Sunday, 29 October 2017

52. Cities and invisibility: a new type of God

Cities and invisibility: under the the gaze of Google and Facebook and self help books

In the first part of the entry (50), I argued that cities cannot keep the same idea of God as in Villages, because the collective gaze (the gaze of the neighbour) is not ever present. Cities grant a level of privacy to its citizens (there are areas where this gaze is blind to). Therefore people in cities feel different about God's gaze:

  • the gaze is absent (some sort of God forsaken place), 
  • never existed (atheism), 
  • or comes back as a new personal God that looks at you at a more personal level, responding to the atomised structure and individuality of urban life (self help). 
We learn that we should not expect a positive response from a neighbour or a supporting community. We are alone in our problems and should deal with them with self help techniques.

Cities offer indeed a more diverse view than a village. More people and more diverse people live together, share public services, bump into each other in public spaces, etc. In a city we see more and we are more invisible at the same time. Our neighbour is quite busy, he doesn't notice us. It's like being abandoned by the collective gaze, it simply does not have time fore us. However, technology is coming to the rescue. This gaze directed to us -individually- is being incarnated by Facebook and Google. On the one hand we don't seem to bother about how much they know about us and on the other hand their algorithms are acting like the new gatekeepers filtering what we should see. We all know that different people will have different results in a Google search, which it is done with the purpose of offering relevant content. That means there is someone up there in the cloud thinking about what we need (isn't it touching?). This personal god is recreating a virtual village (made up by friends or even friends with whom I agree) where I find normal what my virtual village finds normal.
Technology is recreating through their relevance-ensuring algorithms the old village gaze, what's now called a filter bubble, a womb where we feel safe. 
This, of course, became a hot topic with two surprising election results. Brexit and Donald Trump. People in big cities (in particular) were surprised with the results of the election. They discovered there were tons of people "out there" that have different views that had not been "visible" up to that point.

The problem with the infantilizing effect of relevance is that this blindness to what tech companies deem irrelevant for us, is not very far away from makings us start to  think that a different view is "not normal" and start to approve that powers decide to make these different voices shut up and to reestablish the order of the virtual village. It was in the context of Brexit that I was part of discussions where young people were arguing in favour of qualified voting, for example claiming that people without university degrees should not vote, and idea that is deeply antidemocratic.

Our contribution to the construction of the collective gaze through the acceptance of bubbles gives us as a result a new adolescent God that is happy to punish and banish all who disagree in order to keep Eden in order. As individuals we are no longer sustaining and constructing collective freedom. More and more frequently people build arguments for censorship (let's not talk about politics/ gun control/ Brexit/ Catalunya / the AfD / the financial sector, Santiago Maldonado, etc), supported by concepts of individual freedom. They are surrounded by many more bystanders that in their passivity somehow agree that not speaking up is the best way forward for keeping peace. Silence, censorship and outright repression are being normalised for the sake of peace. For this reason I claimed in the part 1 of this entry (50) that freedom is in danger.

Against the social fracture

Love and freedom are connected concepts. Love is the non-castrating limit of freedom. It is what allows power to show self-restraint in order to not impose itself and to avoid breaking the bond. This self-restraint was missing during the repression of the Referendum in Catalonya.

It is easy to be (or imagine ourselves) free alone, with no relationships and other interests to consider. Enabling each other's freedom within a bond is much more complicated.

And even if those conversations Salman Rushdie speaks about happen, they don't necessarily lead to anything better. In an era with access to what it seems infinite amount of information, information has been found to polarise audiences even more if they are used to disprove our inner beliefs. 

Our gaze, our vision of God

Even though in cities "the collective action" is present everywhere, we might not see it. We open a tap to get water we did not pump, we buy a salad or a tomato we did not plant, we did not watch grow, we did not water, we did not collect, we walk on floors we did not lay. Still we feel the absence of the gaze. The one that looks at us and "sees" our needs (something beyond the needs for water, and food, and infrastructure that we now take for granted). Because we are tailoring our interactions and conversations so much, we are narrowing our view of what's normal. And because of that, we are recreating a village with a more conservative god than in the old testament. The tension in the village is that it is both Eden and Egypt. This village with a narrow sense of what's accepted is Eden for those in power and Egypt for the ones considered not normal. Being a child can be Eden and Egypt. A paradise and the place where we are slaves and we want to escape from. But being dependent (of others, of the collective infrastructure, of our employers, of our country) is not the same as being slaves and being independent is not the same as being free. Is repression the only pacifying method? Is breaking all bonds the only escape?

Going back to the initial argument in entry 50. If we step back and remember that collective freedom is about all of us authorising everyone to be free (which implies a self-restricting limit of love) and, not only that: we go beyond and we confabulate to get out of ourselves every once in a while to help others overcome the restrictions they find in their way. Our gaze is our vision of God, how the collective should order itself. The difference of the village god and the city god is the subjectivity. In the village, we have "the town", "the people", the folk, "el pueblo", a collective that tends to deny the individual. In the city, the subjectivity is that of an individual, that tends to deny the collective. Our gaze should start to see both, the individual and the collective, and become active supporters of the collective from our individuality because it is only in this acknowledgement we can build freedom, our individual freedom. Freedom is a collective phenomenon.


Friday, 22 September 2017

51. The raping gaze: Las Vegas and Weinstein

(continues from entry 50.) 

The raping gaze

Feminist theory speaks about the male gaze as the act of depicting the world from the masculine/heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male desire. This gaze has a violent version where women appear through this lens directly as prey (an even lower category than that of objects). This gaze tears apart life, vitality, power from the victim. One of the most poignant descriptions of this, came a few days ago when Prince Harry spoke about dealing with the death of her mother. He said:

 "I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the fact that the people that chased her into the tunnel were the same people taking photographs of her while she was still dying on the back seat of the car"
"She had quite a severe head injury, but she was very much still alive on the back seat. And those people that caused the accident, instead of helping were taking photographs of her dying on the backseat. And then those photographs made their way back to news desks in this country."

As I mentioned in the previous article, the "sacrifices" - the crimes and the abuse used to cleanse aggressors of their own negativity- once in a while are seen for what they really are:  violence against an innocent. And every once in a while these cases provoke a change, even if temporary, imposing self-restrictions to power. In this case, the public demanded the power of the media to show self-restraint.


Cruelty as a display of power

Feminists, like anthropologist Rita Segato, argue that in most cases rape is a power crime through sexual means. In this sense, not only women are subjected to it but anyone whose power must be denied through a violent act, who is forced to take the submissive, passive position in what is often a public display of power (with witnesses or performed by a gang). The act that includes humiliation, sexual humiliation, nudity, exposure, inflicting pain or even purposefully looking for multiple completely helpless innocent victims, wants to demonstrate that there are no limits to power. It is a display with a public in mind. This public aspect is not a minor detail. Sometimes this shadow audience is reduced to a circle (most of rapes are performed in gang or in front of a friend), sometimes is imagined (eg a message to all women, to the guardians of the woman involved; her father, a brother) but sometimes the display is addressed to the wide public, like we see in mass shootings. In a violent spectacle there is a gaze that is being addressed: pairs, the male brotherhood, the father, the mother, society, the state: are you looking? Can you see my power? And in an age of mass communication, mass shootings in particular are granted a lot of attention. The invisibility of the individual in the community stops. The community gaze finally sees what they did.

