Archive for the Philosophy Category

A True Conservative Hero

Posted in Philosophy, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2011 by rottenart

A little background on the “philosophy” behind today’s average conservative. SPOILER: greed is good and selfishness is righteous.

Agnotology and Shibboleths

Posted in Philosophy, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2011 by rottenart

In the interest of raising everyone’s vocabulary level, I turn you to this fascinating read about the self-imposed ignorance phenomenon amongst political groups, primarily the GOP. It really describes the underlying philosophy of birtherism, trutherism and various other memes that are simply unbelievable to most reasonable people. I tend to agree that it is part and parcel of the fractured media environment. No longer are we bound to singular outlets of objectivity. Indeed, these days, we can find any number of pseudo-news sources that exist solely to confirm our own false beliefs.

The article argues this is undermining the long-term infrastructure of the Republican party by tarring it with a reputation for falsity. Perhaps that’s true. But I tend to think that as we continue further down a path of infinite information availability, there will come a time when truth no longer exists in the traditional sense. In many ways, to hear mainstream media debate an issue such as climate change, we are already there. The ratings chase forces an equivocation that has nothing to do with facts or science. Witness this masterful denial of reality or Arlen Spector’s rehashing of the ubiquitous “both sides do it” canard. There is no hunger for truth but instead a self-fulfilling proclamation that molds the truth simply by being uttered.

And in this way, the idea of ‘seriousness’ in our politics takes this bald equivocation as its own shibboleth. Standing astride the two ideologies, one can appear above the fray, bemoaning the loss of bipartisanship and civility, all the while acknowledging and legitimizing a side of the debate that is unflinchingly bat-shit insane. For proof, one need look no further than a so-called “serious” news outlet airing this fanatical gobbledy-gook.

Truth is malleable and gaining in plasticity. To admit this is to go along with it, to embrace it. Fighting against the tide is getting harder every day.

Objectivism Never Looked So Sexy

Posted in Funny, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2011 by rottenart

From The Atlas Society:

“Ayn Rand is America’s most controversial individualist. She penned philosophical non-fiction works of such originality and power that she was credited by stunned intellectuals as having single-handedly solved an ancient philosophical puzzle. The new philosophy which she founded through her fiction and her later essays and articles is called Objectivism.”

Um, yeah.

Frankly, I prefer this version much, much better. But, if you’re in the mood for a biopic, we’ve got you covered.


The Docs of War

Posted in Philosophy, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by rottenart

The political world is buzzing today about thousands of classified documents released to the press by Wikileaks, the secretive whistle-blower website, that give a harrowing and detailed look at the war in Afghanistan. It’s a long, hard slog, reading through the dump, which consist of memos, chat transcripts, e-mails, and other communications from 2004 to 2009. The White House has come out swinging in its denouncement of the leaks while Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, defends his decision to release them. Among the sea of documents are tales of special forces “assassination squads” meant to hunt Al Quaeda leaders, civilian deaths at the hands of Reaper Drones, riveting accounts of out-manned NATO forces facing Taliban fighters, revelations that Taliban forces have acquired surface-to-air missiles, and the barely surprising news that Pakistan’s intelligence service has been coordinating with the Taliban for some time. All in all, it’s a detailed, tedious look at how the war in Afghanistan has been prosecuted (notably, it must be said, under the Bush administration). However, the most shocking part of the release is exactly how not shocking it is.

Now, when I say not shocking, I mean it in the sense that the communications show exactly what many people know: war is ugly, brutal, criminal, and generally a horrible business. In this sense, the documents merely put the inner workings on display. Assange pointed out that, despite the White House criticism, the newest material is seven months old which absolves it from affecting current operations and personnel. Therefore, the impact they will have is mostly lifting a curtain on the day-to-day operations of war. As I said, for most people, the reaction is likely, “yes, and?” As to why the leak is important culturally and historically, well, that’s a different matter.

Continue reading

Crisis Aesthetics

Posted in Art, Philosophy, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2010 by rottenart

This an interesting item that I caught yesterday but didn’t have time to comment. It seems BP had a picture on their website that depicted their command center in Houston. Some digging by John Avarosis on AmericaBlog noticed that the picture looked Photoshopped — and it was. It turns out they added pictures to three blank video monitors so that the center appeared busier. In the Guardian article above, BP spokesman Scott Dean said that it was “the photographer was showing off his Photoshop skills and there was no ill intent.” He also mentioned that he has “ordered workers to use Photoshop only for things like color correction, cropping and removing glare.” Well, that’s a relief!

