28 December 2017

Preliminary/Residual Thoughts on Descaling

(1) When even the most specialized of academic specialists cannot hope to keep up with the deluge of publication in their narrow specialty, the result is a new and distinctive kind of social volatility borne of something like information overpopulation. Research findings would then resist synthesis into social action, operating only in fragments scattered far and wide throughout the social system. Many collective advances would remain mere potentialities whose likelihood of manifesting plummets as the system continues to grow in scale. No matter the gross quantity of raw information such gains in scale might beget, the basic unit of social agency (the individual human being) stays pretty much the same. Ditto the system gain from pooling such units into networks (e.g. research teams, political action committees, musical ensembles) which show diminishing returns at scales proportionate to today's information overload. Even the effect of introducing better information into the system is mitigated by diffusion given such vast scale as the current global village (not to mention its Virtual shadow-world) has attained. The tortu(r)ously slow burn of incremental progress seems pleasurable in comparison to the fracturing and anomie which the present situation promises to engender.

(2) The above assumes that an increase in the gross quantity of overall knowledge production begets a corresponding and proportionate increase in the (smaller) gross quantity of competent and constructive knowledge production; this as opposed to merely spreading ever thinner a fixed quantity of collective intellectual potential. This is a very large assumption which may not be warranted; but if not, then we are left with an older, simpler problem: the haystacks grow while the needles and the metal detectors pretty much stay the same. As for the sentient pieces of throbbing flesh wielding the latter device, one can only hope that their dignity is not too closely cherished.

(3) Perhaps then there is something to be said for periodically turning one's back on the great data diffusion and carving out a little extra time to cherrypick the choicest nuggets from the twilight of pre-computerized thought, e.g. in the same vein as Debord but with a dash more childlike curiosity and a tad less puerile obstinacy. Whatever strictly perspectival shortcomings individual thinkers of the recent past might now be understood to have had, at least the economy of ideas within which they were subsumed was of a more just and optimal scale. Even the choicest of today's intellectual nourishment is grown in depleted soil, meanwhile, and thus perspective has become a problem of abundance rather than one of scarcity. If this is not quite a fatal blow to progress, it just as surely has not been adequately accounted for by progressives who merely consider the ostensible quality of information but not the system-level prospects for making any use of it whatsoever. In any event, it promises to be a very long time indeed before ideas are again permitted to circulate in an optimally-scaled intellectual environment; optimally-scaled, that is, not merely for progress but also for dignity.

(4) A recent 30 second junket on Google produces one intriguing and one utterly demoralizing revelation: (a) the term/concept "descaling" has found at least cursory usage in the heavy economics literature; (b) in absence of companion terms to narrow the field, any such Google search is badly confounded by the far more pressing and widely discussed issue of how to clean a coffeemaker.


Stefan Kac said...

The Real Split in the International: Theses on the
Situationist International and Its Time, 1972
Thesis 15
trans. John McHale

"Whether it be chemical pollution of the air we breathe
or the adulteration of foodstuffs, the irreversible build-up
of radioactivity through the industrial use of nuclear energy
or the deterioration of water, from underground deposits to
the oceans, the town-planning blight whose sprawl is
supplanting the former entities of town and country or the
'population explosion', the increase in the number of suicides
and the incidence of mental illness or the level of
'noise pollution' -- everywhere, fragmentary knowledge
concerning the (more or less urgent and more or less fatal,
as the case may be) impossibility of going any further, tends
to form as specialised scientific solutions which remain purely
and simply juxtaposed, a portrait of general degradation and
overall impotence. This woeful summary of the map of the
territory of alienation, just prior to its engulfment, is
naturally carried out in the same way that the territory itself
has been constructed: out of separate sectors."
[italics in original]

Scale is not the explicit topic of the above, but is it not
equal parts effect and cause here? Is the most glaring
challenge posed by the "terrain of alienation" not its sheer
vastness? It is precisely this vastness which enables breathers
of relatively clean air on one side of town to implicitly
tolerate unthinkable polution on the other side of town, or,
failing that, to put on a surgical mask in lieu of calling
their representative. Scale breeds abstraction. That is the
basic problem all descaling movements seek to confront, be
they left- or right-leaning, educated or naive, economic or
social. I doubt very much that there is any possibility of
practical implementation for any such movement as things now
stand. That being as it may, and anathema as what I'm about
to say may be to true-believer Debordians, I think that many
insights in this passage can be appropriated rather directly
to the specific disciplines and subdisciplines the rest of us
might find ourselves preoccupied with. There will always be a
roll for traditional academic specialism, if not simply as a
productive foil to or control for the alternative; my point
is simply that the specialist orientation can barely function
according to its own internal logic given the present scale,

hence it would make sense to account for this fact as best we
can under the circumstances.

Stefan Kac said...

Pierre Nora, "General Introduction: Between Memory and History." In Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, ed. Nora. English edition ed. Lawrence Kritzman, trans. Arthur Goldhammer.

"[p. 8] ...we should be aware of the difference between true memory, which today subsists only in gestures and habits, unspoken craft traditions, intimate physical knowledge, ingrained reminiscences, and spontaneous reflexes, and memory transformed by its passage through history, which is practically the opposite: willful and deliberate, experienced as a duty rather than as spontaneous; psychological, individual, and subjective, rather than social, collective, and all-embracing. ... The less memory is experienced from within, the greater its need for external props and tangible reminders of that which no longer exists except qua memory--hence the obsession with the archive that marks an age... The fear that everything is on the verge of disappearing, coupled with anxiety about the precise significance of the present and uncertainty about the future, invests even the humblest testimony, the most modest vestige, with the dignity of being potentially memorable. ...

Stefan Kac said...

Nora, "General Introduction" (cont.)

