Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin, Ireland. 27, history, politics & law graduate
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Oct 19
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..we know that statistics were first developed in smaller states, or where there was a favorable situation, as in Ireland, for example, where in view of the smallness of the country and its military occupation by England it was possible to know exactly what was there and what its resources were.

Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population:  Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-78, 274

I haven’t quite finished The Courage of Truth yet, although I’m on to its poignant final lecture, but I bought this book too because what I’m researching for my job currently are the last two items above: territory (‘cadastral’, or property, mapping) and population (official censuses) as part of a study of state development. As it happened, it was The Birth of Biopolitics which coincidentally reignited my interest in that formative period of political history centering on the mid-17th century - through his discussion of the emergence of the rule of law and economic liberalism, as biopolitical technique of ‘governmental rationality’. Security, Territory, Population form the preceding year’s lectures, covers similar issues in somewhat more general and fundamental terms.

According to the translator’s notes, here “Foucault is alluding to the works of William Petty (1623-84), founder of political arithmetic” - and writer of a treatise of that same name (albeit with an ick). Additionally:

"After establishing the cadaster of the island, Petty, who was employed as a doctor in the government of Ireland, was asked to divide up the land taken from the Catholics and distribute it to the English troops and their sponsors. From this experience came his work, The Political Economy of Ireland.”

Specifically, following the rebellion of Irish Catholics against English rule in 1641 and the subsequent reconquest of the island following the victory of Cromwell and the Parliamentarian army in the English Civil War (which had its own Irish and Scottish counterparts), Petty was responsible for surveying the land forfeited by Catholic landowners for their disloyalty, and to be redistributed amongst new, loyal Protestant subjects. This was the last and most extensive of the ‘plantations’ through the colonial period of Irish history in the 16th and 17th centuries, and although the Ulster plantation in 1609 was the most effective in changing the population on the ground (as can be seen in the situation of Northern Ireland today) the Cromwellian Settlement had an infamous legacy in the rest of the island as the definitive removal of Catholic landownership east of the Shannon - “to hell or Connaught”.

The ‘cadaster’ produced by Petty was a two-part process, beginning with the ‘Civil Survey’, a written record of landownership as it stood status quo ante in 1641, and the ‘Down Survey’ - prosaically named after the act of laying down chains in surveying - a map of the physical boundaries of forfeited land in each parish of the country. Trinity College a few years ago produced an online version of the surviving maps, the oldest detailed cartographic record of Ireland as a whole, and one not repeated on such a scale and official basis until nearly 200 years later with the establishment of the Ordnance Survey. It is surpassed in scale, however, by a more detailed undertaking begun in Sweden in the 1630s and completed by the first decade of the next century; and in general, large-scale mapping occurred throughout Europe, especially under Napoleon, at greater scale and at earlier points in time than in England or in Ireland.

The question, therefore, of how advanced English cartographic and statistical knowledge of its territories - and thus Foucault’s claim - actually was, is an interesting one - with a lot of bearing on how the state exercised its power. Especially as in the case of cadastral mapping it is directly related to property (and usually, although not in this particular case, taxation). I’ve learnt, through the doyen of Irish cartographical history J.H. Andrews, that the Down Survey was preceded by earlier, regional surveys - including one produced in connection with the Munster Plantation in the 1580s that has survived and is digitised in the Trinity manuscript archive. Much of the map (of Limerick county) may look rather crude, but what is interesting is the parcels of forfeited land, with boundaries carefully outlined in red, which according to Andrews were originally surveyed at a scale equivalent to (or actually greater than, due to a shift in units) the Down Survey parish maps.

While it doesn’t match the comprehensive detail of later cadastral maps, it is a leap of innovation in combining the general ‘topographical’ map of the landscape, roughly measured and crudely drawn, with the more exacting boundaries of property ‘escheated’ to the Crown. It shows a visual representation of the extent of state power, on the physical territory which also becomes a mathematically quantifiable space. Foucault identifies the term ‘population’ with the modern subject of state policy and economic action, as opposed to a mere collection of individuals under the rule of a king, and I think a similar process happens here with ‘territory’. What was subsequently done with ‘statistics’, that is the knowledge of the state, in the economic and political management of Ireland, particularly in the 19th century, is something I hope to return to at a later stage.

foucault history irish notes escaping from a workplace
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Oct 18
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"An ecological techno-fascism would also be capable of reproducing the bases of life, by artifically replacing natural cycles, turning nature into business, as it were, and so industrializing the reproduction of life, even of human life, commodifying foetuses and organs and instrumentalizing genetic stock, including that of humans, in accordance with the demands of productivity and profit maximization. The trend is obvious: the unleashing of economic rationality, its offensive against ethical objections which attempt to set limits to it, is already underway."

