Sunday, 30 March 2008

Conspiracy Issues
Episteme and New German Critique

Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology
Volume 4, Issue 2, 2007
Special Issue: Conspiracy Theories
Guest Editor: David Coady


Coady, David, 1965-
Conspiracy Theories

Keeley, Brian L.
God as the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory

Traditional secular conspiracy theories and explanations of worldly events in terms of supernatural agency share interesting epistemic features. This paper explores what can be called "supernatural conspiracy theories," by considering such supernatural explanations through the lens of recent work on the epistemology of secular conspiracy theories. After considering the similarities and the differences between the two types of theories, the prospects for agnosticism both with respect to secular conspiracy theories and the existence of God are then considered. Arguments regarding secular conspiracy theories suggest ways to defend agnosticism with respect to God from arguments that agnosticism is not a logically stable position and that it ultimately collapses into atheism, as has been argued by N. Russell Hanson and others. I conclude that such attacks on religious agnosticism fail to appreciate the conspiratorial features of God's alleged role in the universe.

Baurmann, Michael.
Rational Fundamentalism? An Explanatory Model of Fundamentalist Beliefs

The article sketches a theoretical model which explains how it is possible that fundamentalist beliefs can emerge as a result of an individual rational adaptation to the context of special living conditions. The model is based on the insight that most of our knowledge is acquired by trusting the testimony of some kind of authority. If a social group is characterized by a high degree of mistrust towards the outer society or other groups, then the members of this group will rely solely on the authorities of their own group for their acquisition of knowledge. In this way they can adopt a corpus of beliefs which may seem absurd from an external point of view. However, they may be locked in a "fundamentalist equilibrium" in which particularistic trust, common sense plausibility, epistemic seclusion, social isolation and fundamentalist beliefs are mutually reinforcing – and in which individuals who adopt the "fundamentalist truths" of their group do not behave more irrationally than individuals in an open society who accept the "enlightened" worldview of their culture.

Clarke, Steve, 1964-
Conspiracy Theories and the Internet: Controlled Demolition and Arrested Development

Following Clarke (2002), a Lakatosian approach is used to account for the epistemic development of conspiracy theories. It is then argued that the hyper-critical atmosphere of the internet has slowed down the development of conspiracy theories, discouraging conspiracy theorists from articulating explicit versions of their favoured theories, which could form the hard core of Lakatosian research programmes. The argument is illustrated with a study of the "controlled demolition" theory of the collapse of three towers at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Levy, Neil, 1967-
Radically Socialized Knowledge and Conspiracy Theories

The typical explanation of an event or process which attracts the label 'conspiracy theory' is an explanation that conflicts with the account advanced by the relevant epistemic authorities. I argue that both for the layperson and for the intellectual, it is almost never rational to accept such a conspiracy theory. Knowledge is not merely shallowly social, in the manner recognized by social epistemology, it is also constitutively social: many kinds of knowledge only become accessible thanks to the agent's embedding in an environment that includes other epistemic agents. Moreover, advances in knowledge typically require ongoing immersion in this social environment. But the intellectual who embraces a conspiracy theory risks cutting herself off from this environment, and therefore epistemically disabling herself. Embracing a conspiracy theory therefore places at risk the ability to engage in genuine enquiry, including the enquiry needed properly to evaluate the conspiracy theory.

Coady, David, 1965-
Are Conspiracy Theorists Irrational?

It is widely believed that to be a conspiracy theorist is to suffer from a form of irrationality. After considering the merits and defects of a variety of accounts of what it is to be a conspiracy theorist, I draw three conclusions. One, on the best definitions of what it is to be a conspiracy theorist, conspiracy theorists do not deserve their reputation for irrationality. Two, there may be occasions on which we should settle for an inferior definition which entails that conspiracy theorists are after all irrational. Three, if and when we do this, we should recognise that conspiracy theorists so understood are at one end of a spectrum, and the really worrying form of irrationality is at the other end.

