Wednesday, 24 September 2014

10. Just war or just...war

Daily we are being "bombarded" with news on how aggression gets justified by one side while we see up to which point the other side does exactly the same. Ferguson, Ukranian crisis, Gaza, ISIS and Syria, all these cases are full of reasons or excuses to trigger more aggression and to build the rhetoric that justifies it, which will then become the provocation and justification for more aggression on the other side.

ISIS justifies its horrific actions on religious or geopolitical grounds while, US justifies its action as supporting the peace process (Noam Chomsky explains,  everything that US does is "named" peace-process) and lately justifying the use of drones.
Most mandataries in Europe agree that Putin actions in Ukraine are inadmissible but the actions of NATO in terms of its relationship with Russia  are not so openly discussed.

All of this is reigniting the debate about whether there is such a thing as "Just war" or if it is all... well... just war: one side trying to alter the structure of power in any particular geography and the other side trying to keep it the same, in many cases involving rearranging borders. Of course, we need to be open to admit that many of the borders in the world have been drawn by foreigners on a table, sometimes dividing and sometimes grouping up people that cannot see each other, and therefore they will be naturally subjected to challenge at some point in the future. And also that when structures of power lack multi-lateralism, tolerance, inclusion, discipline to work within a diverse universe, fluidity and proximity with the people they represent, they will go through different levels of conflict.

Pope Francis has recently spoken about the justification of war from two different angles. One, is that religion should not be used to justify acts of violence. He was clearly referring to ISIS but it is just as important to remember that "evil" was a common label -label of religious nature- that the West has used to justify its role, even if it considers itself secular and the Big Other authorising and validating the aggression has replaced God with "the Nation", and martyrs with patriots and heroes.

This article in the Huffington Post draws parallels between the intra-Muslim tensions (Sunni v Shia) with what happened with Christianity with the rivalry between Catholics and Protestants some centuries ago but that has continued to this day and are very much alive in Belfast where the peace wall still separates Catholic from Protestant areas.

The second angle was that stopping an aggressor is licit, adding that stopping does not mean bombing, probably trying to limit the traditional doctrine of Just War.

But it is not only at war level that this justification happens: only a few weeks ago, we saw in Ferguson how one act of unjust aggression quickly escalated simply because it justifies new ones. 

However, there is something else on the news almost daily for the last few years: child abuse and violence against children in everyday life, in poor towns, expensive schools, and in current wars.

Here is, of course, when excuses don't work. There is no justification for it to happen, no justification for this to be organised and even less for this to be denied and covered up. 
And this is where our mental work has to stop: our rational for aggression is not objective, it is not an unobjectionable "truth" and it is part of a deluded discourse (deluded because we believe that this partial vision is an absolute one). I don't mean to say that the aggression received is not real. It is. As much as the one we exert. The challenge is to see beyond the aggression we receive and the one we feel entitled to use.

When was the last time WE were aggressive? Were we right? What was it about? How did we feel about it? How much are we imposing ourselves to others? How much are we wishing for others, doing for others, thinking for others? and the other way around? How are we using our power? How much are we allowing others to do, wish and think for us? All these invasions represent our own inability to balance our own power, respect and assert our own space (physical, mental, emotional) and respect the others.

If we do not own up and take responsibility of our aggression we won't be able to explore what's behind it, what's sustaining it and how to better resolve it. 
"The Tibetan spiritual leader focused on the concept of "jihad," commonly thought to be a holy war, but which he said has a far more spiritual dimension within the context of Islam. Jihad combats inner destructive emotions," the Dalai Lama said. "Everybody carries jihad in their hearts, including me.


If you liked this article, you may also like:
Demonising and idolising

External links:

Noam Chomsky on State Propaganda

Pope Francis on use of religion to justify violence

Jack Miles for The Huffington Post: How will the Midast war end? Christian history may provide a clue

Martin Stirling video for The Syrian Campaign "In Reverse"

Karen Armstrong: Religion causes violence and war? Why it's really not that simple

Milgram experiment (acts of aggression while obeying an authority)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

9. The sharp edge of the ballot paper

Selfishly I find Scottish referendum debate is a thing of beauty, a thing of this day. But of course, I'm just an observer, I don't have to make such decision myself. Every layer of it brings all sorts of modern age topics and questions. No matter what's the result tomorrow, the exercise of deciding whether they want to stay as a part of the UK or declare Independence has already changed many things.
For a country-that-never-had-a-revolution, this is a quite close version of it. Civilised, of course, it's British. The velvet revolution, they call it. Civilised, even if -after the vote- some steam might need to get out.

