preparing the end of humankind ?

Ratio turns into nonsense, benefit into menace  
Woe unto you, that you are grandchild!  
The right, that is born with us,

Translated from Goethe’s original:

Vernunft wird Unſinn, Wohlthat Plage;  
Weh dir, daß du ein Enkel biſt!  
Vom Rechte, das mit uns geboren iſt  
(Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1790: Faust. Ein Fragment; Leipzig: Goeschen: 32)

Well, this could be written today without changing any substantial issue. Online teaching will remain if not dominant so at least as co-player on the agenda. To discuss respective issues, I attended recently a meeting for lecturers and casual lecturers. One of the issues had been the problematic that students are reluctant to switch on the video. Of course, there are many sides that can be discussed in this context. One point that came up, and been about obliging students to leave the video switched on – confirming the decision would not be recorded for the purpose of publication. However, such a proposal was harshly rejected, the reason being concerns with data protection. 

You may kindly ask them, but not oblige them … doing so, would be a serious issue of breaching the right to privacy.

Indeed, ratio turns into nonsense, benefit into menace. , If we continue thinking this way, we have to be afraid that one day attendance in the class is equally problematic in the light of data protection. Going even further anything, that forces us to show up in the public, can be seen as problematic in the light of data protection, in the light of breaching privacy rights: going shopping, taking a means of public transport, going to coffee or pub, and of course even going to the public administration as for any service becomes seriously problematic. And the service workers ???? — sure, seeing this as a matter of privacy rights and data protection; equally true is, however, another interpretation: we have been fighting to be heard, to have a say in public matters, however, the result of a conservative turn is complete individualism, the loss of any rights that could be considered as social rights. Finally, MargaretThatcher succeeded — there will be no such thing as society. Taking Aristoteles, Marx, Durkheim and the many others who said that humans are social beings, seriously, we are thus preparing the end of human existence.

we will miss the good old time before Corona

life being quiet and well structured. Sure, the climate change: No real spring, no real summer, no real autumn, no real winter … but at least the days reasonably well structured … and nowadays?

3:00 Berlin time, getting up, checking essays …, 4:07 to 5:24; going for a walk, listening to some web-presentation …: 5: 30: back to the desk, some mails – business and “gioia di vivere”; 8 Berlin time – 14 Changsha: four hours teaching: “black boxes with names (Chinese characters) written in it”, 13:00 Berlin-Vienna time, after grabbing some lunch, ventilating communication strategies that are more appropriate than lectures and Q&A sessions, off to … ah no, online banking is better than queuing, possibly chatting with some other folks also waiting there: 14:30 Berlin-Berlin some voluntary work, doing the “shopping for a stranger”, also “offering an ear”, 15:15: some homework: fixing some board; 15:30 Berlin — all other places and times: writing down some notes for my contribution to a global webinar; 16: 00: start, one hour reasonably intense presentation and debate on the social security measures and the need …, well to develop other standards to measure their effectiveness; 17:00 Berlin … some time, somewhere: chatting with my daughter? a friend? a friend to be? 17:30 Berlin — late in ChangSha, but I still have to talk to my assistant, we arranged to meet this hour …, later some writing, perhaps some music, more likely the analysis of a recent judgment regarding the payment of social benefits in another country than that of permanent residence

11:00 Berlin – timelessness in the realm of dreams … time for it, though it will not be much time … dreaming … the “good old times when the world had been structured: trotting for 9 to the office, leaving at 5 ….”

