Saturday, 21 January 2017

47. Women's march: Feminism carrying the patriarchal light

The women's march in Paris complaining about the price of bread led to the French revolution, the march of the suffragettes led to women earning the right to vote. Today there is a Women's March in Washington and in many other big cities around the world.

Even though it would seem that feminism is against patriarchy, I would argue that it is not quite so. It is against the invisibility of the patriarchy, it is against its shadows, it is against forgetting what the patriarchy is actually about. The patriarchy is a phase, an emancipatory process. In many respects feminism is the integration, the appropriation of the patriarchal drive which then takes us to a post-patriarchy.

Why do I want to write about the patriarchal drive? The patriarchal drive is the one that pushes us out of a state of dependency, of ignorance. The one where we are at the mercy of external forces. When women take that torch, the patriarchy is no longer needed.

Claiming control: occupy

As gatherers-hunters, we were at the mercy of luck, finding food, of external forces. Following the patriarchal drive, control was sought and we settled and agriculture and cattle raising began, developing techniques, knowledge, working out a schedule, a discipline.  With this, private property started, and then the issue of inheritance: how do I know that the children who will inherit my property are mine? (Men would ask). Which came with a heavy price for women as it led to control women's uterus, their behaviour, their voice, their friendships, their wisdom and their freedom. Anchoring land equated to controlling women's bodies. That's why it is said that ultimately all wars are about the control of land and the body of women.

Many centuries later, women were able to reclaim their bodies, but not by letting it at the mercy of chance to get pregnant or not (it was not about going back to nature), but to exert control over their own reproduction. This drive of claiming control, of not being at the mercy of external forces was internalised by women. Contraception (at to some extent the movement for access to safe abortions) are, in fact, patriarchal by nature. It was not about denying control. It was about owning it. In this move, the integration of the patriarchal drive, takes patriarchy to the beginning of its end. It starts to break the role-polarisation were women have control externalised (of behaviour and reproduction)  in men and men have nutrition, contention and care externalised in women.

With this I don't mean to say that the work is done, because it has not yet been institutionalised. Institutions, laws and science are still biased to take care of the rights and health of men (or not-poor men). Medical research puts special emphasis in rich men health issues, it performs most of its drug tests on men, women are more likely to be prescribed anxyolitics or symptoms being dismissed as psychosomatic. Research also shows that women are more likely to die of heart attacks when they have one, as early signs are not taken seriously. In Law, women (and poor people) are less likely to know their rights and to have less tools to defend them (access to proficient lawyers as in many cases they have to rely in those provided by the state) and even then they are more likely of being confronted by culturally biased judges. Very recently in a very advanced country, like Canada, judge Robin Camp asked a rape victim why she didn't keep her knees together and kept referring her as "the accused". This case caused an outrage. The case was reviewed, he had to go through gender-sensitivity training and he has apologised to the victim but also to the community, understanding that this sort of treatment has a bigger impact on society: undermines the efforts of other victims to come forward, deepens the sense of despair in victims and hurts justice. By no means, he is an isolated case.

This comes out of the patriarchal division of public and private spheres and property. As land is divided in public and private property, so are/were women. "Public women" were a property to be shared by many men and there are implicit rules of how women had to behave not to be labelled a public woman. This is why, in cases of rape, the first questions tend to be on the woman's behaviour and which "signs" she was giving. Public places were dangerous places for women. This sounds very old, but it is a code that is working to this day. A "public woman" is just a body to be used, like public facilities in some regard, she is not a person.

Ivette Cooper, Labour MP, will be speaking in Trafalgar square, during today's women march in London. Her speech was already published. A part of it speaks about women in public spaces:

We are marching because a talented woman MP was murdered by a far right extremist and we need to call it out as the terrorism it is.We are marching because we believe what Jo Cox said that we have more in common than what divides us and because we won’t stay on the sidelines any more.And we are not just marching, we’re singing, we are shouting, we’re tweeting, snapchatting, facebooking - standing up to the misogynists, the bullies and the haters who try to intimidate and silence people online just as for years they tried to intimidate or silence women on the street, in the pub, in the workplace.Thirty years ago, many of us marched to reclaim the night. Women in Leeds were being told not to go out after dark, because it wasn’t safe, there were too many attacks.Instead they came together - in Leeds, London and across the country to reclaim the night, to take back the streets. Our new streets are online. Social media are our new pubs and clubs. So just as we stood together to reclaim the night we will stand together to reclaim the Internet too.
Women are more likely to develop agoraphobia, the fear of open and public spaces, and stay at home, safe. Or decide not to tweet or have an androgynous name to post opinions. Reclaiming a public space is a natural step after reclaiming their bodies.

Going back to the light of the patriarchal drive, being born, separating from the parents all follow the patriarchal light. Rebelling against slavery, Moses exodus, Christ dying in the cross with the message "the father will not come to save you", Independence wars, Modernity and its drive to take people away from the dependence on the weather to avoid famines, dependence of "the will of God" to get well after falling ill, and develop modern tools, science and technology to take "control" or at least take action, all these movements of progress are following an emancipation/ patriarchal drive.

Forwards not backwards

The patriarchal drive has a second light: the direction is forward not backwards. It is forbidden to go back to the womb, the matriarchal world (infancy), the dependent state. This equates with the death drive, wishing to go back to mum's uterus, to let go and not engage with reality any more. We march for 40 years if it's needed, but we don't go back. With this prohibition, it brought the demonisation of women, particularly if they were powerful as they represent the temptation to go back to mum's world. Women then are portrayed as witches, as narcissistic queens, as prostitutes, as corrupted human beings particularly if there are not fulfilling the roles of the good girl, obedient, mostly silent or not confrontative, a doll or happy to be the empty object of desire. Most women leaders and politicians have to deal with this demonisation publicly and Jo Cox suffered the ultimate consequence. It's been years of slow progress and today women are confronting. Today's march is also carrying this light: we cannot go back.

