Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

With what right does X claim to be Y?

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Recently, I asked “With what right do[es] various organisations, groups of activists, and similar claim to speak for others? (And do they truly serve the interests of these others?)”.

Similarly, we might ask e.g. “With what right does X claim to be Y?” and “On what basis do others claim that X is Y?”.

Such questions are highly relevant for various political entities, e.g. relating to countries and cities. Take the City* of New York: Depending on point of view, this could be taken to legitimately mean different things, including (a) the buildings and infrastructure that make up the physical city, (b) the sum of all those who live within the city, (c) the area where these buildings, inhabitants, whatnot are located (with or without a prescribed border). What is meant, however, is often something illegitimate, namely “the government [administration, whatnot] of the City of New York” (or something similar). Certainly, politicians very often seem to fail to understand the difference between a city or a country as such and the respective associated governmental organisation(s). Indeed, in many cases, especially on the Left and/or during the COVID-countermeasure era, it seems that many politicians view the purpose of the country-as-such as keeping the government running, instead of the government to keep the country-as-such running, and/or are unable to perceive any difference between the two.** (However, the issue is not restricted to what e.g. politicians think, how politicians use a certain phrase, and similar. Often, the issue resides with the attitudes or language use of others, as will be clearer below.)

*Examples following such a pattern, here to disambiguate with the State of New York, are unusually easy to understand and, often, more “in the face”. However, the overall issue is by no means restricted to mere names. (Note that, in any given case, the official name need not adhere to such a pattern, even when the pattern is used colloquially.) The issue might be larger in Germany, where I have the impression that “Stadt” (“city” or “town”) is often prepended for the specific purpose of pointing to the government of the city, which is idiotic.

**The latter is strongly overlapping with totalitarianism.

This is the more frustrating as governments, beyond a certain and usually long exceeded size, tend to do more or far more harm than good, and as a world with parallel societies might be an improvement.

Particular signs of a faulty attitude on a city level include the nonsense of “twinning”* in the name of the city and excessive city-planning projects** that are often rejected by the citizens, do much damage to them, harm small businesses, would be better left to the commercial sector, whatnot—but years down the line give the politicians a shinier toy to be proud of. Then there is nonsense like “X has no place for racism/intolerance/whatnot”, where a small group presumes to dictate to others, including those who have lived in X for far longer, what they are allowed or not allowed to think in order to remain in X… (Off topic, this is the worse as what is called “racism” usually is not, as intolerance is usually far more common in this small group than among the allegedly intolerant, etc. Cf. any number of earlier texts.)

*This does virtually nothing for the regular citizens, but does give the politicians an excuse to travel, to play at being international “somebodies”, and to show that they are doing something. For my part, I view twinning as proof that the politicians/administrators have too much spare time and too large a budget on their hands. Twinning ties should be severed and forbidden, the money saved be returned to the citizens, and politicians/administrators either be set to do real work or have their positions removed.

**I still think back with horror at the way Düsseldorf tried to commit suicide during my years there, through one of the largest and most poorly planned turn-the-city-on-its-head projects that I have ever seen. The main cost was ultimately carried by the people, including those who had massive delays in their daily commutes for several years and those who ran mom-and-pop stores and found themselves cut off from their customers.

Similarly, consider sports and what organisations have what weight. For instance, yesterday, I wrote of Djokovic’s official return to the top, but what is the implication of “official”?* As long as I spoke of e.g. “official ATP rankings”, this was not a problem, because the ATP can naturally determine its own rankings. When we look at more general “officialness”, however, this fails; and it might even be argued that the idea of “official rankings” (as opposed to “official ATP rankings”) is nonsensical.** There is certainly nothing to stop someone else from posting his own rankings,*** and historically**** many have. It is not even clear what organisation should, in some sense, be considered the main candidate for “official”—the ATP or the ITF. (Similar claims apply to the WTA rankings, the WTA vs. the ITF, etc.)

*The modifier “official” is one of many to drift considerably in meaning over time, to the point that its use often borders on a meaningless filler. However, the most common meaning (or family of meanings) seem to relate to communication/approval/whatnot by some organisation or other, which becomes near pointless when the organisation is left out of the sentence or, worse, takes on something almost mystical when the mental connection to the organisation is forgotten and/or the organisation is implicitly seen as an authority beyond fault, doubt, and differences in opinion.

**This applies equally to e.g. cities: “per official city-government policy” might make sense, while “per official city policy” is nonsensical. (The shift in topic is only apparent.)

***Indeed, my own writings on Djokovic and his artificial handicaps amount to this in miniature, in that I point to him as the true number one—no matter what the ATP claimed at the time. (The “miniature” arises from the sudden end of my “rankings” after awarding the number-one ranking.)

****In the days before the ATP rankings and during the pre-open era in particular. Back then, there was a niche to fill. Today, the ATP rankings and the unification of pros and amateurs has reduced the need. (A case for a continued need might be made on the basis that the ATP rankings do not so much reflect “who is better than whom” as “who has participated with greater success in certain competitions than whom”, which can amount to very different things in some situations, e.g. when one player, like Djokovic in 2022, is unfairly barred from competition and the others are not.)

