Sunday, 23 August 2015

25. Predators and Trojan horses

It is naive to think there are no predators in the world. Detecting predators is so important that fears and traumatic experiences are being found to be passed on in our DNA to the next generations. However, it is one of the areas where justice and the political system struggle the most. 

Today I found in the newspapers the news that Bansky opened last Thursday a new art show in Weston-upon-Mare called Dismaland which included some works on the theme of predators. According to The Guardian, Dismaland includes "a “pocket money loans” shop offering money to children at an interest rate of 5,000%. In front of its counter is a small trampet so children can bounce up to read the outrageous small print drawn up by artist Darren Cullen.". There is also a Cindirella crash scene being photographed by papparazzis, which is a stark reminder of something we all remember.

Even though conservative thinking claims some sort of ownership over the rule of law, it tends to dismiss and turn a blind eye on anything related to predatory behaviour at any level. From child abuse to economic predators. Under the conservative narrative they don't exist.
The left, on the other hand, is prone to portray predatory behavior in conspiracy terms, where everything is consciously and machiavellianly orchestrated to work in favour of the predator whilst allowing the predator to remain in the shadow. Under this narrative the full system is predatory. 
None of these positions offer full clarity on how to recognise and respond to a predator. In one, there aren't any and we should accept whatever is going on because that's reality, in the other the task is simply too big and too shadowy. In both we are powerless.

Predators feed from the vital energy of a situation, a person, a family, a country or the world itself. They suck up their victims out of money, youth, creativity, attention, beauty, physical strength or innocence. They make others fall into their hunger.

Not listening to our negative emotions
So why is it so complicated dealing with predatory behaviour? There are many cultural nuances that play a role here. The first trap we often find is the denial of what's negative, like shutting down our self-defence systems. We ought to be always positive and optimistic. If we feel a negative emotion, we have to suppress it. We are the owners of this negativity so we must be wrong. Finding or even sensing something negative is somehow a proof of a lack: lack of emotional balance, lack of drive, lack of proficiency or lack of understanding the world. 
This authoritarian positivism got so far that there are discussions on whether mindfulness or meditation are being used as control mechanism to soothe people and make them more accepting and submissive, instead of a tool to achieve the clarity we need to act and resolve our problems. 
We need to start to revalue the importance of negative emotions and how to use them. Fear, anger, sadness, etc. For instance, anger can be an explosive reaction or even malevolent but it does not have to be. Anger gives us the strength we don't normally need or use to reassert a limit, to say no, or to demand something that it is due. But we need to educate our anger for it to become an assertive negotiating tool that works for us, without violence or malevolence.
In the case of fear, and even though it can be paralysing, it is also a basic traffic light in our self-preservation. 
Whatever the emotion, sensing that we are being drained of vital energy in any way is an important signal to recognise to be able to defend ourselves. You can sense a bit of this dynamic in the chat Owen Jones (a journalist writing for The Guardian and The New Statesman) had with one of his online trolls. The troll admits on calling him a racist just to get his attention. And although he does not like him nor agrees with any of his views, he repeatedly asked to be unblocked on twitter. Something Owen Jones did not do.

Victim blaming

The second trap is the complex land of victim blaming. Why is it complex? There is a psychological exercise that illustrates this complexity. The exercise consists in presenting a crime situation to a group to discuss blame. I could not find the original exercise so I'll describe what I recall from it: a 18-year-old girl is walking home at 10 PM alone when she is raped in a park. Her father had told her he could not pick her up from her friend's home. Her friend knew there had been cases of rape in the neighbourhood but failed to tell her friend about it. The policeman who was supposed to be patrolling the area at that time had stopped for a coffee. Someone saw the scene but failed to react. Who is to blame? You can pick only one.
I was hugely surprised to be part of a discussion where there was no anonymous blame on the rapist (the only character not mentioned in the exercise, ie the girls "is" raped). The girl was to blame for walking alone so late -and probably she was wearing a mini-skirt someone might add-, the father for not protecting his child, the friend for not warning her, the policeman for not being in the area, the witness for doing nothing... Our sense of blame is very subjective and is rather aligned with cultural and personal structures, values and expectations: we expect a lot from a father, a friend, a policeman. Of course, we have responsibility over our alarm systems working, but we cannot and should not lose sight of who is the actual perpetrator of the crime. However, the force of public opinion tends to get dispersed when dealing with blame and guilt, and so loses its strength to put on pressure onto politicians.