Distance teaching – getting closer to the core

One of the reasons for delayed reply is actually given by some difficulties to re-register for the health insurance. I am resident in Germany and in China and the German Social Security system requires that people who are residents here, are covered by health insurance. It is a relatively complicated system – on the one hand it is possible not to be insured in Germany – under the condition you have a foreign insurance policy that covers necessary treatment in the country. However, in general it requires that you’re covered by a German health insurance. When I left Germany for China, I cancelled the insurance policy here; when I returned, I wanted for different reasons to re-join. Cutting a long story short, I can only ask you to believe what is unbelievable: getting addresses wrong, not being able to deal with the foreign insurance policy, issuing a temporary insurance confirmation to tell me at some later stage that I have to provide a flight ticket to prove that I returned to Germany … making contradicting statements etc.pp. At some stage suggesting that I never left the German system, at the very same time stating that they cannot formally recognise my insurance status in China which would be necessary to re-join in Germany. – If you do not understand this, don’t worry: nobody to whom I talked from the health insurance itself was able to understand what is going on. What is striking here and why I mention it, is the fact that they work with one central database and nevertheless manage to get different results. Again, why do I mention this here? Obviously, the technological system is used by different units, each of them having a different remit; these different remits are determined by a very narrow goal, defined in administrative terms, by a financial systematique, the logic of legal coherence etc.. In other words these are system-centered instead of focusing on the actual problem of the people involved: the person in need of heath care, the doctors providing this. I see this very much also as one dominant feature of the educational system: we are not dealing with what people really need in order to be able to cope with daily life, we are not looking at their conditions. Instead, at best we are possibly dealing with the integration of people into the system that is alien to them and in the worst case we are dealing with the University system and ways of academic thinking, that are dealing with only one interest: to maintain itself. The most telling example is in my experience the central issue of financing universities – not least gathering finance via fees is one of the main issues. Another experience i made the other day: one of the universities with which I’m affiliated introduced a performance-based payment for teaching-

– Rejecting all this on an individual basis means, of course, that one does not only ruin ones own career, but it is as well endangering the material basis of life: the vicious cycle,  a catch 22 situation – a constellation which one cannot and shouldn’t escape from. At ­the end it means in actual fact that we allow “external”, non-substantial criteria to control our action and the direction into which we lead our students. 

Online teaching being future expectation of my work, I looked a little bit around, registered for a “relevant” Open University course dealing with online teaching. Learning outcome: some trivial results (online teaching is asynchronous – actually this is to some extent also the case for traditional in-class-courses), some general issues (speak the language of your students; do not leave them alone), some, as I think, problematic orientations (learning should be “playful” and topics issued in little chunks, enough to fill a spoon) – no mention of learning as work, using knife and fork, instead of waiting to be spoon-fed, no mention of acquiring knowledge for the sake of “being educated” which should mean: being able to be in control, being able to cooperate, being ready to demand.

Taking this as background, stating that we are all learners means as well and not least that we are facing societal changes that have to be taken as focus on in our tea-learn-ching (sorry, language can be a toy):

  • Social in-equality – those who are lagging behind in the use of “global tools” are in some respect those who are – paradoxically – most advanced in the overall setting of globalisation: the excluded are excluded as result of the inappropriate international division of weal-abour-th (wealth and labour as entity) – Bill Gates would still sit in a garage without the many who are exploited in their huts;
  • Though not to be taken simplistic, much of production in a global-societal setting – production of daily life and the respective development of the productive forces – is a zero-sum game: the fire used in one place to drive the steam-engines of the spinning wheel is missing in another place to produce the energy for the fridge that is needed to keep the groceries fresh – needed due to global warming as consequence of having ignored global warnings, also needed as result of eating habits that are not reflecting the cycle of natural reproduction, needed for harvesting agricultural products of monocultural farming and extraction and not least needed to transport and store pharmaceutical products in(to) regions that are voided from own resources;
  • Relating expenses for health care (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.MED.BEDS.ZS) to tax payments of the (American) super-rich (https://ips-dc.org/taxes-paid-by-billionaires-decreased-79-percent-since-1980-as-percentage-of-their-wealth/?emci=6084d132-cb80-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=045dba41-d580-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&ceid=3917100) reveals a striking parallel, also indicating that we are dealing with political choices;
  • Robert Cox differentiated between problem-solving and critical theory (Cox, Robert, 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory; https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298810100020501) – with this we face in teaching and learning the challenge to work with a dual strategy, reflecting on the one hand the need to secure survival, taking up on the other hand the challenges to find solutions that guarantee the development of own resources. 

