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Xárene Eskandar
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Apr 4, 2007
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    I rarely share CNN stuff; they suck in journalism. But this little window into Shishmaref, Alaska is interesting.

    There is a concern of dialects and languages being lost, and as a result, cultures being lost. Of 4000 or so spoken languages, we have about 2500 left, some spoken by as little as one person, and when that person is gone, the language is gone unless it was successfully transmitted.

    However, at the same time that we are losing ancient languages and cultures, we are gaining new ones. This is either happening the way it has happened for centuries, which is by the fragmentation of social and cultural groups that leads to dialects; or in more creative ways such as completely new construction—which also has historical roots—such as Esperanto, Klingon and now Na'vi. Are the linguists and scientists too worried with loss of old languages (and cultures) to realize the new emerging ones? But the concern for loss of language extends to regular people too, speakers of a particular language, not just scientists. Let's take current English as an example. In the comments of the io9 post linked above, one person says "Work on America speaking better English first." And a few comments are exchanged on what is really about the action the limitations of technology have taken on changing our language, primarily SMS and IM by altering our spelling, and now tweets that require new abbreviated grammar, which also incorporates the new spelling, all compounding the transformation of informal written English.

    As both student and teacher, I have always been meticulous of proper spelling and grammar. I am even picky with tweets, SMS and IM and spell everything out (yes, I face space and character limitations too frequently because because is not bcuz). However, after reading and re-reading De Landa's chapter Memes and Norms in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, I am more convinced of allowing English to be changed through our use of technology. Technology is adding new words (blog) and redefining old words (blackberry). As we are becoming more intertwined with and defined by our technologies, why can they not define new grammar and new spelling? As De Landa puts it, 'the sheer weight of numbers decides its ultimate fate.' He provides Norman French and Roman Latin as examples where though one was the language of English aristocracy, and the other was regulated and forced through the language of law and religion, neither were able to 'take over as the language of the masses', because the masses were speaking their own languages and dialects and they outnumbered the ruling classes. So we can enforce proper spelling and grammar by attaching consequences to it like the Romans did—with grades instead of arm power—or we accept that the growing number of English speakers are adopting new spelling and grammar. This is not a new idea, it's called Spelling and Language Reformation.



    Ed Rondthaler illustrates redundancies of English spelling.

    I think I may have written somewhere on SC, about my anxiety over losing languages; saddened over the switch from blackberry to Blackberry. I still feel sad when I learn of nature words omitted from the Oxford English Dictionary for Children. How can children be taught to care for nature and environment when they do not know or understand the words that define it?

    Omitting words and redefining word spelling are different though. Marcos Novak disagrees; he asserts that 'changing spelling, changes meaning therefore completely changing the language because the connection to the root word is lost'; the original word may as well be omitted from the language. I disagree on the premise that society and humanity are constantly changing and cannot be defined by old words and older meanings. As technologies create more modes of interactions and emotions, our old language will not have enough words for describing and expressing ourselves. In turn we create new words and redefine old words. As we evolve, we advance our language. But if we are adamant about tying everything to proper root words as they were being used in 800AD, 1600 or even 1980, will we not face a problem of inadequate expression? A while back some members of SpaceCollective began brainstorming new word definitions—in a way, reclaiming the language to fit our current needs and modes of expression. (I can't locate the post and it's string of comments. If you do, please create a synapse.) Etymology is vertical and hierarchical, while redefinition is horizontal and mesh-like. The vertical is a slice through strata with diversity across time, while the horizontal stitches together from a larger cultural sample where time is not varied, but common (or has little variety, ie. 15 years, not 150 years). A word which was relevant at one time, is not relevant at another time. Loyalty to the root is therefor not feasible as it slows down emotional and cognitive evolution.

    My title for this post, Language as Virus, is not from William S Burroughs' quote, "Language is a virus from outer space." I have not even been able to locate the context of that quote. (the internet may seem like a good place to look for something, but sometimes it is too big to find what you are looking for.) I came about the title when I began thinking how words are formed and accepted between a group of people, and drew a literal parallel with a virus, an agent that replicates through a host body. This also came about from reading the opening paragraph to the Memes and Norms chapter:

    Human languages are defined by sounds, words, and grammatical constructions that slowly accumulate in a given community over centuries. These cultural materials do not accumulate randomly but rather enter into systematic relationships with one another, as well as with the human beings who serve as their organic support.


    In the case of our ubiquitous technologies, who is the virus: (the) language (of technology) or technology itself? Are we the hosts, or is our language the host? Are we the agents of change through the language or is technology changing us? My mind went wild thinking of the cycle: We create mimetic systems; they take control; we become mimetic systems; we take back control, and the cycle continues—a popular sci-fi plot. However, the "they" are not the machines, the robots, etc. it is the language, the vowels, the consonants, the syllables. Soon we will speak code. The break down and baring of language to shorthand logic for everyday communication and transmission of information is inevitable. We already do that through email and text messaging where all words are reformulated to codes and eventually broken down to two numbers. We are already internally vocalizing the same complex-to-simple shift when reading w/ r u 2day? (Is SMS written or spoken language?)

