Century of Progress

sometimes i think I’ll never be happy until i own a well-tailored victorian era suit

The Midway, 1933, Century of Progress World’s Fair, 1933, Chicago. Lou Fowler

The spiral on the left was a ride called Helter Skelter, where riders would simply climb to the top and slide down. 

Helter Skelters, named for the British term for “disorderly haste or confusion,” had been around since 1905, appearing in many fairs and amusement parks.

In 1968 the Beatles recorded their hit, Helter Skelter. Paul McCartney has said it was “to be the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums, et cetera” and said he was “using the symbol of a helter skelter as a ride from the top to the bottom; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire – and this was the fall, the demise.”

Inspired that same year by the Beatles’ song, Charles Manson would talk to his “Family” about Helter Skelter, an “apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions between blacks and whites”, which would eventually lead to the Tate-LaBianca murders.

flickr

Gauze dress, ca. 1826-1827 by KSU Museum
Via Flickr:
White plain cotton gauze dress with yellow embroidery (A) and yellow silk shoulder brace (B). Dress with high waist, scoop neck, long sleeves with puffed shoulder, hem with 5 tucks alternating with embroidered wool sprigs, yellow silk bands at cuffs. Braces: yellow silk taffeta shoulder brace with tabs alternating on each side. As the 19th century progressed, the high waistline of the first decade began its descent to the natural waistline. At the same time the sleeves became fuller and the skirt began to widen. By the mid-1820s, the first leg of mutton sleeve of the century appeared as in this dress. English, attributed, ca. 1826-1827. Cotton gauze/silk. Silverman/Rodgers Collection, KSUM 1983.1.31ab.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the whole “GMOs are bad for you” propaganda is distracting from the real problem with GMOs, which is the economically exploitative business model of Monsanto and other companies which specialize in that field. We’ve been genetically modifying food since before we even began to understand genetics. The entire cultivar of bananas we eat is genetically modified. Every cultivar of apples we eat is genetically modified. Selective breeding and other genetic modification processes to make food larger and tastier are a significant part of agriculture and have been for centuries. All the “but it’s not natural so it’s bad!” people have literally zero understanding of how the food we eat comes to be. Using more modern techniques to do the same things we’ve been doing for centuries is not scary. It’s progress. And modern genetic modification techniques allow us to develop cultivars that are larger, hardier, more resistant to disease and pests, and grow in larger quantities, which (if it weren’t for the economic issues I’m about to discuss) could allow us to feed waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more people without using much more in the way of resources.

The problem with GMOs is, as far as I know, twofold. One, there are patented genes, which should not be legal. This means that if you’re caught growing those particular versions of those crops without licensing them, you’re open to lawsuits from the patent holders. This is even true in cases where seeds from crops on neighboring properties have blown over in the wind or carried over by animals. Two, there are patented crops which are seedless, like many cultivars of different crops modified with old world techniques, that have to be repurchased from the manufacturer every season. These are also subject to the same patent laws and thus if you find a way around the need to repurchase, you are legally liable for damages to the manufacturer.

These are obviously exploitative practices which, while they do very little harm to large farms with substantial income and subsidies, hurt poor farms, especially in poorer countries. And pressure from the major Western powers, particularly the US, has assisted corporations in exploiting those poorer countries. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, Monsanto offered a year of free seeds to Haitian farmers who lost their crops. The next year, they were expected to either pay full price for a new set of seeds or destroy any future crops. This is an unacceptable model.

The bullshit “it’s not natural!” whining about GMOs is actually harmful to prospects of correcting the economic injustices caused by the current way of handling that side of agriculture. By centering the conversation around irrational health scares, we ignore the economic exploitation, and most people never learn that it’s happening. Watch: in a few years, when studies come out proving the harmlessness of GMO crops, the discussion will be more or less laid to rest. People in general in the West, with the power to pressure their governments into legislating away these exploitative practices, will feel like there’s nothing left to fight on the issue, and the discussion will end. We need to focus on the true harm of these corporations before it’s too late.

I Just Kant


Looking over Kant tags in social media I noticed that most people simply paste quotes but maybe one or two posts actually discuss his concepts, seeing as some class somewhere is always discussing Kant, I decided to attempt making a concise guide towards Kant’s theory of knowledge.

