Friday, December 30, 2011

Proposal for a Monument ready to Collapse

Proposal for a Monument ready to Collapse (Welfare State) , 2011
Wood, plywood, acrylic
30 cm x 24 x 20 cm

White melancholia, Mourning the loss of "Good old Sweden"

Sweden's post-war image as frontrunner of egalitarianism and antiracism contains more than a trace of national and racial chauvinism, argue two whiteness studies scholars. As myths of the better Sweden fade, both Right and Left are consumed by "white melancholy".

Sweden's 2010 election brought the racist Sweden Democrats into the national parliament for this first time. Post-election discussions and analyses have tended to explain the presence of a racist party in the Swedish parliament as a reflection of dissatisfaction among certain voter segments, without taking into account any analysis of issues of race and whiteness. At the same time, there has been an eruption of official antiracism among the elites and within the Swedish establishment.

However, a critical analysis of post-election Sweden in terms of race and whiteness has not been heard. Why not? How are we to understand the fact that whiteness and white privileges are maintained in a country ruled by progressive social policies, democratisation projects, gender equality and official antiracism?

We argue that Sweden is currently undergoing a double crisis of Swedish whiteness. "old Sweden", i.e. Sweden as a homogeneous society, and "good Sweden", i.e. Sweden as a progressive society, are both perceived to be threatened by the presence of non-white migrants and their descendants. Both the reactionary and racist camp and the progressive and antiracist camp are mourning the loss of this double-edged Swedish whiteness.

We also argue that our analysis of Swedish whiteness is also applicable to the situations in neighbouring Scandinavian countries, particularly to Norway after the Utøya massacre, which has prompted similar reactions to those in Sweden after the 2010 election.

The foundations of Swedish whiteness
In contemporary Sweden, the idea of being white constitutes the central core and master signifier of Swedishness, and thus of being Swedish. A Swede is a white person and a non-white person is not a Swede. In other words, within the Swedish national imaginary the difference between the genetic concept of race and the cultural concept of ethnicity has collapsed completely: whiteness is Swedishness and Swedishness is whiteness.

The conflation of race and ethnicity and the equivalence of Swedishness with whiteness is not only encountered by non-white migrants and their descendants, but also by adopted and mixed Swedes of colour with South American, African or Asian backgrounds. In spite of being more or less fully embedded within Swedishness on an ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural level, these people experience racializing practices as a result of their "non-Swedish" bodies.[1]

The historical construction of Swedishness can be traced to the pre-eminence of the Swedes, along with the Norwegians and Danes, in the construction of the white race as the elite of homo sapiens. In a scientific discourse hegemonic for almost 200 years, the Swedes and other Scandinavians were considered the most physically and aesthetically perfect people on earth.[2]

The nation's scholars excelled in and contributed substantially to racial science: Carl Linnaeus created the first modern scientific system for race classification in the mid-1700s; Anders Retzius invented the skull or cephalic index – which became the principal method for racial science itself – in the 1850s; and the Swedish government founded the Swedish Institute for Racial Biology in 1922.[3] In the mid 1930s, Sweden also installed one of the most effective sterilization programs ever, a eugenicist project that was both racialized, heteronormative, gendered and classed, and that affected more than 60 000 Swedes before being dissolved in the mid-1970s.[4]

However from the 1960s and 1970s, Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries arguably became the leading (western) voice and (white) supporter of decolonisation and anti-colonial, anti-segregation and anti-apartheid movements. In the process, the world's most radical proponent of social justice and gender equality transformed racism into a non-Swedish issue.

In a feat of national branding, "good Sweden" was promoted as more tolerant and liberal than any other (western) country and (white) people in the world. One result was, for example, that Swedes have adopted proportionally the most children of colour from former colonies than any other western country; or that Swedes have entered into interracial marriages and relationships more frequently than other western nations. Sweden imagined itself as a non-racist and post-racial utopia with no colonial past.

Swedish concepts of whiteness have developed since Sweden became a country of immigration. In everyday life, in the public sphere and in political discourse, people belonging to the 8 per cent of the total population with origins in a non-European, postcolonial or "Third World" country in Asia, Africa or South America are categorized as "immigrants", "foreigners" and "non-Swedes", and often as non-Christian or at least non-Lutheran.

Immigrants from non-western countries began to arrive in Sweden and Scandinavia in small numbers in the 1950s, and then in larger numbers in the second half of the 1970s and particularly the 1980s and onwards, when refugee immigration took over from labour immigration. Not coincidentally, this is also when integration started to be described as a "failed" project. Since the 1990s, non-white and non-Christian immigrants have dominated immigration to Sweden.

When it comes to the discrimination of migrants and their descendants, particularly non-white and non-European groups, Sweden barely differs from any other western country today. Particularly when it comes to housing, Sweden stands out for its highly racialized patterns of residential segregation.

Against this historical background, notions of Swedish whiteness evolved alongside the image of Sweden developed during the Cold War, decolonization and the social revolution of 1968: that of Sweden as paradise on earth and utopia for human rights, democracy, gender equality and antiracism, where race as concept and as category has been rendered irrelevant and obsolete.
The expanding boundaries of whiteness
Whiteness is a pivotal concept for analysing the recent Swedish election. Swedish whiteness includes racists as well as antiracists, and ultimately all Swedes, regardless of political views. Swedish whiteness is similar to the hegemonic whiteness that Matthew Hughey analyses in his interviews with white antiracists and white racists in the US, which reveal, beyond ideological statements, many similarities in terms of white perspectives and privileges.[5]

When it comes to the construction and maintenance of Swedish whiteness, complicity exists on all sides, even that of migrants who believe in the image of Sweden as the most egalitarian and antiracist country in the world. Then there are the numerous non-Swedes who desire and seek (white) Swedes as partners and friends, purely because they are (white) Swedes and therefore the most beautiful and genetically valuable people on earth – according to the Nordic racial myth.

