Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New York Edition

When I used to live in the US, I remember coming back from Europe, picking up a rental car and driving out to the ocean in Jersey. Walking along the dunes of Sandy Hook was the perfect antidote to all those hours in the air.

Yesterday when we got into Newark we were completely exhausted. Having two kids who like to get up super early do not leave you with much in terms of reserves. At least we managed to take a walk down to Barnes & Nobles at Union Sq and have some Italian bar food at Eataly before collapsing in bed at 6.30 pm. Which of course meant that we at 1 am were wide awake and ready for breakfast. Luckily the New York Edition was able to find some Greek style yoghurt with granola and berries. 

Transoceanic

Four hours into the flight, Frithiof Viking is now more than halfway along its North Atlantic Track, slightly south of Greenland. Some time ago, Eddie and I read an article in Svenska Dagbladet Junior about Dagny, who at the age of 104, may well be the world’s oldest blogger. The article featured a timeline which marked her birth the same year that Titanic went down. This in turn led to a long conversation and many questions over the following days about ice bergs, the passing of time and the vastness of oceans.

With both kids back home, an intensive week now awaits in America. First New York tonight before taking the Northeast Regional Amtrak service down to Baltimore tomorrow morning for three days at the ISA convention. Afterwards, we hope to get one last night in Kalorama and a Sunday stroll in DC before flying back to Sweden on Sunday.

At the ISA, I am looking forward to chairing one panel on the governance of new environmental technologies, being discussant for one panel on “urbanization, technology and ecology” and then presenting my own paper in a panel featuring everything from the metaphysics of the Anthropocene to imagination as transformational capacity. As always, the programme is packed with tons of fascinating stuff including an old friend from HUFS who will present his paper on evolving US-led alliance structures in East Asia.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 17, 2017

Vabruari

February around this time tends to be a shadowland. Swedish parents have even come up with a new word which combines the name of the month “februari” with the acronym for the temporary parental benefit paid by the government when you stay away from work to care for a sick kid (“vab”). True to the resulting portmanteau, this week both William and Eddie have been really sick, probably with HRSV. Meanwhile I have had tons of exams to mark and Anna has had her ISA-paper to finish before we can head over to the US on Tuesday.

Friday, February 03, 2017

The sun also rises

It was an early morning at Warsaw Chopin Airport, I think we were third in line for departure on runway 33/29, the two engines of our Brazilian built Embraer ERJ-175LR were still almost idling as we waited for a LOT Boeing 787 to depart for New York. I closed my eyes and let all the images from Chernobyl, Kiev and Vienna flood through my mind, leaving me with a warm afterglow. This is the world that is at stake, one of bridges rather than borders.

Today I read a surprisingly interesting interview with Alexander Dugin (unfortunately only available in Swedish) in Dagens Nyheter. It was surprising because towards the end the interviewer asks what will happen if Russia and America are no longer enemies in the Trump era and Russia no longer has someone to blame for its misfortunes. Dugin readily admits that this will force Russia to take responsibility and actually do something about its dismal economy and a “government that is thoroughly corrupt and in the hands of villains” as he puts it (!). These are indeed times when all that was solid is melting into air.

As for Trump, probably Paul Krugman is right: “Either he or the republic, in any meaningful sense, will be gone quite soon. I have a hard time seeing one year, let alone four”.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Campogiovanni

Like in a dream, I find myself lost in the hills somewhere south of Siena. After the Medici family conquered Siena in 1555, Montalcino (where the wine is from) held out for almost four years before it fell to the Florentines. Though only in tiny sips, I can bring back memories of what the land looks like.

Rarely has it seem more presumptuous to make grand plans for the future than tonight. Still, I have flights booked and ticketed all the way until the very end of 2017, the year when the world will take a big leap into the dark unknown.

I really do not know what to do tomorrow. Maybe listen once more to Obama’s inaugural address from 2009. Or writing feedback on yet another student essay in the hope that the next generation will be ever so slightly better equipped to climb back up from the abyss.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Arctic adventures

The last week has seen cold winds coming down from the Arctic with temperatures below -25 degrees. This has meant that we spent a lot of time inside, reading Pettson & Findus, building Lego and making paella. I have also had reasons to be rather impressed by how energy efficient the new house is. Despite that all heating and warm water is electric and we make extensive use of the washing machine and dishwasher, our total electricity consumption for December came to less than a thousand kWh (all certified nuclear electricity of course!). Today, I decided to invest the savings from my electricity bill on the secret fuel that takes me through the winters up here.

