Thursday, 30 June 2016

40. Who cleans up our mess?

Looking at the picture of the big Glastonbury clean up, the pictures of Messi crying after his team's defeat in the Cup America final and announcing he's quitting from the Argentine team, and probably more transcendentally, all the post-Brexit debate, I started to wonder about this issue of what do we do in front of negativity: the waste left or that feeling we get the moment when we find a limit to our desire, our impotency, to "that" no.

A long time ago, I had to go through a psycho-technical test that was part of the pre-screening for a new job I got. In an interview, I had to answer a "Desiderative questionnaire", the sort that asks you "what would you like to be if you weren't a person?" and "what wouldn't you like to be if you weren't a person". First I was asked about animals and then objects. Even if it was many years ago, I remember my answers. To the question "what object wouldn't you like to be", my reply was "A toilet". I was asked to explain why, and the reasons were clear to me: "I don't want people to come and deposit their own metaphorical shit to me, expecting me to say nothing back, swallow it and thus making it magically disappear. Additionally, no one likes to take care of a toilet". Life or karma had me finding many perfectionists on my way, people who cannot digest their own negativity and need exactly that: to preserve their own perfection by depositing imperfections onto others.

The post-brexit reaction gave us a lot of examples from both sides: xenophobic attacks on immigrants from people who feel themselves now enabled or entitled to publicly and aggressively express their anti-immigrant sentiments. And even if not at the same scale of anti-social behaviour, the ones that needed to disqualify and express disdain for the 17 million people that in their eyes were ignorant and did not deserve a right to vote. 

The post-brexit reaction gave us too a feeling of disgust. The one that comes when the limits between the outside and the inside are breached. When we are confronted with something that we know exists but it is suddenly visible. In seeking the false promise of taking back control, the UK has lost control. All the internal discontent that a carefully structured parliamentary system normally filters was made evident by a referendum. All the internal tensions in the political parties themselves were also exposed: conservatives, labour and even UKIP have shaky leaderships and divided bases. A system that has democratically imposed TINA (there is no alternative) is left with no answers in this puke-aliptic scenario, also exposing that outside the current consensus there were no ideas being seriously developed.

In the following video, Slavoj Zizek speaks about toilet's design (this post is heading to be a bit scatological... I know). and he speculates a relationship with ideology. It's not long and it is quite funny.

In this video, Zizek speaks about the three main toilets designs in the European trilogy: the French approach, radical, you don't see it and has to disappear quickly; The German, philosophical, you have to contemplate it for a while; and the British, pragmatic, it has to float before it goes away. And then we have the Brexit reactions, with Junker's position -expressed in French- then followed by Hollande, the radical view: it has to happen as quickly as possible no matter how painful (also shared by Martin Schulz), Merkel took the more contemplative approach, and the British are trying to hold on to their pragmatism whilst the toilet seems painfully clogged. 

Immigration is definitely a difficult topic. As an immigrant, and having gone through the experience of living and trying to integrate into 4 different foreign countries, I recognise that it is rather easy to stop a serious discussion getting into details and dismiss any criticism on a cultural base, but this is probably because current economic ideology prefers to remain invisible.

As I discussed in "Walls, resistance and adopting a new motherland", immigrants act like messengers that come to challenge our view of the world, whatever that is, a view that we are not so willing to change. 
Economic immigrants in particular, remind us that the prevailing economic view encourages a free-flow of capital and needs to allow a free-flow of people to enable the creation of efficient hubs and avoid concentration of trans-national capital in places people cannot follow, which would lead to transnational tensions. However, immigration and emigration are not always cold rational economic decisions: it touches our own attachments and sense of belonging and therefore people don't "free-flow" nor they root and integrate as easily as capital, even if economists would prefer them to. 

An immigrant may be touching our own impotency to adapt to theses rules of the game and remind us that we are expected to follow economic opportunity and leave our town or learn a second language (something not very popular in the UK at the moment) and leave our country. 
Immigrants may show us the true face of our country, that relies on them coming to avoid investing on its own people's education (which I discussed in Education: freedom of being v system architecture), one of the main engines of social mobility. We can look at the picture below and see its light, the positive contribution immigrants offer in opening up to new ways of thinking, being an example of collaboration and bringing all what was invested on them on education, but also we can see that there is a shortage of trained nurses and doctors and how restrictive and inaccessible that training is and wonder what's going on in Spain that is losing highly qualified people (3 out of 7 here come from Spain). 

The mother tongue and the narrative of our motherland

In this video, Hannah Arendt talks about many things, but in min 36 she speaks about her own emigration experience, and her relationship with German as her mother tongue in comparison to the other foreign languages she had to learn. In min 42-45 she speaks about her return to Germany after 1945, and how listening to her mother tongue being spoken gave her a feeling of joy, even if probably her relationship with Germany as a country was different and more distant.

We feel insecure if the exo-uterus in which our mother tongue used to be ever-present, changes and becomes unfamiliar but... who is working on the cultural integration that is needed? (particularly remembering that integration is something that the whole group does, not only the newcomers). 
However, immigrants are an easy target because they are visible. The things that are slowly changing and disappearing due to globalisation and technology (and in the future more things will change due to climate change) are less evident and there is a lack of narrative in this area, no one is clearly naming what's going on at any other level than the corporate narrative which portrays this progress is undoubtedly positive. 
A government impassive and unresponsive becomes unfamiliar, so it must be the fault of Europe, or so everyone was told during the previous election campaign. These sentiments mix economic realities with political and cultural ones.