Third World solidarity and antiracism has, in other words, gone hand in hand with white superiority and white homogeneity. It is this dual image of Sweden as an homogenous and white society that the Sweden Democrats mourn the loss of, and their response is to produce hatred towards migrants of colour. Meanwhile, it is the passing of the image of Sweden as an egalitarian and progressive society so dear to white antiracists that has provoked such a strong reaction among the Swedish elites after the election.

Central to this analysis is an understanding of whiteness as a category that constantly expands.[6] The boundaries of whiteness have always been reconstructed to include new members: for example Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans in the US. In the recent Swedish election, the expansion of the boundaries of whiteness blurred class differences, enabling the inclusion of white people from a range of class and cultural backgrounds to congregate around the notion of Swedish whiteness regardless of national origin. David Roediger has called this process "the wages of whiteness", referring to "compensation" of white US workers for their economic subordination with the public and psychological wage of being considered white and therefore "American".[7]

This means that race and racism are not merely the effect of class inequality, something that would necessarily disappear in a classless society. The expansion of the boundaries of whiteness helps explain the class-crossing practices found among the Sweden Democrats' voters, as well as among far-right voters in the other Scandinavian countries. Many Sweden Democrats are migrants or descendants of migrants from white, western, Christian countries, or of non-white mixed and adopted Swedes, who also may identify with being Swedish in order to be able to gain "the wages of whiteness".
Gender equality and whiteness
A central aspect of the construction of "good Sweden" has to do with the generous welfare state and achievements in gender equality. Along with other Scandinavian countries, Sweden has been regarded as exceptionally "woman-friendly" and ranked among the most gender-equal societies in the world. This ideal has been exported to other (Third World) countries through international development aid. However, the institutionalised gender equality discourse carries with it a sense of national identity that is intimately intertwined with whiteness and racial hierarchies, and that excludes migrants as Others.[8]

In order to maintain the supposedly uniquely Swedish construct of gender equality, non-whites are depicted as the "gender non-equal", in conjunction with a discourse of the "oppression of the Other". For Swedish white gender equality to exist, some-body is needed that is not Swedish, gender-equal and white.[9] This might explain why two of Scandinavia's far-rightwing leaders are women, and why the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was obsessed by gender and sexual issues.

Gender equality, in its ideal form, is represented by the white heterosexual family. In Patricia Hill Collins' analysis, the white family model is a site where notions of first- and second-class citizenship, territory, "home", blood-ties, race, and nation are naturalized.[10] The white heterosexual family ideal is upheld by segregation, discrimination, racialized nationalism and anti-immigration policies. This implies that feminists should remain sceptical towards the Swedish ideal associated with the construction of the gender equal family, since it builds upon and reproduces the social, discursive and geographical relegation of the "Others", often acted out as racialized integration through subordinating practices.
White mourning and melancholia
The normalized and naturalized hierarchies surrounding Swedishness and the double-binding power of Swedish whiteness through the mourning of the loss of "old Sweden" and "good Sweden" may explain the hysterical post-election anger among "progressives" about the "reactionaries'" electoral success. During the election campaign, the Sweden Democrats rallied under the slogan Ge oss Sverige tillbaka ("Give us Sweden back"), a slogan that appealed to both sides. It may also explain why the antiracist movement in Sweden and Scandinavia is so heavily dominated by white Swedes, in contrast to North America and the UK, where the antiracist movement is to a large degree composed of representatives of the minorities themselves. It may also explain why white Swedish feminists who identify with what has been called hegemonic feminism sometimes ally themselves with racist ideologies.[11]

The Sweden Democrats' longing for "old Sweden" is expressed as a wish to return to a time when there were no ethno-racial conflicts and no non-western "patriarchal excesses". For white antiracists, on the other hand, what is under threat is the image of Sweden as an antiracist and feminist country. Ultimately, these self-images are felt to be threatened by the presence of non-western migrants.

The fact of having held the title of the world's most progressive and left-liberal country, combined with Sweden's perception of itself as the most racially homogenous and pure of all white nations, forms a double bind that makes it almost impossible to transform Swedishness into something that will also accept people of colour. When the object of love – i.e. antiracist Sweden and ethnically homogenous Sweden – is besieged or threatened with distnction, there is nothing left but an unspeakable melancholia filled with limitless pain.

The notion of "lost Sweden" also excludes people who did not live in the country during the period being mourned, or people without biological ties to the "founders" of the ethos of solidarity. Thus, directly and indirectly, the image of left-liberal, antiracist and egalitarian Sweden is constructed around the image of a past in which diversity did not exist. In other words, the recent election took place at a time when Sweden is wracked by white mourning and melancholia. Nostalgia for a white past constructed around the welfare state and the longing for a homogenous future in which hybridity has been erased is the common feature of white melancholia, which has also made itself heard in the debate following the Utøya massacre in Norway.

