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Monthly Archives: April 2007

Quote #196

Hey, are you a dreamer? I haven’t seen too many around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming is dead, no one does it anymore. It’s not dead it’s just that it’s been forgotten, removed from our language. Nobody teaches it so nobody knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well, I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, every day. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored, this is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. And things are just starting

‘Man on Train’ in Waking Life

An open letter to Elsevier and all those involved in the IEHG

An open letter to Elsevier and all those involved in the IEHG from geographer Keith Halfacree, 10 April 2007:

I am respectfully informing you of my decision to follow my fellow human geography academics at Newcastle University and elsewhere and am suspending work on my three contributions to Elsevier’s International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography. This is in protest at Reed Elsevier’s ongoing role as organiser of weapons fairs such as the Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEI) exhibitions in London.

This has been a difficult decision for me to make as it pits the total repugnance with which I view the arms industry against a strong personal ethic of staying true to commitments I make to others. However, having been wrestling with these issues for quite some time now, and I especially thank Dave (Featherstone) and Paul (Routledge) for this, I feel that there is only one course I can take now that a greater formalisation of our protest has emerged and has been discussed most thoughtfully across the Critical Geography Forum.

I would like to add, though, that I have found past dealings with Elsevier themselves via seeking reprint permissions, dealing with the mechanics of publishing journal articles, etc. to be excellent and supportive of the promotion of knowledge. Thus, again following the Newcastle lead, my action initially only targets the high-profile IEHG and I shall not be boycotting contributions towards other Elsevier publications. However, I do of course reserve the right to revisit this decision.

Again lifting often directly from the Newcastle statement, in greater detail, I do not wish my labour to contribute to the profits of an industry that is not regulated and policed sufficiently to prevent sales of weapons to known abusers of human rights. Reports on the 2005 DSEI fair highlighted serious shortcomings of this nature – see also the excellent Mark Thomas’s (2006) As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela (Ebury). More generally, echoing calls in Elsevier journals such as The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, and Political Geography, as a critical scholar committed to a culture of life I have profound concerns about the incorporation of my labour into an enterprise that profits from the production of the means of killing. Okay, so I am a small small cog and with politics like mine my labour is compromised everyday (!) but just sometimes one has to ‘scream’ (John Holloway 2002 Change the World without taking Power, Pluto) ‘enough’! After all, doesn’t ‘every little count’ (sic.)…

Finally, as those of you know me will appreciate, I find this kind of public statement attention seeking and hence embarrassing, but I do it as part of the call on colleagues elsewhere to join the boycott, and to urge those working in an editorial capacity on the IEHG to reconsider their involvement.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Keith Halfacree (Geography, Swansea University)

Reed Elsevier’s AGM

Reed Elsevier’s AGM in London on Tuesday was dominated by questions over their involvement in the international arms and torture trade. The protest outside the AGM and questions within were accompanied by newspaper reports of the discovery of the promotion of landmine sales at one recent Reed Elsevier arms fair, and reports that delegates from Iran, which is subject to a UN ban on arms exports, were invited to another Elsevier arms fair which is currently happening in Brazil

Report on the protest, from the Independent

Report on the protest from Indymedia

Pictures here (Flickr) and here (CAATblog)

inner teachings

If you read about Taoist alchemy [1] then, apparently, there is an interesting feature of the teaching. This is that it has a common standard intepretation – an ‘outer teaching’, which is about materials; which substances to add to which substances to get what potions, etc – and a deeper, hidden intrepretation – an ‘innner teaching’ which is about spirituals, what the written lore is really about, and which concerns various tantric practices (i.e. mystical activities, some of which involve putting your genitals into various places). By the by, you get the same theme in western alchemy, the idea that the outer teaching – about turning lead into gold and all that – is really a distraction, or veil, for the inner teaching – which is about (perhaps!?) immortality, perfect knowledge, etc.

There is inner and outer teaching in Christianity as well. The standard intreptation (read: common depiction) of the christian metaphysic is cartoonish: a hell of burning fire, a heaven of clouds and angels with harps, a perverse God who puts apples on trees just so innocents will eat them. Alongside/within this there is a more sophisticated reading of christian theory with all its great themes of sin, forgiveness and justice and wotnot [2]. What interests me is that, here, the inner and outer teachings have conicident implications. Although they differ in their semantic content (and level of sophistication) the implications are the same: go to church, live a pious life according to the teachings of jesus, etc

Here’s a third example, in a different arena, in which I believe there are inner and outer teachings: the justification of the invasion of iraq. Now it is obvious that the outer or popular justifications for the invasion are lies. We obviously didn’t invade because of Saddam’s Links to al-Qaeda, nor was it about WMD, nor was it about Saddam being an evil tyrant. Although they were believed by many misinformed people, these things appear insufficient as causes for our invasion of Iraq in 2003. So, some of us wonder, what is the real reason, the true justification? What, in other words, is the inner teaching that those in power of the Western armies must believe? As with Christianity there is this coincidence of consequences between inner and outer teachings. The misinformed public can believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and want vengence, the White House can believe that we need the oil (or want to make a statement of brute force on the world stage to shore up US hegemony, or want to stop Iraq trading oil in euros, or whatever you believe the real reason was for our invasion) – but the effect is the same: invade Iraq.

