Thursday, September 15, 2022

Queuetopia: Notes on Queues

If you had a group of people and a pile of treasure, and had to improvise a mechanism to distribute it, you might seize upon something like this. ‘We’ll sit in a circle. We will take turns. Each may choose one object from the pile. We’ll go round and round till there is nothing left.’ 


Then, thinking about it some more, you might add something like this. ‘Who gets to go first? We will seat ourselves and choose someone at random. And then, we’ll go round and round the circle, clockwise, until every last precious item is claimed.’


Real randomness is hard to come by. Cryptographers know this. Sometimes randomness is even sold, it’s so scarce. But good enough randomness is easy enough to generate. 


‘Who goes first? I’ll sing a song we all know, and with every beat I’ll point to one of you, until the final word of the song, when the person I’m pointing to will begin.’


In Duck Soup (1933) Chico Marx chants a counting-rhyme apparently of his own devising, ‘Rrringspot, vonza, twoza, zig-zag-zav, popti, vinaga, tin-lie, tav, harem, scarem, merchan, tarem, teir, tore.’


The circle is a kind of curved queue, where once you’ve been served at the front, you automatically rejoin again at the back.


What kind of legitimacy does it confer, being ‘there first’? Is there something in common between pushing to the front, and dispossessing indigenous peoples? 


*


A line of people can serve as an economic mechanism. It can regulate the distribution of resources and/or tasks, and coordinate a milling throng into a system of meaningfully interacting agents. As an economic mechanism, however, queueing is somewhat incomplete: you’d really want know what is permitted at the front before you can assess its dynamics. 


Does the same thing happen to each person? For example, does each person draw close enough to the deceased queen that their respects can penetrate her lead-lined coffin? Does Ottessa Moshfegh sign her name in each person’s copy of Lapvona? For example, does a cardamom bun happen to each person?


Or do events at the front vary? When you are ‘processed’ (as queueing theory calls whatever happens at the front of the line), can you alter the conditions for the person behind you? By eating the last cardamom bun, for example? 


*


A queue is, conspicuously, even smugly, a non-crowd. It is a rejection of the potential for collective agency. That is why liberals love it: it is the emergent order which insists on the lonely sovereignty of individuals, strung out like paper dollies.


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Queueing can serve as an economic mechanism. What if we were to think of queueing as money? Does it function as a ‘unit of account’? There is no unit, exactly, unless the queue itself be considered a unit. But there is a crude ordinal accounting going on, an ordering from first to last. These values adjust to reflect the evolution of the system. Furthermore, you do have something to lose if you leave the line, so perhaps there is something resembling a ‘store of value,’ the second touchstone of the textbook definition of money. It’s the last criterion — a ‘means of exchange’ — where the comparison really breaks down. Yet exchange sometimes occurs, in the sense that people do sometimes exchange places. And there are excitingly different opinions about the propriety of saving a spot in the queue, or briefly leaving and rejoining.


Ask yourself, just as an experiment in culture and psychology, how you feel about two people behind you in a queue swapping places. Is it any of your business? Does it feel different if they are ahead of you? Does it feel different if one is behind you and one ahead of you? Depending on what the processing rules are, either of the last two might have some bearing on what you encounter when you reach the front.


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The value of queue positionality is ordinal. It is tantalisingly ambiguous between the qualitative and the quantitative. 


*


Cory Doctorow writes, “Who gets to do what and when at a themepark may sound like a trivial question, but I think it's a perfect little microcosm for the distributional problems that are at the heart of all political economy.”


*


Imagine a queue that follows this rule: when you reach the front, you can set any condition you would like for the person behind you. That person much fulfil your condition or go to the back of the queue. If the entire queue cycles without anyone fulfilling the condition, the condition is nullified. 


This structure needs a good name.


*


Do people queue in the UK more than in other countries?


I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true. I have been trying to find some kind of league table on the internet, so I can confirm that UK is in the top ten queueiest countries, and be surprised and delighted at the quiet queuers, the countries that queue even more avidly but don’t pretend it is their national pasttime.


How is delay imagined, interpreted, instrumentalized?  


Perhaps what is more interesting is precisely how queueing is celebrated, and what is celebrated along with it. It is a mixture of faux self-deprecatory and self-deprecatory. Aren’t we silly, for being so well-behaved? We are pussycats, though ha ha ha, we’ll show our claws if our little rituals are disrupted! Luckily, these little rituals are also resonant with a deep and irresistible moral drive, just as using the correct cutlery keeps the cosmos from crumbling. That is, principled fairness and egalitarianism to the queue, and a sort of elegant commonsense efficiency. Of course this is all bollocks: the formal consistency of first-come-first-served is not worth dignifying as ‘fairness,’ as you would feel keenly if you were bleeding out in an ER waiting room without a system of triage. Queueing is so civilized, and who was it who civilized half the world?


‘The most British thing ever’ says the most British thing ever, The Guardian. The Guardian is perhaps the most Hobbesian of the British papers, in its unwavering insistence that any order, however arbitrary, is preferable to disorder, which can only be understood as a war of all against all.


Royal mourner: of course not in the sense that the mourners are royal. They are common. Ennobled, perhaps, by their grief and gaiety.


*


Liberals (not in the American sense, although maybe that too) also love more complex emergent order: the price mechanism, supply and demand, the market. You could imagine a different kind queue, with more ambitious equillibria. You exchange information with the person in front and behind, perhaps you gradually adjust your positions until the queue is optimized. But this is anathema. Perhaps because it is too embedded in the interpersonal, the social? It is in the nature of the queue that you cannot shop around for queue buddies.


*


In Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, money is abolished in favor of a sort of system of coupons that directly links labor and consumption. The idea is to correlate what you contribute to society with what you are allowed to take out from the common wealth, while avoiding all that catastrophic usury and exploitation. It does turn out to be easier said than done, and Bellamy’s system has a somewhat ungainly feel. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, nobody cares if you take out more than you put in. Or more precisely, they do care, they care a lot, but the caring is the only mechanism that regulates what economists might call ‘free riders’ and the tabloid press might call ‘scroungers.’ Shame disincentivises such behaviors, but if you can endure the shame, there is no law against it.


You just go to the common storehouses and take what you need. If a lot of people arrive all at once, do they start a queue? A conversation? Both? Something else?


*


Why should a book about the end of money be interested in the internal quasi-currencies of game shows? Why should a book about the end of money care about alternative and complementary moneys, about Indigenous moneys, about the accounting practices of Net Zero transitions and the biometric practices of wellbeing interventions, about the speculative currencies of science fiction, and in the avant-garde financial experiments of artists and activists? Doesn’t all this imply more money, not less?


