Sailmaker’s Palm



sunset islandSailmaker’s Palm

My black-haired bride was made of sails.
She was a ship; her wedding sails were white.
I made her dress with yards of canvas.
Winding stitch after stitch, I sewed all night.

I was a child to the wind.
I listened to it like a father.
I put an inwardly spiraled shell to my ear
to hear what the sea had to say.

A web spun between weeds. Like a memory
I keep forgetting
of being kissed for the first time at the sea;—
her wind-whipped red hair, her bathing suit of cobalt blue.

My bride was a full-rigged ship
being launched to sea. On her maiden voyage
she was thrown into the wild green Atlantic.

At the hour of my death
carry me to the graveyard by boat
as on Bequia, island of the cloud,
where the dead were ferried by oarsmen
who rowed de dead stroke:—
they took one stroke through water,
then feathered the oars,
took the next stroke through the air,
then feathered the oars.
The oarsmen of the island
transported both body and spirit
into the afterlife.

I saw my wife sailing beneath the light
of a full moon. Her bright sails illumined
she rides across a ghostly topography.

The shipwright ran a ragged hand down the entire length
of the vessel’s hull from stern to stem.
He looked up at the wooden figurehead—
bare-breasted, her hair all around her.
Her wild blank eyes unpainted.

When a sailor dies at sea
the ship’s sailmaker sews the dead man into a canvas shroud.
Stitch by stitch, the sailmaker closes him tightly round
with twine; he works his way from foot to head.
And the last stitch
he sews through the dead man’s nose.

Death, Captain,
is not what I feared it would be.
I was blown through death.
Death blew through me.
I was sewn into the wind itself
as a singing voice blown out to sea.

— Elkins





Editor’s Introduction to Parnassus

Parnassus Poetry

Parnassus: Poetry in Review | Academy of American Poets

Blue Yodel – Page 61

Sailmaker’s Palm




The Concept of Sovereignty


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Westphalian order

This essay, in discussing some recent contributions to the contemporary debate on sovereignty, focuses on what is at stake in this debate. While most authors today agree that the meaning of the concept of sovereignty is open to change across time and space, students of international law and international relations disagree about the causes and consequences of this conceptual change. While some scholars take such changes to be indicative of a corresponding transformation of global institutions, others regard them as evidence of the remarkable endurance of the Westphalian Order. In this essay, I argue that this disagreement depends less on divergent accounts of the world, and more on the ontological status implicitly accorded to concepts by these authors. I conclude by pointing out that the very emphasis on the changing meaning of sovereignty makes normative problems intrinsically hard to settle, and that dealing with this impasse will be a major challenge to legal and political theory in the years to come.

The concept of sovereignty, once relatively uncontested, has recently become a major bone of contention within international law and international relations theory. Rather than presupposing that the concept of sovereignty has a timeless or universal meaning, more recent scholarship has focused on the changing meanings of this concept across a variety of historical and political contexts.1

Much of this contestation and subsequent historical exploration has been undertaken as a result of an earlier linguistic reorientation within the social and legal sciences. One main upshot of this reorientation has been to claim that language, rather than being a neutral medium of representation, is actively involved in the constitution of legal and political reality. Yet, contrary to initial expectations, the linguistic turn has increased rather than diminished the staying power of the concept of sovereignty within legal and political discourse.

The very moment that scholars decided that the meaning of sovereignty lies very much in what we make of it through our linguistic conventions and rhetorical practices, they also opened up a new field of inquiry within which this concept could survive and thrive, albeit now as an object of inquiry rather than as its uncontested foundation. What then became the subject of great interest was the question of why the meaning of this concept changes across time and space, and under what conditions these changes in turn spill over into institutional change on a grand scale.2

Another outcome of this reorientation is that the previously distinct concerns of academic international relations and international law have tended to converge. The very focus on the concept of sovereignty brought about by this linguistic reorientation – rather than on the facts or norms of sovereign statehood – has provided a common ground where the concerns of lawyers and political scientists can again meet, relatively undisturbed by epistemological differences. Both disciplines have now deconstructed themselves back to a normal working relationship, with enough common ground to make their differences seem topical rather than merely confusing. As a result, the concept of sovereignty has become the focal point of an interdisciplinary debate that concerns the most basic of questions: In what kind of world do we live, and what kind of entities make up this world?

Two main answers to this question compete within contemporary international relations theory. According to the first view, the sovereign state is unlikely to remain the main locus of political authority and community in the future. It is challenged by new constellations of authority and community which transcend the divide between the domestic and the international spheres, and will soon be replaced by new forms of political life that know nothing of this distinction. Yet the tricks that the concept of sovereignty continues to play on our political imagination make it difficult to make coherent sense of these new constellations as they do not conform to the indivisibility and discreteness that characterize sovereignty. This concept should therefore either be abandoned, or be redefined in order to make sense of these new constellations.3 According to the second view, the sovereign state is likely to remain a potent source of authority and community even in the future. Those emergent constellations of authority and community that allegedly challenge the predominance of the sovereign state are ultimately only manifestations of its successful sovereignty claims. They are thus indicative of the remarkable endurance of this concept in both theory and practice. When properly understood, therefore, the concept of sovereignty retains much of its explanatory power and normative relevance.4

At closer inspection, much of this disagreement turns out to be a matter of philosophical principle rather than indicative of the political makeup of the world. In this author’s view, the underlying sticking point in this debate concerns the ontological status of concepts, a question that has been conveniently neglected by many of those who have taken the linguistic turn within political science and law. Indeed, many constructivists seem to assume that this question has been settled once and for all, and are thus blind to the ontological implications of their own arguments. On the one hand, the belief that sovereignty is undergoing profound change is greatly facilitated by a nominalist view of concepts since, according to this view, concepts are nothing but general names that we use to constitute different classes of objects as distinct from each other. To the nominalist, conceptual change is therefore a matter of sharp historical discontinuities between different classificatory schemes of our own making. On the other hand, the belief that sovereignty is a permanent feature of political life is nourished by a realist view of concepts, according to which classes of objects exist independently of our descriptions, and instead condition their possibility. To the realist, conceptual change is much more like a thematic variation of an underlying core meaning that remains basically the same across time and space.5 As I shall attempt to show in this essay, these different attitudes to concepts and their meaning continue to fuel much disagreement in the contemporary debate on sovereignty.

Lets consider three books. The first, Reconfigured Sovereignty: Multi-Layered Governance in the Global Age,’ edited by Thomas Ilgen, analyses how and why sovereignty has been relocated as a consequence of economic and political globalization. The second book, Sovereignty in Transition,’ edited by Neil Walker, discusses the implications of such a relocation for legal and political theory. Finally, The Power of Language in the Making of International Law,’ by Stéphane Beaulac, studies the emergence of the modern concept of sovereignty. Thus, taken together, these books unintentionally offer complementary perspectives on the concept of sovereignty and its theoretical and empirical manifestations.

Some of the problems resulting from a nominalist interpretation of the concept of sovereignty are highly visible in Reconfigured Sovereignty. Its author argues that sovereignty is a much more fluid and malleable concept than its standard characterization as fixed and immutable in international affairs. The introductory chapter posits that sovereignty nowadays is seldom monopolized by the state, but is regularly divided and shared among state and non-state actors at all levels of governance, depending on the issue or problem at hand. Furthermore, while most existing scholarship has argued that the principal challenges to state sovereignty come from outside the state, and that state governments have responded to these challenges by sharing sovereignty with and within international organizations, this volume focuses on the internal challenges to state sovereignty. In pursuing this inquiry, the contributors argue that both internal and external factors have increased the sovereignty of sub-national levels of governance: sovereignty is a continuous variable.

In his ambitious overview of the history of sovereignty, Ilgen explores the tension between the universal acceptance of the sovereign state as the primary form of political organization and the gradual emergence of a global market economy. While the history of sovereignty culminates in its concentration in the nation-state, it is challenged by the market economy and its natural tendency to expand beyond the politically defined boundaries of states. Consequently, crucial features of state sovereignty have been weakened, such as its ability to make and enforce laws, the power to define and defend territorial borders, as well as the capacity to shape and direct economic performance. In Ilgen’s view, this has led to the creation of supranational institutions of global governance and to a downward diffusion of power to sub-national actors such as cities and regions.

Individual contributions to this volume corroborate this trend towards a downward diffusion of sovereignty. Barry Jones, Elizabeth H. Crighton and Nigel Boyle make convincing empirical cases in favour of the view that such downward devolution within Great Britain has been beneficial to Welsh and Irish economic development, and go as far as arguing that it might be conducive to peace in the case of Northern Ireland. Mark Donovan analyses the sources of constitutional and political change in Italy, and concludes that the strong pressures for decentralization and devolution have had a profound and lasting impact upon Italian politics and society.

Examples from Germany and Turkey further substantiate the impression that sovereignty has been and still is in the process of being reconfigured within different national contexts, and that this development constitutes a reasonable response to the logic of political globalization. In the last chapter, Thomas Ilgen concludes that while it is hard to generalize about the causes of this reconfiguration, ineffective or dysfunctional central government coupled with external economic pressures push towards a diffusion of sovereignty, and hence towards multilayered governance. So while the sovereign state certainly has not withered away, much of its former authority has been dispersed to other levels of governance, above as well as below the institutions of central government.

In many ways, this is a standard account of the political consequences of globalization. Yet through its focus on the internal dynamics of political globalization, this volume yields some interesting insights into the mechanisms of decentralization and devaluation of political authority. But is the concept of sovereignty really necessary in order to understand this development? On the one hand, the concept of sovereignty provides the contributors to this volume with a common focus. On the other hand, the concept is used in such a way that it becomes hard to distinguish it from that of autonomy. The authors invariably use the term sovereignty with little regard to its traditional connotations of indivisibility and discreteness, thereby implying that these logical properties have become irrelevant to our attempts to make sense of contemporary political life. Thomas Ilgen and his crew seem happy to assume that sovereignty simply is divisible and continuous. By choosing not to confront the semantics of sovereignty head on, the contributors to this volume not only fail to distinguish the concept of sovereignty from other concepts, but also miss the opportunity to defend themselves against the objection that, given their theoretical and empirical purposes, the concept of sovereignty is ultimately redundant. Unfortunately, sovereignty becomes little more than a shorthand term whose meaning is far removed from the linguistic conventions that the empirical analyses of this volume challenges. As a result of this unwillingness to confront the problem of sovereignty at the conceptual level, many of the principal questions in contemporary legal and political theory cannot be formulated, let alone answered.

