Labor 2.0

Since I mentioned flexibility in my previous post, now is a good time to mention a great neoliberal invention that is supposed to sound good: flexi-security or flexicurity. Flexi-security refers to (1) flexibilization of the labor market, (2) social security and (3) rights for the unemployed. It is supposed to be a win-win system for employers and workers. It was especially popular in European countries.

How does it work? Well

“‘Flexicurity’, it turns out, is the Sellafield of labour market policies in Europe. At the height of market euphoria after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everybody seemed to propagate flexibility and deregulation as the solution to the problems of unemployment, low growth, inflations, and lack of innovation. However the great promises of flexibility did not materialise. Growth remained below the long-term average, unemployment remained rather high and productive growth sluggish. Only profits started to grow, while wages and real investment stagnated. In the European context of inclusive societies, social dialogue, comprehensive welfare states and labour rights, flexibility increasingly became a hard sell.

This was the moment when flexicurity entered the stage. As part of a model provided by Denmark, the European public was told that while there might not be a free lunch, there was nonetheless a ’win-win’ situation. In a nut shell, flexicurity boils down to the promise that ‘No one has a right to his/her job, but everybody deserves a chance to have one’.

The reasoning goes as follows: Globalisation and enhanced competition requires greater flexibility by companies. They must have the ability to hire and fire with the lowest possible transaction costs to adapt as quickly as possible to changing market conditions. Workers need to accept this. However, giving up workplace protection should be compensated through the provision of social security that guarantees income security while strengthening employability through active labour market policies. Finally, in order to incentivise workers to take up another job, unemployment benefits would decrease the longer the worker claims the benefits. The latter is euphemistically described as ‘activation policy’.”

Denmark was the model for this. The idea was that businesses would be given more flexibility. In exchange, they would pay higher taxes that would support a strong social security and unemployment protections system. All well and good, but when the model got translated to other European countries…

“Governments have pursued flexibility policies by simultaneously reducing work place protection and unemployment benefits. I am not aware of major policy initiatives that increased social security provisions in recent years in order to compensate for the reduction in protection against dismissal or the increase in a-typical and largely precarious employment.

Flexicurity largely disguises the shift of the flexibility burden from the entrepreneur to the worker. In the old days, entrepreneurial profits were justified because the entrepreneur was the risk taker. He could not enjoy the ‘nine to five’ standard working day of the employees. Under the flexicurity regime, workers are requested to give up this stable employment relationship. They are expected to accept instant redundancy, high mobility, constant changes of profession, temporary contracts, income volatility etc. . What this injection of fear, insecurity and unpredictability means for peoples’ lives, their families and their communities is not part of the equation.

After more than a decade of flexicurity, it is time to face up to reality. Flexicurity did not deliver. While preaching flexicurity, the EU is in fact promoting labour market flexibility that results in precarity for millions of workers throughout Europe. The word ‘flexicurity’ cannot disguise the reality might more more accurately be called: flexploitation.”

That is indeed what is happening at the EU level as well:

” By 2011, however, it seems clear that flexicurity does not represent the new historic compromise that some of its initial advocates may have had in mind. Certainly, active labour market policies, such as short-time working schemes, continue to play an important role in some EU member states. At the EU-level, however, EU institutions, unions, and employers, have failed to agree on a common post-crisis strategy (Erne 2011).

Following the lead of the ECB and employers, the Commission and the ECOFIN Council now refer to flexicurity above all to justify calls for a deregulation of labour law and industrial relations practices. It is widely accepted that the European economic and financial crisis has been caused primarily by reckless lending practices that have been tolerated by the ECB, and by the huge bank bailouts that have been approved afterwards by the Commission to protect the banking system against ‘systemic’ capital market risks. But whereas the support for banks and their bondholders, worth hundreds of billions of Euros, is apparently compatible with the internal market – in spite of Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that forbids state aid – EU’s economic policymakers increasingly target member states for their allegedly rigid labour laws and industrial relations practices. Unsurprisingly, however, no member state has been criticised for failing to provide Dutch or Danish levels of unemployment benefits to protect workers against labour market risks.

Indeed, workers’ concerns do not figure in the proposed economic governance package that aims at preventing recessions in the future. Instead, the package identifies collective bargaining institutions as obstacles to a speedy recovery.”

And the loss of trust is a major aspect to this in terms of social contract and legitimacy of institutions and policies:

” The difficulty is compounded by the downplaying or, in certain cases, refusal of social dialogue and collective bargaining in the various austerity rounds, thereby shaking the trust, sometimes very fragile, between the very partners that are to bargain and implement flexicurity policies.

Lastly, trade unions across Europe have become more wary of flexicurity in the light of the already relatively high level of labour market flexibility and the cuts currently being inflicted on social protection in Europe.

Revisiting the flexicurity agenda to take account of the lessons of the crisis would imply placing more emphasis on internal adjustment, with a strong focus on incentives to create jobs, on the specific situation of youth, on the need for institutions that ensure secure transitions, while not forgetting the need to regain the trade unions’ trust.”

And Europe is also seeing the return of Taylorism, renamed lean manufacturing (in French) where employees are also asked to participate to their own increased exploitation (draft proposals to increase productivity, get a bonus if they get implemented). And, of course, the workers have to participate in meetings that are not mandatory, but one gets blamed for lack of commitment if one does not show up. And of course, how could one criticize a system in which one participates fully and contributes to. Most of this stuff comes out of management firms that provide templates and training to businesses (anyone having suffered through some of that stuff knows how bogus it is).

And as ergonomists note, lean manufacturing is completely clueless as to human behavior, body (musculo-skeletal damage cause by task reorganization) and mind (demotivation and therefore absenteeism), hence lack of increased productivity, which is how toyotism (the main form of lean manufacturing) tends to fail. But this management style has also been applied to public services in the name of efficiency and accountability (notoriously, at the unemployment centers in France) and more and more service industries have shown an interest.

However, the service sector is where Toyotism fails the most because it dehumanizes and actually prevents workers from doing their job well, for instance, by limiting their interactions with clients to a certain amount of time and to standardized scripts.

And finally, and unsurprisingly, it was only a matter of time before companies exploited the massive prison population of the United States:

“There is one group of American workers so disenfranchised that corporations are able to get away with paying them wages that rival those of third-world sweatshops.These laborers have been legally stripped of their political, economic and social rights and ultimately relegated to second-class citizens.They are banned from unionizing, violently silenced from speaking out and forced to work for little to no wages.This marginalization renders them practically invisible, as they are kept hidden from society with no available recourse to improve their circumstances or change their plight.

They are the 2.3 million American prisoners locked behind bars where we cannot see or hear them.And they are modern-day slaves of the 21st century.

