27-06-09

Too much pressure

"(..)

Too much pressure, my life's so hard
Too much pressure, and all them certain kind of people
Too much pressure, them having it easy
Too much pressure, them having it easy
Too much pressure, them sail through life
Too much pressure, them have no joy
Too much pressure, them have no joy
It's too much pressure, it's too much pressure

This pressure got to stop
This pressure got to stop
This pressure got to stop
It's got to stop, it's got to stop....

(..)"

The Selecter, downloadable from iTunes & whatever.


Well, something to kill the time (mine & yours). Still, good lyrics, great music.

Pressure has always been predominant; struggle for life and all that. Heaven & hell, & the risk of eternal damnation. But it has transformed, & is transforming, no doubt.

Let's start with the former. In times we know of history lessons, there clearly was the phenomenon of the happy few that had time on hand; in which they were tormented only by their own, to some extent at least, chosen targets. I'm not speaking here of the rich and famous, of the powerful and rich. Wealth, fame & power are the sources of pressure; pressure to achieve, to a very great extent, goals set by others, or by a general (e.g. sociological) context. I'm speaking of the happy few intellectuals which - either through favourable inheritance or through selection on a basis of intellectual or physical ability - wound up having time that - from the point of view of immediate utility in the framework of the then current society - was unaccounted for.

This was literally unchallenged time, free from challenges, un-hectic & detached. The people having it had a lot of it but there were very few people that had any of it. Not the rich, wealthy & powerful as all of them were (and are) under constant pressure to conform to the many demands of their status and the continuation of it, not only for their lifetime but also across generations (of kindred blood or spirit). Those that I've quoted here are mostly of that specific class of the happy few.

The happy irony - and proof of the unavoidability of intellectual & societal progress - is that this class of happy few (from gladiators over clergy to academics) are the by-product of numerous status quo's, numerous regimes. Necessary by-products, which are unavoidably created. Because the rich, famous & powerful needed the rewarding mechanism of inheritance to ensure their continued service to hte status quo by the promise of, at least, riches to their offsoring. Also because any regime needs some selection of the intellectually & physically best in case some external challenge is to be defended against. Once selected they will mainly be idle, since in the status quo the challenges will be exceptional. Lest you think I forgot the irony, I didn't, really - the irony is that this necessary by-product of the status quo invariably generates the ideas around which the status quo generating these 'idle' people will be overturned.

(Oh, come on: if you want your irony in one-liners - Go somewhere else!)

This diagnosis of 'idleness', or lack of pressure, is probably accurate over vast times from the first civilizations until recently. Until the first fin de siècle that was called the 'fin de siècle'. Only then (examples are Wilde, Proust - 'I have to quote Proust here, one of these weeks!') did this type of idleness become assertive; no longer constant in its defense against charges of 'decadence' but claiming decadence as: 'thé way to be'. Not that there weren't precursors, Montaigne was one and there were others, but the archetype was more that of Darwin (& there's nothing wrong with him, he just did not claim that the type of idleness he had was a good thing, in general). Anyways, it is no co-incidence that the timing of assertive idleness (and laziness) co-incides with growing industrialization & urbanization. Both these latter not only generated more & more people with some idle time; they also colluded in bringing idle people together in ways that would exponentially increase the generation of destabilizing ideas - & to the extent that modern society, modern regimes are inherently instable. In some of the more fortunate cases this instability is even guaranteed by a constitution.

This transformation has been a good thing but has not remain unchallenged - & far from it, modern history is the history of challenging the democratization of idleness. Even the mechanism of creating and sustaining idle elites has been put to work in a constant struggle against democratization of idleness. 'Conservative intellectuals', & its specific pinnacle symbol of think-tanks, have emerged & are, as of very recently, the dominant claim to intellectualism; elitist intellectualism with the unstated goal of reserving idleness for a happy few & a, sometimes even explicitly stated, framework of restraining the instability that's brought by new ideas - decadence soon became a pejorative term again.

As it proved impossible to contain the increase of free time (although, of late, this is again something that's attempted afresh - cfr. pushing up the retirement age); their struggle has been to contain the freedom, the 'idleness', of people to use free time. This is done by putting pressure on people's direct utility for society (a.o. a pressure to procure more expensive or compulsively time consuming habits during one's free time). This is also done by creating a societal context in which free time needs to be 'spent' by ever increasing demands for the free time to be supercharged with events and other trophies and symbols of it being 'well spent'.

The current balance is one in which the happy few are an unhappy many. Many of us have free time but almost none of us have it in such abundance as to allow us to be spening it idly in pursuit of our own useless, decadent goals. This has checked - & is constantly checking - the generation of new ideas, which is a pity. The fight to fight - against the consensus that the current elite has built to saveguard the prosperity of its offspring and other heirs - is the fight to claim the free time without having to be accounting for it to anyone or anything.

The fight to fight is the fight for unashamed decadence. I kid you not.

An innocent quote, a complex thought. I apologize for any incoherence. I also am a lot under a lot of pressure; & I don't have the freedom to work these things out to a satisfactory level of perfection.


Whilst writing this I was most appropriately listening to New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, "Live in Paris" & The Selecter, "Greatest Hits".

17:28 Gepost door Guido Nius in Vrije tijd | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: learning, pop culture, decadence, optimism, competition |  Facebook |

06-06-09

The Origin of Species: Author's Introduction

"This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.", The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Wordsworth classics of world litterature, 1998, p. 5-6.


A simple one. Malthus has gotten loads of bad press. If at all a connection is made between Malthus and Darwin, it's mostly made under the heading 'Social Darwinism', which is meant insultingly as misapplied Darwinism and associated to extreme right political views. This annoys me. Better: this infuriates me. But more importantly: it's incorrect. And, most importantly: the error blocks us from an important insight.