From the political point of view, allowing a “yes/no” vote has been a big bet. But it is indeed effective in splitting waters. When we need to make a decision like this, we are forced to set a hierarchy to values that we did not know had a hierarchy. The sharp edge of the ballot paper will separate Scotland from its past. If they decide to stay or to leave, it will be their active decision of today. It will be no longer be the past defining their future. It will be their votes.

The first point about claiming power back is that it comes with responsibility. Which is great. There won't be a greater power to blame.
The second is accepting the discomfort it will generate. Firstly, it will have to reconcile itself with the winning decision, and in this case around 50% of the people will be disappointed. Making a decision confront us with a new knowledge of ourselves at the point that we may not recognise ourselves. Did we really had the opportunity and did not take it? Did we really leave the UK?
Their own tolerance, self-respect and self-love will be put to the test the day after.

Whatever the result, it is a great attempt to re-democratise politics, which lately has been too monotone, more concerned about engineering consensus around an already established agenda than taking countries -and their people- forward. It has reignited a spark (even in Gordon Brown). Any union that “counts” with a member to be silent or weak or who is taken for granted, does not work.
However, “leaving the clan” to start your own hero journey can be exciting, but does not guarantee it will be easy. Beyond the separation bureaucracy, becoming a small dog in the pack will be indeed different. A full hero's journey awaits and it will be full of dragons, ogres and trials.

Whatever Scotland decides, I wish them the very best.


Saturday, 13 September 2014

8. Women: Invisibility or blindness?

There is a topic that people are starting to talk about: women invisibility. In most cases, it refers to how the lack of sex appeal renders women invisible in everyday situations like waiting to be catered at a certain shop. This is reported as a phenomenon that starts when a woman turns 40 and most common in her 50s. But this invisibility is also reported in other less superfluous situations such as when a woman is sharing her opinion in a meeting, when she is overlooked for a promotion or when their achievements are badly recorded in history.

In art:

In science:
Here Prof. Michio Kaku tells the story of Vera Rubin (who first postulated the concept of dark matter back in the 60's but was largely ignored) and Jocelyn Bell (who discovered the Pulsar, work that gained a Nobel prize... for her male thesis adviser) from min 4. (see note 1).

In economic theory:

The moment we speak about this phenomenon as women's invisibility, of course, we are putting the blame on them. It is something that happens to them, it is "theirs" and therefore it is somehow their fault or their choice. Their problem, right?
Far from being a superpower or a liberating choice for some, the lack of visibility is linked to the lack of recognition of women and this is a problem for all.

So instead of speaking about invisibility, what if we talk about our blindness instead?

With this question, you now might be prepared to a "women versus men" argument, old-style feminism. However, I would argue that we are all -women and men- selectively blind towards women, and that we all have been sustaining a masculine dominated society: where men are on top, we are rational beings -particularly in economic terms-, emotion is bad, competition and free market is the mantra, the state is incapable of doing anything efficiently and our deity is a trinity with a remarkable absence (or should we say an invisible presence?).

The point is that we are only blind to things we don't want to face, things we don't want to see. Things we have relegated to our shadow. Why would we put women in the shadow then?


Motherhood and our relationship with our mothers is almost a taboo subject. 

When it comes to motherhood we tend to skitter above the surface or even shut down completely to talk about it.

We may feel we owe our mum everything, or a lot, or just the opposite: we may sustain the feeling that she should've given us everything for free and she didn't. We may have a recount of her sacrifice: the unbearable pain of labor, the hundreds of sleepless nights (at least, for some of them), what she gave up for us. We may even go to the length of saying that she did her best (at least, some of them). For many years of our life, we understand and label the world using the words and labels that our mothers have offered. This is a dog. This is a tree. This girl is a bad girl. This is dangerous. This is good. This is bad. This is your place. Boys don't cry. Girls wear dresses. You are intelligent. Pink is for stupid girls. Your father is stressed because he has a very difficult job. Or whatever it is. Her words map the foundation of our consciousness in the first years of our lives: we know what she names. In this construction of the vision of the world, however, she is frequently excluded from the narrative.  So much so that most of the fairy tales don't have a real mother in it, only fragmented representations of our feelings towards her: the perfect mother ie the matriarchal mother, who "has to die" otherwise we wouldn't be able to separate from her, and the shadow of the mother ie the patriarchal mother, witches and step-mothers (the bad mother). (Note 2)

