Shanzhai

The literal meaning of Shanzhai is mountain stronghold, referring to the bastion of a regional warlord/ bandit. Its remoteness protects it from centralized, official control. However, shanzhai also refers to an attitude, documented by Byung-Chul Han (1957 – ), a South Korean-born Swiss/ German metalurgist/ philosopher/ cultural theorist. He wrote Shanzhai: Dekonstruktion auf Chinesisch in German, published by Merve, Berlin in 2011. An English translation, Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese appeared in 2017, published by MIT.

The chapters in the book refer to Chinese terms and their definitions. They are Quan: Law, Zhen ji: Original, Xian zhan: Seals of Leisure, Fuzhi: Copy, and Shanzhai: Fake.

As indicated by the name of the last chapter, shanzhai typically refers to something that is copycat/ fake. Another English word associated with it is tinkering. Before: A shanzhai factory has traditionally referred to a poorly equipped, low-quality, family-based production facility making inferior products. Now: Fewer of the facilities and products are of poor quality, despite no or fake brand labels.

Han realizes that it can be difficult for people of European ancestry to set themselves into a Taoistic mindset. “… transformation takes place not as a series of events or eruptions, but discreetly, imperceptibly, and continually. Any kind of creation that occurred at one absolute unique point would be inconceivable. Discontinuity is a characteristic of time based on events. (p. 8)

Han quotes Zhu Xi (1130 – 1200), who offers insight into shanzhai, and incidentally some pertinent advice for these COVID-19 times, “Under normal conditions we adhere to the rules of convention, but in times of change we use quan.” (p. 10) A quan is a movable weight on a balance scale. The implication is that there can be no absolute values, only relative values that have to be moved to find the point of balance.

There are some who equate Shanzhai with piracy, inside as well as outside China. At about the same time Byung-Chul Han was writing his book, Ni Ping (1959 – ), a Chinese actress and television hostess, proposed the elimination of shanzhai works, arguing that their copycat nature stifled genuine creativity and blurred property rights. During the ensuing debate, it was pointed out that shanzhai products are not pirated products. Genuine creativity is not so much originality, as it is government sanctioned creativity, which may be considerably less original than manifestations described as copycat. At one level, shanzhai is rebellion/ resistance to the mainstream.

Discussing Zhen ji, Han writes, “The Chinese idea of the original is determined not by a unique act of creation, but by unending process, not by definitive identity but by constant change.” (p. 13) This contrasts with Plato’s concepts of the beautiful or good, which are immutable. Being is replaced with a multiform, multilayered process. Masterpieces will be deconstructed/ viewed differently in different ages. He notes, “Copying is the same as praising.” (p. 16)

Han then examines Orson Welles’ (1915 – 1985) docudrama, F is for Fake (1973). “Elmyr [de Hory (1906 – 1976)] is deliberately painting badly so that his forgery looks more like an original. In this way he turns the conventional relationship between master and forger on its head: the forger paints better than the master.” (p. 17) Han then goes on to remind readers that Michelangelo was a forger of genius, substituting perfect copies for borrowed originals. (p. 19)

Han regards seal stamps (xian zhan) as part of a picture’s composition. Indeed, space is left on paintings for later inscriptions. These seals vary in size from 4mm to 200 mm in diameter, and may include poetic or moral content. They open up a communicative space, vastly different from the signature affixed European artworks. (p. 21 – 22)

In the chapter Fuzhi: Copy, Han reflects on terra-cotta warrior copies. While the Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde regarded them as forgeries in 2007, the Chinese replica workshop regarded its efforts as an attempt to restart production. (p. 31) Han further notes that the Japanese Ise Shinto shrine temple complex is completely rebuilt from scratch every twenty years, despite being 1 300 years old.

Modular production from stock components is regarded as appropriate behaviour, for in Chinese society originality/ uniqueness is not as valued as reproducibility, allowing variations and modulations. (p. 35) Han then refers people to one of the most famous Chinese treatises on painting the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden (1679).

In the last chapter, Shanzhai: Fake, Han writes, “There are now also expressions such as shanzhaism, shanzhai culture, and shanzhai spirit. Today shanzhai encompasses all areas of life in China. There are shanzhai books, a shanzhai Nobel Prize, shanzhai movies, shanzhai politicians, and shanzhai stars.” (p. 37)

He then goes on to discuss where the term was first applied, cell phones. “In terms of design and function they are hardly inferior to the original. Technological or aesthetic modifications give them their own identity. They are multifunctional and stylish. Shanzhai products are characterized in particular by a high degree of flexibility. For example, they can adapt very quickly to particular needs and situations, which is not possible for products made by large companies because of their long production cycles.” (p. 37)

Shanzhai by example

Billi Sodd 2015 Anstendighet/ Modesty 1910

Billi Sodd is a persona representing an older prisoner with issues, yet in the process of developing himself to become a(n artistic) painter. Since he is learning, he refers to himself as an apprentice, rather than a journeyman or a master. Like everyone, he was imprisoned by his past, until he decided to break free of it. Yet freedom is a relative term. At the most fundamental level, no living human is free to stop breathing. Every person is a slave to biological imperatives.

