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[Essay] | Faustian Economics, by Wendell Berry | Harper's Magazine
"The general reaction to the apparent end of the era of cheap fossil fuel, as to other readily foreseeable curtailments, has been to delay any sort of reckoning. The strategies of delay, so far, have been a sort of willed oblivion, or visions of large profits to the manufacturers of such “biofuels” as ethanol from corn or switchgrass, or the familiar unscientific faith that “science will find an answer.” The dominant response, in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving, as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

This belief was always indefensible — the real names of global warming are Waste and Greed — and by now it is manifestly foolish. But foolishness on this scale looks disturbingly like a sort of national insanity. We seem to have come to a collective delusion of grandeur, insisting that all of us are “free” to be as conspicuously greedy and wasteful as the most corrupt of kings and queens. (Perhaps by devoting more and more of our already abused cropland to fuel production we will at last cure ourselves of obesity and become fashionably skeletal, hungry but — thank God! — still driving.)"

"The normalization of the doctrine of limitlessness has produced a sort of moral minimalism: the desire to be efficient at any cost, to be unencumbered by complexity. The minimization of neighborliness, respect, reverence, responsibility, accountability, and self-subordination — this is the culture of which our present leaders and heroes are the spoiled children.

Our national faith so far has been: “There’s always more.” Our true religion is a sort of autistic industrialism. People of intelligence and ability seem now to be genuinely embarrassed by any solution to any problem that does not involve high technology, a great expenditure of energy, or a big machine. Thus an X marked on a paper ballot no longer fulfills our idea of voting. One problem with this state of affairs is that the work now most needing to be done — that of neighborliness and caretaking — cannot be done by remote control with the greatest power on the largest scale. A second problem is that the economic fantasy of limitlessness in a limited world calls fearfully into question the value of our monetary wealth, which does not reliably stand for the real wealth of land, resources, and workmanship but instead wastes and depletes it.

That human limitlessness is a fantasy means, obviously, that its life expectancy is limited. There is now a growing perception, and not just among a few experts, that we are entering a time of inescapable limits. We are not likely to be granted another world to plunder in compensation for our pillage of this one. Nor are we likely to believe much longer in our ability to outsmart, by means of science and technology, our economic stupidity. The hope that we can cure the ills of industrialism by the homeopathy of more technology seems at last to be losing status. We are, in short, coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world.

This constraint, however, is not the condemnation it may seem. On the contrary, it returns us to our real condition and to our human heritage, from which our self-definition as limitless animals has for too long cut us off. Every cultural and religious tradition that I know about, while fully acknowledging our animal nature, defines us specifically as humans — that is, as animals (if the word still applies) capable of living not only within natural limits but also within cultural limits, self-imposed. As earthly creatures, we live, because we must, within natural limits, which we may describe by such names as “earth” or “ecosystem” or “watershed” or “place.” But as humans, we may elect to respond to this necessary placement by the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.

In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define “freedom,” for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom in Words, “free” is etymologically related to “friend.” These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of “dear” or “beloved.” We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. And this suggests that our “identity” is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections."

"And so our cultural tradition is in large part the record of our continuing effort to understand ourselves as beings specifically human: to say that, as humans, we must do certain things and we must not do certain things. We must have limits or we will cease to exist as humans; perhaps we will cease to exist, period. At times, for example, some of us humans have thought that human beings, properly so called, did not make war against civilian populations, or hold prisoners without a fair trial, or use torture for any reason.

Some of us would-be humans have thought too that we should not be free at anybody else’s expense. And yet in the phrase “free market,” the word “free” has come to mean unlimited economic power for some, with the necessary consequence of economic powerlessness for others. Several years ago, after I had spoken at a meeting, two earnest and obviously troubled young veterinarians approached me with a question: How could they practice veterinary medicine without serious economic damage to the farmers who were their clients? Underlying their question was the fact that for a long time veterinary help for a sheep or a pig has been likely to cost more than the animal is worth. I had to answer that, in my opinion, so long as their practice relied heavily on selling patented drugs, they had no choice, since the market for medicinal drugs was entirely controlled by the drug companies, whereas most farmers had no control at all over the market for agricultural products. My questioners were asking in effect if a predatory economy can have a beneficent result. The answer too often is No. And that is because there is an absolute discontinuity between the economy of the seller of medicines and the economy of the buyer, as there is in the health industry as a whole. The drug industry is interested in the survival of patients, we have to suppose, because surviving patients will continue to consume drugs.

Now let us consider a contrary example. Recently, at another meeting, I talked for some time with an elderly, and some would say an old-fashioned, farmer from Nebraska. Unable to farm any longer himself, he had rented his land to a younger farmer on the basis of what he called “crop share” instead of a price paid or owed in advance. Thus, as the old farmer said of his renter, “If he has a good year, I have a good year. If he has a bad year, I have a bad one.” This is what I would call community economics. It is a sharing of fate. It assures an economic continuity and a common interest between the two partners to the trade. This is as far as possible from the economy in which the young veterinarians were caught, in which the powerful are limitlessly “free” to trade, to the disadvantage, and ultimately the ruin, of the powerless.

