Wednesday, 29 March 2017

49. Disconnection and depolitisation

If Foucault spoke about how the prison design with the use of a panopticon revealed the disciplinary model that would be applied in other institutions, the book about casino design "Addiction by design" by prof Natasha Dow Schüll might make us think about a new disciplinary tool: disconnection.




Casinos have been evolving. They are being purposefully designed with no windows, in cocoon-like spaces,  no straight lines or right angles (which would force you to stop and make a decision), with no clocks, all of which create an environment where people get lost in time and space. There are no references to connect us to the now. They are designed to create dependence, to maximise time on the slotting machines (time on device - TOD), to offer an engaging experience with no sudden or abrupt loss/win but rather with a progressive milking, programmed with a schedule of reinforcement, low volatility and sensorial stimuli that produces a sense of flow. Prof Dow Schüll explains that gamblers refer to this state as "the zone", and she describes it as "a dissociative trance-like state in which they are so focused in playing the game that things like daily worries, social pressures even bodily awareness fade away". They are escaping decision-making and the volatility that surrounds them. This experience changes the common understanding of gambling as a thrill seeking sort of quest, a "getting something from nothing", to a quest where gamblers are seeking nothingness itself. "You are not really there. You are with the machine and that's all you are with" explained a gambler, some sort of eternal present, an immortal death. The players who experience this sensation, come back and become regular customers. And even though designers of these slotting machines do not act like Machiavellian masterminds, by focusing on the purpose of simply seeking revenue maximisation, through experimentation and mathematics... they end up being a bit Machiavellian. Habit forming and ritual establishment (deeply unconscious behaviours) are the most effective ways to minimise volatility in the income for any company. Ironically, in the gambling industry this plan to minimise volatility by creating dependence requires a dissociative state of mind which disregards the effect it is producing to its customers.

In a more recent interview, Prof Dow Schüll explains that there are so many casinos in the US that people stand 30 minutes away of one, and that states have been seeking for this route to increase their own revenues instead of direct taxation, that eventually accounts for a tax on the poor.
Beyond that, this mechanism to disconnect people from reality, from the material world, from the here and now, that includes a sort of soothed exploitation, ends up de-sensitising and even more depolitising people. This model of offering flow states is present in consoles, phones and tablets and even, at some level, when we find some spiritual gurus that guide us through a meditation claiming that all the work is individual and is done at a spiritual level, but then adding that we should not engage in politics or worry about the news because it is some sort of dense energy that contaminate our aura, our vibe, our sense of flow. Meditation that should help us gain clarity to act, to transform, to connect with the other to collaborate, is used instead to sooth, to calm and in many cases to induce us to accept reality as it is and remain passive (or in the game). As long as our energy is positive, positive things will happen, no need to act.To remain connected with the positive energy, disconnection from reality is prescribed. It is not my intention, however, to decry spirituality or religion. In fact there a lot of humble leaders that don't embark in promises of future paradises or wonderful awakenings, but rather guide people to engage. But the other side is also present and it is nothing new, as religion was famously denounced by Marx as the opiate of the people. He was not alone in this reflection, other quotes on the subject are "We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable's hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order.", Charles Kingsley (replace the Bible with Mindfulness here as an exercise) or "Their so-called religion works simply as an opiate—stimulating; numbing; breastfeeding pain from weakness", Novalis; "Welcome be a religion that pours into the bitter chalice of the suffering human species some sweet, soporific drops of spiritual opium, some drops of love, hope and faith." Heinrich Heine. Coincidentally, opium itself and pain killers are a talked-about topic that play a role in this disconnection game.


False uterus

A false uterus have particular characteristics. We are alone in this spaces, we are fed with something that we accept, that is predictable or at least stable. Whether we are in a filter bubble in social media, confirming how right we are with a particular news channel, drugged, charmed by candy crush or in front of a slotting machine, we remain physically disconnected from others. Some of these uterusi are built for us, but we too built walls wishing not to be disturbed by whatever is happening in the word (which -to be fair- is constantly curated to become more emotionally unbearable), "it is too much", "I don't want to vote any more". We expect these walls will protect our innocence, a sense of "I don't know" or even "I didn't know" and "It had nothing to do with me" (for any reason, I write these lines thinking of the role of the mother in John Boyne's "The Boy with the striped pyjamas"). This innocence, however, might not be guilty but it is not innocent either.

Connecting with reality and with the other is messy indeed: we cannot have a perfectly curated environment, we cannot be floating Buddhas, we have negative emotions, we make bad decisions. That's why there is something more than unconditional love (which is supposed to be the ultimate power) that we need in order to act together, to engage in any sort of relationship, in social change, to make a couple work, a job and even to have children: commitment. It is probably easier to 'unconditionally' love someone from the distance, that is to say, under the sole condition that they are a bit far away. But it is only through commitment that we decide to put our body, to walk through the mud together, to get dirty, to change nappies and to get transformed in the journey.

