Archive for the ‘Quote/Snapshot’ Category

Locke’s original question travelling through the ages

Well, not Locke per se, but this is an old question that I have seen subtly hidden in many texts produced today. Especially Political Economy texts, and even texts on the nature of knowledge and human society (I’m think Berger and Luckman, social construction of reality)

As Locke put it: If God made all men equal, then what explains the huge variations in wealth and power that we see today. Pretty much the basic causes of inequality question. Although Locke goes on to answer it in his own way, basing it on property and labor, to my mind there is no other answer today than established arrangements historically produced. There is no legitimate reason why one person should have more than another (aside from domination which is not legitimate). This is especially clear if one believes that god created all men to be equal (not women ofcourse).  Liberals may justify it by focusing on hard work and labor or creativity, but that concept has loopholes and historical counterexamples big enough to drive a continent through (or three).

The economist solution is elegant, ignore it, assume that people start with given endowments and they give for what they desire. This erases the question of the original sin of primitive accumulation. Actually Smith, Marx and Weber all recognize the origins of property in exploitation and expropriation. Each takes a different position on this though.

Maybe one answer is that god did not make all humans equal. Still any answer that base it on property rights or any right cannot be taken seriously.

Categories: Quote/Snapshot

Knowledge production questions: More lessons from Feminism and Post-co

I often like to say that when reading any text one must always ask: under what conditions did it arrive to me, and under what conditions was it written?

After the overview of the contributions of feminism to scholarship, especially strong objectivity I would add 3 more questions to ask of any text.

Who is this written by? Who is this written for? And who is this written about?

The first is the easiest one, locating the author, his position in society, relations to power structures, his world-view and structures of privilege that he is embedded in. The second one is more difficult, this is not just about the audience of the text, but the body that has commissioned or funded the text. Or even indirectly about the social questions that this text seeks to relate to. Answering the question of why states go to war for example is written for states, for heads of state in particular with a conception of power as domination and security as state boundaries. The second question, who is this for, is the most important one I think. It gives a lot of insight into the choices that a scholar makes to represent the world. Finally who is this about. This question is also more nuanced than simply saying it is about one country or a group of people. This is from post-co, when colonial scholars write about the colonized they are not writing neutrally, they are writing for a certain purpose (based on what they think is important) but also about a certain subject. The terrorist, the native, the savage. This is to say that the subject is not a neutral objective category existing in real life, rather it is the referent to which the author is pointing to which is far less multidimensional than the real thing. The Egyptian peasant for example as a subject is not a person, but a class of actor seen as a particular representation of something the author has in mind, In this case it might be poor, backward, superstitious, stagnant … This is particularly true when we write about the decontextualized subject.

So back to the first two points, Under what conditions did this arrive to me. This is particularly important when reading classics like Hobbes, Thucydides, or lets take Weber in this case. Weber was introduced by Parsons as a counter to Marx, thereby emphasizing the culture/ non-material parts of his work. How did the text I am reading now come to reach my hands, who kept it safe, who translated it, why did they do this. What was the publishing house, what role did the editors play, what language was it in, what format does it come in… This and a whole number of other questions are important to know before starting to read any text. Who is introducing it into the present and for what purpose. What role do they hope that this scholarship has to play. What are the structures and social conditions that allow this scholarship to emerge as it is when it gets to me. This is related to post-colonialism as a label and definition. It should not however be taken as an excuse not to look at the content but rather to supplement our understanding of it.

The second point of under what conditions was this written, I now find has parallels with the Cambridge school of history, a text is never an absolute statement, when it is written it is written for a particular interlocutor, for particular problem spaces, and in relation to existing texts and conditions at the time which it is responding to. Hobbes was writing in the English civil war, Marx under sharp industrialization and the beginning of capitalism. This holds true for contemporary writers as well.  The first part of this point is to look at the context under which the scholar was writing, what political and social issues were important, was the author under duress, in poverty, in wealth … The second part as per the Cambridge school is to focus on the meaning of terms used at the time, who is the author directing his work towards, what questions seem to be important, even pressing a response. Has he been embarrassed by a colleague or is he in heated debate. Is the author in a political party or a government position.

To sum up: Of any piece of produced knowledge we must ask the following: Who is this for, who is this by, who is this about, under what conditions did it reach me, under what conditions was it written.

