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‘Our Retrospective Abhorrence’; Or, ‘Jerry Building’ (1994)

6 May

Jonathan Meades‘ incisive, irreverent, sweeping, often hilarious and somehow majestic account of the forms of Nazism (architectural, political, libidinal), criminally unavailable on DVD. Presented here in full lo-fi glory. One of the best docu-arguments ever committed to celluloid. You’re very welcome.

Whitewashing History

12 Apr


The Morning Post, 1913 – on the violence of the suffragette movement:

Early yesterday morning some women succeeded in burning a valuable house near Trowbridge. In the night of Monday to Tuesday ROUGH’S boathouse on the river at Oxford, near the Long Bridges, was seen to be on fire. It was impossible to save the building or the boats which it contained. Nailed to the bridge near was found a card with the words “Votes for women. No peace till we get the vote.” The presumption is that the boathouse was set on fire, the KING’S horse was stopped, and the Trowbridge mansion was destroyed by some of the females who are discontented with the structure of society. Whether that be the case or not – it is quite possible that the truth may not be ascertained – the action is typical of much that has happened lately and deserves thinking about. Indeed, if we are to believe the leaders of the “movement”, the purpose with which these things are done is to make men think. The question is, What are we to think? The planned and deliberate destruction of property is intelligible as an expression of anger against the owner. But as the wellbeing of society depends upon the security of persons and property against wilful attacks, such attacks are regarded as crimes, and one of the principal purpose for which society is organised is to prevent such acts and to punish those who commit them. But in the class or cases which we are considering there is not motive or animosity against the particular person whose property is destroyed. Those who do them have not the personal hatred which usually explains such doings. If this were an isolated case, if it were found that a house had been wilfully set on fire by a young lady well brought up and accustomed in other respects to behave herself well, a jury would probably come to the conclusion that she was not in her right mind, and the Court order that she should be taken care of until she was restored to complete sanity. But the present case is not isolated. There is an epidemic of the state of mind which produced it; it is but one of a large number of similar cases. This frame of mind cannot possibly be considered healthy. The acts which it produces constitute a war, not only upon society as at present constituted but upon any conceivable state of society because it is impossible to imagine any community of human beings not based upon laws for preserving the security of property as well as of life and society, the propounds of the most astounding schemes for the reconstruction of the community, have ever propounded a plan which would not guarantee the work of and man’s hands against wanton and wilful destruction. The women who go about setting fire to houses seem, therefore to have their thoughts out of gear. In most respects apparently their minds work as other people’s do, but the epidemic of arson appears to be a form of monomania. This quality of the minds concerned noes not disappear under an examination of the alleged motive. These ladies say that women ought to have the same political rights as men, and in particular the Parliamentary franchise, and they assert that women are qualified to be members of the body polite. But it is unthinkable that a person who refuses to recognise the fundamental condition upon which every society is founded can be qualified for membership in that society. The person whose mind works in that way is inaccessible to reasonable arguments.

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Mahatma Gandhi – on violence:

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.

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Dr Sabaratnam, I Presume?

15 Mar

Hot on Roberto’s heels, and the third of us to achieve doctorhood since the inception of The Disorder Of Things, our very own Meera today survived the critical questioning of Robbie Shilliam and Christopher Cramer. She is henceforth Dr Sabaratnam, certified by virtue of her thesis: Re-Thinking the Liberal Peace: Anti-Colonial Thought and Post-War Intervention in Mozambique. For the record, I’m assured that any violence inflicted was purely intellectual.

The Disorder Of Things Is One!

5 Oct

Thank you for your custom. Image from Awkward Family Photos.

Seduction, Asphyxiation and the Postal Circulation of Military Masculinities

26 Sep

In the spirit of Sociological Images, some postcards recently acquired in Amsterdam. Principally produced to profit the French Red Cross and general effort in World War I, there’s also a more domesticated military masculinity apparent in the ‘Neerland’s Weermacht’ (Dutch Army) card posted in 1939. The artist for the middle set of four (the letter, the gas, the cemetery-orphanage, the seduction) is Louis Raemaekers.