Mandik, Pete.
Shit Happens

In this paper I embrace what Brian Keeley calls in "Of Conspiracy Theories" the absurdist horn of the dilemma for philosophers who criticize such theories. I thus defend the view that there is indeed something deeply epistemically wrong with conspiracy theorizing. My complaint is that conspiracy theories apply intentional explanations to situations that give rise to special problems concerning the elimination of competing intentional explanations.

Pigden, Charles R., 1956-
Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom

Conspiracy theories should be neither believed nor investigated – that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic "oughts" that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. But the belief-forming strategy of not believing conspiracy theories would be a political disaster and the epistemic equivalent of self-mutilation. I discuss several variations of this strategy, interpreting "conspiracy theory" in different ways but conclude that on all these readings, the conventional wisdom is deeply unwise.

Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology
Volume 4, Issue 2, 2007
Special Issue: Conspiracy Theories

New German Critique
Dark Powers: Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in History and Literature
Volume 35, Number 1 103, Spring 2008

Eva Horn and Anson Rabinbach
New German Critique 2008; 35(1 103)

Michèle Lowrie
Evidence and Narrative in Mérimée's Catilinarian Conspiracy

Victoria E. Pagán
Toward a Model of Conspiracy Theory for Ancient Rome

Jakob Tanner
The Conspiracy of the Invisible Hand: Anonymous Market Mechanisms and Dark Powers

Stefan Andriopoulos
Occult Conspiracies: Spirits and Secret Societies in Schiller's Ghost Seer

Michael Hagemeister
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Between History and Fiction

Anson Rabinbach
Staging Antifascism: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror

Eva Horn
Media of Conspiracy: Love and Surveillance in Fritz Lang and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Timothy Melley
Brainwashed! Conspiracy Theory and Ideology in the Postwar United States

Peter Knight
Outrageous Conspiracy Theories: Popular and Official Responses to 9/11 in Germany and the United States

New German Critique
Dark Powers: Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in History and Literature
Volume 35, Number 1 103, Spring 2008

Friday, 28 March 2008

Anomie and Forward Panic

Randall Collins has recently written an innovative study of the dynamics of "Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory". In his conception of "forward panic" he makes the case that violent confrontations are oftentimes about mutual emotional entrainment, and where there is equilibrium in this respect between opposing forces, this generally ensures that confrontations will not escalate into violence. This he contrasts with situations where "forward panic" eventuates, wherein the build up of tension gains an excessive release because of a sudden change in momentum (such as an unexpected gain of advantage, capitulation, reinforcement of forces on one's side etc). So forward panic carries over into patterns of overkill, and Collins adduces numerous examples where this can lead to massacres, other events such as the beating of Rodney King (where police outnumber an individual whom they confront after an ennervating protracted chase), or a raucous party erupting into violence when the outnumbered police arrive, and attempt to disperse the gathering.

The level of detail Collins marshalls is too fine for me to reproduce here, so I'll briefly concentrate instead on the flipside of the dynamic he describes. According to him, any gathering is liable to produce its own temporary stratification, a "situational elite of those who are striving to take part, and a fringe of those excluded" (p256). In other words, there is a dynamic to emergence, and conversely, there is a dynamics of "submergence"; of outsiders looking for action, something to "jump into". It's the David Hicks, and [maybe] the Lee Harvey Oswald character type all over, but only insofar as we do not psychologise them too much, or rather, read the psychology in terms of the sum total of "emotional energy" gathered from the micro situations the individual has passed through up until that time. This explains a lot too about the opportunism of those who change their levels of commitment, and indeed their political orientation, on a situational basis.

For some unable to actualise their potential in such situations, the only remaining token of commitment and belonging are fetish objects, such as the military clothing adopted by lone males in civilian life as an expression of personal identity [pictured above]. Here action does not translate into mutual entrainment, but can only be intensified by individual movement that serves no larger purpose. It is one of the most recognisable forms of anomie in contemporary societies. These tokens can be readily purchased in army surplus stores [pictured above], unlike completion of the rites of passage leading to the more highly coveted group membership (i.e. the original context of the uniform). This disparity makes the actions of the anomic type closer to the parody of rationalisation Duchamp portrayed in his machines, which technically "worked", such as a bicycle wheel fastened to a chair, (the wheel was still capable of spinning afterall), but performed meaningless functions.