...[p. 9] Specialists estimate that the number of documents stored in public archives alone has multiplied a thousandfold in just a few decades. ... We cannot know in advance what should be remembered, hence we refrain from destroying anything and put everything in archives instead. The realm of the memorable has expanded without reason: we suffer from hypertrophy of memory, which is inextricably intertwined with our sense of memory's loss and concomitant institutionalization. Old-fashioned professional archivists, who used to be accused of suffering from a mania to preserve, have switched roles in a curious way with those who produce the materials that now fill our archives. Today's archivists are trained by private firms and government bureaucracies, which insist that everything be preserved, whereas the older archivists knew that controlled destruction was the trick of the trade. ... In the old days, there were three main sources of archives: the great families, the church, and the state. Nowadays who does not feel called upon to record his reminiscences or write his memoirs? Everyone has gotten into the act: not just people whose role in history was minor at best, but also the relatives of such people and their doctors and lawyers and anyone else who happened to be standing about. The less extraordinary the testimony, the more aptly it is taken to illustrate the average mentality. ...consider the recent proliferation of oral histories in France. Across the country there are now more than three hundred teams employed in collecting what Philippe Joutard has called "the voices that come to us from the past." Well and good. But think for a moment: these are not ordinary archives. It takes [p. 10] thirty-six hours of work to produce just one hour of tape, and the recordings make sense only if listened to in their entirety... Under these conditions one has to ask what possible purpose they might serve. Whose will to remember do they ultimately reflect, that of the interviewer or that of the interviewee? The sheer mass of material changes the significance and status of the archive. It is no longer a more or less intentional record of actual memory but a deliberate and calculated compilation of a vanished memory. It adds a secondary or prosthetic memory to actual experience, which is often altered by the very fact of being recorded... Historicized memory comes to us from without. Because it is no longer a social practice, we internalize it as an individual constraint. The transition from memory to history requires every social group to redefine its identity by dredging up its past. The resulting obligation makes every man his own historian. ... Those who used to be left out of the official histories are not the only ones obsessed with recovering their buried pasts. Practically every organized social group, and not just the intellectual or educated, has followed the lead of the ethnic minorities in seeking their own roots and identities. ... The proliferation of genealogical research is a striking recent phenomenon: the annual report of the Archives Nationales for 1982 reports that 43 percent of those engaged in archival work were doing genealogical research (whereas 38 percent were doing academic work of some kind). Another striking fact is that the most significant histories of biology, physics, medicine, and music have been written not by historians but by biologists, physicists, physicians, and musicians. ... As the established intellectual disciplines have come under attack, each has sought to justify itself by delving into its origins. ... As for history, the positivist approach, long since abandoned by professional historians, has discovered a new-found popularity as a result of this urgently felt need to resurrect the past. The demise of memory-history has multiplied the number of private memories demanding their own individual histories."

Stefan Kac said...

Thoughts on Nora, "General Introduction"

Specialists estimate that the number of documents stored in public archives alone has multiplied a thousandfold in just a few decades.
Of course it stands to reason that the "controlled destruction" practiced by "old-fashioned professional archivists" was apt to be colored by ideology, power, etc. Here, then, is our first little taste of the scorched-earth non-solution to that deconstructionist bugaboo: saving everything until the sheer volume of material and information accumulated (quickly!) came to exceed most anyone's wherewithal to so much as find what they are looking for, to say nothing of processing it in (vast and ever-expanding) context. When everything matters, nothing matters. And that state of things would seem to permanently confound any hope of rational social action, on any scale, within, across or between the proper boundaries of traditionally-conceived academic areas.

"The less extraordinary the testimony, the more aptly it is taken to illustrate the average mentality."
This insidious race-to-the-bottom outlook is nowhere more visible than in commercial artmaking, where market imperatives join forces with powerfully-felt "historicized" memory of art's elite(-ist) past. (Indeed, can you say "experienced as a duty"? And indeed, "Because it is no longer a social practice, we internalize it as an individual constraint.") Contemporary musicians know this best from the institutional classical music world, where the full thrust of highly-paid administrators and consultants is brought to bear on the task of locating, codifying, verifying this ever-elusive "average" audience. Any other (i.e. non-market) set of priorities would have no reason whatsoever to so overvalue the "less extraordinary" testimony of anyone in particular.

Stefan Kac said...

Further Thoughts on Nora, "General Introduction"

It takes [p. 10] thirty-six hours of work to produce just one hour of tape, and the recordings make sense only if listened to in their entirety... Under these conditions one has to ask what possible purpose they might serve. Whose will to remember do they ultimately reflect, that of the interviewer or that of the interviewee?
How I wish that all my musician friends, enemies, acquaintances, colleagues, et al would ask themselves that question periodically. As a group we now count merely among the ordinary post-Spectacular rabble who consume media content not to see/hear others but to see/hear ourselves. We are all the eyewitness who is too willing to talk to the TV news reporter: "I saw everything!" And, indeed, nothing. Since the powerful confounding factors of ideology, power, etc. don't apply to the logic of the self-archivist, we have only the flimsiest of excuses for eschewing "controlled destruction." Hell, controlled sharing would do the trick just fine!

the most significant histories of biology, physics, medicine, and music have been written not by historians but by biologists, physicists, physicians, and musicians.
For some reason the element of praxis inherent in these fields is not explicitly remarked upon here, but I have to think that the practitioner-historians so alluded to (quite obliquely as it were) would agree with me that writing disciplinary history from a location of minimal practical immersion was always highly problematic. Of course this remark seemingly entails a rather aggressive deprecation of historical scholarship as a praxis in its own right; that being as it is, I suspect that Historians per se have more reliably been aware of the limits of their competence than have Practitioners in fields such as those given; and of course, on the third hand, for many of us Practitioners the "history" of the music IS the music, hence what goes under the headings of Music History, Musicology, Critical Studies, Reception History, etc. is merely the Stamp Collecting to our Physics: we are simply too caught up in the rapture of creation and far too In-Demand with our Busy Schedules to so much as stop to think about how knowledge and memory are constructed from raw phenomenological experience, let alone to be compelled by external social pressures to "justify [ourselves] by delving into [our] origins."
It was only after graduating from college that I opened the Grout for more than a few seconds at a time, at which point morbid curiosity somehow inspired me to read it cover to cover during a series of overnight security guard shifts. I was (and remain) utterly shocked at the space devoted to describing verbally what the prescribed pieces of music sound like. Perhaps this is an unfairly cherrypicked example with which to buttress my point, but then this phenomenon was by no means uncommon throughout the twentieth century, and it was veritably institutionalized throughout the latter half of the nineteenth. Just one reason why I tend to cast my lot with the practitioners.

Stefan Kac said...

Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus

Ch. 1, section heading "Can Someone Please Hit The Brakes?"
"[People] are happy to follow the advice of their smartphones or to take whatever drug the doctor prescribes, but when they hear of upgraded superhumans, they say, 'I hope I will be dead before that happens.' ... When people realise how fast we are rushing towards the great unknown, and that they cannot count even on death to shield them from it, their reaction is to hope that somebody will hit the brakes and slow us down. But we cannot hit the brakes, for several reasons.

Firstly, nobody knows where the breaks are. While some experts are familiar with developments in one field, such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, big data or genetics, no one is an expert on everything. No one is therefore capable of connecting all the dots and seeing the full picture. Different fields influence one another in such intricate ways that even the best minds cannot fathom how breakthroughs in artificial intelligence might impact nanotechnology, or vice versa. Nobody can absorb all the latest scientific discoveries, nobody can predict how the global economy will look in ten years, and nobody has a clue where we are heading in such a rush. Since no one understands the system any more, no one can stop it."