We can draw parallels both with police abolitionism and family abolitionism. Money abolition means unsettling our ideas of what money is in the first place. Money abolition must be understood not as subtracting something from society, but as multiplying and transforming relationships already latent in society. Just as abolishing the police must mean greater safety, not less, and abolishing the family must mean greater care, so abolishing money must mean more of whatever it is money is supposed, by its most fervent proponents, to be doing for us.


*


Making economic mechanisms work well often is framed as a matter of internalising the externalities. The producers do not naturally bear the cost of the carbon they emit, so a carbon tax must be applied to correct the market failure. But then . . . things get more complicated. These wisps of carbon are only so deadly because they join the vast clouds emitted by Western colonial powers since the nineteenth century. Can the externalities of the past be addressed in this way, by some kind of time travelling tax?


Anyway, the queue: the key is that some people won’t join at all. It looks too long. It elicits valuation. Wow, look at that queue! Let’s not bother. It isn’t worth it.


Queuing theory calls this balking.


*


When the beloved Queen Elizabeth lay in state, a great queue formed. It was predictable that many people would wish to pay their respects. A queue visible from space! Not really. But visible, through media devotion, across the country. 


London excels at processing thousands of people through boutique experiences, in intimate spaces, in batches of five or twenty or a hundred at a time. This is done via online booking. You get a slot. You get a QR code or something.


Of course a deliberate decision was made, instead, to eschew digital queueing. Instead allow people to wait in line for eight hours, twelve hours, twenty-four hours. Participate in the spectacle.


*


Queues and quasi-queues. Conveyor belts. Queuing at the lights. Traffic jams. Emergency Room, with or without triage. An instruction sent to a CPU. A bucket bridage. A line of succession. Snowpiercer.


A protest march is sort of a queue. But of course you can skip backwards and forwards, so not really.


Disneyland and abbatoirs both have insights in queue-space architecture.


*


The BBC has become MournHub.


The queue is queuetopia.


The Queen, lying in state. A queue visible across the country. Not joining a queue is part of how a queue operates: a queue invites valuation. This particular queue, there is really no way not to participate. You join, or you wish you could join, or you decide it’s not worth it, or you create hot take memes about the Queue Dystopia. 


If it were more convenient, probably fewer people would do it.


One Twitter user (Curious Iguana): I have no interest in seeing the queen! I just want to join the queue!


In terms of big crowd events, it’s not that big. If you did it at Wembley, the stands would look empty. If you did the Euro Cup Final that way, perhaps with spectators filing past a table football table, that would be a very long queue.


*


Queue abandonment. According to the classic Erlang-A model introduced by Palm (1943), each participant has a maximum time they are willing to wait. If they reach their max, they quit, no matter where they are in the queue. 


It is a deliberate simplification for analytic purposes, but can you imagine? How funny, all those internal timers pinging the queuers out at apparent random. My favorite would be the person who got to the very front just as their internal timer elapsed.


‘Can I help you sir?’


‘I’m not waiting any longer!’


That might be Curious Iguana, to be fair.


*


‘Queue’ sounds a bit like ‘queen.’ In fact, if you just heave the ‘n’ over the ‘e’ so it lands up-side-down, there it is. A queen is just a queue with a queue-jumping letter, or vice-versa.


*


In German, a queue is a ‘snake.’ 


*


‘The British love to queue!’


The British also love to lambast the queue as a symbol of incompetent, lazy and corrupt public services.


So the celebration of queueing might be read as a characteristic centrist response to the right: yes, you are absolutely right about the way the world works, but you haven’t counted on one thing: some of us don’t mind


*


Instead of a market with supply and demand for two commodities, imagine two queues.


Each individual is constantly weighing the utility at the end of the queue against the disutility of joining the queue.


A longer queue may imply both a greater reward (what lies at the end must be more desirable) and a greater penalty (the wait is longer).


*


Queue width. A queue can fatten, and turn effectively into a stack of small lateral queues. Or sometimes the internal organisation of the lateral units may be heterogenous: the five of us are behind the five of you, but when your unit reaches the front, you will use one method to order yourselves, and then we will use another. You will draw straws, we will fight to the death.


Consider that the queue for the toilets may actually be a ‘fat’ queue disguised as a ‘thin’ one. Each person is an assembly of two or three or four or five or more entities, each with its own principle for determining which will go first.


*


Following the passing of the monarch, as a mark of respect, a number of medical appointments have been postponed.


Do you still keep your place in the queue? Maybe not. It would be complicated to bump everyone along. 


*


Queueing is, supposedly, a very British thing. People in the UK are supposed more likely to form a queue, in situations where other nations would select some other resolution mechanism, such as an undignified scrum. Unless maybe there are just more things worth queueing for in the UK?


I am interested in queueing because I am interested in postcapitalism. 


I interested in all the everyday distributive mechanisms we already use that are non-capitalist or not-quite-capitalist. 


Everyday, or ‘queue-tidian’ life. 


Bread queues: a favorite image of anti-communist propaganda. Winston Churchill claimed in 1946 that ‘Socialism meant queueing,’ after the postwar Labour government rationed bread.


Deliberation is another such mechanism: talking about it. Who should have what? Who should do what?


Largesse is another. The king or queen, the warrior hero, the big man, dispensing treasure. You shall have this ring.


Game shows are another. Game shows distribute resources, resourcefully.


AI is another. Instead of two queues, imagine two neural networks.


Surely the British don’t love prefiguring postcapitalist distributive mechanisms?


*


A very British thing. Or, occasionally, a very English thing. George Orwell writes about the orderly behavior of the English crowds, and how striking foreign observers might find it, in ‘The English People’ (1944).


But then, Britishness is so very quintessentially English, isn’t it?


*


King Charles has been queueing for some time.


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George Mikes memorably describes the lone Englishman as an orderly queue of one in How to be an Alien (1946).


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Can there be a queue to join a queue? Maybe. There certainly can be queues to join a queue: for example, following the principle ‘one from this queue queue, then one from that queue queue.’


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Queues with a variety of transformative gates scattered along the way, so that who you are when you complete the queue is not who you were when you joined.


Is it ever?


