Culture https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/17042/all cached version 14/12/2018 13:32:55 en What really happened when Kanye West met Donald Trump? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/edward-sugden/what-really-happened-when-kanye-west-met-donald-trump <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The famous rapper shows how racially-defined but wealthy individuals are used to mask deep structures of oppression.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EdwardSugden2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">President Donald J. Trump and Kanye West in the Oval Office, 2018-10-11. Credit: White House Official Photo via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:President_Donald_Trump_and_Kanye_West_2018-10-11.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>In early October 2018 Kanye West met with Donald Trump at the White House in Washington DC. Sitting opposite one another in the oval office, <a href="https://www.vulture.com/2018/10/kanye-west-and-donald-trump-meeting-transcript.html">they exchanged views</a> on the abolition of slavery, gang and police violence in Chicago, mental health, plane design, entrepreneurialism, a potential 2024 presidential run, the cosmos, and multiverse theory.</p> <p>Gathered around the two men were stacks of flashing cameras and a mob of suited media representatives who were called on sporadically to ask mild-mannered questions. Even by the standards of a presidency that has <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/edward-sugden/donald-trump-and-politics-of-emotion">turned governance into little more than mass entertainment</a> it was an unedifying spectacle.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet the Trump phenomenon has an uncanny ability to make structural fault lines in American society visible, literal and painful. What historically has remained unsaid or gestured towards in euphemistic half-phrases has, in the past three years, been shouted from the rooftops or become brazenly physicalized.</p> <p>Trump’s meeting with West was no different, in that it revealed the antagonistic relationship between race and class in the United States in the twenty-first century. West’s position as a millionaire <em>and</em> an African American has forced him to embody two contradictory forces at once. These forces have entered into an irresolvable battle for power over his mind</p> <p>This tension is revealed by a close analysis of West’s monologue in the White House. His digressive talk veered between the parroting of neoliberal economic shibboleths and insightful analysis of oppression from a man who, with more perception than most, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIUzLpO1kxI">called out the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina for what it was</a> – a vast act of racialized state apathy.</p> <p>As a millionaire businessman living a life of luxury in Los Angeles, West is an archetypal plutocrat: moneyed, pro-free market, pro-tax cuts for the ultra-rich, and apparently able to pay for a <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/11/kim-kardashian-kanye-west-history-private-firefighting/575887/">private fire service</a> to protect his family from the effects of climate change.</p> <p>In the White House meeting, he churned out the tiresome right-wing attack line on the undeserving racialized poor, saying that “welfare is the reason why a lot of black people end up being Democrat.” He boasted of his entrepreneurial nous in a world that fetishizes big business, claiming that “I’ve never stepped into a situation where I didn’t make people more money.”And amidst praise of billionaires, he talked enthusiastically about private healthcare and his desire to “empower the pharmaceuticals.”&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, West has been subject to structural racism - a process in which racial difference is used to create and maintain an uneven socio-economic hierarchy. Such racism has been a basic precondition for the functioning of the same plutocratic state of which West is a part economically, from the moment the plantation system was dissolved at the end of the Civil War.</p> <p>Dissonantly intruding into his conversation with Trump was the repressed presence of systematic state violence against African Americans in the USA. West drew attention to the premeditated disinvestment that has taken place in community programs in US inner cities, and how the shrinking of state support has augmented America’s prison-industrial complex: “we got rid of the mental health institutes of the ‘80s and the ‘90s,” he told the president, “and the prison rates shot up.”</p> <p>West also reflected on the lack of educational provision in historically African American areas, saying that “we never had anyone who taught us, they didn’t teach us.” Most challenging of all, he showed how the system of chattel slavery persists in contemporary America when he concluded that “we’re putting people in positions to have to do illegal things to have to end up in the cheapest factory ever, the prison system.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>West’s analysis points to the neoliberal transformation of race relations that has occurred in the US since the 1980s. The removal of infrastructural supports for minority populations, whether in employment, economic or community development, has collided with an increasingly militarized state apparatus that criminalizes people of color. This project has bled exploited minority bodies dry of surplus value and created a theatre of violence that is used to justify increased discipline and punishment by the state and its security apparatus.</p> <p>While this is comparatively recent history, it has a much deeper provenance. Since the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, the entwined class and race warfare that has raged in the USA has reinstituted plantation slavery on transformed terms by generating veiled forms of enforced labor, establishing supposedly-neutral juridical frameworks that override civil rights, and creating extra-legal structures that condemn populations of color to dispossession.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result of this process, West’s race and class are in schizophrenic conflict with each-other, two different and opposing elements that are forced to share the same mind. In this sense, the most revealing part of his monologue in the Oval Office was when he spoke about his “bipolar disorder.” We ought not to understand his bipolarity as simply an individual phenomenon, the product of a mind that may be disintegrating in the face of the pressures of fame. Instead, such contradictions are best understood as the product of a particular racial history.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The great African American thinker <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._E._B._Du_Bois">W.E.B. Du Bois</a> called this phenomenon ‘double consciousness’ in his masterpiece <em>The Souls of Black Folk</em>: “One ever feels his two-ness,” he wrote, “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” Hence, the imperative to identify with a nation that has exerted systemic violence on the basis of race generates inevitable internal divisions, of which mental illness is one manifestation.</p> <p>The rationale for covering up these divisions by the plutocratic class is obvious: West is the latest example of the tactical deployment of a single racially-defined but wealthy individual to mask deep structures of oppression. By turning the issue of race into a question of friendship between powerful men, sustaining the illusion that anyone from anywhere can become rich, and suggesting that people of color can share in their worldview, this class can perpetuate demonstrably racist structures while presenting a blithe and innocent countenance to the world.&nbsp;</p> <p>The media reaction to West’s appearance in the White House has been every bit as insidious. Many commentators have gorged themselves on his clear mental distress; just look at how often words like “<a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-kanye-west-meeting-video-quotes-white-house-hugging-maga-a8579926.html">bizarre</a>” and “<a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/11/politics/kanye-west-donald-trump/index.html">surreal</a>” are used in reference to the meeting. These op-eds cast West as the latest in a long line of African American ‘fool’ characters that have entertained white populations from the days of the minstrels. Most of these readings fail to carry out even the most basic political analysis of the root causes of this purportedly eccentric behavior. Once again, individual personality takes the place of history.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“My eyes are wide open and now (I) realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in,” wrote Kanye in a <a href="https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/1057382916760707072">recent tweet</a> that announced his political retirement. In many ways, however, it is not so much that he was used as a vessel by others that is most problematic in his encounter with Trump. Rather, it is the way in which the whole sorry episode has elucidated the continuing racial divisions in American society and the techniques by which mass spectacle has depoliticized them. These divisions have real and damaging effects on individual consciousness and the wider struggle for justice in America. &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/edward-sugden/donald-trump-and-politics-of-emotion">Donald Trump and the politics of emotion</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/lori-lakin-hutcherson/my-white-friend-asked-me-to-explain-white-privilege-so-i-decide">My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/scot-nakagawa/blacklivesmatter-and-white-progressive-colorblindness">#Blacklivesmatter and white progressive colorblindness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Class Race Edward Sugden Liberation Culture Intersectionality Tue, 04 Dec 2018 19:23:30 +0000 Edward Sugden 120756 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Donald Trump and the politics of emotion https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/edward-sugden/donald-trump-and-politics-of-emotion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Trump’s ability to create a shared mood among voters was honed in the world of professional wrestling.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EdSugden.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The ‘Trump Unity Bridge’ trailer on August 18, 2017 in Iowa City, Iowa. Credit: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump_Unity_Bridge#/media/File:Donald_Trump_Unity_Bridge_Trailer_Float_-_Iowa_City_(36255657150).jpg">Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In 2017 Donald Trump posted a clip of himself on Twitter wrestling an <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-tweets-video-of-him-tackling-and-punching-cnn">avatar of CNN to the ground</a>. In the thirty-second vignette he seizes an individual with CNN’s logo where the head should be and pummels them. The point was to position himself as a defender of truth, flattening media enemies who spread disinformation about his reign.</p> <p>It was a predictable move: Trump is a <a href="https://www.wwe.com/videos/playlists/donald-trump-greatest-wwe-moments">recurring character on World Wrestling Entertainment</a> (WWE), body slamming its CEO Vince McMahon, “buying” its ‘Monday Night Raw’ program and remaining unperturbed by an egregiously <a href="https://www.wwe.com/videos/donald-trump-meets-the-boogeyman-wrestlemania-23">racialised boogeyman</a> who regularly appears in the ring. He is the only US President to be inducted as a member of the <a href="https://www.wwe.com/superstars/donald-trump">WWE Hall of Fame</a>.</p> <p>His immersion in this world might appear to be just another instance of the absurdly comic combining with the brutally terrifying in his presidency, but it is much more than that: the collision between Trump and wrestling provides an insight into his tactics and the broader contemporary transformation of electoral politics. The WWE taught Trump how to fuse the interests of big business with a mass of people coagulated around shared rage.</p> <p>Nationalist populism is an odd phenomenon in the ways in which it creates alliances between voters who occupy structurally opposed positions. Trump has managed to combine support from the corporate world, evangelical Christians, rural southerners and ex-union Democrats in a way that confounds <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/us/politics/donald-trump-voters.html">existing psephological models</a>. Transcending, at least to some extent, distinctions between left and right, this alliance <a href="https://youtu.be/3wDh3G7sWp0?t=80">melds together</a> the ultra-rich with the people they have actively disempowered.</p> <p>There’s an obvious inconsistency here: big capital fattens itself on the democratic choices of its victims. But this also suggests that ideology and demography no longer provide a satisfactory explanation for the results of elections. Something else brings this bloc together - mass emotion which has taken the place of ideological identification. What unites the electoral victories of nationalist populists is their ability to manipulate affect, to induct their voters into a shared mood that usually resonates in the key of anger and hate. So could ‘emotional politics’ of this kind also be used to anchor a progressive revival?</p> <p>The shift from ideology to emotion that has taken place in politics over the past 30 years passed through a phase of centrism in the 1990s when <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/feb/10/labour.uk1">liberal democracy</a> was seen as <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/24027184?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents">the ‘end of history.’</a> Dominated by a managerial technocracy, the role of politicians was to oversee public affairs in a rational, detached manner in an affectless world. Neither the governments they ran nor the people they governed were expected to behave emotionally. Politics was stripped of any sense of mob mentality in order to save the populace from their supposedly self-destructive urges.</p> <p>This model of governance also aimed to create a new citizen who would vote similarly according to rational, calculating self-interest. Manifestoes were not statements of belief so much as collections of incentives directed at different demographics. While this might encourage voters to retreat ever further into an atomized individualism, on the up side communities would never again fall into violence or pathology.</p> <p>It was these pathological urges, so the thinking went, that had led to fascism earlier in the century. Mass displays of orchestrated emotion characterized fascist governments and led whole populations to run willingly towards their own destruction. Once these regimes were defeated, ‘the people’ awoke, self-forgetful and stunned, their spent emotions discarded all about them.</p> <p>But in reality these emotions never went away. They were repressed, perhaps, but remained lodged deep in the political subconscious, desperately searching for routes back out into the world. If there is one lesson that is shared by almost every school of psychoanalysis after Freud it is this: an unrequited emotion will return with twice the fury of its repression. And it’s here that Trump returns to the WWE arena</p> <p><a href="https://www.wwe.com/videos/donald-trump-drops-money-in-the-arena-raw-january-29-2007">Picture the scene</a>: Donald Trump, eerie and disembodied on a giant raised TV screen, addressing an audience of enthusiastic wrestling fans. He rails against McMahon and pretends to advance the cause of an increasingly agitated audience against this vast media conglomerate. He pauses, and then releases money from the ceiling, huge wafts of dollar bills of different denominations floating down to the floor. The audience grabs and grasps at what they can.</p> <p>It is an exemplary moment, as prescient as it is troubling for how it anticipates Trump’s electoral tactics. In this knowingly theatrical moment he transforms his vast wealth into a mass spectacle that unifies the crowd into a seething mood of collective affect. Trickle-down economics, one of the great shams of neo-liberalism, becomes material for entertainment, literally and metaphorically. The audience experiences emotion at its most visceral and unrefined, and crucially, recognizes the same affect in others.&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This transformation of entrenched financial power into cod drama that elicits an intense, shared response is characteristic of Trump’s appearances on WWE, and, to a lesser extent, on his own TV series <em>The Apprentice. </em>In each case, Trump is able to make big money and big emotion equivalent to each other, and to use business as a tapestry for negative manifestations of group emotion. The entrenched financial power of oligarchs transmutes into a form of spectacular entertainment that unearths citizens from their ideological substrata and lifts them into a shared mood of frenzy. It’s precisely this fusion that brought him to power in 2016.</p> <p>These actions exploit a contradiction in the liberal democracy of the previous era: while politics became increasingly technocratic, emotion was outsourced to, among other places, corporations and consumerism. To buy anything in this era was to experience a swelling of emotion, a visceral experience of selfish desire that swallowed up both need and utility. This is why branding became the preeminent business activity: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Logo">in a context where function is effectively homogenous, consumer choices are driven increasingly by feeling</a>.</p> <p>But these outsourced emotions could also eat up liberal democracy itself. There was always the risk that the calculated manipulation of the collective emotional world could break out into self-destructive actions. The riotous outpourings of <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-creative-imperative/201112/black-friday-violence-where-it-comes-and-what-we-can-do-about-0">consumer violence that mark the sales, special offers and mark-downs of ‘Black Friday</a>’ in the US reveal just how fragile the balance can be between corporatism and mania.</p> <p>As businesses made emotions central to consumption, emotion and feeling became the yardstick for authenticity: if something felt good then it was. Corporatism catered for affect, and objectivity be damned. It was precisely these contradictions and intersections that Trump sensed could be useful in his campaign by redirecting emotional frenzy from products to politics. Trump’s rallies resemble the wrestling arenas in which he appears and the shopping centres that are ravaged by riots among consumers.</p> <p>That emotions have displaced objectivity also explains Trump’s post-fact world. In this universe it doesn’t matter whether a statement is true or false. Instead, the positive or negative feelings invoked by any given statement are taken as self-authenticating and total. The reaction of the audience is deemed legitimate regardless of the content of the stimulus that provoked it. This is exactly how the WWE also operates. The authenticity of the scene is irrelevant: it is a known sham. What is significant is the power of the mass spectacle to create a shared mood of rage, a mood that can bring together the millionaires and those they have dispossessed.</p> <p>A basic principle of electoral strategy is to acknowledge things as they are. This means that if the left is to reverse the rise of nationalist populism it will have to do so by generating an affective atmosphere using similar techniques of mass spectacle and participation. The emotional realm need not be divorced from policy; every ideology comes with its own mood after all. Fortunately, the left has access to a set of positive emotions that the right does not: optimism over fear, love over hate, care over callousness and tolerance over hatred. These emotions are tougher, more textured and more rewarding than the dark binaries with which they are twinned. They offer us a route to bring people together in a mood of mass hope.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/izzy-goldstein/art-of-dissonance-dissecting-language-of-donald-trump">The art of dissonance: dissecting the language of Donald Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/nicholas-baer/american-idiot-rethinking-anti-intellectualism-in-age-of-trump">American idiot: rethinking anti-intellectualism in the age of Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/does-donald-trump-s-foreign-policy-actually-make-sense">Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Democracy and government Donald Trump Political polarization Edward Sugden Activism Culture Sun, 11 Nov 2018 21:21:06 +0000 Edward Sugden 120503 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The art of dissonance: dissecting the language of Donald Trump https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/izzy-goldstein/art-of-dissonance-dissecting-language-of-donald-trump <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Modes of communication which allow for compromise are being deliberately delegitimised.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/IzzyGoldstein.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Donald Trump&nbsp;on the campaign trail in 2016. Credit: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insane_Clown_President#/media/File:Donald_Trump_(25832785252).jpg">Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>“Every word has consequences, every silence too.”&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Temps_modernes">Jean Paul Satre’s famous epithet</a> was a popular feature of news headlines when a wave of&nbsp;<a title="//www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/25/donald-trump-attacks-media-hostility-in-wake-of-pipe-bombs" href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/25/donald-trump-attacks-media-hostility-in-wake-of-pipe-bombs" target="_blank">bombs were sent to high profile Liberals</a>&nbsp;at the end of October 2018, including George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as to CNN’s offices in New York. Reports of a mass shooting in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh two days later seemed to confirm hate-fuelled violence as a defining characteristic of Donald Trump’s presidency, with dangerous linguistic abstractions reproducing themselves in reality. </p> <p>This conviction has been strengthened over the past two years as Trump’s tweets and calls-to-action have become increasingly incendiary. When the president describes right wing extremists as <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/15/donald-trump-press-conference-far-right-defends-charlottesville">“very fine people,”</a> encourages supporters to <a href="http://time.com/4203094/donald-trump-hecklers/">“knock the crap”</a> out of protestors and <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-45913921">endorses attacks on the press</a> by his party’s congressional representatives it seems reasonable to draw a correlation between political rhetoric and the mainstreaming of violent extremism. </p> <p>Demonstrating the effects of the president’s provocations is obviously important. But to truly understand Trump’s actions and hold him to account for the substance of his language we must conduct a closer analysis of his style, else we risk bypassing an important factor in the chain of causality: dissonance.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Dissonance and the language of politics.</strong></p> <p>Simply defined, dissonance means a <a href="https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus/dissonance">lack of agreement or harmony between people or things</a>.&nbsp;In music, dissonance is produced via the organisation of sounds in ways that are jarring; in poetry by rearranging text in order to disrupt and create tension; and in language, by engineering a clash between words, feelings and content. </p> <p>Political rhetoric employs these linguistic qualities to inspire people to align their beliefs in line with a particular stance or ideological perspective. <a href="https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=3850">According to social psychologist Leon Festinger,</a> human beings strive for internal psychological consistency.&nbsp;When discrepancies arise between what a person perceives and their internal belief system they tend to become psychologically uncomfortable. This compels them to reduce the resulting ‘cognitive dissonance’ by adding new parts to the story or actively avoiding contradictory information. </p> <p>Trump is an expert in using rhetoric to exploit this tendency, for example, through his use of superlatives and absolutisms like “amazing,” “tremendous” and “big league.” These terms jar with our sense of reality and proportion, and when deployed as expressions of fact they serve to skew the line between objective truth and subjective opinion. Resolving this conflict requires us to make a choice: either we reject Trump’s claims as inconsistent with our understanding of what is accurate, or we find methods of justifying them in order to deal with the dissonance they create. These methods include misperception (altering the meaning that is associated with a claim), rejection (denying it completely), and refutation (advancing an alternative intended meaning). </p> <p>This process of rationalising information that contradicts our established ideas and empirical understanding is practiced prolifically by Trump on Twitter. His favoured social media platform enables him to respond with repeated, consistent assertions such as “<a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/04/politics/donald-trump-pardon-tweet/index.html">I have the absolute right to PARDON myself</a>,” and diversions like “<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41796255">There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!</a>” which deny any conflict between claim and truth.</p> <p>The cumulative effect is one of subversion, with semantics destabilised and democratic authority undermined. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s Counsellor, exemplified this psychology when she coined the term “<a href="http://time.com/4642689/kellyanne-conway-sean-spicer-donald-trump-alternative-facts/">alternative facts</a>” soon after his election. In attempting to persuade the world that the White House’s claims to truth can be squared with the reality of its lies, Conway denied the existence of dissonance whilst simultaneously deploying it to destabilise objectivity.</p> <p>The challenge this creates is twofold. First, modes of communication which allow for compromise have been delegitimised. The erasure of complex meaning has induced a preference for a world conceived through binary categories and contrast, so that, for example, people and countries are portrayed as “strong” or “weak,” “winners” or “losers,” but nothing in between.</p> <p>Second, an increasingly fundamentalist culture of political discussion is emerging. In this context, accusations and inferences are transformed all too easily into calls-to-action, especially when belief systems appear to be under threat.</p> <p>Take, for example, Trump’s suggestion that the “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/10/us/politics/donald-trump-hillary-clinton.html">second amendment</a>” on the right to bear arms might provide a good method of silencing his rivals. To suggest that firearms should be used to shut down pluralistic debate whilst smearing opponents as “corrupt,” “crooked” and “enemies of the people” is both wholly undemocratic and extremely dangerous, proscribing dissent and denying any empathy for others in the process. Those others then come to represent an existential threat, with their narratives requiring wholesale destruction. Suddenly, the second amendment suggestion seems less of a joke and more of a prophecy. Hypothetical objects of contempt become real subjects of attack.</p> <p>Expertly deployed by those on the alt-and far right, dissonant language is detaching us from the ethical implications of expression, enabling dehumanization, and&nbsp;justifying the use of force in service to political aims. It has become a widespread mechanism for engineering social discord.</p> <p><strong>Reversing the rhetorical tide.</strong></p> <p>Understanding the mechanisms through which Trump perpetrates linguistic violence is one thing. Knowing how best to counter them is quite another. In a&nbsp;<a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/09/politics/hillary-clinton-brett-kavanaugh/index.html">CNN interview</a>&nbsp;on October 2018, Hillary Clinton declared that Democrats “need to be tougher” if they’re to have any hope of winning Congress in the upcoming mid-term elections or defeating Trump in 2020. But what does it mean to be “tougher?” </p> <p>If it means recasting Trump’s language in the blue tones of the Democratic Party then I’m sceptical. Trump’s method of sowing discord works because the structure of his language supports the impact of dissonance. His hyperbole is a mechanism for self-aggrandisement, underscoring his claim to be America’s “<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/trump-dealmaking-skills-mexico-australia_us_598b7e7fe4b0d793738c729a">best</a>” deal maker; whilst his binary language creates a false choice between protecting the integrity of America and surrendering to “<a href="https://www.voanews.com/a/trump-tries-to-rally-voters-with-illegal-immigration-issue/4539948.html">illegals</a>.” When they’re repeated enough times, the evidence that discounts these claims becomes irrelevant, and impression and meaning coalesce to create a speech that is “truthful” in so far as truth has been redefined.</p> <p>Democrats face a more imperfect marriage between language and ideas. Hypothetically, the same rules could be used to amplify a Bernie Sanders-esque politics of democratic socialism. But even if the party’s members and leaders could be persuaded to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/19/us-democrats-are-struggling-to-make-sense-of-a-socialist-surge">resolve the ideological splits that face the party</a>&nbsp;and coalesce around a common language, the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.economist.com/briefing/2018/07/12/americas-electoral-system-gives-the-republicans-advantages-over-democrats">US electoral system</a>&nbsp;remains a significant barrier to progress. Republican gerrymandering and the peculiarities of the Electoral College render a small number of swing states crucial to electoral success, and it’s uncertain whether a rhetorical move to the left will appeal to this key segment of voters.</p> <p>There’s also the risk of slipping into a discourse of identity that <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/vote-class-values-clans-bmg-research-opinion-polls-a8601446.html">can have</a>&nbsp;isolating or polarising effects. The American left should resist modes of communication that&nbsp;<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lauryn-oates/identity-politics-alt-right_b_14481006.html?guccounter=1&amp;guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&amp;guce_referrer_cs=8eRRbKxa0iTjwVbiaz4z2Q">pit identities against one another</a>, disregard shared histories, and problematise consensus building. Instead, they should focus on using some of Trump’s more sophisticated linguistic tricks in order to conduct a parallel redefinition of the American value system.</p> <p>Democrats <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/donald-trump-language-of-populism.aspx">should harness repetition</a>, charged adjectives and colloquialisms&nbsp;when they discuss the challenges of the future, framing national and global politics as a balancing act that only Democratic leaders have the integrity and dynamism to perform effectively. They should also focus on the erosion of traditional values such as kindness and charity. In this way, Democrats can reclaim the left as a force for compassion and equanimity, tapping into visceral concerns about cultural erosion, social isolation and loss of dignity. By deploying a rhetoric that forcefully and unequivocally advocates for a belief system based on principle and liberal justice, Democrats can communicate a powerful alternative to Trumpism whilst deploying some of his most effective linguistic tactics.</p> <p>It’s necessary to pay attention to the connections between Trump's words and ensuing events, but if all our focus is on these effects we may serve to provide him with the publicity he desires without identifying the underlying causes at play. We'd do better to examine how Trump applies language to claim subservience to his mode of thinking, feeling and believing. In doing so we might gain more insight into Trump's supporters and the symbiotic relationship between “truthful hyperbole” and incitement to violence, as well as illuminating how Democrats can employ dissonance to advocate their own alternative path to victory.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/nicholas-baer/american-idiot-rethinking-anti-intellectualism-in-age-of-trump">American idiot: rethinking anti-intellectualism in the age of Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/does-donald-trump-s-foreign-policy-actually-make-sense">Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/beautiful-trouble-team/six-principles-for-resisting-presidency-of-donald-trump">Six principles for resisting the presidency of Donald Trump</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation United States Culture Democracy and government Donald Trump Political polarization Izzy Goldstein Activism Culture Sun, 04 Nov 2018 21:16:34 +0000 Izzy Goldstein 120424 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The oppressiveness of creativity https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/david-beer/oppressiveness-of-creativity <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Has capitalism co-opted our creative juices? A review of Oli Mould’s new book ‘Against Creativity.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Davidbeer4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/be-creative-creative-creativity-2859349/">Pixabay/Ramdlon</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CCO 1.0</a>.</p> <p>Given that I’m writing about creativity it’s tempting to come up with a dazzling opening line - something unexpected that will sell this article to you. I need not have worried.</p> <p>Oli Mould’s blistering critique&nbsp;<a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2852-against-creativity" target="_blank"><em>Against Creativity</em></a> suggests that we are all under constant pressure to be ever more creative and original; such demands are an inescapable part of the capitalist structures we occupy. The result is that creativity has mutated in the pressure cooker of advanced capitalism. Filtering down from the wider political economy, his thesis is that constant calls for us to be more creative are the product of a more general and engrained push toward entrepreneurialism and productivity. </p> <p>Yet the co-option of creativity into capitalism is nothing new in itself, and we can of course resist this kind of appropriation. So why try to find a problem with something that, in general, we probably all wish we had more of?&nbsp;Mould acknowledges early on in his book that creativity is a ‘slippery’ and ‘nebulous’ concept, and as it turns out, he isn’t actually against creativity as such. Rather he is against certain types of creative processes in which monetization is central. So the book is not so much against creativity but the wrong type of creative impulse and its negative effects. Rather than banishing creativity, Mould wants to reset our approach to how we see and use it.</p> <p>“Being creative today,’ he writes, “means seeing the world around you as a resource to fuel your inner entrepreneur. Creativity is a distinctly neoliberal trait because it feeds the notion that the world and everything in it can be monetised. The language of creativity has been subsumed by capitalism.”</p> <p>This seems a fair point. Capitalism and creativity have clearly become entwined in the creative economy and in the wider honing of the entrepreneurial self. The language of creativity readily gets folded into capitalist structures and drives the pressure to demonstrate greater ingenuity in everyday contexts. </p> <p>Inspired by, amongst others, the critical theorists <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_W._Adorno">Theodor Adorno</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Horkheimer">Max Horkheimer</a> and their famous arguments in the 1940s concerning the rise of ‘the culture industry’ and the imprinting of the profit motive onto cultural production, &nbsp;Mould &nbsp;focuses on the confines or limits in which creativity now works. He finds that the possibilities have come to be highly circumscribed by the aims and visions of neoliberal capitalism: “creativity under capitalism is not creative at all because it only produces more of the same form of society; it merely replicates existing capitalist registers into ever-deeper recesses of socioeconomic life…capitalism co-opts creativity for its own growth.” </p> <p>It is this process of co-option that his book explores by focusing in turn on work, people, politics, technology and the city. It is hard not to be drawn into agreeing with the picture of the toil of creativity he paints. The chapter on work is particularly powerful and builds an image of the constant drive for creative angles under increasingly precarious conditions.</p> <p>The uneven distribution of costs and benefits that flow from this reductive vision of creativity forms a strong theme throughout the book. As Mould puts it, “the politics of creativity is crucial,” since creativity in this narrow sense works out well for certain people whilst having a crushing or exclusionary effect on others. </p> <p>Occasionally, the concept of neoliberalism takes on a little too much of the explanatory burden in trying to get to grip with this politics of creativity. It is used, at times, as an answer rather than being unpacked to explore the real forces at work. Neoliberalism is a haunting spectre in the book, a malevolent presence that exerts a powerful influence without ever quite becoming flesh. Yet Mould has produced a pointed polemic that makes frequent and telling connections between creativity and social inequalities. </p> <p>The impact of austerity is one way he gets into these connections. The heightened precarity of austerity has brought a new and inescapable demand for creative expression, with increasing uncertainty and anxiety adding to the harm. This is just one way that Mould develops his core argument. Elsewhere his book looks at how norms act as obstacles to creative thought, hemming us in with expectations about how to think and act. He couples this with an exploration of how the ‘horizontalization’ and decentralisation of media structures limits rather than enhances spaces for thinking. </p> <p>For those who might imagine that artificial intelligence will overcome human shortcomings, Mould provides a discussion of how algorithms and machine learning change the terms of human creative thought rather than improve its prospects. And then we come to the rise of the social media entrepreneur seeking to use their creative nouse simply to get noticed (which he also links to the rise of a win-at-all-costs TV talent-show type culture). Across these themes Mould unsettles our understandings of creativity and questions the part it might play in achieving more progressive outcomes.</p> <p>From all of this, he concludes that:</p> <blockquote><p>“if creativity is about power to create something from nothing, then believing in impossible things is its most critical component. We need to believe that impossible worlds can be reached, if these impossibilities can ever be realized and become lived experiences.”</p></blockquote> <p>There is an energising boundlessness to this suggestion about removing limits to what is possible in order for creativity to take on less damaging forms and really thrive. But is this the case? Some time ago, back in the mid 2000s, I was working on a small project exploring the impact of digital technologies on music. As part of that project I was speaking to a recording engineer about their practices. </p> <p>We reflected on the changing technologies of music production, the impact of the infinite number of tracks in recording studios, and the unlimited possibilities of post-production. We discussed whether creativity might actually be hampered by these endless options, since at least in part it is about overcoming limits, and is not always, as Mould suggests, about creating something from&nbsp;<em>nothing</em>. In a much larger <a href="https://discoversociety.org/2014/07/01/the-invisibility-of-the-recording-engineer-2/">follow up project</a> a few years later, we found that the recording engineer actually sees it as their role to find ways to realise the sonic vision of the recording artist even as it clashes against the material constraints of the studio. Here, the constraints are an active part of the way that such artistic creations are made real.</p> <p>When we think of the fear that is induced in the writer by the blank page, perhaps it is not so much a completely open space for the imagination that we need but a more energetic engagement with the boundaries that constrain creative thinking, organizing and action. As the recording engineer suggested to me, we might use the boundaries we face to inspire creative action and help us to imagine alternatives. Creativity has a complex set of relations with such boundaries, and despite the careful arguments in Mould’s book these relations are left a little unresolved. Mould seeks to remove the barriers of possibility, but we might wonder whether this will leave us with nothing to bounce off, to solve or circumvent.&nbsp;</p> <p>The other key question that Mould’s book leaves unanswered is how to tell pathological forms of creativity from their more progressive or transformational counterparts. The political quagmires of today undoubtedly call for more imaginative thinking in which the politics of creativity are central. Breaking out of the constraints of politics or economics-as-usual calls for genuinely novel ideas and institutions. </p> <p>Against this pressing need, Mould’s warning - and it is a useful one - is that if we seek change then we need to be careful that we don’t cling to a type of creativity that is anchored in neoliberal economic interests. If we do fall into this trap then we may simply perpetuate the values and limits that established modes of governance and production bring with them. </p> <p>Creativity itself is not the problem, as Mould’s book makes clear; rather it is the limits that are placed on the future by engrained notions of what is possible and worthwhile.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/oli-mould/does-being-creative-just-mean-maintaining-status-quo">Does “being creative” just mean maintaining the status quo?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/david-beer/living-with-smartness">Living with smartness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-beer/four-futures-life-after-capitalism">Four futures: life after capitalism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation David Beer The role of money Economics Culture Tue, 30 Oct 2018 18:42:26 +0000 David Beer 120108 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What the map of U.S. hate groups reveals https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/wyatt-massey/what-map-of-us-hate-groups-reveals <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New research offers clues on how to stop the spread of organized hate groups in the U.S.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/WyattMassey.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">White Supremacists encircle&nbsp;counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 11, 2017. Credit: Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images and YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Organized hate groups span all geographic areas of the United States, from White nationalists in Washington state to neo-Nazis in Alabama to radical traditionalist Catholics in New Hampshire. While persecution of classes of people happens everywhere, the drivers that push people to join hate groups are unique to specific places. In this way, hatred can be a study in geography as much as anything else.</p> <p>A new model tracking organized hate groups upends a long-held, simplistic view of the issue, one that placed a generalized blame on education or immigration, for example, positing that a person’s education level could be a sole indicator of whether they would join a hate group.</p><p>New&nbsp;<a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24694452.2017.1411247">research from the University of Utah</a>&nbsp;provides a much more nuanced picture of what gives rise to organized hate groups that can better serve those working to dismantle them. In the Midwest, economics is a more influential factor than immigration. On the East Coast, more religious areas correlate with more per capita hate groups, while education has little influence.</p> <p>Richard Medina, University of Utah assistant professor of geography and lead author of the research, said public perceptions of hate and its motivating factors are often oversimplified. “Drivers of hate are dependent on regions and cultures and all the things we see and study in geography,” he said. “It can be really complicated. People don’t just hate for one reason.”</p> <p>Medina’s group had been working on the research before the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, where a woman was killed in the violence. Emily Nicolosi, University of Utah graduate student and co-author of the paper, said that what happened in Charlottesville started national conversations she believes the research can support.</p> <p>“The motivators and drivers of hate look very different in different places,” Nicolosi said. “If you look at the maps, you can see that these sort of regions emerge where the [different] variables are playing the same role.”</p> <p>The research used census data to track specific socioeconomic variables, such as population changes over a five-year period, poverty, and education levels. Researchers mapped population percentage of White non-Latinos because places changing from strong racial and ethnic similarity are more likely to experience a negative reaction to change. Poverty is a driver of hate because extremist groups promise the impoverished a way out of financial difficulty or provide a group to blame. The group also measured conservative religious and political ideology.</p> <p>The maps of these socioeconomic factors were then compared to a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/splc-hate-groups-previous-years.xls">2014 map of 784 organized hate groups&nbsp;</a>across the country that the Southern Poverty Law Center created.</p> <p>The hate groups were mapped down to the county level in each state. The states with the most hate groups per million people in population were Montana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Vermont. Comparing the socioeconomic map with the hate group map showed which factors were the strongest indicators in different regions of the country.</p><p><strong>What drives hate?</strong></p> <p>In general, the research reveals that less diversity, more poverty, less population change, and less education all correlate with more hate groups. But how influential those factors are depends on where you live.</p> <p>On the West Coast, high poverty and a large concentration of White people in an area are the most influential factors driving hate groups. While the region generally has racial diversity, non-White people moving in and changing a demographic quickly can become targets, Medina said. In the southern parts of California and Arizona, lower education levels and higher poverty levels are the most important indicators.</p> <p>In the central United States, economic factors—such as poverty and employment levels—are most likely to push people into hate groups. Immigration is less of a factor because fewer people are moving into the region compared to the coasts.</p> <p>Population shift is the most telling factor on the East Coast. Areas with more people leaving than coming have more hate groups. This trend is also present throughout the country, Medina said, but is most prominent in the East. Rates of education, poverty, and diversity have less influence there.</p> <p>The measurements of ideology—by concentrations of religious people and Republicans—created somewhat different regional maps. Counties with strong religious communities have fewer hate groups on the West Coast and parts of the Midwest and Southeast. Yet, most of the Midwest and East Coast see more hate groups as counties grow more religious. Similar geographic trends are seen when tracking hate groups and Republicanism.</p> <p>This mapping reveals what fuels different biases, Nicolosi said. Movement organizers working for social justice must recognize the most important factors in their own communities to create positive change.</p> <p>Politicians can better understand their constituents and the cultures influencing them, Medina said.</p><p><strong>How to change minds?</strong></p> <p>Citing research such as this, Medina said creating interactions with people from different races, religions, and places is one of the most effective strategies to combat organized hatred.</p> <p>And that is what Peace Catalyst International does, creating opportunities for interaction and relationships between Christians and Muslims in both the United States and Indonesia. City by city, the group brings together people from different religions, organizing meals and group discussions. The dynamics of each city or region play out differently, so local organizers must respond accordingly.</p> <p>Rebecca Brown, grants manager for Peace Catalyst International, said Christian communities often struggle to overcome misconceptions and fears about Muslims they have internalized from American culture. Islam is often&nbsp;<a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1748048516656305">portrayed as a violent religion in American media</a>. According to the Pew Research Center, non-Muslim Americans are&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pewforum.org/2017/07/26/how-the-u-s-general-public-views-muslims-and-islam/">more likely to have positive feelings about Islam&nbsp;</a>if they know a Muslim. But studies show non-Muslim Americans are&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/17/how-many-people-of-different-faiths-do-you-know/">more likely to know someone&nbsp;</a>who is atheist, Jewish, or Mormon than someone who is Muslim.</p> <p>People can be transformed by one relationship, Brown said. “The xenophobic, anti-Muslim threat is a very real threat and a growing threat in our community,” she said. Her organization wants to “provide viable theological and ideological ways for [people] to cling to peace rather than ... moving toward fear.”</p> <p>Similar to the work Peace Catalyst International does, Life After Hate helps create relationships across ideological divides. The organization was co-founded by Christian Picciolini with a mission of researching extremism and helping radicalized people disengage from hate movements.</p> <p>In his&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/christian_picciolini_my_descent_into_america_s_neo_nazi_movement_and_how_i_got_out#t-1203353">2017 TEDx Talk</a>, Picciolini describes how feelings of abandonment and anger toward people he saw as different led him to join the neo-Nazis at 14.</p> <p>The birth of his son and interactions Picciolini had with customers in his record shop pushed him away from the hate movement. “A gay couple came in with their son, and it was undeniable to me that they loved their son in the same profound ways that I loved mine,” Picciolini said in his talk. “Suddenly, I couldn’t rationalize or justify the prejudice that I had in my head.”