Saturday, January 11, 2003

Christopher Pearson: A junk intellectual?

I have been reading the conservative pundit C. Pearson of late to learn about Australian conservatism. Christopher is meant to know about such things ---well, he does promote himself as one who has his finger on the pulse of the age better than most. So I read his "Dissenters of attention" in the Weekend Australian , January 11-12 2002, (no link). It promised to be big picture sketch of the paradigm change in Australia culture that he had put together after talking to the poet Les Murray on the phone.

Honestly, I couldn't make much from the text----it struck me as pretty junky stuff even though I read it twice.

This is what he and Les have put together. Pearson writes that a paradigm shift has taken place that can be marked by the year 1995/6. But we are still hovering between the old one that is not yet exhausted and the new one not yet born. (These boys have read their Hegel). However, there are signs and portents, not all of them ambiguous that can be deciphered or interpreted.

The signs are: the acknowledgement of the mind-forged manacles of the political correctness of the academic left and the intellectual conformism of the Keating era; reality undermining multiculturalism; the distinction between racism and the disturbing levels of religious and cultural difference when talking aabout Islam; the development of common sense as a constituency; the growth of Christianity; young adults staying at home far longer than previous generations; families clinging together; hard-pressed parents willing to pay for their children's education; and the vote of no confidence in the state public education system; the erosion of teachers union control over working class education.

Okay these are the signs that need interpreting. What does this constellation mean? What is the new paradigm that is struggling to emerge from the decay/ ruins of the soft-totalitarian cultural paradigm of left liberalism? Presumably, it is the emergence of conservatism from the timewarp of left liberalism living on beyond its use by date. Thats what we get when we connect this Pearson pierce to the one last week ----- see previous posting Junk intellectuals: A conservative laments Sunday, January 5th.

Pearson has stopped playing 'what if', and to his credit, he has immersed himself within cultural phenomena, and is doing a bit of phenemenology of particular phenomena, rather than thinking about it from above. But this cultural phenonema is present as truths whose meaning or import can be easily read of ---people are becoming more conservative because kids are staying at home longer. Is disclosing the truth, or social significance (the rise and rise of conservatism) that simple?

What sort of conservatism is this? What can we say about it?

It is not said. All that Pearson does is quote Les Murray to the effect that 'ideologues are making unwilling concessions to mask the emergence and prevent themselves from being swept away'. What is left is pretty lightweight as a cultural interpretation ---- I get the idea of a conservatism anchored in the commonsense of everyday life of suburbia, rather than one anchored in high culture life, but little more than that. Which suburbia are we talking about? There are lots of suburbias. In Pearson's Adelaide we have inner suburbs; middle suburbs, outer suburbs, eastern leavy-green suburbs, western suburbs, beach suburbs, hills-face suburbs. Each of these is quite different. Which one are we talking about? Or are we talking about what is common to all of them?

So why is this the work of a intellectual junk: it just concentrates on the signs of particular cultural and social phemonena, but lacks the philosophical reflection to go beyond them. Pearson simply lists and ties the bits together with conservative string. Yet the phenomena interpreted are mobile and internally mediated and as signs of a social history they characterise Australia at a particular moment in historical time.

Update: Am I being too hard? Junk can be good. What about Christopher's idea of a 'soft totalitarianism in a liberal culture---ie., political correctness as soft totalitarianism? Check it out here here and see what you think. The Conservatives are going to liberate us from the totalitarian left liberals?
The heat and the flaneur in Adelaide

The temperatures are soaring once again in Adelaide. They will hover around 39 degrees with a hot north wind blowing. Street life comes to a standstill.

Even though I live in the city and enjoy the urban life, I have not been celebrating the urban life with the urban stroll. It has just been too hot.

When the city is akin to a furnace it is difficult to keep the romantic tradition of the literary flâneurs—Walt Whitman,Walter Benjamin, Fran Lebowitz, Alfred Kazin, Joseph Mitchell, the Beastie Boys—going. It is just far too hot to be the Flâneur, who seeks to scrutinize the city, puts a finger on the pulse of urban life and evokes the feel or mood of the street.

