Archive for April, 2013

Materialism-Contextual Theorizing Princeton Conference

April 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Day 1:

David Lake: Ideas are not malleable, but are harder to change than so called fixed material factors. Nationalism is not easy to produce. We should think of ideas as material contexts encouraging certain outcomes and stopping others. Think of American identity as an asset for example, as a resource that is important in development.

GDP not appropriate measure of power, it is a poor substitute for wealth.

Sil: Pacifying effect of industrialization is completely erased once we recognize the externalization of violence undertaken by the European states onto the rest of the world.

Mearsheimer: Realism only right 3/4th of the time.

Logic of attractiveness of materialism, is that if we just reveal the truth, of how things really are, people will automatically adopt the solutions. Even if we get around the first problem, of showing how things really are, we have to face the problem that people do not respond to the objective problems with functional responses, just look at climate change.

Best papers were by Michael Doyle and Katzenstein. On War proneness and industrialization, and on Mongol Empire as empire lite.

Day 2:

Atul Kohli: THe objection of development studies to IR is not in materialism but in it’s extreme pro-US stance. It looks ate the interests of the US and fails to judge the interests of other countries. Nationalism and ethnicity is where materialism meets a dead end, and these two things are crucial to explain state and individual and social behavior, not material drivers.

Cathy Boone: For  Comparative PE there is no decline of natural context. A prominent strand of debate is the role of geography vs policy. Is it climate, environment, soil quality, seed, variability of environment, disease load, rainfall patterns, populations density. These would lead geography prone explanation to count out development in a place like Chad. On the other hand the policy oriented scholars believe even somewhere like Chad can see development. Elites and policy matter, look at Singapore. (no question of place of singapore in international economy). The problem for these scholars is explaining where the institutions come from.

Boone also argues that increasing ethnic tensions in Africa are a product of state policies of land tenure that divide and conquer ethnic groups that in turn deepens these cleavages which were not as deep in the beginning.

On Deudney and the lag problem, in Africa the lack of functional adaptation of institutions is clearly not a lag, it’s just not happening, there is no functional adaptation in the face of clear material detriments. PE goes to lack of social and political will over material reasons for the lack of development.  If we want to bring in material factors liike the allocation and distribution of resources (unequally), that could be a way of linking it to policy.

O’Leary: We can’t explain state strategies without referring to social psychology, ethnicity, identity … so material factors have limited explaining utility.

Austro Marxists did look at question of nationalism, Otto Bauer


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Heidegger: The Question Concerning technology

April 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Essence of a thing is the correct revealing of the thing. Essence of things exist, there is one correct way of representing things.

There are different modes of revealing the essence of things. The technological mode of revealing is essentially instrumentalist, that is any time we look at nature or other people as containers of energy to be filled and used. The hydroelectric plant set in the rhine, sets the river to producing energy, reveals the river only as energy generated. The wooden bridge set to the Rhein is aesthetically different and is not like a hydro-plant. Ultimately this comes down to an arbitrary aesthetic preference for Heidegger, a sort of romanticism. (QCT 16) He thought the German language would be the catalyst to allow the true form of revealing of objects.

If 2 people in a bar are having a drink, and one of them thinks of it as a networking opportunity, this is a technological mode of revealing.  It is the attitude of demanding that nature be controlable and usable.

Is there anything such as unadulterated nature? There is a mode of revealing for humans that is in nature, he is ok with some modifications of nature, like the wooden bridge, but the criteria seems arbitrary to him. It seems that intent and attitude matters here.

Heidegger: He is well known not for his own writings but for what people do with his writings. The most popular uses of Heidegger are when someone else uses his text to make a point by doing a specific reading.

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Decommodification of Security

April 20, 2013 Leave a comment

AB interesting proposition would come about from the recommodification of security. What if Japan paid the US outright for its security coverage, it would hire the US as a mercenary force in the style of the old Italian and Carthegian states. Then the US wouldn’t have to maintain a rhetoric of supporting democracy and wasting efforts of legitimacy, instead it would simply supply security to whoever needed it. Now this proposition obviously undermines US claims to status of world hegemon, the US gets political compliance to its demands as well as economic openness. The benefits of being hegemon of decommodifying security provisions is that instead of being paid in money in return you are paid in favors and political preponderance and preferential treatment. but the US also likes to see itself a security provider, an umbrella protector for its allies, the legitimacy of this status is a liberal one, but I would be interested in pushing an alternate framework to define and order the US relationship with its security dependents. There is a possible utility for just paying the US as a security provider and avoiding the complication of political hegemony that come with a decommodified security provision. This would take the politics out of security, which may not be a good thing, but it benefits the US by paying the costs of the role it plays as security provider, and it benefits the client countries by giving them the autonomy and flexibility that companies give to clients.

Read more…

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Occupation determining “cultural attitudes”

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

I remember Melvin Kohn’s book making the argument that people’s occupations determined their political attitudes. There is potential here to push towards theories of prerequisites of democratization. It would be interestng to relate this to technical advances. I also remember in Simon AdbuMaliq\s book in which he gives the example of a worker in Nigeria I believe making a testament that working in a metal plant made him feel that he had control over his life (by virtue of control over nature).\

I think though that the effects only provide a time window before they stop having the political influences. DO the technologies have an influence on attitudes regardless of context? Do they generate a number of possible outcomes that are in a similar class?  It seems to me that once you start a job as a steel worker you would feel empowered but over the years perhaps that attitude shift might give way to something else or reversion to older attitudes.