Ivette Cooper will finish her speech with the following words:
We are here because we want to take a stand against Donald Trump. Millions of American women and men voted for him. Marching isn’t enough - we need to persuade, to win arguments, to challenge the deep causes of division and to build a future in common.We stand on the shoulders of our mothers and grandmothers - women who have gone before us and won great victories to get us equal pay, abortion rights, rape laws, child care paternity as well as maternity leave.But we won’t be judged on our victories but on how we deal with the setbacks. How we come together and rebuild when it feels like the clock is being turned back.For the sake of our children and grandchildren - our daughters and our sons - we are here because we will not let the clock be turned back now.
But the need of moving forward not backward will come again in other political discussions: with the attempts of raising tensions again with Russia, or creating a new enemy in China. It will be discussed again in terms of workers rights, education rights, freedom of press, freedom of speech, civil rights...

The need of shedding some light

In any case, it is always important to acknowledge context. Donald Trump's election did not come out of nowhere. It came after almost two decades of stagnant wages, student debt, worse jobs requiring ever higher qualifications, rising death rates, rising opiate addition, new generations being for the first time more likely to be worse off than their parents, foreclosures. Growth as an economical recipe was sold to the public saying that if the cake is bigger, everyone piece of the cake will be bigger, but it was not the case. The cake was made bigger, but all this new excess ended up on the plate of the 1%. Occupy Wall Street back then was a very symbolic gesture. Markets seem to be like these mad forces that can take economies to the ruin like the weather used to ruin crops and cause famines. Now a new modernity is needed to create a distance with these forces and work out how to prevent their potential devastating effects, a reincarnation of Nietzsche to declare the markets dead, perhaps and take action to curb climate change soon after. A modernity to create a distance that today does not exist between politicians and Wall Street and between ideology and the economics profession as Jo Michell's article in Prime Economics explains: "Trump, ideology and the economics profession".

There is a context too in terms of global affairs and journalism. With news consumed daily, and the pursue of mostly the salient pieces of whatever sort of news, many global events are presented to the public as the weather report would be. It rains. An attack in Turkey killed 30. Kim Kardashian is robbed in Paris. NATO forces doing the biggest war games in Poland since WWII. It simply happens. I was very surprised some time ago, watching an otherwise interesting TED talk by a highly educated prize-winning author saying (in min 14.50) "I want to figure out why so many people around the world hate us". Five years after the twin towers were attacked not even highly educated people had a clue why. They hate us. It rains. It is a fact. Them.
Now it is 2017 and we read news of Donald Trump coming out of 'scary' intelligence briefings stating "we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies - very big and, in some cases, strong enemies". It reminded me, funnily enough, Alec Baldwin explaining how he imagines heaven in an interview of Inside the Actors studio (I could not find the video, though). He said that he imagined that when we die, we are sat in front of a screen, like in the movies and we are explained everything, the "truth" so we can go "ahhhh, now I get it". Apocalipsis in the literal sense. The revelation.

In this sense, Wikileaks, Snowden even if they are different in purpose and circumstance are about this state of ignorance. Of course, there are many voices that have been explaining what's going on even if they don't have access to these exclusive files.

Stop the war on women

Here is the other side of the patriarchy ending. It is not only women claiming streets, using their voice, claiming power and rights, leading public offices... men are modified too. Men need to "occupy" those spaces in their psyche that are vital but that have been abandoned and externalised in these women who won't behave: the ones that provide vital attention, emotional nutrition, digestion and processing of negativity, and provide contention. The Huffington Post has a section on "Building modern men" talking about this subject. The crisis of masculinity that comes from not being able to fulfil the old role of the man as the provider, of feeling impotent in front of the economic reality, not being able to afford health care, being surrounded by an ideology that speaks about meritocracy while it invisibilises systemic distortions, de-politicises people and imposes some sort of tyranny of positive thinking inferring that whatever happens to you: it is your fault; plus cultural pressures on men that prevent them from discussing emotions are leading many of them to addiction and has been contributing to the rise of suicides. Some of them, may be tempted to go back, to blame women (and any personification of their vulnerability), to become reactionary against feminism stating that feminists are women who hate men and life itself (as these reactionary movements tend to come with the ban of abortion and limits to access to contraceptives and sexual ed). A deep sense of shame is linked with this reaction (the shame of not being able to be the man that he is supposed to be) and ultimately with fascist tendencies. Some sort of hypermasculinity that ironically sees itself as a victim. And yesterday we listened to an inauguration speech portraying the biggest economy in the world, the most powerful military force in the world, the nation that leads NATO and dictates the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and one of the few nations with a right of veto in the security council of the UN, a nation that has been bombing multiple countries... as a victim.

Feminism has a lot to offer to men in this moment, should they want to understand what is that part that is missing and how to deal with shame. That caring side that allows us to have pity on our Gollum, our shame, our shadow. The war on women is a war on everyone's feminine side. It doesn't allow men to access these tools, and look for solutions from a different place, without anger against women but rather fighting for rights, reconnecting with politics and moving forward. Staying in the patriarchy when it is time to move on is -ultimately- castrating, slavering and des-empowering, the opposite of what everyone needs.

Andrea

Friday, 20 January 2017

46. Sometimes democracy hurts

It is funny reading or listening to political commentators using phrases "how didn't we see it coming". The question here is "who is we?", who is included in this selected group and who is excluded?

'Democracy is not working' is being suggested by 'the losing side', in Brexit, US elections or any other electoral contest of these days. The blame is on: Russia, the FBI, Fake news and fake news sites, Facebook, Wikileaks, the uneducated, the baby boomers, etc, etc.

