16 April 2007

Wolfowitz scandal: Who Should Care?

I'm just trying to think my way into this one. Just getting my feet wet.

As regular readers know, I don't believe in sovereignty. Sometimes when I say so, people reply, "ah, you must be pushing world government, then." Or harsher words with that implication.

Why do they say that? Chiefly because the word "sovereignty" is nowadays often used to imply "the sovereignty of nations." The antithesis of sovereignty, then, is international organization and law.

But no, I reply when the question arises. I reject that antithesis. International organizations come about through agreements among and to serve the ends of the national governments involved. The same issues of command-and-control or hierarchy, the issues of unearned privilege, are at stake in the one case as in the other. We as humans have to think our way toward better ways of relating to one another than those implied in the myth of sovereignty, and this requires a rejection both of nationalism and of internationalism.

The Bretton Woods organizations in particular (the IMF and the World Bank) have outlived any utility they may once have had by anybody's measure, and they should close up shop.

It is with these biases that I look rather gingerly at the scandal that seems for the moment to have immobilized one of those institutions, the World Bank. Its president, Paul Wolfowitz, has come under fire for showing favoritism to a particular staffer, Shaha Raza, allegedly due to their romantic relationship.
As usual, the basics are at wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaha_Ali_Riza

There is no principled difference between romantic cronyism and the more traditional all-guys-who are-golfing-buddies sort of cronyism. In either case, such favoritism is inevitably because human beings are hard-wired for dealing with each other, with a small group of acquaintances, rather than with masses and big abstractions. This means that organizations devoted to serving the masses and big abstractions, but nonetheless composed entirely of human beings, rather than robots, are in a biologically determined bind from the start.

What this leads to is an endless trench warfare in which factions profess enduring commitment to the masses and the big abstractions, while using the other factions' scandals as ammunition to advance their own aims. I haven't quite psyched out the hows of this in the Wolfowitz/Raza matter, but I'm pretty sure (a priori, if you will) that this is what is happening.

Which is to say, again, that we need to move toward less absurd and inherently hypocritical ways of dealing with each other than the ways that the latest contre temps would seem to embody.

Here, for those of you who may enjoy bureaucratese, is the URL for an official inquiry. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:21297732~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html


Christopher said...

Henry made the following point (in another place, but he asked me to move it here)

"It is not clear how your point that 'human beings are hard-wired for dealing with each other, with a small group of acquaintances, rather than with masses and big abstractions' is connected to your opposition to sovereignty. Big private entities are run by human beings with the same hard-wiring, and, in the absence of sovereign states, there would be created more private bureaucracies that would be necessary to fill some of sovereign states' current functions."

Christopher said...
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Christopher said...

Henry. Good point. But I think the notion of sovereignty valorizes those big abstractions, whereas even with large private-sector entities, the bigness is incidental.

Also, I think that the largest private-sector entities are those that are most reliant upon their ties with the public sector, (bigness, thy name is Halliburton)so that rising above the myth of sovereignty will prove the best way to get to business at a human scale.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.