White melancholia, so painful to bear yet unspeakable, is a psychic state, a structure of connection to the nation, common to Swedes as well as to the image of Sweden in the world. It is as much about the humiliating decline of Sweden as frontrunner of egalitarianism, humanitarianism and antiracism as about the mourning of the passing of the Swedish population as the whitest of all white peoples.

Any future attempt to disentangle Swedishness and whiteness will have to be able to deconstruct a Swedishness that bars non-whites and traps white Swedes through the double-edged images of "old Sweden" and "good Sweden". The hope is that a transformative moment will come about that allows the mourning for "old Sweden" and "good Sweden" to project itself towards a more constructive understanding of Swedishness.

However in order to be able to accomplish this transformation, it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that the object of love is irretrievably and irrevocably lost, how painful that may be.

Text by Tobias Hübinette, Catrin Lundström

[1] Tobias Hübinette and Carina Tigervall, "To Be Non-White in a Colour-Blind Society: Conversations with Adoptees and Adoptive Parents in Sweden on Everyday Racism", Journal of Intercultural Studies 30 (2009); Catrin Lundström, "'Concrete Bodies': Young Latina Women Transgressing the Boundaries of Race and Class in White Inner-City Stockholm", Gender, Place and Culture 17 (2010); Lena Sawyer, "Routings: Race, African Diasporas, and Swedish Belonging", Transforming Anthropology 11 (2002).
[2] Maja Hagerman, Det rena landet. Om konsten att uppfinna sina förfäder [The Pure Country. On the Art of Inventing Ancestors] (Stockholm: Prisma, 2006); Katarina Schough, Hyberboré. Föreställningen om Sveriges plats i världen [Hyperbole. The Image of Sweden's Place in the World] (Stockholm: Carlsson, 2008).
[3] Gunnar Broberg, Statlig rasforskning. En historik över Rasbiologiska institutet [State-Run Race Science. A History of the Institute for Race Biology] (Stockholm: Natur & kultur, 1995).
[4] Mattias Tydén, Från politik till praktik. De svenska steriliseringslagarna 1935-1975 [From Policy to Practice. The Swedish Sterilization Laws 1935-1975] (Stockholm: Fritzes, 2000).
[5] Matthew W. Hughey, "The (Dis)similarities of White Racial Identities: The Conceptual Framework of 'Hegemonic Whiteness'", Ethnic and Racial Studies 33 (2010).
[6] France Winddance Twine and Charles Gallagher, "The Future of Whiteness: A Map of the 'Third Wave'", Ethnic and Racial Studies 31 (2009); Jonathan Warren and France Winddance Twine, "White Americans, the New Minority? Non-Blacks and the Ever-Expanding Boundaries of Whiteness", Journal of Black Studies 28 (1997).
[7] David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1991).
[8] Suvi Keskinen, Salla Tuori, Sari Irni, and Diana Mulinari, eds., Complying with Colonialism. Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009); Paulina de los Reyes and Diana Mulinari, Intersektionalitet. Kritiska reflektioner över (o)jämlikhetens landskap [Intersectionality. Critical Reflections on the Landscape of (In)equality] (Malmö: Liber, 2005).
[9] Sarah Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (London: Routledge, 2004).
[10] Patricia Hill Collins, "It's All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation", Hypatia 13 (1998).
[11] Mia Liinasson, "Institutionalized Knowledge: Notes on the Processes of Inclusion and Exclusion in Gender Studies in Sweden", NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 18 (2010); de los Reyes and Mulinari, Intersektionalitet. Kritiska reflektioner över (o)jämlikhetens landskap [Intersectionality. Critical Reflections on the Landscape of (In)equality].

Nothing biblical in factory farming

Something has gone badly wrong in relations between human beings and other animals, and it is not just animal welfare and animal rights organisations that say so. Large swathes of the public are troubled too.

Even people who take their lead from Genesis, from its assurance that God has granted us dominion over the beasts in order to feed ourselves, suffer nagging doubts whether factory farming and a food industry operating on an industrial scale to turn living animals into what are euphemistically called ''animal products'', are quite what God had in mind.

So it is not unreasonable that animal rights organisations are increasingly seeking to give voice to the (by definition) voiceless victims of the food industry, targeting factory farming, while not ignoring other practices - the use of animals in laboratory experiments, for example, or the trade in wild animals, or the fur trade - that might equally be condemned as cruel and inhuman.

The transformation of animals into production units dates back to the late 19th century.

Since that time we have already had one warning, loud and clear, that there is something deeply, even cosmically wrong, about using industrial methods to kill fellow creatures on an industrial scale.

In the middle of the 20th century a group of Germans had the idea of adapting the methods of the industrial stockyard, as pioneered and perfected in Chicago, to the slaughter - or what they preferred to call the processing - of human beings.

When, belatedly, we found out what the Nazis had been up to, we cried out in horror. ''What a terrible crime, to treat human beings like cattle.'' we cried out. ''If we had only known beforehand.''

But our cry should more accurately have been: ''What a terrible crime, to treat living human beings like units in an industrial process.''

And our cry might have had a postscript: ''What a terrible crime, come to think of it, to treat any living being like a unit in an industrial process.''

Animal protection groups work for the amelioration of the conditions under which animals spend their lives. In a longer time frame, some work towards the elimination of factory farming.