André Gorz, ‘Redefining Socialism’ in Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology

Oh hello, Facebook.

Gorz socialism
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"But it is important to understand that this activity, by which one is useful to to others in the exercise of a sovereign life on itself, is a surplus, as it were, an excess or rather it is nothing more or less than the other side of the relation to self. Exercising perfect mastery over oneself, bearing witness to this mastery in the eyes of others and, through this testimony, helping them, guiding them, serving as an example and model, are only different aspects of one and the same sovereignty."

Michel Foucault, The Courage of Truth: Lectures at the Collège de France, 273

More Bodhisattva-knowledge

foucault buddhism
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The ceiling of the building where my office is, originally a bank, after the fluorescent lighting was turned off.

dublin phone pics
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Ended up on r/basicincome reading through their FAQ (mainly because it’s more readable than other sources) and came across this:

Some classic examples of U.S. programs that become obsolete once a simple basic income is implemented:

  • welfare/workfare
  • minimum wage
  • payroll taxes
  • unemployment taxes/insurance
  • progressive taxation, i.e. tax brackets
  • Social Security
  • subsidy portions of Obamacare
  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • legal protection of union strikers
  • tax deductions/credits for education
  • disability benefits

I get that there are valid criticisms of the welfare state, and of these particular measures, but just because something was created - in part - to respond to the problems of low incomes, does not mean a basic income actually solves that problem. Minimum wage - can companies now pay as little as they want for labour because their employees will have a basic income (likely set somewhere around current unemployment benefit)*? Progressive taxation - the one tool we currently have against income inequality**? Healthcare - because diverting government tax spending from health services to paying people incomes with which they then buy those services on the market isn’t already part of the neoliberal agenda? Unions - who needs them when you don’t need a job, right? Education - is the cost of tuition also to be paid out of an individual’s basic income, or should it not be a public good? Disability - the precise issue with living with a disability is that it entails costs which are higher than a ‘basic’ income provides.

Obviously the above is an American perspective, and a right-leaning one at that - but I tend to detect it whenever I see Basic Income proponents talking about savings on ‘welfare bureaucracy’. Yes, welfare is inefficient, but it also tries to deal with complex situations; it could and should be humanised by removing conditionality and universalizing it (as was done with universal healthcare), but that comes at a cost. I don’t think you can meet that cost just by simplifying existing spending and by merely shuffling around existing taxation; at best, you can establish the minimum level of unconditional income which, by necessity, cannot replace those other elements. The real vision of basic income for me is the redistribution of resources which would make it possible, which is perhaps why I have such a hard time seeing it as a viable project of reform (or conversely, as an achievable goal of revolution). But I suppose, soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible..

* I often see Basic Income as largely replicating current, often problematic, circumstances: here, low-paying employers essentially being subsidised by state in-work benefits - a situation Basic Income would seem to formalise, but with the admitted improvement of not having to be ‘in work’ to receive such benefits. And of course if employers are properly taxed (on the profits they make from the labour) to make up the shortfall, it’s not necessarily a problem. 

** Curiously, the funding of Basic Income seems to be frequently proposed through flat-rate income taxation. A flat tax does take proportionately more from higher incomes, so relative to a standard benefit they receive less and the effect is progressive overall. This paper from an Irish economist shows how such a method can replicate or marginally increase the distribution of incomes under Ireland’s current income tax regime, but does pose the question of if BI can also be funded through progressive taxation. 

basic income
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Bosco Hogan is the Irish Michel Foucault (with or without hair).

Bottom right is him in the film of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which is rather good. Top right is Foucault in his early days.

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interstate808:

Pretty stoked to have a piece on Basic Income in the new issue of Rabble. Even happier that it’s opposite a piece on social housing by Michael Taft. Pick it up in town, it’s free.

