Monthly Archives: April 2007

brian barry’s culture and equality: a critical review

Culture and Equality

Brian Barry, in his monograph on the “politics of difference” or the “politics of recognition,” is skeptical of the degree to which current multiculturalism policies have in fact advanced “the values of liberty and equality,” to the extent that “the implementation of such policies tends to mark a retreat from both.” Multiculturalism introduces more problems than it solves. Furthermore, a critique of “culture” is absolutely quintessential to understanding Barry’s argument of why the special treatment of certain groups within a society, does not pass the liberal egalitarian’s ‘test of universality.’

However, a few caveats require mentioning: Barry accepts the Enlightenment as fundamental in establishing universal citizenship. While Barry does engage in a critique of current multiculturalism policy and its ineffectiveness at solving the proverbial riddle of a ‘heterogeneous nation-state,’ he is also implicitly undertaking a social engineering agenda. Recycling platitudes, critical ‘rhetoric,’ by Barry’s standards, would find the Enlightenment project’s instrumental compartmentalization of human beings, rather amusing. To carefully and parsimoniously classify subjects into neat, pre-determined and rational categories is as incoherent and worrisome as is the idea that liberal egalitarianism, coupled with its liberal conception of a democracy, will solve the multiculturalism “problem.”

Barry’s implicit theory of morality implies that moral universalism is valid and that at a bare minimum, “human rights are what all human beings need in order to live minimally decent lives.” For Barry, the “members of a group may suffer not because they have distinctive culturally derived goals,” but because they do poorly in achieving generally shared objectives. A generally shared objective is defined as a good education and a desirable and well-paid job. This is precisely why rational choice theory is poorly equipped to address the complex nature of human beings, both as they act as individuals and as they are found in social groups. Although it may be rational and efficient for one individual to pursue an education and in return be rewarded with ‘a well paid job,’ others may very well wish to live in different conditions that require a different set of pecuniary inputs. This should never imply that those who choose such a lifestyle are “suffering.”

The Sikh example provided by Barry further illustrates the point that the regulation of human life and human activity, has become so ubiquitous and pervasive, that the encroachment on traditional practices, norms, conventions and more precisely, the means and ways by which individuals introduce certainty in a largely uncertain world, is bound to be met with various degrees of resistance. There is no need to speculate the reasons for why Sikhs oppose the wearing of a crash-helmet when riding a motorcycle; religious considerations must be part of it, but that cannot possible provide the entirety of their resistance. It would be a gross misunderstanding to interpret the aforementioned activity as negligence – Sikhs are probably equally aware of the dangers of engaging in such activity without the proper protection. The choice to wear a helmet should be left to those who ride motorcycles. It is not only Sikhs who are at an increased risk of dying from life-threatening trauma to the brain that follows as a result of not having worn protective equipment.

If one buys into the argument that certain policies, including immigration and multiculturalism policies are elitist, as it has arguable been the case in Canada, the morality that posits what is “good” and what is “bad” is not then universal, but rather prescribed. The political elites, who advance arguments of morality, are themselves to be blamed for hypocritically entertaining double-standards. While Barry may be correct in arguing that the current status-quo is seriously lacking any problem-solving potential, neither does his approach. Campaigning for a universal and egalitarian understanding of citizenship, while circumventing a distinct set of issues, concerns and problems, also misses the point that those with particular economic and political vested interests, may not be the best at neutrally defining for the rest of a country what citizenship means and subsequently should be.

The problem then, as has already been mentioned, lies in the fixation and obsession with solving the problems that do not exist, or even worse, creating problems to fit those solutions in need of a problem, something that Barry is also critical of himself. However, difference is not romantic. Difference and diversity is absolutely critical to maintain a healthy polity and a ‘thinking society,’ in which complacency does not override the requirement to scrupulously scrutinize and question those who unequally wield power over others.

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foreign panic attack / asymmetry // (!) invading space

can the sound of space create a rich ultimatum of flowerless super-impositions? i spoke too loudly. and unfortunately woke up the person next to me. showering. deep space offers rehabilitation but somehow inconveniences. i feel incomplete and sadly depressed. and then.

the magic number appears again. as if to silence my immediate discomfort, these two digits delicately and with carnal superiority, force their way into my abstract form. i am forced to give up the battle. the fight however, continues.


the critters have surrounded me. i am fickle and can’t remember pain. the coarse chains tied around my neck have rusted from the overabundance of blood that supplies their chaos. define powerlessness. rephrase the moment of freedom and retrain my extroverted nervous system. endocentric phases of liminality approach but disappear sooner than later. it is impossible to explain. fantastica.

“today,” she regurgitates, “we were offered an ultimatum.” the sound of desperation begins to tighten the skin surrounding my vertebrate body. as it self implodes, the complete collapse of my depleted blood vessels excise my body of consciousness. rinse. repeat.

“the conditions of that ultimatum require us, the captors, to return to planet earth what we have stolen from them: this mortal criminal before us. they want the fiend alive and in seven days.”

uproar. insurgency. mass hysteria. an apocalyptic frenzy. and then the verdict.