Violence to establish the hierarchical xenophobic, racist and chauvinistic order

In the pictures of Abu Ghraib we, viewers, are seeing the raping gaze in action. Rita Segato, through her studies of rapists in Brazil, concluded that rapists see themselves more often than not as moralists. They see their act as a disciplinary act over someone who had to be put in place, with the objective of imposing an order (eg Harvey Weinstein imposing himself as the gatekeeper to be revered) or reinstating the order that was being broken. Internally, this order is higher than the law itself. It is indeed a system of two laws (one for "us", one for "them") or as it is normally referred to, it is a system of two bars or double standards. In their mind they are not breaking any law, they are following it. Sometimes it even goes beyond the animal behaviour of establishing hierarchy through sexual means, there is a desire to kill their victims morally too.

The "morality" that the rapist is enacting does not come up from nowhere. It is sustained by the culture we live in and is propagated through images and concepts that build up the ideal of masculinity, femininity, power, otherness, justice in society, order, etc. Anything that is considered "normal", is normal only through a particular gaze.
Because this cultural hierarchy puts white males at the top, media struggles to condemn white crime. White men are assumed virtuous or "normal":

Highlight positive aspects of white men and negative aspects of victims:

They try to create empathy towards the murderer:

All of this, came to the spotlight again with the recent Las Vegas mass shooting:


50. Collective freedom and the gaze we hold (part 1)

Freedom is a collective phenomenon 

We hear speak about freedom on a daily basis. Freedom of choice, freedom of speech, freedom to love, freedom of thought, freedom of movement, etc. Individual freedom is an authorisation we receive or give ourselves to do something, even it is goes against the wishes of the group. It defines the area where we, as individuals, are sovereign.  Individual freedom cannot exist without the development of authority: inside this territory individuals have authorisation to be authors of their words and their acts. In this sense, we need to remember that this freedom is not built by the individual alone but with the community that agrees to set this self-restraining border. However, this collective aspect of the establishment of freedom is often disregarded. It is explained as an individual enterprise. And because of this, freedom is in danger because some groups are losing their willingness to self-restrain and are starting to restrain others and they do so in the name of freedom.

Beyond this situation we are going through in many countries (Spain, Latin America, USA, etc), I'd like to highlight that there is an even higher order of freedom. It is the freedom that comes when the group somehow actively confabulates for its members (everyone) to be free. It takes different forms. Sometimes this is reduced to solidarity but it is more than that. Listening to a friend or colleague with a completely different opinion is not solidarity. A family that supports a kid that decides to follow an unconventional career path is not acting either upon solidarity.

First of all, this freedom does not break the bond if what the person is doing does not please the rest. It does not barely tolerate either, it supports. In acts of solidarity, in freedom of speech, or in actively supporting a member of the family or a friend, what's being built is the highest order of freedom.
When the individuals of a community are transcending their own individuality to support someone, the act of freedom is double: its freeing itself of its own ego and its freeing the other of their own limitations. It is not about becoming saviours of anyone. It is not heroic. It is the art of seeing, of using our gaze and be responsive.

In this building of collective freedom we all play a role. We are all builders, creators. We have a gaze that looks and acknowledges the authority of the other person, recognise their needs or desires and respond to them when it is appropriate. 

This gaze is very important. It is the base of our deepest spiritual needs and beliefs but it is also how we exert power. 

The parents gaze

Being looked at is an essential part of our survival. How we managed to catch the attentions of our parents, how responsive they were to our needs or how they reacted to our mischief or exploration of limits is fundamental to our sense of empowerment or even to how we communicate our need of attention. But this gaze is not always the same. It develops into establishing areas of privacy. Where this gaze is blind or simply turns a blind eye. Our room in our teenage years, our conversations with friends, our exploration of sexuality, other personal explorations. Of course, privacy is a modern concept that emerged with architectural technology: the chimney that allowed the construction of private rooms. Privacy is important to explore our internal spaces, unanswered questions, concerns, look for the words and narratives that are missing or do not fit. Privacy is a limit to the disciplinary power of the external gaze, to its authority. 
In the evolution of the gaze, there are also positive gazes that define us. Those who "saw" something in us. Who acknowledged, recognised our potential, our uniqueness, our authority that we may or may not even be aware of it ourselves.  A teacher, a friend, our parents, an uncle, a completely random person. This is the gaze that talent shows, for example, demonstrate but it is also at play in Social Media.

From the village gaze to the city gaze

Life in a village is constantly watched by a neighbours' gaze and comes alive through the information that s/he generates. This gaze could be paying attention to our needs and activate a collective action of support. It could also watch the compliance of the community norms and show disapproval in many ways. In the village or town is where this gaze is performed by all but at the same time it is external to everyone. It plays a parental role, and authority role but with no parents. This gaze is only possible within a community and therefore is a collective phenomenon. Some argue that this is what shapes our understanding of -or how we imagine- God. This phenomenon that is external to everyone can be represented by a symbol, an eye, a God, an idol to whom we attribute these two functions of the gaze of the community: "see" our needs and come to the rescue, and to "punish" the law breakers.

Villagers built this externality as an all-seeing deity.
Individual freedom is a claim of space against the power of this eye and the threat of being expelled from the clan.

I would argue that is not coincidence that the faith in this sort of God changes with modernity and with urbanisation. On the one hand famines and sickness were considered the ultimate divine punishment, the definitive expulsion or the action of "nature's tyrannical arrogance". At the end of the XIX century, Paris was renovated to its current layout, the modern city, and the German bacteriologist Robert Koch 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 and led to a long series of religious reforms-. Soon after in 1882 Nietzsche declared (this) God dead.  

In cities we are more invisible than in towns. Cities will struggle with the idea of an all seeing God. Urban citizens will need a new eye, different to the eye looking over villagers. Cities demand a different type of God.

The WebCam: the new divine eye

Even though cities made it difficult for this idea of an all seeing God to survive, it resurrected with the WebCam. Most of us live in cities, somehow alienated from the old village eye, but we are still in need of this positive gaze who acknowledges our existence and recognises our potential. So we publish stuff in social media, waiting for likes, or go to talent shows expecting to be "discovered". The camera emerged as a technology to show us the world outside and bring it closer, but it was turned around by this unsatisfied need of being looked at.

