The Mars Trilogy – Good Sociology Novels!

I thought I’d take the unusual step of plugging a series of novels in this post….

The ‘Mars Trilogy’ by Kim Stanley Robinson (1990s) may well be a work of science fiction, but it’s full of sociological themes. I guess you’d call the genre something like ‘ecological science fiction’ – a lot of his novels are set in a future in which ecological limits play a major role in the story-lines, and the characters, like it or not, cannot escape such limits. Similarly, his novels, although science fiction, tend to imagine a world where corporate capitalism still remains the dominant power in society.

I actually first came across the author thanks to a quote by Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’, I guess it’s no surprise to find her linking to him, given that capitalism and climate change is her bag too.

In this particular series of novels (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) – the story follows Earth’s settlement of Mars, which starts with the ‘first hundred’ leaving for Mars and establishing a colony, soon to be followed by millions of other settlers.

The novels span about a couple of hundred years, and in the first novel (Red Mars) there’s lots of discussion among the first hundred about how to organise the environmental, social and economic aspects of ‘life on mars’.

A recurring theme is whether they should terraform the planet to make it suitable for human habitation – with views on the matter ranging between ‘Reds’ who want to leave Mars as it is and for humans to just live in ‘tents’, to the fullest supporters of terraforming, who want to turn the environment into one with liquid seas and breathable air.

Robinson also introduces the concept of ‘Aeroforming’ – a small group of the original settlers end up going ‘religious’ believing that the planet and themselves and their children need to co-evolve in a spiritual mutual-evolutionary process, and at various stages throughout the novel, Robinson comes back to the idea that New Mars needs some kind of religion to bind all of the disparate elements together.

Another major theme in the novels is the power of Transnational Corporations – which have become so powerful they effectively control the UN in the early stages of the of novels, but by the end they have effectively taken over whole countries on earth (because of bailing them out of their debts, sound familiar?).

The Transnationals basically see Mars as a place from which to extract resources to be shipped back to Earth, and idea which, in the second novel, is resisted by the third and fourth generation ‘Martians’ (who have never been to Earth) who have grown up in a world run largely on the basis of a ‘gift economy’ (made possible mainly by technological advances) rather than a profit economy.

Over the course of the novels, there are various conflicts between the TNCs, who have their own armed security forces, supported by various countries on Earth (rather than the other way around!) and the Martians, who actually reject the concept of ‘revolution’ because of it’s tainted history on Earth, developing a more selective and targeted, scientifically informed approach to getting rid of the TNCs.

Anyway, that’s a brief summary of some of the political and sociological themes in the novel, which also touches on issues of ageing (early on a treatment is invented that allows people to live well, well beyond 100 years); the issue of global warming (one key event on Earth is the collapse of a major Antarctic Ice Shelf) and obviously the role of technology in human relations (Robinson imagines it as mainly a liberating force); metaphysics (science vs religious frames of knowing the world); and the good old issue of cosmpolitanism (how can different cultures get along!?)

If you’re looking for sci-fi that imagines completely different futures, this isn’t it (so maybe it’s not actually sci-fi?), but if you want something that’s set in a future that seems like it’s a distinct possibility and in doing so reflects on many of the problems we face today, it’s a great read.

Just one criticism – each book is about 700 pages long, and each book IMO would benefit from loosing about 100 pages: too much unnecessary time is spent in ‘characters heads’ while adding little to the plot.

 

 

Why Intelligence Doesn’t Explain Success

A summary of Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ chapter 3: The Trouble With Genius, Part 1.

Over the past Decade, Chris Langan has become the public face of genius in American life. He has an IQ of 195, compared to Einstein who had an IQ of 150 and the average of 100.

Langan was a ‘child genius’ – he was speaking at 6 months of age, and taught himself to read at three. He didn’t attend school very much but could ace any test after cramming a semester’s worth of text books for 2 days.

He was also something of a polyglot – he was interested in maths and physics, but also languages, philosophy and he could sketch a picture of something for fun which ‘looked like a photograph’ according to his brother.

2

Just after WW1, Lewis Terman, a young professor of psychology met a remarkable boy named Henry Cowell, who, although unschooled since 7, achieved an IQ score of above 140, near genius level.  This made Terman wonder how many other undiscovered geniuses there were out there.

In 1921 Terman decided to make the study of the gifted his lifes work. Through a series of 1Q tests administered in elementary schools to 250 000 students, he identified 1470 children whose IQs were above 140, and who became known as the ‘Termites’ and were to be the subjects of the most famous psychological study in history.

For the rest of his life, Terman watched over his charges – they were tracked and tested, measured and analysed and pretty much every milestone of their future educational and professional lives were recorded in thick red volumes entitled ‘Genetic Studies of Genius’.  Terman even wrote his ‘Termites’ letters of recommendation for jobs, and as his subjects grew older he issued updates on their progress – pointing out that in pretty much every field of expertise, you would find a Termite heading to the top of it – he fully believed that these 1470 would be the future elite of America.

‘There is nothing about an individual as important as his IQ, except possibly his morals’ Terman once wrote, believing that identifying IQ-based talent and nourishing it was the best way to find our future leaders.

Today, many of Terman’s ideas remain central to the way we think about success – schools measure IQ, we have gifted programmes and tech companies also measure cognitive ability.

We tend to be in awe of Geniuses – they seem to be the purest of ‘outliers’ – so far ahead of the rest of us genetically that nothing can hold them back, and we tend to listen to people like Terman who suggest that sheer brute intelligence is the most significant thing in determining the success of the individual.

However, Gladwell suggests that Terman was wrong about his termites – he made an error because he didn’t understand what a real outlier was.

3

Over the years an enormous amount of research has been done in an attempt to determine how a person’s performance in an IQ test translates to real life success.

People at the bottom, who get a score of 7, are considered mentally disabled. A score of 100 is average, and in order to handle a college graduate programme, you’ll probably need a score of 1115.

In general the higher your IQ score then the more education you’ll get and the more money you’ll make.

However, there is also such a thing as an ‘IQ threshold’ – it has been amply proved that someone who has an IQ of 120 can think better than someone with an IQ of 100, and the person with higher IQ will, on average, be more successful in education and life more generally, but once you get to the 130 threshold, the relationship breaks down – A scientist with an IQ of 180 is just as likely to win a Nobel Prize as one whose IQ is 130.

In other words, if you have an IQ of 130, you have reached the ‘threshold’ where you are good enough to excel in your field – someone with an IQ 50% higher than yours will not be ‘50%’ more successful, and you basically have an equal chance of excelling as your peers with slightly, or significantly (but not significantly!) higher IQs than yours.

Unfortunately, the idea that IQ has a threshold goes against our intuition, we tend to think that the Nobel Prize Winners are the ones like Chris Langan, the exclusive people who have very high IQs – but this is simply not the case, someone with an IQ of 130 is just as likely to become the top of their field as someone with an IQ of 180.

With this knowledge in mind, the psychologist Barry Schwartz recently proposed that elite schools give up their complex admissions processes and simply hold a lottery for everyone above ‘the threshold’ – create two categories: those who are good enough and those who are not, and put the names of the former into a hat.

Schwartz accepts the fact that his idea will probably never be accepted, but Gladwell thinks he’s right.

This section ends by making the case for affirmative action – the University of Michigan relaxes its entry criteria for minority students, which brings their ethnic intake up to 10% (it’s estimated that without the affirmative action, the figure would be 3%.

The University conducted a study to see how successful these students were years after graduating, and found that they were just as successful as their white peers. The reason: because even though they had lower high-school scores than their white peers, those scores were still above the threshold.

5.

Given that there is a threshold for intelligence, it must be other things that determine which of those with IQs over 130 go on to be remarkably successful – one such thing may well be their ability to think ‘divergently’.

One type of divergence test is to get people to think of as many different uses of an object as possible, which is a measure of creativity, and some people with high IQs are very good at this, others are very bad at it.

This might well explain why some of those with high IQs do better than others.

Another analogy Gladwell uses here is taken from Basketball – once you’re 6,2, you’re tall enough to make it to major league basketball, after that, it’s things like agility that determine who the very best are.

5.

To go back to Terman’s Termites, by the time they reached adulthood, his early predictions about their future success had been proved wrong – some had gone on to be successful, most had good, but not outstanding careers, while others were stuck in pretty average jobs.

By volume 4 of his study, Terman concluded that the link between intelligence and success was not at all clear.

In a damming study by sociologists Pitirim Sorokin, Sorokin argued that if Terman had selected a group of children at random and followed them through to adulthood, then you’d have exactly the same distribution of successful  adults and those in ordinary careers.

So what all of this tells us is that having a large IQ is no sufficient to explain why people do well in life, we need to know a lot more about them than that.

Comments

On the selection process to elite education institutions

A question you might want to consider is this: If such rigid selection by ability is not necessary for students to benefit from an elite education, then why do elite institutions spend so much effort ‘selecting’?

Could it be that having control over the selection process allows them to select out people ‘not like them’ – i.e. the working classes who are ‘intelligent enough’ but haven’t been hot-housed by independent schools to get the very top grades???

On being ‘good enough’

It’s interesting to hear talk of ‘being good enough’ to benefit from an certain level of education given that you hardly ever hear the phrase ‘good enough’ in the context of education – the discourse is much more about aspiring to be better, it’s as if, in a marketised system, there is no such thing as ‘good enough’, possibly because the very concept of settling for ‘good enough’ would stifle competition.

The 10,000 Hour Rule

The 10, 000 Hour Rule is the theory that it takes 10 000 hours of practice to become an expert in something – and seems to be most frequently applied to the fields of sport and music.

Below is a summary of Malcolm Caldwell’s perspective on the 10, 000 hour rule – he basically argues that it does seem to be true that you need 10, 000 hours to become a world-leader in any given field, but you also have to be extremely lucky and/ or privileged in some way to have the opportunities which give you the time to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice.

1. 

The University of Michigan opened its new Computer Center in 1971… its mainframe computers stood in the middle of a vast white room looking like something out the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Off to the side were dozens of keypunch machines – what passed in those days as computer terminals. In 1971, this was state of the art and the University of Michigan had one of the most advanced computer science programmes in the world. The most famous student who passed through this was a gawky teenager named Bill Joy who came to the Center the year it opened when he was 16. From that point on, the Computer Center was his life.

Bill Joy 2017.jpeg
Bill Joy in 2017

In 1975 he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Berkeley, where he rewrote UNIX in collaboration with others, which remains the main operating system on literally millions of computers around the world today, and then went on to co-found Sun Micro-systems where he rewrote JAVA.

Joy is sometimes called the Edison of the Internet, and is one of the most influential people in computing history.

The story of Bill Joy is normally told as one in which he existed in a pure meritocracy – because in a new tech field, there was no old-boy network and the field was open, all participants being judge on their talents…. It was a world where the best men won, and Joy was clearly one of those best men.

It would be easier to accept this story if one hadn’t have already have looked at the Hockey stats… whose story was also supposed to be a pure meritocracy. Only it wasn’t, it was a story of how outliers in a particular field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage.

Is it possible that these same factors work in the world of computing as well?

2

For many years psychologists have been involved in a debate over whether innate talent exists. This is something that most people accept – success = innate talent + preparation,  but the problem with the concept of innate talent, is that the more psychologists look at it, the bigger role that preparation seems to play.

Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who divided violinists at Berlins’ elite Academy of Music up into three groups – those with the potential to become world class soloists, those who were judged to be merely good, and those who were unlikely to ever play professionally – they were asked a simple question – since you first picked up a violin, how many hours have you practiced?

The answer was that early on the practice regimes were the same, but when the students were around the age of eight, real differences began to emerge. By the age of twenty, the elite students had amassed a total of 10 000 hours, the good students 8000, and the future music teachers only 4000 hours.

10 000 hour rule.jpg

Ericsson also found that there were no people who simply coasted without practicing, and no grinds – students who tried but got nowhere, so he simply concluded that once you look at just the ‘elite students’ what differentiates the best students from the ordinary is simply the amount of practice they have amassed.

This pattern has been found among musicians, sports stars and grand-masters at chess.

This idea that to become an expert requires a critical mass of practice hours surfaces again and again, so much so that the magic number of 10 000 hours to be an expert has emerged.

