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Archive for April, 2010

A succesful, prestigious, awe-inspiring philosophy department is suppsoed to get closed down. Why?
Here you have it: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-middlesex-philosophy.html

What I have to say about that?

I wish, really, that I could comment, but I do not understand what the fuzz is about.
See, I closed down half of my brain, for I didn’t see what all this gray matter was good for anyway. The brain takes up so much energy and only a few percent of it seem to be of measurable use. So I closed part of it down. It is good to live as a half-brain, which is why I think closing down philosophy departments is a good thing, close to being a no-brainer. Really. Who needs philosophers, who needs sociologists, who needs human beings to begin with? There is a great program called the Sims, it’s a game, but I am sure you can program them to do measurable things like buy and sell virtual products like shares you hold on shareheld shareholder companies that deal in shareheld money-lenders and insurance comanpanies and so forth. The best part is, these Sims do not even need politicians and administrators, they need a few programmers and once the program runs, their jobs can be cut. and seriosly, without those nagging philosophers there is nobody disturbing us with stupid comments like “computer programs aren’t real people”. See, we do not need philosophers, we need half-brainers to become no-brainers.

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  Finally, the diametrical axis of the Support&Demand structure and the corollary of the discipline-affirmation focus is the problem of Entwicklung versus Forschung or Development versus Research (wherein research has two dimensions of research and fundamental research [Grundlagenforschung]).1 Elsewhere, in a critique of Gumbrecht (published in Pompeii: Stream 2, www.pompeii-project,webs.com), I had previously addressed the issue under the concepts of innovation versus invention (Innovation versus Erfindung). The terminology is highly problematic, of course, since innovation is often used equivalently to invention. However, I argue that while innovation may mean something similar, its use as a slogan (within support structures) has turned it into an empty label that stands for an opposite of invention and denotes the process of development not research.

What do these distinctions refer to?

In short, research and invention are supposed to explore and cover new ground. While vague goals may be set there is a high uncertainty as to what the result will actually be. Researchers, unlike engineers, are not engaged in the task of merely “developing” further the existing technology. This does not mean that we do not need the engineers, developers, and “technologians”; what I mean to say is that this cannot be all there is to it. To reduce science to development within existing technological frames, without the ability to think outside the box or step outside of the frame, is an enemy of human progress. This reductionism is, however, a late nineteenth century relic. It is part of the control-phantasm that has created the hypostasis of modern insurance economies and cost-controlling, as well as played its part in the demise of the biological vernacular of science and the rise of physicalist reductionism (A topic I have repeatedly remarked upon in several publications). Alfred North Whitehead called this phenomenon “the panic of error”, which he expressedly defined as progress’s greatest enemy in his Modes of Thought lectures.

And even beyond invention and research, there is an even deeper and more open mode of research, which the Germans call Grundlagenforschung, fundamentals research. It is open insofar as it is not clear at all what the result, the profit will be in this type of research mode. In a sense, researchers work “into the blue”, follow their flight of ideas and creativity into unknown territory without map or chart. Some of the major companies of our time, like Siemens, used to have well-funded departments that undertook such ventures into the 1990s. Today, these departments have been cut severely because their successes not predictable. They do not look well on the papers of the quarterly shareholder reports, because their success – and they are successful and even profitable in the long run – cannot be put in quarterly numbers, thus, it cannot be controlled. This idea, this phantasm, has affected all the sciences, including the Geisteswissenschaften, the Humanities and Liberal Arts, for the bureaucrats, administrators, politicians, the media, and the voters, they are all infected by this controlling bug. And the Humanities, which should be the most open by design, are the subjects that have allowed the legitimation crises to seep in, and nearly banned all the true science, the fundamental research from their shores. Only an idot, such as myself, is allowed to point it out. An idiot, not because it is the fool’s prerogative to speak a truth, but an idiot in the Deleuzean definition, perhaps. An idiot who is naïve and thus must ask the simpleton’s question of “why?” or “why not?”, whenever it is so technically inappropriate. The idiot is the opposing role to the structure of the bêtise (Deleuze), this blindness – not(!) stupidity, even though in anger one might want to call it that – that I have come to call bureaucrasia and/or path-dependencies of hypersepcialized “expert cultures”. Isabellen Stengers has reminded us that Whitehead, in the final chapter of Science and the Modern World, has described the same phenomenon as a danger, by applying to it the railway-engineering concept of the “groove”, for “the remained of life is treated superficially, with the imperfect categories of thought derived from one profession”(Whitehead 1925: 197).

Whitehead’s description fits what in other places Paul Starr or Donald Levine have come very close to, and what I call the combination of the two processes of hyperspecialization and hyperuniversalization. This combination, which from Whitehead’s quote might be named “superfission”, I have named Virtualization. The evasion of openness of the sciences and disciplining all scientists (including the humanities) to adhere to the control phantasm and stick to development and discipline-affirmative type projects that run within the path-dependencies of support structures are the direct result of virtualization – a process that runs its course since the nineteenth century.

 

1) I am indebted to my friend H. For providing discussion and insight.

