Saturday, 31 January 2009

Guys & Guns Amok

What's this, 2 posts in one day again? Don't worry, it won't last long, I assure you.

Anyway, it transpires that Kellner's book has arrived a few years too late for my thesis, but it looks intriguing nonetheless and very ambitious to boot. I'm adding it to my reading list along with Left Realist Jock Young's recent tome as I suspect the respective approaches could supplement each other in a useful way. I also think it would be useful though to attempt a contrast with the "pre-modern" amok runners, familiar from anthropological study of Malay society. I can also see differences with Randall Collins' approach to violence. As I've commented about him previously, [on this blog] Collins may well be the most compelling theorist of violence. But I try to keep an open mind as much as possible.

Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre

Ordering Contact Paradigm About Paradigm

978-1-59451-492-0 (Hardcover) $87.00 $73.95
January 2008
978-1-59451-493-7 (Paperback) $26.95 $22.91
January 2008
232 pp.
6" x 9"

More books in:
From the recent shootings at Virginia Tech University to the tragedies at Columbine and Oklahoma City, certain common traits can be traced. In Guys and Guns Amok, media and cultural critic Douglas Kellner provides a fascinating diagnostic reading of these acts of domestic terrorism. Skillfully connecting each case with male socialization and the search for identity in an American culture obsessed with guns and militarism, Kellner’s work is a sobering reflection on these tragedies and the pervasive power of media and popular culture. It sends a wake-up call to avert the next school shooting on the horizon.

See Doug Kellner's interview on Huffington Post
  • Covers Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oklahoma City, the Unabomber, and other cases of domestic terrorism.
  • Looks at U.S. gun culture and militarization as parts of the problem.
  • Examines male socialization and the status of mental health policy in the U.S., recommending changes as part of the solution.
Douglas Kellner, Professor in the Graduate School of Education, UCLA, is the author of many books, including Grand Theft 2000 (Rowman & Littlefield 2001) about the last presidential election.
"The national conversation about school shootings and other violent rampages lurches from one tragedy to the next, with little discussion of the systemic and historical forces that help to produce them. By contrast, Douglas Kellner's deep and learned analysis shows that 'individual' acts of violence are rooted in a larger crisis of masculinity that manifests itself in everything from boys killing their classmates to the ongoing pandemic of men's violence against women—not to mention escalating militarism and its effects at all levels of U.S. society."
Jackson Katz, Creator of the film Tough Guise and author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

“Kellner has given us an unsettling but much-needed and fascinating journey through the dark side of American society, where violent episodes like those at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech have become less shocking than they once were. This superb, provocative, well-written account situates what might be viewed as isolated killing sprees within a broader understanding of the media spectacle, trends at work in popular culture, the male gun fetish, and intensified U.S. war making. This is critical social theory at its best.”
Carl Boggs, author of Imperial Delusions and coauthor of The Hollywood War Machine

“Douglas Kellner makes all of us who watched films of the Virginia Tech shootings with horror think more deeply about how complicit we might be–as creators and consumers of media coverage of school violence–in undermining democracy. Kellner entices us here to think about the anti-democratic ideas about masculinity and the gun culture we all in different ways have helped perpetuate. This is a thought-deepening book.”
Cynthia Enloe, author of Globalization and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link

“Kellner explains the wave of school shootings and mass terrorism that has become too common in the U.S. Numerous scholars and social commentators have attempted to provide a reasonable explanation for the violence. However, no one has clearly articulated a comprehensive reason for this complex phenomenon. … Recommended.”


Introduction: Media Spectacle and the "Virginia Tech Massacre"

Chapter 1: Deconstructing the Spectacle: Race, Guns, and the Culture Wars

Chapter 2: The Situation of Contemporary Youth

Chapter 3: Constructing Male Identities and the Spectacle of Terror

Chapter 4: What Is to Be Done?