And then, 'the winners', seem to believe that a tight electoral result grants them the right to impose some sort of 'tyranny of the winner', where the other side should stay silent and let them do what they want, let them get on with stuff as all actions are somehow validated by a result that does not even represent the majority.

'Democracy does not seem to be giving the "right" answer'. It is too unpredictable or uncontrollable for some. "People are looking in too much", "they are looking around, looking at their reality", so "we need an external enemy", "which is one of the easiest way to engineer consensus".

Who is the enemy?

Historically speaking, the neighbour (the neighbouring town, city, country, empire) has been the perfect enemy. The neighbour marks the limit of what's not mine, the place where I don't have sovereignty. His house is not mine. He is not me. The neighbour is a "no". And so most of wars were between neighbouring countries or empires and ended up redrawing limits.

During the cold war, US and URSS were neighbours, who diligently fenced their claimed territories and kept fighting in disputed lands. With the fall of the Berlin wall, and then the iron curtain, the end of history was declared. US prevailed. There was no longer a neighbour to fight against.

So the enemy became internal. The collective solution failed so it is all about the individual struggle. The negativity we felt was now the enemy holding ourselves back, there was no alternative system to compare. So self-help books emerged, positive thinking. We also fought cancer and AIDS -an internal enemy- and terrorism became the political enemy, destructive cells that can covertly attack us inside our territory or hack our immune/defence systems so it does not detect the invasor is there.

Zygmunt Bauman wrote in his article "How Neoliberalism prepared the way for Donald Trump" a reflection on Umberto Eco's essay Making an enemy.

Shortly before his death, the great Umberto Eco drew in his brilliant essay Making an Enemy the following sad conclusion from his numerous studies of the matter: “Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth”. In other words: we need an enemy to know who we are and who we are not; knowing this is indispensable for our self-approval and self-esteem. And he adds: “So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one”. A codicil: “Enemies are different from us and observe customs that are not our own. The epitome of difference is the foreigner”.

Well, the trouble with a foreigner is that all too often he is indeed foreign – not just in the sense of obeying alien habits, but also – and most importantly – in that of residing beyond the realm of our sovereignty and so also beyond our reach and control. It is not fully up to us to make of such people enemies and put our enmity in practice (unless, of course, they cross boundaries with the intention of settling in our midst). If sovereignty consists in the “decisionist” capacity of acting solely on one’s own will, then many a foreigner is unfit to perform the role of a proper enemy according to Eco. In many cases (or perhaps in all?) it is better to seek, find or invent an enemy closer to home and above all inside the gate. An enemy within sight and touch is for many reasons more proficient (and above all easier to control and manipulate) than the seldom seen or heard member of an imagined totality. Already in the Middle Ages the function of the enemy in case of Christian states was perfectly performed by heretics, Saracens and Jews – all residing inside the realms of dynasties and churches by which they had been appointed. Today, in the era that favours exclusion over inclusion while the first (but not the second) is fast becoming a routine measure to which well-nigh mechanically to resort, internal choices assume yet more attraction and facility.

Today's is the inauguration day, and America is torn in front of the choice of enemy. Terrorism with all its relevance, is losing its edge in terms of driving people's fears.
Where is the limit of what we are not? For some, it is the president-elect himself, a property developer, salesman and expert hacker of our attention system. For others, immigrants and the fussy entity that conforms the establishment. Some are dangerously pushing for the come back of the golden enemy, Russia, some of those will be driven by interest in the business of a new arms race and making Europe the new disputed territory, but the public is probably more driven by denial that the same America that fantasises through Hollywood with heroic Presidents, wise and impeccable, addressing the world, fighting for freedom and defending "our way of living"... that same America... well, voted for Trump. "Russia is the one that hacked us", somehow surgically impacting the outcome of the election of the swing states (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote). "It was not us, it was fake news" even though scientific predictive models that take into consideration the relative strength of a candidate in the primaries pointed out at Trump as the most likely winner, against what polls were saying. Polls which also offered certainty in Brexit and the Colombian referendum, somehow making an impact on many indecisive voters who decided then not to bother.

Trump's preference seems to be China, but it is a not new idea as the encircling of China with 400 military bases has been going on for years, as John Pilger denounces in "The coming war on China". It is the third largest economy after US and the EU. China has an expansionist agenda, but less military than others. They've been investing in Latin America and Africa in infrastructure, trains, energy projects, etc. It's the biggest trading nation and developed a manufacturing sector with low wages and almost no rights whilst US needs to face the consequences of Nafta, the erosion of the manufacturing sector and a fake distribution of wealth through access to credit. US is tempted by the promise of protectionism while we now hear the Chinese communist President Xi Jinping speaking in Davos in the World Economic Forum in defence of globalisation. This is definitely a curious change.

Hacking is about obtaining unauthorised access, but it is also about opening up short cuts, looking at system's vulnerabilities. And one of our vulnerabilities is not looking at the vulnerable. We are easily distracted by celebrities, outrageous statements and with the idea of the external enemy. An enemy is useful in rhetoric terms, it keeps us clean. It is not time for self-doubt in front of an enemy. Easily accepting a narrative that increases military tensions between nuclear powers is dangerous and should be closely scrutinised. There were political reasons behind the break on the Democrat's administration and forgetting about those would be a distraction. Today we watch a Hollywood version of Les Miserables on TV and can deeply emphatise with their struggle. We can see, from the distance that those miserables were subjected to a system of structural injustice, when there were dreams that could not be and that we could not force a narrative of meritocracy when listening to Fantine's lament:


But are we really paying attention to Les Miserables of our time? Are we able to emphatise with their situation and their struggle?

