Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mina drömmars Sverige

Under vårens utbytestermin i USA blev jag gång efter annan påmind om hur djupt rädslan ibland går i det amerikanska samhället, hur fruktan för terror har tagits som ursäkt för svepande lagstiftning såsom The Patriot Act samtidigt som fundamentala rättigheter konsekvent har åsidosatts vid exempelvis Guantanamofängelset.

Allt detta har gjorts för att, som det heter, ”skydda demokratin”. Vad som då ofta glömts bort är att demokrati inte bara är en viss sorts valprocedur utan en samhällsidé som bygger på individens rättssäkerhet men lika mycket på förtroende människor emellan. Demokratin kräver mod av dess utövare, det handlar om att välja frihet just när kontroll och övervakning framstår som tryggare alternativ.

Mot bättre vetande drömde jag ibland om Sverige, om hur jag för mina studenter brukade berätta att vårt lands grundlagar syftar till fri åsiktsbildning och att vi historiskt sett värnat om exempelvis ett starkt meddelarskydd. Samtidigt visste jag ju att redan Tomas Bodström på sin tid som justitieminister varit drivande bakom EU:s datalagringsdirektiv och att det var med nöd och näppe som riksdagen förra året bordlade förslaget att låta Försvarets Radioanstalt (FRA) avlyssna all privat elektronisk kommunikation som passerar Sveriges gränser. På grund av internets tekniska uppbyggnad skulle detta förslag innebära en formidabel massavlyssning och ge FRA rätt att fritt söka igenom nästan all privat e-post som skickas i vårt land.

Jag hann knappt landa i Sverige innan jag förstod att redan den 17 juni är det åter dags för denna Lex Orwell att tas upp i riksdagen och där med all sannolikhet röstas igenom med brett stöd av Alliansregeringen. Inför detta är det lätt att känna uppgivenhet. När man pratar med människor tror de inte att det kan vara sant. Andra tycks emellertid vara beredda att offra precis vad som helst för lite mer vardagstrygghet. - Men snälla, vi får inte vara så här ynkliga, än finns det en chans att få tillbaka mina drömmars Sverige.



(I apologize to my international audience for only writing in Swedish this time. The text above is on an issue similar to the EU data retention directive. In August I will travel to Barcelona and ECPR Graduate Conference to present a research paper on the need for “democratic heroism” as opposed to the present obsession with “security”.

Finally, let us not forget that it was our dear Erich Mielke who said: "Um sicher zu sein, muss man alles wissen")

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Abstract submission

Shifting scenes: from the green college fields of America to Fröken Olssons Kafé in Gothenburg.

Today I submitted my paper to the International Studies Association's 50th Annual Convention in January. It is immensely frustrating to have a maximum of 200 words. But here we go:

"While structural approaches to sustainability have remained unable to muster wider political support, green political theory has for some time taken a voluntarist turn, arguing that deep changes in attitudes and behaviour are necessary to reduce the ecological debt of the rich countries.

Within environmental citizenship theory it is believed that justice requires each individual to start living within his or her "ecological space". Firmly rooted in the pollution paradigm, environmental citizenship theory holds that the path to sustainability goes through a dramatic reduction in economic activity and international trade.

Since such cuts in material welfare run counter to the preferences of many, doubts can be had about their political plausibility. More seriously, with a world population approaching seven billions, it is doubtful that even such harsh sacrifices would suffice to ensure environmental sustainability. Not only would reduced international commerce threaten the livelihoods of millions in the developing countries, it also seems as if the prospects of long-term sustainability depend on economic growth to support radical innovation and the propagation of breakthrough technologies in for instance energy production.

Fashionable as a sense of individual guilt may be, it fails to recognize the responsibility of the rich world to provide new technologies capable of securing global environmental sustainability."

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

20 hours

Breaking with my somewhat melancholic weekend, I have spent this Monday reading anew Nordhaus and Schellenberger’s highly inspiring book from last year. Despite its catchy American title, “Break through – From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility”, the book offers a number of profound insights as to why the pollution paradigm does not work for climate change and why progressives should reject the reductive negativism of traditional green thinking and instead embrace more proactive transformative visions of the future.