In our lives she is the invisible-hand writing our story (the mother is the big Other for us), lending us words and descriptors, interpreting the world and our emotions for us; even if she writes a paternal narrative, she is the one transmitting and validating it. We struggle to separate the truth from her version of the story. So difficult this is, that most of Hollywood films tell the story of this separation again and again, using the monomyth, the Hero's journey. They show, mostly from a male perspective, the process of individuation after the separation from the feminine (the mother): most Disney princesses don't have a mother, the hobbits leaving the shire, etc.

On the other side, it's easier to see fathers probably because the narrative of the mother made them visible. In this BBC interview to Roger Waters, he is asked about his father whom he never knew (from min. 2 approx). 

He speaks about him vividly and at length. He tells the story of him full of emotion. He spends almost 3 minutes going through the figure of his father, finishing with "I admire him so... (much)", and then adds "and my mother". Barely half of a mention at the end when she was the person "present" in his life, the one that he could see with his own eyes. What he lived somehow was his father absence. I don't want to minimise the significance of the absent father, particularly for a man. However, it is clear that this detailed account is a story that he was told. Probably mostly by his mother, making the father more present, more visible than herself.
Collectively, we also receive narratives: the history that our nation (our motherland) taught us, what we get from the media, our culture, our religion, etc. 

The truth is that even if we received love and swear we had a happy childhood (that is not always the case), most of us have suffered -as children, some as adults too- because of our mothers. Lack of attention, lack of being looked at, or seen in the deepest sense, lack of hugs, lack of recognition, lack of love. Lack. At some degree we all have the mark the umbilical cord leaves. The scar. The hole. But for most of our lives we won't see this pain. We won't recognise it.

We are all humans, all scarred in the same place.

She is an imperfect human being (how dares she?) and that is a hard realisation against our infantile expectations. And this is the first trigger for blindness.

We are "programmed" to overlook women because we do not want to confront our own history with our mothers. We are supposed to idealise maternal love. We have to survive and she gives us our best chance. So we adapt and, without words to describe our feelings, we don't register pain or anger. We repeat or buy into her version of the story where our point of view is not well documented. But our experience left a mark and waits there to be named. In the meantime, these hidden feelings get projected onto the women we meet. In this context is not surprising that Margaret Thatcher and Julia Gillard were referred to as witches and Angela Merkel is called "mutti" (mummy) in Germany. Here, blindness is the most innocent consequence, in reality. If we store negative infantile emotions, and are not healed, it may derive in active forms of aggression against women, the ones we read every day in the newspapers (in many cases even here women are invisible and what prevails is the language of the perpetrator as we saw in the killing of Reeva Steenkamp).

We are "programmed" to overlook women because we do not want confront our own fears. Mothers are our first weapon against fear. When we hold on to this infantile view of the world, we keep expecting our mother to come and rescue us (here the maternal role could be transferred to any maternal figure: a friend, the company that employs us, the state as the rescuer). Acknowledging these feelings would force us to see our fears and the characters and masks we had created to survive and most importantly, assume responsibility.

We are "programmed" to overlook women because the surviving mask we chose to wear is blind. In fear of our own survival we created a character, a persona, a mask that we wear in front of the world with the help (or as a direct result) of the labels that our mothers gave us “you are a rebel without cause”, “good girls behave like this”, "he is so intelligent" "you are the strong one" etc. This mask hides our wounded self, the one that has been traumatically separated from the maternal, which we don't want anyone to see. It is, by definition, her handwriting. This mask has been useful to survive but it is also very restrictive. If we were labelled intelligent, we won't feel free to act silly or irrationally or maybe even express our emotions. If we are a rebel, well we have to be a rebel and see any rule as a monster. The ones labelled strong will struggle to admit vulnerability and to ask for help. And good girls... so many women live under this label. The good girl, the good pupil, who always do the work perfectly without challenging the authorities. Even if there is injustice. Being aware of the mask would lead to becoming aware of the fusion we sustain with our mothers' story. In other words, the attachment to the mask hides the unsatisfied need to be attached and feel secure with our mothers.

So how do we solve this conundrum?

New eyes and self awareness.