These and other problems are dealt with in Sovereignty in Transition. The focus of this volume is primarily legal, yet its editor, Neil Walker, has done an excellent job in bringing together contributions from a variety of perspectives from within different disciplines. While the various authors provide distinct, if not incommensurable, interpretations of the concept of sovereignty, there is nevertheless a strong sense of intellectual coherence that derives from a shared focus on the conceptual problems that arise in thinking about sovereignty in transition. All the contributors to this volume seem more or less painfully aware of the tension that exists between the traditional view of sovereignty as an indivisible and discrete condition of possible statehood, and the actual dispersion of political power and legal authority to the sub- and supranational levels. They are also very aware of the fact that whenever the concept of sovereignty is simply redefined in order to be better attuned to this dispersion of authority, a series of paradoxes arise that must be resolved if those new constellations of power and authority are to be perceived as legitimate. The chief virtue of this volume is the consistent ambition among its authors to explore and tackle these paradoxes head on, rather than brushing them under the carpet as has frequently been done in contemporary political theory.6 As it would not be possible to do this impressive volume full justice within the small space of this review essay, I shall limit myself to providing the reader with a few reflections.

How can we develop a conception of sovereignty that can underpin the actual constitutional pluralism of the European Union? In order to answer this question, Neil Walker defines sovereignty as a discursive claim concerning the existence and character of a supreme ordering power for a particular polity. He then goes on to argue that such a conception indeed is indispensable in order to understand and justify the transition from good old Westphalian sovereignty to our present condition of late sovereignty. The constitutional pluralism and multidimensional order that characterize late sovereignty display considerable continuity with the old order in the way that they handle the tension between law and politics, yet they have certain distinctive features of their own. Boundaries are no longer territorial, but have become functional to the effect that ‘it becomes possible to conceive of autonomy without territorial exclusivity’ (at 23). If we are to believe this account, there is no going back from this new order, only forward: not only is the condition of late sovereignty here to stay, but it is also a powerful recipe for a piecemeal transformation of the international system into a world polity.

If understanding sovereignty as a discursive claim helps us to make sense of emergent polities, it is less helpful when it comes to the question of how such polities might be turned into political communities governed according to the constitutional requirements of popular sovereignty. Such an understanding would require a systematic account of the relationship between constituting power and constituted power, in order to explain how citizens or subjects might be constituted as a demos, and how this demos in turn might provide governmental authority with democratic legitimacy. Since Rousseau, this problem has been a perennial source of debate in legal and political theory, as it begs the simple question of how the people can both rule and be ruled simultaneously.

This problem is dealt with systematically in a brilliant essay by Bert van Roermund. As he points out, the concept of sovereignty is prima facie incoherent, since it signifies both the political power constituting the law and the law restraining that very power. Van Roermund then analyses some of the standard responses to this apparent incoherence before attempting to dissolve the paradox by accounting for the necessary unity and agency of a given demos in terms of a reflexive relationship between a representation of its unity and its self-representation, since ‘self-representation never seems to capture the self that is representing itself’ (at 41). If I have understood van Roermund correctly, popular sovereignty does indeed possess the long-disputed capacity to legitimize itself without recourse to anything over and above the people thus constituted. If this indeed is the case, it would imply that other solutions to this problem are simply redundant.7

The analysis provided by Martin Loughlin is best described as neoclassical. In his view, efforts to move beyond our traditional conceptions of sovereignty are rather misguided, since this concept is indispensable to our understanding of the modern political and legal order. Sovereignty is the very relational interface between law and politics, that which both separates these domains and binds them together. As such, sovereignty represents the autonomy of the political, and hence provides the foundation of public law. Sovereignty is thus profoundly political in nature, and ‘comes into existence through a process in which a group of people within a defined territory is moulded into an orderly cohesion through the establishment of a governing authority that can be differentiated from society and which is able to exercise an absolute political power’ (at 56).

Loughlin goes on to explain the many manifestations of sovereign authority within modern polities, arguing that it is a coherent concept of continuing relevance despite appearances to the contrary. Claims that we have reached the end of sovereignty are rooted in a misunderstanding of the concept of sovereignty and its meaning: sovereignty remains a potent force in the contemporary world. This essay is decidedly impressive in its intellectual ambition. However, it is hard to see how a different conclusion could have been reached, given the ontological assumptions that silently inform both the definition of the concept and the subsequent inquiry: sovereignty is here to stay very much by virtue of the view of the ontological status of concepts implicit in this account.

Such a view of concepts and their meaning is exactly what is contested in a piece that promises to be an influential contribution to the present debate. To Hans Lindahl, ‘[s]overeignty is the concept by means of which modern political and legal philosophy elaborates the problem of the contingent unity of a political community’ (at 88). Here, the concept of sovereignty is not merely understood in terms of its meaning and reference, but in terms of its function within discourse. Lindahl elaborates the implications of this view for our understanding of the logic of political representation in the European Union. While the standard picture of sovereignty accepts that political power has been diffused, it cannot generate a solution to the problem of democratic representation, since the question of ‘who is affected and what is the problem to be solved are matters of substance that require deliberation, yet deliberation cannot kick off without a prior determination of the members and the problem of the deliberative body’ (at 93).

Lindahl further observes that the ‘people, as a unity, is never directly accessible; unity is always a represented unity’ (at 97). His way out of the resulting paradox is both simple and original, and also provides an escape from the predicament described by Derrida in Force de Loi: the coming into being of a political community is propelled by a dialectic between constituting and constituted power, where the former act of sovereignty is simply a matter of seizing the initiative. Consequently, this suggests that ‘there is a core of irreducible groundlessness at the heart of every political community, but also that no polity is contemporaneous with its own genesis’ (at 113). This is another remarkable way of bringing the mythological lawgiver from Du Contrat Social down to earth, yet without ending up in the arms of old Nick in doing so.

Richard Bellamy shares these concerns with democratic legitimacy and rights within the European Union, but delivers a different solution. He is critical both of the view that state sovereignty has been transferred to other bodies and the view that it has evaporated in favour of an international rights regime. To him, political sovereignty still persists, but changing legal norms have altered its basis. The challenge is to ‘retain certain key elements … of a sovereign system, notably effective and democratic government, within the new conditions of a post-sovereign world of multiple polities, regimes and identities and without losing some of the welcome curbs on arbitrary power these developments have produced’ (at 180).

Bellamy goes on to specify the principles of mixed sovereignty that would satisfy these requirements, thereby returning to and reviving the ideals of civic republicanism. The aim is to produce a balance between the interests and values of individuals and groups within the polity, obliging them to interact with each other in fair and reciprocal ways. Bellamy envisages a polity in which all arbitrary power is kept in check and in which unity is based on constant dialogue and negotiation, but he has little to say about the boundaries of such a polity. How are they to be drawn, and in whose name? Here Bellamy, like many other political philosophers, remains silent.

Another approach to the question of democratic legitimacy is taken up by Michael Keating. Noting how the notoriously ambiguous concept of sovereignty nevertheless has been constitutive of the disciplines of political science and international relations, he proceeds to describe the challenges faced by the modern sovereign nation-state, and the reasons why these disciplines have had a hard time making sense of these challenges. As he notes, ‘sovereignty is said to be ebbing away, but new sovereignty claims are being made all the time’ (at 204).

His response to the current predicament in which there is no single European demos to underpin a democratic order, and where the operation of multilevel governance is thus relatively unconstrained by such concerns, is to propose what he terms plurinational democracy, ‘locating democracy in communities of will, incorporating historic rights and current demands and recognising the needs of mutual accommodation’ (at 208). This solution of course begs the question of why the nation should still be conceived of as the exemplary form of community, and to what extent it should be regarded as the predominant source of political will in a world in which the very idea of distinct and bounded national identities is under challenge.

The relationship between transnationalism and sovereignty receives a refreshing treatment in the hands of Jef Huysmans, who raises the question whether the existence of transnational practices really defies the logic of sovereignty in international politics, or if it merely constitutes one of its many reproductive circuits. Rather than merely reiterating any of the standard views about the corrosive effects of transnational practices upon state sovereignty, Huysmans reformulates this problem in terms of how these practices might affect the matrix of sovereignty, understood as the way in which the question of the political conventionally has been formulated in terms of a territorialized distinction between the domestic inside and the international outside. From this perspective, transnational flows ‘fragments the international society of sovereign states into functionally defined arenas and consequently challenges the neat fix that territorialized the tension and the gap that characterise the matrix of sovereignty’ (at 220). The existence of transnational practices thus opens up the possibility of envisaging politics in terms of pluralization instead of unification, making it possible to rework the matrix of sovereignty and thus align it closer to a democratic ethos. Yet if the spectre of sovereignty seems difficult to escape, I suspect that this is at least partly due to the fact that the author takes its presence as the starting point for his analysis.

The fact that most of the contributors to this volume are inclined to take some aspects of sovereignty for granted, while struggling hard to question others, finds a tentative explanation in an essay by Govert Buijs, which explores the theological background of this concept. He attempts to assess the claim, once made by Carl Schmitt, that sovereignty originally and basically is a theological concept which has been gradually secularized. While Buijs does not provide us with anything like a comprehensive conceptual history, he succeeds in unearthing several layers of theological meaning that have been long lost to political and legal philosophy. He then describes how these meanings have continued to condition our understanding of sovereignty despite (or possibly because of) our best efforts to secularize our political and legal theories. Being the blind spot of these attempts, the concept of sovereignty necessarily brings a whiff of incense from another world.

These theoretical expositions are followed by a series of ambitious attempts to analyse the meaning and function of the concept of sovereignty within different national constitutional traditions, as well as from the point of view of European institutions. Jacques Ziller describes how and why the idea that it might be possible to divide and share sovereignty has been so hard to reconcile with the French constitutional tradition, torn between conceptions of national and popular sovereignty both of which are premised on its indivisibility. This has posed an obstacle to the French understanding of European integration. But for better or worse, Le mal de Bodin or the fetishism of indivisibility has been highly contagious throughout the centuries and in different countries. As indicated by Miriam Aziz and Marta Cartabia respectively, the problem of sovereignty is very much alive even in those countries – Italy and Germany – where it appears to have been a relative latecomer. Kenneth Armstrong describes how the British constitutional tradition and its location of sovereignty in Parliament increasingly is challenged, and tries to reconcile the claims of common law constitutionalists and pluralists in order to accommodate internal devolution as well as emergence of new sites of political authority outside the British state. Bruno de Witte offers valuable insights from the Dutch and Belgian contexts, where the fetishism of indivisibility has long since been replaced by the kind of constitutional pluralism and pragmatism that seems so desirable, yet has proven so hard to attain in other contexts.

