Leaving France

As I leave France, I feel much richer than when I arrived. Travelling in countries where either you don’t know the language (Switzerland, Germany), or countries where they speak your first language (Ireland, Northern Ireland) (even if it feels like a foreign language!), just isn’t as much fun. It makes me very glad for having been educated in a French immersion program, and perhaps more significantly, it makes me desire switching my PhD concentration to work in French rather than German.

This isn’t to say I’d want to live here. The culture shock isn’t immediate in France – it sets in over time. At first you think, “oh isn’t it nice the towns are so pretty and old-fashioned looking”. In fact, this is largely a product of a culture which looks down on the expression of individual wealth or creativity. So, even though it doesn’t actually cost any more to paint your house a lively colour, don’t – your neighbours will consider it an egregious show of wealth. And, to the extent that cultural taboo doesn’t prevent creative architecture, committees make up the difference – if your house is within a specific distance of a culturally specific monument (read: anywhere), you can not renovate or alter your house in any way without hiring a state approved architect. In fact, you can’t even change the colour of your window blinds without filling out forms at the city hall and attaining permission.

School here is free. That’s good, compared to states where school financially impoverishes, enslaves people. But that doesn’t mean you’ll like it – it differs in two essential ways from the North American system we’ve grown use to. One – there are no assignments. Grading is entirely exam, often oral exam. Examination is not comprehensive, but in fact severely arbitrary – if you happen to have studied well the question which you get asked, you do brilliantly. Otherwise, you do badly or fail. For four months of school, your entire grade is decided in ten minutes by a tired prof who has to personally interview the hundreds of students which take his or her course. Two – rather than application processes, entrance into programs is decided in competitions, “concours”. And once you are in a program, continuation in the program is contingent on success in more “concours”. So, you get the impression that everyone is constantly doing “concours”. In effect, it’s not so bad – if you fail, you can always try again. And, since school is free, you aren’t dead broke or tired from working, or enslaved by massive debts. But it has the impression of being, and, as I’ve been told, actually is, highly stressing.

One thing I do like about the universities here is that, since they do not get their funding through tuition, they don’t spend their time producing a fun and worthwhile-looking image of themselves. Entering a University Campus here is the opposite of what it is in North America – no grand posters glorifying the institution, no pictures of happy-looking undergrads. One gets the sense that this is a place to work, to learn, not because “college is the best years of your life” (i.e. the North American stereotype), but because it’s hard, and you need to succeed here if you expect to do well in the cut throat French hierarchical employment system.

I don’t think I’d want to be French, but that isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to study or teach here for a while.

France

To put it mildly, I’ve been enjoying France a lot. After my eleven year absence, Orlean largely feels, and smells, the same as when I was here as a 14 year old. No, that’s wrong, it’s even better – it now has a tramline, many of its downtown streets are reserved for pedestrians, and there is generally more “life” to be found. And even better, I haven’t forgotten my French – I’m surprised at how easily I remember it all, although my mouth sometimes refuses to move quickly or correctly enough to get the correct sounds and words out as I would like.

I’ve been staying with my friend Vincent, who spent two summers with my family during high school, and I spent a month in France with his. The month I spent in France made a significant impression on me, and he’s told me that his visits to B.C. were some of his best childhood memories. Dinner at his family’s on friday was very enjoyable – nostalgic, but present at the same time. His family is simply made up of smart, enjoyable and friendly people – en francais on dirait “sympathique”.

Yesterday Vincent and I spent the day in Paris. Photos here. We visited the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Pierre Lachaise cemetary, and spent time in Montmartre and Ile de la Cite. We spent a significant amount of the day with my friend Marina from Catalonia, who I met in Co-op in 2008-9. It was excellent to see Marina again – I originally hoped to visit her in Spain, but train times, financial and time limits cut that part of my european tour. (Perhaps next year if I attend TAPSS again I will be able to visit Barcelona properly.)  We spent a very long time looking for a restaurant for dinner – but this worked out well, both because we found an excellent little place, and because we got a good sense of the life to which Paris comes in the evenings.

Paris is not, in effect, an intimidating city. It’s big, there are lots of people, and it’s very expensive to get a drink. But food is not particularly expensive, there is lots of room, and there people everywhere, at least when you get away from the crowds of mid-day tourists, who are laid back and enjoying themselves.