Defeating the combined forces of Malthusian environmentalism and Hobbesian conservatism will take a lot of idealism and good will. But even as I often hear myself thinking that “the best lack all convictions”, I leave America hopeful that by the time I return a new president will have been installed, one who talks more about the audacity of hope than about the clashes of civilizations.

“It's quiet now
And what it brings
Is everything”

All my bags are packed, I have checked-in online for SK910 and all I can say is that it has been a spectacular time.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

In February this year, I was sitting in the basement of a Benedictine monastery out on the plains of Missouri. Next to me I had my friend, father Daniel, whom I had to come to know while studying German together in Vienna back in 2004.

We were having a long and winding theological conversation. About the trust God has shown to the world by not being manifest in it, by not letting his Son come here armed to the teeth but rather as a lamb to be slaughtered.

Living and teaching at a seminary college, Daniel’s experience of being a Christian was inevitably different from my own. In the secular university world, faith does not come as a natural discussion point. I know that most of my friends are either agnostic or atheistic and then it appears as if the only way to preach the Gospel is by actually living it.

Which I, of course, fail miserably in doing. In my heart I know that revelation is not to be brought about through philosophical thought experiments but through love. At the same time, I have not become a Christian because I am so good but instead because I want to confront the darkness within me and seek forgiveness for what is broken.

//

One day I would like to go into theology and do work on the demarcation between politics and faith. It is not surprising - given the revolutionary scope of the Sermon of the Mount and other core elements - that real-world Christianity has had substantial difficulties in addressing political issues. It may be first now, in its 21st century, that the religion is ready to embrace its true potential, as in radical pacifism, environmentalism and real solidarity with the world’s poor. At the same time, there is an imminent danger in turning faith into institutional crafting; it is the Grand Inquisitor and not Christ who tries to build paradise on Earth.

Yet, to refrain from acting is not an option. The question however is if we will be able to do it without falling victim to utilitarian calculations as we start thinking that the end justifies the means. By now we should know that it never does.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cooper Sq

Exhausted. It is perplexing that it can take so much existential energy just to be present. The whole afternoon I have been reading, taking in the universe of Cohen's "lust-tormented narrator" with NoHo passing by.

My last rain-drenched sip of New York, maybe it is symptomatic that I just want to pray. There is definitely a commonality in the experience of the disaffected observer, the frustration with noise: the loud voices talking chicken wings, the usefullness of ponchos or the upcoming shopping spree.

But whenever I feel this way I seek to instead reconcile myself with the world. Because we are not asked to condemn but to see our own fragility in each other. Should read more Gibran:

You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link.
This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link.
To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of ocean by the frailty of its foam.
To judge you by your failures is to cast blame upon the seasons for their inconsistency.
Ay, you are like an ocean,
And though heavy-grounded ships await the tide upon your shores, yet, even like an ocean, you cannot hasten your tides.
And like the seasons you are also,
And though in your winter you deny your spring,
Yet spring, reposing within you, smiles in her drowsiness and is not offended.

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Beautiful Losers

It is 1 a.m. and, according to the weather forecast, a heavy rain will make landfall from the Northeast as the night wears on. With about a hundred hours left in America, I am trying to wrap up all the loose ends: meeting Bronner for coffee a last time in New York City, having that Thai-food on 26 Carmine Street in West Village and finishing my literary encounter with Kateri Tekakwitha.

Later I may post something more on the book by Cohen. But for now I turn to The Guardian and an article which my Polish friend sent me from her home in Brighton. By herself, being a graduate student at Sussex University, she helps to vindicate the point that Timothy Garton Ash wants to make: that while Poles in England make good the promise of European integration, Brits go to Poland mostly for stag-doos and cheap booze.

Reminds me of a recent wine-reception in the Sherwood Forest; how I lectured my friend Fabian from Belfast on what a fantastic country Poland is. Only to hear him telling me that he has lived one year in Krakow.