This is not about "burning the witches" or "killing the mother" (that collectively has taken the form of fascism). Ideally we should all have a mother that is self aware, that is able to feed herself without needing to feed attention from her children. The one that can see and recognise the individuality of her children, that is able to let the father do his work too in helping the children break away from her narrative. But history has not taught women how to feed themselves very well. So, let's not expect her to come to the rescue. It's about us. It's about "seeing" her and ourselves, separately. Not the official story of her, but seeing her as an imperfect human being, as a woman that lived through particular circumstances and went through the same or worse with her mother. And ever more: seeing how we built our relationship with her. How WE lived it. Our side. Our pain. Our wound. Our mask. Ourselves. Finding the adult narrative of our own story and re-position our mothers in it. Even more so if we are mothers ourselves. 

We may find out then that we can cut the umbilical cord without leaving a scar, that we can actively and consciously decide to become adults. In this process, we may discover our own individuality, we may start to own our fears, our choices, find our power within, start to see our mother, and even without realising... start to see other women on the way.

“With a truly tragic delusion,” Carl Jung noted, “these theologians fail to see that it is not a matter of proving the existence of the light, but of blind people who do not know that their eyes could see. It is high time we realized that it is pointless to praise the light and preach it if nobody can see it. It is much more needful to teach people the art of seeing.” 

― C.G. Jung


External links:

  • Un día, una arquitecta  (A day, a (female) architect): it is a blog done by two female architects rescuing other female architects out of invisibility.

1) I added the video because I thought the cases were very relevant. However, in my lens constantly analysing discourses I do not particularly like that in this story what is "named" is Jocelyn Bell's mistake. Even if it is told with a sense of irony, what is named is what's important. In contrast, her professor unethical behaviour or the Nobel prize commission lack of diligence to assert in the first place who was the rightful winner and then to correct the oversight are implied but not named. Therefore the lens in which this anecdote was seen was with the lens of "women are to blame".

2) a nice article about de-sanctification and de-demonisation of women in films. Exploration of a shadow in a more integrated, less polarised way (Frozen, Maleficent, etc)

Also, some of the latest films from Disney with princesses find their mothers (they are not dead! ey!), they start to rescue themselves (ey!) and start to explore the separation wound from the female perspective as in Brave, where the mother and the conflict with her is central to the story and the mother is visible (ey!).

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Friday, 12 September 2014

7. Fear and Power: there is no science, only art

So far I discussed that fear is within all of us in our animal core. That fear is primary related to the fear of death and that the primary way to overcome it is using vertical power, quick and effective, but generally built over our first (infantile) coping strategies, that become rigid and are repeated and replicated even when proven unsuccessful. Again, in moments of real threat, quick responses are always better than slow ones.

However living in fear and under vertical power is like going in first gear with the car. It does not take you where you need to go. It becomes highly costly, ineffective, frustrating. It is unable to process quick enough the small and big decisions needed to deal with a more complex world, to move quicker or reach further. This happens at every level of life, from individuals to nations. We have seen many times how, in moments of crisis, moments of great fear, people expect a vertical use of power, but the current world is proof of how complex things are. 
Of course, people that want to profit from this situation will try to sustain and create the feeling of crisis to justify and accumulate more power, as this is the way people are kept in infantile state and are willing to give up power upwards, vertically. However, anyone trying to impose itself with vertical power will also consume itself both morally and economically, because of the force and aggression it needs.

In absence of fear, or better said, when trust or faith exists, power needs to be organised in circles. As in this way, power is shared, 
collective intelligence emerge and more decisions (or bigger ones) are made. However, it also requires a lot of "fuel", as  people need to engage in good quality conversations (rich, empathic, whilst disciplined) that enable action instead of blocking it. 

So the evolution from fear to a trusting state of mind, able to collaborate, is something that we all should aim for as a society.

Then I discussed that 
power is asymmetry. Asymmetry between sides, forces. Without asymmetry there is no creation, no decision making, no action.
But asymmetry creates unbalances, compromises, and for this reason no action is ever perfect. With time, it will seek to restore the equilibrium lost by moving to the other side, which will be also unbalanced. So the bigger the unbalance created, the bigger the change needed, the more radical the revolution. 

There will always be one of these forces in front of the others but the others exists and needs to be active in its role. Then, it should be allowed to emerge to lead and resolve the tensions that the unbalance naturally creates. As much as walking if the forces are highly polarised: we will only be able to move forward if the unbalance created in making one step is followed by the other foot moving forward. If the situation is multipolar, then the movement would be a spin.