As for winter experiences, my mother-in-law had a rather extreme train journey the other day. The engine of her night train broke down just outside the village of Nattavaara where it was -38 degrees. After many cold hours, the train was eventually towed by another engine down to the coastal town of Luleå where she arrived 16 hours after starting her journey. During the night, the local people in Nattavaara served tea and sandwiches to the stranded passengers. Stories like that go a long way in restoring one’s faith in humanity.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Shipwrecked Mind

These days, one may be forgiven for thinking that the transformative energy of the Enlightenment has run out. Even as much of the Left has come to reject the dream of an integrated world of shared prosperity and freedom, its enemies have spared no ammunition in attacking what still remains of its cosmopolitan sensibilities. Rather than standing up against this barrage of nationalism and bigotry, it has become common to suggest that democracy can only handle so much diversity and that we need to restore "control" over our borders.

As I sit down to write my first blog entry of 2017, it is frustrating to realize that nostalgia once again seems more powerful than hope and that more people want to build walls than tearing them down. At a time when we should focus much of our energy on expanding our civilization outwards toward the stars and thereby securing our long-term survival as a mature technological species, we are instead playing dangerous games with omnicidal weapons and pretending that we can somehow run away from our global responsibilities.

With all these questions I turn to Mark Lilla’s new book "The Shipwrecked Mind. On Political Reaction". Already on the first pages I find myself humming in agreement: “Reactionaries are not conservatives […] they are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries and just as firmly in the grip of historical imaginings […] where others see the river of time flowing as it always has, the reactionary sees the debris of paradise drifting past his eyes”. And then the book turns to the “political theology” of Carl Schmitt and how it has convinced many intelligent people, some close to me, that the essence of politics is not compromise, deliberation and liberal tolerance but a conflict of absolutes founded on the friend-enemy distinction.

Soon after I finish my caffè latte. I do not agree with everything that Lilla says or believes but it is clear that we should do all that is in our power to ensure that 2017 will be a year when the open future, rather than a closed and romanticized past, is allowed to define our world.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Full circle

Ever since William was born, we have opted for an early New Year’s lunch rather than dinner. This year, I have baked some zucchini with chèvre and saffron risotto, of course served with the house champagne.

Beyond my new gym card, I decided this morning to become a founding member of Environmental Progress. This new NGO is leading the fight for clean energy. As a first step, this means stopping the premature closing of existing nuclear reactors. Once a levelled playing field has been established in which all low-carbon sources are treated equally, the next aim of Environmental Progress is to create an expansive new vision for nuclear power in the decades to come. With this decision, I have come full circle from being strongly anti-nuclear to realizing that nuclear is absolutely essential if we want to secure a prosperous global future without dangerously destabilizing the global climate or further squandering our ecosystems.

2017 is now little more than ten hours away here in Europe. I have no doubts that it will be a difficult year in many ways. Yet, I am equally convinced that ultimately we will find our way. So here is a, still somewhat early, happy new 2017!

Labels: ,

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ecomodern workout

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I really liked with the new house was that it is possible to jump right out of the door and go running in the woods. However, between kids, tons of ice and a left knee that starts hurting past 6-7 km (the track around the lake is 8.2 km), there has not been that much running through the autumn.
Meanwhile, the university changed their discounted gym from IKSU to USM and that too became a convenient excuse. Today, however, I decided to make an early New Year's resolution and sign up for a new gym card. To celebrate the occasion I of course took on my "High-Energy Planet" t-shirt (courtesy of the Breakthrough Institute) to give me an extra boost. Unfortunately, despite very much decoupling from nature in every other way (well, the treadmill monitor did show a forest track when active) my knee started hurting a lot before I even reached 4 km. Contrary to the instincts of my former self, I decided to stop right there so next time I will be a bit more careful.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Populism

This semester, I am supervising eight thesis students which must be sort of a personal record. While I am rather jealous of one of the students who is doing a Minor Field Studies on the Seychelles, I know how much hard work thesis writing can be. In their thesis work, students have to combine the theoretical and methodological skills that they picked up through their undergraduate education and put it all together into a comprehensible manuscript.

Considering the times, it is not surprising that there have been a number of topics related to populism and the future of liberal democracy. As often tends to be the case, giving feedback on what the students write sparks my own interest. And picking up the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs with its “Power of populism” on the cover, I feel more inspired than ever to actually write something on populism.

One rather dark thought I have had recently has to do with how increasingly illiberal forms of government may paradoxically end up helping liberalism by offloading some of the burden associated with the provision of social reality. To put it in the words of the 80’s music: “Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)”. Easy as it may have been for people on the Left to complain about the loss of authenticity or having to choose telephone service provider in a globalizing post-historical Fukuyama world, I am afraid we will all rather soon wake up to problems of a completely different magnitude. Ultimately, there is no going back. The future will demand ever greater measures of self-actualization and reflexivity, at least any future that we want our children to live in. Eventually, it will become obvious that the cheap promises of an “easy life” that populism offers are just hollow and stale, that yielding to our bitterness only leaves us sad inside. And correspondingly, that only by expanding our circles of moral imagination do we grow.