Billi’s most significant work so far, Anstendighet/ Modesty, consisted of 8 paintings. These paintings are based on a single template, a stencil. They deliberately imitate cartoons with large patches of solid colour, and an absence of shadows. Anstendighet/ Modesty was made in 2015, and shows how the western concept of modesty has transformed itself during during a period of 100 years. It consists of six paintings showing a young (ca. 20 years old) adult women at twenty-year, generational intervals from 1910 to 2010, each dressed in bathing costumes of the time. In addition, there are two additional paintings, variations on this theme, showing potentially more extreme changes for 2030, labelled 2030 Mini and 2030 Maxi.

The so-called originals were given to Verdal prison. However, a reworking of the subject is planned, with the goal of releasing high-definition images, so that anyone could make their own giclée prints using ink-jet printers. As long as the printing instructions are followed, these prints would be regarded as equals to the original paintings. If the instructions aren’t followed, something even better than the original may result.

In many ways Billi is an antithesis to protesters in these COVID-19 times, who want to open society faster, pressing R0 (in this case the viral net reproduction rate) values to greater heights. It is disheartening to see people like Elon Musk complaining about the shutdown of Tesla’s Fremont factory. He seems to have forgotten the lesson learned from a childhood reading of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, reported by Neil Strauss, “you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age and reduce the length of a dark age if there is one”.

An invitation to the original showing of Billi Sodd’s work Anstendighet/ Modesty (in Norwegian and English) in 2015 can be downloaded using the download button below. VF refers to Verdal fengsel = Verdal prison.

In 2020, Billi is considering a new series, PPE, based on current experiences of COVID-19. No decision has been made regarding the number of paintings. It could be as few as two. One showing protective measures taken during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, as well as the current one. A third, simply showing a child hiding under a school desk, and titled nuclear attack, could refer to events in the early 1960s.

After this re-emergence, Billi Sodd next appearance is expected to be a celebration of Billi’s permanent release from Verdal prison at a Halloween party to be given on Tuesday, 2028-10-31. The theme of this party will be shanzhai. Mark that date on your calendar now!

Here are three additional relevant quotations from Han’s book.

“In the Buddhist notion of the endless cycle of life, instead of creation there is decreation. Not creation but iteration, not revolution but recurrence, not archetypes but modules determine the Chinese technology of production…. Foremost in modular production is not the idea of originality or uniqueness, but reproducibility. Its aim is not the manufacture of a unique, original object but mass production that nevertheless allows variations and modulations.” (p. 35)

Shanzhai products often have their own charm. Their creativity, which cannot be denied, is determined not by the discontinuity and suddenness of a new creation that completely breaks with the old, but by the playful enjoyment in modifying, varying, combining and transforming the old.” (p. 40)

“The creativity inherent in shanzhai will elude the West if the West sees it only as deception, plagiarism and the infringement of intellectual property.” (p. 41)

Closing thoughts: People’s transformational abilities, that is, a competence to alter/ convert/ reconstitute raw components into something useful, are to be applauded. Take the steam engineer, who is able to extract latent energy found in assorted solids, liquids and gasses and mould it, so that it works for the benefit of humankind: moving train cars, drying lumber, generating electricity. Take the weaver, who is able to take flax (from Linum usitatissimum) or fleece (from Ovis aries) and transform it into cloth. Take the programmer who, using a simple vocabulary, instructs a computer to manipulate data to provide and display meaningful information.

For further information about early Chinese printing and related activities, see: The History and Cultural Heritage of Chinese Calligraphy, Printing and Library Work (2010, ISBN: 9783598220463), a publication of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, edited by Susan M. Allen, Lin Zuzao, Cheng Xiaolan and Jan Bos.

Yang Jianxin writes that “According to the historical records, wood blocks for printing started in the Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.D.). During that time in the center of Zhejaing Province, a book store sold the collected poems of Bai Juyi and Yuan Zhen in an edition printed by wood blocks.” (Allen et al, p. 26)


Weblog Ethics

Wrongful actions committed by criminal justice professionals, who are black or people of colour in crime drama series. Source: https://colorofchange.org/

Even weblogs must have ethical standards.

Jim Lehrer (1934 – 2020) constructed a list of 16 Rules of Journalism, printed in italics at the beginning of the paragraphs below. These were later reduced to nine rules, marked with an *. These rules were copied from Kottke, who comments on them in general, and points to their original sources. I am using them as a starting point for my own personal reflections on weblogging. It does not mean that I favour these rules over other rules, for many have infuriated me. Others, not so much. Some rules have not been commented upon. Others have. See, especially, rule #15.

