2017 is rich with events that expose the complex connections between law, politics, economics, religion and culture. These events will set the course for 2018, even as new actors seek to take manage people, events, states, enterprises and other institutions with substantial consequential effects of the mass. But most of all 2017 was the year of big data, of social credit, and of the realization that the algorithmic institution (state or otherwise) might well replace the regulatory state as the driving force for the management of people, institutions and behaviors. Where once the regulatory state was said to express the will of the people refined through their representatives in government, currently the algorithmic enterprise can be said to build systems for managing people and institutions from the data it harvests from them applied to metrics that both reflect their desires and directs it toward certain ends. But this was also the year of statues, of mass violence and of surprising revelations that both marked and drove significant cultural change.
With no objective in particular, this post and a number that follow provides my summary of the slice of 2017 to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms. It follows an end of year tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here).
This is Part 5, with a focus on independence referendum, on academic freedom and on big data and social credit as a new technique of political management. Share your own!
Ruminations 77: 2017 in Epigrams and Aphorisms
3. In a world of economic, societal and political dependencies, political independence is a relational concept; and those relations are both formal and functional in character; to speak of independence is to elevate ideology over fact; a Catalonia within Spain and within the European Union suggests the complexities. ["He is just one of a number of nationalist leaders around Europe who are newly-assertive and see no contradiction between their positions and those espousing a Federal European Union, dreaming of freedom from centralising nation states and becoming micro-nations within Europe themselves." Carles Puigdemont: the Catalan leader who won't take 'no' for an answer. Also; El Parlament aprueba iniciar el proceso constituyente de la república catalana; Spain imposes direct rule after Catalonia votes to declare independence; 'Club of decadent and obsolete countries' Catalan leader issues STAGGERING attack on EU; European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemon]
4. In a world of relational political dependencies societal and economic independence is a fantasy, the Cubans and North Koreans serve as a living example of both the realities of relations and the consequences of fantasy backed by power. [US Customs vows to block imports made by North Korea workers ("At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, the government is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide, bringing in revenue estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion."); The Russians are Coming]
7. An academic freedom--a freedom of inquiry and discourse--that centers on judgment inevitably creates factions whose objective is as much to attack the legitimacy of opposing discourse as it is to advance their own, and it is to that end that law is invoked to protect "legitimate" from "illegitimate" freedom in the academy; in this it resembles the movement of a freedom to engage in political inquiry and discourse in the West. [Where academic freedom, and freedom of speech generally, changes its focus from discourse to judgement, then it no longer makes sense to safeguard discourse (the speaking among people) but rather to champion positive content (speaking that aligns with the judgment of factions engaged in speaking). "In December 2016 the professor tweeted, “All I Want for Christmas Is White Genocide.” Online threats followed, as did a condemnation from Drexel, which called the remarks “inflammatory,” “utterly reprehensible,” and “deeply disturbing,” while also saying they were protected speech. Mr. Ciccariello-Maher has argued that the threats and pushback against his charged statements constitute a “new offensive against academia” by far-right groups. And his case was part of a trend of online attacks against professors’ speech that has prompted some academics to push administrators not to discipline professors when they become the object of internet outrage." Drexel Professor Whose Charged Tweets Drew Fire From the Right Will Leave the University]
8. The freedom of speech in institutions that fear risk more than they value discourse is surely a very small thing, and one cultivated only to enhance stability in a riskless environment. [The changes in the practice and deployment of academic freedom mirrors the changes in the institutions in which speech constitutes an important nominative element; the move from the management of discourse to the judgment of content reflects the changes in the way the educational mission of the university is understood and performed--the riskless university managed through its compliance and finance offices and focused on the production of graduates that can be successfully inserted in wage labor markets is one that itself must shape discourse based on a judgement of acceptable content. "And, of course, with the move toward a corporate model comes the natural consequences. First there is a tendency to expand the disciplinary authority of administrators and based on an obedience model. . . Second, there is a move toward the limitation of access to information . . . Related to this is the development of a host of techniques designed to undermine governance even as they appear to enhance it" From Academy to Enterprise; the Transformation of the University, the View From the U.K.: Ben R Martin, "What’s happening to our universities?"]
9. What is discursive freedom in a world in which expression is valued more as a data point than as the ideas it means to invoke; all the more so in the business that politics has become in the West? [Trump, Cambridge Analytica and how big data is reshaping politics]
10. The list is now law [Since the time that Caesar Augustus drew up the first of the proscription lists, the power of listing, of ranking, and of certifying has remained the great means for ordering society; it has now become its form as well, for everything from the disciplining business and institutiobns, to the management of the expression of normative rules in the everyday choices of life; The List as Law: CARICOMM, Cuba and the EU's Tax Haven List]
11. The West has come lately to its obsession with China's experiments in management through data and algorithm; the fear is not with the method of governance, for surely Western enterprises have pioneered all of the techniques now looked on with horror; rather it is that China the state has directly assumed the governance role which in the West has been nicely delegated to its enterprises. [Big data reshapes China’s approach to governance ("Most importantly, the “Social Credit System” that is currently being built aims to nudge citizens and companies into rule-abiding behaviour by evaluating data ranging from payment morale or compliance with traffic rules or environmental regulations to opinions voiced in online chatrooms."); In China, a Three-Digit Score Could Dictate Your Place in Society] .
12. Big data management and the managerial use of algorithm is said to threaten the market and market based systems that mark the post 1945 world order; yet it may be more accurate to say that data and algorithm are merely reconstituting robust markets in their own image as in the past century financial markets had done in their time. [One begins to wonder whether data and algorithm driven markets are merely a different expression of the same form, that markets are indeed capable of multiple simultaneous expression--as normative object and as tool; it merely changes the structures within which choices are made and managed; it is a distinct set of techniques for the interaction between supply and demand that at its core is still founded on consent and choice. [Big data reshapes China’s approach to governance; In China, a Three-Digit Score Could Dictate Your Place in Society].
13. The market is a fetish and a ritual expression; to understand a market one must always work backwards from the end goal of societal ideology. [At its base the word means little more than the structuring of exchanges and the framing of systems of demand and supply--the rest is ideology of the allocation of power among the members of a community, each with its own premises about the authority of various actors to exercise discretion, that is, to invoke choice as an object or a weapon, or a technique of management to an ends that is supplied by ideology, or religion, or culture. Thinking about Cuba Suspends New Licenses for Work in Private Sector; and Quyen Nguyen, Internalization Theory and Internal Capital Markets of Multinational Enterprises].
14. The idea that markets are instruments of private power is as obsolete as the notion that laws and regulation are the principal means of regulating behavior; Who does a market serve? The market serves its masters! [To determine the nature of the market requires a careful understanding of the market makers--the state, the organized communities of consumers and investors, the production chain--and their chains of command, of allocation, of ideology and objectives its masters and their view of the world and their place within it. 《不能让算法决定内容》"Do Not Rely on Algorithm to Decide": The Transformation of Power Relationships in the Wake of Social Credit and Big Data Management Governance].
15. The West has been developing complex webs of governance for decades--from the state the regulatory environment that seamlessly interfaces with privately managed data driven algorithm systems. [What, then is the difference between the Chinese state requirements for a national system of face recognition and the construction of a global system of face recognition through ownership of cellular phones? Facial recognition: iPhone today, tomorrow the airport?; China plans giant facial recognition database to ID its 1.3bn people]