(…)

In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit.By dipping into the prison labor pool, companies have their pick of workers who are not only cheap but easily controlled.Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages.They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises.Inmate workers are full-time and never late or absent because of family problems.

If they refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges along with “good time” credit that reduces their sentences.To top it off, the federal government subsidizes the use of inmate labor by private companies through lucrative tax write-offs.”

And as usual, in the US, companies do not get such lucrative opportunities without government support:

“Prior to the 1970s, private corporations were prohibited from using prison labor as a result of the chain gang and convict leasing scandals.But in 1979, Congress began a process of deregulation to restore private sector involvement in prison industries to its former status, provided certain conditions of the labor market were met.Over the last 30 years, at least 37 states have enacted laws permitting the use of convict labor by private enterprise, with an average pay of $0.93 to $4.73 per day.

Federal prisoners receive more generous wages that range from $0.23 to $1.25 per hour, and are employed by Unicor, a wholly owned government corporation established by Congress in 1934.Its principal customer is the Department of Defense, from which Unicor derives approximately 53 percent of its sales.Some21,836 inmates work in Unicor programs. Subsequently, the nation’s prison industry – prison labor programs producing goods or services sold to other government agencies or to the private sector — now employs more people than any Fortune 500 company (besides General Motors), and generates about $2.4 billion in revenue annually.

(…)

Some of the largest and most powerful corporations have a stake in the expansion of the prison labor market, including but not limited to IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.”

Welcome to the Brave New World of work.

Defining The Precariat

This is a first in a series of posts I intend to write as I work my way through Guy Standing‘s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.

First off, the precariat is not something that just happened (nothing ever does just “happen” in society) but something created as the result of socio-economic policies:

“In the 1970s, a group of ideologically inspired economists captured the ears and minds of politicians. The central plank of their ‘neo-liberal’ model was that growth and development depended on market competitiveness; everything should be done to maximise competition and competitiveness, and to allow market principles to permeate all aspects of life.

One theme was that countries should increase their labour market flexibility, which came to mean an agenda for transferring risks and insecurity onto workers and their families. The result has been the creation of a global ‘precariat’, consisting of many millions around the world without an anchor of stability. They are becoming a new dangerous class. They are prone to listening to ugly voices, and to use their votes and money to give those voices a political platform of increasing influence. The very success of the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda, embraced to a greater or lesser extent by governments of all complexions, has created an incipient political monster. Action is needed before that monster comes to life.” (1)

Standing notes that the precariat is already making itself somewhat heard in Europe through events such as EuroMayDay but apart from a few carnival-esque events, the precariat is not a social movement partly because of its lack of homogenity. Standing compares such demonstrations to the “primitive rebels” that appear at every great transformation as the social foundations of the old order are dismantled and there is yet nothing to replace them.

Precarization is also the child of globalization as traditional labor organizations in the Global North no longer have the power to impose some degree of social contract with employers after decades of outsourcing / off-shoring / delocalizing. As a result of the massive deindustrialization, the labor force of Western countries has found its status much less secure, not only as a result of the loss of secure jobs but also as a result of public policies designed to eliminate large segments of the social safety net, all as part of the Great Risk Shift.

One of the major aspects of neo-liberalism is an emphasis on flexibility, a multi-layered idea explained as such by Standing;

  • Wage flexibility: speeding up adjustments to changes in demand, especially downwards;
  • Employment flexibility: easy and costless ability of firms to change employment levels with reduction in employment security and protections;
  • Job flexibility: being able to move employees around and change job structure with minimal resistance or costs;
  • Skill flexibility: being able to adjust workers’ skills easily.

Consequences?

“In essence, the flexibility advocated by the brash neo-classical economists meant systematically making employees more insecure, claimed to be a necessary price for retaining investment and jobs. Each economic setback was attributed in part, fairly or not, to a lack of flexibility and to the lack of ‘structural reform’ of labour markets.

As globalisation proceeded, and as governments and corporations chased each other in making their labour relations more flexible, the number of people in insecure forms of labour multiplied. This was not technologically determined. As flexible labour spread, inequalities grew, and the class structure that underpinned industrial society gave way to something more complex but certainly not less class based.” (6)

So, what is the new class structure, according to Standing? For him, the social ladder looks something like this:

  • Elite: the absurdly rich global citizens, the transnational capitalist class, global power elite, masters of the universe and whatever else you want to call them;
  • Salariat: those still in stable, full-time employment, pensions, paid holidays, employers-provided benefits often subsidized by the state;
  • Proficians: or “professional technicians”, those who have skills they can market as professional consultants, freelancers, etc and who might actually enjoy moving around, from job to job;
  • Working class: as in the traditional working class for whom the welfare state was built but whose ranks have been decimated;
  • Precariat
  • Unemployed
  • Socially marginalized

These are classes and especially, the precariat may not be a class-for-itself but it is a class nonetheless, with class characteristics:

“[The precariat] consists of people who have minimal trust relationships with capital or the state, making it quite unlike the salariat. And it has none of the social contract relationships of the proletariat, whereby labour securities were provided in exchange for the subordination and contingent loyalty, the unwritten deal underpinning welfare states. Without a bargain of trust or security in exchange for subordination, the precariat is distinctive in class terms. It also has the peculiar status position, in not mapping neatly onto high-status professional or middle-class status occupations. One way of putting it is that the precariat has ‘truncated status.’ (8)

Crucial here is the fact that the precariat lacks all aspects of social security:

  • Labor market security: adequate income-earning opportunities, at best, government commitment to full employment.
  • Employment security: protection against arbitrary dismissal, regulations on hiring and firing.
  • Job security: ability and opportunity for a niche in employment, barriers to skill dilutions, opportunities for upward mobility in terms of status and income.
  • Work security: protection against accidents and illness at work through safety and health regulations, limits on working time and other such working conditions, and compensation for accidents.
  • Skill reproduction security: opportunity to gain skills through training, apprenticeship and opportunity for use of competencies.
  • Income security: assurance of an adequate stable income, protected through things like minimum wage laws, wage indexation, comprehensive social security and progressive taxation.
  • Representation security: right to collective bargaining or a collective voice in the labor market, independent unions and right to strike.

The precariat lacks all seven forms of security as well as the most secure forms of social income which is composed of the following :

  • Self-production (from family farm to household plot)
  • Money income
  • Family and community support
  • Enterprise benefits
  • State benefits
  • Private benefits (savings)

Each form of social income can be divided between forms that are more or less secure, but the precariat will always be on the less secure end of the spectrum in each category.

“A feature of the precariat is not the level of money wages or income earned at any particular moment but the lack of community support in times of need, lack of assured enterprise or state benefits, and lack of private benefits to supplement money earnings.

