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  • Mark 6:48 am on October 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , politics, ,   

    The outlook of the digital technocrat 

    From Automating Inequality by Virgina Eubanks pg 123-124:

    The proponents of the coordinated entry system, like many who seek to harness computational power for social justice, tend to find affinity with systems engineering approaches to social problems. These perspectives assume that complex controversies can be solved by getting correct information where it needs to go as efficiently as possible. In this model, political conflict arises primarily from a lack of information. If we just gather all the facts, systems engineers assume, the correct answers to intractable policy problems like homelessness will be simple, uncontroversial, and widely shared. But, for better or worse, this is not how politics work. Political contests are more than informational; they are about values, group membership, and balancing conflicting interests. The poor and working-class residents of Skid Row and South LA want affordable housing and available services. The Downtown Central Business Improvement District wants tourist-friendly streets. The new urban pioneers want both edgy grit and a Whole Foods. The city wants to clear the streets of encampments. While Los Angeles residents have agreed to pay a little more to address the problem, many don’t want unhoused people moving next door. And they don’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to really solve the housing crisis. These are deeply conflicting visions for the future of Los Angeles. Having more information won’t necessarily resolve them.

     
  • Mark 7:31 pm on September 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , isomorphism, , platform intermediaries, , politics,   

    Viral populism: what happens when isomorphism through algorithm hits politics? 

    This is an admirably prescient post from 2014 by BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith about the viral populism which social media has facilitated. It brings a new dimension to political life which eludes the familiar expectations of pundits:

    At some point in the next two years, the pollsters and ad makers who steer American presidential campaigns will be stumped: The nightly tracking polls are showing a dramatic swing in the opinions of the electorate, but neither of two typical factors — huge news or a major advertising buy — can explain it. They will, eventually, realize that the viral, mass conversation about politics on Facebook and other platforms has finally emerged as a third force in the core business of politics, mass persuasion.

    The incentive structure which Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Breitbart and the many other platform intermediaries have adapted themselves to is one which politicians now confront as well:

    What is beginning to dawn on campaigns is that persuasion works differently when it relies on sharing. It is a political truism that people are most likely to believe what their friends and neighbors tell them, a truth that explains everything from sophisticated and earnest door-knocking efforts to malign email-forward whispering campaigns. And the social conversation favors things that generations of politicians have been trained to avoid: spontaneity, surprise, authenticity, humor, raw edge, the occasional human stumble. (Joe Biden!) As mobile becomes increasingly central to the social web, I suspect that more voters in 2016 will be persuaded by a video in their Facebook mobile browsers than by any other medium.

    The terrifying prospect this suggests is that the process we have seen in the media, what Caplan and boyd call isomorphism through algorithm, will be seen in politics as well. With each viral success story aspirant politicians will be inclined to immediately mimic their strategies. This doesn’t mean that they will be identical to each other but rather their strategies will be orientated around the same touchstones: authenticity, spontaneity, emotionality. The closing paragraph immediately made me think about Rory Stewart’s viral success in the Tory leadership contest as a striking example of how unradical this political populism might prove in practice:

    A few modern politicians appear to have a real feel for the raw emotion and, sometimes, (apparent) spontaneity that people will want to share. Elizabeth Warren’s blunt and casual economic 2011 tirade and Ted Cruz’s theatrical confrontations (and even his own low-production-value cell phone videos) are the beginnings of that viral populism for which the social web has opened a real space.

     
  • Mark 6:45 pm on August 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , politics, ,   

    The disjointed temporality of political life 

    I’ve long been drawn to accounts of the everyday lives of politicians. This isn’t so much a matter of biographical curiosity, as much as a preoccupation with temporality. It is not that the temporal character of our lives moulds us but rather that the things which do are always inflected through temporality.

    I’m convinced you can learn a lot about why someone is the way that they are through understanding how time operates in their life. There’s a really rich description of the disjointed temporality encountered by senior American politicians in Joe Klein’s novel Primary Colours, a fictionalised account of Bill Clinton’s run for president in 1992. From pg 11:

    Politicians work—they do their public work, that is—when civilians don’t: mealtimes, evenings, weekends. The rest of the time, down time, is spent indoors, in hotel suites, worrying the phones, dialing for dollars, fighting over the next moves, living outside time; there are no weekdays or weekends; there is sleep but not much rest. Sometimes, and always at the oddest hours, you may break free: an afternoon movie, a midnight dinner. And there are those other, fleeting moments when your mind drifts from him, from the podium, and you fix on the father and son tossing a ball out past the back of the crowd, out in the park, and you suddenly realize, Hey, it’s Saturday; or you glance out a hotel window and spot an elderly couple walking hand in hand, still alive in each other’s mind (as opposed to merely sharing space, waiting it out). The campaign—with all its talk of destiny, crisis and mission—falls away and you remember: Other people just have lives. Their normality can seem a reproach. It hurts your eyes, like walking out of a matinee into bright sunlight. Then it passes. He screws up a line, it’s Q& A time, it’s time to move.

