La Gira

The Riddle of Time, Space and Being

Death – or even already ageing … … there is something that is so well expressed in Michael Ende’s Never ending story: the Riddle of Time, the dependency and indeed relationality of future, presence and past. With every moment of our life we gain experiences – and gaining means filling the storage which is the past; and with the past and presence we encounter future which is then presence. However, while there is more and more past, future is decreasing.

So far the individual perspective. Now we face the question if such law can also be seen societally, here and now, claimed as orientation:

It is not only that every little helps – the tesco-slogan at some stage – but it is also that every little kills. I don’t want [and I cannot] enter deeply into this debate. But there is no doubt, that we live today, follow a lifestyle for which the future generation will have to pay – killing them softly, the piecemeal strangulation of the future (generation), literally breathing today the air, they cannot breathe anymore. Moreover, we deny not only their right but also the right of nature.

No, I am not going to be vegan from now on (and I will still not eat any sausages …). But there is some truth in what Frances always said when I wanted to help her in the kitchen. She gave me the knife, and when I approached a tomato she said, scaringly looking at me:

do you hear them screaming?

Of course [really of course?] it is not about single tomatoes, single trees…. But the genre, the “collective nature” may well have and should have rights – some countries are not only thinking about it, but have respective legislation in place.

A complicated debate, indeed. But obviously pointing out that the demonstrations and activities of the “Last Generation”, “Extension Rebellion” and others are not about the interests of activists and for instance the “general interest” or environment activists and those who are interested in free movement [and the free choice of the means of transport] or the imagined/supposed “interests of the state”. The interest of nature – life against life; or living of a few today against the sur-life of nature.

Indeed, the seemingly abstract question of death turns into a very concrete one.

Bottom line, I suppose: it is simply a paradox. Talking about life means acknowledging death as part of it; talking about death means being or becoming able to live. And death is so to say only the extreme, the final point on a scale. Final meaning absolute? Not really, as it is still part of life and living in the true sense, namely the understanding of relationality = processuality = totality.

Allowing others – or an other – taking one’s place, taking and giving part, including partialities.

Triage – one has to leave; not because there is not sufficient space but because there is “not enough to do”. In other words: not leaving means taking part which is at some stage about taking the part of somebody else, ignoring the other.

The challenge is balanced-managing and administering.

Inequality as permanent dissolution of entities. As such it is not a matter of distribution [though it appears to be “only” that]. Relationally is a matter of distribution as production, as such a matter of given and/as taking. Now the majestic equaliser emerges as an instrument of bringing production to a halt. The result is another dimension of the same paradox: permanent overproduction… of something that is useless, because it does not have any value. Sure, it has exchange value:

More years, not active years, but years that are only about maintaining life. Visiting doctors, physiotherapists, mobility exercise groups and social gaming events that are little social and not playful at all. Doing crosswords and jigsaws, … and in the extreme case it is even a brainless body … breathing, nutrition is artificially maintained.

Less extreme: the strive of old men and women to maintain whiteness, pushing then young to the edge, leaving them in the role of witnesses of decay. And even worse, forcing them to make the same mistake(s)!

Euthanasia, is for very good reasons – especially in Germany, but not only – hugely problematic, problematised and prohibited; and it is still a matter that is also problematic in the commonly/mostly forgotten way: it starts from the presumption of negativity of death [interestingly in a society that claims to be Christian, where religion suggests death being redemption].

This negativity is not least an expression of the obligation to Permanently Perform Perfectly – the basic and general pattern of PPP, reading in today’s terms Power Point Presentation, and then translated into politics: Public Private Partnership.

And of course, it is not allowed to leave, to say

I did what I wanted and could do, I am ready to leave ….

Sure, there are or can be very different reasons why somebody wants to leave; as much as there are or can be very different reasons for the want to stay [leaving aside that in both cases there can be reasons out of control of the person concerned].

