Arrival of the Future: Part 4 of 3 – On the release of Apple’s Ipad

The new apple product exists. It’s had projected existence for months in the form of internet speculation. But now, it’s real. “The future is here”. “It’s the next iphone”.  It will transform the way we relate with the internet, the way we communicate, the way we integrate technology into our life (doesn’t that phrase sound archaic now? Technology is already integrated – now we’re just talking about different manners for that integration to manifest in).
What is amazing about the ipad is apple’s ability to make a product which is both totally revolutionary, and which everyone already knows how to use. They really are the best capitalists the world has ever seen. Just watch the ipad video – you’ll feel as if you already own one.
Is anyone bored yet? Of course, I’m sure they will succeed – I’m sure that the Ipad will be just as much of a revolution as the iphone, ipod touch. The tactility of surface experience will be further radicalized. Already, my laptop feels old hat – why isn’t this screen a touch screen? The next generation (or perhaps the one after that) of normal laptops will all have touch screens. But this cycle, anticipation-realization-onto the next thing, is already becoming transparently just another instance of object fetishism (your desire for a commodity-fetishized object is never satisfied by its acquisition, so you shift your desire towards another object, which also fails to satisfy, etc…).
The truly amazing thing about the release of this device, is that precisely after watching the promotional material, I’m bored with it. I want to know what’s coming next (i-glasses?). Wait, turns out someone already makes those. Actually, the fact that they are already available makes me infinitely less interested in them. Who wants what is already available? I want what is not available yet – and perhaps precisely because it is not available. That is the way the commodity form sustains itself – by constantly  tarrying ahead, but being ungraspable, by remaining at the horizon.
It turns out, then, that the ipad is not only the device which “you don’t have change yourself for, it fits you the way you are”, but also the device which you don’t need to buy to enjoy, because it’s already part of your life. It’s a revolution precisely because you’re already bored with the ipad – but apple will still make a fortune because the world now needs to catch up and fill itself with them.

Potential Bi-Weekly Film Club?

I’m considering the possibility of hosting a weekly or bi-weekly film club night. There are a series of films I want to watch, or re-watch, and it’s easier to make time to do these things if one commits to a social engagement. This preliminary list includes films which I feel I’ve learned from, and which all exhibit a depth, a capacity for re-interpretation, which allows the viewer to get more out of the film by putting more into it. This is a characteristic of good art in general, I think.

Are people interested in something like this? Would it be better for it to start soonish (february), or would the summer be better? Do people have suggestions for others films they’d like to have shown?

Fight Club

No Country for Old Men

There will be blood

Children of Men

Last Night

Chomsky on Rawls

CHOMSKY: Rawls’s “difference principle” is reasonable, but hardly a theory. Other moral principles are reasonable too: e.g., the principle of universality that underlies all of “just war theory”: if something is right (or wrong) for us, it’s right (or wrong) for others. It follows that if it’s wrong for Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and a long list of others to bomb Washington and New York, then it’s wrong for Rumsfeld to bomb Afghanistan (on much flimsier pretexts), and he should be brought before war crimes trials. Again, the principle of universality is not a “theory.” Just moral truism.

What’s the source of such moral truisms? We don’t know much more than David Hume did 250 years ago when he pointed out that our moral judgments are so rich and complex, and apply so readily to new cases, that they must derive from some fixed principles, and since we cannot acquire these from experience, they must be part of our nature (14). Rather like language. Or any other structure or capacity of an organism. To find out what these principles are, however, is a very hard task, and there has been very little progress, beyond rather elementary observations. That’s why I don’t cite moral theory. It is so lacking in depth or confirmation or argument that it doesn’t help very much, except in simple cases like the one I mentioned about bringing Rumsfeld to war crimes trials — unless he and the deep thinkers he brought to Washington really do think that the countries I mentioned, and many others, ought to be bombing Washington and New York.
If we want to pursue the matter further, we have to consider the fact that even if the fundamental principles of human moral nature that Hume sought were known, there would still appear to be another question: are they right, in some other sense? That’s a hard question; arises elsewhere too, e.g., in epistemology. Worth thinking about, but we should bear in mind that all of this is utterly remote from any application to human affairs. For that, elementary truisms carry us rather far, which is why they are almost always ignored, as in the single case I mentioned.As to the function of the debate on “just war,” I think you have the answer right before you. Can you find anything in the literature on this topic, now quite rich, that suggests that we should adhere to the most elementary principle of just war theory — universality — and apply it in the real world? I can’t think of an example. If so, we conclude that it is all some kind of apologetics for atrocities. That seems to follow rather clearly, unless the issue is engaged — and I think you’ll find that it isn’t.