    What is it like to live like this? How would it shape you if large swathes of your life are lived in this way? How does it influence your sense of what is normal and what is not? It’s a fictionalised account, produced by a political journalist but imputing experiences on the basis of second hand experience, leaving it accuracy a rather ambiguous matter. But it such a rich description that it’s interesting to reflect on the significance of these experiences, if accurate.

     
    • Dave Ashelman 2:13 pm on August 9, 2018 Permalink

      I would have to disagree with the premise that temporality does not mould us. Everything that we learn about the social world from the time we are born is based on temporality to some degree. Reference: Barbara Adam (1995) “Timewatch: A Social Analysis of Time” where she points out that by considering how temporalities mould us socially, we can bridge the micro and the macro; we can connect the ideas of Symbolic Interaction of Goffman & Mead with the structural aspects of Marx & Durkheim. It’s a theory that gets little attention in Sociology.

      Also reference: Helga Nowotny (1989) “Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience” where she points out that apparatuses of power, especially in neoliberalism is based temporal considerations. She makes the clearest case (on the macro side) of how temporalities (how we experience time) moulds us, especially from a hegemony viewpoint. If politicians are anything, they are supporters of neoliberal apparatuses of power.

      From my background in Economics, I can say that “time” poses serious challenges in Economic analysis. Economists love their math to explain the social. The most common problem in economic modeling is that time can never be accounted for in the math. People have “tastes & preferences” that drive markets, but they never have “time.” Time cannot be modeled. This problem in economic modeling supports Notwotly’s idea that the temporal is given too little attention in perpetuating neoliberal hegemony.

      So when I put your quotes (and subequent questions) in the context of the Adam & Notwotny’s arguments, it makes perfect sense, and all of your questions are answered.

    • Mark 1:56 pm on August 10, 2018 Permalink

      That was a poor turn of phrase on my part. I agree with what you’re saying. I meant it more as a statement of how temporality moulds us; by shaping the conditions within which we choreograph our lives rather than being efficacious in and of itself. Though you have made me wonder if perhaps the latter is a straw man position and no one actually holds it. Have meant to read both books for ages, thanks!

  • Mark 8:24 am on June 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , commentators, , , , , politics, ,   

    Against the ‘political rulebook’ 

    Much of the reaction to Labour’s election success last week has been framed in terms of their ‘rewriting the rules’. One particularly explicit example of this can be seen in an article by Jonathan Freedland, an enthusiastic critic of Corbyn, pontificating that Corbyn took “the traditional political rulebook” and “put it through the shedder”. What are these rules that had formerly seemed so influential?

    1. Young people don’t vote. Any enthusiasm you create with them will come to nothing because they won’t turn out on election day.
    2. UKIP voters are Tories. If UKIP ceases to be viable then most would switch to the Conservatives.
    3. Divided parties never win elections. Unless a party can pull together at the local and national level, it can’t achieve success.
    4. Economic credibility is crucial. If a party is not perceived as being economically competent then there is no chance voters will trust it.

    There are certainly more rules like this. The conventional rulebook wouldn’t have proved so influential if it only had four points in it. But where do these rules come from? How is this conventional wisdom formed? How does it become so influential that the metaphor of the ‘rulebook’, adhered to by all ‘serious’ commentators and operators, can be taken seriously?

    Part of the answer lies in the fixation on the ‘political centre ground’ which is embedded in the dominant wisdom of Labour modernisers. The first cohort fought and won against the Labour left in the 1980s. The second cohort grew up in the Labour establishment moulded by these predecessors. The internal struggles of the 1980s cast a long shadow over them all, a fight to drag the party to a political location and then keep it there. As Alex Nunns describes it on loc 4468 of The Candidate:

    The political centre ground, in this view, appears as a clearing in a forest—a fixed location—and politics is a simple orienteering exercise where the parties are given a map and a compass and told to go and find it. Occasionally they inexplicably wander off into the woods and have to be scolded by journalists until they take their navigation task seriously again. The great, unpredictable social and economic forces that constantly sculpt new historical terrain are, in this Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme version of politics, merely gusts of wind that must not blow the parties off course. Nothing changes.

    Despite this professed concerned for ‘what works’, adherents of the political rulebook often display a remarkable lack of empirical interest in the political world. This can produce odd juxtapositions, such as the Blairite candidate Liz Kendall being backed by supporters who saw “understanding what it takes to win an election” as the most important characteristic of being a leader while all the available data suggested her chosen tactics for winning the leadership election were heralding no success whatsoever. The invocation of ‘what works’, the celebration of oneself as pragmatist foregoing childish moral indulgence in pursuit of success, licenses a weird disregard for how the world works. This is I think because it’s not pragmatism in any meaningful sense but ideology. The political centre ground is a theory of politics. Furthermore, it’s a painfully simplistic theory of politics unable to adapt to changing circumstances. As Nunns goes on to write on loc 4484,

    The trouble with such a static, ahistorical view is that it is unable to account for new phenomena, much less understand people’s motivations for acting in unexpected ways. So when hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously decided they had other priorities than hopelessly trudging around looking for a centre ground that, mysteriously, kept moving further away, these professional political pundits could only dismiss them as either insane or self-indulgent.