Plurality means that sometimes we are not right, or that sometimes we are on the losing side even if we are right (of course, we are), we are forced to look at the other side of the argument and rescue whatever truth lies there.
This US presidential election as the Brexit vote, some say, gave the wrong answer and the seed of doubt is planted: doubting the system, doubting democracy. Rather than saying that is not working, I'd say 'it's complicated' or even that sometimes 'democracy hurts'. But we should not let this pain blind us to the reality that keeps on moving and is trying to distract us from the task of strengthening democratic values and institutions by preparing a menu of enemies,

Andrea

PS: the 2016 Davos, predicted that Trump would lose and this year they seem to be discussing inequality more seriously...








Wednesday, 7 December 2016

45. Post-patriarchal cities and the energy revolution


There are big questions on the subject of how we relate to earth and nature. I am not talking yet about climate change but rather the most fundamental question: where do we get our energy from, both in terms of food, and consumable energy. This search has been the one that defines entire historical eras and their economical systems. In fact, how we choose to respond this question is an important structuring factor of our social systems. It is more common to look at progress from the point of view of technological revolutions, but I'll stick on purpose to the subject of the basic needs and energy revolutions, as they are the most basic of all needs and the ones with the deepest roots.

This question is so important that is actually a permanent question because we -human beings- can create many things, but not energy: we can consume it, foster it, release it, store it or transform it but we cannot create it -or at least not yet-. Our capacity as creators has that limit, and because of that we keep a dependence with nature, "mother" nature (even though some Buddhist meditators are exploring some of these frontiers too). Secondly, because in every transformation of energy, a residue, some waste is generated and how we deal with this waste requires management, it creates a limit or at least -as much as the CO2 we have to breath out- a rhythm.


Nature's 'tyrannical arrongance'

Up to "modern times" dependency on nature (or more precisely, on the sun and the rain), meant no food security and famines, It meant being at the mercy of the weather, pests and somehow "Mother nature", who figuratively speaking appeared to be powerful, authoritarian, mad and in front of whom Faust would say "man asserts himself against nature's tyrannical arrogance" (a tyrannical arrogance that he ends up embodying). Not surprisingly, modernity drove humans away from nature, from the work on the land, and from the "feminine". In this sense, and figuratively speaking again, modernity and cities are patriarchal processes and mechanisms. Here, as in the entire blog, I speak about Patriarchy as a process that drives us away from dependency from our mothers, and forbids the desire to go back to the uterus, and to do so it demonises the female altogether. Being born is metaphorically the first fall from paradise, the first patriarchal step. The separation that starts to happen around 7 years of age is the second, followed by periodical falls when our biology or life circumstances makes us evolve beyond the limits of what we were. But during the patriarchy we remain dependant. It is a stage where some vital processes are still "externalised":
  • Nourishment -we still somehow need an external placenta feeding us with food, energy and vital attention- (Under patriarchal thinking: the more chauvinist, the more externalised this function is and the more it will be needed to tie up its source of noursihment, the more patriarchal the mother, the more she feeds her hunger from her children).
  • Control -governing over the development of self mastery and self discipline- (Famously women have had throughout a big part of history control externalised (sexual, behavioural), were the ones being more harshly 'disciplined' ie punished, and were restricted in their access to education).
  • Contention (the ability to deal with negativity), and our need of this external entity to absorb all our negative "emissions" 
  • Consciousness architecture and narrative/history writing (which limits self awareness, self empowerment and freedom), etc. 
Even though we will probably never manage to internalise everything, we go through a process of increasing integration. As our embryonic life replicates the entire evolution of humans, our journey too replicates our social evolution.
At social level, every time we are collectively questioning the dependence/relationship with nature, "mother nature" and land we are going through one of these falls. For the Western civilisation, the most recent falls were the end of medieval times with its Renaissance, modernity, the period between the two world worlds and climate change is the current one which is undoubtedly global.

In this post I argue that:
-We are going through a renaissance, because of this we live in a very confusing moment where hope and seemingly limitless possibilities live together with a sense of the end of the world.
-In every renaissance the most important point is the change in energy source, the energy question.
-Following the logic I follow in this blog of the sequence matriarchy-patriarchy-post-patriarchy, this time the energy source change includes the fundamental change from consumer to prosumer (or at least more evolution in this direction), term in use both web users, for people who consume and produce content and in the energy sector for individuals with solar panels and the ability to capture energy to feed the network with the excess energy they might not be consuming (produce and consume, the step beyond patriarchy is to become creator).
-Structurally speaking, this change will not happen only at electricity design network level, a new business model in the energy sector and the minimisation of the use of fossil fuels (eg Germany has recently asked the World Bank to stop funding fossil fuels), but also at the level of cities. Cities are starting to change structurally or probably I should say, cities must change structurally for this change to take hold. Modern cities are structured to allow circulation of cars, the 'daughter' technology of petrol. Modern cities are 'alienated' from nature and need energy to come 'from outside'. New cities are starting to show a new orientation to new energy sources. This may be seen in terms of public transport, city design, energy production and distribution, and green spaces (I wonder if some level of food production will have to be integrated into cities too). While geopolitics might still be dragging on the usual question on how to secure basic resources from external agents, the changes happening at local level, through local politics will have a big impact.


Renaissances: matters of life and death rather than life or death

In geology, some experts are currently saying that 1950 should be considered the beginning of the Anthropocene, a new geological age, where the impact of human activity is so big that affects the planet.

'The Truman Show' the moment Truman reaches the wall of the dome
we was living in.
 

We could imagine these historical eras as embryonic stages where we grow thinking the place we inhabit is unlimited as so is the source of energy, until we reach the walls of the uterus which then becomes more uncomfortable, we feel the pressure until we are collectively born into a new 'paradigm' (ideological and energetic) to think again that the new place we inhabit is unlimited, universal and so is the source of energy. Somehow, we are not aware of the limits of the reigning ideology, our world view, our vital energy source until we grow enough to feel its limits.