So I’ve been thinking about this business of inner and outer teachings, in a kind of undirected way; does the categorisation make sense? Is it as common in theologies as it seems from these three examples? Most importantly, is it functional? What social, institutional or psychological work does it do?

This occured to me, and you can tell me if it is convincing – the point of an inner and outer teaching is where there is no true centre to a set of beliefs. The appearence of hidden meaning is really a function of a set of symbols of such fecundity that they yield an intepretation as rich as the mind that decides to interrogate them. One meaning for a superficial reading, another for a deeper reading. And another for a still deeper reading, or for a deep reading which brings with it a different set of biases or assumptions. The existence of inner and outer teachings are the resolution of two dynamics. One made of institutional forces which promote consistency of actions (also known as compliance in some circumstances!), the second a more personal drive to remove inconsistency in beliefs. The different levels of teaching allow everyone to pick a symbol intepretation which they are comfortable with, without needing to feel like they are contradicting those who use another level of intepretation. The belief (meta-belief) in a higher level of meaning – the inner teaching – allows everyone to happily follow the same behavioural path without having to challenge each other over inconsistencies in their symbol intepretations.

Footnotes:

[1] Not something I regularly do, admittedly, but I do have this book ‘The Secret and Sublime:Taoist Mysteries and Magic: Taoist Mysteries and Magic’, John Blofeld (1973)

[2] There are parallel inner and outer teachings for different aspects of Christian theology. Witness the recent discussion on whether the standard story of Jesus dying for our sins indicates that god is ‘perverse’ (not that I follow Christian theology, but it was on radio 4 at about 7 yesterday morning)

Quote #194

For many years I was known as a Monk. I shaved my head and wore robes and got up very early. I hated everyone and no one found me out. My reputation as a Ladies’ Man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone.

Leonard Cohen, from the poem ‘Titles’, from The Book of Longing (damningly reviewed here)

Reed Expo’s upcoming trade fairs

Reed Elsevier are mostly a publishing company, but they also own Reed Exhibitions. Reed Exhibitions put on trade fairs and the like, including arms fairs around the world where the rampantly uncontrolled arms industry arranges to sell guns, bombs, torture equipment and delivery vehicles to those who will use them on people around the world who need to be gunned, bombed and tortured.

There’s a list of Reed Elsevier’s upcoming trade fairs here. You can see the famous DSEi (‘The World’s Most Prestigious Defence Exhibition’) in London, this September, at the same time as the Cannes International Boat Show in France. More immediately, the Latin America Aero & Defence – LAAD 07 – is happening in Rio De Janeiro 17 April 2007 – 20 April 2007, at the same time as The Lancet Asia Medical Forum 2007 in Singapore. I wonder how the Linux and Comic communities (New York Comic Con, February 2008; LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Sao Paulo, May 2007) feel about Reed Elsevier’s involvement with the arms and torture industries?

Criticisms of wikipedia readers

The wikipedia article on Criticisms of Wikipedia

The comparison to the Encyclopædia Britannica runs throughout, and the issue of authority/reliability:

The main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data is reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window. (Philip Bradley)

Now I don’t believe that printed publications are all that reliable, having read a bunch myself and even written a few, but it seems that there is another important difference between Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica. This is not a difference concerning the writing and writers, but a difference in the readers, or at least a difference in the tacit view of the readers the two encyclopaedia’s have. From the Wikipedia Criticisms article:

to the ordinary user, the turmoil and uncertainty that may lurk beneath the surface of a Wikipedia article are invisible. He or she arrives at a Wikipedia article via Google, perhaps, and sees that it is part of what claims to be an “encyclopedia”. This is a word that carries a powerful connotation of reliability. The typical user doesn’t know how conventional encyclopedias achieve reliability, only that they do. (Robert McHenry, former editor in chief EB)

Wikipedia’s detractors imply that readers are defenceless, passive – I imagine them arriving in the shining halls of Wikipedia like wide-eyed children stumbling first time into some emporer’s Palace. Like children they are easy prey for the court tricksters and schemers with their silver tongues, beautiful clothes and easy, cosmopolitan ways.

The view of the readers is made more explicit in this quote from the former editor in chief of EB:

The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him.

Again passivity, but the second theme here is clear – infection. Innocent children’s mind, polluted by wikipedia’s unsanitised intellectual bugs.

Do we believe that people are that stupid, that they are this weak? With the EB model where a cannon of knowledge is prepared centrally and distributed to a passive audience this model of the reader is appropriate. For Wikipedia, based on the idea of a community of dual writers-readers, it is not so clear that it is.