The whole incident, BP incompetence aside, is the place of imagery in digital news media. Notice that the article mentions Avarosis discovering the fake because of tell-tale signs of manipulation: perspective not correct, wrong size images, haloes, etc. This in and of itself is not really that surprising; bad Photoshop does tend to stand out. To me, the bigger story is the nonchalance of the explanation. A worker was trying out their Photoshop skills? So BP decided to reward the mediocre job by placing the fake photo on their front page? It’s so ridiculous on its face that it could only be spin. BP knew exactly what they were up to and I would not be shocked to learn they had a graphic designer on the payroll for just that purpose.

The larger point is one about imagery in today’s media. Faking news photography is not new (think Robert Capra’s Dying Spanish Soldier). What is fascinating is that we have reached a point where not only is it relatively easy to spot a bad Magic Wand Cut+Paste, but also that the software is so ubiquitous that BP can expect us to buy such a cockamamie response as a worker honing his skills. The explanation practically announces that it itself is fake and that this is SOP for crisis response. It’s no secret that the specter of image editing hangs over every news outlet (think Iranian missiles for Agence France-Presse). But I think we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. If we must view every photo with a  grain of salt, then we must also now look for the digital detritus that announces the deception. These photos weren’t unmasked by diligent newshounds but rather by amateur bloggers with a penchant for Photoshop geekery. The truth of the fake was more truthful than the fake. Or something like that.

Now, this might mean that we are becoming not only more savvy news consumers but also that Photoshop is so embedded in our experience that even decent manipulation gives itself away under scrutiny. However, that also means that the use of such tactics will become even more widespread. Much like photography, Photoshop is easy to do… badly. Perhaps we will eventually reach a point when all media is manipulated (to some extent, is is– cropping, contrast, etc.). The concern then is that those with nefarious designs will think nothing of flooding our purview with horrible fakes, throwing up a digital smokescreen that reveals nothing but a blanket of inauthenticity. If this is the case, why should we treat any photo as ‘real’? We may even reach a point where a crisis can be erased from common consciousness simply by a team of fresh-faced Comm Design majors working in a bunker somewhere.

The real has been a fractious thing for about a century now. This point of diminishing returns that I mentioned might be the harbinger of a new quest for authenticity, insofar as it can be represented digitally. Along with the rise of factions that believe a Photoshopped image is nothing more than PR, comes the advance of a generation of digital children finely tuned to discern Photoshop’s fingerprints. Of course, this new generation has also been raised in a digitally saturated environment for their entire existence. If it falls to them to make the call as to what is real or not and they are no longer able to tell the difference (don’t think there aren’t really good Photoshop jobs out there) then where does that leave the real?

There may very well be a bleak answer to that question that I don’t want to hear.

Update: As if on cue, John finds another crappy Photoshop job on BP’s site.

Explosions in the Gulf are a Symptom, Not an Anomaly

Posted in Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2010 by rottenart

I’m a bit late getting to this story, but as of yet, the 11 missing personnel from the big explosion aboard an off-shore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico are still unaccounted for. I send my hope to those families, most of whom live constantly with the threat of fatality hanging over their lives and livelihood. Much in the same way families described their existence in the wake of the coal mine disaster a few weeks ago, the roughnecks and assorted other workers on the rig know that they risk their lives to do their jobs. One former rig worker, Rusty Galloway put it this way:

“They come from small towns where the oil field is their life. The fears that these people have, it’s life and death out there. You risk your life for a lot of money.”

It’s absolutely true. A huge portion of the energy economy, predicated as it is on dangerous and dirty extraction, depends on workers who are willing to defy death each day in order to make sure our homes are heated, our cars run, and our lights come on at night. In both instances, the accident was a rarity, at least in the United States. In other countries where Big Energy has its hands (China, for example), it’s not quite the same story. But the fact remains that the profession is a risky one no matter where the site is and the workers know that.

