Der Nörgler am Schreibtisch

" (..) Warum wurde mir nicht die Körperkraft, die Sünde dieses Planeten mit einem Axthieb umzulegen? Warum wurde mir nicht die Gedankenkraft, die geschändete Menschheit zu einem Aufschrei zu zwingen? Warum ist mein Gegenruf nicht stärker als dieses blecherne Kommando, das Macht hatte über die Seelen eines Erdenrunds? Ich bewahre Dokumente für eine Zeit, die sich nicht mehr fassen wird oder so weit vom Heute lebt, dass sie sagen wird, ich sei ein Fälscher gewesen. Doch nein, die Zeit wird nicht kommen, das zu sagen. Denn sie wird nicht sein. (..)" Karl Kraus, Die letzten Tage der Menschheit, suhrkamp taschenbuch, 1986, p. 671.

(amateuristic English translation below)

I am an optimist. Not the optimist of the times Kraus chronicled. I am an optimist of the time that he predicted would never come. But, being an optimist, I don't get it; I don't get it why, despite Kraus, we wound up in another world war; simply don't get it why, for all the advances we did make, we still see words used in service of this, that or the other pet belief of one or another set of 'in'-people domesticating us to pets.

The point is, I guess (or at least that's been chasing me ever since I read the quote above), that we make steady progress (ignoring times of intermittent world war type collapse) but that each time in itself we wind up in the worst possible world that we'd be able to have at that specific time.

Let me in turn try to chase the thought that has been chasing me for a week now.

I'm not a fan of 'possible worlds' logic and certainly not the kind that - in an almost mystical way - tends to give a lot of reality value to worlds possible but not actual. I do however think I can make sense of 'the worst possible world at a specific time' & more specifically as per the following.

Each specific time, or instant ot historical period, is characterized by many a possible way of organizing. At least, to limit ourselves to the really real, there are at any time a range of actual (politicial, judicial, economic) systems in place. We can therefore - glossing over many important qualifications no doubt, but bear with me - quantify at a specific time over these actual systems. If we can quantify over such systems, and we can make sense of the predicate 'better than' predicated of such systems, we are in good shape. Indeed, any world that doesn't maximize its better systems is worse, and any world in which the better systems are, in effect, minimized is the worst.

OK, fair enough with rather more than a whiff of poetical liberty (& I do apologize for the buckets full of implicitly assumed non-trivial premises but I'm chasing - only if I catch it will I be able to give it a thorough going-over). But I did introduce maximize (& minimize, but you'll forgive the one even if you don't forgive the other) and that, at least, requires me to pause (the jump from systems to worlds would as well - but whether you forgive me or not - I will pass that one for now). Maximize implies that there is an action that could at least be taken but who is the actor? & what action?

Time for some more boldness. Time to get back to Kraus.

My suggestion is that the actors would be the people living at that specific time, and the action would be to use their knowledge of better/worse systems. I guess by now I've lost any credibility I had when I started but my suggestion poses an interesting constraint: the actual systems over which I was quantifying have to be 'visible' to all actors, i.e. not only have they be known but also understood (it isn't, by the way, at all necessary they be completely understood, they need only be relatively clear and only insofar as the 'better/worse' relation is concerned).

An example from Kraus' time. There was the Austrian system and the British one, & the British one was better (if an historian reads this: just assume with me, for fun if not for anything else). Both systems were visible to each other: there wasn't lack of communication. In fact there were people like Kraus that were vocal in the worse on the fact that there was 'better' to be had. In the Austrian empire one could make a lot of excuses on why they stuck to the 'worse' - but not because of lack of knowing the 'better' (& remember: this is no longer about the ideal 'best', at any time - lots of criticism applies to what I say but not that of utopianism). Opting then - not only to stay in the 'worse' - but also to go to war with the 'best' is - at least close to very categorically - the worst possible situation; the situation that minimizes.

At this time I can relax the quantificational diversion - the worst possible world at a given time is the world that takes minimal account of the knowledge & criticism that is available at that given time. Minimal account does not mean 'no account' as it is perfectly plausible that, however much the Austrian rulers tried, they were unable to disregard entirely the knowledge & criticism waged at that specific time (& in fact, it is part of the Kraussian story how these rulers quite deliberately saved appearance by lip service to modernity; &, in double fact, isn't that something that rings a bell, across all times, including in our time?). Given we do progress, the argument isn't too hard that in actual dynamic reality the 'minimal account' is not zero (yes, I will have to allow this over a considerable longer stretch of time than: from instant to instant, otherwise the world war data would not falsify the theory).

So, enough chasing done, I can have my cake and eat it too. I can be the grumbler and I can be the optimist. Grumbler because at any given point in time, including a time like the present, we are as worse off as possible (statically). Optimist because I can see the evolution over sufficiently large stretches of time as showing this clear progress that nobody would deny if for instance speaking over the last century.

In a short way: things progress extremely badly.

The reason for this, and therefore the reason for the conundrum with which K. Kraus expresses his frustration in the quote, is that "the word" (knowledge, criticism) isn't allowed to 'flow' (more: the word is actively blocked and abused by the people which happen to be in charge at a given time). My optimism, to close on the up, is that it nevertheless flows and, like water, can't be blocked indefinitely. Kraus could not see that because he could not see the progress over time, yet. Better still: progress has to be self-reenforcing - the more the word has flown the more rapid it will flow next. But, unfortunately, the mechanism of delay by the powerful is still with us. Although we know the tricks of propaganda and abuse of power, we haven't been able to get rid of them - the word is still more controlled than that it controls our progress (and possible the point of irreversibility has not been reached) :-(


The grumbler at his writing desk

"(..) Why didn't I get the bodily strength, to fell with one blow of the axe all the sins of this planet? Why didn't I get the strength of thought, to force this defiled mankind to an outcry? Why is my voice of opposition not stronger than these hollow commands, that have in their power the souls of this globe? I keep documents for a time, no longer capable of grasping them or so far from now, that it will say, I am a manipulator. But no, the time will not come to say this. Since that time will never be. (..)'

Whilst writing this I was listening to Bill Laswell; both Dub Chamber 3 & Land of Look Behind

22:53 Gepost door Guido Nius in Vrije tijd | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: dynamics, boldness, competition, tones, kraus |  Facebook |

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