ayjay + thm   9

Vertical by Stephen Graham review – class war from above
In this panoramic, at times jaw-dropping book, Stephen Graham describes how in recent years the built environment around the world, both above and below ground, has become dramatically more vertical – and more unequal. From miles-deep gold mines in South Africa to oligarchs’ basements in Belgravia, from American schemes for lethal military satellites to Bangkok’s elevated railway for the wealthy, the Skytrain, Graham lays out a landscape where architecture reflects and reinforces divisions with ever greater brazenness.
architecture  THM  from instapaper
december 2016 by ayjay
How Exhaustion Became a Status Symbol
"Late capitalism and modern technology might seem to us especially conducive to exhaustion, but nineteenth-century capitalism and nineteenth-century technology seemed equally dangerous to our ancestors. Industrialization radically changed work rhythms, placing workers at the mercy of machines and clock time, changing their sleep patterns and grinding them down physically and mentally. Capitalist discourse gave rise to capitalist metaphors: nineteenth-century commentators writing about “nerve force”—roughly, energy—often spoke of it in the way that they might speak of capital, sometimes directly comparing the two. You could save nerve force or spend it, but once it was gone, it was gone.

Sometime in the eighteenth century, doctors and philosophers stopped blaming exhaustion on the weakness of the individual and started blaming it on changes in society. Ever since, exhaustion has been associated with the demands of modern life. Those who fret about exhaustion epidemics are usually cultural conservatives, calling for a return to older, slower, sometimes more godly ways to cure the disease they so readily diagnose. But Schaffner points out that many critics, even as they call for a cure, frame exhaustion as a mark of distinction. This idea dates back at least to Aristotle. “Why is it that all men who have become outstanding in philosophy, statesmanship, poetry or the arts are melancholic?” he wonders in Problemata."
THM  from instapaper
august 2016 by ayjay
Gabriel (-Honoré) Marcel (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
“I should like to start,” Marcel says, “with a sort of global and intuitive characterization of the man in whom the sense of the ontological—the sense of being, is lacking, or, to speak more correctly, the man who has lost awareness of this sense” (Marcel 1995, p. 9). This person, the one who has lost awareness of the sense of the ontological, the one whose capacity to wonder has atrophied to the extent of becoming a vestigial trait, is an example of the influence of the misapplication of the idea of function. Marcel uses the example of a subway token distributor. This person has a job that is mindless, repetitive, and monotonous. The same function can be, and often is, completed by automated machines. All day this person takes bills from commuters and returns a token and some change, repeating the same process with the same denominations of currency, over and over. The other people with whom she interacts engage her in only the most superficial and distant manner. In most cases, they do not speak to her and they do not make eye contact. In fact, the only distinction the commuters make between such a person and the automatic, mechanical token dispenser down the hall is to note which “machine” has the shorter line. The way in which these commuters interact with this subway employee is clearly superficial and less than desirable. However, Marcel's point is more subtle.

What can the inner reality of such a person be like? What began as tedious work slowly becomes infuriating in its monotony, but eventually passes into a necessity that is accepted with indifference, until even the sense of dissatisfaction with the pure functionalism of the task is lost. The unfortunate truth is that such a person may come to see herself, at first unconsciously, as merely an amalgamation of the functions she performs. There is the function of dispensing tokens at work, the function of spouse and parent at home, the function of voting as a citizen of a given country, etc. Her life operates on a series of “time-tables” that indicate when certain functions—such as the yearly maintenance trip to the doctor, or the yearly vacation to rest and recuperate—are to be exercised. In this person the sense of wonder and the exigence for the transcendent may slowly begin to wither and die. In the most extreme cases, a person who has come to identify herself with her functions ceases to even have any intuition that the world is broken.

A corollary of the functionalism of the modern broken world is its highly technical nature. Marcel characterizes a world such as ours—in which everything and everyone becomes viewed in terms of function, and in which all questions are approached with technique—as one that is dominated by its “technics.” This is evident in the dependence on technology, the immediate deferral to the technological as the answer to any problem, and the tendency to think of technical reasoning as the only mode of access to the truth. However, it is clear that there are some “problems” that cannot be addressed with technique, and this is disquieting for persons who have come to rely on technics. While technology undoubtedly has its proper place and use, the deification of technology leads to despair when we realize the ultimate inefficacy of technics regarding important existential questions. It is precisely this misapplication of the idea of function and the dependence on technics that leads to the despair that is so prevalent in the broken world. Obviously, we cannot turn back the clock with regard to technological progress, and Marcel acknowledges that technology is not necessarily detrimental to the life of the spirit; nevertheless, it often is, because: “does not the invasion of our life by techniques today tend to substitute satisfaction at a material level for spiritual joy, dissatisfaction at a material level for spiritual disquiet?” (Marcel 1985, p. 57).
philosophy  tech  self  THM 
july 2016 by ayjay
Ethics of Technological Mediation | CSET
Observing that technologies mediate perception, how we register the world, and action, how we act into the world, Verbeek  elaborates a theory of technological mediation, built upon a postphenomenological approach to technology pioneered by Don Ihde. Rather than focus exclusively on either the artifact “out there,” the technological object, or the will “in here,” the human subject, Verbeek invites us to focus ethical attention on the constitution of both the perceived object and the subject’s intention in the act of technological mediation. In other words, how technology shapes perception and action is also of ethical consequence.

