Wednesday, 7 December 2016

45. Post-patriarchal cities and the energy revolution


There are big questions on the subject of how we relate to earth and nature. I am not talking yet about climate change but rather the most fundamental question: where do we get our energy from, both in terms of food, and consumable energy. This search has been the one that defines entire historical eras and their economical systems. In fact, how we choose to respond this question is an important structuring factor of our social systems. It is more common to look at progress from the point of view of technological revolutions, but I'll stick on purpose to the subject of the basic needs and energy revolutions, as they are the most basic of all needs and the ones with the deepest roots.

This question is so important that is actually a permanent question because we -human beings- can create many things, but not energy: we can consume it, foster it, release it, store it or transform it but we cannot create it -or at least not yet-. Our capacity as creators has that limit, and because of that we keep a dependence with nature, "mother" nature (even though some Buddhist meditators are exploring some of these frontiers too). Secondly, because in every transformation of energy, a residue, some waste is generated and how we deal with this waste requires management, it creates a limit or at least -as much as the CO2 we have to breath out- a rhythm.



Nature's 'tyrannical arrongance'

Up to "modern times" dependency on nature (or more precisely, on the sun and the rain), meant no food security and famines, It meant being at the mercy of the weather, pests and somehow "Mother nature", who figuratively speaking appeared to be powerful, authoritarian, mad and in front of whom Faust would say "man asserts himself against nature's tyrannical arrogance" (a tyrannical arrogance that he ends up embodying). Not surprisingly, modernity drove humans away from nature, from the work on the land, and from the "feminine". In this sense, and figuratively speaking again, modernity and cities are patriarchal processes and mechanisms. Here, as in the entire blog, I speak about Patriarchy as a process that drives us away from dependency, from our mothers, and forbids the desire to go back to the uterus, and in order to do so it demonises the female altogether. Being born is metaphorically the first fall from paradise, the first patriarchal step. The separation that starts to happen around 7 years of age is the second, followed by periodical falls when our biology or life circumstances makes us evolve beyond the limits of what we were. But during the patriarchy we remain dependant. It is a stage where some vital processes are still "externalised":
  • Nourishment -we still somehow need an external placenta feeding us with food, energy and vital attention- (Under patriarchal thinking: the more chauvinist, the more externalised this function is and the more it will be needed to tie up its source of nourishment, the more patriarchal the mother, the more she feeds her hunger from her children).
  • Control -governing over the development of self mastery and self discipline- (Famously women have had throughout a big part of history control externalised (sexual, behavioural), were the ones being more harshly 'disciplined' ie punished, and were restricted in their access to education).
  • Contention (the ability to deal with negativity), and our need of this external entity to absorb all our negative "emissions". 
  • Consciousness architecture and narrative/history writing (which limits self awareness, self empowerment and freedom), etc. 
Even though we will probably never manage to internalise everything, we go through a process of increasing integration. As our embryonic life replicates the entire evolution of humans, our journey too replicates our social evolution.
At social level, every time we are collectively questioning the dependence/relationship with nature, "mother nature" and land we are going through one of these falls. For the Western civilisation, the most recent falls were the end of medieval times with its Renaissance, modernity, the period between the two world worlds and climate change is the current one which is undoubtedly global.

In this post I argue that:

-We are going through a renaissance, because of this we live in a very confusing moment where hope and seemingly limitless possibilities live together with a sense of the end of the world.
-In every renaissance the most important point is the change in energy source: the energy question.
-Following the logic I follow in this blog of the sequence matriarchy-patriarchy-post-patriarchy, this time the energy source change includes the fundamental change from consumer to prosumer (or at least more evolution in this direction), term in use both web users, for people who consume and produce content and in the energy sector for individuals with solar panels and the ability to capture energy to feed the network with the excess energy they might not be consuming (produce and consume, the step beyond patriarchy is to become creator).
-Structurally speaking, this change will not happen only at electricity design network level, a new business model in the energy sector and the minimisation of the use of fossil fuels (eg Germany has recently asked the World Bank to stop funding fossil fuels), but also at the level of cities. Cities are starting to change structurally or probably I should say, cities must change structurally for this change to take hold. Modern cities are structured to allow circulation of cars, the 'daughter' technology of petrol. Modern cities are 'alienated' from nature and need energy to come 'from outside'. New cities are starting to show a new orientation to new energy sources. This is slowing appearing in public transport, city design and may include in the future energy production and green spaces (I wonder if some level of food production will have to be integrated into cities too). While geopolitics might still be dragging on the usual question on how to secure basic resources from foreign countries, the changes happening at local level, through local politics might end up having a big impact too.


Renaissances: matters of life and death rather than life or death

In geology, some experts are currently saying that 1950 should be considered the beginning of the Anthropocene, a new geological age, where the impact of human activity is so big that affects the planet.

'The Truman Show' the moment Truman reaches the wall of the dome
we was living in.
 

We could imagine these historical eras as embryonic stages where we grow thinking the place we inhabit is unlimited as so is the source of energy, until we reach the walls of the uterus which then becomes more uncomfortable, we feel the pressure until we are collectively born into a new 'paradigm' (ideological and energetic) to think again that the new place we inhabit is unlimited, universal and so is the source of energy. Somehow, we are not aware of the limits of the reigning ideology, our world view, our vital energy source until we grow enough to feel its limits.

Every birth, every alienating step, seems to co-exist with the death drive, and it is in the moment of birth that a small or big battle happens. We were conceived, we grew in a seemingly secure uterus, do we dare to be born out of it? When we are born, are we born complete or is there something in us that dies?  What's that thing we'll preserve? What lives on and what dies is the battle? For anyone saying "We overcame" nazism/apartheid/or any other historical tragedy... they question is "who's we?", who was sacrificed in this transition? who was victim of 'manifest destiny'? who decided?

This ambivalence of life -and more widely creativity in the form of technology and scientific discoveries- meant that progress was and still is both desired and feared, as it was used to power both the life and death drive. It is following this argument that I suggest looking at historical eras from moments where massive deaths occur and energy shifts happen, never as punctual dates but as transition moments.


If the middle ages in Europe died soon after the black plague has killed between 75 to 200 million people [travelling 300 miles a day], and was followed by a renaissance, where Europe is re-born as transcontinental empires, in the newly discovered world America, it was small pox (that came with the conquistadores) the main responsible for decimating its strength and forcing a "renaissance" as a colonised territory. This 'reincarnation' used science to justify gender and race, pushed women to repopulate Europe (confining them to the private sphere) and forced slaves to produce and extract natural resources. 
Almost three centuries later, a similar turning point was seen during the whole period from the Independence revolutions in America, the French Revolution and Napoleonic and civil wars to the massive deaths brought by the world wars and famines (ca 120 million: 38 million in World War I, around 80 million in war world II) followed by the post war renaissance with women back to the kitchen to mother the population explosion to become the baby boomers and all the technology developed by the military to flight the wars. 
The Great Chinese Famine in the late 50s that killed an estimated 15 million (official figures) and up to 43 million (unofficial figures) happened during the Great Leap forward, a series of land reforms imposed by the Communist Party.

Finally in cycles that seem to be accelerating we are now in front of new wars in Africa and the Middle East plus the acceleration of global mass extinction of animal species, followed by the gradual collapse of the old Empires and the new technological (digital) renaissance that we are in the middle of.