(…)

Besides labour insecurity and insecure social income, those in the precariat lack a work-based identity. When employed, they are in career-less jobs, without traditions of social memory, a feeling they belong to an occupational community steeped in stable practices, codes of ethics and norms of behaviour, reciprocity and fraternity.

The precariat does not feel part of a solidaristic labour community. This intensifies a sense of alienation and instrumentality in what they have to do. Actions and attitudes derived from precariousness, drift towards opportunism. There is no ‘shadow of the future’ hanging over their actions, to give them a sense that what they say, do or feel today will have a strong or binding effect on the longer-term relationships. The precariat knows there is no shadow of the future, as there is no future in what they are doing. To be ‘out’ tomorrow would come as no surprise, and to leave might not be bad, if another job or burst of activity beckoned.” (13)

And so labor becomes instrumental (to earn a living), opportunistic (taking what comes) and precarious (insecure). I would add that governments might themselves encourage that kind of attitude when unemployment benefits become linked to accepting the first job offers, no matter what it is.

If precariat is a condition or state, precariatization (oh man, Jay Livingston is going to kill me for that ugly word!) is the process through which one becomes part of the precariat. According to Standing, a feature of this process is the recourse to meaningless, inflated titles or what he calls “fictitious occupational mobility” or “uptitling” that define going-nowhere jobs that conceal the precariatization of the job itself. The proliferation of job titles is a nice substitute for wage increases but also reflect increased organization complexities. As Standing states, “flattened job structures are concealed by title inflation.” (18)

But the precariat is not just a state related to a work situation. For Standing, it also shapes how one thinks and sees the world:

“The precariat is defined by short-termism, which could evolve into a mass incapacity to think long term, induced by a low probability of personal progress or building a career.

(…)

The internet, browsing habit, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and other social media are all operating to rewire the brain (Carr, 2010). This digital living is damaging the long-term memory consolidation process that is the basis for what generations of humans have come to regard as intelligence, the capacity to reason through complex processes and to create new ideas and ways of imagining.

The digitised world has no respect for contemplation or reflection; it delivers instant stimulation and gratification, forcing the brain to give most attention to short-term decisions and reaction.” (18-9)

Associated with that are the states of anger, anomie, anxiety and alienation that the precarized experience along with the lack of stability and predictability. Needless to say, this is a recipe for social instability and what I have called the new sociopathy. However, when you think about it, you can clearly who benefits from all this.  But it is impossible not to see precarization as a form of structural violence.

The Visual Du Jour – Danger Zones

(Via)

The country-by-country review points to systemic failure.

Also:

“The IMF believes there are three conditions for a mega recession: it should affect the core of the global economy, have its genesis in the financial sector and should involve a large number of countries. A budgetary crisis in the US would, according to analysts, fulfil all those criteria, rippling out to the rest of the world and producing a wave of fresh losses for banks. Although the IMF believes the global economy will grow this year, it thinks the risks are skewed to the downside and that potential problems lurk in every continent.”

And of course, the social consequences would be devastating and point to global chaos.

The Poor: Air-Conditioned and Happy

Any society has a lot of cultural narratives that provide ready explanations for common phenomenon. These narratives, or commonsense explanations, are never questioned, never examined, taken for granted and become part of our stock of knowledge (to use Alfred Schutz’s formulation). It does not mean they are true. Their strength is not based on their truth value but on their embeddedness into our minds and culture and their resistance to examination.

For instance, narrative 1 – the poor are happy as they are (often heard regarding the poor in the Global South – see the link):

“The happy poor argument is appealing as many richer people dislike feeling guilty about their relative wealth (Toynbee and Walker, 2008/2009, p.33). Denying that inequality is problematic, based on happiness being important and the poor being happy, offers a pretext for not thinking more deeply about the impacts of inequality.

(…)

Happiness clearly does matter. However, the notion that the poor are happy needs to be challenged. If anything, the evidence presented here suggests that the poor are not particularly happy. In any case, suffering adversity happily does not mean there are not serious problems to be addressed. As such, the argument that the poor are happy, and that this reduces responsibility to distribute resources more equally, should be treated with skepticism.”

But there is also narrative 2 – the poor are not really poor (often heard regarding the poor in the Global North. According to that argument (no link because the latest iteration comes from the Heritage Foundation, to which I am not linking… I have the same policy regarding the Huffington Post), if the poor do not live is abject destitution worthy of Dickensian novels, then, they are not really poor. That thesis is often sustained by listing the number of appliances and amenities that the poor have in wealthy societies. So, to have a refrigerator is to not be poor, or to have a cell phone or a computer means one is not poor.

Both narratives point to the same conclusion: anti-poverty and redistributive policies (that is, those that redistribute more equally as redistributive policies that redistribute upwards are perfectly ok) are unnecessary or unjustified. If the poor are happy with their lot, to interfere with anti-poverty programs will be detrimental and will break some sort of “natural” order (not true).

On the other hand, if the poor are not really poor because they have indoor plumbing, then, anti-poverty policies are clearly uncalled for, or worse, existing policies need to be scaled back because the poor are obviously enjoying life with a few amenities (not true either).

The third conclusion is that one should not feel bad about the plight of the poor. According to narrative 1, if the poor are happy with their lot, why should the rest of us feel bad? Narrative 1 reeks of Rousseau’s noble savages where the poor of the Global South are seen as closer to a “simpler” state where they appreciate little things more and don’t sweat the small stuff.

According to narrative 2, again, they are not poor enough that they don’t get a few extras and the same amenities as anyone else (never mind that these amenities might be of lower qualities, break down more often, or might be basic necessities, like cell phones when one looks for a job). It relieves society and the upper classes of any idea that some assistance is needed or at least a more egalitarian social structure.

This reminds me of a similar idea that was brought up in a conversation I had with a nurse regarding the large presence of Filippinas in nursing homes in our county. “They are naturally nurturing” said the nurse, so those kinds of jobs are perfect for them. It is a simple substitution of ethnicity and gender for class. As Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild have explained in their book, Global Woman, this rationale “nurturing is natural to them” is a convenient justification to extract gender enotional labor from other countries to be our nannies, nursing home personnel, etc. And who are we to prevent them from “doing what comes naturally“?

In any event, both narratives provide good culturally-approved and unquestioned obfuscation devices so that we don’t talk about this.

Urban Space… The Final Frontier

I know, I know, but I couldn’t help it.

Anyhoo, in her inimitable style, Saskia Sassen updates her ideas regarding global cities with different items.

First, the ‘smart city” and urbanizing technologies:

Lift 2011 – URBAN – Saskia Sassen from videosfing on Vimeo.

It is worth 30 minutes of your time on the topic of the city as strategic space.