Product Description

'Immersing himself in the whirling uncertainty of late modernity, confronting its odd deformities of essentialism and exclusion, Jock Young has produced a comprehensive account of contemporary trouble, anxiety, and transgression. If this is criminology-and it's surely criminology of the best sort-it is a criminology able to account not just for crime and inequality, but for the cultural and the economic, for the existential and the ontological as well. Perhaps most importantly, it is a criminology designed to discover in these intersecting social dynamics real possibilities for critique, hope, and human transformation. Jock Young's The Vertigo of Late Modernity is a work of sweeping-dare I say, dizzying-intellect and imagination.'

- Professor Jeff Ferrell, Texas Christian University, USA, and University of Kent, UK

'This is precisely what readers would expect from the author of two instant classics: a book that is bound to become the third. As is his habit, Jock Young launches a frontal attack on the 'commonsense' of social studies and its tacit assumptions - as common as they are misleading. Futility of the 'inclusion vs exclusion', 'contented vs insecure', or indeed 'normal vs deviant' oppositions in the globalised and mediatized world is exposed and the subtle yet thorough interpenetration of cultures and porosity of boundaries demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. The newly coined analytical categories, like chaos of rewards and chaos of identity, existential vertigo, bulimic society or conservative vs liberal modes of othering are bound to become an indispensable part of social scientific vernacular - and let’s hope that they will, for the sanity and relevance of the social sciences' sake'

- Zygmunt Bauman, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Leeds

'Jock Young is one of the great figures in the history of criminology. In this book he prises open paradoxes of identity in late modernity. We experience an emphasis on individualism in an era when shallow soil forms a foundation for self-development. Young deftly analyses shifts in conditions of work and consumption and the insecurities they engender. This is a perceptive reformulation of job, family and community in late modernity'

- Professor John Braithwaite, Australian National University

The Vertigo of Late Modernity is a seminal new work by Jock Young, author of the bestselling and highly influential book, The Exclusive Society.

In his new work Young describes the sources of late modern vertigo as twofold: insecurities of status and of economic position. He explores the notion of an underclass and its detachment from the class structure. The book engages with the ways in which modern society attempts to explain deviant behaviour - whether it be crime, terrorism or riots - in terms of motivations and desires separate and distinct from those of the 'normal'. Young critiques the process of othering whether of a liberal or conservative variety, and develops a theory of 'vertigo' to characterise a late modern world filled with inequality and division. He points toward a transformative politics which tackle problems of economic injustice and build and cherish a society of genuine diversity.

This major new work engages with some of the most important issues facing society today. The Vertigo of Late Modernity is essential reading for academics and advanced students in the areas of criminology, sociology, cultural studies, anthropology and the social sciences more broadly.

Table of Contents:

