Thursday, March 24, 2011

Simulacra and Simulation

Friend and Fortworthology proprietor Kevin Buchanon has been doing a bit of ranting on his facebook page. Feeling frisky fingers, I piled on in the comments, while typing all of this on the phone. It got long enough that it might as well be its own post.

As a bit of a backstory, Simulacra and Simulation is a book by French philosopher Jean Beaudrillard and largely credited by the Wachowski Brothers as inspiration for The Matrix. Don't believe me, throw on the first in the series. Before Neo meets the white rabbit, he pulls the "hacking program/drug" from a cut-out in this very book.

It's a small book, but a borderline absurdly dense one at that (at least the english translation that I have).

Beaudrillard's thesis is that the post-modern world has become little more than a copy of a copy of a copy of a symbol of a copy of a symbol. Etcetera. In other words, the post-modern world has no meaning, no connection to reality. Think advertising. As I reference in the later commentary, think more specifically about car commercials. How much reality is in car commercials?

There are no other cars on the road. You, sitting in place of either the pretty actor/actress, or the camera, as in you're sitting with the pretty other person as your date, are driving either through beautiful landscapes or what otherwise would be a very walkable cityscape. Except, there are no people in these ghost towns of walkable cities (everybody must be in cars driving through the wilderness or the Pacific Coast Highway). The only people that exist are there to admire you, your car, and your date. Perhaps not in that order.

In today's world, we pull our hair out because of the insanity and inanity we see around us. Nothing makes sense. Reality is whatever anyone says it is and whoever believes in their version of reality the strongest, will win. Often unfortunately. The challenge is to mine for reality, to sift through sensation in order to make sense out of this unreality.

I hope he doesn't mind me cutting/pasting a bit since 1) he's still ever-present on facebook where I have long since left the "I'm now filing my nails and chewing gum. I CAN DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE!" status updates, and 2) facebook, due to its reciprocated friending (unlike twitter) is clusters of cliques, friends, less public than twitter.

One way we could save funding for Texas schools: massively slash the budget for building new sprawl-generating roads. Just sayin'.

Since we have more than enough roads and lanes already (and building more outside of city centers will only generate more sprawl to suck money out of cities and worsen pollution and traffic), switch TxDOT to a new set of priorities - maintenance and repair only for most roads, and improving transit and roads (not widening) in urban, walkable areas where you get the most bang for the buck.

I elaborate on each of these points:
Last I checked DFW had second most lane miles per capita of any major American city behind Kansas City. It probably isn't too far of a stretch to suggest they rank quite highly in the world then.

As per physicist Geoffrey West's work, a highly functional city gets superlinear outputs as it grows, ie bigger it gets the more wealth it generates but also bad outputs like crime & waste go up too.

On the flipside, the bigger a functional city gets the less and less inputs it needs. The inputs in the economic equation of cities are energy & infrastructure. As a city gets bigger and bigger, it should need less and less of these to function.

Therefore, a functional city has low cost inputs, more profit (but also more problems, as stated). Needless to say sun belt cities rank very poorly by these metrics.

The sublinear input/superlinear output is the efficiency equation of cities and the very reason they exist. We're building anti-cities, and my guess is, if we don't change our ways, we're busy building the next Detroit or catastrophic failure.

In the 20s, Detroit was considered the "Paris of the West" as in western Hemisphere. Nobody would have ever dreamed it would become the bombed out wasteland it is today. It was an economic monoculture. We're now in the post-industrial age where PLACE matters most and what defines a city rather than industry. Dallas and Fort Worth suffer from a homogeny of PLACE and will similarly fade away in fifty years.

Monocultures are not resilient. Our cities and economies are dependent entirely on cheap gasoline. With the volatility in oil prices, the equation is right for some certain gas price to act as a sort of tipping/freeze point where the entire city siezes up and can no longer function.

As to your first point, there has to be some motivation for saving public schools and I wonder if that exists... Or if the strongest motivation is to kill them (or as Grover Norquist would say, "drown them in a bathtub").

The irony is that public spending for roads fits the prevailing ideology bc it plays to the skewed version of "freedom" that cars supposedly provide. "you can drive anywhere! Anytime! It'll be just like a car commercial where the landscapes are beautiful and nobody else is on the road!"

Simulacra & Simulation.