Practice is the thing that makes you good – and the interesting thing about it is that it is an enormous amount of time….And if you’re a hockey player born young, the fact that you’re deselected early on means you’re unlikely to be in an environment where you’re going to get 10 000 practice before you’re 17, and  If your poor, you simply can’t fit it in the hours because you’ll probably need to work.

3.

While it is true that Bill Joy had an enormous aptitude for maths, he was also lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to get in 10 000 hours of programming practice, which was basically just down to luck.

Firstly, he was lucky enough to be at Michigan University at a time when that was pretty much the only place in the world which had a computer center in which programming had evolved to a ‘time sharing system’ – where the computers could handle more than one task at once, so multiple people could programme at the same time, rather than the old ‘punch card system’ in which it took hours of preparation to get in a few minutes of programming.

Secondly, he was lucky enough that the university kept the computer center open all night, which allowed him to programme 8-10 hours a day.

Thirdly, the computer center charged for people to use it, but a bug in the programme allowed him (and many others) to programme for free.

So yes, Joy was talented and put in the effort, but he also needed a whole of lot fortunes of circumstance  to come together so that he could amass his 10 000 hours of practice – which meant that by the time he was in his third year at Berkeley he was up to the task of rewriting UNX.

NB Joy hadn’t even gone to Michigan to study computing, but maths and engineering, he was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

4.

Is the 10 000 rule a general rule of success?

The Beatles came to America in 1964, by which time they had really ‘made it’. However, they had known each other for a long time before fame: Lennon and McCartney first met in 1957.

The Beatles.jpg

Interviews with The Beatles reveal that what really made them was their experience of playing in strip clubs in Hamburg where they were required to play 8 hours a night and 7 days a week.  They weren’t able to just do their best numbers, they had to learn a lot of covers, and, being foreign, they had to put more energy into their routines to come across effectively.

Just as with Bill Joy, it was sheer luck that got The Beatles their Hamburg experience – a particular promotor from Germany was in London scouting for bands, and met a guy from Liverpool who knew of The Beatles, just randomly in a bar in Soho – it was this connection that did for them.

Between 1960 and 1962, they played for a total of 270 nights in Hamburg – they went out average and came back uniquely excellent – no one else sounded like them.

By 1964, The Beatles had amassed a total of 1200 live performances, a figure which most professional bands struggle to achieve in their entire careers.

Bill Gates’ story is also told as one of individual grit – Brilliant young math whiz discovers computer programming and drops out of Harvard to form a little company called Microsoft… and so on.

Bill Gates.jpg

But let’s dig a little deeper… and there a shed loads of social factors from which Gates benefited…

  1. Gate’s father was a wealthy lawyer in Seattle and his mother the daughter of a well-to-do banker. They put him into the elite independent Lakeside School in grade 7.
  2. In 1968, the school set up a computer club, with money from the mother’s annual junks sale ($3000), unusually, they installed an ASR-33 Teletype which allowed Gates (who joined the club) to do real time programming in 1968, which was practically unheard of.
  3. Washington University set up a Computer Centre Corporation, and one of the founders of the firm had a son at Lakeside, and Gates was networked into being able to test out their software at weekends for free.
  4. This first firm went bankrupt, but another company, ISI established and need someone to write Payroll software – Gates took advantage of that opportunity
  5. Gates happened to live within walking distance of Washington State Univeristy
  6. WSU had free computer time between 3 and 6 a.m. that Gates took advantage of.
  7. A power station in Washington State needed people to write software, the only people with the skills in the area were the kids from Lakeside.
  8. Lakeside school allowed Gates (and some others) to go write software for that power station under the guise of an ‘independent project’.

All of the above opportunities gave Gates time to practice programming – by the time he dropped out of Harvard, he was way past 10 000 hours.

6.

What truly distinguishes Bill Joy, Bill Gates and The Beatles is not their extra-ordinary talent and effort (although all three cases had both), but rather their extraordinary opportunities…. This seems to be the rule rather than the exception with software engineers and rock stars.

Another examples of this ‘extra-ordinary’ opportunity thesis is revealed if we analyse the birth dates of the richest 75 people in history.

An astonishing 14 people on the list are American born, and born within 9 years of each other – thousands of years of human history, hundreds of countries, and 20% of the richest are born in one generation in one country.

What’s going on here? In the 1860s and 70s the American economy went through one the biggest expansions in its history: it is when the railroads were built, when Wall Street emerged and when industrialization started in earnest. However, if you were born in the late 1820s, you were too old: your mind set was shaped by pre-civil war paradigms, if you were born in the late 1840s, you missed it!

We can do the same analysis with people like Bill Joy and Bill Gates.

If you talk to veterans of Silicon Valley, they’ll tell you that the most important date in the history of the personal computer revolution was January 1975 when the first DIY computer kit, the Altair 8800, was released at a sale price of $397, a minicomputer kit to rival commercial models. This was the year when personal home computing became available to the majority of people.

If you were too old in 1975, born before 1952, then you’d already have a job at IBM, and have a hard time making the transition to the ‘new world’ and the possibilities for transformation that were opening up.  You’d be of an age in in 1975 where you’re established computer career meant it was just comfortable to stay put.

If you were born after 1958, then you were too young to get your foot in the door when this change took place.

Ideally you would have been born in 1954 or 1955, and just look….

  • Bill Gates – October 28th, 1955
  • Paul Allen, third richest man at Microsoft – Jan 21st 1953
  • Steve Ballmer, the cofounder of Apple computer, March 24 1956.
  • Steve Jobs – February 24, 1955.
  • Bill Joy – Nov 8th

 

 

The Mathew Effect: A Summary of ‘Outliers’ Chapter One.

Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) by Malcom Gladwell is a great work of sociology, so I thought it’s worth summarizing in some depth. The gist of the book is that it’s not exceptional individual talent which explains success, but rather the exceptionally unusual opportunities which successful individuals stumble upon.

Chapter One: The Mathew Effect

Gladwell sets the scene to this chapter by painting a picture of the Tigers and the Giants competing for victory in the  Memorial League hockey cup –the two best teams in the hockey league chock full of the future stars of league hockey.

There is a general, strong belief that Canadian hockey leagues are organised as a meritocracy. Thousands of children start playing hockey at ‘novice’ level before Kindergarten. From that point on there are leagues for every age and class and at each of these levels the players are evaluated, sifted and groomed for the next level, all the way up to Junior memorial league A. If you reach that league, and especially if your team ends up competing in the final of the memorial league cup, then you are among the very best hockey players in the country.

It is generally believed that getting into these top leagues is a matter of individual merit – a combination of ability and effort. The belief is that it does no matter who your parents are, how much money they have, where you live, or who you know, anyone with enough raw talent who is prepared to put in the effort will be picked up by talent scouts relatively early on and then groomed successfully for progression.

Players are judged by the own performance, and progress on their individual merit… or do they?

2.

This book is going to introduce you to all sorts of successful people, and argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we tend to make sense of success.

The question we tend to ask about such people is ‘what are they like’? How intelligent are they? What lifestyles do they have, what are their special qualities? We tend to assume that it is those personal qualities which get them to the top.

In the numerous biographies published every year by the celebrities/ entrepreneurs etc. the story of their success is basically the same – they came from modest backgrounds and through their own grit and determination struggled to the top.

These explanations of success don’t work – the people who rise to the tops of their fields are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways that others cannot.

It is not enough to ask ‘what are successful people like’, it is only by asking ‘where are they from’ that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.

3.

In the mid 1980s a Canadian psychologist names Roger Barnsley first drew attention to the importance of relative age in national hockey leagues.

Barnsley found what he called ‘the iron law of Canadian hockey’ = in any elite group of hockey players – the very best of the best – 40% of the players will have been born between January and March, 30% between April and June, 20% between July and September and 10% between October and December.

4.

The explanation for this is quite simple – the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1. A boy who turns 10 on January 2nd could effectively be playing against a boy who won’t turn 10 until the end of the year – and at that age, a 12 month gap represents a huge difference in physical maturity.

Coaches start to select players for their travelling ‘rep squads’ at the age of 9 or 10 – and they will tend to see as more impressive those players who are bigger and better coordinated, i.e. those born in January who have a 12 month head start on those born in December.

Those who are selected will then have better coaching, practice 2-3 times as much and play 2-3 times as many games compared to those left behind in the local leagues, and after a few years of this, by the time they are 13, the ‘chosen ones’ are significantly better because of this extra coaching and game time.

Wherever you get sever age cutoffs like this, and where you select, stream and differentiate, you end up giving a huge boost to those closest to that age cut off.

In the English football league where the cutoff is September 1st, at one point in the 1990s there were 288 players born between September and November and only 136 players born between June and August.

A similar pattern is found in American baseball, but not so much in American Football, because the age cutoff is not so severe.

The exact same biases also show up in areas of much more consequence, like education. Parents with children born at the end of the calendar year often think about holding their children back, but they don’t, because they think the relative disadvantage they face because of their age disappears over time, but the stats suggest this isn’t the case.

Two economists – Bedard and Dhuey looked at the relationship between age and TIMSS (math and science tests) scores, which many four year olds do around the world. They found that among fourth graders, the oldest children scored somewhere between four and twelve percentile points higher than the younger children – a huge effect: If you take the two opposite ends, the oldest will score in the 80th percentile, the youngest in the 68th percentile, the difference between getting on to a GT programme or not.

Dhuey says that as a result of early testing, teachers confuse maturity with ability – it’s the oldest kids getting put in the advanced reading groups. The only country where this doesn’t happen is Denmark, where they hold off ability streaming until the age of 10.

They found that similar trends persist until college in the USA

5.

What the above examples tell us is that opportunity plays a critical role in individual success.

Robert Merton called the above effect the ‘Mathew Effect’ – ‘for unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from he that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

It is those who are successful who are given the most special opportunities – the rich with their tax breaks, and the biggest (oldest) kids with their access to coaching programmes, as well as the older kids who get access to the Gifted and Talented programmes. These opportunities, especially early on in life, gives these people an edge, which makes them more likely to be successful, which opens up another opportunity, and so on…

Caldwell also says these systems aren’t especially efficient, as we’re blocking the advancement of the lower half of the age cohort.

Because we profoundly individualize success, we miss opportunities to lift those born later up onto the higher rungs. We make rules that frustrate achievement for those born later. We are far too in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail… We overlook just how large a role society plays in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.

Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’ – A Summary of the Preface

It may sound odd doing a summary of a preface, but there is a lot of heavy stuff in here….

According to Bauman ‘Sociology can help us link our individual decisions and actions to the deeper cause of our troubles and fears – to the way we live, to the conditions under which we act, to the socially drawn limits of our ambition and imagination.’

This book just does this by exploring how Individualisation has become our fate, and by reminding us that if our anxieties are to be addressed, they must be addressed collectively, true to their social, not individual nature.

Lives Told and Stories Lived – An Overture

Bauman begins with Ernest Becker’s denial of death in which Becker suggests that society is ‘a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning’ and that ‘Everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny his grotesque fate’ (his eventual death).

He now goes back to Durkheim and argues that connecting oneself to society does not liberate the individual from nature, rather it liberates one from having to think about one’s nature and that genuine freedom comes from exorcising the spectre of mortality (which is ever present when close to nature) by linking oneself to (a more complex) society. It is through society that one tastes immortality – you become part of something which was there before you were born, and which will continue after you die.

(At the individual level) knowledge of mortality triggers the desire for transcendence – and this takes two forms – either the desire to leave something behind, a lasting trace of yourself, or the desire to live gloriously now. There is an energy (?) in this desire which society feeds off – it capitalises on this desire by providing credible objects of satisfaction which individuals then spend time pursuing.

The problem with the economy of death transcendence, as with all economies, is that the strategies on offer are scarce – and so there must be limits to how resources can be used. The main purpose of a life strategy (which involve the search for meaning) is to avoid the realisation of the truth of one’s own mortality, and given that all the various life- strategies fall short of this ultimate need-satisfaction it is impossible to call one strategy correct or incorrect.

Two consequences happen as a result.. Firstly, there is the continuous invention of new life-strategies – industries are forever coming up with new strategies for death-denial. Secondly some people are able to captalise on the energy of the quest of death-denial and this is where we get cultural capital and hierarchy from.

