adieu ii sascha weidner
January 31, 2010, 7:51 pm
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wealth work desire
January 31, 2010, 7:44 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The greatest of these is love.  I believe this more and more.  Erotic desire, poetry and ecstasy are pursuits worthy of our time and our lives.  Work and wealth are merely means to the proper, higher aim of love.  So says George Bataille in this quotation —

It is banal to devote oneself to an end when that end is clearly only a means.  The quest for wealth – sometimes the wealth of egoistic individuals, sometimes wealth held in common – is obviously only a means.  Work is only a means.

The response to erotic desire – and to the perhaps more human (least physical) desire of poetry, and of ecstasy (but is it so decisively easy to grasp the difference between eroticism and poetry, and between eroticism and ecstasy?) – the response to erotic desire is, on the contrary, an end.

George Bataille, The Tears of Eros (trans. Peter Connor)

more power to the aristocracy!
January 31, 2010, 6:54 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags:

All your money is taken from you by bankers.  Your government proposes getting it back.  Do you a. go after the bankers, b. go after the government or c. watch television.  Answer:  this is a trick question.  Both answer b and answer c are correct if you are an American.

In the quotation following author Thomas Frank gives an indelible image:  the French Revolution in reverse.  Where they storm Belleville;  guillotine common laborers;  where the King and Queen don’t have to escape the city but continue to steal, in broad daylight, the livelihoods of their subjects.  We are angry sheep.

Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different:

“You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining.

“It’s like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy.”

As Mr Frank sees it, authenticity has replaced economics as the driving force of modern politics.

Why do people often vote against their own interests?,

the quiet of dissolution
January 27, 2010, 12:09 am
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The Quiet of Dissolution, Firestorm, Sonja Braas

snore with profound security
January 25, 2010, 7:33 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

The economist Adam Smith writes a clear description of how a fat cat reacts to disaster.  First, he expresses his horror (and reveals his humanity).  Then he checks to see how it affects his international business dealings.  Then he goes back to his day to day as if nothing had happened.  You can substitute Haiti for China while reading this.

Here is the quotation by economist Adam Smith —

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Adam Smith, The Far Away Disaster, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

not mystical hocuspocus
January 25, 2010, 3:38 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Following is a curious interpretation of violence from the book Violence and the Sacred by the French philosopher Rene Girard.  It’s curious in that it claims that hope and social stability come through violence and not through peace.  The author says a sacrifice culture diverts and diffuses the animosity a brother holds against his brother.   The practice of killing animals keeps us from killing one another.   His daring claim:  that we are murderers if we don’t make use of ritual sacrifice.  How are we murderers?  By not diverting our impulses toward something extra human, we, by our very natures, perpetuate a human cycle of killing each other.

Here is the excerpt —

Violence is not to be denied, but it can be diverted to another object, something it can sink its teeth into.  Such, perhaps, is one of the meanings of the story of Cain and Abel.  The Bible offers us no background on the two brothers except the bare fact that Cain is a tiller of the soil who gives the fruits of his labour to God, whereas Abel is a shepherd who regularly sacrifices the firstborn of his herds.  One of the brothers kills the other, and the murderer is the one who does not have the violence-outlet of animal sacrifice at his disposal.  This difference between sacrificial and non sacrificial cults determines, in effect, God’s judgement in favour of Abel.  To say that God accedes to Abel’s sacrificial offerings but rejects the offerings of Cain is simply another way of saying – from the viewpoint of the divinity – that Cain is a murder whereas his brother is not.

A frequent motif in the Old Testament, as well as in Greek myth, is that of brothers at odds with one another.  Their fatal penchant for violence can only be diverted by the intervention of a third party, the sacrificial victim or victims.  Cain’s ‘jealousy’ of his brother is only another term for his one characteristic trait:  his lack of a sacrificial outlet.

According to Muslim tradition, God delivered to Abraham the lamb previously sacrificed by Abel.  This ram was to take the place of Abraham’s son Isaac; having already saved one human life, the same animal would now save another.  What we have here is no mystical hocuspocus, but an intuitive insight into the essential function of sacrifice, gleaned exclusively from the scant references in the Bible.

Violence and the Sacred, Rene Girard

banking education

This excerpt from Paulo Freire‘s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a discussion of techniques of education while also being a broad critique of how conservative societies are run.

He says that institutionalizing a false separation between those who ‘know’ and those who ‘don’t know’ debases and enslaves whole classes of people in our society.

He defines knowledge as a continuously restless and symbiotic and necessary inquiry between student and teacher and teacher and student.

He reveals for what they are an educational elite who prescribe and enforce a mythology of ignorance on a supposed uneducated under class, thereby maintaining their own place at the top.

