Friday, 18 December 2015

34. From symbolic matricide to bureaucratic statecide

In the age of "everything is so strange that nothing is surprising"(1), we are back again hearing and reading the word fascism more than we would like. I go back to some of the things I wrote in previous posts in an attempt to set a context of why this could be happening and the work we might need to do.
Believers series - Free at last
Jaco Van Der Art

Changing smothering for castration

We could understand our personal biological and psychological journey through life and our individuation process as a series of birth and rebirths with particular stages. None of these stages is pure, simple and complete, but a general scheme might provide a useful reference. This process is somehow followed collectively as well (in micro and macro cycles), where the state and the left represents the feminine side and the private sector and the right tend to adopt a "masculine" role. 

In this journey, it is well known that there is a stage where the patriarchy commits symbolic matricide. Nowadays, seeing all the issues regarding sovereignty that are emerging (politics governing the EU, TTP, TISA and TTIP, developed and discussed in secret) should make us reflect if we are in front of a political/cultural patriarchy committing a bureaucratic statecide where democratic institutions do not govern countries and the principle of "division of power" does not keep power in balance any more eg treaties that include clauses that take corporation-states disputes out of the judicial system to secret mediation processes, and clauses that forbid the country to make certain decisions (eg once a service is privatised, it cannot be renationalised ever), even castrating future generations to make their own political decisions. CEOs make decisions from their positions and if that's not enough by penetrating democratic institutions and do this job with their own hands in a similar, even if softer way, as military structures used to do.

This video is worth watching in its entirety, but this particular point is covered by Julian Assange at 1:16. 

The personal journey: First, the matriarchy

In order to draw the parallels, I need to go back to the primal structure.
Since we are in our mothers wombs we are fused to their psyches. We grow within, we feed from her until this space is too small (even if it is unclear, it is though that the fetus releases substances that induce labour ie the baby "decides" when to be born) . As a species we are born underdeveloped, and continue this process outside the womb. From this moment, a long process of individuation starts: the one in which we slowly realise we are our own person and are free to make our own decisions and to write our own history. But it takes some time. For the first years of our lives, our mothers organise with their words our consciousness, with their silences and disapproval, our shadow. Her narrative (even if it is patriarchal script), the combination of words and silences is the structure that represents the virtual womb in which we are immersed until we are born out of it by recognising it as foreign. 

During these first years, she provides food, comfort, attention, safety. We are dependent but this is Eden. This is the matriarchal stage. This stage builds the foundations of our personality and it's almost impossible to emphasize enough how fundamental it is for our future well being: how well our needs were satisfied at this stage will have probably the biggest unconscious influence in our future.

During this stage, she is perfect to our eyes. This is "the reign of the perfect mother". We grow, fed by this physical and virtual womb until it is too small for us, because of course, the mother is not perfect and we need to be born out of the matriarchy to develop our own independence to become free: this is the primary purpose of the patriarchy. 

Then, the patriarchy: finding our sword

At this point the perfect mother dies. The patriarchy kills the good mother to show us the side that was invisible to us: her shadow. 
God expels us from Eden. Eden becomes Egypt. We fall. 

In almost every fairy tale, the real story begins when the "good mother" dies because this is the beginning of the hero's story, when we have to learn to make decisions and earn our bread. We would not be able to separate ourselves from the "good mother" and that's why this false perception of perfection has to die. We need to challenge the narrative we have received from her so we can build our own. With all its shadows and forced hierarchies, cutting dependencies and gain freedom from the inherited narrative is the true purpose of the patriarchy that we should always bear in mind.

In fairy tales, the good mother and the stepmother (or witch) are two halves of the same person. When the good mother dies we start to see our mother's shadow, the side she does not acknowledge of herself: the stepmother (not completely emotionally invested) or the witch (over-controlling, eating children), the evil queen (a narcissist "feeding" attention from children), etc. In this demonisation, we find the strength to challenge some of the things we have inherited and are not ours or are not useful to us. Up to this point, fused to our mother's psyche, we could not see this shadow because our mother was blind to it. If she could not see it, neither could we. The fact that we start to see it, is a sign that we are becoming independent. 

During the patriarchal stage (which is by no means the final one), we need to learn four main things:
-Listen to our instinct 
-Re arrange our unconscious world, our beliefs 
-Feed ourselves (our basic needs... you shall earn your bread)
-Learn to use our resources through the development of self-discipline and self-mastery
Basically, to become independent.

When a princess marries a prince at the end of the story it has little to do with "only a man can rescue a woman". It is in fact the princess integrating her masculine side, the one that allows her to focus her energy and with a sword cut the dependency with the "evil" stepmother.

Patriarchal language restructuring

This stage is the patriarchy, because a father figure is the one the invite us to go outside the world of mum and penetrate the external world. He is the vector demonising the mother, neutralising her words and claiming power over the narrative. He starts to restructure her discourse, with new vocabulary or by changing the meaning of some of her words, whilst urging everyone to stop listening to the 'enchanting words of the sirens'. 

At this point, it is not difficult to begin to see a parallel between this and what the media does with anything related with more leftist opinions. Jeremy Corbyn has been systematically attacked by the British press. Whilst Bernie Sanders has been working to un-demonise the word socialism. Right wing politics are now 'pragmatism' and 'realism', leaving the space of 'idealism' to the 'deluded' left. Rights become benefits or even entitlements. The ideological nature of neo-liberalism is thus invisibilized (to be fair, all ideologies work by self-invisibilization). In this video for the Renegade Economist, Eliane Glaser speaks about this use of language.

