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Archive for May, 2013

There is this a somewhat puzzling development in many areas of public and professional life, that can be noticed over the past few decades: People do not own or own up to the decisions they made. They do not want to own their decisions. More importantly, people seem to collectively try and put algorithms in place that ‘make decisions’ for them.

This is a kind of complacency, for sure. It is the kind of complacency that Kant was talking about in his famous Enlightenment essay. It is also a form of structural or social fatigue. Structural fatigue, in this case, can be assumed to refer to a generous reading of Alfred North Whitehead’s The Function of Reason: ‘Fatigue is’, Whitehead says, ‘the anti-thesis of Reason.’

 

I think I first described these issues explicitly some eight years ago in a grey paper (grey papers are writings that have not been ‘officially’ published, but still have been circulated and may be accessible somewhere). Back then I was talking about the ethics of torture, namely in attacking a trend to find ways to legalize torture by legitimizing torture with the ‘ticking bomb’-argument. I argued that, when there is a ‘clear and present’ danger of this kind and a suspect in custody, there cannot be a legal defense or legimtization to use torture. There is no legitimation for a legal defense that would free an individual, who exercises extreme measures, from the consequences of having violated the rights of the person subjected to these measures; I also added, nor should states have the right to take away these rights of personal sanctity and integrity.

Another, related, effort was made at the time in Germany, to lay down legal foundations for shooting down commercial airplanes that are under the control of terrorists. The argument that people made was that German air-force (Luftwaffe) pilots should not be held responsible if they had to shoot down a passenger plane, nor should their commanders, aka politicians who have to order such measures. Part of the problem is that this situation, like the ticking bomb situation, is an extreme and extremely rare scenario with a number of uncertainties and variables, making each such instance a highly individualized case. It, admittedly, perhaps having become less rare of late, it is not a normal situation of everyday political decision-making, which is why it is still in requirement of actual decision-making.

 

This is, I argued, what we educate and train, hire or elect, and well-pay highly-skilled leaders for: to make decisions and, if it comes to that, face the consequences. In regard to the ticking bomb situation, my argument was (aside from simple facts such as that torture is simply not a reliable means of information gathering, amongst many other issues) that if a person in charge of such a case had exhausted all other means, and s/he found herself with a choice of either violating the rights of the perpetrator (given that there is ample proof that the suspect is actually in possession of relevant knowledge) or letting people die, then this is indeed a choice this person must make, and it is a choice that would involve bearing legal, punitive consequences. In other words, I argued that bearing the consequences means that if someone in a ticking bomb dilemma chose to use torture, s/he would later have to be tried and sentenced for that action. There cannot be a mandate to use torture nor a protection for torturers. In short, there just are situations, however rare and seldom, when one cannot make any right decision, and for whatever wrong decision one then chooses make, this person would have to bear responsibility and suffer the consequences.

If we legalized torture and create legal structures for ‘extreme measures’ of this kind, our system of rights would be hollowed out in the fact that it lost its internal legitimacy. This is why individuals are left with decisions that have consequences, and leadership positions sometimes require to make a choice between bad alternatives with bad consequences. This is the reason why, in modern, democratic societies people who seek to become leaders should be well aware of, well-prepared and well-compensated for the possibility of having to face such a situation. The alternative, the destruction of the system of rights and laws that are in place to guarantee that modern, peaceful, democratic societies function by allowing torture, etc., is simply too high a price.

 

And yet, there is a sentiment among many self-declared ‘realists’, ‘hardliners’, or ‘conservatives’ to celebrate the ideal of heroism for those who would use torture in a ‘ticking bomb’-scenario, and they would wish to absolve them of their crime, because of that assumed heroism. But what is ‘heroism’? What is ‘heroism’ without a sacrifice? And should people who commit a crime, even with the best intentions be considered heroes? And can they be heroes without having committed a crime, or can they be heroes only when there is no crime involved in torture? Again, I would say that it has to be a crime, and regardless what anyone may privately and individually think of people who commit it aware of the consequences in the face of danger and willing to take responsibility, systematically and publically we cannot treat them or acknowledge them as heroes, but only as criminals. Sure, we might consider mitigating circumstances in determining punishment, but there must be consequences. In short, heroism has to do with responsibility, it has to do with sacrifice, but it also has an odd component that true heroism often goes unnoticed, which is why legalized torture is not heroism.