Idealising disconnection

In the following video, several economists discuss the lack of History knowledge in the economics profession (with proposition and opposition presentations). Dr Ha-Joon Chan (min 29 onwards) compares it with the series TV hit, the Big Bang Theory, where there is a clear hierarchy: the most detached from reality, the highest it belongs in the academic hierarchy, explaining that the Theoretical physicist (Sheldon) belongs to this highest tier, followed by the experimental physicist (Leonard) and then by the Engineer from MIT (Howard) who belongs to the lowest of ranks. But then continues to highlight that without the context of History, economics cannot be properly understood. He actually says that it should be taken extremely seriously as a theory of economics can kill millions and ruin many people's lives.



Even if economics is not the only discipline where this disconnection with reality is -at some level- idealised, and this is not the first moment in history that we discuss this topic, I found it to be an interesting material.

In the following video (that even if it is old is completely worth watching), around min 14 Jon Ronson speaks about psychopaths in society and how psychopathic traits (including being detached, lack of empathy, victim blaming, etc) are rewarded. Slavoj Zizek adds his comments on Brian Victoria's book, Zen at war, on how Buddhist detachment can be used to create soldiers that detach themselves from very cruel actions.



An Anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal mindset: between soothed dependence and violent extremism

Even if saying that a system can be anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal seems like a provocation, it is not. In the logic in which I write this blog, I suggest we go through the matriarchal and then a patriarchal stage of development in our lives and at social level and that these processes need to be understood. The matriarchy is simply a foundation-building stage which gives us basic tools, the basic building blocks for a psyche, including the most basic recognition of existence, "I am fed, therefore I live", "I am seen, therefore I exist", "I am loved, therefore I am lovable", "I am heard, therefore I have a voice" etc. All of this, whilst we are still dependent and remain highly ignorant of the world. In fact, this foundation building, this learning process, starts in the womb.



With all its shadows and the costs it had historically on women, children and minorities, the patriarchal drive is (or should be) an emancipatory impulse. It is the impulse to become independent, to get out of the comfort of Eden to earn our bread, to get out of the subjugation of Egypt and walk towards a promised land -which the patriarch does not reach-, the land we should "occupy", a place where we can affect the world; and at a personal level (whether our childhood was Eden or Egypt), to get out of the world of mum when is due. It was the impulse of modernity to develop science and stop suffering famines -being dependent on the weather-, or fight illnesses -being dependent on the "will of God" or circumstance-.
Even if it has some lights, the patriarchy has destructively oversimplified the issue of dependency. It decided that dependency is bad and therefore should be cut as soon as possible, as abruptly as possible, which ended up causing trauma and -some feminist would argue- the oedipus complex. This mindset has been seen in many different areas of life. At the core, in trying to minimise the physical contact between mother and child. This first abrupt disconnection is key, because all subsequent disconnections are trying to recreate and somehow repair this stage. Some feminists suggest that baptism, that originally was performed in adults, came to represent a sort of re-birth into the patriarchy that then had to happen in very early infancy, in a way symbolising this urgency to separate the baby from the mother. In a different subject, but with some commonalities studies about post-cult trauma syndrome, it is now argued that what causes the trauma is the way the intervention to liberate people from cults is conducted, not the experience of being in a cult itself or the act of leaving; it argues that studies in the past focused only in people who were removed forcibly from cults and did not studied people leaving it in other ways. This second group of people were found to register the experience as a weird moment in their lives but do not bear the weight of trauma. When and how dependency is cut is important; how involved the individual is in this process, is important too.

Secondly, the patriarchal drive shows a direction forward with the prohibition to go back to the dependent state, to go back in time, to get lost in this nothingness, in a false uterus, to follow the death drive. Even though in principle is a very positive aspect, in this prohibition, everything maternal was demonised both in men and women (including a range of emotions and mechanisms related to a maternal function: nurturing, negativity processing, etc), and the bodies of women were "occupied" trying to impose control over the behaviour of women not only in terms of reproduction (both to reproduce and have multiple children and to control inheritance by ensuring fatherhood) but also in the contact and relationship they establish with their children which became an area of heavy regulation. Women became patriarchal mothers, cold, distant or over-controlling, affecting the foundation stage I mentioned before, ensuring the production of a chain of angry-hungry patriarchal mothers. Almost the perfect crime.
This had an effect on men too. Men are left incomplete, with vital functions such as nurturing and negativity processing externalised, and need to keep "a cow well tied up to be able to milk it" and a "legitimate" depository of their negativity (patriarchal men are not violent against their bosses, only with someone they consider a "legitimate target", someone with a lower hierarchical status).

From the religion evolution point of view, the patriarchy should've ended with Christianity, where motherhood had a not-demonised-representative, men were stopped from depositing their negativity onto Mary Magdalene, and the Son died with a message of assuming responsibility (carrying the cross) and stop expecting a father to come to the rescue, a father that dies with his resurrection suggesting that the crime is not perfect, that there is something that violence cannot kill. Of course this is the ultimate disobedience. Islam, that came afterwards, directly rewrote the story of Eden, changing some details: the guilt was not longer Eva's alone, and God is not referred to as a father any more. Sometimes it feels we are quite slow...

In any case, the death of the father, does not mean however, the disappearance of the disciplinary entity, it has just been internalised. It is not the "end of history" or the end of the story: that fact poses new challenges. Sometimes it is positive, when the matriarchal stage was positive enough and the emotional foundations are strong, but when this matriarchal stage was not respected, "killing the father" could mean the appearance of leaderless extreme movements (eg neo-nazism, ISIS etc).

Feminism was indeed a step forward, an emancipatory movement for women. It did not take women back to a dependent state with nature, nor it fought to "lose all control over the uterus", but rather to "own" the control. To be able to occupy their own bodies. To be connected and sovereign. It represented a move to integrate the maternal and paternal role by and in women. Recognition and emancipation. This occupation of the body should not only happen in terms of owning the control of reproduction, but also in reclaiming sovereignty in motherhood, a subject that feminism is still struggling with. But beyond the missing battles, there is an attempt of appropriation of feminism, that tries to make women join the game as it is, without trying to change it, maybe promising some marginal gains. It tries to make a label, a brand out of feminism and tries to stop feminism from taking on the real big battles, like the economy and the production of money.

Going back to the first question: how can we describe a political strategy that creates and fosters dependence on mechanisms of soothed extraction, of slow milking? a Political status quo where there is chronic high youth unemployment (up to 50% in several developed EU economies) keeping youngsters in a dependent state, unable to become adults, to have a house, to receive an income and be economical independent? or ensures they enter adulthood in debt (US, UK)? An economic system that is increasingly devaluing labour and work, pushing it towards the lowest paid workers in foreign countries (exposing workers to compete even with unpaid forced labour from prison systems)? A system that does not discuss fully the political implications of having increasingly larger proportion of tax-paying non-voting immigrants -ie formally outside of the political system- in the labour force? A political system that still relies on women working in some sort of shadow economy?

It is a system that is both anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal (in its emancipatory sense) at the same time, that feeds from bottom up, to then disconnect capital from countries and take it to fiscal havens or recycle it in the finance sector. At the end, when soft mediums don't work any more, the system turns easily into something more violent, more brutal, exploiting and even discarding those who oppose. Sometimes they raise with a "popular" speech, creating this idea of "we, the people", but without the emancipatory drive, on the contrary, with the promise of going back, follow the death drive. It is a system that somehow sees the economy very similarly to a company evaluating different business units or brands in a very hierarchical way. An example is the Boston Consulting Group chart, where there are Stars, who deliver growth and receive investment, Dogs -unstable and therefore disposable, question marks that need to be worked out to see if they are stars or not, and then the Milk cows, the cash providers, that are not seen as a unit with potential, therefore no investment beyond minimal maintenance will be committed, while it will be extracted from every drop of milk it can deliver. If and when society is looked at with these glasses, that are even reinforced with harsh judgements on the poor, little investment goes to the sectors that need more support. This thinking is not surprising when more CEOs and disconnected elites occupy the body of government.




THE moment to connect

US dependence on foreign oil has declined significantly
source: Business Insider
This is THE moment to connect. Brexit, Trump, the elections in France, trade agreements being re-discussed and rewritten de facto deciding how work will be distributed globally and affecting how work will be distributed and structured internally, nuclear tensions, climate change, the US energy revolution and what it means in terms of geopolitics, fake news, new political parties, etc, etc. This is the time where structural changes are being fought but there is a model that is anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal (in its emancipatory sense) that will try to gain more territory. If the end of history happened some time in the nineties, then this must be the beginning of a new history. A history we must write together.

Andrea

PS: Aatif Sulleyman for The Independent: The tricks used by Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to make smartphones so addictive

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

48. Facing the bull: feminism takes on the economy



I found this piece of "guerrilla art" extremely moving. Kristen Visbel designed this sculpture of a girl facing the charging bull of Wall Street. It was installed just before women's international day. State Street Global advisors commissioned the work and explained it was calling for greater diversity in the private sector in general and financial sector in particular. However, the image suggests a bit more than that (to me at least). For example: which of the two figures transmit true authority? which of the two figures is in control of him/herself? which one truly says fearlessness? which one is free -are any of them-? what do they see in each other/do they see each other? which effect are they expecting to have on the other? can any of them have a positive effect on the other?
Looking at it from a feminist point of view: is this girl speaking about contraception, abortion, abuse (the most salient feminist issues)? is she really speaking only about gender diversity in the work place (the topic the organisers claim to be symbolising) ? or is this speechless girl changing the conversation altogether? Does she only represent women? Is feminism ready to face the bull, take on the next big battle: economics?