The point is that we are not children, the symbolic mother or the state are NOT pure evil. And the symbolic father and corporations are both liberating and castrating figures: we need to be born out of his narrative, which is blind to its own shadow too. In stories, this shadow appears as ruthless kings, emperors, fascist dictators. As an example of a patriarchal "fairy" tale: In Star Wars, Obi Wan Kenobi is the good father (the master teaching self-discipline and self-mastery), and the Emperor is his shadow. Two halves of the same person. It is Obi Wan Kenobi the one that cuts Anakin's legs, physically castrating him and thus subordinating him to the power of the Emperor. See this article from the Huffington post about this sort of precarious manhood.

Need comes first, ideology comes after

Before I continue, I have to stop and say that how much our survival needs are satisfied are the most important element of how we choose to transit our lives. Desperation, hunger, exclusion, dispossession are the most basic triggers why anyone enters into a fight or flight mode, or even in submission. When fear of survival kicks in, the one in power is our "reptilian" brain. The most ancient part of the brain structure that commands survival. In situations of fear, it overrides all other circuits. In front of a tiger, it's not time to sit down and analyse. For people to engage in other thinking processes, they cannot be in fear of survival, their basic needs must be satisfied.

Patriarchy - Star Wars v Lord of the rings

There are different ways of going through the patriarchy and these two stories provide a useful example. Note: the reason I pick on 'fairy' stories as a useful tool is because they are archetypal and our minds understand the sequences they follow. Religious narrative works in a similar way. In many senses we are telling ourselves the same stories over and over again. 

One of them is wearing a mask that hides our wounded self: the one that has been separated from the mother traumatically. This is the persona we adopt and show to the world. Famously Star Wars replaced an "inefficient" Republic with the "efficient" Empire, and Darth Vader (the traumatised hero), wearing a mask, submerged himself completely into the dark side of the force, where he could fully enact the anger that the traumatic separation from the female created: the lack, the wound left open and claiming -by force- her service
In this process, there is a false freedom (the one that lacks love), false strength (the one that denies vulnerability instead of integrating it), brutally subjugating anyone that represents his own weakness: women, children, foreigners, people from other races or religions. 
It is resolved at the end of six movies when he is able to connect with his internal source of love: his paternal instinct. Killing the emperor marks the end of the patriarchy.

It is not difficult to find this logic in Boko Haram and their brutal treatment of women or in the hyper-(wounded)masculine image of ISIS.

There are also "elements" of this behind the surge of right-wing populist messages appearing everywhere. In Germany, "We are Germany" demonstrations replaced the "federal republic" with "shit state" or "gang state", anger against the state, which needs to be dominated or reclaimed. The article in Der Spiegel "Fear, Anger and Hatred: the rise of Germany's new right" speaks about it and says: 
Such hateful slogans and sentiments against the state and foreigners are coming from law-abiding citizens from the heart of society. They display a mixture of old prejudices combined with new conspiracy theories that is typical for the movement on the right-wing of Germany's political spectrum.
Another way, is through a more conscious journey. In the West, power is politically divided to keep it in balance like the rings of power, but also concentrated through political agreements and treaties, that might as well end up responding to "the one" ring that subjugate all the rest. 
In Lord of the Rings, the passage through patriarchy is not done by wearing a mask, but enacted by a journey where Sam (the 'chief hero') walks with both his hero side (Frodo) and his shadow (the one that needs, the wounded self, Gollum) towards a place where he needs to destroy his old dependent self (the ring). Almost as if it was a psychoanalytical journey led by the shadow (Gollum) to enter the unconscious (Mordor). He can destroy the ring only once he had revisited his past with his mother (the spider living in the cave feeding from victims that are alive and wrapped-like-a-baby) and accepted his shadow: when Frodo claims "the ring is mine", he is kind of admitting "I am still hungry for the attention my mother did not give me, this need is mine". When he acknowledges his attachment his need becomes conscious and thus the unconscious need, the hungry, denied, baby-adult wounded self - Gollum- dies. 
Sam integrates his hero side too, in stages: Sam carrying Frodo (he is assuming responsibility for the first time) and then when Frodo tells Sam he is now the writer of the story and leaves. So even though the war happened, the Emperor never took control. 

And finally... the almost happy ending
Of course here comes the happy ending for the hero. We did our hero's journey: "we loved, we hated and we became". And we are all at the verge of the end of the patriarchy.

But what happens to the step-mother and the Emperor? What happens when these two still hungry people see the empty nest? Do they know how to create again? What's their own mission and purpose? Do they remember how to feed themselves? 

Patriarchal economical struggle: Creditors v creators

For a while, there is a patriarchal inertia that will try to extend dependency through debts. A king needs feudalism and the rentier economy to feed from. Or else, it will empty the coffers. It will keep on demonising and dis-empowering anything considered social (maternal), citizens and democracies (accusing any policy of populist if it works in their interest), and crashing start-ups and entrepreneurs, that if left unchecked will destroy countries. Mothers under patriarchy (and states under current thinking) are left lost, disconnected, not knowing where to feed from (austerity, austerity). The patriarchs (bankers, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, big corporations) will pass a bill to the next generation, to the children

These creditors create a unpayable debt to extend a state of dependency and avoid addressing their own emptiness. This is not "conspiratorial" thinking. It's mostly survival behaviour, that in some cases turns into predatory eg Hedge Funds arguing in favour of sacking teachers and close schools in Puerto Rico to avoid a default that would affect them. This behaviour is only possible within a particular structure of institutional and social order. We need to remember that the creditor's narrative will always exclude the creditor and its behaviour of lending too much and thus creating debt as means of creating dependency and concentrating power instead of being a genuine investment, with its rewards and its risks I should add

Blue scream - Survivor series
Jaco Van Der Vaart
The first problem with this creditor is that does not know how to create himself. Does not know his own purpose. He depends on extraction of wealth or others creating for him. He has the resources but in reality does not know how to use them or what for. The liberal tragedy is that it fought to become independent from the monarchy, only to concentrate as much wealth as the monarchy and start to behave similarly: unquestionable, with some sort of divine right.
These creditors do not lend to equals. They need "empty" people fearing for their survival to capitulate their power: 
  • a robot/slave (the one that does not think for itself and follows orders), 
  • a "prostitute"/a corrupt (the one that sells him/herself to survive), 
  • a coward (the one that fears the fight/cutting the dependency), 
  • a child (the one that is/feels dependent).

