature, non-linear narrative, esoteric imagery, and an almost perfect lack of poetic form and diction. Yet common now to the practice of all these arts are certain primal impulses which may be said to form the core of the modernist aesthetic — a hostility and defiance towards all traditional standards of excellence, discovered over millennia of craftsmanship and reflection; a notion of the artist’s freedom as absolute, and entirely divorced from the ends of his art; and, as Roger Scruton has so clearly demonstrated, a refusal to apply the category of beauty to either the creation or the estimation of artwork. Standing behind this aesthetic is an ideology supported by nearly the entire institutional structure of the Western world — the universities, the publishing houses, the galleries, the journals, the prize committees, the zoning boards. Books that evince a fidelity to modernist principles are the ones that get published. Buildings that conform to the brutal codes of modernism and its derivatives are the ones that get built. Whatever creative efforts spring from other sources of inspiration other than modernist aggression are invariably ignored and dismissed as something antiquated or reactionary. This is the great totalitarian system of our times — the dictatorship of modernism.

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Reposted with permission from: New English Review

What keeps societies together by Richard Sennett and Richard David Precht

In anthropology, civilisation, community, philosophy, society on October 7, 2012 at 03:53

From: What keeps societies together by Richard Sennett and Richard David Precht, CafeBabel, cafebabel.com

Last night the anthropologist Richard Sennett talked to philosopher Richard David Precht on the main stage in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele about his new book Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. The event took place as a part of the International Literature Festival and brought together many people curious to experience the scholars in person and to find out more about the nature of cooperation as a social process and about the exclusively human problems of living together on a daily basis.

The conversation was held in two languages and translated simultaneously. It clearly pointed out to the differences of academic discourses within these two cultural and linguistic environments. Sennett spoke slowly and always made his points very clear using examples from other disciplines and arts. Precht spoke fast, made use of monster compounds and long sentences typical for the German language and drew many references to the history of mankind and philosophical theories. Both of them showed their sense of humor and made it a highly interesting and very inspiring hour and a half.

“If I was to write the book a year later, I would have written about the European crisis” started Richard Sennett when introducing his newly published work. So it would have been about the crisis because it perfectly illustrates the theory that our societies are characterized with lack of social understanding of the Other and of what cooperation is about. One of his main points is that cooperation is founded in natural behavior and that it is not ethical – i.e. we need to cooperate in order to survive. We would not be able to learn anything if we did not cooperate with our teachers. Our skills of cooperation tend however to be very weak if we have to use them towards people who are different than ourselves. It is easy to be nice to people who are like us, claims Sennett but what is a real challenge is to develop a skill to cooperate in order to cross cultural borders. According to him, this very skill is a bridge, a mediator between the natural and the cultural. Cooperation does not equal ethical behavior, nor is it based on altruism (which does not involve an exchange and which is not dialogic) and insofar it is against the principles of protestant ethics.

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Reposted with permission from: CafeBabel

Conquest in Space: Dreaming about Mars by Binoy Kampmark

In civilisation, ethics, literature, North America, politics, research, science, science fiction, space, war on October 1, 2012 at 01:51

From: Conquest in Space: Dreaming about Mars by Binoy Kampmark, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

With NASA’s latest efforts on Mars with the Curiosity rover, humanity is now bracing itself for the hope of finding life past, present or future, on a distant plant. Much of this is drivel, suggesting a continued obsession of humankind’s “inner child” (“We discover ourselves through discovering others”) but the prospects are intriguing. Colonising Mars will enable us to export rapacity and problems and possibly unearth a few scientific gems on the way.

In a more specific way, the Mars mission – shall we say missions? – demonstrate again that science is as political as any pursuit of knowledge. The selfless scientist is an extinct species, or at the very least a rare one. Like sports personalities, they are guns for hire, hoping to receive the gold medal at the end of the race.

Naturally, the event of seeing the first colour photos of Mars has sent NASA administrators into a state of frenzy. In the words of Charles Bolden, “It is a huge day for the nation, it is a huge day for all of our partners who have something on Curiosity and it is a huge day for the American people.” Strikingly, the mission’s significance is framed, less in terms of humanity than in terms of America – the narrative of Independence Day and the space race. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, affirmed it. “We are actually the only country that has landed surface landers on any other planet.”

