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NATURAL BALANCING

NATURAL BALANCING

by hendi setio yulianto

novum ordo bagi pendidikan natural balancing:

1. Natural Balancing is not “Teach Them Not Subject”
2. Aesthetic,Ethic and Religious/Humanist
3. Multicultural Development Program
4. Social and Environment Perspective
5. Home Schooling Base Concept
6. Analysis Base Concept
7. Creativity Base Concept

 
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Posted by pada Februari 14, 2010 in Mine-Mind

 

SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE

SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE

Before we go any further here, has it ever occurred to any of you The Universe and Man that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of the knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from outside. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos…

–William Gaddis, JR, p. 25

According to C. Wright Mills, there is a perspective called the “sociological imagination” that can be used to “frame,” or interpret, perceptions of social life. In part, this imagination features a healthy skepticism, assuming that social appearances often aren’t what they seem. But even more, this perspective involves an awareness toward the linkages between history and biography, between social structure and consciousness, and between “knowledge” and its socio-cultural contexts.  It is this one of this discipline’s approaches to critical thinking.

Perhaps no where is this imagination so exercised than in the sociology of knowledge, which studies the social sources and social consequences of knowledge–how, for instance, social organization shapes both the content and structure of knowledge or how various social, cultural, political conditions shield people from truth. It has been argued that the concept of knowledge is to sociology as the notion of attitude is to psychology: a notion so central that, in many ways, it is the foundation for the entire discipline.  (Though written nearly 70 years ago, Robert Merton’s description  remains one of the best definitions of the field.)

There are at least three broad intellectual traditions of this subdiscipline. The first attempts to plot how various social and cultural orders spawn different knowledge systems- -why, for instance, the very discipline of sociology evolved where and when it did and why the biographies of its “founding fathers” (e.g., Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Cooley and Mead) overlap as they do. As the combination of soil and environment determine the crops a farmer plants as well as their yield, so different types of knowledge (e.g., religious, political, scientific, everyday) are understood to differentially flourish within varying social milieus.

In developing precisely how knowledge becomes socially modified, sociologists have focused on such processes as:

  • Talks from annual meetings of Technology, Entertainment, Designknowledge production: how various combinations of relative institutional power (i.e., political vs. religious, familial vs. industrial, or print vs. electronic communications) lead to differences in the social value attributed to, hence differential expenditures invested into the development of, different knowledge types.
  • knowledge encoding: is political commentary more effective when graphed, put into poetry or song, or when presented as a newspaper editorial? how professional journals impose style constraints; cultural encodings of time and space; Ebonics in the classroom?
  • knowledge transmission: enter Marshall McLuhan and how forms of human communication affect our cognitive habits, social relations, political ideologies, etc.; impacts of electronic communication
  • receptivity to hearsay, information, and knowledge: identifying social groups more likely to believe television than newspaper accounts, or the premises of New Age philosophy; groupthink
  • decoding: how beliefs determine what we see; how expert status entails ability to decipher legalese, government gobbledygook, and academic jargon
  • knowledge/information storage: on the social systems of public memory and forgetting; lost and/or forgotten knowledge; archives and time capsules; how the form in which information is stored (i.e., in a folder of written notes vs. in a computerized file; in qualitative vs. quantitative formats) affects the way in which connections are seen and knowledge derived
  • knowledge retrieval: the social constructions of history (i.e., collective observances of the anniversary of Columbus’s voyage and the ending of World War II; implications of the Federal Government’s shift from paper to computerized records
  • decision making: are they made on the bases of “facts,” “gut feelings,” or blind ideology? have computer networks made social decisions more or less democratic?

This causal connection between knowledge and society goes both ways: Not only does society shape its knowledge but the reverse holds has well. Here one may study how a new religious message, scientific insight or technological develop alters the social order, such as how the theory of evolution has spawned social movements or how “scientific management” structures the organization of work or how twentieth century discoveries of nuclear physicists altered the hierarchy of science and political fundings for scientific research. Consider, for instance, the proposition that it was a story that kick- started Western civilization, a story of a shared experience of a natural phenomenon so extraordinary that humanity felt compelled to preserve it. This compulsion to share stories may, in fact, be one of those qualities that distinguishes the human primate from all other animals. Being a symbolic creature, our experienced reality is largely shaped by the meaning of things, “framed” by the beliefs, ideals, and emotions carried by the commonly shared symbolic containers we call language. When these socially-constructed frameworks (by which human experiences are commonly parsed and given order) evolve to the point that they survive through time, we have the seeds of civilization– which, by definition, is marked by the beginning of preserved stories, the beginning of recorded history, that time when–by virtue of having writing–a people see themselves as “civilized” and see others without the art as “uncivilized.”

Returning to this extraordinary event, consider a nearby star going supernova, with a luminosity greater than that of a full moon. Indeed, such an event is referred among humanity’s oldest stories, preserved in Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The hypothesis of George Michanowsky is that this stellar explosion over the southern horizon of Mesopotamia triggered the arts of writing and mathematics, giving rise to the oldest civilizations. He links the event to the Egyptian goddess Seshat, the inventor of writing (“sesh” remains the Egyptian word for writing) and mistress of the House of Ankh, whose headdress is a seven-pointed star. He translated the epithet on Tutankhamun’s cartouche as “Ruler of the Southern Star.”

Alex Boese's The Museum of Hoaxes An additional tradition of the sociology of knowledge involves the social psychology of consciousness and belief. This cognitive branch alerts us to the facts that we live in a second-hand world, that most of what we “know” is generally received uncritically from others, and that models of decision-making must take into account the roles of pluralistic ignorance, emotion, and the bearing of knowledge type (e.g., scientific, religious, commonsensical) and form (e.g., mystical vs. rational, concrete vs. speculative) being reflected upon. Here the sociology of knowledge examines the relationships between mental phenomena and social organization–how, for example, the oppressed are exploited through “false consciousness,” how “groupthink” dynamics stifle the creativity of decision-makers, and how ideologies and stereotypes shape what is perceived. Finally, this social psychological tradition examines human attachments to belief systems and how these attachments function in social organizations.

 


A few years back, former Kennedy insider and ABC newsman Pierre Salinger had egg on his face when he publicly claimed to have evidence that the U.S. Navy was responsible for the downing of TWA Flight 800. The evidence, he claimed, was from “French security” sources. It was, in fact, a bogus story obtained from the Internet. When a CNN correspondent showed him the document, Salinger said “Yes, that’s it. That’s the document. Where did you get it?”

Indeed, as Chicago Tribune columnist James Coates observed, “America is awash in a growing and often disruptive avalanche of false information that takes on a life of its own in the electronic ether of the Internet, talk radio and voice mail until it becomes impervious to denial and debunking.” The overarching questions of the term include:

  • How does one know what knowledge is factual in this medium, what ideas are worthy of our attention?  How, for instance, does one check out the veracity of claims made in Project Censored‘s Top 25 Censored Media Stories of 2002-2003?
  • How will the Internet affect organized knowledge?
  • What types and forms of knowledge is the Internet best suited for?
  • In what ways can the Internet foster knowledge development?
  • Will the Internet lead to the obsolescence of libraries?
  • How long can this “Wild West” of information remain free (Ken Wasch, the president of Software Publisher Association, said “Our greatest fear is that the Internet will become a vehicle of free distribution of information” [Wall Street Journal, Sept. 6, 1995])?

 

WHAT DO WE REALLY KNOW?

A knowing of knowing … would mean knowing how an artist thinks, putting a thing together; knowing how a scientist thinks, taking a thing apart; knowing how a practical man thinks, sizing up a situation; knowing how a man of understanding thinks, grasping the principle of a thing; knowing how a man of wisdom thinks, reflecting upon human experience. It could mean being able to think in all these ways…all in one.

–John Dunne, The Way of All the Earth

Do we really “know” more than our ancient ancestors or do we live in a time when knowing those who know is what really counts? Thinking of those things about which you are confident that you truly “know” and understand, what proportion is based on first-hand experience? What proportion is second-hand knowledge, those facts and beliefs that you accept as true because they come from sources that you trust?

Rationality and Culture Difference
Social Construction of Reality
Sorokin essay “The Integral Theory of Truth and Reality”

EXERCISE: In addition to stories about the downing of TWA Flight 800, there are a number of knowledge claims being made on the Web. Select one of the following topics, locate on the Web pages making such claims, and evaluate the “evidence” given:

The Bermuda Triangle
Area 51/Groom Lake

ELABORATING ON THE CONCEPT OF KNOWLEDGE

“DATA” will be defined as input gathered through the senses; and “INFORMATION” as integrated data which denotes a significant change in the environment. Information is converted to “KNOWLEDGE” by interconnecting it with known concepts and skills as part of achieving a goal. “WISDOM” is knowledge about knowledge.

–Chris Dede. 1988. “The Role of Hypertext in Transforming Information into Knowledge.” In W.C. Ryan (ed.), Proceedings of the National Educational Computing Converence ’88. Eugene, OR: International Council on Computers in Education.

Knowledge as strategy for successfully predicting, adapting to, and controlling both physical and social phenomena and change

When considering the concept of “knowledge,” undoubtedly this aspect is the first to come to mind. For instance, knowledge of one’s enemies allows a group to anticipate their strategies and to counter their hostile actions; knowledge of the biochemical workings of deadly viruses can lead to neutralizing vaccines; knowledge of forthcoming meteorological disasters has produced wealthy investors in the futures commodities market; knowledge of emerging cultural trends can make or break those in the apparel, music, cinema, television, and novelty industries.

 


Knowledge as Order and Ordering Perspective

What does “productivity” mean when you’re looking at information? Blaise Pascal apologized to a correspondent, “I have made this letter longer only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” The same fact is true of much information work: extra work often increases the value of the information by reducing its volume. What measure could be used to assess the productivity of the information worker who works longer to produce less?

–John Kettle, FutureLetter, Sept. 30, 1985

 

  • is order a product of nature or of the mind?
  • paradigms, metaphors, and gestalt: the mediation of knowledge by concepts and classification schemes
  • institutions as structurers of objective reality
  • belief systems: their sources and our standards for accessing them; rumors; ideologies
Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Home Page for James Daugherty’s New Paradigms Project
Unified Concept of Information
The Common Theory Project – 0024

 


Knowledge as property

living in the information age with informational transactionalism: spies, copyrights, plagiarism, the public domain and the Freedom of Information Act

The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age from the National Academy of Sciences
World Intellectual Property Organization
The WTO and the TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) Agreement 
Copyright Search from the US Copyright Office, search for ownership of rights in three major databases: serials, documents, and such registered works as films, music, software, and works of art
Bryan Alexander’s “The Digital Millenium Copyright Act: Licensing the Commons”
Yahoo! Intellectual Property links
Hall Davidson’s “The Educator’s Guide to Copyright and Fair Use”, which comes with The Copyright Quiz
Stanford’s Copyrights and Fair Use Directory
Copyright Resources on the Internet
Colgate course “Talent, Society and the State: Defining and Regulating Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property Magazine
The Copyright Website
IPO – Intellectual Property Owners
Cyberspace Law and Policy
Franklin Pierce Law Center Home Page
Hot Property: A Comprehensive Multimedia Law Site re Intellectual Property
Wacky Patents of the Month

 


Knowledge as power & control

We can choose to use our growing knowledge to enslave people in ways never dreamed of before de-personalizing them, controlling them by means so carefully selected that they will perhaps never be aware of their loss of personhood.

–Carl Rogers, humanistic psychologist

Here we develop a sense of knowledge that is less concerned with the properties of knowledge per se but more directly concerned with its social implications–how, for instance, knowledge is used as a mechanism of social control.

  • ideology and class dynamics: types of legitimation; false consciousness; cognitive policemen; lessons from Lenin and the Third Reich
  • persuasion: According to Plato in Rhetoric, this is the key to power,
  • secret knowledge: hidden “truths;” shamans and experts
RhetNet from University of Missouri
The Nobel Prize e-Museum

 


Types of knowledge and criteria for their classification

  • Borhek and Curtis’s (A Sociology of Belief) classifications of belief systems: values, criteria of validation, logic, perspective, substantive beliefs, prescriptions and proscriptions, and related technology
  • Georges Gurvitch and the interactions between knowledge types and forms
    –the knowledge types: the perceptual world (time, space), knowledge of we and other, common-sense, technical, political, scientific, and philosophical
    –knowledge forms differentially emphasized within each knowledge type: mystical-rational;    empirical-conceptual; positive-speculative; symbolic-concrete; collective-individual
    –aspects of social groups that influence the knowledge type-form associations

INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS

Consciousness, social reality, and knowledge as social products

  • is “truth” absolute or relative?
  • the history of ideas
  • intellectual traditions: Saint-Simon (“the production of ideas occurs within the structure of every society”), Marx and Engels (the ideological hegemony of the elite and the facade of legitimacy), Durkheim (the “collective representations” of the masses), Scheler (historicism), Nietzsche (“art of mistrust), Mannheim (“systematization of doubt”)

 


Lessons from social psychology

The social patternings of perception, thought, memory, and decision-making

W. I.Thomas
excerpts from Harold Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology

Language, thought, and meaning: perceiving, interpreting and describing a typical world

  • it’s a symbolic and classificatory world: symbols as triggers for mindsets, depth levels of meaning
  • language as cultural template: the Whorf-Sapir theory of linguistic relativity,
  • the metaphoric fabric of the semantic universe (see George Lakoff & Mark Johnson’s “Metaphors We Live By“)

 


How social institutions channel perception and thought

SYSTEMS THEORY APPROACH TOWARD THE PRODUCTION, DISSEMINATION, RECEPTION, AND UTILIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE

Knowledge production, discovery, and application

Data on the Top American Research Universities
Listing of Guggenheim recipients
Nobel Winners Archive
TRIZ Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
Pulitzer Prize Winners Archive
The MacArthur Foundation
Knowledge creation and technological innovation are often not planned. There is the serendipity factor. Ken Chowder’s “Eureka!” (Smithsonian, Sept. 2003)
Joseph Rouse – What Are Cultural Studies of Scientific Knowledge? – Configurations 1:1

 


Encodings for transmission and decision-making processes; sorting and labeling

  • symbols and semeiotics
  • mathematics as a way of knowing: when do numbers speak louder than words?
  • the social parsings of space, time and temperature
    • Why does the United States refuse to go on the metric system?  The country was supposed to be measured in meters and kilos by 1980.  What happened?  Look at the venom the measures generate.  At metricsucks.com we learn it is the source of many of the world’s problems, including Starbucks coffee, rap music, Jerry Springer and government conspiracies! 
    • Of temperature, Daniel Boorstin observes in The Discoverers:
      “Others all over Europe were now beginning to speak the language of machines, parsing experience by novel grammars of measurements.  Familiar experience was transformed.  Nothing was more remarkable than the new way of thinking about heat and cold.  Hot and cold, dry and moist, were distinctions obvious to the touch.  According to the ancient Greeks, these qualities combined to make the earth, air, fire, and water of which the whole world was made.  Just as today we treat odors or tastes as different kinds rather than different quantities, so it then was, as we have seen, with temperature” (p. 369).
    • For a good story of the rise and fall of a new system for time reckoning, read about the French Thermidor 
  • matters of language translation: is it ever possible?
  • sociology of bureaucratic recordkeeping (e.g., Elizabeth Yakel’s “The Social Construction of Accountability“)
  • the disappearance of the art of shorthand
  • cryptography
  • An  interesting case study can be made of  U.S. intelligence attempts in the mid-1990s to force all of our computers to be equipped with the Clipper chip, an encryption chip that would allow law enforcement to decrypt all data passing through our systems.  A nice touch, revealed in released documents, obtained in 2001 through the Freedom of Information Act, was the proposal to share this technology with such close allies as China, Pakistan and Syria.
  • Yahoo’s links to Codes, which includes links to the stories of the Navajo Code Talkers
  • StegoArchive.Com  “Steganography simply takes one piece of information and hides it within another. Computer files (images, sounds recordings, even disks) contain unused or insignificant areas of data. Steganography takes advantage of these areas, replacing them with information (encrypted mail, for instance). The files can then be exchanged without anyone knowing what really lies inside of them. An image of the space shuttle landing might contain a private letter to a friend. A recording of a short sentence might contain your company’s plans for a secret new product.”
  • Center for Social Informatics–involving “the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization — including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change, the uses of information technologies in social contexts, and the ways that the social organization of information technologies is influenced by social forces and social practices.”
  • National Cryptologic Museum
  • Translation strategy when conducting the European Social Survey

 


Knowledge transmission and dissemination

According to their 2000 “How Much Information?” study, a research team from the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley estimates “the world’s total yearly production of print, film, optical, and magnetic content would require roughly 1.5 billion gigabytes of storage. This is the equivalent of 250 megabytes per person for each man, woman, and child on earth.”