When seen from a European perspective, the constitutional plurality represented by the existence of distinct and relatively continuous national traditions represents both the motivating force behind legal integration as well as its primary obstacle. There seems to be a vanishing point beyond which efforts to reconcile these different traditions is likely to become caught in a pragmatic paradox. As Jo Shaw argues in the case of electoral rights and the question of boundaries in the European Union, this again boils down to what has been a recurrent theme throughout this volume, namely the problem of how to construct a European demos on the basis of an idea of the EU as a legitimate political order, and conversely.

Almost encyclopaedic in its scope and impressive in its intellectual ambitions, this volume is a landmark achievement. It is likely to become a standard reference for all those interested in the recent debate on the problem of sovereignty. The focus on the concept of sovereignty endows the volume with coherence because of an underlying agreement to disagree about its proper meaning and the limits of its contestability. Consequently, most of the contributions to this volume cannot but confirm the salience of this concept within our political and legal vocabularies.

Yet this leads to another set of difficulties. On the one hand, some of the contributors to this volume understand sovereignty as a condition of possible agency, ultimately being constitutive of both political entities and the larger society of which they form part. From the point of view of conceptual realism, the concept of sovereignty appears indispensable. On the other hand, other authors are more inclined to regard sovereignty as an attribute of individual entities, ultimately being constituted by virtue of their being embedded within a larger legal framework. From this nominalist point of view, the concept of sovereignty appears profoundly problematic.

But how and why have we gotten into this intellectual predicament, in which the concept of sovereignty is both indispensable and problematic? The underlying tension between the realist and nominalist conceptions of sovereignty is turned into a relation of mutual implication in Stéphane Beaulac’s historical analysis of the concept of sovereignty and the myth of Westphalia in the language of international law. Rather than attempting to define the term sovereignty in order to be able to discuss its proper theoretical meaning, Beaulac instead focuses on the constitutive functions of this concept within early-modern legal and political discourse. Starting from the assumption that attempts at definition are futile since language cannot transcend itself, the author goes on to elaborate the philosophical foundations of an inquiry into the function of legal concepts and myths within legal discourse. Drawing on classical hermeneutics and deconstruction, Beaulac then devises an interpretative scheme that purports to make sense of the salience of the concept of sovereignty and the myth of Westphalia in the shaping of the normative structure of the modern society of states. As the author aptly describes the role of such a myth in international life, it ‘triggers reality to become larger than life’ (at 39). Hence, words and myths have the power not only to describe and represent reality, but also to actively create and transform it. To Beaulac, the alleged universalistic and timeless connotations of the concept of sovereignty are dynamically constituted through the changing employment of the very term sovereignty.

In the third part of this book, the author argues that all those ideas and institutions which we have come to associate with Westphalia are nothing but a potent fiction that has no basis in the treaties of Münster and Osnabrück. In these texts, the idea of a territorially-based system of independent states is nowhere to be found. These documents dealt with questions of religious toleration, territorial settlements, and the power to make treaties, but never with the kind of wholesale reconfiguration of the political order which we have been led to believe by so much modern scholarship. In fact, these documents went a long way towards preserving the power and prerogatives of empire in Europe. In the fourth part, Beaulac sets out to explain how this myth has been fabricated by analysing the meaning and function of the concept of sovereignty in the writings of Bodin and Vattel. While the former is credited for his use of the term in order to ‘place the ruler at the apex of a pyramid of authority’ (at 122) so as to justify the necessary exercise of absolute power in the context of the French religious wars, the latter is responsible for having projected this notion of supreme and exclusive authority outwards into the emergent society of states. ‘This objective was carried out with the fiction of the juridical person … that enjoys the exclusive power among other internal authorities, but more significantly among other public authorities outside … to represent and rule the people within and in their relations with foreign states and individuals’ (at 179). Thus, with Le Droit de Gens, the modern international society of states emerges as a normative package with its founding myths included, the latter making it possible for ‘international society to explain its genesis to itself’ (at 186).

With this diagnosis, Beaulac has provided some important clues as to why the concept of sovereignty today seems both indispensable and profoundly problematic. It is indispensable by virtue of being a constitutive element of the modern political order, yet whenever we try to decipher that very order by means of this concept, our attempts to gain understanding are short-circuited due to the very same circularity of language that made the linguistic constitution of that order possible in the first place.

Although the scope and ambition of this book are admirable, there is a tendency towards ‘theoretical overkill’ resulting from the author’s eagerness to incorporate as many insights from the philosophy of language as possible. Nonetheless, while some of his points about Westphalia and Bodin have been noted elsewhere, this book fruitfully explores the connections between different concepts of sovereignty and the myth of Westphalia.8 This makes it a significant contribution to our understanding of the formative phases of international society, as well as of the enigmatic spell that the concept of sovereignty continues to have over our political imagination.

So what world do we live in, and what kind of entities make up this world? The books under review here convey above all the impression of a world in constant flux. The volumes edited by Ilgen and Walker both describe the transition from a world of sovereign states to a world in which sovereignty has been relocated to different levels above as well as below that of the state. But while the contributors to the former volume use the concept of sovereignty in order to describe some aspects of this transition, the contributors to the latter focus on the implications of this transition for the concept of sovereignty and its applicability when justifying the possible outcomes of this change. To Beaulac, all of this is possible only thanks to the prior constitution of sovereignty as the basic organizing principle in an international society of states. The concept of sovereignty thus contains the seeds of its own essential contestability.

This common focus on questions of becoming makes questions of being intrinsically hard to formulate. But while Beaulac and Ilgen are content to describe the coming into being and passing away of the Westphalian world, the Walker volume can be read as a juridico-political bestiarium, covering a wide range of constitutional alternatives to those prevailing in that world. This volume could also be read symptomatically to indicate what seems to be the main source of confusion today. Not only do we live in a world in which the territorial differentiation into distinct nation-states is being challenged by a functional differentiation into distinct issue areas, but we also live in a world in which the sovereign equality of states no longer constitutes the baseline for further stratification according to relative wealth and power. In this world, there are several normative frameworks competing for both legality and legitimacy when it comes to justifying political practices, such as intervention.

The traditional statist framework of international law has been challenged, first by ideas of universal human rights and corollary pleas for cosmopolitan democracy, and then by emergent claims to imperial sovereignty made by the United States and its allies.9 In the absence of an accepted normative meta-vocabulary, these latter challenges are notoriously hard to separate from each other, so that each attempt to argue with reference to the possibility of a genuine world community is likely to be interpreted as nothing but another expression of imperial ambition. I take the articulation of such a meta-vocabulary to be the chief task of political and legal theory in the years to come, so that the alternatives to the world of states can be gradually evaluated on their own merits.


  • 1 H. Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (1994); J. Bartelson, A Genealogy of Sovereignty (1995).

  • 2 C. Reus-Smit, The Moral Purpose of the State. Culture, Social Identity, and Institutional Rationality in International Relations (1999); D. Philpott, Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations (2001).

  • 3 For different versions of this argument, see, e.g., Gill, ‘Reflections on Global Order and Sociohistorical Time’, 16 Alternatives (1991) 275; Luke, ‘Discourses of Disintegration, Texts of Transformation: Re-Reading Realism in the New World Order’, 18 Alternatives (1993) 229; Cerny, ‘Globalization and the Changing Logic of Collective Action’, 49 International Organization (1995) 595; Clark, ‘Beyond the Great Divide: Globalization and the Theory of International Relations’, 24 Review of International Studies (1998) at 479; Agnew, ‘Mapping Political Power beyond the State Boundaries: Territory, Identity, and Movement in World Politics’, 28 Millenium (1999) 499.

  • 4 S.D. Krasner, Sovereignty. Organized Hypocrisy (1999); Werner and de Wilde, ‘The Endurance of Sovereignty’, 7 European Journal of International Relations (2001) 283.

  • 5 The tension between these views has been explored by I. Hacking, Historical Ontology (2002).

  • 6 See, e.g., D. Held, Democracy and the Global Order. From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance (1995); Held, ‘Democracy and Globalization’, in D. Archibugi, D. Held and M. Köhler (eds), Re-Imagining Political Community (1998) 11; Held, ‘Cosmopolitanism: Globalization Tamed?’, 29 Review of International Studies (2003) 465; Archibugi, ‘Cosmopolitan Democracy and Its Critics: A Review’, 10 European Journal of International Relations (2004) 437; Held, ‘Principles of Cosmopolitan Order’, in G. Brock and H. Brighouse (eds), The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (2005) 10.

  • 7 See, e.g., B. Honig, Democracy and the Foreigner (2001), at 1–40.

  • 8 See, e.g., Osiander, ‘Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth’, 55 International Organization (2001) 251; Franklin, ‘Sovereignty and the Mixed Constitution: Bodin and his Critics’, in J. H. Burns and M. Goldie (eds), The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450–1700 (1991) 298; C. Fasolt, The Limits of History (2003).

  • 9 See Cohen, ‘Whose Sovereignty? Empire versus International Law’, 18 Ethics and International Affairs (2004) 1.



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“State Sovereignty Must Be Altered in a Globalized Era”


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cfr-shadow-governemnt“In the age of globalization, states should give up some sovereignty to world bodies in order to protect their own interests”

Globalization of government means giving up sovereignty and transferring it to an international authority.  In 2006, Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote the article below titled, State Sovereignty Must Be Altered in a Globalized Era.

richard-haassFor 350 years, sovereignty — the notion that states are the central actors on the world stage and that governments are essentially free to do what they want within their own territory but not within the territory of other states — has provided the organizing principle of international relations. The time has come to rethink this notion.

The world’s 190-plus states now co-exist with a larger number of powerful non-sovereign and at least partly (and often largely) independent actors, ranging from corporations to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), from terrorist groups to drug cartels, from regional and global institutions to banks and private equity funds. The sovereign state is influenced by them (for better and for worse) as much as it is able to influence them. The near monopoly of power once enjoyed by sovereign entities is being eroded.

highest court is the general assemblyAs a result, new mechanisms are needed for regional and global governance that include actors other than states. This is not to argue that Microsoft, Amnesty International, or Goldman Sachs be given seats in the UN General Assembly, but it does mean including representatives of such organizations in regional and global deliberations when they have the capacity to affect whether and how regional and global challenges are met.

