News:

It's a bad decade to be bipedal, soft and unarmed.

Main Menu

Lets Talk Theory.

Started by Scribbly, February 15, 2012, 11:44:57 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Scribbly

We talk a lot about how the system works, but we generally do it in relation to specific examples. I thought it might be helpful to get some discussion rolling about the political world we live in, at least how I understand it. I fear it is a little shallow in places, but I think what I've got below is a pretty good jumping off point. I haven't touched too much on economics, as I think that is worth looking at in more detail as a specific system; this is just meant to be an overview of general politics and international relations from the top down.

At the top of the tree in politics you have the nation state. A nation state is held to be autonomous, have legitimate right to rule the territory it claims, and exerts control over its citizens to some degree. Laying out a specific definition of what constitutes a nation state and a citizen can be tough, but for general purposes it is fairly self-explanatory.

Below the nation state you have the various organizations that nation states subscribe to; The United Nations, European Union, Arab League, NATO and so forth. There's often some confusion at this level because people tend to be confused about the behaviour of nation states in regards to these organizations. Although there are certain expectations set up for membership, nations cannot be compelled to act, though they can be pressurized. For instance, most of the European Union members lied and cheated on their accounts and were known to be doing so in contravention with the agreed limits on government borrowing. There was nothing that the EU as a body could actually do about this without popular support, so the rules were meaningless.

The recent removal of governments in the EU to be replaced with technocrats is an interesting example which could be seen to contradict this, but in truth it is a vessel for the interests of France and Germany. Supranational bodies continue to exist and are redefined by the nation states which make them up, rather than having innate power in and of themselves. Nation states exert pressure on each other through various threats; in the past these have largely been of a violent nature, but they can also include sanctions, restricting access to resources or territory, ceasing trade contracts, or working against their political interests through supranational bodies. It can also include more positive forms of manipulation- giving aid or grants, support on the national stage, treaties and alliances and so forth. Ultimately all these things are ways for one nation to bend another to their interests, either through coercion or bribery.

Below these bodies you then have international corporations. These organizations do not have direct control over the workings of government, and they cannot flout international regulations without risking serious fines and problems. Even when they work within the system, if a strong enough government decides to screw them over, they generally will be screwed. Russia vs BP is a fun example of that.

Ultimately, how strong these corporations are tends to be related to how strong their home nation is. If the United States Government stands behind the actions of their corporations, you can be sure that the countries they operate in will be very aware of this. How much money corporations can throw into their operations also has a major role, with some of the biggest in the world having the ability to strongly warp international standards around the regulation of their businesses. This is most evident in the banking system, where the major banks work as a cartel in order to threaten and bully governments with dire warnings should their interests be threatened. They do not have ultimate authority, however, as they do not have state sanctioned violence to fall back on of their own regard. They have to buy it in, and that means that they have to keep the largest countries on side if they are going to keep having their interests served.

Within countries, then, you have the government at the top, and then the major industries which make up the economy of that country. The ultimate aim of any government is to remain in power, and in order to do that they need to keep being seen as legitimate in the eyes of their people. That does not necessarily mean democracy, but it does mean making sure that their right to rule is uncontested through whatever means.

That means keeping most people largely satisfied with the status quo. Change, in government, is a bad thing. After all, the system which exists put you into power, why would you want to change that? The ultimate aim is to make it so that people cannot even conceive of an alternative system. The End of History, as Fukuyama called it.

A large part of that is keeping the economy stable and people employed. Modern relations between states are somewhat more complex than they used to be as a result of globalization; the economies of countries throughout the world are more intricately linked than they used to be. This has opened up more routes for conflict than just violence, with trade sanctions, control of trade routes (such as the Strait of Hormuz) and other resources now understood to be potentially catastrophic in ways they were not necessarily before.

The media is a mirror of the culture which produces it. There isn't necessarily a conscious and directed conspiracy of the media in order to control output and reproduce particular ideological ideas; there doesn't have to be. A very small group of people control the media, and they have done very well out of the status quo. For the same reasons that governments fear change, these people are resistant to ways of showing information which do not fit in with their expectations.

