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: politics

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.

CONCLUSIONS AND CROSS-FERTILISATION

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.

reanimation III: on bureaucracy, price-gauging, war and elastic cities

.1) James Kirkup argues that part of David Camerons recent problems are due to the inefficient political infrastructure he has set up (or is the critique of the infrastructure just a hidden way to criticise the PM himself?). Slowly many of the important positions in the HQ have been replaced by civic servants, more gray bureaucrats than (conservative) policy advisors.

Maybe there is a need to, conceptually, divide the political structure. Gray bureaucrats are just as important as policy advisors, but they have different key roles to fill. The first is an integral part of any consistent policy execution, the latter the ”think-tank” for creation of the guidelines.
Aseem Inam’s book ”Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities” focuses on the importance of functioning (bureaucratic) routines, which would put emphazise on the need for rigid delegating/distributing political systems. The ”apolitical” civil servants might be good for the system as a whole, but bad for Cameron’s government. Is the conundrum mentioned by Kirkup the effect of a mix-up of the two aforementioned categories, or just political secrecy and back-stabbing.

.2) Tim Harford discusses the benefits of more dynamic pricing. Basically it means that prices would be more directly connected to supply/demand, when demand is high and supply is low prices would sky-rocket (and the opposite). While cheap discounts of over-supplied goods are often welcomed, the opposite is seen as unethical. Harford argues that prices increasing with high demand/low supply would increase efficiency.

Personally I have a couple of points of critiques, none of them really dealing with the question at hand (as a concept I have no problem with dynamic pricing/price-gauging) but rather with the concept of the market itself.

Harford argues that with flat-prices (and lottery/queue systems during shortages) ”the goods may not reach the people who want them most”. But capitalism does care about who wants something the most only who has the ability to pay (but this is a minor slip I’d say).

There is a problem in where to draw a line for ”basic rights/necessities” and ”luxury goods”. Dynamic pricing of concert tickets is reasonable, but what about health care? Dynamic pricing further needs ”free (or even perfect) markets” to be justifiable. Now, is there even such a thing as a (practically functioning) perfect market? Are not inherited power structures too big an influence/regulator not to be considered?
And with acceptance of price-gauging, one of the easiest way to increase revenue would be to decrease supply, hastening companies spiral towards monopoly/oligopoly/cartel structures.

.3) American violations continue in Afghanistan. The (media) backlash might however have increased American willingness to negotiate and hand over more power to the Afghan (puppet?) government.

The effects might be mostly symbolical, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. Increasing Afghan command over matter of national security will, hopefully, create less friction with the Afghan people. With less power to the US forces local rebellions/warlords might have a harder time rallying troops against a foreign invasion.
And, hopefully, Afghan forces will be less likely to burn the Koran or massacre villages.

.4) Imagining an elastic city – Diana Limbach Lempel. Informal and flexible structures should be given more space/opportunity in cities. The idea is basically taken from the chaos of (Asian) mega-cities such as Mumbai. What could ”stable” cities in the West learn from this?

There is a fragrance of something quite disgusting in this rhetoric. Entropy and community is, in many places, strictly because of necessity. Stick together or starve. Take space or see it be taken from you. To apply this on (somewhat more fluently) functioning societies is mockery and romanticism. You can not talk about the entropic systems of Mumbai without talking about the poverty, injustice and problems as well.
There is another problem in this (green-movement romanticised) elastic city. There is a narrative of a city functioning as a dynamic organism, growing and shrinking; transforming. But buildings don’t want to move. A heavily shrinking city will mean that work, effort and resources used for construction will be spoiled. There is no escaping this.
Actually, every city to have existed is/was organic by definition (the inhabitants functioning as the mitochondria of a cell). But this makes the metaphor shallow; it needs to be better redefined.

However, this is where the elasticity becomes interesting; not as a substitute to traditional planning, but as the web knitting it together and filling in the gaps. I reject all symbolic connections to ”green organic cities” and their narratives. What is truly great about elasticity is the possibility to directly change and re-create your immediate surrounding and what affects your life.
Informal, bottom-up planning, as well as temporary flexible structures, has the potential to circumvent big scale economical failure. The informal working as a test-site for what should be sedimented and what should not.

(originally written 120415)

reanimation II: on illusions, individual and en masse

.1) Indian scientist showed that a ”weeping cross” could be explained by capilar power and a nearby leaky drain. For this statement he was charged with ”blasphemy”.

.2) Classical psychology experiment from 68’ shows that teachers who believe to have ”good” or promising students actually makes their students better. In 68’ this was shown by the (randomly chosen) student’s enhanced results at IQ-tests.
Main explanations are teacher becoming more enthusiastic about teaching and treating their students with more respect.

.3) UK publication showing most religious (christians?) have more ideals in common with left-wing/liberals than with the right-wing (e.g. acceptance of immigrants, progressive policies, equality, politically active, volunteering, charity work and donations).
Still, the right-wing has claimed the religious group (just as much as the left (due to Marx?) has forsaken it).

.4) Women drinking lightly during pregnancy have kids which less problems than ”absolutists”. The latter is definitely NOT a cause of the first, rather a corralation. I would argue that it has to do with the intelligence and mind of the parent. A woman who can critically analyze scientific/medical advice is probably more intelligent/has a better self-esteem/independant, something that is genetically passed on to the children.

