The no-problem-society II – Beautification of teaching, administrative nonsense

Well, still not married – though what seems to be absurd (at least marrying a robot), is in fact something that is not really soooo new. At least other people thought about the topic as for instance Alberto Sordi in Io e Caterina, long before lawyers went for it.

But there are other issues that are more serious in terms of the need to switch thinking – this is not about robot marriages, but about perspectives for cities. Usually it is an issue that is dealt with under the heading of some form of prolongation of the old. And yes, I am honest: here I am very much European, bound to the vastness und confusion of the old cosy places like Vienna as the seat of imperial power, the claimed incarnation of everlasting beauty and natural hosting of eternal papal virtue of Rome and even more so the philosophical flair one may sense while walking near to the Acropolis in Athens, the law&orderly Berlin, undisturbed defying its revolutionary adversaries, or the Paris with its truly successful revolution, so successful that it allows itself to laugh about some of its ridiculous sides of an ongoing human comedy as for instance about The Chinese in Paris and even the melancholic Joy(ce)fulness of Dublin … – all this is a world that actually does not exist, the world of an air castle,

High above, in a better world,
Void of suffering, void of pain.

Oh Heinrich, can you still be found? We would need a Winter’s tale for Europe now. The first time that I really experienced this was many years ago – we have had a workshop-meeting in Brugge, interesting debates and even an interesting look at some historical facts, hidden for those who only see a city as beautiful as a child’s dollhouse: animated by the tourists, but not allowing to live due to its alienated exoticism of a tainted history. But more serious was the experience during the recent weeks, visiting amongst others my …, well, somewhat my favourite of all cities: Amsterdam. I always – during short visits for work and when staying there for a while as resident – loved the vivid atmosphere, the conviviality and joyfulness, openness and tolerance … a bearable, even attracting lightness of being. Returning now was a bit strange … perhaps the distraction by the fact that there would be too many things to do during the short stay. Leaving the train station, walking to the next tram station …, it has something of crawling through the crowds of tourists who were shoving along the wide pedestrian way. The many new shops: national and international chains, including the one that I saw already when I had been here last time: selling the main domestic traditional good: cheese. Sure, the tulips are next to it: wooden standalone, as handle of umbrella etc. – tourists buy nearly everything, even the Dutch grandmothers and grandfathers and their children and grandchildren, standing in front of each other, pursed lips, ready to kiss. Well, some of these touristy things are funny, and even cute: representations of a past time, of part of the history of the country: it is actually that part of the history that happened amongst some of the simple minds, away from Napoleon’s conquest of the town hall, settled in the results of the religious wars, and at least seemingly not concerned by the contradictions between classes and the internal and external exclusions, bearing the daily hardship and making the best out of it, emerging to a kind of conservative Wolfish Humour.

Finally the Netherlands had not been an exception: religious cleavages, at times on the knife’s edge, social cleavages between the rich Burgers and the impoverished peasants and being the country with an ‘outstanding’ colonial history, of which parts are revealed in the Tropenmuseum, still, even in self-criticism too often in an unchanged attitude of hubris. And still, only made possible by the rings of exclusion: the centre of the Burgers, the inner periphery of the peasants and the external periphery of the colonies, still an ongoing issue for little islands.

It had been for a long time an exception in some respect though: perfectly hiding contradictions by tolerance, even allowing itself living the paradox of exclusion by inclusion …, or perhaps it is more correct to say inclusion by exclusion, making the place somewhat cosy by not allowing anybody to ask ‘What Time Is It Over There?

– The Netherlands? Yes, perhaps in some way a perfection of a halved hegemony: exclude as little as possible so that you can maintain it when it comes to the essentials. Far from the German Bismarckian stick and carrot policy or the new-wave Northern American McCarthyism under the name of Tea Party and Trump. A soft strategy of governance that is well suitable to perfect exclusion. The simple means – veiling. And in this way – between pragmatically standing together, protecting against the crevasse, and letting everybody freely walk across the vast hinterland – a specific European attitude developed: individualist, fragmented and allowing, even pushing everybody towards doing her and his own thing and at a pinch ready to stand together. Sure, the European-ness of this pattern was broken in multiple ways, also marking the national borders: national traditions, including the caveats based on religious and family issues coined by national combinations,[1] the Alpine mountains that frequently may have limited the hinterland to the length and width of valleys, the seemingly eternal feeling of offense of a supposed looser of history who lost the will to look forward and to move forward, clandestinely celebrating the internal periphery and dancing to the gipsy-music or equally clandestinely behaving somewhat Mafia-bossy … – many other deviations, all only confirming the fundamental commonality of the main route: individualism … it is economics and law of every day’s life, the reality of a contract society, where everything is commodified, at least commodifiable. In a recent lecture I presented the four elements to each:

Contracts as (i) agreement based on free will between 2 free, formally equal partners, (ii) establishing mutual obligations (iii) and mutual benefits, (iv) limited to the expressed issues.