The flaneur is the aimless wanderer who loses himself in the city, stands back from the crowd and whose urgent and single-minded purpose is to have no urgency, lose his way and observe. The street is treated as if it were like the walls of a living room. The flaneur looks for the signs of the street that signify something about our culture. Consequently the pace at which we wander is all-important, since it determines the scale of one's observation and thereby what becomes visible in the life on the street. See Walter Benjamin: Ambling Through
the City of a Mind,

It is hard to be an urban romantic in a heat wave keeping alive the flâneur tradition of walking turtles in the city malls to ensure the right pace of wandering. I do my best with standard poodles. However, in the summer, even the standard poodles just want to hang out in the shadows, lie around on the wet green grass of the Victoria racecourse in the South east corner of the city. 5am is the only time for strolling---but little happens in Adelaide at that hour. The poodles are only interested in hunting possums in the parklands, or disturbing the multitude of bodies sleeping rough along the dried creekbed.

But we sometimes stroll the urban beach when in Adelaide on the weekend: --meandering along the esplanade at Henley Beach, observing the social scene, the architecture, the beach life, the debris from the party the night before, the dogs of course and seaweed.

To hell with a stroll during the day say the dogs and I during a heatwave.

Benjamin was onto something with his strolls down the streets of Paris in the 1930s. In the above article Jacob Voorthuis asks us to reach back and recover what Benjamin was doing as as an aimless wandering flaneur. He says:

"Think, for example of the idea of turning your life into a map, to represent your life as a city. This idea became his autobiographical sketch entitled 'A Berlin Chronicle'. The way he does it is peculiarly his, of course, but think instead of how you would do something like that. Think of how the buildings looked and appeared to work when you were a child. Try to think of the city you grew up in without that extra sensitivity to buildings that you have developed since becoming a student in architecture. Think of the map you would draw of your city and what the effective cause of the shape of that map would be: the contingencies of where your parents lived, the demands of your background, your socio-economic position, your parents' concerns, your own bravery to venture out. Think of what size you would give each event in your life, each place. What objects play an important part in that map? How would the events and their places arrange themselves in relation to each other? Would you stay true to the map of your childhood or would you create a new place called 'My life as I wished it had been?' Project your own memories onto a city map and see what happens. Try it."

Romanticism still has juice left in it, eh.
Moving house

I have started the process of moving house from one part of the city to another. The shift takes place in about six weeks. Already I am confronted by the piles of junk that has acummulated from 6 years living in the same innercity cottage. The real estate agent, when she came to look over the place to sell it, mentioned the junk.

"You will tidy it all up and put it all away for the open inspections in February?", she asked. Behind the polite question was an order. I was shocked. I had to tidy things up if I wanted to sell the place? My homely space all looked pretty minimalist to me. Well, maybe the study was a bit messy with its papers and boxes of material. That meant I had to give up working to sell the house?

So I decided not to sell. I would rent the cottage instead. I was much impressed by my solution to the junk problem.

Really though, I am half paralysed by the idea of sorting through the junk, even though I accept the idea that it is a fresh start, a new beginning, and something different.

I had forgotten how traumatic moving is. It was so long ago when I last moved. I no longer remember the trauma.

Apparently I am not alone in finding moving traumatic. According to Hugh Mckay Changing homes is a moving thing.

Then I realised that renting doesn't solve the junk problem either. I have to remove my stuff for the tenants.

I will just hire a big rubbish bin and toss most things in it. Strip myself of the junk ---its the only way.

I couldn't face what Hugh went through---throwing junk into his car, then leaving it on the street with the door open so that people would take the junk. But nobody did because they could not see any pearls in the junk.

What a shock to the system. I couldn't take it.

Better to throw everything out

Friday, January 10, 2003

seduced by junk

Wasn't it only a few days ago that the media were celebrating this.

Were they not celebrating the stylish Brigitte Boisselier, the bishop of the Raelian religious sect, who claimed that her team of experts has made the first clone of a human being - a baby girl named Eve? Have I remembered right?

