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The Trials of Hannah Arendt
There’s an old theory about anti-Semitism that goes something like this: The reason so much of the world hates the Jew is that the Jew asks so much of the world. From Sinai to the soviets, from Moses to Marx, the Jew has sat in judgment, insisting that the world be other, better, than it is, and always for the sake of an ideal so remote—a God who cannot be represented, a utopia that cannot be sketched out—that it requires a hallucinatory zeal to sustain it. The “blackmail of transcendence” is what the literary critic George Steiner calls it: the insistence that the world take a leap into the void in the name of a God who cannot be named.

Three Jews, says Steiner—for even Jesus counts in this figuration—have issued these “summons to perfection,” and each time their judgments have provoked a revolt, often from within: The Israelites rebelled against Moses, clutching at their idols in the desert; the Christians rebelled against Jesus, erecting a cathedral of priests more pharisaical than anything parried by Christ; the Stalinists rebelled against Marx, creating a continent of slave labor. For there is something too inhuman, too unaccommodated and unaccommodating, about these absent presences that send us marching after Moses, Marx, and Christ. “Hebraism,” Matthew Arnold thought, “has always been severely preoccupied with an awful sense of the impossibility of being at ease in Zion, of the difficulties of that perfection of which Socrates talks so hopefully.” He considered this “the source of its wonderful strength.” Most people, says Steiner, prefer the warmth of their weaknesses: their idols, churches, and states. [...]

These Romans, these Christians, these Germans, these anti-Semites—all have raged against the troubled conscience of the Jew, with his eternal demand for justice, goodness, perfection, a paradise on earth that must be sought but never achieved. You’re not required to finish the work, says the Pirkei Avot, an early rabbinic collection of statements about ethics, but neither are you free to give it up. Keep pushing that rock up the hill—the one that threatens to roll back down on you. No, thank you, says the anti-Semite; I’d rather push the lot of you into a pit and set you on fire. [...]

That combination of seemingly antithetical ideas—that we always and everywhere think about what it is that we’re doing, that we always and everywhere think beyond what we’re doing—lies at the heart of a religion so dedicated to the extraction of the sacred from the profane, of locating the sacred within the profane, that it encircles human action with 613 commandments, lest any moment or gesture of a Jew’s life be without thought of God.

If you stumble upon a bird’s nest, take the eggs to sustain yourself, but not the mother. So says the law. If you build a house, put a railing round the roof so no one falls off. If you lend money to the poor, don’t charge interest; if your neighbor gives you his coat as collateral, give it back to him at night lest he be cold. A king should not “multiply horses to himself”: perhaps to make him and his people stay put, perhaps to keep his kingdom focused on God rather than war. Who the hell knows? The point is that Judaism imposes a mindfulness about material life—the knowledge that it is out of our littlest deeds that heaven and hell are made—that turns our smallest practices into the peaks and valleys of a most difficult and demanding ethical terrain.
hannaharendt  antisemitism  israel  fascism  genocide  zionism  Judaism 
12 weeks ago by isaacsmith
A Note on the Banality of Evil | Wilson Quarterly
Not sure this writer gets it, but fascinating insight here on multiple fronts.
politics  history  genocide  hannaharendt  sociology  humanrights  philosophy 
may 2019 by cmananian
Traditions of the future, by Astra Taylor (Le Monde diplomatique - English edition, May 2019)
"If the dead do not exactly have power or rights, per se, they do still have a seat at the table—Thomas Jefferson among them. In ways obvious and subtle, constructive and destructive, the present is constrained and shaped by the decisions of past generations. A vivid example is the American Constitution, in which a small group of men ratified special kinds of promises intended to be perpetual. Sometimes I imagine the Electoral College, which was devised to increase the influence of the southern states in the new union, as the cold grip of plantation owners strangling the current day. Even Jefferson’s beloved Bill of Rights, intended as protections from government overreach, has had corrosive effects. The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms allows those who plundered native land and patrolled for runaway slaves, who saw themselves in the phrase “a well regulated Militia,” to haunt us. Yet plenty of our ancestors also bequeathed us remarkable gifts, the right to free speech, privacy, and public assembly among them.

