Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Affective mapping

I am interested in considering Ahmed's discussion in light of habit. She formulates emotion as something active, relational, and embodied -- an 'impression' on the body is about contact, its 'expanding' and 'contracting', etc, are motions. She writes that "Emotions shape the very surfaces of bodies, which take shape through the repetition of actions over time, as well as through orientations towards and away from others." (4) So the habitual interaction with objects might be a way of reifying an emotional orientation.

I don't think she explicitly uses the term ritual, but the sense of mass ritual in the Anderson maps to the cultivation of love for an abstract nation that's touched on by Ahmed. Another example of love would be a romantic relationship that begins in exciting confusion and later becomes a sort of love-practice, or with fear that might transmute from a initial paralytic reaction to strategic gestures of defense. Habit then distills complicated feelings to something recognizable in the body. Shame, disgust, or even nostalgia take these ritualized forms that diffuse a kind of overwhelming and undetermined affect (maybe of the sort that accompanies Berlant's personal sovereignty?).

In that sense, I wonder if we can relate Ahmed to Jameson and Terranova by proposing "affective mapping" as an alternative formulation to cognitive mapping. A cognitive->rational sense of the dynamics of network culture might be difficult to realize, and Terranova stresses that the emotion of the body is not going to be regulated by the rational. But strategies for affective mapping might be what channel the intensity of the mass into practiced passions of identifiable political purpose.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Melancholia, Depression/Ahmed, Berlant

I didn't quite understand Berlant's argument in Cruel Optimism that (political) depression was a positive thing that could lead one to a better method of “navigating an ongoing and sustaining relation to the scene and circuit of optimism and disappointment” (27), and now I’m even more confused because Ahmed seems to be making a similar argument in her discussion of melancholia and queer grief.

Ahmed writes that she wants to challenge the idea that letting go of the lost object (Freudian mourning) is more beneficial than allowing the object to persist within the subject (melancholia). She references Eng and Kazanjian, who argue that melancholia functions as a method of “keeping the other…alive in the present” (159). I’m quite confused as to why Ahmed doesn’t seem to address this in terms of pathology, and instead seems to simply accept it as a ‘better’ method of engaging with queer grief. Melancholia, in keeping the other alive, creates a distorted field in which both subject and object become ‘undead,’ in which the border between life and death, past and present, is necessarily muddled. If Ahmed asks why we should feel compelled to ‘let go’ of these lost objects, I would argue that the creation of this blurred border, which thus requires the subject to reorient himself with regards to all questions of past/present and alive/dead, is harmful. If the spaces in between bodies are where the politics of emotion is able to work, then I would argue that the melancholic subject is unable to access these spaces in the same productive ways as non-melancholic subjects.

I feel like I must be missing something, since two different authors now have called for a rethinking of depression/melancholia as a potential positive event for rethinking human relationships to politics and affect. But really, it just seems strange to me. I can’t wrap my head around seeing these things as positive. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beck and Jameson

“The spatial peculiarities of postmodernism are symptoms and expressions of a new and historically original dilemma, one that involves our insertion as individual subjects into a multidimensional set of radically discontinuous realities, whose frames range from the still surviving spaces of bourgeois private life all the way to the unimaginable de-centering of global capital itself.” (Frederick Jameson)


Ulrich Beck’s “Logic of Wealth and Risk Distribution” discusses risk as something that is “mediated on principle through argument,” thus lending it an implicit conceptual nature (27).  Beck breaks down this “knowledge dependency” into two parts, the “theoretical” and the “normative.”  This breakdown relates to the difference between the actual recorded problem and the perceived identification of the problem as “a systematic side effect of modernization”(27).  This dichotomy of the perceived and the actual, which only act as “risk” when they come together, reminded me to a certain extent of Frederick Jameson’s argument about the death of the individual in the post-modern consumer world.


I located this correlation between Jameson and Beck by diagraming my comprehension of “risk” as follows: there is the self, which experiences a negative phenomenon (I’ll call, a problem); there is a diagnosis of the problem by a professional; there is the comprehension of the problem by both the individual and the larger community, within the structure of the culturally defined meaning of the problem.  Thus, between the self and the comprehension, the risk moves from a specifically personal phenomenon to an implicitly larger (perhaps even global) schematic. 


