This approach treats the field of international relations as an ongoing debate between proponents of between three and a half dozen theoretical approaches (depending on how eclectic the course/tutor/academic institution is) ... [B]y pigeon-holing approaches into one of a few theoretical positions, it has intellectually and pedagogically unhealthy consequences.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US researchers have said they are able to selectively erase memories from mice in a laboratory, raising hopes human memory afflictions like post-traumatic stress syndrome can one day be cured.
"Targeted memory erasure is no longer limited to the realm of science fiction," the research team headed by Joe Tsien, from the Brain and Behavior Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia, said in Thursday's issue of Cell Press magazine.
The new technique, which the team stress is at a very early stage, could be applied one day to the human brain to erase traumatic memories or deep-set fears, and leave all other memories unaffected.
Tsien said the technique might one day be applied to war veterans who "often suffer from reoccurring traumatic memory replays after returning home."
...or to those who know too much
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The response to Sept. 11 was "a huge overreaction," Dame Stella told The Guardian newspaper in an interview published on on Saturday.I'm not sure that the US would want to suddenly install CCTV everywhere (not that it would be feasible in a place where the pavements are 17 times bigger than would be considered seemly in little Britain), but the difference between a criminal prosecution and global military action is not an insignificant one. Also, with recent reverses in the curtailment of civil rights in the UK, it appears as if the US rush to suspend liberties is not an inevitable nor necessary piece of the process. As the head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK said:
(in an aside, he was convicted of supplying marijuana at university but was only fined £75 - some evidence that minor drug offenses might be better off lightly punished than having a brain-spasmic-7-year-sentence reaction?)
"Of course, you can have the Guántanamo model," he said. "You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.
"Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them."
Friday, October 17, 2008
An ACORN community organizer received a death threat and the liberal activist group's Boston and Seattle offices were vandalized Thursday, reflecting mounting tensions over its role in registering 1.3 million mostly poor and minority Americans to vote next month.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Last week we saw the McCain camp take a turn towards a very ugly form of populism during campaign rallies, which basically amounted to asking who was the "real" Barack Obama; the implication being that he was some sort of alien 'other'. This type of paranoid fantasizing has been a staple of modern American conservatism; as a cursory glance at right-wing blogs can testify.
The "black helicopter" crowd in the U.S. were around all during the Clinton era, so in some ways, there should be no surprise to see them around in this election cycle (and certainly long into a Obama presidency: see this comments page).
What was surprising about last week, however, was the open (and extremely cynical) way that the McCain camp - desperate to alter the media narrative - decided to just go for it, take these memes out of the fringe, and put them directly into the campaign.
This is a unsettling strategy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is simply not good for democratic discourse for politicians to be suggesting that their political opponents may or may not be traitors. This type of discourse should be left to the fringe. Bringing it into the mainstream gives it a a legitimacy that it does not deserve.
Secondly, there is a lot of rage out there. This is understandable as the it looks like the world is heading for the crapper, but this is not a constructive way to direct this anger, and - if it continues - is truly worrying. This type of smearing is especially destabilizing to democracy when the speaker knows full well that people will buy into it; leading audience members to shout out "kill him" or suggest Obama is a terrorist,
Think I am exaggerating about how disturbing this might be? Even the mainstream media in the U.S. - which usually tortures itself by trying to present everything in terms of moral equivalency - had commentators speaking out:
CNN contributor David Gergen, who has advised Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, said Thursday that the negative tone of these rallies is "incendiary" and could lead to violence. "There is this free floating sort of whipping around anger that could really lead to some violence. I think we're not far from that," he said. "I think it's really imperative that the candidates try to calm people down."
Thirdly, once you let the genie out of the bottle, it may not be as easy to put back in - as McCain has found out since his campaign realised that this tactic was not helping him in the polls.
When you link these points together, there is cause for genuine concern. There has always been a radical fringe in American politics. However, for it to surface so openly at the same time that there is a economic crisis - which makes a radical message that more attractive - has a distinct whiff of the 1930s about it. This is, in other words, one potential societal backlash that might be occurring as part of the global meltdown. Just as Polanyi predicted, the right rises in such economically dislocating times times.
Of course, it is a little too easy to dismiss one's political opponents and call them fascists just because they like flags, or are socially conservative, or choose slogans such as "Country First". I am not suggesting that anyone who does not share my political persuasion is further right that Joseph Goebbels. Plenty of conservatives are fully democratic, intelligent, and able to defend their intellectual positions.
However, there is a real darkness going on in these fringe movements that has a definite crypto-fascist element, and which is frightening when it is dragged out from under its rock. Take a look at this video, of a rally in Ohio to see an example of what I mean.
These people are displaying many of the key features which would make them susceptible to right-wing movements.
First, and most obviously, they are highly emotional and are reaching conclusions about the world based on how they feel rather than their basis in fact (are we really to believe that that woman had heard of Palin before she heard of Obama, for example?).
