A Surfeit of Quarters

Recently in Limerick I came across this:

 

 

Earlier that day I had been in Limerick’s Fashion Quarter:

limerickfashionquarter 810 x 456_0

I must admit on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas there wasn’t much evidence of living culture in St John’s Square. I have come across the Titanic Quarter in Belfast and have heard a Quaker Quarter being spoke of in Clonmel. Presumably all these are inspired at least in part by the “cultural quarter” that is Temple Bar.

I fully understood local business and cultural organisations trying to raise a buzz about somewhere being a “quarter”, but it does seem more than a little forced. Surely a meaningful “quarter” developed organically, with particular business or groups or what have you gathering in an area for some reason separate from the slightly desperate planning of a committee somewhere? (in fairness, the businesses occupying the Fashion Quarter do seem to have developed there naturally enough)

The Titanic Quarter is obviously part of a laudable effort to rebrand Belfast and shift the associations in the international mind (from terrorism and conflict to, um, the most famous shipping disaster ever) although I do find it a little redolent of the somewhat samey “regeneration” of many areas in post-industrial cities.

Just like the words iconic and genius have lost much meaning and impact through overuse, there is a strong possibility Peak Quarter has already been reached.

Perhaps Waterford has the right shape in mind with a Viking triangle.

ps The Titanic Experience in Belfast is very much worth a visit.

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A first hand account of being in the eye of an online shame hurricane – “Shame Storm”, Helen Andrews |

At First Things, a highly thought-provoking essay by Helen Andrews on online shaming, and specifically her own experience.

One of the most repellent features of online and social media discourse, for me, is the endless moral one-upmanship. Even in what now seem the far off days when I I haunted the OneTouchFootball forums, online shaming and self-righteousness seemed far more intense and focused than the real world equivalent. Of course, anyone who thinks these phenomena didn’t happen pre-Internet is massively deluded,  but the sheer speed and reach of online shaming is something else. The most notorious example probably being Justine Sacco:

Actually, a better candidate for original victim is Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted to her 170 Twitter followers before getting on a plane to Cape Town, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” It was during the Christmas holidays when news is always slow, so a Gawker post about the tweet quickly went viral. People around the world were soon enjoying the suspense of knowing Sacco was on a plane with no Internet access and no way to know that she had become an object of global ridicule

Not only that, but she lost her job. As far as I can make out, the practice of online shaming transcends political and  sociological categories. There doesn’t seem to be an online grouping or community immune. As is always the way, there is at least an element of ingroup/outgroup definition, with the Bad People being outcast from the Good People. This René Girard quote springs to mind:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>“All are drawn unwittingly into the structure of violent reciprocity -which they always think they are outside of- because they all initially come from the outside and mistake this positional and temporary advantage for a permanent and fundamental superiority.” <br><br>~René Girard</p>&mdash; René Girard Quotes (@Renegirard1923) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Renegirard1923/status/1031302568113328128?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>August 19, 2018</a></blockquote>
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And while I’m at it, here’s another germane quote, from Gil Bailie discussing Girard: 

The secret mimeticism beneath the surface of the assertion of autonomy drives the process toward ever more desperate gesticulations of authenticity which in fact amount to an open declaration of its opposite. On the social level, the end result is a spiritual alienation from oneself and from a healthy social matrix, an alienation from which relief is often enough sought in crude and ultimately violent forms of social solidarity.

 

Someone tweeted that Andrews is conflating people who can justifiably be described as victims of this online shame culture with others who deserved opprobium , the question being in the latter group how many deserve the longer term impact of the shaming (I am paraphrasing and can’t right now find the original) While there may be some merit in this, I can’t help the point is more the dynamics and sheer vitriol unleashed, regardless of cause. Based on a few seconds of video, a tweet, or a brief news report we indulge a perennial human habit of shaming our neighbours.

