Getting TINA (There-Is-No-Alternative) wrong

–An obstinate truth remains that the costs to society of confronting limitless disaster scenarios is set by the dangers of ignoring the cratering disasters easier to identify, assess and know (think 9.0 earthquakes and follow-ons).

–The painter Gérard Fromanger said a blank canvas is also ‘‘black with everything every painter has painted before me’’. If also, as the painter František Kupka felt, “to abstract is to eliminate,” then stripping away the layers of black-on-black is akin to abstracting blankness.

Yet how do far too many react when confronting the opaque canvasses of policy? Let’s sweep the table clear, make a clean slate, start over again, strip it all clear. Few see these for the dangerous abstractions they are.

–I can’t be the only one struck by the affinity between those 19th century novels whose plots were driven by coincidence after coincidence all the way to a happy ending and today’s crisis narratives where one mistake after another has led to certain disaster.

–“Do-something-now!” Said with the same urgency felt by a 19th century Yankee poet wanting to commemorate another Civil War battle? The point of a failed future is that it is not reliably good-enough.

Preknown-known-unknown and the implications for “unintended consequences”

If we start with the commonplace that analysis and deliberation center around what is known or not, then the boundaries of the known blur not just into the unknown, but also into the preknown.

The latter is the preexisting knowledge that one is born into and “takes for granted.” In his essay, “The Well-Informed Citizen,” Alfred Schütz, the sociologist, described it this way:

The zone of things taken for granted may be defined as that sector of the world which, in connection with the theoretical or the practical problem we are concerned with at a given time, does not seem to need further inquiry, although we do not have clear and distinct insight into and understanding of its structure. What is taken for granted is, until invalidation, believed to be simply “given” and “given-as-it-appears-to-me”–that is, as I or others whom I trust have experienced and interpreted it. It is this zone of things taken for granted within which we have to find our bearings. All our possible questioning for the unknown arises only within such a world of supposedly preknown things, and presupposes its existence.

–One consequence of ignoring the blurred borders of preknown, known and unknown is: We end up acting as if it does not matter that it takes preknowing and knowing-enough to avoid entering into the unstudied conditions of the unknown. If Schütz is right, the preknown is where we “find our bearings” with respect to the known and unknown.

–So what?

It turns out that all the talk about “unintended consequences of human action” is itself unintentionally simplistic:

  • “Unintended?”: When the preknown is the platform that has nothing to do with intentions but that enables us to take our bearings so that other factors in the known and unknown carry the weight of argument about “unintended consequences.”
  • “Consequences?”: Rather than that blurred borders of knowing, preknowing, and not-knowing we chalk up also to contingency and exigency.
  • “Unintended” + “consequences”?: When too often what we are really dealing with are contingencies with disproportionate effects about which we have little or no causal understanding.

To rephrase the point, “unintended consequences of human action” is a coherent phrase only by missing the rest of that overwritten palimpsest called “human action,” off of which the phrase is cobbled together and read.

Principal source

Schütz, A. (1964). “The Well-Informed Citizen.” In: Alfred Schütz, Collected Papers II: Studies in Social Theory. Edited and introduced by A. Brodersen. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

What health experts didn’t see and won’t, unless the next time around. . .

I

My introduction to the policy side of pandemics was in 2005, when I read two articles, “Preparing for the next pandemic” by Michael T. Osterholm and “The next pandemic?” by Laurie Garrett, both in Foreign Affairs (July/August 2005). I think any reader today would find these articles prescient indeed. While some numbers haven’t turned out as supposed, the articles are spot-on in my view when it comes a COVID-19’s major first-order impacts on mortality rates, medical shortages, security, food systems, finance, trade, and economics.

The problem is, to telegraph ahead, other newer understandings of the current pandemic may be obscuring the very idea and necessity of pandemic preparedness.

II

What is by no means clear at present is what’s happening to the 2005 version of the next-pandemic. That policy discourse is being scored over by all manner of other issues at best only touched upon by the likes of Osterholm, Garrett and others 15 years ago.

To see what this means, turn to the tide-race of articles on what to do about COVID-19. Below are titles of only a few among many reports to be found in the COVID-19 folder of the international aggregator, Syllabus.com, over six days between April 23 – 30, 2020:

Tech Giants Are Using This Crisis to Colonize the Welfare System

The COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis: The Loss and Trauma Event of Our Time

Migrant workers face further social isolation and mental health challenges during coronavirus pandemic

‘Calamitous’: domestic violence set to soar by 20% during global lockdown

The Fog of COVID-19 War Propaganda

The Case for Drafting Doctors

Covid-19 Threatens to Starve Africa

Covid-19: the controversial role of big tech in digital surveillance

For a more equal world: Coronavirus pandemic shows why ensuring gender justice is an urgent task

COVID-19 in the Middle East: Is this pandemic a health crisis or a war?

