Category Archives: English

Labeling forms with cultural or national identifications

Oleg Grabar:

‘ The first of these assumptions is that which involves labeling forms with cultural or national identifications. What seem to us today to be valid or even accurate means for the classification of visual evidence from the past, and for the appreciation of that evidence within ou own, present-day minds, may not have been the appropriate crriterion at the time when the monuments through which this evidence appears were created. If we consider a motif or a type of design as first of all colorful, geometric or vegetal, rather than Islamic or Gothic or Byzantine, an appreciation of forms emerges which may well correspond more closely to what actually happened than the national and ethnic constructs we have posited‘.

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The real risk factors for war

Steven Pinker:

“In my view there are threats to peace we should worry about, but the real risk factors—the ones that actually caused catastrophic wars such as the World Wars, wars of religion, and the major civil wars—don’t press the buttons of our lurid imaginations.

Narcissistic leaders. The ultimate weapon of mass destruction is a state. When a state is taken over by a leader with the classic triad of narcissistic symptoms—grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy—the result can be imperial adventures with enormous human costs.

Groupism. The ideal of human rights—that the ultimate moral good is the flourishing of individual people, while groups are social constructions designed to further that good—is surprisingly recent and unnatural. People, at least in public, are apt to argue that the ultimate moral good is the glory of the group—the tribe, religion, nation, class, or race—and that individuals are expendable, like the cells of a body.

Perfect justice. Every group has suffered depredations and humiliations in its past. When groupism combines with the thirst for revenge, a group may feel justified in exacting damage on some other group, inflamed by a moralistic certitude which makes compromise tantamount to treason.

Utopian ideologies. If you have a religious or political vision of a world that will be infinitely good forever, any amount of violence is justified to bring about that world, and anyone standing in its way is infinitely evil and deserving of unlimited punishment.

Warfare as a normal or necessary tactic. Clausewitz characterized war as “the continuation of policy by other means.” Many political and religious ideologies go a step further and consider violent struggle to be the driver of dialectical progress, revolutionary liberation, or the realization of a messianic age“.

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Democracy and the dangers of silence

(John Keane)

“We are living in a new era of large-scale catastrophes whose causes, ruinous effects and remedies demand bold new thinking about the way manufactured public silence operates as the currency of power. Calamities such as Fukushima, Deepwater Horizon and the recent near-collapse of Atlantic-region banks and credit institutions, John Keane argues, force us to reconsider the meaning of democracy and the inherited reasons why the old European ideal of freedom of communication is desirable – far more precious than our ancestors could possibly have imagined“.

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Unsustainable beliefs of the ‘theology’ of economics

Mark Anielski:

“I was taught a series of beliefs that formed the ‘theology’ of economics based on neoclassical economic theorems. I was taught to accept, without question, a set of theorems and beliefs in which human beings are reduced to income-constrained, rational consumers and utility maximizers operating within an economy where prices for goods and services and income distribution are determined through the dynamics of supply and demand. The central belief within neoclassical economics is that “growth is good”, that there are no limits to growth and that the key measure of progress is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

I then recognized the flaws and inconsistencies in the theology of neoclassical economics. What if all individuals are not motivated by utility maximization and materialism? Does the model fall apart if people act with compassion and altruism and choose not to consume but would rather live a life of simplicity? What is utility anyway? Is a “util” a unit of happiness? Can happiness be measured and monetized? I realized that markets were never perfect and were often ignorant or blind to the conditions of real assets such as natural capital and ecosystem services. There was no accounting by nations or corporations for the value of natural assets in their system. There was no accounting of risks to the environment from unsustainable economic growth or the damaging effects of industry on the environment.

(…)

Moreover, I learned that all nations and governments around the world operate without a full inventory of their human, social, natural and built assets: governments were operating without a balance sheet.

(…)

I realized that the reason economists and politicians kept calling for “more economic growth” as the path to sustained and improved wellbeing was because more GDP (more consumption and output of goods and services by business) was required to help manage the growing and unsustainable mountain of debt.

