Vulnerabilities everywhere

6 July 2011
Only in en
Index calls for a mature debate on privacy; Blätter sees DSK as today’s chauvinist writ large; New Humanist says neuroscience just doesn’t get it; Reset features the leading lights of Islamic reformism; Kulturos barai fears Satanic mills across the border; GAM thinks its time to get antagonistic; Revista Crítica revisits architectural debates of the 1960s; and L’Espill lets Balkan writers correct European misconceptions.

“Everywhere we look we see vulnerabilities”, write Gus Hosein and Eric King of Privacy International in Index on Censorship. In the age of mobile devices and cloud services, they warn of a re-play of the 1990s, when Microsoft’s prioritization of ease over security led to a decade of viruses.

“We had the chance to learn from this and make our next technological steps more informed and considered. Instead, Smartphone operating system developers like Apple and Google are now making similar mistakes by not keeping their users informed of what kind of information is leaving their devices and what applications are doing with their data.”

The scandal involving Nokia’s sale of a telecommunications system to Iran that included spying capabilities approved both in the US and Europe, exemplifies how cooperation between businesses and governments creates unprecedented opportunities for surveillance of citizens, both in dictatorships and democracies.

“As long as the key technology developers keep on assuming that their users are uninterested […], we will all remain vulnerable. It is now time for a mature debate on privacy and security. Not one that sees the benefit of the state as paramount, nor one that assumes that if the service is free then the user’s information can be exploited.”

Privacy v. public interest: The phone hacking scandals surrounding the Murdoch press in the UK prompts Brian Cathcart to emphatically dismiss attempts to justify invasion of privacy as journalism in the public interest: “It is not really such an effort to tell the difference between those who want to inform and entertain and those who share the motivation of the former assistant news editor on the News of the World who told a colleague in 2002: ‘This is what we do […] We go out and destroy people’s lives.'”

Also: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdottir on being caught up in the WikiLeaks investigation; Google’s chief of privacy Peter Fleischer on why global privacy standards are the next step forward; and Paul Bernal on why we need to convince businesses to protect us from snoopers rather than helping those who want to snoop.

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 2/2011

In Blätter, Daniela Dahn is surprised by how little protest there is against the Nato war in Libya: “Practically no one wants to openly risk being suspected of having any kind of sympathy for Gaddafi, if only through a nuanced view of the dictator’s contradictions.”

This prevents published opinion from conceding that standards of living and education in Libya are relatively high, and that until recently a good portion of today’s rebels were important figures in Gaddafi’s repressive apparatus.

According to Issam Haddad, board member of the German Association of Arab Publishers, a lot of convenient disinformation is being spread and attempts at recolonialization are obvious. “If the Arab Revolution doesn’t remain in the hands of the Arabs, then it will fall into the hands of capital,” Dahn writes. “Not once in the post-war period has there been a revolutionary upheaval that the powers of finance haven’t tried to use to increase their rate of profit, like in 1989 in eastern Europe.”

Emancipation or backlash? In a dossier on feminism, Rebecca Solnit (in an article originally published in TomDispatch) finds the Strauss-Kahn case exemplary – regardless of the credibility of the alleged victim. The recent public accusations of sexual harassment show that Strauss-Kahn,

created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable or dangerous for women, which would be one thing if he were working in, say, a small office. But that a man who controls some part of the fate of the world apparently devoted his energies to generating fear, misery, and injustice around him says something about the shape of our world and the values of the nations and institutions that tolerated his behaviour and that of men like him.

The male victim? Taking the example of the rape case against German TV weatherman Jörg Kachelmann (which ended with an acquittal on the grounds of reasonable doubt), Ilse Lenz shows how media and public opinion have revived the traditional chauvinistic stereotype of the woman as the “uncontrollable seductress, liar and sinner” versus a new image of the helpless male victim.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 7/2011

No more than gifted chimps? In New Humanist, Raymond Tallis disputes neuroscientific and Darwinistic strands in humanist philosophy that see consciousness as identical with neural activity and the mind subservient to evolutionary imperatives. To equate “seeing the brain light up” with seeing the experience itself, Tallis argues, is to confuse “correlation with causation, and causation with identity”.

Avoiding naturalistic explanations of human beings’ fundamental difference from other animals requires openness to more expansive approaches, according to Tallis. One of these is the idea of the “brain-world-body nexus” in which “beyond-the-skin” factors are accorded “fully paid-up cognitive status”; another is “panpsychism” that sees consciousness “built into the very fabric of the supposedly material universe”.

