Archives for category: Environment related questions

Recently, I’ve been questioning the role of philosophy as a discipline in our world. I’ve got three big questions about it:

1. Karl Popper argues for refutability (better known as falsifiability) in sciences, which is ” the logical possibility that an assertion can be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of a physical experiment”. This is to the point that any statement that can’t be tested is meaningless, cause you’re never know if it is right or wrong. Since most philosophy is arguments about things that can’t be proven either way, does this mean that all philosophy is bogus? Or is there another point to philosophic arguments?

2. Philosophy, so much as it has been created by people, is inherently anthropocentric. That means, the people-centered bias is in everything philosophy touches. However, philosophy (in various disguises) often extends itself outside the realm of people: ‘animal rights’ are an example of this. The question is then, because human-decision and distinction-making are at the heart of every philosophic conclusion, does philosophy become meaningless when applied to something that cannot make a decision or make a categorical distinction? Like a jaguar hunting, or a tree, or a rock. And if philosophy is so irrelevant to anything outside of human-decision making matters, is there an inherent bias that we can fix in philosophy to make it more applicable to things outside ourselves?

3. How does philosophy work, if it is so flawed? Or, if I am wrong, still: how does philosophy work?

That’s it. The subject is, does philosophy matter, at the end of the day, if it is so inherently flawed?

I am currently reading Slavoj Zizek’s “Violence”, and having barely finished the second chapter, I am running into a massive question (which I don’t know if he will answer later on or not)…

Zizek claims that “liberal communists” (people with a liberal/sociolist ideological slant that embrace capitalism as a means to achieve goals) are the core of “systemic violence” (violence, oppression, and exploitation that are inherent in any system), which means that the good capitalists and philanthropists we all respect (like George Soros or Bill Gates) are perpetrators of the system whose ills they claim to try to eliminate. The paradox of the ‘good capitalist’ is that they are more evil than the site-specific evils (say, terrorism) in that those ‘good capitalists’ hide and further perpetrate systemic-violence. Wolves in sheep’s clothing (as opposed to the plain ole’ wolves).

Jargon aside, it seems that this sort of argument is really a criticism of inescapable power relations– so to what degree is it justifiable to ‘profit’ from the system in effort to try to combat the side effects of your profit? Consider what is achievable if you are powerless, versus what you are fighting against if you achieve power? To what extant can power-structures be justified, and can we imagine a world without them (Anarchy and Communism being considered failures)? Which of our actions are justifiable and which are not– what do we do in our lives that we mentally block out the implicit ‘violence’ of?

In a very provocative final lecture by Cameron Tonkinwise in his course Rethinking Sustainable Design, Cameron summarized the course and then led us into a new discussion on sustainability as presented by Allan Stoekl in his book “Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability” .

In many ways this was also Camerons answer to the question he posed earlier of “How do we want to live?” because if Sustainability is a question, and not a simple one then we know that every question has many potential answers. Likewise, one of the biggest problems with sustainability are the various ways in which it plays out to be a survivalist rhetoric. Sustainability is presented as an end point, a type of Cosmopolitan Utopia, where humans are pleasantly different together. But the biggest flaw with this line of thought is that it strips from humans all of their messiness, emotion, desire and eroticism. It is not the answer to Cosmopolitanism as a challenge that Kwame Appiah sought, because in this dialogue it was not a choice. It is a reactionary move on humans in response to the environment. Its a homeostasis that takes from us our ability to innovate and create and make decisions and to live with emotion and reduces us simply to animals that co-inhabit and survive.

In this Cosmopolitan sustainable future, it is a boring “Utopia”. I put Utopia in quotations because it is a false Utopia, a Utopia stripped of movement and motion.

If the question is “How do we want to live?” then the follow up question is do we want to live in stasis, do we want to end up in a perpetuated pattern of living in accordance with the environment, playing out the same story again and again?

Or do we want to imagine something different, we know that currently the imagination that has culminated in the neo-liberal capitalist state has left us “de-futured” in Clive Dilnots words; So how can we proceed?

Can we have our future imagine a future? What is sustainability in motion?