So to date Bauman seems to be suggesting that there is a psychological need to escape facing up to our own mortality, and this is where society comes from. However because any life-strategy we adopt in the attempt to escape death is doomed to failure because all such strategies merely mask the truth of our own mortality which lurks in the background. Because of this, in truth, all such strategies are equally as valid (or equally as invalid) as each other. At the social level this then results in two things – a continues stream of new and improved life-strategies on offer to us from industry and secondly the emergence of cultural capital as those who are able to do so define their own life-strategies as superior which is where hierarchy comes from (and I guess this claiming of mythical superiority is also part and parcel of certain life-strategies of death-denial).

Pause for breath…. Bauman now goes on to say that…

However, just because all life-strategies are far from the truth of death-denial, this does not mean that all miss the targets by the same margin.

Some life-strategies on offer are the result of what Bauman calls ‘surplus manipulation’ of the desire to deny death.  These are at their most vicious when they are biographical solutions to systemic contradictions (following Beck) and rest on the fake-premise that self-inadequacy is the root cause of one’s anxiety and that the individual needs to look to themselves to solve this.

The result of this is the denial of a collective solution to one’s problems and the lonely struggle with a task which many lack the resources to perform alone which in turn leads to The result is self-censure, self-disparagement, and violence and torture against one’s own body.

I think the logic at work here is (a) Society is an invention which helps us deny death, however (b) in the post-modern age society falls apart – we find it harder and/ or it is less-rational to forge the kind of lasting bonds which will help us collectively deny-death (or strive for immortality to put in a positive phraseology) this results in (c) anxious individuals who are then (d) told by certain people in society (the elite – see below) that they need to find biographical solutions towards immortality (this is the surplus manipulation bit) but in reality this is impossible and so (e) this results in them killing or harming their social selves or actual physical bodies.

Bauman seems to be saying that, in the post-modern age some people, free of society, are thrown back on themselves, their true nature, and can’t handle it, they cannot deny-death alone, and so they kill themselves.

Bauman then goes on to say….

If we look at the whole life-story’ most of are simply not able to practice agency (articulation) – we are not free to simply construct of one set of relations out of another or redefine the context in which life is created. We may be able to do this in the realm of fashion or culture more generally, but not so with all aspects of of our lives.

To rephrases Marx – ‘People make their lives but not under conditions of their choice.’ It may be that we are all story tellers today, we all exercise reflexivity, but life is a game in which the rules of the game, the content of the pack and the way they are shuffled is not examined, rarely talked about.

The problem is that the individualisation narrative seems to assume that everything we do in our whole life is a matter of the choices we have made. This is, in fact, a narrative that only works for the elite who do have lots of choice – they have resources and are mobile and can use opportunities in today’s mobile age to their advantage.

This narrative, in fact, works for the elite, it is ideological – if everyone thinks everything is open to choice and their fate is their fault, this becomes a nice control mechanism – you don’t need panopticons when people are always trying trying trying and choosing choosing choosing.

Furthermore, what is often precluded in the individualised age are strategies which involve acting together to change the broader social conditions, which just further perpetuates the problem.

In other words if we wish to reduce human suffering and allow individuals the opportunity to get back to collectively denying their own death (or constructing their immortality) then people need to feel as if they can constitute society, at the moment the ideology of the biographical narrative serves to prevent people from realising this.

This book seems to aim to be a contribution towards bringing about greater genuine articulation (so it’s a shame you need to be educated well beyond graduate level to appreciate it)…..

As Bauman says towards the end of the chapter… ‘Genuine articulation is a human right but perform the task and the exercise the right in full we need all the assistance we can get – and sociologists can help in this by recording and mapping the crucial parts of the web of interconnections and dependencies which are kept hidden or stay invisible from the point of individual experience. Sociology is itself a story – but the message of Sociology is that there are more ways of living a life than is suggested by the stories which each one of us tells.’

Overall Comment

Very interesting to see Bauman starting with Becker – although he doesn’t seem to go back to him at the end of the section, so I really think he’s pushing the boat out a bit too far in terms of how much he tries to include in this introductory paragraph. It doesn’t hold together that well, and you have to read things into it to an extent to complete it, maybe that’s the point?

I’m not comfortable with the idea that society denying-death is OK because it is rational, and that our goal should be to get back to a situation where individuals are free to construct society and thereby get back to affirming themselves and thus denying their own death. This just strikes me as the equivalent of papering over the cracks of a deeper human suffering which The Buddha realised 3000 years ago.

There’s probably an interesting Buddhist response to this – but I’ll post that up when it emerges, which isn’t now, unless someone else gets there first. 

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’ (part 1/3)

Chapter One  – The Rise and Fall of Labour

This chapter explains that the decline of the labour movement is due the extraterritorial power of Capital.

The industrial revolution led to labour being uprooted from its age old link to nature and then becoming tied to capital in commodity form, thus it could be bought and exchanged. In the era of heavy modernity, where profit derived from Fordist/ Taylorist big scale heavy production, capital and labour were dependent on each other for their well-being and reproduction because they were rooted in place,  hence the historic power of unions and the welfare state. It was in everyone’s interests to keep labour in good condition.

All of the above gave rise to a long-term (and collective?) mentality– as illustrated in collective bargaining through unions and also through the fact that pretty much all nineteenth century thinkers thought that there would be an end point to constant change, even if the means and ends to reach that end point differed.

All that has changed now – we have moved from a long term mentality to a short term one. The features of work today are as follows:

  • Short term contracts – partners no longer intend to stay long in each others company.
  • Flexibility – work is like a high achieving sport (following Geert van der Laan) – the people in it work very hard, but fewer of us actually compete.
  • Working life is saturated with uncertainty – the nature of work is that anyone can be sacked at short notice with no warning signs, and the logic of promotions are less apparent.

Such uncertainties are a powerful indivdualising force – when work is like a campsite (not a home) there is little incentive to take an interest in the organisation, and thus solidarity is lost. We find ourselves in a time of weak ties (Grannoveter) or fleeting associations (Sennet).

This disengagement between capital and labour is not one-sided – Capital has set itself loose from from its dependency on labour, its reproduction and growth have become by and large independent of the duration of any particular local engagement with labour. Extraterritorial capital is not yet completely free of local ties – it still has to deal with governments but, paradoxically, the only way for governments to attract Capital is to convince it that it is free to move away – and to give it what it requires.

Speed of Movement (following Crozier) now seems to be the main stratifier in the hierarchy of domination – ideas are now more profitable than production, and ideas are had only once, not reproduced a thousand times, and when it comes to making ideas profitable the objects of competition are consumers not producers, and this is now Capital’s primary relation – thus the ‘holding power’ of the local labour force is weakened.

Thus (following Robert Reich) we now have four categories of economic activity –

  1. Symbol manipulators – For example those involved in the knowledge economy and marketers.
  2. Those who work to reproduce labour – Mainly teachers.
  3. Those who work in personal services – A whole range of things from Estate Agents to Hairdressers.
  4. Routine labourers – low skilled people who make things – these are the lowest paid and have the least secure obs because they expendable and they know it!

Following Peyrefitte, Bauman now characterises Modernity as an attempt to build confidence and trust – in oneself, in others and in institutions – Modernity did this and work was its primary vehicle – there was trust in the general frame – now this is gone – when de-layering and downsizing is the norm, people no longer invest in it – they would rather trust (e.g.) the fleeting stock market than the collective bargaining power of unions.

Pierre Bourdieu links the decline of politics and collective action to people’s inability to get a hold on the present (because without a hold on the present, we cannot get a grip on the future). This is especially true of today’s mass labourers who are tied to the local while capital is extraterritorial –  means they are apriori in an inferior position – when they cannot control capital, why would they engage with politics?

It is the passage from heavy to light modernity that provides the context for the decline of the labour movement. Other explanations are insufficient.

Summary/ commentary/ questions

In the postmodern era Capital has (and requires) more freedom of movement than in the modern era. The primary reason for this is the growth of consumer markets – rapidly changing tastes mean people buying and throwing away at a faster pace, and to keep up with this Capital needs to be able to shift itself around faster – free to drop old ideas and production practices as they become unfashionable or unprofitable.

As a result workers mass-labourers are powerless – they are rooted to place, as are national governments – both can only compete in a race to the bottom to try and make things as attractive as possible to globally mobile capital.

For such workers, their efforts are in vein – they are expendable and they know it, hence they are less likely to join unions and less likely to get involved in politics – neither of these make any sense when they don’t have a grip on the present – when they do not have any purchase on security of livelihood.

Speed of movement seems to be the main differentiating factor in the post-modern society.

NB – There are some workers who do OK out of these arrangements, mainly the ‘symbol manipulators’ but these have to be extremely adaptable to survive in the era of globally mobile capital!

Q: This could be an untestable theory? How does one measure the ‘mobility of Capital’ and its effects on employment?

Chapter Two – Local Orders, Global Chaos

Order is a situation where you can predict the probability of something happening. Some things are probable, some unlikely. Order suggests a degree of predictability, and it is order which gives rise to the confidence that you can engage in an action knowing what the outcome is likely to be – order boils down to the manipulating the probabilities of events.

The opposite of order is chaos – or a situation where there is always a 50-50 chance of any two events happening.

The manipulating of events and the production of order out of chaos is what culture does on a daily basis.  We speak of a cultural crisis if the order of culture is breached too often.

Culture also differentiates. This is because order is created by categorising, setting boundaries – Difference is the result of this order building activity

However, in every culture there are those who transgress boundaries, who do not fit, those who are ambivalent, and such ambivalences are unlikely to disappear because in reality no attempt to classify the complexities of the world are ever going to be able to accommodate the actual complexity of the world, and hence the more culture or order there is, the more ambivalence.

Culture may well be an attempt to distance chaos by creating order but the result is ambivalence (a self-defeating process!).

Because of their unsavoury yet intimate connections with the state of uncertainty,  the impurity of classifications, the haziness of borderline and the porousness of borders are constant sources of fear and aggression, and these are inseparable from order-making and order-guarding exertions (33)

Order is also important in the global power struggle – Imposing order onto others is one way of gaining power. The more routine and predictable one’s life is, the more order, the less power. Order is something the powerless suffer and which the powerful impose, whereas they themselves (the elite) are relatively free to move as they please.

The above logic is at work in globalisation – Globalisation is a world disorder – It is presented to us as chaotic (a genesis discourse) rather than predictable (a Joshua Discourse) and order is an index of powerlessness. The new global power structure is operated by the opposition between mobility and sedentariness, contingency and routine, rarity and density of constraints. Globalisation may be termed ‘the revenge of the nomads’.

Escape and volatility rather than ominous presence (like bureaucracy and the panopticon) are now the means of power. Normative regulation (which was costly) is no longer necessary in the age of flexibility – what keeps the precariat in check today is their vulnerability – They race to the bottom in an attempt to attract ultra mobile capital, aided in this by state policies of precariatisation. It is irrational for them to mobilise collectively because if they do capital will just take flight.

In terms of knowledge, space matters much less than it did in the past, and according to Paul Virillio, it doesn’t matter at all. In the age of instantaneous global communications, local knowledges which are based on face to face interactions and gatherings have much less authority. We get our information through cyberspace, and thus actual space matters less. However, for those doomed to be local, this is felt as powerlessness.

The elite used to accumulate things, now they discard them and have to be comfortable dwelling in chaos. Bill Gates is the archetype – constantly striving to produce new things in act of creative destruction. Chaos is thus no longer a burden in the culture of the elite, who experience it as play, but this is a curse for those lower down the order, who would wish to slow down the changes that are imposed on them as a result of the elites’ creative destruction.

Those who can afford it live in time, those who cannot live in space. For the former space does not matter, while for the later they struggle hard to make it matter.

Summary/ Comment/ Questions

Culture is an attempt to create order out of chaos – and in doing so it sets rules/ norms/ boundaries. However, this is a self-defeating process, because the result of order building is ambivalence – the more a culture becomes obsessed with order building, the more differentiation occurs, and the more scope for the established boundaries being transgressed.

Order is important in the global power struggle – the ability to impose order on others is a mark of power, to subject them to a routine, to limit them, while the ability to avoid having order imposed on you, to be free, is also a mark of power. Having order imposed is something the weak have done to them.

However, the elite no longer have to be present to impose order – they manage to do this by being free-floating – it is volatility which keeps people individualised and thus powerless and doomed to be local. (Limited to only certain types of freedom, but not the freedom to construct a more stable society).

Furthermore, local knowledges facilitated by face to face communications are undermined by global communications networks. This further undermines the ability of the precariate to act collectively.