Ch. 3, section heading "Beyond Sex and Violence"
"These theories may work well on chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys and small hunter-gatherer bands. They also work well in the lab, where you test them on small groups of people. Yet once you observe the behaviour of human masses you discover a completely different reality. Most human kingdoms and empires were extremely unequal, yet many of them were surprisingly stable and efficient. ...Why did the Egyptian peasants and Prussian soldiers act so differently than we would have expected on the basis of the Ultimatum Game and [Frans De Waal's] capuchin monkeys experiment? Because large numbers of people behave in a fundamentally different way than do small numbers."

Stefan Kac said...

Lewis Mumford
The City in History (1961)
pp. 531-532

"Both the citadel and the wall had long since been obsolescent in the great capitals; but at the very moment they disappeared, a network of organizational controls centering in the dominating capital city, ramifying by instant communication everywhere, came into existence and performed the same functions more effectively. Just to the extent that the new powers were shadowy, impossible to pin down or come to grips with, etherialized, they were all the more effective. One might breach a city wall or kill a king; but how could one assault an international cartel? Only when one national capital came into conflict with another capital did it become apparent that all the archaic and disruptive forces in the old citadels were still active—and indeed had become grossly magnified and increasingly irrational.

"The growth and multiplication of great metropolises were both the proofs of this general tendency toward monopolistic concentration and the means by which it was effected. Even in the most self-complacent provincial town, the pattern of institutional life became increasingly that of the metropolis; the shibboleths of power politics, the orgiastic surges of nationalism, the general acceptance of both the commercial and the cultural trade-marks of the metropolis, to the shame-faced exclusion of local products, became well-nigh universal by the beginning of the twentieth century."

Stefan Kac said...

CIH, pp. 541-542

"Though the removal of limits is one of the chief feats of the metropolitan economy, this does not imply any abdication of power on the part of the chiefs in charge: for there is one countervailing condition to this removal, and that is the processing of all operations through the metropolis and its increasingly complicated mechanisms. The metropolis is in fact a processing center, in which a vast variety of goods, material and spiritual, is mechanically sorted and reduced to a limited number of standardized articles, uniformly packaged, and distributed through controlled channels to their destination, bearing the approved metropolitan label.

"'Processing' has now become the chief form of metropolitan control; and the need for its constant application has brought into existence a whole range of inventions, mechanical and electronic, from cash registers to electronic computers, which handle every operation from book-keeping to university examinations. Interests and aptitudes that do not lend themselves to processing are automatically rejected. So complicated, so elaborate, so costly are the processing mechanisms that they cannot be employed except on a mass scale: hence they eliminate all activities of a fitful, inconsecutive, or humanly subtle nature—just as 'yes' or 'no' answers eliminate those more delicate and accurate discriminations that often lie at one point or another in between the spuriously 'correct' answer. That which is local, small, personal, autonomous, must be suppressed. Increasingly, he who controls the processing mechanism controls the lives and destinies of those who must consume its products, and who on metropolitan terms cannot seek any others. For processing and packaging do not end on the production line: they finally make over the human personality.

"In short the monopoly of power and knowledge that was first established in the citadel has come back, in a highly magnified form, in the final stages of metropolitan culture. In the end every aspect of life must be brought under control: controlled weather, controlled movement, controlled association, controlled production, controlled prices, controlled fantasy, controlled ideas. But the only purpose of control, apart from the profit, power, and prestige of the controllers, is to accelerate the process of mechanical control itself.

"The priests of this regime are easy to identify: the whole system, in its final stages, rests on the proliferation of secret, and thus controllable, knowledge; and the very division of labor that makes specialized scientific research possible also restricts the number of people capable of putting the fragments together. But where are the new gods? The nuclear reactor is the seat of their power: radio transmission and rocket flight their angelic means of communication and transportation: but beyond these minor agents of divinity the Control Room itself, with its Cybernetic Deity, giving His lightning-like decisions and His infallible answers: omniscience and omnipotence, triumphantly mated by science."

Stefan Kac said...

The Myth of the Machine, vol. 2: The Pentagon of Power (1970)
Ch. 6—The Polytechnic Tradition
Subheading 5—The Technological Pool

"As late as the middle of the nineteenth century an immense technological heritage was still in existence, widely scattered among the peoples of the earth, every part of it colored by human needs, environmental resources, inter-cultural exchanges, and ecological and historic associations. ...

"The major part of this technical equipment had been passed along for thousands of years, and had consciously drawn into a common pool, more or less accessible through books and printed publications, many precious components that had hitherto been confined to the widely scattered communities where they originated, passed on intermittently only by imitation and word of mouth. The diffusion of this store of knowledge in Western Europe, after the twelfth century, provided in itself the equivalent of many new inventions and was in no small part accountable for the technical dynamism that made still more sweeping technical changes—later misidentified as "the" industrial revolution—possible. ...

"Biologists have coined the term "gene pool" to describe the immense amount of genetic material available, in ever fresh combinations, in a large population. Though over a long period certain genes will tend to disappear because they are lethal, and others will undergo modification and development through continued transactions with their environment and with each other, there are many genetic traits and organic properties that go back far into our mammalian past, whose absence or deficiency would undermine man's higher development.

"Similarly, one may talk of a technological pool: an accumulation of tools, machines, materials, processes interacting with soils, climates, plants, animals, human populations, institutions, cultures. The capacity of this technological reservoir, until the third quarter of the nineteenth century, was immensely greater than ever before: what is more, it was more diversified—and possibly quantitatively larger, as well as qualitatively richer—than that which exists today. ...

"This diversified technological assemblage not merely contributed to economic security: it permitted a continuous interplay between different phases of technology; and for a time this actually happened. ...

"Western man's pride over his many real achievements in mechanization made him too easily overlook all that he owed to earlier or more primitive cultures. So no one has yet attempted to make an inventory of the massive losses resulting from both the neglect and the deliberate destruction of this craft heritage, in favor of machine-made products. While the population of complex and technically superior machines has enormously increased during the last century, the technological pool has actually been lowered as one handicraft after another has disappeared.

"The result is that a monotechnics, based upon scientific intelligence and quantitative production, directed mainly toward economic expansion, material repletion, and military superiority, has taken the place of a polytechnics, based primarily, as in agriculture, on the needs, aptitudes, interests of living organisms: above all on man himself.

Stefan Kac said...

The Myth of the Machine, vol. 2: The Pentagon of Power (1970)
Ch. 7—Mass Production and Human Automation
Subheading 6—The Paradox of Automation

"we are already, like the [Sorcerer's] apprentice, beginning to drown in the flood. The moral should be plain: unless one has the power to stop and automatic process—and if necessary reverse it—one had better not start it. ...as our knowledge of isolatable segments and fragments becomes infinitely refined and microscopic, our ability to interrelate the parts and to bring them to a focus in rational activities continues to disappear. ...

