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BBC - Blogs - Adam Curtis - THE VEGETABLES OF TRUTH
"This is really just an excuse to show a wonderful film about vegetables.

But it is also about how modern science has radically changed in a way that hasn’t been fully understood.

How it has gone from promising extraordinary new worlds of the future - to become a powerfully conservative force that holds progress back and tends to keep people in their place.

And the odd role vegetables have played in showing how this has happened.

There are two - parallel - universes of science. One is the actual day-to-day work of scientists, patiently researching into all parts of the world and sometimes making amazing discoveries.

The other is the role science plays in the public imagination - the powerful effect it has in shaping how millions of ordinary people see the world.

Often the two worlds run together - with scientists from the first world giving us glimpses of their extraordinary discoveries. But what sometimes happens is that those discoveries - and what they promise - get mixed up with other social and political ideas. And then the science begins to change into something else.

This happened in a dramatic way in the second half of the twentieth century. Science did very well in the second world war and after the war ambitious scientists promised they could build a new kind of world.

But by the 1970s it became clear that there were unforeseen consequences. It started with chemical pollution - especially DDT killing wildlife. But it was nuclear power that really broke the faith in the optimistic view of science - with the disaster at Three Mile Island in the US in 1979.

What emerged instead was a powerful distrust of the idea that science and technocratic experts could make a better world. Here is a good example of that new mood. It’s an anti-nuclear rally held in New York after Three Mile Island.

Jane Fonda makes a celebrity appearance - and her interview articulates the mood very well. I also love the protest song at the end.

“Just give me the restless power of the wind

Give me the comforting glow of the wood fire

But please take all your atomic poison power away”

[video]

But if the scientists had been naive - so too was much of the counter-reaction.

The truth was that it might not have been the science itself that was at fault - but the way the science had been distorted and corrupted by the economic and political demands made on it.

Here is a section of a film I made about what went wrong with the building of the first big nuclear reactors. It shows how the companies building them - like General Electric - were under enormous economic pressure and political demands because of the cold war. And the technologists designed giant systems they knew were potentially unsafe.

[video]

Then came the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. All the distrust of big science that had been building up exploded out - and science became the problem. Not the solution any longer.

There was one man who articulated this new view of science very powerfully. He was a German political scientist called Ulrich Beck who wrote a book just before the Chernobyl explosion called Risk Society. In the wake of the disaster it captured the public imagination - and has been incredibly influential on social and political thinking in the west ever since.

The book was powerful because it laid out a new way of looking at the world. Beck said that what the scientists and technologists had been doing with these giant projects was not building a new and glorious future. Without realising it they had been doing the opposite - they had been creating enormous new dangers for the world.

Beck used the word risk. The scientists he said had been “manufacturing risks”.

In the past the big risks to human societies tended to be freak events of nature - like earthquakes and volcanoes and storms. But now the risks came from human ingenuity and ambition. Much of what had been created had potentially world-threatening side effects - like atomic fallout and ecological disasters.

The world had been turned upside down. It wasn’t nature that was the real threat to human existence any longer - it was now human science and technology that had the power to destroy nature and the whole of the planet. And it wasn’t going to stop - this was a new and growing danger.

It meant - Beck said - that the whole role of politics would inevitably change. In the past politicians’ main aim had been to create a more equal society. That was now in decline. In the new “risk society” their main focus should be to create safety.

Beck didn’t mince his words:
“Whereas the utopia of equality contains a wealth of substantial and positive goals of social change, the utopia of the risk society remains peculiarly negative and defensive. Basically, one is no longer concerned with attaining something ‘good’, but rather with preventing the worst.

The dream of the old society is that everyone wants and ought to have a share of the pie. The utopia of the risk society is that everyone should be spared from poisoning”

That was written in 1986 - and it is remarkably prescient. Because that short paragraph pretty much describes the present day mood in our society. A world where individuals are constantly calibrating risks in their lives, while politicians are expected to anticipate and avoid all future risks and dangers.

And everyone gives up on the idea of creating equality, which allows inequality to increase massively.

Beck’s book is extraordinary - because he came from the liberal left. Yet he is basically saying that in the face of these new potential risks we will have to move away from the political idea of progress and social reform - and instead hunker down in the brace position and try and anticipate all dangers that might be coming at us out of the darkness.

To be fair to Beck he is ambiguous in the book about the kind of pessimistic and anxious society that will arise from this new approach. But he says it is inevitable. And in a way it is a very honest depiction of what happened to the liberal mind set at the end of the 1980s - how it retreated into a gloomy pessimism where the only response to events is “oh dear.”

I think the truth probably is that it was the baby boomers losing their youth - and finding themselves unable to face the fact of their own mortality - they started to project their fears onto the rest of society. But somehow people like Beck transformed this into a grand pessimistic ideology.

I want to put up part of an extraordinary documentary made during the events of 1986 that dramatically shows just how different our attitudes to risk used to be. It is the record of the group of Soviet technologists who volunteered to go into the ruined reactor core at Chernobyl after the disaster.

It is extraordinary because they all knew they would die. Their protection against the radiation - as you see in the film - was minimal. It consisted of taping up their cuffs and trouser legs and not much else. But they went in because it was the only way to find out how to contain the disaster.

It is so moving because they are men from an older world. To them risk is irrelevant. They believe in something grander - bigger than their own lives. There is also the most fantastic remote controlled camera - it is mounted on a toy tank and its images are great.

…"
capitalism  media  science  adamcurtis  2014  politics  history  ulrichbeck  risk  statistics  measurement  society  perception  tomsanders  correlation  risksociety 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Unstable Territory. Borders and identity in contemporary art - we make money not art
"There's a couple of cities where i keep going over and over again just because they have an art center worth a several hour long journey. Some of them may or may not be on your usual culture map. There's Eindhoven, Hasselt, Manchester and there's Florence where i traveled again a few weeks ago to see the exhibition Unstable Territory. [http://www.strozzina.org/en/exhibitions/territori-instabili/ ] Borders and identity in contemporary art at the Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina.

The show presents artwork that reconsiders the notion of territory in a time when the obsolescence of concepts such as the nation state and borders coincides with new forms of nationalism and a corollary desire to affirm the individuality of a community or to protect their privileges with the construction of new physical demarcations. The map of the walls being erected to separate people from each other that The Guardian has recently published illustrates the extent of the latter tendency.

The astonishing development of mobility for both people and goods, the digitisation of communication and knowledge, migration and an increasingly global economy have all radically changed people's perception of territories, borders and boundaries. In view of the instability of these concepts crucial to the definition of personal identity, two different -though not necessarily conflicting - trends appear to be taking shape: one based on seeking shelter in the safety and proximity of the micro-territory, the region or even the family; the other, as theorised by sociologist Ulrich Beck, involving a new conception of cosmopolitanism in its most democratic and egalitarian sense."
wmmna  réginedebatty  art  borders  boundaries  economics  globalization  cosmopolitanism  richardmosse  adambroomberg  oliverchanarin  paolocirio  zannybegg  oliverressler  antonionegri  ariellaazoulay  sandromezzadra  thecoolcouple  simonesantilli  niccolòbenetton  territory  identity  glvo  mobility  migration  immigration  instability  shelter  safety  proximity  ulrichbeck 
november 2013 by robertogreco

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