Background

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is in response to the end point of continental rationalism wherein if we focus on just ideas, we end up always tracing out their implicatory relations, that is, we are always going to backtrack on our rational ideas hoping to find a cause. Empiricists faced a similar dilemma, if you start with the skeptical notion that all we have is the experience of our own mental states that is as far as we go, we do not know of an external world just the impressions our experience leaves us. This dead-end in philosophy was embarrassing as mid-eighteen century science was constantly progressing while philosophy was stuck, enter Kant. What a looker.


Kant’s Theory of Knowledge

Once again, this is the bare bones of Kant. The Critique of Pure Reason is about 800 pages of some of the hardest most influential philosophy in modernity so I’ll be cutting not just fat, but tendons.

Kant decided to reconcile the rationalists and empiricists with a simple thesis, knowledge is cooperative and both mind and body make a contribution. Now when we learn something we do this a posteriori (meaning after experience) Kant saw his opening right there. How can we learn something if there isn’t some sort of idealistic a priori (meaning before experience) mechanism which allows us to make judgements of things not yet experienced?

While figuring this out, Kant also distinguished two (2) types of judgement

1. Analytical Judgments, which are when the predicate are contained in the subject. An example is: All bachelors are unmarried, or Roses are flowers, or a circle is round. You could cut the predicate and the meaning of the subject would still be obvious.

2. Synthetic Judgments, which are when the predicate are NOT contained in the subject. An example is: 7 + 5 = 12, or some roses are red or the circle is 10 feet in diameter. Nothing inherently in the number 7 or the number 5 makes 12, nothing inherently in roses make them red as they can come in other colors, and not all circles are 10 feet in diameter. It is only after we synthesize the predicates with the subject that they become judgements.

Cool cool, so as we have two pairs of judgement we get this little chart

Analytic a priori is warranted by what’s called the law of contradiction. You can’t say that a rose is not a flower or that a bachelor is unmarried, these are the definitions of the subjects.

Analytic a posteriori doesn’t exist. You can’t have analytical judgements based on experience since they’re universal and necessary, a circle is round before you experience such a thing.

Synthetic a posteriori is warranted by experience. This circle is 10 feet in diameter because I measured it, these roses are red because the light reflected off the petals and that was the visual experience I synthesized.

Synthetic A Priori

This is it, this is exactly where Kant comes in on his pale white horse to save philosophy from Descartes’ bullshit and Hume’s skepticism. This quadrant is where the general problem of pure reason comes into play, how can statements of pure intuition eventually allow for us to reach certainty? Well… you can’t totally. Kant gives Hume’s complete skepticism some room by saying that while we may not completely be able to reach things with absolute certainty, we can definitely find propositions that are highly probable. This is why you don’t put your hands on the stove or why if someone points a gun at you it might incite fear, you can’t know for sure the stove will be hot or that the gun will fire if the trigger is pulled, but you can have some certainty.

Kant admits that human beings only experience appearances, not things in themselves. To impress your friends at parties, you can say that we experience phenomena, but we never experience the noumenal world, that is the thing outside of our experiences. This idea is called Transcendental idealism.


Ok so, Kant broke down the question of how Synthetic A Priori judgements can be reached in three (3) subquestions. How are synthetic a priori judgments possible in mathematics, in natural sciences and in metaphysics?

1. Synthetic A Priori in Mathematics are possible through what Kant called transcendental aesthetic, not aesthetics in the sense of Fiji water pictures but aesthetic in the way of sense. Mathematics is the study of the conditions for the possibility of sensibility (space and time)
Space is our ability for outer experience and time is our ability for inner experiences. What does this mean? Well, imagine an apple. Got it? Its floating in some huge void maybe white or black right? That’s our inner intuition for space according to Kant, innate in us. Now imagine the apple moving back and forth or maybe rotting, that’s time.

