"Preemptive personalization operates under the presumption we are eager to express ourselves only so that we may be done with the trouble of it once and for all, once what we would or should say can be automated and we can simply reap the social benefits of our automatic speech.
Social media trap us in a tautological loop, in which we express ourselves to be ourselves to express ourselves, trying to claim better attention shares from the people we are ostensibly “connecting” with. Once we are trying to “win” the game of selfhood on the scoreboard of attention, any pretense of expressing an “inner truth” (which probably doesn’t exist anyway) about ourselves becomes lost in the rush to churn out and absorb content. It doesn’t matter what we say, or if we came up with it, when all that matters is the level of response. In this system, we don’t express our true self in search of attention and confirmation; instead attention posits the true self as a node in a dynamic network, and the more connections that run through it, the more complete and “expressed” that self is.”
"If, despite these extremely unfavourable conditions, socialism still mobilizes millions of European workers, resists the enemy during the harshest of military occupations, works with intelligence and vigor in Scandinavia and Great Britain, we must see there proof of its vitality and profound legitimacy. The analysis of its deficiencies does not minimise the fundamental fact that it continues the historical drive of Christianity and the bourgeois revolutions toward the realization of an equitable and rational social organization. In man’s present state, it does not seem conceivable that this ideal, confused as it may sometimes be, can be abandoned. Otherwise humanity would have to accept a belief in despair entirely contradictory to its own instincts. Doctrines wear out, deep-rooted needs live and must refurbish their intellectual weapons. In this sense, socialist thought, not at all rebuffed by attack and defeat, has great need of a house-cleaning. During the reconstruction of Europe, the working class seems appointed to recover a good part of its power, in an age in which planning and large measures of social security will be instituted – measures which not long ago were foremost in the socialist program.
The aspirations toward the rational organization of society for the realization of a higher human dignity could never, I believe, either be eliminated or lastingly repressed. They have survived up to now during many agonized times: even engendered and stimulated a difficult progress, born of the uncertain, during the whole course of our civilization. It is pleasing here to write the word ”progress” at a time when writers whom I respect debate its meaning, as if nothing valuable had been accomplished since the human animal renounced cannibalism. That the atomic bomb is more inhuman, more evil than saturation bombing, I doubt; but that atomic energy can soon become an immense factor in the liberation of the proletariat, I cannot doubt. That a planned economy, founded on poverty and for the purpose of war, will end in a new slavery, I know, because I have seen it; but that superior forms of production, governed no longer by the profit motive but by intelligence, need liberty as our organism needs oxygen, I can no longer doubt after having observed intimately the crises of Soviet industry. That philosophies of despair are fashionable in a time like ours, does not astonish me. We can well question our own destiny, and from this question draw material for literature. The destiny of our world unfolds with a vitality that outlives individuals and literature. And for this reason the resolute choice for confidence in intelligence and the human will seems to me the most justified of choices.”
Victor Serge, ‘The Future of Socialism’, Partisan Review, Vol. 14, No. 5, December 1947
Serge writes so well about optimism, as I discovered before.
My only advice for young writers (as a “young writer” myself I realize this is precious, but allow me): Try not to tweet. If you must tweet—if the spirit rises, the blood boils, the brain crackles with thoughts and strands of thoughts so salient, so prescient, that they must be spat into the world (believe me, I know the feeling)—definitely try not to tweet your opinions. Save them for a medium where you can actually explain yourself.
I think I’m going to try this (not that I consider myself a “writer”, merely a blogger). Irish political twitter often really aggravates me - and I’m only talking about the people I choose to follow, who have interesting remakrs to make or information to share, and whose politics I largely already share. But when exposed to certain level and direction of cynicism (and Irish people do cynicism really well) I just want to defend the reasonable, the moderate, even the institutional status quo (of course, it’s a tenet of radicalism that the first two are agents of the last).Aside from it being a tough place to express nuance, I don’t need to be doing that in the first place.
It struck me recently that Twitter is almost the opposite of rhetoric, in the sense of the art of persuasion. You can’t persuade someone of your opinion in 140 characters or less, nor with a pithy putdown wrapped around some egregious phrase; only transmit and reinforce opinion. It maybe serves for ‘truthbombs’, a chain of disjointed bullet points that expresses some novel facts or ideas, but rarely if ever an argument that accounts for both sides. Of course Tumblr falls prey to some of these problems too, but it’s not as structurally limited in character.
Cant say I 100% agree with this. I understand the population imbalance but breaking the UK into regions would piss off English nationalists who would see it at the institutional separation of one of the component nations of the UK.
It would also piss off Welsh and Scottish nationalists who would likely see it as an attempt to make their historical claims of nationhood equivalent to English regionalism.
Good points. I was thinking through something along these lines: English (and later British) identity was from the beginning based on a centralised and unitary state, similar to France - and in contradistinction to say, Germany, or even the United States, where separate entities were brought together into a federated system. At the same time the more peripheral regions (Wales, Scotland, but also Cornwall and, in France, Brittany) retained and developed a cultural identity distant from the central state.
I accept an all-England parliament isn’t unreasonable but my point was it already pretty much exists in the form of Westminister (especially with certainproposed restrictions of Scottish MPs from voting). So one devolved parliament for four-fifths of the population just seems odd, especially if you take the purpose of devolution as facilitating local (smaller-scale) autonomy rather than just expressing historic national identity. Even if today’s result is (as I suspect too) a No, it brings into question the current relationship between those two things.