Less is more

Moreover, states must be prepared to cede some sovereignty to world bodies if the international system is to function. This is already taking place in the trade realm. Governments agree to accept the rulings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) because on balance they benefit from an international trading order even if a particular decision requires that they alter a practice that is their sovereign right to carry out.

World Trade Organization (WTO)Some governments are prepared to give up elements of sovereignty to address the threat of global climate change. Under one such arrangement, the Kyoto Protocol, which ran through 2012, signatories agree to cap specific emissions. What is needed now is a successor arrangement in which a larger number of governments, including the US, China, and India, accept emissions limits or adopt common standards because they recognize that they would be worse off if no country did.

All of this suggests that sovereignty must be redefined if states are to cope with globalization. At its core, globalization entails the increasing volume, velocity, and importance of flows — within and across borders — of people, ideas, greenhouse gases, goods, dollars, drugs, viruses, e-mails, weapons and a good deal else, challenging one of sovereignty’s fundamental principles: the ability to control what crosses borders in either direction. Sovereign states increasingly measure their vulnerability not to one another, but to forces beyond their control.

Globalization thus implies that sovereignty is not only becoming weaker in reality, but that it needs to become weaker. States would be wise to weaken sovereignty in order to protect themselves, because they cannot insulate themselves from what goes on elsewhere. Sovereignty is no longer a sanctuary.

SOVEREIGN SANCTUARYThis was demonstrated by the American and world reaction to terrorism. Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which provided access and support to al-Qaeda, was removed from power. Similarly, the US’ preventive war against an Iraq that ignored the UN and was thought to possess weapons of mass destruction showed that sovereignty no longer provides absolute protection.

Imagine how the world would react if some government were known to be planning to use or transfer a nuclear device or had already done so. Many would argue — correctly — that sovereignty provides no protection for that state.

Necessity may also lead to reducing or even eliminating sovereignty when a government, whether from a lack of capacity or conscious policy, is unable to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. This reflects not simply scruples, but a view that state failure and genocide can lead to destabilizing refugee flows and create openings for terrorists to take root.

The NATO intervention in Kosovo was an example where a number of governments chose to violate the sovereignty of another government (Serbia) to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide. By contrast, the mass killing in Rwanda a decade ago and now in Darfur, Sudan, demonstrate the high price of judging sovereignty to be supreme and thus doing little to prevent the slaughter of innocents.

Conditions needed

Our notion of sovereignty must therefore be conditional, even contractual, rather than absolute. If a state fails to live up to its side of the bargain by sponsoring terrorism, either transferring or using weapons of mass destruction, or conducting genocide, then it forfeits the normal benefits of sovereignty and opens itself up to attack, removal or occupation.

The diplomatic challenge for this era is to gain widespread support for principles of state conduct and a procedure for determining remedies when these principles are violated.

GlobalizationThe goal should be to redefine sovereignty for the era of globalization, to find a balance between a world of fully sovereign states and an international system of either world government or anarchy.

The basic idea of sovereignty, which still provides a useful constraint on violence between states, needs to be preserved. But the concept needs to be adapted to a world in which the main challenges to order come from what global forces do to states and what governments do to their citizens rather than from what states do to one another.

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Opportunity: America’s Moment to Alter History’s Course’

He also wrote another article titled, The Age of Nonpolarity.




Richard N. Haass

Richard N. Haass – Council on Foreign Relations

member states

sovereign states around the world

criteria for inclusion

State sovereignty – Taipei …

Sovereignty and globalisation – Council on Foreign Relations

Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves …

‘The Opportunity': Real World Order – New York Times

The Third Way – Centre for Civil Society

CFR Pushing To End State Sovereignty At Climate Summit

Chinese Perspectives on Globalization and Autonomy

Encyclopedia of Global Studies – Page 1412

What Next?: Surviving the Twenty-first Century

global warming hoax | Uncensored Magazine

Richard Haass quote – Conspiracy Archive

World Politics: Trend and Transformation, 2014 – 2015

Agreements Ceding Sovereignty to World

The UN’s ‘New and Improved’ (Privatized) Sovietized Politburo

Rethinking Sovereignty

A State’s Sovereign Rights and Obligations in the WTO

Richard N Haass Obama

CFR president Richard Haass | Interviews | Tavis Smiley | PBS

NATO & Kosovo: Historical Overview


The Sovereignty of Non-Sovereign States


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States4The concept of Sovereignty is a foundation of global politics. The countries that constitute the international system are supposedly defined by their ability to exercise supreme political authority over their entire territorial domains. But sovereignty in practice is often qualified, its limits varying as the context changes. This is particularly true in the United States.

The problem of sovereignty in the U.S. dates back to the foundational debates over whether the new country would be a confederation of independent states or a single federal state. The ratification of the constitution established union, but the degree of national sovereignty remained contested through the early decades of the 1800s. People still spoke of the country in the plural (“the United States are …”), and the federal government remained miniscule, hardly a state at all to many European visitors. It was the Supreme Court’s 1819 decision in McCulloch v. Maryland that first clearly limited the authority of state governments while granting constitutionally implied powers to Congress. South Carolina’s failure to nullify the federal tariff in 1832 further cemented federal authority, and the defeat of the Confederate States in the Civil War seemingly settled the matter for good.

McCulloch v MarylandYet the notion of state-level sovereignty never completely died, and today it is being revived. Nullification is again in their air as several state legislatures try to exempt their residents from the recent health-care bill. The concept of sovereignty is apparently in play, as voices call for the states to wrestle authority away from the federal government. According to the conservative website Right Side News, the State Sovereignty Movement continues to sweep the nation with well over three-quarters of the fifty states taking action, through their respective state legislatures, re-establishing their ‘sovereignty.’ Wyoming is the newest constitutionally sovereign state, after a bill was signed into law there on March 8, 2010. According to the Tenth Amendment Center, similar bills have been signed by governors in three other states, and have passed both branches of the legislature in an additional seven (see map).

Governor Dave Freudenthal

Wyoming Governor Signs Sovereignty Resolution.

What the Wyoming legislature has claimed, however, is obviously not true “sovereignty” as the word is generally defined. The leaders of the sovereignty movement do not want states to be governed without federal interference of any kind, much less to chart their own foreign policies. What they are seeking is rather extensive autonomy. Their justification stems from a strict reading of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to the constituent states all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government. And it is unlikely that Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming wants even this limited form of sovereignty; a literal interpretation of the Tenth Amendment would shrivel the U.S. government to a fraction of its current size. Freudenthal, like many other proponents of “State sovereignty,” is likely more interested in making a symbolic statement in favor of states’ rights and against the further expansion of federal power.

The term sovereignty has several meanings. It primarily denotes the authority at the top level of the geopolitical hierarchy: the territorial unit that accepts no higher power. But it can also refer to the powers vested in the highest-order spatial subdivisions of those units, which by definition accept a subordinate political status. This same slippage is evident in the term “state.” A state in standard political discourse is the entity that holds sovereignty: the governmental apparatus that exercises ultimate power. But in the U.S. and a few other countries, states are also the highest order spatial divisions of the state.

The origin of such conceptual imprecision dates to the formation of the United States, when the leaders of the breakaway colonies disagreed about whether they should form a federation or a confederation. In the end a federal government was formed, but vestiges of the Confederate age were deliberately retained, remaining fixed in our language and ever ready to be deployed in the perennial tussle between Washington and the states.

The fifty United States, however, are not the only units in this country that claim sovereignty. The same is true of most Native American groups (see

* I understand that interest groups on the right as well as the left periodically push for a smaller or bigger role for feds vs states as it suits their immediate interests. But I think the best lenses for viewing these matters are the jurisprudential debates over the particular powers the Constitution grants the federal government, especially the Commerce Clause.




The United States is a federation of 50 states, 1 federal district, and the incorporated territory of Palmyra Atoll. The United States has sovereignty over the following inhabited possessions and commonwealths:

It also has sovereignty over several uninhabited territories:

Three sovereign states have become associated states of the United States under the Compact of Free Association:

It also disputes sovereignty over the following territories:

Sovereign states

criteria for inclusion


States’ rights

Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

McCulloch v. Maryland – PBS

Sovereignty | Beyond Intractability

The Concept of Sovereignty Revisited



The Issue of Sovereignty | Globalization101

Wyoming Governor Signs Sovereignty Resolution | Tenth …

Article I, Section 8, Clause 3: Commerce with the Indian Tribes

Commerce Clause

The Federal Power to Regulate Commerce

Federalism, State Sovereignty, and the Constitution: Basis …

Commerce Clause Abuse

Supreme Court Reaffirms State Sovereignty : Publications …

State Sovereignty and the Interstate Commerce Clause

The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future


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northamerica The Left’s Progress for a North American Union

The North American Idea is one man’s version of the “European Idea,” also known as the European Union – the result of multi-national social, economic and political integration of a disparate people. The authors of the recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Task Force Report: ‘North America: Time for a New Focus,’ point to the last serious effort “to deepen North American ties,” which occurred during the George W. Bush administration with the formation of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP).

NAFTA Task Force

Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Canada’s PM Stephen Harper (R) and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, February 2014

Time for a New Focus is an attempt to resuscitate this globalist vision well in advance of the 2016 presidential election in the apparent hope of influencing the victor to pick up the gauntlet and undertake the challenge anew. Quite fittingly, this comprehensive task force report is dedicated to the memory of its key member, “Robert Pastor, a visionary champion of the North American idea.”

Mr. Pastor, was arguably the chief architect and proponent of a North American Union, or a North American Community, as he preferred to call it. Pastor was a university professor, latterly at American University in Washington, DC, a Latin America policy specialist who served in the Carter White House at the National Security Council, where his legacy, to the chagrin of conservatives in the 1970s, was ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties. His more lasting legacy, however, may be yet to come – that of a North American Union – a gradual process that doesn’t happen overnight but one that takes decades. In fact, while this process is already underway, its resolution has stretched well into the 21st Century. While the process has stalled somewhat, it has lasted over decades already. Time for a New Focus provides the reinvigorated road map to achieving Pastor’s vision.

A look back

PastorConsequently, Robert Pastor’s  book remains an eye-opening culmination of a life’s work that is well worth reading. In the book, Pastor describes his vision and reveals how far the U.S., Mexico and Canada have integrated since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed in 1992. Pastor blames America for many of Mexico’s and Canada’s problems. He recommends impossible, utopian solutions for further integration that come directly from a left-wing agenda, instructing citizens of all three countries to self-identify as “North Americans.”

