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Thinking about politics and morality on wednesday afternoon

I’m not a socialist – but I agree with their point that markets will tend to seek efficiencies without respect for human dignity and well-being. I’m not a libertarian – but I agree with their point that the state will tend to aggregate power to itself, necessarily trampling on the freedoms of the individual. It seems to me like the key issue here is that of beaurocratic diffusion of responsibility – whether that diffusion happens in a multinational corporation or at the level of (inter)national government. The problem is only going to get more pressing as the connections between economies, polities and societies becomes more and more multiple, distal and diverse. The globalisation of markets requires the globalisation of responsibility, but at the same time makes personal responsibility near impossible. Time for radical new political solutions? No – time for radical old political solutions. The issues have got more tangled, but they were pretty tangled at the birth of modernity anyway. There’s enough old fashioned corruption, fascism, exploitation and war around that we can still get milage out of boring things like democracy, seperation of powers, the rule of law, human rights, welfare and free trade – despite all their problems and internal contradictions.

Oh, dammit. I wanted to say something about the diffusion of responsibility (remember Milgram! remember Asch! remember Arendt!) and i’ve ended up thinking about the Enlightenment foundations of political philosophy. Hmm. So. Anyone got any ideas of how to deal with the moral impact of the diffusion of responsibility in complex socities?

Reply from Elsevier

I wrote to Elsevier to ask them about their involvement with the arms trade. Their response is below (and as PDF here, 600 KB). They only answered the first of my three questions (with a ‘no’).


Frankly, just because something is legal doesn’t make it legitimate and anyway I find hard to believe that adequate checks are carried out at DSEi, especially given that we know it has, just for a first example, repeatedly haboured the brokering of illegal sales of landmines. I’ll be writing back to Elsevier, and in a few days I’ll post it that here too.

An open letter to Jan Hommen

Tom Stafford
Department of Psychology,
University of Sheffield,
Western Bank,
Sheffield S10 2TP

Jan Hommen,
Chairman, Reed Elsevier,
Reed Elsevier PLC,
1-3 Strand,
London WC2N 5JR

Dear Mr Hommen

I was disappointed to discover that your company, through the subsidiary Spearhead Exhibitions, organises arms fairs. As an academic my familiarity with Elsevier comes from the scientific and medical journals you publish. It seems an entirely inappropriate sideline for you to assist in the selling of weapons. Will you stop?

As well as arms fairs in Brazil, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Singapore and France, Spearhead also organises the DSEi arms fair which is held binannually in London Docklands and boasts of being the largest arms fair in the world. This is a key event for those on the arms trade circuit, a trade which results in death, mutilation and suffering (most casualties of war are civilians, of course). Previous invitees to the fair have included nations such as Syria, which has refused to sign the Biological or Chemical Weapons Conventions and is accused of being a danger to world peace, and Indonesia, which used UK built Hawk jets in its lethal repression in East Timor. Other nations with long records of human rights abuses – Columbia, Saudia Arabia, Israel and China for example – attend, as well as a host of private companies with a history of selling indiscriminately to irresponsible governments in trouble spots around the world. Selling things like clusterbombs, which, like landmines, kill civilians years after the conflict that caused them to be dropped is over, but which aren’t illegal like landmines. Selling the small arms which are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in war (and killed 500,000 people last year). Selling missile technology, selling depleted uranium shells. By organising events at which these companies can market and promote this equipment, your company is playing a direct role in facilitating this trade. And all this subsidised directly, and indirectly, by UK tax payers.

This arms fair is important to the defence industry, but it’s not a major part of your business – and I urge you to cease your involvement with it. Organising international arms fairs seems totally at odds with your company’s expressed aim to play ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’ (2003’s ‘Reed Elsevier Cares’ programme). I also wonder how the academic and medical communities would feel about your complicity in the arms trade. My feeling is that you would- rightly- lose a lot goodwill from academics, goodwill that you rely on for them to publish in, review, edit and purchase your journals. You’ll be aware that Elsevier publishes the prestigious medical journal The Lancet – this seems especially incongruous with involvement in the arms trade. Can you really justify using profits from publicly funded medical research budgets to support the sale of arms around the world?

