28.2.11

I Like Bagels

I love moments of 'texting' like this:
Saturday, 11:30 AM:

MICHAEL: Shut your filthy mind-hole you treacherous savage.

SAM: No.

MICHAEL: The wisest among us would do justice to our relationship if this were to occur.

SAM: WTF are you even talking about?

ME: I'm talking about the sapping of our worth through the commodification of irony, the rash abuse of pretension, and the wholesale abandonment of poetic license – a holy jihad against reason and stability. LOL.

SAM: I just ate a bagel.
MICHAEL: I like bagels.

Warren Buffet on Class Wars

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
- Warren E. Buffet [source]
We are currently suffering through one of the worst crashes/failures our economic systems have ever endured. It is widely acknowledged that this crisis was mainly the result of predatory capitalism, reckless financial decisions and ventures and the irresponsible/incompetent "management" of a number of extremely wealthy executives and decision-makers.

Millions have lost their jobs, and yet massive banking firms and elite alliances deemed “to big to fail” were bailed out with taxpayers money, and ended up making billions in profits for their shareholders. At the same time, politicians and special interest groups are attacking labor organizations, environmental regulations, public healthcare and the working-class with fury and determination.

Is there a class war going on? You bet your life there is. And the poor and working people of this world are seriously losing this war. But for how long? How long will we put up with the status quo? Not long.

27.2.11

Ivakhiv on Revolution in the Middle East

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From Adrian Ivakhiv:
revolutionary democracy

Here are a few thoughts after watching Frontline’s Revolution in Cairo, which is a very good 24-minute summary of how this particular democratic moment occurred, and after reading Badiou‘s, Hardt & Negri’s, Hallward‘s, Amit Rai‘s, and some other takes on the events.

(1) The recipe: Tools + Techniques + Events + Vision = The revolution(s) we’ve been witnessing.
The first two require a lot of work. The third requires preparedness, but the events themselves unfold somewhat on their own. (I wouldn’t recommend self-immolation, but there are alternative ways of bringing attention to things.) The fourth ingredient, “Vision,” is less identifiable… (excerpt)
(2) Where things may go.
As a moment of self-empowerment, the revolution is what it is, a genuine Event. It is, as Badiou, Hallward, et al., argue, worth celebrating, learning from, and perhaps emulating. But it will pass, and the time of “assuming new tasks,” including the task of building a society, “the common creation of a collective destiny,” as Badiou puts it, will be upon the Egyptians. Badiou calls that task “communism,” but that term is both too old and too late, and maybe too new and too early, since the last set of efforts cast an awfully long shadow. Building communism, as we know, has been tried and failed, because the institutions of the “common creation of a collective destiny” will inevitably fail unless they’re tempered by the recognition of that inevitability… (excerpt)
(3) Social media are not enough.
The current attack on public media in this country, and on public sector unions and all they represent (collective bargaining and the gains it has made for working people over the last century), is a frontline of social struggle today... (excerpt)
There is much more in the post, so go read the full post @ immanence.

26.2.11

Catalytic Art

The function of art as an object is to generate acts of cognition which increase our capacity for imagination. An uneasy relationship between two entities - the created and the creator - then forms to mark off boundaries where each object can be expressed in the world.

Solar Storm, by unknown

25.2.11

All The Way Down

click to enlarge
 A shard of genius from Josh Russell:
There’s a popular, origins-unknown story about a scientist telling a room full of people about astrological theory, the moon revolving around the earth revolving around the sun revolving around the centre of the galaxy and possibly all of that revolving around the centre of the universe. Possibly. An old woman stood up and said, “This is hogwash!” The scientist, obviously, was amused by her incredulity. “What then, madam do you propose?” The old woman, not diminishing even the tiniest bit replied, “Its a flat world on the back of a giant turtle!” Sir Scientist, ever amused by those who lay claims without instrumentally-backed evidence, said to her (in an attempt to finish the conversation swiftly): “Then what is holding up the turtle?” She replied, just as confidently: “Its turtles all the way down!”

Wasn’t the Buddha a turtle once? There are plenty of creation stories that say we live on the back of a turtle or several turtles… or a raven or elephant…

What’s the point? I’m glad you asked. I read a lot, and sometimes I feel I am certain of what to believe about the world or faith or people or “nature”… but then something happens that shakes that foundation. Someone tells me its actually turtles all the way down, or worse, there’s nothing there. As a kid I learned that it was Jesus and angels all the way… my life is my own and I am accountable for every action and inaction in my life. Then I was a science student and I became an atheist. Then I became interested in education and I started to become a Buddhist.

Now? I’m not sure… the child in me that’s still afraid of eternal consequence arises from time to time, but I am much more comfortable in that idea of a messy, always partial interpretation or experience of the cosmos. I mean, its the cosmos, its HUGE. Obviously we don’t know it all. There’s different types of knowledge, all swirling out there in the billions of galaxies in deep space images and each only paints part of the picture. While ideas and interpretations and politics can be and should be challenged, I try my best to take a “yes, and” approach (at least initially) rather than a “either, or” approach. I try to integrate integrate integrate as long as I can before I am politically or ethically convinced that a particular view fits or enhances the messy image in my head. Or it doesn’t.
Read More: Here

Perpetual uncertainty is a condition of human understanding. The sooner we assimilate that reality into our conceptual worlds the more humble, inquisitive and wise we will become.

