Thursday, 10 November 2016

44. Seven reasons for us, feminists, not to hate Trump

1. The Patriarchy has a devastating effect on men, leaving them incomplete. They are forbidden to integrate their female side and live in an eternal infant state: missing their mothers, looking for women to plug their umbilical cord into and be breastfed. They are dependent. They do not know how to feed themselves with attention. They do not know what to do with negativity. They need objectified people to work as external organs. They need to control, dominate and keep women captive to be their placenta, they need "weak" people to be their intestines and process their negativity, otherwise they feel they die. Hate does not solve that. These men need feminism as much as women.

2. Hate is an attachment that is working out its dependence. We hate people we wish weren't so important to us.

3. When we, as a society, are put in front of a mirror, and instead of seeing a beautiful image we see our shadow, the best we can do is show a measure of pity to that image. What we have in front of us is also a part of our society and us, our inner Gollum, the ugly baby-like hungry big eyed-adult that is hidden in shame. The one that was expelled from the matriarchal paradise and feels inadequate. And shame and humiliation has a big role in what's going on. Humiliation of the ex-industrial workers that had to accept a worse job or cannot fulfil the patriarchal 'provider' role, the ones that feel their country is only paying attention to the big cities and not the deep country, for the ones that lost their homes after the 2008 crisis, the ones that cannot afford medical care, the ones that developed addiction to opioids, etc. Shame is an emotion protected by a layer of anger, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist... that looks to deposit this humiliation onto others. In fact, a lot of people in the opposite side feel now "ashamed" of their country. It is not about normalising bigotry, we need to respond to each and every point, showing that our bodies and minds are "occupied" by someone, we are not inert receptors, empty vessels; but it is not either assuming that millions of people are simply monsters.

4. There is a danger that some people would feel validated by inflammatory words and they are the ones that we need to get our attention to. Blaming the leader is a way of taking responsibility away from them. More than ever we need to keep each other accountable.

5. Defending rights is a matter of recognition, of empathy, of overcoming polarisation instead of sustaining it or even feed it.

6. The patriarchy has many shadows but it has light too. The patriarchy is a process to help us separate from the maternal from which we are dependent on as children (and might be still holding onto at some level), to become ourselves. It demonises women as a way of pointing out forward, mistakenly equating "forward" with "away from women". The paradise is not in our mothers uterus, we need to go in the other direction. We need to learn that our mothers are both "the good mother" and the witch/queen/stepmother and our fathers are both Obi Wan Kenobi and the Emperor, the light side and the wounded side, integrated in one person. The true move forward is being born out of the patriarchy: being able to dance in front of the patriarchal father like Billy Elliot did is the true emancipatory act, It is declaring "I don't need your approval any more".

Having the patriarchy embodied so clearly, gives us the oppotunity to perform our dance. At this point we need to remember some of the "prohibitions" under the patriarchal rule:
-Circles of women, female friendship, women organised (in patriarchy women should compete not collaborate or trust each other).
-Women writing history, particularly their history.
-Women's visibility, women speaking up
-Women's anger
-Women acting, reacting, exercising power and writing rules

7. Revolution is in the hands of women and how we stand up for ourselves, how we raise the next generation of men and women to find in themselves their female force, to not fear it, to be nourished by it. In the meantime, we need to trust the wisdom of democracy and work through its institutions, assert the constitutional limits and the due balance of power, and if needed get involved in changing what is not working. This vote, ultimately tried to point out that something was not working in politics and we cannot give our backs to that fact. In front of something we don't like is extremely easy to cultivate anti-democratic thoughts, even David Attenborough joked about shooting Trump ... proving that he is someone able to touch the anger of everyone. People that get angry against him, and people that get angry with him. Anger can turn violent and explosive, but with a constructive purpose it can also be the fire that lights up an idea, and give us the energy we need to take action.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

43. The enemy is confusion

Elistism v populism

Elites fear the mass, what's "popular", they need to keep distinguishing themselves as the "true owners" -not even seekers- of beauty, truth, excellence, critique, peace, high quality, culture, consciousness, the light that guides the rest through darkness or whatever. If it's popular, it's  kitsch, ugly, fake, cheap, low quality, delusional, subversive, dark, dangerous or whatever.

In this polarisation, democratic forces (and post-modernity) present a challenge to the elites (economical, cultural, political) and their hierarchical structure. It tries to open up some doors and demonstrate that there is a popular consciousness too able to generate art, wisdom, capable of exercising power and in many cases demand a pen to fill in the gaps that History written by elites leave.

