29 April 2011

Congrats to the newlyweds

I particularly enjoyed the sermon from His Excellency Richard Chartres, Bishop of London on the happy occasion; it makes for especially good reading on such a day as this. It is a shame I didn't get up earlier to watch the service, but to HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge: congratulations, and all my best wishes for your future good health and happiness!

24 April 2011

Pointless video post - ‘Revolution Calling’ by Queensrÿche!

As those in my development policy and administration class can attest, I’ve never been a fan of North American heavy metal (with the exception of Devin Townsend), but still I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to discover Queensrÿche’s early stuff - thank you, Joel, for bringing them to my attention! Operation: Mindcrime is possibly one of the most sublime and masterly pieces of prog-power I have ever heard; it’s right up there with Angra’s latest Shakespearean-themed release. (Of course, I enjoy both the operatic and the political overtones, pinko commie moonbat that I am.) Anyhow, gentle readers, please allow your ears to embrace the awesomeness that is early Queensrÿche; I will return with more substantive mud and mayhem after finals are finished.

21 April 2011

Object lessons in how atheists should not comport themselves in online debates


Also, thank you, Robert Farley. Speaking for those of us who happen to believe that there may indeed be a teleological dimension to human existence (i. e. a god of some kind), I can assure Ms Marcotte that we are every bit as sincere about our debates on eschatology as sociologists and economists (who can equally be accused of 'making shit up') are about their debates on modernisation.

07 April 2011

I got the socialist blues

Left to right: Dr Michael Sandel, the Rt Hon Maurice Glasman, Dr Wang Hui

I have recently been reading the Guild Socialist blog featuring two debating points of view on the phenomenon of ‘blue Labour’ – a school of thought led by the Rt Hon Maurice Glasman, Baron Glasman that borrows heavily from the guild-socialist tradition (GDH Cole via John Ruskin and William Morris) and the heterodox economic school of Karl Polanyi. A supportive if cautiously sceptical article by Matt Smith makes the point that Blue Labour offers at least in concept an alternative to the neoliberal, globalising and statist policies of Tony Blair’s New Labour. A couple of more critical articles by Andrew Coates are highly critical both of Blue Labour’s political positioning and of its localism.

I must admit to being, at least in concept, more supportive of blue Labour than either of these two perspectives. Perhaps it is, in part, a result of my having been in China. The centralist directives of the reform era have indeed eliminated a broad swath of poverty from rural China, but at the cost of destroying rural power in the interests of large developers. Central governments – democratic or authoritarian – are too often too deep in bed with moneyed interests which simply do not care about the welfare of ordinary people; unless they are regulated by tradition, they will run roughshod over everything common people value which the market does not.

I have remarked before on my historical position that the Cultural Revolution directly paved the way for the reform period; once all of the Buddhist monasteries, Daoist temples, churches and universities had been looted and their worshippers, professors and students driven out, they could all the more readily be renovated into museums or commercial office parks. The left having thus discredited itself, nothing would be able to stop the right from transferring greater and greater proportions of wealth upwards in the name of progress – and anyone wishing to retain older forms of land tenure for security (whether Mao-era collective or traditional commons) could be easily and conveniently dismissed as ‘backwards’ or ‘lazy’, while all the while an ever-increasing proportion of the rural population found itself all but forced off the land they had farmed, to try their luck as migrant labour with zero security. So while I can admire the work that China has done in reducing poverty, I can also note with a critical eye that they have yet a long way to go, and that they should listen once again to voices more concerned with distributive justice and actually building the 小康社会 (sustainable society) rather than those reaping the lion’s share of benefits from 经济发展 and 现代化 (‘economic development’ and ‘modernisation’); moreover, they should listen to those who do not necessarily believe that all countries must necessarily follow the development path of the West.

I must admit, too, to being influenced by the downright bizarre way that Chinese politics has begun to shape itself. On the one hand, the Chinese neoliberal right finds itself in the position of wanting to criticise the state on an ideological basis but supporting much of its reform mandate; on the other, the Chinese New Left is more favourable to the state in principle, but warns against all of the globalising, culturally-alienating and destabilising aspects of state-driven reform. I personally feel that the way the New Left is framing the debate is pretty much a political non-starter, even though several New Left thinkers (such as Wang Hui 汪晖) have a number of intriguing and even persuasive analyses. In one sense, Wang’s thought is brutally antediluvian (even Daoist!) in a way which appeals intrinsically to me – he critiques both post-Deng socialism and the newer forms of neoliberalism for misappropriating Chinese cultural categories for their own ideological ends, and ends up questioning even ‘modernisation’ as an appropriate category. In another sense, Wang is highly radical, attempting to articulate a distinctly Chinese alternative to the dualisms of Western modernity. (The careful reader should note that already I have done a disservice to the man’s brilliant writing by myself succumbing to this very sort of dualism!)

In the same way, I have come to believe that both Western thought and praxis are in crisis. Andrew’s essay on localism is a good place to start. Firstly, though I think there are good critiques to be made of Amitai Etzioni and Michael Sandel, I am not sure that his really hold water at all. Mr Coates is more than welcome to correct me if I am misreading his argument, but it seems to me that he is trying to recruit them into support of a project which fragments society into different ethnic-national and religious-cultural interest groups in perpetual conflict. On the contrary, Amitai Etzioni’s Communitarian Network has argued both that ethical and legal pluralism have limits, and that there is a legitimate place for national government; and Michael Sandel was busy punching holes (holes which thoughtful socialists and critical theorists ought to have been punching) in a liberal project of John Rawls which was at its root a justification for market capitalism and inequality!

Though I can certainly sympathise with Mr Coates’ desire to get away from a fragmenting pluralism and to embrace ‘democratic universal values’, he does not specify precisely what these values are, nor how they are to be imparted. As students of public policy have known for a long time since the collapse of the Lasswell school, democracy and universality are in a perpetual dialectic tension; this is the entire argumentative point of the very communitarians he dismisses! This stance also betrays a strong Eurocentrism, since in the Third World (at least in China, in Central Asia and in Latin America), the discourse on ‘democratic univeral values’ has already been coopted by neoliberal and neoconservative agents of a modernisation programme parallel to the capitalist West (running roughshod – often literally – over the interests of the working class, who are often embedded in and self-constructed out of traditional communities)!

There is also the existential irony inherent in this position, that the normative emptiness of ‘democratic universal values’ (as commonly interpreted) is often used as justification, or at least excuse, for the very pluralism Mr Coates rightly sees as destructive. Once one adopts the stance that both the formal and informal instruments of social action must be bent toward the radical empowerment of the working class, you have already made a normative, teleological social orientation, or ethos, indispensable! This ethos must encourage people to envision more than simply the fulfilment of a conspicuous-consumer lifestyle; it must encourage creativity and aggressive generosity. And this orientation is very, very difficult to build in an atomised and commitment-free capitalist modernity, except – well, from the ground up, through solidary associations, which brings us right back to the project of ‘blue socialism’. If one truly wants to get away from the ‘unreasoning prejudice’ of the bourgeois, this is where one begins.

On Wisconsin

Well, it appears that the controversy surrounding Dr Cronon and the open-records request of the state Republican Party has subsided, for the moment at least. The public statement issued by the University’s Chancellor Biddy Martin, though probably not as tough in terms of action as I would have liked, was probably nevertheless a politically savvy move that could assuage the fears expressed by Dr Cronon and his supporters about the threat to academic freedom and confidentiality (while still giving the Republicans some of the emails they wanted). I’m glad to see that the academy still sees that it carries, to some extent, a sacred trust (though many academics would not be caught dead using such language), and that their participatory ethos between student and professor is a part of that trust.

Meanwhile, on the threat of immanent shutdown of the federal government… John Quiggin has a good take on the matter over at Crooked Timber, though I am sceptical any truly substantive popular worker-rights movement (such as that taking place in Wisconsin – some truly impressive petition-driving for the recall of Dan Kapanke having been done already) will come of it. To some extent, I feel that the extension of such movements to the national stage has a diluting effect that makes elite capture much more likely.

That’s all for now – choir awaits.

05 April 2011

Pointless video post - ‘Natural High’ by Hammerfall

Yes, they’re cheesy; yes, they’re hokey; yes, their video has an armour-clad warrior with glowing red eyes wielding a magic hammer and riding a giant eagle that looks like it came straight off the Colbert Report coming to the defence of damsels-in-distress and fighting a castle full of vampires. And yet, somehow, Hammerfall still manage to be awesome with numbers like ‘Natural High’. Hammerfall was another one of those power-metal bands I uncovered on the FTGG blog, and they still pretty much epitomise the power-metal genre... for better and for worse.