  We often think it is ‘heroic’ when soldiers die in battle for a good cause. We tend to think that our very system of rights and democratic society is such a good cause that needs to be defended (or, some have argued, even spread around the world, by force – which is somewhat counterintuitive to the ideals of democracy), but allowing torture and ‘glorifying the heroic torturer’ and letting him/her go free is a destruction of that system and not heroic at all. I argued back then and I still believe that in some way dying on the battlefield is an easy decision – because it is over after, it lets you off the hook – whereas having to consider bearing consequences over time is something people seem particularly bad with. Just think of how and why we glorify dead soldiers but are so quick to forget the traumatized veterans, the amputees and the families of the fallen – think of how American society and politicians, in particular, treat their veterans and families of the fallen. It is quite shameful. There are numerous memorial sites for fallen male soldiers, but how many memorial sites are there for those without legs, arms, eyes, who are deaf, etc.,, as a result of their service for their country and how many for injured and disabled women and LGTB soldiers, etc.?

As for the legalization of torture, shooting down planes, etc. the ‘wishing it away’ in a cloud of legal jargon strategy is non-sensical and self-destructive. My point was and is, highly-trained, well-paid individual people in leadership positions are sometimes in rare and extreme situations called on to make tough decisions between alternatives all of which are inherently wrong, and they have to face consequences, often enduring consequences long afterwards, including trial and, yes, even prison. There can be no excuse or get-out-of-jail-free card for torture. There can be an extreme situation, where a person is called on to make a decision, and if s/he sees no other way, and makes the choice, it is his/her choice and her responsibility to live with it. Getting a get-out-of-jail-free card is not heroism.

 

That said, I want to take this argument now further. My original point, in particular with regard to the German case of legalizing shooting down a kidnapped passenger plane, was that among people in leadership positions, such as a ranking politician with the final authority over a ‘decisive action’, e.g. a secretary of defense or the interior, a president or prime minister, that among this group of people there is an increasing trend not to have to make decisions but instead to embed decisions in pre-determinative administrative work by putting in place legal algorithms that relief them of any responsibility for the decisions they make.  Of course, since no extreme situation can really be anticipated in all its variables such laws are either forfeit from the start or so vague that they are outright dangerous since they either empower people to do as they would please, or because of this arbitrariness fail to fulfill the minimum demands that any law in a constitutional republic would have to fulfill in order to become law.

 

Now, and this is the actual point of this essay, this trend, however, is not exclusive to a small class of politicians, nor to a small class of leaders (including, say managers, military leaders, etc.). It is a spreading phenomenon. Reliance of practitioners in health care and psychiatric contexts on diagnostic manuals and the juridification of such algorithm-guided practices is on the rise, more so with the help of computerization not just information processes but of decision-making processes. There is also a component in computerization that will lead to a decrease in the number of jobs that is a dialectical process between the flight from responsibility and the computerization of jobs: Less decision-making necessary, less decision-makers needed.

And every job that a human being fills generally involves decision-making of one kind or another. For health care, the responsibility problem, in particular in the US, is additionally complicated by the factor of malpractice suits. The legal culture in the US health care and psychiatry system has for the longest time now been increasingly disabled, because it has banned the necessary learning curve from happening through open critique and dialogue. The need for over-legalization and over-algorithmization is depending on the fact that even the tiniest complaint that may arise from any procedure can cost individual practitioners and institutionalized health care providers (such as hospitals) millions of US dollars.  And health care is not the only sphere where this occurs, nor is this a phenomenon reduced to the US. It is a problem of all Western, as well as isomorphically Westernized non-Western countries. But as a trans-cultural phenomenon, I cannot but point out that one main driver of this ongoing process is what I call, with a wink to Erich Fromm, the ‘flight from responsibility’ or the ‘escape from decision-making’. While this is certainly not the only driving aspect of this development, it is an interesting vector that deserves our attention, in particular with regard to what happens with how we fail in the development of our children, the education and training of our highly-skilled members society, in particular our leaders, and, also in providing for individual freedom and happiness in life.

