The greed of others

21 October 2008
Only in en
Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) argues for a return to Rheinish capitalism; Reset gives the lowdown on Obama and religion; Arena calls for environmental justice; Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) looks for dollars in the American mattress; Blätter urges Europe to talk to Russia and not about it; Esprit deflates the Paris myth; Multitudes reaches into the Guattari toolbox; Ord&Bild goes to work; dérive unmasks the jargon of fraternity; L'Espill fears for quality journalism; and Passage heads for the Norwegian woods.

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 10/2008

In Germany, as in other countries hit by the financial crisis, a debate is raging about managerial bonuses; many share the attitude of the presidential candidate for the Left Party, Peter Sodann, who recently suggested that the managing director of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, be arrested (albeit jokingly: Sodann is a former TV detective). “That all of us find more money better than less money is suddenly, because of the crisis, being denounced as greed. But above all, the greed of others. The bankers are the wolves and we are the sheep, and the greed of the bankers has driven us all into crisis”, writes Heiner Ganssmann in Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin).

“[But] the basic problem is not the greed of bankers. The problem is that the wish for more money – shared by all of us – cannot be tied to the increase in things that money can buy. One borrows more money than one earns, in advance of a return service. Whether the return service will come to pass is for the time being unsure. Everyone hopes so and some bet on it, insofar as income levels are set on the basis of borrowing. But one day someone discovers it and soon it is common knowledge: the emperor is naked. Income levels and services performed no longer correspond.”

“Instead of giving banks a loan guarantee […] and telling them to carry on as before”, argues Ganssmann, “there should be an attempt from the state – and when if not now – to rewrite the fundamentals of business in line with the regulated capitalism of the old European variety.”

The “feminization” of migration: In a report based on first hand accounts of Bangladeshi women migrants, Petra Dannecker describes how the “feminization” of migration is causing tensions back home. Women migrants are cheaper to employ and thus pose competition for their male compatriots, whose reaction is to stigmatize them. Islamist organizations exploit these prejudices and through legal means obstruct the independent migration of women.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 10/2008

Reset 109 (2008)

If elected president, Barak Obama may reformulate the Left’s traditional approach to secularism in the US, write Giancarlo Bosetti and Giovanni Fornero in Reset. Obama would stress more than any Democratic president before him how religious faith can inspire politics, a theme he introduced as early as 2004, long before his nomination. This would not lead to an overhauling of the classic distinction between Church and State, though it might have an impact on the definition of social and political progressivism, argue Bosetti and Fornero.

Global justice and sustainability: Yale philosopher Thomas Pogge contests the standard thesis that a rising tide of global economic growth “lifts all boats” and reduces poverty. According to Pogge, unchecked economic growth harms the global poor and benefits only the richest; only the creation of institutions on a transnational level can assure the fair redistribution of resources. And in an exclusive article for Reset, Ulrich Beck and Joost van Loon argue that climate change is above all a social issue insofar as it triggers new wars, immigration flows, and market fluctuations. It is also deeply political in nature, since nation-states must formulate and coordinate new global policies.

Regional politics: Walter Veltroni’s Democratic Party suffered heavy losses in Italy’s northeast in the last parliamentary elections. Some of the region’s most famous novelists discuss its difficulties and dissatisfactions. In recent years, many have blamed the dramatic social changes in the region on unregulated development and poor leadership. Both Romolo Bugaro and Mauro Covacevich call into question the acceleration of production and its consequences and underline the need for dialogue, while Vitaliano Trevisan analyzes the rapid suburbanization of Vicenza. Although these authors differ in their outlook, all conclude that the Democratic Party must adopt a more regional, grassroots approach in Italy’s northeast.

The full table of contents of Reset 109 (2008)

Arena 5/2008

Swedish Arena publishes a translation of undercover journalist Günter Wallraff’s account of a month’s work in a factory baking bread for the discounter Lidl (originally published in the German weekly Die Zeit). Wallraff’s verdict: “As long as workers’ rights are systematically violated, customers should boycott Lidl and its miserable bread.”

Environmental justice: Jonas Ebbesson, professor of environmental law in Stockholm, writes that the debate on global environmental justice focuses too much on states and too little on individuals. It is reasonable to pose higher demands on Sweden than on India when it comes to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, since industrialized countries generally emit more carbon dioxide per capita than poor countries. But from the standpoint of justice this has absurd consequences. In India there is a middle class living on the same level as its European counterpart. If the climate negotiations only consider a country’s total emission in relation to its population, this means that the Indian middle class gets off the hook. “If the discussion on environmental justice stops at the state border it will remain blind to internal injustice.”