    Language is communication. Language is culture. Language is poetry. Language is a hand-woven silk rug. Language is a hunting scene painted on the wall of a cave. They all communicate a story about their originating and executing culture. The 'etymology' of these languages are varied; we cannot trace them to a common or single poem, rug, painting, etc. So why should we insist on tracing our spoken and written language to a single common word, an instance in time, so long ago that we cannot even identify with?
    Fri, Dec 18, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: language, code, rant
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    I wrote this post December 2008 but didn't publicly post it here. I don't why, other than I hate facebook, I was ranting and thought I'll keep it to myself.

    But, appearing in this past year (2009), there are already solutions to what I see as new emerging problems with the internet and usage being confined to pre-designed and pre-determined spaces. Social networking needs to move into a broader collaborative environment for generating meaning, as well as moving away from information consumption to knowledge building. I don't want to hear of 'user-generated content'. Content doesn't always contain meaning; it is a neutral word and neutrality in the space of the internet is what allows it to deviate from full integration with the greater human network.

    The World Wide Web was meant to connect everyone without boundaries and borders to everywhere. We were hotly pursuing unique and personal web and email addresses. YourName@hotmail.com and YourName.com were the catch of the day. Web addresses had permanent 'open house' for all to enter and visit and they were growing by the day. If you were a 'creative' you had your own dot com address and if you were not, you were on Tripod, Geocities, Angelfire or something of the sort. Site designs were personalized on the low-end with centre-justified mutli-coloured fonts and flashy animated gifs, or on the high-end with flashy Flash interfaces which come as presets and tools in new versions of Flash these days, or are just coded in HTML. Regardless of looks and limits in terms of who was online, and minus members-only forums, everyone was welcome everywhere.

    Type the address and click Enter, the World Wide Web was an undiscriminating portal.

    This trend of personalized websites and addresses became more and more sophisticated and by the dot com bust, if you Google a band or DJ, local or international, you would find their website; if you Google a friend you may have found them as well. You were also likely to not find your long-lost friends and classmates. You could pay up and use FindYourClassmates.com or some other people-finder web service, or you could use orkut and a select number of other newly minted "social networks." Your web just got cast bigger and wider because now you can find those who never had the personal web space nor the Tripod or Angelfire public spaces. Simultaneously blogs and vlogs start popping up and the web is getting bigger because every mom is now blogging about their toddler's eating habits and their family vacations and DIY home projects.

    The web is out of control! All the people you find, all the information all the happenings!

    But one day, you are forced to make an account before you can view a friend's profile, or read a blog or view pictures. You're closed off unless you join. What's the harm, so you make a friendster profile—but soon switch to myspace because you don't like friendster telling you who you can or cannot be on the web. You make a profile for yourself (and one for your cat for shits and giggles). Soon after you're barraged with friend requests (even for your cat from some obscure band trying to create a fan base). Well, you have the myspace so why not try the next popular marketing trick, facebook. This is all a blast because you are re-connecting with friends you didn't even know you have!

    We are under the illusion—or is it delusion?—that our network has grown.

    The web has allowed for everyone to have presence in the world, and to be reached and read and viewed and reacted upon. Social networking sites and blog sites have taken this connectivity one step further by allowing for everyone to have a "personalized" presence regardless of skill and technical capabilities. But three issues have emerged:

    1_The true meaning of personalization is lost.
    2_The web is compartmentalized and actually made smaller.
    3_All information is secondary and tertiary. Primary sources are lost.


    1_
    I do not miss rainbow comic sans and animated gifs, but I do miss the obvious effort one made to create a personal website in an attempt at having a presence all their own. Despite the abundance of custom designed and coded websites, and personalized WordPress sites which veer far from standard WP, a massive majority of internet users link to standardized facebook/twitter/myspace profiles—the status quo of our online presence, masked as personal spaces of expression. The IKEA and DWR of the internet. A personal website (YourChosenTag.com) is hardy viewed unless it is the provided direct link on one of these social networking portals or if one makes a conscious decision to include a personal website in lieu of the social network profile.

    HTML, CSS and Javascript are languages of our time. I see no reason for every internet user* of 2009 to not know these fundamental communication languages to create their own existence online, even if it means creating the 90's equivalent websites in the latest version of Dreamweaver. The knowledge and command of these vocabularies for self-expression, is equal to building our vocabulary for our spoken language and expressing our thoughts verbally. To be more eloquent, we will quote and borrow thoughts from others whom are well-established. However, we will never be fully realized unless we take full command of our spoken language and begin forming our own thoughts and combination of vocabulary to communicate in. Similarly, we will take a myspace page and customize it to a certain permitted degree in CSS in order to express ourself, but a myspace page for a band will never ever explore the full range of creative possibilities a band can possess when the knowledge of the markup language is limited to begin with, and further limited by the nature of the space within which it is used. LinkdIn and facebook leave no space for web languages to be exercised, and their perfect, regulated aesthetic only reveal the flawed social constructs of regulation and order: the economic system (where you worked, at what capacity, on what corporate gig) and of empty, one-way relationships ("for any one listening" here is my status for today...), where for acceptance we voluntarily stereotype and order ourselves into groups and affiliations.