In the case of Voiceless, the animal protection group founded by the Sherman family in 2004, this is done not by direct action but by persuasion. Its persuasive efforts are directed at the vast majority of the public who know and don't know that there is something bad going on, something that stinks to high heaven. It offers such people practical options for what to do next after they have been revolted by a glimpse of the lives factory animals live and the deaths they die.

Factory farming is a new phenomenon, very new indeed in the history of animal husbandry. The good news is that, after decades of untrammelled expansion, the industry has been forced on to the defensive. The activities of organisations such as Voiceless have shifted the onus on to the industry to justify its practices; and because its practices are indefensible and unjustifiable except on narrow economic grounds, the industry is battening down its hatches and hoping the storm will blow itself out. Thus, in so far as there was a public relations war, the industry has already lost the war.

The task of animal rights organisations is to show ordinary people that there are alternatives to the animal-products industry, that these alternatives need not involve sacrifices in health and nutrition, that there is no reason why these alternatives need be costly, and furthermore that the sacrifices they are being called on to make are not really sacrifices at all - that the only sacrifices in the whole scenario are being made by non-human animals.

In this regard, children provide the brightest hope. Given half a chance, children see through the lies with which advertisers bombard them (the happy chooks that are magically transformed into succulent nuggets). It takes but one glance into a slaughterhouse to turn a child into a lifelong vegetarian.

Text by J. M. Coetzee, The Sydney Morning Herland, 5 dec.2011

The 2003 Nobel Laureate for Literature J. M. Coetzee is patron of Voiceless and chairman of the judging panel of the Voiceless Writing Prize sponsored by Australian Ethical Investment. The Herald is media partner of the prize, which seeks to advance public understanding of the relationship between humans and animals.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christ is taught how to pray

It is an iconography from Jonkoping, that represents the young Christ being taught how to pray by the holy Virgin sitting on a low bench. It is not necessary to be an architect in order to imagine that the depicted place is the interior of a palace and the bench is the kind of furniture used in the Classical Rome.The child Jesus is guided by his mother and it is surprising that even the discipline of Christianity is preceded by its own leader .

Broadsheet,Jonkoping, Sweden, 1837.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Banana House

Terunobu Fujimori
Banana House Sketch,2010

Is Modern Capitalism Sustainable?

I am often asked if the recent global financial crisis marks the beginning of the end of modern capitalism. It is a curious question, because it seems to presume that there is a viable replacement waiting in the wings. The truth of the matter is that, for now at least, the only serious alternatives to today’s dominant Anglo-American paradigm are other forms of capitalism.
Continental European capitalism, which combines generous health and social benefits with reasonable working hours, long vacation periods, early retirement, and relatively equal income distributions, would seem to have everything to recommend it – except sustainability. China’s Darwinian capitalism, with its fierce competition among export firms, a weak social-safety net, and widespread government intervention, is widely touted as the inevitable heir to Western capitalism, if only because of China’s huge size and consistent outsize growth rate. Yet China’s economic system is continually evolving.
Indeed, it is far from clear how far China’s political, economic, and financial structures will continue to transform themselves, and whether China will eventually morph into capitalism’s new exemplar. In any case, China is still encumbered by the usual social, economic, and financial vulnerabilities of a rapidly growing lower-income country.
Perhaps the real point is that, in the broad sweep of history, all current forms of capitalism are ultimately transitional. Modern-day capitalism has had an extraordinary run since the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, lifting billions of ordinary people out of abject poverty. Marxism and heavy-handed socialism have disastrous records by comparison. But, as industrialization and technological progress spread to Asia (and now to Africa), someday the struggle for subsistence will no longer be a primary imperative, and contemporary capitalism’s numerous flaws may loom larger.
First, even the leading capitalist economies have failed to price public goods such as clean air and water effectively. The failure of efforts to conclude a new global climate-change agreement is symptomatic of the paralysis.
Second, along with great wealth, capitalism has produced extraordinary levels of inequality. The growing gap is partly a simple byproduct of innovation and entrepreneurship. People do not complain about Steve Jobs’s success; his contributions are obvious. But this is not always the case: great wealth enables groups and individuals to buy political power and influence, which in turn helps to generate even more wealth. Only a few countries – Sweden, for example – have been able to curtail this vicious circle without causing growth to collapse.
A third problem is the provision and distribution of medical care, a market that fails to satisfy several of the basic requirements necessary for the price mechanism to produce economic efficiency, beginning with the difficulty that consumers have in assessing the quality of their treatment.
The problem will only get worse: health-care costs as a proportion of income are sure to rise as societies get richer and older, possibly exceeding 30% of GDP within a few decades. In health care, perhaps more than in any other market, many countries are struggling with the moral dilemma of how to maintain incentives to produce and consume efficiently without producing unacceptably large disparities in access to care.
It is ironic that modern capitalist societies engage in public campaigns to urge individuals to be more attentive to their health, while fostering an economic ecosystem that seduces many consumers into an extremely unhealthy diet. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, 34% of Americans are obese. Clearly, conventionally measured economic growth – which implies higher consumption – cannot be an end in itself.
Fourth, today’s capitalist systems vastly undervalue the welfare of unborn generations. For most of the era since the Industrial Revolution, this has not mattered, as the continuing boon of technological advance has trumped short-sighted policies. By and large, each generation has found itself significantly better off than the last. But, with the world’s population surging above seven billion, and harbingers of resource constraints becoming ever more apparent, there is no guarantee that this trajectory can be maintained.
Financial crises are of course a fifth problem, perhaps the one that has provoked the most soul-searching of late. In the world of finance, continual technological innovation has not conspicuously reduced risks, and might well have magnified them.
In principle, none of capitalism’s problems is insurmountable, and economists have offered a variety of market-based solutions. A high global price for carbon would induce firms and individuals to internalize the cost of their polluting activities. Tax systems can be designed to provide a greater measure of redistribution of income without necessarily involving crippling distortions, by minimizing non-transparent tax expenditures and keeping marginal rates low. Effective pricing of health care, including the pricing of waiting times, could encourage a better balance between equality and efficiency. Financial systems could be better regulated, with stricter attention to excessive accumulations of debt.
Will capitalism be a victim of its own success in producing massive wealth? For now, as fashionable as the topic of capitalism’s demise might be, the possibility seems remote. Nevertheless, as pollution, financial instability, health problems, and inequality continue to grow, and as political systems remain paralyzed, capitalism’s future might not seem so secure in a few decades as it seems now.