Instead Ebbesson argues for a cosmopolitical perspective, especially when it comes to transnational companies. A strong emphasis on “cosmopolitical justice” is the only way to prevent such companies from hiding behind state sovereignty and “to hold them accountable for damages caused in countries lacking a functioning system of laws and regulations”.

Also to look out for: The regular column by Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman, this time on the federal takeover of giant mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. His predictions are pessimistic: “The Fannie-Freddie rescue was a good thing. But it takes place in the context of a broader economic struggle – a struggle we seem to be losing.”

The full table of contents of Arena 5/2008

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 10/2008

The US elections have ended up in the shadow of a shaky world economy lead by a wobbly US. Large scale nationalization is on the agenda “even though the word, which has a far too negative ring to it, has never been uttered”, writes Ibrahim Warde. In a US preoccupied with the freedom of the individual, the blessings of privatization, and the survival of the fittest, the medicine is a bitter one. “When I opened my newspaper yesterday morning I thought I was in France. But it turns out that socialism is the master in America”, said the republican senator Jim Benning. And “socialist solutions”, with nationalization of financial institutions, proves a painful, if necessary, remedy to an economy gone sour. But what will happen after finance minister Paulson’s “time out”? The price of the rescue operations is still an unknown quantity and represents yet another gift from president Bush to his followers, concludes Warde.

Know thy enemy: “If you listen to their speeches it sounds as if both candidates are running against George W. Bush”, writes Michael Klare, comparing and contrasting Obama and McCain in his analysis of their possible future foreign policy. But where McCain’s worldview is defined by the Cold War and the power struggle between the US and the Soviet Union, Obama focuses on the need for a more humble American attitude and the need to ensure support from, and cooperation with, Europe. Klare sums up: “Exactly how these contrasting approaches will influence the political agenda after either McCain or Obama has been elected is pure guesswork. But there is no doubt that it will have far-reaching consequences for everyone on the planet.”

Film for dummies: Burn after reading is a film about idiots, writes Truls Lie about the latest Coen comedy. The plot focuses on the middle-aged losers at the centre of power in Washington DC. It’s a film about shockingly stupid people getting involved in situations that have fatal consequences for those involved. In short, “we are in the present-day US. The place where one is making ‘much ado about nothing'”.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 10/2008

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 10/2008

“The old reflexes still function: the Kremlin leadership is in the dock.” The un-nuanced opinion in the West about Russia’s military intervention in Georgia is hypocritical, writes political scientist Reinhard Mutz in Blätter. Many western states have been less than squeamish when it comes to intervention in military conflicts or one-sided declarations of independence, most recently in the case of Kosovo. Russia, on the other hand, has until now shown restraint on the issue of recognition. So why the change of heart?

After Putin’s radical economic reforms, the country is no longer an indebted supplicant but significantly more confident – and is able to adopt a new foreign policy. After the EU and Nato enlargements, little is left of the original agreement over a “common European security space without divisions and spheres of influence” – so why should Russia feel obliged? De-escalation would be the best thing now: “Imaginative politics rather than short-term crisis management must return to the fore. A start could be made with a simple statement of intent: Talk to Russia and not about it.”

Spheres of influence: Russia is acting as large powers always have and is trying to keep major foreign powers outside its sphere of influence, notes journalist Peter Bender. He recommends that Europe continue criticizing Russia for this behaviour, but also not to let itself be drawn into a conflict between Russia and the US: “It is not only interest but above all sovereignty that demands that Europe does not get mixed up in a rivalry between major powers. It is possible to stay on good terms with the US without acting as its shield-bearer in a duel with Russia.”

Partnership: Alexander Warkotsch urgently advises Europe to embark on a course of de-escalation with Russia. Alongside energy and human rights issues, it must not neglect classic foreign policy concerns in the negotiations on the EU-Russia partnership treaty (now postponed). All three authors conclude that the Russian suggestion for collaboration on equal terms with EU and the US should be taken seriously. Medvedev touted a reform for Euro-Atlantic security at the beginning of this year. Mutz: “The proposal has been completely ignored. The least that could be done would be to ask its author what he means by it.”

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 10/2008

Esprit 10/2008

Esprit looks at Paris’ most ambitious redevelopment project for over a century – one that will focus not on the central city, but on the suburbs and small towns of the metropolitan area. Contributions focus on a broad range of questions: Can the many institutions find common ground? What architecture will best support a knowledge economy? Will planners be able to merge their artistic vision with the practical needs of the area? Must division between the centre and the periphery dominate Paris, or is a less hierarchical form of planning possible?