Every birth, every alienating step, seems to co-exist with the death drive, and it is in the moment of birth that a small or big battle happens. We were conceived, we grew in a seemingly secure uterus, do we dare to be born out of it? When we are born, are we born complete or is there something in us that dies?  What's that thing we'll preserve? What lives on and what dies is the battle? For anyone saying "We overcame" nazism/apartheid/or any other historical tragedy... they question is "who's we?", who was sacrificed in this transition? who was victim of 'manifest destiny'? who decided?

This ambivalence of life -and more widely creativity in the form of technology and scientific discoveries- meant that progress is always desired and feared, as it was used to power both the life and death drive. It is following this argument that I suggest looking at historical eras from moments where massive deaths occur and energy shifts happen, never as punctual dates but as transition moments.

If the middle ages in Europe died soon after the black plague has killed between 75 to 200 million people [travelling 300 miles a day], and was followed by a renaissance, where Europe is re-born as transcontinental empires, in the newly discovered world America, it was small pox (that came with the conquistadores) the main responsible for decimating its strength and forcing a "renaissance" as a colonised territory. Almost three centuries later, a similar turning point was seen during the whole period from the Independence revolutions in America, the French Revolution and Napoleonic and civil wars to the massive deaths brought by the world wars and famines (ca 120 million: 38 million in World War I, around 80 million in war world II) followed by the post war renaissaince with population explosion and all the technology developed by the military to flight the wars. The Great Chinese Famine in the late 50s that killed an estimated 15 million (official figures) and up to 43 million (unofficial figures) happened during the Great Leap forward, a series of land reforms imposed by the Communist Party.

Finally in cycles that seem to be accelerating we are now in front of new wars in Africa and the Middle East plus the acceleration of global mass extinction of animal species, followed by the gradual collapse of the old Empires and the new technological renaissance that we are in the middle of.

So for those who died in the European conquest of America's territories, during the plague, Somme, in concentration camps, under atomic bombs, a Russian Famine, the Great Chinese Famine etc, etc, they must've felt and lived through the reality of the/their world coming to an end and with this we can stop and reflect the sometimes apocalyptic feeling in many news we read nowadays. 

Cities

Even though cities, empires and colonies go far back in history, I'll start with medieval times as the age of discoveries was the moment the globe came together as one for the first time and I'll explore how the limits in terms of basic needs (food and energy) were felt and resolved.

The limits of the land

The end of medieval times was marked by an increasing migration of population to cities triggering tensions in our use of land to get crops for clothing, food, forests to warm the houses in Europe going through the little ice age, and even for hay or grass to feed the horses which were logistically very important when the rivers did not do; these needs were in competition with each other for land. Cities became a new structure that deepened the fragmentation of roles: transitioning from self-sustaining farms or communities to bigger cities which were not self-sustaining and needed "external" farms providing them with wood, food and clothing.


However, land and logistics represented a limit to how big a city could be. Historian Geoffrey Blainey summarised it in the following way:
"A city could not grow too large simply because it could not secure in its neighbourhood the food and firewood it needed. A town of say, 30 000 people needed firewood on such a scale that 600 or 1000 horsedrawn carts would arrive each week with loads of firewood. The town needed another 200 cartloads of grain in an average week. As horses or oxen pulled the carts, a large area of land had to be set aside to provide grass or hay for them. A freakishly large city like ancient Rome or modern London could be sustained only by bringing food and fuel long distances by sea and river.
...
In contrast tropical peoples, in their standard of living, easily kept pace with Europe until the 18th century partly because they needed little clothing and warming fuel. They needed fewer calories, for they did not have to ward off winter cold".

This limit that the land imposed was worked out in various ways: more fragmentation and specialisation, looking for more land and -very importantly- new sources of energy.

More fragmentation/ specialisation. Skilled farmers became more efficient in breeding livestock and in managing crops without exhausting the land and increasing its productivity. This reinforced the sustainability of cities.
The alienation from the work on the land that life in the city implied gave more space, an excess for the development of science, technology and later on the industrial revolution. Urbanisation was a key alienating mechanism. Education was another modernising instrument. In the past farmers used to refuse sending their children to school because they needed them to work the land, and in a no so distant past aboriginal children were separated from their families to be 'civilised'. In many places, parents started to be punished and sent to prison if they did not send their children to school. So children had to be "extracted" from their parents influence who subjected them to keep working on the land or were simply preserving their own way of living and culture.

The limit of the other

Cities and empires created the modern man, and the modern man created the modern cities and the modern empires. These cities, first, and the the empire centre became an "entity" in the mind of many politicians and in many political speeches. These cities asked, through its leaders and citizens, the question "where do I feed from?". The imperial solution to the question was: from "outside" (to a sort of  placenta that connects with mother nature,  that place that is not-yet-modern and people are inferior: colonies).

The age of discoveries, basically meant trying to work out the limits of the land by looking for more land, which eventually brought other solutions like corn, the "magic" crop, the potato, cotton, etc together with externalising cheap/slave labour.

However, cities and empires were extractive devices that needed dehumanised countries that history called deserts to portray them as empty of people in order to enable the use of violence without affecting the sense of morality. Or even worse, it enabled the use of violence as means to kill whatever humanity resided there. The Middle East, native America, Africa,.. were all described in desertic terms.

Cities in the colonies of the new world, with grid diagrams (found in different moments of history and used by Spain to regain territory from the moors in "la reconquista"), were military by design and were imposed over the colonies by law. Symbolically, they imposed order to the territory, with direct routes to the ports and later railways taking resources, raw materials and food out of the colonies. The grid plan regained popularity in Europe too during the renaissance.

