Sep 21, 2019

A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media

ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website  in case you miss it).

George Friedman, Founder and Chairman of Geopolitical Futures, discusses the geopolitics behind last weekend’s drone attack on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, and possible U.S. responses.

As a nation that’s traditionally seen itself as “white”, Australia has grappled to find its true place in the Asia-Pacific region and according to David Walker, author of Stranded Nation: White Australia in an Asian Region, it’s a struggle that continues today.

The number of MBAs graduating from business schools has skyrocketed as the health of business has declined. Could re-thinking how these programs are taught help restore trust in capitalist systems around the world?  Andrew Jack, global education editor for the  Financial Times  and Professor Guy Ford, Director of the MBA program at the University of Sydney Business School, discuss.

For years there had been rumours about powerful producer Harvey Weinstein’s ugly behaviour towards actors and female employees. But nobody would talk. In a highly anticipated new book, She Said, reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey reveal how they broke the story of the decade and re-ignited the global Me Too movement.

Other commentary

Capitalism cannot live on rationality alone

Writing for the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Lynn Parramore reviews Supritha Rajan’s A Tale of Two Capitalisms, a study of the intellectual history of capitalism.  The sacrificial rites of capitalism we don’t talk about. Although the essential creed of capitalism is about rational self-interest, it has always contained a “submerged narrative” of communal values and notions of magic, ritual and sacrifice. Commenting on Rajan’s work, she writes:

The modern capitalist system, she [Rajan] argues, can’t do without the ethics of communality, interdependence, and reciprocity that are officially associated with pre-modern, pre-capitalist societies. Market and non-market values always operate right alongside one another.

The burden of inequality

Frank Stilwell, Professor in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, speaks with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live about the  corrosive effects of inequality– specifically the inequality of  wealth that accumulates after years of inequality in  income. More people are living off the proceeds of financial wealth rather than their own effort. The consequences of widening inequality include “higher crime, higher rates of mental disorders, reduced health and wellbeing, worse educational outcomes, more division, and higher levels of corruption”.  Contrary to right-wing rhetoric, research confirms that higher inequality leads to lower productivity: he explains the mechanisms of this dismal economic outcome.  (20 minutes)

Postmodernism – eroding public life from the left and the right.

The left must free itself from the shackles of postmodernism

What is an avowed left-winger doing at a Ramsey Centre for Western Civilisation event?

Helen Pluckrose was finding common ground, or more strictly finding a common enemy – the curse of postmodernism. Pluckrose, who describes herself as of the left and whose ideas seem to align with those of traditional social democracts, speaks with Andrew West on the ABC Religion and Ethics Report, giving  a spirited defence of empiricism and objectivity in the pursuit of truth. Such a defence should not be necessary, but she is countering what she sees as the left’s embrace of postmodernism: “What we are seeing with postmodern ideas is that objective knowledge, evidence knowledge, empirical knowledge is devalued in favour of experience knowledge.”

The core of postmodernism is that there is no reality, only the individual’s subjective experience of phenomena. In embracing postmodernist ways of thinking the left has abandoned its traditional concern with justice, fairness and racial and sexual equality in favour of taking sides in the shallow politics of identity. Pluckrose suggests that this leads to the criterion for deciding whether an action is “racist” or “sexist” becoming not the intent of the perpetrator, but the feeling of the person who experienced the event.

She describes a creative experiment that exposes the intrusion of postmodernism into the academic discourse (with echoes of Alan Sokal’s  1996 article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”).

The right must free itself from the shackles of postmodernism

It is interesting to speculate whether the Ramsey Centre audience listening to Pluckrose gave thought to the corrupting influence of postmodernism on those of the right who have rejected the science of climate change and the discipline of economic analysis, and who have their own tribal identity politics, such as when their religious affiliation, ethnicity, or standpoint on moral issues becomes the main basis for their socialisation and expression of values. Many members of political parties and fellow-travellers are guided by the principle “my party right or wrong” rather than the merits of policies or the moral integrity of politicians “on their side”.

Writing in Areo Magazine  Reason and myth in Postmodernity – Matt McManus of the Tec de Monterrey , warns that across the political spectrum Enlightenment and reason are under threat from the shallow allure of postmodernism. The right has found it convenient to  dispense with the constraints of reason and rationality in mobilising the disaffected to support reactionary political parties:

In postmodern culture, new reactionary mythologies have replaced their predecessors and enjoy substantial support among segments of society mired in anomie, especially those left behind by capitalist inequality and precarity.

