Property, and – as philosophers might refer to it – the claim to possession and ownership of externalities, has long been a source of some disquiet. Jean Jacques Rousseau in the Second Discourse (The Discourse on Inequality) begins the second part with the dramatic opening line ‘[t]he first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.’ Plato before him and Marx later both advocated collectivisation, but Rousseau was no communist. The reality of what man had become made such reconstruction impractical. Yet the concept of property has led to inequalities that threaten capitalist society. Slavoj Zizek suggested that ‘…today’s global capitalism [may] contain antagonisms which are sufficiently strong to prevent its indefinite reproduction…’ including what he called ‘…the inappropriateness of private property…‘ especially intellectual property. Rousseau’s prescription was The Social Contract, and the abstraction of the General Will, an investiture of political legitimacy in the sovereign.
The Scottish Independence vote on September 18th will decide whether the country secedes from the United Kingdom. Its impact on the UK will be significant, as are the ramifications across Europe for separatist regions like Catalonia in Spain, Flanders in Belgium, and Kurdistan in Southern Turkey / Northern Iraq. Separatism – Nationalism – is back in vogue.
Nationalism, and National Identity, have long been a passion of mine. But whatever of its role in defining personal and community identity, as a structure it is in flux. The concept of the nation state in many ways defined the history of the twentieth century: in the lead up to World War I, the subsequent establishment of the League of Nations and various boundary commissions, then World War II and its various alliances, and the establishment of the United Nations, the European Union and the retrenchment from Empire, establishing so many new nation states all over Africa and Asia in particular. The Nation was sovereign, and inviolable; what happened within the State was solely the preserve of the State, and no other State would intervene in matters domestic (until Kosovo, and after Rwanda).
So let’s say the State becomes a platform, like we talked about in the last post. In order to participate in the State, in order to pay taxes, and get educational accreditation, access healthcare, and to get licensed to own dogs, own a gun, or drive a car, you need to subscribe to the platform. Let’s say then that the platform allows for commercial entities to participate, to advertise their wares on the State Platform, to ‘compete’ for consumer attention based on big data analysis of citizen behaviour and experience. What are the other things that are happening with technology that impact upon the evolution of the state?
Here at StateLegitimacy.com, we’re interested in two things. First, how we measure legitimacy, and how legitimacy is constructed, and second, how technology impacts on legitimacy. We’re going to ask the question: could Rousseau’s Social Contract be implemented in technology? What if the state became a platform?
Twelve months ago it seemed inevitable that Bashar Al-Assad had no future in Syria, that it was merely a matter of time before his reign – and his dynasty – came to an end. What has been consistent also, however, is that there has been no clarity in terms of who should replace him. Furthermore, this has never been an internalised, isolated civil war; it is regional, strategic, and symbolic. Continue reading “Syria, Now”
As mentioned in my last post, Zizek identifies four apocalyptic antagonisms that threaten the liberal democratic status-quo. They are ecology, technology, property and equality. In relation to the technological post-human dystopia, Zizek attributes a leadership role to Ray Kurzweil, a noted thinker in technology futurism. There are two kinds of post-humanism, it appears – a kind of robotic, artificial intelligence future as described in the fiction Asimov and the Terminator movies, and a bio-genetic technological Armageddon of which I’m less familiar.
Trundling along through Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order, we have surged through the Chinese and Indian experiences, pushing past Islam and on to Christianity before moving into the Rule of Law in Part Three. I had not really to this point considered the extent to which law and religion are part of my considerations; at least certainly not the law. In thinking through the impact on state legitimacy of technology, it is most likely my view that the changing nature of identity is more important, and that that, by extension, undermines the state (insofar as identity is constructed substantially by associations with non-state or super-state groups). To put it more simply, people associate less with community and nation, and more with brand and interest group, connected through globalised technology. Identity is also being changed by the decline in religious tradition, at least outside of Muslim states. However, I had a problem connecting that aspect of religion to my thesis, as it seems only peripherally attributed to the rise in technology.
A data scientist at Twitter, Edwin Chen, has used twitter to measure the prevalence of the term ‘soda’ versus ‘pop’ or ‘coke’ across the US, and the world. He compares his work to work done ten years previously on a survey basis, which reveals slight changes over time, but essentially concurs with Chen’s conclusions. In order to arrive at the data set, Chen had to clean the data by removing extraneous references. For example, references to specific drinks – like Coca Cola – were eliminated; and only those references to drinks were included. Then he was left with a pretty accurate picture as represented by Americans who use Twitter – and let’s presume for now that that’s a statistically accurate sample.
I linked yesterday to Ann-Marie Slaughter‘s excellent presentation to PopTech on International Relations and the non-state actors that influence and even dictate so much development in the world. Watching it again this morning (and it’s worth watching twice) a number of questions crossed my mind. First, she talks about social actors and ad hoc networks, but never quite gets to social networks. Just as ad-hoc supra-national organisations are bringing together strange bedfellows, and getting ahead of the State actors in driving change, people are developing connections and social networks beyond traditional family and even cultural groups; one could argue that technological change is facilitating the re-structuring of the DNA of culture. Kin, geography, language, religion and race remain important, but they are no longer the exclusive determinants of social alignment. People connect now through trade, sports, entertainment, hobbies, and other interests, forming close relationships. People’s identity – closely tied to these relationships – is changing. National identity is less relevant.