The bell-curve-of-yodelling idea

14 April 2010
Only in en
The Hungarian Quarterly discovers an infantilized society; Index on Censorship confronts next generation censorship; Multitudes hacks into the ideology of creation and copyright; Blätter adds an historical irony to the debate on Islam and democracy; Soundings detects creeping IQism; RiLi talks to Toni Negri about "Commonwealth"; Dilema veche wrestles with a resurgent Marx; Kulturos barai sees the end of democratic idealism; Revista Crítica says post-war does not mean peace for women; Merkur thinks coincidence is to blame for eastern German bitterness; and Ord&Bild has 101 suggestions for a royal poem.

The Hungarian Quarterly 197 (2010)

In its contribution to the World Values Survey, the independent Hungarian social research centre TÁRKI has found that Hungarians’ values and attitudes place them closer to those of Eastern Orthodox countries than to the West. In social and political terms, this is disastrous, TÁRKI director György István Tóth tells Eszter Rádai.

According to the survey, Hungarians are distrustful of social institutions and civil society, think that the rich prosper at the expense of others and see business as a war in which everybody is against everybody. “Hungary is the only EU country where so few people think that success depends on schooling and where so many think that what matters most is the family you are born into.” Corruption is endemic, yet despite their tolerance of tax evasion Hungarians have high expectations of social services and welfare. State paternalism creates an infantilized society in which personal responsibility is denied; professionals “scramble for their privileges the same as anyone else […] while whining about society moving in the wrong direction”.

What light do these drastic insights shed on the latest election results? In other two-party democracies, says Tóth, one party favours stronger redistribution while the other offers lower taxes. In Hungary, however, both major parties have courted the redistribution vote. “They obviously bear in mind the fact that income from the public coffers accounts for a high percentage – I believe the highest in Europe – of the total income of the median voter. They can only make it to Parliament if they win the hearts of the voters in the middle.”

True crime: Ten years ago, the parents of poet Szilárd Borbély were brutally murdered in an armed robbery. Alternating his own narrative perspective with that of one of the suspects, Borbély has written a part-fictional reconstruction of the crime.

“The whole thing was somehow shameful, the brutality of the murder, the way Ilona and Mihály were turned into mere objects during the course of the investigation. He decided he would not write about it or discuss it. He would act as if nothing had happened. Then his plan was overturned. A poet has no private life to speak of. He uses his feelings, which then, like acids, release meanings from his own body and from the bodies of others, filtering out the essential materials from which he creates poems, volatile non-existent objects.”

The full table of contents of The Hungarian Quarterly 197 (2010)

Index on Censorship 1/2010

“Is technology the saviour of free speech?” Writing in the new issue of Index, Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski think not. “What is happening now in Iran offers a clear example of ‘next generation’ controls that are being exercised in cyberspace as the domain becomes more heavily contested and seen as a critical vector of power,” write the Canadian researchers. “Rather than first generation controls, as exemplified by China’s great firewall, […] we are seeing instead the emergence of methods designed to go beyond denial to shape and contain the space for expression online.”

These methods include legal measures, for example slander and defamation laws that strangulate information sources; outsourcing control to private companies via “informal requests” that allows authorities to censor at the “frontlines” of the networks; “just-in-time blocking” or disabling critical information assets at key moments via DDOS attacks or cruder methods such as power cuts; and “patriotic hacking”, carried out by citizen groups such as the “50-cent party” in China, the Iranian Cyber Army, or pro-government bloggers in Russia.

Privacy: The importance of privacy for the protection of democracy has long been neglected, writes Gus Hosein. “Now that society’s infrastructure has dramatically changed through the expanded use of technology, the situation is even more precarious.” Hosein discusses the inclusion of “lawful intercept” functions in mobile telephone systems, approved by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. “When privacy campaigners opposed these moves in the 1990s, we were admonished for not believing that democratic safeguards would prevent abuse.” Challenged over precisely this kind of abuse by the Iranian authorities, Nokia Siemens Networks cite their obligations under European law.