If Scotland votes no (Which I have a suspicion they will) it would make more sense for the UK just to ‘come out’ as a federation and have Westminster act as a proper federal parliament.
A devolved/regional parliament for all of England wouldn’t make much sense when it represents almost 84% of the UK’s total population, or 53 million out of 63 million people. Which I think puts in perspective the accusation that ‘Britishness’ is primarily/solely about ‘Englishness’ - indeed according to that table Scotland (8.4%) has a smaller population than half of the English regions. It’s difficult to get that from a map because of the different population densities, not just in Scotland but also (to lesser extents) in Wales and Northern Ireland.
I agree a federal system - with parliaments for each of the English regions - would be a good idea, combining regional autonomy with the economic scale of the UK as a whole (and without overindulging in cultural nationalism as a basis for political decision-making), but within the borders of England I think it runs contrary to assumptions about the unitary state, or parliamentary democracy, somehow?
from the gullies of Atlanta to the plains states, where we pray I can measure all the distance by the way she says my name
she gets solace holdin on to me
we make the constellations out of her beauty marks
Space and Sound in EMA: Return to the ‘Void
What got me first about this song was that its hook is based around a ‘solace’/’soulless’ homophone – except that’s not how I’d say ‘solace’ at all (more like ‘sol-iss’, with a short vowel in the first syllable). I figured that was just the American pronunciation, like lee-zhure, but I never had confirmation until I was recently watching an episode of Justified,with its trowelled-on Kentucky drawls (for the most part exposure to American TV shows means exposure to fairly neutered, I guess probably Californian, accents; ‘The Wire’ was probably the first show I watched with identifiably ‘regional’ accents). Whether that was connected or not, I don’t know – but you can say ‘solace’ however you want.
It does link to the theme of distance and separation/difference in the lyrics above, which also made me think about how the American concept of ‘flyover states’ is partially inverted in Europe, with its core and periphery; if you’re flying from Ireland to Greece, you’re probably in fact flying over the major economic zones of central and northern Europe. On a smaller scale though, it did occur to me that I spend a lot of the past year travelling between Dublin and Galway by train, never setting actually setting foot in ‘the Midlands’. I also spent a lot of that time listening to The Future’s Void and looking out the window at the flat fields and exposed bog. Yet I never figured out quite what I wanted to say about it.
Eventually I went back – on one of the same journeys – to Past Life Martyred Saints, to see how it compared. I was surprised to notice how different it felt in texture: on a simplistic level, it is analogue, carnal even, where The Future’s Void is avowedly digital. Musically, PLMS and the rest of her earlier work operates on a contrast between acoustic strumming and gathering drone, but on that album the latter was still more of an enveloping warm fuzz. That, if you return to it from TFV, you suddenly notice its absence. The Future’s Void is astringent, distant – even at its most immediate. The grunge-aping riff in ‘So Blonde’ is deliberately thin, its “Sooo” stretched out and ragged like a fake affect; the compositional beauty of ‘3Jane’ hisses to life at orbital distance; its prettiest song, ‘When She Comes’, jars you out of bliss with softly-sung “psilocybin nightmares”. Whereas the space in Past Life Martyred Saints is almost overpowering in its presence; the bass drop in ‘The Grey Ship’, the rumbling punch-in of ‘California’, the bodily scratchings of ‘Marked’, almost unbearable.
The synthy opening to ‘Solace’, beguiling yet bizarrely distant, a cross between Laurie Andersen and Fight Like Apes, expresses part of the oddity that is The Future’s Void. I really like the album, but I haven’t been able to take it to heart like Past Life. It’s beautiful, and affecting, but distinctly wistful – not comforting in the way Past Life Martyred Saints, even at its darkest, was. It had anguish, but it had catharsis; or it was like sinking into the soft embrace of feelings that you can’t get away from. The Future’s Void, for all its dazzling sparks, and perhaps because of them, feels more brittle, like the dawning realization of some new horror in one’s view of the world. It’s no less personal than Past Life, arguably even more so, but it does turn outwards, to the construction of identity in the digital age, instead of the inner pain of the body and mind, in the physical past.
There are links, of course (‘Cthulu’ I think being one) and exceptions (‘Smoulder’ comes the closest to making me feel something, viscerally; while ‘Anteroom’ on Past Life, with its lyrics about the ‘ghost in the machine’, is the most detached track on that album) but the difference stands out most for me. If The Future’s Void appears to offer solace, what you get is actually soulless; not through any fault of EMA, but through the nature of its subject matter. It reminds me of a similar transition between the sheer maximalist joy and terror of Tim Hecker’s Hatred of Music and the following eeriness of Virgins, its austere beauty a logical progression but distinctly uncomfortable to listen to. The Future’s Void is far ‘nicer’, like a cat picture, but hardly comforting in its unsparing depiction of the digital aesthetic. Its last lament, in its closing track ‘Dead Celebrities’: “we wanted something timeless, in a world so full of speed”, signals the death of statis and, thus, comfort. The only way out is, well, out - out into the soulless interwebs, the erasure of the self.
"The greatest error of Marx and the Marxists had been that of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois optimism. It consisted in predicting a development of industrial technique simultaneous with the development of human mentality: technology and “enlightenment,” awareness on the part of the working class, the advent of socialist morality. But the techniques of production had a prodigious development, far outstripping that of social organization and that of the average man. Socialism delayed liberating the wage earner from this well-controlled technology: industrial techniques, fallen into the hands of scheming blackguards, fools, and reactionaries, became a mighty instrument of bondage and destruction.”
