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Monthly Archives: January 2006

links for 26th January 2006

quote #131

I found this on the wonderfully named (with the wonderful subheading ‘I thought these things might be clues’)

There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.


bloodless regieme change

There’s an uncharacteristically gushing (and inspiring) story in this week’s Economist about the possibility of internally-driven, bloodless, regieme change in dictatorships. Some selective quotes (article here, paywalled):

But all the evidence is that people power, if it is to bring about a lasting change that increases freedom, must bubble up from below. It must be indigenous, broad-based and, ideally, non-violent.

Moreover, the most important factor in contributing to the emergence of a freer society is the presence of strong and cohesive non-violent civic coalitions.

It may take years to develop, and it may not always turn out quite as is hoped, but people power is catching: the more often it works, the more often it will be used.

people ain’t no good

People just ain’t no good
I think that’s well understood
You can see it everywhere you look
People just ain’t no good

It ain’t that in their hearts they’re bad
They can comfort you, some even try
They nurse you when you’re ill of health
They bury you when you go and die
It ain’t that in their hearts they’re bad
They’d stick by you if they could
But that’s just bullshit
People just ain’t no good

People they ain’t no good
People they ain’t no good
People they ain’t no good
People they ain’t no good at all

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, ‘People Ain’t No Good’

Quote #129

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by the relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, I am merry with my friends; and when, after three or four hours amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any further

David Hume

Own the whales

Hubert’s had a great idea – it will be the first in a series of libertarian environmentalist direct-actions. Now, there’s a school of thought – offensive to many on the left – that environmental exploitation happens precisely because a resource is held in common, rather than owned by someone (who therefore has an interest in using it wisely). Wasn’t resource mismanagement the original inspiration for the tragedy of the commons idiom, after all? So if everything, everywhere – every rare species, every piece of rainforest, etc – is owned by someone, they might be protected better.

So here’s the plan; if the Japanese Whaling Ships can go into international waters and harpoon whales – essentially saying “This one is mine” and killing it – what’s to stop me going and tagging a whale with my name and mobile number, attaching a GPS – essentially saying “This one is mine” – and letting it go free? Then when the Japanese Whalers come across a whale they have to check if it is unowned, or whether they need my permission to take it and kill it. “What happens when they kill it anyway?” I asked Hubert. “Simple”, he said, “I sue them.”

“And”, he continued, “the great thing about this strategy is that it is very empowering for the individual. You don’t have to wait for governments to pass environmental legislation, you just get out there and see what the court system decides.”

links from brussels

work, feminism and private life

[From Madeleine Bunting’s ‘Willing Slaves: How the overwork culture is ruling our lives’ (2004, p306-7) after a section on the commercialisation of intimate life – paid therapists for emotional support, paid visitors for your nursing-homed mother, etc:]

Ten years ago, there was still a debate about whether women should be working; young women now regard the idea that they should stay at home as simply absurd. Some debates have been settled, but that only increase the stakes of those questions which remain.

A new and dangerous frontier has been opened up: if women have moved into the workplace only for their traditional caring labour to be abandoned, outsourced or squeezed to the edges, we will all suffer for it. The mission of feminism to achieve equality will hijacked by a capitalism eager for cheap, flexible labour and emotional skills on its terms. What we will reap is exhausted men and women, neglected children, loneliness, relationship breakdown and everyone short-changed of the well-being which is a product of the bonds of care. This threatens a commodification of the emotional life; in parallel developments emotional skills play an ever bigger part in the labour market while private emotional relationships are starved of the time and energy which they need to flourish, and are then outsourced. This would be the final triumph of market capitalism, whereby the separate sphere which once belonged to women, and from which the market was excluded – of the private life, of home and family – is opened up for commercialisation. The pressure bearing down on the reciprocity and commitment of these private relationships is colossal; it’s a tribute to the strength of many individuals that they struggle to hold true to their intuitive understanding of relationship. It would be a tragic betrayal of the grand vision of twentieth-century feminism if it had inadvertently contributed to the market

Quote #125

“So, from a certain point of view, economics is all about reaching global consensus on what’s the ‘general good’…From another point of view, it’s a technocratic elite building a global dictatorship of profound depth and subtlety.”

