Monthly Archives: September 2006

Honda to mass-produce bioethanol vehicles

Honda has announced it will begin mass-producing compact cars which will run off bioethanol. Bioethanol is a type of alcohol which is produced from sugar cane and corn and is considered an environmentally friendly solution that meets the the Kyoto Protocol requirements of zero emission because the carbon dioxide emitted from bioethanol vehicles and absorption rates by plants comes to zero.

According to Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper Honda will convert its Brazilian factories to produce about 30,000 vehicles annually because Brazil is the world’s leading nation in utilizing bioethanol in transportation.

Together with the Japan’s Research Institute of Innovative Technology, Honda has been able to produce ethanol efficiently from biomass (a renewable resource from plants). This means that the traditional resource of sugar cane and corn – a food source – will not be stretched or impinged upon.

This is a step in the right direction for the environment and for the Kyoto Protocol since nothing significant has come from car industry in a long while.

Interconnectness and Differance

In my last post I wrote about the Derridean concept of differance. The idea is meaning is made through the system of difference and that there is no self-contained inherent meaning in words.

Yet this formulation is neither new nor unique. Environmental philosophy’s concern for interconnected is one such instance.

In plain terms interconnectedness is about how all things in the ecosystem is connected, that nothing is an isolated entity without affecting other parts in the web of life. Just like meaning the words as system of difference interconnectedness suggests that everything is part of the system and cannot be separated from it. The loss of a species (or of even a single life) affects the balance and has consequences that simply cannot be observed or be known. Every “happening” in the system changes the the system.

Put in other words everything is absolutely relative and that a change in status of one thing changes the relation within the system. To think that each item within the system is isolated from each other is an ideal and not a reality for nothing exists in isolation except in the mind. It is a trick of the mind and a good one, one that has deluded us for a long time.

To me interconnectedness is a positive way of saying differance. The latter term is colder more scientific in its formulation. We only need to look at nature, the animals – the food chain – and the mountains and trees to see how everthing has a role in the web of life and that something cannot be seen as having no role in the system even if it seems it does not affect the system. We must respect and see the importance of everything. In short sustainability is about giving up our complacency going beyond our self-importance. And if we can do this then we will have advanced as a species.

Difference and Differance

I didn’t know it back then but I had been a structuralist in high school.

It was during my mid-teens that I had stumbled upon a truth: that good meant nothing except when seen against evil. Put another way good can only exist if evil existed. By being brought up in a Catholic school meant I had to think about these things. Sad but true.

So if we look at the Christian God his whole existence really depends on the existence of the devil. Even though this doesn’t make sense because God is suppose be the first, even preceeding time. But really God and the devil could be said to have come into existence simultaneously. This of course is looking at God and the devil as logos, symbols or words which represent an idea and not really at God from the Christian believer point of view (I do not believe in God or gods). And that these logos have only meaning in relation to each other without internally stable meanings.

So the view I had back then was really a Saussurean structuralist outlook but did not know until much much later (like until a couple of days ago). Saussure saw words or signifiers as a system of difference. Signifiers as one half of the sign (the other half being the signified) were in Saussure’s words arbitrary. This means any combination of letters chosen to be put together in a way to represent something only had significance when it was contrasted to (every) other combinations of letters within the system. So ‘bat’ and ‘bet’ by its difference of one letter represents two entities. But it needn’t be a difference of one letter. ‘Bat’ and ‘esophagus’ are different not only in the number of letters they have but also by the distance of how completely different these two signifiers are.

Later Jacques Derrida, the French theorist, chose to use the word differance instead of difference to further develop on Saussure’s discovery. While Saussure had already stated that signifiers are both arbitrary and without meaning (or “meaning” is only made through differences to all other signifiers) he failed to see the radicalness of it and follow through on its implications. By choosing to use a different signifier ‘differance’ instead of the normal ‘difference’ Derrida wanted first to highlight a nuance. Differance served as the ground for play of pronunication (difference and differance do not differ in their pronunciation, thus highlighting their sameness) as well as serving as the ground for play of similarity between ‘differ’ (as in difference) and ‘defer’ (that meaning is always delayed, never fully being there because signifiers are always empty in meaning).

Critics have accused Derrida of being clever without real substance. Yet there is nothing wrong with being clever while still having something significant to say. Some thinkers miss the point and attempt to play in the Derridean manner but lack his substance, and therefore give Postmodernism a bad name. While others forego the cleverness all together and get to the point but perhaps boring their readers somewhat.

In the best tradition of the sutras of the Buddha I will give you the four possible combinations, from worst to best. You can lack cleverness and have no substance. You can be clever but have no substance. You can lack cleverness but have substance, or you can be clever and also have substance.

Derrida was definitely the last. Most good theorist are probably second from last. Bad postmodernists who hide behind their cleverness fit in the second category. And we won’t even bother to mention who goes into the first category.