  • where our knowledge comes from — censorship; on being overhead; killing the bearer of bad news
  • disinformation
  • how transmission form shapes content
    – implications of the speed of diffusion owing to technological innovation
  • implications of predicting natural and social disasters
  • the peer review system for academic publications
  • In 2002, a group of scholars who had urged a boycott of expensive scientific journals formed the Public Library of Science.  Four years later the battles between monopolistic journal publishers (esp. Elsevier) , libraries, authors and reviewers were intensifying.  Faculty promotion typically requires peer review.  For a number of journals, authors must pay to have their article reviewed.  Reviewers, on the other hand, generally are not paid for their efforts.   If author’s article is accepted for publication, he or she typically must surrender ownership of their work to the publisher.   Meanwhile, the libraries of the institutions for which the reviewers and authors work receive no price break for the journals their faculty helped produce.  What’s wrong with this picture?  For greater detail, see “Reshaping the World of Scholarly Communication–Open Access and the Free Online Scholarship Movement.” To assess the value of journals based on the price per citation of their articles see Carl Bergstrom’s Eigenfactor.org and Ted Bergstrom’s journal pricing page.
  • bumper stickers and bathroom stalls are among the few sites where common folk can make public their editorial comments
  • a social psychology of knowledge transmission: disclosure rules; persuasiveness (ethos, pathos, logos and social power)
Create Change: A resource for faculty and librarian action to reclaim scholarly communication
Origins of Writing class project of David F. Lancy’s Utah State anthropology class
Dianne Tillotson’s Medieval Writing
Clay Tablets – The Ancient Art of Writing
Storytelling: The Art of Knowledge develops the importance of sharing narratives in six Canadian Native communities
The History of Printing
KB7QOP’s Morse Code Page
Forbes ASAP: Telecosm Archive
The Babbage Institute for Knowledge and Information Technology
Essays on Information Technology
Social and Economic Implications of Information Technologies: A Bibliographic Database Pilot Project (NSF)
Yahoo links on:Censorship and the Net
Know Your Enemies
Project Censored

 


Receptivity/sensoring and decoding/interpreting; feedback mechanisms

According to Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America (Research Division Report #46 of the National Endowment for the Arts, June 2004),  47.6% of American adults (and only 37.6% of males) read literature in 2002, down from 56.9% in 1982.  More than four in ten did not read a book of any kind.

  • the social psychology of perceptual biases and distortions
  • information overloads and the perceptual biases of social groups: groupthink
  • the receptiveness of the “liberally educated”
Memetics Index
Paleography defined

 


Storage and Retrieval: Social memory systems

According to the University of California-Berkeley study “How Much Information? 2003,” the quantity of new information produced in 2002 was five exabytes, equal in size to one-half million libraries each containing a quantity of digitized  information equal in size to the entire print collection in the Library of Congress!  Who decides how much of this information glut is worth preserving?  In what format is it best preserved to allow easy retrieval–and perhaps knowledge to be gleaned from it?  Other topics:

 


Conceptualizing decision-making units and processes: On how knowledge is put into use

 

CASE STUDIES IN PERSONAL AND INSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE

Applications to Religion: Morality, Ethics and Pluralism

Religious knowledge has long been a favorite case study for practitioners of the sociology of knowledge. As a knowledge type, religion gives recipes for ways of making sense out of life’s ultimate frustrations and existential dilemmas. As Durkheim observed in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life “Religious conceptions have as their object, before anything else, to express and explain, not that which is exceptional and abnormal in things, but, on the contrary, that which is constant and regular.”

Think about Americans’ responses to the following question: Which of these statements comes closest to describing your feelings about the Bible?

  • The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.
  • The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word.
  • The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men.

Prediction time. What percent of Americans do you believe believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally? How would you believe this belief various across the spectrum of Christian faiths? Are strongly religious persons more or less likely to agree? What is the relationship between education and the likelihood of holding this belief? Ready? Click here to see the relationships.

Intriguing, no? It brings to mind the parallel between the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility and the Protestants’ position of scriptural inerrancy–both extreme matters of faith. As Robert Bellah observed, only in the West does belief in the sense of assent to the truth of specific dogmas been regarded as essential to faith.  Among the many possible research topics in the sociology of religious knowledge:

 

 


Applications to political systems

  • Marx on the ideological advantages of the elite; knowledge as enhancing the legitimacy and authority of those with power Russ Kick's The Memory Hole
  • on democracy and an informed citizenry
  • Science and politics have traditionally had an uneasy relationship but rarely to the degree of the 2004 Presidential election.  More than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Prize winners, signed a statement opposing President Bush’s administration’s use of scientific knowledge.
  • polity as a memory system: on the social construction of the American bicentennial, the Texas sesquicentennial, and glasnost and Soviet history
  • the political economy of “brain drains,” where core nations import the cognitive laborers of developing nations, thereby retarding their nascent modern industries (see also the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2001
  • propaganda
  • information control: censorship and secrets of state; from the Homeland Security folks- the Information Awareness Office.  And just wait until the Pentagon’s LifeLog project comes on line. 
  • classified, declassified and reclassified documents; see The National Security Archive at George Washington University for collections of declassified information
  • the politics of scientific and technological knowledge
  • towards a sociology of conspiracy theories
DisInformation
Banned Books On-line
The File Room Censorship Archive home page
gonzo links “the best of the broadband apolcalypse”
Conspiracy Central: AboveTopSecret.com
Alex Constantine’s Political Conspiracy Research Bin
Conspiracies & Hoaxes
Proparanoid.com’s Conspiracy Page
Hugh’s HAARP Info Page

 


Applications to the military

Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)–DoD Agency Responsible for Information Technology
military secrecy–great connecting sites!
Central Intelligence Agency Home Page
Loyola Intelligence Homepage
Yahoo! – Government:Military:Technology Transfer
Rand Corporation — Hot Topics With a focus on “Information Warfare”

Col. Richard Szafranski’s “A Theory of Information Warfare” from Wanja Eric Naef’s Information Warfare Site
Institute for the Advanced Study of Information Warfare
John Pike’s Information Warfare and Information Security on the Web
Yahoo’s listings

 


Applications to Science and Medicine

 

FINANCIAL REGIME CHANGE?

ROBERT WADE

FINANCIAL REGIME CHANGE?

Since the 1930s the non-communist world has experienced two shifts in international economic norms and rules substantial enough to be called ‘regime changes’. They were separated by an interval of roughly thirty years: the first regime, characterized by Keynesianism and governed by the international Bretton Woods arrangements, lasted from about 1945 to 1975; the second began after the breakdown of Bretton Woods, and prevailed until the First World debt crisis of 2007–08. This latter regime, known variously as neoliberalism, the Washington Consensus [1] or the globalization consensus, centred on the notion that all governments should liberalize, privatize, deregulate—prescriptions that have been so dominant at the level of global economic policy as to constitute, in John Stuart Mill’s phrase, ‘the deep slumber of a decided opinion’.

The two regimes differed in the role allotted to the state, in both developed and developing countries. The Bretton Woods regime favoured ‘embedded liberalism’, as it was later called, which sanctioned market allocation in much of the economy but constrained it within limits set through a political process. The successor neoliberal regime, particularly associated with Reagan and Thatcher, moved back towards the norms of laissez-faire embraced by classical liberalism, and hence prescribed a roll-back of state ‘intervention’ and an expansion of market allocation in economic life. But it gave more emphasis than classical liberalism to the idea that competition is not the ‘natural’ state of affairs, and that the market can produce sub-optimal results wherever producers have monopoly power (as in Adam Smith’s observation that ‘people of the same trade seldom meet together [without concocting] a conspiracy against the public’).

Neoliberalism accordingly sanctioned state intervention not only to supply a range of public goods that could not be provided through competitive profit-seeking (as did classical liberalism), but also to frame and enforce rules of competition, overriding private interests in order to do so; hence the ‘neo’. Its principal yardstick for judging business success was shareholder value, and its central notion of the national economic interest was efficiency as determined by competition in an economy fully open to world markets; there should be no ‘artificial’ barriers between national and world market prices, such as tariffs or subsidies to particular industries. Of course, at the level of policy, many tactical, pragmatic modifications were made to these principles, in order to subsidize corporations, channel more wealth to the rich, and stabilize the economy and society with covertly Keynesian policies. [2] But at the level of norms, the difference was clear.

In the realm of finance, neoliberal prescriptions were justified by the ‘efficient markets hypothesis’, which claimed that market prices convey all relevant information and that markets clear continuously—rendering sustained disequilibria, such as bubbles, unlikely; and making policy action to stop them inadvisable, since this would constitute ‘financial repression’. Milton Friedman and the Chicago School gave their name to this theory; but as Paul Samuelson said, ‘Chicago is not a place, it is a state of mind’, and it came to prevail in finance ministries, central banks and university economics departments around the non-communist world.

The shocks of the past year—another thirty years on from the last major shift—support the conjecture that we are witnessing a third regime change, propelled by a wholesale loss of confidence in the Anglo-American model of transactions-oriented capitalism and the neoliberal economics that legitimized it (and by the us’s loss of moral authority, now at rock bottom in much of the world). Governmental responses to the crisis further suggest that we have entered the second leg of Polanyi’s ‘double movement’, the recurrent pattern in capitalism whereby (to oversimplify) a regime of free markets and increasing commodification generates such suffering and displacement as to prompt attempts to impose closer regulation of markets and de-commodification (hence ‘embedded liberalism’). [3] The first leg of the current double movement was the long reign of neoliberalism and its globalization consensus. The second as yet has no name, and may turn out to be a period marked more by a lack of agreement than any new consensus.

Some caution is in order. There is a recurrent cycle of debate in the wake of financial crises, as an initial outpouring of radical proposals gives way to incremental muddling through, followed by resumption of normal business. Ten years ago the East Asian, Russian and Brazilian crises of 1997–98 struck panic in the High Command of world finance, and were followed by vigorous discussion around a ‘new international financial architecture’. But once it became clear that the Atlantic heartland would not be affected, the radical talk quickly subsided. The upshot was a raft of new or reinvigorated public and private international bodies tasked with formulating standards of good practice in corporate governance, bank supervision, financial accounting, data dissemination and the like. [4] Such efforts diverted attention from the issue of re-regulation, and the financial sector in the West was able to ensure that governmental initiatives did not include new constraints, such as limits on leverage or on new financial products. There was no change of norms regarding the desirability of lightly regulated finance.

Systemic tremors

When the Bank for International Settlements (bis) said in its June 2007 Annual Report that ‘years of loose monetary policy have fuelled a giant global credit bubble, leaving us vulnerable to another 1930s slump’, its analysis was largely ignored by firms and regulators, notwithstanding the bis’s reputation for caution. As recently as May 2008 some commentators were still arguing that the crisis was a blip, analogous to a muscle strain in a champion athlete which could be healed with some rest and physiotherapy—as opposed to a heart attack in a 60-a-day smoker whose cure would require surgery and major changes in lifestyle.

The events of September 2008, however, make it hard to avoid the conclusion that we have entered a new phase. Financial market conditions in much of the oecd have sunk to their lowest levels since the banking shut-down of 1932, which was the single most powerful factor in making the 1929 downturn and stock market crash become the Great Depression. (Some 11,000 national and state banks failed in the us between 1929 and 1933.) One bond trader described the current situation as ‘the financial equivalent of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution’. [5] In these circumstances, the efficient markets hypothesis and the prescriptions derived from it have been thoroughly discredited.

In particular, the second fortnight of September of this year saw not one but three ‘game-changing’ convulsions in the world’s most sophisticated financial system. These do not include the nationalization of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae: giant though they are, these ‘quasi-government institutions’ had an established claim to a public safety net. Rather, the first upheaval was the run on two more of the big five Wall Street-based broker-dealers or investment banks, following the earlier run on Bear Stearns—in each case followed by the banks’ demise. Only Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs remain standing—for the time being—and they have switched their legal status to that of bank holding companies, which means they will be subject to closer regulation than before. The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in mid-September trapped the funds of mega-investors, ratcheting up the panic throughout financial markets and shutting down credit flows even for normal business. It could have especially far-reaching consequences, since Lehman had a huge volume of derivative business, and there has never been a default of a counterparty to derivative contracts on anything like this scale.

The loss of three of the five giants fundamentally changes the politics of international finance, because these investment banks were immensely powerful actors in the political process—not only in the us but also in the eu. From their London bases, the us investment banks had a shaping influence on the content of eu financial legislation in Brussels. The upside of their disappearance, then, is that it weakens one major obstacle to financial re-regulation.

The second September game-changer was the us Treasury’s bail-out of aig for a promised $85 bn. aig was not just America’s but the world’s biggest insurer. Since it stood outside the banking system, its bail-out broke through the firewall separating financial intermediaries from the ‘real’ economy. The contagion is now likely to spread to other insurers, and to thousands of highly leveraged hedge funds, as lock-in periods expire at the end of the next two quarters and investors are able to withdraw their funds. The third great convulsion outdid even the second: in the most dramatic government rescue operation in history, the us Treasury announced a plan to buy up to $700 bn of toxic securities from troubled banks, at a price well above current market value. Remarkably, it was improvised almost on the spot—Secretary Paulson’s original proposal ran to only three typed pages—indicating that the Treasury had been convinced that it could muddle through without a contingency plan. As proposed, it would have given Wall Street almost unrestrained access to public revenues at little cost. At the end of September the bail-out was rejected by the House of Representatives, and subsequently modified by the Senate, both parts of Congress alarmed at the public’s fury in an election year. The version approved by Congress in early October promises to make a larger share of any subsequent profits into public revenues, but nonetheless uses tax revenues to socialize the losses of the finance sector—an unprecedented hand-out to those responsible for the crisis in the first place.

Repercussions

Falls in the us and uk property markets, meanwhile, continue to drive the downward spiral. The us futures market is estimating a 33 per cent drop in us prices from peak to trough (based on the Case-Shiller Home Price Index), with the trough still a year away. The uk, which since 2000 has had the second biggest property bubble after the Japanese land bubble of the 1980s, may experience a 50 per cent fall from peak to trough; but even this would leave house prices higher than in 1997 as a multiple of income. As the credit contraction spreads across sectors and across regions, the damage to the real economy is growing, as measured by rising unemployment—in the us, the jobless total has risen by 2.2 million in the last 12 months—and slowing consumption; though it is surprising how gradually this has taken place since mid-2007. As of early October 2008, the crisis has swept into many continental European banks, which had previously prided themselves on having escaped the turmoil.