Today I went with Vincent to an Airsoft match. Airsoft is a burgeoning sport in which people dress up as militaries and, in teams, shoot at each other in the woods. While some take it very seriously, and act as if they are paramilitaries-in-training, the group Vincent plays with are very light hearted – they laugh a lot, and don’t take it too seriously. They don’t even spend much time on strategy, and there are no arguments about the rules or infractions. Since the game is based on the principle of honesty (you are “out” when you are shot, but it’s up to you to say you are out and it’s rarely externally verifiable), it encourages an atmosphere of fair play. It stings to be shot, but if you are properly protected it doesn’t cause injury – and players are apologetic if they accidentally hit another in the head. There didn’t seem to be any desire to cause pain, although if it didn’t hurt to be shot it would probably be harder to take the game seriously.

I’ll be staying with Vincent for one more day here in Orlean, and then I’m headed to Le-Creusot with Guillaume (from co-op), although probably only for one day as I must get back Zurich by friday for my flight back to Canada.

Zurich

To be blatantly honest, I’ve never had an explicit desire to visit Switzerland. To me, it’s one of the subordinate European countries – without it’s own language, and without a strong international identity. Sure, it’s famous for it’s “neutrality” – but that’s like being famous for having the most beige house. Or so I thought. A short visit has very much changed my perception and understanding of this place.

Switzerland has a distinctive political history. It is essentially a country in the alps, which means crossing it has always been a difficult task. An exhibit at the national museum called “no one has been here all the time”, (implicitly targeting recent xenophobic trends in swiss politics) emphasized the sheer number of different migrations into and through what are today the swiss alps. This explains the trend away from cultural continuity – even “Swiss German” is spoken with a different dialect in different valleys. So, rather than the usual centralized state, Switzerland has always been a federation of provinces, or “cantons”. Even after becoming its incorporation as a modern state, cantons retain significant political power – enough to block woman’s suffrage until 1991 in one canton – and, I’ve actually been told, that some electoral processes in some places remain restricted to men. This is the conservative side of direct democracy – any changes must be approved by the voting public through constant referenda. As in the British Columbian referendum on first nations rights, it is not obvious majority votes on minority rights are democratic at all.

I want to say a word on Swiss Neutrality – it’s a load of a lie. During the second war they produced ammunition for both sides, and after 1940, exclusively for the Nazis. They complied with racist Nazi laws – marking Jewish passports with a “J”, and not accepting Jewish refugees . In other words – directly collaborating with the genocide. Furthermore, swiss banks held Nazi moneys, which includes stolen Jewish property, and even gold from the false teeth of executed Jews. Swiss collaboration with the Nazis may not have been on the level of Vichy France, but it was certainly enough that it could have been subject to de-nazification. It wasn’t, however, and it takes its place among states which feel no remorse for the crimes of its past special exhibit with closed yesterday at Zurich’s art museum was of the art collection of Emil Georg Buhrle, a swiss man whose fortune was made during the war selling arms to the Nazis. Instead of being critical of the origin of his wealth, the exhibit celebrated him as a Swiss hero, someone who kept the economy running during troubled times.

Zurich is a beautiful, international town. Lots of hipsters, nice old buildings, and streets that are curved and paved with bricks. Millions of tramways and trolley buses, and double decker suburban S-bahn trains running everywhere, and constantly. You can even rent a bicycle for free, and I did, and rode an excellent bike path 10km up the side of the lake. However, the “international” feel comes at the cost of particularity – unlike Belfast or Dublin, I didn’t get a sense that I was really “in” Zurich. It reminds me of what James May said about Munich – when you go there everything is great, but when you’ve left you never stop and say, “Damn, I wish I was still in Munich”.

If I had stayed in Zurich I wouldn’t feel as if I’d really gotten a sense of Swiss “swissness” – for that you need to go to the mountains. If you’ve seen or read Heidi, the answer is yes, it really does look like that. Kai and I took the train to Airolo, and a bus halfway up the mountain. The resulting hike was exquisite – well maintained, and passing by several settlements in various stages of repair and ruin. At the top there was a power dam, and in the valley a highway, airport, entrance to the third longest road tunnel in the world, and rail line. In other words, the place is exceedingly ge-stell. But, this didn’t damage the picturesque experience of nordic walking through the ancient land. This is the essence, I think, of modern switzerland – huge mega projects surmounting the Alps, and at the same time, the Alps set to work for personal enjoyment of citizens and tourists. I shouldn’t complain, it’s great for pictures.

