Sunday, 29 May 2016

Didier Fassin and the Critique of Humanitarian Reason

Following the end of the Cold War, and during the period Economists called 'the Great Moderation', it was suggested that Humanitarian Reason, as exemplified by organizations like 'Doctors without Borders', had replaced Kantian 'Practical Reason' or Marxist 'Dialectical Reason', or- the joker in the pack- Post-Colonial Reason (i.e. whining about being Black, or Bengali, or being a Black Bengali Belgian or whatever)- and thus we were on the verge of seeing a new kind of Politics- i.e. a new way of wasting other people's money- a new type of Jurisprudence- i.e. a new pretext for confiscating it in advance- take on a vanguard role.

Thus some worthless shithead was bound to write a book called 'the Critique of Humanitarian Reason' same as Satre who wrote 'A Critique of Dialectical Reason' when strung out on speed and Gayatri Spivak who wrote 'A Critique of Post Colonial Reason' while shopping for a handbag.

At first blush, Didier Fassin looks like the man who has pulled it off. He's French; he quotes Benjamin and Agamben and Hannah's Aunt; he's a Professor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. He must be shite.

Sadly, this is not the case. The fucker is an actual Medical Doctor. He was Vice President of Medicin sans Frontiers. Yes, he quotes Benjamin and Agamben but only because he's a fucking Medic and doesn't realize how stupid this makes him look.

Before examining what he has to say, let me briefly outline the standard, if unspoken, theory of Humanitarian Reason. Essentially one non dissipative way moral entrepreneurs- i.e. shameless people who seek a reputational rent from being holier than thou- compete is by pretending to have saved a lot of souls. If they do this under some rubric other than the purely Humanitarian- i.e. souls are not linked to bodies- they then have to show that some ingroup capitalized goodwill has accrued from their arbitrage. If not, the reverse is the case- i.e. there is rent dissipation for the ingroup- or, at least, a further stratification.

However, actually saving a few lives and acquiring an alethic knowledge base (as opposed to holier-than-thou gobshittery) and genuine administrative skills segments the market such that some moral entrepreneurs have a shadow price (i.e. they have scarce skills) in first-order markets- i.e. they can actually do something to increase the output of valuable goods and services rather than shamelessly pretend that their 'activism' is a 'second order' activity which somehow boosts the supply of the good or service they are demanding, rather than crowding it out. Thus, there is a costly signal in the background which leads to a separating equilibrium.

Modern Nation States found that some, not shameless but unabashed, Moral Entrepreneurs were highly useful- like Joseph Lancaster who used the South Indian model of popular education to boost literacy among the British working class, or Florence Nightingale who compiled better statistics about morbidity among soldiers than the War Office, and thus whose proposed reforms saved the Government money while boosting its tax base- i.e. increasing rents all round.

Furthermore, some noveau riche Technocrats found that Humanitarian Work acted like the old Roman 'Cursus Honorum'- i.e. accomplishing a feat of Disaster Management in a Crisis area permitted one to go on to occupy Public Office.  Herbert Hoover is the paradigmatic example here. His reputation for getting things done enabled him to negotiate minimum wages (and price cartels) in what were previously 'repugnancy market' industries characterized by sweated labor. Unfortunately, his reputation is now mud because he didn't understand the nature of the monetary shock the U.S suffered during his Presidency. In the end, by increasing wage and price stickiness, he contributed a little to the severity of the Great Depression and its legacy of duality in a range of markets.

I suppose I could mention Quisling as the other Head of Govt. who rose thanks to his Humanitarian work- he was Nansen's protege and dealt with the Ukrainian Holodomor. However, clearly, this affected his world view and later, thanks to well meaning Quakers!, he ended up converting to the Nazi ideology.

However, the real point I'm making here is that Humanitarian Work of genuine Utility can be a deceptive signal of suitability for high office because perverse hedging effects in second-order markets- e.g. that of Financial Instruments- can gain salience and thus second-order solutions, which are the reverse of Utilitarian, crowd out such do-gooders as actually do some first-order good.