Secondly, it is not clear what people in this movement are for so much as what they are against. Fascism is a classically anti-intellectual movement partly because it has to be, as its theoretical edifice is often incoherent (it is egalitarian whilst also hierarchical; it believes in private property except when it doesn't etc). Therefore the unifying component of fascism - what brings many people together to believe in it - is its strong sense of what it doesn't like. Aside from the unifying themes of flag and country (which right-wingers get to define in ultra-nationalist terms of their own choosing), fascist movements are negative about other movements and political positions, without have a clear unifying program of their own.
Part of this process of negation is done by identifying what you don't like in your opponents, and saying you believe the opposite. So if you hate liberals and liberals believe in global warming, then you don't believe in global warming. If they believe in evolution, then you don't. This can help explain how otherwise intelligent people believe that man ran with dinosaurs just a few hundred years before the pyramids were built (this also once again highlights the anti-intellectual element of such movements).
It also leads to scapegoating of your enemies and holding them responsible for your own failures, or failures in general. I was wondering for a while who the right-wingers were going to hold responsible for the economic catastrophe of late. I would have put my money on "liberals" as they are generally held up by the Right as everything that is wrong with the U.S., or the immigrants and foreigners as they always get it. Perhaps unsurprising it seems that black America and the voter-registration group Acorn are being held involved and responsible, at least by many of the nuttier groups.
All of this wouldn't matter if it weren't for two things. As I said, the backlash against the status quo is beginning. Although (thankfully) this right-wing populism does not look like it will dominate the discourse in any way, and that calmer heads are prevailing, it is present and liable to become stronger and certainly more shrill; especially once its coalition partner (e.g. the mainstream Republican party) gets thrown out of power. The other worrying issue is that these headbangers really are dangerous. They have a documented history of violence in the U.S.. They have extremely noxious eliminationist views gowards their political opponents. And they are they are feeling threatened.
It seems like a sensible administration is about to come just in time.
NB: Orcinus is a very good site for tracking these issues
Update: This is exactly what I am talking about
Update II: And this
Update III: Sigh...and this
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
1) What percentage of marriages end in divorce?
2) What is the probability that your marriage will end in divorce?
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The British commander on the ground, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, warned this week it would be impossible to defeat the Taliban and even suggested that dialogue be opened with some sections of the Taliban.
Friday, October 10, 2008
"Solving" the financial crisis by only helping the financial sector - which is responsible for this to begin with - will not enamour ordinary people very much to the governing classes. In fact, such a situation will not only enrage most people; it will enrage them at a time when we can expect day-to-day life to become seriously tough for the next few years. Such an environment is a breeding ground for radical politics. Considering the current state of political discourse in the U.S., this something that should not be encouraged.
I said I'd come back to that point and here I am. That first post was called "The Great Transformation" in reference to a book of the same name by a theorist called Karl Polanyi. Polanyi was a Austrian who fled to the U.S. in the 1930s to escape the rise of fascism. Here he worked on his book which was published in 1944. His central question was where did fascism come from, and the answer he gives seems especially relevant in today's climate.
The basic argument runs as follows:
We are inculcated to believe that "the market" is some sort of asocial and universal entity that exists in of itself (this belief is probably more prevalent today than it even was in Polanyi's time). Markets are considered to operate with a law-like regularity much like gravity. It is this belief system that leads people and organizations such as the WTO to argue for things such as "market access rights" or against "interference in the market". The market is a natural system that exists independent of man, and is only screwed up when we stick our hands in and interfere. This is the fundamental principle of the Chicago School of Economics and the Washington Consensus, for example.
I use the phrase "belief system" intentionally for, as Polanyi points out, there is no natural market system that exists independently of human beings. On the contrary the natural market requires a huge and conscious intervention by society in order to survive. There cannot be a functioning market without contract enforcement, laws, courts, means of exchange, credit etc. How many successful markets do you see in governance-free zones such as Mogadishu or Darfur? In other words the market is a social construction that is embedded in society.
The danger before WWII, according to Polanyi (thought the logic applies for contemporary times too), was when people advocated for markets being disembedded and being allowed to act "naturally". When this occurred elements of society such as land and labour were treated as if they were market commodities. However, they were not. Land cannot suddenly reproduce itself if demand requires it too, as commodities do. Labour cannot suddenly retrain itself so it can "flow" into new opportunities ,as capital can. To treat them as if they can is to generate massive strains and tensions in society as people and land becomes increasingly subject to extremely anti-social and repressive systems of governance. All in the name of the "natural" market.
At the expense of overstating the point, the entire edifice of markets is a social construction designed to legitimate the rule of the richest in the world. Yet the more that this market disembeds itself from society the more dangerous and unstable society becomes. For as Polanyi points out, the only natural part of this whole story of disembedding is that at some point there is a backlash and people revolt. The exact nature of this revolt is uncertain, according to Polanyi, but not the fact that it happens. The fact of revolt is natural. In Germany this revolt manifested itself in the form of fascism, where Jews and other marginal elements were blamed for society's woes, as the German state began to re-embed the market into a new, and crazy-warped society.
This is why I argued that further removing the market from the control of the people would not solve its problems, but probably only hasten its own demise by generating some form of backlash. The possible nature of that backlash is the subject of my next post.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
It's nice for some