Victor Serge, ‘The Future of Socialism’, Partisan Review, Vol. 14, No. 5, December 1947
"May 1st 1707 wasn’t a day of liberation for either party. The English might have celebrated it as the day they’d finally subdued their rebellious neighbours. But that wasn’t quite it. Their welcome for the incorporation of Scotland was matched by the contentment of the Scottish ruling class, its own imperial ambitions having come to naught, at the prospect of joining in the Empire’s plunder of the world while keeping its “own” lower orders in check.
Thus it is that the independence campaign – perhaps to an extent unappreciated outside Scotland – has not been fought on the basis of national pride and liberation but mainly on the proposition that Scotland would be a more just and decent society freed from entanglement with England.
This hope may prove futile in an independent Scotland. The notion of Alex Salmond and his party as radical crusaders for a more equal society is fanciful. And the same pressure from global capitalism will press in on independent Scotland as on Scotland as part of the Union.
The difference might be that the referendum campaign has mobilised more people in grass-roots political action than any other issue in a long, long time, while creating an excited expectation of social and economic change for the better.”
This is a good piece by Eamon McCann which starts by asking if Northern Ireland would be perceived as much of a loss to British party leaders (no - aside, of course, from the Unionist politicians who consider themselves British and sit in Westminster). But the point in the second paragraph above is I think very important and expresses something which I knew but hadn’t (and probably still haven’t) fully internalised. Or rather it was a motive I already knew but got obscured by the rhetoric of a campaign which often seemed to be opposing Scottish independence (and its emotional and cultural appeal) to ‘British nationalism’, whatever that is, with its imperial and Tory cloak. Except, of course, it’s not that simple.
As an irish person I am deeply sceptical of nationalism, and the concept of national self-determination, while at the same time having to recognise that it’s foundational to my ‘national’ identity. And I’m not someone to really disown that, although I know a few, seeing the Tricolour as my flag despite its association with republican terrorism, and the Republic (twenty-six counties) as my political home despite the myriad ways in which it has yet to live up to true republican ideals. But there’s a big difference between accepting where you are and even being proud of that position, and committing to that as a political and philosophical choice when in fact it has only been a fait accompli from long before your birth (admittedly the same argument applies a fortiori to Scots and the Union).
If I had to vote on Irish independence, say in some alternate 1914 when instead of parliamentary Home Rule legislation, a plebiscite on full independence were offered to an electorate beyond over-30 property-owning males, would I say Yes? As you can surmise, it’s a rather drastic counterfactual, and just on that basis I could refuse to answer. I might also borrow from another constitutional tradition and plead self-incrimination, because honestly I’m not sure. Let me unpack this:
For a start, half my family is Protestant - but (as I know thanks to my parents’ interest in family history) certainly not Anglo-Irish gentry. On one side of that, my grandfather’s, were rural schoolteachers, a bicycle shop owner and small farmers. On my grandmother’s, migrants from the western extremity of Wales who worked for several generations in the maritime industry in the harbour town where I still live, then called (effectively from its construction, or at least of its piers, til independence) Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire (the old name, from the fort of a medieval king). The latter especially, I always assume although I don’t know, must have been Unionists when it came to the ‘Irish question’. And I’m certainly not bereft of Protestant privilege, even if from relatively modest forebears: as it happens, both my Catholic and Protestant grandfathers were the first in their families to go to university, with all their children (five and three respectively) becoming educated professionals.
Of course, my family history is not necessarily determinative and (depending on the rules of counterfactuals) I may have had different, independent opinions on the merits and demerits of British rule when it was in question for Ireland. Actually phrasing it like that makes the end result seem entirely obvious - the legacy of ‘foreign rule’, the oppression of Catholics by Protestants in Ireland and England - but my point is I doubt many of my contemporary relatives woud have seen it that way, and regardless of whether I’d have agreed with them or not, it creates some cognitive dissonance to see them as part of a rejected tradition. Of course, that is the passage of history, often for the good (like American slaveowners, perhaps, or any such injustice - although then we return to the issue of reparation). But still, I can’t help feeling that, more so than my immediate background (which seems quite unremarkable in truth), that legacy pushes me towards subtlety in considering issues of nationalism.
The other objection is that nationalism, and independence as the over-riding goal of same, has been in many ways a political failure in Ireland since 1922. It never resolved until quite recently, and then only in part, the question of accommodating the Unionist and Protestant tradition in the north-east of the island (this, at least, is not a problem Scotland appears to face, although the tradition itself extends and originates there). More importantly, the pre-eminence of a nationalist party stifled political debate along class or left-right lines, with the unitary Sinn Féin only splitting over strength of attitudes to nationalist goals and a certain degree of class interests, between larger and smaller farmers. Hence this kind of criticism can be made of Scotland’s putative de Valera and his party:
"Former Labour minister Brian Wilson – no friend of Salmond, it has to be said – says “the most remarkable fact” about the SNP’s time in power is the lack of a social imperative.
“The SNP is Scotland’s Fianna Fáil: Big tent, non-ideological, populist, everything to be resolved though constitutional change, unembarrassed by where the money comes from since Scottish millionaires are, by definition, part of the same, big happy family as the rest of us,” he says.”