</p> <p>Picciolini underscores the importance of the research findings. The most effective way to change a radicalized person’s view is to understand what is driving their prejudice,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2016/life-after-hate">Picciolini said in an interview&nbsp;</a>with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s about changing their perspective just a little bit,” he said. “Because often when you change their perspective just a little bit, it allows them to see the cracks in the foundation of the ideology that they believe in.”</p> <p>Both extremism research and the rush to understand and combat organized hate groups are happening at a time when technology is helping to target potential recruits. Hate groups use&nbsp;<a href="https://abcnews.go.com/US/hate-groups-similar-online-recruiting-methods-isis-experts/story?id=53528932">similar strategies as ISIS or al Qaeda</a>, focusing on individuals who feel victimized or isolated. Hate groups tap into beliefs that racial or religious groups are attacking Whites, as seen in a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.newsweek.com/how-kkk-targeting-high-school-students-white-supremacy-recruitment-681886">Ku Klux Klan recruitment flier&nbsp;</a>distributed at a North Carolina high school in 2017. An appeal to religious conservatism is an effective tactic in North Carolina, Medina said, though playing off a fear of losing one’s culture is used across the country.</p> <p>The research begins to offer a measurable picture of where in the country different types of messaging will attract members. And Medina would like to investigate further, for instance, the roles that specific religions play; the current study groups all religions together. He also plans to work with researchers who will do qualitative studies to learn about motivations directly from citizens.</p> <p>“[Hate] is not uniform. But people treat it like it’s a uniform phenomenon across the country. It just doesn’t work that way.”</p><p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/mental-health/what-the-maps-of-hate-groups-reveal-20181001?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20181005&amp;utm_content=YTW_20181005+CID_adcc4ea2884932357efd74c7380100f3&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=What%20the%20Maps%20of%20Hate%20Gr">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/entrepreneurs-of-hate">Entrepreneurs of hate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/shane-burley/is-new-breed-of-white-nationalists-in-retreat">Is the new breed of white nationalists in retreat?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ae-elliott/assemble-ye-trolls-rise-of-online-hate-speech">‘Assemble ye trolls:’ the rise of online hate speech</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Political polarization Wyatt Massey Activism Culture Thu, 25 Oct 2018 19:11:47 +0000 Wyatt Massey 120033 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Art after money https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/max-haiven/art-after-money <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Banksy’s prank on the art market rhymes with our common struggle against financialization’s shredding of society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Max Haiven.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">28th installment from Banksy's "Better Out Than In" October 2013 New York City residency. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banksy_28_October_installment_from_%22Better_Out_Than_In%22_New_York_City_residency.jpg">Flickr/Scott Lynch via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 2.0</a></span></p> <p>Banksy’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/06/banksy-sothebys-auction-prank-leaves-art-world-in-shreds-girl-with-balloon">latest art prank</a>, in which one of his iconic works <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2018/oct/07/banksy-publishes-video-detailing-auction-prank-plan-video">shredded itself</a> after being won at auction, has enthused many of us who have been following the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.lundhumphries.com/products/83146">depravities of the art world</a>&nbsp;for some time. The artist’s antagonism towards the elites who buy and sell contemporary art is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/mar/04/exit-through-the-gift-shop-review">well known</a>, and this stunt comes almost a year after the world record was set for the auction sale of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/aug/06/leonardo-da-vinci-scholar-challenges-attribution-salvator-mundi-bernardino-luini">Salvador Mundi</a>, allegedly by Leonardo Da Vinci, for a jaw-dropping $450,312,500 - sold by a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/25/russian-billionaire-picassos-art-dealer-feud">notorious Russian oligarch</a>&nbsp;to a member of the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/03/louvre-abu-dhabi-postpones-display-of-worlds-most-expensive-painting-leonardo-da-vinci">Saudi Royal Family</a>.</p> <p>At a time when &nbsp;spoiled billionaires seem to get anything they want, Banksy’s act of vengeance can appear deeply satisfying, but there is more going on here than a simple loathing of the rich and powerful. In my recent book&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745338248/art-after-money-money-after-art">Art After Money, Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization</a></em>&nbsp;I argue that the fate of art is a bellwether for broader trends in society, trends that affect not only artists but practically everyone else.</p> <p>The primary trend is&nbsp;<a href="https://truthout.org/articles/financial-totalitarianism-the-economic-political-social-and-cultural-rule-of-speculative-capital/">financialization</a>. Usually this term is taken to refer to the increased power and influence of the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/oct/05/the-finance-curse-how-the-outsized-power-of-the-city-of-london-makes-britain-poorer">financial sector</a>: big banks, hedge funds and other firms in The City or on Wall Street. Even before these institutions started using&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/aug/29/coding-algorithms-frankenalgos-program-danger">algorithms and AI</a>&nbsp;to automate the trading of assets (which include things like the world’s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.zero-books.net/books/hungry-capital">food supply</a>) this industry had already created havoc in the global economy by transforming it into a kind of casino.</p> <p>But the notion of financialization also speaks to the way&nbsp;in which <a href="http://tupress.temple.edu/book/3182">nearly everything in our society</a> is being transformed into a means for someone to make profit, or reformatted as if they were corporate products. Even public services like education, health-care and anti-poverty initiatives are managed and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137355966">spoken of</a>&nbsp;as if they are ‘investments.’ Young people are increasingly taught to see themselves not as the next generation of citizens but as private speculators improving their human capital to compete on the job market. Housing has increasingly come to be seen as a private means of securing wealth for tomorrow and hedging against future economic uncertainty in a world where few forms of collective insurance (such as state-backed programs for social welfare) remain.</p> <p>In the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/17/artists-fighting-power-of-market-internet-hito-steyerl">financialization of art</a>, then, we see a grim reflection of wider trends. It’s not simply that art has become the plaything of a financially-engorged global elite. After all, even in the Italian renaissance, the Dutch Golden Age or 19th century Paris, rich patrons and benefactors have always shaped art markets. Today, however, the influence of fast money on art (and everything else) is more&nbsp;<a href="https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745338248/art-after-money-money-after-art">profound and penetrating</a>. </p> <p>Over the past 20 years, a whole array of intermediaries have emerged to help transform art into a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/04/art-set-to-become-best-performing-luxury-investment-asset-of-2017">purely financial asset</a>. These include&nbsp;<a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10361.html">art investment funds</a>&nbsp;that allow wealthy people to buy art for speculative future returns; the mushrooming of secretive and hyper-secured &nbsp;<a href="https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-freeports-operate-margins-global-art-market">Freeport facilities</a>&nbsp;in Switzerland, Singapore and elsewhere where investors can stash their masterpieces in climate-controlled vaults, the better to buy and sell their rights to ownership or hide these assets from taxation; and a wide range of institutions (like the world’s leading insurance brokers) and startups who jockey to provide&nbsp;<a href="https://arttactic.com/podcasts/">services</a>&nbsp;to those who leverage art as a&nbsp;<a href="https://www2.deloitte.com/lu/en/pages/art-finance/articles/art-finance-report.html">special asset class</a> as part of a carefully counterbalanced portfolio of mega-wealth.</p> <p>The accelerating speculation on the financial value of art has led to a rise in demand for new saleable works, since many of the old classics have already been snatched up. This has led to all manner of aesthetic pathologies and the rise of whole new genres of art like the notorious “<a href="http://www.vulture.com/2014/06/why-new-abstract-paintings-look-the-same.html">zombie formalism</a>” of 2014 - a term introduced by art critic&nbsp;<a href="https://www.artspace.com/magazine/contributors/see_here/the_rise_of_zombie_formalism-52184">Walter Robinson</a>&nbsp;to describe the inoffensive but technically proficient work of a set of very young American artists (all graduates of extremely expensive art schools) who rocketed to market success as speculative bonbons of the plutocrats.</p> <p>As a staunch anti-capitalist and someone who is generally&nbsp;<a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/crises-of-imagination-crises-of-power/">more interested</a>&nbsp;in protest banners than artistic canvases, I couldn’t care less about <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/08/why-shredder-is-banksy-greatest-work">the fate of ‘great art’</a> under financialization. What’s more important are two things that this process is teaching us about the societies in which we live.</p> <p>First, art offers us an excellent example of the ways in which almost any social institution can be financialized, even something as obscure, diverse and just plain weird as art. Historically art markets have been&nbsp;<a href="https://guardianbookshop.com/12-million-stuffed-shark.html">notoriously opaque</a>&nbsp;and cliqueish, and the trends and currents of artistic fashion and innovation are, by their very nature, delightfully unpredictable, fickle and arcane. A century after artists like <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_(Duchamp)">Duchamp’s&nbsp;Fountain</a> - where a everyday urinal was transmuted into ‘art’ by the magic of the artist’s signature - art is everywhere and nowhere, taking the form not only of paintings and sculpture but performance, text, concept and even participatory activities. That our financialized economic system can so thoroughly conscript and subsume art into its operations should give us pause for thought.</p> <p>In this context everything of potential future value is transformed into an asset to be leveraged, and one in which we are each, no matter how humble our means, tasked with becoming a miniature financier. We have learned to see our education, housing, skills and even personal relationships as investments to be put into play, to see all aspects of our life as a terrain of lonely competition. Take, for example, the rhetoric that surrounds visual art classes for children: these are typically presented as an ‘investment’ in the skills, capacities and cognitive development of the child as a future worker or economic agent. </p> <p>Financialization has remade society in its image, and in this moment, financialized art (regardless of what is or is not on the canvas) presents us with a kind of collective self-portrait. No wonder we delight in its being shredded. As the radical philosopher&nbsp;<a href="https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm">Walter Benjamin</a>&nbsp;warned almost a century ago in his prophetic work on art’s relationship to capitalism and fascism, “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”</p> <p>Secondly, almost 20 years ago the noted British cultural theorist Angela McRobbie observed that, in post-industrial societies, artists were increasingly being held up as the “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/node/652">pioneers of the new economy</a>” - new model workers for a neoliberal age of freelance, temporary, part-time, episodic careerism in which people must compete for gigs by leveraging their own passions, connections, determination and &nbsp;personal portfolios. In the intervening years Richard Florida’s notion of the “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/oct/26/gentrification-richard-florida-interview-creative-class-new-urban-crisis">creative class</a>” has dramatically influenced policy-makers and urban planners around the world who imagined that attracting and retaining artists, designers and other ‘creative’ workers would raise the fortunes of struggling economies and communities. </p> <p>‘Creative destruction’ and ‘disruptive innovation’ became keywords for the rapaciousness of financialization as it tore apart whole industries in search of short-term profit. While in 1968 the slogan “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/28/beach-beneath-street-mckenzie-wark-review">all power to the imagination</a>” was a radical threat to capitalism, by the mid-2000s it was a corporate rallying-cry, with tech firms leading the way in redesigning managerialism around the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/26/against-creativity-oli-mould-review">excitement and elicitation</a>&nbsp;of their employees’ creativity.</p> <p>Ultimately, financialization names a moment when our imaginations have been turned against us. We are increasingly exhorted to orient our creative powers towards the tasks of economic survival - juggling debt, precarity and anxiety while trying to leverage anything we can to stay afloat or get ahead. What is missing is the broader,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/the-radical-imagination/">radical imagination</a>: the possibility of questioning and reformulating our societies and economies altogether. While individualized, quarantined, competitive creativity is valorized everywhere, collective or social creativity - the creativity that would allow us to&nbsp;<a href="https://roarmag.org/essays/max-haiven-crises-of-imagination/">transform our lived reality together</a> - is increasingly foreclosed.</p> <p>Banksy’s self-annihilating work reflects this condition. Accusations that it was self-serving because it potentially increased the future sale price of the work seem to me to be in bad faith: first, Banksy is already rich and has had many opportunities to get richer if he wants to. Second, the piece had already been sold for the hammer price: even if Banksy were the seller (which is unclear) he would (except in certain jurisdictions) not see any profits from the future resale of the work. But that doesn’t change the deeper fact that the hyper-financialized art market has refined its methods for generating speculative value out of anything, even acts of defiance. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>To my mind, we can read this intervention in several ways. On the one hand, it can be seen as emblematic of a certain kind of nihilistic self-loathing: the artist destroying their own work as a pyrrhic but ultimately harmless gesture of cynical defiance. There but for the grace of god go any of us. On the other, it can be seen as an invitation to ask much deeper and more profound questions: if the financialized economy that is so sickeningly reflected in the art market depends on putting our creativity to work, then what if we were to withdraw those services? How can we <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2471-strike-art">strike</a>, and strike back, against a financialized order where even our defiance can become an object of speculation? To what other ends could our <a href="https://www.rowmaninternational.com/book/the_composition_of_movements_to_come/3-156-835f1858-46d6-4b7a-ae49-2c8db75abce4">imagination</a>, individually and collectively, be put?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alex-khasnabish-max-haiven/why-social-movements-need-radical-imagination">Why social movements need the radical imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/maria-askew/priceless-moments-how-capitalism-eats-our-time">Priceless moments: how capitalism eats our time</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Max Haiven Economics Culture Wed, 10 Oct 2018 18:59:32 +0000 Max Haiven 120031 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Entrepreneurs of hate https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ian-hughes/entrepreneurs-of-hate <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Where does hate come from, and why has it played such a role in recent political history?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/IanHughes6.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Disarm_Hate_13490727_10153529326845493_5683356208398203158_o.jpg">Moveon.org via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Is it possible to transform politics around values such as empathy, solidarity and love? Many progressive commentators think so, and have <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/max-harris-philip-mckibbin/all-you-need-is-politics-of-love">laid out different plans</a> to put these ideas into practice. But empathy and love seem in short supply in the actuality of politics today, crowded out by hate and intolerance.&nbsp; In one society after another fear-mongering proceeds apace against poor people, immigrants, minorities and anyone else who is not part of the dominant group.</p> <p>Politics have always been animated as much by passions as by policies, but we can’t assume those passions will be positive. Therefore it’s incumbent on us to understand how negative emotions play out in politics and how politicians exploit these feelings to advance their agendas. Where does hate come from, and why has it played such a role in recent political history?</p> <p>According to psychologist <a href="http://www.robertjsternberg.com/hate/">Robert Sternberg</a> hatred is not a single emotion, but instead comprises three distinct components. The first of these components is the negation of intimacy. Instead of wanting to be close to others, hatred grips us with a feeling of repulsion, an impulse to distance ourselves from the hated other. </p> <p>The second component is hate’s passionate element: hate fills us with a mix of burning anger and unnerving fear. Sternberg’s third component is hate’s cognitive element, namely the stories we tell ourselves to justify the feelings of repulsion, anger and anxiety that hatred evokes within us.</p> <p>Tragically, we have ample evidence to draw upon to understand how hatred can ignite and consume large parts of societies. In my new book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Disordered-Minds-Dangerous-Personalities-Destroying/dp/1785358804/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1537308483&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=disordered+minds+ian+hughes">Disordered Minds</a></em> I examine some of the 20th century’s most appalling atrocities including the Holocaust, Stalin’s Gulag, Mao’s Great Famine, and Pol Pot’s Killing Fields in Cambodia. What stands out clearly from these examples is the critical role played by hate-mongers in fomenting each of these horrors. Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot all had an uncanny ability to inflame all three of Sternberg’s elements of hate. </p> <p>For each of these tyrants, their first goal was to exacerbate the feelings of separateness and otherness felt towards their chosen target out-group, whether they were Jews, <em>kulaks</em>, ‘capitalist railroaders’ or other ‘enemies of the people.’ Their second goal was to inflame feelings of anger and fear towards that out-group. And their third goal was to spread stories that explained, in false and simple terms, why that outgroup was a deserving target of people’s hate.</p> <p>These stories varied widely but they had certain elements in common: ‘the enemy is repulsive in looks and habits; ‘the enemy is contaminated and is spreading disease;’ ‘the enemy is part of a conspiracy seeking to control us;’ ‘the enemy is a criminal;’ ‘the enemy is a seducer and a rapist;’ ‘the enemy is an animal, an insect or a germ;’ ‘the enemy is the enemy of God’ ‘the enemy is a murderer who delights in killing;’ ‘the enemy is standing in the way of our making our country great again.’</p> <p>In their mission to create divisions and target scapegoats for political gain, history’s hate-mongers repeated these stories relentlessly so that they became accepted wisdom, reinforced by propaganda –the ‘fake news’ media of the day—but they were also helped by existing fears and prejudices within their societies. </p> <p>Initially they found their most devoted supporters among those who already shared the leader’s hatreds. A tyrants’ first step towards power, therefore, is to incite hatred among those who share their own warped worldview. But hate-mongers not only denigrate their chosen enemies; they also portray their core followers as exceptional human beings, as moral paragons and ‘fine people.’ The more hatred a toxic leader directs towards the ‘enemy’ while praising their in-group, the more galvanised their base of true believers becomes.</p> <p>Once a tyrant has secured the adulation of a core group of true believers, their task is then to spread their hatred towards the target group as widely as possible throughout society. Whether or not they succeed in this mission depends in large part on what psychologist <a href="http://www.nber.org/papers/w9171">Edward Glaeser</a> calls the ‘demand for hatred.’ As Glaeser explains, by spreading hate-filled stories hate-mongers increase the supply of hate, but the willingness of society to accept those stories constitutes the demand side of the equation.</p> <p>Many factors contribute to a society’s willingness to accept a hate-monger’s lies. Economic hardship plays a central role. A society in which a substantial proportion of the population faces a daily struggle to make ends meet is susceptible to simple explanations and false remedies. Cultural differences can also be important. Majority populations experiencing significant immigration or demographic change can react defensively by turning on ‘outsiders’ who differ from them in terms of their culture or religion.</p> <p>Geography too can be significant. Research shows that prejudices are stronger when they are based not on personal experience but result instead from hearsay or second-hand news. This finding sheds light on the puzzling fact that xenophobic populism has taken hold most strongly today in areas like Eastern Europe and rural America which have the lowest shares of immigrants. Our greatest commitment to destruction, it seems, is often towards those we have never met.</p> <p>The famous symbol of a triangle that is used for fire safety purposes illustrates the three elements that are needed for any fire to take hold, namely a spark, fuel and oxygen. In political terms, hate-mongers act as the spark; their prejudiced true believers are the fuel; and the conditions which create the demand for hate in wider society provide the oxygen that allows the smouldering embers of hatred to ignite, grow and spread. </p> <p>We don’t have to look far to find examples of the same phenomenon today. In the US, for example, President Trump has skilfully tuned into feelings of resentment on the part of substantial numbers of rural white Americans, openly denigrating immigrants as ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers’ and the press as ‘the enemy of the people.’ Inequality and demographic change have created the conditions in which Trump’s vitriolic scapegoating finds a ready response. A critical mass of people in positions of influence act as enablers of the President (whether out of self-interest or a belief in his broader agenda), and a siloed social media fans the flames of division. </p> <p>In Hungary, <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/04/viktor-orban-hungary/557246/">Viktor Orban</a> too has chosen to kindle hatred as a means of winning votes. He has vilified migrants, saying that they bring crime and terror, mass disorder, and “gangs hunting down our women and daughters.” He has labelled refugees and migrants as a pollutant, a distant other, and a threat to Hungarian culture and religion, saying, “The masses arriving from other civilisations endanger our way of life, our culture, our customs and our Christian traditions.” Orban has used his electoral victories to hollow out Hungarian democracy from within. In 2018 Hungary was <a href="http://hungarianfreepress.com/2018/01/16/freedom-house-hungary-is-the-least-democratic-country-in-the-eu/">named</a> by Freedom House the “least democratic country” among the European Union’s 28 members.</p> <p>The destruction caused by hate-mongers is evident to anyone with a cursory knowledge of history; their ongoing influence is equally clear to viewers of the daily news. Through their rhetoric they fundamentally alter the swing of the pendulum in the conduct of human affairs from compromise to conflict, from inclusion to vilification, and from compassion to cruelty. </p> <p>While there is no simple solution to this problem, the most effective way to reduce the influence of hate-mongers is to strengthen democracy. Strengthening democratic norms and institutions can be effective because it addresses all three sides of the triangle of toxic leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. </p> <p>Democracy places limits on those in power. It reduces the scope for recourse to violence on the part of ruthless leaders. It forbids the abuse of state power against individuals and against sub-sections of society. And it subjects those in power to the rule of law. In this way it provides a powerful constraint on the destructive actions of hate-mongers and their followers. A properly functioning democracy can also address the social and economic concerns that allow hate-mongers to rise and stay in power.</p> <p>In an earlier time of crisis, Dr Martin Luther King Jr responded to hatred by saying “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” In our current time of division it is worth bearing that advice in mind: when hate-mongers are threatening the very foundations of democracy, the most powerful act of love is to vote against hate at every opportunity.</p> <p><em>Ian Hughes’ new book is <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Disordered-Minds-Dangerous-Personalities-Destroying/dp/1785358804/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1537308483&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=disordered+minds+ian+hughes">Disordered Minds: How Dangerous Personalities are Destroying Democracy</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/demons-and-angels-strongman-leaders-and-social-violence">Demons and angels: strongman leaders and social violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/real-clash-of-civilisations">The real clash of civilisations</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mana-farooghi/internet-can-spread-hate-but-it-can-also-help-to-tackle-it">The internet can spread hate, but it can also help to tackle it</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Political polarization Ian Hughes Care Culture Tue, 02 Oct 2018 14:49:16 +0000 Ian Hughes 119750 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Don’t click here to save the world – go to the theatre and get inspired https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rob-watt/don-t-click-here-to-save-world-go-to-theatre-and-get-inspired <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">This is not a moment to ‘keep calm and carry on:’ the UK’s leading spoken word artists declare their rebel yell in south London. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normalCxSpFirst"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RobWatt.gif" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Rallying Cry, Apples and Snakes/Jerry Kiesewetter. All rights reserved.</p><p class="normalCxSpMiddle"> On the 14 April 2014 the far-right Islamist group <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/boko-haram">Boko Haram</a> abducted 276 girls in the northern Nigerian village of Chibok; the nation was distraught. It was an event – similar to the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/12/-sp-boko-haram-attacks-nigeria-baga-ignored-media">assault on the town of Baga</a> in that same year – which incensed the country and soon became a viral social media campaign. As Nigerians took to the streets, marched and rallied the government to do something about the atrocity, the online world called to #BringBackOurGirls.</p> <p class="normal">This hashtag proliferated and was used over one million times in less than three weeks. <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/09/celebrity-tweets-nigeria-girls_n_5297188.html">Celebrities, actors, rappers and the first lady of the United States all tweeted it</a>, adding to the social media outcry. Three months later the World Cup started, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign subsided and was soon forgotten. Four years on, 100 of those girls are still missing and the kidnappings continue; in February 2018 <a href="http://time.com/5174951/nigeria-girls-missing-boko-haram-attack/">another 150 girls were taken from their schools</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Any collective sentiment of solidarity has power, but how much change did the #bringbackourgirls campaign actually elicit? It is difficult to truly know, but ultimately many of the girls are still missing. From the comfort of our armchairs and coffee shops we are able to tweet, click, add a hashtag and join an online campaign on causes like this, but does it really do anything?</p> <p class="normal">The website <a href="http://www.clicktivist.org/what-is-clicktivism/">clicktivist.org</a> emphasises the positives, suggesting that “the use of digital media for facilitating social change and activism can include a whole a range of activities” including organising protests, signing petitions, crowdfunding and circumventing news blackouts. In reality, however, clicktivism is messier than this.</p> <p class="normal">One of the fundamental problems is that it often marks the end of a person’s involvement with a cause instead of the beginning. Clicktivism may connect individuals and draw attention to an issue for a brief amount of time, but it often fails to sustain that engagement fully in the struggle. It’s impulsive – a response to something encountered online - and instantly gratifying rather than a considered political act like voting or marching.</p> <p class="normal">It’s also noncommittal, meaning that in isolation it doesn’t require any further action – you can click ‘like’ and then you’re done. Such actions can be easily replicated and that’s the point: clicktivism is about getting as many people as possible to repeat the same action over and over again, and in that sense it’s an effective viral marketing tool. But does quantity also mean quality? Clicks don’t always translate into changes beyond the Internet.</p> <p class="normal">Importantly, clicktivism is about a particular political device - a person or a decision - rather than a particular ideology. That could be why people sometimes dismiss it as meaningless, because it’s a small, non-risky, one-off act instead of a sustained engagement in a larger movement.</p> <p class="normal">Of course there are some success stories. The<em> </em><a href="http://www.alsa.org/fight-als/ice-bucket-challenge.html">ALS ‘ice bucket challenge</a>’<em> </em>has reportedly raised over $100 million for the fight against progressive neurodegenerative disease, and has led to a 60 percent increase in participation in traditional fundraising activities like sponsored walks.</p> <p class="normal">I’ve indulged in activities like this myself by using hashtags or signing a change.org petition, and it feels good, right? It makes us feel like we are doing something. In a world where people are angry and apathetic in equal measure, clicktivism could provide an answer. While fleeting, it’s democratic in the sense that it makes activism accessible to millions of people, regardless of how much time, energy or money they may have. Decades of <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/digitally-enabled-social-change">research</a> have shown that people are more willing to engage in activism that is easier and less costly emotionally, physically and financially.</p> <p class="normal">So what’s the alternative?</p> <p class="normal">I think theatre and poetry have an answer. Theatre, at its best, is a dialogue. It’s democratic, shapeshifting and powerful. Poetry uncovers and dissects the crunchy, oblique and often difficult situations that are happening in our world and brings people into a deeper emotional connection with both problems and solutions. &nbsp;That’s the rationale behind a new show I’m directing at the Battersea Arts Centre next week called “<a href="https://www.bac.org.uk/content/45069/whats_on/whats_on/shows/rallying_cry">Rallying Cry</a>.” </p> <p class="normal">The production <a href="https://applesandsnakes.org/rallying-cry/">takes its name, and in part its inspiration</a>, from the poet and activist Audre Lorde. As she once wrote, “Without community there is no liberation. In our rallying and marching we rediscovered community in one another.” At a time when the world is revolting, people are angry and a storm is coming, this is a protest and a call to arms.<br /> <br /> In “Rallying Cry” the UK’s leading spoken word artists declare their rebel yell as Battersea Arts Centre is plunged into a rabble-rousing ruckus. This is not a moment to ‘keep calm and carry on.’<br /> <br /> I set out to create a show that deconstructed why the world has become so binary - both extremely angry and in large part apathetic; paralysed by not knowing what to do when nothing seems to affect real change anymore.</p> <p class="normal">Poetry is the ideal device to tell these stories, but poetry and politics are uncomfortable bedfellows. Poetry, like political language, is rarely uttered without intention, without wanting to create a real effect. So I decided to work with a selection of the best and most exciting poets in the UK to reflect on where we are in the world and how to change it.</p> <p class="normal">The show is also immersive, surrounding the audience in order to involve them completely in the performance rather than being passive bystanders. I want them to be active, and to experience how the work makes them feel since emotions are such powerful motivators of social action.</p> <p class="normal">Theatre may not become a viral sensation, but I hope it will leave a deep mark on its audience, a lasting impression of how the world could be and what the alternatives are to the current status quo. Stories will always be more complex and affecting than a hashtag, but to be effective mobilisers the audience for them has to show up and get involved.</p> <p class="normal">The journalist and writer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Gladwell">Malcolm Gladwell</a> once said that “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools.” Clicktivism and its even lazier cousin Slacktivism provide more of these tools, and they aren't going away; nor should they. They can draw attention to causes, build a mass following, and involve large numbers of people in showing their solidarity and support. However, they should not be seen or used in isolation in the ways we change things. They are tools in a much more expansive activist’s toolkit and should live in the larger ecology of social action. </p> <p class="normal">For me, no amount of clicking or hash-tagging can ever substitute for showing up. Social media can help activists to spread their message and connect with others, but the success of social movements hinges on people who get offline and take real, physical risks.</p> <p class="normal">Change is painful, and it takes energy and effort. Changing policies, opinions and attitudes take a momentous amount of time and commitment. Twitter and Facebook may not be the tools to do this on their own, but coupled with stories of change that disrupt, inspire and give us hope they can help to tip the balance. Welcome to Rallying Cry. I hope you’ll join us.</p> <p class="normal"><strong><a href="https://www.bac.org.uk/content/45069/whats_on/whats_on/shows/rallying_cry"><em>Rallying Cry </em></a><a href="https://www.bac.org.uk/content/45069/whats_on/whats_on/shows/rallying_cry">will be performed at the Battersea Arts Centre in London from 4th - 6th October 2018. </a></strong></p> <p class="normal">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/toby-ealden/it-s-communication-isn-t-it-using-theatre-to-bring-people-together">It’s communication isn’t it? Using theatre to bring people together</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/rocky-rodriguez-junior/can-theatre-change-your-mind">Can theatre change your mind?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/amber-massie-blomfield/austerity-inequality-and-arts">Austerity, inequality and the arts</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Social transformation and the arts Rob Watt Culture Wed, 26 Sep 2018 21:38:09 +0000 Rob Watt 119836 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The politics of Latinx recognition https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ed-morales/politics-of-latinx-recognition <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new fluid, multiracial and multicultural identity is emerging in American politics. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/ed-morales/latinx-el-reconocimiento-de-una-nueva-identidad-pol-tica">Español</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EdMorales.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez canvasses in Sunnyside, Queens on June 26th, 2018. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez#/media/File:Alexandria_Ocasio_Cortez_Primary_Election_Day_Photo_by_Corey_Torpie_02.jpg">Corey Torpie/Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p> <p>In March of this year, 18-year-old South Floridian <a href="https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a18715714/protesting-nra-gun-control-true-story/">Emma Gonzalez</a> announced that she was “Cuban and bisexual” in the midst of her battle for stronger gun controls following the <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/police-respond-shooting-parkland-florida-high-school-n848101">Valentine’s Day shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School</a>. A few months later, 28-year-old <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/23/alexandria-ocasio-cortezs-historic-win-and-the-future-of-the-democratic-party">Alexandria Ocasio Cortez</a> claimed a working-class, Puerto Rican identity during her successful challenge to the&nbsp;<a title="Democratic Caucus Chairman of the United States House of Representatives" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Caucus_Chairman_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives">Democratic Caucus Chair</a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Crowley">Joe Crowley</a>, clearing the way for her to represent the Bronx and Queens in the US Congress.</p> <p>These young women were asserting an intersectional identity that is easily recognized by many of their millennial generation peers but unfamiliar to many others: after years of debate within the Latino community they became emblematic of “Latinx,” a new identifying label that is rapidly taking hold among millennials, Latino activists and advocacy groups, and academics.</p> <p>In a political climate marred by the continuing ascendance of authoritarian, nativist politics embodied by the Trump presidency, Latinx may be able to create a wealth of political capital by embracing a fluid, multiracial and multicultural identity. And this might stimulate a more effective reaction to Trumpian rhetoric which uses the phrase “America First” as a code to further anti-immigrant scapegoating, reaching sordid new lows with the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/us/migrant-children-detention.html">separation and detention of over 12,000 immigrant children</a> from their families in 2018.</p> <p>The advent of the term Latinx is the most recent iteration of a naming debate that is grounded in the politics of race and ethnicity. For several decades the term ‘Latino’ was the progressive choice over the European-ethnic sounding ‘Hispanic,’ carrying with it the notion that Latin American migrants to the United States were not merely hyphenated Europeans but products of mixed-race societies and cultures.</p> <p>Still, as Latino became the preferred choice of those who wanted to identify as multiracial, gender politics quickly emerged in the politics of labeling. As racial identity began intersecting with gender and sexual preference, Latino became ‘Latino/a,’ then ‘Latina/o’ to move the ‘o’ out of its privileged position. After the universalization of digital communication it briefly became ‘Latin@.’</p> <p>In the last few years the term Latinx has become popular among members of the LGBTQ community who wanted to dispense with gender identifiers in language—as witness the now-ubiquitous millennial practice of posting pronouns to be used when referring to an individual like ‘she/her,’ ‘him/her’ and ‘they/them.’</p> <p>When many of us first see the word in print, Latinx can seem strange and unpronounceable, but after closer inspection it appears liberating and futurist. Just as identifying as Latino represented an attempt to defy America’s black/white racial binary, Latinx defies conventional gender conformity by defying the male/female gender binary. As far as I know, Latinx is the first attempt by a racial and/or ethnic group to make a statement about emerging issues of gender identification.</p> <p>When political figures like Ocasio Cortez, González, and other emerging candidates like <a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/julia-salazar-new-york-722616/">Julia Salazar</a> openly tout their multiple identifications alongside progressive policies, they are representing a new form of intersectional politics (Salazar recently won her Democratic Primary for State Senator in New York and identifies as Colombian and Jewish, though not without controversy). Pioneered by African American feminist projects led by the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Smith#Combahee_River_Collective">Cohambee River Collective</a> in the 1970s and coined by legal scholar<strong> </strong><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberl%C3%A9_Williams_Crenshaw">Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw</a> as well as the Chicana “border thinking” feminism of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_E._Anzald%C3%BAa">Gloria Anzadúa</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherr%C3%ADe_Moraga">Cherrie Moraga</a>, intersectionalism seems like a fitting antidote to a political landscape in crisis over the conflict between neoliberalism and nativist authoritarianism.</p> <p>Even before the ascension of Trump, community organizers and street demonstrations were trying to promote a message that Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Movement and the Sanctuary Cities movement to protect the rights of the undocumented were intersecting causes that should be joined together. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise that the demonstrations that were held at JFK airport in early 2017 against Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban were organized by a coalition of Jewish and Muslim groups and featured a multiracial cross-section of New Yorkers.</p> <p>For Latin American descendants, multiracial identity is, to varying degrees, ‘cooked into’ their varying national cultures. <em>Raza, </em>the Spanish word for race, is often used to designate a collective identity that is itself a mixture of races. Prominent Mexican scholar <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Vasconcelos">José Vasconcelos</a>’ essay <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_raza_c%C3%B3smica">La Raza Cósmica</a> </em>tried to celebrate mixture as a path to transcendence beyond racism, but in many ways it only served to privilege European identity at the expense of indigenous culture.</p> <p>For many Latinx in the US, the harsh reality of the black-white racial binary they confront as immigrants is a wake-up call that in many cases reinforces their solidarity with their roots as marginalized people. This was manifested most clearly in the 1970s among Puerto Rican migrants in New York, whose embrace of African roots informed cultural and political movements, and in the West, where Mexican Americans came to identify as ‘Chicanos,’ a name derived from their indigenous ancestors in Mexico and the Southwestern USA.</p> <p>While dormant for much of the last 30 years, these new multicultural and intersectional forms of identity are gaining in prominence, and they represent a kind of synergy between people of color and white millennials whose dampened economic prospects have led them to embrace class politics. Much of Ocasio Cortez and Salazar’s support comes from neighborhoods in Queens with an increasing millennial demographic. The two women are both members of <a href="https://www.dsausa.org/">Democratic Socialists of America</a>, a group favored by politically-aware millennials which stresses class politics and socialist solutions to social problems.</p> <p>Yet the case of Latinx also argues against the supposed dichotomy between class-based politics and so-called identity politics. Much of the debate among progressives following the Trump election centered on whether Republicans were more successful in appealing to class-based politics through their critiques of free trade agreements and the loss of jobs overseas, as opposed to the Democrats’ perceived focus on identity politics rooted in Obama’s victory. Latinx and other marginalized groups are large constituencies that are affected by growing global inequality as much as, if not more than, the white working class.</p> <p>“Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” says Ocasio-Cortez in her <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/nyregion/alexandria-ocasio-cortez.html">now-famous campaign video</a> depicting her ties to working-class Bronx. “I wasn’t born to a wealthy or powerful family. I was born in a place where your zip code determines your destiny.” For <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/17/nyregion/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-outfit-designer-criticism.html">all of the critique</a> recently leveled at her for posing in an <em>Interview</em> magazine photo shoot wearing thousands of dollars of designer clothing, Ocasio-Cortez is practicing the politics of recognition. She is asking to be recognized, not only as a woman of color—the &nbsp;object of both racial and sexual discrimination—but also as part of the struggling 99 per cent: central to her platform is an increase in the minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, confronting climate change and campaign-finance reform.</p> <p>It's this politics of recognition that Francis Fukuyama attacks in his new book, <em><a href="https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374129293">Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment</a>. </em>For Fukuyama, the claim to difference, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, gay marriage, Osama Bin Laden or Vladimir Putin, is the ultimate threat to the new liberal order established by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. For him, this form of identity politics is a kind of misplaced passion somewhere between desire and reason.</p> <p>Latinx does represent something in between, a way of thinking that moves in and around borders, but on that journey it retains memories and moments of everywhere it travels. It’s a politics of recognition that not only brings to light the unrepresented and the marginalized, but also sees many forms of marginalization existing in one person. For that reason, the new politics it represents, defined by mulitiracial and multicultural awareness and inclusive of gender difference, is not the end of history but a new beginning.</p> <p><em>Ed Morales’ new book is <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2563-latinx">Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arts-Music/barretto_3302.jsp">Rice and beans with collard greens: the America of Ray Barretto, 1929-2006</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/oliver-ward/what-hope-for-millennial-generation-in-politics">What hope for the millennial generation in politics?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/where-are-all-leaders">Where are all the leaders?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Ed Morales Trans-partisan politics Activism Culture Intersectionality Sun, 23 Sep 2018 19:13:47 +0000 Ed Morales 119763 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What should we teach our children about religion? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/philip-wood/what-should-we-teach-our-children-about-religion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Learning about different worldviews is a critical component of education for democracy.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/philipwood.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikipedia_Wordle_-_Religion.png">Wikimedia Commons/RichardF</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/">CC BY 3.0</a>.</p> <p>Last week saw the publication of the ‘Way Forward,’ the final <a href="https://www.commissiononre.org.uk/">report of the UK Commission for Religious Education</a> (RE). The report was published in response to the increasing diversity of religious attitudes in Britain and concerns about the quality of RE teaching in British schools. As <a href="https://schoolsweek.co.uk/make-schools-teach-new-religion-and-worldview-subject-says-commission/">one commentator</a> put it in a recent issue of Schools Week, religious education has become a subject that is “withering on the vine.”</p> <p>At a time when the links between religion and politics are increasingly controversial one might ask, ‘so what?’ For many people religion carries associations of intolerance or extremism, and the school subject of RE has been seen as divisive and perhaps even anachronistic—the strange descendant of 1950s religious instruction and the state’s subsequent interest in community cohesion. However, there is much in this report that is fresh and challenging, especially its key recommendation that the curriculum be broadened to teach religions as one example of a range of different worldviews alongside non-religious frames such as atheism, agnosticism and humanism. </p> <p>The report defines a ‘worldview’ as a way of experiencing and responding to the world that is rooted in different beliefs, values and identities. In part this recognizes the increasing numbers of young people who identify as non-religious (what the academic literature refers to as ‘nots’), but it also stresses the importance of lived experience, context and choice in terms of how a commitment to a particular worldview is expressed.<br /> <br /> Changes to long-established subjects in schools almost inevitably attract controversy. The <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/09/08/religious-education-should-re-branded-religion-andworldviews/">Catholic Education Service</a> has expressed concern that religious education is “in danger of losing all its value and integrity.” But I think there is much to be gained from broadening RE to include a much wider set of worldviews and adopting the Commission’s recommendation of an approach that is “nuanced and multi-disciplinary.”