Commodification as (i) maximisation of individual utility, (ii) referring to maximising opportunities, (iii) based on rational decisions, (iv) grounded on being completely informed.

We often forget that this is as well about the determination of the way of living together – not only as matter of relating to each other, but also by way of designing and shaping space. The detailed analysis can probably be found somewhere, in the books of regional planers and architects. But in social science it is not a main topic (if it is a topic at all), especially when it comes to studying globalisation. Urbanisation is issued, the global flows of migration are looked at, but I am frequently wondering if the details of everyday life are sufficiently considered – not as particular topic, but as part of this larger picture, mingled.

Those days, walking through Amsterdam, history glimpsing through some gaps and peeping around some corners – relative strong when one walks in the centre early in the morning, the bearable tranquillity of silence, not really interrupted by the workers: sporadic early deliveries, the humming of the cleaning machines which has replaced the humming of the singing sweeper of the olden times, but at some stage a silence made somewhat unbearable by the chime of the church bells – suggesting something that never existed but could serve for a long time as veil, sufficiently covering the harshness of the existing hierarchy and exclusion, the hegemony of church and state: oppressively guaranteeing law and order and liberality and freedom of the small place.

Unbearable now, as it is in stark contrast with the quest for new spaces: the new generations, larger in number, different in wants and expectations, released for the Warholian world of celebrating consumerism, confronted with, and also confronting a world of trade, ‘homeliness’, not easily (if at all) in a position to meld and weld into the world of the traditional home and homemaker. The homemaker represented the contradiction between the opening economic spaces for trade on the one hand and the closing of the home, now emerging as space of protected individuality. It is the

quiet domesticity about the Young Woman Standing at the Virginal or the Woman with the Pearl Necklace which reveals a new outlook. In Holland, the houses were smaller, there were fewer inhabitants per house – four to five people, rather than 25 was common in Paris. Doors were closed and visitors were often kept out. … In seventeenth-century Holland far more time was spent at home, together with family members, reading, making music or tending the garden.[2]

This idyll is now replaced – retuning people into the open spaces: it is about the consumption-maker – but the consumer being also producer, and living in the privatised public spaces, where the borders are blurring – for the internet-coffee worker as well as to many people working in the production line, being now part of the new management structures: his or her own secretary, supervisor …, besides fulfilling whatever the core o the work is.

– Wrong to rebuke an apparent idyll of the homemaker? NO !!

– Wrong to demand new space of self-realisation? NO !!

The point is a different one: the remaining need for a dialectical solution. Indeed,


Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

But it is equally necessary to move to another pursuit:

11 B

Urban planners, planning officers and architects have hitherto only reshaped existing spaces various ways; the point is to change them and create new spaces.

The old idyll is now the pure alienation of the homo laborans and homo serviens, the idea of an equality that once existed in a very specific form:

The polls was distinguished from the household in that it knew only ‘equals,’ whereas the household was the center of the strictest inequality. To be free meant both not to be subject to the necessity of life or to the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It meant neither to rule nor to be ruled. Thus within the realm of the household, freedom did not exist, for the household head, its ruler, was considered to be free only in so far as he had the power to leave the household and enter the political realm, where all were equals. To be sure, this equality of the political realm has very little in common with our concept of equality: it meant to live among and to have to deal only with one’s peers, and it presupposed the existence of “unequals” who, as a matter of fact, were always the majority of the population in a city-state. Equality, therefore, far from being connected with justice, as in modern times, was the very essence of freedom: to be free meant to be free from the inequality present in rulership and to move in a sphere where neither rule nor being ruled existed.[3]

A typical example of the efforts to reshape space is the regulation of accessibility. But there is little idea of questioning the underlying pattern of a centrist society, maintaining the centre-periphery economy, reproducing it on the various levels: the ‘strong’ societies of the centre standing on the shoulders of the ‘weak’ societies of the periphery; the ‘strong’ cities of the centre standing on the shoulders of the ‘weak’ cities of the periphery; the ‘strong’ districts of the centre standing on the shoulders of the ‘weak’ districts of the periphery; …, until the dog stands on the shoulders of the cat that stands on the shoulders of the mouse. And so it is only logical what I read the one day in the Dutch newspaper, the headline of an article that pleads to remind tourists that they have to ‘behave orderly’. And of course not allowing questioning the understanding of strength, weakness and orderliness. That is the law of the jungle – we can learn it already as child, reading the Jungle Book, offering looking satisfied at a life of Bare Necessities as escape for those who are a bit dull, an escape that with its temporary character lets the harsh realty fade away: the law of the jungle.