Television became a social mirror where we could watch not only talent shows, "reality" TV as Big Brother but also people actually watching TV, like in Googlebox. The camera turned to the viewer literally. In a way, this might offer an insight on why the public did not react very strongly to Edward Snowden revelations: being watched is not a big concern, at a certain level is reassuring.

The tension

The tension clearly comes with the balance of power. The power of the gaze lies on the one holding the gaze. The one that looks. This is one of the simplest (and probably the least sophisticated) explanations on why power is invisible. Power is held by the one who sees and is not seen ie is not subjected to public regulation. This appears as a metaphor in Lord of the Rings, where the ring of power makes you invisible but also shows you what others cannot see; it is embodied by HAL 9000, the computer in Kubric's Space Odyssey and its invisible algorithms and somehow are also illustrated by this picture of Mark Zuckerberg taping over the webcam and microphone.

As subjects being observed, a question emerges.
Do I become passive and submissive? Do I adjust my behaviour? How do I look back? Do I accept their gaze? How do I face a power gaze? (like Alex's from the Clockwork Orange)? Do I expect society to adjust their judgement?

The Big Eye (the Big Other) makes us "moral"?

The idea of an eye watching making us more "moral" is illustrated in this poster (the eye as the intermediary between the animal and the man) and is explained and demonstrated by Derren Brown with experiments (min 12 onward) making references to the work of Dr. Jesse Bering.

Questioning the gaze - questioning morality

It is easy to feel identified with the role of the individual being looked at by the gaze of the village and advocate for individual freedom or even rescuing its moralising disciplinary function. However... what happens when we realise this eye is heavily skewed? What happens when we discovered that we are looking at the world through lenses that are neither impartial nor just?

The question of collective freedom comes alive when we are able to question our own gaze and how our gaze plays a role in the collective gaze. When we turn our attention away from how judged we feel to how we are judging, from how alone we feel we feel in our battles to how are we supporting others. But also when we start to recognise the gaze of the community to which we belong through the images we are being fed and accept as "normal". Even if the experiment mentioned above suggests that the idea of an all-seeing-eye makes us more "moral", feminists, social justice movements, amongst others argue that this eye does not see everyone in the same way, therefore morality is measured very subjectively and justice is applied differently eg with a focus in disciplining minorities, women and youngsters.

Even though, many people speak about this gaze from a psychological (the Big Other), philosophical and even an atheist point of view, Christianity itself represents a stance on this gaze, in a way disproving it. "The murder of an innocent" becomes proof that the Father is not there or at least that he won't act. He won't come to the rescue when we are victims, and he won't come to stop us when we are being violent. The eye is not external. What happens depends entirely on the gaze of the community.
This murder becomes a sacrifice, something sacred to remember but proclaims that it will be the last. The last time we kill someone assuming that it will clean us. It was not. Clearly.

Throughout history, power was imposed with violence more frequently than not. But every once in a while, cases emerge that, like Christianity, have enough impact to dictate a pause and eventually a change. What sort of change? The change that recognises that power needs to be managed, needs to be self-aware and self-restrain. This change that happens when a crowd recognises it has the power to act like a god, making life and death decisions, but that it is neither just nor it cannot be. So every once in a while come new Christs, innocents that die or are murdered because the collective gaze decided so, but later it recognises the victim's innocence and therefore its own violence. These moments are always pivotal to delimit power.

One of the cases that is thought to have changed the mood of the French society and had a big influence in the emergence of human rights was the case of Jean Calas. Jean Calas was sentenced to be questioned under torture and to the capital punishment for the death of his son. He claimed in the beginning that his son had been killed by a stranger but then he said his son had committed suicide. He later explained he had lied about the intruder because the bodies of people who committed suicide were denied burial, stripped naked and dragged through the streets. Jean Calas was subjected to pulling of limbs, followed with something similar to waterboarding, then was taken to the public square, tied to a X cross and his bones were broken. He claimed his innocence all the way through. After learning about the case, Voltaire took it and through legal action and multiple publications in different languages to stir public opinion, managed to reopen the case.  A retrial found Jean Calas innocent. This change affected deeply public opinion's view of capital punishment. It somehow changed its gaze. Witnessing the public torture and painful death of a guilty man is different to witnessing one of an innocent one. An act of "justice" -even if brutal- becomes a public murder. Onlookers and bystanders lost their innocence. Their gaze accepted brutality. Human rights became that territory of authority where power had to show self-restraint.

(to be continued)


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

49. Disconnection and depolitisation

If Foucault spoke about how the prison design with the use of a panopticon revealed the disciplinary model that would be applied in other institutions, the book about casino design "Addiction by design" by prof Natasha Dow Schüll might make us think about a new disciplinary tool: disconnection.

Casinos have been evolving. They are being purposefully designed with no windows, in cocoon-like spaces,  no straight lines or right angles (which would force you to stop and make a decision), with no clocks, all of which create an environment where people get lost in time and space. There are no references to connect us to the now. They are designed to create dependence, to maximise time on the slotting machines (time on device - TOD), to offer an engaging experience with no sudden or abrupt loss/win but rather with a progressive milking, programmed with a schedule of reinforcement, low volatility and sensorial stimuli that produces a sense of flow. Prof Dow Schüll explains that gamblers refer to this state as "the zone", and she describes it as "a dissociative trance-like state in which they are so focused in playing the game that things like daily worries, social pressures even bodily awareness fade away". They are escaping decision-making and the volatility that surrounds them. This experience changes the common understanding of gambling as a thrill seeking sort of quest, a "getting something from nothing", to a quest where gamblers are seeking nothingness itself. "You are not really there. You are with the machine and that's all you are with" explained a gambler, some sort of eternal present, an immortal death. The players who experience this sensation, come back and become regular customers. And even though designers of these slotting machines do not act like Machiavellian masterminds, by focusing on the purpose of simply seeking revenue maximisation, through experimentation and mathematics... they end up being a bit Machiavellian. Habit forming and ritual establishment (deeply unconscious behaviours) are the most effective ways to minimise volatility in the income for any company. Ironically, in the gambling industry this plan to minimise volatility by creating dependence requires a dissociative state of mind which disregards the effect it is producing to its customers.

