Posts tagged culture
“Recently I was asked by a Finnish foundation to write an article aiming to explain to artists what it would mean not to fly to their residencies, called Slow Travel – A Privilege Not A Sacrifice, describing a 3-day journey from rural France to the Saari Residence in Finland, using trains, electric scooters and ships. Within weeks of it being published, artists were either unable to travel to residencies or were stuck in the ones that they were in, because of the restrictions of movement caused by COVID 19. It seems ironic in hindsight that one of the conclusions I drew was “that having travelled by rail and ship many times in one year, I’m also beginning to question the need to travel at all. Slow travel doesn’t mean just substituting a train for a plane, it means changing an entire mindset.” I go on to ask the question “why travel at all?”. Little did I know. Now we have ‘home artists residencies’ and are bewildered by an online melée of endless virtual meetings, remote cocktail parties and non-stop media consumption, what will happen in Europe when we finally get let out?“
“In an attempt to better understand their colonial subjects in those years, officials in the British empire undertook a curious and little-known research project: to collect dreams from the people of South Asia, Africa and the Pacific. The results were not what they expected.”
“Seligman struggled to impose meaning on his unusual archive. When he tried to establish universalities, exceptions and contradictions proliferated. And when he tried to draw sharp distinctions between the minds of Britons on the one hand, and colonial subjects on the other, commonalities asserted themselves. Even in a situation where researchers held all the power – with the authority of the imperial state behind them, and an elaborate theoretical structure setting the terms of the encounter – their subjects did not always follow the script.”
“Did colonial officials get what they wanted from these growing collections of Freudian data? Some results, to be sure, ended up in tendentious arguments portraying anticolonial politics as the product of mental illness. The language of ‘frustration-aggression’ reactions and ‘deculturation’ disorders allowed some British officials to suggest that calls for independence derived from inchoate expressions of anger and immaturity. Once again, however, a clear-cut vindication of empire through expert knowledge proved elusive. The same studies that furnished evidence of indigenous pathology could not avoid pointing to the damage inflicted by British rule: the crushing racial hierarchies, the lack of economic opportunities, the weirdly Anglocentric schooling. Some researchers even suggested that imperialism, not anticolonial nationalism, was the real mental disorder; they explained the behaviour of British colonialists in terms of status anxieties, sexual hang-ups, and feelings of insecurity.”
(via https://aeon.co/essays/britains-imperial-dream-catchers-and-the-truths-of-empire )
Singaporeans are obsessed with food. We can expound ceaselessly on where to find the best bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) and will queue for hours for a good yong tau foo (surimi-stuffed tofu and vegetables). Perhaps because most of us are descendants of immigrants thrust into an artificial construct of a nation, or maybe because we live in a country that is constantly renewing and rebuilding, one of the few tangible things that connects us to the past and our cultural identity is food. There are many facets of Singaporean cuisine: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian (a fusion of European and Asian dishes and ingredients) Peranakan (combining Chinese and Malay food traditions), and catch-all Western, which usually means old-school Hainanese-style British food—a local version of Western food adapted by chefs from the southern Chinese province of Hainan, who worked in British restaurants or households.
The Zuni maps, says Jim, contain something very important: a different way of looking and knowing. “To assume that people would look at the earth only from a vantage point that is above and looking straight down doesn’t consider the humanity of living on the landscape. Saying that there’s a pond, there are cattails, there are turtles in that water—that is a different view that expands the human experience of a place.” This different view is what Jim, the committee, and the artists hope the Zuni people will recognize when they encounter these maps and consider their place in the cosmos—not a world that is constructed from GPS waypoints or one that was decreed in an executive order—but a particularly Zuni world, infused with the prayers and histories that created it. The Zuni maps have a memory, a particular truth. They convey a relationship to place grounded in ancestral knowledge and sustained presence on the land. That such a relationship consistently fails to appear on modern maps has been the impetus for creating and sharing the Zuni maps—both with the A:shiwi people and with a wider audience. They remind all of us of the ancient names, voices, and stories that reside within the landscape, inviting us to examine our assumptions about what it is that makes up a place and the role that we play in that long and layered story.
“Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), the Inuit people are known for carving portable maps out of driftwood to be used while navigating coastal waters. These pieces, which are small enough to be carried in a mitten, represent coastlines in a continuous line, up one side of the wood and down the other. The maps are compact, buoyant, and can be read in the dark.
These three wooden maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq, on Greenland’s East Coast. The map to the right shows the islands along the coast, while the map in the middle shows the mainland and is read from one side of the block around to the other. The map to the left shows the peninsula between the Sermiligaaq and Kangertivartikajik fjords.”