But even if the outside seemed infinite at some point, this response was to find its limits on the border of  neighbouring empires and in the Independence wars, finally exploding with the world wars. The first big clash was due to the tensions between France and Great Britain for North American lands. This triggered the Seven years wars, a mini World War fought in five continents, which redraw the world map significantly and propelled Great Britain to world's supremacy. But this war left Britain in debt which they tried to finance with higher taxes, tighter extractive economic policy to secure raw materials and markets for its nascent industries and more protection of British monopolies in North America... which led to the revolutionary wars domino: first in North America, which inspired The French Revolution (which was also trying to increase taxes on its own population to finance the debt of the same war in a period of bad harvests apparently triggered by a volcanic eruption in Iceland), which subsequently triggered the revolution of Spanish colonies in South America and had influence even over the Russian revolution more than a century later. (Post it note: let's bear in mind the sequence I've just pointed out to follow what is going on now after the 2008 financial crisis, where governments bailed out the banks and absorbed a huge debt, which they tried to finance with austerity, privatisation and cuts and the earthquakes that followed with Brexit, which inspired Donald Trump in the US... and whatever may happen in 2017 presidential elections in France, and its repercussions in South America and Russia after that).

Looking through the glass of basic needs, it is interesting to point out the role of the March of women to Versailles in the French revolution, when women in the market were practically rioting for the price and shortages of bread. The revolution in Britain is thought to have been avoided by reducing taxes on wheat.

As grid plans imposed order to the territory, the market too started to be the ordering principle over the state. It is remarkable that during the Irish Famine of 1840-1852, where it lost almost 1/4 of its population to starvation and emigration, Ireland kept exporting food to England thanks to the political pressure of their own merchants that were against an export ban, and an English establishment in favour of laissez-faire economics.

On the other side of the spectrum, the uber-control of the state with the Prodrazvyorstka, the Bolshevik policy that confiscated all grain and agricultural produce from peasants for a fix price, ended up pushing farmers to reduce crops and opening up their trade to a black market and is thought to have been an important factor leading up to the the Russian famine 1922 that killed 5 million.

Famously, Nazy Germany spoke about the expansion in its Lebensraum (habitat) that needed more arable land, resources and slaves and defining the state as a living form. And even though all imperial ideology was based on racism and violence, most genocides (of native africans, asians, australians and americans) had happened far away from Europe. In the World War II, this ideology was brought brutally to its doorstep.

The limit of the other was experienced in three ways:

  • finding the neighbouring Empire, 
  • colonised territories starting to show self-awareness and start to be "occupied" and claimed by their own population, 
  • and being confronted with the brutality and des-humanisation of the system itself.

But of course, this is not past History. We are witnessing some attempts of neo-colonialisation via financial power with lower levels of society "encouraged" to take on debt, with most of the south hemisphere being 'encouraged' to focus their economies to the primary sector and via military power in any land with petrol. 

The big energy shift and the limits of looking deep

Going back to the cities, through its leaders and citizens, asking the question "where do I feed from?", or "where do I get my energy from?", going underground was the other solution. To relieve the competition for land, lowering the demand of some of the needs is a logical approach, so coal became an alternative for wood. In this first energy shift, we changed one land-and-solar source of energy for underground sources of energy. Great Britain passed from an annual output of 3 million tons in the beginning of 1700 to 30 million by 1830. Trains were originally created to transport the coal extracted from the mines, and came to define the European mark of progress. Trains together with clocks (another European technology) generated the timetable which assured trains would get to stations exactly at the time they were expected, a tangible proof of control. This energy shift started an era of population explosion.
Representing a vital source of energy, it became the centre of many wars and political tensions (Coal wars in America, the Customs War between Germany and Poland -a coal producer- before WWII). The left in many parts of Europe can find its roots in miners workers organising themselves in trade unions.  In Britain, specifically became one of the most iconic political fights, that went from these first miners organisations to the privatisations of the mines in the north of England by Margaret Thatcher a century later that triggered a period of big social unrest.

I'll pause for a second, only to reflect how the changes at all levels of society (scientific, cultural and religious) changed the cities themselves. It is on the last phase of this modern period that found in the 1870s a renovated Paris (demolishing its medieval structure that was filthy, and did not allow circulation), a German bacteriologist Robert Koch who postulated that bacteria caused disease which meant that death stopped to be seen as an act of God who had been questioned for his failings in responding to prayer to prevent famines which triggered a long series of religious reform and was subsequently declared dead by Nietzsche soon after in 1882... the same year that Edison illuminated New York street lamps with electricity.

The energy shift that happened between 1880 and 1950 was huge: the spread of electricity, the exploitation of petrol (it was in between the two world wars, 1938, that the largest oil reserves on earth was discovered in Saudi Arabia by American prospectors), natural gas and the emergence of nuclear power.
World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent  Source: One Finite World 
.
If the European train was the technological son of coal (which later turned electric), American cars were the children of petrol and marked the American signature of progress. These two technologies were to compete and fight for resources and investment in the political sphere of many countries, forcing governments to make calls on where to put public money: behind railways or motorways as strategic infrastructure. Cars were more flexible, more individual and truck logistics was well suited for countries that did not have large populations were the order, coordination and big scale investment required by trains seemed to be less effective. 

This energy shift was the one that restructured everything. From geopolitics to city dynamics. Keeping petrol, natural gas and atomic energy under tight control was a new form of imperialism and commands most of current geopolitics. An attempt to nationalise petrol reserves in Iran and to limit extraction triggered a 1953 coup in Iran. Having the middle east and OPEC under certain control became a matter of "national security" to the US, as its energy dependence was its vulnerability.