<br /> <br /> That said, the range of potential worldviews that are taught needs to be even broader than the Commission suggests. Their report gives examples such as agnosticism and atheism. The key feature of these positions is their attitude to theism, so if we take them as emblematic of non-religious worldviews then implicitly, the key shared feature of religions is their belief in God(s). In practice however, religions do much more than make a statement about the existence and nature of God, and&nbsp;non-religious worldviews are about much more than their atheism or agnosticism.<br /> <br /> In a landmark <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-8676.1997.tb00375.x">article</a> published in the 1990s, the anthropologist David Gellner argued that ‘religions’ might concern themselves with a number of different spheres including legitimising the behavior of households (especially with regard to marriage choices and gender roles); sanctifying particular places or even whole nations (as in a ‘chosen people’); providing rites of passage for a life cycle such as baptism, confirmation and last rites; and providing moral codes, psychological reassurance and a ‘soteriology’ (an account of what occurs after death).<br /> <br /> Not all religions attempt to fill all of these functions, and those that do aren’t always successful in doing so. Gellner suggests that because many anthropologists have come from backgrounds in Abrahamic religions they do assume that a religion will cover them all, but he finds examples in Nepal and Japan where Buddhism coexists with other religious systems such as Hinduism and Shintoism. In these examples, different religions, each of which is internally coherent, takes on discrete functions for the same communities and individuals.<br /> <br /> Gellner’s argument has several important consequences for how we think about religion in a contemporary context, especially this one: the presumption that religions need to be exclusive emerges as an Abrahamic peculiarity. One can practice Shintoism and Buddhism or Daoism and Confucianism, but his schema also highlights the possibility of being, for example, a Jewish atheist—someone for whom the soteriology of Judaism has no attraction but who continues to participate in Jewish rites of passage.<br /> <br /> The Commission’s report briefly acknowledges that individuals may hold multiple worldviews, and Gellner’s schema gives us a way of describing how this might work in practice. Of course, mixing and matching between worldviews may be disapproved of by the state or by religious authorities, who may seek to align the different aspects of a person’s life to produce a totalizing frame in which all of a person’s actions can be seen as ‘Islamic’ or ‘Jewish.’ But this kind of policing isn’t inevitable or natural (or necessarily desirable). This is an empowering insight: once students begin to think of totalizing worldviews as just one possibility among many they can begin to assess whether they are good or bad and whether or how they wish to commit themselves to one or another.<br /> <br /> The Commission also highlights the failure of RE teaching to engage effectively with Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. This inability is not just about the ‘alien’ content of these religions, but also about religions that occupy different functions and therefore challenge the Abrahamic presumption about what religion is. This is a crucial point.<br /> <br /> Non-religious worldviews can be about much more than a position on theism. The Commission does include humanism as a worldview, but I also have in mind the inclusion of political philosophies such as anarchism, fascism and communism. I do not, of course, envisage teachers advocating for any of these positions; teachers should not publicly recommend any of the worldviews they teach about. But including these political philosophies in a worldviews curriculum makes the point that the purpose of enquiry is to understand different perspectives and assess how worldviews are produced by different experiences, irrespective of whether we agree with the positions that are reached.<br /> <br /> The inclusion of political philosophies as worldviews would encourage students to think about the material requirements of transforming a philosophy, which gives moral rules to an individual, into a social group, one with common rules and a hierarchy. The Commission makes a distinction between institutionalized worldviews and those without an institutional foundation. I think this is important, but we need to develop this idea by asking how institutions maintain their members (for example through attraction and coercion), and who benefits from these institutional structures. In other words, we can ask some of the same questions of worldviews that we ask of states. RE has not traditionally investigated how religious groups are maintained over time (by controlling marriage, for instance) or how they influence politics, but these are central issues that need to be discussed.<br /> <br /> To presume that religion ‘naturally’ has no place in public life is to imagine that the belief in internalized private religion that is seen in some forms of Protestant Christianity is universal for all religions. But many versions of Christianity and Islam, for example, presume a much closer connection between religious doctrine and the state. If we were to consider political philosophies and religious traditions alongside one another as worldviews then this might stimulate students’ questions over where the boundaries of politics and religion actually lie in theory and in practice, and where political philosophies and religions appear to address the same kinds of problems.<br /> <br /> These observations illustrate the difficulties of defining the term ‘religion’ and generalizing from the assumptions we make about it that stem from Protestant Christian experience. The report comments on the absence of a disciplinary training for teachers of religious education, and one side-effect of this has been that British RE has been strangely divorced from developments in the academic study of religion at universities. This scholarship, which has been especially strong in Scandinavia and parts of the US, has long problematized the term ‘religion’ and interrogated the assumptions that it may invoke of discrete, institutionalized worldviews based around a scripture. Instead, it asks a broader and more challenging question: what do we gain or lose from characterizing a worldview as a religion?<br /> <br /> We should bear these caveats in mind when we design curricula for schools. But we can also treat these higher-order questions as an end in themselves for teaching: these are not just questions that curriculum designers need to ask, but fundamental questions for students and all others in society: why should we use the term religion in any given situation; who gets to define the term and who benefits from this definition; and is it right for this to be so? </p> <p>Public discussion of religion can often be reduced to binary divisions between people who label themselves as pro- or anti-. But even for the same individuals, ‘religion’ means quite different things in different contexts. If the first instinct of young people is to challenge the question—to ask ‘what do you mean by religion and why?’—we will have come a long way in promoting a healthier debate about this contentious subject.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/love-and-hunger-in-breadline-britain">Love and hunger in breadline Britain </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rachel-mann/did-great-war-leave-god-hanging-on-old-barbed-wire">Did the Great War leave God “hanging on the old barbed wire”?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Philip Wood Culture Love and Spirituality Sun, 16 Sep 2018 20:43:35 +0000 Philip Wood 119678 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why positive thinking won’t get you out of poverty https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/farwa-sial-and-carolina-alves/why-positive-thinking-won-t-get-you-out-of-poverty <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To say that poor people don’t have enough hope, tenacity and aspiration is to deny their agency as well as the size of the structural odds they face.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/FarwalSial.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/martazappia/8705332490">Flickr/MartaZ</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In a recent <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/business/think-positive-climb-out-of-poverty-it-just-might-work.html">article in the New York Times</a>, the development economist Seema Jayachandran discusses three studies that used&nbsp;Randomised Controlled Trials (or RCTs) to understand&nbsp;the benefits of enhancing the self-worth of poor people. Despite wide differences in context, all the cases explore the viability of ‘modest interventions’ to ‘instill hope’ in marginalised communities, concluding that ‘remarkable improvements’ in the quest for poverty reduction are possible. </p> <p><a href="http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/csae-wps-2017-13.pdf">One of the studies</a> from Uganda, for example, argues that “a role model can have significant effects on students’ educational attainment,” so the suggestion for policy-makers might be “to place more emphasis on motivation and inspiration through example.”<em> </em>Another <a href="http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/65931/">case study of sex workers in Kolkata Brothels</a> argues that “psychological barriers impede such disadvantaged groups from breaking the vicious circle and achieving better outcomes in life,” so small but effective changes that address these psychological constraints can alleviate the effects of poverty and social exclusion. </p> <p>The underlying theme of these studies is that individuals can surmount the structural challenges of poverty through their own efforts using tools like ‘effective role models,’ the generation of ‘more hope,’ and the ‘improvement of their mental health.’ Positive psychology of this kind and an emphasis on behavior change to meet the goals of individuals have been around at least since the 1950s, first in the popular literature of self-help books and now in academia, where they form part of an increasingly fashionable trend to ‘do poverty reduction differently.’ </p> <p>The push for&nbsp;<a href="http://africanarguments.org/2018/06/12/tedx-comes-kakuma-refugee-camp-aka-think-your-way-oppression/">rebranding refugees as ‘entrepreneurs</a>’&nbsp;follows the same logic. In the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and TEDx hosted an event to showcase the personal narratives of refugees. The resulting talk was designed to highlight the role of positive thinking in overcoming adversity, with the harsh realities of being a refugee and resorting to extreme survival skills portrayed through the lens of individual motivation. The implicit assumption was that positive attitudes could determine better opportunities in life. </p> <p>This trend relies on RCTs as the key methodological tool to prove its case, a technique born out of an increasing focus in economics on the behaviour of individuals and the use of computing power to process enormous amounts of data in econometric analyses. RCTs are supposed to provide “<a href="http://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/miscellany/evidence-policy-and-politics.html">evidence-based</a>” answers that form a scientific basis for policy-making. In reality however, they have some serious limitations. </p> <p>An&nbsp;RCT is an evaluation technique that draws from experimental design in order to measure the impact of a development project. As the name suggests, the process is based on a selection of a ‘random’ or unspecified distribution of people or communities who are subjected to a trial or an experiment. The proponents of this method suggest that it is possible to measure the impact of an intervention and attribute a causal relationship between the intervention and its outcomes when compared to a ‘control group’ who are not included—a worrying feature in and of itself because people in that group may be denied the essentials of a decent life if they are only provided to those who participate in the trials.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://olc.worldbank.org/content/state-economics-influence-randomized-controlled-trials-development-economics-research-and">Esther Duflo</a>, the top five journals in economics published 21 articles on development in 2000, none of which represented this methodology; by 2015 there were 32 such articles, of which 10 were RCTs.&nbsp;Researchers <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00130095.2017.1392235">Sophie Webber and Carolyn Prouse</a> go so far as to say that RCTs have become the new ‘gold standard’ in&nbsp; development economics, so it comes as no surprise that poverty has started to be studied in the context of this new&nbsp;framework. </p> <p>Poverty alleviation, however, is a hugely complex subject that touches on the strengthening of institutions, the health of governance,&nbsp;the structure and dynamics of markets, the workings of social classes, macroeconomic policies, distribution, international integration and many other issues, none of which can be replicated from one context to another. That means that analyses of poverty have to be based on a critical examination of processes and actors that cannot be ‘controlled’ against—thus violating the principle of RCTs.</p> <p>Recent developments in economics have failed to account for these fundamental determinants of poverty.&nbsp;Instead, the success of RCTs can be narrowed down to essentially&nbsp;statistical arguments that seek to identify ‘what works’ and ‘which interventions’ should therefore be employed to improve&nbsp;the lives of the poor. In such processes, the focus tends towards the individual or the household and (initially at least) to the design of small changes that are supposed to enable them to exit poverty, although eventually the ‘scaling up’ of interventions might also occur. Akin to the ‘nudge’ approach that has been popularised by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_(book)">Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler</a>, the idea is that people’s choices can be shaped to allow them to escape from poverty and dispossession.</p> <p>As a consequence, this approach&nbsp;individualises the&nbsp;‘problem’ of poverty whilst failing to acknowledge, contextualize, highlight or analyse the structures, institutions and actors that actually make and keep some people poor. For example, the idea that&nbsp;role models can be effective in changing people’s behaviour, emotions and self-concepts isn’t new; what’s new is the belief that&nbsp;these aspirations can lift people out of poverty without broader changes in politics, social structures and institutions. Returning to the brothels of Kolkata, advocating for the removal of psychological barriers may not be effective if the working conditions of sex workers and the structures on which their material deprivation stands continue to go unchallenged.</p> <p>To be fair, The York Times piece introduces some important caveats to such strategies:</p> <blockquote><p>“Hope isn’t a cure-all and in none of these examples can we be certain that it actually explains the gains in people’s income or education…instilling hope without skills or financial resources is unlikely to be enough to lift people out of poverty.”</p></blockquote> <p>Nevertheless, if the caveats are so strong as to question the validity of the experiments then they are not caveats at all, but fundamental inputs on which any successful methodology must be based. Economics distracts itself by reforming symptoms and ignoring the conditions which cause the malaise in the first place. As the development economist <a href="http://www.ras.org.in/randomise_this_on_poor_economics">Sanjay G. Reddy</a> has written:</p> <blockquote><p>“The larger questions once asked within the discipline regarding the effect of alternative economic institutions and policies (such as those concerning property arrangements, trade, agricultural, industrial and fiscal policy, and the role of social protection mechanisms), for instance, and the impact of political dynamics and processes of social change, have been pushed to the background in favour of such questions as whether bed-nets dipped in insecticide should be distributed free of charge or not, or whether two schoolteachers in the classroom are much better than one.”</p></blockquote> <p>Hence, in a <a href="https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/06/08/2018/open-letter-fifteen-leading-development-economists">recent open</a>&nbsp;letter published in the Guardian, fifteen leading economists argued that relying on RCTs to guide aid spending will lead to short-term, superficial and misplaced policies. Asking relevant questions is the first step towards understanding problems. And understanding why widespread hunger&nbsp;and poverty persist in an era of unprecedented opulence, rapid technological transformation and democratic governance is the most important problem of the day.&nbsp;Inequality is not born in a vacuum; it is a fundamental aspect of the distribution of income and wealth. Unless we understand how extreme wealth accumulation is connected to extreme inequality the question of poverty will go unaddressed. </p> <p>More than&nbsp;<a href="http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/poverty.shtml">800 million</a>&nbsp;people live in extreme poverty today. To say that they do not have sufficient hope, aspiration and tenacity to fight for their rights is to deny their agency. The structural odds against them inhibit their ability to leave the vicious cycles of poverty. Without additional resources and much more concerted action on the underlying causes, no amount of positive thinking will enable the great mass of individuals to climb out of poverty. We cannot afford to rely on methods that suggest that poor people are simply failing to make the ‘right choices.’</p> <p>This doesn’t mean that we should disregard RCTs or any other ways of empowering communities, but it does mean that we should build on an understanding of poverty alleviation which is concerned with attacking the malaise of unequal distribution as opposed to remediating its symptoms. That means confronting structures and actors that have not only failed to address poverty but may also have reinforced the nature of uneven development across the globe.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lisa-herzog/can-effective-altruism-really-change-world">Can ‘effective altruism’ really change the world?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/dionne-lew/why-i-choose-samuel-beckett-over-positive-thinking-any-day">Why I choose Samuel Beckett over positive thinking, any day</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sonja-avlijas/why-positive-thinking-isn-t-neoliberal">Why positive thinking isn’t neoliberal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation positive thinking Farwa Sial and Carolina Alves Culture Economics Tue, 11 Sep 2018 17:34:28 +0000 Farwa Sial and Carolina Alves 119501 at https://www.opendemocracy.net 1968: The revolution that will not die https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/revolution-that-will-not-die <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How conservatives won the counter-revolution after 1968—and how they might lose.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GregLeffel.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/year-retro-1968-memory-737433/">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CCO 1.0</a>.</p> <p>This year’s fiftieth-anniversary media celebration of 1968’s ‘year from hell’ feels a lot like opening a high school yearbook to reminisce about old friends. HBO’s fresh take on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVGRg89DbyM">Martin Luther King Jr's</a>&nbsp;last years and Netflix’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io3uQ6Q4NlU">Bobby Kennedy</a> bio-pic reconnect us to our ‘class presidents.’ And who can forget the colorful gallery of ‘classmates’ in CNN’s <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEnRklOsCCk"><em>1968: The Year that Changed America</em></a><em>, </em>from Abbie Hoffman and Daniel Cohn-Bendit to Alexander Dubcek and Richard Nixon?</p> <p>But so what? Why not lock up 1968 in a time capsule and forget about it? The answer is simple: because it was a hugely-significant event that even now refuses to leave us alone.</p> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Wallerstein">Immanual Wallerstein,</a> faculty representative that year for radical students at Columbia University, insists that 1968 was a “world revolution,” comparing it to Europe’s numerous 1848 national revolutions, many of which backfired, but all of which together redefined radical and reactionary politics for a century. Likewise, 1968 will play out well beyond 2018, but not only in a positive sense: it was that year’s reactionary counter-revolution that undid the promise of radical freedom and equality and continues to do so today.</p> <p>What did the Sixties’ “<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Sixties-Years-Hope-Days-Rage/dp/0553372122/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533332657&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=todd+gitlin+years+of+hope">years of hope, days of rage</a>” actually reveal? In a nutshell: a cultural transformation that marked the beginning of the end of white, liberal, male-dominated America as we had known it. The Sixties broke the cultural authority of liberal democratic-capitalism and the West’s grand narrative of ‘progress.’ A wide public came to agree with <a href="https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/beyond-vietnam">King’s demand</a> for “a revolution of values” to challenge the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism,” to which feminists added emancipation from patriarchy.</p> <p>We lost trust in our institutions, especially political institutions, thus commencing their 50-year slide into a crisis of legitimacy. Bourgeois mores and ‘high culture’ gave way to the sexual and pop revolutions; Enlightenment rationality to new forms of consciousness; the hegemony of homogeneous white culture to diversity; and excessive economic growth to protecting the planet. The personal became political, while identity and identity rights replaced national citizenship as the foundation of political solidarity.</p> <p>All these gains—and they are substantial when compared to the pre-1960s world—continue to define the left’s thinking and political culture. Disastrously, however, the’68ers never put in place a coherent political economy to institutionalize these gains; nor did they manage to assert enough cultural authority to define the new world on their own terms. Instead, that initiative was picked up by racial and economic reactionaries.&nbsp;</p> <p>The conservative counter-revolution began in 1968 with Richard Nixon’s race-baiting, ‘law and order,’ “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1970/05/17/archives/nixons-southern-strategy-its-all-in-the-charts.html">southern strategy</a>” and the shift of the anti-civil rights vote to the Republican Party. This story of &nbsp;white backlash in the aftermath of the Civil Rights era is well-known—‘white flight,’ continued housing discrimination, private ‘segregation’ schools, violence over mandated school bussing, resistance to affirmative action, and vicious ‘law and order’ policies that targeted African-Americans.</p> <p>But there is another side to this coin: the furious counter-revolution of business elites to protect their ‘freedom’ from the insurgent democratic and ‘socialist’ masses. ‘<em>Panicked’ </em>might be a better word in light of their perception of a concerted left-wing attack on capitalism. Just as the radical student New Left organized around the 1962 <a href="http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/SDS_Port_Huron.html"><em>Port Huron Statement</em></a>, radical capitalism’s call-to-arms grew from the 1971 <a href="http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/"><em>Powell Memorandum</em></a>, and the movement it set off continues to drive the counter-revolutionary narrative 50 years later.</p> <p>The first part of this story has been well-told by economic historian&nbsp;<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Globalists-End-Empire-Birth-Neoliberalism/dp/0674979524/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533320991&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=quinn+slobodian+globalists">Quinn Slobodian</a> in terms of the acceleration of global <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world">neoliberal</a> capitalism from the early 1970s. Neoliberals set two revolutionary goals to protect capitalists from insurgent radicals.</p> <p>First, to re-organize capitalism on a universal, transnational scale and thus place global markets out of reach of the influence of national governments, making markets less subject to national-scale popular democratic demands and freeing corporations to exploit labor and the environment at will.</p> <p>Second, to apply global economics in a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_to_the_bottom">“race to the bottom”</a> competition between nations, creating ‘austerity societies’ of disempowered consumers at the expense of social groups and their ‘market-distorting’ demands. &nbsp;The formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 capped-off this revolutionary process of transferring economic power from nations—which ostensibly could be controlled democratically—to the much-less accountable global level.</p> <p>The second part of the counter-revolution’s story is unique to the United States. Historian&nbsp;<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Democracy-Chains-History-Radical-Stealth/dp/1101980974/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533335608&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=nancy+maclean%2C+democracy+in+chains">Nancy MacLean</a> and journalist <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Money-History-Billionaires-Radical/dp/0307947904/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533335658&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=jane+mayer+dark+money">Jane Mayer</a> have at long last given it a systematic, critical narrative. Copying from the Sixties’ New Left revolutionary style and even adopting Lenin’s plan for secret, revolutionary cadres, radical libertarians created their own revolutionary movement for economic ‘freedom’—a capitalist ‘declaration of independence at the expense of popular democratic government.</p> <p>The libertarian’s ‘stealth revolution’ was not exactly a secret: Senator&nbsp;<a href="https://www.randpaul.com/">Rand Paul</a>, anti-tax crusader&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist">Grover Norquist,</a> the <a href="https://www.cato.org/">Cato Institute</a>, the legislative policy-setting council <a href="https://www.alec.org/">ALEC</a> and the <a href="https://fedsoc.org/">Federalist Society</a> (which has ties to Supreme Court justices Alito, Roberts and Gorsuch as well as new nominee Brett Kavanaugh) are all connected to it; while the 2010 <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_movement">Tea Party</a> movement gave it more visibility. It seeks to restrain democracy altogether to protect a ‘pure’ market economy of ‘makers’ from the voting power of ‘takers’—the ‘grasping masses.’ Take Wisconsin politics as an example of this logic in action: Congressman Paul Ryan’s assault on welfare entitlements and tax slashing; and Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting, education-cutting and voter-suppression policies.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Their success would, as MacLean puts it, “unquestionably take the ‘demos’ out of American democratic government.” In terms of money raised, organizations created (like think-tanks, media outlets and activist networks), and numbers of employees, it is substantially stronger than the Republican party apparatus and has taken over the conservative movement itself, providing a stronger ideological foundation for the laissez-faire, democracy-suppressing, ‘classical liberalism’ that has defined Republicans since they abandoned Reconstruction in the 1870s.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>What are they after? Something far more prosaic than you might think, and deeply rooted in U.S. history, culture and jurisprudence: a return to the 19th Century’s<em> fin-de-siècle</em> era of <em>laissez-faire</em> economics and racial segregation (though they would deny it). Here is the connection between the racial and the business backlash after 1968.</p><p>Arcane as it may seem, the ultimate libertarian objective is a recovery of the U.S. Supreme Court’s convoluted 19th century history of applying the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution">Fourteenth Amendment</a> of the US Constitution to individuals, an argument always advanced in favor of business and segregation.</p> <p>Passed in 1868 to defend the individual rights of former slaves, the Amendment was <a href="https://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/beyond-publicprivate-understanding-excessive-corporate-prerogative">applied by the Court most often</a> to defend white individual rights—most famously, the right of individuals to discriminate on the basis of race (through the 1897 <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson"><em>Plessy</em></a> decision legalizing Southern Jim Crow segregation laws), and to protect individual corporate ‘persons’ from industrial regulation and labor organizing (through the 1905 <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lochner_v._New_York"><em>Lochner</em></a> decision that made regulation nearly impossible for 30 years).</p> <p>Returning the Supreme Court to this earlier era of ‘strict,’ individualist Constitutional jurisprudence backed-up by retrograde state legislatures that are permeated by the institutions of the counter-revolution ties the hands of citizens’ groups, unions and popular democracy and effectively creates a veto power over progressive government policy making and regulation.</p> <p>The result of ‘individualizing’ Constitutional law in this way takes us back to what legal scholar&nbsp;<a href="https://www.amazon.com/World-Fire-Chua-amy/dp/B001GTV4SG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533337375&amp;sr=8-2&amp;keywords=amy+chua+world+on+fire">Amy Chua</a> calls an era of “market-dominant minority” rule. By that she means the capacity of a wealthy minority (usually defined by race) to maintain permanent control over the majority—made all the more salient today by the coming minority-majority demographic wave. The net effect of the Supreme Court’s transformation in this direction will be nothing short of creeping <em>de facto</em> class- and race-based economic and social apartheid, advanced one ruling at a time. Hence the crucial importance of libertarian judge Brett Kavanaugh’s current nomination to the Court.</p> <p>We’ve seen this story before—conservative Court activism, unrestrained economic elites, judicially limited recourse for social justice, and a racial majority that perceives itself as ‘threatened’—and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it took the Great Depression, the New Deal and the Sixties revolution to overturn it.</p> <p>This year’s 1968 ‘year book’-quality reminiscences may engender nostalgia, but they should be taken as a wake-up call to remember what was gained, and what we risk losing. The ’68ers (and the still-struggling left they inspired) have to face the reality that the liberal establishment they brought down in 1968—which despite its faults had produced hard-won advances from the New Deal to the Great Society—opened the door to a libertarian-conservative counter-attack that was intent on dismantling them. Libertarians are winning today by paralyzing the very political institutions on which progressives depend. We are stuck. No wonder we’re at each others’ throats.</p> <p>I once heard Wallerstein asked a question about how to translate anger into productive activism. “Cold, hard analysis” was his answer. It’s time to relearn the lesson that the New Left forgot but the Old Left understood: popular democracy and unregulated markets are locked in a perpetual death match, and have cycled back and forth through modern history.</p> <p>We need to rebuild our democratic institutions once again, recover their legitimacy, and assert collective cultural authority in favor of people and the planet to rein in the power of property. It was a new story in 1848 and an old one in 1968; it’s still a necessary story in 2018. The revolution is far from over.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/hans-georg-betz/everything-that-is-wrong-is-fault-of-68-regaining-cultural-hegemony-by-trashing-left">Everything that is wrong is the fault of &#039;68: regaining cultural hegemony by trashing the left</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/left-s-problem-isn-t-politics-it-s-metaphysics">The left’s problem isn’t politics—it’s metaphysics </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-catastrophe-only-cure-for-weakness-of-radical-politics">Is catastrophe the only cure for the weakness of radical politics? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation 1968 Gregory Leffel Trans-partisan politics Activism Culture Sun, 19 Aug 2018 19:11:03 +0000 Gregory Leffel 119235 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who can we trust? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/harry-blain/who-can-we-trust <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How can we cultivate a healthy skepticism of our institutions even as we rely on them for information, knowledge, and crucially, protection from aspiring autocrats?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/HarryBlain7.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">MRC billboard, Charlotte 2016. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_billboard_1.jpg">Emolchan1 via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p> <p>At some point since the US presidential election on November 8 2016 you’ve probably been told that ‘our institutions are in crisis.’ The media is menaced by Twitter mobs taking their cues from the White House. Academics are ignored even more than usual. The intelligence community is subjected to ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories. Scientists are treated with mindless suspicion. What brought us to this point? </p> <p>For many people the answer is obvious: Donald Trump. But there are two big problems with this view: firstly, the idea that we can’t trust those with polished credentials and college degrees isn’t new, nor has it been confined to the “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzagate_conspiracy_theory">Pizzagate</a>” wing of the far-right. In fact, it has deep roots on the left. </p> <p>Moreover—and perhaps more disturbingly—the whirling diatribes of Trump and his supporters do actually hint at some truths. We don’t have to wear ‘Make America Great Again’ hats to realize that the media <em>is</em> often corrupt, that the FBI is <em>not</em> a dispassionate guardian of the US constitution, and that scientists <em>can </em>be wrong or misleading. </p> <p>This speaks to the core of the challenge we face: how can we cultivate a healthy skepticism of our institutions even as we rely on them for information, knowledge, and crucially, protection from aspiring autocrats? Who can we trust? </p> <p>Throughout American history these questions have been particularly difficult for the left. On the one hand, there is the legacy of ‘progressives’ emerging at the beginning of the 20th Century: men (and they were mostly men) whose gospel was science, rationality and enlightened political leadership. </p> <p>In his days as a political scientist, <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2009-05-01/reconsidering-woodrow-wilson-progressivism-internationalism-war">Woodrow Wilson</a> was a leading figure in this movement, blending reformism with elitism in his <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Congressional-Government-American-Politics-Library/dp/0765809281">call for</a> the United States to embrace more elements of the British constitution. With fewer restrictions on party leaders and less rigid ‘checks and balances,’ he argued, Britain had become much better at empowering wise men than the Americans, who were stuck with their messy separation-of-powers and ponderous congressional committees.</p> <p>Like many of his progressive contemporaries, Wilson also believed passionately in Science (with a capital ‘S’), including <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-liberals-who-loved-eugenics/2017/03/08/0cc5e9a0-0362-11e7-b9fa-ed727b644a0b_story.html?utm_term=.548e701af96c">the promise of eugenics</a> &nbsp;through which society could be remade from its biological foundations. His shameless racism and aggressive repression of the left during the First World War has led to Wilson’s exclusion from many progressive narratives, but the next Democratic President, Franklin Roosevelt, remains front-and-center. </p> <p>Roosevelt’s own faults are numerous, including his timidity on African-American civil rights and his irredeemable assault on Japanese-Americans in World War II. But his role in creating the modern American welfare state ensures that he is still frequently venerated. In pursuing this mission, his commitment to expertise—embodied in the “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_trust">Brain Trust</a>” network of economists, lawyers, sociologists, scientists and social workers who designed the “<a href="https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/fdr-brain-trust">New Deal</a>”—stands in sharp contrast to President Trump and his cabinet of unqualified, unprincipled and self-enriching vandals.</p> <p>This was old-school progressivism at its finest: recruiting and trusting the best available minds to grapple with stubborn social injustices. Yet the left has never fully embraced this strand of thought. For one thing, high-minded and public-spirited “Brain Trusts” have often let us down. Roosevelt’s, for example, surgically excluded African-Americans from almost every New Deal program, especially <a href="https://www.amazon.com/When-Affirmative-Action-White-Twentieth-Century/dp/0393328511">labor protection, social security</a> and <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Color-Law-Forgotten-Government-Segregated/dp/1631492853">federal housing assistance</a>, largely to mollify a Southern-dominated Congress. The Wilsonian experts also <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Opponents-War-1917-1918-Gilbert-Fite/dp/0313251320">became autocratic</a> as soon as they lurched into World War I. More recently, Barack Obama’s professorial team promised the necessary revolution of universal health care—and instead delivered a 900-page bureaucratic maze. </p> <p>The left, then, has good reason to treat even the most brilliant progressive minds with suspicion, but this impulse goes beyond the question of trusting or distrusting politicians and their advisers. </p> <p>Take, for instance, the left’s approach to science. Today, we ridicule the flat earthers, the young earthers, the creationists, the biblical literalists and the climate deniers for their rejection of scientific facts. However, we also know that science is often distorted and abused: to <a href="https://www.centeronaddiction.org/the-buzz-blog/revealing-bad-science-behind-oxycontin">sell heavy and addictive narcotics as every-day painkillers</a>, for example; to <a href="http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/controversies/thalidomide">promote new drugs before their side-effects are known</a>; or to <a href="http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/tuskegee">conduct experiments on the most vulnerable people in society</a>. </p> <p>These tensions were best exemplified by the three-time Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who is often remembered for his <a href="http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/william-jennings-bryan.html">fumbling attack on the teaching of evolution</a> in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial. Now mainly the subject of scorn, in his time Bryan was considered one of the great spokesmen of the left, <a href="http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/william-jennings-bryan.html">and his concerns</a> that science could be “an evil genius” in war, or could build a cold society of “intelligence not consecrated by love” are far from antiquated. Indeed, they reflect intellectual and spiritual dilemmas that we are yet to overcome.</p> <p>There are similar difficulties with the media. At the most basic level, journalists, like scientists, have the mundane yet indispensable job of giving us information. They also—depending on our mood and political allegiances—regularly alternate in the public mind between the image of guardians of heroic truth and scurrilous servants of those in power. </p> <p>Because the Trump movement has taken so much joy from hitting the ‘fake news’ punching bag, many on the left have rallied around the cause of press freedom. In principle this is a very good thing, but again, the larger picture is complicated. </p> <p>Even as we condemn the notion that the <em>New York Times</em>, the <em>Washington Post</em>, MSNBC or CNN constitute “enemies of the people,” we shouldn’t forget that they all, to some extent, <a href="https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2004/02/26/now-they-tell-us/">sold us the Iraq War</a>, or—in the case of the broadcasters—gave Candidate Trump the <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/12/03/how-media-iced-out-bernie-sanders-helped-donald-trump-win">endless free publicity</a> that was central to his campaign’s success. And in their zeal to report on the ‘epidemic of fake news’ online, some of these media outlets have also, since the election, played <a href="https://fair.org/home/public-radios-mccarthyite-smear-of-black-activists-shows-danger-of-russia-panic/">an unpleasant role</a> in <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/">smearing</a> small, often left-wing websites as tools of ‘<a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/">Russian propaganda</a>.’</p> <p>To the extent that there is a crisis of confidence in the American media, it cannot solely be attributed to Trump. Instead, it stems from the commercialization and centralization of media ownership—trends that have crushed local, independent media and promoted the kind of ratings-worship infamously distilled in <a href="https://fair.org/home/trump-bad-for-america-good-for-cbs/">Les Moonves’s summary of Trump</a> as “bad for America” but “damn good for CBS.” </p> <p>Comparable pressures have squeezed the knowledge and information producers of academia. Although there is no clamor for ratings or sensational headlines, there is the same financial and employment insecurity that constricts time, freedom and independence. The results are predictable: history professors scrambling around desperately for funding; new PhDs taking jobs with whatever lobbying firm will <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/poverty-u-many-adjunct-professors-food-stamps-n336596">keep them off food stamps</a>; and overworked graduate students mumbling ‘<a href="https://www.chronicle.com/article/Publish-or-Perish-Yes/235319">publish or perish</a>’ in their sleep.</p> <p>In this context, it’s no surprise to hear stories of <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2012/07/25/professor-behind-pro-fracking-study-slammed-for-oil-industry-connections/#20ab28f29b27">respected academics selling their expertise to the oil industry</a> or <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/10/the-science-of-spying-how-the-cia-secretly-recruits-academics">freedom-loving government agencies like the CIA</a>. It’s even less surprising to see the public’s total lack of enthusiasm for ‘outreach’ proposals like teams of academics<a href="https://www.poynter.org/news/these-academics-are-frontlines-fake-news-research"> sifting through the news</a>: separating real from fake; good from bad; and, presumably, Russian from red-white-and-blue American.</p> <p>To be sure, market forces can’t take all the blame for this situation. Few peer-reviewed journal articles, even in supposedly accessible fields like my own (international relations), make the slightest effort to use language that connects with anyone other than the mysterious gatekeepers who are empowered to say ‘accepted,’ ‘rejected’ or ‘revise and review.’ Everyone else can justly claim to be suspicious of self-appointed authority figures who seem to deliberately exclude them from discussion and debate. </p> <p>In short, despite their differences, society’s expert authorities display several common signs of decay. Although some are undoubtedly self-inflicted, many are also structural, rooted in a near-crippling exposure to the imperatives of what we fatalistically call ‘the market.’ </p> <p>But this market has not been created by an ‘invisible hand’ or by the actions of Donald Trump alone, but by much longer-term actions and institutions: the profit-driven patent regime that pushes medical research towards <a href="https://newint.org/features/2016/05/01/medical-research-priorities">male baldness over malaria</a>, for example; the <a href="https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding">collapse of public funding for universities</a>; and the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/nyregion/dnainfo-gothamist-shutting-down.html">refusal of media barons to tolerate even minimal job security demands from their newsrooms</a>.</p> <p>Because this mess is human-made, we can collectively clean it up. A good start would be to pursue the complete opposite goals and policies of Trump and his friends. Their attempt to eviscerate public science agencies was thankfully <a href="https://www.aip.org/fyi/2018/trump-fy19-budget-spares-some-science-agencies-slashes-others-following-deal-boost-spending">contained by Congress</a>, but this is small consolation when the Secretary of Education is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/13/business/education-department-for-profit-colleges.html">killing investigations into fraudulent colleges</a> and the Federal Communications Commission is encouraging the growth of media monopolies (<a href="https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/16/media/doj-trump-bias-att-lawsuit/index.html">except CNN</a>) <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/ajit-pai-man-who-killed-net-neutrality/">on</a> and <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/11/16/fcc-repeals-decades-old-rules-on-media-monopolies/">offline</a>. What is needed is more, not less public money in all these areas; strong, not supine regulation of media oligarchs; and an attack on, not an embrace of, snake oil universities.&nbsp; </p> <p>Would this be enough to restore trust? It wouldn’t eliminate the expert who abuses their power or the citizen who hides their cash in a mattress. But it could go some way towards eliminating a culture in which knowledge is the property of the highest bidder, helping us to tell the difference between the scientist and the fracking lobbyist, the journalist and the lurid entertainer, the historian and the paid-for hagiographer. </p> <p>Perhaps then we could begin the task of refining our old and precious gifts of skepticism, doubt, critical thought and imagination. &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/why-left-needs-to-re-embrace-first-amendment">Why the left needs to re-embrace the First Amendment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/can-there-be-progressive-patriotism">Can there be a progressive patriotism? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/why-is-american-left-so-prejudiced-about-south">Why is the American left so prejudiced about the South? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Harry Blain Trans-partisan politics Culture Tue, 14 Aug 2018 19:35:28 +0000 Harry Blain 119232 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Boris is wrong about the burka https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mathew-guest/why-boris-is-wrong-about-burka <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is more offensive—concealing your face or misleading the public?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MathewGuest2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Colien's Winter Burka. Credit: Flickr/<a title="Go to Eduard Bezembinder&#039;s photostream" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bezembinder/">Eduard Bezembinder</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Boris Johnson has become the latest in a long line of right-wing politicians to criticise Muslim women who wear the <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niq%C4%81b">niqab</a> </em>or<em> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa">burqa</a></em>. Writing in <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/05/denmark-has-got-wrong-yes-burka-oppressive-ridiculous-still/">his column for <em>The Telegraph</em></a>, Johnson mocked such women as looking&nbsp;“like letter boxes,” “bank robbers”&nbsp;and&nbsp;“absolutely ridiculous.” Despite calls for an apology from opponents and colleagues, at the time of writing Johnson remains unrepentant.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Body">Perhaps we’ve come to expect tabloid jibes from Johnson, and his attempt to re-insert himself into the public eye after his resignation as foreign secretary is predictably clumsy. But what is arguably more alarming is his attempt to position himself as the voice of reason and moderate good sense.</p> <p class="Body">Across Europe and beyond, governments have passed legislation that bans the wearing of the <em>burqa</em> in public, and Johnson’s column focuses on the introduction of a new measure passed in Denmark. While Johnson warms to the assured individualism he finds amongst the Danes, he opposes an outright <em>burqa</em> ban as a step too far into strident secularism. He is uncomfortable with the regulation of religious dress in public, and is mindful of how such measures play into the hands of radicals. He is even gracious enough to affirm the rights of a ‘free born’ woman, ‘minding her own business,’ to be left to get on with her life unimpeded by a heavy handed state. Enter Boris the liberal…</p> <p class="Body">In case we were under any illusions that the former foreign secretary had finally seen the light and migrated to the centre ground, he expands on his perspective with a series of caveats. It seems there are limits to Johnson’s newfound ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Specifically, businesses and government agencies should be able to ‘enforce a dress code’ that obliges women to reveal their faces. He already feels ‘fully entitled’ to expect Muslim women to do the same at his constituency surgeries, and he supports the same approach within schools and universities.</p> <p class="Body">So Johnson is gracious enough not to call for a ban, but nevertheless feels entitled to expect women to behave according to his own understanding of&nbsp;“full disclosure.” As he says,&nbsp;“it’s how we work,”&nbsp;the implication being that ‘we’—presumably the British public—have ‘our’ customs and conventions, and minorities need to observe them in order that society can function properly. &nbsp;It all makes good, plain sense doesn’t it? No prejudice here, just a sincere call for everyone to play by the same rules (i.e. Boris’s rules).</p> <p class="xxxbody">We might reflect on the irony of such a mercurial and opportunist politician calling for more transparent expression in public life. In the opaque and fractious politics of Brexit, we have learnt that those who speak loudest, simplest and with bare-faced confidence are not necessarily those we should trust.