Tag Archives: competition

In Lightning Memory: A Philosophical Dictionary à la Baroncelli

The following definitions combine insightful personal memories and personally memorable insights that I recall from, and associate with, Flavio Baroncelli (1944–2007) qua eloquent and witty teacher, brilliant and ingenious writer, fast and sharp conversationalist, generous and kind human being, and committed promoter of the teacher- and student exchange programmes linking together Iceland, my adoptive country, and the University of Genoa, my alma mater. Not all of them must be taken literally or too seriously; besides, I would not agree with some of them myself! All of them are, however, sincere tokens of gratitude, friendship and love to a truly remarkable individual, who enjoyed entertaining and shocking his audiences, but above all liked making them think, debate, and think some more. Furthermore, these definitions are a creative and inevitably poor attempt at exemplifying for the Anglophone public the sort of pithy and humorous style that, inter alia, made Baroncelli famous in Italy in his day.

 

Actuality

Another word for potentiality.

 

Addiction

A disease mistaken for moral failure.

 

Adulation

Causing pleasure by sly words, even when the listener knows that they are lies. Philosophers, in their stately parlance, would call it a perlocutionary speech act.

 

Advertising

The daily demonstration of how little control we have over our own will.

 

Agnosticism

A polite way for educated people to be open-minded pluralists in theory but narrow-minded atheists in practice.

 

Analysis (of concepts)

The bizarre tendency to turn ambiguous profundity into unambiguous superficiality.

 

Analytic (philosophy)

A typically modern attempt at making self-conscious philosophers sound like respectable scientists.

 

Banking

The best way to acquire power in a capitalist society, especially if one wishes to destroy it.

 

Beauty (physical)

One of the most important life-defining characteristics that a person can have the good luck to possess and that philosophers keep stating not to matter.

 

Bedroom

A seemingly private place where both neighbours and State authorities seem often eager to enter.

 

Brotherhood

The least understood yet most important principle of the French Revolution: without a modicum of genuinely felt compassion among fellow citizens, both liberty and equality will get used to ruin someone else’s life.

 

Censorship

A dangerous and stupid way not to listen to dangerous and stupid claims.

 

Chickens

When rasping hopelessly and continuously on a hard road surface, they exemplify instinctual behaviour as opposed to deliberate.

 

Cigarettes

Powerful, sweet, devious killers.

 

Clarity

The curse of any philosopher who may wish to come across as deep, original and worthy of enduring attention.

 

Coherence (aka consistency)

The unhealthy obsession with getting rid of all the instances of personal diversity, creativity, capriciousness and experimentalism that make individual life interesting and collective life possible.

 

Communism

The 20th-century political scarecrow that, for the duration of about one generation, made the de iure liberal countries of the world be actually a little more liberal than their de facto oligarchic past and present flag out.

 

Compassion

The most important virtue cultivated by Christianity.

 

Competition

A much-cherished liberal value, as long as it does not apply to oneself.

 

Complaining

Generally loathed by the very same people who have most reason to complain—an instance of slave morality.

 

Continental (philosophy)

A not-so-modern attempt at making self-important philosophers sound like profound mystics.

 

Courage

Someone else’s form of madness.

 

Culture

The folklore of the rich.

 

Daydreaming

Coping with far-too-real nightmares.

 

Defecation

Its training in infancy reveals how people prefer freedom to be qualified and circumscribed.

 

Discipline (and Punish)

The most important book by Michel Foucault, who taught us that the more societies publicly incense liberty and call themselves “liberal”, the less freedom common people truly enjoy in order to do as they please.

 

Dogs

The ideal sort of loyal, selfless, hard-working and simple-mindedly grateful employees that employers would like to have.

 

Economics (contemporary)

A branch of mathematics mistaken for empirical science.

 

Economics (modern)

A branch of philosophy mistaken for empirical science.

 

Elucidation

Clarification articulating possible meanings of a pithy expression, with consequent loss of aesthetic and thought-provoking value of the latter. Sterilisation by explanation. (E.g. paraphrasing a poem, explaining a joke.)

 

Emancipation

The possibility for all people to be as bad and as silly as the rich and powerful minorities frequently are.

 

Etiquette

Aristocracy’s last ditch at controlling modern society.

 

Euphemism

See “Get lost!” below.

 

Evolution

It is only after Darwin that people understood what the heck Lucretius and Telesio were talking about.

 

Exceptions (making)

The first step towards tolerance and pluralism.

 

Faith

An option generally available only to a person who stops doubting.

 

Folklore

The culture of the poor.