Crossing the Borderline
The Disembededness of Everyday Life
The Genesis of Othering
The Attractions of Hiatus
The Vertigo of Late Modernity
Turbo-Charged Capitalism
Blurring the Binary Vision
Bulimia: Not Exclusion But Inclusion/Exclusion
Crossing the Borderline: Against the Dual City Thesis
The Functional Underclass
The Boundaries of Bulimia
The Precariousness of Inclusion
The Crime and the Narrowing of Differences
The Focus Upon the Underclass
Globalisation and the Generation of Domestic and Global Discontent
The Sociology of Vindictiveness and the Criminology of Transgression
Fear of Falling
The Change in the Focus of Reward
Towards a Criminology of Transgression
Humiliation and Rebellion
The Satisfactions of Transgression
The Humiliation of Exclusion
Edgework, Ontological Security and Utopia
From Turf War to Real War
Hip Hop Across the Borders
Chaos and the Coordinates of Order
Chaos and Identity in the Twenty First Century
The Undermining of the Meritocracy
Changes in the Perceived Class Structure
The Shift to Identity Politics
Antecedents of the Cultural Shift
The War Against the Poor
The Meta-Humiliation of Poverty
The Decline of Work and The Invisible Servant
The Declining Centrality of Work?
Getting the Poor to Work: The US Experiment
Redemption Through Labour
Including the Excluded
Welfare: From Relief to Irresponsibility
Early Morning in Harlem
The Invisible Worker
The Invisible Servant
Entering the Zone of Humiliation
Service as a Feudal Relationship
The Invisible Poor in a Classless Society
Guilt and Middle Class Solipsism
Social Inclusion and Redemption through Labour
New Labour: New Inclusionism
The Welfare State: Not the Solution but the Problem
The Will to Win
Many's a Slip Twixt Cup and Lip: New Labour's Obsessional Neurosis
The Moral Panic Over Teenage Pregnancy
Rationality and the Middle Classes
From Structure to Agency: Beyond the Weak Thesis
Social and Political Exclusion
Crossing the Border: To These Wet and Windy Shores
The Social Construction of the Immigrant
To These Wet and Windy Shores
Two Modes of Entry
Over Twenty Years Ago: The Riots of 1981
Crime and the Demonisation of the Other
The Roots of Othering
The Final Phase: The Irony of Assimilation
The Roots of the Disturbances
The Riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham
Postscript: The Riots in France 2005
Terrorism and Anti-Terrorism Terrorism: The Banality of Evil
Proxy Wars and the Defeat of the Soviet Union
The House of Bush and the House of Saudi
The Two Contradictions: Inside and Outside the First World
Symmetry and Differences
The Beatification of Evil
The Logic of the West
The Photographs from Abu Grahib
Love Was All They Had to Set Against Them
The London Bombing and the Banality of Evil
The Dialectics of Othering and the Problem of Evil
The Generation of Anger and the Frustration of Normality
The Othering of the Otherer
The Summoning Up of Violence
Violence and the Metaphor of War
Elsewhere: On the D Train to Manhattan
Urban Somnambulism: Elsewhere in a Brooklyn Deli
The Exclusive Community
The Organic Community
Othering in the Ardoyne: The Holy Cross School
The Fallacy of Privileging Community
Enter Virtual Reality: Elsewhere in the East End
Stars, Celebrities: Guiding Narratives for a Shifting World
The Cronus Effect and Broken Narratives
The Deterritorialisation of Community and the Rise of the Virtual
Elsewhere in an Elevator: John Jay College, October 2004
The Rise of Multi-Media and the Uninvited Guest
From Generalised Other to Generalised Elsewhere
From Community to Public Sphere
The Community in Late Modern Times
Conclusion: Roads to Elsewhere
Affirmative and Transformative Inclusion
The Politics of Redistribution
Towards a New Politics of Inclusion
The Politics of Deconstruction
Othering and Community
The Banishment of Unreason
Rationality, the New Media and the Public Sphere
The Porous Community
Hyperpluralism and the Elusive Other
Towards a Politics of Diversity

Some more thoughts on "carbon chauvinism" & related issues

It feels like time is conspiring against me. I doubt I'll have time to post some stuff I had planned before I take off on Feb 11th; not least clarification of my misgivings about actor network theory (and whether it was possible to draw any inferences from that in regard to speculative realism). All I had time for yesterday was some minor tweaking of the "carbon chauvinism" post. Let's just say for now that the crux of the matter is speculative realism's questioning of the equation: ontology = politics. I am not saying that philosophers such as Harman respond in the same way as actor network theory, but anyone wanting to learn more about ANT's incoherent treatment of these relationships, is advised to read Andrew Feenberg's incisive critique. What I would like to know though, which will require reading his book on Latour, is why Harman was so attracted in the first place to Latour when his shortcomings are so readily apparent? What allowance can be made for these shortcomings without succumbing to the dreaded sin of philosophical cherry picking?

There are a few other things which bother me too. Robert Fine's point in "What's Eating Actor Network Theory?" is well taken (sadly the freely available version has disappeared from the web) when he argues that ANT tends to fluctuate between minute descriptions of the particular and rather abstract generalizations about all networks. So I'm wondering how readily speculative realism equates to the first part (since it in effect renounces networks for the sake of focusing on the "objects themselves") of this description. For example: dust mites, anyone? (if you recall the example used in the link to an article on speculative realism in my "carbon chauvinism" post).

