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Berlin Biennale | All Problems Can Be Illuminated; Not All Problems Can Be Solved
"“There is no technology for justice. There is only justice.”12 Ursula Franklin answered when I asked her in December 2015, what to do. I reached out because I wanted her to tell me how to act on the perspectives she brings to the traditional story of progress. As someone building internet technologies, working within this received wisdom, I wanted a recipe, something I could share with others (with you!) and throw my body into.

She was warm and generous and incredibly insightful, and she gave me no smooth answers, no simple way.

Central to our conversation was my worry about the massive surveillance capacities enabled by internet technologies and the way in which public assent to surveillance is fueled by the racism and militarism of the now eternal “War on Terror.” What could we do to combat this narrative? What could we do to change the underlying technologies such that they respect human agency and privacy?

Franklin agreed. This is a grave problem. But not a “technological” problem:

“Whether it’s heathens, witches, women, communists, whoever, the institution of an enemy as a political tool is inappropriate. The only solution is an insistence on a civilized democratic society. A civilized democratic society combats this and the wish of an authority to collect personal information on citizens and their activities and loyalties. Whether it’s done by spying, by bribing children, by workplace monitoring, by confession in the confession box of the church—the collection is the issue. The means—the technology—is secondary. The problem is a problem of authoritarian power. And at the root of this problem is the issue of justice, and justice is political.”

While justice can be understood, can be felt, there is no template to follow, or checklist to work through for ensuring a just outcome. The requirements are humility, a respect for context, and a willingness to listen to the most marginalized voices. Let these define the basic requirements of whatever you do. You must “put yourself in the position of the most vulnerable, in a way that achieves a visceral gut feeling of empathy and perspective—that’s the only way to see what justice is.”

Understanding justice, honoring those most vulnerable and including them as authors of any plan that impacts them, is a necessary starting place. But the problems associated with our current technologies won’t be solved by tweaking gears or redesigning mechanisms. A roadmap that centers on justice is only the first step. “For a very long time gadgets and machinery have been anti-people. If one wants to get away from the anti-people component, then you don’t argue technology as much as you argue capitalism.” Even with a view of what justice would look like and could be, attempts at radical change will, of course, be repulsed by powerful actors who benefit richly from the unjust status quo. Political change must be a part of the equation.

This isn’t a frenzied call for revolution. The bigger the scale, the bigger the vision for just change, the more difficult it will be to “get it through” a system in which power is aligned against justice (and, of course, the more difficult it will be to truly understand this vision’s vast impact on vulnerable populations and thus ensure it really supports justice.) Not that working to build practices and plans isn’t worthwhile—it is incredibly worthwhile. But you’re unlikely to have much real impact if you start with a grand announcement. “To proceed in a hostile world,” Franklin suggests, “call it an experiment. Admit that you don’t know how to do it, but ask for space and peace and respect. Then try your experiment, quietly.” In conditions not conducive to success, situate yourself out of the spotlight and proceed subtly, humbly, and be willing to downplay expectations while new forms incubate.

“My favorite word is an old Quaker term, ‘scrupling,’ used as an activity,” Franklin begins, addressing how to approach the vastness of the political and social problems we were discussing. “It comes out of the anti-slavery movement, originally. People would get together to ‘scruple,’ that is, discuss and debate a common problem, something they had scruples about—say, justice—for which they did not have a solution. This is scrupling, and this is something you and your friends can do.”

Gather and talk. Empathize and listen. Don’t chase the spotlight, and accept that some problems are big, and difficult, and that what you’re good at may not fix them. These are not the ways of charismatic executives and flash-bang inventors. These are not instructions for entrepreneurial success. These won’t produce bigger faster newer ways of doing things.

Her parting words were meant to comfort me. “For your own sanity, you have to remember that not all problems can be solved. Not all problems can be solved, but all problems can be illuminated. If the eggs are scrambled, they’re scrambled. You can’t unscramble them. All you can possibly do is cook them and share them with somebody.”"
ursulafranklin  justice  technology  meredithmeredith  2016  efficiency  compliance  listening  empathy  progress  racism  militarism  surveillance  waronterror  democracy  society  humility  inclusivity  inclusion  vulnerability  radicalchange  power  statusquo  politics  scrupling  conversation  problemsolving  jacquesellul  capitalism  consumerism  innovation  quakers  systems  interrelationships  systemsthinking  complexity  culture  materials  art  mindset  organization  procedures  symbols  orthodoxy  luddism  occupywallstreet  ows  resistance  disruption  speed  humanism  science  scientism  legibility  elitism  experts  authority  privilege  experience  civilization  authoritarianism  socialjustice  revolution  peace  spotlight  hardproblems  success 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Matthew Battles – What is a specimen
"The little ivory characters are examples of tupilaq, a genre of carved critter widespread among the Inuit and other peoples of the far north. The tupilaq that live outside of museum time, outside of gallery time, are evil spirits called into being by a shaman for the purpose of making mischief. They carry curses to rivals and enemies. Made from bone and fur and other materials, the tupilaq are powerful magic — and dangerous for those who wield them, for if discovered, their powers turn back on their users unless an immediate public confession is made. Secrecy and darkness are the native habitat of the tupilaq; they lose their power when exposed to the sociable light."