The Belfast Murals

Perhaps the most distinctive thing you will see if you visit Northern Ireland is the presence of Murals in communities. Murals here are not simply pretty pictures – they all mean something, whether they be historical references, representations of current or recent community members, or messages. Murals within a community express aspects of community identity – although they are not always put up by members of the local communities themselves. I’ve been told that there has been a shift away from murals which glorify violence, although many murals of gunmen still remain.

Historically, the first murals were present only in Protestant communities – and they represented historical figures like Oliver Cromwell, or legends.  This mural in the Shankill refers to the legend of “the Red hand of Ulster“.

This is one of the most violent murals I’ve seen in Belfast. It represents the Ulster Deference Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and their historical origins. The UVF gunman’s rifle appears to be trained on you as you walk by – a trick of the painting which represents that you are being watched as you walk through these tight knit communities.

Murals began appearing in Catholic neighborhoods in the 60s and 70s. They play largely the same role as murals in Protestant communities – but there is a greater emphasis on the similarity between the struggle here and other civil rights struggles around the world. This mural depicts the Israeli Apartheid wall and calls for an end to Israeli aggression in Palestine.

This mural condemns the U.S. trade blockade of Cuba.

It took me a while to put my finger on what is so strange about the community murals in Belfast. I thought it was their glorification of violence, or their association with the history of the armed struggle. However, I think what is actually strange about these murals is first and foremost the fact that they are images put up by communities which refer to historical and ongoing focal points of that communities’ identity. This became most obvious when I saw a mural next to a large advertisement for a contemporary Hollywood film – I realized, we are completely used to seeing “murals” up everywhere – but we automatically assume those murals have nothing to do with the communities we find ourselves in – they come from the magical neutral place called “capitalism”. What is most transgressive about community murals is that they make it apparent that we are not in a “space” at all, but in a place – which has specificity, history, and a community which is not merely the random assemblage of people who happen to live here.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about whether the Belfast murals could be a model for murals elsewhere which could play a role in founding communities without emphasizing sectarian difference. I think perhaps protest murals could be appropriate in some communities – one on topics which would gain widespread support, and hopefully would not be considered offensive by those who disagree. I think topics like “Save Transit City”, “Fair Trial for Omar Khadr” might be acceptable. Or, murals that celebrate positive victories in a communities past – why not a Jane Jacobs mural? Or perhaps a mural to the founders of CCRI?

I think the thing I like most about the Belfast murals is their poor artistic quality – they are not “masterpieces”. The emphasis on what the mural means, rather than on the excellence of execution, is a refreshing difference from our contemporary obsession with artistic excellence – a realm where meaning sometimes gets lost.

What can we learn from Northern Ireland?

During my week in Belfast I’ve learned quite a bit about the history of “the troubles”, including how many splits, internal contradictions, different actors, and different ideologies played a part – it is certainly anything but a simple struggle of “Catholics” against “Protestants”. I won’t bore you will a historical analysis of the events I’ve become familiar with because my research is obviously very cursory. However, I think even that even after only a week I can make a few points about the historical struggle here which can help our grasp on other situations of conflict.

1. The ’98 “Belfast” agreement was, in essence, a repetition of the ‘73 Sunningdale agreement.

Crucially, they both proposed a power-sharing agreement whereby both Catholic and Protestant politiciens would have some power in the Northern Ireland government. This was essential because without it one community always held total power over the other – and thanks to Gerrymandering the Catholic majority consistently elected a minority of representatives for the entirety of the Troubles. The Sunningdale agreement was blocked by a Protestant “General strike”, although going by this wikipedia description it was more of a paramilitary blockade than a workers action.

What is important here, I think, is it dispels the idea that “no solution was possible” at an earlier time – a standard defeatist claim often made about the Israel/Palestine conflict – where in actuality an agreement has been available since the early 70s (the 67′ borders with “minor and mutual modifications”). It also dispels the idea that the conflict is the fault of the IRA – in actuality the continuation of the conflict post ’74 is very clearly due to rejectionism by the UDA and UVF.

2. The ’69 split in the IRA was between Marxist and Romantic Nationalists

While links to socialism had been a part of the republican movement since the 20s and 30s, differences came to a head in the late 60s leading to a split between Marxist and Romantic Nationalist factions in the IRA, and subsequently in Sinn Fein.