Urban Warfare: Housing Justice Under a Global Pandemic

New Age of Destructive Austerity After the Coronavirus

The Coronavirus and the End of Economics

Covid-19 is ‘an affront to democracy’

Health vs. Privacy: How Other Countries Use Surveillance To Fight the Pandemic

World Bank warns of collapse in money sent home by migrant workers

Coronavirus: will call centre workers lose their ‘voice’ to AI?

How Can Low-Income Countries Cope With Coronavirus Debt?

Is Our War with the Environment Leading to Pandemics?

The World Order Is Broken. The Coronavirus Proves It.

The West has found a new enemy: China replaces Islam

Will COVID-19 Make Us Less Democratic and More like China?

Pandemic Science Out of Control

Tech giants are profiting — and getting more powerful — even as the global economy tanks

The Legal and Medical Necessity of Abortion Care Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Will a child-care shortage prevent America’s reopening?

Covid-19 or the pandemic of mistreated biodiversity

Coronavirus, war, and the new inequality

Firms in EU tax havens cannot be denied Covid bailouts

This Crisis Demands an End to Mass Incarceration

I suspect you’d have to search long and hard in earlier warnings of the next pandemic for the above specificities–which by the way are but the tip of the iceberg of COVID reportage still at the time of writing.

Of course, you’d be right to conclude that these titles reflect the widespread and deep impacts of the corona crisis for society, economy, culture and more across the world. You’d also be a fool not to see pre-existing policy agendas glomming onto the crisis as of way of furthering their own important priorities—be they inequality, climate change, labor, migrants, and the rest—that have risen to more attention and visibility since 2005.

III

So what? We need a 2020 version of “the next pandemic,” not one from 2005. True, but that point is pushed further by the obvious question when it comes to pandemic preparedness.

How could we be better prepared for the future if now, visibly more so than in 2005, we insist pandemics are caused by unresolved, interrelated issues over, inter alios, climate change, the international order, neoliberal economics, poverty, inequality, national welfare systems, global and local injustice, privacy rights, gender and reproductive rights, biodiversity loss and species extinction, geopolitics, cross-border migration, along with other claimants listed above and more?

If predicting the future is the mess we are in now, then the next pandemic is the one currently underway as just described.

IV

So what are we to do? I don’t have an answer, but I have one suggestion.

It’s clear that the professionals who should have been informed about the dangers of the 2020 pandemic were not among the people addressed by most, if not virtually all public health experts. Here I mean the professionals who operate in real time our critical infrastructures, like water, electricity, telecommunications and transportation. No one told those men and women in the control rooms and out in the field that COVID-19 would wreak such havoc as it did in systems mandated to be so reliable.

From our interviews in Oregon and Washington State, it’s obvious no one predicted the actual, mega-impacts and interruptions that COVID has had on the real-time operations of essential infrastructures. You probably already know essential workers were sent home to work offsite. Less known perhaps is the fact that those on-site had to get vaccinated, and some very experienced personnel left. Far less appreciated, COVID put a brake on major infrastructure investment, improvement and management activities. Said one logistic manager of his state’s response, “All [Covid-19] planning happened on the fly, we were building the plane as it moved, we’d never seen anything like this.”

In effect, public health experts were talking to the wrong decisionmakers. The experts seemed to operate under two misleading beliefs: their public role is to convince key politicians and officials about what to do, even if privately they “know” the real problems are politicians and politics.

Both beliefs remain fall short in a pandemic world. We wouldn’t have a foundational economy, we wouldn’t have markets, if it weren’t for electricity, water, telecoms and transportation being reliable. Yet to my knowledge the professionals responsible for real-time operations in the infrastructures were never specifically warned, were never specifically talked to, and certainly never had a chance to listen to our pandemic experts and ask their questions.

Consulting these critical infrastructure people the next time around won’t answer the questions of inequality, poverty, war and pestilence but would go some way to increase pandemic preparedness and response.

When it comes to preparing for disasters, fine-grained failure scenarios are what matter

–Fine-grained analyses of public policy and management are always welcome, but they not to be confused with the policy and management relevance that comes with more granular failure scenarios for those policies and management interventions.

