For me, one of the most fruitful aspects of ‘field trips’ such as last week’s visit to see Oxfam’s work in the Philippines is the exchange it sets up in my head between the academic literature and debates I’ve been ploughing through in the UK, and the reality of our work on the ground. A good trip confirms, improves or adds to your thinking, and occasionally shows you that you have got it all wrong. This was particularly true on this occasion as our staff and partners in the Philippines are both real thinkers (one guy passed a long car ride by listening to a lecture on Hegel on his laptop ‘for fun’) and activists (more on that tomorrow). The quality of discussions in a Manila seminar on active citizenship and food justice was truly impressive – nuanced and open minded, with no sign of the dogmatic, fissiparous Left I saw on my last visit in 1998 (when I had to give the same lecture twice because different fractions refused to sit in the same room). First some (relatively minor) new insights from all these interactions:
The world has been witnessing a scary new political communication/mobilization phenomenon: the routine deployment of the politics of outrage by tiny groups of individuals...but with epic consequences. And what is amazing is how stunningly easy it is to get this going. Consider, if you will, the emerging structure of the phenomenon:
- Somebody living in one of the liberal democracies of the West decides to test the limits of free speech by deliberating insulting the Holy Prophet in some way. They don't need to write an entire novel or make a full length movie. A cartoon is enough or the trailer of a movie.
- These days, the Internet does the rest: the provocation acquires the capacity to go global.
- Within the great Islamic community of the faithful are those just watching out for these provocations, rubbing their hands, and saying with Clint Eastwood: 'Make my day!' They take the largely obscure provocation and bring it to the attention of the entire community of the faithful.
“The biggest obstacle to reform is that insiders can devote time and energy to maintaining their position. For ordinary citizens, political reform is a sideshow that hardly repays such efforts.”
-- Samuel Brittan, Financial Times, July 5, 2012, Nil desperandum in the fight against crony capitalism
I believe that we can all agree that an accountability revolution is sweeping the world. More governments are facing pressure from citizens to be accountable and are being held accountable. All major institutions, including those in the private sector, face greater and greater scrutiny. Even major media organizations are being embarrassed and held accountable. If in doubt, just ask Rupert Murdoch.
Yet, what is perhaps the profoundest obstacle in the path of efforts to make governments (and major institutions) more responsive and accountable to citizens is the phenomenon sometimes known as the ‘deep state’.
"One of the perils of modern politics is that we are engaged in "the era of the loud-mouth". There is an interesting debate – in the west particularly – between the politics of the anger and the politics of the answer."
-- Tony Blair. As quoted in the Financial Times, June 30/July1 2012. Tony Blair: an exclusive interview, by Lionel Barber.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
New Platforms, New Public Opinion?
"With the continued growth of new communication media and technologies, the public opinion and research sector is abuzz with equal doses of optimism and skepticism for its future. In a world of falling response rates and increasing costs for phone and face-to-face surveys, does this new frontier ask us to merely measure the chatter on Twitter and Facebook or does it reframe the definition of public opinion itself? This is among the many questions challenging the Digital Team here at InterMedia." READ MORE
DFID Research for Development
The engagement of women's movements with religion: legal reform in Anambra state, Nigeria
"Campaigning by the women's movement in Anambra State was instrumental to the introduction of a new law in 2005 designed to prevent the maltreatment of widows. Religion is often implicated in gender inequality and discrimination against women, but religious leaders and organizations played key roles in this campaign. The case study enabled the researchers to address the questions of when, why and how religious actors facilitate rather than obstruct legal reform intended to realize women's rights." READ MORE
Late one night in the capitol city a mugger wearing a ski mask jumped into the path of a well-dressed man and stuck a gun in his ribs. "Give me your money!" he demanded. Indignant, the affluent man replied, "You can't do this - I'm a Member of Parliament!" "In that case," replied the robber, "give me MY money!"
Sometimes all you can do when you hear the latest news from the political stages all over the world is – laugh. Actually, laughing is a good thing in politics. Humor has become a major vehicle for political information. Political commentary in late night shows and political comedy have become an important part of political communication. Humor helps to transmit information and messages in a way that dry news formats probably can’t do.
"Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our Being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitively won. We are in fact far from definite victory.
We are still a long way from that 'family of man;' in fact, we seem to be receding from the ideal rather than drawing closer to it. Interests of all kinds: personal, selfish, state, national, group and, if you like, company interests still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests. We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation, and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted. There are still many who say they are concerned not for themselves but for the cause, while they are demonstrably out for themselves and not for the cause at all. We are still destroying the planet that was entrusted to us, and its environment. We still close our eyes to the growing social, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the world. From time to time we say that the anonymous megamachinery we have created for ourselves no longer serves us but rather has enslaved us, yet we still fail to do anything about it.
As the global system endures another round of crisis, leaders and policy makers in many countries are under pressure. The tip of the spear ---barring riots and protests -- tends to take the form of inflamed punditry: on air, on line, and on newspaper op-ed pages. Since we live in an age of volubility, or what someone calls the paradox of plenty in the global media, punditry is everywhere these days and yet most of it is of dubious quality. The outlets for punditry grow exponentially every week. The question, though, is this: how do we assess the quality of the massed punditry that we are being bombarded with these days?
I see at least two categories of influential pundits:
In good governance circles, we love to champion accountability tools: citizen score cards, civil society-local government linkages, participatory budgeting, etc. They sound wonderful on paper, and frequently work well off paper, but one can sometimes detect a certain weariness on the part of the supposed recipients/beneficiaries of these tools. These initiatives may be effective at times, but they simply don't address the underlying power structure, development practitioners often hear. What is one supposed to do about the shadowy but real network of frequently unaccountable elite, particularly in the context of a developing country that features a culture of impunity and lacks deeply rooted institutions of accountability?