I don’t think cultural identity is unimportant, but I dislike it as the animating fact of political discourse. The objection that that’s not the case for much of the independence movement may be true, but then why independence? The 21st century, the era of globalized decision-making, hardly needs another nation-state. What it needs is more solidarity and effective democracy within existing structures; to which, of course, many will reply that they are simply broken. Scotland is then on the road towards being 'post-sovereign'. And that is where I come round again to having sympathy - but also renewed scepticism - about a new polity rising above Salmond’s conservative nationalism with its own kind of democratic, independent politics. Paul Mason argues that young Scots are embracing independence as an alternative to the domination of Westminster politics by free-market economics, in a more positive mirror to the rise of UKIP within England; somehow I doubt scepticism of the free market is, in general, anything more than inchoate if held at all. Independence is less important than interdependence.
“A spokesperson from the DWP said: “It’s right that we ask claimants to do everything they can to look for work in return for their benefits, and this pilot is looking at how we provide that extra support to those whose lack of job-hunting skills is preventing them from finding a job”.”—
not quite sure how to phrase this, but I got some very positive news this week (yesterday, in fact): I got a job as a research assistant in Trinity College Dublin, in the Political Science Department, for a study on state development and democracy. I have to wait for HR things to be sorted out before (hopefully) starting next month, and part of me wants to stay quiet about it for fear of jinxing it, but it’s great because it means a) assuaging anxieties about post-postgraduate unemployment and b) I’ll be paid to do something I really enjoy, namely historical research (with a quantitative element). That is, from what I know of the study and what I’ve been told about my role, it’s at the intersection of a lot of things I’m interested in, and even if the work ends up drier than I’m imagining I’m still very excited. I don’t talk about personal stuff on here very much, but I wanted to share this - and to show, even though I’m also benefiting from a lot of luck and privilege, sometimes you do get to benefit from and put your specific skills and interests to work.
"Not everyone using social media, obviously, is a Cynic or a confrontational artist (at least not all the time). Most of online communication is conventionally performative (reiterating pre-existing status and stable emotional bonds — routinely liking the status updates of friends and “keeping in touch,” etc.) if not phatic (simply announcing one’s existence, in a kind of mic check). I don’t think people using Facebook risk very much — not enough to keep them from using the site to try to help manage their general anxiety about social inclusion. But I also think users do believe at some level that they are transforming their lives into an “artwork” worthy of an audience by using social media, and that the platforms encourage them to believe they can and should systematically enlarge the audience that their “brilliant and memorable existence” is appropriate for. At first, friends. Then “Friends” — people you know only in social-media networks. Then, anyone with enough Friends in common.
In this way, Facebook use begins to bleed over into the sort of social-media interaction that is more unpredictable in the ways that Foucault is outlining with respect to parrhesia, and thus more compulsive, more addictive. Whereas performative discourse takes the self as static and the exchanges it generates as predictable, socially scripted, parrhesia puts the self into play, makes it a stake in an unpredictable game, makes it growable. Parrhesia underwrites the slot-machine-like aspects of seeking unanticipated microaffirmation through social media, of trying for jackpot “virality” that suddenly swells the self by broadening its circulation in the network. The hoard of inner experience — turned into signifers of the self in the social-media system — then takes on more weight, feels more substantial for the duration of that viral flare. One’s online archive,the whole of one’s timeline, suddenly seems relevant, in play. It might even seem more true, a prelude to destiny. (I wrote a lot more about the homology between social media to machine gambling in this post.)”
Here’s what’s odd about the “algorithms” debate. We have here what looks like a loosely connected group discussing global media topics, and a tightly connected professional group that talks about data science. But there appears to be very little overlap in this group. At least, there appears to be very little overlap when what’s at stake is the divisive political issue of algorithms in social media.
The irony here is that both sides of the debate have social media experts that understand these dynamics very, very well. The dangers of political echo chambers, the importance of surfacing new and interesting information, and a sensitivity to changes in our communications infrastructure are shared by both the left- and right- hand clusters. Despite that, these groups don’t talk to each other. That is crazy.
Maybe the solution to the problem is one of human judgment. The experts of each cluster could just voluntarily start listening to each other. Or maybe it’s one of algorithmic control. It’s not hard to discover this social disconnect using software, and one could whip up a bot that works against the Twitter API to recommend people to follow from across the river. Either way, it’s good to keep an open mind.
I’ve begun reading Foucault’s The Courage of Truth, the continuation of his lectures in The Government of Self and Others, on Ancient Greek approaches to political and philosophical discourse. I was introduced to them by Rob Horning’s piece on the central notion of ‘parrhesia’ (essentially a sort of frank-spokenness, but according to Foucault with a crucial element of risk which enters the speaker into a ‘game’ of speech and power) within modern social media. Anyway, a lot of what Foucault discusses in the Greek texts concerns the difficulty and quality of parrhesia in different political systems (democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, etc.) according to what discourse is allowed, valued, and for what reason it is offered or received.
It is undoubtedly little odd to jump mentally between the portrayal of these issues as considered in classical Greece and their equivalents in modern communications - whether in the current internet age or the early 1980s Foucualt was speaking in, which is hardly a great difference overall - in that sometimes they seem timeless, sometimes naive, and at others one wonders how we have accepted so many things as ‘normal’ or inconsequential. Of course, there is always a profound difficulty in translating between eras and cultures of such distance, based solely on written texts, not to mention at least three different yet related languages (Ancient Greek, French and English); equally, Western philosophy has long been about reinterpreting the Ancients - to the extent that these lectures of Foucault have themselves a certain retro quality.