It is this economy of community destruction that, wittingly or unwittingly, most scientists and technicians have served for the past two hundred years. These scientists and technicians have justified themselves by the proposition that they are the vanguard of progress, enlarging human knowledge and power, and thus they have romanticized both themselves and the predatory enterprises that they have served."

"If the idea of appropriate limitation seems unacceptable to us, that may be because, like Marlowe’s Faustus and Milton’s Satan, we confuse limits with confinement. But that, as I think Marlowe and Milton and others were trying to tell us, is a great and potentially a fatal mistake. Satan’s fault, as Milton understood it and perhaps with some sympathy, was precisely that he could not tolerate his proper limitation; he could not subordinate himself to anything whatever. Faustus’s error was his unwillingness to remain “Faustus, and a man.” In our age of the world it is not rare to find writers, critics, and teachers of literature, as well as scientists and technicians, who regard Satan’s and Faustus’s defiance as salutary and heroic.

On the contrary, our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible. For example, an ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure — in addition to its difficulties — that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations.

To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover “the secret of the universe.” We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given. If we always have a theoretically better substitute available from somebody or someplace else, we will never make the most of anything. It is hard to make the most of one life. If we each had two lives, we would not make much of either. Or … [more]
wendellberry  2008  economics  science  technology  art  limits  limitlessness  arts  ecosystems  limitations  local  humanism  humanity  humility  community  communities  knowledge  power  expansion  growth  interdependence  greed  neighborliness  stewardship  thrift  temperance  christianity  generosity  care  kindness  friendship  loyalty  love  self-restraint  restraint  watershed  land  caring  caretaking  morality  accountability  responsibility  respect  reverence  corruption  capitalism  technosolutionism  fossilfuels  waste 
16 days ago by robertogreco
Project MUSE - On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales
"Because computers zoom across magnifications, it is easy to conclude that both knowledge and things exist by nature in precision-nested scales. The technical term is “scalable,” the ability to expand without distorting the framework. But it takes hard work to make knowledge and things scalable, and this article shows that ignoring nonscalable effects is a bad idea. People stumbled on scalable projects through the same historical contingencies that such projects set out to deny. They cobbled together ways to make things and data self-contained and static, and thus amenable to expansion. In European New World plantations, the natives were wiped out; coerced and alienated plants and workers came to substitute for them. Profits were made because extermination and slavery could be discounted from the books. Such historically indeterminate encounters formed models for later projects of scalability. This essay explores scalability projects from the perspective of an emergent “nonscalability theory” that pays attention to the mounting pile of ruins that scalability leaves behind. The article concludes that, if the world is still diverse and dynamic, it is because scalability never fulfills its own promises."

"How is scalability created? It is not a necessary feature of the world. People stumbled on scalable projects through historical contingencies. They cobbled together ways to make raw materials (for both goods and knowledge) selfcontained and static, and thus amenable to expansion. In European sugarcane plantations, the natives were wiped out; exotic, coerced, and alienated plants and workers came to substitute for them. Profits were made because the general mess of extermination and slavery could be discounted from the books. Such historically indeterminate encounters formed models for later projects of scalability.

Do we live in a world of scalable nonsocial landscape elements—nonsoels? Yes and no. The great “progress” projects of the last several centuries have built on the legacy of the colonial plantation to make scalability work in business, government, and technology. But scalability has never been complete. In recent years, changes in global capitalism have challenged the assumption of scalability for labor and natural-resource management, and at least some theorists in the social sciences have pointed out the malevolent hegemony of precision. Meanwhile, critics of scalability have raised distress signals about the fate of biological and cultural diversity on earth. It is an important time to develop nonscalability theory as a way to reconceptualize the world—and perhaps rebuild it."

[PDF here: ]

"I can’t say enough how good Anna Tsing’s essay on nonscalabilty is. “On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18, no. 3 (September 19, 2012): 505–24. "

"Scalability is the enemy of difference. (Page 507)

"On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing" ]

[See also:
"“On Nonscalability” of teaching and learning"
annalowenhaupttsing  scale  scalability  slow  small  2012  difference  diversity  capitalism  knowledge  expansion  growth  degrowth  culture  technology  progress  labor  work  biology  humanism  humanity  sustainability  environment  sugar  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  unschooling  deschooling  antigrowth 
6 weeks ago by robertogreco
Travelling around, my hobbies are quite simple. I... - Mrs Tsk *
"Travelling around, my hobbies are quite simple. I buy secondhand clothes and books, visit antiquities, look at contemporary art. What I’m seeking in all of those things, I think, is contact with — and sympathetic, symbiotic union with — some sort of otherness, something which stretches and extends me.