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson mirrors another pattern among right-wing commentators: he presumes to comment on women’s intentions on the basis of their clothing. We’re probably more familiar with the moral judgements that are often projected onto women in western garb, but what values are imputed to Muslim women wearing the <em>niqab</em>? No doubt they frustrate conventional expectations, and perhaps that’s why figures like Johnson find such women so problematic—they are too covered, too hidden, and therefore break the rules that inform the male sense of entitlement to see what lies beneath.</p> <p class="xxxbody">The many Muslim women who have been attacked on Britain’s streets know what this feels like, since a common act of violence is <a href="https://news.sky.com/story/man-tries-to-pull-off-muslim-womans-hijab-in-suspected-hate-crime-attack-10950692">to pull the veil or <em>hijab</em> from their faces</a>. This is why so much hate crime against Muslims is best understood as a form of misogyny. It is targeted against those women who most visibly transgress the prevailing assumptions about what the female form should look like, and who implicitly challenge the assumption that men should have an unimpeded view.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson also assumes that wearing the face veil indicates an experience of oppression, alluding to the&nbsp;“weird and bullying”&nbsp;expectations of men. There is no acknowledgement that women may freely choose to wear the <em>niqab</em>, and no effort to find out why. Any religious meaning it may convey is lost behind Johnson’s faux liberalism.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Unfortunately, uncompromising criticism of the <em>niqab</em> is also found among some liberal and <a href="https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4199/why-feminists-should-oppose-the-burqa">feminist commentators</a>, whose western lens on human agency struggles to see such covering as anything other than <a href="https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/muslim-woman-veil-hijab">forced concealment</a>. In this view, the liberated self is exposed and, it is assumed, is therefore more honest, more forthcoming, more trusting—and in our own context, more British.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Those on the right may want to excuse Johnson as a voice of so-called&nbsp;‘common sense.’ After all, he rejects the need for an outright ban, thereby distancing himself from those European nations who have imposed punitive measures on their Muslim minorities, and preserving intact his Brexiteer credentials while rehearsing the myth of the great British compromise.&nbsp;Neither loony left nor hard right nor confused continental, his position is presented as a sensible middle way—laudable for avoiding extremes, an argument from practical sense that needs no further justfication.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> But this is why his comments are so dangerous: it is the unexamined cultural conventions that are often the most insidious carriers of prejudice and ignorance. By categorizing them as uncomplicated truths we abdicate our responsibility as citizens to question the norms by which we live, and risk overlooking the injustices that persist in our midst.</p> <p class="xxxbody">When uttered by an embodiment of that most British of clichés, the upper class eccentric, comments like Johnson’s slip neatly into a cluster of associations that together reinforce our most deep-seated and intractable habits of thought, as if Eton and Oxbridge had bestowed a special gift of sight on those socially-awkward elites who we both love and loathe. We don’t have to think about our British customs and presumptions because Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg will do it for us. Except that they won’t—they’ll just keep us cosy in our habits by telling us that all is well; we’re British after all.</p> <p class="Body">This is unsettling not just because of the platform Johnson enjoys, but because it is a habit of thought that achieves new plausibility within our Brexit-obsessed context. The underlying message is not just that Muslim women who wear the <em>burqa </em>are veering wide of the true British way, but that the nativist narrative that excludes them is essentially benign and obvious. It is an expression of the age old Tory conceit that to be a Conservative has nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with good, pragmatic sense.</p> <p class="Body">With such confusion about the labyrinthine complexities of Brexit there’s an understandable attraction to plain speaking, and to the idea that cultural problems are easily solved with a little of the good sense we all possess. But behind this apparent democratisation of wisdom lies a more malign populism, one whose story is deceptively simple yet is quietly fierce in its defence of our narrowest boundaries.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xxxbody">The reactionary perspective affirmed by Johnson states that those who cover their faces aren’t just suspect; they aren’t playing the game. They are out of step culturally speaking, and so, in an important sense they don’t belong. They isolate themselves by concealing their faces from us, and this is a most unBritish practice.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Face-veiling elicits a curiously passionate counter-response, as though it indicates a strategy of deceit. Somehow, concealing one’s face is presented as more offensive than concealing one’s intentions, ambitions and moral shortcomings, more offensive even than misleading the public. Johnson needs to take a look in the mirror the next time he considers opining on the British tradition of honest speaking. He may find the problems of concealment lie much closer to home.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anisur-rahman/should-britain-consider-banning-burqa-and-niqab">Should Britain consider banning burqa and niqab?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/val%C3%A9rie-hartwich/dangers-of-burqa-ban">The dangers of a burqa ban</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mathew-guest/can-universities-still-provide-transformative-experience">Can universities still provide a transformative experience?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Mathew Guest Culture Intersectionality Love and Spirituality Wed, 08 Aug 2018 00:09:35 +0000 Mathew Guest 119176 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Depression and the healing desert https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jana-richman/depression-and-healing-desert <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nature offers solace for a man living with depression—and a lesson in acceptance for his anxious partner.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JanaRichman.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">“Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it’s not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope.” Credit: <a href="https://unsplash.com/@solotravelgoals">SoloTravelGoals/Unsplash</a>. <a href="https://unsplash.com/license">Unsplash License</a>.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p>“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Theodore Roethke</p></blockquote> <p>It slips in quietly. A hint of terseness marks his voice, an opaque film covers his blue eyes, his face flushes and its lines deepen. His 6’4” frame droops toward the floor as if he’s ashamed to drape his sorry self over it, and he tries to creep from the room unnoticed. It hurts him to be seen.</p> <p>We share the only bed in our house, but he curls close to the edge, his face in the moonlight twisted and consternated. I want to reach out with a soothing touch, but I have learned not to. When he is deep in his dark world, a simple touch will send a startle response through his bones. He will burst from the bed as if facing a knife- wielding attacker and his wild eyes will be locked on me.</p> <p>When I wake in the morning to find his side of the bed cold, I search for signs: a spoon in the sink indicates coffee was made; a creaking floor in his upstairs office indicates movement. From the signs, I can measure the depth of his depression and the probable length of its stay. No signs at all, and I feel as if I’ve been stalked into a dead-end alley.</p> <p>I once believed myself capable of empathetic greatness, a belief that’s been gutted and redesigned like a nineteenth-century farmhouse. The crumbling bricks still hold, but the interior structure bears little resemblance to the original.</p> <p>Steve was fifty when we met; I was forty-eight. Our future held no golden wedding anniversary; silver was dubious. Such reckonings cut short the discovery period of romance enjoyed by the young. We acknowledged our love for each other, and, almost in the same breath, we acknowledged our impediments: Steve’s depression, my anxiety.</p> <p>Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it’s not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope. And being wholly naïve about depression, I shrugged it off in the name of love. With less caution than warranted, Steve and I joined hands and stepped into the abyss.</p> <p>Anxiety and depression share commonalities. In our case, the emotional memories of each are decades—maybe generations—old, with no faces, no bodies, no specific points of origin. These similarities generate compassion between us but not necessarily understanding. And distinct differences make us ill-suited for sharing a life.</p> <p>Anxiety gushes out, soliciting reassurance and relief; depression pulls in and sets up barriers. Anxious people want to process, often in a desperate, frenetic way. But insisting that a depressed person process his current state is worse than futile; it is merciless. Working together, depression and anxiety construct a near impermeable trap. When I sense Steve’s depression, I churn in angst. When Steve senses my anxiety, he drops deeper.</p> <p>Steve’s depression is episodic, triggered in a moment that takes him down. And in that moment, life is brusquely shifted, shut down for an indefinable period. When I first saw it, although I had been forewarned, I had no idea what I was seeing. The shift in his physical appearance alone pulled me up short, and the abrupt change in personality seemed like a subterfuge. And for many years I treated it as such, demanding that he stop and explain himself.</p> <p>He retreats into his impenetrable misery behind the closed door of his office. I walk to keep my body occupied while my emotions lurch from confusion to sadness to anger to desperation. I return to a quiet house, no traces of movement. I search the bookshelves and Internet for comfort. So much advice—all of it familiar, none of it useful.</p> <p><em>Two days go by without verification of life. I stew and listen and watch. I dissect the days and hours leading up to the moment it slithered in. I pinpoint the trigger and rewrite the script. I chant a whispered mantra:&nbsp;</em>This will end.<em>But I worry that it won’t end, that we’ll be here on our respective sides of a cheap, hollow door three weeks, three months, three years from now.</em></p> <p><em>On the third day, the door opens and I jump to attention. He slouches down the stairs without making eye contact, looking ten years older than he looked four days prior. I offer to make soup, I suggest a hike, I extend bookshelf advice in a cheerful voice tinged with urgency. I speak to him as if he doesn’t understand his own mind. He goes back upstairs and shuts the door.</em></p> <p>Steve embodies light and dark in their extremities. The dark runs deep and murky, but radical light runs parallel. I fear the dark will snuff out the light and destroy him, destroy us. He assures me that will never happen, and like a religious skeptic&nbsp;teetering on the edges, I work to keep the faith.
 I want to pry him apart, separate light from dark. I want the model with the personalized options, not the package deal, but his GPS is already installed. Ripping it out would leave him lighter, yes, but also deformed, shrunken, misshapen. Much of his beauty comes out of the shadow. His gentleness, his patience, his wisdom, his passion—all flow from having dwelt in the tender place of despair. I deeply understand the truth of this. Still, I want it to be easier—for him, yes, but mostly for me. He knows this darkness, and he oddly draws strength from its familiarity, as if it constitutes some sort of sacred ritual. I cower in its presence.</p> <p>On the fourth day, I wake to find the office door open and him gone. I breathe a sigh of relief for a morning without his dark presence and say a small prayer to the gods he worships: redrock canyons and sagebrush flats. He has gone to the desert.</p> <p>I walk out to the garage to see what’s not there: a cot, a sleeping bag, a five-gallon water jug. All good signs. He will spend nights under a dark sky, and when the sun rouses him, he will walk between redrock walls, bumping against them in his rawness. He will find a flat run of slickrock to lie upon, and he will stay until desert light finds a fissure in his constructed shield. Then he’ll come back to me.</p> <p>Shortly after I met him, Steve said something that would become a refrain in our relationship: I need to go to the desert. We met in Tucson and lived in Salt Lake City, so technically we had always been in a desert, but that’s not what he meant. He sought a desert free of humans and their debris, full of light, where he could dwell undisturbed for an extended period of time.</p> <p>Having grown up in Utah’s West Desert, I, too, have an appreciation for such places, but I initially thought him prone to hyperbole. Imprudently clinging to the popular view that all power lies within, I equated Steve’s stated need to the exaggerated notions of a teenager needing a new iPhone. But after twelve years of inadvertent research, my flippancy has waned.</p> <p>On our wedding day, Steve promised to always rescue himself—it was written into the vows. In my most anxious moments, I have extracted the promise from him again and again, but the last time I did was in the autumn of 2013, which was when I, at long last, understood that he has only one fail-safe rescue: the desert.</p> <p>It was our worst year together, high anxiety and deep depression, each tightening the knots of the other. We futilely tugged from opposite ends for eight months. In the fall, I suggested a weekend backpack on the Escalante River, and he nodded his agreement. But on the day we were supposed to leave, he couldn’t rally the energy to abide my company, having, no doubt, sensed my desperate reach for relief. After he shut the upstairs door, I sat amid the mess of freeze-dried food packets and cried. Then I packed.</p> <p>I would like to say I left the house quietly, but I didn’t. I breached the sanctity of the closed door and made a dramatic, sobbing speech and exit. I no longer remember the words, but I remember the cruelty behind them. I’m sure I demanded some sort of promise or explanation that he could not possibly give. I remember his horrified face as I loaded my pain onto his.</p> <p>I drove fifteen miles to the trailhead shaking with the kind of generalized rage that has no receptacle. Only after hoisting the pack and splashing through the knee-high, sun-warmed water for the first of many river crossings did I acknowledge that I had never backpacked alone, never spent a night out there by myself. It was an easy three-mile hike upriver to the Sand Creek confluence where I planned to camp, and the physical risk was minimal. But the sun drops early in the river gorge, and the long stretch of night ahead played on my nerves.</p> <p>Righteous indignation propelled me forward, a feeling of something having been thrust upon me that I did not deserve. I slogged through deep sand, stumbled often, and expended a great deal of energy to gain little ground. Had I lifted my eyes from the trail, I might have been awed by Escalante Natural Bridge, a sturdy, flat-topped, deep red and brown arch that spans a side canyon like a train trestle. Had I lifted my eyes, my heart may have been lightened—or at least distracted—by the Indian domicile ruins on a ledge next to a wall of seven-hundred-year-old petroglyphs. But I did not lift my eyes. I rounded the bend in the river that alerted me to the confluence without acknowledging the painted red snake on the slickrock I skirted, without pondering its symbolism, although it may have been as relevant to me as it was to its creator. Rebirth? Resurrection? Initiation?</p> <p>I dropped into a hole that brought the river to my upper thighs before climbing the sandy, steep bank on hands and knees. Knowing that seeking ant-free ground would be futile, I pitched my tent among the small creatures under a cluster of cottonwoods and cooked dinner before the sun went down. Then I crossed the cold, shin-high waters of Sand Creek and set my Therm-a-Rest chair on a partially dry, flat rock in the last splice of sunlight. I faced a soaring, creamsicle-orange wall with white streaks—as if someone had poured a bucket of Clorox from the top every few yards—and waited for darkness to descend. But it never did.</p> <p>The wall, a magnificent domed rock bestowed with runs of creamy smoothness from calving, was the last in the canyon to lose light. It presided over the celestial ceremony of sundown—quieting the whistling birds, hushing the croaking ravens, piloting a change of temperature and a kettle of turkey vultures on a gust. As the diurnal fell silent, whispering grasses and rustling river willows filled the void. On my right, a tranquil spring wallpapered the Navajo sandstone with ivy, ferns, and columbine before trickling through a crack in many straggling fountains at mouth level and leaving the rocks below it covered in spongy lime-green moss.</p> <p>Sand Creek approached me from behind a grassy bend, ran over slickrock and sand, bumped against, and parted for, volcanic boulders, passed me close enough to splash my left arm and leg, gathered spring water from the right, and then disappeared around an eastern bend to meet the river. Near and distant, peach and rose, honey and ginger colored walls, polished to a high sheen by desert varnish and pockmarked by wind and water, surrounded me on all sides, sharing the warmth of the sun.</p> <p>As the reigning wall lost its light, the hanging garden lost its shimmer in the shadows, the creek gurgled, the spring trickled, and a warm breeze blew. I sat very still, every sense heightened—and pacified. Tranquility edged in like rainwater through a crack in sandstone. After a while, I could no longer discern my feet on the rock or sand on my skin. The place integrated my presence as if I were natural to it, and I felt the whole of it.</p> <p>I sat. I had been breathing shallowly for many months, holding myself together with a pinched brow and rigid muscles. I breathed. My shoulders fell. Fear and dread oozed from my body and was cleanly washed away by Sand Creek—as if it were no problem at all—and delivered to the river where it would flow out of reach. Shhhh, the place whispered. Be still.</p> <p>Moonlight climbed sandstone walls bringing with it the thought of Steve’s refrain: I need to go to the desert. I had heard the urgency in his voice, but I refused to hear the truth in his words. I had scoffed at the idea that a place could do for him what I could not—that a place could hold him, soothe him, reach into the depths of that darkness and pull him out. And now, here I sat, held by the place. And here was the thing that left me dumbfounded: the place had been here all along. Through many months of homebound angst, through my desperation and rage, through my vain perseverance, the place was here—flowing, buzzing, being.</p> <p>That night on the slickrock bank of Sand Creek, I understood what I had been doing to Steve for twelve years. I had done what every well-meaning person in his life—every lover, every friend—had done. I had tried to fix him. And in doing so, I had delivered a sharp message:&nbsp;<em>I cannot love you this way</em>.</p> <p>The next morning, I was sitting on a log, swiping ants off my legs and sipping a cup of tea, when Steve walked into camp. He was not entirely tall and steady, but he was upright. He smiled weakly but genuinely, and I thought if ever there were an element natural in its desert environment, there it stands.</p> <p>We walked up Sand Creek without conversation, each sensitive to the other’s fragility. When we reached a sandy beach on the water’s edge, we sat facing a hollowed-out red wall. I have a gift for you, I said. He turned toward me, blue eyes tired but clear. I told him I would no longer participate in his depression; I would no longer view it as a problem to be fixed. I am giving you the gift of your own depression, I told him. He looked at me for a long moment, and when he started breathing again, vestiges of apprehension drained from his face. Thank you, he said.</p> <p>I have since kept my promise. It turns out, I can love the whole of him, and doing so has settled something in me. I don’t hold any notion that he will one day be cured of depression, and I no longer seek that. But removing myself as custodian of his state of being has given us space without shame. The chasm is shallower, more light filters in. In turn, I am released from my own shaking hellhole of onus and distress.</p> <p>And then there’s the desert, right here, where it’s always been—gushing, illuminating, revealing.</p> <p><em>From&nbsp;Nature Love Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness, edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner. Copyright Jana Richman and Torrey House Press,&nbsp;<a title="https://www.torreyhouse.org" href="https://www.torreyhouse.org/" target="_blank">www.torreyhouse.org</a>.</em></p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/depression-and-the-healing-desert-20180613?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180615&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180615+CID_cd0e50d8ab948866c92e475c998fd3bd&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Depression%20and%20the%20Healing%20Desert">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/tim-flinders/going-out-i-found-i-was-really-going-in-john-muir-s-spiritual-and-politi">Going out, I found I was really going in: John Muir’s spiritual and political journey</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">When meditation isn’t enough</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jana Richman Love and Spirituality Culture Thu, 02 Aug 2018 16:44:19 +0000 Jana Richman 118784 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could shock tactics do more harm than good to the vegan cause? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-fittock/could-shock-tactics-do-more-harm-than-good-to-vegan-cause <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As veganism advances in popular culture it makes sense to shift the movement’s strategies from ‘horror’ to ‘hipster.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisFittock.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Inside Veganz, a vegan supermarket in Berlin. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Veganz,_Schivelbeiner_Stra%C3%9Fe_34,_Berlin,_June_2012.jpg">Flickr/Josefine Stenudd via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC 1.0 Universal</a>.</p> <p>The slaughterhouse: as a locus of elemental horror it’s surely sited near the foot of hell. A grind-core kitchen of mechanical death; a bone-yard of plenty; an acre of flesh; a dead weight of muscle, blood and spine.</p> <p>This image is at once real and rhetorical, its cruel rationale demanding the type of language usually reserved for myth or nightmare yet actual and abiding, and even <a href="https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2018-07-02/countryfile-host-tom-heap-schools-should-visit-slaughterhouses-as-part-of-the-national-curriculum/">championed</a> by BBC <em>Countryfile</em> presenter Tom Heap as a necessary schoolyard excursion. The same image was also the visual focus of a recent workshop on veganism I attended at the <a href="https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/festival-of-ideas/food-thought/">Food for Thought Festival</a> held at Edge Hill University in the north west of England.</p> <p>Nine of us sat in a small lecture room—eight vegans and one vegetarian. Taken quickly and credibly through the health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet, it readily became apparent that the session’s centre of attention was animal advocacy. And so it came to pass.</p> <p>“You may wish to look away,” it was suggested before the videos rolled, “But nobody who views this sort of footage could fail to stop eating meat.”</p> <p>Ignoring the fact that everybody in the room <em>had</em> <em>already </em>stopped eating meat, the workshop became a site of collective penance in which to martyr ourselves for the sins of others. Look at this torture. Look at this heartache. The burden of the omnivores must be ours.</p> <p>Downstairs however, the atmosphere was different. The festival’s main space had been transformed into a busy vegan market, with vendors displaying everything from candles and confectionery to juices and junk food. The whole enterprise was fun, friendly and informative, full of aspiration and—perhaps most significantly—sheer ordinariness.</p> <p>Everything was vegan, but the aesthetic wasn’t something removed from everyday life. Don’t attend this market to be worthy but to be healthy seemed to be the message. Don’t purchase this candle to be ethical but because it smells great. In building support for veganism this seems sensible to me, and perhaps more effective as a strategy than the temporary shock value of images from the slaughterhouse.</p> <p>Can negative imagery play a decisive role in the movement’s maturation from fringe to mainstream, or does the advance of veganism in popular culture render such tactics irrelevant?</p> <p>The UK is reputedly home to over <a href="https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/veganism-skyrockets-to-7-of-uk-population-says-new-survey">three-and-a-half million vegans</a>—an increase of more than 500 per cent in just two years—while the Vegan Society reports that over half of all adults now follow <a href="https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/news/vegan-lifestyle-winning-hearts-and-minds-across-britain-survey-shows">vegan buying behaviour</a>. Britain’s biggest supermarkets are clamouring to catch up, with <a href="https://uk.kantar.com/consumer/shoppers/2018/is-2018-the-year-brits-go-vegan/">200 million more meat-free meals</a> eaten in 2017 than in the previous year, and an additional £30 million spent on meat-free products. Meanwhile <em><a href="https://veganuary.com/blog/a-record-breaking-veganuary-2018/">Veganuary</a></em> has seen the number of registered participants rise from 59,500 in 2017 to 168,500 in 2018. Google Trends showed a 525 per cent increase in searches for the term ‘vegan’ between January 2014 and January 2018.</p> <p>Clearly, the growth of vegan culture has been exponential, but the traditional provocation of graphic imagery may not be the primary cause. In 2018 for example, for the first time health and environmental concerns surpassed animal welfare as the top reasons for registering with <em>Veganuary</em>, while NeoReach’s top ten Vegan Influencers on Instagram now concern themselves exclusively with healthy living and environmentalism. Of the ten most subscribed-to vegan channels on YouTube, nine are food and lifestyle-based and the tenth (“The Dodo”) focuses on feel-good narratives.</p> <p>With around 40 per cent of vegans in the UK aged between 15 and 34, online and social media spaces are pivotal for information and advocacy, and it’s in these spaces that the movement must compete with lifestyle blogs, recipe websites, celebrity news, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/catsofinstagram/?hl=en">#catsofinstagram</a>. When the noted vegan actor and singer <a href="https://www.instagram.com/jaredleto/?hl=en">Jared Leto</a>’s Instagram count exceeds <a href="https://www.instagram.com/peta/?hl=en">PETA</a>’s by over nine million people, and the plant-based food channel <a href="https://www.facebook.com/bosh.tv/">BOSH!’s</a> Facebook followers outnumber <a href="https://www.facebook.com/farm.animals">Compassion in World Farming</a>’s by a factor of fifteen-to-one, it makes sense to shift veganism’s primary mode of evangelisation from shock to swank and from horror to hipster.</p> <p>Admittedly this view derogates the cultural message of explicit advocacy documentaries such as <a href="http://www.nationearth.com/"><em>Earthlings</em></a>. If a key component of veganism’s rise has been the co-option of mainstream media combined with digital availability, then Amazon and Netflix have bestowed a kind of cultural commonplace on the deployment of graphic imagery, with <a href="http://www.cowspiracy.com/"><em>Cowspiracy</em></a>, which interrogates the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry, now as accessible as <em>Captain America</em>. Anecdotal evidence for these films as catalysts for change cannot be discounted.</p> <p>However, appraising the efficacy of either approach rigorously is fraught with difficulty. Barbara McDonald’s 2000 <a href="http://www.animalsandsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mcdonald.pdf">study</a> into vegan adoption strategies found that emotional shocks could be effective catalytic experiences; but Marie Mika’s 2006 <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/4494944">research</a> into non-activists’ responses to shocking imagery cast doubt on its ability to persuade. Neither is there any systematic evidence to gauge the extent to which viewers of <em>Earthlings</em> are self-selecting or casual, already on the road to veganism or unwitting carnivores. Nor do we know how many of the 1.5 million followers of the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/bestofvegan/?hl=en">Best of Vegan</a> Instagram account are actually vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, omnivore, or something else entirely.</p> <p>It’s precisely this broadening out that vexes many vegans, who argue that veganism without a moral basis is not veganism at all—it’s just a diet instead of a doctrine; a lifestyle rather than a different way of living. Such faddish co-option gives the impression of a problem being solved while actually obscuring the perpetuation of cruelty against animals.</p> <p>Despite the rise of veganism in mainstream culture and the increasing availability of vegan products in our supermarkets, there is yet to be any significant drop in the consumption of animal products. In the UK for example, the <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/716200/slaughter-statsnotice-17may18.pdf">volume of meat production</a> for April 2018 rose year-on-year by 13 per cent for beef and 18 per cent for pig meat, while consumer spending across all meat purchases increased by one percentage point. Meanwhile, production of <a href="https://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/dairy-sales-consumption/cheese-market/#.W0g7r34na7O">milk and cheese </a>&nbsp;rose by around one per cent in 2017.</p> <p>This goes some way to explaining why many of the vegan faithful—as opposed to the greenhorn fashionistas of social media—continue to utilise shock advocacy tactics. There is both moral purity and ethical clarity in confronting scenes of suffering directly, a strategy that refuses to accept that compassion can be divorced from justice and sees Meatless Mondays and <em>Veganuary</em> as little more than welfarist enterprises that fail to foster any fundamental changes in attitudes and behaviour.&nbsp; By making veganism ‘too easy’ we may misappropriate its necessary righteousness.</p> <p>The problem with this critique is that pragmatism really matters: attitudes and behaviour transform to different beats. Behaviour change relies on more than information. It’s contingent on adjusting circumstances, removing barriers and offering incentives. It isn’t theoretical but practical and experiential. It is Meatless Mondays and healthy living and five hundred likes on Instagram. These things are perhaps the surest way to shift beliefs among less partisan members of the public.</p> <p>Despite the occasional <em>Earthlings</em> conversion story, the truth is that such Damascene moments are exceptional. Behaviour change is more commonly messy and incremental, with attitudinal change evolving in its wake. It is unrealistic to expect that one set of tactics will lead to a swift and total vegan adoption across the general population.</p> <p>A strategy of shock and awe can be seen as contrary to a strategy of incrementalism, but does this mean we should ignore the indecencies of tearing calves from their mothers, or slaughtering sentient, intelligent creatures by the truckload? Plainly not: there are multiple means to the same end, and these means rely heavily on social context and circumstances.</p> <p>In my case I didn’t feel I could leave that blood-soaked workshop at Edge Hill University and sell the vegan message successfully to the unconverted. But I could say ‘try this brownie’ and ‘smell this soap’ and most of all, enjoy the experience without having nightmares.</p> <p>The truth is I felt relieved that there were no carnivores in the room that day. For implicit in the counsel that ‘you may wish to look away’ is the invitation to disconnect. It sounded like a self-defeating premise, and what use is that? I left the event dispirited rather than energised. Horror had overshadowed hope.</p> <p>Rather than shock and awe we need normalisation and encouragement. Incrementalism is better than no change at all, even if it means softening our ideological stance. The careless imposition of imagery that is repulsive risks repelling many of those we want to attract to the vegan cause.</p> <p>There’s no need to turn away from action on the suffering of animals, but images of gothic horror can do more harm than good.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/janey-stephenson/you-don-t-have-to-be-embarrassed-to-be-vegan">You don’t have to be embarrassed to be vegan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gary-francione/it-s-time-to-reconsider-meaning-of-animal-welfare">It’s time to reconsider the meaning of ‘animal welfare’ </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sam-earle/how-should-we-feel-about-feelings-of-animals-we-eat">How should we feel about the feelings of the animals we eat?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Vegan politics and animal rights Chris Fittock Activism Culture Environment Sun, 29 Jul 2018 17:12:12 +0000 Chris Fittock 118942 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Real gender equality includes femininity (and the color pink) https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/anne-th-riault/real-gender-equality-includes-femininity-and-color-pink <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As feminist parents we tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, but what’s wrong with skirts and baby dolls?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/AnnTheriault.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images via YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months ago, my 4-year-old son went to a classmate’s birthday. The party was superhero-themed and the loot bags were packed with cute little superhero trinkets, including temporary tattoos. One little girl, let’s call her Izzy, put hers on immediately.</p> <p>“LOOK,” Izzy yelled, running up to everyone in turn. “IRON MAN. SO COOL.”</p> <p>The other children and parents in attendance oohed and aahed over her forearm. Every single one of them showed their admiration and approval for her Iron Man tattoo.</p> <p>Later, as we parents were watching our cake-smeared kids run around in a sugar-induced frenzy, one of the other mothers turned to me and said, “Isn’t it funny that [your son] loves My Little Pony so much? I mean, he’s&nbsp;<em>such</em>&nbsp;a boy.”</p> <p>Not really knowing how to answer, I said, “I don’t think it’s funny. It’s a good show.”</p> <p>“Oh, sure,” she said. “It’s just that it’s so&nbsp;<em>girly</em>.”</p> <p>I’ve been thinking a lot about this episode, along with all the other weird remarks people have made about my kid’s love for all things Rainbow Dash. I’ve especially been thinking about them since reading sailor mercury’s wonderful post&nbsp;<a href="https://medium.com/@sailorhg/coding-like-a-girl-595b90791cce">Coding Like a Girl&nbsp;</a>on Medium. I’ve also been contemplating my own internal biases about women and how I view them within existing power structures. And while I know that I’m not saying anything huge or revolutionary here, I’m still going to go ahead and put it out there: We live in a culture that simultaneously claims to embrace the equality of men and women and at the same time seriously devalues femininity.</p> <p>Little girls are, for the most part, taught that women can be anything. This is a message that we try to instill in them from day one. However, what they aren’t taught is that people who dress, think, or act in a traditionally feminine manner can be anything. The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Like, sure you can be a girl and write code, but you can’t write code while wearing a dress. You can chair a meeting, but not while wearing sparkly hair clips. You can repair a bicycle, but not while wearing lipstick. Everyone knows that lipstick prevents people from being competent.</p> <p>The flip side of all of this is that we shame any boys (and, to a certain extent, girls) who participate in activities or behaviors that are seen as being more “feminine.” I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who think they’ve somehow failed at feminism because their daughters like lace and Barbie dolls; it’s much rarer to see the parent of a boy upset because his love of Batman and Star Wars doesn’t sufficiently challenge gender roles.</p> <p>This devaluation of femininity is why everyone was fine with Izzy’s Iron Man tattoo but balked at my son’s appreciation of My Little Pony. It’s less about enforcing rigidly defined gender roles on boys and girls and more about straight-up misogyny. Anything regarded as “feminine” is still seen by men and women alike as occupying a lower status.</p> <p>We see the devaluation of femininity play out in tons of different ways. For example, as sailor mercury mentions in her post, there’s the whole trope of “you throw/run/play like a girl,” not to mention the fact that “girl” is routinely used as an insult among boys and men. Women are advised to tone down their femininity—less ruffles, less makeup, less flashy jewelry, more dark suits with clean lines—if they want to be taken seriously at their jobs. And while the backlash against the hyper-gendering of little girls—the ubiquity of princess culture, puffy skirts, and a color palette that veers strongly toward pink—is very much needed, there is occasionally an anti-femme tone that creeps into the discourse.</p> <p>The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with pastel colors or fluffy little tutus; problems arise when we use these things to push certain gender expectations on girls. For example, Amazon sells a “<a href="http://www.amazon.ca/Fre-Childrens-Educational-Simulation-Medicine/dp/B00NMAR78I/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1426779423&amp;sr=8-7&amp;keywords=doctor+play+set">medical kit</a>”&nbsp;that comes in shades of pink and mauve, which is super sucky on one level because it sends the not-so-subtle message that girls need some kind of special girl equipment in order to be girl doctors. But on another level, there is nothing objectively wrong with a pink stethoscope. When people ask, “Why can’t girls just play with a regular doctor kit?” I always wonder why the pink kit can’t be the “regular” kit? I mean, I&nbsp;<em>know</em>&nbsp;why, but it’s frustrating to constantly see the more masculine-leaning version of any given toy being hailed as the status quo, while the feminine version is pooh-poohed as being silly and unnecessary.</p> <p>Gender equality doesn’t mean that everything has to be androgynous. It means that all the girly things we’ve been taught to have such disdain for should be seen as being just as good as all the masculine stuff we self-described patriarchy-hating folks continue to embrace. The way forward isn’t to teach girls to be more like boys—that’s just the same old patriarchal shit of privileging masculinity over femininity. Instead, we should be teaching&nbsp;<em>all</em>&nbsp;kids that wearing skirts and loving pink and wanting cuddly baby dolls are totally cool and fine ways to be. There’s nothing inherently bad about being femme; problems arise when we try to enforce femininity on people as a means of oppression.</p> <p>We feminists tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, which is, for sure, an admirable idea that should be tackled with enthusiasm. But as we move toward viewing gender as more of a spectrum, we need to make sure that spectrum includes the color pink.</p> <p><em>This article by Anne Thériault originally appeared on&nbsp;<a href="https://ravishly.com/2015/03/20/why-we-need-stop-devaluing-femininity" target="_self">Ravishly</a>&nbsp;and was republished with permission in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/real-gender-equality-includes-femininity-and-the-color-pink-20180613?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180615&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180615+CID_cd0e50d8ab948866c92e475c998fd3bd&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Real%20Gender%20Equali">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sofa-gradin/please-call-me-they">Please call me they</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/k-and-robot-hugs/what-if-we-thought-of-gender-like-ice-cream">What if we thought of gender like ice cream? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Anne Thériault Liberation Intersectionality Culture Thu, 19 Jul 2018 20:45:05 +0000 Anne Thériault 118782 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who is a refugee? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/byung-chul-han/who-is-refugee <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>I would like nothing better than to flee to a dreamland again, a hospitable country in which I can fully be a patriot again, a lover of the country. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ByungChulHan.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Demo "Gleiche Rechte für alle" (Refugee-Solidaritätsdemo) am 16. Februar 2013 in Wien. Credit: <a title="Haeferl" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Haeferl">Haeferl</a> via <a href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/13/2013-02-16_-_Wien_-_Demo_Gleiche_Rechte_f%C3%BCr_alle_%28Refugee-Solidarit%C3%A4tsdemo%29_-_Refugees_are_human_beings.jpg/1024px-2013-02-16_-_Wien_-_Demo_Gleiche_Rechte_f%C3%BCr_alle_%28Refugee-Soli">Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>.</p> <p>“We Refugees” is the title of <a href="http://www.arendtcenter.it/en/2016/10/11/hannah-arendt-we-refugees-1943/">an essay by Hannah Arendt</a> that was published in 1943 in <em>The Menorah Journal.</em> There, in a refreshing manner, she abandons the conventional concept of the refugee. She writes:</p> <blockquote><p>“A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term ‘refugee’ has changed. Now ‘refugees’ are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees.”</p></blockquote> <p>Arendt, then, will describe herself not as a ‘refugee’ but as a ‘newcomer’ or ‘immigrant.’ Here Arendt is imagining an entirely new figure of the refugee, perhaps one that is yet to come. This refugee is simply someone who goes to a new country in the expectation of a better life. Arendt describes the figure of the ‘optimistic refugee’ as follows:</p> <blockquote><p>“The more optimistic among us would even add that their whole former life had been passed in a kind of unconscious exile and only their new country now taught them what a home really looks like. [...] after a year optimists are convinced they speak English as well as their mother tongue; and after two years they swear solemnly that they speak English better than any other language—their German is a language they barely remember.”</p></blockquote> <p>In order to forget, this species of refugee avoids any reference to the concentration and internment camps, as this would make them ‘pessimists’. Arendt quotes the words of a fellow countryman who had barely arrived in France before founding what were known as ‘assimilation societies:’ “We were good Germans in Germany and therefore we shall be good Frenchmen in France.” The ideal immigrant, Arendt argues, is like “a woman of tidy size [who is] delighted with every new dress that promises to give her the desired waistline.”</p> <p><strong>First, the painful social isolation.</strong></p> <p>In Hannah Arendt’s terms, I was an optimistic refugee myself. I wanted to live a new life in a new country that was impossible for me in my home country. The expectations of my social environment and its conventional structures would not have allowed me to live and even think differently, radically differently. I was twenty-two at the time. After studying metallurgy in Korea I wanted to study philosophy, literature and theology in Germany.</p> <p>On the campus of my university in Seoul I often gazed at the sky, thinking to myself that it was too beautiful for me to want to spend my entire life as a metallurgist beneath that sky. I dreamt of a better, more beautiful life. I wanted to reflect philosophically on life. I fled to Germany and arrived there, twenty-two years old, penniless and devoid of language; at the time I hardly spoke any German.</p> <p>At the beginning, like every optimistic refugee, I was confronted with social isolation. It is painful. This makes me feel deeply the pain of today’s refugees. I suffer with them. With my poor German, it was hard to integrate into the social structures I encountered. Inadequate language skills were the main obstacle to settling in as I sought to do (I am reluctant to speak of so-called integration). Then love proved to be the best strategy for settling in.</p> <p>A German woman who loved me, I thought simple-mindedly, would listen to me and quickly teach me the German language in order to understand what I thought of her, what feelings I had towards her and so forth. I was greedy for every new German word. I wanted German; my ambition was to speak like the Germans.</p> <p>We know that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Brandt">Willy Brandt</a> also followed this strategy: within a few months of exile he was writing articles and speeches in Norwegian. While living under the pseudonym of Gunnar Gaasland in the Berlin underground he spoke German with a Norwegian accent. Clearly it was not only his talent but also his greed for language, in fact his greed for love, that accelerated his acquisition of a foreign language to such an extent.</p> <p>One year after arriving in Germany I believed, like the optimistic refugee described by Hannah Arendt, that I spoke German better than any other language. For Arendt, patriotism too is purely a ‘matter of practice’. The ‘ideal immigrant’ is one who “immediately discovers and loves the native mountains.” They are a patriot, a lover of the country. They love the country in which they have set up a new life. I too love this country. One day I adopted German citizenship and gave up my Korean pass in exchange; now I am a German.</p> <p>Meanwhile I speak German better than my mother tongue, which has literally been reduced to a mere mother tongue: I only speak Korean to my mother. My mother tongue has become foreign to me. I love Germany. I would even call myself a patriot, a country-lover. I am certainly more patriotic than <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frauke_Petry">Frauke Petry</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Gauland">Alexander Gauland</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B6rn_H%C3%B6cke">Björn Höcke</a> put together. With their irresponsible populism they degrade Germany, my country, which has always been a very hospitable country towards me.</p> <p><strong>What does it mean to be a good citizen?</strong></p> <p>Someone who was a good citizen in their native country will also be a good citizen in the new one. We should continue to welcome these ‘newcomers’. Someone who was already a criminal in their native country, like Tunisian-born &nbsp;<a href="https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/europe/anis-amri-berlin-christmas-market/index.html">Anis Amri</a>, the perpetrator of the 2016 Berlin attack, will remain a criminal in the new one. We will turn them away. But we should offer the newcomers an environment in which they can become good citizens.</p> <p>But what does it mean to be a good citizen? I am the second Korean to hold a professorship at Berlin’s University of the Arts; the first Korean professor was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isang_Yun">Isang Yun</a>. He was a significant composer. He was a political person. In the 1960s he protested vehemently against the military dictatorship that was ruling South Korea. He was arrested by the South Korean secret service in 1967, in the middle of Germany.</p> <p>In Seoul he was sentenced to life imprisonment. After being released early he returned to Germany, now stripped of his citizenship by the South Korean regime. He became a refugee and was naturalized in Germany. But perhaps he too, like Hannah Arendt, would deny that he was a refugee. Like Arendt, he would have said, ‘I am a good, optimistic immigrant’. His German was excellent.</p> <p><strong>I would like nothing better than another dreamland.</strong></p> <p>A good citizen is good on the basis of their mentality. They share moral values like liberty, fraternity and justice. Their actions against the ruling political system may be criminalized by it; but because of their moral mentality (in the Kantian sense) they are still a good citizen and also a patriot, someone who loves the country and its people.</p> <p>In the last years of his life, Isang Yun despaired at the open eruptions of xenophobia in the reunified Germany. He was distressed by images of the crowd applauding in front of the firebombed residence for former Vietnamese contract workers in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rostock-Lichtenhagen_riots">Rostock-Lichenhagen</a>. And he was disappointed, for he loved Germany. I too consider the events in Rostock a pogrom.</p> <p>At the moment I am unsettled by the resurgence of xenophobia in response to large numbers of refugees, both in Germany and other European countries. I would like nothing better than to flee to a dreamland again, a hospitable country in which I can fully be a patriot again, a lover of the country.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/optimismus-der-fremden-wer-ist-fluechtling-14718649.html">Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung</a>. It has been translated by Wieland Hoban.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/byung-chul-han/why-revolution-is-no-longer-possible">Why revolution is no longer possible</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/how-politicians-and-media-made-us-hate-immigrants">How politicians and the media made us hate immigrants </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/lena-kainz-rebecca-buxton/all-refugees-want-to-go-home-right">All refugees want to go home. Right?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation refugees Byung-Chul Han Care Culture Tue, 10 Jul 2018 19:50:23 +0000 Byung-Chul Han 118733 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Migrant Quilt: re-stitching the fabric of community https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/valarie-lee-james/migrant-quilt-re-stitching-fabric-of-community-along-us-mexico-bord <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Memory is the first form of resistance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ValerieLeeJames.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Part of the Migrant Quilt, photographed at the opening of <em>What the Eye Doesn’t See Doesn’t Move the Heart:&nbsp;Migrant Quilts of the Southern Arizona Borderlands”</em> in Nogales, Arizona. Credit: Valarie Lee James. All rights reserved.</p><p>In the late 1990s in Northern California, we placed a photo of Liz (my late wife) and me, taken by the renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, onto a quilt. Friends and family members gathered around and hand-sewed keepsakes of their lives with Liz into the cloth: bits of jewelry, ribbons, and personal messages.