Marx on the machine and Repetitive Strain Injury (Quick Reflection)

In our present place and time, the ‘machine’ has become so much a part of our lives.

Marx says:

It is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it… The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself (Marx in Seidman 1983: 137)

Reflections on the machine from the present

 

Amongst the affluent (with entry barriers ever-lowering) we have not just the machine of the workplace but the machine of leisure. This machinery is not forced upon us by necessity but is chosen. Elsewhere, the machinery of the assembly line plods on, as inane as ever it was.

We act through the machine, according to the machine’s laws, but since we choose to use these machines (not necessarily without coercion) and first of all, must have purchased them, it is a condition of the machine’s existence that we – lowest common-denominator (and bleeding-edge aficionado) – want to use it – therefore the machine must conform, to some extent, with our own functional requirements (the “laws” of our movement)).

Also, these new machines have allowed so much that is positive. We do not feel alienated from the ‘product’ of our ‘labour’. We are enabled to create, to socialise.

Connection

Increased connectivity is a mode of industrialisation. It has removed barriers and made sociality potentially ever-present. In this sense, the machine is not just a tool; it is transformative; has become part of the background of everyday life. A sociological cliche: we don’t choose that background, we are in the background, we choose from within it.

But all society exerts pressure (even if only the mind of the beholder) and some barriers are healthy – don’t you know it, Durkheim. The technology-human nexus runs roughshod over so many taken-for-granted norms of yore: quite obvious in the case of libraries and the absence of the “Shhh” police.

Use

It is a long-standing rumour that the dominant computer-layout QWERTY was invented to stifle over-exertion. Not for typists but to prevent jammed keys, for the machine: principally for productivity. This rumour is disputed (this dispute is also disputed).

Overuse (RSI)

RepetitiveStrainInjury, or OccupationOveruseSydrome as modern professionals prefer to call it – though I don’t see why as it denies injury outside of ‘occupation’ (from the perspective of work-insurance perhaps there is some advantage in this) is another matter – swipe left, right; up down. Watch the endless pawing movement of fore-fingers and thumbs on commuter train journeys. An injury that results from another absence of barriers to use, the ‘logic’ of the machine, and the clever format of the digital-space – orchestrated carefully to trigger endorphins, though never quite enough. The gestures we use on touch-screen technology are an imposition on ‘nature’, absent throughout evolution, the long-term effect we don’t know yet. We are still in this sense determined by machine, a sense similar to Marx’s example, even if it is willingly that we commit ourselves.

It is not always true that manufacturers pamper their machines while giving short shrift to health concerns of users. Of course they don’t – they are bound (monopoly aside) by the demands of consumers. Heat dissipation is an issue for users as for the longevity (and warranty claims) of laptops and PCs. Nonetheless, many ergonomic adjustments stem from aesthetic-commercial-related short-term interests (long-term progressive injury is at a distinct disadvantage).

It is a rationalisation, combining requirements, desires and limitations of technology and humans that leads to the simplest yet still easily discerned, least-fingers intensive action used as a means of working with these devices. For the human: how does it feel to swipe rather than ‘what may be the long term consequences of repetitive use of two-jointed digits on people who begin as toddlers’? For the computer: what is most easily understood.

Once upon a time mobility was more present in social engagement: trips to the post-office to pickup or deliver, home-visits, even telephone calls (and one could never be assured of reaching the other). Now so much of it can be before us in a single package (or three or four, smartphones and iPads included). The abundance of technology, their convenient use have perhaps shifted a hitherto unknown burden (spaces between use (temporal and spatial)) onto the individual.

Consider: smartphones and tablets are mindbogglingly un-ergonomic from the perspective of posture, eyesight, and forelimbs. One can, and more frequently they do, lean their device on a little stand, but this is unlikely to become elemental to the device itself because the aesthetic ranks higher. This means that restrictions to use, which may prevent certain negative-effects must come from culture, and the individual.

That said, haven’t they always? Consider the careful dignity, upright posture of the clerk.

Human machine?

Perhaps his behaviours (sociological jargon: habitus) also act as limitations on use, a protection against over exertion as much as they were an outward show of pride. In a sense, what is this proud show of dignity than a manifestation of the belief: I am not (your) machine?

The Machine is an enabler, a ‘tool’ but that is not all it is. It changes the world, conditions the nature of social interaction, thereby conditioning the nature-nuture of ourselves and much more.