 

Geese

Birds that can be confused with swans, especially in Iceland.

 

Geometry

An exact formal science that can be used rhetorically as a persuasive labelling method for inexact metaphysical reasoning.

 

Get (lost!)

Uttered in a timely fashion, it can save a person the trouble of having to answer a difficult question.

 

Greek

If ancient, it is an excellent way to display one’s own erudition.

 

Health

The true source of happiness, yet regularly forgotten until missing.

 

Hegel (Georg Friedrich)

A typical German philosopher, he wrote several tomes to demonstrate that nothing stays the same.

 

History (of ideas)

A way to find out why we think the way we think.

 

Homogenisation

The equalising social process deplored by anthropologists whereby identifying the poor, the outcast, the loathed, the derided and the downtrodden becomes a little less easy.

 

Hume (David)

An uncharacteristically prodigal Scotsman, he noticed that the only way to be sure that all matches in the box do work is to light them all up.

 

Hypocrisy

The misunderstood virtue of avoiding conflict in realty by accepting conflict in principle.

 

Ideology

A set of loosely interconnected concepts, some of which may be even mutually contradictory, that allow people to feel justified in their claims and actions, or at least to project an air of justification for them.

 

Illness

The demonstration of the bodily basis of the mind.

 

Indifference

The least acknowledged yet most important virtue in a pluralist society: by caring little about what other people believe or do, mutual tolerance can be the norm.

 

Insight (aka Intuition)

Prejudice we like.

 

Institutions

The remarkable social invention whereby to preserve the memory of past errors and make the inexorably ignorant new generations less likely to repeat them.

 

Intervention (by the State)

A much-loathed socialist value, which liberals accept as soon as they are in trouble.

 

Jokes

A valuable means of instruction that can reach even those who do not wish to be instructed.

 

Kant (Immanuel)

A typical German philosopher, he wrote two tomes to undo an earlier one.

 

Knowledge

That which philosophers seek and analyse most, and yet have the least of.

 

Language

The precious and inevitable source of all misunderstandings.

 

Lashes (by whip)

As long as someone else gets more than yourself, most slaves will not rebel against slavery.

 

Latin

Another good way to show one’s own erudition.

 

Liberalism

The political wisdom teaching that State authority should be used only to protect a person from her worst enemy: her neighbours.

 

Life

A rather bothersome business, but also the only one in town.

 

Lust

An open motive among men; less so among women. Gender equality’s lewd horizon.

 

Magic

Another way to understand religion.

 

Marx (Karl)

A typical German philosopher, he wrote several tomes to demonstrate that, normally, if the employer gains, the employee loses out—and vice versa.

 

Meritocracy

A neologism by the privileged.

 

Mixed (marriage)

The easiest and fastest way to explain why a marriage did not last. No such option is available for divorces between people of the same ethnic origin, the explanation of which may then take years of keen psychological scrutiny.

 

Montaigne (Michel de)

His essays became so famous and commonplace that later philosophers forgot to mention the source of the ideas they discussed and, eventually, Montaigne himself. There can be such a thing as too much fame.

 

More (Thomas)

Great wisdom expressed with clarity.

 

Nietzsche (Friedrich)

An atypical German philosopher, he wrote aphorisms to acknowledge a major yet neglected motive of human thought and action: resentment.

 

Nothingness

The likeliest outcome of a person’s life, which we spend trying not to think about it.

 

Order

In practice, the supreme official principle of social life.

 

Originality

The future outcome of the present ignorance about the past.

 

Pain (and Pleasure)

The fabric of our inner tapestry.

 

Philosophy

When good, it is the playful use of our imagination and of our reason in order to break apart, toy with and recombine concepts, beliefs and habits of thought, in order to make better sense of them. When bad, it is the skillful use of our imagination and of our reason in order to do the same and be even more confused in the end.

 

Poetry

An artificial reminder of life’s beauty.

 

Political (correctness)

The ungainly social process whereby the less respected members of a community can have a chance to be paid a little more respect.

 

Pornography

A widespread yet uncomfortable signpost of liberal freedom.

 

Potentiality

Another word for actuality.

 

Poverty

A person’s attribute that, if conspicuous, makes other significant attributes deplorable or intolerable to the surrounding individuals: age, race, religious affiliation, ignorance, ugliness, etc.

 

Prejudice

Insights we dislike.

 

Pride

A vice leading frequently to virtuous behaviour.

 

Quality

Often confused with quantity.

 

Quantity

Often confused with quality.

 

Questions

The best instrument available to reveal how ignorant we are, no matter the number of university degrees we may have.