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.* Coming first and with an *, it could be an important rule, but it grates. It is defeatist, starting with the negative (do nothing) rather than the positive (so something). Even the term defend points in two directions. Is Lehrer concerned about protecting something? or is it about showing support? My replacement would be: Promote causes that you endorse. Cause could refer to a principle, ideal, goal or movement to which a person is dedicated, or the end/ purpose for which a thing is produced, or even something broader still, such as the general welfare of the planet/ humanity/ a more restricted group/ person. Endorse includes a range of support (middle ground), from approval (weaker), to sustain or defend (stronger).
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype. This is a difficult rule to follow, especially the slanting. A slant is a perspective on a problem. All events have to be viewed from some perspective, even if they aren’t acknowledged. Where does slanting stop, and hype and/or distortion begin? How much distortion, hype or slanting does it take, before the result is considered a lie? There are no easy answers. One reason for weblogging is to present alternative opinions, especially those that are not supportive of the mainstream, which for me consist of a libertarian perspective on the economy, and a conservative perspective on social life, that are found/ distorted/ lied about/ slanted/ hyped in commercial media.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes. Quotations and other attributions of thought are difficult. In part, it comes from the inability of some people to speak/ write succinctly enough. Often, there is a need to re-state the essence of a person’s opinion, without distortion. At another level it also reveals a major challenge with journalism and its focus on individuals, rather than systems. One criticism of journalists is that some seem more interested in a subject’s passion or conviction, rather than the truth of their statements.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.* Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez (1983 – ) tweeted a link to an article about the 2003 rape accusation against Kobe Bryant (1978 – 2020), who died on 2020-01-26 in a helicopter accident. Sonmez was subsequently harangued and threatened, her address posted publicly, and her employer placed her on administrative leave. Bryant issued an apology where he made clear he believed the woman when she said she did not feel their encounter was consensual. The Median article describing the Sonmez situation, reasons that that public relations were more important to the Washington Post than Sonmez herself. It wonders why rape victims would trust the Washington Post with their stories if they think the paper is more concerned with appeasing an online mob than holding powerful men to account? It concludes that a powerful publication silenced its female reporter for tweeting about rape. Lehrer’s rule seems to suggest he would prefer people not to write about rape, or any other uncomfortable subject, at least when the alleged perpetrator is a celebrity.
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.* One of the reasons I have stopped reading a particular local newspaper, is that – from my perspective – it covers stories by focusing on one single person/ perspective, and allowing that one person to frame events. There seems to be no balance, until later – perhaps – when a second perspective is described, that is 180 degrees away from the first. Even then, it is difficult for the second party to address issues, because they have already been framed, possibly detrimentally.
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.* Radio, television, newspapers (and more) are mass media, sending out their stories to thousands, if not millions of listeners, viewers and/ or readers. The audience of this weblog is entirely different. It currently consists of 32 other people. Each of these people I know personally, even if there are some that I have never met in person. Others, I may not have met for over fifty years. I have also stated that if this weblog has an audience of more than 100 people, I will have failed at my goal. I have no desire to be famous, or to be popular. Perhaps Bernie Sanders (1941 – ) has expressed it best. Responding to a comment by Hillary Rodham Clinton ( 1947 – ) that no one likes him, Sanders replied, “On a good day, my wife likes me.” This weblog is not trying to influence anyone, apart from a very select group who are (hopefully) equally smart, caring and as good as I am. It is encouraging people to forget mass-market social media, and to engage with a limited number of real friends on issues that are of importance to that small group of people.
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.* I presume this rule is actually stating, that journalists must assume that the subject of a story is as smart and caring and good a person as the journalist reporting. This makes an assumption that stories are about people. Many of my stories are about technology, sometimes its failings, at other times it successes.
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In its editorial on 2020-01-24, Logisk brist = Logical Deficiency, the Inderøyning newspaper takes up the legal situation of a Norwegian woman and her two children, who have been returned to Norway from Syria. The problem is that leading politicians have pronounced the woman guilty of terrorism, despite the lack of any legal judgement against her, in violation of the Norwegian constitution. Her return to Norway has even led to the Progressive Party, leaving the government. In social media, including weblogs, it is far too easy to defame people who must be presumed innocent. It is my understanding that no court of law has found this woman guilty of anything.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.* When I initially read this statement, my mind turned to social media, and how it is encouraging precisely the opposite of this rule. For even the most intimate details of a person’s life are exposed and commented upon.
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.* This rule shows by example, the challenge of finding suitable rules. I think I understand all of the words in the rule until I get to the phrase straight news stories. It grates. Even if journalists use the term story, it is too close to the concept of fiction for my liking. I suspect a news story is a spicier version of a sequence of news facts. Since the adjective straight is being used to modify news story, I am left wondering what other varieties can be found. When I look up straight in a dictionary I find 19 different meanings, including not curved and heterosexual. Fortunately, it also provides me with a better understanding of its journalistic meaning: written or to be written in a direct and objective manner, with no attempt at individual styling, comment, etc. If I were to help Lehrer, by re-writing the rule for him, it would be: Separate and label facts, opinions and analyses.
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.* While sources are sometimes lacking in this weblog, when people are mentioned, I try to put in their name as well as their year of birth and death, to try to put that person’s experiences into context. The same is also true, with respect to the first publication date of a book or article. Unfortunately, not all C.V.s contain essential information, such as year of birth. There are times when I feel I should go further, and include country of birth, or at least residence. L. P. Hartley (1895 – 1972) wrote in The Go-Between (1953), “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It is often difficult to understand what has motivated people. Even more difficult if the context of their life is missing. Personally, I am a pacifist, and refuse to use weapons. Yet, both of my parents, Edgar (1906 – 1991) and Jennie (1916 – ) served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the second World War. While I have been able to condemn almost all wars since then, I still have difficulties understanding WW II, and passing judgement on its participants.
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers. This is a very naive statement, given that much of the media is owned by entrepreneurs wanting to promote a particular political perspective. The right-leaning (Kieth) Rupert Murdoch (1931 – ) through his News Corporation, owned over 800 companies in more than 50 countries, with a net worth of over $5 billion in 2 000. In other ages, there have been other media moguls with other priorities. William Randolph Hurst (1863 – 1951) favoured the working class, who bought his papers, and denouncing the rich and powerful. Today, Mark Elliott Zuckerberg (1984 – ) has become infamous for Facebook’s role in allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without their consent and using it for political advertising purposes.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice. Change viewers to readers, and the statement should be true of every serious weblog. Thus, I am curious to know what readers believe should be the principles followed in this weblog. Readers with opinions are encouraged to comment. Those reluctant to do so publicly, are encouraged to send a confidential email. While I will read and evaluate all material sent, this does not mean that I will incorporate it in any final rules for Brock’s weblog.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.* That is a debatable point. Everything related to the media can be considered entertainment, even if some regard themselves above it. Much of the harm initially done there, is subsequently amplified by webblog posts. Take television crime drama, as an example. In Change of Color’s report, Normalizing Injustice, a disproportionate number of wrongdoing criminal justice professionals are black or people of colour, as shown in the table at the beginning of this weblog post. This report reminds people that “the crime genre glorifies, justifies and normalizes the systematic violence and injustice meted out by police, making heroes out of police and prosecutors who engage in abuse, particularly against people of color.” Misconduct is often presented in a way that normalizes it, making problematic characters seem good and their wrongful actions justified. Fiction is not just fiction, and entertainment is not simply entertainment, both are tools that shape attitudes. Entertainment cannot be ignored, for it can be the face of oppression.