As Verbeek rightly insists, “Artifacts are morally charged; they mediate moral decisions, shape moral subjects, and play an important role in moral agency.”
OOO  ethics  THM 
june 2016 by ayjay
VII. Works and Days. Ralph Waldo Emerson. 1904. The Complete Works
  Tantalus, who in old times was seen vainly trying to quench his thirst with a flowing stream which ebbed whenever he approached it, has been seen again lately. He is in Paris, in New York, in Boston. He is now in great spirits; thinks he shall reach it yet; thinks he shall bottle the wave. It is however getting a little doubtful. Things have an ugly look still. No matter how many centuries of culture have preceded, the new man always finds himself standing on the brink of chaos, always in a crisis. Can anybody remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce? Can anybody remember when sensible men, and the right sort of men, and the right sort of women, were plentiful? Tantalus begins to think steam a delusion, and galvanism no better than it should be.

  Many facts concur to show that we must look deeper for our salvation than to steam, photographs, balloons or astronomy. 7 These tools have some questionable properties. They are reagents. Machinery is aggressive. The weaver becomes a web, the machinist a machine. If you do not use the tools, they use you. All tools are in one sense edge-tools, and dangerous. A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days. 8 A man has a reputation, and is no longer free, but must respect that. A man makes a picture or a book, and, if it succeeds, ’t is often the worse for him. I saw a brave man the other day, hitherto as free as the hawk or the fox of the wilderness, constructing his cabinet of drawers for shells, eggs, minerals and mounted birds. It was easy to see that he was amusing himself with making pretty links for his own limbs.
tech  history  THM 
january 2016 by ayjay
Bacon and modernity
What emerged in the West in the early-modern era was a style of doing natural philosophy, a way of thinking about the place of natural philosophy in culture generally, and of thinking about oneself as a natural philosopher. This phenomenon is wider than Bacon, and the transformation is one that lasts into the nineteenth century, when the modern notion of a "scientist" was born. But Bacon's was the first systematic, comprehensive attempt to transform the early modern philosopher from someone whose primary concern is with how to live morally into someone whose primary concern is with the understanding of and reshaping of natural processes. And his was the first systematic, comprehensive attempt to transform the epistemological activity of the philosopher from something essentially individual to something essentially communal.
THM  modernity  from notes
september 2015 by ayjay
Ivan Illich, "Philosophy... Artifacts... Friendship"
Architects drafted on paper or modeled in clay, not on a screen. True, in the time of Ford's Model A, when Thérèse of Lisieux was canonized, and I was born, the instrumental artifact moved toward its apogee; it was becoming increasingly dominant in the sensual environment. But technology was still conceived as a tool for the achievement of a telos, a final cause set by its user, not as milieu. Technology had not yet redefined homo from tool-user to co-evolved product of engineering. The nature of the object was not a quandary; it was something more or less what it had been for generations. This is no longer so. The old rules for the discernment of good from evil spirits must be complemented by new rules for the distinction of things from zombies, and objects from pictures. Temperance, what the Cappadocians call nepsis, must now guard the heart, not only from real things like sweet skin and weighty bullion, but also guide one to the sound recognition of the allurements of mere images and so-called needs....

In my own pilgrimage, I engage philosophy as ancilla: on the one hand, to resist - how should I call it? - algorithmic reductionism and, on the other, to dispel the illusion that power or organization can ever enhance the practice of charity. This double conceptual shield against loving misplaced concreta, and belief in benevolent management inevitably implies the rejection of those genetic axioms from which the topology of technological thinking arises. This topology is well protected, if not hidden, by a self-image meant to give comfort to life beyond virtue and the good. The aim to make life always better has crippled the search for the appropriate, proportionate, harmonious or simply good life - hopes easily written off as simplistic or irresponsible. Only sober, unsentimental, vernacular rhetoric can possibly demonstrate the incompatibility of mathematical modeling or systems management with the quest for faith and love. The typical artifacts of our decade are at once more intimately and deviously connected to the understanding of revealed truth than hearth or arms or mill, the res agricola, res bellica, and scientia mechanica of earlier times....