.5) Living conditions in Sweden, with different (social) classes spatially divided, has been in practice since the early 1900’s. Even in some suburbs with mixed social classes, the different building typologies (rental apartment blocks, townhouses, villas) were spatilly segregated.
Christer Björk argues this is due to the ideological idea that identity and meaning most easily is created in homogenous groups.
This can be seen as classical modernism architecture/planning.
According to Jeremy Till (and his, in my opinion excellent, article ”Architecture and Contingency”) this goes even further back; (bluntly put) ordering, establishing and maintaining the hegemonic power structure is the foundation of Architecture.
I’m also interested in neo-liberal arguments.
My speculation: buildings associated with working class people would reduce value (selling price/profit) of upper-class villas; on the opposite, upper-class villas would NOT increase the value of working-class building blocks. If this is true, there is an economical incentive for spatial segregation.

.6) In the Occupied Times, page 12, Jeremy Till argues that scarcity (and by it austerity) is a constructed concept and not a natural one. We are not running out of food, we are simply not distributing it well (overconsumption in north, starvation in south).

Scarcity and Austerity are used as a scare-tactic to keep hegemonic power structures in place (i.e. the capitalist ideology), e.g. how shrinking national budgets are used as an argument for privatization (even though costs are not cut but increased) or food scarcity is used to argue for large scale industrialized farming and genetically modifed plants (even though crop yield is not increased). Till counterposes this with ”natural scarcity”, which (I guess) might be environmental and ecological effects and peak-oil.

I would prefer him to stay consistent. In my eyes, all scarcities are constructed concepts, even those of sustainability. Slavoj Zizek has a great piece on Ecology as Ideology, scarcity and austerity is used in exactly the same way Till mentions, but for the Eco-Ideology instead of a Capitalistic. All issues of scarcity are dependant on our relation and use of resources. If we believe 7 billion people should be able to eat meat, then yes we will have scarcity. If we believe 7 billion people to eat potatoes (and vegetables), not so much scarcity.

Maybe: instead of austerity, we need reformation and reorganization. Or are scare-tactics a necessary tool for transforming society?

CONCLUSIONS AND CROSS-FERTILISATION

Do not underestimate the power of self-deception. If we truly belive something it might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This also goes into social and political (critical) studies. It is far easier to change the illusions than reality, by making people believe in certain constructed concepts, the concepts themselves become reality. Scarcity, austerity, freedome infringements etc. All can be implemented with sufficient illusions.
And maybe that is the crime of the Indian scientist, the crime of destroying illusions.

(originally written 120415)

on independence, the lie of sustainable meat and the cannibalization of our future

.1) Scottish people are more concerned about economical issues than the real question of independance from UK. Independance would not be worth £500/year.
How would this study transer to Basque, Tibet, Chechnya or South Ossetia? When independance is sold for 2% of year salary, maybe you’re not that bad off..

Maybe a telling sign of the further individualization and ”voting by the wallet” trends.

.2) Encouraging and ”soft” leaders have more efficient and better working groups than ”mean” or tough leaders, even in the US army. The study doesn’t draw any better defined lines, what about honest or just? Is positive feedback always better, even where it’s not due?

.3) Industrial meat production is never sustainable. Today’s industrial farming is unsustainable  by animal rights- and environmental standards. The small scale organic farming loses out to problems of scale and efficiency. Grass-eating cows produce more methane and free range chicken produce 20% more GHG than broiler. Since grass grazing livestock need larger areas, more land is turned into farmland, i.e. large areas of the amazon rainforest has been cleared for this single reason.
Sustainable farmin is only possible in extremely small scale, where animals are slaugthered and eaten not when it’s most economicaly benificial, but when they are old.
And human waste need to be better recycled to farm land.

If we want to sustainably eat meat products, the only solution is to drastically cut down on our consuption. Large scale ”organic meat production” is not better than large scale industrial meat production.

.4) (Republican) New Jersey governor Chris Christie cannibalized the federal funds for public transportation, possibly using it to pay for tax cuts on gasoline prices. All while declaring his commitment for future generations.
Long-term, sustainable goals are abandoned due to short-term monetary (and by this politically) interests.

CONCLUSIONS AND CROSS-FERTILISATION

In general, people act out of short-sigthed interest. Money in the pocket today is what matters. And actually not only money. People seem to aim for any short-term benefit, even if just keeping daily habits (such as consuming meat); the path of least resistance. Instead of facing the problem itself (and the guilt) we rationalize and lie to ourselves. This is further transmitted to our politicians. They, also acting out of pure self interest, give us (symbolically) whatever we desire in order to secure their re-election. A deliberate mis-reding of .2) would say that leaders (or critics, or society as a whole) are further inclined to applaude and encourage whatever behavior is shown (both ”good” and ”bad”). It is a viscious cycle, where we all contribute to the cannibalization of our own future.

What is needed to break out of it? Some would argue ideals (great narratives, nationalism, religion, ideologies etc.). I would go one step further back in the chain; the ”ability to create ideals” is what’s important, meaning philosophy. And upon the foundation of philosophy, science.