Archives for category: Political Questions

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?

The longer question is, “Can we reframe economic growth & jobs/work in a way representative of the complex realities of the 21century?” Because, old models of ‘success’ aren’t showing us what is meaningful.

For example: sure, China and India are poised for 9, 10% GDP growth yearly, which is pretty phenomenal with its consistency in the international community, but how much of that growth is self-destructive? Graduates from India aren’t going to take over America if the reason they can’t get a job in India is because they are under-qualified… (the college graduation certificates they are getting are not representative of their competitiveness in the marketplace, so the ‘success’ of  millions of graduates and full education is not real success).

The problems lie somewhat in that countries are expected to maintain growth, but in the long term, that is unreasonable to ask for– you cannot keep expanding with finite resources in a highly competitive environment and zero-sum economy without the cost of growth (as measured in costs from competition and effects on society) eventually becoming higher than growth itself, thus the self-destructive nature.

But this conception of growth stems from archaic industrial-complex ideas… where tangible products being produced or consumed or traded was a sign of prowess. However, in today’s environment, this means much less than it did before… with trillions of dollars being traded by automated machines playing at a stock market daily (I’m talking about high-volume or algorithmic trading), does the movement of money still mean the same as it did before? Money no longer denotes value in the same way that it used to. Currency values are manipulated and fought over but their actual value and the growth they denote are more and more tied to concepts that are not representative of the new and complex realities of 21st century markets.

So obviously, we’ve got to examine, what are the new and complex realities of the 21st century markets? How have (if at all) technology and time changed the way we interact and do business? What is successful growth, nowadays? My argument is (as I’ve asked about here before) that value needed to be reframed first — what is value? How do we best measure it? And I don’t mean just a simple reframing of good-feeling or long-lasting types of values. I am referring to ‘value’ as a soft power, much as the hard power and the military-industrial complex is losing against the soft power of diplomacy (even Sec. of State Robert Gates is asking for more soft-power and less military spending). But how do we measure growth in soft power? How do you quantify the value of R+D, of diplomatic/economic influence, of the ability to do thing, as opposed to the easy to measure and current status-quo of measuring growth by tangible production/consumption? Because after countries leave the industrialization stage of development, they more on to a service based economy… and right now, we are still measuring services as tangible products. But that must change, because the nature of services, and the next step– knowledge and idea production and realization, cannot be measured as products, just as ‘education’ cannot be valued in college graduation rates, as in India has shown us.      RK

Not going to lie, this is not my question. I blatantly stole it from Nikil Saval in his article on slate.  Please read, its amazing.

In it he summarizes that in the 20th century there were 2 attempts to connect music and society.

The first was by Theodor Adorno and the second by Pierre Bourdieu.

Adorno’s belief was that the music produced by a society presented that societies conflicts and aspirations in a mediated form.

Bourdieu believed that music carried within it nothing at all. “it says nothing and it has nothing to say” Bourdieu says in his book “Distinction.” And that music was simply a tool for class hierarchies and distinctions.

From the Saval article:

“We can agree with Adorno that music has immanent, formal properties that are connected, somehow, to large-scale historical forces. And we can agree with Bourdieu that musical taste is an instrument in the legitimation of class hierarchies.”

So the larger question as Saval pointed out is that music exists in use, music in and of itself is a tool for action in certain situations, and that we rely on it in order to go through our daily lives.

So we come to the idea that there are different levels of interaction with music that we experience, and thus it communicates with us in different ways.

What and how does it communicate? as well as when?

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

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 have a lot of friends in a lot of different schools. The group is pretty diverse in what they do, but each one finds a fault somewhere in the education they are receiving.

Going to art or vocational school, the student learns techniques on how to do stuff. Going to a design oriented school, the student learns how to come up with new ideas, solutions. Going to a liberal arts school, the student learns to to think critically about issues. Going to a less-liberal arts school, a student learns to understand a field, and how it works, and to move around in it.

Each student comes out of school with a different result, but the purpose is to eventually become a well-functioning member of society. How is that best accomplished? And what does that mean, ‘a functioning member of society’?  In which way is each sort of education both valuable and limiting?     RK

I just watched a video of Masahiko Yendo, an experimental architect, talking about his work. My first question was “what is experimental architecture, and what good is it if it isn’t real?” He answers that first part pretty early on:

“My take on experimental architecture is non-built, and is the pursuit of trying to figure out or trying to understand the meaning of building, construction, destruction, or assigning function, rather than function itself. As an architect, I try to embrace as many non-architectural issues as possible, because the technological aspects of architecture are very much solvable…. My process is the process of discovery, so experimentation is other than a drive to some sort of conclusion or solution. LINK TO VIDEO

He mentions later about a story of two kids, where one is imprisoned somewhere, but then he counters that “it really just depends which side the lock is on”. Its an interesting thought: Israel is currently building a wall around the Palestinian Territories, but in effect, it is also building a wall around itself, locking itself almost as much as it locks Palestine.

With that in mind, here’s a few questions to think about:  To what degree do fantastic ideas like M.C. Eschers change the way we think about architecture, do Borges’ and Burroughs’ word games change the way we thinking about knowledge and writing? How important is it to have something unreal or fantastic for reality to chase after?

And most of all, the core of problem comes from the idea that all communication is miscommunication. How important is the unattainable ideal, in relationship to the real, and thus how does that failure shape our world?   RK

This is in essence, a counterpoint to my last point on the inherent ugliness of sustainability.

It should probably have been a comment, but I wanted a separate discussion on this point, forgive me.

I think it was around december 2010, when Elaine Scarry came to the New School to be the Keynote speaker for a design conference called “The critical gift in design.” She gave a talk, mostly on her book “On Beauty and Being Just” and a little bit on her book “The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World

It is about her comments on beauty that I dwell.

Scarry says that there are qualities of beauty that are important enough for us to see it as a goal.

The one that came to me was the aspect of beauty as being “unselfing”. When we encounter beautiful things, we step outside ourselves and perceive the world.

Indeed she says “beauty raises the bar for what counts as perception.”

It is a strong argument in that we normally can only see ourselves, and when we encounter beautiful things we step outside of ourselves and perceive the world.

Scarry went on to say “Beautiful things make us want to protect – to care for those things”

This is my counterpoint to the last post on the inherent ugliness of sustainability. If beauty allows us to perceive the world through a process of unselfing and then ignites within us the cause to protect those beautiful things. Is it not fair to say, that sustainability is not beautiful enough? We should make more and more beautiful things, to allow for people to perceive the world.

This is followed, by Scarrys third site of beauty which is creation. Beautiful things make us want to create.

So we go from encounter to unselfing to perception to creation. It is a really beautiful path.

There are 2 questions that I have here.

The first: So should we just make more beautiful things?”

The second: How can we capitalize on perception?

If we are in a race against time with the planet, can we capitalize on beauty?

Can we use beauty and its unselfing as a design goal?

Or will that subvert beauty and make it ugly?

Ok sorry, that was more than 2 questions.