The ATP rankings still have some degree of “canonicity”, as there are no major other rankings and as the pattern of competition within the sport is so tightly tied to the rankings, but boxing is a different matter—and here we see that there are other ways to handle the issue than through a single, unified rankings and a single, all-important organisation:* Not only are there several competing federations that fill a similar role to the ATP in tennis (e.g. the IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO), which all bring their own rankings, but there are several “unaffiliated” rankings (e.g. by Ring Magazine, BoxRec, and TBRB), which are often taken more seriously.**

*Note that I do not necessarily call this a better way: boxing is a complete mess in terms of champions and rankings, and I would like to see it done much better before recommending the approach. The point, however, is that there are other ways to handle the issue.

**For a variety of reasons, up to and including suspicions that the federation-rankings are sometimes manipulated to achieve certain purposes. More generally, however, it is much harder to rank boxers, as they compete much more rarely than tennis players. A typical champion in boxing might fight once or twice a year; the likes of Djokovic have dozens of matches per year.

Or consider the case of athletics and world records. Looking at e.g. news reporting, it is not uncommon to see claims that this-or-that would or would not be a world record or that this-or-that would be a mere “world’s best”, because no world record is recognized. (Sometimes with, sometimes without our old friend “official”.) Taken literally, this is, again, nonsensical; taken as a short-hand for e.g. “[not] recognized as a world record by the IAAF”, it has some justification. Now, the IAAF* has considerable advantages relative others through its greater resources, great involvement with individual competitions, its status as organiser** of e.g. world championships, and similar, but it simply does not determine what is or is not a world record—only what results it considers to be world records. While there are no competing organisations of a similar type (like tennis; unlike boxing), others have other approaches. For instance, “Track & Field News”, a very notable athletics magazine and collector/supplier of statistics, has its own set of world records, lists of results, and whatnot, that, on rare occasions, deviate from the IAAF’s. (As well as its own world rankings, which often deviate.) Most notably, it did not recognize Randy Barnes 23.12m mark in the shot put, which the IAAF had as a world record for more than thirty years, preferring Ulf Timmerman’s even older 23.06m. (Both marks have since been exceeded without controversy, removing this disagreement as far as the current record goes.) For my part, I do not recognize altitude marks as world records, including Bob Beamon’s legendary 8.90m. Go back in time and there are plenty of marks near-unanimously considered world records that pre-date the very existence of the IAAF… There are also instances where a national federation can recognize a mark and the IAAF not, and similar complications.***

*I deliberate choose not to use the still far less known, too-short-to-be-recognizable, highly presumptuous, and even pretentious “WA” (for “World Athletics”), but I do note that this name appears to reflect exactly the problematic attitude that is discussed in parts of this text. Note how much more descriptive and non-presumptuous “International Association of Athletics Federations” is. (I have an upcoming text on use of names.)

**With reservations for exact terminology and roles. The idea is that it has its own set of world championships and that, to my knowledge, there are no competing world championships within athletics. (With reservations for divisions based on e.g. age groups that do not affect the “main” championships.) However, strictly speaking, and in line with the above, it is slightly sloppy to speak of just “world champion” instead of e.g. “IAAF world champion”.

***According to some recent remark in a forum, the IAAF might currently even refuse to recognize any and all marks not made in a meet on some IAAF-run schedule or calendar. However, I have not looked into this.

Looking further, consider the WEF (and maybe some similar organisations): This highly presumptuous and pretentious “World Economic Forum”, has no true status as anything. It is, for instance, not a UN sub-organisation, not derived from the G8, and not a global parallel to NAFTA and EFTA. Neither is it e.g. an organisation formed by the leading economists of the world, an economic and international parallel to the British Royal Society, an international scientific conference, … In fact, it was originally hardly anything. My suspicion is that Schwab applied the idea of “fake it until you make it”, used tricks like picking a fancy name to give the impression that the WEF was the authority, the “in crowd”, the whatnot, and then waited and hoped that sufficiently many would fall for the trick to make the claim match reality. Unfortunately, he appears to have been largely successful in this regard.

Excursion on the likes of the WHO:
Somewhat similar ideas as for the WEF and some sports organisations might apply to e.g. the WHO, especially in that the WHO appears to have decided that “we are the medical authority and you others should follow our lead—preferably, by law”, something recently pushed very strongly in the wake of the COVID-countermeasure era. (The worse, as a sole organisation taking the lead would increase the risk of global overreaction and reduce the possibility for saner approaches, as used in Sweden.) However, the WHO is a UN-run organisation and it is implicitly backed by or in interaction with most of the world’s governments. While I do not think that highly of the WHO, and while I have a quite low opinion of the UN as a whole, it is fundamentally different from the WEF’s “fake it until you make it”.


Written by michaeleriksson

January 30, 2023 at 6:00 pm

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