The added measure of grace

“… Civility is the something extra – the added measure of grace – in the way we shape human behavior through objects and custom. Civility is comfort, hidden goodness, social lubricant, personal worth, helping others, play – civility is the joy we take in human achievements and the compassion we show to all-too-human faults. Civility can be extended by technology and can be obliterated by it. Civility is toleration, understanding. It is the integration of differences, not the heightening of them.”
Bill Stumpf from his book, “The Ice Palace That Melted Away: Restoring Civility and Other Lost Virtues to Everyday Life”

This year’s project

More than five years ago on November 3, 2007, I wrote:
The Greeks had a word or two for it
Some of you may have read my ramblings about purposive drift that you can access through the sidebar. A few more of you may have read my manifesto, “Purposive Drift: making it up as we go along”, published on Changethis. But there is still a lot more I need to explore.
I touched on one aspect of this in something I posted in February, “Cultivating Kairos”. Kairos is a Greek word for “the right time” or “the appropriate time” — a qualitative sense of time as opposed to the more mechanical, relentless clock time, Kronos.
I discovered another Greek word Metis – “cunning intelligence”, the quality displayed by Ulysses – the other day. And again, like my discovery of Kairos, I have a strong sense that this concept is also going to be important in developing the ideas around purposive drift.
Curious, isn’t that that the ideas people were using a couple of thousand years ago seem so relevant to the world we face today.”
Squeezing this entry in today, the last day in January, is a marker to show myself why I must explain the how the importance of the concept of metis has grown in my thinking over the past five or so years , despite there being almost evidence of this in entries in this blog. Tomorrow, I hope to write more…..

A world of money

“The idea of an informal economy was born at the moment when the post-war era of developmental states was drawing to a close. The 1970s were a watershed between three decades of state management of the economy and the free market decades of one-world capitalism that ended with the financial crisis of 2008. It seems now that the economy has escaped from all attempts to make it publicly accountable. What are the forms of state that can regulate a world of money that is now essentially lawless? The informal economy started off forty years ago as a way of talking about the Third World urban poor living in the cracks of a rule system that could not reach down to their level. Now the rule system itself is question. Everyone ignores the rules, especially the people at the top – the politicians and bureaucrats, the corporations, the banks – and they routinely escape being held responsible for their illegal actions. Privatization of public interests is probably universal, but what is new about neoliberalism is that, whereas the alliance between money and power used to be hidden, now it is celebrated as a virtue, wrapped up in liberal ideology.”
Keith Hart
Keith Hart Interview 1
Keith Hart Interview 2

Pay close attention to accidents

“… one of the most valuable sources of ideas in the visual arts is the resistance of the medium. That’s why oil paintings look so different from watercolors. In principle you could make any mark in any medium; in practice the medium steers you. And if you’re no longer doing the work yourself, you stop learning from this.

So if you want to beat those eminent enough to delegate, one way to do it is to take advantage of direct contact with the medium. In the arts it’s obvious how: blow your own glass, edit your own films, stage your own plays. And in the process pay close attention to accidents and to new ideas you have on the fly. This technique can be generalized to any sort of work: if you’re an outsider, don’t be ruled by plans. Planning is often just a weakness forced on those who delegate.”

Paul Graham
(about Paul Graham)

That’s what makes the world interesting

“Let’s face it, the universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and chaotic. It is dynamic. It spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity, not uniformity. That’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful, and that’s what makes it work.
There’s something within the human mind that is attracted to straight lines and not curves, to whole numbers and not fractions, to uniformity and not diversity, and to certainties and not mystery. But there is something else within us that has the opposite set of tendencies, since we ourselves evolved out of and are shaped by and structured as complex feedback systems. Only a part of us, a part that has emerged recently, designs buildings as boxes with uncompromising straight lines and flat surfaces. Another part of us recognizes instinctively that nature designs in fractals, with intriguing detail on every scale from the microscopic to the macroscopic. That part of us makes Gothic cathedrals and Persian carpets, symphonies and novels, Mardi Gras costumes and artificial intelligence programs, all with embellishments almost as complex as the ones we find in the world around us.”

Donella H. Meadows

Carnal Sociology

“I’m advocating a sociology which takes seriously the fact that we are first and foremost embodied beings situated in place and time, making us mortal, and we are beings in the world through our senses. It’s an attempt to push for a different conception of the social agent. The two dominant conceptions are the rational choice tradition – man as the utility- maximizing machine – and the symbolic tradition, the pragmatists, who see man as a symbolic animal who manipulates signs and spins webs of meaning as Geertz famously, or Weber, actually, said.
What I propose is that we go back to the early sensualist epistemology of the young Marx, the current that is then developed by Bourdieu and others, to take seriously the fact that we are these sensuous animals who suffer. As he says, we encounter the world and we re-make it but we don’t re-make it according to our own personal wishes. It’s an effort to create a different conception of the agent and a different conception of the sociological method. Because if it’s true that social agents are carnal animals of blood, flesh, sinews, desires, who suffer, then it is also true of the sociologist.”

Loïc Wacquant in an interview with Max Farrar

The ingenuity economy

“System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of “l’economie de la débrouillardise.” Or, sweetened for street use, “Systeme D.” This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy. A number of well-known chefs have also appropriated the term to describe the skill and sheer joy necessary to improvise a gourmet meal using only the mismatched ingredients that happen to be at hand in a kitchen.
I like the phrase. It has a carefree lilt and some friendly resonances. At the same time, it asserts an important truth: What happens in all the unregistered markets and roadside kiosks of the world is not simply haphazard. It is a product of intelligence, resilience, self-organization, and group solidarity, and it follows a number of well-worn though unwritten rules. It is, in that sense, a system.”

Robert Neuwirth

Idleness is often the best investment

“… In his study of talented young musicians in Berlin, K Anders Ericsson asked what separated the outstanding soloists from those who were merely good. The difference was not – as is often misquoted – that the best players practised more. Instead, they practised intensely and then allowed themselves more time to relax and recoup.
The lesser players spread their work throughout the day, never escaping a sense of stress and anxiety. The elite players, in contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Either side of these peaks of concentration, the best players enjoyed life: they slept more during the daytime and spent more time having fun away from music. Their lives were simul­taneously more relaxed and more productive. What some people call idleness is often the best investment.
The idea that being good at something demands harried, exhausted martyrdom is a relatively new idea. “Only in recent history,” as Nas­sim Nicholas Taleb puts it, “has ‘working hard’ signalled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse and, mostly, sprezzatura.” If we really want to be good at something, we should stop wasting time exhausting ourselves”

Ed Smith

Idle moments and dreams

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.”
Tim Kreider

Maybe the Greeks got it right

“In ancient Greek tragedy the protagonists were shown as the playthings of the gods. Human actions were scripted by powers beyond human control or comprehension. In The Wire, human beings go to their ruin because of what they and others have unknowingly done. In some interpretations, this is the true meaning of Greek tragedy: the arbitrary meddling of capricious deities in human affairs is a metaphor for the fact that human beings neither understand nor truly determine their own actions. Whether or not the classical Greek dramatists understood tragedy in this fashion, it is hard to imagine a world view more subversive of 21st-century pieties and hopes.”
John Gray