 

Race

A historically popular but unnecessary notion which justifies people being nasty to one another. In its absence, freckles or bad pronunciation can serve the same purpose.

 

Radicalism

The art of making outlandish ideas sound plausible, thus duly impressing unsuspecting young minds and potential sexual partners.

 

Reason

The perplexing faculty to take apart whatever solid conclusion we had reached before.

 

Rhetoric

The unjustly neglected study of how language shapes people’s life under all circumstances.

 

Righteousness

The most dangerous virtue cultivated by Christianity.

 

Scepticism

Unwise over-intelligent overthinking—it is by far too delightful an endeavour for most philosophers to resist the temptation of indulging in it despite their own better judgment.

 

Sparrows

A natural reminder of life’s beauty.

 

Spinoza (Baruch)

Great wisdom could be expressed with more clarity.

 

Stratification

Having someone below you is usually more important than having someone above—another instance of slave morality.

 

Stupidity

The regularly underplayed yet visibly increased outcome of greater freedom in human societies.

 

Swans

Birds that can be confused with geese, especially in Iceland.

 

Syllogism

A structured way of thinking and talking that allows the person using it to come across as astoundingly intelligent and thereby force another to shut up, even if the latter may actually be right.

 

Tolerance

The socially crucial ability to endure people we dislike.

 

Toleration

The perplexing notion whereby tolerance is not enough in society, for we must also like the people that we dislike.

 

Torture

The most efficient way to get bad information from innocent weaklings and no information at all from guilty brutes.

 

Transubstantiation

To modern eyes, an old form of cannibalism.

 

Ugliness (physical)

One of the most important life-defining characteristics that a person can have the ill luck to possess and that philosophers keep stating not to matter.

 

Unpleasantness

That from which all great ideologies wish to free us once and for all, but which all great historians tell us we must accept for any human endeavour to have a chance to work at all.

 

Urination

See defecation.

 

Violence

Whether threatened or applied, it is in practice the supreme unofficial principle of social life.

 

Voltaire

The best example of how being a master of style condemns a man to being remembered as a minor thinker.

 

Wealth

A person’s attribute that, if conspicuous, makes other significant attributes invisible to the surrounding individuals: age, race, religious affiliation, ignorance, ugliness, etc.

 

Will

We like thinking of it as free, despite all contrary evidence.

 

Wittgenstein (Ludwig)

A Continental philosopher mistaken for an analytical one.

 

Xanadu

One of the many words for the imaginary place of endless joy that all cultures have concocted and that only some silly philosophers would state not to want to go to.

 

Youth

The time of peak performance in a person’s life, the rest of which is spent trying to make use of ridiculous concepts that can help that person to enjoy some respect and self-respect: the wisdom of old age, the charm of grey hair, the value of experience, etc.

 

Zionist

Often confused with “Jewish” and “Israeli”, it can be combined with them in the following matrix:

Jewish, Israeli and Zionist

Non-Jewish, Israeli and Zionist

Jewish, Non-Israeli and Zionist

Jewish, Israeli and Non-Zionist

Non-Jewish, Non-Israeli and Zionist

Jewish, Non-Israeli and Non-Zionist

Non-Jewish, Israeli and Non-Zionist

Non-Jewish, Non-Israeli and Non-Zionist

Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson, Morten Frederiksen & Jørgen Elm Larsen (eds.), The Danish Welfare State. A Sociological Investigation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

How is the welfare state transforming in an era of globalization, individualization and hence increased competition, and how are the changes seen on a macro and micro level? This is the main question raised in this book, containing 15 chapters, including a thorough introduction and a conclusion. More specifically, it explores how risk concepts and risk thinking transform the welfare state from responding to and from protecting its citizens from threats putting them at risk, to risks being seen as threats to the welfare state itself.

The book addresses a current discussion in Denmark concerning whether the welfare state, instituted to protect its citizens, is developing into a competition state, mobilizing citizens to take part in the struggle for the state to be competitive. In this picture, so-called non-productive citizens such as the unemployed, chronically ill, or newly arrived refugees, are increasingly seen as risk factors or even threats, and not primarily as humans worthy of protection. According to the editors of the book, Denmark as a modern welfare state endorsing both universal welfare and individual responsibility is an interesting case illustrating this development. Thus, they provide a frame for discussing whether it is worth ‘getting to Denmark’, as Fukuyama claimed in The Origins of Political Order (2011) as a metaphor for democracy.