“to this provocation we answer,” and with a final grunt, the empress yelled “let there be war.” i collapsed. death was imminent. traumatized from the drug-induced convulsions, i slipped into an eternal trance, the voice within me whispering nothing but useless encouragements.

property rights. //conjugating tragedy// copyrighted (c) life-forms. biological digressions (^). capitalism reasserted. acephalous +$ beheadings. the space, the first frontier, imperialism ##.

the end —

Infinity
*whether this does or does not make sense, it was not my intention. what i had in mind was something different. wait. what did i have in mind? you read it. you make up your mind…

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eu series: hegemonism – an eu love affair

Enlarging the European Union to include “new” member states is an ambitious and fascinating political project. Controversy however, does exist. Expanding the EU is an ideological exercise that strives to provide the impetus for the spread of neo-liberal market policies as well as other fundamental “democratic” concepts that may include a commitment to human rights, rule of law, transparency and elements of consociationalism. It is a function of reality and pragmatic constraints, that not everyone and not every political agenda can be accommodated.

Our Choice Is Peace?

The difficulty with failing to provide political outlets for those parties that may find themselves on the extremities or fringes of the political decision making process may find other means by which to manifest their grievances, often times using methods that have been captured by those terms such as “corruption,” “illicit” and “shadow” or “under- ground.”

As the EU looks to the East and the Balkan states to provide future economic markets, cheap labour, intellectual and natural resources, geopolitical advantages, as well as other strategic dimensions that make up the EU’s own “manifest destiny,” it is imperative if not counterintuitive and potentially catastrophic politically, if no measures are taken to accommodate the uniqueness of local and regional problems as well as solutions. The EU has systematically confused accommodation for supremacy and top-down “dictatorship” in key areas such as energy security, foreign policy and corruption. A failure to rethink accommodation in the EU may have history repeat itself with “second revolution” being a potential consequence.

The harmonization of local “laws” with the EU’s body of laws, otherwise known by the catch-all phrase, acquis communitaire, is bound to introduce a remapping or shifting of both political and economic actors. New winners become losers while old losers may find themselves on the other side of the spectrum. To reiterate the above is not to introduce something new, quite the contrary. Political and economic actors are constantly in flux. Traditionally, power sharing is explicitly desirable and opposition healthy; competition, or the antagonistic interplay between two parties competing for a limited-supply resource produces beneficial economic and “political” byproducts.

With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet regime, East Europe had been left without a governing hegemon. Criticisms aimed at undermining Soviet rule can also be applied to East Europe’s new hegemon, the European Union. East Europe and those living in East Europe have probably turned to the West in search for a panacea solution to their internal political and economic chaos. If freedom from Soviet-rule was, in retrospect, presupposing a departure from “colonialism” and “quasi-sovereignty,” looking forward, EU-rule will be a restoration of the very same things Eastern Europe was expecting to free itself from.

Commonplace energy rhetoric is often bundled with a normative pursuit of democracy. Rather alarmingly, EU’s energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, made explicit that “[t]he best way to create EU energy security is to export market economy values to suppliers such as Russia and the Middle East.” By throwing its political and economic weight around, the EU is trying to reconcile the uncertainty that is “foreign” or “alien” approaches to governance with their own version of market economics. If the EU’s is not prepared or willing to negotiate with players outside their geographical and ideological borders, what sort of example is that setting for the newly accessed East European countries, as well as those to be accessed, Romania and Bulgaria, in January 2007. To proceed with caution would be an understatement.

Furthermore, as an example, Germany and Poland have “failed to see eye-to-eye on the second major issue of energy, with the Polish leader sticking to his opposition against Germany’s plans to build a direct gas pipeline to Russia under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland.” This is, again, certainly nothing new. Anyone, with even the most limited background in history understands, not just as a result of World War II, but previous historical events as well, that Poland sovereignty is a sensitive issue for many Poles. To bypass such sovereignty, in this case the justification being that Germany must secure energy supplies and Russia is an appealing as well as suitable supplier, is to yet again, reinforce what has just been previously been said that the EU simply cannot dismiss the unique local socio-political make-up. To have German Chancellor Merkel offer to a “branch from the pipeline to Poland,” allowing for the possibility of a “valve-shut-off,” a-la Ukraine during early 2007, stands to prove the German approach as being unilateral and for the most part, politically ignominious.

Poland has voiced, through President Kaczynski, their sovereign desire to achieve energy security through “supply diversification,” a policy and initiative that includes a commitment by the “Western” countries through the “linking [of] energy grids” and the “enshrining of principles at the [EU] treaty level.” It is without doubt that given the latest rounds of accession, the EU has observed an increase in oil and gas imports and consumption. These rates stand to further rise, as the newly annexed countries have “weak internal hydrocarbon production.”

With the Baltic States looking to “reduce the number of Russian investors for historical and geopolitical reasons,” and the EU seeking to secure policy that is founded on treaty law (something that has yet to happen) with Russia, it will be interesting to observe the extent to which supra-national interests will trump national ones. Vladimir Putin has already expressed his concerns over allegations that Russia has continued to transgress human-rights law (for some a jus cogens principle), stating that Russia did not invent the word “mafia.” Whether or not that stands to be of any significance, it not only reminds the EU of its own past corruption scandals and political malfeasance, but rather antithetically speaks of the hypocrite nature of the disparity between EU practice and EU foreign policy. To provide examples, France’s experience with Jacques Chirac’s sloth during his tenancy as mayor of Paris, as well as the 1991 “Lafayette Deal” between France and Taiwan, both speak for the reality that is corruption and the exploitation of office for personal gain, with different repercussions and consequences for different countries.