In relation the above, what I wanted to suggest is that through ‘algorithmic culture’ - both in our often unconscious subjection to it and the possibility of conscious, autonomous reclamation - we engage not just in games of individual discourse or self-expression, but also in collective management of what we see or read, what fits in our filter bubble or what becomes a quasi-parrhesiastic statement from ‘outside’. These games of feeds, as it were, of presentation of inputs and outputs, then become another aspect Foucault discusses: of ‘care’ for the self and the soul, in the sense of pursuing truth for the individual and the collective (that is now at the root of our near-constant anxiety over discourse).
This takes me back… Wilt was a good deal poppier than Kerbdog, which was probably why it appealed to me… as a 15-year-old? (It was one of the first CDs I ever bought - and almost certainly the first by an Irish group)
“I had heard much of the misery and wretchedness of the Irish people, previous to leaving the United States, and was prepared to witness much on my arrival in Ireland. But I must confess, my experience has convinced me that the half has not been told. I supposed that much that I heard from the American press on this subject was mere exaggeration, resorted to for the base purpose of impeaching the characters of British philanthropists, and throwing a mantle over the dark and infernal character of American slavery and slaveholders. My opinion has undergone no change in regard to the latter part of my supposition, for I believe a large class of writers in America, as well as in this land, are influenced by no higher motive than that of covering up our national sins, to please popular taste, and satisfy popular prejudice; and thus many have harped upon the wrongs of Irishmen, while in truth they care no more about Irishmen, or the wrongs of Irishmen, than they care about the whipped, gagged, and thumb-screwed slave.”
Frederick Douglass, in a letter to The Liberator, 1846 [x]
If, like me, you’ve ever wondered when Americans on the internet started debating whether An Gorta Mór counted as oppression or not, here’s an example written while the Famine was happening.
I was reading about something similar through this Atlantic piece on the origin of the term ‘dismal science’ as a description for economics - by Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle in an 1849 essay on the “Negro Question”. Which also discussed the Irish or Famine Question, as indeed he is known for writing about with particular venom in his ‘Reminiscences on My Irish Journey in 1849’, published later.
The ‘gotcha’ in the Atlantic piece is that ‘dismal science’ was not a putdown of Malthus’s pessimistic theories of population, as is often assumed, although Carlyle did criticise him in a similar vein (I side with the argument that Malthus has been unfairly maligned and was actually quite an interesting political economist), but that
"… Carlyle labeled the science "dismal" when writing about slavery in the West Indies. White plantation owners, he said, ought to force black plantation workers to be their servants. Economics, somewhat inconveniently for Carlyle, didn’t offer a hearty defense of slavery. Instead, the rules of supply and demand argued for "letting men alone" rather than thrashing them with whips for not being servile. Carlyle bashed political economy as "a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing [science]; what we might call … the dismal science.”
Since the phrase was used in defense of slavery, by attacking economics, then we shouldn’t use it “to align ourselves with Carlyle to acknowledge that an inescapable element of economics is human misery”; instead, “the right etymology turns that interpretation on its head. In fact, it aligns economics with morality, and against racism, rather than with misery, and against happiness.”
But to do so assumes that Carlyle’s support for slavery and opposition to economic thinking are inseparable: in fact, his criticisms of the latter echo a lot of the contemporary rhetoric against neoliberal economics - which is, after all, based on the freedom of individuals to be economic actors (even if we would see that freedom as illusory or proportional to wealth and privilege). The difference is that his alternative is upholding the paternalist, patriarchal status quo - in other words, it is the conservative reaction to (economic) liberalism which we see today, and which was precisely the debate Carlyle was entering into at the time (uber-liberal John Stuart Mill wrote a response to his essay).
Equally, it conflates ‘political economy’ (which was the subject discussed by thinkers then) with what is called ‘economics’ now - although the two are related, the change is essentially that the political dimension has been sublimated into the idea that economics is a science, which issues prescriptions that can be interpreted only in a limited political framework. Actually, I always thought that the ‘dismal science’ referredly specifically to the problems with economics, even more than the rest of the social sciences, as an empirical subject. ‘Political economy’ seems like a much more honest way to describe the reliance on normative, social and psychological assumptions in studying the effects of economics on society (but if the state is meant to be kept out of it, then it’s not really ‘political’, is it?).
Adding in the Irish situation reinforces the conflict between conservative morality and liberal economics (which was, of course, its own form of morality). From the link above:
"With the emancipation of slavery in the West Indies and the supportive BFASS [British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society] activities there, Carlyle believed the hitherto peaceful black ex-slave would be condemned to idle pauperism. The principal image that horrified Carlyle was that of the West Indies being reduced to a "Black Ireland". To the idle, impoverished "potato people" of Ireland, Carlyle saw the potential counterpart in an idle, impoverished "pumpkin people" in the Caribbean. Remember that at this time, Ireland was still in the thrall of the Great Famine. Carlyle visited Ireland in 1849 and filled his journal with tirades, referring to Ireland as a "human swinery", a "black howling Babel of superstitious savages".
Carlyle’s sentiments towards the paupers of Ireland (and the ex-slaves of the Caribbean) is not plain brutal racism, but a different, more paternalistic concern. He does not see their predicament, as many contemporaries did, as being due to the inherent immorality or natural laziness of the “Gael” or the “Negro”. No, Carlyle argued, set a man to work and all those “savage” qualities disappear. The character of the Irishman (or the West Indian, for that matter) is not inherently corrupt but it has been corrupted from lack of work.
