The Gathering Storm of Diplomatic Catastrophe

Taken from Wikipedia, part of public domain.Australia is facing one of the most significant diplomatic crises in the last few decades, and there is almost no significant reportage of this impact. The first three months of government has seen a spectacular cavalcade of international incidents that is putting Australia in an incredibly fraught position. Significantly, there is currently a very insular account of international politics that is currently being trotted out by many of the media outlets, and if you were to take it at their word you might be forgiven for imagining this international furore is nothing more than a spat over phone tapping.

There are three policies and responses that are currently impacting Australia’s international relations, which are namely Australia’s immigration “turn back the boats” policy, Australia’s current climate policies, and Australia’s diplomatic activity through Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott. Both the previously mentioned policy positions are alienating Australia from the Asia-Pacific region, and Australia’s subsequent so-called ‘diplomatic’ activity is aggravating already delicate issues. While this might not be on the scale of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Australia will see itself caught in the middle of any escalating Sino-American tensions.

Australia’s policy on immigration and climate change are subtly and overtly affecting our foreign relations: our immigration policies are casting Australia as xenophobic, while our climate change policies are characterising us as a potential threat to national security.

Policy Failures on the Environment and Immigration

For a more nuanced take on Australia’s recent actions and how they are impacting upon our relations with Indonesia, I would direct you to this excellent analysis. The points to take away from this analysis is that the “turn back the boat” policy has incensed Indonesian national pride by undermining Indonesian sovereignty; it also highlights the significant impact that cutting foreign aid has had.

Australia’s climate change policy is an increasingly an issue of foreign policy, particularly as connections between climate change and security become manifest.

The other issue is Australia’s climate change and environmental policies (or lack thereof). Australia’s climate change policy is an increasingly an issue of foreign policy, particularly as connections between climate change and security become manifest. Climate change will have two big impacts on security, the first of them being the rise in ocean levels. To understand the geo-politics of these changes, I’d like you to look at a comparison of the Rising Sea maps by Natural Geographic. While the projections of ocean-level increases are variable, these maps are pretty reasonable medians compared to most projections I’ve seen. They are sufficient for our purposes here. You can get a broad sense of the way it will affect highly populated areas, and not to mention the impact it will have on the Pacific Islands, many of which may become entirely submerged like the island nation Kiribati.

If you compare Australia to South-East Asia, you will see that the ocean level rises will be particularly devastating to some of the most heavily populated areas in South-East Asia. These changes will put vast swathes of territory underwater and displace massive numbers of people. Comparatively, Australia will have some significant coastal impacts, but the principle population centres affected are coastal South Australia and the Murray-Darling basin. Agriculturally speaking, the creation of a permanent inner sea for Australia might actually be beneficial (please do not read this as an endorsement of sea-levels rising, merely an observation that on the balance of impact Australia will have some relative gains).

However, the real impact of global warming is how the impact on regional stability and security as hotter temperatures affect water cycles. Global warming’s impact on water cycles is phenomenal, from its impact on glacial waters in the Himilayas (a source of water for much of south-east Asia), to desertification in the Middle East. When sources of water dry up, and the land becomes more arid, there is a significant drop in arable land. Beyond this, as global temperatures increase, the frequency and potency of storm surges increases (see the 5th IPCC report). This means that storms are more devastating and more often, and flooding tends to be larger and more powerful. The issues on this for human habitation is not just the destruction of homes, but the stripping of topsoil necessary for arable land. It is these impacts through a shaken water cycle that will be most relevant to Australia’s domestically agriculture, far more than changes to ocean levels.

There is another angel for Australia, as both ocean levels and increased aridity are triggers for mass migrations, meaning global warming has a consequential implication for regional stability and security. It is for this reason, that Australia’s climate policies must be inherently linked to Australia’s foreign policy, as our stance and our pollution begins to jeapordise our neighbours’ very existence. Australia’s current policy regime smacks of Western exceptionalism, and there is little wonder why it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of our Asia-Pacific neighbours, particularly in light of Typhoon Haiyan.

…both ocean levels and increased aridity are triggers for mass migrations, meaning global warming has a consequential implication for regional stability and security.

Geopolitics of Asia-Pacific

Australia is in a precarious position diplomatically in the Asia-Pacific, by virtue of its the geopolitics of the history of the region. Australia’s three most important Asia-Pacific neighbours are Indonesia, China, and Japan: Japan and China constitute two (of four) of our most significant trading partners. To give you an idea, allow me to refer to an earlier article of mine where I explore Australia’s energy market relationships with China. Our foreign relations have also been markedly affected by the variable political stability of the Pacific Islands, and the regional stability of South-East Asia.

