Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ruminations 68(6) (From Principle to Terror): 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 6 (From Principle to Terror). Share your own!

Links to Epigrams and Aphorisms: Ruminations 68.

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Part VI

1.  Great principles are personal--those who saw nothing but greatness when on January 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton selected his wife to head up the health reform effort might have been among those  ferociously condemning President Elect Trump's invitation to his daughter and son in law to join him in a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister in 2016.

2.  It is invariably in the service of feminism that feminists sacrifice women: continuing the old patriarchal trope of attacking a man through his wife takes us back not forward, and it is forward that we should be aiming, whatever our own views. [On the clucking around the semi-nude photos of Melania Trump taken for a modeling photo spread in 2000 as a means of attacking her husband, the President elect in 2016 (here and here)]

3. Normative principles are morsels best served to others but otherwise avoided; it should not surprise, then, that a prime mover of imposing human rights constraints on business behavior has itself been alleged to have violated the human rights of its own people . [A group of United Nations human rights experts* have criticized the Government of Ecuador for stifling civil society, after issuing an order for the closure of an NGO which supports environmental and indigenous rights (here)].

4.  A sad lesson that will go unlearned in the United States: dictating rather than engaging and bringing people along rather than ordering them as objects of societal reconstruction (no doubt for all the right and good reasons that may come to mind), when combined with s dismissive arrogance, is a recipe for tragedy in mass democratic states--for those on the left and right altogether too comfortable dictating. [The elites on the left and right awake to the realization tat they failed to manage the electorate fully successfully and the hand wringing that followed (here)].

5.  It is common for aristocratic leaders to blame their own people for their alienation from the people; in 1780s France, for the leader of aristocratic culture, it was "let them eat cake,"; in 2016 for a leader of aristocratic culture in the United States it was "What we do know is that people like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in;" the result is the same. [2016 the year that that the American aristocracy of the robe and the sword were rendered irrelevant by the masses who voted and who did not (here)].

6.  Mao Zedong reminds us that “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another;” yet through soft coups (strategic impeachment) in democratic states those who would have their revolution and their tea might indulge both. [2016 marked the year of the soft coup in Brazil (here), and thoughts of strategic impeachment in the United States (here)].

7.  The stronger global civil society the more likely that its interests will be seen as adverse to states; yet ironically that is not what states see when they seek to banish global civil society within their borders--the only thing states see in civil society is other states--the great blindness of an ideology grounded in the presumption that only states can be "seen." [2016 saw a wave of national regulations to restrict, banish or demonize civil society as the means through which foreign states hide their intervention in other states (here, here, here,. and here)]

(U.N. Human Rights related presentation, Geneva Switzerland 2016)

8. Society complains that about its intelligentsia "writing crap that no one reads,"; yet that same society insists on affirming as the test for admission to the intelligentsia demonstration of the ability to write that very crap that no one reads; but more troubling in this complaint is the unconscious embrace of a sort of factory output notion of mass utility that speaks more to a perversion of mass culture than it does to the way one might value knowledge production to society over a long time horizon. [on the expanding "crisis" of scholarship and its effect on social support for tenure and the autonomous work of the academic researcher (here)].   

9.  The linking of sports and politics in the West has a long history; the institutional culture of professional sports mimics that of government; in both cases there is a rule for everything, officials to oversee them, and owners to manage expectations through huge media operations and dialogue with the press; it surprises no one that the year that saw the election of Mr. Trump  also saw a reduction in National Football League game viewership; in both cases all the passion has been penalized out of the game.  [A colleague noted: with 3 minute reviews, 14 different camera angels, 7 minute timeouts for challenges, it is starting to have the feel of every news network during a controversial national story (here, here, and here)].

10.  The most effective appropriators of culture are those individuals who appropriate to themselves the power to determine the consequences of appropriating culture; such a purity police surely prefer their cultures dead and stable to living and beyond control. [thinking about the cultural appropriation debates that became newsworthy in 2016 (here, and here)]. 

11.  In a world whose elites have ascribed the profoundest hurt and judgment to names and name calling, why is white trash still bandied about as if it was a technical term? [on the denigration and empowerment of "white trash" in 2016 (here)].

12. This is the year that Marxism confronted its two essential questions: first the role of markets as a Leninist tool; second the contradiction of labor in Marxism as both a means of production and its object.  [On the two distinct tracks to socialist progress that were marked by Chinese and Cuban Leninism in 2016 (here and here)].

13. Is it possible for "the people" to be wrong? Only if they agree to be; that is possible in a state constrained by higher principles and purposes, and an institutional structure that enforces them; that is impossible in a state in which there is no higher value than custom, tradition, and expectation where current expression is by definition the performance of "right." [A year for questioning the character of sovereignty and rights and the national character of ISIS (here, and here)].

14.  In a culture of men, the active principle of maleness is preserved even at the heart of the feminist enterprise; it is no surprise then that the protection of the female would be perceived through men as it has been in every age of this epoch of patriarchy: -- from the reforms of chivalry codes to the cultures of virtue in ancient times; and so the wheel turns again and produces our version of angst and response. [on maleness as the centering point for cultural knowledge and legal reform from the university to the criminal code (here, here, here, here, and here)].

15.  In the West, the fixation on the performance of voting and the creation of a fiction of finality, no matter how close the vote, colors response and consequence. [Bexit (here)].

16.  Economists are right when they draw attention to transaction costs: in political terrorism the transaction costs of death are directly related to the value that death produces for its purposes. [In a year of political and sectarian violence it became clear that the success of terrorist acts was inversely related to its coverage or in the intensity of global reaction (here)].

17. The political value of life varies like the economic value of currency; its exchange rates are manifested in the political economy of terrorism and exposes the corruption of the moral equivalence of life in the service of markets for political and economic power. 

18.  Terrorist, settler, migrant, ex patriot: nouns are the judgments of communities not the identification of self.

19.  The morality of warfare is determined by the power of the warrior state in the short term, by the community of states in the medium term, and by the imperatives of demographics in the long term. [On the use of drones in warfare and a consideration of Turkish use of drones to murder the opponent of the current Turkish president in the wake of the so-called Turkish coup of 2016 (here)].

20. Terrorism relies on its victims for its success; the object of terrorism is not the killing act ostentatiously and cruelly  undertaken, but to leverage the the reaction and retaliation to its own ends; the ultimate perversion of terrorism--domestic or foreign, crude or sophisticated, conscious or unconscious--is the manipulation of stronger powers to serve as its unwitting agents. [from mass shootings to terrorist attacks in 2016 (here, here, here, here, and here)]


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