ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
As you might know if you follow me elsewhere, I'm in the middle of a two week fieldwork trip, heading back and forth between Beirut and Amman to talk and ask about community mobilization, Syrian refugees, and everyday transnationalisms. I've been posting pretty regularly on Tumblr and Twitter, or at least trying to...

But I was using Keefak, a language study app designed for Lebanese dialect, on the airplane here, and found the dialogue on politics really interesting. It's amazing how much a short text can tell is about how people think about politics. So I decided I'd try to record my thoughts on what we can learn about Lebanese citizens and their thoughts on government from this text.

Read on for screenshots of the dialogue and my analysis...

kell siyésé halo malak )
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
So, yeah, Egypt finished voting yesterday, and that's all great, democracy's awesome, whatevs, BUT HOLLLLLLLLD UP, because in a classic example of bait and switch, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces decided to release its new single, "Here's A Constitutional Amendment In Which We Seize All The Power, Sucks To Be YOUUUUUUUUUUUU." So, basically, everything is farkatke*, and nobody knows which of the seventy things to be mad about they should pick.

Here's what I've read so far today; feel free to drop links if you find other things:

A summary of the new amendments: http://tabulasara.blogspot.be/2012/06/new-constitutional-declaration-of-17.html
Marc Lynch, Calvinball in Cairo: http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/06/18/calvinball_in_cairo
Nathan Brown, An Instant Analysis of Egypt's New Constitution: http://www.arabist.net/blog/2012/6/18/an-instant-analysis-of-egypts-new-constitution.html
Egypt Independent (published on Jadaliyya), SCAF extends its power with constitutional amendment: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/6047/scaf-expands-its-power-with-constitutional-amendme
Sandmonkey, Chapter's End (the pessimistic revolutionary analysis): http://www.sandmonkey.org/2012/06/18/chapters-end/

*I should note I had to look up how to spell that, since I'd only ever said it. You learn a lot of Yiddish living in New York.
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
During the 2008 campaign season, I wrote a short piece for Flow, the media studies online magazine, about Tigh/Roslin 2008, the joke campaign that drew from the resemblance between John McCain and Sarah Palin, in the real world, and Saul Tigh and Laura Roslin, from the fictional world of Battlestar Galactica. In, it, I argued that

The Tigh/Roslin campaign is not just of a sign of how pop culture can be used to provide a springboard for political reasoning; it is also a call for consideration of substantive politics, not because other forms of politics lack seriousness, but because there are more serious things to make fun of here than lipstick and beauty pageants

I thought of that when, today, this image got posted on Facebook:

A numbered list of 15 quotes, with the title "Who Said It: Mitt Romney or Mr. Burns?" Cartoon images of both Romney and Burns are on the top.

This image is another joke about a Republican candidate for office, but one with a very different thrust. The Tigh/Roslin campaign was at least partially absurdist--it wasn't a real endorsement of the candidates, or even a real criticism of them. (In most of the contexts in which it was discussed, it was clear that those making the comparison a) liked/had affection for the BSG characters and b) did not like/did not plan on voting for the actual candidates.) But the Romney/Burns comparison is intentionally critical of Romney as a candidate, by portraying him as literally cartoonish in his unawareness of what his wealth means.*

Thinking critically about these, my first reading is that these are different sorts of political gestures. The Tigh/Roslin campaign might have been about taking politics at least as seriously as we take our pop culture, but the Romney/Burns comparison is about using pop culture to make a metaphorical argument about politics. Metaphors and symbols are politically useful because they are dense; they carry a lot of information, and, when they're well-deployed, they make a whole complicated argument in a relatively short amount of time. If the makers (and circulators) of this list are saying that the presumptive Republican nominee (I say on Super Tuesday) is a cartoon plutocrat capable of building a giant disk to block out the sun in order to increase profits, most likely they are encouraging us not to vote for him. (And if Obama is Luke Skywalker, presumably we should stand against the Dark Side.**)

*Interestingly, images of Mr. Burns were used against Angela Merkel in Germany during a recent campaign. There, it wasn't a criticism of wealth, but her public support for nuclear energy. How do I know this random piece of trivia, when I otherwise know nothing about German politics? Because I peer-reviewed an article about it. Coming soon to an issue of TWC near you!