So far, however, the crisis has remained centred on the Atlantic economy, and there has as yet been little blow-back from East Asia. Indeed, it is notable that extreme illiquidity in Western financial markets co-exists with overflowing savings and foreign exchange reserves in East Asia and the petro-economies of Russia and the Gulf. Yet another feature of the current crisis that makes it unprecedented is the fact that the West is pinning its hopes for recovery on fast growth in the developing world, especially East Asia—and that Western banks seeking to avoid bankruptcy are increasingly looking for capital injections from these countries, and from the sovereign wealth funds of such states as China, Dubai and Singapore, among others.

Japan, the world’s second largest economy, looks thus far to be relatively unscathed. There are few signs of a credit crunch, although growth stands almost at zero. The short explanation for this is that Japanese banks remained very cautious after the bitter experience of the 1990s, when they were obliged to clean up after the 1980s bubble. They have been criticized at home and abroad for holding too much cash and too little debt; a recent example from the International Herald Tribune makes plain the norms that have dominated Anglo-American and therefore ‘global’ economic policy over the past three decades:

The country has a $14 trillion pile of household savings . . . This blessing has also been a curse to investors . . . Japan’s wealth shields it from pressures to meet global standards of economic growth or corporate profitability. This is what allowed the country to accept near-zero growth rates in the 1990s and what allows the survival of Japanese corporate practices like valuing employees and clients over shareholders. [6]

China, however, is another story. Since 1980 it has experienced several booms followed by sharp slumps; despite the phenomenal improvement in its economic performance in the last decade, a further slump is quite possible. One potential source of trouble is the prc’s accumulation of vast quantities of us asset-backed securities whose value has fallen precipitously; in June 2007, us Treasury data estimated the value of these to be $217 bn. Another is the high ratio of non-performing loans in Chinese banking—more than 6 per cent in the last quarter of 2007, according to official data. A third is high inflation, especially in food prices. Other East and Southeast Asian investors are also thought to be holding large quantities of toxic securities. This suggests that there could sooner or later be a blow-back from East Asia into the us and Europe, generating another downward twist.

Causes of the crunch

If the wars in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan were one expression of American post-Cold War triumphalism, globalized finance, launched during the Clinton Administration, was another. The mainstream press boasted that the us financial system had broken through the sound barrier and was now operating in a new dimension, as it undertook more and more dazzling gambles. They were right to emphasize the novelty of the way in which us finance operated in the 2000s, and the sense that it had no limits. The deeper causes, however, lay in economic developments. In much of the Western world the rate of profit of non-financial corporations fell steeply between 1950–73 and 2000–06—in the us, by roughly a quarter. In response, firms ‘invested’ increasingly in financial speculation, and the us government helped offset the resulting shortfall of non-residential private investment by boosting military spending (the Pentagon’s annual budget happens to be around the same as the figure put on the Treasury’s recent rescue plan).

In addition, foreign currency markets have since 2000 persistently driven exchange rates in the wrong direction, causing many economies running large external deficits to experience currency appreciation, and others running surpluses to experience depreciation or no change. External deficits and surpluses have grown, increasing the fragility of the global economy. However, commentators who insist that the present turmoil is simply the latest in a long line of crises driven by bubble dynamics miss the point that this time, the asset bubble was propagated across the world through securitization technology and the ‘originate and distribute’ model of banking, which only came to fruition in the 2000s. The model encouraged high leverage, complex financial instruments and opaque markets, all of which put this crisis in a league of its own.

Too much stress has been laid specifically on the housing bubble, as though it was a necessary and sufficient condition of the crisis. It was only one part of a much wider run-up of debt. Table 1, overleaf, shows the ratio of debt to gdp for the us economy as a whole, and for the two most indebted sectors—households and finance—for 1980 and 2007. The overall ratio more than doubled, and that for the financial sector increased more than fivefold.


 

The toxic combination of debt, asset bubble and securitization technology was itself enabled by lax regulation. The locus of the blow-up was not unregulated hedge funds, but supposedly regulated banks. Until recently it was acceptable in the eyes of the authorities for investment banks to operate with a debt to equity ratio of 30–35:1. It is no exaggeration to say that the crisis stems from the biggest regulatory failure in modern history. Many politicians and commentators are stressing that ‘we are all to blame’—the international economy, bankers, investors, ratings agencies, consumers. But this simply diverts attention from those whose job it was to regulate: the regulators and the political authorities who sanctioned them.

The uk’s role in the crisis deserves emphasis, because contrary to conventional wisdom, the dynamics at its heart started there. The Thatcher government set out to attract financial business from New York by advertising London as a place where us firms could escape onerous domestic regulation. The government of Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown continued the strategy, leading Brown to boast that the uk had ‘not only light but limited regulation’. In response, political momentum grew in the us over the course of the 1990s to repeal the Depression-era Glass–Steagall act, which separated commercial from investment banking. Its repeal in 1999 produced a de facto financial liberalization, by facilitating an unrestrained growth of the unregulated shadow-banking system of hedge funds, private equity funds, mortgage brokers and the like. This shadow system then undertook financial operations which tied in the banks, and it was these that eventually brought the banks’ downfall.

The striking thing about the uk Financial Services Authority, set up with great fanfare by Brown in 1997, at the same time as he granted the Bank of England semi-autonomy in monetary policy, is that it has sweeping jurisdiction over the British financial sector—in contrast to the us system of multiple and fragmented regulators. Yet it regulates diffidently, and was evidently intended as little more than window-dressing. Howard Davies, the fsa’s first chairman, described its guiding principle with striking candour: ‘The philosophy from when I set it up has been to say, “Consenting adults in private? That’s their problem, really.”’ [7] Hence the fsa, in its covert and successful bid to attract us companies to London, allowed banks and insurance companies operating from the City to do so with much less capital than similar organizations in New York. Its commitment to light and limited regulation meant that to deal with British financial markets one-third the size of those in the us, it had eleven times fewer enforcement agents than the Securities and Exchange Commission (sec)—98 as compared to 1,111.

It is ironic that the crisis may end up saving Brown from having to resign as prime minister. Yet it is now clear that his aversion to financial regulation, and his lack of concern about the housing bubble—which in the period since Labour came to power has made the uk’s economic performance look much better than it would otherwise have done—are deeply implicated in the build-up to the crisis. For a decade, the combined tails of the housing market and financial sector have wagged the dog of the British economy. As in the us, consumption grew much faster than gdp, financed by rising debt, thanks to booming house prices. A grateful electorate returned the Labour government to office twice in a row.

Governmental responses

The downward spiral of credit contraction is being driven by a pervasive collapse of trust in the entire structure of financial intermediation that underpins capitalist economies. With debt levels running high and the economic climate worsening, many enterprises in the real economy must be close to bankruptcy; hence lenders and equity buyers are staying out of the market. Governments have therefore moved to stabilize credit markets by taking steps to encourage buyers to re-enter the market for securities—most notably the us Treasury, with its $700 bn bail-out scheme. Several European states have moved to steady the banking sector, with Ireland, Greece, Germany, Austria and Denmark guaranteeing all savings deposits in early October 2008. Competition rules have been set aside, as governments foster mega-mergers. In the uk, the recent merger of hbos and Lloyds tsb creates a bank with a 30 per cent share of the retail market.

The sheer monopoly power of such new financial conglomerates is likely to prompt a stronger regulatory response. Another key area to watch in terms of gauging the robustness of governmental responses is the market for Over the Counter (otc) derivative contracts—which Warren Buffet famously described in 2003 as ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’. Buffet went on to say that, while the Federal Reserve system was created in part to prevent financial contagion, ‘there is no central bank assigned to the job of preventing the dominoes toppling in insurance or derivatives’. In the event that more regulation of the otc market is implemented—even in the minimal form of requiring the use of a standard contract format and registration of the details of each contract with a regulatory body—Brooksley Born will have some satisfaction. She was head of the Chicago Futures Trading Commission in the late 1990s, and proposed in a discussion paper that the otc market should come under some form of regulation. Alan Greenspan, sec Chairman Arthur Levitt and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin were so angry at her for even raising such an idea that they sought Clinton’s permission to have her fired; in January 1999 she duly resigned for ‘family reasons’.

Beyond such immediate, fire-fighting responses, the crisis has also drawn attention to the matter of the system’s overall stability—and specifically to the impact of international financial standards on national systems. A furious debate has been under way in recent years about international accounting standards. Both the leading sets used by listed companies around the world—the us Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and the International Financial Reporting Standards (also known as ias)—require listed companies to ‘mark to market’; that is, frequently to revalue their assets at current market prices or, if the assets are illiquid and have no market price, to revalue them according to the cost of guaranteeing them. Defenders of this method—principally investors—tendentiously call it the ‘fair value’ standard (who could oppose ‘fair value’?), arguing that its adoption is crucial to maintaining investors’ confidence in firms’ published accounts. [8]

Critics, including the International Institute of Finance—the main lobbying group for bankers—counter that it amplifies booms and busts. During downswings ‘fair value’ accounting obliges banks to record a drop in asset value which may be unjustified by economic ‘fundamentals’. To maintain their solvency ratios they are then obliged to raise new capital at high cost or reduce lending. Upswings, meanwhile, permit banks to boost their balance sheets beyond levels justified by ‘fundamentals’. But the alternative methods of ‘mark to historical prices’ or ‘mark to model’, in which each firm uses its own model to estimate shadow prices, are in turn open to attack. Warren Buffet observed that ‘mark to model’ tends to degenerate into ‘mark to myth’, while Goldman Sachs in June 2008 resigned its membership of the iif in protest at the prospect of a move to what it called Alice in Wonderland accounting.

Critics of ‘mark to market’ tend to conflate the important distinction between accounting standards and prudential standards. The former are concerned with the information provided to shareholders and others about the ‘integrity’ of the market; their function is to ensure continuous and accurate information on the situation of companies as the basis for investment decisions. Prudential standards, on the other hand, focus on financial stability, and on preventing financial actors from behaving in ways that put stability at risk. Maintaining this distinction, and overhauling some prudential standards, is important in the current context.

Credit and credibility

One type of prudential standard ripe for revision concerns banks’ capital adequacy. The Basel II standard of capital adequacy, which came into force at the start of 2007 after some nine years of negotiation, marked a shift from the external regulation of Basel I to self-regulation—making it an invitation to careless behaviour and ‘moral hazard’ at a time when big banks are more confident than ever that they will be bailed out by the state. Basel II requires banks to use agencies’ ratings and their own internal risk-assessment models—both of which have been shown to be pro-cyclical and to have failed spectacularly in the run-up to the present crisis—while raising capital standards during periods of illiquidity, precisely when banks are less able to meet them. Moreover, experience of Basel I and simulation of the effects of Basel II suggest that both sets of rules tip capital flows from developed-country banks to the developing world in favour of short-term bank credit, the most dangerous kind. [9] Basel II also raises the cost of finance for banks in the global South relative to those in the developed world, cementing the competitive advantage of the latter. Incremental revision of Basel II will not address any of these issues; for that, wholesale renegotiation will be required.

Among the many victims of the crisis, then, is the dominant ‘global’ model of financial architecture of the last two decades, the credibility of which has been seriously damaged. All three of its main pillars malfunctioned in the run-up to the current crisis. Firstly, a financial services regulator is supposed to protect bank depositors and consumers from unsound behaviour by individual firms, such as holding inadequate reserves; as we have seen, however, regulation was lax in the extreme. Second, financial markets are meant independently to allocate investment capital and consumer credit between individuals, firms and states, with little influence from government; but the opacity created by leveraging and complex financial engineering resulted in market meltdown and eventual state rescue.

The third pillar is the maintenance of monetary stability—defined as keeping a tight lid on inflation—by the central bank. Focusing on the retail price index, central banks opted to keep interest rates very low and permit fast credit growth, lulled by low price inflation due to cheap imports from China. The rapid growth of credit blew out asset bubbles, especially in housing—which many central banks ignored, since their mandate was confined to consumer prices. Indeed, they and the politicians behind them applauded the housing boom because it propelled sharp increases in gdp. The new regime that emerges from the ongoing crisis, then, is likely to include attempts to revise the role of the third pillar by expanding the mandate of central banks, and ensuring they give more weight to asset prices. Since the interest rate is a very blunt instrument, central bankers and regulators will have to rely on an expanded set of prudential measures. Examples would include a requirement for new financial products to obtain regulatory approval, to ensure that their risk characteristics can be readily determined by a third party; or a demand that any organization that can expect a public safety net—and especially public deposit insurance—should submit to controls of its loan portfolio, so as to reduce credit to ‘overheating’ sectors. [10]

Demise of the consensus?

Neoliberal economics has powerful antibodies against evidence contrary to its way of seeing things. However, the current crisis may be severe enough to awaken economists from the ‘deep slumber of a decided opinion’, and render them more receptive to proof that the post-Cold War globalization consensus has strikingly weak empirical foundations. According to the conventional view, in the decades after 1945, governments routinely ‘intervened’ in the economy, especially in developing countries where import-substituting industrialization was the norm. While the developed world liberalized, the global South kept to isi and, consequently, its relative economic performance lagged. But as of around 1980, under encouragement from the World Bank, imf and the American and British governments, developing countries increasingly adopted the prescriptions of the globalization consensus and switched to a strategy of market-friendly, export-led growth and supply-side development. As a result, their performance improved relative not only to the past but also to that of the developed countries; they finally began to catch up. This empirical evidence in turn validated World Bank and imf pressure on their borrowers to adopt neoliberal policies.


 

The trouble with this story is that it is largely wrong. Figure 1 shows the average income of a number of regions relative to that of the North, expressed in purchasing power parity dollars (ppp$), from 1950 to 2001. Latin America and Africa display a relative decline both before and after 1980; Eastern Europe, not shown, tracks the Latin America line. China, at the bottom of the graph for most of the period, starts to rise in the 1980s and continues thereafter, reaching the average for the South by 2001; the Asia line rises a little, too, after a lag—but this also includes China, which accounts for a large part of its ascent.


 

Figure 2, opposite, shows the average income of the developing world, excluding the ‘transitional economies’ of the former Soviet bloc, as a proportion of that of the North, expressed in market exchange rates. The top line represents the whole of the global South, the bottom line the global South excluding China. In both cases, the trend from 1960 to 2008 is very different from that postulated by the globalization narrative. The ratio was higher in the period before 1980, fell steeply during the 1980s, flattened out at a low level during the 1990s, and had a small uptick after 2004 because of the commodity boom induced by rapid growth in the prc. With incomes expressed in terms of ppp, the trend line is consistent with the globalization narrative, turning upwards in the early 1980s and continuing to ascend thereafter; but exclude China and the trend is much the same as in Figure 2. [11]

The notion that globalization generates catch-up growth, then, rests principally on the rise of China. Yet the policies Beijing has pursued are far from identical to those endorsed by the Washington Consensus; it has followed the precepts of Friedrich List and of American policy-makers of the nineteenth century, during the us’s catch-up growth, more than those of Adam Smith or latter-day neoliberals. The state has been an integral promoter of development, and has adopted targeted protection measures as part of a wider strategy for nurturing new industries and technologies; it is now investing heavily in information systems to help Chinese firms engineer their way around Western patents.

