Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ruminations 77(2): 2017 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

(Pix © Flora Sapio 2016)

The year 2017 is ending with as great a flourish as 2016, even in the absence of a U.S. Presidential election to make the world buzz.

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 2. Share your own!

Ruminations 77: 2017 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

 Part 2

1. When states treat their minorities badly, especially over long periods of time, they can hardly expect to assert any sort of moral authority when they seek to point out the bad behavior of other state's whose majority populations are members of that minority; moral authority, once lost, can be difficult to recover; and it may be irremediably lost when states continue to evidence that nothing has changed.   ["On January 12th, Aftenposten wrote in an article about Kushner that “the Jew Kushner reportedly pushed for David M. Friedman as the new ambassador to Israel”.Norwegian newspaper apologizes for calling Trump’s son-in-law ‘the Jew’].

2. Much is fair in politics, as long as the polity permits, even when the polity betrays its own politics.  ["The look in his eyes and the tight smiles I received from several federal employees after introducing myself as a reporter reminded me of interviewing scientists in China. My presence inspired fear."[Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak with the Press].

3. The test of a commitment to free markets is the commitment of market supervisors to the goal of perfect information; merely because one proclaims allegiance to free markets does not make it so; most people favor markets structured to favor them; and the best way to do that is to manage the information on which choice is made in the market. ["The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today removed public access to tens of thousands of reports that document the numbers of animals kept by research labs, companies, zoos, circuses, and animal transporters—and whether those animals are being treated humanely under the Animal Welfare Act. Henceforth, those wanting access to the information will need to file a Freedom of Information Act request." USDA blacks out animal welfare information].

4. Even without meaning to, the remediation of poverty is the means by which the well off emphasize their superior position through good works and the state ensures that productive forces are mobilized for its benefit; for the poor it is a reminder that the price of assistance is a service that acknowledges their inferiority. ["Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) wants kids to learn early in life that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. To make sure they absorb that lesson, he’s proposing that low-income children do some manual labor in exchange for their subsidized meals."  GOP Congressman Proposes That Poor Students Sweep Floors In Exchange For Lunch and here

5. Everyone serves the master that funds them, even in the West. [China’s think tanks overflow, but most still think what they’re told to think]

6. Socialization done badly can have long term effects. Ever since I was young I have had a special place in my heart for people who feel empowered to tell me what good for me and to make me do it; they have helped me  understand that I remain stupid, or ignorant, or am acting out, or am uneducated and need my betters to ensure I do right..... and that made me much more receptive to the importuning of television advertisers ["Debate about how food-stamp benefits are spent was sparked by a November report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which found that households receiving SNAP benefits used 20 cents of every dollar to buy soda, candy, desserts and other unhealthy foods. "  Food stamps and sweets: Should they be kept apart?]

7. There is little need to police people when people police themselves; and data has become the principle technique of this policing.  [ The Times Issues Social Media Guidelines for the Newsroom; Should I speak up when I see something offensive or false on social media?]

8. If people police themselves through data provision; the institution can judge, punish and reward through algorithm. ["Various news outlets are reporting that Google will begin flagging content that is “upsetting” or “offensive.” The flags will be used to update its search algorithms. . . . The question for people following the Israeli-Palestinian issue and efforts to define criticism of Zionism as anti-Semitism is whether Google’s editors will deem humanitarian criticism “offensive” or “upsetting” to those criticized." Google to begin flagging "upsetting" or "offensive" content; Pakistan Forms Regulatory Body to Monitor Online Blasphemous Content]. 

9. What I find fascinating in these fierce discussions of the hierarchy of oppression of servitude is what appears to be an implicit embrace of the idea that there is a legitimate foundation for exploitative service, however nicely parsed, and that one must strongly protect some forms of exploitation even as one strongly denounces others; and thus the core failures of Capitalism and Marxism remains the privileging of capital and the commodification of labor. [The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: servants or slaves? - History Ireland].

10. It is hard to say "I told you so" to people who will no doubt never live long enough to see the effects of their bad decisions--and there is little satisfaction in saying it to their children as they suffer along with yours. [Top US coal boss Robert Murray: 'We do not have a climate change problem']

11. Academics are fond of building their own prisons and then complaining about the confinement--all the more so when the prisons are built on hierarchy enforcing algorithms; but this is just an example of a general pattern of behavior  ["I have seen that firsthand, working with junior faculty who say they cannot publish in a particular journal because it is not on their institution’s A list and therefore will “not count” toward their accomplishments. This is anti-intellectual. As Russell Jacoby warned in his book The Last Intellectuals, it “registers not the needs of truth but academic empire building.” Academic publishing is becoming more about establishing a pecking order and less about pursuing knowledge. And that has several unintended consequences."Academics shouldn't focus only on prestigious journals (essay)].

12. Humans will never be replaced by machines; they are becoming part of the machine and well as its object. ["The technology itself is not new: Such chips are used as virtual collar plates for pets, and companies use them to track deliveries. But never before has the technology been used to tag employees on a broad scale. " Companies start implanting microchips into workers' bodies]. 

13. There is the terrible beauty to the world every generation builds and then, having built it, that generation, standing back, must mourn its work. ["Like the terrorists, we are “guided by the beauty of our weapons.” We should recognize this, and we should realize what it says about us. Brian Williams’ use of a Leonard Cohen provides us with a good opportunity to do exactly that." The Beauty of Our Weapons]

14. The institutional official and the governmental machinery that is harsh but not compassionate with the people sleeps lightly behind fortified walls; a strict but compassionate institutional official sleeps well and needs no walls because they are guarded by the people. ["Under Hu’s watch, the authorities suppressed protests stemming from a land dispute in Wukan in September, firing tear gas and rubber bullets." Why is Xi giving Guangdong thumbs-up ahead of power reshuffle?].

15. It is written in the Gospel of Matthew, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God;" (Matthew 19:24); that aperture is as small for those seeking entry into the state of open discourse in the university who do not conform to the orthodoxy of those who guard its gates. ["At a time of widespread public distrust of universities, with hostility to the very idea of a liberal education deeply entrenched in the White House and national and state legislatures, we all suffer an injury when the worst stereotypes about academics seem to be confirmed." The real damage done by the flare-up over a philosopher's journal article (essay)]

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