He offers the hope of a system of education in which teacher and student are reconciled.

I have taught at the university level for over 10 years.  My best students were always capable of the symbiotic relationship with me that Freire describes.  However there is always, in every class, strong evidences of the passive student who has been pushed down and made to memorize and regurgitate and obey.

This book was published in the late 1960s – 50 years ago! – and is amazingly topical.  That a simple classroom could hide beneath it’s innocent exterior such scandal.  Can you imagine how different our lives would be if we publicly identified the corruption of banking education and upended it?  A flowering of creativity, an outpouring of new knowledge, new institutions with new agendas, new and interesting kinds of conflict, stuff we’ve never seen before.  What about you?  What differences can you see?

Here is Freire’s excerpt —

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teachers existence — but unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.

The raison d’etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.


The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed.

-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

enlightened catastrophism
January 21, 2010, 1:49 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

Different cultures react differently to security and risk.  Take for example the French and the Americans:  one reluctant and secretive and the other anxious and xenophobic.

From Urban Age’s Civilizing Security in New York:

What distinguishes New York and Paris?

1. Different national rhetoric

French Approach: “enlightened catastrophism” (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)

• Reluctance to overreact and to create “moral panics”.

• Culture of secrecy among high-ranking French bureaucrats.

• French state: pivotal role in the production of social trust and solidarity.

American Approach: anxiety without an object (Habermas)

• A discourse of “war”.

• A state of constant citizen alert and anxiety.

• The construction of referents of otherness, the alien, dirty and subversive.

Civilizing Security in New York:  A View from Europe, Sophie Body-Gendrot

fear itself
January 21, 2010, 12:29 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

Last week I had an argument with a friend about the skating rinks in Manhattan.  She argued that the ‘market should decide’ what we pay for the rinks, and I argued – a bit forcefully, I guess – that the rinks should be made accessible to a broad public which could involve the market but also other decision making bodies.  It ended badly and COFRB “The Chairman” Greenspan’s name was taken in vain.

It is patently absurd that something that doesn’t care be made an oracle that we consult and beseech and yea verily believe in.  Market truth is an ideology that is particularly unyielding and unhelpful when it comes to how we build and live in cities.  The city, like a lover, needs more than mere assertions of truth:  without nuance and care the deal goes south in a hurry.

In the excerpt below, from the essay Confronting Fear by Sophie Body-Gendrot, is a discussion of how fear is a cancer to the proper public use of the city.  In imagery reminiscent of a witch trial – only on the other side – Body-Gendrot tells us we need to drag fear and rumour into the public square and reveal their intransigence and wrongheadedness.  Fear has lead to flight and sprawl, and sprawl destroys the city, and the people who partake should be taxed.  Now that’s a daring statement, and one of the few that is worth listening to in the clang and din rising from the prophets and hawkers of the new sustainability.

Here is the excerpt:

It is our task as urban scholars to deconstruct such elusive terms as unsafety, urban violence, disorder, community and ‘sensitization to violence.’  It cannot be denied that crime and terrorism are urban threats in our time.  There is a before and after 9/11, with global repercussions.  Yet the answer to fear is not to escape from the city, buy a gun and shelter ina gated community.  It is an illusion to think that families, their children, and their grandchildren can live safely for ever after in a bunker, dismissing the outside world.  Because the city is a historical construct, what they miss is the overlapping and intersecting urbanisms, each representing different historical moments and existing simultaneously.  Parks, riversides, shopping centres, museums and shared collective moments of celebration illustrate the vitality of cities.  Fears and rumours about crime that undermine the use of public space should be selected, confronted and addressed in public debate.  The debate about sprawl is open:  according to Anne Power and Richard Rogers, the harm it produces to the city should be officially acknowledged and higher taxes should be implemented for those whose lifestyle destroys the urban core.

-Confronting Fear, Sophie Body-GendrotThe Endless City, Phaidon

a variety of regimes
January 18, 2010, 10:40 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

There’s more than one way to have freedom, writes John Gray the British political philosopher.  Freedom isn’t guaranteed only through the political regime you happened to grow up in, and like the best – sorry.  The idea that only one type of society will allow freedom to flourish is not only hopelessly idealistic, but it also comes at the problem from the wrong way, says Gray.  Freedoms aren’t elements in a totalizing world system; they are, rather, principles that define, and by which we measure, any reasonable society.

To affirm that humans thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are universal human values. Nor is it to reject the claim that there should be universal human rights. It is to deny that universal values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Human rights can be respected in a variety of regimes, liberal and otherwise. Universal human rights are not an ideal constitution for a single regime throughout the world, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different.

– John Gray, Two Faces of Liberalism