Social controls

Mar 132013

Those of my fellow conservatives who think winning elections will fix things should read this article by Ivan Krastev, and ponder.

The nature of any political regime for self-correction is its major characteristic and it is the capacity of self-correction and public accountability that it is at the heart of any democratic advantage. There are now many in Kremlin who, on the contrary, think that excessive democratisation has been responsible for many of the problems that new country faces. Many envy ‘true’ Chinese authoritarianism. But the truth is that in many of its practices China is more democratic than Russia, and its decision-making is undoubtedly superior. Over the last two decades, when China was busy with capacity building, Russia seems to have been pre-occupied with incapacity hiding. When Western commentators try to make sense of the different performance of the new authoritarians, they would well advised to look beyond formal institutional design.

via Is China more democratic than Russia? | openDemocracy.

Jun 092011

Here’s what I wrote as a comment at Front Porch Republic about the case of Nick’s Organic Farm.   Well, it’s what I would have written if I had gone back and edited my comments one more time:

Huge believer in private property rights here.  I would not support any intervention to interfere with that. I also question the question the wisdom of establishing an organic farm on leased land.

However, it was done. And what you have here is a quasi-governmental entity selling to a governmental entity. Putting public pressure on corporations like that is entirely appropriate. Local community pressure is even better. Just because it’s legal for this transaction to take place doesn’t mean people have to approve of it or accept it.

I could see myself joining in the campaign to save the farm. It reminds me that all too often, new rural schools are built not in town, not as part of the community, but out in the country on prime farm land, where the students are separated from the life of the community. Much of the reason for despoiling these vast portions of the landscape is to provide parking for buses, teachers, and students. Especially for students. We consolidate local schools into huge units, destroying family and community in the process, then take over vast expanses of countryside to build schools with huge asphalt parking lots where students can travel great distances to learn how to be critical of their parents for being poor stewards of the environment and for not supporting cap ‘n trade.

I would be glad to join in bringing public pressure to bear against those practices, too, though local pressure is better than outsider pressure.

Here’s a photo from 7 August 2005, at a place where this process was taking place.   Gull Creek used to form a pretty little valley.   I had always liked the way the valley opened up into an alluvial floodplain, good for cropland, just as it reached the Kalamazoo River valley.    But now it has been taken over by a school and parking lots.  The old school was in town; this one is out in the country.


May 262011

My comment on what we should do about doctors and other health care professionals who are bullies, as described in an item in the WSJ Health Care Blog titled, “Reader Consult:  Does the Culture of Medicine Enable Bad Behavior?

I think we should bully them into behaving better.  Demand that they do better.  Demean them in public. Throw things at them — chairs, the law, etc.


Feb 082008

History News Network has reproduced an article by a Paul Mirengoff titled, “Obama’s a masked man.” Mirengoff likes what he’s read of Shelby Steele’s book, “A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win.”

Steele views Obama as the first black politician to ride the strategy of “bargaining” to great success. For Steele, bargaining is one of two approaches blacks have used as a “mask” in order to offset the power differential between blacks and whites. He considers Louis Armstrong the first great bargainer with white America. Armstrong’s deal was, I will entertain you without pretending to be your equal. His mask, partly borrowed from the minstrel tradition, included the famous smile and laughter.

Today the bargain that works is this: I will presume that you’re not a racist and by loving me you’ll show that my presumption is correct. Blacks who offer this bargain are betting on white decency, and whites love this.

For Steele, bargainers include Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods (to some extent), and best of all Oprah Winfrey. The power of the bargain, which is founded on white Americas overwhelming desire to get beyond racism, is capable of creating “iconic Negroes.” It confers an almost magical quality on its best practitioners, such as Oprah. This is manifested in the ability to sell almost any product to whites.

Whatever the merits of whatever “bargain” it is that Obama is making, he can hardly be said to be the first black politican to do it. A case can be made that all politicians do it. George Washington obsessed over his “character,” by which he meant his public persona. And so on, with everyone else.  It’s part of the bargaining process between politician and public.

However, I think historians usually use the term “negotiated” rather than “bargaining.” I may be treading in deep water way over my head here, having had no formal education on this topic, but I run into this concept all the time in historical writing.  And a little googling found me a wiki article about “Negotiated Order Theory” in which there is this statement:

As Strauss (1978: ix) has suggested, even the most repressive of social orders are inconceivable without some form of negotiation. In such total institutions as maximum security prisons, staff and inmates may negotiate their own interpretation of the social order, often constructing an alternative that may be just as formal, although tacit, as that it replaces. The concept of negotiated order provides a useful way of displaying how such social orders emerge and become processed in the mesostructure of organizational life.

Negotiated order is the consequence of give-nd-take interaction within settings predefined by broader, and usually more formal, rules, norms, laws, or expectations, in order to secure preferred ends (or “stakes”).

“The negotiated order on any given day could be conceived of as the sum total of the organization’s rules and policies, along with whatever agreements, understandings, pacts, contracts, and other working arrangements currently obtained” (Strauss, 1978: 5-6).

