Tuesday, 12 July 2016

41. Now you see me? Now you don't

Somehow this post will link obesity, free trade, drugs, migration, environment and Facebook. Or at least that's the very vague plan my fingers seem to have. So let's see how it all works out.

Much is being said about the resistance to globalisation the world seems to be showing after Brexit and in this electoral period in the US.


When understanding major crisis, on top of all the detailed analysis, we should try to step back and look at how this chain is shaking at each level: 

land/food <-> culture/emotions <-> technology <-> economy <-> communication <-> politics <-> ideology, and how they were behaving just before the crisis. 
This is our food chain. Where food and energy comes from (below, above, the sides, inside?).

Now you see me? Feeding with food


NAFTA (or TLCAN in Spanish) gives us a good case study. Back in 2013, and due to the 20th anniversary of the NAFTA free trade agreement, the New York times published a series of articles discussing its impact. Laura Carsen in her articles "Under Nafta, Mexico suffered and the United States felt its pain" and "Nafta is starving Mexico" she makes very interesting points:


Food and Land

  • "As heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other staples poured into Mexico, producer prices dropped and small farmers found themselves unable to make a living. Some two million have been forced to leave their farms since Nafta. At the same time, consumer food prices rose, notably the cost of the omnipresent tortilla."
  • "As a result, 20 million Mexicans live in “food poverty”. Twenty-five percent of the population does not have access to basic food and one-fifth of Mexican children suffer from malnutrition." 
  • "Farmers lose when transnational corporations take over the land they supported their families on for generations."
  • "Government statistics report that 25 percent of the population does not have access to basic food."
  • "Since the 2008 food crisis, there has been a three percent rise in the population without adequate access to food. The number of children with malnutrition is 400,000 kids above the goal for this year. Newborns show the highest indices of malnutrition, indicating that the tragedy begins with maternal health."
  • "The dramatic change in Mexican eating habits since NAFTA is not only reflected in the millions who go to bed hungry. On the other side of the scale, Mexico has in just a decade and a half become second only to the United States worldwide in morbid obesity."
Culture
  • "And here’s another part of the history of NAFTA you won’t hear anything about: its role in unleashing the drug wars that have killed an estimated 80,000 Mexicans in the last six years and plunged large sections of their country into lawless violence."
  • "it became much easier and cheaper to move cocaine from Columbia, that had previously been delivered by sea, overland through Mexico."
Mark Weisbrot, for the Guardian's article "20 years of regret in Mexico" claims:

Economy

  • "For Mexico, NAFTA helped to consolidate the neo-liberal, anti-development economic policies that had already been implemented in the prior decade, enshrining them in an international treaty." 
  • [] "its growth has remained below 1%, less than half the regional average, since 2000. And not surprisingly, Mexico's national poverty rate was 52.3% in 2012, basically the same as it was in 1994 (52.4%). Without economic growth, it is difficult to reduce poverty in a developing country. "
  • "Interestingly, when economists who have promoted NAFTA from the beginning are called upon to defend the agreement, the best that they can offer is that it increased trade. But trade is not, to most humans, an end in itself. And neither are the blatantly mis-named "free trade agreements".

Both obesity and emigration seem to be raising the question to the world: Now you see me?
Before continuing, it is important to stop: we knew a lot about the Mexican immigration to the US. But did we really understand it? Do we understand TTP and TTIP?

Let's also remember the origin of the Syrian conflict, which I discussed in "Crazy, warming world", citing Timoty Snyder's article for the Guardian "Hitler's world may not be so far away":

  • "During the hot summer of 2008, fires in fields led major food suppliers to cease exports altogether, and food riots broke out in Bolivia, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. During the drought of 2010, the prices of agricultural commodities spiked again, leading to protests, revolution, ethnic cleansing and revolution in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria began after four consecutive years of drought drove farmers to overcrowded cities."
In both cases, rural areas become unsustainable and produced a disconnection of people from their land and unbridled mass migration.

Now you don't. Feeding emotions through information 


The role of the press in many political phenomena is under scrutiny. The press response tends to deny its influence, sometimes not even accepting a catalyst effect and describing its role as simply reflecting what the public is saying.


Emotions and technology


The Washington Post article Facebook’s News Feed and the tyranny of ‘positive’ content by Caitlin Dewey highlights the work of the blogger Max Woolf in analysing emotional reactions to content. One of the his findings is that Fox News content generates mainly angry responses. 



What's interesting about this point, is that this is probably true for both its audience as much as its non-audience: to be angry in sympathy and angry in antipathy with what it is being said. 

In the Utopian world where everything is positive, like the Facebook world with only the like button, content was skewed towards likeable stories and cat videos. This article ends up wondering how this new information will affect what we see in our feed, following Facebook understanding of what's relevant. This is of course important in the context that increasingly more people are using social media to get the news.