The Beatles in a way were an example of this, being deeply popular but able to create the foundations of how music will evolve in the future. Charly García, an argentinian musician, dares to suggest that in musical terms if we were contemporary to what now are called classical musicians, Chopin, with his melodies, would be the equivalent of a pop idol in terms of their appeal, and Beethoven would be a heavy metal rocker, and even imagine that The Beatles will enter in the pantheon of "classical music" of the future. He suggests classical music is the way it is because it did not have yet African influence that brought rhythm. This is not meant to not recognise the mastery the classical composers had, but rather to challenge the view that 'high quality' music is something like the art of the dead, petrified, beyond reach.

Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa published a book "La sociedad del espectáculo" (something like 'The show business' society) in defence of elites. He claims that in the past there was a clear distinction of what culture was and somehow asks 'how come everyone think they have culture?'
He claims that in fighting the monopolisation of culture within elite circles, they got a pyrrhic victory, where the cost of this victory undermined the notion of culture itself.

But even from his defence of elites and many good points he raises, he acknowledges that petrification of elites and monopolisation of culture was a problem and he warns against certain 'temptations' that corrupt their purpose, particularly when following a free market logic:

-In trying to massify a message, there is always a temptation of changing the original message for something more palatable and easy to convey. or package it in a way that actually affects its meaning, generating confusion.

-In trying to defend hierarchies and elites and their function, there is always the temptation of petrification, closing ranks and attempt to concentrate more power and halt time and progress, generating confusion too regarding which are the open ways and opportunities to become part of any elite.

Vargas Llosa speaks about the power of critique the distance that elites keep offers. But who can criticise elites? One of the most significant situations, illustrating the lack of critique in elite circles was the moment the Queen (in the position her own distance gives her) asked academics at the London School of Economics why no one saw the credit crunch coming in 2008. The Telegraph reports about the reply the Queen received a few days later:
The letter ends: "In summary, your majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole."
The letter talks of the "psychology of denial" that gripped the financial and political world and says "financial wizards" convinced themselves they had found ways to spread risk throughout the financial markets - a great example of "wishful thinking combined with hubris".
Vargas Llosa speaks about elites that are formed by people with "vocation, effort and talent" and criticises elites "by essence". But cultural elites tend to overlook how structurally close they remain to economic and political elites. They look at football with disdain and rarely reflect about how greater inequality and lower social mobility make cultural elites more structurally static, hereditary and far less truly meritocratic than football sporting elites, for example.

Of course, not all popular music will have the significance that the Beatles' music had and not all football players can be Maradona. But both the Beatles or Maradona are examples of excellence emerging from popular places, challenging this notion that excellence seeking has some sort of exclusive proprietary process.

All the anti-establishment movements, standing as far away of the elites as the elites do from them, are trying to articulate a critique. But they also fall into the same temptation of bringing an idea into our physical reality in a false body, in taking the short cut of conveying a complex subject as "the mobility economical mandate of free trade agreements" and immigration in a context of austerity, in xenophobic terms. Let's bear in mind that people complaining about immigrants are the most relunctant to emigrate, they chose to stay and vote instead. Let's remember too that people and capital move in opposite directions (one follows higher wages, the other lower).

The enemy is confusion and its main weapon is confuse us regarding who the enemy is: pointing out to some visible agent and keep its own invisibility.

Not surprisingly this confusion comes with memes and illustrations as images are read, decoded and stored in unconscious ways and can be more ambiguous than words.

Elitism and populism are constantly blaming each other of lying without recognising in the other their capacity to generate truth.

The product is the hero: the lie in the truth and the truth in the lie

Market logic always plays within the boundaries of the existing power structures and already accepted codes of acceptance/rejection. It only introduces products and slogans as new intermediaries.

As an example, naming Wonder Woman, a sexist, polarised, american-dominance symbol, as the ambassador of women's empowerment, the UN played exactly to the tune we dance today. It only promotes further Wonder Woman as a product. Brexit was a product sold to "take back control" and Donald Trump might just as well represent the same product for the empowerment of 'hard working white Americans'. Products, playing these symbolic hero roles, promise grandiose and somehow magic solutions to beat the antiheroes, something or someone chosen to carry all negativity and be sacrificed.

These products/heroes falsely embody a solution to a need that is not being addressed, the antiproducts/antiheroes embody the threat/the problem that remains invisible and unnamed. Both the need and the problem are probably genuine but not their embodiment. Political discussions can easily fall in the trap of unmasking the lie, without recognising the truth or in trying to recognise the truth, it may appear to be endorsing the "product". No clearer example of this, was Donald Trump twitting about Michael Moore's documentary as if it was an endorsement.