The problem behind all these remarks is that the system, solely concerned with the production of worthless exchange values, is reflexive in the sense of extensively reifying itself – Andy Warhol perfectively confronting us with the jester’s mirror: design, originally used as means of presentation and advertisement, is elevated and presented as arts – Campbell sends regards. And both, arts and food alike are perverted after their death, i.e. the end of living and resurrection as commodities, the presentation of life in form of symbols. 

The effect depends on volume, on momentary hyper-presence, which in the extreme contains its own destruction:

The shredding of Banky’s Girl with the Balloon, just at the moment when the hammer falls – at one end, at the other end of a kind of scale, the light installation, where one can argue about whether it is really still an original piece of art when the curator replaces the defective original neon tube with one bought at the DIY store.

And indeed the new understanding of the character of arts is symptomatic for the entire range of new lifestyles. With view on Andy Warhol, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh points out that

[t]he systematic invalidation of the hierarchies of representational functions and techniques finds a corresponding statement in Warhol’s announcement that the hierarchy of subjects worthy to be represented will someday be abolished ….

(Buchloh, Benjamin H. D. (December 1, 2001). “Andy Warhol’s One-Dimensional Art: 1956–1966”. In Michelson, Annette (ed.). Andy Warhol. The MIT Press. p. 2)

(to be continued)

Disappointment-the old white men, grumpy, as he lost the privileged, elitist status?

I knew it (though I kind of denied it, wanted not to think it would be real), as we talked while back about my “Higher Diplomas” in Ireland – I definitely should say “our HDips”, as Joe played an important role too: principal teacher and course director, though really important: the more or less small group of students, up to 15, welded together by provoked critical thinking, exploring something new – we as university staff only provided a space so that they could work, coming from very different backgrounds, more and more going very different ways (after starting with the same idea or even ambition: getting into social work studies). In a way I established myself as a kind of leader, mentor. Nowadays, there are about 60 students, now mainly online teaching – yes, I guess that is the real move: from learning to teaching/being taught.

Yes, there is some disappointment, perhaps even anger.

But, of course, there is another, much wider dimension to it.

The group, stablished at the human rights centre in Changsha, HRUG.legal, is discussing at the moment different informal structures as ubuntu, guanxi, jaan-pehchaan… all in some way seeing these network-like relations in a positive light. It is about communities, non-alienated relationships [or better: relationalities] and direct mutual support: do you want to go fast, go alone; do you want to go far, move together. It is about the we-society, where a village is needed to bring up a child…

Then, I asked Maria, looking for somebody who would be able and willing to talk about the Russian blat. Her spontaneous reaction:

It’s a dark side of the social connections, when personal [family, friendly and other] relations are used to achieve something in spite of law or/and rules violation. In popular terms I would call blood a corrupt way to use social capital.

Ah, capital …

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait. (Balzac)

– and it is conservative saying this.

And from great capital we come to the great “equaliser”, knowing with Anatole France

La majestueuse égalité des lois interdit aux riches comme aux pauvres de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans la rue et de voler du pain.

Easy to conclude and learn : Sine ira, sine studio!

Is it true, then? There is no alternative? Education must be reduced on large-scale teaching, and going beyond the small learning-group is the only and necessary anti-elitist, and also anti-critical way, guaranteeing equality and access for everyone? And not least, calling for a new elite?

****

That is what they did, isn’t it? New generations of artists, opposing the academy… and establishing themselves as new academy …

Secession – though always in need of some kind of “accession”, Or even being a form of accessing: entering another, perhaps new, world.

Fear … Can we be sure about the access? What if we fail? Partial death!?

This partial death seems to be also motivation to join false friends, stick to communities – a bribe for tribe. Who wants to leave with dirty hands? So, one hand washes the other- mutuality, here with the advantage of feeling it – as it is the habit on the one on the horse market: not shaking hand in the way we usually do… but do we? Often amongst young people there is a greeting ceremony that includes a firm handshake, somewhat combined with a high 5, followed by a hug. Of course not possible in times of pandemics – there we still found some strange kin: “greeting with the elbows” – a sort of hooking up with each other?