In a different article "How technology disrupted the truth", Katharine Viner speaks about Eli Pariser's concept of Filter Bubble: 
  • "Algorithms such as the one that powers Facebook’s news feed are designed to give us more of what they think we want – which means that the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. When Eli Pariser, the co-founder of Upworthy, coined the term “filter bubble” in 2011, he was talking about how the personalised web – and in particular Google’s personalised search function, which means that no two people’s Google searches are the same – means that we are less likely to be exposed to information that challenges us or broadens our worldview, and less likely to encounter facts that disprove false information that others have shared."
It continues to comment about the British internet activist and mySociety founder, Tom Steinberg's plea to Facebook: 

  • "I am actively searching through Facebook for people celebrating the Brexit leave victory, but the filter bubble is SO strong, and extends SO far into things like Facebook’s custom search that I can’t find anyone who is happy *despite the fact that over half the country is clearly jubilant today* and despite the fact that I’m *actively* looking to hear what they are saying. This echo-chamber problem is now SO severe and SO chronic that I can only beg any friends I have who actually work for Facebook and other major social media and technology to urgently tell their leaders that to not act on this problem now is tantamount to actively supporting and funding the tearing apart of the fabric of our societies … We’re getting countries where one half just doesn’t know anything at all about the other."



What do you see? lies and angles of the truth


Communication and technology


The article continues with the tension within journalism: on the one hand its corruption, it's disconnection to its purpose for the sake of cheap clicks.


"The impact on journalism of the crisis in the business model is that, in chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity, news organisations undermine the very reason they exist: to find things out and tell readers the truth – to report, report, report." 


But on the other hand, highlighting how technology could be the wound that finds in itself the solution pointing out that what was sold as "The Truth" by the press and the authorities about the Hillsborough tragedy would've (probably) been challenged much faster. 


"It is hard to imagine that Hillsborough could happen now: if 96 people were crushed to death in front of 53,000 smartphones, with photographs and eyewitness accounts all posted to social media, would it have taken so long for the truth to come out? Today, the police – or Kelvin MacKenzie – would not have been able to lie so blatantly and for so long."



Communication and politics 

This article ends up commenting on Zeynep Tufekci argument of the positive and negative aspects of the weakening of the press gatekeepers


"As the academic Zeynep Tufekci argued in an essay earlier this year, the rise of Trump “is actually a symptom of the mass media’s growing weakness, especially in controlling the limits of what it is acceptable to say”. (A similar case could be made for the Brexit campaign.) “For decades, journalists at major media organisations acted as gatekeepers who passed judgment on what ideas could be publicly discussed, and what was considered too radical,” Tufekci wrote. The weakening of these gatekeepers is both positive and negative; there are opportunities and there are dangers.


As we can see from the past, the old gatekeepers were also capable of great harm, and they were often imperious in refusing space to arguments they deemed outside the mainstream political consensus. But without some form of consensus, it is hard for any truth to take hold. The decline of the gatekeepers has given Trump space to raise formerly taboo subjects, such as the cost of a global free-trade regime that benefits corporations rather than workers, an issue that American elites and much of the media had long dismissed – as well as, more obviously, allowing his outrageous lies to flourish."


The other aspect that we will need to discuss in the future is if it is possible at all that a government communicates anything without it being considered propaganda, how a media controlled by corporate power does not fall into a permanent corporate bias and how we avoid technology -that democratises content creation but it is driven by quick consumption of information- becoming a hindrance in truth seeking.


Now I see me and see you


How do we keep our right for critique, for dissent without seemingly "feeding" separation? How do we avoid the temptation of the comfort that the filter Bubble offers in these uncomfortable times? John Cleese argues for humour as a tool.





Transgressing the taboos of the current consensus, both Trump (though taboo discriminatory and xenophobic language) and Sanders (through the taboo "socialist" platform), started to put words in that shadowy space that was unnamed by politics and Americans were silencing with drugs, opioid addictions, suicides and explosions of violence. 

But of course taboos are places of shame and shame is always protected by a layer of anger. It is not easy to touch taboo topics without triggering sometimes aggressive defence mechanisms.

Politics and ideology

With the neoliberal focus on the individual and some sort of faith to a (false) perfect meritocracy, we think if we are worth it, we will succeed, and if we don't succeed then it is because we are not worthy.  The pseudo-solutions come then as self-esteem and self-help books, because our struggle is purely individual disabling at the same time the political through the imposition of TINA (there is no alternative), demonising activism, accusing any collective action of mass, "robotic", manipulated, de-individualised, etc. However, it is ironic that this self-help format, with the appearance of being personalised is produced in mass, similarly to the IKEA furniture. The TINA tyranny, with a freedom narrative, is deeply de-individualising treating us all like a herd that should not think and simply trust technocracies.
Here, there is also a sort of inversion. Dagoberto Rodriguez, a Salvadorian thinker, claims that the poor vote for neoliberal policies, because they eat like poor, sleep like poor, live like poor, but think as if they were rich. In the same way, we can see the rich, eating, sleeping and living like the rich, but thinking as if they were poor. (Pity The Poor bankers, pity the poor rich, it is never enough, etc). I consciously take the following quote out of context: Steve Job's "stay hungry, stay foolish" because I believe in the power of words I have to point out that literally speaking is an unhappy quote that somehow perfectly reflects the sort of ideology that enabled Nafta in Mexico. Better options would've been "Don't feel ashamed of asking simple questions" and "follow your creative drive", probably in snappier forms like "No shame, just create" or "be smart, create".