I suppose one possible response to this line of questioning would be remind the sociologist that it is the absence of human mediation that defines the "alien" nature of the entitites falling under the rubric of speculative realism. To be sure, this blog has touched on "alien" modes of theorizing, in posts such as "Some Kind of Monster", which focused on the meeting of deconstruction and systems theory, and in a separate discussion of Kodwo Eshun's More Brilliant Than the Sun. Anyone who spends enough time poking around Harman's blog will soon discover in abundance various links to the likes of Steve Shaviro holding court on H.P. Lovecraft's fiction as providing a touchstone for understanding how the roots of horror can be traced to the "indifference" of "the Ancients" to human endeavours (I'm puzzled though as to why Shaviro would not construct an argument clarifying his position by engaging with other works that touch on comparable concerns, such as, for example, Noel Carroll's Philosophy of Horror). Fascinating to be sure, but how exactly do such fictional works explicate the "realism" of a host of other "objects" more likely to inspire indifference or accusations of triviality on the part of humans, once they garner some inkling of their existence? Once you start to think along these lines, it becomes harder to suppress the feeling that Lovecraft provides a dramatis personae for a field of inquiry where otherwise not a great deal appears to be going on. Moreover, to be logically consistent, no great "discovery" could be permissible, or the philosophy would risk compromising its own "speculative" nature. Such dilemmas remind me of the performative contradiction Adorno was ensnared by when he yearned for the "lost immediacy" of Nature (as chronicled so brilliantly by Steven Vogel in Against Nature: The Concept of Nature in Critical Theory).

Of course, appearances can be deceptive, and my questions are intended to be more exploratory than critical [at this stage]. As per the "carbon chauvinism" post, colonists need have no awareness of xenobiology, from which it would follow that anything they don't already know about, will probably not be considered worthy of space probing and exploration (i.e. it will be treated as trivial, so they will remain indifferent to it). Under such conditions, objects may be able to retain a modicum of autonomy from human intervention. But I was also hinting at how speculative realism could [inadvertently] serve as a sensitising device by which such colonists could develop an awareness of things that may otherwise have escaped their attention. At that point the respective parties would feel obliged to bite the bullet, by making a binding decision about which direction they wanted to go (I regard Robinson's Mars Trilogy as providing a credible template for their available options).

There is a sense therefore in which it seems philosophers could feel justified in accusing me of doing theoretical violence to their work. At best, I might be viewed as arguing at cross purposes with them. Or so it would seem. By contextualising speculative realism via astrosociology, I am actually more interested in reinforcing the social epistemological imperative of epistemic justice. The basic reasoning here is that everyone needs to be held accountable to a higher standard than the intended consequences of their actions/works. I referred to Steve Fuller on previous occasions as his work demonstrates a scepticism about the manner in which the interpretive community of continental philosophers conduct their business in the form of an internal conversation. The implication is that there is something self serving, or at best naive, about the following kinds of statements. Consider then how Alphonso Lingis expounds on the rationales behind philosophical reflection:

"Did not Nietzsche say that philosophy is the most spiritual form of the will to power? ...Philosophy is abstract and universal speech. It is speech that is not clothed, armed, invested with the authority of a particular god, ancestor, or institution, speech that does not program operations and produce results, speech barren and destitute. ...Then what is distinctive about philosophy is not a certain vocabulary and grammar of dead metaphors and empirically unverifiable generalizations. One's own words become philosophy, and not the operative paradigms of a culture of which one is a practitioner, in the measure that the voices of those silenced by one's culture and its practices are heard in them" (Abuses, p. ix, 1994).

A seductive conceit, to be sure, but I remain unconvinced that it has quite succeeded in escaping the problematical aspects of the discipline Lingis mentions in passing (which I've placed in italics.) Adorno, for example, identifies the flip side of the same coin. In Negative Dialectics he is describing the sense in which there can be something fatuous, and even opportunistic, about the reading "method" adopted by those philosophers whose interests wax and wane as if they were a fashion statement:

"No theory escapes the market anymore: each one is offered as a possibility among competing opinions, all are made available, all snapped up. Thought need no more put blinders on itself, in the self-justifying conviction that one's own theory is exempt from this fate, which degenerates into narcissistic self-promotion, than dialectics need fall silent before such a reproach and the one linked to it, concerning its superfluity and randomness as a slapdash method. Its name says to begin with nothing more than that objects do not vanish into their concept, that these end up in contradiction with the received norm of the adaequatio."

