Happiness and freedom: Social Science Imagination notes 25/02/16

SSC 25th February, 2016, Mint Lane, 7-9.00 pm.

Present: Mike Neary, Andrew McCulloch, Paul Boyce, Laura Stratford, Lucy McGinty.

The subjects of the discussion, led by Paul and Mike, were the dystopian novels “We” by Yvegeny Zamyatin (1921) and “1984” by George Orwell (1949). “We” was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988 and slipped awkwardly into English and French in the nineteen twenties. Not all of us had managed to read both novels but partial reading should not and does not stop discussion at the SSC meetings.

Mike introduced a discussion about “We”, which is now in a newer, superior translation by Clarence Brown (1993) when compared to the wooden US translation of 1924. The Brown translation recognises that this dystopian novel is a constructivist work, which reads almost like a poem or series of poems. Orwell reviewed a French translation of the book for the journal Tribune on 4th January 1946. He found much to admire in the book but did not enjoy the style of writing. Paul introduced a discussion of the much better known “1984”. Orwell’s book owes much to “We” and the influence was never denied. Of course, Orwell’s book is much bleaker than “We”. However, both books present a picture of an imaginary society in which, as Orwell put it in his review of “We”, “happiness and freedom are incompatible.” Both books portray a society of the future where the capacity for imagination and free thought is only an undesirable source of mental torment. Affection and love are therefore dangerous, and disturbing emotions because they are unpredictable. In both portrayed societies human beings live under constant surveillance and the source of this surveillance is a remote and inaccessible centre of unchallengeable power.

Laura asked, why should we read these novels when their message appears so depressing. We saw them as warnings, imaginative forays into possible futures which still have purchase on our by no means perfect present. We acquiesce in trading away our freedom of thought and action lulled by an empty affluence. The deliberate political presentation of a constant rumble of war and terror around the world, promotes a general sense of helplessness and personal and social insecurity.

Laura suggested that we read for next week some research which was positive and appeared to demonstrate, on the contrary, that freedom and happiness are indeed compatible.

We will read together on Thursday 10th March at 7.00 pm at Mint Lane, the following:

When Freedom is Not an Endless Meeting: A New Look at Efficiency in Consensus-Based Decision Making.

If you have not had time to look at the paper but are interested, do still come, as we will read the paper together. If you can print out your own copy, that would be great. Depending on how the meeting works we might continue reading this another week, or even another week after that.

 

Resurrecting the Commons: A Perspective from Scotland (18 March, Lincoln)

Resurrecting the Commons: A Perspective from Scotland

By Lincoln Voices and Rushton & Tyman

Register here 

SSC scholars and supporters might be interested in this event next week…

“Lincoln Voices resident artists Emma Rushton and Derek Tyman, as part of their project Gnawed by Rats have invited Andy Wightman to meet and talk to Lincoln residents and launch “Conversations on the Commons”.

Andy Wightman is a land activist and writer specialising in land rights, power and democracy and a leading advocate of land reform and community land rights in Scotland. Over the past 20 years his work has focussed on land tenure, land ownership, land reform and, more recently community land rights. His published writing includes Community Land Rights: A Citizen’s Guide (2009) and The Poor Had No Lawyers (2010).

“Conversations on the Commons” is a series of walks planned for over the coming few months. Emma and Derek will invite small groups of people to walk with them on Lincoln’s South, West and Cow Paddle commons to discuss ‘the commons’ as land and ‘as all those things, such as water and health-care, education and the environment, that are held in common for the good of all but are increasingly under threat.

Gnawed by Rats is part of the Lincoln Voices programme of art exploring the contemporary relevance of Magna Carta and The Charter of the Forest.”

WHEN Friday, 18 March 2016 from 18:30 to 21:00 (GMT) – Add to Calendar

WHERE The Changing Rooms – Pavilion Building West Common, Lincoln LN1 1SE, United Kingdom – View Map

Social Cybernetics: Week Four

Here is the recording from the fourth seminar on Social Cybernetics with Prof. Raul Espejo.

The slides for this week can also be downloaded and will be especially useful as we spent some time discussing illustrations of the Viable System Model and different case studies of complexity, including the case of ‘Baby P’, a firm in Birmingham, and UK national energy policy.

As always, reading material for the course can be downloaded from the SSC website, and new people are still welcome for the final seminar on Tuesday 15th March, 7-9pm. The reading for the final week is Raul’s paper on ‘Cybernetics of Governance: The Cybersyn Project 1971-1973‘. Raul was the Operational Director of Project Cybersyn and worked closely with Stafford Beer.

SSC planning meeting minutes 13th February 2016

Attendees: Joss, Laura, Lucy, Andrew, Wendy, Rob Goemans, Sara Ahmed, Hadiza Abdulrahman

Apologies: Paul, Mike, Sarah

1. Minutes from last meeting

Social Cybernetics and SSI are running alternate weeks.  A lot of interest from the last SSI course when Mike circulated some notes.

2. Curriculum this term

SSI – try and find the notes from the planning session, we are leading a week each starting with looking at 1984.

Cybernetics – scholars from as far as London are attending.  Feedback is that it is interesting, stimulating and challening, but some are struggling with new terminology and concepts.  Pitched at a very high level.

3. ISRF

The last workshop has now been run and notes have been circulated amongst participants. There will be an online focus group on Thursday which will be attended in place of SSI.  Can join in from home or all meet at Mint Lane.  Looking at co-operation among cooperatives, an international network, need to think bigger than just one university.

 

There is the possibility of a further grant to do more research on Co-operative higher education.

Joss and Mike have had good discussions with people from Mondragon co-operative university in Spain, as well as UniCoop in Mexico.

4. Community Art group

Gnawed by Rats – Laura has contacted them but as yet they have not got back in touch.

5. Savings pool

Some people who attended the worskshop are interested in setting up a savings pool.  There has been discussion on the public/private nature of savings pools.  Another workshop will be put on.

6. Curriculum offer

½ day/ 1day workshop has been offered to SSC on the theory of rituals in education.  There is interest in the group for this.

7. Birbeck – Mike has offered to go and speak, if anyone is interested in joining Mike, please let him know.  This will be 25th April.

8. Paulo Vittoria is coming back to Lincoln on a research project Februay 9-17th.  Initial meeting will be confirmed by Joss.  Joss will circulate the research proposal.

9. Planning for AGM May 2016

Need to book the venue, Joss to confirm the date, Mike will look at the minutes from the last AGM, need to give at least 1 months notice, we shall publish an agenda in the next few weeks.

A.O.B – Wendy asked new comers to the group if they wouldn’t mind writing a short paragraph on what they would like to get from attending the SSC so we can look at accommodating their needs.

Social Cybernetics: Week Three

Here’s a recording of the third seminar for our course on Social Cybernetics. The reading for this (and next) week is Raul Espejo’s Good Cybernetics is a Must in Policy Processes. Raul’s slides for this week can be downloaded, too.

As you can see from the slides and recording, the themes for this week were variety engineering, interactions and self-organisation, effective organisation and relationships, and recursive management. We also discussed how cybernetic theory might improve the running of social services, looking at the case study of ‘Baby P’, which prompted a discussion about the relationship between politics and cybernetics.

Our next seminar is on Tuesday March 1st, 7-9pm, followed by the last seminar on Tuesday 15th March. All welcome!