But also, when there is an inversion when the people holding power speak as if they were in opposition or in the weaker position. It would not be the same to say a person should not hold power from an opposition or minority place as to say it from a position of power (for example David Cameron asking Jeremy Corbyn to resign, or even in the American police narrative when speaking about the tensions with the black community). The former would be freedom of expression, the latter would be overt repression. Early versions of this reversion were already present in John F. Kennedy famous quote "Don't ask what this country can do for you but what you can do for this country". Even if it was taken as an empowerment call, there is already a shift of focus towards the individual and the denial of the need of government action to negotiate, lubricate, organise, make possible what at individual level is not.

Back in the early 90s, Gloria Steinam tried to bridge the gap that the self-esteem approach left open, probably developing self-esteem into the main weapon against the individualist system (the wound that find in itself the solution). She speaks about self-esteem as the one being able to deal with this inner sense of shame but without denying that it is in the outside world where we can find a "chosen family" in which we see others and feel "seen" by others, be recognised and feel free and with whom we can engage in different sorts of collective action.  She tries to link individual and external change without falling into the trap of magical thinking, narcissism and conservatism but rather claiming that the personal is political and the political is personal. She explains that building and supporting the self authority of those with a different view (the one outside the consensus) is the way to truly become rebellious and change and affect the outside world. She argues that external and internal revolutions do not last without the other. You cannot have revolutions with people full of angst. 




In this sense, it is worth reflecting on how the Brexit vote came as a surprise to many brexiters who, submerged in the false security that their feeling of powerlessness gave them, almost unintentionally discovered that individual action counted and could account for a collective action. 


Rights only emerge in the connective tissue of the collective, negotiating these in-between spaces. Without seeing and recognising "the other" and this gap that may seem empty but it is not, willingly or not, we lose our rights and through our rights, our freedom.


In Revolution is in the hands of women and History got erased first at home, I argued however that if a good-enough level of this self-esteem is cherished by our mothers in our early childhood, no big external search of self-esteem will be needed. If actual family history is told and not presented to us as a curated sequence that leaves us feeling inadequate and disconnected from it, no big discomfort will be felt at hearing different versions of History. 


De-individualisation comes with the disconnection with our purpose of being who we are to become what I am supposed to be; the disconnection with our capacity to feed ourselves to become part of a hierarchical chain of hunger where entire countries or sectors in society accept to act like colonies to be extracted of their resources to feed someone else instead; and the disconnection with the other with whom we can jointly get closer to the truth where more than one alternative is always possible.

Andrea 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

40. Who cleans up our mess?

Looking at the picture of the big Glastonbury clean up, the pictures of Messi crying after his team's defeat in the Cup America final and announcing he's quitting from the Argentine team, and probably more transcendentally, all the post-Brexit debate, I started to wonder about this issue of what do we do in front of negativity: the waste left or that feeling we get the moment when we find a limit to our desire, our impotency, to "that" no.

A long time ago, I had to go through a psycho-technical test that was part of the pre-screening for a new job I got. In an interview, I had to answer a "Desiderative questionnaire", the sort that asks you "what would you like to be if you weren't a person?" and "what wouldn't you like to be if you weren't a person". First I was asked about animals and then objects. Even if it was many years ago, I remember my answers. To the question "what object wouldn't you like to be", my reply was "A toilet". I was asked to explain why, and the reasons were clear to me: "I don't want people to come and deposit their own metaphorical shit to me, expecting me to say nothing back, swallow it and thus making it magically disappear. Additionally, no one likes to take care of a toilet". Life or karma had me finding many perfectionists on my way, people who cannot digest their own negativity and need exactly that: to preserve their own perfection by depositing imperfections onto others.

The post-brexit reaction gave us a lot of examples from both sides: xenophobic attacks on immigrants from people who feel themselves now enabled or entitled to publicly and aggressively express their anti-immigrant sentiments. And even if not at the same scale of anti-social behaviour, the ones that needed to disqualify and express disdain for the 17 million people that in their eyes were ignorant and did not deserve a right to vote. 


The post-brexit reaction gave us too a feeling of disgust. The one that comes when the limits between the outside and the inside are breached. When we are confronted with something that we know exists but it is suddenly visible. In seeking the false promise of taking back control, the UK has lost control. All the internal discontent that a carefully structured parliamentary system normally filters was made evident by a referendum. All the internal tensions in the political parties themselves were also exposed: conservatives, labour and even UKIP have shaky leaderships and divided bases. A system that has democratically imposed TINA (there is no alternative) is left with no answers in this puke-aliptic scenario, also exposing that outside the current consensus there were no ideas being seriously developed.

In the following video, Slavoj Zizek speaks about toilet's design (this post is heading to be a bit scatological... I know). and he speculates a relationship with ideology. It's not long.



In this video, Zizek speaks about the three main toilets designs in the European trilogy: the French approach, radical, you don't see it and has to disappear quickly; The German, philosophical, you have to contemplate it for a while; and the British, pragmatic, it has to float before it goes away. And then we have the Brexit reactions, with Junker's position -expressed in French- then followed by Hollande, the radical view: it has to happen as quickly as possible no matter how painful (also shared by Martin Schulz), Merkel took the more contemplative approach, and the British are trying to hold on to their pragmatism whilst the toilet seems painfully clogged. 

Immigration is definitely a difficult topic. As an immigrant, and having gone through the experience of living and trying to integrate into 4 different foreign countries, I recognise that it is rather easy to stop a serious discussion getting into details and dismiss any criticism on a cultural base, but this is probably because current economic ideology prefers to remain invisible.