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The historian Joe Moran proposes a more nuanced and mercurial construction of queueing and Britishness. ‘‘The notion of queues as the embodiment of fairness and equality has also existed alongside other discourses which have seen them as tedious, unfair, and inefficient. [...] The celebration of the orderly British queue began not in a more decorous time of courtesy and consideration in public place, but a period of national crisis.’ In the postwar years, as Labour built the welfare state, Tory quips associated long queues with drab egalitarianism, inefficiency and red tape. No one’s time could possibly be more valuable than anyone else’s. Labour were the party of the queue, Churchill once claimed, and the Conservatives, the party of the ladder. This trope would be adapted and reinforced throughout the Cold War era, to assert the inferiority of command economies and communism generally. A partly overlapping discourse associated queues with national decline. Long queues for post offices and banks during the economic turbulence of the 1970s brought back memories of wartime austerity. Satchi and Satchi’s famed ‘Britain isn’t working’ Conservative Party poster made political capital from the image of the dole queue. 



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A sense of queuemmunity. The legacy of queuelonialism.


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Social mobility is often figured, implicitly, as a queue. The myth runs: you are poor now, but if you wait long enough (working hard while you wait) your turn will come. 


‘I got mine’: as though yours always existed, was always waiting for you, just as you were waiting for it.


Age is often used as a euphemism for economic class. As though all young people were poor, all elders ‘comfortable’ or ‘well off.’


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I am tempted to join the big queue to see the queen. 


But I am in France. 


Sunday, September 4, 2022

Banking and Money in C19th American Anarchist and Libertarian Thought

Just another notes / quotes post.

Josiah Warren operated a very popular and successful 'Time Store' between 1827 and 1830, with other stores set up elsewhere later. As he describes in the Plan for the Cincinnati Labour for Labour Store:

All Labour is valued by the Time employed in it. Much might be said to show that, as Time is above all things most Valuable, that Time is the real and natural standard of value. But we will not now undertake to prove, that which upon reflection no one will undertake to deny. We will rather proceed to, give the arrangements which have been made to carry this principle into effect.

PRESENT ARRANGEMENT OF THE MAGAZINE.

Here upon this single and simple principle, any exchanges of articles and personal services are made, so that he who employs five or ten hours of his time, in the service of another, receives five or ten hours labour of the other in return. The estimates of the time cost, of articles having been obtained from those whose business it is to produce them, are always exposed to view, so that it may be readily ascertained, at what rate any article will be given and received. He who deposits an article which by our estimate costs ten hours labour, receives any other articles, which, together with the labour of the keeper in receiving and delivering them, costs ten hours, or if the person making the deposit does not wish at that time, to draw out any article, he receives a Labour Note for the amount; with this note he will draw out articles, or obtain the labour of the keeper, whenever he may wish to do so.

Some snippets from Ezra Heywood's essay 'Hard Cash' in Old and New, which proposes 'free' money with an unlimited commodity basis. Living in an era of derivative markets, we might imagine unregulated finance as a space where exchange value and use value drift apart, where their relationships become more complex and multiple and opaque. Heywood had the opposite instinct: if unregulated, those two things would converge. The problem was government, acting in the interest of usurers, artificially preventing the full range and variety of really valuable stuff from being used to issue money ... 

On money as a unit of account:

You are actually much better acquainted with the mental dollar, than you are with the material dollar. If a merchant reviews his business, for a single year he will find that he uses the mental conception a million times where he employs its concrete expression once. 
(16)

Heywood comparing the production of money (and its regulation) to the production of shoes:

Enterprise and self-reliance, liberty to create values and unrestricted exchanges are the conditions of success in "other trades." Government does not say to a set of men "You shall make the shoes and all restrictions upon your monopoly, through competiton, are forbidden by sufficient penalties." Nor does it say to the people, "In order that you may be protected against fraud we have appointed these men to shoe you at their own-price; and efforts of other parties to contract with you, on more favorable terms, are hereby pronounced penal offences." [...] industry prospers in proportion as men are left to manage their own affairs.

(20)

 For Heywood, all government regulation is bound up with usury. Zingers:

Labor-reform asks only that the recognized principles of property and trade which are the life of business, may be applied to money. If we want "protection" we will contract for it. Abhorring favoritism we think that one privilege only should be guaranteed to usurers equally with other classes -- the beneficent privilege of earning their own living. Rich people have been subjects of charity long enough. Money covers a multitute of sins in which too many take stock.

(20)

A production theory of value underlies his conviction that money is not inherently usurious (against the suggestion that it will not circulate unless it steals value). What does it mean for enterprise to be unrestricted? Could we imagine it differently to how Heywood does, yet guided by that idea that it is whatever set of circumstances that would allow a production theory of value to become more-or-less true?

If enterprise is unrestricted the price of money, as of other commodities, must ultimately be regulated by the cost of production. Usury like chattel bondage is upheld by local statute law; and, as the best way to protect slaves was to destroy mastership, so now we need only to repeal all laws which restrict the natural right of people to provide their own medium of exchange. The usurer is a legal thief whose occupation will be gone when his victims cease to furnish courts and constables to enforce his unrighteous claims.

(21)

Heywood on money as credit-debt:

But there is another species of property, in much greater demand, more easily portable and, if it can be obtained, always chosen in preference to coin -- negotiable debt,-- which is already the medium of exchange in 95 per cent. of the world's business. [...]  If the means of payment were restricted to specie, interested parties could monopolize it, hoard it, send it broad and deprive us of currency, thus compelling working people to pay them tribute. The specie-basis scheme is an effort to lock the laboring classes of all nations into one chain-gang, and hold them perpetually obedient to the merciless scourge of usury. But, fortunately, the laws of trade rebel against these narrow-minded extortionists; for, since whatever is salable discharges debt, all property can be drawn upon as means of payment. (18)

On the failures of wildcat banks, which fall short of entirely unregulated free money:

The genuineness of debts is assured only by the soundness of debtors, by unquestionable evidence of their ability and willingness to pay. Those who create more value than they consume are the most reliable debtors; for if one begs, or steals, or subsists on what comes of friendship or kinship he is a negative factor. The legerdemain of government currencies, the high sounding platitudes of financiers who preach the specie basis delusion create no value, and therefore lack the essential element of reliableness. It was this effort to substitute political jugglery, and speculative deception, for useful industry, which afflicted our people with what were called "wild-cat banks". In 1838 the legislature of the State of New York passed "An act to authorize the business of banking" which provided 1st., that it should be free under the provisions of a general statue; 2nd., that nine-tenths of a bank's capital ( consisting of approved bonds and stocks ) should be deposited with the State Superintendent of Banks to remain in pledge for the redemption of its notes; 3rd, that these notes should bear upon their face the nature and amount of stock pledged, together with the usual signatures. These plausable provisions ( which were proposed in 1821 by John McVickar Professor in Columbia College ) furnished important suggestions to Sir Robert Peel which were incorporated into the English Bank Act of 1844, and formed the basis of the present National Banking Law of the United States.* Prof. McVickar claimed that his methods to secure liberty and safety in banking were “not untried novelties, but already established by the experience of other trades.” It was undoubtedly one ofthe best schemes for state banking ever devised, for monopoly never took a fairer form. But that it made money free and reliable in the sense in which those words apply to “other trades” is not true. It did not honestly demand free banking, (that is liberty for individuals or associations to exercise their natural right to manufacture and issue currency on their own responsibility and at their own cost ) but, leaving all of the old statutes which prohibit free competition in the production of money in full force, it undertook to provide new conditions under which people were to be “permitted” to do what they have a natural right to do ! Precisely in this way did not the Pope permit Protestants to be free under conditions prescribed by his infallible self ? Was not George III, willing the Colonies should be governed as he thought best ? What slave is not free within the circle described by his driver’s lash ? The Act did indeed provide freedom for usurers, but subjection and extortion for their victims, the producers. Under the fair seeming pretense of protecting the people from fraud it robbed them of their natural right to protect themselves, at once arming the banks with power to enforce usury, and leaving them abundant opportunities to escape from the just obligations to redeem their notes. Simon Cameron, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania can tell how fortunes were “made” by “wild-cat banking;” for he is reported to be one of many “friends of the people” who acquired large wealth through the stately imposition. Under the legal forms prescribed it was very easy to start a bank, issue bills and send them far away, West or South; because apparently “secured by the state”  people would take them in exchange for property, thus enabling the bankers to get possession of real value when they had no intention of redeeming their false promises to pay. Defenders of the national bank monopoly now bring it as an objection, to the old state-banks, that their bills came back for redemption with inconvenient frequency, and in embarrassing quantities ! A banking system whose notes are rarely returned for payment, the issuers of which, while drawing  semi-annual interest on their bonds, also receive interest constantly on their notes in circulation, thus getting a double rate of usury without ever being called upon to redeem their promises to pay, is especially “perfect” ! Who would not undertake to “protect” the people on these lucrative terms ! The epithet “wild-cat” was invented by usurers to scare their profit yielding victims into consenting to be “protected;” but the feline animal in their employ is noted for ferocity as well as irresponsibleness, and people are beginning to learn that systematic extortion, in comparison with which the instincts of savage  beasts are merciful, is a kind of “protection” a little too expensive to be much longer desirable. Liberty may be perilous to victims of traditional subjection, but the “wild-cat” warnings of our usurious masters will be worth heeding when we have some evidence that their solicitude is disinterested. 

(19-20)

Heywood on fiat money:

The scheme [of Edward Kellogg / endorsed by the National Labor Union], as now before the public, is at once a denial of liberty and of equity; for while it proposes to make usury perpetual, through political monopoly and dictation, it sees no better basis of financial values than the treacherous quicksands of "national faith."

Next, some snippets from William Greene's Mutual Banking (1850).

From the intro:

The object of the mutualist bank is to advance money on sound personal guarantee on their future earning or production, even without the mortgage of property at the rate of one percent interest per annum. This amount of interest covers the whole expenditure of the establishment and leaves something to be carried forward to reserve funds. Besides, loans on low interest would give impetus to honest industry and it will also help to increase employment by creating efficient demand. It is very difficult in these days to borrow money from banks on high interest for honest and enterprising concerns; even on pawning the securities or estates and so what to talk of owners of small workshops and craftsmen, who have very little of fluid capital and hardly sufficient capital to pledge securities.

Capital:

Money is disengaged capital, and disengaged capital is money.

Labour, capital, money, happiness (and a bit more implicitly, justice):

The community is happy and prosperous when all professions of men easily exchange with each other the products of their labor; that is, the community is happy and prosperous when money circulates freely, and each man is able with facility to transform his product into disengaged capital, for with disengaged capital, or money, men may command such of the products of labor as they desire, to the extent, at least, of the purchasing power of their money.

Liquidity, demand, something similar to what was later called the [double] coincidence of wants:

The community is unhappy, unprosperous, miserable, when money is scarce, when exchanges are effected with difficulty. For notice, that, in the present state of the world, there is never real over-production to any appreciable extent; for, whenever the baker has too much bread, there are always laborers who could produce that of which the baker has too little, and who are themselves in want of bread. It is when the tailor and baker cannot exchange, that there is want and over-production on both sides.

Types of money:

But all money is not the same money. There is one money of gold, another of silver, another of brass, another of leather, and another of paper: and there is a difference in the glory of these different kinds of money. There is one money that is a commodity, having its exchangeable value determined by the law of supply and demand, which money may be called (though somewhat barbarously) merchandise-money; as for instance, gold, silver, brass, bank-bills, etc.; there is another money, which is not a commodity, whose exchangeable value is altogether independent of the law of supply and demand, and which may be called mutual money.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

"I'll give it to you, if you want"

Van Lear was a coal town in Johnson County, Kentucky in the early part of the 20th century, belonging to the Consolidation Coal Company (now Consol Energy). James Ward's family moved to Van Lear in 1925 when he was four. He later became a miner himself.

James C. Ward interviewed by Glenna Graves, 1988, November 18. Interview by G. Graves. Appalachia: Family and Gender in the Coal Community Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington. 

Did you hear any of the women complaining about prices at the company store? Do you think they were fair?

I never did hear anything said about the prices. The thing is, they just didn't hardly have any money to buy it with. They'd go to the store, and if their husband that day had loaded some cars, some coal, and they'd been weighed, then he'd have some credit in the store. They'd send that word down. They'd come in. They had what you called scrip, you know, company money. And they'd go up to the window. 'Could I get two dollars?' 'I'll let you have one dollar, maybe.'

Are you saying a woman would go to the store, to buy bacon for instance, or coffee. To buy coffee. They couldn't just figure on getting coffee. They'd have to check to see that very day how much --

See if there was any credit in the store that day.

That seems so ... I would hate to go to Kroger's store, and before I start shopping, ask somebody how much my husband worked that day to see if I could get two boxes of Cheerios or one box of Cheerios. 

Well, that's what you did at the company store.

Day by day.

They'd go to the scrip office, and find out if they -- there's plenty of times they wouldn't be able to get a thing to eat. "There's no credit. He's not got any coal left." And so on. "There's no credit here." Lots of times, many times, plenty of times [inaudible] draw any money. They'd call -- what they call overdraft. They'd maybe leave owing the company something. They'd take out insurance, and what they call smithing. That's to sharpen their picks and augers, whether they need them sharpened that month or not, they'd still take the money out for it. [Inaudible]. You had to have your coal and everything, your Monabell, your shooting stuff, you bought --

What was that?