This is not too far from contemporary opinion. Many British philanthropists, not least Charles Trevelyan, the pious Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of British relief during the Irish famine, the problem of Ireland was a cultural one and thus not irretrievable. They believed that “savage” Gaelic/Negro attitudes could be “fixed” if they were given the right upbringing and incentives. Irish paupers could be transformed into proper, industrious Englishmen with the discipline of the market-place, moral education, religious piety and the whip of hunger.
Where Carlyle differs from Trevelyan and other “philanthropists” is that he believes that the culture of pauperism cannot be fixed by the market, because that very culture was created by the market. The market, he argues, does not create an incentive to work, it gives an incentive to sell — and, for Carlyle, these are two very different things. As an axiom, Carlyle refuses to accept that wage payments induce work. Work comes first, payment afterwards. Work is done “for the favor of Heaven”, not with a view to recompense. As such, wages are an imperfect measure of the worth of labor.”
Where this ties back in with the Douglass quote is the argument that Carlyle was not defending slavery as much as attacking the hypocrisy of abolitionists, much as Douglass argued the outrage about the Famine was was equally a hypocrisy on the part of the anti-abolitionists:
"It was somewhat clear for many contemporaries that neither West Indian blacks nor Irishmen, nor prisoners, were his prime targets, but rather the evangelicals and economists themselves. Although a mathematician by training, Carlyle despised "systems" of thought and philosophy, particularly those which claimed to have captured the "Truth" and were willing to up-end the given organic, "natural order" of society in pursuit of it. Moral or scientific absolutism and "collective wisdom" irritated Carlyle, and his very method of argument — sweeping assertions, hard-hearted conclusions, twisted appeals to anecdotal evidence, shocking language — were geared in part against it."
While Carlyle is still wrong, it’s uncomfortable to see an echo of his basic argument in opposition to neoliberalism today, to the extent particularly that rhetoric is shared by the ‘anti-liberal’ left and the traditionalist right. Liberalism is the dismal ideology which suffuses economics and politics, making kneejerk bedfellows of socialists and conservatives, at the same time as each assumes the other to be have drunk the liberal Koolaid.
“Football, as America’s de facto national game, is what best channels the substance of American culture, its mediated violence, into a single ritual. It systematizes technology, brute force, and drama into an event capable of creating beauty, boredom, spectacle, and catharsis.”—
Last weekend there was a college (American) football game played in Dublin in Croke Park, between Penn State and the University of Central Florida, and just before kickoff (or whatever you call it?) there was a flypast by two USAF F-16s. Which came as an unwelcome surprise to some residents of Northside Dublin (I think I just about heard the roar of the jet engines over on the other side of the city) - who had just escaped five nights of Garth Brooks in the same venue.
Personally I can’t be too righteous in my objection to the mere presence of warplanes (albeit the same as used in the bombing of Gaza) in the foreign and ostensibly neutral airspace over Ireland, because I used to be really big into them as a kid - before I discovered geopolitics - and the technology and sheer aerodynamic force still appeals to me. What annoyed me more was the spectacle of ‘American-ness’ as the literal projection of that military power across borders (the planes themselves apparently came from their base in Germany, via the UK) in the service of the patriotic rituals of a sports game held in another nation’s capital. The brash arrogance of that single ritual (it coincided with the singing of the American anthem) is typically American, as the invitation for thousands of American tourists to watch their own sport be played in Ireland’s largest stadium is typical of Irish obsequiousness in attracting ‘Foreign Direct Investment’ from the mighty capitalists across the ocean.
Ironically, as the national stadium for the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Croke Park previously had to conform to its ‘no foreign games’ policy, before that was abandoned as so much blinkered nationalism. Hence we have an 82,000 capacity stadium primarily used for sports - gaelic football and hurling - not really played outside of Ireland, or of expatriate Irish communities. Recently there has been an attempt to broaden its reach through a television deal with Sky to broadcast certain games in the UK and Ireland on its paid subscription service, which arguably conflicts with the GAA’s amateur ethos (players are not paid professionals) and community spirit (however nebulously defined). Hosting American football games serves a publicity and tourist purpose, as well as presumably a direct financial benefit, for Ireland and the GAA; American football has also itself become more popular among young, internet-connected Irish people; but does any of that justify the subservience of the Irish city to symbolic warpower?
"United Pressing is the largest vinyl pressing plant in the US, with a close relationship to Jack White’s production emporium Third Man Records nearby, as well as Nashville’s booming analogue music recording scene.
Next year the firm will add 16 presses that should boost daily output to 60,000 records. Millar, director of marketing, won’t say where they found the presses – manufacturing of vinyl records ceased in the early 1980s and competition for presses comes from surprising quarters. The last few machines capable of cutting a metal mother – the stamp that imprints the plastic vinyl – were purchased at auction by the Church of Scientology, whose followers believed that the best way to preserve speeches of the master, L Ron Hubbard, for posterity was a 33⅓ album.
But there’s residual anxiety that the analogue revival is temporary. “Everything comes back once before it goes away for ever,” says VH1’s Bill Flanagan. “If it’s just a nostalgic or hipster-elitest thing, where does that leave us in 10 years? It might be the last gasp of an expiring culture before we all get sucked into the [digital] cloud.”
“If you create something that improves human life, people will reward you for it, but this is not a universal law of physics. This is something that applies at the start of the 21st century. But artificial intelligence is not going to care about the human market. At the moment, the human is in the loop. That can change.”—
Fascinating/terrifying article about the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk in Cambridge University, England. The concept of posthuman economics sounds like a good thing to study - or, as their economist member calls it, “inequality across time”, and sustainable development incorporating “natural capital”. What if humans become not the only ‘rational actors’ in our economic framework?