As I discussed in "Walls, resistance and adopting a new motherland", immigrants act like messengers that come to challenge our view of the world, whatever that is, a view that we are not so willing to change. 
Economic immigrants in particular, remind us that the prevailing economic view encourages a free-flow of capital and needs to allow a free-flow of people to enable the creation of efficient hubs and avoid concentration of trans-national capital in places people cannot follow, which would lead to transnational tensions. However, immigration and emigration are not always cold rational economic decisions: it touches our own attachments and sense of belonging and therefore people don't "free-flow" nor they root and integrate as easily as capital, even if economists would prefer them to. 

An immigrant may be touching our own impotency to adapt to theses rules of the game and remind us that we are expected to follow economic opportunity and leave our town or learn a second language (something not very popular in the UK at the moment) and leave our country. 
Immigrants may show us the true face of our country, that relies on them coming to avoid investing on its own people's education (which I discussed in Education: freedom of being v system architecture), one of the main engines of social mobility. We can look at the picture below and see its light, the positive contribution immigrants offer in opening up to new ways of thinking, being an example of collaboration and bringing all what was invested on them on education, but also we can see that there is a shortage of trained nurses and doctors and how restrictive and inaccessible that training is and wonder what's going on in Spain that is losing highly qualified people (3 out of 7 here come from Spain). 
  


In this video, Hannah Arendt talks about many things, but in min 36 she speaks about her own emigration experience, and her relationship with German as her mother tongue in comparison to the other foreign languages she had to learn. In min 42-45 she speaks about her return to Germany after 1945, and how listening to her mother tongue being spoken gave her a feeling of joy, even if probably her relationship with Germany as a country was different and more distant.



We feel insecure if the exo-uterus in which our mother tongue used to be ever-present, changes and becomes unfamiliar and who is working on the cultural integration that is needed? (particularly remembering that integration is something that the whole group does, not only the newcomers). 
However, immigrants are an easy target because they are visible. The things that are slowly changing and disappearing due to globalisation and technology (and in the future more things will change due to climate change) are less evident and there is a lack of narrative in this area, no one is clearly naming what's going on at any other level than the corporate narrative which portrays this progress is undoubtedly positive. 
A government impassive and unresponsive becomes unfamiliar, so it must be the fault of Europe, or so everyone was told during the previous election campaign. These sentiments mix economic realities with political and cultural ones.

On the other side, these "ignorant" voters who voted for leave are also messengers to show that our view of the world, where individual success (including our own access to higher education) does not isolate us from the weakening structure that sustains the commons, those collective aspects and mechanisms that are based on solidarity and try to bridge opportunity gaps; nor it can deny that any economic model can be criticised and challenged by the people that feel most negatively affected. 





And this is not exclusively true for Europe. Here Joseph Stinglitz explains how making the pie bigger (increasing GDP) could benefit everybody, but that this does not mean it would. And this divide is very much real in the US.



There are multilevel fractures at play: economical, cultural, educational, political, that seemed to have converged in one referendum.

Was the Brexit vote the best way to deal with these issues? Probably not.  
But would any self-reflection be possible without such "an event" (at UK and EU level)? Sadly, maybe not.

Here come the Glastonbury volunteers that make visible the clean up process and show us that it is not magical or glamorous. It takes work.


I talked about the missing women in politics in Revolution is in the hands of women. So not surprisingly, several women are raising as candidates in the Brexit aftermath, claiming that in a time of turmoil they would be more practical, less testosterone-driven and able to collaborate. Iceland's PM wrote in an article

"When I have spoken on the importance of women taking on a greater role in the running of the world, I have sometimes quoted a poem by an Icelandic poet, Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir, translated by Salka Guðmundsdóttir. It is simply titled “Woman”.


When all has been said
when the problems of the world
have been dissected discussed and settled
when eyes have met
and hands been shaken
in the gravity of the moment
—a woman always arrives
to clear the table 
sweep the floor and open the windows 
to let out the cigar smoke 
It never fails"


But also, because historically women have been this watery entity containing negative emotions, in a way acting like toilets, very practical, making it all magically disappear, or so we hope. 
I do not claim that the fact of being a woman automatically makes anyone a good candidate. I do not know either if any of these women have the vision needed in this moment, nor I necessarily agree with some of their views that could easily follow the shock doctrine and impose even more neoliberalism. But it is interesting how in this context, the proficiency they may have is more visible: Nicola Sturgeon is praised by her strength and Theresa May was not even in the radar when Cameron and Boris were defining the future of Europe in a pissing contest (technically speaking).

Even if some people ridicule it, it makes complete sense that with this leadership race, suddenly issues like motherhood and attachment theory appear on the public arena, unlikely or not brought by conservative candidate Andrea Leadsom (demonstrating a very deep duplicity), as the current economic model -which she supports- moving towards ever more extraction of wealth and a rent-based economy comes from hungry babies
Funny enough Theresa May is already being called the nation's nanny. Nanny? Not the prime minister, not a leader. Nanny. Which is funny in two senses: any female authority cannot be too far away of projected maternal role (Angela Merkel is called Mutti -mummy-) and even then, under the patriarchal mother model, the mother should not be visible or present and the job is delegated to a third party (the nanny), or because it is an indirect way of saying she has no children. So the context in which this is happening is not demonstrating massive progress for women per se but we can never underestimate the effect that normalising women leaders has on the future.