Google: An interview with Google vice president David Drummond, conducted before the search engine pulled out of China after hacking attacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. “There’s only so much an Internet company can do. The choices are: you stay there, insist that if someone’s going to try and get information from you, or get you to censor something, that they are following a law. And you make sure that you think that law was legitimate, in the sense that there is some form of democratic process that created it. […] The alternative is: you’re not there at all.”

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 1/2010

Multitudes 41 (2010)

“The landscape on which three quarters of the battle for redistribution is now being fought” is how Multitudes describes current debates over intellectual property. Proponents of sharing, free software and public goods are ranged against those who aim to transpose the existing capitalist economy onto the online world.

For Yann Moulier Boutang, cognitive capitalism represents the “hellish intensification of intellectual property”. It is a regime in which Digital Rights Management (the prevention of copying by technical means) is backed up by new legal systems, enabling the extension of the market to education, communication, art and science.

The alternative is “Peer to peer production”. It offers an economy based on the unhindered movement of ideas, in which writing, code and images are public goods, free to modify and share. It relies on decentralized cooperation, organized through global networks, creating and relying on common intellectual property. Thus it enables learning, innovation, scientific development and artistic creation.

This economy of sharing is enabled by “copyleft” licenses, which began in the 1980s with the Free Software Foundation and their GPL license. Later, the “Open Source” movement provided a more business-friendly face, and the “Creative Commons” movement extended the principles to include text, images, and other works beyond computer software. With the exception of a small number of “anti-copyright” activists, the free software movement operates within the existing legal framework of copyright and accepts in principle the idea that creators have rights to their work, writes Moulier Boutang.

Hacking: Mikhaïl Xifaras examines the idea of intellectual property as an absolute. Historically, it is entwined with the concept of the artist as lone, inspired genius, creating something ex nihilo. The two ideas developed in parallel, from the sixteenth century onwards, but are challenged by the nature of creativity in the digital world. Computer society now provides an alternative archetype in the form of the hacker. The hacker’s artistry is expressed not through creation, but by resolving an apparently insoluble problem by some wily and playful method. The process is inherently collective and non-commercial: the hacker is not a solitary creator delivering her work to an abstract, universal audience, but member of a group without which her hacks are meaningless.

The full table of contents of Multitudes 41 (2010)

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2010

In Blätter, Mohssen Massarrat criticizes simplistic contributions to the debate on Islam and democracy: “Most importantly, the thesis of the democratic incompatibility of occidental and oriental societies (and correspondingly, of Muslims’ ‘resistance against integrating’ into western democracies) derives solely from ethical norms and sources, and selectively at that. It thus blocks out equally if not more relevant factors for the development of democracy and the historical particularities of nation-state building in the Occident and the Orient.”

Pre-modern European societies were predominantly decentralized and self-governing communities, while Oriental societies were ruled by centralized, despotic states. These small, competing European communities favoured the development of an autonomous bourgeoisie that later became the driving force of the Enlightenment and ultimately democracy. Ironically, philosophical and scientific preconditions for the ideas of the Enlightenment were developed in Islamic societies between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, yet centralism prevented them entering the societies themselves, writes Massarrat.

“These beginnings could not develop further and establish a permanent process of intellectual debate and scientific diversity, even though no bans or restrictions existed in Islam itself that would have blocked such a path. Conversely, the far-reaching Enlightenment took place in Europe even though the Church had for centuries stubbornly closed itself towards modern schools of philosophical thought.”

A new European civil rights movement? The overturning of the EU Data Retention Directive by the German Constitutional Court provides an impetus for a Europeanization of the data privacy campaign, writes Ralf Bendrath. The biggest challenge for the new civil rights movement is to create greater public awareness of the problem in individual EU countries: “The debate on the SWIFT agreement shows, however, how fast the media and political echo about the civil rights rebellion of the European Parliament can fade. The reason for this is obvious: the European public sphere suffers from the fact that in mass media terms it consists of national publics – and national governments react only to these.”

