Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ruminations 77(6): 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 Part 6 rounds out the 2017 series, with a focus on the nature of U.S. influence, on the character and nature of the manifestation of Chinese influence in the world, and the return of open (African) slavery now (again) run by and through Africa in the context of the fundamental contradictions of labor in globalized production. Share your own!

Ruminations 77: 2017 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

Part 6

 (Pix credit HERE)

1. When Western elites bray about the loss of U.S. influence they are really whining about the loss of their own influence in the U.S.  [I myself have argued that the U.S: is transforming its engagement from system builder to deal maker; but does it necessarily follow that the result is a reduction of influence or its transformation? But for an elite heavily invested in old ways of thinking about power this change tends to be measured by relation to the loss of their own influence then transferred to the nation.  "I would argue that the largest trend today is the decline of American influence. Not the decline of American power — the country remains economically and militarily in a league of its own — but a decline of its desire and capacity to use that power to shape the world. " The decline of U.S. influence is the great global story of our age]

2. One does not measure the influence of Western societies through the antics of their states but, for good or ill, through the power of their private sector institutions--civil, religious and economic. [The greatest success of U.S. influence was in the creation of an autonomous and global system of production and value chains that are themselves autonomous of the state that made them possible; to speak to the loss of influence pf the state in the West is to congratulate those states on the success of their own project to privatize and deeply embed their normative structures within the entire body of social relations. Why GE Will Not Be Impacted By U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Climate Agreement]

3. If human rights emerge from the people, it acquires its form only when it is delivered back to them through the state; from the people, to the people through the state; that appears to be the fundamental relational structure of human rights. ["Despite the fact that the UN human rights framework is grounded on the principle of the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, China nonetheless is pushing its version of “human rights with Chinese characteristics,” which prioritizes the right to development and economic rights over individual civil and political rights, and insists on a relativistic approach to human rights based on each country’s unique history, culture, values, and political system." China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN]

4. When states speak about sovereign equality, they act as if that means the equality of those those states that exist below them on hierarchies of power and dependence.  [Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind ("Sovereign equality is the most important norm governing state-to-state relations over the past centuries and the cardinal principle observed by the United Nations and all other international organizations. The essence of sovereign equality is that the sovereignty and dignity of all countries, whether big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, must be respected, their internal affairs allow no interference and they have the right to independently choose their social system and development path."); and contrast How China bungled its coming out party ("Be that as it may, the most surprising and consequential story of the year was how Chinese power revealed itself in all its breathtaking size for the very first time in centuries, and — more importantly — how the world recoiled in horror. . . . Not wanting to be left behind, Chinese diplomats in charge of Europe managed to sprinkle the year with recurring scandals: censorship of British academic publishers; a scurry of acquisitions of German companies that raised alarms all the way to Brussels; and — most damagingly — an over-solicitous defense of Chinese interests by a number of friendly European nations.")]

5.  It is usually the states asserting the greatest control of foreign influence within its borders that seeks to project its own influence in other states. [ China Scolds Australia Over Its Fears of Foreign Influence; Beijing vies for greater control of foreign universities in China]  

6. The powerful tend to speak about themselves as  if they were the embodiment of the system or ideology that they control or in which they are embedded; sometimes, then, when elites speak to the undoing of rules and systems they usually mean that those rules and systems are about to be remade and that in the remaking they will have been removed from positions of dominance and influence in the system that emerges.  [""While emasculating the trade organization may seem foolhardy, trade experts warn that blowing up international trade law may be the only way the Trump administration could pursue its quixotic goal of eliminating the bilateral trade deficits that it has with most countries."  Trump’s Trade Endgame Could Be the Undoing of Global Rules]

7. The cult of personality is the disease that eventually kills every political, social, economic or religious system in which it finds a home; it is a fundamental inversion which runs its course when the ideology becomes the leader. ["All of Leninism may be reduced to two famous words uttered by the Founder in 1921 and repeated by Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin: “Kto kovo?” “Who, whom?” That is, who will do in whom?"  The First Totalitarian]. 

