Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

More notes on the basis for change

September 4, 2009

Last night I watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston, there were two things that stayed with me, because I’d just earlier come across very similar things.

I’d referred to a common acquaintance as a sufferer, as in , that person is a sufferer, and the person I was talking with asked if that were a “term”, like if it were something I’d just made up it wasn’t worth coining, as thought the drawing of distinctions, the minting of terms is a practice only for the hands of professional, those entitled (say PhD) to make changes to the language, of course sufferer is a common word with a fairly generally accepted meaning. Anyway, watching the documentary there’s a look at his art, and Johnson has drawn a pun on the silver surfer, as the silver sufferer. So yes, sufferer is a term. The most well known sufferer is Jesus, you may have heard of him, here’s God, the perfect agent. He can raise the dead, turn water into wine, feed a multitude with a few bits of food, walk on water, and is one with the power that created heaven and earth, but His hands are tied (nailed to the cross) when it comes to social change. Jesus suffers the sins of man. For this powerful agency to choose to suffer is a testament to the desire for suffering, the acceptance of the sins of man, the ultimate powerlessness in the face of contemporary action. So yes, sufferer is a term, and a sufferer is the antithesis of Camus’ Sisyphus who we are reminded to imagine as happy in his travails (not suffering them.)

The second was an idea that Daniel Johnson has chosen his story, that his illness may have been an expression of a creative narrative. I’d earlier in the week read an article in the Utne magazine by Lorrie Klosterman, that was an interview with someone who saw narrative and healing as linked. We are all aware of Language as a virus. There are t-shirts. But the physiological affect of the word, the word literally and physically becoming flesh, is a necessary understanding for anyone who desires change.

Walter Benjamin also speaks of the storyteller as  giving as counsel.

Review: Digitize This Book

May 22, 2009

The question of access is totally political. Democracy, and to be clear we do not live in a democracy, needs an open environment to be possible. Without access to relevant information, we are incapable of both our highest self-development and informed participation in social questions. Today information is exclusive in its distribution. Decision making is also an exclusive process. In capitalist systems of government, the decisions that affect our lives are not ours to make, and the information on which those decisions are made is not ours to scrutinize.

New media has given the potential of broadcasting to everyone with internet access. This growing access has been revealing the limits of access, as well as the possibility of information distribution. It has called into question notions of authority, and the control of ideas. The lines between the private and communal right to ideas have been blurred. The control of ideas by commercial organizations has become an active question, the situation has become political. In Bolivia when private commercial organizations tried to control the flow of water, the question of the possibility of democracy in a country controlled by private interests erupted in a wave of social organization. And while information is not as important to life as water, the question of who controls the flow of substances necessary for human development in each case, nonetheless, is activating the political.

Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now is a completely frustrating read. What are the politics of new media? And why do we need open access? Those  questions have radical implications. The title, however, with its allusion to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book!, is misleading. I had expectations of a freedom-loving-people-first radical “we” in need of open access, but, unfortunately, the “we” in the title refers to career-building professional academics.

And unfortunately the politics in this book limits itself to the institution. Hall delivers a book on using open access for professional political purposes. The idea of open access as it relates and presents the  possibility of free education and real democracy is the idea I’d have liked to see written out. But Hall didn’t do that. Hall limits himself to an academic discussion in a way that makes the book nearly irrelevant to anyone outside that world. I’ve been putting off writing up the book.  My reaction is to write off the academic world as career-minded, grant-chasing, intellectual conservatives, and while the academic world is definitely heavily populated by this type, of which Hall fits, the academic world is also all we’ve got. The main space left where thinking happens is the academic world. So writing them off isn’t really an option. This book of Hall’s is a disappointment for sure, but in it there are some points on which to get started.

First, there’s the difficult concept of a desire for changing one’s place in the order of things. This concept — and you can correct me if I’m wrong, or out of line – may not be a concept so much as a cognitive disorder; a desire for change without anything changing. Gary Hall seems, and he’s not an activist, to suffer the same affliction as a lot of activists. He wants a better world for himself — and others — without making a change in the world. Sure he calls the institution into question, but finds it necessary, it’s just maybe if he had a little more control over his work. This idea of a little change is something that needs to be thought through. Any change is a leap, a little change is a big change. In the case of institutional legitimation, where an author’s work needs to go through a series of controls, these controls can seem oppressive. Hall has found the process of publishing online can bypass these controls, but without the control, his status as a legitimate academic is at risk. Hall needs the oppressive control to exclude others and maintain his identity.

Hall conceals this return to a desire for oppression and control in the face of the possibility of freedom, in the terminology of Derrida. He uses Derrida as a cover, but also a legitimate currency. He draws on Derrida like one draws on a bank.

This is another starting point, the academic use of the names of our most radical thinkers as coinage. Hall does this on a number of occasions. The issue of legitimacy and authority, through drawing on the value of names. But the name becomes separated from the body of work, legitimating in this case a Cultural Studies critique.