Contact with what’s strange and fresh reminds me of the early part of my life, in which everything was strange and fresh. It also gives me a kind of “immortal head”: exposing myself to real difference allows me to peek into other centuries, other cultures. I become huge and wise and full of time. Maybe I also enjoy the sensation of becoming more and more alien to the very culture of airports and jeans which makes my self-stretching possible.

Lately, however, I’ve been noticing how little art really extends and freshens me. What I mostly get from art shows is a filling-in of details in a picture I already know. Many shows in so-called “contemporary” spaces are in fact academic takes on 20th century modernism. Zoomings-in on the known.

The current show at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, for instance, Possibilities of the Object, zooms in on Brazilian Tropicalia. At Tate Modern in London there’s Marlene Dumas, whose work I like but possibly know too well. It’s not that these artists don’t deserve their zooms, more that I don’t feel expanded enough. I get the same sense of cultural stagnation from these shows that I get from rock music: both seem mired in retro, overwhelmed by the achievements of the past, stuck in “repertory” or “academic” modes. Art seems to have become classical music, a sort of visual Classic FM.

Biennials and art student degree shows are the ideal places to escape this sense of endless retreads of the known. But the odd show in a major museum does surprise and delight me. At Moderna Museet in Stockholm, for instance — although the main “blockbuster” show of Louise Bourgeois, while good, falls into the “known” category — there’s a very good show downstairs of the work of Akram Zaatari, an artist from South Lebanon who investigates his home town of Saida with a careful and subdued archeological process.

I spent a lot of time with a film Zaatari had made in Saida’s souk, in which he got traders to look at old photos and identify shopkeepers and recall how their shops were. The videos I’ve posted here are of another piece, which looks at the bombing of a Saida school by the Israeli airforce in the early 1980s, and Zaatari’s documentation of it at the time, and the architect-pilot who refused and dumped his bombs at sea. This is the kind of art I travel to find, and it’s poignant to connect with Lebanon via Sweden. Suddenly the art textbook is snapped shut and we’re off somewhere fresh."
momus  otherness  neoteny  2015  children  childhood  exploration  difference  learning  art  travel  akamzaatari  unknown  discovery  newness  perspective  expansion  freshness  saida  lebanon 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Katherine Hayles - A Theory of the Total Archive - YouTube
"Katherine Hayles - A Theory of the Total Archive: Infinite Expansion, Infinite Compression, and Apparatuses of Control"
books  archives  borges  christianbök  shipoftheseus  longevity  lifelogging  2015  badrobotproductions  jjabrams  katherinehayles  libraries  communication  recovery  memory  expansion  compression  control  words  srg  s.  dougdorst 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Tinderbox Stretchtext Writing System
"Have you ever found yourself in a conversation which followed too many rabbit trails? Have you ever read an article which did the same? What if you could have digressions and concise style in the same document?

Do you:

• need to write documents which appeal to laypeople and experts?
• struggle with an inability to show the context of a quote without losing your readers?
• wish you could create links which include explanations and multiple possible destinations?
• need to publish information to the web, but find yourself dissatisfied with the terse, flat writing it encourages?

These are just a few reasons the Tinderbox Stretchtext Writing System can help you write a better document.

More uses:
• Follow digressions without derailing the flow and purpose of your text.
• Make links which don't require readers to visit a different page.
• Show full citations in the body of the document without disrupting readers, while still grouping sources at the end.
• Include extra tables and figures.
• Comment on your sources without breaking the flow of your argument.
• Discuss the reasons you didn't cite certain sources for various sections.
• Create paper editions of your enhanced electronic document.

According to Theodor H. Nelson, who first wrote about Stretchtext in 1967, such systems help readers because "The reader remains oriented. If he loses track of where he is, he "shrinks" the text to a higher, shorter level; if he wants to study a topic in more detail, he magnifies it (Nelson, April, 1967). Additionally, such systems also help the writer remain oriented, since it removes your obstacles for good writing."
hypertext  tools  writing  expansion  html  webdev  tednelson  via:litherland  tinderbox  stretchtext  webdesign 
december 2013 by robertogreco
Salottobuono > projects > DREAMING MILANO
"…Thinking about the internal boundaries of the city, about its “inner front”, means to catch the opportunity of an expansion different from the peripheral one: with other relationships between open spaces and built masses, a different density, a different intensity, proper typologies.<br />
It means also to reflect on the natural environment, not as a landscape fragment romantically survived to urbanization anymore, but as a “productive graft”, structuring space and metropolitan luxury. Cultivated place instead of social diaphragm.

The deep differences between the metropolitan boundaries and the agricultural land could exacerbate, rather than recompose in a homogeneous tissue.

On the inner edge of the contemporary city, high-speed drifting fragments of frenetic urbanity float free from intrinsic relations with the traditional organization of the built environment…"
milano  milan  cities  innerfront  landscape  architecture  planning  urban  urbanism  urbanplanning  expansion  endlesscities  growth  monocentriccities  italia  italy  illustration  rail  railways  publicspace  parks  boundaries  environment  urbanization 
march 2011 by robertogreco

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