"Objects arrive webbed in connections, and hoard their most intimate gestures and relations in unreachable treasure-houses. A collected object is a kind of vessel, freighted with an irredeemable record of acts and things, inaccessible worlds of sense and event, a tissue of phenomenal dark matter caught up in time’s obliterative machinery."

"Forged in an organismic manufactory, tooled by genes (it’s symbols all the way down), a tooth takes its place for a time in a network of perception and action: catching the piercing resonance of whale song bounding in the deep canyons — testing and metering the shifting temperatures of Arctic air — tearing and gripping the trauma-tautened flesh of smolt salmon."

"I want a museum with the modesty to realise that the objects of its interest do not take their sole, true, or final form beneath its gaze. As seen by science, objects withdraw their auras — burning coronas that connect sense and experience to the deep past — and when the galleries and museums are in ruins, they will expose new banners to time’s unfolding."

"Upon leaving the dermestid room, you had to stand in the airlock and brush down your clothes. There was an aroma of putrefaction in the room, but it was faint — you got used to it. The sound, however, was oppressive. The place hummed with a static song of tens of thousands of beetle grubs, hairy and grey, all chewing at sinew and dried muscle."

"Although to call the specimens dead does not sound quite right. For the specimens had transcended or exceeded death, had passed beyond its dominion by means of a process that arrested, ostensibly in perpetuity, their participation in the carbon cycle, the wheel of disarticulation and recombination, that is life on earth."

"An act of predation subsumes and reincorporates phenomenal animal affordances; the scientific sacraments of collecting and accessioning, by contrast, call forth abstract and motive truths, just as the expertise of the shaman reveals and directs the powers of the tupilaq spirits."

"Only later, upon its post-mortem discovery, was this dead creature turned into data. Now roughly preserved and enshrined in the Smithsonian, the dead insect serves as holotype for the computer bug. Like the tupilaq, computer bugs are ungovernable spirits evoked by a kind of transubstantiation. As the uncanny architecture of the computer unfolded itself in Harvard’s labs, the bug found its way not only into the machine’s works but into a new role as an object in our midst — a role that took its place among the object’s other histories and meanings, its penumbra of qualities.

This patterned assemblage of purposes, roles, and given characteristics, this accidental and ephemeral fate, I want to call by the name habit. An effigy, an insect, an animal’s measured, pinned-out pelt — we have our ways of domesticating these objects, of bringing them to ground, fixing them in amber or in print. The precise practices vary with what habits we bring to bear (from science to shamanism) and the collections they inhabit. And here is a clue — for dwelling in the word ‘inhabit’ is ‘habit’ itself. What if the habits in question are not ours, but those of the objects themselves?

A habit is not only a way of acting, but also a costume of a kind. Some objects — books, dice, celery stalks, lens caps — have deeply ingrained habits, while others — seashells and stars, perhaps, but also bottlecaps, icicles, and plastic six-pack yokes twirling in the mid-ocean gyre — wear their habits more lightly. And some objects take on the habit of naphtha and indelible ink, of cotton wool and alum, of cabinet drawer and taxonomic order.

The word ‘habit’ catches for me a sense of the shoddy assortment of qualities that knits an object into the fabric of things, weaving into one whole its social roles, the cultural codes it keys, and its whence-and-whither entanglements with deep time."

"After a long moment, the bat fled in a blur, disappearing into Chicago’s booming late-autumn breeze. It disappeared into the invisible cabinet of its unmeasured curiosity, its habit secreted in the wind."

[Previously: ]
matthewbattles  objects  collections  museums  nature  aura  2013  tupilaq  meaning  meaningmaking  taxonomy  whales  animlas  teeth  inuit  art  culture  srg  edg  glvo  specimens  life  death  memory  memories  storytelling  holotypes  preparators  procedures  metadata  autotelos  naturalhsitory  georgescuvier  secrecy  darkness  magic  eowilson  history  bugs  computerbugs  habits  time  qualities  shamanism  science  understanding  misunderstanding 
may 2013 by robertogreco

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