Text by Kenneth Rogoff, 2011
Source :

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Experiment in Faces

One of a number of sculptures executed upon concrete blocks which were the structure of his Arizona home, dismantled by the estate after the death of Max Ernst. The decision was made to only restore the front artistic surface rather than the whole.

Source :

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Colors needed Counseling

Picture by Grant Snider,2011

The Education of a Libertarian

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself “libertarian.”

But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. By tracing out the development of my thinking, I hope to frame some of the challenges faced by all classical liberals today.

As a Stanford undergraduate studying philosophy in the late 1980s, I naturally was drawn to the give-and-take of debate and the desire to bring about freedom through political means. I started a student newspaper to challenge the prevailing campus orthodoxies; we scored some limited victories, most notably in undoing speech codes instituted by the university. But in a broader sense we did not achieve all that much for all the effort expended. Much of it felt like trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I; there was a lot of carnage, but we did not move the center of the debate. In hindsight, we were preaching mainly to the choir — even if this had the important side benefit of convincing the choir’s members to continue singing for the rest of their lives.

As a young lawyer and trader in Manhattan in the 1990s, I began to understand why so many become disillusioned after college. The world appears too big a place. Rather than fight the relentless indifference of the universe, many of my saner peers retreated to tending their small gardens. The higher one’s IQ, the more pessimistic one became about free-market politics — capitalism simply is not that popular with the crowd. Among the smartest conservatives, this pessimism often manifested in heroic drinking; the smartest libertarians, by contrast, had fewer hang-ups about positive law and escaped not only to alcohol but beyond it.

As one fast-forwards to 2009, the prospects for a libertarian politics appear grim indeed. Exhibit A is a financial crisis caused by too much debt and leverage, facilitated by a government that insured against all sorts of moral hazards — and we know that the response to this crisis involves way more debt and leverage, and way more government. Those who have argued for free markets have been screaming into a hurricane. The events of recent months shatter any remaining hopes of politically minded libertarians. For those of us who are libertarian in 2009, our education culminates with the knowledge that the broader education of the body politic has become a fool’s errand.

Indeed, even more pessimistically, the trend has been going the wrong way for a long time. To return to finance, the last economic depression in the United States that did not result in massive government intervention was the collapse of 1920–21. It was sharp but short, and entailed the sort of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” that could lead to a real boom. The decade that followed — the roaring 1920s — was so strong that historians have forgotten the depression that started it. The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

In the face of these realities, one would despair if one limited one’s horizon to the world of politics. I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called “social democracy.”

The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom. Let me briefly speak to three such technological frontiers:

(1) Cyberspace. As an entrepreneur and investor, I have focused my efforts on the Internet. In the late 1990s, the founding vision of PayPal centered on the creation of a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution — the end of monetary sovereignty, as it were. In the 2000s, companies like Facebook create the space for new modes of dissent and new ways to form communities not bounded by historical nation-states. By starting a new Internet business, an entrepreneur may create a new world. The hope of the Internet is that these new worlds will impact and force change on the existing social and political order. The limitation of the Internet is that these new worlds are virtual and that any escape may be more imaginary than real. The open question, which will not be resolved for many years, centers on which of these accounts of the Internet proves true.

(2) Outer space. Because the vast reaches of outer space represent a limitless frontier, they also represent a limitless possibility for escape from world politics. But the final frontier still has a barrier to entry: Rocket technologies have seen only modest advances since the 1960s, so that outer space still remains almost impossibly far away. We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space, but we also must be realistic about the time horizons involved. The libertarian future of classic science fiction, à la Heinlein, will not happen before the second half of the 21st century.

(3) Seasteading. Between cyberspace and outer space lies the possibility of settling the oceans. To my mind, the questions about whether people will live there (answer: enough will) are secondary to the questions about whether seasteading technology is imminent. From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the Internet, but much more realistic than space travel. We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible. It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.

The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism — the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world.

A better metaphor is that we are in a deadly race between politics and technology. The future will be much better or much worse, but the question of the future remains very open indeed. We do not know exactly how close this race is, but I suspect that it may be very close, even down to the wire. Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.

For this reason, all of us must wish Patri Friedman the very best in his extraordinary experiment.