"The exponents of mass production of knowledge have created a hundred journals devoted only to abstracts of papers; and now a further abstract of all these abstracts has been proposed. At the terminal stage of this particular solution, all that will be left of the original scientific or scholarly paper will be a little vague noise, at most a title and a date, to indicate that someone has done something somewhere—no one knows what and Heaven knows why.

"Though this program for the automatic mass production of knowledge originated in science, and shows characteristic seventeenth-century limitations, it has been imitated in the humanities, particularly in American universities, as a sort of status symbol, to underwrite budget requests in competition with the physical and social sciences, and to provide a quantitative measure for professional promotions. Whatever the original breach between the sciences and the humanities, in method they have now...become one. Though they run different assembly lines, they belong to the same factory. The mark of their common deficiency is that neither has given any serious consideration to the results of their uncontrolled automation.

"...to know more and more about less and less is in the end simply to know less and less. ...

"Already the great national and university libraries are at their wits' end, not merely to find place for the books already acquired—selective though that process has always been—but even to catalog promptly the annual output of books, papers, and periodicals. Without pausing to weigh the consequences many administrators are now playing with the desperate notion of abandoning the preservation of books entirely, as an obsolete form of the permanent record, and transferring the contents at once to microfilms and computers. ...

"even if books are not abandoned, but continue their present rate of production, the multiplication of microfilms actually magnifies the central problem—that of coping with quantity—and postpones the real solution, which must be conceived on quite other than purely mechanical lines: namely, by reassertion of human selectivity and moral self-discipline, leading to more continent productivity. Without such self-imposed restraints the overproduction of books will bring about a state of intellectual enervation and depletion hardly to be distinguished from massive ignorance."

Stefan Kac said...

The Myth of the Machine, vol. 2: The Pentagon of Power (1970)
Ch. 10—The New Megamachine
Subheading 1—The Secrets of the Temple

"In the act of inventing the atom bomb, the essential human components of the new megamachine were not merely brought together in space but given critical roles...

"This novel conjecture gave the participants powers that as individuals they had never before had either the incentive or the opportunity to exercise. ...

"At the same time, never before had scientists been compelled to work under conditions so unfavorable to free intellectual intercourse: they were not merely prevented from communicating with the outside world, but even from speaking freely about their several tasks among themselves. ...

"the secret of every totalitarian system is secrecy itself. The key to exercising arbitrary power is to restrict the communication of individuals and groups by subdividing information, so that only a small portion of the whole truth will be known to any single person. This was an old trick of political conspirators; and it now passed from the core agency, the so-called 'Manhattan Project,' to every part of the militarized national establishment, though ironically even those at the top of the hierarchy lacked sufficient information or intelligence to put all the pieces together.

"The difficulty of maintaining such sealed-in knowledge might have proved greater but for the fact that each department of science had already become, in effect, a secret agency in its own right. The sciences are now so specialized in their vocabulary, so esoteric in their concepts, so refined in their techniques, and so limited in their capacity to communicate new knowledge to non-specialists even in closely related fields, that non-communication has become almost a badge of vocational superiority among scientists. "When members of my department meet once a week at luncheon table," a physicist recently told me, "we never talk about our own work. It has become too private for words. We take refuge in gossip about the latest car models or motor boats.""

Stefan Kac said...

Jane Jacobs
The Question of Separatism
Ch. 5—Paradoxes of Size

"the English biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote a delightful short essay called "On Being the Right Size." He pointed out, among other things, that sheer size has much to do with the equipment an animal must have. ... [He] presents us with an interesting principle...: big animals are not big because they are complicated; rather, they have to be complicated because they are big. This principle, it seems to me, also applies to institutions, governments, companies, organizations of all sorts. The larger they are, the more complicated they must be. They are big because they produce a huge output of telephones, say, or have a lot of welfare clients, or govern a big population. Whatever the reason for expansion, the large size creates complications. Big organizations need coordinators, liaison people, prescribed channels of communication, administrators, supervisors of supervisors, whole extra departments devoted to serving the organization itself. A small organization can get by without a bureaucracy. A big one cannot.

"Bigness and the complications that go along with it have their price, but can be worth it. ... Many jobs in this world can only be done or can best be done by large units. It is as simplistic to jump to the conclusion that something smaller is necessarily better than something bigger as it is to suppose the reverse. The point is that there is always a price to be paid for bigness."

Stefan Kac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Kac said...

Jane Jacobs
Cities and the Wealth of Nations
Ch. 11—Faulty Feedback To Cities

Jacobs analogizes diverse cities under a common national currency to people engaged in diverse activities connected to the same brain stem.

"machines this badly conceived wouldn't work. Nations, from this point of view, don't work either, yet do exist." ...

"in 1965 Singapore, with its predominantly Chinese population, was expelled from Malaysia, as the country is now called, because in the eyes of the rural Malay population of the other parts of the country, Singapore was an undesirable foreign body. As a sovereign and independent city-state, Singapore has a currency that reflects its own trade situation. Furthermore, with its expulsion, the anomaly of a shared national "brain stem" vanished."

I'm just a tourist in the field of economics, but I've noticed that economists love to talk about Singapore.

The local currency idea is a thing. It seems that mere "complementary currencies" tend to fail, because their complement is a marauding Goliath. I think that what Jacobs has in mind here is more than "complementary." Unfortunately we are quite a long way off from that.

Stefan Kac said...

Richard Sennett
The Culture of the New Capitalism

"A key aspect of craftsmanship is learning how to get something right. ... In a speeded-up institution, however, time-intensive learning becomes difficult. The pressures to produce results quickly are too intense...

"When people have spoken to me about not being able to show what they can do, I've sensed they are referring to just this sense of being prevented from developing their skills. When I interviewed back-office workers in a health maintenance organization, for instance, they complained that the time pressures meant they did a "middling" job of making sense of the accounts; people who worked quickly were rewarded with promotion, but the bills they processed proved frequently a muddle on closer inspection. In call centers, management similarly frowns on employees who spend too much time on the telephone—too responsive, for instance, to fuddled customers who can't express themselves clearly. Anyone who has spent time at a budget-airline ticket counter knows the problem: impatience is institutionalized.

"In principle, any well-run firm should want its employees to learn from their mistakes and admit a certain degree of trial-and-error learning. In practice, such big firms do not. The size of the firm indeed makes the biggest difference in this regard: in small service firms (under a hundred employees or so) care of customers is more directly connected to the firm's survival. But in the large medical insurance company superficiality proved functional; taking too much time to straighten things out earned no rewards. The result, within the firms I and my colleagues studied—perhaps invisible to a frustrated customer—was a fair number of employees who also feel frustrated."

(pp. 127-129)

Stefan Kac said...

