Friday, 18 November 2011

Greening the Economy: Building the Skills Base for a Sustainable Transition

After a great deal of re-thinking the growth trajectory of the South African economy, the government announced its intention to significantly green the developmental state, mainly through interventions in the energy sector. Yet the meaning of 'greening' must be established before any reasonably coherent discussion can be held on the subject, for it means different things to different people. Some, for example, tend to think of 'greening' as establishing 'garden cities', implementing nature conservation programmes, parks, water-bodies and the like.

Yet this is a limited view of 'greening'. In its more comprehensive interpretation, 'greening' refers to achieving sustainability through decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts and resource exploitation, and broadening interventions to achieve the mutual sustainability of ecological, economic and social systems. A more subtle factor is also critical to understand about greening. It is that in an era of increasing and concentrated demand, resource scarcity is becoming a major limiting factor to growth. Therefore, developing the skills, innovation base and regulatory frameworks to be competitive in the next major global technological wave will determine the relative competitiveness of national economies as we migrate further into the new century.

Figuring out how to ensure growth (note - not just economic growth), while decoupling growth from environmental impacts and resource exploitation constitutes the 'business' of establishing policy, incentives and the institutional capacity to deliver on the implementation of green infrastructures, technology and innovation management, building awareness, improving skills and capabilities, and so forth. South Africa's dependence on cheap, coal-based energy, has resulted in it falling behind it's competitors in green and renewable energy sector developments. We have not built the skills or innovation base to cope with the ever increasing resource scarcity/price increase challenges that have assailed the 21st Century.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of greening will involve establishing the skills base that is necessary to sustain green developmental initiatives into the long term, and maintain competitiveness. This is where South Africa will need a comprehensive plan - one that builds skills and capabilities at the middle and implementation levels of our institutions. Government departments, industry sectors, higher institutions, etc. all need to seriously rethink their human competence development programmes if we are to achieve a successful transition to more sustainable infrastructures, technologies, production processes and everyday behaviours. 

Another critical aspect will be engaging closely with trade unions and industry and business sectors on the skills development that is required to migrate the labour market from their existing practices to new modes of operation. This can only be achieved through close cooperation with these players, and fortunately, COSATU is playing an active role in envisaging the migration towards a newer, more innovative and competitive South African economy, as evidenced by their participation in the "million climate jobs" campaign, a civil society initiative that goes beyond the 300 000 target of green job creation set out in the New Economic Growth Path for South Africa.

Ensuring adequate levels of participation when visioning sector level transitions is a crucial requirement. Ensuring that broad levels of agreement are achieved is essential, as without effective cooperation within and between sectors, sustainability at the whole system scale will not be achieved, despite the best efforts of policy-makers and regulators. It requires a plural, inclusive approach towards governance, and a programme that can adapt to new local challenges, technological trajectory changes, unpredictable changes in the global economy and climate, and so forth. Benevolent 'top-down' dictator-style government actions may work in China, but they will  not work in a free society where the rights of individuals and groups are guaranteed and protected, and in the heavily privatised South African context where the industry and manufacturing sectors have significant levels of autonomy.

In short, skills development, stimulating creativity and innovation and broader programmes of participation will be required to see this transition through. Remembering that reduced resource dependence, enhanced competitiveness and improved socio-economic conditions are the goals of the transition will ensure that it does not get sidetracked or end up as a set of piecemeal solutions that operate within silos and do not contribute to sustainability at the whole systems scale.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Occupy Protests: Being Leaderless Helps Reshape The Territory

Perhaps the most striking characteristics of the protests that have emerged over the past year and half, whether they have originated from the Arab Spring in the middle east, or in the cities of the developed world, is that they are mostly leaderless, and that their various manifestations have proven to be devoid of a single governing ideology. Instead, they have become forums for participation, where a wide variety of views and ideological orientations can find a voice. As one OWS protester put it, it is not so much an ideological movement as much as it is a space for participation.

In the Arab Spring, a necessary debate has emerged around how to reconcile Islamic governance with democratic principles, and the elections in Tunisia reflect this. There is also an emerging debate on the role of women in Islamic democracy. These are both welcome developments that attest to the power that the Arab Spring has brought to the general discourse on politics and political freedom in the middle east, and the role of society and leaders within it. Islamic extremism has been put under the microscope and questions that were once thought unthinkable have now entered the mainstream. It's not perfect, but it's a beginning.

In developed countries where 'mature' democracies have been in place for the better part of the last forty years, the occupy and anti-austerity protest movements have also re-opened the space for debate around the fundamentals of democracy. In the last 20 years, 'talk left, walk right' political strategies have emerged in the wake of the weakening of the left through the era of neoliberal 'free' market economics. At the same time, conservative ultra-right movements such as the 'tea-party' increasingly appropriate the language of the old left. In short, developed countries have become plagued by bipolar democracies where it has become increasingly meaningless whether a democrat/labour or republican/conservative government is voted into power, because they ultimately end up thinking and acting in the same way.

Whether one chooses right or left, is an increasingly meaningless exercise in this muddled new territory of democracy, and it is obvious that the public responded with a profound apathy during the boom times. Now that the bubbles have burst, their voices are being raised. Those who were once content to sit in the middle and watch either side throw barbs at each other have entered the fray. They are not explicitly ideological, but they all want change. They may not all have the same ideas of how to make changes, but they know what needs changing. Simply put, it is unfairness at work in the heart of democracy. It is the violation of the egalitarian principle that lies at the heart of democracy itself. Inequality has always had strong appeal as a mobilising factor for those on the lower rungs of the divide, and when their ranks grow they become dangerous. It's as simple as that. And it's not perfect, but it is a beginning.  

It is a beginning because these leaderless mass movements have opened up the space for participation, and participation is the first step towards greater dialogue and exchange that can shape a new discourse. The 'leaderlessness' of these movements is precisely what makes them a potent force for change. That is, they are not already wrapped up in ideological clothing that predetermines how the debates and conversations may unfold. Instead, their leaderlessness and lack of monolithic ideological posturing means that the opportunity now exists to host a social dialogue on what core principles are needed to navigate the territory of the new century, and what kind of changes might be necessary to realise these principles.  

Perhaps the most significant demonstration that the protesters have given the world, is that it is still possible to engage governments and institutions through direct protest action. Some may underestimate this, but for the past twenty years there has been a significant public reluctance to engage in direct protest action. This critically important regulating function of democracy gave way to a global wave of apathy, especially in the countries of the developed world. The triumphal march of a victorious capitalism brought with it a sense that capitalism itself was timeless, and the reigns that had previously kept markets in check were loosened, as markets themselves were seen as the 'self-regulating' magic-makers of prosperity. The results of this victory are now plain to see, and the hopes that things would 'self-correct' after the collapse are proving more distant than ever before.

We are now entering an era where new norms will be established. Business as usual may find a few more tricks and turns to keep itself alive, but the foundations of business as usual have been shaken. The longer the recession persists, the more it becomes a rallying cry to the middle and working classes who have been displaced from real power in the oligarchical functions of the neoliberal dream where there are 'one set of rules for us, and another set of rules for them'. The longer they remain leaderless in their protests, and refuse to be coopted into simplistic sets of agreements that hijack their momentum, the momentum will grow, ideas will flourish, and a new discourse and new normative orientations will be birthed.

Perhaps we are at a moment of the same significance as the modernists of the 20th century found themselves at, filled with the promise of a brave new world, yet unsure of exactly what it may end up looking like. Let's hope that this time we are able to avoid falling into the trap of conflict, and that our enhanced ability to share ideas, conduct campaigns and achieve genuine political action in different places of the world can help us overcome the very real challenges we face. Should these leaderless protests become captured by populists who skillfully capture the 'vacuum' instead of celebrating the potential of the 'vacuum', then the risk of fragmentation and conflict will become more significant and perhaps overwhelm the momentum that, although currently loosely bound, may yet still yield a new set of ideas, visions and norms that effect change in ways that are as yet unforeseeable.

Again, true freedom is the ability to bring about fundamental change, so we might regard the 'leaderless vacuum' as a free space in which the birth of the new is possible. Straight-jacketing this space into a re-run of old positions and ideologies will prove to be its undoing. A parody of the ideological conflicts of the 20th century is hardly likely to achieve anything more than it has already, and in truth, these positions have already compromised themselves to each other, and to their own foundations, and have drifted far away from their original foundations.

And we do need the new to flourish, now more than ever. The Euro hangs on a thread, the dollar would be a worthless currency without China's strong backing. The 'free' market has failed because the most predictable of human behaviours, greed and the propensity to desire wealth without work, triumphed over the imaginary virtues of self-interest. We are now in trouble, and we have to work together to dig ourselves out of the mess we're in. An old supervisor, who oversaw me through probably the most difficult career transition I've ever attempted once gave me some advice that has seen me through many do it?" from me, he replied, "I find that the most difficult thing is keeping the space open long enough for something to emerge".

