Scales falling from the eyes

Of course, change is undeniable, everywhere and at any time. And the same can be said in regard of things not changing at all, being the same everywhere and at any time. – It seems to be true for the big and also for the small matters. And sometimes we are not really aware of any of these; and/or we are not aware of the details, the question of the real meaning. Sure, there cannot be any clear answer, as there is always the perspective as decisively intervening variable. At stake here are at least issues as form, substance and perception: looking at the rainbow fish we see the sparkling scales,


though we have to ask what happened to the fish after he gave them away. Is it the same fish or not, and what – if anything – changed.

It is the question also if we look at language: so often we take words dispassionately, just as they are so well known – as it happened the other day, or I should say night, walking along the Leopoldstrasse, seeing the bakery’s light, the word Strassenverkauf – Street Trading: of course: the window where they would sell during the opening hours bread, roles and cake to the passerby – of course also the coffee to go: wiki-food for wiki-lives in a wiki-world where everything is possible:

I am expected to see the social and, to a large extent, even the real environment as a contingent. Everything could be different – and almost nothing I can change.[1]

wikiwiki – an invitation to play — wikiwiki – kiwi kiwi – Kipukapuka

Few meters on I hesitated, returned, reading it again, in a different way now – getting the impression of scales falling from my eyes: Isn’t there really some more truth in a reading that suggests that shops like this are trading in streets, shaping very much spaces, public spaces?

Here space is about living in permanent transition – space where pace matters …, as faster as better …, as further as worthier …

“Everything could be different – and almost nothing I can change“ is also about the paradox of a new world, suggesting

To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, as Evgeny Morozov titles in his critical review.[2]

The paradox is that everything becomes transitory – and in the knowledge of this we make things to be replaced. The earlier Phoebus cartel meant to shadow light bulbs

The Phoebus cartel had an ambitious agenda. First, it stabilized prices at a fairly high level. The demand for lightbulbs was inelastic—that is, it changed little with the price of the object. Because as a rule consumers spent far more on electricity to power bulbs than on bulbs themselves, the price of electricity was the chief factor determining the demand for lamps. European producers reasoned that higher prices on bulbs would not depress sales while boosting profit margins per unit sold. General Electric particularly liked this policy, which allowed it to keep prices in the United States lower than European ones and so discourage challengers from the continent. In addition, the cartel provided for licensing technology among members, a system that earned GE substantial royalties. Finally, Phoebus pursued a far-reaching program of technical standardization. European firms had been producing electric lamps with a dizzying variety of voltage, longevity, brightness, and socket size. The cartel sought to regularize bulbs, setting up a central laboratory in Switzerland to which all members had to submit their goods. Few objected to the policy, as standardization lowered production costs as well as confusion among consumers. Another initiative, however, did not earn such universal praise. Phoebus (and in the United States, GE) systematically changed bulbs to allow them to produce more light per unit of electricity. This also cut the average life span of bulbs by about 20 percent, forcing consumers to purchase more of them. The cartel did not advertise the change, but when called to account, managers pointed out that the new bulbs provided more light per unit of power and so benefited customers. It was not clear, however, why consumers could not have chosen for them- selves between the new, brighter bulbs and the old, longer-lasting ones.[3]

The new cartel is about more. It is about making us to live lives in transition  – instead of furthering enlightenment, shadowing the being itself.

Occupied – being busy is the new and ultimate way … tired is the new stoned.


The other day I went with two friends after lunch around the corner – who could have resisted the question ‘We’ll go for an ice-cream?’ – ’Sure, best gelateria in town’ I smirked. There had been a more or less long queue, people well ordered entering the small place, ordering, being asked which ‘top-up’ they wanted to test – just a spoon full, moving on to the cash register and then we stood more or less in the way, enjoying ice-cream and company under the little awning – indeed, there is room in even the smallest cabin.

This is the pleasant of being caught in a machinery of shops, eateries, service centres …As it is a pleasant way to go for a cuppa in the shop next to the Institute – where they have coffee to Gogh.


…all trading in streets, highly social in their orientation on shaping spaces in which we move, or in which we are caught, not feeling in a position to move. Sure, supposedly we are acting purely as individuals, like the Smithian butcher, brewer, or baker of whom we know he following:

Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely. The charity of well-disposed people, indeed, supplies him with the whole fund of his subsistence.[4]

Even if we really behave like individual butchers, brewers and bakers, nolens volens we create spaces and publicness – being occupied by our occupations — and confronted with the challenge of occupying them – on this level the choice of ice cream in the small place around the corner and grabbing a sandwich at the window, ops Strassenverkauf – Street Trading.


Perception matters – perception of things, beings and being. And perception is not least about perceiving historical truth, truth of history, of change and stability and how it is seen. Martin Walser, being interviewed as one of the Zeuge des Jahrhunderts, states pointedly

As long as something is, it is not what it will have been at some time. – Solange etwas ist, ist es nicht, was es einmal gewesen sein wird.

And the same, cm grano salis, can be said when it comes to language:

As soon as we use words, we may use them in a way that is different to what they meant when they had been used originally. Yes, there is movement as well of language and its use and understanding.

Moving – Heraclitian movement is also about moving oneself, not (primarily) as self-movement for the sake of oneself, instead as actively moving oneself in order to move society in order to build a society that allows to move …

… indeed it is about the butcher, the brewer, or the baker.

Sure, so far

[w]e address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

But is it entirely true? Aren’t we also at times go to a craftsperson who is clearly distinctive from the replaceable machine, tool or vending machine – who ‘is what s/he works and works what s/he is’? Isn’t s/he like most of us hoping to be able and encouraged (today one would say empowered) to live in a society

where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

A passage that is still appreciated, even if Marx wrote these words in the German Ideology already in1845.