Monabell, they call it. That's what you shoot coal with. That was the old mining.

Like little bits of dynamite?

Like dynamite, same thing, except little.

Could you spell it? Monabell?

I found one of those old coins, that says 'Monabell' coins. I think I can find it for you in a few minutes. I'll get it for you. I'll give it to you, if you want. That's what you got to give to get the Monabell with. Sold you the sticks. Of course, a little later on, after I went to work, they didn't do so much of the hand loading. Some sections did, but then they were mostly starting with the machinery and mechanical loading.

But you're saying that half a shift's gone -- say it's noon. Half a shift's gone, and the check layman has picked a few checks off of coal cars. Say your coal car -- or say your dad's coal car. Somehow he'd report that down to the story at one o'clock, and your mom could go down there at one thirty, and she could only get the four hours worth, or the four loads of coal worth of groceries?

Well, whatever amount it added up to. Maybe not even get that much out of coal. Maybe those four car loads of coal -- [inaudible] might be but two or three dollars clear, maybe a couple dollars clear. You know, maybe not even that. Maybe he already owed for it, when you take out for all the different overheads, you know, you might say.

So a smithy overhead, even though a person's auger tools might not need it done?

Might not need sharpening that ...

Couldn't a miner sharpen his own tools anyway?

Yep. You still had to pay for it. They'd treat you just the same. My dad did do that. We had a blacksmith's shop, my dad sharpened his own tools.

[Recording interrupted]

You're saying your dad had a blacksmith's shop, and would sharpen tools for other people. Would he charge other people?

No, he didn't charge them. He would do a good job. In other words, he could sharpen these augers [inaudible] the coal with them. Seemed like the [mine's] blacksmiths really didn't care or wasn't very good at it. It'd be hard -- they wouldn't sharpen them with the right turn, they wouldn't cut the coal real good.

You mean the company one, blacksmiths?

Uh-huh. He'd sharpen a lot of fella's augers just as friendship. Out of friendship for them. He was good at it, he could make them good.

Now he's a miner, living in a town, but he has hogs on the hill and --

No, we had the hogs on out of the corporation now. We couldn't have them inside the corporation.

Oh.

But the corporation reached right down here, the town did. We had a cousin. My cousin lived on down there, so we could raise hogs down on his property. But we did have cattle. We had cows.

In the corporation land?

Uh-huh.

And the blacksmith place -- I know it wasn't a shop, it couldn't be a big shop.

A little room in a barn. [Inaudible] He had the tools and so forth.

Now that's a favor, sharpening somebody's augers and stuff. Did anybody in town do any kind of favor for him in turn?

Not that I ever remember. 

But if somebody mining a lot of coal, and not well off, but maybe comfortable, would he maybe take a little money to sharpen their auger?

I never did know him charging any money to sharpen his auger. I never did.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Science Fiction, Technology, Technoscience, Innovation: Some Quotations

Percy Bysshe Shelley, preface to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818):

[...] the novelty of the situations which it develops, and however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield [...]

Félix Bodin, preface to Novel of the Future (1834):

Si jamais quelqu’un réussit à faire le roman, l’épopée de l’avenir, il aura puisé à une vaste source de merveilleux et d’un merveilleux tout vraisemblable, s’il se peut dire, qui enorgueillira la raison au lieu de la choquer ou de la ravaler comme l’ont fait toutes les machines à merveilleux épique, qu’il a été convenu de mettre en jeu jusqu’à présent. En offrant la perfectibilité sous la forme pittoresque, narrative et dramatique, il aura trouvé un moyen de saisir, de remuer les imaginations, et de hâter les progrès de l’humanité, bien autrement puissant que les meilleurs exposés de systèmes, fussent-ils présentés avec la plus haute éloquence. 
If ever anyone succeeds in creating the novel, the epic of the future, he will have tapped a vast source of the marvelous, and of a marvelous entirely in accord with verisimilitude [...] which will dignify reason instead of shocking or deprecating it as all the marvelous epic machinery conventionally employed up to now has done. In suggesting perfectibility through a narrative and dramatic picturesque form, he will have found a method of seizing, of moving the imagination, and of hastening the progress of humanity in a manner very much more effective than the best expositions of systems presented with even the highest eloquence.

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852):

The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. 

Joseph Brodsky:

By its fullness, the future is propaganda.

Walter Benjamin, "On Scheebart" (written 1940-ish; in Selected Writings 1938-1940, trans. Edmund Jephcott):

Scheerbart's great discovery was that the stars could be used to plead the cause of creation before an audience of humans. He had already used the voices of animals to plead this cause. The fact that a poet is enlisting heavenly bodies to speak on behalf of creation bears witness to a very powerful emotion.

Herbert Marcuse, 'Karl Popper and the Problem of Historical Laws' (1972):

Moreover, ideas and efforts which once were 'Utopian' have been playing an increasingly decisive part in the conquest of nature and society, and there is awareness of the tremendous forces which may be released and utilized through the encouragement of 'Utopian' thought. In the Soviet Union, science fiction writers are being taken to task for lagging behind science in their dreams and phantasies and they are told to 'get their imagination off the ground' (New York Times, 9 July 1958). Political interest in maintaining the status quo rather than logical or scientific impossibility today makes real possibilities appear as Utopian. 

Don Ihde, Existential Technics (1983):

Only now interpretation of a text across past temporal distance cannot remain the only direction for contemporary hermeneutics. It must also turn to the 'possible worlds' of the future. Such an exploration in a radical sense, of the imaginative hopes and possibilities of humankind -- and particularly those becoming horizontal in technological society -- is called for as a prospect for hermeneutics. I am calling for not only interpretation across the past, but across the future, in which one concrete and necessary task is the 'science fiction' of a possible hermeneutic. In short, the projective hermeneutics is one which looks at 'texts' across possible futures, the futures made available in technological culture.

Sheila Jasanoff, Science and Public Reason:

To facilitate the commercialization of biotechnology, the United States, and the European Community and several of its member states, adopted laws and regulations to control not only laboratory research with genetically engineered organisms but also their purposeful release into the environment. [...] Risks that once were considered speculative and wholly unmanageable [...]  came to be regarded as amenable to rational assessment in accordance with sound scientific principles. Apocalyptic visions and the rhetoric of science fi ction yielded to the weightier discourse of expert advice and bureaucratic practice. The research community coalesced to persuade the public that the risks of biotechnology could be assessed in a reasonable way and that earlier fears of ecological disaster were mostly unfounded.  

Sheila Jasanoff, 'Future Imperfect, Science, Technology and the Imaginations of Modernity':

Technological innovation often follows on the heels of science fiction, lagging authorial imagination by decades or longer.