    Such a theory of politics resists falsification. It in its original context, it reflected a degree of engagement with the world around its progenitors. In a important sense, New Labour started as a psephological analysis of a changing electorate and a tactical case about engagement with the media. Over time, it became folk wisdom, espoused by all ‘serious’ people as a way to demonstrate their seriousness, increasingly cutting it off from any meaningful analysis of the circumstances in which their serious business was being conducted. It might resist falsification but its advocates greedily seized upon confirmation. As Nunns points out, Labour’s continued rightward shift yielded little success at two elections, but the eventual victory of 1997 was taken as a sign that the moderniser’s case was correct all along. They had vanquished their foes on the left and, what is more, no ‘serious’ person could doubt they were right to do so. Perhaps there’s a risk that this hubris be repeated by the Labour left today. Everything I say below stands in my mind as a caution about what is to come, as well as an account of what has passed.

    This analysis had become a folk theory, so obviously correct that repudiations of it could no longer be taken seriously. The culmination of this process was the ascendency of Cameron, the heir to Blair, who made the same case in relation to his own party, albeit primarily with regards to social issues rather than economic ones. Much like the Labour modernisers, what become an article of faith originally began as a psephological analysis, developed through the polling of Lord Ashcroft, appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservatives under David Cameron. The intellectual case these originators assented to became a point of division and contention within the party, as people flocked to join their cause or lashed out against it. What interests me are the subtle changes that occur as groups are led to defend or attack reflective arguments and how this changes how people relate to such arguments. My contention is that a theory of politics that was already relatively immune to falsification becomes a guarded axiom unable to be seriously considered or any longer reflected upon.

    This was the process by which a reflective analysis of political change transmuted into a folk theory and ossified even further into the political rule book. How was this reinforced by media commentators? After all, it’s their discursive power which is so crucial to accepted/acceptable accounts of ‘how things are’ in politics. At one level, it can be explained in terms of the patronage networks that exist between senior politicians and senior journalists. As Nunns writes of Andrew Rawnsley’s contempt for Corbny on loc 4406, “Suddenly, the centre of gravity was moving away from the Labour elite to which he had unparalleled access, and from which he had mined the raw materials needed to fashion—with considerable skill—the books and journalism that had won him acclaim”. But there’s a broader process at work, insightfully captured by Phil BC in this post. I’ve quoted the relevant section at length here but please do read the whole thing in full:

    Firstly, consider what mainstream commentators observe. They watch the comings and goings, the toings and doings of senior politicians. They see how MPs club together in the Commons, formulate policy, take legislation through the House and involve themselves in massive rows with one another. This, more or less, forms the basis of copy that comes to thousands of hours of broadcasting and millions of words year in, year out. And this is politics. What happens in the chamber matters simply because that’s what appears to matter – it’s where policy is brought forward and enacted into law. What goes on in politics outside, like local council and devolved administration stuff simply isn’t on the radar, because they don’t see it. Likewise, movements that occupy the streets or, indeed, transforming a political party are curiosities but unworthy of real analysis and understanding. It’s all such a sideshow to Parliament’s main event.

    A similar sort of process is at work with our professional Westminster watchers, but is ramped up to a higher degree. Firstly, consider what mainstream commentators observe. They watch the comings and goings, the toings and doings of senior politicians. They see how MPs club together in the Commons, formulate policy, take legislation through the House and involve themselves in massive rows with one another. This, more or less, forms the basis of copy that comes to thousands of hours of broadcasting and millions of words year in, year out. And this is politics. What happens in the chamber matters simply because that’s what appears to matter – it’s where policy is brought forward and enacted into law. What goes on in politics outside, like local council and devolved administration stuff simply isn’t on the radar, because they don’t see it. Likewise, movements that occupy the streets or, indeed, transforming a political party are curiosities but unworthy of real analysis and understanding. It’s all such a sideshow to Parliament’s main event.

    This focus is also bounded by the media the commentators produce. Famously, the BBC take its lead for what the hot politics stories are from the front pages of the broadsheets. Likewise, hacks in other operations parasite off the BBC and each other to fill the schedules, put stuff out, and meet the insatiable appetite for hot takes. The result is little time for thinking, a scramble for a story or an original angle, and a tendency toward herding thanks to the recursive universe generated from the quantum foam of chatter. It produces a mode of thought that is based entirely on appearance without trying to understand what may lie behind what immediately presents itself. For instance, the Tories are the new party of the working class because minimum wage rises. Labour’s members have foisted the disaster onto the party because atomised members of the public tell focus groups. There is no sense of movement, little idea that parties as expressions of interest evolve and move, nor that the people who support them, actively or passively, have connections with multitudes of normal people that can pull, persuade, cajole masses of them and transform them into a collective that starts making its own history. As none of them regularly go on the doors outside of the capital, they have to rely on what the pollsters tell them and, as we saw last night, only two of the established firms come out of the election with any sort of credit.

    http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/why-did-pundits-get-election-wrong.html

    Thus we have the ‘political rulebook’, the framework within which political reality is interpreted, adhered to by all serious political figures and commentators. It’s empiricism of a particularly stupid sort, oblivious to its own theoretical underpinnings and all the more dangerous for it. It maps the most superficial contours of political life in order to better navigate one’s way towards the mythical centre ground and for no other purpose. In the next post of this series, I’m going to consider what it is about opinion polling that lends itself to such uses, what the consequences are for political leadership and how economic depoliticisation plays a role in propping the whole thing up.

