Friday, September 10, 2021

Bricolage and the Bricoleur Part 4--The State as a Consumable Object; and the Objects of Consumable States


 Bricolage is a popular French term borrowed by English speakers. It is commonly understood to refer to a construction or creation from a diverse range of available things. It speaks to intertextuality (the shaping of text and meaning by other text and meaning), and to the way in which meaning is made from the available objects around us--culture, politics, societal taboos and the like. It is the rationalization of these found, or discovered, objects, and their investment with meaning (their signification), which then transforms them object and develops a system for imposing meaning and that shapes the community even as it skips along, in delightfully  artistic ways, in the process of both self-constitution and in the investment in the absolute conviction that they had nothing to do with it, but that these constructions are "natural," "Observable" or "received". The magic of bricolage by communities of bricoleurs.

It is as a bricoleur that I offer the next seven of a number of bursts of thought objects that seek to explore the foundations for the transformations of meaning assembled from the objects around us, even as we work furiously to pretend they are not there or that meaning is somehow a magic show that works on these objects to extract their essence. The bricolage below is loosely tied together with the ribbon of a thought-image: the state as a consumable object.  

For the first seven: Bricolage and the Bricoleur--Data, Alanlytics, Human-Machine Learning and the Assemblage of Society and its Cultures Part I.

For the next seven: Bricolage and the Bricoleur Part 2--The Constitution of Meaning and the Meaning of Constituting

For the third in the series: Bricolage and the Bricoleur Part 3--Institutional Self-Pleasuring and the Role of the Priests of Contemporary Collectives

And the last of this accumulation:  Bricolage and the Bricoleur Part 4--The State as a Consumable Object; and the Objects of Consumable States.


22. “The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again" (Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World (Tor Books, 1990) p. 1). The fantasy novelist Robert Jordan might as well have been writing about Europe. Certainly Europe's "wheel of time" has been spinning at an accelerating rate since it began to consume itself in the late 19th century have sought more or less successfully to consume everything else worth consuming. And what was consumed and worth consuming were states or their simulacra, given culture and context. But the consumption of states leaves a residue. And that residue has value--as colony, as dependency, or as a space from out of which other objects of value can be extracted, inserted, or managed. Today Europe appears to be replaying its consumption panic. In the 1950s, having nearly destroyed themselves, they feared consumption by the great post war ideological collectives--the United States and its mercantile order, and the Soviet Union and its political order--they began a reconstitution that produced the political bricolage we today call the European Union. Seventy years later Europe finds itself in a similarly awkward space--though this time the fear is consumption either by the United States (and its reconstituted markets driven liberal democratic empire) or by the People's Republic of China (and its Communist Internationalism in the new form of a Belt and Road Initiative).

23. The issue of the juridification of politics, as well as the constitutionalization of societal values and its regulation has been at the forefront of important issues in the US since the time of the Great Depression (1930s) and certainly since the 1970s on a European level. While elites tend to worry about the role of conservative political institutional actors in this area, it ought to be remembered that these trajectories burst on the scene in the United States as the great tool (triumphantly utilized over about a century) of progressive and liberal forces and the spearheading elements of a multi front effort that produced movement toward contemporary frameworks of racial, sexual, ethnic and religious equality. In the EU those trajectories are well documented in the transformational triumphs of the European Courts of Justice and of Human Rights. That conservatives came late to the field is worthy of study, but that they have the talent to employ the tools developed by progressives to equal effect ought not to be surprising. But can these ferocious sources of juridification and governmentalization consume other state objects even as it resists variations in this project sourced elsewhere? The Europeans think so; at least until they are themselves so well consumed that they begin to be indistinguishable.

24. The globalized order that had now matured through the interconnection of vertically arranged and interlinked networks of public, private, and hybrid institutions which exist in a regulatory ecology marked by diffusion, porosity, delegation, and systems of accountability and strategic transparency. An overlooked aspect of the consequences of the manifestations of this maturity are those interlinakges themselves. The manifestations themselves suggest the way that collectives within collectives have both strengthened and disaggregated virtually all political and economic collectives within this polycentrically enmeshed ecology. Aggregation has become the order of the day--from the delivery of goods and services (in both public and private sectors), to the organization and management of institutions of governance (public and private).