</p> <p>By the time the black and white photograph, created for a national “Be Here for the Cure” AIDS campaign could be seen in magazines and writ large on subway walls, many of the people Leibovitz photographed would be dead: the cute guy, the sparky little kid, the strong transgender woman and the straight teenage girl. Few would make it for the cure.</p> <p>People died by the thousands while the government turned a blind eye. Families mourned, shrouded in secrecy. The closest friends I will ever have grieved for each other even as they, too, prepared to die.</p> <p>America as a whole seemed to shake itself awake only when thousands of AIDS Names Project Quilts were laid end-to-end on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., forming a master quilt strewn with names as far as the eye could manage—a seemingly endless landscape of unspeakable loss and undeniable love. Visitors dropped to their knees, humbled by such terrible beauty.</p> <p>Now in my backyard, another quilt—the Migrant Quilt Project—continues to take shape. Now on show at the Pimeria Alta Museum in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, it is inspired in large part by the AIDS Quilt. The Migrant Quilt panels are traveling across the country and the artist/activist Jody Ipsen (the quilt’s originator) and Peggy Hazard (the project’s curator), along with many volunteer makers, hope for a similar impact on hearts and minds.</p> <p>Women on the border often have a different take on immigration issues: more of a ‘tend and befriend’ approach, a kind of common sense, needle-to-fabric mend. The responses of women to the Migrant Quilt exhibit define the soft heart of what it means to be human. The day we visited, we watched female visitors leaving in tears.</p> <p>“Docents had to go out and buy boxes of tissues” said Ipsen, “you cannot walk away from this without being moved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;The 17 quilts in the project bear the names of people who have died each year crossing the desert in the Tucson Sector since 2000—the year the county medical examiner’s office began documenting the names of the dead, including unidentified remains. Patched together with denim, work shirts, embroidered cloth, and bandanas left behind on the desert floor, the quilts are scrappy in design and raw with truth.</p> <p>Many of the&nbsp;<em>bordados</em>&nbsp;(embroidered&nbsp;cloths) stitched into the Migrant Quilts are inscribed with endearments.&nbsp;<em>Contigo en la Distancia</em>&nbsp;(With You Far Away) or&nbsp;<em>Duerme Amor Mio</em>&nbsp;(Sleep My Love) shock the viewer with familial intimacy. These personal embroideries, sometimes used as&nbsp;<em>servilletas</em>&nbsp;to carry food across the desert, are often blessed then sent along with a traveling family member. The embroideries have come a long way. Now they rest alongside the names of the deceased. &nbsp;</p> <p>Each quilt represents countless lives lost on border ground, a hundred-mile strip of geography spanning two countries. The interstitial border region has morphed into a distinct culture of its own, and the quilts, with their binational contributors, fly its flag.</p> <p>On the US side of the border, volunteers create each piece according to their own inspiration. Worn material migrates through the quilts and melds in the viewer’s eye. Names of the dead rise off the surface in bas-relief like rogue wildflowers pushing up through the desert floor, commanding the same kind of attention as the white crosses we see strung with wire in and around the slats of the border wall.</p> <p>“Quilts have traditionally been made to memorialize loved ones who died,” said Curator Hazard, “and also, to raise consciousness.” In the Nineteenth century, women used quilts not only to raise funds for the anti-slavery movement, but to express their feelings about slavery.</p> <p>Memory is the first form of resistance, and quilt-making—a primary tool of resistance and remembrance—stands the test of time. At QuiltCon 2018, the Modern Quilt Guild’s annual convention, the exhibits were honeycombed with activist quilts. The resurgence in “truth textiles” also carries on at the Social Justice Sewing Academy, which empowers youth activists for social change.</p> <p>The humblest materials can communicate what cannot be said in dangerous times, can comfort the family, and can mourn the dead. Quilting, embroidery, and applique—arts of hearth and home—remain a language shared.</p> <p>Two decades ago in Northern California, our fragile but fierce community took turns stitching Liz’s favorite piece of mud cloth onto a quilt. I remember the silence that day as we worked together, united in the province of memory. Craig, Liz’s long-time brother-in-arms, his large brown eyes brimming with tears, leaned over and carefully sewed a cowrie shell onto the fabric. Craig would be the next to die.</p> <p>Now, on our southern border, our neighbors continue to die crossing cultures. The personal is political and the political is spiritual. Rather than ask “How do we build higher walls?” we are best served as people to ask, “How do we meet?” and “How do we mourn?”</p> <p>The root of the word ‘memory’ stems from the word ‘mourn.’ The devotional art of making quilts in the service of others allows us on the US side of the border wall to touch the essence of the Other, to offer witness, and to mourn.</p> <p>The Migrant Quilt Project succeeds where rhetoric fails. Pinning and stitching, working the cloth to make sure the dead are not forgotten, these quilt-makers trust that no one turns a blind eye.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.kosmosjournal.org/kj_article/the-migrant-quilt/">Kosmos Journal</a>.</em></p> <p><em>The Migrant Quilts are on exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, through July 15. After that, they will travel to Michigan and Illinois. See&nbsp;<a href="http://migrantquiltproject.org/">here</a>&nbsp;for the exhibit schedule and more information.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kali-swenson/social-justice-with-knitting">Social justice with knitting</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/virtues-of-many-sided-life">The virtues of a many-sided life</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/how-politicians-and-media-made-us-hate-immigrants">How politicians and the media made us hate immigrants </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation immigration Valarie Lee James Activism Care Culture Tue, 03 Jul 2018 12:20:00 +0000 Valarie Lee James 118604 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The evisceration of storytelling https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sujatha-fernandes/evisceration-of-storytelling <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Are stories really the magical elixir for social change we imagine them to be?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SujathaFernandes.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Black white vintage by rawpixel. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">CC0 Public domain</a> via&nbsp;<a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/-gJkKc6agtM" target="_blank">Unsplash.</a></p> <p>In his seminal essay “The Storyteller,” published in 1936, the German philosopher Walter Benjamin decried the loss of the craft of oral storytelling marked by the advent of the short story and the novel. Modern society, he lamented, had abbreviated storytelling.</p> <p>Fast forward to the era of Facebook, where the story has become an easily digestible soundbite on your news feed or timeline. The popular stories on social media are those that are accessible. Complexity is eschewed in an effort to create warm and relatable portraits of others who are just like us. If modern society abbreviated storytelling, the digital era has eviscerated it.</p> <p>In recent times, carefully crafted narratives with predetermined storylines have been used in philanthropy, diplomacy, and advocacy. From the phenomenon of TED talks and Humans of New York, to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and strategists, contemporary life is saturated with curated stories. “Tell your story!” has become an inspirational mantra of the self-help industry. </p> <p>Narrative research centers have emerged to look at the benefits of storytelling in areas from treating depression to helping new immigrants build community. An avalanche of books on the topic like Jonathan Gottschall’s “The Storytelling Animal” and Jonah Sachs’ “Winning the Story Wars” present storytelling as an innate human impulse that can help us to navigate life’s problems and change the world for the better.</p> <p>But are stories really the magical elixir we imagine them to be?</p> <p>Not in the curated form of storytelling that has come to reign. Curated stories omit the broader context that shapes the life of the storyteller. This was the case with the heartrending stories of abuse told by migrant domestic workers in New York to legislators in Albany as they campaigned for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. At one legal hearing, a Filipina worker related how her employers accused her of stealing a box of $2 Niagra cornstarch. Another spoke about how her male employer frequently exposed himself to his staff. And one West Indian domestic worker recounted that her employer violently beat her and called her the n-word. </p> <p>But these stories—limited in duration and subject to protocols—could not say why migrant women were so vulnerable and undervalued, and why they were forced to migrate for work. Instead, workers could speak only to the technical conditions of their employment. As a result, the stories encouraged the idea that the abuses were the result of a few bad employers who could be reined in by legislation, rather than a vastly unregulated global industry.</p> <p>The Italian narrative theorist Alessandro Portelli says that when we tell stories, we switch strategically between the modes of the personal, the political, and the collective. The contemporary boom of curated storytelling has involved a shift in emphasis away from collective and political modes of narration toward the personal mode. An online women’s creative writing project features personal stories written by women in Afghanistan. </p> <p>In one piece, Leeda tells the story of fifteen-year old Fershta. The girl is given by her father in marriage to a violent man who beats her and kills her seven year old brother. Leeda concludes that it is the father’s bad behavior that has led to this horrific situation. Other stories blame Afghan mothers for allowing violence to be perpetuated. Because the stories don’t often address the social or political backdrop of war and poverty, we have little means to understand the desperation that might lead a father to pull his daughters out from school and marry them off. As readers, we are helpless voyeurs without an avenue for effective action.</p> <p>It has become increasingly common for stories to be harnessed for utilitarian goals – like a legislative victory or registering people to vote. For instance, during Barack Obama’s electoral campaigns, volunteers were trained to tell two-minute stories that they deployed when canvassing voters. While legislative campaigns and voter recruitment may be worthy goals, they require that stories be whittled down to a dull and formulaic soundbite that can be delivered in a legal hearing or a recruitment drive. </p> <p>Immigrant families who visited the offices of senators to tell their stories and ask for the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in 2010 seemed to be weary of reciting their stories all day long. And it’s not even clear that this strategy works. While activists mobilized to tell stories and extract promises for a bill that would never pass, legislators were busy passing anti-immigrant bills like SB 1070.</p> <p>One response to this capture of storytelling has been refusal. Some prefer to remain silent rather than give in to the logic of the soundbite, to the reduction of their selves to a blurb that can fit within the lines of a grant application or legal protocol.</p> <p>Others go off script. They employ their artistic skills to render their stories in all their depth and complexity. One group of domestic workers from the New York-based South Asian organization Andolan said that they did not want to speak any longer about simple narratives of exploitation and victimhood. They said that publicly telling stories of abuse can backfire for workers, who may have a harder time finding work. They preferred to go “off message” to talk about their families or the Liberation War in Bangladesh. These workers want to tell stories about the complicated nature of transnational lives.</p> <p>Curated storytelling has extended deep into contemporary social life and political and cultural institutions. Curated stories package diverse histories and experiences into easily digestible soundbites and singular narratives of individual victims. The impact has been to deflect our attention from structurally defined axes of oppression and to defuse the oppositional politics of social movements. Perhaps, in response, we should heed Benjamin’s call for more deeply contextualized and complex storytelling—the slow piling up&nbsp;of thin, transparent layers, one on top of the other—that is so much needed in today’s world.</p><p><em>Sujatha Fernandes is the author of <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/curated-stories-9780190618056?cc=us&amp;lang=en">Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling</a>, published by Oxford University Press.</em></p> <p><em>This article was first published on the <a href="https://blog.oup.com/2018/06/curated-stories-storytelling/">OUP blog</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/simon-hodges/what%E2%80%99s-so-special-about-storytelling-for-social-change">What’s so special about storytelling for social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/joanna-wheeler/unlocking-transformative-potential-of-storytelling">Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/karen-malpede/drama-of-thinking-heart">The drama of the thinking heart</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation storytelling Sujatha Fernandes Culture Thu, 28 Jun 2018 18:30:59 +0000 Sujatha Fernandes 118550 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Would psychedelics really lead to democratic transformation? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/adam-smith/would-psychedelics-really-lead-to-democratic-transformation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>History offers many&nbsp;reasons to look askance at technical shortcuts to the reformation of human character: a response to <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd">Vikram Zutshi</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Adam Smith.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/25604678278">Flickr/Torbakhopper</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In his recent article for <em>Transformation</em> <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd">Vikram Zutshi</a> argues that if psychedelic drugs can radically reform our relationship to nature and each other, then “those of us committed to social transformation must start to take the use of psychedelics much more seriously.” He suggests that in the face of environmental collapse and intensifying hatreds, “perhaps real change begins with rewiring our perceptual framework.”</p> <p>It seems clear that psychedelics can rewire our perceptions, and since our perceptions drive our politics these drugs certainly do have political significance. But it’s not clear that that a psychedelic politics would also be a&nbsp;<em>democratic</em>&nbsp;politics, nor that the social transformations Zutshi envisions would be positive if what we want is a more open and inclusive democracy.</p> <p>Of course everything depends on what we mean by terms. Maybe Zutshi has a different notion of what politics is, and what it means for politics to be democratic. I think politics is democratic when we meet each other as equals in debates about public matters. So, for example, there can be no democratic politics between children and adults. Of course in reality the line between childhood and adulthood is messy. Some children are more than the equal of adults and some adults are less mature than some children. </p> <p>But the point is this: democracy is never just about inclusion in the abstract. It’s always about being included&nbsp;<em>into</em>&nbsp;some real community of people who treat each other as equals—not in every capacity but in terms of the capacities required to participate in common decision-making. We can debate precisely what these capacities are, but if so that means that one of the good democrat’s capacities is precisely the willingness to debate, and that includes a basic level of respect for facts and logic, as well as for the feelings and sensibilities of others.</p> <p>Of course there’s always a risk that the requirements for inclusion in this process will be confused with excuses to exclude people who ought to be treated as equals—groups that traditionally have been marginalized and oppressed such as women, minorities and the poor. But if there are no such requirements then we are no longer talking substantively about democracy, because a democracy isn’t just a particular set of rules for governing the use of power. It’s also a particular attitude, a desire and determination to <em>share</em> power. </p> <p>This attitude must be cultivated and can also be lost, but it’s very clear that not everyone shares it.&nbsp; So the democratic project is never just about making political institutions more democratic. It’s always also about making human beings into democrats. It’s about making ourselves and others into certain kinds of people, people who are capable of acting as democratic citizens.</p> <p>Would a more psychedelic politics really be a more democratic one?</p> <p>I think Zutshi’s prescription for his brave new world makes the common mistake of thinking instrumentally about what are ultimately ethical questions. For him, psychedelics are a means to an end: we should use these drugs to make a certain sort of person in order to make a certain sort of politics so that we can make everyone happy. But thinking about democratic politics in this way is misguided. </p> <p>Democracy isn’t an end-state to be achieved; if it was, an end-run to its achievement might be justified. When we think democratically we do have goals in mind—to do justice, diminish suffering and so forth. But in terms of democracy it is better to think of the goals themselves as means to these ends, and to think of the ends not as whatever we might accomplish but as&nbsp;<em>how</em>&nbsp;we try to accomplish it. </p> <p>We can see what is dangerous about instrumental thinking when we think about the terrible things that have been done to people in the name of ‘the people’—the &nbsp;<em>gulags </em>and pogroms and cultural revolutions, the ‘eggs broken for all the omelets.’ History offers many&nbsp;reasons to look askance at technical shortcuts to the reformation of human character, including more recent neoliberal attempts to reduce people completely to cogs in the capitalist machine.</p> <p>What is it about psychedelics that might make them the wrong way to go about reaching the right place? Just this, in my view: what we respect in ourselves and in our fellow citizens—that special capacity that justifies political inclusion—is not our capacity to see the world ‘clearly.’ If it were, and if psychedelics really did give us that capacity all in one go, then some of my suspicion would be soothed. </p> <p>But that can’t be right, since it would make ideological clarity the litmus test for inclusion. And if that’s the test we use to distinguish ‘more democratic’ from ‘less democratic’ then there’s little room for a politics in which citizens know, not only how to cooperate but also how to engage respectfully in <em>conflict</em> with each other; a politics in which people know how to fight on the ground with and against their political friends, not just how to ascend to the spiritual heights where all differences dissolve in some psychedelic state of bliss. </p> <p>In Zutshi’s vision there isn’t much room for a&nbsp;<em>democratic</em>&nbsp;politics like this, because in a democratic politics we don’t just&nbsp;make&nbsp;people into democrats by implementing one person’s idea of what a democrat is. Instead we are all made into democrats by experience as we contest one another’s ideas and positions. So it’s in conversation that we come to see more clearly. If everyone already had the clarity that drugs may or may not provide, there would be no need for conversation at all. There would be no need for anything like ‘democracy.’ </p> <p>We can pursue democratic goals democratically, but we can also pursue them in an un-democratic spirit, in which case we must hope that we fail. Psychedelics might open up the spirit of politics but I’m not sure it would be the spirit that we want.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd">The political significance of LSD</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ronan-harrington-emil-ejner-friis/why-progressives-need-to-take-higher-states-of-cons">Why progressives need to take higher states of consciousness seriously</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jeremy-gilbert/psychedelic-socialism">Psychedelic socialism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Adam Smith Culture Tue, 19 Jun 2018 19:55:19 +0000 Adam Smith 118422 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why we should all be concerned about musicians’ mental health https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/lydia-smith/why-we-should-all-be-concerned-about-musicians-mental-health <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">Music is crucial to everyone’s wellbeing, so when musicians suffer so does the rest of society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LydiaSmith3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit live @ The Caves, Edinburgh. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/markusthorsen/3106578760">Flickr/Marcus Thorsen</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Last month, the tragic news of the death of Frightened Rabbit singer <a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/frightened-rabbit-singer-scott-hutchison-dead-at-36-w520181">Scott Hutchison</a> hit the music community hard. He had spoken openly about his struggles with anxiety and depression, and channelled raw emotion into his songs. He was found dead at the age of 36.</p> <p class="normal">Hutchison wasn’t alone in facing these problems. Around <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/">one in four people</a> in the UK experience mental health issues each year, and this problem affects musicians disproportionately. A <a href="https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2016/can-music-make-you-sick-new-research-from-the-university-of-westminster-finds-musicians-are-three-times-more-likely-to-suffer-illness">2016 survey</a> by the University of Westminster for the charity <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/">Help Musicians UK</a> found that those working in music can be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public. Addressing this problem isn’t just crucial for musicians; it’s crucial for the whole of society and the economy, and for our collective health and wellbeing, because we all benefit when the creative arts are thriving.</p> <p class="normal">Mental health is complex and there are many factors that can impact our wellbeing, from our surroundings to our relationships. But the Westminster research highlighted something that many people already know only too well—that musicians face unique pressures.</p> <p class="normal">Low and unpredictable pay and a lack of financial stability affect musicians’ mental health, and the uncertainties around employment go hand in hand with the pressure to be ‘creative on demand.’ Many are forced to juggle several jobs and often work away from home which can be exhausting and isolating. The absence of a regular routine along with poor sleep and bad eating habits all influence wellbeing.</p> <p class="normal">“Being a musician has the impact of any self-employed job, you never switch off, everything is connected to your success; your relationships, your friendships and your social life,” Joe Tilson told me in a recent interview, a singer-songwriter from West Yorkshire. “At the time I never thought of music as the cause of any of my low points, I saw it as the escape and cure, that I was lucky to have it.</p> <p class="normal">Now I’m looking back from a more balanced life of music, work and family, I can recognise that a lot of the things that caused me anxiety and dark times were as a result of my devotion to music. Maybe if being devoted to music was more widely accepted as a choice for a living, the less disconnect there would be from the majority of people.”</p> <p class="normal">But it’s not just the conditions that musicians face in the music industry that creates these problems—it’s also the condition of the industry itself. Over the last decade, austerity in the UK has <a href="https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Funding%20Arts%20and%20Culture%20in%20a%20time%20of%20Austerity%20(Adrian%20Harvey).pdf">squeezed</a> local authority spending on arts and culture. Early in 2018, <a href="https://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Home/News/2018/May/Britain-risks-cultural-void">research by the Musicians’ Union</a> found that 44 per cent of orchestral musicians in the UK say they don’t earn enough to live on because of funding cuts.</p> <p class="normal">Because of this increasing financial squeeze, professional musicians who have spent years honing their talents are being forced to take other jobs, and it’s not a stretch to say that someone’s self-worth may decline when they aren’t able to use their skills to make a living. Musicians in the UK aren’t alone in facing this problem. In the US, for example, President Trump has repeatedly <a href="https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/trump-budget-eliminates-pbs-nea-funding-1202695205/">sought</a> to end federal funding for government arts programmes, although fortunately, he’s been unsuccessful so far.</p> <p class="normal">Despite the huge contribution of the music industry to the economy—with creative industries <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy">estimated to generate £85 billion net annually to Britain’s GDP</a> according to 2016 figures—governments &nbsp;still fail to recognise its importance, including in education. Recent research by the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42862996">BBC</a> found that creative arts subjects are being cut back in many schools because of funding pressures and an emphasis on a narrow core curriculum. For universities meanwhile, courses in creative subjects are being undermined by a focus on graduate salaries as a measure of success, with many arts and humanities courses being labelled as a waste of time because they won’t lead to well-paid employment.</p> <p class="normal">Music venues, which are integral to local communities, are closing. Around a third of the UK's small gig spaces have closed in the past decade, according to <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41152834/the-new-campaign-to-save-small-music-venues">Music Venue Trust</a>. One venue in south London, <a href="https://www.southwarknews.co.uk/news/20919-2/">The Montague Arms</a>, shut just a few months ago only to be replaced with a music-less gastropub—of &nbsp;which there are plenty already.</p> <p class="normal">While these issues may not directly lead to mental health problems they send out the message that creativity isn’t valued, and when combined with the challenges musicians already face they have the potential to undermine their wellbeing even further. Witnessing the arts being sidelined runs the risk of depleting musicians’ self-worth and self-belief. Therefore, ensuring that everyone working in music has access to mental health support is essential, and there are a number of organisations which do offer help.</p> <p class="normal">Last year for example, <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/">Help Musicians UK</a> launched <a href="https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/">Music Minds Matter</a>, a 24/7 nationwide mental health service for anyone working in the music industry. Despite government cuts to arts funding, the charity is increasing its support for various initiatives including the <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/working-retired-musicians/musicians-hearing-health-scheme">Musician’s Hearing Health Scheme</a> and the <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/creative-programme">Creative Programme</a>, which supports emerging artists.</p> <p class="normal">Musicians can also access free health assessments through <a href="http://www.bapam.org.uk/">The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM)</a>, while the charity <a href="http://www.musicsupport.org/what-we-do">Music Support</a> offers help to anyone working in the music industry struggling with their mental health. It also provides ‘safe tents’ at music festivals for artists and those working backstage to address issues that may come up while on tour. <a href="http://www.mind.org.uk/">Mind</a>, the national mental health charity, also provides advice and support.</p> <p class="normal">None of this is just an issue for individual musicians; protecting them and their ability to make music is also crucial for the health and creativity of society as a whole. We often express our innermost emotions and feelings through music and communicate to others what isn’t always possible in words. Listening to music has a major, positive impact on our mental health, in part because <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12135590">it releases dopamine</a>, a neurochemical that’s linked to wellbeing.</p> <p class="normal">Music lessons in schools also have huge benefits for children, boosting their <a href="https://www.makeabignoise.org.uk/news-events/raplochs-big-noise-children-are-happier-more-confident-and-better-behaved/">happiness</a>, self-esteem, concentration, <a href="http://www.ucl.ac.uk/impact/case-study-repository/music-in-schools">numeracy and language skill</a>s. “The positive impact of art and culture on society can’t be overstated,” Ruth Kilpatrick told me, who works with the ‘<a href="https://twitter.com/prsfund">PRS for Music Fund</a>,’ a charity providing financial help and support to members of <a href="https://www.prsformusic.com/">PRS</a>, the UK’s music licensing organisation.</p> <p class="normal">“Human beings thrive on connection and shared experience, a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. Music, art and culture in general all connect us to a common thread and deserve to be valued as such.”</p> <p class="normal">Singer-songwriter Joe Tilson takes this argument one stage further: in an age where more work is being automated, he told me, it’s especially important to recognise the importance of creative arts and music.</p> <p class="normal">“There is so much value and transferable skills from the world of performing music that can make people a positive addition to the workplace. People will always be creative. The less support the government gives, the more the government will be the focus of poor, angry, frustrated musicians.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lydia-smith/why-mental-health-is-hidden-cost-of-housing-crisis">Why mental health is the hidden cost of the housing crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/mental-health-why-were-all-sick-under-neoliberalism">Mental health: why we&#039;re all sick under neoliberalism </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/amber-massie-blomfield/austerity-inequality-and-arts">Austerity, inequality and the arts</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Lydia Smith The politics of mental health Care Culture Tue, 12 Jun 2018 20:29:41 +0000 Lydia Smith 118284 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Brexit, Corbyn and us: what disappointment can teach us about politics and ourselves https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/paul-walsh/brexit-corbyn-and-us-what-disappointment-can-teach-us-about-politics-and-o <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If politicians aren’t planning for disappointment then they’re not living in reality.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/PaulWalsh3.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/signs-stainless-board-416444/">Pixabay/geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 1.0</a>.</p> <p>Dr <a href="http://www.ucd.ie/research/people/business/drannetteclancy/">Annette Clancy’s doctoral research</a> explores the role of disappointment in organisations. I talked to her about the political significance of her work on May 15 2018.</p> <p><strong>Paul Walsh</strong>: How might your work apply to politics? I'm thinking of Brexit as a disappointment time bomb in particular.<br /> <br /> <strong>Annette Clancy</strong>: Brexit is a glorious example of the folly of fantasy. It was entirely conducted along the lines of a fantasy Britain. A fantasy Britain that never existed. I don't know when this honeymoon period people talk about in Britain that we're trying to get back to was; there’s certainly a degree of fantasy on the side of the Brexiters. Where disappointment comes in is that if we don't talk about our fantasies and try to uncover what they are...they're a cover story for something. &nbsp;Fantasy is a cover story. If we simply try and fulfil our fantasies we will always be disappointed. We simply will.</p> <p>It's not possible to deliver the Brexit dream—because it is a fantasy. It was set up for disappointment as soon as it was articulated. And you know, the conversation that I believe should have happened is: What is this fantasy of a ‘white Britain’ or an ‘everybody-at-work Britain’ telling us about how Britain is constructed today? Do we actually have to have a conversation about immigration? Do we have to realise that there are swathes of people who are living in poverty and don't have jobs? They are the conversations that drove the fantasy and yet it's rare you see them being taken out and <em>really </em>articulated in a way that's meaningful for people.</p><p> The other thing about politics and disappointment is that we’re always going to be perpetually disappointed in politicians as we hold them to a higher standard. I think this is the joy of Donald Trump, who is doing exactly what he said he would do, which most politicians don't when they get elected. We have this fantasy idea of how politicians should behave, unlike how normal human beings behave. The real work goes on behind the scenes and we don't see it. If politicians were to be honest about the work, they might not get re-elected. We want the fantasy of the ideal leader, the ideal politician.</p> <p><strong>PW</strong>: Considering the recent UK council election results and ongoing accusations of anti-Semitism, what advice would you give to Jeremy Corbyn on dealing with disappointment?</p> <p><strong>AC</strong>: If political parties are not being disappointing, and being disappointed, then they and their followers are living in a fantasy. It isn’t real. And if political parties are not expecting and planning for disappointment—that is, reality—then they are not adequately planning for a real future.</p> <p>On the other issue, why wouldn’t there be anti-Semitism in the Labour party if there’s anti-Semitism in the wider population? It’s only a controversy if we carry the fantasy that the Labour party is the good party and the Conservatives the bad party. My research on disappointment suggests we’re all good/bad at the same time. We’re all satisfying and disappointing at the same time.&nbsp; Rather than be shocked by this, what would it mean to say that this exists? The Labour party is representative of wider society and not a sanitised or polarized place in which everybody does the right thing all of the time.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>PW</strong>: What might we learn from disappointment?<br /> <br /> <strong>AC</strong>: We might learn what really matters to people. Are the tasks we're asking people to do—are they the right tasks? Are they do-able? One person I interviewed talked about exceeding their quota in a call centre by twenty per cent last year. This year the new normal is last year <em>plus twenty per cent.</em> Something about what we're asking people to do and the resources they have to do it with is contested by disappointment.</p> <p>Can we learn from emotion instead of being terrified it's going to derail everything? What might happen if we were to simply listen and think about disappointment and other feelings we denigrate as negative? What might happen if we treated emotion as data? We could learn a lot about how organisations really work.</p> <p>One of the things I learned when I started to talk to people is that everybody has an experience of disappointment. Yet there's very little written about it. That to me suggests there's a fear of what might happen if we were to talk about how disappointed we all are.</p> <p>The more we talk about disappointment as failure—my failure to live up to your expectation of me, your failure to live up to mine—we're stuck in this blame/shame dynamic. We’re trying to work out whose fault it is and it kills and dampens down any possibility of doing something different. My research suggests that if you think about disappointment as loss, we have to mourn the idea.</p> <p>I call it 'mourning the future'. As&nbsp;a woman you’re in your late 30s you think to yourself <em>Do I have a child or not?</em> It's&nbsp;not just a biological decision—it's a decision about how I imagined my life would be. And if we can actually mourn that future it means we can make different decisions about what that future looks like. If we can't mourn it then we're stuck.</p> <p>With my clients I began to work with them around the loss, around this piece of grieving. What does it mean for you that you’re not the person you imagined yourself to be? What does it mean that&nbsp;you are never going to be the manager of that organisation? Or that you've tried for a job three times in this organisation and they don't want you. Move into that space and I discovered it really transformed people's working relationships. If we can move into the loss it’s a much more human place to be.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/paul-walsh/life-s-pitch">Life’s a pitch</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/paul-walsh/how-alt-right-s-new-online-culture-wars-made-hate-mainstream">Halfway to Gilead: how the alt-right’s online culture wars made hate mainstream</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/why-brexit-its-english-stupid">Why Brexit? It&#039;s the English, stupid.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation uk Transformation Brexit Political polarization Paul Walsh Culture Thu, 07 Jun 2018 20:10:05 +0000 Paul Walsh 118070 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The political significance of LSD https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The shifts in consciousness brought about by psychedelics could help to dissolve our fear of the other.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/VikramZutshi3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">High Level on LSD. Credit: Flickr/<a title="Go to Kurt Bauschardt&#039;s photostream" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kurt-b/">Kurt Bauschardt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>“<a href="https://betterhumans.coach.me/how-one-year-of-microdosing-helped-my-career-relationships-and-happiness-715dbccdfae4">Microdosing</a>” on psychedelic substances like <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysergic_acid_diethylamide">LSD</a>—ingesting just enough to heighten cognitive faculties, enhance creativity, improve concentration and alleviate depression—is currently back in vogue among people not normally associated with anything remotely ‘countercultural’ in the USA.</p> <p>The term <em>psychedelic</em> was coined in 1958 by British psychiatrist <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/22/us/humphry-osmond-86-who-sought-medicinal-value-in-psychedelic-drugs-dies.html">Humphrey Osmond</a> and is derived from the Greek words <em>psyche</em> ("soul, mind") and <em>delein</em> ("to manifest"), hence "soul-manifesting," the implication being that psychedelics can access the soul and develop unused potentials in the human mind. It’s a contention that’s gaining increased acceptance in mainstream universities.</p> <p><a href="https://nyulangone.org/press-releases/single-dose-of-hallucinogenic-drug-psilocybin-relieves-anxiety-depression-in-patients-with-advanced-cancer">New York University</a>, for example, is hosting clinical trials using <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin">psilocybin</a> to treat alcohol addiction. The <a href="http://www.maps.org/1267-new_york_university_psilocybin_and_cancer_study">Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies</a>&nbsp;(MAPS) has been at the forefront of research in treating patients suffering from chronic treatment-resistant PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MDMA">MDMA</a>, commonly known as ‘Ecstasy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/ecstasy-could-be-breakthrough-therapy-for-soldiers-others-suffering-from-ptsd/2017/08/26/009314ca-842f-11e7-b359-15a3617c767b_story.html?utm_term=.21acecefab67.%E2%80%99">recently designated</a> its MDMA-assisted psychotherapy project as a ‘breakthrough therapy.’ Apart from MDMA, MAPS also advocates the use of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayahuasca">Ayahuasca,</a> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibogaine">Ibogaine</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_cannabis">medical marijuana</a> for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/10/ibogaine-heroin-addiction-treatment-gabon-withdrawal-danger-death">a variety of conditions</a> ranging from bipolar syndrome and drug addiction to autism-related disorders, ADHD and clinical depression.</p> <p>The therapeutic use of psychedelics isn’t new. Between 1953 and 1973, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2014/sep/02/psychedelic-psychiatry">US federal government funded over a hundred studies</a> on LSD with more than 1,700 subjects participating. Psychedelics were tested on convicts, substance abusers, people suffering from chronic depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenics and terminal cancer patients. LSD was also tested on artists and scientists to explore its effects on creativity, and on divinity students to examine spirituality from a neuroscientific perspective. The empirical data gathered from these tests <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5625021/">was largely positive</a>.</p> <p>LSD “truly was an acid, dissolving almost everything with which it came into contact, beginning with the hierarchies of the mind… and going on from there to society’s various structures of authority” says author <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/books/review-how-to-change-your-mind-psychedelics-science-michael-pollan.html">Michael Pollan</a> in his book <em>How To Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics. </em>And that’s what makes this subject <em>socially and politically</em> interesting.</p> <p>“It is curious to me that what I see as the two greatest threats—environmental crisis and [political] tribalism—these drugs directly address both those mindsets” <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/may/12/michael-pollan-reluctant-psychonanaut-psychedelic-drugs-how-to-change-your-mind">Pollan told the Guardian</a> in a recent interview. “They undermine our tendency to objectify nature, to think of ourselves as separate from it. They undermine tribalism in that people tend to emerge from these experiences thinking that we are all more alike, all more connected.”</p> <p>If this is true, then those of us committed to social transformation must start to take the use of psychedelics much more seriously. But what’s the actual or potential connection between LSD and politics?</p> <p>It was a Swiss chemist called&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/flashback-lsd-creator-albert-hofmann-acid-first-time-w519320">Albert Hoffman </a>who discovered the drug by accident in 1938. While conducting research on another pharmaceutical compound he absorbed the drug through his skin and staggered home to lie down on his sofa, where, “in a dreamlike state, with eyes closed”, he wrote later, “I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours.” Hoffman felt he had been given the keys to unlocking the mysteries of the universe, “the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality.”</p> <p>A few decades later in August 1960, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary">Timothy Leary</a>, a clinical psychologist from Harvard University, traveled to Cuernavaca in Mexico and ingested <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin_mushroom">psilocybin (‘magic’) mushrooms</a> for the first time, an experience that radically altered the course of his life. In 1965, <a href="https://timeline.com/with-the-help-of-a-bank-executive-this-mexican-medicine-woman-hipped-america-to-magic-mushrooms-c41f866bbf37">Leary commented</a> &nbsp;that he had "learned more about ... (his) brain and its possibilities...[and] more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than...in the preceding 15 years of studying and doing research in psychology." Leary became a lifelong evangelist for the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.</p> <p>Theoretical physicist <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview">Carlos Rovelli</a>, author of <em><a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/301539/the-order-of-time/">The Order of Time</a>, </em>says his romance with quantum theory and the mysteries of the space-time continuum were sparked by his LSD trips as a student radical at the University of Bologna. “It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually,” <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview">he told the Guardian</a>. “Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality. How do I know that the usual perception is right, and this is wrong?”</p> <p>Rovelli has spent the better part of his life grappling with the relationship between space, time and consciousness, fundamental concepts that underlie existence and how we simultaneously perceive the world and shape it. “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” <a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/301539/the-order-of-time/">he writes</a>, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect.’” The concept of time, he says, “has lost layers one after another, piece by piece.” We are left with “an empty windswept landscape almost devoid of all trace of temporality…a world stripped to its essence, glittering with an arid and troubling beauty.”</p> <p>Large parts of the world are being polarized at a rate rarely seen before, helped in no small measure by social media ‘filter bubbles’ and algorithms that divide people sharply along the lines of nationality or ideology, their underlying human connections rendered increasingly irrelevant. Perhaps such deep hatred and suspicion of the other was always there, but now it has taken center stage and is being used as a potent election strategy by populist and hyper-nationalist leaders the world over. Like herds of cattle, large numbers of people are being programmed and deployed as pawns for a larger agenda.</p> <p>Therefore, perhaps real change begins with rewiring our perceptual framework. Psychedelic substances have been ingested sacramentally by indigenous cultures to achieve this goal since the dawn of time, and now they’re being validated by the scientific and medical communities. The shifts in consciousness that can be brought about by psychedelics can help in dissolving the man-made boundaries or fear of the other that are implanted in our collective psyche.</p> <p>While Silicon Valley bio-hackers microdosing on LSD to enhance their workplace performance may not be looking to bring about tectonic shifts in collective consciousness, there’s no reason to restrict the use of psychedelics to these groups and purposes. They could also work as a potent catalyst to awaken humankind to the dangers of toxic nationalism and rabid nativism that threaten to engulf us.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ronan-harrington-emil-ejner-friis/why-progressives-need-to-take-higher-states-of-cons">Why progressives need to take higher states of consciousness seriously</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/jeremy-gilbert/psychedelic-socialism">Psychedelic socialism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/vikram-zutshi/could-extraterrestrials-help-us-save-earth">Could extraterrestrials help us save the Earth?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Vikram Zutshi Liberation Culture Tue, 05 Jun 2018 20:32:10 +0000 Vikram Zutshi 118215 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Reveal, remember and resist: the three Rs remixed https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/leon-prescod/reveal-remember-and-resist-three-rs-remixed <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Passivity in the young is an obstacle to social transformation. Let’s teach kids to recognize and use their agency.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LeonPescod.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Student protesters with placards at the Morristown New Jersey student protest, March 24 2018. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Student_protesters_with_placards_at_the_Morristown_New_Jersey_student_protest_March_24_2018_9_of_15.jpg">Tomwsulcer via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <blockquote><p>“It is not important what we cover, but what you discover.” <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Weisskopf">Victor&nbsp;Weisskopf</a></p></blockquote> <p>I spent eight years at two schools in the UK as a parent governor and was vice chair on two very different governing bodies, working with committed staff and volunteers to try and improve educational opportunities for thousands of children.&nbsp;I’m not sure how much we achieved.&nbsp;When a system is focused on teaching children to pass tests rather than how to learn, it turns out young adults who are highly efficient at regurgitating facts and relatively inefficient when it comes to intelligent questioning and independent thought.&nbsp; </p> <p>Passivity in the young is an obstacle to progressive change, so whilst acknowledging the value of the traditional ‘three Rs’ of reading, writing and arithmetic I’m proposing three more which &nbsp;might result in a more engaged citizenry, and ultimately a more equitable society: reveal, remember and resist.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Reveal.</strong></p> <p>Recently, my son returned from school and told us about a presentation pupils had received from a group of young Israelis.&nbsp;The presenters extolled the virtues of life in Israel, speaking of their wonderful experiences of education, community and of how proud they were to serve in the Israeli Defence Force.&nbsp;My son was uncomfortable with what he perceived as a propaganda exercise on behalf of the Israeli state.&nbsp;One of his peers bravely raised a hand and asked how the presenters felt about Palestinians wanting their land back in the Occupied Territories.&nbsp;The dismissive reply was that they had not come to talk about that issue.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prompted by his sense of injustice, we accompanied my son to speak with one of the school leaders about the need for balance when addressing such a contentious issue. We pointed out that providing a platform for representatives of an occupying force without offering any counter narrative is at best an oversight and at worst an endorsement of what is viewed by many as a violently oppressive militaristic regime.</p> <p>Apparently a parent at the school had offered to organise the presentation and no checks were carried out to determine the content.