Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ruminations 83(3) (On the Things that Divide and Join Us): 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 3 (on the things that divide and join us). 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.  No one is ever protected  from the logic of systems; systems find it irritating when they are used against themselves, and such irritations tend to be rectified in accordance with the logic of the system.
["The Stanford University chapter of College Republicans is accusing the university of actively silencing conservative viewpoints on campus after the university blocked the group’s hosting of conservative speaker Dinesh D’Souza. . . .  Stanford’s Student Activities and Leadership Office told the College Republicans that they would be required to pay over $19,000 in security fees for the event. . . . The College Republicans secured a donation by a private donor who is willing to pay the security fees, but the group was hit with yet another obstacle from university administration.  They are now being told that “on-campus sources” must constitute at least half of the funding for their event." (Stanford CRs clap back at school after $19,000 D'Souza security fee; Controversial Dinesh D’Souza event tentatively set for Feb. 28, pending funding); ("Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Peking University Marxist Society, was grabbed and forced into a waiting car outside the college’s east gate by a group of heavy set men who identified themselves as police, a student said. . . . Qiu had been on his way to attend an event to mark the Mao anniversary, that not only had he organised but had also been warned about the day before by a school adviser, the person said. “What’s wrong with remembering Chairman Mao? What law does it break? How can they publicly kidnap a Peking University student?” the student said. The Ministry of Public Security did not respond to a request for comment.") Chinese Marxist student leader taken away by police on 125th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth]

2. The defense of organized religion is very much a function of economics and state relations.  
[("'Cold, hard interests will always carry the day' in international relations, said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center. 'The Muslim world's deafening silence about China's treatment of Muslims can be attributed to its strong interest in maintaining close relations with the world's next superpower.'") 'They want to eliminate Islam': Pakistani men reveals how Chinese authorities capture their Muslim wives were taken by Beijing and sent to internment camps to be 're-educated']

 3.  Both God and the Devil are moral beings in their own domains, and their opposite in the realm of the other.
[("First and foremost, it will press forward with the “sinicization” of religions in China, a process intended to shape religious traditions and doctrine to better conform with Chinese society and CCP objectives. This has been a primary focus of Xi’s religious policies since his April 2016 speech at the National Religious Work Conference, in which he asserted that in order to “actively guide the adaptation of religions to socialist society, an important task is supporting China’s religions’ persistence in the direction of sinicization.”") The CCP’s Plan to 'Sinicize' Religions; ("") ].

4. The state is now in the middle of everything, existing only as the product of a fugue state of lawfulness.
[("The fugue state is the only possible way one territorial community can remain viable in the face of multiple simultaneous and incompatible assertions of rule of law and democratic normativity. The fugue state permits Pakistan to adhere to Western values in its outbound relations—that is to walk away from its Islam—when it interacts with the international community that requires conformity to global standards (at least as its members would see it interpreted). At the same time it permits Pakistan to adhere to national values in its political relations –that is to walk away from internationalism and strict religious rule of law premises (of the privileged sect at least) to continue the post 1947 project of constructing a viable political entity (Pakistan) from out of the bits and pieces of the South Asian sub-continent from which it was cobbled. And at the same time, the fugue state permits Pakistan to adhere to the rule of law of Islam as expressed locally—that is to walk away from both national aspirations and internationalism in the construction of a normatively legitimate state in favor of the older and more powerful ties of the dar al-Islam as expressed locally. The resulting fracture produces uncertainty in law. Yet perversely perhaps, it also produces the certainty that power relations and bargaining will effectively determine the outcome of collisions among these three rule of law domains. But for states like Pakistan, it also produces a contingency that is hidden behind aggressive and belligerent action by a state apparatus caught in multiple middles.") The Rule of Law's Fugue State in the New Era--Blasphemy and Asia Bibi in the Fractured Global