Other civlian groups have got around these inherent problems of anomie by adopting the trappings of membership in (pseudo)military organisations. Football fans can thus lay claim to membership of a "Tartan Army" for example, whilst English cricket fans can participate in "The Barmy Army". Although they typify a shortcut to attaining the status of membership in something approximating the military, one should not lose sight of how violence can still perform a ritual function for some of these groups. For example,the infamous football "crews" strive in off field confrontations with rival fans to reproduce the intensity they experience in a crowd of likeminded individuals united against a common foe during a match. The biggest mistake of English football authorities then was to separate opposing fans into "cages", for what happened was that this merely intensified their feelings of solidarity, which could then more easily later spill over into forward panic.

text by nhuthnance

photos by ahuthnance

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Digitally Imported Radio: Electronic Dance Music With Highly Addictive Elements

My apologies if this personal reminder trivialises the previous post on the catastrophe that is Iraq, as this was not my intention (but I have been listening to Peter Namlook & co all morning and find it too good to not put up here).
Next task is find some Mike Ink.......

Note to self:
check out Kraken "Valstrik In De Muur"
Currently Playing: Pete Namlook & Charles Uzzell-Edwards - Macro Read & post comments (22)

Listen Now!

Now serving 263+ listeners!
Now Playing on Ambient
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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Lurker in the Lobby

I never thought that bounded rationality (to use Herbert Simon's appropriate concept) would force my blogging habits to become more like something on Twitter, but I don't have any other choice for the next 7 months or so.
Be this as it may, ahuthnance alerted me to the above title, and, lo and behold, it features an interview with none other than Dan O'Bannon!!! I was chuffed because this would seem to provide some evidence for the hypothesis I advanced in my earlier post about a particular Clark Ashton Smith story acting as a formative influence on O'Bannon's screenplay for Alien. Afterall, in this interview, O'Bannon emphasises how much he has always loved Lovecraft, and so as an avid reader of Weird Tales, it is very difficult to believe he would not have encountered Smith as well. I think part of the reason this has not been widely brought out before, other than a need to maybe hide a really obvious influence, is that there is not, unlike with Lovecraft, any cult of Smith sizeable enough to have banged on about this detail in a loud enough voice for anyone else to hear outside of their own circles (and perhaps the connection has never been uncovered anyway, which is my present operating assumption).
In a not entirely unrelated vein, I've also come across some interesting recent discussion of Darko Suvin's work on science fiction ("cognitive estrangement" as a defining element and so forth). I'm posting a reference here in the hope that I can find time to get to them later. Be sure to check out the links within the following piece:

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Application No.: 60470203
Full size fully articulated doll with selectively displayed alterative faces

The invention claimed is:

1. A figure toy amusement device comprising: an articulated skeleton having a plurality of rigid members with movable joints between adjacent rigid members largely encased in relatively soft, resilient material presenting an exterior form possessing the size and appearance of a human female including: a head, a face mask removably attachable by means of fastening components to said head, a torso, and a pair of arms and legs each movably attached to said torso; said movable joints between adjacent rigid members enabling a range of motion approximating that of a human's permitting movement: of each said arm and each said leg with respect to said torso, of an upper portion of said arm with respect to a lower portion of said arm, and an upper portion of said leg with respect to a lower portion of said leg; said head possessing a simulated skull and also being movable with respect to said torso through an articulated neck and possessing: attachment means for a wig, a jaw movable with respect to said simulated skull, and a mouth lined with a smooth membrane and having a fluid receptacle located there behind; said face mask possessing lips, chin, nose, cheeks, eye sockets, and eyebrows all molded in an integral piece of soft resilient flexible material separate from said head and providing a verisimilitude of a female human face for said head in attached disposition thereon; said torso possessing a bosom possessing human verisimilitude in shape and feel and a vulva located between said two legs lined with a smooth membrane and having a fluid receptacle located there behind; whereby a wig attached to said head with said attachment means for a wig, artificial eyeballs located in said eye sockets, and said face mask attached to said head provide a full sized fully articulate doll with selectively displayed alternate faces and visual, postural, and palpable verisimilitude with a female human figure.