Did not the media go along with Clonaid, which believes that human cloning is the key to everlasting life and future generations should be sired by combining science with faith in a superior alien culture that visits Earth from outer space?

Did they not create a celebrity by giving her a series of continent-hopping press conferences and television appearances that marks a type of fame and hype typically reserved for pop stars?

Its junk and we know its junk, even as we recognize that Clonaid is trafficking in a valuable commodity that promises to be the pathway to happiness. AIt was only a few days ago that the media were feeding our own unconscious dreams about eternal life and beauty back to us. The media seduced us with its junk by encouraging us to dream what we wanted to dream about being more than human.

This reminds of some words by the character Rakhmiel in Saul Bellow's novel, Ravelstein,(2000):

"The challenge of modern freedom, or the combination of isolation and freedom which confronts you, is to make yourself up. The danger is that you may emerge from the process as a not-entirely-human creature."

Wanting to be more than human can mean becoming a freak. Its still junk though.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Junk Innercity Housing

Testing testing testing ---is it working?

There is a building boom going in Adelaide----a multi-million wave of new projects that will transform the cityscape. Lots and lots of innercity apartments.

You know the kind serviced/investment ones that are pokey, badly built, look like prisons, and cost a packet: Junk housing filling up the spaces in the city that could be given over to trees to create urban forests.
seduced by junk

I was searching for ways in which data exchange on the information superhighway now substitutes for embodied human interaction. Something, a story perhaps, about feeling that you existed and were wanted because you got 200 emails a day, but still felt the ache of human absence and lack of community.

I couldn't find an example to play around with. And I didn't really know what I wanted to say anyway.

But I chanced upon something else.

Now this was taken seriously a few days ago, right?

I remember the media going along with the Raelian religious sect, which believes that human cloning is the key to everlasting life, and that future generations should be sired by combining science with faith in a superior alien culture that visits Earth from outer space.

They were fascinated by Brigitte Boisselier, the Clonaid chief, and her claims that her team of experts has made the first clone of a human being - a baby girl named Eve. She was taken seriously enough to be given a merry-go-round of continent-hopping press conferences and television appearances.

She had the goods. She had the right stuff, the valuable information, that was marketed as if it were a status symbol of eternal beauty.

Its now all fame and hype rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrright? Yeah. We weren't really taken in were we? We could spot a fake.

But what does this junk say about how media culture operates? It desires celebrities. If they are not around then it creates them. Its a media mania that has allowed Clonaid to write their own story that fed our unconscious dreams back to us.

It reminds me of a some words spoken by the character Rakhmiel, in Saul Bellow's novel Ravelstein (2000):

"The challenge of modern freedom, or the combination of isolation and freedom which confronts you, is to make yourself up. The danger is that you may emerge from the process as a not-entirely-human creature."

The media loves the human not so human. Aren't we fascinated by the freakish, as we drift on a sea of information without compass or home?
junk philosophy

Ever wondered what junk philosophy would look like? Then have a look at this.

Sigh. The enlightenment conception of freedom has turned into a soggy, but stylish, narcissistic hedonism with an aggressive edge.

Its what happens when philosophy meets the marketplace. Poor Socrates.

Will the liberal tradition go the way of philosophy?
Easily found junk

I didn't have to look very hard for my daily dose of junk today.It was easy, all too easy. I just opened up The Advertiser turned to the op-ed page, and there it was under "Green policy lacking proper scrutiny'.

it was written by Mike Nathan, from the Institute of Public Affairs. He was telling us good folk in Adelaide why the country is going to rack and ruin because of the Greens. This article is based on research from "Australia's premier think tank", and it is a summary of the material contained in the latest edition of IPA Review, which focuses on the policies of the Greens.

There is no online link as The Advertiser is a junk newspaper. Reading it makes me feel like a piece of data trash. I have yet to learn to love being data trash.

With no link you will have to take my word for what follows. However, there is no need for me to distort the 'argument'. It speaks for itself. What we have here is an op-ed piece based on junk research.