Text by Peter Thiel
April 13th, 2009.
Source :

Monday, December 12, 2011

Carpenter Dreams the Countryside

Carpenter Dreams the Countryside, 2011
Wood, plywood, Acrylic.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Honduras shrugged

Two start-ups want to try out libertarian ideas in the country’s new special development regions

DISGUSTED by an increasingly invasive state, America’s most capable entrepreneurs retreat to Galt’s Gulch, a libertarian commune. That was the theme of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, “Atlas Shrugged”, a sacred text for libertarians ever since it was published in 1957. Actually creating such an enclave has been the dream of many fans of small government (or of none at all). Several have had a try at it, but their efforts have always ended in disaster .

Now, for the first time, libertarians have a real chance to implement their ideas. In addition to a big special development region, the Honduran government intends to approve two smaller zones. And two libertarian-leaning start-ups have already signed a preliminary memorandum of understanding with the Honduran government to develop them.

One firm goes by the name of Future Cities Development Corporation. It was co-founded by Patri Friedman, a grandson of Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate in economics, and until recently executive director of the Seasteading Institute, a group producing research on how to build ocean-based communes. The other is called Grupo Ciudades Libres (Free Cities Group) and is the brainchild of Michael Strong and Kevin Lyons, two entrepreneurs and libertarian activists.

Both share a purpose: to build “free cities”. Last April all three spoke at a conference organised by Universidad Francisco Marroquín, a libertarian outfit in Guatemala. In September they and Giancarlo Ibárgüen, the university’s president, launched the Free Cities Institute, a think-tank, to foster the cause.

As so often with enthusiasts, divisions within the cause run deep. The two firms hail from different parts of the libertarian spectrum. Mr Friedman is an outspoken critic of democracy. It is “ill-suited for a libertarian state”, he wrote in an essay in 2009—because it is “rigged against libertarians” (they would always lose) and inefficient. Rather than giving its citizens a voice, he argues, they should be free to exit; cities should compete for them by offering the best services.

The second firm’s backers appear to be less radical. A founder of several charter schools, Mr Strong is now the force behind FLOW, a movement that claims to combine libertarian thinking “with love, compassion, social and environmental consciousness”, says its website. He too prefers exit over voice (meaning that he thinks that leaving and joining are better constraints on executive power than the ballot box). But he also believes that democratic consent is needed in certain areas, such as criminal justice. His goal in Honduras is less to implement libertarian ideals than to reduce poverty and to speed up economic development.

Some in the Honduran government have libertarian leanings, which is one reason why the authorities have moved so quickly. But when the master developers for the new zones are selected next year, strong political credentials will not be enough—and may even prove to be a drawback. Mr Friedman is stressing a difference between his political beliefs and his firm. “Ideology makes bad business,” he says, adding that Future Cities Development wants to focus on the needs of the people who live in the city.

Yet the biggest hurdle for the libertarian start-ups may be that the transparency commission, which will oversee the development regions, is unlikely to give them free rein. The “constitutional statute” for the development zones, which the Honduran national congress passed in August, does not leave much wiggle room in key areas, not least when it comes to democracy: ultimately their citizens will vote.

Both firms, however, have links to prominent libertarians with deep pockets. Mr Strong is close to John Mackey, the co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods, a high-end supermarket chain—though Mr Strong says that Mr Mackey already has too many other things on his plate. Mr Friedman’s contacts seem more promising: the Seasteading Institute received lots of cash from Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who founded the internet payment service PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, the world’s biggest social network.

Mr Thiel’s ambitions go far beyond scouting out the next big thing in technology. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” he wrote in an essay in 2009. This is why libertarians should find an escape from politics, he added. “Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode of escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country.” Back then he had the ocean or space in mind. Honduras would certainly be more convenient.

Source :, 10 Dec, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Insomnia. Homer. The rows of stretched sails

Insomnia. Homer. The rows of stretched sails.
I’ve read the catalogue of ships just to the middle:
That endless caravan, that lengthy stream of cranes,
Which long ago rose up above the land oh Hellas.

It’s like a wedge of cranes towards the distant shores –
The foreheads of the kings crowned with the foam of Gods.
Where are you sailing to? If Helen were not there,
What Troy would be to you, oh warriors of Achaea

The sea and Homer – everything is moved by love.
Whom shall I listen to? There is no sound from Homer,
And full of eloquence the black sea roars and roars,
And draws with thunderous crashing nearer to my pillow.

Osip Mandelstam,
Crimea, August 1915

Бессонница. Гомер. Тугие паруса.
Я список кораблей прочел до середины:
Сей длинный выводок, сей поезд журавлиный,
Что над Элладою когда-то поднялся.

Как журавлиный клин в чужие рубежи —
На головах царей божественная пена —
Куда плывете вы? Когда бы не Елена,
Что Троя вам одна, ахейские мужи?

И море, и Гомер — все движется любовью.
Кого же слушать мне? И вот Гомер молчит,
И море чёрное, витийствуя, шумит
И с тяжким грохотом подходит к изголовью.

О́сип Эми́льевич Мандельшта́м
Август 1915, Крым

Who Want's a Bologna Sandwich? Pippi Longstocking

Who Want's a Bologna Sandwich? Pippi Longstocking

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cubist Tree

Maquette for Arbre Cubiste (Cubist Tree), 1925
Jan Martel (French, 1896–1966); Joël Martel (French, 1896–1966)
Painted wood H. 31 1/2 in. (80 cm), W. 15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm), D. 15 in. (38.1 cm)

The twin brothers Joël and Jan Martel were avant-garde sculptors best known for their four concrete Cubist "trees" designed for a garden setting at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Although the exhibition was intended to feature the best examples of contemporary decorative arts and design, most of the works shown were stylistically rooted in tradition. The small number of uncompromisingly modernist displays, including the Martel trees, was derided in the popular press of the day: one cartoon depicted a baffled gardener debating whether to water them. More than fifteen feet high, the trees were destroyed when the exhibition closed, and this maquette is the only nonphotographic record of them. Each had a cruciform trunk supporting quadrangular planes attached vertically and at angles, suggesting foliage; their abstract modern sensibility clearly derived from the polemics of Cubism.

