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.