Skip to content

Theory

Curiosity, Complexity and Chaos

278308451942783477_4dw5iwsw_f

A global client is surprised that the most advanced, working technical implementation of a certain system is to be found in their Brazilian subsidiary. This is something I find again and again consulting for global organisations, not just Brazil of course, but any of the many, much ignored places that happen to also contain the most of the world’s population.

Europeans and Westerners are still waking up to the fact that they aren’t at the cutting edge of innovation, or even geopolitically relevant (except when they use overpriced military gizmos to kill innocents with “smart” warfare. F35s and multi-million dollar remote controlled airplanes: dazzling innovation). Go home Europe, you old drunk.
That ‘chaos’ that Germans find abroad on holidays in the global south – which to them, confirms their domestic superiority – is in fact an error-tolerant order they are incapable of comprehending.

Order within systems must not be confused with aesthetic value judgements. There is a horror inherent in the Germanic aesthetic sense of order and cleanliness which no amount of disinfectant and obsessive-compulsively designed public spaces can extirpate.

Read More →

The 100 and Looper – Notes on American Violence in Action/Sci-Fi

The 100 is a remarkable piece of reactionary TV propaganda. Within it, one sees an on-going apology for violence, of American imperialism wrestling with its conscience and always returning to find justification for its heinous acts under the banner of necessity.

 

“I’m so, so very sorry, but I just had no choice, I did what I had to do to protect my own”

 

While this reactionary justification for violence is common to most violent regimes, The 100’s version of it specifically American for a number of reasons I will examine in in this post. The narrative premise of The 100 begins with the story of a few thousand survivors of a global nuclear apocalypse living in a cobbled together space station. The nuclear conflagration event has supposedly made the earth uninhabitable for 100 years, and story begins just a few years shy of this date. The space station is not able to support the survivors for much longer. For almost 100 years the survivors have lived under a disciplinarian regime – in the name of necessity – where the only punishment, for even minor offences, is ‘getting spaced’.

 

The space station has a number of imprisoned juveniles (100 of them, to be precise), who thanks to their minor age are spared the capital punishment that would otherwise await them. The space station leadership decides to use them as human lab rats by sending them down to earth, thus delaying the immediate problem of too many mouths to feed, and also exploring the survival of Earth. Once on the ground, the youths discover two things. Firstly, the surface of the earth is survivable. Second, they are not the sole survivors. The other surviving humans have reverted to a hunter-gatherer state, with various warring tribes. They come to be known as ‘grounders’. With thoughtless ease, the photogenic youths enter into conflict with the grounders. Although hugely outnumbered, their superior weaponry and technical knowledge allows the space youths to just manage to survive.

 

One key narrative element that makes this dystopian SF specifically American is its conflicted relationship to history. The notion of a clean break with the decadence of the past, here portrayed by the global nuclear event, is a key part of the premise. The ‘clean’ future that awaits is one in which youth, full of vigorous good intentions, is bound by tribal loyalty to protect their own against the Other. They have no choice but to make decisions which result in the deaths of dozens of grounders. Moderate characters on both sides attempt to find alternatives to violent conflict, but the writers continuously place even these moderates in situations where it is necessary to kill a few hostiles for the good of the many.

 

In true puritanical vein, violence is purifying and the erasure of history necessary for the western frontiersman fantasy to continue. The global nuclear event purified and liberated the 100 from history, and the violent acts they commit are necessary to expunge the evil in the Other. This conception of evil is also distinctly a feature of the protestant American subconscious: evil as something real and external, which is not only possible to expunge, but morally necessary. This insight is not new and has long been noted as a key feature of American culture, but it is interesting to see this notion of evil justifying war and violence continue so prominently in contemporary SF given the important place that SF has in speculating about possible futures.

 

While the characters in The 100 are torn by guilt and remorse, yet continue to be forced by necessity into further violent actions, Bruce Willis represents the remorseless avatar for American violence in film. Nowhere is this this better characterized and problematized than in Looper (2015). The Bruce Willis character does what we all expect him to do – kill bad scores of bad guys – but in Looper the violence is never redemptive. His character’s narrative, taken on its own, could easily have been the story for a typical Bruce Willis action film: tough, violent guy redeemed by the heteronormative love of a beautiful woman, who ekes out revenge on the bad guys who take him from her. As with all action films, the bad guys never have children, lovers or parents who are affected by their deaths. At the forefront are the heroic actions of redemptive violence of the protagonist, all the rest is mere backdrop to the hero’s quest. The hero and his woman, of course, who is also nothing more than the nurturing female support to the master signifier of the narrative.