Reinassance and the end of the world are two sides of the same coin. For those who died in the European conquest of America's territories, during the plague, Somme, in concentration camps, under atomic bombs, a Russian Famine, the Great Chinese Famine etc, etc, they lived through the reality of the/their world coming to an end and with this we can stop and reflect the sometimes apocalyptic feeling in many news we read nowadays. 

Cities

Even though cities, empires and colonies go far back in history, I'll start with medieval times as the age of discoveries was the moment the globe came together as one for the first time and I'll explore how the limits in terms of basic needs (food and energy) were felt and resolved.

The limits of the land


The end of medieval times was marked by an increasing migration of population to cities triggering tensions in our use of land to get crops for clothing, food, forests to warm the houses in Europe going through the little ice age, and even for hay or grass to feed the horses which were logistically very important when the rivers did not do; these needs were in competition with each other for land. Cities became a new structure that deepened the fragmentation of roles: transitioning from self-sustaining farms or communities to bigger cities which were not self-sustaining and needed "external" farms providing them with wood, food and clothing.


However, land and logistics represented a limit to how big a city could be. Historian Geoffrey Blainey summarised it in the following way:
"A city could not grow too large simply because it could not secure in its neighbourhood the food and firewood it needed. A town of say, 30 000 people needed firewood on such a scale that 600 or 1000 horsedrawn carts would arrive each week with loads of firewood. The town needed another 200 cartloads of grain in an average week. As horses or oxen pulled the carts, a large area of land had to be set aside to provide grass or hay for them. A freakishly large city like ancient Rome or modern London could be sustained only by bringing food and fuel long distances by sea and river.
...
In contrast tropical peoples, in their standard of living, easily kept pace with Europe until the 18th century partly because they needed little clothing and warming fuel. They needed fewer calories, for they did not have to ward off winter cold".

This limit that the land imposed was worked out in various ways: more fragmentation and specialisation, looking for more land and -very importantly- new sources of energy.

More fragmentation/ specialisation. Skilled farmers became more efficient in breeding livestock and in managing crops without exhausting the land and increasing its productivity. This reinforced the sustainability of cities.
The alienation from the work on the land that life in the city implied gave more space, an excess for the development of science, technology and later on the industrial revolution. Urbanisation was a key alienating mechanism. Education was another modernising instrument. In the past farmers used to refuse sending their children to school because they needed them to work the land, and in a no so distant past aboriginal children were separated from their families to be 'civilised'. In many places, parents started to be punished and sent to prison if they did not send their children to school. So children had to be "extracted" from their parents influence who subjected them to keep working on the land or were simply preserving their own way of living and culture.

The limit of the other

Cities and empires created the modern man, and the modern man created the modern cities and the modern empires. These cities, first, and then the empire centre became an "entity" in the mind of many politicians and in many political speeches. These cities asked, through its leaders and citizens, the question "where do I feed from?". The imperial solution to the question was: from "outside" (to a sort of  placenta that connects with mother nature,  that place that is not-yet-modern and people are inferior: colonies).

The age of discoveries, basically meant trying to work out the limits of the land by looking for more land, which eventually brought other solutions like corn, the "magic" crop, the potato, cotton, etc together with externalising cheap/slave labour.

However, cities and empires were extractive devices that needed dehumanised countries that history called deserts to portray them as empty of people in order to enable the use of violence without affecting the sense of morality. Or even worse, it enabled the use of violence as means to kill whatever humanity resided there. The Middle East, native America, Africa,.. were all described in desertic terms.

Cities in the colonies of the new world, with grid diagrams (found in different moments of history and used by Spain to regain territory from the moors in "la reconquista"), were military by design and were imposed over the colonies by law. Symbolically, they imposed order to the territory, with direct routes to the ports and later railways taking resources, raw materials and food out of the colonies. The grid plan regained popularity in Europe too during the renaissance.

But even if the outside seemed infinite at some point, this response was to find its limits on the border of  neighbouring empires and in the Independence wars, finally exploding with the world wars. The first big clash was due to the tensions between France and Great Britain for North American lands. This triggered the Seven years wars, a mini World War fought in five continents, which redraw the world map significantly and propelled Great Britain to world's supremacy. But this war left Britain in debt which they tried to finance with higher taxes, tighter extractive economic policy to secure raw materials and markets for its nascent industries and more protection of British monopolies in North America... which led to the revolutionary wars domino: first in North America, which inspired The French Revolution (which was also trying to increase taxes on its own population to finance the debt of the same war in a period of bad harvests apparently triggered by a volcanic eruption in Iceland), which subsequently triggered the revolution of Spanish colonies in South America and had influence even over the Russian revolution more than a century later. (Post it note: let's bear in mind the sequence I've just pointed out to follow what is going on now after the 2008 financial crisis, where governments bailed out the banks and absorbed a huge debt, which they tried to finance with austerity, privatisation and cuts and the earthquakes that followed with Brexit, which inspired Donald Trump in the US... and whatever may happen in France, and its repercussions in South America and Russia after that).

Looking through the glass of basic needs, it is interesting to point out the role of the March of women to Versailles in the French revolution, when women in the market were practically rioting for the price and shortages of bread. The revolution in Britain is thought to have been avoided by reducing taxes on wheat.

As grid plans imposed order to the territory, the market too started to be the ordering principle over the state. It is remarkable that during the Irish Famine of 1840-1852, where it lost almost 1/4 of its population to starvation and emigration, Ireland kept exporting food to England thanks to the political pressure of their own merchants that were against an export ban, and an English establishment in favour of laissez-faire economics.

On the other side of the spectrum, the uber-control of the state with the Prodrazvyorstka, the Bolshevik policy that confiscated all grain and agricultural produce from peasants for a fix price, ended up pushing farmers to reduce crops and opening up their trade to a black market and is thought to have been an important factor leading up to the the Russian famine 1922 that killed 5 million.

Famously, Nazy Germany spoke about the expansion in its Lebensraum (habitat) that needed more arable land, resources and slaves and defining the state as a living form. And even though all imperial ideology was based on racism and violence, most genocides (of native africans, asians, australians and americans) had happened far away from Europe. In the World War II, this ideology was brought brutally to its doorstep.

The limit of the other was experienced in three ways:


  • finding the neighbouring Empire, 
  • colonised territories starting to show self-awareness and start to be "occupied" and claimed by their own population, 
  • and being confronted with the brutality and des-humanisation of the system itself.


But of course, this is not past History. We are witnessing some attempts of neo-colonialisation via financial power with lower levels of society "encouraged" to take on debt, with most of the south hemisphere being 'encouraged' to focus their economies to the primary sector and via military power in any land with petrol. 

The big energy shift and the limits of looking deep

Going back to the cities, through its leaders and citizens, asking the question "where do I feed from?", or "where do I get my energy from?", going underground was the other solution. To relieve the competition for land, lowering the demand of some of the needs is a logical approach, so coal became an alternative for wood. In this first energy shift, we changed one land-and-solar source of energy for underground sources of energy. Great Britain passed from an annual output of 3 million tons in the beginning of 1700 to 30 million by 1830. Trains were originally created to transport the coal extracted from the mines, and came to define the European mark of progress. Trains together with clocks (another European technology) generated the timetable which assured trains would get to stations exactly at the time they were expected, a tangible proof of control. This energy shift started an era of population explosion.
Representing a vital source of energy, it became the centre of many wars and political tensions (Coal wars in America, the Customs War between Germany and Poland -a coal producer- before WWII). The left in many parts of Europe can find its roots in miners workers organising themselves in trade unions.  In Britain, specifically became one of the most iconic political fights, that went from these first miners organisations to the privatisations of the mines in the north of England by Margaret Thatcher a century later that triggered a period of big social unrest.

