The Thousand Day Reich: Civil Society

by Henry on February 1, 2017

Over the next while, I want to write a bunch of posts looking at the Trump administration – and the worldwide surge of right wing populism more generally – through different lenses offered by different books. This may or may not be useful to other people – as much as anything I’m doing it to get my own thoughts in order about the condition we’re in, and the various possibilities for pushing back, using other people’s ideas as a starting point. First: civil society.

One way we can think of Trump and leaders like him is in terms of civil society. On the one hand, people like Daron Acemoglu argue that civil society is the last defense against Trump and his ilk.

This leaves us with the one true defense we have, which Hamilton, Madison, and Washington neither designed nor much approved of: civil society’s vigilance and protest. In fact, this is not unique to the United States. What is written in a constitution can take a nation only so far unless society is willing to act to protect it. Every constitutional design has its loopholes, and every age brings its new challenges, which even farsighted constitutional designers cannot anticipate.

The lack – and in fact active discouragement — of direct social participation in politics is the Achilles’ heel of most nascent democracies. Many leaders of newly emerging nations in the 20th century, who professed as their goal the foundation of a democratic regime, all but prevented the formation of civil society, free media, and bottom-up participation in politics; their only use for it was mobilizing core supporters as a defense against other leaders seeking to usurp or contest power. This strategy effectively condemned their democracies to permanent weakness.

On the other, Stephen K. Bannon, the eminence grise of the Trump administration, describes his fears of foreigners as follows:

Last November, for instance, Trump said he was concerned that foreign students attending Ivy League schools have to return home because of U.S. immigration laws. “We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country,” Trump said. He paused. Bannon said, “Um.” “I think you agree with that,” Trump said. “Do you agree with that?” Bannon was hesitant. “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ” Bannon said, not finishing the sentence. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

Civil society is a notoriously loose term – Marx, Gramsci, Bobbio and a whole host of political theorists and writers in the 1990s mean very different things by it. So how can we make it useful? One good place to start is the work of Ernest Gellner. [click to continue…]

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Workless, or working less?

by John Quiggin on February 1, 2017

That’s the title of my review of Tim Dunlop’s excellent new book, Why the Future Is Workless, published at Inside Story. It’s over the fold.

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Doctor recommendations needed.

by Harry on January 31, 2017

Forgive the momentary frivolity. I’m as exercised as anyone by what is going on. But Capaldi’s leaving. Give us a moment of your distracted time to provide recommendations for his replacement, ideally with reasons. Personally, I am such a fan of Toby Jones at the moment that I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Except maybe Sean Pertwee. Still, I can listen.

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Snitching on those in breach of immigration law

by Chris Bertram on January 31, 2017

Kwame Anthony Appiah, of whom I have only had positive feelings up to now, has produced an opinion for the Ethicist column for the New York Times that it is “a good thing” when citizens report violations of immigration law to the US authorities. He produces this opinion in the context of a question about “green-card marriage” entered into merely in order to gain an immigration advantage, so it is unclear how far he relies on the specific features of the case he describes to generate a more general moral conclusion, but I, for one, find his reasons highly problematic.

First, he operates on the assumption that US migration policy is reasonable and reasonably fair and that states have the right to set their immigration controls unilaterally. Whether or not legitimate states have the right to set their immigration controls unilaterally (I’m a sceptic), I think it hard to argue that US policies are currently fair given who they exclude (and a fortiori who they are now excluding). Appiah argues that people who enter by unlawful means are queue jumpers who thereby act unfairly towards others. But the very idea that there is an immigration queue that people can join and wait their turn is preposterous. There is no such queue and many many people will never be in a position where they can realistically have a chance of a visa. The claim of unfairness to other would-be migrants is therefore unfounded. [click to continue…]

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Card-Carrying ACLU Member

by John Holbo on January 30, 2017

I just joined. Sent ‘em some money. They’re going to need it. We’re going to need them.

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Trump’s migration ban

by Chris Bertram on January 29, 2017

Donald Trump’s order that the US be closed to the nationals of several Muslim-majority countries is a particularly egregious intensification of the racist immigration policies that many “liberal democracies” have pursued in recent years. It isn’t clear at the moment how this story will develop, with various US courts taking action against the order but with Homeland Security apparently indicating that they will continue to enforce it. As everybody now knows, it is being enforced even against US permanent residents who were on trips abroad, against people transiting US airports on their way back to other countries, against students in the middle of their courses. It is separating loved ones, including parents from children (a very prominent case being the British-Somali athlete Mo Farah). It also seems to be the case that the US is failing to allow people to claim asylum and have their cases properly assessed, as the 1951 Refugee Convention requires as well as US law, and that the US has engaged in some breaches of the non-refoulement obligation towards those seeking asylum.