In a more recent interview, Prof Dow Schüll explains that there are so many casinos in the US that people stand 30 minutes away of one, and that states have been seeking for this route to increase their own revenues instead of direct taxation, that eventually accounts for a tax on the poor.
Beyond that, this mechanism to disconnect people from reality, from the material world, from the here and now, that includes a sort of soothed exploitation, ends up de-sensitising and even more depolitising people. This model of offering flow states is present in consoles, phones and tablets and even, at some level, when we find some spiritual gurus that guide us through a meditation claiming that all the work is individual and is done at a spiritual level, but then adding that we should not engage in politics or worry about the news because it is some sort of dense energy that contaminate our aura, our vibe, our sense of flow. Meditation that should help us gain clarity to act, to transform, to connect with the other to collaborate, is used instead to sooth, to calm and in many cases to induce us to accept reality as it is and remain passive (or in the game). As long as our energy is positive, positive things will happen, no need to act.To remain connected with the positive energy, disconnection from reality is prescribed. It is not my intention, however, to decry spirituality or religion. In fact there a lot of humble leaders that don't embark in promises of future paradises or wonderful awakenings, but rather guide people to engage. But the other side is also present and it is nothing new, as religion was famously denounced by Marx as the opiate of the people. He was not alone in this reflection, other quotes on the subject are "We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable's hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order.", Charles Kingsley (replace the Bible with Mindfulness here as an exercise) or "Their so-called religion works simply as an opiate—stimulating; numbing; breastfeeding pain from weakness", Novalis; "Welcome be a religion that pours into the bitter chalice of the suffering human species some sweet, soporific drops of spiritual opium, some drops of love, hope and faith." Heinrich Heine. Coincidentally, opium itself and pain killers are a talked-about topic that play a role in this disconnection game.

False uterus

A false uterus has particular characteristics. We are alone in this spaces, we are fed with something that we accept, that is predictable or at least stable. Whether we are in a filter bubble in social media, confirming how right we are with a particular news channel, drugged, charmed by candy crush or in front of a slotting machine, we remain physically disconnected from others. Some of these uterusi are built for us, but we too built walls wishing not to be disturbed by whatever is happening in the word (which -to be fair- is constantly curated to become more emotionally unbearable), "it is too much", "I don't want to vote any more". We expect these walls will protect our innocence, a sense of "I don't know" or even "I didn't know" and "It had nothing to do with me" (for any reason, I write these lines thinking of the role of the mother in John Boyne's "The Boy with the striped pyjamas"). This innocence, however, might not be guilty but it is not innocent either.

Connecting with reality and with the other is messy indeed: we cannot have a perfectly curated environment, we cannot be floating Buddhas, we have negative emotions, we make bad decisions. That's why there is something more than unconditional love (which is supposed to be the ultimate power) that we need in order to act together, to engage in any sort of relationship, in social change, to make a couple work, a job and even to have children: commitment. It is probably easier to 'unconditionally' love someone from the distance, that is to say, under the sole condition that they are a bit far away. But it is only through commitment that we decide to put our body, to walk through the mud together, to get dirty, to change nappies and to get transformed in the journey.

Idealising disconnection

In the following video, several economists discuss the lack of History knowledge in the economics profession (with proposition and opposition presentations). Dr Ha-Joon Chan (min 29 onwards) compares it with the series TV hit, the Big Bang Theory, where there is a clear hierarchy: the most detached from reality, the highest it belongs in the academic hierarchy, explaining that the Theoretical physicist (Sheldon) belongs to this highest tier, followed by the experimental physicist (Leonard) and then by the Engineer from MIT (Howard) who belongs to the lowest of ranks. But then continues to highlight that without the context of History, economics cannot be properly understood. He actually says that it should be taken extremely seriously as a theory of economics can kill millions and ruin many people's lives.

Even if economics is not the only discipline where this disconnection with reality is -at some level- idealised, and this is not the first moment in history that we discuss this topic, I found it to be an interesting material.

In the following video (that even if it is old is completely worth watching), around min 14 Jon Ronson speaks about psychopaths in society and how psychopathic traits (including being detached, lack of empathy, victim blaming, etc) are rewarded. Slavoj Zizek adds his comments on Brian Victoria's book, Zen at war, on how Buddhist detachment can be used to create soldiers that detach themselves from very cruel actions.

An Anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal mindset: between soothed dependence and violent extremism

Even if saying that a system can be anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal seems like a provocation, it is not. In the logic in which I write this blog, I suggest we go through the matriarchal and then a patriarchal stage of development in our lives and at social level and that these processes need to be understood. The matriarchy is simply a foundation-building stage which gives us basic tools, the basic building blocks for a psyche, including the most basic recognition of existence, "I am fed, therefore I live", "I am seen, therefore I exist", "I am loved, therefore I am lovable", "I am heard, therefore I have a voice" etc. All of this, whilst we are still dependent and remain highly ignorant of the world. In fact, this foundation building, this learning process, starts in the womb.

With all its shadows and the costs it had historically on women, children and minorities, the patriarchal drive is (or should be) an emancipatory impulse. It is the impulse to become independent, to get out of the comfort of Eden to earn our bread, to get out of the subjugation of Egypt and walk towards a promised land -which the patriarch does not reach-, the land we should "occupy", a place where we can affect the world; and at a personal level (whether our childhood was Eden or Egypt), to get out of the world of mum when is due. It was the impulse of modernity to develop science and stop suffering famines -being dependent on the weather-, or fight illnesses -being dependent on the "will of God" or circumstance-.
Even if it has some lights, the patriarchy has destructively oversimplified the issue of dependency. It decided that dependency is bad and therefore should be cut as soon as possible, as abruptly as possible, which ended up causing trauma and -some feminist would argue- the oedipus complex. This mindset has been seen in many different areas of life. At the core, in trying to minimise the physical contact between mother and child. This first abrupt disconnection is key, because all subsequent disconnections are trying to recreate and somehow repair this stage. Some feminists suggest that baptism, that originally was performed in adults, came to represent a sort of re-birth into the patriarchy that then had to happen in very early infancy, in a way symbolising this urgency to separate the baby from the mother. In a different subject, but with some commonalities studies about post-cult trauma syndrome, it is now argued that what causes the trauma is the way the intervention to liberate people from cults is conducted, not the experience of being in a cult itself or the act of leaving; it argues that studies in the past focused only in people who were removed forcibly from cults and did not studied people leaving it in other ways. This second group of people were found to register the experience as a weird moment in their lives but do not bear the weight of trauma. When and how dependency is cut is important; how involved the individual is in this process, is important too.

Secondly, the patriarchal drive shows a direction forward with the prohibition to go back to the dependent state, to go back in time, to get lost in this nothingness, in a false uterus, to follow the death drive. Even though in principle is a very positive aspect, in this prohibition, everything maternal was demonised both in men and women (including a range of emotions and mechanisms related to a maternal function: nurturing, negativity processing, etc), and the bodies of women were "occupied" trying to impose control over the behaviour of women not only in terms of reproduction (both to reproduce and have multiple children and to control inheritance by ensuring fatherhood) but also in the contact and relationship they establish with their children which became an area of heavy regulation. Women became patriarchal mothers, cold, distant or over-controlling, affecting the foundation stage I mentioned before, ensuring the production of a chain of angry-hungry patriarchal mothers. The final consequence of this prohibition to go back is the loss of memory. Almost the perfect crime.
This had an effect on men too. Men are left incomplete, with vital functions such as nurturing and negativity processing externalised, and need to keep "a cow well tied up to be able to milk it" and a "legitimate" depository of their negativity (patriarchal men are not violent against their bosses, only with someone they consider a "legitimate target", someone with a lower hierarchical status).