Anyway, the Confucian era is over – something also ‘the west’ has to acknowledge for itself, and where in both worlds the ‘three bonds’: ruler – minister, father – son and husband – wife cannot and should not be maintained as indeed, another world is possible, thoroughly considering that


All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.



The highest point reached by contemplative [anschauende] materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society [bürgerlichen Gesellschaft].

Of course, the is only a tentative impression, and of course it is not meant to celebrate anything and of course it is not about forgetting the conditions – as for instance some special privilege of being born late, being thus able to learn (sure, some see Chinese learning as copying, easily denying that much of it is merging, and even more is avoiding mistakes that had been made) and also – coping with the extreme velocity and qualitative leap of the recent Chinese development – tempting to move on with a ‘steam-engine-policy’: maintaining culture, appreciating a rich heritage may depend on destroying the weak soil on which it stands and offering a firm ground on which it can really stand, a space within which can be lived instead of containment in a museum that also captures the thinking within the same limitations.


We can only understand life by looking back; but we can only live it by looking forward.

Doesn’t Europe and don’t look European tourists (including tourists coming to Europe) back – seeing and celebrating an enormous beauty and grandness. But importantly, doesn’t this also mean to fade one important point out? This was my impression at least, looking these days at Denmark, the Netherlands: so much beauty and greatness (I am not talking about power though it is at stake too) was established on exclusion. And now those excluded arrive, tourists, not necessarily ‘educated’, not educated to be open (can one learn that in closed societies?) …, but also: not being able to cope anymore with accepting to be excluded. The alienation from oneself – and the exclusion of today’s power centres and today’s real beauties is part of it – is reflected in the alienation of a consumerist mass tourism for which noting is a problem, which does not allow to ask Questions from Worker who Reads. But it is also about something more, and different:

Painless and effortless consumption would not change but would only increase the devouring character of biological life until a man- kind altogether “liberated” from the shackles of pain and effort would be free to “consume” the whole world and to reproduce daily all things it wished to consume. How many things would appear and disappear daily and hourly in the life process of such a society would at best be immaterial for the world, if the world and its thing-character could withstand the reckless dynamism of a wholly motorized life process at all. The danger of future automa- tion is less the much deplored mechanization and artificialization of natural life than that, its artificiality notwithstanding, all human productivity would be sucked into an enormously intensified life process and would follow automatically, without pain or effort, its ever-recurrent natural cycle. The rhythm of machines would mag- nify and intensify the natural rhythm of life enormously, but it would not change, only make more deadly, life’s chief character with respect to the world, which is to wear down durability.[4]

Still, those questions may return, when alienation is getting real, i.e. visible, the very same moment when the Unbearable Lightness of Being becomes immediately palpable, for instance in the atmosphere already mentioned: the chime of church bells, heard at 5, 6 or 7 in the morning, while nearly everybody is still sleeping, becomes a reality … what a paradox … the least real, the most mysterious power-game appearing as reality …, simply because reality is alienated from itself.

Aren’t there glimpses in the modern cityscapes of China, tackling well the tension between closing space – urbanisation seems to be by definition about such closure – and opening within an enclosed space. Considering the mere figures of new Chinese cities, it is surely remarkable that there still exists the courage to provide openness, forms of bounteousness, readiness to some forms of liberality as matter of seeing city spaces – from shopping malls to estates with high-risers. Of course, one can go on now: is it the liberality of the market or a new liberality offered to cope in other ways with the Unbearable Lightness of Being; or is it the liberality that reflects the quest for creative participation? So far there is much evidence for what may be called incarceration in freedom: the freedom of the market, opening space for the wolves of the market.