I’d be very keen to hear back from you about these things. Specifically the three questions I’ve asked in this letter:

  • Will you stop helping to organise arms fairs, specifically DSEi (next scheduled for September 2005)?
  • How does your involvement in the arms trade square with playing ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’?
  • How should the members of academic and medical communities feel about this involvement?
  • I look forward to hearing from you.

    Tom Stafford

    We Already Know The Answers

    Walking back to work and thinking about the forthcoming G8 meetings in Scotland and Sheffield, I saw a SWP poster which showed a placard at a protest saying “Stop capitalism now” and I start thinking “What a fucking stupid thing to say”. As if capitalism means anything more in that context than a think-stop, you might as well say “stop badness”, and i was getting dismayed that the socialists will, again, be co-opting a rightful and necessary protest so that it appears to the rest of the world like all dissent is support for their outdated dogma. And then my mind spun off on this kind of fantasy number where I’m at a protest and someone with a TV camera uses the C-word in another stupid question: “Are you against capitalism?”, implying, of course, the whole ridiculous deadweight of assumptions that the socialists and free-traders have managed to calcify the debate into. And then this torrent rose up in reply and I’ve written it down below because, well, what’s a blog for if not to spill your brains onto. Oh, and i’d drunk way too much coffee as well…

    am i against capitalism? what does that mean exactly, what could that mean? nonsense! what i am against is a system of debt which is a legacy of colonial exploitation, a system of trade which only reinforces the historic exploitation of the third world. massive corporations hand in glove with western governments allows us to sit on the back of those nations and choke the economic air out of them, choke it so successfully that all we get shown of africa on our tv screens are pictures of war and famine which only serve to reinfoce the prejudice that “they can’t manage themselves” and so we continue to suck the rest of the world, and the earth itself, dry to maintain our comfortable affluence, all the while stood on their backs choking them, protesting that we’ll do all we can to help them, all we can that is, except getting off their backs and stopping choking them. i’m a democrat and a liberal and those values today imply an as radical agenda as they ever did. the globalisation of economics, of markets, implies a globalisation of responsibility, of morality. two hundred years ago if you were a merchant in london selling cotton or buying shares in railways running on cheap coal then you were responsible for the exploitation that was occuring in the cotton mills of lancashire and the coal-mines of yorkshire. we passed laws to stop that exploitation, we made that happen, we recognised our complicity and took that collective action – and that’s what we need to do today, that what i want the G8 to recognise now.

  • Make Poverty History
  • Image stolen from Tolstoy: I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
  • Zigmunt Bauman on the globalisation of responsibility
  • Why is capitalism boring?

    Fundamentally, trading allows specialisation, and this increases efficiency and diversity. So why is global trade resulting in more homogenisation, not more diversity? The same shops on every high street, the same stuff in all the shops. I remember the first time i went into a Toys R Us – A toy shop not just bigger than any i’d seen before, but vastly bigger than any i’d seen before. I expected a vastly larger choice of toys. And of course I was wrong, not more choice of toys, but larger piles of a smaller choice of toys. Why is the mass market operating to restrict choice?!