NAFTA eliminated tariffs among the three countries. But there has not been significant progress on further integration since its passage due to several factors. Primarily, as a result of 9-11, security measures were greatly enhanced at America’s borders beginning in 2001 and actually served to derail President George W. Bush’s plans for closer ties with Mexico. Secondly, Americans went on a “buy American” campaign when the 2008 recession began at the close of Bush administration. Finally, not all partner countries are eager to move forward. Canada has been even more resistant than the U.S. to integration with Mexico.

The author points out numerous examples of Canadian lack of interest and cooperation, but reserves his wrath primarily for the U.S., faulting America for not only the lack of progress on integration but for causing illegal immigration, the drug cartels, and Mexico’s economic woes. This question is typical of his rhetoric throughout the book, “Is the United States also a part – perhaps even a substantial cause – of these problems?” He takes the side of Mexico and Canada, observing that they see the U.S. as “arrogant, coercive or disinterested.”

The sovereignty zealots

Pastor opens the book rather angrily, taking potshots at critics who have disagreed with his vision. He derisively refers to those who oppose his radical vision as “sovereignty zealots.”

He repeats over and over again, in many different ways until it becomes tiresome, that the three nations could lower their costs by merging everything from border security to manufacturing to how they react to continental-side crises. He laments that the costs to trade imposed by increased border security have negated the savings from removing tariffs among the countries.

While this may be true, it naively overlooks the problems that would arise in return. The Mexican drug cartels, illegal immigration and terrorism had made it extremely difficult to open the borders among the three countries. Pastor derides the U.S. for creating the Department of Homeland Security after 9-11, but then casually mentions that Canada and Mexico followed suit and created their own counterparts to DHS.

The Mexican government has been corrupt since its inception in 1821, only improving very slightly with the last two presidents – as Pastor admits in his book – the 2012 election of Enrique Pena Nieto notwithstanding. Mexico City gives PEMEX, the Mexican oil company, a monopoly on energy production and distribution, yet takes so much of its profits that PEMEX cannot explore for new oil fields, and existing sources will dry up by 2015 – that hasn’t happened yet. Years of drug cartels running rampant has transformed the country into a much more complicated project to fix than simply loosening up the borders and undermining U.S. sovereignty with a new government that serves the interests of the Mexican government, as much as it does U.S. interests.

Pastor offers no suggestions for overcoming objections within each country’s governments. Canada has “rejected virtually every North American initiative.” Even Mexico’s support for further integration ebbs and flows. Conservatives in the three nations aren’t the only ones who oppose integration; some of the loudest objections have come from the far left and the unions. Pastor admits, “there are more divided views within and among the three countries on the issues of immigration, currency, foreign policy, banking and culture,” suggesting strong push back to the essential elements that would be required for full continental integration in order to achieve a North American Union.

NAFTA sell tradeFurther, Pastor resents the U.S. for increasing its trade with China, asserting that America should be expanding trade with Mexico instead. His theory is that if the U.S. can improve Mexico, so Mexicans want to stay in their own country, it will reduce illegal immigration and the drug cartels. He naively thinks that the U.S. – which is already heavily leveraged with debt – can afford to take a huge hit financially by trading more heavily with Mexico instead of China, and by providing Mexico with cash assistance, known as a “cohesion fund.” He wants the U.S. to contribute $8 billion per year to build this North American Community.

Pastor has harsh words for his country for unilaterally increasing border security, because the increased backup at the border hurt the economies of Mexico and Canada. Yet, he lightly dismisses similar actions by Canada. In 2009, Canada imposed a VISA upon Mexicans entering the country, in order to decrease the numbers applying for asylum.

He writes like a typical ivory tower college professor, using grandiose language and proposing vague solutions. He asserts that the word “sovereignty” has many meanings and its definition has changed over time, in order to reduce the impact of the argument that integration would destroy sovereignty. He exaggerates and cherrypicks statistics and surveys to bolster his arguments. One such survey out of Canada found that a whopping 45 percent of U.S. citizens want a common market or economic union like Europe. If this was even close to accurate, there wouldn’t be both Republicans and Democrats opposing further integration. Yet, Pastor insists it’s just a tiny minority of “sovereignty zealots” who are able to stop progress of his vision. To the contrary, even the Democrats have turned against NAFTA and its expansion. In 2008, Obama and Hillary ran presidential campaigns that opposed NAFTA.

His naivete is incredible sometimes. He complains that half of the American employees in the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver are law enforcement. Apparently, the fact that U.S. embassies are frequent targets of terrorists, and that terrorists have sought to use Canada to enter the U.S., should be of no concern.

Oddly, Pastor provides plenty of evidence against his own North American vision – which he then ignores. He admits that NAFTA shrank manufacturing jobs in the U.S. from over 17 million to 11.6 million, and that it “contributed to widening income disparities.” After 9-11, things got even worse under NAFTA. Illegal immigration increased, because most of the jobs Mexico created were in the Maquiladoras near the border. Workers from southern Mexico stayed long enough to figure out how to work in a foreign factory, then conveniently crossed the border. The drug cartels “grew and became more dangerous.” Contrary to his portrayal of the U.S. as a greedy nation that mistreats Mexicans, he cites a study which found that Mexicans trust Americans more than the people of any other country or even themselves. Another study, by the Pew Center, found that 95 percent of Mexicans who applied for an ID (matricula) already had jobs when they left Mexico, clear evidence they’re not leaving Mexico to find jobs.

Occasionally, Pastor gets it right. He acknowledges that guest worker programs do not benefit the home county; “remittances should be viewed as transnational welfare payments for dependent families.” He believes that Americans should be permitted to cross the border to obtain cheaper medical care and medications in Mexico and Canada.

CFR and the ‘Security and Prosperity Partnership’ Redux

The last high point for North American integration efforts came in 2005, when the three nations’ leaders met at a summit in Waco, Texas, and formed the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). It came on the heels of an earlier Council of Foreign Relations task force report that Pastor was also involved with, called Building a North American Community. The SPP brought about a backlash from conservatives, who started introducing legislation denouncing a North American Union and a NAFTA Superhighway.

President George W. Bush met with the leaders of Mexico and Canada more times than any other U.S. president, but Pastor notes he got little accomplished. Pastor believes that Bush wanted good relations with Mexico, but didn’t really understand or care about implementing the details.

Pastor emphasizes that his vision is not for a North American Union that would resemble the merged economies of the European Union; he foresees a looser-knit confederation that he refers to as a “North American Community.” However, original proponents were pushing for a full union. They were forced to back away from that due to the political backlash. At best, he is playing a game of semantics; at worst, he is being duplicitous, because out of the other side of his mouth, he says in his book that integration “should be more than a free trade area or simple partnership.” It should be remembered that the EU began somewhat modestly as the European Coal and Steel Community from 1945 to 1957 before it grew into today’s European Union.

The most redeeming part of Pastor’s book is the history he provides of the three nations. His experience working with and visiting Mexico enables him to explain how it got to its condition today, providing revealing anecdotes about the clashes between the natives and the Europeans. While the Spanish and Portuguese came as violent conquerors to Mexico and South America, the British came to Virginia and Massachusetts in the 1600s as settlers. This explains Mexico’s rougher beginnings. America was named accidentally after the wrong conqueror, and it wasn’t even its original name, “Turtle Island” which the natives called it. Canada didn’t fully sever its ties with England until 1967, when it finally adopted its own national flag. Canada was originally settled by British loyalists who disagreed with the American Revolution. Consequently, author Martin Lipset writes that Canadians seek “peace, order and good government.” They are “more class-aware, elitist, law-abiding, statist and … group oriented” than are the Americans.

Today, more than 18,000 U.S. companies have operations in Mexico. While Mexico has a serious crime problem due to the U.S. supported cartels – there were more drug-related murders in Mexico than casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2009 – it isn’t even close to as high as the homicide rates in El Salvador and Honduras. Mexico’s homicide rate is 14 per 100,000, paltry compared to 71 and 67 per 100,000 in El Salvador and Honduras, respectively.

Mexico employs around 900,000 criminally active gang members in over 2,500 U.S. cities and towns. Yet, Pastor complains that Mexico was insulted when the U.S. built up the border fence in recent years. The Federal Highway Administration reports that one-third of the major roads in the U.S. are in substandard condition, which was a “significant factor” in 43,000 traffic fatalities each year. Clearly, the U.S. doesn’t have enough money to fix its own roads, much less fund a NAFTA Superhighway envisioned by Pastor.

The last half of the book is dry; full of pontificating and utopian rhetoric. There are so many supranational organizations mentioned or proposed, such as the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a reader’s eyes will start to glaze over.

Pastor’s vision for the U.S. is scary. He says America in the 21st Century “needs to demonstrate that it is ready to follow, not just lead.” Today, that has a familiar ring to it and, in a blatant case of massive wealth transfer, he wants the U.S. to turn over large amounts of money to Mexico to solve its problems – money the U.S. doesn’t have – to solve problems caused primarily by Mexico and U.S. involvement. Pastor’s vision is an untenable, unaffordable, utopian vision that will never work and will ultimately destroy U.S. sovereignty.

Unfortunately, thanks to CFR’s independent task force report 71 rolled out on October 1, 2014, North American integration is poised to make another run at our sovereignty; this time in memoriam.





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Continue reading

False Consciousness, False Government?


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a-war-is-peace“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”
— Thomas Pynchon,Gravity’s Rainbow

There exists a widespread and mostly true perception that politics in America has become a relentlessly negative exercise in demonizing and defaming not only one’s specific political opponent, but also any group, straw man, or bugaboo that campaign pollsters say it is profitable to attack. That, however, is not the sum of the political art as practiced by elected officials. One must also have a positive archetype to extol: a repository of virtue so far beyond reproach as to immediately engage the sentimental reflexes of the politician’s audience.

The Congressional Record fairly groans with paeans to “our men and women in uniform.” The soldier is and likely will remain the chief recipient of the hack politician’s hosanna. But running a strong second is the American small business person. Republicans, particularly, repeatedly invoke small business entrepreneurialism as a rote justification for as-close-to-zero-as-possible income tax rates on millionaires, a corporate income tax rate of zero, zero inheritance taxes, zero capital gains taxes, and zero taxes on dividends.

debtThe identification was clear: the fiscal and economic nostrums of Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, and the rest of the Chicago Gang are what is best for the average hardware store owner in Remsen Corners, Ohio. If the United States, in a fit of insanity, were to adopt the policies of effete, socialized Old Europe, the small business operator, the backbone of job creation, would sink under an intolerable burden of taxes and regulation. Or so the conventional wisdom.

