The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Ullage politics: “the struggle to define the conditions that govern our lives”

October 10th, 2008 · No Comments

Since everyone’s talking money and politics these days, I thought it reasonably acceptable to make a contribution to the conversation in this forum.

I think the idea of ullage can be a tool. As (or if) you find yourself ever more embroiled in the struggle mentioned above, you might also find that it comes in handy. The next time you think you need a little help defining some alternative conditions that could govern your life, consider the ullage.

The social, economic, and political upheaval of the moment presents a timely opportunity to ask yourself how might the “other part” – however you may define that – help you recognize what you truly value, what you love, how you work, how you spend your time, and with whom you spend it. Seems pretty simple, but sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the simple things, especially when it comes to self-governance. Just achieving and maintaining self-governance is hard enough these days. In this sense, and at this particular time, in this particular culture, (I hate to say it) the personal is always political.


US Government promotes creativity in a time of crisis and despair, WPA poster circa 1936

So, rooting around in the ullage might yield some forgotten (or supposedly obsolete) possibilities when it comes to all this. And maybe they will prove obsolete, or futile, or not up your alley. But you’ll never know unless you try. And thus, the ullage is always political.

For another and far less abstract take on this, read on…

(posted by Lisa Hirschfield)
… Good ‘ol Slavoj Žižek always provides somewhat ullagistic food for thought, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to clean your plate — thereby creating your own ullage! (In fact, a food fight is sometimes in order.)

But this seemed like a toothsome morsel to consider, and it’s what got me on the soapbox in the first place. From the London Review of Books:

Don’t Just Do Something, Talk

Slavoj Žižek

One of the most striking things about the reaction to the current financial meltdown is that, as one of the participants put it: ‘No one really knows what to do.’ The reason is that expectations are part of the game: how the market reacts to a particular intervention depends not only on how much bankers and traders trust the interventions, but even more on how much they think others will trust them. Keynes compared the stock market to a competition in which the participants have to pick several pretty girls from a hundred photographs: ‘It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligence to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.‘ We are forced to make choices without having the knowledge that would enable us to make them; or, as John Gray has put it: ‘We are forced to live as if we were free.’

Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote that, although there is a growing consensus among economists that any bailout based on Henry Paulson’s plan won’t work, ‘it is impossible for politicians to do nothing in such a crisis. So we may have to pray that an agreement crafted with the toxic mix of special interests, misguided economics and right-wing ideologies that produced the crisis can somehow produce a rescue plan that works – or whose failure doesn’t do too much damage.’ He’s right: since markets are effectively based on beliefs (even beliefs about other people’s beliefs), how the markets react to the bailout depends not only on its real consequences, but on the belief of the markets in the plan’s efficiency. The bailout may work even if it is economically wrong.
There is a close similarity between the speeches George W. Bush has given since the crisis began and his addresses to the American people after 9/11. Both times, he evoked the threat to the American way of life and the necessity of fast and decisive action to cope with the danger. Both times, he called for the partial suspension of American values (guarantees of individual freedom, market capitalism) in order to save the same values.

Faced with a disaster over which we have no real influence, people will often say, stupidly, ‘Don’t just talk, do something!’ Perhaps, lately, we have been doing too much. Maybe it is time to step back, think and say the right thing. True, we often talk about doing something instead of actually doing it – but sometimes we do things in order to avoid talking and thinking about them. Like quickly throwing $700 billion at a problem instead of reflecting on how it came about.

even more …

(posted by Lisa Hirschfield)

Tags: Belief Systems · Suggestions

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