In other words, all political relationships are negotiated (or bargained) relationships, even those among the most unequal of parties.    It’s hardly fair to put down Barak Obama for doing what everyone else has to do, too.

(I was amused by the other commenter besides myself, though, when she used religious language to describe the man:  “one will soon realize that it is not only Obama’s face and voice that appeal almost universally to everyone but also the content of his spoken discourse, which can transfigure us all.”)

Jan 202008

When I say that the next president will be Hillary Clinton, even though s/he won’t necessarily be named Hillary and may even be a Republican, I’m trying to make a point somewhat like John Andrews made in this article, “Who’s President Isn’t the Main Thing.”

He makes many good points, but I’ll quote this one because it’s especially relevant to the issue of Ezra Levant vs the Alberta Human Rights Commission:

Freedom won’t work unless enough of us practice four essentials of citizenship, writes Thomas Krannawitter of the Claremont Institute. We need self-assertion to defend our liberties, self-restraint to behave responsibly, self-reliance to avert dependency, and civic knowledge to participate constructively.

What’s more important than who the next president is is who we are. Are we going to be people like Ezra Levant, or people like his persecutors on the Human Rights Commission. It could go either way. And whichever type predominates will determine what a president can and will do. As Andrews said, “Whoever wins will govern largely between the 40-yard lines.” People like Levant can help determine where those yardline markers are located.

Although this blog is very political, you won’t see a lot about electoral politics here. You especially won’t find a lot about vote counts and predictions of who might win what state. Electoral politics are mostly boring to me. What I like are real politics of the kind John Andrews is discussing.

Sep 212007

The Daily Eudemon talks about the slippery slope:

New hero: A 72-year-old man with a wine purchase refuses to produce proof that he’s 21 years old. I understand the policy: “If we don’t card everyone, we end up on a slippery slope. Do we not card the 40-year-old? The 30-year-old? Eventually, we’ll end up making judgment calls and offending people. We might even discriminate!”

Well, deal with it in a rational manner. What the slippery slope chanters don’t realize is, everything is a slippery slope: Anything not reigned in with moderation can go too far. What the haters of discrimination don’t realize is, everyday life is full of discrimination: judgment calls, nuanced calls, irrational calls, emotional calls, reflex calls. People make simple decisions that are so complex in their formulation that we couldn’t flowchart them on movie screen, and 99% of people make these decisions just fine. The other 1% are the mentally addled, and they can’t hold down a job. If a person is mentally normal enough to hold down a job, he ought to be given the discretion to decide that a 72-year-old man is over age 20.

This reminds me of how school boards get all bureaucratic about behavior control. They come up with bureaucratic rules to apply district wide about “1st offense we do this, 2nd offense we do that,” or they come up with a zero tolerance policy about inappropriate touching and end up sending seventh graders off to jail for butt-swapping.

It seems that’s what we get when our schools too large and centralized. We can no longer trust teachers and principals to use their good judgment because they are beyond the social controls of the local communities. So we have no choice but to get all bureaucratic and formulaistic in the way we run the places.

As for the situation in the U.K., I blame it on the welfare-police state, for similar reasons. And I agree with the Daily Eudemon — the resistor is a hero.

Aug 282007

The WSJ tells about controversy in Japan over new trash rules:

Talking Trash: Tokyo residents feud over controversial garbage rules

It’s about how Tokyo will run out of landfill space in 30 years. The city is trying to extend that time by changing the rules about what trash can be incinerated in the city incinerators. Rules are changing for residents about how they should sort their trash. For example, things such as styrofoam food containers were in the past supposed to go in the bags destined for the landfill; now residents are increasingly encouraged to put them in the bags to be incinerated.

The above headline misses the really interesting point though. Of course there is controversy over this. There are environmental issues, and there is the fact that old customs die hard. But what was interesting to me was the method of social control:

There are no fines to punish offenders. That’s because Tokyo can rely on neighbors’ ire to keep everyone in check. Sanitation workers can refuse to collect garbage that is improperly separated or taken out on the wrong day or left in the wrong place. This adds to the shame of the culprit, since neighbors will see that the bag wasn’t collected that day.

According to Ryouichi Sawachi, a 62-year-old maintenance man in charge of trash at a Tokyo apartment complex, a messy communal area sends a message that residents don’t obey the rules, which can lead to crime and property devaluation. “A person’s morality is really tested when it comes to disposal of trash,” Mr. Sawachi says.

Punishment takes various forms. When 27-year-old apparel maker Asami Sakurai moved to Tokyo from Yokohama in 2004, she didn’t know which days to take out her burnable and nonburnable trash. So a neighbor showed her, laying a bag full of banana peels, toilet-paper rolls and soggy rice cakes out neatly…on Ms. Sakurai’s front doorstep.

This is different. Traditionally people have left small towns and villages to go to the city to get away from the neighbors. Where it takes a village to raise a child, the adult children want to go someplace where they don’t have the whole village playing parent. So they go off to the city at the first opportunity.

But here, one of the most densely crowded cities in the world is a place where the neighbors are expected to mind each other’s business. Have the rules about village vs city always been different in Japan than in the west? Or is it more the case that when population density increases beyond a certain point, the city needs to become a village again?