Some theorists have framed the problematic sway of the deceased over the affairs of the living as an opposition between tradition and progress. The acerbic Christian critic G. K. Chesterton put it this way: “Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.” Social progress, in Chesterton’s account, can thus be seen as a form of disenfranchisement, the deceased being stripped of their suffrage. Over half a century before Chesterton, Karl Marx expressed sublime horror at the persistent presence of political zombies: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

The most eloquent partisans in this trans-temporal power struggle said their piece at the end of the 18th century. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine had a furious debate that articulated the dichotomy between past and future, dead and living, tradition and progress. A consummate conservative shaken by the post-revolutionary violence in France, Burke defended the inherited privilege and stability of aristocratic government that radical democrats sought to overthrow: “But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it amongst their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society.” Any revolution, Burke warned, hazards leaving those who come after “a ruin instead of an habitation” in which men, disconnected from their forerunners, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”

The left-leaning Paine would have none of it. Better to be a buzzing fly than a feudal serf. “Whenever we are planning for posterity we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary,” he quipped. His critique, forcefully expressed in Common Sense and The Rights of Man, was not just an attack on monarchy. Rather, it was addressed to revolutionaries who might exercise undue influence over time by establishing new systems of government. “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time,’” he protested.

In his pithy style, Paine popularized a commitment both to revolution and to novelty. “A nation, though continually existing, is continually in the state of renewal and succession. It is never stationary. Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and old persons from the stage. In this ever-running flood of generations there is no part superior in authority to another.” Given the onslaught of change, a constitution “must be a novelty, and that which is not a novelty must be defective.” Never one for moderation, Paine advocated a decisive break with tradition, rejecting lessons from the past, castigating those who scoured records of ancient Greece and Rome for models or insights. What could the dead teach the living that could possibly be worth knowing?

Every person, whether or not they have children, exists as both a successor and an ancestor. We are all born into a world we did not make, subject to customs and conditions established by prior generations, and then we leave a legacy for others to inherit. Nothing illustrates this duality more profoundly than the problem of climate change, which calls into question the very future of a habitable planet.

Today, I’d guess that most of us are more able to imagine an environmental apocalypse than a green utopia. Nuclear holocaust, cyber warfare, mass extinction, superbugs, fascism’s return, and artificial intelligence turned against its makers—these conclusions we can see, but our minds struggle to conjure an image of a desirable, credible alternative to such bleak finales, to envision habitation rather than ruin.

This incapacity to see the future takes a variety of forms: young people no longer believe their lives will be better than those of their parents and financial forecasts give credence to their gloomy view; political scientists warn that we are becoming squatters in the wreckage of the not-so-distant liberal-democratic past, coining terms such as dedemocratization and postdemocracy to describe the erosion of democratic institutions and norms alongside an ongoing concentration of economic power. Meanwhile, conservative leaders cheer on democratic regression under the cover of nostalgia—“Make America Great Again,” “Take Our Country Back”—and seek to rewind the clock to an imaginary and exclusive past that never really existed."

"Questions of labor and leisure—of free time—have been central to debates about self-government since peasant citizens flooded the Athenian Pnyx. Plato and Aristotle, unapologetic elitists, were aghast that smiths and shoemakers were permitted to rub shoulders with the Assembly’s wellborn. This offense to hierarchical sensibilities was possible only because commoners were compensated for their attendance. Payments sustained the participation of the poor—that’s what held them up—so they could miss a day’s work over hot flames or at the cobbler’s bench to exercise power on equal footing with would-be oligarchs.

For all their disdain, Plato’s and Aristotle’s conviction that leisure facilitates political participation isn’t wrong. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, radical workers agreed. They organized and fought their bosses for more free time, making substantial inroads until a range of factors, including the cult of consumption and a corporate counterattack, overpowered their efforts. A more sustainable, substantive democracy means resuscitating their campaign. Free time is not just a reprieve from the grindstone; it’s an expansion of freedom and a prerequisite of self-rule.

A reduction of work hours would have salutary ecological effects as well, as environmentalists have noted. A fundamental reevaluation of labor would mean assessing which work is superfluous and which essential; which processes can be automated and which should be done by hand; what activities contribute to our alienation and subjugation and which integrate and nourish us. “The kind of work that we’ll need more of in a climate-stable future is work that’s oriented toward sustaining and improving human life as well as the lives of other species who share our world,” environmental journalist and political theorist Alyssa Battistoni has written. “That means teaching, gardening, cooking, and nursing: work that makes people’s lives better without consuming vast amounts of resources, generating significant carbon emissions, or producing huge amounts of stuff.” The time to experiment with more ecologically conscious, personally fulfilling, and democracy-enhancing modes of valuing labor and leisure is upon us, at precisely the moment that time is running out.

