peteg's blog

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: They Divided The Sky.

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Booked in person at Belvoir to avoid their online surchage, 2018-06-17, $25. Closing night, perhaps 80% full and yet I still managed to pick perhaps the worst seat in the house: in the far right corner from the entryway, and I got to see the back of the performers quite often, despite their considerate almost-constant movement. It was video recorded (and fortunately not simulcast to us). Bliss is still playing upstairs to something of a crowd despite wide reports of it being a bust. I rode over and back in fine weather and light traffic.

Briefly: this piece is Daniel Schlusser's adaptation of the book by Christa Wolf. It's about a young East German couple who become entangled in the time-honoured way only to separate due to politics, history, career ambitions, and a decade gap in ages that eventually proves insurmountable. Nikki Shiels (Rita) and Stephen Phillips (Manfred) bring excellent chemistry to their roles. Rita's humour is verbal, true-believer-Marxist-materialist-realist: "what part of you makes you hard to love?" she asks, early on, a coquettish nineteen year old. Manfred's take on his own mother is brutal, and his preoccupation with Rita in the early stages of their romance, and always with his chemical engineering, is convincing and tragic. It reminded me a bit of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez and Melissa's observation that the man looks at the world, and the woman looks at the man; perhaps so, until she ceases to.

The set consists of a bathtub, and indeed it does go off somewhere towards the end of the eighty-ish minutes. Amelia Lever-Davidson's lighting design was excellent. The production is tight, acting solid, and exhibits wistful nostalgia for Red Plenty, which I'm told is on the rise amongst millenials. The Sputnik moment is human: Rita celebrates Yuri Gagarin being the first man in outer space, and sticking it to the Americans.

An entirely Melbourne company, as I understand it. Jason Blake. Joyce Morgan. Cassie Tongue. Judith Greenaway.

David Runciman: How Democracy Ends.

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Kindle. I've enjoyed reading Runciman's essays at the London Review of Books, and figured this book-length expansion of his immediate reaction to Trump's election in December 2016 would be worth a read. Unfortunately it is mostly a rambling walk in need of a disciplined edit; a reflection of Trump's reign thus far perhaps.

This book is frustrating as it is very repetitious, but never gets properly grounded. I came away not really knowing what Runciman thinks democracy is: it's something more than voting; something that promotes individual dignity, but the mechanism by which it resolves conflict is not specified. Apparently others have observed that peace is correlated with greater inequality, and that democracy has generally solved the problem of violence between and within states (but how does that work?). Also it seems that democracy depends on growth. Asserting that democracies prevented nuclear war is unsupported, and one could say that it was a signal antinomy of the US system that allowed atomic weapons to be used twice (the pharaonic President operating in secret against the wishes of the people). I guess he didn't read Ellsberg last year, who points at plenty of evidence for the undemocratic Soviets exercising more restraint than the MAD United States.

Most confusing to me was Runciman's attempt to engage with the epistocrats, who think that better outcomes might be had by restricting the franchise to suitably-edified people. This directly contradicts the expansion of (political recognition of) personal dignity that anchors the enduring legitimacy of a democratic state, says Runciman. Further, capricious democracy is better than despotic epistocracy, as the demos is forever changing its mind; but as we see Krugman arguing in the context of trade wars, this defeats long-term planning. Where the wheels really fall off is that Runciman accepts a utilitarian morality without discussion: he supposes that there is a rational way for me to vote, and that just maybe Nigel by Kimera (now predictably having an ICO after pivoting towards becoming the new social network intermediators) can help me do so; in other words, our decisions are just risk/uncertainty assessments. But that is economics, not politics: democratic voting is about expressing preferences, and those need not be rational. As Runciman observes elsewhere, there are no right answers to political questions, just consequences. On this reading he isn't even talking about the same things as the epistocrats.

Also irritating is his poor framing of Nozick's conception of the ideal society (or utopia), as something like the intersection of all the societies that individuals might wish to join. Personally I'd prefer to have more undespoiled nature than less, which is a joint action problem that I doubt is solvable entirely within my "society". Similarly Runciman does not have a lot to say about the Singularists: come on man, why the demos should not expect to share in the future is right there in the name. However infinitely fascinating humans are supposed to be, technology is more and increasingly so to those with power. I didn't understand why the bureaucracy cannot already serve many of the functions the Runciman asks of the internet, big data, whatever, or flipping it around, why the latter would be immune to the pathologies of the former.

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