Diary of Knowledge

interdisciplinary surgery by axe and blowtorch rather than scalpel and needle; reading, analysing, summarising and writing; trying to transform information to knowledge

Tag: in defense of lost causes

on politics, contingency and technology

.1) U.S and Europe seems to have some common trends in how they view each other and politics during the ongoing recession. In Europe a majority of the (interviewed) citizens were discontent with the last years of national financial politics. The only countries where people generally trusted how their politicians have handled the Euro crisis were Sweden and Germany. In Sweden 74% were favourable towards the reigning financial politics. Yet, according to the latest polls, Moderaterna are down by 4 percentage points since last year. So are we voting by the wallet or not? Or do we think to be able to get it even better with a Social Democratic government? Or, maybe the most probable conclusion, we shouldn’t care too much about mid-term political polls…

.2) I just started reading “Architecture Depends” by Jeremy Till. Ever since reading this (which is basically the second chapter of the book) I’ve been really interested in his writings. Here I will only comment on one small paragraph of what I’ve read so far.

On p.20 Till describes what still is one of the “criteria” for great architecture, namely autonomy. Great architecture is more than the life that surrounds it, it is untouchable by the taint of everyday life. What this is effectually doing is widening the gap between architects and non-architects. It’s a false division, in place to maintain power structures. Architecture is pure, people contaminate it, and great architecture defies this contamination. If we follow this line of reason, then great architecture is by definition inhuman.

Till is further arguing for this point by pointing out the (symbolical) relation between philosophy and architecture. Philosophy, trying to create the true/untouchable in the immaterial domain; architecture, trying to create the true/untouchable in the material. Till provides with ample examples of this relation.

Another example comes to mind. In “In Defense of Lost Causes” Slavoj Zizek argues that any ethics focusing on humanity itself by definition becomes subjective and thereby relative. The only set of ethics able to become eternal would thus be an inhuman ethics, ethics projected onto something else than humanity. Exactly where Zizek is trying to take this is somewhat unclear. We will have to wait and see. It is however basically the same argument as Till makes, just from the other side.

.3) Robert J Gordon argues that the time of economic growth might be over, that it was just a brief 250 year long period in human history. His argument is that growth is the byproduct of technological advancements, and that most productivity increasing inventions already have been invented. As written on “The Economist”, this might be a simplistic read of the latest decade if inventions. Some objections to Gordons argument:

1) The latest set of IT inventions are not per say productivity increasing, meaning that the benefit from them can not (yet) be counted in GDP per capita increase/year. IT is mainly about efficiency and streamlining, meaning chopping of the parts of production you don’t need rather than expanding production.

2) Cloudcomputing, crowdsourcing, digital layering of reality, 3D-printing and so on and so forth are still fairly new inventions. It might still take at least some more time before we can see their full potential.

3) Some (i.e. Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee) follow Gordon’s argument to some degree, but claiming us to just have reached a new threshold; “autonomous vehicles, effective machine translation and voice recognition, and artificial intelligence are or soon will be deployable realities”.

.4) Google has now designed an online tool for you to create your own online courses.


Slavoj Zizek makes another point in “In Defense for Lost Causes”; we make a difference between what is natural (and thereby non-changeable) and what we can actually effect. For this, we don’t want the representational democracy to actually be a direct consequence of our (common) will, but rather something else. There is a need for discrepancy, for the unknown, for things to be non-fixed and even contingent. By not really being able to effect the outcome (except by ONE vote) we have to perceive it as decided, as “natural”. This is what gives representational democracy its legitimate power. Okay, Zizek is sort of a nut-head. But there is some sort of truth to it, the insecurity before each election, the polls and wagers. This could help to explain the strange relationship Swedes seem to have with our government. We applaud the financial politics during the Euro crisis, but we don’t want to feel responsible for it; we want someone to decide for us, we still want the enlightened despot.

We could add the Jeremy Till paragraph to this. We (as people in general) have an inclination towards the natural/eternal/true, but this perception is to 100% produced by ourselves. We are, basically, fooling ourselves; we want to lift “whatever” out of its dirty and normal context, creating something larger and holier to which we can belong. No matter how you look at it, it is a lie. Question, is it good to lie to ourselves? And can we still create, maintain and love the lie as soon as we know it is a lie?

A quick answer, once again following the reasoning of Zizek. In the end of his rant on Ecology Zizek states that “Love means that you accept a person with all its failures, stupidities, ugly points and nonetheless the person is absolute for you”. Following this train of thought, the only conclusion can be to search for “truth” and to embrace it (contingent as it is). It could here also be noted that lying to yourself might make you happier, but then there is of course the difference between happy and being right.

