Here’s to another goddamn new year…

Some songs that reflect my true feelings about this day.

The Dismemberment Plan: The Ice of Boston

Death Cab for Cutie: The New Year

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

Actually I have a few resolutions. When I was little, my family used to sit around with the resolutions of the prior year, and then write new ones (which, unsurprisingly, were generally the same).

My resolutions in 2007

1. To go outside more

2. To read more, watch less

3. To increase health, not decrease

I am heading to Calgary now until January 11th. Tonight I am going to a masquerade, but I wear glasses so my secret identity will likely be revealed. See you soon.

On Fatalism: An Amendment to the Latour Post

Ok, so from the emails (etc.) I got about my post below, I may have lost some people. This wasn’t intentional, nor was I trying to “show off.” I just am trying to keep this blog useful for my own work, and hopefully when it comes to paper writing time in my advanced Theory class, this blog will serve as my electronic memory.

To summarize what Latour is saying: when September 11th happened, “the West” (i.e. America) was all like “why did this happen!?!?!” and “why do they hate our freedom????”

Latour is arguing (rightly) that this is ridiculous because “the West” has been waging small scale war since at least WWII, through simple things such as the condescending sense of “respect” for “other” cultures (Anthropology is specifically fingered here) through “multiculturalism” policies (“Its our world, you can live in it if you want”).

Initiating “policies” and having “respect” assumes that “the West” is in control of things, the one that is “doing it right.” September 11th, and even before through the rise “risk culture” (the sense that the world “out there” is dangerous and risky) have been key in undermining this sense of control.

So how do we move forward? (Latour says diplomacy, I remain skeptical that it will be as effective as he thinks it will be).

In the paper today I saw a poll that said that Americans are predicting “another terrorist attack, a warmer planet, death and destruction from a natural disaster” for 2007. This growing sense of fatalism is one that I think that many of my friends and collegues share. I have it in spades.

We feel powerless, like things are getting out of control. We sense that the gig is going to be up any time now, that doom is right around the corner, and hopefully it doesn’t hurt too much. We feel as if there is nothing we can do.

So if we are powerless, why worry about it? What is the point anyway? That same article points out that one in four Americans anticipates the second coming of Jesus Christ in 2007.

Now, it is not my style to knock religiosity, so I won’t. The second coming, after all has been “right around the corner” since the first coming. All I am going to say is that if you think Jesus is coming in 2007 to pull us out of our situation then you are part of the problem. Fill up the SUV, leave it running overnight so you won’t have to warm it up in the morning.

This hope that we will be saved in the end, through Jesus or through our own rationality, science or ingenuity points to unbridled optimism that is harmful to actually accomplishing anything.The fatalist in me thinks that maybe it would be better for catastrophe to strike so we can start over. The humanist in me hates to see people suffer.

At some point, I realize that I don’t even have the genesis of an original idea.

Theoretical Reading #1: Bruno Latour’s “War of the Worlds: What About Peace?”

Though we are still a week and a bit away from the first theory class in January, I did the first reading for the class and want to talk about it now. Thus I am putting this out there and hope that my class mates reading this have already done the same and wish to talk about it while it is still fresh.

The article can be read here. What follows is my dissection of the article, followed by a few points of concern.

The world is changing quickly – perhaps faster than any of the theoretical pieces that we are reading this semester could ever account for, and so what do we do about it? Do we continue on as if nothing has changed (which seems to be the position that many academics take, for better or for worse), or can we start thinking in new directions? What good is theory if it is theorizing about a world that no longer exists, or is, at the very least, disintegrating. This is something that I have been thinking about a lot this semester. In fact, one of the first conversations I had with my officemate Mark was this overwhelming sense that things were changing, especially within our chosen field.

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“War of the World: What About Peace” By Bruno Latour

What was “brought to light” by the September 11th attacks?

Latour’s answer is that we in the West have been removed from the complacency of a half-imagined “peaceful future” with the world converging towards “fuzzy modernist ideals” (p. 2). September 11th should serve as a reminder that unity has to be made, and that it is made only through diplomatic efforts (as opposed to unity being an uncontroversial, uncontested starting point). September 11th was not the first strike in a “war of civilizations” as this war has been raging all along, and thus our best reaction is to explicitly address this battle in order to bring about “new kinds of negotiation, and a new kind of peace” (p. 4).