I'll pause for a second, only to reflect how the changes at all levels of society (scientific, cultural and religious) changed the cities themselves. It is on the last phase of this modern period that found in the 1870s a renovated Paris (demolishing its medieval structure that was filthy, and did not allow circulation), a German bacteriologist Robert Koch who postulated that bacteria caused disease which meant that death stopped to be seen as an act of God who had been questioned for his failings in responding to prayer to prevent famines which triggered a long series of religious reforms and was subsequently declared dead by Nietzsche soon after in 1882... the same year that Edison illuminated New York street lamps with electricity.

The energy shift that happened between 1880 and 1950 was huge: the spread of electricity, the exploitation of petrol (it was in between the two world wars, 1938, that the largest oil reserves on earth was discovered in Saudi Arabia by American prospectors), natural gas and the emergence of nuclear power.
World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent  Source: One Finite World 
.
If the European train was the technological son of coal (which later turned electric), American cars were the children of petrol and marked the American signature of progress. These two technologies were to compete and fight for resources and investment in the political sphere of many countries, forcing governments to make calls on where to put public money: behind railways or motorways as strategic infrastructure. Cars were more flexible, more individual and truck logistics was well suited for countries that did not have large populations were the order, coordination and big scale investment required by trains seemed to be less effective. 

This energy shift was the one that restructured everything. From geopolitics to city dynamics. Keeping petrol, natural gas and atomic energy under tight control was a new form of imperialism and commands most of current geopolitics. An attempt to nationalise petrol reserves in Iran and to limit extraction triggered a 1953 coup in Iran. Having the middle east and OPEC under certain control became a matter of "national security" to the US, as its energy dependence was its vulnerability.

The big shift and the Middle East

Modernity was also transforming the middle east. New borders were drawn after the second world war and different visions of how the middle east should develop arise in a region profoundly religious.The 2015 documentary Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis, tries to explain what's going on now in the Middle East as the roots for many of the current crisis remain unclear and sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. He puts it in the context of Afghanistan having been a territory in dispute during the Cold War, and how these external and opposing modernising forces (Capitalism v Communism) were unleashed in Afghanistan but resisted and were battled from Saudi Arabia.

Modernity in US was dependent of Saudi Oil. Saudi Arabia ensured petrol supply to the US, which in turn will ensure the defence of the House of Saud structure of power. Later, this relationship evolved until oil became the backer of the US dollar, defining that all oil contracts must be signed in this denomination, ensuring a continuous demand of US currency once it broke its peg against gold. But internal tensions in the Middle East paired with US dependency on foreign oil led to a very ambiguous and unstable situation which broke into many crisis and wars. Oil was at the centre of the oil crisis in the 70's that forced many developing countries to take on debt just to ensure oil supply. Gas, in the hands of Russia, is also a big player in current geopolitics particularly in relation to Europe and NATO. Atomic technology was to be allowed or not allowed by the world powers.

Oil is also a finite resource. Oil reserves can only deplete. So while petrol companies started to invest ever increasing amount of money in exploration and high risk extraction (there are people who suggest that this was a huge capital mis-allocation and that this money would've been much better invested in research of renewables instead), biofuel was proposed as an alternative. Famously, Fidel Castro was one of the critics pointing out that it would mean a new competitor for land (first point: the limit of the land) and that food production would be affected. He argued that rich industrialised countries would take priority over the use of land for energy and poor nations would be starved of food.

The limit of the planet

While everyone was very busy supporting or adverting wars and crisis, something else started to become apparent. Climate change.





Mother earth must be in that time of the month...

Alienation from the land, from mother earth, or nature, is both feared and desired, as much as our dependence with the land is feared and desired. An uncut relationship with the land, with the feminine, carries a connotation of both idyllic security (alla Heidi) and madness, the "weather is crazy" and a tension emerges to avoid taking responsibility of it. For the ones that would describe humankind as a white man, climate change has nothing to do with "us", this madness is natural, it is part of nature's cycles, sort of saying "Earth must be in that time of the month..." In this sense, Donald Trump's position (or rather many of his supporters) regarding climate change is very coherent.

In front of climate change there are several positions:
  • The one that thinks alienation itself is the problem and we need to go back to be "one with the land", a sort of matriarchal response, blaming modernity for all evils,
  • the one that pushes for more control of the natural resources -see video below on how Peter Brabeck from Nestle spoke (and then had to deny) privatisation of water. More control of commodities producing nations, and even looking up to space instead... the typical ultra patriarchal position... 




  • the one that suggest we need 'more alienation' from the land. A sort of eco-liberal position. It suggest the solution is forwards not backwards, and that thinking ourselves as "alien" is when we truly can take responsibility of what we are doing, without assuming  there will be an invisible Father (the invisible hand of the market, or God) or Mother Earth (absorbing all negativity to infinity) that will compensate for any of our excesses and restore balance. (But it could, under neoliberalism, be easily mixed with the previous position.)
  • Probably, because behind a 3 there is always a 4th, an excess, the negative one, the devil to the trinity, the one that follows a destructive logic: the anti-answer to the question how are we going to survive, it denies the risks and even dare to exacerbate them, safe in their position they imply that maybe we shouldn't survive, or at least not all of us.
Some people would argue that there is only one correct answer. But all positions have something to contribute. All have their lights and their shadows.


  • It's the communities more attached to their land the ones that are more protective of it. They are the ones that don't see themselves moving and therefore are more interested in the long term: the ones that are going to demand more precautions about contamination, leakage, damage, etc. as we see in when mine companies contaminate rivers or in disputes like the Dakota access pipeline. 
  • The patriarchal is the one that will look for a solution in technology and controlling behaviour 'externally' (through markets or laws and even earth 'interventions'). 
  • The ones looking at individuality, and push not to be dependent of the state or mono/oligopolies will push for a certain degree of self-sufficiency, the prosumer move. But for this move to be smart, it needs a high degree of coordination with the state, with electrical companies. It cannot be a purely individual move, "better for me", but better for all. In their shadow side, they are less interested in collective efforts. 
  • The 4th option in all its shadows, is the one we all resort to when in trying to create something new, something old has to be demolished. The part that let something dies during the renaissance. Hopefully, we can use it to let old structures die instead of starting to consider some people disposable.




Cities as patriarchal structures

It is at this point, when we are wondering if the climate is going mad caused by our emissions and our dependence of fossil fuels, US is working on its own energy independence, Africa and the Middle East are facing multiple civil wars, Saudi Arabia is facing debt and the geopolitical map is facing multiple shakes,  that the world is looking at more democratic sources of energy (renewable) in wind and solar technologies, Germany is already getting most of is energy from renewables, and cities are becoming to think if there is something they should do.