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

On Never Being Alone Again by Zygmunt Bauman

In civilisation, community, Europe, government, North America, privacy, society, sociology, technology, war on September 28, 2012 at 04:52

From: On Never Being Alone Again by Zygmunt Bauman, Social Europe Journal, http://www.social-europe.eu

Two apparently unconnected items of news appeared on the same day, 19 June – though one can be forgiven overlooking their appearance… As any news, they arrived floating in an “information tsunami” – just two tiny drops in a flood of news meant/hoped to do the job of enlightening and clarifying while serving that of obscuring and befuddling.

One item, authored by Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, informed of the spectacular rise in the number of drones reduced to the size of a dragonfly, or of a hummingbird comfortably perching on windowsills; both designed, in the juicy expression of Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, “to hide in plain sight”. The second, penned down by Brian Shelter, proclaimed the internet to be “the place where anonymity dies”. The two messages spoke in unison, they both augured/portended the end of invisibility and autonomy, the two defining attributes of privacy – even if each of the two items was composed independently of the other and without awareness of the other’s existence.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from The Social Europe website

How writing began with Maria Zijlstra and Professor Antonio Sagona

In archaeology, Asia, audio, civilisation, culture, history, interview, languages on September 19, 2012 at 03:52

From: How writing began with Maria Zijlstra and Professor Antonio Sagona, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

The texts on the tablets, written in the Old Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, describe the Assyrians bringing textiles and tin to Anatolia on the backs of donkeys, and trading it with the locals for silver and gold. This letter is from Ashur-malik to his brother Ashur-idi complaining that, although winter has already come, he and his family have been left in Ashur without food, clothes or fuel. Lack of space obliged him to finish his letter on a small supplementary tablet. Often, as in this case, the tablet was encased in a clay envelope. These were sometimes inscribed with a summary of the contents and sealed by witnesses, using the traditional Mesopotamian cylinder seal rather than the local Anatolian stamp seal. Here the sender’s seal shows figures approaching a seated king with a bull-man at the end of the scene.

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Featured Essay: The Sea by John Zerzan

In civilisation, ecology, Featured, literature, nature, philosophy, poetry, society, writers on September 8, 2012 at 01:01

I have a special post for you today. Throughout the ongoing process of communicating with websites in the hope of receiving permission to repost their content, I had a few wonderful exchanges with writers and researchers. One of them was John Zerzan, author and philosopher, who sent me his latest essay for publication on this website. Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured Essay: The Sea by John Zerzan

Last remaining lair of unparalleled wildness. Too big to fail?

The whole world is being objectified, but Melville reminds us of all that remains. “There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea.”i What could be more tangible, more of a contrast with being lost in the digital world, where we feel we can never properly come to grips with anything.

Oceans are about time more than space, “as if there were a correlation between going deep and going back.”ii The Deep is solemn; linking, in some way, all that has come before. Last things and first things. “Heaven,” by comparison, is thin and faintly unserious.

“Over All the Face of Earth Main Ocean Flowed,” announced the poem by John Milton.iii Given its 71 percent predominance on this planet, why is our world called Earth instead of Sea? Much of the land, in fact, could be defined as littoral areas where land and sea meet.iv The sea is a textured place, infinite in its moods, forms, energies—and not so easily de-textured. But we see what happens when culture is privileged over place. The sea, where all life began just this side of four billion years ago, must still sustain us. Not only are its waters the original source of life, it also shapes the climate, weather, and temperature of the planet, and therefore the status of terrestrial species.

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A Great Silence Is Spreading Over the Natural World by John Vidal

In biology, civilisation, ecology, music, nature on September 5, 2012 at 14:23

 

From: A Great Silence Is Spreading Over the Natural World by John Vidal, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

“The birds are silent in the woods.
Just wait: Soon enough
You will be quiet too”

– Robert Hass

When musician and naturalist Bernie Krause drops his microphones into the pristine coral reef waters of Fiji, he picks up a raucous mix of sighs, beats, glissandos, cries, groans, tones, grunts, beats and clicks.Musician and naturalist Bernie Krause has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species in many of the world’s pristine habitats. exti

The water pulsates with the sound of creatures vying for acoustic bandwidth. He hears crustaceans, parrot fish, anemones, wrasses, sharks, shrimps, puffers and surgeonfish. Some gnash their teeth, others use their bladders or tails to make sound. Sea anemones grunt and belch. Every creature on the reef makes its own sound.