The Truth About Conservatives?

I was really unsure about posting this video because of it's vulgarity and seeming crudeness. But then I decided to go ahead with it because TJ ("The Amazing Atheist") makes a lot of sense here. In particular, I appreciate his pointing out the insanity of so-called conservatives on the issue of taxes and government salaries. Conservatives will endorse a 20% pay cut for teachers and firefighters but scream bloody murder if someone proposes increasing the taxes of millionaires by 3%. Such Conservative nonsense is almost always accompanied by a lame appeal to "freedom". Freedom for whom, and at what cost to civil society?

Anyway, watch the video below and listen to the arguments, and see what you make of all the ranting. Let me know where you stand or what you think of TJ's perspective. But, for the record, know that i agree every word TJ is yelling. Enjoy.


TJ Kincaid is a uber-popular YouTube personality, comedian and social commentator with over 200,000 regular subscribers to his ongoing video productions. To learn more about his work go here.

24.2.11

Any System


ANY SYSTEM
by Leonard Cohen

Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down
We warned you before
and nothing that you built has stood
Hear it as you lean over your blueprint
Hear it as you roll up your sleeve
Hear it once again
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down

You have your drugs
You have your guns
You have your Pyramids your Pentagons
With all your grass and bullets
you cannot hunt us any more
All that we disclose of ourselves forever
is this warning
Nothing that you built has stood
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down.

It Only Takes One


revolution begins with a choice. it only takes one person to
get it started. are you that one? am i? what are we waiting for?

( the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain are showing us that action and sacrifice can affect change. revolt works. protesters are not "thugs".
what will it take to follow their lead? demand change )

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest

Three days of footage (Feb 15-17, 2011) from the Madison, Wisconsin protests against the SB11 budget anti-labor repair bill.


It is time to give a damn.

Middle Eastern Revolutions Will Benefit All of Us

“We do not want a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women -- not merely peace in our time but peace for all time."
– John F. Kennedy (1963)
From Saman Mohammadi at The Excavator:
Andrew Bacevich and Lew Rockwell argue convincingly that the people of the Arab world and the Middle East are doing America a great favor by overthrowing their dictators, most of whom have been supported by the United States for decades.

Andrew Bacevich (from the LA Times):
If the Muslim masses demanding political freedom and economic opportunity prevail, they will do so not thanks to but despite the United States. Yet by liberating themselves, they will also liberate us. Our misbegotten crusade to determine their destiny will finally end. In that case, we will owe them a great debt.
Lew Rockwell:
It is a fact: these people hate the tyrants. It is also a fact that these are "our" tyrants. The very existence exposes the gross hypocrisy of US foreign policy.

God bless these protesters. They are losing their chains. They are changing the Arab world – and the whole globe – by destabilizing and overthrowing the dictators. They are not only doing it without US help. They are doing it despite US support for the dictators they oppose. As such, these revolutions can mean more than the overthrow of despots; they can end in overthrowing the despotic policy and empire headquartered in Washington, DC. Want to join me in the streets?
Ask your family, friends and neighbors what they think about a world without war, without pollution, without hate, without people who seek to control, trick and dominate us. Ask them about their thoughts on what is happening in the Middle East. Start conversations. Encourage debate. Ask yourself what your “tipping point” will be. Let us revolt together.

23.2.11

Vanguards of Democracy

"Today, the vanguard of democracy is not in Washington. It’s on the Arab street, and we need to give them credit for that. They’ve created a generation of heroes: these Arab kids. They’re a lot more brave than you or I have ever needed to be."
-Graham Harman
I continue to be facinated by the role social media and the internet has played in the rising wave of revolt in the Middle East. Twitter, blogs and Facebook have proved powerful tools in the communication and coordination of revolutionary activities. Never before has technological advance been a wepon of the people like it has now. We certainly live in interesting times.

One of my favorite sources of information on the happenings in the region continues to be the blog of Graham Harman. Harman has been posting updates about the goings on in the middle-east for weeks - and for someone like myself who doesn't have or want cable television; it's pretty fotunate to get live updates from someone who is following so closely the situation 'on the ground' as well as living in that area.

I suggest if you are interested in following along you check out his latest: here.

22.2.11

Objects, Encounters and Embodied Qualities

Here is Tom Sparrow asking some important questions on his blog Plastic Bodies:
what, then, is a quality?

The question is Peirce’s, from his “The Principles of Phenomenology.” His answer is one I endorse, but I would quibble with him about it is one born out of phenomenology. Against those who would have qualities depend upon the mind of their observer, Peirce thinks of qualities as dispositions inherent in objects. He does not use the language of disposition, but rather the language of potentiality. But he is clear that by ‘potentiality’ he does not mean potentiality as lack of actuality, but potentiality as a real capacity, and not merely some dormant can-be-actualized-but-that-depends-on-actualization. His whole discussion hooks up with Shaviro’s recent commentary on Molnar’s Powers, and works in support of my account of sensations...