    Updating news about oneself on facebook is about as impersonal as mass emails where an unknown number of recipients, maybe 5, maybe 500 are BCC'd. Though I hate CC's, I actually feel better with accidental CC's where I realize I am one of say 5 recipients 'chosen' to receive the news. I feel good to be thought of, it even feels better to know I was manually chosen; not only did s/he think of me, but actually went through a contact list of hundreds and clicked the radio button by my name. Just as the mass emailing, the facebook status updates have no intended target audience and no personalization of the subject. No, 'your network of friends' is too broad; every friend is different, and not every friend needs to know everything. As a result of receiving news in the passing, the system of empathy breaks.

    2_
    Costco and IKEA offer everything you think you need and everything you never thought you need in large and cheap quantities. Both deal with consumption, one with comfort in excess, the other with lifestyle. If we limit ourselves to these two mega-stores which offer everything, we would miss out on the whole Mall and all the other offerings and our world gets reduced from the expanse of the Mall to the confines of these two stores. The isolation and shrunken space is furthered if we get catalogues and communication from only these stores. I would sit in a cafe, airport, school, and peek over and discover a new site someone was viewing. We all catch glimpses of each other's screens and a good part of what I see these days is a mini-web of a few million: facebook.

    Social network users (being a 'user' is a key issue I have, as opposed to being a 'creator') are like the Costco and IKEA shoppers who hardly venture to other stores. Even if they do check somewhere else out, it is through a recommendation or link on facebook. Considering the billions of pages that make the internet, it appears that many have become captive users of a few compartmentalized sites, rather than discoverers and creators of a greater number.

    3_
    A friend and I decided to go to an after party one night. I asked where the party is and she didn't know. She said "it was on my facebook". She might as well have said it was on a passing taxi ad. Not being on facebook myself, I didn't even know about the party, but my friend who is a facebook user didn't have much information either. I think our party life would have been more hopping if we knew the primary source of the information, and if it was posted on a more open and accessible network. This incident was not isolated.

    Information is easily shared and spread on the internet and as a result we are in a situation where news needs to be verified. It travels fast, gets re-posted over and over, commented on, reabsorbed, paraphrased, etc. Within less than a day, the original news source is not only lost, but the message is many times transformed. We have to pick and chose to find the right source and our task is harder online with the billions of webpages out there. But Google can only pull about 17% of those anyway**. To add to this dilemma of finding the right source, many of us get subjective selections of news through facebook posts. More often than not, all information in regards to a news worthy event, or a topic of interest, is right there on the Wall, requiring no need to navigate away from that facebook page. The act of 'navigating away' has long been a concern of web designers and marketers and we have seen many engaging ways of keeping people on a website, not allowing them to lose attention and move on to something else. facebook has brilliantly solved this by utilizing our trusted network, in addition to creating an easy interface for adding and sharing information. But the very sinister convenience of staying on one place and trusting your network means many times we do not seek the primary source of information. All information is therefore secondary.

    Granted human knowledge is bazillionary in terms of the generations and number of mouths and minds it has passed through to get to us, but we still have primary sources of knowledge to refer to for building new knowledge. We shouldn't be using and absorbing information; we should be building and creating new knowledge and that isn't happening if we don't venture out into the World Wide Web without a safety net.

    I want to get lost online and never come across a familiar index page.




    * Okay, so I kinda know js.
    ** I read that somewhere online.
    Fri, Nov 6, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: rant, facebook, anti-social networks
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    Maybe this explains why aliens abduct Earthlings for sexual experiments.
    Fri, Aug 28, 2009  Permanent link

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    A collection of essays by great thinkers and doers of the "third culture" in response to an annual question posed by Edge.

    Tue, Apr 7, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: John Brockman
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    Sat, Mar 14, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: bionic
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    In the chapter titled Author as Producer of Walter Benjamin's Reflections, he introduces Sergei Tretiakov's 'operating writer', and how his/her mission, as opposed to the 'informing writer', is "not to report but to struggle; not to play the spectator but to intervene actively". This description is of the author not as activist—because an activist behaves reactionary—but the author as producer, one who creates the revolution field for and with the proletariat. The activist writer is counter revolutionary as that writer "feels his solidarity with the proletariat only in his attitudes, not as a producer." Then there is the 'hack writer' who within his bourgeoisie class utilizes "the productive apparatus... by improving it in ways serving the interests of socialism." Literature, photography, music and theatre are used as examples of such tools, their political functions being to show the world as it is.

