Category Archives: critical

you’re not supposed to, but you do it anyway: a study

you want to save the world and make use of the complicated. let’s bemoan and let’s be pathetic. let’s depress the objectively deflated and inflate the pathologically insane. figure eight shows you the picture of a duck with training wheels, carefully imagining itself in a world of mass hunger and rabid determination. we’re starving our flocks to write this story and so you should keep being inept and press the ‘donate now’ button. it makes me feel good when i tell you this; it makes you feel even better when you jump aboard this ideological 747 with me. i, you, them, we, deity. all fabrications, with green smokestacks, emitting a purple wave of eccentricity with a positive charge and forty-four days left to procreate. subliminal delineations, danger. squeeze, tighten, fortify, splendor. adapt.

what is the generation thunder that roars beneath your feat, you incredulous tiger of misaligned ubiquity. ask. question. depress. you test your capacity to enlarge by postulating the maturity levels of iron at seven, 4 and thirty-3 years. impossible is possible, just think about it… just make it possible. it’s insanity (all over) when i hear you yelp from across the road, asking for help, disguised in a matter-of-fact gluten-free substance, poised to penetrate. you wish to change, to manage, to massage, to exacerbate, to complicate, to memorize, to show frigid temperatures how to fake the orgasm of amorous professions. or maybe you want none of these things and all of them at once, a paradox among the living, a choice dilemma that confounds the unannounced forces of faux-finished material textures.

go, for yourself, for others, for the benefit of the corrupted few who hold power, devour powder, speak louder, excrete madness and impose the word “rather.” how do you echolocate the entire sound alphabet, as it is spoken by a demented goat, born out of wedlock, its original creator a combination of an acidic substance and an opulent fissure of the most pernicious (but promiscuous) existence. light is a ray and if photos are edible, your subconscious and maniacal tendencies and contrived proclivities can all continue taxing the willing, at the expense of increasing your exposure to risk-free ultraviolet machinations. print, copy, x.

ambivalence is an investment, a radical departure from the convenient features of yesterday, a realization that tomorrow will undertake to completely water-down your nightmares while accentuating your dreams to the point of an introverted culmination of fat-free lipids and kleptomaniac-like reward schemes. but you continue, you continue along the predetermined path of your ethically challenged 99-meter sprint towards dystopia. or perhaps i have become more adept at storytelling than you used to be. possibilities are exponentially raised to import suspicion, but in your case, you infer speculation, add hyperbolic sensationalism and remind your opponent that within the farce that exists the orifice of comedic brilliance, there exists something that is not only available and you can call your own, an offspring, a progeny of mild-mannered motivators, but something that none of us can ever internalize, even if by means of employing harsh light and enlightened inconspicuousness.

my solutions are equally blunt. i can repackage hysteria and resend it. i can .pdf your mannerism and send it back to you, equally possible, especially when reply-all stares the effects of destiny directly in its jealous (and esthetically morbid) face. you have chosen out of a lack of choices. you have created your demise by failing to foresee possible (and expected) alternatives. and now i wish to implode and sideline my own detrimental (to your health) -isms for the sake of procuring a toothless lion, enclosed in a hamster cage, with the same help mode as a surrogate 19th century barn fly.

car keys. please.

3 Comments

Filed under abstract, critical, life, philosophy, symbols

the star without any end points, a circle in disguise

ready, set, go. attack, pant, begin to flaunt, oh my – is that kant? seriously. go fetch, go play, go emotionally decay. this blister is a complete disaster and someone just called me over to start the other side of their intricate project called casper. what a scene, full of fluffy fluffs fluffing about, can you believe such ignorance, i can’t tell you how happy i am to have experienced another way to lament. oh, continue, don’t abrogate, dictate, dictate…

[scene one]

[a small-ish rat occupies a space. a grandiose entrance, provided by some ill-advised sponsor, is entertained by a piece of cheese…]

[l… c… a…]