&nbsp;The deputy head was embarrassed, understood our concerns and agreed to look for opportunities to provide a more balanced presentation for students in future.&nbsp;That recognition will hopefully benefit all the students at the school, and it came about because a child spotted something he thought was unfair and chose to reveal rather than ignore it.&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes it feels as if we live in the age of revelation—not in a biblical sense but a technological one.&nbsp;From Edward Snowden to Chelsea Manning to Christopher Wylie, modern-day whistle-blowers have direct access to information classified as secret by government agencies or private corporations.&nbsp;The growing impact of people-led movements, not just data-led, is evidence of the power even of smaller, personal revelations.</p> <p>You have agency, so use it. &nbsp;Revelation is an active process.</p> <p><strong>Remember.</strong></p> <p>On 14 June 2017, <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-40272168">the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower</a> in west London killed 71 people, injured scores more and left hundreds homeless.&nbsp;I cried as I watched the images on my television; I was moved to donate immediately to a charitable fund offering support to those affected; I visited the neighbourhood in the following days, not as a voyeur but as a bereaved community member.&nbsp;</p> <p>In my childhood, I learned to ride my bicycle in the shadow of Grenfell; as a teenager, I learned to love and hate on the estate and the streets surrounding the tower.&nbsp;My parents have lived for over six decades no more than a two-minute walk from what is now a charred carcass, a Kubrickian monolith, testament to the deadly folly of man’s vaunting ambition and limitless greed. I felt the loss of those lives in a painfully profound way, not as a dispassionate observer.&nbsp;</p> <p>And yet, in order to write the previous paragraph I had to Google the date of the fire and the numbers killed.&nbsp;I’m not devoid of empathy or indifferent to the suffering of others.&nbsp;It is human to forget. Healing requires us to leave the hurt behind, when we’re able to.&nbsp;As an individual coping with loss I don’t berate myself for forgetting.&nbsp;At a societal level however, we would do well to attend to the oft-quoted words of <a href="https://www.iep.utm.edu/santayan/">George Santayana</a>: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”</p> <p>Ask yourself what the date was when planes crashed into the World Trade Centre.&nbsp;What year did the Second World War start and finish?&nbsp;These dates are, quite rightly, seared into our collective consciousness.&nbsp;This not-forgetting arises because those events have radically altered our reality.&nbsp; But it is also true that our reality has been radically altered in part&nbsp;<em>because</em>&nbsp;of that not-forgetting. The process of learning from the past in order to shape our future requires us to remember. Regardless of the direction of change we wish to take, it is important to recognise significant historical moments if we are to be taken seriously in our attempts to articulate a vision for change.&nbsp;</p> <p>The act of societal remembering must not be passive, because societal forgetting is often engineered, imposed and active.&nbsp;Our governments move from one murderous overseas war to another,&nbsp;continuously privilege the most wealthy over the most deprived, relentlessly under-resource the services required to increase equality, and ceaselessly churn out the message that we’ve ‘never had it so good.’&nbsp; </p> <p>But of that money promised by the government for rehousing and support for the families left homeless in Grenfell Tower, how much has been forthcoming? &nbsp;As we approach the anniversary of this beacon of inequality in one of the richest countries on Earth, why are there still families without a place they call home?</p> <p>You have agency, so use it.&nbsp; Not-forgetting is an active process.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Resist.</strong></p> <p>Most great narratives of myth and history feature individuals or groups struggling against seemingly insurmountable forces.&nbsp;Everybody loves an underdog because those tales reflect a universal truth about societies: if the objective is to better the lot of the masses, what is required is to challenge concentrations of power and authority.&nbsp;This is the fundamental mathematics of equality and justice—that the cake should always be shared fairly.</p> <p>Holding on to that clarity is crucial, but it requires commitment and daily acts of resistance. The utter chaos that is the education system in England is a perfect example of something which runs contrary to the basic mathematics of equality and justice.&nbsp;When my children were younger there was a huge effort from the local authority to turn their small community primary school into an academy run by a large chain, headed by former and current hedge fund managers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Initially, parents, pupils and staff worked to maintain a sense of togetherness, continuing to provide a village school feel for children from some of London’s most deprived areas.&nbsp;The demonstrable love for the school from pupils, parents and teachers was clear evidence of an institution rising to meet the needs of local people.&nbsp;In the face of what constituted an attempted hostile takeover, working to increase that love and to serve the community to the best of their ability was an act of resistance.&nbsp;In embodying the values we hold dear, in being the change we want to see in the world, we resist that which stands in opposition to those values.&nbsp; </p> <p>As a parent governor, I sat in meetings with the local authority and representatives of the proposed academy chain where we asked for justifications, evidence and plans; scrutinised detail; and returned with further questions. All the governors agreed that this was not something anyone in our school community wished to proceed with.&nbsp;We started delaying, using all the tools at our disposal to tie the process up in red tape, knowing that if we could prove difficult enough for long enough, the proposal would go away.&nbsp; </p> <p>One staff member then involved her union, who wrote to the press, organised community meetings, and mobilised parents and pupils to protest loudly with placards and chants. This was painfully uncomfortable for governors, who were often lumped in with the local authority as having betrayed the community and sold the school down the river, which was the opposite of the truth.&nbsp;But it was another effective tactic.&nbsp; </p> <p>Eventually, the local authority agreed to give us six months to recruit an outstanding headteacher and to hit various progress targets as a school.&nbsp;We did so, and the following year the school was one of the most improved in London according to Ofsted (whether or not that measure means anything).&nbsp; The academy proposal disappeared, and five years later ours remains a state school sanctuary for many underprivileged children, successfully serving the needs of the community in which it sits.</p> <p>You have agency, so use it.&nbsp; Resistance is an active process.&nbsp;</p> <p>Resist, reveal and remember are the keys to any education worthy of the name.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/paul-tritschler/what-s-point-of-education">What’s the point of education?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/unspoken-atrocity-of-standardized-education">The unspoken atrocity of standardized education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ernest-anemone/badass-teachers-and-future-of-american-democracy">Badass teachers and the future of American democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation schools Leon Prescod Care Culture Tue, 22 May 2018 20:16:26 +0000 Leon Prescod 117799 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why. https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives<em>.</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Steven_Pinker.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Steven Pinker giving a lecture to Humanists UK, February 22 2018. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steven_Pinker.jpg">Bhaawest via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p><p>In <em><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317051/enlightenment-now-by-steven-pinker/9780525427575/">Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress</a></em>, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. He berates those who focus on what is wrong with the world’s current condition as pessimists who only help to incite regressive reactionaries. Instead, he glorifies the dominant neoliberal, technocratic approach to solving the world’s problems as the only one that has worked in the past and will continue to lead humanity on its current triumphant path.</p> <p>His book has incited strong reactions, both positive and negative. On one hand, Bill Gates has, for example, effervesced that “It’s my new favorite book of all time.” On the other hand, Pinker has been fiercely excoriated by a wide range of leading thinkers for writing a simplistic, incoherent paean to the dominant world order. John Gray, in <a href="https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2018/02/unenlightened-thinking-steven-pinker-s-embarrassing-new-book-feeble-sermon">the <em>New Statesman</em></a>, calls it “embarrassing” and “feeble”; David Bell, writing <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/waiting-for-steven-pinkers-enlightenment/">in <em>The Nation</em></a>, sees it as “a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history”; and George Monbiot, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/07/environmental-calamity-facts-steven-pinker">in <em>The Guardian</em></a>, laments the “poor scholarship” and “motivated reasoning” that “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.” (Full disclosure: Monbiot recommends my book, <a href="https://www.jeremylent.com/the-patterning-instinct.html"><em>The Patterning Instinct</em></a>, instead.)</p> <p>In light of all this, you might ask, what is left to add? Having read his book carefully, I believe it’s crucially important to take Pinker to task for some dangerously erroneous arguments he makes. Pinker is, after all, an intellectual darling of the most powerful echelons of global society. He <a href="http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/steven-pinker-excessive-political-correctness-feeds-dangerous-ideas">spoke to the world’s elite</a> this year at the World’s Economic Forum in Davos on the perils of what he calls “political correctness,” and has been named one of <em>Time</em> magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” Since his work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity, it needs to be met with a detailed and rigorous response.</p> <p>Besides, I agree with much of what Pinker has to say. His book is stocked with seventy-five charts and graphs that provide incontrovertible evidence for centuries of progress on many fronts that should matter to all of us: an inexorable decline in violence of all sorts along with equally impressive increases in health, longevity, education, and human rights. It’s precisely because of the validity of much of Pinker’s narrative that the flaws in his argument are so dangerous. They’re concealed under such a smooth layer of data and eloquence that they need to be carefully unraveled. That’s why my response to Pinker is to meet him on his own turf: in each section, like him, I rest my case on hard data exemplified in a graph.&nbsp; </p> <p>This discussion is particularly needed because progress is, in my view, one of the most important concepts of our time. I see myself, in common parlance, as a progressive. Progress is what I, and others I’m close to, care about passionately. Rather than ceding this idea to the coterie of neoliberal technocrats who constitute Pinker’s primary audience, I believe we should hold it in our steady gaze, celebrate it where it exists, understand its true causes, and most importantly, ensure that it continues in a form that future generations on this earth can enjoy. I hope this piece helps to do just that.</p> <h2>Graph 1: Overshoot</h2> <p>In November 2017, around the time when Pinker was likely putting the final touches on his manuscript, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">issued a dire warning</a> to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JeremyLent1.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 1: Three graphs from World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.</p> <p>They included nine sobering charts and a carefully worded, extensively researched analysis showing that, on a multitude of fronts, the human impact on the earth’s biological systems is increasing at an unsustainable rate. Three of those alarming graphs are shown here: the rise in CO2 emissions; the decline in available freshwater; and the increase in the number of ocean dead zones from artificial fertilizer runoff.</p> <p>This was not the first such notice. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world, calling for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.” The current graphs starkly demonstrate how little the world has paid attention to this warning since 1992.</p> <p>Taken together, these graphs illustrate ecological overshoot: the fact that, in the pursuit of material progress, our civilization is consuming the earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished. Overshoot is particularly dangerous because of its relatively slow feedback loops: if your checking account balance approaches zero, you know that if you keep writing checks they will bounce. In overshoot, however, it’s as though our civilization keeps taking out bigger and bigger overdrafts to replenish the account, and then we pretend these funds are income and celebrate our continuing “progress.” In the end, of course, the money runs dry and it’s game over.</p> <p>Pinker claims to respect science, yet he blithely ignores fifteen thousand scientists’ desperate warning to humanity. Instead, he uses the blatant rhetorical technique of ridicule to paint those concerned about overshoot as part of a “quasi-religious ideology… laced with misanthropy, including an indifference to starvation, an indulgence in ghoulish fantasies of a depopulated planet, and Nazi-like comparisons of human beings to vermin, pathogens, and cancer.” He then uses a couple of the most extreme examples he can find to create a straw-man to buttress his caricature. There are issues worthy of debate on the topic of civilization and sustainability, but to approach a subject of such seriousness with emotion-laden rhetoric is morally inexcusable and striking evidence of Monbiot’s claim that Pinker “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.”</p> <p>When Pinker does get serious on the topic, he promotes Ecomodernism as the solution: a neoliberal, technocratic belief that a combination of market-based solutions and technological fixes will magically resolve all ecological problems. This approach fails, however, to take into account the structural drivers of overshoot: a growth-based global economy reliant on ever-increasing monetization of natural resources and human activity. Without changing this structure, overshoot is inevitable. Transnational corporations, which currently constitute sixty-nine of the world’s hundred largest economies, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">are driven only by increasing</a> short-term financial value for their shareholders, regardless of the long-term impact on humanity. As freshwater resources decline, for example, their incentive is to buy up what remains and sell it in plastic throwaway bottles or <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/health/colombia-soda-tax-obesity.html?_r=0">process it into sugary drinks</a>, propelling billions in developing countries toward obesity through sophisticated marketing. In fact, until an imminent collapse of civilization itself, increasing ecological catastrophes are <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/10/31/the-cruel-topsy-turvy-economics-of-collapse/">likely to enhance</a> the GDP of developed countries even while those in less developed regions suffer dire consequences.</p> <p><span><strong>Graphs 2 and 3: progress for whom?</strong></span></p> <p>Which brings us to another fundamental issue in Pinker’s narrative of progress: who actually gets to enjoy it? Much of his book is devoted to graphs showing worldwide progress in quality in life for humanity as a whole. However, some of his omissions and misstatements on this topic are very telling.</p> <p>At one point, Pinker explains that, “Despite the word’s root, humanism doesn’t exclude the flourishing of animals, but this book focuses on the welfare of humankind.” That’s convenient, because any non-human animal might not agree that the past sixty years has been a period of flourishing. In fact, while the world’s GDP has increased 22-fold since 1970, there has been <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">a vast die-off</a> of the creatures with whom we share the earth. As shown in Figure 2, human progress in material consumption has come at the cost of a 58% decline in vertebrates, including a shocking 81% reduction of animal populations in freshwater systems. For every five birds or fish that inhabited a river or lake in 1970, there is now just one.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jeremylent2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 2: Reduction in abundance in global species since 1970. Source: WWF Living Plant Report, 2016.</p> <p>But we don’t need to look outside the human race for Pinker’s selective view of progress. He is pleased to tell us that “racist violence against African Americans… plummeted in the 20th century, and has fallen further since.” What he declines to report is the drastic increase in incarceration rates for African Americans during that same period (Figure 3). An African American man is now six times more likely to be arrested than a white man, resulting in <a href="https://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Trends-in-US-Corrections.pdf">the dismal statistic</a> that one in every three African American men can currently expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime. The grim takeaway from this is that racist violence against African Americans has not declined at all, as Pinker suggests. Instead, it has become institutionalized into U.S. national policy in <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/how-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-is-created/433230/">what is known as</a> the school-to-prison pipeline.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jeremylent3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 3: Historical incarceration rates of African-Americans. Source: <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/04/30/the-meteoric-costly-and-unprecedented-rise-of-incarceration-in-america/?utm_term=.f54d5554031d">The Washington Post</a>.</p> <p><span><strong>Graph 4: A rising tide lifts all boats?</strong></span></p> <p>This brings us to one of the crucial errors in Pinker’s overall analysis. By failing to analyze his top-level numbers with discernment, he unquestioningly propagates one of the great neoliberal myths of the past several decades: that “a rising tide lifts all the boats”—a phrase he unashamedly appropriates for himself as he extols the benefits of inequality. This was <a href="https://www.nationalreview.com/2006/07/rising-tide-more-ways-one-thomas-e-nugent/">the argument used</a> by the original instigators of neoliberal laissez-faire economics, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, to cut taxes, privatize industries, and slash public services with the goal of increasing economic growth.</p> <p>Pinker makes two key points here. First, he argues that “income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being,” pointing to recent research that people are comfortable with differential rewards for others depending on their effort and skill. However, as Pinker himself acknowledges, humans do have a powerful predisposition toward fairness. They want to feel that, if they work diligently, they can be as successful as someone else based on what they do, not on what family they’re born into or what their skin color happens to be. More equal societies are <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/want-the-good-life-your-neighbors-need-it-too">also healthier</a>, which is a condition conspicuously missing from the current economic model, where the divide between rich and poor has become so gaping that the six wealthiest men in the world (including <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/27/business/mind-meld-bill-gates-steven-pinker.html">Pinker’s good friend</a>, Bill Gates) now own <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/richest-men-in-the-world-2274065153.html">as much wealth</a> as the entire bottom half of the world’s population.</p> <p>Pinker’s fallback might, then, be his second point: the rising tide argument, which he extends to the global economy. Here, he cheerfully recounts the story of how Branko Milanović, a leading ex-World Bank economist, analyzed income gains by percentile across the world over the twenty-year period 1988–2008, and discovered something that became widely known as the “Elephant Graph,” because its shape resembled the profile of an elephant with a raised trunk. Contrary to popular belief about rising global inequality, it seemed to show that, while the top 1% did in fact gain more than their fair share of income, lower percentiles of the global population had done just as well. It seemed to be only the middle classes in wealthy countries that had missed out. </p> <p>This graph, however, is virtually meaningless because it calculates growth rates as a percent of widely divergent income levels. Compare a Silicon Valley executive <a href="https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Director-Salaries,-Silicon-Valley-CA">earning $200,000/year</a> with one of the <a href="https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty">three billion people</a> currently living on $2.50 per day or less. If the executive gets a 10% pay hike, she can use the $20,000 to buy a new compact car for her teenage daughter. Meanwhile, that same 10% increase would add, at most, a measly 25 cents per day to each of those three billion. In Graph 4, Oxfam economist Mujeed Jamaldeen shows the original “Elephant Graph” (blue line) contrasted with changes in absolute income levels (green line). The difference is stark.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Figure 4: “Elephant Graph” versus absolute income growth levels. Source: “From Poverty to Power,” Muheed Jamaldeen.</p> <p>The “Elephant Graph” elegantly conceals the fact that the wealthiest 1% experienced nearly 65 times the absolute income growth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Inequality isn’t, in fact, decreasing at all, but going extremely rapidly the other way. Jamaldeen <a href="http://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/whats-happening-on-global-inequality-putting-the-elephant-graph-to-sleep-with-a-hockey-stick/">has calculated</a> that, at the current rate, it would take over 250 years for the income of the poorest 10% to merely reach the global average income of $11/day. By that time, at the current rate of consumption by wealthy nations, it’s safe to say there would be nothing left for them to spend their lucrative earnings on. In fact, the “rising tide” for some barely equates to a drop in the bucket for billions of others.</p> <h2>Graph 5: Measuring genuine progress.</h2> <p>One of the cornerstones of Pinker’s book is the explosive rise in income and wealth that the world has experienced in the past couple of centuries. Referring to the work of economist Angus Deaton, he calls it the “Great Escape” from the historic burdens of human suffering, and shows a chart (Figure 5, left) depicting the rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, which seems to say it all. How could anyone in their right mind refute that evidence of progress? </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent5.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 5: GDP per capita compared with GPI. Source: Kubiszewski et al. "Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress.” Ecological Economics, 2013.</p> <p>There is no doubt that the world has experienced a transformation in material wellbeing in the past two hundred years, and Pinker documents this in detail, from the increased availability of clothing, food, and transportation, to the seemingly mundane yet enormously important decrease in the cost of artificial light. However, there is a point where the rise in economic activity begins to decouple from wellbeing. In fact, GDP merely measures the rate at which a society is transforming nature and human activities into the monetary economy, regardless of the ensuing quality of life. Anything that causes economic activity of any kind, whether good or bad, adds to GDP. An oil spill, for example, increases GDP because of the cost of cleaning it up: the bigger the spill, the better it is for GDP.</p> <p>This divergence is played out, tragically, across the world every day, and is cruelly hidden in global statistics of rising GDP when powerful corporate and political interests destroy the lives of the vulnerable in the name of economic “progress.” In just one of countless examples, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/06/urban-poor-tragedy-altamira-belo-monte-brazil">a recent report</a> in <em>The Guardian</em> describes how indigenous people living on the Xingu River in the Amazon rainforest were forced off their land to make way for the Belo Monte hydroelectric complex in Altamira, Brazil. One of them, Raimundo Brago Gomes, tells how “I didn’t need money to live happy. My whole house was nature… I had my patch of land where I planted a bit of everything, all sorts of fruit trees. I’d catch my fish, make manioc flour… I raised my three daughters, proud of what I was. I was rich.” Now, he and his family live among drug dealers behind barred windows in Brazil’s most violent city, receiving a state pension which, after covering rent and electricity, leaves him about 50 cents a day to feed himself, his wife, daughter, and grandson. Meanwhile, as a result of his family’s forced entry into the monetary economy, Brazil’s GDP has risen.</p> <p>Pinker is aware of the crudeness of GDP as a measure, but uses it repeatedly throughout his book because, he claims, “it correlates with every indicator of human flourishing.” This is not, however, what has been discovered when economists have adjusted GDP to incorporate other major factors that affect human flourishing. One prominent alternative measure, the <a href="https://liologydotnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/kubiszewsky-beyond-gdp.pdf">Genuine Progress Indicator</a> (GPI), reduces GDP for negative environmental factors such as the cost of pollution, loss of primary forest and soil quality, and social factors such as the cost of crime and commuting. It increases the measure for positive factors missing from GDP such as housework, volunteer work, and higher education. Sixty years of historical GPI for many countries around the world have been measured, and the results resoundingly refute Pinker’s claim of GDP’s correlation with wellbeing. In fact, as shown by the purple line in Figure 5 (right), it turns out that the world’s Genuine Progress peaked in 1978 and has been steadily falling ever since.</p> <h2>Graph 6: What has improved global health?</h2> <p>One of Pinker’s most important themes is the undisputed improvement in overall health and longevity that the world has enjoyed in the past century. It’s a powerful and heart-warming story. Life expectancy around the world has more than doubled in the past century. Infant mortality everywhere is a tiny fraction of what it once was. Improvements in medical knowledge and hygiene have saved literally billions of lives. Pinker appropriately quotes economist Steven Radelet that these improvements “rank among the greatest achievements in human history.”</p> <p>So, what has been the underlying cause of this great achievement? Pinker melds together what he sees as the twin engines of progress: GDP growth and increase in knowledge. Economic growth, for him, is a direct result of global capitalism. “Though intellectuals are apt to do a spit take when they read a defense of capitalism,” he declares with his usual exaggerated rhetoric, “its economic benefits are so obvious that they don’t need to be shown with numbers.” He refers to a figure called the Preston curve, from a paper by Samuel Preston published in 1975 showing a correlation between GDP and life expectancy that become foundational to the field of developmental economics. “Most obviously,” Pinker declares, “GDP per capita correlates with longevity, health, and nutrition.” While he pays lip service to the scientific principle that “correlation is not causation,” he then clearly asserts causation, claiming that “economic development does seem to be a major mover of human welfare.” He closes his chapter with a joke about a university dean offered by a genie the choice between money, fame, or wisdom. The dean chooses wisdom but then regrets it, muttering “I should have taken the money.”</p> <p>Pinker would have done better to have pondered more deeply on the relation between correlation and causation in this profoundly important topic. In fact, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/padr.12141">a recent paper</a> by Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede entitled “Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve” does just that. The original Preston curve came with an anomaly: the relationship between GDP and life expectancy doesn’t stay constant. Instead, each period it’s measured, it shifts higher, showing greater life expectancy for any given GDP (Figure 6, left). Preston—and his followers, including Pinker—explained this away by suggesting that advances in medicine and healthcare must have improved things across the board. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent6.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 6: GDP vs. Life expectancy compared with Education vs. Life expectancy. Source: W. Lutz and E. Kebede. "Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve." Population and Development Review, 2018.</p> <p>Lutz and Kebede, however, used sophisticated multi-level regression models to analyze how closely education correlated with life expectancy compared with GDP. They found that a country’s average level of educational attainment explained rising life expectancy much better than GDP, and eliminated the anomaly in Preston’s Curve (Figure 6, right). The correlation with GDP was spurious. In fact, their model suggests that both GDP and health are ultimately driven by the amount of schooling children receive. This finding has enormous implications for development priorities in national and global policy. For decades, the neoliberal mantra, based on Preston’s Curve, has dominated mainstream thinking—raise a country’s GDP and health benefits will follow. Lutz and Kebede show that a more effective policy would be to invest in schooling for children, with all the ensuing benefits in quality of life that will bring.</p> <p>Pinker’s joke has come full circle. In reality, for the past few decades, the dean chose the money. Now, he can look at the data and mutter: “I should have taken the wisdom.”</p> <h2>Graph 7: False equivalencies, false dichotomies.</h2> <p>As we can increasingly see, many of Pinker’s missteps arise from the fact that he conflates two different dynamics of the past few centuries: improvements in many aspects of the human experience, and the rise of neoliberal, laissez-faire capitalism. Whether this is because of faulty reasoning on his part, or a conscious strategy to obfuscate, the result is the same. Most readers will walk away from his book with the indelible impression that free market capitalism is an underlying driver of human progress.</p> <p>Pinker himself states the importance of avoiding this kind of conflation. “Progress,” he declares, “consists not in accepting every change as part of an indivisible package… Progress consists of unbundling the features of a social process as much as we can to maximize the human benefits while minimizing the harms.” If only he took his own admonition more seriously!</p> <p>Instead, he laces his book with an unending stream of false equivalencies and false dichotomies that lead a reader inexorably to the conclusion that progress and capitalism are part of the same package. One of his favorite tropes is to create a false equivalency between right-wing extremism and the progressive movement on the left. He tells us that the regressive factions that undergirded Donald Trump’s presidency were “abetted by a narrative shared by many of their fiercest opponents, in which the institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in deepening crisis—the two sides in macabre agreement that wrecking those institutions will make the world a better place.” He even goes so far as to implicate Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election debacle: “The left and right ends of the political spectrum,” he opines, “incensed by economic inequality for their different reasons, curled around to meet each other, and their shared cynicism about the modern economy helped elect the most radical American president in recent times.”</p> <p>Implicit in Pinker’s political model is the belief that progress can only arise from the brand of centrist politics espoused by many in the mainstream Democratic Party. He perpetuates a false dichotomy of “right versus left” based on a twentieth-century version of politics that has been irrelevant for more than a generation. “The left,” he writes, “has missed the boat in its contempt for the market and its romance with Marxism.” He contrasts “industrial capitalism,” on the one hand, which has rescued humanity from universal poverty, with communism, which has “brought the world terror-famines, purges, gulags, genocides, Chernobyl, megadeath revolutionary wars, and North Korea–style poverty before collapsing everywhere else of its own internal contradictions.”</p> <p>By painting this black and white, Manichean landscape of capitalist good versus communist evil, Pinker obliterates from view the complex, sophisticated models of a hopeful future that have been diligently constructed over decades by a wide range of progressive thinkers. These fresh perspectives eschew the Pinker-style false dichotomy of traditional left versus right. Instead, they explore the possibilities of replacing a destructive global economic system with one that offers potential for greater fairness, sustainability, and human flourishing. In short, a model for continued progress for the twenty-first century.</p> <p>While the thought leaders of the progressive movement are too numerous to mention here, an illustration of this kind of thinking is seen in Graph 7. It shows an integrated model of the economy, aptly called “Doughnut Economics,” <a href="https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/">that has been developed</a> by pioneering economist Kate Raworth. The inner ring, called Social Foundation, represents the minimum level of life’s essentials, such as food, water, and housing, required for the possibility of a healthy and wholesome life. The outer ring, called Ecological Ceiling, represents the boundaries of Earth’s life-giving systems, such as a stable climate and healthy oceans, within which we must remain to achieve sustained wellbeing for this and future generations. The red areas within the ring show the current shortfall in the availability of bare necessities to the world’s population; the red zones outside the ring illustrate the extent to which we have already overshot the safe boundaries in several essential earth systems. Humanity’s goal, within this model, is to develop policies that bring us within the safe and just space of the “doughnut” between the two rings.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent7.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Figure 7: Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economic Model. Source: Kate Raworth; Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health.</p> <p>Raworth, along with many others who care passionately about humanity’s future progress, focus their efforts, not on the kind of zero-sum, false dichotomies propagated by Pinker, but on developing fresh approaches to building a future that works for all on a sustainable and flourishing earth.</p> <h2>Graph 8: Progress Is Caused By… Progressives!</h2> <p>This brings us to the final graph, which is actually one of Pinker’s own. It shows the decline in recent years of web searches for sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes. Along with other statistics, he uses this as evidence in his argument that, contrary to what we read in the daily headlines, retrograde prejudices based on gender, race, and sexual orientation are actually on the decline. He attributes this in large part to “the benign taboos on racism, sexism, and homophobia that have become second nature to the mainstream.”</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent8.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class="image-caption">Figure 8. Source: Steven Pinker, <em><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317051/enlightenment-now-by-steven-pinker/9780525427575/">Enlightenment Now</a>.</em></span></span></p><p>How, we might ask, did this happen? As Pinker himself expresses, we can’t assume that this kind of moral progress just happened on its own. “If you see that a pile of laundry has gone down,” he avers, “it does not mean the clothes washed themselves; it means someone washed the clothes. If a type of violence has gone down, then some change in the social, cultural, or material milieu has caused it to go down… That makes it important to find out what the causes are, so we can try to intensify them and apply them more widely.”</p> <p>Looking back into history, Pinker recognizes that changes in moral norms came about because progressive minds broke out of their society’s normative frames and applied new ethics based on a higher level of morality, dragging the mainstream reluctantly in their wake, until the next generation grew up adopting a new moral baseline. “Global shaming campaigns,” he explains, “even when they start out as purely aspirational, have in the past led to dramatic reductions in slavery, dueling, whaling, foot-binding, piracy, privateering, chemical warfare, apartheid, and atmospheric nuclear testing.”</p> <p>It is hard to comprehend how the same person who wrote these words can then turn around and hurl invectives against what he decries as “political correctness police, and social justice warriors” caught up in “identity politics,” not to mention his loathing for an environmental movement that “subordinates human interests to a transcendent entity, the ecosystem.” Pinker seems to view all ethical development from prehistory to the present day as “progress,” but any pressure to shift society further along its moral arc as anathema. </p> <p>This is the great irony of Pinker’s book. In writing a paean to historical progress, he then takes a staunchly conservative stance to those who want to continue it. It’s as though he sees himself at the mountain’s peak, holding up a placard saying “All progress stops here, unless it’s on my terms.”</p> <p>In reality, many of the great steps made in securing the moral progress Pinker applauds came from brave individuals who had to resist the opprobrium of the Steven Pinkers of their time while they devoted their lives to reducing the suffering of others. When Thomas Paine affirmed the “Rights of Man” back in 1792, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2015/12/09/creating-new-norms-the-rights-of-nature-tribunal/">he was tried and convicted&nbsp;</a><em>in absentia</em>&nbsp;by the British for seditious libel. It would be another 150 years before his visionary idea was universally recognized in the United Nations. Emily Pankhurst was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmeline_Pankhurst">arrested seven times</a> in her struggle to obtain women’s suffrage and was constantly berated by “moderates” of the time for her radical approach in striving for something that has now become the unquestioned norm. When Rachel Carson published <em>Silent Spring</em> in 1962, with the first public exposé of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, her solitary stance was denounced as hysterical and unscientific. Just eight years later, twenty million Americans marched to protect the environment in the first Earth Day.</p> <p>These great strides in moral progress continue to this day. It’s hard to see them in the swirl of daily events, but they’re all around us: in the legalization of same sex marriage, in the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently in the way the #MeToo movement is beginning to shift norms in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the current steps in social progress are vehemently opposed by Steven Pinker, who has approvingly retweeted articles attacking both <a href="https://twitter.com/sapinker/status/698171580707442689?lang=en">Black Lives Matter</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/sapinker/status/942821860689006593?lang=en">#MeToo</a>, and who <a href="http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/steven-pinker-excessive-political-correctness-feeds-dangerous-ideas">rails at the World Economic Forum</a> against what he terms “political correctness.”</p> <p>It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives. By slyly tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim. Progress in the quality of life, for humans and nonhumans alike, is something that anyone with a heart should celebrate. It did not come about through capitalism, and in many cases, it has been achieved despite the “free market” that Pinker espouses. Personally, I’m proud to be a progressive, and along with many others, to devote my energy to achieve progress for this and future generations. And if and when we do so, it won’t be thanks to Steven Pinker and his specious arguments.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-hendrick/new-vision-for-left">A new vision for the left</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent Environment Economics Culture Mon, 21 May 2018 21:11:11 +0000 Jeremy Lent 117963 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Welcome to the ‘New Dark Age.’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/niki-seth-smith/welcome-to-new-dark-age <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Default">A terrifying new book by James Bridle calls on us to embrace uncertainty.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Nikisethsmith4.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5161697674">Flickr/opensource.com</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="Default">Data is making us dumber. This seeming paradox has been gaining currency, at least in the tech-saturated Global North. We’re increasingly bombarded with advice on how to manage data overload. The English comedian Dave Gorman summed it up in the tongue-in-cheek title of his <a href="http://www.apple.com/">recent book</a>: “Too much information: Or: Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think.” We like to laugh about this stuff. It helps us to cope with the deep human fear that the world has moved beyond our understanding and control.</p> <p class="Default">If indeed we’re in a state of hysterical denial, James Bridle wants to give us all a slap in his forthcoming book “<a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2698-new-dark-age">New Dark Age: Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future</a>.” Bridle invites us to engage in a direct confrontation with our decreasing comprehension of the world. Through a wide investigation of diverse fields from aviation to social media, the pharmaceutical industry and climate science, he sets out to show how our data-driven culture is threatening our existence as a species.</p> <p class="Default">While we might expect to be offered a route back to knowledge and security, Bridle’s book breaks new ground by proposing that we embrace uncertainty instead. “We have been conditioned to think of the darkness as a place of danger, even of death” he writes, “But the darkness can also be a place of freedom and possibility, even of equality. Uncertainty can be productive, even sublime.”</p> <p class="Default">It’s an intriguing and unsettling proposal. As a journalist, technologist, and visual artist, Bridle has employed a multiplicity of strategies for thinking differently about technology. He’s still probably best known for developing what he called the “<a href="http://jamesbridle.com/works/the-new-aesthetic">New Aesthetic</a>” in 2011, now an art meme centred around a <a href="http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/page/2">tumblr account</a> that captures the physical objects and signs of the digital world like data centres or surveillance drones.</p> <p class="Default">While the New Aesthetic makes the invisible visible, ‘New Dark Age’ appears to ask us to think the unthinkable. If you don’t like paradoxes, buckle up and hold on tight. The book is not an easy read. In fact, Bridle admits it was a struggle to write. “There is a kind of shame in speaking about the exigencies of the present, and a deep vulnerability, but it must not stop us thinking. We cannot fail each other now” as he puts it.</p> <p class="Default">This shame and vulnerability spring from an inconvenient truth: our faith in data is failing us. More information is supposed to lead to better decisions, a cultural logic that has dominated the Western world at least since the Enlightenment. The warning that this relationship is breaking down, or perhaps is already broken, is being flagged across multiple disciplines. What Bridle attempts to do is to bring them all together.</p> <p class="Default">The picture he paints is a daunting one. We learn that experts are drowning in data. There’s been an increase in data-dredging, where researchers cherry-pick the results they need, even if unwittingly. The pharmaceutical industry is experiencing a discovery crisis, returning exponentially fewer breakthroughs in new drugs. The intelligence services tell the same story. In 2016, NSA whistle-blower <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/01/06/nsa-whistleblower-tells-uk-parliament-snoopers-charter-deadly">William Binney said</a> that the bulk collection of communications data was “99 per cent useless,” one of many such statements in recent years.</p> <p class="Default">It’s not only that data can swamp and mislead us; it also provides such a compelling picture that we often reject our common sense. Bridle provides a string of nightmarish examples of what is known as “automation bias,” including tragic airline accidents and a group of Japanese tourists who—following their SatNav in Australia—drove their car straight into the sea. &nbsp;Most of us have made absurd mistakes because of trusting machines more than ourselves.</p> <p class="Default">Most harrowing of all is his chapter on climate. “The climate crisis is also a crisis of knowledge and understanding,” Bridle writes, “What we perceive as weather in the moment shadows the globe as climate: tiny moments of turbulent activity through which we can barely grasp an unseen, unknowable totality.” Our forecasting systems are already failing in the face of unpredictable climate events. If data aren’t helping us, we’d better get used to extreme levels of uncertainty as the norm.</p> <p class="Default">Thus climate becomes the grand metaphor for our overwhelming loss of knowledge and control. But instead of running for the hills (and hoping they haven’t sunk into the sea), Bridle suggests that we embrace the “cloudy thinking” that springs from this loss of certainty.</p> <p class="Default">It’s a theoretically interesting aim, but how would it work in practice? For Bridle, the first move is to reject anything that smacks of “computational thinking.” “Computational thinking insists on the easy answer,” he writes. “That which is gathered as data is modelled as the way things are, and then projected forward—with an implicit assumption that things will not radically change or diverge from previous experiences.”</p> <p class="Default">The problem is, we’re addicted to this way of thinking. Bridle compares our “thirst for data” to our “thirst for oil”—insatiable and ultimately destructive. It’s a shaky metaphor, as he seems to acknowledge later on. Information, unlike oil, has the potential to be a free, infinite resource. However, today it’s anything but. Current data consumption habits carry a high environmental cost. As Bridle points out, “As digital culture becomes faster, higher bandwidth, and more image based, it also become more costly and destructive."</p> <p class="Default">However hard it may be to change this culture, it seems at least possible to slow ourselves down. Books like the <a href="https://thebookroomatbyron.com/p/brain-neuroscience-the-organised-mind-thinking-straight-in-the-age-of-information-overload?barcode=9780670923113">recent best-seller</a> “The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” by the neuroscientist Daniel Levitin are popular because they offer individuals practical advice on how to do just this. They also propose strategies for how to navigate our data-rich world more effectively.</p> <p class="Default">“New Dark Age” also deals with this challenge. Parallels have often been drawn between the internet and ‘The Library of Babel,’ an infinite library imagined in an iconic short story by the Argentininian writer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Library_of_Babel">Jorge Luis Borges</a>. Bridle engages this metaphor to call for new and radically different “categories, summaries and authorities” that can help us utilise the sum of our interlocking information systems. He uses the term “literacy” to mark the difference between full comprehension (which is impossible) and learning how to speak the language of the network.</p> <p class="Default">But who decides on this navigation system—who are the new librarians? The latest backlash against Big Tech, sparked in part by the <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/21/facebook-cambridge-analytica-scandal-everything-you-need-to-know.html">Cambridge Analytica scandal</a>, may die down, but nothing fundamental is likely to have changed. Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon will still remain hugely powerful and largely unregulated gatekeepers of the ‘infinite library.’ They have shown, time and again, that they don’t deserve &nbsp;our trust.</p> <p class="Default">This brings us back to the theme of uncertainty. Humans are afraid of the darkness for a reason. We’re especially afraid if we’re blind-folded and others around us are able to see.</p> <p class="Default">This is where Bridle’s thinking hits a familiar brick wall. Elsewhere in the book he acknowledges that technology is “a key driver of inequality across many sectors” and that one of the main reasons is “the opacity of technological systems themselves.” We all know that knowledge is power. Historically, those that lack it are always exploited by those who possess it.</p> <p class="Default">In the opening chapter of his book, Bridle quotes from the godfather of supernatural horror, <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft">H.P. Lovecraft</a>, who appears to anticipate the perils of the present: “….someday the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightening position therein, that we will either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”</p> <p class="Default">It’s an intoxicating quote, but what are we to make of such ‘peace and safety’? Surely Lovecraft knew that, when human beings are faced with darkness, they fill it with irrational belief? In the history of Europe, the early medieval period is often called the “<a href="https://www.britannica.com/event/Dark-Ages">dark ages:</a>” centuries marked by religious war, civil conflict and civilisational decline.