Full size fully articulated doll with selectively displayed alterative faces
United States Patent Office
Filed: October 15, 2003

Love Me, Love My Doll

Holt, N. (Dir.), 2007. Guys and Dolls. [Online Video]. United Kingdom: North One Television

"Still Lovers"
Elena Dorfman

"The previously mentioned US Patent of a Realdoll communicates the ostensibly detached and scientific nature of this innovative device. However, a brief examination of the experiences of men who own female reproductions will illustrate that these relations have (for some) developed from those of pure sexual satisfaction to the fulfillment of a larger need for social interaction. This simultaneously eschews the inevitable complications of true human contact while maintaining the semblance of (usually) monogamous partnerships over which the man has ultimate control. There is “Dave-Cat” for example, a 32 year old man from Detroit whose Realdoll is named “Sidore.” She is a Japanese-British goth who is “beautiful, loyal [and] a great listener”- everything Dave is looking for in a woman. Sidore has her own MySpace page which explains she is “in a relationship” with Dave, has completed some college and has 70 friends online. Everhard, a 49 year old man from Britain, owns several Realdolls. They have their own personalities (although each face does not have its own body, they are easily exchanged) and he frequently takes “family photos” when they go out. Everhard dresses and makes-up his dolls; he awakens them by changing their faces to ones with open eyes and perfumes them, noting that one of his dolls, Virginia “just lies there - she’s very static”. Another doll owner, Gordon (38 years old and from Virginia) ordered a second replica of a woman in order to keep his first doll from becoming lonely and hopes that when he dies they will be buried with him so that “we can all turn to dust together”. Admittedly, it is unlikely that these cases are indicative of the types of relationships which all Realdoll owners have with their sex toys. It is a fair assumption, however, that these extremes can be used to construct an idea of what Realdoll ownership entails. One online community of doll possessors is a “labyrinthine cyber haven for sex-doll enthusiasts with nearly 12 000 members and thousands of photographs and message strands”. The dolls are frequently kept warm with electric blankets to approximate human sensations and it would seem there are definite attempts to anthropomorphise them. When the dolls require repair, they are sent to a Realdoll Doctor who does everything from tightening limbs to replacing vaginas. He notes that these repairs are customary and that “sex is a violent act, but the dolls can handle it, they’re made for abuse”. The base-model of the doll costs US$ 6500 (with personalisation adding to that figure) and men see purchasing one as an investment. This female ownership goes beyond the fulfillment of sexual needs (which could be accomplished with a cheaper sexual aide or through prostitution) and instead indicates a desire to satisfy a deeper need for companionship."

"Marxxxist Alienation: Sexual Anthropomorphism of Realdolls™ and Construction of Man"
By Elizabeth Record • March 18th, 2008
Cultural Shifts

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (official trailer)

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Machine is Us/ing Us

The Bitchcruiser

It is so horrible I leave the appropriate eloquent critiques to others more qualified than I:

The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis

I took a pic of this 1974 edition of some Clark Ashton Smith short stories, not so much to highlight the camp nature of the cover art work, but rather to help draw attention to the fact that it clearly predates the film "Alien". The book was given to me, along with a random bunch of other titles, around 25 years ago, and since then it has pretty much just sat around my parents' house, without me paying any attention to it. I just happened to walk past the bookshelf the other day and noticed the title, and couldn't remember what it was, so I picked it up.
I mention it on this blog because the volume turns out to be a superb distillation of many of the personal obsessions of Acheron's contributors. Although a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and a fellow contributor to Weird Tales, Smith grabs your attention with his recurrent themes of obsessed individuals who unwittingly destroy themselves and others when they attempt to act on their interests. More in the vein of a satire of capitalism's fixation on the market for rare commodities, than a pious morality tale, Smith intimates a viable alternative when his dispossessed characters learn to cross species/cultural barriers and forge new forms of solidarity. I can only wonder at this stage how much of a potential influence on readers this may have been, who were later drawn to later writers such as Samuel Delaney for whom such themes were of paramount importance.
I also have yet to research any of the journals dedicated to Smith, whether "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" (first published 1932) has ever been identified as a precursor to "Alien". The setting is basically that of the astronauts at the beginning of Scott's film, who are exploring the derelict spacecraft on Acheron. Smith describes the discovery of a mummified alien, reminiscent of the Space Jockey, which shows signs of a parasite having attached itself to its face. Further exploration of the cavernous vault soon leads to an encounter with the parasite, which indeed attaches itself to the face of its victim, and proves difficult to dislodge:
"He moved back, but not quickly enough to evade me, when I stabbed with the four -inch blade at the black turgescent mass that enveloped his whole upper head and hung down over his eyes....a great slug, with neither head nor tail, nor apparent organs...Out of it there gushed a sickening torrent of human blood, mingled with dark, filiated masses that may have been half dissolved human hair, and floating gelatinous lumps like molten bone, and shreds of a curdy white substance" (p180).
Incredible stuff, and the resemblances even extend to the description of the architecture where the extinct race of Martians are housed. I have no idea if there was any actual influence exerted upon the likes of H.R. Giger or Dan O'Bannon, but I am sure that Smith presents as a more worthy precursor than the much cited "It! The Terror From Beyond Space".
Moreover, I feel that if Smith corpus proves consistent enough to be understood as critically dystopic, then there is also an imaginative, utopian streak running throughout. Indeed, with culture mediating between structure and agency in this way, one has another means of navigating back to the focus on creativity that has arisen in recent social theory, as well as in strands of cultural studies (the turn to Gramsci; Jameson's interest in science fiction etc). It is only those who fail to grasp this who can speak solely in terms of "schlock" produced by the "culture industry". Fueled by ressentiment, and ministering to a misearble congregation in the manner of a hellfire preacher, the lack of imagination in such an approach unsurprisingly in effect amounts to the reduction of Gramsci's maxim to, "pessimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will".
It will also be interesting to discover if even in Smith's "dying world" stories, where not even science and technology as featured in some other apocalyptic fiction is available, he still maintains the creative "optimism of the will". Imagine the possible comparison then to some of the "First Hundred" characters in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy (in addition to his more recent ecologically themed works). This coud validate my point, not least because Robinson studied under Jameson, and Jameson in turn has written about Robinson's fiction.....

Sunday, 9 March 2008

"Indoctrinate U"?

As if we needed further reminder that the academy is a contested public sphere, and thereby cannot be equated in a knee jerk fashion with antiquated notions of "the ivory tower", "ritual" etc, the debates featured in this [right wing] documentary come readymade with the strategies familiar from "the science wars", the questioning of the academic legitimacy of cultural studies, and "political correctness" more generally. What is novel though is the forums in which they are opening up, as the presence of this trailer on youtube attests.
For the record, a debate between opposing sides, namely a progressive academic and the libertarian filmmaker, can be found from this link, which amounts to an excellent rejoinder by the former, as well as a resource worth monitoring in the future [given the resurgence of such debates].