What I’m keen to defend is the view that sensations really reside in things; that things emanate to radiate sensations, and that an object is in one respect a conspiracy of qualities whose autonomy is embodied in its singular capacity/disposition/power to effect other objects.
I'm delighted Tom is now publicly expanding on previous comments he made regarding what he calls "radiant sensations". As I have written previously in relation to this topic:
I couldn’t agree with Tom more. Entities are their emanating qualities. I think that when we investigate how animal perception works in the world we never actually find some inter-mediate gap between two entities where qualities appear to one or both of those entities in excess of either entity’s actual constituent-being. As Tom explains it, “qualities” are not something that simply come into being through indirect contact and perceptions of ‘substances’, nor are they peripheral to the deepest individuality of any particular entity. “Qualities” are intrinsic emanations of an entity’s individuality and being-in-the-world.
I believe the notion that all entities are compositions with embodied qualities interacting through the mingling of intrinsic properties is important for a robust realist ontology. For me, entities, assemblages or objects must be characterized in terms of both their individualized efficacy (or potency) as well as their substantial and temporal-processual finitude (or vulnerability). And to do this, I believe, we must resist idolizing supposed transcendental characteristics abstracted from their onto-specific properties and begin understanding entities by way of the embodied capacities they actually express in the world.

This is not to say that human knowledge can fully capture or completely translate or represent the totality of objects and their embodied capacities. Objects certainly withdraw from our understandings (knowledge) of them - if only because all primate knowledge is limited and partial. But human knowledge is not the only medium through which we encounter other entities. We encounter other entities by way of a multitude of constituting properties. In short, 'contact' is not simply about knowing but also about perceiving, and perceiving is a function of embodiment and sensation, which, as Tom notes, is more about the mix and mingle of given qualities.   

I reject the notion that entities totally withdraw from each other on an ontic level. I argue that primates, as with many other actual entities, have direct but partial access to real objects/assemblages via our shared cosmological (material-energetic) 'ancestry'. That is, all entities, including humans, are of the same material-energetic-based reality as all other actualities, and therefore vulnerable to the same affective forces. This is what I like to call ontological intimacy: the claim that all entities emanate and resonate on the same ontic plane and therefore share a primordial intimacy, or 'kinship' with each other. (cf. Simondon on the pre-individual status of the real). And the fact that particular entity-assemblages (wholes) are irreducibility to their sub-strata (parts) doesn't take away from the simultaneous fact that both parts and wholes, objects and assemblages, partake of the same affective ancestral plane and material reality.

Much to the annoyance of some, individuation, particularity, emergence and continuity are compatible and simultaneous facts about the world - and it is by virtue of their actual embodiment and intimacy that emanating entities encounter each other directly but partially.

I plan to think and write more on this topic, but for now you can read my previous comments on these issues here, here and here.

So let me just note that I welcome Tom's pursuit of a definition of qualities and sensation that respects their embodied actuality, and I look forward to Tom working through these ideas in greater detail. As Tom describes his own project:
"In the end – and this will constitute my attempt to think objects in their own right – I’m working toward a speculative aesthetics that will try to imagine a world where qualities conspire into objects and exchange sensations without the facilitation of humans or other sentient creatures."
Check out Tom's entire post here.

A Message of Solidarity from Anonymous to Libyan Freedom Fighters

Dear United Nations:

Anonymous wishes you to act.

We are watching the developments in Libya and are shocked.
Shocked by the images we’ve seen.
Shocked by the things Libya’s Anons have told us.
Shocked by the fact that one man ignores the voices of his citizens and opens fire on them.
Shocked by the fact that even with generals and diplomats deserting, this man is still ignoring the will of his people and unwilling to accept their human rights.

People ought not have to fear their leaders; leaders ought to fear their people. In too many places, though, this is currently not the case. A grasping dictator has taken an army to the skies and the streets to shed blood of people whom he should be protecting. Some of them have bravely refused, and thereby done their part; when will the UN do theirs?

We just want the people to be free. Please help us help them. Again, this is not an attack, but rather a bid for your full attention, which ought to be directed towards assisting Libyans in their quest for liberty.

The United Nations has the power to prevent this egregious loss of life, but it must act quickly and decisively to do so, contrary to its usual habits.

We ask not for meetings or referenda. Rather, we demand that you implement the following measures and do so in a manner that will minimize the loss of life among civilians and put an end to the rule of this degenerate tyrant.

1. Provide a blanket no-fly zone to prevent state controlled aircraft from bombing civilians.

2. Provide secured transport of medical supplies to major population centers.

3. Announce the implementation of these measures within 24 hours.
That world which you claim to protect is watching and will respond accordingly.
We are Anonymous
We are Legion.
We do not forget,
We do not forgive.