(via https://decolonialatlas.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/inuit-cartography/ )
One of our great errors in thinking — another aspect of that unfortunate idea of human exceptionalism that makes it so hard for us to be at home in this world — is that the natural and the man-made are distinct entities. Like all other parts of the branching experiment, we make and are made by the living environment, and we have done so since before we were us. Without the forests of the Santa Cruz mountains, there would be no Silicon Valley. But Silicon Valley will make or unmake the forests of the future. No nature story, no account of environmental struggle would be complete without bringing on-stage all the human technologies that are to us what the invention of flowers and nuts and chlorophyll and mycorrhizal networks are to the forest superorganism. Just as the emergence of tree intelligence forever changed the planet, so the emergence of consciousness (which long predated humans) forever changed the nature of evolution. Cultural transmission is orders of magnitude faster than genetic transmission, and digital transmission has accelerated the speed of culture a hundredfold or more. We may soon seem, to our artificial intelligence offspring, as motionless and insentient as trees seem to us. And here we live, trying to make a home between our predecessors and our descendants.
The International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Star Names formally approved 86 new names for stars, which are now in the IAU stellar name catalogue. The catalogue now contains the approved names of 313 stars. Traditionally, most star names used by astronomers have come from Arabic, Greek, or Latin origins. Now, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Division C Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) has formally approved 86 new names for stars drawn from those used by other cultures, namely Australian Aboriginal, Chinese, Coptic, Hindu, Mayan, Polynesian, and South African.
“As I get older I tend not to get less cynical about things but to move judgment from individuals to systems. And just about every time that I’ve made some sort of judgment on the integrity of people, individually or in groups, I later find that in fact those people are just trapped in systems or cultures that they didn’t create and which narrow and dictate their choices in unhealthy directions.”
People often say that online behavior would improve if every comment system forced people to use their real names. It sounds like it should be true – surely nobody would say mean things if they faced consequences for their actions? Yet the balance of experimental evidence over the past thirty years suggests that this is not the case. Not only would removing anonymity fail to consistently improve online community behavior – forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment. We need to change our entire approach to the question. Our concerns about anonymity are overly-simplistic; system design can’t solve social problems without actual social change.
“The dominant culture tolerates parasitic counter-cultures as more or less innocuous deviations, but it cannot accept critical manifestations which call it [the dominant culture] into question. Counter-culture comes about when those who transform the culture in which they live become critically conscious of what they are doing and elaborate a theory of their deviation from the dominant model, offering a model that is capable of sustaining itself.”
Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings. Solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share. At once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, and an achievable lifestyle. In progress…
At the intersections of culture, gardening and technology we can start to see how plants can become organisational principles for human society in the turbulent times of the 21st century. Although we may need to scavenge at the fringes of contemporary society, we can observe many healing effects that humans can have on their surroundings through a symbiotic collaboration with plants. Some fight desertification and remediate industrial wastelands through natural farming and permaculture. Others design whole lifecycle, closed-loop technological and architectural systems inspired by natural processes, based on the art and science of biomimicry. Yet, these are scattered examples. We still don’t have widespread methods to improve wasteful, often counter-productive human behaviours. How do we encourage broader, longer-term cultural changes? What varieties of culture would be capable of forging symbiotic relationships between postindustrial human societies and the rest of the earth? How do we compost bitterness to grow beauty?
Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto outlines his vision for a centralised global colony ruled by the Silicon Valley oligarchy. I say we must do the exact opposite and create a world with individual sovereignty and a healthy commons.
The task force #UNITE4HERITAGE will be used where the United Nations organization considers it appropriate to act. “Blue helmets” will assess the risks and quantify the damage to the cultural heritage, devise action plans and urgent measures, perform technical supervision, provide training courses for local staff, assist with the transport of movable objects to safe shelters and strengthen the fight against looting and the illegal traffic in cultural assets. Presently, the project is still at a political stage. To gain a more practical value, some operational issues will have to be resolved.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto, penned clearly in response to accusations leveled at the social network in the wake of the bitter U.S. election campaign, is a scary, dystopian document. It shows that Facebook – launched, in Zuckerberg’s own words five years ago, to “extend people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships” – is turning into something of an extraterritorial state run by a small, unelected government that relies extensively on privately held algorithms for social engineering.
Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims. The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative.
The Chelsea thrived because it stuck to Philip Hubert’s original vision: to house and nurture New York’s creative community — and do so while still being affordable and open to all. It is unlikely that the Chelsea will house the next wave of American creativity (the hotel was closed in 2011, and the new owners are converting it into a pricey boutique hotel. Many of the rooms, including Bob Dylan’s, have since been destroyed.) Yet while New York city’s greatest art colony is all but dead, its structure and ethos continue to enrich American culture — albeit in a different way, and on an entirely different coast.
Yet despite the lucrative returns of Y Combinator and other startup accelerators sprouting up around the USA (like TechStars, 500 Startups, AngelPad and SeedCamp) no ambitious community-building projects exist for American arts like they do for American tech. While most talented tech gurus can find a startup accelerator to join (and fund them), aspiring artists are told to get a bedroom in Brooklyn or move to Iowa for an MFA — both of which cost upwards of $40,000 a year and don’t come with a patron.