Back to guanxi, then, to ubuntu …, facing, admitting the impossibility of distance… Trying spasmodically to “keep the church in the village” even here, talking about the global village…, and in law always also looking at emergency exit: discretionary leeway.

Mind, keeping always on the top the supposed justification: it is only the others where such networks are bad, questionable; whatever we do, is a sobber and clean way of negotiation.

It may be farfetched, perhaps one can even see it as depressive, though more likely one has to say that it is realistic: overcoming the attitude of the old white men – Aherns, Belusconis, Francescos, Prodis …., not being able or willing to leave the stage [and of course their female partners as the Lagardes, beginning a new career at a time where they should stop and enjoy the money they did not pay to the tax office] – will only be possible by teaching the youth about finality, death. And then, only then, we old men and women, whatever the colour of the skin, will be respected [and can be respected] as true gentlemen and gentlewomen.

(To be continued )

Control Yourself

Control Yourself

Isn’t it another paradox – or at least another formulation of various paradoxa? Being “social beings” is in itself a kind of paradox, if we consider that the social is something that is permanently changing, this making being in a strict sense impossible: Bing is having been and becoming at the very moment we are. And controlling oneself, then, means controlling how we position ourselves in and being part of change, by which, to some extent, we change.

A matter not least of HumaArtificial Intelligence: While we are, of course reacting, caught in some kind of feedback loop, we are – if we do exist in the said sense – able to leave the feedback loop, too – making this kind of intelligence human – and possibly humane – so different if compared with Kant’s/McEwan’s Adam.

And then? Capitalism in particular, perhaps society? Ageing, especially when becoming ill, fragile? When all this means, perhaps reducing life on maintaining itself, staying alive… the permanent concern of securing food, securing living under a roof …, a large roof the seize of which goes beyond (but where is the limit?) what is needed for security, for comfort; … maintaining the body and its beauty… exercises, communication, even if it is communication about communication, classifying and screening communication … Is it about personalities, that lost character, about newspapers that perpetuate news bare of information; about publishers publishing books nobody is interested in, nobody can afford … but everybody then is encouraged (and taking up the offer) to download for free; to subscribe for free… at least for three weeks, or months or so …,  having all stored on the computer, the cloud … .

Of course reading is a good thing for the individual and for humanity. But do you have to write something about what you read, which is then written about, about which legions of educated people argue, in order to subsequently document the argument and discuss the documentation in the feuilletons? (Zeh/Urban: Zwischen Welten … 32 f.)

Reducing human intelligence, even human existence… on pure being, on the very moment, without past, consequently without future, like the homo faber not being able to rest under the tree – resting needs to acknowledge movement, failing this, means failing to exist. As “always understanding what one does, means remaining unchallenged by oneself.” (Walser)

Beginning to exist is something that – from the perspective of the very individual – simply  happens, out of control … and is that the ultimate answer, the fact of being damned to live like Sisyphus?

academia between enchantment – disenchantment

For only fools, fanatics, and mental cases can stand living at the highest pitch of soul; a sane person must be content with declaring that life would not be worth living without a spark of that mysterious fire. [1]

It is a fundamental challenge of scientific thinking: if disenchantment is the ultimate goal, it is at the same time enchantment that makes results valuable: the enchantment of discovering questions as being relevant in the first place and then “unpacking” the results in such a way that they lead to a renewed enchantment of life. This applies to the discoveries of Pythagoras as well as the seemingly trivial invention of a mechanism like the zip fastener.

Nowadays, the question of meaning tends to take a back seat to highly specialised knowledge, both in terms of asking questions and imparting knowledge. It is important, however, to keep the awareness alive that the latter is only a tool for understanding the world. As far as my expertise is concerned, it is about overcoming economics, being reduced to mathematical formulae, moving it towards sustainability as matter of life of and living in society; it is about reaching a legal system that promotes coherence of justice and is thus able to put content before form.