Thus, if we are in a state of war, who is engaged in the conflict? In earlier times, war was a simple matter because, despite their diversity, humans shared “a common world” linked against the background of “natural unity” (p. 5). Latour writes that:

Conflicts between humans, no matter how far they went, remained limited to the representations, ideas and images that diverse cultures could have of a single biophysical nature. To be sure, differences of opinion, disagreements and violent conflicts remained, but they all had their source in the subjectivity of the human mind without ever engaging the world, its material reality, its cosmology or its ontology, which by construction—no! precisely, by nature—remained intangible (p. 6).

The solution of conflicts in this era is reason; “when disputes occur, we need only to increase the relative share of scientific objectivity, technical efficiency, economic profitability and democratic debate, and the disputes will soon cease” (p. 7). Post WWII, unity had been constituted, the world unified. The only remaining task lay in convincing those who were reluctant to join the party.

These resistances were seen as “values” which were to be “respected.” Latour notes examples such as as “cultural diversity, tradition, inner religious feelings, madness, etc.” (p. 8), and states that Anthropologists, artists, curators and the like could even enjoy “respecting” these values because  they “never threatened to stake a claim in the order of the world” (p. 8). Therefore, diversity could be handled by tolerance, “but of a very condescending sort since the many cultures were debarred from any ontological claim to participate in the controversial definition of the one world of nature” (p. 9).

The contradiction of a senseless — but unifying — nature, and cultures packed with meaning but “no longer entitled to rule objective reality” was solved by making the notion of “culture” sacred (p. 14). This gives rise to “multiculturalism,” which Latour argues is “nothing more than the flipside of what may be termed mononaturalism” (p. 14). That is, the notion that where there is one world, now there are multiple.

Latour is highly critical of multiculturalism, which he sees as another form of the condescension of ethnocentrism (in the West’s “respect” of diversity), and he states that “in this combination of respect and complete indifference, we may recognize the hypocritical condescension of cultural relativism” (p. 15). When the West says that “the one world is ours, the many worlds are yours; and if your disputes are too noisy, may the world of harsh reality come in to pacify your disputes” (p. 16), Latour remarks that this is “a peculiar offer of peace, one which had never recognized the existence of a war in the first place!” (p. 16).

Thus, we arrive at the paradox of the rise of both “globalization” and “fragmentation.” Latour argues that in complaining so unfairly against both globalization and fragmentation,

we identify precisely the deep transformation that took us out of modernism and the convenient solution it offered to the problems of unity and multiplicity. Fragmentation shatters mononaturalism; globalization destroys multiculturalism. On both sides, whether the aim is to create multiplicity or unity, opponents, fronts and violent contradictions are finally starting to appear (p. 24).

As a result of this convergence, we have then seen last of tolerance, the “hypocritical respect” of anthropology, and “smug assertions” about humanity; Latour argues that human rights will eventually come from a deep understanding that we are all inhabitants of the same world (p. 24).

In my favourite section of this pamphlet, Latour argues that because the modernists (and the West) believed that they were alone in definint the nature of the world, they managed to wage war “without ever coming into conflict with anyone, without ever declaring war” (p. 25-26). Latour notes that:

All they did was to spread, by force of arms, profound peace, indisputable civilization, uninterrupted progress. They had no adversaries or enemies in the proper sense—just bad pupils. Yes, their wars, their conquests, were educational! Even their massacres were purely pedagogical! We should re-read Captain Cook or Jules Verne: there were fights everywhere and all the time, but always for the good of the people. “That should teach them a lesson…” (p. 26).

Thus, Latour raises the question: how can we end war that has never been officially declared? (p. 27). How do we achieve peace when one side refuses to acknowledge that they are even at war?

To achieve peace, Latour states that the West “has to admit to the existence of war…to accept that it has had enemies, to take seriously the diversity of worlds, to refuse to accept mere tolerance, and to resume the construction of both the local and the global” (p. 29). This is a tough pill to swallow for a people who had no idea that they were hated in the world. What about Bush declaring that the Iraqi’s would be greeting American “liberators” “with open arms?”