The complexity of this election cycle is that Hillary Clinton does not have enough "distance" with economical elites to be considered such a clear alternative for those with anti-establishment sentiments. In this sense, she does not appear to many as "recognising the truth" they want to hear recognised.

Renowned economist Ann Pettifor writes in "Brexit and its consequences" about the failure of economic elites in leading the UK away from Brexit, and analyses the ambivalence of the Brexit vote. Citing Polanyi and The Great Transformation, shspeaks about how the Brexit vote was both somehow truthful and misguided:

Karl Polanyi predicted in The Great Transformation that no sooner will today’s utopians have institutionalized their ideal of a global economy, apparently detached from political, social, and cultural relations, than powerful counter-movements—from the right no less than the left—would be mobilized (Polanyi, 2001). The Brexit vote was, to my mind, just one manifestation of the expected resistance to market fundamentalism.
By doing so, they confirmed Polanyi’s firm prediction that
the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society … . Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life, and thus endangered society in yet another way.

Brexit has endangered British society in yet another way, but the vote was, I contend, a form of social self-protection from self-regulating markets in money, trade, and labour.
The tedious task

Separating the truth from everything else is a tedious, laborious task often described as finding a needle in a haystack. And it is a process that involves conversation and talking to people who don't agree with us. Truth is found in groups. The Other helps us see different perspectives. However, in the attempt to liberate the individual to express its own truth, we severed connections with groups, somehow suggesting that any group would become a mass which is ultimately deindividualising. Protecting our beliefs, "out truth" from critique meant we cannot recognise the truth that the other might have found.
Interestingly in this video actor Michael Sheen says:
"Our culture is a conversation. A conversation we have with each other. And it is about voices and stories coming from all over. Opinions that do clash. There has to be a healthy way to have different opinions without each of us becoming offensive and abusive and "you-are-the-worst-shitty-scam for not agreeing with what I think". That's unhealthy. A healthy argument is the one where there are different opinions, different voices and are able to be aired and you are affected by. You telling me that you disagree with me, actually changes me in some way. That's important. If we lose that we are having a one side conversation that goes round and round in circles and everyone misses out, everyone loses because of it."

Culture and politics is where this conversation happens, so when this conversation stops, when there are more silos and filter bubbles, democracy crumbles and violence takes the place of the ordening principle. But there is another danger: Millenials, being the generation with the highest ever level of education and the most affected by the filter bubble, read in the analysis of the Brexit vote that it was the fault of "uneducated" people or the old generation and then some of them quickly jumped to the conclusion that they should not be allowed to vote, probably not realising that they would be denying the vote to many members of their own families. The same conclusions will be drawn should Donald Trump win today. This Bloomberg article denounce how Millenials are being turned off by democracy. I personally find these conclusions scary and I feel like almost begging: whatever happens in today's election, more politics, more conversation is needed, not less.


Monday, 31 October 2016

42. Hey Wonder Woman! It is time to leave adolescence behind

A big question mark emerged with the appointment of Wonder Woman as UN ambassador for women and girls's empowerment. The problem with symbols is that everything in them is -funny enough- symbolic.

If you are looking for an ambassador and you decide to go for a fictional character, product of a fantasy, it kind of suggest that women's empowerment is not yet embodied in anyone and is still a fantasy. Which is not true. An obvious example would be:

The problem of super heroes

There are other problems with Super heroes having ambassadors positions beyond being not real. Super Heroes in general terms represent the crisis of adolescence.

  • They have an identity crisis, most commonly shown through a secret identity, a permanent tension between what can be shown to the world and not, always fearing the reaction the moment they show "who they really are" or "what they can do", etc. 
  • They hold a polarised view of the world that divides it into good and evil, with the caveat that both sides feel they are fighting the true evil. Super villains feel that the authoritarian righteousness their arch-enemies represent is evil (think how political correctness is discussed nowadays).
  • They feel the potency of their sexuality which is represented in these superheroes physical power and sometimes hyper-sexualised images (this potency is rather realised through battles rather than sex). 
  • They have this feeling of immortality, and their vulnerability needs to be kept very very secret. 
  • Many of them are now starting to discover aspects of the family history that were not known and are dealing with cultural and familial mandates. 
  • A shadow with the sex drive, secrets, shame, past traumas, transgressions, anger, vulnerability, fear of rejection, and even the death drive emerges embodied in the super villains. 