With climate calamity on the near horizon, liberal democracies are in a bind. The dominant economic system constrains our relationship to the future, sacrificing humanity’s well-being and the planet’s resources on the altar of endless growth while enriching and empowering the global 1 percent. Meanwhile, in America, the Constitution exacerbates this dynamic, preserving and even intensifying a system of minority rule and lashing the country’s citizens to an aristocratic past.

The fossil fuel and finance industries, alongside the officials they’ve bought off, will fight to the death to maintain the status quo, but our economic arrangements and political agreements don’t have to function the way they do. Should democratic movements manage to mount a successful challenge to the existing order, indigenous precolonial treaty-making processes provide an example of the sort of wisdom a new, sustainable consensus might contain. The Gdoonaaganinaa, or “Dish with One Spoon” treaty, outlines a relationship between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Nishnaabeg people. The dish symbolizes the shared land on which both groups depend and to which all are responsible; in keeping with the Haudenosaunee Great Law of peace, … [more]
astrataylor  ancesors  climatechange  history  2019  democracy  capitalism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  borders  power  time  future  change  hannaharendt  ecology  sustainability  globalwarming  interconnected  interconnectedness  indigeneity  indigenous  leannebetasamosakesimpson  leisure  plato  aristotle  philosophy  participation  participatory  organizing  labor  work  marxism  karlmarx  socialism  freetime  longnow  bighere  longhere  bignow  annpettifor  economics  growth  degrowth  latecapitalism  neoliberalism  debt  tradition  gkchesterson  thomaspaine  thomasjefferson  us  governance  government  edmundburke  commonsense  postdemocracy  dedemocratization  institutions  artleisure  leisurearts  self-rule  collectivism  alyssanattistoni  legacy  emissions  carbonemissions  ethics  inheritance  technology  technosolutionism  canon  srg  peterthiel  elonmusk  liberalism  feminism  unions  democraticsocialism  pericles  speed  novelty  consumerism  consumption  obsolescence  capital  inequality 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Reading Arendt Is Not Enough | by Paul Mason | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
In 1951, Arendt wrote that the ideal subject of a totalitarian state is not the convinced Nazi or communist but “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (that is, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (that is, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

... What had made people susceptible to fake news in the 1930s, Arendt argued, was loneliness: “the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”

That’s the kind of loneliness you experience today in small-town America, or in the left-behind industrial towns of Britain, or the backwaters of Poland and Hungary—all heartlands of the new authoritarian racism. It’s also, paradoxically, the kind of loneliness you can experience in a networked society: How many of the woman-hating and racist mass shooters in America are, after the event, described as “loners” or “lone wolves”?

Arendt’s study of how totalitarianism was spread via sympathizers inside democratic institutions and the mass media also resonates today. Through them, she argued, fascist movements “can spread their propaganda in milder, more respectable forms, until the whole atmosphere is poisoned with totalitarian elements which are hardly recognizable as such but appear to be normal political reactions or opinions.”

Nazism, she said, had emerged out of the “vacuum resulting from an almost simultaneous breakdown of Europe’s social and political structures.” When the Nazis said that the old order had collapsed, they were, in this sense, simply “lying the truth,” as she put it.

But Arendt never explained why Europe’s social and political structures broke down. She preferred to describe innate tendencies toward evil, in the subterranean culture of antisemitism, or imperialist white supremacy, that “crystallized” into Nazism and Stalinism. But crystallization is a physical process with cause and effect. If you are looking for an explanation of what caused the similarity between Nazism and Stalinism, look elsewhere: Arendt was a theorist of “What’s gone wrong and how should humans live?”—but not “What’s happening, and why?”

The assumption that Arendt was the first person to identify the common features of the totalitarian projects of Nazism and Stalinism is nonsense. Of all the people she mixed with, and whose work she would have read in America in the 1940s, she was the among the last to make this connection.

Throughout the 1920s, anarchists and socialists from the anti-Bolshevik tradition had warned that the Russian Revolution had the potential to create a dictatorship, mirroring the worst of what had happened in the West. When they considered the source of this danger, they located it in the “backwardness” of Russian society, or the uneducated level of the peasantry and the working class.

When industrial-scale lying and oppression took off, with the ascendancy of Stalin’s faction from 1927, it was thinkers from the socialist and communist traditions who first proposed that this might signal the emergence of some new system, rooted in technological progress and the bureaucracy of modern states.