This has to begin, as most good scholarship in philosophical, political, sociological, psychological, or anthropological areas should, with the biological basics, and it will end, in this case with the non-sense that is going on with education and higher education in Western countries and in particular in the gun-crazy, anti-suffragist, anti-science, feudalist corporate-capitalist totalitarian state that the US is on the verge of becoming. The West in general, and the US in particular, literally have a lot of growing up and maturing to do or they will be ‘the children that got left behind’.

 

The flight from decision-making and responsibility begins with the development and progress of the ‘executive functions’, those parts of the human cognitive system that are responsible for decision-making, important organization skills, working memory, etc. If their development is not promoted in children, all kinds of morbidities from ADHD-like symptoms to addiction, etc. are more likely to occur, decision-making and academic success are impaired and so is later happiness in life. Non-competitive (mind you!!!!) martial arts, yoga, Montessori programs and certain learning software has been found helpful, so has music, language, arts lessons. Just doing more STEM classes (whether with or without teaching evolution, or claiming that the Flintstones are a reality show, like a large part of American society seems convinced of) is not the solution. You cannot have a creative and innovation-oriented understanding of the principles of STEM subjects without well-developed capabilities in many fields that allow thinking across disciplines, dogmas, worldviews. Oh my, may I call it the ‘queer perspective’?  Only this way do you get people who are able to make decisions, take responsibility, and create a society and culture where responsibility is not shied away from but sought, in order to make things better. Oh my, may I call this a ‘democratic society’?

 

But for leadership, this is not enough. And we need leaders everywhere, from people who are willing to become elected as mayors or presidents to small business owners. Leadership needs multi-perspective thinking and the ability to make decisions and own (up to) them, but also to critically review them, and to dare be wrong and try again. Oh my, may I call this ‘critical thinking’?

And critical thinking, aka the ability to make critical, high-stakes decisions in complex situations with high impact factor on the lives of others, does not come out of nowhere, it needs, dare I say it, education, and the higher the stakes, complexity, and impact, the higher someone’s education should probably be to give him/her the competencies to fully understand the variables, stakes, and consequences. Yup, this is also why they get the paid the big bucks, as we say. But education is not something you can buy, like you can many a college degree or a scientific study these days. Education and higher education is not just a degree, it is having done a lot of reading, a lot of practical and a lot of theoretical work, being corrected by teachers at school and professors at university, engaged by them, have discourse and debate, be forced to make decisions, forced to live with being wrong, forced to redo a paper, a test, a practice exercise, forced to restart a business, etc.

There are no standardized online lectures that can replace this process, there is no way that reducing the number of teachers or professors and thereby making classes bigger will improve the quality of knowledge and create critical thinking. There is no standardized test that can teach all that successfully. But in our contemporary societies we are hell-bent to believe that standardization, reducing the numbers of teachers and professors, that computerization, that one taped Harvard professor’s lecture etc. etc. is the way to go. But these developments, this escape from decision-making, the escape from critical thinking, have been going on for the past few decades.

But seriously, ask yourself, has the flight from responsibility really improved our collective lives? Sure, if your decision to be made is whether to buy a smart-phone with a better graphic chip so you can play more games on it or if you should go with one that can store more of your favorite music, then indeed, life is so much better. If, however, you want to know that you will have excellent and affordable medical treatment, not have to worry about the effects of climate change, know that your elected leaders really have your best interest at heart and not their stock portfolios’,  and that there are people who will do their best to keep you and your loved one’s safe even if they may have to go to extremes, than you better take what sense for responsibility you have left and argue publicly for a better education system and for a culture of responsibility. Otherwise, the flight from responsibility will leave us, pretty soon, with nowhere to run to.

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In the past few years, I have begun developing a theory of nomadic statehood (see, for example, my 4S Guerilla Paper, reprinted on these pages). One of the main concerns that led to this line of inquiry was and is the fact that corporations take on an increasing number of functions that usually reside with what we commonly think of as ‘states’, which is why I ventured to declare corporations are quasi-states and on the road of attaining statehood. Naturally, some criticism has been voiced, pointing to issues ranging from ‘defending citizens’ to accusation of my simply accepting this development uncritically, etc.  I will certainly address these various issues over time, in subsequent and more elaborate versions of my argument.  For the moment, let me sum up that my main line of response ontowards most criticisms will derive from my critique of ‘the territorial’ as an epistemic trap stemming from the Western colonial matrix.