Some highlights from Andrews’ essay:

There is a celebrity fashion blog called Go Fug Yourself that specializes—or specialized back in 2011, the one and only time I visited the site—in unflattering paparazzi shots and red carpet disasters. The odd thing about Go Fug Yourself, I discovered, was that all its nastiest posts featured the same tic. After unloading whatever brutal snark she had for Jennifer Lawrence or whomever, the writer would always include the same disclaimer: A celebrity has one job, and that’s to look glamorous, so if you can’t manage the one thing you owe us in exchange for all the money and fame, then find another line of work, and until then lay off the cheeseburgers and hire a decent stylist. This dime-store Joan Rivers can’t think she’s fooling anyone, I thought as I scrolled through the archives to see if every post really included this lame moral alibi. Her motivation has nothing to do with celebrities falling short of their duty to the public. She’s making fun of ugliness for the same reason anyone does: It stimulates our lizard brains.

The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie. ­

In Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, Ryan Holiday’s memoir of his years as a PR consultant, he describes a roundtable meeting at the Huffington Post where the editors discussed how a certain big company should have handled its recent PR crisis. The editors offered the usual bromides: “Transparency is critical.” “Be proactive.” “Get out in front of it.” Holiday replied, “None of you know what you’re talking about.” The old rules don’t apply in the free-for-all world of online journalism, and they especially don’t work when the figure at the center of the controversy is one lonely individual. If a client came to him because he was being called a racist or sexist on Twitter, Holiday says (pardon the vulgarity), “I would tell him to bend over and take it. And then I’d apologize. I’d tell him the whole system is broken and evil, and I’m sorry it’s attacking him. But there’s nothing that can be done.”

When I was debating whether or not to write this essay, which, after all, revisits an unpleasant incident that has long been at least semi-­dormant, if not quite forgotten, I saw a headline in the New York Times: “His Body Was Behind the Wheel a Week Before It Was Discovered.” The man, Geoffrey Corbis, had committed suicide in a parked car in the East Village. Only his name wasn’t really Geoffrey Corbis, the Times explained. He had been born Geoffrey Weglarz. He changed it after an incident in 2013 at a McDonald’s near his home in Connecticut, when he threw a sandwich at a pregnant server who had given him the wrong order. Newspaper coverage of this funny local fracas did not mention Weglarz’s recent divorce or long-term unemployment after leaving his job as a computer programmer at Dell. He couldn’t find work with the McDonald’s story at the top of his Google results, hence the attempt at a fresh start as Geoffrey Corbis.

All this puts me in mind of Philip Larkin’s The Mower – we should be kind while there is still time:

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time

Tim Miller on the Bush funeral and “the sad truth of public theatre”

At his blog Truth and Silence, Tim Miller has a post on the funeral of George H W Bush and what it reveals about the media and our culture..

We have a funny view of politicians. Someone once said that politics is the only profession in which every says they would prefer an amateur to a professional (it was phrased a lot more fluently than that)

As mentioned before I have been reading quite a bit of Edwin Friedman lately. It has provoked a lot of thought for me about leadership, responsibility, and the recurrent patterns of our relationships. It struck me how much is projected onto leaders. Personally, I have always felt I would vote for someone who announced “Public administration is complex and challenging. I don’t have all the answers. Also, there are lots of things I and any government cannot possibly control. I have principles, relevant experience, and will respectfully listen to expertise and respectfully listen to concerns and  complaints – but won’t promise blind obedience to experts or that I can solve every problem.”

Would such a candidate get any, or many votes? Would a political party with a platform of “we don’t know the exact answers, but we will do our best” get anywhere? It seems too trite to load onto politicians the freight of taking the brunt of the decline in influence of organised religion – although I have a feeling they may identify with this post on clergy burnout, for similar reasons.  

Leaders tend to be the landing place of many projections. And when disappointed, the electorate are unforgiving. To give one of many examples, it is reasonably safe to say that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are the most despised politicians of the recent past in Britain and Ireland respectively – yet both were the most successful electoral performers of the last twenty years.  Of course, both are despised for very specific things, but some of the intensity is surely due to the rage of our own self-projections proving fallible.