The defining historical attributes of Australia in the context of Asian-Pacific relations were fomented during the Cold War. Japan was westernised in order to provide a principle bulwark against the expansion of communism into the pacific theatre, and when the Domino Theory became prevalent there were significant overtures to secure places like Malaysia and Indonesia as anchor points for containment. In fact, Australia’s relationship to Indonesia was a key component of that policy.

Jump forward to the 1990s, and Australia endured an Asian security crisis under the Howard government. Part of Howard’s victory was achieved through rhetoric of White Australian nationalism, which was both jingoistic and echoed alarmism of the Yellow Peril. This was best exemplified in Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech, which catalysed the Coalition’s jump to the right as they sought to recapture Hanson’s voter block (for a supremely excellent deconstruction of the Howard years Asian crisis, I refer you to Anthony Burke’s “Fear of Security”, Chapter 5). Moreover, during this period, the Asian nations observed Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, as a bell-weather for populist attitudes of its non-white neighbours.

What we saw then, and what we are seeing repeated under the Abbott government, is a political ‘double-bind’ where the government of the day is incapable of diplomatic overtures because of its own ideological complicity.

What we saw then, and what we are seeing repeated under the Abbott government, is a political ‘double-bind’ where the government of the day is incapable of diplomatic overtures because of its own ideological complicity. The Howard and Abbott governments both achieved power partly due to racist polemics, and Abbott significantly touts a domestic mandate that stems from these positions. This means the Abbott government must present bravado in response to the posturing of our Asian-Pacific neighbours, lest it alienate its voter base.

The Gathering Storm

There is a gathering storm of military and political posturing happening in our region. There are numerous policies of encirclement occurring as China is emerging as the next superpower. This year alone, Russia has sought to politically encircle China, strengthening Sino-Russo relations while also forging alliances with its peripheral neighbours. The US is seeking to demonstrate its military presence by encircling China with fighter jets and stealth bombers, and also giving support to the disputed Taiwan island. Japan, China, and South Korea are becoming increasingly anxious over territorial disputes. There are huge games of realpolitik occuring, and Australia, like it or not, will be dragged into the centre of it.

Australia is strategically pivotal for for the USA, should any conflict break out between the USA and China. Any escalation of tensions between these two superpowers becomes of intrinsic interest to Australian national security. Very recently, China tested the limits of Japan’s naval territorial limits by sailing a war fleet through the Soya Strait, encircling Japan, and returning through the La Perouse Strait. This is overt military posturing, and since Japan has a pacifist military policy since its capitulation after WWII, it is struggling to respond to this gesture. Instead, we see the US responding by flying jet fighters unannounced over the Chinese controlled East China Sea, over territory that is disputed between China and Japan; because the USA must prop up the sovereignty of Japan as a bulwark against any Chinese expansion into the pacific theatre.

Because of its close ties to both China and the USA, this is not an issue that Australia can remove itself from, even in the fact of China rebuking Julie Bishop for ‘interfering’. Moreover, Australia is a temporary member of the UN Security Council, and must necessarily be seen to take actions towards issues that affect global and regional stability. Australia stands on the precipice of a diplomatic disaster, and the continued gaffs and alienation are only undermining Australia’s capacity to employ effective diplomacy. It is no surprise that even the most diplomatic overtures by Australian representatives will be met with hostility and suspicion. As far as the international stage is concerned Abbott has huge shoes to fill after the exemplary diplomacy of Rudd-Gillard and Carr; even Alexander Downer, a former Coalition foreign minister, is casting aspersions to the government’s diplomatic competence.

Australia’s policy on immigration and climate change are subtly and overtly affecting our foreign relations: our immigration policies are casting Australia as being xenophobic, while our climate change policies are characterising us as a potential threat to national security. 

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Sound and Fury

In the last week, a bit of a controversial bombshell was dropped. Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) formally used the slogan of “Fuck Tony Abbott” as their byline. This has triggered a number of responses and all of them vitriolic. A lot of the controversy focuses on whether the message is appropriate, how the decision was made, and a raft of other issues. What seems to be emerging from this discourse is the more mainstream LGBTI communities express disaffection by the radical protest voice. The response from the radical queer groups is a complaint towards the mainstream saying they have become complicit with an oppressive regime.

I think this signals the start of a fight over which message is put into the public sphere, and who controls the message.

On Sense and Sensibility

I think it’s necessary to highlight some of these positions in order to get a full perspective. The opening salvo was fired by none other than Bryn Hutchinson, a former convener of CAAH, who attacked the by-line for being divisive and pointless. Rodney Croome added his voice, from his position in the Australian Marriage Equality (AME), saying that such dissidence will only serve to alienate any chance to communicate with the Coalition that now form the Government in seeking to persuade them in changing their minds.