The American Economic Association carried out surveys of its members’ opinions in 1980, 1990 and 2000. [12] The results indicate a broad consensus on propositions about the desirable effects of openness and the harmful effects of price controls. For example, in all three surveys the proposition that ‘tariffs and import controls lower economic welfare’ elicited very high agreement; in 1980, 79 per cent of us economists said they ‘agree’ with the statement, as distinct from ‘agree with qualifications’ or ‘disagree’. (Economists in four continental European countries were also surveyed in 1980; only 27 per cent of French economists said they agreed with the same statement.) It seems a safe bet that the 2010 survey will report significantly less agreement about the desirability of free trade, free capital movements and other forms of economic openness—providing concrete evidence of a weakening of the globalization consensus among us economists, and further support for the conjecture that we have entered a new regime.

Rethinking the model

In times of crisis, arguments that had previously been on the margins can gain greater currency. If the disappearance of three out of five big investment banks indicates the seriousness of the present turmoil, it also provides an opportunity to broaden the range of possibilities for an overhaul of the way global finance operates; the fall in pension funds and declining house prices should also enlarge the constituency for major reform. Scholars today face the challenge of rethinking some of the basic intellectual models that have legitimized policy over the past three decades. The fallout from complex, opaque financial products may persuade many of the benefits of a substantially smaller financial sector relative to the real one, and perhaps of a ‘mixed economy’ in finance, where some firms would combine public and private purposes—operating more like utilities than profit maximizers.

But more fundamentally, the globalization model itself needs to be rethought. It over-emphasized capital accumulation or the supply side of the economy, to the detriment of the demand side (since the stress on export-led growth implied that demand was unlimited). [13] The failure of catch-up growth, seen in Figures 1 and 2, stems in part from neoliberalism’s lack of attention to domestic demand, reflecting the dominance of neoclassical economics and the marginalization of Keynesian approaches. Developing domestic and regional demand would involve greater efforts towards achieving equality in the distribution of income—and hence a larger role for labour standards, trade unions, the minimum wage and systems of social protection. It would also necessitate strategic management of trade, so as to curb the race-to-the-bottom effects of export-led growth, and foster domestic industry and services that would provide better livelihoods and incomes for the middle and working classes. Controls on cross-border flows of capital, so as to curb speculative surges, would be another key instrument of a demand-led development process, since they would give governments greater autonomy with regard to the exchange rate and in setting interest rates.

The recent strengthening of regional integration processes, meanwhile, should direct attention away from global standards and arrangements which, because of their maximal scope, are necessarily coarse-grained at best. Regional trade agreements between developing countries have distinct advantages over multilateral trade deals, whose terms often serve to break open economies of the global South while preserving intact protections for industry and agriculture in the North. Regional currencies—such as the Asian Currency Unit being discussed by East Asian states, based on a weighted average of key local currencies—could act as a benchmark independent of the us dollar, reducing vulnerability to market turbulence on Wall Street. [14]

Global economic regimes need above all to be rethought to allow a diversity of rules and standards, instead of imposing ever more uniformity. Rather than seeking, in Martin Wolf’s terms, to make the whole world attain the degree of economic integration found within the federal structure of the us, such that nation-states would have no more influence over cross-border flows than us states have over domestic transactions, [15] we might draw inspiration from an analogy with ‘middleware’. Designed to enable different families of software to communicate with each other, middleware offers large organizations an alternative to making one program span their entire structure; it allows more scope for a decentralized choice of programs. If the second leg of the present ‘double movement’ turns out to be a period from which consensus is largely absent, it may also provide space for a wider array of standards and institutions—economic and financial alternatives to the system-wide prescriptions of neoliberalism. This may give the new regime that emerges from the current upheavals greater stability than its predecessor. Whether it provides the basis for a more equitable world, however, will remain an open question—and an urgent challenge—for some time to come.

7 October 2008

 


 

[1] The term ‘Washington Consensus’, devised in 1989 by John Williamson to refer to a set of ten policy recommendations, came to be used in a much broader sense, encompassing financial deregulation, free capital mobility, unrestricted purchase of local companies by foreign companies, and unrestricted establishment of subsidiaries.

[2] Dean Baker, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer, Washington, dc 2006.

[3] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Boston 2001 [1944].

[4] For further details see Robert Wade, ‘A New Global Financial Architecture?’, nlr 46, July–Aug 2007; and ‘Global Financial Regulation Versus the Engines of Financial Instability’, in Philip Arestis and John Eatwell, eds, Issues in Finance and Industry, Basingstoke, forthcoming.

[5] John Jansen, ‘America’s Reign of Terror’, SeekingAlpha.com, 2 October 2008.

[6] Martin Fackler, ‘Japan Mostly Unscathed by Global Credit Crisis’, International Herald Tribune, 22 September 2008.

[7] Jesse Eisinger, ‘London Banks, Falling Down’, Portfolio.com, 13 August 2008.

[8] Nicolas Véron, Matthieu Autret and Alfred Galichon, Smoke & Mirrors, Inc.: Accounting for Capitalism, Ithaca, ny 2006.

[9] Jean-Marc Figuet and Delphine Lahet, ‘Les Accords de Bâle II: quelles conséquences pour le financement bancaire extérieur des pays émergents?’, Revue d’Economie du Développement, no. 1 (March 2007), pp. 47–67.

[10] Stephen Bell and John Quiggin, ‘Asset Price Instability and Policy Responses: The Legacy of Liberalization’, Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 40, no. 3 (September 2006), pp. 629–49.

[11] In his 2004 book Why Globalization Works, Martin Wolf does not present evidence of this kind. The nearest he comes is a table (8.1) giving growth rates for seven regions and several time periods from 1820 to 1998, which shows that six out of the seven regions had lower growth rates between 1973–98, the era of globalization and outward orientation, than between 1950–73, the previous era of state intervention and isi; but Wolf does not comment on this decline.

[12] Dan Fuller and Doris Geide-Stevenson, ‘Consensus among Economists: Revisited’, Journal of Economic Education, vol. 34, no. 4 (Fall 2003), pp. 369–87.

[13] Thomas Palley, ‘Developing the Domestic Market’, Challenge, vol. 49, no. 6 (November–December 2006), pp. 20–34.

[14] Wade, ‘The Case for a Global Currency’, iht, 4 August 2006.

[15] Wolf, Why Globalization Works, p. 4.

source:

http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2739

 
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Posted by pada Oktober 28, 2008 in cultural studies, post colonialism

 

THE RIGHT TO THE CITY

New Left Review 53, September-October 2008

 

THE RIGHT TO THE CITY

David Harvey

 

We live in an era when ideals of human rights have moved centre stage both politically and ethically. A great deal of energy is expended in promoting their significance for the construction of a better world. But for the most part the concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and neoliberal market logics, or the dominant modes of legality and state action. We live, after all, in a world in which the rights of private property and the profit rate trump all other notions of rights. I here want to explore another type of human right, that of the right to the city.

Has the astonishing pace and scale of urbanization over the last hundred years contributed to human well-being? The city, in the words of urban sociologist Robert Park, is:

man’s most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself. [1]

The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.

From their inception, cities have arisen through geographical and social concentrations of a surplus product. Urbanization has always been, therefore, a class phenomenon, since surpluses are extracted from somewhere and from somebody, while the control over their disbursement typically lies in a few hands. This general situation persists under capitalism, of course; but since urbanization depends on the mobilization of a surplus product, an intimate connection emerges between the development of capitalism and urbanization. Capitalists have to produce a surplus product in order to produce surplus value; this in turn must be reinvested in order to generate more surplus value. The result of continued reinvestment is the expansion of surplus production at a compound rate—hence the logistic curves (money, output and population) attached to the history of capital accumulation, paralleled by the growth path of urbanization under capitalism.

The perpetual need to find profitable terrains for capital-surplus production and absorption shapes the politics of capitalism. It also presents the capitalist with a number of barriers to continuous and trouble-free expansion. If labour is scarce and wages are high, either existing labour has to be disciplined—technolo gically induced unemployment or an assault on organized working-class power are two prime methods—or fresh labour forces must be found by immigration, export of capital or proletarianization of hitherto independent elements of the population. Capitalists must also discover new means of production in general and natural resources in particular, which puts increasing pressure on the natural environment to yield up necessary raw materials and absorb the inevitable waste. They need to open up terrains for raw-material extraction—often the objective of imperialist and neo-colonial endeavours.

The coercive laws of competition also force the continuous implementation of new technologies and organizational forms, since these enable capitalists to out-compete those using inferior methods. Innovations define new wants and needs, reduce the turnover time of capital and lessen the friction of distance, which limits the geographical range within which the capitalist can search for expanded labour supplies, raw materials, and so on. If there is not enough purchasing power in the market, then new markets must be found by expanding foreign trade, promoting novel products and lifestyles, creating new credit instruments, and debt-financing state and private expenditures. If, finally, the profit rate is too low, then state regulation of ‘ruinous competition’, monopolization (mergers and acquisitions) and capital exports provide ways out.

If any of the above barriers cannot be circumvented, capitalists are unable profitably to reinvest their surplus product. Capital accumulation is blocked, leaving them facing a crisis, in which their capital can be devalued and in some instances even physically wiped out. Surplus commodities can lose value or be destroyed, while productive capacity and assets can be written down and left unused; money itself can be devalued through inflation, and labour through massive unemployment. How, then, has the need to circumvent these barriers and to expand the terrain of profitable activity driven capitalist urbanization? I argue here that urbanization has played a particularly active role, alongside such phenomena as military expenditures, in absorbing the surplus product that capitalists perpetually produce in their search for profits.

Urban revolutions

 

Consider, first, the case of Second Empire Paris. The year 1848 brought one of the first clear, and European-wide, crises of both unemployed surplus capital and surplus labour. It struck Paris particularly hard, and issued in an abortive revolution by unemployed workers and those bourgeois utopians who saw a social republic as the antidote to the greed and inequality that had characterized the July Monarchy. The republican bourgeoisie violently repressed the revolutionaries but failed to resolve the crisis. The result was the ascent to power of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who engineered a coup in 1851 and proclaimed himself Emperor the following year. To survive politically, he resorted to widespread repression of alternative political movements. The economic situation he dealt with by means of a vast programme of infrastructural investment both at home and abroad. In the latter case, this meant the construction of railroads throughout Europe and into the Orient, as well as support for grand works such as the Suez Canal. At home, it meant consolidating the railway network, building ports and harbours, and draining marshes. Above all, it entailed the reconfiguration of the urban infrastructure of Paris. Bonaparte brought in Georges-Eugène Haussmann to take charge of the city’s public works in 1853.

Haussmann clearly understood that his mission was to help solve the surplus-capital and unemployment problem through urbanization. Rebuilding Paris absorbed huge quantities of labour and capital by the standards of the time and, coupled with suppressing the aspirations of the Parisian workforce, was a primary vehicle of social stabilization. He drew upon the utopian plans that Fourierists and Saint-Simonians had debated in the 1840s for reshaping Paris, but with one big difference: he transformed the scale at which the urban process was imagined. When the architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff showed Haussmann his plans for a new boulevard, Haussmann threw them back at him saying: ‘not wide enough . . . you have it 40 metres wide and I want it 120.’ He annexed the suburbs and redesigned whole neighbourhoods such as Les Halles. To do this Haussmann needed new financial institutions and debt instruments, the Crédit Mobilier and Crédit Immobilier, which were constructed on Saint-Simonian lines. In effect, he helped resolve the capital-surplus disposal problem by setting up a proto-Keynesian system of debt-financed infrastructural urban improvements.

The system worked very well for some fifteen years, and it involved not only a transformation of urban infrastructures but also the construction of a new way of life and urban persona. Paris became ‘the city of light’, the great centre of consumption, tourism and pleasure; the cafés, department stores, fashion industry and grand expositions all changed urban living so that it could absorb vast surpluses through consumerism. But then the overextended and speculative financial system and credit structures crashed in 1868. Haussmann was dismissed; Napoleon III in desperation went to war against Bismarck’s Germany and lost. In the ensuing vacuum arose the Paris Commune, one of the greatest revolutionary episodes in capitalist urban history, wrought in part out of a nostalgia for the world that Haussmann had destroyed and the desire to take back the city on the part of those dispossessed by his works. [2]

Fast forward now to the 1940s in the United States. The huge mobilization for the war effort temporarily resolved the capital-surplus disposal problem that had seemed so intractable in the 1930s, and the unemployment that went with it. But everyone was fearful about what would happen after the war. Politically the situation was dangerous: the federal government was in effect running a nationalized economy, and was in alliance with the Communist Soviet Union, while strong social movements with socialist inclinations had emerged in the 1930s. As in Louis Bonaparte’s era, a hefty dose of political repression was evidently called for by the ruling classes of the time; the subsequent history of McCarthyism and Cold War politics, of which there were already abundant signs in the early 40s, is all too familiar. On the economic front, there remained the question of how surplus capital could be absorbed.

In 1942, a lengthy evaluation of Haussmann’s efforts appeared in Architectural Forum. It documented in detail what he had done, attempted an analysis of his mistakes but sought to recuperate his reputation as one of the greatest urbanists of all time. The article was by none other than Robert Moses, who after the Second World War did to New York what Haussmann had done to Paris. [3] That is, Moses changed the scale of thinking about the urban process. Through a system of highways and infrastructural transformations, suburbanization and the total re-engineering of not just the city but also the whole metropolitan region, he helped resolve the capital-surplus absorption problem. To do this, he tapped into new financial institutions and tax arrangements that liberated the credit to debt-finance urban expansion. When taken nationwide to all the major metropolitan centres of the us—yet another transformation of scale—this process played a crucial role in stabilizing global capitalism after 1945, a period in which the us could afford to power the whole global non-communist economy by running trade deficits.

The suburbanization of the United States was not merely a matter of new infrastructures. As in Second Empire Paris, it entailed a radical transformation in lifestyles, bringing new products from housing to refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as two cars in the driveway and an enormous increase in the consumption of oil. It also altered the political landscape, as subsidized home-ownership for the middle classes changed the focus of community action towards the defence of property values and individualized identities, turning the suburban vote towards conservative republicanism. Debt-encumbered homeowners, it was argued, were less likely to go on strike. This project successfully absorbed the surplus and assured social stability, albeit at the cost of hollowing out the inner cities and generating urban unrest amongst those, chiefly African-Americans, who were denied access to the new prosperity.

By the end of the 1960s, a different kind of crisis began to unfold; Moses, like Haussmann, fell from grace, and his solutions came to be seen as inappropriate and unacceptable. Traditionalists rallied around Jane Jacobs and sought to counter the brutal modernism of Moses’s projects with a localized neighbourhood aesthetic. But the suburbs had been built, and the radical change in lifestyle that this betokened had many social consequences, leading feminists, for example, to proclaim the suburb as the locus of all their primary discontents. If Haussmannization had a part in the dynamics of the Paris Commune, the soulless qualities of suburban living also played a critical role in the dramatic events of 1968 in the us. Discontented white middle-class students went into a phase of revolt, sought alliances with marginalized groups claiming civil rights and rallied against American imperialism to create a movement to build another kind of world—including a different kind of urban experience.

In Paris, the campaign to stop the Left Bank Expressway and the destruction of traditional neighbourhoods by the invading ‘high-rise giants’ such as the Place d’Italie and Tour Montparnasse helped animate the larger dynamics of the 68 uprising. It was in this context that Henri Lefebvre wrote The Urban Revolution, which predicted not only that urbanization was central to the survival of capitalism and therefore bound to become a crucial focus of political and class struggle, but that it was obliterating step by step the distinctions between town and country through the production of integrated spaces across national territory, if not beyond. [4] The right to the city had to mean the right to command the whole urban process, which was increasingly dominating the countryside through phenomena ranging from agribusiness to second homes and rural tourism.

