Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ruminations 68(2): 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 provides my summary of the slice of 2016 in which I was embedded through epigrams and aphorisms.

This is Part 2. Share your own!

Links to full content of Epigrams and Aphorisms: Ruminations 68

 (Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)
Part II

1. To wonder whether one has done enough is to admit the opposite; when states reflect on the same question they are seeking to distract attention from their own quite deliberate contrary national and international policy decisions that made any other outcome unlikely; to ask such questions, then is to admit that the state and its leaders have done quite enough. [Considering the policy discussions in Western states as their public intellectuals and political classes watched the rebel held city of Aleppo fall (here)].
2.  All religions seek to advance their God's kingdom on earth, and necessarily that kingdom invariably takes human form; when many such Earthly kingdoms exist within a single territory can they resist the temptation to seek in human institutions and human wealth the kingdom that eludes them  as a result? [Considering the objectives of some American Christians to use a school system, not their own, to advance God's kingdom (f)or their own ends (here)].

3. People invest the image of the divine in the state, and yet manage to build only the faintest reflections of their own natures; the greater the effort the greater the distance to the divine, a distance invariably measured in the blood of others.  [Thinking about the move toward the use of the instrumentalities of the state in the service of a religion in power (here)].   

4. A political community (organized as ethnos, demos or Logos) projects its most telling image of itself through its construction of the structures and content of the education of its young; a state that abandons the project of education abandons itself; a state that sees in education the inroads of error and corruption merely projects its own fears and corruption into the education it seeks to protect; the state that rejects a role for education disappears within the institutions that educate; and the state that seeks to revive a decayed ideology through the lash  of education plants the seeds of its own destruction.  [Considering the role of the Communist Party in education in China (here)].

5.  Education as knowledge dissemination is it its most protected when  it is deeply embedded in and serves the needs of the communities in whose service it is deployed for whatever ends the community desires; this is so because dissemination requires only transmittal within the social structures in whose service teaching is done; yet education as knowledge production is at its weakest when it is most protected; this is so because knowledge production requires the exercise of an ability to stand outside what is embedded.  [Considering the underlying premises of the university's efforts to control speech through policies grounded in harassment while affirming the theoretical rights of free speech as a fundamental right (here)].

6. Ideology that remains remote from the people soon either atrophies and disappears or, captured by a small vanguard, becomes a tool for control; ideology that makes facts, and in the making remakes itself; it is most vibrant when its expression interprets its content. [Thinking about the realization of China's One Belt One Road alternative to world trading orders and its expression in rail lines from Asia to the heart of Europe (here and here)]].

7. Ideology can shape reality; where it bends facts to fit within its conceptual frameworks it can also distort like a pair of warped spectacles; the changing global climate provides a case in point:  insisting that climate is not changing, even from a markets driven perspective, works against interest; there is a lot of money to be made in climate change related business all of which should be encouraged and the protection of industries now slated for extinction as a consequence of changing historical conditions works against the core of even the most conservative economic theory; except to feed ideology. [Considering the efforts of the incoming American Presidential administration to reflect on and formulator its own policy toward so-called climate change (here].

8. All belief systems, in some way, seek to remake the individual; economic and political systems seek to remake the individual into a model person, one suitable for insertion into the perfection that is the system the person serves; Cuban Marxism strives for the perfect worker as a bloodless amalgam of a pathway through class struggle;  American free market ideology strives for the perfect worker as well--not in the form of a bloodless abstraction but transformed into an equally incorporeal machine.  [Thinking about perfectionism in Cuban Marxism and American free enterprise systems theory and its expression in the bodies of the workers through which it produces value (here and here)].

9. Factions are always eager for the task of unmasking the veils behind which the nefarious motives and objectives of competing factions operate; yet that unmasking also veils the authoritarian tendencies of all orthodoxies, left and right, when either control the machinery of state and the power to reshape language to suit their ends. [Thinking about the fears of the authoritarianism of the right that has become so widespread (here)].

10. It is the curse of humans to dehumanize opponents in societal organizations; it is the tragedy of technology to provide the means to act against the bodies of those dehumanized; and it is strategically useful for dehumanized opponents to be understood not as threatening but as both embedded within the body of humanity and a threat to its health--the vampire, the parasite, the virus, the changeling--all of these variations provide the symbolic speech necessary not just to set opponents apart, but to suggest that opposition is merely the identifying marker of death. [Thinking about the way Jeremy Corbyn (U.K. Labor leader) (here) and American leftists (here) can as easily draw on the dehumanizing language of the "parasite" as some of the supporters of the American President Elect Trump (here)].

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

11. Societies, like individuals, walk backwards into the future; all the more so in times of instability; so intent on imagining a golden, silver bronze age behind them, none are prepared for the obstacles that await them; indeed the most significant marker of social crisis is nostalgia: but where an exuberant society first embraces contemporary practices with full vigor and spirit, it is a decaying society that seeks the soulless reproduction of a past that is beyond recapture. [Thinking about the implications of considering a person for the role of Treasury Secretary of the United States who considers abolishing the Federal Reserve (here)].

12. Ibn Khaldun declared that blindly following ancient customs and traditions doesn't mean that the dead are alive, but that the living are dead;  yet it is also possible that to follow ancient customs and traditions blindly is to kill them; performing custom and tradition as a ritual exercise will reduce the connection between the ritual and its spirit; without its spirit custom and tradition serves as a husk within the decay of which a new order will inevitably arise; to practice ancient custom and tradition.  [Thinking about the way that political parties and societal organizations embrace custom and tradition as an organizing force for their communities and in the service of political action (here and here)].

13. Perhaps part of the problem of the individual and her relation to the state is the cultivation of the habit of thinking of the "state" as something autonomous and apart from individuals; that separation in turn suggests hierarchy (the person of the state over that of the person of the individual) and vests the state either with the character of a machine (a conceit) or of the manifestation of a class who exercise its powers through the apparatus one identifies as "the state"; in the later case the state itself appears to belie the democratic and human rights premises on which it is supposedly built. [On the death of Fidel Castro, considering the quality of guilt or volition in states for the depredations of its leaders and the relationship between the leader and the state].

14.  There are lots of ways to build walls; physical walls along the ancient Chinese model are popular again in the West; but walls can be intangible, barriers to the free flow of information; and they might be no a barrier for being cultural ("you just can't understand me"); but these walls tend to tell us more about their builders than about any truth represented by the wall itself. [On the rise of a political separation barriers as a cultural manifestation not just of difference but of impenetrability (here)].

15. Even in the face of multiple acts of ruthless self serving leadership, even as a leader is condemned for the deprivations inflicted on the people over whom he held dominion directly or though others,  what people will remember is that a ruthless cult of personality on an island state can serve those who crave power quite well. [Thinking about the lessons of the leadership of Fidel Castro Ruz and the continued inability of may to understand his significance (here)].

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