Through this diagram, Jameson’s interest in the “radically discontinuous realities” of the post-modern world seem to take on an interesting new meaning. While Jameson was originally talking more about identity in contemporary spatial temporal reality, it seems applicable to tie “identity” to a certain degree to “risk.”  Jameson’s and Beck’s essays demonstrate that they are, at the very least, correlated by nature of their similar basis in spatial temporal reality—which is to say, they are similarly dependent on the specificity of their point on these two axes.  Thus, while risk and identity do not necessarily relate to one another in a causal relationship, they share a similar causal relationship, which draws a link between their existences, and suggests that it can be hypothesized: the individual’s experience of risk in the larger schematic of the risk as a conception can be understood in much the same way as Jameson’s “individual” faces the risks inherent in post-modern reality.  The potential of this relationship leaves me wondering, is the dichotomy of the self and the comprehension, and the relationship between the two, the basis of an imagined community? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Imagined Unnatural Network

I was excited to hear about and see some interesting raw data, honest and upfront about the limited–though relatively impressive–scope of information it took into account in its process modeling. I was also interested in the actual focus of the study (trees) and was reminded of how I've have heard about the effects of deforestation in an affective manner (this also for some reason reminds me of our understanding of trash in the pacific ocean in terms of tiny bits of information processed for human consumption). Though these are interesting things I think might be worth talking about, I wanted to write about one specific trend I've bee noticing that may or may not be related to ideas of imagined networks.

Though he only explicitly mentioned the dichotomy once, some of Moorcroft's lecture made me think about the idea that human exist in some unnatural network that is effecting the natural network of the world. However some people believe humans are a part of nature. I understand that this differentiation may be simply practical use of language, especially for academic or theoretical chatter, but I think it is relevant to recognize that many scientific studies–to my knowledge (which means according to the channels of information that bring me "scientific studies")–treat humans as an unnatural element/variable in the model (certainly in many global warming models). The media and pop culture surrounding the word natural seems to commonly reaffirm that what humans do is not natural.

I'm not saying that it's good that humans will destroy the climate of this planet, but I do think it is very natural. However, I do think it is relevant to talk about how humans make something we've decided to call rational decisions, and that we strive toward some abstract greater progress. I wonder how separating ourselves off in our little exclusive "unnatural" bubble might hinder our understanding of our effect on the nature ecosystem network that our unnatural bubble was born and exists within. I think this imagined unnatural network is related to our lack of understanding of consciousness, rationality and our spiritualities (souls, awareness, quarkstrings/Higgs bosons, etc.) in terms of both first person experience and some type of neuroscience redefining happening.

The Model and Society

Something that I have found troubling in our study of networks is the lack of verification and gatekeeping in the networked system; suddenly all opinions can be shared equally throughout nodes, and therefore they can be repeated over and over again, such that the constant qualculation of popular opinion is swayed towards a widely held belief, regardless of its validity. This week, Moorcroft’s analysis of the model shows a different tradeoff: analysis of the validity of the model, rather than of the implications. This lecture drew back to another conversation this week, in which I overheard a professor trying to convince a student about the validity of the field of statistics. In order to persuade the student, she said that the field of statistics had moved away from attacking each other’s methods and moving to mixed methods, combining the strengths of multiple approaches, in order to draw the most accurate conclusions. I have less faith in this idea that fields have turned towards minimizing the noise about how the information is generated in order to maximize the signal of the information itself. Especially in the case of modeling, in which a model for the future could inspire an immediate call to action, changing the constants of the model and therefore making its prediction inaccurate, the tension between knowledge and its meaning becomes more pronounced. As such, my understanding of the relationship between scientific knowledge and its dissemination into the general public is well described as a “general amalgam of agents and conditions, reactions and counter-reactions, which brings social certainty and popularity to the concept of the system” (33).
What exactly does this adjustment mean, and how can we shift the volume and validity of information to engage with the information itself, rather than the package it is delivered in?