As Sassen states:

“This notion of urbanizing technology is one of several along those lines that I have been working out for a while. The starting point was not necessarily cities. It was the notion that in interactive domains the technology delivers its capabilities through ecologies that include non-technological variables –the social and the subjective, the logics/aims of users, for example finance uses the technology with different aims from Amnesty international, etc etc. Again, I make this argument for interactive domains, not, say, data pipelines.

There is another condition present in the interactive domain, separate from the technology itself. At the beginning I studied how the logic of finance (a sector that is deeply embedded in digital networks and digitized spaces) is not the logic of the engineer and computer scientist and software developer who made the digital domain. The effect is that the user (finance) does not necessarily use all the properties that the engineer etc. put into it. I also looked at civil society organizations along the same lines. This helps explain why the outcomes never correspond to what we may have predicted based on the capacities of the technology.

Now I am looking at cities through the same lens. Users bring their own logics to these technologies. In the case of a city with its vast diversities of people and what makes them tick, the outcome can be quite different from what the designers expected. And this matters. This keeps the city alive, and open. When you embed interactive technologies in urban settings, it is important to allow for this mutating as diverse types of users bring their own logics to those technologies. If the technology controls all outcomes in a routinized fashion ((as if it were a data pipeline) there is a high risk that it will become obsolete, or less and less used, or so routinized that it barely is interactive. More like buying a ticket from an automaton: yes you have choices, but you can hardly call this interactive.

The key, difficult, and ever changing question is how do we keep technologies open, responsive to environmental signals and to users choices, including what may seem quirky from the perspective of the engineer. The city is full of signals and quirky uses: given a chance , it would urbanize a whole range of technologies. But this possibility needs to be made – it is not simply a function of interactive technologies as we know them now, and it needs to go beyond the embedded feedback capability. Open Source is more like it.”

And I especially find this important:

“Urbanity is a mutant. And this means it is made and remade along many different concepts/ideas/imaginations across the world. It can happen in sites where we, we of our westernized culture, might not see it. At night in working class neighborhoods of Shanghai bus stops become public spaces –that is urbanity. In some megacities the only spaces that the poor, often homeless have, are what during daytime hours we see as infrastructure: spaces where multiple bus lines intersect or end in. There are many many such examples of practices that destabilize the formal meaning of a space: this, again, takes making, and in that making lies an urbanity. I do think that urbanity is made; it is not only beautifully designed urban settings.”

In addition to these ideas, Sassen also recently wrote of the city as technology of war in the context of new wars and asymmetric conflicts:

“Cities have long been sites for conflicts – wars, racisms, religious hatreds, expulsions of the poor. And yet, where national states have historically responded by militarizing conflict, cities have tended to triage conflict through commerce and civic activity. But major developments in the current global era signal that cities are losing this capacity and becoming sites for a whole range of new types of conflicts, such as asymmetric war and urban violence. Further, the dense and conflictive spaces of cities overwhelmed by inequality and injustice can become the sites for a variety of secondary, more anomic types of conflicts arising from drug wars or the major environmental disasters looming in our immediate futures. All of these challenge that traditional commercial and civic capacity that has allowed cities to avoid war more often than not, when confronted with conflict, and to incorporate diversity of class, culture, religion, ethnicity.” (33)

Emphases mine.

More specifically, Sassen identifies three challenges for global governance that being played out in the cities:

  1. New military asymmetries where the search for national security creates conditions of urban insecurity
  2. Global warming and other environmental issues more likely to create major urban breakdowns
  3. Urban violence as visible in Ciudad Juarez (gang and police violence) and Baghdad (military and insurgent violence as massive asymmetries)

It is not hard to see that over the past 20 years, much terrorist violence has taken place in cities, along with other forms of conflicts. Such conflicts can either push people to the cities (mass displacement) or expel them from urban environments (ethnic cleansing or the creation of ethnic or religious ghettoes). Such segregating practices are also used to separate the wealthy from the impoverished or downwardly mobile.

The important thing here, for Sassen, is that all these trends undermine the city’s ability to be a source of coexistence, diversity, and cosmopolitanism at a time or reassemblage of the state and global governance.

Read the whole thing.

Book Review – Fugitive Denim

Rachel Snyder’s Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade is an interesting book but boy would the author have benefited from a sit-down with a good editor who would have told her that it needed a tighter structure and line of thinking. I initially picked up the book because I thought it was going to be about a specific global commodity chain (jeans) and it is partly that and it should have been that. But then, the author starts running in all sorts of direction that completely dilute that initial premise. So, at various points in the book, I was still wondering where the author was going.

So, starting from an environmentally and labor-conscious brand of jeans associated with Bono and his wife, Snyder retraces the global steps of what it takes to produce denim as a reflection of the the rules of global trade and mechanisms of global governance as they trickle down to local factories in various parts of the world. For instance, Snyder starts with the way the end of the quota system by the US:

“Part of the problem, at least as it pertains to global trade, is something known to the industry as the quota system. On January 1, 2005, a few months after Scott and Rogan’s meeting with Ali and Bono, a decades-old system called the Multi-Fibre Agreement (MFA) expired, in accordance with rules established by the World Trade Organization under something they called their Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC). Members of the WTO were signatories of the agreement to end the MFA. In place for the better part of the post–World War II era under various aliases and auspices (the WTO took over the administration of the quotas when it was created in 1994), this system evolved as borders became more porous, consumers more aware, and organizations more global. Basically, the MFA set limits on the amount of textiles and apparel any one country could export to the United States. For example, of the roughly 365 million sweaters imported to the United States every year, the Philippines got to manufacture and export 4.2 million of them.2 The quota given to each country varied, and for the bigger manufacturers like China and India, a void was left when they reached their quotas—a void other, smaller countries like the Philippines gladly stepped in to fill.

From 1974 to 1994, the MFA dictated the global terms of the textile and apparel industry. It began as a way to protect manufacturing in industrialized countries in the face of competition from textile industries first in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan after World War II, then in China, India, and other developing nations. The quotas ensured that no single developing country ever captured a monopoly of the developed world’s market by limiting what could be exported to countries like the United States. What this meant, in real terms, was that countries like Cambodia, recuperating from decades of war and genocide, had a clear entrée into a market that otherwise might have been prohibitively competitive. The same applied to Mauritius, Nepal, Laos, Lesotho, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Indonesia, Tunisia, and dozens of other countries. Left on its own, the textile production market may have concentrated in just a handful of countries, rather than the sixty or so that compose it today. Ending the quotas was an attempt to rebalance our first attempts at, well, rebalancing. We would eradicate the trade laws we’d written and revised to partly protect the impoverished countries and thereby give the impoverished countries a chance to make it on their own, with not much more than their own pluck. What the World Trade Organization is doing by eliminating the MFA and eradicating the convoluted quota system is, in essence, pretty simple.” (23-24)

Snyder then examines the anticipated consequences of the removal of the quota for small countries that risk to be squeezed out by China. So, the first stop in Snyder’s examination is Azerbaijan, which is a major producer of cotton and where cotton growing and picking is still done in the old-fashioned way, mostly by women. Actually, throughout the whole global production chain, one finds women in the trenches and men in the offices. In the case of Azerbaijan, cotton experts (those who evaluate the quality and rating of the cotton) are men.