If we understand masculine forces as everything related to structure, logic, reasoning, deadlines, limits, then the world, and particularly the west has been dominated by the (wounded) masculine principle. Almost the entire west world uses the same alphabet that is highly concrete, almost mathematical. It has been conceived in the Judeo-Christian tradition - which is a masculine oriented religion-. Masculine, because it uses a harsh deadline (you have only one life), and you will be judged at the end. Its hierarchy has deleted the female presence (father, mother and son) and made it invisible and passive (a ghost). It has relegated the "mother" attitudes of protecting  and welcoming behind rule making and judging.
The west culture more widely has also suppressed emotion or devalued as something lower than reason. Competition between empires or between enterprises has been the main economical thought (even if there is a positive -albeit relative- evolution to move from empires to nations). Writing rules and either policing or leaving people "free" to sort it out for themselves has been the main government style.  Of course, the big assumption here is that these people are not wounded and are able to self-govern with ethics (which should naturally include respecting and actively listening to the other side). However, this is not the case. I've read (and discussed in my previous entry) that the wounded masculine could be described as the popular Darth Vader: the powerful warrior that hides, under his de-humanised mask, his wounded soul.

Under a wounded masculine paradigm, states (by their nature, female entities) are inefficient, somehow lower than the private sector (by their nature, masculine). 
The role of the state must be kept to a minimum and make it as small as possible (particularly by the right and the liberals, a political thought that was born out of an occupied country). 
An extreme capitalism would be like living in a house with an immature and narcissistic father that leaves no space to the mother to act. 

However, we are going through times when we see this put into question. We see corporations not paying taxes, journalism crossing the borders of ethics and we question the role of the state again. 
We also see meta-governments being created, distancing power from people, confusing harmonious collaboration and commercial openness with the denial of national power. And we think about the role of the state again.
We see the environment being savaged and people trying to put a price on it, and we wonder about the role of the state again.

At least we have evolved from emperors and fascism, indicating a slow evolution from fear to trust and collaboration. However the integration between the female and male principles is still work in progress. The lack of the feminine creates problems of inequality, development, collaboration, empathy, mercy and a disconnection with nature. The lack of integration between the female and male also creates problems of identity. 

On the other side, an immature, narcissistic, invasive mother is offered by communism. Where the whole (and the state) is more important than the individual. Here the father, in her role of separating the children from the mother is not allowed to act. The lack of the masculine creates problems of de-inviduation, national narratives without critic, people not acting by their own moral compass and not taking and accepting own responsibilities. A wounded feminine will also have issues in connecting with nature.

With this argument, I mean to say that none of both principles -masculine or feminine- is right or wrong per se. The extremes are worst because of the greater unbalance they create, and the violence they require to impose and sustain themselves. Beyond the extreme situations, both forces are needed, female and male. Tension is good as it forces movement and improvements. 

Auf Der Suche Nach Dem Wunderbaren
Jaco Van Der Vaart
Progress is about keeping these forces working together and aiming to integrate them. Not through submission or fusion, but in a true partnership and active dialogue. As much as art integrates science and emotion. A great artist is highly skilled in technique (science) and is able to connect to something deeper. In this integration is where real creativity and life comes from. There is no economical model, no political science. There is only art. The art of being able to recognise who am I and where I want to go, and then decide on when, how and with whom. The art of knowing when to be guided by the feminine or male principle, behave as a mother or a father, or simply let go. Combining knowledge with instinct.

There is no science, only art.


Other links:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

6. Fear and power - Power is asymmetry

Power is asymmetry. 

Power is asymmetry. It is the resolution of a tension that exists between sides originally equal. Power is the triumphal action of the winning side to precipitate and materialise potentiality. Making a decision and taking it to action means that one idea, one intention, took power over other or others. Even if the winning idea has integrated part of its opposite, there is always a winning idea.
Shall I make the pragmatic decision or shall I decide out of principle? Without this asymmetry we would not be able to eat as we would not be able to decide anything. Symmetry neutralises, asymmetry creates. For that reason, power (and the perceivable physical world) is by its own nature unbalanced. In this natural order of power, hierarchy is an intrinsic characteristic of power and therefore inevitable (even though it doesn't have to be static). We would never be able to create (organize ideas, make a decision and take an action) without some sort of hierarchies. See The hierarchy of values.