</p> <p class="Default">The more apocalyptically-inclined might see parallels with our own post-truth age, since our societies appear to be polarizing and re-affirming the old certitudes of tribe, race and nation. The Brexit vote in the UK and the election of US President Donald Trump are only the latest symptoms of a trend that feeds off our chronic sense of unease. Bridle explores this political moment, but he doesn’t offer a convincing reason why people would choose his ‘productive uncertainty’ over the darkness that is manipulated by profit-hungry corporations, extremist groups and troll farms.</p> <p class="Default">Here’s <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft">another Lovecraft quote</a>: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” In asking us to overcome this fear, Bridle seems to be courting the impossible.</p> <p class="Default">Yet “New Dark Age” does hit a nerve. If indeed we’ve passed ‘peak knowledge,’ it’s time to look despair in the eyes. Bridle makes a brave attempt to break through this existential impasse. Whether or not he succeeds, his book provides a fascinating and a much-needed spur to action.</p> <p class="image-caption">“New Dark Age” by James Bridle <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2698-new-dark-age">is published by Verso Books</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/charles-m-johnston/techno-brilliance-or-techno-stupidity">Techno-brilliance or techno-stupidity?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kaliya-identity-woman/humanizing-technology">Humanizing technology</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/niki-sethsmith/what-i-learned-from-going-cold-turkey-on-technology">What I learned from going cold turkey on technology</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Niki Seth-Smith Social media and social transformation Culture Economics Sun, 20 May 2018 20:21:56 +0000 Niki Seth-Smith 117834 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why human rights groups are beginning to support the rights of non-human animals https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jay-shooster/Why-human-rights-groups-are-beginning-to-support-the-rights-of-non-human-animals <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Solidarity must extend, not only to all people but also to animals, the earth, and the environment.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jayshooster_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Undercover Investigation at Manitoba Pork Factory Farm. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mercyforanimalscanada/8250115715">Flickr/Mercy For Animals Canada</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>I’ve told this story<a href="https://socialchangenyu.com/harbinger/justice-for-all-including-animal-rights-in-social-justice-activism/">&nbsp;before</a>. It doesn’t have a happy ending—but at least this time it has a hopeful one. &nbsp;</p> <p>The day the men took Sasha away from her mother she was only three weeks old. A few months later they took her to the cage where she spent the rest of her life. This was ‘home:’ a prison of concrete and metal. No sunshine, no space to turn around, and nothing to do. Even though she had just hit puberty they forced her to get pregnant. It went on that way until the end, forced to give birth over and over until her body couldn’t take it anymore.</p> <p>After years of confinement and abuse Sasha was packed into a pen with dozens of others in preparation for slaughter. No more boredom and no more pain, but the worst wasn’t over. One by one, they were pulled out until there was nobody left but Sasha. She ran back and forth, and then in circles, screaming. She struggled to lift the gate of the pen from its hinges but it was no use. She died because she was no longer useful. She died because she was born as a member of the wrong species, because she was a pig, and pigs don’t have rights.</p> <p>But is that true, or even acceptable in an era when conceptions of rights are broadening? I’ve worked with many human rights organizations and admire their goals, but I’ve also felt a profound sense of despair, loneliness, and disappointment at how communities that are so deeply concerned with justice can so thoroughly fail to stand up for the rights of non-human animals.</p> <p>When we see the horrors that human beings inflict on animals in <a href="https://thinkprogress.org/undercover-investigation-finds-shocking-torture-of-chickens-in-slaughterhouse-141d18a8db0f/">slaughterhouses</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDwMeUNcimA">fur farms</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECspj0daAlE">circuses</a> and other settings, how, as decent people, can we not act? That was the question posed to me by a senior <a href="https://www.aclu.org/">ACLU</a> attorney when I sat down to talk with him about animal rights last fall. I had realized that something big was happening in the human rights world: after years of<a href="https://socialchangenyu.com/harbinger/justice-for-all-including-animal-rights-in-social-justice-activism/">&nbsp;neglect</a>&nbsp;and<a href="https://jayforjustice.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/standing-up-to-the-left-on-animal-rights/">&nbsp;hostility</a> the human rights movement was embracing animal rights in earnest.</p> <p>A week after that meeting I learned that the <a href="https://chrgj.org/">Center for Human Rights and Global Justice</a> (CHRGJ) at New York University—one of the premier human rights programs in the world—was taking a stand for animal rights and committing to an all-vegetarian food policy, which was <a href="https://chrgj.org/2018/04/25/chrgj-adopts-vegetarian-food-policy/">announced</a>&nbsp;publicly in April of 2018. The <a href="https://chrgj.org/2018/04/25/chrgj-adopts-vegetarian-food-policy/">policy</a> makes clear that the fundamental values underlying human rights advocacy demand that we have “respect for animals.” And crucially, it recognizes that an institution committed to working towards “a more just and humane world” must take a stand for the animals who are victimized by industrial agriculture.</p> <p>Even more importantly, the policy—which requires the Center to purchase only vegetarian foods for its events—is&nbsp; grounded in an understanding of the interconnectedness of the struggles for human and animal rights—in “respect for animals and the humans impacted by the animal agriculture and processing industries, and out of concern for the environment on which we all depend.”</p> <p><a href="https://its.law.nyu.edu/facultyprofiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=profile.biography&amp;personid=22544">Margaret Satterthwaite</a>, a renowned human rights law professor, attorney and a director of the Center, has recognized that this new policy is reflective of a profound and necessary shift in the human rights movement. As she told me in a recent email:</p> <p>“The human rights community is beginning to recognize that our solidarity must extend to embrace not only all people, but also animals, the earth, and our environment. In moving to a vegetarian policy, CHRGJ is taking an important step to match our actions with our values.”</p> <p>CHGRJ isn’t alone. The <a href="https://ccrjustice.org/">Center for Constitutional Rights</a> (CCR), another of the world’s leading human rights organizations, <a href="https://youtu.be/jThcsTUWPv8?t=976">recently embraced a vegan/vegetarian policy</a> as “a meaningful act of solidarity” with the animal rights movement. The CCR policy further recognizes that an “increasing number of CCR staff members see violence against animals as contrary to a fundamental commitment to justice.”</p> <p>The progressive <a href="https://www.nlg.org/">National Lawyers Guild</a> &nbsp;has adopted a similar position through an&nbsp;initiative&nbsp;spearheaded by women of color in the Guild's Animal Rights Activism Committee (now an independent project).&nbsp;In the wake of the steps taken by other human rights groups, the Guild’s President-Elect, Elena Cohen, told me that: “I am so proud that we have joined in the movement of progressive organizations in adopting a vegan food policy, to make clear that non-human animal oppression is integral to our anti-oppression work and vision for a more just world.” In addition, the <a href="https://reblaw.yale.edu/">Rebellious Lawyering Conference</a> at Yale University—the largest student-run public interest conference in the United States—has been<a href="https://reblaw.yale.edu/sites/default/files/2018_final_reblaw_program_1.pdf">&nbsp;fully vegetarian</a>&nbsp;for several years in a row.</p> <p>Importantly, this support for animal rights is beginning to extend beyond internal food policy to the substantive work of human rights organizations. In April 2018, the CCR supported the <a href="https://www.nonhumanrights.org/">Nonhuman Rights Project’s</a> lawsuit to grant legal rights to chimpanzees by<a href="https://ccrjustice.org/letter-brief-amicus-curiae-support-nonhuman-rights-project-behalf-tommy-kiko-0">&nbsp;filing</a>&nbsp;an “amicus brief” on their behalf in the Court of Appeals of New York. In another example, a recent<a href="https://www.aclu.org/news/lawsuit-challenging-iowas-ag-gag-law-proceeds">&nbsp;statement</a>&nbsp;from ACLU attorney Rita Bettis made clear that one of its recent ‘ag-gag’ cases which challenge laws that criminalize undercover investigations of factory farms is not just about promoting free speech, but about preventing “animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions.”</p> <p>To be clear, this trend is not entirely new. Legendary human rights activists like<a href="http://www.mercyforanimals.org/angela-davis-feminist-civil-rights-activist">&nbsp;Angela Davis</a>,<a href="http://ufw.org/ZNET-Cesar-Ch-vez-and-Comprehensive-Rights/">&nbsp;Cesar Chávez</a>&nbsp; and<a href="https://www.peta.org/living/entertainment/dick-gregory-circuses/">&nbsp;Dick Gregory</a>&nbsp;have championed animal rights for decades, and prominent progressive law professors—including<a href="https://www.nonhumanrights.org/blog/scholarly-support-nonhuman-rights/">&nbsp;Cass Sunstein, Martha Nussbaum, Laurence Tribe,</a> <a href="http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2018/05/specious-speciesism-in-monkey-selfie.html">Michael Dorf, </a><a href="https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10852/Stilt/">Kristin Stilt </a>and<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Mind-If-Order-Cheeseburger-Questions/dp/1590563840">&nbsp;Sherry Colb—</a>have all been strong advocates. What is new is that major human rights organizations are taking a stance on this issue through a wave of change in their institutional policies and practices. Crucially, this isn’t just a random hodge-podge of radical organizations. The ACLU, CCR and others are widely-respected organizations in the vanguard of the human rights movement, and bellwethers for social justice advocacy as a whole. </p> <p>The leadership of CHRGJ includes two high-level UN appointees and several world renowned international legal scholars; the Center for Constitutional Rights secured historic Supreme Court victories on behalf of Guantánamo detainees years before other organizations got involved; and the National Lawyers Guild was the<a href="https://www.nlg.org/nlg80/">&nbsp;first</a>&nbsp;racially integrated national bar association. The fact that change is happening in such organizations is a strong indication of a much broader, movement-wide shift towards the embrace of animal rights.</p> <p>Prominent members of other major human rights organizations are also becoming more vocal in their support. For example, Simon Cox, a Legal Officer at the <a href="https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/">Open Society Foundations</a> (one of the world’s largest funders of human rights advocacy and also a donor to openDemocracy), wrote in a recent email that “the idea of human rights is grounded in the notion that sentient creatures deserve respect and that harms to them should only be permitted when justified.” &nbsp;</p> <p><a href="https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/people/william-f-bill-schulz">William F. “Bill” Schultz</a>, former executive director Amnesty International USA and Senior Fellow at Harvard’s <a href="https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/home">Carr Center for Human Rights Policy</a>,<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-f-schulz/are-animal-rights-human-rights_b_4453593.html">&nbsp;argues</a>&nbsp;that animals deserve at least some legal rights. In October of 2017, he told me about an illuminating recent conversation about animal rights with his fellow board members in a leading US human rights organization:</p> <p>“I say, ‘Screw ‘em,’” bellowed one board member. “Torture, genocide, people—they’re all more important.” &nbsp;And maybe they are. But all the other board members were sympathetic to the notion of rights for animals, knowing that it behooves human rights activists to extend their circle of care and concern to complex creatures outside the narrow confines of convention. He went on to <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=GRUY468Z13QC&amp;pg=PA239&amp;lpg=PA239&amp;dq=%22I+love+forms+beyond+my+own,+and+regret+the+borders+between+us%22&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=8n2NdnkA-R&amp;sig=phY9cNO-ue3y2-K9rHnI_T1XEqY&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiRkuKrufvaAhViplkKHYtABSwQ6AEIUTAL#v=one">quote the anthropologist Loren Eiseley</a>: “I love forms beyond my own and regret the borders between us.” The extension of rights to animals, he added, is one way to diminish that distance.</p> <p>In fact, that distance is already diminishing, and quickly. I’m grateful to all the human rights organizations and advocates that are taking serious steps to fight the arbitrary discrimination that denies our moral and legal obligations to non-human animals. Thank you for showing me that our commitment to liberty and justice for all really does mean something for <em>all</em> victims of injustice, brutality, and discrimination—human and non-human alike.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gary-l-francione-anna-e-charlton/why-we-must-respect-rights-of-all-sentient-animals">Why we must respect the rights of all sentient animals</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sam-earle/how-should-we-feel-about-feelings-of-animals-we-eat">How should we feel about the feelings of the animals we eat?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/andy-west/i-stopped-eating-animals-because-of-human-rights">I stopped eating animals because of human rights</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Vegan politics and animal rights Jay Shooster Activism Care Culture Sun, 13 May 2018 20:08:31 +0000 Jay Shooster 117802 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Comedy is part of feminist history—and we need it more than ever https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/maggie-hennefeld/comedy-is-part-of-feminist-history-and-we-need-it-more-than-ever <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Feminism has always been mobilized and strengthened through collective joyful laughter.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MaggieHennefeld.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Women's march to denounce Donald Trump in Toronto, January 21 2017. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55239158">Wikimedia/By booledozer</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>. </p> <p>There is no fiercer political weapon than laughter. The controversy around <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8IYPnnsYJw">Michelle Wolf’s</a> brilliant, uncomfortable, and brutally honest roast at the 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner is the latest in a long line of examples that reveal the threatening power of feminist jokes. As the author <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Margaret_Atwood#%22Men_are_afraid_that_women_will_laugh_at_them._Women_are_afraid_that_men_will_kill_them.%22">Margaret Atwood</a> puts it, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them.” This is why the Patriarchy has always tried to stereotype feminists as humorless killjoys, the anti-pleasure police, or shrill sticks in the mud. </p> <p>In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. From&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC18vz5hUUqxbGvym9ghtX_w">Samantha Bee’s satirical&nbsp;TV show <em>Full Frontal</em></a>; to the stand-up comedy of <a href="https://www.wandasykes.com/">Wanda Sykes</a>, <a href="http://margaretcho.com/">Margaret Cho</a> and <a href="http://tignation.com/">Tig Notaro</a>; to the explosion of playful memes and witty protest signs that forcefully satirize patriarchal predation, feminism is, and has always been, mobilized and strengthened through collective joyful laughter.</p> <p>As I show in my new book,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Specters-Slapstick-Silent-Comediennes-Culture/dp/0231179464"><em>Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes</em></a>, insightful satire and exuberant comedy were important forces in the early years of the feminist movement. The biggest myth of anti-feminist propaganda—both in the present moment and in the history of the struggle—is that wanting&nbsp;equal rights<em>&nbsp;</em>and having a&nbsp;sense of humor<em>&nbsp;</em>are somehow mutually exclusive. </p> <p>In fact, when women laugh too loudly or pointedly they’re often disregarded as ‘hysterical’—not in the positive sense or as a figure of speech but as pathology: ‘maybe we should send you to a mental institution and poke at your uterus to figure out what’s wrong with you.’</p> <p>Comedy, though delirious and light-hearted, is often extremely violent and vividly obscene. There’s a fine line between edgy and insulting, and it’s long been the role of the clown to test the boundaries of that line as they change over time, particularly during moments of escalating social and political activism. Wolf exemplifies this tension between the timely and the taboo in her roast with jokes like these: “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NclJj1h_MW4">Sarah Huckabee Sanders</a>, I loved you as Aunt Lydia in <em><a href="https://www.hulu.com/press/show/the-handmaids-tale/">The Handmaid’s Tale</a>;</em>” &nbsp;“I know a lot of you are very anti-abortion, unless it’s the one you got for your secret mistress.”</p> <p>Women, LGBQT+, people of color, and other oppressed minorities have long used satirical comedy effectively to ‘punch up’ against authority and speak truth to power. For example, as Lindy West puts it in&nbsp;<a href="https://jezebel.com/5925186/how-to-make-a-rape-joke">“How to Make a Rape Joke,”</a> there’s a difference between “a joke about women getting raped” and “a joke about the way that rape culture—which includes rape jokes,&nbsp;<em>makes women feel</em>.” Nothing is off-limits for progressive comedy, not even rape; what matters is whether the victim or assaulter becomes the butt of the punch line. Regardless of the comedian’s identity—even if you have to live in the aftermath of your own mockery—a joke that goes too far, or that risks exploiting its topic rather than exposing it, will typically fall on deaf ears.</p> <p>The refusal to laugh is not always intentional. After all, laughter is supposed to be involuntary: it erupts in spite of ourselves, often in response to images and ideas that actively confuse us. This is neither good nor bad: we laugh when we’re not completely sure how we want to feel about something, and are still thinking it through. In other words, we are not always in control of the social consequences of our laughter, even though we would like to be. </p> <p>Comedy is often a matrix for processing social change, as much as an active force that directly provokes it. As an example, take&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCm51fg5hpk"><em>Mary Jane’s Mishap</em></a>, a slapstick comedy from 1903 starring Laura Bayley about a housemaid who spontaneously combusts out of the chimney while trying to light a fire. Mary Jane erupts out of the roof and her dismembered limbs and torso rain down over the village skyline. Finally she returns as a ghost to haunt her own gravestone, which has the epitaph, “Here Lies Mary Jane. Rest in Pieces.”</p> <p>Mary Jane’s explosion out the chimney is an absurd representation of how women desire to break free from the domestic sphere and the drudgery of everyday housework. I’m really attracted to these types of films in which gendered oppression is rendered ridiculous. That’s what slapstick is all about: the exaggerated representation of make-believe violence, but violence that strikes us as somehow too zany or cartoonish to be threatening in reality. </p> <p>Women have always had a marginal position in physical comedy because audiences often feel uncomfortable laughing at comical images of violence against female characters. As with West’s distinction between rape jokes and jokes about rape culture, <em>Mary Jane’s Mishap </em>took aim at the tyranny of women’s domestic enslavement and the brutal mockery of violence against women in the home by presenting these things in slapstick form—and through that medium connecting with its audience. &nbsp;</p> <p>The comedian Amy Schumer takes a page out of&nbsp;<em>Mary Jane’s Mishap&nbsp;</em>in her sketch show <em><a href="http://www.cc.com/shows/inside-amy-schumer">Inside Amy Schumer</a></em>, which frequently features skits about women who spontaneously combust, self-decapitate, or commit absurd ritual suicide when their ability to derive meaning from their everyday lives stands in vivid contradiction to their own utopian gender ideals. Skits like “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzlvDV3mpZw">Trouble Accepting a Compliment</a>,” “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGXnlFLC0Ck">I’m So Bad</a>,” and “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39jN_CRGcbI">Allergic to Nuts</a>” all exemplify Schumer’s<em>&nbsp;</em>slapstick feminism <em>ad absurdum</em>.<em></em></p> <p>This isn’t new. From the early 1900s, female slapstick comedy in the popular media has been an &nbsp;avenue for feminist activism and social protest. For example, the only way for Mary Jane to break out of the home is through the chimney. In another film released in 1914 called&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mneu7A3MVms"><em>Daisy Doodad’s Dial</em></a>, a bored housewife trains to compete in an amateur face-making competition so avidly that she is arrested for public indecency after she grimaces at random men on a street car. </p> <p>She then shuts herself up in her bedroom and has nightmares in which she’s haunted by spectral superimpositions of her own disembodied face-making. Or take&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HM-ChelaAs&amp;t=57s"><em>Laughing Gas</em></a> (made in 1907)<em>,&nbsp;</em>in which a black woman is given nitrous oxide by her white male dentist, and then spreads her laughter contagiously through the streets, including to several police officers who can’t arrest her because they’re all laughing too uproariously.</p> <p>Social satire in these films arises from the jarring clash between how women and minorities are traditionally&nbsp;<em>expected to behave</em>&nbsp;and how&nbsp;<em>they</em>&nbsp;<em>actually want to live</em>, exemplified in suffragette protest comedies, trick films in which women metamorphose into giant spiders or man-eating dolls, and domestic disaster comedies where women ‘blow up’ or bust loose from their normative gender roles and domestic duties in a variety of astonishing ways.</p> <p>It’s also important to remember that cinema, like Twitter or YouTube today, was the most popular form of new media in the 1890s and early 1900s. There was something about the power of cinema to display movement as never before—housemaids exploding, automobiles crashing,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9d1MPD4eYM">miniature nicotine fairies melting</a>—that provided fertile terrain for social protest and cultural experimentation. </p> <p>Women’s bodies were ideal for these ends, because they were believed to be physically malleable and less resistant to external manipulation—just look, for example, at the corsets women were expected to wear in the early 1900s that contorted their bodies into crazy human hourglasses. New media images, like gendered bodies, have always been celebrated for their limitless capacity for physical manipulation and visual invention. </p> <p>People have been drawn to ‘new’ media throughout history because they believe in the transformative power of radical images to influence social and political breakthroughs. Female-identified and gender fluid bodies—the clothes they wear, the positions they assume, and the way their bodies occupy public spaces—are markers of how much social norms and cultural ideals can change over time.</p> <p>I see so many parallels between the feminist protest culture of the early 1900s and our present-day moment in 2018, when satirical laughter and new media experimentation are again such vibrant parts of our collective imagination and activist resistance. One of my favorite protest signs at the <a href="https://www.womensmarch.com/">Global Women’s March in 2017</a> was proudly raised by a group of women dressed as suffragettes: “Same Shit, Different Century,” it said. </p> <p>Though the issues have changed—from voting rights to abortion rights to #MeToo—some things remain the same: feminist laughter is a forceful political weapon. Some will continue to repeat the old lie that “<a href="https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2007/01/hitchens200701">Women Aren’t Funny</a>,” but that’s ok—it shows that they’re still terrified by the revolutionary power of collective laughter.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Maggie Hennefeld’s new book is&nbsp;<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Specters-Slapstick-Silent-Comediennes-Culture/dp/0231179464">Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes</a>, published by&nbsp;<a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/specters-of-slapstick-and-silent-film-comediennes/9780231179478">Columbia University Press</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/janey-stephenson/subversive-power-of-joy">The subversive power of joy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">Radical happiness: moments of collective joy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-nagler-karen-ridd/humor-but-not-humiliation-finding-sweet-spot-in-nonviolent-">Humor but not humiliation: finding the sweet spot in nonviolent conflict resolution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Maggie Hennefeld Liberation Culture Intersectionality Sun, 06 May 2018 20:35:16 +0000 Maggie Hennefeld 117616 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The beauty of a both/and mind https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/beauty-of-bothand-mind <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How can we find our way out of the impasse that stymies action on the really big issues of the day?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/bothandmind.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: By Mushki Brichta - Own work via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65958190">Wikimedia Commons</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p> <p>When Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy III delivered the <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.huffingtonpost.com%2Ft%2Ft-l-urtdnd-ujhdjdai-u%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7C364c3efeec124b474a2908d568a69e21%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636529987180296022&amp;sdata=tyiH8E4FH0O3xDoV6pTcFkCkffjF%2FKrVvggy9vucXIg%3D&amp;reserved=0" target="_blank">Democratic response</a> to President Trump’s State of the Union address in January 2018 he chose an intriguing frame for his remarks. Not satisfied with rebutting Trump’s admittedly-minimal record on policy and legislation, JFK’s grand-nephew denounced the President for “turning&nbsp;American life into a zero-sum game” in which the well-being of some Americans must come at the expense of others—“as if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the day-care worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top.”</p> <p>The alternative to ‘zero sum’ is ‘positive sum’ thinking—a way of reasoning that rejects the dichotomies of ‘either/or’ judgments in favor of a ‘both/and mind.’ Kennedy argued that there’s no contradiction between raising living standards for one group or another, but the same technique could be applied to any set of issues or constituencies where more than one thing can be true. Does the image above show a 6, a 9, or both, depending on your point of view? That realization provides the key to a different way of interacting with one another in activism and politics. </p> <p>Positive sum thinking is much more than lowest-common-denominator compromise and negotiation. It demands new methods of navigating our way through complex problems and solutions—a different mental architecture that encourages everyone to leave their comfort zones and enter into a genuine conversation that isn’t so pre-structured. But if we can make it work the benefits could be huge: both/and thinking might provide a route out of the impasse that stymies action on the really big issues of the day. How so?</p> <p>Most contemporary democracies produce alternating periods of intellectual and political superiority for one side or another. That’s because political and cultural differences go much deeper, and are much more enduring, than we might admit—they don’t disappear through education or campaigning, or through changing demographics or rising incomes. The victory of one set of ideas or values also produces a counter-reaction which usually strengthens the opposition. Over time therefore, policy changes tend to cancel each other out, making it extremely difficult to make lasting progress on issues that require permanent, cross-party constituencies like human security, the abolition of nuclear weapons, and action on global warming.</p> <p>This problem is getting worse as a result of rising political polarization, religious zealotry, fake news, and filter bubbles or echo chambers on the internet, all of which reinforce the infrastructure of zero-sum, either/or thinking. It’s now almost impossible to change your mind without being treated with suspicion, or to value someone else’s point of view without being labeled as a weakling, or simply to avoid a rush to judgment when presented with ideas with which you disagree. Even within the same political tradition like the progressive left in the UK and the US, factions are hardening, positions are defended to the death, and disagreement leads to censure. </p> <p>The current debate around ‘identity politics’ is a classic case in point. Promoters of an ‘<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality">intersectional’ point of view</a> emphasize the connections that exist between class, race, gender, sexuality, geography and disability. But <a href="http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/a-marxist-critiques-identity-politics/">they’ve been criticized</a> for abandoning the traditional concerns of the left and escaping into victimhood, classified into ever-more elaborate sub-communities of oppression. Not so say the intersectionalists, since there are no forms of politics that function independently of our identities, which continue to be different. Therefore, a single-minded focus on economic questions will inevitably lead to the resurgence of social and sexual discrimination. </p> <p>Recent exchanges between these two positions <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sofa-gradin/is-there-really-crisis-around-identity-politics-on-left">have generated much heat but very little light</a>. They typify the limitations of zero-sum thinking, which stokes up the emotions of different combatants and exaggerates the gulf that lies between them. The result is an impasse, and a weakening of the left as a whole. But what if both positions were true, or at least were seen to contain enough elements of value to produce a new level of intellectual and political integration? That’s what Kennedy was getting at, albeit in a very different context—that positive sum, both/and thinking can find commonality at a deeper level that connects different experiences of oppression and inequality to the same underlying causes. </p> <p>After all, why do we have to choose between non-exclusive options? The approach we adopt to something like ‘identity politics’ will be heavily influenced by our own position in society, our experience of discrimination, and our personal reading of strategy and history. These different trajectories may lead us to emphasize some forms of oppression and inequality over others at different points in time, or at different stages of the argument; in fact it would be remarkable—even unreal—if they didn’t. </p> <p>But there’s much less disagreement on the origins of oppression and the long-term goals of liberation. “I want everyone on the left to understand that we’re all fighting the same struggle—that it’s people’s material wellbeing that matters in the end. On the other hand, everyone within the Left isn’t the same,” as Sofa Gradin put it in a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sofa-gradin/is-there-really-crisis-around-identity-politics-on-left">recent article for Transformation</a>.</p> <p>The same analysis could be applied to any other deep-rooted disagreement where arguments are polarized so much that zero-sum thinking seems permanently entrenched—like <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/ed-straw-ray-ison/duality-dualism-duelling-and-brexit?utm_content=bufferdad1d&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer">Brexit</a>, for example, or ‘<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/harry-blain/why-left-needs-to-re-embrace-first-amendment">freedom of speech,</a>’ abortion, the sex industry, or how to engage with those <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/nina-eliasoph/scorn-wars-rural-white-people-and-us">who voted for Donald Trump</a>. The benefits of a both/and mind seem obvious in situations like these, but how do we train our brains and manage our emotions to act in this way when the counter-pressures are so strong? </p> <p>For starters, how about: ‘don’t rush to judgment, keep an open mind, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and remember you could be wrong.’ This may sound easy, but in fact it’s immensely challenging, since none of these things arise automatically; they require some form of deliberate and conscious preparation, whether through techniques like mindfulness or meditation or some form of centering that stops you from leaping to conclusions about others and their views. Working through something like the identity politics debate requires mental agility&nbsp;<em>without</em> losing sight of fundamental principles. It’s like walking through a maze whose walls re-arrange themselves with every step you take. </p> <p>Zero sum thinking implies closure, fixed boundaries and mutually-exclusive positioning; both/and thinking implies expansiveness, creativity, and the belief that multiple versions of the same account can be valuable or true. The only way we can really understand something is by looking at it from every angle, especially when even the most independent-minded among us are socialized into particular communities over time, each with their own assumptions, no-go areas and pressures to conform. </p> <p>By contrast, the ability to hold contradictory realities in your mind for long enough to consider what they have to offer is characteristic of spiritual experience, expressed in ideas like detachment and non-judgment—what the writer and activist Gregory Leffel calls “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/will-cuba-become-test-case-for-post-postmodern-future">metamodern mindfulness</a>,” the willingness to place yourself between fixed ideological positions in order to appreciate ideas that don’t belong to any one of them exclusively. Think of this process as akin to rolling a sweet around and around in your mouth as it slowly dissolves, layer by layer by layer, instead of swallowing it whole or spitting it out because you don’t like the taste.</p> <p>This is why <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Civil-Society-Michael-Edwards/dp/0745679366/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">philosophers from Hannah Arendt to Michael Walzer</a> have seen ‘moral maturity’ as a willingness to welcome diversity <em>and</em> seek the common good together among people whose interests, at least sometimes, stretch further than themselves and their familiars. Clearly, there are some situations where this kind of mental and emotional openness and flexibility aren’t appropriate—in encounters with violent authoritarians, for example, or extreme sexism, racism and other forms of injustice—but in most situations it’s perfectly possible to keep a ‘straight back and soft front’ as some US activists describe it, simultaneously holding fast to your fundamental principles while being open to negotiating how they manifest in practice. We need “realists of a larger reality” as the late and great author <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/araz-hachadourian/ursula-k-leguin-calls-on-fantasy-and-sci-fi-writers-to-envision-alt">Ursula le Guin once said</a>, people with both grounding and creativity who can see transformative solutions beyond the status quo. </p> <p>There are also some institutional innovations that seem to help people exercise both/and thinking, like alternative electoral systems that re-orient incentives away from winner-take-all solutions and exaggerated conflicts, and civil society groups that mix people of different views and backgrounds together in voluntary associations. “Standing shoulder to shoulder with people across our differences and creating new understandings and visions together is where the real transformative potential lies,” say activists&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani/five-ways-to-build-solidarity-across-our-difference">Peroline Ainsworth and Kiran Nihalani</a>&nbsp;on the basis of their experience of women’s co-operatives in south London. </p> <p>Any civil society or democracy worthy of the name needs both/and thinkers to animate its institutions. Otherwise separation will be permanent. That doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on every issue, but it does require some agreement on how disagreement should be handled—as an invitation to deeper dialogue instead of a prelude to further fractures. This is exceptionally challenging because it runs counter to the realities of modern politics, media and knowledge production, but the other options are much, much worse: a slide into authoritarianism, enforced artificial unity, or permanent division.</p> <p>Faced by these ‘beasts,’ there's beauty in a both/and mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/will-cuba-become-test-case-for-post-postmodern-future">Will Cuba become a test case for a post-postmodern future? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sofa-gradin/is-there-really-crisis-around-identity-politics-on-left">Is there really a crisis around identity politics on the left?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/when-will-there-be-harmony">When will there be harmony?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Political polarization Michael Edwards Care Culture Sun, 29 Apr 2018 19:28:36 +0000 Michael Edwards 117548 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sacred activism: a movement for global healing https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/martin-winiecki/sacred-activism-movement-for-global-healing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Our natural sense of interdependence has been replaced by an addictive focus on personal short-term profit.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Leila Dregger_1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Participants in the&nbsp;<em>Defend the Sacred</em>&nbsp;gathering on Odeceixe beach in Portugal, August 12 2017. Credit: Copyright Tamera Institute/Yuval Kovo. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Humanity is at the pinnacle of a historic death cult. Late last year, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a dramatic “<a href="http://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu/">warning to humanity</a>” over biodiversity loss due to overconsumption of resources. They agreed that if we continue “business as usual,” we’ll shortly approach a point where it will be too late to shift our apocalyptic trajectory; worldwide ecosystem collapse will be inevitable.</p> <p>In its compulsion for unending growth, capitalism has developed a vampiric mechanism of planetary proportions, sucking the lifeblood out of the Earth’s body. In its addiction to mining, oil drilling, deforestation, the exploitation of billions of lives and the mental enslavement of humanity, today’s global economic system precisely embodies&nbsp;<a href="https://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/seeing-wetiko-on-capitalism-mind-viruses-and-antidotes-for-a-world-in-transition/" target="_blank"><em>Wetiko</em>, an Algonquin word for “cannibalism</a>” that illustrates the insanity we’ve fallen prey to. Wetiko is the psycho-spiritual “disease of the white man” which makes amnesiacs of us—our natural sense of basic interdependence with other beings is obliterated and replaced with an addictive focus on personal short-term profit.</p> <p>Through an insidious history of colonization, genocide, and imperialism, the Wetiko virus has gradually infected (nearly) all of humanity, brainwashing us into a mode of thought that proclaims that “the Earth is a dead exploitable resource,” “animals and plants have no soul,” “life is a game of competition and fight,” “love always ends in disaster,” “either we kill our enemies or they will kill us,” “we will be punished for our mistakes” and so on. </p> <p>Under the spell of this subconscious conditioning, we are sleepwalking towards an abyss, lacking the psychological and spiritual capacities needed to make sense of and respond to the crisis we’re facing. With our collective survival on the line, we need a wholly different vision of ourselves and our relation to the living world that’s able to awaken our primordial love for life and our desire to serve it without reservation. Only with a unifying narrative that addresses the human disconnection at the root of our global crisis will the many social, political and ecological movements converge into a relevant power for global system change.</p> <p><strong>The seeds of Standing Rock.</strong></p> <p>What is sacred? It might seem cynical to speak about something “sacred” after millennia of unspeakable atrocities committed in its name. Yet, living in a civilization that has defiled virtually everything, emptied this world of meaning and processed it into commodities, our longing for the sacred might, after all, be the crucial guide out of our dead end.</p> <p>When about 30 members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe confronted the fossil fuel industry and the U.S. government, setting up a camp at their burial ground which was to be bulldozed for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, they did so to “defend the sacred.” Ladonna Bravebull Allard, founder of the Sacred Stone Camp affirms, “We stood up because we had no other choice. Water is life. If there’s no water, we will die.”</p> <p>Such “sacred activism” comes as a deep re-membering:&nbsp;<em>We are of this Earth. There is no salvation outside of it.</em>Patriarchal religions told of some out-of-Earth entity making covenants with exceptional people and asking us to renounce this world. Yet the original covenant of all people is&nbsp;<em>with the Earth</em>&nbsp;and is therefore of an Earthly, sensual nature. Activism doesn’t become “sacred” merely because it works “on behalf of” something sacred; but by recognizing, honoring, embodying and celebrating the inherent sacredness of all that lives—which isn’t anywhere beyond this world, but right here. </p> <p>Sacred activism challenges us to make a choice at every moment, to decide for life, for solidarity and for trust despite the temptation of an overwhelming field of fear, greed and hatred. It was this clear orientation that fueled the resistance at Standing Rock – and drew in people from all directions to join it. Representatives of over 300 Indigenous cultures, black bloc anarchists, environmentalists, spiritual seekers and over 2500 army veterans banded together beyond their usual ideological divisions, because they were united by something more fundamental than ideologies – a shared spiritual center.</p> <p>Standing Rock inspired similar resistances globally. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota People, writes in February 2018, “People all over the world are now beginning to understand that [water] is a living spirit: it can heal when you pray with it and die if you do not respect it. (…) Standing Rock has marked the beginning of an international movement that will continue to work peacefully, purposefully, and tirelessly for the protection of water along all areas of poisonous oil pipelines and across all of Mother Earth.”</p> <p>Around the world, movements are arising towards decentralizing power, culture and economies, leaving the mega-systems of nation states and globalized corporations behind and building a society based on autonomous regions in which people can reclaim their sovereignty while caring for each other and the Earth again. There are remarkable movements in the Global South, such as the Indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico, the Rojava revolution in the Kurdish zones of northern Syria, the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, peace communities, such as San José de Apartadó in Colombia and many more. In the Global North, we see a revival of socialist ideals and the emergence of municipalism.</p> <p>It’s worth noting that this revolution is feminine in essence. Women are the heart of many of these movements. From Rojava to Chiapas, from Standing Rock to Barcelona, we’re seeing the resurgence of feminine power fostering community, self-determination, healing and care for the Earth, shaking the foundations of patriarchal dominance.</p> <p>How can this revolutionary impulse succeed? Trump defeated the Standing Rock movement, Erdogan is cracking down on Rojava and Colombian peace communities are severely threatened by paramilitaries. Running up against a globalized trillion-dollar economic, political and military system, every group and place resisting will face the same destiny as long as they remain on merely the local, regional or even national levels. The victory over capitalist globalization can, logically, only be global. In other words, either we form an unbreakable global alliance or we’re bound to fail. Yet, in this struggle, failure is not an option.</p> <p><strong>A starting point for a global alliance?</strong></p> <p>As I see it, a global alliance bringing together the many movements in the North and South, and mobilizing the many millions wanting radical change, could emerge around the following five shared thematic areas:</p> <p>1) Fierce nonviolent resistance against the fossil fuel industry</p> <p>Stopping the fossil fuel industry before it’s too late is the first demand for our collective survival. As people stood up against the pipeline at Standing Rock, people must come together and stand up everywhere to both impede new fossil fuel projects and shut down existing ones. At the same time, let’s increase the pressure on municipalities, countries, companies and banks to divest from fossil fuels and end subsidies. </p> <p>The divestment movement reached a historic milestone in the first days of 2018 when New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced his city would divest from fossil fuels and sue leading oil companies over climate change. Activist and author Naomi Klein, who assisted the announcement, comments that “What felt politically impossible yesterday suddenly seems possible.”</p> <p>2) Transition to decentralized, clean energy and large-scale ecosystem restoration</p> <p>Let’s establish regenerative energy systems based on the inexhaustible sources of sun and wind. We must ensure the transition will be decentralized, instead of staying stuck in the corporate framework. Let’s organize to create a decentralized infrastructure for energy-autonomous cities and regions.</p> <p>Additionally, let’s rehabilitate ecosystems worldwide, as desertification, droughts, wildfires and misery aren’t only the results of carbon emissions but also of the destruction of ecosystems and natural water cycles. By creating systems of local rainwater retention, we no longer only need to adapt to climate change, we can actually restore and rebalance our destabilized climate.</p> <p>There are powerful examples to follow, such as India’s “Water Gandhi” Rajendra Singh and his NGO&nbsp;<a href="http://tarunbharatsangh.in/">Tarun Bharat Sangh</a>&nbsp;that mobilized villagers in Rajasthan to restore thousands of square kilometers of degraded land, through which they’ve revived several rivers, rebalanced rainfall, ended extreme weather events and secured an abundant self-sufficient water and food supply for about 100,000 people in less than 25 years. Following a&nbsp;<a href="https://dev.tamera.org/wp-content/uploads/The-New-Water-Paradigm.pdf">New&nbsp;</a><a href="https://dev.tamera.org/wp-content/uploads/The-New-Water-Paradigm.pdf">Water&nbsp;</a><a href="https://dev.tamera.org/wp-content/uploads/The-New-Water-Paradigm.pdf">Paradigm</a>, let’s organize in communities united around watersheds for natural and decentralized water management wherever we live. “<a href="https://www.rainforclimate.com/">Rain for Climate</a>,” a movement initiated by the Slovakian hydrologist Michal Kravčík, offers a corresponding global action plan.</p> <p>3) Ethics of universal solidarity</p> <p>To truly heal this planet, we need the power of community, which is much more than simply a political coalition. Whenever people come together around a shared goal and practice solidarity, they connect with a power greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Thus, they’re unified and driven by meaning, trust and possibility, able to overcome any obstacle.</p> <p>We must recognize the crucial role of community, not just as an accidental side effect of camps or occupations, but as a vital aspect of post-capitalist society and so consciously engage in building and maintaining it. Thereby, politics becomes a matter of social design, because the divisions we’re suffering in our movements, most of the time, result from a lack of trust and solidarity among human beings. </p> <p>We all carry a wound that expresses itself as fear or anger, attack or retreat in one situation or the other. So far, this wound has mostly been more powerful than people’s will for change. Systems of domination have prevailed by exploiting this human weakness, sowing discord among activists and setting them against each other.</p> <p>A planetary community of sacred activists relies on living, breathing trust among its members. It will grow in power to the extent that we cultivate universal solidarity, truthful communication and mutual support. Instead of propagating moralistic heroism, let’s create places of encounter and new forms of coexistence that will allow us to heal our wounds and rebuild trust.</p> <p>4) A common focus on an emerging vision for humanity</p> <p>The world seems ready for radical change. The majority of the population in the West no longer supports the dominant economic and political system and is turning away from it in what journalist Chris Hedges calls the “invisible revolution.” Recent years have seen massive outbreaks of public anger and longing for a different society. Yet, little has changed. According to the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, we’re stuck in a state which most recognize as beyond insane, simply because no one can see a credible alternative.</p> <p>The necessary global shift begins by radically reimagining our civilization. If we have an authentic vision for a nonviolent and regenerative way of life, a culture of solidarity and trust, we’ll be able to midwife the global transition. This isn’t anything we can make up; a true vision is something fundamentally different from a constructed idea, wishful fantasy or ideology.