 

Looper problematizes this by making us aware of the consequences of violence, regardless of who is performing these actions. Actions have consequences, we are affected by history. There can be no clean break with history, and there is no such thing as clean violence. Every drone strike creates more ‘extremists’, every violent action has devastating consequences on the survivors. There is no walking off into the sunset, Looper reminds us.

 

You want me to shoot some bad guys?

 

Bruce Willis does just as we expect him to, for the love of his woman, his property, he kills a bunch of bad guys and then goes into the past to continue the cleaning operation. But in Looper, the bad guys are never portrayed as simple gun fodder. They are themselves the traumatised victims of violence, and the violence they mete out creates more lost, traumatised kids, who in turn commit more violent actions. The redemptive violence is shown in Looper as either the cause of future problems, or it is portrayed as completely ridiculous. The ridiculousness of justice, Bruce Willis style, is clearly shown in the scenes where he escapes capture and imminent execution by killing the entire gang and its leader. There is no moment of glory, no granting of satisfaction to the audience that the nemesis has been vanquished, no gloating over the corpse of the boss, what remains is the protagonist and his personal trauma, still unresolved through the inflicting of yet more violence on others.

Book Launch Event: Jon Roffe – Abstract Market Theory

Jon Roffe is launching his fantastic latest book, Abstract Market Theory.

 

When:
Saturday, 14 November 2015 from 16:00 to 18:00.

 

Where:
Wheeler Centre
176 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000

AbstractMarketTheory

The Refusal of Work – A Brief Review

Nietzsche

Nietzsche, one of the earliest proponents of an anti-work ethic, critiqued primarily the morality of the work ethic. For him the morality of the duty of work was operated as a means of control, which subjugated the development of the individual in favour of the impersonal needs of society. While his specific critique of work may appear as an unremarkable call for unrestrained individualism, his critique of work must be viewed in the context of his wider critique of morality and the values that govern a society. Modern society’s values and moral judgements he deemed insufficient and reactive, he hoped for a society which went beyond the slave morality of fear and resentment, and instead sought its own overcoming. It is this critique of society’s values that we must consider Nietzsche’s anti-work sentiment. Although Nietzsche was not explicitly political, the distinction between atomised individualism, as it is promoted in contemporary consumer culture, and autonomism worthy of a mention here. Both Nietzsche and autonomism rejected the platonic idea that there was a defined place for everyone in society, suited to their work or profession. This notion stunted personal self-discovery and led to an impoverished society, centred on control and slave morality. In autonomism, and many Marxian accounts of worker struggle, the shared problems faced by the workers, which they all felt individually, led to a sense of collectivity in struggle.

 

Lafargue

Paul Lafargue is one of the first to argue for the intelligence of laziness, how aristocratic societies in the classical era despised work and relegated it to slaves. It is interesting to draw parallels to past aristocratic societies and their attitude towards work with the rise of what Piketty terms the super-managers, those who are essentially the modern-day aristocrats, but now do not claim hereditary status for their positions but rather their value as senior leadership. Nietzsche would be cracking a wry smile at this turn of events, today even aristocrats no longer claim the right be above work, but instead pretend to be valuable workers.

 

Russell

Bertrand Russell’s 1935 essay ‘In praise of idleness’, remains very relevant today. In it, Russell examines the incongruence of the view of the moral goodness of productive activity coupled with the moral unsoundness of consumption, or unrestrained enjoyment, noting that consumption and production were closely linked. He questions why if someone were to make an investment in a business activity which proved unsuccessful, this person would be seen differently to one who spent all their money on pleasure and enjoyment. The desirability of work Russell argues comes from pre-industrial society, when there was a class of idle landowners who most certainly did not want their peasants following in their example. Only in industrial society do we have enough wealth and technology to allow greater leisure time. Importantly, Russell raises the feminist issue of unpaid reproductive and household labour, as well as noting that it was finance that allowed us to create this present state of industrial innovation by borrowing against the future.

Read More →