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2010

Soundings 44 (2010)

In Soundings, Danny Dorling sees the OECD’s PISA report of 2007 sorting children according to “innate ability” as evidence of the creeping return of IQism. “Work hard at your singing in a particular time and place and people will say you sing well if you sing as you are supposed to,” he comments. “Someone has almost certainly been silly enough to propose that human beings have singing limits which are distributed along a bell-shaped curve. […] But the bell-curve-of-singing idea did not catch on. We are not as vain about how good we are at yodelling in the shower as we are about being told we are especially clever.”

The backlash against comprehensive schooling in Britain in the late 1970s, combined with neoliberal education policies, means that the British education system has become a market in which schools compete for money and children, writes Dorling. “Privately educated children (7 per cent of the total) took one quarter of all advanced level examinations and gained over half the places in ‘top’ universities. The better funded of the 57 varieties of state school accounted for most of the rest of elite places. Elitist systems claim to be meritocracies, but in such systems almost no one gets to the top without substantially benefiting from the unequal distribution of educational opportunities.”

Media: The Conservative Party wants to abolish the British broadcasting regulatory body Ofcom if it wins the elections in May. This may or may not be connected to the fact that the Conservative Party enjoys the backing of the Murdoch-owned press, and to the fact that Ofcom has ruled that Murdoch’s Sky TV enjoys an unfair market advantage. In a discussion on the future of the media in Britain, Simon Bucks of Sky News calls Ofcom “an anachronism in the digital world”. In the print media sector, the absence of regulation has resulted in greater diversity, says Bucks. Julian Petley disagrees:

“If you look at readership figures, which is the most important thing, then there is a massive imbalance, in that most of the population read newspapers – and I don¹t just mean tabloids – that are not only illiberal, but extremely illiberal. […] In this country you have a kind of rump liberal press – The Guardian, the Independent, the Mirror on a good day – whereas in most European countries it would be the other way around: you have a majoritarian liberal press.”

The full table of contents of Soundings 44 (2010)

Revue Internationale des Livres et des Idées 16 (2010)

RiLi carries an interview with Antonio Negri on his recently published book Commonwealth. In the same way that the period of the Commonwealth of England represented the crisis of the Renaissance, argues Negri, so the present day represents the crisis of modernity. Now, however, the “common” is that which gives meaning to our desires and to our work, and drags them away from capital. The Commonwealth is a society of the common good within – but in opposition to – a capitalist economy, sidestepping the communist fantasy of revolution.

Can such an understanding lead to political action? The new archetype of the worker is not the manual labourer but the mobile knowledge worker, according to Negri. Any organization must be built around her characteristics. As ever, struggles must focus on working conditions, but they must take into account that work no longer stops at the factory gates. Trade unions, already weakened by their inability to act at a global level, are further handicapped by their failure to learn to deal with the world beyond work. New types of organization will be needed involving mutualism and new forms of labour. Their power will come from the intersections between different struggles.

Deep ecology: Attacked by moderate environmentalists as mystics and technophobes, and by philosophers as anti-humanist and anti-modernist, “deep ecologists” are widely discredited. The first publication of the work of Norwegian deep ecologist and philosopher Arne Næss (1912-2009) in French translation provides an opportunity for Fabrice Flipo to test the truth of these caricatures. A logician, pacifist and anti-Nazi activist, Næss was far from being a thoughtless Luddite, writes Flipo. But he was unsparing in his critique of reformist environmentalism, which limits itself to patching up the worst excesses of an industrial economy without ever acknowledging its contradictions.

Clinging to the idea of growth as means of emancipation, Næss thought that environmentalism had divested itself of the tools that could prevent environmental damage, preferring to answer all challenges with an appeal to technological solutions. Næss used ecology to show that modernity is, without exception, accompanied by environmental destruction. But this destruction cannot be repeated indefinitely, he warned: there is not enough environment to be annihilated by the modernization of the entire planet.

The full table of contents of Revue Internationale des Livres et des Idées 16 (2010)

Dilema veche 315-319 (2010)

“Just as we were about to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the death of communism, the economic crisis caused all the themes of the much-hated Das Kapital to resurface,” comments Vasile Ernu in Dilema veche (316). “We discovered that the problem of work has not disappeared, but has just become immaterial for a very tiny part of the world, by being transferred to countries like China, India and Romania, where indigenous people represent a very cheap labour force that still works under very Marxist conditions.”