–For example, the authors of what is in my opinion a very fine report conclude that significant gaps exist between what’s proposed in the EU AI Act (concerning artificial intelligence) and the existing EU digital legislation (formally “the digital acquis”):

We identify eight key areas where challenges may emerge, and make the following policy recommendations: 1) there is a need to clarify and align the terminology with the legal categories and notions in existing EU legislation related to AI; 2) negotiators should ensure better fine-tuning of the interactions of the act with sector-specific rules (notably in the health sector); 3) the act should be made consistent with EU data protection rules, for example regarding the lawfulness of personal data processing; 4) the act’s risk-based approach features a number of loopholes that need to be addressed to improve legal certainty for AI providers and users; 5) while the act aims to complement existing product safety rules, it requires more detailed provisions to allow for meaningful integration with EU acquis; 6) the act introduces a weak enforcement scheme, which should be strengthened and aligned with other digital policies; 7) EU legislators should tackle the growing divergence between the stated goals of the act and emerging data transfer rules; and 8) the act would benefit from exemptions aimed at promoting scientific research.

Bogucki, A., A. Engler, C. Perarnaud, and A. Renda (2022). THE AI ACT AND EMERGING EU DIGITAL ACQUIS: Overlaps, gaps and inconsistencies. CEPS: Brussels (accessed online on November 3 2022 at https://www.ceps.eu/ceps-publications/the-ai-act-and-emerging-eu-digital-acquis/)

Let’s assume you find their analysis as compelling as I do.

If so, the first question then isn’t, “Who’s going to adopt the recommendations and, if so, how soon and with what modifications?” but rather: “Who would implement the finalized recommendations and what are implementors’ scenarios for failing to do so?”

Implementation gaps are always there; realism about those to fill the gaps or fail in doing often isn’t.

Drylands, remittances and the twelve rules for radicals

–Any number of radical proposals have been made for addressing problems of the globe’s rangelands, including: the end of capitalism and extractivism, redistribution of wealth, and reparations.

In an important sense, though, these are not be radical enough. I have in mind the “twelve rules for radicals” of the late organizer, Saul Alinsky, two in particular being:

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

https://sliwainsights.com/saul-alinskys-12-rules-for-radicals/

–By extension, use the logic of capitalism, extractivism and financial accumulation to benefit rangelands and pastoralists, e.g.:

1. Start with the EU’s Emission Trading System for CO2 emission credits. Imagine member/non-member states and companies are now able to enter the ETS to buy credits directed to offsetting GHG emissions in dryland localities committed to transitioning to environmentally friendly production systems and livelihoods based in or around livestock.

2. Start with the European COVID-19 initiative, NextGenerationEU (issuance of joint debt by EU member states to fund pandemic recovery). Imagine employee support schemes under this or some such initiative, with one aim being to augment remittances of resident migrants back to dryland household members and communities.

3. Stay with those resident migrants sending back remittances. Imagine other EU-financed schemes to improve the greening of EU localities heavily resident with migrants (e.g. subsidies to EU residents for more sustainable lifestyles in the EU). Think of this as a form of “reversed green extractivism,” in this case on behalf of dryland households by EU member states for EU-migrant communities.

Now extend this kind of thinking to the likes of G7 and many OECD countries. The aim, again, is not to dismiss current radical proposals, but to find opportunities to exploit all twelve of Alinsky’s rules for radicals.

What do you mean “we,” white man?

It made sense once to ask: What should we be reading now to be as collectively agitated as were readers of Michael Harrington’s The Other America (think: the War on Poverty)? What should we viewing now as collectively agitating as was the Vietnam TV footage (think: the anti-war movement)?

The issue is those “we’s” and “agitations”. Isn’t it better to say the reverse today: The “we’s” are now expanding and differentiating because of agitations across now multiple different media and genres?

It’s not just difficult to choose which medium to best stir things up. It’s that intermedial we’s are more difficult having been stirred up–not just by reading, writing and viewing, but sonically, aurally, tactually, sensually and the hybrids, all now more relevant than ever to “policy and management.”

Softening up intractable issues for a fresh rethinking: ten examples from the humanities and arts (resent)

I understand why there are all those tracts “in defense of the humanities and arts.” But the direct relevance of the humanities for policy and management has always been obvious, irrespective of the critics and defenders. Here are ten examples from my own practice:

1. Climate emergency parsed through a poem by Jorie Graham

–I liken one of our complexity challenges to that of reading Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain” as if it were still part of the news (it had been written less than two weeks after the sinking of the Titanic).

