Quote for Discussion: Deviant Globalization

The underlying political process associated with deviant globalization is the disaggregation of the “sovereignty bundle” of powers associated with the high modernist liberal state. In many places the state is no longer (if, indeed it ever was) the de facto governing authority, in the sense that it does not control the delivery of fundamental political goods, such as security, infrastructure, education, and health care. Different pieces of that bundle are being parceled out to (or, more commonly, grabbed by) a variety of actors: tribal leaders, gangsters, NGOs, religious leaders, transnational and local corporations, mercenaries, ethnic militias, and so on. The particular combinations vary from place to place, and there is a great deal of path dependency. In many places, the same actors who control the resource flows associated with deviant globalization are also de facto providers of “state-like services” such as security or infrastructure. And naturally enough, the common people who rely on these providers tend to align their political loyalties accordingly.

What’s new in this situation is that in many cases these “political actors” have no interest in actually becoming a state or taking over an existing state. They’re happy to wield state-like authority and power, while enriching themselves via dubious business operations. I’m thinking here of groups as various as the Mahdi Army in Iraq, the PCC in Brazil, the ‘Ndrangheta in Italy, or Laurent Nkunda’s crew in Congo. None of these organizations plan to declare sovereign independence and file for membership of the United Nations. What they want, simply, is to carve out a space where they can do their business and not have the state mess with them. This means that, unless a state confronts them, they’re disinclined to challenge states directly-directly challenging the state is expensive, and generally bad for business. As this new class of post-state political actors takes over functions formerly monopolized by states, they and their constituents lose interest in the state. From a political perspective, therefore, deviant globalization leads to (and also is facilitated by) the proliferation of jurisdictionally ambiguous spaces where sovereignty as it has traditionally been conceived simply no longer exists. It’s a self-reinforcing dynamic.

Western pundits and politicians like to describe these sorts of spaces with highly misleading terms such as “failing states” or “undergoverned zones.” The implication of such terminology is that the people living there want to be just like us, but that somehow they’re unable to get there. But such a belief is, if I may be blunt, a narcissistic delusion masquerading as political science. Contrary to what the bien-pensants claim, most so-called failing states don’t want to get fixed. In many of these zones, the local powers that be are quite content with these novel, informal political arrangements. It allows them to make fabulous amounts of money running globe-spanning commercial empires, while being recognized as the “big men” within the communities that they care about. They have no desire to attain the West’s ideal of an inclusive, welfare-providing modern state. These guys are “postmodern” in the sense that they realize that the West’s form of modernity will never include them, and they’re charting an entirely different path. It’s very different from the classic revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.

Nils Gilman

Some of you may know that among my interests is the question of black markets, and the foolishness of political policies which seek to criminalize consensual activities.  The above excerpt, part of a longer interview all of which is very worth reading, is about what Gilman calls the “politics of deviant globalization”, or the globalization of black markets which has accompanied the globalization in other markets.  And it strikes me that a lot of the big news since the election has been about licit and illicit forms of corruption.  Corrupt ratings agencies which colluded with CDO issuers to create a financial bubble they could ride until it burst in our faces.  A corrupt Congress which gives out bailout dollars largely on the basis of lobbying expenses.  A corrupt political process which hands out Senate seats to members of the nation’s most powerful political clan on request, or worse, tries to sell them for cash.  A corrupt financial system all too eager to be hoodwinked by a $50 billion Ponzi scheme if the numbers look right.

And I want to get all up in arms about all this sin, but I just can’t seem to do it.  Because it is all so inevitable.  GM and the UAW both are going to spend money lobbying; they would be fools if they didn’t.  Governors are going to use Senate appointments in ways that benefit themselves; they would be idiots not to.  All the Attorney General Spitzers in the world can go after as many prostitution rings as they want; as long as someone, like Elliot Spitzer, is willing to pay money for sex there will be an escort service with a working phone number.

Politics often allows us the illusion that many of our problems are fixable.  We can defeat terrorism, we can leave no child behind, we can just say no to drugs, we can end violence on our streets.  But, frankly, a lot of these things cannot be accomplished.  We cannot meaningfully accomplish many things we would like to.

The moment before Barack Obama is inaugurated may seem an odd moment to wish to point out, “No, we can’t.”  But we cannot make the world, and the billions of people who live in it, different in most ways from what it is.  And far too often, the goal of our politics and our discourse has been to tilt endlessly at certain moralistic windmills, which fail to serve either practical good, or our ostensible moralist goal.  

It isn’t always an act of cowardice to settle for less.

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    • Jay Elias on December 18, 2008 at 6:45 am
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    …I hope everyone was well during my absence.  Happy holidays.

    • pfiore8 on December 18, 2008 at 11:19 am

    i’ve been saying for some time that power rests with global corporations now. trade agreements are made (like NAFTA) to disembowel the sovereignty of gov’ts to protect citizens by giving all legal standing to corporations. truly, like our gov’t, they are hand puppets for the real masters of the universe.

    and with the internet and this “world is flat” thing, why bother worrying about controlling territories in conventional ways? that was the shock and awe experiment, imo. anyway: it’s all about propaganda and pocketbooks.

    and tilting at windmills? it’s what the best of us are made for . . . righting injustice. it’s easy to accept what you perceive as inevitable.

    but it’s only inevitable if you accept it.

    i don’t.

  1. You raise some really important questions. And to be honest, I don’t have any answers…just more questions.

    At the essay I linked, I used your sig line in my “tip jar.” It keeps nagging at me with more questions.  

  2. …is this particularly new, in the sense of being deviant?   For most of history places have been governed by warlords and associations.  The further from centralized government one gets — from the places that people with armies or huge religions care to control — the more of this one finds.  And these places have always participated in commerce.  

    Guess I’ll have to go read the interview.

  3. I missed you.

    You say you:

    … wish to shift our thinking away from the goal of “righting injustice” and toward that of helping people.  And I believe that those two notions are indeed in some degree of conflict.

    Some degree of conflict, perhaps, but I also think there are areas of commonality as well.

    Actually, I prefer the notion of “pursuing” justice instead of “righting” injustice.  Looking at it that way, justice is always present, but it is for us to find, to bring into our society by revealing those actions that hinder justice, even if only to act as a witness.  Well, I know that is a bit mystical, so I’ll stop.

    I very much agree that helping people is the goal and that there is no one rigid standard by which to do that.

    Plenty of food for thought here.

  4. a lot in this essay. Especially about the ludicrous spreading of democracy, by the US. I do not ask my government to remake the world for the spread of democracy, or our sicko version of morality, what I do ask is that they govern by the law, international law as well as our own system. Our ‘sacred’ documents as Russell Banks calls them. The lofty ones that over ride the pettiness of human tryanny and get right down to the nitty gritty of self evident truths and equality.

    They evolved over centuries and it is up the people to maintain them. This is our heritage our contribution to the long chain that went before. Right now it’s being torn down internally as the most powerful pirates own the government and are busy removing it as it’s an impediment to the pillaging. The foxes own the hen house.      

    The world has never been anything other then tribal, but history as far as human progress and justice does occur. It does not belong to us as a nation or any place or time. The barbarians, warlords and gangsters always push at the edges of Empire. Our Empire does even respect the most basic of international law.  Black markets always exist, I just don’t want the worst of the pirate/gangsters, the ones in suits that pay 1% tax while they extort ours, to be able to tear down the Laws, the ones that evolved to keep them at bay.      

  5. Smite the Satan that does indeed give life and direction to “the Illuminati” who profit profoundly from the exploitation of oppressed people.

    They think they are doing wonderous things.

    http://www.salon.com/books/rev

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