In research, as in life, you often have no idea what you are going to discover or develop when a project begins, all you have is a bunch of ideas and speculations about how to move forward. Yet if you keep the space open long enough, and stay faithful to the spirit of the project, something always emerges that makes it worth the wait. Perhaps the same kind of philosophical openness is required now, and hopefully we will find the strength to move into the unknown so that we can discover something better than what we have now, because more of the same isn't going to make the cut, and is more likely to sink the ship than to keep it afloat. Tossing the blame from one side to the next isn't going to solve anything, and we have to face up to the deep flaws that exist on both sides of the political divide, and soon.     

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Obstacles to a Third Way: Ideology Before Analysis!

When ideology precedes analysis, it in effect serves to negates analysis. Analysis then becomes constrained by the boa constrictor of absolutism and ideological canonism, and a hierarchy is imposed upon analysis that locks it into a tautological double-bind or catch-22. To put it simply, if you put the cart before the horse you shouldn't be surprised that you end up in the same place all the time. 

The ‘horse’ of analysis becomes restricted to a few steps forward and a few steps backward. The ‘cart’ of ideology or absolute theoretical hegemony becomes the pivotal axis and tether that governs the direction and extent to which analysis can go. The horse, confused, pulls backward and side to side, finding relief only when it remains in one place. Every direction is fraught with tension, so the only option is to remain directionless. In this way, analysis always returns to the same place, because ideology has conditioned it to be bereft of agency, its inquisitiveness and imagination put asunder for a 'greater' purpose.

Theoretical frameworks, if they are to remain honest - i.e. not necessarily truthful in the sense that they make the claim to absolute truth but honest in their approach to the subject matter under analysis - should be deducted, or even abducted, but never inducted without great care. That is, induction from theoretical frameworks in complex, real world contexts usually constitutes a complex fabrication. It is fabrication because it pretends to derive that which it is actually premised on.

Real world contexts are complex, and their behaviours cannot be inducted from a model, theoretical framework or pure methodology. Scientific induction is only credible in systems that are simple, or at the most complicated. Inducted principles can be derived from systems that are generally simple enough to be tested by hypotheses and repeated. If the system is not dynamically changing its fundamental conditions and constraints on a timescale that negates induction, then induction is possible.

In other words, induction only works for simple, well constrained systems that progress in a linear fashion where change is incremental and predictable. As soon as the system begins to progress in non-linear jumps and bounds, and in different directions, induction becomes less tenuous as a methodological foundation. Social, political and economic systems, being fundamentally social in their conception, are complex, reflexive systems. They are in the domain of the deductive and abductive. Understanding has to follow the unfolding behaviour of the system. By definition, it cannot precede it, except through what can only be termed 'oracular' insight.

And ideology precedes analysis regularly in a global society that constantly looks backwards to its historical foundations to answer questions about how to face the future. Ideology, to be sure, is by and large the starting point of many debates, analyses and opinions that are generated over the question of what socio-political and economic systems are responsible for the global crisis we have entered into. And it is not simply a crisis of economic systems. It is a crisis of how to move forward, and to generate new ideas about how the global polity and socio-economy can be best positioned in relation to each other. As articulated by Zizek, "the field is open" and the marriage between capitalism and democracy has ended, yet we are struggling to find a new way forward.

Our imaginations and our ability to inquisit have indeed become conditioned by ideology. Instead of maintaining a critical perspective on our prevailing ideologies, we lapse into analyses that apriori draw upon the ideological foundations that we prefer. We therefore become 'stuck' in self-reinforcing, circular patterns of analyses that take us nowhere. More often than not, they simply become analyses that search for where to place the blame - as if any of the systems that constitute the current global order can be regarded as entirely blameless in the first place. 

Yet there is more to this kind of analyses. They are analyses that are explicitly oriented around an ideological foundation, and implicitly constructed in reaction to the opposing ideological foundation (i.e. its 'metaphysical' opposite). The analyses therefore ends up being a de-facto debate between polar opposite positions. Indeed, this is the very critique that deconstruction offers of the general methodology by which philosophy itself is constructed. This raises the question of how to embrace analyses that does not fall at either side, but that begins 'in the middle' so to speak. This is not a trivial observation, for arguments that proceed from the poles are the fundamental obstacle to generating what may be regarded as a 'third way'.

In other words, what kind of third way can be 'constructed' or 'formulated' (these terms are unfortunate, so they are used here with reservation) if we do not start from the edges or the poles, but start from the middle instead? Note, I do not mean to start from an ideological middle ground, but from a middle that makes observations of the poles, and remains acutely aware of them and how they influence us. There are two aspects that emerge from observations that are made in the middle that require closer inspection. Firstly, that there are fundamentally irresolvable 'undecideables' i.e. the decisions, phenomena or events that fall between metaphysical opposites, are fundamentally irresolvable, and cannot be avoided in political decision-making (Derrida). Secondly, that the polar opposites, when they approach the extremes of either end, begin to mirror each other, resulting in a different kind of obfuscation, where it becomes difficult to distinguish one polar opposite from another (Zizek).

The former observation is made by Derrida, in his careful identification of the 'undecideable' in political decision-making, where he concludes that any political decision that forgoes the 'ordeal of the undecideable' is not in reality a political decision but rather, becomes the mere 'unfolding of a calculable process'. That is, there will be fundamentally irresolvable, 'undecideable' factors that occupy the territory of the middle, otherwise referred to as the 'logic of the included middle' by Plato (Max-Neef, 2005). These irresolvables define where metaphysical opposites differ from each other, and resolving these undecideables requires more than theory. It requires learning,  participation, integration and negotiation i.e. strategies that engage directly with the contextual specificities that bring about undecideability, and which can possibly lead to the resolution of these undecideables under certain context-specific conditions. In this way, undecideables may end up being resolved in context (though not always), yet remain unresolvable at the broader theoretical level that is removed from the specificities of context.

The latter observation is made by Zizek, when he identifies how the right-wing conservative tea-party movement resurrects the rhetoric of the labour movements that existed 50 years ago in their conception of the tea-party identity as fighting for the rights of the ordinary worker against the irresponsibility of big government and big capital. The same is true of 'left wing' eco-movements that upon closer examination are mainly biocentric in their values, beliefs and norms. This biocentrism itself hails from the historical support for conservation biology efforts that saw predominantly indigenous peoples being herded off their own lands and into reservations, so that the 'pristine' natural environment could be maintained, devoid of human influence (hence biocentric). That is, eco-movements whose foundations are in fact profoundly anti-social, have staked a specious claim over the socialist territory of the left. Only in Latin America and India, have eco-movements become profoundly social in their approach, warranting a clear membership of the left.

Perhaps another dimension of analysis can be added to this; primarily that as those at the extremes of the poles increasingly embrace their ideologies with what can only be described as a messianic zeal, they begin to resemble a church or a cult (i.e. an institutionalised set of beliefs that are taken on faith), where the only distinguishing factor between a church and a cult is the size of the following. Where ideology becomes the unshakeable foundation from which analyses are made - instead of being regarded as a hypothetical framework - then it follows that the values, beliefs and norms that govern the analyses or debates are also unshakeable (if deftly hidden) preconditions that impose a hierarchy upon the analytical framework, which ceases to be interpretive or reflexive at this point. This unquestioning 'lock-in' to foundational values, beliefs and norms is not irrelevant. It is the main obstacle to going beyond a bipolar theoretical debate because dogma is followed by  rhetoric at best and sophism at worst.  Moreover, behaviours are founded upon values, beliefs and norms, so real-world changes in behaviour are obstructed at the same time i.e. the foundation for action is also subverted, or at the very least obscured.

The consequences of ideological fundamentalism are that we are unable to effectively bring about the necessary change changes in the way we think, that may ultimately result in changes in actions and behaviours that govern the global political, socio-economic and ecological 'condition'. And this 'condition', as a result, remains unchanged. To put it forcefully, the pro-free market and anti-free market ideologues have created their own respective sacred grounds that are too hallowed to question, and become external to analysis by being implicit in their interrogative frameworks. 

In a very genuine sense, debates of this ilk resemble a debate between parrots; more often than not they can only talk past one another as their 'vocabularies' are largely pre-fixed, and no real meaning is engendered in the interchange. They celebrate the undecideables between them as signifiers of their ideological purity. Yet at the same time these debates resemble a debate between sophists or conmen, as they appropriate the arguments and critiques of each other where it 'fits in' to their ideological frameworks, and speciously lay claim to them as their own. The latter, indicates that a postmodern relativism is speciously employed to subvert the claim that each hold to their own precious beliefs. That is, not only do they differ violently, they also attempt to appropriate the ideological territory of their opponents at the same time. It is truly a war, in which any and all tactics are considered fair.

