oddly enough


Spiegel Online reports with reference to the Malaysian newspaper Malay Mail (link in German) that police in Malaysia freed eight Indonesian prostitutes who were forced to have intercourse without contraceptives, and become pregnant, so the Malaysian child trafficking ring could sell the babies for about 4,400 to 6,600 Euros to Malaysian clients. The Indonesian women, two of whom were pregnant when they were freed, were allegedly lured into the country by promises to get jobs as „nannys“, and I’m not sure their „recruiters“ weren’t aware of their cynicism.

almost a diary, Political Theory, USA, web 2.0

Stupid, stupid, stupid idiots!

Lillimarleen links to „pro-gun“ tirade by Rachel Lucas called just like this entry. Rachel furiously tries to point out why previous cases of civil strife, ethnic persecution, or class warfare are valid arguments in favour of uninhibited gun ownership in general, and specifically in the USA –

„If you make self-defense illegal, or even problematic, you’re making life easier for criminals and tyrants.“

Well, if I were living in a Hobbesian state of nature I would probably have to subscribe to the strict version of that theory, too. But, luckily, I am not. Maybe she is – she lives in Texas, according to her webpage – that would explain her position.

In the real world however, it just doesn’t make much sense. But just like I am, Rachel and everybody else is entitled to tell the world about his or her opinions.

So when there’s nothing to argue, what am I doing here? Well, I am not really concerned with the substance of her rant, but rather with the style.

Unfortunately, Rachel (although she’s far from the worst) seemingly believes in the bizarre discourse theory a lot of bloggers, in my experience predominantly American right-wing bloggers, are spreading these days – that calling people who don’t share their opinions „idiots“ as frequently as possible is making their points more convincing. Generally, they seem to follow the rule „the more aggressive, and insulting, the better.“

Rachel herself admits this practice on her FAQ page

Q: ‚How does Rachel expect to make her point by insulting people she disagrees with?‘
A: Easy. I don’t expect to make my point to people who can’t see past the insults. Also, this is just a blog, not the New York Times op-ed page.“

Don’t get me wrong here, there are instances for the application of „idiot“. But the word’s inflationary use is a kind of verbal pollution, is simply annoying, and possibly preventing a good deal of the debate theoretically made possible by advances in communication technologies – who likes to talk to people who begin the discussion by saying „shut up, you idiot“? In Rachel’s words – why should they want to see past the insults?

I wonder if some phd student is already trying to capture the early changes personal publishing is making to the style of written opinion in general – can anyone imagine a NY Times op-ed headline that reads „Stupid, stupid, stupid idiots“? Probably not – for the time being. But who knows what the future, and the effects of personal publishing will have on other forms of media?

compulsory reading, oddly enough, Political Theory, US Politics, USA

Desperately Seeking Simplicity

Somehow, I hate to restate something as obvious as this – the world we are living in is an extremely complex system. A system far too complicated for any individual to understand. That’s why we tend to categorize and model the world in order to reduce complexity and gain a little insight into the „underlying causes“ of the reality constructed by our sensory system.

But somehow, I guess it is necessary. Fellow German Blogger „Lilimarleen“ wonders how people living in a world featuring violent anti-globalisation demonstrations and politicians desperate to cater to the needs of multinational corporations with the ability to go „regime shopping“ can actually believe that there is something like a „national“ product that can be boycotted without harming anyone but a clearly (nationally) identifiable producer (and oneself, because of the choice not to engange in a otherwise utility enhancing transaction).

The answer is evident, in my opinion – they are looking for simplicity – and ways to regain control of a global system that is seemingly beyond anyone’s control. Knowing that their individual *political*, ie „non-market“, influence on the relevant international players‘ actions is not even negligible, they are turning to a different institution of imaginary popular control – consumer „democracy“. As one of Lilimarleen’s reader’s remarked –

„Boycotting is the only way that I can make a difference.“

Well, should the problem of collective action indeed be overcome by a specific momentum like the current wave of „Freedom“-branding, they could indeed have *some* influence. But in an extremely complex system like the world economy, there is no way to predict the indirect ramifications of their actions apart from the fact that everyone will suffer from reduced economic exchange.

In order to uphold this illusion of influence those boycotting „French“ products need to adopt a simplistic view of the transactional structure through which the good in question has been created.

I suppose it’s a bit like driving fast in a car – a mechanism of mental self protection. Rationally, I know that there are quite a lot of things that could lead to an accident that are entirely out of my realm of decision making. But I don’t think about that because holding the steering weel emotionally reassures me that I am in control of the machine I am sitting in. I am deluding myself, and I know it.