Summing up the net worth of the Chelsea’s most famous residents […] the Chelsea Hotel was responsible for more than 2.1 billion dollars of value creation while it was open. That estimate is only going off of the net worth of the artists themselves — not all of the downstream albums or paintings or ticket sales they contributed to (i.e. a single painting by Pollock fetched $200M and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey took in more than $190M at the box office. A single room of de Kooning paintings was estimated to be worth as much as $4B.) The funny thing? Despite their obsession with wealth, most startup accelerators don’t even come close to matching the economic impact of the Chelsea Hotel — much less its cultural impact.
Mark Fisher, blogger, editor, and cultural theorist, Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmith’s, University of London, and author of Capitalist Realism (2009) died suddenly on 13 January 2017. He was 48 and leaves a wife and young son.
The evolution of emoji is impressive and fascinating, but it makes for an uncomfortable contrast when other pictorial writing systems – the most commonly-used writing systems on the planet – are on the chopping block. We have an unambiguous, cross-platform way to represent “PILE OF POO” (💩), while we’re still debating which of the 1.2 billion native Chinese speakers deserve to spell their own names correctly.
Certainly this crisis makes us ask: what comes after work? What would you do without your job as the external discipline that organises your waking life – as the social imperative that gets you up and on your way to the factory, the office, the store, the warehouse, the restaurant, wherever you work and, no matter how much you hate it, keeps you coming back? What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income? And what would society and civilisation be like if we didn’t have to ‘earn’ a living – if leisure was not our choice but our lot? Would we hang out at the local Starbucks, laptops open? Or volunteer to teach children in less-developed places, such as Mississippi? Or smoke weed and watch reality TV all day? I’m not proposing a fancy thought experiment here. By now these are practical questions because there aren’t enough jobs. So it’s time we asked even more practical questions. How do you make a living without a job – can you receive income without working for it? Is it possible, to begin with and then, the hard part, is it ethical? If you were raised to believe that work is the index of your value to society – as most of us were – would it feel like cheating to get something for nothing?
In the West, unions (for manual labourers) and professional associations (for groups such as doctors and lawyers) played a critical role in setting national standards. They gave people an identity that depended, in part, on both mastery and morality, a group of peers to compete against, and to be held to account by. But, as Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations (1776), every profession ‘ends in a conspiracy against the public’ and the Chinese Communist Party tolerates no conspiracies except its own. Especially since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, any group that might represent a cross-national basis of resistance to the Party has been cut down. Unionisation, outside of the toothless and corrupt All-China Trade Union Federation, is a threat to the Party, which no more wants hod-carriers or rail workers across the nation to come together than it does Christians, democrats or feminists. In the end, what perpetuates China’s carelessness most might be sheer ubiquity. Craft inspires. A writer can be stirred to the page by hearing a song or watching a car being repaired, a carpenter revved up by a poem or a motorbike. But the opposite also holds true; when you’re surrounded by the cheaply done, the half-assed and the ugly, when failure is unpunished and dedication unrewarded all around, it’s hard not to think that close enough is good enough. Chabuduo.
China has the world’s preeminent cuisine, absolutely unparalleled in its diversity and its sophistication. You can find practically everything you could possibly desire in terms of food in China. From exquisite banquet cookery, exciting street food, bold spicy flavors, honest farmhouse cooking, delicate soups, just everything, apart perhaps from cheese, although they do actually have a couple of kinds of cheese [laughs] in Yunnan province. Also, because China is such a food-orientated culture, and it has been since the beginnings of history, that if you want to understand China, almost more than anywhere else, food is a really good window into the culture, into the way people live, into history, everything.
The film turns on the visual language of the heptapods, the name given to the aliens because of their seven tentacular feet. In Chiang’s short story, the spoken language looks pretty familiar to Dr Banks; nouns have special markers, similar to the grammatical cases of Latin or German, that signify meaning; there are words, and they seem to come in particular orders depending on what their function is in the grammar of the sentence. But it is the visual language that is at the heart of the story. This language, as presented in the film, is just beautiful; the aliens squirt some kind of squid-like ink into the air which resolves holistically into a presentation of the thought they want to express. It looks like a circular whorl drawn with complex curlicues twisting off of the main circumference. The form of the language is not linear in any sense. The whorls emerge simultaneously as wholes. The orientation, shape, modulation, and direction of the tendrils that build the whorls serve to convey the meaningful connections of the parts to the whole. Multiple sentences can all be combined into more and more complex forms that, in the film, require GPS style computer analysis. The atemporality and multidimensionality of the heptapods’ written language is a core part of the plot. So, could a human language work like this, or is that just too alien?