Compared to US growers, of course, Azeri farmers are at the usual disadvantage: US growers are heavily subsidized, while they get to experience the joys of “free trade”. And, of course, most of these subsidies go to large agribusiness firms, not family farms. The US is not the only culprit. The EU and Japan are also heavy subsidizers. The Azeri think they should move up the commodity chain and produce the finished jeans and other cotton products rather than limit themselves to growing cotton. The World Bank disagrees:

“The World Bank wanted Azerbaijan to sell only raw cotton and would subsidize this, but Vasif feels if the World Bank really wanted to help the country, it would give subsidies to start small factories to weave fabric or make finished garments.4 Ready-made thread sells for nearly double cotton’s price on the world market. Vasif and other Azeris who put forth this argument may never have heard of the quota system, but they all knew about the subsidies paid to U.S. cotton farmers by the American government. It’s a system that has helped keep farms in America afloat since the 1930s and which infuriates farmers around the globe, from Burkina Faso to Uzbekistan to Brazil. “Basically, the World Bank doesn’t want you to improve,” Vasif says. “The more finished a product is, the more money it demands from the global market. The World Bank gives credit if we do what they want, but we lose our freedom.” (63)

And so, Azeri growers remain poor because the rich countries’ subsidies depress the price of cotton on the world market. Never mind that the WTO has declared these subsidies to be illegal. That double standard has been a source of contention in world trade for a while.

Not only is growing and picking cotton hard work, but it is also one of the most toxic crops as well:

“THOUGH COTTON MAKES UP ONLY ABOUT 3 PERCENT of our global agricultural land, it consumes nearly a quarter of the world’s insecticides and 10 percent of the world’s pesticides—more than any other crop—with cost estimates for the pesticides alone totaling $2.6 billion. The average pair of jeans carries three quarters of a pound of chemicals.1 Pesticides, of course, allow for the global cotton empire by killing the pests that would otherwise kill the cotton; but in short order, these pests build up a resistance and farmers need ever-increasing amounts of chemicals to combat the insects. Most of the conventional cotton in the United States is genetically modified, or Bt, cotton—with insecticides contained inside the seeds. (73)

Emphasis mine.

And the need for pesticides is a major source of debt for farmers in the Global South (in parts of India, indebted farmers kill themselves by swallowing the very pesticides that got them in a financial hole to begin with). Add to that the environmental devastation caused by the growth of cotton (the disappearance of the Aral sea as a result of cotton fields in Uzbekistan) or simply the death of farm workers from exposure to pesticides (in the US as well), and the picture that emerges is that of a production chain that is badly in need of sustainable practices:

“Aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos, and endosulfan were pesticides developed during World War I as toxic nerve agents; all are allowed under the EPA’s ruling.8 Another particularly nasty organophosphate called chlorpyriphos was also a World War I nerve gas and is used in more than a hundred registered products in the United States alone.9 While the EPA has banned it from home use because of “its negative impact on children’s health,” it remains commonly used in agriculture.10 Methyl parathion is also common, though it is listed as “extremely hazardous” and nineteen countries have banned it, while another forty-three make importing it illegal.11 The United States is not one of them. Nor is China, which has become the world’s biggest user of pesticides.

(…)

This does not preclude the United States from exporting products that it considers too harmful for use in American homes. The EPA has even ruled that banned pesticides are not prohibited from being imported into the United States so that they may be repackaged for export. Between 1997 and 2000 forty-five tons of pesticides that were either “severely restricted” or “forbidden” altogether were exported every hour, totaling roughly 3.2 billion pounds. More than half these products—many of which are classified as extremely hazardous by the World Heath Organization—were shipped to the developing world.” (74)

There is now a movement to get more organic cotton grown (Turkey is the leader in that) but organic cotton only represents 1% of the global production although that percentage is growing slowly because organic cotton is more labor intensive and of lower quality. And as Snyder shows, a lifetime of picking cotton is devastating on the health and life expectancy of the pickers.

Next stop down the commodity chain is Italy where jeans (fabric and models) are designed for the major store brands of Europe and the US. It is quite a contrast compared to the rough life of the Azeri farmers. Snyder describes a hectic life of design shows across the major cities of Europe and their various fashion weeks. It is pretty much the only part of the production process that takes place in the Global North. The designed models are then sent to independent contractors in the Global South, for production. And that is even a battle that Italy is losing to China as well.

Fabric design is itself quite a process:

“There are almost endless combinations of things that can be done to treat jeans, using a surprising array of materials: glass, sandpaper, diamond dust, pumice stones, enzymes, chemical or mechanical abrasion, and many others. Stonewashing, which requires the harvest of pumice from around the world, has come under fire from environmental groups, particularly when stones are first dipped in bleach and then used to treat jeans. Plastic balls and enzymes are used more and more in “stonewashing,” though the effect is still often disappointing. This washing and finishing is almost unquestionably the least environmentally friendly part of the entire manufacturing process. Clothes are sprayed with chemicals to create a variety of effects, or overdyed (with one color layered over another or an excess of color applied to the fabric), or coated in resin and baked in enormous ovens. Polymer resin is commonly used to coat creases and folds in clothing, thereby making them permanent, and to set color; it also sometimes contains formaldehyde. Workers in the laundry industry must don an array of contraptions—special respirators, boots, coveralls, gloves, protective eyewear—to shield them from the myriad chemicals in use in nearly every operation. Buckets and buckets of chemicals with names wholly unrecognizable to me sat lined up in a warehouse where purple spray—potassium permanganate—was hosed onto jeans as they dangled on metal hangers from the ceiling.” (121)

Something that has been dramatically illustrated by photographs such as these (see the rest here):

it is well known that many countries of the Global South do not have strict environmental regulations or, if they do, they may suspend them in export zones to attract contracts from Western companies. That is especially the case for Indonesia and Thailand. As we know, when it comes to such contracting, there is a race to the bottom going on and contractors in the Global South have to compete with each other and cut costs in whichever way they can, mostly on environmental and labor costs. After all, we want our jeans cheap. That cost is borne by someone else’s environment, health and wages.

Next stop in Cambodia where jean factories are pulling a generation of daughters out of the countryside to the main cities where the money they make is still better than what their families earn on farms, although Cambodia is one of the countries most likely to be on the losing side of the end of the quotas.