It would be interesting to relate this on literature on unemployment and social unrest, the absence of work as determining political and cultural attitudes.

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Annals of Espionage

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Amin Saykal: The coercive disarmament of Iraq.

While Reading Amin Saykal’s piece on Iraqi Disarmament. Interesting insight into the operation of empire and imperial orders. How UNSCOM was controlled by US and fed by CIA for the aim of toppling Saddam by supporting dissidents. He cites Hersh for this point. THis goes into the whole problem of justifying repression by authoritarian states, in a way then they were right in saying that these groups were collaborating with outside powers.

Hersh, “Annals of Espionage,” Saddam’s best friend. 34-41.

And another: US operated CIA base to overthrow Saddam from Kurdish no fly zone. Saddam supports a local party to dismantle and overrun CIA base:

Tim Weiner, “Iraqi Offensives into Kurdish Zone Disrupts U.S. Plot to Oust
Hussein,” New York Times (7 September 1996).

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Why Can’t I know what’s going on around me

The title of this post refers to a song refrain by Ghassan Rihbani. I think it might very well capture the condition of everyday life in Lebanon. A degree of uncertainty of whose account is true and confusion around the mean by which means to arbitrate between competing accounts is central to my political experience. The problem is captured in the absence of an authority which defines truth or against which truth can be used. This is not just the condition of Lebanon but is spreading to become the condition of the world. These are the effects of the communication revolution, the rise of multiple competing accounts with only the reader to arbitrate between them is emblematic of this.

In Lebanon uncertainty is heightened because the official institutions through which politics is supposed to happen are mere fronts. All the action takes place behind closed doors and the actors are unknown. It could be the Russian ambassador, or the Qatari delegate or the American Embassy representative who determines the stability or instability of political life in Lebanon. In other places it seems to me (at least in the developed world) the actors are at least clear.

What is prompting this are recent articles on North Korea and the Syrian civil war. Why is the American account better than the nationalist one?  Why is Al manar’s account which is consistently different from Al Arabiya’s account better or worse. Recently Al Manar Cited another website that claimed that the recent destruction of an 750BC Jewish temple was a Mossad operation done with the aid of the FSA (Free Syrian Army) Jabhat Al Nusra (Salafists of the Al Qaeda type) Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. I mean this is a case where the facts are crazy enough that one must assume that this account is surely false. But how can we discredit it without evidence? I choose this example because it is so extreme but examples of these conflicting accounts of events are pervasive. One only needs to glance at the coverage of different newspapers to get a sense of the difficulties of arbitration.

I’m sure if I wanted to take this seriously I would consider the writings of the monism-dualism debate, but they seem dissatisfying to me because it seems that they do not appreciate the destructive influence of uncertainty. Or perhaps the heightened awareness of it in our time. Here I think I am being presumptuous. Is our time even that special? That they thought of these problems before (God vs Nature, ultimate truth and Reality) and that it is one of the oldest paradoxes of philosophy (Epistemology) should indicate that a lot of thinking has been done to resolve this question. The point however is that this question is ultimately unresolvable. But this isn’t a satisfying answer for the question of the how one can lead a life amidst such intense uncertainty. Uncertainty about which actors and which factors control and determine political outcomes.

On a personal note, this is why I am so drawn to the longue duree stuff. The long trends of shifts in agricultural productivity and population sizes gives a sense of comfort. It is out of our control but it is at least measurable. It is also easier to make objective authoritative knowledge claims about things like population sizes and types of staples than other variables. But still as an account of what is going on, they are inadequate, vague, broad, long-term and have little to say about the short-term. Even worse implicit in this view is a dualist assumption about the knowable nature of reality. It is not human actions (at least directly) that determine political, social, and economic outcomes, but the larger natural environment. But can this be more than just a banal stating of the obvious? The set of questions that this approach answers are all very big but also limited. It seems at this point we have reached some kind of consensus about it and further work is not producing equivalent returns.

I guess a final question is if I should even accept that certainty is possible. I am reminded of the historical criteria of factitude used by Arab scholars and wonder about their adequacy as well. If we want to embrace the enlightenment and behavioralism then we must discard all past knowledge and start from scratch everytime. For we cannot even trust the accounts in books to be true. If I want to know what happened to Hariri then I need to become an expert in forensices, phone networking technology and a long list of other specializations. The previous sentence makes it seem that what objective accounts require are trust; it is true that the lack of trust is an important element in the lack of authoritative accounts. But even absolute trust can be turned into doubt by injecting alternative account. The truly skeptical will compare all accounts and attempt to establish their veracity.

Anyway this is just some rambling that I was hoping might tie into a description of the information distribution in orders that are empires. A core with more certain knowledge and edges where certainty and causality vanish. After Sykes Picot how can any account not be taken seriously? Weather manipulation, earthquake generation, funding of terrorist groups, funding of labor unions etc… all of these could possibly be supported by foreign powers, acts of nature, generative from society etc… And there is no reason why we should discount any explanation out of hand. Again though I am thinking of the arguments for the existence of God, the flying spaghetti monster, the invisible unicorn sitting in my bed right now, and the argument of whether these  should be considered or whether it would be a waste of time attempting to disprove them is always in there. This must be a central topic in all theorists, I need to read more.

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