Those who can afford it live in time, those who do not live in space.

Question – Doesn’t this somewhat overlook Glocalism – especially Permacultural elements of the green movement – albeit extremely fringe?

Chapter Three – Freedom and Security: The Unfinished Story of a Tempestuous Union

Starts with Freud – In order to be happy man must fulfil his desires (individual freedom) but he exchanges these in ‘civilisation’ for security, so that he can be free from the suffering of his own body, other men, and nature. Security is gained when the impulses are tamed and replaced with order in the form of culture which imposes compulsive (habitual) action on individuals. However this compulsive action restricts our freedom, and human life is a situation in which the urge for freedom constantly battles against the damn put up by culture.

In other words, there is a trade-off between the need for freedom and the need for security – we need both, but to get one we have to sacrifice the other, and the sacrifice of either results in suffering. It follows that happiness can only ever be a fleeting thing as we flit between too much freedom or too much security, and finding the best-trade off is an ongoing process.

Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.

Alain Ehrenberg suggests that rather than unhappiness stemming from man’s inability to live up to cultural ideals, it is rather then absence of any clear ideals which results in a not knowing how to act, this is the source of mental depression – and not knowing how to act rationally in particular. This is the malady of our post-modern times.

Impotence and inadequacy are the diseases of our late modern, post modern times. It is not the fear of non-conformity but the fear of not being able to conform, not transgression but boundlessness which are our problems. (Unlike in modern times, big brother is gone and there are numerous Joneses who couldn’t care less about our quests for our ‘true selves’).

This is freedom, but the cost is insecurity, unsafety and uncertainty (Unsicherheit) – We have the freedom to act but we cannot know whether our actions will have the desired result, yet we do know that we will bare the costs for bad decisions.

Individually we stand, individually I fall.

Following Norbert Elias’ book title ‘The society of individuals’ – society consists of two forces locked in a battle of freedom and domination – society shaping the individuality of its members, and the individuals forming society out of their actions while pursuing strategies plausible and feasible within the socially woven web of their dependencies.

However, it is important to note that the process of individualisation is different today from modern times.

In modern times class divisions arose out of different access to the resources required to self-assert – The working classes lacked the means to do so and turned to collectivism to assert themselves, while the middle classes were able to be more individualistic – yet they generally responded to being disembedded through attempts to re-embed.

However, individualisation today is a fate and not a choice. In the land of individual freedom of choice the option to escape individualisation and not participate are not on the agenda. We are told that if we fail it is our fault, and we must find biographical solutions to problems which are socially created.

There is a difference between the self-asserting and self-sustaining individual and the individualised individual.

Can there be politics in the individualised society?

The Self-Assertive ability of men falls short of what genuine self-assertion would require – the choices we are free to make are generally trivial.

There are two consequences of individualisation for politics – Individuals by decree do not seek to solve their problems collectively, they just look to others for advice about how to cope with their problems (e.g. chat shows), and they tend to to view committing to acting with others as too limiting on their own freedom. Individuals by decree do not see engaging in public life as a duty, they tend to see it as an investment and only do so when they can get something back, and as a result the only thing individuals by decree tend to ask of society is minimal – to protect their bodies from danger and to protect their property rights.

Hence why networks are the new norm in the postmodern society – which consist of shallow connections (weak ties) as they are easy to access and easy to leave. As a result, in the individualised society the individual is not really a citizen because they have invested so little of themselves in that society.

Togetherness, individual style

The gap between the right of self assertion and the ability to influence the social settings which render such self-assertion feasible or unrealistic seems to be the biggest contradiction of second modernity, and we would do well to tackle this collectively.

Short termism and selfishness are rational responses to a precarious world – We have all been hit by global economic forces over which we (or seemingly no one else) has control, or we know someone who has (downsizing etc.) and so the rational response to this is to look to oneself, not invest in collectivism. No one seems to be discussing the fact that this uncertain world is human made, and that what we are dealing with is the ‘the political economy of uncertainty’.

The root of the problem is the flight of power from politics – capital is extraterritorial and politics remains rooted to space – and the political solutions to the problems mobile capital creates is yet more freedom for capital – because there is no global institution that is capable of doing the job of regulating it. No one seems to have any solutions!

When individals accept their impotence en masse (following Cornelius Castoriadis) – society becomes heteronomous – pushed rather than guided, plankton like, drifting, it is like people on a ship who have abandoned any attempt at steering the vessel, and so at the end of the modern advernture with a self-governing, autonomous human world, we enter the era of mass confromity

Making the individualised society safe for democracy

Democracy is an anarchic force – one best recognises democracy when it is complaining about not being democratic enough. Democracy is a constant battle to find the right balance between freedom and security. For most of modernity the fight has been for more freedom, now we need to focus more on security. However, the biggest danger of all is that we call off the fight to get the balance right by opting out of the social process (and engage with society only as indivduals).

What is to be done? We need global instituitons to limit the flow of capital, at the state level – basic income. However, a bigger question is who is to do it?

Summary, Comment and Questions

I think Bauman is trying to say too much in this section – It’s much easier to understand some of what he says by cutting out about a third of it and reording it….

Capital is freefloating and the average person’s job is more precarious, and there are no global or national institutions capabable of controlling International Capital (power, says Bauman, has departed from politics). Because of this, people see no point people getting involved in politics, and thus we no longer seek collective solutions to social problems and we only ask society to do the bare minimum for us.

In short, structural changes in the nature of Capitalism have altered the way we perceive politics – we now see it as pointless and thus we are no longer contributing to the construction of our society.

Instead, we seek biographical (personal) solutions to these systemic problems – . Rather than getting involved in long-haul politics, we limit our range of vision, our range of options to choosing how to better surviving or cope in this precarious world – we spend our time re-training, or improving our C.V.  (marketing) to make us more employable or promotable, for example. (Bauman says that selfishness and shortermism are a rational response to a precarious world). We are spured on by our efforts because we know that if we fail in our efforts we will be held responsible for the the consequences of our inability to keep ourselves employable.

The key thing here is that this limited range of choices we are choosing between is forced on us – we haven’t actively decided to not engage with society as political beings, the social structure has changed in such a way that politcs is now (objectively?) pointless, and we don’t know how to fix it, thus we narrow our range of vision to focussing on that narrow range of events we think we can control, and doing so, Capital becomes freer, and so our lives become even more unstable.

This is why Bauman says…. The gap between self-assertion and the ability to affect the social settings which make that assertion realistic (which is required for ‘genuine self-assertion’ ) is the biggest contradiction of second modernity.This is because what we are currently witnessing is individualisation by fate which falls well short of genuine self-determination – In general the choices we are free to make are relatively trivial.

Comment

Firstly, Interestingly, this theory does not depend on there being a false consciousness  – whether we fail to see that there are systemic contradictions which are causing this need to continually update ourselves to keep ourselves employable or whether we see it but simply cannot see any alternative is moot – the point is the important thing is whether or not we perceive the systemic contradictions, we KNOW that if we do not try we will be held responsible for our failure by society, and it is this ‘responsibilisation’ which is compelling us to keep on keeping on.

Secondly, I guess this links back to why Bauman perceives the decline of the Welfare State is so bad, because it’s very existence assumes that it is not our own fault that we sometimes might suddently find ourselves unemployed.

Chapter Four – Modernity and Clarity – The Story of a Failed Romance.

When reason tells us that the world is an uncertain place, indecision of the will is the result. Ambivalence is a mixing of the doubts of reason and this indecision of the will.

The more my freedom grows in terms of the greater the range of future possibilities, then the less grip on the present I have. The less freedom I have, the greater my grip on the present.

In considering freedom we need to consider the difference between the range of viable possibilities on offer, which possibilities I wish to achieve and my ability to achieve them. If the volume of possibilities exceeds the capacity of the will then restlessness and anxiety are the result, but if I lack the means to attain a possibility I desire then withdrawal is the result.

Freedom, Ambivalence and Scepticism seem to go together.

After a few pages outlining the historical development of sceptisism in philosophy, Bauman points out that modern sceptics were pretty much universally obsessed with order building, as exemplified in the popularity of order building – Modernity was fundamentally a legislative process.

The mission of modernity was (in Freudian terms) was to restrain the pleasure principle with the reality principle, or (in Durkheimian terms) to socialise the individual so that they would never want what they couldn’t achieve  and would want to do what was socially useful – real freedom meant to live like a slave (to one’s desires), society’s job was to get people to agree to acceptable freedoms and duties. In short, Modernity was about cutting the ‘I want’ down to the ‘I can’. Restricting people’s desires was the way Modernity dealt with the problem of ambivalence.

Or to sum up – The modern project was about society determining what freedoms were possible and then legislating and socialising so that people internalised these legitimate wants. Here we can see the origins of modernity’s totalitarian tendencies.

Two things in retrospect – this project has failed, and it has been abandoned. One reason this battle with ambivalence failed because the powers of creative destruction and the individual’s desires played second fiddle to the ‘objective’ constraints imposed on them.

Today it is desire itself which fuels social change – Needs creation seems to be the main thing which Capitalism does (following Bourdieu). The way we integrate into society is as consumers – and we can only integrate if our wants constantly exceed our current level of satisfaction. (The only exception to this is the underclass, but they are the minority – their wants are managed, limited).

(p68) The permanent disharmony between wants and the ability to achieve them is for the postmodern era functional – hence why we have a high degree of ambivalence in identity formation, social integration and systemic reproduction.

Today the market requires ambivalence and we are free to enjoy its wares, but we are unfree to avoid the consequences (downsizing etc.) because the only solutions on offer to help us deal with the downsides of the free market are market-solutions.

A second reason why modernity failed to tackle ambivalence is because modernity was always local, and it resulted in many localities with different solutions to ambivalence. Hence why we have neotribalisms and fundamentalism – these aim to heal the pain of ambivalence by cutting down choices – but the nature of these responses is that they are unpredictable.

The 300 year war against ambivalence is not over, it has just changed its form – it is no longer carried out by conscript armies but by guerrilla units which erratically erupt occasionally between the brightly lit consumer malls.

Summary, Commentary and Questions

When we have too much freedom, ambivalence is the result (ambivalence is a mixture of the doubts of reason (uncertainty over the probability of events) and the resulting indecision)

Modernity attempted to reduce ambivalence by order building – society determined what freedoms were necessary and desirable and then socialised people into thinking in this way – restricting their freedom, replacing the ‘I want’ with the ‘I can’. People’s desires came second to the social.

With consumer-capitalism, however, things are now reversed. Needs creation is the main thing Capitalism now does – profitability requires us to desire things, and once we have those things to tire of them quickly and desire new things. Fuelling Individual desire lies at the heart of modern Capitalism.

However, there is a growing gap between our growing (unfulfilled) desires and our ability to achieve them, and this creates ambivalence, which today is functional for Capitalism.

There is nothing in mainstream society that offers us an escape from this, nothing that offers us structure and certainty and a limt to our desires – at the level of social integration, we integrate as consumers, at the level of identity construction we must make choices based on consumption, and at the level of societal reproduction, this requires people to be consumers. The message is clear – you are free to consume, free to make a choices.

However, we are not free to escape from this because the only solutions to our confused state of having too much choice are market-solutions. This is why Bauman said we are compelled to make these choices, forced into making more and more choices by a system that requires us to make choices.

There are movements which offer alternatives to consumerism – Fundamentalisms and Neotribalisms – but these do not offer the possiblity for systemic reproduction because they tend to be local, and are thus only ‘guerilla movements’ between the brightly lit shopping malls which perpetuate ambivalence at the levels of the system and the lifeworld in general.

Commentary

Again I think Bauman here is extremely verbose – He’s basically saying that the system requires that we keep on buying and discarding, buying and discarding at ever faster rates and so we are sort of forced into making consumer choices. This ‘built in obsolence’ is the very basis of the system and it destabilises us, bewilders us, makes us uncertain of what we should be doing and uncertain of who we are.

I think Bauman maybe ignores elemts of the green movement and the anti-consumerist movement – these have the potential to resocialise people into constraining their desires on the basis of a global ethics of responsibility for the other, and do, in fact, specifically focus on how the local and the global intersect.

Chapter Five – Am I my brother’s keeper?

The concept of the welfare state has changed from being a safety net to a springboard. Its success is judged by the extent to which it renders itself unnecessary – by getting people back into work. The unspoken assumption behind this is that dependence is something which is to be ashamed of – ‘decent people’ simply do not entertain the idea of being on welfare.