N.N. Taleb
The Black Swan

"Mother Nature does not like anything too big. The largest land animal is the elephant, and there is a reason for that. If I went on a rampage and shot an elephant, I might be put in jail, and get yelled at by my mother, but I would hardly disturb the ecology of Mother Nature. On the other hand, my point about banks in Chapter 14—that if you shot a large bank, I would "shiver at the consequences" and that "if one falls they all fall"—was subsequently illustrated by events... Mother Nature does not limit the interactions between entities; it just limits the size of its units. (Hence my idea is not to stop globalization and ban the Internet; as we will see, much more stability would be achieved by stopping governments from helping companies when they become large and by giving back advantages to the small guy.)

"But there is another reason for man-made structures not to get too large. The notion of "economies of scale"—that companies save money when they become large, hence more efficient—is often, apparently behind company expansions and mergers. It is prevalent in the collective consciousness without evidence for it; in fact the evidence would suggest the opposite. Yet, for obvious reasons, people keep doing these mergers—they are not good for companies, they are good for Wall Street bonuses... ...as they become larger, companies appear to be more "efficient," but they are also more vulnerable to outside contingencies... All that under the illusion of more stability. Add the fact that when companies are large, they need to optimize so as to satisfy Wall Street analysts...
[who] will pressure companies to sell the extra kidney and ditch insurance to raise their "earnings per share" and "improve their bottom line"—hence eventually contributing to their bankruptcy.

"Charles Tapeiro and I have shown mathematically that a certain class of unforeseen errors and random shocks hurts large organisms vastly more than smaller ones. ...

"The problem with governments is that they will tend to support these fragile organisms "because they are large employers" and because they have lobbyists... Large companies get government support and become progressively larger and more fragile, and, in a way, run government, another prophetic view of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Hairdressers and small businesses on the other hand, fail without anyone caring about them; they need to be efficient and to obey the laws of nature."

(pp. 314-315)

Stefan Kac said...

N.N. Taleb

"Note that people invoke an expression, "Balkanization," about the mess created by fragmented states, as if fragmentation was a bad thing, and as if there was an alternative in the Balkans—but nobody uses "Helvetization" to describe its successes."


"A squeeze occurs when people have no choice but to do something, and do it right away, regardless of costs.


"Squeezes are exacerbated by size. When one is large, one becomes vulnerable to some errors, particularly horrendous squeezes. The squeezes become nonlinearly costlier as size increases.

"...consider the reasons one should not own an elephant as a pet... Should there be a water shortage...you would have to pay a higher and higher price for each additional gallon of water. That's fragility, right there, a negative convexity effect coming from getting too big. ...

"In spite of what is studied in business schools concerning "economies of scale," size hurts you at times of stress; it is not a good idea to be large during difficult times. Some economists have been wondering why mergers of corporations do not appear to play out. The combined unit is now much larger, hence more powerful, and according to the theories of economies of scale, it should be more "efficient." But the numbers show, at best, no gain from such increase in size—that was already true in 1978, when Richard Roll voiced the "hubris hypothesis," finding it irrational for companies to engage in mergers given their poor historical record. Recent data, more than three decades later, still confirm both the poor record of mergers and the same hubris as managers seem to ignore the bad economic aspect of the transaction."


"On January 21, 2008, the Parisian bank Societé Générale rushed to sell in the market close to seventy billion dollars' worth of stocks, a very large amount for any single "fire sale." Markets were not very active (called "thin"), as it was Martin Luther King day in the United States, and markets worldwide dropped precipitously, close to 10 percent, costing the company close to six billion dollars in losses just from their fire sale. The entire point of the squeeze is that they couldn't wait, and they had no option but to turn a sale into a fire sale. For they had, over the weekend, uncovered a fraud. Jerome Kerviel, a rogue back office employee, was playing with humungous sums in the market and hiding these exposures from the main computer system. ...

"... A fire sale of $70 billion dollars worth of stocks leads to a loss of $6 billion. But a fire sale a tenth of the size, $7 billion would result in no loss at all, as markets would absorb the quantities without panic, maybe without even noticing. So this tells us that if, instead of having one very large bank, with Monsieur Kerviel as a rogue trader, we had ten smaller banks, each with a proportional Monsieur Micro-Kerviel, and each conducted his rogue trading independently and at random times, the total losses for the ten banks would be close to nothing."


"Clearly, the postmortem analyses were mistaken, attributing the problem to bad controls by the bad capitalistic system, and lack of vigilance on the part of the bank. It was not. Nor was it "greed," as we commonly assume. The problem is primarily size, and the fragility that comes with size."

Stefan Kac said...

Taleb, Antifragile

"In project management, Bent Flyvberg has shown firm evidence that an increase in the size of projects maps to poor outcomes and higher and higher costs of delays as a proportion of the total budget. But there is a nuance: it is the size per segment of the project that matters, not the entire project—some projects can be divided into pieces, not others. Bridge and tunnel projects involve monolithic planning, as these cannot be broken up into small portions; their percentage costs overruns increase markedly with size. Same with dams. For roads, built by small segments, there is no serious size effect, as the project managers incur only small errors and can adapt to them. Small segments go one small error at the time, with no serious roles for squeezes."

[footnote on this page]"A nuance: the notions of "large" and "small" are relative to a given ecology or business structure. Small for an airplane maker is different from "small" when it comes to a bakery. As with the European Union's subsidiarity principle, "small" here means the smallest possible unit for a given function or task that can operate with a certain level of efficiency."


"Imagine how people exit a movie theater. Someone shouts "fire," and you have a dozen persons squashed to death. So we have a fragility of theater to size, stemming from the fact that every additional person exiting brings more and more trauma... A thousand people exiting (or trying to exit) in one minute is not the same as the same number exiting in half an hour. ...

"It so happens that contemporary economic optimized life causes us to build larger and larger theaters, but with the exact same door. They no longer make this mistake too often while building cinemas, theaters, and stadiums, but we tend to make the mistake in other domains, such as, for instance, natural resources and food supplies. Just consider that the price of wheat more than tripled in the years 2004-2007 in response to a small increase in demand, around 1 percent."


[from the bibliography] "Private Correspondence with Bar-Yam: Yaneer Bar-Yam, generously in his comments:
"If we take a step back and more generally consider the issue of partitioned systems versus connected systems, partitioned systems are more stable, and connected systems are both more vulnerable and have more opportunities for collective action. Vulnerability (fragility) is connectivity without responsiveness. Responsiveness enables connectivity to lead to opportunity. If collective action can be employed to address threats, or to take advantage of opportunities, then the vulnerability can be mitigated and outweighed by the benefits. This is the basic relationship between the idea of sensitivity as we described it and your concept of antifragility." (With permission.)"


(Sorry cats, I'm a blogger. We don't ask permission. But thank you for your work.)

