“A city isn’t just a place to live, to shop, to go out and have kids play. It’s a place that implicates how one derives one’s ethics, how one develops a sense of justice, how one learns to talk with and learn from people who are unlike oneself, which is how a human being becomes human.”—Richard Sennett. The Civitas of Seeing.
The Money City
Richard Sennet argues, in “The Conscience of the Eye”, that the grid city is one of neutrality. However, this city has an obvious winner or power present in the essence of its architectural layout: money. The city itself is not bland to everything and absent of all emotion. It is instead, a clear view of the Protestant’s mindset about money and the personality of Capitalism.
According to Max Weber’s Spirit of Capitalism, the Protestant work ethic is driven by a belief in the scarcity of value and that there is not enough to go around. Thus there is not enough money, beautiful architecture, space, and so forth for everyone to enjoy. In addition, the grid allows for concentrated occupancy to a space and a more logical application of real estate sales. People want uniform plots of land that are easily to appraise for the purpose of exchange.
Capitalism also prescribes that the houses and land show the division between classes and that luxury and abundance are limited. If all of the workers are concentrated to a certain area, it is easier to develop a system of transportation to and from these rural hubs to the manufacturing plant or cubical. The bosses mansion on the other hand is located down the yellow brick road and presented as inspirational, yet unattainable. Instead of a central church or sacred place, the “cathedrals of commerce” are the city’s downtown. Sennett calls this a neutrality, but it is an obvious bias to the power of money over all else.
What else is going to be destroyed - besides the Central Asian Bridge ?
As we’re now in the last phase before the Euro crash and there are more and more people in precarious working and salary conditions – hidden in a very refined way here in Germany – it’s easy to foresee, what will happen in case of the Crash: In Germany, the country, where “austerity” and many special tricks for faking unemployment rates related to that come from with the Euro Crash more and more people will get squeezed into the “One-Euro-Job market”1 (One Euro per hour). This “market” offers – in official terms “working opportunities with additional expenses compensation” – with other words – in reality it is a “compensated slave market”, where bankrupt entrepreneurs can push their stuff into the wrecked state welfare system for subsidizing slave workers. And – there are quite many “underpaid genius” amongst those, looking for that doubtful safe harbor – which actually looks already much more like Pearl Harbor on December 8th , 1941 than a really safe place.
What will happen, if most Germans will rest like lemmings in front of the barrels of AK 47s, MG3s, M60s or - whatever is used nowadays for threatening our people?
With the next emergency chute packages to be sent to Greece and to Spain or Portugal -wherever the cashflow for covering the interest rates for the European Central Bank at Brussels has to go to and stockmarkets breaking down the scenery in Germany will be like that:
Shopkeepers and other businessmen and –women - entrepreneurs will tell their stuff, that they need to cancel their employees’ contracts and – that this was essential for keeping the job and for not going bankrupt – for “day x after the crisis”. And – they will promise to keep them busy on basis of the “subsidized slaveholder market” - the One-Euro-Job-market for that “day x” . And - the government will tell us, that now WE even need to work harder for building up the Euro as THEIR failed symbol of European identity again. As Germans are living under this iron fist - the iron fist of austerity and stagnant salaries despite of rising inflation since more than a decade this shock wave hopefully won’t get accepted. But - there are still many people, who will act like the “Deutscher Michel” 2 . And - there will be entrepreneurs – not temporary and latent, but – permanent sociopaths who will resist. They were charmed to the max by corrupt administrations on all levels of the StasiBND 2.011 system, where many examples of another archetype of German obedience are sitting - “The Good Soldier Svejk” 3. As this guy potentially is both - a hack as much as a mastermind, who’s able to dupe and even to outmaneuver those commanding him - there’s some hope, that the sleeping “Michel” 2 might wake up – even before the crash – the breakdown might take place – starting from midst September with the climax towards the end of September – maybe also a bit later – towards the midst of October 2011. I’m not an oracle - just a man with a brain and a bit of a mind.
