I’m taking sparse notes on what might become, one day, a broader and more structured reflection on the industrialization of knowledge. Here I’d just like to collect some “hints of a happened catastrophe”.
First I should pinpoint, as a major theme (slightly departing from Ivan Illich’s analysis of the industrialization of public services, such as schooling, health and transport), that I believe there are crucial differences between industrialization 1.0 (old style mass-production of goods) and industrialization 2.0 (the financial economy). Therefore, a deep analysis of the peculiarities of financial economy with respect to mass-production of goods will have to be undertaken*.
On this line, I really enjoyed this book (in Italian)
Federico Bertoni, Universitaly, Ed. Laterza, 2016.
Through his daily experience and his beautiful literary analogies, literature historian Bertoni is able to dismantle the “Master Narrative” of a system that, according to Tatcher, has “no alternatives”. I will return in more depth to Bertoni’s book (sooner or later).
“Narration” is a key word in the whole picture that I want to draw. As Bertoni observers, narration forces you to put one fact after another, to create a consequential stream of events where there was none. We do this all the time, when constructing the “narration of the self” [Bruner, The Narrative Construction of Reality; Bamberg, Who am I? Narration and its contribution to self and identity]. But this narration never really adheres to ourselves. I find it remarkable that the elderly are often very reluctant in telling the “story of their life”.
Narration is also one of the most powerful tools of propaganda of the system of production of knowledge. Stories a cute little thing, then why not? The problem is that the (implicit) outline of a story is the message of propaganda itself. The message can be as rebellious as possible, but the structure is given, and the structure serves a purpose.
And this was the premise.
The little example of perversion of the system is that MIT (nonetheless!) claims that “Physicists prove energy input predicts molecular behavior“. I know this work very well: it tells that fluctuations of a system obeying a [set of assumption] are bounded by energetic dissipation. If [!] a molecular system obeys that [set of assumptions], then its behavior says something about dissipation. But not the other way around! The magic card trick in this title is that it turns the whole story upside down in just one step, from the body to the title, by applying the wrong Aristotelian syllogism that if A gives B then B gives A. The content of the paper is actually sound, and I am a personal friend of the authors, so by no means I mean to criticize their upright scientific integrity. What interests me more in this process is the sociological perspective: I was at a conference and I found that there was open criticism of the result just because of the emphasis this wrong syllogism was given in the media. I find this the first hint of what happens when a human community is taken away its own means of self-determination. As Illich explains, this is a little realization of the process (perversion) by which a tool becomes an end: in this case, communication should be a tool. But it easily becomes an end, and maybe (it happens) the only goal. Fortunately, this community has a morality that prevents them from accepting this bargain with the devil (see The Devil’s Advocate). Next in my list of readings: The medium is the message.
* In a way, I believe that financial economy took over when the most archaic systems of regulation of public activities was finally “industrialized”, that of credit/debit (see D. Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years). A vivid description of this process is given in a remarkable chapter of Graeber’s book, where he describes the process by which a local system of structured relationships in sub-Saharian Africa was transformed into the horrifying story of slavery.