I apologize, this post is longer than most. But its good, I promise 🙂

So, today I sat through a marvelous lecture on Life Cycle Assessments by my Professor Cameron Tonkinwise at Parsons.(Its a long lecture but worth it, Cameron is one of the most entertaining speakers anywhere. I mean, he made LCA an inherently boring thing, extremely interesting) Here he was explaining some of the theory behind LCA’s and how they are not the answer to sustainability that we were all looking for. LCA’s are highly politically charged and biased and there are a lot of constraints behind what they actually say.

This is not at all to say that they shouldn’t be done, because they should, but as with everything, one has to take it with a grain of salt.

The biggest take away was that LCA’s teach you to never think of products as simply a product, but that one has to think of products as ecologies. Both living and existing in time and an ecology that has a relationship to many other products and materials.

But more importantly, Product Ecologies don’t even go as far as we need them to go. What we really need to start thinking about are Practice Ecologies and running LCA’s on lifestyle associated with two different products (practice) rather than simply the two other products.

And it also becomes important to think about the notion that, when one buys a particular product, he needs to fit that product into his life. This often means adopting practices around the objects that we have. One needs to learn to read on a laptop to make use of its reading capabilities, and I for instance have massively adopted new behaviours and practices in order to teach myself online reading.

So then here is the question. Today I had my mother buy me a graduation gift (she has no idea that she bought it for me, yet!!) it was a laptop bag that allows me to attach it to the handlebars of my bike.

For the longest time I have told myself that the main reason why I do not bike to school ( a 1 hour bike ride) is because I have no convenient way of carrying my laptop, safely.

I do not like to bike with a backpack because I sweat as it is, with a bag not letting air escape, I would be drenched. Clearly this won’t do.

I have been pondering this problem for a while, not actively attempting to resolve it. When all of a sudden today, bam!! here is a bag that is meant to solve that problem, just for me. And its not as awful as a panier (those things are just not cool looking).

I went on an all day search and finally with the assistance of a friend I found it. It was $208. Aside from my cheap bike $350 and technology, I have never paid that much for any “thing.” But I really wanted to change my lifestyle, I wanted to leave myself with no more excuses.

Now I am facing a dilemma, I will need to radically change my lifestyle, as it is no longer a product that is holding me back. I am moving now into a realm of practice. I have a certain way of working now, a certain amount of things I carry: laptop, sketchbook, markers, cellphone, books, food. Ideally this bag fits into my existing lifestyle, if not I am worried that I will have to now change my lifestyle to fit this bag. And even worse, hopefully it fits my bike in the first place, otherwise this will all be meaningless.

I will probably end up buying a new bike to fit my bag (I really don’t like my bike, I’ve been meaning to save up and replace it for a while, now I may have no choice)

So this brings me to the question. What is easier when attempting to enter into a new practice. Is it easier to change yourself or is it easier to change the objects in your lifestyle? All I want to do is bike, did I choose the best option, were there other unexplored directions?

What is value? Economics seems to be collapsing in on itself because it does not know what it is actually representing. The basic units of economics, ‘capital and supply and demand and profit’, have gradually evolved into additional ideas of ‘labour’ and ‘productivity/health’ and ‘knowledge/technology’, among other things. These are measurable, but not complete in describing what the ‘value’ of something is.

Because, ‘value’ is more than that– value is of course, all the objective capital elements of production, but value is also very subjective: ‘reusability’ and ‘ideals’ and ’emotional responces’ and ‘usefulness’ and ‘branding’ etc. A stainless steel water bottle will cost you $20 not because that is how much it costs to produce (factoring in distribution costs), but because there is also a profit markup, and because it is long lasting and you will not be buying 5 water bottles a day, just one that will last you for a good period of time.

Moreover, value is not measure completely in costs anymore; it is also measuring in savings: a florescent lightbulb will not only cost you $2, it will also save you $20 in energy costs over the course of a year.

So here are the questions:

1. How do we factor in other implicit costs? Should we start having labels that require companies to show what the ‘cost of damage to the environment’ was in creating the product?

2. How do you quantify the subjective? Can we be honest about the value of selling water as opposed to installing water fountains? How do you effectively communicate the ‘value’ of public goods such as light-posts on street, not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of security and beauty?

3. What is the cost versus value, of say, education? What is the price of copyright, aka, what is the cost to society of not letting ideas propagate?