Patriarchal political struggle: against the tyranny of TINA

When there is only one correct answer, "There Is No Alternative", democracy is made redundant. It is reduced to being "managed" by technocrats. Countries have no other option rather than to sign treaties and accept the role they are given in a hierarchical world structure. 
1989 gave us the winner. The only allowed Ideology (neoliberalism) wears a mask of "truth": it becomes the correct answer we have to learn in school and masters in business administration. Then the only question open is how efficiently we are going to get there. 
When efficiency is the priority, then competition is made redundant, because competition is not necessarily the most efficient model (from the corporations point of view). Concentration and cartels can be more efficient as companies are not wasting money in advertising, price finding or wage wars (even Silicon Valley played this game with a 'no poaching' agreement challenged in court). One aspect of the Euro project was to avoid competing currencies. 
Work is also in danger of being made redundant, as empty workers (robots, slaves, traumatised workers) are more efficient from the corporation point of view. Somehow we all ended up consuming products produced by child labour (smartphones using Cobalt mined by children, sports gear, clothing), slave work (clothing in particular), or work done in very precarious conditions with few rights.

Slavoj Zizec suggests in this video, that the gap left for this lack of options in the political sphere is being filled somehow by religion.  In this sense, we lose a lot with the lack of diversity in politics. When religion comes to correct or express political conflicts, one of the ways that are going to be resolved is through holy wars. It is also worth noting, that the main figure speaking against a model of exclusion (a "leftist" sort of message) is the Pope (again, religion filling this gap). 

Lie to me

In this game, the media is doing a lot to sell us TINA, demonise the left, etc. etc. and the public does little to demand more objectivity. In any of the wombs we might be submerged in (the real, the matriarchal, the patriarchal, an ideology, etc) we are being fed with acceptance, with attention, in other words with a narrative we accept. The food we take make us grow, but this food also feeds our attachment with this environment. It is a reward to our presence there. It confirms we are right and that we belong. It's not uncommon in research done in focus groups for participants to say "you have to tell me ..." this or that. They know which are the lies they should be told. If they are offered a skin care product, they would ask "tell me what's the magical ingredient! Call it pro-something. I know it's not the real thing, but at least I know you made the effort". In this state of submissive acceptance, an incongruous proposition will be simply rejected. 

The era of the child: finding our pen

In the three videos embedded here, there is a call, a need of a new idealism, a new utopia. Eliana Graser wonders if what we have is really what we want. Julian Assange suggests that some sort of new Christianity is needed, which is interesting, as Christianity showed the story of the Son, who he is, what he creates and how he overcomes the roman emperor. 

If the patriarchy arms us with the sword to cut our dependency with the matriarchy, in being born out of the patriarchy this sword is turned into a pen. We must start to coin our words and become authors of our story. When we write from our own individuated perspective, we can see and bring back to life the mother by seeing her and her shadow, we can overcome the empire of the patriarchy by seeing the father and his shadow. 
We can create this distance, that allows us to see, accept and decide what does it mean to us and how can we act upon what we believe in. Because this choice is a free choice and there is more than one alternative.


(1) Virginia Woolf, discussing Lewis Carroll's Alice's adventures in Wonderland 

Friday, 11 December 2015

33. Ambiguity and polarisation

Lately, there were a few of completely unrelated news, somehow touching the issue of ambiguity and polarisation particularly in identity-related subjects: gender identity, ethnic identity, religious identity, political identity, national identity or any other label that attempts to qualify the "I am" statement. The news show our difficulty in dealing with ambiguity (with the help of the media and some politicians) and how easy it is to wedge two groups apart. 

Regarding sexuality and gender

On the one hand, a controversy generated by Germaine Greer after she shared her opinion that trans-gender men to female that have been gender reassigned are not women. In her discussion with Kirsty Wark there is no alternative even discussed to the male-female polarity.
By this time, Facebook had already introduced more than 50 possible gender descriptors even adding the option of customise the description, suggest a new one and choosing which pronoun people should use in relation to your gender.
On the opposite side of the globe, in Argentina a different discussion was taking place. Immediately after a law that allowed people to change their gender in their official documentation became effective, people started to complain this binary definition was already old. I'm neither, I'm both, I don't know, I don't want to omit my history, these two polarised classifications don't define me. People even entered in the discussion of the complex realm of sexual identity that is composed by more than one dimension (biological, gender identification, predominant sexual preference, non-predominant sexual preference, etc.) or why should anyone be labelled (an argument that Foucault also discussed).

Regarding ethnicity and cultural integration

In light of the Paris attacks, a new debate emerged discussing the two different models of cultural integration that France and UK have followed: assimilation v multiculturalism, and their failures to avoid having home-grown terrorists. In an article for The Guardian, Kenan Malik reports: 

The French critique on multicultural policies:
Such policies, they claimed, were divisive, failing to create a common set of values or sense of nationhood. As a result, many Muslims were drawn towards Islamism and violence. “Assimilationist” policies, French politicians insisted, avoided the divisive consequences of multiculturalism and allowed every individual to be treated as a citizen, not as a member of a particular racial or cultural group.
Kenan Malik concedes:
Many of the French criticisms of multiculturalism were valid. British policy-makers welcomed diversity, but tried to manage it by putting people into ethnic and cultural boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. They treated minority communities as if each were a distinct, homogenous whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined by a singular view of culture and faith. The consequence has been the creation of a more fragmented, tribal society, which has nurtured Islamism. 
In the meantime, in assimilationist France, policies were officially based on tolerance and the  “droit à la differénce” (the right to be different), following Foucault logic of why-the-state-should-label-the-citizens (in fact, by law they cannot collect ethnic statistics) and considering that ethnic classifications are a racist concept that belonged to the past (colonial France or Vichy). As a result, they had little information about the reality of minorities. They did not know that there was higher youth unemployment, they did not know there was more school desertion (that could only be observed when researches quite recently stating to use tangential data as country of origin and country of origin of parents), they did not know that if you presented a CV with an Islamic name it had highly significant chances of being dismissed. They did not know, therefore there was no programme or policy. They did not know either that most immigrants are secular and relatively liberal.