    I’d appreciate any systems-level or economics-based answers to this. Some possible angles I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Choice isn’t really being restricted: if I want to I don’t have to go to Toys R Us, I can go anywhere I want to buy whatever I want. That’s real choice. [I’d argue that in an important sense there is still and increase in homogenisation not diversivication, and that’s what I’d like explaining]
  • Trade only leads to specialisation of labour, indirectly it leads to standardisation of products (production lines, etc). Although there are an increasing number of economic roles for me to play in modern consumer society, there’s no reason why specialisation should make that society more diverse [in which case, why does consumerism seem to promote homogenisation?]
  • We’re seeing the effects of a false market, one that has been distorted (eg by government-supported monopolies, by trade laws, etc). A real free market would lead to more diversity. [I doubt this is true, not least because ‘free’ markets are impossible, markets are always societal constructions. Additionally I suspect that any market that is free in the sense of universally connected with total capital and labour mobility would be totally unstable and prone to epidemics like any ecosystem without semi-permeable barriers. [Er maybe this is a point to expand on in another post]. Secondly, even if this arguement is true, what is it about the current market system that reduces diversity?]
  • Answers on a postcard email please….


    People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inedequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

    You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

    Fuck that. Any advert in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

    You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtsey. They owe you. They have rearranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

    Banksy in ‘Cut It Out’

    Banksy photo gallery here. Offical Banksy site here. Another cool way to do graffiti here. And, of course (down at time of posting).

    spoil your ballot?

    I’d dearly like them to have a “None of the above” option on the ballot. Until they do the option of spoiling your ballot isn’t quite attractive enough to go for. Sure, it distinguishes you from people who just can’t be bothered to turn up, I’m just worried that it doesn’t distinguish you from people who are unable to vote correctly.

    But something our prospective member of parliament for Sheffield Hallam told me this weekend puts a little more weight on the option: if you spoil your ballot then all the candidates get shown it, and have to agree on who, if anyone, it is a vote for. So if it is spoilt by an inaccurately placed cross then they can reach a consensus on who the vote is really for. And if you put a cross next to the lib-dem candidate and scrawl “Would Have Voted Labour But For The War” next to it then presumably they have to be shown it and agree that it is – or isn’t – a valid vote for the lib dem.

    So although there isn’t any way for people hearing the results to distinguish your spoilt vote from someone who just can’t cross a box, there is a chance that the politicians can – and arguably they are the people who it is most important to communicate with.

    I’d love to know if this is true, although even if it is i’m not going to take the chance and risk my vote not being counted. But at least, if you are going to spoil your vote anyway you can consider what to write, knowing who might get to see it.

    (ps suggestions on the best three words with which to spoil your ballot also welcome)

    end the offal lottery

    My friend James emails to say

    I have received an exclamation mark-strewn plea from my niece to sign the petition to improve British school dinners currently being promoted by TV’s own loveable mockney pan-jockey He Who Must Not Be Named Lest The Sun Turn To Ashes And The Seas to Pus. I must say that I think this is a good idea, despite the abominably geezerish nature of its champion. It takes a moment to sign at:

    Let’s free future generations from ‘pizza’ in those big silver trays, awful white buns with shocking pink icing, and the offal lottery of SAUSAGE ROLLS.

    See you all soon.

    James x

    Seems like a Good Thing, although when I tried to sign it someone had already used my email address and they won’t let me put my name down (cheeky!)

    Dear Richard Caborn

    Richard Caborn
    MP for Sheffield Central
    House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

    Dear Richard Caborn,

    I noticed that you haven’t signed EDM 515 concerning ‘Local services and facilities’. It is important to me that we support local communities and local business. Please let me know if you will be signing this bill, and if so when. If not, I’d be grateful to hear why.

    You can get more information about EDM 515 at Essentially it is a statement in support of the Local Services and Facilities Bill which has been introduced by the honourable Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (a Lib Dem, but the bill has cross-party support) and which I’m obviously hoping you’ll support when the time comes (after the election I suppose). Here’s a bit about the bill, just for your information:

    Where a government department or other public body intends to close a local office offering public services, or to end the provision of a service from an office the Bill says that they must assess the local community impacts (ethnic, environmental and social) of the proposed closure. They will then have to inform all those affected (parish and community councils, residents and community associations, businesses and trade union branches) and consider any representations made by them before taking the final decision about the closure.
    Thus those bodies (and their members) gain the right to be given information; the right to make representations and the right to have them considered properly before the decision is taken. (3) gives those bodies real power to challenge assessments and ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ameliorate the adverse effects of closure on local communities. If the social or environmental affects are shown to be large (i.e. damaging to local communities), this would make it far more difficult for a government department or other public body to close the office or end a service without taking steps to protect local communities ? that is the legitimate relevance of this to this campaign: the protection of sustainable local communities.

