Daily Archives: August 29, 2008

Lecture notes for VIAL 8/29

Value comes from the Middle English, meaning worth or high quality, by way of the AngloFrench, and thence from the Latin, valere, to be of worth, be strong. It is related to “wield”, to handle effectively, to exert one’s authority.

Etymology:Middle English, worth, high quality, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *valuta, from feminine of *valutus, past participle of Latin valēre to be of worth, be strong — related to wield,Middle English welden to control, from Old English wieldan; akin to Old High German waltan to rule, Latin valēre to be strong, be worth

The etymology of value thus gives us an insight into its nature: the importance of values lies in part in the fact that they are related to specific practices—that is, they are lived. Values in the sense that we will be using them in this course, then, are by definition wedded to action. We enact our values, we perform or do them.

It’s also instructive to note that in dictionary definitions of the term value, the primary meaning generally given is an economic one. From Merriam-Webster: 1) a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged. 2) the monetary worth of something; Market price

Our use of the term value for the purposes of this course is reflected only in the final definition: something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.

The term “intrinsically” essentially means that something is what it is on its own account. That is, intrinsic values are valuable in and of themselves. Their worth is not relative to other values; they are good in their own right.

What is intrinsic value?

If someone asks you whether it is good to help others in a time of need you would probably answer “yes”. If she then asked you why acting this way was good, you might reply b/c it is good that our needs are satisfied. If the questioner went on to inquire as to what the good of satisfying needs was, you could respond that the satisfaction of needs brings pleasure. If you were asked what the good of pleasure was, then, having lost all patience, you would likely to say “it just is”.

This is intrinsic value: that which “just is.” It is the moment at which a value no longer relies on anything outside of itself. It is self-evident, and thus no longer the subject of any debate. This is the terrain we will be navigating in this course. It is a stark landscape of certainties that resist being charted. We, however, will refuse to be stymied. We are going to examine some of the core beliefs of American Life and attempt to understand how they shape our sense of ourselves and how they are acted upon. In the process, some of these values may lose their inscrutability.

Notes from today’s lecture (contcult)


Defining the contemporary period is an inexact project at best, and what counts as contemporary shifts between disciplines. Historians and philosophers tend to conceive of the period in larger terms: most world histories date the contemporary period as beginning with WWII. Philosophers are even further removed from our present moment and many date contemporary philosophy as beginning in the latter half of the 19th century. These periodizations are further complicated by dictionary definitions of “contemporary”: the OED defines “contemporary” as “Belonging to the same time, age, or period; living, existing, or occurring together in time.” In this sense of the word, contemporary has more to do with the condition of being contemporaneous. All of us are contemporaries, as are the texts we’ll examine in this course. 

My argument for periodizing the contemporary from the 1970s to the present is based on changes that have occurred in economic, social and cultural life. Some of these transformations are difficult to explain as they entail major shifts in production and consumption. The Fordist model of production, for instance, which was predicated on the existence of major industrial centers and full employment has given way to new methods generally grouped under the rubric of “postFordism” (Harvey). 


Key dates of the pre-history of the contemporary period:


Ghana decolonizes.


Credit card revolution.


World-wide insurgencies, protests and rebellions.

First ATM.


SFSC student strike.

The internet.

Key dates of the contemporary period


Shift from Fordism to “flexible accumulation”.


Energy crisis in Western nations creates “stagflation”

9-11-73 Military coup in Chile overthrows first democratically elected Marxist administration. Chile becomes the first neo-liberal nation-state.


Fall/liberation of Saigon

Microsoft founded


Islamic Revolution in Iran


Deng Xiaoping initiates liberalization of Chinese economy.


Total eradication of small pox worldwide.


Identification of the AIDS virus.


Berlin Wall comes down

Tianenmen Square


Rwandan genocide.


Telecommunications Act


Human Genome Project announces its mapping of the human genome.

Feb. 15-16, 2003

Up to 30 million people around the world protest the imminent invasion of Iraq.

March 19, 2003

US invades Iraq.

Dec. 5, 2006

World Institute for Development Economics completes its study on global economic disparities and states in its press release that 

“The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth…. The most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken also reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.” 

Features of the Contemporary Period:

growth of megacities (megacities are usually identified as urban centers of 10 million or more inhabitants as distinct from megalopoli, which are extended corridors as in Houston to Lake Charles or Southern California)

Tokyo (33,600,000)

Seoul, South Korea (23,100,000)

* Mexico City, Mexico (22,000,000)

* New York City, USA (21,800,000)

* Mumbai (Bombay), India (21,100,000)

* Delhi, India (20,800,000)

* São Paulo, Brazil (20,300,000)

* Shanghai, China (18,600,000)

* Los Angeles, USA (17,900,000)

globalization (of financial markets, culture, labor, etc.)

rise of new communication technologies that have transformed the place of culture in social life and impacted concepts of identity

rise of fundamentalisms

fragmentation of social life

massive migratory flows

shift from fordism to postfordism

the rise of the security industry