Shareholders don’t comply with economists’ rational model: that’s fortunate

KPMG has released  a survey of shareholder values to reveal what motivates Australian retail investors (i.e. those who invest directly rather than through managed funds). It finds that they “are now keenly aware of the importance of reputation, transparency, ethical behaviour, values alignment, and social responsibility”.  Social responsibility isn’t about philanthropic support for charities: it’s about corporations having integrated values. Investors are willing to accept lower financial returns if they believe a company acts ethically, and a perception of excess executive pay is a major reason people sell or do not buy shares in particular companies.

(If you were sleeping in last Saturday you may have missed Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Edgeclifffe-Johnson  CEOs against capitalism  on Saturday Extra, on the same general theme.)

Can Morrison steer the US-China relationship towards Australia’s interests?

Morrison has been offered the rare honour of a state visit to Washington: can he use it to persuade  Trump to adopt a relationship with China that is more in Australia’s interests? Writing in East Asia Forum, James Curran of Sydney University asks whether  “Canberra can maintain its delicate traversal of the diplomatic tightrope between Washington and Beijing”. In his article  What Mr Trump needs to hear from Mr Morrison  he suggests that the visit gives Morrison an opportunity to steer Washington towards a relationship with China based more on diplomatic moves to achieve economic security in the East Asia region, away from what is becoming a Cold War-style relationship.

Is nationalism an intrinsic human trait?

Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology, Neurosurgery, and Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, has an article in Foreign Affairs  The Biology of Us and Them.  The bad news is that:

… the human mind’s propensity for us-versus-them thinking runs deep. Numerous careful studies have shown that the brain makes such distinctions automatically and with mind-boggling speed.

The good news, however, is that our idea of who counts as an outsider is far from fixed, and can change in an instant. We are capable of forming identities even on such trivial markers as sporting team support, for example. Such pliability can be a positive force (encouraging associations that transcend race, gender, nationality and ethnic divisions) or a negative force (encouraging associations based on these divisions).

What’s driving populism?

That’s a question posed by Dani Rodrik, published in Project Syndicate.

If authoritarian populism is rooted in economics, then the appropriate remedy is a populism of another kind – targeting economic injustice and inclusion, but pluralist in its politics and not necessarily damaging to democracy. If it is rooted in culture and values, however, there are fewer options. Liberal democracy may be doomed by its own internal dynamics and contradictions.

He cites (with numerous hyperlinks) a number of studies supporting both propositions, but he finds a degree of convergence, and concludes with the importance of economic remedies to inequality and insecurity.

Democracy under threat, from within and without

From within: Plato warned us 2300 years ago

Are citizens adequately equipped, cognitively and emotionally, to run a well-functioning democracy? That question was addressed – and concluded in the negative – at a recent meeting of the International society of Political Sociologists in a paper presented by Shawn Rosenberg. Writing in Politico, Rick Shenkman (the author of Political animals: How our stone-age brain gets in the way of smart politics) – summarises Rosenberg’s findings. Social media – the democratisation of information and of misinformation – allow citizens to bypass the elites who have traditionally offered protection against right-wing populism. Populists don’t have to make much sense – they can even get away with intrinsically illogical or internally contradictory messages. All they have to do is to exploit our cognitive biases.

The irony is that more democracy—ushered in by social media and the Internet, where information flows more freely than ever before—is what has unmoored our politics, and is leading us towards authoritarianism.

(Does Shenkman really mean “democracy” or is he referring more to the unimpeded flow of opinion?)

From without: Rand warns of hostile social manipulation

The Rand Corporation warns of  hostile social manipulation. That is the practice of states “seeking to gain competitive advantage by manipulating political, social, and economic conditions in target countries by various informational means”. Their research and analysis are focused on two countries, Russia and China, and their capacity to weaponise cyberspace. The researchers’ emphasis is more on the growing capacity of these and other countries than on their actual effects so far – which may have been overstated. When they consider the so-far underutilised capacity of states to engage in hostile social manipulation they warn that “leading democracies may therefore have a limited window of opportunity to develop resilience and active defenses against such measures before they become truly dangerous”.

