Posts Tagged ‘social’

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?

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Social Darwinism Cafe

March 31, 2009

Last night’s Philosophers’ Cafe at Kathmandu on Commercial Drive was a completely full house and a lively affair. (The announcement of the next topic stirred a lot of interest, so get there early, have dinner. The food is the main reason I go.) The conversation was non-stop for two hours, I didn’t take notes, I’m not naming names, here are my impressions. Comments are on (Your first comment will await moderation, (it’s an issue of spam) after that it’s a free for all.

Zahid Makhdoom moderated the night and opened with the philosophy: the purpose is not to find answers but to ask questions, If you’re confused coming in, the best result would be to leave even more confused. We will be muddying the waters. (What follows is a series of unfinished notes and open questions.) And then a short elaboration of the topic under discussion. “Is Social Darwinism an instrument of racist and authoritarian thought? Is survival of the fittest an appropriate moral, social, economic, or political ethic?” Social Darwinism, that is the conscious application of evolutionary principles, has a history of racism. Species development is confused with species evolution, and the value judgement is levelled against people. Makhdoom gave a few examples. I can recall two. 1) That when a dog plays in a yard no one considers the dogs ownership. Winston Churchill on Palestine. 2) Alberta Eugenics, sterilization program so the “unfit” wouldn’t breed.

No one argued for Social Darwinism. A good point was made using the person of Gandhi. Gandhi because a test for part of the discussion, the idea that tests are specific and that phenotypes are universal tests. Gandhi was a horrible plumber, but a great leader. It was his biographical development, contingent place in history that produced the Gandhi effect.

One scientific mind noted, about halfway through the conversation, that there were at least three different ideas of evolution at play in the room, they were undefined, undifferentiated and the communication was suffering for it. When the scientist was talking he was interrupted. “Science? This is a philosopher’s cafe.” (I just mistyped ‘cafe’ as ‘cage’. Paging Dr. Freud…) What? When did philosophy respect limits of knowledge, the disciplining and cloistering of specialized areas of inquiry, is a recent institutional social construct and was noted early in the twentieth century as potentially leading to the downfall of philosophy. (econophile)

Folk thinking is short term – an application of values on change – Do we have any control of our destiny? Development vs. Evolution – we should all be in more or less the same boat. Slaves forbidden the written word. Undeveloped and oppressed human potential confused as genetic (evolutionary) inferiority.

What does the fittest mean? Luckiest?

This was from a small dialogue while paying the bill: Genetic expression – the ideas that ideas are genetic – that people have a tendency. I don’t know. There is the notion of the great thinker. Darwin for example, changed the way we think about historical reality. But had Darwin, by chance, suffered a massive head injury, we would still today be talking about evolution, maybe even social evolution (social Wallacism?) This is because Darwin built his theory on previously published works and material evidence. He also mentioned at least four others who were hot on the theory’s tail. Today, the theory has been worked and reworked by the scientific community. Darwin had a very loose idea of genetic material, which has played a significant part in the contemporary understanding of the theory.

The individual’s social success as a measure of fitness. This idea more or less dominated the room. (with the accompanying machismo!) (An issue is framework.) The idea of success as adaptation to the social is not evolution. The other main idea was the ecological destruction – These conflicting notions were not noted. (?)

Consciousness is it developmental? There can be no argument that the plastic brain is a feature of our species.

One person whose main thrust was the idea of collective fitness over individual fitness (this is closest to evolution because one life cycle, your own personal birth to death existence, is well inside the concept of evolution.) gave some advice to young people. “Our generation has left it up to you to solve the problem.” What? When did this turn in the social take place? There was a comment that if we live 80 years, so much is spent sleeping and working that in all that 5 years is free time? Maybe that was what happened in the sixties, the systemized organizational man, is completely unfree, the youth were free to criticize the system. Where did that get us?

Chapter 2: Education as a Social Function

August 13, 2007

Given the impossibility of direct contagion or literal inculcation, our problem is to discover the method by which the young assimilate the point of view of the old, or the older bring the young into likemindedness with themselves.

another enquiry concerning human understanding

What interests me is a series of questions about the body of knowledge in which our education is situated. I need to first define education, or at least differentiate between chance socialization and formal schooling. Writing the distinctions can in no way separate these learning environments. Dewey says as much when he writes, “The main texture of disposition is formed independently of schooling by [the demands set up by current social occupations.]” (p.17) He goes on to say:

What conscious, deliberate teaching can do is at most to free the capacities thus formed for fuller exercise, to purge them of their grossness, and to furnish objects which make their activity more productive of meaning.


For Dewey, school is a social organ which simplifies and purifies an educational environment in an attempt to make for a better future society. And yet, by Dewey’s own understanding, the environment is forever contaminated. The immature disposition is already independently formed and school becomes a form of exercise in modification.

It might help to view social environments as one views eco-zones, social geography mapping the vast differences in social climates. This way common understanding becomes a goal and the form of exercise varies with zones of social disposition. Dewey writes “Whether we permit chance environments to do the work, or whether we design environments for the purpose makes a great difference.” The great difference in the chance environments goes unwritten.

Two Things:

Thing One: I will be returning to this chapter. The concepts of the social as educative, the social function of education and education as a social function will ground any study of literacy.

Thing Two: Should a literacy based pedagogy be concerned with the metaphysical problem of a “better future society” or with reading society as it is in its full complexity?