Ernu’s Marxist sympathies are not shared by other contributors in an issue wrestling with “trendy communism”. Lucian Boia invokes the total economic failure of communism while Ioan Stanomir thinks that Marxism’s popularity derives from its capacity to “give intellectual substance to collective hatred and frustrations”. A more conciliatory approach is expounded by Cristian Preda, who notes that some contemporary communists have thought through Stalinism and distanced themselves from it: an example that the Romanian Social-Democrats would do well to follow.

Feminism: Romania experienced a first wave of feminism, centred on the equality between men and women, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but the ensuing decades of communism brought little progress for women, writes Oana Baluta in a dossier on feminism (317). While western feminism is now in a third wave, concerned with the multiple differences between women, Romania has still to experience the second wave, that of rallying women around their common problems. The result is that the country has a “hybrid” feminism that merges the second and third waves of western feminism. Other contributors call for a feminist history of Romanian literature, for deeper public discussion of the relationship between gender and art, and for more non-academic feminist projects.

Also: A core weakness of the Romanian state administration is its inability to develop its own human resources, writes Gabriel Giurgiu (318). In a period when Romania cannot absorb EU funds partly because of inadequate staffing, the failure of the bureaucracy to regenerate and improve itself is a major hindrance to development.

The full table of contents of Dilema veche 315-319 (2010)

Kulturos barai 3/2010

In Kulturos barai, Violeta Davoliute sees signs that the post-’89 era of democratic idealism has come to an end in the West. Opposition to last year’s Prague Declaration on “European Conscience and Totalitarianism” is a case in point. Controversially, the Declaration suggested creating an official day of commemoration for the victims of totalitarian regimes. Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Centre asked incredulously: “A moment of silence for Jewish citizens butchered by the Nazis and their local collaborators, followed by a moment of silence for these victimizers, later turned into ‘victims of communism?'”

Giving 23 August (the day the Molotov-Ribbentrop was signed) official status as a day of commemoration for the victims of all totalitarian regimes would indeed provoke controversy, writes Davoliute. “But controversy is not always bad, and it may be the only way to get all Europeans to take a closer look at the history of their neighbours.”

Neurocapitalism: Today, the neurosciences enjoy a similar prestige as psychoanalysis in the twentieth century, write Hennric Jokeit and Ewa Hess. Despite the immense costs for healthcare systems, the fear of depression, dementia and attention deficit disorder legitimizes the boom in neuro-psychotropic drugs. In a performance-driven society that confronts the self with its own shortcomings, neuroscience serves an expanding market.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 3/2010

Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 86 (2009)

In Revista Crítica, Tatiana Moura, Sílvia Roque, Sara Araújo, Mónica Rafael and Rita Santos examine the “continuum of violence” between war and peace.

They note that while the widespread participation of women in African wars of liberation and civil wars has led to a reappraisal of gender relations, women’s status does not significantly alter in the postwar period. Focusing on Angola, Guinea and Mozambique, the authors show how marginalization remains virulent as women are forced back into traditional roles and subjected to gender violence they can no longer defend themselves against.

“In fact, during the periods of war, the intensity of violence against women may even have diminished. Peace may be more violent than war for women, in the context of a growing ‘normalization’ of violence.” There are two main characteristics defining violence against women, write the authors: “First, violence is linked to practices within the family and the community, as well as to the action of representatives of the state; second, it is legitimized and perpetuated by ‘cultural’ justifications that serve institutional, political and economic ends.”

In “peacetime”, violent practices are “silenced” and take on new forms. Domestic and sexual violence, persist, as do sexual mutilation, polygamy and forced marriage. If their husband dies, women may lose not only property, but even their own children, and may be forced to serve the family of the deceased husband. A difficult childbirth or the death of a child can lead to accusations of sorcery, bringing maltreatment, exclusion and even death. A broader concept of peace must encompass the notion that the end of war does not necessarily represent a break with the continuum of violence.