Since Germany is one of the most successful economies in the world and Bavaria is one of the most successful economies in Germany, the thought did cross my mind that trust might be one of the secrets of economic success. Steve Knack, an economist at the World Bank with a long-standing interest in trust, once told me that if one takes a broad enough view of trust, “it would explain basically all the difference between the per capita income of the United States and Somalia”. In other words, without trust — and its vital complement, trustworthiness — there is no prospect of economic development. Simple activities become arduous in a low-trust society. How can you be sure you won’t be robbed on the way to the corner store? Hire a bodyguard? (Can you trust him?) The watered-down milk is in a locked fridge. As for something more complex like arranging a mortgage, forget about it. Prosperity not only requires trust, it also encourages it. Why bother to steal when you are already comfortable?
We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started. It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t. Well-off travelers like Kevin Lynch, an ad executive who lived in Hong Kong Airbnbs for three years, are abandoning permanent houses for digital nomadism. Itinerant entrepreneurs, floating on venture capital, might head to a Bali accelerator for six months as easily as going to the grocery store. AirSpace is their home. As the geography of AirSpace spreads, so does a certain sameness.
Pariser defined a filter bubble as a personal ecosystem of information catered by algorithms. What this definition obscures, however, is that algorithm is nothing more than a fancy term for process, derived from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician. In every single one of those handwringing articles you see about “Are Algorithms Running Our Lives?”, you can safely replace “algorithm” with “process.” Do processes run our lives? Consider how many processes you ran through today on your way to taking out your phone or settling in at your computer, and you tell me. Taking a shower is a process. Making coffee is a process. Riding the bus and driving a car are processes. For that matter, so are the interactions you have with other people, whether you recognize those interactions as processes or not. Other people curate the information that they present to you just as you curate the information you present to them. The only novel purpose that “algorithms” in the handwringing-article sense serve is to remove the constraint of physical distance from the problem of who can curate information for whom. Whether online or in meatspace, there is still some process that filters what information you receive. The only salient difference is the extent to which you can control that process. “But don’t Facebook’s and Twitter’s algorithms limit what information I see?” Yes, and so do the choices you make in friends. The fact that your friends cater the information that ends up in your filter bubble means that your choices in who to listen to determine whether you’re a Mainlander or an Archipelagian, which inside baseball means something to you and which doesn’t. If your filter bubble contains no outliers, where do you expect to learn that outliers exist, much less what their lives are like? If your goal is to make existing spaces more welcoming to the mainstream, what effect do you think that has on outliers? Especially when only the mainstream gets a say? If your goal is, instead, inclusivity of both mainstream and outlier populations, what actions do you think you could take to learn more about outliers and the Chesterton’s fences they rely on?
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship? The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. Most critiques of this system tend to focus on the ways in which this marketplace of ideas isn’t totally free, such as the ways in which some actors have substantially more influence over what information is distributed than others. The more fundamental problem, however, is that living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn’t able to. Any teenager can tell you that life’s most meaningful experiences aren’t the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire. We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible.
People in the innovation-obsessed present tend to overstate the impact of technology not only in the future, but also the present. We tend to imagine we are living in a world that could scarcely have been imagined a few decades ago. It is not uncommon to read assertions like: “Someone would have been unable at the beginning of the 20th century to even dream of what transportation would look like a half a century later.” And yet zeppelins were flying in 1900; a year before, in New York City, the first pedestrian had already been killed by an automobile. Was the notion of air travel, or the thought that the car was going to change life on the street, really so beyond envisioning—or is it merely the chauvinism of the present, peering with faint condescension at our hopelessly primitive predecessors? The historian Lawrence Samuel has called social progress the “Achilles heel” of futurism. He argues that people forget the injunction of the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee: Ideas, not technology, have driven the biggest historical changes. When technology changes people, it is often not in the ways one might expect: Mobile technology, for example, did not augur the “death of distance,” but actually strengthened the power of urbanism. The washing machine freed women from labor, and, as the social psychologists Nina Hansen and Tom Postmes note, could have sparked a revolution in gender roles and relations. But, “instead of fueling feminism,” they write, “technology adoption (at least in the first instance) enabled the emergence of the new role of housewife: middle-class women did not take advantage of the freed-up time … to rebel against structures or even to capitalize on their independence.” Instead, the authors argue, the women simply assumed the jobs once held by their servants.
Almost a decade ago, there was a florescence of ambient awareness. Because the web was small, we used websites to share our activity in a way that would be overwhelming now… but back then, provided social peripheral vision, creating a sense of togetherness, no matter where we were. […] The web is busy now. No bad thing. But much too busy to have a single place to gather my friends around photos, another around status updates, etc. I used to have one community online, and now I’ve got a hundred. And while I can shard them by app (business on LinkedIn, family on Facebook, my global village on Twitter), it’s a lot of effort to maintain that. And it doesn’t make any sense.
“In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers’ job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. “But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it’s your fault if you get hit.” One of the keys to this shift was the creation of the crime of jaywalking.