    Sustainable communities, protecting local enterprise, increased democratic power: I’ll be interested to hear what your position on the bill is.

    Yours sincerely,

    Tom Stafford
    Sheffield, S7

    yikes! World Bank policy update

    From The Bretton Woods Project

    The latest World Bank publication on agricultural trade finds that a “development strategy based on agricultural commodity exports is likely to be impoverishing in the current policy environment”. How this finding will be reconciled with twenty-five years of policy advice and loan conditions to the contrary is unclear.



    Vaclav Havel, one-time czech dissident and playwright, writing samizdat in the days of communistic eastern europe, talked of the ‘post-totalitarian’ system – a system of governence not so much based on overt violence, but on fear and more subtle controls. It’s always struck me how relevant that voice from behind the Iron Curtain and thirty years ago is to this place, this time…

    Despair leads to apathy, apathy to conformity…The more completely one abandons any hope of general reform, any interest in suprapersonal goals and values, or any chance of exercising influence in an “outward” direction, the more his energy is diverted in the direction of least resistance, i.e., “inwards.” People today are preoccupied far more with themselves, their families and their homes. It is there that they find rest, there that they can forget the world?s folly and freely exercise their creative talents. They fill their homes with all kinds of appliances and pretty things, they try to improve their accommodations, they try to make life pleasant for themselves, building cottages, looking after their cars, taking more interest in food and cloth and domestic comfort. In short, they turn their main attention to the material aspects of their private lives.

    Clearly, this social orientation produces favourable economic results…In the interest of the smooth management of society, then, society?s attention is deliberately diverted from itself, that is, from social concerns. By fixing a person?s whole attention on his mere consumer interests, it is hoped to render him incapable of realising the increasing extent to which he has been spiritually, politically and morally violated.


    Yet these same authorities obsessively justify themselves with their revolutionary ideology, in which the ideal of man?s total liberation has a central place! But what, in fact, has happened to the concept of human personality and its many-sided, harmonious, and authentic growth? Of man liberated from the clutches of an alienating social machinery, from a mythical hierarchy of values, formalised freedoms, from the dictatorship of property, the fetish and might of money? What has happened to the idea that people should live in full enjoyment of social and legal justice, have a creative share in economic and political power, be elevated in human dignity and becomes truly themselves? Instead of a free share in economic decision making, free participation in political life, and intellectual advancement, all people are actually offered is a chance to freely choose which washing machine or refrigerator they want to buy.

    In the foreground, then, stands the imposing fa?ade of grand humanistic ideals … and behind it crouches the modest family house of a socialist bourgeois. On the one side, bombastic slogans about the unprecedented increase in every sort of freedom and the unique structural variety of life; on the other, unprecedented drabness and the squalor of life reduced to a hunt for consumer goods.

    In “Dear Dr. Husak”, 1975

    The post-totalitarian system, after all, is not the manifestation of a particular political line followed by a particular government. It is something radically different: it is a complex, profound, and long-term violation of society, or rather the self-violation, or rather the self-violation of society. To oppose it merely by establishing a different political line and then striving for a change in government would not only be unrealistic, it would be utterly inadequate, for it would never come near to touching the root of the matter. For some time now, the problem has no longer resided in a political line or program: it is a problem of life itself.


    In the democratic societies, where the violence done to human beings in not nearly so obvious and cruel, this fundamental revolution in politics has yet to happen, and some things will probably have to get worse there before the urgent need for that revolution is reflected in politics.