And predictably, they despise any and all that occupy the middle. Indeed, in this they are not far away from the Christian God, who proclaims that only those that are passionate for God can be accommodated within the halls of the Church. The 'lukewarm' will be spat out. Those in the middle are not just spat out, they are spat on, literally and verbally. Yet it is not on the basis of analyses that they are spat upon. It is on the basis of concretized values, beliefs and norms that are taken for granted as foundational. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as the failure of both positions have demonstrated towards the end of the previous century. It is true that absolute objectivity is also an impossibility, but where the values, beliefs and norms that are subjectively held become implicit and unacknowledged - i.e. no awareness of them exists except in their virtue as absolute and non-negotiable preconditions - they become constrictive to the generation of any honest debate or analysis. They are therefore oblivious to their own strategic orientation, because it takes the foundations from which it proceeds as self-evident.

That is, the dishonesty is a kind of ignorance that prevails to the ultimate end, discrediting all and sundry around it that doesn't make the effort to fit itself into a particular framework or position. It is a narrow-mindedness that is holding us back in our quest for a new way that will rescue us from the conditions of polycrisis and global hegemony. Ideas and new frameworks that fall outside of the mainstream poles are largely ignored or despised as compromises and cast aside. Perhaps it is the hegemony on analyses and ideas that is proving the most difficult to break, while the hegemonies of power and wealth have found themselves floundering in the winds of change that the beginning of the 21st Century has brought with it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Libyan Rebels On a Killing Spree

When Muammar Gaddafi was dragged out from his hiding place, it was perhaps expected that the rebel group who had captured him would flaunt his capture as a trophy moment. Parading him for their camera's, his pleas for mercy were far removed from the rambling and disconnected speeches he gave on television and radio, where he referred to the rebels as "rats" and "vermin", who were acting under the influence of drugs - that they were either taking by choice, or that they had been duped into taking while drinking laced coffee etc. At the same time he had accused them of being Al Qaeda infiltrators, Islamic militants bent on destroying Libyan unity, and promised to hunt down the rebels from "house to house" using the phrase "zenga-zenga" which was later made into a song. As he quoted from his green book, he reasserted that he was not the leader of Libya, and that the leadership was in the hands of the people - he had given power to the people long ago, in 1972. It was a grand example of the doublespeak that propagandists of all kinds utilise to retain power, "the power is with you, I am just your vessel". In this brand of monarchy, the 'divine right' to rule is granted by the people - but the people don't vote on it, so the irony is difficult to avoid. It creates the preconditions for two realities to co-exist at the same time; a spoken reality, and an unspoken reality.

Despite the noble, self-aggrandizing shows of 'people power', in reality, Libya was still under his vice, however, and his hold on power was undoubtable. His sons Khamis and Moutassim controlled two feared army brigades of their own, which were far better equipped and trained than the regular army. Moreover, his son Saif El Islam Gaddafi, who bears a PhD from the London School of Economics (that was retracted when the Libyan uprising began, and followed by high profile resignations at the school when it as revealed that they had accepted large sums of Libyan funding to set up an african student exchange programme) was the designated heir to the Gaddafi throne. Saif El Islam Gaddafi was widely touted as a reformist, an art lover and patron, and cut the profile of a Saudi prince of sorts, well-heeled, moneyed and benevolent. Yet when the appeals for elections and democracy arose, and the rebels began to fight the Libyan army in the streets, Saif stood by his father, repeated the claims that the rebels were drug addled Islamic militants who disguised their true ambitions under the appeal for democracy. It was the turning point at which Saif could have changed the course of history and assumed a leadership role in the peaceful transition of Libya to a democracy. Yet it must be emphasized, that he refused to play any such role. That much is visible to anybody who cares to watch the interviews he granted to journalists in Tripoli. It was strange, if not disturbing, to see the unelected, unappointed son of the Brother Leader fielding questions from the press instead of the formal government. Very quickly the formal government of Gaddafi's Libya began to unravel, with high profile defections almost daily, followed by defections from the general army and special forces. The defections included people who had worked alongside Gaddafi for decades, and people who had been with him during the bloodless coup that brought him to power. The defected appeared on television in press interviews, revealing their detailed explanations for defection, and repeated their calls for their former leader to stand down and to allow the transition to democracy to unfold.

Many have written rather romantically about Gaddafi's role on the African continent - that he financed large developmental projects and efforts to improve the plight of Africa as a whole, championing the formation of a "United States of Africa". He supported the ANC in their struggle against Apartheid and almost singlehandedly funded the raising of the first African telecommunications satellite. Further away he supported the IRA in Ireland, Charles Taylor in Liberia and FARC in Columbia. To many on the left, he was a quirky but unshakeable symbol of rebellion against the west, the loyal brother leader who was unafraid to openly take on the forces of global hegemony. Citing the high standards of living and state funded support and opportunities available to Libyans, Gaddafi is presented as a latter day Che Guevara, who stood with the downtrodden people of the Global South against the exploitative powers in the west and created a country that provides of exceptional social services to its people. Yet with this adulation, the more unsavoury factors of his rule go unacknowledged - including mass executions of political prisoners, the exploitation of Libya's oil resources for personal gain, and the creation of a state security apparatus and government media machine that only Stalin could be proud of.

Instead, the left wax lyrical about the 'criminalisation' of the Libyan government that has been conducted by the mainstream global press. This, despite the fact that Gaddafi found no support amongst his Arab neighbours, and that the Libyan press was a state organ. Moreover, despite South Africa's attempts to employ the same 'quiet diplomacy' tactic that clearly failed in Zimbabwe - and voicing support for Gaddafi - they nonetheless voted in favour of imposing a no-fly zone in Libya at the UN. If Gaddafi posed no real threat to Libyans at that stage, then why didn't South Africa vote against the no fly zone? Likewise, why didn't Russia veto it? Their messages of solidarity don't match their actions - their actions show that they did fear that Gaddafi would conduct a violent purge of the Libyan people. The only other real support Gaddafi has obtained has been from Hugo Chavez, who himself has embarked upon the road to dictatorship by seeking to change the Venezuelan constitution to allow him to stay in power (and Nicaragua, who has received large financial support from Gaddafi). It is a duplicitous game that South Africa and indeed many other African states have played in this affair, attempting to hedge their bets both ways to guarantee the flow of Libyan cash to their countries (and perhaps, it must be stated bluntly, even to their personal bank accounts).

The left have detailed how a global conspiracy against Gaddafi has been engineered by the press to "criminalise" him and his government, yet it was not second-hand accounts of Gaddafi that we received. He was given more airtime on news channels for his speeches and interviews than any other global leader, more than Obama could ever hope for, even if he managed to win the next election and surprise everyone again. His press representative also had a clear and open line to the press and repeated claims to legitimacy, and of foreign interference in Libya without any interruption. If the threats Gaddafi and his son made, live on tv, were not real, then the international media have engineered the most spectacular media manipulation we have ever experienced. It was clear, from the words of Gaddafi, and his son Saif, that they were preparing for a fight to the death. That much cannot be denied by anybody. They saw themselves as having an undeniable right to leadership in Libya, and that much can be understood directly from the words that emerged from their very own mouths. They were also convinced of their support base, and were prepared to go the route of warfare. It is not just the rebels who were willing to go down the path of warfare and destruction to achieve their ends. The Gaddafi camp were also bent on retaining power at all costs. To be fair to the National Transitional Council, they were keen to negotiate with Gaddafi and to find a compromise that would see him leave with dignity (this was repeated by many defectors in the media), yet their calls for Gaddafi to step down were met with an unflinching obstinance. Nobody was going to dictate anything to him - he was the only one who had the right to dictate!

Not unlike Robert Mugabe, the beleaguered president of Zimbabwe who refused to vacate his post when he lost the elections, Gaddafi was undoubtedly a dictator. If he is not, then the term will scarcely find application to anyone else in the world. When a country's main decisions and power bases are in the hands of one man and his sons, either he is a king or a dictator. Yet for those who look only to his external actions and his larger than life role in Africa (dubbing himself the King of Kings in Africa), tend to ignore the fact that Libya was an oil rich country - oil is what enabled Gaddafi to play an especially magnanimous role as a funder of revolutionary groups elsewhere, while still providing the Libyan people with a relatively high standard of living, basic services and education in Africa. His friends included many African dictators who robbed their countries blind and rendered them dysfunctional. He was the mr moneybags in Africa, and he enjoyed his largess and his self-appointed role as the king of Africa. Meanwhile, at home, Libyans were not free. No matter what the statistics on basic services and government support for Libyans shows on paper, Libyans did not possess the freedom to determine their future, or to exercise control over their resources. In this, Gaddafi was not unlike other oil rich monarchs in the region, who also have relatively high standards of living, education and basic services provision in their countries. Freedom, however, is not the freedom to eat, work, learn, obtain healthcare and the like. That is, freedom cannot be bought or paid for. When someone buys your freedom you are still a slave, you have just transferred ownership. Freedom is the freedom to act in concert with others to change what needs changing in a political system, without fear of recrimination or exile.