People generally want to believe that their nation is doing well, and that the system which they live in is a good one. Without that belief, the legitimacy of the culture itself is questioned, and that tends to result in feeling pretty uncomfortable. We feel a natural connection to the country of our birth because we impose the norms and values that we group up with on it. The nation state is a kind of imagined community; we will never know even a tiny fraction of all the people who subscribe to it, but we still have a tendency to imagine that we have something in common with them. It is the modern 'tribe' and it invokes an Us vs Them response in relation to all other nation states.
I had an existential crisis and all I got was this stupid gender.

Placid Dingo

Like it a lot. Puts things clearly and precisely.
Haven't paid rent since 2014 with ONE WEIRD TRICK.

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

It's so much more complex than this... I have started to respond multiple times but I was daunted. I will try to find some good links that will illustrate how the system really works, but for now I will just recommend this book: http://www.amazon.com/American-Society-How-Really-Works/dp/039393067X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329370050&sr=8-1
"I'm guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk," Charles Wick said. "It was very complicated."



Telarus

Quote from: Nigel on February 16, 2012, 05:27:32 AM
It's so much more complex than this... I have started to respond multiple times but I was daunted. I will try to find some good links that will illustrate how the system really works, but for now I will just recommend this book: http://www.amazon.com/American-Society-How-Really-Works/dp/039393067X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329370050&sr=8-1

For a brief overview of the International situation, D_S's essay was fairly good (my internet went down for an a hour, so I gave it a thorough read, as it was an open tab I could close).

It is focused on (inter/national) organizations as Actors, as opposed to individuals as Actors (and in this way, mirrors the cognitive shift Cram describes by analogy in his Spirit World of Ideas). We can zoom in to the individual level (or even to our own country), but it's also valuable to consider the overall network structure as a whole. Specifically to see what constraints are placed upon us as individuals from outside the scope of our local environments.

Totally interested in any links you can throw up to expand on the book recommendation.
Telarus, KSC,
.__.  Keeper of the Contradictory Cephalopod, Zenarchist Swordsman,
(0o)  Tender to the Edible Zen Garden, Ratcheting Metallic Sex Doll of The End Times,
/||\   Episkopos of the Amorphous Dreams Cabal

Join the Doll Underground! Experience the Phantasmagorical Safari!

Scribbly

Quote from: Telarus on February 16, 2012, 10:42:16 AM
Quote from: Nigel on February 16, 2012, 05:27:32 AM
It's so much more complex than this... I have started to respond multiple times but I was daunted. I will try to find some good links that will illustrate how the system really works, but for now I will just recommend this book: http://www.amazon.com/American-Society-How-Really-Works/dp/039393067X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329370050&sr=8-1

For a brief overview of the International situation, D_S's essay was fairly good (my internet went down for an a hour, so I gave it a thorough read, as it was an open tab I could close).

It is focused on (inter/national) organizations as Actors, as opposed to individuals as Actors (and in this way, mirrors the cognitive shift Cram describes by analogy in his Spirit World of Ideas). We can zoom in to the individual level (or even to our own country), but it's also valuable to consider the overall network structure as a whole. Specifically to see what constraints are placed upon us as individuals from outside the scope of our local environments.

Totally interested in any links you can throw up to expand on the book recommendation.

Thanks, that's pretty much what I was going for.

Of course it is more complex than this. I even admitted that the analysis is somewhat shallow. I intended it as a jumping off point for people to add to/disagree with/discuss (that's why the subject is 'lets talk theory').

Unfortunately I can't afford the £20-odd it'll cost me to get that particular book this month. I'd be very interested in people adding more if they can, though. Because, you know, that's the point. It isn't 'Demolition Squid explains all of politics'. Because I can't do that (and I don't think anyone can).
I had an existential crisis and all I got was this stupid gender.