Dan, 7/12/05

biographic solutions to structural contradictions

[talking about the way corporations have embraced aspirational culture, making self-improvement part of the benefits/goals of employment]

“But the philosophy of improving ‘personal performance’ also plays into the hands of employers’ rationale that well-being and coping with stress are the responsibility of the individual employeee. It reinforces the tendency for individuals to search for ‘biographic solutions to structural contradictions’, as the sociologist Ulrich Beck put it: forget the barricades, it’s revolution from within that matters. This cultural preoccupation with personal salvation stymies collective reform, and places an onerous burden on the individual. It effectively reinforces the anxieties and insecurities which it offers to assuage” [Bunting, 2004, ]

Madeleine Bunting. Willing Slaves: How the overwork culture is ruling our lives (2004), p. 200

Market capitalism fosters prosociality

[Talking about how the development of market capitalism has relied on the cultivation of trust between actors who do not know each other personally]

“Now i realise how improbable this sounds. Markets, we know, foster selfishness and greed, not trust and fairness. But even if you find the history unconvincing, there is this to consider: in the late 1990s, under the supervision of [Samuel] Bowles, twelve field researchers – including eleven anthropologists and one economist – went into fifteen “small-scale” societies (essentially small tribes that were, to varying degreesm self-contained) and got people to play the kinds of games in which experimental economics specialise. The societies included three that dependedon foraging for survival, six that used slash-and-burn techniques, four nomadic herding groups, and two small agricultural societies. The three gmaes the people were asked to play were the three standards of behavioural economics: the ultimatum game (which you just read about [if you were reading the book]), the public goods game (in which if everyone contributes, everyone goes away significantly better off, while if only a few people contribute, then the others can free ride on their effort), and the dictator game, which is similar to the ultimatum game except that the responder can’t say no to the proposer’s offer. The idea behind all these games is that they can be played in a purely rational manner, in which case the player protects himself against loss but forgoes the possibility of mutual gain. Or they can be played in a prosocial manner, which is what most people do.

In any case, what the researchers found was that in every single society there was significant deviation from the purely rational strategy. But the deviations were not all in the same direction, so there were significant differences between the cultures. What was remarkable about the study, though, was this: the higher the degree to which a culture was integrated with the market, the greater the level of prosociality. People from more market-orientated societies made higher offers in the dicatator game and the ultimatum game, cooperator in the public goods game, and exhibited strong reciprocity when they had the chance.

From James Suroweikcki. The Wisdom of Crowds – Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few (2004) [which i commented on in ignorance here], p.126. Refs for this study are:

Joseph Henrich et al. “Economic Man in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Behavioral Experiments in Fifteen Small-Scale Societies”. Originally a Sante Fe Institute paper but then became a BBS paper.

Henrich et al. (2001). In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies. American Economic Review 91, 73-78. PDF here

What i love about the behavioral economics paradigms is that prosocial behaviour validates itself. Once you drop the narrow, economic, one-shot, sense of the word ‘rational’, it is rational to cooperate in these games because it is rational to cooperate if you think others will cooperate and it is rational for them to cooperate if they think you will.

Surowiecki also discusses [p.106] Vernon Smith, who showed experimentally that a free market of real people with imperfect imformation etc could still be near-optimal in efficiency terms. Apparently a major economics journal wasn’t interested in the result because it had already been demonstrated that markets were efficient theoretically. On the same page Surowiecki aknowledges the caveat that economic efficiency tells us nothing about the social cost of market operation

free wifi in sheffield, uk

A google for the phrase “free wifi sheffield uk” doesn’t turn up much useful information, so here’s my list. Let me know if you know of anywhere else.

Free wifi hotspots in Sheffield, England:

  • The Showroom – independent cinema and cafe bar near the station
  • The Rutland Arms, Paternoster Row – also near the station, and opposite Access Space
  • The Runaway Girl, 111 Arundel St, S1 2NT (and they do bottomless coffee for