So too the challenge of reading the first sequence of poems in Jorie Graham’s Fast (2017, Ecco HarperCollinsPublishers). The 17 pages are extraordinary, not just because of pulse driving her lines, but also for what she evokes. In her unfamiliar words, “we are in systemcide”.

–To read the sequence—“Ashes,” “Honeycomb,” “Deep Water Trawling,” and five others—is to experience all manner of starts—“I spent a lifetime entering”—and conjoined ends (“I say too early too late”) with nary a middle in between (“Quick. You must make up your/answer as you made up your//question.”)

Because hers is no single story, she sees no need to explain or explicate. By not narrativizing the systemicide into the architecture of beginning, middle and end, she prefers, I think, evoking the experience of now-time as end-time:

action unfolded in no temporality--->anticipation floods us but we/never were able--->not for one instant--->to inhabit time… 

She achieves the elision with long dashes or —>; also series of nouns without commas between; and questions-as-assertions no longer needing question marks (“I know you can/see the purchases, but who is it is purchasing me—>can you please track that…”). Enjambment and lines sliced off by wide spaces also remind us things are not running.

–Her lines push and pull across the small bridges of those dashes and arrows. To read this way is to feel, for me, what French poet and essayist, Paul Valery, described in a 1939 lecture:

Each word, each one of the words that allow us to cross the space of a thought so quickly, and follow the impetus of an idea which rates its own expression, seems like one of those light boards thrown across a ditch or over a mountain crevasse to support the passage of a man in quick motion. But may he pass lightly, without stopping—and especially may he not loiter to dance on the thin board to try its resistance! The frail bridge at once breaks or falls, and all goes down into the depths.

The swiftness with which I cross her bridges is my experience of the rush of crisis. I even feel pulled forward to phrases and lines that I haven’t read yet. Since this is my experience of systems going wrong, it doesn’t matter to me whether Graham is a catastrophizer or not. She takes the certainties and makes something still new.

–I disagree about the crisis—for me, it has middles with more mess than beginnings and ends—but that in no way diminishes or circumscribes my sense she’s right when it comes to systemcide: “You have to make it not become/waiting…”

2. Finding value through different genres

–Capitalism, imperialism, militarism, racism, nationalism, atavism: with that line-up, who’s got a chance? Isn’t it better to start at the other end and answer: “What really-existing political conditions and cultural practices allow for the expression of fallibility?”

Why so? Because we want the practice of finding value in things to continue.

–What is finding value ahead? It’s less like a prediction than, pace modern cosmology, a report from a distant planet, wholly like ours except its present has fast forwarded in a way that remains unignorable for ours.

No wonder, then, rapid change isn’t ignored and utopians want something more. No wonder poems matter, since poems favor words many people don’t know and new words can be new worlds. Including worlds uncolonized by our very own historically-contingent “ism’s.”

3. What Shakespeare’s missing lines tell us about war

The playhouse manuscript, Sir Thomas More, has been called “an immensely complex palimpsest of composition, scribal transcription, rewriting, censorship and further additions that features multiple hands”. One of those hands was Shakespeare–and that has contemporary relevance.

–The authoritative Arden Shakespeare text renders a passage from Shakespeare’s Scene 6 as follows (this being Thomas More speaking to a crowd of insurrectionists opposing Henry VIII):

What do you, then,
Rising ’gainst him that God Himself installs,
But rise ’gainst God? What do you to your souls
In doing this? O, desperate as you are,
Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,
That you, like rebels, lift against the peace,
Lift up for peace; and your unreverent knees,
Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven.
Tell me but this: what rebel captain…

The last two lines, however, had been edited by another of the play’s writers (“Hand C”), deleting the bolded lines Shakespeare had originally written,

Make them your feet. To kneel to be forgiven
Is safer wars than ever you can make
Whose discipline is riot.
In, in to your obedience. While even your hurly
Cannot proceed but by obedience.

What rebel captain….

What has been effaced away by the deletion is, first, the notion that contrition is itself a kind of war and a safer war at that.

–According to the Arden Shakespeare, “The act of contrition might be described as wars because the former rebels would enlist themselves in the struggle of good and evil, and would fight against their own sin of rebellion.” In either case—contrition or rebellion—obedience is required. Actually, nothing was less safe than rebellion whose “discipline is riot”.

What has also been scored out, in other words, from Shakespeare’s original passage is the clear accent on contrition and peace over continued upheaval.

–But the absence of contrition by those involved in the formulation and implementation of war policies is precisely what we have seen and are seeing today.