4. How are our current business models of profit failing in a ‘knowledge/information economy’? — and how is the NYTimes paywall reflect this failing mentality? And then, what are the alternatives?

Are you getting “your money’s worth”? What is “money” even mean/worth nowadays?       RK

What do we do with the obsolete? Outdated technologies, old magazines, unrevised drafts, older editions? I mean, sure, in terms of archivist’s terms, all this is important to catalog and have off-hand to know exactly how history worked (Footnote 1).

On the other hand, what do I do with all my old CDs and DVDs? Or, my floppy disks? Digital files and programs can be updated, but the tangible artifacts can’t be.  What do I do with old cellphones? With things that no longer serve thier purpose, but are fully functioning. A typewriter can continue, however outdated it may be, in it’s function, but a 1990s computer, however well it works, is useless.

So then, 1. How do we re-appropriate old and outdated and obsolete technologies and various other artifacts?

and 2. Is this very different from the notion of ‘trash’?  These are things that are functionable, but are no longer useful. Or can we find other uses? Or rather, what do you do with trash that isn’t garbage?

RK

Footnote 1 – (Errol Morris @ NYT has an interesting essay touching on the interpretation of history, http://nyti.ms/fOc6ng  , in responce this idea of ‘not imparting on the past the views of the present’ aka the important of cataloging and seeing the past in terms of the past).

There have been many many depressing articles about post college life for students. I don’t think i need to share them, im positive everyone has read them.

They’re bleak

There doesn’t seem to be many choices. In fact GEN Y, I think, is already slated to be the most educated generation ever, because there isn’t much choice but to go back to school.

So this begs the question “what is the alternative?”

Sometime next year, The New School in partnerships with Shareable.net are working on a “workshop”, “event”, something that is meant to invite graduating design students to participate and imagine a lifestyle where they can achieve this.

This looks like it will be really cool, partially because it begins to address a lot of my concerns, not about life post college, but about having students do something, disrupt (my favorite word recently).

So in preparation for this, i am attempting to begin to imagine a resource tool kit for what the graduating (graduated) students could arrange in ways to begin to design a new way of life for them. I am not positive how to approach this but my idea is to first understand what are my basic needs in NYC on a daily basis and what resources exist for me to begin to meet those needs?

I can imagine that i need

– Food

– Transport

– Free time to be creative (in whatever practice I studied)

– Housing

-Communication (phone, internet, snailmail)

These are seeming really obvious, as they would in beginning to formulate a research question.

I want to begin to collect services, objects, apps, anything that begins to support a student in those categories.

Clearly i also need to make those categories more refined. Good design researchers would tell me to chronicle everything that i do, or go out and follow graduated students to base what their needs are. (im just finishing university now so an abundance of free time doesn’t exist)?

1. Does anyone have any research that might assist in this? Perhaps an artist followed people for a day? Something of that sort?

2. What do we need to go through our days?

3. Can you recount to me everything you did yesterday?

There will be a series of posts on this topic moving on as I am currently reading The New Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque.

So far, its mouthwateringly exciting. And I have only read the introduction by Gary Hamel.

But there is already room for discussion. Hamel gives us some new facets that the businesses of old capitalism will have to re-think.

One of these, is the idea that businesses will have to start thinking about customers as more than just the people who purchase their products but as all the people who are influenced by them and their products.

This is certainly revolutionary, or maybe its not so revolutionary in that we are slowly realizing that you cannot ignore the people around you, thats just bad for business.

So what does that mean? Who are the customers now?

What are they buying if not only the products?

How do we understand the currency that is influence?

what does that mean for corporate fairplay?

And what does this mean from a service perspective?

I am sure that many of these questions will be addressed as I progress into the book, and many more will come to mind.

But lets start with these no?

I was talking to a friend today and he went on a rant about a conference at Columbia about business in china. The talk he was angry about was the talk on green tech and alternative energy.

He was angry about the fact that the extent of the problem solving going on was technological i.e. replace polluting cars with electric cars.

They gave no consideration to service design and tackling the problem non linearly. i.e don’t rethink the car, rethink moving.

Why do our corporations and businesses have such a hard time thinking non linearly?

How do you think laterally?

How do you think multi-dimensionally/(circumferentially)?/(circularly)?