The Austrian socialist Lucien Laurat proposed in 1931 that the USSR was neither capitalist nor socialist, but “bureau-technocratic”: a new ruling caste had seized control and imposed a new form of class society. Laurat explicitly connected this to the emergence of managerial bureaucracy in Western countries, creating “another form of exploitation of man by man” to replace capitalism.

Bruno Rizzi’s bureaucratic collectivism thesis [BUCH) took off powerfully inside the Western left. James Burnham, one of Trotsky’s leading followers in the US, declared the USSR, Nazi Germany, and Roosevelt’s America to be three kinds of “a new form of exploitative society.” This “managerial revolution” was destined to triumph everywhere, leaving historical progress with no option but to operate through the actions of totalitarian dictators. Compared to Arendt, whose 1951 study The Origins of Totalitarianism was criticized for being softer on Stalinism than Nazism, Burnham’s theory was clear: the two are exact equivalents.

In George Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is Burnham’s ideas that are parodied in The Book, the secret manual of the underground movement trying to overthrow Big Brother. Orwell rejected Burnham’s claim that the world was about to become three unmovable totalitarian dictatorships, but explored—by way of a warning—how it might come about: by suppressing all knowledge of the past; by turning language into political jargon so that people can’t think rebellious thoughts; and by repressing sexual desire.

These ideas—circulating from Rizzi to Burnham to Orwell—had been current for more than ten years when Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism. What distinguished Arendt, then and later, was her refusal to explain why totalitarian ideologies triumph. “There is an abyss,” she wrote, “between men of brilliant and facile conceptions and men of brutal deeds and active bestiality, which no intellectual explanation is able to bridge.”

The missing idea in Arendt’s thought was class. She correctly identified the brutalities of fascism as originating in those of late-nineteenth-century colonialism. She borrowed an idea from the Polish Marxist Rosa Luxemburg—that European states needed to export their excess savings and populations to their colonial possessions. She understood that imperialism created the material basis for an alliance between the “elite and the mob,” based on master-race theories; and that fascist movements were composed of people among both rich and poor whose interests suddenly converged on the collapse of the old order.

With fascism—in Italy, Germany and Spain—it is the inability of the capitalists to go on buying off a layer of workers, and the sheer size and social power of the radicalized labour movements, that obliges the elite to rely on militarized right-wing groups to smash the unions and the socialist parties.
nazi  martin:nazi  paulmason  hannaharendt  ns:theorie  kolonialismus 
may 2019 by MicrowebOrg
Reading Arendt Is Not Enough | by Paul Mason | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
Any reading of what Nietzsche actually said, in the context of the rise of the German labor movement and the birth of German imperial ambition, should leave any humanist, democrat, or supporter of human rights reeling in disgust. But he did not repel Arendt.

Why does this matter? Because, if we want to trace the thread that links the barbarity of the colonial period, the widespread adoption of irrationalism among European intellectuals in the 1920s, the rise of the Nazis to the rise of the modern-day alt-right, it resides, above all, in this doctrine of amoralism and biological supremacy advocated by Nietzsche.

The Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote that there is something logical in the repeated rediscovery of Nietzsche and his superman theory. Whenever the capitalist order comes under stress and the rule of the elite is challenged, the ordinary morality that rich people profess is called into question. Repression, deviousness, lies, and even murder become the order of the day. At these critical moments, the ordinary, boring bureaucrats discover that their norms and morals were just a jumble of old rules without any logical underpinning. Because of this, wrote MacIntyre, “it is possible to predict with confidence that in the apparently quite unlikely contexts of bureaucratically managed modern societies there will periodically emerge social movements informed by just that kind of prophetic irrationalism of which Nietzsche’s thought is the ancestor.”

That is exactly what we are living through now, and Arendt’s thought cannot explain it—because she refused to understand fascism as the elite’s response to the possibility of working-class power, or to understand the essential role of irrationalism in all such reactionary movements, and because hers was a philosophy based on American exceptionalist assumptions of immunity to totalitarian impulses. This is sadly disproved.
history  politics  hannaharendt  fascism  socialism  class  nietzsche  philosophy 
may 2019 by isaacsmith
6 Kinds of Public - Dilettante Army
Long ago, I adopted the moniker “dilettante ventures” as a frame for my cultural activity. At the time it was envisioned as a collective comprised of three other art and curatorial collectives. Much like this journal seeks to do, I spent a fair amount of time trying to rehabilitate the word “dilettante.” Lately though, I’ve given up on worrying about that sort of framing, because now I have to rehabilitate another word—“republican.” In November 2018, I was elected to the Vermont State Legislature. As a candidate, I appeared on the ballot as the nominee of two political parties—the Democrats and the Progressives. But to be accurate about my political philosophy, I am a decentralist communitarian republican. Identifying as small-r republican, even though it isn’t the same as being a capital-r Republican, can be problematic for me. On my winding trajectory from an artist-that-doesn’t-make-art to a librarian/legislator, I’ve investigated how republican themes of interdependence, virtue, and civic responsibility might be usefully employed in the (neo)liberal political quagmire we find ourselves. Here are the key concepts I use to understand the links between art and community-making in a new era of progressive politics:

Public Art, new genre

Public Culture

Public Good, scale of

Public Library

Public Philosophy

Public Realm

Public Work

Public work brings me back to the inadequacy of social practice (art). I have proposed “social poiesis” as an alternative. “Poiesis” is a word, mostly used in literary theory, that describes creative production, in particular the creation of a work of art. “Social poiesis,” then, encompasses not only the production of art and art environments, but also the creative production of society through things like urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, Chautauquas, and even legislating. Governance, properly undertaken, is public work, positing “citizens as co-creators of the world.” This world of artistic citizenship demands a variety of public actions and inquiry, some of which I’ve touched on here. Above all it demands a reevaluation of the promise and potential of a revived republican spirit."
randallszott  public  publics  republican  2019  suzannelacy  roberthariman  montesquieu  thomasaugst  williamsullivan  libraries  publiclibraries  hannaharendt  harryboyte  publicwork  publicrealm  philosophy  socialpracticeart  art  publigood  publicculture  culture  republicanism  community  decentralization  interdependence  virtue  civics  governance  neoliberalism  liberalism  progressive  progressivism  vermont 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Evaluating scholarship, or why I won’t be teaching Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism | Blayne Haggart's Orangespace
"In his review, which is a wonder of careful thinking and contextualization, Morozov performs a couple of useful services. First, he highlights the extent to which Zuboff’s argument about how surveillance capitalism works rests on a tautology – “surveillance capitalists engage in surveillance capitalism because this is what the imperatives of surveillance capitalism demand” – that leaves they why of the matter unexamined. Second, he places her squarely within an intellectual tradition of “managerial capitalism” and a wider functionalist tradition in sociology associated with Talcott Parsons. Morozov argues that partly as a result of this (unacknowledged) mindset, Zuboff fails to understand the extent to which her critique of surveillance capitalism is actually a critique of capitalism, full stop. This inability to see anything outside the mindset of capitalism accounts for the way the book just kind of finishes without suggesting any real possible paths forward other than, we need a new social movement, and surveillance capitalism must be destroyed and replaced with a better form of (digital?) capitalism.

I hadn’t made those exact connections, and Morozov’s review does a great job in concisely summing up these intellectual frameworks. And if you didn’t know anything about managerial capitalism and Alfred Chandler, or the Italian Autonomists, you could also be forgiven for not making those connections either. I knew very little about managerial capitalism, nothing of Alfred Chandler. I am familiar with Parsons and my only exposure to the Italian Autonomists was by reading Hardt and Negri’s Empire during my PhD, which was enough to convince me that I wanted nothing to do with them.

Morozov’s final conclusion is both persuasive and damning from an academic perspective. The book, he says, could be politically powerful because it is a sharp broadside against two companies – Google and Facebook – that represent a clear and present danger to society. However, it “is a step backward in our understanding of the dynamics of the digital economy.”

I think that’s about right.

I am also pretty sure that, despite the acclaim it’s getting in non-Baffler circles, I’m not going to be teaching The Age of Surveillance Capitalism in my Global Political Economy of Knowledge course, but not because I disagree with Zuboff’s argument or feel threatened by her analysis. To the contrary, she’s pretty much telling me exactly what I want to hear. Or more to the point, what I want to believe.

I’m not going to be teaching it because as an academic work, it falls far short of the standards to which we should hold ourselves. It may be a politically effective polemic, but as scholarship that advances our understanding of the world, it is sorely lacking."

"Four tells of poor academic scholarship

1. Exaggerated claims to novelty"

"2. Absence of relevant literatures"

"So. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is a study of the messy interactions between economic and social imperatives. (Actually, I’d argue it’s really two linked business case studies of Facebook and Google that wants to be a study of a larger system, but that’s another matter entirely.) This means that it is a study of political economy. Which means it has to engage with the political economy literature on surveillance (a specialized literature, but it does exist) and capitalism (its entire raison d’être). I expect it to engage with particular sources, like Srnicek, like Shawn Powers and Michael Jablonski’s The Real Cyber War. With, in other words, the books that can provide context and support for, and pushback against, its argument.