For to prioritize contrition would mean refocusing obedience from battle to a very different struggle in securing peace and security, a mission in which our ministries of interior and defence are notably inferior, be they in Russia, the US, China or elsewhere.

4. Global Climate Sprawl

You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet. . .It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.

I want to suggest that Global Climate Change isn’t just a bad mess; it’s a spectacularly, can’t-keep-our-eyes-off-it, awful mess of getting it wrong, again and again. To my mind, GCC is a hot mess–both senses of the term–now sprawled all over place and time. It is inextricably, remorselessly part and parcel of “living way too expansively, generously.”

GCC’s the demonstration of a stunningly profligate human nature. You see the sheer sprawl of it all in the epigraph, Philip Roth’s rant from American Pastoral. So too the elder statesman in T.S. Eliot’s eponymous play admits,

The many many mistakes I have made
My whole life through, mistake upon mistake,
The mistaken attempts to correct mistakes
By methods which proved to be equally mistaken.

That missing comma between “many many” demonstrates the excess: After a point, we no longer can pause, with words and thoughts rushing ahead. (That the wildly different Philip Roth and T.S. Eliot are together on this point indicates the very real mess it is.)

That earlier word, sprawl, takes us to a more magnanimous view of what is going on, as in Les Murray’s “The Quality of Sprawl”:

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.
Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home…

This extravagance and profligacy–the waste–are not ornery contrarianism. For poet, Robert Frost, “waste is another name for generosity of not always being intent on our own advantage”. If I had my druthers, rename it, “GCS:” Global Climate Sprawl.

5. War

–I finished reading the Collected Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill, which discussed a poet I don’t remember reading before, Ivor Gurney. Which in turn sends me to his poems, which leads me to his “War Books” from World War I and the following lines:

What did they expect of our toil and extreme
Hunger - the perfect drawing of a heart's dream?
Did they look for a book of wrought art's perfection,
Who promised no reading, nor praise, nor publication?
Out of the heart's sickness the spirit wrote
For delight, or to escape hunger, or of war's worst anger,
When the guns died to silence and men would gather sense
Somehow together, and find this was life indeed….

The lines, “What did they expect of our toil and extreme/Hunger—the perfect drawing of a heart’s dream?”, reminded me of an anecdote from John Ashbery, the poet, in one of his essays:

Among Chuang-tzu’s many skills, he was an expert draftsman. The king asked him to draw a crab. Chuang-tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. ‘I need another five years,’ said Chuang-tzu. The king granted them. At the end of these ten years, Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen.

It’s as if Chuang-tzu’s decade—his form of hunger—did indeed produce the perfect drawing. Gurney’s next two lines, “Did they look for a book of wrought art’s perfection,/Who promised no reading, no praise, nor publication?” reminds me, however, of very different story, seemingly making the opposite point (I quote from Peter Jones’ Reading Virgil: Aeneid I and II):

Cicero said that, if anyone asked him what god is or what he is like, he would take the Greek poet Simonides as his authority. Simonides was asked by Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, the same question, and requested a day to think about it. Next day Hiero demanded the answer, and Simonides begged two more days. Still no answer. Continuing to double up the days, Simonides was eventually asked by Hiero what the matter was. He replied, ‘The longer I think about the question, the more obscure than answer seems to be.’

I think Hiero’s question was perfect in its own right by virtue of being unquestionably unanswerable. In the case of Chuang-tzu, what can be more perfect than the image that emerges, infallibly and unstoppably, from a single stroke? In the case of Simonides, what can be more insurmountable than the perfect question without answer?

–Yet here is Gurney providing the same answer to each question: War ensures the unstoppable and insurmountable are never perfect opposites—war, rather, patches them together as living: Somehow together, and find this too was life indeed.

Ashbery records poet, David Schubert, saying of the great Robert Frost: “Frost once said to me that – a poet – his arms can go out – like this – or in to himself; in either case he will cover a good deal of the world.”

6. Intertext as the Anthropocene’s long run

I’m first asking you to look and listen to one of my favorites, a short video clip of Anna Caterina Antonacci and Andreas Scholl singing the duet, “I embrace you,” from a Handel opera (the English translation can be found at the end of the clip’s Comments):

Antonacci’s performance will resonate for some with the final scene in Sunset Boulevard, where Gloria Swanson, as the actress Norma Desmond, walks down the staircase toward the camera. But intertextuality–that two-way semi-permeability between genres–is also at work. Antonacci brings the opera diva into Swanson’s actress as much as the reverse, and to hell with anachronism and over-the-top.