Flexicurity: Hermes Augusto Costa argues that the “golden triangle” found in the original Danish context – a flexible labour market, a generous welfare system and active labour market policies – cannot be generalized and applied where conditions are quite different. The negative effects of doing so might outweigh any potential the concept of “flexicurity” has.

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 86 (2009)

Merkur 4/2010

In Merkur, Helmut König enquires into what has really happened since 1989 in terms of dealing with the GDR past and its effects on (eastern) German society.

“At the centre of the way in which dictatorial regimes are dealt with is always the question of how to treat those people who gave the orders and defined the regime, and those who, as functionaries and supporters, made sure that it worked. The unification treaty […] stipulates two groups of measures for this: first, the court investigation into human rights violations and crimes; second, the disqualification and removal of guilty persons from all areas of public administration.”

Especially the latter, however, is responsible for massive feelings of humiliation among eastern Germans. On the one hand, qualified personnel were dismissed and replaced by westerners. At the same time, coincidence has played a large part in whether or not collaboration with the Stasi was and is discovered at all.

“The fundamental injustice of coincidence and lottery […] is what leads to anger and embitterment, what gives rise to revenge fantasies and creates diminishing support for the regulated market economy, democracy and the rule of law. Those who consider themselves unfairly treated will compensate for this wherever they can, will seek vents for their aggressive dissatisfaction – and find them in an attitude of destruction and defiance or in the Left Party.”

EU or Allah? Despite Muslim conspiracy theories of anti-Islamism, Siegfried Kohlhammer detects Islamophilia in Europe; and Walter Laqueur is worried: will Europe become the hoped for “gentle” global power or rather Asia’s “bogey” (copyright: Gottfried Benn)?

The full table of contents of Merkur 4/2010

Ord&Bild 1-2/2010

With just over two months to go until the royal wedding between Crown Princess Victoria and Mr Daniel Westling, Swedish media is in a state of emergency. All outlets, including the quality press and public service television, seem to be mesmerized by the prospect of gala and glamour. One event to have received considerable attention in the run-up to the wedding has been the initiative of the Stockholm art gallery Liljevalchs to invite well-known poets to write love poems for the occasion. When some of the invited poets publicly denounced the endeavour, a fierce debate on the monarchy and the role of art and literature resulted, and Liljevalchs director Mårten Castenfors even called his own idea “bizarre”. In February, the “Love poems” project was officially cancelled.

In an Ord&Bild issue on breakdowns and failures, Ulf Karl Olov Nilsson, one of Sweden’s most exciting and innovative poets, explains why he answered positively to the invitation from Liljevalchs. It was “a mission impossible”, he says, and poetry sometimes needs “the greatest resistance possible”. “I didn’t do it for the monarchy, nor for the bride and groom, nor for love itself. Nor did I do it for the Republic. I did it because it would have been too easy to say no. Because I was tired and sad. Because my feet were cold. […] Actually, why do I have to defend myself? It’s humiliating. Go to hell!”

The short explanation is followed by a hilarious poem listing “101 suggestions for poetic subjects suitable in connection with the Crown Princess’ wedding”, including “common clouds”, “porridge”, “the psychological development of working dogs”, “the surplus of folds”, “glen check, mole skin trousers and cap toe brogues”, “wet, heavy laundry” and “the width of parents”.

EU democracy? Jutta Ditfurth, co-founder of the German Green Party, does not mince her words when she describes the consequences of the clashes between police and protesters during the 2001 EU summit in Gothenburg: “The so-called security aims of the EU states are not concerned with freedom and citizens’ rights, but instead serve capitalist interests. In Gothenburg, this new repression took a huge step in the direction of a European dictatorship.”

Also: Translations of several texts from Eurozine’s focuses “European histories” and “Dilemma ’89”: “Still not free” by Martin Simecka, “Legacies of ‘Judeo-Bolshevism'” by Marci Shore, and “China through Zhuangzi’s third eye” by Martin Hala.

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 1-2/2010

Published 14 April 2010

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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