** Wait, where does the "I am your father?" moment fit in that metaphor?
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
facebook vote

(The picture shows a screencap of Facebook's "Voting" widget, displayed at the top of my feed for all of November 2nd, and now into November 3rd. Taken at approximately 1 AM New York time on November 3rd, it shows that 12,046,588 Facebook users used the widget to indicate that they voted as of that point in time.)

My wife, son, and I walked the four blocks to our local polling station today. Two years ago, he went as a tiny infant in the Ergo, and slept through our voting, and then slept through us watching the results. Today, he walked himself, gripping onto the two plastic dinosaurs the dentist gave him this morning for a no-cavities-and-no-biting checkup. Holding his hand to cross the street, I said, "We're going to vote. When we go to vote, we learn about who we think will do the best job of working to help our community, and then we pick them. And the people who win then make decisions about how to run our country. It's very important that we do it."

Every single word I said was wrong.


This is the problem with studying a thing: you inevitably learn too much about it. You figure out how a thing works, and then you realize it's nothing like you expected, nothing like you thought; things are much more prosaic and random, and your ability to shift reality is less and less than you thought.

Basic rational choice theory teaches you that voting is an irrational act: a single vote so rarely makes a difference that no one of us has any political effect. Game theory teaches us how much rules matter, which means, at election time, that the majority of us barely count at all. The study of polling and political opinion teaches us that those who hold strong partisan affiliations rarely have an effect on the outcome of an election.

More than anything, I find myself skeptical about how much voting matters as a measure of the rightness of a polity. Post-1989, I tell my students too frequently, democracy is the only game in town, the only overarching ideology you can make a claim to when you think something is wrong with your political system. It's not that I'm against democracy; it's merely that I don't think choosing political leaders via reasonably open elections is the be-all and end-all of political justice. Elections are a shitty way to express preferences, and an even shittier way to engage in political dialogue, because they're like sledgehammers: they don't allow for any sort of disaggregation of arguments, and for not an ounce of nuance. Even the best elections are an incredibly crude way to make policy decisions.


I know this. I have known this. And I haven't missed an election in the eleven years I've been old enough to vote.

The politics that interests me as a scholar is the politics that takes place in actual encounters between individuals, wherein we interact and navigate the lines of power between us. Social movements interest me in their decisions and strategies; policies interest me in the complex ways they are written into law, and then written again onto the bodies of people who follow them (or break them); informal political relations interest me because power is everywhere, and must always be negotiated.

But I am more than a political scientist: I am also a person who lives in the political world. I'm a person whose marriage is not legally recognized in my place of residence. My taxes pay for social services, which I am also a beneficiary of. My life is regulated by the regimes I am subject to. I'm also a person with strong, strong empirical political preferences, preferences that have never been well-represented by my elected officials, because I'm just too far to the fringe. Political science has taught me to moderate my desires, to reign myself in, to make strategic choices and expect to be recognized only barely.

The fact that voting is irrational doesn't mean I don't do it. So many of my political actions are irrational; they derive not from economic self-interest, but from theoretical principles or from instinctive preference or from prejudices I can't quite justify. (Amazingly, I've been comfortable voting for Joseph Lieberman, but not for Hillary Clinton; my reasons for this are confusing even to me.) It no longer concerns me to realize that "my vote doesn't matter," because what matters is that I vote, is that I make the gesture and then sit back and watch what all the gestures mean on the aggregate.

I'm laying on my living room floor right now, with a concession speech on mute, flipping back and forth between my local election results, the national election results, and Facebook, watching that counter tick up, up, up, counting down everyone who voted today. (Over twelve million people, as of me typing this.) Just because I know the limits of democracy, doesn't mean I don't play along (and pick favorite teams). Just because I know how useless voting is doesn't mean I don't do it.

And just because it's a limited discourse, which does the work it means to do so poorly, doesn't mean it doesn't have value. People who are fighting for free, fair, and open elections aren't wrong to be doing so. They're asking for something they think can help. We need every bit of help we can get to make real political change in the world. Electoral democracy's a fine place to start.


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

67891011 12


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags