Berlin, 2009

Berlin, 2009
We want more voices, thoughts and languages!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anti-nuclear Demo in Berlin, March 26th

Demonstration in Berlin

ab 11.00 Uhr: Treffen am Potsdamer Platz

12.00 Uhr: Abmarsch der Demonstration
Potsdamer Straße – Reichpietschufer – Von-der-Heydt-Straße – Klingenhöferstraße – Hofjägerstraße – Großer Stern – Straße des 17. Juni

14.00 Uhr: Beginn der Kundgebung auf der Straße des 17. Juni
Die Bühne steht auf der Straße des 17. Juni, kurz vor der Yitzhak-Rabin-Straße
in Richtung Siegessäule.
14.15 Uhr: Schweigeminute für die Opfer in Japan

Redner_innen bei der Kundgebung:
Luise Neumann-Cosel, X-tausendmal quer
Michael Sommer, Bundesvorsitzender des Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes
Hubert Weiger, Vorsitzender des BUND
Michael Müller, Vorsitzender der NaturFreunde Deutschlands

Für musikalische Unterstützung sorgen die Kleingeldprinzessin, Mono&Nikitaman und Wir sind Helden.

Helfer_innen gesucht!
Wir suchen noch helfende Hände für Samstag. Wenn Du Lust hast uns bei Infoständen oder als Ordner_in bei der Demo zu helfen, dann melde Dich bei uns unter berlin(at)

Alle, die eigene Info-Stände machen, melden sich bitte bei:
NaturFreunde, Christian Schulze, 030-29773273, schulze(at)

Die Informationen auf dieser Seite werden in den nächsten Tagen noch ergänzt. Es kann auch zu Änderungen kommen, also schaut bitte vor der Demo auf jeden Fall noch mal rein.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reasoning by analogy: 'Is' considered harmful

Just back from sitting by a canal with Belvina, discussing her dislike of the verb 'to be' in philosophy.

I tried to make the point that it's in part a historical accident that we have logic based on the Greek syllogism, and that we treat this as the one true way to understand the world.

The classic example of a greek syllogism runs:

  1. Socrates is a man
  2. All men are mortal
  3. therefore Socrates is mortal

This is clear, but useless. How do we know all men are mortal? In the real world, we can't. The Greek syllogism is great as a tool within mathematics (where we can define our terms as we like), but useless in talking about the real world.

In India, a different kind of syllogism developed in the Nyaya (logic) school:

  1. There is fire on the hill (called Pratijñā, required to be proved)

  2. Because there is smoke there (called Hetu, reason)

  3. Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, e.g. in a kitchen (called Udāhārana, example of vyāpti)

  4. The hill has smoke that is pervaded by fire (called Upanaya, reaffirmation or application)

  5. Therefore there is fire on the hill (called Nigamana, conclusion)

This also seems to make a general claim. But it (and many of the traditions using it), shift the emphasis in two important ways, compared to the Greek version:

  1. With the fire example, we're already in the realm of evidence rather than absolutes. In fact, Nyaya developed to discuss counter-examples and degrees of certainty.
  2. With the fire example, we are concerned with similarity rather than identity. The stove in the kitchen burns, the forest on the hill burns, but we don't claim the hill is therefore a kitchen.

Stell dir vor, es gibt Atomstrom, und keine/r nimmt ihn.

Es ist so einfach, ein Zeichen zu setzen! Ich dachte, ich mach's euch noch einfacher und schicke euch eineWechselantrag – zu dem Anbieter, bei dem ich bin. Ich mag dieStromrebellen aus dem Schwarzwald, wie sie sich nennen. Die sindvoll korrekt ;))

Aber natürlich sind auch andere Anbieter okay: Hauptsache, ihr unternehmt was, und sagt nicht hinterher, wir hättenja keinen Einfluss nehmen können. Wer noch mehr Argumente braucht ... hier:
Wer den Antrag gleich am Rechner ausfüllen will, das geht natürlichauch:

Dies ist meine persönliche Aktion, weil ich mir das politischeHerumgeeiere nicht mehr tatenlos ansehen mag ... und vielleichtauch, weil ich Ende letzten Jahres in Japan war. Ihr könnt meine Mail gerne gnadenlos kopieren und weiterverbreiten –auch wenn ihr schon Ökos seid. :)
Rebellische Grüße von Birgit

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who owns Kafka?