As I’m reading the Beck article, I keep being reminded of Paul Moorcroft’s lecture on Tuesday, which neatly exemplified some of Beck’s early points. Near the end of class, someone asked Moorcroft a question that I can’t remember but that I think was something to the effect of what should be done with the results of these models. Moorcroft responded by emphasizing his status as “just a scientist,” implying that he could not make ethical judgments or recommendations from an “expert” position (though he did note that as a “member of society,” he of course had opinions). This response (which I wish I could remember more accurately) is a perfect example of Beck’s point that “there is no expert on risk” (29). Scientists prize objectivity, and their process depends on it, but this emphasis allows little room for meaningful risk assessments, since, as Beck says, “one must assume an ethical point of view in order to discuss risks meaningfully at all” (29).  The ethics and value judgments (“how do we wish to live?”) implicit in talking about risk seem to be beyond the purview of science. Hence, the disconnect between social movements and scientists. Barry’s response also provides a space to think through how value judgments necessarily inform risk assessment—his (/our) point of view is based on the assumed consensus global warming is what we don’t want, and that, though we do want big business, its short term benefits should not outweigh the long term concerns.

Risk in Light of Facts

In some ways Ulrich Beck would probably interpret the “Perception of Climate Change” study as a step in the right direction, however his paper highlights some important aspects of risk which is blatantly fails to address. The paper is quite rigorous in elucidating the overwhelming likelihood of global warming through the direct mechanism of analyzing the previous fifty years, and the changes of mean temperature month-by -month. Their most effective argument can be summed up with two pieces of data, the fact that there is a 2.3% chance of the temperature exceeding 2 standard deviations (of local seasonal mean temperature) and a 0.13% chance of an excess of three standard deviations, paired with the actual  recorded changes of these events occurring around the globe. Their study showed that with more and more frequency abnormally high temperature have occurred around the globe, with zero percent of the globe seeing surface temperature anomalies above 3 standard deviations happening in 1955, 65, or 75, however in 2009, 10, and 11 the percent effected were  17.6%, 13%, and 14.8% respectively  - and recent abnormalities of 2 standard deviations have been consistently 10-20 percent higher than those recorded in the first three decades mentioned.  Furthermore they do not draw their maps along national boundaries which is aligned with Becks’ thinking that risk is amorphous and not evenly distributed. While this evidence is very convincing of general climate change, nonetheless according to Beck it may very well not ferment any significant change in humanities actions.
                The authors of the study say in their conclusion “With the temperature elevated by global warming, and ubiquitous surface heating from greenhouse gas amounts, extreme drought conditions can develop” (Hansen et al, 8) and reference other projected effects, such as hotter summers, unusually heavy rainfall, and change in the range of animals. However the devil is in the details here – yes, they have statistically shown that it is very likely that global warming is happening – but the link to greenhouse gasses which they mention is not highlighted in their study. While they name various risks, these are all risks mainly explained in terms of how they will affect the environment, and ignore one key point which beck warns against:  letting humans atrophy from the natural in the terms of your debate. Indeed they mention that people who have lived through the fifties on might notice the frequency of these abnormally hot summers; however this  can oxymoronically reduce this group’s worries as those who’s livelihood isn’t directly changed by the natural factors have probably not been worried by these changes – and may have even enjoyed the rays of sunshine. As Beck says “In definition of risks, the sciences monopoly on rationality is broken. there are always competing and conflicting claims, interests and viewpoints of the various agents of modernity and effected groups” (Beck, 29).
            Those groups which have a financial stake in the question whether greenhouse gasses are to blame for this climate change (and subsequently, the source of these gasses) will “and attempt to bring up other causes and other originators" (Beck, 31). Indeed there are many huge industries which rely on the continued production of greenhouse gasses – oil, and coal as fuels –and as such they will attack this Achilles Heel of the argument that this paper puts forward. Likewise, this study does not really address risk multipliers, such as the self-reflexive cycle where increased submerging of the polar ice caps reduces their ability to reflect the sun and thus causes the poles to absorb more heat, further speeding this process. Though more extreme weather patterns are already visible in many facets, this does not change social perception - "risks have something to do with anticipation, with destruction that has not yet happened but is threatening, and of course the sense that risks are not yet real today” (Beck, 33).
            So with the combined force of not entirely certain causes, and many industry advocates trying to confuse the public discussions of global climate change the public is unlikely to demand change, and divided politics keeps any fundamental change from happening.  “The old question: how do we wish to live? What is the human quality if humankind, the natural quality of nature which is to be preserved“ (Beck, 28) is obfuscated by shortsightedness, and the dual nature of risk as real and unreal. The death blow is delivered when "causes dribble away into a general amalgam of agents and conditions...this reveals in an exemplary fashion the ethical significance of the system concept: one can do something and continue doing it without having to take personal responsibility for it" (Beck, 33). I think Beck’s main critique of this study would be that “scientific rationality without social rationality remains empty" (Beck, 30), empty in the sense that something must be done with this data, but in going directly against the overwhelming mode of industrial production the argument reaches an impasse. It is not that the Hansen et al. make an argument too extreme, but that they make an argument not extreme enough, or not fully realized. Albeit, one scientific study can only cover so much ground, and so it must be viewed in the context of a puzzle piece but not as the whole of an argument.