I like the idea of a “third space” between employment and unemployment, to “give more people the freedom to withdraw from the market economy for particular periods of their lives, to work part time or take a year off or two years”. It’s like a democratisation of privilege - something I’ve benefited from (including college) and continue to do so - but as such I wonder is income a sufficient measure to change or challenge current inequalities. I mean, it would certainly help, but it seems to me that the strength and weakness of Basic Income is that it appeals to a certain idea of economic freedom without necessarily showing how that could be put in place - in reference to, as you say, landlords and others who use their power to extract value from others. To use Basic Income to democratise privilege would mean attacking the source of privilege in the current distribution of economic and social power, which is precisely why I don’t think it functions as the minimal reform of taxation it’s often presented as.

interstate808:

Pretty stoked to have a piece on Basic Income in the new issue of Rabble. Even happier that it’s opposite a piece on social housing by Michael Taft. Pick it up in town, it’s free.

I like the idea of a “third space” between employment and unemployment, to “give more people the freedom to withdraw from the market economy for particular periods of their lives, to work part time or take a year off or two years”. It’s like a democratisation of privilege - something I’ve benefited from (including college) and continue to do so - but as such I wonder is income a sufficient measure to change or challenge current inequalities. I mean, it would certainly help, but it seems to me that the strength and weakness of Basic Income is that it appeals to a certain idea of economic freedom without necessarily showing how that could be put in place - in reference to, as you say, landlords and others who use their power to extract value from others. To use Basic Income to democratise privilege would mean attacking the source of privilege in the current distribution of economic and social power, which is precisely why I don’t think it functions as the minimal reform of taxation it’s often presented as.

basic income
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Oct 12
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Those are three quite different situations though: people having their water supply completely cut off for small arrears in a bankrupt city, water being restricted through the illegal military occupation of another country… and people now having to pay for water in the one place in Europe that doesn’t already charge for it (other than Northern Ireland). 
As for the ‘human right’ to water, that’s quite a fuzzy concept with no specific treaty basis, apart from a general recognition that clean and safe water should be both accessible and affordable - certainly nothing about it being free at the point of use, which is what these protesters are demanding.
The other placard is useful because it points out that currently our (underfunded, leak-ridden) water system is paid for out of general taxation, roughly equal parts of which come from progressive direct income taxation and regressive indirect excise and sales taxes. If the ‘water tax’ were to be defeated, an outcome I think is unlikely, then the burden would to a large extent remain in taxes on other unrelated items, rather than a charge on the use of the resource itself. 
I have sympathy for the protesters insofar as water charges do have a regressive effect on lower incomes, while in the current budget the government seems intent on reducing the tax rate for the highest earners. But that effect is hardly much different from paying for electricity or heating (equally essential for modern living, and which also probably need more carbon taxes applied to them) and should be mitigated through improving basic incomes and the balance of actual taxation - as distinct from opposing the principle of water charges, which have at least some basis in conservation as well as revenue collection.
I am opposed to privatisation, for which charges form a necessary (though not sufficient) precondition, but I think the answer to that is to join with the many other European countries with either publicly-controlled water supplies or existing campaigns for ‘remunicipalisation’. Instead of which, the Irish left has mobilised around the admittedly popular cause of defending a status quo which is virtually unique within the developed world, and has more connection with the process of stroke politics in Ireland than any commitment to human rights or progressive taxation.
[Edit: here is a good look at how those on low incomes could be effectively subsidised from within the system of charges itself; which unfortunately is not likely to be taken up by either the government, who are probably quite satisfied with the illusion of equality that universal allowances provide, or the opposition left, who seem more concerned with building a protest movement than seeking actual change]

Those are three quite different situations though: people having their water supply completely cut off for small arrears in a bankrupt city, water being restricted through the illegal military occupation of another country… and people now having to pay for water in the one place in Europe that doesn’t already charge for it (other than Northern Ireland). 

As for the ‘human right’ to water, that’s quite a fuzzy concept with no specific treaty basis, apart from a general recognition that clean and safe water should be both accessible and affordable - certainly nothing about it being free at the point of use, which is what these protesters are demanding.

The other placard is useful because it points out that currently our (underfunded, leak-ridden) water system is paid for out of general taxation, roughly equal parts of which come from progressive direct income taxation and regressive indirect excise and sales taxes. If the ‘water tax’ were to be defeated, an outcome I think is unlikely, then the burden would to a large extent remain in taxes on other unrelated items, rather than a charge on the use of the resource itself. 

I have sympathy for the protesters insofar as water charges do have a regressive effect on lower incomes, while in the current budget the government seems intent on reducing the tax rate for the highest earners. But that effect is hardly much different from paying for electricity or heating (equally essential for modern living, and which also probably need more carbon taxes applied to them) and should be mitigated through improving basic incomes and the balance of actual taxation - as distinct from opposing the principle of water charges, which have at least some basis in conservation as well as revenue collection.