The big shift and the Middle East

Modernity was also transforming the middle east. New borders were drawn after the second world war and different visions of how the middle east should develop arise in a region profoundly religious.The 2015 documentary Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis, tries to explain what's going on now in the Middle East as the roots for many of the current crisis remain unclear and sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. He puts it in the context of Afghanistan having been a territory in dispute during the Cold War, and how these external and opposing modernising forces (Capitalism v Communism) were unleashed in Afghanistan but resisted and were battled from Saudi Arabia.

Modernity in US was dependent of Saudi Oil. Saudi Arabia ensured petrol supply to the US, which in turn will ensure the defence of the House of Saud structure of power. Later, this relationship evolved until oil became the backer of the US dollar, defining that all oil contracts must be signed in this denomination, ensuring a continuous demand of US currency once it broke its peg against gold. But internal tensions in the Middle East paired with US dependency on foreign oil led to a very ambiguous and unstable situation which broke into many crisis and wars. Oil was at the centre of the oil crisis in the 70's that forced many developing countries to take on debt just to ensure oil supply. Gas, in the hands of Russia, is also a big player in current geopolitics particularly in relation to Europe and NATO. Atomic technology was to be allowed or not allowed by the world powers.

Oil is also a finite resource. Oil reserves can only deplete. So while petrol companies started to invest ever increasing amount of money in exploration and high risk extraction (there are people who suggest that this was a huge capital mis-allocation and that this money would've been much better invested in research of renewables instead), biofuel was proposed as an alternative. Famously, Fidel Castro was one of the critics pointing out that it would mean a new competitor for land (first point: the limit of the land) and that food production would be affected. He argued that rich industrialised countries would take priority over the use of land for energy and poor nations would be starved of food.

The limit of the planet

While everyone was very busy supporting or adverting wars and crisis, something else started to become apparent. Climate change.



Mother earth must be in that time of the month...

Alienation from the land, from mother earth, or nature, is both feared and desired, as much as our dependence with the land is feared and desired. An uncut relationship with the land, with the feminine, carries a connotation of both idyllic security (alla Heidi) and madness, the "weather is crazy" and a tension emerges to avoid taking responsibility of it. For the ones that would describe humankind as a white man, climate change has nothing to do with "us", this madness is natural, it is part of nature's cycles, sort of saying "Earth must be in that time of the month..." In this sense, Donald Trump's position (or rather many of his supporters) regarding climate change is very coherent.

In front of climate change there are several positions:
  • The one that thinks alienation itself is the problem and we need to go back to be "one with the land", a sort of matriarchal response, blaming modernity for all evils,
  • the one that pushes for more control of the natural resources (inc. tight control of commodities producing nations), and even looking up to space instead... the typical ultra patriarchal position... 

  • the one that suggest we need 'more alienation' from the land. A sort of eco-liberal position. It suggest the solution is forwards not backwards, and that thinking ourselves as "alien" is when we truly can take responsibility of what we are doing, without assuming  there will be an invisible Father (the invisible hand of the market, or God) or Mother Earth (absorbing all negativity to infinity) that will compensate for any of our excesses and restore balance. (But it could, under neoliberalism, be easily mixed with the previous position.)
  • Probably, because behind a 3 there is always a 4th, an excess, the negative one, the devil to the trinity, the one that follows a destructive logic: the anti-answer to the question how are we going to survive, it denies the risks and even dare to exacerbate them, safe in their position they imply that maybe we shouldn't survive, or at least not all of us.
Some people would argue that there is only one correct answer. But all positions have something to contribute. All have their lights and their shadows.

  • It's the communities more attached to their land the ones that are more protective of it. They are the ones that don't see themselves moving and therefore are more interested in the long term: the ones that are going to demand more precautions about contamination, leakage, damage, etc. as we see in when mine companies contaminate rivers or in disputes like the Dakota access pipeline. 
  • The patriarchal is the one that will look for a solution in technology and controlling behaviour 'externally' (through markets or laws and even earth 'interventions'). 
  • The ones looking at individuality, and push not to be dependent of the state or mono/oligopolies will push for a certain degree of self-sufficiency, the prosumer move. But for this move to be smart, it needs a high degree of coordination with the state, with electrical companies. It cannot be a purely individual move, "better for me", but better for all. In their shadow side, they are less interested in collective efforts. 
  • The 4th option in all its shadows, is the one we all resort to when in trying to create something new, something old has to be demolished. The part that let something dies during the renaissance. Hopefully, we can use it to let old structures die instead of starting to consider some people disposable.



Cities as patriarchal structures

It is at this point, when we are wondering if the climate is going mad caused by our emissions and our dependence of fossil fuels, US is working on its own energy independence, Africa and the Middle East are facing multiple civil wars, Saudi Arabia is facing debt and the geopolitical map is facing multiple shakes,  that the world is looking at more democratic sources of energy (renewable) in wind and solar technologies, Germany is already getting most of is energy from renewables, and cities are becoming to think if there is something they should do.

In this blog, I discussed a few times the matriarchal/patriarchal/post-patriarchal cycle. With a feminist stance, I rescue what the patriarchal stage is and brings: a process where we learn to self-structure, to use resources, to eventually emancipate and become independent and creators.
Summary:
  • Matriarchal, as the stage where we are fused to our mothers and we feed from her, it is also Eden/as the mother earth, a stage of blind love and we are dependent; 
  • Patriarchal as the stage of separation from the maternal (the fall), a moment to develop tools and technology, learn about discipline, master emotions, develop our own thinking, it is a stage of high polarisation when the maternal/feminine is demonised because 'going back' is forbidden, the age of the sword to "cut" this dependency and hate (as a form of love working out its independence), but we remain dependent of the external law (the father) and castrated. In its extreme the denial of the "feminine principle" is so strong that the masculine principle tries to replace it. Even though I argue that this is an archetypical stage, it does not mean this stage has to be brutal, violent or traumatic, on the contrary, I argue that if we go through each stage more conscious of what's about we'll save unnecessary suffering. 
  • The final stage is when we are born out of this paternal external uterus, and become creators and writers -the sword is swapped with the pen- (including becoming parents), we participate in the creation of structure and content integrating both feminine and masculine principles in one, the stage of true love, until we grow to discover the edges of the ideology in which we are immersed and start again.