The threat of using the German army for interior tasks was already spoken out and the change of “constitution” for making that possible already happened. I’ve seen paranoid soldiers at some places. It doesn’t matter, where they come from. Will German soldiers shoot their own people ? If there’s one dead citizen, not wearing guns – shot by police forces or by soldiers – cities will boil and more cars than ever will burn. And – soon another German terrorist fraction might evolve from that – like the Red Army fraction (RAF) 4 after 1968 student rebellions. Nobody wants that – neither politicians, nor the people. And – just some months ago the German army was changed towards a professional army – before – we used to have the draft. After WW2 the German army was rebuilt with the ideal of “The Civilian in Uniform” 5. As I already said – I’ve seen paranoid soldiers – but – I’ve seen and – I’ve talked with many more very smart and clever brothers and sisters in arms - US and UK marines as much as Germans in Kabul and Italians in Herat. It’s something completely different, if you’re asked to shoot your own people or – if you’re misled by bureaucrats, who don’t have a clue of people on the ground – whether they are in their own country or in Afghanistan and that way you get more and more paranoid.
And – I dare say – the German army is still rooted in the civil society.
“Austerity” is at the end of the day an anti-Keynes and anti-Humanity program of bangsters reigning a corrupt market just focused on cash. Dollar and Euro bills then become more and more worthless damp cloth with numbers on them.
European Governments – especially the most influential “big leaders” – Sarkozy and Merkel – the whole financial dictatorship located in Brussels - they have failed in creating and invigorating a European identity. And – all parties are still as slow as many people elsewhere in their way of thinking in fixed left-right, black-white schemes. Many, many alternative and integrative European concepts have been ignored by the media and the political mainstream all the time. But – they do exist. If political leaders really wanted to unite Europe – why didn’t they force bi- and trilingual programs – for example – setting the target, that in 2015 70 % of Europeans should be able to use three European languages ? Instead now Merkel and Sarkozy even try to establish a European Central Government - just trying to serve their clients – but none of the people at all 6.
The way of leadership, they and their clients prosecute in the end leads “a Neoliberal Society” directly from the “Neo-feudal”- to the “Neo-Slaveholder-Society”. As we are free people – born free and supposed to raise our kids as free people as well and – wanting them to be free in a free World – we also want to die as free humans.
When Paul Krugman edited his famous article “Triumph and Tragedy of the Euro” 7 in the International Herald Tribune on January 14th 2011 there was still some time left for reforms – reforms, he was urgently asking for European “leaders” from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Now they’ve gone too far in cheating their people.
Now – the only way forward is the (R) Evolution.
But - those, who by thwarting any progress tried to maintain their own and their clients power – what can we do to finally make their deaf ears listen to us ?
Well – “Germans to the front” – as I heard it a couple of days ago, running up a ramp towards a bridge, crossing the Rhine here ? I didn’t find the guy, who was shouting there – a well dressed Muslim family - three ladies and two schoolkids and - two of the three ladies pushing strollers just came down the ramp, when I wanted to enter the bridge. Maybe it was this peaceful image that had caused the despair of that guy. The mob like that, running the scene – that would be a catastrophe. What can we do ?
Will people be willing to listen - to act in a respectful way towards their counterpart ?
I used to transform a quote of Rosa Luxemburg 8 - German Revolutionary at the times of WW1 - saying that freedom is always the freedom of the dissident - “Respect is always the respect for the experience, the other one has gained.”
A very rare thing to find these days. It was quite hard for me - a man of 47 years, I dare say - well educated - architect and urban planner, speaking a couple of languages - to explain even to my parents, that the world nowadays is a different one than the world 40 years ago. Was very hard to explain them, that it wasn’t completely my fault, that “the system” had spit me out.
And - who’s listening - who’s caring about kids any more ? There was another quote of the “Sponti-movement” - following 1968 student rebellions here: “You’ve got no chance - go for it !” - Later it was Punk, saying “No Future” and - “we’re the ones, our parents warned us against.” Now it’s altogether - and - I’m an indignant as much as the guys on Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Placa Cataluniya in Barcelona, in Chile and the Free Gaza Youth kids in Gaza, knowing, that my own kids won’t have a chance in a system of barbarianism and cannibalism - such as their father, who always protected his teams in pretty doubtful hierarchies against people, who weren’t able to listen. And – whose false kind of pride prevented, that they would pose the right – the smart questions, that could enable us to move on together – without looking for the victim – the pawn to be sacrificed. The way leading to empathy instead of homophobia.