5.  Cultural conversations about race are never only about race; race, like other distinguishing characteristics, can sometimes be a proxy for far more complex tensions in polities that thrive both on sharpening distinction and cultivating tension as the null state of social relations.
[("But more interesting still may be the way that discipline--at least at the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, employment status, weight, "foul" language, class, etc.--has now moved the state to the background.  Social norms have indeed begun to move, it seems--but perhaps only those of the employer class. They certainly do not seem to have moved much at the level of personal interactions among at least some individuals.  But it is the employer that seems to have become the vanguard in changing and enforcing rules of acceptable public behavior.  The state is essentially invisible. Yet the enterprises are engaging in this project of social reconstruction for their own reasons. ") At the Front Lines of Contemporary Intersectionality: A Side Dish of Life in a Fast Food Restaurant; "'F*** you, you white piece of s**t': Burger King employee is FIRED after shocking video shows her unleash racist rant against a HISPANIC couple"].

6. As institutional power grows, the autonomy and agency of the individual diminishes, even if for all of the most just of causes; at its limit, the institution is humanized and the individual is merged with her status within it.  
[("There are two trajectories whose arcs appear to be pushing in different directions, both of which appear to be joined in newer approaches to human rights instruments (discussed briefly here in that context). Both also appear to more and more clearly define the "new era" of human rights in economic activity, especially (and for some only) when undertaken by classical profit making enterprises. The first touches on the legal construction of the status of "victim" bound up in the relation between individual and their attached rights. The second suggests the way that this new legal status appears to strip its bearer of agency--the conferral of the status of victim makes an individual a victim twice over. The first takes place when the individual's (legal, moral, societal, communal or other) rights have been violated; the second occurs when the state confers a status on the rights holder that effectively shifts agency over both rights and vindication from the individual to those who mean to manage both. This post very briefly opens a consideration this perversion--in protecting those who bear rights, the normative structure of law commits a potentially greater offense.") Ruminations 80: If the Focus of Regulation is on the Victim, are Individuals Made Victims Twice? Rights, Autonomy, and the Emerging Governance Framework for Business and Human Rights].

7. Imitation flatters; but it also threatens both the old order and the control of the new.
[("The US Senate on Wednesday passed legislation overhauling the way the federal government lends money for foreign development, a measure developed largely in response to China’s growing influence. . . . The measure creates a new organisation, the US International Development Finance Corp, that consolidates the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and other government development organisations. Those institutions lend money for projects in developing countries such as energy, ports and water infrastructure.") US Congress, eyeing China, votes to overhaul how US lends money for foreign development].

8.  Every state must wrestle with its demons and those usually do not take human form, much as it might otherwise be hoped.
[("The pardon, issued by then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski before he was himself brought down by a corruption scandal, triggered a wave of protests by human rights organizations and by victims of Fujimori's crackdown.Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, has been living in Lima but has been hospitalized four times since his release last December.") Peruvian court orders arrest of ex-president Fujimori, overturning pardon].

9. Every age has its point of convergence; but convergence itself is a sign that fracture is not far behind.
[("The point, worth considering, is that the emerging America First policy better aligns with the progressive ideals of the Global South than it represents some sort of reactionary fever dream (e.g., here).  And that, perhaps, may be the most irritating part for those elements in the global North that continue to cling to a world view that may well be passing.  But ironically enough, for the authors and advocates of America First, this may also be quite irritating for precisely the opposite reasons. ") "America First," "Belt and Road," "Mutually Advantageous Cooperation" and the Rise of the Global South: Preliminary Thoughts on Remarks by President Trump to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (25 September 2018)]

10. Even the strongest institutions can fracture in an instant, never to be the same again.
[("First, the Moscow Patriarchate is terrified. Should a reunited Ukrainian Orthodoxy be recognized by Constantinople as “autocephalous” and therefore not subordinate to Russian Orthodoxy, Moscow’s claim to be the “third Rome” would be gravely imperiled. . . . Second, Russian Orthodoxy, continuing a long, unhappy tradition of playing chaplain-to-the-czar (whatever form he takes), has provided putatively religious buttressing for Vladimir Putin’s claim that there is a single Russkiy mir (“Russian world” or “Russian space”), which includes Ukraine and Belarus. . . . That is also why Putin is likely encouraging his new friend, President Erdogan of Turkey, to turns the screws on Bartholomew, whose presence in Istanbul (the former Constantinople) depends on Turkish governmental goodwill.") An Orthodox Fracture With Serious Consequences].