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Context Crawler: Enter the "Socioblogosphere"

Here I note some blogosphere developments in a more recognisably social theory/sociology vein than the CRU discussed in my "Crash" post, or those who position themselves in opposition to such an "interpretive community", such as my own interlocuor in aforementioned post, and perhaps others such as Cultural Parody (I leave the latter characterisation open though, and won't comment on anything else approximating scattershot rhetoric and character assasinations, unless I come across them).
I find the links here far more interesting anyway, and I hope derridata might be able to offer some complementary blog links and commentary on information science that could contribute a lot to my own thumbnail sketch of an emergent blogosphere. From this link one should certainly check out in turn Cass Sunstein's more sobering assessment of the democratic potential of blogging, and then move to Context Crawler from there, where one can link to Craig Calhoun's blog (replete with podcasts).
Finally, I hope to have a chance to compare the socioblogosphere with the more culturally studies inflected interpretive community coming into being, as it would be fascinating to discover if in the new forum there are any parallels to the older institutional histories I traced in the "Crash" post.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Shift Happens

Is this merely technologically determinist "information society" newspeak? Perhaps so. But I think it reinforces the thrust behind my previous post that disciplines are mutating, in part because the university is attempting contingency planning for the advent of what they regard as "the digital age" (in a way, Sadie Plant was speaking of its cultural manifestations in other areas, although it is debateable whether she was doing so in such a programmatic fashion).
Indeed, Beloit College in the U.S. produces a "mindset list" to draw attention to the technoculture which has socialised the latest influx of students, thus assisting the efforts of faculty to communicate with them. The video I've included was intended likewise as a pedagogical tool, some might say a "meme", which has, appropriately enough, grown at an exponential rate into a series of successor versions. But whose agenda are the much vaunted changes most likely to serve?

War and Culture Studies

Regrettably I'm too swamped these days with other projects to update as much as I should. I can only check in irregularly for the next 8 months or so. Sometimes this can be a dispiriting experience, giving sense to the old adage, "the more things change, the more they stay the same". I experienced this sensation recently when this blog was flamed on account of some passing comments I'd made about one of my favourite topics; "cultural journalism". I found it curious to be targeted as an academic gatekeeper prepared only to give short thrift to the blogosphere, which is the exact position I defended against in my earlier debate with a philosopher on this blog, along with comments on "scholarshit" etc etc (and this is to say nothing of the pairing of such an accusation with the contradictory characterisation of this blog as dedicated only to the reproduction of the commodified banality Adorno described in terms of "the culture industry"!!).

Therefore what is really at stake in these kinds of debates is the ambiguous status of "popular culture". No wonder it confuses the taxonomies of both [some] academics and bloggers alike. Cultural studies has taken this fight up to the academy, but any proper sense of a "double hermeneutic" or the "public sphere", should make us wary of tracing to an origin. What interested me in the "crash" post was the self-reflexive attempt to describe this process, and to acknowledge that while it has an institutional history, the associated "interpretive community" respects no such institutional boundaries, and this is a fact that trends in the blogosphere can alert us to. Interestingly enough, the details of that particular case are relativised further in acknowledgement of the dynamic I've described, so as soon as you start speaking about interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary developments, you are not far from speaking about a "postdisciplinary" era in which our traditional idea of what a "university" is becomes more problematic...

Encountering the following new journal got me excited as I thought in these terms; not only does it have the potential to speak to elements of this blog's mission statement, it also appears that its very existence attestifies to the relativisation of disciplinary boundaries I have been describing. I will try to monitor it in the future, as I wonder will this extend to a dialogue with the journal FUTURES, regarding future studies, and even the cultural manifestation of dystopian/utopian treatments of these themes in a popular culture context? Will this be Manuel de Landa, Paul Virilio and Ken Wark again?

The first issue can be accessed free online, so I've picked one piece here to follow up:

Journal of War and Culture StudiesVolume 1 Issue 1 (free issue)Cover Date: August 2007View Table of Contents
Opening up the battlefield: War studies and the cultural turn
Martin Evans
DOI: 10.1386/jwcs.1.1.47/0
View PDF article
Keywords: military history,cultural studies,war history,war and gender,war and memory


This paper considers the evolution of war studies from its beginning as what was essentially military history, to the ‘cultural turn’, when scholars began to challenge these restrictive disciplinary boundaries to produce a more inclusive vision of the study of war.