This marks the end of Lehrer’s rules. What do readers think should be in a set of rules that should apply to all weblogs? In addition to these, what other rules should apply specifically to Brock’s weblogs?

Ethics of Care

Carol Gilligan (1936 – ) is considered the founder of the Ethics of Care philosophical movement. Much of the foundations of this movement were published in her book, In a Different Voice (1982).

In the 1960s Gilligan realized that men (in contrast to people) were the measure of humanity, with autonomy and rationality as the markers of maturity. To explore this, and its implications, she undertook three empirical studies: college student study about moral development, the abortion decision study looking at conflict, and the rights and responsibilities study which examined concepts of self and morality in men and women of different ages.

Analysis and reflection on these studies resulted in Gilligan developing a framework for the Ethics of Care, where, “the different voice I describe is characterized not by gender but theme. Its association with women is an empirical observation, and is primarily through women’s voices that I trace its development.”

The Ethics of Care is proposed as an alternative to Lawrence Kohlberg’s (1927 – 1987) hierarchal and patriarchal approach to ethics, where he claims that girls (and thus women), did not in general develop their moral abilities to the highest levels. Gilligan explained gendered differences in moral reasoning as cultural constructions, and not in essentialist terms. Kohlberg provided detailed responses to Gilligan in Essays on Moral Development: Vol.II. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages (1984). Kohlberg has been extremely influential, including some of the content in John Rawls’ (1921 – 2002) A Theory of Justice (1972).

Gilligan contended that women approach ethical problems differently, by focusing on responsibilities and relationships while men focus on rights and rules.

In 2011, Gilligan was able to appreciate that care is regarded as a feminine ethic within a patriarchal framework, but as a human ethic within a democratic framework. For her, reason can co-exist with emotion, mind with body, self with relationships and even men with women. This co-existence is not permitted in a patriarchal framework. Gilligan calls this less divisive and more human approach, the Ethics of Care.

Many other feminists, especially, have reflected on the Ethics of Care, and developed their own philosophies. One of the first was Nel Noddings (1929 – ) who wrote Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (1984). She makes a distinction between natural and ethical caring. Personally, Noddings is difficult to understand, except that she seems to be enforcing traditional views of nurturing.

Annette Baier (1929 – 2012) is more interesting because she states that women and men make their decisions about right and wrong based on different value systems: men take their moral decisions according to an idea of justice, while women are motivated by a sense of trust or caring. A major concern is that philosophy, and its history, have been dominated by men, resulting in the feminine perspective being ignored.

Joan Claire Tronto (1952 – ) attempted to operationalize the ethics of care, especially in Moral boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care (1993). She defines care as “On the most general level we suggest caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our “world”so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.” (p. 103)

Tronto differentiates obligation-based ethics and responsibility-based ethics. Obligation-based ethics involve a decision maker determines what obligations s/he has and responding. This contrasts with responsibility-based ethics, where the relationship with others is the starting point. Thus, the Ethics of Care involves/ requires developing a habit of care. (p. 127)

There are four elements of caring, that are the fundamentals necessary to provide effective care. These require certain attitudes and skills. They are: 1. attentiveness; 2. responsibility; 3. competence; and, 4. responsiveness of the care receiver. (p. 127)

Tronto defines four phases of caring. These involves cognitive, emotional, and action strategies. However, they are not in sequential order, and can overlap. They are: 1. caring about; 2. taking care of; 3. care giving; and 4. care receiving. (p. 165)

The one Norwegian philosopher who deserves mention is Tove Pettersen (1962 – ), perhaps better known for her work on the existential ethics of Simone de Beauvoir. In addition to numerous articles, she has written one major book on the subject, Comprehending Care: Problems and Possibilities in The Ethics of Care (2008).