–Let’s now bring semi-permeable intertextuality closer to public policy and management. Zakia Salime (2022) provides a rich case study of refusal and resistance by Moroccan villagers to nearby silver mining–in her case, parsed through the lens of what she calls a counter-archive:

My purpose is to show how this embodied refusal. . .was productive of a lived counter-archive that documented, recorded and narrated the story of silver mining through the lens of lived experience. . . .Oral poetry (timnadin), short films, petitions, letters and photographs of detainees disrupted the official story of mining ‘as development’ in state officials’ accounts, with a collection of rebellious activities that exposed the devastation of chemical waste, the diversion of underground water, and the resulting dry collective landholdings. Audio-visual material and documents are still available on the movement’s Moroccan Facebook page, on YouTube and circulating on social media platforms. The [village] water protectors performed refusal and produced it as a living record that assembled bodies, poetic testimonials, objects and documents

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dech.12726

What, though, when the status quo is itself a counter-archive? Think of all the negative tweets, billions and billions and billions of them. Think of all negative comments on politics, dollars and jerks in the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. That is, think of these status quo repositories as a counter-archive of “status-quo critique and dissent.”

–So what?

A genre notion of the status quo as counter-archive means that today’s counter-archive is also to be thought of as semi-permeable and in two-way traffic with other genres. Intertextually, today’s status quo not only looks pretty good, it is pretty good compared to the past times of Genghis Khan (think: history as a benchmark genre) and in comparison to post-apocalypse (think: sci-fi as a benchmark genre).

This raises an interesting possibility: a new kind of long-run that is temporally long because it is presently intertextual, indefinitely forwards and back and across different genres.

For example, if the climate emergency is violence and the Big Polluters are culprits, then violent resistance against them is a form of violence reduction if the resistance succeeds. This means the “violence” and the “resistance” are difficult to evaluate, let alone predict, because the long-run over which they are to unfold is itself a current but changing intertext. As in: “the varieties of revolution do not know the secrets of the futures, but proceed as the varieties of capitalism do, exploiting every opening that presents itself”–to paraphrase political philosopher, Georges Sorel.

7. “Ridicule is the only honourable weapon we have left.” Muriel Spark, novelist

I can’t quote them because Heidegger was a Nazi, Pound a Fascist, Sartre a Maoist, Eliot an anti-Semite. I don’t read Foucault because he didn’t care if he infected guys and I don’t read that mystery writer because she’s a convicted killer. I don’t go to baseball games because of the players’ strike way back when and I refuse to watch that man’s films because he’s said to have messed with his own kid.

I don’t buy Nike because of the sweatshops, listen to Wagner because he was a Jew-hater, or have a TV because it makes children violent. I can’t eat tofu because of genetically modified soybeans or cheese because of genetically modified bacteria. I don’t listen to Sinatra because he was a nasty little man or Swarzkopf because she was a collaborator. The U.S. government’s been screwed since Johnson and the Great Society (no, since FDR and the welfare state (no, since Lincoln and the Civil War (no, since Jackson and the Trail of Tears (no, since Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase (no, since Washington and his plantation slaves…)))).

I don’t trust Freud because he didn’t understand women, Klein because she couldn’t get along with her daughter, Bettelheim because he’s said to have hit kids, or Laing because he too wasn’t nice. I think we were never further away from nuclear war than during the Cuban Missile Crisis (only afterwards did Brezhnev insist on nuclear parity). Plus it’s a good thing Japan has lost decades of economic growth or they’d’ve been re-armed by now.

From time to time I’ve wondered if Socrates could go to heaven. Speaking of which, why is Adam painted with a belly button, where in the Bible is the turkey that keeps showing up in those pictures of Eden and Noah’s Ark, and for that matter why do shadows first show up in early Western art only? Do you really think historical Jesus worried about who licks what where?

Dying means my total annihilation: Too bad for eternity, I say—it doesn’t know what it’s missing. It’s only when I’m dead that I become “will always have been.” Still, little gives me quite the exquisite pleasure as knowing my secrets die with me.

Which makes me wonder: Other than the streets, where do squirrels go to die? And whatever happened to pineapple upside-down cake and Saturday drives? I have to wonder, did Wittgenstein read Rabelais: “Utterances are meaningful not by their nature, but by choice”? Can there be anything more mind-numbing than beginning, “In hunting-and-gathering societies. . .”? (Maybe, “We as a nation,. . .”?) And just who did say, Freedom is the recognition of necessity (Hegel, Engels, Lenin, who)? E Pluribus Unum: Isn’t that Latin for “Follow the dollar”?