Risk Position & Modeling Climate Change

In the paper written by Hansen, Sato, and Reudy, climate change is presented as imminent, inevitable, and, largely, ignorable. Despite the data indicating that the 'climate dice' are loaded to have a higher chance of abnormally hot weather anomalies, the authors agree that public recognition of human-made climate change is difficult precisely because the data tends to revolve on chance. Furthermore, the data they use spans over 30 years, and the authors themselves recognize that although the generation that lived during the time of data collection, the model is based on a protracted timeline that makes it difficult to eliminate all other explanations besides climate change.

In reading Beck, I was able to understand a little bit of what the authors of the previous article were trying to articulate about data being 'not believed'. While discussing agents of modern science, Beck claims:

"The obviousness of the danger places more and more obstacles in the way of the customizing routines of the minimizing and covering up." (52)

This would indicate that as our models grow more sophisticated in time, other explanations for climate change would diminish in prevalence. We saw this a little bit in lecture last Tuesday, where Paul Moorcroft explained how newer technologies and conceived methods of modeling (like the ED model) has allowed for more accurate measurements of deforestation in the Amazon. However, Beck makes the argument that despite our increasingly sophisticated diagnostic concepts, our knowledge is still obsessed with the 'unimaginable', the 'unthinkable' of the threat.  Our risk position teeters on the balance of reality and the possibility, and our risk position, or consciousness, determines being.

Here I lose Beck a little in the point he is trying to make. Is he invoking Berlant's historical present? Is he describing the crisis-ordinary? And is our risk position itself conscious to us? It seems that were climate change is concerned, it is not.

Denialism and Irrational Thought

I was interested in the mobilizing effect of anxiety Beck pointed to at the end of chapter 1, which in regards to risk society has produced a type of denialism, in which rational scientific skepticism is replaced with a fanatic commitment to something like ideology e.g. parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of reported links between vaccinations and autism.  In regards to this type of widespread  anxiety can we equate Berlant’s precarity with something like the democratic nature of “smog” as put forth by Beck?

When considering Risk Society and something like denialism or Irrational Thought, two impactful world-wide trends come to mind: the  increasing medicalization of our society, in which normal human conditions or events have become treatable disorders, and the hyper-innovation of our tech industry. When did shyness become social anxiety disorder? Impotence erectile dysfunction? There is an increasing gap between our dependence on technology and scientific expertise, and the average person’s actual comprehension of its working. You will take vitamins, but are you clear on how they are functioning inside of your body, how they are metabolized, and if they even function in the way they are advertised to? There is a disparity in control between users and experts, between patients and doctors.  These are two systems, both defined by modernization, that we are wholly dependent on and strikingly ignorant to.

In discussing the “new global ascription of risk,” Beck notes the inconsequentiality of individual agency as the threats that exist, “the toxins and pollutants” are now “interwoven with the natural basis and the elementary life processes of the industrial world.” How much is risk society’s being “closed to decisions” (41) similar to Berlant’s individual treading water in the impasse of the present ? I’m interested in Beck and Berlant since a Risk Society and Crisis ordinariness or the impasse of the present seem to put forth completely different temporalities. In recognizing risk we are simultaneously  pessimistic (“preventing the worst”) (49) and forward-thinking (“we become active today in order to prevent the problems ..of tomorrow”) (48) placing risk and the strategies to address risk decidedly in the future. Do Berlant and Beck represent a double-bind of our contemporary situation, that of indulging in the familiar circulation within a present  we understand to have no future, while simultaneously being terrified of a future defined by forces we are vulnerable to, responsible for, and incapable of preventing/controlling?