    In “The power of the powerless”, 1978

    It really is not all that important whether, by accident or domicile, we confront a Western manager or an Eastern bureaucrat in this very modest and yet globally crucial struggle against the momentum of impersonal power….all of us, East and West, face one fundamental task from which all else should follow. That task is one of resisting vigilantly, thoughtfully and attentively, but at the same time with total dedication, at every step and everywhere, the irrational momentum of anonymous, impersonal and inhuman power – the power of ideologies, systems, apparat, bureaucracy, artificial languages and political slogans. We must resist its complex and wholly alienating pressure, whether it takes the form of consumption, advertising, repression, technology or clich? – all of which are blood brothers of fanaticism and the wellspring of totalitarian thought

    In “Politics and Conscience”, 1984.

    mocking empire

    Rose gave me Arundhati Roy’s new book of essays for Christmas (thanks Rose!). I liked this bit:

    Our strategy should be not only to confront empire but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness–and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling–their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

    Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
    (found here)

    And speaking of mocking empire, here’s a good example:




    engaged for 2005

    The ringing calls to opposition on the part of the readers of small left-wing magazines do not impress me, nor do I believe that America is secretly a left-wing country that is simply awaiting the clarion call. That was a Ralph Nader and Howard Dean fantasy, and there?s no evidence for it. That?s why I don?t think the lesson to learn from Kerry?s defeat is that he should have been more left-wing.

    I agree with Colin Greer about being oppositional, but it has to be oppositional in a way that?s persuasive to Americans. My belief is that getting out of the sealed rooms and gated communities of the left and doing politics with people who are unlike you is to participate in the essence of politics.

    (via, via Dan)

    Lobbying Time!

    Now this is important stuff. On 2nd of December the Private Members Ballot was drawn in parliament. Twenty randomly selected MPs get to introduce a bill of their own choosing. Following last thursdays’ draw the MPs in question get a few weeks to think over what bill they would like to introduce. You can see the list here and, it goes without saying, now is prime lobbying time for any particular bit of democratic change that you would like to become law. I’m suggesting you support the Local Services and Facilities Bill, which will give protection to local economies and communities. You can read about it here and the evential aim of the Local Works campaign, the Sustainable Communities Bill.

    So, if you live in one of the constituencies which has an MP on the ballot (check now) you should write to them. For the good of democracy you should probably write to them whether or not you want to support the Local Services and Facilities Bill (although of course i’d be nice if you did). If you want to support the bill but don’t have a balloted MP, the Local Works campaign have a list of the 7 MPs most likely to adopt the bill, so we can write to them anyway encouraging them to do the Good Thing. (and that list coming soon, once i’ve got it).

    Supermarket Sweep

    These days, ?1 in every ?8 we spend goes to Tesco. The company sells more DVDs than HMV, more shampoo than Boots, and its ?4 jeans outsell Levis, Wrangler and Gap put together. Last month, eight pairs were sold every minute.

    These are the figures Tesco wants us to remember, but there are other, less palatable statistics. For every ?1 spent on bananas at Tesco, for instance, only 1p goes back to the plantation growers in developing countries – far less than they need to feed their families. An estimated 40p goes to Tesco. Indeed, the company makes a profit of ?1m per week purely from the sale of bananas – enough to employ 30,000 plantation workers full-time and pay them a proper wage.

    It is estimated that, every time a supermarket is built, 276 jobs are lost. Between 1976 and 1989 (the dark days of unbridled supermarket expansion), 44,000 food shops and grocers went bust; when a large supermarket opens, according to ethical watchdog Corporate Watch, it results in the closure of every village shop within seven miles.