From a 2004 interview “On Terrorism”

This echoes most of my complaints about 20th century ethics – its arbitrary. Ethics ends with Hegel, I think. Hegel’s ethics passes the “it matters even if the rich don’t respect what’s right” test – because rights exist independently of their recognition. Furthermore, it follows from the nature of the human being – someone can be deemed incorrect if they are unjust. I’m sure Chomsky isn’t a Hegelian, but I think his overall point is that Ethics can’t seriously be divided from the question of the human.

Art leading Culture – On Sustainability as a Secondary Effect

I went to a talk yesterday in the Fine Arts department about the role of Art in the development of sustainable lifestyles. The talk was given by Benn Todd – the president of the Arcola theatre in East London, and the topic was basically what that theatre does, its history, and its future. Todd is quite an interesting character – trained as an engineer, and worked on a project to turn waste biomass into carbon-neutral electricity.  He left the profession when he realized that what we lack are not solutions, but the demand for solutions – what’s the use in perfecting a technology which is already basically working, when what truly makes it un-viable is a lack of demand, not a lack of development.

What really struck me about the talk is that, for an Engineer, he was quite good at not getting caught up with the primary effects of actions. He believes strongly that we can’t deal with climate change with facts and technologies – we need a cultural shift. The example of smoking is enlightening – the facts about smoking have been known for decades, but strong declines in smoking seem to be motivated not by rational knowledge about its ill health effects, but by its becoming un-socially acceptable. Todd quit smoking the day the U.K. banned it in pubs. It’s hard to know what motivates cultural shifts – but Todd figures it isn’t crazy to think the cultural elite have something to do with it. So, taking over Arcola, he didn’t start putting plays about sustainability – rather the emphasis was on putting out first rate theatre productions, run sustainably.

One of Arcola’s big things is fuel cells – they run all the lighting in their cafe/bar on a fuel cell, and they run the lights of their shows on a fuel cell. Todd is very up front that using a fuel cell does not directly lower their carbon footprint – the hydrogen after all is made out of methane, and the whole procedure probably would have produced more power per carbon released if it had been burnt at the power plant. However, since the fuel cells are only 5kw, running on fuel cell forces the lighting in the cafe-bar to be extremely energy efficient, which at least in the summer, reduces overall energy consumption. More importantly, however, the production lighting runs on a fuel cell – this requires the productions to be lit on 5 thousand watts – a paltry amount. To run on such a small amount of power they use LED theatre lighting – they basically pioneered this against a theatre industry that insists on the colour rendition of tungsten light. But they’ve also run shows on fluorescent and tungsten light, still limited to 5k watts. Of course, they could just make a rule that they will be limited to 5 thousand watts and not use a fuel cell – but this would ignore the central secondary benefit of doing things low-energy – it’s a source of excitement for the community, it’s a source of free advertising, and using a fuel cell shows to others what is possible more loudly than facts. They are also involved in community theatre, and they have space for technological development in their building as well. Once a month they host something called “Green Sunday”, which is a kind of monthly conference / seminar / community workshop on sustainability.

It’s a mistake to think that even if Arcola can spur a revolution in theatre lighting, that this would be significant in itself – the total power consumption of Arts in the U.K. is simply not big enough to make a difference. However, it’s a very visible quarter, and making changes here first shows what is possible. This emphasis on the cultural shift as the primary goal, with energy-efficiency and new-technologies as derivative, preliminary goals, is what excites me about Arcola’s approach. It’s impossible to know how to effect a cultural shift – it might be a mistake to think you can “effect” one at all, but it is possible to try to work towards it as a goal.

Norwegian Train Film – a moving photograph?