The key issue here was traditionalists dissatisfaction with the IRA moving away from violent tactics and absentionism in the late 60s. The Marxist analysis developed by then leader of the IRA Cathal Goulding was that violent actions were counter productive because it delayed the development of class-consciousness and recognition of common interests between Protestant and Catholic workers. After the split, where the majority of the IRA left Goulding’s leadership and reformed under the banner “provisional IRA”, the Official IRA continued to reduce its use of violence, whereas the provisional IRA continued to escalate violent right into the 90s. The issue is actually more complex – there is another split in the Official IRA which formed the INLA in 1974, again, due to dissatisfaction with the move away from violent tactics.

What we can learn from these splits – which in each case see a group rebelling against the pacifist direction of a leader? I think what we learn is the importance of the blow-back effect of violence on the ability of groups with real grievances to act rationally on their grievances. The riots of ’69, and specifically the Battle of the Bogside did not receive the armed support from the IRA which many Catholics desired – and this lack of a strong military response from the IRA leadership was a major reason for a shift in support away from the “Official” IRA leadership to an IRA leadership more willing to engage in armed violence with unionist paramilitaries. Even with this dissatisfaction, Provisional IRA support remained relatively weak until Bloody Sunday, when 27 civil rights protestors in Derry were shot and 14 killed by the British Army. Bloody Sunday strongly differentiates the Marxist (“Official”) from Provisional IRA’s – whereas the violence of Bloody Sunday in ’72 radically increased support for provisional IRA violence, in the same year the Official IRA declared a ceasefire (although the official IRA continued retaliatory violence into ’73).

From ’72 onward we can see two general directions in the republican movement – one wing (which includes the Provisional IRA and the INLA) practicing la politique des pires – escalating violence in order to motivate harsher state clampdowns which in turn increase support for the “liberation” movement. And on the other hand, a wing which concentrates on the real grievances of workers, dialectical debate and interchange between sectarian groups, class consciousness, and participation in whatever political structures exist. This second wing includes the Official IRA – but it also begins to include Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA after the Hunger Strikes of 1981 – which is perhaps the moment when the mainstream Republican movement became aware of the power of the existing political system.

3. The ’81 Hunger strikes and the election of Bobby Sands re-legitimated Politics as a way forward for Republicanism

Between 1971 and 76 IRA prisoners were held in prisons similar to prisoner of war camps, but in ’76 as part of the “criminalization” of the conflict, republican prisoners were deprived of their special status. To protest this de-legitimization of the IRA as a legitimate military force, IRA and INLA prisoners refused to wear prison uniforms, and subsequently refused to use toilet facilities.  The hunger strikes were the escalation of these protests. Ten prisoners died in the protest – most famously Bobby Sands, who was actually elected to the House of Commons three weeks prior to his death.

The election of Bobby Sands is important because it forced the Absentionist republicans to recognize the possibility of translating real popular support for violence into real voting support for political change. While I can’t find anything on whether this strengthened the Official IRA, it does seem to have increased strength within the Provisional IRA for what the Official IRA stood for – a move away from Abstentionism, and increased emphasis on political activity and desire to participate in government.

What we can learn from the Hunger Strikes is in a sense the obverse of the failure of Sunningdale and the IRA split – just as political failures and repressive violence strengthen absentionism and the emphasis on violence, political success and the legitimization of a movement in state structures can breed hope and desire for political collaboration, and eventual integration into the legitimate state structure.

Belfast and Northern Ireland

After TAPSS, I’ve headed up to Belfast in Northern Ireland, to stay with an old friend from Co-Op. Northern Ireland has been quite a different place from the Republic of Ireland, at least since 1921 when Southern Ireland separated from the United Kingdom.


The armed conflict between nationalist Catholics and the unionist government in Northern Ireland has largely ended, but it remains an important part of history and identity in northern Ireland. While unionists (protestants) usually characterize the time of troubles as the IRA trying to bomb their way to a united Ireland.  In reality, the demands were largely civil rights issues. Up until the end of the 60s, Catholics in Ireland could not vote, and were discriminated against openly. For instance, it was completely acceptable to write “Catholics need not apply” on job advertisements. When Catholics were granted the vote the boundaries were drawn in such a way that a unionist minority turned an elected majority – and because of the way the system was set up, Catholics still had virtually no political representation.