Uncertainty effects, causes, and living with

Writing about uncertainty for PE, I am struck by the lack of articles on the psychological impact of uncertainty, the causes of uncertainty and strategies to cope with uncertainty. The literature that does exist is about computer modeling, and the definition of uncertainty generally tends to be seen as risk, or as unknown outcomes. Rather what I have in mind is a complete chaos, the lack of predictability and the inability to plan for the future, or to know what reactions you actions will lead to. This comes from a personal motivation to examine the consequences of political uncertainty and disempowerment in the MENA region and how people cope with such an environment. No one knows what is going on or why, and what they can do to make it better.

I remember Simon Abou Maliq mentioned that in such situations, residents of African cities resort to explaining the sudden inflow of wealth to a person using magic, superstition, or conspiracy. I’m not sure but I would think it explain the high levels of general anxiety and paranoia which I have heard from my psych friends exist in the region. As to causes of uncertainty, I do not really know the political reasons behind it. Perhaps uncertainty itself is a strategy of being in such a violent and disempowered world. Or it could be a strategy of disempowerment. The fact remains you cannot know who is telling the truth, whose account of history is more accurate, who is lying about their motives and about what happened, why things happen around you, and what the future will be like.

Maybe I am just not looking in the right places for literature on this, but it seems to me that it is understudied.



Categories: Quote/Snapshot

Martha Howell: Commerce before Capitalism (Definition of Capitalism)

Interesting definition of Capitalism here. Not market production, or trade in a market, that has been present historically since the first human societies. That is to say the market is not what is unique about capitalism, every culture has had market exchange, “take surplus from production and trade it” via a third unit of measure like money. So it is not money either. Capitalism is not market production. People who live by buying and selling or negotiate for people who want to buy and sell are not capitalists, that is not unique to any period of life. There were always active markets and traders. So maybe we should stop using capitalism. Rather in a Marxist sense Capitalism is an attitude, which is production for the purpose of procuring a surplus. C-m-C’ basically. Note the focus on production rather than trade, the industrialist rather than the merchant. “people produce for sale” is the central definition of capitalism. People make things in order to sell them. This is an interesting definition of capitalism that relies on the way people relate to their own labor and the products of that labor. They don’t care what they make, only what they can make to sell. The object is to sell, to make a profit. Howell further says that people are compelled to invest most of the profits in production and the sociopolitical infrastructure that allows them to keep and expand that money. The object of production becomes making more money. It is a world of a certain logic which governs production. Peasants and subsistence agriculturalists and artisans are not capitalists. Ofcourse they go to market, but the purpose is not to produce surplus and profit. Obviously this is an ideal type of Capitalism, even today no one really only produces to profit more and they often spend on personal expenses or for non-profit reasons. But still as an ideal type, this is the logic of capitalism.

Not that the logic of pre-capitalist was irrational, it was a different rationality, The ends were different. The values were different. The relation to property was different. Not everything was for sale. (Almost sounds like Heidegger’s instrumental logic). Relations to land even in Europe were communal, everything on the land was owned in common by a family, or many people who could claim revenue of that land. Because land produces profit perpetually. Land is pretty much priceless.

Capitalism emerges when people start acting by the profit motive.

Moveable objects volatile, can be destroyed or make you a lot of money (like a ship).




February 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Deudney: geopolitics and change

In the period of 1920-1930 there were far more geopolitical analysts in  Germany than IR in UK, US or France. On the lost tradition of geopolitics.

Categories: Quote/Snapshot


November 20, 2012 Leave a comment


Genghis Khan killed so many people (40 million) that enough cultivated land turned to forest that it offset 700 million tons of carbon. That is the amount we produced in a year in 2011. Holy shit. So many interesting links here, to ancient deforestation, the effects of the Mongol empire on the world etc…  So period is 1170s until mid 1200s. It was also listed on Qi after minute 9 somewhere


Categories: Quote/Snapshot

Benedetto Groce

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

“The whole of history and man are incorporated in every event and can be rediscovered at will – on condition, no doubt, that we know what to add to that fragment that it did not originally contain.”

From Fernand Braudel, History and the social sciences. On the event and its place in history and history’s place in the event. “Often it (event) is an integral part of profound movements, and through the play, factitious or not, of cause and effect, it becomes part of a unit of time much longer than its own. An event may be part of an indefinite chain of events and underlying realities, which seemingly cannot be separated from one another.” (2)

Categories: Quote/Snapshot