In an interview, later published, Pettersen states, “In our culture, the Good Samaritan ideal overlaps with the traditional understanding of what it means to be a good woman. Female care workers in particular—whether they are mothers or nurses—are commonly expected to be altruistic, to systematically put the interests of others first, while treating their own needs as secondary and unimportant. Consequently, they are expected to work beyond what is reasonable in order to fulfil this altruistic ideal. Using the Good Samaritan as an ideal for care workers in professions where the employer’s goal is to maximize profit and minimize costs paves the way for exploitation. Care workers are especially exposed to exploitation, because they have the responsibility for the well-being of vulnerable others. In many situations, care workers simply cannot reject this responsibility. It is therefore very important to be aware of how easy it is to be exploited when the traditional images of what it means to be a woman, and the traditional images of what good care is, are jointly applied. Unfortunately, the Good Samaritan cannot be an ideal for contemporary care work.

Virtue Ethics

Our hobby business, Fjellheim Institute ANS existed for many years mainly as the publisher of the Norwegian edition of The Virtues Guide (1996). Information about this enterprise is found in Keywords 023 Excellence.

Mary Rosalind Hursthouse (1943 – ) explains the concept of a virtue in her entry for Virtue Ethics in the 2013 edition of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be helpfully specified as a “desirable” or “morally valuable” character trait. It is, indeed a character trait—that is, a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say “goes all the way down”, unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker—but the disposition in question, far from being a single track disposition to do honest actions, or even honest actions for certain reasons, is multi-track. It is concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities. To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action.)”

While Virtue Ethics can be said to begin with Socrates (ca. 470 – 399 BC), it is Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) who puts the field on the map, in Nicomachean Ethics, where he discusses about 11 moral virtues. Each virtue was suspended between two vices, one excessive, the other deficient. Thus, a person was to aim for moderation, a position somewhere between the two extremes.

At this point, we will ease our way into modern Virtue Ethics, by noting Alasdair Macintyre’s (1929 – ) demand in After Virtue (1981/ 1984/ 2007) that virtues have to be a community project. Ethics implies ethos, that each and every virtues has to be grounded in a particular time and place. If I look at my own upbringing, the society I grew up in was racist, discriminated against women, refused to tolerate either abortion or homosexuality, allowed parents to use physical punishment, encouraged smoking and drinking, and punished people who advocated socialist principles.

Each and every individual has to address emerging social issues, and to make a decision as to how to behave in the world. The list of moral virtues has to be applied to countless areas.

In addition to the 11 moral virtues, Aristotle also comments on seven other intellectual virtues. Of these it is especially Techne, translated as art or craftsmanship, that is of overwhelming interest for me, and many others in contemporary society. Here, I am particularly interested in miniaturization, manufacturing techniques – especially those that can be implemented locally, robotics and other forms of physical computing using sensors and activators. Naturally, I hope that there will be many others who are concerned about other challenging areas, such as health and nutrition/ agriculture.

One of the works that has impacted me the most is David Harvey’s (1935 – ) Social Justice and the City (1973), which I read almost as soon as it came out. The book is divided into three parts, of which the first two are most important. When I finished the first part, I felt I had understood the problem of urbanization. Then, as I read the second part I began to realize, that the proposed solutions simply created new problems. People fail to understand the consequences of their actions.

In my mind, I am often comparing Harvey’s work, with A Theory of Justice (1971) by John Rawls (1921 – 2002). The libertarian solutions proposed by Rawls, mirror those in the first part of Harvey’s book. I continually fear that Rawls does not appreciate how much needless damage libertarianism extracts from society. For MacIntyre, morals and virtues can only be understood in relation to the community in which they come from. Harvey expresses the same, but uses different words. Rawls wants people to consider justice as some sort of abstract ideal.

The Virtues Guide (1990/ 1993/ 1995), written by Linda Kavelin Popov and Dan Popov, and illustrated by John Kavelin, consisted of 52 different virtues, one for each week of the year. In our kitchen we also have 100 Virtues Cards. We choose one to focus on each week. Unfortunately, many of them do not feel like virtues.

I am contemplating a new approach, focusing on Aristotle’s original 11 moral virtues, one at a time. First, there has to be an understanding of the social context of each virtue. What does it mean, anno 2020? Second, there will have to be an understanding of how that virtue prepares a person for their ultimate destiny. Third, one must look at how a deficit of that virtue will affect a person. Fourth, a similar approach must be undertaken to understand what excess means, in terms of that virtue.

Carlos Ghosn vs Japan Inc.

Nissan Diesel Trucks (Photo: NZ Car Freak)

This weblog post is about Carlos Ghosn (1954 – ), the former CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance and his cultural war with the Japanese business establishment. It might have had a different plot if I hadn’t read Exposure: Silenced. Threatened. Time to Fight Back. (2012) written by Michael Woodford (1960 – ).

