postnormalism

washingtonpost.com
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.
Republicans have become more extreme than Democrats.

Mann and Ornstein anticipate 2016 and the rise of a post-truth, postnormal president, way back in 2012:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

[…]

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

[…]

On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.

Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth — thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge — while ignoring contrary considerations.

The authors end with recommendations to the press:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Ian Bogost on Why Nothing Works Anymore

He’s right and wrong, at the same time.


Ian Bogost starts with today’s badly-working sensor-driven toilet as an icon for technology’s displacement of more servile, and less autonomous gizmos, and he spins a condemnation of our society from that starting point.

Ian Bogost, Why Nothing Works Anymore

So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner. It’s common to think of such defects as matters of bad design. That’s true, in part. But technology is also more precarious than it once was. Unstable, and unpredictable. At least from the perspective of human users. From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it’s evolving separately from human use.

This is just the point of departure. Bogost weaves in the postnormal disconnect for working people’s disenfranchisement as a second element of the disassociation of people by technology. Bogost goes on:

“Precarity” has become a popular way to refer to economic and labor conditions that force people—and particularly low-income service workers—into uncertainty. Temporary labor and flexwork offer examples. That includes hourly service work in which schedules are adjusted ad-hoc and just-in-time, so that workers don’t know when or how often they might be working. For low-wage food service and retail workers, for instance, that uncertainty makes budgeting and time-management difficult. Arranging for transit and childcare is difficult, and even more costly, for people who don’t know when—or if—they’ll be working.

Such conditions are not new. As union-supported blue-collar labor declined in the 20th century, the service economy took over its mantle absent its benefits. But the information economy further accelerated precarity. For one part, it consolidated existing businesses and made efficiency its primary concern. For another, economic downturns like the 2008 global recession facilitated austerity measures both deliberate and accidental. Immaterial labor also rose—everything from the unpaid, unseen work of women in and out of the workplace, to creative work done on-spec or for exposure, to the invisible work everyone does to construct the data infrastructure that technology companies like Google and Facebook sell to advertisers.

But as it has expanded, economic precarity has birthed other forms of instability and unpredictability—among them the dubious utility of ordinary objects and equipment.

He tries to make the connection between the oddball oversensitivity of automatic toilets – that flush unnessarily, wasting water – and the end goal of corporations that deploy these toilets, which is to have fewer employees cleaning the bathrooms. But, he really is arguing that these highly technological gizmos – the self-flushing toilet, Amazon’s online store experience, the vagaries of what shows are available today on Disney, search results on Google – the uncertain nature of how they work becomes internalized:

But why would new technology reduce rather than increase the feeling of precarity? The more technology multiplies, the more it amplifies instability. Things already don’t quite do what they claim. The fixes just make things worse. And so, ordinary devices aren’t likely to feel more workable and functional as technology marches forward. If anything, they are likely to become even less so.


Technology is not an agent, acting like a colony of ants or a class of capitalists.


This is the center of Bogost’s fearful insight: the more technology multiplies, the more it amplifies instability. But his scifi leanings – where he ends up wondering if technology is acting for its own end, evolving independently of us – slides off the rails:

Things already don’t quite do what they claim. The fixes just make things worse. And so, ordinary devices aren’t likely to feel more workable and functional as technology marches forward. If anything, they are likely to become even less so.

Technology’s role has begun to shift, from serving human users to pushing them out of the way so that the technologized world can service its own ends. And so, with increasing frequency, technology will exist not to serve human goals, but to facilitate its own expansion.

I think Bogost starts strong and ends weak in this piece. Technology is not an agent, acting like a colony of ants or a class of capitalists. I think he veers away from pointing a finger at the real culprits behind the dehumanization of technology. He fails to ask the question ‘who benefits?’ The same people who gain and consolidate power through the growing precarity of workers – the 1% and the deep government that serves them – are also served by technology ephemeralizing all work, just like they’ve benefitted from all other workforce reductions, and the zeroing out of the power of counterinstitutions like the unions, and civil and social activism.

Five years after the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere, a bleak, apocalyptic strain of post-revolutionary literature has taken root in the region. Some writers are using science fiction and fantasy tropes to describe grim current political realities. Others are writing about controversial subjects like sexuality and atheism, or exhuming painful historical episodes that were previously off limits.

In a literary culture where poetry has long been the most celebrated medium, writers are experimenting with a range of genres and styles, including comics and graphic novels, hallucinatory horror novels and allegorical works of science fiction.

“There’s a shift away from realism, which has dominated Arabic literature,” said the Kuwait-born novelist Saleem Haddad, whose new book, “Guapa,” is narrated by a young gay Arab man whose friend has been imprisoned after a political revolt. “What’s coming to the surface now is darker and a bit deeper.”

Science fiction and surrealism have long provided an escape valve for writers living under oppressive regimes. In Latin America, decades of fascism and civil war helped inspire masterpieces of magical realism from authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. In Russia, the postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin has published disturbing and controversial futuristic novels that surreptitiously skewer the country’s repressive government.