From my admittedly limited overview of e-learning programs and tools (including LMS), I found an orientation that is one-sided, providing knowledge (or should we even say information of the ”how-to”-kind?) to build up a personal affirmative strategy, aiming on integrating into the given system instead of mobilising all resources of the learner, in order to go beyond the subordination under the rules of global production- and trade-chains. Learning, as it is understood now, is about adapting to new means instead of understanding the challenge to adopting what is learned to new societal conditions. In actual fact, this is a complicated multi-level process, that has to consider political, psychological, social and cultural intervention. Although we face different situations from country to country, from continent to continent, the principle framework within which we have to locate the different fields of action can be made out as presented in the following:

The foundation is concerned with locating the world in which we live, here presented as the globe, in the tensional field between the given nature (ourselves being part of it) and the build-up environment, here presented as the industrial society, however also encompassing human habitats as cities, estates, nature resorts etc..

A picture containing grass, globe, chimneys

The globe – in the middle of it – is what we can define as society that is condition and result of our action. 

On the second level, we find the processes of creating wealth, here understood as accumulation regime and life regime. We are concerned with the way in which we make money, in which we spend money (as matter of consumption and investment alike) and the class relationships providing the social framework in which these processes are taking place. Seeing this as a definition of accumulation regimes, we can understand the life regime as socio-cultural pattern in which the accumulation regime is located – taken together, we are looking at natural conditions, the geopolitical location, the “national character” of the people and not least the class relationship. And it is in addition important, to recognise this relationship as metabolism in which human beings engage.

While this concerns the general level, we find on top of it the mode of regulation and the mode of living. Here we are concerned with the immediate and concrete ways of regulating those relationships by moral and juridical norms  (as matter of the mode of regulation)  and the way individuals adopt these frameworks to make a living – here making a living is not understood as matter of simply availing of the resources needed, but also on the way in which resources are in actual fact used. It is about resources obtained in terms of material goods, but it is also about resources as knowledge utilising social relationships, the relating to concrete, also local frameworks and the like – without going into deeper discussion we may refer to Bordieu’s theory of different categories of capital.

Breaking this down, we arrive at a kind of “task list” with for instance the following points:

  • Preparing students to deal with major shifts of the productive forces – this, of course, can only be undertaken if the teachers themselves are aware of these changes:
  • increasing meaning of non-material goods
  • with this the possible move towards a “distributive era” as suggested by Brian Arthur (Arthur, Brian, 2017: Where is technology taking the economy?; in: McKinsey Quarterly, October 2017; https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/where-is-technology-taking-the-economy)
  • the emergence of patchwork products, i.e. products that can be increasingly assembled to different end-products and different uses
  • the increasing meaning of multiple use products, i.e. the use of certain goods for different purposes
  • the ongoing falling apart of processes of production and consumption and at the very same time the emergence of prosuming, ie the consumer acting as producer while s/he is consuming and vice versa
  • the factual expropriation of capital at least in the sense of objectively increasing control of products and processes of production by the immediate user (one aspect is the miniaturisation, the office in the hand held device; another aspect is the increasing role of network effects and the meaning of local knowledge – interesting in this context is is the work by Anna Tsing, looking at Supply Chains and the Human Condition (see Tsing, Anna, 2009: Supply Chains and the Human Condition; in: Rethinking Marxism. A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society; Volume 21, 2009 – Issue 2: 148-176; https://doi.org/10.1080/08935690902743088)
  • the re-emergence of cooperative forms of organising production (understood as encompassing manufacturing, consuming, distributing, exchanging).

Taking this together, we arrive at points of teaching with the purpose of managing life instead of making money. We can see this by taking the example of the sharing economy – the origin can be seen in a pattern of over production and the pattern of inequality of  distribution, and at the very same time the distortion of many goods into “bads”.[1] This goes hand in hand with a misled production of knowledge, by and large perverted into information management and reduced on “skills”. Another factor in this overall context is the fact that traditional forms of government do not work anymore in sufficient ways, while structures of governance and the needed knowledge base of using governance mechanisms in democratic ways are not developed (see e.g. for a presentation and discussion Herrmann, Peter, April 2016: From 5 giant evils to 5 giant tensions – the current crisis of capitalism as seedbed for its overturn – or: How Many Gigabyte has a Horse?; Contribution to the Seminar ‘Continuidad y Cambios en las Relaciones Internacionales’ at ISRI (Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raul Roas Garcia), Havana; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301815015_From_5_giant_evils_to_5_giant_tensions_-_the_current_crisis_of_capitalism_as_seedbed_for_its_overturn_-_or_How_Many_Gigabyte_has_a_Horse). The discussion of these allows in my understanding a new take on education, also (but not only) when it comes to distance-teaching/learning. The specificity – and progressive element – of the use of e-methods can be seen in the fact of the enforced decentralisation and with this the increased potential of project-oriented teaching/learning and the potential to immediate adaptability. – If we do not take up this challenge it may end as it is the case with the use of computers: in many cases the users still limits the use on that of an intelligent typewriter which includes a kind of easily accessible dictionary, called internet – in consequence it is too often the case that the user is actually used by the machine instead of being in control of what happens.