These tendencies have only accelerated with the growing bifurcation between so-called Mode One and Mode Two knowledge. Hence the importance placed by Fuller on the university as a social technology for the distribution of knowledge as a public good. Consistent with his call for epistemic justice, Fuller is urging the protection and enhancement of the founding democratic characteristics of the university, which ensure that knowledge can be put to use outside of its institutional context by people [students] who had nothing to do with its original production. This is another salient reminder of why academics need to be mindful of epistemic justice. By extension, philosophy cannot remain a self legislating activity, in the manner prescribed by Lingis.

I would also point toward the theory of articulation: you have to start with where people are before you can move them somewhere else. This is politics as the art of the possible, implying a long march through the institutions. Sadly though, I followed enough of the links through Harman's blog to discover that the continental blogosphere is generally more entranced by theories of total opposition, hence placing great store by new social movements. But I don't see why a "post hegemonic" politics need be the exclusive option. This was reinforced when one man had done commenting on Shaviro's Lovecraft post, and then threw in, on his own blog, almost as a casual aside, that he had no time for consensus conferences!! But why marginalise a social democratic approach that has a proven track record in creating public awareness of "post normal" science? What's wrong with having those affected by a particular form of knowledge sitting on judgement as to its applicability, say, in the communities where they live? And why couldn't consensus conferences be a catalyst for other forms of activism, including social movements?

Suffice to add, it was the random nature of the blogosphere in these instances that led me to revisit Kim Stanley's vision, as this is closer to my preferred form of "speculative realism". For not only does it encompass the cluster of issues I've raised here, but it does them justice in terms of the breadth and depth brought to bear upon each.

It also reminds me of why I need to experiment with another forum in order to test some of these propositions in relation to astrosociology. I'll leave the door open, just in case any philosophers choose to reply as they see fit, but I learned early on, in my encounter on this blog with a philosopher of "ruins", the possible limitations of such exchanges. I also know not to expect too much when "transmitting warning signals from the outermost rim of the information grid." As it happens, I've got a whole bunch of other commitments about to land on me, so while there's time, I'll have to try to commence work on these other writings. I suspect my blogging will probably atrophy as a result. There is still so much other more compelling stuff to follow up on, including arguments about the "speculative" nature of either evolution or Intelligent Design. For here is a public debate with high stakes, a lot of passion, and complexity to burn.....

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Charlie White, Los Angeles artist extraordinaire

Having yesterday posted on the topic of "Carbon Chauvinism", my thoughts turned to Charlie White with a view to commenting on his representation of the alien coexisting in intramundane settings. But this insightful posting on his disturbing work Champion alerted me to the moral complexities of his vision, which is evidently attentive to the eroticisation and exploitation of difference. Hence it is clearly not possible to generalise from a few isolated works some unifying vision of "loving the alien".....

Here is Champion (2006), which evokes for me Pasolini's Salo:

Whipping Boy - The Third Secret

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

replicant uprising
we are the only ones right now that are suffocating we are the dying ones right now

time is like a bullet from behind
I run for cover just like you
time is like a liquid in my hands
I swim for dry land just like you

time is like a blanket on my face
I try to be here just like you
time is just a fiction of our minds
I will survive and so will you

we are the only ones right now that are celebrating
and we are joining hands right now
we are the only ones right now that are suffocating
we are the dying ones right now

as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars

"Bullet" - Covenant

a billion words ago
the sailors disappeared
a story for the children
to rock them back to sleep

a million burning books
like torches in our hands
a fabric of ideals
to decorate our homes

a thousand generations
the soil on which we walk
a mountain of mistakes
for us to climb for pleasure

a hundred clocks are ticking
the line becomes a circle
spin the wheel of fortune
or learn to navigate

a choir full of longing
will call our ships to port
the countless lonely voices
like whispers in the dark