In this blog, I discussed a few times the matriarchal/patriarchal/post-patriarchal cycle. With a feminist stance, I rescue what the patriarchal stage is and brings: a process where we learn to self-structure, to use resources, to eventually emancipate and become independent and creators.
Summary:
  • Matriarchal, as the stage where we are fused to our mothers and we feed from her, it is also Eden/as the mother earth, a stage of blind love and we are dependent; 
  • Patriarchal as the stage of separation from the maternal (the fall), a moment to develop tools and technology, learn about discipline, master emotions, develop our own thinking, it is a stage of high polarisation when the maternal/feminine is demonised because 'going back' is forbidden, the age of the sword to "cut" this dependency and hate (as a form of love working out its independence), but we remain dependent of the external law (the father) and castrated. In its extreme the denial of the "feminine principle" is so strong that the masculine principle tries to replace it. Even though I argue that this is an archetypical stage, it does not mean this stage has to be brutal, violent or traumatic, on the contrary, I argue that if we go through each stage more conscious of what's about we'll save unnecessary suffering. 
  • The final stage is when we are born out of this paternal external uterus, and become creators and writers -the sword is swapped with the pen- (including becoming parents), we participate in the creation of structure and content integrating both feminine and masculine principles in one, the stage of true love, until we grow to discover the edges of the ideology in which we are immersed and start again.

If the patriarchal is a stage of separation from the maternal, a stage of order and discipline, cities are mechanism to separate us from nature, figuratively from "Mother earth". Cities polarise "civilisation" inside against "barbarism", wilderness outside. This polarisation also marks the difference between the educated urban elite, and the one labelled 'uneducated' living in more rural areas.

But in this antagonistic separation, the fundamental question of our dependency from nature in obtaining energy (food and consumable energy) and liberating the waste of its transformation is never cut. However, in cities this question is more easily forgotten, particularly in modern cities with infrastructure: water comes out of a tap, heat comes out of radiators and excrement disappear almost magically.


Interestingly enough, something is happening in these cities. In this article from The Guardian "Can cities be feminists?" it describes how the big political questions, including energy policy are being addressed by local politics at city level with women mayors in big cities in Europe (Barcelona, Rome, Paris). If modernity culminated with a renovated Paris which was restructured to accommodate more cars (and individuality), there is a new Paris that is restructured to accommodate less cars and through structure regulate it's energy hunger. Plans following the same logic are also emerging in
Barcelona (looking for a way of returning the super blocks of its grid to the citizens back from the cars), Oslo, etc. But cities are not evenly modern, particularly in developing countries. They may have inner shanty towns which reminisce medieval cities, with sanitary problems, clothes hanging, narrow streets not fit for cars and high levels of violence, these parts of the city are still fighting for modernisation. It might be worth asking: is there a alternative path, a different, more conscious city concept these pockets would actually open up?

Even if these fundamental questions are having a positive evolution, it does not mean that there are no conflicts. This is mainly seen at national politics level, where big (liberal) cities are maintaining and even increasing their "distance" with the 'other'.
On the one hand, and rather contradictory, people are keeping their "distance" with the 'neighbour'. Cities -that in themselves bring more people physically together- take modernity to the ultimate conclusion of the feeling of loneliness in a place full of people, through less face to face connection and common places to meet, more practice of individual consumerism in a world seen through our own tablets, ordering things online to be delivered without much human contact.
On the other side, more distance with rural areas, with more polarisation and more 'elitist' thinking and more 'ivory tower' view of the world and reality, with increasing disdain for the discontent in non-urban areas which in turn are resorting to chauvinism and xenophobia. (in this sense Stephen Hawking's article about his own ivory tower is an interesting read)

No more sacrifices to calm the gods and nature - Facing our inner predator

To end the patriarchal cycle, to be born out of it, it is important to integrate the polarised view of the mother (the 'crazy' side and the light side hidden by the patriarchy) but also see the shadow of the father and integrate it with its light.

At his point, the paternal figure showing madness, forcing more and more renunciation is the market. And with all our sacrifices, austerity does not pacify the market's hunger, and even if we are asked to pursue this idea that all the sacrifices to create an excess (more productivity, more competitiveness) are unquestionable, there is a point that we find ourselves sacrificing essential things. Ourselves, our children, our rights, or own humanity. We maybe tempted to use mindfulness to keep on working and keep our productivity up, instead of questioning if working conditions are right. We may be induced to think that trade unions are holding us back, and accept to purchase goods coming from countries with workers with no rights including the modern slaves: workers in prisons. We may accept that the only way to support the pension system is to charge more to future generations for their education, for their houses. We may start to read that there is too much democracy, some people should not be allowed to vote and some questions should not be asked. Don't think too much if you are being consumed in the process or who is being consumed by it, everything is fine we you buy one more thing.


So we are in this situation, where we sense "the alien" is inside the ship. That hungry predator is in the same planet, with misdirection some claim it has invaded our country, or that it belongs to a different generation, the predator is foreign, external.






At the same time, not surprisingly, in the very popular Netflix series Stranger things, the theme of the perfect predator appears: the one that is actually almost pure mouth and does not have eyes. This predator that used to live in some sort of unconscious realm is now crossing over to our world and thus we become aware of it. Different characters, with different degrees of predatory behaviour themselves need to confront it, but the one posed to be its ultimate adversary is a girl with powers.

But this symbolic fight does not happen at a mental realm only, It happens when we manage to materialise it not only with changes in personal behaviour and our personal relationships but also with structural changes of those common places and services we share, And this is the political realm. Energy policy and food supply at national and regional level, and cities' structural changes at local level are the foundation level of what's to come and the policies that should see more evolution, more innovation. The anti-globalisation trend we are witnessing today, it is a temporary and needed step to change and rethink it, as current geopolitics are structured  at a fundamental level for the fossil fuel economy, patriarchal/colonial thinking. Of course there is a danger in falling back to old ways that will try to secure colonised territory and will declare some people disposable. That's why engagement and more conversation are so important. Ultimately, being engaged with these external changes, with "reality". with politics becomes proof that we are taming the predator within,

Andrea



Thursday, 10 November 2016

44. Seven reasons for us, feminists, not to hate Trump

1. The Patriarchy has a devastating effect on men, leaving them incomplete. They are forbidden to integrate their female side and live in an eternal infant state: missing their mothers, looking for women to plug their umbilical cord into and be breastfed. They are dependent. They do not know how to feed themselves with attention. They do not know what to do with negativity. They need objectified people to work as external organs. They need to control, dominate and keep women captive to be their placenta, they need "weak" people to be their intestines and process their negativity, otherwise they feel they die. Hate does not solve that. These men need feminism as much as women.

2. Hate is an attachment that is working out its dependence. We hate people we wish weren't so important to us.

3. When we, as a society, are put in front of a mirror, and instead of seeing a beautiful image we see our shadow, the best we can do is show a measure of pity to that image. What we have in front of us is also a part of our society and us, our inner Gollum, the ugly baby-like hungry big eyed-adult that is hidden in shame. The one that was expelled from the matriarchal paradise and feels inadequate. And shame and humiliation has a big role in what's going on. Humiliation of the ex-industrial workers that had to accept a worse job or cannot fulfil the patriarchal 'provider' role, the ones that feel their country is only paying attention to the big cities and not the deep country, for the ones that lost their homes after the 2008 crisis, the ones that cannot afford medical care, the ones that developed addiction to opioids, etc. Shame is an emotion protected by a layer of anger, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist... that looks to deposit this humiliation onto others. In fact, a lot of people in the opposite side feel now "ashamed" of their country. It is not about normalising bigotry, we need to respond to each and every point, showing that our bodies and minds are "occupied" by someone, we are not inert receptors, empty vessels; but it is not either assuming that millions of people are simply monsters.

