Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dominique Moisi: The Geopolitics of Emotion

Author: Dominique Moisi.
Title: "The Geopolitics of Emotion: The Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope Are Reshaping the World"
Publication: New York: Doubleday, 2009, ISBN 978-0-385-52376-9. 177 pages

This short book was a recommendation from Farred Zakaria on his GPS program on CNN. The author, a Holocaust survivor descendant from France, views emotions as driving not only the activities of individuals and families but of whole cultures and countries. His theory is a bit like that of an 11th grade US history teacher I had around 1960, who likened countries and groups to people.

After all, most people see self-interest in how they “live”, and often particularly how their families and progeny do, and they tend to view public policy questions through that filter. Self-interest generates seemingly contradictory emotions: pride and shame both.

So it is with countries. Hope more or less characterizes Asia, most of all China, which can accept an authoritarian and circumscribing regime in order to offer future material prosperity. He attributes some of this to China’s “permanence”, which provides some contrast with India. Japan he sees as a special case, somewhat because it evolved in an area of the world so prone to natural mega-disasters.
Humiliation pervades this Islamic world; Moisi does sketch and trace the historical record for the fall of Islam from its dominance a millennium ago. But it becomes personal when it translates into shame, and emotion that helps explain the suicide bombings.

Fear pervades the West, whose individual citizens can fear that their prosperity is ill-gotten and could be expropriated by external forces or even natural ones (or hybrids, like global warming). They sense that the shame forced on others might be met with force to bring everyone low to the same level. I remember this sense of indignation from the Far Left when I was a young adult in the early 1970s.

Radical Islam, for all its talk of the literal edicts of the Koran, seems focused on the “meaning” of “virtue”, very public (since Islam does not separate religion and state), which translates into a hierarchal social system in which men in charge of families (sometimes polygamous) are responsible for providing for and protecting women and children, who must accept their leadership in the name of sustainability. Of course, this means that women normally cannot assert themselves as westerners expect, and that people are not free to operate outside the family and religious structure – but that sounds like fundamentalist Christianity, too.

Moisi takes a shot at American hyper-individualism, bringing to my mind and old 2004 article (by Bill McKibben) in Mother Jones about "hyperindividualism v. solidarity". He is particularly critical of American fascination with gun ownership for self-defense, even though we know that residential self-defense can be a major deterrent to crime. Perhaps we have taken "personal responsibility" so far into its logical endpoint as a virtue that we become vulnerable to fascist manipulations ourselves. On p. 13 he warns that the "rich" should not kid themselves into a complacent experience of false "self-sufficiency" and ignore what is going on around them; "Today, not to intervene to alleviate the sufferings of the world is a form of intervention."

Moisi sketches some scenarios as to how the world will look in 2025 if Fear prevails (it’s not pretty) and alternatively if Hope does. He doesn’t sketch the potential Armageddon if Humiliation takes over.

He also provides some interesting mixed perspectives on Africa and Latin America in terms of these emotions.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barnes and Noble offers expanded e-book subsite and service

Barnes and Noble created a flap by announcing and online e-book store, which turns out to be a new subdirectory on its already very well known (since the 1990s) booksellers website, link here. You can go there are see download facilities for PC-Mac, Blackberry and iPhone, and a new device called Plastic Logic, price to be determined, will compete with Amazon Kindle.

The Wall Street Journal reported this today (July 21) in Marketplace as did Paid Content of CBS News, in a story by Rafat Ali here. Kinley Levacek has a story about Plastic Logic “The E-reader of the future” in E-content here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Jim DeMint: "Saving Freedom" -- from socialism, but that depends on what you mean by socialism

Author: Jim DeMint, United States Senator, R-SC
Title: "Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism"
Publication: Nashville: Fidelis, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8054-4957-0 277 pages, hardcover

The book title pretty much sets up what this conservative Senator will argue. Perhaps a quote of Winston Churchill on p 9 sums up his argument: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

In fact, in my own thinking, I’ve always perceived a certain bifurcation as to moral matters: the modern libertarian emphasizes personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s choices; the religious moralist is concerned about karma and the sharing of less visible risks and burdens. The latter was very important when I was growing up.