In economy, in politics, asymmetry is a very well known principle of power management. If a company would split the shares in two equal parts, the likelihood is that the decision making will be inefficient or non-existent.

At an individual level, how we use our power will dictate (or be dictated by) our personality. 

Vertical versus circular power

When we are connected to fear and we are in front of a perceived threat (real or imaginary), power will be structured vertically (in our brains and socially) as it will generate quicker responses, albeit less intelligent and innovative as it tends to replicate known formulas of coping (it triggers instinctive survival behaviour governed mainly by what's called the reptilian brain). See Identity and crisis.

Portret van het Menselijk Tekort.
 by Jaco Van Der Vaart
The more vertical the power, the less dissent it will allow, the more aggression and violence it'll require to sustain it. In this dynamic, there is no recognition of the other's individuality, which is only seen as a resource. This is easier to see at social level or in interpersonal relationships but it happens first within us. We fragment our personality and give power to certain characters -normally the ones that were in charge when we felt fear early on in our lives- and we remove power from what we consider our weaker sides, our wounded self. In an article of The Guardian, they included some anecdotes of encounters of US politicians with Vladimir Putin: "When George W Bush looked into Putin’s eyes at a Moscow summit in May 2002, he reported, “I was able to get a sense of his soul”. When Joe Biden visited the Kremlin in 2011, he had a very different impression, telling Putin: “Mr Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” According to Biden, Putin smiled and replied, “We understand each other.” Seeing "souls" is -of course- about seeing beyond the mask that wants to hide our vulnerability. In his reply, Putin outwitted Biden suggesting he wouldn't find any vulnerability in him.

Darth Vader is a clear example of "the tragic hero" wounded by the separation from the feminine (his anger develops from the early separation from his mother, her death and the pregnancy of his wife), and this wounded side -the son, the husband- gets hidden under a mask. The warrior took charge but only to obey a ruthless Emperor. This character only survives with aggression. Once he got in contact again with his son, with love, he kills the emperor outside and within and ends up removing his mask (literally).

There is an irony in the impatience of the West to impose its democratic ideas. There is also anxiety. In fact, some people in the US argue that power is depleting, it's eroding (See: the end of power). In federal politics, this is partly because elected governments show due obedience to the contributors of the campaigns more than the electorate. Campaigns burn dollars in advertising so they need a lot and "one person, one vote" slowly changed to "one dollar, one vote". But this due obedience is a choice, a self preserving choice.
In World politics, it is simply too expensive to impose your will to the entire world. In this regard, power is slowly shifting mechanism from vertical (concentrated, single-minded, highly hierarchical, quicker BUT less sophisticated) to circular (more agents in the table, micro-tensions, asymmetry created by micro-alliances, might be slower if not disciplined, generally smarter). In this shift, that includes the US being more part of a circle, the creative result of power, how it precipitates and materialises, will be much greater (albeit maybe slower). More things will be done. 

But this is a process: a process of individuation of people that adds up ("trickle up") to a social and international power rearrangement. Power of an individuated person, the one that has become adult by successfully separating himself from the (m)other, will associate in circles. The problems are: 1. no one can do this process for us 2. we cannot do this process for others 3. We are not all at the same stage of this process, ever. 
Once we recognised ourselves, then we are able to recognise others and are able to successfully organize circular power, more creative as it unlocks collective intelligenceCircular power not only requires trusting individuals but also the ability to read, recognise and connect with others whilst have the discipline to conduct conversations and transactions that enable action.

During the dictatorship in Argentina, people were not allowed to gather in public spaces. The mothers of the people that started to go missing did not have any place to go, to denounce, to complain. They started to gather in Plaza de Mayo and under police orders of "circulate", they started walking in circles, in silence every Thursday. They walked around the pyramid. This circular power was one of great defiance against the vertical power of the dictatorship.

When this process does not truly come from an inner transformation ie someone else killing the "external" Emperor, it does not "work" in terms of enabling people to organise in circles (eg a democratic system), at least not immediately. It was their job to recognise in the external emperor the internal one and gather the force to overcome this brutal father figure -outside and inside-. When the process is cut, we'll probably run amok trying to build a new emperor to kill or we'll go through a period of deep crisis. If this is constantly interrupted, it can become a chronic issue. This is a current topic of discussion that analyses the result of West intervention in the middle east: how much it failed in imposing democracy, can you accept or work with dictatorships?, how much can you really do to bring about stability and social order?, etc. (See The truth about evil,  Are dictators worse than anarchy?Anarchy vs Stability: Dictatorship and chaos go hand in hand).  

