I came across the “college liberal” meme today and this instance blew my mind:
It’s absolutely right. If you are unhappy about the lack of whatever-minority-you-are in whatever-positions-of-power-minorities-aren’t-in (science, business, politics, etc.), you have an obligation to try to gain power. If you feel like you personally aren’t suited for particular positions of power (eg: you don’t like science or math), you need to realize that you’ve been socially conditioned to be that way and accept that that’s the full explanation for why minorities aren’t in power. It’s no mere conspiracy theory.
This is a post-feminist argument: women aren’t in positions of power because women don’t like gaining power; if you want to gain power, be less womanly.
Maybe rather than fighting against your social conditioning yourself, you think your energy would best be spent overthrowing our societies conditioning? That’s like becoming an intellectual with the intent of leading the revolution. In socialism, a revolution lead by intellectuals is known as “socialism from above” and resulted in Stalinism. Lenin was in favour of “socialism from below” – a revolution lead by workers, which recognized intellectuals as no more helpful than bourgeoisie. So maybe rather than get that degree you should go organize a union at Walmart?
Personally, I don’t believe that social conditioning in general can be overthrown. So your only hope is to crave out little niche situations that make you happy. Maybe a Women’s Studies degree is good for that?
I believe that art should be challenging, not just entertaining or aesthetically pleasing. If art reflects the author’s condition, then it should give readers insight into their own condition which they would not have had without the art. The best art challenges our ideas about society, and is therefore “political”.
Andrew Potter makes an argument that at least 100 years of political art in the West has achieved its purpose – our society no longer needs social conformity to function:
The theory that underlies the various forms of countercultural art—Dadaism, the situationists, shock art—is that our system only works through strict social conformity. The authorities maintain control by enforcing cultural norms, especially those relating to sex and religion. The job of the artist is to create works that expose the coercive nature of the system. But the effect of a hundred years of subversion has been to inoculate us against this sort of iconoclasm.
Rather than overthrowing society, which was the goal of Dadaism and situationism, it created a more resilient society that can include counter-cultures – like how antibiotics create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
So what is art good for now besides training society’s immune system? Well, it can probably still be used to shift things around in society if not overthrow it: Perhaps by capturing the plight of disadvantaged members of society and critiquing advantaged members, art can help balance things? Perhaps replacing the professional shock artist model with everyone-is-an-artist could increase the functioning of individuals (as cogs in the machine)? Or maybe I’m wrong and art should be judged solely on aesthetic merits?
Microsoft’s ex-Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold has produced a monumental set of books called Modernist Cuisine. It’s positioned to be the most important book in professional cooking since Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, which codified the professional kitchen and haute cuisine in 1903.
Modernist Cuisine writes down a lot of the techniques of molecular gastronomy, which I predict will shortly become known as “modernist cuisine” because “chefs have come to dislike the term ‘molecular gastronomy,’ on the ground that it is alienating and makes what they do sound like scientific party tricks”. However, maybe because I know the cocktail world rejected molecular mixology almost as soon as it appeared (because it really is just scientific party tricks), I feel like molecular gastronomy has already jumped the shark and this project is documenting a passing fad.
So although I’ve read a few glowing preliminary reviews of Modernist Cuisine, the first good review I’ve read is in the New Yorker, pointed out by Ingrid. The analysis shows that the other way in which cuisine is becoming increasingly modernist is the widening “gap between ordinary and professional cooking”:
That is why the term “modernist cuisine” is so handy. When modernism arrived in the arts, it marked a dual break: a rupture within the history of the art form and a splitting off between advanced practitioners and the general public — between the popular and the serious.
The theme that runs through this discussion of traditional cooking techniques is their underrated complexity and the resultant variability of their outcomes. Hence the team’s affection for sous vide…We’re back with the question of control and precision, which is one of the things deeply loved by modernist chefs.
The review goes on to contrast modernist cuisine with current trends toward minimalism, comfort food and local ingredients, which I suppose should be labelled postmodernist cuisine.
My friend Stephanie suggested I read Slavoj Žižek‘s paper “The Obscene Object of Postmodernity“, where he disputes Habermas’s widely-accepted definition of postmodernity as a deconstruction of the universal reason metanarrative. This is the conversation I had with the text:
- I’ve noticed that a lot of modernist texts have a central absence, like Godot in Waiting for Godot. While postmodern texts have no such absence, for example in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, when the Allies realize they’ve pulled a German sailor into their lifeboat, the camera focuses on the obscene sailor, not the reactions of the Allies.