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And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard

4 Sep

Dinosauria, We

Born like this
Into this
As the chalk faces smile
As Mrs. Death laughs
As the elevators break
As political landscapes dissolve
As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
As the oily fish spit out their oily prey
As the sun is masked
We are
Born like this
Into this
Into these carefully mad wars
Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
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A Slow Motion Moral Collapse, or, the Principle of Magic?

15 Aug

Belief in magic did not cease when the coarser forms of superstitious practice ceased. The principle of magic is found whenever it is hoped to get results without intelligent control of means; and also when it is supposed that means can exist and yet remain inert and inoperative. In morals and politics such expectation still prevail, and in so far the most important phases of human action are still affected by magic. We think that by feeling strongly enough about something, by wishing hard enough, we can get a desirable result, such as virtuous execution of a good resolve, or peace among nations, or good will in industry. We slur over the necessity of the cooperative action of objective conditions, and the fact that this cooperation is assured only by persistent and close study. Or, on the other hand, we fancy we can get these results by external machinery, by tools or potential means, without a corresponding functioning of human desires and capacities. Often times these two false and contradictory beliefs are combined in the same person. The man who feels that his virtues are his own personal accomplishment is likely to be also the one who thinks that by passing laws he can throw the fear of God into others and make them virtuous by edict and prohibition.

-John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct

Primitive Accumulation; Or, A Virtual Read-In on the London Riots

14 Aug

The blogosphere has a million corners, countless nooks and several large echo-chambers, complete with their own centres of self-congratulatory gravity. All have been aflame over the last week, saturating events, riots and insurgencies with the weight of historical expectation, the political memory of past iteration and the awesome condescension of easy interpretation. Gaps persist: gender and the dynamics of formally opposed masculinities have escaped all but the most cursory attention. It is one paradox of all this profuse commentary that decrying the statements and manifestos of others is the most satisfying and patronising manifesto of all. At its worst, it engages in the fullest of narcissisms (let’s make this about us and the quality of our analysis) whilst proudly displaying its contempt for thought (now is not the time for theory!). And of course, the problems and challenges are real. Much more real than we can face, too real for the sordid postures of moralising (I denounce Satan and all his works!) and liable to stay as real once we paper over them and return to our default settings.

Oh, and I find myself in unsurprising agreement with Joe and Meera (although I think Ken Livingstone’s attempts to make the link to cuts and social marginalisation is more ham-fisted than shameful). Which is all by way of introduction. There are reams to be written on the way the punditocracy and assorted commentariat are deploying (and misapplying) categories of cause, the unstable and multiple uses made of ‘politics’, the questions of historical precedent and historical return, and on and on. Exhaustion at the war of position prevents any such post. Instead, a mix-tape of diagnosis and critique, with both the smooth joins and the subtle dissonances that implies. More useful than a 1,000 faux-fresh words.

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These looters are doing what they’re supposed to; grabbing the goods they see in the shops and can’t buy in a recession. They loot the bling – the sports shoes, gold watches, mobile phones and plasma TVs; and you can recognize the very poor when you see a woman looting potatoes from a corner shop. These acquisitive looters are certainly copying the gold standard of a social contract eroded by and evaporating with the money. These are riots in the cause of consumer goods. Burning and robbing other people’s things is one thing, but soon enough, and with no social cause or justice worth the name, people too become indistinguishable from things: witness the widely-circulated photo of the woman leaping for her life from a burning building; such potential deaths still threaten to bring the house down on top of us. This whole distressing episode began with the police shooting dead a black man in north London they said was a gunman; no evidence he fired a shot, we’re told, but the man was already indistinguishable from his gun.

