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September 7, 2010

*And everybody wears a suit.* – Forum Alpbach 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marian W @ 01:23
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Some notes for a partial moral résumé on Alpbach

Sie glauben an ihre Worte, während sie sie aussprechen, und alle sprechen sie aus, weil sie daran glauben. […]
Gegen sie stehen die Besiegten der Welt, denn wer sie auch sein mögen, es sind zumindest Menschen.“

– Fernando Pessoa, Buch der Unruhe


Be the change you want to see in the world‚ – that quote by Gandhi is written on a promotional gift by the auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers which every participant of the European Forum Alpbach got. But Alpbach is one of the last places on earth where one is encouraged to be a change. It’s the place where people talk about change in the big world out there, and then eat a free diner.

One can hear many of the ‚important people‘ talk about change; for example ministers who drive from Vienna to Alpbach  by car to promote ecological e-bicycles and UN-secretaries who come by helicopter to talk about poverty. – And everybody wears a suit…

This years motto was Construction & Reality. In Alpbach a social reality of constructions is constructed and reconstructed. It’s a exchange market for constructed abstractions.

In Alpbach people foster their professional interests in the world: academic interests for the academics, political interests for the politicians and economic interests for the businessmen (and maybe also a few businesswomen).
Alpbach is a training ground for abstraction. The world is divided in an almost schizophrenic way into the realm of the concrete personal affairs and the abstract theoretical discourses.

Together we have practiced our professional detachment. It’s quite easy in this context of professionality. Although it’s hard work for many, work a lot of people are paid for. Only sometimes if one does pay attention, the worlds clash, become one for a moment. But drinking wine & eating food (regional, „bio“ they say) we quickly forget again that we live in the same world we debate with heavy words. While the symposia are the world of collective abstraction & depersonalisation, the receptions are the world of the small & smallest talking: One can hear people talk about the ideal sizes of swimming pools (‚It better to have a longer one for swimming exercises‘), about fashion, shoes, make-up, about 1000€ handbags. – It’s a subjective relativisation along the lines of concrete/abstract, direct/indirect, a revaluation of (ir)relevance.

It’s the ambivalence of what is taken serious only on a professonal discoursive level, topic-wise, and the importance that is constructed around the act of speaking and discussing itself, the celebrations of prominence. This constructed importance is the basis of the Forum and is mutually justified by the important roles of the speakers in the realm of their social constructions.

It’s the unbearable lightness of (too) heavy words. The construction of (all too) significant gestures.

It’s an intuitive understanding of a concept that has no political or normative meaning any more for me and my whole generation: the concept of ÜBERBAU (superstructure).

We, the participants in the Forum have played our various roles in the social play being performed in the village of Alpbach over the past 2 1/2 weeks: The spectacle of seriousness, the importance of being ‚pensive‘.
We were „interested“, interested in so many things that have been discussed; but above all we were interested in us being interested.


Was würde aus der Welt wenn wir menschlich wären?“

Wenn der Mensch wirklich fühlen würde, gäbe es keine Zivilisation.“

– Fernando Pessoa, Buch der Unruhe


August 22, 2010

Constituitive Gaps – Alpbach, days 1-3

Alpbach, 22. August 2010

[ 1st ]

Today in the morning  the European Forum Alpbach 2010 was officially opened – with all due und undue pompous traditionalism (something I don’t wanna report here). ‚Official‘ means that the politicians were there doing their job of representation, while actually the Forum had already begun on Thursday evening respectively Friday morning. Today is already the third day of the seminar week, the academic core of this economico-political festival of importance celebrations.

The frameset of a politician is a Reality of Construction, a work reality of dealing with the Reality by designing another. The constant fruitless attempt to fill the gap between Construction and Reality.
This gap is constituitive for human interaction in society and with the world as a whole, I have been told. Probably in one of the seminars like the one on the Neuro-Philosophy of Consciousness. The so-called ‚phenomenal self‚ we construct as a reality is a useful dillusion evolution has come up with. There is no such thing as self. Nobody really has a self, the analytical philosopher tells us and I follow him through his logical trip through the layers of our brains. It’s fancy logic, this scientific exploring of the human species. It’s quite entertaining to listen to the phantastical stories about out of body experiences or rare brain disorders altering who people are altogether (stories about men who lost the ability to see colors or  the sense of owning their own body or woman having the feeling that they’re in control of everything that sourrounds them, even the sun movement and the traffic).
But the theoretical explainatory constructions about how even the ’normal‘ brain constructs its illusion of selfhood and mineness that are so basic to my species‘ reality have nothing to do with me (even if there isn’t such a thing as „me“…). This knowledge is too basic, too deep, too abstract to connect with.
Of course this other gap between construction and reality, the gap of academia and life is also constituitive: for science as a profession, for the nice lifes of all those professors, for academic careers in this secular religion of rationality.

[ 2nd ]

Already on the eve of the opening day, a great battle took place in Alpbach. A rhetoric battle between the already mentioned neuro-philosopher fighting for science and a psychologist, taking the side of Religion as a scholar. The academic dispute was fought on stage as a Panel Discussion (as a play for entertainment of the audience so to speak) and an economist was playing the part of the referee, saying that these topics were too abstract for his field to join the fight.
For the record: These was also a sociologist participating who is holding a seminar here in Alpbach about ‚the social construction of reality‘. She told nice allegories of her own experience with swimming and riding to explain her notion of knowledge and why it’s different from the verifyable scientific and the subjective transcendental knowledge.
So these are the ventures into the ‚ice desert of abstraction‘ (as another scholar put it once) that are undertaken here in the mountain village of Alpbach. And somehow I can just marvel about the ‚Anspruch‚ that is behind all these high-brow topics and the will that is necessary to create so much seriousness around them socially. (Forgive the cynicism towards these honest academic quest for rational enlightment. I’m sure it’s all very important for the sum of individuals that is called society)

[ Anyways. ]

The religion psychologist who’s doing a course about ‚the impact of religion on societies‚ (or vice versa) had an interesting argument when confronting the hard-fact notion of knowledge science builds upon: Paraphrased, he said that his criteria for measuring knowledge e.g. of religious knowledge, is the usefulness of it, in a very broad sense. It’s necessary to ask for what purpose a certain kind of knowledge is useful. Science, he said, is useful because it provides answers for some of man’s curiosities and questions about nature – besides the technical applications. Whereas transcendental knowledge has other purposes and they shouldn’t be players in the same game of solving the riddles of life.
‚Every dicipline is only verifyed according to its own framework‘; that’s the diplomatic way out of the Discussion Panel. They (the scholars) are part of their own disciplines and when such an interdiscilinary discussion of fundamental epistemological questions takes place, they of course don’t have to come to a definite end and take a decision. Pluralism is the buzz-word that maybe prevents the real clash. If you can find it, it’s a precious luxury of today’s civilisation(s).

[ 3rd ]

The day allegedly ended with a Pub Quiz held by the students comitee.
Because being a student means possessing another kind of luxury:
The luxury of not having to be dead-serious about what one does – yet.

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