Dedication to Zygmunt Bauman

I remember being sat in the library at the University of the West of England. By that time I had read a lot about the Flâneur and the arcades of Paris during an early 19th century era of high modernity. Walter Benjamin’s theorisation of Flânerie had already been profound and attempting to read alternative analyses, I had begun to nod off a little. Then for the first time I picked up a book and read Zygmunt Bauman’s (1925-2017) critical chapter and critical interpretation of the lonesome figure of the Flâneur. The whole subject was then revitalised and rejuvenated. Bauman’s amazing abilities to place me, the reader, within the context of a rapidly modernising Paris, to place me in the position of the Flâneur, and then in the position of the impartial observer of a Flâneur, was absolutely unique. From that point onwards, I felt extremely comfortable picking up any book by Bauman. All academics are critical, as well as political representatives, but what Bauman cannot be criticised for is his near absolute accessibility in academic publishing. He wrote well, you read well.

One of the things studying for a PhD makes you realise is just how abstract a lot of general social theory is. Especially as you attempt to apply abstract, general ideas to real world situation. It is a real struggle to squeeze the quotes obtained from interviewees into some grand, overarching theory. The two are detached and mutually exclusive. It was not particularly the case that I was able to do this with Bauman over any other general theorist. But, this realisation has given me a deeper appreciation of Bauman’s abilities. What he seemed to have possessed was a unique ability to discuss theory and empirical observations within the same breath. When reading Bauman you are constantly presented contemporary case studies about modern factories, shopping malls or Jane Fonda. These real world things are comfortably coupled with critical theories of the Frankfurt School, Hegel, Habermas, Giddens, and so on. It will be incredibly difficult for sociology, as a discipline, to find another thinker capable of accomplishing this almost impossible task with such fluidity and fluency.

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“Fifty shades of green”: Bruno Latour on the ecomodernist manifesto

ENTITLE blog - a collaborative writing project on Political Ecology

by Bruno Latour*

Presentation to the panel on modernism at the Breakthrough Dialogue, Sausalito, June 2015

Wake up you ecomoderns, we are in the Anthropocene, not in the Holocene, nor are we to ever reside in the enchanted dream of futurism. Down to earth is the message I hear, but unfortunately not in the ecomodernist manifesto.

7568100382_cd333e1b61_b Source: Flickr.

There is one thing more difficult than to tell good from evil, it is to decide which time we are in, which epoch, and which land we have our feet on. I was reminded of that difficulty Saturday at the border when the police officer, after having asked me what research I was doing, and on learning that I work on environment with a special interest in the drought, retorted:  “Drought, which drought? Have you not read the Bible, it is all there, 7 years dry, 7 years wet. I have been in California for forty years, it’s always like…

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Deconstruct the theory of Hyper-Normalisation in under 5 minutes, here’s how…

Adam Curtis’ BBC documentary “Hyper-Normilisation” was a virtual web of lies. In this blog I will show you how to deconstruct his theory by watching the first five minutes.

‘We live in a strange time’, Adam Curtis announces at the beginning of his documentary. Without watching the rest of the documentary, it is extremely easy to understand why. The reason everything is strange is because it is modern and new. Nobody throughout human history has been able to instantaniously communicate face-to-face with a stranger around the other side of the world. Never before, in the whole of human history, have groups of people been able to chase mythical characters down the street, as Pokémon-Go enables us to. Soldiers sat in offices at remote locations can fight wars and wipe out armies; this is new. The majority of us walk around these days carrying super-computers in our pocket, that’s new. These are some good reasons why everything is odd, weird, abnormal or extraordinary. It’s modern, it’s new! – read anything by Antony Giddens on the ambiguous nature of the modern world.

Curtis suggests ‘we all’ live in a Matrix-style reality. And that ‘all of us’ went along with the idea of living in a ‘carefully constructed fake world’ because ‘the simplicity was reassuring’. So, he offers us a really, really simple explanation about why.