Behind the scenes it does seem most politicians are hard-working strivers trying to do their best and navigate the various competing interests (which, of course, includes you and me and our own interests)

Anyhow, Tim Miller captures this better than I am. Here are some bits I especially liked:

Many of these moments—at least the ones that are now fodder for Twitter and cable news (I put Twitter first on purpose)—are clearly staged to some extent. But it’s also true that many of these kinds of meetings and friendships are genuine. Yet the cynicism of the 2016 election, and the mistrust of public figures and public spectacle that has been going on for decades, begs the question of what is going on here. How can Al Gore be talking to such an evil man as Dick Cheney, and how can Dick Cheney be talking to such liberal scum as Al Gore? Isn’t this the very kind of hypocrisy that normal people despise in politicians? And for those who aren’t talking and are just in the same room together, how can Donald Trump sit so close to Hillary Clinton without doing all he can to finally lock her up? Are these forms of public spectacle just the highest examples of the contradiction and insincerity that lies at the heart of political and social life, or are they examples of what civilization actually is, that people who disagree usually come together, and in some cases are friends?

No one in my lifetime anyway has had the ability to change how politicians and public figures are presented; at best, they are only the manipulators of the media landscape they live in. If anything, Donald Trump merely picked up what was already on the ground and used it better than anyone ever has, and it’s doubtful he would have been elected if the ways we communicate and receive the news wasn’t already so degraded.

That very degradation cannot deal with the complexity and the actual truth that these powerful people embody: that those with vastly different visions for how the world should work just might get along, and that outside of the kinds of rallies and invective the media encourages and the public seems to want, the truth is actually much quieter. So the real sadness of watching George H. W. Bush’s funeral is this: that while the politicians, supposedly the most insincere people in the world, realize the complexity of their positions, the public at large does not.

 

…Even more powerless than the politicians to change how we interact with others and the world, we regular citizens blindly accept the public theater as actual reality and have ended up despising one another, and quite literally rupturing any sense of wholeness, or a shared soul. Gore and Cheney can talk peacefully, while voters who admire one or the other are proud to hate each other. For my part, I’ve stopped believing that the right or the left can possibly be as idiotic, ignorant, childish, or brutal as the anecdotes that make it onto Twitter or Reddit or cable news claim to show. That is not who we actually are, and while I never thought I’d say such a thing, it’s taken politicians to show me this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m actually a quite different person, I just never get around to being him.”

I came across this quote by Jonathan Trejo-Mathys via The Frailest Thing blog – the concept of the “ever denser web of deadlines required by the various social spheres” reminded me of “the unbridled onward rush into the abyss” of this post:

I could spend a lot of time posting quotes and reflections on the time pressure of modernity – so much so all my time could be eaten away….:

A further weighty obstacle to the realization of any ethical life project lies in the way individuals are increasingly caught in an ever denser web of deadlines required by the various social spheres (‘subsystems’) in which they participate: work, family, (school and sports activities of children), church, credit systems (i.e., loan payment due dates), energy systems (utility bills), communications systems (Internet and cell phone bills), etc. The requirement of synchronizing and managing this complicated mesh of imperatives places one under the imperious control of a systematically induced ‘urgency of the fixed-term’ (Luhmann). In practice, the surprising—and ethically disastrous—result is that individuals’ reflective value and preference orderings are not (and tendentially cannot) be reflected in their actions. As Luhmann explains, ‘the division of time and value judgments can no longer be separated. The priority of deadlines flips over into a primacy of deadlines, into an evaluative choiceworthiness that is not in line with the rest of the values that one otherwise professes …. Tasks that are always at a disadvantage must in the end be devalued and ranked as less important in order to reconcile fate and meaning. Thus a restructuring of the order of values can result simply from time problems.’