According to Levinas, our starting point should be ethics – I am my brothers keeper, because his well-being hinges on what I do and refrain from doing. He is dependent on me. To question this dependence by asking the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper’, asking for reasons why I should care, is to stop being a moral being, because morality hinges on (internalising?) this crucial dependent relationship.

The need of the other and taking responsibility for meeting that need is the cornerstone of ethics according to Levinas. This has been the basis of the Judaeo-Christian form for a long time, and the idea underpinned the welfare state, but this idea is now well and truly under attack.

The welfare state came into being because of a conflation of factors – simultaneously a result of ethical intentions, labour movement struggle, and the need to diffuse political tensions, but also because it was in the interest of both labour and capital. Both industry and the state benefited from having a reserve army of labour – because profit was derived from the number of people employed and state-power was derived from the size of the reserve national-army.

However, the nature of unemployment has changed today – They are not a reserve army of labour because downsizing means they are unlikely to be recalled by industry, and they have no social function – they are not needed for work and they are not useful as consumers – because the products they need are low profit and they cannot afford anything else. Hence the recasting of them as the underclass – society would be better off without them, so best to forget them! Free floating capital has no need to keep local-underclasses nourished. To illustrate this Bauman draws on Beck’s ‘The Brave New World of Work’ – only 1 in 2 Europeans have regular, full-time employment.

We hear nothing of people’s lives turned around by social security,  but we hear a lot about the minority of welfare scroungers. The underclass in popular imagination is demonised.

Why? Because the life of the average worker is fraught with uncertainty and anxiety – as is the consumer lifestyle he adopts — Ordinary life in short is miserable – Cynically the creating of an underclass whose lot looks miserable and who we can look down on – a life even worse than our own – makes us a little less miserable. However, they do get some stability – in the form of welfare cheques and it is this that the average flexible worker perceives – rather than their suffering on account of their not being able to access the many opportunities on offer. This also means the prospects for solidarity with the poor are slim. To the average person, the welfare state gets no support.

Because there is no rational economic reason for the welfare state, we should go back and make the ethical argument for it….. I am my brothers keeper, we are all dependent on each other and a society should be measured by its weakest link.

What moral duty implies is inherently ambivalent – it requires constant communication, it is not open to measurability (bureaucracy etc.) – It is always asking the question what is best for that person, what do they need, without me becoming a mere tool of that person, and how do we negotiate around things when our ideas about what is good comes into conflict with theirs.

To sum up – there is no rational reason to support the welfare state, but the ethical argument does not depend on rationality – it is its own starting point – It is better to live for other other, it is better to stand in misery rather than to be indifferent – even if this does not make a society more profitable. This should be the starting point!

I don’t think this needs any translating, for once just summarising it once makes it understandable.

Chapter Six – United in Difference

Many aspects of modern living contribute to a feeling of uncertainty – the feeling that the world in which we live, and the future is uncontrollable, and thus frightening – Thus we live today in a culture of ambient fear (following Doel and Clarke).

The things which contribute to this are as follows:

  1.  The capacity of the nation state to put things in order, to classify things and set the future has dramatically declined since the collapse of communism (this is basically the collapse of metanarratives applied to politics). Moreover the rest of the world does not look to the ‘civilisational centre’ (the developed world) for guidance any more. The main relation between the two seems to be that the rich supply weapons to facilitate numerous tribal conflicts – The New Barbarism might be an apt way to describe globalisation.
  2. Universal deregulation – the tearing up of all other freedoms other than those granted to capital – so that everything else gets subjected to the irrationality of market forces. The freedom of capital benefits from weak states – this is a new world disorder. The vast majority lose out in this process – inequality increases but it is not only the marginalised who are harmed, very few of us feel secure in our homes or our jobs – human rights do not extend to the right to a job, the right to social secuirty, or the right to dignity.
  3. The self-woven safety net of the family and the community, based on people connections and indigenous knowledges (connections for the sake of connections, with long term commitments) have been severely weakened – at this level of social integration we are increasingly dependent on technologies and the market, and so such bonds reflect the uncertainties inherent to these things. Also, we increasingly cast the other as sources of pleasure, asking what we can get from them, rather than what we can do for them.  4. Culture is soft and indeterminate – human connections are cast into successive encounters and Human identities are fragmented, a series of masks. Rather than our identity being like us building a house, it is rather that we put up a series of pre-fabricated buildings, tear one down and then put up another. The fragments of life do not necessarily relate to the other fragments… In our culture the art of forgetting is more useful than remembering.

These are some, not all of the features of postmodern life which result in uncertainty – anxiety.

Modern cities are places of perpetual strangers – Strangers are by definition messy, they do not fit in with your system of order – and thus cities are patchwork places in which no one will feel comfortable everywhere. The chief stratifier in the modern city is the extent to which you have freedom of movement – the extent to which you can avoid the areas you don’t want to go into and get to the areas where you do want to get to. In other words, city dwellers are stratified by the extent to which they can ignore the presence of strangers.

For the better off the messiness of strangers can be avoided – For those in the suburbs, strangers are an occasional pleasure when they want to interact with them, and those who provide services for them. For the poor, however, dealing with strangers cannot be avoided, and they are experienced as a threat to their sense of orderliness. They live in areas where they are not able to choose, and lack the money to escape, so they vent their frustrations in other ways – everything from racism to riots for example. Following Cohen, people feel as if they are losing their sense of home because of the stranger (but the strangers are not the real cause of course, they are just a symptom).

Bauman now proposes  that specific forms of postmodern violence stem from the privatisation, deregulation and decentralisation of identity problems – the dismantling of collective institutions through which people can come together means people no longer discuss what the root causes of their shared identitity problems might be.

We have an opportunity here – of bringing to a conclusion the disembedding work of modernity – now the individual has been set free, we can move beyond nationalism and tribalism and rethink what it means to live as humanity – and here the rights of the stranger are fundamental. This will be an involved process… the sole universal guiding principle should be the right to choose one’s identity as the sole universality of the citizen/ human – we should celebrate this,and then work on how unity might be achieved with this new diversity. However, there is also ample scope for the balkanisation of politics and tribalism as a response.

We tend to see strangers as either exotic pleasure sources or as exaggerated threats… and this in turn stems from polarisation of wealth and life chances, but also of the capacity for genuine individuality… until we sort this out the detoxification of strangers and a move forwards to genuine new global concepts of citizenship are a long way off.

Commentary

I guess it’s passages like this that demonstrate Bauman’s Late rather than Post-modern attitude to a postmodern world – there is still hope for the future!

A Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’, Part Two – The Way We Think

Part Two – The Way We Think

Chapter Seven – Critique – Privatised and Disarmed

More than anything else so far this chapter represents a good summary of some of Bauman’s major ideas.

What is wrong with our society is that it has stopped questioning itself? We are reflexive but it is a limited reflexivity which focuses on our own personal circumstances, our own strategies for navigating through life, but this reflexivity does not extend to looking at the conditions which determine or limit the kinds of strategies available to us.

There is criticism of society, but its nature has changed because the way ‘citizens’ engage with society is different – we now treat it like a caravan park rather than a shared residence – we expect most other people to keep their distance, and we expect minor changes to be made for our convenience. We no longer approach society like a house (or somewhere where we feel at home) in which we all share a lot in common and need to muck along together in order to get by. The later offers the chance for genuine autonomy and self-constitution, the former does not.

The causes of this change are deep rooted, to do with the transformation of public space, and the way in which society works and how it is perpetuated – summarised in the shift from a heavy/ system society to a liquid/ network society.

The heavy modern society was one of Fordism and Panopticons and with the threat of Big Brother – and critique was aimed at liberating the individual from totalitarianism. This is no longer the case. We are still modern in the sense that creative destruction lies at the heart of our society, but two things have changed – firstly, the disappearance of the idea of there being an end point, and secondly the disappearance of the notion of the just society – that we can legislate our way through change – now adapting to changes has been privatised – it is up to the individual to find a way using his own resources.

Commentary – So Bauman is saying now that society is based on constant and rapid change  we are forced to continually adapt – we are told this is freedom, but it is not because we are compelled to choose, we have to make choices, and we are not free to not make choices (at least if we want to integrate into society in the normal ways rather than retreating from it, which, as Bauman mentions elsewhere, is a mere reaction to globally mobile capital rather than genuine autonomy). Moreover, we no longer have control over our society, because our globalised society is shaped from above by the extraterritorial forces of Capital, and so we narrow our agency to small-things – such as building our CV or constructing our identity. In both of these spheres we settle for being consumers – we use the products provided by the market to differentiate ourselves, and we integrate (at the level of society) with other people as consumers based on these limited, apolitical, non-autonomous, individualised biographies. And bleakly, at the end of the day, limiting our reflexivity to identity construction via consumption perpetuates our powerlessness in relation to the globalised political economy.

All second modernity means is that experts dump their contradictions at the feet of individuals and leave them to make the choice – to seek biographical solutions to systemic contradictions – the problem is there are very few solutions that are adequate, especially when you do not have the resources.

We live in the age of small change, not big government, and in the age of TINA – but individuals are individuals by decree, not de facto, and they lack the resources for genuine self constitution (which would require them to have some kind of control over their political economy).

The privatisation of critique means constant self-critique – but because none of the strategies on offer are up to the task we also end up with scapegoats – various groups to blame our troubles on – what we need to do instead is to get back to Politics – and to translate private troubles into public issues and seek collective solutions to these.

This is difficult when the public realm has been colonised by private affairs – and the task of critical theory is now to reclaim this space, to repoliticise private concerns and public issues.  The task of politics today is to reconnect the abyss beetween the individual de jure and the individual de facto.

Further comment

(I’m mashing this up with bits from elsewhere) Whatever we do as individualised individuals is never enough (for most of us at least) to guarantee us some kind of security and/or get everything we want (Capitalism in fact depends on this) – but we do not blame the system for this, we blame ourselves, because we have internalised to such an extent the message of individualism – mainly through TINA (this looks like a dig at Giddens’ 3rd Way) but also because the public realm has become colonised by private affairs – basically the media does not talk about politics, and if it does so, it does so through the lens of indivdualisation.

As a result rather than criticising society, we have constant self critique – rather than social critique – and if we fail we end up blaming ourselves, or others for their failure. However, we also have scapegoats emerging – most obviously the Underclass.

The solution is to reclaim Politics at the level of the Agora.

Questions/ tasks students could consider

Locate some examples of TV shows and websites which focus on privatised critique (hint- BB3 an C4 are good places to start!)

Locate some social-scapegoats and analyse the media discourse surrounding themselves

Locate some groups which are atempting to reclaim Politics. 

Chapter Eight – Progress – The Same and Different

Having a grip on progress means having a grip on the present – it has little to do with the future. The problem is that today (following Bourdieu) we have little grip on the present. These are the reasons…

  1. Not knowing who is going to steer us through postmodern times – the old power bases are gone – the Fordist Factory is uprooted, the political domain powerless, we are in the age of free-floating capital. It is as if we are all on a plane, but the pilots have left the cockpit.
  2. The absence of a vision of the good society – Economic Liberalism and Marxism are both dead, this is probably a good thing given the tendency for metanarratives to end in genocides.

Progress today is ongoing – constant improvement without an end – and it is privatised – it is up to us to lift ourselves up and get out of those elements of social life which we do not like.

However, because we live in a world of universal flexibility, Unsicherheit is everywhere, and thus very few people have a grip on (the ability to control) their present – and this means the goal of long term progress is hard to establish for most.

Instead, short termism seems to be the norm – coping, adapting, surviving is what most people do!

Life becomes episodic as a result.

Commentary

This is a classic statement of progress in relation to modernity and post modernity – Once again we could point to the Green Movement as a counter-example of this, but for most people I think the notion of ‘progress’ has become individualised and short-term.

Here Bauman goes a bit further than previously – not only does Unischerheit individualise, it also changes the way we perceive the future and time in the present. Life has become short term and episodic. This is an idea which Bauman develops in future books – suggesting that many of us no longer operate in ‘linear time’ but rather in ‘pointilist time’ – life has become a series of unrelated episodes not really joined together by a coherent narrative – following, as I understand it, Erikson’s Tyranny of the Moment.

The state of flux we fined ourselves in is so fluctuating that this even changes our relationship to time – we are left in pointlist time, and so find it difficult to even construct an individualised biography – because doing so requires some purchase on the present, which we don’t have.