In contrast, we have an interview with Cat Rose, one of the current co-convenors of CAAH, who proclaims the necessity of vigilantly opposing the government, by claiming they will inevitably be hostile to minority groups. Her position is to hold the government to account with a repertoire of contention. Another voice I would recommend on this comes from Tim Scriven, who deconstructs some these accusations, but ultimately refers to the need to agitate in a manner that is not complicit so as to effect change.

Knowing a number of people on both sides of this debate, I have heard a large range of opinions. The one thing I have observed as being consistent is the tendency for all arguments refer to a base claim on how best to achieve change. Inevitably, such arguments fall back on radical or mainstream positions, and whether to effect change through the parliamentary system, or whether change can only be achieved by imposing upon it from without. This is reflected in the articles above: both Hutchinson and Croome argue for a parliamentary method, while Rose and Scriven express suspicion of that process. From my observations there is a near-universal tendency of those taking a strong position to fall down on one side of the camp or the other (I found in critical reflection of my own position, that I am/was as much a subject of those proclivities). So I think what we are seeing here is an age-old Establishment vs counter-culture discourse.

Fundamentally, I think people’s opinions on this matter play so significantly into their political ideology that I am unconvinced that a rational approach will resolve the dispute.

Fundamentally, I think people’s opinions on this matter play so significantly into their political ideology that I am unconvinced that a rational debate will resolve the dispute. The slogan itself is merely a symptom of a deep divide between the main-streamers that have found some accommodation within the norm, and are now angry at being tarred with a radical voice, and those who have never been able to main-stream (whether by choice or capacity), and are demanding that their difference be accommodated all the same. Both sides are effectively coloured by a deep suspicion of a process that excludes them.

Having been on both sides of the fence at one point or another, I can sympathise with both sides, even while I don’t agree with every position argued. Both side make claims that either demonstrations or lobbying have been key or to shifting social attitudes on marriage equality in Australia. My issue with these claims is that they are almost universally anecdotal, and lack evidentiary rigour; and all those claims are incredibly self-justifying. I reject the notion that either group can lay claim to being the principle agent for raising consciousness on marriage equality in the Australian public.

Repertoires of Contention

This dichotomy correlates strongly with a growing body of research that has begun to identify some significant correlations to neurological states in relation to whether one elects a conservative or (little-l) liberal position. In brief, there seem to be a number of neurological conditions that predispose individuals towards either conservatism or liberalism, and this probably would carry over to the distinction between mainstream and radicalism, which are roughly similar dichotomies. Part of that research also seems to suggest that some of our predispositions become locked in based on our experiences during the formative years of early adulthood and late adolescence. For these reasons, I think that any message that seeks to bring in more people into its coalition must accommodate a plurality of predilections. This evidence shows that the Left is more successful when rallying support through positive and hopeful messages, while the Right is more effective at capitalising on messages of fear and anger.

This evidence shows that the Left is more successful when rallying support through positive and hopeful messages, while the Right is more effective at capitalising on messages of fear and anger.

There are also a number of individuals who just don’t understand the significance of the controversy, which see the attempts at disputing the message a waste of energy that should be focused on effecting change. However, a message is central to any social movement: it is a core element of any campaign, not just in terms of communication but in terms of its semiotics. That is, social movements emerge through the construction of a group identity. Symbols of the movement become important signposts used to delineate between “us” and “them”, politically speaking. An important part of coalition building is being able to successfully mediate these differences under a set of common ideals.

Whitebrook notes in Identity, Narrative, and Politics: collective identities are constructed through narrative means; Einwohner et al have elaborated upon this in Identity Work and Social Movements, noting that these collective identities are produced through joint action, negotiation, and interpretation. It is this ‘identity work’ that enables members of a social movement to construct a shared sense of identity and work together in collective action. Taylor et al have described three components of identity work in their text Feminist frontiers II :rethinking sex, gender, and society: namely boundaries, being markers of similarity and difference; consciousness, the framework through which participants struggle to describe the collective interests and identities in contrast to the dominant order; and negotiation, which refers to the various demonstrations of opposition to the status quo.

The strategies of building a collective identity are described by Bernstein in her book Sexual Orientation Policy, Protest, and the State. She notes that LGBTI activist movements differ to other social movements as one of their strategies is to emphasise sameness with the mainstream, even making tactical decisions about whether to celebrate or suppress their otherness. Of particular interest, both Harris and Meeker have highlighted instances where specific LGBTI movements sought to align themselves with church, state, and family or attempting to assimilate rather than subvert.

Collective identities for social movements require the aggregation of individual accounts of its participant members through this identity work: one of the mechanisms requires the sublimation of internal difference.