In addition, British Euro-skeptics often find it extremely difficult to reconcile the benefits of the current status-quo that is EU’s civil-law legal system, with the UK’s traditional common-law system. EU Criminal Law overrides national provisions, regardless of opposition from local governments. All breaches of EU law are subject to sanctions that can be imposed by the EU Commission, an un-elected body in Brussels, which also has the right to propose and define what those criminal sanctions will be by definition (with a majority vote of Council of Members needed).

The above is an example of how as a supra-national institution, the EU is not always making unanimous decisions or implementing policy that is accommodating of all. It would be dangerous to make such an assumption by implying it. While current governments of the day can be said to be pro-EU, opposition and dissent do exist, even within veteran states, at both political and civil society levels.

Questioning EU’s future prospects is an exercise bound to introduce arguments from both Euro-skeptics as well as EU proponents. However, given current “policy” approaches that adopt measures more akin to imposed dictatorship, dissatisfaction either from old member states or newly accessed member states is bound to, in the future, undermine the traditional EU objective of uniting to reinforce national commitments that provide and oversee all “essential services” – as dictated by accompanying political mandates.

The EU constantly echoes those principles on paper. In reality, the truth points into other directions, directions that are not “consociational” or “accommodating” in nature, but rather disappointingly, the opposite.

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random responses: public policy critique [two]

Foucault’s primary concern in Governmentality is state control. State sovereignty, while often asserted over property and territory, is predominantly a means of controlling what Foucault calls “the complex of men and things.” Since state sovereignty cannot be absolute and completely arbitrary. Therefore, a rationalization or justification that explains why the state is “good” rather than “bad,” is often built into theories of statehood. While Machiavelli’s Prince provided a first account of the “art of government” and what particular methodology a prince was to employ and make use of in order to protect his property and principality, further interpretations followed suit. However, Foucault is not interested with whether “the interpretation of Machiavelli in these debates was accurate or not.” What is even more salient and “problematic” for Foucault is the attempt of these debates to “articulate a kind of rationality which was intrinsic to the art of government.”

Initial rationalities of the state and statehood built on the word economy as “the wise government of the family for the common welfare of all.” However, this orientation towards the family created an impasse that was only later broken with the arrival of mercantilism and the shift from a model of sovereignty based on the family to one based on population and the problems of population. In addition, it is important to note that state rationality is premised on the “common good,” a “good” which also incidentally makes up the end of government.

The “problematic of government” is then this obsession with setting up some instrumental model by which to govern those subjects under the auspices of a sovereign. Subjects are considered to be mere dependents in an extended family that have no direct control over their well-being. It is beyond obvious that these subjects cannot care for themselves and therefore must rely on the head of the family, the sovereign, to provide them with certain necessities and safeguards. This interventionist and paternalistic dynamic of the “art of government” is for Foucault, symbolic of a rather dismal state of affairs. The implication of governmentality and governmentalization is that Foucault reduces the state to a very mechanical and one-dimensional “being,” one that can be easily predicted using his own cause-and-effect model. As Habermas later describes as part of his communicative interpretation of rationality, the complexity of social structures allow for some hope that modernity will not completely alienate the prospects for a different reality than that of Foucauldian or purely rational-choice nature.

If we are to continue the argument that the head of a household, usually the male (at least in Western society) is the general overseer or manager of that family’s resources so as to provide for the general or common benefit of all of his dependents, it is more than obvious that the only subjects that are left in the household, who can be labeled as dependents, are children and women. MacKinnon’s rather audacious critique of male supremacy, as it is found both in a feminist critique of the state, as it is experienced by gender inequalities, as well as in the private affairs of heterosexuality and marriage, is without a doubt an attack on the current, male-defined, de jure state order.

One way to explicate male power, as it is institutionalized by the state through law, is to subjectively critique modern rape laws. Given that rape requires certain legal concepts to be met before an offender is prosecuted, to try rape is often to adhere to a “reasonable person” standard, commonly referred to as an objective standard of behaviour that is defined as being a quantifier of the “sexually normative level of force,” and furthermore, a “substantive reference point implicit in existing legal standards.” While MacKinnon explicitly makes the point that the violent act of rape is difficult to distinguish from the non-violent act of intercourse, she further goes on to say that the problem is precisely that “the injury of rape lies in the meaning of the act to its victims, but the standard for its criminality lies in the meaning of the same act to the assailants.” Not asking for whom the belief is reasonable, when applying the reasonable standard test of belief, allows male explanations of rape to dominate over the actual experiences of rape, as experienced by female victims.

The implication this has to jurisprudence at large, is that it questions the very rationality behind the entitlement of the state to assert sovereignty over its subjects. While rape laws may seem like the right thing to do, a male-centric definition of rape fails to address the obvious: “sex is something men do to women.” Consent then, as MacKinnon interprets it, from a feminist critique point of view, is useless, for “if sexuality is relational, specifically if it is a power relation of gender, consent is a communication under conditions of inequality.”