To me, however, the story is not so much the tragedy of losing personnel in a dangerous profession. The problem is that the risk is tied to the promise of big pay; workers would not be doing it if it weren’t worth it. That so many people are willing to forego the risk speaks to the power and influence that Big Oil and Big Coal have. We are addicted to these things, in a way that makes more deaths like these assured. Now, I’m not suggesting that alternative forms of energy are some walk in the park. Pictures of workers atop giant wind turbines makes clear just how dangerous green energy can be. The difference is that the risk involved with oil, coal, and natural gas is not borne solely by the workers who extract and refine these resources. We all shoulder the burden. The CSM article adds, almost as an afterthought, that the environmental impact of the explosion and fire on the still burning rig is not expected to be that great. I suppose that it’s relatively less of an impact than, say, Exxon-Valdez or Centralia, where an underground coal mine fire is still burning 47 years later.

Unfortunately, these things are not isolated unto themselves. It’s a cumulative effect. Every gallon of oil spilled, every cubic ton of smoke and fumes released, every inch of mountain-top removed adds up and in the long run, we all pay for it. Not just with higher heating bills or tanks of gas, but with the slowly creeping threat of an unlivable world. I can practically hear the scoffs from the opposition to clean energy. “We puny humans can’t possibly have an impact like that!” Please tell that to the whale washed up on the shore with nothing but garbage in its stomach, the divers who have watched the coral reefs decimated by increasingly acidic oceans, or the natives in Alaska still dealing the ramifications of oil and sludge in their waterways. Alone, the smoke from this one oil rig may not be dire, but looking at the list of deaths in the link above, some of which were surely accompanied by explosions and fire, and the fumes begin to add up.

The money offered to energy workers, may of whom don’t have any other economic options, doesn’t make up for the cost we all share from the use of dwindling dirty resources. These same under-educated folks who see an oil rig or gas field or coal mine as a means to escape poverty could easily be moved into tending bio-fuel farms, servicing turbines and solar panels, and building a new power grid. People go where the money is, plain and simple. This most recent disaster likely won’t dampen the screams of “drill, baby, drill” but we can hold out hope that it might give a few people pause. Death is an inevitability with fossil fuel; health risks and environmental hazard are intrinsically linked to their very existence. Accidents like this one and the loss of 25 miners in WV don’t happen often but they happen often enough that we should at least start looking elsewhere for our sources of power.

Figuratively Speaking

Posted in Art, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by rottenart

Roberta Smith has a good piece in the NYT about the burgeoning wave of figuration in painting. I have been talking about this for a while now and it seems I prognosticated correctly. There is a populism inherent in figuration, insomuch as it gives the viewer an ‘in’. Much of the backlash against painting (including the rise of conceptual art as a whole) stemmed from Greenberg, et al’s draconian insistence on  the rules of flatness and objectivity. How much more can you abstract form after Donald Judd, Kasimir Malevich or Ad Reinhardt? Thus, figurative painting benefited from a stint in the wilderness and conceptual art’s hubris. That is not to say that painting isn’t conceptual; indeed, much of the work included in Smith’s excellent slide show is conceptual in nature. It’s just that less-inclined viewers are able to process recognizable imagery quickly and get at the concept readily without having to stumble over (or plod through) a wall text about what it all means. Another correlation is drawn to a revived respect for craft. Patrons who otherwise might scoff at painterly abstraction look on with envy at the artist who can make a vase look like a vase and still take about the glass industry and suburban lifestyles. Well, that might be a stretch, but you get my point.

Although I consider painting to be my parent medium, I recognize the importance of diversity of practice. It’s one of the reasons I don’t restrict myself to painting. There are some ideas that lend themselves to performance or installation or any other of the hundreds of different forms of expression. But I acknowledge painting’s history, its tradition, and its capacity for change. The breakdown and fracturing of form that followed the advent of photography has held sway for nearly 100 years. It’s actually surprising that a renewed interest in representation took this long. What makes the current revival so interesting is its reliance on the minefield of post-modern theory. Painting has awoken to the fact that a marriage of concept and traditional form has all sorts of things to say about our understanding and our society. I recently came across an interesting theory (floating around since 1990) that Michelangelo used the human brain as the model for God in The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. There’s also the dinner roll musical score in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. If those two don’t prove that representational painting can be conceptual, well, then I just don’t know what. And it’s hard to believe any painter working today would be castigated for trying to paint like Leonardo.

Figuration has found a voice again after a long bout with laryngitis. Let’s hope it will be a long while before it goes hoarse again.