Saturday, June 15, 2013

Responding to concern about PRISM and the issue of whether intelligence collaboration with the US enabled British agencies to circumvent legal restrictions, Foreign Secretary William Hague told us that “law-abiding citizens” have nothing to fear. Not only do I not wish to be the kind of person Hague thinks of as “law abiding”, more generally it is social movements that willfully break the law that are most likely to bring about change and to threaten established power and privilege. And it is just such movements, and their leaders, who are at risk from pervasive state surveillance of our communications.

My brief, but unscientific reactions to the whole project. First, I’m sympathetic, I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life for two reasons: first, even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere). I suspect this generalizes to many people in professional jobs: we couldn’t achieve the kinds of things we want to in our careers on those kinds of hours. This isn’t necessarily a problem, so long as there isn’t compulsion. Some (many) people have shitty jobs with low intrinsic rewards: removing the burden of work for them would be an unqualified good thing. Second, it is all very well Juliet Schor telling us to transition to a low hours/lower consumption economy. I’m cool with consuming less. The problem is that I, and just about everyone else, has taken out huge mortgages and bank loans to pay (in part) for the consumption we’ve already had. Hard to reduce the hours unless (or until) the debt goes away. Third, there was distressingly little discussion of the politics of this. Whatever the real social and economic benefits, the French 35-hour week wasn’t a political success (perhaps because it was watered-down) and Sarkozy was able to campaign effectively on behalf of the “France qui se lève tôt”. Some kind of post-mortem on this experience would have been helpful, albeit that it took place in a different, pre-crisis, environment.
I'm not going to moralize about levels of moral and political responsibility. Every example of language use, spoken or written, is made of text and subtext/s. Moral and political philosophers in the Anglo-American tradition pretend their words are exempt, that subtext is for others. It isn't.

Bertram's "scientific" imagination licenses his own mediocrity. Assume the mediocrity of all, and you get what you wish for.

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