To question male-dominance and male-centric definitions of the state and statehood is to question, much like Foucault does with his theory of governmentality, albeit implicitly, entitlement. Particular rationalities, in this case the dominance of males over females in both public and private sphere cases, are packaged and framed by those who are most interested in ensuring that the outcomes of such power and gender relations turn out in their favour. In just the same way that these rationalities were constructed and adopted, the same rationalities can be deconstructed and abandoned, given that a more substantive enquiry and critique of the underlying assumptions is successfully attempted. To further explicate this, Dryzek offers an example, at the end of his discussion on the possibility of fostering discussion between rational choice public theory and critical theory, one that Adam Smith himself highlighted; Smith was aware of both the “positive effects of unconstrained self-interest maximizing the economic good,” as well as the “undesirable moral consequences,” of individuals acting in such self-interested and maximizing fashion, “for both the individual so behaving and for society more generally.”

White argues that “critical theory, at least as it is developed in Jurgen Habermas’s recent work, provides a minimal model of the subject which is both normatively more adequate than that of rational choice theory and which can provide a more useful theoretical orientation for interpreting and explaining at least some important phenomena in political life.” Habermas and his alternative interpretation of rationality, the communicative model, is central to both White’s article, Toward a Critical Political Science, as well as to Dryzek’s argument that critical theory can offer answers to some of the problems faced by public choice (rational choice) theorists; in essence, an open discussion engaged in by the two theories should not be overlooked, especially since they share a core end goal, one that seeks to understand the underlying motivators behind individual actions.

Habermas’s famous “speech act,” a process that a speaker undertakes when making a “speech,” or engaging in conversation and debate, asks that three validity claims are to be met, namely (i) truth, (ii) normative legitimacy or correctness, and lastly, (iii) truthfulness or accuracy. What this in turn raises is a “reciprocal supposition of accountability between actors.” The communicative model is helpful then because it moves away from the isolationist pretensions of rational choice theories and into an area of intersubjectivity in which actors are constantly engaged in dialogue with their peers so as to reach a consensus as to what action will be taken to remedy a particular faced problem.

As modernization is central to both Foucault’s theory of governmentality as well as to the rational choice theorist’s position that “the systematic expansion of strategic rationality” is a “beneficial process which clears the necessary cognitive and institutional ground for an even greater degree of individual freedom and welfare, coming to fruition in the modern democratic state,” a critique of this systematic one-sidedness by Habermas was only imminent. Instead of being forced to accept absolute rational preferences, actors in the communicative model are allowed to be critical and reflective, capabilities that “are increasingly integrated into the ongoing reproduction of the lifeworld.” Ultimately, interpretive and evaluative skills become central to the understanding of one’s surroundings, skills that imply a more complex account of social interactions vis-à-vis rational choice theory’s more “normative prescriptions grounded in opaque sources of authority.”

As Dryzek points out, “hierarchy implies attempted manipulation of some people by others and instrumental guerilla warfare on the part of subordinates.” In addition, he goes on to say that those who are considered to be free agents, choosing the most rational path of behaviour, so as to maximize self-interest, are not in fact free at all, since they engage in a form of mechanical “roboticism,” always choosing what is pre-determined in an isolationist setting, while never appealing to other social agents who may find themselves in the same situation.

To continue with what was said before about the level of entitlement felt by those currently in positions of domination over others may be wrongly interpreted as some form of cognitive pathology. However, this entitlement may come off as being nothing more than a social construct built in their favour. Adam Smith himself saw both the virtues and the vices of self-interest, especially in a wealth-creation setting. Modern kleptocratic regimes, notwithstanding who ensures their survival, are examples of the extent to which a small, privileged minority has dominated over and essentially repressed a larger, powerless majority. Tversky and Kahneman’s loss aversion curve may explain the cognitive difficulty of letting go of a privileged position, especially when the ex ante benefits of maintaining such a privileged social position, would outstrip ex post facto ones.

One caveat remains. MacKinnon’s violent expose of the outrageous and ubiquitous domination of the male sex over the female one has the effect of empowering some women to justify a feminist movement determined to engage in a process of removing state male-ness and replacing it with a more feminine-sensitive explanation. This particularly aggressive discourse has the potential to antagonize the two sexes to the point of where male dominance may potentially stand to be consolidated rather than be brought “in-line” with a more gender-neutral explanation (alternative) of the state. In addition, the double-standard of considering all male subconscious to be repressive, oppressive, hierarchical and only conducive to top-down domination is an assumption that is more reflective of the similarities of the sexes rather than their gender-defined and gender-isolated differences.

Without calling MacKinnon a rational choice theorist in the absolute sense, it should be noted that gender discussion, a la the communicative model, as proposed by Habermas, is perhaps more appropriate in this context than a full out deterministic feminist model that dictates the experience of women and what emotions and feelings are to be considered as “obvious female responses.” It is possible that different women feel different things in different situations and circumstances. MacKinnon cannot speak for all or find her explanations justified as being the only rational explanation describing male-female domination. In addition, it should be at least noted that judicial systems, along with their behemoth jurisprudence, are institutions that are not particularly responsive, and usually slow to adapt to more current events and conditions; this can be both a virtue and a vice. Having said that, holding the men of today accountable for the implicit (at least to some extent explicit) behavioural tendencies of those men who lived in previous centuries (insofar as it is possible to do so by interpreting the statutory and case law of that time), would not only be unfair but also impossible to reconcile, another legal condition, namely, the chain of causation.

Feminism Uncontrolled.