[1]       (Mir wird zugemutet, die soziale und weithin sogar die dingliche Umwelt als kontingent zu begreifen. Alles könnte anders sein – und fast nichts kann ich ändern.)

(Luhmann_Politische Planung-Aufsätze zur Soziologie von Politik und Verwaltung_1971_VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.pdf: 44)

[2]       (public affairs, 2013)

[3]       Wells, Wyatt, 2002: Antitrust and the Formation of the Postwar World; New York et alt.: Columbia University Press: 21

[4]       Smith, Adam, 1776: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations [The Wealth of Nations]


Where are we going?

Looking at the edition of the 25th of November 2013 of L’Osservatore Romano, and the online version of the article

Between Dignity and Transcendence

we read the report on the pope’s visit in Strasbourg, where he addressed the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

Opening that page, I saw on the top one of Raphael’s most beautiful frescoes:

The School of Athens

Now, one may take it simply as nice ornament. And actually meaningful as it is frequently claimed that Europe today has the still strong roots in ancient history in particular of Athens and Rome. Looking at Plato and Aristotle at the centre — it is surely a remarkable reference to European tradition then: can we interpret their appearance together as hinting to the claim for a “moral, ethical state”? Plato’s obviously pointing on a merger of dialectics and the trinity – we may take from the book in his hands: the Timeaus the famous passage:

“For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean—then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one”.

And we see Aristotle, holding the Nichomachean Ethics in his hands, as a kind of secular challenge, asking for the goodness in the here an now, guided by the two sets of virtues

  • moral virtues are in his view prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, temperance;
  • intellectual virtues are in his view justice, perseverance, empathy, integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, autonomy.

There is so much more in it, even the positioning of the various colleagues of the two central figures is telling: For instance Diogenes – the personification of putting into practice of complete modesty and self-sufficiency – somewhat degraded on the stairs, “scientists” as Heraclitus, Euclid or Parmenides somewhat sidelined, working “on the ground”, though it is left open if this is meant to be a positive or a negative reference to the “exact sciences”.

But there we may actually hesitate, assuming that is not so open.

Obviously, at Raphael’s time such fresco had not been a standalone work, and indeed we all know that it is part of La Stanza Della Segnatura, The Room of the Signature. And such “being part of” means nothing less than the different sides of the room being in a “communicating relationship.

This means that the Scuola di Atene is actually only one part of a wider dispute: it is confronted with

accompanied on the one side by the

and on the other side by

Taken together it reflects the dispute between philosophy, theology sidelined by jurisprudence and poesy.

It may be open for dispute in which way La Stanza actually is mainly a reference to humanism and universalism. And it may be left open in which way each of them finally has to be defined. In any case the perspective in particular of the two main sides is eye-catching: the philosophers, “walking out” of the painting, into the room and slightly stepping down … passing the realities: “exact science” science (Heraclitus, Euclid or Parmenides) and “self-chosen modesty” (Diogenes), from there taking us – all of us who are standing in the middle of La Stanza, and thus being part of the entire scene, part of this history – with them: now “ascending”, open for the dispute of the sacrament which is not much different from the last judgement (for that, of course, my favourite is that by Rubens — former students of mine may remember the tour I made with them through the Alte Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.

Having read the speech in Strasbourg and the interview Francesco gave on the return trip, I realise that … – I think I realize just some surprise. Of course, Im a not against reference to some ancient philosophers — but I am surprised if we stepped from there only about 300 to 500 years (I know, generous with figures) forwards.


Coming back to one on the lower levels, Parmenides. He reflected on

Being is all there is.

According to him there are two realities: the one of truth, i.e. the one that objectively is and cannot be changed; according to him, the other is a reality of opinion and appearances – deceitful and tempting on the basis of nothingness.

Sure, the solution sounds simple: acceptance of reality, rejection of appearance.

The tricky thing however is …, well, a world in which appearance is reality. In other words: a world in which a virtual economy: speculation on financial markets, faked insurance of risks which is assessed by corrupt systems … where such a world is the world of Parmedian truth.

Indeed, we have to return to Plato here, and to what he said about dialectics — and to how dialectics had been put on its feet, much later.


Raphael, surely one of the most outstanding artists of the renaissance … —

— … the pope’s visit in Strasbourg under the umbrella of La stanza della Segnatura … —

— … the positioning of the event under the heading Between Dignity and Transcendence … —

all this may be a reminder to think about some aspects of what I wrote under the title

Prolegomena. Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining? in the book I edited under the title

World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life

(Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2010 and Bremen/Oxford: academicpress, 2012)

Worrying and enlightening is in particular what had been said at the end of the interview, and it should be the Italian (as far I know original) version. It is about a certain denial of the past, of having been archbishop of Buenos Aires – though this personal history remains as such present, the emphasis is now laid on being successor  of St. Peter which is strangely interpreted in a highly Eurocentric way. Is there so little from Latin American historical experience – past and present – that is worth to arrive at a truly global respective, a perspective that is inspired also by the wealth of indigenous people?

So, where are we going? And to where is the pope actually leading us?

It is something that needs to be discussed further – not so much the Vatican’s perspective but the perspective for instance emerging from the socialist movements in Latin America.

A tiny contribution may be found in a chapter I wrote for a book. The chapter is on

Social pedagogy and liberation theology,

written for a book titled

Latin American Social Pedagogy: relaying concepts, values and methods between Europe and the Americas”?


edited by Jacob Kornbeck and Xavier Úcar (forthcoming)