At the end, we can dwell to infinity and beyond about how to describe the social fracture: if it is generational, class-based, religion-based, race-based, education-based, urban v no urban... which side are you on, and so on. But to mend the fracture, the only thing that is important is deciding what do we do (together) with the impending reality. But before that, we need to purge this emotional waste, because if we remain in shock a lot of things can happen without anyone even being able to react.

And here comes Messi's son, hugging his father, giving him contention and as psycoanalyst Daniel Waisbrot points out learning at the same time that even the best in the world sometimes can't achieve what he wants. He suggests that Messi has saved his son in this act because if he remembers it, he won't grow up in the illusion that for some people, there are no limits to their desire, for some people "the other" does not represent a limit. And it is a reminder for us too that we should not think there are people who are not entirely human so we can rely on them to come to clean us up (the anti-hero, the depositories of our projected imperfections) or lift us all up (the superheroes) and make us believe that there is life without confronting at some point or another our impotency, the other's desire, "that no", and walk through the emotional mud it leaves behind to think who are we then and what do we do now, acknowledging at the same time that this limit we found still hides multiple possibilities. 

If he remembers that he, as a boy, was able to offer this contention, hopefully he'll become a man with this capacity too, not needing anyone to blame nor need external toilets when things become mess(i)y. ta-da! :) 



Andrea

PS: 






Friday, 17 June 2016

39. Violence won't have the final word

Solving problems through political means can be frustrating. Discussions, technicalities, irreconcilable ideological differences that no logic can bridge, and time: it takes a long time. And even then, sometimes one idea must win (or is forced to win) over the other. Decision making, in many cases, can't follow logic and reason. There can be petrified beliefs, we simply don't know enough or in both scenarios there are pros and cons. Then the decision comes by weighing in priorities: we have to think which principle is the most important to us as we fully immerse ourselves into the emotional realm. But here is where we are utterly unprepared. The emotional world can be explosive if we are educated with the repression hammer as the only tool.

Somehow, both the Brexit debate, with the assassination of Jo Cox, and the Orlando massacre have something in common. Violence tried to get the final word between two seemingly irreconcilable positions: accepting or not accepting homosexuality (own or others'), in or out of the European union; these two positions could also be described as a world where a an idealised (toxic) masculinity rules (even through violence) or a world where there is free expression of sexuality, empowerment of women, where the "weak" aren't so weak or invisible or discarded nor they are the sacrificial lambs who will wash away our own weaknesses; a world stuck and under control or a world that is more fluid, dynamic, multi-polar and uncertain.

This week we were left shocked with these two cases in front of the brutality, the destructive power and the lives wasted... in front of the sheer uselessness of an explosion of a violent emotion to resolve "the" underlying conflict.

Nowadays we are going through a multilevel crisis: economical, social, environmental, communicational, political, judicial, educational, cultural, religious... a crisis in truth seeking at a global level.

Even though we live in a complex world, full of greys, we are being told all the time it is all black and white.




In the era of information, we can't say anymore we did not know. Therefore the fracture between narrative and truth is clearer than ever, particularly since the Iraq invasion. Facts are dismissed, distorted, invented. We only need to read two different newspapers to see it. Speeches are rustic and shallow. They avoid entering into any sophisticated area, simply because depth will no longer sustain this polarised view, this basic structure that tried to organised all of our lives. We read the news and do not know what to believe anymore. And then, when narrative does not work, violence comes to impose it over social discontent.




In this sense, I am interested in the use of the word corruption, not only as a crime where someone is paid to be disloyal to their duties and favour a particular interest. Corruption in a broader sense, as disloyalty to the original purpose, which requires a sort of "absence". Corrupted journalism as the one that even if we all accept it can never be fully objective, it does even try. Corrupted politics, that in order to ensure power (or personal economical gain) deviates from addressing social needs. Corrupted science, that in order to get published dismisses unwanted results, neglects entire areas of investigation and turn a blind eye to its own ideological bias. Corrupted religion, that in order to sustain the superiority of a group charges the rest with all the sins. Corrupted education, that stops trying to be an emancipating path and trap students into debt slavery, class labels and indoctrination. Corrupted agriculture that tries to control the sexuality of the land. Corrupted nutrition, that makes us dependent and fat. Corrupted law and justice, that makes corruption legal and protest and whistle-blowers illegal. Corrupted technology, that instead of being an enabler of inter-connectedness, it is used to control us.  Ultimately our corrupted self: the disloyalty to ourselves, to our internal truths that even if they can be emancipating, we rather not find, so we might prefer to be absent, and not "occupy" certain spaces.

Slowly and silently we are being dragged into new cold black-and-white wars opposing US and China (in Africa and in the South China sea), Iran and Saudi Arabia, Nato and Russia, TTIP/TTP "aligned countries" and Brics, oligarchies and workers, Genetically Modified foods (lead by Monsanto) and organic (with its seeds in the EU and recently Russia), democracy and technocratic neoliberalism, secular and non secular governments, petrol dependent economies and climate change, speculative use of land and housing shortage, finance and real economy, rent and wages, etc, etc. We could expect violence trying to have a final word here too, with these "quick wars", drones, "carpet bomb" solutions and "the new right" that are being sold in a world that seems impassive in front of a permanent state of war and fear, and seems more at ease in front of fascism than in front of a moderate left challenging some of the workings of the modern world. But at this point we must know already that no amount of bombs or arms will solve the underlying conflicts.