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random responses: public policy critique [one]

A) Summary

(1) Frank Fischer

Human beings exist in the world in which they find themselves both as physical beings and social phenomena. A distinction between these two spheres is a critical observation that allows postempiricist discursive to pursue an interpretative understanding of reality. Because this social reality is a construct, and as a result open to interpretation, reconstruction and ultimately change, empirical studies and the empiricist who conduct them must “carefully connect or relate empirical findings to the social understandings of those under investigation.” A failure to appreciate that a certain effect may have had separate and distinct points of origin (or causes), and that actively and subjectively substituting our own interpretation, as empiricists and observers, for the actual interpretations (whatever they may have been at the time) of the actor or agent who caused the effect, would be to seriously misunderstand the complexity of the cause-and-effect process.

Fischer goes on to assert, that “by treating the meanings of their findings as clear or evident, empiricist social groups assign to them [those being studied] in effect the social understanding of the dominant social groups.” However, Fischer does not choose to explore this deficiency by means of a causal explanation. In turn, his social meaning or social constructivism approach leads him to observe a further inconsistency, which maintains that “the crux of the problem…is how to establish and maintain a systematic relationship between social scientists’ second-order explanations and the everyday first-order explanations of the social actors under investigation.” Therefore a descriptive model that just describes effects or what is observed, using quantifiers chosen subjectively by observers, fails to take into consideration the aforementioned tendency.

For Fischer, an interpretive method, one that allows the agent doing the acting to provide the reasons behind their decision or particular choice, would prove to be a much more productive alternative. It is not surprising that Fischer follows this discussion with one that speaks of the importance of language and rhetoric in policy making, especially how what is being said as well as what is being omitted, “assumed, supposed or constructed,” all provide clues as to what the dominant social construct of the day may be at a particular point in time. Ambiguous language for Fischer is a means by which to appeal to a larger electoral base, a base that if one assumes that there are as many unique social constructs as there are voters, would be difficult to politically mobilize, without leaving enough room for those citizens to “read” themselves into. In addition, the use of media is seen as a “hyper-reality,” a fake reality that “dupes” subscribers into believing that this in fact is reality itself.

(2) Rochefort and Cobb

Although certain problems exist and are particularly serious, not all political actors attach the same level of attention to these problems, a phenomenon that can in part be explained by what is “arguably the most fundamental source of ‘non-rational’ political phenomena, namely, the intersubjective nature of social experience and its impact both on issue initiation and policy formulation.” Because social constructs are ubiquitous, public issues are also effectively “malleable.” As reality is constructed, the independent variables chosen by those doing the constructing to complete causal chains, differ from one construct to another and from one actor to another. Choosing one independent variable over another is a “process that always involves discretion and inconsistency,” according to Rochefort and Cobb. Furthermore, to better understand the process of problem definition, policymakers need to “focus on the effect [emphasis added] of problem definition on the policymaking process, including the reevaluation of previously accepted definitions.”

(3) Schneider and Ingram

Because public policy affects certain groups or individuals, it is absolutely crucial to study the social construction of target populations and the certain images and portrayals that are envisioned by those constructions. Schneider and Ingram understand social constructions as being “stereotypes about particular groups of people,” usually measured by a wide range of both positive and negative dimensions. Certain groups then, are portrayed as being either positive or negative and therefore, depending on which categories they are considered to fall under (advantaged, contenders, dependents or deviants), either receive benefits or burdens.

Furthermore, “benefits are expected to become oversubscribed to advantaged populations, whereas dependents and deviants will receive too little (become undersubscribed) beneficiary policy.” Schneider and Ingram do however make an important claim, that “policy directed solely to the benefit of powerful groups could become a major campaign liability.” Although they equate true empowerment and equality to an equal and positive treatment of all target populations in the social sphere, this is a normative ideal that may neither be neither possible nor desirable.

(4) Stone

Traditionally, the transformation of difficulties into problems is not seen a precarious process that is akin to some arbitrary methodology. Instead, this process follows a simple and coherent logic, one that firsts asks if human actions are “amenable to human intervention,” before going on to promote difficulties to problems. However, for Deborah Stone, the substances of the transformation of difficulties into political problems are simply causal ideas. She undertakes a discussion that seeks to “demonstrate that there is in fact a systematic process with fairly clear rules of the game by which political actors struggle to control interpretations and images of difficulties,” a task that does not pigeonhole causal theories into moral constraints of right or wrong. In fact, what she goes on to argue is that politics is “about fights about the possibility of control and the assignment of responsibility,” a struggle over which link in the causation chain to accept as being the source of the effect and therefore the true point of origin or “creator” of the problem or difficulty.

Causal politics then, is primarily concerned with “moving interpretations of a situation from the realm of accident to one of the three realms of control,” or the categories of “mechanical cause” (intended consequences but not willfully guided, or satisfying the actus reus requirement, but having no culpability or mens rea), “intentional cause” (intended and purposeful consequences) or “inadvertent cause” (having purposeful but unintended consequences). However, certain limits of the causal arguments do exist and are usually defined as questions that ask why certain groups or individuals who entertain a particular causal story constantly dominate their opponents, who struggle to assert a different narrative. The influence of media, who has visibility and access to such a medium, is often believed to influence the success of certain constructs over others. In addition, the institutions of law and science can, by virtue of their social privileges, “challenge or protect existing social orders,” in addition to providing legitimacy to certain groups to continue asserting their dominant causal ideas, while assigning blame or punishment to actors who contrast certain dominated causal constructs.