8. All canons are matters of communal judgement with national characteristics; to argue otherwise is to misunderstand the way ideas are embedded in collective life; to single one out is to expose one's own politics rather than any particular truth of the assertion made to advance it.  [Why the Western philosophical canon is xenophobic and racist – Bryan W Van Norden | Aeon Essays

9.  We all await our Gods to manifest deliverance in forms that appear to satisfy our desires. [Awaiting Trump's coal comeback, miners reject retraining]

10. It is sometimes hard to distinguish wars on religion from wars of religion.    [An old pattern in new garb; Drug lords in Brazil appear to be the new Clovis; religion continues to serve the secular power well as a tool for extending and managing control; "For drug kingpins, developing positive relationships with local Rio pastors while in jail can tighten their grip on power once released."  In Brazil, religious gang leaders say they're waging a holy war]

 (Pix credit HERE)

11. No society has confronted the fundamental contradiction of the dual nature of labor (as person and as task); and the fundamental problem of labor revolves around the question of servitude, not to capital (a distraction) but as the incarnation of hierarchy.  [African refugees bought, sold and murdered in Libya ("He added that people were being auctioned off in the town, with men and women fetching 1,000 Libyan dinars ($735). Others from Ghana and Cameroon might fetch several thousand Libyan dinars.")  People for sale: Where lives are auctioned for $400

12.  It is only when employees are understood not as the providers of labor but as the servants of a  master that one can understand the ordinariness of the premise that any act of the servant affects the reputation of the master and thus can be controlled by the master. [Unlike capital, labor has a dual nature; that is labor is provided by a person but the labor provided is not inextricably personal; to be able to command has the effect of transferring power over individuals to others--and that reduces all labor to a spectrum of control of the person, the limiting condition of which is that off the slave. [My manager wrote me up because she didn’t approve of someone on my personal Facebook page. Thoughts?; How To Train Your Employees To Be Brand Ambassadors]

13.  And thus the cult of personality infects the relationship between master and servant and between the leader and the state; in the former case the enterprise buys the individual to serve as a husk into which to insert its manifestation, in the later the individual is dissolved within the body of the leader. [NBC News source says Matt Lauer will not receive a payout ("Television news contracts typically include a morals clause, giving a network some flexibility to fire a high-priced anchor for cause.") and here; How Hollywood aims to change its culture of sexual harassment; Social Media Can Get You Fired So Plan Accordingly ("Your brand is who you are, and you are your brand. If you want to be a famous, then by all means be incredibly incendiary online. File law suits, make up a whole new persona. But I really hope it pays off, or you will likely be unemployable.")]

14.  And yet the great contradiction of labor defines the power relations between master and servant--an individual does not merely sell her labor, she binds herself to service and thus consents to the suzerainty of the master in all aspects of the servants life. [Within these parameters there is only a difference in degree (a substantial one to be sure and one on which legal distinctions are built) between the labors of the independent contractor and of the slave and to treat slavery as exceptional and historically contingent affects generally the analysis of labor;  Death by Overwork in Japan: Cultivating a Healthy Workforce From Across the World ("In the wake of increased international focus on karoshi—a common Japanese term meaning “death by overwork”—Japan’s government and business leaders alike agree that Japan’s “culture of overwork” is a critical issue in need of a solution."); but see Right to a private life at work? Monitoring an employee's communications was a breach of the Article 8 right to a private life (managing the scope and application of the power in employers); ]

15. The feudatory relation between labor and enterprise suggests the fundamental ordering framework of human rights; the state has a duty to protect but the enterprise has a responsibility to respect precisely because the servant has consented to the overlordship of both.   [It is within these webs of polycentric governance that the gross sexual harassment scandals of late 2017 can be situated with respect to the normative violations (of rights and individual dignity), of social expectation, of enterprise reputation, and of the requirements of law, including the more general requirements of social norms and process; and their failures Weinstein's Complicity Machine; A powerful person has been accused of misconduct at a rate of nearly once every 20 hours since Weinstein; Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo Movement]

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