Monday, December 26, 2016

Ruminations 68(1): Looking Back on 2016 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

(Pix © Flora Sapio 2016)

In many ways, the year that is ending has proven to be quite significant. Mostly, it served as a hard reminder that the carefully crafted project of legalization and judicialization of the economic, religious and cultural spheres that were meant to serve as the foundations of a global order to make global war effectively impossible has begun to fray. And with the fraying of the legalization-judicialization project, politics and power have again emerged as significant factors in the organization of law and governance systems.  It has seen the destabilization of the Middle East and its consequential destabilization of Europe.  It has seen the retreat of a great power, a perpetually brooding political Colossus trapped in its own doubts and pretensions, and the flexing of muscles of rising powers through territorial expansionism and bullying of weaker partners. It has seen the exercise of mass power in the United States and other places that surprised elites that had long grown confident of their ability to manage  their people, whether under Marxist Leninist or democratic principles.   It has seen the unmasking of the militarization of the internal security and police structures of even the most stable and democratic states, the abandonment of law in battle against drugs and the emergence of law as a technique of managing corruption.  It has seen the development of governance beyond the state and the determination of  states seeking to substitute itself for the market. It has seen states us law, norms, markets and culture to drive efforts to perfect "model" workers, individuals and citizens, which can then serve the state's perfection of its markets, its centrally planned decision making structures, or its structures of divine command on earth. The Jewish people continued to provide fodder for all sorts of activity and were used by left, right and themselves to their quite distinct ends, as other religious institutions sought to maintain or expand their institutional jurisdiction within legal, cultural, economic and social structures in and beyond states.  The rise of global communities has now been challenged by states seeking to avoid the implications of normative communities that cannot be confined to and managed by the state. 

2016 is rich with these events that expose the complex connections between law, politics, economics, religion and culture. These events will set the course for 2017, 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 2016 evidence both the great power and the fragility of mass participation in institutions in which they find themselves in a continuous loop of mutually dependent  overlordship.

With no objective in particular, this post and a number that follow provides my summary of the slice of 2016 in which I was embedded through epigrams and aphorisms.

This is Part 1. Share your own!

Ruminations 68 Epigrams and Aphorisms: 

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

 Part I

 1. The more effective the tool the more likely that your enemies will use it more effectively against you and your interests. [Wondering how Chinese authorities will feel when Japanese universities and think tanks do the same in Taiwan in response to Chinese efforts to support Okinawan independence through universities and think tanks (here)].

2. A society loses its coherence when it is divided among master and servant perpetuated by law and economic practice. [On Brazil's political-economic crisis that continues despite the removal of its president Dilma (here)].

3. The corruption of good intentions is the inevitable consequence of social and legal orders that are themselves corrupt; the nature of the corruption is reflected in the forms of its good intentions.  [Thinking about the ways in which China's anti-corruption campaigns has ensnared  those most vulnerable to misdirection (here); and the way that the American Title IX gender protective campaigns have done the same (here)].

4. A state that refuses to be accountable for its errors will soon lose the affection and then loyalty of its people. [On the continued unwillingness of even the richest states to make amends when it causes harm to innocent parties through the use of its police power (here)].

5. All actions of ruling castes evidence the simultaneous power of decay and renewal; a ruling caste seeks control of even the smallest things as acts of renewal of power and purpose, the greater that control the more those renewals define the course of decay. [On the ghosts of abandoned churches all over Europe but especially in Italy (here)].  

6. People invest tremendous energy in seeing others in ways that are useful to them; when we consider strangers we consider the strange part of ourselves and for our own ends; when societies engage in the practice their impudence mimics God, though they construct idols only of the worst of themselves. [Thinking about the racialization of religious groups, especially the "Jews" as a globally useful avatar of the other (here)].

7. When the state asserts authority through law but devoid of ethical legitimacy it reduces the legitimacy of the state itself. That is the tragedy of this shortsighted decision by judges who ought to know their duty, and the higher law of this Republic, better. [Considering extent of the judicial protection of local police in killing the pets of those with whom they come in contact, including dogs that bark].

8. Merchant power and imperial power do not co-exist well for long; their animating spirits are mutually contradictory. [Considering the growing effectiveness of China to use its economic power to compel political concessions from states with respect to its "core interests (here)"].

9. Individuals are their own greatest contradiction and it is within that contradiction that their followers are usually condemned; the greater the office the more profound the contradiction and the greater thew agony of the people crushed between ideal and action.  [Thinking about the removal of Dilma Rousseff (here)]. 

10. One ought to be suspicious when institutions are too eager to oblige progressive mass agitation; genderless pronouns and titles are betrayed by gendered names; genderless names infringe on the freedom of identity, and the avoidance of names suppresses identity altogether. [Wondering at the underlying objectives of the move by Oxford University to suppress gendered pronouns and titles (here)]

11. States are the ultimate chameleons--when they appeared to be overwhelmed by global economic enterprises they started intervening directly in the market with the flexibility of enterprises and the resources of the state; when they appeared to be overwhelmed by global civil society, they intervened directly in civil society space with the mass appeal of popular movements and the unaccountable power of the state. [Considering news that Qatar created their own NGOs to spy on civil society and manage public discussion, following the pattern developed in China (here)].

12. Political societies embrace creative destruction, unless the creative destroyer threatens the political order itself. [On considering the reticence of Chinese officials to embrace creative destruction because to do so might elevate Mao Zdeong and the Cultural Revolution as the ost destructive and innovative era of the recent past (here)].]


 (Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

  13. The irony of global gentrification is that the global class is transformed into a vast settler class, displacing native peoples as they make and remake places that they favor; the contradiction of global gentrification is that there investment in developing states fuels development but at the cost of displacing those for whom development is targeted. [On considering the effect of global gentrification in Havana where wealthy Europeans are paying large sums to displace families from "choice areas of Havana in order to build their fashion forward habitats in the context of general criticisms of the present Cuban regime for allowing Havana to crumble around them(here)].

14. On Fidel Castro and his wider implications: "Though his physical body has ceased to function, Castro's life as symbol, as representation--of good, evil, incompetence, passion, ideology, ideas. leader, and the like--will remain powerful in two respects. First, he will survive as the embodiment of a theory and of resistance to hegemons (whatever the reality of this resistance and however corrupted the actuality on the small Island Republic he controlled) will continue to be developed. . . . Second, he will survive as the nexus points for a cluster of control techniques and political styles that are also likely to be refined and used again." (here).

15.  Globalization has reduced the accountability of states and detached their policies from their legislatures; where states shift their governance to private sector entities--state owned enterprises, development banks and sovereign wealth funds--the connection between the populace and the state becomes more tenuous still; it is in these forms that the state is both transformed and renewed--what appears to be the decay of the state is merely a chronicle of its transformation into a great private sector governance organism. [Considering the announcement of the Qatar sovereign wealth fund to invest in U.S: infrastructure projects (here)].

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