Sheila Jasanoff, 'Imagined and Invented Worlds':

Imaginaries, as we have argued throughout this volume, occupy a hybrid zone between the mental and the material, between individual free will and group habitus (Bourdieu 1990), between the fertility of ideas and the fixity of things. Most importantly, however, sociotechnical imaginaries can become integrated into the discourses and practices of governance, and thereby structure the life worlds of larger groups, including entire nations and even transnational communities.

[...]

Science fiction, I suggested in the introduction, is a repository of sociotechnical imaginaries, visions that integrate futures of growing knowledge and technological mastery with normative assessments of what such futures could and should mean for present-day societies. Utopic or dystopic, these fictions underscore the self-evident truth that technologically enabled futures are also value-laden futures. Science fiction stories express fears and yearnings that are rooted in current discontents, either signaling possible escape routes or painting in morbid colors the horrific consequences of heedlessness in the present. They thus offer a deeper look into-possibly even predictions of-what harms societies are most desperate to avoid and what good they may achieve through foresight and imagination [...]

Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time III (2010):

We have been considering adoption as a process of protean interiorization by which I can affectively adopt/interiorize a cat, a child, a father, or in a moral sense a maxim, religiously a belief, technically a tool, socially a lifestyle, politically an idea of a We, epistemologically the understanding of a rule-adopting/interiorizing here means exteriorizing: my emotional affect, my moral behavior, my religious practices, my technical gestures, my way of life, my convictions, my actions, the carrying out of a rule as the concept synthesizing a diversity. 

Becoming is not future, I might say with regard to the question of adoption, which is also necessarily fabulation. This means that adoption is not adaptation, since it is invention. An adoption without invention is the failure and the enticement that engenders deception and malaise, as reactions compensating for a flawed action. 

The fact of becoming is today essentially a technological fact. In the human domain, becoming always has something to do with the technical fact that preceded genetic origins of humankind, and that is in fact as old as the cosmos. If it is true that becoming consists of a group of changing states linked by cause/effect relationships, there can hardly be any doubt that the totality of these sensory changes defined as "beings we are ourselves" is today largely and manifestly determined by changing technological states. If the to-come is not the future, there is no future without the to-come, but there is a to-come without future. 

The to-come without future is called the mechanical; the confusion of to-come and future is called the mechanism

The to-come, which is today in its broadest tendencies the fact of technology, is subsumed to technoscience as an activity conceiving, in an ever-narrowing relationship with marketing, the evolution of technology-while submitting to the systematic dimensions of technology as they emerge from a technical system as it becomes mnemotechnical. 

This to-come is what today is not being thought, not only because technics, as the dynamic process of individuation, is still largely ignored (despite the work from which Technics and Time, I and 2 tries to draw lessons), but because technoscience itself is not it, even while it is an instance of the effective implementation of retentional criteria. 

This un-thought is not un-identified in the sense in which something forgotten is not thought: it is largely thought and felt to be unthinkable, and this is why as such it forms the very core of the anguish of malaise, closing perspectives to knowledge while enclosing them within the agitated know-how of a badly thought technology. The opposition between technology and subjectivity still today inhabits the banal framework in which anguish and malaise are expressed in the form of increasingly invasive and anguished chatter. It can only be thought beyond, passing by Husserl and Heidegger in their difficult relationship to Kant, while coming slowly back to us through Nietzsche. In "subjectivity," we must come to understand-beyond representation as conceived since Descartes and beyond the banal, poor opposition to objectivity that must be transcended-the will to which we hold beyond this subjectivity. 

Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time III:

Technics has not found its role in the metaphysical cinema: it does not exist, as such, in any rigorous sense; it is nothing more than a correlative of theoretical philosophy. [...] But today it has become inconceivable not to take actions with quite revolutionary consequences (in the sense of the "Copernican Revolution") as a result of the fact that science, formerly the domain of pure theoretical reason, now having become technoscience, calls out daily for "practical" outcomes (in the Kantian-that is, moral-sense): its porosity between theory and practice is perpetually mcreasmg. 

It nonetheless remains entirely unthought

Is it possible, then, to ignore the fact that technoscience is also the means by which science becomes science fiction, i.e., becomes a cinema, a science bursting with images, models, and simulations that have become real-we might call them chimaeras--ontological lures that must also be perceived through doxa as teratological and diabolical realities? This question of the devil, of chimaeras, and of science fiction is all the more pressing in that it is also the question-and its desired response-of the industrialization of tertiary retentions in the culture industry's production of symbols.

John Locke:

For should the Soul of a Prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the Prince’s past Life, enter and inform the Body of a Cobler, as soon as deserted by his own Soul, every one sees, he would be the same Person with the Prince, accountable only for the Prince’s Actions: But who would say it was the same Man?

Avital Ronell, The Test Drive:

If Nietzsche had discovered something like the essence of a future science, it may well be the case that exposed itself to him in the way great discoveries are made, namely, when thought 'catches it in flight without really knowing what it has caught' [...] In other words, Nietzsche continually offers a model for cognition that cannot simply account for itself or maintain its results within the assumed certitudes of a controlled system of knowledge.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun:

Cyberspace as disembodied representation rehearses themes of Oriental exoticism and Western penetration. [...] Cyberspace opens up, flowers for him -- a "fluid neon origami trick."

Langdon Winner:

But the failure of technocracy in one definition -- the definition suggested by the theory of elites -- does not mean that the power and position of technically trained persons in political life ceases to be a problem. That there is apparently little solidarity or common purpose among such persons does not in itself speak to the issues raised above about participation, representation, or limited government . It merely denies one possibly way that technology and political power might be connected. The elite conception of technocracy is, it seems to me, a good example of a case in which "a picture held us captive." [...] The idea here is that of a cohesive group based on the knowledge it holds rising to power and authority. in science fiction and political theory both, there is a tendency to dramatize the upward thrust, hence the titles "new brahmins," "new mandarins," "new priesthood," and "new utopians." And if one sees society in terms of strata or class levels, the strongest being on "top" and the weakest at the "bottom," then one begins to expect that those who hold new social power will move "upward" and like mountain climbers at the top of Everest be somehow visible up there [...]

John W. Campbell, 'Non-Escape Literature,' editorial in Astounding (Feb 1959):

It happens that science fiction's core is just about the only non-escape literature available to the general public today [...]