So, perhaps the currency issue is an excellent illustration of "connectivity without responsiveness." The next question, then, is whether "responsiveness" per se can exist at present scale. Is it even possible? i.e. Assuming perfect "connectivity," chart "responsiveness" against global population. Is the function linear?

Stefan Kac said...

Richard Sennett
The Culture of the New Capitalism

"It cannot surprise the sociologist, in a way, that the first half of the twentieth century was devoted to war, for the organization of armies had become the very model for civil society. Yet the "militarization of society" carries false implications, were we to imagine that it produced a mass of blind, subservient, obedient workers or welfare clients. Had Weber more actual experience of military life he would have understood why.

"In an army, orders modulate as they pass down a chain of command: what the general decrees, the military staff begins to translate into practice, adapting the command to conditions in the field; sergeants, corporals, and rank privates try in their turn to make sense of the command on a particular patch of ground. All obey, but equally, all interpret. When an order translates into action, the key word is "translates." The larger the army, the more interpretation is required.

"The same mediation marks domestic pyramids and is one reason the apostles of efficiency like Taylor failed. His time-and-motion studies produced something like a field marshal's writ about what things should happen and how they were to be done. In practice, each of these precepts was interpreted and negotiated as it passed down the institutional structure. With a childlike innocence, Taylor fretted that his precepts—so clear, so "scientific"—became smudged and messed in the corporations for whom he consulted. Reality failed him.

"The interpretive modulation built into any bureaucratic pyramid is one reason that, in my fieldwork...I encountered many people who did not conform to the psychology Weber set out for the domestic cage. ... Performing them
["small translations" of orders from above] afforded people in the corporation [IBM] a sense of their own agency; the institutional narrative of promotion and demotion became their own life story. As in armies so in corporations: unhappiness with an institution can coexist with strong commitment to it; a person, even if generally unhappy, who is given room to make sense of things on his or her own patch becomes bonded to the organization."
(pp. 33-35)

Stefan Kac said...

Sennett, CNC:

"The growth of communications technology meant that information could be formulated in unambiguous and thorough terms, disseminated in its original version throughout a corporation. E-mail and its derivatives diminished the mediation and interpretation of commands and rules verbally passing down the chain of command. Thanks to new computer tools for mapping corporate inputs and outputs, information...could pass up to the top, instantly and unmediated. In the auto industry in the 1960s, the time lag of getting an executive decision on to the shop floor was, by one estimate, five months, an interval that today has been dramatically cut to a few weeks. ...

"One consequence of the information revolution has thus been to replace modulation and interpretation of commands by a new kind of centralization."

(pp. 42-43)

analogy to MP3 player vs. record player:
"While there is random access to material, flexible performance is possible only because the central processing unit is in control of the whole. Similarly, in a flexible organization, power becomes concentrated at the center... New analytic technologies have enabled...what Michel Foucault has called "panoptic surveillance"...
(p. 51)

"The center governs the periphery in a specific way. On the periphery people are on their own in the process of laboring, without much interaction up and down the chain of command... Those at the periphery are answerable to the center only for results. This distanced relation is, in fine, the geography of globalization. ... In terms of wealth and power, a paternalist like Henry Ford was indeed as unequal to workers on the assembly line as any modern global mogul. In sociological terms, however, he was closer to them, just as the general on the battlefield was connected to his troops. ...inequality translates into distance; the greater the distance...the greater the social inequality..."
(p. 55)

Stefan Kac said...

Sennett, CNC:

"By hiring consultants, executives at the center of the [now-proverbial] MP3 machine can shift responsibility for painful decisions away from themselves. The central unit commands but avoids accountability. In practice, few consultants subsequently join the firms they reorganize, and thus they too avoid being held to account."
(p. 57)

"In creating social distances which divorce control from accountability, consulting reveals a fundamental shifting of bureaucratic ground, a reformatting of inequality, increasing social distance. Power can become concentrated at the top, but authority does not thereby increase."
(p. 58)

"The MP3 institution may celebrate the charismatic leader yet does not invite institutional authority. In part this is due to the way executives behave, when [60] they themselves act like consultants. Rapid turnover at the top can have this effect; there is then no one in power who has shown commitment to the organization, who has experience of its problems, who can serve as a witness of the labors of those below. In part, the sheer disconnect between center and periphery dispels the belief, at the periphery, that a particular human being or definable group at the center is really in charge. I found, in this regard, that employees at a financial services firm regarded "rule by e-mail" exceptionally obnoxious; all too frequently people received e-mails informing them they were being shifted, or even fired—"too chicken" as one person said, "to tell me to my face." Pushing away responsibility has a further dimension."
(pp. 59-60)

Stefan Kac said...

Marshall McLuhan
The Gutenberg Galaxy
2011 U of Toronto edition [orig. 1962]

"That the Greeks were able to do more with the written word than other communities such as the Babylonian and Egyptian was, according to H.A.L. Fisher (A History of Europe, p. 19) that they were not under "the paralysing control of organized priestcraft." But even so, they had only a brief period of exploration and discovery before settling into a clichéd pattern of repetitive thought. Carothers feels that the early Greek intelligentsia not only had the stimulus of sudden access to the acquired wisdom of other peoples, but, having none of its own, there were no vested interests in acquired knowledge to frustrate the immediate acceptance and development of the new. It is this very situation which today puts the Western world at such a disadvantage, as against the "backward" countries. It is our enormous backlog of literate and mechanistic technology that renders us so helpless and inept in handling the new electric technology. The new physics is an auditory domain and long-literate society is not at home in the new physics, nor will it ever be."
(p. 31)

Stefan Kac said...

Marshall McLuhan
Understanding Media (1964)
MIT Press edition (1994)

"When the technology of a time is powerfully thrusting in one direction, wisdom may well call for a countervailing thrust. The implosion of electric energy in our century cannot be met by explosion or expansion, but it can be met by decentralism and the flexibility of multiple small centers. For example, the rush of students into our universities is not explosion but implosion. And the needful strategy to encounter this force is not to enlarge the university, but to create numerous groups of autonomous colleges in place of our centralized university plant that grew up on the lines of European government and nineteenth-century industry."
(pp. 70-71)

Sadly it is the centralization which creates the prestige, and it is the prestige and not the lurnun' which is driving the implosion. The content of the medium "university" is prestige, not lurnun'.

But yes, "decentralism", "groups of autonomous colleges", etc.

Stefan Kac said...

McLuhan, UM
(compare to Sennett on "rule by e-mail")

"...what happens to the best-laid plans of mice and men in any organization when the instant speed of information movement begins. There is a collapse of delegated authority and a dissolution of the pyramid and management structures made familiar in the organization chart. The separation of functions, and the division of stages, spaces, and tasks are characteristic of literate and visual society and of the Western world. These divisions tend to dissolve through the action of the instant and organic interrelations of electricity.