[1] Musil, Robert, 1940: The Man Without Qualities. A Sort Of Introduction And Pseudoreality Prevails; Translated From The German By Sophie Wilkins; Editorial Consultant: Burton Pike; New York: Vintage International, 1996: 199

genius versus non-existence

Another time – The Economist newsletter, April 28th 2023. Subject line:

Yuval Noah Harari: regulate AI before it regulates us

Such headlines and statements make me think of the phrase sweet nothings and I am wondering if in political-academic respect a similar phrase must be formulated: wise nothings, not to say nothing wise.

The first point – formulated as question:

Is it really about regulating AI or is it about

regulating the making of AI

regulating the use of AI

regulating the use of what AI “does”

regulating the – and then: which – users of AI

?

The second point – put forward as kind of dystopian saga, and made concrete, real – seems to be more important.

We witness major progress in computer technology. The quasi-ancient times of the use of computers required somewhat simplified communication with the figure zero and one – in other words: while not speaking directly in sequences 0 1, the programming languages was not so different, just slightly: presenting the binary code in a form that looked – in part – like real language. Today, computers can be used, directly employing real language – and even some sloppiness will be accepted: different pronunciation, spelling, terms … are no problem for the processing.

The next step is the exciting one: just one word, term, short question or statement translates into kind of explorative story. Specific version: upload a document, e.g. an edited volume on racism – the stunning result: you key in an issue you want to look at and you will receive a perfect summary, completely informed and elaborating on the contradictions of opinions expressed in the different contributions. Then we have a machine translation, at this stage working reasonably good. On top of all this we have now a language correcting software, translating miserable English into good English, awkward French language into well-formulated French … . The problem is only the programming of well-functioning links between different AI instruments.

Just key in a term, perhaps name… . The result will be posted automatically to the translator, then to the AI proof reader and you will get an article on something you never heard about, written, even thought in the style of a person you don’t know in a language of which you never heard, spoken in a country of which you do not know – authored by yourself. In other words, you will not know anymore what you are doing – however, in this case – and looking at the German Criminal Law – one is wondering if we are facing a reformulation of paragraph 20, now reading

Whoever, at the time of the commission of the offence, is incapable of appreciating the unlawfulness of their actions or of acting in accordance with any such appreciation due to a pathological mental disorder, a profound disturbance of consciousness or intellectual disability or any other serious mental disorder is deemed to act without guilt.

A new version must then contain an additional sentence, like

Non-existence will not be considered as excuse, qualifying people as acting without guilt.

So, it remains your decision: feel yourself as genius or as basically non-existing something. You may translate this into “control AI or control yourself”.

So bad !?

Reading last week the headlines in The Economist, and learning again that AI-tools are passing exams, celebrating the advancement I am hesitating, wondering if it is possibly not about the highly developed AI but an indicator on the downgrading of education: limited to reproducing knowledge, performing “excellence in simplicity”. Limiting thinking to binary scales and scopes.

(Higher) Education on a low level … and seen in the binary spirit, there are only two directions: horizontal and vertical so that the tower of PISA is in real danger of finally falling …

Cui Bono

Who benefits? Wem nützt das?

(scroll down for English …)

Vielleicht habe ich immer gewusst, dass ich hier gebraucht werde. Vielleicht ahnte ich, dass meine Aufgabe darin bestehen würde, diesen Hof in die Zukunft zu führen. Vielleicht war Münster nur eine nette Auszeit, ein kleiner Schlenker auf dem Weg zum eigentlichen Ziel, weil die Heldin fortgehen muss, um heimkehren zu können. Wir hatten eine tolle Zeit in Münster, aber mit der Germanistik konnte ich mich, ehrlich gesagt, nie richtig anfreunden. Natürlich ist lesen ein Glück. Für den Einzelnen und für die Menschheit. Aber muss man über das Gelesene etwas schreiben, über das dann etwas geschrieben wird, über das sich Heerscharen von gebildeten Menschen streiten, um den Streit anschließend zu dokumentieren und die Dokumentation in den Feuilletons zu besprechen? Wem nützt das, wem tut das etwas Gutes?