- That is an interesting observation. How do you know that Lifeboat is postmodern? I’d argue that shot works because the film is propaganda.
- I’ve decided that this absence is the defining difference between modernism and postmodernism.
- Isn’t that a circular argument? And I should point out that you’re kind of doing a structuralist reading, which is modernist.
- Joyce, for example, is modern because his texts invite interpretation. While Kafka is postmodern because his texts defy interpretation. For example, a lot of people interpret Kafka’s worlds as having an absence of God: the bureaucracy has no higher purpose. But they’re wrong, Kafka’s worlds have an in-your-face crazy, obscene God.
- Didn’t you just do an interpretation of Kafka there? I would have been more convinced if you just said “The Trial: what the fuck does that mean?” I still think you’re being circular.
- Another example is atheism. Modernism interprets atheism as saying “there is no God”. But Lacan, who is postmodern, points out that atheists really are just not conscious of God.
- What difference does it make? To use a modern analysis: either way atheists don’t do religious stuff.
- In conclusion, Habermas is wrong!
When I heard this was a movie “about Banksy” I avoided it. I like some of Banksy’s work, particularly the massive political statement of his art on the West Bank Ghetto wall. But street art is a response to alienation from urban society, and doing gallery shows is actively participating in the processes of alienation, not just selling out his own artistic authenticity. I’m also annoyed by the big deal the media makes about his anonymousness (“I’d like to punch him in his non-existent face.” – Brynn).
But while home sick recently I started going through Rotten Tomatoes’ top films of 2011 and watched Exit Through the Gift Shop. It turns out it’s not really about Banksy: it’s the story of a guy (Mr. Brainwash) who starts making a documentary about street artists including Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy, then decides to go copy them and immediately sell out becoming rich.
The documentary claims that while Mr. Brainwash is off selling out, Banksy edits the footage Mr. Brainwash took into a documentary about Mr. Brainwash. The media speculates that the story is actually a mockumentary staged by Banksy. Of course if the mockumentary is performance art that includes real art shows, then we have to ask in what way is it not true?
Either way, it has a very clean narrative structure, unlike many documentaries where the producers are obviously just randomly stumbling around (eg: Gasland). And because Mr. Brainwash’s art is so derivative, it fulfills the documentary’s purpose of explaining street art while raising a number of critical questions. I can’t imagine a better film about street art – the self-reflective, satirical angle just makes it postmodernly delicious.
Kyla pointed me to this somewhat simplistic discussion of ironic fashion. Let’s recall the definition of irony: “to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning”.
Note that the literal meaning is not the same as the original meaning. Bowler hats originated as sportwear. Heels were developed to accentuate men’s calves, and red lipstick and nip-waisted skirts accentuate natural sex characteristics. I have no idea what Rainbow Brite stood for (colour worship?).
Once things get introduced into society, they immediately start to pick up cultural significance and their meaning changes. Over time bowlers have meant hunter, cowboy, South American woman, droog, Victorian gentleman, steampunker, etc, etc. When someone wears a piece of clothing, they usually intend to reference a specific meaning and are likely only aware of some of the meanings.*
Sally at Already Pretty argues that the wearer of the clothes gets to decide what they mean. But in a postmodern reading of an outfit (a text) the author is dead. If you’re wearing ironic clothes, each and every person who looks at your outfit reads their own meaning into it. You can try to push a particular reading, but it doesn’t really matter what you think.
If you try to create an ironic juxtaposition, some people just won’t get it. Some people will see irony where you don’t (your miner’s dungarees are a craving for authenticity). In particular, retro clothing is always open for an ironic reading, because we are not actually living in that period. But the historical reference that retro clothing makes can be glorifying or subverting or both.
* To a Victorian gentleman, a bowler means “I am out hunting and my head is cold”. A bowler is much more likely to mean “cowboy” to someone in the 1870s than the 2010s.