This is where the book gets a bit off-track. While Snyder takes a lot of time describing the lives of two factory workers (which is really interesting), she starts focusing more on corporate responsibility and standards than on the commodity chain per se. This has to do with the fact that Cambodia is a special case for the ILO through the Better Factories Cambodia program:

“Better Factories Cambodia is a unique programme of the International Labour Organization. It benefits workers, employers and their organizations. It benefits consumers in Western countries and helps reduce poverty in one of the poorest nations of the world.

It does this by monitoring and reporting on working conditions in Cambodian garment factories according to national and international standards, by helping factories to improve working conditions and productivity, and by working with the Government and international buyers to ensure a rigorous and transparent cycle of improvement.

The project grew out of a trade agreement between the United States and Cambodia. Under the agreement the US promised Cambodia better access to US markets in exchange for improved working conditions in the garment sector. The ILO project was established in 2001 to help the sector make and maintain these improvements.”

And the program seems to work and Cambodia uses its good labor practice as its comparative advantage, because otherwise, there is no way it can compete with the giant next door, China and its monumental export zones. And from the way Snyder describes it, it seems that there are improvements but there are still enormous labor issues:

“Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that problems, generally termed noncompliance, were not still rampant in the industry as a whole. Numerous examples of child labor, forced labor, abhorrent conditions, and abysmal pay abound. In the spring of 2006, the National Labor Committee put out a report on widespread industry abuses in Jordan in factories that contract with Wal-Mart, Kmart, Kohl’s, Gloria Vanderbilt, Target, and Victoria’s Secret, among others. The report cites instances of forced labor, indentured servitude, physical and mental abuse, rape, mandatory pregnancy testing (mothers-to-be are often fired so the factory won’t have to pay maternity costs), withholding payment, and unsanitary conditions. Of 60,000 factory workers in Jordan’s export processing zone, more than half are immigrants (often illegal) and thus particularly vulnerable. Jordan also receives preferential access to the U.S. consumer market as part of the U.S.-Israel free-trade deal. The report told of workers locked in a single room at night and forced to work until 2:00 or 3:00 A.M.; factories had withheld meals and in one case punished a handful of workers by locking them for several hours in a deep freezer.” (257)

But part of the improvement is because monitoring and indexing working conditions in factories has become a big business in itself. The certification processes are proliferating but there is no uniform standard so, different indexes might mean different things or countries might pick and choose which index or certification process to be part of.

In the end, as Snyder reiterates several times throughout the book, it comes down to the prices that consumers are willing to accept in exchange for jeans that are produced in a sustainable and fair fashion.

As I mentioned above, the book would have benefited from some tighter editing and greater consistency of topic. I really liked the development on the different kinds of workers involved in the global commodity chain but I don’t give a damn about Bono and his wife. Sometimes, the focus on individuals was much too strong (who cares that one of the Italian designers was pregnant and the whole story around that) compared to the big picture. Too many times, as I was reading the book, I asked myself “where is she going with this?”. Other than that, the book is an easy read.

Again, the accounts of the lives and working conditions of Azeri cotton picker and Khmer factory workers were quite interesting and moving. These are the people on whose shoulders we’re standing when it comes to our quality of life. They do deserve the exposure.

The Patriarchy Continuum – A Trifecta of Horror

(Via Taslima Nasreen)

Use your 9-year old daughter to punish your wife for defending your other daughter that you tried to rape:

“The Mankhurd police on Tuesday arrested a 52-year-old man after he kidnapped his minor daughter, and reportedly handed her to a youth from the locality, telling him to rape her.

The youth allegedly dumped his daughter in a nullah after she fell unconscious, where she died of suffocation.

The police said that Ghulam Khan did it to take revenge against his wife who evicted him four years ago from the house after he tried to have a physical relationship with his elder daughter, who was 30 then.”

My Life As A Feminist – I’m Gonna Need a Puke Bag at the Movies

Last week, a friend and I went to the see the final Harry Potter film (quite good), but that means we had to sit through some previews, including this one:

I remember my friend and I exchanging eyerolls and snarky comments regarding the fact that some dudes had come up with that idea in the first place, and that, among all the show ideas had been rejected, this one made it.

Well, thank goodness, Melissa McEwan has written the perfect summary of misogynistic crapitude that is going to be that show:

“Conceived as a “period drama about the pilots and flight attendants who once made Pan Am the most glamorous way to fly,” it looks like a cross between Mad Men and Catch Me If You Can, with all the stylized backlash goodness of implying that America’s Golden Age of pre-feminism was funsexytimes to be a lady while simultaneously recreating for entertainment purposes enough rank misogyny endemic to the era to insidiously scold modern women for not realizing how good they’ve got it. YAY!

The other awesome (where awesome = totes horrendo) thing about setting a show in the past is how you can make it all about straight white people, and respond to criticism about a lack of diversity with: THAT’S JUST HOW IT WAS BACK THEN!

(…)

See, on the one hand, we’re supposed to be all, “Hey, there’s a chick in this show who isn’t looking for a husband; she’s loves the FREEDOM,” but, the thing is, apart from the fact that she will almost DEFINITELY be the character who falls in love and/or gets raped, there is scene after scene of women being subjected to oppressive and degrading work regulations and being demeaned by objectifying men, most of which are played for laughs, to an audience still steeped in misogyny.

The most obnoxious aspect of “retro chic” entertainment like this is the aggressively insistent pretense that institutional misogyny is a thing of the past, so it’s okay to laugh at the ABSURDITY of flight attendants getting weighed, except whoops that still happens.

Anyway, there is more of this trailer—O HAI CHRISTINA RICCI SORRY ABOUT YOUR CAREER—with wedding proposals on windy runways and scenes of the Pan Am stewardesses walking in lockstep in their matching uniforms, while some dude talks about their being a “new breed of woman” in voiceover, and fucky times and giggling and a BIG PAN AM LOGO THE END.

Between this shit and the trailer for NBC’s fall “period drama” The Playboy Club (which ALSO features a Frank Sinatra song lulz of course it does), it’s gonna be a great new television season in Backlash Broadcasting.””

I’m going to be reading a lot this Fall. *Le sigh*

Needless to say, the other previews was just as horrendous.

We’re All Crash-Test Dummies Now

Your must-read du jour: Mike Davis on the destruction of the three pillars of McWorld,

American consumption,

“Even if debt-limit doomsday is averted, Obama has already hocked the farm and sold the kids. With breathtaking contempt for the liberal wing of his own party, he’s offered to put the sacrosanct remnant of the New Deal safety net on the auction bloc to appease a hypothetical “center” and win reelection at any price. (Dick Nixon, old socialist, where are you now that we need you?)

