Friday, December 29, 2017

Ruminations 77(4): 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 4. Share your own! This post includes the contributions of Flora Sapio.

Ruminations 77: 2017 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

Part 4

1. No political, economic, or cultural act is undertaken successfully without a measure of complicity or acquiescence by individuals who are part of the communities that are the object of such acts; and yet such a thought is unthinkable, and thus incapable of being.  []

2. What can sometimes seem to be purges from above are actually actions by masses encouraged to get rid of those elements who are irritants; they are facilitated from above but come from below. ["Workplace mobbing is a concerted process to get rid of an employee, who is better referred to as a “target” than a “victim” to emphasize the strategic nature of the process. The dynamic is reminiscent of Stalin’s Moscow Trials: the targets are first convicted and evidence is later fabricated to justify the conviction. " Academic mobbing, or how to become campus tormentors | University Affairs]

3.  In producing history, contemporary accounts produce nothing ore than a history of the production of history, which gives the lie to the character of what is produced as "history."  [on the contemporary accounts of Ivanka Trump sitting in briefly at the G20 meeting "when the President had to step out, and the president of the World Bank started talking as the topic involved areas such as African development . . . . Ivanka, along with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Merkel, helped launch the World Bank-backed program that will promote women's entrepreneurship in developing countries."  Ivanka Trump briefly sits in for her father at G20 session].   

4.  History is what institutions choose to preserve. ["To release these videos would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district,” she was told. “And in addition it would create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains.”According to a memo distributed to BART Directors, the agency won’t do a press release on the June 30 theft because it was a “petty crime” that would make BART look “crime ridden.” Furthermore, it would “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.” " BART Withholding Surveillance Videos Of Crime To Avoid 'Stereotypes'

5. Corruption has become the new language of politics in the 21st century; one no longer engages in politics, one fights corruption. [Brazil's Lula convicted of corruption - BBC News; Gold dealer implicates Turkey’s president in corruption scheme; Corruption in China; Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC: Two cheers for the corrupt DNC]

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017; Utrecht, Netherlands)

6. Everyone who toils in the occupation that brings that person personal pleasure ought to feel privilege--not of the occupation that brings pleasure but of the pleasure it brings; beyond that there is merely the price of pleasure (extracted by those who can keep one form one's pleasure) and the self pleasuring of an attitude that suggests some sorts of pleasure are inherently privileged above others.  [And thus the point and its pointed irony: "Yes, being an academic is a privilege. Yes, we are lucky to get to see the insides of conference centers the world over. And yes, we need to have a discussion about the cost we’re required to pay to keep this privilege." The Unacknowledged Costs of Academic Travel – Pamela L. Gay – Medium]

7. Politics, especially cultural politics, tells us now that we must be the product of our ancestry; it is for that reason perhaps, that the migrant might never hope for assimilation even in modern democratic republics; it speaks loudest to this with our mania for the genetics of our origins as individuals. ["Was Jim Collins a Jewish man because he was born that way, or an Irishman because he was raised one?. . . It is astonishing what DNA testing can do. . . . It can change the future and it can change the past. It can change our understanding of who we are. . . It is the truth, after all." She thought she was Irish — until a DNA test opened a 100-year-old mystery]

8. Ranking is everything and everywhere; it requires only union with data to produce hierarchy, and through hierarchy, governance. [the example of the education industry, A conversation about class and the professoriate (essay)]

9. The best measure of the transformation of a culture is to take stock of its relationship to its literary past and the way it portrays even its history and content; a culture that reworks its own history prefers to satisfy its fantasies about the present by forcing the construction of illusions about its past. ["One of the most heavily censored texts of the English literary canon, Fanny Hill has been removed completely from the course “The Age of Oppositions, 1660-1780”, which examines libertine literature." University drops world's oldest erotic novel written in English from curriculum]

10. I always enjoy a good lecture about the end of lectures. [The college lecture is dying. Good riddance.].

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017 Havana, Cuba)
11. There is a people on earth that has not indulged in what only in retrospect and from the comfort of historical distance is only thereafter adjudged abomination, if unsuccessful and a historical necessity if successful. [  Kill all, burn all: the Japanese war tactic used on the Rohingya by Myanmar’s military: Tatmadaw troops ‘not schooled in the niceties of human rights’; cf. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II]

12. At their edges, left and right tend converge around the "Jewish Question"; that it seems has not changed much since European Emancipation. [Soros Slander Reveals Anti-Semitism at the Heart of the Far Right]

13. Institutions have no humanity to forfeit; it is understood that institutions feel no hunger, and are incapable of compassion; when humans pretend they are their instruments on earth--concrete avatars of institutions--they also forfeit their humanity though they retain their human form. ["A school lunch costs around $2.35. When a kid doesn't have enough money, many schools require cafeteria workers to take a kid's tray of hot food away and throw it in the trash. Children are then handed a cold cheese sandwich -- or they are forced to go hungry with no food at all. In some cases, penniless kids are even forced to wear stamps, stickers or wristbands that mark them having unpaid lunch debt." 'No one believes we do this to kids': Will Congress end school lunch shaming?]

14.  It is not that its modern critics do not embrace colonialism; they merely express a preference for its new forms--e.g., multilateral frameworks, extraterritoriality, and unequal sovereign to sovereign economic relations to advance contemporary notions of "the good"-- and on that basis decry its traditional forms as abomination. [Reacting to what appeared to be an exercise in provocation for the purpose of generating positive productivity data.  "However, that these ideas and strategies, distilled into academic writing, not only get published but immediately jump to the top of some of the key metrics we use to identify success, influence, and “impact” in academia – this is chilling. Because this means not only that academia can be hacked, but that it already has been. This article represents the culmination of broader trends in academia: from marketisation, to impact, to the promotion of artificially adversarial debate." Clickbait and impact: how academia has been hacked].

15. Where the value of knowledge is judged through the application of judgment grounded in data, then it is to the maximization of the impact of the underlying algorithm to which scholarly writing will appeal, and one has no cause to complain when the resulting scholarship mocks the judgment of the individual and reinforces the logic of the algorithm. ["Initially spurred by the desire for professors to reach out and engage with the world outside the “ivory tower”, impact came to be measured by blogs, page views, download stats, and tweets. Academia is replicating the structure of the mass media. Academic articles are now evaluated according to essentially the same metrics as Buzzfeed posts and Instagram selfies. In fact, the impact factor is an especially blunt example of online metrics: Reddit, Youtube, and Imgur at least allow users to up-vote or down-vote posts." Clickbait and impact: how academia has been hacked].

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017; Congolese Nkisi)

And From Flora Sapio:

1. Better be a spectator, than an actor in a comedy someone else has authored for you.

2. There are all kinds of slaves. Their agreement to their own condition is often signaled by the amount and variety of clothing their masters allot to them.

3. Authority, moral and otherwise, is earned by working towards the elevation of others to the same level as oneself here and now. Not in some unknowable and ethereal realm, and without denying the good things life has to offer. Everything else is a thinly disguised attempt at materially benefiting oneself, often in the absence of any real need to have more than what one already has.

4. Luke 16:29 says “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them...” No other voice is necessary. Who could be greater than Moses and the Prophets?

5. Matthew 7:6 teaches us that when one throws pearls to swine, the swine, once they got the pearls, will first trample them, and then turn on  the character in the parable. So never keep a swine as your pet - eat them instead, if you eat meat. They make an excellent prosciutto. 

6. Listen to those who practice moderation, beware of those who preach deprivation.

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