(…)

Part of the shift necessary in moving from the current economy of consumption, materialism and eternal economic growth will require increasing awareness among all people about how this “matrix” actually operates and the underlying belief system that sustains the system. In many ways, we are all complicit in keeping this economic matrix alive by our collective state of ignorance. Moreover, we believe in the lie of scarcity and the myth of money.

(…)

Economics may ultimately return to a discipline that concerns itself with evaluating the conditions of wellbeing of households in relationship with natural systems, as I imagine Aristotle originally envisioned in Greece“.

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The model of friendly positive revolution is still that of May 68

Rogelio López Cuenca:

“It is enough to note here that the call for sympathy and identification by readers and viewers is based on the selection of images by others who suddenly turn out to be “us”. Notice that the socially acceptable model, our model of friendly positive revolution, is still that of a May 68 reduced to a public exhibition of beauty and youth, two expensive basic products of our consumer economy; the idealised image that our society has of, or dreams about, itself. However, identification obviously does not happen only in terms of physical appearance, rejection of the others, their different air, their exotic look and their decision to look like us, but also as their demands coincide with values that, although we define them as universal, are considered western, of an unquestionable European origin: democracy, human rights, individual freedoms, and so on. If we add to this the repeated emphasis on the importance of the use of new communication technologies and virtual social networks, it would seem that we are witnessing a real conversion to the West. It apparently matters little that the strike forces – if you prefer, the cannon fodder – of these revolutions are being led by impoverished social sectors due to imposed neoliberal policies and the crisis of the global market system“.

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Influences of the Arab Revolts

Chiara Bottici and Benoit Challand:

“Since its Greek inception, direct democracy has been plagued by the dilemma arising from the fact that the participation of some in the deliberations taking place in the public square implied the exclusion of “others” (e.g., women, slaves) who had to take care of (re)production. The new logic of occupation breaks this vicious circle by making the collective care of basic needs not simply a precondition for democracy, but also an expression of democracy itself.
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…the protests in Arab countries signified a radical break in terms of a new sense of citizenship based on two general revolutionary principles:
The first is the logic of intersectionality and inclusion: People did not protest for their own sake and interests alone. They were unified and willing to assume the attendant risks for other socially vulnerable segments of society.
(…)
The second is what we can call “presentism,” that is, the attempt to reclaim the present time and refuse the alienation of a jobless future and bleak political prospects.
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It has become commonplace to say that the Arab revolts and Occupy Wall Street have failed because they did not manage to transform political institutions. This is the wrong stick with which to measure their achievements. By occupying public squares, these protests have occupied the space of democracy and thus taught us that democracy does not begin with the ballot box, but rather with us“.

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Democratization of culture vs sustainable development

Géraldine Dallaire  and François Colbert:

“…the shift that occurred from ‘protecting the culture of developing countries in the context of the economic development of wealthy countries’ to support for high culture through cultural policies.
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This goal of democratizing culture was subsequently adopted by the majority of industrialized countries. Underlying this commitment to democratization is the idea that a culture of high “quality,” or the so-called “high arts,” should be shared by all. This “legitimate” culture stands in contrast to cultural products intended for mass consumption (popular art).
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When the strategy of democratization of high culture failed to produce the expected results, stakeholders in the cultural sector sought to find other vocations for art.
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‘It is hypocritical, detrimental and useless to evoke democratization to justify support for arts institutions and professions’ Can we, today, replace the term ‘democratization’ with the term ‘sustainable development’? The question is an interesting one and worth debating. Is it not dangerous to ‘cry wolf’ too often? By seizing every opportunity and evoking every argument in the book to demand more support from governments, doesn’t the cultural community risk undermining its credibility? Should we perhaps consider a return to the notion of ‘art for art’s sake’? Should we not insist on the intrinsic benefits of art rather than instrumentalizing it by embracing all causes? And, especially, should we not feel a certain malaise at placing the protection of the cultures of poor countries on the same level as support for professional artistic activities in wealthy countries? For only a rich country can really afford to support a diversity of artistic activities carried out by citizens devoted to art on a full-time basis. Should we not simply redefine the notion of ‘cultural  democratization’ to encompass all forms of art, whether high or popular?”

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