a world that is losing its sense of humour
February 23, 2013, 12:01 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

848Something to be scared of: a world that is losing its sense of humour.

Is mainstream American humour angry?  Not all, but I think much of it is: flat footed, mean spirited, capricious, dirty, designed to scandalize, witless, a sledge hammer, dull.  A generalization?  Perhaps.

Here is author Milan Kundera’s observation about loss of humour and the corollary rise of fear and stupidity and arrogance:

I learned the value of humour during the time of Stalinist terror. I was twenty then. I could always recognize a person who was not a Stalinist, a person whom I needn’t fear, by the way he smiled. A sense of humour was a trustworthy sign of recognition. Ever since, I have been terrified by a world that is losing its sense of humour.

The stupidity of people comes from having an answer to everything.

Milan Kundera, interviewed by Philip Roth


fiery looping rain
February 21, 2013, 11:38 pm
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life, unseen world

people are most credulous when most happy
February 19, 2013, 11:32 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

buy sellThe economist Galbraith describes two classes of investor / speculator:  class no. 1 who believe utterly and finally that markets can and will continue to make them richer and richer indefinitely; and class no. 2 who go all in, but in a slightly more measured way, have made plans to get out.

More entertaining than the descriptions of speculator type no. 1 and speculator type no. 2 is Galbraith’s rumination on the psychology behind it all.  Vanity thy name is … speculation:  players of the market game convince themselves of their own great genius in direct proportion to the lucre brought in.

There is an ultimate step:  from ‘success’ to vanity to credulity.

Here is Galbraith:

The price of the object of speculation goes up. Securities, land, objects d’art, and other property, when bought today are worth more tomorrow. This increase and the prospect attract new buyers; the new buyers assure a further increase. Yet more are attracted; yet buy; the increase continues. The speculation building on itself provides its own momentum.

There are those who are persuaded that some new price-enhancing circumstance is in control, and they expect the market to stay up and go up perhaps indefinitely.   Continue reading

managerialism and audit culture
February 19, 2013, 11:25 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

2012windrushHere is philosopher and professor Lars Iyer on what’s happening in the UK in education:  bad news, more or less:  high cost, market based, run by ‘the American MBA’ (who seems to have taken over the world), analytic, training has replaced learning.

From an interview with Lars Iyer:

How do you see the future of philosophy & academia? Is it as bleak as it seems to be in the book?

In the last couple of years, we have adopted the U.S. model of higher education in Britain, effectively privatising the university, and vastly increasing fees. Graduates will be burdened with huge debt, and people from poorer backgrounds have been discouraged from academic study. In Britain, there’s another twist, which Mark Fisher has called ‘market Stalinism’. Bureaucracy and managerialism are rife, and audit-culture has spread throughout the academy. Older models of teaching are being abandoned in favour of a kind of professional training. These are desperate times! End times!

From Lars Iyer’s blog Spurious

chennai beach
February 17, 2013, 12:51 am
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , ,


where history counts for nothing and money = intelligence

goldman-sachsThe great economist James K. Galbraith describes two factors that contribute to financial euphoria – the special fiscal  insanity that has led to more than one collapse of markets, the most spectacular being the great collapse of 2008.

The first contributing factor, in paragraph no. 1 below, is a systemic aversion to history; and the second factor, in paragraph no. 2, is the mistaken belief that financial success can be connected to intelligence.

There is a brilliant description of the Peter principle in paragraph 2:  CEOs are mentally predictable, intellectually unchallenging, cavers.  The system that supports them is soft, uncritical and in the end error prone.

Our market fundamentalists are just as inbred and parochial as our religious fundamentalists.

Here is Galbraith:

Contributing to….euphoria are two further factors little noted in our time or in past times. The first is the extreme brevity of the financial memory. In consequence, financial disaster is quickly forgotten. In further consequence, when the same or closely similar circumstances occur again…they are hailed by a new, often youthful, and always supremely self-confident generation as a brilliantly innovative discovery…There can be few fields of human endeavor in which history counts for so little as in the world of finance.  Past experience, to the extent that it is part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of the those who do not have insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present. Continue reading

a zero level that is always already given
February 12, 2013, 9:35 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , ,

Rez-de-chaussee is the ground floor of a building in France.  In that country you enter at the rez-de-chaussee, and climb the stairs to la premier etage.  In America, on the other hand, you enter a building from the street directly to the first floor.

Zizek, the Slovakian philosopher, uses these … construction notes, to illustrate a cultural difference between the European and American visions of freedom.

In his metaphor, the French rez-de- chaussee is a sort of ante chamber, outside of time, uncounted, a base of tradition from which we draw the resources needed to live a life of freedom.

Modern, traditionless America, on the other hand,  jumps directly into the deep end – equipped with credentialing and ambition  in lieu of the base of history and tradition that undergird the European way – and thereby finds its own kind of freedom.

Here is Zizek:

The lesson to be learned is that freedom of choice only functions if a complex network of legal, educational, ethical, economic and other conditions is present as the invisible background to the exercise of our freedom. This is why, as a counter to the ideology of choice, countries like Norway should be held up as models: although all the main agents respect a basic social agreement and large social projects are enacted in a spirit of solidarity, social productivity and dynamism are at extraordinary levels, contradicting the common wisdom that such a society should be stagnating.

In Europe, the ground floor of a building is counted as zero, so the floor above it is the first floor, while in the US, the first floor is on street level. This trivial difference indicates a profound ideological gap: Europeans are aware that, before counting starts – before decisions or choices are made – there has to be a ground of tradition, a zero level that is always already given and, as such, cannot be counted. While the US, a land with no proper historical tradition, presumes that one can begin directly with self-legislated freedom – the past is erased. What the US has to learn to take into account is the foundation of the “freedom to choose”.

Slavoj Zizek, Why Obama is more than Bush with a human face, Guardian

picture: the Spanish Steps in Rome

alfred barr cubism and abstract art
February 7, 2013, 9:52 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,


when did you stop dancing?
February 4, 2013, 10:02 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

dancing bearsOr, when did you start listening to an ipod?  Sitting at home and watching the TV?  When did you get addicted to the internet?  When did you start reading pulp romances, look books with glossy ads, porn?  When did you start watching Oprah, Dr Phil, cable news?  When did you start texting and downloading apps on your smart phone?

There’s a lot of them; more than I thought.

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

Gabrielle Roth