Yet it is difficult for anyone with a genuine claim to compassion, however, not to feel pity towards the deposed Gaddafi, begging for his life amongst the former 'rats', now appealing to them, begging for his life, "you are my sons". Very quickly it became clear that Gaddafi was executed by the rebels. It seemed the rebels had no regard for his human rights, or his rights as a prisoner of war. Having torn up pictures, posters and effigies of Gaddafi for many months, his capture seems to have led to a similar frenzy ... as mobile phone footage of his lynching seems to indicate. He was paraded about briefly, beaten upon, humiliated and somewhere along the way he was shot. Footage has also recently emerged, of a man claiming to be the one who executed him, celebrating his role in history amongst other rebels as water is poured over his head. It will take some investigation to uncover the actual sequence of events, as many will make claim to the greatest 'trophy' in the war.

Gaddafi's son, Moutassim, who commanded a feared brigade and was responsible for his fathers security, was also captured. A video of him smoking a cigarette and swigging from a bottle of water has been posted on the internet. He also seems to have been executed by the rebels, even though they have claimed that his injuries led to his death. Khamis Gaddafi is also dead, and Saif El Islam Gaddafi has managed to escape the clutches of the rebels once again. His whereabouts still remain unknown. The Gaddafi family has been hounded out of power, their lives have been taken, and those who remain of his family have left the country to seek exile in Algeria.

Indeed, when people have been brutalised the potential to respond in kind is always great. If one takes even a cursory glance at other revolutions in central and southern Africa, it is undeniable that when the violence eventually breaks, it breaks like a Tsunami, consuming everyone and everything in its path. This should not surprise us. Neither should we be quick to relegate the rebels to the classification of 'thugs' or 'animals'. Even when the violence broke in colonised African countries, the colonisers were quick to dismiss rebellion under the same terms. They were loathe to accept their own role in creating the 'savage monsters' that rose up against them - i.e. through centuries of slavery, violence, abuse and dehumanisation - in very much the same way the Gaddafi regime has refused to accept any criticism of the Libyan government in any measure. It was a big mistake to execute Gaddafi and his son, as seems to be the case. Executing them rendered them outside of the realm of the law. They do not have to answer for their actions and decisions, and they escape the judgement of society as they cannot defend themselves. Instead, it allows for them to be hailed as martyrs who 'fought to the end'. It has made the task of the rebels more difficult as their absence in death may loom larger than their presence in life would have in a court of law, where they could be put to trial and forced to answer for their crimes.

Yet the killing, it appears, did not stop there. Human rights watch has announced that the bodies of 53 Gaddafi loyalists were found, with their hands bound behind, them having been shot in the head. The rebels have themselves begun to look very much the same as the Gaddafi loyalists, who also left scores of executed prisoners in their wake as they fled Tripoli. They have failed to uphold a moral highground, and have failed to guarantee the human rights they claim to be fighting for, to their opponents. This is not a trivial development, as the real test of one's belief in human rights is the ability to extend those rights to one's enemy. The post-Gaddafi Libya, now awash with weapons and ammunition, and rebels who have come to know battle and murder is a precariously balanced situation that might disintegrate yet even further into violence. As the Egyptian revolution has shown, the myriad interests and conflicts that emerge in the post-dictatorship power struggle can prove to be the undoing of the original aims of the revolution itself.  

It was the Gaddafi regime who originally characterised the rebels as less than human, unworthy of negotiating with on any matters, and they maintained this view despite the fact that the Libyan government was defecting more and more rapidly to the rebel's side. However, the rebels have now shown themselves to be equally brutal, and have transgressed the basic conditions upon which human rights are founded. Extra-judicial executions, conducted by rebel groups, can only lead to further a further descent into hell for the people of Libya. If what follows the revolution is a bullet fueled purge of any and all opposition to the rebels, then the old Libyan government and the new Libyan government will in effect be the same. Revolutionary movements, whether led or fragmented, often come to mirror those they fight against. It is their responsibility to break the pattern and establish a new history. Otherwise, they offer no improvement on what existed before them, and the sacrifices that were made to obtain freedom would have been made in vain. Their cause will not be recognised as just unless their actions are equally just, and nobody should overlook the executions and massacres that are being perpetrated by the rebels in their campaign. Freedom cannot be established through executing ones enemies. It begins when one forgives ones enemies and embraces them. Only then can the past be reconciled and a new future emerge. Should the killing continue in Libya, it will be torn apart, and Gaddafi would in the end be proved correct, that Libyans needed a dictator such as himself to hold them together. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