The London Review of Books has just put online an essay by Judith Butler. In it, she discusses Kafka; immigration and assimilation; literary canonisation; the formation of German, Jewish and Israeli identity through appropriation of idols. And there's even a passage about time and the Messiah:

In fact, it seems that no coherent description is possible, and we are brought up against the limits of what can be thought. ‘The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary. He will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.’ It would seem that the Messiah comes precisely when there is no one there to suffer the destruction of the world as we know it, when there is no one left who can destroy his coming. That Messiah arrives not as an individual, and surely not within any temporal sequence that we take to organise the world of living beings. If he comes on the very last day, but not the last, he comes on a ‘day’ – now hyperfigurative – that is beyond any calendar of days, and beyond chronology itself.

This is Kafka's Messiah, who may not have any connection to the Messiah considered by Benjamin in 'On the Concept of History' and referred to by Butler in Frames of War.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

If the Berlin Wall falls in a forest, and nobody hears it, does it still make history?

They stormed the Bastille in Egypt yesterday. Europe barely noticed.

That is, citizens forced their way into the secret police headquarters. They seized documents, went through the locations of detention and torture. It's a moment of incredible importance in any revolution -- the point at which you know the regime isn't just going to see a change of personnel at the top, but will lose some of its power to repress the population. It's Paris 1789, or Berlin 1990 -- moments of both emotional and historical importance.

So I'm left here with a surplus of emotion, asking myself how such an obviously iconic and affecting moment of history could have entirely overlooked. Hence the below splurge. Sorry if it doesn't make sense, but I realized I was heading down a blind alley of introspection, so decided not to spend too much time on it.

Can Butler help? The discussion of emotion in the first chapter of Frames of War can't. It almost connects to the current situation, but makes itself irrelevant by being concerned only with emotion about individual human lives and deaths. There's some of that -- Egyptians finding documents about themselves, visiting places where they were once imprisoned or detailed. But the actors in this drama aren't individuals. They're crowds, institutions, historical events and patterns. So they're outside Butler's framework of affect.

The discussion of time and historical patterns, though, has more to say. Butler cites Benjamin:

the awareness that are about to make the continuum of history explode is characteristic of the revolutionary classes at their moment of action

Marx more famously phrases it thus:

The tradition of all past generations
weighs like an alp upon the brain of the living. At the very time when
men appear engaged in revolutionizing things and themselves, in bringing
about what never was before, at such very epochs of revolutionary crisis
do they anxiously conjure up into their service the spirits of the past,
assume their names, their battle cries, their costumes to enact a new
historic scene in such time-honored disguise and with such borrowed

The Bastille comparison isn't mine. It's from Mahmoud Salem, an Egyptian blogger important both within Egypt and as a bridge to the English-speaking world. And its triple character fits the source. It's a rallying-call. It's an interpretation for the participants, a means o placing them inside a historical constellation, and a way of communicating with an anglophone world more emotional about revolutions of the past than thos eo the present.


Through the events in Egypt, I'm getting a sense of something that's perhaps implicit in Butler -- a relation between time, emotion and community. I'm living in a historical constellation where events in North Africa are now making a massive turning point in history. Berlin as a whole (with honorable exceptions) isn't. That difference, that fact we're living different historical epochs, has two components. First, a different allocation of emotions. I feel engaged, inspired, educated by the current revolutions -- not through grief for their deaths (sorry Butler) but through celebration of their actions. Second, different historical constellations, a different sense of what matters, what is the stuff of history. Does the conscience stop at the boundary of Germany, or the boundary of Europe? And the sense of shared time and shared emotion is the foundation for a community.

-- Dan

Friday, March 4, 2011

More time

The interlinked worlds of technology and science-fiction are naturally preoccupied with time and progress.

In one sense, their claim of 'progress' is stronger than the political counterpart -- it's about adding extra possibilities/knowledge to the existing sum, rather than replacing one system with another. [theoretically one could claim that things are being forgotten as much as they are remembered, but this would be hard to defend on empirical grounds]

So I'm personally much happier to class, say, the development of new high-tech weapons as 'progress' than I am to think of left-wing politics as 'progressive' -- even if I disapprove of the former and approve of the latter.