A girl facing the bull: self-contained strength v rampant hunger/anger

A bull in a state of frenzy might have represented a sense of triumph for Wall Street for surviving a crisis, but it is hardly an inspirational image. This became particularly clear after the 2008 crisis. However, that sense of blind hunger/anger in form of ambition, selfishness, greed was presented back then as something positive, something that was causing the economy to grow and therefore unquestionably good for all.
Having ambition was the mark of someone successful even if it was becoming clear that success was an unreachable moving target that never gets satisfied. A hunger that produced tasteless, unwholesome food that in the attempt to satisfy reproduces hunger and trap us in a circular movement. A hunger that hoarded things that are not touched, are not used, are not played with. A hoarding that sucks up resources that are then recycled but are not used to produce anything else (let's remember that most of the money the finance sector moves never enters the 'real' economy).

A bull that conveys a sense of anticipation, what is about to do, what is about to win in front of a girl satisfied by her own stance, by the present moment, proposing to stop and change the game. This is a challenge as much as it is a proposal, because she does not challenge the bull from the logic of fear.

A girl facing the bull: feminism in economics

There are many feminist voices in economics speaking up. Some of them argue for care work to be considered work, some others discuss universal income, somehow focusing on the distribution issue.
I'm particularly interested (at least for the moment) in the 'female' role (nothing to do with gender) in creation: The one that creates spaces and conditions (and even probably markets), the one the makes the long term investment, not necessarily expecting a "return" on the investment through interests but rather a "forward" on the investment: whatever was invested will be paid forwardly and passed on to future generations. In previous articles, I suggested that "states" tend to adopt the female role in contra-position of the private sector.

Mariana Mazzucato speaks all around the world and wrote several books about the role of the state in innovation that tends to be invisibilised and unacknowledged:


In this video Professor Laura Bear speaks about how financial mechanisms subjugated politics to the finance sector and forces governments to austerity:



Ann Pettifor, one of the few economists that predicted the 2008 financial crisis, has just published a book speaking about the production of money, and argues that it is a feminist issue in this article in The Guardian, where she tries to correct two of the fallacies that another woman, Margaret Tatcher, "incepted" in public common sense: comparing the economy with a household budget, and "there is no money".

The economy is nothing like a house budget


"On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.
To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory.
So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector. Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers)."
No money?

"The second myth is that “there is no money” – for social care, the NHS, education and skilled, well-paid employment – all of which disproportionately impact on women’s lives.
Philip Hammond will present his budget on International Women’s Day, but has already warned against any rise in spending, and repeated a meme popular with politicians: namely that “there is no pot of money under my desk”.. His views are echoed by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who argued in 2016 that “there is no proverbial magic money tree”.
One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.”

Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package”aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers."


And finally, on economics and feminism: 
And while women may have broken the shackles that tie them to work in the home, they have acquired new chains: economic myths that prolong economic weakness, deny them access to the services they need, and to skilled, well-paid work that would improve living standards.

Going back to the girl and the bull: for whom are we routing for? who should win -should any of them win-? is this a battle?

Andrea

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.
This is not to say that the patriarchy came to save us and that women were lacking of control. There were some, albeit limited, knowledge of herbal contraceptives and abortives, but through the control over women's friendship this knowledge was not passed on and was prohibited. It is more to do to Rumi's notion that "the wound is the place where light enters you" or Hegel's notion that the wound heals when it finds in itself the solution. So if the patriarchy offered science as a way of cutting the dependence of nature, it was through science that the patriarchal chain on women is being cut.

With this I don't mean to say either 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/was 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. Of course here there is a danger. It is about consciousness and assuming responsibility rather than over promoting complete detachment or rationality over emotion.

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 (or at least the bond markets?) or deprive them from their god-like status, 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 interesting 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 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, or probably some small "nasty" country that appears as a more legitimate target (North Korea?). 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 -at the moment at least- 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 real 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 well 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 very important tasks (such as strengthening democratic values and institutions, overseeing all now open trade agreements that will define how work will be distributed and how capital will flow globally) 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 in order 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 nourishment, 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 was and still is both 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 then 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 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 reforms 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 -see video below on how Peter Brabeck from Nestle spoke (and then had to deny) privatisation of water. More 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 goods coming from countries with workers with no rights including the modern slaves: workers in prisons. 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