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

Are you guys familiar with ALEC? If not, look it up. I will add more when I get the chance... I'm in the middle of doing some research for class but this is a good topic.
"I'm guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk," Charles Wick said. "It was very complicated."


Cain

This essentially mirrors what I was taught: there is an "international system"; ie; the world, which is made up of states.  States occasionally form global or regional economic or security entities (the UN, IMF, EU, ECOWAS, SCO etc) but primarily, the international system is a system of states.

Which then means the next level after the international level is the individual state, often believed to be a unitary legal entity with a monopoly on force within a mutually recognized territory of control.  This becomes tricky because a) nationalism and b) states that do not have a monopoly on force, but by and large it serves a purpose.

Then there is the institutional level - this is the sub-state area of groups like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Conservative Party, the CIA etc.  Also NGOs and transnational corporations, religious movements with large backing and so on.  IR scholars typically dismiss this area as the purview of the 'lesser' political sciences, unless it hits upon one of their hobby-horses, like the arms trade or "fucking Greece", as it is now known in international political economy circles.

Finally, there is the individual level, what actual individual people do.

As a schema, it has some benefits, and some flaws.  The major flaw, to my mind, is the interlinkage between all four systems in terms of a national "ruling class" or power elite.  For instance, Dick Cheney.  Dick Cheney crosses all the barriers pretty much, when you consider his tenure as vice-President.  On the individual level, he was a cranky old man from Wyoming with an unhealthy level of bloodlust and disregard for the opinions of others.  On the institutional level, he was the Vice-President of the United States.  On the state level, he was the second in line to the leadership of a major military and nuclear power.  On the international level, he was part of the driving force behind a plan to remake the world order into one much more beneficial for a particular state in the system, via the dismantling of international agreements on the use of force and pre-emptive warfare.

Now, obviously, the schema has some use, as it allows us to track the impact of Dick Cheney's time in office through these different levels of analysis.  But at the same time, it can be misleading, for it divides the impact of Dick Cheney through what are considered, in the schema, 4 different levels of impact.  But those levels are also intimately interrelated, and impact on each other.  The nature of the international system shapes the way we understand what a state is and what options it has, which can then have impacts on how sub-state institutions understand their options, access and influence, and ultimately feed back into individuals and how the global situation affects them.

There is an argument for the addition of extra levels of analysis within political theory.  While I think the classic Marxist understanding of class is perhaps a little simplistic, a more sociologically derived understanding of class would no doubt be helpful, as would a cultural level of analysis (as proposed by Huntingdon, though he screwed it up by equating culture with civilizations, and with his fundamental misunderstandings of some of those civilizations).  There is also possibly space for a couple of more levels of analysis, though I am struggling to consider what they are right now.  While this does multiply the levels somewhat, making understanding the overall nature of the system more complex, I do not believe it puts it beyond the ability of a human with pen and paper to figure out.

Next installment: theories of international politics, and why they are unconvincing.

Igor

Thanks Cain and Demo.

This is really interesting, it's great to have such a clear introduction to the basics of these things.
Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd like it put more simply - never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

Roly Poly Oly-Garch

#9
Quote from: Cain on February 28, 2012, 10:08:06 AM
This essentially mirrors what I was taught: there is an "international system"; ie; the world, which is made up of states.  States occasionally form global or regional economic or security entities (the UN, IMF, EU, ECOWAS, SCO etc) but primarily, the international system is a system of states.

Which then means the next level after the international level is the individual state, often believed to be a unitary legal entity with a monopoly on force within a mutually recognized territory of control.  This becomes tricky because a) nationalism and b) states that do not have a monopoly on force, but by and large it serves a purpose.

Then there is the institutional level - this is the sub-state area of groups like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Conservative Party, the CIA etc.  Also NGOs and transnational corporations, religious movements with large backing and so on.  IR scholars typically dismiss this area as the purview of the 'lesser' political sciences, unless it hits upon one of their hobby-horses, like the arms trade or "fucking Greece", as it is now known in international political economy circles.

Finally, there is the individual level, what actual individual people do.