People compelled to continually defer the activities they value most in order to meet an endless and multiplying stream of pressing deadlines inevitably become haunted by the feeling expressed in the trenchant bon mot of Ödön von Horváth cited by Rosa: ‘I’m actually a quite different person, I just never get around to being him.’

Monday Monster Movie – Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla

Once there was a simple, ordinary story of a simple, ordinary monster called Godzilla. This simple story explored, in a simple way, how a simple monster could simply attack a simple modern city. Some chose to read into this simple, universal fable all sorts of complex stuff about atomic bombs and whatnot, but Godzilla remains as simple as Three Blind Mice or Citizen Kane.

Over the years, however, layers of complexity have been added to this simple structure. The plot summary states of this 2002 masterwork states:

“After the appearance of a new Godzilla, the Japanese government builds a robotic Godzilla from the bones of the original monster that attacked Tokyo in 1954 to stop the beast.”

Such simple words, yet such a subtle tapestry is woven involving the clash between nature and technology, the nature of parenthood and of political authority, and the limits of a Godzilla shaped cyborg. Drawing on intellectual influences as diverse as Foucault, Thomas Carlyle, Virgina Woolf, Increase Mather, TS Eliot, Kate Chopin, Saul Bellow, Carl Schmitt, Caryl Churchill, Dr Dre, Dr Johnson, Peregrine Worsthorne, Norman Wisdom, Ray Harryhausen, Max Brod, Yasanuri Kawabata, Wendy Cope, Whit Stillmann, Penelope Spheeris and Rod Hull, the movie encapsulates the cultural zeitgeist of the early 21st Century.

All September’s #ExtinctinIreland posts in one handy page

As demanded by absolutely no-one, here are all the posts I have done this month on species extinct in Ireland since the coming of humanity….

Extinct in Ireland: September 1st, the sturgeon

Extinct in Ireland: September 2, the wolf

Extinct in Ireland, September 3. The Capercaillie

Extinct in Ireland, September 4th, the Bittern

Extinct in Ireland, September 5th, the Barberry Carpet Moth – last seen in Clonmel!

Extinct in Ireland: September 6th, Perkin’s Mining Bee (Andrena rosae)

Extinct in Ireland, September 7th, the Corn Bunting

Extinct in Ireland, September 8th, Triple Spotted Clay Moth (Xestia ditrapezium)

Extinct in Ireland, September 9th, Black-necked Grebe

Extinct in Ireland, September 10th, the Great Auk

Extinct in Ireland, September 11th. Meadow Saxifrage

Extinct in Ireland September 12th – Spiral Chalk Moss (Pterygoneurum lamellatum)

Extinct in Ireland, September 13th – Lapidary snail, Heligonica lapicida

Extinct in Ireland, September 14th, The Diminutive Diver (Bidessus minutissimus)

Extinct in Ireland, September 15th, The Beautiful Moss Beetle, Hydraena pulchella

Extinct in Ireland, September 16th, the wild boar

Extinct in Ireland, September 17th, Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua)

Extinct in Ireland, September 18th – the Osprey

Extinct in Ireland, September 19th, Spotted crake

Extinct in Ireland, 20th September, the Woodlark

Extinct in Ireland, September 21st – the red squirrel

Extinct in Ireland, September 22nd – the purple sea urchin -Paracentrosus lividus

Extinct in Ireland, September 23rd, the North Atlantic right whale

Extinct in Ireland, September 24th- Rannoch rush (Scheuchzeria pallustris) and the life of John Moore

Extinct in Ireland, September 25th, the mud pond snail, Omphiscola glabra

Extinct in Ireland, September 26th, Large copper (Lycaena Dispar)

Extinct in Ireland, September 27th – Small mountain ringlet (Erebia epiphron)

Extinct in Ireland, September 28th – the golden eagle

Extinct in Ireland, September 29th, the Lynx

Extinct in Ireland, September 30th, the crane

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