    Either tool can take either stance (bourgeoisie or proletariat). The photograph for instance can present a scene capitalizing on the image of a beautiful world; with a caption, however, it can be utilized by the producer author to tell a completely different story. In case of music, Hanns Eisler observes that "music without words gained importance under capitalism". Change is impossible without words, which then makes a concert of words added to music a political meeting. Words, however, have now been assimilated into the Capitalist culture and visuals have been utilized as a political tool to be added to the music. (But now visuals are also absorbed. So what is the next emergent smooth space for production and political action? Is it reverting to the epic theatre of Brecht, the re-emergence of the soapbox and it's interruption of our thoughts and actions in order to open room for new attitudes?)

    The internet, a smooth space with no boundaries for interaction and information exchange is also a tool, with its political function being the absorbing of borders and nationalities and it's ultimate function as a production apparatus, as Benjamin puts it, an apparatus "which is able first to induce other producers to produce, and second to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers-that is, readers or spectators into collaborators." (The example of his time was Brecht's epic theatre.)

    In The Smooth and the Striated, Delueze and Guattari talk of the constant shift from striated space to smooth space and back. Neither space can exist on its own, and one continually sets the stage for the other to spring up from within it. A rational, gridded city as an example of the striated, will always have in it the smooth space of organic neighbourhood growth, community groups and homeless drifters. The internet first serving as a point-A-to-B information exchange route (point-to-point movement being a characteristic of striated space as opposed to smooth space where points do not terminate a path), became a space for people to become producers, creating and sharing new information, activities and ideologies—Benjamin's description of the ideal production apparatus in the hands of the proletariat. However, as prescribed of organic and planned forces intermingling, the smooth space of the internet has bred a new striated space of 'social networking tools', tools which threaten the act of production.

    With "social networking tools", such as facebook, we have stopped communicating directly with each other and instead 'update' our 'status' via 'wall posts'. We do not personally invite our friends with a phone call or email, but create an 'event' in the confines of the 'social networking tool' which our network of real-life friends may not learn of if they are not a part of that insular network. We don't express grief or even news of losing a grandparent other than by creating a status update that you are 'going to a funeral'. The empathic connections between members of a society are cut, and without the feelings of kinship, care, respect, etc. the human connections in a society are severed and social responsibilities to each other are lost.

    Adorno and Horkheimer, in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, point out that "No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself." We have become a smooth space of no-resistance, no production, no thought, no action, ready to be taken in by the controlled space of the anti-social tools.

    These 'anti-social' networking tools have eliminated the theatre of face-to-face interaction and have removed words from the music of social engagement and of physically hearing voices and emotions resonate through bodies and space. The 'haptic' functions of the smooth are now only 'optical' functions of reading gridded information; our organic and boundless movement across the internet is placed in the striae of 'groups' we belong to; we are no longer producers, but are readers, consumers and employees of the machine of Capitalism.
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    I am in Tokyo and it is a little past 5am. It's a little past 1pm in Los Angeles.
    Los Angeles -8GMT
    Tokyo +9GMT

    5am in Tokyo is one hour brighter than 5am in Los Angeles at this time of the year. Regardless, we all more or less know what 5am and 1pm feel like, and 1pm in Tokyo can be as miserable as 1pm in Los Angeles. 5pm rush hour looks similar in most places; many children are sent to bed at 8pm; and most days 9am can be an un-godly hour for me to wake up whether in Los Angeles, Tehran or Tokyo. These times are essentially all the same.

    Kinda boring.

    The first place where the Sun rose in this millennium, local time, was on the International Date Line, all of which is in the Pacific Ocean. Even though the line makes some zigzags to the east, the place on the line where the Sun rose first is far south, near the Antarctic Circle, where the line is intersected by the terminator (day/night line). Here, the Sun dips just below the horizon and then rises again almost immediately at midnight local time. The longitude is 180° E exactly, and we take the local time to be 12 hours ahead of UT (atomic time). The southern limit to the terminator was at latitude 66° 3' S on January 1, 2000 and 66° 7' S on January 1, 2001. Both of these locations are in the extreme southern part of the Pacific Ocean with no land nearby.


    "International Date Line, all of which is in the Pacific Ocean.... Both of these locations... with no land nearby."

    Without argument—and because it is a little past 5am and little past my argument making time of day/night—I'll take this as a logical start point for dates. Now why not also start and end time right here and make only one time zone? 5am (05:00hrs) in Tokyo is also 5am in Los Angeles. 1pm (13:00hrs) in Los Angeles is also 1pm in Tokyo. The time for everyone is the same, but the feel is different. Good bye the meaning of time attached to a self-centered numbering system of 1884. Who is to decide that my 5am should be the same as theirs?