The major reason for writing this post now, is Ghosn’s escape from Japan to Lebanon. He had been charged in Japan 2018-11-19 with under-reporting his earnings and misuse of Nissan assets, followed 2019-04-04 with charges of misappropriations of Nissan funds. He has spent considerable time in detention, as well as house arrest. However, many suspect that these charges were more about Japanese business interests (aided by the Japanese government) wanting to take back control of Nissan, than that anyone was actually worried about the relatively miniscule size of misappropriated funds. The fact that a major Japanese auto manufacturer had to use the services of a gaijin (foreigner) had been extremely embarrassing.

Background

In 1996, Renault hired Ghosn to turn the company around from near bankruptcy. By 1999, the plan devised by Ghosn had worked. Much of it involved using Japanese management practices. In 1999 Nissan was facing a similar bankruptcy threat. In 1999-03, Renault and Nissan formed the Renault–Nissan Alliance, resulting in Renault purchased a 36.8% minority interest in Nissan. This allowed Ghosn the opportunity to develop the Nissan Revival Plan to turn around Nissan, using many of the same approaches as he used at Renault. By 2002-03-31 all of these goals had been accomplished. As of 2018-11, Renault owned 43.4% of Nissan, while Nissan owned non-voting shares equal to 15% of Renault’s equity, showing the unequal strength of the two companies in relation to each other.

This webpost does not proclaim Ghosn’s innocence. Only a court of law can do that, although there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A legitimate question to ask is, what is the reason for the criminal charges against Ghosn? The problem with the Ghosn affair, is that Ghosn seems to be treated differently than equivalent Japanese business leaders caught up in similar situations. Here are some examples.

Fukushima

Perhaps the greatest Japanese crime of this century is related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that began 2011-03-11. This disaster was the most severe nuclear accident since the 1986-04-26 Chernobyl disaster and the only other one to be given Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The disaster caused meltdowns in three separate reactors. The lack of adequate preparations for a tsunami and related events resulted in the evacuation of more than 470 000 people. Nearly 18 500 people died in or were listed as missing from the disaster area. Despite the enormous ramifications of this disaster, Japanese society/ culture effectively blocked any one person or even group of people from being found responsible for it. Japanese prosecutors had twice declined to press criminal charges against former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives, saying there was little chance of success. Then a judicial panel ruled that three men should be put on trial, despite the opposition of the prosecutors.

2019-09-19 a Japanese court found Tsunehisa Katsumata, Sakae Muto, and Ichiro Takekuro, the former most senior executives of Tepco, not guilty of professional negligence. No one else has been charged with anything related to this disaster.

The conviction rate in Japan is 99.4%. In other words, the prosecutors are acting, effectively, as judges. In this particular case, their reluctance to prosecute was interpreted as an indication of non-guilt.

Olympus

Only a month after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Michael Woodford was appointed president and COO (2011-04) of Olympus Corporation, a Japanese manufacturer noted for its professional optical products. He was appointed CEO six months later, 2011-10. Woodford started working for Olympus in 1981 and subsequently rose in the company to manage its European operations. Woodford was the company’s first non-Japanese CEO. He was removed from his CEO position after two weeks, when he persisted in questioning fees in excess of US$1 billion that Olympus had paid to obscure companies, which appeared to have been used to hide old losses and appeared to have organised crime connections. By 2012 this scandal had developed into one of the biggest and longest-lived loss-concealing financial scandals in the history of corporate Japan.

Woodford’s life was threatened, because of the criminal organisation connections. Ultimately, Olympus had to agree to a settlement for defamation and wrongful dismissal.

Reactions

Japan Forward was sceptical of Ghosn’s arrest: “A Western businessman with several decades in Japan noted: The “thin gruel of ‘misdeeds’ that they’ve put forward to date as justification is laughable. Reads like any day at the office for many [Japanese] CEOs. The Japanese business establishment crushes everything that threatens its worldview and privileges. … Another added: “During my time in Japan, I met the CEOs and managing directors of a variety of companies and a few were wonderful people, but a lot were not…. [They were] in cahoots with the yaks (Yakuza) — abused their expenses, went on company paid junkets, received kickbacks, got laid on the company tab…. I don’t know what Ghosn did, but I doubt it would have come close to what is normal behavior for many of his Japanese counterparts.”

Japan Forward may not have said it so explicitly, using a question mark rather than an exclamation mark, but many see systemic xenophobia in the Japanese business community.

Nikkei Asian Review was even more condemning: “There is no indication that other board members made actual moves in terms of governance processes or statements at the board level, [Nicholas Benes, head of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan and a former investment banker] noted. This makes him suspect that the board members were more concerned about protecting their jobs than confronting [Ghosn]…. If individual board members, including CEO Hiroto Saikawa, felt so strongly about the issue that they allowed a criminal investigation, they should have taken steps first. These could have included proposing to discuss the issue at the board level, trying to call an extraordinary board meeting, threatening to resign or getting advice externally. No such internal moves appear to have been taken before the prosecutors’ move to arrest Ghosn. Under Japanese company law, directors are expected to actively participate in discussions and oversee the chief executive.”

There are several recent Japanese business scandals:

In 2015 Toshiba revealed that it had overstated its operating profit by nearly $1.2 billion.