Whatever, every morning I wake up and thank heaven I wasn’t born a minority in this country. If I had a magic wand, I’d solve America’s race problem by giving everybody a master’s degree. I’d make sure they’d all be white, married, professionally employed, and own homes. (BTW, every adult in China should have a car; with all that ingenuity they’d have to come up with a solution to vehicle pollution.)

But then again, I’m quite willing to say that the entire point of human evolution is there hasn’t been any worth speaking of. As for the rest, I suppurate with unease. It’s probably—possibly, plausibly?—wise not to think too much about these things.

8. Reflection and sensibility

–During her last years, artist Joan Eardley (1921-1963) painted seascapes at Catterline, a fishing village on Scotland’s coast. I especially like her The Wave (1961), Seascape (Foam and Sky, 1962), and Summer Sea (1962). What intrigues are the recurring smudges of light and cloud—center or just off center, at or above the horizon. (In other paintings, her glimmers are recognizably moon, sun, blue sky, or sea-spray.)

Four examples give an idea of what I’m talking about (mindful here of the variable quality of digital reproductions):

Summer Sea
A Stormy Sea No. 1
The Wave
Seascape (Foam and Blue Sky)

My eye locks on the rush and scatter of waves, but I’m distracted by those lit clouds above.

I end up thinking about these smudges and glimmers, where the thinking is itself a distraction—in this case the distraction of leaving the painting too early. I stay awhile. From where I look, the clouds are luminous and I wonder, what kinds of reflections do they cast on the seascape below, or on me, out of sight?

–My hesitation is less indecision than a sensibility, I think. It’s not quite the Coleridgean willing suspension of disbelief or a Keatsian negative capability (“when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reasons”).

This version of sensibility needs to be pushed further than that. It’s more like the matrix of conscious connections that would not have otherwise been made were it not for the distraction and an attentiveness to that distraction. Out-of-sight reflection at its best?

–Let’s see if we agree and if we can push the point further.

Below are links to three brief performances. The clips show performers and music taking place on stages of sort, with instruments of sorts. I wager you’ve not seen the clips before and that if you have seen something like them, you’ve never imagined them in this sequence.

I’ve chosen them because the individual pieces seem to reflect–and reflect on–one another, e.g,, Kyung Namchul’s fingers moving across the strings parallel the hands and feet of Denis Matvienko and Leonid Sarafanov moving across the floor parallel Lin Yi’s fan and body flicking together.

Please watch each in its entirety. (As above, I claim no copyright privilege over the below.)

While the performers are known in their own right, the sequence serves as one intertext: Sarafanov plucks floor and air, Kyung flicks the strings, Li dances the fan. Each is inscribed onto the music. Each illuminates the other, and each-together reflects back onto me, its out-of-sight viewer.

That sensitivity feels very much like a sensibility to me, while cognitively the resonance is very much like reflection. Refracted through the collective palimpsest, it is difficult to tell if what’s written is “live” or “love,” “hype” or “hope,” “could” or “would.”

Counterfactuals that stick

–In a recent article titled, “Growth Regimes,” the economist, Peter A. Hall, posits three successive growth regimes in post-WWII capitalism (without the embedded footnotes):

The growth regime of the era of modernization promoted rapid economic growth, but it also ensured that more than 60 percent of national income in the developed political economies went to labor and reduced income inequality to the lowest levels it was to see in a century. Employment became increasingly secure and prosperity spread geographically, as industries moved to smaller towns and cities. The expansion of white-collar employment shifted the occupational structure in ways that increased social mobility. This was not a perfect society. Pockets of poverty remained, and opportunities were more limited for women than for men, but an expanding social safety net supported people without employment and the fruits of economic prosperity were widely shared.

By contrast, the growth regime of the era of liberalization shrank the labor share and increased levels of income inequality, especially at the top of the income distribution in Anglo-American economies, as managerial salaries increased more rapidly than those of production workers and rising returns to financial assets privileged people with access to them. Employment security declined for large swaths of the population, and outsourcing trapped many people in low-wage secondary labor markets. In some countries, the prospects for social mobility declined with each successive cohort entering the labor force after 1980. . .