E.M., 'Preface' to The Man in the Moone (1638):

To the Ingenious Reader. Thou hast here an essay of Fancy, where Invention is shewed with Judgment. It was not the Author’s intention (I presume) to discourse thee into a beliefe of each particular circumstance. Tis fit thou allow him a liberty of conceite where thou takest to thy selfe a liberty of judgment. In substance thou hast here a new discovery of a new world, which perchance may finde little better entertainment in thy opinion, than that of Columbus at first, in the esteeme of all men. Yet his then but poore espiall of America, betray’d unto knowledge soe much as hath since encreast into a vast plantation. And the then unknowne, to be now of as large extent as all other the knowne world. That there should be Antipodes was once thought as great a Paradox as now that the Moon should bee habitable. But the knowledge of this may seeme more properly reserv’d for this our discovering age: In which our Galilaeusses, can by advantage of their spectacles gaze the Sunne into spots, & descry mountaines in the Moon. But this, and more in the ensuing discourse I leave to thy candid censure, & the faithful relation of the little eye-witnesse, our great discoverer.

Avita Ronell & Anne Dufourmantelle, Fighting Theory

Science, in brief, enfolds at once the scientific method, natural philosophy, and the work of poetry. It invents an ever-surprising relation to the world. Sometimes literature itself finds a new stylistic figure for which science then goes on to get a patent.

Avita Ronell & Anne Dufourmantelle, Fighting Theory

William Gibson, who writes cyber-punk novels, invented virtual reality. It's now a tool of warfare in addition to its other qualities and uses, but this invention first appeared in science fiction. Although this may seem bizarre and very 'American' to the French, we have to recognize that science fiction has been the site of considerable inventions; the fiction, literature, cinema,, and poetry of the scientific method are imagined before our eyes, as in the film classics The Matrix or Total Recall, where mutants appear and stake out their territories. Science, for the most part, now goes it alone, often subordinated to the destructive needs of war, of institutionalized hostilities. Nietzsche reminds us that science was connected, in the beginning, to astrologers, sorcerers, and music, and so science, when it still belonged to the realm of the imaginary, made promises, and it promised too much. In astrology there is an excess of promise, a hypercomprehension that always surpasses the knowledge base from which it stems.

Avita Ronell & Anne Dufourmantelle, Fighting Theory

When science was not yet working for corporations, governments, states, it knew how to inflate the rhetoric of promise, and this was very important for our Dasein, according to Nietzsche -- he doesn't yet say Dasein, but he's almost there. 

Hannah Arendt, 'The Archimedean Point':

Moreover, the enormous technological consequences which finally gave testimony to the immense power increase of men in the modern age were predicted by no one, neither by the scientists themselves -- who even today, I am told -- still have an inclination to look down upon engineers as mere plumbers -- nor by the historians. (The only predictions came from people like Jules Verne, that is, the predecessors of science fiction.) But, if anyone else should have predicted them, or should have foreseen them, is it not likely that he would have concluded that the increase in human power would be accompanied by an increase in the stature and the pride of man? This, however, has not been the case.

Paul Virilio:

As we knew already, speed is the old age of the World.

The Mountain Goats:

New dreams for the Rat Queen!

The Mountain Goats: 

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow [...]

Yuk Hui, Recursivity and Contingency:

[...] in the spirit of eschatology one may ask: Is this completion of humanity a revelation or a catastrophic becoming? We are asking this question, as most of the sci-fi movies do, since we are living in an epoch of technological uncertainty and instability. Cybernetics, the accomplishment of metaphysics, is the force unifying 'humanity' through globalization and neocolonization. In other words, we can use the vocabulary of Gestalt fpsychology in claiming that technology becomes the ground instead of the figure. The noosphere becomes the most dominating sphere on earth, overriding the biosphere. [...] Any future philosophy that ignores the question of system is fundamentally deficient.

Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility (1985):

[...] there mere knowledge of possibilities, though certainly insufficient for cogent prediction, is fully adequate for the purposes of a heuristic casuistry that is to help in the spotting of ethical principles [...] [In a thought experiment, the perceived possibility] can now take the place of the actual occasion; and reflection on the possible, fully unfolded in the imagination, gives access to new moral truth. But this truth belongs to the sphere of ideas, that is, it is just as much a matter of philosophical knowledge as is the truth of that grounding first principle we have yet to supply. Accordingly, its certainty is not dependent upon the degree of certainty of the factual, scientific projections which provided paradigmatic material for it. Whatever the ultimate accreditation for this kind of truth -- be it the self-evidence of reason, an a priori of faith, or a metaphysical decision of the will -- its pronouncements are apodictic, whereas those of the hypothetical thought experiments can at best be probabilistic. This is enough where they are meant to serve not as proofs but as illustrations. What is here contemplated, therefore, is a casuistry of the imagination which, unlike the customary casuistries of law and morality that serve the trying out of principles already known, assists in the tracking and discovering of principles still unknown. The serious side of science fiction lies precisely in its performing such well-informed thought experiments, whose vivid imaginary results may assume the heuristic function here proposed. 

Ella Parker, Compact #1, March 1963:

After much thought I decided to come out into the open and approach the Housing Manager, what an imposing title that is. I went into some detail about what I’d been told by one of his men, and please, is it true? I really piled on the agony. I found it an absorbing hobby, which I do, but I neglected to tell him of the life of ease I oould enjoy if he really did forbid me to continue publishing, he wrote back, asking what kind of equipment I had; he assumed I used the usual type home printing apparatus, and, please, could he have a copy of my magazine to show at a council meeting when they discussed my case? I did some soul searching, I can tell you. I toyed with the idea of letting him assume what he liked, in case he should disapprove of what I was actually using and with-hold his permission, but, clear thinking won the day. If I lied, and later there were complaints about the noise, they could, and would be justified, in chucking us out of the flat. I didn’t want this to happen, as those of you who have visited the old. Pen will understand. I told him the truth, that I have an electric Gestetner, I also sent him a copy of ORION #28. I heard nothing more for months.

Bishop John Wilkins: 

And here, one that had a strong fancy, were better able to set forth the great benefit and pleasure to be had by such a journey. And that whether you consider the strangeness of the persons, language, arts, policy, religion of those inhabitants, together with the new traffique that might be brought thence. In briefe, doe but consider the pleasure and profit, of those later discoveries in America, and wee must needs conclude this to be inconceiveably beyond it. 

David Russen:

But the Title that the Translator gives it (when he calls it a Comical History) seems to be too full of Levity, and unbecoming that Gravity which a Treatise of so serious matter doth require. For though it be interlaced with much Matter of Mirth, Wit and Invention, of things even doubtful, or meerly feigned, and so in some sense may be ranked with Sir Thomas Moor’s Utopia, Don Quixot’s Romantick Whymseys, or Poor Robin’s Description of Lubbardland; yet it is throughout carried on with that strength of Argument, force of Reason, and solidity of Judgment in the Demonstration of things probable, that it may not be unbecoming the Gravity of Cato, the Seriousness of Seneca, or the Strictness of the most rigid Peripatetick or Cartesian; and instead of Comical, may deserve the Epithete of the most Rational History of the Government of the Moon.