Anyway, a very well-known remark from this field is by William Gibson: "The future is here -- it's just not evenly distributed"

This is sometimes used as a 'smell test' for science fiction. Realistic depictions of the future should be not entirely full of gleaming new technology. Rather, the new should be interspersed among different generations of the older technology, in varying states of decreptitude. And the patterns of old and new will likely track social patterns of power, wealth and possibly age.

Would these patterns of newness and power also be found with more controversial claims to the 'new' -- of modernity or social progress? Only if there really is some idea or practice gradually imposing itself on an environment.

I'd imagine it being true, for example, of the early years of Islam -- a new meme, with its associated architecture and other effects, gradually spreading across society, unevenly distributed at least until it stops being 'the future'. Or (with the hopeful possibility that the tide is turning) with the marketization of life over the past 30 years.


Thursday, March 3, 2011


Butler: "our understanding of what is happening 'now' is bound up with a certain geopolitical restriction on imagining the relevant borders of the world"

There are 2 cases where this is particularly true:

The first is when 'what matters' is happening in one location*, from which news takes some time either to travel or to be assimilated.

Think of classic imperialism, where news and ideas move, along with power, from the centre to the periphery. Where the local gentry in, say, Algeria, get their news from Paris in the form of day-old newspapers. Within this centralised system, whatever matters in Algiers today mattered in Paris yesterday. So Paris is naturally, prosaically, ahead in time, and Algeria backwards.

A relationship of power and geography is thus expressed through time. Claiming to be up-to-date means claiming to be close to the centre of power. Those receiving old news are powerless to do anything but read it, while those receiving it prompty might be able to change it. Thus speed means power, both as correlation (being close to the imperial centre, thus probably powerful), and as causation (being able to participate, without time-lag, in whatever process is shaping the news)

This first process above doesn't require any broad sense of social or political change. The news could be day-to-day trivia with no wider pattern, and the time differential would still exist.

The second kind of time/place connection occurs when there is a direction of change. This time it doesn't necessarily replicate power relationships -- a place, although otherwise not regarded as important or powerful, could be recognized as having moved faster in the general direction. Tunisia is in that position today for supporters of the current revolutions; Russia was after 1917 for world socialists.

[I'm leaving out the most-discussed time/place pattern, where the powerful present themselves as a model, the rest as behind, and propose 'modernisation' to reshape the powerless in the supposed shape of the powerful. The difference between this and the second category above lies partly in whether the most temporally advanced place is also the most powerful. Tunisians are 'ahead' of the rest of MENA, but aren't exerting control over them]


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Oil, democracy and political visits: Klaus Wowereit in Saudi Arabia

Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit is just back from an official visit to Saudi Arabia. It's just one of many, many visits to Arab dictatorships conducted by European politicians in the past few weeks.

It's hard not to see something sinister in this. Saudi Arabia, the most repressive and repressed state in the Arab world -- is this week teetering closer towards open protest than in many years. Activists and protesters are starting to whisper about the possibility of open protests against the rulers. This is a situation which a year ago -- even a month ago -- would have seemed incredible.

Instability in Saudi Arabia means a leap in the oil price, already inflated by the rebellion in Libya and the general uncertainty in the Arab world. Democracy, protest, freedom are all varieties of instability, as far as this perspective is concerned. Thus they need to be stopped -- not from any malice towards the people of Saudi Arabia, of course, but simply because their interests conflict with those of the world economy.


I've no idea whether Wowereit is part of that -- it's possible that a long-planned trip just happened to fall at a tense moment in Saudi history. Doubtless he's benefitting from it though -- I'd be willing to bet that the Germans signed better deals (for them) than they would have done without the current wave of revolutions. Presumably the Kingdom is currently willing to burn cash to keep its friends close.

With or without Wowereit, a huge amount of quiet diplomacy is surely in progress, aimed at securing the House of Saud against popular protest. Maybe not enough to make it into the political pages of the newspapers, but probably enough to appear in the business pages. After all, speculators must be reassured that the price of oil won't rise. So if you have some free time this week, try scanning Handelsblatt for news from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

PS I'm not suggesting that any politician will be consciously weighing democracy against the oil price in her mind. More that there's a clamour of fear from energy-heavy industries, and no strong counter-weight demanding that we support democracy at all costs.