Learning About The Past. Thinking About The Future

June 14, 2012

“The logic of planetary responsibility is aimed, at least in principle, at confronting the globally generated problems point-blank—at their own level. It stems from the assumption that lasting and truly effective solutions to planetwide problems can be found and made to work only through the renegotiation and reforming of the web of global interdependencies and interactions. Instead of aiming to control local damage and local benefits derived from the capricious and haphazard drifts of global economic forces, it would pursue results in a new kind of global setting, one in which economic initiatives enacted anywhere on the planet are no longer whimsical and guided by momentary gains alone, with no attention paid to the side effects and ‘collateral casualties’ and no importance attached to the social dimensions of the cost-and-effect balances. In short, the logic is aimed, to quote Habermas, at the development of ‘politics that can catch up with global markets.’”

Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008: 29.

“The elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the state republics, and the republic of the Union, would form a graduation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding everyone its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and checks for the government. Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the state who will not be a member of some one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power be wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.”

Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Richard K. Matthews, The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson, Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1984: 82-83.

“The only limitation to what the public-relations man does comes when he discovers that the same people who perhaps can be ‘manipulated’ to buy a certain kind of soap cannot be manipulated–though, of course, they can be forced by terror–to ‘buy’ opinions and political views. Therefore the psychological premise of human manipulation has become one of the chief wares that are sold on the market of common and learned opinion. But such doctrines do not change the way people form opinions or prevent them from acting according to their own lights. The only method short of terror to have real influence on their conduct is still the old carrot-and-stick approach. It is not surprising that the recent generation of intellectuals, who grew up in the insane atmosphere of rampant advertising and were taught that half of politics is ‘image making’ and the other half the art of making people believe in imagery, should almost automatically fall back on the older adages of carrot and stick whenever the situation becomes too serious for ‘theory.’”

Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 8.

“…art seems to be truly contemporary if it is perceived as being authentic, as being able to capture and express the presence of the present in a way that is radically uncorrupted by past traditions or strategies aiming at success in the future. Meanwhile, however, we are familiar with the critique of presence, especially as formulated by Jacques Derrida, who has shown—convincingly enough—the the present is originally corrupted by past and future, that there is always absence at the heart of presence, and that history, including art history, cannot be interpreted, to use Derrida’s expression, as ‘a procession of presences.’”

Boris Groys, Going Public, Berlin and New York: Sternberg Press, 2010: 85.

“If we could solve the problem of general education, we could confidently strike any third world war off the calendar…General education is the fundamental problem of modern society. Other problems must of course be solved too, before we can achieve the good society which now clearly lies within the reach of man’s imagination. Among the others are the problems of international organization and democratic control, the problems of economic cooperation and the freedom of the individual. But we are going to be able to carry out the best plans for all these things, in the years ahead, only so far as they are understood and supported by the people of many countries, particularly countries like our own which wields a frightful power for good or evil.”

José Ortega y Gasset, Mission of the University, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944: 1.

The General Assembly Redux:  From Occupy Wall Street to SDS

This close up from an 1968-era flyer comes from the movement based at Columbia University centered on the activities of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In New York City, SDS was primarily a student organization that entered into coalitions with neighborhood groups. The flyer illustrates how the very the idea of a “General Assembly” in the United States dates back more than forty years. Of course, town meetings and local assemblies are part of an even longer tradition in United States history. In New England, they date back to colonial times.