On the other side, these "ignorant" voters who voted for leave are also messengers to show that our view of the world, where individual success (including our own access to higher education) does not isolate us from the weakening structure that sustains society, those collective aspects and mechanisms that are based on solidarity and try to bridge opportunity gaps; nor it can deny that any economic model can be criticised and challenged by the people that feel most negatively affected. 

And this is not exclusively true for Europe. Here Joseph Stinglitz explains how making the pie bigger (increasing GDP) could benefit everybody, but that this does not mean it would. And this divide is very much real in the US.

There are multilevel fractures at play: economical, cultural, educational, political, that seemed to have converged in one referendum.

Was the Brexit vote the best way to deal with these issues? Probably not.  
But would any self-reflection be possible without such "an event" (at UK and EU level)? Sadly, maybe not.

Digesting negativity - a woman's work?

Here come the Glastonbury volunteers that make visible the clean up process and show us that it is not magical or glamorous. It takes work.

I talked about the missing women in politics in Revolution is in the hands of women. So not surprisingly, several women are raising as candidates in the Brexit aftermath, claiming that in a time of turmoil they would be more practical, less testosterone-driven and able to collaborate (whilst men tend to shy away of high risk positions). Iceland's PM wrote in an article

"When I have spoken on the importance of women taking on a greater role in the running of the world, I have sometimes quoted a poem by an Icelandic poet, Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir, translated by Salka Guðmundsdóttir. It is simply titled “Woman”.

When all has been said
when the problems of the world
have been dissected discussed and settled
when eyes have met
and hands been shaken
in the gravity of the moment
—a woman always arrives
to clear the table 
sweep the floor and open the windows 
to let out the cigar smoke 
It never fails"

But also, because historically women have been this watery entity containing negative emotions, in a way acting like toilets, very practical, making it all magically disappear, or so we hope. 
I do not claim that the fact of being a woman automatically makes anyone a good candidate. Nor we can ignore that men may be avoiding a leadership claim due to the high political risks to their careers. I do not know either if any of these women have the vision needed in this moment, nor I necessarily agree with some of their views that could easily follow the shock doctrine and impose even more neoliberalism. But it is interesting how in this context, the proficiency they may have is more apparent: Nicola Sturgeon is praised by her strength and Theresa May was not even in the radar when Cameron and Boris were defining the future of Europe in a pissing contest (technically speaking). Others explain that this is simply so, because men tend to run away of a situation that is politically too risky.

But women come to the scene not only for their lack of testosterone, or being this watery human device, but also because they are expecting to offer a bit of 'mothering' skills. Mothers being our most secure attachment, tend to be the person with whom we have no fear of discharging all of our negativity whilst making us feel secure. In this sense, that motherhood appears as a topic in the leadership race makes sense. On the one hand, attachment theory of motherhood was brought to the table -unlikely or not- by conservative candidate Andrea Leadsom (demonstrating a very deep duplicity as the current economic model moving towards ever more extraction of wealth and a rent-based economy -which she supports- comes from hungry babies). And on the other hand -funny enough- Theresa May is already being called the nation's nanny. Nanny. Not the prime minister, not a leader. Nanny, which indirectly suggests she has no children or that this mothering role should keep some distance and impose some discipline. We should not forget either that Angela Merkel is called Mutti -mummy- in Germany. 
So the context in which this is happening is not demonstrating massive progress for women per se (fulfilling a function of cleaner, human toilets, assuming all the risk or becoming our mothers) but we can never underestimate the effect that normalising women leaders has on the future.

At the end, we can dwell to infinity and beyond about how to describe the social fracture: if it is generational, class-based, religion-based, race-based, education-based, urban v no urban... which side are you on, and so on. But to mend the fracture, the only thing that is important is deciding what do we do (together) with the impending reality. But before that, we need to purge this emotional waste, because if we remain in shock a lot of things can happen without anyone even being able to react.

And here comes Messi's son, hugging his father, giving him contention and as psycoanalyst Daniel Waisbrot points out learning at the same time that even the best in the world sometimes can't achieve what he wants. He suggests that Messi has saved his son in this act because if he remembers it, he won't grow up in the illusion that for some people, there are no limits to their desire, for some people "the other" does not represent a limit. And it is a reminder for us too that we should not think there are people who are not entirely human so we can rely on them to come to clean us up (the anti-hero, the depositories of our projected imperfections) or lift us all up (the superheroes) and make us believe that there is life without confronting at some point or another our impotency, the other's desire or "that no", and walk through the emotional mud it leaves behind. That limit that makes us reconsider "who are we then?" and "what do we do now?", and teaches us to acknowledge at the same time that this limit we found still hides multiple possibilities. 
If he remembers that he, as a boy, was able to offer this contention, hopefully he'll become a man with this capacity too, not needing anyone to blame nor need external toilets or fake mothers when things become mess(i)y. ta-da! :) 



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