Collective identities for social movements require the aggregation of individual accounts of its participant members through this identity work: one of the mechanisms requires the sublimation of internal difference. As Lyotard has previously argued in his seminal work on The Postmodern Condition, and elaborated on by Einwohner et al, any attempt to solidify a movement’s collective identity means the collective identity must be negotiated among the participant members and towards the broader society. Bystydzienski and Schacht, in Forging Radical Alliances across Difference, state that this much necessarily be inter-sectional, arguing that identities are not discrete modules within an aggregation, but must be understood as intertwined with each other.

That is, identity work is a mediation of a group’s identity, where individual members come to internalise the symbols, values, and aesthetics of the collective identity, either by reconciling or rejecting the components of a collective narrative that are at odds with their own sense of identity. Understanding this issue is crucial to revealing the deeper issues at play around the conflicting social tensions underscoring coalitions of social movements. That CAAH has elected to use an unequivocally radical byline is one that has sent a message to the main-streamers that they are no longer part of this movement. Based on the commentary of the radical left, the impression that I get is one expressing that the mainstream have become deadwood in the fight against the Establishment.

Of Pride and Prejudice

On the question of whether the message is the right message depends on how you measure its success. As a message that is designed to garner public attention, it is incredibly successful, considering that it is a message that has been commented on by media and politicians alike. Whether it is a message that will successfully catalyse and mobilise people on the ground, I think it will probably fall short (though I am happy to be proved incorrect on this prediction).

Using the message as the byline transforms the statement from a meme to a symbol of the movement itself…

To properly respond, I would repudiate that the rudeness of message is the central issue, and actually a superficial point. However, by placing it as the by-line of the protest it is elevated from a pervasive sentiment into an ideal. Using the message as the byline transforms it from a meme to a symbol of the movement itself, a marker of inclusion or exclusion that participants must either accommodate or reject. It is a message that is incredibly polarising among the stakeholders in the marriage equality campaign, and notwithstanding the apparent contention over which group (CAAH or AME) should be the rightful custodian of the message (a debate in its own right), that these groups are openly at loggerheads hails the onset of greater divisions ahead.

Admittedly, these divisions haven’t emerged from nowhere: AME represents a powerful lobby group with a single narrow objective, and has been criticised for pandering to a privileged interest; CAAH represents a voice of marginalised groups that seek a wider reforms, and have been criticised for being divorced from the ‘real world’. The radical queer movement is likely to be increasingly empowered by this message, and angry at the mainstream for not falling in line with the rallying cry, while the mainstream LGBTI movement is likely to be increasingly disaffected by the message and become resentful of having to work to disassociate themselves from that message while trying to lobby parliament.

I think this signals the start of a fight over which message is put into the public sphere, and who controls the message. Lamentably, I think the louder more controversial message will begin to draw greater media interest. Very likely, we are going to see a set of communities divided against each other, rather than united against a government they wish to effect.

Update

Having published this article, I was subjected to some criticism. I am reproducing it here without attribution, as it was in a private forum. The criticism was one that argued that even if the above analysis is correct, then the worst case scenario is one that achieves no legislative change with the consequent of solidified a radical movement/community by ditching the “white picket-fence crowd”. Note, this confirms the position I stated earlier that the protest movement may be all to happy to dissolve their friendship with the mainstream.

To this, I disagree: the worst case scenario is one of deep alienation and division. It takes a false dilemma between the radical and mainstream and reifies that sense of division into a real division. It also shifts the emphasis on the purpose of the protests away from pitching a message to an external audience with the desire to effect change, and consolidating attitudes within an already insular group.

I think this is a bad idea, because it creates opposition when there does not need to be one. It shifts the site of contest into the middle of a group of people seeking to achieve a similar outcome, and possibly expending energies on both sides in ways that will undermine any mutual efforts.

By emphasising and endorsing the way that such a symbol excludes and others the mainstream, it reduces the political discourse down to an “us” and “them” mentality, and means the protest movement is adopting a siege mentality, depending explicitly on tactics of dissent. Such strategies mean that the social movement becomes static and inflexible, resisting any changes in the social consciousness. Worse, it entrenches dogma and makes it unassailable to criticism and possible discourse, becoming calcified. This makes the message less about communicating and more about reacting and iterating a staple of repertoires of contention.

In order for the movement to move beyond mere protest and counter-culture, the coalition building needs to incorporate and include greater diversity. A message that divides various communities into sides is a means to produce a social bubble by exclusion. It is a tactic of retreat and bulwark; albeit a reasonable tactic to survive a hostile and adversarial government.

