The Futility Throughway

Whoever would have thunk it, that pointless exhaustion can provide a passage through the morass? I get it; too hopeful, too quickly. First comes the re-appraisal of words we thought we knew well – better, normal, fair, bad, new – not only considering them, but not thinking of them in the same way again. Ever.

Yes, difficult. No need to be welcomed to difficult, as we’re well-acquainted already, not neighbors but our actual address. Is there any other way? Everyone assumed to wish there was. Any way to avoid a similar worse. But no/yes. There: the passage.

The light of recognizing an unfamiliar sound. Contradiction, check. Loosen from accepted precepts, in process. Allow unsupportable sentiments to ferment. To stop at mere nihilism would be a luxury. Not hurrying or getting past anything for its own sake, but tarrying there, at catastrophe, long enough to step across it. Onto into. Again: better? It hardly matters, whatever that once meant. If it is to be a modifying qualifier in any sense, being completely cast from former shores by necessity comes first. You can’t stay because you’re afraid to be out on the open sea for too long – gulp. Already sick from so much salt water swallowed not by mistake or accidentally.

Albeit in the guise of the shittiest form of optimism imaginable, it’s not even that. Good or bad re-lost, abandoned, and this time on purpose. Brought to the brink, yes. But here we are, and now we stay. How long? How long does it take? Sounds like a choice, one that kills many as it makes a few stronger. Every completely joyous venture now summoned as punishment, exercise, conditioning maneuvers under live fire. Do you feel free? This is actually what it’s like. How about now?

Simply by the energy expended to resist the impulses to quit, to give up, give in, only this time, we’ve already done those. Are doing them. Find ourselves within an extended succumb. Not capitulating though. So, what, a new good? Fighting to call it something, anything, but not too quickly. Allow the energy to circulate and pressurize, and not ask imprudent reassurance. Steer right into the berg. Do fierce winds keep a wrecked ship upright? It’s now that we’re ready to fight. If we had been a minute earlier, we would have engaged the battle already. Fighting or about to makes logic extreme, but you insisted on free and it turns out to be both. Every meaning doubled, loose at both ends. Potent dreams, finally dangerous.



Idealism and Urban Transmogrification

What do you get when you cross a major corporation with the do-gooder trendiness of a Major Art Establishment? Pleasure.

You can tell a lot from the language people use– as well as from the language they don’t use. An online visit to the “mobile” BMW Guggenheim Lab, which recently touched down on Houston Street and Second Avenue in all its up-to-the-minute minimalist splendor, suggests that the “international, interdisciplinary teams of emerging talents” running it are engaged in the paradoxical task of trying to discover “innovative” solutions to intractable urban problems while thinking solely in clichés.

The Web site itself is of course cheery and bright, featuring lots of baby blues, the usual self-promotional videos, fussy graphics, things to click on, and, of course, an Internet letter box in which you – an ordinary citizen! – can post your radical visionary ideas about how to improve the city without even buying a stamp.

The economy is almost beyond repair, world banks are facing a meltdown, entire segments of the population have been served with their divorce papers by any and all employers, but the Guggenheim’s site is full of madly utopian visions such as that eye-catching poster in which all of New York’s major buildings are squeezed into the rectangle usually occupied by Central Park, while the rest of the island becomes a green, pristine forest – much as it was before those horrid Europeans arrived in their high-tech wooden boats. Yeah, that’ll work. Just watch out for the bows and arrows.

Read the whole thing – it’s just darling, like feeling the future through a never-ending schedule of plastic glove symposia.

What is Design?

The dictum for which Einstein is famously quoted,”You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” bears a pointed similarity to the way we are presently enmeshed in a no man’s between an unknown future and well-trodden past. That is, we are generally accepting of the fact that our world has changed from its industrial-model platform; yet we continue to plan, design, build, educate and think as if it has not. The comparison to war and peace is inexact but illuminating. The idea that one will get us the other is a fantasy lived and re-lived throughout the ages. By the same token, new systems for human viability will not emerge from continued industrial machine age thinking.

There is a chasm, therefore, between the way we built our industrial age society and the manner in which we will navigate a post-industrial future. They bare so little resemblance that we have a hard time imagining that future, letting go of some of the major characteristics of the past to grab hold of… what? We’re not sure. And reaching for something we’re not sure of makes little sense to us. We have spent no small amount of energy greatly trying to eliminate uncertainty in many aspects of life. But this situation requires us to orient ourselves in this chasm of great uncertainty – a feat which points to our greatest weakness.

The even greater conundrum, it seems, is that it is up to us to change our own thinking and ways of learning about the world going forward. Instead of honing in on small problems, reductive elimination of unwanted elements and specialization, there is a need to zoom out to a point where can ask very broad questions, like, what is design?

The systems scholar Bela H. Banathy wrote extensively on this subject of societal transformation, asking some great questions and positing some rather intuitive points about changing the ways we live.. The following is from his research paper, We Enter the Twentieth Century with Schooling Designed in the Nineteenth. (Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.)

The design of social systems, such as education, is a future-creating human activity. People in these systems engage in design in order to create and implement systems, based on their vision of what those systems should be. Or, they may redesign their existing system in order to realize their changing expectations and aspirations and the expectations of their environment. Competence in design enables us to create systems that enrich the quality of our lives and add value to the systems in which we live and work.

In general, people in our educational systems are not yet aware of the potential and power of systems design. Education in design and expertise in design are limited to a few technical professions. But when it comes to the design of systems in which we live and work, we are the experts. When it comes to designing educational systems, the right and responsibility to design are shared by those who serve the system, who are served by the system and who are affected by it. It is such collective involvement in design that makes a system authentic and sustainable. Furthermore, each and every community is unique. It becomes the task of each and every community to design its own unique educational system. Nobody has the right to design educational systems – or any social system – for someone else. The age of social engineering by outside experts is over. We have arrived at the age of ‘user-designers’ people designing their own systems. That is what true empowerment is about. But empowerment cannot be given; it has to be learned.

A precondition of engaging in educational design is the development of competence among ‘user-designers’ that enables them to design their own system. Only the attainment of design competence makes empowerment a reality. Without it, empowerment is just an empty word, nothing more than political rhetoric. Thus we have to create opportunities and programs for design learning, for the development of design competence. People empowered by such learning will become competent individually to design their own lives and, collectively, to design the systems in which they live and work, design their communities and design their systems of living and human development.

Emphasis mine.