 More generally, since it had become blindingly obvious that what had saved the Economy was. Game Theoretic, Operations Research based, Total War, Humanitarian Reason as part of Republican Paideia's Cursus Honorum died still born. Thus Joseph Kennedy didn't send his son off to minister to Displaced People in Taiwan or West Berlin. Instead he got him onto Sen. McCarthy's Committee- along with Nixon and Roy Cohn- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Turning to what Dr. Didier Fassin has to say- and let me emphasize once again that this guy started off as an actual Doctor, not a festering haemorrhoid on the arsehole of Academia- we find, that in conformity with the theory of contested rent seeking, that there is- at least in France- a close nexus between the separating equilibrium  of 'moral entrepreneurship', and recruitment into the higher ranks of the Bureaucracy or even Ministerial Office. Given the 'closed', elitist, highly dual, character of the French Economy, this should be no surprise. Equally, it should come as no shock that there is a further separating equilibrium whereby such technically proficient recruits shamelessly start talking worthless Credentialist shite so that aggregate waste of resources is conserved.

Humanitarianism is not a political issue and it should remain separate from political maneuvering,” asserts Rony Brauman, a former president of MSF. Pointing to the renaissance of nongovernmental humanitarianism during the 1970s and 1980s, at a time when communism’s star was waning, he even sees in this new configuration a sort of historical fluid mechanics based on the principle of the communicating vessels: “It is as if, during these periods when the ideological tide is going out, humanitarian action comes to occupy the space left vacant by politics.”
'Agamben offers a more radical version of this thesis, suggesting that “the separation of politics and humanitarianism that we are witnessing today represents the last phase of the separation of human rights from civil right.” For the Italian philosopher, the image of the refugee becomes “the most significant sign of bare life in our era,” and he sees the refugee camp as the “biopolitical paradigm.” This being the case, humanitarianism, insofar as it distances itself from the figure of the nation-state, abandons the political field.
 However, I believe that the contemporary world does not become more intelligible viewed in these terms, and one may doubt whether there exists, in one’s own society or in any society, a space empty of politics or even a space outside politics—all the more given that these interpretations relegate the dominated and the excluded to this depoliticized space, leaving the political space to the dominant and the included. They are thus doubly problematic—first empirically, for all investigations show that on the contrary, forms of political life continue to arise even in the camps, and second ethically, since this reading appears to reinforce the domination and exclusion by denying the possibility of a political life to those who are subjected to them in practice.
 Other avenues therefore need to be explored. In fact everything suggests that rather than become separate, humanitarianism and politics are tending to merge—in governmental, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental spheres. In France at least three former presidents or vice presidents of MSF have become ministers; some have been elected to political office, others have entered the civil service at high levels—not only in the traditional aid sector, but also in health and social welfare
 Conversely, former ministers of social affairs or of health have become presidents of Action contre la faim (Action Against Hunger) and the French Red Cross. Thus one is seeing a humanitarianization of national health and social policy and a politicization of humanitarian organizations. 
Okay, the good Doctor made a mistake by reading Agamben, but then he is French so allowances should be made. What he isn't saying- and this is the nigger in the woodpile- is that, during the 'Great Moderation' Western Economists came to see Refugees as a good thing- they freed up a Supply Side constraint. They couldn't actually come out and say 'we need more dusky foreigners desperate to drive our cabs and look after our infants and Alzheimer afflicted elders'. So they tugged their forelock to some supposedly Kantian Categorical Imperative to let dusky people do shitty jobs so cost-push inflation would be contained.
That's it. That's the whole story. Our good Doctor presents all the evidence but can't draw the only tenable conclusion. Second Order Moral Entrepreneurship- including the Agamben Availability Cascade- crowds out First Order, Utilitarian, separating equilibrium Moral Entrepreneurship because, once the Business Cycle reasserts itself, Second Order solutions- i.e. the creation of stratified rents- reduce Uncertainty and freeze up the malignancy of hedging effects transmitted by Second Order markets.