In predatory lending we see the same phenomenon. Banks -highly professionals- offer credit cards or mortgages to people who don't have the financial strength to engage in a risk-free debt. On the contrary, the bank knows they are quite likely to fall behind payments. Culturally, people who took on debt bear the weight of the guilt if they cannot pay back. The missing due diligence of the highly educated experts in finance who work in those banks, who were payed bonuses for achieving the related targets, is minimised. 
In the following video, Prof. Joseph Stiglitz discusses blame on the financial crisis of 2008. He argues against those making a case to lay blame on the regulators and the central bank for lending to banks at a very low interest rate instead of looking at the banks and the role in the out of control private debt accumulation.

legal and political system struggled to do anything after the financial crisis of 2008. Banks had to pay some fines, and accept to take part in some stress testing but no significant structural changes happened. Structural changes is what should happen after a crisis (the emergence of a new paradigm). Otherwise, the crisis "purpose" (and opportunity) is lost and another one will be needed.
Only Iceland took a strong position after the crisis and is now pursuing further changes in the banking system, building a case to prosecute banks for counterfeiting. When being able to give away loans sidestepping capital requirements, they argue, banks were effectively creating money out of thin air, violating the mandate that only the central bank can issue money.  
The rest of the countries, with public opinion confused, dispersed and misinformed, and politicians that don't do much if not truly forced, did not resolve their own tragedies. Similar things happen when dealing with crimes against humanity when local systems fail to judge criminals and end up only prosecuted at the international court of law. In this sense, and only due to the inability of local political power to act, there are initiatives to include economic and environmental crimes under an universal jurisdiction. 

Letting the Trojan horses in
When discussing why it is difficult for the legal and political system to deal with predatory behaviour, we have to touch the issue of how they sometimes operate as door openers. 
In his Confessions of an economic hitmam (a best-selling book - there are also many videos available in youtube), John Perkins describes how through loans and conditionalities, transatlantic corporations manage to get countries to devaluate their currencies and thus being able to buy assets for a fraction of their value (the current version in Greece is that creditors are able to switch bad bonds for actual assets), to impose or remove existing laws, to open up the economy to foreign goods to compete against sometimes not fully developed local companies, to allocate large contracts to foreign firms, etc.

Europe is preparing the ground to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the US. Beyond the typical negotiating points in any trade agreement (ok-let's-agree-that-bananas-can-have-different-curvatures-here, you might-need-to-drop-this-ban-on-animal-testing-there), they want to impose an Investor State dispute settlement, which is a parallel, closed and secret judicial system which also allows corporations to sue countries for anything they regard as affecting their profits.

Reclaiming power

Unfortunately I don't think there is an easy answer. 

We need to recognise our own hunger, our internal predator. At the end of the day, a hungry paparazzo is selling his pictures to a hungry magazine which is selling its magazines to a hungry public. As long as we are blind to this side of ourselves, we'll struggle to see it outside. What are we willing to sell ourselves for? and our children? For a cheaper tablet? cheap clothing? a promotion? what's the price tag we put on our country? 
And then address this hunger. We might need to connect to other sources of human or spiritual "food" to domesticate our inner predator. 

We need to have our alarm systems up and running. But this cannot be done if we don't learn to listen to our instinct, and to understand our negative emotions. We also need to use our intelligence to dig out the true meaning of what we are feeling, what's the true motivation and then dare to have adult conversations -with ourselves and with others-. We cannot live with a Facebook or Linkedin etiquette where no real discussion can ever happen. You only "like" what the others say; you say things the others won't be afraid to say they "like".  We sign this unwritten deal of inflating each others egos and not having any real conversation (I'm discounting bullying or any sort of trolling out of the definition of real conversation).
We need to be aware of our inherited fears to ensure that our alarm systems are actually working against our reality instead of memories that are not ours.

We need to put pressure on politicians and encourage young people to ask questionsto use their alarm systems and to be politically active.

As we were born out of the concentrated state power (the matriarchal state), we need to be born out of the concentrated corporate power too (the patriarchal sector). States and corporations are important, only they need to operate within democratically drawn boundaries. 


External links:
Helen Thomson, The Guardian: "Study of holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes". 
Ashifa Kassam, The Guardian: "Spain's campaigning judge seek change in law to prosecute global corporations".

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