And if you’re talking about big trends in capitalism and society from a critical perspective, Hannah Arendt is not your go-to. You also need to go beyond the social-science founders – Durkheim, Marx, Weber. You need to engage with the likes of Susan Strange. Or Robert Cox. Or Michael Mann, people who are interested in exactly the same issues that you are dealing with. Karl Polanyi is great, and Zuboff grabs just the right concepts from him. But He. Is. Not. Enough.

(Polanyi was also much more than an “historian,” as Zuboff identifies him. As his Wikipedia entry makes clear, he was an “economic historian, economic anthropologist, economic sociologist, political economist, historical sociologist and social philosopher. Then again, the phrase “political economy” appears only four times in this book, and exclusively in the titles of cited books and articles in the endnotes.)

Finally, if one is talking about the dangers involved in a form of power that “knows and shapes human behaviour toward others’ ends” (page 8) and Antonio Gramsci’s conception of hegemony doesn’t rate a mention, I don’t even know. Especially if it’s presented as a completely new idea (in this case “instrumentarian power” – see: Exaggerated claims of novelty). The Gramscian concept of hegemony is all about how the powerful can get other groups to buy into ideologies that may not be in their best interests.

Much of the book is about how surveillance capitalists are working to change human nature so that human thinking more closely resembles that of machine learning. Absolutely correct, but not only is this not the first time that the powers that be have worked to reshape what we think of as human nature, it’s also kind of what it means to rule a society, any society. That’s what the whole concept of hegemony is all about, as any student of Gramscian thought could tell you. Or what someone like Susan Strange or Robert Cox (the two thinkers I’m using in my own work on these very subjects) would note. Knowing that this type of activity is simply how power works in human society puts a different spin on what Zuboff is arguing. It’s not so much that surveillance capitalists are rewiring human nature, but that their ideology is antithetical to a particular type of human nature, namely one in the liberal-democratic vein. Actually engaging with the voluminous work on hegemony and the social construction of knowledge, however, would have challenged Zuboff’s argument that the knowing and shaping of “human behavior toward others’ ends” is unique to surveillance capitalism.

(Maybe the problem is with capitalism itself? As Morozov noted in a follow-up tweet, “My critique of Zuboff’s new book boils down to a paraphrase of Horkheimer: ‘If you don’t want to talk about capitalism then you’d better keep quiet about surveillance capitalism’.”)

And it’s just a bit odd that Michel Foucault doesn’t get so much as a mention beyond a reference in a footnoted title about neoliberalism. In a book that’s all about the relationship between power and knowledge."

"3. Unclear framework"

"4. Use of hyperbole: These go to eleven"

"The final verdict: No go

To be honest, before reading Morozov’s critique, watching the glowing reviews come in, I started questioning my judgment. Sure, there were flaws in the book, some of which I would have called out immediately if committed by an undergraduate, but how much did they really matter?

Part of me, I’m embarrassed to say, was swayed by the identity of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’s author. A professor emerita. From Harvard. Who had done important previous work in the field. Even though I know better, I got inside my own head, internalizing the academic class system that places certain schools and scholars above others. The “important voices” whose work is guaranteed a respectful hearing merely by virtue of their pedigree or institution.

The saddest thing is, my receptiveness to this argument from authority says as much about where I see myself in the academic food chain as it does about a Harvard professor. Even though I have witnessed the most idiotic arguments and proposals made by scholars from top-ranked universities, endured recycled banalities from leading lights with nothing to say, and read the most embarrassing articles by celebrated Ivy-league academics. Even though I will put my Canadian Carleton University education up against anyone’s from Oxford or Yale or Harvard. I know this.

And yet, there was that part of me, whispering, But look at who she is. She’s an Authority. Look at all the praise she’s getting, the panels she’s on. Maybe you’re just being judgmental. Maybe you’re being too critical. Maybe you’re wrong.

Well, maybe I am wrong, but a failure to produce an honest critique because of our respective places in the academic food chain is the absolutely worst reason not to make the critique. One of my proudest moments as a teacher was when I heard that a second-year student had written a fantastic, well-researched and impeccably argued paper about how I’d been wrong about something I’d claimed in my Introduction to International Relations class. (And she was right.) We should expect all academics to live up to the same standards we set for our students.