Halls desire to maintain, in the shift toward digital publishing, the authority of print is just not a concern that anyone outside the university would have. It could be seen as similar to the grumbling of journalists, and Hall’s dismissal of the amateur is very similar but the question is New Media. What are the politics? What is happening to whom and how? But can an academic, especially one with an interest in career building, clearly think the university? How does the commercialization, the manipulating market forces on the practice of the university look to an academic? And in Hall’s case an “academic with no preconceived politics”? How much of this thought was forged in the free-market furnace?

On authority, and it’s similarities and difference to worth, an essay of Derrida’s is difficult to follow, and a book like Hall’s which trades on Derrida’s style and terminology is difficult in its counterfeit. The question of worth. It’s something to think about. No one is going to take the time to read anything I write. They might be interested in a quote from Deleuze. But Hall does something less. He drops names, Benjamin, Foucault, Deleuze, he drops these names without a direct reference to their work. Nietzsche  says something about those who use superlatives reaching beyond their grasp. And in this instance, the use of these names to legitimate his book, Hall completely steps out of his depth.

Movie Review: 7 Pounds

May 1, 2009

I’ve been at a bit of an impasse lately here on this blog. It’s not that over the years I haven’t gone a week, or a month, without a single update, but this is different. Those spaces of inactivity were just that, inactivity. I wasn’t writing anything, or thinking about writing anything, but the past week, I’ve had many ideas for posts, and it’s not like I’ve done thing about it. I’ve got pages and pages of notes, but nothing has been finished. I’m considering posting the fragments, the starts, misstarts, notes, whatever it is I’ve got. I’ve been thinking about it. I could do a massive dump of unfinished material, not that anything is ever really finished here, and maybe this is my issue. Something. I am trying to do something here. There is an attempt at an articulation, an articulation that is impossible if I keep trying to hold it together. And here I am trying write freely, while trying to hold it together. Not that I’m holding much together, not that at this point letting go is a very far fall. I’m on the lower branches of this here tree.

A critic of mine recently said that blogging was like breathing, it’s nothing, it’s what you do in your normal everyday existence, a completely unimportant thing; not something you should take time out of your day to do. We’ve all got these critics, some are people we hardly even know. The subtle criticism, a form of humiliation, a gentle chiding to get with the program. Here I am trying to write the revolution, my revolution, here I am trying to live my revolution, I want to deprogram myself, this is the experiment. I have you in me, I can actually hear you as I think, thinking over and through me, calling my writing a form of self-justification, justifying what it is that I want to do, but what of standing in line when you don’t want to as the ‘system’ reproduces itself? What of actions that need no justification, this is the way things are… What? Didn’t you say you want change? Can change come from comfortably redoing what is? I am troubled by my need to justify. Reconstituting yourself in a new social, it’s got to be uncomfortable. The look on Will Smiths face in Seven Pounds, regardless of what you think of his acting, or in this case, overacting, really would suicide come so often as a shock if real-life suicidal people looked at you with a screwed up face of tortured anguish, like at any moment their face is going to implode in a puddle of tears? That look is an actor’s artistic expression of this discomfort. Otherwise, like in real life, you wouldn’t see it. “He looked fine, was talking about the future, seemed happy…”

Seven Pounds, ok, movies are timely, constitutive, and heavily financed, even if the makers are considered ‘Hollywood Left‘, that designation carries a very different set of values than say, working-class left. So here we have a long slow meditation on extremely deliberate suicide. Why? All movies are made for a reason. All movies are doing something for someone. Money is always making something happen for someone. So the questions are always, who is this for? who is this from? and why? But also what can we do with it? Can we treat it allegorically?

Will Smith plays a wheeler dealer, with his eye on business, only business, not on the road, he loses everything worth living for. At some point he decides to altruistically give his body away. He investigates people in need of physical parts to see if they are good people. I note with interest the violence (he slams the head of a ‘bad man’ into and shattering a glass pane) he inflicts on bad people. He slowly gives away his body parts, and finally his heart and eyes are donated in a suicidal bathtub scene oddly reminiscent of a Britney Spears video, The last scene is a reuniting of his eyes and heart. The world is a better place for his reconstituting of his self into a new and better social body.

The anguish of becoming something other than what we are is shown graphically. He gives bone marrow without anaesthetic, and finally lowers himself into a tub of ice, and is stung by a jellyfish. This is deliberate and painful. Restitution hurts? Who is this movie taking to? What is being said?

Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

April 20, 2009

Recently I’ve been thinking about starting a church. For those of you still reading, I’ll explain. First let me say that our current social institutions are very complex in their creative and sustaining powers. What I mean is, and I’ll use the church as an example, the institution makes us who we are in that it creates, at least part of, our consciousness, and then sustains, through the maintenance of a social environment, that consciousness. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this is a good thing. I am an admirer of the church. That’s why I want to start one. But as somebody who desires social change, I recognize the need to change our social institutions. The church I have in mind will create a different consciousness.

The first, strongest, and pretty much only objection to change, or even criticism of the way things are done, is always the collapse of all that is good. Examples: Gay marriage – “What next people marrying their dog?” – “This will be the end of family!” Evolution(Godless creation) – “What will stop people from killing whoever they want?” There’s the idea that good and morality are so completely linked with God or the institutions He gave us that without the God-founded institution a sort of totally psychopathic existence would be unleashed.

What?

