Social implications of altered economic conditions

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The capitalist reorganization of the societal whole enables more fluid relations between individuals, whose social and economic ties predominantly assume contractual forms. The market economy allows agents of commerce to operate independently of societal bonds of lordship and servitude, but the household also ceases to be a site of manufacture and trade. As a consequence, the intimate familial circle of parents and children seems to be composed of autonomous individuals united not by production, but by mutual love and sympathy. Within the released sphere of intimacy, the bourgeoisie also discovers and explores a new mode of subjectivity, and the members of the family become readers and writers of emotionally saturated letters and diaries. On the basis of this new repertoire of experiences, they begin to conceive of themselves as human beings with an existence beyond prescribed official roles.

From the brief social history of coffee by Jakob Norberg, over at Eurozine.

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Infrastructure and Superstructure

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Again and again, however, such confusion causes people who should know better to decide that, because they have located some pervasive superstructural pattern (a prevalence of petty street crime in neighborhood X, say), superstructure here is actually producing all the visible infrastructural changes (“There was an influx of Puerto Ricans in neighborhood X, and a subsequent rise in drugs and petty street crimes; because of this, eventually the neighborhood was driven down till it became an all but abandoned slum where nobody, not even the Puerto Ricans, would live anymore . . .”), when, at the infrastructural level, what has actually happened is that landlords-as-a-class have realized that the older buildings in neighborhood X require more maintenance and thus a greater expenditure, so that they concentrate all their economic interest on newer properties with larger living units in neighborhood Y to the east, which is popular with young white upwardly mobile executives. The result is the decline of neighborhood X, of which street crime, drugs, and so on are only a symptom—though, as superstructural elements, those symptoms stabilize (i.e., help to assure) that decline and combat any small local attempts to reverse it by less than a major infrastructural change.

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 163.

Technology and mediation

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“For some, no doubt it is less comforting to think of rural Bangladeshis using cell phones than to imagine them sharing the experiences of the day at the hearth with their families. But the fact that the rural communities in developing nations can and do use cell technology brings them just that much closer to their “developed” counterparts. Not in the sense of having more technology at their disposal, but in the sense of thinking about communicating with people in similar ways, of being accustomed to maintaining relationships over distances, of acting on one’s desire to talk at the moment one has it, of possessing the confidence and the technology to project one’s needs and desires towards disembodied authorities and remote friends when one needs to.”

“The pursuit of authenticity in the attributes of the other constitutes a degraded form of critique. Its fundamental predicate – as convenient for the marketing executive as it is for the travel agent – is that we question and modify our own practices and seek authenticity in those of others.”

William Ray, The Logic of Culture, pp. 175-176, p. 178.

Robert Tavernor – Smoot’s Ear: The Measure of Humanity

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The title leads one to expect a diversionary tour of the history of the technologies and the debates regarding measurement, and to an extent it is. Sadly, this perfectly serviceable intention is sidelined in favour of a wacky partisan position, in the process making Robert Tavernor the Baigent and Leigh of measurement.

This book is worth reading for the substance and the history, and not the crankery of his interpretation of matters, which makes him come across as a mixture of resentful autodidact (which he isn’t) and flat Earther. The tone is very uneven, and worth turning a deaf ear to. Just in terms of this interpretation (wanting a turn to supposedly more ‘human’ measures), his examples are self-serving. Why he cannot see the efforts at greater accuracy in measurement as a testament to the human mind is baffling. This sense of bafflement is why I have come to regard Tavernor’s position as “not even wrong”. His crankery is so far in the deep end that to engage with him is to risk destabilising reason. To take exception to metric measurement, as he clearly does, need not imply taking exception to rigour in argument and logical coherence.

Dave Hickey on Theory in America

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‘Educated in what he refers to as “the liberating discourse of French Structuralism,” Hickey dismisses its American disciples as “misshapen offspring.” With his take-no-prisoners attitude, he writes in openly derisive terms about the watered-down, enfeebled American version of French thought: “Somehow, the delicate instrumentalities of continental thought had been transmuted by the American professoriate into a highfalutin, pseudo-progressive billy club with which to beat dissenters about the head and shoulders.”‘

Dave Hickey’s Politics of Beauty at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Data = not enough

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The exponential growth in information is sometimes seen as a cure-all, as computers were in the 1970s. Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, wrote in 2008 that the sheer volume of data would obviate the need for theory, and even the scientific method.

This is an emphatically pro-science and pro-technology book, and I think of it as a very optimistic one. But it argues that these views are badly mistaken. The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them.

Data-driven predictions can succeed—and they can fail. It is when we deny our role in the process that the odds of failure rise. Before we demand more of our data, we need to demand more of ourselves.

Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise

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Hermeneutics as philosophy of action

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A challenge to hermeneutics in our world of textuality which surpasses itself, hyper-textuality, is for it to become a philosophy beyond mere words on a page, to move beyond interpretation, and arbitration of meaning. It must become properly creative, it must be a philosophy of possibility, rather than a philosophy of possible alternatives. It should give us a way to deal with new information, new technologies, new techniques.

In part, this ability to deal with novelty, with the new, being a philosophy of possibility is the challenge to deal with the threat of Thrasymachus. This is the threat that words, language, ideas can be overcome by an appeal to violence, be it physical or ideological. We need hermeneutics to be that philosophy which is resilient by virtue of its historical and contextual awareness, and yet also capable of leading us beyond the threat or the actuality of violence.

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