Expect us.
Fuck yeah.
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Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin Resistance, US Hegemony and the Role of Empire

From Democracy Now:
“Democracy Uprising” in the U.S.A.? - Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin’s Resistance to Assault on Public Sector, the Obama-Sanctioned Crackdown on Activists, and the Distorted Legacy of Ronald Reagan:

Part 1 /


Part 2 /

21.2.11

Multiple Ecologies and Transdisciplinarity

A series of interesting new posts have sprung up which seem to be preliminary descriptions of various three fold ecologies. First, California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) student Adam Robberts posted his thoughts (here) on the mutual interdependence of what have traditionally been identified as ‘nature, culture and knowledge’. Here is his introduction to the piece, which he tells us is a part of a larger work in progress:
Nature, culture and knowledge are collectively assembled elements of a complex and shifting mosaic. Intrinsically relative, these three elements, I argue, are mutually enacting and inseparable. “Nature” is inevitably an abstract construction, a horizon upon which cultural-scientific modes of knowledge organize highly specific elements of a more complex reality. Nature is organizationally open in an observer-dependent way. Likewise, culture and science do not simply “construct” a vision of Nature that is absent of historical and ecological contingencies. The naïve empiricism of the positivist philosopher, alongside the equally impoverished idea of the “social construction of Nature” is, in the context of a twenty-first century ecological science, inadequate.
Adam then marks out some thoughts on the role of subjectivity and enacted knowledge in the understanding of ecological issues:
The following work is maps out the possibility and validity of this idea: that there is an ecology of knowledge, concepts, and paradigms that are mediated through, and reciprocally infolded with, specific political and technological practices.
The whole post is well worth the read - as Adam brings Kuhn, Alf Hornborg and others to bear on what Adam wants to suggest are the three interpenetrating ecologies of media, nature, and knowledge.

In a follow-up comment I ask Adam if he has considered the connections between his own work and Guattari’s ‘ecosophy’ – specifically with regards to Guattari’s ‘three ecologies’ (environmental, social, mental). In addition, I assumed Adam’s affiliation with CIIS would have also exposed him to Ken Wilber’s own triumvirate of perspectival realms of the real, which could possibly be compared to both Adam’s and Guattari’s triple ecologies.

Adam then responded by posting what seems to be another except from his work in progress specifically addressing the connections one might explore between the work of Guattari, Edgar Morin, and various other thinkers who have three fold approaches to ecological thinking (here).

Here is a particularly interesting bit:
In arguing for a complex, relational epistemology, Hornborg acknowledges that human cognition, or knowledge, whatever its form, is always a mutually constellating act that designates simultaneously the knower, as a subject, and the known, as an object of knowledge. Emphasizing this relationship, Hornborg explores the recursivity of the subject-object split and cites that such a relational epistemology is foundational to the work of biological scientists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela as well as anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s “ecology of mind” (2001).
All in all I resonate with the general resemblances Adam is calling upon here. And an important point emerging from Adam’s overview is how researchers must respect the irreducible complexity of ecological and human phenomenon, and begin investigating the intricate dynamics occurring among phenomena that we normally describe in exclusive terms such as nature, culture, the individual, the species, and society. The world is much more interconstellating than has so far been understood by scholars and researchers in all specialized disciplines, and all future practical interventions will rely of our varied capacity to engender more adequate portrayals of existing reality.

With an interestingly similar strain of thinking, Levi Bryant has a posted a link to a PDF version of a recent talk he delivered at Georgia Tech titled, “The Faintest of Traces”. In the paper, Bryant lays the ground work for a post-Lacanian, object-oriented philosophy that posits 3 interlocking realms of the real that constitute social assemblages of all kinds.

As usual with Bryant, there is much to be appreciated in the paper as a whole, but I found the following passage perhaps most striking:
Clearly the domain of meaning must be an important component of social assemblages, yet it cannot be the entire story.

Something is missing. In his essay “Where are the Missing Masses?”, Latour marks the void of these components in sociology. As Latour writes,
According to some physicists there is not enough mass in the universe to balance the accounts that cosmologists make of it. They are looking everywhere for the "missing mass" that could add up to the nice expected total. It is the same with sociologists. They are constantly looking, somewhat desperately, for social links sturdy enough to tie all of us together or for moral laws that would be inflexible enough to make us behave properly. When adding up social ties it does not balance. Soft human and weak moralities are all sociologists can get. The society they try to recompose with bodies and norms constantly crumble. Something is missing… Where can they find it?... To balance our accounts of society we simply have to turn our attention away from humans and look at non-humans.
According to Latour, the missing masses that haunt our analysis of social assemblages are nonhumans.
Bryant, following Latour and others, asks researchers to explicitly acknowledge the role “nonhumans” play in the constitution of any given social matrix. Nonhumans contribute to the regularity of social relations in often hidden yet persistent ways, and must be considered along with the semiotic and the psychological dimensions of social assemblages.

Bryant then goes on to modify Lacan’s famous Borromean knot formulation in a very interesting way. Whereas Lacan posited three interlocking registers of the Imaginal, the Symbolic and the Real, Bryant offers to elucidate the symbolic, phenomenological, and material dimensions of the overarching domain of the Real. As Bryant writes,
By encompassing all three domains in the circle of the real, I am emphasizing the flat ontology I’ve developed elsewhere in my book The Democracy of Objects. Flat ontology seeks to place the heterogeneity of entities that populate our world on equal ontological footing. In other words, it refuses to reduce the domain of the symbolic to the material, nor to reduce the material to a construction of the cultural. Instead, it strives to think the interaction of these domains, treating them all as being equally real. [p.7]
Bryant is then quick to point out his motives behind his reformulations:
“With this modified version of the Borromean knot it is my hope that diverse branches of theory can be integrated and thought together… The point, however, is not to simply embrace all of these diverse domains, but to instead investigate how they interpenetrate and interact, influencing one another so as to produce the social assemblages that populate our world.” [p.7]
Of course, as someone who consciously and intentionally operates outside of disciplinary structures I can only support any endeavor that seeks to inject authentic interdisciplinary (or perhaps transdisciplinary?) sensibilities into philosophical thinking. As previously noted, in relation to the future of the anthropological enterprise, I believe we have not yet seen the kinds of innovative projects or multi-dimensional models that might arise from a truly creative and rigorous cross-fertilization between the humanities and the sciences. However, I believe the work of John Protevi, Manuel DeLanda and various medical and ecological anthropologists are definitely moving in that direction.