Along with the 68 revolt came a financial crisis within the credit institutions that, through debt-financing, had powered the property boom in the preceding decades. The crisis gathered momentum at the end of the 1960s until the whole capitalist system crashed, starting with the bursting of the global property-market bubble in 1973, followed by the fiscal bankruptcy of New York City in 1975. As William Tabb argued, the response to the consequences of the latter effectively pioneered the construction of a neoliberal answer to the problems of perpetuating class power and of reviving the capacity to absorb the surpluses that capitalism must produce to survive. [5]

Girding the globe

 

Fast forward once again to our current conjuncture. International capitalism has been on a roller-coaster of regional crises and crashes—East and Southeast Asia in 1997–98; Russia in 1998; Argentina in 2001—but had until recently avoided a global crash even in the face of a chronic inability to dispose of capital surplus. What was the role of urbanization in stabilizing this situation? In the United States, it is accepted wisdom that the housing sector was an important stabilizer of the economy, particularly after the high-tech crash of the late 1990s, although it was an active component of expansion in the earlier part of that decade. The property market directly absorbed a great deal of surplus capital through the construction of city-centre and suburban homes and office spaces, while the rapid inflation of housing asset prices—backed by a profligate wave of mortgage refinancing at historically low rates of interest—boosted the us domestic market for consumer goods and services. American urban expansion partially steadied the global economy, as the us ran huge trade deficits with the rest of the world, borrowing around $2 billion a day to fuel its insatiable consumerism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the urban process has undergone another transformation of scale. It has, in short, gone global. Property-market booms in Britain and Spain, as well as in many other countries, have helped power a capitalist dynamic in ways that broadly parallel what has happened in the United States. The urbanization of China over the last twenty years has been of a different character, with its heavy focus on infrastructural development, but it is even more important than that of the us. Its pace picked up enormously after a brief recession in 1997, to the extent that China has taken in nearly half the world’s cement supplies since 2000. More than a hundred cities have passed the one-million population mark in this period, and previously small villages, such as Shenzhen, have become huge metropolises of 6 to 10 million people. Vast infrastructural projects, including dams and highways—again, all debt-financed— are transforming the landscape. The consequences for the global economy and the absorption of surplus capital have been significant: Chile booms thanks to the high price of copper, Australia thrives and even Brazil and Argentina have recovered in part because of the strength of Chinese demand for raw materials.

Is the urbanization of China, then, the primary stabilizer of global capitalism today? The answer has to be a qualified yes. For China is only the epicentre of an urbanization process that has now become genuinely global, partly through the astonishing integration of financial markets that have used their flexibility to debt-finance urban development around the world. The Chinese central bank, for example, has been active in the secondary mortgage market in the us while Goldman Sachs was heavily involved in the surging property market in Mumbai, and Hong Kong capital has invested in Baltimore. In the midst of a flood of impoverished migrants, construction boomed in Johannesburg, Taipei, Moscow, as well as the cities in the core capitalist countries, such as London and Los Angeles. Astonishing if not criminally absurd mega-urbanization projects have emerged in the Middle East in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, mopping up the surplus arising from oil wealth in the most conspicuous, socially unjust and environmentally wasteful ways possible.

This global scale makes it hard to grasp that what is happening is in principle similar to the transformations that Haussmann oversaw in Paris. For the global urbanization boom has depended, as did all the others before it, on the construction of new financial institutions and arrangements to organize the credit required to sustain it. Financial innovations set in train in the 1980s—securitizing and packaging local mortgages for sale to investors worldwide, and setting up new vehicles to hold collateralized debt obligations—played a crucial role. Their many benefits included spreading risk and permitting surplus savings pools easier access to surplus housing demand; they also brought aggregate interest rates down, while generating immense fortunes for the financial intermediaries who worked these wonders. But spreading risk does not eliminate it. Furthermore, the fact that it can be distributed so widely encourages even riskier local behaviours, because liability can be transferred elsewhere. Without adequate risk-assessment controls, this wave of financialization has now turned into the so-called sub-prime mortgage and housing asset-value crisis. The fallout was concentrated in the first instance in and around us cities, with particularly serious implications for low-income, inner-city African-Americans and households headed by single women. It also has affected those who, unable to afford the skyrocketing house prices in urban centres, especially in the Southwest, were forced into the metropolitan semi-periphery; here they took up speculatively built tract housing at initially easy rates, but now face escalating commuting costs as oil prices rise, and soaring mortgage payments as market rates come into effect.

The current crisis, with vicious local repercussions on urban life and infrastructures, also threatens the whole architecture of the global financial system and may trigger a major recession to boot. The parallels with the 1970s are uncanny—including the immediate easy-money response of the Federal Reserve in 2007–08, which will almost certainly generate strong currents of uncontrollable inflation, if not stagflation, in the not too distant future. However, the situation is far more complex now, and it is an open question whether China can compensate for a serious crash in the United States; even in the prc the pace of urbanization seems to be slowing down. The financial system is also more tightly coupled than it ever was before. [6] Computer-driven split-second trading always threatens to create a great divergence in the market—it is already producing incredible volatility in stock trading—that will precipitate a massive crisis, requiring a total re-think of how finance capital and money markets work, including their relation to urbanization.

Property and pacification

 

As in all the preceding phases, this most recent radical expansion of the urban process has brought with it incredible transformations of lifestyle. Quality of urban life has become a commodity, as has the city itself, in a world where consumerism, tourism, cultural and knowledge-based industries have become major aspects of the urban political economy. The postmodernist penchant for encouraging the formation of market niches—in both consumer habits and cultural forms—surrounds the contemporary urban experience with an aura of freedom of choice, provided you have the money. Shopping malls, multiplexes and box stores proliferate, as do fast-food and artisanal market-places. We now have, as urban sociologist Sharon Zukin puts it, ‘pacification by cappuccino’. Even the incoherent, bland and monotonous suburban tract development that continues to dominate in many areas now gets its antidote in a ‘new urbanism’ movement that touts the sale of community and boutique lifestyles to fulfill urban dreams. This is a world in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism, and its cognate of political withdrawal from collective forms of action, becomes the template for human socialization. [7] The defence of property values becomes of such paramount political interest that, as Mike Davis points out, the home-owner associations in the state of California become bastions of political reaction, if not of fragmented neighbourhood fascisms. [8]

We increasingly live in divided and conflict-prone urban areas. In the past three decades, the neoliberal turn has restored class power to rich elites. Fourteen billionaires have emerged in Mexico since then, and in 2006 that country boasted the richest man on earth, Carlos Slim, at the same time as the incomes of the poor had either stagnated or diminished. The results are indelibly etched on the spatial forms of our cities, which increasingly consist of fortified fragments, gated communities and privatized public spaces kept under constant surveillance. In the developing world in particular, the city

is splitting into different separated parts, with the apparent formation of many ‘microstates’. Wealthy neighbourhoods provided with all kinds of services, such as exclusive schools, golf courses, tennis courts and private police patrolling the area around the clock intertwine with illegal settlements where water is available only at public fountains, no sanitation system exists, electricity is pirated by a privileged few, the roads become mud streams whenever it rains, and where house-sharing is the norm. Each fragment appears to live and function autonomously, sticking firmly to what it has been able to grab in the daily fight for survival. [9]

Under these conditions, ideals of urban identity, citizenship and belonging—already threatened by the spreading malaise of a neoliberal ethic—become much harder to sustain. Privatized redistribution through criminal activity threatens individual security at every turn, prompting popular demands for police suppression. Even the idea that the city might function as a collective body politic, a site within and from which progressive social movements might emanate, appears implausible. There are, however, urban social movements seeking to overcome isolation and reshape the city in a different image from that put forward by the developers, who are backed by finance, corporate capital and an increasingly entrepreneurially minded local state apparatus.

Dispossessions

 

Surplus absorption through urban transformation has an even darker aspect. It has entailed repeated bouts of urban restructuring through ‘creative destruction’, which nearly always has a class dimension since it is the poor, the underprivileged and those marginalized from political power that suffer first and foremost from this process. Violence is required to build the new urban world on the wreckage of the old. Haussmann tore through the old Parisian slums, using powers of expropriation in the name of civic improvement and renovation. He deliberately engineered the removal of much of the working class and other unruly elements from the city centre, where they constituted a threat to public order and political power. He created an urban form where it was believed—incorrectly , as it turned out in 1871—that sufficient levels of surveillance and military control could be attained to ensure that revolutionary movements would easily be brought to heel. Nevertheless, as Engels pointed out in 1872:

In reality, the bourgeoisie has only one method of solving the housing question after its fashion—that is to say, of solving it in such a way that the solution continually reproduces the question anew. This method is called ‘Haussmann’ . . . No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is always the same; the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but they appear again immediately somewhere else . . . The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place. [10]

It took more than a hundred years to complete the embourgeoisement of central Paris, with the consequences seen in recent years of uprisings and mayhem in those isolated suburbs that trap marginalized immigrants, unemployed workers and youth. The sad point here, of course, is that what Engels described recurs throughout history. Robert Moses ‘took a meat axe to the Bronx’, in his infamous words, bringing forth long and loud laments from neighbourhood groups and movements. In the cases of Paris and New York, once the power of state expropriations had been successfully resisted and contained, a more insidious and cancerous progression took hold through municipal fiscal discipline, property speculation and the sorting of land-use according to the rate of return for its ‘highest and best use’. Engels understood this sequence all too well:

The growth of the big modern cities gives the land in certain areas, particularly in those areas which are centrally situated, an artificially and colossally increasing value; the buildings erected on these areas depress this value instead of increasing it, because they no longer belong to the changed circumstances. They are pulled down and replaced by others. This takes place above all with workers’ houses which are situated centrally and whose rents, even with the greatest overcrowding, can never, or only very slowly, increase above a certain maximum. They are pulled down and in their stead shops, warehouses and public buildings are erected. [11]

Though this description was written in 1872, it applies directly to contemporary urban development in much of Asia—Delhi, Seoul, Mumbai—as well as gentrification in New York. A process of displacement and what I call ‘accumulation by dispossession’ lie at the core of urbanization under capitalism. [12] It is the mirror-image of capital absorption through urban redevelopment, and is giving rise to numerous conflicts over the capture of valuable land from low-income populations that may have lived there for many years.

Consider the case of Seoul in the 1990s: construction companies and developers hired goon squads of sumo-wrestler types to invade neighbourhoods on the city’s hillsides. They sledgehammered down not only housing but also all the possessions of those who had built their own homes in the 1950s on what had become premium land. High-rise towers, which show no trace of the brutality that permitted their construction, now cover most of those hillsides. In Mumbai, meanwhile, 6 million people officially considered as slum dwellers are settled on land without legal title; all maps of the city leave these places blank. With the attempt to turn Mumbai into a global financial centre to rival Shanghai, the property-developmen t boom has gathered pace, and the land that squatters occupy appears increasingly valuable. Dharavi, one of the most prominent slums in Mumbai, is estimated to be worth $2 billion. The pressure to clear it—for environmental and social reasons that mask the land grab—is mounting daily. Financial powers backed by the state push for forcible slum clearance, in some cases violently taking possession of terrain occupied for a whole generation. Capital accumulation through real-estate activity booms, since the land is acquired at almost no cost.

Will the people who are displaced get compensation? The lucky ones get a bit. But while the Indian Constitution specifies that the state has an obligation to protect the lives and well-being of the whole population, irrespective of caste or class, and to guarantee rights to housing and shelter, the Supreme Court has issued judgements that rewrite this constitutional requirement. Since slum dwellers are illegal occupants and many cannot definitively prove their long-term residence, they have no right to compensation. To concede that right, says the Supreme Court, would be tantamount to rewarding pickpockets for their actions. So the squatters either resist and fight, or move with their few belongings to camp out on the sides of highways or wherever they can find a tiny space. [13] Examples of dispossession can also be found in the us, though these tend to be less brutal and more legalistic: the government’s right of eminent domain has been abused in order to displace established residents in reasonable housing in favour of higher-order land uses, such as condominiums and box stores. When this was challenged in the us Supreme Court, the justices ruled that it was constitutional for local jurisdictions to behave in this way in order to increase their property-tax base. [14]

In China millions are being dispossessed of the spaces they have long occupied—three million in Beijing alone. Since they lack private-property rights, the state can simply remove them by fiat, offering a minor cash payment to help them on their way before turning the land over to developers at a large profit. In some instances, people move willingly, but there are also reports of widespread resistance, the usual response to which is brutal repression by the Communist party. In the prc it is often populations on the rural margins who are displaced, illustrating the significance of Lefebvre’s argument, presciently laid out in the 1960s, that the clear distinction which once existed between the urban and the rural is gradually fading into a set of porous spaces of uneven geographical development, under the hegemonic command of capital and the state. This is also the case in India, where the central and state governments now favour the establishment of Special Economic Zones—ostensibly for industrial development, though most of the land is designated for urbanization. This policy has led to pitched battles against agricultural producers, the grossest of which was the massacre at Nandigram in West Bengal in March 2007, orchestrated by the state’s Marxist government. Intent on opening up terrain for the Salim Group, an Indonesian conglomerate, the ruling cpi(m) sent armed police to disperse protesting villagers; at least 14 were shot dead and dozens wounded. Private property rights in this case provided no protection.

What of the seemingly progressive proposal to award private-property rights to squatter populations, providing them with assets that will permit them to leave poverty behind? [15] Such a scheme is now being mooted for Rio’s favelas, for example. The problem is that the poor, beset with income insecurity and frequent financial difficulties, can easily be persuaded to trade in that asset for a relatively low cash payment. The rich typically refuse to give up their valued assets at any price, which is why Moses could take a meat axe to the low-income Bronx but not to affluent Park Avenue. The lasting effect of Margaret Thatcher’s privatization of social housing in Britain has been to create a rent and price structure throughout metropolitan London that precludes lower-income and even middle-class people from access to accommodation anywhere near the urban centre. I wager that within fifteen years, if present trends continue, all those hillsides in Rio now occupied by favelas will be covered by high-rise condominiums with fabulous views over the idyllic bay, while the erstwhile favela dwellers will have been filtered off into some remote periphery.

Formulating demands

 

Urbanization, we may conclude, has played a crucial role in the absorption of capital surpluses, at ever increasing geographical scales, but at the price of burgeoning processes of creative destruction that have dispossessed the masses of any right to the city whatsoever. The planet as building site collides with the ‘planet of slums’. [16] Periodically this ends in revolt, as in Paris in 1871 or the us after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. If, as seems likely, fiscal difficulties mount and the hitherto successful neoliberal, postmodernist and consumerist phase of capitalist surplus-absorption through urbanization is at an end and a broader crisis ensues, then the question arises: where is our 68 or, even more dramatically, our version of the Commune? As with the financial system, the answer is bound to be much more complex precisely because the urban process is now global in scope. Signs of rebellion are everywhere: the unrest in China and India is chronic, civil wars rage in Africa, Latin America is in ferment. Any of these revolts could become contagious. Unlike the fiscal system, however, the urban and peri-urban social movements of opposition, of which there are many around the world, are not tightly coupled; indeed most have no connection to each other. If they somehow did come together, what should they demand?

