Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

The Bad News

The Finnish eco-fascist Pennti Linkola once said that, “The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth.”

Along the same lines, he also opined, “”Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent [a] dictator, that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. [The] best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and government would prevent any economical growth.”

While I’m on the fence about the rolling heads, I share Linkola’s skepticism around growth and have always wondered why anyone would advocate bringing the “American Dream,” for example, to the whole world when, just from a resource allocation perspective, we could not have even half of the Earth’s current population living the way Americans, who represent about 4% of the Earth’s population, do.

Turns out the skepticism is justified and there are mounting problems with the faith harbored by politicians and economists, a faith most visibly at work in the notion that our debt woes will be brought in hand as soon as our economy “starts growing again” or “returns to the growth we saw X years ago.”

The bad news is that the growth the West in particular has enjoyed for the last 200+ years may be an historical anomaly and a chapter in human history gradually, and even precipitously, drawing to a close. If I follow the arguments of the doomsayers, the idea is that said growth, especially in the US, arose out of the confluence of a large, undeveloped (albeit indigenously inhabited) continent ripe for the plucking by the technologically advanced hand of Europe, ongoing technical innovation, and cheap energy (in the form of oil).

The continent having been plucked, technical innovation now tending to increase productivity while decreasing employment, and cheap oil peaked or peaking, the drivers of growth are on the ropes.

And that means things are probably going to get grim (or grimmer, depending on where you are at now).

If you want to read the bad news for yourself, I encourage you to check out: “Forecast 2013: Contraction, Contagion and Contradiction,” by James Howard Kunstler,  “No More Industrial Revolutions, No More Growth?” by Charles Hugh Smith, and “Is US Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds,” by Robert J. Gordon.

I guess the good news is that we may, as a species, be on the road back to the feudal days, rather than all the way back to the stone age.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s good news.

The Web and Total Surveillance

Years ago I became obsessed with Ezra Pound, the fascist poet, and so I was reading a magazine article about his stay in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and there was a fuzzy photo of Pound in there and the caption read something like, “Paranoia: An Occupational Hazard of Sinologists.”

I was trained as a Germanist, so I speak from experience when hastening to add that a prolonged fixation on the Germans and their culture poses similar hazards.

That latter thought occurred to me as I considered the web not as a platform for free expression—even enabler of revolutions—but as a decentralized, massively intelligent surveillance device. A hybrid panopticon confessional.

We tend to think of the web as an amalgam of information. What if we saw it instead as an accumulation of evidence?

This is what happens when your communication system grows a universal memory. Anything that can exist as an electronic file can be connected to every other electronic file. And every communication across the network becomes/produces electronic files. Imagine a total catalog of an entire sphere of human communication, a sphere actually enclosing/encompassing it.

And speaking of the evolution of the human psyche and the impact of environmental factors thereupon, with every experience we are building a sense of what can possibly happen. So, what is the proper pace for world-building?

The internet exposes us to an insanely broad world of experiential possibility—indeed, it offers the greatest wealth of possibility individual human beings have ever encountered in the long lifetime of our species. These possibilities can, in their extremity, be shocking and disturbing to people, though not so much due to their graphic content, but rather because exposure to them accelerates, and in a painfully unidimensional manner, the intra-psychological process of world-building, producing, ultimately, a painful, homeostatic disruption.

Never fear. We still have lives, the vast bulk of which will never leave a trace in this world wide web. Or, rather, only leave traces, nothing more. What is captured by the web is often only circumstantial evidence, after all, merely the trace.

Our actual lived experience, phenomenologically speaking, never crosses the threshold except as description, depiction or expression. In other words, never as the thing itself.

And, in this way, Kant’s uncrackable kernel (the echo of Leibniz’s) becomes our last, inscrutable refuge.

Image Credit: dirtybronson.

Unions, Business and the State

I listened to this episode of the Diane Rehm Show last night and became increasingly depressed about China’s human rights record.

While already long aware of China’s ongoing crackdown on Falun Gong adherents and artists like Ai Weiwei (where is he?), and, frankly, not having very high hopes for the defense of human or civil rights in authoritarian states in any case, I was nevertheless especially disheartened to learn of the supposedly communist state’s brutality directed at labor activists. As one of the guests pointed out, workers do not have the right to strike or even organize independent unions in China and any attempt to organize such are dealt with harshly (with punitive measures that include torture, she insisted).

Communism’s seemingly paradoxical opposition to organized labor, which resulted in the fall of a communist regime in the case of Poland’s Solidarity movement twenty or so years ago, highlights more than anything else that unions are not first and foremost about worker’s rights but, rather, about addressing an imbalance of power.

Let’s face it, when you work for someone, they have power over you. When many work for a few, the few have power over the many. When the many organize for the purposes of collective bargaining, for example, they are attempting to establish a balance of power; the business owner can fire one person without experiencing a business consequence—it’s harder to escape the consequences if you fire everyone (though owner’s are often willing to accept such consequences when they play the “lock out” card).

In other words, organizing a union can be a logical, defensive move on the part of individuals who have little power as individuals but, at times, significant power as a group.

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Heidegger, Hölderlin, and Ronell – or – What Sticks in the Craw

2470380695_fd41f38779_mFunny what sticks in the craw.

I was doing a search for this pamphlet, Theory of Poverty, Poverty of Theory, a strange, Situationist tract that I bought in Berkeley long ago, when I came across the abstract for Avital Ronell’s essay, “On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Hölderlin’s ‘Andenken’.”

This essay, which I have not read, “[C]onsiders the tendency among young theorists to forget or repress poetry. As symptom, the aberrant dissociation of poetry from theory reflects an increasing technicization, not to say impoverishment, of critical language.”

I won’t go into why I believe Dr. Ronell finds the dissociation of poetry from theory aberrant, or why she paraleptically equates technicization with impoverishment (especially when one could just as easily see in the study of literary theory the root-cause of its student’s quite literal impoverishment).

Instead, I will focus, briefly, on the last line of the abstract, which reads, “I zero in on the figure of ‘dark-skinned women’ in the poem ‘Andenken’ to show how philosophy is tripped up by the permanent insurrection that poetry conducts.”

First of all, as you can see in my ad hoc translation of Hölderlin below, the women are “brown” [braun], not dark-skinned. The poem “takes place” in southern France, after all, where the grape-ripening sun also tans the limbs of those laboring in the fields twixt the Garonne and the Dordogne.

Secondly, I’m disturbed by the anthropomorphic dissociation of philosophy and poetry. Philosophy and poetry don’t conduct anything and suggesting they do removes them from the historical and material contexts in which they are conducted.

Finally, and along the same lines, I take issue with the figurative use of the term “insurrection” when speaking of Heidegger’s appropriation of Hölderlin, especially given the poet’s known Jacobin sympathies. Specifically, when insurrection becomes solely metaphorical, it is not the poetical that is repressed, but the political. Read the rest of this entry »