Friday, December 28, 2018

Ruminations 83(2) (On Systems): Looking Back on 2018 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

The year 2018 is ending with the great rifts opened in 2016, and exposed in 2017, now acquiring a greater urgency and show and revealing the power of its consequences. Global divisions have become more acute, even as these reflect in turn the even more acute rifts within both great and small global actors--states, societies, religions, civil society, and enterprises.

2018 is rich with rift events.  This was the year of America First and the Belt and Road Initiative.  It was the year of great rifts among allies--especially the great family of post World War II Anglo-European allies--and of growing compatibility among rivals. This was the year of the exposure corruption--in  which  Latin American corruption brought down the government of Perú and the President of Brazil. Corruption swirled around the highest levels of the United States and of China. It was the year of great social transformation spurred by revelations--of sexual improprieties, and of policing and race in the United States. It was a year in which the U.S. President continued to serve as lightening rod  and the international order was upended. But it was also a year in which Brexit appeared to invite failure. But all of this seemed like a build up to resolutions that lie beyond 2018.  In the end, 2018 might be understood as a year of stage setting  

With no objective in particular, this post and a number that follow provides my summary of the slice of 2018 to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms. It follows an end of year  tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here) and 2017 (for these see here).  

This is Part 2 (On Systems). Share your own!

Ruminations 83: 2018 in Epigrams and Aphorisms
Part I (On education and knowledge).
Part 2 (On Systems).
Part 3 (On the Things that Divide and Join Us).
Part 4 (Markets and Politics)
Part 5 (On the Games Peoples Play)

1. The perfection of systems is inevitably marked by the imperfections of those who serve it.

["The flight attendants of flight UA1284 felt that the innocent animal was better off crammed inside the overhead container without air and water,' he wrote on Facebook. 'They INSISTED that the puppy be locked up for three hours without any kind of airflow. They assured the safety of the family's pet so wearily, the mother agreed.' . . .  The airline's policy states that all animals traveling inside the cabin should be in a carrier and 'fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.' . Ten-month-old French Bulldog puppy dies on a United Flight after air crew 'order its owner to put it in overhead compartment'].

2.  The necessary consequence of the fragmentation of trade is a fragmentation of the means used for its finance; and for that even the state and its coinage may be ultimately unnecessary in relations between systems. 
[("So far, the efforts of exporters to tap the Venezuelan market through the Dubai route have not been successful due to payment issues. Rao estimates that India could export up to half-a-million tonnes to Venezuela on a regular basis, if a rupee-based payment mechanism is set up. ") India eyes rupee-route, barter for Venezuelan crude; ("The petro is designed to raise hard currency and to function as a payment method for foreign suppliers now that most transactions have been stymied by financial sanctions imposed by Washington last year. But some analysts see the petro as a desperate move to secure cash amid an unprecedented economic meltdown brought about by Maduro’s socialist policies.") Venezuela's new bitcoin: an ingenious plan or worthless cryptocurrency?]

3. Some systems are at their most powerful only when they exist only as ideas.
[("The members-states of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America-Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) gathered in Havana, Cuba to celebrate 14 years of working to defend regional peace and consolidate Latin American and Caribbean integration.") ALBA-TCP Summit: In Defense of Latin America and the Caribbean].

4. The distance between the judge and the law is measured by the customs and traditions of the state; the customs and traditions of the state are founded on the independence of the judge but also on the dependence of law.
[Just Published-- "Between the Judge and the Law: Judicial Independence and Authority With Chinese Characteristics," Connecticut Journal of International Law 33(1):1-41 (2017). The article suggests the value of approaching an analysis of the state of the Chinese judiciary and its reform from within the context of the normative structures of the Chinese political system--including its separation of powers principles. That approach is a necessary predicate to understanding both the trajectory of judicial reform in the "New Era" and the range of plausible approaches it may take move toward universal objectives of "good" or "sound" judicial function. ]

5. A political community, like any other system, sometimes finds itself defined not by what they are but what they are not.    
[("Bannon praised Le Pen’s ambivalence over the left-right divide, saying “she described it perfectly”. The more pertinent political split, he said, is whether “you consider the nation state as an obstacle to be overcome or as a jewel to be polished, loved and nurtured”.. . . “Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it like a badge of honour. Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker,” he said, before concluding on a “God Bless America. And vive la France,” sending FN supporters leaping to their feet to cheer.") Wear 'racist' like a badge of honour, Bannon tells French far-right summit]

6. The idea of systems and societies are perfect; those who animate those ideas and systems are not; to confuse the perfection of one for the imperfection of the otjer never turns out well
[("Several professors and students demanded the statue be taken down due to Gandhi's well-documented racism towards Africans. According to BBC Africa, India's former President Pranab Mukherjee unveiled the statute in 2016 as a symbol of the strong ties between the two countries. Shortly after, professors organized a petition, citing racist passages that Gandhi had written in which he called Indians "infinitely superior" to black Africans. Gandhi lived and worked in South Africa between 1893 and 1914.") A Statue of Gandhi Has Been Removed From the University of Ghana Following Student Protests]

7. A system will minimize its error, and its agents will diminish in every way those they serve, in proportion to the extent to which it must pay for its mistakes.
[("Okra busts like these are good reason for taxpayers to be skeptical about the wisdom of sending guys up in helicopters to fly around aimlessly, looking for drugs in suburban gardens. And that's not to mention the issue of whether we want a society where heavily-armed cops can burst into your property, with no grounds for suspicion beyond what somebody thought he saw from several hundred yards up in a helicopter.") Heavily armed drug cops raid retiree’s garden, seize okra plants].