(5) Tversky and Kahneman

Tversky and Kahneman’s critique of normative choice models, for having deviated to such a widespread extent from actual observed (and empirically validated) behaviour, is a rather compelling account of the failures of axiomatic expected theory assumptions, that concludes by finding the normative and descriptive analyses of rationality to be irreconcilable.

By undertaking empirical studies that explain the difference between choice selection and the framing of choices, Tversky and Kahneman find that “choices involving gains (positively framed) are usually risk averse, while choices involving losses (negatively framed) are often risk seeking, except when the probability of winning or losing is small.” In addition, their value function, called loss aversion, maintains that “the response to losses is more [emphasis added] extreme than the response to gains,” suggesting that “the displeasure of losing a sum of money exceeds the pleasure of winning the same amount.” To further explicate the phenomenon of these “visual [or cognitive] illusions,” the importance of reference points when framing certain issues, especially as these issues may in turn be interpreted as being positive or negative, stands to have serious implications for public policy. In additional, the results of the studies carried out by Tversky and Kahneman “indicate that cancellation is actually obeyed in choices that make its application transparent [emphasis added].” Framing, therefore, either maintains or refutes the “empirical validity of [the theory of] cancellation.”

While some critics may end up suggesting that transparence is automatically built-in to market systems or that incentives correct this feature or illusion of human cognition, Tversky and Kahneman suggest that incentives “do not operate by magic,” and that the pragmatic considerations of unique and ad hoc situations may in fact make the “defence that people will learn to correct decisions” not particularly cogent.

B) Questions/Analysis

Fischer’s argument is centrally linked to Tversky and Kahneman in two ways. The choice human agents make is linked to the way in which their choice matrix was framed. Because a lack of transparency leads to different choices being made, either risk seeking or risk averse, an ex post facto empiricist observing those decisions, although led to believe that the cause chosen to explain that particular effect is logically deduced, may lead to an inconsistency between what actually provided the impetus for a certain choice to be made and what is empirically assumed to have been the cause. Language, rhetoric and symbol manipulations come to be viewed as policy tools that frame a particular social construct as interpreted by a given a politically invested group or individual.

Rochefort and Cobb’s problem definition dilemma, that of choosing problems arbitrarily and inconsistently, a process that is inconsistent with what may be salient or of proximate overall social importance, builds on Stone’s causal ideas interpretation of how politics and policy is framed and constructed. As basic economics outlines, resources, either material or political are scarce and in limited supply. The competition over who is to appropriate such resources is contested by actors who frame their narratives of legitimacy in terms of causal explanations that lay either lay blame or praise. One critique of Schneider and Ingram’s model of advantaged and disadvantaged groups is that it should be made explicit that the individuals or groups who fall under these categories are not forever locked in a state of oversubscribed or undersubscribed benefits or burdens. Given the fluid nature of social constructs, particular interests may find ways in which to influence and assert their particular social construct in ways that will overcome and possible dominate a given status-quo. Stone makes this clear in her article, further pushing the concept of causality into an abstract domain that is neither right nor wrong, in other words devoid of moral considerations. What is wrong and what is right then are corollaries of the dominant social construct of a particular point in time, a purely abstract understanding that may or may not sit well with certain individuals – this therefore allows the political institution at large to exist by constantly maintaining a degree of competitiveness between vested interests and adversaries.

However, the above is particularly worrisome when certain groups or social constructs are constantly being locked or priced out of the political marketplace. The findings of Tversky and Kahneman are of particular salience here. Because there exists a perversity of human cognition, or an “intuitive illusion,” policy can be framed by those who find themselves holding power as a result of entertaining a dominating social construct, in such ways that their competitors and their allies may be satisfied with certain concessions that may in fact prove to be, in their search for their own political dominance, counterproductive. This phenomenon therefore perpetuates, or at least has a propensity to perpetuate the domination of one social construct over another.

The framing of policy and policy issues in this light, especially when ambiguity and a lack of transparency is a pragmatic requirement for electoral efficiency, is extremely problematic in a democratic context that is constantly said to offer equal and fair opportunities to all. However, if Tversky and Kahneman’s empirical findings are in fact correct, the concept of loss aversion can be extrapolated so that the aforementioned can at least in part be explained. Why is it for example, that certain individuals accumulate so much garbage and junk in their garage without concern for the limited space available for this purpose, and when asked to either sell or throw out such goods, they typically respond by circumventing the question with the banality that they may, at some point in the future, find a need for such goods. The same can be said about capital accumulation. Hoarding is one way of interpreting this phenomenon. Tversky and Kahneman’s discovery then, if assumed to be true, is absolutely crucial in explaining these above human tendencies – whether this is an innate and “built-in” human condition, or an environmental consequence, being something of future debate.