     
  • Mark 10:35 am on June 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , corbryn, , , , , politics, , , , , ,   

    “Help! Help! Here comes everybody!”: Social Media and Corbynism 

    How has social media contributed to the growing success of Corbynism? In asking this question, we risk falling into the trap of determinism by constructing ‘social media’ as an independent force bringing about effects in an otherwise unchanged world. This often goes hand-in-hand with what Nick Couldry calls ‘the myth of us’, framing social media in terms of the spontaneous sociality it allegedly liberates as previously isolated people are able to come together through the affordances of these platforms. It’s easy to see how one could slip into seeing digital Corbynism in these terms: the power of social media allowed ordinary labour members to come together and take their party back from the Blairite bureaucrats. Such a view would be profoundly misleading. But social media has been crucial to events of the last few years in the Labour party. The challenge is how we can analyse this influence without allowing ‘social media’ to take centre stage.

    It’s useful to see these issue in terms of institutional changes within the Labour party. Membership had declined from 405,000 in 1997 to 156,000 in 2009. The election of Ed Miliband in 2010, with his union-backing and soft-left presentation, led to a surge of 46,000 new members. This stabilised throughout the parliament, with continued new members replacing those who left or lapsed, before another small surge took membership past 200,000 in the run up to the 2015 election (loc 377). The fact this influx of new members took place while social media was on the ascendancy in the UK implies no relationship between the two trends. But it’s interesting to note that substantial numbers of new (or returning) members were coming into the party at precisely the moment when new tools and techniques for interacting with each other and with the party itself were coming to be available.

    It is convenient for some to blame social media for how events unfolded. We see this view reflected in the complaints of some on the Labour right that the nomination for Corbyn in the first place represented MPs crumbled under an orchestrated social media onslaught. However as Nunns ably documents, we can see a clear political calculus at work in many cases, with many feeling the need to keep the left onside, within their constituencies and beyond. In some cases, he speculates, such pressure provided an excuse to act on pre-existing concerns. There can be a cynical aspect to attributing causal power to social media, deflecting the assertion of incoming members and refusing to engage with developing trends that might threaten one’s political self-interest.

    However what fascinates me is those for whom these events were inexplicable. In a way, it is a flip side of attributing power to social media, even if there might also be a cynical aspect to such a judgement. We account for events we don’t understanding by blaming a mysterious new element (‘social media’) which interrupted something that was previously harmonious. If these events are seen as inexplicable, what does it say about the person making the judgement? As Nunns observes, it was the subterranean nature of Corbyn’s early campaign which allowed later mass rallies and mass actions to appear as if they were the work of some malign outside agency. The processes through which he gathered support were largely invisible to party insiders and this rendered the eventual outcomes close to inexplicable.

    Hence the preponderance of bewildered lashing out, vacuous psychologising and conspiratorial theorising about a planned influx of far-left activists. These tendencies are more pronounced when the activity in question is disorganised. As Corbyn’s press spokesperson described the leadership campaign, this central organisation which sought to direct national activity was often “at the reins of a runaway horse”. To a certain extent these incoming groups were disorganised, sometimes acting in ways which reflected that, striking fear in the heart of some MPs familiar with limited contact with ‘the public’ under strictly defined conditions. These ‘normal people’ might prove baffling to career politicians:

    We can see a positive myth of us and a negative myth of us, defined by a shared belief that social media has facilitated a transformation of the Labour party. Where they differ is in whether that involves authentic members taking their party back or outside agitators invading the party with malign intent. If we want to understand the role of social media in bringing about Corbyn’s ascent, we need to reject both and look more deeply into how the new tools and techniques they offered were just one amongst many factors in bringing about a profound transformation in British politics.

     
  • Mark 7:37 pm on May 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    What’s the difference between academia and politics? 

    In his wonderful memoir, Adults In The Room, Yanis Varoufakis reflects on the frustrations of politics and how they compare to academia. From loc 5504:

    Possibly because of my academic background, this was the Brussels experience I least expected and found most frustrating. In academia one gets used to having one’s thesis torn apart, sometimes with little decorum; what one never experiences is dead silence, a refusal to engage, a pretence that no thesis has been put forward at all. At a party when you find yourself stuck with a self-centred bore who says what they want to say irrespective of your contribution to the conversation, you can take your glass and disappear to some distant corner of the room. But when your country’s recovery depends on the ongoing conversation, when there is no other corner of the room to retreat to, irritation can turn into despair –or fury if you grasp what is really going on: a tactic whose purpose is to nullify anything that is inimical to the troika’s power.