Latour points us in the direction of diplomacy, makes a number of suggestions as to how, now that we see “others” as others, we can try and meet in the middle. Through diplomacy, Latour argues that we can start a dialogue of how the world is constructed, moving away from the cheapness of “facts” that only one side controls. For Latour, diplomacy cannot begin “until we suspend our assumptions about what does or does not count as difference…there are more ways than one to differ—and thus more than one way to agree—in the end” (p. 43).

Here Latour moves through possible meeting points – for example with the abandoning of “Science” in favour of “sciences” which make suggestions or “propositions” that lengthen the list of beings with which the common world must be pieced together” (p. 44). He also says the same of Religion:

Do we allow them to point to the objects, the rituals, prayers and the manufacturing kits that would allow it to be compared with the ways of producing other kinds of divinities? How could such an offer not be revolting, scandalous, blasphemous? Would it not amount to a reversion to the horrible archaism against which the great religions of the Book took their stand? And yet, the comparison with nature is enlightening. If “nature” was a political concept that tried to unify too quickly and without piece-by-piece composition of the common world, could not the same be said of the unity of God? (p. 45).

The construction of divinity would work in the same way as “sciences,”  and would allow for diplomats to construct a common future. In a similar fashion, Latour sees similar potential in psychology, economics and politics.

Though I see potential in diplomacy, I am somewhat skeptical to believe that all it takes  is  acknowledgment that we in the West have been waging war. This is especially true when it comes to a diplomatic arrangement to co-construct our gods.  Does Latour actually believe that either the Americans or the individuals who constructed the events of September 11th would be willing to discuss this?

Yet, saying this, I do think that Latour is on to something here. I want to share in Latour’s optimism; yet I think that Latour has “jumped the gun” a little. I think that a meeting to discuss “construction” is impossible without first constructing the table around which this conversation could occur.

My Life in Music, 2006.

According to my LASTFM page (which tracks the music that I listen to on my computer), here is what I listened to the most in 2006. Note that this does not reflect anything that I listened to on my turntable, cd player, in my van or on my iPod. A few surprises (The Bonaduces came in  5th?), but overall fairly accurate.

1 Guided by Voices  
2 Belle and Sebastian  
3 Eric’s Trip  
4 The Promise Ring  
5 The Bonaduces  
6 Devendra Banhart  
7 Joy Division  
8 RAN  
9 Robert Pollard  
10 Morrissey  
11 Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy  
12 My Bloody Valentine  
13 Rogue Wave  
14 Joanna Newsom  
15 The Beach Boys  
16 New Order  
17 The Shins  
18 Interpol  
19 The Smiths  
20 Elliott Smith  

And my top “Albums” according to what I listened to on my Computer.

1 My Bloody Valentine – Loveless  
2 Eric’s Trip – Peter  
3 Interpol – Antics  
4 The Bonaduces – The Democracy of Sleep  
5 Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit  
6 Morrissey – Ringleader of the Tormenters  
7 Robert Pollard – From a Compound Eye  
8 Band of Horses – Everything All the Time  
9 Devendra Banhart – Niño Rojo  
9 Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender  
11 Madvillain – Madvillainy  
12 Joy Division – Still  
13 The Promise Ring – 30° Everywhere  
14 Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures  
15 Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow  
16 Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing in the Hands  
17 Guided by Voices – Alien Lanes  
18 Various Artists – The Golden Apples of the Sun  
18 The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good  
20 Joy Division – Permanent

Belle and Sebastian’s Life Pursuit in Video

My friend and compadre Akolade recently listed Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit as his number one album of 2006. Though it failed to rank in my own list, I think he made a good choice. See, this album was in heavy rotation wayyy back in January 2006, and it hasn’t made its way back until now. Now that it is back, I am rediscovering how amazing it is all over again. The songs that used to annoy (“Sukie In the Graveyard,” “Song for Sunshine”) are now growing on me.

1. Act of the Apostle

2. Another Sunny Day (from the bonus DVD)

3. White Collar Boy

4. Blues are Still Blue

5. Dress Up In You

6. Sukie in the Graveyard (fan video)

7. We are the Sleepyheads (fan made video)

8. Song for Sunshine (live clip!)

9. Funny Little Frog

10. To Be Myself Completely

11. Act of the Apostle II

12. For the Price of a Cup of Tea

13. Mornington Crescent