And it is precisely the pluralistic and transversive character of Bryant’s and Adam’s triadic formulations that makes them so relevant for transdisciplinary thinking in general. Such thinking attempts to differentiate the multiple ecologies at work in the world and enrich any future expanded explorations into the nature of reality.

As anthropologist Alf Hornborg writes:
“The recurrent, triadic scheme is not arbitrary but reflects the complementarity of perspectives on human-environment relations deriving, respectively, from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities” (2001:192).
I think an acknowledgment of the various ontological and epistemological ecologies Adam, Bryant and others identify would also require us to begin deploying much more pluralistic methodological practices - approaches capable of exploring, mediating and cross-translating the varied ecological, semiotic and existential phenomena at play within particular situations.

Just think how much better our researches and practical interventions would be should we take an even wider yet deeper view of the world?

19.2.11

Michael Pollen On A Plant's-Eye View

What if human consciousness isn't the end-all and be-all result of evolution? What if we are all just pawns in bacteria's "clever" strategy game to rule the Earth? Or are we simply productive laborers in corn's dominant regime of control over the planet's international food system? Such questions reveal a reflexive appreciation for the efficacy and impact of non-human phenomena; one which I believe must be central to any realist ontographic exploration of reality.

Below journalist Michael Pollan poses such questions and asks us to try and understand the world from a plant's perspective:


Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he explains how our food not only affects our health but has far-reaching political, economic, and environmental implications, and named one of the top ten nonfiction titles of 2006. Pollan is also an activist and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

18.2.11

Moving Anthropology Forward?

?




Anthropologist Daniel Lende has a fantastic post up at the Neuroanthropology blog discussing the recent controversy surrounding the American Anthropological Association’s decision to drop the word “science” from its long-range plan. I especially liked the way Daniel not only summarizes the controversy but also seeks to move the discussion forward into a space where practitioners can ask more positive, active and defining questions about what anthropology might be good for. Check it out below.

From Neuroanthropology:
A Vision of Anthropology Today – and Tomorrow
By Daniel Lende

“Anthropology isn’t in the crisis that parts of the media would have you believe, but it must do better, argue Adam Kuper and Jonathan Marks.”

So goes the tagline in the commentary Anthropologists Unite! by Kuper and Marks published in Nature yesterday. And quite a tag-team they make. Adam Kuper is a prominent social anthropologist in the United Kingdom, Jonathan Marks a prominent biological anthropologist in the United States.

Together they tackle the recent controversy over the American Anthropological Association dropping the word “science” from its long-range plan, and use the controversy as a platform to reflect on the past and the future of anthropology.
I will do the same. What has the AAA controversy shown us? And since the long-range plan proved divisive rather than inclusive, how can we create a compelling vision for moving forward as a field? Where do we go from here?
Read More @ PLOS Blogs

There is much to consider in Daniel’s vision but the following statements stand out to me as needing special attention:
  • “Anthropologists do seem to be searching for a new identity, something to lend us vision, a plan of action for the future.”
  • “Kuper and Marks propose ‘comparative science of humankind’ as the core identity for the field. ...a truly comparative science of human beings throughout their history, and all over the world…requires more interdisciplinary team research in anthropology.”
  • “…whatever human nature may be, it clearly takes a variety of local forms, and is in constant flux.”
  • “Anthropologists do share a great common cause. They would agree that anyone who makes claims about human nature must learn a lot of ethnography.”
  • “Only a handful still try to understand the origins and possible connections between biological, social and cultural forms, or to debate the relative significance of history and microevolution in specific, well-documented instances. This is a great pity, and not only because the silence of anthropologists has left the field to blockbusting books by amateurs that are long on speculation and short on reliable information.”
  • “…if anthropology is really going to be the study of people, grounded in both science and humanities, then the humanities needs to be part of how we understand ourselves.”
  • “James Clifford, in his proposal for “the greater humanities,” synthesizes four important things that the humanistic approach provides… the 1) interpretive 2) realist 3) historical 4) ethico-political.”
  • “…anthropologists as ‘living at the border zone in intellectual life between science, social science and humanities.’”
And, finally, Daniel quotes Hugh Gusterson writing: 
In my experience, younger cultural anthropologists tend to describe themselves as pragmatists, and they see the debates in the 1980s and 1990s about “writing culture” and the politics of knowledge, which were so formative for an older generation, as a part of the discipline’s history they have assimilated and are moving beyond.
That has certainly been my experience and I think the new generations of anthropologists are uniquely poised to reorganize the discipline and begin deploying much more sophisticated blends of science, cultural theory and philosophy than have hitherto been practiced. Anthropology is unique in that is has already been a bridge between the humanities and the sciences for quite some time. And yet very few truly comprehensive visions of the human condition get written by actual anthropologists.