    I found it fascinating to read this. Since encountering this paper by Richard French a few years ago, I’ve been interested in the implicit conceptions of politics which animate the publicly-orientated activity of academics. How do they think power works? How do they think problems are solved? How do they think challenges are negotiated? It seems as if Varoufakis’s intellectual interests (particularly game theory and political economy) left him well attuned to the dynamics of power but his nostalgia for academia certainly resonates with what French argues here:

    Many academics misunderstand public life and the conditions under which policy is made. This article examines misconceptions in three major academic traditions—policy as science (e.g., ‘evidence-based policy’), normative political theory, and the mini-public school of deliberative democracy—and argues that the practical implications of each of these traditions are limited by their partial, shallow and etiolated vision of politics. Three constitutive features of public life, competition, publicity and uncertainty, compromise the potential of these traditions to affect in any fundamental way the practice of politics. Dissatisfaction with real existing democracy is not the consequence of some intellectual or moral failure uniquely characteristic of the persona publica, and attempts to reform it are misdirected to the extent that they imagine a better public life modeled on academic ideals.

     
  • Mark 8:18 am on May 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , individuals, politics, ,   

    The Politics of Agency 

    Ever since I was a philosophy student, I’ve been interested in how we conceptualise individuals and groups. The two are connected in my mind because, if groups are composed of individuals, our concept of individuals is going to condition our concept of groups and vice versa. However discussion at this level of abstraction can seem remote from the real world. In fact this is what led me away from philosophy and into sociology when I encountered it as a masters student. But this wasn’t my rejecting a focus on concepts as much as a desire to see how those concepts operate in the world.

    I was thinking of these issues again when reading Jana Bacevic’s From Class To Identity, a study of education reforms in former Yugoslavia. How we conceptualise agency is a key concern of the book from the outset at the level of its object (claims about groups are a crucial factor in educational reform) and its explanatory framework (claims about groups are crucial to explaining the link between education and conflict). For instance “linear, one dimensional or causal explanations” such as “educational discourses -> exclusionary identities -> war” make (inadequate) assumptions about agency while being “hardly helpful in the understanding of the dynamics between education and conflict” (pg 7). Agency is often left unexamined in such processes, particularly when researchers are examining trends at the macro-social level. From pg 9:

    Consider, for instance, practices of military recruitment: going into the army (in countries without mandatory conscription) is frequently the choice of people who come from poor, discriminated or otherwise marginalized backgrounds. Knowing the ubiquitous (and at least partially causal) connection between education, income and social status, it is both reasonable and empirically sustainable to assume that these people also happen to have lower educational levels. But do they go to war because they are not educated? Or do they go to war because they are poor and marginalized, so enlisting may give them an opportunity to earn (legally or illegally) wealth, security, and status they could otherwise not hope to attain?

    If we fail to recognise the role of agency in such dynamics, we render the political opaque. From pg 17-18:

    In other words, instead of the teleological understanding of the political dynamics of the Western Balkans as progress towards European integration and away from the communist past, this book will aim to bring the political back into the analysis of policymaking. In this context, the notion of “political” is closest to the meaning in which theorists such as Chantal Mouffe (2005, 1993), Ernesto Laclau (1994), and Jacques Ranciere (e.g. 2010) utilize it (cf. Ruitenberg 2011, 98). This means understanding politics as a place of, and for, the challenging, contestation, transformation and deliberation of different ideologies related to what constitutes a good society, who should rule it, and how its benefits should be distributed.

    Treating agency in the abstract is not a retreat from the political but rather a precondition for its adequate exploration. Claims about individuals and groups are fundamentally contestable, if not necessarily contested, constituting vectors through which political struggle is pursued. The success of such strategies leads their advocates to leave the stage, with the results of their scheming appearing to be self-evident and incontestable. But these deploy particular understandings of individuals and groups which exercise a causal influence through their embedding in policy agendas and organisational processes. From pg 19:

    Rather than a self understood and “natural” part either of dealing with the communist legacy, or of European integration of the region, then, policy agendas and particular decisions are seen as fundamentally political, in the sense in which they actively engage in creating, constructing, defining, organizing, using and mobilizing, or, alternatively, suppressing, containing, manipulating and controlling particular political and group identities.

    We face a challenge in distinguishing between these various claims about agency, the social processes through which they are rendered natural and the real properties and powers of agents in virtue of which they are able to pursue or contest such claims. Abstraction is crucial to meeting this challenge because it allows us to distinguish between individual/groups and the claims made about them. In part this is a matter of theoretical literacy, ensuring we have the vocabulary we need in order to draw these distinctions, preventing us from getting tied up in the discursive contest and letting the world which is being contested slip away from us. But it’s also concerned with the reality of the agents themselves, their characteristics and capacities, the contexts that have shaped them and how they’ve shaped those contexts.