If this is correct then we may in the future come to redefine ‘success’ ‘utopia’ ‘the good life’ or even ‘normality’ as the ability to construct a coherent (individualised) narrative of the self – even if that self is thoroughly depoliticised. In fact, through the CV building activities I’ve witnessed where I work, this could already be happening. In the realm of the social, Facebook may be a good example of this. 

Questions

What would count as resistance to this system? Possibly groups like Adbusters that seem happy with Pointlilism but just aim to perpetually subvert, but then again are they self-constituting?  Maybe the Permaculture Movement?

Chapter Nine – Uses of Poverty

We live a world of growing inter and intrasocietal inequality, this is the gravest problem we face. Much has been said about this, but little has been done to arrest it. This chapter questions the frame in which we address the problem and explores some possible solutions.

When we discuss poverty we only discuss the economic dimensions – we do not discuss the following….

‘the prescence of the large army of the poor and the widely publicised egregiousness of their condition… offsets the otherwise repelling and revolting effects of the consumer’s life lived in the shadow of perpetual uncertainty. The more destiute and dehumanised the poor of the world and the poor in the next street are shown and seen to be, they better they play that role in the drama which they did not script and did not audition for….The poor today are the collective other of the frightened consumers, the modern day hell which induces the average person to carry on working-consuming. What one learns is that the fate of certainty in poverty is worse than daily dealing with the uncertainties of working life, while focussing on their depravity rather than their deprivation enables anger to be chanelled to them (like burning effigies).’

The problem is that there are fewer and fewer jobs – there is a crisis of unemployment – capitalism does not need that many people to be in work, it is that simple!

This is a serious problme because beyond providing income, work, or livelihood, employment is the activity on which genuine, progressive self-assertion rests, and in the era of flexibilsation, this is lost – This is our probllem, without stable work we have a mass existential crisis.

Our crisis is caused by the political economy of uncertainty – global capital moves around dismantling order – to which neoliberal nation states capituaulate by competing in a race to the bottom, through the processeses of dregulation and further privatisation. Today capital maintains power not by legislation but by destabilising – by leaving behind privatised individuals who lack the capacity to organise effectively. Crippling uncertainty is the latest tool of globally mobile capital.

What we need is for politics to catch up with the power of capital. We need to challenge capital (especially finance capital) based on a concept of the common good.

Can nation states rise to the challenge? Basically no, their problem is that they are inward looking, doomed to be local. Following Alain Gesh – what we need is a New Internationalism, and to date there are few agencies doing this – Mostly the large NGOs but then the solidarity they garner is sporadic.

Commentary

By now it is becoming clear that for Bauman the biggest challenge facing humanity is that of how to regulate international Capitalism – again, drawing on what he has said elsewhere –

Tasks – Find out some of the worst examples of harms done by ‘Capital Flight’ – This shouldn’t be too difficult! Research into some of the proposed solution (beyond the Robin Hood Tax!)

Chapter Ten – Education: Under, For and In Spite of Modernity…

What is functional in education today is not the knowledge we learn, not learning to learning, but learning to unlearn the habits we have learned. In the postmodern world, with no fixed frame of references, forgetting is the key skill.

Universities do not fit the postmdodern era –

They offer a model of learning in which there is a clear body of knowledge to be learned, passed down by authorities, which does not fit a world in which there are knowledges and no clear authorities, but huge cultural relativities.

Knowledge has now become radically democratised – in the age of the internet – and episodised – rather than it being linear.

In the age of flexibilised working, quick training and re-training courses fit better.

A university education does not make economic sense.

The kind of long-term linear, structured learning they offer only makes sense within the time of eternity or the time of progress – modernity put paid to the former, postmodernity to the later.

The intellectual authority of the unviersity, and of academics has been undermined by the mass media – Intellectual authority use to be measured by the number of people who would come to listen to a person, then the number of books sold, but now it is the amount of air time someone gets – and here Dallas has more importance than Philosophy. In the era of the media public attention is scarce and notoriety the main currency – maximium impact then immediately forgetting is the name of the game – the kind of long search for truth you find in universities will not hold the public’s attention – so academic knowledge will not make it into the public domain.

Finally, the claim that scientific and technological knowledge is superior is open to question following Foucault and Beck.

So what do universities do – they can either subject themselves to market forces – and compete – letting the market judge what is socially useful knowledge – or they can withdraw into ivory towers – both change fundamentally the role of the university – (note the later is not autonomy, it is irrelevance.)

The future of the university lies in mutlivocality – the task of pilosophers of education is how to plan for this when there is no one central authority and how to incorporate open-ended knowledges into the process.

No Comment, other than to say I am wondering how long teaching has a profession?

Chapter Eleven – Identity in the globalising world.

In the mid 1990s the issue of identity became immensley popular in the social sciences – this chapter explores why.

(142) ‘Anxiety and audacity, fear and courage, despair and hope  are born together. But the proportion in which they are mixed depends on the resources in one’s possession. Owners of foolproof vessels and skilled navigators view the sea as the site of exciting adventure, those condemned to unsound and hazardous dinghies would rather hide behind breakwaters and think of sailing with trepidation. Fears and joys emanating from the instability of things are distrbuted highly unequally.

The idea of identity as an unfinished project and that individuality is a product of society is by now a trivial truth but what needs to be stated more often is that our society also depends on how the process of individuation is framed and responded to.

The notion that we have to become what we are has been around for a long time, the renewed focus on this is because of the radical disembeddedness of postmodern life – the places we might embed ourselves into are shifting – If we are running, the finishing line keeps moving, the lanes change and the track itself shifts.

The task of identity now is not that of a pilgrim – knowing where he is going, and figuring out the best way to get there but of a vagbond, not knowing where to go…. The task of identity is to make a choice and then defend the frame you construct from being erroded, which it might well be.

Eriksen said that the identity crisis of adolesents end when one feels one has a grip on oneself – when one has developed a sense of sameness and continuity. This view has aged – today we live in era when a constant identity crisis is the norm – in a world where things shift – having a continuous identity means to shut off options, it restricts one’s freedom too much – and so people prefer light identities – fluid connections which involve non-binding commitments – so that they may move on quickly. The postmodern subject has to be flexible, so when you reach your goal, you are not yourself!

The power of global capital has escaped inditutional politics, and in response people have retreated into the narrow, local concerns of life politics rather than Politics — These are self-perpetuating – and it is in this context that the growing interest in life-politics needs to be scrutinised.

P150 – Cristopher Lasch — Quoteable — In the age of precarity where we have no grip over global capital we retreat into that which does not matter – but people kid themselves – thus we get into therapies, the wisdom of the east, jogging… These are things which do not matter, and away from things that do matter but about which nothing can be done.

In all of the above ways, we retreat from what really matters (which is figuring out how to control global capital, and how to get on in an increasingly diverse world).

Today we use the word community to refer to fleeting connections, but it is not real community we are forging… and in doing so we also put up boundaries, and we create pegs on which to hang our fears.

The process of identitification as it stands lubricates the wheels of globalisation – The fact that we retreat from Politics allows Capital even more freedom.

Commentary

This is basically something I have thought for a long time – Cultural studies is simply irrelvant as are many studies on identity, indeed the whole focus on postmodern identities – absolutely pointless – espeically when not grounded in the constext of political economy.

Nice little summary this – Globally mobile Capital makes us retreat from Politics and into the realm of identity construction and the formation of communities based on weak ties (which are not weak communities on which Sociology focuses – but focussing on these and ‘telling their stories’ can tell us nothing.

I guess what’s interesting about the end bit is that Bauman’s suggesting that Sociology should be focussing more on the alternatives – how we control globally mobile Capital – it should have a Political agenda rather than focussing on what is immediately obvious (which is just identity-fluff). Useful for teaching value freedom this!

Chapter Twelve  – Faith and Instant Gratification

Starts with Seneca –  In his dialogue ‘On Happy Life – he notes that the problem facing those who seek the pleasures of instant gratification is that the pleasures fade quickly – thus there is no lasting happiness in such a strategy. He also noted that the kind of people who seek such pleasures care not for the past, present or future.

What in Seneca’s time was limited to a few people is today the case at the social level – The past offers us no guidance in the present, which is out of our control and the future seems full of hazards – hence more of us escape into the short-lived pleasures of instant-gratification.

It is unclear whether a long-term investment will be useful to us in the future – assets all to easily may become hinderances, and so times are hard for faith/trust/ commitment.

I’m not actually sure Bauman means when he says ‘assets’ – this doesn’t seem to apply to property, for example? Perhaps he means investments in ‘consumer commodities’, or in education?

The primary reason for this is the flexibilised nature of work – soon market demand will be met by 1/3rd of the population – unemployment and thus precariousness is structural.

Also, in the realms of consumption, we have learnt to see products as things we buy for short-term use, not long-lived.

In such a situation it makes sense to seek only temporary commitments with others, no investment in lasting relationships, because we know not what the future will bring. We tend to see relationships as things to be consumed, rather than produced (dating sites a such a great example of this!). Relationships are more likely to last until further notice – when they stop providing gratification, rather than being worked through.

Uncertainty and episodic lives tend to go hand in hand – it is unclear which is cause and which is effect.

An important aspect of faith is to invest in something which lasts longer than an individual human life – This used to be the family, but the typical family today may be made and unmade several times in the course of one’s life.

There is little else that we can look to to provide lasting values to commit to… And until we do something about the looming threat of insecurity this is unlikely to be the case.

Comment

I wonder if some people now regard their social media profiles as symbols of their immortality? Where you gather together photos and comments with you at the centre,  rendering the need to make a more serious investment in anything even less necessary!

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein: A Summary (of Part 1)

The focus of this book is on the causes of climate change, some potential solutions, and the dangers of carrying on with ‘business as usual’. More specifically:

  • Chapter two provides an overview of how globalised neoliberal policies helped to cause climate change (chapter two)
  • Chapters three and four explore how governments have a crucial role to play in combating climate change (chapters three and four)
  • Chapter five reminds us of the possible consequences of carrying on with the extractivist logic of the industrial era which underpins the neoliberal exploitation of the environment (chapter five).
  • Chapter one alerts us to the strategies which neoliberals employ to deny climate change in order to prevent the collapse of their neoliberal world order and their fall from world power

NB – I changed the order from the actual book because I think my order makes more sense!

NB2 – I’ve changed the arty subtitles of the chapters so they are more meaningful to a mass audience.

Chapter Two – Hot Money: How Neoliberalism Accelerated Climate Change

Klein argues that the three policy pillars of the neoliberal age (1989 – present day ) are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels and bring climate change under control.

The three main neoliberal policies are:

  1. privatisation of the public sphere
  2. deregulation of the corporate sector
  3. lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending.

These neoliberal ideas lie at the heart of the World Trade Organisation, and many of its policies are incompatible with a sustainable future. Specifically Klein says there are three contradictions between the (neoliberal) goals of the WTO and what’s needed to control climate change.

  • Firstly, the WTO encourages more international trade which has meant a huge increase in fossil fuel burning container ships and lorries. Reduced carbon emissions would require less trade or more local trade.
  • Secondly, the WTO gave TNCs the rights to sue national governments for preventing them from making a profit out of mining/ burning fossil fuels, whereas to protect the environment, governments would need to be able pass laws to protect the environment.
  • Thirdly, the WTO has given western companies stronger patent rights over their technologies – whereas if renewable technologies are to be transferred to the developing world, they would need to make their own cheap copies of those technologies (because they would not be able to afford to buy them).

As general evidence of the link between neoliberal policies and the increase in global warming we have the following stats – ‘Before the neoliberal era, emissions growth had been slowing from 4.5% annual increases in the 1960s to about 1% a year in the 1990s, but between 2000 and 2008 the growth rate reached 3.4%, before reaching a historic high of 5.9% in 2009. (Evidence for this comes in the form of the report below (although growth does slow in more recent years!)

global carbon emissions

To illustrate the link between increasing international trade and global warming Klein gives the following examples:

According to Andreas Malm, China had became the workshop of the world by the year 2000 and by 2007 China was responsible for 2/3rds of the annual increase in global emissions. However, global warming cannot all be pinned on China – because only half of that growth in emissions is down to China’s internal growth, the other half being because of China’s increasing exports to other countries (production being done for TNCs).