However, the harder task of affecting change, or even changing consciousness can only be achieved by engaging with the public at large and communicating a message to them. In doing so, the message seeks to enroll a broader array of people that a movement doesn’t necessarily agree with. Historically, the instances of legislative reform on Marriage Equality were introduced under conservative governments, but because those governments were in coalition with a liberal party.

The first time it was introduced in the Netherlands occurred because Boris Dittrich (head of the liberal party in the Netherlands) demanded it as a concession to support the conservative party into government. A similar scenario was more notoriously repeated in the UK under Doug Cameron.

On the Campaign Trail – Part 1

As we go into the final week of the Australian federal election, I will attempt to write several shorter pieces, each relating to an aspect of ethics (and corruption) within an election. The intention is to provide a single piece each week day, they will necessarily be a little bit shorter.

However, as a large portion of the population lacks the formal training to critically assess claims in the public domain, let alone separate fact from opinion, I would place the onus upon those who would seek to govern.

Defining the Ethics of our Politicians

There is no requirement in Australian electoral regulations to prevent untruthful claims (save some limitations). The article linked makes this observation, and argues that this is as it should be, as there is no way to police or enforce the truthfulness of political statements. Specifically, it makes the case that nothing should regulate the content of electoral messages, being a matter for the demos to resolve without interference.

Consider then, the current (2013) Federal election, which has seen its share of claims that are highly contestable, and where the factuality of their claims have been brought into question. Two of these relate to claims over two of the most prominent issues of concern for this election: namely the economy and asylum seekers. Certainly, the ABC Vote Compass suggested that they are (or were) the two biggest issues from their sample.

The issue of the economy is a rather useful example to examine how the different electoral campaigns frame the matter. If we examine the Coalition’s election campaign, we see a platform that seeks to discredit the ALP Government’s management of the economy. Many of the concerns highlighting the deficit and economic performance, linking this to the impact on families and jobs. However, we have a starkly contrasting view about the state of the economy by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

Stiglitz view is perhaps a most qualified rebuttal to the persistent anxieties about the Australian economy. The huge distinction between Stiglitz and the Coalition is significant of the difference between the political conversation around the economy, and the academic discourse on the same. An academic discourse purports to discover the truth through a method of peer review and subject to critique by expertise. Conversely the political debate is rhetorical, designed to secure a following through persuasive tools to convince the populace of a certain position.

The above is not intending to assess the validity of the claims around the economy or other issues, or even their verisimilitude. Rather, the intention is to highlight the dissonance between expertise and public opinion. This distinction is hardly a new issue, and one might draw parallels to the difference between a common sense understanding, informed by anecdote, and a critical understanding, informed by an evidenced debate.

In rejecting the claim that there need be no regulation of political statements, it is necessary first to address a particular problem: the fact-value distinction.

Fact-Value distinctions

At a most fundamental level, it should be sufficient to suggest that our society would benefit more from honest political statements, which would then benefit the public to cast more informed votes. It alludes to an issue of a type of signal-to-noise ratio within political speech, and the diminishing returns on the rigour of the political debate.

Fundamentally though, what seems to be at stake is an is-ought dilemma; or better yet, a fact-value distinction. On one hand we have a descriptive issue, which is produced through empirical research and a scientific method; on the other, we have a prescriptive problematisation of that issue through a value system. This is because the work of politics is prescriptive, in an inherently contested medium, which must take descriptions of the real world and formulate them into a political platform.

This is because the work of politics is prescriptive, in an inherently contested medium, which must take descriptions of the real world and formulate them into a political platform.

To explain better, I will refer to one of my earlier articles, where I made an argument for how the issue of environmentalism could be co-opted by two diametrically opposed economic systems. That is, let us agree momentarily with the scientific consensus that climate change is anthropogenic, the article then argues how both advocates of growth and steady-state economic have laid claim to providing the appropriate solution to the problem. The point being that we have a description of a phenomenon (anthropogenic climate change), which is then problematised (degradation of the environment, economic costs, amongst others), and based on how the problem is understood, a particular set of social values are applied to derive a solution (steady-state or growth).

The Value of Truth

To some extent, I agree with the claim (in the above-linked article) that contests that there should be any kind of regulation of political speech. I agree to the extent that the issue is incredibly fraught, and there are huge gradations of truthfulness that makes the matter rather murky. Two important issues would have to be resolved, namely, how to recognise a mistruth when it is delivered, and what the appropriate response to that matter becomes. In particular, it is very difficult to demonstrate intentionality behind statements (fraudulent), but we can more readily demonstrate when a claim is factually incorrect (erroneous).