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There is another aspect, I wish to discuss, the German education and research slogan of Foerdern&Fordern. The slogan translates to “Aid/Support&Demand”. Naturally, to support somebody would be interpreted as a very opening and enabling gesture, whereas demand would be perceived as a highly constraining action. However, I argue that on the contrary, to reduce these to the most likely “word-meaning” obscures several facts of the structural-organizational reality that students and applicants face when confronted with Germany’s (higher) education and research funding system. A definite analysis of what is actually an enabling and what is a constraining element, moreover their interchange relation, reveals a though, and such is my provocation in this little excursion, that support (Foerdern) is actually inherently constraining and, in its present sate, even prevents good education and research from happening, whereas making demands (Fordern) provides enabling elements of freedom, spontaneity and creativity. Actual demands, I would even go as far as stressing, are actually not made of students and applicants for funding at all, and the increase in quantity and magnitude of competition for a dwindling net-number of grants, stipends, places, etc. is contributing towards the hardening of constraints. The problem with support is that it is structurally condensed to certain support-pathways and, thereby, creates strong path-dependencies. Moreover, the aspect that one cannot apply for a grant with a question in mind but instead in seeking to give a predetermined answer, obscured in the “rhetoric of hypotheses”, and provide mere affirmation without leaving disciplinary borders. For students, the issue at hand is not so much a grant but the idea of the “career” and its discontents. The illusion at play is an old one, the illusion of control, namely in the form of cost-control and gain-control – it is hoped that it can be bureaucratically managed and standardized to allow for a maximum in innovation with as little investment as possible. This phantasma or the “cost-effectivity or controlling metaphor we live by” is one of the most effective ones in modern societies in general and Germany in particular. It does create its own “truths”, for sure. But the reality it creates is so virtual and removed from the actual needs of our time, that it is scary to think that it could be possible that the whole of a society could be rendered virtual beyond existence, ceasing to be “a society at all”. I have recently begun to argue, using various modes of explanation, that Germany is actual no longer “a society” or the first “post-societal form of society”. (Although a major publication on this idea has yet to be published.) As for demand, or making a true demand of an applicant or a student, we must enable the applicant to give an answer. A true demand puts before the applicant a question or a problem that s/he has to find an answer or a solution to, without us being able to predetermine what that is going to be. The applicant or student is faced with the task to be creative and find an answer. If a reviewer of a grant application finds the applicant to reiterate a position he knows, he should not say “Well, if you seem to follow a Deleuzean interpretation of virtuality here, you have to follow in Deleuzean project and do philosophy and ascribe to Deleuzean rather than speak about the virtuality of the body in the nineteenth century in history”. A real demand is to say something like: “You may not have realized it, but your interpretation of Kant is not so new but very close to Deleuze. Tell me, do you see a way of going beyond Deleuze and surprise us with a idea or a question that shows us the matter you speak of in a novel light, perhaps?”

The idea of Foerdern&Fordern is not a wrong one. Quite the contrary. There can be no knowledge and no progress without both, enabling and constraining. The problem with present research funding and much of higher education (which, by the way, includes experiment and clinical practice in biomedicine), particularly in Germany, is that there a processes at work that are overwhelmingly constraining and too little enabling. As a consequence, good science and real invention, are not happening. The paradox is that we need to be less supportive and more demanding, we need structures that enable us to make more demands. What we have instead is the situation of a fully blown bureaucrasia, a structural state where individual action is so constrained by bureaucratic structure that voluntary action is least attractive alternative for an actor who is driven into “weakness of will” (akrasia) by the path-dependencies of the bureaucracy, hence bureaucrasia.

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Care. A difficult concept. Philosophically and medically.

In the following few paragraphs, I want to begin a series of meditations on the concept “care”. Or rather, this is the first of repeated meditations on the concept of care, which, over time, will, hopefully, bring me closer to an understanding that I can use soundly in my work on public health and the doctor/caregiver – patient/care-recipient relationship.

Care is, of course, familiar to philosophers through the work of Heidegger. I will not adress Heidegger in this mediation, and it is very unlikely that I will adress Heidegger expressedly or at length in one of the future ones. I am more interested in Michel Focuault and the concept of care which he found in the history of ancient philosophy. Of course, it can be argued and it ahs eben argued that Focuault was influenced by Heidegger. It is certainly true that Focuault was familiar with Heidegger. But Foucault seems to me,  more improtantly, influenced by Kant and Nietzsche in the first place, and, secondly and with regard to phenomenology and existentialist philsophy, he was influenced by Binswanger and Jaspers.

Care means, for Foucualt, souci de soi. Care for the self or care of the self. Indeed, we find such a concept in the Kantian tradition, namely in the dietetics of Kant. The nineteenth century knew this concept as a concept of justice. Justice, or political freedom, for example in the work of Mill, were concepts of enablement. The enablement of experiment with living life forms that promote well-being in every dimension, inclduign intellectual and physiological. The combination of justice, dietetics and care is, therefore, to enable an individual to live care-free.

To be anabled to care for oneself, to be enabled to take (!) care.

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