Sunday, March 8, 2009

humpty dumpty in the zona

You'll see him in your head on your screen
hey buddy I'm warning you to turn it off...

I’ve been feverishly editing _ and probably getting editor’s cancer of the brain – lately. Thus, I’v e had no time for limited inc – oh, the thing I was going to do about the labyrinth, the encyclopedia, plots, myth and conspiracy! On the other hand, one of my papers required me to do some research, which is how I came upon “The Study of Islamic Culture and Politics: An Overview and Assessment” by Mansoor Moaddel in the Annual Revie of Sociology – I read these things, reader, so that you don’t have to – and found this terrific quote:

The rentier state model advanced a compelling analysis of this specificity, attempting to supercede that of the Islamicists. Far from being an outcome of Islamic culture or the historical legacy of Islam, this model focuses on the effect of enormous petrodollars on the structure and functions of the state in Islamic coun- tries. First used by Mahdavi (1970, pp. 428-67) in reference to Iran, the concept in reference to Iran, the concept of the rentier state, or the rentier economy, applies to a country's reliance on sub- stantial external rent in the form of the sale of oil, transit charges (Suez Canal), or tourism. This economy is believed to have far-reaching political, social, and cultural consequences. First, only a small fraction of the population is directly involved in the creation of wealth. As a result, modem social organizations asso- ciated with productive activities were developed only to a limited extent. Second, the work-reward nexus is no longer the central feature of economic transactions where wealth is the end result of the individual involvement in a long, risky, and organized production process Wealth is rather accidental, a windfall gain, or situ- ational, where citizenship becomes a source of economic benefit. To acquire wealth requires different types of subjective orientation, which Beblawi (1987, p. 52) called "rentier mentality" and "rentier ethics." Non-economic criteria such as prox- imity to the ruling elite and citizenship became the key determinants of income. Rentierism thus reinforced the state's tribal origins, as it regenerated the tribal hier- archy consisting of varying layers of beneficiaries with the ruling elite on top, in an effective position of buying loyalty through their redistributive power. As the state is not dependent on taxation, there is far less demand for political participation (pp. 53-59). [377]

Terrific not because it is unusual, but because it is the standard developmentalist boilerplate since the great Fall of the Wall (which was prophecized in Finnegan’s Wake, my own Book of Revelations. Soviet Humpty’s great great fall….) For of course, the consensus is that the democratic, developed states were all about the creation of wealth, baby! Imagine, an elite that subsists on windfall gains and situational power! Why, that would never happen to proud Western man!

The arrogance has been grooved into the academic tabula rasa, and so the human rights contingent, dear hearts all, the Rawlsians, the well meaning liberals are still running with this tune in their head. Crooked Timber had a post yesterday couched in the Asiatic Despotism mode that just missed using the word kowtow to describe the Chinese system. And of course, under every sentence is the assumption, the snuggly sleepers assumption, that peasants and despots are far from our modern institutions. Have we no academic conferences? Have we no tenure? Have we not exhaustively and conclusively disproved the anti-democratic menace? Wasn’t that the lesson of the 20th century? So it goes in the Post-Humpty era, but meanwhile another egg has fallen and it can’t get up.


Anonymous said...

I just read parts of the CT post and thread. Narcissism? It is striking how the mirror is set up, or rather the set-up is the mirror. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all..."
Humpty Dumpty falling of the wall and not wanting to acknowledge cracks, would have to have recourse to that!
And of course the mirror speaks in English, civilized and civilizing English. Not that weird whatever it is of Finnegans Wake.
Somehow the CT post reminded me of a Czech guy who wrote in German of messengers, petitions, the Great Wall of China. Whose name means crow. Who cawed in the dark, a crow prophet.


Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, I have my prejudices, and one of them is the gestures and cliches that are instilled into the Anglo professoriate at the Oxbridge schools. And their epigones - it sets me on edge. It is a tone, a superiority, and a ... philistinism that just kills me, which, I guess, is why I'm a francophile!

It is the idea that the limits of my world are just good common sense - as though the human consciousness has been surveyed and now we can get rid of the deadwood.

Which is why I like British outliers so much.
On the other hand, I'm reading a completely sweet book by an English birdwatcher, and the love of language and nature and detail makes me happy. So I'm inconsistent in my prejudices.

Anonymous said...

in other words, my dear roger, to hell with good intentions.

Anonymous said...

and also, since i consider myself your anonymous-ish anthropological gadfly, i'll have to recommend david graeber's fragments of an archist anthropology, available in full in pdf.

i'm doing it out of love, i swear!!

Roger Gathmann said...

Yoni, thanks for the link. I will definitely check out Graeber. By the way, what do you think of Taussig?

Roger Gathmann said...

Oh, and ps, I go into this argument in more detail in the comment on the post above this one.

Anonymous said...

hey roger - i saw back on limited that you were trying to use taussig to wrestle with the magic of economy, past the simplistic marxist ideology/fake-consciousness fetish argument.. its great but we must ask ourselves still what kind of work say, "devil & commodity fetishism" does in reinforcing ultimately the structures across culture instead of challenging epistemology; that is devil/commodity/fetishism doesn't really move to new notions of materiality, of thingliness, so much as argue that capitalism kinda "accorded" with extant structures of what economy constituted... but i do love him, what can i say - i love anything that has to do with faith and crazy shit and humanity. i have plenty of references, i assure you, if you're ever interested, but i love your work.. in case you were wondering, you are much more an anthropologst than many anthropologists.