Naturally, there are calls for European politicians to protest. Theresa May, just back from Washington and then from selling fighter-planes to Turkey’s Erdogan seemed reluctant to do so at first, but someone from 10 Downing Street has now issued a weakish condemnation. Well, ok, but what’s new here? Both European states and the US have long given people a harder time based on their country of origin and poor people from a long list of states have no chance of entering the territory by non-clandestine means. We all know of the appalling death toll in the Sahara, the Mediterranean, up through Mexico and in the Arizona desert. Wealthy states, such as Australia and the US under Clinton, have already breached the non-refoulement provisions of the Convention on many occasions, and now often pay poorer states on their periphery to send people back on their behalf (or just keep them locked in). Migrants present on the territory without authorization face “hostile environment” policies aimed at depriving them of work or accommodation, which also expose them to crime and exploitation, policies put in place by politicians who also make speeches about “human trafficking” and “modern slavery”. And Theresa May herself is no stranger to policies that abruptly refuse students entry at the border or that separate partners or parents from children. In the UK, aliens, even those present from birth, can be deported to homelands they have never seen, without due process, if law enforcement deem them “foreign criminals”. And then we have France, among others, criminalizing people who offer assistance to irregular migrants and refugees, and countries like Hungary constructing physical barriers to keep them out. So nothing much new.

Or maybe something, which matters somewhat: Trump and his henchmen feel able to do openly and proudly what those other politicians have usually done hypocritically and shamefacedly. Not for him speeches such as the ones Theresa May (and Cameron before her) make about a “proud record” of helping those fleeing persecution, speeches made whilst they condemn the persecuted to risking death and then incarcerate them in detention centres. To be honest, I prefer the hypocrisy, because at least then there is some chance of holding them to account for the betrayal of the values they publicly profess. That Trump doesn’t care is terrifying.

(Protest and campaign, of course. But one thing you can also do is to volunteer to support refugees or to donate to a refugee charity. Bristol Refugee Rights is one such in the town where I live, but there are many others in Europe and North America.)

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Trumpcare, in its majesty

by Henry on January 28, 2017

The NYT on the artful language of Republicans looking to repeal Obamacare.

Before Mr. Trump stepped into the debate with his call for “insurance for everybody,” Republicans were choosing their words with utmost caution: Their goal in replacing the health law was to guarantee “universal access,” they said, not necessarily universal coverage.

“We will give everyone access to affordable health care coverage,” Mr. Ryan said in early December when asked if Republicans had a plan to cover everyone.

… “No one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage,” Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said on Jan. 10. … The congresswoman “didn’t deliver her remarks exactly as prepared,” the spokeswoman said. In the prepared remarks, Ms. McMorris Rodgers included an important qualification: “No one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage the day it’s repealed” — in the transition to a new market-oriented health care system.

… We’re all concerned, but it ain’t going to happen,” Mr. Cornyn said. He amplified the point, adding: “Nobody’s going to lose coverage. Obviously, people covered today will continue to be covered. And the hope is we’ll expand access. Right now 30 million people are not covered under Obamacare.” A spokesman for Mr. Cornyn said he “meant no one will lose access to coverage.”

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GF Newman’s The Corrupted is back, this time covering the 1970s. (As of today, you have 11 days to listen to the first episode, 12 to listen to the second, etc: here). I think you can find the first two decades on youtube pretty easily. It is a masterpiece—mingling a fictional crime family with harsh but believable portrayals of real historical figures they interact with (Driberg, Thatcher, Robert Mark, Slipper of the Yard and more!). I thought it would wear out a bit after the first, riveting, decade, but it hasn’t. Each episode is punctuated by brief clips of pop songs from the year in question, and each musical selection is so perfect for the narrative that at one point I wondered whether GF Newman had selected the songs first and written the drama around them. But even he couldn’t be that good.

The Corrupted came back just after we started binge-watching (or the closest we get to it—12 episodes in 4 weeks or so) detectorists (on netflix). This has had the strange consequence that pretty much every day I see or hear Toby Jones playing either the monstrous Joey—sorry, Joseph—Oldman, or the utterly delightful (as Sophie Thomson says in the penultimate episode, ‘and you’re lovely, Lance’) Lance. detectorists is as different from The Corrupted as Toby Jones’s character in detectorists is different from his character in The Corrupted. It, too, is a masterpiece—sparsely written, perfectly cast and beautifully acted. The casual in-jokes are adorable—if you’re over 40 you’ll grin in delight when the Simon and Garfunkel characters tell the police their real last names (Garfunkel brilliantly played by that bloke off Horrible Histories!). In common with the best sitcoms (is it a sitcom though?) the characters don’t really develop over the course of the show—instead they reveal themselves. Even Terry and Sheila, who appear to be objects of ridicule in the first few episodes, become understandable and real without actually changing. If you don’t shed a tear at the end of the 12th episode, there’s something wrong with you. And Diana Rigg and Rachel Stirling play mother and daughter. Again!

Apparently Alan Ayckbourn used to direct radio dramas. A lot of them! So, if you feel like a radical change of pace, try Roy Clarke’s The Events at Black Tor from 1968. Very much of its time, anticipating The Wicker Man, Children of the Stones, etc. A great way to spend three hours.

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Clackity Claque

by Richard Byrne on January 24, 2017

Reliable reports that President Donald Trump brings supporters to press conferences and speeches to lead applause and cheers for his remarks are startling – though perhaps they shouldn’t be.