    24 hours and 24 different possibilities of rush hour and bed time! Let me tell you, 13:00 in August, in Tokyo is very miserable, but imagine a mild early night at 13:00 in August, in Los Angeles. You don't want to experience a location for seasons only, but for time as well! What is 13:00 like in August in Buenos Aires?! What about 13:00 in January?!

    Hello Time Tourism. We have 288 new reasons to visit other "times".

    Tue, Aug 5, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: jabberwocky, realization
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    By Murray Bookchin
    [Originally published in Bookchin’s newsletter Comment in 1964 and republished in the British monthly Anarchy in 1965.]

    I am posting part of the essay/manifesto (it can be found here in full):


    In almost every period since the Renaissance, the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science, often in conjunction with a school of philosophy.

    Astronomy in the time of Copernicus and Galileo helped to guide a sweeping movement of ideas from the medieval world, riddled by superstition, into one pervaded by a critical rationalism, openly naturalistic and humanistic in outlook. During the Enlightenment—the era that culminated in the Great French Revolution—this liberatory movement of ideas was reinforced by advances in mechanics and mathematics. The Victorian Era was shaken to its very foundations by evolutionary theories in biology and anthropology, by Marx’s reworking of Ricardian economics, and toward its end, by Freudian psychology.

    In our own time we have seen the assimilation of these once liberatory sciences by the established social order. Indeed, we have begun to regard science itself as an instrument of control over the thought processes and physical being of man. This distrust of science and of the scientific method is not without justification. “Many sensitive people, especially artists,” observes Abraham Maslow, “are afraid that science besmirches and depresses, that it tears thing apart rather than integrating them, thereby killing rather than creating.” What is perhaps equally important, modern science has lost its critical edge. Largely functional or instrumental in intent, the branches of science that once tore at the chains of man are now used to perpetuate and gild them. Even philosophy has yielded to instrumentalism and tends to be little more than a body of logical contrivances, the handmaiden of the computer rather than the revolutionary.

    There is one science, however, that may yet restore and even transcend the liberatory estate of the traditional sciences and philosophies. It passes rather loosely under the name of “ecology”—a term coined by Haeckel a century ago to denote “the investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and to its organic environment.” At first glance Haeckel’s definition sounds innocuous enough; and ecology, narrowly conceived as one of the biological sciences, is often reduced to a variety of biometrics in which field workers focus on food chains and statistical studies of animal populations. There is an ecology of health that would hardly offend the sensibilities of the American Medical Association and a concept of social ecology that would conform to the most well-engineered notions of the New York City Planning Commission.

    Broadly conceived, however, ecology deals with the balance of nature. Inasmuch as nature includes man, the science basically deals with the harmonization of nature and man. This focus has explosive implications. The explosive implications of an ecological approach arise not only from the fact that ecology is intrinsically a critical science—in fact, critical on a scale that the most radical systems of political economy failed to attain—but it is also an integrative and reconstructive science. This integrative, reconstructive aspect of ecology, carried through to all its implications, leads directly into anarchic areas of social thought. For in the final analysis, it is impossible to achieve a harmonization of man and nature without creating a human community that lives in a lasting balance with its natural environment.

    The Critical Nature of Ecology

    Let us examine the critical edge of ecology—a unique feature of the science in a period of general scientific docility.

    Basically, this critical edge derives from the subject-matter of ecology—from its very domain. The issues with which ecology deals are imperishable in the sense that they cannot be ignored without bringing into question the viability of the planet, indeed the survival of man himself. The critical edge of ecology is due not so much to the power of human reason—a power that science hallowed during its most revolutionary periods—but to a still higher power, the sovereignty of nature over man and all his activities. It may be that man is manipulable, as the owners of the mass media argue, or that elements of nature are manipulable, as the engineers demonstrate by their dazzling achievements, but ecology clearly shows that the totality of the natural world—nature taken in all is aspects, cycles, and interrelationships—cancels out all human pretensions to mastery over the planet. The great wastelands of North Africa and the eroded hills of Greece, once areas of a thriving agriculture or a rich natural flora, are historic evidence of nature’s revenge against human parasitism.

    Yet none of these historical examples compare in weight and scope with the effects of man’s despoliation—and nature’s revenge—since the days of the Industrial Revolution, and especially since the end of the Second World War. Ancient examples of human parasitism were essentially local in scope; they were precisely examples of man’s potential for destruction and nothing more. Often they were compensated by remarkable improvement in the natural ecology of a region, as witness the European peasantry’s superb reworking of the soil during centuries of cultivation and the achievements of Inca agriculturists in terracing the Andes Mountains during pre-Columbian times.

    Modern man’s despoliation of the environment is global in scope, like his imperialism. It is even extraterrestrial, as witness the disturbances of the Van Allen Belt a few years ago. Today human parasitism disrupts more than the atmosphere, climate, water resources, soil, flora, and fauna of a region; it upsets virtually all the basic cycles of nature and threatens to undermine the stability of the environment on a worldwide scale.

