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Posts Tagged ‘Florence

“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, lies in its members’ loyalty to each other”*…

Here’s an exchange on Twitter that illustrates the new schism in politics, from May 2020:

– Michael Gove, UK government minister: Caring for your wife and child is not a crime. (On the topic of an advisor breaking the law on lockdown.)

Commentary from John Holbo, philosophy professor: It really is astonishing how true it is. Conservatism says the law protects in-group members without binding them; while binding out-group members, not protecting them. Mafia logic all the way up and down.

Is it ok to put your family, or your tribe, above the law?

Unlike Holbo, I don’t believe that answering “yes” to that question is a particular conservative or right wing trait. It’s a question that different people will answer differently; it’s a new axis on the political map. Perhaps it’s the new axis.

The Political Compass has been a pretty good model as long as I’ve been politically aware.

(Caveats: I’ve only been paying attention to politics since the early 1990s. And when I look back to say, the 1960s, before the free market ideology took hold, the right seemed way happier to promote state intervention. So I don’t know how it felt back then.)

There are two axes, and you can take a test and end up somewhere on this grid:

Social: authoritarian vs libertarian

Economic: left vs right

But this implies that there’s a kind of universality to policy: it presupposes that everyone is treated the same.

What if that no longer holds true?

The term oikos has framed my thinking for a while. A few years back I read Benjamin Peter’s How Not to Network a Nation which is a great look at why there was never a successful Soviet internet, despite many attempts between 1959 and 1989. From the blurb on the back, the book argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments, while the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others.

Here’s the passage that grabbed my attention (p194 of my edition)

Consider the language of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition – a landmark work of political theory that introduces its disenchantment with normative liberal values with a discussion of Sputnik and the nuclear age, the two ingredients that, once combined, could spell instantaneous planetary annihilation. For Arendt, the distinction between the public and the private is not the liberal economic opposition of the public state and the private market but a classical (Aristotelian) distinction between the public as an expression of the polis (where actors gather “to speak and act together”) and the private as an expression of the oikos (Greek for household and the root of the word economy) (where actors inhabit a domain of animal necessity and are compelled to pursue their own interests for their survival).

So this stuck in my head, and here’s my crude, way-over-simplified way of thinking about it as a framework:

– an oikos view is: it’s morally preferable to favour “people like me”

– a polis view is: it’s morally preferable to treat everyone equally

I was initially baffled when, in 2019, the Brexit Party announced its only non-Brexit political policy: the abolition of inheritance tax. (See the announcement on Twitter.)

Why should this be sole additional policy? Why not remain silent? The oikos vs polis framework helped me. “Brexit” is a classic oikos preference: this country matters more than this bigger union, it says. And if Brexit is the macro, then removing inheritance tax is the micro: tribe over state.

But I want to be clear: oikos is not bad. Like any political preference, it can be wielded for good and ill.

Community is an oikos value! Neighbourhood is an oikos value! Closing the streets to city traffic so kids can play, that’s an oikos value! Mutuality and cooperative organisations… traditionally left wing, but elements of oikos there. EastEnders, the long-running British TV soap about fierce family loyalties: oikos.

The old English aristocracy: that’s oikos all over. As The Institutional Revolution points out… the aristocracy was an economic adaption to a world without reliable communications or measurement. To function, that world required high trust relationships and ways to bind people into high trust relationships. The aristocracy met that challenge for 300 years – and its values of loyalty, honour, family, and so on are oikos values: trust and defend my group over any other allegiance.

Now the right wing ruling class of the UK is closely connected with those old aristocratic families. Is it any wonder they continue to display oikos culture?

Anyway, my conclusion was that oikos is independent of left vs right; independent of owner class vs labour class; independent of being socially liberal or authoritarian…

Self-interest: oikos. Solidarity: polis. (Though it strikes me that fighting the climate crisis will require framing the solution in terms of self-interest too.)

For me, this helps explain the recent election results (where the Tory party was not punished for Johnson’s self-interest) and also the coalition of wealthy elite and working class that carried the “Leave” vote for Brexit…

Perhaps the value of the polis needs to be shored up. Solidarity, equality in the eyes of the law, utilitarianism: these are ideas that need to be re-established.

The right has claimed oikos for its own. That makes sense: it’s a natural fit for neoliberalism (free market economics), and also for small government (because you should look after your own). But I don’t believe this necessarily has to be the case. What should the left fight for in an oikos world? A vital question.

Matt Webb (@intrcnnctd) with a provocative reframing of the political landscape: “Oikos vs polis: a new (but old) axis on the political map.”

See also Cory Doctorow in a similar vein: “Mafia Logic.”

[image above: source]

* Mario Puzo

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As we remind ourselves that the human race is a family, we might recall that it was on this date in 1527 that Florentines expelled the Medici (for the second time) and (re-)established a republic. But, with the siupport of both Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII (Giulio de Medici), the Medici in 1532 became hereditary dukes of Florence, and in 1569 Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and ruled Florence (and much surrounding territory) for two more centuries. 

View of Florence by Hartmann Schedel, published in 1493

source

Written by LW

May 16, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”*…

 

The richest families in Florence, Italy have had it good for a while—600 years to be precise.

That’s according to a recent study by two Italian economists, Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti, who after analyzing compared Florentine taxpayers way back in 1427 to those in 2011. Comparing the family wealth to those with the same surname today, they suggest the richest families in Florence 600 years ago remain the same now.

“The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago,” Barone and Mocetti note on VoxEU. The study was able to exploit a unique data set—taxpayers data in 1427 was digitized and made available online—to show long-term trends of economic mobility…

More on the research and it’s import at “The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still the richest families in Florence.”  More on the underlying mechanisms of capital accumulation, the persistence of wealth and income, and their polarization here.