I have a lot of questions about some terms:

I don't understand the relationship between scarcity and risk and how one comes to replace the other, "The place of eliminating scarcity is taken by eliminating risk" (47)

What is the difference between scientific and social rationality, or not what is the difference but how does one reconcile the two when one is trying to model individuals on a large scale and what exactly does it mean when Beck writes of a "loss of social thinking", I know in lecture the answer was, "well what is the alternative"? Also, what happens to the risk that is there but is unquantifiable, he writes, "these incalculable threats add up to an unknown residual risk which becomes the industrial endowment for everyone everywhere". Also, is a "threat" an unquantifiable risk?

Something I was thinking about while thinking about climate change and the risk essay was about how they are communicated. I thought back to Terranova's discussion about affect and communication not just being about the sender, receiver, noise model, and I felt like the graphs didn't really do much interms of affect. Even the color diagrams of the global temperature change didn't really tell me much about what that would be like, or feel like. Then the question came up of which trend they show that is more extreme and affectatious to get people to take notice.  I just wonder if there is a different way of communicating these large scale models of invisible, "deniable" phenomenon, maybe not through diagrams, graphs, and such, but with animation, paint, and film where you insert humans back into these abstracted concepts and show what it would really look or feel like. That being said, I don't really know how productive it would be.

I get the feeling that what this is really trying to do is quantify compassion and give hard facts as reasons for empathy and compassion beyond national boundaries, economic or military allies, and see the world as inhabited by humans instead of assets or points on an x/y doomsday axis. Or maybe this obsession with prediction, models, and accuracy is symptomatic of something else that is happening, why isn't it enough to know that the environment is changing right now, that nuclear accidents have happened, that there is inequality. Maybe the scientific rationality impulse is in denial or fetishizing risk, change, and threat or maybe it is a way to keep the notion of  "other" (race, class, nationality, etc) alive in a world where those notions are becoming increasingly irrelevant because of precisely those threats and risks and what produces them.

Working Models

In reading Beck and, listening to Paul Moorcroft's lecture I could not help but consider the question of what work models serve to do and how they accomplish this work. In the Moorcroft lecture particularly, the disjunction between the larger affective work of the model as a tool to inform and empower social and political agency seemed to conflict with literal work of the model to represent, translate, and encapsulate reality as accurately as possible came to the forefront. This disjunction is an extension of the problematic of the nexus of science and ethics that is central to Beck's discussion of risk. On the one hand, the scientist, with his awareness of the risk is obligated ethically to act in such a way to mitigate the risk, something best achieved through affect which can be translated into action (dire predictions about the demise of the rainforest), and on the other he is ethically obligated by his discipline and its long term credibility to present  accurate information about the risk(the impetus for the ED model). As Beck notes in his section on the fallacy of acceptable levels, this itself is a difficult enough task as it is by definition ethically charged and therefore incapable of being scientifically objective, particularly when the variable of scale of risk is introduced. Further, the fundamental inability to accurately model real conditions, after all, translations can only amount to approximations, raises the question of whether this aspect of the models should be dominant.

What if we look at models that exist outside of the risk economy. Architectural models serve as a means to convey complex ideas about real physical situations. While they require a degree of accuracy, they are at their most effective when they are the most affective. When a model encapsulates a feeling or idea in an evocative and convincing way, one that appeals to affect rather than rational explanation, it is at its most effective. In recent years the trend within architectural representation has been in the direction of more affective representation, in the forms of experiential renderings, distorted, manipulated, and rich perspectives which express the building rather than explain it. The portion of the image below that is obscured by light, cloud, or motion blur is telling.

These images are used to convince clients, win competitions, and are in general the new standard of representation. They attempt to capture the dynamic experience and acknowledge both the model's and building's existence as part of a flow. The model, as a tool for design and understanding, is always changing, the image is but a fixed and fleeting viewpoint, and these rendering techniques aim to capture the general characteristics. The building is also always changing, in terms of its relationship to its surroundings, how it is used, how people view it, and how they are affected by / affect it. The model and the image serve to convey that openness. They are fundamentally understood to not be directly or completely accurate to reality (although there is a counter trend within the field of parametricism). This understanding allows the space required for multiple interpretations to be grafted onto the same object/image and maintain its presence within the flow of production as tool for further creative development rather than a static piece of information pulled out of the milieu from which one can only make inferences about that which remains unseen. 