Barry C. Lynn of the New America Foundation wrote an interesting refutation of that widely held notion. [1] He asserts that the last 30 years’ of so-called free market doctrine have not aided, but rather retarded the cause of small business. Intriguingly, he cites, but does not expand upon, the following finding: “One recent study, based on data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), placed the United States second to last out of 22 rich nations in the percentage of workers who run their own businesses. Only Luxembourg ranked lower.”

It is an almost universal popular assumption in the United States that this country is much more entrepreneurial and individualistic than the purportedly lazy, pension-sponging socialists of Old Europe. Yet U.S. small business development is at the bottom of the heap of the OECD countries. Once again, our flattering self image is so wildly at variance with reality it verges on schizophrenia.

This schizophrenia is evident in how it works its way through our political practices: the very politicians who endlessly invoke small business are generally the same people who invoke the culture war when extolling small town or exurban America — a presumed venue of small business activity — as the sole repository of genuine, healthy American values, à la Sarah Palin. Yet these same elected officials will vote in Pavlovian fashion to uphold trade and other economic policies that have resulted in the destruction of independent business and a resultant hollowing-out of small town America in favor of the Wal-Martization of the countryside. Likewise their opposition to reforming the intolerable economic burden on business of healthcare, which consumes 16 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product — a percentage certain to rise inexorably if not fundamentally reformed.

Consider the overall thrust of “free market tax policy.” It is difficult to argue that the two rounds of Bush tax cuts did anything for small business or for anyone else other than Wall Street and plutocratic rentiers: for the record, the first decade of the twenty-first century was the worst decade for the economy, for job creation, and for median real income growth, since modern record-keeping began.


Lynn argues that a key inflection point in government policy towards small business came in 1981, when the Reagan administration essentially stopped enforcing anti-monopoly and small business-protection statutes. That administration’s hitherto unprecedented accretion of peacetime debt and the deregulation of savings and loan institutions are frequently cited in many commentators’ bills of indictment, but the gutting of anti-monopoly law is usually overlooked. It is also overlooked by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the self-proclaimed “voice” of small business which boasts 350,000 members, and whose policy positions generally make the U.S. Chamber of Commerce look like the Petrograd Soviet.

No doubt the political views of the average small business person are less “conservative” than those of the NFIB’s board, but the fact remains that small business entrepreneurs do tend to have more pronounced “free market” views than the average wage slave, and they vote accordingly. And, in any case, their “voice” in Washington is by default the NFIB: it is reckoned by the elected officials whom they lobby as one of the more effective pressure groups in Washington politics, along with the NRA and AIPAC. [2]

All the previous data leave us with a psychological problem: how can so many people be so ignorant of facts that they carry locked-in stereotypes which simply do not comport with the real situation: that small business creation in the United States is lagging relative to other industrialized countries? How is it that people fail to perceive the relative success or failure of policies that directly and deeply affect their economic interests? How is it that people may advocate for policies that are contrary to their own interests, or at least passively allow others to advocate those positions for them?

One does not have to believe in utopian Marxist claptrap to suspect that in coining the term “False Consciousness,” Marx, or more likely Engels, scored a bull’s eye. Why do people believe the things they do, even when their cherished ideas may be contrary to their own material interests?

In the United States, possible answers lie readily at hand for those who would look:

• American Exceptionalism: most advanced industrial counties, at least since the Second World War, no longer have an overarching system of socializing their young in a mystical national creed. They do not have a social belief system that says, subliminally, “my country is ipso facto and by the laws of God and Nature the best in the world. Accordingly, if other countries appear to have an advantage in some industrial technique, governmental policy, or social custom, I shall not study what they are doing with a view to improving my own country’s position. No, I shall rearrange the facts to fit my preconception that America is the chosen nation.”

• American anti-intellectualism: the United States periodically undergoes bouts of anti-intellectual sentiment, as Richard Hofstadter documented in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Facts are stubborn things, and so often they puncture fond illusions. Best to ignore them, and stick with folk wisdom, or the “gut.” This sort of behavior reached an apotheosis during the Bush administration, where militarily invading countries based on gut instinct, rather than ascertainable facts, was elevated to the level of a national security strategy.

• Evangelical religiosity: if things will all be set right in heaven, why bother about the stubborn inequities of this vale of tears? Especially when the Apocalypse looms. If a poll by the Pew Forum is to be believed, [3] 68 percent of U.S. respondents believe in angels and demons. Such a cross section is not likely to have a sharp appreciation of the principle of Cause and Effect.

whatskansas1In his book What’s the Matter with Kansas?Thomas Frank pondered why so many American voters voted contrary to their own economic interests, and he did not give an entirely satisfactory answer. Perhaps the reason why Americans think the United States is an entrepreneurial paradise, when it is in reality dead last among the advanced countries save for Luxembourg, is to be found in the annals of psychopathology.

Or maybe the mindset of many small business persons — and more broadly, Americans generally — can best be summed up by literary, rather than scientific, insight.

George Orwell noted the political implications of persistent delusional thinking by his countrymen at the time. In Coming Up for Air, the fictional protagonist, George Bowling, a technical member of the English middle class who thinks like the proletarian of his origins, muses about his suburban London housing development:

Merely because of the illusion that we own our houses and have what’s called “a stake in the country,” we poor saps in the Hesperides [the housing development where he lived], and all such places, are turned into Crum’s [the developer and mortgage holder’s] devoted slaves for ever. We’re all respectable householders — that’s to say Tories, yes-men, and bumsuckers. Don’t kill the goose that lays the gilded eggs! And the fact that actually we aren’t householders, that we’re all in the middle of paying for our houses and eaten up with the ghastly fear that something might happen before we’ve made the last payment, merely increases the effect. . . . [yet] every one of those poor suckers would die on the field of battle to save his country from Bolsheviks.



[1] “American small businesses needn’t go extinct,” Barry C. Lynn, Washington Post, February 21, 2010.

[2] “Outside the Big Box,” Nicole D. Kazee, Michael Lipsky, and Cathie Jo Martin, Boston Review, July/August 2008.

[3] “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Summary of Key Findings,” [.pdf] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, (Undated, 2007?).




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Journal: False Consciousness

Deconstructing Social Darwinism, Part IV – ScienceBlogs

How the New Monopoly Capitalism Will Crush You

Barry C. Lynn » End of the Line

What Is A Defective Conscience?

Nostalgia in George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air

Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America …

Educational Psychology Interactive: Social Cognition

Argument from Conscience by Peter Kreeft

Wisdom From a Psychopath?


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psychopathyThe word psychopath conjures images of skulking figures and dark alleys.  The media equate psychopaths with infamous serial killers like Ted Bundy and Robert Pickton.

But psychopaths and psychopathy are much more complex. In 1980, Robert Hare, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, published the most widely used measure of psychopathy to date, the ‘Psychopathy Checklist ‘(PCL), including symptoms like callousness, parasitic existence, and criminal versatility. With later studies finding the prevalence of psychopathy to range between 1 and 2 percent in the general population, it is hard not to feel a twinge of fear.

Are psychopaths really the hollow killers the media make them out to be? Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford and author of the controversial book, ‘The Wisdom of Psychopaths,’ doesn’t think so. Dutton argues that not only are the majority of psychopaths far from monsters, but that psychopathy itself is a potentially useful trait that we can benefit from.

 Evolutionary psychologists have conducted studies that suggest the existence of psychopathy as a fundamental part of human development, predating homo sapiens.

Dutton claims that when it comes to getting ahead, from a financial or social perspective, psychopaths often come out on top.  He points out that the majority of psychopaths are, in fact, affluent members of the community.  The all-important distinction, in his view, lies in how high their “psychopathy dial” is turned.

Dutton’s research has yielded eight aspects of psychopathy, seven of which are seen as potentially beneficial for everyday life, and one that is harmful.

The harmful characteristic consists of symptoms typically associated with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), like difficulties with impulse control and irresponsibility. In Dutton’s view, when these traits are present, psychopaths often turn their minds to crime and violence, seeking immediate gratification of lust, greed, and vanity. Since psychopaths lack morality, the only check on their disregard for rules is conscientiousness and the ability to plan long-term. This ability helps them predict negative consequences like getting caught and being punished, and reins in their wilder, more criminal tendencies.

Antisocial personalityWhile the impulsivity of psychopaths is unlikely to benefit most people, Dutton argues that the other seven traits may. These characteristics vary in intensity among individuals.

The first two of the seven traits are persuasiveness and a self-serving attitude. These traits make up the core image of the smooth-talking, egocentric individual who has no trouble lying to get ahead. For most, the wish to lie is thwarted by conscience, but psychopaths have developed two complementary traits to aid their machinations:  emotional detachment and alienation from others.  These two traits ensure that psychopaths are unable to feel pity or empathy for victims, contributing to their reputation as cold-hearted manipulators that walk over others without remorse. But it is also these traits that contribute to success in business and some professions.

Apart from morality, another characteristic that stops most of us from trying to fly under the legal or moral radar is fear. But two traits that psychopaths exhibit are rebelliousness and fearlessness, making them not only unafraid of getting caught, but actually excited by the prospect of subverting authority.

nixonEven the greatest manipulators are sometimes found out, but even here psychopaths have a trait they benefit from, calmness under pressure, which ensures that if they do get caught, they are able to talk their way out of an otherwise career-ending situation.

So why aren’t these traits seen more widely?

Dutton explains that while certain levels of psychopathy are likely to net gains for an individual, they do nothing for a community.  As humans are largely dependent on social structure for survival, psychopaths essentially pit themselves against the world.  Too many of them in the group, and they outwit themselves into extinction.

And perhaps this is where the real lesson lies.  In a world where unbridled self-interest rules, Dutton’s psychopath may be viewed as effective…at most.  But wise?  This seems like a stretch.

This seems like a stretch.

On a small scale, radical self interest may be enticing.  Imagine being wholly unencumbered by morality, conscience, or altruism. You certainly could go far.

In aggregate though, not only does this prospect seem rather unwise, but it represents a world far more terrifying than that of Ted Bundy or Robert Picton.







Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)

Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy

Study of Psychopaths

Comprehensive Handbook of Psychopathology

The Hare PCL-R Training Program – Robert Hare

Psychopathic –

Handbook of Sociopaths

Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers


Digital death: Log off in peace


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Digital deathFrom email and e-banking to shopping and social media sites, Indians have expanded their online footprint. Now, a small but rising number are planning for their digital death.

A few days after his son Yousmann’s death in a road accident, Kongposh Bazaz began searching for the 19-year-old’s Facebook password. “There was such an outpouring of grief on his wall that I felt the need to ‘speak’ to my son’s friends on his behalf, telling them to be strong,” he says. Fortunately, Yousmann had shared his password with a close friend who gave it to Bazaz. “Like any teenager, he did not share it with his parents,” says the 51-year-old publisher, revealing that while he has memorialized his son’s Facebook page, he would prefer that his own online accounts were closed.

As we build our lives in a virtual world, there’s a growing concern about what happens to our online presence after death. In the West, some people are writing out digital wills, spelling out how their virtual life should be handled post-mortem . In India, too, a small number is taking an interest in their digital afterlife. Sandeep Nerlekar, MD and CEO Terentia Consultants, an estate planning firm that handles both online (through a portal http://www.onlinewill and digital wills, says, “Now, even social networking sites are becoming part of one’s assets.”

Nishant Shah, director, Research, at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet & Society, says that though the trend is nascent, people have started including their digital accounts in their wills. “However, it is evident, that as more and more of our lives get mediated by digital devices, and as we live on the cloud, we are going to have to find legal and personal options of making sure that important data gets transmitted beyond our lives, and stored, archived and managed in responsible ways for those who find value in it.”

But in a country where only a small percentage writes wills for physical assets, it’s not something a lot of people are thinking about proactively. Sudha Sarin, Delhi-based communications specialist, says “It doesn’t get priority, like your financial assets,” she says. At some point, she intends to leave a list of all her online account-ids and passwords in a place where her sons can find them easily. “This will give them access to my friends list so that they can be informed. And, in turn, let people who knew me reach out to them at such a time,” she says. But she will want her family to close her accounts a couple of months after. “I wouldn’t want my accounts to just sit out there. It’s a way of closure,” she says.

Sarin faced these questions of mortality after she lost her sister Geeta to cancer three months ago. She has decided to memorialize Geeta’s Facebook page. Facebook doesn’t allow family members access to data/passowords etc but kin can either delete or “memorialize” the accounts of the deceased. Sarin believes she’s taken a decision her sister would have supported. “Reading her posts and seeing her pictures act like a balm – it’s a catharsis of sorts,” she says.

Evan-CarrollAmerican blogger Evan Carroll, who runs The Digital Beyond which talks about digital afterlife, writes that people need to start planning for what is to be done with their email, online banking and trading, social media , photo-sharing , online billpay and blogs after death. In an email interview with ToI, he suggests a simple conversation with one’s heirs, using online services like SecureSafe that let users store passwords to pass along when they are gone or speaking to one’s lawyer.

Companies have different policies on what to do with accounts of those deceased. Last year, Google introduced a step-by-step process allowing users to plan what they want done with their account, and in some cases they provide the contents of an email account which hasn’t left specific instructions after a “careful review.”

Yahoo and Facebook currently offer the option of closing down a deceased person’s email accounts and social media profiles, though only after receiving verification of death. Arunav Sinha, Senior Director-Corporate Communications, Products and Technology, Yahoo Inc., in Sunnyvale, California says that virtual legacy planning is a personal prerogative. “We can’t hand over any data to anyone, as per the terms of our service. Requests for access have to come through a legal process and with the relevant documentation,” he says.

Facebook allows users to appoint an ‘online executor’ of their profile to decide what happens to it after they die.

Legacy Contact

US-based Facebook has revealed a method to update your page after you die. Users can now name a ‘Legacy Contact’ (shown) to take over their account. The ‘heir’ will not have access to everything but can change key details. For example, your profile can be changed, and they can send a final status

Facebook said that the feature works in the same way as a real-life executor of a will, only for your online profile.

The legacy contact will be able to close down your profile, keep it frozen as a memorial or leave it as it is.

However it risks confusing people who may think that their loved one is still alive if they respond to a friend request.

Caroll says there is no standard way in which online accounts are handled once you’re gone. “People too have varied responses – while some look at it as a place to remember and grieve, others believe it’s strange to continue the online profile.”

Rekha Aggarwal, advocate, Supreme Court, has started suggesting to clients that they keep their online accounts in mind too. “Talking about myself, I’ve already passed on my password to my son in case of any eventuality. I’ve told him to close my accounts because I don’t want to be left hanging in the virtual world.”

But there are many for whom “the sense of digital life beyond death is exciting,” points out Nishant Shah. “I know of people who actually leave a last message to be posted on social media by their friends or family. There are some whose accounts are now transparently run by their partners or families.”

digital-deathMaking a digital will

Take an inventory of your online accounts and plan a way for your heirs to access your ‘memories’ such as photos, movies and emails Give instructions whether you want your page(s) closed or if you’d like someone to answer your friends’ posts on your behalf, maybe for a few months You might even like to incorporate details of your digital assets in your will. Consult your attorney for advice.





What is a legacy contact? | Facebook Help Center | Facebook

Digital death- Feedteck

How to assign a ‘legacy contact’ in Facebook – CNET

The Facebook WILL: ‘Legacy Contact’ can edit your page …

Terentia : Guarding your Legacy

Digital Afterlife: What happens to your online accounts when …

How to Access a Deceased Loved One’s Online Accounts


What Happens To Online Accounts When You Die

Logging Off in Death – LEAP Website

Deadline for Closing of Facebook’s WhatsApp … – FeedTeck

Digital Death and Afterlife Online Services List | The Digital …

Legacy Planning in the Digital Age –

Logging off for life: Testators should plan carefully for the …

Death On Facebook Now Common As ‘Dead Profiles …

Digital wills to let you log off in peace | The Australian

Realizing Memories through the World Wide Web and Virtual Reality


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unexamined lifeIn the fifth century, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The tools we use to examine our lives have changed throughout history but the underlying desire to capture, store, recall, and share our experiences has not.

Tools for memory storage and recall can range from the simple, such as a piece of paper in a scrapbook, to the technologically complex, such as the uploading of digitally recorded memories. Since the earliest days of computing technology, we have sought to use it to extend and supplement our own cognitive abilities, including memory functions.

Humans have recorded memories in various forms throughout the course of history. Oral stories, texts, photographic images, and videos all capture bits and pieces of an experience for later recall and sharing with others. Historically, the durability of the media used to record memories has effected what we can learn from the past. Present day digitization of texts, images, and videos extends the life of memories stored in mediums that would once have fallen prey to physical decay.

However, none of these memory-aiding devices alone can serve to allow us to truly re-live a prior experience. Our memories of an experience can be brilliantly vivid or frustratingly dull, depending on the importance of the event, how focused we were during the original experience, and how often we recall the event in our minds. Our limited attentional capacity only allows us to capture a small fraction of what occurs during any event. Happily, our cognitive inner workings tend to capture that which was most important to us, yet we are often left wondering what else was happening that we might have missed.

The brain is also decidedly plastic and far from perfect, sometimes leaving us with the unsettling feeling of incomplete memories or with substitution errors when we try to recall an experience. It is little wonder then that we are seeking to use computer technologies to allow us to have a total, almost perfect recall of an experience.

The Message of the Pensieve

Pensieve2Utilizing an immersive, synthetic environment as a digital archive for storing, recalling, and sharing individual memories is an idea present in many books of science fiction and fantasy. For example, in the fourth book of the Harry Potter series, Albus Dumbledore’s Pensieve is described as a device that allows one to add “excess thoughts from one’s mind . . . examine them at one’s leisure . . . [and] spot patterns and links . . . [better] when they are in this form.”

Technology is close to realizing the goal of allowing us to completely capture our everyday experiences and share these archived experiences with others. This paper will examine some of the many potential implications for immersive memory recording applications at both the individual and societal levels. Virtual reality and the World Wide Web will be investigated as potential delivery vehicles for current and future immersive memory archives.

Toward an Immersive Platform for Memory Capture and Recall

The first step towards developing memory for an experience is capture. In cognitive science, attention acts as a filter for incoming sensory information and what is attended to may move to working memory. Information in working memory can then be transferred into permanent long term memory storage, where is it encoded into the network of associations that form our collective record of experiences.

Steve MannOne of the most consistent findings in cognitive science is that both attention and working memory capacity are limited in nature, meaning we cannot possibly hope to capture every detail of an experience. Steve Mann is arguably one of the first to use wearable computing technology to extend his experience capturing capability. His experiments have allowed him to develop relatively unobtrusive cameras to aid in capturing firstperson perspective video and audio of an experience.

With the incorporation of wearable computing technology onto his person, Mann views himself as transitioning toward total symbiosis with his computer equipment, becoming a cybernetic organism, or cyborg. Mann’s supplementation of his memory through wearable computers has not only provided him with the ability to re-play any moment in time through his visual and auditory record, he is also able to change how he experiences reality through computer augmentation of his visual ability.

Microsoft has undertaken a research project with the help of Gordon Bell to develop its own tool for continuous capture of everyday moments called the MyLifeBits project. Using MyLifeBits, Bell is able to compile and search through a record of every detail of his life, including photographs of things he sees, audio recordings of conversations, and digital records of every piece of paper that crosses his desk. These details are combined with a record of his daily activities, his browsing patterns on the Internet, and a comprehensive record of everything he has ever read or viewed.

While the MyLifeBits technology does not emphasize wearable computing per se, with the wearable tools consisting of a still-image camera and microphone, it does appear to be destined as one of the first consumer products for experience capture, as well as a more formal experiment in the type of memory-offloading the general public is participating in through the use of digital devices.
Some users are moving forward with currently available technology to develop their own ‘lifelogging’ or ‘glogging’, short for cyborg log, capability.

Wearable webcams or digital cameras mounted on a hat or to glasses is a popular lowcost option for experience capture among these users. Mobile phone cameras can be used to capture video from a first-person perspective on demand if the user does not want to continuously record video or use wearable computing devices.

PanopticonCurrent Web tools allow users to share individually captured experiences with
others, providing a collective record for an event. Social networking sites such as YouTube and flickr demonstrate this kind of collective documentation via
media sharing tools and tagging capabilities. One group on flickr, called the Panopticon, created the group with the sole purpose of documenting images of
surveillance cameras, or in essence documenting those who document. This is a form of sousveillance, or inverse surveillance. Viewing of an event from several perspectives is possible by consolidating the multiple perspectives provided by individuals through photographs on flickr or videos on YouTube. Each of these files records the event from the perspective of one individual and, when viewed collectively, acts as a Pensieve-like archive of the entire event.