Imagine, for a moment, if it were possible to provide access not just to those books, but to all knowledge for everyone, everywhere—the ultimate realisation of Panizzi’s dream. In fact, we don’t have to imagine: it is possible today, thanks to the combined technologies of digital texts and the Internet. The former means that we can make as many copies of a work as we want, for vanishingly small cost; the latter provides a way to provide those copies to anyone with an Internet connection. The global rise of low-cost smartphones means that group will soon include even the poorest members of society in every country. That is to say, we have the technical means to share all knowledge, and yet we are nowhere near providing everyone with the ability to indulge their learned curiosity
Our anxiety about sleep underscores some uncomfortable realities about the present. How is it that an essential biological function has had to fight so hard to be recognized as, well, essential? When we look back on our lives, the third we spend recharging registers as an opportunity cost, something to be overcome. But what if the on/off binary that we understand consciousness through was the wrong lens to use on sleep? Can we reject the awake/asleep binary, and plot sleeping and dreaming on an expanded spectrum of consciousness? Sleep isn’t death–it’s something else entirely. The future of sleep won’t be its absence, it will be a new class of people leveraging its creative potential. Slowave is the response to this realization
As much as my Wired archive is a document of its era’s aspirations, it’s also a record of what people once hoped technology would be—and, in hindsight, a record of what it might have become. In early Wired, a piece about a five-hundred-thousand-dollar luxury “Superboat” would be followed by a full-page editorial urging readers to contact their legislators to condemn wiretapping (in this case, 1994’s Digital Telephony Bill). Stories of tech-enabled social change and New Economy capitalism weren’t in competition; they coexisted and played off one another. In 2016, some of my colleagues and I have E.F.F. stickers on our company-supplied MacBooks—“I do not consent to the search of this device,” we broadcast to our co-workers—but dissent is no longer an integral part of the industry’s ethos.
Acknowledging that work is medically, socially and emotionally harmful requires you to reject the belief in the legitimacy of working hard. This can be especially difficult as this belief is one of the foundational beliefs of modern culture. We are taught to believe in working hard as soon as we enter formal schooling, if not before. We are soon too taught to reject idleness and useless contemplation to pursue rote mastery of facts and rules in order to pass arbitrary standardized tests. This continues into work life. Philosophy therefore is often derided as useless. Especially in our contemporary busyness, work, efficiency, productivity, practicality and optimization-obsessed world, philosophy is seen as an outdated waste of time. It’s considered useless because people think it is impractical and cannot see how philosophy can make money. The practice of philosophy – i.e., thinking – is intimately tied to idleness. In fact idleness is the key physical and mental condition upon which the exercise of philosophy has always been predicated. This is true of all the world’s philosophies. “Meditation” is nothing more than sitting and thinking. Sitting and thinking is sometimes even called meditation in white European philosophy, e.g., Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. This is why idleness is so feared in contemporary culture – it causes philosophy. And philosophy causes the practitioner to fundamentally question everything.
“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attack disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food. These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions.
Last week, the Australian arts community reacted in horror as news was released of the defunding of around 65 arts companies and organisations. In what is already known as “Black Friday”, the Australia Council released its latest figures for multi-year funding, revealing the bleak result of years of cuts and bungled policy. So far discussion has focused on the crisis facing small-to-medium companies and organisations. But this has obscured where the real damage is happening. The number of Australia Council grants to individual artists and projects has decreased by a staggering 70% since the 2013/14 financial year. According to the Australia Council’s 2013/14 annual report, that year it funded 1,340 individual artists and 2,489 total projects. In contrast, the total for the two funding rounds for 2015/16 was 405 individual artists and 694 projects. This represents a fall of 70% for individual artists, and 72% for overall projects. The number of small-to-medium organisations receiving multi-year funding over the same period fell from 178 to 128, around 28%. The 70% reduction particularly hits artists such as writers and visual artists, who mostly work alone. This intensifies the impact that literature has taken in the cuts. As Writers Victoria said: “It’s impossible to know what Australia’s literary landscape may look like in six or 12 months’ time.” This damage doesn’t even have the bad excuse of “savings”. It is a direct result of the former arts minister George Brandis’s requisition of $105m over four years from the Australia Council budget to finance his unaccountable and secretive National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).
Graeber concludes his piece by explaining that his saying as an anthropologist – like his informants themselves said – that certain spirit-charms probably didn’t work, actually allows for the possibility that other charms might do so. Skepticism about magic is thus a necessary part of its possibility, and we actually take the ‘radically other’ possibilities of our research participants’ worlds more seriously when we recognize that they are often just as hard-to-swallow, inconclusive, weird or paradoxical for our research participants themselves.
‘Peer review’ was a term borrowed from the procedures that government agencies used to decide who would receive financial support for scientific and medical research. When 'referee systems’ turned into 'peer review’, the process became a mighty public symbol of the claim that these powerful and expensive investigators of the natural world had procedures for regulating themselves and for producing consensus, even though some observers quietly wondered whether scientific referees were up to this grand calling. Current attempts to reimagine peer review rightly debate the psychology of bias, the problem of objectivity, and the ability to gauge reliability and importance, but they rarely consider the multilayered history of this institution. Peer review did not develop simply out of scientists’ need to trust one another’s research. It was also a response to political demands for public accountability. To understand that other practices of scientific judgement were once in place ought to be a part of any responsible attempt to chart a future path. The imagined functions of this institution are in flux, but they were never as fixed as many believe.
