a few words

Month: February, 2012

A New Look for A Few Words

Don’t run; don’t look away; you’ve come to the right place!

After a few years of brown, it seemed to be time for change. Accordingly, I’ve repainted and moved all the furniture around. The aesthetic is still quite understated, which I prefer. If you are lost, most of the tools and menus that used to hang out off to the right can now be found at the bottom of the page. Carry on!

The Criminal Politics of Wilderness

“In a world truly left to itself, that is, unviolated, as we say, or at least very little penetrated or marked by humans, there would obviously be no need to reserve spheres for animals that could protect their overlapping territories. To evoke such a world is to evoke something that was the unwritten rule, the instantaneous adjustment for millennia; it is to evoke a form that has given way only during the last few centuries in Europe and during recent decades in the rest of the world. But the movement seems irreversible, so much so that one cannot help sensing, while traversing those reserves, that one is facing the vestiges of a world about to disappear.

The possibility that there will be no more wild animals, or that they will exist only confined or subjugated, is taking shape before our eyes day by day. Reactions to the threat of the avian flu that recently spread throughout the world, for example, all conformed to a model in which wildness itself was accused and singled out: peaceful domestic fowl threatened by hordes of uncontrollable migrators. This will become the accepted schema—even though intensive breeding and all the modes of confinement (the word speaks for itself), far from sparing animals effectively, have been, on the contrary, the direct origin of the most serious epidemics ever known. Between the thousands and thousands of carcasses burned during the years of mad cow disease and the common graves of birds in the new century, what is taking shape is the psychological preparation of humanity for the necessity of total control, a world in which wild animals will be no more than tolerated and in which they too will be, in a way ‘in human hands,’ in allotted spaces that will be more and more restricted or instrumentalized. . . . It came back and it comes back, it goes around in a loop, discourse is unhinged, this had to happen: our sisters and brothers by blood have kept silence forever. What would the world be without them? The sky without birds, the oceans and rivers without fish, the earth without tigers or wolves, ice floes melted with humans below and nothing but humans fighting over water sources. It is even possible to want that? In relation to this tendency, which seems ineluctable, every animal is a beginning, an engagement, a point of animation and intensity, a resistance. Any politics that takes no account of this (which is to say virtually all politics) is a criminal politics.”

Bailly, Jean-Christophe. The Animal Side. Translated by Catherine Porter. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.

Wildernesses, wildlife reserves, and protected lands of all sorts are critically important; and we need desperately to strengthen and expand the protections that we have put in place. But these isolated wild spaces are also symptomatic of a collective bad conscience. They give us places to “escape,” and get “back to nature” for a few days. It’s hard at times, though, to wonder if this kind of adventuring amounts to more than a petty nostalgia. After all, it would seem from both our political rhetoric and the voracity of our economic systems that these are little more than isolated Exceptions that allow us to tolerate our own Rule of appropriation, expansion, consumption, and the commodification of “resources.” Ecologically speaking then, our politics (by which I mean the network of our power relations to others of all stripes) is a criminal politics, and we’ve found perverse ways of assuaging our consciences.

What is the Good of Education?

The argument in the piece below is considerably overdrawn at points—not least inasmuch as it carries out an impressively erudite level of analysis and social criticism which must be due, at least in part, to some pretty extraordinary educators. Aside from biting the hand from which food once came, Harris raises important questions about what education does. Specifically, he called into question two paradigms in which I freely admit that I am fully immersed. The first—actually a point made by the book under Harris’ review (Class Dissmissed by John Marsh)—is that education is a socio-political force that works toward equality. The assumption runs thus: if you are fed up with structural injustices that play out along race, class, or gender lines, then funding and supporting education is one of the best ways to begin to level the playing field. The second—a point which belongs to Harris himself—is that education teaches the critical reasoning skills that prevents bullies and tyrants from perpetrating terrible acts. Again, I think that Harris overdraws his argument a bit—surely things would not have been better in the run up to our invasion of Iraq if fewer people in the States were well-educated, but his point stands that education mostly allowed the enlightened left to cry wolf while the war machine rolled right on by.

Marsh, who depicts himself as a veteran of left-wing politics, should know better than to put much stock in teaching students to be critical media consumers. Recognizing and exposing the Bush administration’s falsehoods — as brash and obvious as they were frequent — didn’t do the left much good: It didn’t avert or halt the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, it didn’t stop the tax cuts for the wealthy, and it hasn’t forced us to confront climate change. With more public access to information than ever before, fact-checking can be a cinch, and well-funded nonprofit organizations and popular television shows have devoted themselves to exposing public lies using primary-source documents. But the plutocracy is as bad as ever. In a time when, as Marsh admits, the facts about inequality won’t make a bit of difference on the policy front, how does reading Macbeth help students protect themselves against tyranny?

via School’s Out Forever – The New Inquiry.

I commend the whole piece as a goad for further thought and reflection—mine included.

The New Inquiry — Shyness, Social Media, and the Allure of Control

The shy person’s fear of social failure once seemed disproportionate to what was actually at stake ; it seemed a strictly personal matter with few economic ramifications. But now they shy person’s apprehension of social risk seems entirely rational, as who you know and what they are willing to do for you may be the key to one’s economic survival. Social capital has never been so important, seeming to dwarf the significance of the unexploitable aspects of friendship. This is a reason more and more social interaction registers as inconvenience. Social media allows us to feel we can draw on a huge wealth of information while participating in social life at our own convenience, controlling it to our advantage as a way of managing risk without having to make any compromises or sacrifices to partake in a community, which recedes as a utopian ideal.

via Rob Horning Comfortably Alone – The New Inquiry.

I have been enjoying—and therefore recommend—the mode of questioning and thinking going on over at the New Inquiry. This piece in particular resonated with me, inasmuch as it plausibly links anti-social impulses with immersion in social media. We all know that face-to-face interactions are vitally important to our sanity, well-being, and happiness—yet they are so much less “manageable” than interactions that are mediated through one social media platform or another. The article above does an excellent job of diagnosing the allure of that sense of control.