And – saying that – I hope, I mustn’t emphasize, that I know, that I’m not an angel – that I’m just a human being sharing his ideas and his experience here, knowing, that he as a human being will always make mistakes – but – knowing as well, that only by letting these happen and working on them there’s a chance of growing. And- I’m writing my phd without having got a doctoral advisor – using the start-up money from the unemployment agency for building up my business for some bread, salt, butter and water – and some fruit. The system only offers me its bottom. Buckminister Fullers quote: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”? 9 is mostly addressed to the young these days – they are requested to get inspired by those wise words, but - what about the elders, who don’t seem to be willing to learn – also perhaps from their own kids ?
What - if nobody listens to your new models, cause everybody’s out for quick and unilateral - black and white solutions ?
The other day I told my Mom, that she always had said to me that one won’t get gifts for granted from the others - I replied - “Well - that’s right. I know that and - I always had to work hard to get through many hassles. And - I always tried to be fair. But - today we’re one step further - today everything is taken away from us.”
Tackling the big challenges, humanity is facing here on mother Earth we have to be smarter, greener, healthier and happier – the way, Edward Glaeser describes Cities as our greatest inventions in “Triumph of the City” 10. And – that way all of us will also become richer.
But – for going there - we also have to keep in mind, what Richard Sennett is saying in “The Craftsman”: “To do good work means to be keen, to research and to learn from inclarities.” 11
And - we have to get listened to – as a minimum of respect. Will corrupt and weak politicians and their clients and followers be able to do that – will they be able to work with us on building Jeremy Rifkin’s “Empathic Civilisation” 12 - on working on building that ?
Or - will they try once more thwarting everything ?
Are they in the position any more for doing that ?
German political leaders – the two highest posts (another pretty doubtful hierarchy – sometimes people vote for their judges and hangmen – happened more than once in history) - those two persons didn’t give birth to any children – they - and we missed quite a lot - what will other political leaders tell their children, what they had done against the decline of it all ?
We should invite them soon to listen to us – but – we won’t wait for too long.
1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_opportunities_with_additional_expenses_compensation and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartz_concept
10 Edward Glaeser – „Triumph of the City – How our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier“ ; © 2011 Edward Glaeser, The Penguin Press, USA
11 The Craftsman – German: Handwerk - Richard Sennett; German Edition: ©2008 Berlin Verlag GmbH, Berlin, P. 71 – transl. sf
12 The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis http://www.amazon.de/Empathic-Civilization-Global-Consciousness-Crisis/dp/1585427659/ref=pd_cp_b_1 - here there’s also a long interview with the author about that book and his thesis : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQN_13KawUw&feature=player_embedded and an RSA- animate : http://anyarchitectsandengineers.tumblr.com/post/9207193071/weweregods-rsa-animate-video-of-the-day-the
All images 8-17: photos by the author
Sweet mother of god, yes.
Mark Brown asks some good questions about using extremely successful people as role models for regular people with mental illnesses.
The media retains a fondness for presenting exceptional disabled people as inspirational.
“Look,” they say. “Here is a person who has achieved so much. Do not lose heart, you too can overcome your disability if you follow their example.”
Sennett grew up in the projects of Chicago where his mother was a social worker. He excelled at cello and gained a scholarship which led him to New York, shifting to sociology after a condition reduced his ability to play.
Years later, when invited back to his old neighbourhood to give a speech of hope to excluded young people, Sennett spoke alongside an electrician, a secretary and a young doctor who had worked his way up from nothing.
The secretary told of learning shorthand and getting a job with a union official, the electrician of how he broke into his trade. The young doctor told of his journey, saying: “If I can do it, so can you if you believe in yourself.”
Despite his story appearing the most inspirational to outside eyes, the audience heckled the doctor - they didn’t appreciate his message.
Sennett wondered why this was and realised that the young doctor’s story had challenged the self-respect of those listening. “Whereas the secretary showed the young people what to do, the young doctor told them who they should become,” reasoned Sennett.
