December 27, 2009

North State




It's a state of mind, really (I-5 south somewhere a little below Red Bluff).

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December 22, 2009

The Wisdom Of The Mob

(Or Dense Pessimisms, Take 3…)

The internet's about immediacy; immediacy fosters instability (it implies no moderation). The net therefore discourages stable grand-scale narratives — like science or government — that are based on a sort of reasoned consensus, but encourages those based on True Belief and revelation (such as religious or political fundamentalisms). The net fragments, it destroys structure; or, rather, it destroys permanent structure. On the one hand it's the great leveler; on the other it encourages dynamic fundamentalisms in response to that lack of structure. Truths wash over the net in waves; it's Postmodernism without the twee irony, and with the power to spill over into real life (not that the net isn't a fundamental part of real life) with catastrophic effect for the sort of Postmodernist sensibility that probably applauds the lack of grand narrative.

The net privatises truth generation and reception; it's like the way the transistor radio and then the iPod privatised the experience of listening (or not listening). In some ways the internet's effect has been like the translation of the Bible from the Vulgate to the vulgar: the unmediated word for everyone, the Truth is in your own reading, not that handed down from the Church. But it also introduces writing for the masses, a universal platform to proclaim those little private Truths very publicly.

The net's the Wal-Mart of truths — you can get anything you want, but like shopping in Wal-Mart it's easier to trust a familiar brand when looking for a particular product. Brands structure the world — the Word, for that matter — and become essential in the world of a million choices. And fundamentalisms are brands; and surely successful brands flirt with a sort of fundamentalism…. We're headed for the Society Of The Brand, not that of the Spectacle.

The unmediated wisdom of the crowd? Just another way of saying the wisdom of the mob.

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December 15, 2009

(Fruit and) Nut

Kraft and Cadbury are struggling over control of Cadbury. I don't really care who wins; all I ask is that (whatever the outcome), Americans please please (please!) stop pronouncing it "Cad-Berry". That is all.

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December 14, 2009

It's Irrefutable!

"Althusser informs us that 'it is an irrefutable fact that the Family is the most powerful State Ideological Apparatus'" (from Tony Judt's 1994 New Republic review article, reprinted in his recent book "Reappraisals"). I sometimes tend to think it's more like state ideology is the most powerful family apparatus, in all the engendered senses of that inversion, but that's just a detail, right? After all, Althusser's talking irrefutable fact here, so he can't be wrong, right?

Despite his obvious humourless totalitarian tendencies and socially unperceptive work (and life, for that matter), Althusser was once taken Very Seriously Indeed by people I knew and respected in Sydney, and I'm sure somewhere in the stash of books I left with my brother when I moved to London there's a dog-eared copy of "For Marx" or "Reading Capital" (probably both). Reading Althusser as an engineering student who was also doing a serious history and philosophy of science (HPS) second major was a transformative experience, but not in the way it probably was for most non-techie readers. More than the deliberately obtuse and jargon-laden prose (seemingly designed to do the familiar trick of being allusive without actually pinning Althusser down to anything you could test or criticise without him (or his acolytes) protesting that you'd misread or misunderstood him), I think it was his misuse of the words "science" and "scientific" that did it for me. It's that classic sleight-of-hand shell game equivocation where a hollowed-out version of "science" is used as a stand-in for something quite different, but still lends it the aura of objectivity (the dead giveaway with Althusser is that nothing non-trivial in science is an irrefutable fact). And I was left with the stark difference between the "show the work" and "evoke the metaphor" poles of my then-academic reading life….

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December 05, 2009

Decency

One of the words I often feel driven to retake from the hard right is "decency". As in, "a minimally-decent society is one that strives to ensure that the circumstances of one's birth, upbringing, and genetics — the things you have no control over — do not determine your access as a member of that society to the basics: health care, education, and justice (the things that most affect the course of your life)".

Fat chance, of course. It's a word that's as loaded and tarnished in this country as "liberty" or "patriotism".

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December 01, 2009

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Seamus Heany on his experience selecting students at Harvard: "What I wanted was evidence of their artistic doings [rather than] the plenitude of those essays of self-introduction that American students are so good at" (quoted in a recent LRB review of Dennis O'Driscoll's "Stepping Stones: Interviews With Seamus Heany"). Perfect.

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