Six Degree of Separation

EVEN ROBBERS HAVE BETWEEN THEM [INTER SE] WHAT THEY CALL CHARITY

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.

Annunci

Small Print on Freedom of Opinion and Speech

It had been again and again an issue over the last two years or so, I spent in China: does it exist? How is it oppressed? and not least: But ‘we/they in the west’ can say what we want’.

YES WE CAN

though there is some small print we should not forget – an example may show what this is about.

Looking back in order to enhance looking forward

There is no intention on my side to engage in a wider or deeper debate on Chinese issues – it would require volumes, acknowledging successes, failures and contradictions now and then. And there is surely no intention to deny one or the other, be it in absolute terms or in the light of comparative reflections.

Still, having arrived in Moscow, I dare looking briefly back. The 19th CPC National Congress, having taken place the recent days, marks a shift in the orientation of which the meaning will be seen in the future. The congress suggested as main, i.e. ‘principal contradiction’ the country faces now is the society being

between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing need for a better life.

Previously – for 36 years – the maxim was seen as being caught between

the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production.

Sure, even commenting on this can only be an attempt to make us thinking about what is at stake – actually far beyond China.[1] And any commenting is of course facing the danger of ‘loosing due to translation’. A bit of comfort for me is looking back at some experience in daily life, the glimpses into Chinese life and perhaps a bit of the mentality – glimpses, surely not more.

Well, then, isn’t there potentially a ‘mental’ or ‘intellectual typo’? Shouldn’t it read peoples’ instead of people’s. In the second case there is an individualist undertone while the challenge is really the life of the people, not people.

Sure the resolution of the congress has inscribed this new project:

addressing the development’s imbalances and inadequacies, and push[ing] hard to improve the quality and effect of development

into the party’s constitution. Important is now to see emphasis that constitutions are about processes, not structures. We are dealing with the constitutive process, the formation. And with this it remains to be seen if the apostrophe will be shifted into the right position, to promote a course that is worth to be carried on by a party that claims to be left. At stake is indeed the peoples’ life as foundation of people’s life – seemingly a tiny difference though remarkably one that is decisive for the meaning of the social.

Looking back at the experience of teaching in the PRC up to recently there is the tension not just in the party’s document and in reflecting on it. Surely, some of my students would go for moving the apostrophe into the right place. And surely, this means not least confronting an Americanised and Europeanised orientations of the educational system.[2]

Sure, there is the wider question, looking back much further. Here we have to ask if Deng had actually been right – or completely wrong. First we have to eat, that stands before any moral considerations are made – well known from Brecht’s Three-Penny Opera. The ‘Deng-question’ remains, better to say, the question Deng did not sufficiently consider: ‘What kind of moral will those, being well fed, while others receive little more then the bread crumbs, develop?’

There is no reason to question successes – over the last years more than breadcrumbs had been made available for many. Equally, as appalling as developments in Higher Education is in ‘the West’ are, there are exceptions and there are increasingly counter movements: claims for higher quality, for

an education … [that] will teach you how to think, not what to think

to use the words of Jazreel Goh, education marketing director of the British Council in China. More than glimpses of hope?

The hopes I personally have, and it means to take up on and support the excitement I see in the eyes, I hear in the voices, I read in the words of so many students; the hope that they withstand the strangulation that is still going on.

Looking back … – or looking forward? There is no real need for marketing directors but there is a need for academics being aware that they are and will always be students and for students that are aware of being academics, not future bean counters or Wall Street-pedestrians [follow the links for the interviews that are in these articles] – I found it striking that the congress paid a lot of attention to the economy and its development, while it neglected by and large many of the questions that are ore fundamental, namely those dealing with the actual processes of production and its ‘what and how’.

*****

[1]            This far beyond may well be taken as part of the interpretation of the outspoken claim to be a global payer.

[2]            I dare to say that the congress was apparently clear on the question of education – but in a very unfortunate direction towards competitiveness, undermining ‘deep quality development’.