Gabriel Gbadamosi, ‘The Blazing Light In August’

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Pragmatist Notes, part III

23 Jul

In spite of the fact that diversity of political forms rather than uniformity is the rule, belief in the state as an archetypal entity persists in political philosophy and science. Much dialectical ingenuity has been expended in construction of an essence or intrinsic nature in virtue of which any particular association is entitled to have applied to it the concept of statehood. Equal ingenuity has been expended in explaining away all divergences from this morphological type, and (the favored device) in ranking states in a hierarchical order of value as they approach the defining essence. The idea that there is a model pattern which makes a state a good or true state has affected practice as well as theory. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the effort to form constitutions offhand and impose them ready-made on peoples. Unfortunately, when the falsity of this view was perceived, it was replaced by the idea that states “grow” or develop instead of being made. This “growth” did not mean simply that states alter. Growth signified an evolution through regular stages to a predetermined end because of some intrinsic nisus or principle. This theory discouraged recourse to the only method by which alterations of political forms might be directed: namely, the use of intelligence to judge consequences. Equally with the theory which it displaces, it presumed the existence of a single standard form which defines the state as the essential and true article. After a false analogy with physical science, it was asserted that only the assumption of such a uniformity of process renders a “scientific” treatment of society possible. Incidentally, the theory flattered the conceit of those nations which, being politically “advanced,” assumed that they were so near the apex of evolution as to wear the crown of statehood.

- John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (1927)

Reality Mining for Population-Centric Computational Counterinsurgency; Or, Feedback Loops Meet Hermeneutic Circles

22 Jul

Drizzled between the gun battles were occasional accounts of villages stabilized and town elders met. But, written as random notes, the accounts were hard to insert into a database. There was nothing consistent, nothing you could plot as a trend over time.

‘These were intelligence reports, not measurable data,’ the source says. ‘The population-centric information wasn’t to be found there.’

So the team widened their search, without much luck. The most reliable data they could find was weekly fruit prices from Jalalabad, a city in northeastern Afghanistan. At least those could be measured over time.

“One assumed there was some secret mound of data to be exploited. But it’s just not true,” the source adds.

Noah Shachtman, ‘Inside Darpa’s Secret Afghan Spy Machine’

Albright has noted that Iran has material to build only 12,000-15,000 centrifuges, and if 1,000 to 2,000 were destroyed, this would hasten the demise of its stockpile. But his and other organizations have also noted that after the centrifuges were replaced, Iran stepped up its enrichment program and its overall production of uranium had actually increased in 2010, despite any effects Stuxnet may have had.

Stuxnet required an enormous amount of resources to produce, but its cost-benefit ratio is still in question. While it may have helped set Iran’s program back to a degree, it also altered the landscape of cyberattacks…In the end, Stuxnet’s creators invested years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attack that was derailed by a single rebooting PC, a trio of naive researchers who knew nothing about centrifuges, and a brash-talking German who didn’t even have an internet connection at home.

Kim Zetter, ‘How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History’

These domestic images must be more than simply one more form of distancing, one more way to remove oneself from the grisly reality behind the words; ordinary abstraction is adequate to that task. Something else, something very peculiar, is going on here. Calling the pattern in which bombs fall a ‘footprint’ almost seems a wilful distorting process, a playful, perverse refusal of accountability – because to be accountable is to be unable to do this work.

These words also serve to domesticate, to tame the wild and uncontrollable forces…The metaphors minimize; they are a way to make phenomena that are beyond what the mind can encompass smaller and safer, and thus they are a way of gaining mastery over the unmasterable. The fire-breathing dragon under the bed, the one who threatens to incinerate your family, your town, your planet, becomes a bet you can pat.

Carol Cohn, ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals’ (1987)

The ways of thinking embodied in institutions govern the way the members of the societies studied by the social scientist behave. The idea of war, for instance, was not simply invented by people who wanted to explain what happens when societies come into armed conflict. It is an idea that provides the criteria of what is appropriate in the behaviour of members of the conflicting societies. Because my country is at war there are certain things which I must do and certain things which I must not do. My behaviour is governed, one could say, by my concept of myself as a member of a belligerent country. The concept of war belongs essentially to my behaviour. But the concept of gravity does not belong essentially to the behaviour of a falling apple in the same way: it belongs rather to the physicist’s explanation of the apple’s behaviour. To recognise this has nothing to do with a belief in ghosts behind the phenomena.

Peter Winch, The Idea Of A Social Science And Its Relation to Philosophy (1958)

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