How Left Meets Right and Collides Into Annihilation

This piece emerges from a particular perspective I have been nurturing; firstly in reaction to the emergence of a right wing discourse that rails against big government, and places all its faith in ‘the small guy’ who, in a neoliberal fantasy world where all things remain equal, will inevitably triumph over restrictive regulation and taxation and prevail in the  ‘free market’. Secondly, it is a reaction to the emergence of a left wing discourse that apriori assumes that the mechanisms of global hegemony are at work in every event and circumstance that unfolds upon our television and computer screens, fed by a corporatized media that slavishly and un-objectively executes the ‘will’ of their corporate owners. I will not debate the merits or the facts of the respective positions adopted by the left or the right. Instead, I will point out their ultimate similarities, and reveal how they become mirrors of each other, ultimately hijacking the political space for free expression and political debate, rendering those who do not fall within either camp, to the obscurity of political apathy.
The first view, maintained by the right, relegates any taxation, regulation, etc. as evil instruments of the left, who are constantly trying to find a way to dupe or con them into accepting dressed up forms of socialism and communism into their hallowed freedom, and to distort ‘true’ (read neoliberal or neoconservative) democracy. Fox news – the Rupert Murdoch owned channel that is unashamedly pro-conservative - is perhaps the best example of this view, where all debates are located in frameworks where the ‘right’ (in the sense of ‘correct’ here) view is presented as self-evident and obvious.  It is used as the framework for judging dissenting or differing opinion. It is not a neutral ground where opinions are debated on their own merit. Opinions are filtered through the ‘tea party’ discourse, chewed on like cud, and either expelled or grudgingly swallowed in the name of upholding the tenets of ‘freedom of opinion’. The conspiracy mill is very much alive and at constantly work on the right, rooting out the schemes of the left, finding fault with their nefarious ’do-gooder’, bleeding heart nonsense that is used to further an agenda of inciting class warfare and to put it simply, to use higher taxation and state resources to keep the lazy and unproductive afloat. The right, of this ilk, are not open to critique – they already ‘know’ what the problem is, and what the solutions are, and have no need for debate except in demonstrating that the freedom to debate still exists. This is ironic, even paradoxical, as it means that the freedom to engage or act does not exist in reality. What exists, is a shadow of freedom that masquerades as the real thing. You can disagree, but in reality, nobody is listening for disagreement. Their minds are made up and they only seek out agreement.
Likewise, the left have slowly but surely perverted the discourse on global hegemony into an apriori framework that informs all their analysis and opinion on global or local events. No longer does the left make recourse to objective analyses before arriving at an opinion or idea of what is transpiring. Rather, the discourse on global hegemony has gained so much strength that it serves as a conspiratorial meta-narrative through which all events and situations are filtered in analysis. There is a clear evil, and a clear good, and never the twain shall meet. The West, driven by its corporations and governments are intent on dominating the resource bases, polity and social values of all those within its borders and those outside of it. They are an evil machine that churns out self-serving platitudes to purposively dominate all events and all situations across the globe. The Western Empire trundles forth behind its massive weaponry, bombing whoever stands in their way, making  a mockery of the very values they purport to uphold, not unlike the hithertoe Catholic Church of yesteryear. Any action they take is not to be trusted, as it is loaded with hidden agendas to control the rest of the planet and its resource bases. In return, the left cheers any and all that make the appearance of ‘standing up to’ or ‘bucking’ the West, and regards them as brethren to which their loyalty must surely be given under any and all circumstances. They are loathe to criticise 'one of themselves' because they are all brothers and need each other in the great 'struggle' against the West. They are reluctant to be forcibly critical of the Chinese and Cuban governments, or Gaddafi and other 'left-aligned' populist dictators, despite the availability  of evidence of human rights violations in these countries. Like their right wing counterparts, the left also believe that there is no need for debate, except as a show of their appreciation of the need for ‘freedom of speech’. Yet they are not listening when opinions go against their framework of beliefs, as their beliefs have become foundational. They are not up for debate. Rather, their beliefs become a standard by which the debate (and those of dissenting  opinion) are judged. Often this judgement takes the form of “either you understand or you don’t”, and the left resorts to clich├ęs such as “there are none so blind as those who will not see!” to justify where it stands. You have to be able to 'see' the conspiracy by adopting a particular framework of interpretation, the interpretive framework does not necessarily have to follow from an analysis of each situation, taken on its own merits.
Yet there is something central in this attitude, because it is shared by both the left and the right, and in this sense they become mirrors of each other. It is political mysticism. It is simple to diagnose if you do not fall completely within either side. It is that there is a shared belief that understanding can only be achieved through one set of filters, and that these filters can only be understood or ‘seen’ if the individual searches deeply within themselves and interprets the evidence ‘honestly’ or 'in the right way'. It is mysticism dressed up as objectivity - a claim that there is 'correct' way of seeing, to the exclusion of others. Both sides appeal to a mystical sense of ‘knowing’ or being in the know, in order to arrive at the position that they have arrived at. In both cases, circular logic is imposed i.e. they begin from a foundational view, interpret all evidence within that foundational view, and thereafter declare the foundational view correct or justified. It is tautological; it starts and ends in the same place. Causality isn’t drawn out from the specificities of context – rather, causality is framed within the original, foundational position and over-arching meta-narrative. It is not true analysis. It is the same mystical belief shared by cults, who state the same thing, that is; “if you can’t see the mystical truth, then something is deficient in you” – it is your fault for not being able to see things their way. It is not incumbent upon them to convince you, you have to earn the privilege of sharing the right to the hallowed 'truth'.
Both the left and right have, in their extreme polarisation, become cult-like conspiracy mills in which any objective analysis of an event that occurs in real time, is obscured by historical meta-narratives that claim a hegemony of their own over all present and future events. Yet seldom do the proponents of either side step back to ask the critical question, “if we already know the answer, then what is the point of analysis?” And this is the question that reveals what the right-left mirror constituencies have become – they have become fundamentalists who believe in foundational views. Things as they are, or will be, have no uniqueness, they have no contextuality to those who occupy the poles. Rather, they can only be understood through  foundational filters.
And this is where the problems begin, for the exclusivity of these cults relegate a large number of people to the domain of the politically apathetic. Why? Because apathy is not just a consequence of laziness or political illiteracy, it is also a consequence of the exceptionalism of the right and the left. It results from perceiving that one is unable to engage politically, except if one adopts one of the sides in this bipolar form of democracy. In short, starting in the middle is useless - you have to choose a side. For many, they become apathetic because the moment they express an opinion, either side pounces upon them and rebukes them for not knowing the mystical 'truths' that they should know about 'how the world really works'. And nobody likes to ‘not be in the know’. So shutting up is the first option. The second option is to regard both sides with the same contempt that is reserved for religious cults and to block them out completely. They ruin life by harping on the same chords and singing the same songs, time and time again. In turn, the left and right predictably withdraw to their self-righteous thrones and denounce the state of knowledge and understanding amongst the ‘masses’ in the world, who deceived by the ‘powers that be’ cannot distinguish right from wrong. Very scarcely do they stop to consider the thought that this disengagement, this apathy, might actually result from the degrees of polarisation on the right and left, which leaves the space in the middle a political ‘no-man’s land’. 
To paraphrase the comedian Chris Rock, “Nowadays everybody wants to be down with the gang … I’m a republican, I’m a conservative … no decent person is one thing or another … listen to the issue, let that shit swirl around your head.” It is this gang, or cult mentality that has infected the global political state of debate. It leaves a huge, yawning gap in the middle, where the possibility of finding a third actually way exists. Yet without any legitimate free debate being allowed to grow and mature out of this middle, no new ideas are being born. We oscillate in an endless debate between outdated theories that were written in an age that has long past. It is almost as if we are dragging the past into the present and forcing it upon a new age and era because we have run out of ideas. Instead, all we have is our suspicion of ‘the other’ to draw on, and those who dominate the political spectrum love this as it plays perfectly into the divide and conquer strategy that makes it easy for politiicans to dupe us. It prevents us from formulating a system that can eventually displace rhetoric, and absolves us from dealing the realities of poverty, inequality, oppression, hunger, slavery, war, etc. in any substantive measure. Who needs facts, and textured contextual analysis when the moment you open your mouth, an 'angel' sings the truth through you? What more could you ask for?
Real freedom, according to Slavoj Zizkek in "First As Tragedy, Then as Farce", is the freedom to fundamentally change the political systems we live with. This is a view that appeals to my sensibilities. The freedom we have today, is the freedom to “live as if we were free” (Zizek paraphrased), and Zizek diagnoses correctly that both the left and the right are complicit in landing us in this mess. In the absence of any substantial progress on agreeing what real, fundamental changes are necessary, we are relegated to the domain of the mystical in our politics. We either ‘understand’ or we don’t. Anything else is anathema. The rhetoric of the left and the right becomes ineffable – it needs no authority but itself – it becomes the word of God. This bland, but dangerously polarising political mysticism ultimately undoes freedom by undoing the secularity of freedom itself from within, but employs dogma and rhetoric instead of religion. The foundational views of either side are elevated beyond reproach and are not up for question. It is my contention that this is why we are failing, over and over again, even 11 years into the new century, to formulate a new politics. It is because we are not truly free. And this time, it is not governments who are robbing us of our freedom, but our own propensity for recreating ideological no-go zones that have come to define our lifestyles, personalities and generally, our reason for existence. In short, we have become confused between the freedom to change systems and the freedom to champion a position. The freedom to champion a singular position eventually weighs down like an anchor around our necks, and we become stuck, rigid. What kind of freedom is this? A 'groundhog day' freedom is not freedom. It is the farcical enactment of freedom.
Real freedom allows and enables us to let go of cherished ideals and beliefs (even for a short while), to be able to entertain perspectives from the viewpoint or standpoint of others. If we cannot achieve this then the other remains a monstrous construct, to which the only logical end is the use of force or violence. Where there can be no dialogue, the only recourse to resolve conflict becomes violence, which is easier if the other is your exact opposite in the first place (i.e. an abomination of you). The left-right mirror opposites are like matter and anti-matter. They emerge out of a vacuum, moving backward and forward in time, and then they collide and annihilate, disappearing into the vacuum. Nothing new is created by their emergence, or their disappearance, energy is conserved in the reaction because they are equal opposites to each other. Their entanglement does not result in the creation of anything but their mutually brief existences, and  then they are gone, unable to be grasped or drawn into the real. It is the very anti-thesis of the Gandhian approach, or the approach taken by such luminaries such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. In this new world, “love thine enemy” is utilised instrumentally, in much the same way the rhetoric of ‘free speech and debate’ is invoked and the farce of ‘objective analysis’ is made. No real effort is made to interrogate the fundamentals upon which either side stands, by themselves. Instead, what we observe is two cult-like followings who cast barbs at each other and stand in judgement of each other. Not everybody has the stomach for this, and the levels of disengagement and apathy towards local and global politics we see in the world today is a consequence of the failure to allow for true pluralism, where freedom reigns. Rather, politics is led by the exceptionalism and exclusivity of the cult, and if you haven’t had your mystical moment of realisation then you don’t qualify to enter the political domain. Indeed, you are worse off than an island in no-man’s land. It is for this reason that my position is that it is ultimately better to be hated by both the left and the right than to be loved by them, because if you allow them to love you they quickly rob you of your voice. You end up speaking with someone else’s voice, and not your own – that is; the voice of whichever visionary, angel, God or demi-God the cult chooses as its soothsayer at that moment in time.
In the spirit of this piece, you, the reader, have all the freedom in the world to disagree with me. This is not a search for yet another absolute position, but an appeal for greater tolerance, broader debate and for sincere analysis that can help us formulate different ways of enabling our freedom in this new global era. My appeal is that you seek more deeply to understand those positions you might disagree with most. It is not easy to do this, but it does help open up dialogues and debates that have a genuine freedom and not a contrived freedom in which agendas and positions are already worked out. My appeal is that you judge the transition that the globe is undergoing as vigilantly as you can, but allow the context and evidence to inform your judgement, rather than retro-fitting the evidence to a framework you have already decided upon. The more you fail to achieve this on the left and right, the more you alienate those who aren’t ‘believers’ and rob them of their chance to enter the debate. It is your messianic exceptionalism that catalyses apathy. Ultimately, however, I am acutely aware that the majority of you will end up hating me for diagnosing you as part of the problem. I, being hated by both sides, also become part of the problem in this respect, but I welcome your hate. It is nothing new to me. I’d rather you hate me than you love me, because your love is more dangerous than hate.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

With Gaddafi Dead, Libya's Biggest Challenges Begin

The death of Muammar Gaddafi has been announced by both sides, and footage of his dead body, at first hunched over headfirst into the street, then turned over with what seemed to be the help of a foot and sprawled out on the street for a head-shot, his hands still tangled up in the sleeves of his shirt above his head. An awful end, as awful as many have had in defence against his repression, and in defence of his regime. It was perhaps a fitting death that resonated with the tragedy of his character - in the end, delusional and self-aggrandizing in equal measure, able only to see his heroic reflection mirrored back at him through the eyes of himself and others. The martyr's death he sought out did not find him. A martyr is only a martyr in the eyes of others, not in his own eyes.