    As an example of the scope of modern man’s disruptive role, it has been estimated that the burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil) adds 600 million tons of carbon dioxide to the air annually, about 0.03 percent of the total atmospheric mass—this, I may add, aside from an incalculable quantity of toxicants. Since the Industrial Revolution, the overall atmospheric mass of carbon dioxide has increased by 13 percent over earlier, more stable, levels. It could be argued on very sound theoretical grounds that this growing blanket of carbon dioxide, by intercepting heat radiated from the earth into outer space, will lead to rising atmospheric temperatures, to a more violent circulation of air, to more destructive storm patterns, and eventually to a melting of the polar ice caps (possibly in two or three centuries), rising sea levels, and the inundation of vast land areas. Far removed as such a deluge may be, the changing proportion of carbon dioxide to other atmospheric gases is a warning of the impact man is having on the balance of nature.

    A more immediate ecological issue is man’s extensive pollution of the earth’s waterways. What counts here is not the fact that man befouls a given stream, river, or lake—a thing he has done for ages—but rather the magnitude that water pollution has reached in the past two generations.

    Nearly all the surface waters of the United States are polluted. Many American waterways are open cesspools that properly qualify as extensions of urban sewage systems. It would be a euphemism to describe them any longer as rivers or lakes. More significantly, large portions of groundwater are sufficiently polluted to be undrinkable, even medically hazardous, and a number of local hepatitis epidemics have been traced to polluted wells in suburban areas. In contrast to surface-water pollution, groundwater or subsurface water pollution is immensely difficult to eliminate and tends to linger on for decades after the sources of pollution have been removed.

    An article in a mass circulation magazine appropriately describes the polluted waterways of the United States as “Our Dying Waters.” This despairing apocalyptic description of the water pollution problem in the United States really applies to the world at large. The waters of the earth, conceived as factors in a large ecological system, are literally dying. Massive pollution is destroying the rivers and lakes of
    Africa, Asia, and Latin America as media of life, as well as the long-abused waterways of highly industrialized continents. Even the open sea has not been spared from extensive pollution. I speak here not only of radioactive pollutants from nuclear bomb tests and power reactors, which apparently reach all the flora and fauna of the sea. It suffices to point out that the discharge of diesel oil wastes from ships in the Atlantic has become a massive pollution problem, claiming marine life in enormous numbers every year.

    Accounts of this kind can be repeated for virtually every part of the biosphere. Pages can be written on the immense losses of productive soil that occur annually in almost every continent of the earth; on the extensive loss of tree cover in areas vulnerable to erosion; on lethal air pollution episodes in major urban areas; on the worldwide distribution of toxic agents, such as radioactive isotopes and lead; on the chemicalization of man’s immediate environment—one might say his very dinner table—with pesticide residues and food additives. Pieced together like bits of a jigsaw puzzle, these affronts to the environment form a pattern of destruction that has no precedent in man’s long history on the earth.

    Obviously, man could be described as a highly destructive parasite, who threatens to destroy his host—the natural world—and eventually himself. In ecology, however, the word parasite, used in this oversimplified sense, is not an answer to a question but raises a question itself. Ecologists know that a destructive parasitism of this kind usually reflects a disruption of an ecological situation; indeed, many species, seemingly highly destructive under one set of conditions, are eminently useful under another set of conditions. What imparts a profoundly critical function to ecology is the question raised by man’s destructive activities: What is the disruption that has turned man into a destructive parasite? What produces a form of human parasitism that not only results in vast natural imbalances but also threatens the very existence of humanity itself?

    The truth is that man has produced imbalances not only in nature but more fundamentally in his relations with his fellow man—in the very structure of his society. To state this thought more precisely: the imbalances man has produced in the natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world. A century ago it would have been possible to regard air pollution and water contamination as the result of greed, profit-seeking, and competition—in short, as the result of the activities of industrial barons and self-seeking bureaucrats. Today this explanation would be a gross oversimplification. It is doubtless true that most bourgeois enterprises are still guided by a public-be-damned attitude, as witness the reactions of power utilities, automobile concerns, and steel corporations to pollution problems. But a more deep-rooted problem than the attitude of the owners is the size of the firms themselves—their enormous physical proportions, their location in a particular region, their density with respect to a community or a waterway, their requirements for raw materials and water, and their role in the national division of labor.

    What we are seeing today is a crisis not only in natural ecology but above all in social ecology. Modern society, especially as we know it in the United States and Europe, is being organized round immense urban belts at one extreme, a highly industrialized agriculture at the other extreme, and capping both a swollen, bureaucratized anonymous state apparatus. If we leave all moral considerations aside for the moment and examine the physical structure of this society, what must necessarily impress us is the incredible logistical problems it is obliged to solve—problems of transportation, of density, of supply (raw materials, manufactured commodities, and foodstuffs), of economic and political organization, of industrial location, and so forth. The burden this type of urbanized and centralized society places on any continental area is enormous. If the process of urbanizing man and industrializing agriculture were to continue unabated, it would make much of the earth in hospitable for viable, healthy human beings and render vast areas utterly uninhabitable.