"Former German Armaments minister Albert Speer, in a speech at the Nuremberg trials, made some bitter remarks about the effects of electric media on German life: "The telephone, the teleprinter and the wireless made it possible for orders from the highest levels to be given direct to the lowest levels, where, on account of the absolute authority behind them, they were carried out uncritically . . .""

(p. 247)

Stefan Kac said...

McLuhan, UM

"The telephone: speech without walls.
The phonograph: music hall without walls.
The photograph: museum without walls.
The electric light: space without walls.
The movie, radio, and TV: classroom without walls.
Man the food-gatherer reappears incongruously as information gatherer. In this role, electronic man is no less a nomad than his paleolithic ancestors."

(p. 283)

Stefan Kac said...

Nicholas Carr
The Shallows (2011)

Carr hips us to the seminal modern articulation of what I naively called "information overpopulation:" the 1945 article "As We May Think" by Vannevar Bush.



"There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find the time to grasp, much less remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial."


"Mendel's concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant moments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential."


"Mere compression, of course, is not enough; one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it, and this aspect of the matter comes later. Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few."


"Thus far we seem to be worse off than before—for we can enormously extend the record; yet even in its present bulk we can hardly consult it. This is a much larger matter than merely the extraction of data for the purposes of scientific research; it involves the entire process by which man profits by his inheritance of acquired knowledge. The prime action of use is selection, and here we are halting indeed. There may be millions of fine thoughts, and the account of the experience on which they are based, all encased within stone walls of acceptable architectural form; but if the scholar can get at only one a week by diligent search, his syntheses are not likely to keep up with the current scene."


"Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.

"The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. ...

"Selection by association, rather than indexing, may yet be mechanized. One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage."

Stefan Kac said...

(Carr/Bush, cont.)

Here is a useful short paper by David M. Levy which picks up the trail many years later:


Evidently this was first known as "the library problem," later "the information problem."

"Sixty years after Bush published his proposal, huge technical strides have been made. Networked computers and globally accessible hypertext in many ways exceed anything that Bush proposed or imagined. Yet it is hard to deny that the specific problems he wanted to address, information overload and specialization, have not been solved. ... On the face of it, the development of personal digital information systems and global hypertext seems not to have solved the problem Bush identified but to have exacerbated it. What happened?

"One obvious answer is that digital tools have enabled the creation and distribution of information on a vast scale never before imaginable. Bush never foresaw that the technologies he hoped would tame the problem might actually contribute to its intensification. But it could be argued that the sheer amount of information in the world isn’t in and of itself the problem. Rather, it is the difficulty in gaining access to and managing what is most relevant. And here, it is clear that digital tools haven’t kept pace with the rate of expansion.

"But it is possible, and even likely, that superior techniques and technologies will ultimately make the tasks of information access, synthesis and management immeasurably easier than they are today. Yet such a welcome state of affairs still won’t necessarily signal the successful resolution Bush was seeking."

For Levy,

"There is an additional dimension to the problem: time – to think, to reflect, to absorb, to muse."

which he has

"come to think of ... by analogy with the environmental movement, which was born in the 1960s with the growing realization that unchecked urbanization and industrialization were destroying the earth’s precious natural balance."


"We are, it seems likely, at the beginning of an analogous movement, which might be called information environmentalism. Bombarded by e-mail and cell phone chatter, as well as the 24/7 onslaught of media news, entertainment, and advertisements, there is a growing recognition that some forms of information, such as spam, are pollutants. And it has become increasingly clear that with information, just as with food or other essential dimensions of life, we can have too much of good thing.8 But if the analogy to environmentalism is useful, it should lead us to ask: What are the informational equivalents of marshlands and old growth forests? What kinds of habitats and modes of being do we need to cultivate and protect as a counterbalance to the 24/7 barrage? How do we make room, in space and time, for reflection and contemplation?"

Stefan Kac said...

(on Carr/Bush/Levy)

The immaterial realm of thought and inquiry is indeed something of an ecology, but one without a fixed physical environment. Hence the old growth forests analogy, while certainly serviceable rhetoric, is far from perfect conceptually. It arises from a time when we are both increasing pollution and destroying the environment's natural defenses against it. Though I also despair at "the 24/7 onslaught of media news, entertainment, and advertisements", nonetheless my pile of Erich Fromm books has not actually been clearcut to make room for it. And so, vis-a-vis natural defenses, while I hesitate to get quite so high and mighty about my own ways of living, I can't help but think here of Trane's claim that he didn't know how to stop soloing, and Miles' peerless advice:
"Take the f---ing horn out of your mouth."

Levy simply assumes the information problem will eventually be solved and so identifies the quickening pace and saturation of life as the ultimate barriers to deep contemplation. I am more skeptical that solving "the information problem" is the same as solving the problem of "information overpopulation," the reason being that "the basic unit of processing (the individual human being) stays pretty much the same." I am not convinced that any "individual human being" can live humanely in the splash zone of several Billion-With-a-B human information generators. The notion of hypercuration of all such information into a form that is manageable by any single person is itself actually quite terrifying to contemplate. It would be better if the global population was of a size which produced only as much information (and CO2) as could be managed without resorting to hypermeasures, rationing, willful ignorance, "controlled destruction" (Nora), etc. This thought is currently beyond the pale, whereas information technology is having its moment on a seemingly open-ended basis. I remain convinced that there are some information problems the latter will never solve.

Closest to home of course is the act of listening to music, which plainly cannot be reduced nor can it be selectively curated in any kind of authoritative or ideal way, at least as long as "the basic unit of processing stays pretty much the same." And so, in the temporal arts, all conceits to Practice-Led Research or to the status of a body of knowledge are untenable for the foreseeable future. We might well measure future developments by how much more or less tenable these conceits can be made.

Stefan Kac said...

PW Anderson
"More Is Different"
Science, 4 August, 1972

Evidently another seminal paper which is still frequently cited.

"The main fallacy...is that the reductionist hypothesis does not by any means imply a "constructionist" one: The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe."

Did all you Schenkerian music theorists out there catch that?

"In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the less relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society.

"The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. The behavior of large and complex aggregates of elementary particles, it turns out, is not to be understodd in terms of a simple extrapolation of the properties of a few particles. Instead, at each level of complexity entirely new properties appear, and the understanding of the new behaviors requires research which I think is as fundamental in its nature as any other. That is, it seems to me that one may array the sciences roughly linearly in a hierarchy, according to the idea: The elementary entities of science X obey the laws of science Y... But this hierarchy does not imply that science X is "just applied Y." At each stage entirely new laws, concepts, and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry."