Contemporary reflections on a poetic remark from Marx

Hayek’s The Intellectuals and Socialism

 

Friedrich von Hayek’s ‘The Intellectuals and Socialism’ (1949) appears to be an important work, for perhaps almost all libertarian/free-market think tanks lead back to it.  The spirit of the essay, which was written in response to the great flurry of postwar social planning, runs warm in Australia’s own Institute for Public Affairs (IPA): the defence of free-market ideas in principle rather than via pragmatics.

It is also insightful beyond its immediate (ideological) aims.

It covers the following:

  • Intellectuals have more power than they are given credit
  • For this greason socialism – or rather, the principles of planned economy – had become a dominant in public policy
  • But why are intellectuals, above all the brightest ones, so attracted to socialism? Because socialism espouses a visionary utopian existence which inspires, whereas liberal thinkers tend to fixate on more mundane practicalities of the present
  • In conclusion, liberalism needs its own inspiring visionary thinkers

What is an intellectual?

For Hayek the class of intellectuals is broad. These ‘professional secondhand dealers in ideas’ are the consumers, synthesisers, and above all disseminators of ideas and conceptual frameworks.  It is a class composed of the literate and educated: teachers, academics, and journalists, but also scientists and doctors.

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Visiting the Female Eunuch 47 years on

Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch is a second wave feminist classic.  A Post Freudian account which argues that the development of a ‘female libido’ is the key to social liberation.

What insights does this iconoclastic work have to shine on the present?

As the prologue lays it out, the earlier – suffragette – wave of feminists had fought hard for civil rights of participation equal to those of men, and, according to Germaine, had largely won them, opening to women a world of possibility (equal access to the ‘ulcer and coronary’).  And yet, this is still a ‘man’s world’ of hierarchical order and success or failure through competition and strain. She argues, therefore that fewer women than expected have chosen to enjoy such a ‘privilege’.

This is very different starting point to the contemporary focus on “patriarchy”, which it is said, either excludes or exploits women’s participation in society; but for Germaine, the reluctance of women to participate suggests a glimmer of hope for an alternative form of existence.  It was the ‘chief function’ of this book to suggest a way to the alternative.

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Hypocrisy and progress in human relations

 

The word hypocrisy originates from Greek compounds hypokrites, hypokrisis, which relate to an actor playing a part on the stage1(actor, pretender, dissembler) . The word we’ve received is a metaphor intermingled with a religious-moralistic hue.

The Hippocratic oath also emerges form these roots. Presumably Hippocrates’ had an ancestral connection with drama.

 

Hypokrites

Even Jesus, patron saint of turning-the-other-cheek, had nothing nice to say about the Pharisees. For their entrenched cultural or racial predilection toward hypocrisy he tarred the whole group with invective. In contemporary times this would be considered scandalous. But there are no records of cries of “not all Pharisees!”.

Thus hypocrisy is considered one of the worst of human failings.

Below is a short thesis, written as a counterpoint to the view of hypocrisy, which Jesus, Mohammed, and so many more of us seem to hold (if less rigidly), the view that hypocrisy prevents moral progress in human affairs: Hypocrisy enables vice at the expense of virtue.

This attitude is based on the lofty ideal, that acting virtuously in all our activities, even in private doing what was right, works to make the world a better place.

But what about the possibility that hypocrisy serves a positive function for civilisation?

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Privacy and destiny, data and individuality

Pavlov's Sermon

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana

 

The high importance placed upon ‘the private’, our increased links to one another via the internet, and the power of the same tech to capture and catalogue personal data ensures that debates about the future of privacy are frequent. The concern in Australia about the ABS retaining personal identification data in the Census (for a longer period) being only the latest to cause a panic.

The internet first broadened expectations for privacy as the greater world became accessible from the bedroom, but the undertow now threatens to drag the bedroom (and beyond) back into the public.

A major motivation of ardent defenders of privacy, typified by Edward Snowden, is the concern that the past, or present will be used against them at some stage in the future. For this reason they feel that their freedom to speak and think freely, now, is encroached upon.

These considerations are significant, but so much of the concern about privacy is fixated on variations of this same theme. In this essay I consider another dimension: privacy not to protect what we have done but privacy for the protection of what we will do, who we will be (and who we are).

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The Natural Way of Things (Book Review) Charlotte Wood

natural-way-of-things

 

A confluence of factors has led ‘domestic violence’ and ‘violence against women’ to be placed high on the public and governmental agenda. The critique of “patriarchy” and the assertion of an almost metaphysical connection between deep culture and violence provides the theoretical backbone of this agenda. It is in this context that Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things received the Stella prize earlier this year (the title of the book refers to the media’s portrayal of violence against women).

