Notes July 3
July 4, 2008 § Leave a comment
Unidentified Los Angeles Kindergarten circa 1900.
Most of us today experienced kindergarten as a loose assortment of playful activities – a kind of preparatory ground for school proper. But in its original incarnation kindergarten was a formalized system that drew its inspiration from the science of crystallography. During its early years in the nineteenth century, kindergarten was based around a system of abstract exercises that aimed to instill in young children an understanding of the mathematically generated logic underlying the ebb and flow of creation. This revolutionary system was developed by the German scientist Friedrich Froebel whose vision of childhood education changed the course of our culture laying the grounds for modernist art, architecture and design. Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller are all documented attendees of kindergarten. Other “form-givers” of the modern era – including Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and Georges Braque – were educated in an environment permeated with Frobelian influence.
Froebel believed that education of the very young would enable the flowering of human potential. “By education,” he declared, “the divine essence of man should be unfolded, brought out, lifted into consciousness.” Froebel’s insights would expand the minds not just of children, but also of their teachers. Denied access to universities, women of intellect were also yearning for mental stimulation and Froebel’s system provided an outlet of expression for hundreds of thousands of women around the world who flocked to become kindergarten teachers. Among them was Anna Wright, mother of the future architect. From the world of early kindergarten it is largely the teacher’s output that has been preserved and in this remarkable body of work we witness the stirrings of a new era. Mostly created in the late nineteenth century, the objects on displayed in this exhibition prefigure the aesthetic upheavals of the following century. As kindergarten scholar and collector Norman Brosterman has proposed, in the work undertaken by “kindergartners” we may locate the seed-bed of modern art.
Inventing Kindergarten surveys rare objects and artifacts from the
collection of Norman Brosterman, Froebel scholar and author of the book
reading the great and helpful paper by Bruno Latour, about greening in france and the garden idea. see GardenWorld
Even though I am too remote from North America day to day
politics to comment usefully on the many suggestions given in this important book, I may have five (plus one) vantage points to
benefit from the “breakthrough” they wish to make.
First, I am from a country where the Green parties have simply
vanished: election after election, they have finally lost themselves in more and more arcane and distracting issues proving the main thesis of “postenvironmentalism” by gracefully committing suicide… Second, France has never believed in the notion of a pristine nature that has so confused the “defense of the environment” in other countries: what we call a “national park” here is a rural ecosystem complete with post offices, well tended roads, highly subsidized cows and handsome villages… Third, France is the only country that has so much believed in modernity that it always thought possible to get entirely rid of politics and replace it with the government of Reason alone: in a way Nature, capital N, has always reigned here under the guise of Science, capital S, proving already one of the main thesis of the book about the danger of ignoring pragmatism. But fourth, through a tortuous process that still mystifies law professors, France is also the only country to have introduced in her Constitution, the principle of precaution, an initiative of the now almost forgotten president Chirac.1 And fifth, and to the bafflement of all observers, the new French government
has engaged in an extraordinary experiment to engage with pressing environmental issues through an innovative process of
representation called “le Grenelle de l’environnement”, in reference to the great bargain at the end of the May 1968 crisis, a hybrid symbol of class struggle mixed with questions of nature —an expression as odd as if you were talking about a “Bastille Day of Ecology” or the “Red October of Nature”… For all those reasons, France is not such a bad standpoint to witness what the ecological crisis may do to politics.
But I might have an additional qualification to comment on this
book since I have always been convinced that the key to the
understanding of politics lies in the conceptions of science and,
more generally, of knowledge acquisition —political epistemology is the name given to this crucial connection. This has been true
throughout the whole history of Western political thought, but
never more clearly than since the various ecological crisis have
brought the very definitions of science and politics in even more
dramatic contact. This is where science studies (my field) may
provide a chance to comment on what I have called the politics of
The great virtue of Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s (from now on
N&S) plea for development, is to attack head on the question of
why the most pressing issues of our days —ecological crisis broadly construed— have not been met with the same enthusiasm, energy, optimism, ideals and forward looking democratic spirit as the past tragedies of poverty, tyranny and war. If I summarize the thrust of the book, I’d say that the authors try to overcome the tragic consequence of bringing Nature into politics: in the name of indisputable facts portraying a bleak future for the human race,
Green politics has succeeded in depoliticizing political passions to
the point of leaving citizens nothing but gloomy ascetism, a terror for trespassing over Nature and a diffidence toward industry, innovation, technology and science. Everything happens as if Green politics had frozen politics hard.