We need to start putting words to emotion as a way of taking ownership and funnelling the emotional power towards a constructive purpose instead of an explosive non-purpose. Putting words to our mouth to participate in a dialogue that triggers action. Words to name and put light to spaces we decide to occupy and transform. Attention versus distraction. A world full of greys that does not simply balance itself out. We need to reclaim politics, internally and externally.

Andrea







Friday, 3 June 2016

38. Left and right mixing up and moving towards post-patriarchal times

In my previous entries, I argued that the right tends to support the principles of the patriarchy: hierarchical structures, supported by the claim of some sort of moral superiority whilst promoting effort (and justifying social position) with the vague idea of meritocracy: those who struggle bear the full fault of their struggle, those who succeed is on the account of their own merits alone, disregarding any enabling factor (their parents, the country they were born in, the education that someone planned for them, the system, the network of people they dealt with, etc, etc).

The patriarchal drive is about taking people out of their maternal fusion/paradise: even if they feel content and comfortable, this fusion is a state of dependency or even worse they don't realise they are being subjugated. The left has historically played on the matriarchal utopia (which includes the concentrated power of the state, central planning, over control, etc, etc) and has struggled to move on from it (I would argue that it was a patriarchal-mother model, though). In front of injustice, growing inequality and social disempowerment, whenever the left adopts "matriarchal" codes, speaking about protection and disadvantage, the right (following their patriarchal drive) responds with even more resolve: for them the enemy is the matriarchal left and/or the matriarchal state, this "feminine" voice is either dictatorial, irrational, incompetent and/or deeply and utterly corrupt (all the patriarchal tricks to demonize and invisibilise the "maternal"), but hiding behind this criticism, it offers no answers to the inherent problems of conservatism and/or neoliberalism. At this stage of the patriarchy, the maternal is so taboo that EU and the US feel more comfortable with extreme right parties and quasi fascist rhetoric than with non-extreme centre-left ones trying to reignite the forgotten principles behind social justice.

At the same time, traditional "people's parties" have whole heartily adopted right wing economical policies co-opting in the dismantlement of the solidarity-based post War World II welfare state, whilst the right wing parties make big efforts to present themselves as the true representatives of the hard working people. The Brexit debate was probably particularly confusing in the traditional left-right positioning, having the two extremes together voting for Brexit and the normally opposing "modern" conservatives and so-called progressives joint together voted for remain.


So, how do we move to a post-patriarchal society?  

Here we are: seeing the right with not many answers to the growing inequality and disequilibrium happening in the world with civil wars fed by environmental crisis, with little action against the causes of the 2008 economic crisis, the new cold wars being wedged, and with hesitant standing in front of the re-emergence of extreme right views and power. They tend to put their faith on the "invisible hand of the market" re-establishing the lost equilibrium, explanation that sometimes even takes divine overtones (not few reports speak about measures to calm the markets, which sounds reminiscent of tribes offering sacrifices to calm the gods) and even disregarding the fact that in the invisible hand of the market, the state was also a player in the game. On the other hand, the left is fractured (or fractures itself easily) and cannot find its cause, its voice or even the right words (hesitating if using the word socialism, or democratic socialism or making reference to a class struggle), plays as the outsider and still can't offer a vision of progress that does not trigger the old patriarchal alarms. 
We know that something is not right.

I don't think there is a simple answer to this question. What we do have are the experiences we are individually going through and that are building what would be a modern version of a family, its structure, its roles, its hierarchy; our own experience in "becoming an adult", and stories (including religious) that seem to have been essaying different approaches or different aspects of this transformation. One of the arguments I explore in this blog, is that we -somehow- follow our own biological and psychological development at a social level too, and that these processes have been described by legends, fairy tales, religion and literary works, from classics like Don Quixote and Hamlet to modern pop tales. Here, I'll continue to mix up religion and popular books and films, not in disrespect of religion but mostly to touch the narratives that we (at least in the West) are surrounded with and to use them as a resource because we were able to imagine and understand this stories. 

3 stages of love: Blind love, hate and true love.

Blind love: During the pregnancy of our mothers and our first infancy, we are fused to our mothers psyche, we receive "free" food, attention, a roof, etc, etc. Our psyche is structured according to our mothers words: what she names and does not name. We love our mothers, but this love is blind: we don't and can't see our mothers imperfections, her "dark side". This type of love is working to build and sustain this dependency bond. This stage is the matriarchy, in the bible described as Eden, in Lord of the rings, for example, as The Shire. Here, I have to make a distinction: the love of the baby is blind but the one from the mother should not necessarily be. Patriarchal mothers are the ones that are hungrier and might connect with their baby with blind love, where she becomes also dependant of her children (she needs them looking at her, giving her meaning, being the objects of her control, etc). A mother that can truly see the individuality of her child, and her own individuality will behave differently.

