Coming up to northern New South Wales on a country train, I looked out the window and saw the bend of a road at the edge of a small town — just a flat curve of asphalt with matted grass beside it. Huge rush of nostalgia, flash memory of the early 1970s, but what of, and why such longing? Then I realised. That was how roads used to look. They were just roads — they weren’t trimmed with kerbs, barriers, safety zones, road signs, etc. Now, such unadorned things can only be found at the very outer edges of life.
You could say that’s nostalgia. Really, it’s something else — a memory of a time before a process of spatial regulation and control began to dominate everyday life. Part of a much bigger “new wave” of domination, the manner by which roads went from being places that took you somewhere, to “control funnels” that pipe you from one point to the next was bound up with a whole lot of things — an increased role for the social sciences in shaping everyday life, a new attitude to risk and risk management, a new idea of “safety”, a decreased acceptance of accidental death, and so on.
The results are undeniable: in 1970, you were 700% more likely to die in a car accident than you are today, and about 1900% more likely to be seriously injured. But the psychic cost is immense. Every safety barrier that stops you dashing for a tram isn’t just a physical barrier — it’s a form of control, which treats you as an object. Every stop sign isn’t just a traffic regulator — it’s an order, barked at you in red and white. Such structures of everyday life are one of the myriad ways in which our autonomy as human beings is taken from us — in which we are not trusted to cross the road, or look both ways. From the ’70s onwards we needed rather more of it. Now we need rather less. That simple asphalt curve, shining in the sun, and vanishing past my shoulder in the train window, seems like a road to another place, worse in some ways, but better in other, little-noticed ones, and for the moment, lost, lost, lost.
The Guardian‘s Assange Derangement Syndrome continues. “Swedish prosecutors to make new request to question Julian Assange” the headline reads, of a story that suggests Sweden has been eager to question the WikiLeaks head at the Ecuadorian embassy where he currently has asylum status, over allegations of sexual misconduct, and, in Swedish legal parlance, “minor rape” from incidents in 2010. From the story you’d think they’d been desperate to do so for the past four years. In fact, Sweden has refused to consider interviewing him in situ until June this year, despite this being a common practice in the EU. Assange, for his part, has insisted that he is willing and eager to be questioned in this manner. You will look in vain for such information in the Guardian story.
Why can’t you get Tab anymore? I preferred the taste to Coke Zero.
Dumb Fukuyama Remark Department: The only thing dumber than Francis Fukuyama’s End of History thesis is the comments on how dumb it is. The latest example is a piece by David Martin Jones in The Australian, one of those thundering Mackinderesque geopolitics pieces in which we are urged to look at the Syrian situation through “the rise of the Lithuanian empire, and the lessons of the Swedish Coalition” (h/t Patrick Cook). Jones’ thesis is that the current reversion to national interests and repressive states has undermined Fukuyama’s thesis that history is tending towards a global liberal-social order, with a political one to match. But Fukuyama never said there wouldn’t be reversals in this process, or backward steps. What he was arguing was that no big “other” — of the order of Leninism, Maoism, etc — would come along to offer an entirely different version of modernity.
Fukuyama’s thesis isn’t destroyed by Putin et al — it’s confirmed by the fact that such bruisers still have to commit to parliaments, votes, markets, media, etc, etc, however much they might incidentally corrupt them. The fact that fire-breathing fundamentalisms like Iran become, over 30 years, a place that is simply on a path to a fully modernised society with a repressive state apparatus, rather than a remodeled pre-modern Islamic society, as some might have wanted in 1979, is a measure of the force of Fukuyama’s “Hegelian” thesis (Fukuyama has acknowledged on more than one occasion that his method is more or less small-M marxist, in terms of historic movements — but, of course, he could not possibly label himself as such in US academe/corridors of power).
Where Fukuyama went wrong is in not acknowledging that the productive/communicative base could change so greatly. Everything from 3D printing to quantum computing suggests a world in which markets, corporations and other institutions will be so inefficient at steering production and order, compared to other methods, that they will simply be pushed aside or transformed out of all recognition. Poor old Frank. He thought he saw the end of history, all the way from 1991. He didn’t even see the coming of Napster. But he’s Nostradamus compared to tenured dopes like Jones.
The Nazis invented both Fanta (a substitute for Coca-Cola when the latter became unavailable during World War II) and daytime television (they had a TV network broadcasting talk shows, concerts, etc, eight hours a day, to TV sets in military hospitals). There was Fanta at Auschwitz. Why don’t you see any of that in depictions of WWII? Because we would like to pretend that our society is utterly different to theirs, not that much of its everyday life was eerily in common.
The Martin Review into Q&A — a relic of the Tony Abbott era much like, well, Tony Abbott himself — has concluded not only is there no bias against the Coalition, but there is an under-representation of the Greens. That’s true and needs to be remedied, but further than that — for all the accusations of left-wing bias, the real left is almost absent from the show. Most of the people who pass for “left” on the show are the “cultural left” — postmodern liberals, obsessed with issues around media, image and gender, and uninterested in production, class, or the bigger questions of history. Of the latter group, your correspondent can occasionally get a guernsey, Van Badham once or twice, and Antony Loewenstein once, but that’s been about it. The same is true of Fairfax’s op-ed pages, where a de facto exclusion appears to have existed for some time. There’s an exclusion of certain parts of the right as well, but they can fight their own corner. In 2016, it would be good to see a more genuine pluralism in both places mentioned. In case they haven’t noticed, people are now arguing for, marching for, voting for socialism again.
Here’s Where The Story Ends by the Sundays is one of those songs that everyone forgets for, like, 10 years at a time, and then remembers with a deep rush of yearning, tenderness and regret. Then you forget it again. How does it do that?
Physicist/philosopher Lee Smolin’s work on quantum loop gravity, and his attack on the reduction of time to a pseudo-space dimension in four-dimensional spacetime appears to echo Heidegger’s point that time is simply being, in its various modalities, a coming-to (the future), an ungraspable present, and a passing-away (like a road seen out a train window, leading elsewhere).
That being/time identity not only gives an alternative explanation for “time’s arrow”, (the one-directional nature of time), other than entropy, but it also appears to situate the Big Bang utterly, as a necessary fiction, an impossible “prior moment” to cosmic inflation. The “Bang” itself is now presumed to be a rip in a higher-dimensional order occasioned by the collision of two 9-, 10-, or 11-dimensional M-brane spaces. Thus the Big Bang starts the clock in our universe, but there is a “meta-time” in which the event itself occurs. This is also the point that Gosse made in his “Omphalos” theory. Gosse was a 19th-century Christian paleontologist who squared Biblical literalism with the fossil record by arguing that God put the fossils there as fossils. He was mocked, but his point was about time, not about particularity. Any event had to have a “before” — ergo God had to create the “before” with the first “now”. See also as a filmic meditation on this, the classic Primer, which I would recommend as viewing for the whole family on what, by convention, we call Christmas “afternoon”.