Spies in Australia – crazier than a Le Carré novel

Veteran journalist and thorn in the side of successive governments Brian Toohey has appeared on Late Night Live, talking about his decades of uncovering the operations of Australia’s security services. It’s a story about government assaults on our liberties in the name in security, about our governments’ misplaced trust in UK and US intelligence, about the disgraceful behaviour of the British when they dropped atomic bombs on Australia, about probable CIA involvement in the Whitlam downfall, and about secrecy as a means to hide government corruption and incompetence. Plus ça change. It’s also a story of bungling, idiocy, concocted threats, personal vendettas and affairs. The interview is 50 minutes; there’s more in Toohey’s book   Secret: The Making of Australia’s Security State.

Have Brexit and Hong Kong taken our attention away from Kashmir?

Imagine waking up to find the national government has cut off all phone and internet services in your state, has ordered all foreigners to leave the state, has ordered a curfew, and has positioned soldiers at roadblocks, train stations and airports. Those are some of the measures the Indian Government has imposed on Kashmir in its siege to “maintain peace” and to ensure “law and order”, described in an article in The NationKashmir has become a zone of permanent, limitless war– by Saiba Varma. She describes the siege as “a war against the spirit”.

Rudd: more a thinker than a doer?

Kevin Rudd’s speech at the University of Melbourne The Complacent Country: Alternative Visions for Australia’s Economic Future is now available online.  He lists ten major challenges – some of which are to do with our own political decisions (including actions to reduce GHG emissions, reconciliation with indigenous Australians, the maldistribution of the benefits of economic growth, and political polarisation) – and some of which are global (technological change and people on the move fleeing persecution). His tenth challenge is:

a new, gaping chasm in our deepest, underlying values – as Christianity declines and almost disappears in the west after 1700 years of cultural dominance, driven in large part by the sheer weight of its own institutional hypocrisy, only to be replaced by a secularism increasingly uncertain of its own moral compass to guide what is left of the modern-day Enlightenment Project, and now facing an increasingly self-confident “new authoritarianism” in China. Russia and elsewhere offering alternative modes of political and economic governance.

Rather than espousing a vision in terms of lofty statements, he comes down to a set of practical economic proposals around tax reform, venture capital, education and training, and infrastructure.

Essential poll: even worse news for Labor

In spite of accumulating evidence of maladministration and a failure of the Coalition’s economic policies, this week’s Essential Report  shows strengthening approval for Morrison and falling approval for Albanese.  Morrison’s lead as preferred Prime Minister is 46:25 percent (19 percent indecided); it’s even higher for those older than 55 (52:24).

There is support for offshore detention of asylum-seekers: 52 per cent support, 31 per cent oppose, but there is little support for weakening or repealing the Medevac legislation.

There is general support for the climate strikes: 55 per cent support, 30 per cent oppose, and 6 percent intend to participate in the protest.

Spare a thought for Donald Trump: the poor fellow is not well

Peter Wehner has a long background serving Republican administrations – Reagan, Bush and Bush – and is well-known as a political conservative.  His article Trump is not well  in The Atlantic  looks at Trump’s increasingly erratic and dysfunctional behaviour. “Whether or not his disorders are diagnosable, the president’s psychological flaws are all too apparent. They were alarming when he took the oath of office; they are worse now.”  (The Atlantic allows five free articles a month.)

Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, writes in The Guardian  Trump is seriously, frighteningly unstable – the world is in danger. “The president of the United States is seriously, frighteningly, dangerously unstable. And he’s getting worse by the day”. He notes, however, that instability is not an impeachable offence. There is the 25thAmendment allowing for the president’s removal when he or she is unable “to discharge the powers and duties” of the office, but it’s untested. The ballot box is the only hope, but what might Trump do to pervert America’s malleable electoral system in order to stay in the White House?

Spare a thought for America’s 400 million guns: they claim innocence

Americans talk about “gun rights”, but what does that mean?While the Second Amendment is about the right to bear arms, “gun rights” has come to mean the rights ofguns, writes Garry Wills in The New York Review of Books.

A gun gets away with what other life-threatening things never do. Regulated drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and explosives cannot argue, as guns do: ‘Alcohol does not cause accidents, drunks do. Tobacco does not cause cancer, smokers do. Opioids do not kill, addicts do.’

All you need to know about Boris’s Brexit

Confused? In six minutes on the ZDF heute-show Oliver Welke gives a clear insight  into the intrigues of Johnson’s political strategies as seen from the European mainland.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening  is compiled by Ian McAuley. He’s presently in Austria, cycling along the Donau, so his contributions this week and next week may miss a few gems. He will try to dig them out on his return.

 Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.




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