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Asian Modernism

In those areas of the East characterized by rapid economic growth there are new forms of modernism. These have to be seen in relation to the declining dominance of the West in order to understand the difference between their particularistic cultural character and the universalistic evolutionism they embody. On the one hand they have emphasized the moral core of the Confucian order, expressed in Neo-Confucianism, an order that stresses the ethics of the bureaucratic public sphere, an abstract morality, but one extracted from the ideals of the family and elevated to a set of generalized social principles. This has been linked to the notion that the NIC (Newly Industrialized Countries) lands, for example, have some special culture that is conducive to development, and even superior to Western individualism. There have, on the other hand, been numerous discussions of the relation between Confucian developmentalism and Western models. Neo-Confucianist ideology stresses the goals of democracy and rationalist development above practically all else. The particularistic property of this self-conscious programme of modernity is related to its ethnic base in Chinese civilization. There is an interesting logic in this new modernism. It might be argued that the problem with Western mediocrity is that its individualism tends to erode the moral values that render the entire project of modernity a genuine possibility. Such a view would dovetail with [Daniel] Bell’s analysis of the dialectical contradictions of modernity that generate, all by themselves, the postmodern dissipation that has now taken form in the West. In the Eastern model with its weaker, if clearly present, individual, entirely eroded to the project of the group, such disintegration ought not to be possible.

Lash, S. & Friedman, J. (Eds.). (1993). Modernity & Identity. Massachusetts: Blackwell, pg. 356

Modernism In The Streets

Please click the four arrows to view in fullscreen. The creators’ description can be read here.

The title of this post, so literally exemplified in the video’s example of Manhattan, is taken from a despairing Lionel Trilling as his students occupied Columbia University in 1968. Not to compare the contemporary Occupy movement(s) with May ’68, which is so tacky, but the quotation gains an intriguing new meaning now, which the above video helps to draw out. Though I’m in no state to define modernism, it can roughly be described as the belief in the capacity of science and reason to encapsulate all the variables of the universe in order to achieve a state of total control & perfection. This is to be contrasted with postmodernism, which is, quite frankly, impossible to succinctly describe. With our cliché definition of modernism out of the way, however, we can focus our attention on the much more interesting elements entailed by this weltanschauung.  Case in point:

High modernist subjectivity gives an extraordinary privilege, for example, to judgement and especially to cognition. It correspondingly devalues the faculty of perception, so that vision itself is so to speak colonized by cognition. The modern predominance of reading fosters epistemologies of representation, of a visual paradigm in the sphere of art […]. High modernist subjectivity seems furthermore to privilege the cognitive and moral over the aesthetic and the libidinal, the ego over the id, the visual over touch, and discursive over figural communication. It gives primacy to culture over nature, to the individual over the community, As an ethics of responsibility, high modernist personality and Lebensfürung [life-course] it allows the individual to be somehow ‘closed’ instead of open; to be somehow obsessed with self-mastery and self-domination.

Lash, S. & Friedman, J. (Eds.). (1993). Modernity & Identity. Massachusetts: Blackwell, pg. 5

To conclude, here is Microsoft’s projection of our technological future:

For the 2009 version, see here.

On World Population, Hydroponic Cucumbers, & Milk

Countries of the world proportioned according to their populations as of 2010

I just found an excellent video on CBC News. Apparently, “the world prepares to welcome its seventh billion inhabitant sometime this year.” Its eighth billionth is projected to appear in 2025, but world population is expected to settle at 9-10 billion by 2100. As well, India is projected to become the most populous country by 2050.

Oh, and by the same institution (Agence France-Presse): Malthus, anyone? No, to invoke Malthus is to be overly pessimistic; I think that hydroponic growth sounds quite promising, especially if we can manage to do such farming in multiple floors of skyscrapers, which would provide a more efficient use of space than our clumsy acre system, and the lack of wasted resources would allow the world’s poor to be fed with little to no extra water and nutrients used (which is especially pertinent given the looming water crisis). The main problem is accumulating energy cheaply enough to make these projects profitable…

Hydroponics allows an indoor (i.e. weather-independent) means of growing foods with no waste of water & nutrients; with every variable known & controlled, hydroponics epitomizes the modernist project.

In 1988, The Newfoundland government (Canada) donated $13 million of taxpayers’ money to build a “space-age greenhouse” which would hydoponically grow cucumbers which would sprout to full size within six days. Unfortunately, because of the market being flooded with cucumbers, the company, Enviroponics, had to sell their cucumbers at $0.55 wholesale, while each cucumber costed them $1.10 each. According to a survey near that time, the average Newfoundlander ate only half a cucumber a year, and Enviroponics could not export their cucumbers at a profit, so surplus cucumbers flooded Newfoundland’s market, and its dumps (reminiscent of the semi-recent European milk crisis, except less morally ambiguous and more inept; point your mouse at the links for explanation). In 1989 Enviroponics went bankrupt, selling its facility to another company for $1. A total of about 800,000 cucumbers were produced, and the cost to taxpayers per cucumber was $27.50, compared to 50 cents for cucumbers produced out of province and sold in Newfoundland grocery stores. This “boondoggle” (i.e. fiasco) has since become a symbol of foolish government spending. (via)

Close-up of a hydroponic apparatus (cf. the diagram above)

Just a little history lesson. Nevertheless, it’s been 20 years, no? Surely hydroponic science has progressed a bit further since then. At any rate, however, the world is in no state to revolutionize farming methods anytime soon. Still, hopefully the above has suggested that the modernist dream of ‘mapping’ every variable of the world is still going strong, despite the postmodernists clamor. But then, social science is still in its infancy compared to the mass progress of the natural sciences (as Imre Lakatos asserts, with whom I more or less agree), yet it’s precisely this latter field that will most likely give representatives of the modernist project a run for their money (hopefully in the literal as well as the figurative sense).