As a schema, it has some benefits, and some flaws.  The major flaw, to my mind, is the interlinkage between all four systems in terms of a national "ruling class" or power elite.  For instance, Dick Cheney.  Dick Cheney crosses all the barriers pretty much, when you consider his tenure as vice-President.  On the individual level, he was a cranky old man from Wyoming with an unhealthy level of bloodlust and disregard for the opinions of others.  On the institutional level, he was the Vice-President of the United States.  On the state level, he was the second in line to the leadership of a major military and nuclear power.  On the international level, he was part of the driving force behind a plan to remake the world order into one much more beneficial for a particular state in the system, via the dismantling of international agreements on the use of force and pre-emptive warfare.

Now, obviously, the schema has some use, as it allows us to track the impact of Dick Cheney's time in office through these different levels of analysis.  But at the same time, it can be misleading, for it divides the impact of Dick Cheney through what are considered, in the schema, 4 different levels of impact.  But those levels are also intimately interrelated, and impact on each other.  The nature of the international system shapes the way we understand what a state is and what options it has, which can then have impacts on how sub-state institutions understand their options, access and influence, and ultimately feed back into individuals and how the global situation affects them.

There is an argument for the addition of extra levels of analysis within political theory.  While I think the classic Marxist understanding of class is perhaps a little simplistic, a more sociologically derived understanding of class would no doubt be helpful, as would a cultural level of analysis (as proposed by Huntingdon, though he screwed it up by equating culture with civilizations, and with his fundamental misunderstandings of some of those civilizations).  There is also possibly space for a couple of more levels of analysis, though I am struggling to consider what they are right now.  While this does multiply the levels somewhat, making understanding the overall nature of the system more complex, I do not believe it puts it beyond the ability of a human with pen and paper to figure out.

Next installment: theories of international politics, and why they are unconvincing.

Can you clarify where nationalism presents problems under that model? Would adding a cultural level be a useful tool for mitigating that? Kind of thinking of the Kurdish situation here.
Back to the fecal matter in the pool

Cain

Nationalism can undermine a state where two or more nationalities are present.  Yugoslavia wasn't much of a unitary state in the early 90s, as you may recall.  Adding culture would be a good frame of reference for understanding such conflicts, yes, though often the cultures in question are not really that different, and it's more to do with construction of identity through exclusion and historical narratives.

Roly Poly Oly-Garch

Quote from: Cain on February 28, 2012, 10:57:51 PM
Nationalism can undermine a state where two or more nationalities are present.  Yugoslavia wasn't much of a unitary state in the early 90s, as you may recall.  Adding culture would be a good frame of reference for understanding such conflicts, yes, though often the cultures in question are not really that different, and it's more to do with construction of identity through exclusion and historical narratives.

That's something I had never considered--Nation as an identity distinct from a political state. But then I'm from a part of the world with a history that didn't even begin until it had wiped out all the history that preceded it.

Seems that nationalism, as your using it here, would be pretty much similar to tribalism as it occurs in many parts of the world. The unitary state definition would mean that you could use "the State of Rwanda" and "the Rwandan State" interchangeably as though Rwanda and Rwandan was one thing, but when Hutu and Tutsi are identities more strongly held than any associated with the State, that definition would be inadequate?

I think there may be even more wonk if you tried to apply that schema to the tribal entities here in the U.S. and Canada. It's not so much the tribal identity apart from the U.S. state that is worthy of consideration it's their strange legal standing. I'm not familiar with how it works in Canada, but in the U.S. they are considered tribally sovereign, but territorially dependent. They're not independent by any means, but since their bound by treaty to the U.S., rather than under Constitution, they have a mutable balance of power sort of situation. As many of the tribes are exercising increasing levels of economic autonomy, things like a Toyota plant opening on Mississippi Choctaw lands, is a relationship that can't merely be described as a Japanese Corporation to the U.S. state, without first identifying the current state of U.S.-Choctaw relations.
Back to the fecal matter in the pool