* widely-used aphorism, probably dating back to the Bible verse, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matthew 13:12, King James edition); it’s use was reinvigorated by the popular 1921 song “Ain’t We Got Fun.”

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As we dream the American dream, we might spare a rugged thought for Louis Dearborn L’Amour; he died on this date in 1988.  While L’Amour wrote mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction, he is surely best remembered as the author of westerns (or as he preferred, “frontier stories”) like Hondo and Sackett.  At the time of his death he was one of the world’s most popular writers; dozens of his stories had been made into films, and 105 of his works were in print (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of nonfiction); as of 2010, over 320 million copies of his work had been sold.

L’Amour was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery near Los Angeles.  His grave is marked in a way that acknowledges that death was able to contain him in a way that he successfully resisted throughout his life: while his body is underground, his site is fenced in.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness”*…

 

Rafael Araujo’s illustrations are bafflingly complex—so complex that you might assume the artist uses a computer to render the exacting angles and three-dimensional illusions. And true, if you were to recreate his intricate mathematical illustrations using software, it probably wouldn’t take you long at all. But the craziest part of all is that Araujo doesn’t use modern technology to create his intricately drawn Calculations series—unless, of course, you count a ruler and protractor.

The Venezuelan artist crafts his illustrations using same skills you and I learned in our 10th grade geometry class. Only instead of stashing those homework assignments deep into the locker of his brain, Araujo uses these concepts to create his da Vinci-esque drawings. In Araujo’s work, butterflies take flight amidst a web of lines and helixes, a shell is born from a conical spiral, and the mathematical complexity of nature begins to make sense…

See more of Araujo’s work at his site, and read more at “Wildly Detailed Drawings That Combine Math and Butterflies.”

* Samuel Beckett

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As we root around for our rulers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1497 that Dominican friar and populist agitator Girolamo Savonarola, having convinced the populace of Florence to expel the Medici and recruited the city-state’s youth in a puritanical campaign, presided over “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” the public burning of art works, books, cosmetics, and other items deemed to be vessels of personal aggrandizement. Many art historians, relying on Vasari’s account, believe that Botticelli, a partisan of Savonarola, consigned several of his paintings to the flames and “fell into very great distress.”  Others are not so certain.  In any case, it seems sure that the fire consumed works by Fra Bartolomeo, Lorenzo di Credi, and many other painters, along with a number of statues and other antiquities.

bonfire source

 

Written by LW

February 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

Back to the streets…

Following earlier assays of street signage from all over (e.g., here and here), the rubber finally meets the road itself.  Readers, the Toynbee Tile…

Franklin Square, Washington, DC (source)

Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles– all roughly the size of an American state license plate, and all bearing roughly the message above– have been found embedded in the pavement of roads in streets in two dozen major U.S. cities and four South American capitals.

There’s no consensus among scholars of the tiles as to their reference or meaning.  It’s pretty widely held that the “Toynbee” reference is to historian Arnold Toynbee, perhaps to a passage (in Experiences):

Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into ‘soul’ and ‘body’ is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body… Someone who accepts – as I myself do, taking it on trust – the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more ‘scientifically’ if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit.

Others suggest that the tiles allude to Ray Bradbury’s story “The Toynbee Convector,” to Arthur C. Clarke’s story “Jupiter V,” or– perhaps, given the direct 2001 reference, most likely– to Stanley Kubrick’s film (in which, readers will recall, hibernating astronauts who had secret training were to be revived upon arrival on Jupiter).

And while there’s no agreement on the identity of the tiler, a majority of enthusiasts believe that “he” is from Philadelphia– both because the City of Brotherly Love hosts the highest concentration of the plaques and because a collection of tiles found there deviate from the norm to ascribe a plot to John S. Knight (of Knight-Ridder, the erst-while newspaper publishers), the Mafia, and others.

See a (nearly) complete list of tiles and their locations here, a set of photos here, and learn how they are implanted here.  Visit this site for a peek at a Sundance award-winning documentary on the Tiles.

UPDATE:  Further to earlier posts on Lorem Ipsum and it’s bastard children, Bacon Ipsum and Hipster Ipsum, more grievous greeking:  Velo Ipsum (for bicycling enthusiasts), and for the reportorially-inclined, Journo Ipsum.

As we watch where we’re walking, we might recall that it was on this date in 1504 that Michelangelo’s 17-foot-tall marble David was unveiled in a public square outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence.

source

Freudian Slips…

From Fox News, announcing the big news story of May 1:

BREAKING NEWS
Obama Bin Laden Dead

Still, Happy World Press Freedom Day!

As we remember that, to paraphrase Craig Newmark, a free press is the immune system of a democracy, we might wish a crafty Happy Birthday to Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli; he was born on this date in 1469.  Machiavelli wrote comedies, poetry, and some of the best-known personal correspondence in Italian; but he is best remembered as a Man of Affairs, first as a servant of the Florentine Republic in a time during which Medici influence was on the wane.  His most famous work, The Prince— first published as a pamphlet in 1513– was written mid-career to gain favor with the Medici, who were at that point regaining dominance in Florence.  The essay on the exercise of power (inspired by Cesare Borgia) not only failed to win over the Medici, it alienated Machiavelli from the Florentine public; he never again played an important role in government.  Indeed, when the Florentine Republic was established in 1527, Machiavelli was effectively ostracized.

But published in book form posthumously (in 1532), The Prince began its steady growth in influence.  And indeed today, Machiavelli is considered one of the fathers of modern political theory.

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito (source)

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