So, no. After spending an entire work week reading this book, after taking over 100 pages of notes and thinking about it constantly for far too long afterwards, I do not believe that The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is a good piece of scholarship. It is not careful in its presentation of evidence. It chooses hyperbole over accuracy. It fails to engage with the relevant literatures and critical voices that would challenge what ends up being a one-sided, almost existentially bleak argument.

Its lack of engagement with the relevant literatures makes possible the blind spots, trenchantly catalogued by Morozov, regarding surveillance capitalism’s relationship to capitalism, as well as those regarding the role of the state as something more than a bit player in this epic story. These impair the book’s value in terms of its analysis and, as Morozov’s comments about Zuboff’s failure to consider the “capitalism” part of “surveillance capitalism” suggest, its prescriptions. Why the book … [more]
blaynehaggart  shoshanazuboff  evgneymorozov  criticsm  surveillancecapitalism  mnagerialism  harvard  pedigree  academia  hierarchy  criticism  robertcox  highered  highereducation  michelfoucault  hannaharendt  hyperbole  2019  hegemony  technology  economics  politics  policy  scholarship  authority  elitism 
march 2019 by robertogreco
“To be alive and to think are the same thing”
HannahArendt  from twitter_favs
march 2019 by lguardino
Thinking with Things (FYS) CSPL 140F
"This course explores the ways in which we think and act in relation to things. At times provocations for thought, at times emotional companions or functional collaborators, things are not only symbolic carriers of the values and meanings that we assign, but are also actors with agency and subjectivity. We critically consider the implications of this and the role of things in a variety of contexts from the historical to the emotional to the sociocultural to the sacred. The course considers how we make, use, and consume things and how, in turn, things make, use, and consume us. Transdisciplinary in its orientation, this course draws insight from anthropology, cultural studies, philosophy, material studies, art, and design. We will examine a number of projects dealing with objects and these will serve as inspirational, theoretical, and methodological models for the projects students will develop over the course of the semester."

"Major Readings: Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore
Readings include a variety of articles and excerpts including, but not limited to:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, WHY WE NEED THINGS
Martin Heidegger, THE THING

[See also:

https://nssr.academia.edu/BarbaraAdams ]
wesleyan  barbaraadams  things  design  designthinking  2018  sarahahmed  hannaharendt  janebennett  levibryant  mihalycsikszentmihalyi  emiledurkheim  heidegger  georgesperec  elainescarry  sherryturkle  langdonwinner  transdisciplinary  classes 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Social Media and Loneliness | L.M. Sacasas
"In 1958, Hannah Arendt published The Human Condition in which she discussed the rise of the “social,” a realm she distinguished from the private and the public spheres. It was marked by anonymity. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, she argued that loneliness and isolation were the seedbeds of totalitarianism."

"In 1913, Willa Cather had one of her characters in O Pioneers! describe his life in the cities this way:
Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theaters. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.

I could go on, but you get the point."

"I’ve never understood why we should be relieved when we read about a study which concludes that a majority of people do not experience some negative consequence of technology. What about the often sizable minority that does? Do they not matter?"

"Technological fixes rarely alleviate and often exasperate social disorders, especially those that involve the most deeply engrained desires of the human heart. We’re better off refusing to treat social media as a remedy for loneliness or even as a form of community. Chastened expectations may be the best way to use a tool without being used by the tool in turn."
lmsacasas  michaelsacasas  2018  socialmedia  loneliness  hannaharendt  technology  technosolutionism  willacather  social  cities  isolation  urban  urbanism  online  internet  web 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Media Literacy Is About Where To Spend Your Trust. But You Have To Spend It Somewhere. | Hapgood
"A lot of approaches to online media literacy highlight “debunking” and present a large a portion of cases where students debunk tree octopuses and verifiably false things. And show students how they are manipulated, etc.

And this is good in the right amounts. There’s a place for it. It should comprise much of your curriculum.

But the core of media literacy for me is this question of “where you spend your trust.” And everything has to be evaluated in that framework.

There’s not an option to not trust anyone, at least not an option that is socially viable. And societies without trust come to bad ends. Students are various, of course, but what I find with many students is they are trust misers — they don’t want to spend their trust anywhere, and they think many things are equally untrustworthy. And somehow they have been trained to think this makes them smarter than the average bear.

A couple stories will illustrate the problem. I was once working with a bunch of students and comparing Natural News (a health supplements site which specializes in junk science claims) and the Mayo Clinic, one of the most respected outfits out there. OK, I say, so what’s the problem with taking advice from Natural News?