4. There is a danger that some people would feel validated by inflammatory words and they are the ones that we need to get our attention to. Blaming the leader is a way of taking responsibility away from them. More than ever we need to keep each other accountable.

5. Defending rights is a matter of recognition, of empathy, of overcoming polarisation instead of sustaining it or even feed it.

6. The patriarchy has many shadows but it has light too. The patriarchy is a process to help us separate from the maternal from which we are dependent on as children (and might be still holding onto at some level), to become ourselves. It demonises women as a way of pointing out forward, mistakenly equating "forward" with "away from women". The paradise is not in our mothers uterus, we need to go in the other direction. We need to learn that our mothers are both "the good mother" and the witch/queen/stepmother and our fathers are both Obi Wan Kenobi and the Emperor, the light side and the wounded side, integrated in one person. The true move forward is being born out of the patriarchy: being able to dance in front of the patriarchal father like Billy Elliot did is the true emancipatory act, It is declaring "I don't need your approval any more".


Having the patriarchy embodied so clearly, gives us the opportunity to perform our dance. At this point we need to remember some of the "prohibitions" under the patriarchal rule:
-Circles of women, female friendship, women organised (in patriarchy women should compete not collaborate or trust each other).
-Women writing history, particularly their history.
-Women's visibility, women speaking up
-Women's anger
-Women acting, reacting, exercising power and writing rules

7. Revolution is in the hands of women and how we stand up for ourselves, how we raise the next generation of men and women to find in themselves their female force, to not fear it, to be nourished by it. In the meantime, we need to trust the wisdom of democracy and work through its institutions, assert the constitutional limits and the due balance of power, and if needed get involved in changing what is not working. This vote, ultimately tried to point out that something was not working in politics and we cannot give our backs to that fact. In front of something we don't like is extremely easy to cultivate anti-democratic thoughts, even David Attenborough joked about shooting Trump ... proving that he is someone able to touch the anger of everyone. People that get angry against him, and people that get angry with him. Anger can turn violent and explosive, but with a constructive purpose it can also be the fire that lights up an idea, and give us the energy we need to take action.



Andrea

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

43. The enemy is confusion



Elistism v populism

Elites fear the mass, what's "popular", they need to keep distinguishing themselves as the "true owners" -not even seekers- of beauty, truth, excellence, critique, peace, high quality, culture, consciousness, the light that guides the rest through darkness or whatever. If it's popular, it's  kitsch, ugly, fake, cheap, low quality, delusional, subversive, dark, dangerous, etc.

In this polarisation, democratic forces (and post-modernity) present a challenge to the elites (economical, cultural, political) and their hierarchical structure. It tries to open up some doors and demonstrate that there is a popular consciousness too able to generate art, wisdom, capable of exercising power and in many cases demand a pen to fill in the gaps that History written by elites leave.

The Beatles in a way were an example of this: being deeply popular but able to create the foundations of how music will evolve in the future. Charly García, an argentinian musician, dares to suggest that in musical terms if we were contemporary to what now are called classical musicians, Chopin, with his melodies, would be the equivalent of a pop idol in terms of their appeal, and Beethoven would be a heavy metal rocker, and even imagine that The Beatles will enter in the pantheon of "classical music" of the future. He suggests classical music is the way it is because it hadn't received yet any African influence that brought rhythm to music. This is not meant to not recognise the mastery the classical composers had, but rather to challenge the view that 'high quality' music is something like the art of the dead, petrified, beyond reach.

Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa published a book "La sociedad del espectáculo" (something like 'The show business' society) in defence of elites. He claims that in the past there was a clear distinction of what culture was and somehow asks 'how come everyone think they have culture?'
He claims that in fighting the monopolisation of culture within elite circles, they got a pyrrhic victory, where the cost of this victory undermined the notion of culture itself.



But even from his defence of elites and some good points he raises, he acknowledges that petrification of elites and monopolisation of culture was a problem and he warns against certain 'temptations' that corrupt their purpose, particularly when following a free market logic:

-In trying to massify a message, there is always a temptation of changing the original message for something more palatable and easy to convey. or package it in a way that actually affects its meaning, generating confusion.

-In trying to defend hierarchies and elites and their function, there is always the temptation of petrification, closing ranks and attempt to concentrate more power and halt time and progress, generating confusion too regarding which are the open ways and opportunities to become part of any elite.

Vargas Llosa speaks about the power of critique, and what's offered by the "the distance" elites keep. But who can criticise elites? One of the most significant situations, illustrating the lack of critique in elite circles was the moment the Queen (in the position her own distance gives her) asked academics at the London School of Economics why no one saw the credit crunch coming in 2008. The Telegraph reports about the reply the Queen received a few days later:
The letter ends: "In summary, your majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole."
The letter talks of the "psychology of denial" that gripped the financial and political world and says "financial wizards" convinced themselves they had found ways to spread risk throughout the financial markets - a great example of "wishful thinking combined with hubris".
Vargas Llosa speaks about elites that are formed by people with "vocation, effort and talent" and criticises elites "by essence". But cultural elites tend to overlook how structurally close they remain to economic and political elites. They look at football with disdain and rarely reflect about how greater inequality and lower social mobility make cultural elites more structurally static, hereditary and far less truly meritocratic than football sporting elites, for example.

Of course, not all popular music will have the significance that the Beatles' music had and not all football players can be Maradona. But both the Beatles or Maradona are examples of excellence emerging from popular places, challenging this notion that excellence seeking has some sort of exclusive proprietary process.

All the anti-establishment movements, standing as far away of the elites as the elites do from them, are trying to articulate a critique. But they also fall into the same temptation of bringing an idea into our physical reality in a false body, in taking the short cut of conveying a complex subject as "the mobility economical mandate of free trade agreements" and "immigration in a context of austerity", in xenophobic terms. Let's bear in mind that people complaining about immigrants are the most reluctant to emigrate, they chose to stay and vote instead. Let's remember too that people and capital move in opposite directions (one follows higher wages, the other lower).

The enemy is confusion and its main weapon is confuse us regarding who the enemy is: pointing out to some visible agent and keep its own invisibility.

Not surprisingly this confusion comes with memes and illustrations, as images are read, decoded and stored in unconscious ways and can be more ambiguous than words.

Elitism and populism are constantly blaming each other of lying without recognising in the other their capacity to generate truth.

The product is the hero: the lie in the truth and the truth in the lie

Market logic always plays within the boundaries of the existing power structures and already accepted codes of acceptance/rejection. It only introduces products and slogans as new intermediaries.

As an example, naming Wonder Woman, a sexist, polarised, american-dominance symbol, as the ambassador of women's empowerment, the UN played exactly to the tune we dance today. It only promotes further Wonder Woman as a product. Brexit was a product sold to "take back control" and Donald Trump might just as well represent the same product for the empowerment of 'hard working white Americans'. Products, playing these symbolic hero roles, promise grandiose and somehow magic solutions to beat the antiheroes, something or someone chosen to carry all negativity and be sacrificed.

These products/heroes falsely embody a solution to a need that is not being addressed/satisfied, the antiproducts/antiheroes embody the threat/the problem that remains invisible and unnamed. Both the need and the problem are probably genuine but not their embodiment. Political discussions can easily fall in the trap of unmasking the lie, without recognising the truth or in trying to recognise the truth, it may appear to be endorsing the "product". No clearer example of this, was Donald Trump twitting about Michael Moore's documentary as if it was an endorsement.