From the religion evolution point of view, the patriarchy should've ended with Christianity, where motherhood had a not-demonised-representative, men were stopped from depositing their negativity onto Mary Magdalene, and the Son died with a message of assuming responsibility (carrying the cross) and stop expecting a father to come to the rescue, a father that dies with his resurrection suggesting that the crime is not perfect, that there is something that violence cannot kill. Of course this is the ultimate disobedience. Islam, that came afterwards, directly rewrote the story of Eden, changing some details: the guilt was not longer Eva's alone, and God is not referred to as a father any more. Sometimes it feels we are quite slow...

In any case, the death of the father, does not mean however, the disappearance of the disciplinary entity, it has just been internalised. It is not the "end of history" or the end of the story: that fact poses new challenges. Sometimes it is positive, when the matriarchal stage was positive enough and the emotional foundations are strong, but when this matriarchal stage was not respected, "killing the father" could mean the appearance of leaderless extreme movements (eg neo-nazism, ISIS etc).

Feminism was indeed a step forward, an emancipatory movement for women. It did not take women back to a dependent state with nature, nor it fought to "lose all control over the uterus", but rather to "own" the control. To be able to occupy their own bodies. To be connected and sovereign. It represented a move to integrate the maternal and paternal role by and in women. Recognition and emancipation. This occupation of the body should not only happen in terms of owning the control of reproduction, but also in reclaiming sovereignty in motherhood, a subject that feminism is still struggling with. But beyond the pending battles, there is an attempt of appropriation of feminism, that tries to make women join the game as it is, without trying to change it, maybe promising some marginal gains. It tries to make a label, a brand out of feminism and tries to stop feminism from taking on the real big battles, like the economy and the production of money.

Going back to the first question: how can we describe a political strategy that creates and fosters dependence on mechanisms of soothed extraction, of slow milking? a Political status quo where there is chronic high youth unemployment (up to 50% in several developed EU economies) keeping youngsters in a dependent state, unable to become adults, to have a house, to receive an income and be economical independent? or ensures they enter adulthood in debt (US, UK)? An economic system that is increasingly devaluing labour and work, pushing it towards the lowest paid workers in foreign countries (exposing workers to compete even with unpaid forced labour from prison systems)? A system that does not discuss fully the political implications of having increasingly larger proportion of tax-paying non-voting immigrants -ie formally outside of the political system- in the labour force? A political system that still relies on women working in some sort of shadow economy?

It is a system that is both anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal (in its emancipatory sense) at the same time, that feeds from bottom up, to then disconnect capital from countries and take it to fiscal havens or recycle it in the finance sector. At the end, when soft mediums don't work any more, the system turns easily into something more violent, more brutal, exploiting and even discarding those who oppose. Sometimes they raise with a "popular" speech, creating this idea of "we, the people", but without the emancipatory drive, on the contrary, with the promise of going back, follow the death drive. It is a system that somehow sees the economy very similarly to a company evaluating different business units or brands in a very hierarchical way. An example is the Boston Consulting Group chart, where there are Stars, who deliver growth and receive investment, Dogs -unstable and therefore disposable, question marks that need to be worked out to see if they are stars or not, and then the Milk cows, the cash providers, that are not seen as a unit with potential, therefore no investment beyond minimal maintenance will be committed, while it will be extracted from every drop of milk it can deliver. If and when society is looked at with these glasses, that are even reinforced with harsh judgements on the poor, little investment goes to the sectors that need more support. This thinking is not surprising when more CEOs and disconnected elites occupy the body of government.

THE moment to connect

US dependence on foreign oil has declined significantly
source: Business Insider
This is THE moment to connect. Brexit, Trump, the elections in France, trade agreements being re-discussed and rewritten de facto deciding how work will be distributed globally and affecting how work will be distributed and structured internally, nuclear tensions, climate change, the US energy revolution and what it means in terms of geopolitics, fake news, new political parties, etc, etc. This is the time where structural changes are being fought but there is a model that is anti-feminist and anti-patriarchal (in its emancipatory sense) that will try to gain more territory. If the end of history happened some time in the nineties, then this must be the beginning of a new history. A history we must write together.


PS: Aatif Sulleyman for The Independent: The tricks used by Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to make smartphones so addictive

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

48. Facing the bull: feminism takes on the economy

I found this piece of "guerrilla art" extremely moving. Kristen Visbel designed this sculpture of a girl facing the charging bull of Wall Street. It was installed just before women's international day. State Street Global advisors commissioned the work and explained it was calling for greater diversity in the private sector in general and financial sector in particular. However, the image suggests a bit more than that (to me at least). For example: which of the two figures transmit true authority? which of the two figures is in control of him/herself? which one truly says fearlessness? which one is free -are any of them-? what do they see in each other/do they see each other? which effect are they expecting to have on the other? can any of them have a positive effect on the other?
Looking at it from a feminist point of view: is this girl speaking about contraception, abortion, abuse (the most salient feminist issues)? is she really speaking only about gender diversity in the work place (the topic the organisers claim to be symbolising) ? or is this speechless girl changing the conversation altogether? Does she only represent women? Is feminism ready to face the bull, take on the next big battle: economics?

A girl facing the bull: self-contained strength v rampant hunger/anger

A bull in a state of frenzy might have represented a sense of triumph for Wall Street for surviving a crisis, but it is hardly an inspirational image. This became particularly clear after the 2008 crisis. However, that sense of blind hunger/anger in form of ambition, selfishness, greed was presented back then as something positive, something that was causing the economy to grow and therefore unquestionably good for all.
Having ambition was the mark of someone successful even if it was becoming clear that success was an unreachable moving target that never gets satisfied. A hunger that produced tasteless, unwholesome food that in the attempt to satisfy reproduces hunger and trap us in a circular movement. A hunger that hoarded things that are not touched, are not used, are not played with. A hoarding that sucks up resources that are then recycled but are not used to produce anything else (let's remember that most of the money the finance sector moves never enters the 'real' economy).

A bull that conveys a sense of anticipation, what is about to do, what is about to win in front of a girl satisfied by her own stance, by the present moment, proposing to stop and change the game. This is a challenge as much as it is a proposal, because she does not challenge the bull from the logic of fear.

A girl facing the bull: feminism in economics

There are many feminist voices in economics speaking up. Some of them argue for care work to be considered work, some others discuss universal income, somehow focusing on the distribution issue.
I'm particularly interested (at least for the moment) in the 'female' role (nothing to do with gender) in creation: The one that creates spaces and conditions (and even probably markets), the one the makes the long term investment, not necessarily expecting a "return" on the investment through interests but rather a "forward" on the investment: whatever was invested will be paid forwardly and passed on to future generations. In previous articles, I suggested that "states" tend to adopt the female role in contra-position of the private sector.