Of course, blind love is also felt in the "falling in love" stage, when we see our lover as perfect and feel some sort of addiction, and believe that our survival depends on our loved one, that makes us understand Mariah Carey when she sings "I can't live, if living is without you".

Hate: Hate is a type of love that is working out its way to cut its own dependency. In fact, it is an alarm bell to signal a dependency (economic, of external recognition, etc) but it is frequently misplaced towards people that just remind us we are dependent: minorities, immigrants and women. Anger and hate are the crust hiding our weak dependent self. The patriarchy comes and demonises the mother showing only her dark side: the mother is shown as a witch, as a step mother, as an evil/narcissistic queen, as a prostitute (or corrupted), as a monstrous spider, etc or makes them invisible altogether. At the same time it demonises our own weak self dependent on her. With all its issues, it has a purpose: we would not be able to separate from the "good mother", we cannot separate if we remain blind, so we are forced into a world of high polarisation. This vision is still not real but it shows something we did not see before. So the figure of the matriarchal maternal should be hated, dependency should be hated and the weak and vulnerable should be hated. Here we are also dependent, but dependent of our father's approval and his law. Even if it is a freedom rhetoric, we are not free. The patriarchy is a castrating stage.

Of course, here comes the point I discussed in "Emancipatory anger" that argues that anger or rage are forces that need self-contention to become a fire that lights change instead of a destructive force that expresses an emotion explosively, without purpose. 

We've read about the patriarchy zillions of times: The old Testament is full of stories of this patriarchal god, the Empire wins over the republic in Star wars, the Two Towers start a war in Lord of the rings, the orphan princesses "see" how unjust their step mothers can be, or how controlling and dangerous witches are, Pink Floyd The Wall sees the humiliation that the patriarchal order, including the one the patriarchal mother imposes, etc. But also, when men are polarised into moral beings and cruel dictators.

So the patriarchy uses hate as the sword, the scissors that would cut the umbilical cord, the dependency to the mother, to stop the drive to go back instead of forward, but it is also used to castrate under the law of the father.




True love: after the process of blind love, hate, comes true love: the one that loves and even admires imperfect people, the one that is not dependent, the one that sees both sides. The one were we find ourselves not longing to go back to the lost matriarchal Eden. Here, "I can live even if living is without you". Most importantly, that it is not dependent nor disconnected. It comes with freedom, agency and recognition of the other (which I think it is probably a better stand point that respect).

From patriarchy to post-patriarchy

The end of the matriarchy has been shown in many many many ways:
-Princesses marrying a prince or receiving a sword (integrating her masculine side).
-In Lord of the Rings: Sam killing the spider (the shadow of the mother), destroying his dependent bond (the ring) and the inner drive to succumb to the temptation of going back to his mother womb (the eye of mordor) to fall into eternal dependency (the vision of Sauron winning is slavery) or die as a way of going back (death drive).
-Hansel and Gretel killing the witch.
-A prince killing a dragon.
-Probably by Jesus first public appearance and miracle at a wedding, when even if he claims it is not his hour, his mother insists and he turns water (amniotic fluid) into wine, followed by his rebirth in his baptism.
-In more modern versions, like Brave, the patriarchal mother is not killed but "enlightened", as the child is already clear that this stage is over: the mother removes her crown and reconnects to her wild side (the bear), which she needs to learn to dominate.

The end of hate does not come however with the end of the matriarchy only, but the patriarchy needs to end too: hate is there until we cut the dependency with the external structure the father role offers (reminder: it is a role not a person of a specific gender)  when the sword is turned to a pen. And here there are also different versions, or parts of the process:

-A challenge from the son after the patriarchy had successfully castrated or killed the son.
Jesus is killed by the (passive or active) decision of the Roman Empire (the Emperor). 
Darth Vader is castrated by his symbolic father and subjected to its power (Obi Wan Kenobi and the Emperor as the polarised sides of the same symbolic father figure). 
Both followed by a later challenge to the law of the father, even the laws of life and death. In the case of Christianity, it is completed by the command of writing the experiences (with a pen), becoming authors and spread the word.

Here is where we could draw parallels to what is happening today with the rage palpable in US general elections or Brexit referendum, mainly coming from middle-age white men, who, through economic castration, feel emasculated, humiliated and left behind and some feeling attracted to speeches that feed this rage with an old fashioned and fake male uber-power as a challenge, portrayed either as aggressive internal politics against immigrants or external aggressive policy against old or new enemies and weak economies. This "challenge" spirit is seen in any debate about political correctness. Even if some politicians feel the need to confront this rage speaking occasionally about love, knowingly or not they remain in a high polarisation stage. 

This stage of rage is very confusing, and full of fear. Even if some have the intention to challenge the "authorities" in many cases, they end up voting for very repressive regimes and the ones promising to go back to the idealised past (probably, due to an unconscious fear of their own anger and their own freedom).




-The integration of the shadow: the son assuming responsibility
One of Christianity main messages is about "don't expect anyone to come to save you", conveyed in many ways: by claiming the last saviour has already come, by demonstrating it with the death of Christ where there was no God who came to save him and by suggesting that each should carry our their cross, and give testimony.
In Lord of the Rings we see, a shy Sam that did not want to listen to his shadow (Gollum), progressively assumes responsibility (killing the spider, carrying Frodo), getting married, becoming a father and becoming the next writer of the story.