The complexity of this election cycle is that Hillary Clinton does not have enough "distance" with economical elites to be considered such a clear alternative for those with anti-establishment sentiments. In this sense, she does not appear to many as "recognising the truth" they want to hear recognised, and therefore not being a agent of the change needed.

Renowned economist Ann Pettifor writes in "Brexit and its consequences" about the failure of economic elites in leading the UK away from Brexit, and analyses the ambivalence of the Brexit vote. Citing Polanyi and The Great Transformation, shspeaks about how the Brexit vote was both somehow truthful and misguided:

Karl Polanyi predicted in The Great Transformation that no sooner will today’s utopians have institutionalized their ideal of a global economy, apparently detached from political, social, and cultural relations, than powerful counter-movements—from the right no less than the left—would be mobilized (Polanyi, 2001). The Brexit vote was, to my mind, just one manifestation of the expected resistance to market fundamentalism.
By doing so, they confirmed Polanyi’s firm prediction that
the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society … . Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life, and thus endangered society in yet another way.

Brexit has endangered British society in yet another way, but the vote was, I contend, a form of social self-protection from self-regulating markets in money, trade, and labour.
The tedious task

Separating the truth from everything else is a tedious, laborious task often described as finding a needle in a haystack. And it is a process that involves conversation and talking to people who don't agree with us. Truth is found in groups. The Other helps us see different perspectives. However, in the attempt to liberate the individual to express its own truth, we severed connections with groups, somehow suggesting that any group would become a mass which is ultimately deindividualising. Protecting our beliefs, "out truth" from critique meant we cannot recognise the truth that the other might have found. I read a comment today in Facebook that ironically said "to be happy I decided to read nothing but what I say".
Interestingly in this video actor Michael Sheen says:
"Our culture is a conversation. A conversation we have with each other. And it is about voices and stories coming from all over. Opinions that do clash. There has to be a healthy way to have different opinions without each of us becoming offensive and abusive and "you-are-the-worst-shitty-scam for not agreeing with what I think". That's unhealthy. A healthy argument is the one where there are different opinions, different voices and are able to be aired and you are affected by. You telling me that you disagree with me, actually changes me in some way. That's important. If we lose that we are having a one side conversation that goes round and round in circles and everyone misses out, everyone loses because of it."



Culture and politics is where this conversation happens, so when this conversation stops, when there are more silos and filter bubbles, democracy crumbles and violence takes the place of the ordering principle. But there is another danger: Millennials, being the generation with the highest ever level of education and the most affected by the filter bubble, read in the analysis of the Brexit vote that it was the fault of "uneducated" people or the old generation and then some of them quickly jumped to the conclusion that they should not be allowed to vote, probably not realising that they would be denying the vote to many members of their own families, or that it was a discussion that happened a century ago, or even that many of them (particularly women) are able to vote today because some of people (many uneducated) fought for this right. The same conclusions will be drawn should Donald Trump win today. This Bloomberg article denounce how Millennials are being turned off by democracy. I personally find these conclusions scary and I feel like almost begging: whatever happens in today's election, more politics, more conversation is needed, not less.

Andrea

Monday, 31 October 2016

42. Hey Wonder Woman! It is time to leave adolescence behind

A big question mark emerged with the appointment of Wonder Woman as UN ambassador for women and girls's empowerment. The problem with symbols is that everything in them is -funny enough- symbolic.

If you are looking for an ambassador and you decide to go for a fictional character, product of a fantasy, it kind of suggest that women's empowerment is not yet embodied in anyone and is still a fantasy. Which is not true. An obvious example would be:


The problem of super heroes

There are other problems with Super heroes having ambassadors positions beyond being not real. Super Heroes in general terms represent the crisis of adolescence.

  • They have an identity crisis, most commonly shown through a secret identity, a permanent tension between what can be shown to the world and not, always fearing the reaction the moment they show "who they really are" or "what they can do", etc. 
  • They hold a polarised view of the world that divides it into good and evil, with the caveat that both sides feel they are fighting the true evil. Super villains feel that the authoritarian righteousness their arch-enemies represent is evil (think how political correctness is discussed nowadays).
  • They feel the potency of their sexuality which is represented in these superheroes physical power and sometimes hyper-sexualised images (this potency is rather realised through battles rather than sex). 
  • They have this feeling of immortality, and their vulnerability needs to be kept very very secret. 
  • Many of them are now starting to discover aspects of the family history that were not known and are dealing with cultural and familial mandates. 
  • A shadow with the sex drive, secrets, shame, past traumas, transgressions, anger, vulnerability, fear of rejection, and even the death drive emerges embodied in the super villains. 

These epic battles between super heroes and super villains represent the rich emotional inner life of a teenager, who is trying to work out right from wrong, I from Other, self expression and limits, individuation and death drive, etc, etc.

The case of Wonder Woman does not escape this pattern. She represents the fantasy of a teenage boy and all his Oedipal layers. A version of a very powerful woman, overtly sexualised with impossible body figure who has left everything behind to protect him, with big breasts to feed him and in real life she is happy to leave her Princess status to be his loyal secretary in a military structure.

Even if we leave aside that comics are marketed mainly for teenage boys and their conflicts, the change in hierarchy between the fantasy world and the real world embodies the contradiction of Wonder Woman as a symbol of empowerment, particularly for adult women. There is the argument, of course, that for girls that haven't gone through adolescence, finding this warrior side can be a useful emancipatory model to guide them through adolescence in the way to adulthood. Even if probably there are other less sexist symbols.
But even if we are willing to give it some credit, the problem of global cultural relevance of a woman wearing an tiny outfit and the american flag crushes all argument.

Not surprisingly (and fortunately!) there was a reaction.

UN staffers organised a petition to change this decision and during the ceremony stood up with the fists up in opposition and left the room soon after.


Several articles in different media criticised the move:
Vogue: http://www.vogue.com/13496633/wonder-woman-un-mascot-female-empowerment/
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/21/wonder-woman-un-ambassador-staff-protest
The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/world/americas/wonder-woman-united-nations.html?_r=0

When the UN took the opportunity that the release of a Wonder Woman Hollywood's film offers, to give a truthful need of change in culture and politics a bit of PR, it banalised the cause as a mere publicity campaign. It pretends to want to change culture by playing exactly within the cultural limits that tell women they should remain pursuing -instead of transcending- an unattainable, unrealistic and even undesirable wonder woman model.

Super heroes do not win

The end of adolescence comes with integration, rather than the victory of a polarised side over the other. It comes with acceptance of our own dark sides and the maturity it comes with deciding how to behave.

A super hero is hardly an aspirational character. In fact, they are not a complete and free individual able to lead a normal life. It is rather a kind of psychological aspect who remains slave to its purpose as much as the super villain. Superman cannot have a normal dinner if he knows his help is required. A Super Hero is a sacrificial character who triumphs in taking his/her quest up to their own demise or failure. As characters they are special because through their power and will are able to take this battle up to the point when it can be resolved but not necessarily because they can or should win.