The answer to the last question is simple enough in principle: greater democratic control over the production and utilization of the surplus. Since the urban process is a major channel of surplus use, establishing democratic management over its urban deployment constitutes the right to the city. Throughout capitalist history, some of the surplus value has been taxed, and in social-democratic phases the proportion at the state’s disposal rose significantly. The neoliberal project over the last thirty years has been oriented towards privatizing that control. The data for all oecd countries show, however, that the state’s portion of gross output has been roughly constant since the 1970s. [17] The main achievement of the neoliberal assault, then, has been to prevent the public share from expanding as it did in the 1960s. Neoliberalism has also created new systems of governance that integrate state and corporate interests, and through the application of money power, it has ensured that the disbursement of the surplus through the state apparatus favours corporate capital and the upper classes in shaping the urban process. Raising the proportion of the surplus held by the state will only have a positive impact if the state itself is brought back under democratic control.

Increasingly, we see the right to the city falling into the hands of private or quasi-private interests. In New York City, for example, the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is reshaping the city along lines favourable to developers, Wall Street and transnational capitalist-class elements, and promoting the city as an optimal location for high-value businesses and a fantastic destination for tourists. He is, in effect, turning Manhattan into one vast gated community for the rich. In Mexico City, Carlos Slim had the downtown streets re-cobbled to suit the tourist gaze. Not only affluent individuals exercise direct power. In the town of New Haven, strapped for resources for urban reinvestment, it is Yale, one of the wealthiest universities in the world, that is redesigning much of the urban fabric to suit its needs. Johns Hopkins is doing the same for East Baltimore, and Columbia University plans to do so for areas of New York, sparking neighbourhood resistance movements in both cases. The right to the city, as it is now constituted, is too narrowly confined, restricted in most cases to a small political and economic elite who are in a position to shape cities more and more after their own desires.

Every January, the Office of the New York State Comptroller publishes an estimate of the total Wall Street bonuses for the previous twelve months. In 2007, a disastrous year for financial markets by any measure, these added up to $33.2 billion, only 2 per cent less than the year before. In mid-summer of 2007, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank poured billions of dollars’ worth of short-term credit into the financial system to ensure its stability, and thereafter the Fed dramatically lowered interest rates or pumped in vast amounts of liquidity every time the Dow threatened to fall precipitously. Meanwhile, some two million people have been or are about to be made homeless by foreclosures. Many city neighbourhoods and even whole peri-urban communities in the us have been boarded up and vandalized, wrecked by the predatory lending practices of the financial institutions. This population is due no bonuses. Indeed, since foreclosure means debt forgiveness, which is regarded as income in the United States, many of those evicted face a hefty income-tax bill for money they never had in their possession. This asymmetry cannot be construed as anything less than a massive form of class confrontation. A ‘Financial Katrina’ is unfolding, which conveniently (for the developers) threatens to wipe out low-income neighbourhoods on potentially high-value land in many inner-city areas far more effectively and speedily than could be achieved through eminent domain.

We have yet, however, to see a coherent opposition to these developments in the twenty-first century. There are, of course, already a great many diverse social movements focusing on the urban question—from India and Brazil to China, Spain, Argentina and the United States. In 2001, a City Statute was inserted into the Brazilian Constitution, after pressure from social movements, to recognize the collective right to the city. [18] In the us, there have been calls for much of the $700 billion bail-out for financial institutions to be diverted into a Reconstruction Bank, which would help prevent foreclosures and fund efforts at neighbourhood revitalization and infrastructural renewal at municipal level. The urban crisis that is affecting millions would then be prioritized over the needs of big investors and financiers. Unfortunately the social movements are not strong enough or sufficiently mobilized to force through this solution. Nor have these movements yet converged on the singular aim of gaining greater control over the uses of the surplus—let alone over the conditions of its production.

At this point in history, this has to be a global struggle, predominantly with finance capital, for that is the scale at which urbanization processes now work. To be sure, the political task of organizing such a confrontation is difficult if not daunting. However, the opportunities are multiple because, as this brief history shows, crises repeatedly erupt around urbanization both locally and globally, and because the metropolis is now the point of massive collision—dare we call it class struggle?—over the accumulation by dispossession visited upon the least well-off and the developmental drive that seeks to colonize space for the affluent.

One step towards unifying these struggles is to adopt the right to the city as both working slogan and political ideal, precisely because it focuses on the question of who commands the necessary connection between urbanization and surplus production and use. The democratization of that right, and the construction of a broad social movement to enforce its will is imperative if the dispossessed are to take back the control which they have for so long been denied, and if they are to institute new modes of urbanization. Lefebvre was right to insist that the revolution has to be urban, in the broadest sense of that term, or nothing at all.

[1] Robert Park, On Social Control and Collective Behavior, Chicago 1967, p. 3.

[2] For a fuller account, see David Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, New York 2003.

[3] Robert Moses, ‘What Happened to Haussmann?’, Architectural Forum, vol. 77 (July 1942), pp. 57–66.

[4] Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, Minneapolis 2003; and Writings on Cities, Oxford 1996.

[5] William Tabb, The Long Default: New York City and the Urban Fiscal Crisis, New York 1982.

[6] Richard Bookstaber, A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds and the Perils of Financial Innovation, Hoboken, nj 2007.

[7] Hilde Nafstad et al., ‘Ideology and Power: The Influence of Current Neoliberalism in Society’, Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, vol. 17, no. 4 (July 2007), pp. 313–27.

[8] Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, London and New York 1990.

[9] Marcello Balbo, ‘Urban Planning and the Fragmented City of Developing Countries’, Third World Planning Review, vol. 15, no. 1 (1993), pp. 23–35.

[10] Friedrich Engels, The Housing Question, New York 1935, pp. 74–7.

[11] Engels, Housing Question, p. 23.

[12] Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford 2003, chapter 4.

[13] Usha Ramanathan, ‘Illegality and the Urban Poor’, Economic and Political Weekly, 22 July 2006; Rakesh Shukla, ‘Rights of the Poor: An Overview of Supreme Court’, Economic and Political Weekly, 2 September 2006.

[14] Kelo v. New London, ct, decided on 23 June 2005 in case 545 us 469 (2005).

[15] Much of this thinking follows the work of Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, New York 2000; see the critical examination by Timothy Mitchell, ‘The Work of Economics: How a Discipline Makes its World’, Archives Européennes de Sociologie, vol. 46, no. 2 (August 2005), pp. 297–320.

[16] Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London and New York 2006.

[17] oecd Factbook 2008: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics, Paris 2008, p. 225.

[18] Edésio Fernandes, ‘Constructing the “Right to the City” in Brazil’, Social and Legal Studies, vol. 16, no. 2 (June 2007), pp. 201–19.

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Posted by pada Oktober 28, 2008 in cultural studies, post colonialism

 

Impossible Histories: Why the Many Islams Cannot be Simplified”

Impossible Histories: Why the Many Islams Cannot be Simplified”

by Edward Said

Harper’s, July 2002

———— ——— ——— ——— ——— ——— -

Discussed in this essay:
Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong. Modern Library, 2000. 222
pages. $19.95.

What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, by
Bernard Lewis. Oxford University Press, 2002. 180 pages. $23.

———— ——— ——— ——— ——— ——— -

The history of trying to come to terms with this somewhat
fictionalized (or at least constructed) Islam in Europe and later in
the United States has always been marked by crisis and conflict,
rather than by calm, mutual exchange. There is the added factor now
of commercial publishing, ever on the lookout for a quick bestseller
by some adept expert that will tell us all we need to know about
Islam, its problems, dangers, and prospects. In my book Orientalism,
I argued that the original reason for European attempts to deal with
Islam as if it were one giant entity was polemical—that is, Islam was
considered a threat to Christian Europe and had to be fixed
ideologically, the way Dante fixes Muhammad in one of the lower
circles of hell. Later, as the European empires developed over time,
knowledge of Islam was associated with control, with power, with the
need to understand the “mind” and ultimate nature of a rebellious and
somehow resistant culture as a way of dealing administratively with
an alien being at the heart of the expanding empires, especially
those of Britain and France.

During the Cold War, as the United States vied with the Soviet Union
for dominance, Islam quickly became a national-security concern in
America, though until the Iranian revolution (and even after it,
during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) the United States followed
a path of encouraging and actually supporting Islamic political
groups, which by definition were also anti-Communist and tended to be
useful in opposing radical nationalist movements supported by the
Soviets. After the Cold War ended and the United States became
the “world’s only superpower,” it soon became evident that in the
search for new world-scale, outside enemies, Islam was a prime
candidate, thus quickly reviving all the old religiously based
clichés about violent, antimodernist, and monolithic Islam. These
clichés were useful to Israel and its political and academic
supporters in the United States, particularly because of the
emergence of Islamic resistance movements to Israel’s military
occupation of the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Suddenly a
rush of what appeared to be respectably expert material spouted up in
the periodical press, most of it purporting to link “Islam” as a
whole to such absurdly reductive passions as rage, antimodernism,
anti-Americanism, antirationalism, violence, and terror. Quite
unsurprisingly, when Samuel Huntington’s vastly overrated article on
the clash of civilizations appeared in 1993, the core of its
belligerent (and dishearteningly ignorant) thesis was the battle
between the “West” and “Islam” (which he sagely warned would become
even more dangerous when it was allied with Confucianism) .

What wasn’t immediately noted at the time was how Huntington’s title
and theme were borrowed from a phrase in an essay, written in 1990 by
an energetically self-repeating and self-winding British academic,
entitled “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” Its author, Bernard Lewis, made
his name forty years ago as an expert on modern Turkey, but came to
the United States in the mid-seventies and was quickly drafted into
service as a Cold Warrior, applying his traditional Orientalist
training to larger and larger questions, which had as their immediate
aim an ideological portrait of “Islam” and the Arabs that suited
dominant pro-imperial and pro-Zionist strands in U.S. foreign policy.
It should be noted that Orientalist learning itself was premised on
the silence of the native, who was to be represented by an Occidental
expert speaking ex cathedra on the native’s behalf, presenting that
unfortunate creature as an undeveloped, deficient, and uncivilized
being who couldn’t represent himself. But just as it has now become
inappropriate for white scholars to speak on behalf of “Negroes,” it
has, since the end of classical European colonialism, stopped being
fashionable or even acceptable to pontificate about the Oriental’s
(i.e., the Muslim’s, or the Indian’s, or the Japanese’s) “mentality.”

Except for anachronisms like Lewis. In a stream of repetitious,
tartly phrased books and articles that resolutely ignored any of the
recent advances of knowledge in anthropology, history, social theory,
and cultural studies, he persisted in such “philological” tricks as
deriving an aspect of the predilection in contemporary Arab Islam for
revolutionary violence from Bedouin descriptions of a camel rising.
For the reader, however, there was no surprise, no discovery to be
made from anything Lewis wrote, since it all added up in his view to
confirmations of the Islamic tendency to violence, anger,
antimodernism, as well as Islam’s (and especially the Arabs’) closed-
mindedness, its fondness for slavery, Muslims’ inability to be
concerned with anything but themselves, and the like. From his perch
at Princeton (he is now retired and in his late eighties but still
tirelessly pounds out polemical tracts), he seems unaffected by new
ideas or insights, even though among most Middle East experts his
work has been both bypassed and discredited by the many recent
advances in knowledge about particular forms of Islamic experience.

With his veneer of English sophistication and perfect readiness never
to doubt what he is saying, Lewis has been an appropriate participant
in post-September discussion, rehashing his crude simplifications in
The New Yorker and the National Review, as well as on the Charlie
Rose show. His jowly presence seems to delight his interlocutors and
editors, and his trenchant, if wildly unprovable, anecdotes of
Islamic backwardness and antimodernism are eagerly received. His view
of history is a crudely Darwinian one in which powers and cultures
vie for dominance, some rising, some sinking. Lewis’s notions (they
are scarcely ideas) seem also to have a vague Spenglerian cast to
them, but he hasn’t got any of Spengler’s philosophic ambition or
scope. There isn’t much left to what Lewis says, therefore, than that
cultures can be measured in their most appallingly simplified terms
(my culture is stronger—i.e. , has better trains, guns, symphony
orchestras—than yours). For obvious reasons, then, his last book,
What Went Wrong? which was written before but published after
September 11, has been faring well on the bestseller lists. It fills
a need felt by many Americans: to have it confirmed for them
why “Islam” attacked them so violently and so wantonly on September
11, and why what is “wrong” with Islam deserves unrelieved opprobrium
and revulsion. The book’s real theme, however, is what went wrong
with Lewis himself: an actual, rather than a fabricated subject.

For the book is in fact an intellectual and moral disaster, the
terribly faded rasp of a pretentious academic voice, completely
removed from any direct experience of Islam, rehashing and recycling
tired Orientalist half (or less than half) truths. Remember that
Lewis claims to be discussing all of “Islam,” not just the mad
militants of Afghanistan or Egypt or Iran. All of Islam. He tries to
argue that it all went “wrong,” as if the whole thing—people,
languages, cultures—could really be pronounced upon categorically by
a godlike creature who seems never to have experienced a single
living human Muslim (except for a small handful of Turkish authors),
as if history were a simple matter of right as defined by power, or
wrong, by not having it. One can almost hear him saying, over a gin
and tonic, “You know, old chap, those wogs never really got it right,
did they?”

But it’s really worse than that. With few exceptions, all of Lewis’s
footnotes and concrete sources (that is, on the rare occasion when he
actually refers to something concrete that one could look up and read
for oneself) are Turkish. All of them, except for a smattering of
Arabic and European sources. How this allows him to imply that his
descriptions have relevance, for instance, to all twenty-plus Arab
countries, or to Indonesia or Pakistan or Morocco, or to the 30
million Chinese Muslims, all of them integral parts of Islam, is
never discussed; and indeed, Lewis never mentions these groups as he
bangs on about Islam’s tendency to do this, that, or the other,
backed by a tiny group of Turkish sources.

Although it is true that he protects himself at first by saying that
his polemic “especially but not exclusively” concerns an area he
vaguely calls the Middle East, he throws restraint to the winds in
all of what follows. Announcing portentously that Muslims have “for a
long time” been asking “what went wrong?” he then proceeds to tell us
what they say and mean, rarely citing a single name, episode, or
period except in the most general way. One would never allow an
undergraduate to write so casually as he does that, during the
nineteenth century, Muslims were “concerned” about the art of
warfare, or that in the twentieth “it became abundantly clear in the
Middle East and indeed all over the lands of Islam that things had
indeed gone badly wrong.” How he impresses nonexpert Americans with
generalities that would never pass in any other field or for any
other religion, country, or people is a sign of how degraded general
knowledge is about the worlds of Islam, and how unscrupulously Lewis
trades on that ignorance—feeds it, in fact. That any sensible reader
could accept such nonsensical sentences as these (I choose them at
random) defies common sense:

For the whole of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century the
search for the hidden talisman [an invention of Lewis's, this is the
supposed Muslim predilection for trying to find a simple key
to "Western" power] concentrated on two aspects of the West—economics
and politics, or to put it differently, wealth and power.

And what proof is offered of this 200-year “search,” which occupied
the whole of Islam? One statement, made at the start of the
nineteenth century, by the Ottoman ambassador in Paris.

Or consider this equally precise and elegant generalization:

During the 1930s, Italy and then, far more, Germany offered new
ideological and political models, with the added attraction of being
opposed to the Western powers. [Never mind the dangling "being
opposed"—Lewis doesn't bother to tell us to whom the models were
offered, in what way, and with what evidence. He trudges on anyway.]
These won widespread support, and even after their military defeat in
World War II, they continued to serve as unavowed models in both
ideology and statecraft.