I don’t get the ‘paperclip apocalypse’ headline - how does this work: “the for-instance of a paper clip making software that turns the whole of America, including the people, into paper clips”? But the idea of an artificial intelligence taking over the ‘internet of things’ for its own ends is pretty scary, and should be a prompt to ask ourselves do we really need everything to be a ‘smart’? Although as is explained, there is a certain economic-type logic pushing us towards that convergence.
“Mindfulness experts say such extreme adverse reactions are rare and are most likely to follow prolonged periods of meditation, such as weeks on a silent retreat. But the studies represent a new strain of critical thinking about mindfulness meditation amid an avalanche of hype.”—
Somewhat conflicted about this - on the one hand I agree with the critical perspective, but on the other I think it should also be applied to considering how ‘adverse’ reactions are defined and what the intended psycho-social outcome of therapy is (not to trivialise the former, but the example given is “rare cases of “depersonalisation”, where people feel like they are watching themselves in a film” which could either be a step towards psychosis or a spiritual awakening into the nature of selfhood). Plus there is an important overlay of tension between the commercial mindfulness industry, as a deracinated, de-contextualised form of Buddhist meditation, and the study and practice of Buddhism as a philosophical, spiritual and historical tradition - within which surely lies the essential questions of ethics and aims that underpin any broader assessment. I would consider myself a rationalist, but alongside the scepticism of mindfulness as a tool of neoliberal spiritualism there’s also the Western tradition of anti-psychiatry to question the scientific objectivity of ‘experts’ in the psychological realm.
More practically, Brad Warner, I think, has written an important caveat to the meditation/mindfulness experience: rather than simply being about ‘emptying your mind’, in the popular imagination, it can expose oneself (through relaxing conscious control) to suppressed emotions and thoughts, with uncomfortable or unpleasant results. And the experience of depression or anxiety is in large part about suppressing certain ideas or feelings through an unhealthy focus on others, as a kind of psychological defence mechanism. So mindfulness can help cut through the latter but dealing with the former requires more positive action; it’s why using mindfulness to tackle social malaise is doomed to be inadequate unless it’s coupled with an honest discourse and an ethics of care. Is there a risk to providing tools towards mental equilibrium? Maybe, but it’s less worse than denying the link between psychic pain and social situations.
A list of 100 incredible things that make America the most wonderful country in the world and ensure the reputation all over the world is one of being great
Written by possibly Ireland’s most awful person! (Who has previously called for the eradication of junkies from Dublin city centre and termed its Northside ‘Knackeragua’)
Tipping and the Service Industry
The Portland Craft Beer Scene
no women (aside from ‘Bill and Melinda Gates’)
I’m reluctant to share clickbait, especially (un?)intentionally trolling and badly written same, but there is entertainment value in how myopic it all is. At least, that’s my excuse. Maybe you should just take my word for it instead…
I’m not quite sure that I even know what a liberal is tbh
Broadly speaking, liberal means taking a centerist position. The confusion comes from the fact that the further in either direction you go, the wider the centre becomes.
Anarchists think Communists are liberal because they maintain hierarchies, Communists think trade unionists are liberal because they maintain capitalism, trade unionists think the Labour Party are liberal because they broadly maintain the status quo, Tories think Labour are liberal because they don’t openly detest poor people, UKIP think the Tories are Liberal because they’re willing to be seen in the same room as an immigrant, the BNP think UKIP are liberals because they only want to stop immigration not deport all the effnicks, and white power groups think the BNP are liberals because they spend their time trying to get elected instead of … I dunno … shitting on their own faces, or whatever it is that lot enjoy doing.
Um… I think the confusion arises from there being several, sometimes overlapping definitions of ‘liberal’ which nevertheless cover a wide range of political opinions and relative positions. I explained some of this here with reference to The Knife: but basically there’s the political science definition which would be more in line with the original, historical ideology of individual freedoms (whether they be social or economic, the former becoming the popular US usage, as below, and the latter covering more what’s now called ‘neoliberal’) and then there’s a more subjective, rhetorically pejorative meaning that also has ‘right’ and ‘left’ variants, roughly corresponding to fears of either social or economic liberalism - e.g. a leftist might critique ‘liberals’ for supporting socially liberal ideas while ignoring economic inequalities and/or the underpinning structure of economically liberal societies, while a conservative may or may not support liberalisation of the economy, but usually opposes social liberalisation; although of course all that rests on a questionable division of ‘economy’ and ‘the social’).
That might not have ended up being too clarifiying, sorry - however, I don’t think ‘liberal’ really means centrist except by accident, or because it represents in some form one of the mainstream currents of western politics, or because it has turned into a pejorative for ‘less radical’ (more on the the left than the right I think… the Tory example rings false to me, or as an echo of the US bleeding-heart ‘liberal’).
"“The Labour movement is like no other movement. Its strength lies in being like no other movement. It is never so strong as when it stands alone. Other movements dread analysis and shun all attempts to define their objects. The Labour movement delights in analysing, and is perpetually defining and re-defining its principles and objects. The man or woman who has caught the spirit of the Labour movement brings that spirit of analysis and definition into all his or her public acts, and expects at all times to answer the call to define his or her position. They cannot live on illusions, nor thrive by them; even should their heads be in the clouds they will make no forward step until they are assured that their feet rest upon the solid earth.