9. Systems are at their most useful when they are not corrupted by politics; politics work best for communities when restrained by systems; the welfare of a community is a function of its willingness to humanize systems through politics.
[("Rather than investing the time and energy spent on reshaping ATS (and the constructions of relevant international law) to suit the times (as the legal community has sought to do for a generation), the opinion appears to suggest that this time might be better spent on getting the desired result in Congress. And that, the possibility of direct statutory authority creating extraterritorially applied liability against persons and corporations for violations of international law wherever committed, to some real extent, is a victory (and the great challenge) for those who seek to do exactly as Justice Sotomayor and the dissenting Justices argue is both right and good.") Brief Thoughts on Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, 584 U.S. --- (2018): The State of Judicial Remedies for Corporate Liability for Human Rights Violations].

10.  Mockery is the sincerest form of criticism, and the most damning for systems and their operators.
[("And there was mockery aplenty directed toward the leaders of Penn State University. And that leadership now appears to have moved from the office of its titular administrative heads to another place, that is from the individuals designated as the lead officers of the university to the risk and compliance algorithms of the university (and the individuals who tend them), which now appear to have assume the highest authority at the university. That, at least, is what we appear to be told in the way in which some decisions are now made at American universities. . . . The recent decisions by the leadership algorithms of Penn State (not of course by those administrators who serve those decision makers) to disband three ancient student clubs because their activities were too dangerous  provide a nice but generalized example of the trend that affects all universities." Are Risk Algorithms the New Leaders of the 21st Century American University?: The Riskless University and the Veiling of Discretion)]

 (Pix Credit U.N.)

11. Human rights has been transformed from one centered on the character of human autonomy to one intent on building systems of assessment and duty.
[(""three different aspects of the human rights project that might well be now worth a moment of thought. The first of these is the danger of a relentless focus on the rights aspects of the Universal Declaration.  The second is the mania for victimization. The third is the need to re-focus on the obligations of states, other collective actors, and individuals.) On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights].

12.  What falls "within" and what lies "without" remains at the center of the 21st century constructions and transformations of society, injected into the discourse of all states, whatever their political orientation, but changing its central focus from state, to vanguard, to people, and back again.
[("For (or with) Mexico, López Obrador has moved the center of that debate from the state, to the revolution, to the people. And now, of course, in all jurisdictions, the question becomes--to where will it migrate, again, when the people are moved to delegate its responsibilities? Better yet, it will return to the fundamental question--who are the people? For that all societies have provided answers that are both fragile and contextual. We will see where that takes the people, the state, and the revolution. There is much to think about here both for the overtones and its trajectories). “With the people everything, without the people nothing”: The New Mexican President Receives the Bastón de mando [Baton of Authority] from Indigenous Communities and Delivers His 100 Commitments")]

13.  Systems invariably function on the basis of assessment and self assessment, but its assessment markers tend to turn on themselves; quantitative markers, for example, start as proxies for quality and then become themselves the incarnation of the quality they were meant to measure.
[("The value of knowledge production is measured by dollars. It's impact is now understood as a species of "clickbait," the value of which is to enhance the clickable potential of that which follows, which relentless follows, with regard only to time. For if time is now money, then the efficient use of time is measured by the artifacts, by the measurable things, with which it may be filled--graduation rates, bar passage rates, employment rates, citation rates, production rates, grant award rates, invitation rates, mention rates, collaboration rates.") The AAUP Will Now Investigate the Mass Terminations at Vermont Law School]

14. Administrative convenience remains the first principle of systems; it is the expression of the drive toward self preservation that is the first duty of any system (political, economic,religious, social, or cultural).
[("This year, the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show will be without one of its most popular — and cutest — features, the duck slide. The duck slide will not operate this year due to being “extremely labor intensive,” the state agriculture department told") Pa. Farm Show to go without its most adorable feature this year, report says].

15.  If the first principle of systems is self-preservation, then the principal corollary must be to channel anti-system actions so that .
[("Protesters stormed an Ebola triage center in the volatile eastern region of Congo on Thursday and set fire to parts of it in a new wave of violent political unrest, aggravated by delays in a long-anticipated election.")  As Congo Election Nears, Rioters Storm an Ebola Center and Unrest Grows].

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