Mercifully, since they are “unavowed models,” one doesn’t need to
offer any proof of their existence as models. Naturally Lewis offers
none.

Or consider, even more sublime, this nugget, which is intended to
prove that even when they translated books from European languages,
the wretched Muslims didn’t do it seriously or well. Note the
brilliant preamble: “A translation requires a translator, and a
translator has to know both languages, the language from which he is
translating and the language into which he is translating. ” (It is
difficult for me to believe that Lewis was awake when he wrote this
peculiarly acute tautology—or is it only a piercingly clever truism?)

Such knowledge, strange as it may seem, was extremely rare in the
Middle East until comparatively late. There were very few [sic]
Muslims who knew any Christian language; it was considered
unnecessary, even to some extent demeaning. For interpreters, when
needed for commerce, diplomacy, or war, they relied first on refugees
and renegades from Europe and then, when the supply of these dried
up, on Levantines. Both groups lacked either the interest or the
capacity to do literary translations into Middle-Eastern languages.

And that is it: no evidence, no names, no demonstration or concrete
documentation of all these Middle Eastern and Muslim incapacities. To
Lewis, what he writes about “Islam” is all so self-evident that it
allows him to bypass normal conventions of intellectual discourse,
including proof.

When Lewis’s book was reviewed in the New York Times by no less an
intellectual luminary than Yale’s Paul Kennedy, there was only
uncritical praise, as if to suggest that the canons of historical
evidence should be suspended where “Islam” is the subject. Kennedy
was particularly impressed with Lewis’s assertion, in an almost
totally irrelevant chapter on “Aspects of Cultural Change,” that
alone of all the cultures of the world Islam has taken no interest in
Western music. Quite without any justification at all, Kennedy then
lurched on to lament the fact that Middle Easterners had deprived
themselves even of Mozart! For that indeed is what Lewis suggests
(though he doesn’t mention Mozart). Except for Turkey and
Israel, “Western art music,” he categorically states, “falls on deaf
ears” in the Islamic world.

Now, as it happens, this is something I know quite a bit about, but
it would take some direct experience or a moment or two of actual
life in the Muslim world to realize that what Lewis says is a total
falsehood, betraying the fact that he hasn’t set foot in or spent any
significant time in Arab countries. Several major Arab capitals have
very good conservatories of Western music: Cairo, Beirut, Damascus,
Tunis, Rabat, Amman—even Ramallah on the West Bank. These have
produced literally thousands of excellent Western-style musicians who
have staffed the numerous symphony orchestras and opera companies
that play to sold-out auditoriums all over the Arab world. There are
numerous festivals of Western music there, too, and in the case of
Cairo (where I spent a great deal of my early life more than fifty
years ago) they are excellent places to learn about, listen to, and
see Western instrumental and vocal music performed at quite high
levels of skill. The Cairo Opera House has pioneered the performance
of opera in Arabic, and in fact I own a commercial CD of Mozart’s
Marriage of Figaro sung most competently in Arabic. I am a decent
pianist and have played, studied, written about, and practiced that
wonderful instrument all of my life; the significant part of my
musical education was received in Cairo from Arab teachers, who first
inspired a love and knowledge of Western music (and, yes, of Mozart)
that has never left me. In addition, I should also mention that for
the past three years I have been associated with Daniel Barenboim in
sponsoring a group of young Arab and Israeli musicians to come
together for three weeks in the summer to perform orchestral and
chamber music under Barenboim (and in 1999 with Yo-Yo Ma) at an
elevated, international level. All of the young Arabs received their
training in Arab conservatories. How could Barenboim and I have
staffed the West-Ostlicher Diwan workshop, as it is called, if
Western music had fallen on such deaf Muslim ears? Besides, why
should Lewis and Kennedy use the supposed absence of Western music as
a club to beat “Islam” with anyway? Isn’t there an enormously rich
panoply of Islamic musics to take account of instead of indulging in
this ludicrous browbeating?

I have gone into all this detail to give a sense of the unrelieved
rubbish of which Lewis’s book is made up. That it should fool even so
otherwise alert and critical an historian as Paul Kennedy is an
indication not only of how low most people’s expectations are when it
comes to discussions of “Islam” but of the mischievous ideological
fictions that pseudo-experts like Bernard Lewis trade in, and with
which they hoodwink nonexperts in the aftermath of September 11.
Instead of making it possible for people to educate themselves in how
complex and intertwined all cultures and religions really are,
available public discourse is polluted with reductive clichés that
Lewis bandies about without a trace of skepticism or rigor. The worst
part of this method is that it systematically dehumanizes peoples and
turns them into a collection of abstract slogans for purposes of
aggressive mobilization and bellicosity. This is not at all a matter
of rational understanding. The study of other cultures is a
humanistic, not a strategic or security, pursuit: Lewis mutilates the
effort itself and pretends to be delivering truths from on high. In
fact, as even the most cursory reading of his book shows, he succeeds
only in turning Muslims into an enemy people, to be regarded
collectively with contempt and scorn. That this has to do neither
with knowledge nor with understanding is enough to dismiss his work
as a debased effort to push unsuspecting readers toward thinking
of “Islam” as something to judge harshly, to dislike, and therefore
to be on guard against.

Karen Armstrong is the other best-selling author tossed up by the
mass anxiety so well traded on by the media in recent months. Like
Lewis, she wrote her book long before the September events, but her
publishers have pushed it forward as an answer to the problem of our
times. I wish I could say more enthusiastically that in its modest
way it is a useful book, but, alas, for too much of the time it’s too
humdrum for that. Yet her intentions seem decent enough. Most of the
book is potted history that chronicles events since Muhammad’s birth
without much insight or particularly fresh knowledge. The reader
would get as much out of a good encyclopedia article on “Islam” as
from Armstrong, who seems to be a very industrious if not especially
knowledgeable author. Her Arabic is frequently flawed (“madrasahs”
for mada¯ris, for example), her narrative often muddy, and, above
all, one reads her prose without much sense of excitement. It is all
very dutiful and, like Lewis’s book, too frequently suggests great
distance and dehumanization rather than closeness to the experience
of Islam in all its tremendous variety.

Unlike Lewis, however, she is interested in concrete aspects of
Islamic religious life, and there she is worth reading. Her book’s
most valuable section is that in which she discusses the varieties of
modern fundamentalism without the usual invidious focus on Islam. And
rather than seeing it only as a negative phenomenon, she has an
admirable gift for understanding fundamentalism from within, as
adherence to a faith that is threatened by a strong secular
authoritarianism. As an almost doctrinaire secularist myself, I
nevertheless found myself swayed by her sympathetic and persuasive
argument in this section, and wished that instead of being hobbled by
a rigid chronological approach she had allowed herself to wander
among aspects of the spiritual life of Islam that, as a former nun,
she has obviously found congenial.

Of course one can learn about and understand Islam, but not in
general and not, as far too many of our expert authors propose, in so
unsituated a way. To understand anything about human history, it is
necessary to see it from the point of view of those who made it, not
to treat it as a packaged commodity or as an instrument of
aggression. Why should the world of Islam be any different? I would
therefore suggest that one should begin with some of the copious
first-person accounts of Islam available in English that describe
what it means to be a Muslim, as in Muhammad Asad’s extraordinary
book The Road to Mecca (a gripping account of how Leopold Weiss, 1900–
92, born in Lvov, became a Muslim and Pakistan’s U.N.
representative) , or in Malcolm X’s account in his memoir, or in Taha
Hussein’s great autobiography, The Stream of Days. The whole idea
would be to open up Islam’s worlds as pertaining to the living, the
experienced, the connected-to- us, rather than to shut it down,
rigidly codifying it and stuffing it into a box labeled “Dangerous—do
not disturb.”

Above all, “we” cannot go on pretending that “we” live in a world of
our own; certainly, as Americans, our government is deployed
literally all over the globe—militarily, politically, economically.
So why do we suppose that what we say and do is neutral, when in fact
it is full of consequences for the rest of the human race? In our
encounters with other cultures and religions, therefore, it would
seem that the best way to proceed is not to think like governments or
armies or corporations but rather to remember and act on the
individual experiences that really shape our lives and those of
others. To think humanistically and concretely rather than
formulaically and abstractly, it is always best to read literature
capable of dispelling the ideological fogs that so often obscure
people from each other. Avoid the trots and the manuals, give a wide
berth to security experts and formulators of the us-versus-them
dogma, and, above all, look with the deepest suspicion on anyone who
wants to tell you the real truth about Islam and terrorism,
fundamentalism, militancy, fanaticism, etc. You’d have heard it all
before, anyway, and even if you hadn’t, you could predict its claims.
Why not look for the expression of different kinds of human
experience instead, and leave those great non-subjects to the
experts, their think tanks, government departments, and policy
intellectuals, who get us into one unsuccessful and wasteful war
after the other?

 

A Devil Theory of Islam

A Devil Theory of Islam

by Edward W. Said

This article appeared in the August 12, 1996 edition of The Nation.
July 25, 2000

Judith Miller is a New York Times reporter much in evidence on talk
shows and seminars on the Middle East. She trades in “the Islamic
threat” — her particular mission has been to advance the millennial
thesis that militant Islam is a danger to the West. The search for a
post-Soviet foreign devil has come to rest, as it did beginning in
the eighth century for European Christendom, on Islam, a religion
whose physical proximity and unstilled challenge to the West seem as
diabolical and violent now as they did then. Never mind that most
Islamic countries today are too poverty-stricken, tyrannical and
hopelessly inept militarily as well as scientifically to be much of a
threat to anyone except their own citizens; and never mind that the
most powerful of them — like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pa
kistan — are totally within the U.S. orbit. What matters
to “experts” like Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard
Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole
battery of Israeli academics, is to make sure that the “threat” is
kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror,
despotism and violence, while assuring themselves profitable
consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts. The
Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending
support to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-
Semitic paranoia) that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every
explosion.

Political Islam has generally been a failure wherever it has tried to
take state power. Iran is a possible exception, but neither Sudan,
already an Islamic state, nor Algeria, riven by the contest between
Islamic groups and a brutal soldiery, has done anything but make
itself poorer and more marginal on the world stage. Lurking beneath
the discourse of Islamic peril in the West is, however, some measure
of truth, which is that appeals to Islam among Muslims have fueled
resistance (in the style of what Eric Hobsbawm has called primitive,
pre-industrial rebellion) to the Pax Americana-Israelica throughout
the Middle East. Yet neither Hezbollah nor Hamas has presented a
serious obstacle to the ongoing steamroller of the anything-but- peace
process. Most Arab Muslims today are too discouraged and humiliated,
and also too anesthetized by uncertainty and their incompetent and
crude dictatorships, to support anything like a vast Islamic campaign
against the West. Besides, the elites are for the most part in
cahoots with the regimes, supporting martial law and other extralegal
measures against “extremists. ” So why, then, the accents of alarm and
fear in most discussions of Islam? Of course there have been suicide
bombings and outrageous acts of terrorism, but have they accomplished
anything except to strengthen the hand of Israel and the United
States and their client regimes in the Muslim world?

The answer, I think, is that books like Miller’s are symptomatic
because they are weapons in the contest to subordinate, beat down,
compel and defeat any Arab or Muslim resistance to U.S.-Israeli
dominance. Moreover, by surreptitiously justifying a policy of single-
minded obduracy that links Islamism to a strategically important, oil-
rich part of the world, the anti-Islam campaign virtually eliminates
the possibility of equal dialogue between Islam and the Arabs, and
the West or Israel. To demonize and dehumanize a whole culture on the
ground that it is (in Lewis’s sneering phrase) enraged at modernity
is to turn Muslims into the objects of a therapeutic, punitive
attention. I do not want to be misunderstood here: The manipulation
of Islam, or for that matter Christianity or Judaism, for retrograde
political purposes is catastrophically bad and must be opposed, not
just in Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Gaza, Pakistan, Sudan,
Algeria and Tunisia but also in Israel, among the right-wing
Christians in Lebanon (for whom Miller shows an unseemly sympathy)
and wherever theocratic tendencies appear. And I do not at all
believe that all the ills of Muslim countries are due to Zionism and
imperialism. But this is very far from saying that Israel and the
United States, and their intellectual flacks, have not played a
combative, even incendiary role in stigmatizing and heaping invidious
abuse on an abstraction called “Islam,” deliberately in order to stir
up feelings of anger and fear about Islam among Americans and
Europeans, who are also enjoined to see in Israel a secular, liberal
alternative. Miller says unctuously at the beginning of her book that
right-wing Judaism in Israel is “the subject of another book.” It is
actually very much part of the book that she has written, except that
she has willfully suppressed it in order to go after “Islam.”

Writing about any other part of the world, Miller would be considered
woefully unqualified. She tells us that she has been involved with
the Middle East for twenty-five years, yet she has little knowledge
of either Arabic or Persian. It would be impossible to be taken
seriously as a reporter or expert on Russia, France, Germany or Latin
America, perhaps even China or Japan, without knowing the requisite
languages, but for “Islam,” linguistic knowledge is unnecessary since
what one is dealing with is considered to be a psychological
deformation, not a “real” culture or religion.

What of her political and historical information? Each of the ten
country chapters (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan) begins with an anecdote
and moves immediately to a potted history that reflects not much more
than the work of a name-dropping college sophomore. Cobbled up out of
various, not always reliable authorities (her pages of footnotes are
tainted by her ignorance, whether because she can only cite the
sources she already knows she wants in English, or because she quotes
only authorities whose views correspond to hers, thereby closing out
an entire library by Muslims, Arabs and non-Orientalist scholars),
these histories are meant principally to display her command of the
material, but actually expose her lamentable prejudices and failures
of comprehension. In the Saudi Arabia chapter, for instance, she
informs us in a note that her “favorite” source on the Prophet
Mohammed is the French Orientalist Maxime Rodinson, a redoubtable
Marxist scholar whose biography of the Prophet is written with a
bracing combination of anti-clerical irony and enormous erudition.
What Miller gets from this in her short summary of Mohammed’s life
and ideas is that there is something inherently risible, if not
contemptible, about the man whom Rodinson says was a combination of
Charlemagne and Jesus Christ; for whereas Rodinson understands what
that means, Miller tells us (irrelevantly) that she is not convinced.
For her, Mohammed is the begetter of an anti-Jewish religion, one
laced with violence and paranoia. She does not directly quote one
Muslim source on Mohammed; just imagine a book published in the
United States on Jesus or Moses that makes no use of a single
Christian or Judaic authority.

Most of Miller’s book is made up not of argument and ideas but of
endless interviews with what seems to be a slew of pathetic,
unconvincing, self-serving scoundrels and their occasional critics.
Once past her little histories we are adrift in boring, unstructured
meanderings. Here’s a typical sentence of insubstantial
generalization: “And Syrians, mindful of their country’s chaotic
history” (of what country on earth is this not also true?) “found the
prospect of a return to anarchy or yet another prolonged, bloody
power struggle — ” (is this uniquely true of Syria as a postcolonial
state, or is it true of a hundred others in Asia, Africa, Latin
America?) “and perhaps even the triumph of militant Islam in the most
secular” (with what thermometer did she get that reading?) “of all
Arab states — alarming.” Leave aside the abominable diction and jaw-
shattering jargon of the writing. What you have is not an idea at all
but a series of clichés mixed with unverifiable assertions that
reflect the “thought” of “Syrians” much less than they do Miller’s.