And to finally comment on the dystopian conclusions drawn by Robert J Gordon. Personally I’m not too interested in “growth”, and it might be true that the last decade of inventions are not as key as previous when it comes to accumulating resources (e.g. comparing the iPad with industrial farming). But IT has the potential of being equally revolutionary. Google’s “make your own online course” is just an example of it. Though probably seen as entertaining/commercial, the very idea of online education actually questions the whole school system; who is teaching whom what? Technology, created by capitalist giant Google, that could actually promote anarchistic ideas of education, where everyone is both teacher and student, on a global scale. I argue this potential to be equally revolutionary to the consequences of industrialised agriculture.

on exomologesis and biopolitical walking tours

.1) The Birth of Biopolitics – Michel Foucault. Foucault is defining and analysing Liberalism not as an ideology, but as a “principle and method of rationalising the exercise of government, rationalisation that obeys […] the internal rule of maximum economy”. Foucault then goes on to state that “governmentality should not be exercised without a critique far more radical than a test of optimisation”. Instead of asking for the economical optimisation of governing, one should ask for the need for governing.

Liberalism grew (from late 18th century) as a tool for criticising governments as: 1) a former governmentality one tries to shed; 2) a current governmentality one wish to strip down (to reform); 3) a governmentality one opposes and whose abuses one tries to limit. Foucault argues this to be the main aspect of liberalism, market economy and political economy are tools used for the fulfilment of this main goal.

Foucault then goes on to describe two different liberal movements, the (West) German liberal movement (1948-1962) and the American neo-liberal Chicago School. Both were born as a critique of over-bureaucratisation, state interventions and planned economy (i.e. Soviet Socialism, National socialism and Keynesian economy). They however differed in the conclusions drawn from neo-liberal market studies. German liberals argued the “natural” market price to be fragile and thus needed to be supported through careful governing of civil aspects, such as assistance to the unemployed, healthcare coverage, housing policies etc. The Chicago School went the other way around and proposed that aspects of life, such as family and birth policies, or delinquency and penal policies, should be governed solely by market rationality. Foucault abruptly closes, arguing biopolitics (as the strategic governing of the bodies of the population) to have been framed by the questions of liberalism (since the end of 18th century).

.2) Government of the Living – Michel Foucault. Exomologesis – to state/confess the truth AND to identify yourself with it. Originally used in christian circuits, both as an act of faith (proclaiming your faith and the conviction in your proclamation), and the slightly darker one; the confession of sins you have committed and the direct identification of yourself as a sinner.

.3) In Slavoj Zizek’s “In Defense of Lost Causes” (which I’m now trying to read for the third time) there is a short excerpt concerning this exomologesis of today:

“In the endless complexity of the contemporary world, where things, more often than not, often appear as their opposites – intolerance as tolerance, religion as rational common sense, and so on and so forth – the temptation is great to cut it short with a violent gesture of ‘No bullshit!’ – a gesture that seldom amounts to more than an impotent ‘passage à l’acte’. Such a desire to draw a clear line of demarcation between sane truthful talk and ‘bullshit’ cannot but reproduce as truthful talk the predominant ideology itself. No wonder that, for [Harry] Frankfurt himself, examples of ‘no bullshit’ politicians are Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and, today, John McCain – as if the pose of outspoken personal sincerity is a guarantee of truthfulness.”

.4) Helen Runting and Kim Trogal performed a walking tour through Stockholm, analysing spaces, uses and restrictions along the way. As starting and ending point two symbolically charged and restricted places were chosen, The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan and the Migration Office in Solna. Though the intervention could be criticised by its (lack of) direct consequences (Zizek for example often shows his distaste for this kind of “soft” thought), the analysis of the two places, and some of the spots along the route connecting them, is incredibly interesting.


Looking into the private business sector you find this exomologesis again. Airline companies promising that their cabin staff is “always (and sincerely) happy”; articles stating why you shouldn’t hire unhappy people etc.

You are no longer allowed to lie, a fake smile to your colleague or professional politeness is not acceptable. Today this simple lie is not enough, we have to lie doubly; both by word and act, both a fake smile and a fake sincerity behind it.

We can then go further and apply the term of exomologesis on Runting’s and Trogal’s walking tour; The Royal Palace is basically a fake that pretends to be real both by what it says and by the way it says it, it pretends the pretending to be real. It is the residence of the Royal family, without them actually living there. Still it hides this fact behind a facade of seriousness; the palace is guarded by the Swedish army (with live ammunition), there are rules and regulations as for where you are allowed to walk and not, what you are allowed to do and not. Finally, we have the tourists. The tourists in this place becomes an act of unmasking. By their mass, with cameras and guide books, they turn the Palace and its seriously pretended seriousness into a spectacle, unmasking it, stripping it of its facade.

This opened my eyes to the (marxist?) action of “touristing” something, an appropriation and inversion of ‘slumming’. Just by viewing something as an amusing spectacle, by stating it to be a spectacle, it becomes a spectacle. Secondly, can such an act of unmasking also take place in personal relations? I don’t mean to superimpose the (violent) act of ‘touristing’ onto individuals and personal relations, but the key concept might be the same. Irony as an act of unmasking?