"Call the ships to port" - Covenant

go to the empire state and watch the city lights
hear the noise of millions struggle in the sprawl
stare into the sky we're few and far between
black eyes full of stars wide with memories


lie down in the park and watch the satellites
hear the children sing just a breath away
dance in the heavy air along the interstate
black lung full of fumes choke on memories

"Like tears in rain" - Covenant

lights blur shifting slightly, always the rain
he's there hunting nightly, driven by pain
burns fast shining brightly, dies in vain
he's there, speaking lightly of life in pain

bionic killer the spider in his net
comes to his maker as close as he can get

weak little creatures speaking with god
their cries so insane, their prayers just in vain
'cause I am the replicant, to hell with the gods

too late to escape, too late to regret
no time to hide, no time to forget
lights blur shifting slightly, always the rain
he's there hunting nightly, driven by pain

the rain, always the rain
your pain sustained

"The replicant" - Covenant (from Dreams of a Cryotank)

we wish so hard to be seen
and pray at night to be heard
and yet we have nothing to show
but false words and broken dreams

I'm the figurehead on the ship of fools
a beacon for the liars in the dark
I'm the first and the last
I claim this land
I'm the lost and the hungry
I need this land

"Figurehead" - Covenant

We are the men
Silent and cold
Beautiful eyes
Sheep among wolves
We are the men
Silent and strong
Beautiful eyes
Sheep among wolves

"The men" - Covenant

Carbon Chauvinism

Reading the various astrosociology manifestos yesterday, a few other conjunctions started to occur to me. What will happen when/if astrosociology starts becoming more attentive to astrobiological concerns? (to some extent this blog draws impetus from both sociological/biological concerns) Uncovering new astrobiological lifeforms would most likely be the precursor to later colonisation of alien worlds, followed by terraforming. This raises a whole swag of ethical questions.

By way of an instructive example, I've read Robinson's Mars Trilogy, and like ahuthnance, was appreciative of the representation of the indigenous Martians. The colonists are seemingly not aware of a lifeform so exotic that it escapes detection by their traditional methods of collecting specimens for the sake of arranging them into scientific taxonomies. Of course, there are "Green" colonists who favour terraforming with some qualification, and Robinson attempts to portray a viable "Blue" political compromise between "Red" and "Green" factions.

Looking then at Robinson's colonists, it is apparent that there were varying degrees of "carbon chauvinism" among the groups, insofar as there was divided opinion as to whether they could know where to search for xenobiological lifeforms; and by extension, whether it was still worth attempting to make some allowance for them in regard to space probe and mission planning. What kind of a philosophical conceptual vocabulary would be required then to do justice to the possible existence of such truly "alien" life forms? I'm wondering if so-called "speculative realism" presents as a suitable candidate, at least to the extent it may foreground the significance of, "non human worlds, by the interactions of dust mites in a carpet as much as by the dark sides of planets on which no human foot will ever tread". I regard it as equally important though to also consider the willingness of its adherents to nominate the appropriate circumstances under which "no human foot will ever tread" must become more prescriptive in tone .i.e. "no human foot should ever tread".

If this happened, what kind of a politics could be licensed? To my mind the possible answers sound a lot like the "astro" version of Deep Ecology, as portrayed by Robinson (as distinct from the positions held by many who would quite consciously identify themselves as astrobiologists, as distinct from xenobiologists, who are their Deep Ecology methodological relatives). Another concern is how a practitioner of "speculative realism" such as Graham Harman displays an elective affinity in his thought with actor network theory, some of the inherent problems of which (i.e. of ANT, not Harman specifically) have already been discussed elsewhere on this blog. Notwithstanding his stated differences from Latour et al (as referred to in the above piece on speculative realism), my principal concern in each case is the implicit downsizing of human agency. To what end should we be willing to adopt such a working assumption? So, if astrosociologists wish to ask such appropriately social scientific questions of these philosophers, it might be wise to follow some of the guidelines in my earlier post on Mark Bold.