The blurred lines of a circle: still democratic?

However the difference between what is truly a circular and vertical structure sometimes is subtle and not easy to distinguish. The European Union and even more the United Kingdom are in serious debate about it, with the Scottish Independence referendum and even the EU referendum promised by David Cameron. More broadly democracy (circular power) is being discussed more than ever. Is it really circular including us all? or are these circles responding to a vertical structure taking power away from people, like the Lord of the Rings's rings circles ended up responding to a single unchallengeable ring (ie, the 1%, the "market")? In this sense, it's always interesting to see "the market" not approving a democratic result, such as Dilma Rousseff reelection in Brazil. 

In vertical structures there is always a surrendering of power. In fact, every time we feel identified with anything there is a transfer of power. 

Whose wish is it?

Whose wish is it? is in my opinion the key question to think about when any sort of union is taking an action (a couple, a family, a group, a country). When it is the wish of one made true by the strength (the libido) of all then, there is domination. In this case the leading force in the union becomes a 'devouring mother': the one that feeds from the libido she steals from the children, depriving them of expressing their own identity. The one that wishes for you, the one that thinks for you, the one that does for you. Many fairy tales are based around this conflict, normally through the figure of the witch (representing the bad mother). 
I remain truly puzzled by by John F. Kennedy famous speech "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It is supposed to be an empowering message but... If we change 'country' for the word 'mother'... then it becomes a slightly creepy 'devouring mother' message and the standing ovation slowly becomes a paused and isolated applause. It does not say "ask what you can do for yourself, for your family" or "whilst we think what this country can do for you, ask what you can do for yourself, your family and your community too" (I admit, though, that it lacks the power of a snappy quote). 
The distinction can be quite thin. We read it everyday in the news. "Italy is not pushing fast enough for the changes that Angela Merkel wants to see". Whose wish is it?

In economic matters, "this is truly complicated, let us do the thinking for you" is a tacit and constant message which slowly pushes democracy towards the realms of elitocracy. It's refreshing to hear and see Dr. Ha-Joon Chang saying otherwise in his book "Economics, but not as you know it".

But the examples are everywhere. Whose wish is it? is behind our lack of understanding of the Ukraine crisis. How much the Crimea referendum voices the wish of the people living in Crimea? How much it is a civil war and how much it is a covert invasion to stop Nato? 
But most important of all, because everything starts in a small scale, is "whose wish is it" in our lives? why did I study the career I chose? Was it truly my wish or was I trying to make my parents happy, feed them instead of myself with my choice? (In this article Venus Williams says that tennis was in fact her father's wish) Whose wish is it being expressed with my partner? Do all voices have their space? And with my children?

Dynamic asymmetry 

Power is by nature unbalanced, I said. But it does not mean that the unbalance needs to be always leaning towards one side (nor that any particular hierarchy needs to be set in stone) on the contrary. The more it is unbalanced towards one side, the bigger the change needed, the bigger the revolution (this word sounds particularly evocative in this context)The quicker we move to regain equilibrium, the further we'll get. As much as walking or probably even better, spinning (it's a circle!)... revolving.
Crisis points would still tend to require a slightly more verticality, though (quicker, more assertive action). I always think of it as I go up a mountain with my car. I could not advance well in fifth gear. I might need to be in 2nd or 3th. But I cannot remain in 2nd gear forever. I would not get where I need to go. 

And why is there a mountain anyway?


More links:

Elif Shafak, about the power of circles: The politics of fiction

Ha-Joon Chang: Economics, but not as you know it

PS: Huffington Post UK, Scottish Independece: Darth Vader chases Labor MPs around Glasgow. :)

Monday, 8 September 2014

5. Fear and power: owners of our fears, writers of our history

Fear is one of the most powerful forces within us. It is wired to our physical response to a situation, overriding and disregarding any rational thinking. It is -of course- a good defense mechanism and being able to bypass our rational mind makes it extremely effective. You know, if a car is on the way to run over you, it's not time for a deep analysis, it's time to get out of the way.
This capacity of shutting down "superior thinking" is a treat that makes fear one of the 'entry' points to our minds and therefore one of the most targeted by anyone with manipulative intentions: politicians, corporations, religious orders, marketeers, our parents, our peers, etc. See this link

Beyond this external forces that can use fear for goals as "good" as making children go to bed at a reasonable time, as machiavellian as "mass manipulation" and up to quite superfluous of making us buy a particular brand of shampoo, we are ultimately the owners of our fears and we need to understand them better to be able to transcend them no matter what manipulative forces intend to do.