What I would really like to see is the development of teams of anthropologists, each with particular sub-specialties and local in-depth knowledge, collaborating to design more robust, complex and multi-dimensional models of human behavior and social life. The ethical and practical benefits of such projects would be immense. In the last instance, of course, anthropology will be exactly whatever its practitioners decide to make it.

17.2.11

Chevron Fined $8 Billion for Polluting Amazon

Maria Eugenia Briceno lives in the area affected by the pollution
It’s taken decades but finally the Amazonian Indians whose environment was despoiled by Texaco have won their lengthy court battle with successor corporation Chevron.

However, it is an Ecuadorian court and no doubt the plaintiffs will have a tough time enforcing the judgment in the United States and actually collecting the money. Look forward to years more litigation while the people of the Amazon suffer for the oil giant’s intentional destruction of natural ecosystems.

BBC News reports on the judgment:
A court in Ecuador has fined US oil giant Chevron a reported $8bn (£5bn) for polluting a large part of the country’s Amazon region.

The oil firm Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, was accused of dumping billions of gallons of toxic materials into unlined pits and Amazon rivers. Campaigners say crops were damaged and farm animals killed, and that local cancer rates increased.

Condemning the ruling as fraudulent, Chevron said it would appeal.
And from RT America News:


[ h/t for the video Reality Zone ]

15.2.11

Should We Clone Neanderthals?

This is an important question and one not easily answered. I'm not completely against the idea. What say you?

From Archaeology:
Should We Clone Neanderthals?
by Zach Zorich

If Neanderthals ever walk the earth again, the primordial ooze from which they will rise is an emulsion of oil, water, and DNA capture beads engineered in the laboratory of 454 Life Sciences in Branford, Connecticut. Over the past 4 years those beads have been gathering tiny fragments of DNA from samples of dissolved organic materials, including pieces of Neanderthal bone. Genetic sequences have given paleoanthropologists a new line of evidence for testing ideas about the biology of our closest extinct relative.

The first studies of Neanderthal DNA focused on the genetic sequences of mitochondria, the microscopic organelles that convert food to energy within cells. In 2005, however, 454 began a collaborative project with the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, to sequence the full genetic code of a Neanderthal woman who died in Croatia's Vindija cave 30,000 years ago. As the Neanderthal genome is painstakingly sequenced, the archaeologists and biologists who study it will be faced with an opportunity that seemed like science fiction just 10 years ago. They will be able to look at the genetic blueprint of humankind's nearest relative and understand its biology as intimately as our own.

In addition to giving scientists the ability to answer questions about Neanderthals' relationship to our own species--did we interbreed, are we separate species, who was smarter--the Neanderthal genome may be useful in researching medical treatments. Newly developed techniques could make cloning Neanderthal cells or body parts a reality within a few years. The ability to use the genes of extinct hominids is going to force the field of paleoanthropology into some unfamiliar ethical territory. There are still technical obstacles, but soon it could be possible to use that long-extinct genome to safely create a healthy, living Neanderthal clone. Should it be done?

[ Also check Daniel Rourke's excellent companion piece:
Raising Neanderthals: Metaphysics at the Limits of Science ]

14.2.11

Graham Harman Honoring Egyptian Heroes

An amazing tribute to the heroes of the 2011 Egyptian revolution by one of today’s most intriguing and engaging philosophers: here. Kudos to Graham Harman for his effort and compassion.


13.2.11

Alter Egos

Below is a short NFB film by Oscar-winning animator Chris Landreth called Ryan. The film is based on the life of Ryan Larkin - a highly regarded Canadian artist who produced some of the most influential animated films of his time. I watched many of Larkin’s short animations as a child and they always fascinated and stimulated my developing thought in ways I can only now vaguely understand. Larkin's work was influential at a time when I was just becoming aware of my own intellectual/artistic inclinations.

The film is an incredible look into the amazing and nightmarish life of one of Canada’s pioneering artists. Through computer-generated characters and colorful symbolism Landreth reveals Larkin's downward spiral from award-winning animator to his current existence as an alcoholic panhandler walking the streets of Montreal.




Next is a film called Alter Egos. The films picks up where Ryan left off, by delving deeper into the tale of Larkin’s descent and the fascinating relationship that developed between Larkin and Chris Landreth after the making of Ryan. Using excerpts of both men’s Oscar-nominated works, this film is a poignant study of artists, addiction, creativity and human frailty.

11.2.11

Egypt Rising

Congratulations to the Egyptian people! Their courage, wisdom and character have thrust them into a new phase in their historic evolutions. Simply put: they did it – together:
Egypt's Mubarak quits under protest pressure

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned and handed over power to the military, ousted by a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who demanded his removal.

The terse announcement was made live on state TV by a grim Vice-President Omar Suleiman at about 6 p.m. local time Friday. "In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country," Suleiman said in a five-minute address translated into English. "May God help everybody."

Several hundred thousand protesters packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square screamed for joy, waving Egyptian flags, blowing car horns, jumping up and down and chanting slogans such as: "Egypt is free," "God is great," "The people have brought down the regime."
Read More @ CBC News

Thousands of Egyptians in Cairo celebrate President Hosni Mubarak's resignation Friday night....................
follow events here:
Al Jazeera English | Live Feed

The Guardian | Live Updates

BBC | Live Coverage

10.2.11

Catastrophic Normalcy

For two decades now we've been ignoring the impassioned pleas of the world's top scientists about how our use of fossil fuels was much more than just a bad idea. That was then, this is now: massive storms, flooding, forest fires, mind-blowing heat waves (2010 was the hottest year in recorded history). Such things are no longer 'projections' - they are happening right now. Welcome to the new normal:
Catastrophic Weather Events Are Becoming the New Normal -- Are You Ready for Life on Our Planet Circa 2011?