Each of DeMint’s fourteen chapters (in three parts) begins with an anecdote in italics; I like the one where he sees Don Quixote as a metaphor for socialist government.

Some of DeMint’s prescriptions sound like standard Forbes stuff: Go to the flat tax, privatize social security, give Americans tax-free grants to buy their own portable health insurance. He does like the freedom that technology has given people and encourages blogging – but he also encourages running for office in his list of citizenry duties.

But it is in the moral areas that DeMint has some explaining, or maybe he just sees certain things as a given. On p 65 he writes “Same-sex couples must not be honored with the institution of marriage. If they are, the moral standing of marriage will be reduced to that of homosexuality.” On p 160, talking about the Griswold contraception case, he writes “The so-called ‘right to privacy’ was extended to procreative sexual acts and to cover abortion. This ‘right to privacy’ was later stretched to the breaking point when the Court declared sodomy laws unconstitutional and gave presumed legitimacy to gay marriage.” And he casts “freedom” in terms of the right to discriminate, at least on one’s own values, and opposes ENDA.

I think there is a pretty good clue to the “rationalism” in his thinking in the way he presents dependency (bad) and interdependency (good). DeMint supplements this idea by talking about the seamlessness of business, volunteering, faith and family in his own life.

A lot of people depend on the government for services that used to be supplied by families, and that might have to again. That may impute a “false sense of freedom” for some people, from responsibility for others, outside of the scope of the obvious responsibility that comes from certain choices (procreation). Within any family or community, faith-based ethical systems usually expect the more externally competitive members to commit themselves to “attachment” (to use a Dr. Phil term) with the less fortunate members and make family responsibility (even outside of child rearing, say to include eldercare) an important personal priority. That is the “conservative’s” idea about how uncertainty and misfortune is to be shared, although it does not answer the obvious enormous legacy inequities between large groups of people (by race, religion, country, etc).

Before, on these blogs, I’ve covered hidden “conservative” theories – actually just old school social contract thinking – that one way you get everyone to invest in the right kinds of “attachment” is to let (heterosexual) marriage have a complete monopoly on sexuality, so that deviation is no longer thinkable. Then everybody plays. Curiously, that kind of thinking sounds like what DeMint says he detests – communism, or at least psychological socialism.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Newspaper copyediting problems recall 1980s book "Trading Secrets" by Foster Winans

Today, July 5, 2009, Andrew Alexander, ombudsman for The Washington Post, wrote (on p A17) a confessional about the typos in the print and online versions of the newspaper due to the cutbacks in the number of copyeditors. Newspapers are very dependent on accuracy and perfection for credibility, and economic competition (maybe some of it from bloggers) has eroded their ability to maintain that standard. The link is here.

An older book “Trading Secrets: An Insider's Account of the Scandal at The Wall Street Journal” had covered this issue well as newspaper technology was back in the1980s. The book is by R. Foster Winans, and tells the story of how a young reported, whose career first started in Trenton, got caught up in the 1980s scandals of insider trading while writing the WSJ “Heard on the Street” column. An early chapter in the book describes the technology of the time, the process of gathering stories throughout the day (often starting with hotel breakfast meetings) and the need for typing perfect stories (without misspelling company names or especially stock symbols) by a certain deadline in a certain format and within certain length parameters. It was very exacting work.

The book then gets into the temptations of the time, that would lead to the scandals of the 1980s, a predecessor of our problems today. Of course, journalistic integrity was at issue, and Winans is eventually fired for “conflict of interest.” The description of how he first got called in and how the investigations went are harrowing.

Less convincing is his own account of his personal life as a gay man, and he is somewhat dismissive of the community service efforts in the community at the time as a result of the AIDS crisis.

Amazon shows only one copy, a Macmillian UK copy, but it is on Google book, for example here.

The publication date for the book was 1986, and the original publisher was St. Martins Press; the ISBN was 0312812272.