Why can't there be a 'Critique of Humanitarian Reason'? After all, Seyla Benhabib gave a talk to the Germans with that title a couple of years ago. What's stopping her dashing off a thousand page tome? The answer is that Frau Merkel has now pulled that particular rug from under Academia's feet. Furthermore, in the age of You Tube, the Refugees have increased Hirschman 'Voice' and 'Exit' whereas the Academo-bureaucratic dicks are already calculating their redundancy packages or golden parachutes.

Fassin, poor credulous fool, didn't get the memo that Levinasian alterity, like Subaltern Studies, is shite. He thinks there are two types of lives- one's which can recount their own story and others which can only be recounted by others. This is shit. I am a starving Black Man, who judging by my book sales, can't recount any sort of story to fucking save my life, but I just used another starving, not Black, but Nepali origin man, as illiterate and inarticulate as myself, as a sort of human selfie stick. The picture he sent to my local tandoori was sufficient to elicit an immediate humanitarian response. A young Pakistani gentleman, not necessarily starving but modishly emaciated, will deliver my standard order of sag-aloo and garlic naan in thirty minutes or less. No money will change hands thanks to the good folks at Paypal.

That's Humanitarian Reason achieving Pareto Efficiency right there. All it needs to become operational is a Second Order market for Credit- i.e. Belief, Faith, doxastic commitment, semantic normativity- call it what you will.
The conditions under which this happens are
1) the existence of at least one uncorrelated asymmetry giving rise to a separating equilibrium- e.g. some people being able to cook sag-aloo and others literally starving because they haven't that ability
2) enough turbulent flow in the underlying dynamics to canalize latent liquidity
Or, more succinctly, Humanitarian Reason is unproblematic so long as Human frailty is tolerated- i.e. rent dissipation is not total.

1 comment:

  1. There is something wrong with your comments form on the post re. Prof.Saha.
    I wanted to draw your attention to the argument he presents in 'Asian Values and Human Rights'The article can be found here-
    The abstract will give you the flavor- 'This study argues that the vexing methodological problem in analyzing cultural relativity,
    connected to the practice and discourse about human rights, may conveniently be presented
    as indexicality, which enables us to use knowledge as evidence, arguing that once the
    standard for epistemic accessibility of evidence is reasonably set, knowledge meets the set
    standard. It allows the analysts to be free from anthropocentrism, which has little selfconsciousness
    about the issue of territorial space. In his examination of methodological
    deficiencies in the cultural relativity theory, Amartya Sen considers both the level of actual
    and philosophical concepts, capturing the local meaning of cultural variations. His
    discourse about relativity in human rights is about a structure of constitutive rules in which
    people are not fully conscious of these dormant but influential rules, although they are in
    reality governed by the social and conceptual rules and beliefs that arise from the broad
    areas of philosophical traditions in normative social values. An economist turned
    philosopher by necessity, Sen considers typological knowledge a scale of forms that mirrors
    what already exists there, but is discovered now. The process of knowing in the scale
    actively participates in producing and transforming the worldview that the process
    constructs conceptually. Because epistemological cultural relativism argues that
    differences cannot ideally be resolved, I would argue that epistemological discourse could
    effectively maintain that some beliefs, including Indian Nyaya ethics, are better or worse in
    terms of justifiability. A prime argument of my essay is that the Western perspective
    contention that feeling and intuition are actually forms of reason can also be observed in
    Indian Nyaya (2nd B.C. to 14th centuries) philosophy as well. The Nyaya argues that
    evidence-based critical inquiry forms the basis of practical reason, which, Sen insists may
    lead to actualization of “comprehensive realized justice”.