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What caused this fake world to emerge – what is this story Curtis has to tell us? According to his theory, our fake world emerged in 1975. This was because of two historical events that took place ‘at the same moment’ in two cities of the world in 1975. Let stop here for a moment. Is it feasible that an event in New York and Damascus (Syria) provides the political and economic bedrock that constitutes your everyday reality? It only took two historical events to construct the hyper-reality that you live every day? What happened to forgotten empires, colonisation, world wars, the launch of Sputnik 1, the advent of the Internet, and so on? In fact, what happened to the whole of human history until now? Apparently, there is only one moment in time that actually counts.

Are you reassured by the simplicity of his theory? If you are, then by his own confession, what has drawn you in is his simplified narration of history (two events in two cities). Social theory, after all, reduces the complexity of the world into simplified thinking. The theory of hyper-normalisation is a simple theory about the over-siplified world of simplicity we all live in. Simple isn’t it?

A friend once told me that the key to a good lie is to weave elements of truth into it. Google search controversial or widely discussed news items. Take hot topics such as ‘Banks’, ‘waves of refugees’, ‘Brexit’, ‘Trump’, ‘Russia’ and ‘Syria’ and quickly whisk them up into a simple, all encompassing and easy to digest theory of everything. That is what you get when with Curtis’ theory of hyper-normalisation. These news stories are compelling, affect many modern lives, and they are purposely deployed by Curtis to pull you in. Did you take the bait?

The idea of individualism and self-governance, or the concept of a non-political, economically driven social system runs through the history of Western academic thought. According to Curtis these liberal ideas (economic liberalism) are new concepts, they emerged in New York one day when some bankers refused to turn up to a city-hall meeting. Rather than listen to Curtis, we could refer to cybernetic theory of Norbert Wiener – see J. Mitchell Johnson’s brilliant new documentary “Remaining Human” -, or trace cybernetic theory back to the Marxism, Adam Smith, Enlightenment thinkers, Renaissance thinkers, right back to the philosophies of the Ancient Greeks. In fact, society without political governance would constitute all societies before the city-stat, empires or nation-state systems.

What the documentary represents is a bit of intellectual foolery or mischievous intellectualism. What I find more interesting is the way in which, from time to time, media channels like the BBC and Channel 4 like to toss conspiracy theories out into the public domain. There are never books published following the broadcast, rarely any academic citations, but they manage to tell us ‘all’ how are lives are shaped by evil men on the inside.

To return to the point, all theory is over-simplifying. That is to say, all theory reduces the world into easy to understand concepts and ideas. Bad theory can ruin lives – note that Russell Brand has developed his own strand of hyper-normalisation theory. Deconstructionism, either via way of Jacques Derrida (1976) or Friedrich Nietzsche, searches for the escape routes from all-encompassing, totalitarian theories. These thinkers aimed to expose theorists’ underlying biases and attempts to gain power over others. In many ways this kind of BBC documentary draws people in and gets people thinking or talking about what is healthy or unhealthy about modern culture. It gets them on the theoretical journey, that could then lead viewers down the path to become academic readers. Those intrigued by the idea of hyper-normalisation might one day find themselves reading about ‘hyper-reality’ (Baudrillard, 1994) or Georg Simmel’s theory of ‘hyper-individuality’ (written in 1905). Although Adam Curtis’ documentary is an absolute web of lies, it is useful in these regards. Other than that, beware of false profits.

Read these:

Baudrillard J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, USA: The University of Michigan Press.Derrida J. (1976) Of Gramatology, America: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

Reaction to eugenic cleansing of dyslexics like myself

Infuriated about an article published via The Guardian revealing that “Largest UK sperm bank turns away dyslexic donors”

All this talk of “non-linear”, “alternative”, “critical” or “outside-the-box” thinking is continually dashed out the window while highly rational, uniform, “right-minded” scientists have unprecedented and unchallenged control over hegemony in eugenic science (social engineering).

I’ve been cognitively profiled as “dyslexic”, “dyspraxic” but still managed to get to Cambridge Uni; and intelligent enough to anticipate that cognitive standardisation will lead to the death of social charisma, uniqueness or ingenuity. What “they” want is a standardised, managerial class of docile bodies, non-unique, susceptible to power and control, totally programable (replications of themselves).