Colored demarcation of a small garden

These pictures show a colored demarcation of a small garden in a semipublic residential area somewhere in Moscow this summer, 2011.

Friday, December 2, 2011

And i feel that you expect of me a rectangular , right-angled inner life that you can set against a drafting triangle to determine: straight

And i feel that you expect of me a rectangular , right-angled inner life that you can set against a drafting triangle to determine: straight
55 x 75 cm
Watercolor, acrylic and photographic print on paper

Portrait of Architects and advisors of UNESCO Headquarters

Unknown photographer. Portrait of architects and advisors of UNESCO Headquarters, Paris: Eero Saarinen (1910-1916), Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979), Ernesto Nathan Rogers (1909-1969), Walter Gropius (1883-1969), Bernard Zehrfuss (1911-1996), Le Corbusier (1887-1965), Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), and Sven Markelius (1889-1972).
Paris, 1952

At first glance, this anonymous photograph, dated 1952, reads as an innocuous document of a typical working session of eight of the nine architects who participated in the design of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Headquarters in Paris. Upon deeper analysis, however, it reveals considerable intrigue.

Le Corbusier establishes the main visual focus. White bald pate, signature black-frame glasses, and bow-tie askew, he leans his muscular shoulders into the picture plane, engrossed with Sven Markelius in a drawing over which their pens converge on a common point of conversation. Above, pipe-smoking Bernard Zehrfuss observes the design discussion at safe distance. Marcel Breuer stands apart, disengaged. At the centre of the table, Walter Gropius sits back, silent and stoic, with eyes focused at a distant point, hardly attending to Ernesto Nathan Rogers (pipe in hand), who appears to share with him a set of notes and to occupy chairmanship of the meeting. At the far corner of the table, heads inclined, Eero Saarinen and Pier Luigi Nervi engage in a separate conversation over a scattered pile of papers. Despite appearances, the official roles of these eight men were not at all at par.

ln 1951, the UNESCO planning committee had studied the feasibility of establishing its new international headquarters in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, facing the Place de Fontenoy, on a historic north-south axis with Jacques-Ange Gabriel’s Ecole Militaire (1768-1773), Gustave Eiffel’s Universal Exposition Tower (1889), and Jacques Carlu, Louis-Hippolyte Boileau and Léon Azéma’s Palais de Chaillot (1935-1937), across the Seine. Initially, Le Corbusier had been recommended as principal architect by the Brazilian delegate Paolo Carneiro. However, U.S. State Department representative Jacobs vetoed the recommendation because of the French architect’s much publicized confrontations with Wallace Harrison during 1947-1948 over the American’s alleged artistic exploitation and inaccurate execution of Le Corbusier’s original plans for the United Nations Headquarters in New York. This scandal, and Le Corbusier’s notoriously excessive financial demands, left some American members wary of future engagements, especially as the United States was to provide principal financing for the Paris construction.

Ignoring strong interventions on Le Corbusier’s behalf by Luis Sert, President of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), on 5 November 1951, the UNESCO Committee instead named Beaux-Arts-trained Eugène Beaudouin as provisional architect, with consultants Howard Robertson of England and Eero Saarinen of the United States. The Headquarters Committee simultaneously appointed an International Panel of Advisors, presided over by Gropius, which included Rogers, Lucio Costa, Markelius, and Saarinen. Enjoined by Gropius to participate on the Advisory Committee and “to take the bitter pill,” Le Corbusier consented in February 1952. This panel unanimously rejected Beaudouin’s design proposals submitted in April.

Ignoring Gropius’ persistent promotion of Le Corbusier as sole principal architect, on 10 Jury 1952 the UNESCO Committee ultimately appointed Zehrfuss, Breuer, and Nervi as the official architect-engineer team, retaining the original Advisory Panel. The photograph must have been taken during that summer when the trio likely presented their designs to the advisors (Costa is absent) before publishing their submission on 15 September 1952. It contained a perspective of the General Secretariat Building raised on pilotis, closely resembling that drawing (barely visible) pinned up behind Zehrfuss and Breuer in the photograph. At that moment, given his visible engagement, Le Corbusier must have still believed in the potential for influence in his advisory position to move the project forward.

His belief was short-lived: his role proved nominal. Rarely was Le Corbusier solicited during the design and construction process from 1952 to 1958. Correspondence at the Foundation Le Corbusier reveals rancour and condescension toward the official team whose work he considered banal and from which he dissociated himself. In the Secretariat building, he must have recognised that the Y-shaped, concave, concrete-and-glass façade, sunscreens, and tapered pilotis, were the work of second-generation Modernists, depending largely on formulaic motifs. He had already taken more dramatic steps in his daring expressionistic works at Chandigarh, Marseille, and Ronchamp, leaving behind the UNESCO Building as a vapid reminder of his past, original achievements.