Pormpuraawans, we found, arranged time from east to west. That is, seated facing south, time went left to right. When facing north, right to left. When facing east, toward the body, and so on. Of course, we never told any of our participants which direction they faced. The Pormpuraawans not only knew that already, but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time. And many other ways to organize time exist in the world’s languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and the past above. In Aymara, spoken in South America, the future is behind and the past in front. In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality.
It was the ultimate goal of many schools of occultism to create life. In Muslim alchemy, it was called Takwin. In modern literature, Frankenstein is obviously a story of abiogenesis, and not only does the main character explicitly reference alchemy as his inspiration but it’s partially credited for sparking the Victorian craze for occultism. Both the Golem and the Homunculus are different traditions’ alchemical paths to abiogenesis, in both cases partially as a way of getting closer to the Divine by imitating its power. And abiogenesis has also been the fascinated object of a great deal of AI research. Sure, in recent times we might have started to become excited by its power to create a tireless servant who can schedule meetings, manage your Twitter account, spam forums, or just order you a pizza, but the historical context is driven by the same goal as the alchemists - create artificial life. Or more accurately, to create an artificial human. Will we get there? Is it even a good idea? One of the talks at a recent chatbot convention in London was entitled “Don’t Be Human” . Meanwhile, possibly the largest test of an intended-to-be-humanlike - and friendlike - bot is going on via the Chinese chat service WeChat.
“A poster bearing the image of a Pakistani girl whose parents, lawyers say, were killed in a drone strike, lies in a field at an undisclosed location in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. A group of artists in Pakistan are hoping to generate “empathy” among US drone operators by placing giant posters of children in the country’s troubled tribal regions”
It is intoxicating to trace materials and people back towards their origins. You start with an iPhone in Brooklyn and end up in an open pit mine in Alaska, Russia, or Peru. You start with Silicon Valley and end up digging a ditch in Thailand. It is great fun, zipping along unexpected pathways to exotic locales. But Beware! Exoticization is one of the hazards of trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. So are: oversimplification, marginalization, undue emphasis, overcomplication, obfuscation, and tedium. Tim Cook has spent a lot of his professional life trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. His success has resulted in one of the most powerful and effective supply chains on the planet. In order to accomplish this, he has had to delegate much and abstract away much else. From the perspective of the supply chain, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a workers’ strike, and an overlong security line at the border are more or less the same thing. Tim must also avoid oversimplification, overcomplication, marginalization, and all the rest of it. When he gets it wrong, there are substantial human costs.
this is about social sadism – deliberate, invested, public or at least semi-public cruelty. The potentiality for sadism is one of countless capacities emergent from our reflexive, symbolising selves. Trying to derive any social phenomenon from any supposed ‘fact’ of ‘human nature’ is useless, except to diagnose the politics of the deriver. Of course it’s vulgar Hobbesianism, the supposed ineluctability of human cruelty, that cuts with the grain of ruling ideology. The right often, if incoherently, acts as if this (untrue) truth-claim of our fundamental nastiness justifies an ethics of power. The position that Might Makes Right is elided from an Is, which it isn’t, to an Ought, which it oughtn’t be, even were the Is an is. If strength and ‘success’ are coterminous with good, what can their lack be but bad – deserving of punishment?
Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga, published in 1896, became a best-seller and had a lasting impact on American culture […] Vivekananda’s yoga didn’t involve the asanas, or poses, that we know as yoga today, because asana-based yoga is a modern phenomenon—one that emerged from the Indian nationalist movement’s attempt to develop a distinctly Indian version of what was then called physical culture (essentially, physical fitness). The short version of this story, which scholars like Mark Singleton and Joseph Alter have described, is that Indian innovators combined facets of medieval tantric practices with elements from Indian wrestling exercises, British army calisthenics, and Scandinavian gymnastics. They called their system “yoga,” a word that previously had had very different connotations.
All that was ‘normal’ has now evaporated; we have entered postnormal times, the in between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really makes sense. To have any notion of a viable future, we must grasp the significance of this period of transition which is characterized by three c’s: complexity, chaos and contradictions. These forces propel and sustain postnormal times leading to uncertainty and different types of ignorance that make decision-making problematic and increase risks to individuals, society and the planet. Postnormal times demands, this paper argues, that we abandon the ideas of ‘control and management’, and rethink the cherished notions of progress, modernization and efficiency. The way forward must be based on virtues of humility, modesty and accountability, the indispensible requirement of living with uncertainty, complexity and ignorance. We will have to imagine ourselves out of postnormal times and into a new age of normalcy—with an ethical compass and a broad spectrum of imaginations from the rich diversity of human cultures.