2. Synthetic A Priori in the natural sciences is possible through transcendental logic. That is the study of the condition for the possibility of understanding beyond sensuous experience. Big words, big words, Kant pretty much states that knowledge contains two elements. First, an experiential element, sense data, feelings and percepts. The other element is structural or relational, we conceptualize feelings and data. The Kantian distinction between percepts and concepts are as followed. If you were to randomly show up in Venice knowing nothing about the city, and just walked around looking at the sights and building and people, you would be going off percepts without and intelligible concepts. On the other hand if you were to go study Venice in texts, pictures and have thoughts on it, you’d be going off concepts alone with no sensible percepts to aid you.

Kant has a famous quote for this “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.  

3. Synthetic A Priori in metaphysics is a bit more funky but Kant states that every judgement the mind makes presupposes one of the twelve synthetic operations of the Aristotelian categories which provide the transcendental rules that underlie and make possible our empirical judgements. This more or less means that categories allow us to filter experience and enable our knowledge.

Kant’s categories are a remix of Aristotelian categories. These categories are innate in all of us according to Kant and they are as follow:

Quantity; unity, plurality and totality.
Quality; Reality, negation and limitation.
Relation; substance, causality and interaction.
Modality; Possibility, existence, and necessity.

All sensuous experience falls into one of these categories in each list. An example is Kant’s thinking cap wherein he’s about to make a shot.

An important thing to note about Kant’s metaphysical deduction is that things beyond the limits of reason are an illegitimate attempt to apply categories to things-in-themselves. Kant in a way kills metaphysics, God specially. In actuality, large part of Nietzsche’s notion of God being dead stems from this.

So more or less this is the Critique of Pure Reason, that is Kant’s theory of knowledge. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kantian epistemology but it should provide an ok foundation for anyone starting out, so congrats if you can comprehend this, great at parties when you’re surrounded by boring stoners spouting “can you really know anything, man?” Good ol Kant says yeah.

I’ve attempted to put into words how I feel - post election - over and over again, with no resolve. No coherent thoughts. No thesis. No conclusion. I’ve even deleted and rewritten this sentence at least five times. It usually doesn’t take much to move me, one inflammatory sentence and I will have written a soliloquy in response. However, the last few days have been sensory overload. So much happening at once. that it has morphed into incomprehensible white noise; seeming utterly impossible to piece apart and analyze.  


In this moment, this is where I am:


Energy cannot be created or destroyed, rather, it is in a constant state of motion and transformation. The same goes for much of history, or anything else for that matter. Energy is cyclical, because the laws of nature demonstrate this. While this works in nature, it can be quite disjointed and disconcerting when applied to our human world. It seems as though for every monumental moment of progress, there is an even larger regression; Hence, the second universal law of nature: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Known as Newton’s law to some and karma to others, the “boomerang” effect  that we are living in is nothing new. Opposition is in our nature and serves as the cornerstone and motivation to some the greatest movements in our history. But I believe that in order for opposition to be constructive to our society, it must be birthed from a place of love and a desire for justice. To strive to feel empowered is not a sin; in fact, it’s an unalienable right. The sin is to believe that your empowerment must be firmly planted in the oppression of others. That is the difference between the beautiful Civil Right’s movement and the horrific actions of the continuous ground swelling of White Supremacy. What made MLK Jr.  a visionary and leader and Hitler a war criminal? Simply this:  The difference between understanding that we’re “Stronger Together” and the idea that “ I alone can make America Great Again”.


But now that President-elect Trump is a reality. Our reality.  And now that millions of Americans feel as though their vocalized hate and aggression are justified, what do we do? How do we break this cycle? How do we transform this energy?


We must ensure that the baton of progress that President Obama has ran forth with is not dropped.  We cannot lose our focus or momentum because of this scary, tumultuous change of course.  


It starts by each and every one of us becoming our personalized version and manifestation of the Hope and Change. It starts on a local level, on an intra/inter-personal level.


Before I take action, I must realign myself and ensure that my words and actions are not “in spite of” anyone, even if others spend every waking moment spiting me.
Because that my friend, is falling into the vicious cycle hate and fear.
We must unite with love, change potential to kinetic and actively transform this energy into constructive action.
We must be decisive in supporting grassroots organizations which aim to protect the opportunities and rights of those who are overlooked. Create your list, find your local officials, support your neighbors and neighborhood, locally and globally. We are not and will not become passive members of our society. I refuse to watch the undoing of centuries of progress. We are Generation Z.