Paris as myth: Thierry Paquot looks at how the Paris region has been shaped and deformed by art. The mythology of Paris created by Hugo, Zola, and Godard has spread through literature, film, photography and painting and been reinforced in the schoolroom and through the continued economic and political dominance of Paris. The suburbs, when they aren’t ignored entirely, are treated as inferior, as antechambers of Paris. Different towns blend into each other, being imagined only as non-Paris. The more recent stereotype of suburbs filled with violent, impoverished immigrants is just as vacuous. Until life outside Paris is properly captured in art, these places will remain undervalued and misunderstood.

Fundamentalism: Some argue that the late twentieth century saw a process of secularization, others that fundamentalist religion is on the rise. According to Olivier Roy, both are correct: fundamentalism is a product of secular society. Secularization hinders those who want to intertwine culture, religion and the state – but equally it promotes those who envisage a “pure” religion which ignores cultural markers, so long as they don’t interfere with religion. In this world of halal fastfood and Christian rock music, religion can cut loose from its cultural moorings and propagate itself worldwide.

Also: Russian NGO Memorial calls for an international historical forum, in the hope that dialogue can stop us imagining the past as a simple story of heroes and villains.

The full table of contents of Esprit 10/2008

Multitudes 34 (2008)

Multitudes has had a facelift. This autumn’s edition comes with a striking new layout, introduced by an editorial promising to continue the magazine’s traditions and to resist, create, share, remove barriers, experiment, dissent, laugh, and form an inclusive, radical perspective. Also revealed are tentative plans to launch an English-language edition, Multitudes International. Fittingly, the issue is devoted to Felix Guattari, who argued both for the creative power and for the fragmentary nature of individuals and networks.

In his collaborations with Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, Guattari argue that human consciousness is more fragmented than it seems. Guattari was a psychoanalyst by training (an article by Jean-Claude Polack disputes the common belief that Guattari became an enemy of psychoanalysis) and saw schizophrenia as a pathological case of something universal, even healthy: the multiple nature of the individual, and hence her freedom from social constraints. Anne Sauvagnargues situates such ideas in the context of postwar France, in which Lacan, Althusser and Foucault were all following similar trajectories, and tries to explain what made Guattari’s approach uniquely powerful. And Christian Kerslake shows how the attack on the subject connects to Guattari’s political views and achieves a synthesis of Marx and Lacan.

The rainbow panther: Guattari’s rejection of the self may seem disempowering, but this impression is counter-balanced by his trust in the potential of networks. For Anne Querrien, his work is “a toolbox capable of helping one escape from the control of capitalism”. Creating a group spreads a problem in many directions, forging unforseeable links between the interests of participants. Just as a group can draw power from varied and non-hierarchical connections between its members, so the individual, “once distanced from the powerlessness generated by a central ego”, can “develop self-awareness and the capacity for action”. As a model for this form of creative energy, she suggests the image of the “rainbow panther”, which combines all colours and all viewpoints, and continually recreates itself from its component parts.

The full table of contents of Multitudes 34 (2008)

Ord&Bild 3/2008

Ord&Bild dedicates a bulging issue to “working life”. Alongside internationally renowned sociologists such as Richard Sennett and Miriam Glucksmann, Swedish professor of psychology Gunnar Aronsson writes on “the unredeemed anxiety” characterizing today’s job market. To Aronsson the distinction between “fear” and “anxiety” is crucial when it comes to understanding how working life has changed in the last decades. Proletarians in industrial society had concrete fears: getting stuck in the mine or being punished by the boss. In post-industrial society, diffuse anxiety rules: threats are abstract and hard to predict but the consequences are real and profound.

The place of the individual in the “structure of insecurity” determines if change and uncertainty will turn into permanent anxiety or a potential for self-realization, writes Aronsson. “The structure’s secure shelter is occupied by those who are able to cut the ties between risk and loss. In the peripheral, insecure parts of the structure you find the precarious, who form the necessary condition for the flexibility and predictability of the system.”

The issue of precarity is developed further by Klaus Ronneberger. Interns, temporary agency workers, people on job creation schemes, and pseudo-freelances make up the vast reserve army of workers in precarious employment. For the majority, “standards such as productivity or flexibility – which they often condemn as capitalist disciplining – have become second nature. In this respect, they really are the avant-garde for post-Fordism, constantly opening up new avenues of self-exploitation.”