In this sense, models that are involved in the risk economy in their attempts at approximation might gain further legitimacy by emphasizing the fact that they are an approximation and a tool for understanding, recasting themselves in terms of constructing an affective relationship (between human and climate). In emphasizing connection first and the accuracy of the model of that connection as secondary, though still incredibly necessary people such as climate change scientists might be more able to achieve the widespread public awareness they so desperately desire while maintaining the accuracy they require. The must remember that models serve as representations, and can draw off of non-scientific disciplines to add another dimention of effectiveness beyond accuracy.

Two Cultures

I was struck, while reading Beck's essays, by a certain type of animosity that appears - sometimes unintentionally, sometimes quite intentionally - between the notion of the "scientist" and the "sociologist." It is notorious of course that scientists and social scientists, and especially those in the humanities, have a different methodology for the allotment of value when it comes to social systems such as politics, economics, ethics, etc. In Beck's arguments this difference often becomes alarmingly clear. There are moments in the reading when I felt as though Beck was attacking outright the institution of science and the credibility of the scientific method. Beck seems to be blaming scientists for their lack of social consciousness. While indeed, some of the methods he points out lead to an over-generalization of the problem of pollutants in a population, many of Beck's complaints would be solved by turning these scientists into sociologists, like Beck himself. The issue I take with Beck's assessment is that making a scientist a social scientist or social critic would defeat the purpose of having scientists in the first place - those who objectively assess cause and effect. It seems as though Beck should be calling for a new discipline, say of social scientists, who can apply scientific knowledge through a filter of "humanity" in order to come to conclusions that are neither oversimplifications nor generally dangerous. The mixing of ethics into science is a dangerous business. Perhaps the atomic bomb should never have been built, investigated, experimented upon, yet who is to stop the progress of scientific research? Who is to dictate what should and should not be done? It is frightening for me to deny ethics a place in science, yet scientific creativity and innovation so much depends so much upon objectivity, impartiality... and Beck sometimes seems to jump the gun, attempting to speed up the process of the scientific method.

Of course it is not all negative criticism. Beck does point out the important work that scientists do in order to expose risks. Without any scientific research there would be no risk, but there would be no attempt to solve the risk either. Thus we see an interesting paradox unfold, where evidence of risk 1) sets standards for what is "acceptable risk" 2) creates knowledge and a publicly accessible risk and 3) also allows for both the defense of current practices and movement towards change. Though I am by no means a scientist, I often feel a double standard working... to summarize the novelist & essayist CP Snow: when a scientist has not read Shakespeare, he is looked down upon as lacking in education, yet ask someone in the humanities to define the second law of thermodynamics (equivalent perhaps in importance to Shakespeare for this anecdote), no one blinks an eye if they cannot answer. This is how I feel about asking everyone to undertake a subjective study, but not insisting the same for objectivity.

On a similar note, I found it interesting that when this article was published - 20 years ago now - so much animosity was indeed targeted at scientists for their lack of control and discretion over pollutants. Today, the tabels seem to have shifted, at least within the media I am exposed to. Those concerned about the risk factors of pollutants and other environmentally unsustainable practices place science on the progressive side of the argument - as evidence that change is necessary. Corporations and governments seem to carry much of the negative weight now, that Beck seems to only partially delegate to them in his paper in the 90's. This change is interesting to me - I am curious what it signifies in our attitudes towards the risk inherent science and technology versus corporations and the use of technology today, and how this has evolved.

Public Recognition of Risk and the Role of Expert Networks

Crisis, like extreme weather anomalies in the summer, come and go. Risk is distributed across a multitude of variables from ice sheets losing mass to bizarre weather patterns and invariable climates. That the Earth’s mean surface temperature has changed .8 degrees over the past 100 years is beyond the scope of one human’s experience and their intuitive capacity to under crisis. The only way lay people can make sense of global warming’s totality is by the come and go of anomalies, in such a way that a swelling hot day in Texas one summer becomes the crisis ordinary. Why then does Hansen’s journal article insist that public recognition of global warming is so critical? Why do we need to convince everyone about the realness of global warming if we need to use elegant mathematical analyses to prove its impact?

