Little Red Blogger

This blog looks at radical politics(with a libertarian socialist slant), music and culture. Marx to Mises, Girls Aloud to Steve Reich...

Location: Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Government Tries to Ban Anything with the Word 'Terrorist' in it(Well not

Much has been written over the past few weeks about the governments new anti-terror legislation, the rationale behind it and the civil liberties that the legislation will inevitably curtail. An interesting political aside from this is how the legislation is how it has exposed the political tension between the Home Office and the PM over the legislation.

However this is beside the point when it comes to legislation itself there is one very dubious idea out of a slew of other extremely dubious ideas that stands out. The securocrats and spook groupies have hit upon the idea of outlawing 'incitement and glorification' of terrorist acts. Now despite me not being a lawyer this does seem an extremely broad thing to try to outlaw, and also seems open to abuse...the governnment has tried to limit this glorification clause to 20 years(A sop to the IRA methinks) which is another puzzling inconcistency with the legislation for surely terrorism is terrorism is terrorism? This does perhaps expose the real target of the legislation: so called Islamic 'extremism' and Jihadist ideologies. This also ties in with attempts to crack down on bookshops and distributer of the associated literature. The government seems hellbent on making illegal an ideology. to outlaw a way of thinking even.

There are three reasons why this a bad idea. One : it simply won't work given that it is impossible(I hope) to police and legislate the contents of people's heads. Two: it completely tramples over people's right to free speech and thus contravenes both common law and convention in this country and the more recent human rights convention that we signed up to. Thirdly to give any government these kind of restrictive powers is a hostage to fortune and places far too much faith in human nature not to abuse it. To adapt an old cliche power corrupts and this legislation would corrupt completely.

So why does 'New' Labour want this legislation? I think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly 'New' Labour's DNA is woven from the blood of ex-Trots, ex-stalinists and hard-left leninist types. One suspects that they've retained their suspiscion of 'liberal' reformist ideologies and retro-fitted it to the reigning ideology. Boiling it down it means many 'New' Labour types have no natural sympathy for liberal or libertarian ideas and this means that their natural reflex is to command and control. to democraticaly centralise is the natural impulse. The recent anti-terror legislation is an example of this. This also dovetails in with 'New' Labour's and Blair's obession with controlling and massaging the message.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Management, Power and the Abuse of Language

Recently on the Observer’s business pages there has been a debate concerning what’s wrong with current management language, technique and practice. It was an interesting and well written article illuminating how modern managers and their accompanied gurus try and use language to control reality(to which there is an equally interesting reply). Like the French deconstructionists the modern high priests of management theory holds all is text, and that there is no escape from language. To the modern manager every power transaction is mediated and massaged by language and by having control of the language they therefore have control over their relationships with underlings and with the customers of their company. As Baudrillard once tried to deny that the Gulf War ever happened the modern manager tries to deny the last hundred years of union organising ever happened…...

What then are modern examples of management abusing and distorting language to their own ends? Well a short look at any type of ‘customer service’ focused organisation would provide many examples of how to call white black, or to insist that 2 + 2 really does equal 5 and that any attempt to deny this is just the bolshie employee being ‘negative’. A good example of this is how many people’s jobs have had the word manager appended onto them or the rise of the dreaded ‘facilitator’ the preponderance of ‘teams’, workshops and other pseudo-consultative facsimiles of democratic worker participation in their own workplaces. In the world of software people are sold ‘solutions’ and ‘packages’ with the idea that people sell products and services being seen as hopelessly old fashioned (and more to the point unprofitable)

Language, and in a much more strong sense the written word is a techne. A form of technology a means of interacting and defining the world and like history it is organised and defined by those with power. So in one sense the Foucault’s and Derrida’s of this world were entirely correct to focus on how important language is as a tool of constructing and defining the world around them and thus of power relations between different groups in society. So how have the powerful used language to cement their position and freeze out their opponents? One example of this is the idea of ‘Shareholder Value’, this innocuous and oft-used phrase is the excuse for a variety of wrongs done to the ordinary worker and customers of large company.

The idea of ‘Shareholder Value’ is that being the owners of the company the shareholders are therefore entitled to the majority of the profits. Thus working back from this conclusion management theorists recast every action by a manager in terms of how it could increase ‘shareholder value’ this also led to the idea that by granting managers share options you would align their interests with that of the shareholders and hence lead to an increase in share price….needless to say the Enron and Worldcom financial disasters along with other studies have shown how true that theory turned out to be. The idea of ‘Shareholder Value’ recast how language was used and abused throughout an entire organisation. This led to the consultants and theorists talking of ‘releasing’ value. The use of the world ‘release’ is in itself an interesting in that it implies that this so-called value is being held against it’s own will and that once freed it will as return to it’s ‘natural’ home…the ever deserving shareholder rather than that of the worker who generated the value in the first place. All debates within a company were framed in this language everything measured against this over-arching ideology, alterative views and approaches were frozen out.  

So language is used to obfuscate and hide the mechanics of power within organisations, who has it and how it’s used. It is used to falsely align the interests of the workers with that of those who own the businesses, to divide and rule and work against any idea of workers acting collectively in their own interests. A recent study by the GMB union noted that the UK had one of the highest numbers of managers as a proportion of the work force in the industrialised world, leading to the all to plausible idea that many jobs are having the word manager shoe-horned in there as a sop to their workers and to make the senior manager feel better about themselves. Technocratic apologists for this state of affairs responded to this report by saying that modern service industries need this level of management to actually function properly which in itself is a highly debateable proposition…

Employees are not stupid and do realise on the whole when management is trying to pull a fast one and many subtly resist the increasingly stupid diktats from above, the ceaseless re-organisations, re-naming, re-engineering and messing around of their own working lives. Large companies are organised on command and control lines akin to how the soviets organised their own industries. Practising a kind of ‘black planning’ they suffer many of the same problems as their Soviet counterparts. Any large organisation relies on feedback loops and quality information being transmitted to the planners, the most efficient means of conveying this information being some kind of market. Due to the size of these organisations markets simply won’t work, consequently means of monitoring and controlling the workers who actually do the job (and have some idea of what they’re doing) are needed. This is done via statistical analysis, neo-Taylorist time and motion studies, and meaningless target setting. As those wonderful hucksters McKinsey’s like to say if it can be measured it can be managed. The wilful and semi-deliberate abuse of language is all part and parcel of how these large organisations actually work, a natural consequence of their dysfunctional over-sized nature. This situation will not stop till workers actually have some democratic control over the companies they work in.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Islam and Secular Medical Ethics

In the past few days there has been in interesting story concerning a Muslim family and their fight to reverse the doctor’s decision to withdraw life support from ‘Mr A’. What is interesting about the case is how it exposes the different worldviews and approaches to the issue of who lives and who die and how one distinguishes between actively letting someone die and consciously helping another human being die.

Another interesting aspect of this debate is the framework it is conducted in. Secular medical ethics is often conducted in the language of high utilitarianism in which concepts like ‘quality of life’ are bandied about. It is a language of clean measurements and distinctions, with scales for measuring a patient’s well-being. What is interesting about secular medical ethics is that is based around the idea ends rather than means, the value of life in this mode of thinking is not absolute but contingent on other external factors, like for example whether the patients condition will ‘improve’ or assumptions of how they will experience the world.

Indeed the whole enterprise of medical ethics is permeated with ideas of externally measuring a persons worth and this has become the establishment view. Without this backdrop it is impossible to understand why the family of the man known as ‘Mr A’(due to court rules on anonymity) is fighting so hard to put him back on the life support machine. Islam like the main Abrahamic faiths is based fundamentally on the idea of regulating the means not the ends. Its concern is not so much that the actions of believers and their effects on other people, but that their actions are ‘just’ and reflects the will of Allah. Another key difference to secular medical ethics is that all life, in fact everything comes from Allah. Allah is the ultimate power and ultimate arbiter of human affairs. He chooses when people die and when they live. Secular medical ethics starting point is the humanistic post-enlightenment philosophies of John Stuart-Mill, Jeremy Bentham et al. For the medical ethicist man is the measure of all things, god or anything faintly transcendent is scrubbed from the picture an unhelpful irrationality for the medical calculus.

So what the battle of ‘Mr A’s’ life support being switched off demonstrates is a clash of worldviews that would, at first sight seem hard to reconcile. The family and the doctors are speaking mutually exclusive languages. From the family’s perspective it is of no matter as to ‘Mr A’s’ quality of life, it is irrelevant as how he lives just that he lives. In some respects this can be seen as quite a progressive viewpoint as they do not quibble with any of the modern medical interventions that have so far been needed to keep ‘Mr A’ alive. This does conflict with the implied wish of the family for ‘Mr A’ to have a natural death, i.e. a death chosen by Allah rather than man and that the doctors do everything possible to keep him alive. The doctors however see things differently from their perspective they are taking away artificial interventions that are preventing a man from dying from what they would see as a ‘peaceful death’.