Book Summary & Highlights: The Uncontrollability Of The World By Hartmut Rosa

Book Summary & Highlights: The Uncontrollability Of The World By Hartmut Rosa



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The driving cultural force of that form of life we call ‘modern’ is the desire to make the world controllable. Yet it is only in encountering the uncontrollable that we really experience the world – only then do we feel touched, moved and alive. A world that is fully known, in which everything has been planned and mastered, would be a dead world.

Our lives are played out on the border between what we can control and that which lies outside our control. But because we late-modern human beings seek to make the world controllable, we tend to encounter the world as a series of objects that we have to conquer, master or exploit. And precisely because of this, ‘life,’ the experience of feeling alive and truly encountering the world, always seems to elude us. This in turn leads to frustration, anger and even despair, which then manifest themselves in, among other things, acts of impotent political aggression. For Rosa, to encounter the world and achieve resonance with it requires us to be open to that which extends beyond our control. The outcome of this process cannot be predicted, and this is why moments of resonance are always concomitant with moments of uncontrollability.

This short book – the sequel to Rosa’s path-breaking work on social acceleration and resonance – will be of great interest students and scholars in sociology and the social sciences and to anyone concerned with the nature of modern social life.

About Author: Hartmut Rosa

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The driving cultural force of that form of life we call “modern” is the idea, the hope and desire, that we can make the world controllable. Yet it is only in encountering the uncontrollable that we really experience the world. Only then do we feel touched, moved, alive.
The first guiding thesis that I would like to develop in this essay is that, for late modern human beings, the world has simply become a point of aggression.3 Everything that appears to us must be known, mastered, conquered, made useful.
More and more, for the average late modern subject in the “developed” western world, everyday life revolves around and amounts to nothing more than tackling an ever-growing to-do list. The entries on this list constitute the points of aggression that we encounter as the world: grocery shopping, checking in on a sickly relative, doctors’ appointments, work, birthday parties, yoga classes—all matters to be settled, attended to, mastered, completed, resolved, gotten out of the way

Escalation Cycle

A modern society, as I define it, is one that can stabilize itself only dynamically, in other words one that requires constant economic growth, technological acceleration, and cultural innovation in order to maintain its institutional status quo. In terms of cultural perception, this escalatory perspective has gradually turned from a promise into a threat. Growth, acceleration, and innovation no longer seem to assure us that life will always get better; they have come instead to be seen as an apocalyptic, claustrophobic menace. If we fail to be better, faster, more creative, more efficient, and so on, we will lose our jobs, businesses will close, tax revenues will decline while expenditures increase, there will be budget crises, we won’t be able to maintain our healthcare system, our pension levels, and our cultural institutions, the scope of potential political action will grow ever narrower, and in the end the entire political system will appear to have lost its legitimacy. At both the individual and the collective level, what generates this will to escalation is not the promise of improvement in our quality of life, but the unbridled threat that we will lose what we have already attained. To argue that modernity is driven by an increasing demand—higher, faster, farther—is to misunderstand its structural reality. This game of escalation is perpetuated not by a lust for more, but by the fear of having less and less.

Four Dimensions Of Controllability

1. "Making it visible, that is, making it knowable, expanding our knowledge of what is there." 2. "Making it physically reachable or accessible." 3. "Making it manageable." 4. "Making it useful, pressing it into service."
These four dimensions of making the world controllable —rendering it visible, reachable, manageable, useful —are solidly entrenched in the institutions that form the basis of modern society. Science, by its very definition, is concerned with expanding the scope of what is known; the scientific enterprise, according to the formula K-R-K´ (existing knowledge—research—more knowledge), rests on the continually renewed promise of broadening this horizon. Technology is then developed in order to make the possibilities and the segments of world disclosed by science manageable, thus bringing the world under our control in all its dimensions. Economic development, which follows—or rather is subject to—the capital-driven, escalatory program M-C-M´ (money—commodities—more money), in turn provides the resources, and not only at the societal level but also for individual consumers, who bring the world under their personal control through the acquisition of goods as well as of knowledge and instruments. Finally, legal regulations and political–administrative apparatuses are charged with managing the social and cultural preconditions and consequences of this program of always expanding our reach—or rather they are charged with ensuring that social processes can be predicted and controlled. The ever-growing accumulation of regulations, provisions, and statutes is the manifest expression of our effort to make social life predictable and controllable in the sense of being justiciable—an effort, however, that is on the verge of failing dramatically, as I will explain in what follows. In fact, the ubiquitous struggle for power can be understood in all respects as a struggle for control: the struggle to expand our share of the world. Whether we are talking about direct authority or command, economic resources, rights of ownership and disposal, or any other form of power, power always manifests itself in the expansion of one’s own share of the world, often at the expense of others. Indeed, the individual reach of these others is not infrequently brought, partly or entirely, under the control and authority of those with power.

The Paradoxical Flipside: The Mysterious Withdrawal of the World

The world thus appears to be at once uncannily threatened and uncannily threatening—the very opposite of controllable... My argument is that resonance is not just a metaphor for a certain experience, or a subjective emotional state, but is a mode of relation that can be precisely defined by four exemplary characteristics: 1. Being affected 2. Self-efficacy 3. Adaptive transformation 4. Uncontrollability

The World as a Point of Resonance

The basic mode of vibrant human existence consists not in exerting control over things but in resonating with them, making them respond to us—thus experiencing self-efficacy—and responding to them in turn.

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