The origin of the troubles was therefore a civil rights struggle with five specific demands:

  • one man, one vote which meant extension of the local government franchise from ratepayers to all those over 21
  • an end to gerrymandering which meant Unionists were elected even in districts with Catholic majorities
  • an end to discrimination in housing
  • an end to discrimination in jobs
  • the disbandment of the B-Specials, the Ulster Special Constabulary, which many viewed as sectarian.

The movement was radicalized on Bloody Sunday, which was a normal weekly civil rights march in which British Soldiers fired on protesters killing 14 Catholics, half of which were teenagers. The army claims the crowd was armed, but no evidence of this has ever been produced. Soon, the British government may even be forced to admit that this attack on civilians was totally unjustified. As a result of Bloody Sunday, support for violent means to civil rights was radically increased.

There are interesting similarities between the Catholic struggle for rights in Northern Ireland and the Palestinian struggle for rights in territories dominated and occupied by Israel. Weekly protests in Palestine are tear gassed by the IDF – sometimes the IDF even targets reporters covering these protests.

TAPSS

This last week I’ve been at TAPSS – the “Theory and Philosophy Summer School”, put on by people at the University of Cork in the Republic of Ireland. The school took place in Castletownroche, in the Blackwater Castle after which the town is named.  The castle is a fairly important part of the program – being in a single building (although some of us were stuck sleeping at a convent a few miles away) for an entire week, with it’s own pub, meant that the conversations never had to stop.

The program was amazing – it went from early morning to late at night each day. It’s been a mix of theory, philosophy, sociology, economics and social policy – but everything has engaged the same issues in a really wonderful and open inter-disciplinary way. The key idea of this conference is, in fact, to develop a way of speaking across disciplines. Turns out that the way to do this is not establish a neutral theoretical language, but to remain open to the other – because you can actually understand what others are saying even when they speak a different language than you.

Wittgenstein said, “If a Lion could speak, we could not understand what he said.” – But this is deeply wrong: we can, through listening, open ourselves up to the worlds out of which others speak. We do not need to have a world in common in order to discuss, what we really need is respect.

This is apparent most of all, perhaps, in the analytic-continental split in Philosophy. It might appear to be a theoretical divide, but I think much more it is a divide in attitudes – at TAPSS the divide was apparent, but there was a respect across it. I even got Ronnie DeSousa to admit that Agamban had a salient (although perhaps simple) idea. More importantly – while Ronnie’s presentation asserted that anything we say about the emotions should have something to say about biology, he also stated that we should never think that biology could exhaust all the things we can say about the role of emotion in moral and cognitive framing. We can learn from science, but we can’t “learn it all” – there is no longer any dream that a scientific reflective equilibrium could get “to the bottom of things”. I also got Ronnie to concede that Husserl’s correspondance truth works as well as any modified coherence model.

I would certainly recommend TAPSS to any of my colleagues interested in dialogue between disciplines in the humanities. Or, to anyone who would like to have a week long wonderful time in a castle with academics.

I’ve put up photos on facebook – for others I’ve put them on on picasa here and here.

The Trip So Far

My European tour 2010 promises to be quite an adventure. A Castle of philosophy in Ireland, a friend in Belfast, and then some mountainous adventures in Switzerland, and hopefully a little hop in to France at the end!

But, my trip to the Castle in Ireland is a voyage in itself. Check here for photos so far. Yesterday I took the 7am train from Toronto to Montreal, to catch a 7pm flight out to Heathrow. The train was uneventful, and I did quite a bit of reading. I read the first hundred pages of “The Weathermakers” by Tim Flannery, a book I actually found on the street on my way to the subway station. The book is good, although a bit out of date (2005). It’s general message – the science is certain enough and we need to start acting to slow global warming – remains true today, with increasing urgency (although, from any reasoned perspective, the urgency was quite great back in 2005 as well). Urgency, however, is not rational – it’s an emotion. Hopefully the emotion or urgency with respect to action on climate change increases in the near future – otherwise, as I learned from Hansen’s book, the venus syndrome is a real possibility.

However, I hadn’t meant to read that book, and I have course reading to finish before the start of the philosophy program on Monday, so I abandoned the book in Montreal. I had quite a good time there, despite only having a half-day. Simon was just finishing packing, and like Totem park and Fairview residences, there was much free-stuff to be had. I took some tea, because I like the idea of having english breakfast tea in my residence room in a castle. We went to the “OP”, which is an outdoor beer garden on the last day of school. We hate charity samosas, and drank 4 beers for 10 dollars – and good beers from the McAusland brewery – Ambroise Blonde, and Griffin extra-blonde ales. The “moment” of the beer garden was standing in line, hearing someone behind the counter yell “We’re out of Moosehead!”. Simon and I laughed expansively – who drinks Moosehead?