</p> <p>As we abandon the mainstream mentality of dominant culture, we also overcome the drought of creativity which blocks people from imagining an alternative. We recognize that our spirit is deeply creative and that we always carry vision—this is why we’re alive. When a vision touches our heart and we allow it to guide our life, we’re driven by our deepest purpose and have enormous energies at our disposal. Yet we carry vision not only individually but also collectively. </p> <p>As Ladonna Bravebull Allard of Standing Rock puts it, “The shared vision for humanity exists, whether we see it or not.” Our task is to become receptive for it, to see it, make it visible and activate it, using all means of communication, so that our collective imagination will no longer be driven by dreams of downfall, but elevated by the possibility of worldwide healing and unification.</p> <p>5) A different principle of power</p> <p>The fight between capitalism and those defending life is a power struggle. We need to seize power, but we need a different kind of power than the one usually deployed by revolutionaries. We have no chance of trying to overcome a globalized system of violence by constructing a counter-force through mass mobilization and fight alone. Many attempts to overthrow the dominant systems didn’t originate from power, but powerlessness, because activists let themselves be corrupted by the fear and hatred those systems propagated.</p> <p>Native American activist Winona LaDuke writes, “Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. (…) Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”</p> <p>Despite terrible injuries, all life still automatically strives towards healing, regeneration and convergence, as this is necessary for its continuity. In nature, we find universal patterns at work, which operate according to what sociologist and futurist Dieter Duhm calls the “sacred matrix.” He writes:</p> <p>“The sacred matrix is the cosmic pattern which forms the basis for the organization of life. It steers the information and energies necessary for the evolution and maintenance of life. When the individual connects with this guidance, channels for healing open up. When humanity organizes itself in accordance with the sacred matrix, channels for global healing powers open up.”<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>Beyond all alienation and division, there’s something all beings have in common, something we all deeply love. This something carries no name and is beyond description, but it is what people of all ages have experienced as “sacred.” When the veil of separation falls, we face the animated, eternal and truly sacred character of existence. </p> <p>When people enter into this resonance, they experience healing, regeneration and convergence and often find themselves under great protection. Studying and learning to live according to the principles of sacred power will allow our movements to succeed in ways that previously looked impossible. The key to this power doesn’t primarily lie in external activities and strategies, but in a conscious shift of the whole way we live, think, speak and act – from the matrix of fear and violence to the sacred matrix.</p> <p><strong>Utopia or oblivion?</strong></p> <p>Ultimately, our success will result from unprecedented collaboration between the different organs of the emerging global alliance. A key part of this is to establish experimental centers that concretely model post-capitalist societies on a small scale, developing social and ecological structures that invite in and no longer systematically block off the healing powers of life. Such centers (at Tamera, we call these “<a href="https://www.tamera.org/healing-biotopes-plan/">Healing Biotopes</a>”) as well as still-existing Indigenous communities could provide all those wanting to step out of the current system with the necessary knowledge to create functioning communities of trust and cooperation.</p> <p>More and more places could break out of the dominant system, creating autonomous regions, and so give rise to a new system based on a local sovereignty rooted in global interdependence. While social movements slow down the pace of destruction through their resistance, they could also restore ecosystems and implement the infrastructure for post-capitalism. </p> <p>Inventors could contribute new technologies to an ever-increasing number of regenerative communities and regions, donors could support them financially, journalists could provide the necessary public attention and allied progressive governments could create “free zones” for them to operate in. Guided by a shared global vision, an ever-increasing number of people would help birth a new era. Once a global alternative becomes realistic for a critical number of people, we would have created the conditions for the dominant system to implode and give way to a new one.</p> <p>This is no longer only a dream. As dystopian scenarios become imminent, “utopia” remains as the only realistic way out. We mustn’t forget that it has always been through existential necessity, vision, community and surrender to spirit that people have made the apparently impossible possible. Let’s come together to build a world where creativity, cooperation and mutual support become the foundations of a sacred way of life.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.kosmosjournal.org/news/sacred-activism-movement-for-global-healing/">Kosmos Journal</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/leila-dregger/sacred-activism-story-of-tamera">Sacred activism: the story of Tamera</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-catastrophe-only-cure-for-weakness-of-radical-politics">Is catastrophe the only cure for the weakness of radical politics? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Martin Winiecki Transformative nonviolence Activism Culture Love and Spirituality Tue, 24 Apr 2018 20:06:42 +0000 Martin Winiecki 117458 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Have you been watching porn? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rude-jude-ingo-cando-epiphyllum-oxypetalum-and-max-disgrace/have-you-been-watching-po <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">We champion digital rights at the same time as we champion sexual freedom because we know that the two are perilously entwined.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LPFF2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: London Porn Film Festival. All rights reserved.</p><p class="normal">Last night, we opened our doors and welcomed the queer and curious crowd to the Horse Hospital for the second installment of the<a href="http://www.londonpff.com/"> London Porn Film Festival</a>. We were extremely proud to open with <a href="https://www.outsavvy.com/event/1265/london-porn-film-festival-local-heros-tickets">Local Heroes</a>, a selection of shorts either made in the UK or produced by British pornographers. </p> <p class="normal">Last year we began this festival in a climate of fear and anxiety; we were emulating the <a href="http://pornfilmfestivalberlin.de/en/">Berlin Porn Film Festival</a>, with the hope that we might foster a kind of mini-Berlin on these shores. But we also did it because of the <a href="https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/digitaleconomy.html">Digital Economy Act 2017</a>, a set of regulations that formed part of the government’s digital strategy which included “age verification” for adult websites, and which received royal assent shortly after the festival.</p> <p class="normal">Age verification essentially means that in the future, you will need to provide proof that you are over eighteen before you can access adult websites. This is to prevent children stumbling across pornography while looking for Pokémon. The technology to enforce this policy was going to be handed over to a large corporation called MindGeek.</p> <p class="normal">Who are they, you might ask, and what right do they have to assume so much power over who can access pornography? MindGeek are the world’s largest internet porn company, owning hundreds of streaming sites and studios, and the plan was that they would develop the age verification technology and in so doing keep a detailed record of the porn-surfing habits of millions of Britons, directly linked to their personal information—not only on their own sites but also on thousands of others.</p> <p class="normal">Besides the blatant invasion of privacy, risk of data leakage and problematic surveillance involved, what alarmed us about this bid to “save the children” was how it compounded other pieces of legislation: the Audiovisual Media Act of 2014 (which spawned face-sitting protests outside of Parliament) and the <a href="https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/investigatorypowers.html">Investigatory Powers Act 2016</a>, which obliges your internet service provider to retain a record of every website you visit for twelve months among other things.</p> <p class="normal">True, the Digital Economy Act has been delayed. This was a victory for campaign groups such as <a href="https://www.openrightsgroup.org/">ORG</a>, who have long championed digital rights and understand the subtle implications for marginal, undesirable and underrepresented groups in society, as well as the potential for abuse. But it is still law. And buried deep within a <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/news/25m-for-5g-projects-on-the-anniversary-of-the-uks-digital-strategy">press release</a> dated March 10th 2018, the government announced that<strong> </strong>despite this delay,<strong> </strong>its:</p> <blockquote><p class="normal">“priority is to make the internet safer for children...we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month…It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.”</p></blockquote> <p class="normal">Hence as a festival we continue to operate in a climate of uncertainty; the films we are screening form part of a culture that is slowly being forced into the shadows through economic strangulation and murky legal waters. Just as with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28">Section 28</a>—a piece of homophobic legislation that created fear and encouraged misinterpretation—so the Digital Economy Act casts a shadow over the future of queer feminist porn.</p> <p class="normal">But unlike last year, we are feeling much braver. The festival now lasts for four days, and we have <a href="http://dreamsofspanking.com/user/Pandora">Pandora Blake</a> as our guest of honour, a forthright producer, performer and campaigner (who, if we’re honest, was also one of the key inspirations for starting the festival.) The Local Heroes programme shows that we have a healthy British queer porn scene that is steadily expanding, plus, a keen audience who are willing to step outside the norm and experience porn collectively, with other queer people, in a badly needed queer space.</p> <p class="normal">Several of our programmes directly address this issue of collectivity: <a href="https://www.outsavvy.com/event/1273/london-porn-film-festival-all-the-babes-tickets">All the Babes</a> depicts group sexual activities and features several shorts that show how collective exploration can validate queer identity. <a href="https://www.outsavvy.com/event/1275/london-porn-film-festival-transhuman-romp-tickets">Transhuman Romp</a> addresses how we might transcend ourselves and our bodies.&nbsp; We are lucky to have an incredible <a href="https://www.outsavvy.com/event/1272/london-porn-film-festival-latin-american-post-porn-tickets">Latin American Post-Porn programme</a>, with kick-ass films from all over South and Central America curated by writer, filmmaker and academic <a href="https://uff.academia.edu/ericasarmet">Erica Sarmet</a>, which are particularly relevant in the wake of the political shooting of <a href="https://theintercept.com/2018/03/16/marielle-franco-assassination-brazil-police-brutality/">black queer councilwoman Marielle Franco</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Where the UK porn laws seek to “save the children” by curtailing the freedoms of consenting adults (and give everyone the nagging sense that they are being watched) as a festival we hope to empower participants to create their own films that reflect their politics and desires; make an explicit link between digital and physical freedoms; make sex education relevant to people’s actual desires and bodies; and ensure that politicised queerness (which remains a political fight) is defended as a valid life choice, with all of the radical structural and systemic critiques it contains. Oh, and we want to provide wonderful screenings in which we can experience queer feminist pornography anew.</p> <p class="normal">Because—at the risk of sounding like a particularly insidious shopping list—there are a raft of incredibly worrying surveillance trends in the UK that we think will work in concert with structures such as age verification, which by itself isn’t the (whole) problem. Recently, <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/azeenghorayshi/grindr-hiv-status-privacy?utm_term=.mp4mlWEYQ#.ru9MaXnYx">Grindr revealed it had shared users’ HIV statuses</a>. Facebook has been in the dock for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/cambridge-analytica-files">inappropriate sharing of user data</a> with shady company Cambridge Analytica, which is suspected to have disproportionately affected the EU referendum.</p> <p class="normal"><a href="https://action.openrightsgroup.org/say-no-article-13s-censorship-machine">Article 13</a>, which part of the EU’s copyright directive, would force internet companies to scan everything users upload in an attempt to curb copyright infringement. The government has proposed that <a href="https://www.openrightsgroup.org/press/releases/2018/government-warned-legal-action-coming-if-immigration-exemption-enacted">immigrants be exempt from knowing what information is held about them</a>. If you want to know how your data is being gathered more generally, read up on <a href="http://www.wired.co.uk/article/simple-guide-to-prism">PRISM</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUSCULAR_(surveillance_program)">MUSCULAR</a>, and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempora">TEMPORA</a> (all revealed by Whistleblower Edward Snowden) and <a href="https://www.wired.co.uk/article/socmint">SOCMINT</a>. These are deeply worrying and wide ranging programmes of surveillance that have become part of our everyday lives. Surveillance is not the exception, it’s the norm, and although it’s not possible to protect yourself completely you can take some precautions.</p> <p class="normal">The fact that governments and corporations are overstepping the mark and invading the private lives of citizens is nothing new. The demonisation of pornography goes hand in hand with the limitation of other freedoms. As our culture shifts towards fear, surveillance and caution, we hope that the London Porn Film Festival will be one node in a greater network of resistance.</p> <p class="normal">This resistance doesn’t have to be limited to spiky actions like shutting down airports or invading parliament. Resistance can also be self-development: consciously and actively choosing to create and consume the work you wish to see in the world, or, as our programmer Max Disgrace put it on opening night, joining this “community of agitators.” In community we are simultaneously sex workers, porn performers and producers; migrants, primary school teachers, filmmakers, artists and activists; fat and thin, affluent and poor, and from many different cultural backgrounds.</p> <p class="normal">We’ve attended demonstrations such as the recent <a href="https://womenstrike.org.uk/">Women’s Strike on international women’s day</a>, which saw political rage and joyful solidarity among differing groups; and we’ve seen campaigns to <a href="https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/end-indefinite-detention">end detention,</a> defend the <a href="https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/corbyn-backs-picturehouse-strikers-in-their-fight-for-the-living-wage">Picturehouse strikers</a>, and support <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/heres-why-amnesty-backed-the-decriminalisation-of-sex-work-and-our-response-to-the-criticisms-10453954.html">sex workers seeking full decriminalisation</a> and trans people acting for <a href="https://www.gires.org.uk/the-gender-recognition-act-discussion-november-2017/">better policy around the gender recognition act</a> and against cisnormativity.</p> <p class="normal">We champion digital rights at the same time as we champion sexual freedom because we know that the two are perilously entwined, and that it’s crucial that our intersectional struggles employ a variety of tactics. To paraphrase the famous queer saying about the relationship between the personal and the political, “between the sheets and on the streets:” our fight is on the screen and on the green. Join us!</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rude-juud-ingo-cando-and-epiphyllum-oxypetalum/why-were-not-taking-new-porn-laws-lyin">Why we&#039;re not taking the new porn laws lying down</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/dan-mahle/how-i-stopped-watching-porn-for-one-year-and-why-im-not-going-back">How I stopped watching porn for one year and why I&#039;m not going back</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/harriet-williamson/can-porn-be-feminist-conversation-wth-erica-lust">Can porn be feminist? A conversation with Erika Lust</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Epiphyllum Oxypetalum and Max Disgrace Ingo Cando Rude Jude Culture Fri, 13 Apr 2018 20:43:17 +0000 Rude Jude, Ingo Cando and Epiphyllum Oxypetalum and Max Disgrace 117263 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Decolonizing birth https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sarah-sunshine-manning/decolonizing-birth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Indigenous women are taking back their power as life-givers.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Sunshine.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">This portrait of Zintkala Mahpiya Win Blackowl and her daughter, Mni Wiconi, was created by Indigenous photographer Tomás Karmelo Amaya on Nov. 16, 2016, moments before a women’s meeting at Oceti Sakowin.&nbsp;Credit:&nbsp;Tomás Karmelo Amaya/YES! Magazine.</p> <p>Zintkala Mahpiya Win Blackowl didn’t plan to have her sixth baby in a tipi on the windy plains of North Dakota during a historic resistance. Thousands of people had gathered for months in camps sprawled along the northern borderlands of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to protest the Dakota Access pipeline. But Blackowl already knew that she would birth her babies outside of a hospital, in the comfort and safety of a sacred space.</p> <p>“So much of how women experience birth today has to do with how we are socialized,” says Blackowl, 36, whose first five children were born at home with the aid of certified and traditional Indigenous midwives. “We are told that you have to be hospitalized, that doctors know best, and that you can trust them with your life.”</p> <p>In August 2016, having traveled from her home in Ashland, Oregon, to the Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation borderlands, she felt overwhelmed by the energy of the movement. Blackowl is Sicangu Lakota and Ihanktonwan Dakota, with origins and ancestral ties in the Dakotas, but she had spent most of her adult life in Oregon and Idaho. “I was pregnant, and I hadn’t been home [to the Dakotas] for 12 years,” she says, “but I saw that I was capable of coming to Standing Rock, and I had a responsibility to provide that support. It was about responsibility to my people.”</p> <p>When she returned to the resistance camps in the fall, Blackowl was in her third trimester. Early on Oct. 12, while everyone slept, she delivered her daughter alone in her tipi, not long after her husband left to get female relatives. The baby girl was born without complication and in perfect health. She was named Mni Wiconi, “Water of Life.”</p> <p>The arrival was a momentous event in the camps. But also in the larger Indigenous birth movement as Native American women take back their roles as life-givers and birth-workers and reclaim rights to their bodies, their traditions, and their birthing experiences. Interest is growing, from Indigenous certified nurse midwives—14 total, today, trained at the the American College of Nurse-Midwives—to mothers educating themselves and choosing to have unassisted births at home.</p> <p>Measuring the complexity and scale of this grassroots movement is impossible, but evidence is plentiful. The Facebook page Indigenous Midwifery was launched in December 2013 and has since grown to almost 10,000 followers. Several popular artworks honoring traditional birth and motherhood, most notably by ledger artist Wakeah Jhane of the Comanche, Blackfeet, and Kiowa tribes, have been exhibited at the Smithsonian and the Santa Fe Indian Market.</p> <p>Since the late 1800s, Native Americans’ lives largely have been dictated by federal government policies designed to stamp out traditions and create dependency on white institutions. Many traditions and ceremonies were outlawed, and families were separated as Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes to be placed in Indian boarding schools, where their language and culture were forbidden. Then, in 1955, the federal Indian Health Service was established to manage the health care of Native Americans. Birth became a medicalized affair and was, more often than not, directed by white male obstetricians.</p> <p>But that morning in Standing Rock, intersecting movements for Indigenous self-determination and human rights created the backdrop for an extraordinary traditional birth with women at the helm.</p> <p>“A lot of the time in hospitals, people don’t approach women in a way that says to them that they are the center of the birth, or in a way that gives the woman control,” says Nicolle Gonzales, 36, a Navajo nurse midwife from New Mexico who was nearby when Blackowl gave birth. “When a woman is birthing, it’s her space, and we have to honor that space. But nobody tells you that.”</p> <p>Gonzales traveled to Standing Rock to show solidarity and to help provide culturally responsive and respectful care for women at camp. While working as a nurse for two years in an IHS hospital in New Mexico, Gonzales recognized a need for better prenatal and birthing care for Indigenous women, and this inspired her to pursue training as a midwife.</p> <p>Gonzales is a mother of three and the founder and executive director of the Changing Woman Initiative, a nonprofit organization in Santa Fe working to renew Indigenous birth knowledge. The initiative is planning a culturally centered clinic and birth center committed to providing family-centered care where the woman is the decision-maker.</p> <p>“Indigenous midwifery is not a new thing,” Gonzales says. “It has always been here. We’re just beginning to bring those Indigenous perspectives forward again.”</p> <p>In the span of just a century on reservations, Indigenous women were stripped of their power as matriarchs, once foundational to their communities—as knowledge keepers, decision-makers, and birth workers. Native American communities overall had been threatened by genocidal government policies from the early colonies to the 1970s. At least 25 percent of Native American women who received care in IHS hospitals were involuntarily sterilized, according to a 2000 American Indian Quarterly report.</p> <p>But Indigenous women are trying to regain that power. Jodi Lynn Maracle, 33, a traditional doula from the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation, says the effort is fivefold. “We talk about reclaiming language, and ceremony, and tradition, but it’s also about reclaiming our bodies and our relationship to our bodies, especially as women.”</p> <p>Maracle is mother to a 3-year-old boy. She is a doula with training from the Seventh Generation Midwives in Toronto and from the Six Nations Birthing Centre. She is pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Buffalo in New York, centering her research on Haudenosaunee midwifery and birth work.</p> <p>“During the boarding school era, there weren’t many choices for Indigenous people,” Maracle says. “Today, there are so many choices. I think the empowerment is just in having people say that you have a choice.”</p> <p>Women who choose to have their babies in hospitals still have ways to incorporate traditions. Simple adjustments can be made during birth: singing traditional songs; facing the bed toward the east, where the sun rises; squatting versus lying down; or cleansing the area with sage or other traditional medicines. The key is for women to ask a lot of questions and to educate themselves as much as possible about their options before, during, and after birth.</p> <p>Yet reaching back to traditions, or decolonizing birth, is not so straightforward in many Indigenous communities. Some tribes have fewer teachings intact today, and it may not be as simple as asking an elder. Women may have to consult historical records or reach out to sister tribes, and above all, re-establish a relationship with their bodies and intuitive power as women.</p> <p>After the births of each of her children, Blackowl chose to root her newborn babies to the physical world by burying their placentas in the ground—a tradition tied to Lakota/Dakota birth. During the Standing Rock resistance, Blackowl buried the placenta that nurtured Mni Wiconi near the place of her birth, at the height of a movement for Indigenous self-determination.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/decolonize/decolonizing-birth-women-take-back-their-power-as-life-givers-20180305?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180309&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180309+CID_25d7f264a4aecad6f740d55ac868995c&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Decolonizing">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chelsea-macmillan/living-prayer-at-standing-rock">Living prayer at Standing Rock</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/fearless-collective/we-protest-by-creating-beauty">We protest by creating beauty</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-hendrick/love-and-reason-how-should-we-raise-our-children">Love and reason: how should we raise our children?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Sarah Sunshine Manning Activism Care Culture Love and Spirituality Thu, 29 Mar 2018 19:42:13 +0000 Sarah Sunshine Manning 116631 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The necessary transience of happiness https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/george-gillett/necessary-transience-of-happiness <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The happiness industry is booming, yet few of us are happier. Why not?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GeorgeGillett.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/happiness-positive-emotions-ball-2411727/">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>When sociologists look back on my generation they might well view happiness as the defining cultural issue of the times. <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11833241">Governments</a> monitor our levels of happiness, <a href="http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/research/wellbeing/">universities</a> fund whole departments to research it, and the world’s largest companies including <a href="https://qz.com/818998/googles-former-happiness-guru-developed-a-three-second-brain-exercise-for-finding-joy/">Google</a> employ ‘happiness gurus’ to proselytise to their employees. We trade smiling emojis with each other on social networks, walk past billboards encouraging us to “<a href="http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/choose-happiness">#choosehappiness</a>,” and spend over <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/opinion/sunday/happiness-is-other-people.html?mtrref=undefined&amp;assetType=opinion">one billion dollars</a> a year on self-help books. Put simply, we’re obsessed: get happy or die trying.</p> <p>As the historian <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/happiness-self-help_n_4979780">Darrin McMahon</a> writes, happiness “is the last great organizing principle of life. We no longer live our lives according to beauty or honor or virtue, we want to live in order to be happy”—with happiness invariably described as an individualistic endeavour to be achieved through <em>self</em>-help, <em>self</em>-care or materialistic <em>self</em>ishness.</p> <p>But this obsession with happiness clearly isn’t working. Sixty years of human progress and huge increases in GDP have barely touched the life satisfaction scores of most people in higher-income countries. For example, the United States’ <a href="http://www.norc.org/PDFs/GSS%20Reports/GSS_PsyWellBeing15_final_formatted.pdf">General Social Survey</a> shows almost no change in levels of general happiness since records began in 1972.</p> <p>On an individual level happiness is also remarkably inflexible. Births, marriages, deaths, promotions and demotions do have transient effects on self-reported happiness scores, but they typically return to previous levels after six months or so. While <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29034098">chronic deprivation</a> affects life satisfaction significantly, happiness has a marked resilience to most other life events. Why is this?</p> <p>According to Oxford University researcher <a href="http://www.ox.ac.uk/research/research-in-conversation/how-live-happy-life/michael-plant">Michael Plant</a>, the reason is something called ‘<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22361725">hedonic adaptation</a>’—the tendency to return to stable levels of happiness after most life events. “We are extraordinarily good at getting used to things” he says, “such that very few events in life have a long-term impact on our happiness. If you don’t believe me, think how annoyed you get when the WiFi doesn’t work, then consider that humanity existed quite happily without it for hundreds of thousands of years.”</p> <p>Hedonic adaptation is a well-known psychological phenomenon that has been proven by studies analysing the experiences of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/690806">lottery winners</a> and those who have experienced <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/?&amp;fa=main.doiLanding&amp;doi=10.1037/0022-3514.48.5.1162">disabling accidents</a>. Yet this evidence remains counter-intuitive for most of us. No matter how many studies are cited, we continue to seek gratification through individual wealth, ambition and good health, in fierce denial of the futility of our actions.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">happiness industry</a> suggests that—if only we could adapt our environment, perhaps by finding a new job or entering a new relationship—we could achieve more happiness. Yet the evidence shows that we can’t, and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1061736196900351">evolutionary psychology</a> reveals why. Rather than an individualistic commodity that can be achieved or accumulated like home ownership or a job promotion, happiness is evolution’s chief motivator. Designed to promote a range of behaviours associated with increased survival, the motivational purpose of happiness is revealed by its tendency to dissipate soon after the achievements it inspires. That’s why the ideal of constant euphoria marketed by the happiness industry is impossible: it flies in the face of the physiological basis of happiness itself.</p> <p>Why else would we put such thought, effort and care into our own futures if not for the promise of happiness? Just like an addict longing for another dose of drugs, hedonic adaptation leaves us forever chasing greater happiness—and crafting a future that searches for but never finds it. The transience of happiness is completely unremarkable in this sense; evolution cares only for our survival, not our experience of surviving.</p> <p>What is most surprising about the evolutionary mechanism of hedonic adaptation is how skilfully it has been co-opted by the powerful in society. Our economies depend on that elusive promise of happiness, which also provides companies with industrious employees. Governments promote home ownership, ensuring that people take out mortgages and other debts, which helps to guarantee an obedient workforce who must pay them off. Even social traditions like marriage have their roots in the illusion of utopian happiness, despite being criticised for upholding <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201708/feminist-critique-marriage">patriarchal attitudes</a>. In a social Darwinist world, it is the most ruthless who take advantage of these evolutionary myths. What then, can we do?</p> <p>Before making a diagnosis, a good psychiatrist always asks for a patient’s own thoughts and perspectives of their symptoms. When diagnosing a patient with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for example, particular attention is paid to the level of distress a patient attributes to their obsessive thoughts. It’s an introspective and reflective approach common in the management of mental health conditions, derived from the principle that the guiding factor for intervention should be a patient’s own experience of their condition.</p> <p>The approach of the happiness industry couldn’t be more different. Rather than asking whether individuals are comfortable with their own melancholy, we are bombarded with indiscriminate campaigns which tell us that such feelings are unhealthy, unnecessary and undesirable. Last year a group of psychologists at the University of Melbourne in Australia set out to investigate whether such an approach was <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22653/abstract">helpful</a>. What if campaigns encouraging us to perfect our experiences were actually making our lives less pleasurable?&nbsp;</p> <p>The researchers encouraged over 100 participants to document how they felt in a daily diary for a month, as well as how much social pressure they experienced urging them not to feel too ‘down.’ Interestingly, the researchers identified a measurable relationship between the two; more social pressure not to feel depressed reliably predicted increased symptoms of depression the following day.</p> <p>Having identified this correlation, the team investigated <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28714701">further</a>. What if the social environment which pressures a person to be happy could be recreated in order to monitor its effects? To test this hypothesis the researchers separated participants into two groups; one to undertake a series of tasks in a “happy room” decorated with motivational posters and positive imagery; and the other to perform a series of tasks in a room that was plain. It turned out that the “happy room” group were <a href="https://theconversation.com/so-many-in-the-west-are-depressed-because-theyre-expected-not-to-be-79672">three times</a> more likely to ruminate over the tasks they failed to accomplish, and that was associated with a higher rate of depressive symptoms.</p> <p>This research is far from conclusive, but it should serve as a warning: our cultural obsession with happiness risks transforming society into a place intolerable to melancholy, where we are made to feel as though our lives are failing if we aren’t happy all the time—a scaled-up version of that “happy room.” Meanwhile, the happiness industry continues to sell us the biological lie that a constant state of happiness is actually achievable, which achieves nothing but addiction to the happiness industry itself and its products.</p> <p>We often think of our lives as <em>going somewhere</em>. The structures we’re taught from an early age—in which we graduate from one class to the next and then on to high school and university—provide us with a framework through which we approach other areas of life. Hence we progress from renting to home ownership, dating to marriage and work to retirement. Yet with each of these supposed achievements, hedonic adaptation returns us to the beginning, and we are left yearning once more for that illusory utopia of constant happiness.</p> <p>That is, until we realise that life has passed us by. Nearing the end of his own life, the philosopher <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBpaUICxEhk">Alan Watts</a> described this flawed way of thinking:</p> <blockquote><p>“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end. Success, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.&nbsp;But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played.”</p></blockquote> <p>Contemporary analyses of happiness are consistent with Watt’s decades-old lesson. “If you look at what people actually do to be happier, it seems nearly everyone tries to change the external facts,” <a href="http://www.ox.ac.uk/research/research-in-conversation/how-live-happy-life/michael-plant">says</a> Michael Plant. “We try to become richer, thinner, more successful, to find a better house. A few of us think about trying to spend less time working. Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think.”</p> <p>Plant recommends mindfulness-based stress reduction, a technique which “helps people accept, rather than fight, negative emotions and so reduce the suffering they cause.” The principle isn’t to fetishize happiness but almost to ignore it completely, encouraging people to enjoy the present regardless of whether it can be classified as ‘truly happy.’ Strategies include meditation, muscle relaxation and non-judgemental awareness of daily life.</p> <p>Such techniques <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">have been criticised</a> for seemingly ignoring injustice and encouraging people to ‘think their way out of’ oppression. These are important concerns, but we should be equally wary of the ways in which capitalist societies use the concept of happiness for their own ends. By selling a myth about the nature of happiness, capitalism creates atomistically-ambitious but socially-obedient individuals who can be distracted from collective values and aspirations.</p> <p>The risk is not only that social ties are weakened but that individuals are permanently dissatisfied. If we are encouraged to pursue a vision of constant, utopian happiness, we may begin to approach moments of transient happiness with entitlement rather than gratitude, regardless of our relative fortunes. Our joyful experiences may then come to be viewed as glimpses of what should be achieved permanently rather than precious moments to cherish for their own merit.</p> <p>To return to Alan Watts, the solution might be to move away from the analogy of life as a pilgrimage towards something very different: life is best understood as a piece of music, and a beautiful one at that. Why would we want to wish it away in the hope of one spectacular note at the end? </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy">Radical happiness: moments of collective joy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/william-davies/corruption-of-happiness">The corruption of happiness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sonja-avlijas/why-positive-thinking-isn-t-neoliberal">Why positive thinking isn’t neoliberal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation happiness George Gillett Culture Economics Tue, 27 Mar 2018 20:09:57 +0000 George Gillett 116803 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Will Cuba become a test case for a post-postmodern future? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/will-cuba-become-test-case-for-post-postmodern-future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Metamodern mindfulness offers a new way of thinking about the ideological conflicts of the past. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GregLeffel5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Umberto Boccioni, 1913,&nbsp;<em>Dynamism of a Cyclist</em>, Gianni Mattioli Collection, on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Umberto_Boccioni,_1913,_Dynamism_of_a_Cyclist_(Dinamismo_di_un_ciclista),_oil_on_canvas,_70_x_95_cm,_Gianni_Mattioli_Collection,_on_long-term_loan_to_the_Peggy_Guggenheim_Collection,_Venice.jpg">Public Domain via Wikimedia</a>.</p> <p>Last month I was invited to speak with students and faculty at a theological colloquium in the Cuban coastal city of Matanzas. This is a new moment for Cuba, and I imagine that the next time I travel there I won’t find the same country I visited this time around.</p> <p>In April, Cuba’s National Assembly will <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-election/cuba-holds-one-party-vote-as-post-castro-era-looms-idUSKCN1GN05H">elect a new president</a>, who, likely for the first time since the 1959 Revolution, will not be a Castro (though Raul Castro will <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/26/opinion/cuba-castro-election-democracy.html">retain party and military leadership</a> for now). As the revolutionary generation passes away, other post-Castro changes are in the air too, including the eventual relaxation (post-Trump) of US sanctions on direct investment and travel, and with it the gradual incorporation of the world’s last functioning socialist nation into the global financial system.</p> <p>Little may change in the short-run, but ultimately Cuba will face serious questions about how to protect the gains of its revolution. Will the country follow China’s mixed socialist-capitalist one-party path toward economic integration? Will it evolve into a multi-party liberal democracy? How will Cuba defend an educated, egalitarian society—one that proudly ‘puts people at the center’—from rising inequality? The colloquium left me wondering how the next generation of civil society leaders will navigate Cuba’s opening to the wider neoliberal world.</p> <p>Of course, this challenge isn’t unique to Cuba. Progressive leaders everywhere are struggling to create a coherent vision for a world of freedom, equality and human flourishing. Specifically, they are frustrated with postmodernism’s inability to articulate a positive political challenge to the false promises of neoliberal development, and are looking beyond it for <em>post</em>-postmodern alternatives that aren’t locked into conventional left/right, socialist/capitalist dichotomies.</p> <p>What might such a post-postmodern consciousness look like? Two young Dutch cultural scholars, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WPYFvB2DIc">Timotheus Vermeulen and Robbin van den Akker</a>, believe they have found it in a growing &nbsp;trend that they call <a href="https://www.rowmaninternational.com/book/metamodernism/3-156-2ecae72f-85e3-46f0-9128-185c40366816">‘metamodernism’</a>—a concept that has struck a chord with a wide audience since their landmark paper <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677?scroll=top&amp;needAccess=true">“Notes on Metamodernism”</a> was published in 2010. But what does it mean?</p> <p>Vermeulen and van den Akker argue that the way the world <em>feels</em> to us—our sensibility about the world order—changed profoundly in the first decade of the new millennium. They describe this feeling as a shift in ‘affect’ (our emotional reactions), and a change in the cultural logic we use to sort the world out. Think of this as a shift in our collective ‘structure of feeling,’ or as <a href="https://www.dukeupress.edu/modern-social-imaginaries">Charles Taylor</a> calls it, our ‘social imaginary.’</p> <p>This mood shift is partly circumstantial: 9/11, the Great Recession, the Iraq war, accelerating climate change, mass-migration, structural racism, inequality, and worker precarity have greatly undermined our confidence in social, economic and political institutions. For a generation raised on the glitter of globalization in the booming 1990s, the inept, even corrupt, performance of virtually every public and private institution since then has crushed their hopes. They sense that all that is solid melted into the air a long time ago; that uncertainty, complexity and chaos are the new normal; and that our cultural and social reflexes tell us that something ominous is happening to the world.</p> <p>Vermeulen and van den Akker discern this shifting affect in the aesthetics of a rising generation of artists who are looking for a way beyond postmodernism. They find it, first, in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Sincerity">‘new sincerity’</a> of writers like <a href="http://www.davidfosterwallacebooks.com/about.html">David Foster Wallace</a>, <a href="http://www.zadiesmith.com/about-zadie/">Zadie Smith</a> and <a href="https://www.mcsweeneys.net/pages/about-dave-eggers">Dave Eggers</a>; the band <a href="http://arcadefiretube.com/arcade-fire/">Arcade Fire</a>; <a href="https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHWL_enUS713US713&amp;q=wes+anderson+movies&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwj535yr9oDaAhVJzlMKHZuICvUQ1QIIuwEoAA&amp;biw=1440&amp;bih=809">Wes Anderson’s</a> ‘quirky’ film style; and even the American hit TV series <a href="https://www.nbc.com/parks-and-recreation">“Parks and Recreation.”</a> These artists directly <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/sincerity-not-irony-is-our-ages-ethos/265466/">confront postmodern irony</a>, cynicism and social disengagement with a fresh commitment to authentic feeling and relationships.</p> <p>They also find it in a return to romanticism that is rooted in human reconciliation with the earth and with a return to more hopeful, utopian visions—for example, in the architecture of Swiss design firm <a href="https://www.herzogdemeuron.com/index/projects/complete-works/226-250/230-elbphilharmonie-hamburg/image.html">Herzog and de Meuron</a> and a return to <a href="http://www.adammillerart.com/fullscreen/video/">figurative and narrative painting</a>. Vermeulen and van den Akker’s analysis is echoed in the US by <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-is-metamodernism_us_586e7075e4b0a5e600a788cd">Seth Abramson</a> who blogs about the metamodern condition at the <em>Huffington Post</em>.</p> <p>Along with a near universal disillusionment with the current order, these artists, writers and activists perceive a deepening realism and seriousness about the condition of society among long-comfortable westerners who once took their ease for granted, but who now realize that even they can be crushed by unaccountable global power structures (as self-centered as this may seem to the rest of the world). Their great fear is nihilism; their greatest desire is to find a source of hope and a new political narrative to guide them into a better future.</p> <p>Such efforts express a popular longing to escape postmodernism’s cultural logic and its council of despair that surrendered the world to neoliberalism—its ‘end-of-everything’ cynicism, sarcasm and irony; its bottomless critique, crippling political passivity and infatuation with cultural ‘power’.</p> <p>Instead, they see the re-appearance of values that the postmoderns disrespected as merely ‘modern’—things like sincerity in place of irony, commitment instead of detachment, and a depth (versus surface) sense of reality; a return of historical consciousness (the belief that the future can be better than the past); a willingness to create big-picture theories of the world or new ‘metanarratives;’ and a renewed belief in ‘progress’ and transcendent visions—something, that is, to believe in and fight for.</p> <p>Underlying this new structure of feeling is a deeper philosophical turn and a richer historical sensibility. Metamodernism abandons notions of history as an orderly, evolutionary sequence of cultural ‘beads-on-a-string’ that cancel each other out as each period passes by. Instead, it argues that past forms of consciousness are really not past at all.</p> <p>In the west, for example, elements of the medieval, theological consciousness still sit alongside those from modern (theoretical) and postmodern (critical) consciousness, remaining simultaneously present and mutually influential. When combined rather than pitted against each other, the most productive elements of each form of consciousness can be re-assembled to create a rich array of resources to direct our emerging social, political and economic development.</p> <p>In metamodernism, the prefix ‘meta’ is not used to mean ‘after’ or ‘above’, though it does carry a soft meaning as somehow ‘transcendent’ or ‘beyond.’ But drawing from the Greek philosophical term <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaxy">metaxy</a>,</em> ‘meta’s’ hard meaning is to be ‘in-between’, a mediation between two poles. To be metamodern is to practice a form of mindfulness that refuses the zero-sum game that pits one form of consciousness against another.</p> <p>Instead, one moves back and forth between different poles in order to look for integration rather than contradiction. To think metaxologically means to stand among the ‘isms’—socialism, capitalism, collectivism, individualism, theism and atheism—and allow them to interact and interpret each other, rather than standing with one ‘ism’ against the others.</p> <p>In this way, metamodern mindfulness interrogates, and seeks to resolve, opposites that subdivide our individual consciousness and alienate us from each other: identity/universality, local/global, nihilism/meaning, cynicism/trust, detachment/commitment, materialism/spirituality, nature/culture, hierarchy/anarchy, markets/politics, and so on down the list. The point is not that we can resolve these opposites into neat new packages, but that by constantly interrogating one in terms of the others we can generate new meanings and richer possibilities.</p> <p>How is all this relevant to Cuba? At the colloquium I attended, a University of Havana psychologist put Cuba’s social ferment like this: “Given our high levels of education, Cubans have a first-world sensibility but live in third-world poverty.” The young are left frustrated. Instead of the revolution they dream of Miami, and unless something changes many of them will move there.&nbsp;</p> <p>If, or when, Cuba cautiously opens to outside investment and global integration, will its civil and political leaders take advantage of this new metamodern mood to reframe their country’s expectations and paths to the future? There will be many ‘opposites’ to resolve that &nbsp;other countries are struggling with—property rights versus personal rights for dignity, subsistence and security, for example, or reconciling socialist collectivism and capitalist individualism, two very different structures of feeling.&nbsp;</p> <p>Metamodern mindfulness offers a new way of thinking about the ideological conflicts of the past—a new frame through which to assess class conflict, egalitarianism, liberal freedoms and religious values—and the possibility of new syntheses within and between these things. For Cuba to perfect its revolution rather than abandon it or see it consumed from the outside, a re-definition of the kind of utopia it desires is necessary, along with a new mood of sincerity and commitment to build and sustain it.</p> <p>Cuba once captured the left’s imagination. It can do so again for a new generation of leaders if it succeeds in lifting its people out of poverty while preserving the human gains of its revolution, but this time it will be different. Latin America, locked in its seemingly eternal cycles of left/right conflict, can certainly use new models that work in practice. And maybe Cuba’s giant neighbor to the north will learn something too.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-catastrophe-only-cure-for-weakness-of-radical-politics">Is catastrophe the only cure for the weakness of radical politics? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/left-s-problem-isn-t-politics-it-s-metaphysics">The left’s problem isn’t politics—it’s metaphysics </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gregory-leffel/is-christianity-finished-as-source-of-inspiration-for-progressive-soci">Is Christianity finished as a source of inspiration for progressive social change?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Political polarization Cuba Gregory Leffel Liberation Activism Culture Economics Sun, 25 Mar 2018 20:31:31 +0000 Gregory Leffel 116839 at https://www.opendemocracy.net