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politics

Let the record show

Extending the war into Iraq would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Exceeding the U.N.’s mandate would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

From “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam” by George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time Magazine, 1998

Via IraqBodyCount.com. Let the record show: 10,000 civilian casualties so far.

The Reasonable Man

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), from Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionists”

Quote #33

Nothing I’ve ever written was anti-market. Being against the market is like being against conversation. It’s a form of exchange. But I was just as hostile in the past to giving any privileges to the market as I am now. Besides, those who are great advocates of the market don’t always make it easier for people to have access to the market through basic education, credit or whatever. (my emphasis).

Amartya Sen

fundamentalism in consumer culture

If, like i said, social isolation is necessary to maintain ideological isolation, then here’s an extra irony to consumer culture: as The Market spreads across the world promoting Democracy and Freedom, it also extends the kind of atomisation that allows people to live in different social worlds than their neighbours and hence allows more ideological extremism.

Ideological divergence because of more social isolation vs ideological homongenisation because of an increasingly similar macro-economic condition (ie consumer society).

How the two forces will play out beats me

Marketing (rant warning)

Geoffrey Miller thinks marketing is the greatest invention of the last 2,000 years

Hmmm…

What he writes make me feel uncomfortable in a way I can’t really put my finger on. This means that either

a) he is right, and I’m a damn liberal who can’t face up to the truth

b) he is wrong, but in ever so subtle a way

He says Almost everything we can buy is the result of some marketing people in some company thinking very hard about how to make us happy.

Surely, it’s more accurate to say that almost everything we can buy is the result of some marketing people in some company thinking very hard about how to make us buy their stuff. This is an important difference.

If, like he notes, the marketing orientation has become common in companies that make things for individual customers, like clothes, cars, televisions, and movies. It remains rare in heavy industry that produces steel, coal, oil, and paper, where the immediate consumers are other businesses

isn’t this because businesses are subject to a different set of irrationalities than individual consumers?

One important difference might be that businesses consumers aren’t divided and vastly outsized by their producers in the same way as individual consumers.

Marketing makes us technology?s masters. This renders most of Marx irrelevant. What can alienation and exploitation mean when business listens so hard to our desires?

I guess alienation can only make sense if people can become alienated from their own desires. Which is kind of a psychological-level version of Marxist false-consciousness anyway, and remains a pretty dirty theoretical trick.

Doesn’t mean it isn’t true though.

Like fish unaware of water, we do not realize that we live in the Age of Marketing…Democracy is simply the marketing concept applied to government.

And there are different types of democracy, and democratic failures, just like there can be different types of markets and market failures. I have to be suspicious of anyone who tries to sell me One Market, or one notion of Democracy.

Is the marketing revolution a good thing? On the upside, it promises a golden age when social institutions and markets are systematically organized to maximize human happiness.

There’s that mistake again – maximising fallible human choices isn’t the same as maximising human happiness. But then, it’s hard to know what other indexes to use.

On the downside, marketing is Buddha?s worst nightmare. It is the Veil of Maya made scientific and backed by billion-dollar campaigns. It perpetuates the grand illusion that desire leads to fulfillment..It is the enemy of human consciousness, because consciousness is content with its own company, and needs nothing from the world. The trouble is not that marketing promotes materialism. Quite the opposite. It promotes a narcissistic pseudo-spiritualism based on subjective pleasure, social status, romance, and life-style.

A moment of clarity mixed with a moment of nonsense.

Marketing brings more immediate problems. Like democracy, it forces intellectual elites to confront our patronizing attitudes towards the masses. Elites do not always like companies and states that provide what the people want….Marketing, like democracy, is anti-arrogance, anti-power, and anti-idealism….For the elite, marketing?s populism can be an alarming prospect….Cultural elites usually take a dim view of uncultured human nature to justify denying the power of choice to ordinary people. Fear of an economy based on market research, like Plato?s fear of democracy based on universal suffrage, is based on contempt for our species. Elites hate to recognize the marketing revolution because they hate to admit that contempt. Marketing is the most important invention of the last two millenia because it is the only revolution that has ever succeeded in bringing real power to the people.

I look around at the six billion, as we break in waves of hunger a desire upon the eroded shore of history, and I wonder how we feel about our new, real, power. Power given to us – yes given! – by the wonderful power of marketing, marketers and the corporations that employ them.

It is not just the power to redistribute wealth, to split the social cake into different pieces. Rather, it is the power to make our means of production transform the natural world into a playground for human passions. Marketing is not just the icing on the material world. It has become the recipe, the kitchen, and the cook.