Children’s society exists on the internet if at all, with raids in video games and chat rooms replacing geographically colocated monster hunts. (This is increasingly the case with adult society as well, which also lacks architectural and geographic support.) It should be noted that the internet is not the cause of these problems. Rather, the internet is the precarious reservation onto which culture has been driven, bleak and uncanny, inhuman in scale. And even the internet is increasingly monitored and reshaped by the same malignant tiling system that drove culture here in the first place. What will happen to culture when even this frontier is closed?
Time is the default sacrifice. It is the measure of sacrifice that underlies our complex economic order, so it is no surprise that it also underlies our ritual order. In religions that have a Sabbath, an entire day of productivity is sacrificed to God every week. Every ceremony involves the sacrifice of the time of participants; often, ceremonies involve the sacrifice of time by high-status persons. An arraignment is a ceremony in which the legitimacy of a person’s incarceration is established; not much information is exchanged, but the ceremony requires sacrifice in the form of a grand courtroom built for the purpose, as well as the time of grand personages such as the judge and two attorneys. Ritual attendants such as court reporters and bailiffs are required as well. The sacred value of “justice” is understood to be the target of these sacrifices.
The algorithmic metaphor is just a special version of the machine metaphor, one specifying a particular kind of machine (the computer) and a particular way of operating it (via a step-by-step procedure for calculation). And when left unseen, we are able to invent a transcendental ideal for the algorithm. The canonical algorithm is not just a model sequence but a concise and efficient one. In its ideological, mythic incarnation, the ideal algorithm is thought to be some flawless little trifle of lithe computer code, processing data into tapestry like a robotic silkworm. A perfect flower, elegant and pristine, simple and singular. A thing you can hold in your palm and caress. A beautiful thing. A divine one. But just as the machine metaphor gives us a distorted view of automated manufacture as prime mover, so the algorithmic metaphor gives us a distorted, theological view of computational action.
Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not. It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.
Since libertarian ideology is often at odds with social solutions, holding private enterprise as an ideal and viewing private provisioning as best, the solutions presented are often pushing more entrepreneurship and voluntarism and ever more responsibilization. We just need a new start-up, or some new code, or some magical new business model! This is what Evgeny Morozov calls Solutionism, the belief that all difficulties have benign solutions, often of a technocratic nature. Morozov provides an example “when a Silicon Valley company tries to solve the problem of obesity by building a smart fork that will tell you that you’re eating too quickly, this […] puts the onus for reform on the individual.”
The casual alteration of idioms risks nothing less than “cultural and linguistic chaos”, it warns. Chinese is perfectly suited to puns because it has so many homophones. Popular sayings and even customs, as well as jokes, rely on wordplay. But the order from the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says: “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.” Programmes and adverts should strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases and idioms – and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings, the order said. “Idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values,” it added.
So here’s what I would say to my taxi driver if the meter weren’t running: The revolution begins at the kitchen table. The desires of the artist and the chef are not so different: to nourish humans and perhaps hold up the mirror to those who consume our products. Change the world. There will always be a new black. But that is because black is eternal. It’s what fashion wants to be. Let’s reduce “the new” to fashion. Let’s call black “culture.” Black is never the old black. It just can’t be. Black is always the black. In this sense, food is always the black. Art is always the black. What is cooking? What is the avant-garde?
Our tools change us in fundamental ways. When we learned to cook food, our brains grew in size and made us the humans we are now. As we organized into more complex social groups and now as we’ve built tools that can act on our behalf, we have been and will continue to be changed by these tools. In the meantime, we live in a world that we haven’t completely caught up with. There are four big fractures between our bodies and our lives right now: trust, agency, tempo, and scale.
Facebook and Google seem very powerful, but they live about a week from total ruin all the time. They know the cost of leaving social networks individually is high, but en masse, becomes next to nothing. Windows could be replaced with something better written. The US government would fall to a general revolt in a matter of days. It wouldn’t take a total defection or a general revolt to change everything, because corporations and governments would rather bend to demands than die. These entities do everything they can get away with — but we’ve forgotten that we’re the ones that are letting them get away with things.
The theory of food pairing inspires little faith but when moving away from culinary applications perhaps it can be used to differentiate cuisines and cooking styles. How Chinese is Jamie Oliver? How similar are Mexican and Indian cuisines? How do French and Indian cooking differ? How unique is Rene Redzepi? The aim is to find a way to reveal the inner structure and logic of a cuisine, if such a thing exists, by comparing the way a cuisine or a cook combines ingredients with other cuisines and cooks.