Mariana Mazzucato speaks all around the world and wrote several books about the role of the state in innovation that tends to be invisibilised and unacknowledged:

In this video Professor Laura Bear speaks about how financial mechanisms subjugated politics to the finance sector and forces governments to austerity:

Ann Pettifor, one of the few economists that predicted the 2008 financial crisis, has just published a book speaking about the production of money, and argues that it is a feminist issue in this article in The Guardian, where she tries to correct two of the fallacies that another woman, Margaret Tatcher, "incepted" in public common sense: comparing the economy with a household budget, and "there is no money".

The economy is nothing like a house budget

"On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.
To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory.
So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector. Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers)."
No money?

"The second myth is that “there is no money” – for social care, the NHS, education and skilled, well-paid employment – all of which disproportionately impact on women’s lives.
Philip Hammond will present his budget on International Women’s Day, but has already warned against any rise in spending, and repeated a meme popular with politicians: namely that “there is no pot of money under my desk”.. His views are echoed by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who argued in 2016 that “there is no proverbial magic money tree”.
One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.”

Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package”aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers."

And finally, on economics and feminism: 
And while women may have broken the shackles that tie them to work in the home, they have acquired new chains: economic myths that prolong economic weakness, deny them access to the services they need, and to skilled, well-paid work that would improve living standards.

Going back to the girl and the bull: for whom are we routing for? who should win -should any of them win-? is this a battle?


Saturday, 21 January 2017

47. Women's march: Feminism carrying the patriarchal light

The women's march in Paris complaining about the price of bread led to the French revolution, the march of the suffragettes led to women earning the right to vote. Today there is a Women's March in Washington and in many other big cities around the world.

Even though it would seem that feminism is against patriarchy, I would argue that it is not quite so. It is against the invisibility of the patriarchy, it is against its shadows, it is against forgetting what the patriarchy is actually about. The patriarchy has been used as a system to subjugate women but that's mostly a corruption of its function. As a function, it could be simply a phase, an emancipatory process that is has historically been associated with the father but in fact does not belong to any gender. In many respects feminism as an emancipatory movement, is the integration, the appropriation of the patriarchal drive which then takes us to a post-patriarchy.

Why do I want to write about the patriarchal drive? The patriarchal drive is the one that pushes us out of a state of dependency, of ignorance. The one where we are at the mercy of external forces. When women take that torch, the patriarchy is no longer needed.

Claiming control: occupy

As gatherers-hunters, we were at the mercy of luck, finding food, of external forces. Following the patriarchal drive, control was sought and we settled and agriculture and cattle raising began, developing techniques, knowledge, working out a schedule, a discipline.  With this, private property started, and then the issue of inheritance: how do I know that the children who will inherit my property are mine? (Men would ask). Which came with a heavy price for women as it led to control women's uterus, their behaviour, their voice, their friendships, their wisdom and their freedom. Anchoring land equated to controlling women's bodies. That's why it is said that ultimately all wars are about the control of land and the body of women.

Then came the black plague that devastated Europe and triggered the biggest assault over women to force them to take on the role of repopulating the continent. So the patriarchy turned to its nastiest form: production and reproduction were assigned to different genders. The colonisation of America began and in  parallel with this movement that represented an internal colonisation for Europe. Women were denied their voice, knowledge, friendship, access to land and money and ownership of their bodies. Women were disciplined through the persecution and public execution of the so-called witches.

Many centuries later, women were able to reclaim their bodies, but not by letting it at the mercy of chance to get pregnant or not (it was not about going back to nature), but to exert control over their own reproduction. This drive of claiming control, of not being at the mercy of external forces was internalised by women. Contraception (at to some extent the movement for access to safe abortions) are, in fact, patriarchal by nature. It was not about denying control. It was about owning it. In this move, the integration of the patriarchal drive, takes patriarchy to the beginning of its end. It starts to break the role-polarisation were women have control externalised (of behaviour and reproduction)  in men and men have nutrition, contention and care externalised in women.
This is not to say that the patriarchy came to save us and that women were lacking of control. There were some, albeit limited, knowledge of herbal contraceptives and abortives, but through the control over women's friendship this knowledge was not passed on and was prohibited. It is more to do to Rumi's notion that "the wound is the place where light enters you" or Hegel's notion that the wound heals when it finds in itself the solution. So if the patriarchy offered science as a way of cutting the dependence of nature, it was through science that the patriarchal chain on women is being cut. In a way, any intervention is patriarchal.

With this I don't mean to say either that the work is done, because it has not yet been institutionalised. Institutions, laws and science are still biased to take care of the rights and health of men (or not-poor men). Medical research puts special emphasis in rich men health issues, it performs most of its drug tests on men, women are more likely to be prescribed anxyolitics or symptoms being dismissed as psychosomatic. Research also shows that women are more likely to die of heart attacks when they have one, as early signs are not taken seriously. In Law, women (and poor people) are less likely to know their rights and to have less tools to defend them (access to proficient lawyers as in many cases they have to rely in those provided by the state) and even then they are more likely of being confronted by culturally biased judges. Very recently in a very advanced country, like Canada, judge Robin Camp asked a rape victim why she didn't keep her knees together and kept referring her as "the accused". This case caused an outrage. The case was reviewed, he had to go through gender-sensitivity training and he has apologised to the victim but also to the community, understanding that this sort of treatment has a bigger impact on society: undermines the efforts of other victims to come forward, deepens the sense of despair in victims and hurts justice. By no means, he is an isolated case.

This comes out of the patriarchal division of public and private spheres and property. As land is/was divided in public and private property, so are/were women. "Public women" were a property to be shared by many men and there are implicit rules of how women had to behave not to be labelled a public woman. This is why, in cases of rape, the first questions tend to be on the woman's behaviour and which "signs" she was giving. Public places were dangerous places for women. This sounds very old, but it is a code that is working to this day. A "public woman" is just a body to be used, like public facilities in some regard, she is not a person.

Ivette Cooper, Labour MP, will be speaking in Trafalgar square, during today's women march in London. Her speech was already published. A part of it speaks about women in public spaces:

We are marching because a talented woman MP was murdered by a far right extremist and we need to call it out as the terrorism it is.We are marching because we believe what Jo Cox said that we have more in common than what divides us and because we won’t stay on the sidelines any more.And we are not just marching, we’re singing, we are shouting, we’re tweeting, snapchatting, facebooking - standing up to the misogynists, the bullies and the haters who try to intimidate and silence people online just as for years they tried to intimidate or silence women on the street, in the pub, in the workplace.Thirty years ago, many of us marched to reclaim the night. Women in Leeds were being told not to go out after dark, because it wasn’t safe, there were too many attacks.Instead they came together - in Leeds, London and across the country to reclaim the night, to take back the streets. Our new streets are online. Social media are our new pubs and clubs. So just as we stood together to reclaim the night we will stand together to reclaim the Internet too.
Women are more likely to develop agoraphobia, the fear of open and public spaces, and stay at home, safe. Or decide not to tweet or have an androgynous name to post opinions. Reclaiming a public space is a natural step after reclaiming their bodies.

