Whitewashing History


The Morning Post, 1913 – on the violence of the suffragette movement:

Early yesterday morning some women succeeded in burning a valuable house near Trowbridge. In the night of Monday to Tuesday ROUGH’S boathouse on the river at Oxford, near the Long Bridges, was seen to be on fire. It was impossible to save the building or the boats which it contained. Nailed to the bridge near was found a card with the words “Votes for women. No peace till we get the vote.” The presumption is that the boathouse was set on fire, the KING’S horse was stopped, and the Trowbridge mansion was destroyed by some of the females who are discontented with the structure of society. Whether that be the case or not – it is quite possible that the truth may not be ascertained – the action is typical of much that has happened lately and deserves thinking about. Indeed, if we are to believe the leaders of the “movement”, the purpose with which these things are done is to make men think. The question is, What are we to think? The planned and deliberate destruction of property is intelligible as an expression of anger against the owner. But as the wellbeing of society depends upon the security of persons and property against wilful attacks, such attacks are regarded as crimes, and one of the principal purpose for which society is organised is to prevent such acts and to punish those who commit them. But in the class or cases which we are considering there is not motive or animosity against the particular person whose property is destroyed. Those who do them have not the personal hatred which usually explains such doings. If this were an isolated case, if it were found that a house had been wilfully set on fire by a young lady well brought up and accustomed in other respects to behave herself well, a jury would probably come to the conclusion that she was not in her right mind, and the Court order that she should be taken care of until she was restored to complete sanity. But the present case is not isolated. There is an epidemic of the state of mind which produced it; it is but one of a large number of similar cases. This frame of mind cannot possibly be considered healthy. The acts which it produces constitute a war, not only upon society as at present constituted but upon any conceivable state of society because it is impossible to imagine any community of human beings not based upon laws for preserving the security of property as well as of life and society, the propounds of the most astounding schemes for the reconstruction of the community, have ever propounded a plan which would not guarantee the work of and man’s hands against wanton and wilful destruction. The women who go about setting fire to houses seem, therefore to have their thoughts out of gear. In most respects apparently their minds work as other people’s do, but the epidemic of arson appears to be a form of monomania. This quality of the minds concerned noes not disappear under an examination of the alleged motive. These ladies say that women ought to have the same political rights as men, and in particular the Parliamentary franchise, and they assert that women are qualified to be members of the body polite. But it is unthinkable that a person who refuses to recognise the fundamental condition upon which every society is founded can be qualified for membership in that society. The person whose mind works in that way is inaccessible to reasonable arguments.

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Mahatma Gandhi – on violence:

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.

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Precarity Everywhere

A recent piece by Michael Bérubé highlights one of the invisible problems of higher education in America (and elsewhere) – namely, the rise of the adjunct as the hegemonic form of the modern day academic. This is in both a qualitative way (with flexibility and monetization becoming some of the prime measures for every academic), but also in a quantitative way (Bérubé cites data that shows more than 2 out of every 3 faculty members are now contingent workers).

While American political discourse often portrays academics as highly-paid, impossible-to-fire liberals, the data in fact shows virtually the opposite (though admittedly academics are likely disproportionately “liberals”). Increasingly the expectation of graduate students leaving university is that:

(a) an academic position will be incredibly difficult to find (I have numerous anecdotes of friends applying for hundreds of jobs and only getting 3-5 interviews, let alone job offers)

(b) when a job is found, it will be contract work

(c) when a job is found, it will involve the workload of a full professor

(d) when a job is found, it will pay 20-75% of a full professor’s salary

(e) in a year (perhaps longer depending on the contract), this process will be repeated

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Figure/Ground Interview

For anyone who’s interested, there’s an interview with me over at the Figure/Ground Communication site. It touches on a few topics such as the changing nature of the university, the technological shifts in teaching, and some thoughts on the philosophical movement of speculative realism. Many thanks to Laureano Ralon for the generous opportunity as well.

Has the Left given up on Economics?

With the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression continuing to slowly unfold, one of the most surprising consequences has been a non-event: the dearth of high-quality economic theorizing in leftist groups. [1] This is in spite of the opportunity the crisis presents for alternative economies, and in spite of the economic conundrum that developed economies find themselves in: too indebted for stimulus and too weak for austerity. This differend between austerity and stimulus indexes the insufficiency of either and yet few have taken up the necessity of thinking proper alternatives.