Social groups that find themselves on the advantaged side of the coin receive benefits or “winnings,” for the purpose of this argument, that are valued more or less taken for granted in light of what would happen if these groups were disadvantaged and were oversubscribed with burdens, a situation that would lead them to consider such as losses. Because the difference between “winning” and “losing” is not a net neutral or zero-sum effect, those who lose end up undertaking “risk seeking” endeavours to try and correct what they perceive to be an “injustice.” However, perhaps what is even more problematic in terms of the virtue of maintaining social order and peace is what would happen if those who are constantly treated as advantaged and therefore on the “winning” side, would all of a sudden start to “lose.” As it has been argued by a few of the above authors, those who find themselves to be advantaged, have the political and material resources to counter policy or attacks that try and dismantle their dominant social positions.

As Tversky and Kahneman have already alluded to, markets are not particularly good at correcting the above (socially constructed) “inferiority complex.” Regulations may help rectify this inconsistency but are not always particularly effective from a pragmatic approach, as the uniqueness of ad hoc situations in politics and business, make it extremely difficult to offer any solutions that are more than just palliative remedies.

Conclusion

It is obvious then that in a world of limited resources, there will always be more contenders than beneficiaries. Particular social constructs fight to justify why one group should dominate another, by promoting and entertaining different causal explanations of particular events. Rhetoric, discourse and the narratives of such constructs, maintain the status quo, while perverse and illogical human pathologies exacerbate traditional virtues of democracy, market-driven capitalism and laissez-faire ideology. However, the debate of whether the social environment in which humans find themselves is cyclical or linear, is still very much a point of contention now, as it was hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago.

Propaganda Framing

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european union [meets] turkey: two democracies, one hypocrite

I wrote a paper on whether Turkey should or should not join the European Union. Again, I’m not posting everything, as that would probably completely miss what I’m trying to do: add accessibility to my blog. Here are some excerpts:

Turkey

Introduction

To ask the question of whether Turkey should or should not join the European Union is to completely misunderstand the context in which current negotiations are taking place. In other words, when France adamantly and vociferously maintains that if and when Turkey will be “ready” to join the EU, it will leave it up to its electorate to decide by means of a referendum, it completely misses the point. The primary objective of this paper is to briefly outline the contextual backdrop onto which accession talks have been, and continue to be made, by critically engaging with a cross-section of the current academic literature on this subject. Furthermore, the last section will offer a more pragmatic analysis of the possible directions in which Turkey-EU negotiations could be potentially taken. This will hopefully provide a coherent response to the reality that Turkey’s political, cultural and economical future, will not by any means, be less successful or promising, without full EU membership.

Analysis

Part I

There are a few scenarios that could unfold. The first is that Turkey will not end up joining the European Union. However, this would offer more costs than benefits for a few reasons. One such reason is that the current public antagonism towards Turkey and Islam will only become more acrimonious. The dehumanization and disconnection between the EU (read: the West) and Turkey (read: the East) cannot possibly have any positive consequences. Turkey is not Europe’s or the West’s enemy. Islam is not incompatible with democracy and it certainly isn’t incompatible with market-based liberal economies.

The duality that is found in the EU’s acquis communitaire is indicative of the double standards of such institution. While the EU’s Copenhagen criteria may push Turkey towards maintaining the current secularist status-quo, this is simply unacceptable if Turkey is also to develop an electorally sensitive democracy. Religion, and more importantly, Islam, has and will continue to dominate both private and increasingly as of late, public life. As it has been pointed out before, secularism is a construct that is constantly being reinterpreted to keep in-sync with the dynamic complexities of change. In other words, the ethnocentric features of EU’s integration process is borderline imperialistic, failing to address local and regional uniqueness and even more worryingly, as is the case in Turkey, inadvertently preventing democracy fundamentals from taking root. It is precisely because of this, that Turkey’s future cannot be said to be less certain or more bleak as a result of not having been made a full member of the European Union.

However, if Turkey is to join the European Union, this will need to be more than just a mechanical and technical process. Europe, as was the point of some of the authors discussed, must engage in redefining for themselves the role of religion in society and the extent to which secularism is but a superficial and ignorant misunderstanding of the more bona fide realities of pragmatic politics. Sure Turkey will have access to structural funds, the promising EU single-market and a seat at the decision-making table. This unfortunately does not suffice. Market-oriented economics and the contracts that provides the glue that holds it all together simply cannot function if the European courts put in charge of arbitrating contract disputes, cloak their bias towards EU parties in rhetoric that dehumanizes Islam by maintaining the “us” (read: the West, the good) versus “them” (read: the East, the bad, the enemies) paradigm.

Part II

Seeing Islam as a problem in need of a solution is also particularly problematic. The questions of whether the European Union is engaged in an economic integration exercise, or in a political and ideological one, is arguable. There is a sense that Islam belongs to a crude, unjust and barbaric past, incompatible with a more modern understanding of secular democracy and rationally founded and sound public policy. However, the sophisticated present, with all its modern bells and whistles, has not yet been fully successful at creating electorally sensitive political parties, nor has it yet been entirely successful at completely eschewing religion from the subjective life of private individuals. This is true for both Europe and Turkey.

Although not entirely part of the scope of this paper, racial and cultural discrimination and distinctions are arguably corollaries of a wider accepted gamut of scientifically derived, and culturally based, evaluations of what is and isn’t rational. In addition to this, public awareness and public scrutiny of social and cultural constructs may not be sufficient to safeguard from the potential pathologies of the imperialist nature of Western rationality. A further dimension is required, one that asks the electorate in both Turkey and Europe to critically engage, debate and discuss the possible effects of a Turkey-EU integration, or the lack thereof.