    From Loaded! Why supermarkets are getting richer and richer (Observer, January 25th 2004). Thanks to Dan for the link.

    straight answers on stripping

    The Guardian’s The Feminist column provides a straight answer on a thorny moral question:

    Q: I’ve found out that my fiance’s best friend is planning to take him to a strip club on his stag night. It’s not the kind of thing he would normally want to do, and I hate the thought of him going. Do I ask them to make other plans?
    A: Stripping is often regarded as a difficult and complex issue. Surely women should be allowed to strip if they want to, the argument goes. After all, some strippers say they are empowered by the experience; others, that it gives them an erotic thrill. And the money allows them so much freedom! And they’re providing such a fantastic service for socially disabled men. This is basically the same argument that is rolled out in defence of prostitution and other “sex work” (a terrible expression: never use it). But actually there is nothing difficult or confusing about stripping: it is straightforwardly wrong. Men who ought to know better leave these clubs with the impression that sometimes it’s OK to treat women like lumps of meat – it is not. Ideally, your fiance will come to this conclusion all on his own. But just in case he doesn’t, you should probably explain to him pretty carefully how you feel. Strip clubs humiliate and degrade women, and you will be degraded the moment your partner walks into one: this is the time to side with the Andrea Dworkins of this world, not the Annie Sprinkles.

    (emphasis in the answer mine)

    an enslaved global market

    First, watch this – What Barry Says – not just because it is damn impressive, but because it will make the rest of this post make more sense.

    Now, I agree with a good part of this movie, but when the narrator suggests that America would invade France or Britain this is silly and unhelpful. First, the US government wouldn’t order the invasion of France except in the most extreme of circumstances – we know they like to bomb people, but they like to a) bomb people who don’t matter so much (ie everyone who isn’t white) and b) have the pretense of legitimacy (more on (b), below). Secondly, suggesting the US might invade France or Britain – and including the line at the end which was something like “none of us really matter to them” – makes the message unnecessarily divisive. It pits America and Americans against the rest of the world. If you swallow that message you’ve just accepted the worldview of the people who are running the show. Really it’s a dangerous cabal in the american government who are waging actual wars on other countries but also wars on human rights, democracy and civic life within the west too, and with the complicity of all western governments. Yes, “none of us really matter to them” but ‘us’ is the majority of people in the world, and ‘them’ is the elites, and the corporations they control. Being American doesn’t mean you’re benefiting from corporate sponsored perpetual war, and suggesting so – or even just leaving the implication open like this video – is totally wrong headed and harmful. Love america, the cradle of the best and the worst, just hate the government- get it straight!

    So back to the first thing – the invasion of Britain and France. Cycling in today, I was thinking that maybe, bear with me on this getting the US army to invade the UK might actually be the way forward. I mean, what better way to demonstration to everyone the ultimate logic of hegemony? I’m not sure what kind of thing would be sufficient to induce the US to invade our green and pleasant land (suggestions on a postcard…) but it would be a marvelous proof – to people here, to people in the US, to the whole world – of the ruthlessness of empire and a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the idea ‘if US economic interests are sufficiently threatened they will stop at nothing to re-secure them’. The scenario would have to be pretty extreme to get this to happen (maybe global oil reserves vanish overnight apart from a new, multi-billion gallon, oil-well discovered under Pontefract) but could it happen?

    But then i got to thinking about the reasons why, although the cold structural logic of the such an invasion is impeccable, it would never happen. When you glimpse the structural logic of international relations, see the strings pulling the puppets, you can be excused for getting initially entranced by it. You want to explain the whole show in those terms – and indeed any explanation would be incomplete without them – but there is other logic operating. Governments that pretend to democracy must include that ritual as part of their operation. The problem with a hard structuralist’s cynicism is that it denies the value of this ritual, and thus becomes self-fulfilling. If we cease to believe that democratic institutions – things like voting and parliament – are relevant then our apathy will make them irrelevant. The illusion that is democracy will be stretched as far as public cynicism will allow it. On the other hand, our effort and commitment to the illusion can make governments respect it. They must maintain the illusion, and we must make sure that doing so is hard. Who cares if it is an illusion for which beaurocracies (corportate and non-corporate) have no need for? These structures are pilotted by individuals, individuals who will only suffer so much dissonence before they will change their actions.