After a big wave of North African immigration came to France and the 2005 banlieue riots happened, France moved towards more active assimilationist policies: imposing common national values, showing hostility against "divisive" symbols (eg religious) whilst making a bit more effort to "appear" diverse in public spaces. It was only in 2006 (!) that the first black news reader was appointed in French TV (TF1-Harry Roselmack).

Neither putting everyone in the same box with the label "equal" -rendering their issues invisible- nor putting the minorities in boxes with the label "different" -different to the majority-, seem to have worked because neither of the approaches was truly accepting of individuality and circumstances. This seems to be particularly true for those with the ambiguity of feeling they belong to the collective identity that somehow rejects them and thus making them feel they don't truly belong (eg the second generation immigrants/passive immigrants, as much as any disfranchised teenager that fantasises with finding the acknowledgement of existence in acts of violence or even -ambiguously- in self destruction).

Syria and the Islamic state

Of course, when we read in The Intercept that ISIS goal is eliminating the grey-zone of coexistence, we are in front of another polarisation attempt and wedging this reaction when a group rejects a minority.  After the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Intercept reports:
"The attack had “further [brought] division to the world,” the group said, boasting that it had polarized society and “eliminated the grayzone,” representing coexistence between religious groups. As a result, it said, Muslims living in the West would soon no longer be welcome in their own societies. Treated with increasing suspicion, distrust and hostility by their fellow citizens as a result of the deadly shooting, Western Muslims would soon be forced to “either apostatize … or they [migrate] to the Islamic State, and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens,” the group stated, while threatening of more attacks to come.
They also report that it is the same strategy that Al-Qaeda used in Iraq to wedge a sectarian war:
In a 2004 letter to Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, laid out his proposal for provoking such a conflict, calling for terrorist attacks against the Shiite majority population that would lead to a harsh crackdown on the Sunni minority. In such a scenario, his group could then coerce the Sunni population into viewing it as their only protector. “If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war,” Zarqawi wrote, “it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death.”
Slavoj Zyzec writes for the New Statesman in "We need to talk about Turkey":
This obscure background makes it clear that the “total war” against Isis should not be taken seriously – they don’t really mean it. We are definitely dealing not with the clash of civilisations (the Christian west versus radicalised Islam), but with a clash within each civilisation: in the Christian space it is the US and western Europe against Russia, in the Muslim space it is Sunnis against Shias.
The Heute Show, a German comedy show, has produced a fake advertising for Hasbro's wargame Risk "Syrian edition" claiming to be for 23 to 96 players (you don't need to speak German to understand the point).

Living in Wonderland

We could write forever about the ambiguity of these times where in every action, in every piece of news there are multiple meanings and intentions sometimes conflicting, when we find "everything so strange that nothing is surprising" (Virginia Woolf, discussing Lewis Carroll's Alice's adventures in Wonderland - even though she could perfectly be speaking about Donald Trump).

In a time where the never-ending economic crisis and the need of stabilising mechanisms for the Euro pushes Europe towards more political integration, populist right movements are surging in many countries aiming to go backwards and reclaim sovereignty back from the Union, increasing border controls, etc.

Another clear example of this ambiguity is Saudi Arabia. 

1) They are expanding women's rights (they are holding the first election where women can stand and vote). In an article for the Independent, Brian Murphy reports:
“Saudi Arabia has done a great PR job in selling these elections as part of much-touted reforms,” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. “The reality is that not much changes.
Whilst also saying:
"Yet to dismiss the elections as mere window dressing also fails to grasp the moment."
2) They are fighting an oil price war apparently against the fracking industry being developed by their ally US that would cut their energy dependence (and their share of the market), but most significantly affecting the Russian economy.

3) They are blocking decisions at the Paris summit, when the middle East is one of the regions that will probably be uninhabitable due to climate change (higher temperature, more sandstorms, more social unrest as we saw in Syria). They admit to a potential future without fossil fuels and attempting to ask for compensation for the loss of future oil income. 

4) Being an ally to the US, it is claimed to be in cohort with Turkey both not being particularly transparent about their interest in fighting ISIS.

Living in ambiguity

I go back to the conclusions of "The ghosts of conflicts past".

A veil that polarises everything into good and bad has many advantages. A world full of nuance and imperfect decisions is uncomfortable, but it is also more real. A world view that can be reduced to the format of a football match with two emperors disputing territories or trying to prove their system better might be easy, even entertaining, but keeps us in the illusion that we are mere spectators. We do not connect to our reality and thus we cannot affect it.This connection with reality is particularly difficult in the fog that the media creates for us trying to feed our sense of identity and belonging for repeating a pre-crafted opinion, that comes with a label pro or anti (in political issues), skipping all the rational argumentation part. We should be able to discuss our own ambiguity. See what Zizek says at min 14 and 39 onwards on the following video:

This veil not only polarises but also fragments. It decouples economy and politics, warfare and arms trade, freedom and the structures that provide opportunity, and probably most importantly past and present.