Going back to the light of the patriarchal drive, being born, separating from the parents all follow the patriarchal light. Rebelling against slavery, Moses exodus, Christ dying in the cross with the message "the father will not come to save you", Independence wars, Modernity and its drive to take people away from the dependence on the weather to avoid famines, dependence of "the will of God" to get well after falling ill, and develop modern tools, science and technology to take "control" or at least take action, all these movements of progress are following an emancipation/ patriarchal drive. Of course here there is a danger. In this sense, modernity is about consciousness and assuming responsibility rather than over-promoting a complete detachment or prevalence of rationality over emotion.

Forwards not backwards

The patriarchal drive has a second light: the direction is forward not backwards. It is forbidden to go back to the womb, the matriarchal world (infancy), the dependent state. This equates with the death drive, wishing to go back to mum's uterus, to let go and not engage with reality any more. We march for 40 years if it's needed, but we don't go back. With this prohibition, it brought the demonisation of women, particularly if they were powerful, as they represent the temptation to go back to mum's world. Women then are portrayed as witches, as narcissistic queens, as prostitutes, as corrupted human beings particularly if there are not fulfilling the roles of the good girl, obedient, mostly silent or not confrontative, a doll or happy to be the empty object of desire. Most women leaders and politicians have to deal with this demonisation publicly and Jo Cox suffered the ultimate consequence. It's been years of slow progress and today women are confronting. Today's march is also carrying this light: we cannot go back.

Ivette Cooper will finish her speech with the following words:
We are here because we want to take a stand against Donald Trump. Millions of American women and men voted for him. Marching isn’t enough - we need to persuade, to win arguments, to challenge the deep causes of division and to build a future in common.We stand on the shoulders of our mothers and grandmothers - women who have gone before us and won great victories to get us equal pay, abortion rights, rape laws, child care paternity as well as maternity leave.But we won’t be judged on our victories but on how we deal with the setbacks. How we come together and rebuild when it feels like the clock is being turned back.For the sake of our children and grandchildren - our daughters and our sons - we are here because we will not let the clock be turned back now.
But the need of moving forward not backward will come again in other political discussions: with the attempts of raising tensions again with Russia, or creating a new enemy in China. It will be discussed again in terms of workers rights, education rights, freedom of press, freedom of speech, civil rights...

The need of shedding some light

In any case, it is always important to acknowledge context. Donald Trump's election did not come out of nowhere. It came after almost two decades of stagnant wages, student debt, worse jobs requiring ever higher qualifications, rising death rates, rising opiate addition, new generations being for the first time more likely to be worse off than their parents, foreclosures. Growth as an economical recipe was sold to the public saying that if the cake is bigger, everyone piece of the cake will be bigger, but it was not the case. The cake was made bigger, but all this new excess ended up on the plate of the 1%. Occupy Wall Street back then was a very symbolic gesture. Markets seem to be like these mad forces that can take economies to the ruin like the weather used to ruin crops and cause famines. Now a new modernity is needed to create a distance with these forces and work out how to prevent their potential devastating effects, a reincarnation of Nietzsche to declare the markets dead (or at least the bond markets?) or deprive them from their god-like status, perhaps and take action to curb climate change soon after. A modernity to create a distance that today does not exist between politicians and Wall Street and between ideology and the economics profession as Jo Michell's article in Prime Economics explains: "Trump, ideology and the economics profession".

There is a context too in terms of global affairs and journalism. With news consumed daily, and the pursue of mostly the salient pieces of whatever sort of news, many global events are presented to the public as the weather report would be. It rains. An attack in Turkey killed 30. Kim Kardashian is robbed in Paris. NATO forces doing the biggest war games in Poland since WWII. It simply happens. I was very surprised some time ago, watching an otherwise interesting TED talk by a highly educated prize-winning author saying (in min 14.50) "I want to figure out why so many people around the world hate us". Five years after the twin towers were attacked not even highly educated people had a clue why. They hate us. It rains. It is a fact. Them.
Now it is 2017 and we read news of Donald Trump coming out of 'scary' intelligence briefings stating "we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies - very big and, in some cases, strong enemies". It reminded me, funnily enough, Alec Baldwin explaining how he imagines heaven in an interview of Inside the Actors studio (I could not find the video, though). He said that he imagined that when we die, we are sat in front of a screen, like in the movies and we are explained everything, the "truth" so we can go "ahhhh, now I get it". Apocalipsis in the literal sense. The revelation.

In this sense, Wikileaks, Snowden even if they are different in purpose and circumstance are about this state of ignorance. Of course, there are many voices that have been explaining what's going on even if they don't have access to these exclusive files.

Stop the war on women

Here is the other side of the patriarchy ending. It is not only women claiming streets, using their voice, claiming power and rights, leading public offices... men are modified too. Men need to "occupy" those spaces in their psyche that are vital but that have been abandoned and externalised in these women who won't behave: the ones that provide vital attention, emotional nutrition, digestion and processing of negativity, and provide contention. The Huffington Post has a section on "Building modern men" talking about this subject. The crisis of masculinity that comes from not being able to fulfil the old role of the man as the provider, of feeling impotent in front of the economic reality, not being able to afford health care, being surrounded by an ideology that speaks about meritocracy while it invisibilises systemic distortions, de-politicises people and imposes some sort of tyranny of positive thinking inferring that whatever happens to you: it is your fault; plus cultural pressures on men that prevent them from discussing emotions are leading many of them to addiction and has been contributing to the rise of suicides. Some of them, may be tempted to go back, to blame women (and any personification of their vulnerability), to become reactionary against feminism stating that feminists are women who hate men and life itself (as these reactionary movements tend to come with the ban of abortion and limits to access to contraceptives and sexual ed). A deep sense of shame is linked with this reaction (the shame of not being able to be the man that he is supposed to be) and ultimately with fascist tendencies. Some sort of hypermasculinity that ironically sees itself as a victim. And yesterday we listened to an inauguration speech portraying the biggest economy in the world, the most powerful military force in the world, the nation that leads NATO and dictates the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and one of the few nations with a right of veto in the security council of the UN, a nation that has been bombing multiple countries... as a victim.

Feminism has a lot to offer to men in this moment, should they want to understand what is that part that is missing and how to deal with shame. That caring side that allows us to have pity on our Gollum, our shame, our shadow. The war on women is a war on everyone's feminine side. It doesn't allow men to access these tools, and look for solutions from a different place, without anger against women but rather fighting for rights, reconnecting with politics and moving forward. Staying in the patriarchy when it is time to move on is -ultimately- castrating, slavering and des-empowering, the opposite of what everyone needs.