Well, says a student, they make their money selling supplements, and so they have an incentive to talk down traditional medicine.

I beam like a proud papa. Good analysis!

“And,” the student continues, “the Mayo Clinic is the same way. They make money off of patients so they want to portray regular hospitals as working.”

Houston, we have a problem.

I was in an upper division class another time and we were looking at an expert in a newspaper cited for his background in the ethnobiology of issues around the study of birds. I did what I encourage students to do in such cases: as a sanity check, make sure that the person being quoted as an academic expert has a publication record in the relevant area, preferably with a cite or two. (There are other varieties of expertise, of course, but in this case the claimed expertise was academic).

The record comes up. This guy’s top article on birds, biologists, and indigenous knowledge has something like 34 citations in Google Scholar. “So what do you think?” I ask them.

“Eh,” they say. “Not great.”

This was, mind you, not a room full of published ethnobiologists. And the ethnobiologist quoted in the article was not claiming to overturn the fundamental insights of ethnobiology, or anything requiring extraordinary evidence.

So 34 other experts had considered this person’s niche work worth talking about but hey, we’re still not sure this guy’s worth listening to on a subject we know nothing about and in which he is making rather moderate claims…


Another class, looking at Canadian paper the National Post, noted that while it was a “real” paper with a real staff, the Wikipedia page on it noted a controversy about some wrong information they published in 2006, where the editor had to actually pen an apology. “So kind of half-and-half, right?”

I’ve referred to this before as trust compression, the tendency for students to view vastly different levels of credibility of sources all as moderately or severely compromised. Breitbart is funded by the Mercers, who are using it directly to influence political debate, but the Washington Post is also owned by Jeff Bezos who donated to Democrats. So it’s a wash. And yes, we have the word of an expert in a subject where she has multiple cites against the word of a lobbying group but neither one is perfect really. Everyone’s got an agenda, nobody knows everything, and there’s not 100% agreement on anything anyway.

You see this in areas outside of expertise as well, incidentally. With quotes I often ask students (and faculty!) to source the quote and then say if the quote was taken out of context. The answer? You’ll always get a range from “completely taken out of context” to “somewhat taken out of context”. That upper register of “Nope, that quote was used correctly” is something you really have to coax the students into.

I don’t quite know how to square this with the gullibility often on display, except to say that very often that gullibility is about not being able (or willing) to distinguish gradations of credibility.

This should scare you, and it has to be at the core of what we teach — to teach students they need to decompress their trust, get out of that mushy middle, and make real distinctions. And ultimately, put their trust somewhere. Otherwise we end up with what Hannah Arendt so accurately described as the breeding ground of totalitarianism:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, that everything was possible and that nothing was true… Mass Propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow…

I do believe this insight — that trust has to be spent somewhere and that our problem is not gullibility, but rather the gullibility of cynics — has to be at the core of what we teach and how we teach it. You have some trust, and you have to be willing to spend it somewhere. So enough of the “this isn’t great either”, enough of the “eh”. What’s your best option for spending that trust? Why?

If everything is compromised, then everything can be ignored, and filtering is simply a matter of choosing what you want to hear. And students will economize that lesson in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m worried they already have, and it’s up to us to change that."
medialiteracy  mikecaulfield  internet  web  media  authority  trust  hannaharendt  trustworthiness  online  journalism  bias  expertise  gullibility  propaganda  2018 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Superfluous People, the Ideology of Silicon Valley, and The Origins of Totalitarianism | L.M. Sacasas
“First, I should make clear that I do not expect to see death camps anytime soon. That said, it seems that there are a number of developments which together tend toward rendering people superfluous. For example: the operant conditioning to which we submit on social media, the pursuit of ever more sophisticated forms of automation, and the drive to outsource more and more aspects of our humanity to digital tools.” … “Here again I would argue that we are witnessing a Huxleyan variant of this earlier Orwellian dynamic. Consider once more the cumulative effect of the many manifestations of the networks of surveillance, monitoring, operant conditioning, automation, routinization, and programmed predictability in which we are enmeshed. Their effect is not enhanced freedom, individuality, spontaneity, thoughtfulness, or joy. Their effect is, in fact, to stabilize us into routine and predictable patterns of behavior and consumption. Humanity is stabilized so that the law of Technology can run its course.”
LMSacasas  Technology  Ideology  SiliconValley  Totalitarianism  HannahArendt  MustRead 
january 2018 by cbearden

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