Simon’s friends continue to impress me – I met a good number at the beer garden and they remind me highly of people I would have met in first year. Not to say I’m nostalgic – I like my friends now, and I like being friends with 25-35 year olds. But I love the creativity, open-ness of smart kids just getting started. It really makes me think about what kind of school I’d like to teach in – I’ve had fantastic experiences teaching philosophy in high school for short periods, and generally disappointing experiences teaching philosophy at York. My empirical conclusion was to perhaps not teach university philosophy – but perhaps its more a matter of which university one teaches at. The best would be to teach in an integrated first year program like Arts Legacy at McGill, or the defunct Foundations Program at UBC (which still has its website!)

My flight to the UK was delayed 3 hours on the tarmac due to a broken radio. “Everyone knows how the number 2 radio works until it stops working”, I said to the man sitting next to me, and then followed with Jordan Peterson‘s story of a crashed computer caused by instability in the sun. The man I sat next to was actually quite interesting – from Pakistan, moved to Canada in 1989 because he was not able to get a US passport. Upon arriving in Canada, immediately moved to the US, but moved back in 3 days due to hating it. He really noticed a difference between people in Canada and in the United States, and after experiencing it first hand, no longer had an interest in becoming a US citizen. He now works as a chef in Saint-Hyacinthe, near to Sainte Madelaine where I spent a week in grade 6 on an exchange trip. (I’ve been thinking about that trip a lot recently – mostly because I really could do the J’Explore program next year and justify it as a scholarly activity. Apparently doing J’Explore in a small town is like going back to elementary school, mom included (your home-stay parents are paid to cook for you and do your laundry!), except you are old enough to drink.) He still owns shops in Pakistan, and travels back yearly to pay taxes, etc… He agrees that flying is insane – it’s shooting through the sky in a thin tube full of too many people.

He asked me about 2012, what my perspective was on it as a philosopher. I told him about how eschatology is thought within the German Phenomenological tradition – how the idea that the overturning would occur at a single moment in time is (thought to be) due to a mistaken interpretation of time itself. However, I think within the right interpretation of temporality, there is something eschatological about time, and it has something to do with something like “gods”, the divinities, the non-human. I actually believe Global warming might be the “in the face of an absent god” which Heidegger foresaw as a manner of humans “going under” in the Der Spiegel interview. For effect, I might as well cite the relevant passage here:

Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.

This translation is confusing – I’ve seen “meaningless deaths” translated as “go under” in other places. Another indication that Jim is right and I must learn German, at least Scholar’s German. Anyway, the point is, humanity will not go-under without facing its own inability to recognize that which is radically other to it, that which radically exceeds its power. Global warming is such a phenomena – because while we might know the technical solutions, we do not know how to deal with the socio-psychic blockades against action. Capitalism, insofar as it reproduces irrationality, can either be seen as a lack (humans failing to be perfectly rational), or, we might need to face that humanity has something barbarous about it, and therefore it is not due to something inhuman that we fail to act to save the planet – but rather due to something deeply human, or at least western-historical.

Anyway, the good news is I was booked executive class to Ireland. This is good not because of the flight itself, but because it means i have access to the executive lounge during the 4 hour delay. This lounge is amazing – free expensive beer, expensive wine, expensive food. Rich people sure know to live. What strikes me most about it, however, is the absence of advertising, the total absence of commercialization of the space. This isn’t to say the space is neutral – it privileges certain kinds of body movement, intellectual style (through which newspapers and magazines are available for free), and diet (not so many vegan options). But, there is nothing about the space encouraging me to buy things I don’t need, or to over-consume. The amazing thing about a fridge full of free beer in a place like this is that no one over-drinks. I’ve said before that I think we should get rid of most restaurants and replace them with free food supply for all (non-luxury). I think this would reduce over-eating radically, because of the diminishing marginal price of fast food (always a “better deal” if you supersize). The fact that it works here indicates that it could work in the rest of society – all that’s required is the destruction of the public relations industry.

I should get back to readings for the philosophy program.