This footage really interests me. It’s beautiful, it’s long, it’s continuous. It’s over 7 hours long. It’s been made available for free, under a creative commons license. Now, I tend to have simple ideas, or at least ideas which don’t require a lot of work – and my idea here is to display it as a continuous art piece. Ideally, it would be on a wall, in an electronic photo frame, playing in a loop.

Working notes – Animal Liberation

Principle (classical liberalism) – no one should work on command. Who is “one” – humans capable of mutual recognition, moral conflict, ethical life.

Animals are more free (with respect to each other) than a human incapable of mutual recognition. Freedom is not ability to carry out my contingent desires (Mill), but rather ability to recognize another’s ability to carry out his or her contingent desires – and modify one’s desires or actions according to the needs of living together.

It might be morally acceptable to enslave a human which has inner life but no social recognition because they would be incapable of differentiating between working out of their own will and working on command – because they cannot recognize an external stimulus as a command (as the will of another).

Whether or not an animal can be morally enslaved hinges on this point – can they recognize command as command?

Regardless of the technical aspect of enslaving, in all cases we have duty to treat sentient beings’ sentience as morally relevant. However, this does not mean we cannot act in such a way as any sentient being might suffer. Rather, we need to consider such suffering on a par with human suffering.

Even if a being has inner life and freewill, there is no duty to treat beings also as ends in themselves if they cannot recognize another as having free will. Treating another as an end in itself means traeting them as the kind of being that can have themselves (as a moral being) as the end of their actions – but a being incapable of mutual recongition is incapable of moral action, and thus can not have themselves as their own end.

Working notes – What is the appropriate ethical relationship, as a human, to non-human animals?