Excellent points, and funny besides. Allow me to add a point about my concerns with using FICTIONAL people as examples as well. Visibility is good, but it’s only one thing, and it’s effects can be good or, as Brown notes, they can be poisonous.
Thinkers of Space in their Working Spaces
Walter Benjamin perhaps searching fragments in archives for “Some Motifs on Beadelaire” at the Bibliotheque National de France, Paris.
This post was inspired by an image of Walter Benjamin absorbed in his work at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to collect images from the web and make a gallery showing thinkers of space in their working spaces.
Martin Heidegger perhaps doing a final review of Building Dwelling Thinking in his office.
As it turned out, the search wasn’t easy. While images pertaining to old and new authors whose writings on cities influence contemporary urban debates clutter virtual space, they mostly comprise face shots, conference photos, or simply the front cover of their emblematic publications.
Francois Baudrillard perhaps taking break after writing Domus and the Megalopolis in his office.
Benjamin’s photograph is a peculiar case in comparison to the others that I found. The selection I came up with, as any type of selection, leaves questions in regards to what it shows and what it doesn’t. But series of images I found, lead me to consider the staging of such photographs, the perspectives from which they are taken and the control the writers may impose on their compositions.
Richard Sennett perhaps pondering with identity in his working Space.
Do these representations still mean anything in today’s diversified digital age? Against the prognostication of the end of the library, the writer and his/her books may become an obsolete form of portrait in this century. With it, the aura of authority, power, access to information and knowledge that these images represent may turn to different types of profiles or content on the web. What are today’s portraits of thinkers of space in their thinking spaces?
Michel Foucault perhaps submerged in his writing of Panopticism in his office
Credits: Image of Benjamin, by Gisele Freund, Heiddeger by Pillippe Lacou-Labarthe, Image of Sennet by the NYT, Image of Baudrillard by J. Lane, Image of Foucault from Portail Michel Foucault.
“Cities can be badly run, crime-infested, dirty, decaying. Yet many people think it worth living in even the worst o them. Why? Because cities have the potential to make us more complex human beings. A city is a place where people cna learn to live with strangers, to enter into the experiences and interests of unfamiliar lives. Sameness stultifies the mind, diversity stimulates and expands it. ”— Richard Sennett
In his article “The return of artisanal employment,” Economist blogger A.C.S argues that the “new,” postindustrial capitalism, won’t just continue to destabalize and undermine the ways of life and careerism of the 20th century working class, but will actually begin to bring about a new class of workers, one more closely resembling the “self-sufficient artisan” of some unspecified age gone by. According to A.C.S, this new worker will no longer be defined by his allegiance and service to one company or even one trade, but rather by the way in which he develops his “individual capital,” both in terms of skills and his ability to flexible make use of those skills. These “skills” are supposedly going to emerge from the confluence of a liberal arts education with a work history of “honing one’s skills by changing jobs a few times.” The idea is that, in a post-large firm era, what’s going to be most important is a worker’s ability to do a variety of skilled work, and do to so in a largely individualist and competitive global labor market. A.C.S thinks that his generation has been prepared for just such a market, and that the only obstacle to them “achiev[ing] their potential” is the (presumably temporary) recession, which is too hard on people who try something and fail.
Richard Sennett on Quality of Life in Cities
This is yet another reblogging from Polis. If only you knew how much I like that website. This time, in their quotes collection, they cited Richard Sennett, one of my favorite urban sociologists.
“I want to explore the concept of ‘quality of life’ in cities. My own view can be stated simply: the quality of life in a city is good when its inhabitants are capable of dealing with complexity. Conversely, the quality of life in cities is bad when its inhabitants are capable only of dealing with people like themselves. Put another way, a healthy city can embrace and make productive use of the differences of class, ethnicity, and lifestyles it contains, while a sick city cannot; the sick city isolates and segregates difference, drawing no collective strength from its mixture of different people.”
Richard Sennett, from “Why Complexity Improves Quality of City Life,” “Hong Kong: Cities, Health and Well-Being,” publication of the Urban Age Conference, November 2011.
Thinkers of Space in their Working Spaces
Sassen & Sennett