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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Jamming it....

In my long absence from regular blog postings, Randi has kept up her daily routine of "art every day". I don't think she misses my links to her work -- she seems to have developed a regular following. But every so often she posts one that just screams for re-posting, and this is one of them. As she notes, the reference is to the anticipated annual traffic jam along Route 128 in the Salem area as folks trek to "Witch City" to spend Holloween Eve standing around looking silly (and partaking of a bit too much of the brew). The pun is great, as is the picture itself -- as well as the Yorkshire comment....

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Connecting dots....

As I've mentioned somewhere "way back when" in this (now increasingly intermittent) blogging, I tend to be engaged in reading two books on any one day -- one in the early morning while I am "working out" on a stationary machine at the gym (actually 'gyms', but that is another story) and another at various points of the day (when I have time to sit and read). In between I might pick up another of my accumulated backlist off the stacks found on the floors next to my desk or near my bed -- just to see if that title might be "worth a go" at this time (typically it is back on the stack for another year or so). But generally I am in two-at-a-time mode.

Today they are Lawrence Lessig's CODE AND OTHER LAWS OF CYBERSPACE and Nikolas Rose's POWERS OF FREEDOM.

Given my current preoccupation with a writing project on accountability (actually, I am always so preoccupied, but usually not so actively), it is not surprising that I am constantly engaged in a "connect the dots" exercise -- that is, relating the arguments of each author to the other even though they are focused on distinct topics. In this case, the connections are somewhat clear, for both authors are interested in the governing of "spaces", cyber for Lessig and political for Rose. What is intriguing this time are the missing dots that really link these works together -- Foucault and Hobbes.

Rose's work is explicitly Foucaultian, although in an intentionally cautious way for while he is clearly familiar with the theoretical constructions developed and preferred by the other followers of Foucault, his own work is attempting to be more "empirical" (in a Deleuzian sense that I am still trying to grasp). At the moment I am on second (and sometimes third) reading of his conceptual chapters, for I find in them a basic analytic approach that is very inviting for my own work.

Lessig's work, in contrast, has no explicit ties to any theory or theorist, but I see an implicit connection to Hobbes and Locke in his perspective. One cannot avoid seeing the pre-regulated cyberspace as a state of nature, although this one seems more Lockean -- or even Rousseauian -- than Hobbesian in the degree of harmonious relations that seems to characterize the virtual world of MOOS, etc. Whatever the condition of the un-regulated cyberspace, however, the fact is that its "architecture" renders it "regulable" (two of his favorite concepts), and that such regulation is inevitable. The question is whether the government or commercial interests will do the regulating, and what limits can (and will) be established on that regulation. In short, what degrees of freedom will remain in a regulated cyberspace. Here is where the two works link up, and where both social contract liberals and Foucault (and their respective ilk) meet up....

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Thoughts on legitimacy and public servants....

My DGov lectures at Queen's University covered issues of legitimacy and accountability as they relate to the current problems confronting governance in the EU. The DGov group consists primarily of some experienced (and pretty savvy) civil and public servants from the Republic of Ireland. Among the points I attempt to make in my remarks about legitimacy is that the "legitimation crisis" is real and for the most part an active "fault line" hidden beneath the surface of contemporary governance. Where it has "surfaced" is in discussions surrounding the efforts to "constitutionalize" the EU (to make a functioning 'regime' into a formal 'polity') and (less directly) in the administrative crises that confront many of the civil and public servants sitting in that classroom.

Put simply (and that is perhaps a problem with my presentation of it in the classroom), the crisis reflects the fact that we are in the midst of a transformation of legitimacy from an instrumental to a consummatory object of governance. The legitimacy of the modern welfare state was an instrument of governance -- a means to achieving the "general welfare" objectives manifest in the choices of state officials. It was not, unto itself, a goal or mission for those who designed or implemented government programs. To a certain extent, foundational legitimacy -- that necessary for the very existence of the state and deference to it -- was assumed by public officials, and it was only the use and manipulation of that deferential inclination inherent in foundational legitimacy that might interest those who governed.

But at some point -- or perhaps in some Habermasian dialectic process -- legitimacy was transformed from a means to an ends. The very logic of our managerially obsessed societies seems to make this inevitable, for what is valued most is what "works" -- that is, what delivers the goods and service most effectively and efficiently. There comes a point in such societies where the instrument -- the technique, in Ellul's terms -- becomes the object of desire and symbol of achievement. That seems to be what occured with instrumental legitimacy, for now the tool has become the good that needs to be manufactured and distributed....

There are all sorts of implications flowing from this development, not the least being challenge facing those who sit at the center of the transformation -- the public servants trained under a administrative state that valued legitimacy for its functionality who now confront a post-administrative state where legitimacy is the primary purpose of government and governance....

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Room with a foggy view....