The term for such a grouping is a claque. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was the province of the opera, where devotees would congregate at performances to huzzah or hiss their favorite performers. The custom largely died out in the late 19th century, but it had its roots in ancient Rome.

I dove into the history of the classical claque few years ago, when I wrote a glam rock play produced in Washington, D.C. by WSC/Avant Bard called Nero/Pseudo – with music by Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) and Jim Elkington (The Zincs, Tweedy).

One of the most resonant stories of ancient times – with strange echoes in the afterlife of Elvis Presley – is the tale of a false Nero who rose up in Greece after the emperor’s suicide in 69 AD. This pretender resembled Nero and played the lyre, and he actually gathered a substantial mob of followers before he was intercepted and killed.

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A term whose time has come round again.

by Henry on January 23, 2017

CBS News:

U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday. An official said the visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse” and described the visit as “uncomfortable.” Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition):

CLAQUE (Fr. claquer, to clap the hands), an organized body of professional applauders in the French theatres. The hiring of persons to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times, and the emperor Nero, when he acted, had his performance greeted by an encomium chanted by five thousand of his soldiers, who were called Augustals. The recollection of this gave the 16th-century French poet, Jean Daurat, an idea which has developed into the modern claque. Buying up a number of tickets for a performance of one of his plays, he distributed them gratuitously to those who promised publicly to express their approbation. It was not, however, till 1820 that a M. Sauton seriously undertook the systematization of the claque, and opened an office in Paris for the supply of claqueurs. These people are usually under a chef de claque, whose duty it is to judge where their efforts are needed and to start the demonstration of approval. This takes several forms. Thus there are commissaires, those who learn the piece by heart, and call the attention of their neighbours to its good points between the acts. The rieurs are those who laugh loudly at the jokes. The pleureurs, generally women, feign tears, by holding their handerkerchiefs to their eyes. The chatouilleurs keep the audience in in a good humour, while the bisseurs simply clap their hands and cry bis! bis! to secure encores.

Should President Trump finally decide to outsource this, along with everything else, there’s excellent precedent for a market-based private-sector solution.

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Morgan And (Pseudo) Science Fiction

by John Holbo on January 23, 2017

My older daughter was feeling pretty low so I said I would read to her while she did some drawing. Normally that means Moomin books or Discworld or something. Tonight, she was in the mood for more scholarly fare. She requested: King Arthur’s Enchantresses, Morgan and Her Sisters In Arthurian Tradition, by Carolyne Larrington (a book I got her a few years ago, but which proved a bit much then.)

So I’m reading about Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin, so forth, and this bit comes up, which I think I may include in my science fiction module, next time round.

Is Geoffrey’s Morgan supernatural or human? Did she acquire her magical powers from the Other World, or is she simply an educated, mortal woman who has actively studied the knowledge she wields?

Geoffrey gives us no origin story. But our author writes: [click to continue…]

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Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats

by John Holbo on January 22, 2017

I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’

One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others.

In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it.

The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.

Wilkinson goes on to talk about other, non-Haidt stuff that contributes to polarization. I like that better. (I think Wilkinson does, too.) But I want to grouse about Haidt, who I think has done interesting empirical work but who commits what I regard as terrible howlers when it comes to moral theory, and when it comes to reasoning about practical, normative implications of his work. [click to continue…]

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One fine day

by Maria on January 21, 2017

Women's March London, 21 January 2017

Your opponents would like you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the uncertainty of both optimists and pessimists.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Darkness, 2005/2016

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. Hope gets you there; work gets you through.” James Baldwin (quoted in Solnit).

Fellowship carries many through the long years when faith is in doubt. A political struggle like the one many now face needs equal parts work, hope and fellowship. Hope and fellowship alone won’t suffice, but oh, how badly we needed them. The worst (yet) has happened. Now we can begin.

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2009

by Henry on January 20, 2017

DSC_0258 (1)

A photo I took back in 2009 (I lucked into a great ticket at the last moment when I ran into someone I’d known in Dublin who had a couple of extra, and no-one to give them to). Consider this an open thread on today, if you want to discuss it.

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The racist incidents I mentioned in the this post have, probably rightly, absorbed a good deal of administrative time and energy. One response has been to go a bit more deeply into climate and, more generally, equity issues on campus. The provost’s office recently asked departments (very nicely!) to plan events around the rubric of ‘equity and diversity’.

But, what should a department do, when asked to plan a response to equity and diversity issues? A number of colleagues went straight to talking about the racist and hate and bias incidents themselves. Fair enough, although if every department ran events on how to deal with racist incidents that might produce a fair bit of redundancy. I wanted at least some departments to focus on addressing what I think is an unduly neglected equity issue: the uneven, and in a significant number of cases downright poor, quality of instruction on the campus. I also believe that high quality instruction (with instruction broadly understood to include mentoring) can even counteract some of the effects of the kinds of incidents under the spotlight, by affecting the climate within which students encounter those incidents.

Let me give you three examples.

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