[“hello,” yelps the larger of the two. “perhaps you can guide me to your destination,” continued the belligerent, but this time with more gusto and perhaps even more empathy. i left the two alone to mingle and directed my attention to more pressing trifles, like the platter of duck confit that had arrived, just in time for the wetting of my palate. before i could ingest the floral display of apathetic violence, reconstructed for me by a magician of gastronomic “ooomph,” tragedy had struck. the legal person they called cheese, a blotched, half-empty placeholder, had already, rather desperately, forced its way into a container. it was hiding from the disaster. to spill more acid onto the intimately cancerous scene, monosyllabic doctors, competing for their own cubed foot of oxygenated diarrhea, all kept pushing alongside my leg without excusing themselves, perhaps on purpose. this entanglement further contributed to the pandemonium. the cheese was nowhere to be found by the true authorities and the obvious was lying naked on the floor, suffocated by the pungent smell of an unclassified piece of cheese…]

[this became, of course, a case no longer worth trying, never mind in front of a hot fudge, otherwise known as a fissure between an already widening gap; it is because of such influences that innocuous proper, playing with fire, will often burn at the same temperature as ulterior motives begin to congregate at.]

[r.i.p. rat, 547 grams, four inches tall, 11:43AM to 13:00PM]

there is an exclamation mark that gains perspective whenever you approach it with such sense of appreciation that your decoy is deconstructed the moment it senses and if containment is not preferred, it will also eat significantly more.

blah.

blah.

isms.

and again,

speech broke the silence, all too soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under abstract, critical, life, philosophy, politics, rant, symbols

hra – better than nothing? and has the EU really made a difference?

the herd, lining up

hra – better than nothing? and has the EU really made a difference?

– what does that tell you about how much the HOME OFFICE (a creation of some prime minister or another – i think in this case it was his royal tony-ness that transgressed) really cares about the HRA

– in my personal and humble opinion (yeah right ;)), the answer will tend to be “not really that much”

– they are constantly entertaining a state of complete apprehension, a state of being that paralyzes their foresight and continues to entertain the grossly inappropriate blinders-on effect that has been the status-quo for way too long in this nanny-state of a country

– i guess the thought of queens, kings and KINGDOMS conjures up warm and fuzzy feelings of slavery and repression with its gardens of evil and sand castles of hardship for the promotion of the social collective, the nation and the prosperity of the PUBLIC (and the PUBLIC’S GOOD)…another deep-throat anachronism that even my grandmother has stopped paying attention to…

– everyone is hiding behind the ‘public good,’ while we, the voters, the deciders, want accountability

– but really, when the closet monster makes a boo-boo, s/he blames it on the need to promote the public good, or some other utilitarian smith-slash-mill-like hit-and-run argument.

[note: the above happened ‘on the fly’ or ‘in the moment’ and its contents are unaltered so as to not entertain an adherence to certain unfounded and unjustified standards of expression or formalities that only restrict the audience slash reader to a given matrix of possible interpretations. art, a creation, a process.]

Leave a comment

Filed under abstract, academia, academic, brain, critical, life, philosophy, politics, rant, symbols, university

On the Question of Turkey-EU Membership: Yes, No, and Everything in Between [full post]

*By special request, I’m posting my entire paper on the question of whether Turkey SHOULD or SHOULD NOT join the European Union.

Intro

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.

Background

There is nothing “organic” about the way in which the modern Turkish republic came into existence. While it may be true that European modernity was the product of a centuries long industrialization process, a process influenced and fueled by revolutionary advancements in technological competence, the Turkish case is distinctly different. With the Ottoman Empire having suffered continued defeat “at the hands of the major European powers,” modernity came to be seen as the best possible defensive strategy, offering renewed military competence and in short, provide the solution to a lack-of-competitiveness problem. Initially, modernity was not a ubiquitous and omnipresent fact of life, but limited to the military.

It is not difficult to conceptualize why the Ottoman Empire opted for modernity as a way of staying competitive among the other European powers and empires, of the 18th and 19th centuries. A modern army, however, also requires modern institutions to “train military officers and to offer medical services to military men.” Schools were added for the purpose of training these officers. In addition, “capable administrators who could, among other functions, develop reliable systems for drafting soldiers and collecting taxes,” soon followed, for the following reason. The Ottoman war-machine required a systematic approach to the administration of public and natural resources, as well as the human capital required to make it all possible. One caveat however, does exist. While new and modern institutions that dealt with realizing the primary objective of increasing the overall effectiveness of the military were being erected, traditional institutions, such as the medreses (schools charged with transmitting Islamic theology and religious law) were still in operation and often stood in contradiction with their modern counterparts.