By Bill McKibben

If you were in the space shuttle looking down yesterday, you would have seen a pair of truly awesome, even fearful, sights.

Much of North America was obscured by a 2,000-mile storm dumping vast quantities of snow from Texas to Maine--between the wind and snow, forecasters described it as "probably the worst snowstorm ever to affect" Chicago, and said waves as high as 25 feet were rocking buoys on Lake Michigan.

Meanwhile, along the shore of Queensland in Australia, the vast cyclone Yasi was sweeping ashore; though the storm hit at low tide, the country's weather service warned that "the impact is likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations," especially since its torrential rains are now falling on ground already flooded from earlier storms. Here's how Queensland premier Anna Bligh addressed her people before the storm hit: "We know that the long hours ahead of you are going to be the hardest that you face. We will be thinking of you every minute of every hour between now and daylight and we hope that you can feel our thoughts, that you will take strength from the fact that we are keeping you close and in our hearts."

Welcome to our planet, circa 2011--a planet that, like some unruly adolescent, has decided to test the boundaries. For two centuries now we've been burning coal and oil and gas and thus pouring carbon into the atmosphere; for two decades now we've been ignoring the increasingly impassioned pleas of scientists that this is a Bad Idea. And now we're getting pinched.
Read More @ AlterNet

I'm left wondering what kind of communities will form within conditions where catastrophic normalcy permeates? What type of individuals will we generate and what types of practical adaptations will we be necessary? Will the ‘stress’ of such an existence increasingly require us to shift our priorities towards survival as opposed to civility and/or other such complex luxuries? Perhaps our next move is to begin cultivating explicitly post-apocalyptic sensibilities? I believe it’s time to ask these questions in earnest.

8.2.11

Bruno Latour: "politics as the composition of a common world"

Bruno Latour on modernity, ecology and new politics (h/t Scu):
“On governments the question becomes complicated because we are now talking about the politics of Nature and that's a rather new quandary.” - Bruno Latour
An Interview with Bruno Latour, thinker and social anthropologist.

Bruno Latour is one of France's most innovative, provocative and stimulating thinkers and social anthropologists. Given French Cartesian orthodoxy, it is not surprising that he is more appreciated in the Anglo-Saxon world, where his books such as “We Have Never Been Modern” (1993) are better known than in his native France. Jon Thompson, the publisher and chief editor of Polity Press, London, described him as France's most original and interesting thinker and in 2007, Bruno Latour was listed as the 10th most-cited intellectual in the humanities and social sciences by The Times Higher Education Guide.

Mr. Latour's seminal work has been in the field of Science and Technology Studies. With his “Actor Network Theory” he has advanced the notion that the objects of scientific study are socially constructed within the laboratory. Thus scientific activity is viewed as a system of beliefs, oral traditions and culturally specific practices, reconstructed, not as a procedure or as a set of principles but as a culture. Mr. Latour will be in India this week conducting workshops in New Delhi. In this exclusive interview with The Hindu's Vaiju Naravane in Paris, he discusses the new challenges facing humanity and of India's role in the climate debate.

Q: I wish to start this interview with a discussion of one of your most famous books — “We Have Never Been Modern”. Could you explain what you meant by that? What made you write this book and where do you go now?

LATOUR: The Great Narrative of the Western definition of the world was based on a certain idea of Science and Technology and once we began, 30 or 40 years ago to study the practices of the making of science and technology, we realized that this definition could not sustain the old idea of western rationality taking, in a way the place of archaic attachment to the past.

The Great Narrative was based on the idea of Science which was largely mythical. Science has always been linked to the other cultures of the Western World, although it has always described itself as apart — separated from politics, values, religion and so on. But when you begin to work on a history of Science — Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Einstein, Kantor or whoever, you find on the contrary, that things have never been severed, that there has always been a continuous re-connection with the rest of cultures and especially with the rest of politics...
Read More @ The Hindu

7.2.11

Agustin Fuentes on Human Nature and Experience

From Neuroanthropology:
Agustin Fuentes on Human Nature, Early Experience, and Our Social Niche
Agustin Fuentes, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, gave this in-depth talk “Social Cooperation, Niche Construction, and the Core Role of Intergenerational Bonding in Human Evolution”. It comes with a warm and touching introduction by Jim McKenna. Great to see both of my friends in action!


Augustin Fuentes, Human Nature and Early Experience from ACEatND on Vimeo.

His talk was part of a conference on Human Nature and Early Experience, and you can access more videos from the conference, including talks by Stephen Soumi, Douglas Fry, Vincent Felliti, Wenda Trevathan, and many other illumaries.

Cornel West on Truth and Finitude

Cornel West (b.1953) is an American philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America. West is the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University, where he teaches in the Center for African American Studies and in the Department of Religion.