“SPECIALISTS WITHOUT SPIRIT, SENSUALISTS WITHOUT HEART”

England’s Depressing Agricultural Downturn

In a meeting with leading sociologist Manuel Castells last year, I explained the topic of my research to him. His immediate response was: “you are studying a very depressing subject!”

Today in a small discussion between local farmers and a Conservative politician, an elderly farmer whose family had been in the dairy business for 100 years announced the terrible news that they had been forced to close the dairy business. The younger farmer next to him welled up with emotions and spouted: “I’ve got to intervene here; this farmer is the admiration of our district. He is by far the most efficient farmer we know and we all look up to him”. The elderly farmer expressed his thanks to the younger. He continued on to detail his fears about large-scale, indoor, robot-automated dairy parlours dominating the industry, consequently ridding the English landscape from herds of cows grazing in the sunshine.
The politician expressed his deepest sympathy. Within the next half an hour the politician made his political position very clear. He believed in the idea of “free markets” and fully supported the idea that “efficiency should lead the way forwards”.

I thought to myself: “…Castells was right”.

BBC News’ Anti-Corbyn Propaganda

There are certain moments when the BBC News network reveals itself as a national propaganda channel. Today was a fine example. Tonight’s headlines:

1. Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet includes an IRA sympathiser and a “vegan” as environmental secretary.
2. There will be no end to War in Syria.
3. David Cameron is in Syria talking refugees.

Cameron’s visit was purposely staged with soft lighting in the nursery school, surrounded by sparkly eyed children. Black shirt, sleeves rolled, top button undone, hair swept back, “talking to the people on the ground”. Of course this falls in line with the the slanderous media war the Conservatives have launched against Labour Party today. It would seem the run up to the general election of 2020 has already begun.

My point? The BBC is a public broadcasting service funded by tax payers money. The news coverage should remain objective and unbiased and should not fold to political sway or corruption. If there are people in positions of power at the BBC that are using their influence to support the interests of private companies they the should be reminded that they are being paid with public money.

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Is the Internet losing its imagination?

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For those who remember the eighties and nighties and the introduction of dial-up modems, unlimited data transfer, AOL and Netscape, they will remember it as an era of new potentials and liberal freedoms. The world of the Internet and computing tech, often inspired by semi-reformed LSD hippies of the US, was a platform for bizarre and abnormal happenings. Your average webpage was a strange mishmash of fonts, garish background images, animated GIFs of stars and unicorns. Nevertheless the “Information Superhighway” came with the strange and sometimes eerie promises of fragmented identities, global connections with other nerdy weirdoes, and websites were simply these blanks HTML sheets which held the potential to do absolutely anything you could imagine and possibly more. In retrospect the online world of Second Life was the epitome of these kinds of shared liberties, hopes and ambitions. In the “Golden Age of the Internet” you were free to

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Since the turn of the millennium however we have seen a slow nearly twenty year reform of this online world. These days I look at my Internet usage and I find my friends and colleagues posting the most formal photographs of themselves onto C.V. websites such as Academia.eu or Linkedin. Facebook no longer likes users fabricating their identities and requires from users a real name for safety measures. Free music downloads are – it seems – being steadily replaced by monthly subscription services such as Jay Z’s Tidal. Websites check you spelling mistakes, blog templates are standardised and professional, apps monitor how much food you eat or exercise you do, and horrible private companies and government bureaus monitor your online usage. It just feels as if slowly all the wacky, bizarre and crazy stuff that could be done is being replaced by regular and monotonous “real world” or work-related activities. Where’s all the fun and spirit of freedom and imagination going?

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We shouldn’t be entirely surprised by this. Classical sociologist Max Weber theorised about how social change can take place when charismatic leaders set new trends for societies. Steve Jobs springs to mind. Weber theorised that in the absence of the charismatic leaders then the new patterns and trends of social activity would slowly be commandeered by bureaucrats or formal, rational reformists. What was once a freedom and escape from routine would overtime be reduced to everyday routine, monotony and complete absence of charisma. As I observe the Internet slowly being commandeered by the traditional news networks (BBC, Guardian, Fox News, etc.) and free services transforming into subscription services, or individuals taking their online identities seriously while public agencies oversee social interactions and guaranteeing financial interactions, I wonder if Weber was right?