So today I didn’t go to church, but what I did do was very similar. I went to Pivot’s Reel Justice Film Festival and snuck out for a bit to see the People vs. The City of Vancouver. Oddly enough what separated these Sunday events from church services was a social quality. Anyway, chances are I’m not going to start a church anytime soon, but there’s something here, there’s a thread.

I caught the noon showing of The Way Home. It started with a section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The first speaker was Native and talked about our ability to connect to the world through a house as a spiritual connection, a kind of gift from the Thunderbird (Just as an aside, I was at Judy Rebick’s book launch on Thursday (see sidebar for a short video clip) and she spoke of her new found understanding of indigenous peoples’ spirituality.) The documentary was crushing. One social worker breaks down talking about the causes of homelessness, and then at the end one homeless man answers the question, “What’s the hardest part?” and he says, “Tomorrow,” and starts to break down, “You never know what will happen tomorrow.” and he turns away, trying not to cry on camera. It was heartbreaking.

promostill

Carts of Darkness was a lot more light-hearted, at least on the surface. There was a lot of humour, joking around, friendship and good times. But when one man was joking about hanging himself, his friend says, that’s not really funny. The film is a celebration and a meditation of what it means to be alive on the margins. The cruelty of life on the margins comes through not long after the laughter stops.

The last film I saw was We Are All Key. Here’s the writeup from Pivot’s site:

We believe there are two sides to the homeless story. On one side of the homeless issue is the story of people and common decency. This side of the story focuses on the human right of people to have access to safe and decent housing in a civil society. The other side of the story is about common sense. It is about numbers. Studies from various cities show that taxpayers pay anywhere from $55,000 to $135,000 a year for someone who is experiencing homelessness. No matter how it’s measured, it cost less to provide these people with decent and safe housing. This short film is produced by Streetohome, a community-based foundation working to ensure that all Vancouver citizens have access to safe, decent and affordable housing by 2015.

This film made me want to vomit.

The People vs. The City of Vancouver

The following is from The People vs. The City of Vancouver’s Facebook page:

Synopsis: Since the Olympic Bid of 2003 the City of Vancouver has waged a violent war on the community of the DTES. While it boasts ‘revitalization’ and it’s ‘Civil City’ campaigns as progressive, such activities in fact terrorize and displace those most marginalized in our city. Community members have been literally forced onto the streets as homelessness has more than tripled in the neighbourhood. Once evicted from their homes residents are further brutalized with ticketing for sitting or lying on the street & asking for spare change among other by-law ‘offenses’. The City of Vancouver has literally criminalized the poverty it has created. The Community is fighting back!

Review: RIP! A remix manifesto

March 20, 2009

Who should see this film?
Although it’s a manifesto, which carries some radical undertones, the documentary is more of a journalistic piece that explores our human connection. Anyone interested in development in the areas of health and science should see this film. If you’re interested in developing nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), Empire, American trade policy/strategy, and understanding why North American manufacturing jobs are disappearing, you should see this film. If you like to party, if you like to get down, you should see this film. And finally, if you’ve ever heard, read, or seen anything produced for your consumption and thought it could have been done better, you should see this film.

In Vancouver it’s playing at the Ridge starting tonight. I saw it last night at District 319. If you’re in Vancouver and you like film, you should check out this venue. There’s a bar area where you can talk before and after the film, even the theatre area is licensed. Canada Screens has a line-up of films at this venue.

The review
The documentary starts with a personal reflection, and I had a sinking feeling. I’d seen My Winnipeg, and although I liked that film, I wasn’t really in the mood for another deep piece of Canadian-artist narcissism. But this didn’t happen at all, in fact the initial personal piece went no where, and the “artist” seems to lose control, or disappear, or maybe the subjects themselves take over. The history of the copyleft movement takes over. The whole issue of copyright, intellectual property rights, opens up as the film goes on, and remain open. The film maker’s intentional practice urges us to continue the discussion, to actually become creative in the process of discovering our world.

Before the film, Brett Gaylor, in a video introduction from Montreal, said our viewing experience should be participatory. We were to boo the bad guys and cheer for the good guys. Very little of this happened, but the participatory ethos of the filmmakers, was embedded in the subject of the film. You can remix the film on line. It’s an interesting experiment in a resistance movement against corporate control of what we can do with our experiences, how we can express ourselves in a mediated language that surrounds us, speaks to us, and is owned and controlled by corporations.

The good
The scene in the boat with the Clinton administration wag. This was good. This was intelligent, brilliant documentary work. This guy told us the strategy of the american government when it came to intellectual property, the information economy. WTO. The american government gave up its manufacturing sector, by allowing free trade, opening up its borders to imports with the agreement that all its trade partners would follow its patent and copyright laws.

And the Brazil scenes were all great. Brazil copies AIDS treatment, messing with pharmaceutical corporations. The business model, the profit paradigm, is not fair. It’s inhumane and wrong. That a government chooses to resist corporate domination to give medicine to citizens who need it. It’s a start.

And the scenes dealing with science, the idea that ideas that could be beneficial to the public were locked away in a corporate hold. This was good informative stuff. It’s current and gives us an argument here in Canada for fighting funding cuts for science.