In other words, I am attempting to foreground the significance of astrosociology as a sociology of anticipation: will we see a time in which it becomes necessary for astrosociologists, astrobiologists (along with xenobiologists), to sit down with "speculative realists" to discuss possibilities together? Harman refers to "the open" in his discussion of the future, and I am wondering if it may eventually be circumscribed by the kinds of scenarios described in Peter Dickens et al's book, The Cosmic Society (already anticipated to a certain extent by Robinson's fiction). Afterall, Harman appears to be ascribing a potentially contestatory power to "the open":

"neither Bhaskar nor DeLanda quite solve the problem with their colourful mist of catalysts and multiple causal factors. The complexity of such factors may lie beyond our own understanding, but not beyond that of a deity or a malevolent supercomputer. Some new approach is required to find openness amidst the turmoil of linear causes".

Until this approach materializes, I can at least amuse myself with this short adaptation of Terry Bisson's Nebula Award nominated story, They're Made Out of Meat. Although the story has inspired philosophical reflections on "carbon chauvinism" in its own right, (as some quick crossreferencing on Wikipedia will confirm), at present I have no knowledge of dialogues taking place with the recent school of "speculative realism", letalone earlier thinkers such as Carl Sagan (who laid some philosophical foundations for diagnosing "carbon chauvinism").

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Mars Underground

Fiction’s Most Realistic Vision of Our Astrobiological Future?

The above titled piece has just in from an authoritative source on astrobiology. It reminds me as well just how worthwhile it would be to trackdown Are We Alone? The Stanley Kubrick Extraterrestrial Intelligence Interviews (edited by Anthony Frewin):

"Kubrick’s bible was Sagan and Shklovskii’s Intelligent Life in the Universe. Kubrick had originally filmed interviews with twenty-one leading scientists about the possibility of alien life as a prologue to the film’s narrative. Interviewees included physicists Frank Drake and Freeman Dyson, anthropologist Margaret Mead, roboticist Marvin Minsky, and Alexander Oparin, the great Soviet authority on the origin of life, often described as the ‘Darwin of the twentieth century’. Kubrick’s intention was to lend astrobiology that special dignity it has only acquired since. Though the interviews were cut from the final version of the film, a book of the transcripts was published in 2005."

Cosmic Society: Towards a Sociology of the Universe

Astrosociology: what an absolutely fascinating topic, and such an innovative move by the authors to consider how well sociology may be equipped to look beyond, or perhaps even augment, its existing conceptual frameworks, particularly globalization and cosmopolitanism. I'm so excited I'm wondering if the book has the capacity to reinvigorate sci fi studies as well?: afterall, the fact that it is an avowedly sociological work hints at possible directions beyond the more popular cultural studies type approaches. I'm also thinking of the impact on sci fi authors, particularly those outside the "hard sci fi" genre, who are more willing to explicitly foreground the importance of how technology is mediated by social relationships.

In any case, it is a dream for this blog to feature such a work, embodying, as it does, so many of our theoretical interests (for example, note the references to biopower). Now I know I have to change priorities on my current reading list. The authors of the book also acknowledge the pioneering work of Jim Pass. This link lists his work, along with other bibliographical resources concerned with astrosociology.

Space weaponry, satellite surveillance and communications, and private space travel are all means in which outer space is being humanized: incorporated into society’s projects. But what are the political implications of society not only being globalized, but becoming ‘cosmic’?

Our ideas about society have long affected, and been affected by, our understanding of the universe: large sections of our economy and society are now organized around humanity’s use of outer space. Our view of the universe, our increasingly ‘cosmic’ society, and even human consciousness are being transformed by new relations with the cosmos.

As the first sociological book to tackle humanity’s relationship with the universe, this fascinating volume links social theory to classical and contemporary science, and proposes a new ‘cosmic’ social theory. Written in a punchy, student-friendly style, this timely book engages with a range of topical issues, including cyberspace, terrorism, tourism, surveillance and globalization.