As a result, like the Phoenicians in the Bible, we’ll sacrifice our children (and their schoolteachers) to Moloch, now called Deficit. The bloodbath in the public sector, together with an abrupt shutoff of unemployment benefits, will negatively multiply through the demand side of the economy.”

European stability:

“Across the Atlantic, the European Union is demonstrating that it is exclusively a union of big banks and mega-creditors, grimly determined to make the Greeks sell off the Parthenon and the Irish emigrate to Australia. One doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to know that, should this happen, the winds will only blow colder thereafter. (If German jobs have so far been saved, it is only because China and the other BRICs—Brazil, Russia, and India—have been buying so many machine tools and Mercedes.)”

and Chinese growth:

“China has caught the Dubai virus and now every city there with more than one million inhabitants (at least 160 at last count) aspires to brand itself with a Rem Koolhaas skyscraper or a destination mega-mall. The result has been an orgy of over-construction.

Despite the reassuring image of omniscient Beijing mandarins in cool control of the financial system, China actually seems to be functioning more like 160 iterations of Boardwalk Empire, where big city political bosses and allied private developers are able to forge their own backdoor deals with giant state banks.”

Conclusion: we’re all crash-test dummies now:

“As the three great economic blocs accelerate toward synchronized depression, I find that I’m no longer as thrilled as I was at 14 by the prospect of a classic Felsen ending—all tangled metal and young bodies.”

Book Review – Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist

Well, it is not often that I dislike a book as much as I did Peter Berger‘s Adventures of An Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore.

Before I even get into the book per se, I should mention I didn’t know much about Peter Berger himself beyond reading the modern classic The Social Construction of Reality, with Thomas Luckmann when I was in college (it was mandatory reading, quite good too). But beyond that, I never read anything else, mostly because of his focus on religion (a topic which by and large bores the stuffing out of me). I tried reading his Invitation to Sociology (because I had read the bit on debunking) but got bored quickly.

This means that I was not prepared for what turned out to be the intellectual autobiography of a right-wing privileged old white man (a characterization he would probably deny since he thinks the whole class / race / gender thing is a really bad thing in sociology) who has been so, so oppressed by these awful lefties and feminists. Hanging out at the Texas ranch of the main organizers of Iran-Contra though, that didn’t bother him too much.

It is quite amazing to read someone who seemed to have had an easy academic career (at least, from what he tells, but things were certainly more relaxed when he started) engage in some non-stop whining about how the lefties are ruining sociology, hanging out with some hard-core right-wingers, and then, adopt a holier-than-thou “reasonable centrist” attitude all the while dismissing anyone outside of his circle of privileged colleagues with concerns about the less privileged. No one seems less aware of privilege, power and conflict than he is.

Let me walk you through some morceaux choisis. At first, the book was quite interesting, going over the early formation of a sociologist through French literature and Weber. And a little detour through debunking:

“Sociology is akin to comedy because it debunks the social fictions. By the same token, it is potentially liberating. It shows up the ‘bad faith’ by which individuals hide behind their roles and forces them to confront the reality of their own freedom. In the same process sociology must debunk the religious legitimations of the social fictions.

(…)

Sociology derives its moral justification of its debunking of the fictions that serve as alibis for oppression and cruelty. (…) Sociology liberates by facilitating a standing outside one’s social roles (literally, an “ecstasy” – ekstasis) and thereby a realization of one’s freedom. (…) Sociology suggests that we are puppets of society, but unlike puppets we can look up and discover the strings to which we are attached, and this discovery is a first step toward freedom.” (74-6)

So far so good. I started taking issue with Berger in his assessment of modernity. He still considers that we are living in modern times. Apparently the whole post-modern theoretical developments passed him by. His big idea is that modernity did not lead to secularization but to pluralism (multiplicity of religions and spiritual approaches). Pluralism undermines established religion but offers individuals multiple choices as to how spiritual they wish to be and in what kind of religious organizations. Basically, what he described is Lyotard’s death of the grand narratives and Bauman / Beck’s individualization thesis which mark the end of modernity and the advent of post-modernity or any other such formulation, such as liquid society. To hold on to the modernity frame leads to a lot of category mistakes (including the one regarding, for Berger and his wife – who obviously has never read Stephanie Coontz – that the bourgeois nuclear family is the most functional, something blatantly untrue in the individualized and increasingly mobile society).

The second main issue I had was Berger’s declaration that capitalism is great and good and works everywhere while socialism is an utter failure. While Berger likes to position himself as the reasonable centrist in a world of ideological extremes (although right-wing ideologies don’t much him anywhere near as much as left-wing ideologies, apparently), he does see the world in black and white. For instance, in his ringing endorsement of capitalism over socialism, there is no considerations of the successful social democracies of Scandinavia nor is there any examination of capitalism in totalitarian states (for instance, the Latin and South American dictatorships of the 70s and 80s, fully supported by the US).

Focused as he is on culture (at the expenses of stratification of any kind), his examination of the development model of the Asian tigers revolves around the mushy neo-confucianism without a shred of examination of the role of the developmental state that Manuel Castells has so thoroughly examined. Nor does he take into account the impact of structural adjustment programs imposed on countries of the Global South (an expression he finds confusing) and that led to the debt crisis and the lost decade of the 80s. For someone who claimed to be concerned with the “calculus of pain” (how much pain should people endure in the name of development, and that pain is taken to be only economic, never political, so, capitalism in totalitarian environments is ok), that’s a pretty big shortcoming.

The point at which Berger leaves sociological territory, in the book, to get into the purely political is when he recounts the 60s. As he states, he was in favor of the Civil Rights, was repelled by racism but, basically, the DFHs ruined the whole thing with their radicalism. As a result, he became conservative, started hanging out with such non-ideological people as Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter and writing for Commentary. Berger really has it in for the feminists, depicted as oppressive and doctrinaire and impervious to reason.

A great deal of his discontent with feminists and other non-right-wing people is depicted in a chapter titled “Politically Incorrect Excursions”. In my book, everyone who invokes “political correctness” loses all credibility. Those are usually privileged individuals who disliked having their privileges questioned and that is exactly the case here. And, he pulls one nice little Dawkins as well against feminists, at the same time showing his privilege and his ignorance of feminism:

“Another matter, though, is the continuing definition of women as victims – and that in the Western societies which have accorded to women a degree of privilege unequalled in human history and indeed unequalled in any other contemporary society.” (158)

Well, women were not “accorded” certain rights. They fought for them, won some battles and lost others. And we still live in a patriarchal system. But the whole idea of a privileged white man telling women to STFU because they have it so good in Western societies kinda proves the point of why we need feminism. This sense of privilege (which is never examines and never questioned) is especially displayed in Berger preferred methods: coffee house sociology (hanging out with like-minded academics and coming up with ideas within that small limited circles – Berger keeps mentioning the same people over and over again) and sociological tourism (go hang out with other privileged people in other societies, then, write a book).