In a polarised world the inner battle is "exteriorised", forming sides, good and evil. While one side exists, the other will do too, and probably will go through periods of polarisation and integration while different generations go through their crisis of adolescence like in Star Wars. Speaking as he received the Hans Christian Andersen literature award, Haruki Murakami said:

“At times we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts. Or else try to forcibly eliminate those aspects. Because people want to avoid, as much as possible, looking at their own dark sides, their negative qualities. But in order for a statue to appear solid and three-dimensional, you need to have shadows. Do away with shadows and all you end up with is a flat illusion. Light that doesn’t generate shadows is not true light,”

Super heroes do not win, because for one side to disappear, the other side would have to disappear too. But that's not what happens. Whatever we think it is killed in this battle, returns.

In not "so super" characterisations, like Lord of the Rings, both Frodo and Gollum lead the way together towards Mount Doom to do "what has to be done" which is the integration of both characters in Sam and resolve the polarisation by destroying the externalisation of power, the dependency, that the ring symbolises. To do so, Sam increasingly takes on responsibility by killing the spider, confronting the Orcs, and carrying Frodo always at the verge of falling into the temptation of the death drive (Sauron). Frodo fails in getting rid of the ring, because it cannot be done consciously. It simply happens once he accepted "the" shadow as his own and thanks to having had pity for the ugly, squalid, grown-up dependent big-eyed baby that is Gollum, Sam's shadow. Pity in the externalised shadow, meant we'll have pity with ourselves, with our own shadow in the moment of internalising it, disempowering it of its potential of causing our self destruction.

In a way, if super heroes are so relevant today might suggest that we are collectively in some sort of adolescent period that polarises our view of the world. We read on newspapers of European Identity crisis, the war against terrorism painted in black and white, political correctness v the most outrageous racist and sexist rants we've seen in a long time, the post-truth era, voters rage, etc, etc.

In this sense, the Empowerment of women truly comes when Wonder Woman is no longer needed, when the inner battle finishes, when we show pity to our inner shadows and we can focus our strength in changing reality.

Andrea


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

41. Now you see me? Now you don't

Somehow this post will link obesity, free trade, drugs, migration, environment, truth finding and Facebook. Or at least that's the very vague plan my fingers seem to have. So let's see how it all works out.

Much is being said about the resistance to globalisation the world seems to be showing after Brexit and in this electoral period in the US.


When understanding major crisis, on top of all the detailed analysis, we should try to step back and look at how this chain is shaking at each level: 

land/food <-> culture/emotions <-> technology <-> economy <-> communication <-> politics <-> ideology, and how they were behaving just before the crisis. 
This is our food chain. Where food and energy comes from (below, above, the sides, inside?).

Now you see me? Feeding with food


NAFTA (or TLCAN in Spanish) gives us a good case study. Back in 2013, and due to the 20th anniversary of the NAFTA free trade agreement, the New York times published a series of articles discussing its impact. Laura Carsen in her articles "Under Nafta, Mexico suffered and the United States felt its pain" and "Nafta is starving Mexico" she makes very interesting points:


Food and Land

  • "As heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other staples poured into Mexico, producer prices dropped and small farmers found themselves unable to make a living. Some two million have been forced to leave their farms since Nafta. At the same time, consumer food prices rose, notably the cost of the omnipresent tortilla."
  • "As a result, 20 million Mexicans live in “food poverty”. Twenty-five percent of the population does not have access to basic food and one-fifth of Mexican children suffer from malnutrition." 
  • "Farmers lose when transnational corporations take over the land they supported their families on for generations."
  • "Government statistics report that 25 percent of the population does not have access to basic food."
  • "Since the 2008 food crisis, there has been a three percent rise in the population without adequate access to food. The number of children with malnutrition is 400,000 kids above the goal for this year. Newborns show the highest indices of malnutrition, indicating that the tragedy begins with maternal health."
  • "The dramatic change in Mexican eating habits since NAFTA is not only reflected in the millions who go to bed hungry. On the other side of the scale, Mexico has in just a decade and a half become second only to the United States worldwide in morbid obesity."
Culture
  • "And here’s another part of the history of NAFTA you won’t hear anything about: its role in unleashing the drug wars that have killed an estimated 80,000 Mexicans in the last six years and plunged large sections of their country into lawless violence."
  • "it became much easier and cheaper to move cocaine from Columbia, that had previously been delivered by sea, overland through Mexico."
Mark Weisbrot, for the Guardian's article "20 years of regret in Mexico" claims:

Economy

  • "For Mexico, NAFTA helped to consolidate the neo-liberal, anti-development economic policies that had already been implemented in the prior decade, enshrining them in an international treaty." 
  • [] "its growth has remained below 1%, less than half the regional average, since 2000. And not surprisingly, Mexico's national poverty rate was 52.3% in 2012, basically the same as it was in 1994 (52.4%). Without economic growth, it is difficult to reduce poverty in a developing country. "
  • "Interestingly, when economists who have promoted NAFTA from the beginning are called upon to defend the agreement, the best that they can offer is that it increased trade. But trade is not, to most humans, an end in itself. And neither are the blatantly mis-named "free trade agreements".

Both obesity and emigration seem to be raising the question to the world: Now you see me?
Before continuing, it is important to stop: we knew a lot about the Mexican immigration to the US. But did we really understand it? Do we understand TTP and TTIP?

Let's also remember the origin of the Syrian conflict, which I discussed in "Crazy, warming world", citing Timoty Snyder's article for the Guardian "Hitler's world may not be so far away":

  • "During the hot summer of 2008, fires in fields led major food suppliers to cease exports altogether, and food riots broke out in Bolivia, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. During the drought of 2010, the prices of agricultural commodities spiked again, leading to protests, revolution, ethnic cleansing and revolution in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria began after four consecutive years of drought drove farmers to overcrowded cities."
In both cases, rural areas become unsustainable and produced a disconnection of people from their land and unbridled mass migration.

Now you don't. Feeding emotions through information 


The role of the press in many political phenomena is under scrutiny. The press response tends to deny its influence, sometimes not even accepting a catalyst effect and describing its role as simply reflecting what the public is saying.


Emotions and technology


The Washington Post article Facebook’s News Feed and the tyranny of ‘positive’ content by Caitlin Dewey highlights the work of the blogger Max Woolf in analysing emotional reactions to content. One of the his findings is that Fox News content generates mainly angry responses. 



What's interesting about this point, is that this is probably true for both its audience as much as its non-audience: to be angry in sympathy and angry in antipathy with what it is being said. No matter if we agree or disagree with Fox News, it is successfully feeding the public with anger.

In the Utopian world where everything is positive, like the old Facebook world with only the like button, content was skewed towards likeable stories and cat videos. This article ends up wondering how this new information will affect what we see in our feed, following Facebook understanding of what's relevant. This is of course important in the context that increasingly more people are using social media to get the news. The limits of this notion of what's relevant can also be analysed through Amazon's algorithm to build recommendations that are mainly based at our past behaviour or a matching profile, which is a very different experience to a book store when as it is not purposely custumised, we are more likely to end up buying something that was not planned, something outside our bubble.
  