And then, of course, the incarceration comes to mind, taking different forms, space possibly offered as new playground for the new bourgeois, not limited to the bourgeois of the producer, but that of the consumer. Confining the previous bourgeois – the producer citizen, was much easier; it did not need much space. As well reflected in Hesse’s Steppenwolf

The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule. Therefore, he has substituted majority for power, law for force, and the polling booth for responsibility.

It is clear that this weak and anxious being, in whatever numbers he exists, cannot maintain himself, and that qualities such as his can play no other role in the world than that of a herd of sheep among free roving wolves. Yet we see that, though in times when commanding natures are uppermost, the bourgeois goes at once to the wall, he never goes under; indeed at times he even appears to rule the world. How is this possible? Neither the great numbers of the herd, nor virtue, nor common sense, nor organization could avail to save it from destruction. No medicine in the world can keep a pulse beating that from the outset was so weak. Nevertheless the bourgeoisie prospers. Why?

The answer runs: Because of the Steppenwolves. In fact, the vital force of the bourgeoisie resides by no means in the qualities of its normal members, but in those of its extremely numerous ‘outsiders’ who by virtue of the extensiveness and elasticity of its ideals it can embrace. There is always a large number of strong and wild natures who share the life of the fold. Our Steppenwolf, Harry, is a characteristic example. He who is developed far beyond the level possible to the bourgeois, he who knows the bliss of meditation no less than the gloomy joys of hatred and self-hatred, he who despises law, virtue and common sense, is nevertheless captive to the bourgeoisie and cannot escape it. And so all through the mass of the real bourgeoisie are interposed numerous layers of humanity, many thousands of lives and minds, every one of whom, it is true, would have outgrown it and have obeyed the call to unconditioned life, were they not fastened to it by sentiments of their childhood and infected for the most part with its less intense life; and so they are kept lingering, obedient and bound by obligation and service. For with the bourgeoisie the opposite of the formula for the great is true: He who is not against me is with me.

It is the self-containment of the individual, strictly separating the private and the public, and denying that it is the private capitalist interest that claims to act as pursuance of the public weal, presented as common wealth and even as Commonwealth. However, the new dungeon, if working, is in need of addressing the new citizen, the consumer citizen. In the old industrial society it had been only the producer who strived for extension – as matter of imperial power, looking for spaces abroad: colonies of the periphery as space for the producer; this quest continued and is still valid today. However, it is now equally a question of exploring and exploiting the markets of the periphery: the internal peripheries, making everybody a valuable and in this way valued consumer; and similarly the external periphery, that is now not only an undervalued producer but equally valued consumer, the savour now, the Steppenwolf of the competitive market of people selling their labour power; instead it is the pack of the wolves, in need of space to act out another nature:

If we now pause to test the soul of the Steppenwolf, we find him distinct from the bourgeois in the higher development of his individuality—for all extreme individuation turns against itself, intent upon its own destruction. We see that he had in him strong impulses both to be a saint and a profligate; and yet he could not, owing to some weakness or inertia, make the plunge into the untrammelled realms of space. The parent constellation of the bourgeoisie binds him with its spell. This is his place in the universe and this his bondage. Most intellectuals and most artists belong to the same type. Only the strongest of them force their way through the atmosphere of the bourgeois earth and attain to the cosmic. The others all resign themselves or make compromises. Despising the bourgeoisie, and yet belonging to it, they add to its strength and glory; for in the last resort they have to share their beliefs in order to live. The lives of these infinitely numerous persons make no claim to the tragic; but they live under an evil star in a quite considerable affliction; and in this hell their talents ripen and bear fruit. The few who break free seek their reward in the unconditioned and go down in splendor. They wear the thorn crown and their number is small. The others, however, who remain in the fold and from whose talents the bourgeoisie reaps much gain, have a third kingdom left open to them, an imaginary and yet a sovereign world, humor.

It is the humour of the internet coffee shop, of those who live in the virtual and real globality – both characterised by the multiplication of alienation, and the veiling of alienation by hiding the lightness in the new, open, non-dimensional, seemingly unlimited openings of the spaciously shopping malls and parks and …, any other place that is opening up behind the toll-station of motor highways or the price tag at the goods that signals who is welcome. – And still, there is another dimension – it may be part of a somewhat strange coincidence: While reading the Steppenwolf, Hesse had been mentioned to me by a friend, pointing on a special poem

In the Mist

Strange it is, walking through mists!

Lonely are bush and stone:

None to the other exists,

each stands alone.

Many my friends I kept calling

when there was light in me;

Now, that my fogs are falling,

none can I see.