In 2017 Takada had become mired in a global scandal over faulty airbags. Ammonium nitrate was used to inflate airbags quickly, some with such force, they spewed shrapnel at drivers and passengers leading to injuries and in some cases, death. Takada was forced to recall millions of airbags which, along with facing a multi-million dollar wave of litigation.

In 2017 Kobe Steel admitted to changing or falsifying data about the quality of some of its goods before they were shipped to customers.

In 2018 Nissan admitted its emissions and fuel economy tests for its cars sold in Japan had “deviated from the prescribed testing environment”.

Japan’s Criminal Justice System

Counterpunch has detailed the inhumanity and authoritarian nature of the Japanese criminal justice system. The current laws are from 1947. Except for omitting offences relating to war, the imperial family and adultery, the 1947 Penal Code remained virtually identical to the 1907 version. This means that there has been no substantial revision for 113 years, as this post is written in 2020.

Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor, stated: “If you admit to the crime you’re arrested for, you’re released on bail relatively quickly. However, if you dispute the charges or claim innocence, you will be detained longer. You won’t be released on bail and your detainment will last weeks. You’re basically held hostage until you give the prosecutors what they want. This is not how a criminal justice system should work in a healthy society.” Cases detailed in the same article explain this further.

Beirut Press Conference

At the press conference held in Beirut 2020-01-08, Ghosn compared his arrest to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He said his prosecution on charges of financial misconduct was politically motivated, the result of an elaborate conspiracy involving malevolent Nissan executives and even the Japanese government, a systematic campaign to destroy his reputation and impugn his character. He further claimed that Japanese authorities were repaying him with evil, because he was an easy target as a foreigner. Further information about the press conference can be found in numerous online news sources, including this report in The Guardian.

Humanity Plus: A tidbit

An artists rendering of a Bernal Sphere, a hollow non-rotating spherical shell 16 km in diameter, with a target population of 20 000 to 30 000 people, and filled with air. The space habitat was intended as a long-term home for permanent residents. It was first proposed in 1929 by John Desmond Bernal. Artwork: Rick Guidice, 1976.

The definition of transhumanism used by the World Transhumanist Association is: an advocacy, for the ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities.

For religious transhumanists, the operative word is ethical.

Some early writers:

J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) Daedalus: Science and the Future, 1923 http://bactra.org/Daedalus.html

J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) The World, the Flesh and the Devil, 1929 http://www.quarkweb.com/foyle/WorldFleshDevil.pdf

W. D. Lighthall (1857-1954) The Law of Cosmic Evolutionary Adaptation: An Interpretation of Recent Thought, 1940, discussed in, Peter Harrison & Joseph Wolyniak, The History of ‘Transhumanism’. Notes and Queries 62, 2015, 465–7 https://doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjv080

Julian Huxley (1887-1975) Transhumanism, in, New Bottles for New Wine, London: Chatto & Windus, 1957, pp. 13-17 https://web.archive.org/web/20160625132722/http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/more/huxley  

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) Steps Toward Artificial Intelligence, 1960. http://courses.csail.mit.edu/6.803/pdf/steps.pdf  

I. J. Good (1916-2009) Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine, Advances in Computers, vol. 6, 1965. https://web.archive.org/web/20111128085512/http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Good-Speculations-Concerning-the-First-Ultraintelligent-Machine.pdf  

Note: This post was intended to be a chronology of Transhumanism. It was originally written 2018-07-11 and saved at 20h13m36s. It is published in this inferior state to acknowledge that the topic is no longer being prioritized by this writer, and to encourage others, who may have an interest in the subject, to create related, but more interesting, in-depth weblog posts.

A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In this weblog, tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been awaiting editing and expansion for at least six (6) months.

Industrial Arts, Craftsmanship & Values

The 1950s and the 1960s were a privileged time. Yet, there are only some aspects of it that I would want to return to. It was exceedingly sexist. Men worked outside the house, while women were confined inside suburban houses. At school, girls were required to study home economics which was in general divided into two sections, textiles (with an emphasis on sewing) and cooking (and nutrition). Boys were required to study industrial arts.

I am not going to mention more about home economics in this post, except to say that I probably would have benefited from learning more about cooking. Similarly, many girls would have benefited, if they had been allowed to study industrial arts.

Industrial arts was obligatory for four (later three) years. One period a week was devoted to draughting, and the construction of technical drawings. The other days were spent working in one of three subject areas, each for a third of the school year, in rotation.  The subject areas were woodworking, metalworking and electricity and electronics. For my last two years of secondary school, I took a two year specialization in electricity and electronics. Others were able to specialize in other areas, such as house construction or automotive mechanics. Some people didn’t take any practical subjects at all, after the obligatory years.

There is a Norwegian term, sløyd, that roughly translates as woodwork. Here children use obsolete hand tools to make objects that are either obsolete themselves, or are made in a fraction of the time by industrial machines. I am not sure why sløyd is taught. It shows a great deal of disrespect to children, and the value of their time.

In industrial arts, we learned how to use hand tools, but we also progressed rapidly to machine tools. One does not waste time using a hand saw if a compound mitre saw is more appropriate. This does not mean that the Canadian industrial arts program was perfect. In metalwork, I learned to work with sheet metal, blacksmithing and machining. However, I was never exposed to welding.

