Six Degree of Separation


from Augustine’s Contra Faustum Manichaeum

The story of six degree of separation, as dealt with here and here, seems to be in some way itself a speculation … — at least empirically it is not in the strict sense viable. Be that as it may, fact is that the world is a small place and fact is that it is still of utmost important what kind of links do exist.

The silly example when we look at xenophobia etc.: It is not the Turk, Syrian, Jew, Chinese, gay around the corner I fear … — but in general, when it comes to Turks, Syrians, Jews, Chinese and gay people they are just [I could provide a list of stereotypes and ask you to tick the box you consider as being relevant …] and there is good reason for being at least alert. So the often heard saying, the often seen praxis – and one may wonder if the fascination by a supposed exotic character of the Turk, Syrian, Jew, Chinese, gay friend is not some kind of the same thing in reverse … In any case, we may add to the various classifications of humans as social beings, economic and rational beings and nevertheless also a homo ludens the classification of humans being ‘concretist’, lacking the ability to accept generalisations of a certain kind and also depending on the ‘concrete counterpart’ as co-player.

There is another point here — most likely closely linked to what had been mentioned before — and of course I leave gathering the existing studies and any ultimate empirical validation to others. The question is concerned with those mechanisms of six degrees of segregation. I mean the small network that protects each member of the network, supports them blindly and cuts off all ‘blind and dormant links’. They surely continue to exist and may be relevant in some respect — ‘when needed’. But at the same time there are the tight rules that make overstepping them fatal.

Imagine a person taking up a well paid position in another country — and well paid means a very influential position. Imagine that this person needs, of course, accommodation befitting one’s rank, and ‘befitting one’s rank’ is interpreted by saying: the ‘institutionalised rank’ — be it a guild, party or an employing university — has to pay for the refurbishment, i.e. the employer – in case of private employers there will be some negotiations, in the case of public employers it may be …, the establishment of a private network.

Then somebody turns up, gets known and slightly scratches the links of the lock that protects the small insider network.

In the one case an investigation may be started, in the other the black sheep is expelled. And in mixed cases, the investigation is turned into a feud against the supposed intruder …

Looking at the educational system, it is interesting to hear that — for instance — the real advantage of studying at Yale or any of these ‘ranking universities’ is not about more knowledge from better profs. It is all about better contacts to more influential academics. And this is why people fluff contacts up, do excessive namedropping, and even pretend to have studied and worked at certain institutions …

And this, again, is not least possible because of indifference of those within and those who try to enter. Thus, indifference is one of the most dangerous murderers of sociality. As Antonio Gramsci, in his Odio Gli differenti [11 febbraio 1917], contends

Odio gli indifferenti. Credo che vivere voglia dire essere partigiani. Chi vive veramente non può non essere cittadino e partigiano. L’indifferenza è abulia, è parassitismo, è vigliaccheria, non è vita. Perciò odio gli indifferenti.

L’indifferenza è il peso morto della storia. L’indifferenza opera potentemente nella storia. Opera passivamente, ma opera. È la fatalità; è ciò su cui non si può contare; è ciò che sconvolge i programmi, che rovescia i piani meglio costruiti; è la materia bruta che strozza l’intelligenza. Ciò che succede, il male che si abbatte su tutti, avviene perché la massa degli uomini abdica alla sua volontà, lascia promulgare le leggi che solo la rivolta potrà abrogare, lascia salire al potere uomini che poi solo un ammutinamento potrà rovesciare.

And this indifference is also one of the most dangerous murderers of peace.

The problem is not really some form of closure or the establishment of inner circles — we may consider this as natural. Maintaining close contact with all people one ever meets, or at least to all one finds nice, and supporting them wherever they need support, is surely stressful, not feasible. The problem is, however, the other extreme: it is not about shutting off the rest of the world, encapsulating oneself int a cocoon. the real problem is that segregation and closure commonly, in particular [though not only] in higher echelons of society, is about the complete utilisation of contacts: the other only exists as functional element of the world, is instrumentalised in favour of individualist perspectives — often enough appearing as extremely social and interacting — it is about people who never work, but permanently network.

All this is extremely dangerous in two respects: the one is that any real cut-off means the loss of valuable human and humane ‘resources’; the other is that it shows complete stupidity and lack of self respect – or some form of conscious wrong doing that needs to be hidden. Sure, we all make mistakes — the real mistakes, however, are those that prove that we are ‘mistaken personalities’, not able to critically face what we did, not accepting that somebody else my disagree with what we did, and simply continue living in separation without segregating.

The black sheep has to learn … — and we all have to learn being able to clearly define black and white ….

– Conoscere se stessi, conoscere gli altri — Knowing yourself, knowing others

— this is according to Liang Shiqui what makes the art of insult a noble art.

Surely this is all about living in the academic world too often not compatible with working academically

it is about saying inconvenient truth and the freedom of speech

and it is, of course, about the question a student asked some time ago:

Why can’t we do what we like to do?

And though all this may not look explicitly political … , and actual fact it is here where we are dealing with some fundamental of the development of rightwing politics and fascism — as we discussed earlier in November.


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