But half a mile away, where the same reef is badly damaged, he can only pick up the sound of waves and a few snapping shrimp. It is, he says, the desolate sound of extinction.

Krause, whose electronic music with Paul Beaver was used on classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and Apocalypse Now, and who worked regularly with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and The Byrds, has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species, collecting 4,500 hours of sound from many of the world’s pristine habitats.

But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

Hegel and Islam by Muhammed Khair

In Asia, civilisation, culture, Europe, history, philosophy, politics, religion on September 3, 2012 at 21:40

 

From: Hegel and ISLAM  by Muhammed Khair, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

So when it comes to Islam as seen by Hegel, Anglo-Saxons have a blind spot. Standard works on Hegel, like that of the Canadian Hegelian Charles Taylor (Fellow of All Souls, Oxford), ignored Hegel’s observations on Islam in his Philosophy of History, based on a series of lectures in 1822 and published posthumously by his son. (And compare this with his most famous work on the Phenomenology of the Spirit published in 1807!) But Hegel has an interesting and illuminating short chapter on Islam, somewhat incongruously located in the final section on the German world and not, as one might expect, in the earlier section on the Oriental world. This in itself begs the question as to Islam’s place in world history.

For a recent work which hints at the true locus of Islam one must turn to the Bosnian academic Muslim – and its first president – an intellectual who can be compared to Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. Aliya Ali Izetbegovic it is, who entitled his work Islam between East and West and located Islam in the spatial and temporal congruence between the sacred and the secular, a phenomenon that appears as it does in the 7th century of the Christian Era, seen now in the full light of history.

Scholars in the past have found Islam to be a product of late Classicism, like Christianity arising out of the Levant and heavily indebted to neo-Platonism, and only gradually Orientalised as its centre of gravity moved from Syria (in the 7th century CE) to Mesopotamia (Iraq), and as its rulers changed from Arabs (who had heavily invested in the translation project of the Greek philosophic corpus into Arabic) to neophyte newcomers from Turkish Central Asia (see the Tunisian writer Hichem Djait’s Hegelian Study of Europe and Islam, University of California of Press translation, 1985).

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Reposted with permission from: The Philosopher

Men in Suits: Fine and Dandy by Paul Sweeten

In civilisation, history, society on August 31, 2012 at 03:57

 

From: Men in Suits: Fine and Dandy by Paul Sweeten, The Oxonian Review, http://www.oxonianreview.org

According to Baudelaire, the Dandy “must live and sleep before a mirror”. The Dandy must always be alert, attentive and fussing over his look because to be a Dandy, as Albert Camus noted, is to be “always in opposition” (a pursuit far more demanding than to be always conforming). In challenging the herd mentality of fashionistas, Dandies were required to be stubbornly unfashionable. Here we find a familiar paradox shared by many “alternative” subgroups. From Dandies to punks, the discord between the libertarian and mimetic compulsions of a group’s members has drawn its associated clothing as both uniforms as well as an antidote to uniformity. The suit has always straddled this divide, and though it remains occasionally daring, it has suffered the transition from innovative style to requisite dresscode in the three centuries of its evolution.

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Reposted with permission from: The Oxonian Review

Are you bored at work? by libcom.org

In civilisation, history, society, sociology, technology on August 27, 2012 at 20:32

 

From: Are you bored at work?, http://libcom.org

Workplace boredom arrived hand in hand with the inventions of the office and the production line; it was in fact their psychological equivalent. An enormous intellectual and practical effort was made to rationalise both the production of goods and the processing of the information that controlled production and distribution of these goods. Early last century, so-called ‘time and motion studies’ examined the work of factory and office workers in rigorous detail. The results were interpreted and used to eliminate unnecessary effort or individual technique from the workplace. People were idealised as components in industrial machines. Little thought was given to what was going on inside their heads. This was the age of behaviourism – people and animals were understood to be black boxes with inputs and outputs (“So, how was it for me?” the behavioural scientist asked his lover): output and efficiency were the priority. Work became boring and repetitive by design, but profits soared.

A recent edition of the New Scientist magazine featured an article on evidence for boredom in animals kept in inadequate conditions. For example, the confines of a zoo’s enclosure have virtually nothing in common with a polar bear’s natural environment. Before long, the forlorn beasts begin to exhibit repetitive behaviour. They pace up and down the concrete, tracing exactly the same steps, swooping their heads from side to side. They look very disturbed, they are portraits of frustration. Examination of captive animal brains has revealed that when certain neural pathways are damaged, stereotypical behaviour can develop. These findings have brought into question a huge body of research using live animals – it was presumed that they had no capacity for boredom and it played no part in their behaviour. Lab rats, it seems, are bored out of their tiny rodent skulls.