Truly, only the sages

fathom a darkness to fall,

that, as silent as cages,

separates all.

Strange it is, walking through mists!

Life has to solitude grown:

None to the other exists:

each stands alone.

I replied with another poem, one written by Nazim Hikmet

To live like a tree in solitude and free and like a forest in solidarity, this yearning is ours.

Nâzım Hikmet

Indeed, the problem we face when looking for defining new spaces is not about a matter of simple mechanical-material issues of spaces but the fact that we are dealing with issues of a rather distinct relationality that concerns at least the following aspects

  • the changed social existence as matter of changing our being – as defined and defining mortals – we remain to be homo laborans, homo faber, and dealing with the vita activa; the meaning of work and labour and all the related aspects as pleasure, avoidance etc. are not fading away, but still: they are changing their meaning – they are changing how they define us and how we define with it ourselves as ‘creators’. And with all this, the relationship between the socio-political animals are changed, now presenting themselves as love affair of wolves and angels
  • the organic environment – being temporal and thus final – is increasingly taken into account as entity that has own rights, follows at least its own laws that has to be respected not only as matter of guaranteeing utilisation and exploitability but also as matter of securing sustainability of relational existence: it is the matter of overcoming a utilitarian individualism and a simplified understanding of contractualism
  • the recognition of all this, the fact that we take the elements more consciously into account and that we take more elements and the relation between them consciously into account we find at the very same time – without any inclination to deny the consumer citizen – the consciousness of cosmopolitan, cosmospatial, cosmotemporal existence: standing in the mist, we are reflecting on the shadow, being aware of it magical clout:

These three hours that we have spent,

Walking here, two shadows went

Along with us, which we ourselves produc’d.

But, now the sun is just above our head,

We do those shadows tread,

And to brave clearness all things are reduc’d.

The emerging ‘generosity’ of new city spaces – bringing huge numbers of people in relatively small spaces together and still allowing surprisingly large spaces to ‘live’. However, there are – amongst others – two issues which are easily forgotten: the one is about the underlying model which is bound to the consumer citizen as general orientation of the modern city. The model of the ‘old European centres’ – externalisation of shopping centres into the periphery does not work simply due to the mere extension of the citiy-spaces So it is a return to the ‘old centres’: the city centre as centre for gathering, cinema-ing, eating, shopping … – missing is the church, evolving are entertainment hubs. Of course, it is questionable if such entertainment hubs may offer a functional equivalent to religion; however it shows in any case what secularisation is also about, namely the new drugs of consumerism and entertainment-ism – being merged to commercial forms of sociotainment. The second issue is about the fact of social exclusion as large parts of the population are left outside of these spaces – even a kind of cleansing can be seen. Parts of the population are completely excluded, others are …, should one say expelled to estates, the high risers still offering ‘living spaces within’: park-like, playgrounded, and utility-oriented – the term ‘convenient shop’ says a lot. The challenge is to move on, detecting a merger – the old challenge was clearly formulated in thesis


The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society or social humanity.

In this light there may be a good reason for the fact that we find on the one hand Smith being in Beijing, and we can also see good reasons for Hesse being as well in China, encouraging the search for a way out of the various dilemmas of life, be it in rural or urban areas

The necessary way to be looked for can be seen from here

10 B

The standpoint of the old materialism is consumption society; the standpoint of the new is global human sustainability or sustainable social quality.

based in and fostering of

Conditional Factors (Opportunities) Constitutional Factors (Processes) Normative Factors (Outcomes)
Socio-economic security Personal Security Social Justice (including Equity)
Social Cohesion Social Recognition Solidarity
Social Inclusion Social Responsiveness Equal value
Social Empowerment Personal Capacity Human dignity

Yes, the Stepenwolf had to learn

But you will learn humor yet, Harry. Humor is always gallows-humor

– though they should have told him as well that this is only true as long we are bound to specific formations, those that keep the spaces closed for Harry, and did not allow him to really explore the spaces beyond the cages.

This way – as said – by standing in the mist, we are reflecting on the shadow and its magical clout


[1]            e.g. Todd, Emmanuel, 1990/1996: L’invention de l’Europe. Paris: Éditions du Seuil

[2]            Ringmar, Erik, 2005: Surviving Capitalism. How we learned to live with the market and remained almost human; London: Anthem Press: 34

[3]            Arendt, Hannah, 1958: The Human Condition; Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press: 32 f.

[4]            Arendt, Hannah, 1959: The Human Condition; Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press: 132