Bert Olivier

Cultural embodiments of the life and death instincts in human beings

Since the 19th century, when the heirs of 17th- and 18th-century British empiricism started thinking of the social implications of the empiricist doctrine, that all we know comes from experience, thinkers like Lord Shaftesbury and his ilk have believed that human society was “perfectible”. After all, if society could be arranged in such a way…

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Economy of luxury: We’re like rabbits caught in the headlights

Many readers will be familiar with Watership Down, Richard Adams’ wonderful, albeit sometimes terrifying, allegorical tale of a band of rabbits fleeing from a doomed warren (at the instigation of Fiver, a clairvoyant rabbit, who “saw” the imminent destruction of the warren by humans to make way for a building construction development). In the novel…

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The business of cyberwar

Most “connected” people will probably have noticed the symptoms of what is really a war going on right under our noses, even if one does not really put two and two together as far as the bellicose nature of these symptoms goes. I am not only talking about what ends up, mostly, in our spam…

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Ethics always comes too late for power

If there is one lesson I have learned from Foucault, it is this: Ethics always comes too late for power. What I mean by this is that human beings – even philosophers – have a tendency to rationalise, in ethical or moral terms, about the actual decisions and choices one makes in the world, and…

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Climate change: We have passed the 11th hour

In 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio — one of the few so-called celebrities in the world who seems to care about matters ecological — produced a disturbing film on runaway climate change called The 11th Hour, directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners. Like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth before it, it was a wake-up call,…

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The seductions and betrayals of technology

We live in a time of unmitigated technophilia, or love of technology. It was not always so. Since the earliest of times people have shown their intuitive awareness of the ambivalence of technology. In ancient Greek myths, for instance, one encounters the awareness that technology as a kind of prosthetic empowers humans to do what…

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Crime: There is something rotten in the state of South Africa

Driving to work this morning I heard the news about the fatal shooting of Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain Senzo Meyiwa. Saddening and extremely disturbing as it is, the irony of the matter is that it is even more saddening that the vast majority of people who fall senseless victims to the apparently never-ending…

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Transcendence: The clash of humanity and technology

Near the beginning of the 2014 thought-provoking science fiction film, Transcendence (directed by Wally Pfister2014), one of the main characters, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), walks into and through a deserted house into a little courtyard, bends down next to some sunflowers (the only healthy plants in the garden), thinking aloud to himself that “he” (his…

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Nuclear power carries risks that are simply not worth taking

In the wake of President Jacob Zuma’s recent lone ranger escapade to Russia, evidently to secure Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assistance regarding South Africa’s energy needs — the status of which seems to be uncertain at present because of accusations and denials of him acting unilaterally flying to and fro — the question, whether one…

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How the movie ‘Noah’ reflects our ecological failures

Most people who are familiar with the Old Testament of the Bible know the story of Noah, who was chosen by God, or “the Creator” as the deity is referred to in this remarkable film, to give humanity another chance. Except that, in Darren Aronofsky’s version of the story, Noah understands his task differently: not…

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