Whether or not one accepts these arguments, challenging the assumption that naturalism is the only alternative to supernaturalism “promises a thrilling intellectual, and indeed spiritual, adventure”, Tallis assures us. “For the present, we should no more fill the gaps in our knowledge and understanding with pseudo-scientific explanations than we should fill them with gods and their divine powers.”

Religion, comedy and the novel: Literary critic James Woods defines the novel as the “enemy of superstition, the slayer of religions, the scrutineer of falsity.” Interviewed by Matthew Adams, Woods suggests that central to the novel’s secular humanity is comedy, which offers a forgiveness unavailable in the Christian religion. Reading St Augustine on how the suckling baby exemplifies human selfishness, Woods begins to think that “there’s some sort of arena of the human, that I locate in the novel, which is all forgiving, but which religious temperament has no connection to at all.”

Also: Paul Sims discusses the pros and cons of the term “Islamophobia”, in connection with Julian Petley‘s and Robin Richardson’s new book Pointing the Finger, on representations of Muslims in the British mainstream.

The full table of contents of New Humanist 4/2011

The new issue of Reset contains a 30-page dossier on important contemporary Muslim intellectuals. Ranging from Tariq Ramadan to the feminist Nawal Al-Saadawi, the men and women introduced stand in the tradition of critical thought within Islam.

Their ideas are indispensible when it comes to answering the questions that are pressing in the current historical moment: Will the political future of the Islamic nations be influenced by religious or secular tendencies and movements? Will the young democracies imitate the Turkish model or one closer to the liberal ideas of the Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush?

The authors of the dossier warn that the term “the Islamic World” promises too much: “One should never forget that Islam itself already consists of a complex fabric of differing faiths. And so we have found that the thinkers of Islamic reformism present an equal diversity of approaches and ideas.”

The timid radical: What does the elimination of bin Laden say about the politics of Barack Obama? According to the political scientist Sergio Fabbrini, “it is Obama’s accomplishment to have recognized that the world has entered the post-American era. The US cannot foregoe guaranteeing its own security, however alone cannot guarantee the safety of everyone else. That’s why Obama’s actions are just as much a continuation of the foreign policy of George W. Bush as they are a break.” In economic policy, writes Fabbrini, Obama is on the right track but excessive timidity has prevented him from being radical enough – hence the lack of breakthrough success.

Also: Rosy Bindi, Renzo Guolo and Gian Enrico Rusconi talk to Reset editor Giancarlo Bosetti about the conversion of the Northern League into a modern Christian democratic party that defends Christian identity amidst fears of immigration.

The full table of contents of Reset 125 (2011)

In Kulturos barai, Almantas Samalavicius criticizes the response of Lithuanian politicians to the Fukushima disaster. While other European countries were reconsidering their nuclear policy, Lithuania’s prime minister was suggesting that, in regions where natural disasters do not occur (implicitly Lithuania), investment in nuclear energy should continue. It is “as if he had personally received divine confirmation that the country would be exempt from natural disasters in the future”.

Many ordinary citizens showed more common sense, writes Samalavicius, protesting against the development of nuclear energy in the Baltic region and signing an online petition against plans for a nuclear power plant in Astraviec, Belarus, close to the Lithuanian border. Yet the large part of Lithuanian society is still sleeping: “There has been no breakthrough in public consciousness that would enable the realization that nuclear energy is a road to nowhere.” Otherwise, “the whole country would have flooded the streets to remind the rest of the world that a nuclear power plant in Astraviec would be just another Satanic mill threatening the future of the whole region.”

Tradition and innovation: Fed for decades on the diet peculiar to closed societies, Lithuania has since embraced foreign ideas without considering the consequences, argues Bronislovas Kuzimickas, philosopher and founding member of Sajudis. Having gained some experience of life in a liberal democracy, Lithuanians now need to draw on their traditions and historical experience to distinguish between the progressive and the merely fashionable.

Giving offence: Reviewing the Eurozine im:print publication “Europe talks to Europe”, Marius Gaucys is impressed by Kenan Malik‘s argument that open conflict is preferable to repressive tolerance: “Lithuanian intellectuals should take this into consideration, since they sometimes adopt the pose of judges who never make mistakes, especially when ‘politically incorrect’ issues are raised; moreover, they should remember what the public sphere was like during communism.”

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 6/2011

“Zero landscape” is the title of the new issue of architecture magazine GAM aiming to locate and explore “a special kind of zero point”, as editor Klaus K. Loenhart writes:

Anthropogenic influences are traceable to the most remote corners of our planet. For the first time in the course of human evolution, it appears possible to assert that there is no such thing as nature as we once believed – only continuous landscape as an ‘evolutionary’ product of our civilization: Zero landscape.