But if studies show that we find truth in groups, and that the way that thought, science and emerging structures are networks and not trees, that means that each point, each individual, each nation is important. Our own personal perspective might not be "the truth" but it has a purpose and in expressing it, it can help the person next to us to drop his own confirmation bias and vice versa. And for that happening, we should not be all saying the same things, repeating the words of others, aligned and even less, labelled.
I am. No labels.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

32. History got erased first at home

The silence and invisibility of women affects us all. When history is not told in full, shame and secrecy leave us wordless, unable to name what happens to us, we cannot free ourselves from our past and feel powerless.

Unveiling the hidden history

Dr. Amanda Foreman is working to unveil a part of History that hasn't been told: the history of women. She was behind the four-part series on BBC called “The Ascent of Woman,” telling the story of women in civilization and is about to launch a book , The World Made By Women: A History of Women From the Apple to the Pill, is the story of humanity from the perspective of the female half. And this work to remove the invisibility cape women in History seem to be wearing is amazing.

From an initial herd social structure, a pyramidal, hierarchical structure appears to manage the new found abundance. In this structure the concept of private property emerges and the family structure follows as the pattern to pass on wealth to the next generations. For this, women sexual power needed to be put under control so men would not be raising or passing wealth to children that were not theirs. With shame governing women's sexuality, their voices got silenced. 

In "Women: invisibility or blindness", I've touched upon the issue of how women get erased from History: history of science, art, literature, etc. but suggesting that it is not down to their invisibility but our blindness (all of us, women and men), and this being down to the relationship we establish with our mothers. In our early childhood, she is the narrator, that voice over putting words to events, describing the context. But this story is imperfect, it leaves a lot out. These women, shamed by their own sexual power, made bad historians. Secrets became a survival tactic. History got erased first here. At home. Women invisibility starts with her silence. How many secrets have we discovered in our family tree? How many abortions, extra marital children, pregnancies kept in secret, false birth dates? Without the modern day birth control methods every single family of the world is full with these stories. Have we discovered them yet? 
And if these quite harmless secrets were kept secret, what about the not so harmless ones such as cases of abuse?
This issue goes far beyond a "feminist" problem. When we are not dealing with reality, we cannot affect it.

Experiences lost in time

In this 7-min video from Big Think (please watch it) Dr. Vincent Felitti speaks about his work with childhood trauma, involving 17500 middle-class adults. He found that traumatic life experiences in childhood that are lost in time and further protected by feelings of shame, secrecy and taboo play out powerfully in adulthood and is behind many diseases, emotional states and shortening life expectancy. He found that 1 in 11 (!) in a middle class population have experienced 6 or more of 10 categories of trauma in their childhood. These individuals are 4600% more likely to become drug addicts, and similar increases to the likelihood of attempting suicide. I cannot even imagine what the numbers would look like for deprived populations. The prevalence is incredibly high. 1 in 11 is a number worth pondering on. How many of the kids we went to school with could've been going through these terrible experiences? 

Acknowledging suffering is so important that our bodies and our lives can be hijacked by traumas left unnamed. People may feel that not speaking about something makes it disappear or makes it less real, our silence can sustain a perfect version of our story, time will erase the memory, but in the unconscious there is no time and these feelings are stored in a state of ever-lasting-present. And if regaining the power of our lives is not attractive enough, we have to know that our traumatic experiences can be passed somehow to the next generations, who by copying our behaviour, our coping mechanisms or having to believe a history -that they sense- does not quite add up, they will carry the weight of the trauma without ever understanding where it is coming from. Without transmitting our real story, we are stopping the next generation from learning to see and accept reality.  

I don't think there will be real changes in our lives, or in the world we are living now, without opening Pandora's box. I speak about it in all its different meanings: the box as the uterus (and the feminine voice) and as the container of the things we fear, because there is nothing more toxic than secrets and nothing more healing that letting things breathe.


PS: watch what research says about children that know more about their family history:

Friday, 23 October 2015

31. Privacy is the foundation of freedom but it is not its edifice

Moving from a big city to a small town was a shock to my system. As soon as I arrived, I took a taxi and the taxi driver knew who I was and what I was there for. Even though nothing important happened in this environment of observation and scrutiny, having this experience helped me understand why someone who was born there might develop -under the pressure to conform- more conservative views and would resort to different tactics to wear a mask in front of the others. But most importantly, I could understand why someone that crossed any line, succeeded or even failed miserably would become such a succulent piece of gossip: (very) deep inside everyone longed for the freedom of simply being themselves.

Here is the interesting part. The opportunity to experiment our true self in privacy (in our own cave), protected from the overly eager correcting eye of the tribe, is the seed for the subsequent "coming out", the ability to face public exposure with self-acceptance and take the inherent risk of being rejected by the tribe. In this article, Somalies living in foreign countries tell of the rejection they face when they return home for holidays.

We need to separate ourselves a bit from outside influence to find out who we are. This "stepping out of town", crossing the barrier and entering into the underworld, is the first critical stage of our individuation process, the hero's journey. However, the point of the individuation process is not to be alone at the end, but to find a tribe where we can be who we are or say what we think. 

Nowadays, our ever more connected world is making privacy a hot topic (almost as much as transparency).  Our online lives are deeply ambivalent: on the one hand, they are very public, therefore we behave like we would do in the small town, always smiling, only showing what we know the others accept. At its best, it is a source of transparency and empowerment. On the other hand, and mostly through pseudonyms and avatars, it is very private, it is our cave: a place to look at our shadow, our desires, to find the inner fire that motivates us -as individuals- to do things that are probably in fields a bit beyond of what's conventional and accepted by the people who surround us. This search has to happen in the privacy of anonymity.

