online, modified: 25 sept 2002
ammended: 11 january 2003, 1 february 2006

24 september 2002

future conferences:
prologues to something different

reconsidered and slightly ammended 11 january 2003

I remember that, in the years before 1962, I had wanted to organise three conferences that seemed to me necessary to draw attention to what is missing from industrial life and culture as I perceived them.

The topics were:

improved design methods
the usability of products
the emerging worldwide culture and need for new myths

I managed (in collaboration with Peter Slann and others) to organise the 1962 conference on design methods (which became a worldwide academic study of design processes but has not, I'm sorry to say, led to the greatly improved design practice, and world, that I optimistically imagined).

The Ergonomics Research Society (in which I also became active) has done something about usability (though in too academic or peripheral a way to influence life very much, I think)

and the present studies of globalisation, together with the presence of the internet, have done something about the emerging world culture, but not enough. (I attempted sporadic writings in what is called futurology or futures research, and later I tried to initiate a conference on myths old and new (from the rainbow serpent myth to the big bang) and I wrote the internet and everyone- but as yet my hopes of constructively changed culture and new myth haven't been realised.)

I am sorry to see and to say that all three of these aspirations were too academic and too abstract to influence life for the better, or at all!

So perhaps I should now propose a fourth conference - on the transformation of education, and especially of universities, into something that improves life in the long term - instead of supporting the economic status quo and dehumanising life by treating and describing people and ideas as if they are abstract entities. That may not be the best formulation of what is wrong - perhaps it is just a faint indication of a terrible fault in the structure and aims of our education and academic research, especially our misuse of the mis-named human sciences (from economics and ergonomics to design science and artificial intelligence*) ...?

[* as Edwin Schlossberg put it to me once:

all intelligence is artificial ...(pause) ...and all artifice is intelligent]

...and then maybe a meta-conference, on the design and effectiveness of conferences, yes yes.

But the three things that I felt were missing in the nineteen-fifties are I think still missing from our lives:

1. industrial processes sensitive to the whole situation that they create,

2. products which truly fit the bodymind, are a pleasure to use, and give everyone the power and ability to change and to improve the character of industrial living while living it

3. and a world culture that is not repressive and unfair, does not threaten life, and which arouses enthusiasm and beliefs appropriate to our time, not visions of doom and dystopia and angry and hopeless protests.

I know very well that what I am writing here is a personal view, and that the improvements I am calling for cannot be measured objectively - they are in the nature of life itself, and that they raise the question of good and evil, or goodevil, as I prefer to call it (I see goodevil as singular, not plural, as the integration of opposites, as respect for the power of life and death that is in each of us, and in our actions, all of them... )

So is this the time to reconvene those three conferences, and also the one on education, and the meta-conference on conferences - so where and when and how shall we do so (and who is 'we'?) ...?

...but for my own part I'm going to begin here and now...

...This is it, he writes while he can, this is the prologue - to a social fiction :

(beginning elsewhere)

...and now for some insights of others (to be fictionally or even actually related to these hopes for a reality that includes everything):

insight A. thought is supernatural!

"After some reflection I came to the rather startling conclusion that thoughts are as supernatural as past history after death. I simply discovered to my surprise that thinking is unnatural. I then reflected a little more and discovered that I have no day-to-day existence. It is a life-to-life existence and life is supernatural."

- Clarice Lispector, Selected Cronicas, p. 77 (noted by Alan Sondheim in a recent communication to the poetics discussion list at Buffalo University ))

insight B. the political prospect is negative

The Coward

Last night I replugged into the dying power-grid, charging cell-phone, nicads for the digital camera, this laptop. The phone depends on a secondary grid of towers and antennas; the camera reproduces nothing without downloading; the laptop connects to a third grid, internetwork- ing. Generators operate in New York City, across the country; the generator complex I've seen near Niagara is the largest confluence of machinery I know. There is an indescribable silence of people, men and women, behind the scenes, who have designed and built and tested the grids and technology; these are people of the disappearances to come, the war already glistening on the horizon.

The cell-phone conveys personal and political pessimisms across country and countries, one unstable nation-state to another. The digital camera bears witness, still, to nothing, a reproductive emphasis mainstreamed into 3d animations and other explorations of language, sexuality, body. When the war comes, the camera will be there, recording yet another collapse, perhaps the final one, as humanity has already blasted and slaughtered its way through much of the ecosphere.

And the computer, on its dying batteries, will repeatedly attempt to connect on the broken copper-wire phone-grid; the heroics of the Net in other wars will reduced to mute and brutal silence as screens flicker out for the last time. But now the computer conveys otherwise, analysis after analysis, exposing our government and their government, our evil ruling class, and theirs, and their intermixing and interbreeding, and their back-handing deals and kickbacks, and their unconcern for populations of men, women, and children, as they slide back down into the game of war.

The analysis, like Freud's, is interminable, repetitious, necessary, and depressing. It is necessary because it enables us to recognize, perhaps for the last time, the evil humans are capable of. It is interminable because new facts and situations come to light, as nations move closer to war, to intolerance, to the right. And it is repetitious, because we have witnessed all of this before - the duplicity, the violence of language tending towards material violence, the impending holocaust-to-come.

The question repeatedly returns - what is to be done - beyond the talk and protest and organizing; the one movement-moment of four hijacked planes turned the world upside-down, more than any analysis or mass-movement has ever done. It is not that empire has collapsed; it is that empire has turned ever more hideous, paranoid, and closed-off, closed-down, taking its armies and weapons with it. It is not that speech and analysis are curtailed; it is that speech and analysis are rendered useless, irrelevant.

So it is clear, just as it was in Imperial Rome, that what is to be done, is being done-for-us; that it is already in motion, that protest and accuracy and resistance are as futile as the turning-back of regimes intent on conflagration.

If one thinks back to Imperial Rome - it was Lucan who died, not Nero; analysis terminable and interminable would not have stayed the course of events. What we are working on is the accuracy of our vision, our witnessing, as if there were a transcendence to truth, as if truth were part and parcel of natural or instrumental reason. If our analysis stops at the gate of hopelessness, it does so because, beyond, is nothing but erasure, and that is already done-for-us - from the internal violence of transnational corporations, to the enormous lies of power that must, in order to maintain itself, deceive.

I am well aware that I am contributing nothing here, that I have nothing to contribute. At the very least, we need barricades, more and more barricades; onslaught is slowed by stones and wood...

(a recent posting by Alan Sondheim (see websites I like) to the discussion list in poetics at Buffalo University)

...and now to an optimisticsocial fiction(blind to the supposed realism of those who are pessimistic about the future)

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© 2002 john chris jones