It is at this point in the history of the Ottoman Empire, that a distinction can be made between a modern interpretation and a more traditional understanding of state governance. Modernity in pre-republican Turkey benefited a select few and alienated many, unemployment being the major pathology of modernity in 19th century. Because of this exclusionary effect, the modern Ottoman Empire came to antagonize those individuals who entertained more traditional approaches. Those who had been brought up and schooled under modern institutions “became aware of the backwardness” of their society. With the end of the First World War and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, modernization reforms became possible. Justified by the inefficacy of the old regime, the Republic People’s Party (RPP), led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, institutionalized modernity in 1923, by establishing the Turkish republic.

Secular Kemalism has been a predominant feature of Turkish politics, a point of constant contention that often found Turkey under great political turmoil, instability and uncertainty. Between 1923 and 1946, Turkey operated under a single party system. The RPP was “the original tutelary single party that was associated with the founding of the republic and the westernizing reforms of Ataturk.” RPP reforms were particularly intrusive, repressive and designed by the Kemalist state elites to “keep society under control and realize change through state action.” As already mentioned, these state elites, having been brought up and trained under modern institutions and schools, felt justified in being the ones to guide a backward society. The only way this was possible in their view, was to adopt a doctrine of “security maximization,” using as many top-down authoritarian measures as deemed necessary.

Turkey held elections in 1946 and in 1950, “power changed hands peacefully.” Celal Bayar, a private banker, became Turkey’s president. This is often referred to as the inflection point in Turkish politics, as with the end of one-party rule “came a distinction between the state elites of military leaders and bureaucrats and the political elites represented by elected officers.” As it was the case in the past, the tension between those state elites who subscribed to secularism and nationalism as a way of reinforcing Turkey’s interest to remain internationally competitive, and the political elites who were more sensitive to electoral impulses, reemerged from a period of dormancy. However, more important was Turkey’s shift from the previous paradigm of “security maximization,” to one of “prosperity maximization.” Democracy, for the newly elected political elites in power, was seen as the only legitimate way of catering to the “wishes of the people.”

However, the prospect of democratic consolidation was cut short in 1960 when the military intervened by means of a coup d’etat. In 1980, the military intervened once again, this time imposing the dissolution of all political parties. To fill in the newly created void, the military tried to impose a two-party system that although was favoured by military commanders, failed to materialize. The 1971 forced change in government by the military, acts as a further example of the instability of Turkish politics in the past.

Ilter Turan argues that there needs to be a reassessment of the extent to which politics in Turkey has really been a stable undertaking. While the current Turkish President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer is himself a state elite and staunch advocate of “strict secularism and absolute national sovereignty,” the Turkish Prime Minister is less divorced from electoral politics. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey’s PM and while his party, the Justice and Development Party (or AKP) are comfortable in power, with a majority of seats in parliament under their control, it is doubtful whether the up and coming presidential elections, in May of 2007, will see Erdogan succeed Sezer.

Turkey-EU Relations Background

Turkey signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 1963. In 1987 Turkey applied for EU membership but was rejected in 1987 due to a lack of economic development, a political and civil rights deficit, and a chronic unemployment rate that was considered to destabilize EU markets. In 1995, a Customs Agreement was negotiated and signed, followed by the EU Commission’s decision in 1997, at the Luxembourg summit, to not grant candidate status to Turkey. However, new membership talks started once again in 1999. While Turkey was invited in 1999 by the European Council in Helsinki to join the CEEC (Central and Eastern European Countries) candidates, the European Commission refused to “set up a timetable for starting accession talks.” Once again, the lack of political and economic reform was cited as having been the impetus driving the decision to refrain from taking the revolutionary step of accepting Turkey into the European club.