Yet the finality that accompanies the death of a dictator, or the removal of a dictator, is often misleading. The euphoria of freedom, while well deserved in most cases, having followed a difficult struggle to attain it, can create the conditions for the smooth talkers to enter the fray and hijack the newfound freedom, while it is still virginal, untouched and untested. In the desperation to make a show of stability and solidarity to the outside world, many compromises may be made without thinking through the long term consequences sufficiently. This is not to suggest that compromises won't be necessary. Undoubtedly, compromise will play a key role in establishing the bonds and trust that is necessary to forge unity. However, instead of speeding up the transition, now is the time to slow it down. In the rush towards a new dispensation, there is a good chance that Libya might establish agreements (especially over it's oil and natural gas) that may seem worthwhile in the short term (primarily to get funds into the new government), but may in the long term lead to the self-replication of the very same structures and power relationships that enabled their oppression in the first place.

This is the time for Libya to slow down the technocrats who will undoubtedly invade their newly freed country, promising to rebuild infrastructures and ensure prosperity and global competitiveness. Their primary goals will be to get the flow of oil and gas pumping again, and to ensure their share of it for the needs of their respective markets or countries. They will remind Libyans of how the western world views them, and distrusts their commitment to 'global principles', in much the same way as the new dispensation in South Africa was coaxed to privatise and deregulate the South African economy just two years into the new democracy (in 1996). Above all, Libyans will have to recognise that building a new democratic dispensation is not a technical exercise. It is a profoundly socio-cultural and political exercise. Democratic countries can often give the appearance of stability and wealth generation, yet the fundamental values upon which democracy is constructed can be absent. These are empty vessels, where democratic rhetoric prevails while the institutions, power relations and political structures remain the same, or worsen, deepening inequality, corruption and poverty. Putting the technical needs of a democracy first - i.e. rebuilding infrastructures, stimulating consumption, and so forth - while understandable, has been the undoing of many newly founded democracies.

What Libyans should be acutely conscious of, is how adopting policies, positions and trade, regulatory and governance frameworks that may at first seem desirable, may in the end lead to the formation or re-establishment of the very same structures that prevailed in the past, or new forms of the same exploitative hierarchies, structures and processes of governance i.e. the same old wolves disguised in the new sheepskin gear of democratic progress. The sly opportunists will also make their voices heard, now that the danger of death is no longer imminent, and they may even exploit pre-existing divisions to achieve their ends. Now is the time for vigilance in Libya - I must add, a calm vigilance that slows down the pace of change enough for engagement of all the peoples and communities of Libya to be achieved, in formulating their new constitutionality and form of government. Democracy is by no means a faithful partner, it requires rethinking, contemplating, consulting widely and acting with care. At worst, democracy yields a mirage of freedom - an appearance of freedom may prevail, yet it will remain beyond one's grasp.

The Transitional National Council will face difficult challenges now that they will be called upon to ensure that the functions and services of the state is restored, and that society can begin to live again. It is appropriate to celebrate the newfound freedom that Libyans have achieved through half a year of desperate fighting. That is undoubtedly deserved. But Libyans should beware the rush to establish 'normality'. New norms need to be established for democracy to thrive. These are not universal, and should be determined from engagement with citizens from every community, district, town and city in Libya. The Libyan constitution should be drafted by the people of Libya, and not a select group of appointed representatives who specialise in writing new constitutions for virginal democracies. If it is formulated in this way it will not reflect the will of the Libyan people as expressed by themselves. It will be a second-hand constitutionality that runs the risk of being equally foreign to Libyans as the very same regime they fought against.

There will be heavy international pressure to turn the Libyan revolution into a success as quickly as possible so that nations who backed the Libyan rebels can find justification for their decision to intervene. The timing is good, as by comparison the Egyptian revolution seems to be faltering under heavy military rule, and the Syrian and Bahraini peaceful uprisings have been brutally repressed by their regimes, who are still in place. Libya will be touted as an 'example' of how regime change can be effected through intervention. In short, where George Bush Jr failed  through war in the Middle East, Barack Obama will be eager to show success. There is a danger in this, as eagerness to achieve 'success' often results in the show of success rather than substantive, real results. Moreover, the scars of war and conflict will take longer to heal than might at first be appreciated. Re-building society in the aftermath of war requires more than just re-establishing basic services. It requires rebuilding communities that may be deeply affected by the war. It requires reconciling the conflicts and feuds that may remain, even after freedom has been achieved. It also requires broad participation in envisioning what kind of country Libya should be in the future. Failure to approach the future through wary eyes may result in a Libya that Libyans are still not free in, and in which their freedoms are guaranteed on paper, but not in practice. Slowing down, and taking each step carefully, will go further towards ensuring a lasting democracy in Libya.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Urban Environmental Accords

I attended the recent summit for the Urban Environmental Accords held in Gwangju, South Korea, between 11-13 October 2011. The event was attended by a large range of city mayors and governments, most of whom were from developing world contexts. The event served more as an awareness building exercise than an opportunity for negotiation, and while it received heavy media coverage within South Korea, it largely went unnoticed by the international press. To some extent, it seemed to be conducted in the shadow of the upcoming COP17 international climate agreement negotiations forum to be held in Durban later this year. This was a pity, as it is clear that cities are experiencing rapid growth (especially in the developing world), and are already consumers of 80% of global material and energy supply, and producers of 75-80% of GHG emissions. As such, cities themselves hold the key to taking local actions and forging inter-city agreements, forming funding and support mechanisms (e.g. skills transfer) that can help bring about the drastic reductions in emissions that are required for slowing down the effects of global climate change. The lack of attention that the Urban Environmental Accords is receiving (in comparison to COP 17) is symptomatic of the often misplaced belief that is placed in international consensus and cooperation in the era of globalisation. While global agreements are important, it does not stop cities from making agreements with each other, and innovating new funding and cooperation mechanisms that are required in light of the uncertainty that centralised funding of carbon trading faces post 2012. Indeed, this is what the World Bank itself seemed to be encouraging in it's presentation at the summit.

A key issue that was raised at the summit, was the difficulty of accounting for emissions savings and reductions, and the difficulty of negotiating the bureaucracy of centralised emission tradings schemes. In particular, developing world countries and cities often lack the institutional capacity and skills that are required to access these funds, effectively rendering the process useless to them. In respect of this, simplified procedures and protocols have been put in place for city-level emissions trading by the World Bank, so "in theory" city-level trading can now commence. It remains to be seen to what level these theoretical arrangements can be actualised in practice, but it is a good sign that efforts have been made to enable emissions trading at the city level. 

What was clear from the discussions and presentations that were made at the summit, is that cities have an overwhelmingly large role to play in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and that this role is being accepted by city governments. Many are aligning their infrastructural, economic and human competence development strategies with the goals of low-carbon consumption, production and waste in mind. Achieving the behavioural changes that are required for low and zero carbon living to take root, was also recognised as a core goal. In short, business-as-usual in cities has to change, and city governments are grappling with the question of how best to make infrastructural changes that will enable a low-carbon future. 

In respect of infrastructure, the core themes that were dealt with at the summit include; building energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable urban transport, water and wastewater, and urban ecosystem management. Notably, even though food in European cities (for example) account for up to 30% of their ecological footprint, the food sector was not formally dealt with at the summit. This, despite the high levels of awareness that middle class, global consumers themselves have displayed in the food choices they make and how that affects the global climate and environmental sustainability. Over and above the particular themes, it was also widely recognised that integrated approaches towards carbon reduction and sustainability were required at the city level i.e. approaches that can help address the symptoms of the prevailing urban divide, such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, lack of access to basic services, lack of mobility, and so forth. Integrated approaches that can address social, economic and ecological concerns are necessary to ensure sustainability in the long term.

At the end of the summit, there was a lack of concrete agreements and arrangements for how to stimulate and maintain inter-city cooperation, and to put agreements in place that could be monitored and adapted over time. Rather, the main directive seemed to be to raise the importance of city-level issues at COP17. It is difficult to imagine how this will be possible amidst the din that will ensue at COP17, where myriad and diverse interests will gather, each with their own particular sub-agenda to champion. It may well prove that the cities agenda may be lost within this tangle of competing interests, and remain under-appreciated for its importance in actualising real change at local levels that can lead to significant global emission reductions. Cities have the potential to steam ahead on the emissions reduction front, and to take the lead that many national governments have been unable to. In this respect, although the summit was useful in resurrecting the Urban Environmental Accords, a great deal more work remains to be done between cities themselves. The good news is that they do not have to wait for international agreements to proceed. A framework already exists in which they can begin participating in emissions reductions, and earning carbon emission reduction credits for these activities. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rebels Reach Tripoli & Encounter a Mongol Retreat

The Libyan drama reached new heights on Sunday night when rebels poured into the capital city, Tripoli, where Muammar Gaddafi and his close supporters have held out since the beginning of the conflict. It almost seemed as though the rebels had entered a vacuum, as pro-Gaddafi troops and supporters retreated into the neighbourhoods and districts of Tripoli where they could dig in and maintain their resistance to the sweeping changes that have gripped the country since early this year. 