One example of this type of memory archive is the photographic record of the Obama presidential inauguration, in which hundreds of 2-D photographs from numerous independent viewers were combined form a 3-D view of the environment (The 44th President Inauguration). Examples of this type of life examination and archiving pervade the Web and demonstrate the desire of users to share and combine digital memory records in the future.

While the audio and video recording capability of current technology is
remarkable, to create a truly Pensieve-like memory device data beyond simple video and audio would need to be captured during the initial event. Capturing peripheral data would allow the user to not only extend their recording capabilities, but also allow for re-playing of an experience from an almost omniscient, third person perspective as is possible with Rowling’s Pensieve.

Visually, 360-degree cameras can be used to capture images beyond what is visible from a first person perspective. Any single event can be viewed from multiple perspectives by allowing personal wearable computers to gather information from the other users wearing computers within the area.

Documenting affective and body state data using wearable body monitoring devices and potentially using electroencephalography to record the user’s mental state can allow data beyond just visual and audio to be included in the re-playing of memories. Location and contextual information can be provided through global positioning system (GPS) devices such as mobile phones. Combining these technologies makes it possible to capture an event visually, audibly, cognitively, emotionally, and contextually, thereby allowing for the creation of a fully immersive memory.

The second step towards developing memory for an experience is storage. We can only imagine the technical challenges involved in storing the massive amount of data that would be captured by a comprehensive lifelogging device. Gordon Bell, even without continuous video logging of his experiences, captures over 1GB of data daily. While progress is being made towards developing storage and retrieval systems for information captured during lifelogging, we have many more cues to store and integrate within a Pensieve-like data storage system.

The format in which memory data is stored primarily depends on how they will be viewed or re-played and shared later. There are many technical challenges that would have to be overcome in this domain to ensure memory records would be available and playable in the long term.

The third step towards developing memory for an experience is retrieval.
Retrieval can mean simply locating the memory, but in this case we also use retrieval to mean re-playing the memory for the purposes of re-experiencing it or sharing it with others. The most likely environment with which to experience the Pensieve’s goal of total immersion within the memory is through some type of virtual or simulated reality. Char Davie’s imagined virtual reality as “a visual/aural spatiotemporal arena wherein mental models or abstract constructs can be given virtual embodiment in three dimensions and then be kinesthetically explored by others through full body immersion and interaction.”

CAVEFor example, a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) is one in which the
user is surrounded in on all sides by screens on which can be projected any type of image. Sounds, smells, and other environmental data captured during memory recording can then be re-played to recreate the original experience. The CAVE environment realizes the idea of immersion into another persons ‘body’ of memories by completely surrounding them with the captured experience. By translating memories into a 360-degree, three-dimensional view, anyone can place himself/herself into a moment and physically experience another’s reality.

Although the technology is not yet equal to the task, the idea of studying a historical event through immersion into a Pensieve-like environment, with the ability to stroll around, pause, rewind, and examine the scenario from the perspective of each participant in the event is staggering.

Rowling’s Pensieve also allows the user to link memory traces together, much like a networked hypertext environment allows us to link various pieces of text and multimedia together to indicate relationships between them.

At the retrieval stage, it is likely that users may want to indicate relationships between various events through a type of memory hypertext structure. On its own, the recorded memory would serve as a hypomnemata, or context-less collection of data about an event and person within that event. A link structure through a virtual environment  would provide a type of elementary narrative through a memory and serve to put various individual events within a larger context. Jaron Lanier suggested that linking of memory traces in virtual environments would be a powerful way to augment memory: “You can
play back your memory through time and classify your memories in various ways. You’d be able to run back through the experiential places you’ve been in order to be able to find people, tools.”

brain1The ultimate re-playing of a memory may one day be direct electrical stimulationof the brain to re-create the pattern of activation recorded while an individual was experiencing an event. To become truly Pensieve-like, this information would eventually have to be augmented with information captured from external environmental sources to allow viewing of the experience from a third-person perspective, if desired.

Personal and Societal Implications

There are numerous personal and societal implications for this type of first-person account of a life. On a personal level, we must examine the impact of virtually recorded memories on the understanding of the self. In general, our understanding of ourselves is framed by autobiographical memory, or our memories for the events of our lives. By maintaining a separate, immersive record of life events our understanding of ourselves can be extended beyond just what we can store while an event is occurring.

Essentially, we free ourselves from attention and memory limitations. However complete the record for an event might be in the archive, as individuals we still view the record through the filter of our personality and worldview. These aspects of ourselves are likely to be changed by viewing the record, much as our understanding of the self might be, but at least initially we may be unable to view the memory from a perspective outside of our own.

When viewing the memory of another individual, the incorporation of experiencesby the engaged viewer into his/her concept of self is subject to personal misinterpretation, regardless of how objectively the data is captured. Consider for instance the idea of a physically challenged individual (e.g., wheelchair bound) as a lifelogger. Through immersion into this person’s memories, would a non-physically challenged individual be able to embody their experiences?

Inscribing the concepts of being wheelchair bound onto the viewer is possible, but for a truly relational experience he/she would need at the least an immersive CAVE-like environment. Depending on the cognitive skills of the engaged individual, the ability to incorporate this altered life style is possible.

We must also understand the impact of the technology itself on individuals. Just as we have come to rely on computer technology as an extension of ourselves, we might also come to rely on memory-aiding wearable computers to capture events for us, allowing us to play them back at will. In other words, we might become even more cognitively lazy than we already are. Gordon Bell has noted his tendency to neglect life in real-time as he comes to rely more and more on his digital store, essentially using his record as a second self.

Some individuals might become consumed by virtually re-living past moments, ignoring the present much as some have become increasingly reliant on the instant access to information that the Internet provides to satisfy various needs.

On a societal level, there is the potential for misunderstandings brought about bythe sharing of immersive virtual memories. One would initially think that being able to ‘live’ another’s experience would serve to increase understanding. However, immersive memory archives are likely to lead to misunderstandings and a biased interpretation of the archival record when viewed by non-participating individuals, despite an immersive physical experience of the event.

As Wolfgang Ernst notes: an “archive does not tell stories,” so the responsibility of conveying the overall value of the memory to the observer falls to the person generating the record of the event. Regardless of the number of times an outsider views the memory, if the information lacks proper narration and
interpretations are left to the viewer, misinterpretation of the event is a likely result.

SousveillanceFinally, we must investigate the implications of a balance in power created by combinations of surveillance and sousveillance systems. When Hayles examines the reports on management styles in various corporations, she points out that often the surveillance systems in place are designed to provide a thorough examination of the workers through a panoptic-like system. In one case study described by Zuboff, the observers in upper-management stopped directly engaging the workers once a menu-like list of tasks that could be performed was established (i.e., an archive of events).

Due to the physical separation now afforded by the task list, upper-managementissued commands from the menu of options without engaging the workers actually conducting the work. This type of distanced interpretation does not allow for an immersive understanding of the workers actual situation. Surveillance alone does not tell the entire story, one reason for the increasing use of ethnography and participant observer techniques in task analysis.

The understanding of an individual’s experience brought about by experiencing it firsthand suggests that a combination of surveillance and sousveillance techniques may increase the possibility for understanding between groups of differing power status.

Limitations, Concerns, and the Sharing of Virtual Memories

Like any other technology, a Pensieve-like system for capturing, storing,
recalling, and sharing memories is not without limitations. Virtual environments still have serious limitations, especially in terms of cost, maintenance, and the technical knowledge needed to run them. To date, they are far from user-friendly. Of particular concern are the possible physical side-effects of virtual environment use, which can include episodes of nausea and dizziness (‘cybersickness’), headaches, and aftereffects from prolonged use.

cybersicknessGiven that we are able to successfully overcome these issues with virtual
environments and there is a viable platform with which to re-play memory data, it is likely that users will not only want to re-play their own recorded memories but will also want to share them with others. Steve Mann and other lifeloggers have already taken this step by sharing their recorded video and audio logs online through the Web.

We could imagine a YouTube-like memory sharing website where users can upload all the stored data associated with a recorded memory in a standardized format that can be re-played and experienced in an immersive virtual environment by anyone else in the world.

Obviously, there are serious privacy issues associated with the recording andsharing of memories. Some individuals may not want to have a complete record of their everyday happenings, for one reason or another.

If lifelogging becomes common enough, gaps in a recording may be taken as evidence of wrongdoing or some other unsavory activity occurring. Others may object if their recordings cannot be edited, much as one edits a physical record of memory such as a scrapbook. Selective forgetting must always be possible.

When sharing memory records there must be a way to ensure that those who happen to be associated with someone’s memory recording (e.g., someone in the room at the same time the person recording a memory was) consent to being featured in that memory if it is shared. We must also ensure the integrity of shared memories so that they cannot be altered or tampered with so as to distort the original experience.
Finally, there are other pressing social issues involved with the distribution of memories, such as whether they can be entered as viable evidence in a court of law and how the rights of individuals within recorded memories are protected.


The lifelogging phenomenon exemplifies users’ desires to capture their everydayexperience, be able to play it back, and share it with others. The incorporation ofwearable computing technology to capture more of our everyday experience makes possible the re-playing of our memories in a more immersive way, such as through a virtual environment. Being able to re-live experiences not only from our own, but from other’s perspectives carries numerous implications for our understanding of the self and of others. As we transition from our current form to that of a cyborg, it is likely that our understanding of a memory will shift, perhaps toward more of a collective understanding of an event rather than a single-perspective understanding.

More of our lives will be visible and sharable with others than ever before. It is up to each of us to determine whether the potential increases in understanding and benefits to ourselves and others brought about by a Pensieve-like system outweigh the potential risks and threats to privacy.

As Dumbledore says about the Pensieve: “Curiosity is not a sin [Harry], but weshould exercise caution with our curiosity…yes, indeed.”

See also


Cyborg: Digital destiny and human possibility in the age of …

Realizing Memories

using individual memories to design an embodied and …

Project Glass and the epic history of wearable computers



Lifelogging / Quantified Self | Lifestream Blog

MyLifeBits – Microsoft Research


Presence and Memory: Immersive Virtual Reality Effects on ..

Collective Investigations

Wolfgang Ernst | archive public


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