The bad
As a manifesto for a resistance movement, I’ve got a complaint against the filmmaker. There was a rave scene where kids are dancing and the narrator says something like (I need to see the film again to make this a little more accurate) “the dancing kids are exercising their right to culture” or some such thing, it was a complete fabrication. Kids are mindlessly (and this isn’t a value judgement) dancing (is a liberating experience, fuck, let loose) and the narrator imposes some form of the manifesto on them. As far as propaganda goes, sure that’s fine, look at the numbers on this side of the copyleft movement. But for organization, for creating a movement, there needs to be a more strict measure of reality. It does no good to create illusions.

I’ve been complaining for years about the quality of journalism. Paper, television and radio news, lack a quality of depth, a quality that I think is necessary for understanding our world as opposed to being confused by the news of it. Yes. I do realize that I should be making this quality journalism myself if I’ve got such a problem with it. I understand that. But do you understand how hard it is to do the type of work I’ve got in mind? I’m talking journalism that illuminates. Journalism that goes to the root of a problem, finds connections with other problems. A journalism that digs to understand the complexity of our problems and then explores possible complex solutions. This isn’t pyramid style journalism. This isn’t segmented journalism. This is journalism with a memory, an open archive, and collaborative practices. This is the exact opposite of corporate journalism as it’s practised today. And this is why, if we want a better press, we need a revolution. RIP! A remix manifesto is the kind of journalism we need.

The conclusion
We need the RIP! kind of journalism because it’s open and freely exploring, and is given to us as a starting point where we can begin our exploration. It’s a practice of journalism that allows us to take the weak stories, closed stories, and add depth, find connections and explore solutions. Who is working on this problem and what are they doing that we can do? What are our alternatives?

Not knowing when to stop…
Here’s an example of good journalism. This is Robert Scales on Vancouver’s housing crisis. Something like this could be the start of a movement to understand the root of the problem. Speaking of housing, There’s a march this April 4. Details to come.

About RiP: A remix manifesto

March 18, 2009

I’ve got tickets for the show tomorrow night. Here’s the promo:

ripposter

In RiP: A remix manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.

The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.

A participatory media experiment, from day one, Brett shares his raw footage at opensourcecinema.org for anyone to remix. This movie-as-mash-up method allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film. With RiP: A remix manifesto, Gaylor and Girl Talk sound an urgent alarm and draw the lines of battle.

Which side of the ideas war are you on?

View Trailer

He Loves His Mother!!!

March 11, 2009

Bill Mayer — He loves his mother!! I thought I’d start with that. Religulous, a film by the same people who made Borat, and Borat, too, was purposefully offensive, and it, too, was funny, but it never, not for a second took itself seriously. Borat brought us into some very serious territory. There was the blatantly misogynous college boys scene, and the dangerous war of terror scene, maybe it was the moustache, but the nausea producing, in a culturally discomforting sense, scenarios made us witnesses.  Borat, himself, was nearly invisible. Religulous does something different, and I didn’t like it. The scenes where Maher analyses what we just saw are all gawd-awful. He interviews some fairly stupid people, but Maher’s arrogance, which may have held up, especially with the cuts to clips from Superbad and Scarface, those were hilarious, his arrogance may have held up, but when he was on camera by himself, the weakness of those scenes reframed his arrogance as simply mean. Sure, he loves his mother, but he’s a mean mental weakling himself, bullying other intellectually challenged, differently intelligent people. There’s the difference, Borat’s misogynists exposed themselves and an oppressive cultural undercurrent, while Maher victimized the people he put on film.

The science is in. Consciousness is a chemical energy. Our perceptions are bodily. Chemical and bodily changes affect consciousness and perception. Philosophically I work from the premise that existence precedes essence. Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre, if generally understood would make it easier to argue that we should educate and properly house and nourish everyone. What I’m saying here is that there is no God of Abraham, there are no angels, spirits, demons, heaven or hell, at least outside our language systems. Our language systems exist physically in our bodies, in this sense these things exist, they are within us and communicable. Maher had an opportunity to produce in incredibly informative film. He came close with the Andrew Newberg, MD (University of Pennsylvania research neuroscientist) interview. Newberg discusses the process of imaging people’s brains as they pray, meditate or speak in tongues, but no conclusive statement is made. He also brought in the consciousness changing properties of drugs, but again the neurophysiology that could reveal the chemical and physical contingency of consciousness was not explored.

Maher is content to promote doubt, but there is certainty that consciousness is chemical reactions within organic physical structures. We don’t know how exactly it works, but there is certainty that material is at work. These ideas can also be communicated, but Maher didn’t do the research. And understanding consciousness, the bodily manifestation of these belief, may have softened his, persecution, of these believers. Really what was he doing? In his interviews with Muslims, he was told twice that it was politics and not religion, that the motivation behind terrorists and extremists, but he didn’t accept it. He even made “fun” of the interviewee by writing a text message implying he was a terrorist. Later he analyses these scenes saying that they don’t want to admit to outsiders that there are problems with the religion. Doubt in this sense is not a tool for understanding, it is an analgesic for stupidity. What were the political motivations of the religious George W. Bush and what were the political motivations of the differently religious Osama Bin Laden? Maher is content to doubt everything and everyone.