Conclusion

Turkey’s democracy is moving towards becoming more electorally responsive and, contrary to the more ominous suspicions of some of its critics, not relapsing into a tyrannical display of Islamic authoritarianism. A wider recognition of human rights as they apply both to minorities as well as dominant cultural and religious groups, will naturally follow as a result of this. However, the key catalyst providing the impetus for the aforementioned, as argued by Mousseau, is the introduction of a liberal market economy and the possibility for economic opportunities that, albeit loaded with Islamic traditional values of community and reciprocal trust, produce beneficial results and allows for the further development and subsequent consolidation Turkey’s democracy.

Future relations between the West and East, the European Union and Turkey, will depend on both European reevaluations of the role of religion and secularist constructs, as well as on future Turkish advancements towards a more open society, sensitive to unique regional cultural minorities and majorities. However, if the EU persists on applying its conditions for membership through a top-down approach, as if to say that only Western modernity and rationality is democratic, Turkey will simply end up with having swapped the Kemalist state elites, one hegemon, for another, the EU technocrats. This dilemma forms a paradox that is missing from current debates on Turkish-EU affairs; one that needs to be further studied, discussed and appreciated.

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inside asset bubbles: the rationality of speculation (exec brief)

I wrote a paper on speculative asset bubbles, having loads of fun doing it. Although I am aware of the brutal reality that not everyone may full understand the dialectic/specific vernacular, this should not prevent discussion.

Caveats aside, here is the introduction:

“Chain letters, bubbles, pyramid schemes, Ponzi finance, and manias are somewhat overlapping terms. The generic term is non-sustainable patterns of financial behaviour, in that asset prices today are not consistent with asset prices at distant future dates.” [emphasis added, Kindleberger, 2005, pg. 11]

Charles Kindleberger proposes the above definition of a ‘bubble,’ in his book, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, where he argues that the “cycle of manias and panics results from the pro-cyclical changes in the supply of credit; the credit supply increases, relatively rapidly in good times, and then when economic growth slackens, the rate of growth of credit has often declined sharply.” It is more than obvious that the supply of credit is at the heart of his proposed framework on how to interpret financial “bubbles.” However, there is one caveat: in typical pro-Enlightenment fashion, Kindleberger’s definition of “non-sustainable patterns of financial behaviour,” implies a problem in need of a solution and says nothing about the (historical) contexts in which these bubbles form, who the actors were and what positions of power they held in society and whether these speculative patterns themselves were intentional or unintentional. For Kindleberger, borrowing one of Alan Greenspan’s terms, “irrational exuberance” is the final destination, a pathology of human cognition and behaviour, which must be contained, acted upon, and solved. However, containment strategies and state administered medicine, in the form of (dis)incentives, is often at odds with a more pragmatic reality that government officials can and often do (and have in the past), either surreptitiously or otherwise, actively participate in speculative undertakings for personal gain.

Consider the following. ‘Contemporary bubbles are distant cousins of past financial behaviour.’ Although almost a cliché in the modern world, this is a gross misunderstanding; one that Peter Garber unpacks in his monograph entitled Famous First Bubbles. The current paradigm, that past “irrational exuberance” and “frenzied speculation” is but part of a rudimentary, archaic and unsophisticated era, Garber argues, is historically unfounded and in turn manufactured by vested interests. That the Mississippi and the South Sea bubbles have now become anecdotes of what once used to happen, but no longer possible because of the ‘safeguards of modernity,’ is proof of the extent to which vested interests have manufactured, manipulated and massaged historical fact to fit their own speculative projects.

Furthermore the opposite can be argued: that modernity is more susceptible to “non-sustainable financial behaviour” than previous pre-Enlightenment and pre-Industrial Revolution eras were. In addition, the term “bubble,” has become a placeholder of convenience. When it is desirable to frame certain market behaviour as a bubble, we (read: vested interests) do so. When it is not, ‘we’ do not. Modern methods of communication, transportation and the proverbial ‘flattening of the world,’ predispose local markets stand to attacks on behalf of speculators. International contagion is an unstoppable ‘disease.’ Regulatory financial, currency, monetary and fiscal policies, designed to forecast and subsequently prevent bubbles, are often times toothless and ineffective. However, these distinct features of modernity are exactly why, reading a trend off a chart is absolutely meaningless, when trying to understand the underlying mechanics of “non-sustainable financial behaviour.”

Concluding, I wrote:

I expected to find both convergences and divergences between the past and present. However, the similarities or convergences between the two are most striking. Modern economic instruments coupled with their modern policy directives are often only marginally better at dealing with financial ‘bubbles’ than their pre-modern counterparts. In addition to this, failing to critically engage history may grossly mislead one to believe that what may be perceived as a ‘bubble,’ was in fact the result of market fundamentals. Furthermore, the term ‘bubble’ is often appropriated or not appropriated by those individuals in whose interest it is to frame the issue one way or the other. Governments, although constantly fighting to maintain an area of unchallenged justification for interventionist and control-politics, fail miserably when public officials themselves are often tied up in corruption scandals – and more notably, actually instigate ‘bubbles’ and see to it that they are carried through.

Yes, the above is controversial. But that is the point, everything is controversial, everything is spun, framed and massaged to fit personal interests. Look for a follow up post to this.

Example
*Non-chartists beweare!

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