Some theorists on deliberative democracy distinguish it from negotiation in that participants need to give reasons for their positions. The reasons don’t need to be held by everyone else involved, but everyone else should be able to accept them. There are a few reasons for this:
- to help find common ground
- In a negotiation you may concede certain issues, either to conserve strength or in the hopes that your opponent will reciprocate. But if you establish that a position is mutually preferred, not just conceded, that will bring parties closer together.
- to educate participants
- In class, I’m continually criticising civic engagements that just act to educate people without giving them power, but I’ll accept that education about the diversity of viewpoints in a community is a great secondary effect of engagement.
- to make the outcome satisfactory
- In a negotiation, parties walk away from the table saying “oh well, that’s the best we could do with the cards we had”. That’s going to lead to hard feelings and attempts at reversing the decision down the road. Deliberative democracy should leave people saying “that’s the best of all possible solutions”.
Deliberative democracy is also supposed to be better at incorporating diversity than representative democracy. But what if your participants are so diverse that they use completely different methods of reasoning? Examples:
I think the most we can require is that each participant’s system of reasoning be internally consistent: all proclamations of the machine elves are given equal standing. But I’m skeptical of the ability to assess the internal consistency of other peoples’ systems of reasoning. It appears that deliberative democracy requires us all to become social relativists?
Some old, white male trained in two of the most modernist disciplines – Western medicine and psychotherapy – is concerned that teenage girls are postmodern. As quoted in this Macleans interview:
You’ve got 14-year-old girls essentially presenting themselves as a brand, trying to create a public persona, polishing an image of themselves that’s all surface: how you look and what you did yesterday, not who you are and what you want to be. And that leads to a sense of disconnection from themselves, because in most cases, these girls don’t even realize that their persona is not who they are. They’re just focused on striving to please their market and presenting the brand they think will sell.
This is coming from a guy who has been doing a speaking tour to promote his new book and who cites his own credentials to support his point! Why would what you want to do tomorrow be a more important part of your identity than what you did yesterday? Especially when the desires of teenagers are mostly externally imposed.
Girls who see themselves as brands will likely go on to be more successful than girls who want to be loved for their authentic selves. And having “anorexia of the soul” is at least as healthy as the chronic existential crisis that strikes the “authentic” people in our society.
Dr. Sax shows his hand by applying premodern morality and seeming hopelessly out of touch with the historical reality of being a woman:
I find it troubling that so many girls are using their sexuality in an instrumental way, in order to accomplish some other end such as raising their social status, but not as an expression of their own [feelings and desires].
I recently heard about philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend’s criticism of Galileo (and by inference all science): Galileo did not have sufficient evidence to make a logical case for heliocentrism. Instead, he used “rhetoric, propaganda, and various epistemological tricks”.
At the time, optical theory was not advanced enough to explain how telescopes worked. So Galileo had to trust on faith that his instruments were measuring what he thought they were measuring. It’s not scientific, but Galileo was supported by a consensus of astronomers, including Jesuits.
Observations of planets do not distinguish between the Tychonic system, where the sun orbits the earth and all other planets orbit the sun, and the heliocentric system. The only way to determine if the earth is moving is by stellar parallax: the triangulation of stars from opposite ends of the earth’s orbit. Galileo predicted stellar parallax but it was not observed for 115 years*, so his theory was falsified until then.
In fact, under relativity it is impossible to determine whether the universe has a centre, so it is a theological rather than scientific statement.
The proper way to consider Galileo’s work is not as a scientific result, but a shift to a new paradigm: astronomy based on telescope evidence with no reference to scripture. You might find this more elegant, it might be better at landing people on the moon, but there’s no basis for saying it’s more truthful.
* And even then it wasn’t stellar parallax, it was the unpredicted steller aberration. Parallax wasn’t observed until 228 years after Galileo’s prediction.
One of the most fundamental laws of evolutionary psychology is that women are pickier about their mates than men. They’re picky because women invest more in offspring from growing eggs to dropping junior off at soccer practice. This law is used to explain all sorts of facts of modern life, particularly in dating theory.
This hypothesis can be easily tested in speed dating: do men choose more partners for follow-up than women? Recent research finds that small manipulations to the speed dating ritual result in the opposite outcome predicted by evolutionary psychology. In conclusion, the fundamental behavior of women is socially constructed and the entire field of evolutionary psychology is modernist bullshit.