Fast forward fifty years …

I am tired of sitting around cafes, gossiping while consuming sugar rich drinks and cakes. Something similar can be said of gyms with their sweat enhanced fragrances. I want to invite people to use their time more constructively, by using the workshop at Unit One. Yes, there will be a “fredag fika” a Swedish term for a sociable coffee break often held on Fridays. It is designed to help bond and consolidate a group of workers. At Unit One it should allow people to discuss projects: present, future and (if necessary) past.

Before people will be allowed to use equipment on their own, they will have to be certified. The first will have to be for general health and safety. When a person enters Unit One, they have to know where their own personal protective equipment is located. Similarly, they will have to know what they are expected to do, during different types of emergencies, including fire and assorted forms of personal injury.

When it comes to certification to use the various tools, one approach is to test out a person using the specific machine. A better approach is to have the aspirant design and make a product that requires a number of different operations on a variety of machines.

Certification misses one vital element – the motivation to work.

Perhaps one should begin with the Arts and Crafts movement, and acknowledge the contributions of William Morris, and several others. That is not going to happen. The two contemporary (?) works that are most inspiring are both written by David William Pye (1914-1993): The Nature of Design (later The Nature & Aesthetics of Design), 1964 and The Nature and Art of Workmanship, 1968.

The workmanship of risk is one of Pye’s most important concepts. It is “workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works (The Nature and Art of Workmanship, p. 20).

He also wrote that people make things to effect change. However, most designed objects are palliative. They do not enable new behaviours. He uses a transport example to illustrate this. One can walk instead of using a car, but one cannot fly instead of using a plane. He also notes that design is limited by economy rather than technique. Since all design is an economic trade off, it is always a failure.

Pye also regards design as arbitrary. Products are developed under the assumption that tools can bring people happiness. His view is that tools can, at best, only help people avoid unhappiness.

David Pye 2
David Pye (1914-1993)

There are two other writers that one may also want to read on the philosophy of work, Richard Sennett and Matthew B. Crawford.

Richard Sennett has written extensively about work. The Hidden Injuries of Class (1972) written with Johnathan Cobb is a study of class consciousness among working-class families in Boston. The Corrosion of Character (1998) explores how new forms of work are changing our communal and personal experience. Respect in a world of inequality (2003) examines the relation of work and welfare system reforms. The Culture of the New Capitalism (2006), much like the earlier Authority (1980) address similar issues.

800px-Richard_Sennett_2010
Richard Sennett (photo: Ars Electronica, 2010)

Yet, it is the newer Homo Faber project that examines work in a 21st century context, an exploration of material ways of making culture. The Craftsman (2008), Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (2012) and Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City (to be published in 2018) on the making of the urban environment.

Lewis Hyde states that Richard Sennett’s “guiding intuition” in The Craftsman is that “making is thinking.” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/books/review/Hyde-t.html?_r=1&8bu&emc=bua2&oref=slogin

What I found particularly interesting about The Craftsman, was Sennett’s use of computer programmers as an example.

I will now elegantly hop over Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) to focus on a 21st century replacement, Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (2009). In addition to obtaining a Ph. D. in political philosophy, Crawford has also worked as an electrician and mechanic, and owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop.

matthew b. crawford
Matthew B. Crawford (photo: Adam Ewing)

Crawford writes about work that requires mastery of real things. This work can be more intellectually demanding that more abstract varieties. He feels that maintenance and repair work cultivate ethical virtues, and foster habits of individual responsibility. Crawford wants people to replace passivity and consumerism with self-reliance.

Tools are not the most important elements in a workshop. It is the values that are promoted therein.

“It is permissible to study sciences and arts, but such sciences as are useful and would redound to the progress and advancement of the people. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”

Baha’u’llah – Bisharat

Ageing Gracefully

No, I’m not writing about that impossible art of accepting the loss of one’s powers of movement, hearing, seeing, sexing, remembering, calculating or reasoning. Rather, I am writing about how our perception of time changes. In childhood, a year feels like infinity while in later life it feels increasingly shorter.

To accept this fact of life, a new time unit is needed which I have termed the Grace. A grace is a measure of time reflecting the opportunity for (spiritual) development, which occurs simultaneously with the growth and decline of the biological organism. Originally, I just used values between 0 and 9 to reflect this development. However, because people are used to dealing with chronological years, many people will want to use decaGraces to measure their spiritual age. It requires a simple calculation: multiply the Grace number by 10. DecaGraces are used in the table below.

As in school, aging is not the equivalent of being more spiritual or smarter. People reach a plateau that limits their intellectual, physical and spiritual development. Just as there are absolute physical limits to how fast a person can run, how many kilos a person can lift, there are also limits to how much spirituality a person can acquire in a world dominated by physical needs.

decaGrace Age at Start (years) Duration (years) Age at End (years) Event
0 0 Conception
10 0 0.25 0.25
20 0.25 0.5 0.75 Birth
30 Birth 1 year 1 year old
40 1 year old 2 years 3 years old
50 3 years old 4 years 7 years old
60 7 years old 8 years 15 years old
70 15 years old 16 years 31 years old
80 31 years old 32 years 63 years old
90 63 years old 64 years 127 years old