Off, perhaps some mooncake left just after the Chinese holidays

But in any case there is something when it comes to the moon …

… Is it perversity – or a dormant and clandestine wisdom? I was recently listening on YouTube to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, seeing the German advertisement link to a game: manufacture your own tank – the screenshot from the youtube-site

Digitisation … Perversity? Wisdom? Strange coincidence? ….- Knowing the text of O Fortuna and seeing this ad connected to it one wonders …
There is much to the entirety of the texts found in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria. And part of it is surely the tension in the ‘O Fortuna’ of which the text reads as follows – below in EnglishItalian and German – always posing the challenge to live a veritable life, even if it is often against the odds:

O Fortune

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
always waxing
or waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty
and power
it melts them like ice

Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
stand malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through trickery,
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and in virtue,
is against me,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating string;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

O fortuna,
A guisa della luna
Nell’atteggiamento dell’incostante
Sempre tu cresci
O vai diminuendo
La vita detestabile
Ora perdura salda
E proprio ora (la fortuna)
Occupa l’ingegno con un gioco:
La miseria
Il potere
Dissolve come ghiaccio.La fortuna immane
E vuota
Tu ruota che giri
Funesto stato
Futile benessere
Sempre dissolubile
Oscura
E velata
E su di me chi più si appoggerà,
Ora che per un gioco
Il dorso nudo
Porto per la tua cattiveria?La fortuna del benessere
E della virtù
Ora a me contraria
È un desiderio,
È una debolezza.
Sempre in corsa obbligata
Ora per di qua
Senza sosta
Sentite il battito nel cuore
Poiché a causa della fortuna
(Egli) acquieta la forza
Piangete tutti con me!
Oh Schicksal,

wie der Mond
von veränderlicher Position,
immer wächst du
oder schwindest;
das grässliche Leben
ist jetzt hart
und heilt dann
die Geisteskraft spielend,
die Armut,
die Macht
löst es auf wie Eis.

Monströses und
leeres Los,
du sich drehendes Rad,
üble Position,
unzuverlässige Gesundheit
immer auflösbar,
überschattet
und bedeckt
Du stützt dich auch auf mich;
jetzt trage ich
deinen Schandtaten zum Spiel
den Rücken bloß.

Los der Gesundheit
und Tugend
jetzt gegen mich,
es ist beeinflusst
und beeinträchtig
immer im Frondienst.
In dieser Stunde,
ohne Verzug,
kommet zu jenem, der im Herzen geschlagen wurde4;
denn durch das Los
breitet es den Zufall aus,
klagt alle mit mir!

vie veritable II

Il y a plus à la vie véritable – pas seulement ce qui ne peut être compté

La bêtise et la sagesse se rencontrent au même point quand il s’agit de l’attitude à prendre face aux malheurs qui frappent les hommes : les sages répriment le mal et le dominent, les autres l’ignorent. Ces derniers sont, en quelque sorte, en deçà des événements fâcheux, les autres au-delà, et après les avoir bien soupesés et appréciés, les avoir mesurés et jugés tels qu’ils sont, sautent par-dessus grâce à leur courage.

Vie veritable

I was actually looking for the reference to this quote:

“Our life is part folly, part wisdom. Whoever writes about it only reverently and according to the rules leaves out more than half of it.”

A sentence I found in a review of Bakewell’s Montaigne-review. and I failed. But I found huge pleasure in reading Montaigne then, and just a bit for you to look for.

For instance looking at the question of true life – pouvons-nous encore le trouver?

Numbers and what cannot be counted // nombres – et ce qui ne peut être compté

Quel que soit le moment où votre vie s’achève, elle y est toute entière. La valeur de la vie ne réside pas dans la durée, mais dans ce qu’on en a fait. Tel a vécu longtemps qui a pour- tant peu vécu. Accordez-lui toute votre attention pendant qu’elle est en vous. Que vous ayez assez vécu dépend de votre volonté, pas du nombre de vos années. Pensiez-vous ne jamais arriver là où vous alliez sans cesse ? Il n’est pas de chemin qui n’ait d’issue. Et si la compagnie peut vous aider, le monde ne va-t-il pas du même train que vous ?

Montaigne: Essais. Livre Premiere: 116