    Ecologists are often asked, rather tauntingly, to locate with scientific exactness the ecological breaking point of nature—presumably the point at which the natural world will cave in on man. This is equivalent to asking a psychiatrist for the precise moment when a neurotic will become a nonfunctional psychotic. No such answer is every likely to be available. But the ecologist can supply a strategic insight into the directions man seems to be following as a result of his split with the natural world.

    From the standpoint of ecology, man is dangerously simplifying his environment. The modern city represents a regressive encroachment of the synthetic on the natural, of the inorganic (concrete, metals, and glass) on the organic, and of crude, elemental stimuli on variegated, wide-ranging ones. The 1vast urban belts now developing in industrialized areas of the world are not only grossly offensive to eye and ear but are becoming chronically smog-ridden, noisy, and virtually immobilized by congestion.

    This process of simplifying man’s environment and rendering it increasingly elemental and crude has a cultural as well as a physical dimension. The need to manipulate immense urban populations—to transport, feed, employ, educate, and somehow entertain millions of densely concentrated people daily—leads to a crucial decline in civic and social standards. A mass concept of human relations—totalitarian, centralistic, and regimented in orientation—tends to dominate the more individuated concepts of the past. Bureaucratic techniques of social management tend to replace humanistic approaches. All that is spontaneous, creative, and individuated is circumscribed by the standardized, the regulated, and the massified. The space of the individual is steadily narrowed by restrictions imposed upon him by a faceless, impersonal social apparatus. Any recognition of unique personal qualities is increasingly surrendered to the needs—more precisely, the manipulation—of the group, indeed, of the lowest common denominator of the mass. A quantitative, statistical approach, a beehive manner of dealing with man, tends to triumph over the precious, individualized-qualities approach that places its strongest emphasis on personal uniqueness, free expression, and cultural complexity.

    The same regressive simplification of the environment occurs in modern agriculture.2 The manipulated people in modern cities must be fed, and feeding them involves an extension of industrial farming. Food plants must be cultivated in a manner that allows for a high degree of mechanization—not to reduce human toil but to increase productivity and efficiency, to maximize investments, and to exploit the biosphere. Accordingly, the terrain must be reduced to a flat plain—to a factory floor, if you will—and natural variations in topography must be diminished as much as possible. Plant growth must be closely regulated to meet the tight schedules of food-processing plants. Plowing, soil fertilization, sowing, and harvesting must be handled on a mass scale, often in total disregard of the natural ecology of an area. Large areas of land must be used to cultivate a single crop—a form of plantation agriculture that lends itself not only to mechanization but also to pest infestation. A single crop is the ideal environment for the proliferation of pest species. Finally, chemical agents must be used lavishly to deal with the problems created by insects, weeds, and plant diseases, to regulate crop production, and to maximize soil exploitation. The real symbol of agriculture is not the sickle (or for that matter the tractor) but the airplane. The modern food cultivator is represented not by the peasant, yeoman, or even the agronomist—men who could be expected to have an intimate relationship with the unique qualities of the land on which they grow crops—but the pilot and chemist, for whom soil is a mere resource, an inorganic raw material.

    The simplification process is carried still further by an exaggerated regional (indeed national) division of labor. Immense areas of the planet are increasingly reserved for specific industrial tasks or reduced to depots of raw materials. Others are turned into centers of urban population, largely occupied with commerce and trade. Cities and regions (in fact, countries and continents) are specifically identified with special products—Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Youngstown with steel, New York with finance, Bolivia with tin, Arabia with oil, Europe and America with industrial goods, and the rest of the world with raw material of one kind or another. The complex ecosystems which make up the regions of a continent are submerged by the organization of entire nations into economically rationalized entities, each a way-station in a vast industrial belt system, global in its dimensions. It is only a matter of time before the most attractive areas of the countryside succumb to the concrete mixer, just as must of the Eastern seashore areas of the United States have already succumbed to subdivisions and bungalows. What remains in the way of natural beauty will be debased by trailer lots, canvas slums, “scenic” highways, motels, food stalls, and the oil slicks of motor boats.

    The point is that man is undoing the work of organic evolution. By creating vast urban agglomerations of concrete, metal, and glass, by overriding and undermining the complex, subtly organized ecosystems that constitute local differences in the natural world—in short, by replacing a highly complex organic environment with a simplified, inorganic one—man is disassembling the biotic pyramid that supported humanity for countless millennia. In the course of replacing the complex ecological relationships on which all advanced living things depend with more elementary relationships, man is steadily restoring the biosphere to a stage that will be able to support only simpler forms of life. If this great reversal of the evolutionary process continues, it is by no means fanciful to suppose that the preconditions for higher forms of life will be irreparably destroyed and the earth will become incapable of supporting man himself.