I am opposed to privatisation, for which charges form a necessary (though not sufficient) precondition, but I think the answer to that is to join with the many other European countries with either publicly-controlled water supplies or existing campaigns for ‘remunicipalisation’. Instead of which, the Irish left has mobilised around the admittedly popular cause of defending a status quo which is virtually unique within the developed world, and has more connection with the process of stroke politics in Ireland than any commitment to human rights or progressive taxation.

[Edit: here is a good look at how those on low incomes could be effectively subsidised from within the system of charges itself; which unfortunately is not likely to be taken up by either the government, who are probably quite satisfied with the illusion of equality that universal allowances provide, or the opposition left, who seem more concerned with building a protest movement than seeking actual change]

(Source: oireachtasretort, via easpageag)

irish politics water charges
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Oct 09
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thar-cionn:

Téacschaint as Gaeilge / Textspeak in Irish

thar-cionn:

Téacschaint as Gaeilge / Textspeak in Irish

(via catspupil)

irish
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Oct 08
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Social Justice Cynic

"The Cynic’s military or athletic battle is also the individual’s struggle against his desires, appetites, and passions. But it is also a battle against customs, conventions, institutions, laws, and a whole condition of humanity. It is a battle against vices, but these are not just the individual’s vices. They are vices which afflict humankind as a whole, the vices of men which take shape, rely upon, or are at the root of their customs, ways of doing things, laws, political organizations, or social conventions. The Cynic battle is therefore not simply that military or athletic battle by which the individual assures self-mastery and thereby benefits others. The Cynic battle is an explicit, intentional, and constant aggression directed at humanity in general, at humanity in its real life, and whose horizon or objective is to change its moral attitude (its ethos) but, at the same time and thereby, its customs, conventions, and ways of living.”

Michel Foucault, The Courage of Truth: Lectures at the Collège de France 1983-1984, 280

This brings to mind a trope I’ve seen a few times recently which asks why the term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ is used as an insult, when why would you not want to fight against injustice? Displaying exactly the kind of argument that veers between being incisive and disingenuous, it of course disregards the intention that ‘Warrior’ is not so much a pejorative in itself as a sarcastic mirror held up to what is seen as largely ineffectual (but also misguided) aggression. And so on back and forth… but Foucault’s description of Cynics above, which is intended as sympathetic, I think also fits a reasonably sanguine account of ‘SJWs’. 

Just before he lists three features of the Cynic as the “real and derisory king”, that is as the figure who uncovers the reality of power and mocks those who claim to hold it:

(self) sacrifice - “it is not the enjoyment of self, but much more a certain form of self renunication that enables one to take care of others.”

intervention, physical and social - "There is a medical interventionism, as it were, in the Cynic’s mission, which is in complete contrast with that sort of overabundance through which the happy life of the wise philosopher, like Seneca, simply gave itself as an example to others, whom it assisted merely with advice, examples, and writings."

and, of course, the rant:

"Finally … this Cynic mission takes the form of a battle. It has a polemical, bellicose character. The medications offered by the Cynics are harsh. We can say that the Cynic is a sort of benefactor, but he is essentially, fundamentally, and constantly an aggressive benefactor whose main instrument is, of course, the famous diatribe."

Elsewhere in the course of The Courage of Truth Foucault describes how the hated Cynics, while frequently scorned and derided by other contemporaries, where invariably compared to some ‘true’ form of Cynicism. The hated are always the Other, and it’s far easier to take issue with the tone of speaking truth to power than the content (not that I think it shouldn’t be done in certain contexts, nor that ‘the truth’ is not also contingent on same; which is explicitly Foucault’s caveat, that he is talking about ‘truth’ in a discursive setting, not ‘facticity’). Rob Horning links Foucault’s view of parrhesia and Cynicism, at least in part, to trolling, which opens him to the criticism that it is instead a fundamentally good-faith activity - and particularly with the intended benefit of others (and not just, say, for the abstract value of reason, or logos).

Not many - if indeed any - of us are willingly and consciously against social justice, at least how we understand it - and our modern-day Cynics are those who aim to cut the knots of obfuscation and ideology, even if their blades are sometimes dull or wayward. If we open ourselves to acting and thinking in good faith, perhaps the struggle won’t seem so cynical after all.

parrhesia foucault social justice philosophy
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