But otherwise, I would not be able to drive (fast) at all. And there is no way I would renounce to that.

media, oddly enough, Political Theory, US Politics, USA


Andrew Northrup is concerned with the distorted reality that mass media is constructing in our heads, specifcally by the notion that the western public is more and more appalled even by small numbers of wartime casualties, citing an article by Greg Easterbrook who seems to hold this opinion –

„[a]s we weep for the Iraqi dead – whoever slew them, they did not deserve their fates–we should reflect that the recent trend both of general war, as in Iraq, and of ‚armed conflict,‘ as in other places, is for fewer people to die, while the threshold of what constitutes an atrocity is steadily lowered. Both are good signs for the human prospect.“

Northrup, on the other hand holds that

„… media coverage, and world opinion, has basically nothing to do with actual magnitudes, and basically everything to do with scoring political points. … Is a single Palestinian or Israeli death global news because a precious, precious life was lost, and life is the most precious, precious thing there is? Or because it lets someone say „I told you so“?“

He certainly makes a good point by citing an Economist article about another – far bloodier – war that is being waged these days without global attention – in Africa, Congo, to be precise, a forgotten country on a forgotten continent –

„… if the Economist’s figures are to be believed, the death toll of the past half-decade in Congo is about the same as the entire population of the occupied territories, or Israel, or Baghdad. Put another way, it’s 3 orders of magnitude greater than Intifada 2, probably 4 powers of ten greater than GW2 (so far…), and has received 3 or 4 orders of magnitude less press coverage than either one. The explanation for this is politics, not the greater caring and sensitivity of 21st century man.“

I agree that domestic and international political/ economic salience is clearly an important variable to explain media attention – but I think that casualty numbers do have some importance, albeit not quite in the way that Mr Easterbrook alleges.

I doubt human beings have become any more emphatic in recent years than they have been before. But low casualty numbers allow a stronger expressions of empathy than higher numbers – mostly because of psychological „bandwidth restrictions“. We might be able to grasp the suffering of a few people, but not that of millions. Factor that into the media’s programming decisions and there is an additional explanation for overproportional coverage of „small scale“ atrocities.

Maybe Andrew Northrup forgot about a point once made by Joseph Stalin: while the Soviet dictator was undisputably wrong in pretty much everything he ever said or did – after all, depending on whom you ask he will be a close runner up to Hitler or even top the Austro-German monster on the list of the most evil men of the 20st century – he seems to have had a certain grasp of mass media constructed reality and human psychology when he once stated that –

„A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.“

almost a diary, music, oddly enough

Spring Cold.

Sorry for the apparent lack of entries, but even though the weather is brightening up in Southern Germany, I was hit by a pre-spring/post-carnival cold yesterday and so I’m not really in screen-staring mood. And there’s so much I would like to write about – the latest developments re Iraq, my best guess for Bush’s non-war exit strategy, exciting developments in German higher education, and, obviously, yesterday’s serious economic policy bashing by the Bundesbank which is obviously as scared as it gets of a possible downgrade of Germany’s debt rating.

But above all, on the day on which the first „German Idol“ will be elected by tens of millions of phone calls, I would have loved to write something more detailed about an amazing documentary on ZDF television which covered the casting for the „Arabic Idol“ [link in German]. When I see expressions of the ongoing Islamic reformation as vital as that, I can’t help but wonder if the „Arabic Idol’s“ life will be made easier by a war that is likely going to seriously discredit the less inhibted, western lifestyle these young people seem to have discovered on their own.

I very much doubt it.


Turkey in the EU?

Turkey in the EU?

Following the EU’s recent de facto decision to open membership talks with Turkey in 2005, those fiercly opposed to Turkish membership will probably be very interested in funding field research of the country’s social reality now. Such research will certainly produce a picture quite different from the one painted by Turkish diplomats.

Tonight, AFP tells us about a study conducted by the Turkish chamber of medical doctors (link in German) revealing that at least 58% of women in Turkey are subject to domestic violence. Now I don’t know whether the study is reliable or the comparable figures for Western Europe – but I am quite confident they will be a tiny fraction of the Turkish figure.

And there’s one more thing – definitions. While there’s no justification for any kind of domestic violence, I suspect that those interviewed do have a more relaxed understanding of the term „violence“ than most people over here. Thus, the figure is likely a lot higher from a western point of view than even the 58% revealed now.

Such firmly socialised behavior will not easily change, even if Europe would agree to make „real“, as opposed to „formal“, social change a prerequisite of Turkish membership (which it certainly won’t). Paper is patient. On paper, Turkish women and men have the same legal status since 1923.

But apart from geo-strategic arguments, the most important argument of those promoting Turkish membership is that of membership as „change-agent“, of importing „real“ modern governance and modern social institutions through economic and political integration. It is an argument that certainly deserves to be taken seriously.

But I have to say that I have serious doubts about its actual validity in the Turkish case. EU membership would probably help to reduce culturally induced problems like domestic violence a little bit (well, changing statistical methods and perception might also cause it to rise statistically), especially through extended economic exchange. But such change would certainly take much longer than the time horizon of any European politician can possibly be.

So, geo-strategy aside for the moment, the big question behind the Turkish entry is whether the EU want to either embark on a huge benevolent neo-colonialist adventure to prove that it is not a „Christian Club“ or simply ignore such cultural practices in a member state. Both alternatives cannot be appealing to a community that considers itself a ommunity of values, not just treaties. It’s a big catch 22, that Turkish membership application.

Currently, I am against the adventure. But the debate has only just begun. And I am always open to suggestions.

compulsory reading, oddly enough

A new kind of suicide.
Between two consenting adults.