Because of this, I would have to reject the claim that there is no limit to the content that can be produced. The type of institution that would be necessary to investigate and respond to fraudulent political statements would be one of vast apparatus. Conversely, a fact checking institution is relatively simple, which is why a number of self-appointed watch dogs have taken to informally attempt to regulate the factual content of the political claims made my politicians in this election.

…the breach of conduct relates [to] the intentional or unintentional conflation of reporting and editorialising…

A comparison on this can be made towards the recent criticism by the Australian Press Council of News Corp, for failing to differentiate news from its editorial. This seems to confirm that the breach of conduct relates not to providing a political opinion in the role of a ‘trustee’ of public opinion, but the intentional or unintentional conflation of reporting and editorialising, or from what we would expect to be information presented factually from that which is laden with a value opinion.

So fundamentally, I would argue that political commentary should be subject to some manner of scrutiny. Certainly, politicians should be entitled to put their platform forward in a contest; the proverbial “market of ideas”. Yes, I recognise that a part of that debate is not to establish a truth but contend an opinion. However, as a large portion of the population lacks the formal training to critically assess claims in the public domain, let alone separate fact from opinion, I would place the onus upon those who would seek to govern.

Our evolution will be televised

Following my recent article, which explored the relationship between privacy and social media, I wanted to explore this issue from a slightly different angle. Apple will be introducing a kill-switch into the operating systems of its mobile devices this August. I find it interesting that the last time a smart phone kill-switch was mentioned, it elicited a significantly different response.

Namely, U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902 by Apple last year described an option to grant governments the ability intervene into wireless devices. Effectively, this patent could create an area-based kill-switch, which would impede the recording, collection, and transmission of media recorded through mobile devices. Why is the media much more forgiving this time around, and how much of this has to do with the purported use of the technology?

The abovementioned patent was ostensibly designed for socially permissible blackouts, such as for concerts, cinemas, and similar, but the explicit patent statement outlining potential use for covert police or government operations demonstrates this ability; one that could manage and control the dissemination of information from the emerging practice of ‘point-of-view’ media from the general population.

The fact that we have two such contrasting attitudes over similar technologies speaks more to our notions of security, than privacy. Accordingly, the article concerns itself with differences in public perception, particularly in relation to subtle issues around asymmetric privacy controls. To do so I will make a point of comparison with this technology and the impending distribution of Google Glass. Both devices entail an intrusion of privacy: Apple’s  intrusion is consigned to government control, while Google’s is consigned to the people.

I predict that in about five years, some of our fundamental notions of privacy will be continually contested, if not substantially rewritten.

The Price of Information

To understand the importance of this comparison, I will detail a few issues on the business models of Google and Apple. However, rather than rehashing this particular debate, I will extract a few salient points and synthesise them here. For a more detailed background information, I recommend this article by Forbes.

Roughly speaking, Google’s business model profits from advertisement revenue, and most of its products are designed to be as open as possible to maximise usage. Contrast this with Apple’s model, which profits directly from product purchases through a proprietary store of devices and applications, and therefore seeks to create brand loyalty within a closed iWorld.

These deeply contrasting models produce divergent behaviours. It is a principle reason behind Apple wanting to tether its software platforms to Apple devices, and why Google wants to make its platform as available as possible on whatever device necessary. Both of these models suggest something about how their organisations wish to exploit the commercial value of (personal) information. Apple’s imperative is the containment of particular information, including data and applications, within a closed ecosystem. So their practice is one of protectionism, but in a manner that ostensibly autopoietic. Conversely, Google’s imperative is the deregulation of information usage and custody, which is why its practice is one of ubiquity, for the broadest possible penetration of its market reach.

The Augmentation of the Gaze

It is very easy to make Orwellian comparisons of Apple’s new patent, because giving government the capacity to control the flow of personally acquiredinformation  holds the overtones of a Big Brother in the vein of Orwell’s seminal Nineteen Eighty-Four (a point of high irony considering Macintosh’s equally seminal launch video during the 1984 Superbowl). In fact, it is the seemingly self-evident nature of this technology’s oppressive potential that is pertinent. That is, while the Apple technology was signified as an imposition on our public experience and our civil liberties, the same could be said of Google Glass, and yet the Glass technology does not seem to evoke the same public outcry.

Now granted, there are some adverse reactions to the launch of Google Glass, including privately owned establishments banning them from their premises, similar to the prohibition of other recording devices. However, the immense popularity of the device has managed to produce a demand long before there was a supply, suggests that these concerns are a dissenting minority. Furthermore, some of the running commentary has already observed that the potential for Google Glass to intrude upon our privacy is far more pervasive. It is this ubiquity that is exemplar of the Google model, because it has the possibility of creating a true panopticon: making every observer simultaneously the subject of observation. This dissemination of technology is ultimately in Google’s interests; this reflects Google’s business model as it means much more personal information is made available to be mined.

