Monday, June 18, 2007

Actions and annotations

Distinguishing the good and right as norms, goals or essences is simpler: such ethics are concerned with the nature of good and right, not with right or good actions. The question about right action is a question about goals, but as ecology has shown, it is also a question about consequences (1). The intentional and unintentional are both elements of right action (2). This is true of media ethics to the extent that we understand communication as action. (3)

(1) Mediations that do not communicate cannot be said to be ethical or unethical any more than a tree or stone, but neither can they be expected to have consequences. (see 2) This distinguishes communication from the unversal principle of mediation. Communication is an action; mediation is merely a fact of life.

(2) Since Nietzsche and Freud we have known about unconscious motivations, even in the best of people. Now we must confront unconscious consequences, even in the best of worlds.

(3) An Aristotelean ontology would only ask, in parallel with Socratic ethics, that thigs should not contradict themselves. The idea of the world as mediation asks no such thing.

Contribution to a History of Ethical Crisis

The transition from late antiquity to early modernity is also a transition from Socratic deliberation to the Christian will; the one disabled by introspection, the other by the simultaneousl discovery of the I-will and the I-cannot, that is, iof multiple and conflicting wills in a single agent (Arendt, Responsibility nd Judgement). Gilbert Simondon suggests that what distinguishes the two epochs is the commitment of antiquity to linguistic progress, and the middele ages to religious, the latter more universal in its calling because not tied to the city and the language group. In the next phase transition, to the technological, which is even more primitive and even more universal because it is about the conditions for living, there should correspond an ethics. After the I-myself relation of the Socratics and the I-thou relation of the religious, an ethics of need and desire. Then what would follow would be more primitive still: an ethics of survival, that is an ecological ethics derived neither from language and reason, nor from nature and the divine but from the artifice of the human-natural relation which is technology. As a teacher, and because everyone likes a happy ending, I can offer the politics of hope. A good answer, but does it make a satisfactory queston?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

further adventures in ethics

Working up my new graduate course on media ethics, an interruption from a colleague who edits a journal whose board I'm on. Should we join the boycott on Israeli academics? My pragmatic response was that each case should be judged on its own merits: judging by ascription is rarely useful. Politically, I suggested half as a joke, it would be more shocking to advance a boycott of US academics. After all, Bush's regime are responsible for Israel's impugnity to UN Declarations and every form of political and moral pressure. But after more thought I came to the conclusion that it would be best to propose a boycott of US conferences, presses and journals. At least this way, we are offering a sacrifice of our own – in terms of career advancement and peer esteem. I believe Giorgio Agamben has said that he will not visit the USA on similar grounds. Of course that also means sacrificing the option of persuading our US colleagues to be even braver than in many cases they already are in calling for an end to to the unquestioning support of Israel's occupation of miltarily occupied lands, development of weapons of mass destruction, shelling of civilians . . . Reading Arendt's 'Questions of Moral Philosophy' (in her Responsibility and Judgement, incidentally published in New York), my inertia becomes even more oppressive. Is morality, like law, finally about an individual self which in all other intellectual circumstances we both decry and disbelieve? Are we, after all, condemned to the prison of free will?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tailights receding

The shapes light makes in memory are subject to a Doppler shift. Clear at the centre, they become beige and blurred towards their peripheries. The very word 'memory' has a way of conjuring natural light. With an effort we can recall fluoresent strips in waiting rooms: the forensic light of testimony. Recall isn't memory. memory wants the past to be warm or bright as if no artifice could match the weather or flame.

But when light is recorded or depicted, then we forgive the artifice of painting and photography, and extend that forgivenness to artifical light. Instead we shift the content of memory from the light source to what it illuminates: Dietrich's face lit and shot by Garmes, or the thread of blue in the milk at the lip of the jug held by Vermeer's housemaid.

Like light that falls through bulls-eye windows or a wineglass, the transformation of light in space, like its translation through time, relieves memory of its obligation to condemn electricity. In such moments we realise that ther only ever partially recoverable image of light we have in mind is secret. It is ours because it cannot be shared, and for that reason is always tinged by a certain sadness. Whereas the light that is transformed in front of our eyes, by whatever trick or tool, is free to share and so liberated from the necessity of naturalising, a process whose goal is always to prove that one is One, and a self.

In the greatest nature poetry there is war against the fatefully personal memory of light ("a May-mess, like on orchard boughs"), a struggle to recall that may be as difficult as to bring to recollection the unemployment office in Deptford on a Tuesday at 11 o'clock in the spring of 1975. For GM Hopkins a similar difficulty frets and frames the 'random grim forge' of Felix Randall, hingeing undoubtedly on the priest's refusal to mourn the death of his unhappy desires, but for all that anchored in the blacksmith's fire and sparks. To bring that light to life and to the light of day was possible only because it mattered. It mattered that it not be lost, but also that it be extracted from the living tomb of personal memory. Poetry like photography is the enemy of memory, where memory sets itself againt communication.

The Flag and the Commandments

It is an attractive notion that the Commander in Chief subscribes to the idea of placing the ten commandments in every public office in the United States, not only because of the injunctio against killing, but because, situated beside the statutory display of the flag, they would pronounce anathema on those who bow down and worship emblems

Emotion and ethics

Emotions can, and indeed should, be distiguished from one another, and with the finest callibration. But emotions are distinguished by their dynamism. As George Bush said, grief turns to anger, and anger turns to what he called 'resolution' and most of us would call revenge. And for most of us, after the first few thousand deaths, revenge would have turned to shame.

On Judith Butler and Ethics

In bereavement as in fury we are beside ourselves. Love and pain are experiences of self-loss and dependence. Embarrassment always requires another's gaze, even if they are imaginary others. The dynamism of emotions runs from person to person. If it did not, we would have no literature. To proivatise an emotion as 'mine' is worse than to take credit for someone else's emotion without taking responsibility for it.

(Pictures of grief, shock, even of love, risk stealing an emotion wwe observers have not deserved. The critical act observes under the condition that the observed is changed by observation, but so too is the observer. The pretence of objectivity is the opposite of ethical. This is why psychology is like a fish]