11. The powerful act; the weak speak; the powerless generate ideas.
[("Europe appears to be faced, again, with the hard task of balancing its relations among frenemies while retaining its wealth. To that end it works from its strengths: it barters influence and the influence of ideas for material advantage; the influence of ideas, in this sense, may be Europe's most potent remaining basis of power. It rides on the embers of empire, and Europe's still potent productive and consumptive capacities, to serve a a global superego. It has been seen in earlier guises through the so-called "Brussels Effect" campaign (to embed European values in European regulations to which those seeking entry in European markets would have to conform). China, the United States, and Russia are left to squander muscle as they will, always subject to the legitimating judgment of this superego. ") The EU Parliament's "Statement on China-EU Relations"; Statement on China-EU Relations. ]

12.  In a world on which the highest form of reality is the data maintained by the state, the individual can only understand herself by reference to information duly recorded and certified in the data banks of the state.
[("A 69-year-old Dutchman is battling to legally reduce his age by 20 years so he can get more work and attract more women on Tinder. Emile Ratelband argues that if transgender people are allowed to change sex, he should be allowed to change his date of birth because doctors said he has the body of a 45-year-old. . . . And he says his move would also be good news for the government as he would be renouncing his pension until he reaches retirement age again. The judge said that he had some sympathy with Mr Ratelband as people could now change their gender which would once have been unthinkable.") Pensioner, 69, 'who identifies as a 45-year-old' begins legal action to have his age reduced so he can attract more women on Tinder].

13. The straight lines of political narrative sometimes feels the tug of history, especially as the scope of that history broadens.
[("The Oluwo of Iwo, Abdulrosheed Adewale Akanbi, has apologised to the victims of slave trade in Nigeria for the role played by traditional rulers who helped in selling their subjects to foreign buyers. . . . Thursday, the monarch said his apology was to establish the damage done by slavery, in order to make progress, adding that it was time Nigerian children were told of the roles of the various monarchies in slavery, which witnessed innocent blacks sold by their African brothers for peanuts. . . . “White men never forced us to sell our children as slaves. Our fathers voluntarily released their children on excitement for peanut. Then, there was no means of payment. Humans were offered in exchange for glittering material gifts.") Nigerian monarch apologises for traditional rulers’ participation in slave trade].

14. If the institutionalization of government incarnates the state as the manifestation of the collective individual; then the cult of the leader re-incarnates the state in the individual.
[("Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appointed himself chairman of Turkey’s sovereign wealth fund, the latest move to consolidate his control over state institutions. The president announced on Wednesday that Berat Albayrak, his son-in-law, would act as his deputy as part of an overhaul of the board of the fund, which was founded in 2016 and later took over government shares in Turkish Airlines, Turk Telekom and a string of banks.") Erdogan takes control of Turkey’s sovereign wealth fund].

15.  Public speech is managed either by the state or by the market; in either case the fundamental modalities of management likely converge.
[("And now over 1,400 pages of leaked documents, obtained by The New York Times, has revealed rulebooks that the company uses to moderate the content on its platform, as well as how it polices posts and shortcomings of the 7,500-plus moderators who survey and control the posts from its 2 billion users.The documents published Thursday by the Times are purportedly used to advise thousands of moderators about how to deal with any content that may be deemed problematic and "distill highly complex issues into simple yes-or-no rules." The moderation work is outsourced and the Times notes that some moderators rely on Google Translate to make split-second decisions on what is deemed hate speech or not.") Facebook's leaked rulebooks highlight struggle with content moderation; ("How can Facebook monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages, all without disturbing the endless expansion that is core to its business? The company’s solution: a network of workers using a maze of PowerPoint slides spelling out what’s forbidden.")  Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech]

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