     
  • Mark 6:00 pm on March 20, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , politics   

    Cognitive triage in politics 

    How widespread is this? From The Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, pg 585:

    Emanuel, with his day-to-day focus on “getting points on the board,” scrambled for quick results, trying to win each day’s news cycle. As Bob Rubin told one of his many acolytes in the White House during a phone call, “Rahm’s more inclined to want to get a bill passed than really be worried about what’s in the bill.”

     
  • Mark 8:48 am on February 9, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , politics, ,   

    The Skilled Demagoguery of Donald J. Trump 

    This is disturbing and skilful stuff. A performance of populism quite unlike the rhetoric of it which we’re much more familiar with:

    “The other night in the debate,” he told thousands in Manchester, “they asked Ted Cruz a serious question: what do you think of waterboarding? Is it OK? I thought he’d say absolutely, and he didn’t. And he said, well, he’s concerned because some people –”

    A woman near the front of the crowd interrupted. “He’s a pussy!”

    Trump admonished her for saying “a terrible thing”.

    “You know what she just said?” he asked. “Shout it out, because I don’t want to say it.”

    “You’re not allowed to say that,” he continued. “I never expect to hear that from you again.”

    Trump paused, looked out at his election-eve audience and leaned into the microphone: “She said he’s a pussy.”

    The audience cheered – shouting “Trump! Trump!” – before he gave the woman a mock admonishment and returned to his rambling, more than 45-minute speech. “For the press,” he said, looking up at the television cameras, “this is a serious reprimand.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/08/trump-repeats-insult-from-crowd-member-calling-cruz-a-pussy

     
  • Mark 7:53 am on November 9, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , politics, start ups,   

    the ‘religion’ of digital elites  

    There’s a really fascinating article on Tech Crunch describing the political views of start-up founders in Silicon Valley. It makes the point that there’s a communitarian streak, albeit a very strange one, underpinning the politics of digital elites. To describe them as libertarian misses the ideological specificity of a cohesive current of opinion that has emerged in tech: denial of social conflicts, hyper-optimism about change and the desire to reshape other institutions to be more like start-ups. 

     
  • Mark 8:31 am on August 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: IDS, politics, ,   

    the meaning of scrounging in conservative britain  

    HT Nadine Muller

      

     
  • Mark 4:43 pm on July 22, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , politics, , ,   

    the antinomies of blairism 

    Earlier today Tony Blair gave a speech in which he finally took the gloves off. As someone with a growing interest in theorising post-democracy, I found it oddly intriguing. To anyone acquainted with the writing Anthony Giddens was spewing out in the 1990s, it was familiar stuff. Despite the fact his politics would long since have placed him in the centre of the Conservative party, Blair’s position is  framed in terms of social democratic politics:

    Social democratic politics in the early 21st century has one great advantage; and one large millstone.

    The advantage is that the values of our age are essentially those fashioned by social democracy. We live today in a society that by and large has left behind deference, believes that merit not background should determine success; is inclined to equality of opportunity and equal treatment across gender and race; and believes in the NHS and the notion at least of the welfare state. This doesn’t mean to say this is the reality. But even the Tories, in the open, have to acknowledge the zeitgeist.

    What should give the Labour party enormous hope and pride is that we have helped achieve all this.

    However, the large millstone is that perennially, at times congenitally, we confuse values with the manner of their application in a changing world. This gives us a weakness when it comes to policy which perpetually disorients us and makes us mistake defending outdated policy with defending timeless values

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

    This has always been the premise of Blarism. It started off as a psephological position (the changing composition of the electorate necessitates a recognition of the newfound ‘aspiration’ of swing voters) which grew into a pragmatist’s analysis of media power, in which winning over print media came to be seen as an unavoidably necessary step which only the truly idiotic would fail to recognise. Giddens codefied these intellectual tendencies and gave them the air of historical inevitability, claiming to illuminate the unfolding of social change while nonetheless seeking to bring it about through his energetic search for intellectual sponsorship amongst the ranks of the powerful.

    Nonetheless, Blarism effects to be a pragmatic concession to a changing world. A reinterpretation of social democratic values for late modern times. Its ethical theory, in so far as it has one, rests on those values for its moral force: “if you really care about social democracy, you’ll support new labour because we’re the only way you’ll be able to put those values into practice”. This leaves it caught uneasily between the affirmation of values and embrace of pragmatism. It affirms both yet in doing so empties the former of substantive content to the gain of the latter. It’s axiomatic that ‘social democratic values’ are shared yet the intellectual framework is setup in a way which obscures questions of exactly what these values are and how they might change after 13 years of power. ‘Values’ becomes a cypher for the ends to which we will exercise power, invoked to silence dissent in a way that becomes ever more meaningless with each iteration, while the constitutive pragmatism disposes the cohort of Blairite politicans to a form of moral agency which we might charitably  describe as elastic. The ‘social democratic values’ become a vanishing point, a pole of identification which retreats further into the distance the more concrete decision-making becomes, with tactics, triaging and triviality rushing in to fill the void.