For six months since the revolt in Benghazi, battles have raged across the landscape in a back and forth series of retreat and attack performed by both pro-Gaddafi troops and the rebels alike. The attack on Tripoli, which came from all sides, including the sea, took pro-Gaddafi supporters by surprise - but it stands to reason that pro-Gaddafi forces would have anticipated an attack on Tripoli commencing at some stage, and would have made plans to receive such an attack.

At first, this retreat, absorb and attack strategy seemed to be the core strategy of the pro-Gaddafi camp. Like many militaries, using the mongol retreat strategy makes sense in two ways. Firstly, it damages the psychology of over-eager combatants who confuse the retreat with surrender and are taken by surprise when the mongols would, after days of retreating, turn around and attack. Secondly, where the enemy is severely resource limited, they expend a lot of resources in the chase and extending the series of attacks and retreats is guaranteed to wear down their available resources. This strategy made sense at the outset, when weapons and fuel shortages amongst the rebels was in question, and their untrained, young, rag-tag groups showed a great deal of inexperience in the field.

Yet over the past six months, the rebels have been financed, trained, equipped and supported by NATO-led forces in their campaign to reach Tripoli. They have advanced, retreated and re-advanced upon the cities that line the route to Tripoli, and have finally reached the city. Yet the absence of any resistance as they entered the city may be a consequence of two factors - firstly that they took the city by surprise, and secondly that pro-Gaddafi forces inside Tripoli may well have gambled upon a back-up plan that would meet the inevitable rebel advance into the city with a plan to absorb them into the city, frustrate them through urban warfare on unfamiliar territory and eventually surprise them somehow through a hidden attack. Gaddafi's son Khamis, who commands feared ultra-loyal Gaddafi troops, may be the one upon whom these hopes are resting. 

After claims that two of Gaddafi's sons had been captured on Sunday, it now seems that Saif El Islam was not captured in the first place, and Gaddafi's other supposedly captured son - Mahomed - has 'escaped'. Saif El Islam made a showing to the press, who are located in the Rixos hotel (a hotel that is very near the Gaddafi compound), surrounded by small groups of supporters who cheered him on, giving the impression that he was freely operating within the city. However, it is clear, that his freedom is now restricted to the areas in which his family still enjoys support, and it would have been relatively easy for him to make an appearance at the Rixos hotel in which the press is located. Indeed, it is convenient that the international press were located so close to the Gaddafi compound, as it complicates efforts to attack the compound without restraint. A misfire here or there could result in the deaths of journalists, which would draw international condemnation for whoever misfires in their direction. Moreover, even after the Libyan state television station has been captured by rebels, Gaddafi's son's can still enjoy access to the international press, and spread misinformation and create confusion over the unfolding saga to their ultimate advantage. They have the dual benefit of a human shield, and access to the international press.

It seems unlikely, however, that the pro-Gaddafi strategy is to win against the rebels. Instead, it seems that their strategy is to drag out the conflict for as long as possible, so that it becomes either unbearable or slows into a stalemate. Already, pro-Gaddafi fighters have been reported to be using heavy artillery againt the rebels. Their objective is not a 'victory for the people' as their rhetoric espouses. Rather, their goal is totalitarianism at all costs. It does not matter whether Libya splits into two, or into myriad tribal factions, their goal is to hold their ground because they have nowhere else to go.

There is also the mythology of Gaddafi to draw on, that is; as the mythological defeator of the West, and unifier of Africa - an anti-crusader who has the mettle to take on the hegemonic rulers of the world who have trampled upon the rights of the poor and ex-colonised. The symbolism of Gaddafi is not just an act - it is clear that it is a deluded reality for Gaddafi himself, in addition to his sons and supporters. This in itself is nothing new. There are many leaders in history who have made grotesque decisions because they have a sense that they are 'annointed' by God and the people for a special purpose, including George Bush, who went to war on Iraq with fabricated or unreliable evidence to end the rule of another one of the annointed, Saddam Hussein. At the heart of these mythologies lies the lack of the ability to be accountable for one's actions. This is not unique to Gaddafi or his sons alone, no matter how much their actions and views may be despised and it is true that this mythology prevails today even amongst those who would not voice their support for Gaddafi.

Obfuscation, and not military might, is behind the real strategy of the pro-Gaddafi supporters that are still remaining. The less we are able to tell exactly what is going on in Libya (and Tripoli in particular) the more room there is to contest the victories that are proclaimed by the rebels. The press are unable to make clear judgements on what is transpiring, and amongst the confusion, it is easy for the pro-Gaddafi camp to claim that the nature of the conflict can be boiled down to their word against others. Indeed, Gaddafi and his cronies have laid down the template for other dictators worldwide who may be facing popular resistance, and they have taken heed. The Syrian regime has been allowed to sustain a low-level war against 'rebel' neighbourhoods and towns, and have employed the very same rhetoric as the pro-Gaddafi supporters have. What is emerging, is a handbook for the remaining dictator regimes on the planet - how to use the press and multi-media to maintain confusion and mixed messages long enough to survive popular uprisings. In this sense, the battle for Libya is not just about Libya alone (even though it should be). It has global implications, and the aged dictators of the world are paying close attention. The mongol retreat seems to have consistently been the key strategy of the pro-Gaddafi forces, and they haven't abandoned the hope that their suicidal strategy will ultimately yield a victory. They are hoping that making enough smoke might just convince their opponents and the world that they have enough firepower to see this through to a victorious end.

In the end, it is difficult to concieve of a scenario where the rebel, pro-democracy forces give up and go home. It would mean that the state apparatus would be unleashed on them and their families in retribution for their disobedience. Many would die, and many would have to flee. This is indeed an endgame, and while it may drag on for some time - in the same way the whole conflict has - it is an  endgame for both sides. There has to be a winner and a loser, and if Gaddafi wins the message that will go out to the Arab Spring and the rest of the world is that 'might is right', and that ultimately we live in a world where power cannot be challenged or overcome on humanitarian grounds. That, is what the ultimate message will be if the rebels fail to win. The consequences of this will be the same kind of resistance we have seen emerge amongst the palestinians - where suicidal guerilla attacks becomes the avenue for asserting the power of the powerless and the conflict enters into an infinite well of deceit and misrepresentation out of which there is no way out.

Gaddafi forces have been defeated throughout the country, and his regime has suffered mass defections amongst the leadership and his armed forces over the past six months. It is highly unlikely that the 'rebels' would simply give up and allow themselves and their families to be slaughtered for their efforts in turn. For all the talk of NATO support, the reality is that the rebels have endured high losses in human lives and have fought the ground war they asked for with great difficulty. They are not professional soldiers, and have had to learn how to do battle with far superior forces within a timespan of six months. Their growth in numbers has only increased as the battles have intensified, and despite their heavy losses they seem united in one goal - to get rid of the Gaddafi regime - even though there may not be much clarity on what comes afterwards. Every bit of energy seems to be going into winning victory first - perhaps this is understandible, as if any semblance of the regime remains in place there will be no real democracy to speak of in Libya. 



Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Murdoch Cream Pie Inquisition: A Broader Perspective!

Despite what the news panel pundits may say, the Murdochs and Rebecca Brooks pulled off a victory yesterday. Their appearances before the UK parliamentary 'spanish inquisition', left the 'inquisition' looking rather toothless ... unable to penetrate the fortress of corporate governance, which itself has largely become the practise of a sad collection of manoeuvres designed to externalise risk. Simply put, 'passing the buck' into an oblivion of doors within doors, it appears, seems to defeat the effectiveness of such parliamentary efforts to reveal the truth behind activities in the private sector. In some senses, a new mafia - the propoganda mafia - had its first public showing today; a family oligarchy of sorts - a perfect picture of soap opera proportions. Perhaps the politicians had underestimated the power of the propaganda-makers, as every question was expertly evaded - with the utmost sincerity of course - frustrating the proceedings into an endless series of veiled accusations and rebuttals that resembled a never-ending baseline rally in the longest tennis game in history. The only truly exciting moment was the cream pie moment; when a member of the public drove a shaving cream filled pie holder into Rupert Murdochs face while yelling something about him being a 'greedy billionaire'. 

