Notes on Graham Harman

Did I finish the Fukuyama dive this week like I said I would? No. Are you gonna do something about it? Nope.

These notes are pulled from a few online lectures I’ve listened to by Graham Harman. I still haven’t read any of his books but the signals are good that he’s a person worth reading directly. In the meanwhile, hat tip to Jordan Peacock, the high priest through whom I have seen Harman’s Word.

These notes are light sketches of Harman’s thoughts and philosophy, and maybe in time I can run through again with a darker pencil and hash the details out.

 

1. The 20th Century, as seen from the 23rd Century

In one lecture, Harman makes some broader claims about the big influencers of the last century that I thought were helpful. In the broadest of broad strokes, the 1900’s will likely be defined in the sciences by relativity and quantum theory and the earliest attempts to unify them. In the humanities, though, Graham claims that it was figure-ground interplay that would define the century’s thought:

  • Sigmund Freud’s emphasis on the [background] unconsciousness translating into [foreground] noticeable behavior and thought. The truth value of the theory is irrelevant, it’s been a tremendous influence, a source of reaction for major schools directly afterwards and an intellectual break from what preceded it.
  • Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”, which from our relative proximity still kinda goes in and out of style, is considered by Harman to be currently underrated.
  • Clement Greenberg, who oversaw the movement of the artistic avante-garde from Paris to New York City prior to WWII, and who defended Jackson Pollock and early prominent American artists who demonstrated awareness of the canvas on which they worked. Apparently in some circles he is currently seen as kitschy, which might be the sign of his ultimate success. More on him later.
  • Martin Heidigger, who reversed Husserl’s phenomenology. Husserl argued that one should focus not on the hidden objects but instead on the details of experience. Heidigger claimed that we deal with equipment as hidden and withdrawn backgrounds. These tools and details usually only emerge into view when they’re broken: a sudden cough, or a strange noise brings background processes to the forefront.

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Fukuyama: The Spread of Democracy

Previous Book  (Origins of Political Order)

Political Order and Political Decay

This is Part Three, notes and quotes (1) on Class-based analysis of the development of modern states, (2) about how the political franchise has expanded historically, (3) arguments against democracy, (4) the Arab Spring, and (5) where Marx went wrong.

I’ll try to get the last part (on “Political Decay”) out next week.

0. Waves of Democracy

Between 1970 and 2010, the number of democracies in the world had increased from 35 to 120 (or 60% of the world’s countries).

  • First Wave of Democracy: 1820s to early 20th century, as Europe and the United States opened up their political franchises. It’s a slow and clumsy wave, with periods of recession. It’s accepted to have peaked and receded during the interwar period.
  • Second Wave: After World War II into the late 1960s before receding.
  • Third Wave of Democracy: 1970 (Spain, Portugal, then Latin American countries, then Asia, then the collapse of Communism). Arguably receded in the 2000’s.
  • The “Fourth Wave” is the less compelling label for the Arab Spring.

The question Fukuyama poses is why it happened in some places rather than others.

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Fukuyama: Foreign Institutions

Notes on Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order.

Part One of Political Order and Political Decay.

(This is Part Two)

I’ll try to get the next part out next week.

I’ve been pretty bad about writing lately. I haven’t been traveling consistently (my preferred writing time). I also got a new cat. I discovered an allergy to her. I am the Czar of Russia in a grueling stalemate in a weeks-long match of Diplomacy (1 turn per day). Some habits were broken and others were formed. That’s life.

 

0. Foreign Institutions

Fukuyama examines the development outcomes in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia, exploring climate, geography, and colonial legacy as potential factors that explain why we have what we have today.

He opens with Nigeria. Nigeria is atypically corrupt for Africa. Fukuyama suggests that the country is being choked by Dutch Disease, weak institutions and clientelism. The politically active parts of the population are members of the clientelistic networks, so information about corruption has little effect.

“The roots of Nigeria’s development problem are institutional; indeed, it is hard to find a better example of weak institutions and bad government trapping a nation in poverty. Of the three categories of basic political institutions- state, rule of law, democracy- lack of democracy is not the core of the country’s problems. However poor the quality of Nigeria’s democratic institutions, substantial political competition, debate, and opportunities for the exercise of accountability have existed since the end of military rule in 1999.”

Nigeria’s state is weak and incapable of providing services transparently and impersonally, and further it suffers from a lack of legitimacy. Fukuyama asks why this is, and explores a variety of options.

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