    Ecology derives its critical edge not only from the fact that it alone, among all the sciences presents this awesome message to humanity but because it also presents this message in a new social dimension. From an ecological viewpoint, the reversal of organic evolution is the result of appalling contradictions between town and country, state and community, industry and husbandry, mass manufacture and craftsmanship, centralism and regionalism, the bureaucratic scale and the human scale.




    1 For insight into this problem, the reader may consult Charles S. Elton, The Ecology of Invasions (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1953); Edward Hyams, Soil and Civilization (London: Thames and Hudson, 1952); Lewis Herber, Our Synthetic Environment (New York: Knopf, 1962); and Rachel Carson, Silent Spring—this last to be read less as a diatribe against pesticides than as a plea for ecological diversification.

    2 For insight into this problem, the reader may consult Charles S. Elton, The Ecology of Invasions (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1953); Edward Hyams, Soil and Civilization (London: Thames and Hudson, 1952); Lewis Herber, Our Synthetic Environment (New York: Knopf, 1962); and Rachel Carson, Silent Spring—this last to be read less as a diatribe against pesticides than as a plea for ecological diversification.

    3 Rudd’s use of the word manipulation is likely to create the erroneous impression that an ecological situation can be reduced to simple mechanical terms. Lest this impression arise, I would like to emphasize that our knowledge of an ecological situation and the practical use of this knowledge is a matter of insight and understanding rather than power. Elton, I think, states the case for the management of an ecological situation when he writes: “The world’s future has to be managed, but this management would not be just like a game of chess—[but] more like steering a boat.”

    4 Lewis Herber, Crisis in Our Cities (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 194.

    5 I do not wish to saddle Gutkind with the notions I have advanced above, but I believe the reader would benefit enormously by reading Gutkind’s masterful discussion of communities, The Expanding Environment (Freedom Press).

    6 H.D. F. Kitto, The Greeks (Chicago: Aldine, 1964), 161.





    Sun, Jul 20, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: other_earth, social ecology
    Sent to project: What happened to nature?
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    Tentative Architecture of Other Earth from Xárene on Vimeo.

    The wearers of Tentative Architecture are nomads. The primary determination of a nomad is to occupy and hold smooth space. Smooth space is free action in a collection of spaces that are juxtaposed but not attached, i.e. the space between points of interest (water points), or a technical example of felt versus the grided woven. A point system, or a grid, is an emblem of striated space: it belongs here, not there. War is a clash of striated space and smooth space; when the City takes over the Countryside.

    Felt is a supple solid product that proceeds altogether differently, as an anti-fabric... It implies no separation of threads, no intertwining, only an entanglement of fibers... it is nevertheless smooth, and contrasts point by point with the space of fabric (it is in principle infinite, open and unlimited inevery direction; it has neither top nor bottom nor center; it does not assign fixed and mobile elements but rather distributes a continuous variatio)... Among sedentaries, clothes-fabric and tapestry-fabric tend to annex the body and exterior space, respectively, to the immobile house: fabric integrates the body and the outside into closed space. On the other hands, the weaving of the nomad indexes clothing and the house itself to the space of the outside, to the open smooth space in which the body moves. Deleuze+Guattari


    Above is documentation of Tentative Architecture worn by coastline inhabitants of Other Earth. This architecture allows for ventilation by mimicking the breathing of its wearer. In one version (the version for desert inhabitants) it is powered by a bio-kinetic hand-fan; a second version uses shape memory alloys which respond to ambient temperature changes.

    In collaboration with Joshua Hernandez, PhD student, Math, UCLA

    Materials: Hand knitted and felted wool, shape memory alloy (Dynalloy Muscle Wire)
    Mon, Jun 9, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture
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    Other Earth inhabitants have reached Singularity, but they have retained their human-ness within new, immortal bodies. They are literally Bodies Without Organs; bodies that do not need to eat, reproduce through sex, etc. They have lost the needs and desires of the old body in terms of constant care for health or vanity, or for survival such as UV protection and food, or for commoditized luxuries. Though they have the choice to be immortal, they are not selfish and instead use mortality in the same manner ancient tribes used castration to control their population. Death is a passage and a highly valued ritual of suicide. Reproduction is a natural question that follows and there are many possibilities to addressing it. In this particular dimension of Other Earth, reproduction has moved away from being the role taken on between a male and a female and consequently gestation and birth is also not the responsibility of the female body or any human body for that matter. This is not revolutionary taken bio-medical advances in test-tube babies, IVF, surrogates, cloning and three-parent embryos.





    Above images show a coastline inhabitant nourishing her body with salt via her skin.
    Wed, Apr 9, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: BwO, other_earth
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