1. Distinguish between two kinds of moral relations.
Call one “ethical”. This kind of moral relation is based upon mutual recognition. It involves recognition of the rights of others and our duties towards them, and vice versa. It is the basis of contract.
Call another “moral a-ethical”. This kind of relation is based upon compassion, and one-way recognition of another as being morally considerable in some way. This could be the recognition and moral consideration of the interests of another who can not in turn recognize your own interests (perhaps relevant if there exist mental disabilities which preclude the recognition of other human beings as human beings), and also the recognition that another can feel pain. Note that by this account having an interest does not require mutual recognition – I can have an interest in eating even if I have never met or conceived of another human being. And even if animals do not have interests, they can most certainly feel pain.
The point of the “moral a-ethical” is to recognize that not all of our moral lives are determined by rights and duties. It also deals with whole issue of whether moral equality is contingent on actual equality – even if some parts of ethics do have to do with the aptitudes of others, i.e. higher intelligence, certainly the part that is irrelevant to a beings ability to recognize another being as the kind of being it is is outside this realm.
2.  Develop a poignant analogy of our current relationship to animals.
Imagine if there were a kind of birth defect which prevented a baby from growing. It would remain perpetually at the 3 month stage of development. At this point, the human does not have language, and is less intelligent than many mature animals. What kind of duties would we have towards this group of humans? Exactly the same kind of duties we have towards existing 3 month old Children. (Alright, not exactly – we have no obligation to save for their college fund. In fact, a lot of our long-term duties are changed by the fact they will not mature). Our immediate, day to day duty to care for the child’s well being does not change by the fact it will not mature to be a being like us. Notice that this duty is not based on mutual-recognition – the duty to be compassionate towards the child holds even if the child does not develop the capability of recognizing that the one caring for it is a human being. Notice also that “compassion” does not mean “love”, at least not love in the specific sense of mother for child. There can be no duty to love – love is by its nature freely given. However, there can be (and is) a moral a-ethical duty to consider the welfare, the suffering of the perpetual-child.
An animal is considerably more advanced than the described perpetual-child, because a mature animal does recognize other members of its species as beings like it. This might allow for the development of rights and duties between animals – complex behaviours like contests in animal herds suggest. Thus animals might have, in addition to the ability to suffer, the ability to have interests which are recognized and respected by other members of its herd. We can not know the animals interest, nor can the animal know ours, and this means we can not have an “ethical” relation with it. However, we can have a moral a-ethical respect for the animals interest, in the same way that we can respect the interests of humans who lack the ability to recognize other humans as humans.
3. Determine by analogy what the appropriate human response is when living in a society which fails to live up to its own ideals.
Society already fails to live up to its ideals in many, many fashions. Foreign policy, for instance – strong states like the U.S. set double standards which allow client states far more freedom than states which pursue their populations interests when those interests conflict with U.S. strategic interests. The product of this  is often massive repression, even mass murder, in the name of democracy and freedom. One could argue that the military industrial complex contributes to these injustices, and the material industrial complex produced computers, so it is unethical to use computers. This is ridiculous – it doesn’t matter if we use computers or not, what matters is that we force states to live up to the ideals they preach (if they are good ideals, such as liberalism – if they are bad ideals, then one must hold up good ideals in opposition to them and demand those ideals be acted upon instead).
The state of affairs with regards the treatment of animals is at an earlier stage than injustices in foreign policy. In foreign policy we already have the right ideals (freedom, self determination etc…), the problem is the lack of real instantiation of those ideals. The education problem is one of countering a propagandistic media which concentrates selectively on politically acceptable topics. The problem is not determining what is right or wrong in general, but seeing through the propaganda, to determine what our ideals determine we do in a particular situation.
In the case of treatment of animals, the ideals are still unclear. There is beginning to be a general consensus that cruelty towards animals, all else held equal, is a bad thing – this is beginning to be reflected in law. However, the point at which an animals suffering is justifiable by some other benefit is currently set quite low. At best, we are beginning to see some regulations in some states about minimum requirements for the well being of animals while they are being raised for slaughter. However, these remain very minimal, and conditions in feed lots and chicken barns, even those which live up to certain standards, are appalling.
The relevant course based on this trend is to demand that the idea of animals being treated un-cruelly be taken to its rational conclusion – that they simply not be enslaved for our purposes. It is the same direction of ideal to demand for slightly more cage space per animal, as it is to demand for the destruction of factory farms and end to meat production as it currently exists altogether. The question as to whether an animal can be morally slaughtered must be considered with respect to the goal at hand and possible alternatives.
My preliminary intuition is that while it might be right to end the life of an animal born accidentally into suffering, or if it is stricken with a disease which will result in a painful end. We already do this with our loved pets/companion animals (called “having them put down”). But it seems extremely unlikely that it could be right to raise an animal for the purpose of slaughter – this would be like raising a purposely defective perpetual-child so that it could be eaten.
However, I think it is useful to separate the question of whether idyllic hobby farming of animals is morally right, from the question of whether current factory farming is justifiable. This is because the first question is at least a question, it does seem possible to take both sides on it, whereas it seems impossible to defend factory farming once one recognizes that the suffering of beings that cannot recognize other beings as being the kind of being they are is morally problematic.
4. Is vegetarianism appropriate?
Imagine one lived in Nazi Germany, and enslaved Jews have been put to work in a pea canning facility. Is it unethical to eat the peas canned by the slave workers? Of course it is – but it is also absurd to think that ones duty vis a vis the enslaved humans is merely to not eat the canned peas they produce. Obviously one has a duty to do what one can to end the enslavement. What that duty consists of is dependant on practical facts about the state of public consciousness in the state at the time. For instance, if everyone already agrees that enslaving Jews is wrong, then one has no duty to educate anyone about how horrific it is to enslave Jews – one instead probably has the duty to organize popular uprisings which demand for their release. Conversely, if the popular view is that Jews are bad, and their enslavement is appropriate, one would have duties to educate others about why enslaving humans is wrong, or about why Jews are humans etc… It doesn’t do much good protesting and getting shot in a situation like this, unless you have good reason to believe there is enough quiet support for your position that such a sacrificial act would produce larger responses, culminating in the release of the enslaved population.

Canadian Railway Journey – poorly edited travel films

Inspired by a film Milan made about his bus trip, I made my own travel films during my cross Canada journey on the train. It isn’t very good, but, it is at least quite long. There is quite a lot of footage of scenery, as well as self-interviews – which don’t make very much sense. On the upside, it probably gives quite a good idea of what it is like to be on the train.

Parts one, two, and three are on youtube.