After an unscheduled pause, the ‘Imperfect World’ series resumes with the final edition of what hopefully will be the first season.
One of the aims of this project has been to share the process of thinking through, and thinking with, others. Reflecting this, for this episode I had a follow up conversation with PC, who I spoke with at the start of process. Picking up where the first conversation ended, it starts with this powerful quote from Simone Weil. While it was written more than seven decades ago, it feels fitting for the current moment:
Never has the individual been so completely delivered up to a blind collectivity, and never have men been less capable, not only of subordinating their actions to their thoughts, but even of thinking. Such terms as oppressors and oppressed, the idea of classes–all that sort of thing is near to losing all meaning, so obvious are the impotence and distress of all men in face of the social machine, which has become a machine for breaking hearts and crushing spirits, a machine for manufacturing irresponsibility, stupidity, corruption, slackness and, above all, dizziness. The reason for this painful state of affairs is perfectly clear. We are living in a world in which nothing is made to man’s measure; there exists a monstrous discrepancy between man’s body, man’s mind and the things which at present time constitute the elements of human existence; everything is in disequilibrium.
From this, we think about the problem of the world no longer being made to fit humans, and specifically the consequences of our world effectively becoming too fast for us. Our discussion revolves around a number of big themes related to narratives and meaning-making, complexity and synthesis, historical registers and the kinds of action they help enable, and much more. Across the conversation, however, both PC and myself mangle a number of quotations. When discussing problems of getting lost in the noise of daily news and constant updates, PC refers to this description from Guy Debord of the value of Thucydides’ approach to thinking about history and time:
History’s domain was the memorable, the totality of events whose consequences would be lastingly apparent. And thus, inseparably, history was knowledge that should endure and aid in understanding, at least in part, what was to come: ‘an everlasting possession’, according to Thucydides. In this way, history was the measure of genuine novelty. It is in the interests of those who sell novelty at any price to eradicate the means of measuring it. When social significance is attributed only to what is immediate, and to what will be immediate immediately afterwards, always replacing another, identical immediacy, it can be seen that the uses of media guarantee a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance.
And, somehow, I manage to make a mess of one of my favourite lines attributed to Antonio Gramsci: ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.’ This captures some of the spirit we are trying to identify and develop.
So much of modern society was built upon the interlocking presumptions of objective knowledge, impartial institutions, and neutral technology. As each in turn becomes increasingly implausible, rightly or wrongly, the modern world order comes apart.
The consequences of this state of affairs is much of what occupies PC and myself in this discussion.
This conversation has been cross-posted on the ‘Imperfect world’ podcast feed. It was produced with support by a grant from the Toshiba International Foundation. Previous episodes: IW01, IW02, IW03, IW04, IW05, IW06. IW07, IW08.