Sheila Jasanoff, 'Future Imperfect, Science, Technology and the Imaginations of Modernity':

Belying the label "science fiction," however, works in this genre are also fabulations of social worlds, both utopic and dystopic. Shelley's lab-generated monster turns murderous because he is excluded from society by his abnormal birth and hence is denied the blessings of companionship and social life enjoyed by his creator. Jules Verne's Nemo, a dispossessed Indian prince driven by hatred of the British colonialists who exploited his land and destroyed his family, seeks freedom and scientific enlightenment in the ocean depths. Biopower runs amok in Aldous Huxley's imagined world, overwhelming human dignity and autonomy in the name of collective needs under authoritarian rule. Equally concerned with the interplay of social and material innovation, but reversing the emotional gears, Edward Bellamy's look backward from an imagined 2000 offers, first, an optimistic account of a new social order and only secondarily a foray into technological unknowns. And as a dystopic counterpoint, George Orwell's (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four presents a world of totalitarian thought control overseen by a technologically advanced, all-seeing, all-knowing, 24/7 surveillance state-whose real-life counterpart Edward Snowden, the whistleblowing, twenty-first-century American contractor, famously revealed in the US National Security Agency. Oddly, though, many nonfictional accounts of how technology develops still treat the material apart from the social, as if the design of tools and machines, cars and computers, pharmaceutical drugs and nuclear weapons were not in constant interplay with the social arrangements that inspire and sustain their production.

Sheila Jasanoff, 'Future Imperfect, Science, Technology and the Imaginations of Modernity':

Bringing social thickness and complexity back into the appreciation of technological systems has been a central aim of the field of science and technology studies (STS). Historians and social analysts of technology have worked in tandem to remind us that there can be no machines without humans to make them and powerful institutions to decide which technologies are worth our investment (Winner 1986). This literature resists the temptation to construe technology as deterministic. STS scholars tend to bristle at the evolutionary economist's language of strict path dependence (David 1985; Arthur 1994). STS accounts recognize that history matters, as indeed it must, but reject the notion of rigid lock-ins in favor of a more open sense of agency and contingency in society's charting of technological possibilities. Many aspects of the presenting face of technological systems are socially constructed (Bijker et al. 1987). The stamp of conscious or unconscious human choice and user preference marks the design of objects, their weighting of risks and benefits, and the behaviors they encourage, exclude, or seek to regulate (Calion 1987; Jasanoff 2006). Less frequently encountered in the STS literature, however, are conceptual frameworks that situate technologies within the integrated material, moral, and social landscapes that science fiction offers up in such abundance. To be sure, the normative dimensions of science and technology do not fall wholly outside the scope of STS analysis. STS scholarship acknowledges that science and technology do not unidirectionally shape our values and norms. Rather, and symmetrically, our sense of how we ought to organize and govern ourselves profoundly influences what we make of nature, society, and the "real world."

Sheila Jasanoff, 'Restoring reason: Causal narratives and political culture'

The tragic open-endedness of the Bhopal case so many years later speaks to features of public knowledge making in India that we will return to later in this chapter. For now, let us flag chiefly the lack of anything approaching a defi nitive epistemological resolution: a time and place when all the major participants came together to agree on a common understanding of what had actually happened and what should be done on the basis of that shared knowledge. In the absence of such a moment of truth, multiple narratives of responsibility and blame continue to fl ourish in Bhopal, on the look-out for new external audiences or events to legitimate them. Yet this very lack of resolution can be seen as a form of learning – not the kind that necessarily leads to regulatory change or institutional reform, though both did happen in the disaster’s wake (Jasanoff 1994), but rather the kind that, through its very incompleteness, reveals the impossibility of taming a cataclysmic event through necessarily imperfect managerial solutions. The open-endedness of learning at Bhopal offers in this sense its own redemption, by negating the possibility of forgetfulness.

[...]

Learning from disaster emerges out of these stories as a complex, ambiguous process – conditioned by culture, yet not easily forced into univocal, totalizing, national narratives. It is in the raggedness of accounting for tragic experience that the possibility of cultural reinvention ultimately resides.

Sheila Jasanoff, Designs on Nature:

In the environmental arena, both fact and fiction lent credence to worries about human error and lack of foresight.

Sheila Jasanoff, Designs on Nature:

If Frankenstein played on primal fears of supplanting divine order with man’s imperfect understanding, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World broached themes more suited to the midcentury’s secular, totalitarian experiments. This was a world of graded, standardized, and denatured human beings, manufactured like the orcs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasies to meet the needs of an all-powerful state. Turned into instruments of others’ interest, people were deprived of uniqueness, autonomy, and free will. Yet the eugenic ideas that found nightmarish expression in Huxley’s novel were enthusiastically embraced by Western progressives and intellectuals in the early twentieth century. Just five years before the publication of Brave New World, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a giant of American jurisprudence, wrote in Buck v. Bell: “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” [...] Eugenic theories motivated the U.S. Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, which discriminated against Jews and people of southern Mediterranean origin. Not until the excesses of Nazi eugenics, culminating in the Holocaust, were these ideas substantially discredited as a basis for policy. [...] Indeed, in socialist Sweden, a forty-year program of forced sterilization based on eugenic principles ended only in 1976. Meanwhile, seemingly untouched by the Nazi experience, U.S. biomedical researchers’ desire for knowledge ran ahead of ethical concerns for the protection of human subjects right into the 1960s.

Paul Feyerabend, Putnam on Incommensurability:

English does not cease to be English when new words are introduced or old words given a new sense. Every philologist, anthropologist, sociologist who presents an archaic (primitive, exotic, etc.) world view, every popular science writer who wants to explain unusual scientific ideas in ordinary English, every surrealist, dadaist, teller of fairy tales, ghost stories, science fiction novels, every translator of the poetry of different ages and nations knows how first to construct, out of English words, an English sounding model of the pattern of usage he needs and then to adopt the pattern and to 'speak' it. [...] I should add that incommensurability is a difficulty for philosophers, not for scientists. Philosophers insist on stability of meaning throughout an argument while scientists, being aware that 'speaking a language or explaining a situation means both following rules and changing them' [...] are experts in the art of arguing across lines some philosophers regard as insuperable boundaries of discourse.