Privacy is a result of technology

It's curious to think how privacy came about as a result of technology: the technology of chimneys, the ability to build individual spaces with fires -at least, for countries with winters-  (Watch the 5 min video from The Guardian series "The Power of privacy"). 

The Guardian, "The power of privacy"

Chimneys gave us the possibility to physically build our own separate cave. Fires kept groups together who had to gather around it. Families would sleep together, sex would have to happen in this sort of exposed environment. But chimneys changed that. Houses started to have separate rooms, each of them heated by its own chimney. Sexual exploration happened in this new private rooms and most revolutions started by groups that first gathered in secret, too. The technology of chimneys required the development of a lot of knowledge: precise ratios to draw smoke out, brick technology to resist the heat and avoid setting the roof on fire, the knowledge of how to do its maintenance, etc.  
Symbolically speaking, screens are now our new chimneys: TVs, tablets, smartphones are the small fires of the caves we use to explore ourselves (no wonder why sexual exploration happens a lot in this private world).

The RSA animate video illustrates a talk given in 2009 by Evgeny Morosov "The internet in
society: Empowering or censoring citizens?" challenges 'cyber-utopianism' - the seductive idea that the internet plays a largely emancipatory role in global politics. He describes how authoritarian governments use internet (not even with sophisticated tools) to reduce tensions and build more legitimacy (pseudo benevolent action), but also to turn people against each other and keep control of citizens.

The keys to our house

The awareness of how public everything is in the online world is a key learning that we need to go through. There is a first level that it is just being aware of our own naivety. When we put our lives online, we are making public a lot of information about ourselves: what we think, what we have, how much we earn, the faces of our children, their names, our favourite places, our friends, our credit card number, our credit, etc. We are responsible if we leave a door of our house open.
But even if we are careful, the fact that there are techniques to access information we don't want to share is a big issue. And the revelations from Edward Snowden pointed out that the technology is there to build back doors into our house without our knowledge. How can we guard our house if we don't know of these doors? Who has the key? Can this key be stolen?

This is of course a post-9/11 world. What 9/11 changed the most, is that the american public demanded to prevent these things from happening beyond the capabilities intelligence services had up to that point. It is completely different to the attitude to other crimes, like mass shootings, where the prevention element is not demanded so widely. For many Americans, it is taken almost as a price to pay for the freedom of bearing arms. Prevention in this sort of cases is deeply problematic (the Minority Report movie explored it somehow). It lies outside our justice system, which is based in evidence, actions having taken place or at least been attempted or significantly planned. We all accept that privacy is not guaranteed in the context of an investigation of a crime that has been committed or planned, but this dwelling into anyone's privacy is progressive and must be justified to begin with. However, in prevention not only its investigation has to be outside the system, but also its resolution. Hence, Guantanamo, extraordinary renditions, etc.
And then, how far back in time should we intervene to prevent something from happening? Is someone reading about a subject guilty? Many societies used to burn books because of this. Is someone with extreme/"wrong" ideas guilty? Many societies disappeared people because of their ideas. This world is the heresy world, the world where the Inquisition worked. Does it have a place in today's world?

Our cave is sacred, even if it is obscure, ambiguous, strange and we are afraid of it ourselves. But the exploration of this space is what makes us free, is the place where we gather the strength to look for alternatives, to break convention, what allows us to find ourselves, to evolve, to ditch ideas and beliefs no longer work and then get out to the world changed. Without privacy, we stop evolving. Without privacy, we cannot become truly free.

A light in the shadow

Shedding light into themes that society normally puts in the shadow (sex typically is put in the shadow, but also issues of identity, individuality, conformity, etc) helps us run this search better prepared and without false expectations. The more adult dialogue happens in the real world, the better armed we will be to explore these topics in solitude. A cave is the place where desire and fantasy live (in all its shapes and forms) but it is unreal. It's a place to get in and get out. No one should live in the cave or being granted any sort of unconditional anonymity. It is in complete anonymity that we suffer a fracture and fall into depersonalisation. Without the other, looking at us, we can't recognise ourselves nor the others. It is only outside the cave that we can make a connection, that we can use our desire to fire a positive action. Ultimately, freedom is the exercise of being ourselves in public.

Upside down world

One of the ways of eroding a social contract is turning the right of privacy upside down: granting anonymity to the actors and entities that concentrate power (who become depersonalised and unaccountable) and denying privacy to individuals. 



Thursday, 15 October 2015

30. The crisis of codes

Code has become an ubiquitous word. It's everywhere. From programming, gaming to marketing or spiritual awareness (eg bio-decodage) and without forgetting the Da Vinci Code... the notion of hidden codes that command processes -and some say even our own actions- is becoming bigger and bigger.

The movie "Inception" is a story based on the concept that an idea (in the form of a metaphor, a code) can be incepted in peoples' unconscious in order to command future decisions. In the movie, Leonardo Di Caprio's character is hired to incept an idea into the heir of a big business. He had incepted an idea before into his wife deep unconscious: a metaphor that she would interpret as "this is a dream". This hidden code drove her to kill herself: believing "this is a dream" even when awake, meant she could not connect with reality any more. She thought the only way to wake up was through dying. 

Even if this is a story, it illustrates what others also speak about: the existence of codes in life, unwritten decrees, adopted beliefs, that govern us in different ways. Because they are unwritten, they are not conscious. They are highly symbolic and mostly hidden from our rational filter.

Economics: Something beyond market forces

I'll start with Economics for two reasons: the first one is that nowadays it "governs the governments" and secondly because it is an area where cultural imperatives and ideologies are not named or frequently denied whilst hiding behind the word science.

In this video, Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz discuss the current state of economics. Even though, classical economics is based on the principle that men are rational entities, looking to maximise utility, they discuss that it is self-evident that this is not the case, that there are "forces beyond the market" that dictate many behaviours.