    But this means Blairite critique can get really weird. As Blair put it today,

    We then misunderstand the difference between radical leftism, which is often in fact quite reactionary, and radical social democracy, which is all about ensuring that the values are put to work in the most effective way not for the world of yesterday but for today and the future.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

    This assumes those ‘values’ are static. It assumes that the question is merely one of how best to implement them in a changing world. The case for Blairism is that its sensitivity to the reality of this changing world, its commitment to ‘modernisation’, means it is (down to its very core) better able to enact these values than is ‘radical leftism’, with its ‘reactionary’ character. But by taking ‘social democratic values’ as axiomatic, it’s left rhetorically shackled to something the adherents of Blarisim viscerally oppose as people. This becomes clear when Blair says that “I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.”

    But I thought the point of Blairism was that it was a way of winning elections, recognising late modernity in a way that left it able to ensure that the values ‘we’ all share find a place in an out of control world? It turns out there are more values, other values, which don’t enter into the rhetoric of Blairism. Values which are what motivate the Blairites. But what are these? Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear. The speech ends with some fascinatingly banal tactical considerations (Labour should “work out what a political organisation looks like today”) and then this gloriously vacuous passage:

    We won elections when we had an agenda that was driven by values, but informed by modernity; when we had strength and clarity of purpose; when we were reformers not just investors in public services; when we gave working people rights at work including the right to join a union, but refused unions a veto over policy; when we understood businesses created jobs not governments; and where we were the change-makers, not the small -c conservatives of the left.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

    Even read charitably, the status of these claims is unclear. Are they statements of strategy and tactics, to be evaluated on their success in winning elections? Are they statements of principle, to be argued for on their own basis or as straight-forward assertions of ‘social democratic values’ to which we are all assumed to assent? Or are they something else entirely? History whispers in Blair’s ears, it always has. Unfortunately, its message has been to trust his instincts, giving expression to those deeply held beliefs which would have led him to join Cameron’s Conservative party if he had entered political life twenty five years later.

     
  • Mark 11:13 am on April 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , election, politics,   

    David Cameron Serenaded By Ukulele Player Singing ‘F**k Off Back To Eton’ 

    Anyone else waiting for a potential Gillian Duffy moment from Cameron?

     
  • Mark 5:08 pm on April 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , politics,   

    “The problem with capitalism is that it’s not capitalist enough”: Neoliberalism 2.0? 

    See below for comments by the Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in this article that are by now rather familiar. This notion can be formulated in many different ways but at root it seeks to redeem ‘free-market capitalism’ by agreeing with leftist critics and disowning the excesses of the last few decades, denouncing them as the result of a perverse corporatism which we now need to overcome:

    Instead of blaming capitalism for inequality and environmental degradation, Mackey suggests that we should look at the actions of governments. Departing from the dominant idea that states have retreated from the market over the past three decades, Mackey argues states have become more interventionist than ever, and that in the process they have “fostered a mutant form of capitalism called crony capitalism” that is to blame for many of the problems societies face today. Mackey does not see crony capitalism as “real” capitalism. Instead it is a product of big government in which politicians trying to preserve their cushy jobs develop symbiotic, parasitic relationships with businesspeople too lazy or unimaginative to compete successfully in the marketplace. In Mackey’s story, crony capitalism has been exacerbated by the rising power of the financial sector and shareholder value ideology — the idea that firms are nothing more than a stream of assets designed to maximize profits for shareholders. Mackey argues that this obsession with greed and profits has “robbed most businesses of their ability to engage and connect with people” and has created “long-term systemic problems” that destroy profitability and that can be deeply damaging to people and to the planet. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/04/free-market-conscious-capitalism-government/

    It might be confirmation bias on my part but I feel like I’m seeing this sentiment expressed with ever greater frequency. It becomes sinister when you consider it alongside the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the politics of austerity and the disturbingly post-democratic direction of European politics. Are we seeing the emergence of the cultural formation which will accompany the final and formal subordination of the social democratic state to the market economy?

     
  • Mark 10:10 am on April 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , politics,   

    Upper Clapton Dance (cc @Mookron) 

    Reading this excellent paper in the Sociological Review reminded me of this video which I’d not seen for ages:

    The comments on the video would be interesting to analyse in the terms Malcolm James adopts in the paper:

    Back when Pro Green was a G. Now he’s makin tunes to ensure he gets that energy drink sponsorship. money over music, cant hate but dont rate

    Rather then seeing Professor Green as engaging in a performance which has shifted with time, he’s instead regarded as having foregone his prior authenticity in pursuit of material gain. I wonder how widely accepted this view is?

     
  • Mark 7:12 am on April 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , james bond, politics,   

    The surprisingly vitriolic misogyny of James Bond 

    I recently started reading the Ian Fleming novels for the first time. While I expected some unpleasant sentiments in them, I’ve been surprised by quite how vitriolic Bond’s misogyny is:

    And then there was this pest of a girl. He sighed. Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.

