Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-10-15 - 9:44 a.m.

Nice to see treachery and sedition stalking the land again.

I read some Lukacs yesterday on history and the novel – it was published in Moscow in 1937 and so by implication the end point of the story, as far as he is concerned, is socialist realism. I seem to remember that I was introduced to his earlier, History and Class Consciousness at Sussex in the early 1970s. That certainly was a funny course embracing CIA funded researchers into Maoist industrial policy, new left philosophers and old left technology policy wonks. The hero for Lukacs is a person who lives their life aware of the broader social forces that shape their reality and the way that these forces are evolving. So how do Lulu and Lady Macbeth match up?

I have also been reading some Bernard Stiegler on the current state of technology and society from the French point of view – needless to say its very gloomy. As far as I can work out BS thinks that the consumption technologies that predominate at present are undermining the socio-cultural machinery that reproduces care, spirituality and discovery. So in order to keep the show on the road marketing technologies incentivise people towards new good and services. But in pulling peoples’ strings in this way people are made very short-termist and egocentric – hyperindustrial capitalism hijacks infantile libido is the snazzy French way of saying this..

There was a bit of a do in the media this week about the questions posed at the interviews for ancient universities – esp the one about the three naked ladies. I heard it suggested that the smart answer to this was to do with utility functions. BS has his answer ready: the tendency to regression is exploited by the logic of libido hijacking towards objects with the best possible yields. An english way might be to say that we are all ferked.

Actually another English way be to bone on about short-termism. When Keith Joseph became Minister he insisted that all civil servants read Adam Smith and so to spite him I read the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Thus strengthened intellectually, I realised that the supposition that increased freedom in capital markets would lead to increased psychological welfare all round was a bit strained. This seems to BS’s point – that if capital is increasingly looking for increased short term returns it will focus goods and services on those which can be made to yield increased individual or libidinal short term returns. I think he may also be arguing (fashionably) that young people raised in such a society are disinclined to study science, maths and engineering but prefer media studies.
Such a society is not sustainable because even within its own terms it needs these skills to keep on generating the new products and services.

BS has a lot to say about Marcuse and Freud – which I find tiresome. Marcuse is unintelligible and Freud is for me too diffuse. But Marcuse provides for BS a platform for him to agonise about the outcome of 1968. But I think none of this actually engages in the really interesting stuff about how science and technology becomes products and services – this is the missing link which everyone takes for granted – the place where the theory just doesn’t exist yet.

My favourite phrase from Adam Smith is ‘trinkets of frivolous utility’ and BS obviously agrees that the utilites on offer are increasingly frivolous and that the frivolity is being engineered and manipulated. So what would it mean for there to be an organisation dedicated to harnessing knowledge and skill to non-frivolous utilities?

You might think that the research management arm of the NHS would be a place to start? Wendy was explaining to me last week that the latest round of Strategic Health Authority reorganisations didn’t look as if research management was going to be a very high priority. I remembered an earlier French term – pataphysical. The pataphysical is the arena within nature that exists outside culture and undermines. The HIV virus in 1975 was the ultimate pataphysical entity.

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