These epic battles between super heroes and super villains represent the rich emotional inner life of a teenager, who is trying to work out right from wrong, I from Other, self expression and limits, individuation and death drive, etc, etc.

The case of Wonder Woman does not escape this pattern. She represents the fantasy of a teenage boy and all his Oedipal layers. A version of a very powerful woman, overtly sexualised with impossible body figure who has left everything behind to protect him, with big breasts to feed him and in real life she is happy to leave her Princess status to be his loyal secretary in a military structure.

Even if we leave aside that comics are marketed mainly for teenage boys and their conflicts, the change in hierarchy between the fantasy world and the real world embodies the contradiction of Wonder Woman as a symbol of empowerment, particularly for adult women. There is the argument, of course, that for girls that haven't gone through adolescence, finding this warrior side can be a useful emancipatory model to guide them through adolescence in the way to adulthood. Even if probably there are other less sexist symbols.
But even if we are willing to give it some credit, the problem of global cultural relevance of a woman wearing an tiny outfit and the american flag crushes all argument.

Not surprisingly (and fortunately!) there was a reaction.

UN staffers organised a petition to change this decision and during the ceremony stood up with the fists up in opposition and left the room soon after.

Several articles in different media criticised the move:
The Guardian:
The New York Times:

When the UN took the opportunity that the release of a Wonder Woman Hollywood's film offers, to give a truthful need of change in culture and politics a bit of PR, it banalised the cause as a mere publicity campaign. It pretends to want to change culture by playing exactly within the cultural limits that tell women they should remain pursuing -instead of transcending- an unattainable, unrealistic and even undesirable wonder woman model.

Super heroes do not win

The end of adolescence comes with integration, rather than the victory of a polarised side over the other. It comes with acceptance of our own dark sides and the maturity it comes with deciding how to behave.

A super hero is hardly an aspirational character. In fact, they are not a complete and free individual able to lead a normal life. It is rather a kind of psychological aspect who remains slave to its purpose as much as the super villain. Superman cannot have a normal dinner if he knows his help is required. A Super Hero is a sacrificial character who triumphs in taking his/her quest up to their own demise or failure. As characters they are special because through their power and will are able to take this battle up to the point when it can be resolved but not necessarily because they can or should win.

In a polarised world the inner battle is "exteriorised", forming sides, good and evil. While one side exists, the other will do too, and probably will go through periods of polarisation and integration while different generations go through their crisis of adolescence like in Star Wars. Speaking as he received the Hans Christian Andersen literature award, Haruki Murakami said:

“At times we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts. Or else try to forcibly eliminate those aspects. Because people want to avoid, as much as possible, looking at their own dark sides, their negative qualities. But in order for a statue to appear solid and three-dimensional, you need to have shadows. Do away with shadows and all you end up with is a flat illusion. Light that doesn’t generate shadows is not true light,”

Super heroes do not win, because for one side to disappear, the other side would have to disappear too. But that's not what happens. Whatever we think it is killed in this battle, returns.

In not "so super" characterisations, like Lord of the Rings, both Frodo and Gollum lead the way together towards Mount Doom to do "what has to be done" which is the integration of both characters in Sam and resolve the polarisation by destroying the externalisation of power, the dependency, that the ring symbolises. To do so, Sam increasingly takes on responsibility by killing the spider, confronting the Orcs, and carrying Frodo always at the verge of falling into the temptation of the death drive (Sauron). Frodo fails in getting rid of the ring, because it cannot be done consciously. It simply happens once he accepted "the" shadow as his own and thanks to having had pity for the ugly, squalid, grown-up dependent big-eyed baby that is Gollum, Sam's shadow. Pity in the externalised shadow, meant we'll have pity with ourselves, with our own shadow in the moment of internalising it, disempowering it of its potential of self destruction.

In a way, if super heroes are so relevant today might suggest that we are collectively in some sort of adolescent period that polarises our view of the world. We read on newspapers of European Identity crisis, the war against terrorism painted in black and white, political correctness v the most outrageous racist and sexist rants we've seen in a long time, the post-truth era, voters rage, etc, etc.

In this sense, the Empowerment of women truly comes when Wonder Woman is no longer needed, when the inner battle finishes, when we show pity to our inner shadows and we can focus our strength in changing reality.


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."
  • "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:


  • "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.


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! :) 



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, mainly used to describe the actions of the state or done by women. 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 not address the underlying commercial problem and starts to follow easy sales. 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, 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.