    ‘Bitch,’ said Bond, and then remembering the Muntes, he said ‘bitch’ again more loudly and walked out of the room.

    Casino Royale, Pg 32

    This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men. And now for this to happen to him, just when the job had come off so beautifully. For vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched and probably held to ranson like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon. The silly bitch. […]

    The idea was a straight swap. The girl against his cheque for forty million. Well, he wouldn’t play: wouldn’t think of playing. She was in the Service and knew what she was up against. He wouldn’t even ask M. This job was more important than her. It was just too bad. She was a fine girl, but he wasn’t going to fall for this childish trick. No dice. He would try and catch the Citroen and shoot it out with them and if she got shot in the process, that was too bad. He would have done his stuff – tried to rescue her before they got her off to some hideout – but if he didn’t catch up with them he would get back to his hotel and go to sleep and say no more about it. The next morning he would ask Mathis what had happened to her and show him the note. If Le Chiffre put the touch on Bond for the money in exchange for the girl, Bond would do nothing and tell no one. The girl would just have to take it. If the commissionaire came along with the story of what he had seen, Bond would bluff it out by saying he had had a drunken row with the girl.

    Casino Royale Pg. 116-117

    Through the red mist of pain, Bond thought of Vesper. He could imagine how she was being used by the two gunmen. They would be making the most of her before she was sent for by Le Chiffre. He thought of the fat wet lips of the Corsican and the slow cruelty of the thin man. Poor wretch to have been dragged into this. Poor little beast.

    Casino Royale, Pg 137

     
  • Mark 7:21 am on April 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: c.j. sansom, , , , politics,   

    What would British fascism look like? 

    I recently stumbled across this old* Huffington Post article by James Bloodworth, editor of Left Foot Forward, speculating about what a British fascism would look like. I don’t think it’s actually very good but it’s a fascinating question to ponder.

    And yet, were a far-Right government ever to win power in Britain – and never get too complacent, for a Searchlight poll last February found a staggeringly high number of voters who said they would be prepared to vote for party of the far-Right if it renounced violence – what might it do in its first year of power?

    This is pure speculation of course, but interesting all the same, I think.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/james-bloodworth/british-fascism-what-would-british-fascis_b_1454971.html

    One of my favourite works of fiction in recent years was Dominion by C.J. Sansom which depicts a Britain that surrendered in World War 2 and has become a satellite state of Nazi Germany. I found it much more plausible than Bloodworth’s speculations but perhaps that’s in part due to gradually showing this world over 500 pages rather than baldly stating it in a 1500 word blog post.

    Thanks to Danny Birchall for sharing this film – “It Happened Here”:

    There’s also a 2004 documentary drama which addressed this question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NnsRCt8TGM (embedding disabled)

    I wonder if counter-factual drama of this sort can be included within the remit of design fiction for digital public sociology?

    *Well 2012. I’m not sure when that became ‘old’.

     
  • Mark 5:55 pm on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , politics,   

    The Emperor’s New Clothes 

    Because we’re leaving them to their own devices
    The poorest are making all of the sacrifices –
    The cost of living crisis, house prices, the cost of a deposit,
    I don’t give a shit
    But yes of course we should address it
    So we will blame the deficit on people claiming benefits
    And as we debate what people get from the state
    We don’t care about how long people have to wait in A&E
    We don’t care about your GP
    We have to get the money, it’s important to me
    And as the NHS is being sold off
    It’s businesses that get the profits in their pockets

    Make sure the toffs stay better off
    Make sure the money stops at the top
    Take every penny from the hands of the many
    And give everything to the few

    Where is the fairness? We couldn’t care less
    One tax law for the rich and another for the rest
    And we will take interest in the very richest
    Let us make the poor their bitches
    Tax evasion is a man-made disaster
    These are the people I serve as Chancellor
    I know the answer is to fill
    The wallets of the rich and balance the bills
    On the backs of the poor.
    The rich pay less tax
    Let us make sure they don’t pay any more
    And as my chums move their money offshore
    I am the one holding open the door
    Let us be the party that makes you cry
    But madness is voting for the other guy

    Good morning everybody
    Our ideas are partly fear
    Of people from different cultures coming here
    And when I hear our policies about ethnic minorities
    We’re the only party that actually believes in social mobility
    Cos our ability to push migrants on a boat
    Is my personal priority
    Yes, the majority of our policies
    Blame people who come from other countries

    Employment legislation, blame immigration
    Excessive regulation, blame immigration
    Bad education, blame immigration
    No qualifications, blame immigration
    Radicalisation, blame immigration
    Unhappy situation, blame immigration
    The intimidation in our nation
    When we blame immigration
    Is a total abomination

    At home and abroad, we can afford to press pause
    And put the needle on the record

    Make sure the toffs stay better off
    Make sure the money stops at the top
    Take every penny from the hands of the many
    And give everything to the few
    We are not all in this together
    We want to help the rich get richer forever
    The poor will get a chance never
    We don’t give a damn about you

     
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