It may sound a silly conclusion but it will not be completely ridiculous or naïve to suggest that there is little use in teaching a person how to make money when s/he is in the desert, near to dehydration.

Post Scriptum:

Sure, we may ask if we are somewhat near to any state of desert – being in positions where for many (to be sure, not for all!!) any complain is a complain that is arguing from a very privileged perspective.

Still, can’t we say that we face in African countries (or regions of the continent), in PNG (I refer to my experience of having worked in Oz), The Americas, India a kind of desert? The attempts to catch up had been in many cases ruining the countries and/or causing increasing inequalities, right? And  my thesis is that the result of not talking about the content of e-teaching (taking the challenge up now), will result in one of the following: They will all have computers etc., but will lag behind, having the “previous generation stuff”. OR they will have the next generation, which will leave the now-advanced regions/countries behind. Empirical evidence can be found for both, bottom line will then always be ongoing and increasing inequality.

Now, what to do with the following two different points, for me exemplified by  two different students? The one – I had been teaching economics, his course was “Finances” or “Accounting” – saying one day to me: I do not really like all this – I would prefer to have a pastry shop, selling bread and roles and cakes, making people happy. But my parents …

The other, an extremely bright student, truly a “research nature”, was turning to me one day, saying that she applied for course that she would find rather boring, but she would easily get a job  and her parents …

Change: society instead of parents – skills/money orientation, predominating today’s educational system, is a choice. And having read Wells, and remembering the Morlocks, I am afraid that we as teachers have the responsibility to work “against that”. And I think we did not yet arrive at the grand-father paradox.


[1]           E.g. the development of means of mobility (private cars) to a point where they result in immobility and destruction of the environment.

Another great day ….

… and there I am hesitating. Sure, the terrible rain on the 25th had been not really bearable – even if I just received the day before my fancy new boots:

promising comfort, security …

… promising a deception? As enjoyable as it is to see the sun back, as delightful it is to look back on a long spell without rain, with pleasant weather in Changsha, looking back on a summer in Berlin with near to zero drops of rain and plenty of warmth, it comes with a bitter smack of fear and worries. Is that the global warming, possibly bringing draught and extinction at some foreseeable time in the future?

Perspectives change – also the perspective that is entailed in the variety of my work and jobs, being now law-prof. I asked this in different ways earlier, and put it now in a juridical nutshell:

Can we continue calling on individual rights, rights of the individuals witnessing that so many individuals, and on occasions being just one amongst them, have no other idea than buying a gun to amok? Sure, a person who finally storms a school to kill kids is being severely sentenced (if he is caught alive and did not kill himself – he/himself, never heard bit she/herself); but, while acknowledging the difference, I dare to ask if we should simply allow people driving their SUVs, companies dumping waste water into the rivers, ourselves sitting in a comfortable warm room, wearing a shirt instead of reducing the temperature a bit and wearing a warm jumper; seeing mass-SPAM-mail not just as matter of intruding into the private sphere but as terrorist attack on the environment (considering the cost of sending mails), defining it as criminal act to heating rooms while leaving the windows open ..? …. – Human rights had been and still are defined as protecting individuals against the state. isn’t it time now to think about human rights as matter of protecting society against excessive individualism … – protecting it by law?

some interesting notion for further debate can be taken from work undertaken in the 19th century. An important aspect is mentioned in the following para, taken from a work on the history of the rule of law, reading

The impossibility of opposing to it aliunde-founded elements was the ground of the central dilemma: how to combine an unlimited sovereign power with a legal order regulating it and making its intervention foreseeable. The central features of the theory that was gradually refined throughout the second half of the century and was thoroughly elaborated by Jellinek were the idea of the state’s self-limitation (which made sovereign absolutism compatible with the existence of fetters on its power), the existence of legal relationships between the state and individuals, the distinction between the state (as a whole) and its several institutional components, so that this or that organ could be limited whilst the state “as such” could be deemed as the holder of an absolute power.