While Turkey reopened negations with the EU, after significant political, civil and legal reforms had been implemented, the EU had once again made its position clear: that “Turkey would have to be in full formal compliance with the Copenhagen criteria,” as adopted at the EU summit in Denmark in 1993, if it is to be considered. The primary features of this Copenhagen criteria ask that Turkey “(i) be a stable democracy, respecting human rights, the rule of law and the protection of minorities, have (ii) a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with the competitive pressures and market forces within the Union and (iii) adopt the common rules, standards and policies that make up the body of EU law,” (also known as the acquis communitaire). As it currently stands, Turkey will have to wait until 2014 (at the earliest), before being given the green light to accede.

Secularism Unpacked

It could be argued that multiculturalism is no longer an example of successful policy in some European countries. While violence has nonetheless been a prominent feature of events in France, Germany and the Netherlands, violence alone says little about the underlying tensions causing it. What may perhaps help bridge the gap between cause and effect is a discussion of the role of religion in the public affairs of the state. Reality in Europe dictates that “ambiguity and ambivalence embedded in the connection between religion and secular European modernity,” is actually indicative of the “far from settled” interconnections between “religion, secularism and multiculturalism.”

Fuat Keyman asks us to revisit Turkey’s secular past and be conscious of the challenge Islam “and its powerful symbolic and cultural role,” has constantly posed to Turkish Kemalist secularism. Keyman is a proponent of Turkish-EU integration. However, this is not what matters. His analysis of secularism leads him to observe that while authoritarian secularism in Turkey was successfully institutionalized so as to maintain an objective “social-structural process,” this was only half the battle. An assumption that secularism is an inherent corollary of modernity, and that private individuals will proportionally adopt rational interpretations of their surroundings, the more acute modernity becomes, failed. In fact, the opposite of this has happened. Islam in Turkey, never having fully been discarded by private citizens, acted as the paradigm in which uncertainty was made more certain. Although Turkish history is dominated by laicist repression of religious manifestations, both in public and private life, it also speaks of the “inability to respond to the various Islamic identity claims to recognition and cultural-group rights.”

The tension between Turkish state elites, committed to maintaining secularism, and political elites, more sensitive to the identity claims and cultural-group rights of their respective electorate, has recently become more apparent. The European Union’s hesitant response to Turkish-EU accession negotiations however, has actually more to do with Europe than Turkey. This irony is made clear by Elizabeth Hurd when she argues that the latest strand of Turkish secularism, neither traditional laicism (or Kemalism, a version of laicism), nor “Judeo-Christian” secularism, “threatens not only the Kemalist establishment in Turkey but European secularists as well.” Furthermore, the implications of this phenomenon are such that “Turkey’s potential accession to the EU has propelled the controversial question of what it means to be both ‘secular’ and ‘European’ into the public spotlight.” In other words, questions of the role of religion in politics, previously perceived to have been historically resolved, have reappeared. However, as Hurd approximates Keyman when she says that the reasons why such questions have been awoken from a prolonged period of subdued dormancy, have everything to do with the fact that approaches to religion and to religious minorities, are not “set in stone but must be constantly renegotiated.”

Hurd outlines the paradigms in which both European secularists and European exclusivists (read: Judeo-Christian secularists) operate. The ethnocentric biases are beyond obvious. For Judeo-Christians, “secularist separation of religion from politics,” is a unique “Western achievement that is superior to its non-Western rivals.” Furthermore, the inability of “others,” non Judeo-Christians to transcend these fixed definitional presuppositions, disables Islamic societies to fully realize true secularism. Inclusive European laicists or secularists are equally biased and ethnocentric. This line of argument maintains that Turkey only differs “from Europe solely in terms of acquired characteristics.” Turkish accession to the EU will only be made possible when these “shortcomings,” will be “overcome through the importation of Western-style democracy and the secularization of politics and society.”

