a very special delirium
April 24, 2010, 1:48 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Everything is rational in capitalism, except capital or capitalism itself. The stock market is certainly rational; one can understand it, study it, the capitalists know how to use it, and yet it is completely delirious, it’s mad. It is in this sense that we say: the rational is always the rationality of an irrational. Something that hasn’t been adequately discussed about Marx’s *Capital* is the extent to which he is fascinated by capitalists mechanisms, precisely because the system is demented, yet works very well at the same time.

So what is rational in a society? It is — the interests being defined in the framework of this society — the way people pursue those interests, their realisation. But down below, there are desires, investments of desire that cannot be confused with the investments of interest, and on which interests depend in their determination and distribution: an enormous flux, all kinds of libidinal-unconscious flows that make up the delirium of this society. The true story is the history of desire.

Gilles Deleuze, A Very Special Delirium


wicked problems and social messes
April 12, 2010, 7:00 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

A wicked problem is a hard to solve issue in social planning.  Here are some lists of characteristics of wicked problems from Wikipedia.

Wicked problems are economic, environmental and political.  Often they are impossible to solve because they require changing the mindset and behavior of large groups of people, maybe even countries.

Here are the characteristics from Wikipedia:

A list of the characteristics of wicked problems by Rittel and Webber in 1973:

    1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
    2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
    3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
    4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
    5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
    6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
    7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
    8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
    9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
    10. The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

… and by Conklin:

    1. The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
    2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
    3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.
    4. Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique.
    5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a ‘one shot operation’
    6. Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.

… and the defining characteristics of a social mess according to Horn:

    1. No unique “correct” view of the problem;
    2. Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
    3. Most problems are connected to other problems;
    4. Data are often uncertain or missing;
    5. Multiple value conflicts;
    6. Ideological and cultural constraints;
    7. Political constraints;
    8. Economic constraints;
    9. Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
    10. Numerous possible intervention points;
    11. Consequences difficult to imagine;
    12. Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
    13. Great resistance to change; and,
    14. Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

… and finally the characteristics of a super wicked problem:

    1. Time is running out.
    2. No central authority.
    3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.

jane goes to canada
April 11, 2010, 12:16 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

I couldn’t resist another quotation from the interview with Jane Jacobs.  In this one she talks about moving to Canada and how her American friends respond.  As an alien here in America, which has many great qualities to recommend it, I must agree with Jane:  Americans grow up differently, and somehow, like no one nowhere else in the world, come to believe that they are the center of it.

Yes, we were but we were—you know this was another thing that we found out when we got here. Americans don’t really think that other places are as real as America. We were leaving things behind. Well, we were coming to other things that were just as real and just as interesting and just as exciting. And people would ask me after we had decided to stay, “Well, when are you coming back?” “Well, we’re not. We are living here.” “Oh, but you can’t just—you’ve got to come back to real life.” And I would say, “It’s just as real.” This is very hard for Americans to understand and I think that may be the biggest difference between Americans and people elsewhere. Canadians know that there are places just as real as Canada. It’s a self-centeredness that’s a very strange thing.

Yes, they have got it so dingged into them that they are the most fortunate people on Earth and that the rest of the world—the sooner it copies what America is like, the better. I still have a lot of family in America. I still have a lot of friends there. There is a lot that I admire there very much. When I find America getting too much criticized outside America, I want to tell them how many things are good about it. So I am not any hate-America person. I really came here for positive reasons. We stayed for positive reasons, because we liked it. Why did I become a Canadian citizen? Not because I was rejecting being a U.S. citizen. At the time when I became a Canadian citizen, you couldn’t be a dual citizen. Now you can. So I had to be one or the other. But the reason I became a Canadian citizen was because it simply seemed so abnormal to me not to be able to vote.

-Jane Jacobs

enchanting christopher street
April 9, 2010, 11:46 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Jane Jacobs, the writer and urbanist, describes in an interview how she stumbled on, and was enchanted by, Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in 1934 and rushed home to her Brooklyn flat to convince her sister that they were moving to Manhattan.

I’m not sure what academics think of her work today – she went on to write several very influential books about American culture and urban life, and to challenge many important orthodoxies along with their high priests.  I think some new practitioners of city design have appropriated her ideas to advance new formal propositions for American living, without really understanding her thought.

She doesn’t remind me of Chauncy Gardener in Being There, the simple innocent who takes a job gardening with a greedy and ambitious politician who, in a serendipitous, stumbling way, begins to see policy potential in the tortured and naive pronouncements of his new employee.  She’s not innocent nor naive, but she, like Gardener, approaches life relentlessly from the point of view of direct experience.  And she, also relentlessly, insists that life must be full and active and healthy, and that if our cities aren’t supporting that way of living, we need to go out into the street and stop anyone who is compromising that potential.

This excerpt from an interview –with someone you feel is trying to get her to believe what he believes –is like Walter Benjamin’s essays on Paris, full of delights and discoveries.  To be enchanted by a street in a city!  That’s someone I want to listen to.

Well she moved to Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, to a house that is not there anymore. It was a six-story walk-up and we lived on the top floor. It was a nice neighborhood though. It was near the St. George Hotel. It was before the highways went in there. So I would go looking for a job every morning. I would look in the newspaper and see what seemed likely and which employment agencies were advertising. I would usually walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan because we were there near the Brooklyn Bridge. And then after I was turned down for all these jobs I would spend the rest of the day looking around where I had ended up. Or if I had ended up in a place where I had already looked around I would spend a nickel on the subway and go arbitrarily to some other stop and look around there. So I was roaming the city in the afternoons and applying for jobs in the morning. And one day I found myself in a neighborhood I just liked so much…it was one of those times I had put a nickel in and just invested something. And where did I get out? I just liked the sound of the name: Christopher Street — so I got out at Christopher Street, and I was enchanted with this neighborhood, and walked around it all afternoon and then I rushed back to Brooklyn. And I said, “Betty I found out where we have to live.” And she said, “Where is it?” And I said, “I don’t know, but you get in the subway and you get out at a place called Christopher Street.” So we went to look for a place where you got out of the subway at Christopher Street.

-Jane Jacobs, interview with James Howard Kunstler.

convocation of strangers
April 9, 2010, 3:57 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: ,

I found this on Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s lovely blog It’s Nelly’s World – worth way more time than I’ve spent with it.

I was like this growing up, still am, like a body held in sway and pulled here and away by desire, claustrophobia, loneliness, friendship, shame and – in eternal hope – love.

It once seemed that my whole life was just one long reluctant approach to the party, followed by retreat. And approach again. From the dark outside I would enter, the bar, the club, the private party. The sight of the people inside, a huge gang of togetherness, would hit me like the wall of heat when you open an oven door. I would stand there, furtively scanning the floor, or the fire exit more likely, quivering inwardly from a fear I could not name. After a couple of hours of gripping the bricks with my fingernails behind my back, never speaking to a soul, and invisible to all of them anyway, I would put my coat back on and re-enter the night cold outside for the subway trip back home. There was both relief and inestimable sadness in this moment. Look! I can be abandoned by people I don’t even know yet!

But hope sprang eternal in some gland, and the next weekend I would ride the train to some other convocation of strangers. Return home again.

Convivial, Melissa Holbrook Pierson, It’s Nelly’s World