Barbara Shapiro Comte
Source: Casabella, November 1999

Atomium : 21st Century Atomic Girls

Ted Benoit, a herald of the return of “clear line”, enjoys composing images that have a certain human presence. Creatively empowered by the expanded horizons of the “Atomium 1958-2008” collection, he has set the cult monument of Expo ´58 in a setting that is as futuristic as it is fascinating.

The creator of Ray Banana came to know the Atomium, through photographs, from 1958 and finally came to visit it in 1982. “It was one of the very first things that I saw on my first visit to Brussels. I even bought one or two of the souvenirs of the time, one of which was a spring-loaded thing, a little helicopter that circled the Atomium; the whole contraption had its own special round box covered in plaid.” Seeing the monument as it really was could only modify one’s perception of it. “Actually, it was great to go down through the tube-shaped struts on foot because, from the inside, it was more like something from Jules Verne than Sputnik.”

For the artist behind two magnificent Blake et Mortimer albums, the Atomium is not inextricably linked to Expo ´58. “Yes of course, and not because it has survived whereas the Expo has not, which gives it an entirely different significance. The Expo only existed in the present; the structure is also part of the past, much as is the remnant of the Statue of Liberty that Charlton Heston discovers emerging from the sands at the end of “Planet of the Apes.” That scene was one of the many starting-points of the “21st Century Atomic Girls”screenprint (along with, among others, an “anodyne” photo of two young girls visiting the Expo, the architectural form of one of the pavilions, and the statuary that was an integral part of the Expo ´58 site)". For the author of Vers la ligne claire, paying homage to the Atomium is not a difficult task, “because the dreams and illusions it symbolised are quite touching. Moreover, as the Atomium is a hollow structure, it chimes with the notion of space which itself is a very interesting concept to draw.”

It is often said that a good image cannot content itself with being merely seductive; it must recount a story or suggest its own unmistakeable melody. “That’s not something that I should explain” says Ted Benoit. “Here’s one approach: the title is a paraphrase of an old King Crimson song – I don’t like it that much, but I was very taken by the use of another track from that album in the film Le fils de l’homme by Alfonso Cuaron. What is conveyed in that film (one of the most fascinating films of recent times) strikes me as being very apt in understanding the years to come. The Atomium is the twentieth century; we are now in the twenty-first century. It helped us to understand the new era, that’s all. Why feature little girls? No idea. That’s its unmistakeable melody.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Structured Procrastination

. . . anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment." -- Robert Benchley, in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949

I have been intending to write this essay for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have papers to grade, textbook orders to fill out, an NSF proposal to referee, dissertation drafts to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination, an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

The most perfect situation for structured procrastination that I ever had was when my wife and I served as Resident Fellows in Soto House, a Stanford dormitory. In the evening, faced with papers to grade, lectures to prepare, committee work to be done, I would leave our cottage next to the dorm and go over to the lounge and play ping-pong with the residents, or talk over things with them in their rooms, or just sit there and read the paper. I got a reputation for being a terrific Resident Fellow, and one of the rare profs on campus who spent time with undergraduates and got to know them. What a set up: play ping pong as a way of not doing more important things, and get a reputation as Mr. Chips.

Procrastinators often follow exactly the wrong tack. They try to minimize their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. But this goes contrary to the basic nature of the procrastinator and destroys his most important source of motivation. The few tasks on his list will be by definition the most important, and the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing. This is a way to become a couch potato, not an effective human being.

At this point you may be asking, "How about the important tasks at the top of the list, that one never does?" Admittedly, there is a potential problem here.

The trick is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list. The ideal sorts of things have two characteristics, First, they seem to have clear deadlines (but really don't). Second, they seem awfully important (but really aren't). Luckily, life abounds with such tasks. In universities the vast majority of tasks fall into this category, and I'm sure the same is true for most other large institutions. Take for example the item right at the top of my list right now. This is finishing an essay for a volume in the philosophy of language. It was supposed to be done eleven months ago. I have accomplished an enormous number of important things as a way of not working on it. A couple of months ago, bothered by guilt, I wrote a letter to the editor saying how sorry I was to be so late and expressing my good intentions to get to work. Writing the letter was, of course, a way of not working on the article. It turned out that I really wasn't much further behind schedule than anyone else. And how important is this article anyway? Not so important that at some point something that seems more important won't come along. Then I'll get to work on it.

Another example is book order forms. I write this in June. In October, I will teach a class on Epistemology. The book order forms are already overdue at the book store. It is easy to take this as an important task with a pressing deadline (for you non-procrastinators, I will observe that deadlines really start to press a week or two after they pass.) I get almost daily reminders from the department secretary, students sometimes ask me what we will be reading, and the unfilled order form sits right in the middle of my desk, right under the wrapping from the sandwich I ate last Wednesday. This task is near the top of my list; it bothers me, and motivates me to do other useful but superficially less important things. But in fact, the book store is plenty busy with forms already filed by non-procrastinators. I can get mine in mid-Summer and things will be fine. I just need to order popular well-known books from efficient publishers. I will accept some other, apparently more important, task sometime between now and, say, August 1st. Then my psyche will feel comfortable about filling out the order forms as a way of not doing this new task.

The observant reader may feel at this point that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is in effect constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly. One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, while making oneself feel that they are important and urgent. This is not a problem, because virtually all procrastinators have excellent self-deceptive skills also. And what could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the bad effects of another?

Text by John Perry

Source :