In the popular imagination, artists tend to exist either at the pinnacle of fame and luxury or in the depths of penury and obscurity — rarely in the middle, where most of the rest of us toil and dream. They are subject to admiration, envy, resentment and contempt, but it is odd how seldom their efforts are understood as work. Yes, it’s taken for granted that creating is hard, but also that it’s somehow fundamentally unserious. Schoolchildren may be encouraged (at least rhetorically) to pursue their passions and cultivate their talents, but as they grow up, they are warned away from artistic careers. This attitude, always an annoyance, is becoming a danger to the health of creativity itself. It may seem strange to say so, since we live at a time of cultural abundance and flowering amateurism, when the tools of creativity seem to be available to anyone with a laptop. But the elevation of the amateur over the professional trivializes artistic accomplishment and helps to undermine the alre
Although public interest in food is not new, there seems to be a reinvigorated attentiveness to food in contemporary society. Multiple factors are at play in this. In part this reinvigorated attentiveness to food stems from an increasing awareness of the connection between kinds of food, modes of food production, and health. In part it stems from the topic of sustainability and the realization that changes in agricultural practices could help foster a more sustainable society. For some, this attention to food is as an act against previous paradigms of domestic convenience. And, in part this reinvigorated attentiveness to food stems from access to a greater diversity of food and thereby an ability to experiment with different foodstuffs and cuisines.
We have ten thousand years of data showing what has worked, and what has not, in the realms of cultural practices, politics, warfare, and economics to name but a few. Applied History looks at this data and extracts the valuable lessons that can guide us in structuring our present and our future.
The New Uncanny is un-self-consciousness filtered through hyper-self-consciousness, unprocessed absurdity, grandiosity of desire, and fantastic self-regard.
In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531 000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7 million jobs. Copyright industries were worth $93.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.2 According to its own figures, the mining industry is worth $121 billion a year to the Australian economy, only around 25 per cent more than the cultural industries. Mining employs significantly fewer people than the cultural sector: 187 400 directly, and a further 599 680 in support industries.3 The industry receives government assistance – to the tune of $700 million in the last financial year.4 In 2011–12, Australian industry as a whole – including agriculture, food manufacturing and service industries – was given an estimated $17.3 billion in combined assistance (a mixture of direct subsidies, tax breaks, tariffs and regulatory assistance).5 This doesn’t count a further $9.4 billion invested in research and development by the Australian government in the same financial year.6 In contrast, it’s probably safe to say that, when discussing arts funding, we’re talking about around $500 million annually, out of a total tax revenue in 2011–12 of $390 billion7 – that is, about 0.1 per cent of total government expenditure. (Assistance to industry, including research and development, is around 7 per cent.) The Australia Council, the major arts funding body, has a budget this year of $220 million.
Well, there is no longer any difference between work and play. There’s no such thing as leisure and non-leisure. We’re all working all the friggin’ time. But when we’re working, we’re goofing off half that time anyway. Does anyone even know when they’re working anymore? I’m talking about in what the Situationists called the ‘overdeveloped’ world. I do all my work in coffee shops, and I see people constantly juggling stuff that’s either work or not work, god only knows what it is. As the grid tightens, it in certain senses becomes more diffuse.
It really sucks that when Bozhidar Batsov put his big talk about how shitty EmacsWiki is into action, the only thing we got out of it was another shitty wiki. It bugs the everliving hell out of me that even though engineering is supposed to be a rigorous discipline, we throw all kinds of shit at the wall to see what sticks, without ever looking at the walls in the last four or five rooms to see what the hell worked the last time.
It is, in other words, no longer sufficient to justify a sanction or any other judicial order restricting one’s artistic or journalistic freedom of expression on the basis that a copyright law provision has been infringed. Neither is it sufficient to consider that the unauthorised use, reproduction or public communication of a work cannot rely on one of the narrowly interpreted exceptions in the copyright law itself, including the application of the so-called three-step test […]
This human-nature hybrid is true not just of the climate system, but of the planet as a whole, although it would be enough for it to be true of the climate system. We know from the new discipline of Earth system science that changes in the atmosphere affect not just the weather but the Earth’s hydrosphere (the watery parts), the biosphere (living creatures) and even the lithosphere (the Earth’s crust). They are all linked by the great natural cycles and processes that make the planet so dynamic. In short, everything is in play.
Perhaps we should ask whether the Turing Centenary will actually convince the humanities and the sciences to attentively read Turing’s work? Forgive the disingenuous patronising structure of the question; I clearly realise that people have read Turing’s work, especially his most famous and readable article, Computing Machinery and Intelligence published in 1950. But think back, have you actually read it?
It was essentially a quotedump of what’s in my head at the moment, but several people asked for the links mentioned, so here goes. The collective false memory syndrome that the UK is being implanted with, in regard of the Jubilee in particular, but everything from the Festival of Britain to “austerity”, is really weird and a little bit frightening; but imagine if we could invert it. Instead of falsifying the past to transform and rationalise the present, we could engineer the future in order to finally reach it. This is a pretty standard design fiction conjecture except I don’t care about design and people might actually get the idea if you explained in in terms of the Jubilee: the dark nostalgia mirror of empire that is eating the real. Eject! Eject!