But marketing isn’t just a tool for working out what human desires are. Human desires are not some inviolate essence. They are created by social influences- created, evoked, and manipulated. Consciousness is not content with its own company, and needs nothing from the world. Consciousness is inherently social. We gauge our own status by social comparison, we want what others want, we believe what others in our tribe believe.

Marketing is not an innocent observer in this scenario, no more than markets are spontaneous entities existing aside from politics and culture. All markets are designed by a set of socially sanctioned forces, and all marketing serves interests other than those of the consumers.

The Development Set

The Development Set
By Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet-
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots,
I have travelers’ checks, and pills for the trots

The Development Set is bright and noble,
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes,
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton hotels in scattered nations,
We damn multinational corporations;
Injustice seems so easy to protest,
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with an open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution-
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like ‘epigenetic’,
‘Micro’, ‘Macro’. and ‘logarithmetic’.

Development Set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the rich and the poor.

Enough of these verses — on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just parry to God the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

From Graham Hancock’s book “Lords of Poverty”

chomsky in the UK

Chomsky is in the UK in May

The 2004 Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Lecture will be given by Professor Noam Chomsky and is called, ‘Simple Truths, Hard Choices: Some Thoughts on Terror, Justice and Self-defense’. Professor Ted Honderich will preside.

The lecture will take place on 19 May at 5.30 pm in Logan Hall, The Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1. The lecture is free and open to the public. There are no tickets, and no reservations can be made. We suggest you arrive early to be sure of a seat.

And, guess what, he also has a blog now!

charity efficiency

So someone suggested last night that Oxfam waste our money. The specific claim being (if i remember right) that ‘there was a report’ saying that even though they pay less than the commercial sector to their employees, and they use volunteers to do work for free, they are still an inefficient beaurocracy squandering cash in only the way well-meaning but incompetent lefties can.

Well, I couldn’t find any hint of this report by looking on the internet, although i did find this from Oxfam Ireland

We strive to keep our administration costs to an absolute minimum in order to ensure that the value of each euro/pound that you donate is maximised. During the 2002/2003 period, 90 cent/pence in every donated euro/pound went towards supporting our overseas programmes and campaigns work…When you make a donation to one of our Emergency Appeals, 100% of your donation goes directly to that Emergency relief effort…Did you know that for every pound or euro donated, there is the possibility of us raising a further four pounds or euros from other European (both government and other institutional) funding sources?

The annual report of Oxfam UK (the third biggest charity in the UK, incidentally) gives their accounts. So, next, I looked at this and the accounts for Cancer Research UK (who are the biggest charity in the UK) and two other international development charities – Christian Aid and Action Aid, comparing the total income, charitable expenditure and admin and management costs for each charity.

So Oxfam have about the same admin costs as other international development NGOs and about the same charitable spend as another charity of comparable size. But I guess a lot depends on what they include under ‘charitable spend’. This here is a pretty crude index of efficiency.

Simply put I don’t have the expertise to assess if, or if not, Oxfam are being more or less inefficient that anyone else. What they do, and the scale they do it at, makes comparisons difficult. My ignorance of the subject doesn’t help either. Does anyone have any advice or leads on this – i’d love to hear more about how to tell if a charity is spending money well?

This guy seems to have looked into it and to have been satisfied with what he found out. There’s an article about league tables of charity spending efficiency, and why they can be misleading, here, which seemed important.

For me I think the more important thing is what the money is being spent on (which is what I think Emily was getting at when she started the conversation and concluded by saying, “I just don’t want them spending my money on bibles” i guess). Given that Oxfam operates in 75 countries, provides emergency disaster relief but also – and this is the majority of their work – invests in long-term development work, including lobbying and policy work to challenge the institutions and structures which keep under-developed parts of the world under-developed, I’m going to continue giving them my money and not worry about the efficiency which which they spend it – it’s got to be better than not giving anything at all.

Oxfam International
The Trade Justice Movement

‘You tell em Jack’

Spotted by/at alittlepoison.com:

George Bush, 21st September, 2001: ?Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists?

Jack Straw, March 15th, 2004: ?the truth about these fanatics is that unless you are 100% with the terrorists, you are seen to be 100% against them.?

‘An experiment in consumerist identity’

In February 2001 Michael Landy destroyed all his possessions. Every single one. This act of annihilation, entitled Break Down, took fourteen days to complete and cost approximately ?100,000….Landy spent three years cataloguing the 7,006 separate items. Each object was numbered, separated into a category and included in a long list displayed on the walls. The smaller objects were bagged in plastic and placed in yellow crates that snaked along 160 metres of conveyor belt around four dismantling bays. Landy and his team of operators, all clothed in industrial blue overalls, systematically reduced each item down to its basic components. The pieces were then shredded or granulated and bagged up.