Through evolution our brain has added layers, making us more sophisticated entities with more survival resources. These added layers are built on top of the most primitive ones.
Some speak about the 'reptilian brain', the 'monkey brain' and the 'human brain' as the three main layers. 

The reptilian brain is the place where instinct (and therefore the primary response to fear) lays. It's described as rigid -it has to be-. In a moment of threat the most effective response is the quickest.

Most of our first fears -the ones we experience as truly vulnerable individuals- will be linked to our survival and therefore all the mechanisms we develop to overcome them will become survival mechanisms. Unconscious and mechanic. Quite rigid too. With active responses (such as Fight or flight) or passive responses (eg. seek safety in numbers or become submissive).

Protected against fear

In this simple set up, there have always been two weapons against fear: protection linked to the/a mother figure in our infant selves and the concept of faith and trust (to a certain extent positive thinking) in adults after we have effectively separated from the unconscious world we share with our mothers and experience our own power.

The mother figure is the one that can cast a sense of security in our early years, and the more secure we feel in this period of our lives, the least unconscious mechanisms we will need to survive. In most cases, however, even the best of mothers cannot really provide with this in full, partly because it might not be possible and partly because she also carries a baggage of fears that can play against becoming an effective mother.

Whilst we are still united with our mothers we are embedded in her psyche and we see the world the way she perceives it. This happens mostly by adopting her discourse (and her labels) as a true depiction of reality. Our choices are not so much an expression of our identity but hers. The more active is our fear, the more we will adopt and get attached to other mother figures that offer a discourse and an off-shelf identity. We "think" alike the company that employs us (which through a salary put food in our plates), we choose what a brand tells us is good (ensuring that we'll be recognised as good people with the label the brand put onto us), we buy into the news and a vision of the world that is scripted with a particular point of view, we repeat the words of history books that tell us the official history of the world according to our nation (or the winners), we align ourselves with the point of view of a group that we have joined, we condemn people our religion says are sinful. But this is a deluded discourse: it believes itself to be objective when it is subjective; it considers itself complete when it disregards some memories, hides our shame and only document the experiences that support the conviction "I am right"it is incomplete, it has lies, secrets and misconceptions, it is the version of reality our mothers (or our nation, our culture or whatever authority) were able to process.

Powered against fear

True power develops through the separation from our mothers (and all the mother figures we adopted in the way). Our becoming only happens if we felt secured in the first place or when we are ready to face this separation consciously: when we are ready to write our own script. 
"Soup, right? From the ideological barrier to that side, please"
Mafalda by Quino
Mafalda is a cartoon character created by Quino in the 60's in Argentina. Mafalda is a 6 year old with a very critical view of the world. One of the things Mafalda hates the most is the soup her mother insists she should eat. Here, the soup represents the maternal narrative. Without recognising this narrative as "foreign", we live in infancy, de-individuated, absent of the here and now, at the mercy of fear and the (m)other narrative and making choices that are not entirely ours and, most importantly, not taking responsibility for them. 

In the words of Carl Jung
Insofar as society is itself composed of de-individuated human beings, it is completely at the mercy of ruthless individualists. Let it band together into groups and organizations as much as it likes – it is just this banding together and the resultant extinction of the individual personality that makes it succumb so readily to a dictator. A million zeros joined together do not, unfortunately, add up to one.

Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but our fatally shortsighted age thinks only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations, though one would think that the world had seen more than enough of what a well disciplined mob can do in the hands of a single madman… People go on blithely organizing and believing in the sovereign remedy of mass action, without the least consciousness of the fact that the most powerful organizations in the world can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans.
We test our power during the patriarchy. The patriarchy is a stage that demonises the mother, invisibilise her and try to restructure her narrative by re-defying words. The patriarchy is castrating and we need to reclaim our history from the patriarchal narrative too. This is the true empowerment. Once we've done that, the spade turns to a pen and we become creators, writers, authors of our history. 


PS 1: None of these dictators did what they did on their own:
(note: the list might not be comprehensive and some of the numbers seem to account for a wider range of the conflict they were involved in but nonetheless...).