In my seminars, I have seen many a student look up from the exegesis of a passage by Aelred of Rivaulx, Héloïse, or Hugh of St. Victor, and search for a correspondence in his or her own twenty-two year-old heart, and recognize what the notions related to process, field, feedback, loop, and context sensitivity have done to their grasp. At such moments of disciplined alienation, it is then possible to foster the insight that it is almost impossible for an inhabitant of "the system" to desire an I-Thou relationship like that cultivated in Talmudic or monastic communities. Following such an awakening and finding themselves at a loss to recapture this past experience, a thirst is incited....

In the study of theology, ecclesiology was my preferred subject; and, within this discipline, liturgy. Liturgy, like ecclesiology, is concerned with sociogenesis. It inquires into the continued embodiment of the Word through rituals. Necessarily, these rituals often center on objects like tables, tombs and chalices. So, my interest in these so-called sacra led me to the theory of instrumentally used objects. I pursued the nature of the artifact in the belief that understanding would deepen my insight into virtue in our epoch, especially the virtue of charity. Therefore, the love of friendship, philia, as practicable under the social and symbolic conditions engendered by modern artifacts, has been the constant subject of my teaching. For me, finally, philosophy is the ancilla amicitiae.
sensorium  THM 
july 2015 by ayjay
Two Cheers for the Middle Ages! by Eric Christiansen | The New York Review of Books
Our gratitude to that Greco-Roman civilization is seldom stinted, but those who came afterward have left castles, cathedrals, Italian and Flemish and Byzantine art, printing, plainsong, and parliaments, not to mention universities. Yet the black propaganda of Voltaire, Hume, Kant, and Mark Twain remains suspended in the air like soot in the old factory towns, while intellectuals crow over the birth of “modernity” like fancied fighting cocks. They will not enjoy the fattest of these books, a translation of Johannes Fried’s The Middle Ages, which has gone through three editions in the last six years and reads like a counterblast to the hot air of the liberal-humanist interpreters of European history.

They should begin at the end, with the epilogue entitled “The Dark Middle Ages?” where Fried shows his cards and rehearses the errors of the Enlightenment view of the period, as well as those of Romantic medievalism, with unsparing acuity. Then comes the eulogy, when he applies to the Middle Ages the terms of approval that modern periods are awarded by their fans. Western medieval people are commended by Fried for dynamism, for know-how in all fields of technology and art, for hungry intellectual curiosity, for capitalism, globalism, education, and all-around Vorsprung durch Technik. It was, he writes, the medieval pioneers who strangled the serpents of blind faith, ignorance, and unexamined hypotheses in the cradle.

Readers responsive to this rhetoric will be intrigued if not swayed by the way Fried deploys it. Even those who doubt that hot air is the best way of defeating hot air will be impressed by the main body of the work, which covers a thousand years of mostly Western and Central European history with magnificent confidence. He does justice both to the centrifugal fragmentation of the European region into monarchies, cities, republics, heresies, trade and craft associations, vernacular literatures, and to the persistence of unifying and homogenizing forces: the papacy, the Western Empire, the schools, the friars, the civil lawyers, the bankers, the Crusades.
medieval  history  THM 
july 2015 by ayjay
picking the right metric: from college ratings to the cold war | orgtheory.net
In the 1950s, RAND was conducting what they called systems analysis. During World War II, operations research had become really good at answering questions that optimized decisions at the human-technology interface. If you were going to drop mines in Japanese waters and wanted to minimize your losses along the way, at what times should your pilots fly? At what altitude? In what formation? Data on past expeditions could be used in conjunction with rapidly developing mathematical methods to identify the best solution to such problems. Methods like these, advanced especially in Britain and the U.S., contributed significantly to winning the war.

But by the 1950s, RAND analysts were trying to answer related, but broader, questions of national defense for the Air Force. What, for example, was the most efficient way for the U.S. to deliver nuclear weapons to Soviet territory? RAND used its cutting-edge mathematical techniques to identify the “best” answer: Don’t use fancy new jet bombers. Instead, buy a large number of cheap, slow, turboprop planes, and bomb the heck out of Soviet targets.

Well, this recommendation went down like a ton of bricks. RAND’s recommendation optimized based on a specific criterion: maximizing damage inflicted per dollar spent. But despite the quantity of its calculations and sophistication of its analysis, RAND had overlooked some really big things. One, it ignored the value of pilots’ lives—which did not go over so well with Air Force brass, most of them former pilots themselves. Two, it went against a deep organizational imperative of the Air Force: to develop exciting new planes.
economics  THM 
june 2015 by ayjay

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