In Saul D. Alinsky‘s Rules for Radicals he spends an entire chapter “of ends and means” explaining how political interests are clothed in religious morality. “The Haves,” he writes, “develop their own morality to justify their means of repression and all other means employed to maintain the status quo.” What’s interesting is that Obama was schooled in the Alinsky tradition. Maher’s film is now an historical document. But Alinsky also taught respect for the beliefs and values of the Have-nots and spoke against arrogance. Politically, in the political system, I’m with Sven. This call for compassion, and understanding, when dealing with religious consciousnesses, is not a form of self protection, it comes from an understanding, limited sure, that our bodies and consciousness are totally intertwined, and a massive change, in our society, especially forced from the outside, well, it’s abuse.

And one last thing about embodied knowledge, especially the kind of knowledge that defines a persons existence. This is from wikipedia:

In Carl Jung‘s psychology, metanoia indicates a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form. Jung believed that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as existential crises which were sometimes attempts at self-reparation. Jung’s concept of metanoia influenced R. D. Laing and the therapeutic community movement which aimed, ideally, to support people whilst they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening their existing character defences and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict.

With this in mind, really, what the fuck was Maher doing? He loves his mother, but he’s still an ignorant fuck. Had he actually broken through the defences of these people he was attacking, he would have precipitated a moment of realization in which everything previously known is wrong, leading possibly to a physical and mental breakdown. In one scene Maher’s mother reminds him of how upset he was when he discovered Santa Claus wasn’t real. The equation of a childhood fantasy game, with god consciousness or a bodily awareness of god, is ridiculous in itself. In my utopian thoughts after the consciousness of our interconnectivity is widespread, when we are concerned with the care of each other, the issue of religion will have faded away, but until then we need to work toward our own understanding.

Freedom not power

January 26, 2009

[This was a facebook note]

Watching the Chicago 8 trial documentary I was struck by the forced conformity. There was a very large group of Americans who were expressing a different way of being. The point is that a social dialogue about social change was in play, and the state mobilized its armed forces to silence the peaceful movement for change. It became apparent that conformity is the only option. Sure we are free to live within the parameters of the system, and sure those parameters are quite broad and loose, but we are not free to change the system. We can try to change the system, but there is a power at work that will fight you all the way to your bedroom. (Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton’s bedroom. ( http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAhamptonF.htm ))

A distinction needs to be made between freedom and power. That I have health and nutrition, social and manual skills, and access to credit means I can exercise most of my charter rights and freedoms, but this is a “power to exercise” granted by the system. I am bound to this system or powerless. Now, begrudging this dependence is seen as selfish and ungrateful. I should be grateful for the power given me. And if I were a selfish individuated person with no desire to be social, maybe I would revel in the power that is mine, but I do desire to be social, so like the Chicago 8, I speak out against the hierarchal systems that condition the social. I speak out against, to name a few, the family, the state, colonialism, the military, capitalism.

I’m not content to live under a capitalist state system that grants more personal power to the individuated agents of its middle class than it allows in the colonies. I’m not fascist, I want freedom not power. This system, where we work beyond the necessary for a profit while others starve, needs to be considered.

When we fear human nature, we fear freedom, because freedom is social self-determination, freedom is the opposite of external controls. Restrictions impede freedom. Restrictions impede human development. That a material necessity exists, that there are material limits to freedom, shouldn’t be reason enough to accept these social limits to freedom. We can do better than this.

John Barth Beresford at 1:04pm January 27

Every damn day we’re changing the system but it’s gonna take years decades to notice. I’m not interested in too much change in one noticeable gulp. It would be perceived as a mass hallucination that would terrorize the happy, undermine the progressive, and make all the powers that be even more powerful. So go about your good deeds quietly and keep up the good work! Thanks for your support and cooperation Rodger X.

Rodger Levesque at 6:39pm February 1

Was it your plan to enrage me? Was it some flippant move, like aiming for the chest in air hockey? Or maybe putting on a Nashville hockey jersey? Were you trying to antagonize me?

Rodger Levesque at 6:42pm February 1

Luckily I thought it through before responding like Dan Ackroyd on SNL “John, you ignorant slut.”

Rodger Levesque at 7:00pm February 1

You know I’ve never been much of an activist. Have you seen “Into the Wild”? I recognize that rage and frustration. Activism drove me nuts, and then journalism wasn’t much better. Hey have you ever read my blog? (Don’t worry about it. No one reads it. Who could? It’s a ridiculous expression of complete confusion. But…) Something I’ve been writing about speaks to what you wrote. The blog is called “Not Left To Chance” and it gets its name from a line about education being socialization that isn’t left to chance. I liked that, not the cynicism of it, but the reality. When you write that “we’re changing the system” like by some sort of chance one day the system will be something other than it is. But the system is reproduced by command and control. Our socialization hasn’t been left to chance. We’re conditioned by the system to reproduce it. Have you ever seen A Clockwork Orange? After Alex has been reconditioned, the thought of violence incapacitates him.

Rodger Levesque at 7:01pm February 1

What thought incapacitates you? That’s the thought you need to put into action if you want to change the system.