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Reposted with permission from: libcom.org

Overfished: LuLing Osofsky on “Chop City”

In civilisation, ecology, economics, nature, North America, society on August 21, 2012 at 21:28

 

From: Overfished: LuLing Osofsky on “Chop City”, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

The Alaska you write about in this piece isn’t the Alaska you and I and other non-Alaskans might expect to see upon arriving there. Instead of evergreen trees and grizzly bears, you found fish heads and a sixteen-hour workday. What did you imagine Alaska to be before you got there?

The surprises began in the Anchorage airport. As I waited for my tiny plane headed to Naknek, Alaska, I looked around the small waiting area at the designated gate. There was a teenage girl with dyed blonde hair, heavy lipstick, ankles crossed, speaking urgently in Russian on her cell phone. There was a disheveled man at the complimentary coffee station tearing open packets of Sweet’N Low and chugging them down. A man with sores on his face was lying on the floor.

One of the things that’s striking about this story is the way nature—in the form of fish—is objectified, commoditized, and treated mechanically, and the way that treatment extends to the mental and physical lives of you and the other line workers. Was that something you tried to reflect in the style and arc of this piece?

Yes! Definitely. The fish could’ve been anything, they ceased to be “fish.” You know when you stare at any one word for too long, and it no longer makes sense? The word looks strange, right? That’s how I began to see fish, not as these things that once swam in the sea and yielded a delicious meat, but these strange objects that needed to have certain parts chopped off, skinned, hollowed out, sorted, shipped.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Reinventing education by Leonardo Boff

In civilisation, economics, education, Europe, North America, politics, South America, universities on August 18, 2012 at 15:08

 

From: Reinventing education by Leonardo Boff, America Latina en movimiento, http://alainet.org

Muniz Sodre, titular professor of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, is a well learned person. But what is different about him is that he, as few others, thinks about what he knows. The fruit of his thinking is a just released, very notable, book: Reinventing education: diversity, decolonization and networks, (Reinventando la educación: diversidad, descolonización y redes, Vozes, 2012).
In that book, he tries to confront the challenges to pedagogy and education that derive from the different types of knowledge, from the new technologies and transformations advanced by capitalism. All of this begins with our social place: the Southern hemisphere, once colonized, that is undergoing an interesting process of neo-decolonization, and a confrontation with the weakened neo-Eurocentrism, now devastated by the crisis of the Euro.
Muniz Sodre analyzes different currents of pedagogy and education, from the Greek paideia to the world market of education, that represent a crass conception of utilitarian education, transforming education into an enterprise and a market, at the service of world domination.

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Reposted with permission from: America Latina en movimiento

Proving the ‘shifting baselines’ theory by Jeremy Hance

In biology, civilisation, ecology, nature, research on July 23, 2012 at 20:06

 

From: Proving the ‘shifting baselines’ theory: how humans consistently misperceive nature by Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM

…In other words, due to short life-spans and faulty memories, humans have a poor conception of how much of the natural world has been degraded by our actions, because our ‘baseline’ shifts with every generation, and sometimes even in an individual. In essence, what we see as pristine nature would be seen by our ancestors as hopelessly degraded, and what we see as degraded our children will view as ‘natural’.

Shifting baselines requires that an ecosystem has changed. Looking at changing bird populations in Yorkshire County in England, the researchers were able to show empirical evidence of a population undergoing ‘shifting baselines’, both through generational amnesia and personal amnesia.

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Hitchens as Orwell’s Successor by Anthony Lock

In civilisation, government, literature, society, writers on July 13, 2012 at 01:14

 

From: Prick the Bubbles, Pass the Mantle: Hitchens as Orwell’s Successor  by Anthony Lock, the Humanist Magazine, http://thehumanist.org

It’s hard to say where Hitchens’ greatest popularity lies, but much Hitch-love comes from his status as the successor to George Orwell. Orwell’s manner, if anything, was the opposite of Hitchens’ strut. But the two are compared because they both criticized the Left from within on matters of international policy, albeit in independent ways. Hitchens broke from the Left over the so-called war on terror, quitting his literary homestead, The Nation, and making particularly derisive comments about his comrades. These actions were viewed as the strongest individual leftist dissent by a writer since Orwell’s infamous break over the Spanish Communists and the Soviet Union. To boot, Hitchens offered strong, vocal admiration for the elder English author and polemicist, and invoked Orwell on matters of principle and ethics regarding his own conservative turn. Indeed, the two are similarly noteworthy for their incorporation of morals into their politics.

