Keith Hart on Sun, 10 Nov 2002 17:42:09 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes

I always pay particular attention to messages from Kermit Snelson and
Brian Holmes because I like where each of them is coming from.  I have
pursued this sense of an affinity with each of them off the list. So when
Brian takes umbrage at Kermit's last post in this thread, I feel compelled
to enter the fray.

Max Weber wrote two great essays called "Science as a vocation" and
"Politics as a vocation". He argued that a scientist must privilege
reason, but good scientists are usually ethusiasts; whereas politicians
move people by passion, but their arguments are more persuasive if they
are reasonable. Despite this overlap, it is hard to be both a scientist
and a politician at the same time. Weber was chief organiser of German
sociology, a failed Liberal MP and an adviser to the Kaiser's wartime
cabinet. He was also a depressive who knew about the psychological
presures of trying to unify the two sides of his personality.

What I like about Kermit's messages is their intellectual clarity. It is
true that there is scholarship in them, but what impresses me is their
quality of reasoning. It does not seem fair to me to ask him to justify
these interventions in terms of a logic of political activism. I know that
the politics of Karl Marx and Walter Benjamin are long dead, unrealised.
But their contributions to the ongoing human conversation about a better
world still inspire us. Do I care about their skills in mobilising people
to man the barrivcades? Not really. It is the quality of their thinking
that is moving.

Maybe that makes me an intellectual more than a political activist. But it
is clear that the people who matter were motivated by both concerns. I
can't imagine that Kermit would be on this list unless he cared about the
political troubles of our day, whether or not he goes out into the streets
to get people committed to a cause. Equally, having read and studied all
of Brian's contributions to this list, I find his intellectual and
political visions equally inspiring. He wants things to get better soon,
but he has put in some spadework on how to think about that. Maybe there
is more feeling in his posts than Kermit's. But surely there is room for
all of us in this game. Why attack a blatant intellectual for saying that
he sees some flaws in the arguments of Geert and Florian?

I should add a footnote on Polanyi, since Brian brought him up, not for
the first time. This is not just a scholastic intervention. Polanyi, in
The Great Transformation (1944), said that land, labour and capital were
fictitious commodities. A commodity is something produced and sold. But
nature, humanity and society (money) are not produced and therefore cannot
be sold. If they are, something terrible happens to the relationship
between society and nature, as formulated by Aristotle when he said that
man is a political animal. The self-regulating market, as an utopian idea,
ijnevitably inflicts damage on nature, humanity and society. Particular
classes express resistance to that general damage.

What this has to do with multitudes and mobs I cant guess. I prefer
English words of one syllable (expressing the idea of mobility) to Latin
words of three syllables (expressing the poetry of an intellectual class).

Keith Hart

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