Miller gilds her paper-thin descriptions with the phrase “my friend,”
which she uses to convince her reader that she really knows the
people and consequently what she is talking about. I counted 247 uses
of the phrase before I stopped about halfway through the book. This
technique produces extraordinary distortions in the form of long
digressions that testify to an Islamic mindset, even as they obscure
or ignore more or at least equally relevant material like local
politics, the functioning of secular institutions and the active
intellectual contest taking place between Islamists and nationalist
opponents. She seems never to have heard of Arkoun, or Jabri, or
Tarabishi, or Adonis, or Hanafi or Djeit, whose theses are hotly
debated all over the Islamic world.

This appalling failure of analysis is especially true in the chapter
on Israel (mistitled, since it is all about Palestine), where she
ignores the changes caused by the intifada and the prolonged effect
of the three-decade Israeli occupation, and conveys no sense of the
abominations wrought on the lives of ordinary Palestinians by the
Oslo accords and Yasir Arafat’s one-man rule. Although Miller is
obsessed with Hamas, she is clearly unable to connect it with the
sorry state of affairs in territories run brutally by Israel for all
these years. She never mentions, for instance, that the only
Palestinian university not established with Palestinian funds is
Gaza’s Islamic (Hamas) University, started by Israel to undermine the
P.L.O. during the intifada. She records Mohammed’s depredations
against the Jews but has little to say about Israeli beliefs,
statements and laws against “non-Jews,” often rabbinically sanctioned
practices of deportation, killing, house demolition, land
confiscation, annexation and what Sara Roy has called systematic
economic de-development. If in her breathlessly excitable way Miller
sprinkles around a few of these facts, nowhere does she accord them
the weight and influence as causes of Islamist passion that they
undoubtedly have.

Maddeningly, she informs us of everyone’s religion — such and so is
Christian, or Muslim Sunni, Muslim Shiite, etc. Even so, she is not
always accurate, managing to produce some howlers. She speaks of
Hisham Sharabi as a friend but misidentifies him as a Christian; he
is Sunni Muslim. Badr el Haj is described as Muslim whereas he is
Maronite Christian. These lapses wouldn’t be so bad were she not bent
on revealing her intimacy with so many people. And then there is her
bad faith in not identifying her own religious background or
political predilections. Are we meant to assume that her religion
(which I don’t think is Islam or Hinduism) is irrelevant?

She is embarrassingly forthcoming, however, about her reactions to
people and power and certain events. She is “grief-stricken” when
King Hussein of Jordan is diagnosed with cancer, although she
scarcely seems to mind that he runs a police state whose many victims
have been tortured, unfairly imprisoned, done away with. One realizes
of course that what counts here is her hobnobbing with the little
King, but some accurate sense of the “modern” kingdom he rules would
have been in order. Her eyes “filled with tears — of rage” as she
espies evidence of desecration of a Lebanese Christian mosaic, but
she doesn’t bother to mention other desecrations in Israel — for
example, of Muslim graveyards — and hundreds of exterminated
villages in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine. Her real contempt and disdain
come out in passages like the following, in which she imputes
thoughts and wishes to a middle-class Syrian woman whose daughter has
just become an Islamist:

She would never have any of the things a middle-class Syrian mother
yearned for: no grand wedding party and traditional white dress with
diamond tiara for her daughter, no silver-framed photos of the happy
wedding couple in tuxedo and bridal gown on the coffee table and
fireplace mantel, no belly dancers wriggling on a stage and champagne
that flowed till dawn. Perhaps Nadine’s friends, too, had daughters
or sons who had rejected them, who secretly despised them for the
compromises they had made to win the favor of Assad’s cruel and
soulless regime. For if the daughter of such pillars of the Damascene
bourgeoisie could succumb to the power of Islam, who was immune?

Such snide accounts trivialize and cheapen the people whose houses
and privacy she has invaded.

Given her willingness to undercut even her friendly sources, the most
interesting question about Miller’s book is why she wrote it at all.
Certainly not out of affection. Consider, for instance, that she
admits she fears and dislikes Lebanon, hates Syria, laughs at Libya,
dismisses Sudan, feels sorry for and a little alarmed by Egypt and is
repulsed by Saudi Arabia. She is relentlessly concerned only with the
dangers of organized Islamic militancy, which I would hazard a guess
accounts for less than 5 percent of the billion-strong Islamic world.
She supports the violent suppression of Islamists (but not torture
and other “illegal means” used in that suppression; she misses the
contradiction in her position), has no qualms about the absence of
democratic practices or legal procedures in Palestine, Egypt or
Jordan so long as Islamists are the target and, in one especially
nauseating scene, she actually participates in the prison
interrogation of an alleged Muslim terrorist by Israeli policemen,
whose systematic use of torture and other questionable procedures
(undercover assassinations, middle-of-the- night arrests, house
demolitions) she politely overlooks as she gets to ask the handcuffed
man a few questions of her own.

Perhaps Miller’s most consistent failing as a journalist is that she
only makes connections and offers analyses of matters that suit her
thesis about the militant, hateful quality of the Arab world. I have
little quarrel with the general view that the Arab world is in a
dreadful state, and have said so repeatedly for the past three
decades. But she barely registers the existence of a determined anti-
Arab and anti-Islamic U.S. policy. She plays fast and loose with
fact. Take Lebanon: She refers to Bashir Gemayel’s assassination in
1982 and gives the impression that he was elected by a popular
landslide. She does not even allude to the fact that he was brought
to power while the Israeli army was in West Beirut, just before the
Sabra and Shatila camp massacres, and that for years, according to
Israeli sources like Uri Lubrani, Gemayel was the Mossad’s man in
Lebanon. That he was a self-proclaimed killer and a thug is also
finessed, as is the fact that Lebanon’s current power structure is
chock-full of people like Elie Hobeika, who was charged directly for
the camp massacres. Miller cites instances of Arab anti-Semitism but
doesn’t even touch on the matter of Israeli leaders like Begin,
Shamir, Eitan and, more recently, Ehud Barak (idolized by Amy Wilentz
in The New Yorker) referring to Palestinians as two-legged beasts,
grasshoppers, cockroaches and mosquitoes. These leaders have used
planes and tanks to treat Palestinians accordingly. As for the facts
of Israel’s wars against civilians — the protracted, consistent and
systematic campaign against prisoners of war and refugee camp
dwellers, the village destructions and bombings of hospitals and
schools, the deliberate creation of hundreds of thousands of
refugees — all these are buried in reams of prattle. Miller disdains
facts; she prefers quoting interminable talk as a way of turning
Arabs into deserving victims of Israeli terror and U.S. support of
it. She perfectly exemplifies The New York Times’s current Middle
East coverage, now at its lowest ebb.

In her lame conclusion Miller admits that her scolding may have been
a little too harsh. She then puts it all down to her “love” of the
region and its people. I cannot honestly think of a thing that she
loves: not the conformism of Arab society she talks about, or the
ostentatious culinary display she says that the Arabs confuse with
hospitality, or the languages she hasn’t learned, or the people she
makes fun of or the history and culture of a place that to her is one
long tale of unintelligible sound and fury. She cannot enter into the
life of the place, listen to its conversations directly, read its
novels and plays on her own (as opposed to making friends with their
authors), enjoy the energy and refinements of its social life or see
its landscapes. But this is the price of being a Times reporter in an
age of sullen “expertise” and instant position-taking. You wouldn’t
know from Miller’s book that there is any inter-Arab conflict in
interpretations and representations of the Middle East and Islam and
that, given her choice of sources, she is deeply partisan: an enemy
of Arab nationalism, which she declares dead numerous times in the
book; a supporter of U.S. policy; and a committed foe of any
Palestinian nationalism that doesn’t conform to the bantustans being
set up according to the Oslo accords. Miller, in short, is a shallow,
opinionated journalist whose gigantic book is too long for what it
ends up saying, and far too short on reflection, considered analysis,
structure and facts. Poor Muslims and Arabs who may have trusted her;
they should have known better than to mistake an insinuated guest for
a friend.

 
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Posted by pada Oktober 10, 2008 in cultural studies, philosophy, religion

 

Homage to Edward Said

Homage to Edward Said

Counterpoint

By Mahmoud Darwish

NEW YORK. NOVEMBER. 5TH AVENUE.

Shards of light in a leaden sky.

In the shadows, I asked my foreign soul: is this city Babylon or
Sodom?

There, at the edge of an electric chasm sky high, I met Edward thirty
years ago.

The times were less impetuous.

Each said to the other:

If your past is your experience, make the future sense and vision!

Let us move forward, towards our future, confident in imagination’ s
sincerity and the miracle of the grass.

I no longer remember whether we went to the cinema that evening, but
I heard old Indian braves call out to me: trust neither the horse nor
modernity.

No. No victim asks his executioner: if I were you and my sword
greater than my rose . . . would I have acted as you have done?

That kind of question arouses the curiosity of the novelist who sits
behind the glass walls of his study overlooking the lily garden . . .
Here the hypothesis is lily-white, clear as the author’s conscience
if he closes his accounts with human nature . . . No future behind
us, so let us move forward!

Progress could be the bridge back to barbarity . . .

New York. Edward awakes while dawn slumbers on. He plays an air by
Mozart. Tennis on the university court. He reflects on thought’s
ability to transcend borders and barriers. Thumbs through the New
York Times. Writes his spirited column. Curses an orientalist who
guides a general to the weak spot in an eastern woman’s heart.
Showers. Drinks his white coffee. Picks out a suit with a dandy’s
elegance and calls on the dawn to stop dawdling!

He walks on the wind. And, in the wind, he knows himself. No four
walls hem in the wind. And the wind is a compass for the north in a
foreign land.

He says: I come from that place. I come from here, and I am neither
here nor there. I have two names that come together but pull apart. I
have two languages, but I have forgotten which is the language of my
dreams. I have the English language with its accommodating vocabulary
to write in. And another tongue drawn from celestial conversations
with Jerusalem. It has a silvery resonance, but rebels against my
imagination.

And your identity? Said I.

His response: Self-defence . . . Conferred on us at birth, in the end
it is we who fashion our identity, it is not hereditary. I am
manifold . . . Within me, my outer self renewed. But I belong to the
victim’s interrogation.

Were I not from that place, I would have trained my heart to raise
metonymy’s gazelle there . . .

So take your birthplace along wherever you go and be a narcissist if
need be.

Exile, the outside world. Exile, the hidden world. Who then are you
between them?

I do not introduce myself lest I lose myself. I am what I am.

I am my other in harmonious duality between word and geste.

Were I a poet, I should have written:

I am two in one, like the swallow’s wings.

And if spring is late coming, I am content to be its harbinger!

He loves countries and leaves them. (Is the impossible remote?) He
loves to migrate towards everything. Travelling freely between
cultures, there is room for all who seek the essence of man.

A margin moves forward and a centre retreats. The East is not
completely the East, nor the West, the West. Identity is multifaceted.

It is neither a citadel nor is it absolute.

The metaphor slumbered on one bank of the river. Had it not been for
the pollution,

It would have embraced the other.

Have you written your novel?

I have tried . . . sought to find my image reflected in distant
women. But they have retreated into their fortified night. And they
have said: our universe does not depend on words. No man will capture
in words the woman, an enigma and a dream. No woman will capture the
man, symbol and star. No love is like another; no night like another.
Let us list men’s virtues and laugh!

And what did you do?

I laughed at my own absurdity and threw my novel away.

The thinker restrains the novelist’s tale, while the philosopher
deconstructs the singer’s roses.

He loves countries and leaves them: I am who I shall be and become. I
shall construct myself and choose my exile. My exile is the
background of the epic landscape. I defend the need for poets of
glory and reminiscence; I defend trees that clothe the birds of home
and exile, a moon still fit for a love song, an idea shattered by its
proponents’ fragility and a country borne off by legends.

Is there anything you could return to?

What awaits me draws me on and urges me . . . I have no time to draw
lines in the sand. But I can revisit the past like strangers
listening to the pastoral poem in the gloom of the evening:

`At the fountain, a young girl fills her jar with clouds’ tears. And
she weeps and laughs at a bee that stung her heart when it was time
to leave.

Is love pain in the water or malady in the mist . . .’

(And so on, till the song draws to a close.)

So you could suffer from nostalgia?

Nostalgia for times to come. More distant, more elevated, more
distant still. My dream guides my steps and my vision cradles my
dream, curled like a cat, on my lap. It is reality imagined, born of
the will: we can change the chasm’s inevitability!

And nostalgia for the past?

That is only for the thinker who is anxious to understand the
fascination a foreigner feels for the medium of absence. My own
nostalgia is a struggle for a present that clings to the future.

Did you penetrate the past the day you visited the house, your
house, in Jerusalem’s Talibiya district?

Like a child afraid of his father, I was ready to hide in my
mother’s bed. I tried to relive my birth, to follow the trail of
childhood across the roof of my old home, to run my fingers over the
skin of absence, to smell the perfume of summer in the jasmine of the
garden. But truth’s hyena drove me from a nostalgia that lurked,
behind me, like a thief in the shadows.

Were you afraid, and of what?

I cannot meet loss head on. Like the beggar, I stayed at the door.
Am I going to ask strangers who sleep in my bed for permission to
spend five minutes in my own home? Will I bow respectfully to the
people that occupy my dream of childhood? Will they ask: who is this
stranger who lacks discretion? Will I be able just to speak of peace
and war among victims and the victims of victims, avoiding
superfluous words and asides? Will they tell me that two dreams
cannot share a bed?

Neither he nor I could have done that.

But he is a reader who reflects on what poetry has to tell us in
times of disaster.

Blood

and blood

and blood

in your homeland

In my name and in yours, in the almond blossom, in the banana skin,
in the baby’s milk, in the light and in the shade, in the grain of
wheat, in the salt jar. Consummate snipers reach their targets.

Blood

blood

blood

This land is smaller than the blood of its children, offerings placed
on resurrection’ s doorstep. Is this land blessed or baptised

In blood,

blood,

the blood

That neither prayers nor the sand can assuage? There is not enough
justice in the pages of the Holy Book to give the martyrs the joy of
walking freely across the clouds. Blood, by day. Blood, by night.
Blood in the words!

He says: the poem could embrace loss, a shaft of light glinting from
a guitar or a Christ mounted on a mare and blood- spattered with
elegant metaphors. What is beauty if not the presence of truth in the
form?

In a skyless world, the earth becomes a chasm. And the poem is one of
consolation’ s gifts, a quality of the winds, from both south and
north. Do not describe your wounds as the camera sees them.

Cry out to make yourself heard and to know that you are still alive
and living, that life on this earth is still possible. Invent hope
for words. Create a cardinal point or a mirage that prolongs hope and
sing, for beauty is freedom.

I say: life defined by its antithesis, death . . . is no life at all!

He replies: we shall live, even if life abandons us to our fate. Let
us be the wordsmiths whose words make their readers eternal, as your
extraordinary friend Ritsos might have said . . .

He says: If I die before you, I shall leave you the impossible task!

I ask: Is it a long way off?

He replies: A generation away.

I say: And if I die before you?

He replies: I shall console the mounts of Galilee and I shall write:
`Beauty is merely the attainment of adequacy.’ All right! But don’t
forget that if I die before you, I shall leave you the impossible
task!

When I visited the new Sodom in the year 2002, he was opposing the
war of Sodom against the people of Babylon and fighting cancer. The
last epic hero, he defended Troy’s right to its share in the story.

Eagle on high,

Soaring,

Taking leave of the mountain tops,

For residing above Olympus

And the summits,

Brings ennui,

Farewell

Farewell, poetry of pain!

 
 
 
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