New challenges, old debates, the need to reformulate and “reinvent” them – not least under changed and changing conditions: where states are not nation states anymore; and where the corporate sector strives to replace state.

Forthcoming: Herrmann, Peter: Human Rights: watch out for the trail before you bridle the horse – The search for a Future Global Human Rights Agenda; in: International Journal for Social Quality

Herrmann, Peter, December 8th, 2019: Search for Future Global HR-Agenda; Conference presentation, Changsha

unintended

I had been communicating with colleagues from different countries recently, looking at “this and that”, i.e. the question or meaning of and perspectives for academic work and remaining true to oneself, without becoming egoistic and stubbornly obsessed by something. An interim conclusion, not put into  nutshell, perhaps one may say “entwined around the lines of a question mark”.

They are all so much harmed by different forms of disciplinary measures, offended by an illegitimate hegemonic system, did they just have to become in one or another way thinking and writing now more in a way that is far from being harmless …

Do we all have to wait to become retired to be good academics?

Surely not intended by the hegemons

Zombies

another offer …..

an exchange and visiting programme  – the inviting centre is another institute that contributes by and to “outstanding leading research”, and of course thigh they are not stating this they are moving the robbers of the world and universe. Being just a modest light at the firmament of global research, I am wondering what happened to what Thomas Kuhn said – something that is widely accepted:

Few people who are not actually practitioners of a mature science realize how much mop-up work of this sort a paradigm leaves to be done or quite how fascinating such work can prove in the execution.

So there are no ordinary people anymore around?

Everybody standing on the tiptoes – nobody can see better. And every chef a 5 *-chef, 

there is no place anymore for the stew we loved eating as child, there is no way having hated spinach until Popeye convinces us from its better side … life already being paradise … – which, in consequence means we are actually already dead.

外国高端人才确认函

The official document arrived Monday, it means that I am accepted by the government as High Level Foreign Expert – this does not change my opinion when it comes to ranking, excellence and special personal merit. Here as in other cases it is what it is.

Wednesday then – I arrive at the airport, already checked it. The special jacket kept me warm on the scooter tough it is getting nippy, with little signs that it may be a stormy autumn. I left it in the “boot”, walk in may civilised cat to the terminal building.

A short while later: I put all the stuff into the boxes, pass the security, also the second “special” security check, go to the belt to got ready: pockets stuffed, electronics put back into place …. nearly there, just last box .. “Is this yours as well?” Nodding, I haste a bit, thinking that he wants to take it in order to return it with the other boxes … “Can you come with me, please?!” I follow, the small room, the frequent test for explosives. Of course, nothing found: ”Thank you, Sir … and please accept my apologies for any inconvenience” – “I thank you” – finally it is an exercise to protect myself and others. About two hours later – I just reply a text message, clarifying what I wrote earlier: that it is so often that I receive that special treatment. And I add “But what is really worrying: here at Paris airport everybody gets special treatment now: they reintroduced passport control … – all are equal.”

I am moving with the crowd through the halls of the airport, the RER, ligne B. Instead of changing the train to go to St Denis, I walk the short distance from the Stadium. Half way, the phone rings .., – unknown number, 030…. – it takes some time: “Yes, of course .. yesterday we talked about the visa …” – “Everything is OK, it is a visa type …, the letter does not mean anything to me, only when she explains I am asking myself about the different meaning something may gain, depending on the concrete conditions. The different meaning for instance of “freedom of movement.”

– Well, the外国高端人才确认函 means as well that I am going to fill the position of professor at the Law School of Central South University, Changsha, PRC, part of the remit will be concerned with Human Rights.

Sure, some things happen by accident; but it may well be that small accidents happen in order to avoid major averages.