Among other politically incorrect excursions? The aforementioned retreat at the Texas ranch of Iran-Contra perpetrators while they were hashing out the whole murderous enterprise (but he didn’t take part because he was more focused on Jamaica. Still, the very fact that he was invited for the occasion is revealing), helping the tobacco industry in fighting back against regulations. And advocating an incremental approach to the dismantlement of apartheid. In all of these cases. Berger relishes in his over version of “if I’m pissing off both sides, then, I’m doing the right thing”:

“A morally sensitive social scientist will, I think, instinctively move toward middle positions (middle between radical change and stubborn preservation) on most issues.” (177)

No, a morally sensitive sociologist would move toward the position of greater social justice. I wonder what Berger would have made of the younger Nelson Mandela and the ANC of the 1960s.

as the book goes on, it feels like Berger is lowering his guard and getting more and more ideological himself. Take his description of BU President John Silber:

“Some on the faculty perceived him as a right-winger, which was certainly a misperception. He was a lifelong Democrat, very much in the pre-1960s tradition of Democratic Party liberalism. But he was also an American patriot, staunchly anti-communist, opposed to abortion on philosophical grounds, and contemptuous of fashionable political correctness.” (183)

Emphasis mine. So, (1) to be a Democrat is to not be a patriot, (2) let me remind everybody that pre-1960s Democrats tended to be pro-segregation, and (3) for Berger, something based on “philosophical grounds” (which is what reasonable men do) is much better than on ideological grounds (which is what evil lefties do).

And, when dealing with conflict, Berger certainly falls into the category of “both sides are doing it”, completely ignoring the power imbalances that may be involved. For instance, regarding his involvement in South Africa, he describes the late apartheid period as a “time of intense political conflict” as if the parties were equal and equivalent. It was not a time of intense political conflict, but a time of intense political repression marked by systematic torture from a white supremacist regimes.

More than that, he later described Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique as a”feminist assault on the conventional family” (discussing his wife’s book on family). He also wrongfully blames Roe v. Wade for the emergence of the religious right (something many times debunked) as well as Jimmy Carter for organizing a conference on families rather than family. And here is how he describes that conflict:

“On one side the pro-family and anti-abortion (“pro-life”) movements merged, while on the other side the pro-abortion (“pro-choice”) movement allied itself with other socially progressive causes. Probably more by accident than by deliberate decisions, the social conservatives became an important constituency of the Republican Party, while the social progressives assumed a dominant role in the Democratic Party. Abortion became a doctrinaire litmus test on both sides.” (200)

How clueless can one be. Seriously, “pro-family” versus “pro-abortion”. And let us not mention the Southern strategy. Oh, and he and his wife are against gay marriage because it would undermine the “bourgeois family” (his phrase, not mine) and because children are, in their view because studies show otherwise, better off raised by their biological parents. I’m guessing he’s against adoption then.

And for my fellow sociologists, enjoy this little bit:

“In sociology the mantra of  ‘class, race, gender’ had come to dominate work in most areas of the discipline; a diffuse left-liberalism had in many placed hardened into a repressive orthodoxy.” (203)

So says the man who has had a very privileged academic career. And not a shred of evidence as to why such a view is wrong. It just does not fit with his privileged-functional, cultural-essentialist perspective, so, it’s ideological and repressive.

And to get a sense of his cluelessness, get this,

“I remember a conversation with some black people in South Africa [he usually mentions names everywhere, but not here apparently]. They expressed strong resentment about the continuing privilege of the white minority despite the demise of the apartheid regime. I said that I could understanding their feelings [how nice of him], but [you knew there was a “but” coming and that there is some white-splaining coming] I suggested a mental experiment: Forget the race of these people for a moment [because, you know, in South Africa, race is not really relevant]. Just look at their economic functions, which the country needs and which blacks especially need. Then look at them as an economic asset to be exploited, not for their sake but for yours. My argument failed to convince [no !@#$].” (217)

I wonder why these black people were not convinced by this little bit of white patronizing.

And that last quote, to me, is perfectly revealing of Peter Berger the man and the sociologist.

And because I needed a brain-cleanser after making through that book:

The Revolution? Still Not Twittered

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen this over the past few days:

This is mass behavior, not a social movement. Certainly, Twitter has the capacity to diffuse mass behavior extremely quickly and widely but this means widespread ranting more than social movement or action. But then, that was not the point, as Jeff Jarvis, the initiator of the hashtag, acknowledges:

“After dinner, I tweeted: “Hey, Washington assholes, it’s our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.” It was the pinot talking (sounding more like a zinfandel).

That’s all I was going to say. I had no grand design on a revolution. I just wanted to get that off my chest. That’s what Twitter is for: offloading chests. Some people responded and retweeted, which pushed me to keep going, suggesting a chant: “FUCK YOU, WASHINGTON.” Then the mellifluously monikered tweeter @boogerpussy suggested: “.@jeffjarvis Hashtag it: #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON.” Damn, I was ashamed I hadn’t done that. So I did.”

It was smart but that is how far as it goes.

A World of Pain

Because fighting the war on drugs (in this case, heroin) is more important than providing pain relief to patients in large parts of the world with morphine:

“For much of the Western world, physical pain ends with a simple pill. Yet more than half the world’s countries have little to no access to morphine, the gold standard for treating medical pain.

Freedom from Pain shines a light on this under-reported story. “For a victim of police torture, they will usually sign a confession and the torture stops,” says Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch in the film. “For someone who has cancer pain, that torturous experience continues for weeks, and sometimes months on end.”

Unlike so many global health problems, pain treatment is not about money or a lack of drugs, since morphine costs pennies per dose and is easily made. The treatment of pain is complicated by many factors, including drug laws, bureaucratic rigidity and commercial disincentives.

(…)

Overall, Freedom from Pain reveals that bureaucratic hurdles, and the chilling effect of the global war on drugs, are the main impediments to a pain free world. Patients will continue to suffer until global bodies actively work with countries to exclude medical morphine from the war on drugs, and change the blunt drug laws that curtail access to legitimate medical opiates worldwide. Uri Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, admits in the film that the war on drugs is cutting people off from pain medication, but offers little in the way of concrete proposals for changing the status quo.

Lohman points out that inertia may be the greatest obstacle to improving access to morphine, and that pressure brought by doctors and human rights activists is critical to getting pain medication to the people who need it. That is what happened in Uganda, the final stop in the film. Dr Jack Jagwe, who served in that war-torn country’s health ministry in the 1990s, worked closely with foreign doctors and the international community to put into writing that every citizen there should have the right to palliative care – a first in Africa.”