First the error. Malthus was not a biologist. His theory was not a biological theory. An interpretation of his theory along biological lines in which the weakest individuals, as per the weakest social or ethnic groups, should perish such as to have better human offsrping is in clear error. Darwin's '(..) any being, if it vary however slightly in in any manner profitable to itself (..) will have a better chance of surviving (..)" rewarped in Malthus's sociological thinking needs to be seen as a variation of beliefs held by the human beings in society. The Malthusian thesis is that, insofar people have a better set of beliefs, they'll be better equipped to lead a good life. A necessary element of such a set of beliefs is to moderate population growth (not by a one-child policy but by a realization that it is better to moderate one's own procreation even if as Darwin later showed non-moderation of procreation is a biologically inescapable instinct). In fact, as we know now, moderation of population growth is essential to survival of the human race as all natural checks - other than destructive disaster - on an increasing human footprint have been eliminated. As Malthus forewarned (and therefore, in its essence, his theory stands): the only check to disastrous crisis is internal - i.e. self-imposed - checks.

Second, the blocked insight: the dynamics of creation is as unavoidable as the laws of logic and applicable indiscrimately to all that lives (& therefore all that isn't just a matter of pure logic). Anything living will tend to procreate. Anything procreating will tend to variate. Only the competitive variants will remain. This applies to beings, as is generally accepted, but it also applies to beliefs, the original Malthusian  thought as acknowledged by Darwin. We have had to vary our ideas, and hence: create new ideas, such as to avoid continuous catastrophic crisis. One of the ideas that 'had to' be created is the understanding of the dynamism of all things living, the Malthusian idea more clearly illustrated by Darwin in biology.

So what? So this: only the 'best' ideas survive with 'best' in the sense of adapted in the best (most competitive) way to the environment in which the idea. No - not just Dawkins' memes again. Because the question is here as in Darwinism - 'Adapted to what?' The notion of memes misleadingly centered on things as nursery rhymes - & by pejorative extension to false populist ideology - such as 'Darwinism-denialism' -, and that's as misleading as stating that the fittest creature is the one that survives in an environment artificially created to suit such a creature. The analogy holds: for populist ideology can only survive in an islander environment (or one of the fenced off pieces of nature described by Darwin). Such artificial islands can't survive (mono-cultures are like forced inbreeding, and will ultimately succumb under the weakness of its culture when it inevitably faces other cultures that survived in some unartificial environment - cfr. the current state of Muslim countries and the maybe future state of the culture of Western supremacy). Bad ideology is, by the way, a lot like rhyme: both are well adapted to a subsegment of the environment - those of memory and instinctive beastly fear of the strange.

'Adapted to the freely evolving conditions of nature', however frustratingly vague an expression like this may be to some, is the correct view, also for ideas. One idea is the original one of Malthus: universal education. A later idea was: birth control. Both together are well adapted (even if still obviously varying), allowing a relative stability in the substrate for creating more ideas. They neutralize the imminent destruction - the trigger for Malthus ideas - by overpopulation. Further well adapted ideas are the ideas of universal social security and low-carbon emission growth (to give those that are currently relatively uncontroversial in non-populist monoculture groupthink - the right to die and the right to be lazy are my typical controversial ones).

Here I unfortunately need to make this one even longer by going into a long 'by the way'. It is indeed important to note that the above also explains the intuitive appeal of the Hegelian quasi-dynamic of the dialectic. In describing such dynamic processes one is easily fooled by the fallacy of treating the description as if it were thé reality & then applying logic to the description to get thé truth, thé way out, thé next step. All current politics is Hegelian in this sense of identifying something bad then proposing some specific solution to it and thinking that in so doing the bad thing is irreversibly eliminated. Taking Malthus and Darwin this can't be true - whilst we can simplify our descriptions to isolate this animal and that plant, the real reality is that of all plants and all animals ... and all ideas. Things change, interact & are constantly in motion, with the brute creative force as Bergson tried to describe, such that we can't say that this situation is superseded by that one; this thing solved by forever applying such a solution.

Have I gone astray in my above example then as well? A fair question, & the answer is: 'No!'. No, because I was not specific and took care to identify winning ideas on an abstract enough level to be able to be substantiated by the insights of Darwinism, & the dynamics of Malthus. These ideas are winners in the sense that humans have to be winners; both are intrinsically and qualitatively better suited to support a creative, and continuous, growth. Ideas are a major new element of growth. They do not grow into something definite, virtuous just as DNA did not pruposely grow into humans.

The only virtue that can be identified is the virtue of growth itself. The virtue of truth even is derived from the virtue of growth. Ideas can only grow insofar as they are, in a logical and a scientific sense, true (this does not settle the problem of logical truth and mathematics, by the way!).

Even if abstract, there are other things that we can pinpoint as winning ideas besides education and birth control (the control over one's own destiny). Without argument I give a few: competition, consumption, economic growth. Other ideas clearly can't but be categorized as loosers: xenophobia, carbon growth, extension of life expectancy, hard & long work. This has been a long one again so I have permitted myself some fun in implying but not argueing that economic growth is split from carbon growth (& consumption from material consumption) and that working hard is incompatible with the emergence of original ideas. Certainly the latter is a definite to do: maybe time for a Montaigne quote again.


Whilst writing this I was listening to Anthrax, 'State of Euphoria' and 'Strawberry Jam', The Animal Collective.

16:34 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (2) | Tags: competition, dynamics, darwin, malthus, optimism, tones |  Facebook |