If the patriarchal is a stage of separation from the maternal, a stage of order and discipline, cities are mechanism to separate us from nature, figuratively from "Mother earth". Cities polarise "civilisation" inside against "barbarism", wilderness outside. This polarisation also marks the difference between the educated urban elite, and the one labelled 'uneducated' living in more rural areas.

But in this antagonistic separation, the fundamental question of our dependency from nature in obtaining energy (food and consumable energy) and liberating the waste of its transformation is never cut. However, in cities this question is more easily forgotten, particularly in modern cities with infrastructure: water comes out of a tap, heat comes out of radiators and excrement disappear almost magically.


Interestingly enough, something is happening in these cities. In this article from The Guardian "Can cities be feminists?" it describes how the big political questions, including energy policy are being addressed by local politics at city level with women mayors in big cities in Europe (Barcelona, Rome, Paris). If modernity culminated with a renovated Paris which was restructured to accommodate more cars (and individuality), there is a new Paris that is restructured to accommodate less cars and through structure regulate it's energy hunger. Plans following the same logic are also emerging in
Barcelona (looking for a way of returning the super blocks of its grid to the citizens back from the cars), Oslo, etc. But cities are not evenly modern, particularly in developing countries. They may have inner shanty towns which reminisce medieval cities, with sanitary problems, clothes hanging, narrow streets not fit for cars and high levels of violence, these parts of the city are still fighting for modernisation. It might be worth asking: is there a alternative path, a different, more conscious city concept these pockets would actually open up?

Even if these fundamental questions are having a positive evolution, it does not mean that there are no conflicts. This is mainly seen at national politics level, where big (liberal) cities are maintaining and even increasing their "distance" with the 'other'.
On the one hand, and rather contradictory, people are keeping their "distance" with the 'neighbour'. Cities -that in themselves bring more people physically together- take modernity to the ultimate conclusion of the feeling of loneliness in a place full of people, through less face to face connection and common places to meet, more practice of individual consumerism in a world seen through our own tablets, ordering things online to be delivered without much human contact.
On the other side, more distance with rural areas, with more polarisation and more 'elitist' thinking and more 'ivory tower' view of the world and reality, with increasing disdain for the discontent in non-urban areas which in turn are resorting to chauvinism and xenophobia. (in this sense Stephen Hawking's article about his own ivory tower is an interesting read)

No more sacrifices to calm the gods and nature - Facing our inner predator

To end the patriarchal cycle, to be born out of it, it is important to integrate the polarised view of the mother (the 'crazy' side and the light side hidden by the patriarchy) but also see the shadow of the father and integrate it with its light.

At his point, the paternal figure showing madness, forcing more and more renunciation is the market. And with all our sacrifices, austerity does not pacify the market's hunger, and even if we are asked to pursue this idea that all the sacrifices to create an excess (more productivity, more competitiveness) are unquestionable, there is a point that we find ourselves sacrificing essential things. Ourselves, our children, our rights, or own humanity. We maybe tempted to use mindfulness to keep on working and keep our productivity up, instead of questioning if working conditions are right. We may be induced to think that trade unions are holding us back, and accept to purchase good coming from countries with workers with no rights. We may accept that the only way to support the pension system is to charge more to future generations for their education, for their houses. We may start to read that there is too much democracy, some people should not be allowed to vote and some questions should not be asked. Don't think too much if you are being consumed in the process or who is being consumed by it, everything is fine we you buy one more thing.

So we are in this situation, where we sense "the alien" is inside the ship. That hungry predator is in the same planet, with misdirection some claim it has invaded our country, or that it belongs to a different generation, the predator is foreign, external.






At the same time, not surprisingly, in the very popular Netflix series Stranger things, the theme of the perfect predator appears: the one that is actually almost pure mouth and does not have eyes. This predator that used to live in some sort of unconscious realm is now crossing over to our world and thus we become aware of it. Different characters, with different degrees of predatory behaviour themselves need to confront it, but the one posed to be its ultimate adversary is a girl with powers.

But this symbolic fight does not happen at a mental realm only, It happens when we manage to materialise it not only with changes in personal behaviour and our personal relationships but also with structural changes of those common places and services we share, And this is the political realm. Energy policy and food supply at national and regional level, and cities' structural changes at local level are the foundation level of what's to come and the policies that should see more evolution, more innovation. The anti-globalisation trend we are witnessing today, it is a temporary and needed step to change and rethink it, as current geopolitics are structured  at a fundamental level for the fossil fuel economy, patriarchal/colonial thinking. Of course there is a danger in falling back to old ways that will try to secure colonised territory and will declare some people disposable. That's why engagement and more conversation are so important. Ultimately, being engaged with these external changes, with "reality". with politics becomes proof that we are taming the predator within,

Andrea


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.



Andrea

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 GarcĂ­a, 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 not to 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, about what "the distance" 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 reluctant 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/satisfied, 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, and therefore not being a agent of the change needed.

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. I read a comment today in Facebook that ironically said "to be happy I decided to read nothing but what I say".
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 ordering principle. But there is another danger: Millennials, 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, or that it was a discussion that happened a century ago, or even that many of them (particularly women) are able to vote today because some of people (many uneducated) fought for this right. The same conclusions will be drawn should Donald Trump win today. This Bloomberg article denounce how Millennials 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.

Andrea