"An original vision and a pedagogical text on a major issue of our time and, even more, of our childen's." Goran Therborn is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Cambridge, UK and is also co-Director of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Sweden.

"Arguably the most important and certainly the most ambitious book of recent sociology." Bryan Turner, Editor of the "Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology".

An original vision and a pedagogical text on a major issue of our time and, even more, of our childen´s.

Göran Therborn is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Cambridge, UK and is also co-Director of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Sweden.

Arguably the most important and certainly the most ambitious book of recent sociology.

Bryan Turner, Editor of the Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology.

More details

Cosmic Society: Towards a Sociology of the Universe

By Peter Dickens, James S. Ormrod
Edition: illustrated
Published by Routledge, 2007
ISBN 0415374324, 9780415374323

221 pages


Saturday, 24 January 2009

RESUME' of George W Bush

Political satire/polemics aren't generally the preferred style on this blog, but it would be remiss of us if there was no posting about the closing of this momentous chapter in history. I was going to instead write up a piece on whether the United States can be best characterised as a "plebiscitary democracy", but my commitment is starting to flag, reinforcing my decision to take a holiday, starting February. So I don't know whether before then I'll get to some other things I had planned for this blog, or what effect there may be on future postings once I return home.

Anyhow, thanks mhuthnance for passing this along; looking back over the historical record, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. The list of misdeeds could have also fittingly included, in 43rd's final days in office, the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Prime Minister John Howard; a man who has single handedly done more than anyone else to systematically undermine Australia's social contract.....


1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20520


Law Enforcement:
I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976 for driving under the influence of alcohol.

I pled guilty, paid a fine, and had my driver's license suspended for 30 days.

My Texas driving record has been "lost" and is not available.

I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL.

I refused to take a drug test or answer any questions about my drug use.

By joining the Texas Air National Guard, I was able to avoid combat duty in Vietnam.

I graduated from Yale University with a low C average. I was a cheerleader.

I ran for U.S. Congress and lost.

I began my career in the oil business in Midland, Texas in 1975. I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas.

The company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.

I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money.

With the help of my father and our friends in the oil industry (including Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.

I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the Union.

During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America.

I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in borrowed money.

I set the record for the most executions by any governor in American history.

With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida, and my father's appointments to the Supreme Court,

I became President of the United States, after losing by over 500,000 votes.


I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.

I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over one billion dollars per week.

I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S.Treasury.

I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history.

I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S. stock market.

In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs and that trend continues.

I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history.

My "poorest millionaire," Condoleezza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.

I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President.

I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving the most corporate campaign donations.

My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. history, Enron.

My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.

I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation or prosecution. More time and money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than has been spent investigating one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in history. I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed.

I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history.

I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts.

I appointed more convicted criminals to my administration than any President in U.S. history.

I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the United States Government.

I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history.

I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.

I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law.

I refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. "prisoners of war" detainees and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.

I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 US election).

I set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President since the advent of television.

I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one-year period. After taking off the entire month of August, I presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.

I garnered the most sympathy ever for the U.S. after the World Trade Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.

I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people), shattering the record for protests against any person in the history of mankind.

I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. Citizens and the world community.

I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut in duty benefits for active duty troops and their families in wartime.

In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking Iraq and then blamed the lies on our British friends.

I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security.

I am supporting development of a nuclear "Tactical Bunker Buster," a WMD.

I have so far failed to fulfil my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.


All records of my tenure as Governor of Texas are now in my father's library, sealed and unavailable for public view.

All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.

All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President, attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review.

I specified that my sealed documents will not be available for 50 years.

- George W quotes:

'The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.'

'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.'

'One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared'.

'I have made good judgements in the past. I have made good judgements in the future.'

'The future will be better tomorrow.'

'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world.'

'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.'

'We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe . We are a part of Europe '

'Public speaking is very easy.'

'A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.'

'I have opinions of my own --strong opinions-- but I don't always agree with them.'

'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.'

'For NASA, space is still a high priority.'

'Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children.'

'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.'

Flying is learning to throw yourself at the ground, and.... miss."