Superiority

it may be that superiority is in fact with the apes – not walking upright, not properly knowing about tools and still ..
Currently there is a poster campaign , run by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, celebrating the 100s anniversary of the Berufsbildungsgesetz – the Vocational Training Act. Fair enough one would say, seeing the main message:

That is what keeps our economy going ..

Still, I dare to ask, for instance:

What is this economy about? What does it mean when it is going? Are we really talking about vocations or are we talking about people just in need of a job? And aren’t those job we have to make a living, just “un-make” our living: annoying, alienating, straining …?

Pessimist? May be. Still, I dare to ask, for instance:What about job centres and regulations that make it in the first instance for so many rather cumbersome to complete forms and accept controls to avail of support (material and job search) and then, for some, so troublesome and slow to withdraw because one found income and work without the jobcentre?What about a  project application being thought through, looking at possible administrative hurdles but making all these considerations, doing all this admin work with just a vague idea of the content?What about finding a coconut, looking around, considering the ground not hard enough and looking for a stone which then is applied in a specific way to open the nut without loosing any milk from inside?  … – and whoever is behaving this way, surely knows why s/he wants to open the nut.
The last example is most likely a monkey, or some other animal acting this way. The others likely being concerned with humans’ behaviour. The question now is: which is the superior way to act? The last example with its immediate link between means and ends? Or the others where there is certain level of abstraction reached: not being hungry and thirsty here and now being the motivation to act, but the knowledge of hunger and thirst at some later time. This is still a simple one. However, there is a turning point namely when the link between means and ends is twice broken:

• The first time when some act is executed in anticipation of its need (I have to look for resources now as I will need them in the the future)

• The second time when resources are generated by means without considering their usefulness for the second-level end (I have to apply a hammer as I have one under control; it is of secondary interest for what I use it, if what I use it for is actually useful; or bluntly: I use the hammer to repair the fin watch.
Sounds absurd? AS praxis it surely is. But this is what reality looks like: economic growth for the sake of economic growth, getting a job to generate income without having any vocation that is intrinsically linked to the job’s requirement); going for projects because …, well, there is usually money or reputation in it….
Simple? Not really? Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg did not always know exactly what they were doing? And I suppose there is noting wrong in learning “because I want to know”, without further questioning, without more requirements than necessary, setting only one interest: Being really part of a process and structure that starts from reality !
SUPERRIOTITY …. …

Worrying …

indeed it is worrying to see the right-wing, nationalist, fascist, populist spawn, occupying so may positions, spreading their words and establishing with their deeds a kind of new system (indeed, we should be careful, not just putting all of them under the hat of populism – László Andor highlighted this in a recent article. Gabor, a Hungarian colleague, now working in Milano, recently said

I think Hungary has already exited politics as we know it, and it decided to recreate Monty Python in a horror comedy version. 

The reason for his remark: I mentioned my encounter with one of the Hungarian Ministers and his nationalist tirade. Actually is reference to Christian traditions …, somewhat subtle: we are not against anybody, we just have to protect our “great traditions”, and these are those of Christianity … – well, another fundamentalist religious states like the IS, lurking on the Hungarian horizon?

The fact with many of these crops is that they establish systems that do not allow to be reversed — even if they would loose power, the authoritarian structures will survive them at least for a long time. As sich it is not just another round, part of a regular up and down of different political strands.

Now, some rumour – even that it is thinkable is disgraceful. Alexandra Brzozowski and Sarantis Michalopolous state in their EURACTIV-BRIEF, titled

Berlaymont’s rumour mill

László Trócsányi, Viktor Orban’s right-hand man in Brussels, might get the humanitarian aid and crisis management portfolio – a move that could easily fit into Fidesz’s migration narrative that instead of receiving immigrants, “help should be given at the point that it is needed.”

As said, that this is thinkable, made possible then by the German …, yes, of course, CHRIST-demagogue, uniting with Hungarian Christian fundamentalist.

There is another news these days:

Swedish FM to Resign from Her Post

As we read in the article

“I have put everything I have into the job of making Sweden safe, respected internationally and appreciated as a partner,” Wallstrom said in a statement.

I remember Margot from those years in Brussels. And I would say that there as well she put a lot into the job, without necessarily agreeing, it still had been a pleasure to find a commissioner convinced of what she was doing and convinced that it must be about opening: opening the institutions to the European citizens had been her remit at the time.
Who would deny her the right of doing what she intends to do:

It is time for me to spend more time with my husband, my children and my grandchildren.