Such a view of environmentalism is of course very unfair to the
great number of scientific and political groups who have struggled with such intelligence to bring ecological issues to the forefront of public consciousness. No militant, no scientist, no administrator that I know, will recognize oneself in the portrait the authors make of the “environmentalists”. And yet, N&S are right on one essential feature: no matter how important the work that has been done so far, ecological questions are still taken as peculiar to one specific domain of concerns not as the core of politics. Never are those
issues treated with the same sense of urgency and centrality, with the same passions, the same moral energy than the rest of public issues. At the very least, they don’t mobilize in the same ways the democratic ideals so essential to the pursuit of civilized life. N&S are clearly focused, in my view, on the right philosophical blocking point: the whole endeavor of political ecology is presented as a question of learning our limitations even though, it is this very notion of limits that, paradoxically has limited or even paralyzed politics. What the authors want is to “break through” the limits of the notion of limits, so as to unleash the same type of courage, energy and moral enthusiasm that is necessary to overcome the new threats to democratic society.
For a European and certainly for a French, such an endeavor is
especially timely since they tackle this philosophical issue as a
psycho-social question, namely as a question of emotion, of feeling, as if they had sensed that the gamut of political passions triggered by the ecological crisis was much too narrow to deal with the massive dimension of the problems —or at least much too weak compared to those that religion, war, protest, art, may unlock. They try to tune in to another tone of political emotions, those necessary to redevelop, or, to use another expression proposed by Ulrich Beck, to modernize modernization.3 Those two traits —the detection of the limit of limits and the psycho-social entry into the problem— put this book apart and justifies, even though it is often unfair to the practitioners, that it be taken seriously.
The thesis of the authors is never more striking (and never
funnier) than when, at the very end, they cross over a Churchill’s
talk on the renewal of Europe to stand united at the time of the
Cold War with Tony Blair’s speech on global warming at the Davos Forum in 2005 (p.263 et seq). Blair’s talk is excellent but purely factual, uninspiring, as if emptied of any politicizing urge; Churchill’s speech is…, well Churchillian, but of course freed from any reference to the nonhuman friends and enemies (in 1947,
remember, politics was still “for humans only” —they had enough inhumanities to deal with). On hearing Blair’s lecture, people shake their head in assent, in despair, in fright, but they are moved no further than to sit on their butts for the rest of their life. On hearing the second, they rebuild the ruined Europe from top to bottom and “never had it so good”. Then, N&S try their own little cloning experiment by inserting the factual Blair’s approach to suck the energy out of Churchill’s plea for reconstruction (p.267) and then inject Churchill’s energy in the genetic code inside Blair’s dry argument (p. 268): Churchill expatiates about the Cold War like Blair; Blair speaks of the global warming like Churchill. A very effective thought experiment: Europe remains in ruins for the sixty
years to come because no one does anything much after hearing it;, global warming is recast as the way to unleash political energy for the next sixty years to come because the right emotional cord have been struck…
This is the right kind of attitude: optimistic about tech, concerned about politics, wanting to get on with it, that fits the GWP perspective.
on meaning. what if money is just what people do with it expanding from airy random occurrences and spreads by imitation “takes”, and that is because, like smoking, it organizes lots of human feelings and actions – but it does not have a deeper meaning.
Why is it that 2 billion people believe in Christianity? Can we moderns compete with that? As Latour asks, himself quoting from the book,”How come the same energy that is being churned to cerebrate the creator has not ben mobilized for saving his creation?”
leads me to Norhaus and Shellenberger, Breakthrough my book number 1117
“the time is ripe for the Democratic story about America, one focused more on aspiration” p 13
arguing that the people are fairly well off(missing cosss of commutingfor example), hat we cnbe both for justiceand individuality. and prgmatic.
“In 1969, one of the founding fathers of American environmentalism, Rene Dubos, called for environmentalism to become a new religion,…he ecological crises will replace the reductionist question “What must we do to save the environment?” with “What new environments can we imagine and create?”
top priorities of the liberal interest groups that define the Democratic agenda. For these groups, bold, innovative, aspirational proposals to dramatically transform the economic and political landscape are seen as distractions from their attempts to advance their small, incremental policies. pg 259.
“However,” Blair said, “behind the dispute over science is another concern. Political leaders worry they are being asked to take unacceptable falls in economic growth and living standards to tackle climate change.
so, all pretty good, but,but, there is no actual vision, no sense of a world that could be beyond the social welfare and justice world . These are great, really important, but not sufficient to energize.