Why are UK academics striking? A beginner’s guide

by Miriam Ronzoni on March 5, 2018

Ingrid has suggested that I write a short post giving a general overview of the current strike action in UK universities, as many CT readers based outside of the UK might actually not know much about it. I am very happy to do so.

UK-based academics are currently engaging in the most massive industrial action ever undertaken by the sector. After being on strike five days overall over the past two weeks, they are committed to an escalation that will lead them to strike four out of five days this week and to a whole week walk-out next week. If negotiations do not progress sufficiently after this, the promise is to move to an assessment boycott. [click to continue…]

Young Man Has Crisis While Europe Stumbles Into War

by Belle Waring on March 5, 2018

So I have a sort of reading project. I read Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, and it is really the best thing ever. You should all read it, and unlike all the other books I’m thinking of, it’s not eleventy billion pages long. Europe is getting ready for WWI, but there’s no actual WWI in the book until the last five pages or so. This is as it should be because who wants to read about WWI? Then I read The Magic Mountain again which, similarly, has fighting in the mud (perhaps oddly cheerful) in the last…two pages maybe, and that’s it after 900 pages of symbolism of Europe’s decline, and brutal caricatures of European intellectuals, and five nourishing meals a day at the International Sanatorium Berghof. I’m reading all of Kafka now but it’s a detour and I don’t know how I started exactly, especially since Amerika is making me sad. But I’m almost done and setting that aside, next I’ll read The Man Without Qualities? The war’s going on for a while at the end but everyone is just dicking around in Vienna the whole time IIRC. I think the book even makes it to the end of the war?

Unfortunately it seems like I should read Proust next but…I mean, I know a girl’s got to have goals, but there’s a lot of Proust. (There are new translations I have been curious about, but.) It’s literally the best qualified I can think of, and ‘young man having crises’ and ‘Europe stumbling into war’ are lavished with care while ‘fighting in the mud’ is minimized. I think the narrator’s realization at the beach hotel, two years after the fact, that his grandmother is actually dead in a meaningful and tragic sense definitely outweighs any mud, which may not get a look-in at all. I’m pretty sure we get all the way through the war and more without any violence to speak of. Do any of you have good suggestions for the genre I made up (and I should note that young ladies having crises would be fine; I just don’t think there will be any)? I could go sideways and read Totem and Taboo, but although there are young men having incestuous crises there’s no stumbling into WWI IIRC. And if I’m just starting to drift into publication dates/influential works I could read Lukacs’ The Theory of The Novel? But why? It’s hard. It’s fair to ask, “why any of this Belle, and why are you reading Kafka if The Castle and Amerika are bumming you out, just stop.” BELLE WARING DON’T STOP READING NO BOOKS, IS WHY. And just in case you think I’m so fancy and all I read is fancy things I also just read Stephen King’s It, which is scary. Not as scary as WWI in some important sense, but pretty darn scary. [It should go without saying that I spend multiple hours dorking around on the loserweb, too.] And this may all be put on hold so I can help John by reading science fiction, anyway.

I don’t get it

by John Holbo on March 5, 2018

Maybe someone could ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders (or someone who’s in charge of this stuff) to explain the joke?

The comment was made behind closed doors, and appeared to be in jest: President Trump told donors on Saturday that China’s president, Xi Jinping, was now “president for life,” and added: “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.”

The remarks, confirmed by a leading Republican lobbyist who attended the luncheon at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, were first aired by CNN, which obtained an audio recording of his comments.

The statement, which drew laughter from those in attendance and was said by a smiling president, according to the lobbyist, was given on a day when Mr. Trump was out for laughs.

With so many people laughing, surely at least one person must be in on the joke. We on the outside, looking in, want to know.

Is it one of those ‘it’s funny because it’s true‘ type things? The inevitability of someone – possibly Trump himself – overthrowing the constitutional order and becoming President For Life is the new ‘the VCR is inevitably going to blink 12:00’ kind of gags?

Or is it one of those ‘ha ha I’m an awful person but aren’t we all awful in our hearts, the things we wish for, so this is actually kind of deep – I’m a symbol of human nature itself, I contain dark multitudes’ things?

Or is it just one of those ‘politicians give the people what they deserve, good and hard’ jokes

Or is kind of a higher synthesis of those last two: ‘you know I want it, but I know you know I know I can’t ask for it, so I’m just, like, wink-wink’ type things? So the joke is it’s not a joke but an ask, plus deniability?

Asking for a friend.

Post Democracy in Italy

by Henry on March 5, 2018

Written five years ago

The Italian Democratic Party is caught on one tine of the post-democratic dilemma. It is trying to work within the system as it is, in the implausible hope that it can produce real change within a framework that almost seems designed to prevent such a thing. As the party has courted Grillo, it has started making noises about refusing to accept austerity politics and introducing major institutional reforms. It is unclear whether senior Democratic figures believe their new rhetoric; certainly no one else does. If the party does somehow come to power, the most it will do is tinker with the system.

The Five Star Movement has impaled itself on the other tine, as have the Indignados in Spain, Occupy in the US and UK, and the tent movement in Israel. All have gained mass support because of the problems of post-democracy. The divide between ordinary people and politicians has grown ever wider, and Italian politicians are often corrupt as well as remote. The Five Star Movement wants to reform Italy’s institutions to make them truly democratic. Yet it, too, is trapped by the system. As Grillo told the Financial Times in October: ‘We die if a movement becomes a party. Our problem is to remain a movement in parliament, which is a structure for parties. We have to keep a foot outside.’

… All are embroiled, in different ways, in the perplexities of post-democracy. None has any very good way out. Ever since France’s president François Mitterrand tried to pursue an expansive social democratic agenda in the early 1980s and was brutally punished by international markets, it has been clear that social democracy will require either a partial withdrawal from the international economy, with all the costs that this entails, or a radical transformation of how the international economy works.

It is striking that the right is not hampered to nearly the same extent. Many mainstream conservatives are committed to democracy for pragmatic rather than idealistic reasons. They are quite content to see it watered down so long as markets work and social stability is maintained. Those on the further reaches of the right, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, find it much easier than the Five Star Movement or Syriza, the Greek radical-left coalition, to think about alternatives. After all, they aren’t particularly interested in reforming moribund democratic institutions to make them better and more responsive; they just want to replace them with some version of militaristic fascism. Even if these factions are unlikely to succeed, they can still pull their countries in less democratic directions, by excluding weaker groups from political protection. The next 10 years are unlikely to be comfortable for immigrants in southern Europe.

Post-democracy is strangling the old parties of the left. They have run out of options. Perhaps all that traditional social democracy can do, to adapt a grim joke made by Crouch in a different context, is to serve as a pall-bearer at its own funeral. In contrast, a new group of actors — the Five Star Movement and other confederations of the angry, young and dispossessed — have seized a chance to win mass support. The problem is, they seem unable to turn mass frustration into the power to change things, to create a path for escape.

Perhaps, over time, they will figure out how to engage with the mundane task of slow drilling through hard boards that is everyday politics. Perhaps, too, the systems of unrule governing the world economy, gravely weakened as they are, will fail and collapse of their own accord, opening the space for a new and very different dispensation. Great changes seem unlikely until they happen; only in retrospect do they look inevitable. Yet if some reversal in the order of things is waiting to unfold, it is not apparent to us now. Post-democracy has trapped the left between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. We may be here for some time.