Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ruminations 77(3): Looking Back on 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 3. Share your own!

Ruminations 77: 2017 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

Part 3

1. All people in authority speak at least two languages that use the same words; to understand them one must first learn to distinguish between the language of signalling within a group--of gesture and the perceived need to posture for popular consumption--and the language of signalling to outsiders; but of course where language is reduced to signals it can become little more than empty gesture. ["May hit back over the issue during an election visit to the south-west. “During the Conservative party leadership campaign I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman,” she told the BBC. “And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.” . . . The commission president was said to have called the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, afterwards to say he believed May’s approach to the negotiations was from a “different galaxy” "Juncker will find me 'bloody difficult woman' in Brexit talks, says May]. 

2. Orthodoxy is a hard master, especially when it stands in the way of political ambition; political ambition blames someone else's orthodoxy for its own failures. ["You know what? That's why Donald Trump is president of the United States—the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That's how he got to be president," Pelosi told the Washington Post. "Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively by that."Pelosi Blames Clinton's Loss on Party's Hardline Abortion Stance

3. Orthodoxies always serve as mother and master, but not at the same time [This especially so as the State again moves from mother to master. "And as Episcopal researcher Kirk Hadaway explained in 1998, “nontraditional groups, including once-marginal Protestant churches, smaller sects and non-Western religions, have increased. At the same time, a growing number of people have shed their particular religious affiliations, saying they are just ‘religious, spiritual’ or have no religion at all.” If it doesn’t stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left]

4.  The answer is not always divine and the cause is not always profane. [The main line churches have lost their way or better put have failed to adjust to fractured markets for religious consumables. Like Sears they offered something for everyone at a mark up and failed to see the market appeal of low end WalMart sects and fractured specialty marts. The author understands that and offers theology as a cure and secularization as a cause; I am sympathetic but my gut suggests something else is also at play and it is affecting "main line" churches everywhere. The issue is relevance and the solution is not belief in the passion and resurrection but in the institutionalize love, charity, and solidarity of the early church. If it doesn’t stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left]

5. Building social orders on difference within hierarchies produces its intended effects. [Especially so where the object is to embed difference within the politics of hierarchy rather than as a means to explode hierarchy; yet that may be all there is--a politics of culturally significant differences and the hierarchies grounded in difference.   A break-up letter with academia: Not your token guinea pig, show pony, or likable person of color - RaceBaitR]


6. We complain that the great lesson that societies have taught themselves is that only people in authority can sort out even the smallest social problems; we complain more when our neighbors inject themselves into social problems around which there is no consensus. ["But Mr. Burch said the circumstances demanded action. “This is what is wrong with America today,” he said. “Everybody’s too scared to get involved anymore.” . . . .  be very firm with the parent, but if that person confronts you, alert a security guard or the police immediately. “You have to be safe yourself,” Dr. McDavid said. That is not an unfounded concern. In 2011, a mother on a Philadelphia bus who was angry at being criticized by a passenger for spanking her child made a phone call, and two accomplices arrived and fired on the bus with an assault rifle and a pistol right after she left, The Philadelphia Daily News reported. No one was hurt." " Should You Intervene When a Parent Harshly Disciplines a Child in Public?]

7. It is never a bad idea to put the best face on unpleasant events but it doesn't change the unpleasant character of the event. [The World Is Better Off if America Leaves the Paris Agreement; The 'Silver Way': An Alternative to 'Thucydides Trap' ("The “Silver Way” — admittedly a name just as made up as the “Thucydides Trap” — offers however a third possibility: continued globalization with neither convergence nor major armed conflict, where the two sides integrate but remain apart. ")]

8. Every generation has its own demons; each blame their parents and each in turn are parents to the demons of their children. ["From early congressional debates, for instance, it is quite clear that the only reason the founders adopted a national flag was for the practical reason that the navy needed one for identification when sailing into foreign ports. "  A historian explains why the founding fathers would be baffled by conservatives’ obsession with flag worship]

9.  Perversely, it is not the flag but the object that has been transformed into the symbol of the political community, or religious community, or social community, that itself becomes imbued with a greater significance than the community itself.     ["If Americans did not embrace flag rituals early on, once they did, they embraced the practice enthusiastically." A historian explains why the founding fathers would be baffled by conservatives’ obsession with flag worship]

10. The easiest way for contemporary institutions to lose legitimacy and authority is for them to augment the administrative discretion of their officials; the beginning of institutional decay starts when those administrators may exercise such discretion with impunity.   ["This trend should be alarming. It suggests institutional decay, at least with respect to the core structures of internal legitimacy, that once were more central to the operation of the university. More specifically, as the university abandons effective remedial structures, individuals will seek remedies form more authoritative institutions. " When Universities Fail to Manage Abuse of Administrative Discretion the Courts Will Increasingly be Asked to Fill that Role]

11. It is invariably the high status of victim or culprit that transforms crime to scandal, and that transforms individual culpability to a social moral crisis; that speaks to politics but is expressed through norms. [House Speaker Paul D. Ryan addressing the House of Representatives in the wake of a shooting of elected officials and employees in Arlington, Va. on June 14. Ryan: 'An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us']

12. Tools and tactical choices never have an ideology; they have consequences that reverberate out for many years. ["The Chinese Foreign Ministry has declared the Sino-British Joint Declaration, that laid the groundwork for Hong Kong’s handover, a “historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning”, after Britain and the United States spoke of the binding effect of the 1984 treaty on China and the city."Joint declaration of 1984 ‘no longer has realistic meaning’, says China (the same might one day be said of Chinese claims to large swaths of ocean or territory grounded on similar documents)]

13. Rights are collective, individually performed; individuals can exercise in community, the only place where that exercise acquires any meaning and produces any obligation. ["Rights are the collective expression of those individual activities that the state must protect or against which the state may not interfere. Collective rights individually applied—that appears to be the principle on which the state (and eventually private collectives to some extent) have been managed within a cage of law. Still, the power relation always tilts toward the state and toward the preservation of the right, understood as “property” in the hands of the collective in whose service the state is constituted. " Ruminations 73: On American Independence Day 2017—Collective Rights Individually Performed at the Dawn of the Age of Data]

14. We live in an age where rights are reduced to incentive and compliance; collective rights are individually expressed and collectively managed; collective management ties the performance of rights to reward or punishment. [" The individual is “seen” only through and as its performance of abstract principles (rights), and it is those collective rights that then assume concrete form." Ruminations 73: On American Independence Day 2017—Collective Rights Individually Performed at the Dawn of the Age of Data]

15.  In an age of big data, the management of rights reduces the individual to data--the record of her exercise of rights--and re-imagines rights as the aggregate performance of approved individual expression. ["This age of metrics, of information, and of the algorithm, appears to have inverted the traditional relationship between collective and individual, though not the principle itself (i.e., collective rights individually applied). . . . It is only a matter of time before the state—together with the non-state sectors through which state power will be privatized—will begin to move aggressively not merely to “see” individuals as collections of data, but to use that data to make judgements about those individuals and choices, and to seek to both discipline and control." Ruminations 73: On American Independence Day 2017—Collective Rights Individually Performed at the Dawn of the Age of Data

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