John Barth Beresford at 10:33pm February 2

You express such optimism to began and then complete resignation to finish. If you can’t see a positve result, why pitch it happening at all? You’ve already decided you won’t make a difference. That’s alright, that way you won’t be disappointed by hope and perhaps might even be pleasantly surprised by a change you never expected to make.That’s some pretty serious resocialization you’re talking about and besides Alex at the end pulls off another fast one, it’s suggested with raised eyebrows. He’s all about ego-based will, anarchism. I’m saying the more anonymous your approach and the more random per-chance your focus, as opposed to your obessed ‘incapaciting thought,’ the more effective your result for a greater number of people in a freer self-empowering way.

Finally, yes, I was saying if you think more that way, if you observe and follow, ironically you’ll be defining yourself as an individual.

What do we want? When do we want it?

December 18, 2007

Summary
In response to Clive Thompson’s A War of Words, in which he argues for scientists to begin speaking of theory as law, I write of the fascism in expediting social evolution through authority. I begin by reminding the reader and myself that evolution takes time. I finish with a call for more theory. (While sourcing some of the material, I read the article Thompson based his piece. (At least I think I read the source article.) Helen Quinn is far more measured in her argument and doesn’t make the suggestion Thompson relays. He links Quinn’s argument with evolution, but I think Quinn had in mind “the potential dangers of anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system.” Regardless, the Quinn “controversy” is worth reading.)

At Long Last

“At long last the search of knowledge will reach out for its due; it will want to rule and possess, and you with it!” (Nietzsche)

Darwin held back the publication of On the Origin of Species fourteen years. According to Joseph Carroll (2003) this was a good thing.

“What then, if anything, did Darwin gain through waiting for fourteen years before writing the final version of his work? There are three main forms of gain: (1) vastly more detail both in apt illustration and in considered inference, (2) an extended compositional process that resulted in an extraordinary density, coherence, and clarity in the exposition; and (3) one new idea, or at least a latent idea rendered explicit and available for development.” (p.39)

I mention this first as a sort of mental massage. Seriously, take it easy. Breathe. We’re getting there. What follows, an unfocussed post on theory, most of it anyway, was set in motion by Clive Thompson (2007), but he can’t take all the blame. We live in fast times. Or we think we do. Darwin’s theory, or the theory of evolution bubbled up out of social consciousness over 150 years ago and we’re still dealing with it, and we’ll be dealing with it for a long time to come. There’s no need to get into a panic. Hofstadter’s Law is a law for our times. It states that everything takes longer than expected, even when you take the law into consideration. I’m presenting this as much as self-help as advice. I too, live in a city, drink coffee and move about in a perpetual state of anxiety, a whole lot slower than desire. So to me and you, a little perspective.

Everything is constantly evolving, but evolution is so difficult to understand because the timeline is beyond anything we can easily comprehend. The evolutionary timescale, the universe, or the multiverse, the limits of space, the realization that every star in the night sky is a solar system; you can think these things but they are a little big, a little intimidating. But that doesn’t stop you thinking. Only death stops thinking. The perfect example:

In Jesus Camp there’s a scene, a wavy blond-haired boy is sitting on the stage, (this is how I remember it) he’s surrounded by all the other kids, the camera is on him, and you can see him thinking and he says something like, “Sometimes I don’t know if I believe it.” All the kids look at him, I don’t want to read too much into it, but he stops talking and that’s the end of that scene and line of inquiry. Even in that environment you can’t stop curiosity completely. Even in that environment of conformism and information control there’s variation, and where there’s variation, there’s evolution, or, at the least, divergence. This process takes time.

happy in the knowledge that a constantly changing vision has been replaced by a fixed pole.
There is a war going on between the Jesus camp and the Science camp. On the one side they’re fighting for God or absolute social certainty in politics and the other’s interest is political funding and free pursuit of inquiry. There’s a very real conflict of interests here. So Thompson writes, A war of words: Science will triumph only when theory becomes law. The piece was “inspired” by a recent essay in Physics Today by the physicist Helen Quinn, who suggests (according to Thompson) that scientists stop using the word theory (and believe) and refer to evolution as law, because the public understands the authority of law. Thompson makes clear this difference of meaning for scientists and people. He writes:

“While it’s true that scientists refer to evolution as a theory, in science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing.”

“But for most people, theory means a haphazard guess. It’s an insult, really a glib way to dismiss a point of view: “Ah, well, that’s just your theory.””

Quinn, and Thompson through her authority, suggest that to people who “understand that law is a rule that holds true and must be obeyed,” scientist should refer to their findings with certainty as law.

Clive Thompson is not a fascist. In no way am I implying that Clive Thompson is a fascist. I say this because I want to use the word. I could say euphemistically that he errs on the side of expediency when he writes, “Public discourse is inevitably political, so we need to talk about science in a way that wins the political battle – in no uncertain terms.” And I could choose to see the play on words, the wit of “no uncertain terms” in the context of the article, but I choose, at this moment, to point out the fascism of those words in the social context. It’s probably best to refer you to Foucault’s Guide to a non fascist life. It’s a little too long to quote, but a very short manual for living, so I’ve typed it out in full here (not yet).

Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life

This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide to everyday life:

  • Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
  • Develop action, thought and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
  • Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
  • Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even thought the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
  • Do not use thought to ground political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
  • Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but constant generator of de-individualization.
  • Do not become enamored of power.


Thompson has crossed the line into fascism. (About retiring words, Thompson’s article suggests
theory and believe, and fascism is a word that’s been socially retired, I’d suggest, obviously that we bring it back, not in the sense of Hitler, but as Foucault writes “The fascism in all of us.” We need the word to confront the tendency. Theory, again obviously I like the word, and concept, I keep wondering if the suggestion is satirical, if I am missing the play, or the wit. But believe, I’ve worked it out of my vocabulary. “if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.” (p30 Portable Nietzsche). This brings up meaning. Believe as used by science and believers, and theory used by science and believers. Weiner has a good line about two different uses of language.

Leave the dictates and decrees to the government and church. Scientists when speaking to the public, should speak as philosophers and educators. Norbert Weiner (1950) writes, “The functional part of any science cannot escape considering uncertainty and the contingency of events.” This view of the world and facts as moving targets has had social impacts, but is far from a world view. What Thompson suggests is counter to the educative quality of science. It’s science and theory and the masses educated in contingency that have been taking on the absolutist state and church so far. What’s needed for theory to set us free (my interest in theory is a little different from institutional scientists) is not that it become authoritative and law, but more theory.

When Thompson writes that the best result of changing theory to law is the linguistic jujitsu performed, he misrepresents theory, misapplies the martial art and underestimates the opposition. If, and it won’t happen, the scientific community were to speak of evolution as a law, creationists would say “I believe in one law: God’s Law.” There’s nothing gentle in changing an inviting and unfinished process of theory building into an authoritative infallible law.

Not Enough Theory
The argument that a frustrated theory needs more theory is more than 200 years old. Kant (1793) writes that impractical theory may simply be incomplete and “in such cases it was not the fault of theory if it was little use in practice, but rather of there having been not enough theory, which the man in question should have learned from experience and which is true theory even if he is not in a position to state it himself and, as a teacher, set it forth systematically in general propositions.” In his descriptively named essay On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but it is of no use in practice, Kant argues that “no one can pretend to be practically proficient in a science and yet scorn theory without declaring that he is an ignoramus in his field, inasmuch as he believes that by groping about in experiments and experiences, without putting together certain principles (which really constitute what is called theory) and without having thought out some whole relevant to his business (which, if one proceeds methodically in it, is called a system), he can get further than theory could take him.”

Quinn’s article is worth reading. An awareness of meaning is necessary for anyone interested in moving ideas around. The scientific idea of theory as practical or physical, the result of experience, the product of hypotheses, and Kant’s idea of theory a priori, of desire or metaphysical are both opposed to theory as an untestable whim. We can do without belief, at this point we could do without the word, but to take advantage of the meaning behind religious belief and substitute Law for theory is to trade on a notion of authority that the liberating power of theory and science has been subverting for only a few centuries now.

Sources

Thompson, Clive. (2007) A war of words: Science will triumph only when theory becomes law. Wired 15.11 p.102 November

Quinn, Helen. (2007) Belief and knowledge — a plea about language. Physics Today.
January 2007, page 8

Letters Language of science I: Theories and laws

July 2007, page 8

Letters Language of science II: Degrees of knowing

July 2007, page 11

Technorati Tags:: Clive Thompson theory language science evolution

Focus on the Family and Michael Moore

March 27, 2007

All this is an attempted dialogue. There’s a possibility of dialogue. There is no dialogue. There original article is here. The comments are here. I post this here because I like the connections. The Michael Moore review is on some 666 site, and Focus on the Family says a very similar thing, plus the original article talks of the same phenomenon as Hold On To Your Kids. I like connections.

His is a rather sentimental and weak argument. Teenagers have been teenagers for decades; he does not adduce what, if anything, is different about today’s teenagerdom from yesterday’s teenagerdom.
Dave | Homepage

I’ll push your first claim further, and note that teenagers have been teenagers for centuries, at least.

I think the post was fairly clear in it’s contention that what’s different about today’s teenagers is that they spend much more time with one another, and only one another, and they are taught by less competent individuals.

There are plenty of ways to attack both arguments, but it seems false on the surface to assert that I did not adduce a difference between present and past.
Tony | Homepage | 02.26.07 – 10:25 am |

What derisive, prejudicial and ignorant commentary. Many teens are creative, insightful and have excellent work ethic. Of course, some reflect poorly on each other, but many help each other improve in the hours the spend together.

What you say is sort of like saying all bloggers offer only ridiculous, self-aggrandizing commentary, just because they spend a lot of time reading each other’s blogs.
Mark Barnes | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 9:31 am |

Or like saying that one commenter who has trouble spelling words correctly is proof that all commenters are poor spellers.