However, so often we talk about modernity as process if reduction (“halved modernity”), its eclipse etc. And Daniel Kehlmann came up with this most telling story about Measuring the World, taking up on the tension between exploring reality (Alexander von Humboldt, and Aimé Boland) and calculating it (Carl Friedrich Gauss). Isn’t this in some way also today the baseline when it comes to artificial intelligence – the hope set into it and the fear facing it.

Part of the structure established with this process we usually refer to as modernisation/modernity had been about individualisation, a very special and specific establishment of the individual as ultimate point of reference. But isn’t this then also the need and justification of moving between the “outer world”, a public, seemingly/supposedly hostile, at least strange, alien and this cocoon of family and perhaps few very close friends, eagerly securing the borders … The public, in tis constellation, bears two labels:

HANDLE WITH CARE, MAY LEAD TO ADDICTION

says the one

DO NOT OVERUSE, SOCIETY IS CAUSES LOSS OF INDIVIDUALITY AND ENDANGERS THE PERSONALITY

states the other

Excellence

There is so much talk and wrong-doing about excellence, high performance striving for exceptional individual results. And there is so much forgetting of the fact that any human performance is part of a process, picking up the seeds and germs, delivered “for free”, often by really great minds, so often greater than the celebrities. Excellence, well understood, is about being part of a wider social and historical performance, not about individuals who – by chance or fierce violence in a competitive strive – are excluding themselves from the cooperative context, possibly even positioning themselves against it.

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William Guthrie is  somebody who showed by exposing his modesty what this actually means, writing in the second half of the19th century the following words, part of the Introduction and Translators Notes to the translation Savigny’s Private International Law and the Retrospective Operation of Statutes (A Treatise on the Conflict of Laws, and the Limits of their Operation in Respect of Place and Time)

Now, when a considerable portion lies before me completed, I might wish that much of it had been more exhaustive, plainer, and therefore different. Should such a knowledge paralyze the courage which every extensive enterprise requires ? Even along with such a self-consciousness, we may rest satisfied with the reflection, that the truth is furthered, not merely as we ourselves know it and utter it, but also by our pointing out and paving the way to it, by our settling the questions and problems on the solution of which all success depends ; for we help others to reach the goal which we are not permitted to attain. Thus, I am now satisfied with the consciousness that this work may contain fruitful seeds of truth, which shall perhaps find in others their full development, and bear rich fruit. If, then, in the presence of this full and rich fructification, the present work, which contained its germ, falls into the background, nay, is forgotten, it matters little. The individual work is as transient as the individual man in his visible form ; but imperishable is the thought that ever waxes through the life of individuals, the thought that unites all of us who labour with zeal aud love into a greater and enduring community, and in which even the meanest contribution of the individual finds its permanent place.

This is surely part of Marx probably meant when talking about the fact that humans are social beings and can even individualise only in society.Now, when a considerable portion lies before me completed, I might wish that much of it had been more exhaustive, plainer, and therefore different. Should such a knowledge paralyze the courage which every extensive enterprise requires ? Even along with such a self-consciousness, we may rest satisfied with the reflection, that the truth is furthered, not merely as we ourselves know it and utter it, but also by our pointing out and paving the way to it, by our settling the questions and problems on the solution of which all success depends ; for we help others to reach the goal which we are not permitted to attain. Thus, I am now satisfied with the consciousness that this work may contain fruitful seeds of truth, which shall perhaps find in others their full development, and bear rich fruit. If, then, in the presence of this full and rich fructification, the present work, which contained its germ, falls into the background, nay, is forgotten, it matters little. The individual work is as transient as the individual man in his visible form ; but imperishable is the thought that ever waxes through the life of individuals, the thought that unites all of us who labour with zeal aud love into a greater and enduring community, and in which even the meanest contribution of the individual finds its permanent place.

This is surely part of Marx probably meant when talking about the fact that humans are social beings and can even individualise only in society. It is not (only) the dwarf on the shoulders of giants, but (also) the cogwheel without which the entire engine cannot work.