Friday, 20 January 2017

46. Sometimes democracy hurts

It is interesting reading or listening to political commentators using phrases "how didn't we see it coming". The question here is "who is we?", who is included in this selected group and who is excluded?

'Democracy is not working' is being suggested by 'the losing side', in Brexit, US elections or any other electoral contest of these days. The blame is on: Russia, the FBI, Fake news and fake news sites, Facebook, Wikileaks, the uneducated, the baby boomers, etc, etc.

And then, 'the winners', seem to believe that a tight electoral result grants them the right to impose some sort of 'tyranny of the winner', where the other side should stay silent and let them do what they want, let them get on with stuff as all actions are somehow validated by a result that does not even represent the majority.

'Democracy does not seem to be giving the "right" answer'. It is too unpredictable or uncontrollable for some. "People are looking in too much", "they are looking around, looking at their reality", so "we need an external enemy", "which is one of the easiest way to engineer consensus".

Who is the enemy?

Historically speaking, the neighbour (the neighbouring town, city, country, empire) has been the perfect enemy. The neighbour marks the limit of what's not mine, the place where I don't have sovereignty. His house is not mine. He is not me. The neighbour is a "no". And so most of wars were between neighbouring countries or empires and ended up redrawing limits.

During the cold war, US and URSS were neighbours, who diligently fenced their claimed territories and kept fighting in disputed lands. With the fall of the Berlin wall, and then the iron curtain, the end of history was declared. US prevailed. There was no longer a neighbour to fight against.

So the enemy became internal. The collective solution failed so it is all about the individual struggle. The negativity we felt was now the enemy holding ourselves back, there was no alternative system to compare. So self-help books emerged, positive thinking. We also fought cancer and AIDS -an internal enemy- and terrorism became the political enemy, destructive cells that can covertly attack us inside our territory or hack our immune/defence systems so it does not detect the invasor is there.

Zygmunt Bauman wrote in his article "How Neoliberalism prepared the way for Donald Trump" a reflection on Umberto Eco's essay Making an enemy.

Shortly before his death, the great Umberto Eco drew in his brilliant essay Making an Enemy the following sad conclusion from his numerous studies of the matter: “Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth”. In other words: we need an enemy to know who we are and who we are not; knowing this is indispensable for our self-approval and self-esteem. And he adds: “So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one”. A codicil: “Enemies are different from us and observe customs that are not our own. The epitome of difference is the foreigner”.

Well, the trouble with a foreigner is that all too often he is indeed foreign – not just in the sense of obeying alien habits, but also – and most importantly – in that of residing beyond the realm of our sovereignty and so also beyond our reach and control. It is not fully up to us to make of such people enemies and put our enmity in practice (unless, of course, they cross boundaries with the intention of settling in our midst). If sovereignty consists in the “decisionist” capacity of acting solely on one’s own will, then many a foreigner is unfit to perform the role of a proper enemy according to Eco. In many cases (or perhaps in all?) it is better to seek, find or invent an enemy closer to home and above all inside the gate. An enemy within sight and touch is for many reasons more proficient (and above all easier to control and manipulate) than the seldom seen or heard member of an imagined totality. Already in the Middle Ages the function of the enemy in case of Christian states was perfectly performed by heretics, Saracens and Jews – all residing inside the realms of dynasties and churches by which they had been appointed. Today, in the era that favours exclusion over inclusion while the first (but not the second) is fast becoming a routine measure to which well-nigh mechanically to resort, internal choices assume yet more attraction and facility.

Today is the inauguration day, and America is torn in front of the choice of enemy. Terrorism with all its relevance, is losing its edge in terms of driving people's fears.
Where is the limit of what we are not? For some, it is the president-elect himself, a property developer, salesman and expert hacker of our attention system. For others, immigrants and the fussy entity that conforms the establishment. Some are dangerously pushing for the come back of the golden enemy, Russia, or probably some small "nasty" country that appears as a more legitimate target (North Korea?). Some of those will be driven by interest in the business of a new arms race and making Europe the new disputed territory, but the public is probably more driven by denial that the same America that fantasises through Hollywood with heroic Presidents, wise and impeccable, addressing the world, fighting for freedom and defending "our way of living"... that same America... well, voted for Trump. "Russia is the one that hacked us", somehow surgically impacting the outcome of the election of the swing states (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote). "It was not us, it was fake news" even though scientific predictive models that take into consideration the relative strength of a candidate in the primaries pointed out at Trump as the most likely winner, against what polls were saying. Polls which also offered certainty in Brexit and the Colombian referendum, somehow making an impact on many indecisive voters who decided then not to bother.

Trump's preference -at the moment at least- seems to be China, but it is a not new idea as the encircling of China with 400 military bases has been going on for years, as John Pilger denounces in "The coming war on China". It is the third largest economy after US and the EU. China has an expansionist agenda, but less military than others. They've been investing in Latin America and Africa in infrastructure, trains, energy projects, etc. It's the biggest trading nation and developed a manufacturing sector with low wages and almost no rights whilst US needs to face the consequences of Nafta, the erosion of the manufacturing sector and a fake distribution of wealth through access to credit. US is tempted by the promise of protectionism while we now hear the Chinese communist President Xi Jinping speaking in Davos in the World Economic Forum in defence of globalisation. This is definitely a curious change.

Hacking is about obtaining unauthorised access, but it is also about opening up short cuts, looking at system's vulnerabilities. And one of our vulnerabilities is not looking at the vulnerable. We are easily distracted by celebrities, outrageous statements and with the idea of the external enemy. An enemy is useful in rhetoric terms, it keeps us clean. It is not time for self-doubt in front of an enemy. Easily accepting a narrative that increases military tensions between nuclear powers is dangerous and should be closely scrutinised. There were real political reasons behind the break on the Democrat's administration and forgetting about those would be a distraction. Today we watch a Hollywood version of Les Miserables on TV and can deeply emphatise with their struggle. We can see, from the distance that those miserables were subjected to a system of structural injustice, when there were dreams that could not be and that we could not force a narrative of meritocracy when listening to Fantine's lament:

But are we really paying attention to Les Miserables of our time? Are we able to emphatise with their situation and their struggle?

Plurality means that sometimes we are not right, or that sometimes we are on the losing side even if we are right (of course, we are), we are forced to look at the other side of the argument and rescue whatever truth lies there.
This US presidential election as well as the Brexit vote, some say, gave the wrong answer and the seed of doubt is planted: doubting the system, doubting democracy. Rather than saying that is not working, I'd say 'it's complicated' or even that sometimes 'democracy hurts'. But we should not let this pain blind us to the reality that keeps on moving and is trying to distract us from very important tasks (such as strengthening democratic values and institutions, overseeing all now open trade agreements that will define how work will be distributed and how capital will flow globally) by preparing a menu of enemies,


PS: the 2016 Davos, predicted that Trump would lose and this year they seem to be discussing inequality more seriously...