Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I dream of another world

Naivete and amazement should always be your guides, your Virgil and Sacajawea, when tracking across the zona.

So, take the issue of the law. It used to be the case, and according to the droning theorists, waving their Rawls around, it still is the case, that a law is passed in order to implement or regulate some practice.

Perhaps I should say retract that “used to be the case”, given the massive fraudulence of the Cold War. But I do find it astonishing that few seem to investigate another function of the law: to seemingly address and issue, and thus give a cover to the government to fundamentally transgress it. In other words, the laws exist much like the declaration of freedoms in the Soviet Constitution of Stalin’s time: as a curtain.

So, in the U.S., laws were passed to prevent government agencies from extending to investment banks the kind of insurance that are extended to other banks. And so in the U.S.. these laws were casually and massively broken, and nobody really cares.

In the UK, which is becoming the black hole of civil rights in the West, Nu Labour came up with an idea that obviously sample surveyed like a cool Net advertisement: Freedom of information. It sounds so good, let’s plaster the name on a bill! No sooner thought of than done. The Guardian editors and CiF can trumpet the progressiveness of it all, and the Government can proceed to ignore it.

So the Heathrow airport protesters are finding out. This is from the Index on Censorship:

“Following Jack Straw’s veto of the release of the pre-Iraq war cabinet minutes, the government’s commitment to freedom of information (FOI) has again been called into question. Campaigners against the third Heathrow runway are finding the Department for Transport (DfT) strangely reluctant to publish the latest versions of documents that have already proved painfully embarrassing for ministers. Both Greenpeace and Tory MP Justine Greening have previously used FOI laws to obtain evidence revealing the relationship between ministers and officials at the DfT and BAA over airport expansion. In this light, it is not surprising that the department is trying every trick in the book — and some that aren’t in the book — to block new requests for similar papers.

Greening famously obtained proof that BAA helped the DfT to ‘reverse-engineer’ its forecasts to show that a new runway would meet ministers’ ‘strict environmental tests’. This evidence came from a request for disclosure of communications between the two organisations. But the DfT has refused two almost identical requests from Greening covering later periods. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is expected to rule shortly on her complaints.”
I’m on pins and needles about that ruling! Like the investigation of the BEA, or like, well, almost anything done by that horrendous collection of crooks that took a moribund socialist party to the Thatcherite heights, we already know what happens when the guardians figure out the puzzle of who will guard the guardians: pass fake laws, of course.
The DIT claims that if it publishes earlier studies where the parameters weren’t fixed to make everything look Potemkin village fine, it will lead to ‘ill-informed’ speculation. The rulers, having our interests at heart, have come down hard, throughout the freedom loving nations, on ill informed speculation. That’s why the Fed coolly told the Senate to fuck off when the Senate enquired about AIT counterparties. That is why we watched the SEC pretend that they were so in the midst of investigations, of a very delicate nature, that they could by no means and in good conscience answer questions they were being asked about the nutty, ideologically driven lea-way they gave to any fly by night company to rip off the public. They invoked executive privilege even thought the executive hadn’t been told – why bother? The organs function when the body is dead. Every zek knows this.

Je rêvais d'un autre monde


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking off and on over the past few days of the exchanges at Crooked Timber over the Group of Seventeen article. I'm not quite sure what happened there and I was sorry to see it degenerate so quickly into a mob mentality when I believe that you had many thoughtful things to say. I think that one of the key differences between you and Henry concerns where one places the emphasis on liberal democracy. I take it that Henry is a liberal proceduralist emphasizing the necessity of a liberal protection of formal rights. The Western "advanced liberal democracies" have genuinely progressed (due to the struggles of oppressed to secure their rights) and we can comparatively judge other societies to that standard. Liberalism here is nearly synonymous with democracy. I take it that you were emphasizing a flagging of democratic energies in many Western societies even as liberalism has triumphed. May I safely say, for shorthand, that you believe that liberalism has triumphed, but within a plutocracy and at the expense of democracy?

I bring all of this up because I think that the following review of Luciano Canfora's The Defeat of Democracy may be of interest to you.


Roger Gathmann said...

I couldn't find that article with the link. So I'll look it up.

I am not so innocent. The devil entered my heart and made me mock, which I know leads immediately to a piss fest on comments, especially when they are on a blog in which all the nervous intellectuals try to argue and at the same time preserve their positions, vis a vis the fragile cultural capital we've all piled up and that could slip away at any moment. It is hard to tell a person something when they are busy saying they already know everything. I include me.

I was making a sorta complex argument, which had a couple of levels. One of them is as you say. One of them is that, since the fall of the Wall, a human rights contingent of academics and policy makers has actually amplified the anti-democratic tendency encoded in our old system of tripartite power by taking advantage of the executive's monarchical foreign policy power. Thus, democracy deficits happen elsewhere, and have to be 'repaired' using this power. As that policymaking contingent doesn't much like debate, to create an instrument 'for' democracy out of executive power, it has to use, well, your standard repertoire of anti-democratic procedures - lying, orientalism, moral scolding, the offering of false choices, etc.

And then a third level is about the general democracy deficit and what to do about it. One of the insidious effects of orientalism is the way it prevents one from seeing the great things cultures develop. Supposedly, the U.S. constitution was influenced by the Iroquois. Nowadays, of course, if the same situation came up, the political sociologists would editorialize about how we have to democratize the Iroquois.

Now, in the particulaar instance of the petition office in China, you can frame that as an exotic old Chinese custom. Or you can frame that this way: in the U.S., the UK, France and elsewhere, strong vestiges of a petition system remain. In fact, the judicial system, in the Anglosphere, with its ideology of equal justice that is contradicted by its promotion of a highly hierarchized legal system (the more money you have, the better the lawyer you buy, the better the 'judgments' you buy), uses petitioning in exactly the way the peasants in China use their office: to get around local injustice. In the U.S., too, there is the power to pardon granted the executive - I believe that is true in France, but I don't know about the UK. Again, this is the petitioning system.

So, far from being an exotic custom, what we have is a widespread political custom that reflects, variously, different historical paths.

Myself, I think the arbitrariness of petition, since we already have it, might well be borrowed. Seriously, it would be excellent if the rulers did have to respond outside of the process machinery to the grievances of the people, instead of responding during election campaigns only.

The democracy deficit and the immunity of elites from any responsibility is the number one problem in the world today. I don't think Henry, or his type of political sociologist, gets it.