(from BBCi arts)

Landy says:

The happiest day of my life

Our glorious leader

U.S. President George W. Bush looks up before speaking at the Davos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, January 29, 2003. Traveling a day after his State of the Union address, Bush spoke here of his plan to offer prescription drug benefits and catastrophic illness coverage to seniors as inducements to give up their fee-for-service Medicare benefits and enroll in private plans. Bush also talked about the situation in Iraq. 29 Jan 2003 REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Complex Adaptive Systems and political economy

Below are two sets of notes. The first on Philip Ball’s Critical Mass: A new Physics of Society. The second on Dan’s thesis Do we need nature?. This title is taken from the Economist/Shell essay competition, by the way. The winner of this year’s competition is a sharp retort to the question Do we need nature? – An interview with a Fungus on the topic Do we need mankind? Containing the marvellous observation (by the fungus)

Poor quality information tends to ferment into low-grade entertainment. Under the sulphurous glare of continuous, worldwide news broadcasts, human institutions ? government, military, religious, the culture itself ? became subjects of human amusement. This unrelenting, self-referential entertainment left a large part of mankind chronically inebriated and fundamentally uneducable.

There’s more. It’s a good read. But not strictly relevant to these notes, which cover the application of systems theory to economics and politics.

Am I Somebody Yet?

An unusually hysterical, but i thought zeitgeist-catching, article from the guardian – Bums and Deceit. You can kind of tell it was written by someone under the influence of lots of painkillers (and daytime tv)

…when you look like Barbra Streisand after three weeks under water and your pain relief is preventing you from tying, or even recognising, your own shoes, then you’re in the perfect condition to stay at someone else’s house and watch cable TV. So now I finally have a proper grasp of what’s important in modern life. And mainly it’s tits…
…I am now completely up to speed on the vital issues of the day. Is your sofa new enough? Are your teeth white enough? Is there enough fat in your arse to inflate your head in case of emergency? And are you spending enough? Because if you’re only spending what you’ve got, that’s not enough – you need to be IN DEBT. Not just a little bit overdrawn, I mean proper, wake up screaming, selling your underwear, Russian roulette in Soho basements to win back your kidneys debt.

This article, Celebrity nobodies, by Piers Morgan has an anecdote which just drips with the existential devestation of our celebrity culture. It is the audition for one of those Pop Idols-type programmes.

a young, totally anonymous woman called Tara looks at the camera and squeals: “Oh my God, everyone’s looking at me – they don’t even know who the camera is here for but they think I am someone. I might be someone … am I someone yet?” Told “not yet”, she replies: “But I will be soon won’t I? I love it!”

Start the week, don’t start the war

Just ran across a fantastic Start the Week on Radio 4. Interview with the director of human rights watch about the justification of invading Iraq. It’s so good to hear a liberal critique of the action, rather than a totalising leftist critique (yes, I agree it was the wrong thing to do, no, I don’t want to buy a copy of your damn paper).

Anyway. Does Ken Roth think invasion can theoretically be justified by human rights abuses? Yes. Does he think UN support is required for humanitarian intervention? No. But the point is: there was no clear and present risk of slaughter by Saddam so there was no justification for an intervention at this point, despite his history of human rights abuse.

That’s it, in a nutshell. And all from a man who has been campaigning on the need for an international response to Saddam from the early nineties…

Dying of Consumption

A New Economics Foundation / ICA event panel debate, tagged as

How do we persuade people to be more ethical in their consumer choices? Is ethical consuming the preserve of the rich anyway?

…But unfortunately not much meat to this debate. The consensus seemed to be that we couldn’t rely on personal consumer choice to solve problems of poverty and environmental damage. But little agreement on how we resuscitate collective choice from the stranglehold that free market orthodoxy has imposed.

Richard Reeves made the point that for the first time in history there is a breakdown in the relationship between material wealth and happiness. Previously-and still outside the west- increased wealth correlated with increased well-being. Now we face a trade-off – our increased material wealth is cutting into those factors which we now rely on for marginal changes in our happiness (which are? security, community, free time?). It’s all, as Andrew Simms noted in one of the few occasions when he was being chirpy and constructive rather than chirpy and unconstructive, a good advert for the New Economics Foundation and the need for a New Economics.

The best point of the evening came from the floor. What do we need to do?

We need to redefine freedom as the autonomy to self-manage our lives, rather than the freedom of consumers to choose between products

Put me in mind of the Lakoff article (via Matt) about the need for progressives to stop letting conservatives define the semantic frames within which political debate occurs)