Seems to me that "information overpopulation" is a new "level of complexity" at which "entirely new properties appear" as compared with "the library problem." Even given the advent of a perfect/ideal hypermedium or "memex," is not mere awareness of the current scale itself adequate to beget unforeseen emergent properties as regards human behavior? As easy as it may become to find what you're looking for, making sense of the totality cannot become any more possible until the totality is of a sensible size.

Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The Revolt of the Elites (1995)

"Self-reliance does not mean self-sufficiency. Self-governing communities, not individuals, are the basic unit of democratic society."

(p. 8)

Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The Revolt of the Elites (1995)

"small communities are the classic locus of democracy—not because they are "self-contained," however, but simply because they allow everyone to take part in public debates.
(p. 171)


Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The Revolt of the Elites (1995)

"the market in which the new elites operate is now international in scope. Their fortunes are tied to enterprises that operate across national boundaries. They are more concerned with the smooth functioning of the system as a whole than with any of its parts."
(p. 35)


Stefan Kac said...

The Scale-Victimry Nexus

Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The World of Nations (1973)

Ch. XII, "The "Counter-Culture""

"At one point he [Charles Reich] deplores the university's obsession with scholarly "productivity." A more serious critic would proceed to an analysis of the body of scholarship produced by current conditions. He might try to show that the flood of scholarly monographs in no way enriches our understanding and in fact impedes the necessary work of theory and synthesis."
(p. 188)

Ch. XVI, "Educational Structures and Cultural Fragmentation"

"What is ominous about this defense of pure research is the assertion that although scientific "progress" is the purpose of the university, the results of that progress cannot be communicated to the public or even from one department of the university to another, except in the form of "wonderful inventions." The whole controversy over pure and applied research presupposed an almost total fragmentation of culture."
(pp. 263-264)


Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The Agony of the American Left (1969)

"Early students of the brave new world—which is unmistakably the world we now live in—made the mistake of thinking that a monolithic society is impervious to change. But rigidity is not the same thing as stability. Indeed the rigidity of the American system has become itself a source of extreme instability. It has led the country to the verge of a crisis, the outlines of which are beginning to emerge—too late, it may be, to allow anyone to avert it."

(p. 29)

Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The World of Nations (1973)

Ch. X, "After the New Left"

"It is useful to be reminded...that "participatory democracy" in the strict sense works, if it works at all, only in very small communities; and that because the complexity of industrial society makes it impossible for such communities to achieve complete autonomy, those who advocate direct democracy as a general program are advocating, in effect, a return to a simpler stage of social and economic organization."

"Unless it is accompanied by a shift in political power, the decentralization of certain administrative functions may serve merely to reduce friction and to placate dissatisfaction with existing practices. ("The organizing principle of the new model [corporate or academic] institution," writes Michael Miles, "will be centralized control through decentralized structures.")

(p. 151)


Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism

"The effective loss of cultural traditions on such a scale [as now] makes talk of a new Dark Age far from frivolous. Yet this loss coincides with an information glut, with the recovery of the past by specialists, and with an unprecedented explosion of knowledge—none of which, however, impinges on everyday experience or shapes popular culture."
(pp. 150-151)

Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The New Radicalism in America, 1889-1963:
The Intellectual as a Social Type


"The convergence of the world of culture with the world of advertising and entertainment was only incidentally a function of the rise of mass communications. It was primarily a function of the concentration of cultural life in the city of New York... Neither the newspaper business nor the publishing of books and periodicals nor, indeed, any form of cultural activity escaped the centralizing pull that governed the economy as a whole."
(p. 319)


Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
Haven in a Heartless World

"The science of society did not fully establish itself as the successor to philosophy and the humanities, in the American university, until the 1940s and 1950s. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, it had already formulated its overriding assumptions: that man is wholly the product of society and culture; that society consists of a network of interpersonal relationships; that social development creates more and more intricate patterns of interdependence; and that this interdependence reveals itself above all in the division and subdivision of labor and the "differentiation" of social functions.
(p. 23)

"As the rule of force gave way to the rule of law, social relations became increasingly mysterious and opaque. Political economy and later social science claimed to have unlocked the secret principle of modern society; but the sociological theory of the social order as an organism with a life of its own and as something more than the sum of its parts, in Durkheim's phrase, merely gave scientific standing to an illusion more insidious, in its way, than the commonsense perception of individual autonomy—a perception which, in any case, could not survive the substitution of abstract relations for face-to-face relations of dominance and submission."
(p. 24)


Stefan Kac said...

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism

"Our overorganized society, in which large-scale organizations predominate but have lost the capacity to command allegiance, in some respects more nearly approximates a condition of universal animosity than did the primitive capitalism on which Hobbes modeled his state of nature."
(p. 49)


Stefan Kac said...

The Matthew Effect in Science
Robert K. Merton

"Studies of the reading practices of scientists indicate that the suggested possibility—“Nobody reads it”—is something less than sheer hyperbole. It has been found, for example, that only about half of 1 percent of the articles published in journals of chemistry are read by any one chemist. And much the same pattern has been found to hold in psychology..."

Stefan Kac said...

Paul and Percival Goodman

" "intentional communities," as the sociologists call them...,have come into being throughout history... But our modern conditions of super-organized capital and one neo-technology after another, have perhaps added a new chapter to the old story. To put it paradoxically, there is today so much communication, means of communication, and communication-theory, that there isn't any community; so much socialism, social-agency, and sociology that there isn't any society of work and living."

Stefan Kac said...

Paul Goodman
"The Community of Scholars" (1964)
in Compulsory Mis-Education and The Community of Scholars

[218] "(Madison explains somewhere that the beauty of decentralization, with federation, is that if a self-governing unit makes a mistake, only a small group is injured; if it hits on something worth while, others can adapt it to their own uses.)"

Stefan Kac said...

Ernest Becker
The Denial of Death

[208] "I remember one of my college professors—a man very much admired as a teacher of medieval history—confessing that the more he learned about the period the less he was prepared to say: the epoch was so complex, so diversified that no general statement could safely be made about it. The same thing can surely be said about mental illness. ... The literature is there for all to see... Why would someone try to rake this area over again, in what can only be a superficial and simple-minded way?

"Probably for that very reason: today we need simple-mindedness
in order to be able to say anything at all: this is the other side of the coin of the confession of the medievalist. The great characteristic of our time is that we know everything important about human nature that there is to know. Yet never has there been an age in which so little knowledge is securely possessed, so little a part of the common understanding. The reason is precisely the advance of specialization, the impossibility of making safe general statements, which has led to a general imbecility. What I would like to do in these few pages is to run the risk of simple-mindedness in order to make some dent in the unintended imbecility brought about by specialization and its mountains of fact. ... In such a stifling and crushing scientific epoch someone has to be willing to play the fool in order to relive the general myopia."

Stefan Kac said...

Taleb: "I am, at the Fed level, libertarian; at the state level, Republican; at the local level, Democrat; and at the family and friends level, a socialist."