 

Here, I want to quickly illustrate another matter, that will however, prepare a critique of territoriality and offer some conceptual clarity, what is meant when I say statehood and state, and I will go on to venture an idea, picking up on Colin Crouch’s post-democracy discourse, that corporations are just a vanishing mediator – perhaps, more leftist inclined interpreters will run with this even further and claim that corporations are the vanishing mediator in the rise of pure ‘non-territorial capitalist states’.

Classically, Crouch’s argument in his critique of Neoliberalism states that the traditional dyad of ‘state versus market’ has long been turned into a three-party system in reality, even if folk views of econo-socio-political sciences along with many experts still treat the system from the point of view of a dyad. However, Crouch’s line of argument, which I largely agree with in this detail, points to the fact that corporations and corporate rationality come form a different place than the market, that the idea of a truly free market is actually detrimental to the goals of corporations, and that, finally, corporations and the ‘Chicago school’ neoliberal legal thought have created a momentum of destroying the free market in the name of freedom – and, I would add in Kantian politico-psychological twist, in putting freedom against autonomy.

If one can accept, if only for the moment of entertaining my line of argument in order to see how far it goes justifiably, that this triadic constellation exists between state(s), market(s), corporation(s), then a number of points of inquisitive entry open up that allow me to specify the concept of statehood.

To begin with, working with Sabrina Weiss, we have in the past few years also become intensely interested in the concept of thirdness. Naturally, a triad of the kind that is presented here for the post-democratic macro-structure, begs the question of thirdness, i.e. are corporations ‘emergent thirds’ of the kind that Weiss and I are talking about. Independently of her, in this case and for the moment, I would intuitively say that the answer is ‘No!’.

On the contrary, I think that corporations should be conceived as a temporary emerging and vanishing mediator, because corporations are becoming a form of state and, perhaps, have even been a developing form of statehood within the market, drifting from one attractor (Markets) to the other (Statehood), from the start.

That would, of course, be quite the theoretical bluster, now would it not. The problem with any possible discontent that one may have with this line of argument lies, I think, in the states in Crouch’s triad of market-corporation-state. I think that the ‘states’ in this triad are only a sub-category of state that is described in ‘statehood’: The actual states, that we find in the works of Crouch and many others, refer to concrete territorial state apparatuses and largely to actor-perspectives, whereas any wider concept of statehood that wields a concepts of de-territorialized states will have little problem arguing that the dyad Market-State exists on a different level than the triad market-corporation-state: Market-State refers to the wider concept, wherein statehood includes but is not exhausted by (concrete) territorial state apparatuses, such as nation states. The triad, markets-corporations-state holds corporations as a vanishing mediator, because corporations are only for a brief time distinctly visible and discernible in their transition from Market to Statehood, form being a Market force to becoming a State force (I use ‘force’ for the moment to avoid using actor, performativity, or something else, but I will probably come to prefer, in line with semantic agency theory [SAT], to denote them as ‘assemblies’). This also explains, why corporations are not a genuine emergent third, since they do not really exist on the meta-level Market-State, their transition happens on the level of market-state, where they emerge as a transitional object, a vanishing mediator. The notion of State, therefore, will bracket together [territorial state apparatus, corporations, x,y,z].

 

Of course, this is only a sketch or a bridge towards a much needed further elaboration of the inquiry and responses to criticisms. However, I think that the pieces are beginning to come together rather nicely, and this little shift in perspective, in arguing that ‘corporation’ is only a transitional concept is a major step forward – although I must admit, that it does invite two possible interpretations in line with Norbert Elias idea of monopolizing process, one in favor one against my argument: If corporation are part of a monopolizing process in the way Elias described the process for taxing and for violence, one could disembark onto one route and argue that monopolization happens on the Market, leaving intact the dyad Market-State ;the other route would, of course set this up as a monopolization of Market versus State, whereas the drift of corporations towards States means that the allocation of resources no longer occurs through markets but through States in a monopoly, putting an end to Market, which would lead to a monopolizing process occurring within the State level between territorial state apparatuses and corporations (and x,y,z???? x,y,z, could be for example, religious apparatuses). Some polarized comparative accounts of the current developments of China and the US, i.e. a model of the authoritarian state capitalism versus a model totalitarian corporate capitalist state, would then be an indicator that the later monopolizing process is already under way.

 

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