Yet Newscore's share prices have risen on the New York Stock Exchange, "bargain hunting", according to Hala Gorani of CNN - prospecting on the survival of the  'too big to fail' Murdoch family media empire. After all, 'News of the World' is just 1% of the entire business operation that fall under the media empire that has had a profoundly significant impact upon the politics of both the USA and the UK in particular, but with tentacles that reach far into the politics of countries far removed from the centres of global power. It is truly a global media corporation - one that takes political positions and exercises power in the political domain with deliberation and purpose, and as Murdoch would have us believe, principle.

Rupert Murdoch is truly a global political force to be reckoned with, one that could quickly gain the ear of almost any sitting president (or even monarch or dictatorship) in the world. His calculated confession, expressing how 'humbling' this day was, the 'most' humbling day of his life ... revealed what was in reality a multiple message from Murdoch - he is both humbled, appalled, betrayed ... and of course, not responsible (primarily) for any of the illegal actions taken by members of his company. The 'company' as a legal persona, has been penalised ... it is no more, but the human beings who made the decisions are not responsible. What a fascinating quandary is thrust upon the unsuspecting public. Is it the individuals within the company who are responsible, or is it the real-life principles and practises that govern their behaviours responsible? Or is it both? 

Make no mistake; Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Lois Lane were all hauled before the court of public opinion today. And no doubt those in the public who are outraged will get more coverage, but there is a large majority of people out there who think, "well what would you do in that position - I think she handled it pretty well considering ...", and the old 'spiderman cum puppet-master' and the rookie journalist both played out their heroic roles; taking bullets from each other to the end. Not to be outdone, when the cream pie made its way into Rupert Murdoch's face, the wife of Rupert Murdoch leaped to his defence, planting what seemed to be a right hook (not left - as our ineffective committee later noted) upon the protester - who, by the way, acted in the true tradtion of the 'courts of public opinion', establishing a 'kangaroo court' atmosphere just long enough for the publics' lust for revenge to be sated through this small measure of humiliation being meted out upon the media moghul. In reality, his sullen receipt of the cream pie may have actually endeared the public to him, his age, vulnerability and humiliation becoming all too apparent amidst the interrogative atmosphere of the 'inquisition'.

But the real story here is not about the media alone. It is about public institutions, and how their cultures have changed in the transition to the neo-liberal 'market economics' era. The grand reduction has involved explaining human behaviour and society at large as governed by the irreducible and inherent 'self-interest' of human individuals, groups and societies. Yet this is largely an economic theory-led misconception, that superficially draws on evolutionary biology to establish what is falsely put forward as a 'Darwinian' perspective. The truth is that Darwin identified that chance mutation and variation had to come together to provide evolutionary advantage. Mutation and chance variation could just as easily go the other way, like cancer cells do, escalating the trajectory towards the end, robbing life instead of giving it.

And that is what happened with sector institutions and organisations all over the globe over the past thirty years in general, but over the last twenty years in particular. All institutions, from the military, to the state, and to the private sphere (consisting of individuals, organisations, business and enterprise) and civil society have all transformed signficantly over the past twenty years. Nowadays, ex trade union leaders are billionaires, and NGO's see themselves as funding and consultancy rivals instead of partners. All of them have political ambitions. Like it or not, we are already in the era of the transdisciplinarian - senior police officers and senior press officials swop places in each others industries without raising an eyebrow, kind of like military-defence industry personnel swops; appointments that service the dual interests of the sectors whether it be to the detriment of society as a whole or not.    

Bush and Blair both ushered in the era of the media politican reigning off the dumbed down vote. Blair was a consummate master of the 'tv politican' role; one that involved giving the public critical soundbites that crystallised the essence of their political positions. Bush wasn't nearly as successful outside of the USA. While Blair played the media field with ease, Bush was a disaster on the international stage,  but working within his limitations, he still managed to reach the 'average Joe' in the United States. This would prove enough for two terms, if you believe he actually won the second term (you know, that whole Florida thing!). Their collective responsibility for the changes the world has endured cannot be underestimated. They were key players in the propagation of a system of operation that prescribed to the idea that politics was a game where one 'played to win'. With their grand, over-funded campaigns they have set the precedent for modern democratic elections as primarily dependent on the amount and type of press airtime and coverage they are able to capture. They had their partners ... and Rupert Murdoch was one of the most powerful that they ever had, in terms of ensuring their political survival.

Despite all the carefully thought out books on 'management theory' and organisational dynamics, the real trend was towards the embodiment of power positions and dynamics within and between organisations, sectors and institutions. The real change was one where access to, and the ability to wield power, as an imperative, became paramount in pursuing 'success' as the ambitious have named it. That is, success that means triumphing within the system of corrupt governance, or slightly outside of it at best. And it is success that matters at all costs - an everest that needs to be conquered, scaled at all costs in the pursuit of the perfect life. It is, in reality, a Greek tragedy in the making. And that is what has unfolded across the world since the late 90s. Enron, Anderson, Xerox, etc. were the first to fall, violating the markets with the 'creative accounting' that everybody else, ironically, was also pursuing in their own sectors and organisations.

Plausible deniability is everything in the corporate world, and the Murdoch Cream Pie Inquisition have had their first taste of how elusive those in charge of corporate governance can prove themselves to be. What the politicians are either ignorant of, or themselves fail to understand, is that in the great majority of institutions and organisations today, the ability to externalise risk, responsiblity and blame amongst corporate leaders knows no bounds. They can frustrate anyone enough to escape responsibility and have an uncanny ability to pull the wool over the eyes of the many they know share their values and principles ... that ultimately it is each man for himself, and we stick together only when we need to. It is not a value system or set of principles from which healthy social or economic systems are born - it is a subset masquerading as a whole, a simulation of reality ... a good act, but an act nonetheless.

Yet accountability is felt more by those shoplifting food items than those in power. The simple fact is that if you're wealthy and powerful you can evade prosecution and responsibility for the worst of crimes. The banking system is a good example of this. They created toxic debt collatoralisation instruments and perpetuated them. With the trust of investors and homeowners exploited to the hilt they proceeded to collapse the entire global financial system, largely without consequence to themselves. They have been refinanced, given bonuses and given the go-ahead to invent more crazy schemes as long as they remain 'too big to fail' and no doubt they will oblige. No doubt they will find even more crazy schemes to stay afloat during the crisis, and as they've already shown, little regard will be made for social well-being on the whole in the process.

The same can be said of the military, health and educational institutions - their increased privatisation, and institutions within the business, industry, commerce and finance and banking sectors. Simply put, they are all run along the same ethics that govern corporate organisational conceptual frameworks, and have similarly created areas in which plausible deniability can be created (admittedly, to various degrees of effectiveness - some powerful individuals do go to jail). The world is dominated by diverse and plural realities across spatial and temporal scales of difference. These heavily inform the context of everyday popular reality governing the lives of those located at the centres and fringes of global power. Yet, the broader changes that institutions have undergone have had, and continue to have, a profound effect on lives everywhere across the globe.

Legalised torture is one example where the military has utterly failed as an institution, and it is not just the US military who is to blame here - there is an entire global system of military leaderships that wield torture as an instrument of power over its charges, negating the goal of ensuring the protection of society. Organisations employ people with contracts that include phrases that require them to go above and beyond their eight hours a day, eating into their rest, recreation and family lives leaving workers and employees stressed and more prone to health problems. The health sector has become (not unlike the banking sector) a collection of financial mechanisms designed to create profits that far outstrip the value provided to those requiring healthcare and inflates healthcare costs beyond measure. Educational and research institutions have attempted to 'corporatise' research operations with dismal results - endless trains of useless research that has no real impact beyond the organisations themselves. NGO's have also attempted to simulate corporate governance, leading to a 'clientilism' that in practise serves their own needs as organisations more than the public interests they claim to represent. They have become self-interested, risk-externalising 'machines' that operate with blinkered vision where it suits them. Principle, and creating real value, come last.

Global press monopolies have a large amount of power over political and business establishments alike. Yet, they are operating by the very same principles that lie at the very core of the logic that underpins conventional organisational models in different sectors alike. The real problem is not with the press, but with the institutional cultures that have been cultivated within society, and which has filtered into organisations across sector divides. It is the prevailing system of underlying assumptions, often held as intrinsic 'truths' that lead to the behaviours that lie at the core of essentially corrupt behaviours, and the real problem is this underlying system of truisms and our inability to interrogate them. It is the pervasive assumptions that govern the systems of organisational governance that have led to this mess, and singling out the press for punishment is ultimately a distraction from the real foundations that lead all sectors, from banking to healthcare, to operate unscrupulously. Singling out one sector for the Guantanomo treatment won't change the rules of the game. We can either purposively transition, or wait out the inevitable collapse or revolution that will make broader change necessary. Perhaps a full global collapse of institutions is necessary before a comprehensive rethink enters the political and economic arenas. One thing is sure, the problem is the deeply entrenched underlying values and beliefs that govern organisational behaviours that lie beneath all the politically correct rhetoric, and the circus we witnessed yesterday is hardly likely to make any real difference to how things are done by those in power in the world we live in.