West is known for his combination of political and moral insight and criticism and his contribution to the post-1960s civil rights movement. The bulk of his work focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their “radical conditionedness." West draws intellectual contributions from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Church, pragmatism and transcendentalism.

Below is a clip from the documentary film The Examined Life where West talks about the ultimate nature of reality and human experience:



"A philosopher is a lover of wisdom. It takes tremendous discipline. It takes tremendous courage to think for yourself, to examine yourself. That socratic imperative requires courage in a way William Butler Yates used to say, 'It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul, than it does for a soldier to fight on the battlefield.' Courage to think critically. Courage is the enabling virtue for any philosopher, for any human being in the end. Courage to think, courage to love, courage to hope.

Plato says philosophy is a meditation on, and a preparation for death. By death what he means is not an event, but a death in life. Because there's no rebirth, there's no change, there's not transformation without death. And therefore, the question becomes how do you learn how to die. Of course Montaigne talks about that in his famous essay, 'To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die.' You can't talk about truth without talking about learning how to die.

I believe that Theodore Adorno was right when he says, 'The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak.' That gives it an existential emphasis, you see. That if we're really talking about truth, as a way of life as opposed to truth as a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world. Human beings are unable to ever gain a monopoly on Truth capital T. We might have access to truth small t, but they're fallible claims about truth. We could be wrong. We have to be open to revision and so on. So there is a certain kind of mystery that goes hand in hand with truth. This is why so many of the existential thinkers be they religious like Meister Eckhart or Paul Tillich, or be they secular like Camus and Sartres, that they are accenting our finitude and our inability to fully grasp the ultimate nature of reality, the truth about things, and therefore you talk about truth being tied to the way to truth because once you give up on the notion of fully grasping the way the world is, you're gonna talk about what are the ways in which I can sustain my quest for truth.

How do you sustain a journey, a path toward truth, the way to truth. So the truth talk goes hand in hand with talk about the way to truth. And scientists can talk about this in terms of deducing evidence and drawing reliable conclusions and so on. And religious folk can talk about this in terms of surrendering one's arrogance and pride in the face of divine revelation and what have you. But they're all ways of acknowledging our finitude and our fallibility." - Cornel West

5.2.11

JuiceMedia's Wikileaks Rap

Watch independent video producer JuiceMedia's awesomely funny, sometimes scary and seriously poignant WikiLeaks inspired rap video below:


Source: JuiceMedia

3.2.11

The Horizon of Immanence

I haven't been doing much else in my spare time besides watching and reading as much as I can about the situation in Cairo, but I do want to share a few quotes about a notion that resonates with me more deeply than most any: a "horizon of immanence". This 'horizon' is the very worldspace, or clearing which affords us the opportunity to be, know and do.

I will have much more to say on this topic over the next few weeks as I begin to make explicit some key tropes in my thought which continue to shape my explorations.

From Hardt and Negri's Empire:
“By the time we arrive at Spinoza, in fact, the horizon of immanence and the horizon of the democratic political order coincide completely.” (Hardt and Negri 2001:73)
And from Fredric Jameson's Valences Of The Dialectic:
“We have indeed secreted a human age out of ourselves as spiders secrete their webs: an immense, all-encompassing ceiling of secularity which shuts down visibility on all sides even as it absorbs all the formerly natural elements in its habitat, transmuting them into its own man-made substance. Yet within the horizon of immanence, we wander as alien as tribal people, or as visitors from outer space, admiring its unimaginably complex and fragile filigree and recoiling from its bottomless potholes, lounging against a rainwall of exotic and artificial plants or else agonizing among poisonous colors and lethal stems we were not taught to avoid. The world of the human age is an aesthetic pretext for grinding terror or pathological ecstasy, and in its cosmos, all of it drawn form the very fibers of our own being and at one with us in every post-natural cell more alien to us than nature itself we continue murmuring Kant's old questions - what can I know? What should I do? How may I hope? - under a starry heaven, no more responsive than a mirror or a space ship, not understanding that they require the adjunct of an ugly and bureaucratic qualification: what can I know in this system? What should I do in this new world completely invented by me? What can I hope for in alone in an altogether human age? And failing to replace them by the only meaningful one, namely how can I recognize this forbiddingly foreign totality as my own doing, how may I appropriate it and make it my own handiwork and acknowledge its laws as my own projection and praxis?

“... We may argue that Utopia is no longer in time just as with the end of voyages of discovery and the exploration of the globe it disappeared from geographical space as such. Utopia as the absolute negation of the fully realized Absolute which our own system has attained cannot now be imagined as lying ahead of us in historical time as an evolutionary or even revolutionary possibility. Indeed, it cannot be imagined at all; and one needs the languages and figurations of physics - the conception of closed worlds and a multiplicity of unconnected yet simultaneous universes - in order to convey what might be the ontology of this now so seemingly empty and abstract idea. Yet it is not to be grapsed in this logic of religious transcendence either, as some other world after or before this one, or beyond it. It would be best, perhaps, to think of an alternate world - better to say the alternate world, our alternate world - as one contiguous with ours but without any connection or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible.” (Jameson 2009:608)
[ h/t Mark Fisher ]

2.2.11

This Is What Revolution Looks Like

"It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth." - John Steinbeck

Christians Protecting Muslim Protesters in Egypt During Prayer
What did you do today?
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