Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (2012)

First things first, 2012 it is now history. It is time to wish you all a good start into the coming year. Happy New Year all! 

This draft of my review of 2012 has been a few days in the making. There were a few distractions, most of them good, not all. I wish that I could claim that the low point of the year was early in January, almost an year ago in Paris when I went to what was my secret rendez-vous place across the Louvre, and found that the parts of that café that I was most fond of had been painted over. That was not the low point of the year, that came in the last days of December when all expectations were off-scale for merry making and relaxation. I will not go into the details of the bad news, and will focus here on the positive events and memories that this past year brought. In the paragraphs that follow l briefly sketch some of the events that dominated the year, and thoughts that persist during the past weeks whenever I think that I am looking back. I do wonder what it is that I look at when I think that I am looking back. 

People, Family and Friends. It was good to see friends whom I had not seen for years. The summer of 2012 was a bit different from anything that I had planned, and very rewarding. Above all, I had to look critically at some of the assumptions that I had taken for granted so far, and this is a process that continues, has just begun and was much overdue. I am particularly pleased with the opportunity to lecture at the summer school for materials in renewable energy where I reconnected with old friends, met new critical minds, and had a bit of time to think. It was as though doors opened where I had not even imagined that they exist. As it was, I ended up in Erice at the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Center for Scientific Culture twice this summer. The second visit was for the 2012 edition of the Seminar on Planetary Emergencies where the only familiar faces were those of the staff at the Centre. In between my two visits to Sicily, I ventured north to spend a few days as a guest of my two friends Alex and Tony at the Open Coop in Amsterdam. Again, my stay in Amsterdam went anything but as planned, only better. And the family? Oh yes, the family is a never ending story.

Politics. For some not so odd reason, politics is very much on my mind these days. Although politics is about dealing with conflicts, there is a prevailing notion – or so it seems to me – that politics is about some sort of utopia where everything works and that those with the task of doing politics have an easy task. It ain’t so. To begin with politics is everybody’s business.  Then, despite all the vague claims that this world has less conflicts these days than before, the existing conflicts are not being solved very intelligently. This tongue-in-cheek piece  in The Economist’s 2012 last issue somehow brings it to a point. Even though the piece is not about politics, it suggests how many like to think, and do think about politics: dismissively, deceptively and misinformed. Politics is messy, hard work, requires an unadulterated confrontation with problems, and commitment to find solutions that work within the tight web of our social values.

Local Conflicts. What am I rambling about? At the beginning of 2012 I had the infamous dossier of the Reitschule in the committee for social, cultural and educational affairs of our city parliament on my desk and was tasked with evaluating it and making a recommendation. After careful consideration, and a whole lot of interviews of various people involved, I submitted the recommendation that the the contracts stipulating the modalities for the subsidy provided by the city to the Reitschule (more exactly, the Interessengemeinschaft Kulturraum Reitschule, IKuR) organization needed re-negotiation. This passed, the contracts were again re-negotiatiated, I was still not happy. Anyhow, it came up for a vote again in the city parliament late in the Fall, somebody else had the dossier this time,  they recommended that the contracts be approved, and it passed; I voted against. The details of this are all rather dull, but this is the one item that gets many in Bern, to voice an opinion. There are several problems, mostly around security, especially the lack of it on some occasions, and the relationship with the Police is strained. On the grand scale of things, this is nothing earth-chattering, but violence is unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is the intolerance that many right-wingers show towards others with different political views. So, I had a few harsh words for a few people, and I was sure to make myself very unpopular in an election year. Two surprises. The press did not bother much with my opinions, and second I did get re-elected with a much better result than I had expected in spite of the fact that our party lost two seats in this round. Now, I am a bit challenged. The new legislation will start in a few days, and I may need to get out of my comfort zone. 

Films, Media, Technology and Gadgets. Over the last two weeks when I have gone off-grid I have watched a good number of films. Four make an impression as an interesting ensemble. Casablanca (1942), Blade Runner (1982), Idiocracy (2006), and Skyfall (2012). First of all, I did love Skyfall. There is something totally appealing about a James Bond that fails his active duty qualifiers, namely an aging Bond. Disturbing are the roles that women are cast in all four movies. How many of these movies have a female hero? Ilsa Lund is not an hero in Casablanca. Ilsa’s role is that of supporting an hero, any male hero, with her devotion. But when I think again, does it matter that female roles are cast as subservient, subordinate, and weak? Perhaps not. In Idocracy, the female protagonist has a whole lot of street smarts, but is also cast in a profession that albeit the oldest, it is still not a desired one. Why could the two leading roles not have been cast with the professions reversed? Namely, the female soldier, and the male prostitute would have distributed the roles in a less biased fashion. Blade Runner‘s screenplay differs in many aspects from the original Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but this is one of those exceptions where the film and the original story are equally rich and enjoyable. But… that is just a thought for later. What struck me most is the role of technology in all four movies. I could not help but to think that in dystopia, technology always works. The airplane does take off in Casablanca. The weaponry does function in Blade Runner while the genetic engineering is supposedely malfunctioning. The barcode scanners are the better policemen in Idiocracy. Last but not least, the true villain, if not hegemon, in Skyfall is technology. So, what does this tell us about our relationship to technology? Or, what is it like to live in constant fear?

Writing. In my personal electronic journal, in 2012, I wrote a mere odd 9,000 words. In 2011, when I was also not particularly prolific in journaling, it was more than double that count. That is, in 2012, I spent precious little time at the computer writing belly-button diatribes. I also did not blog much either. On paper, there are a mere 20 pages penned by hand in 2012. The fiction stuttered. Yes, it stuttered. The non-fiction book project was intentionally put on ice at the end of 2011 for one year. Have I been writing? Without a doubt, yes. It just has not been journals or fiction. 

In conclusion, what I can offer myself upon this disarrayed rendition of what I can not make pass for an analysis of the past year, is that distractions are everywhere. At the end of the day what gives me great satisfaction is to set my mind’s eye on a goal and work with all my focus towards it. For me it is not always easy to keep a balance between intensity, concentration, focus, and what my body and mind need to function. I want it all, but I know that unless I slow down, I will get nowhere. Early in 2012, in the midst of a project, I jotted down that I  had just signed up for the impossible. I did the impossible. Somehow, I rarely ever settle for less than the impossible. Focus helps. At a time when clutter and fragmentation threatens to engulf our lives and usurpate our existential rights, focus gets promoted to a value based on the faculty of choice. 

Previews reviews: 20112010, not really in 2009, then briefly in 2008, and in 2007