In a different article "How technology disrupted the truth", Katharine Viner speaks about Eli Pariser's concept of Filter Bubble: 
  • "Algorithms such as the one that powers Facebook’s news feed are designed to give us more of what they think we want – which means that the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. When Eli Pariser, the co-founder of Upworthy, coined the term “filter bubble” in 2011, he was talking about how the personalised web – and in particular Google’s personalised search function, which means that no two people’s Google searches are the same – means that we are less likely to be exposed to information that challenges us or broadens our worldview, and less likely to encounter facts that disprove false information that others have shared."
It continues to comment about the British internet activist and mySociety founder, Tom Steinberg's plea to Facebook: 

  • "I am actively searching through Facebook for people celebrating the Brexit leave victory, but the filter bubble is SO strong, and extends SO far into things like Facebook’s custom search that I can’t find anyone who is happy *despite the fact that over half the country is clearly jubilant today* and despite the fact that I’m *actively* looking to hear what they are saying. This echo-chamber problem is now SO severe and SO chronic that I can only beg any friends I have who actually work for Facebook and other major social media and technology to urgently tell their leaders that to not act on this problem now is tantamount to actively supporting and funding the tearing apart of the fabric of our societies … We’re getting countries where one half just doesn’t know anything at all about the other."



What do you see? lies and angles of the truth


Communication and technology


The article continues with the tension within journalism: on the one hand its corruption, it's disconnection to its purpose for the sake of cheap clicks.


"The impact on journalism of the crisis in the business model is that, in chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity, news organisations undermine the very reason they exist: to find things out and tell readers the truth – to report, report, report." 


But on the other hand, highlighting how technology could be the wound that finds in itself the solution pointing out that what was sold as "The Truth" by the press and the authorities about the Hillsborough tragedy would've (probably) been challenged much faster. And this is one clear example of a very old and common practice. 


"It is hard to imagine that Hillsborough could happen now: if 96 people were crushed to death in front of 53,000 smartphones, with photographs and eyewitness accounts all posted to social media, would it have taken so long for the truth to come out? Today, the police – or Kelvin MacKenzie – would not have been able to lie so blatantly and for so long."



Communication and politics 

This article ends up commenting on Zeynep Tufekci argument of the positive and negative aspects of the weakening of the press gatekeepers


"As the academic Zeynep Tufekci argued in an essay earlier this year, the rise of Trump “is actually a symptom of the mass media’s growing weakness, especially in controlling the limits of what it is acceptable to say”. (A similar case could be made for the Brexit campaign.) “For decades, journalists at major media organisations acted as gatekeepers who passed judgment on what ideas could be publicly discussed, and what was considered too radical,” Tufekci wrote. The weakening of these gatekeepers is both positive and negative; there are opportunities and there are dangers.


As we can see from the past, the old gatekeepers were also capable of great harm, and they were often imperious in refusing space to arguments they deemed outside the mainstream political consensus. But without some form of consensus, it is hard for any truth to take hold. The decline of the gatekeepers has given Trump space to raise formerly taboo subjects, such as the cost of a global free-trade regime that benefits corporations rather than workers, an issue that American elites and much of the media had long dismissed – as well as, more obviously, allowing his outrageous lies to flourish."


The other aspect that we will need to discuss in the future is if it is possible at all that a government communicates anything without it being considered propaganda, how a media controlled by corporate power does not fall into a permanent corporate bias and how we avoid technology -that democratises content creation but it is driven by quick consumption of information- becoming a hindrance in truth seeking.


Now I see me and see you


How do we keep our right for critique, for dissent without seemingly "feeding" separation? How do we avoid the temptation of the comfort that the filter Bubble offers in these uncomfortable times? John Cleese argues for humour as a tool.





Transgressing the taboos of the current consensus, both Trump (though taboo discriminatory and xenophobic language) and Sanders (through the taboo "socialist" platform), started to put words in that shadowy space that was unnamed by politics and Americans were silencing with drugs, opioid addictions, suicides and explosions of violence. 

But of course taboos are places of shame and shame is always protected by a layer of anger. It is not easy to touch taboo topics without triggering sometimes aggressive defence mechanisms.

Politics and ideology

With the neoliberal focus on the individual and some sort of faith to a (false) perfect meritocracy, we think if we are worth it, we will succeed, and if we don't succeed then it is because we are not worthy.  The pseudo-solutions come then as self-esteem and self-help books, because our struggle is purely individual disabling at the same time the political through the imposition of TINA (there is no alternative), demonising activism, accusing any collective action of mass, "robotic", manipulated, de-individualised, etc. However, it is ironic that this self-help format, with the appearance of being personalised is produced in mass, similarly to the IKEA furniture. The TINA tyranny, with a freedom narrative, is deeply de-individualising treating us all like a herd that should not think and simply trust technocracies.
Here, there is also a sort of inversion. Dagoberto Rodriguez, a Salvadorian thinker, claims that the poor vote for neoliberal policies, because they eat like poor, sleep like poor, live like poor, but think as if they were rich. In the same way, we can see the rich, eating, sleeping and living like the rich, but thinking as if they were poor. (Pity The Poor bankers, pity the poor rich, it is never enough, etc). I consciously take the following quote out of context: Steve Job's "stay hungry, stay foolish" because I believe in the power of words I have to point out that literally speaking is an unhappy quote that somehow perfectly reflects the sort of ideology that enabled Nafta in Mexico. Better options would've been "Don't feel ashamed of asking simple questions" and "follow your creative drive", probably in snappier forms like "No shame, just create" or "be smart, create".





But also, when there is an inversion when the people holding power speak as if they were in opposition or in the weaker position. It would not be the same to say a person should not hold power from an opposition or minority place as to say it from a position of power (for example David Cameron asking Jeremy Corbyn to resign, or even in the American police narrative when speaking about the tensions with the black community). The former would be freedom of expression, the latter would be overt repression. Early versions of this reversion were already present in John F. Kennedy famous quote "Don't ask what this country can do for you but what you can do for this country". Even if it was taken as an empowerment call, there is already a shift of focus towards the individual and the denial of the need of government action to negotiate, lubricate, organise, make possible what at individual level is not.

Back in the early 90s, Gloria Steinam tried to bridge the gap that the self-esteem approach left open, probably developing self-esteem into the main weapon against the individualist system (the wound that find in itself the solution). She speaks about self-esteem as the one being able to deal with this inner sense of shame but without denying that it is in the outside world where we can find a "chosen family" in which we see others and feel "seen" by others, be recognised and feel free and with whom we can engage in different sorts of collective action.  She tries to link individual and external change without falling into the trap of magical thinking, narcissism and conservatism but rather claiming that the personal is political and the political is personal. She explains that building and supporting the self authority of those with a different view (the one outside the consensus) is the way to truly become rebellious and change and affect the outside world. She argues that external and internal revolutions do not last without the other. You cannot have revolutions with people full of angst. 




In this sense, it is worth reflecting on how the Brexit vote came as a surprise to many brexiters who, submerged in the false security that their feeling of powerlessness gave them, almost unintentionally discovered that individual action counted and could account for a collective action. 


Rights only emerge in the connective tissue of the collective, negotiating these in-between spaces. Without seeing and recognising "the other" and this gap that may seem empty but it is not, willingly or not, we lose our rights and through our rights, our freedom.


In Revolution is in the hands of women and History got erased first at home, I argued however that if a good-enough level of this self-esteem is cherished by our mothers in our early childhood, no big external search of self-esteem will be needed. If actual family history is told and not presented to us as a curated sequence that leaves us feeling inadequate and disconnected from it, no big discomfort will be felt at hearing different versions of History. 


De-individualisation comes with the disconnection with our purpose of being who we are to become what I am supposed to be; the disconnection with our capacity to feed ourselves to become part of a hierarchical chain of hunger where entire countries or sectors in society accept to act like colonies to be extracted of their resources to feed someone else instead; and the disconnection with the other with whom we can jointly get closer to the truth where more than one alternative is always possible.

Andrea