25. The impulse to manage these aggregations and their functioning through the mechanisms of traditional regulation remains strong. But it is the strength of this that both exposes the limited utility of the traditional regulatory project and its potential obsolescence. At its source is the widening disjunctions between the realities of regulation in the current stage of historical development and the ideologies of regulation which constrain both its form and function. The resulting regulatory ideology gap continues to act as if history ceased in 1945 or so, as far as theory is concerned. And this is happening not just in the contemporary West; it became widely noticed in Marxist Leninist States as well. The well-known and afterwards disastrous consequences for Jack Ma and Alibaba of his speech in Shanghai in October 2020 on the radical disjunctions of Leninist regulatory ideology and Markets Marxism suggest the stakes and risks across economic-political models. It is not, then, a matter of quantities of regulation, but of relevant regulation. Impedance occurs where regulation blocks because it is oblivious to the character of its object and thus not merely is non responsive, but a drag on efficient management.

26. Internet architectures tend to mirror the social and political organization of those who control it. The current dominant architecture aligns with the markets driven individual autonomy enhancing, and democratic nature of liberal democratic globalization. For that reason it has been easy to be weaponized against states whose political- economic system is inconsistent with liberal democratic values (Iran, the Arab Spring, Hong Kong protests 20189, etc.). It does not take a genius that such systems, if they mean to protect their integrity and legitimacy must develop internet systems that reflect their own values. And if such actors also embrace internationalism--to project that internet system outward to serve as a global or regional baseline that aligns with and strengthens their interventions abroad. This is a great leap backwards from a world in which just decades ago the Internet was viewed as the last great frontier that could avoid consumption by states. But now states see in the Internet--and especially in the control of its architecture--a miraculous way of penetrating internal cultures and external rivals without the need for the sort of violence and drama that are no longer fashionable among international actors and the masses they manage.

27. China is a Marxist Leninist state. Its normative foundations (that is its approach to the normative significance of capital and its evolutionary trajectories) are Marxist. Its governmental structures are Leninist (now deeply and uniquely developed through the contributions of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemon, Hu Jingtao and Xi Jinping). 20th Century Europe flirted with socialism, and practiced variations of that approach to mixed public-private ownership within well regulated market economies; but the Soviet Union (and its post-1945 European Empire) was Leninist in its operational framework, even as it sought to transform the state apparatus as the monopoly corporate capitalist and the vanguard party as its shareholder. It is common for a Leninist state to hide behind a socialist label. Sometimes that might be done for the quite compelling reason that Communism as envisioned by Marxist theory has yet to be achieved and the process toward that goal is inherently socialist; sometimes because of the difficulties, conceptual to some extent, of squaring the role of a revolutionary vanguard within a stable bureaucratized institutional environment. Nonetheless, the institutional systems that are the engines of governance are not socialist but variations of Leninism in vanguard driven states. Liberal democratic principles drive institutional systems in states that practices collective ownership (a Marxism "lite") within a political system that rejects Leninist premises of the need for the vesting of primary political authority in the leading societal forces organized as a vanguard party and practicing democratic centralism and democratic dictatorship. In either case, those label provide the structure necessary for the objectification of the state and the facilitation of the means to distinguish among them for purposes of strategic calculus.

28. Can the state consume itself? Certainly it can disintegrate, especially when the ties that bind people into a polis become weaker than the cables that pull them apart through ties of fidelity to greater collective powers. And it is in the exploitation of the fissures that mark the fault lines of aggregated collectives operating in state form that much attention has been invested, especially by those who find this potential for self-consumption far less risky than the traditional mechanisms of open conflict. While the internal sub-collectives amassed within and as part of the state are quite capable of pulling the state apart, nudging (and managing) that possibility by outside collectives to their own benefit provides a temptation that has been difficult to resist. Of course, the practices are relatively ancient, if sometimes crude. They were used to some excellent though effect during the period of warfare in Europe from 1914-1945. The difference now is that the practices have been rationalized, made more efficient, and its power has morphed through the capabilities of technology. Also of some importance has been the connection between these nudging strategies and the development of democracy-based governance and stability regimes especially in liberal democratic states. In the contemporary context, then, one must be attuned not merely to the theorization of the techniques and objectives of nudging tensions and the narratives of division and suspicion, but also to their alignment with the development and vulnerabilities of contemporary political cultures in the target regions.

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