The era of knowledge-based growth has brought further dislocation, as technological revolutions do. The rapid offshoring of manufacturing jobs has polarized the occupational structure, eliminating many middle- skill jobs that were once stepping-stones to social mobility. Forty percent of workers in Europe are now employed in nonstandard work. The movement of skilled jobs in high technology to urban clusters has exacerbated regional disparities in income and employment. The turn toward social investment has improved the lives of working women and expanded educational opportunities for some young people, but it has done so on a far from equal basis and at the cost of tying social benefits for many to work in low-wage labor markets. . .

I want to pick up that thread of thought, “This was not a perfect society,” in the first paragraph and ask: What was lost in modernization’s imperfect but evolving society when superseded by the later growth regimes? What failed to be realized that could/would have been better or worse than the developments later on?

The questions are important because answers are easy to overlook, namely: Modernization, liberalization and ever more knowledge-based growth occurred and still occur in different ways over different times and different locations. We have cases where modernization was not and is not superseded as rapidly as in other cases. The impacts of liberalization and knowledge-based growth remain highly differentiated and attenuated, in far many areas worldwide, to be ignored.

–So what?

Many now see the need to reconsider the notion that integration of China and Russia into the liberal economic order would moderate their behavior. Wouldn’t it have been better all along to say that the two nation states have modernized in very different ways in response to liberalization and the ICT revolution? Can we really demonstrate that their respective elites benefited in similar ways and to similar ends? I don’t think so.

Principal source

Hall, Peter A. (2022). Growth regimes. Business History Review doi:10.1017/S0007680522000034

A different long-run for policy and management

I

I’m first asking you to look and listen to one of my favorites, a short video clip of Anna Caterina Antonacci and Andreas Scholl singing the duet, “I embrace you,” from a Handel opera (the English translation can be found at the end of the clip’s Comments):

Antonacci’s performance will resonate for some with the final scene in Sunset Boulevard, where Gloria Swanson, as the actress Norma Desmond walks down the staircase toward the camera. But intertextuality–that two-way semi-permeability between genres–is also at work. Antonacci brings the opera diva into Swanson’s actress as much as the reverse, and to hell with anachronism and over-the-top.

II

Let’s now bring semi-permeable intertextuality closer to public policy and management. Zakia Salime (2022) provides a rich case study of refusal and resistance by Moroccan villagers to nearby silver mining–in her case, parsed through the lens of what she calls a counter-archive:

My purpose is to show how this embodied refusal. . .was productive of a lived counter-archive that documented, recorded and narrated the story of silver mining through the lens of lived experience. . . .Oral poetry (timnadin), short films, petitions, letters and photographs of detainees disrupted the official story of mining ‘as development’ in state officials’ accounts, with a collection of rebellious activities that exposed the devastation of chemical waste, the diversion of underground water, and the resulting dry collective landholdings. Audio-visual material and documents are still available on the movement’s Moroccan Facebook page, on YouTube and circulating on social media platforms. The [village] water protectors performed refusal and produced it as a living record that assembled bodies, poetic testimonials, objects and documents

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dech.12726

What, though, when the status quo is itself a counter-archive? Think of all the negative tweets, billions and billions and billions of them. Think of all negative comments on politics, dollars and jerks in the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. That is, think of these status quo repositories as a counter-archive of “status-quo critique and dissent.”

III

So what?

A genre notion of the status quo as counter-archive means that today’s counter-archive is also to be thought of as semi-permeable and in two-way traffic with other genres. Intertextually, today’s status quo not only looks pretty good, it is pretty good compared to the past times of Genghis Khan (think: history as a benchmark genre) and in comparison to post-apocalypse (think: sci-fi as a benchmark genre).

This raises an interesting possibility: a new kind of long-run that is temporally long because it is presently intertextual, indefinitely forwards and back and cross different genres.

For example, if the climate emergency is violence and the Big Polluters are culprits, then violent resistance against them is a form of violence reduction if the resistance succeeds. This means the “violence” and the “resistance” are difficult to evaluate, let alone predict, because the long-run over which they are to take is itself a current but unavoidably changing intertext. As in: “the varieties of revolution do not know the secrets of the futures, but proceed as the varieties of capitalism do, exploiting every opening that presents itself”–to paraphrase political philosopher, Georges Sorel.

“What has been concluded that we should conclude about it?” William James, psychologist and philosopher

Someone asserts that something holds broadly, and that triggers your asking:

  • Under what conditions?
  • With respect to what?
  • As opposed to what?
  • What is this a case of?
  • What are we missing?

Under what conditions does what I’m saying actually hold? Risk or uncertainty with respect to what scenario? Settler colonialism as opposed to what? Just what is this you are talking about a case of? What are you and I missing that’s right there to be used but isn’t?