Mike Nathan's argument is this. The Australian Greens have "downright silly policies", such as "the abandonment of economic growth as conventionally measured." The danger is that these silly policies are being implemented by "erstwhile more sensible governments seeking the green vote. And the damage they are doing is large and highly visible." Thats it.

Examples? --Tasmania of course. "The competitive basis of the state is in tatters due to the Greens. And they continue to send the state backwards to the stone age "by working to stop Basslink, which will link Tasmania to the national electricity grid" and by "campaigning to shut down Gunnis, the timber and plantation firm which is the state's biggest private employer."

My my. The political message from the global city of Sydney is clear. It says: SA be warned. This will happen to you if the Rann Labor Government goes too green. So take heed of green power and its 'not in my backyard' policies. Its a bit like daddy getting the kids into line. Maybe the message was written for the big end of town.

Funny, I distinctly remember Warren Truss, the federal Agriculture Minister, giving us poor souls a different message. He said that the devastation of the farmland in the Murray-Darling Basin was caused by lack of water which was caused by drought. His message was that people in SA cannot expect environmental flows for the River Murray and they had to carry some of the pain of water reform.

Oh well, there is no harm in different messages. It happens all the time on television. But I detect a big anxiety here. Instead of a fading of the Greens or environmentalism we have the robust political face. So something has got to be done about the Greens.

Its a junk response. I thought that the conventional measurement of economic growth was a problem because it failed to account for the long-term environmental damage caused by economic growth (eg. Murray-Darling Basin) and quality of life issues (eg., Adelaide as a people city). Nor was it a case of dumping economic growth per se, since the concern was with the mode or kind of development.

Mike, however, is not be deterred by such niceties of public debate. He stays on message: Its the greens stupid, its the Greens, its the Greens. They are anti-development is the mesage that needs to got across. Mike then gives other examples of destructive consequences of silly green policies are mentioned including bush fires and the kangaroo plague. The latter comes in for special attention because the state's ownership of kangaroos has led to the kangaroo plague, which in turn has caused the destruction of vast tracts of farmland, the destruction of the environment and the livelihood of farmers."

Wow! This is good junk. It has touch of class about it. Must be that cutting edge researchopening up new pathways. Kangaroos eh?

And how did this catastrophe come about? Mike is right on the ball here. It is because people in civil society:

"...seem too ready to accept the simplest pronouncements of activists claiming to represent consumers, the poor or the environment. They do not question their bona fides, values of actions. They seem too willing to allow these self-appointed guardians of virtue a greater role in collective action than they merit. Faced with competition and pressure from unelected activists, our elected political agents and their public servants are increasingly embracing them and their approach."

No doubt about it. The country is really going to rack and run. We are being run by the totalitarian greens. Australia is Tasmania writ large. I didn't realize the Greens had so much and influence.

So how do we stop the rot? Mike has the answer:

"The solution lies with holding political activism in so-called civil society to the same standards of transparency, scrutiny and robust debate that takes place within our formal institutions".

Excuse me Mike. Everyone else seems to be talking about the death of public discourse in Australia and the poverty of public debnate So which institutions are these? Where is this robust debate taking place? Mike, do you mean the standards of the blow torch and bear pit of the House of Representatives? Do you mean the way The Australian argues its case for war with Iraq?

Mike, aren't you getting the reality of Australian representative democracy confused with the ideal of liberal democracy?

So there we have it. Its an attempt to close things down. But its junk. Junk commentary and junk research. Its data trash by those who want business as usual and see the Greens as the main opposition in the battle of ideas. Its junk because there is no attempt to concede any ground for changes in current practices.

I never feel too good after eating trash. It leaves me feeling sick. Yet I come back for more. It must be addictive. Maybe this is the way to be happy in a MacWorld.

Kangaroos eh?

Where in the hell are my other posts from the last two days? They have disappeared. Some of them were even posted. Now they have gone. They have been eaten up.
Blogger is junk

I cannot post. My weblogs keep disappearing---4 have disappeared this afternoon. I am really getting sick of this junk. Its a bad deal all round.