After the embarrassment we could both agree that the tensions felt today in the British society, as hundred thousands of short-term workers from Eastern Europe flood into the labour market, are temporary and that, as often, what is needed most of all is perspective. Yet, perspective seems to be in short supply throughout the continent, as most evident in the slow accession negotiations with Turkey. Personally, I think part of the reason to this is a genuine lack of long-term visions. Unfortunately, very few people are ready to see the European Union as a first step towards something much grander. For many, the EU is simply a smart way for the nation-states of Europe to shelter themselves from globalization. And with that outlook it is not so strange that they also fail to see the potential embodied in a successful economic and political integration of Eastern Europe.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

SEVIS-record closed

With the summer returning I went to the international office this morning. After filling out some paperwork my record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) could be closed and my J1-status terminated. This means that I am now enjoying a 30 days “grace period” during which I am no longer able to re-enter the U.S.

Thus, there will be no crazy last-minute expeditions to St Kitts.

Pike Place Roast ®

It is 8:24 p.m. and I am drinking coffee. For once not an espresso-based beverage. Outside the spring has come to an abrupt end. Inside I am experience another wave of Bodil Jönsson’s infamous “ställtid”, disheartening as ever.

This state is intimately shameful for an academic person, to spend a whole day editing an empty page in the word processor, knowing that other people go about doing “real” work while I just sit here and struggle to find even the first syllables.

The tentative title is simple enough: “Individual guilt or collective progressive action? - assessing the strategic value of environmental citizenship theory”. In principle I know how the argument is going to be played out, I have already spent too many conference drinks outlining why environmental citizenship, as envisaged by Andrew Dobson, fails to capture the progressive potential of our time, why we should replace its moralistic approach and its illiberal “deep changes in attitudes” with a politics of radical engagement. Or, in other words, why we need an inspiring global vision for the 21st century, a vision beyond those website calculators that tell us that our lifestyle would only be sustainable if we had the resources of so and so many planets.

Those calculators, and Dobson’s favoured concept of “ecological space”, assume that there is a finite amount of ecological space and then simply go on by dividing that space with the number of people on the planet. Obviously, such a static approach is fundamentally flawed since it completely disregards from the impact of technology over time. It is a bit like saying that if everyone would be living under stone-age conditions there would not be enough bear furs to go around.

Though it may be sufficient to simply answer “Star Trek” to my weblog audience I know that an academic response to Dobson has to be somewhat more… elaborate. So, back to work!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Williamsburgh Café

Yesterday, with a nod at the original spelling of Brooklyn’s eastern district, I took my friends for a noteworthy Sunday brunch at 170 Wythe Ave. Though the service was not all that attentive, the southern styled food filled me with a profound sense of imminent nostalgia.

In one week tomorrow I will board SK910 and leave the Americas for the indefinite future. For those curious about the summer I am happy to report that next stop will indeed be the Armenian highlands with Lina.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Long Emergency

In my work, I literally wade through dystopia. For four years, a lot of my intellectual activity has taken place against, and in response to, the apocalyptic backdrop of green political theory.
I remember talking to my sister about this, about what it makes to one’s own person to constantly think about long-term issues such as climate change.

In a way it makes you immune, it widens the gulf between your everyday life and the problems you are working with. Just take this moment. The rain is flushing down the windows, the trees are all green outside and I let time pass as I take in the herbal notes of my Sumatra coffee. It becomes impossible to think that all this is under siege, that there is a pressing urgency if we are to ride through the environmental mayhem and end this century as one common human civilization which acknowledges our fundamental equality.

The odds are definitely stacked the other way, suggesting that James Howard Kunstler is right in saying that there will be a "long emergency" in which oil production peaks, climate change makes farming impossible in many parts of the world, causing massive immigration waves and global economic instability.

Yet, just as these green authors think that their pessimism will work provocatively and inspire environmentally sound action, so do I think that positive visions of the century ahead can inspire political change. As sentient beings, we have come a far way from our savage past, and I am, despite all evidence, optimistic that we will be able to rise above the muck and remain idealists even in the darkest of times.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Montréal

It is now three days since we left the benign American summer and drove all the way up to Gatineau Park in Ontario, Canada, where the spring still struggles with the melting snow. Though I have been to Vancouver before, the French-speaking experience of Quebec adds a distinct old-world grandeur with its Parisian metro-stations, cobblestones and separatists who blow up coffee shops because they are called “Second Cup” and not “Deuxième Tasse”.

Tonight we poured up a pitcher at L'Absynthe, 1738 Rue St-Denis here in Montreal where “Les sabots de Denver” played away with the folk-interpretation of a certain German band.