It has been nearly four months since I left Northern Ireland for home, which is not a very long time -- and so I felt relatively "at home" on my return depsite the many changes that have and are taking place at Queen's Institute of Governance. In that short period there have been reorganizations (the Institute is now part of the Faculty of Law), retirements, graduations, office moves, job redefinitions and eliminations, etc. In the streets of Belfast there have been major disturbances and a few facelifts in that short period (a couple of new buildings where there was scaffolding when I left, and scaffolding where there were anonymous structures that will only now be missed...). A restaurant expansion here, an expansion of the Starbucks footprint (they finally bought out Equires, a local Starbucks-like chain), and overall a relatively dynamic city like the one I left a few weeks back, but moreso.

Friend Ciaran is allowing me to occupy one room in his "hi-rise" flat -- and I have a great tenth-story view of this low-rise city. At the moment (Sunday AM) it is a foggy view, which is much like it started yesterday as I headed off to lecture in the DGov programme (back to British spelling). By mid afternoon yesterday the day had turned sunny and quite nice -- a great fall day in Belfast, as it would be in New England. I have high hopes for today, although I am likely to spend most of my afternoon in the office preparing for a conference I have been organizing for this week. It is time for me to get the confernece programme in shape....

Getting to Belfast was a bit of a trial. Original plans had me flying in Thursday morning following a Wednesday evening departure from Boston. A radar problem in the Boston/New Hampshire area led me to scratch that plan -- my flight to Newark to catch the Continental Belfast flight was delayed five hours, making the conneciton impossible. Shifting plans forward, my colleagues at Queen's adjusted their lecture schedules so mine could be put off to Saturday (I had one set for Thursday night), and was set to make my trek on Thursday night, arriving Friday AM. Weather problems in Newark almost led to another day-long delay, but some smart thinking by a colleagues' partner (Why not fly to London from Boston and then to Belfast? -- well, of course!) produced a solution that got us (my colleague was also coming from Boston to lecture) to Belfast by 11:30 AM on Friday. Although I was up to the level of coherency for yeasterday's presentations, it took until this morning for me to get over my jet lag -- and just in a nick of time given all that I have to do.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Perspective on corruption....

We get daily delivery of both the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and today's headline story in both was about the devastation in Pakistan as a result of yesterday's earthquake. The loss of life (currently being reported at 18000) is difficult to fathom, and the situation is dramatically illustrated by pictures on the front page of both newspapers. As intriguing are the different perspectives provided by those photos -- and the story behind the scene....

On the front page of the Globe we see a close up view of a crumbled building which obviously led to the death and injury of hundreds. The Times photo is clearly of the same scene, but from a perspective that gives us an even clearer idea of the collapsed structure. Most interesting is the fact that many of the structures surrounding the wreckage seem relatively untouched, or at least still standing tall. What may seem like a odd circumstance, however, is better understood in the following excerpt from an email sent to a friend from one of his associates in Islamabad: "The single most tragic loss (over 100 dead) was to Margalla Tower in Islamabad which collapsed obviously due to poor construction and defective materials used. All other structures of similar height standing next to it at the corner of F-10 are in tact."

This seems a case where the price of corruption and unethical behavior was paid by innocent victims who need not have died as a result of this particular earthquake.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lost in cyberspace....

This blog has been through one of its long silent periods again. In part this is because I have been busy catching up with myself on a number of fronts. But there is also a bit of thinking going on as well as I have become caught up in some interesting readings related to ethical syndromes and the internet.

The "syndromes" part comes from a work I've assigned my ethics seminar -- Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival. As one student noted in the course discussion board, the writing borders on "horrible", and it is little wonder that this work has not attracted wide attention -- or at least less attention than some of Jacobs' earlier works on cities, urban life, the economy, etc. Systems of Survival is interesting for how it highlights two major moral/ethical syndromes that emerge within cultures -- the commerical and the guardian syndromes that are distinctive and different from each other on a number of points. For Jacobs, these are the two key patterns of ethical norms and standards that emerge throughout the world. Her presentation of these are ethical systems is in contrast to alternative schemes that pose them as ideologies or paradigms, and I think she is right in doing so.

But while generating little attention among students of ethics (as far as I can tell), there is one group that has found Jacobs' syndromes interesting and helpful -- students of information cultures and cyberspace (for example, see the work of Chris Phoenix, esp. here). Ironically, their main point runs counter to one of Jacobs' themes. When she considers the existence of of alternative syndromes, and especially various forms of communal ethics, she regards them as unstable and transitional at best -- marxism (in the form of soviet communism), she notes, turned to guardian syndromes to sustain themselves, and the Israeli kibbutz model survived and thrived by adopting the commercial syndrome.

But the folks who deal with cyberspace has used Jacobs' syndrome framework to highlight (by contrast) a third -- one that emerged from the 'hacker' culture that they label the "information" or 'idealist' syndrome. They make a good case for such a "thrid syndrome", and all this is reinforced (although not explicitly or directly) in the work of Stanford's Lawrence Lessig and NYU's Siva Vaidhyanathan. I played presentations of lectures given by each at the Library of Congress (here and here), and while both stress the negative implications of both commerce (i.e., corporate) and guardian (i.e., regulatory) syndromes on the future of the more anarchistic cyberspace, there is no doubt that this third syndrome has established a firm foothold over the past two decades....

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