I think the qualifiers were clear enough: “a large portion of high-school seniors,” for example. Of course I wasn’t talking about all teenagers, or all teachers, for that matter. The fact that many teenagers are brilliant, and their teachers highly competent, doesn’t refute what I had to say.
Tony | Homepage | 03.05.07 – 12:19 pm |

This author/psychologist gives parents and teachers some advice for dealing with peer orientation. That teenagers prefer to keep company with themselves is having a “devastating impact in today’s society”, according to Neufeld, and parents actually spending time with their kids is his new and innovative solution.

I’m guessing the tone of your post was what the two previous commentors were really on about. I see the same phenomenon but well, there’s this: “But perhaps picking a fight with higher education, in the same post where I pick on high schoolers and their teachers and their parents and the rest of us who let news like this roll off our backs without changing our behavior one bit, is, well, just one fight too many.” It’s a mexican standoff, like that scene (50) in Reservoir Dogs, but you’re blaming the actors in our social drama. Doesn’t blaming the script writers ever cross your mind?

Society is changing, but so has the economy. Why are kids working as much as they do? Why are parents working as much as they do? Why are you “picking on” the little guy? I take for fact our responsibility to ourselves and our children. But by your own understanding (“If you study about ten times harder, and have an ounce of common sense, and work really long hours, then perhaps you can build yourself a plane, and then you can fly. Otherwise, get used to walking.”) citizens are being worked beyond socialization. Is it stupidity or the underclass that’s spreading?
Rodger Levesque| | 03.12.07 – 4:38 am |

Given that real income in the lowest quintile of American households more than doubled in the past half-century, I would say you’re barking up the wrong tree if you want to contend that economic need is the driving force here.

My goal isn’t to pick on the little guy. It is to pick on the big, fat slob of a parent who spends too much time in front of the tube, and not enough time engaging his children in the real work of becoming responsible adults.
Tony | Homepage | 03.12.07 – 4:30 pm |

The real income more than doubled for everyone else as well. But fifty years ago a household would have had one bread winner. Today, that’s not the case. Two people are now working per household.

And sure not every household has two incomes, but not every teenager has no adult contact.

What do you call this? A cultural shift? Can it be called an economic shift? If one earner were to devote himself to the kids, would the household earning then be nearer to what it was fifty years ago? And is that doubled household income going straight to a materialistic lifestyle? I read in the paper often about the average household credit card debt. Was this a problem 50 years ago when households were bringing in half what they do now? How are these real dollars calculated? If the dollars take into account only necessities, is cable included? How about these gas prices? Computers? Cell phones? insurance? Are all these things taken into account?

I’m not going to try to tell you that the fat guy picture you paint doesn’t exist, I’m sure he’s washing down pork rinds with a miller lite watching deal or no deal right now, but the problem of family socialization time has to be more complex than that. You’d know better than I if you can call it an economic shift, but definitely a cultural shift has occurred.

It doesn’t matter which side of the polemical divide your argument falls.

This is from Focus on the Family:

“Dr. Steve Farrar presents a message on how the spiritual virus of affluenza (the pursuit of material success) is sweeping the country and destroying the family. Affluenza causes good people to make unwise choices by distorting their thinking, their judgment, and eventually causes them to sacrifice their children on the altar of success.

He gives three components to success in America. Attaining these three components equals status, and if you have status in America, then your perceived importance goes up. Steve provides tremendous perspective from the Scriptures (1 Timothy 6:6-11) and expresses that contentment is destroyed by comparison.

On Day Two, Steve talks about the God-ordained family and lists the two things that every family needs, presenting God’s ideal plan for the father to be the primary provider and for the mother to be the primary caregiver.

He traces the course of affluenza beginning with the Industrial Revolution, when men were first taken out of the home and into the factories for work, followed by the feminist revolution in the past 25-30 years which has taken women out of the home, and Steve asks who is taking care of the children.

Dr. Dobson closes by assuring listeners that he knows that materialism and greed are not the reason all mothers work, some are working out of need.”

And this is about a Michael Moore documentary:

“Moore first shows us how the mother from the impoverished town of Flynt, Michigan was left without work following the closing of the local GM plant as jobs were given to cheap labor out of country. We then travel with Moore before sunrise on a two hour bus ride to the wealthy suburban mall where the state’s privatized work-for-welfare program sent her (the program, incidentally, was run by defense industry giant Lockheed Martin, who also builds nuclear missiles in Littleton Colorado, site of Columbine High School). We get quick tours of the Dick Clark fifties-theme restaurant and the fudge factory where she performed her minimum wage jobs before bussing home after sunset. Despite the two jobs, the woman still did not have enough to pay her rent. Consequently, she was evicted from her house and taken in by her brother. Soon after, while she was bussing to work, her young child found her brother’s handgun, carried it to school and killed another student.”

I’m not proposing a solution. Tony, you’ve written provocatively on a very real issue. I think it’s more complicated than your presentation, and I’m still wondering, what’s really happening? When I asked if it was stupidity or the underclass that was spreading, I meant is our culture becoming oppressive? The problem has spread well into what was once called the middle class and on into academia. Is all this work, creating poverty of the mind? I think Camus had something to say about this. I guess if there’s a question in here anymore, it’s: Don’t you think you’ve simplified the problem (a problem you had the ability to recognize and examine) a little too much?
Rodger Levesque |  | 03.12.07 – 11:40 pm |