This in turn is down to the primary driving force of the trade system in the 1980s and 1990s – allowing multinationals the freedom to scour the globe in search of the cheapest and most exploitable labour force (the ‘race to the bottom’) – it was a journey that passed through Mexico and South Korea and ended up in China where wages were extraordinarily low, trade unions were brutally suppressed and the state was willing to spend seemingly limitless funds on massive infrastructure projects – modern ports, sprawling highway systems, endless numbers of coal-fired power plants, massive dams, all to ensure that the lights stayed on in the factories and the goods made it from the assembly lines onto the container ships in time – A free trader’s dream, in other words, and a climate nightmare.

increasing trade to China
The expansion of China’s ports indicates the increasing volume of trade between China and other countries

Klein suggests that there is a causal link between the quest for cheap labour and rising CO2 emissions – the same logic which works labour to the bone will burn mountains of coal while spending next to nothing on pollution controls because it’s the cheapest way to produce.

As further evidence that it’s the global trade system/ increasing consumption in general (rather than just China) that’s the problem – most of the increase in emissions in the last decade and a half are a result of the globalisation of the trade in food (as observed by Steven Shyrbman a decade and a half ago). The global food system accounts for between 19 and 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

At one level this is a result of the increase in food miles that come with shipping food products around the world (for example shipping New Zealand apples to Britain in September), at a deeper level it is about the intensification of production through the industrialisation of agriculture – which has resulted in larger and larger farms devoting themselves to producing one crop (or one animal in intensive meat-factories) which requires not only tractors, but also artificial fertilisers and pesticides, all of which are derived from oil. At deeper level still, the problem lies in the fact that gigantic food companies such as Monsanto and Cargill are major players in writing the WTO rules that allow them to operate this way.

To illustrate the second point above: How TNCs use the WTO to sue governments Klein cites the following:

(Firstly some context) Fossil fuel companies lie firmly at the heart of the global capitalist system, and presently receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as free waste dump.

exxonmobil.jpg
Are oil companies to blame for environmental decline?

In order to cope with these distortions (which the WTO has made no attempt to correct), governments need to take a range of aggressive steps – such as price guarantees to straight subsidies so that green energy has a shot at competing.

However, green energy programmes which have been instigated under nation states are increasingly being challenged under World Trade Organisation rules. For example:

In 2010 the United States challenged China’s wind powered subsidy programs on the grounds that it contained supports for local industry considered protectionist. China in turn filed a complaint in 2012 targeting various renewable energy programmes in mainly Italy and Greece.

In short, the WTO encourages nation states to tear down each others windmills while encouraging them to subsidise coal burning power stations.

The sad thing is, when governments subsidise green energy – it works – Denmark has the most successful renewable energy programs in the world, with 40% of its energy coming from renewables, mostly wind, but its programme was rolled out in the 1980s, with most installations being subsidised at 30%, before the WTO was established. Now such subsidies are illegal under WTO rules because it’s ‘unfair’ to fossil fuel companies.

Climate Change Treaties – The 1990s to the Present Day: Free Trade Trumps Environmental Protection

Klein notes that there is startling parallel between the emergence of international treaties on climate change and the neoliberal agenda free-trade agenda advanced by the World Trade Organisation.

1992 marked the date of the first United Nations Earth Summit in Rio – the first UN Framework Convention of Climate Change was signed.

1995 marked the date of the establishment of the World Trade Organisation, which formally put in place all of the above rules which effectively prevent any country doing anything about climate-change.

However, the commitments made in the climate negotiations all effectively functioned on the honour system, with a weak and unthreatening mechanisms to penalise countries which failed to keep their promises. The commitments made under trade agreements, on the other hand, were enforced by a dispute settlement system with real teeth, and failure to comply would land governments in trade court, often facing harsh penalties.

The hierarchy was so clear that the 1992 Rio Earth Summit agreement made clear that ‘measures taken to combat climate change… should not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade.’

To illustrate how weak the measures to combat climate change actually are Klein cites the fact that there are fundamental flaws with the way CO2 emissions are monitored:

Countries are bound by voluntary agreements to keep CO2 emissions low – but the emissions counting system on which nation states are judged is fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t take account of emissions from transportation across borders – and container shipping has increased by 400% over the last 20 years.

Also countries are judged by the emissions which take place in their boarders – not for the pollution produced in the manufacturing of goods which are shipped to their shores – for example the TV set in my living room is not counted on the UK’s emissions count, but on China’s, where it was produced.

Basically, Klein sees the lack of effective monitoring as allowing countries to under-report their CO2 emissions, and thus dodge responsibility.

What can we do?

We need to consume less, straight away, and aim to reduce our emissions to the levels of the 1970s, if we wish to be staying alive…

Chapter Three – Public and Paid For: Arguments and Evidence that Ground-Up Social Democracy Is The Most Effective Way to Combat Climate Change

Much has been written about Germany’s renewable energy transition – It is currently undergoing a ‘transition to green’ – with 25% of its energy coming from renewables. This is up from only 6% in 2000.

Though rarely talked about there is a clear and compelling relationship between public ownership and the ability of communities to get off dirty energy.

In Germany, this has taken the form of local citizens groups taking control of their own energy supplies from multinational corporations. There are about 200 of these in Germany, and they take the form of locally controlled energy companies which are concerned with public interests, not profit, which was democratically controlled by citizens, with money earned being returned to the city, rather than lost to shareholders of some multinational.

This movement is actually more widespread than Germany (there are even some cities in America have done this, such as Boulder in Colorado which have gone down this route), and is most prevalent in the Netherlands, Austria, and Norway, and these are the countries with the highest commitment to coming off fossil fuels and pursuing green energy alternatives.

On the other hand, according to John Farrel, the attitude of most private energy companies has been, and still is ‘we’re going to take the money we make from selling fossil fuels and use it to lobby as hard as we can against any change to the way we do business’.

In 2009 Mark Z. Jacobsen and Mark A Deluchi authored a road map for how 100% of the world’s energy for all purposes could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources, by as early 2030. There are numerous studies which confirm the possibility of this, but the biggest barriers to change are social and economic.

Increasing Natural Disasters Require Strong Public Institutions to Manage

In the course of the 1970s there were 660 reported disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wild-fires and storms. In the 2000s there were 2,322 – a fivefold boost…. There is not doubt that man-made climate change has caused this increase.

Yet these are three decades in which governments around the world have been chipping away at the health and resilience of the public sphere – the problem with this is that governments are realistically the only institutions that are up to the challenge of responding to natural disasters (during disasters most people tend to lose their free market religion and wants to know their government has their backs).

A case in point here is the devastation caused by the the floods of 2013-14 – These were particularly awkward for the coalition government because a year earlier David Cameron had gutted the Environment Agency, which was responsible for dealing with flooding. Since 2009, approximately 25% of its workforce has been axed or were lined up to be axed and nearly 300 flood defence schemes had been left unbuilt due to government budget cuts.

The worldwide costs of coping with weather extremes are astronomical – In 2011 the global cost stood at $380 billion.

Given this it is clear that public money needs to spent urgently on reducing the carbon emissions which are causing these crises – and much of that needs to spent in developing countries – and who should pay? The polluters!

The Polluter Pays Principle

A 2011 Survey by the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs concluded that it would cost $1.9 trillion dollars a year for the next forty years to overcome poverty, increase food production to eradicate hunger without degrading land and water resources and avert the climate change catastrophe, and at least half of that would have to be spent in developing countries.

The problem is that public spending has been going in the opposite direction, and the fossil fuel companies who profit from climate change have blocked moves to sustainability on every turn.

These companies are very profitable – the top five oil companies pulled in $900 billion in profits from 2001 to 2010. These companies are rich because they have dumped the cost of cleaning up their mess on regular people, and this needs to fundamentally change.

So who should pay?

Oil and Gas companies should be forced to pay by putting in place a steep carbon tax, and laws to prevent these companies from polluting – If these companies are going to stop polluting, it will be because they are forced to do so by law.

The United States – because the US military is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the world, arms companies should also pay.

The 500 million richest of us are responsible for about half of all emissions – so we are going to have to pay for our pollution.

Other suggestions for raising the almost $2 billion annually include:

  • A low rate financial transaction tax (would raise $650 billion)
  • Closing tax havens ($190 billion)
  • A 1% billionaires tax ($46 dollars annually)
  • Slashing the military budgets of the top ten military spenders ($325 billion)
  • A $50 tax per metric ton of CO2 would raise $450 billion
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies – $775 billion.

If these measures were taken, they would raise more than $2 trillion annually.

Our current political class is probably not going to sort out climate change – because

  • They are not prepared to challenge big money Corporations
  • They are not prepared to engage in long term planning (real market fundamentalists don’t plan – the market sorts all that out!

Chapter Four – Planning and Banning: Arguments that Governments will need to Plan and Regulate Corporations to Combat Climate Change

In short – Governments need to plan for jobs.

The gist of this section is that the public sector needs to put green jobs creation at the centre of its green strategy – investment in renewables and local agriculture, as well as the renationalising of private companies (like in Germany, but also extended to rail networks in countries like Britain) could create millions of jobs worldwide, many more than a continued dependency on fossil fuels.

Governments need to plan for power (the transition to green energy)

We need to depart from neoliberal ideology to bring about the green transition – like is being done in Germany – this means engaging in long term national planning and deliberately picking green energy, and fixing prices to help young start up renewable companies.

However, what we don’t need is massive state owned energy companies – The highest rates of renewable energy have been achieved in Germany and Denmark with lots of smaller locally run co-operative businesses.

One threat to the green transition is cheap gas – In the US fracking has damaged Wind Power’s position in the new energy market – down from 42% of the market in new energy in 2009 to 32% in 2011.

Governments also need to plan for food.

Here Klein cites the important role agroecology which is about small scale, organic, local production, increasing as far as possible the species diversity on farms, in sharp contrast to the monocultures preferred by big international food companies, which are heavily dependent on fertilisers and pesticides.

In Malawi, agroecology has led to a doubling or tripling of Maize yields, and to date projects world-wide have shown a crop yield increase of 80% in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116% for all African projects.

Governments will need to learn to say no to big oil companies.

For example, companies simply should not be given permits to frack, period. Some studies have found that the methane emissions from fracking are 30% higher than those associated with natural gas, and that the warming potential once the gas is emitted is 86 times greater than carbon dioxide.

The government should also say no to projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline which is being built to pump shale gas from Canada to the US – this will require massive acts of civil disobedience to achieve.

Meanwhile, big oil companies are investing in extracting projects like never before, and spending a fortune on lobbying governments – One study found that they spend $400 000 a day lobbying.

Chapter Five – The Decline of Nauru – The Consequences of Carrying on with Business as Usual

In this chapter Klein provides us with a brief history of the tiny Island of Nauru, which offers us a useful warning against the extractivist logic of the industrial era.

Few places on earth embody the suicidal results of building our economies on polluting extraction more graphically than Nauru. Thanks to its mining of phosphate, Nauru has spent the last century disappearing from the inside out; now, thanks to our collective mining of fossil fuels, it is disappearing from the outside in: I covered this in a previous post – The Island of Nauru…..

 

Chapter OneClimate-Change Proves that Neoliberal Policies are Killing the Planet and Us With It – thus Neoliberals Deny Climate Change in Order to Cling on to Power.

Neoliberals know full well that our global economy is created by and reliant on the burning of fossil fuels and that to change this requires the opposite of neoliberalism – It will require governments to intervene heavily in business – with such measures as

  • sweeping bans on polluting activities
  • deep subsidies for green alternatives
  • pricey penalties for violations
  • new taxes
  • new public works programmes
  • reversals of privatisations.

There is however, little motivation for neoliberals to adopt climate change policies because climate change will affect the poor more than the rich…

For starters, in the wealthier countries we will be able to protect our cities from the effects of sea level rise with expensive flood barriers, and then there’s the fact that climate change will affect poor countries in the South more than rich countries in the North.

And more drastically, in the words of Naomi Klein….

‘Since people who scare Americans are unlucky to live in poor, hot places, climate change will cook them, leaving the United States to rise like a phoenix from the flames of global warming.’

So instead of changing anything, neoliberals have established institutions which fund people to do research which counters the overwhelming (97%) scientific consensus that climate change exists.

