Friday, July 13, 2012

excerpt: Vico

I don’t know about you guys but my soul was forged in the smithy of 18th century Neapolitan academic marginalia. Who is Giambattista Vico? He came after Renee Descartes, the guy who said I think therefore I am. This hypothetical version of reality, where thinking=being, relies on the assumption that God made everything just right and we can plug-in to that perfection through scientific inquiry. That’s all well and good but what happens when scientific discoveries and what was known about the history of the world through the Bible don’t really fit together? Which version of God’s truth wins? Vico saw earlier than most that this contradiction must be resolved somehow. He begins his master work, Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations, or New Science in short, with a spotty history of the world that begins with a back dated moment of Creation based on the Holy Bible. But like a true modern thinker, he also throws in some older dates of important events from other civilizations but not without a sense of skepticism. The New Science would probably be more appropriately named the New Humanities because this book laid down the foundation of modern humanities. What does it mean to go back to ancient texts from the whole world with a modern mindset? Vico promises us that the ideal education of a young man should be a holistic one, including sciences, arts, histories, literatures, but what do we hope to gain from ancient texts in the age of modern technology? Memories and lessons inscribed in language itself, practical wisdom for navigating a highly technological yes but nevertheless the same old human world. This foray into a newly imagined relationship with history paved the way for the first Modernism. Moderns are ancients with fancy tools and mathematical models. Modernists are the students who look at the tools they are given and wonder how now? The now is the same for all of us on the planet, but the how always comes out different. That nations have a common nature means they are different in disposition. Hence, Other Modernisms.
Other Modernisms is also the Other of Modernism, the nullification of modernism through its universal manifestation. We’re not there yet, and we people are like tweens, sometimes acting with calculated precision and other times still learning to cope with our limbs and senses the best we can. Mahayana Buddhists believe that no one is liberated from the illusion of being trapped until everyone is liberated. That is why in their version, Buddha comes back to the human world after reaching Nirvana to help others cross, these Buddha manifestations are called Boddhisatvas. In the same way, a modern Buddhist or a Buddhist Modernist, whichever way, may believe that we are not really modern until we are all modern. But then of course, what would modernity mean?
It doesn’t matter. My dad likes to boast about his academic achievements. When will I no longer be the most learned man in our family? He likes to ask me. And, my adviser told me that Vico is the perfect place from which to study Western Philosophy. Vico stands at the crossroad of modern philosophy. Before Vico lies the great body of practical wisdom from antiquity followed by Christian theology followed by a return to philosophy but now wedded with a clock maker God. After Vico, philosophy finds its proper place in our modern political economy, in education, cultural production, and hopefully increasingly to governance. But education is where it begins and it’s where I begin. Knowledge is like a pyramid, my dad would say, echoing Bacon along with a Baconian Vico, the broader the base, the higher the apex. Learn everything from everywhere and put it together, the things we learn are the things we take to our next questioning.
Though at this point, my dad, almost 60 has one foot in the deconstructed-dads club, but I am nevertheless super glad to have stumbled upon his Vico-moment. It’s uncannily modern in its own way; I am but a textbook application of the New Humanities

Monday, July 9, 2012

Farmers and factory workers export meaning.

In the most basic sense they fabricate most of the stuff that facilitate the realization of human life at this time. But one would be right to argue that most of the meaning of the stuff was decided on by scientists, designers and market norms. Therefore, by meaning, I do not mean the meaning of the stuff but the meaning of the condition of the workers. I can, with readily available data on population and wealth per capita, through arithmetics, render a diagram of life conditions on planet Earth that looks like a pyramid with sweatshop workers somewhere at the wide base and trustfund reared consumers at the pointed tip. At the bottom you work a lot in exchange for little pay, access to facilities, and play time. At the top, you have nothing but playtime and abundant access to all stuff. As a person, the sweatshop worker is really no different than me, waiting on cash to live a bit more comfortably and not have to work so hard all the time; give a gift to someone he or she loves. As a creature, however, he or she occupies a tiny fraction of the thing that gives shape to the whole structure, where as I just more or less float there. One could argue that the tip is every bit as essential to the structure as the base. If the structure were constructed out of physically interdependent parts that would be true but what if the pyramid was nothing but a sand dune at the bottom of an hourglass. In that case, we are all base by nature, being pulled equally by the force of gravity, but those of us at the top merely have a foundation upon which to stand. Meaning, a force which is inverse to the pull of ‘gravity’, is transmitted by Newtonian principles, from those closest to the Earth to those of us furthest away. The mixing of metaphors here does not intend to obfuscate but to admit with candor the limitations of my discourse. And if you really think it through, it means we at the top are vulnerable too but we are vulnerable in terms of our relative position where as they are vulnerable as physical lifeforms. So there is a sort of interdependence but not really. Our position in relative terms is almost never threatened because there are just so much freaking sand at the bottom. Yet we still must worry because that stable class comprises none other than the fragile vulnerable individuals. Such worries never really quit from the back of our minds.
Subsistence farmers are a whole other set of troubles. They are simply too vulnerable. They are vulnerable to violence, disease, natural disasters, socioeconomic upheaval, war, pollution, and heaven forbid, even roaming beasts. As empathetic fellow humans, we worry our pants off. And to throw salt on our wounds they use our modern conveniences to reproduce irresponsibly threatening both their own meager survival and that of the environment around them, often times government protected wildlife reserves full of endangered species. They are the reason we can’t eradicate age old diseases. They are the ignorance that fuel dictatorships. They are the burden we never asked for and they are humanity’s biggest problem in my view. But there is an even worse kind of subsistence farmers. They are the ones faking it, the off-grid hippies. Who are they trying to kid? And the ones with law degrees are launching an invasion on us with their vulnerabilities! Look at how fucking vulnerable we are, they say, do something about it or we’ll sue ya. These insensitive fools are causing an avalanche in our dune hill, sweeping their own children and ours down to the bottom with em. It’s a race to the bottom and it scares the shit out of me. So I bet I got you thinking, who’s this guy gonna vote for? I don’t fucking know, who would you vote for if you take these considerations into account? I ain’t an asshole, I do feel grateful for the factory workers over in China, I thank them everyday when I brush my teeth or use my iPhone. But they’re the ones holding all this scaffolding up cuz they want to live like me. And the harder they try to be like me the more I get to be like myself. They don’t like me, they just want to be me. They wouldn’t give a flying fuck if something happened to people like me. But I need them. I wouldn’t be me anymore if it weren’t for them being what they are. I need them like I need my own motha and the affection’s genuine. So that’s how it comes down to it, I love the workers but they don’t like me. Who do you think I’m gonna vote for?
I believe in education and a reasonable level of health care to honor the worn out word ‘justice’. I believe in the need for patience. We know what happens when you try to rush these things. We need to stop denying that workers and small farmers are a problem. We can’t ignore this problem and we can’t pray for a quick and simple fix. That’s where I’m at with all that anyway. Who or what are you gonna vote for?

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