Also: Working life literature by Johan Jönsson and Pär Thörn, and congenial photographs by Kalle Sanner.

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 3/2008

dérive 33 (2008)

dérive publishes the German translation of a speech delivered by Richard Sennett in Graz in January this year. Sennett revives “belonging” as a principle in public and social life, which in his early works he had dismissed in favour of “anonymity”. He seems to be becoming milder with age: his studies on the new economy reveal a longing for a world of work that has vanished in contemporary employment. Increasingly short-term and fragmented careers, along with “absent” (i.e. frequently alternating) bosses mean “there’s less belonging because there’s less authority. There’s certainly power, but there’s less authority in the sense of a superior who is there evaluating, being there for you, judging you, keeping a record of who you are.”

In modern corporations today, says Sennett, people are “inundated with a kind of bullshit jargon of fraternity which goes by the name teamwork”. Competition between teams forces employees to make a pretense of team loyalty while simultaneously looking for other networks if their current team loses. “What we call belonging to a team is a very dangerous sentiment. If you take it seriously, you’re likely to be hurt. It’s much better to think about belonging as a mask that you manipulate […] Fraudulent belonging becomes more functional than the actual act of commitment to another person.”

Neighbourhood resistance: “How do the global strategies of the neoliberal economy combine with the local discourse in capitalizing not only the space but also the social relations that re-scale the urban space?” In an article on gentrification in Istanbul, sociologist and art historian Pelin Tan describes how neighbourhoods, as “micro-collectives”, have the potential for resistance.

Also: Hilary Tsui on the “creative city” as a buzzword for city governments and how artistic interventions re-appropriate the urban space.

The full table of contents of dérive 33 (2008)

L’Espill 28 (2008)

In a dossier on “communication and power” in the new issue of Catalan journal L’Espill, media critic Núria Almirón is worried about transnational finance gaining power over the Spanish media landscape. What are the effects of profit-driven decisions on journalist’s rights and freedoms? And Josep Lluís Gomez Mompart, stressing the importance of critical and informative journalism in democratic societies, argues that media innovation should lead to high quality journalism and help us find our way in an increasingly complex world. Reality, however, looks different: low-grade journalism that simplifies and deforms our perception of events prevails.

Multilingualism: Each nation establishes its borders, sometimes defines itself, certainly organizes itself, and always affirms itself around its language, writes Marc Hatzfeld. Language is then guarded by men of letters, by strict rules, not allowing for variety of expression. Against this backdrop, immigrants from ever more distant shores have arrived in France, bringing with them a different style of expression and another, more fluid, concept of language.

Also: Slovene writer Alenka Puhar remembers her compatriot, the painter Zoran Music, whose drawings of his Dachau experiences are among the few artistic images of the death camps.

The full table of contents of L’Espill 28 (2008)

Passage 59 (2008)

Passage‘s latest issue has a slight tone of envy. Of the Norwegians of all things. Of Norwegian literature, to be more specific. There is a Danish speciality of satirizing Norway and Norwegians, but though the editors admit that it’s fun to take the Mickey out of Norway, there is no denying that Norway, in the words of Hans Hauge, “can produce world literature. We can’t”. Among its most recent exponents are Jostein Gaarder with Sophie’s World and Åsne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul.

Norway is different, states Hauge. Where else can one talk about a “poetocracy” where poets and writers are also politicians, where a writer such as Hamsun, a Nazi-sympathiser, remains one of the greats? And Norway is not even in the EU. It’s different. “Even the Norwegian constitution was pure construction without history. It didn’t grow out of anything, as we say of the Danish one. It was truly performative. And in that sense it is similar to Romantic literature. It lacked ‘any historically based foundation in the people itself'”.

E-mail correspondence: The Danish writer Martin Glaz Serup and the Norwegian writer and editor Geir Gulliksen’s e-mail correspondence offer a fresh exchange of opinions on their own works as well as newer Norwegian literature. Glaz Serup is of the opinion that there is an ever stronger Christian influence in Norwegian literature. But Gulliksen refutes this, even angrily, and writes: “NO, there is no Christian thread in newer Norwegian poetry, Martin, I am positive that you are completely wrong. This is not something you find in the poems, other than purely superficially.”

Also: Max Ipsen argues that at least one group of Danes read Norwegian literature, namely Danish writers, and find inspiration there. He even hints that Danish short prose (kortprosa) in its present form has its starting point in Norway.

The full table of contents of Passage 59 (2008)

Published 21 October 2008

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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