Some one should write some cultural criticism about Blogger.Things are not quite right in the technology and economics of the networked world where local private entrepreneurs can commercialize new techology out of their bedrooms. Blogger promises to be a counterbalance to the power of the media elite. As a critical tool it promises to be a more powerful means of talking everyday and communicating across the nation than the newspaper or the television ever was.

But Blogger doesn't work well---- it is difficult to post material; it destroys material; it stuffs up the archives and there is little in the way of help/support to fix problems. Its junk.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

A Fellow junkman

I was surfing the web randomly, looking for junk. I find that I need a daily diet of junk, just as people need their daily intake of fast food. I was bored with my diet of junk journalism.

I happened upon another Australian into junk. It is Stewart Fist working out of Electric Words. He has a good posting on JUNK SCIENCE AND THE ART OF SPIN-DOCTORING.

----aah junk science. Science in the pay of corporations engaged in disinformation of research and knowledge and supported by public relations forms. Stewart draws attention to the large numbers of

".... junkscience-doctoring organisations working for the large corporations and industrial polluters. They are finding it increasingly easy to marry legitimate criticisms of poor science and dubious environmental claims, with totally illegitimate corporate cover-ups. This process extends to an even-more-dubious form of research now known as 'tobacco-science' -- where the corporate-funded scientific results are written first (just to save time), then the token research is conducted later, just to have figures to publish."

There's a whole range of junk science involved in greenhouse scepticism from what I can see. Junk science. Thats what the universities are into these days. Junk. (And lets not forget junk education.) Science cannot escape the market, its rules of competition, production and consumption.

Why is this so difficult to accept by conservatives, such as Bizarre Science?The hero in the university is no longer the natural scientist. It is the junkman wearing the mask of the free market entrepreneur with shallow pockets. The junkmen seem to be everywhere.

What do we have that debunks the junk? Who defends reason in a junk world?

Is all we have to think otherwise a few critical fragments and reflective negativity surviving in the shabby enclaves of the academy, in the tattered imagination of the literary institution and in the private nooks and crannies of civil society?

Is this the postmodern condition?

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Junk Politics

Have a look at this. I came across it whilst working on Mugged by reality.

It can be found in an article in The Economist, which argued that Marx was irrelevant to us today because he got it wrong where it mattered. In a section addressing Marx's key idea that class politics is a defining idea of liberal capitalist societies The Economist says:

"...class is an idea that has become blurred to the point meaninglessness ... the class war, if it existed, is over."

The reason?

"In western democracies today, who chooses who rules and for how long? Who tells governments how companies will be regulated? Who in the end owns companies. Workers for hire---the proleteriat.... And this is because of, not despite, the things Marx most deplored: private property, liberal political rights and the market."

I used to read The Economist once. I had it airmailed from the UK. I gave it up in the 1970s because it was too freemarket, hostile to statism, and too much Carnap-worship. But I still respected it---it had intellectual grunt and its economic reason was self-reflective. Well not anymore. It has gone tabloid.

Marx is wrong because the proleteriat runs Australia? The working class actually won the class war? Do the Packers or Murdochs actually think that? Nor would the long term unemployed or those who were downside fulltime work because they were 'surplus to requirements' and are now working casually or part-time. They would argue that our recent history indicates that people have been sacrificed for profit and power.

Its junk journalism.

How do we interpret this junk?

Its the nightmare of the bourgeoisie that is being given expression here. It is clear that a bit of pschoanalysis is needed to help diagnose the political unconscious of market liberalism since The Economist thinks that the nightmare is reality. A suitable case for treatment. Normally we would call this a case of pathology and call in Dr. Freud, that well-known opponent of bourgeois hypocrisy to do something about the illness.

What is the unconscious instinctual basis at work here? Maybe its a secret revulsion at the consumer pleasure and paradise the liberated workers have created in their erotic self-abandonment ? Maybe its a revulsion to the empty mechanized quality of market life created by the Murdochs and Packers?

I don't know as I am no psychoanalyst. But I do know junk when I see it. And I recognize the liquidation of the intellect by those who claim to defend it.