The state increasingly seems to respond to macro-level threats from globalization and economic crisis with micro-level initiatives; hence the anthology focuses on risks both on a macro- and micro-level. In the opening chapter a thorough introduction is given to four sociological approaches to risk, namely risk society (Beck); risk culture/cultural theory (Douglas); risk control/governmentality (Foucault); and risk as uncertainty/managed uncertainty (Luhmann). These theorists, of whom particularly Beck and Foucault are cited in the book, claim in different ways that risks are socially founded. The explanation of this theoretical framework does not only serve a didactical purpose but also helps to underline how a social understanding of the risks of modernity can be used when analyzing welfare states like Denmark. Whereas the competition state is often associated with neoliberalism and deregulation, the social investment state is associated with reregulation, which several of the chapters analyzing policies on a micro level illustrate. Both the competition and the social investment paradigm however rely on a highly educated, healthy and productive workforce. Accordingly, policies of education, activation, and health become important. However, there may be unintended consequences of such risk management policies. As pointed out in several chapters, new risks may occur especially among the poor and poorly educated classes, who do not respond adequately to activation policies and often meet sanctions and cuts in benefits. Thus, the welfare state may end up reproducing rather than overcoming inequalities.

The book comprises three parts. The first part concerns risks at a macro level, mainly explored comparatively. Hence, in chapter 2, “Denmark from an International Perspective”, Peter Abrahamsen discusses the social investment paradigm drawing the traditional Social Democratic Denmark closer to liberal and continental models. In chapter 3, “Social Investment as Risk Management” Jon Kvist compares social investment strategies of Denmark, Germany and United Kingdom. In Chapter 4, “Employment Relations, Flexicurity, and Risk: Explaining the Risk Profile of the Danish Flexicurity Model”, Carsten Strøby Jensen explains how flexicurity presently is under pressure by cuts in unemployment benefits and decreasing support for labor unions. In chapter 5, “Precarity and Public Risk Management: Trends in Denmark across Four Decades”, Stefan Andrade shows that the Danish labor market has not yet become more precarious than in other European countries, though low- and unskilled workers have become more vulnerable to risks of poverty and unemployment. In chapter 6, “Towards a New Culture of Blame?” Morten Frederiksen shows from survey data, that Danes’ attitudes towards social assistance and unemployment surprisingly have changed very little.

The second part of the book is devoted to risk perspectives on the universal welfare state at a micro level. Thus, in chapter 7 “When Family Life Is Risky Business – Immigrant Divorce in the Women-Friendly Welfare State”, Mai Heide Ottosen and Anika Liversage discuss whether new and unintended risks of exclusion follow divorces in immigrant families. Education is the focus of chapter 8, “The Risky Business of Educational Choice in the Meritocratic Society”, where Kristian Karlson and Anders Holm demonstrate how citizens’ ability to risk management in educational decisions is related to inequality in education. Unintended inequality is also the topic in chapter 9 “Health in a Risk Perspective: The Case of Overweight”, where Nanna Mik-Meyer explores the increased focus on health problematizing an already vulnerable group. A similar tendency is seen in chapter 10, “Failing Ageing? Risk Management in the Active Ageing Society”, Tine Rostgaard explains how the Danish ‘active approach’ to elder care problematizes inactive groups unwilling or incapable of change.

The third and last part of the book stays on the micro level and explores the Danish welfare state’s approach to social problems and marginalized groups. In chapter 11, “Controlling Young People Through Treatment and Punishment”, Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson shows how the Danish system for juvenile crime is currently strengthening control influenced by ‘fears of “being soft on crime”’. In chapter 12, “Alcohol and Risk Management in a Welfare State”, Margaretha Järvinen argues that the healthcare authorities’ governmentality perspective on alcohol consumption does not reach certain alcohol consumers. In chapter 13, “The Tough and the Brittle: Calculating and Managing the Risk of Refugees” Katrine Syppli Kohl explores how Denmark’s selection of quota refugees has developed from choosing the weakest to picking those deemed most ‘capable of integration’, thus presenting the background for the Parliament’s 2016 suspension of the entire quota refugee program in Denmark. Lastly, in Chapter 14, “Cash Benefit Recipients – Vulnerable or Villains?”, Dorte Caswell, Jørgen Elm Larsen and Stella Mia Sieling-Monas examine the Danish unemployment policy including evermore severe sanctions as means of encouraging job seeking.

To sum up, the anthology offers a comprehensive overview of the Danish welfare state on a macro- and micro level, convincingly applying risk theories and discussing the social investment paradigm. In an era where publishing in journals is given priority over anthologies, this volume demonstrates that the anthology format is still justified. The volume is highly recommendable to students, scholars, and not least, decision makers.