Thomas Piketty starts (min 5) saying: "I think there is a lot of ideology in the economic profession. And I think many economists have a view of markets which is not only idealistic and naive. They are defending the views that markets are working efficiently, are working well."

Joseph Stiglitz comments on minimum wage: "one of the things that 'Wall Mart raising the wage to that level' illustrates it is the fact that it is not just market forces determining minimum wages... they have the power, the choice to raise the wages. [] There are a lot of non-market forces determining what's going on." Later on, he repeats this assertion in relation to male-female wage inequality and the lack of female CEOs.

Paul Krugman comments on nationalism in America and some state's entrenched opposition to national programs that would benefit them: "there is a lot of discussion in the sociological and political science literature [] on the question of false consciousness. Clearly in the US, a lot of it is back to the original sin: it is about race."
Later on he adds: "I picked up a phrase, when Bernie Madoff scandal came, I learned a very useful phrase which is "affinity fraud": people are very easily conned by people who they think of as being like themselves, as being part of their tribe."

So if we have two Nobel price winners and a top economist saying that there is a lot of ideology and cultural beliefs being sold as "economic truths", why then the TINA (there is no alternative) principle of neo-liberalism has been so accepted?

Those structures built before us

There were several concepts that have become quite popular in this regard:
Check your privilege  is an online expression used by bloggers and in twitter  to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges we normally are blind to. This is illustrated by a TED talk done by Michael Kimmel. He tells an anecdote of how he learned about this concept (way before it was made popular by social media) having a meal with a study group. He witnessed an exchange between two women (a white woman and a black woman). The white woman says "All women face the same oppression. We are all placed in the same position in the patriarchy". The black woman replies "I'm not so sure. Let me ask you a question. When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, what do you see?". The white woman said "I see a woman". Then,the black woman said "You see. That's the problem. When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror I see a black woman. To me, race is visible." Being the only man in the group, he thought oh-oh and then admitted "when I look in the mirror I see a human being. I'm the generic person... I'm universally generalisable." And then comments "that's the moment when I became a middle-class white man." (he missed the adjective 'american', though).

Another concept being talked about is Self-efficacy (and attribution): the extent or strength of one's belief in one's own ability to complete tasks and reach goals; the level of confidence we have that our behaviour can actually affect what we achieve and how much of our success/failure we attribute to our actions. It's a common concept looked at in cases of burnout, obesity and mental health in general.

How are these two linked together? When we think of system structure and which is our place in this system in this particular moment in time.

In this video, Paul Krugman discusses issues of infrastructure with Senator Elizabeth Warren (min. 56 onwards). He asks "New York city is expensive.[] Why are people here? It's because of the opportunities. Where do these opportunities come from? They come from all the other people who are here, from the interaction between them, they come from the incredible infrastructure []." But then he argues "I find it incredible that somebody had made the decision to be in this crowded place, in this expensive place -because of all these opportunities- but then they say, all that money 'is money I made', 'you have not right', 'it's all me', 'it's all my individual stuff'. And 'how does the government thinks it can tax some of that away?' to pay for some of the things that makes this place where I want to be. This city -and America as a whole- is an overwhelming demonstration we are more than the sum of the parts. And that's why we need more than markets, we need government to make things work." 
In this comment, of course, he describes a misattribution of success as a pure individual achievement without taking into account the systemic enablers (geography, family, point in History, class, access to education, access to opportunities, etc). On the other end of the spectrum, the self-efficacy of anyone with less privileges will be greatly affected, sometimes without fully accounting for the systemic disablers. Of course when there are systemic enablers for some and systemic disablers for others, there is systemic injustice.

Codes defining systems' structures

In this video, Fritjof Capra (introducing the book "The systems View of Life") explains that Systems science uses networks at the centre of the model to explain life in its multidimensional levels of organization, changing the old model that looked at systems as machines. Here he touches on biological, sociological and economical applications, but I'll comment on what he says when speaking about social networks (min 27): social networks are networks of communication. Social networks are self-generated but what they generate is non-material: they generate thoughts and meaning. They form multiple feedback loops, which eventually produce a shared system of beliefs, explanations and values, which is known as culture. And showing membership of a community means that you have to behave in a certain way. There are also restrictions on behaviour of their members, but these restrictions are generated by the members themselves.

In other words there is a code of conduct

According to Capra systems science changes the way of thinking towards relationships, patterns and context.

Following a similar line, "The culture code" is a marketing book by Dr. Clotaire Rampaille (who has also recently launched "The global code"), that describes that most decisions we make are unconscious. They are commanded vastly by a reference system we imprint in our early years of life, are shaped by the emotions we feel any time we have a "first experience" -and even more when this is repeated and reinforced-, and embedded in our reptilian brain (the most ancient part of the brain commanding survival and reproduction processes). This reference system will work as a code that defines what is accepted and rejected. Some of these first experiences are very individual, and some will be transmitted by our family and by our culture. In this way, most of our choices are decoded as survival tactics that we and our tribe have developed. 
According to Rampaille, this code determines what's the relationship we establish with an object, a subject, a notion, an idea and it is highly symbolic. The content itself is interchangeable. Applied to marketing, if a brand of shampoo wants to sell us beauty, it will tap into the culture codes of beauty (young, slim, symmetrical, in many cases blond, unattainable, etc). Any product that wants to establish a relationship with us using beauty as a bridge, will have to build a vision of beauty similar to our own. Many brands of shampoo could achieve this. But he goes beyond, and suggest there are codes that define what certain cultures look in a president, how they see their countries identity, etc.

So, if networks are relationships, and there are codes that ultimately determine relationships (by accepting/rejecting), these codes will determine the shape of the network, its structure, its geometry. 

