This is very like starting a new blog. I am coming back to this changed and changing, with a much clearer sense of my personal, communal, and political commitments. Looking back over these archives, I notice my too-great intellectual proximity to discourse communities marked by their active self-isolation from the vibrant global cultural diversity that characterizes this and almost every moment in recent centuries. I have regularly mistaken these communities’ love of exoticism for genuine cultural interest and modulated myself to be in dialogue with them. Push comes to shove, though, what most of these communities seem to value most is a capacity to interact with other cultures as a free consumer, a relationship that doesn’t make them more than superficially responsible for the shape their interactions with other peoples and their cultures take.
On a whim, I watched the first couple of episodes of the new (and final) season of Fringe. I didn’t stick with the show, but I keep thinking about the premise–the future is killing the present. It’s development in the show is simple and pulpy–scientists from the future invade to transform it into a toxic mess suitable to their needs!–but has this kernel of symbolic truth I can’t shake. While we don’t have evil future scientists invading, we are suffering from the future, being slowly suffocated by the future.
I don’t mean the actual future, but our fantasies of the future that drive us to overlook and ignore the costs of rapid technical progress. Fringe juxtaposes the clean and magical seeming technical facilities of the invaders with the crumbling urban landscape where most everyone else lives. Think about how far removed the factories that produce computers and kindles are from the wealthy U.S. that consumes so many of those products. The future promised by these devices looks so clean because the damage done producing them occurs out of sight and what Fringe has done is situate that conflict in the heart of our ‘clean’ world. Compare this to the world of forty-two years ago, when the writers of Dr. Who could easily imagine the dangerous factory on British soil in The Spearhead from Space.
It isn’t the fiction but the concept that sticks with me. We have spent so much effort rushing toward some idea of the future that is faster, closer, bigger, more, that we have let ourselves overlook how destructive that pursuit has become. It’s easy to think about the struggles we face now with climate change, but the process began some time ago. Here, too, Fringe is clever–the scientists from the future dress like men from the 1950s, which is when things started going wrong. Innocent efforts to bring poorer countries into the modern world, led to ‘modern’ agricultural projects throughout the Third World which, instead of bringing wealth, brought disastrous shortages and famines. It turns out the ‘future’ hadn’t quite realized that agriculture isn’t a one-size fits all affair and that the varieties of agricultural practice found throughout the Third World were often well-suited to local ecologies.
This is all well-trod ground, so I won’t dwell more on it.
I recently read Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”; it wasn’t exactly new to me. It is the sort of story that summarizes easily since the plot is already compressed. If you haven’t read it, don’t read the summaries. LeGuin’s telling is perfect on its own terms.
Apparently my new hobby is playing logic games with memes.
There is a meme floating around that seems to have its origin with George Takei. There are two circles, one labeled ‘With You’ and the other ‘Without You’ with their overlap labeled as ‘Place Where Bono Can’t Live.’ It’s cute, but it is also bad logic. The Venn diagram models conjunctive relationships between two or more sets of objects, whereas the lyrics of the song being referenced detail a disjunction formulated in straightforward(“I can’t live with OR without you”). Continue reading
To understand the importance of the shadow functions to our experiences, we must understand that the influence a function has upon us is not directly related to the conscious attention we direct toward it. Functions which we pay little attention to can still have a great influence upon us, for the very reason that we do not pay attention to them.
They continue to operate even without us attending to them, providing us with ideas about the state of our world, and these ideas can seem more compelling by virtue of not having been worked over consciously. Emphasis must be placed on the seem in that last phrase–they may be quite mediocre conceptions of what is actually going on but seem otherwise.
I start with a quote that is at tangent to what I want to talk about here, since the quote is what kicked off this line of thought. This is Glenn Greenwald in reference to the ongoing Wall Street protests and the reason why they are steadily gaining serious (instead of dismissive) attention and not petering out:
…and in part because their refusal to adhere to the demands from the political and media class for Power Point professionalization and organizational hierarchies has enabled the protests to remain real, organic, independent, and passionate.
There is much packed into this well-chosen phrasing. It strips away the neutrality professionalism usually enjoys and highlights the ways in which it is implicated in the system the protesters oppose. It makes professionalism a problem to be dealt with rather than a simple way of acting.
So, I came across this article over at Religion Dispatches which led me to an article by Melissa Harris-Perry in The Nation in which she articulates her view of religion’s place in politics. It makes for interesting reading in light of her response to Cornel West’s criticisms of the President. While she espouses support for the sort of theological views endorsed by Cornel West, she does so in a way that doesn’t commit her to them.