-The connection to paternal love: assuming paternal responsibility - Fathers restraining themselves from castrating their sons in the moment of rage/rebellion
-Darth Vader (even if he castrated his son, cutting his hand) finally "awakens", kills the Emperor and removes his mask when he sees his son's life in danger for refusing to follow him to the dark side.





-In Billy Elliot, the father accepts the challenge of his son's rebellious dance, he finally respects and supports his choice.



-Hans Solo by allowing his son to kill him: versus the old Darth Vader model who represented a father that did not want to die.

(note: in this video, when we see Padme becoming a mother in a very sterile room, with a robot as a midwife, Padme crying and Obi Wan Kenobi as a company, we are also seeing a very patriarchal setting of birth. Particularly when compared to Christian and Buddhist birth myths that portrayed women being warmed and sustained by nature -animals, trees). 




-The re-emergence of narratives portraying women, not saints, no witches: good and bad at the same time (that I touched upon in different entries). 
This even affects the view of Europe, who tends to take on female characterisation when opposed to the US. Both good and bad at the same time: utterly imperfect as you would expect in a real world.

These later two points are probably where Christianity falls short. As Jesus did not become a father (and never tells the story of his childhood -at least officially-), it does not offer a template of what post-patriarchal fathers and mothers are or should be.

Should there be an acknowledgement of progress?

I'll bring again the point of births and examples of discussions happening at the heart of some feminist groups. There is a re-emergence of the natural motherhood discussion, natural births, breast-feeding until much later than previously (culturally) accepted, etc. Whenever I see a text blaming the medical science of depraving women of the sacred and even sexual moment of childbirth, I wonder why do we need to antagonise with the medical science, responsible of lowering both mothers and infant deaths so drastically. I deeply agree with the concept of respected childbirth, the idea of recovering the wisdom of the female body, rediscover motherhood and look back and wonder what we've lost in the way of the introduction of science in childbirth, but with the reassurance that should anything go wrong there are a lot medical resources to rely on. Progress should not be denied but used even with rediscovered old wisdom. 


Should there be an acknowledgement of loss?

This print was done by Grayson Perry, in a documentary about masculinity for Channel 4 UK where he explored the subject in different masculine environments. This print is called Animal Spirit and was done after exploring the city of London and its (self-denied) version of masculinity. 




About it, he explains:
"I've been interested in animal spirits as a euphemism for emotional over-exuberance in the market,” he said. "I started of course with the two most common animals associated with the financial markets which are the bull and the bear... this is half bull, half bear but all male. "The masculinity you see in the City is cloaked long ago under gentlemanliness and rationality and 'good business practice'. "The beast still lurks, but he's very well-behaved."
From the perspective of what I write in this blog, I cannot help but thinking that this is a portray of the patriarchal mother: a highly polarised world (black and white) where a natural mother archetype (the bear) is taken over by masculinity (the bull), to the extent that she is feeding the patriarchal narrative to a baby with a penis instead of a breast, which creates individuals that under the appearance of self-control are being driven by out of control hunger (the baby is hungry for milk and motherly attention), and end up creating a very narrow view of the world where our individual issues seems so big that occupy all the space of the frame, preventing us from connecting to or even seeing the sterile and dying surrounding reality. (After reading this, I do acknowledge that I need to lighten up a bit. :) smiley face!).

Basically, motherhood (and politically, the left) is a taboo but it is not about "going back" to nature and have women and babies dying at births, but to move forward.

Not the end of history

In western society, one of the symbols to integrate and transcend is the cross in its multiple meanings: a symbol of torture, punishment, suffering, abuse and castration, a symbol of our personal struggle, but also a symbol of the need to integrate left and right, above and below (in terms of worldly hierarchies and spiritual ones) including as a channel of food, where food and energy comes from (from earth: agriculture, petroleum, above: spiritual, solar, wind energy, from the sides: interpersonal connections, giving and receiving). 
The acknowledgement of progress and loss does not signal the end of the left and right political positions nor class struggles. I don't think there is an end game where liberal democracy wins as Fukuyama suggested in light of the fall of the Soviet Union or a sort of communist government will be established as Karl Marx anticipated due to the intrinsic pitfalls of capitalism. In this moment very radical things appear in the horizon that are more radical than any of these visions: environmental radical changes (which will affect agriculture, water supply, generate migration, etc), shortage of natural resources, technological radical changes (the current topic of robots and automation replacing more that half the jobs for the next generation), huge demographical changes and geopolitical changes: at this moment it is not even clear that the project of nation states in the current form will be everlasting.

So I don't think that there is anything more radical than connecting to the current radically-changing reality, acknowledging the limits of the prevailing high polarised, self-centred ideology (that can only be sustained with violence as the ordering principle) and using all the tools at hand (knowledge, science, technology) to collaboratively find new solutions to these new problems.

I also think that the matriarchy and patriarchy are stages in a process that, when not allowed to be followed, creates and extends dependency. Each role needs to be allowed to do its job, the matriarchy to feed us when we are vulnerable and dependant, recognise our existence, our rights and our potential, the patriarchy to helps us develop self-discipline, use the resources available and follow a purpose, and finally to cut all dependency even the one we sustain with the law of the father, and to be whole enough to understand that rest might be in different stages of this process.

Andrea