One of the most blatant ways to demonstrate the distinctiveness of this intrusion is to compare the device to Apple’s competition device, the iWatch. Both are intended to be wearable smart computers, but the difference is that Glass are affixed directly onto our subjective point of view. My conjecture is that the very fact that the observational device is mounted upon our gaze is what renders it invisible.

That is to say that there is already a native social context for person-to-person observation, and we actually have an implicit expectation to be the subject of another person’s attention. To piggy-back a sensory device upon a socially acceptable form of scrutiny obscures the intrusive nature of that technology. The iWatch, in comparison, requires a mode of interaction that does not naturally integrate into unspoken forms of social communion; its intrusion would be much more apparent.

My conjecture is that the very fact that the observational device is mounted upon our gaze is what renders it invisible.

The Asymmetry of Information

I contend that the reason the Apple technology appears more intrusive is because it reveals a mechanism of control, rather than because it is an actual intrusion: indeed, one could reasonably argue that the shutting down of information gathering in a public sphere is the amelioration of intrusion. What provokes concern is the way the Apple technology enables a governmental body to control the media we collect through our private devices. It signals a type of complacency with the brokering of power and control over our experience of liberty, even when they relate to the impact of our personal actions in public.

Rather, I suspect we frame the visceral experience of insecurity this technology evokes as a sense of intrusion, which we then articulate as an invasion of privacy because it readily maps onto that concept. I also suspect that the objection relates to the asymmetry of information control, more than the intrusion of privacy. However, the issue of custody of personal information and the issue of asymmetry is a much more abstract notion to describe subjectively without some awareness of how our identity is situated and expressed through the medium of the internet.

Given these prepositions, the reaction to a centralised control of information by some third party generates suspicion, but the new mode of social scrutiny is simply integrated into our socialisation; partly because we have adapted to virtual interlocution, and partly because the (potential) ubiquity of the device is incredibly democratic. That is, Google Glass is much more likely to transfigure social norms, by virtue of its integration, and yet because its intrusion is much more invisible. I also believe that we, as a society, will adapt to this intrusion more quickly.

It is very easy to think that Google Glass marks the inception of a convergence of the human lived experience and the imprecation of technology upon our lives, but in reality it is merely the continuation of a process that has been happening since the proliferation of mobile technologies. Considering it took less than a year or so to adapt to smart phones and how they their use meant the intrusion of the internet into our intimate spaces, I doubt that we will have much difficulty adapting to this new intrusion.

Google Glass is much more likely to transfigure social norms, by virtue of its integration, and yet because its intrusion is much more invisible.

I predict that in about five years, some of our fundamental notions of privacy will be continually contested, if not substantially rewritten. That in perhaps ten to fifteen years our notions of what constitutes a public space and a private space will seem almost unrecognisable to today. Part of this contest will emerge over issues of copyright, particularly in the context of social participation at events and public gatherings where ownership is recognised, such as galleries and theatres.

The limits of privacy, for public people

This year’s Federal Election has been hailed as a competition of social media, with deliberate attempts to imitate the social media campaign of Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, not to mention the hiring by the Federal ALP of some of the people behind it.

Naturally, the  Australian context has some differences, since voting is mandatory there will be less emphasis on getting potential voters to enrol as part of the campaign, and likely there will be more emphasis on connecting the political personages with the people on the ground. Already, we have seen Kevin Rudd share the political spot light with his cabinet, which is politically astute on a number of fronts. Firstly, it shows that he is more self-aware of how he presents when he monopolises the political spotlight over his fellow party members (as opposed to against the Opposition); secondly, it shifts the sense of the recognisable face of the ALP towards a broader collective of people that the public can tune in to. Not only does this off-set the decimation of the Cabinet after the change of leadership, and the loss of a large number of publicly recognisable ALP front-benchers, but it presents a unified political front while off-setting the appearance of faceless power brokers. I would consider this to be a significant contributor to the jump in polling.

Ownership of public discourse

The focus of this particular entry is to make a number of observations around the way social media is changing the landscape of politics. Firstly, I think there is a rather cynical observation to be made about the disconnection between the established and current generation of politicians and their use of social media. It is a public secret that a vast number of politicians have staffers who provide commentary on their behalf them on Twitter and Facebook. These become more of an extension of their public profile, rather than a true opportunity to access their personal space. There are some exceptions, and some of my favourite political commentary comes from live tweets from politicians on the floor at the time, such as the interactions between MLCs Phelps, Sharpe, and Faehrmann in April 2012 during the debate on whether the Legislative Council would in-principle endorse Marriage Equality.

