Monday, 17 November 2014

Music and Science in Moscow

I'm preparing a presentation which I'm giving at a Philosophy of Science conference in Moscow tomorrow. I've never been to Moscow before - it's quite an extraordinary place, so rich in history and culture: there is a strong feeling of the 'alternative' story of the history of the world which might have been told had communism worked, had the Berlin wall not even been needed, let alone fallen. With this alternative ,story, there is also a very evident split in the consciousness of the place. The tyranny of Stalin has gone (the odd statue and the miraculous decoration in the Metro glorifying his achievements are ghostly reminders), but it seems to have been replaced with a new kind of tyranny imported in a peculiar way from the West: the tyranny of consumerism. In Red Square there is a huge department store called "Gum": how many handbags, diamond rings, phones, shoes and coats could anybody need? I guess to Russians this is a wonderland - after the communist years where there was nothing in the shops, suddenly there is more than they could possibly dream of. There it is, a glimmering monotony of sparkling things. People wander round pretty aimlessly, half looking at the stuff and half attending to their mobile phones.

The new tyranny has put everyone to sleep.

What's the connection between this and my paper? Well, my paper is about music and social structure. It's about the fact that the structure of the content of an act - an artistic act - has a bearing on the social structures that emerge around it. Put another way, the aesthetics of the environment bear upon social structures. Understanding the social efficacy of aesthetic acts might help to understand exactly how the "being-put-to-sleepness" relates to the monotony of jewels in the windows, and the click-click-click monotony of continual smartphone addiction.

The deep question is for the people and for government. Something has happened to the ecology of our environment when all cities look the same and fill themselves with the same sparkly things. Government regulation (or lack of it) creates this situation. In Moscow it is probably because vast swathes of land were snatched up by the powerful who over-developed it very quickly with little regard to the overall effect. It's interesting to think that although London has the same kind of thing, it's not quite on this inhuman scale: layers of history and the law prevent such a sweepingly industrial transformation overnight.

What if we could see the deep social ecological effects of government action or inaction? Could we ask ourselves "Is this what we want?". Could we demand of our leaders that they safeguard the balances of social life, and monitor more effectively whether they actually do this or not? In order to do this, we have to understand nature of the structures of things that are actually made (arcades, jewellery shops, etc) and their effects on social experience and transformation of social structures. Maybe this is the goal to aim for. I suspect education is at the heart of it all...

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