“In this they are essentially different from the middle or professional classes, and the parties or movements controlled by such classes in Ireland. These always talk of realities, but nourish themselves and their followers upon the unsubstantial meat of phrases; always prate about being intensely practical but nevertheless spend their whole lives in following visions.
“When the average non-Labour patriot in Ireland who boasts of his practicality is brought in contact with the cold world and its problems he shrinks from the contact. Should his feet touch the solid earth he affects to despise it as a “mere material basis,” and strives to make the people believe that true patriotism needs no foundation to rest upon other than the brain storms of its poets, orators, journalists, and leaders.”
While writing that last post I initially had it in my head that the law was called ‘Comme Positatus’ which, I was thinking, sounds like ‘Commie’, which is ironic for something quite important to American conservatives… but of course, it’s not, it’s that other thing…
On the news that a pregnant woman had a baby delivered by Caesarean at 24-25 weeks, after being denied an abortion (at exactly what stage isn’t clear) despite being assessed as suicidal, and going on hunger and thirst strike:
"New reports of the case suggest a woman sited at several punishing junctures of Irish abortion law: young, raped, suicidal, with precarious migration status. The Sunday Times reports that the woman was a ‘foreign national’, unable to travel abroad freely because of her immigration status. She discovered she was pregnant at 8 weeks (the Sunday Independent reports she discovered in the second trimester), and immediately sought a termination, apparently because she had been the victim of a traumatic rape. The Sunday Independent suggests that the woman was afraid of how family members would react to the pregnancy. It is not clear how much time passed between her first request for a termination and the consideration of her application under s.9. We do not know whether she applied for a visa to facilitate travel for a termination abroad, or whether this was refused. We know that asylum-seeking women in particular face delayed access to abortion abroad because they must seek permission to travel. Her lawyers argued in the High Court that there had been an unreasonable delay in ensuring access to the process, but it is not clear what the outcome of this argument was. If the delay was a matter of months, as the Times suggests, we are firmly back in the territory of the ECHR judgment in A, B and C v. Ireland - inordinate delay and ineffective procedures rendering the constitutional right to an abortion ineffective and inaccessible."
I was critical of some of the reaction to the UN Human Rights Committee’s recent criticism of Ireland’s current laws as ignoring the deep political and social opposition to abortion in Ireland, and certainly aversion to legislating effectively for it, in favour of handing over a (flawed) political process to a highly moralistic and largely rhetorical form of law that happens to coincide with the progressive viewpoint here. There has to be another bitter clash of cultures and diametrically opposed philosophies before Ireland can move beyond its ingrained anti-abortion logic, as abhorrent as its effects appear to many (and unfortunately, this seems like a test of just that).
On the one hand, this appears to have ended in precisely the ‘hard case’ that the pro-life movement rests its most appealing arguments: a foetus delivered on the cusp of viability, making the idea of an abortion the most barbaric alternative. Yet the operation of the legislation is, as warned, such that it drags out the process with the implicit aim of turning the acceptable, normal procedure in the rest of the world (a first-trimester abortion, or at most early second - far rarer, and only out of necessity) into a horror story.
This was done, rhetorically but graphically, by Senator Jim Walsh of Fianna Fáil during the debates on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, a callous and twisted contribution which I wrote about here:
"Although it was obvious he was talking about a late-term abortion, and the part quoted mentions second-trimester, he actually leaves out the part in the original testimony where the doctor states it was a pregnancy at 24 weeks - i.e., the cusp of viability and the current UK limit. There are two issues here: the first is that while pro-life campaigners praise Walsh for describing the “reality” of abortion - in Walsh’s own words: “Colleagues, that is abortion. That is what we are being asked to vote for by the Government” - it is an extreme and totally unrepresentative description of abortion procedures, the vast majority of which (at least where generally available) occur in the first trimester, with a little over 1% being after 20 weeks.
The second issue is that while many pro-life TDs and Senators have been objecting to the absence of term limits in this legislation for lifesaving abortion, it is ironically the very restrictions they force that make late-term procedures more likely. You can’t legislate for women only to have life-threatening emergencies in their first trimester; not that it would affect the pro-life argument which is against abortion at all stages after conception. If Walsh actually acknowledged this his argument might be slightly stronger and less offensive, but instead he claims his grotesque vision as the sole reality.
The argument against the absence of term limits is also debunked when one considers that other countries who do have them (inevitably in the context of a more liberal abortion regime, i.e. one in which they could make any sense) specifically exclude a range of circumstances - such as rape, foetal abnormality, even acute socio-economic pressures - that are frequently far broader than the sole Irish criterion of risk to life, which will limit all terminations here. Because it doesn’t make sense to restrict an abortion which has been deemed necessary, simply because it passes a social threshold of comfort.”
His attitude will doubtless be repeated by pro-life advocates in relation to this case, those who see no problem in forcing a pregnant woman to submit to the medical regime of a state that can’t admit (at least not with official force) the hypocrisy of its central belief - that women who can (travel) and wish to get an abortion, do so, while those who can’t are held hostage by a religious doctrine enshrined in law. Until we can change that - ideally by recognising that this is one philosophical debate which, despite strong feelings, absolutely cannot be regulated by the official control of women’s bodies - this will continue. Unless this is the point where the hypocrisy of the mechanism - which essentially resulted in a coerced delivery over a period of months - is shown to be so cruel that the fudge, the weakness of the compromise with the fear of the extreme, is no longer acceptable.
(Protest in Dublin at the Spire at 6pm Wednesday. Donate to the Abortion Support Network to help women from Ireland and Northern Ireland to travel to England)