I understand that risk must be socially recognized if it is to become a matter of politics and public debate, but why are we fascinated by the question “is global warming real?” rather than “should we reduce greenhouse gases and other byproducts of industrial overproduction?” Why does Hansen think that wide-scale public recognition is so necessary if the systematic way of dealing with risk largely requires international co-operation by political actors? I am fascinated by Hansen’s warning that everyone needs to understand—that if we do not together reverse-engineer the escalation soon—we are doomed. He says, “stabilizing climate with conditions resembling those of the Holocene can only be achieved if rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions begins soon.” If global warming is recognized by all national science academies, all multinational development agencies, all industrialized nations etc., why does Hansen make such an obvious claim seem threatening? And what does “soon” mean in this context? If it is impossible to conceive of global warming on personal, local scales, if it is impossible to appreciate or discern long-term, invisible change, and we must rely on the Global Historical Climatology Network to imagine the unimaginable, then we need to make decisions in real-time and make decisions now. A la Jameson, we need to use the power of networks to regain our ability to act, but convincing people to reduce personal risks is futile. Global warming is so much larger than an individual node that we need a top-down intervention. Otherwise, we will miss the boat. 

Definitions, Please

I struggled with Beck’s analysis of risk and risk distribution for several reason, the most pertinent being that there was a disconnect in the piece, either in the structure of the argument or in the lack of definitive terminology, that led to increased abstraction and ambiguity and ultimately increased my overall skepticism of these vague impending destructive forces that he speaks of, etc. etc. For example, Beck continuously referenced modernization, but more so from a distance, reluctantly addressing agents and causality. He says that scientific and environmental discussion often avoid the human, separating and/or isolating the discussion from the social/personal, but his analysis did a similar thing in that sense for me. Although he looks at civilization and recognizes causal interpretation as necessary in preventing overarching, umbrella statements, that conversation came much too late. Another way I found Beck difficult was that he used traditional terms like wealth and knowledge in an untraditional sense that made working through them almost impossible because one definition fit a certain context and didn’t necessarily pertain to a context that followed. In the way that Beck suggests the definition of risk has moved away from individual pursuits towards universal hazards/effects, changing over time, he doesn’t really pin point how wealth has changed as well, not to mention how politics complicates his theories all together.

There were, however, two quotes I found really fascinating:

  • “Scientific rationality without social rationality remains empty, but social rationality without scientific rationality remains blind.” (30) à This seems simple and clear and yet I still don’t really understand it. How are “empty” and “blind” operating here? And then also looking again at rationality would be useful. Can rationality be substituted for justification or something similar and still give these statement weight?

  • “Everyone is cause and effect, and thus non-cause.” (33) à Suggests that power is negated as a result of societal noise. Relates to averaging effect? Is this related to quasi-causality?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Risk Society pre/post 9/11

“In the risk society, the past loses the power to determine the present.  Its place is taken by the future, thus, something non-existent, invented, fictive as the ‘cause’ of current experience and action.  We become active today in order to prevent, alleviate or take precautions against the problems and crises of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow –or not to do so.” (pg. 34)
“The relevance and importance of these variables is directly proportional to their unpredictability and their threat, and we (must) project the latter in order to determine and organize our present actions.” (pg. 34)

I was seven years old when Ulrech Beck’s thesis was published in 1986. 
Beck’s examples of the global implications of the noxious by-products of industrialization; DDT, deforestation and the toxic chemicals in “foodstuffs” seem so insignificant when compared to present-day America.
Environmental issues are still a hot topic as proven by the popularity (and Oscar win) for “An Inconvenient Truth.”   Al Gore’s demand for government intervention to cap ozone eating emissions was a shared sentiment by the public even before many of us drove to the theater.  Add a financial and economic crisis to the mix, 2 wars and the presence of a visible threat (Al Qaeda) and we’re all setup for risk society reaction and inaction(paralysis).

If the United States wasn’t a risk society before September, 11 2001, I believe we are now.   In the late 90’s and early 00’s, the byproducts of America’s consumption were having global affects.  While we still celebrated our triumph over the Y2K bug from 2000,  the unimaginable happened.

“As the risk society develops, so does the antagonism between those afflicted by risks and those who profit from them.  The social and economic importance of knowledge grows similarly, and with it the power over the media to structure knowledge and disseminate it.”

For the past ten years American’s have been fighting the “war on terrorism.” Politicians, businesses and individuals used 9/11 as a platform to pitch their party’s agenda or personal gain.