The leftist response to the economic crisis has instead been mostly been to focus on piecemeal reactions against government policies. The student movement arose as a response to tuition fee and EMA changes; the right to protest movement arose as a response to heavy-handed police treatment; and leftist parties have suggested a mere moderation of existing government policies. The project to bring about a fully different economic system has been shirked in favour of smaller-scale protests. There is widespread critique, but little construction.

Admittedly, the left is not entirely devoid of high-level economic theorizing. Rather, the more specific problem is that those few who do such work are a relatively tiny minority and are typically marginalized within the leftist scene. The attention and effort of the leading intellects of leftism (at least in the UK) are on social issues, race issues, rights issues, and identity issues. All important, to be sure, but there is no equivalent attention paid to economic issues.

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On the Abstraction of Contemporary Crisis

On the Abstraction of Contemporary Crisis
Or, Why Today Feels Different From the 1930s

One of the oddities of the ongoing economic crisis is its apparent separation from everyday life.[1] Consumers still consume, luxury items are still produced. Starbucks is still filled with coffee drinkers, and Apple still sells its overpriced goods. Scanning the media, one finds its coverage devoid of lengthy soup lines or surges in tent cities. While most have had to cut back on their indebtedness, there hasn’t been a collapse on the scale of the Great Depression. This is in spite of some measures suggesting the current crisis is as deep in some ways.


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What We Talked About at ISA: Crisis Mapping and the Rise of Digital Humanitarianism (Part III)

This is the third of a three-part series on ‘what we talked about at ISA’. The first part on technology in International Relations can be found here. This second section on the decline of cognitive mapping is here. This final section covers the example of a particular technology being used to overcome deficiencies in cognitive mapping. (For the theoretical context, it’s well worth reading the second part of this series.) Much of the empirical research for this section stems from the work of Patrick Meier and others involved heavily in crisis mapping. Patrick’s website is a stellar resource for the changing digital nature of humanitarianism, and is highly recommended.


In the wake of the recent Haitian and Japanese earthquakes, the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and other major humanitarian disasters, increased global attention has been paid to the ways in which actors involved in humanitarianism can and should evolve to deal with these emergency situations. Media, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations have all reflected on the implications and path forward for managing crises, with a wealth of reports emerging in the wake of this decade’s crises.[1]

A similar set of complex crisis situations has become significant recently with the political events currently surging across the Arab world. While analytically distinguishable from humanitarian crises, these political crises share many common aspects and often blur at their boundaries. Political crises typically produce humanitarian crises, while humanitarian crises often stretch the capacities of political actors. The result, in either case, is a situation characterized by its complex and fast-moving nature. Moreover, in both instances there is often a dearth of reliable information. If effective political action is premised upon the conceptual representations of a situation, then rational action becomes nearly impossible in crisis situations. In this regard, the new technologies involved in ‘crisis mapping’ can be seen as a means for political actors to overcome this cognitive gap. Through this case study it can be demonstrated how political actors are in fact constructed not only socially, but also through material technology.

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What We Talked About At ISA: The Decline of Cognitive Mapping (Part II)

This is the second of a three-part series on ‘what we talked about at ISA’. The first part on technology in International Relations can be found here. This section examines a particular effect of technology that has largely gone unacknowledged by IR.


If the major crises of the modern world are symptomatic of anything today, it is the banality that our world is complex. Compared to previous periods of history our world is more interconnected (spreading crises further and less predictably), more dynamic (diffusing risks at a quicker pace), and more fragmented (with experts becoming specialized in solving local problems rather than systemic problems). This complexity involves a massive amount of elements, non-linear dynamics, unintended effects, and feedback loops. These features of complex systems strain the limits of the human mind’s finite and embodied capacities. The 2008 financial crisis, the ongoing climate change crisis, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the 2003 North American electrical blackout – all of these point to massively complex systems which already surpass human capacities to cognize. Moreover, if rational action is premised upon the capacity to represent the problems to be confronted, then the complex systems of today’s world are threatening to undermine the cognitive basis of political action.

The relationship between the world and our capacities to think it and act in it are not entirely asymmetrical though. While the world has become increasingly complex, our capacities to work in it have also expanded.

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