The premier institute for doing this is The Heartland Institute, which hosts annual gatherings of climate change deniers, during which little serious scientific debate takes place, with the most popular speakers being right-wing (neoliberal) ideologues who present the issue of climate change as a hoax being perpetuated by the left in order to force people into giving up their high-consumption lifestyles.**

Worryingly, these think tanks seem to be very influential in shaping public opinion – A 2007 Harris poll found that 71% of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would alter the climate. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51%. In June 2011, to 44%. This is one of the largest shifts in a short period of time seen in public opinion in recent years.

Two Possible Futures…

Klein believes that we have a choice….

If we stay on the road we are on, we will get the big corporate, big military, big engineering responses to climate change – the world of a tiny group of big corporate winners and armies of locked-out losers that we have imagined in virtually every account of our dystopic future, from Mad Max to The Children of Men, to The Hunger Games, to Elysium.

Or we can choose to heed climate change’s planetary wake-up call and change course and steer away not just from the emissions cliff but from the logic which brought us that precipice.

That means laying out a vision of the world that competes direclty with neoliberalism….. that resonates deeply with the majority of the people on the planet because it is true: that we are not apart from nature, but of it. That acting collectively for a greater good is not suspect, and that such common projects for responsible for our species’ greatest accomplishments. That greed must be tempered by both rule and example. That poverty amidst plenty is unconscionable.

** That their position on climate-change is not objective is suggested by four facts:

  • Transnational Corporations which are responsible for climate change (and so benefit from it) such as Koch and ExxonMobil fund such think tanks, to the tune of almost $1bn a year.
  • Many of the companies funding climate change denial are at the same time insuring themselves heavily against the future consequences of climate change.
  • A 2013 study by political scientist Peter Jacques found that 72% of climate denial books, mostly published since the 1990s, were linked to right-wing think tanks such as the Heartland Institute.
  • One’s political outlook predicts one’s views on climate change more so than anything else – only 11% of Americans with hierarchical/ individualistic (right-wing) worldviews rate climate change as high risk, while 69% of those with egalitarian and communitarian worldviews rate it as high risk.)

Sources:

Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything

From Pilgrim to Tourist – Or A Short History of Identity, Zygmunt Bauman

If the modern problem of identity was how to construct an identity, the postmodern problem of identity is how to avoid fixation and keep the options open. If the catchword of modernity was creation, the catchword of postmodernity is recycling.

The main identity-bound anxiety of modern times was the worry about durability; it is concern with commitment-avoidance today.

The photograph was the medium of modernity, all set in bound books with yellowing pages, the video-tape the medium of postmodernity – today’s recording only exists until something deemed more significant emerges to replace it.

Modernity built in steel and concrete, postmodernity in biodegradable plastic.

Identity as such is a modern invention – it is the name given to the escape sought from uncertainty, from the modern ‘problem’ of freedom of choice which arises with social change, and of not knowing for certain where one fits in to the order of things; the modern ‘quest’ for identity is a response to the inability of people to clearly project who they are to others so that we may all ‘go on’.

Identity is always a process, a critical projection (typically?) into the future  – it is an assertive attempt to escape from the experience of under-determination, or free-floatingness , of disembeddnsess, which is the ‘natural’ condition of modernity.

Identity in modernity is presented as an individual task, but there are experts to guide us as to what identities are possible to achieve – experts such as teachers and counsellors, who are supposed to be more knowledgeable about the task of identity construction.

Modern life as pilgrimage

Modernity gave the pilgrim a new prominence and a novel twist.

For pilgrims through time,  the truth is elsewhere, always some distance away. Wherever the pilgrim is now is not where he ought to be, not where he dreams of being. The glory of the future debases the present.

The pilgrim is not interested in the city, the houses tempt him to rest, he is happier on the streets, for they lead him to his destination. However, even these are perceived as a series of traps which may lead him from his path. The pilgrim feels homeless in the city.

The desert is the place for the pilgrim, who seeks a hermetic way of life away from the distractions of city life, away from duties and obligations. The desert, unlike the city, was a land not yet sliced into places, a place of self-creation, which is not possible when one is ‘in place’ in the city, which calls upon the individual to be certain ways (through the commitments of family and polis).

You do not go into the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to become ‘god like’.

The Protestants changed this by becoming ‘inner-worldly pilgrims’ – they invented the way of embarking on pilgrimage without leaving home and of leaving home without becoming homeless. In the post-Reformation city of modernity, the desert started on the other side of the door.

The protestant worked hard to make the dessert come to him – through impersonality, coldness, emptiness – protestants expressed a desire to see the outside world as null, lacking in value, of nothingness waiting to become something.

In such a land, commonly called modern society, pilgrimage is no longer a choice, pilgrimage is no longer heroic or saintly, it is what one does of necessity, to avoid being lost in the desert; to invest in walking with a purpose while wandering the land with no destination.

The desert world of modernity is meaningless, the bringing-in of meaning is ‘identity builiding’ – the pilgrim and the dessert-like world he walks acquire their meaning together. Both processes must go on because there is a distance between the goal (the meaning of the world and the future identity of the pilgrim) and the present moment (the station of the walking and the identity of the wanderer.)

Both meaning and identity can exist only as projects. Dissatisfaction with the present compared to the ideal-future and delaying gratification to realise greater pleasure in that future are fundamental features of the modern-identity building project, as is marking and measuring one’s progress towards one’s goal through time.

Time is generally perceived as something through which one progress, in a linear fashion, and modern pilgrims generally had trust in a clearly identified future state (however fantastical) – and saving for the future was  a central strategy of future oriented identity-building.

Pilgrims had a stake in the solidity of the world they walked, a kind of world in which one can tell life as a continuous story – moving towards fulfilment – The world of pilgrims, of identity-builders must be orderly, determined, predictable, but most of all it must be one in which one can make engravings in the sand so that past travels are kept and preserved.

The world inhospitable to pilgrims

The world is not hospitable to pilgrims any more. The pilgrims lost their battle by winning it: by turning the social into a dessert, ultimately a windy place where it is as easy to erase footprints as it is to make them.

It soon transpired that the real problem was not how to make identity, but how to preserve it – in a dessert, it is easy to blaze a trail, but difficult to make it stick.

As Cristopher Lasch points out identity refers to both persons and to things, and we now live in a world of disposable objects, and in such a world identities can be adopted and discarded like a change of clothes.

In the life-game of postmodern consumers the rules of the game keep changing in the course of playing. The sensible strategy is to keep each game short, and ‘live one day at a time’, depicting each day as a series of emergencies.

To keep the game short means to be wary of long term commitments, not to control the future, but to refuse to mortgage it. In short, to cut the present off at both ends, to abolish time and live in a continuous present. Fitness takes over from health – the capacity to move where the action is rather than coming up to a standard and remaining ‘unscathed’; and the snag is to no longer construct an identity, but to stop it from becoming fixed.

The hub of postmodern life strategy is not identity building, but avoidance of fixation.

There are no hooks on which we can hang our identity – jobs for life have gone, and we live in the era of personal relationships. Values become cherished for maximal impact, and this means short and sharp, because attention has become a scarce commodity.

The overall result is the fragmentation of time into episodes. In this world, saving and delaying gratification make no sense, getting pleasure now is rational.

In this world, the stroller, the tourist, the vagabond and the player become the key identities, all of these have their origins before postmodernity, but each comes to be practiced by the mainstream rather than being marginal in postmodernity.

In the postmodern chorus they all sing, sometimes in harmony, but more often with cacophony the result.

The stroller

In modernity this is Walter Benjamin’s flaneur – strolling among crowds of strangers in a city, and being in the crowd, but not of the crowd, taking in those strangers as ‘surfaces’ so that what one sees exhausts what they are, and above all seeing and knowing them episodically – each episode having no past and no consequence. The distinction between appearance and reality matter not. The stroller had all the pleasures of modern life, without all the torments.

In the postmodern world, the stroller is the playful consumer, who doesn’t need to deal with ‘reality’. Shopping malls are the domain of the stroller – while you can shop while you stroll. Here people believe they are making decisions, but in fact they are being manipulated by the mall-designers. Malls are also safe-spaces, where undesirables are screened out.

Originally malls were merely physical, now all of this is intensified in teleshopping, in the private domain.

The vagabond

The vagabond was the bane of early modernity, being master-less, out of control. Modernity could not bear the vagabond because he had no set destination, each place he stops, he knows not how long he will stay. It is easy to control the pilgrim because of his self-determination, but not the vagabond.

Wherever the vagabond goes he is a stranger, he can never be native, he is always out of place.

In modernity the settled were many, the vagabonds few, postmodernity reverses the ratio as now there are few ‘settled places’ left – jobs, skills, relationships, all offer no chance of being rooted.

The tourist

Like the vagabond, the tourist is always on the move and always in the place but never of it, but there are seminal differences.

Firstly, the tourist moves on purpose, to seek new experiences. They want to immerse themselves in the strange and the bizarre, but they do so in a safe way, in a package-deal sort of way. The tourists world is structured by aesthetic criteria. Unlike the vagabond, who has a rougher ride.

Secondly, the tourist has a home, the vagabond does not. The problem, however, for the tourist, is that as the touristic mode of life becomes dominant, it becomes less and less clear where home actually is, and homesickness sets in – home lingers both as an uncanny mix of shelter and prison.

The player

In play there is neither inevitability nor accident, nothing is fully predictable or controllable, and yet nothing is totally immutable or irrevocable either.

In play there is nothing but a series of moves, and time in the world-as-play is divided into a succession of games, each self-enclosed. For the player, each game must have an end, it must be possible to leave it with no consequences once it has been completed, leave no mental scars.

The point of the game is to win, and this leaves no room for compassion, commiseration .or cooperation.

The mark of a postmodern adult is to embrace the game wholeheartedly, like children do.

Related Posts 

Modernity and Postmodernity

Postmodernity and Postmodernism

Giddens’ Structuration Theory – A Summary

 

Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.

Giddens rejects Positivism because of its mistaken search for the general laws of social life. Giddens believes that human beings are thoughtful and creative and thus cannot be wholly predicted in advance.

Marx downgraded the centrality of capitalism to being just one of four pillars of late-modernity along with surveillance, military power and industrialism.

Giddens draws selectively on a wide range of action theories, including Goffman, to argue that individuals always have some form of agency to transform a situation; even slaves have the capacity to act in different ways.

Practices always have the possibility of changing, and we can never guarantee that they will be reproduced, and one of the key features of late modern (compared to traditional) societies, is that there are more transformations in a shorter period of time.

He sees actors as using knowledge to engage in practical action, thus society is consciously reproduced (or transformed) in every social encounter.

However – ‘the realm of human agency is bounded’ for the ‘constitution of society is a skilled accomplishment of its members, but one that does not take place under conditions that are wholly intended or wholly comprehended by them’. (1976). For Giddens – people make society but with resources and ‘practices’ inherited from the past.

Structure for Giddens is not something which exists outside of the individual, but just patterns of practices. As practices change so does structure, and vice-versa.

Most of our practices take place at the level of practical consciousness, where we just act without thinking about it, however sometimes we operate at the level of ‘discursive consciousness’ – where we reflect on how we did things, but sometimes we find it difficult to talk about – here the example is given of footballers finding it difficult to describe how to play a game of football, they just know how to do it, when they doing it.

Practical consciousness is informed by ‘Mutual knowledge’ – taken for granted knowledge about how to act, which is based around ‘rules’ about the right and wrong way to do things. Rules persist among large groups of people and are lodged in agents’ heads in ‘memory traces’ (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas on socialisation and the habitus).

When agents are engaged in practices they draw on resources – there are two kinds – authoritative ones (status) and allocative ones (basically money and stuff) – an agent’s capacity to carry out their practices is influenced by their access to resources (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas about ‘skilled’ players of the game).

Giddens understands social institutions (such as family, and economic arrangements) as practices which have become routinized, carried out by a majority of agents across time and space. A social institution only exists because several individuals constantly make it over and over again.

Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.

For Giddens social structures do not reproduce themselves… it is always agents and their practices that reproduce structures, depending on circumstances. After all, ‘structure’ is simply made up of rules (in agents’ heads) and resources, which make action possible (Bourdieu claims it is the habitus which makes this possible). Simultaneously, practices create and recreate rules and resources. Therefor structure only exists in practices and in the memory traces in agents’ practical consciousness, and has no existence external to these.

Sources 

This post is summarized from Inglis, D (2012) – A Invitation to Social Theory, Polity.