When I briefly mentioned the cannibalism case revealed by German police in Rotenburg, near Frankfurt, yesterday, I had just heard about it. Normally, I’d say there’s not much more to it than I wrote yesterday. It obviously goes without saying that it is unbelievably sad that things like cannibalism keep occuring on this planet. Most of us would prefer to live on one in which they wouldn’t. But we can’t choose yet. So we have to cope.

Is this the end of the story? Not quite. However tragic, there is probably more to this latest case than a life sentence for the perpetrator and some disbelieving head shaking for the rest of us. It’s about a new kind of suicide, the social ‚contract‘, and, at a slightly more abstract level, about transaction costs.

It was quite interesting to see all the psychological experts interviewed on tv at loss of words. Not about the perpetrator’s behavior, which, although fortunately rare, happens frequently enough for psychologists and others to have given it some thought and at least be able to come up with wishy-washy sexual, social or genetic explanations – but they do not have the slightest idea why someone would agree to be killed and be eaten afterwards, as the victim, a gay 41 or 42 year old man from Berlin explicitly did.

Let’s recapitulate: There was a guy who seriously repeatedly posted classified ads on the internet looking for people wishing to be killed and eaten. According to „The Scotsman’s“ English coverage of the story, he used the following words (well, in German, I suppose) „Seeking young, well-built 18- to 30-year-old for slaughter“.

And while the crime in all likelihood happened only once, five additional suicide candidates seem to have stood in line. Before being killed, cut to pieces and being eaten or deep fried, the victim agreed to have his penis cut off, which was then cooked and at least tasted by both men – on camera.

While the deed technically qualifies for first degree murder, according to the local prosecutor, I wonder what the legal repercussions of the victim’s taped consent to be killed will be. I suppose, some so far neglected or even undiscovered issues will now attract attention, eg the already questioned human free will (aka real consent), our social norms and abnormal, apparently suicidal sexuality.

Clearly, not everything that goes on between two consenting adults in a bedroom (or basement) should be treated as their own business. But in a society in which mutual consent between adults is de facto the only enforced and probably enforceable sexual convention, I can’t help but wonder what should not be regarded as such? And, more importantly, why – based on which principle?

I don’t know. But I fear these questions will have to be answered more precisely rather sooner than later.

Before the internet, it was probably a lot harder to find like-minded partners for perverse activities such as the one discovered yesterday. But on the web, self-selection processes have become a lot cheaper. If some consensual abnormal transactions have been barred by prohibitive transaction costs (too costly to find a partner) in the non-digital world, reduced transaction costs will by definition lead to an increase of these transactions.

Thus, with transaction costs close to zero (in some ways), we might be forced to witness more and more consensual but clearly abnormal behavior in the future. But let’s hope I’m wrong.

Political Theory

Hardwired Hirarchy

Thinking about coordination of human activities I can’t help but wonder – do we have a hardwired tendency for hirarchical coordination? Is there some sort of biological reason for people’s need to have an ordered society?

Is this simply about assigning responsibilities and easily finding the culprit(s) when the damage occurs or could it possibly have something to do with fundamental behavioral tendencies of the animal in us?

If Hayek is right that chaos is more effective and creative but humans can’t lastingly deal with the challenges of that chaos, could there be a biological element to the „centralising“ movements that created vast socio-economic- all-encompassing-monopolistic hierarchies (Communism, Naszim)?

compulsory reading, post-modernism

Stuck somewhere in the middle. Growing up these days.

The German weekly „Die Zeit“ this week provides a survey of the consequences of disappearing traditional family structures and socially predetermined gender roles for today’s youngsters.

According to the article, socio-athropologists and behavioral biologists alike now claim that kids these days are in dire need for authority and some sort of biographical structure. The price of freedom, of entirely open biographies, is apparently not a modest one – as rising suicidal attempts and a new autodestructive habits (German: „ritzen“) among both young boys and girls seem to indicate.

Now it is all too obvious that going back is not an option, and even the staunchest conservatives will agree on this point, at least in private. Even apart from the most obvious justifications from an economic and philosphical perspective, modern societies do need social variety as evolutionary organisational „market“.

But kids apparently need some sort of clear-cut answers about life and their position in society to grow up. Growing up does, of course, entail to question these previous certainties – but if there are none, no questions remain to be asked, no walls to be torn down.

But if going back is not an option – where are modern societies headed for? The one thing I think becomes obvious from reading accounts like the one cited above is that we are in need of a new social equilibrium – some sort of „steady-state-equilibrium“. One that is open and stable at the same time.

Don’t ask me for sketches as I don’t have any. But should that turn out to actually be an oxymoron, I fear we will have to witness more and more socially dysfunctional kids, grown ups and then parents – with a resulting negative feedback slope – until both people and society will have evolved in a way that can bridge the rising gap between our genetic and cultural endowments.

Now you might reply to this that no older generation in history has ever been able to understand their younger one and that the above article is simply an example of the classic generation-gap, reframed in modern scientific language by publication-hungry scientists.

That is quite possible. But I don’t think so.