It is probably in this context that what happened with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina can be interpreted. The Washington Post shared some of the findings of The Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth that were tracking 1420 low income children, including this specific group. Suddenly, a Casino was built in the reservation which saw most families increasing their income. As a result children showed a significant increase a personality traits that are strongly linked with positive outcomes further in life: conscientiousness and agreeableness. It is hypothesised that the extra income improve the relationship between parents, the relationship between parents and children, and reduce alcohol intake, commenting that when this happens before the age of 8, these traits can become permanent. The codes that get imprinted about our most primary relationships are more positive when these relationships are healthier.

These findings are also in line with the views of Professor Robert Putman.

On-code, off-code or changing the code?

Coherence to the code is the key to success within a given system. In this sense, when thinking how few women get to the top Sheryl Sandberg makes very interesting comments. 
She speaks about self-efficacy and shares stats showing that men attribute their success to themselves, while women tend to comment on the enabling factors external to themselves. She gives cultural clues: men are positively correlated to success and likeability whilst women are negatively correlated. As a whole, she indicates to women that being "on-code" in business has to do with confidence, single focus on the business, individuality, challenging the rules and self-attribution-bias (even if it is partially delusional). There is a lot of sense in her point of view. Of course, it is not clear if this would be really enough when there are disabling systemic factors. You can hardly be more successful, committed and confident than Serena Williams, however she once said "I'm the most underestimated 8-times grand slam champion ever" (after this quote she continued winning and has accumulated 21 grand slams victories -and counting-). This did not stop her to achieve all that she has achieved. But the fact she is not being truly recognised is an indication that if she had played within a structure where achievements were measured much more subjectively, her success would've probably been limited. Her experience suggests that there is a bit more than attitude that play against women and african americans.   
It is not difficult to recognise either that there are many disabling factors against working motherssome degree of cultural disapproval (still, and coming from both sexes),none or short maternity leave, lack of flexibility and even cost of childcare being higher than their own salary (the infamous I-can't-afford-to-work issue). 
We need to think too about the system geometry and the fact that men thrive in pyramidal structures (which is in itself a symbol of masculinity), probably trying to resolve some of their Oedypus complex every time they symbolically kill their symbolic father (their boss) by taking their place and thus penetrating further their symbolic mother (the company, that feeds them). Of course, pyramids are not inclusive of all men, they have mechanisms to exclude any group they do not see as matching their own identity (some people will be always off-code even if they are willing to mimic on-code behaviours).

Beyond this, studies on collective intelligence done by the MIT led by Tom Malone suggest that groups act more intelligently when:
This is a real invitation to think how hierarchical and reward structures could be better in accommodating and recognising members that are enablers of collective intelligence. 
In this sense, it is important to remember that processes and structures cannot be decoupled.

Changing the metaphor

In Capra's video, he states: "There is a system awareness that sees itself through a metaphor, a code, and through this code, it designs processes. Indeed at the very heart of the change in paradigm, we find a fundamental change of metaphor of understanding life as a machine as understanding it as a network."

Even if we want to insist we are rational beings, science has shown that decisions are deeply emotional or plainly instinctive. In a world that is only trying to evolve through addressing the pre-frontal cortex (words and rational thinking) is neglecting most part of its brain that can only process symbolic information. The symbolic language we used to connect to in ritual once-a-week attendance to church (with all its positive and negative implications) is being used 24/7 by advertising and the entertainment industry which normally works in accordance to the current (mostly survival and competitive) codes.  

How do these codes codes get changed? How do we evolve? Personally and collectively?
My attempt to answer these questions would be:
1- Back to basics
Personally: Listening to our inner child (the one that needs), and provide him/her with the resources we have as adults. I think the awareness of our own history is important and understanding our early years is an important enabler to understand what are our codes, our most basic needs. 
Collectively: Improving well being of all children: (through addressing the main causes of distress of their parents), will definitely bring a next generation with new codes.  

2. Stepping outside our comfort zone:
Personally: New habits, new experiences. According to Einstein the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. 
Collectively: New conversations, embracing plurality, immigration
When people with different views of the world interact, these conversations will slowly affect the codes of all participants but only if this works as an exercise of acceptance and integration of the 'other'. This requires the mastery of the art of brave conversations, where we are willing to speak our truth and listening to a different point of view that might even challenge it. In this regard, it is not surprising to see defence mechanisms at play through a higher level of awareness of racial tensions and anti-immigration rhetoric  particularly in countries where Imperial codes (of racial superiority) might still be present.

3. Embracing moments of crisis: renaissance
Personally: Personal crisis are opportunities to get rid of what's not working. In this sense, there is a part of us that must be allowed to die: old ideas of ourselves, old expectations, old habits, old models. This is not a simple process and a full grieving is necessary.  
Collectively: crisis are powerful symbolic collective events. I've touched upon collective trauma in a previous entry. Collective crisis should also offer the opportunity to revisit old models, too. But in a globally connected world, there are other events that get imprinted too. Images that can be highly symbolic like "The Blue Marble", a photograph of the earth from space was embraced by environmentalist, Western counter-culture (movements for civil rights, peace, feminism, etc) as an image that raised our awareness of unity, of earth vulnerability and challenged our ego image. 
Some people say that the attack on the twin towers is in itself a very strong image that brought a sense of something big just happened, "this means change" to the entire world.
I would argue that the image of Aydan Kurdi has been also significant. Almost a warning telling us that point 1 is not being done properly.

Even if we can all rationally agree that the first point (well being for all children) is indisputable and what every society wants, current economical policies are working against it and we keep voting in their support.

Somehow, the never-ending economical crisis -that triggered several national identity crisis-, the new wave of civil wars -that led to a refugee crisis- and international wars seem to have started to shake things at a much deeper level, to reach core codes and beliefs that the beginning of the crisis did not touch, the ones that we need to confront and hopefully overcome.