Capitalism’s antagonists: “The majority today is ‘Fukuyamaian’: liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally-found formula for the best possible society, all one can do is to render it more just, tolerant, etc.”, writes Slavoj Zizek.

In order to “prevent its indefinite reproduction”, according to Zizek, strong antagonisms to capitalism must be identified. Several of these he finds in what Hardt and Negri call the “commons”:

The shared substance of our social being, whose privatization is a violent act which should also be resisted with violent means, if necessary: the commons of culture, the immediately socialized forms of ‘cognitive’ capital […]; the commons of external nature threatened by pollution and exploitation […]; the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity). What all these struggles share is the awareness of the destructive potentials, up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself, if the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons is allowed a free run.

The Yes Men: Some of the most visible and effective campaigns against the ecological effects of global industry on local populations have been carried out by the “performance-cum-activist group” the Yes Men, writes Jeffrey Kastner. Their most recent project: a shadow campaign aping a campaign by Chevron to greenwash their reputation:

The group substituted the empty, anodyne sentiments to which the firm’s leaders announced their ‘agreement’ (‘Oil Companies Should Get Real’) with alternative images and ‘improved’ slogans such as ‘Oil Companies Should Clean Up Their Messes’.

The full table of contents of GAM 7 (2011)

In a focus on Portuguese architectural debates of the 1960s and early ’70s, contributors to Revista Crítica show how Portugal’s changing political context influenced architects as a professional class and led to changes in their practices and ideas about architecture as a form of social intervention.

In an account of the 1969 National Meeting of Architects, five years before the democratic revolution of 1974, José Bandeirinha shows how political and ideological cleavages precluded any consensus on topics such as “the social, economic and political structures that influence professional activity” or ways to “raise awareness about the role of the architect in contemporary society”. Asking whether it is possible today to speak of “class-based social involvement with what constitutes the social reality of a country”, Bandeirinha concludes that,

the practice of contemporary architecture is substantially removed from architects themselves, or at least from that which could constitute, at the individual or collective level, their social ethos. This distance is also a measure of the distance of the activity itself in relation to all other social practices.

Seminal architecture: Jorge Figueira focuses on work developed in the 1960s by three architects that are still models for Portuguese architecture today: Nuno Portas, Hestnes Ferreira and Francisco Conceição Silva. Their approaches illustrate, according to Figueira,

some of the major orientations of the turbulent architectural culture of the 1960s in the international context: the search for a scientific approach that could identify and deal with the complexity of the modern city (Portas); the inclusion of the history of architecture, opening up the field to other constructive forms and models, in order to move beyond the impasse of modern architecture (Hestnes); the permeability to market mechanisms – supply/demand, advertising/consumption – which implies understanding architecture as a product (Conceição Silva).

Urban reform: Leonardo Avritzer reconstructs the 1980s urban reform movement in Brazil that led to groundbreaking legislation making urban planning more participatory. The requirements of the “Urban Master Plans” implemented in the cities of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Salvador, he writes, reinforced “the democratization and regulation of cities in diverse correlations of forces among government, civil society and private interests”.

The full table of contents of Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 91 (2010)

“Some day a new Yugoslavian Constitution will begin with the words: In our state every memory has the same value.” A translation of the late Serbian architect Bogdan Bogdanovic’s article “Clashing memories”, from his 1993 book Town Cenotaph, opens a dossier in the Catalan journal L’Espill on the cultural, political and historical issues facing Yugoslavia’s grandchildren.

Macedonian scholar Vesna Mojsova-Cepisevska argues that “both western and eastern Europe have come to accept a deeply modified concept of the Balkans, allowing the region to exist just as a tag or a stigma”. According to Mojsova-Cepisevska, Europe maintains that coexistence in the Balkans is “nearly impossible without conflict”. The region is usually regarded from the outside as a multicultural sum of mutually exclusive identities, whose authenticity can be preserved only via mutual prejudice manifested as fake respect for the other.

“Thinking of Europe without thinking”: Slovenian linguist and anthropologist Tanja Petrovic points out that Europe’s political and economic union has assumed the continent’s appellative. While the Balkans have historically been a natural part of Europe, as is often pointed out by politicians in the EU, they are still far from being considered European. Instead, Balkan Europeanization is seen as a process that requires constant supervision from outside.

Universities: Catalan sociologist Alícia Villar looks at the transformation of European universities in recent decades. While democratization of access has multiplied the number of students and institutions, the challenges faced by the university in the twenty-first century won’t be met unless student diversity is also taken into account.

The full table of contents of L’Espill 37 (2011)

Note to our readers: The next Eurozine Review will go out on 3 August.

Published 6 July 2011

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


recommended articles