This is a book of exquisite earthy prose which chronicles the experience of two women (Verla and Yolanda) amongst half a dozen or so other women, who, having been swindled and drugged, are plunged into a nightmarish boot-camp, a remote and expansive bowl of earth surrounded by a 6 metre high electrified fence. The reason for internment is that each has been involved in behaviours deemed inappropriate by the lights of ‘society’; sexual behaviours, ranging from affairs with politicians, to sleeping with a talent show host, a football team. Continue reading

Representative Democracy Versus the Unrepresentative Swill

I have been absent for a while but have been strong-armed back by the appearance of Iain Walker on the ABC’s Qanda political debate program tonight (Question and Answer). I don’t know much about Iain Walker so I’m not plugging him, other than to say that he runs a foundation called newDEMOCRACY which has proposed a ‘citizen senate’, something along the lines of an idea I have been mulling over for the last month and a half. I post some brief details below.

 

The question is whether democracy could be improved by greater representation from ‘ordinary’ people. Australia’s present political landscape features one peculiarity which suggests (by sheer fluke) that this may credible: due to Australia’s fairly unique ‘preferential’ voting system and the large number of candidates that can run for election to the Senate we have seen the election of a number of relatively ‘ordinary’ Australians who quickly developed their ability and taken their job with seriousness. Continue reading

Albert Camus and a parallel between Meursault and “gay marriage”

One of the major themes of Luchino Visconti’s 1967 adaptation of Albert Camus’ The Stranger (which I recently watched) is, about a perceived conflict between the liberty of the individual and the integrity of society. We can also turn to the story and to one scene in particular, and find a good parallel to the question of whether the marriage of non-heterosexual couples should be legally recognised: the issue of ‘gay marriage’/ ‘marriage equality’.

lestrangerCamus is one of my favourite public figures of conscience. Visconti’s Lo Stranero is a very faithful adaptation. His interpretation of Meursault as a benign sensualist is sound; and if anything the film is perhaps too faithful1Camus’ estate placed limits on artistic licence and selected the script writer; and in several scenes of the film Meursault narrates lines directly from the book which are jarringly flowery coming from the voice of the film’s typically direct and concise character.

This is the story of the trial-by-character of the Algerian Frenchman, Meursault who inexplicably kills an Arab on a beach in Algiers. Many have read The Stranger during a ‘coming of age’ period of their lives where they appreciate the social rebellion embodied in Mersaults’ apparent amorality, yet, as one of those amorphous stories that can be seen from a different light when read again, today I will be exploring it in parallel to contemporary debates about marriage.

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Star Wars, culture, and the ‘legitimate’ use of violence

Stormtrooper

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens (the latest iteration of the franchise), it is revealed that stormtroopers are known to one another not by ‘names’  but by an assigned letter and series of numbers (e.g. f4570). The viewer also learns that stormtroopers are ‘programmed’ from a young age. As well as serving to emphasise the good/evil dichotomy and embellish the rebel’s status as ‘the just’ – because like the societies we inhabit they allowed names and individuality – this also goes someway to explaining the motivation of stormtroopers and provides a condition for our developing sympathy towards them. They are ‘brainwashed’ and hence not entirely at fault for their misdeeds.

In another scene, a stormtrooper is portrayed showing concern for a felled comrade and attempting CPR. This is also the first instance (I am aware of) in the Star Wars series that we see the blood of a stormtrooper, a result of blaster fire – prick them do they not bleed? But this scene does not anticipate a ‘humanisation’ of stormtroopers later in the film as it could have done; it is a plot device to establish the character of an individual stormtrooper (indicating ‘I am not like the others’, rather than ‘they are all like me’) Continue reading

Inverting ‘Broken Window Theory’?

In 1982 George Kelling and James Wilson published a paper in the Atlantic outlining their ‘Broken Window Theory’. The theory begins from the observation, which is common enough, that small instances of ‘disorder’, such as the broken window of an abandoned house, are often followed by more disorder (i.e. more broken windows), and finally to destruction. What made Kelling and Wilson’s (henceforth K&W) contribution new was their attempt to transpose this insight into a social theory about the relation between crime and community. They argued that protecting the community from minor infringements can stop more severe infringements from becoming the norm.

The thesis I want to consider in a moment, is that something approaching the opposite may be true: that a relative improvement of community standards may lead to an increase of problems. Before getting to this I want to provide some more information about the original theory. Continue reading