Scientism / athiesm / homo economicus is the unassailable three person godhead of our time. Even if things in general are going very badly, and the scientists, atheist and MBA/ economists have all of the power and are making all of the decisions, we still can’t and won’t blame the godhead. Tyson, Nye, Dawkins, Maher, Greenspan are the robed flunkies who design and administer the sacraments in the temple of techno materialist positivism. We follow in lock step.
It is breathtaking that STEM – science, technology engineering and mathematics – our education policy du jour, leaves out the humanities, the very antecedent of freedom. The fundamentalisms of markets, analysis, reason and tech, have replaced and erased history and the arts.
In the seventeenth century we suffocated under the yoke of religion and yearned for reason; today our god is technology and we pine for mystery.
It is hard now to recreate a sense of the almost complete impossibility of not being a religious believer in seventeenth-century England. But as I enter the Apple Store, symmetrically laid out with its central entrance door and an attractively illuminated high table at the far end, a parallel comes to mind. Digital technology seems to fill a large part of the mental space we reserve for faith. (Art, which is often put up as a candidate, is the opium only of a minority.) We depend on technology for the smooth running of our daily lives, if not for our salvation. We make obeisance to it, we feel obliged to buy into the whole package, rather than selecting and rejecting individual technologies. There is the familiar choice between minutely differentiated sects (Apple or Microsoft), but all must share the same basic creed. Upgrades are like revisions of dogma in which we have no say, but which we are bound to go along with anyway. To reject the technological is to declare oneself a heretic, a position as inconceivable now as declaring oneself an atheist in the 1600s.
Richard Dawkins’ moralizing atheism: Science, self-righteousness and militant belief — and disbelief
I agree with Dawkins more often than I do with the church. So why do I find Dawkins the more annoying?
Filed under: chronotopes, unseen world | Tags: Art Spiegelman, children's lit, Francoise Mouly, Neil Gaiman
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: america, Benjamin Barber, competition, cooperation, freedom, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, The Lost Art of Cooperation, Thomas Hobbes
You can win and lose in music or cooking, as crazy as that seems. In order to win, others must lose, in the American way, developed by the emotionally stunted, and everyone takes the risk of losing in the belief that someday there will be a big win. Of course there never is.
For Thomas Hobbes social existence was a war of all against all, zero sum. For him competition is an ideal not a problem.
But there is also the cooperative paradigm, the non zero sum game, in which the rising tide floats all boats. It enables strength, sustainable lives, health, freedom.
From Benjamin Barber:
It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another (sweeps week!), pit on-camera competitors against one another in contests only one can win. The eponymous show Survivor is the Darwinian prototype, but the principle rules on all the “reality” shows. On American Idol, singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. In the winners’ world of television, nothing is what it seems. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race (with clocks and time limits) in which there is but one winner. The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally (more?) fascinated with losers. “It is not enough that I win,” proclaims the hubris-driven American competitor, “others must lose.” And Americans have shown themselves ready to become big losers in order to be eligible to become big winners—however remote the odds. We are a nation of gamblers willing to tolerate radical income inequality and a large class of losers (into which we willingly risk being shunted) for the chance to win.
That tension is hard to maintain, however. The two modes of being inevitably become the source of rival theories of politics and society and, as a consequence, two distinctive approaches to human identity. When we contemplate nature as a kind of parody of human warfare and anarchy, as Thomas Hobbes did, our social existence becomes a “war of all against all.” According to this model, we live in a “zero-sum” world where one man’s victory must be another man’s defeat. We either have to sacrifice our liberty to secure tranquility or live well through rivalry and conquest. The price of attenuating competition is always high, even when it is deemed necessary for survival (as posited by social contract theory). In our very impetus to move, this view argues, we cannot help but collide with others. In collision, we cannot help but experience others as limits on our own freedom. The preservation of freedom demands competition, while any restraint at all on competition, even mere civility, becomes an unfortunate limit on liberty.
This celebration of radical competition has, of course, been contested by theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and John Dewey, who have treated competition more as a problem or pathology to be overcome than an ideal to be realized. In the cooperative paradigm, the world is understood to be a non–zero-sum game in which we can win by helping others win. We are psychic as well as material beings and can coexist in common space with similar beings, even become stronger by doing so. Mutual aid and common ground are extensions of our common being and make possible healthy and sustainable lives. Freedom becomes a feature of our cooperative interaction with others rather than a symbol of our rivalry with or independence of them. We are free not when unconstrained but under constraints and norms we choose for ourselves. And we are free together, not alone.
The Lost Art of Cooperation by Benjamin Barber
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge | Tags: forests, George Monbiot, hills, nature, rivers, The Pricing of Everything
Surely she will take her revenge.
I’m talking about the development of what could be called the Natural Capital Agenda: the pricing, valuation, monetisation, financialisation of nature in the name of saving it.
Sorry, did I say nature? We don’t call it that any more. It is now called natural capital. Ecological processes are called ecosystem services because, of course, they exist only to serve us. Hills, forests, rivers: these are terribly out-dated terms. They are now called green infrastructure. Biodiversity and habitats? Not at all à la mode my dear. We now call them asset classes in an ecosystems market. I am not making any of this up. These are the names we now give to the natural world.
The Pricing of Everything, George Monbiot
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: cold war, ideas, ideology, Zoe Williams
In the last cold war “there is only one idea”: deadlock, posturing, weaponizing of ideas, contrasting worldviews, territorial expansion, Brezhnev, Nixon. The threat of violence and extinction.
In the new cold war “all these people are as bad as each other”: rapacious, dishonest, opportunistic, narrowminded, vulgar, ungenerous, mercenary, ignorant, Putin, Obama. Is the threat of violence missing this time? Not for long.
If the last cold war was bad enough, for the deadlock, the posturing, the way ideas and discoveries were used as weapons, the very opposite of what human ingenuity is all about, it had something, at least, on the combatants of this round: they were arguing about different worldviews. Now, the fight is about who is the most rapacious, least honest, most opportunistic, least far-sighted, most vulgar, least generous, most mercenary, least cerebral proponent of one worldview. Depressingly, it looks as though both sides have a point. It is a very short journey from “there is only one idea” to “all these people are as bad as each other.” All the rhetorical flourish of international conflict is utterly recognisable: you can listen to Gorbachev’s intervention today, and hear his optimism of the late 80s, the way his “democratisation” seemed both sudden and inevitable, the way the “new political thinking” he embodied was understood at the time as the most graceful possible capitulation to western ways, but in fact was something different and more ambitious, overshadowed by all the walls coming down, and subverted in the end by the oligarch class. You can trace a straight line from 18 years of Brezhnev to 16 years of Putin, just as you can trace a line from Nixon to Obama.What I find impossible to imagine now, though, is the raw physical threat that lay underneath the last cold war: the Bay of Pigs stand-off, weapons placed strategically to wipe out citizens in their millions. There could have been no cold war without the underpinning of violence, not only in the service of territorial expansion, but the threat of a definitive clash to wipe out the world. Those were its foundations. As Johnson said in his 1964 campaign ad: “We must learn to love each other, or we must die.” Could we manage, in our new triangulated politics, a cold war without the threat of violence? This seems like a feeble and unlikely hope; the fact that it’s unimaginable only means it probably won’t happen tomorrow.
At least the last cold war was a clash of ideologies – now there are no big ideas by Zoe Williams, Guardian