    All of this demonstrates that i am a liberal through-and-through and hence a) make me sick and b) will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

    100,000 dead

    100,000 civilians dead in Iraq, mostly women and children [1]. Even Jack Straw seems to accept the more conservative figure of 15,000 which is offered by

    Let’s just run over the other figures too:

  • Weapons of Mass Destruction found: 0
  • Peaceful Democracies established: 0
  • Al-Qaeda operations disrupted: 0
  • Support given to international law: 0
  • Promotion of human rights: 0
  • Understanding between US and Europe enhanced by: 0
  • Similarly, between ‘Western’ and Islamic cultures: 0

  • Ref:
    1: Lancet articles here. BBC news report here


    1. What a frikkin’ good day to be alive! Hello World!

    2. It occurs to me that soundbite culture, like so many cultural phenomena, is the product of technological change. The television, and radio, technologies that carry the soundbites are those that create the need for the soundbites. We’ve always had slogans but the depthless soundbite is the product of the shift in political media from discursive to broadcast technologies.

    hacker ethics

    Thanks to dan for this

    Warnick B.R. (2004). Technological Metaphors and Moral Education: The Hacker Ethic and the Computational Experience. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 23, 4, 265-281.

    This essay is an attempt to understand how technological metaphors, particularly computer metaphors, are relevant to moral education. After discussing various types of technological metaphors, it is argued that technological metaphors enter moral thought through their “functional descriptions.” The computer metaphor is then explored by turning to the “hacker ethic.” Analysis of this ethic reveals parallels between the experience of computer programming and the moral standards of those who are enmeshed in computer technology. This parallel suggests that the hacker ethic is being pushed by a computer metaphor and its functional descriptions in a direction of individualism and systems thinking. After examining some possible implications of the computer metaphor, this essay offers suggestions concerning how technological metaphors may be critiqued.

    Ironically for a paper about the hacker ethic you can’t get the PDF on-line, but i did find Biella Coleman, from the University of Chicago and her blog, Sato Roams and her research proposal The Social Creation of Productive Freedom: Free Software Hacking and the Redefinition of Labor, Authorship, and Creativity. which contains, in the section headed ‘UNIX: A Living, Breathing Software Entity’, a quote from the wonderful In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson (1999):

    ..UNIX, by contrast, is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic… Likewise, UNIX is known, loved, understood by so many hackers that it can be recreated from scratch whenever someone needs it.

    The Politeness Revolution

    Good In Our Time this week on ‘Politeness’ (and thanks to Matt for the heads up). You can still use Radio 4‘s Listen Again thing to hear it online (until thursday i think).

    So – politeness as an active, self-conscious – almost revolutionary – social moment, and as something evoked by social changes which brough people into new forms of contact, in new social spaces, and made less relevant the old behavioural guidelines of class, sex and rank.

    I wonder how can ground-rules of behaviour, aimed at mitigating conflict and misunderstanding, can be propagated in the aftermath of the current, global, sweep of social change?

    (remember quote #49)

    Interesting Times

    It would be prejudicial to the national interest and the conduct of the government’s foreign policy if the English courts were to express opinions on questions of international law concerning the use of force by the United Kingdom and other states which might differ from those expressed by the government and advanced by it in the conduct of international relations.

    – Permanent Undersecretary of State Sir Michael Jay, July 1st

    As James said, “Come again? Government accountability? Separation of judiciary and executive? Wishy-washy liberal nonsense…”

    Or as Michael Jay might have said “The government does what it likes and we do what we’re told”

    Will chips in

    If there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there’s any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara

    Phil Ochs, musician, 1940-76

    What is power

    Something about Leunig at his best leaves me speechless. It’s the expression of that idea, but without leaving me any referrent I could pass on to anyone else. I’m left, dumb, pointing, mouthing “look! look! That’s it!”