When the introduction mentioned that France would completely miss the point, if it would leave the question of whether Turkey should or should not join the EU, to its electorate, it was not by any means an attack on democratic principle of majoritarian politics. It was actually a criticism of the lack-of democratic sensitivities in France, to those cultural and religious minorities within their own borders. The shift currently taking place in Turkey, while framed as an erosion of secularism by some, is actually becoming more sensitive to actual electoral and political realities. This is not to say that Turkey is a textbook example of how a perfect democracy should be. To make such an argument would be a mistake. However, and as Hurd herself leaves open to interpretation, secularism is a social construct that can be broken down, contested and reconstructed. Perhaps Hurd’s most crucial contribution comes at the end of her article, when she makes it explicit that, notwithstanding her main argument that Europe would have to revisit its own understanding of secularism (before Turkish integration into the EU will be successful),

If Europe cannot be articulated in terms of complex space and complex time that allow for multiple ways of life (and not merely multiple identities) to flourish, it may be fated to be no more than the common market of an imperial civilization, always anxious about (Muslim) exiles within its gates and (Muslim) barbarians beyond.

John Redmond makes it explicit that if Turkey is to join, it must do so as a full member. Anything less than full membership is worrisome for the following reasons. First, Turkey would not have access to the EU single market, thereby making the economic benefits of integration political (and for security purposes) only. Second, there would be a lack of structural funds flowing from the European Union to Turkey. Third, the most important reason of all, Turkey would have “no seat at the EU decision-making table.” It is important to ask the question of why Turkey would even be considered as a second-class member. The main argument for this however is unfortunately one designed with populist politics in mind and not something premised on a more cogent line of reasoning.

To quote Redmond, Turkey is still “seen as an outsider to the European mainstream, condemned to irresolvable difference from its western neighbours on historical, religious and cultural grounds.” The general European public finds Turkey to be “too big, too poor, too far away and too Islamic.” In other words, Turkey does not fit into the social construct that goes by the name of “Europeanness.” Redmond himself points out that this is but “a ludicrous concept,” a distraction from factual reality that speaks of the purpose of EU integration as still being “predominantly economic.” However, Turkish economics and the success of organizations such as MUSIAD (Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association) have proved that Islam is compatible with market-based economies and the democratic tendencies that follow as by-products of such markets.

Economics

Mousseau presents his argument in a rather straightforward way. Corruption and little respect for law are both cushioned between “collective, traditional and social associations for income” and “state-led, feudal or command economies.” Contracts bind individuals and create “cooperation, compromise and tolerance of different interests.” Individuals have an interest in maintaining the rule of law so as to protect these agreements or contracts between them. When disagreements surface, the state intervenes and acts as a dispute resolution mechanism. Limiting the role of the state in this sense would therefore require a thin understanding of a liberal democracy.

However, a duality exists between maintaining state neutrality both in politics and economic endeavors on one hand, and the establishing of electorally sensitive political parties. The rise of the Turkish private sector during the 1980s and 1990s, has replaced “Turkey’s clientalist politics with the market and rule of law.” If one is to entertain Mousseau’s argument, that market economies and the opportunities attached to them, will eventually and naturally lead Turkey to adopt Western-style civil-rights and democracy, then the reality that culturally and traditionally loaded Islamic capitalism can succeed and has succeeded, fails to be recognized as an alternative mean to a similar end.

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.


Vlad Popescu

1 Comment

Filed under ataturk, bureaucracy, critical, critique, democracy, elitism, EU, european union, integration, kemalism, laicism, majoritarian, multiculturalism, politics, secularism, turkey

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, barry, brian, brian barry, canada, critical, critical theory, culture, difference, diversity, double standards, enlightenment, equality, freedom, government, hansen, hegemony, human rights, hypocrisy, ignorance, imperialism, motorcycle, multiculturalism, randall, sikh, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under acquis, affair, critical, critical theory, democracy, double standards, EU, european union, hegemony, hypocrisy, law, legal, liberalism, liberty, love, pathologies, philosophy, Policy, politics, rights, school, symbols, Uncategorized, university

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, coercion, cognition, collective action, control, corporate, corruption, creative, critical, critical theory, democracy, foucault, government, habermas, law, legal, liberalism, liberty, mackinnon, personal, philosophy, Policy, politics, public policy, questions, rape, regulatioin, rights, school, state elite, symbols, terror, university