Juli Zeh/Simon Urban, 2023: Zwischen Welten; Muenchen: Luchterhand: 52 f.

*****

Maybe I always knew that I was needed here. Maybe I suspected that my task would be to lead this farm into the future. Maybe Münster was just a nice break, a little detour on the way to the real goal, because the heroine has to leave in order to return home. We had a great time in Münster, but to be honest, I could never really get to grips with German studies. Of course, reading is a good thing. For the individual and for humanity. But do you have to write something about what you read, which is then written about, about which legions of educated people argue, in order to subsequently document the argument and discuss the documentation in the feuilletons? Who benefits from it, for whom does it do any good?

White Christmas …

That had been last year, one of the rare occasions we have had snow in Changsha.

There is also a weird Christmas … for some. Branko Milanovic posted on the 26th of December 2021

I hardly knew about the existence of Christmas when I was a child. Both the 25th of December and the 7th of January were ordinary working days, with my parents, and everyone’s else parents going to work. When I would read in the newspapers an article, for example, on how Parisian streets were especially nicely lit for that year’s Christmas, I felt vaguely that the French must have been celebrating some weird quasi-medieval festival that no modern-minded person would pay slightest attention to. For me, Christmas celebrations in Western Europe were a bit like those weird customs that I would read still existed amongst the British Lords, Queens and Kings that seemed so outlandish that I was wondering how an advanced country could have such unenlightened practices. It was perhaps like a feeling that votaries of Scientology elicit among most people in the United States today.

Be it as it is, have some relaxing days – off work, time for reflection on past, present and future, near and far.

Not the Grand Finale … – … Yet

Not even in terms of work – remember Engels’ remark on labour and work, qualifying work as the activity that is paid for by wages, labour a (specific) physical activity.

Still, it is time to say another time good-bye as done earlier (and here)

 – this time from a sideline activity, I could without much exaggeration say: a kind of voluntary work, i.e. the casual teaching at a German third level institution.

It is difficult to present in a note of reasonable length – difficult as reality, this part of reality is full of contradictions. I try to be reasonably correct by putting some poles in the ground, some stumbling blocks – each of them on its own more or less ‘harmless’, ‘right’, ‘correct’, good by way of harmony of its tiny part of the world. Each of these poles is linked to another pole, or some other poles, striking a balance for some time, and collapsing like a house of cards when a butterfly passes, the palace crumbling as result of the stroke of the butterfly.

What are these activities about, how can they be characterised in general terms, leaving aside that each case is different: 

* they are securing income – as such privilege and often gratefully accepted; • one may be beneficiary of a colleague’s engagement by which one (= a person like me) gets the job, • just a matter of being at the right time in then right place, e.g. an institution is recruiting people with some specific expertise, • people who like teaching, supplementing their PhD-work … 

* it is about securing teaching – one may debate how many students are really “deserving students” = curious, mostly young people – sponging knowledge from A (as in ante portas, the state when the world as we know it only existed as Big Bang) to Z (as in zombie, ultimate part of the current culture which is itself somewhat zombie-like) it is the keen interest of those who are claiming on the many shoulders of great WoMen and the too often forgotten great work of their assistants). Sure, many of the students are more or even only interested in passing exams, answering the guiding question: “What do you want to do with your life” with the succinct wish: “making money, more than I actually need” … – but what can we expect if the main self-advertisement of such institutions is about careers and higher education for the sake of developing critical thinking emerges too often as unwanted side-effect

* — this (kind of) securing third level education by casual teaching (in several cases of third level institutions of the Western educational system a matter of app[roximately] 40 to 50 % – a matter of disencumber the public budget; a budget that for instance had been temporarily ramped by measures of privatisation: selling public goods means in the long run a deprivation of sources of public income

* furthermore, this kind of new division of labour has to be seen as twofold disqualification:

  • qualified admin work is disqualified – it is suggested that no qualification is needed and everybody, including academics can do it (yes, academics, this species that is for good reason often a welcome object for cartoons presenting the absent-minded, quixotic academic
  • qualified academic thinking is disqualified as it is overburdened by activities outside of their expertise – leaving aside that it is usually additional and non-remunerated activity, it is also depending on and supporting a specific understanding of the field and we can well speak of “taskification” of the work, defining the substance of teaching in tendency as solely task-oriented – evidenced by the knowledge society being shifted to a skills society [1]

* not least, being busy – with admin work; many colleagues also busy as they are in need of chasing for another job, or we may even say task

Yes, it is said that it is easy to find a job; but probably it is more correct to say: it is easy to find work, but still difficult to find work that allows to make a living. Little payment …, or actually highly qualified, if remunerated jobs that many citizens cannot afford. The societal consequences are often disastrous as the following quote from the Berlin Tagesspiegel (Tagesspiegel Checkpoint vom Dienstag, 11.10.2022; own translation P.H.) shows

Equally disturbing are the reports from the health offices, which, according to the president of the medical association, are short of 60 doctors. The erosion is extreme in Neukölln, where the quarrel between the city councillor and the current medical officer has escalated and the social psychiatric service has practically collapsed. In addition, the public health officers are outraged by the city councillor’s idea of having the health offices run by administrative professionals instead of doctors. In Treptow-Köpenick, a lawyer (specialised in medical law) has just started as head of the office. 

* Yes, then the polis is a romping place for ruled behaviour … – everything is given, no progress, not even movement its possible anymore: legitimation is a matter of entering rule-abiding processes, an ideal field for “how-to-research”, a cemetery for “why- and-what and what- and why-research” – the place where the past is only known as nightmare.

App – the abbreviation of approximately, used earlier – is today more known as abbreviation of application: application of rules, individual orders or complex systems of standards, regulations and their implementation in single acts or “behavioural standards” – be they meaningful or not, in any case a matter of boxing humans

****

von Jhering, in bis little book on the Trinkgeld, written end of the 19th century, states

It is blamed on us Germans that we leave a stone lying quietly in the path that we bump into – everyone curses it, but no one takes the trouble to move it out of the way or, if it is too heavy for him alone, to call in others to help. … ; everyone complains about it, but everyone leaves it there (to be added: continues doing so, P.H.). The reproach which we raise against the stone is directed against ourselves; he who merely curses a bad habit, instead of helping to eliminate it for his part, accuses himself – everyone who does not have the courage to oppose it is himself jointly responsible for the existence of a bad habit. No one has the right to complain about it but he who can give himself the testimony of having done everything in his power to put an end to it.

It is time then to say good-bye, not now and immediately; not without the famous “crying eye”, looking at those students who are really keen to study: for life and – where necessary – changing its conditions, not for a dull life of excessive self-presentation.[2]


[1] can teaching actually be booked via task rabbit – if so, the next step may be ordering it online, YouTube emerging as liferando of the educational system

[2] “… the twenty-first century is full of people who are full of themselves … a half-hour’s trawl through the online ocean of blogs, tweets … brings up thousands of individuals, fascinated by their own personalities and shouting for attention.” (Sarah Bakewell, 2010: How to live: A Life of Montaigne; London: Chatto and Windus: 1)

Why not?

Nowadays, it is so often that we receive emails or messages on the answer phone, informing that at the moment an increasing number of mails and phone calls has to be looked after – so they ask for understanding that things take a little bit longer. In particular since the outbreak of corona pandemic’s outbreak such announcements are common, though we should not overlook that this is the continuation of a trend that lasts already for decades, only accelerating now. But why is so little said about the true character of it: the fact that additional work is put on the shoulders of the employees, additional staff is often underpaid (and/or/due to lacking qualification) and employers aim on avoiding new permanent jobs … and due to this kind of “overheating exploitation” actually more things go wrong, giving cause for more complains.