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The Objectification of Women. A Conversation with Martha Nussbaum by Patricia Gras & Rose Mary Salum

In civilisation, ethnicity, gender, interview, philosophy, psychology on July 1, 2012 at 02:24

 

From: The Objectification of Women. A Conversation with Martha Nussbaum by Patricia Gras & Rose Mary Salum, LITERAL, http://www.literalmagazine.com

… I have studied the emotion of disgust a lot. Research on disgust shows that all of us are uncomfortable with the signs that mirror animals, that show we are mortal. And so the bodily fluids, the corpse, all of those things that psychologists call “animal reminders,” are heavily avoided. They are viewed as contaminating and they are stigmatized. In a second step, people who somehow come to represent those stigmatized things, fluids, decay and so on, are subordinated as a result. Now, in many cultures it seems pretty arbitrary how those groups get constructed in that role, maybe it is because of fear or anxiety, sometimes it is Jews, sometimes it is lower castes in Indian society, sometimes Muslims in India today, but women, in more or less all cultures, come in for that kind of projected disgust, as I put it. That is to say they are associated with the things about the body that are feared and viewed as contaminating because they give birth but also because they are seen as sights of fluid, the menstrual period, they are also seen as the receptacles of male semen, which is something that males feel anxious about. For all these reasons, the researchers who work on disgust think that misogyny is connected ultimately with people’s own anxiety about their own bodies.

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America’s Problem of Assimilation by Bruce Thornton

In civilisation, culture, ethnicity, history, immigration, politics on June 8, 2012 at 21:08

 

America’s Problem of Assimilation by Bruce Thornto, A Hoover Institution Journal, http://www.hoover.org

The melting pot metaphor arose in the eighteenth century, sometimes appearing as the “smelting pot” or “crucible,” and it described the fusion of various religious sects, nationalities, and ethnic groups into one distinct people: Ex pluribus unum. In 1782, French immigrant J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote that in America, “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”

A century later, Ralph Waldo Emerson used the “melting pot” image to describe “the fusing process” that “transforms the English, the German, the Irish emigrant into an American . . . The individuality of the immigrant, almost even his traits of race and religion, fuse down in the democratic alembic like chips of brass thrown into the melting pot.” The phrase gained wider currency in 1908, during the great wave of Slavic, Jewish, and Italian immigration, when Israel Zangwill’s play The Melting Pot was produced. In it, a character enthuses, “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming!”

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Toward a Dissident Architecture?

In architecture, civilisation, philosophy, politics on June 8, 2012 at 21:02

 

Toward a Dissident Architecture? by Thomas de Monchaux, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

In the kind of rapid development we see in China, architecture as understood by architects can be seen as a nicety, not a necessity. It may be that, in such a context, Wang’s most instrumental building to date is his least precious: the Vertical Courtyard Apartments in Hangzhou, produced between 2002 and 2007. With an articulated plane that folds up and across the building’s façade and section, and slight alternating rotations to every other floor plate through that section, the building reads more like a stack of house-sized objects than a seamless monolith. In a recent interview with the Architect’s Newspaper, Wang recalled, “I wanted even those people living 30 meters high to still feel like they were living in a small house where they could live around a small courtyard and plant their own trees. From below they can tell people on the ground that ‘those are my trees and that’s my house.’ It provides an identity for people to feel like it’s their own house. It’s more than just blank windows in apartment buildings that can’t separate neighborhoods. It’s a basic right for people.”

What is the relationship between architecture and people’s basic rights? By the standards of human rights held to be universal by those who believe in them, much of what prevails in China falls short. What are the possibilities and responsibilities of design in such a context? We can see, perhaps latently, one possible answer in the language the Pritzker citation uses to describe Wang’s work: “frank,” “collaborative,” “message-sending,” “unpredictable,” “careful,” “spontaneous,” “responsible”—these are all qualities that one would want in, say, the lively and free citizenry of a functional democratic republic.

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