The real question is, if new technologies are defying the established lines of communication between the people and their representatives, and thereby returns the ownership of public discourse to the populace, are we sufficiently competent to be able to engage in the political discourse on our own terms?

The elision of the private-public boundary

Social media seems to be increasingly eliding the line between the public and the private spheres for those people who hold public office. It is my observation that we are now experiencing a society with changing social norms of privacy; one where I expect our fundamental constructions of privacy to be radically challenged in the next decade. Public officials, I contend, represent the first to group to have to reconcile this nigh-contradiction in terms, and that this will broaden very quickly to include other public personalities; note, that TV and film celebrities, as well as royalty, already experience an intrusion of this nature, but I think the difference is occurring on the way new social media is changing the way the public can and does intrude.

These increased demands of accessibility and intrusion are making it more and more difficult for attain a genuine private life, or to sequester a portion of a lived experience into a private space. That is, I think there is a greater social expectation for people in office, to still be representing their constituency in private circles, and I think this is because this intrusion is causing us to increasingly conflate the public office with the person in question. I think a rather interesting example of where we have seen this tested was Alan Jones’ comments at the USyd Young Liberal club. While I don’t condone the content of his statements, it does highlight that there are indistinct lines around what we seem to hold as public and private, and under what context we consider a public persona is entitled to make ‘off-the-record’ comment. I think that this is partly attributable to the public, by and large, is unable to separate comment from commentator.

As the networking of social media increases, there is a simultaneous intrusion of the public interest into the lives of our public persona (note, the use of our as to signify some entitled sense of ownership over these people), and an increased expectation of them being accessible personalities. As Facebook and Twitter bring these people into proximity to our own personal lives in a fashion that is both seemingly direct and personable, it easily lends itself to an assumption that these produce intimate connections with our representatives, and becomes a surrogate for actual political interaction. I think what we are seeing is a shift in emphasis upon placing a social obligation upon our political representatives to be effective communicators of policy (ostensibly public formal positions) and more towards being communicators of personality (drifting more towards cults of personality and leitkultur). In this, there is an interesting juxtaposition of our desire to be in the proximity of real and perceived power, and an increasing desire to humanise and connect with our representatives in a political landscape that is increasingly disaffected by a cynical public.

As Facebook and twitter bring these people into proximity to our own personal lives in a fashion that is both seemingly direct and personable, it easily lends itself to an assumption that these produce intimate connections with our representatives, and becomes a surrogate for actual political interaction.

Ownership of the public discourse

In attempting to humanise these public persona, we are effectively demanding insight into their private lives. However, there is an intrinsic contradiction int his attempt. As the public, we are unable to escape the fact we can only view them through the public lens. That is the means by which we receive and consume their private lives is automatically filtered through a public medium, whether its Twitter, Facebook, tabloid press or other journal articles. We aren’t directly engaging with these individuals, and we are not in the immediate sphere of their private lives. Consequently, whatever human foibles we receive are, if not deliberately manufactured, at least intrinsically framed by the lens that reports it, or construed through our interpretation. On one level we could theoretically apply a Death of the Author critique at the publicly available commentary of our public figures.

This brings me to this notion about who owns the discourse. Part of the legitimacy intrinsic in public office is the notion that instatement into office can only be achieved through the consent of the people, and are therefore obligated to ensure that this ephemeral ‘will of the people’ be represented in office. Even if we set aside the issue of how that consent has been achieved, and whether it was manufactured (however you wish to construct that issues), this immediately segues into a much more complicated discussion around the voice of that representative. A public official, in this context, is in some sense a synecdoche (as a single individual they ostensibly encapsulate the voice of the constituency). Most politicians, who aren’t entirely independent, have to navigate a (sometimes) difficult tension between the needs and public perceptions of their constituency against the interests of the party machine. The best results (from the perspective of the public official) are achieved through an alignment of public opinion with party platform, but that immediately returns us to questions of how manufactured the political consent of the people is (one need look no further than Fairfax media and Murdoch).

Here, I believe we reach the crux of the issue. It is an example of Metcalfe’s law in action in relation to the increasing inter-connectivity and complexity of the network of social media. Ownership of commentary, and ownership of editorialisation is being democratised, moving out of the hands of hierarchical traditional media structures and into a network. It is this, that I contend, necessitates a change of social disposition to providing public comment. Significantly, the way that these technologies bring the people (more than the office) into our proximity, allows us to deconstruct them with greater detail than ever before.

The real question is, if new technologies are defying the established lines of communication between the people and their representatives, and thereby returns the ownership of public discourse to the populace, are we sufficiently competent to be able to engage in the political discourse on our own terms? This inevitably begs the question of how we (or who) define political competence, and on what terms.