Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A medley - the Caucasus, Burma, competition & a bit more

The GeoCurrents blog is continuing its fascinating series on the Caucasus.

As it happens, one aspect of the complicated politics of the region is presently being played out in the distant Pacific with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, on a five-country trip through the Asia-Pacific region. Reportedly, one aspect of the trip is seek recognition for the independence of the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia - the scene of Russia's 2008 war with Georgia.

I will do a companion post once the series is finished pulling out some things that especially interest me. It links to some of my own historical posts.

For those interested in Burma, Andrew Seth's Assessing Burma's reform program provides a rather useful overview of the changes now taking place.

Over at Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American Eye, Will Owen has been writing a series of posts reviewing books connected with the life and history of the Australian Aborigines. A click on the book tag will take you to them.

Staying with books, at his place Winton Bates has just reviewed Robert Frank’s new book, ‘The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition and the Common Good’.

In recent years, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the continuing emphasis on the virtues of competition. It smacks too much of beggar thy neighbour for my comfort. It ignores the virtue of cooperation, and seems to condemn us all to a never ending treadmill. Here I want to quote from Winton:      

The starting point of Frank’s analysis is the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, which Adam Smith had suggested in ‘Wealth of Nations’ leads self-interested individuals to promote the greater good of society, without intending to do so. Frank describes Smith’s invisible hand as ‘a genuinely groundbreaking insight’, even though, as Smith recognized, the invisible hand ‘breaks down’ to some extent in the presence of externalities, public goods, and so forth. The particular negative externality that Frank is most concerned about in this book is associated with circumstances where individual rewards depend on relative performance and result from the strivings of individuals to improve their relative position. He contrasts this striving to improve relative position (which he describes as Darwinian competition) with the benign competitive forces associated with Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

I found this a useful point in clarifying my own thinking, the sometimes confusion I feel between my support for market forces as the best way of achieving results and the negative results flowing from relativist competition. This is another aspect linked to the continuing pernicious influence of Social Darwinism.

Neil Whitfield (Ninglun) liked the SBS documentary on the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta: Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta Episode 3–SBS last night. I didn't watch the series. Too much competition for the TV! Given that I didn't watch it I cannot comment beyond noting that it was clearly gripping TV.

On ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly, Helen is still maintaining her high posting standard. Her posts have clarity as well as a very high human interest element. If I haven't already persuaded you to visit, please do. I think that you will enjoy them.

I have written sometimes about the personal confusions created by changing gender roles. The examples I used included the way that courtesies once awarded to women such as giving up seats in buses or walking on the outside had been invalidated. Nigel Davies fulminates about some aspects of this in Hypocrisy 2 - naval disasters and feminism.

On Half and Hour, I quote from Stephen Downes' Data.

The problem is not with the use of data to make decisions - the problem is with the simplistic one-dimensional use of data to make decisions. Instead of attacking the data - which leaves you with no ground to stand upon - it makes more sense to attack the simple-mindedness.

Change the grounds! It's not that their approach is 'data-driven' or 'evidence-based' and yours is not, it's that they have very carefully selected a subset of the evidence that will 'count', while you are using a much broader, richer, and ultimately more accurate base of evidence.

I am not sure that one should abstain from attacking data, although Stephen was writing in a context. But the point about the simple-minded application of data is one that I have often made.

It's now almost dawn. I have enjoyed my wander, but it's time to move to the things that I must do before I leave for work. 


Winton Bates said...

Thanks Jim. Stay tuned for my further comments on Robert Frank's book.

Jim Belshaw said...

I look forward to it Winton!