Dystopian themes are not entirely new in Arabic fiction. But they have become much more prominent in recent years, publishers and translators say. The genre has proliferated in part because it captures the sense of despair that many writers say they feel in the face of cyclical violence and repression. At the same time, futuristic settings may give writers some measure of cover to explore charged political ideas without being labeled dissidents.

“These futuristic stories are all about lost utopia,” said Layla al-Zubaidi, co-editor of a collection of post-Arab Spring writing titled “Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution.” “People really could imagine a better future, and now it’s almost worse than it was before.”

In the turbulent months after the uprisings, when the promises of democracy and greater social freedom remained elusive, some novelists channeled their frustrations and fears into grim apocalyptic tales. In Mohammed Rabie’s gritty novel “Otared,” which will be published in English this year by the American University in Cairo, a former Egyptian police officer joins a fight against a mysterious occupying power that rules the country in 2025.

Mr. Rabie said he wrote the novel in response to the “successive defeats” that advocates of democracy faced after the 2011 demonstrations that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. While there are parallels to present-day Egyptian society, setting the story in the near future allowed him to write more freely, without drawing explicit connections to Egypt’s current ruler, he said in an email interview translated by his Arabic publisher.

Nael Eltoukhy, whose darkly satirical 2013 novel, “Women of Karantina,” takes place partly in a crime-ridden Alexandria in the year 2064, said he felt that a futuristic farce was the best way to reflect the jaded mood in Egypt.

“In Egypt, especially after the revolution, everything is terrible, but everything is also funny,” he said in an interview. “Now, I think it’s worse than the time of Mubarak.”

Gloomy futuristic stories have proved popular with readers, and several of these novels have been critical and commercial hits. “Otared” was a finalist for this year’s prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Publishers say the books have caught on with the public in part because they distill a collective feeling of frustration.

This new body of post-revolutionary literature shows a sharp tonal shift from the ecstatic outpouring that arrived immediately after the Arab Spring, when many writers published breathless memoirs or dug out old manuscripts they had stashed away for years.

— 

Alexandra Alter, Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

The defining emotion of our time, the postnormal, is world weariness: weltschmerz. The sense of deep sadness when contemplating the evils of the world’s systems.

Postapocalyptic novels are a great medium for untangling and retangling the threads of weltschmerz. And of course, the hope and joy of the Arab spring led to a steep crash after the movement was co-opted.

There is a worldwide Human Spring coming, though. The outcome of that movement might define the fate of the world.

PS ‘Everything is Terrible’ would be a good title for a book.

How the Postnormal era will change everything 

Organizations are becoming fast-and-loose, reconfiguring around social networks instead of business processes, becoming more decentralized and as autonomy increases, more egalitarian.

We will completely drop the pretense of objectivity – a tension that is eating away at journalism and old school media like hydrochloric acid – and accept the inherent need for partiality as the grounding of all belief.

We will belong to our networks – which are our own – and not to institutions that require us to subordinate our interests and selves.

Families will become less Leave it to Beaver and instead we’ll embrace a broad spectrum of alternative living arrangements that include the growing numbers of people who live alone but are very social, groups of friends sharing space and other intentional communities, and non-traditional families with multiple generations living together, gay and lesbian families and all sorts of extended arrangements.

The corner on the postnormal is when we actively work to build an economy that is not fueled by growth and globalism and instead is local and steady-state oriented.

Today’s political boundaries make no sense: they are the outgrowth of royal treaties, conquest, and the misuse of resources. We should start with the natural ecological unit – the watershed – and replace the notion of provinces (US states) with those. I for example, live in the Hudson River Watershed. Locale is still relevant, so people still would be tied to San Francisco, or Beacon NY. And regionalism is still meaningful, but not necessarily the way today’s borders fall. And finally, we need to consider the world and its resources as a shared commons, and not spoils to be owned by the fortunate or wealthy.

Participative media not mass media.

A major transition to restorative and sustainable relationship to the environment is essential, or we will all boil.

And a relaxing of the failed dogmas of orthodox religions, and a more taoist reorientation of our spirituality toward the enigma of life and the universe, and a greater acceptance of the myriad ways in which people might choose to express their awe and faith.

Today, the main contradiction in modern capitalism is between the possibility of free, abundant socially produced goods, and a system of monopolies, banks, and governments struggling to maintain control over power and information. Everything is pervaded by a fight between network and hierarchy.
— 

Paul Mason, Postcapitalism

Yes, the postnormal era also involves the collapse of capitalism, or at least the hypercapitalism that defines the late industrial. We are living through its descent into something worse, and then perhaps the start of something better.

Ben Schiller’s review of Postcapitalism is very solid, including this nugget [emphasis mine]:

Mason says we need to move towards a “postcapitalist” economy, where working for money loses its centrality, where goods, information, and intellectual property are shared, and where economic actors collaborate in new ways, whether it’s credit union-type financial institutions or co-operative-type retailers. Importantly, Mason also shows how current economic orthodoxy—based around “free markets,” globalization and an oversized role for the financial services industry—isn’t some historical end-state, perfecting everything that went before. Rather, it’s the result of a particular set of choices, starting in the 1980s, that advantage some people over others.

And those policies are subject to change, and today, probably radical change.