Care https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/18671/all cached version 20/09/2018 17:35:54 en Welcome to barbershop therapy https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/celeste-hamilton-dennis/welcome-to-barbershop-therapy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Barbers in the US South are training as first responders to assist men with their mental health concerns.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/CelesteDennis.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Lorenzo Lewis, founder of The Confess Project, holds a barbershop talk in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo by Santanna Hayes for YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Amid the sound of television and hair clippers buzzing around him at Goodfellas Barbershop in Little Rock, Arkansas, Lorenzo Lewis was trying to get a man wearing a mask to talk about his emotional pain.</p> <p>Lewis asked the man how he was doing. “I’m good, I’m good,” he responded. Lewis said how he’d noticed he seemed on edge recently. Same response. Lewis kept asking questions until the man eventually took off his mask. “I’m hurting,” he said. “I’m just really going through something right now.” When asked if he was feeling suicidal, the man nodded.</p> <p>Lewis is founder of The Confess Project, a mental health initiative for boys and men of color. His demonstration was attempting to show barbers and their clients how men hold in their pain—and how to break through.</p> <p>Why do it in a barbershop?</p> <p>The barbershop in the Black community has historically been a safe, nonjudgmental space for men to talk about anything—sports, politics, religion, women, manhood. The 90-minute conversations about mental health, called Beyond the Shop, are an opportunity to deepen sharing that is already happening, Lewis says. The initiative is similar to New York City-based Barbershop Books and the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program in Inglewood, California, which focuses on hypertension prevention.</p> <p>Through an interactive format, Beyond the Shop aims not only to help Black boys and men confess their vulnerabilities and give them resources to begin a healthier way of living, but also to show barbers how they can be mental health advocates, too.</p> <p>“When you go to your barber, you’re trusting them with your prized possession—your hair,” says Goodfellas owner Matt Dillon. “So if you can trust and respect someone to do your hair, you can trust and respect them to help you with a problem.”</p> <p>For Black men, seeking help can be difficult, an effect of stigma that Beyond the Shop is hoping to erase.</p> <p>“At the barbershop, guys are already outspoken and opinionated, but we don’t tend to talk about self-care and the things that make sure we’re around for our kids and future generations,” says Sam Johnson, a Beyond the Shop participant in Louisville, Kentucky. “The biggest thing I took away was checking on my brothers. We’re so quick to say, ‘Man up,’ when I really should be asking more questions and letting him know that if he needs help, I’m here.”</p> <p>The numbers are telling: Black people&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2931265/">more frequently have post-traumatic stress disorder&nbsp;</a>than other ethnic groups. Yet Black men are&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db206.htm">less likely to get treatment&nbsp;</a>than the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Alliance on Mental Illness. There’s a lack of mental health awareness. Disproportionate access to health care. Increased exposure to violence. Distrust and misdiagnosis due to the lack of culturally competent care.</p> <p>Lewis’ approach with Beyond the Shop is modeling vulnerability through storytelling. He draws empathy from his own story.</p> <p>Born in jail to an incarcerated mother, Lewis struggled with depression, anxiety, and anger throughout his youth. At 17, involved with a gang, he turned it around. Reaching out for support from family and friends was key, as was professional help. “I was in bad relationships, and not able to get along with others. I had a horrible time getting girlfriends, and when I did, I didn’t know how to treat them right because I’d been through so much trauma,” he told the men in Goodfellas. “I started realizing, maybe I need some therapy.”</p> <p>Since starting The Confess Project in 2016, he’s facilitated mental health awareness sessions for thousands around the country—from national universities and organizations, including NAMI, to local health fairs and high schools. He draws from his experience of working in behavioral health facilities in Little Rock for over a decade, where he underwent training in suicide prevention and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy.</p> <p>At Goodfellas, the men were apprehensive at first about Lewis interrupting their haircuts. They didn’t know what to think of him—or the strange mask the man was wearing, to illustrate how men hide their emotions.</p> <p>But the men in the shop did start talking. One man spoke about the pain of being separated from his children and the stress of child support. Another admitted how he turned to unhealthy outlets to cope with working menial jobs. Heads nodded. In the next chair over, a man talked about the anger and fear that come with being pulled over by police. A common thread was how society treats Black men.</p> <p>“Our mental illness is criminalized. You take a person not of color that goes in and shoots up a school and automatically the response is, ‘He’s mentally ill.’ When a person of color does anything remotely like that, not that we even do, he’s a thug,” says Dr. Karen Mathis, psychotherapist in Little Rock. “But I think we would rather be labeled a thug than mentally ill. Why? Because it’s a sign of weakness. And we don’t want to appear weak.”</p> <p>Mental illness in the U.S. carries a stigma. For the Black community, especially for men, Lewis says, that stigma is manifold and gets in the way of asking for help.</p> <p>At the end of Beyond the Shop, along with holistic ideas for self-care and information on suicide prevention, Lewis provides information on local support groups and culturally competent therapists. Black mental health professionals make up only 2.6 percent of the field, according to the American Psychological Association. And therapy can also be a financial barrier for many.</p> <p>That’s where barbers step in.</p> <p>Barbers learn how to help the men in their chairs—from recognizing that lack of eye contact might be a sign of depression to being comfortable asking someone if they’re suicidal (this can be&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-faq/suicideinamericafaq-508_149986.pdf">the best way to identify risk,&nbsp;</a>according to the National Institute of Mental Health). They can point to resources in the community.</p> <p>“I feel more able to help somebody,” says JJ Harness, owner of Broski Barbershop in Little Rock. “Now, once I see the hints they’re throwing out there that they need to talk, I’ll open the door up for discussion.”</p> <p>Increasingly, communities are starting to see the need to equip unlikely first responders to better recognize health concerns in the people they interact with on a daily basis. Librarians in Sacramento, California, for example, underwent “mental health first aid” training at the beginning of the year to be able to identify issues in the homeless people who come through their doors and point them to help. In&nbsp;<a href="http://dementiafriendlyduluth.org/">Duluth, Minnesota, a community-wide effort&nbsp;</a>trains everyone from neighbors to business owners to support people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Baristas double as mental health aides in a new coffee shop in Chicago that’s openly committed to mental health awareness and suicide prevention.</p> <p>Since the initial pilot in Little Rock, Lewis has taken Beyond the Shop to five other barbershops in cities across the South: Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta; and, most recently, New Orleans. Response to Beyond the Shop conversations overall has been positive. A survey of participants even showed 58 percent would be more prone to seek treatment if a therapist was located in the barbershop.</p> <p>In Louisville, a city that saw its&nbsp;<a href="http://wfpl.org/louisvilles-2017-homicide-count-ranks-among-highest-record/">highest ever homicide rates in the past two years</a>, 40 people, including the mayor, showed up at The Campus Barber Shop in January. Representatives from the Louisville Urban League and Metro United Way also came. Men openly shared their stories and offered each other advice.</p> <p>Shortly after the event, owner J. “Divine” Alexander went to a homeless shelter to volunteer his barber services. He met a man there who was without a job and feeling down. Alexander, who struggles with depression himself, has been more open with others since the talk. He gave the man a haircut and a beard trim and at the same time encouraged him to seek help. A few months later, the man came into his barbershop—employed and ready to become a regular.</p> <p>He credited Alexander for the turnaround. “He was like, ‘Yeah, man, it all started with a haircut and a conversation to do better.’”</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/mental-health/what-is-barbershop-therapy-20180823?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180824&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180824+CID_3e11412dfd3d4db3312c0612d55d6eca&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=What%20Is%20Barbershop%20Therapy">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/lydia-smith/what-happens-when-mental-health-professionals-also-get-sick">What happens when mental health professionals also get sick?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/penny-wangari-jones/how-to-decolonise-mental-health-services">How to decolonise mental health services</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/louisa-harvey/we-need-to-talk-about-stigma-within-mental-health-system">We need to talk about stigma within the mental health system</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 Celeste Hamilton Dennis The politics of mental health Intersectionality Care Thu, 20 Sep 2018 16:13:57 +0000 Celeste Hamilton Dennis 119679 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What happens when mental health professionals also get sick? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/lydia-smith/what-happens-when-mental-health-professionals-also-get-sick <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">It’s no wonder that almost half of all psychotherapists in the National Health Service say they feel depressed.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LydiaSmith4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/despair-alone-being-alone-archetype-513529/">Pixabay/Geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Overwhelmed by soaring demand, mental health services are under growing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic. According to a <a href="https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/surviving-or-thriving-state-uks-mental-health">2017 Mental Health Foundation survey</a> two-thirds of British adults experience mental ill-health issues at some point in their lives. In England alone, <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/mental-health-and-wellbeing-trends-among-children-and-young-people-in-the-uk-19952014-analysis-of-repeated-crosssectional-national-health-surveys/AB71DE760C0027EDC5F5CF0AF507FD1B">such issues in young people have risen sixfold since 1995</a>. US figures paint a similar picture: <a href="https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ps.201600260">a study published in Psychiatry Online in 2017</a> found that more than eight million Americans suffer from serious psychological distress.</p> <p class="normal">But this crisis isn’t just affecting the general public; an increasing number of mental health professionals are also struggling with their wellbeing. In a recent <a href="https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/new-savoy-survey-shows-increasing-mental-health-problems-nhs-psychotherapists">survey</a> undertaken by the New Savoy Partnership—a coalition of organisations that came together in 2007 to persuade government to recognise the value of providing psychological therapies free of charge—almost half of 1,227 NHS psychotherapists said that they had felt depressed in the last week “some, most or all of the time,” up from 40 per cent in 2014.</p> <p class="normal">In already highly-pressured environments like the NHS, increasing demands on staff, tight time limits and the prominence of targets mean that many nurses and specialists are suffering from the same mental health problems they are treating in their patients. This isn’t just a problem for professionals who lack access to the appropriate support; keeping staff healthy is also crucial for patients, communities and our collective wellbeing.</p> <p class="normal">“High caseloads, lots of clients back to back—the work of a therapist is tough emotionally and takes a lot of energy out of you,” counsellor and psychotherapist Katerina Georgiou told me in a recent interview. “It’s also a very responsible role—you’ve got vulnerable people placing their trust in you, and that’s a responsibility you can’t take lightly. You need to care about people and fully attend to them. You’re switched on throughout a session. If you’ve then got five or six sessions back to back, that’s a lot of time switched on,” adding that burnout can be common.</p> <p class="normal">At a time when the demand for mental health services is rising, funding cuts and austerity measures have caused essential resources to dwindle, staff workloads to mount, pay stagnate and morale crumble. According to <a href="https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/parity-of-esteem">The Centre for Mental Health</a>, mental illness accounts for 28 per cent of the overall disease burden of the NHS but receives just 13 per cent of total funding.&nbsp; Between 2009 and 2017, the King’s Fund think tank reported a <a href="https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/funding-staffing-mental-health-providers">13 per cent drop in full-time NHS mental health nurses</a>.</p> <p class="normal">“Mental health professionals will feel the cuts in the sense of noticing increased caseloads, perhaps not having much time in between clients, not as much time to write up notes, and the demand for outcomes increased,” Georgiou says. “The breathing space decreases, which can increase stress, maybe even build resentment. And the thing is, you can’t let that stress and resentment get in the way of your work.”</p> <p class="normal">Health staff are being asked to see huge numbers of patients for shorter periods of time, and their managers are under pressure to prioritise targets—like treating minimum numbers of clients—over their wellbeing. As a result, sickness rates among staff have become a common concern, with stress and anxiety-issues <a href="https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/funding-staffing-mental-health-providers">one of the most frequently stated causes of absence among mental health </a><a href="https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/funding-staffing-mental-health-providers">nurses</a>.</p> <p class="normal">“Working in an under-resourced, under-pressure NHS leaves doctors struggling to provide the high-quality care patients deserve,” <a href="https://www.bma.org.uk/">British Medical Association</a> Consultants’ Committee mental health lead Dr Andrew Molodynski told me. “This leads to doctors burning out and becoming unwell, and patients suffer further.”</p> <p class="normal">Louise Watson, a UK-based clinical psychologist, adds that professionals working privately may also face “internal pressures,” perhaps seeing more clients in a day than may be healthy because of the intense nature of the job. Moreover, mental health professionals may struggle to come forward for help, or simply soldier on and mask their problems. “I think another internal pressure is that perhaps mental health professionals feel a level of demand that they shouldn’t be struggling with mental health issues themselves,” Watson told me.</p> <p class="normal">“Most people who are in the profession are there because there is something in their personality or background that means they are comfortable in that role of helping other people, so to be on the other side of the fence is difficult. They may put off going for help longer than they should because of that.”</p> <p class="normal">Making sure that everyone who needs help is able to access it is essential, not least because the number of people in need of specialist care is growing, and staffing levels are already in crisis. “It speaks for itself that if mental health professionals are off work with stress, or aren’t functioning to their full capacity because they are under too much pressure, then there won’t be anybody to look after anybody,” Watson says. “It’s a bit like on an airplane and the oxygen masks drop down, you need to fit your own oxygen mask first before you help others.”</p> <p class="normal">Mental health services in the US are also under threat. Earlier this year, President <a href="https://www.apnews.com/4db5c3de76d6440fbe35485af6cc0678/Budget-undercuts-Trump-focus-on-mental-health,-school-safety">&nbsp;Trump’s budget proposed slashing Medicaid, the major source of public funds for mental health treatment</a> which serves more than 70 million low-income and disabled people. America is also facing an acute shortage of mental health professionals in rural areas, with 65 per cent of non-metropolitan counties lacking a psychiatrist and nearly half without a psychologist according to a recent study in the <a href="https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(18)30005-9/fulltext">American Journal of Preventive Medicine</a>.</p> <p class="normal">It’s no surprise that a shortage of staff and other resources have had a direct impact on access to services, including longer waits for people in dire need of help, which can lead to an <a href="https://www.bma.org.uk/news/2018/february/the-devastating-cost-of-treatment-delays">increased risk of self-harm and suicide.</a> In 2018, the US <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6722a1.htm?s_cid=mm6722a1_w">Centers for Disease Control</a> found that suicide rates have risen by 30 per cent in America since 1999. An increasing number of teenagers in England and Wales are also dying by suicide, <a href="https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2017registrations">with 177 suicides among 15- to 19-year-olds in 2017</a> compared to 110 in 2010.</p> <p class="normal">“There would be an argument to say that we ought to be prioritising making sure people who are helping others are healthy,” Watson told me. “If we don’t, there won’t be any mental health care. And that will have knock on effects on society like having large numbers of people off work with stress.”</p> <p class="normal">It’s not just public health that suffers if we fail to support mental health staff but the whole of society and the economy. The UK government’s <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thriving-at-work-a-review-of-mental-health-and-employers">Thriving at Work review</a> published in 2017 concluded that poor mental health costs the economy up to £99 billion a year. Of this amount, employers lose up to £42 billion through staff turnover, sick leave and ‘presenteeism’—working while sick, which causes losses in productivity.</p> <p class="normal">Importantly though, if a mental health professional is experiencing a problem and seeks help, this can be a positive thing for care all-round. “It increases your ability to empathise with your own clients if you have been through a similar situation, and gives you first-hand experience of seeing what you thought was helpful,” Watson explained. “If you work in mental health and you suffer with an issue yourself, maybe it ought to be seen as a helpful experience in terms of improving our own practice.”</p> <p class="normal">It also breaks down the ‘them and us’ feeling that is common in the health system, Watson adds. “The client may see the psychologist as a doctor who is there to fix them, but what I think can be helpful in a therapeutic relationship is to feel a rapport—that we are both human beings. It is about working together to find an answer.”</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/lydia-smith/why-we-should-all-be-concerned-about-musicians-mental-health">Why we should all be concerned about musicians’ mental health</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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> </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 ourNHS Transformation Lydia Smith The politics of mental health Care Tue, 18 Sep 2018 19:09:08 +0000 Lydia Smith 119690 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bringing love, compassion and humanity back into healthcare https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/nathan-scolaro-and-rachel-callander/bringing-love-compassion-and-humanity-back-into-h <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Disability isn’t a deficit within a person, it’s a deficit in a culture that doesn’t accept or enable a person for who they are.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NathanScolaro1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Scattering Evie’s ashes. Photo: <a href="https://www.dumbofeather.com/people/stephen-maddigan/">Nathan Maddigan</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><strong>Nathan Scolaro (NS): </strong><strong>So let’s talk about the work you’re doing now and then journey back through your story.</strong></p> <p>Rachel Callander (RC): Okay cool. My work involves&nbsp;speaking to health professionals about the need to communicate with patients using openhearted language, especially at diagnosis.&nbsp;I teach how the first words used at diagnosis critically shape how a patient or parent or family member perceives the present and navigates their future. These words can either help the individual be their best self through this challenging time and find meaning even in pain, or they can create anger, mistrust, frustration, and break down the crucial relationship between with the health professional.&nbsp;So essentially it’s a conversation about empowerment, and how language can elevate those critical exchanges for the patient and for the health professional.&nbsp;And&nbsp;I’m not a health professional at all, I should say. I studied fine arts and have a photography background. I was a wedding and portrait photographer for 10 years in New Zealand. My first major experience with the healthcare system and with disability was in 2008, when my daughter Evie was born. She had a very rare chromosome condition,&nbsp;and what I noticed after she was born was that the language I was using about her and the language that the doctors were using was very different.</p> <p>And I liked my language better [laughs]. Because it highlighted ability and it highlighted humanity—whereas theirs was very negative, deficit language. And it took all of her ability and potential away. The healthcare professionals would use these cold, horrible phrases—like she was “incompatible with life.” I’d just given birth and was an emotional mess coming to terms with what they were saying and then they would use words like “mental retardation,” “abnormal,” “dimorphic,” which just seemed to exasperate everything. None of their words made sense. Their words didn’t sound like they were describing a human being.</p> <p><strong>And you’re not in a position to challenge them either—when you’re already vulnerable.</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Yeah, I felt very small a lot of the time. And I just expected that was normal, that they are the heroes. I remember one of the first pediatricians we met was trying to explain chromosomes to me. We had been living in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for two weeks and Evie had undergone so many tests, and he was trying to explain the long and short arms of the chromosome, the nature of splitting and how it all works. I was sleep deprived, recovering from a caesarean and emotionally exhausted, and I thought he was telling me that Evie had short arms. I was really confused because her arms were perfect! They were a perfectly long length! I thought,&nbsp;<em>Why, on top of everything else that was going on in her fragile little body, were they so focused on her arms anyway?</em>&nbsp;Surely her arms were the least of our concerns! Then he used a library book metaphor to explain how Evie’s condition actually came from my own chromosomal translocation, which was more new information to me. All of a sudden I was thinking about library books, short arms and the mysterious behaviour of chromosomes, and I had no idea how to make sense of it all. The pediatrician’s manner was really brusque and impersonal too and I decided then and there that I did not like this man at all. Which meant nothing he said after that landed. I heard nothing. I couldn’t even remember what Evie’s new diagnosis was called—let alone how to spell it. I was so confused, and didn’t know what questions to ask. Then after a while I thought,&nbsp;<em>I don’t think this is how it has to be.</em></p> <p><strong>So tell me what you saw when you looked at Evie. Who was the little human you saw staring back? &nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Evie was the embodiment of her name. Her full name is Evie Amore, and to us that means “life is possible because of love.”&nbsp;Evie showed us a completely different kind of love. Hers was a love without words. When I walked in to see her each morning, she’d see me and flap her arms and legs about in complete happiness. She giggled all the time. And she was mischievous. We would have friends around in the lounge room and she would slide down her bed, do a little back flip belly flop onto the floor, scoot along the hallway and pop out around the corner!</p> <p><strong>Ah! So cute!</strong></p> <p>Her love was freedom, pain, growth and wonder, all packaged up in a tiny fragile body.</p> <p><strong>So what was it like learning that Evie had this condition?</strong></p> <p>It wasn’t a big thing for me at all. To be honest it was kind of liberating.</p> <p><strong>Yeah?</strong></p> <p>This is a funny thing. I was really nervous about being a mum. I just thought,&nbsp;<em>I don’t think I’m made for this</em>.&nbsp;I love freedom and creativity and I felt that the way I wanted to parent was not really compatible with the systems of the world—education systems, career paths, life paths. And accidentally I fell pregnant and it took a while to get to the point where I was feeling okay about being a mother. Then Evie was born with all of these unique things about her and I just had this sense of overwhelming relief as well as the fear and the heartbreak of potentially losing her and her not surviving. But I had a sense of,&nbsp;<em>Oh my gosh, we can live our life however we want.&nbsp;</em>Like, there were no rules. &nbsp;The doctors couldn’t give us all the answers because Evie’s condition was so rare, so the relief came from her being unique I guess. We could do the parenting thing our own way. I love the fact that she was a complete anomaly, and we would be part of her unique journey—with her own set of rules and way of doing things. The layers of pressure and expectations just fell away. There was so much freedom.</p> <p><strong>So interesting. It’s similar to how I felt when I came out as gay. It was this massive feeling of liberation because I didn’t have to get married by this age, own a house by that age, do life the way society tells you. I could write my own story. Like, no one has written the rulebook for how to be a gay man.</strong></p> <p>Yeah! That’s exactly how I felt as a mum with Evie.&nbsp;Growing up I had some health issues that made me think I could never have children. And at 13 I lost my granddad who was my biggest hero. That had a huge impact on me. All my work at art school was created from a space of finding meaning in suffering and seeing beauty in brokenness, so when Evie was born I had this sense of, “Of course it’s her! Of course she would be the baby!”&nbsp;It felt like my whole life I’d been preparing for this devastating moment, and in that moment I felt complete happiness and freedom.&nbsp;So while it was a shock and it was hard and there was all this pain because the doctors didn’t know what was going to happen, I loved her. And there was a beautiful tension in being so happy and so fearful of losing her. And she taught me so much about being a mother. She showed me parts of myself that only came out because of her.&nbsp;She taught me that motherhood is about being constantly broken and put back together a little bit stronger and braver, a more whole human.</p> <p><strong>And she lived to be two and a half?</strong></p> <p>She did. And over that time it was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, ambulance trips and learning so much from her. She never learnt how to eat food so she had this special formula and it made her breath smell like vanilla. I loved that [laughs]. She had so many amazing things about her and the way that she interacted with the world was just so beautiful. I started saying that she had superpowers because I believe she had electromagnetic sensitivity. When we drove under electrical pylons or went through electric sliding doors she’d cry every time. It was like a switch. So I imagined her as baby Magneto off X-Men! She was a person with disability and the world would see her as something less-than, but to me it just elevated her into something really incredible.</p> <p><strong>You saw her for everything she was.</strong></p> <p>Yeah, and you know, it was just exhausting always answering the “what’s wrong with her” questions. I didn’t want to focus on the list of medical conditions. So with this new language I started saying, “Actually, she has superpowers.” And then they’d look at me funny and ask what I meant, and then I would tell them all the amazing things about her. Then in that moment they’d really get to know her, and she became a human to them rather than a collection of failing body parts. And after that they had a different view of disability as well. Because&nbsp;disability isn’t a deficit within a person, it’s a deficit in a culture that doesn’t accept or enable a person for who they are.</p> <p>Evie had such magnetism as a tiny human. I could see how she would draw people in, how her fragility and pure joy disarmed people and softened them, and encouraged them to see beyond her disability. She helped bring perspective and healing to people in very meaningful ways. And I had the sense that this was how she was choosing to do life. That she wasn’t limited in her body. It just made her innovative [laughs]. Her limitations were actually her greatest strength because she was so determined to do the things that she wanted to do. She scooted on her back instead of walking. She communicated with us just with the tone of her voice and a little sound “ooh.” I could feel what she was thinking or feeling and I knew she understood me. And she had this wicked giggle when we’d make her laugh and it was just so much fun. It was such an honour being her mum.</p> <p>&nbsp;<img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NathanScolaro2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Evie Callander. Photo by <a href="https://www.dumbofeather.com/people/stephen-maddigan/">Nathan Maddigan</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><strong>And so how has your life changed through all of this?</strong></p> <p>Oh man. It’s made me braver and stronger. It’s helped me to see a bigger version of humanity, and to see that chasing perfection is such a damaging lie. I’ve become more accepting of people, less afraid of them—especially those who are different to me. And I was just really proud of the mum that Evie allowed me to be. I was stronger than I thought. I called the ambulance so many times I lost count. We nearly lost her so many times and through it all I remained clear and calm. I stepped up and coped in extremely difficult situations. So even though it was hard and there were challenges, at the same time there was a lot of growth. I became innovative too. I found ways to communicate with her and play with her and advocate and fight for her.</p> <p>I think also my heart was working overtime too. Through everything with Evie my marriage was suffering. All the love my husband and I had we directed to Evie and through Evie. She was our connecting point. It was a painful love. Every day I’d wake up and rush to her room, “Is she alive? Is she alive?” And just constantly holding that in tension, I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s like being so vulnerable and open all at the same time. It hurts! Like even when you’re in love, you know, you love so much it hurts. It’s that same feeling.&nbsp;I think to be openhearted has more sharp edges than we think. It’s not fluffy.</p> <p><strong>It’s painful as you say. Although maybe pain is what helps us love more fully. If we actually acknowledge that this love could be lost maybe that’s just a deepening.</strong></p> <p>I think so. And I think as a parent holding the knowledge that every day could be the last made love even more critical. I was really in the present. And after Evie died it took me ages, like years, to be able to think about and plan for the future. I’d almost forgotten that way of thinking. I’d been so in the moment with her. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>So how was that period of losing Evie, and that grieving process for you?</strong></p> <p>On the night Evie died she had gone to stay with Mum. They got on so well—Evie and my mum. She was fantastic. She knew all about Evie’s medical stuff and how to do all of her treatments. And I was with a friend for her birthday, and Sam was two hours away in Timaru. We were struggling with our own relationship and needed space from each other. It was all really hard. The next morning Sam called me and I said, “How are you?” I can remember this clearly. And he said, “I’m bad.” I said, “What’s happened?” He said, “Evie’s dead.” Just out of nowhere. Evie was in Christchurch and I was in Dunedin and Sam was in Timaru and our physical and emotional separation was so apparent. And my poor Mum. She found Evie in the morning and thought she must have suffocated somehow. She thought it was her fault. But when I saw Evie she looked so peaceful. As if she had chosen her time. I don’t know what happened to her, we didn’t want an autopsy.</p> <p>But you asked about grief. I feel like there’s a language of grief that people don’t understand. No one knows what to say. When Evie was still alive—this is a story I have to tell—when she was alive, Sam and I went to a Coldplay concert and they played the song “Yellow.” It was one of the last songs and there were these giant yellow balls falling from the roof. It was so great! And I was just a mess. I turned to Sam and tears were streaming down his face and I said, “Why are you crying?” He said, “Why are you crying?” [Laughs]. I said, “It reminds me of Evie!” And he said, “Me too.” I think it was just that line, you know, “You’re skin and bone turned into something beautiful.” And she was so skinny. She had an extra pair of ribs and she was so long and… and so tiny and long and skinny and bony and she had these little stick legs! And I used to put her in stripy tights… she was so sweet. And I remember thinking this was her song. And then when it came to her funeral I didn’t know what to wear. Nothing felt right. I wanted just to wear comfy clothes because I didn’t… nothing felt good. And then I said, “I want to wear something yellow.” And so my friend went out and bought me some yellow things. And we played “Yellow.” And every day since then I’ve worn something yellow. For the last seven years now. It has become a way for people to connect with my experience—because they knew this about me. They could enter into my world of grief by sharing something yellow. They would say, “Rach, I was walking and I found a little yellow flower and I picked it for you and Evie.”</p> <p><strong>What a beautiful open gesture.</strong></p> <p>It was magical. And people would leave me yellow jellybeans on my desk sometimes. And there’s a friend who gave me daffodils every spring because he has a farm full of them. It’s become this language that has allowed so many people to express their love and sense of loss of Evie as well.</p> <p><strong>Because words can be hard.</strong></p> <p>Because they don’t know what to say, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing, but they want to express care.</p> <p><strong>And how was that time after her death for you?</strong></p> <p>It was shit. I went through a dark hideous phase of not wanting to live. Just that enormous absence of love. I didn’t know how I would ever be okay.</p> <p><strong>Who was your support? What was getting you through?</strong></p> <p>Well I was writing in a journal a lot, and listening to a lot of Mumford and Sons. Their songs speak about love and loss in a way that just went right to my core. The experiences they sing about resonate so strongly and I found comfort in the lyrics. And I was talking to my friends and Sam. But at the same time Sam and I found it so hard to talk to each other because it was too painful. I’d look at him and I could see his pain and I couldn’t hold mine and watch his. So it wasn’t until about six years after Evie died that I finally felt the grieving process had come to a place of peace. That’s when Sam and I took Evie’s ashes to a very special place to us, Lake Pukaki under Aoraki, which is a mountain in New Zealand. And&nbsp;we scattered her ashes, and she became stardust and galaxies, she became part of the water and the sky all at once.</p> <p>And in letting her go I actually felt joy. I didn’t know what I’d feel, and thought that I’d be afraid to let her go fully. But there was just so much peace and overwhelming gratitude to her for teaching us so much and for being part of our lives.</p> <p><strong>It’s such a profound story of learning and love between a parent and a child. Really a reminder of just how much young people have to teach us as adults about how to live fully. And so tell me how the Super Power Baby Project came about—because that’s been huge for you.</strong></p> <p>Yeah, so one day while Evie was still alive I had this idea to travel around New Zealand and meet other children with chromosomal and genetic conditions and photograph them beautifully and discover what their unique superpowers were. I just thought,&nbsp;<em>If I felt so much joy in being Evie’s mum and in discovering her abilities, maybe there were other parents out there who felt the same way but didn’t know how to communicate those feelings.</em>&nbsp;Three years after she died, we started making this book. I’d never made a book before in my life but Sam and I were a great team and we worked it all out and did it really well. And I think in doing this project, that’s when my real grief healing process began—meeting the families, sitting in their lounges talking with them, and just being part of that world again, it connected me to that way of parenting. It just threw me straight back into that world again, and just the way that I was able to communicate with their kids, it was exactly how I used to communicate with Evie. It felt so natural.</p> <p><strong>Tell me more about this way of communicating.</strong></p> <p>This way of communicating is really about intention. You don’t use words, because you can’t, you use your thoughts and you send love to the other person. And they feel it through your body, your facial expressions, sound, touch. It’s amazing!&nbsp;After Evie died, people with children were wary around me because they thought their children would make me miss Evie. But it wasn’t the case because the experience I had with Evie was completely different to theirs. Other children just fascinated me because Evie was so different to them. But when I met the families with children like Evie, that was when I missed her—because I understood the parents, I knew the depth of their challenges and the joys of their triumphs. I spoke their language.</p> <p><strong>And that’s actually a big part of the work you’re doing now, sharing this language. I loved hearing about this form you created for the healthcare practitioners to highlight the potential in babies with medical conditions.</strong></p> <p>Oh yeah, Evie’s Awesomeness form! That’s been really cool actually. So at one point we were asked to fill out a “needs assessment form” by some of Evie’s specialists. This form is actually positive—it asks questions about a child’s abilities to gauge the level of support a family requires. And at the time, being exhausted and so used to medical stuff surrounding us, this form actually broke me. I couldn’t tick a single answer to the questions they were asking about our child. So I had this feeling that when the people at the other end read this form, they would think from the answers I gave that Evie was a child who couldn’t do anything and that she had no value. And while this might mean we would get a bit more medical or even financial support, it wasn’t the most important thing to us. I wanted the people at the other end to know about Evie’s abilities. I wanted to be asked about the things she could do. And I had become so exhausted by all the could-nots that I decided to make up my own form to go alongside the official one, with better questions. And I loved answering my own questions, because I could see how far Evie had come and how she was growing and developing in her own excellent style. So I guess looking back now, the motivation for making this form came from a place of wanting a better way of getting the information on how we might need some support. I wanted to share the humanity of my child. I talked to my OT and speech therapist, they were beautiful ladies, and I said, “I’ve made my own form, is that okay?” And they said “yes!” [Laughs]. And I said, “Can you send this one in with the official one too? I don’t even care if no one reads it but I will get the sense that I’ve done something good!” And they did! So it’s called “Evie’s Awesomeness” with my questions on it with big yeses to every single question. And some of the questions are just super random—“Does she like it when soft objects fall on or near her face?” [Laughs]. Because she loved it! She loved it! [Laughs]. And every time I talk to health professionals now, I share the Evie’s Awesomeness form. It’s such a simple idea that clinicians are drawing inspiration from.</p> <p>I’m suggesting that health professionals add a paragraph about things that a child does that brings their family joy. “What does your child love?” or “What have you enjoyed about your child this week?” Then these beautiful things become part of the child’s official medical report.&nbsp;Actually, some health professionals are calling this section “the Awesomeness Report.” Which is so cool! And both parents and professionals are seeing great progress when this attitude of ability and humanity is adopted.</p> <p><strong>Amazing. It’s so amazing! And so I’d also really love to hear about some of the kindness you did experience in the healthcare system, I imagine you did amongst the difficult ones—how did that affect your experience?</strong></p> <p>Yeah, I remember we were in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Starship Hospital in Auckland and we met this beautiful doctor, Lindy. She had such an impact on me. She got Evie stable and then spent half an hour on the computer making her a pretty bedside poster with her name and a picture of a fairy on it. To make her bed less scary.</p> <p><strong>Oh how gorgeous!</strong></p> <p>Little moments like that are magical and completely unexpected and just something that changed my whole perception of what healthcare could be. And I still have that piece of paper now.&nbsp;It means so much to me, she was so particular about it. And she didn’t rush it—she wanted it to be perfect. It was like this little poster was just as important as everything else she was doing for Evie.</p> <p>So I guess to circle back to where we started, in response to all my experiences with Evie in the healthcare system, I’ve been thinking about the impact of language and communication quite seriously. And I’m part of the Thought Leadership Business School here in Australia which is helping me develop my ideas around how communication style can destroy or build the relationship between a health professional and a parent or patient. I developed a language matrix that came from me thinking deeply about where language fits. And my favourite health professionals were the ones like Lindy that communicated in an openhearted way. They were warm and positive, they spoke to me in a way that made me feel important and that the things I knew about Evie were really valuable too. And their approach was not only best for me and best for Evie, it was also best for them as health professionals because I wasn’t relying so much on them. You know, they taught me new skills so I could do more for Evie at home. There was respect and trust and I was empowered as a mother.</p> <p>I think the relationships between medical staff and parent or patient are often being severed by thoughtless words, and that’s such a tragedy because the knowledge of the professional isn’t being utilised. And the knowledge of the parents isn’t being respected.&nbsp;And it’s so simple and easy to change, which is the beauty of what I’m teaching.</p> <p><strong>But does the system have to change as well? I mean I know you’re not a health practitioner. But what have you noticed as to why communication isn’t as effective as it could be? Doctors have all these great skills, this great knowledge and intellect, why does the empathy and the compassion seem to be absent? And obviously this isn’t the case for all. But what are your thoughts?</strong></p> <p>Well from what I know, it’s not taught well from the beginning. And if people had it when they got into the medical system, it’s almost trained out of them.&nbsp;The system is really set up for 10-minute interviews. People say there’s no time to be compassionate, they’ve just got to give the facts, the diagnosis, the medication, get people in and out. So there’s an emphasis on the disease rather than the human, and to be honest I think professionals hate this as well—because they want to care. They want to help people and have better relationships with parents and patients. And they’re limited by the system too. So they’re burning out because they’re seeing too many patients at not enough depth. Maybe they feel like they’re being ineffective. There are actually so many studies and statistics about the fear of failure from health professionals. We’re all humans and I feel like we forget that when we walk into a hospital. I know that when I let go of the expectation that the doctors should know everything, I let them be human. I was kinder towards them and myself, and I learned to respect what they knew and the things they didn’t know.&nbsp;I think what is also often missing in the healthcare system is a sense of true hospitality. Hospital and hospitality come from the same Latin root word,&nbsp;<em>hospes—</em>which means guest or stranger, and carries with it a story of mutual respect between guest and host.&nbsp;An expectation of all parties to exhibit care, trust and kindness. So the etymology of the whole system is actually based on a beautifully kind and compassionate foundation. But I don’t actually think compassion is&nbsp;missing&nbsp;in healthcare, it is just often&nbsp;misunderstood—by patient and carer.&nbsp;When we can build a healthcare system that can look after everybody under the hospital roof, then we will have something pretty incredible.</p> <p><strong>Given you’re an artist yourself, I wonder what are your thoughts on the role arts can play in building a&nbsp;better healthcare system? What is the relationship between the two?</strong></p> <p>It’s pretty exciting actually, seeing how my art brain is connecting to this deep thinking I have around systems and&nbsp;change. I am able to build models by using art, story and metaphor as a way to communicate solutions to complex problems, which is really cool.&nbsp;The way I see it, a hospital is a place where all the vicissitudes of life reside. All the shifts and turns and highs and lows, all the seasons of life—and they all deserve care.&nbsp;And the best way to care for a person is to respect them.&nbsp;Art helps us do this, it has a way of transcending language itself—instantly connecting us as sensory beings. It reveals messages and meaning, it can create comfort through a colour palette, a chord, a poem, a photograph.&nbsp;Art can enhance an environment or soften it. It creates space, it allows room to breathe and connect to the present.&nbsp;I think art helps us acknowledge our own humanity, and remind us that we are all in this together, all deserving of the kindness of strangers.</p> <p>Which is why the Super Power Baby Project has had such an impact I guess. The images in the book shine back at you with so much life! Photography was my tool for communicating how amazing the children are. I was able to capture them, and their personalities and spark in a way that connects with people in a really deep way. I actually show a slideshow of the images from the book at some of the talks I give, and health professionals are in tears because the images speak so much of meaningful life and love.&nbsp;It’s almost&nbsp;like they are reminded of a language they forgot, like they are reminded of why they became doctors in the first place.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.dumbofeather.com/articles/">Dumbo Feather Magazine</a>.</em></p><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 Nathan Scolaro and Rachel Callander Love and Spirituality Care Thu, 13 Sep 2018 18:35:38 +0000 Nathan Scolaro and Rachel Callander 119503 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How does change happen? One man’s journey through the personal and the political https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jason-angell/how-does-change-happen-one-man-s-journey-through-personal-and-political <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The first step to building a new world is to start living it, but don’t stop there.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jason Angell.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="normal">J<span class="image-caption">ason Angell at Longhaul Farm in the Hudson Valley, New York. Credit: Theo Angell. All rights reserved.</span></p> <p class="normal">For most of my life I‘ve been a political activist, believing the story that social transformation comes through radical legislation pushed along by brave elected leaders. I once imagined becoming one of those leaders myself, and had a mental picture of giving a speech to a massive group of people in what looked like the National Mall in Washington DC.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I know I inherited that picture from my father, who harbored dreams of being a politician who had something true to say to people that would lead them out of the wilderness. He ran for Congress in 1972 unsuccessfully in the same community where I now live and have a farm, but my path to becoming a farmer was unexpected, paved by three experiences that challenged my belief that the change I hoped to see in the world could be won through the current political system.<br /> <br /> The first was a brief run for the New York State Senate in my early thirties in the Hudson Valley.&nbsp; Most of my days were spent alone, calling people to ask for money which I dreaded. Sometimes I would stand in front of civic groups, introduce myself, and tell them why <em>I</em> had the answers (which I didn’t). So I dropped out.<br /> <br /> Eventually I got a job as Director of the Center for Working Families—a think-tank allied to the <a href="http://workingfamilies.org/">Working Families Party</a> (WFP) and a place where ideas could be translated into direct action through the Party’s political muscle. It was 2009 and New York State faced one of the largest budget deficits in the country. The old debate raged on: increase taxes or cut public services drastically? This was a fight I wanted to be a part of. I still remembered the visceral wrongness of walking by homeless people on frigid winter streets when I moved to New York City as a kid in 1986.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Now Manhattan was the playground of the world’s wealthy elite—bankers and hedge fund managers bringing home bonus check millions while the economy collapsed under the weight of their subprime mortgage lending greed. My job was to design a tax reform proposal to increase taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, which had been slashed for decades.<br /> <br /> Progressives united around the cause—teacher and healthcare unions, poor people’s organizations, private foundations, (some) Democrats and WFP legislators—and the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/nyregion/29tax.html">“Millionaire’s Tax” became law</a>. But in the aftermath of this victory I grew increasingly skeptical.&nbsp; The tax reform was won on the argument that putting a few hundred dollars in people’s pockets was better for economic growth than cutting public services.&nbsp; But what about putting capitalism’s unregulated greed on trial or questioning the spiritual damage of living in a culture that maintains money should remain our highest aspiration? Things were changing on the surface but not deep down.<br /> <br /> As a third party in New York (and active in 17 other states), the WFP organizes to drag the Democratic Party left by organizing progressive voters in close elections.&nbsp; It’s good at what it does, using the remaining power of organized labor to place working people’s issues on the agenda.&nbsp; But at the end of the day, it is still very much a creature of the political system, often constrained by the narrow agendas of its most powerful union leaders and more dedicated to winning a seat at the table where political decisions are made than democratizing decision-making so that regular people have more power.</p><p class="normal"> As I came into the office everyday to craft more powerpoints and papers, was I happy or fulfilled or convinced that any of this would lead to transformation? Life in the city was expensive, so both I and my partner Jocelyn had to work full-time. The city was pushing us towards a way of living that seemed to be just as much a part of the problems I hoped to solve through new policies and laws. Cracks began to appear in the first story I had told myself about how change is accomplished, and I didn’t have another to replace it.</p> <p class="normal">A year after that blank page moment we quit our jobs and moved to Argentina. I had to imagine a new story of life and needed as much space as possible to create it. We moved to El Hoyo, a small rural town in Patagonia a friend had traveled through years ago and rented a small cottage on a farm called Chacra Millalen, run sustainably by a family for 20 years. Our mornings were spent thinking, writing, and exploring what was most important to us and in the afternoons we worked in the garden and learned how to farm. I had grown up privileged, never really doing much physical labor, and I found that the balance of the mental and the physical left me more content at the end of the day than I had ever been before.</p> <p class="normal">Living in El Hoyo exposed us to a much larger sense of community than any we had experienced in New York. We were eating and cooking together. A lot of neighbors bartered, trading vegetables for having a car fixed for example. Large jobs like hauling wood for the winter were collective and people relied on each other more. Everything was treated as invaluable, so was cooked, canned, preserved, fixed and sharpened until the bitter end. <br /> <br /> One day we woke up and realized that we had built a new story of a life for ourselves, one that involved farming and trying to build the same kind of communities back home. We realized that the first step to building a new world is to start living it.<br /> <br /> So we moved back to the Hudson Valley and started <a href="https://www.instagram.com/longhaulfarm/">Longhaul Farm</a> and the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ecologicalcitizensproject/?hl=en">Ecological Citizen’s Project</a> to create spaces, programs and podcasts through which people can <a href="http://ecologicalcitizens.org/nextstopnow">learn about&nbsp; ways of life that are built around different values and routines</a> than those offered by mainstream America. But we didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes we saw in the ‘back to the land’ and earlier Utopianist movements, which became islands of personal improvement and perfect community creation cut off from larger political work required to transform society.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> It’s very difficult to sustain a countercultural personal life in a society that doesn’t value that kind of life nor is built to support it. Farming at our scale doesn’t pay all the bills or provide benefits.&nbsp; Eventually, we were able to find flexible teaching work that allowed us to share child care duties, get our healthcare through a mix of work-based and state programs, and reduce our housing costs through a farming tax credit. Transformation requires that we both pioneer new personal ways of life while also working together to enact policies and build new social institutions that will sustain them.<br /> <br /> I’ve begun to reconsider the old picture that I had in my head, the one where I’m delivering the speech on the Mall. I’ve realized that a lot of that dream came from my ego, which is a barrier to greater progress.&nbsp; Our culture celebrates the greatness of the individual—celebrities, business icons and agents of social change—without acknowledging the collectives around them that are the true source of greatness.<br /> <br /> We’ve built a political industrial complex made up of candidates, political operatives, lobbyists and think tankers that keep people far from the privileged places of decision-making. It’s no wonder that <a href="https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf">what the majority of people want</a> doesn’t really matter if it runs counter to moneyed interests. Conventional politics treats citizens largely as consumers, whose only power is to vote for the best person to represent them from a field of candidates culled by donors. Since campaigns follow a zero-sum dynamic that leads candidates to tear down all their competitor’s ideas and magnify their negatives in the pursuit of winning office, the bitter partisan divide grows ever wider.</p><p class="normal"> Who really believes that the problems we face can be addressed by selecting the right candidate in this kind of system? To bridge the divide between our personal and political lives we need to build new democratic norms and institutions that abandon the ego-driven ‘great individual’ model and allow mass participation in coming up with solutions, while also demanding that we enact them in our own lives. <br /> <br /> Over the past year, we’ve tried to do this by conducting a <a href="https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/opinion/valley-views/2017/11/13/civic-engagement-thriving-democracy/852677001/">local experiment</a> in the Town of Philipstown called the <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/551bf6b6e4b088e1f8030880/t/5b6c9928aa4a9997a24e1023/1533843763178/HVCC%2C+Process+%2B+Impact+%285%29.pdf">Community Congress</a>. We asked any resident to answer the question, “What’s your idea for preserving and promoting a strong community?” Over the course of three public forums, residents proposed 40 ideas across a range of issues. Then we invited all Philipstown residents age 13 years and older to name their top three priorities through an online and mail-in ballot. <br /> <br /> Over 750 residents voted, and even more hopefully 450 identified themselves as willing volunteers to roll up their sleeves and get to work turning the priorities they voted for into reality. In the next few years we’ll begin the work of building other Community Congresses throughout the Hudson Valley, forging a more people-centered democracy to build the world that people want.</p><p>I realize now that the path to social transformation is not a binary choice between personal or political change.&nbsp; We must live our political values within the daily routines of our personal lives and grow a new kind of politics that’s grounded in a higher quality of human relationships—unafraid of asking much more of us than our votes. </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/chris-moore-backman/what-we-can-really-learn-from-gandhi">What we can really learn from Gandhi?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/liam-barringtonbush/you-can%E2%80%99t-love-whole-planet">You can’t love a whole planet</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ted-fertik/can-working-families-party-succeed-in-america">Can the Working Families Party succeed in America?</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 Jason Angell Transformative nonviolence Trans-partisan politics Activism Care Sun, 09 Sep 2018 17:20:13 +0000 Jason Angell 119499 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How to help inmates heal after the trauma of prison https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/allen-arthur/how-to-help-inmates-heal-after-trauma-of-prison <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Half of all prisoners in American jails suffer from some sort of psychiatric disorder. Can prayer and meditation support them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/AllenArthur.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Brother Zachariah Presutti leads a group of incarcerated men and volunteers through a guided meditation. Credit: Mike Benigno/YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Pedro Javier Rodriguez sings and dances so passionately, people call him “The Flame.” Prison life, however, didn’t allow the aspiring musician much opportunity to perform.</p> <p>“I started fighting, people trying to kill me in prison,” says Rodriguez, who was incarcerated in New York state prisons for 27 years. “I get stabbed, I get cut up. I start cutting people. But I don’t like violence. I had to fight for my life.”</p> <p>In 2007, he started going to church again, began playing music and rediscovered both his passion and spirituality. He also began attending every prison program he could, including&nbsp;<a href="https://www.thriveforlife.org/">Thrive for Life Prison Project</a>, designed to bring healing and structure to men currently and formerly incarcerated.</p> <p>“That’s when I met brother Zach, brother for life, the beautiful angel, the beautiful people,” Rodriguez says. “Thank God for having these people in the world.”</p> <p>In 2017, Zachariah Presutti, a Jesuit of the northeast province of the Society of Jesus, officially launched Thrive, whose volunteers provide support to men incarcerated in six New York jails and prisons and help them find stable housing, education, and employment once they leave. While those are often considered the pillars of rehabilitation and recidivism reduction, Thrive also adds another focus: healing.</p> <p>“Really what we’re dealing with is trauma,” says Presutti, who is also a psychotherapist. “The … trauma of being a victim of abuse, neglect, poverty, sociological constructions growing up. The trauma of being incarcerated, the trauma of inflicting pain and hurt on other people. Those have real psychological effects.”</p> <p>Thrive provides spiritual retreats at the correctional facilities it serves and estimates about 700 men have benefited from them. The retreats offer a space for vulnerability and reflection, something nearly impossible to find on the inside. Thrive has also helped more than two dozen of them transition after release. In addition to seeing virtually no recidivism, Thrive has helped them make peace with their pasts and reconnect with family. Rodriguez, for example, now has a stable job and housing, while also sharing what he’s gained from his experience with others.</p> <p>“We’re kind of witnesses of miracles,” Presutti says.</p> <p>Sometime this summer, Thrive will open&nbsp;<a href="https://www.thriveforlife.org/ignacio-house/">Ignacio House</a>, a residential center in the Bronx for 24 formerly incarcerated men, intended to address more directly the stress and uncertainty that can accompany those returning from prison.</p> <p>The organization addresses the trauma of the prison experience using what it calls “Ignatian spirituality.” In the 1500s, Saint Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, a religious order of the Catholic Church. Recovering after a cannonball shattered his leg, Ignatius read the gospels and grew to believe that closeness to God could be achieved by self-reflection, meditation, and service to others—practices Thrive sees as essential to helping men survive in prison and after returning home.</p> <p>“We’re not trying to fix people or save people,” says Joe Van Brussel, the group’s chief operating officer. “We’re trying to give people tools and a lens to understand their stories.”</p> <p>Those stories are frequently troubling ones, reflecting larger societal problems. Many participants have dealt with substance abuse or mental health issues and, according to Presutti, most have themselves been victimized in some way.</p> <p>“I think prison is how we handle all our sociological questions,” Presutti says. “We have a hard time dealing with poverty, so we lock it away. We have a hard time dealing with [different races] so we lock them away. We have a hard time dealing with mental health. Well, we don’t have services for them, so lock them away.”</p> <p>There’s evidence to suggest he’s right. As many as half of all inmates in American jails and prisons suffer from some sort of psychiatric disorder, according to new book&nbsp;<a href="http://alisaroth.com/"><em>America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness</em>.&nbsp;</a>The Bureau of Justice Statistics&nbsp;<a href="https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/imhprpji1112.pdf">reports</a>&nbsp;that 37 percent of prisoners and 44 percent of people in jail had been diagnosed at some point with a mental health disorder. Jails in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are now the three largest institutions providing psychiatric care in the U.S.</p> <p>Van Brussel said the conditions of prison—chaotic, violent, and uncertain—further erode the psyche. The retreats give the men a chance to be vulnerable, uncommon inside prisons.</p> <p>“They never get a chance to breathe or just talk in a safe environment,” he says. “People have told us, ‘It’s been months since someone listened or wanted to hear my story.’”</p> <p>Tracy Tynan, who volunteers at Thrive retreats, says they begin with a guided meditation that encompasses anything from envisioning relaxing on a beach to a “conversation with God.” Then, participants share positive recent events in their lives, such as phone calls from loved ones or progress with an appeal. But they also talk about the hardships of prison life—fights, fear, and lockdowns. Retreats might include art or music.</p> <p>The centerpiece of the retreats is the&nbsp;<em>lectio divina—</em>a reading from the Gospels coupled with “imaginative prayer” and introspection based on how the reading resonates individually. All this combines to create the rare space where incarcerated people can close their eyes, relax safely, and look deeply within themselves.</p> <p>“It really, really helps them,” Tynan says. “It’s unusual to close your eyes in prison.”</p> <p>Santiago Ramirez served 36 years in prisons throughout New York state for committing a deadly robbery while in the throes of substance abuse. He remembers those retreats as his only opportunity to trust inside.</p> <p>“Sometimes in prison, you can develop friendships and relationships,” Ramirez says, “but you’re not really comfortable disclosing everything about yourself. Then you worry: Is that person going to betray your trust? But Thrive is so welcoming, so encouraging, so supportive, so loving.”</p> <p>Presutti says because love is such a rare commodity among formerly and currently incarcerated men, extending it is an important part of Thrive’s mission. “They need to experience love, to be loved, and I think that’s when healing begins,” Presutti says. “Healing begins when we realize just how much we’re loved. A lot of people have bad experiences of being loved. Someone told them they were loved one time and abused them. Someone told them they loved them one time and kicked them out onto the street or gave them a needle.”</p> <p>Outside prison, Thrive provides emotional support and a sense of community some participants have never experienced—employing everything from monthly group dinners to counseling and transportation.</p> <p>Convicted as an accomplice to a murder he said he witnessed but wasn’t involved in, Rodriguez wanted to live in Buffalo after his release where another organization was offering re-entry help. As a condition of his release, however, he had to return to New York City, the site of his arrest. Presutti and Thrive’s volunteers stepped in, picking him up from the prison, helped him get clothes, and gave him a place to stay.</p> <p>“They told me, ‘You gotta follow the rules. Step by step, little by little,&nbsp;<em>poquito, suavacito,&nbsp;</em>you’re gonna be OK,’” recalls Rodriguez. “’But you got to take it easy because you been locked up for too many years, and life is not like it used to be when you were there.’”</p> <p>At Ignacio House, which Thrive hopes to open by the end of summer, men with whom it connected on the inside will be given priority in housing. They will receive workforce training and gain access to scholarships from Manhattan College. Thrive wants to use open space inside the house for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and local events, all designed to create a foundation of support for these men as they work to build their lives on the outside and develop a sense of community.</p> <p>“It’s not building agencies,” says Presutti, who openly resists joining what he calls the nonprofit industrial complex. “It’s about being there as a community. Community brings connection and intimacy ultimately, which leads to the experience of love.”</p> <p>Volunteers and participants hope that Thrive’s approach will take hold around the country, presenting it as an antidote to both the causes and effects of mass incarceration.</p> <p>“I think it’s a way that we’ve been dealing with the issues we just don’t know how to deal with,” Presutti says. “If we can just put [incarcerated people] out on an island, nobody will know how to get to them and hopefully people will forget about them. The grace in the whole thing is if people haven’t forgotten about them.”</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/mental-health/how-to-help-inmates-heal-after-the-trauma-of-prison-20180725?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180727&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180727+CID_93fcab22827be21ad0036500518e4b96&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=How%20to%20Help%20Inmates%25">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/kazu-haga/transformation-of-warrior-behind-bars">The transformation of a warrior behind bars</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/can-prison-system-be-transformed-shaka-senghor-and-cut50">Can the prison system be transformed? Shaka Senghor and #Cut50</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/melissa-hellman/town-that-adopted-trauma-informed-care-and-saw-decrease-in-crime-and-">The town that adopted trauma-informed care—and saw a decrease in crime and suspension</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 Allen Arthur Prison abolition Love and Spirituality Care Thu, 06 Sep 2018 20:12:02 +0000 Allen Arthur 119073 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Love and hunger in breadline Britain https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-shannahan/love-and-hunger-in-breadline-britain <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need a moral and spiritual revolution to replace the culture of shame with a politics of love and solidarity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisShanahan3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/13/students-view-healthier-school-brighter-future">United States Department of Agriculture/Bob Nichols</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>When I was at school I used to count down the days to the long summer holidays, but in breadline Britain huge numbers of parents approach the school break knowing that ‘holiday hunger’ awaits their children. In the sixth wealthiest country on earth, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/25/holiday-hunger-shame-government-childrens-clubs?CMP=share_btn_tw">why do four million children go hungry during their holidays</a>, and how can we respond more effectively to this scandal? We can’t rely on policies alone: two concepts drawn from the New Testament—<em>agape</em> (selfless love) and <em>koinonia</em> (fellowship or solidarity)—provide deeper guidance and inspiration for the struggles that lie ahead.</p> <p>During the 2017-2018 school year <a href="http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06700/SN06700.pdf">approximately two million children in England received ‘Pupil Premium</a>,’ a payment allocated to schools which provides young people with a free hot meal at lunch-time. Approximately <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/603946/Evaluation_of_Breakfast_Clubs_-_Final_Report.pdf">40 per cent of the children who attend breakfast clubs run by schools also receive free school meals</a>.</p> <p>Such provision appears to reflect a commitment to supporting children living in poverty, but in April 2018 the UK Government introduced means testing for the Pupil Premium and linked it to the receipt of Universal Credit.<a href="https://www.tes.com/news/government-sets-ps7400-annual-income-threshold-free-school-meals"> Families now have to earn less than £7,400 a year to qualify,</a> a decision that—according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies—will mean that <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/free-school-meals-children-miss-out-government-threshold-universal-credit-ifs-institute-fiscal-a8288976.html">100,000 children who are currently receiving free school meals will therefore miss out</a>. Even before this decision, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/07/million-more-uk-children-in-poverty-than-in-2010">a third of British children living in poverty</a> didn’t receive the Pupil Premium anyway.</p> <p>Holiday hunger illustrates the deeper poverty that has reared its head in Britain since the 2010 General Election, leaving one million more children living in poverty after a fall of 800,000 during the previous decade, and giving rise to a dramatic rise in the use of foodbanks. Research by the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/29/report-reveals-scale-of-food-bank-use-in-the-uk-ifan">Independent Food Aid Network identified 2,024 foodbanks and distribution centres in 2017</a>, more than half of them run in collaboration with the Christian NGO the <a href="https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/how-foodbanks-work/">Trussell Trust</a> which fed more than 1.3 million people in that year. The<a href="https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/"> Trust’s foodbanks also gave food parcels to over 484,000 children, 13 per cent more than in 2016</a>.</p> <p>Foodbanks meet people’s immediate needs and their importance cannot be overstated, but they don’t tackle systemic social exclusion. Increasingly therefore, organizations like the <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/on-a-mission-to-eliminate-hunger-by-2020">Feeding Britain</a> network (established in 2015) and local Trussell Trust affiliates provide debt counselling and benefits, housing and legal advice, and <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/fuel-banks-project">energy vouchers to counter fuel poverty</a> to those who visit food banks in an effort to tackle these deeper issues. A related approach to tackling food poverty is the emergence of <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/real-junk-food-project-food-waste-shop-supermarketadam-smith-pay-what-you-feel-a8443496.html">‘junk food’ shops</a>, <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-real-junk-food-project-founder-adam-smith-on-how-to-make-restaurant-quality-meals-out-of-food-a7316231.html">cafés</a> and <a href="https://www.feedingbritain.org/citizens-supermarkets">‘citizens’ supermarkets’</a> which recycle food that supermarkets have discarded. Such shops charge low prices or ask shoppers to offer a donation in exchange for the food they receive.</p> <p>The growth of these initiatives exemplifies the commitment of faith-based and other voluntary sector groups to stand alongside people living in poverty. However, such initiatives have become increasingly stretched since the launch of the Conservative Government’s <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/25/universal-credit-benefits-scheme-iain-duncan-smith">Universal Credit</a> programme in 2017. Trailed as a streamlining of the benefits system that would enable people to move into paid work, Universal Credit has been widely accused of deepening the poverty Ministers claim it will alleviate.</p> <p>In 2017 for example, former government adviser <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41433019.%20Accessed%2027">Dame Louise Casey urged Prime Minister Theresa May to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit</a>, and in 2018 the columnist <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/15/universal-credit-colossal-catastrophe-national-audit-office">Polly Toynbee described it as a ‘catastrophe’ that has increased foodbank usage by 30 per cent</a>. Potentially aware of the political damage done by this bleak picture, a July 2018 <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/foodbanks-records-jobcentre-dwp_uk_5b61c1bde4b0b15aba9ebcc9?utm_hp_ref=uk-homepage&amp;ncid=fcbklnkukhpmg00000001&amp;guccounter=1&amp;guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZmFjZWJvb2suY29tLw&amp;guce_referrer_cs=qrFww9gVSZnqIuQ5w45-hQ">Department of Work and Pensions directive instructed Job Centre staff to stop keeping records of the number of people they refer to foodbanks</a>. But what else can be done?</p> <p>Holiday hunger highlights the fracture in the fabric of society that’s caused by the ‘age of austerity. It is an example of what the peace studies scholar <a href="http://www2.kobe-u.ac.jp/~alexroni/IPD%202015%20readings/IPD%202015_7/Galtung_Violence,%20Peace,%20and%20Peace%20Research.pdf">Johann Galtung called ‘structural violence’</a> and the pioneer of Latin American liberation theology <a href="https://liberationtheology.org/people-organizations/gustavo-gutierrez/">Gustavo Gutiérrez</a> ‘systemic sin.’ Foodbanks, breakfast clubs, junk food shops and other small-scale initiatives will help to heal this fracture but they won’t be enough to turn the tide. Instead we need a moral and spiritual revolution that comprehensively rejects the culture of shame which blames people living in poverty for their own social exclusion and replaces it with a politics of love and solidarity.</p> <p>Mentioning ‘love’ in political discourse can lead to accusations of naïve romanticism, but this misunderstands love’s potential as a source of liberative social change. When I see the person whose child has to go to school hungry as a reflection of myself it’s easier to move beyond a blame-game culture in which people living in poverty are seen as the helpless victims of amoral neo-liberal economics or as inadequate individuals. When we recognize that we are, in fact, our sister and brother’s keepers we see that the damage done by Universal Credit, rationing free school meals, the insecurity of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/23/number-of-zero-hours-contracts-in-uk-rose-by-100000-in-2017-ons">zero hours contract</a> work and low pay harms us all, not just those relying on the local foodbank.</p> <p>This commitment to mutuality is a reflection of the New Testament term <em>koinonia</em>, which is better understood as a basis for liberative solidarity rather than apolitical fellowship. In his parable about the Day of Judgement in Matthew 25 Jesus illustrates the potential of this radical ethic: ‘When you feed the hungry, clothe the naked or welcome the stranger you feed, clothe and welcome me.’ The ‘age of austerity’ in the UK and the early years of the Trump Presidency in the USA have been characterized by social policies that seem intended to make life more comfortable for wealthy people at the expense of those who are living in poverty. These policies undermine the empowering solidarity exemplified by <em>koinonia</em>.</p> <p>In the face of endemic injustice a commitment to friendship and mutuality is important, but on its own is unlikely to defeat post-crash poverty. A further, less comfortable, step is needed into the realm of self-sacrificial love or <em>agape</em>. <a href="https://stanford.app.box.com/s/5qzd0p500bd99rqbmb6y9127j2wrzdn8">As early as his 1962 ‘Levels of Love’ sermon</a>, Dr Martin Luther King Jr argued that only unconditional and selfless love of this kind could challenge ingrained systemic injustice—what he called the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0uEVTh0ios">‘love that does justice</a>.’ Such selfless love, which King suggested is <a href="http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/power-nonviolence">‘overflowing…and seeks nothing in return’</a>, shaped the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and animates similar efforts today such as the <a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/">Poor People’s Campaign</a> led by <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/william-barber-takes-on-poverty-and-race-in-the-age-of-trump">Rev. William Barber</a> and <a href="http://liztheoharis.org/about/">Rev. Liz Theoharis</a>.</p> <p>The embrace of self-sacrificial love is, in a Christian context, a response to a God who ‘becomes flesh and lives among us’ (John 1:14). Such unbounded love moves us beyond a symbolic solidarity with people living in poverty into the realm of costly struggle, just as it led <a href="http://www.thekinglegacy.org/books/where-do-we-go-here-chaos-or-community">Martin Luther King</a>, towards the end of his life, to move beyond a compartmentalized advocacy for racial justice to issue a deeper and broader challenge to global economic injustice and US imperialism in Vietnam. King’s original <a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/history/">Poor People’s Campaign</a> (the precursor to Barber and Theoharis’ movement today) implicitly embodied the vision of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ first articulated by Latin American liberation theologians like Gutiérrez.</p> <p>Could a similar movement be built in Britain to attack the scandal of holiday hunger and its underlying ideology of austerity? We see the first-stirrings of such a movement in the holistic activism of networks like <a href="http://endhungeruk.org/">End Hunger</a>, but these still need to be translated into concrete political action. The ending of Universal Credit, the further engagement of foodbanks in advocacy and campaigning, the provision of free school meals for all British children, the introduction of a <a href="https://www.livingwage.org.uk/">genuine living wage</a> and the guarantee of a <a href="https://www.basicincome.org.uk/what_is_basic_income">‘basic income’</a> for all citizens would represent a good start.</p> <p>But without a deeper cultural shift—a commitment to loving each other in political as well as personal terms—the effects of such a movement will be transient, and that’s where faith and spirit can be vital.&nbsp; Of course, faith-based organizations are not alone in their ability to mount this kind of challenge to poverty and austerity, and only a movement that brings together people of faith with their humanist counterparts will have any chance of success. However, armed with a political philosophy premised on selfless love, faith-based and other activists can build a movement that integrates pastoral responses to holiday hunger such as foodbanks with political action for structural change.</p> <p>2018’s bout of holiday hunger may be drawing to a close as schools re-open their doors in September, but the injustice it highlights will not disappear. It is vital that practitioners, preachers and politicians hold government accountable for a decade of austerity in which the landscape of breadline Britain has become increasingly marked by rough-sleepers, foodbanks and children’s breakfast clubs. A commitment to a radical and liberative love which turns society the right-way up again can arm us for the struggles that lie ahead. </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/chris-shannahan/desmond-tutu-was-right">Desmond Tutu was right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chris-shannahan/president-trump-and-christian-right">President Trump and the Christian right</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 religion and social transformation Chris Shannahan Care Economics Love and Spirituality Sun, 02 Sep 2018 17:20:49 +0000 Chris Shannahan 119413 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trapped on Brexit Island https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/paul-walsh/trapped-on-brexit-island <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How did we get here, and how do we escape? Transforming education would be a start.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/PaulWalsh3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Anti Brexit People's Vote March, London, June 23 2018. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/zongo/42972119401">Flickr/David Holt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>Stuck in a political twilight zone where the laws of causality are suspended, people stagger around in a kind of waking sickness—a disease whose most worrying symptoms are the mental gymnastics which imagine Brexit as a success and Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Do you ever think to yourself <em>what the hell is happening?&nbsp;</em>Do you see the Johnson come-what-may-Brexit on the horizon?</p> <p>By bringing disrepute into repute, making arrogance a virtue and carving up politics according to a code known only to insiders, Johnson and company aim to spark a regulatory fire sale that leads us away from a dark European bureaucracy to the sunlit uplands of a butter-side-up Britain. No matter what kind of Brit you are—from Galashiels to Gibraltar—we’re all trapped in the same bizarre mental archipelago: <em>Brexit Island.</em> And we need an explanation of how we arrived here. </p> <p>One overlooked factor is that many of those embroiled in the Brexit narrative boarded at elite schools. Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and Jacob Rees-Mogg went to Eton, and Daniel Hannan—<a href="https://www.google.de/search?q=the+man+who+brought+you+Brexit&amp;rlz=1C1CHWA_enDE580DE580&amp;oq=the+man+who+brought+you+Brexit&amp;aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60.5210j0j7&amp;sourceid=chrome&amp;ie=UTF-8">described</a> by journalist Sam Knight as “the man who brought you Brexit” (he also invented that Maoist sound-bite “Project Fear”)—boarded at Marlborough College in the Cotswolds. </p> <p>Psychotherapist Nick Duffell knows about the psychic plumbing in such minds. His work with boarding school survivors documents the damage done by separating young boys from their mothers (some as young as six) and thrusting them into a loveless world of strangers, giving the child what George Orwell, <a href="http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/joys/english/e_joys">reflecting on his own boarding</a>, called “a sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious laws.”</p> <p>In his 2014 book <a href="https://woundedleaders.co.uk/"><em>Wounded Leaders</em></a>, Duffell writes that this forces children to develop a “strategic survival personality” characterised by “the maintenance of a facade of confidence and success, masking a rigid emotional illiteracy and intimacy avoidance.” Private school boarders become “pseudo-adults” who employ pathological tics to hide their wounded selves. They bully, they dissemble, they protect themselves with a self-invented carapace—whether it’s <em>hug-a-hoodie</em> Cameron or Johnson’s schoolyard <em>bonhomie</em>.</p> <p>Speaking from France, Duffell tells me that he can see this personality at work.</p> <blockquote><p>“Look at Jeremy Hunt. The smile on his face – <em>the NHS is falling apart ... well that’s why we’re putting in another million pounds</em> – and he never loses his cool. And Boris, always on the edge of rage. People think he’s a clown but he’s not. He’s a bully; his cleverness is all about putting someone else down.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>These people have never grown up, giving politics on <em>Brexit Island </em>a timeless quality. Duffell writes that “Boris would have been just as much of a success in 1911 or even 1811.” And the deference shown to such figures indicates a widespread belief that privilege has been fairly earned by those who have it; we’re unable to see the systems that entrench inequality because inequality has become so entrenched. Duffell calls this the “Entitlement Illusion”, a mind trick which allows rulers to feel good about ruling and those ruled to acquiesce.</p> <p>Yet dividing a population into rulers and ruled splinters social cohesion. Foreigners see this, the Scots and Welsh increasingly see this, but if you’re English you have to acclimatise yourself to it; you have to learn to see the privilege anchoring our education system and our whole society in place. And then you see it everywhere.</p> <p>Obviously, schooling on <em>Brexit Island</em> has long been a source of mystique; elite ‘public’ schools such as Eton or Harrow that were originally endowed for the deserving poor (hence their charitable status) couldn’t be further from public control; and the role of grammar schools which operate by selection has always been to get students through their Oxbridge entrance exams (hence the focus on the Latin ‘grammar’).</p> <p>Yet there have been times when elite schooling has come under attack. The socialist <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._H._Tawney">R.H. Tawney</a> let off an early shot in his 1931 book <em>Equality</em>: </p><blockquote><p>“A special system of schools, reserved for children whose parents have larger bank-accounts than their neighbours...does more than any other single cause, except capitalism itself, to perpetuate the division of the nation into classes of which one is almost unintelligible to the other.”</p></blockquote> <p>Anthony Crosland, Harold Wilson’s education minister, <a href="http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2011/02/19/34-years-today-since-his-death-tony-croslands-challenge-to-ed-miliband/">vowed to</a> “destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland,” yet failed to kill off selection by merely <em>requesting</em> local authorities to submit plans for reorganisation in 1965. The post-war ideal was still the grammar school; <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Gaitskell">Hugh Gaitskell</a>, Labour party leader from 1955 to 1963, <a href="http://educationengland.org.uk/articles/31labourgrammar.html">argued that</a> "It would be nearer the truth to describe our proposals as a grammar-school education for all.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>There have always been defenders of this system from both right and left. The 1944 Butler Act sent working-class children to grammar schools via the 11-plus exam. The writer Angela Carter <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/the-return-of-the-magic-story-teller-1567062.html">thought</a> this gave Britain its first “full-blooded, enquiring rootless urban intelligentsia which didn’t define itself as a class by what its parents had done”—including filmmaker Ken Loach and journalist Janet Street-Porter. Likewise, with his own brand of working-class boosterism, Nigel Farage has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/01/nigel-farage-ukip-schools-taxes">said</a> he wants to see “a grammar school in every town” to emulate his schooling at Dulwich College, where the assisted places scheme gave a few kids a leg over the educational wall.</p> <p>But you never hear from the majority whom selection failed—like my mum for example. Born in Newcastle during World War II, her class took the 11-plus in 1952. Her best friend Wilma was the only one to pass, getting a scholarship to the local grammar school and going on to become a teacher. Everyone else went to the secondary modern, which funnelled the boys to the shipyards on the Tyne and the girls to Wills’ tobacco factory to make Woodbine cigarettes. In an <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/may/04/grammar-schools-secondary-modern-11-plus-theresa-may">article on grammar schools</a> for the Guardian, Chris Horrie writes that until the 11-plus was phased out in 1976, over 20 million children received a brown envelope containing a state-certified stamp of failure.</p> <p>Little has changed. The recent BBC documentary <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b57ynx"><em>Grammar Schools:</em> <em>Who Will Get In?</em></a> told the story of Joanita who, despite her mother working at Poundland to cover the £300 needed each month for extra tuition, still received the same message of failure—by text message this time rather than by post.</p> <p>It’s this failing education system that Melissa Benn diagnoses in her 2011 book <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/1196-school-wars"><em>School Wars</em></a>. Scotland and Wales operate a comprehensive system, Northern Ireland is phasing out selection, but England is an educational patchwork, with academies operating outside local authority control, maintained schools overseen by local authorities (former comprehensives that aren’t selective), state-funded grammar schools (that select via exams), and independents (fee-paying schools some of whom, confusingly, retain the title of 'grammar school'). UK education is like quantum theory: if you understand it, you’re obviously mistaken.</p> <p>In her new book <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2899-life-lessons"><em>Life Lessons: The Case for a National Education Service</em></a>, Benn makes a convincing case for change. To cut the Gordian educational knot, she makes several proposals that will make many parents, teachers, and heads cheer: abolish Ofsted, give the power to open schools back to local authorities, set up a commission to look at integrating academies into a public system, restore national pay for teachers, get rid of the 11-plus, give teachers their professional autonomy back, and establish an educational trust to advise on bringing private schools under the control of the state.</p> <p>Yet all these reforms could crash on the reefs of social mobility, the resilient ideology wielded by both left and right that has powered the drive towards a '<a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/1392913?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents">parentocracy</a>' based on <em>choice</em>, shifting power from producers (teachers and schools) to consumers (parents). And it's not that social mobility is <em>true</em> that keeps us believing in it; historian Selina Todd describes the much-vaunted 1950s as a time when “there were very few golden tickets to go round, and most of them went to the children of privileged parents.” It’s the fact that <em>we act as if it’s true—</em>which inevitably has real consequences.</p> <p>“Imagination is both the fabric of social life and the motor of history” <a href="https://newleftreview.org/II/111/simone-weil-meditations-on-a-corpse">wrote</a> philosopher Simone Weil. There's a cloud of uncertainty and growing elite panic over Brexit, but for the left, a path of ideas leading forward: an industrial strategy, fair taxation, reforming the financial system, and public ownership—all policies in the <a href="https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/">Labour manifesto</a>—could make Britain a fairer island.</p> <p>A 21st-century National Education Service might transform our archaic system of educational provision. Yet even that won’t be enough: to escape <em>Brexit Island </em>we need to accept that while the Boris Johnsons of this world might well deserve our pity, they certainly don’t deserve our respect.</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/brexit-corbyn-and-us-what-disappointment-can-teach-us-about-politics-and-o">Brexit, Corbyn and us: what disappointment can teach us about politics and ourselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/how-to-win-brexit-civil-war-open-letter-to-my-fellow-remainers">How to win the Brexit Civil War. An open letter to my fellow Remainers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/paul-walsh/life-s-pitch">Life’s a pitch</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"> UK </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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation UK Brexit Education Paul Walsh Care Thu, 30 Aug 2018 11:36:50 +0000 Paul Walsh 119487 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “The price on everything is love:” how a Detroit community overcomes a lack of city services https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kevon-paynter/price-on-everything-is-love-how-detroit-community-overcomes-lack-of-cit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts address basic needs that aren’t met by local government.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KevonPaynter2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Jessica Ramirez in front of the storefront that houses&nbsp;<a href="http://detroitershelpingeachother.weebly.com/">Detroiters Helping Each Other (DHEO)</a>. Credit: Kevon Paynter for YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>A multitude of voicemails and text messages from desperate neighbors flooded Jessica Ramirez’s cell phone on a brisk morning in October 2013. Winter was coming.</p> <p>Using social media to reach potential donors as well as those seeking help, Ramirez created a makeshift donation center on the sidewalk outside her Southwest Detroit home. There, the community organizer and her neighbors handed out warm clothing to children and recycled beds, dressers and microwaves to new mothers who needed furniture.</p> <p>When school began the next year, she was at it again, donating reams of school supplies she had collected from businesses and individuals. “Everything was being done out of my home when I started,” Ramirez says.</p> <p>Recognizing her efforts, the property manager of an abandoned local storefront gave her use of the facility. That’s when her charitable acts became a community shop—<a href="http://detroitershelpingeachother.weebly.com/">Detroiters Helping Each Other (DHEO)</a>—where kindness and generosity, not money, is the currency of exchange. Their motto: Teamwork makes the dream work.</p> <p>“I would love to see us not need this anymore,” she says.</p> <p>“In the meantime it’s showing people the community still cares.”</p> <p>Decades of economic and population decline, a depleted tax base, and critically underfunded city services have forced Southwest Detroiters to self-organize, establishing a local network of goods and services to fill in for missing city services. The result is a range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts, like DHEO, that seek to address broader needs that are going unmet by local government agencies.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="http://cocswdetroit.com/2018/04/" target="_self">Congress of Communities</a>, for example, is a charitable programming organization that, among other things, offers anti-domestic violence trainings to Southwest Detroit residents in 2010. The trainings aimed to improve public safety at a time when it took police nearly an hour to arrive at a crime scene.&nbsp;</p> <p>A coordinated effort called<em>&nbsp;</em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/MowerGang">Detroit Mowers Gang&nbsp;</a>organized volunteers with gloves and protective eye gear to mow overgrown grass in the city’s abandoned lots and public playgrounds. The so-called weed vigilantes get together every other Wednesday to do what the city doesn’t, calling itself a “crafty crew” that refuses to let budgets and bureaucracy stand in the way of unruly grass on a playground getting cut.</p> <p>And the&nbsp;<a href="http://detroitblackfoodsecurity.org/">Detroit Black Community Food Security Network</a>, organized educational programs for youth and adults, and operated a food co-op to ensure Detroiters had access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. Its ongoing work includes a food council that promotes a sustainable food system and advocates for food justice and food sovereignty in the city.</p> <p>“The price on everything is love, man,” says Rico Razo, a native Southwest Detroiter and a former mayor-appointed district manager tasked with ensuring city services respond to residents’ needs.</p> <p>“It’s spreading love through giving with the hopes that the people they’re helping out—if they catch someone else who’s on hard times—that they pay it forward. That’s the model that [DHEO] rolls with. I think it’s been successful.”</p> <p>Three years ago, the city of Detroit named DHEO “Organization of the Year” for its role helping families recover from a fire that burned seven homes to the ground, just blocks from Ramirez’s home. Her generosity has extended beyond helping people in need. She collected a U-Haul truck of dog food to feed 369 of her neighbors’ dogs and donated straw to keep their kennels warm during Detroit’s cold months.&nbsp;</p> <p>She shares stories about DHEO’s work on social media, so that donors can see who they’re helping.</p> <p>She vets people who say they are in need to make sure no one is taking undue advantage of the community’s generosity. “We do our homework,” she says.</p> <p>She has asked for a police report in the case of a family replacing items they say were taken in a home burglary or documentation when a family asked for a donated bed to keep their children out of Child Protective Services.</p> <p>But Ramirez says a family’s inability to produce any of those things won’t be a hindrance to receiving help. And ultimately, the organization relies on trust between neighbors in the community and the social networks that underlie it.</p> <p>“Yeah, they get stuff for free,” Ramirez says. “But we can call recipients up and say ‘come volunteer.’ If they’re able-bodied, we tell them ‘hey go cut the elderlies’ grass’ or ‘show up to a community feeding event.’ And they show up,” she says.</p> <p>Razo said that for the longest time when the city cut back on services, including trash pickup, streetlights, and lawn maintenance, he saw self-organized community initiatives and nonprofits offer food and healthcare to people in need. After-school programs and summer jobs for high school students emerged as well as job training and job readiness efforts.</p> <p>City and state government services are rebounding but the hope is they won’t threaten what neighbors have already built to save their communities.</p> <p>Rather, Razo said he believes the city should look to them and partner with them to remove some of the burden and empower them to continue. He’s said he running for state representative to the Michigan Legislature on a platform that seeks to bolster Detroit’s community-based sharing economies, especially by integrating them into city services.</p> <p>“They don’t do it for us,” Ramirez says of business and city government. “The community takes care of itself without the suit and ties.”</p> <p><em>This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation and was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/the-price-on-everything-is-love-how-a-detroit-community-overcomes-a-lack-of-city-services-20180719">YES! Magazine</a>.&nbsp;</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/kevon-paynter/with-marijuana-now-legal-los-angeles-goes-further-to-make-amends-for-wa">With marijuana now legal, Los Angeles goes further to make amends for the war on drugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kevon-paynter/before-nfl-took-knee-four-lesser-known-moments-of-resistance-in-sports-">Before the NFL took a knee: four lesser-known moments of resistance in sports history</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/caitlin-endyke-sean-thomas-breitfeld/breakfast-in-detroit">Breakfast in Detroit </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 Kevon Paynter Economics Care Activism Thu, 16 Aug 2018 19:29:34 +0000 Kevon Paynter 118981 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The enemy between us: how inequality erodes our mental health https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-pickett-richard-wilkinson/enemy-between-us-how-inequality-erodes-our-mental-heal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Inequality creates the social and political divisions that isolate us from each other.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatePickett.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/27305863@N07/6023390537">Flickr/mSeattle</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>When people are asked what matters most for their happiness and wellbeing, they tend to talk about the importance of their relationships with family, friends and colleagues. It is their intimate world, their personal networks that mean the most to them, rather than material goods, income or wealth.&nbsp; </p> <p>Most people probably don’t think that broader, structural issues to do with politics and the economy have anything to do with their emotional health and wellbeing, but they do. We’ve known for a long time that inequality causes a wide range of health and social problems, including everything from reduced life expectancy and higher infant mortality to poor educational attainment, lower social mobility and increased levels of violence. Differences in these areas between more and less equal societies are large, and everyone is affected by them.</p> <p>In our 2009 book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spirit-Level-Equality-Better-Everyone/dp/0241954290/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533714435&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=wilkinson+spirit">The Spirit Level</a></em>, we hypothesised that this happens because inequality increases the grip of class and social status on us, making social comparisons more insidious and increasing the social and psychological distances between people.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>In our new book,&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/188607/the-inner-level/">The Inner Level,</a></em> we bring together a robust body of evidence that shows we were on the right track: inequality eats into the heart of our immediate, personal world, and the vast majority of the population are affected by the ways in which inequality becomes the enemy between us. What gets between us and other people are all the things that make us feel ill at ease with one another, worried about how others see us, and shy and awkward in company—in short, all our social anxieties. </p> <p>For some people, these anxieties become so severe that social contact becomes an ordeal and they withdraw from social life. Others continue to participate in social life but are beset by the constant worry that they have no small talk or come across as boring, stupid or unattractive. Sadly, we all tend to feel that these anxieties are our own personal psychological weaknesses and that we need to hide them from others or seek therapy or treatment to try to overcome them by ourselves.</p> <p>But a recent <a href="https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/stressed-nation-74-uk-overwhelmed-or-unable-cope-some-point-past-year">Mental Health Foundation Survey</a> found that 74 percent of adults in the UK were so stressed at times in the past year that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One-third had suicidal thoughts and 16 percent had self-harmed sometime in their lives. The figures were much higher for young people. In the USA, mortality rates are rising, particularly for white middle-aged men and women, due to ‘despair’, meaning deaths due to drug and alcohol addictions, suicide, and vehicle accidents.&nbsp; An epidemic of distress seems to be gripping some of the richest nations in the world.</p> <p>Socioeconomic inequality matters because it strengthens the belief that some people are worth much more than others. Those at the top seem hugely important and those at the bottom are seen as almost worthless. In more unequal societies we come to judge each other more by status and worry more about how others judge us. <a href="https://academic.oup.com/esr/article/30/4/525/2763459">Research on 28 European countries</a> shows that inequality increases status anxiety in all income groups, from the poorest ten percent to the richest tenth. The poor are affected most but even the richest ten percent of the population are more worried about status in unequal societies. </p> <p><a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-social-policy/article/poverty-in-global-perspective-is-shame-a-common-denominator/DED0C9DC02D8ABCAA8F177BA3CC477AB">Another study</a> of how people experience low social status in both rich and poor countries found that, despite huge differences in their material living standards, across the world people living in relative poverty had a strong sense of shame and self-loathing and felt that they were failures: being at the bottom of the social ladder feels the same whether you live in the UK, Norway, Uganda or Pakistan. Therefore, simply raising material living standards is not enough to produce genuine wellbeing or quality of life in the face of inequality.</p> <p>Although it appears that the vast majority of the population are affected by inequality, we respond in different ways to the worries it creates about how others see and judge us. As we show in <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Inner Level</a>, one way is to feel burdened and oppressed by lack of confidence, feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, and that leads to high levels of depression and anxiety in more unequal societies. </p> <p>A second is to try to flaunt your own worth and achievements, to ‘self enhance’ and become narcissistic.<strong> </strong>Psychotic symptoms such as delusions of grandeur are more common in more unequal countries, as is schizophrenia. As the graph below shows, narcissism increases as income inequality rises, as measured by ‘<a href="https://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/JoP2008a.pdf">Narcissistic Personality Inventory’ (NPI)</a> scores from successive samples of the US population. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Katepickett.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Sources: <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Inner Level</a> and <a href="https://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/JoP2008a.pdf">Twenge et al 2008</a>.</p> <p>A third response is to find other ways to overcome what psychologists call the ‘social evaluative threat’ through drugs, alcohol or gambling, through comfort eating, or through status consumption and conspicuous consumerism. Those who live in more unequal places are more likely to spend money on expensive cars and shop for status goods; and they are more likely to have high levels of personal debt because they try to show that they are not ‘second-class people’ by owning ‘first-class things.’ </p> <p>In <em>The Inner Level, </em>the evidence we show of the impact of inequality on mental wellbeing is only part of the new picture. We also discuss two of the key myths that some commentators use to justify the perpetuation and tolerance of inequality. </p> <p>First, by examining our evolutionary past and our history as egalitarian, cooperative, sharing hunter-gatherers, we dispel the false idea that humans are, in their very nature, competitive, aggressive and individualistic. Inequality is not inevitable and we humans have all the psychological and social aptitudes to live differently.&nbsp; </p> <p>Second, we also tackle the idea that current levels of inequality reflect a justifiable ‘meritocracy’ where those of natural ability move up and the incapable languish at the bottom. In fact the reverse is true: inequalities of outcome limit equality of opportunity; differences in achievement and attainment are driven by inequality, rather than being a consequence of it.</p> <p>Finally, we argue that inequality is a major roadblock to creating sustainable economies that serve to optimise the health and wellbeing of both people and planet. &nbsp;Because consumerism is about self-enhancement and status competition, it is intensified by inequality. And as inequality leads to a societal breakdown in trust, solidarity and social cohesion, it reduces people’s willingness to act for the common good. This is shown in everything from the tendency for more unequal societies to do less recycling to surveys which show that business leaders in more unequal societies are less supportive of international environmental protection agreements. &nbsp;By acting as an enemy between us, inequality prevents us from acting together to create the world that we want.</p> <p>So what can we do? The first step is to recognise the problem and spread the word.&nbsp; Empowering people to see the roots of their distress and unease not in their personal weaknesses but in the divisiveness of inequality and its emphasis on superiority and inferiority is a necessary step in releasing our collective capacity to fight for change.&nbsp; </p> <p>The UK charity we founded, The Equality Trust, has <a href="https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/take-action">resources for activists</a> and a network of local groups. In the USA, check out <a href="http://inequality.org/">inequality.org. </a>Worldwide, the <a href="https://www.fightinequality.org/en/about/">Fight Inequality Alliance</a> works with more than 100 partners to work for a more equal world. And look out for the new global <a href="http://wellbeingeconomy.org/">Wellbeing Economy Alliance</a> this autumn.</p> <p>Our own focus for change is to work for the increase of all kinds of economic democracy—everything from more cooperatives and employee-owned companies to stronger trade unions, more workers on company boards and the publication of pay-ratios. We believe that extending democratic rights to workers embeds greater equality more firmly into any culture.&nbsp; </p> <p>Of course, we would also like to see more progressive taxation and action on tax evasion and tax havens. We’d like to see more citizens paid a Living Wage, and action taken on universal provision of high-quality lifelong education, universal health and social services. There are lots of ways to tackle inequality at the international, national and local levels, so we all need to work in ways that suit our capabilities and values. </p> <p>Inequality creates the social and political divisions that isolate us from each other, so it’s time for us all to reach out, connect, communicate and act collectively. We really are all in this together.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s new book is<strong> </strong><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417">The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing</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/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 even"> <a href="/transformation/kira-m-newman/why-does-happiness-inequality-matter">Why does happiness inequality matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sue-gerhardt/hard-times-human-face-of-neoliberalism">Hard times: the human face of neo-liberalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Inequality Richard Wilkinson Kate Pickett The politics of mental health Economics Care Sun, 12 Aug 2018 18:08:05 +0000 Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson 119209 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sexual exploitation and abuse: why pick on charities? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mike-aaronson/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-why-pick-on-charities <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There is always a line to be drawn between protecting reputation and doing the right thing. Charity trustees should be judged on whether they draw it in the right place.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Mike Aaronson.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption"><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfataustralianaid/21614837788/">Members of the Solomon Islands Young Women’s Christian Association march in support of female rights during International Women’s Day in Honiara</a>, 2011. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Members_of_the_Solomon_Islands_Young_Women%E2%80%99s_Christian_Association_(YWCA)_march_in_support_of_female_rights_during_International_Women%E2%80%99s_Day_in_Honiara_(21614837788).jpg">Flickr/DFAT/Jeremy Miller via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In February 2018 The Times newspaper claimed that Oxfam GB workers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had paid young women for sex and that Oxfam had covered this up. This provoked a frenzy of criticism of Oxfam in <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43112200">the media</a> and in <a href="https://dfidnews.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/20/international-development-secretarys-statement-to-parliament-on-oxfam-and-safeguarding-in-the-aid-sector/">Parliament</a>. It was followed by further assertions that the aid sector had failed to deal adequately with sexual exploitation and abuse, including alleged poor governance and process around the handling of sexual harassment claims at Save the Children UK. Oxfam in particular has been forced onto the back foot and has struggled to defend itself. Both charities have suffered serious <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44496430?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cz3nmk0k7k3t/oxfam&amp;link_location=live-reporting-story">falls</a> in <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/09/save-the-children-uk-expects-income-to-fall-by-67m">income</a>. </p> <p>The Charity Commission has launched two statutory inquiries and the House of Commons International Development Select Committee (the IDSC) has undertaken an investigation into sexual exploitation and abuse in the wider aid sector. The Charity Commission is yet to pronounce, but the IDSC’s <a href="https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmintdev/840/840.pdf">report</a> was published on 31 July. It is an impressive piece of work, a welcome attempt to provide a holistic and balanced view of a complex and difficult issue.</p> <p>Yet having worked in the sector in a leadership role and grappled with these problems I find some of the report’s conclusions harsh, particularly with regard to Oxfam. Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm. Recent revelations of sexual exploitation and abuse have pointed the finger at aid charities, but actually they are the ones who have done most to address this issue. The problem is complex and there are no easy answers; sensationalising the debate doesn’t help.</p> <p>We should definitely take the IDSC’s recommendations seriously: the aid community’s duty to protect vulnerable people demands that it does better than it has done so far. Even if some of the proposals turn out to be unworkable, doing nothing is not acceptable. Improved systems and processes will make a difference, but ultimately it is the integrity and quality of leadership that counts most.</p> <p>Nevertheless it is important to stress that the report is not about aid charities but the “aid sector” as a whole (including United Nations and other multilateral bodies, UN peacekeepers, bilateral donors including the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and international and local NGOs. Yet you would struggle to understand this from some of the media coverage of the report’s launch.</p> <p>For example the headline on the BBC <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal">website’s coverage</a> was “Charities' sexual misconduct scandal,” while the more <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-45013078?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal&amp;link_location=live-reporting-story">detailed report</a> that followed quotes the IDSC’s reference to a "collective failure of leadership" and then lazily links this to “the charities” rather than to the wider aid sector. Indeed, much of the criticism directed against charities since February has been disproportionate. Why have they been the target when the problem goes much wider?</p> <p>One answer is that they are in the spotlight because they take the issue of safeguarding seriously. The report’s starting point is the 2002 <a href="https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/international-development/2002-Report-of-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-Save%20the%20Children.pdf">enquiry</a> carried out for Save the Children and UNHCR into sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee children by aid workers and peacekeepers in West Africa. It draws extensively both on this and on a further 2008 Save the Children <a href="https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/sites/default/files/documents/no_one_to_turn_to_1.pdf">study</a> covering Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire and South Sudan. </p> <p>Following the 2002 enquiry the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR), which comprises the chief executives of the leading international relief agency networks including Oxfam and Save the Children, instituted a process of peer review and chose the issue of safeguarding as its first topic. </p> <p>In other words, these are responsible agencies who attempt to do the right thing even if they don’t always succeed—though I distinguish here between Save the Children’s approach to safeguarding in its operational work and the way it appears to have handled <a href="http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/international-development-committee/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-in-the-aid-sector/oral/83412.pdf">allegations concerning its senior executives</a>&nbsp;in 2012 and 2015, which I make no attempt to defend. Bad behaviour at the top of an organisation certainly weakens efforts to tackle it lower down. </p> <p>In terms of its operational work, however, the only reason the unacceptable conduct of Oxfam staff in Haiti came to light was because Oxfam had policies and procedures in place that allowed them to discover the problem and to deal with it—including putting the information in the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14514905">public domain</a> (although not all of it - see below). As the report makes clear, of more concern is what goes on in those agencies that don’t have the same standards, who don’t take safeguarding seriously enough, and where there is a “culture of denial” that sexual exploitation and abuse actually takes place.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Unacceptable behaviour by expatriate relief workers has dominated the media coverage of the Oxfam/Haiti saga. However the IDSC was told that local people make up the highest proportion of abusers (simply because they are more numerous), and that it is impossible to deal with sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in any culture in isolation from how women—especially—are treated in those cultures; in other words the problem goes beyond the aid sector. </p> <p>This highlights the limitations of one of the flagship recommendations of the report, the introduction of “a global register of aid workers.” I would support this measure because it sends a clear message, but it will almost certainly not catch the majority of potential offenders. We must not let a focus by the media on a few individuals blind us to the wider dimensions of the problem. </p> <p>At various points the report accuses the aid sector of being more concerned with protecting its own reputation than with tackling the root problem of sexual exploitation and abuse. It argues that Oxfam should have given DFID more details of what happened in Haiti and that aid agencies should always be “fully transparent.” While I accept the importance of transparency it seems to me that this fails to take into account the genuine challenges faced by the trustees of charities, who have a fiduciary duty to protect the reputation of the organisation. That is because, if the charity suffers, so do its beneficiaries. So, up to a point, it is perfectly reasonable for charitable trustees to seek to act in a way that protects the charity’s reputation.</p> <p>Charities are independent organisations, not arms length bodies of government. Clearly they must keep their donors and regulators informed of serious failings. But this sits alongside other obligations, and difficult decisions have to be made. What do trustees do when legal advice and values clash? For example, the legal advice Oxfam received made clear that if it had shared externally the names of those staff members it had disciplined or the reasons for their dismissal it would have exposed itself to legal risk in terms of potential privacy/human rights claims. Any costs arising from such claims would have had to be met from charitable funds that could otherwise have been used to support beneficiaries. It is easy to see why Oxfam were cautious. </p> <p>Clearly, this duty to protect the reputation of the charity has limits; it cannot legitimise neglecting the interests of beneficiaries or promoting the self-interests of the organization over the values to which it subscribes. There is a balance to be struck and a line to be drawn; trustees should be judged by whether they draw that line in the right place. In the Haiti case, Oxfam at the time judged that they had; the IDSC disagrees. The Charity Commission’s conclusions on this matter will be interesting. </p> <p>These considerations aside, the central argument in the report is that the aid sector must demonstrate zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse. The Committee is absolutely right about this. Fundamentally this is about just two things: values and leadership. All organisations—but particularly those claiming to be values-based—need to be clear on what they stand for, spell out the behaviours they expect to see and those they will not accept, and demonstrate that they mean what they say through courageous and consistent leadership.</p> <p>Not for the first time, I am reminded of the wise dictum of philosopher Onora O’Neill: “<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p457t">trustworthiness before trust</a>”—in other words, if you want people to trust you, you have to show you are worthy of their trust. Even if all the recommendations in the IDSC report proved to be workable and were adopted, they could not on their own achieve that end. Systems and processes have an important role to play, but ultimately the only way to sustain trust in the aid sector—among its beneficiaries as much as its donors—is for all aid organisations to behave in a trustworthy way. And if they can’t achieve that they shouldn’t be operating at all.</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/stephen-twigg/international-aid-groups-must-reform-in-face-of-sexual-abuse-scandals">International Aid groups must reform in the face of sexual abuse scandals</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">At what cost? A reflection on the crisis at Save the Children UK</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</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 Mike Aaronson The role of money Economics Care Tue, 07 Aug 2018 06:45:19 +0000 Mike Aaronson 119155 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ian-hughes/does-donald-trump-s-foreign-policy-actually-make-sense <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s entirely logical for narcissists to seek alliances with authoritarian leaders.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/IanHughes5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump meet in Hamburg, Germany on July 7 2017. Credit: <a href="http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55006/photos">en.Kremlin.ru</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/">CC BY 4.0</a>.</p> <p>After leaving allies rattled at the NATO Summit in Brussels and dodging mass protests in the UK, Donald Trump is now traveling on to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki—a meeting <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/10/politics/trump-putin-meeting/index.html">he has said</a> “may be the easiest of all.” Trump’s boorish behaviour in Brussels fits a now well-established pattern of attacks on democratic allies and praise for authoritarian leaders that has left the rest of the world struggling to make sense of his seemingly incomprehensible conduct. Viewed from the perspective of Trump’s possible mental state, however, his foreign policy makes perfect sense.</p> <p>From the beginning of his involvement in politics Trump’s behaviour has prompted questions about the state of his mental health. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, <a href="https://qz.com/871961/a-harvard-psychiatrist-wrote-to-obama-to-demand-a-psychiatric-evaluation-of-trump/">three psychiatrists wrote</a> to then-President Barack Obama warning that Trump’s “widely reported symptoms of mental instability—including &nbsp;grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality—lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office.”</p> <p>After Trump was sworn in as President, 27 psychologists and mental health professionals <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Case-Donald-Trump-Psychiatrists/dp/1250179459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1531128837&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+dangerous+case+of+donald+trump%27+27+psychiatrists+assess">published a book</a> called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” in which the authors expressed their collective professional opinion “that anyone as mentally unstable as this man simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.”</p> <p>While a range of conditions have been mooted by mental health professionals as possible explanations for Trump’s disturbing behaviour, the condition that most concerns these psychiatrists is a disorder known as ‘<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ian-hughes/fire-and-fury-psychodrama-of-stable-genius">malignant narcissism</a>.’ This disorder combines extreme narcissistic behaviour and acute paranoia with the absence of conscience that is usually exhibited by psychopaths.</p> <p>One of the distinguishing traits of malignant narcissism, as the psychiatrists’ letter to President Obama noted, is a hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, which results in what is known as ‘narcissistic rage’ towards anyone who disagrees. &nbsp;When exhibited by someone in a position of power, this would manifest as a kind of fury towards one’s political opponents, the press and the courts, together with active measures to curtail their dissent.</p> <p>Individuals with acute paranoia are characterised by a worldview that sees other people as inherently untrustworthy, along with an unshakable conviction that these others are out to harm them. A paranoid leader would therefore recoil from alliances and seek to fortify their territory against internal and external threats. Leaders who combine both extreme narcissistic and paranoid traits characteristically hold deeply racist beliefs, viewing others unlike themselves as not only inferior but also as existential threats to this territory, or to ‘the nation’ and ‘our values.’</p> <p>A third feature of malignant narcissism is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the condition, namely an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Leaders with this condition tend to view themselves as world figures capable of bending history to their will, and the blueprint they have in mind for reshaping the world is typically a dangerously simplistic, narcissistic and psychopathic vision. </p> <p><a href="https://disorderedworld.com/2013/04/01/hitler/">Adolf Hitler’s narcissistic fantasy</a>, as laid out in <em>Mein Kampf</em> and later enacted in the Second World War, saw the ‘true’ international order as one where ‘pure’ nations fought to the death. In his view, war was a means by which the strongest nations on earth assumed their rightful position as overlords. In preparation for such a war, nations must ‘purify’ themselves of their ‘polluting elements’—whether Jews, homosexuals, the disabled or ‘inferior’ races. Hitler’s ambition was to conquer Europe and eliminate the ‘inferior’ populations of Russia and Eastern Europe, while retaining a minority as slave labour, becoming ‘Emperor of all Europe’ in the process. In pursuit of this fantasy, tens of millions of people were killed.</p> <p>Trump is not Hitler, but the debate on his mental health must consider the possibility that he too harbours a terrifying narcissistic fantasy. The outline of that fantasy is beginning to become clear: </p> <p>That the world is a dangerous and threatening place; that alliances are treacherous; and that only strong nations standing alone can survive. That in this dangerous world the ‘superior’ white Christian civilisation is existentially threatened by ‘inferior’ civilisations, chiefly non-white people, Islam and China. And that under these circumstances, the US must ‘purify’ itself, build up its military strength and seek new alliances with ‘strong’ powers in place of the ‘weak’ nations with which it is currently aligned. </p> <p>That America must therefore seek the dissolution of its alliances with NATO and its small East Asian allies, along with the breakup of the European Union, and form a new and stronger alliance with white Christian Russia. And that an alliance of the US and Russia, which would command 92 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, would be unassailable in the coming confrontation with Islam and China. In this narcissistic fantasy, Donald Trump would become ‘Emperor of the World.’ But while this may be a fantasy there’s a definite logic to it, albeit one that is distorted and pathological. </p> <p>Malignant narcissism is a dangerous mental disorder. In their quest for and exercise of power, the malignant narcissist’s greatest weapon is the fact that psychologically healthy people are not able to believe that any individual could harbour such insane ideas. But our tendency to dismiss the unthinkable without serious consideration leaves us without a frame of reference to interpret and address the malignant narcissist as they relentlessly pursue objectives that are clear and consistent. Our refusal to think the unthinkable leaves us confused, disoriented and unable to resist effectively.</p> <p>History clearly shows how extreme the danger from malignant narcissistic leaders can be. Tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao each displayed traits associated with psychopathy, extreme narcissism and acute paranoia. The lethal mixture that each of these leaders displayed in terms of their total disregard for human life, their pathological paranoia, their narcissistic inability to doubt their own beliefs, and the pathological fantasies that propelled them, were significant factors that led to the Holocaust, the Gulag, and Mao’s Great Famine.</p> <p>If, as it appears, Trump came to Europe to undermine NATO and align the US more closely with Russia, we urgently need to begin to think the unthinkable, before the unthinkable happens again. The NATO Summit and Trump’s meeting with Putin should mark a turning point in the Republican Party’s support for this dangerous President. Recognising that a distorted logic may be driving Trump’s every decision should unite democrats on both sides of the aisle to curb his actions and remove him lawfully from power. </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/fire-and-fury-psychodrama-of-stable-genius">Fire and fury: the psychodrama of a very stable genius</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/real-clash-of-civilisations">The real clash of civilisations</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 Ian Hughes Care Sun, 15 Jul 2018 17:12:09 +0000 Ian Hughes 118857 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 Culture Care Tue, 10 Jul 2018 19:50:23 +0000 Byung-Chul Han 118733 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Motherhood and an end to women’s civil war https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/niki-seth-smith/motherhood-and-end-to-women-s-civil-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Maternal ambivalence has always been provocative: a review of Sheila Heti’s new book.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NikiSethSmith5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Doors, choices, decisions. Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/doors-choices-choose-decision-1767562/">Pixabay/qimono</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Sheila Heti’s <a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1098254/motherhood/">‘Motherhood’</a> came out in May, not a day too soon for me. Her book is something I urgently needed to read, a novel drawn from life and a kind of fictionalized diary that allows Heti to interrogate the question, ‘Should I become a mother?’</p> <p>Her answer is ‘no,’ she will not. Or given that Heti inverts the question, seeing it as a positive choice: ‘yes,’ she will remain childfree. Although the book doesn’t use this term, <em>freedom</em> is an idea to which it keeps returning.</p> <p>The narrator calls writing the book a “prophylactic” or a “raft” to get her to the other side of 40, an age Heti reached while finishing the manuscript. The reading experience is often maddening, like watching a mouse scurry around in a trap.</p> <p>&nbsp;“On the one hand, the joy of children,” she writes, “On the other hand, the misery of them. On the one hand, the freedom of not having children. On the other hand, the loss of never having had them…”</p> <p>As in Heti’s breakthrough work <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/11/sheila-heti-how-should-person-be">‘How Should a Person Be?’</a> much of ‘Motherhood’ consists of recounted conversations with friends and family as the narrator seeks direction from anyone and everyone in her life. In offbeat injections that brighten the prose she also consults ‘the coins’ (a flipping method adapted from the I-Ching), producing exchanges in which we are tempted to find meaning, at turns comic and profound.</p> <blockquote><p>“Are these women punished? </p><p><em>Yes </em><em></em></p><p>By not experiencing the mystery and joy?</p><p><em>Yes</em><em></em></p><p>In any other way? </p><p><em>Yes </em><em></em></p><p>By not passing on their genes? </p><p><em>Yes </em><em></em></p><p>But I don't care about passing on my genes! Can't one pass on one’s genes through art? </p><p><em>Yes</em><em></em></p><p>Do men who don't procreate receive punishment from the universe?<br /> <em>No”</em></p></blockquote> <p>There’s a note at the beginning of the book explaining that the coin results are real. This is typical of Heti’s irreverent approach to philosophy, allowing her to both poke fun at and acknowledge the desire for a spiritual destiny or guide.</p> <p>This constant self-seeking has led Heti to be <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/06/25/true-lives-2">accused</a> of narcissism. A <a href="https://harpers.org/archive/2018/04/never-done/3/">caustic review</a> of ‘Motherhood’ in Harpers Magazine went even further, denouncing the book as “existential solipsism.” The reviewer, Christine Smallwood, doesn’t seem to acknowledge the echo of an accusation that’s levelled at all non-mothers—that&nbsp; they are ‘selfish, shallow and self-absorbed,’ which turns out to be the title of a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/books/review/selfish-shallow-and-self-absorbed-sixteen-writers-on-the-decision-not-to-have-kids.html">recent collection of essays</a> from 16 writers on their decision not to have kids (three are childless men but there’s an acknowledgment that women come in for greater social punishment).</p> <p>Maternal ambivalence has always been provocative. Rachel Cusk’s 2001 memoir ‘A Life’s Work’ <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/21/biography.women">led to a vicious backlash</a>, including accusations similar to those levelled at Heti that she was a “self-obsessed bore” and overly-intellectual (Smallwood says Heti is “only interested in abstraction”). If doubting one’s own choice to be a mother is taboo, dwelling on the decision is <em>verboten</em>. At a recent <a href="https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/events/past/2018/5/motherhood-sheila-heti-and-sally-rooney">London Review of Books event</a> the host asked Heti how it felt to “write into the void.” Heti confessed that she’d struggled to find any books on which to build.</p> <p>That’s why I’m grateful that ‘Motherhood’ exists. Yes, the book has tunnel vision: it never looks far beyond the particular perspective of a Canadian woman with Hungarian Jewish heritage who belongs to a charmed circle of writers, yet it never pretends to try. Rather, it’s a book of pillow fears, drenched in the night sweats of the moments when we’re terribly alone with ourselves.</p> <p>While Heti is attempting to exit the long phase of life shadowed by the 'Big Decision', at the age of 32 I’m still at the threshold. The dismay and surprise I’ve already encountered from family, friends and even medical professionals has dismayed and surprised me. “But you’ll make a great mother!” “You don’t want to leave it too late and miss out.” My mother’s initial response was, “People shouldn’t think about it too much”.</p> <p>Likewise, Heti’s narrator wonders if she should simply obey her impulses. “Does the lizard brain trick the body into singing its ancient song?” Yet she finally follows another urge, also located deep in the psyche, to remain without children.&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of childless women is rising. In 2016, <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/childless-women-on-rise-more-than-ever-before-fertility-crisis-menopause-career-study-reveals-a7882496.html">17 per cent of women in England and Wales</a> over child-bearing age (defined as 45) didn’t have kids. That’s nearly twice as many as the last generation and is a trend that’s <a href="https://www.economist.com/international/2017/07/27/the-rise-of-childlessness">reflected across Europe</a>. Yet the demand to justify one’s position, and the increasing media visibility of ‘<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/topic/childfree-by-choice">childfree by choice</a>’ or ‘voluntarily childless’ as a growing identity, means that we usually hear from women only after they have made the decision. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Why+I+Don%2527t+want+kids">‘Why I don’t want kids’</a> YouTube videos are now practically a genre of their own—fierce , fun, feminist and 110 per cent sure.&nbsp;</p> <p>Young women like me are urged to choose a side in what one of the voices in ‘Motherhood’ calls a “civil war.” Even Heti, making up her mind, clearly feels that she is on the frontlines. Many of the book’s descriptions of mothering radiate admiring wonder yet often veil a violent rage, as in the narrator’s reaction to the constant news of her friends’ pregnancies. “There are craters, all around, and no home is safe enough not to be pummeled to dust by these blessings, by these bits of stardust, these thousand-pound babies aimed straight at the earth.”</p> <p>The pressure to decide on a role, and then to play it convincingly, is also in the theme of ‘trying on’ lives, as the narrator does with her friend Nicola, who is described as a “respectable” mother with three kids, a marriage and a house. The narrator finally rejects this life. “I realized that my fantasies were misplaced—they wormed inside me like a disease.” “Look at her life like a beautiful ocean liner, a grand old steam liner passing by…”</p> <p>This dismissal is horribly dehumanizing, as is the image of the worm. No mother’s life is a pleasure cruise. This is recognized as the poison of rivalry later in the book: “…one person’s life is not a political or general statement about how all lives should be,” the narrator admits. She shouldn’t feel superior <em>or</em> ashamed.</p> <p>‘Motherhood’ could just as well have been titled, ‘How should a woman be?’ The drive to pose this question, and the struggle to resist it, is the primary tension in Heti’s work. No wonder it raises hackles. Only the privileged have the luxury to reach for the ‘best kind of life,’ just as the vast majority of women in the world have never had the choice not to bear children.</p> <p>Yet this doesn’t make ‘Motherhood’ apolitical. It is precisely this oppressive edict—to embody the one true perfect woman—that&nbsp; exposes womanhood itself as a fraught and impossible performance beset by contradictory pressures. Being childfree is a threat to this illusion by rejecting the drive for success. “What if I pursue being a bad woman and don’t breed…” the narrator considers. “Only in the pursuit of failure can a person really be free.”</p> <p>Where ‘Motherhood’ disappoints is in failing to acknowledge the same psychic oppression that is at work on mothers themselves. If childless women are seen as failures, so too are women with kids. As <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/mind/why-being-the-perfect-parent-can-be-bad-for-your-health/">various studies</a> have shown, reaching for the modern holy grail of ‘perfect parenthood’ is a rigged game. The feminist socialist Angela McRobbie <a href="https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-353212615/feminism-the-family-and-the-new-mediated-maternalism">has described</a> a "neoliberal intensification of mothering," particularly since the financial crash. As state support is stripped away, more responsibility is piled on women to be ideal mothers, workers and wives: they have already failed before they begin.</p> <p>Jacqueline Rose takes this further in her latest work, ‘<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35406477-mothers">Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty.’</a> Drawing on diverse philosophical, literary and cultural sources including Ancient Greek medical lore, Elena Ferrante's <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26828169-the-neapolitan-novels">Neapolitan novels</a> and post-natal depression in South Africa, the book argues that mothers have long been held accountable for the suffering of the world. “Motherhood is, in Western discourse, the place in our culture where we lodge, or rather bury, the reality of our own conflicts, of what it means to be fully human,” she writes. In other words, mothers are the “ultimate scapegoats.”</p> <p>As Rose goes to great lengths to show, mothers, just like childless women, are always perceived both as threats and failures. In this she builds on Adrienne Rich’s ‘<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/305826.Of_Woman_Born">Of Woman Born: ‘Motherhood’ as Experience and Institution’</a>, a pioneering work of second-wave feminism which agued that “there is much to suggest that the male mind has always been haunted by the force of the idea of dependence on a woman for life itself.”&nbsp;Women have the ultimate power: to bring life into the world, or not. Therein lies the threat. The fight for control over women’s bodies will be lost for good if women decide not to breed.</p> <p>So who bears the heaviest cross—the outcast witch or the always-inadequate mother? This, of course, is the wrong question. Both camps are under siege, and as so often under patriarchy, they are conveniently turned against each other. We don’t even possess a neutral language. Whether we use ‘childless’ (implying defectiveness) or ‘childfree’ (implying that mothers are ‘unfree’) is just one of the many battle-lines. By getting lost in the fray and exposing the bitterness and sorrow of division, Heti’s book can be read as an urgent missive to lay down arms.</p> <p>There has never been a better moment to acknowledge that neither position is ‘natural,’ and to accept <a href="https://philosophynow.org/issues/69/Becoming_A_Woman_Simone_de_Beauvoir_on_Female_Embodiment">Simone De Beauvoir’s classic statement</a> on the realities of self-construction: “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” It’s not only the rising number of childless women; it’s also the growth of different kinds of mothering through the increased use of reproductive technologies like IVF that’s used by lesbian couples to <a href="http://helloflo.com/the-rise-of-shared-motherhood-in-lesbian-couples/">share motherhood</a>. There’s an ongoing struggle for the rights of queer bodies to use this tech, as well as a class and racial divide due to its expense. Yet the possibilities give new meaning to the question, ‘Will I make a good mother?’</p> <p>I, for one, am undecided. ‘Motherhood’ is also a raft for me in entering these turbid waters. Heti doesn’t touch on some of my most vital concerns. For a book published in the Trump era, it doesn’t waste many words considering what kind of future might be bequeathed to the next generation. If I listen to my animal instincts, they are telling me to direct all my powers, such as they are, towards protecting the good that is already in the world. Practically, financially, and in deeper terms of emotional energy, I am not sure I can also have children.</p> <p>There is much more to say, yet Heti is brave to have opened the door. ‘Motherhood’ is a gesture towards honesty, bringing much that was dark into light. The book makes it more possible to <em>think</em> the decision, but also to dream, embody and feel it. And that’s what I intend to do. </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/we-don-t-have-to-be-related-to-be-family">We don’t have to be related to be a family</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/emily-rowland/i-want-to-talk-about-my-miscarriage">I want to talk about my miscarriage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/niki-seth-smith/romantic-love-agent-of-change-0">Romantic love: an agent of 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 Niki Seth-Smith Liberation Intersectionality Care Sun, 08 Jul 2018 18:48:29 +0000 Niki Seth-Smith 118732 at https://www.opendemocracy.net I love you just the way you are https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/richard-gunderman/i-love-you-just-way-you-are <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why kindness matters, personally and politically.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Zoe Ferguson_1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/30870467422">Flickr/Ron Mader</a>.&nbsp;<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The release of the Mister Rogers documentary&nbsp;<a href="https://slate.com/culture/2018/06/mr-rogers-documentary-wont-you-be-my-neighbor-reviewed.html"><em>Won’t You Be My Neighbor?</em>&nbsp;</a>calls to mind the essential message of Rogers’ long-running children’s program in the USA,&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/28/arts/mister-rogers-tv-s-friend-for-children-is-dead-at-74.html">Fred McFeely Rogers</a>, who died in 2003, was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. Over the course of three decades on public broadcasting, he brought to millions of children what his faith’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pcusa.org/resource/minutes-215th-general-assembly-2003-part-i-journal/">General Assembly&nbsp;</a>referred to as “unconditional love.”</p> <p>In preaching love, Rogers wasn’t just attending to the moral character of his youthful audience. He believed that he was also promoting their health. As he said in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/464_US_417.htm#464us417n27">1979</a>, “My whole approach in broadcasting has always been, ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.’ Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.”</p> <p>Since Rogers’ death, evidence has mounted that he was on to something—namely, that love and kindness truly are healthful, and that people who express them regularly really do lead healthier lives. Simply put, people who are generous and volunteer their time for the benefit of others seem to be happier than those who don’t, and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dartmouth.edu/wellness/emotional/rakhealthfacts.pdf">happy people&nbsp;</a>tend to have fewer health complaints and live longer than those who are unhappy.</p> <p><strong>Love gave rise to a calling.</strong></p> <p>Born in Pennsylvania in 1928, as a young minister, Rogers regretted the messages television was conveying to children in the 1960s. He&nbsp;<a href="https://www.salon.com/1999/08/10/rogers_2/">said</a>, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>&nbsp;debuted nationally in 1968 and won its creator and host many&nbsp;<a href="https://www.fredrogers.org/fred-rogers/bio/">accolades</a>, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Peabody Awards, and over 40 honorary degrees.</p> <p>Rogers believed that the need to love and be loved was universal, and he sought to cultivate these capacities through every program, saying in a 2004&nbsp;<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433376/">documentary</a>&nbsp;hosted by actor Michael Keaton, one of his former stagehands, “You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they’re loved and capable of loving.”</p> <p><strong>Love and health.</strong></p> <p>As it turns out, there are many ways in which love and kindness are good for health. For one thing, they tend to reduce&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27100366">factors</a>&nbsp;that undermine it. Doing something nice for someone causes the release of endorphins, which help to relieve pain. People who make kindness a habit have lower levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/12/17/460030338/be-kind-unwind-how-helping-others-can-help-keep-stress-in-check">stress hormones&nbsp;</a>such as cortisol. Intentionally helping others can even lower levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://health.clevelandclinic.org/acts-kindness-can-ease-social-anxiety/">anxiety&nbsp;</a>in individuals who normally avoid social situations.</p> <p>Carrying out acts of kindness, or even merely&nbsp;<a href="https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_our_bodies_react_human_goodness">witnessing&nbsp;</a>them, also increases levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/hormones/oxytocin">oxytocin</a>, a hormone with&nbsp;<a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0ac8/c14228b62b9c87636f5b6eb536a434fd04de.pdf">health benefits&nbsp;</a>as diverse as lowering blood pressure, promoting good sleep, and reducing cravings for drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. That oxytocin should have so many health benefits is not so surprising when we recall its central role in stimulating uterine contractions during birth, the letdown of milk during lactation, the pleasure associated with orgasm and pair bonding.</p> <p>Acts of generosity and compassion also appear to be good for mood. A <a href="https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/11189976/dunn,%20aknin,%20norton_prosocial_cdips.pdf?sequence=1">2010 study&nbsp;</a>showed that while people with money tend to be somewhat happier than those without it, people who spend money on others report even greater levels of happiness, an effect that can be detected even in toddlers. When people give money to others, areas of the brain associated with&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569866">pleasure</a>&nbsp;are activated, and this response is greater when the transfer is voluntary rather than mandatory.</p> <p>Such happiness can have big benefits in longevity. For example, a&nbsp;<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x">review</a>of 160 published studies concluded that there is compelling evidence that life satisfaction and optimism are associated with better health and enhanced longevity. Another&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/10/happiness-associated-longer-life">study&nbsp;</a>of older people showed that, even after correcting for other factors such as age, disease, and health habits, those who rated their happiness highest were 35 percent less likely to die in five years than those who were least content.</p> <p><strong>What would Mister Rogers say?</strong></p> <p>Of course, Rogers would remind us that there are reasons to be committed to love and kindness that extend far beyond their health benefits. Rogers was, after all, not a physician but a minister, and ultimately he was ministering to an aspect of human wholeness that cannot be analyzed by blood tests or visualized with CT scans. In a&nbsp;<a href="https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2018/03/revisiting-fred-rogers-2002-commencement-address">commencement address&nbsp;</a>at Dartmouth College in 2002, he focused less on the body than what he might have called the spirit:</p> <p>“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”</p> <p>When Rogers encouraged children to be kinder and more loving, he believed that he was not only promoting public health, but also nurturing the most important part of a human being—the part that exhibits a divine spark. As Rogers indicated in another&nbsp;<a href="https://archive.org/details/rogers_speech_5_27_01">commencement speech&nbsp;</a>the year before at Middlebury College, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”</p> <p>In expressing such deeply religious sentiments, Rogers was not trying to undermine a concern with bodily health. In fact, he regularly encouraged his viewers to adopt healthy life habits, and Rogers himself was a committed&nbsp;<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-g-long/what-would-mister-rogers-eat_b_6193910.html">vegetarian&nbsp;</a>and lifelong swimmer who maintained a low body weight his entire life. Yet he also believed that health alone does not a full life make, and he regarded the soundness of the body as but part of the wellness of whole persons and communities, which may explain why he was able to face his own mortality with such equanimity.</p> <p>Just a few months before he died, Rogers recorded a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/watch-fred-rogers-heart-warming-final-message-grownup-fans">message&nbsp;</a>for the many adult fans who had grown up watching&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>. In it, he practiced what he preached, saying:</p> <p>“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”</p><p><em>This article was originally published by&nbsp;<a href="https://theconversation.com/why-mister-rogers-message-of-love-and-kindness-is-good-for-your-health-97970" target="_self">The Conversation</a>. It was edited for <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/why-mister-rogers-message-of-love-is-good-for-your-health-20180608?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180608&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180608+CID_899529f3182c0e0e8ca592dd4bbada4a&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=hy%20Mister%20Rogers%20M">YES! Magazine</a> and re-posted on Transformation under a new title, stand-first and image. </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/zoe-ferguson/does-kindness-matter">Does kindness matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/genevieve-vaughan/why-kindness-is-key-to-new-economy">Why kindness is the key to a new economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/beulah-maud-devaney/how-random-acts-of-kindness-could-transform-support-for-battered-">How random acts of kindness could transform support for battered women</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 Richard Gunderman Empathy Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 05 Jul 2018 12:25:57 +0000 Richard Gunderman 118419 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 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 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 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 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 I want to talk about my miscarriage https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/emily-rowland/i-want-to-talk-about-my-miscarriage <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>I am heartbroken, and I’m begging you to ask me why.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Emily Rowland.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/87128018@N00/139136870">Flickr/Anil Kumar</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>. </p> <p>I had been moving through the world with a secret. I dreamed of this secret as a little girl, through adolescence and even more regularly once I was married. But I had to keep this secret close in case it slipped away. I couldn’t let it out until I knew for certain that my secret was here to stay.</p> <p>My entire being changed the moment I found out that I was pregnant. I felt new light inside of me. Now it was my time to gripe about the struggles of new motherhood—grievances I’d been aching to have. My new narrative would be anchored in sleep deprivation, cracked nipples and hair loss. I couldn’t wait to be a part of that world, part of The Club. </p> <p>When you are trying to conceive you want nothing more than to experience those struggles, as opposed to the monthly cramps, tampons and ovulation monitors that remind you of your lack of fertility. A combination of working in healthcare and wanting a baby for as long as I can remember equipped me with extensive knowledge on pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood. </p> <p>I knew the risks of miscarriage and how common this tragedy occurs. I knew that one in four women will lose their baby in the first trimester. Knowing this, I resisted letting myself speak too freely about my excitement. Even when I let people in on the secret of my pregnancy I reiterated the facts about miscarriage. </p> <p>Several days after multiple positive pregnancy tests I announced my secret to my immediate family, and then to some very close friends a few weeks later. But I was still just out of reach of the supposed safety of 12 weeks. ‘Stay silent until then.’ That way no one will ever know that you were even pregnant. </p> <p>Why do we do this? Miscarriages happen all the time. We know that they are random physiological errors that can happen to anyone and not the result of poor care. Going to work was tasking. I was nauseous, exhausted and foggy. Perhaps if I had not kept my secret so close for so long, my employers would have had more empathy and compassion for what I was experiencing. Perhaps they would even have shared in my excitement and offered support. Perhaps they would have supported me when I experienced my loss.</p> <p>I miscarried the day of my first ultrasound. I noticed blood between my legs that night and as I stood up, I knew. My secret was leaving my body, and I felt like I was being wrung from the inside out. I couldn’t control my tears as I tried to wake up from this nightmare. My husband was pale, completely helpless. We drove to the hospital where it was confirmed that I was actively miscarrying. There’s no shortage of first person accounts of miscarriage, but they do nothing to dull or ease the rawness of the experience. </p> <p>And that’s the thing. We live in a culture that encourages withholding news during the first trimester, but this is the time when pregnant mothers might need the most support. The range of physical, emotional, and psychological adjustments that accompany early pregnancy can be debilitating even though the source of these symptoms is incredibly powerful and should be celebrated. As a community, we need to start reframing the way we respond to pregnancy. Knowing about it earlier could prevent lost work, protect the quality of work by creating new accommodations, prepare employers for a maternity leave further in advance, and support people if they do miscarry. </p> <p>My own experience demonstrated the lack of understanding of the catastrophic void that this loss leaves in its wake. Losing a long awaited pregnancy can feel like a bomb detonating from your deepest core, shattering through each layer of your being. You will never get the dreams of that baby back. You will never get back the announcement to your friends, family and partner. I hated the task of deleting the pregnancy app from my phone and returning it to “menstruation” mode. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>We don’t talk about miscarriage nearly enough. When we do, the discussion is focused on rates and statistics, as if that provides any comfort. Perhaps it does to some, but we rarely talk about all the aspects of loss that can occur when you miscarry and the ripple effects they can have. Miscarriage is not an isolated moment in time that has a start and a finish. </p> <p>Body and mind need time to adjust to the loss and often they don’t heal in tandem. Hormones take longer to level out, and the telltale signs of pregnancy don’t just disappear. Your body is still pregnant but there is no baby. Emotionally, you don’t know how to make sense of this new normal. You shared your body and now you don’t. The nature of your secret is now very, very different.</p> <p>It is not the bleeding that’s so significant—it’s the time afterwards, the telling people and watching their faces as they struggle to understand, or cancelling preparations for a new nursery. &nbsp;Ironically, when I divulged this new secret no one wanted to talk about it. It was too uncomfortable for them, but I want to talk about it, I need to, I’m begging you to ask me about it. I need to talk about it as a part of my journey, my experience, and the scars that I am left with.</p> <p>Stepping into the uncomfortable and asking hard questions can provide someone with the opportunity to grieve and celebrate something that was. Avoiding the topic in the hope that you don’t upset them isn’t doing them a favor. It’s not protecting them, though it may be protecting you.</p> <p>The overwhelming anger I feel comes from the people close to me who were aware of my loss but didn’t want to broach it. Maybe they were trying to get my mind off the pain, but my mind and my heart wanted to be exactly focused on that lost baby, on my secret. Friends who did reach out and inquire allowed me to address the fact that I was not okay. Providing the space to do that was a gift. </p> <p>My anger is also rooted in the environment we’ve created that governs when we can and cannot talk about pregnancy A colleague at work advised me not to let people in on my secret because it would be “career suicide.” What have we done to create this narrative? Are we so afraid that employers will become aware that we hope to be pregnant, or that we have miscarried? </p> <p>Others who have experienced such loss tell me that there’s no space to talk about it, even though the need for such spaces is intense—not just to heal from the loss but also to keep spirits alive, cherished and celebrated. I want everyone to know that I was pregnant and I want everyone to know that I had a miscarriage. It was not my fault. It was not my husband’s fault. There was nothing we could have done to guarantee a different outcome. But what <em>can</em> be done is to help those around me to understand that I am heartbroken. I feel like less of a woman, unworthy of another pregnancy. </p> <p>I don’t think that we all need to talk about our pregnancies. If you are more comfortable keeping it to yourself then that’s the best decision for you. But 12 weeks of secrecy makes no sense. We all have a responsibility to lift each other up during these times. Our norms and systems need to shift in order to focus on support for the human beings involved, not for the benefit of a business bottom line or administrative convenience. Support should be available at each step of the family planning process. </p> <p>I’ve learned a lot from my own miscarriage, especially the value and importance of disclosing pregnancy early on, and then being asked about it, again and again and again. The internal scars don’t heal overnight. Healing takes a very long time, physically, emotionally and spiritually. So don’t be afraid to ask: you never know, people may have secrets of their own they need to talk about.</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/sarah-sunshine-manning/decolonizing-birth">Decolonizing birth </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/hermine-hayesklein/forced-episiotomy-kelly%27s-story">Forced episiotomy: Kelly&#039;s story</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/melissa-hellmann/they-rode-on-horseback-to-deliver-babies-century-later-midwives-are-">They rode on horseback to deliver babies: a century later, midwives are still crucial</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 Emily Rowland Care Tue, 17 Apr 2018 16:50:27 +0000 Emily Rowland 117036 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 Is toxic masculinity a mask for anxiety? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ruth-c-white/is-toxic-masculinity-mask-for-anxiety <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is it that makes so many boys grow up to believe that sex is theirs for the taking?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RuthWhite.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/victory-day-masculinity-1396495/">Pixabay/Katy_foto</a>. <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/victory-day-masculinity-1396495/">CC0 1.0</a>.</p> <p>The widespread discussion of sexual harassment and what is being defined as <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_masculinity">'toxic masculinity</a>' leads to questions about what it is in the ways in which we are raising young boys that would make so many of them (though definitely not all) grow up to believe that sex is theirs for the taking, and that consent is an undefined state that is theirs to manipulate and interpret as they see fit.</p> <p>Just like too many women who were once girls who were taught to be compliant and polite and to be afraid of men and their power, so are way too many boys being taught that their pleasure is paramount and coercion is part of what they need to do to in order to get their needs satisfied.</p> <p>So what are we doing wrong and how can we change our social and cultural expectations of boys so that they grow up to be men who are more inclined to protect and respect their sexual partners instead of exploiting and denigrating them?</p> <p><strong>What is 'toxic' masculinity?</strong></p> <p>Perusing many definitions—whether in the hip Urban Dictionary or summarized from&nbsp;various social science articles—‘toxic masculinity’&nbsp;refers to the social expectations that men, and thus also boys, should be sexually&nbsp;aggressive, physically violent, unemotional and homophobic, and should also devalue women. It is the kind of behavior that is stereotypically referred to as 'locker room' or 'frat-boy behavior.' It is also the type of behavior that emphasizes&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at competition" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/sport-and-competition">competition</a>&nbsp;based on physical power,&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at risk-taking" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/sensation-seeking">risk-taking</a>&nbsp;and sexual prowess and promiscuity. </p> <p>The research shows that these expectations of boys are damaging to both men and women, and to society at large. Toxic masculinity has been discussed as <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1097184X16664952">a cause of&nbsp;mass shootings&nbsp;</a>and&nbsp;of <a href="http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-jackson-men-group-therapy-folsom-prison-the-work-toxic-masculinity-20171130-story.html" target="_blank">violence</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The impact of toxic masculinity on mental&nbsp;health.</strong></p> <p>In a&nbsp;<a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fcou0000176" target="_blank">meta-study</a>&nbsp;that looked at the findings of more than 70&nbsp;studies of&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at conformity" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/conformity">conformity</a>&nbsp;to masculine norms, researchers found that these norms were "unfavorably, robustly and consistently" related to negative mental health outcomes and reduced the likelihood of men seeking out mental health services. The three most powerful masculine norms that predicted these negative outcomes were self-reliance, power over women and the pursuit of sexual promiscuity. </p> <p>In&nbsp;<a href="https://www.popsci.com/research-shows-that-toxic-masculinity-is-harmful-to-mens-mental-health" target="_blank">an interview</a>, Y. Joel Wong of Indiana University at Bloomington (one of the authors of the study) said that the links to sexism mean that these behaviors are particularly problematic, because society has changed and sexism is no longer acceptable behavior—though the multitude of&nbsp;reports of sexual harassment in the last few months make it quite clear that, even if unacceptable, such attacks are still suffered in silence by too many women. </p> <p>But women are not the only ones suffering in silence, because the emphasis on self-reliance and the rigidity of the ways in which we perceive masculinity mean that many men feel that they have no other choice but to fulfill these social expectations. Wong argues that men feel trapped by these norms even if they do not align with their personal values; they perpetuate such norms because they&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at fear" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/fear">fear</a>&nbsp;not being perceived as 'masculine.' So what does this mean for boys?</p> <p><strong>Toxic masculinity and boys.</strong></p> <p>There are many efforts to undo this toxicity including courses and initiatives in masculinity on university campuses such as&nbsp;<a href="https://campuslife.wustl.edu/leadership-programs/mens-project/" target="_blank">Washington University in St. Louis</a>,&nbsp;the <a href="https://win.wisc.edu/organization/mensproject" target="_blank">University of Wisconsin</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2016/09/deconstructing-masculinity-duke-mens-project-aims-to-facilitate-discussions-of-male-privilege-and-patriarchy" target="_blank">Duke University</a> and others. These efforts reflect a broader societal effort to change the way we define and express masculinity.</p> <p>But why wait until boys get to college to change the way they see themselves? Masculinities scholar&nbsp;<a href="http://www.drronaldlevant.com/content.html" target="_blank">Ronald Levant</a>, author of&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4318144.aspx" target="_blank">The Psychology of Men and Masculinities</a></em>, shows how the socialization of boys into behaviors such as dominance, emotional restriction, toughness and self-reliance begins as young as infancy, and is transmitted through&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at parents" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/parenting">parents</a>, the media and the world at large. </p> <p>Therefore, it would seem that these behaviors and beliefs would have the same negative impacts for young people in high school and earlier, yet a search of the PsycInfo database (the leading database of psychology articles) does not find any articles linking 'toxic masculinity' with 'boys' or 'adolescents', though there are lots of studies exploring the impact of&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at gender" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/gender">gender stereotypes</a>&nbsp;on adolescent males. </p> <p>As stated by University of Illinois Chicago sociologist Barbara Risman, "boys make fun of other boys if they step just a little outside the rigid masculine&nbsp;stereotype." Families may even&nbsp;<a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/26/local/la-me-one-way-gender-revolution-20131227" target="_blank">become&nbsp;socially ostracized and threatened</a>&nbsp;with violence because their son gravitates towards more feminine toys such as Barbies and Disney princesses.</p> <p>According to psychologist Tali Shenfield, author of popular&nbsp;<a href="http://www.psy-ed.com/wpblog/child-and-teen-anxiety/" target="_blank">anxiety tests for children</a>, negative emotionality is one of the most common triggers for anxiety. Fear of rejection can cause&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at anxiety " href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/anxiety">anxiety&nbsp;</a>and&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at anger" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/anger">anger</a>&nbsp;in boys, with the 'lone wolf' stereotype being implicated in instances of violence that include&nbsp;<a href="https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/psycinfo/docview/621848461/7C29AAAF35084533PQ/5?accountid=14749" target="_blank">Columbine</a>&nbsp;and other shootings. </p> <p>The&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at bullying" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/bullying">bullying</a>&nbsp;that many boys experience if they deviate from dominant social norms is a source&nbsp;of anxiety, as shown by recent studies by researchers at Duke University and at University College London. Dealing with this anxiety may help male adolescents find less problematic ways to express their frustration, and help to build emotional&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at resilience" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/resilience">resilience</a>.</p> <p>Having strategies to deal with this anxiety and being able to foster broader definitions of masculinity will help boys to grow up to be less attached to stereotyped ways of being, especially those which are no longer valued in a society where gender equity,&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at cooperation" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/teamwork">cooperation</a>, and emotional expression are more socially acceptable.</p> <p><strong>Broadening the definition of masculinity.</strong></p> <p>Many articles are being written about the shifting definitions of masculinity and the&nbsp;difficulties that some men are having in adapting to these new norms. In an&nbsp;<a href="http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/men-left-behind.aspx" target="_blank">article in the Monitor on Psychology&nbsp;</a>published by the American Psychological Association entitled "The Men America Left Behind," Kristin Weir explores the disconnection that many men, particularly white men, now feel because of this shift in social expectations regarding male roles.</p> <p>Allowing boys the freedom to be who they are without defining such behaviors as masculine or feminine will decrease the&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at cognitive dissonance" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/cognitive-dissonance">cognitive dissonance</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a title="Psychology Today looks at stress" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/stress">emotional stress</a>&nbsp;that so many men feel as they try to navigate changing social norms. Encouraging expressions of emotionality such as tears — whether of joy or sadness — will reduce the stress of stifling emotions that often are expressed in less healthy ways such as violence. Encouraging boys to talk about their feelings will help them build social support networks that go beyond typical ways of 'male bonding.'</p> <p>Teaching boys healthy ways to express their&nbsp;sexuality&nbsp;through mutual respect and communication will help them to understand how to have sexual relations that produce enjoyment and satisfaction for both parties. Sex as shared instead of sex that is taken is something that too many adult men find difficult to&nbsp;understand in terms of acceptable forms of sexual engagement.</p> <p>It requires all of us to shift our expectations of men and boys so that these new norms are rewarded. Women will no longer 'protect' men by suffering in silence, and men need to hold each other responsible for being masculine without the toxicity that creates so many problems for us all.</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published by <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/ruth-c-white-phd">Psychology Today</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/gary-barker/why-don%E2%80%99t-men-care">Why don’t men care?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/rebecca-tinsley/if-this-is-what-it-feels-like-to-be-woman-what-does-it-mean-to-be-man">If this is what it feels like to be a woman, what does it mean to be a man?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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> </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 masculinity Ruth C. White Liberation Care Culture Intersectionality Thu, 22 Mar 2018 19:51:31 +0000 Ruth C. White 115895 at https://www.opendemocracy.net With marijuana now legal, Los Angeles goes further to make amends for the war on drugs https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kevon-paynter/with-marijuana-now-legal-los-angeles-goes-further-to-make-amends-for-wa <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How one city is repairing the damage caused by marijuana prohibition for the people who’ve been most affected.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KevonPaynter.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Marijuana&nbsp;displayed in West Hollywood on the first day of recreational sales on January 2, 2018. Credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images via YES! Magazine.</p> <p>Decades of marijuana prohibition in California are coming to an end thanks to ballot initiative Proposition 64, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.sccgov.org/sites/ceo/Pages/adult-marijuana-act-AUMA.aspx">Approved by a majority of voters</a>&nbsp;in November 2016, Prop 64 reduces criminal penalties for various marijuana-related offenses for adults and juveniles and allows marijuana entrepreneurs to participate in the recreational sale of cannabis to adults.</p> <p>Yet Californians didn’t just legalize marijuana. In Los Angeles, the City Council went one step further, enacting some of the most progressive criminal justice reforms in the country to rectify the disproportionate effect the war on drugs has had on minority communities.</p> <p>“We are L.A. We are leaders. We take on the tough issues,” City Council<a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-marijuana-rules-20171205-story.html">President Herb Wesson said</a>&nbsp;Dec. 6 right before the bill passed, reported the Los Angeles Times.</p> <p>Proposition 64 legalizes a marijuana industry that experts estimate will add&nbsp;<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/california-weed-marijuana-legalization-2016-9">$4 billion</a>&nbsp;to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-california-pot-20170129-story.html">$7 billion</a>&nbsp;to the state economy that, if California were its own country, would be sixth largest in the world. And within that huge economy, L.A. has become the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dailynews.com/2017/09/14/la-in-the-spotlight-as-it-races-to-legalize-local-marijuana-industry/">world’s largest market</a>&nbsp;to approve the sale of recreational cannabis.</p> <p>California was on the front lines of the war on drugs for decades. The state experienced nearly 500,000 marijuana arrests between 2006 and 2015, according to the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/California_Marijuana_Arrest_Report_081816.pdf">Drug Policy Alliance</a>.</p> <p>The&nbsp;new ordinances in L.A. create a “social equity” tier of applicants who will receive priority for licenses to own and operate marijuana businesses. These are people who have past convictions for marijuana-related crimes, or who live in an L.A. neighborhood that was a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-marijuana-equity-20171020-story.html">verifiable</a>&nbsp;target of enforcement during the drug war. It’s an attempt at restorative justice for the minority communities most negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition.</p> <p>The law takes effect even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions&nbsp;<a href="https://www.apnews.com/19f6bfec15a74733b40eaf0ff9162bfa">reverses U.S. Justice Department guidance</a>&nbsp;to leave enforcement of marijuana laws to the states. It’s unclear yet what effect new federal policies would have.</p> <p>L.A. resident&nbsp;<a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/11/california-prop-47-helped-african-americans-161101172049495.html">Donnie Anderson</a>&nbsp;plans to remain vigilant during the<em>&nbsp;</em>city’s implementation of the rules. As chairman of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.californiaminorityalliance.com/">California Minority State Alliance</a>, Anderson advocated for the social equity program that they hope will play a major role in deciding which marijuana businesses will be allowed to open.</p> <p>“The difference is justice is at the forefront,” Anderson says.</p> <p>Anderson and Virgil Grant own MedEX, a medical cannabis dispensary in South L.A.&nbsp;<a href="http://blog.margolinlawrence.com/do-i-need-to-be-a-pre-ico-to-qualify-for-las-priority-licensing">Since 1996, when medical marijuana was legalized in California, 135</a>&nbsp;shops have been licensed to sell cannabis to patients.</p> <p>According to the proposed rules, medical dispensaries will be first in line to receive a license to expand into recreational sales. However, Anderson and Grant and other groups like California NORML and the NAACP fought to ensure people with previous convictions wouldn’t be disqualified.</p> <p>&nbsp;“[They] fought for cannabis to make sure we can build generational wealth from this plant,” says Walter Lance Edwards, who has a past drug-related conviction and plans to open a cannabis delivery service.</p> <p>Anderson is helping Edwards obtain a fair shot at reaping the rewards of an industry that experts predict will bring in over&nbsp;<a href="https://merryjane.com/news/california-los-angeles-approves-controversial-cannabis-regulations-legalization">$50 million in local tax revenue</a>&nbsp;in 2018.</p> <p>“We’ve been the ones going to prison for it,” Edwards said. “Now it’s time for us to own it and operate it in a business.”</p> <p>As the nation’s attitudes<strong>&nbsp;</strong>toward marijuana shift—eight states have legalized recreational pot so far—Anderson believes the social equity program offers minorities in L.A.<strong>&nbsp;</strong>a&nbsp;chance at justice, equity, and fair development<em>.</em></p> <p>“It’s about those who’ve been harmed by the failed war on drugs,” Anderson says. “Our goal is about the socio-economics, and that’s what social equity really means.”</p> <p>Because federal law still prohibits marijuana,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-jerry-brown-marijuana-banking-plan-20171217-story.html">federally insured banks won’t lend</a>&nbsp;to marijuana businesses or handle cash from the proceeds of marijuana sales. This would place Edwards and other would-be entrepreneurs on unequal footing when competing with well-funded cannabis operations that have pockets&nbsp;deep enough not to need the assistance of commercial banks.</p> <p><a href="https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/craig-bannister/la-approves-plan-help-cannabis-convicts-open-pot-shop">L.A.’s plan is to waive or defer fees and provide startup loans</a>&nbsp;at low interest rates to create equal opportunities for social equity applicants. It’s a move Edwards calls “a good start.”</p> <p>Another component of the new regulations would ensure that people with low incomes, residents of neighborhoods heavily affected by marijuana arrests, or those who have been convicted of marijuana-related crimes make up at least half of the workforce in the city’s new<strong>&nbsp;</strong>cannabis businesses. Both Edwards and Anderson grew up in South L.A. neighborhoods that were hotspots for drug arrests.</p> <p>“I’m still rising out of the ashes from this, and the effects are still here,” Edwards says.</p> <p>In ’82 and ’83 you saw Black “fathers in the household, mothers working,” Anderson says. The war on drugs, he says, “took the man, took the woman, and put the children in foster care. It created a warfare that I’ve never seen in my lifetime and I never want to see it again.”</p> <p>Edwards says that over the years, as good industrial jobs abandoned the neighborhood, few options were left other than selling marijuana. “What do you got to do to feed your family?” he says. “It’s by all means necessary.”</p> <p>Decades of independent studies confirm Edwards’ firsthand experience—while people of every race are equally likely to buy, use, and sell drugs, Black people are more than&nbsp;<a href="https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf">three</a>&nbsp;times as likely to be charged, convicted, and harshly sentenced.</p> <p>Instead of crackdowns, under the new equity program, the L.A. city council set up a<strong><em>&nbsp;</em></strong>neighborhood health fund that will direct a portion of city revenue from taxing marijuana businesses to pay for community beautification, addiction treatment, youth extracurricular education, and mental health services in areas affected by the war on drugs.</p> <p>Taxes from legal cannabis will also go to community-based legal service providers that have already helped at least&nbsp;<a href="http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Prop64-Filings.pdf">4,500</a>&nbsp;people petition to have their convictions for low-level nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession and petty theft, changed from felonies to misdemeanors.</p> <p>That reclassification of most drug- and theft-related crimes is a result of Proposition 47, which went into effect in 2014. As a result, the number of drug arrests in Los Angeles County has dropped by a third and, according to the Washington Post, it’s led to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/10/10/prop47/?utm_term=.544f1e3d1979">hundreds of thousands</a>&nbsp;of people applying to get their previous drug convictions revised or erased.</p> <p>Eunisses Hernandez, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, organizes expungement clinics where translators and attorneys working pro bono help 50–100 people file the paperwork to remove those convictions.</p> <p>“They’re coming, many of them with months or years of struggling to get a job or housing, and just that weight is really heavy, and you can sense that weight in the room,” Hernandez says.</p> <p>What’s happening in L.A. and across California echoes a movement to atone for harsh penalties during the war on drugs. At least nine states, including Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont, have passed laws expunging or reducing marijuana convictions,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/marijuana-overview.aspx">according to the National Conference of State Legislatures</a>, even while the sale, transportation, or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.</p> <p>Getting those stains removed from their records is something most people expected never to happen after their experiences during the years of marijuana prohibition.</p> <p>“People leave [the expungement clinics] crying because they never thought they could get these offenses taken care of—especially for free,” Hernandez says.</p> <p>“The point of this is to repair the damages caused by marijuana prohibition … for the people who’ve been most severely impacted,” she says. “We wanted to be that resource to repair those harms.”</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/with-marijuana-now-legal-la-goes-further-to-make-amends-for-the-war-on-drugs-20180118?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180119&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180119+CID_957f50d47bd51c3187274340c496fa36&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=R">YES! Magazine</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="/drugpolicy/ezekiel-edwards/in-us-war-on-drugs-equal-justice-under-law-rings-hollow">In the US war on drugs, “equal justice under law” rings hollow</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/drugpolicy/opendemocracy/9-things-we-ve-learned-from-50-year-war-on-drugs">9 things we’ve learned from a 50-year war on drugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kevon-paynter/before-nfl-took-knee-four-lesser-known-moments-of-resistance-in-sports-">Before the NFL took a knee: four lesser-known moments of resistance in sports history</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 Kevon Paynter Activism Care Culture Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:43:28 +0000 Kevon Paynter 115787 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Three more ways to build solidarity across our differences https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani-hannah-rollins/three-more-ways-to-build-solidarity- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For most people divisive rhetoric isn’t new; they’ve been developing ways to counter it for years.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Peroandkiran2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonmatt/28720644722">Flickr/Matt Brown</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC-BY-2.0</a>.</p> <p>In 2017 we reported on <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani/five-ways-to-build-solidarity-across-our-difference">the work we’ve been doing with the Skills Network in south London</a> to nurture less siloed communities in the context of the post-Brexit debate. Reactions to that article encouraged us to go one step further in deepening our learning with other groups trying to build collective forms of support and social justice. For most people divisive rhetoric isn’t new; they’ve been developing ways to counter it for years. Here are three more lessons from our experience.</p><p><strong>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>We have more in common than divides us, but our situations are never equal.</strong></p> <blockquote><p><em>”You’ve got to remember when you bring all these people together in the beginning…they’ve got to have someone to shout at…Both sides have got to be equal. It’s got to be a level playing field otherwise it doesn’t work…(to do this) you need to create a ‘them and us’ situation...But the goal is to work towards the ‘us.’” </em>(Steve Scott, long-term Groundswell activist)<em></em></p></blockquote> <p>When we started Skills Network we were keen to focus on our shared experiences and values. We wanted the space to feel safe and positive, to ‘enact’ our ideal world, so we played down differences between us. But as we developed as a cooperative, frustrations at these differences came out in unexpected, sometimes disruptive ways, forcing us to think about more explicit ways to confront them.&nbsp; </p> <p>The reality is that there <em>are</em> inequalities between people—financial and in terms of status, confidence to voice opinions, general life opportunities and expectations. These differences are often internalised, glossed over by well-meaning attempts to ‘bridge divides’ and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/17/jo-coxs-widower-awed-by-scale-of-uk-events-to-remember-his-wife">‘build communities.</a>’ It’s difficult to get the balance right between acknowledging them and letting them define the group, but some groups manage this balancing act better than others.&nbsp; </p> <p><a href="http://groundswell.org.uk/">Groundswell</a>, for example, facilitates peer-to-peer support and advocacy around homelessness, and for many years has been training local councils and other organisations in user involvement.&nbsp; The organisation started in the 1990s as a movement "very explicitly campaigning for the homeless and roofless–engaging with people who were having those experiences and following their agenda"&nbsp;as Simone Helleren from Groundswell puts it. Over time it grew into a network of smaller groups doing localised ‘self-help’ which started to advocate for more fundamental changes to policies and attitudes around housing. </p> <p>Groundswell recognised the crucial importance of taking the knowledge and anger of people at the sharp end of inequality seriously. The group pioneered the ‘Speakout’ model which brought together self-help groups, people experiencing homelessness, and people working in the sector to learn from each other through workshops and debates. These events brought homeless people into direct dialogue with policymakers and gave them an opportunity to express their opinions. </p> <p>Allowing space for those who had experienced homelessness to share their feelings with those responsible for making and implementing housing policy helped the group to move past these divisions and laid the groundwork for years of productive collaboration. Over time speakouts evolved into citizens’ juries which were at the centre of the group’s radical inquiry into UK housing policy: the <a href="http://lcu.iopan.co.uk/publications/the-homeless-peoples-commission.pdf">Homeless People’s Commission</a>. The key was to confront, not suppress, the injustices and inequalities that divide people, and to build connections and communities that eventually overcame them.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Create frameworks that recognise we <em>all</em> have things to give and take.</strong></p> <blockquote><p><em>“The difference between traditional charity and timebanking? It’s the power thing, isn’t it? It’s more equal. You get to feel good about yourself by giving and remembering ‘oh yeah I am actually quite good at things.’ And you get help back as well -rather than one set of people are always the givers and then the other lot are the passive beneficiaries.” </em>(Alison Paule, Paxton Green Timebank Coordinator).</p></blockquote> <p>We initially thought at Skills Network that a flat pay-rate and shared decision-making would ensure everyone’s contributions felt equally valued. But ‘conventional’ hierarchies kept creeping into our dynamics.&nbsp; Searching for learning from other organisations in South London, we discovered <a href="https://www.rgtb.org.uk/">Rushey Green</a> and Paxton Green Timebanks. The timebanking movement seeks to create ‘<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/edgar-cahn/empathy-democracy-and-economy">operating systems’</a> which consciously facilitate exchange and support in a way that makes clear that “nobody is better than anybody else.<em>”</em> They do this by focusing on ‘proactive’ time as the principal unit of currency<strong>.</strong></p> <p>For every hour participants ‘deposit’ in a timebank they can ‘withdraw’ the equivalent in support when they need something—“ironing or accounting…an hour is an hour.” In this context being ‘in need’ is not stigmatizing or shameful—it’s a normal part of everyone’s life.</p> <p>Timebanks globally have different characteristics. In south London, they bring together individuals who live very near each other but otherwise are worlds apart. Paule notes that “it quite surprises people to start with, probably more so for the posher people – ‘oh these are different people that I don’t usually interact with!&nbsp; And they are quite nice actually."<em>&nbsp;</em>One older woman member described the effects of a friendship that had grown out of her involvement:<em> </em></p> <blockquote><p><em>“My friend who subsequently has died, she actually lived down the bottom of my road and I would never have listened and talked to her. She was afro-Caribbean, from Jamaica…I would never had actually been able to [sighing] comprehend, understand certain aspects of other people lives if it wasn’t for her.” </em></p></blockquote> <p>But these new relationships and insights don’t happen overnight. They evolve very gradually as people engage in mutual support.&nbsp;<em>“</em>When you first get involved it may be quite passive” according to Robert, a member of both timebanks, “just coming along (to an event), drinking a cup of tea. But the aim is to give people the opportunity to grow, to get more involved.”</p> <p>This framework acknowledges that some people have had knock-backs in their lives and may need support in taking the lead on something—perhaps from something “really small like (starting) a knitting group…helping them think through the steps…Where do you want to have the group? What day of the week? What time? We’ve got spare kettles, tea, biscuits.”</p> <p>The careful, slow work that happens within timebanks may seem insignificant to the untrained eye, focusing as it does on tiny interactions and exchanges and incremental shifts in people’s understanding of themselves and each other. These shifts are difficult to capture and count, but they can have profound resonance because they break down the sense of difference that those involved often have about each-other.&nbsp; </p> <blockquote><p><em>“It felt very different, completely different from anything that had been going on before. You started to feel as if you have got some value to give. And lo and behold somebody is giving you something that you never expected.” </em>(Marilyn, Paxton Green member)</p></blockquote><p><strong>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong><strong>Having an equal conversation is a deliberate, political act.</strong></p><p>Even a single conversation in which people feel like they are interacting as equals can help to shift the status quo in hierarchies, but it’s a challenge, and one that often overwhelmed us at Skills Network. ‘<a href="https://leftroots.net/organizing-transformation-best-practices-in-the-transformative-organizing-model/">Transformative organising</a>’ approaches (which came out of community organising in the US) have taught us a lot about how to do it better. It starts by acknowledging the entrenched hierarchies that play out in all our interactions, but which are often more obvious to those with less power who are used to subtly deferring to, agreeing with or apologising to those who have more. </p> <p>These approaches use specific techniques to slowly equalise these hierarchies, like ‘<a href="http://www.intentionalpeersupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Peer-Support_A-Systemic-Approach.pdf">Intentional Peer Support,</a>’ which was developed in the 1990s as a challenge to top-down mental health services but has since become a wider method in community organising. Core to this method is the disruption of the tendency to replicate unequal ‘helping’ dynamics by building awareness of the power roles we all fall into, and by finding ways to be more aware of our own tendencies and assumptions. </p> <p>Their listening and questioning techniques help people engage with each other with real curiosity and openness, and form connections across divides, shifting from notions of ‘helping’ towards ones of ‘learning together.’ Key to transformative approaches is the conviction that they form a continual and relentless process, and one that will keep being slightly undone by the rest of the world—meaning the job is never ‘done.’ </p> <p>Many people are looking for new ways to heal divides and that’s heartening. But enacting these sentiments in a long-lasting way is complex and challenging, especially when some people face very real resource shortages and others may have internalised very different notions of their power. If we are to come together across the entrenched divisions and disillusionment that many people are feeling, our starting point is clear: engage as equals. </p> <p>That means a continuous, ever-evolving process in which we must all be self-aware and open to being challenged again and again. It involves challenging the structures and values that set up inequalities between us through our daily interactions and with everyone we meet. Our plea is for people who have been relatively inoculated from the effects of divisive rhetoric and policy to really try and ‘see’ the inspirational alternatives that are already being enacted around them—and bring their knowledge and skills to this existing, slow, un-photogenic, but potentially transformative experience.&nbsp;&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/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani/five-ways-to-build-solidarity-across-our-difference">Five ways to build solidarity across our differences</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kylie-noble/we-re-movement-not-just-magazine">“We’re a movement, not just a magazine”</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-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> London </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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation London UK Political polarization Build Bridges Peroline Ainsworth Kiran Nihalani Hannah Rollins Activism Care Culture Sun, 11 Mar 2018 19:48:20 +0000 Hannah Rollins, Kiran Nihalani and Peroline Ainsworth 116589 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the Glasscos: lesbian foster parents in America’s Bible Belt https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/katherine-webb-hehn/meet-glasscos-lesbian-foster-parents-in-america-s-bible-belt <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Alabama, religiously-affiliated private adoption agencies can legally discriminate against same-sex couples, but the law may be having the opposite effect.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Chelsey and Bailey Glassco in front of their new home in Childersburg, Alabama, where they’re raising a foster son. Photo by the author.</p><p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/meet-the-glasscos-lesbian-foster-parents-in-the-bible-belt/">Scalawag</a>.</em></p> <p>Childersburg is a typical river town in Alabama: tackle shops, Waffle House, a Piggly Wiggly. Near the Glassco house, a Cajun restaurant called Bigman’s serves grilled gator and BBQ.</p> <p>But the Glasscos aren’t exactly the typical Childersburg family, because, as they’d say, of the whole lesbian thing.</p> <p>When I meet Chelsey and Bailey Glassco on a Wednesday afternoon in their new home in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley, they’re a few weeks into the semester at the private Christian Academy where they’re both teachers, and their foster son, Jay (that’s not his real name), is in first grade. Bailey teaches high school English. Chelsey teaches music and Spanish to the younger grades. They welcome me inside still buttoned-up from the day, preppy: slacks, loafers, dress shirts.</p> <p>The house is buzzing with new home-owner energy: Jay is bouncing between his two dogs and us, asking if I’d like to see his room, if I’d like to play, if I’d like to eat ice cream with him. Chelsey is apologizing for the move-in mess and shuffling the dogs back into the yard. Bailey, who grew up, as she says, “in the wilderness” near Sand Mountain, Alabama, is on the phone giving directions to a social worker from their adoption agency, Ashley Douthard, by offering local, posted road names instead of state-issued monikers on maps. I get the feeling Bailey can rebuild engines while quoting Eudora Welty. (On the way to their house, when I got lost, too, and called for help, she told me, “Turn back and hang a right at the little pew-jumping church.” When I laughed, she added, “That’s not a judgment. Just a description.”)</p> <p>They’re only the second owners of the property, a midcentury fixer-upper on 3.7 acres. Signs of the couple who built the house half a century ago are everywhere: a wheelchair ramp off the back deck, a glass collection carefully stacked in the butler pantry. Everything is a little worn-in from age but full of potential.</p> <p>When I ask to go to the bathroom, Chelsey takes me down the hall, following me to point out the ‘50s-era ceramic work. We’ve known one another two minutes, and we’re admiring tiling around a toilet together. A dentist’s daughter from Bonifay, Florida, who grew up singing in an Assembly of God church, Chelsey speaks like the talky tracks of Loretta Lynn records, sweetly Southern, bitingly witty. Back in the living room, Jay dashes outside and we stand amid empty boxes, watching their boy through a bank of west-facing windows.</p> <p>Jay trots up the grassy slope of his new backyard in boots and a yellow T-shirt, waving a stick toward the sky, two dogs trailing behind. The whole scene is downright Norman Rockwell-ish.</p> <p>The irony of being in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley hits me when Chelsey cuts the chitchat to tell me Jay has had a hard week, and I remember why I’m here.</p> <p>In May, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed&nbsp;<a href="https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/alabama/articles/2017-05-03/ivey-signs-bill-letting-adoption-groups-turn-away-gays" target="_blank">HB24 into law</a>, protecting adoption agencies when they deem parents unfit on the basis of religious beliefs. I’m here because the law means religious-affiliated private adoption agencies can now legally discriminate against same-sex couples like the Glasscos.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Bailey Glassco and her dogs in the back plot of her 3.7-acre home. Glassco is trying to legally adopt her foster son with her wife, Chelsey. Photo by the author.</p><p>Jay has a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder.</p><p>When the Glasscos met Jay, his family had been in the system for two years, and he’d cycled through multiple placements. He was underweight. He was balding. His skin itched nonstop from stress-induced psoriasis and eczema. “He’s constantly telling us he’s afraid he’s not going to be fed,” Bailey says.</p><p>Common in children raised in orphanages or environments of neglect, Bailey describes RAD as a wiring malfunction that happens when a young child is forced to self-soothe in moments when they need to be cuddled or fed. The result can be a lifelong struggle with relationships.</p><p>The Glasscos work with Jay each day on understanding boundaries and establishing appropriate trust. He sees a therapist. He takes medicine. They receive weekly support from Douthard, the social worker. They’re waiting on a special, weighted vest to arrive in the mail, a garment that’s supposed to help comfort Jay when they physically can’t hold and calm him.</p><p>Today, Douthard is coming for an emergency visit. As a therapeutic social worker for the foster and adoption agency working with the Glasscos (they asked we not name the agency to protect Jay’s privacy), Douthard offers weekly check-in sessions to families fostering children like Jay who are undergoing medical treatment for psychological or behavioral disorders.</p><p>Going to school has been challenging for Jay, navigating the social landscape, and to cope, he’s been hitting himself and his classmates. Violence is common in RAD kids. As they begin to make attachments, something in their brain fires off a warning, and they lash out. Without treatment, this behavior can continue into adulthood with potentially horrific results. To give a point of reference for the difference between a child who does or doesn’t receive help, Chelsey names two famous examples of people with RAD, “You could be Helen Keller or Ted Bundy.”</p><p>The frustrating part to Chelsey is that RAD is 100 percent preventable, but once kids have the disorder, they have it for life. She says Jay’s biological family struggled to meet his basic needs. “It’s a really sad situation,” Chelsey says. “Everybody and their mama, no pun intended, had been abused in [Jay’s] family.” Because the Glasscos will be in court soon, they can’t offer details publicly of Jay’s history.</p><p>I spoke to other foster parents for this story who were also in the middle of court proceedings and didn’t want their names to be public. Many of those foster kids came from families where no one has a job or a car to get to a job, where multiple generations suffer from drug addiction, and where state intervention is common. Finding family members to offer these children safer homes can be difficult.</p><p>Jay has lived with the Glasscos for six months. It’s the longest he’s lived anywhere. “When we hit the three-month mark,” Bailey says, “he started to ask if he was staying with us. His internal clock knew it was time to be moved to another foster home.”</p><p>Outside, Jay is running, hollering down to us that he’s “supah fast.” His white athletic socks are poking out of the tops of his boots, and it’s the sight of those socks that kills me. My own son is 16 months old. I think about all the socks he’s tossed off in the car, the grocery store, wherever. Hundreds of times a day he needs me or my husband to hold him, to help him. I can’t even think about Jay when he was a baby.</p><p>When I ask if this is how the Glasscos envisioned parenthood, Chelsey says they think about having a baby—“Bailey has always wanted to be pregnant. I’d love to plan four hospital routes and be the one going ‘you can do this!’”—but every time they’ve seriously considered it, another kid has needed them. They met their first foster kid when she was in high school and living in a group home. “[She] was going to have to be housed back with her mother who was a drug dealer. And she didn’t have another option,” Chelsey says. “So we got certified.”</p><p>But the Glasscos say they were denied by a dozen adoption agencies before finding one willing to work with a same-sex couple—all prior to the passing of HB24. Chelsey drops into a snooty voice, joking, “We were like, ‘We don’t want to work with you guys anyways.’” Bailey says they didn’t worry about the other agencies, and never considered legal action, focusing instead on helping their foster teen transition to adulthood, figure out how to get job, a car, an apartment. She lived with them until she turned 18 and got her own apartment.</p><p>“We have a soft spot for that age, because we were so vulnerable during that time,” Chelsey says. When Chelsey and Bailey themselves were entering adulthood, they were homeless.</p><p>They met at a small all-women’s Baptist College, where Bailey was a star on the volleyball team and Chelsey sang in Sunday services. (Even though Chelsey came out at 15, she wanted a challenging academic environment where she could better explore religion. Her folks wanted her to be a Christian singer. “Like Amy Grant?” I ask, half-kidding. “Exactly. Actually, she was my first crush,” she says.)</p><p>When they made their relationship public, their families launched campaigns to pray them straight. The congregation of Chelsey’s church back in Bonifay began calling and sending letters. Bailey’s family contacted teachers and administrators at their school. Certain administrators at the university contacted ministers at churches where Chelsey sang, worried she might have spread propaganda like rainbow flags.</p><p>“We’re some potent gay,” Bailey jokes.</p><p>By the time they graduated, they didn’t have anywhere to go. They lost contact with nearly everyone, from youth group buddies to their own brothers.</p><p>“Our families were basically like goodbye and good luck,” Chelsey says. A handful of people they met—through churches—helped them get on their feet but things still weren’t easy. They lost teaching jobs when a board member at a school didn’t want lesbians on staff, so they moved to a new town and took jobs at Olive Garden and Firehouse Subs until finding the school where they now teach.</p><p>Jay pops in to ask for water. He pants like the dog at his hip to show us how hard he’s been playing.</p><p>I realize I haven’t asked how old they are (Bailey’s 28, Chesley’s 27) or how long they’ve been married (seven years). “That’s our numerical age,” Bailey says, “but we say it’s about the mileage.”</p><p>Now, Chelsey says they’re visiting an LGBT-affirming church in Birmingham, where they’ve found a preacher willing to be a male mentor for Jay, and where he can grow up in “a village” like they did. Even though her old congregation no longer serves as her support system, Chelsey says, growing up, there were “16 people I could have called if I needed something. Foster kids don’t have that. That’s the reason they’re in foster care.”</p><p>When Douthard arrives, I wander around a bit, tagging along for a tour of the house before heading to the backyard to pet the dogs and stay out of the way. Jay is telling the social worker about mowing the lawn, how his moms are going to let him do it someday but first he has to master picking up sticks, and I see Chelsey and Bailey reach for one another’s hand. I know that reach, that moment you need to connect with your partner to say, “Maybe we’re doing something right.”</p><p>I wonder how things would be different for the Glasscos if they’d been embraced instead of excommunicated from their families. Would they still have Jay? If not, where would he be?</p><p>Here’s the thing: Chelsey and Bailey didn’t choose Jay. They signed up to be foster parents to any child in need. When things get too difficult, as foster parents, the Glasscos have the option to ask for respite or terminate their time with him. It happens. Families don’t click. A child presents too great of challenges, or as with Jay, a foster child changes the family’s option to have other children.</p><p>But next week, the Glasscos will have their first meeting to begin the arduous legal process determining what is best for Jay’s future, either reunification with a family member or adoption into the Glassco home.</p><p>The cicadas start their nightly hum as the Glasscos tell the social worker about their renovation plans, where the vegetable garden will go next spring, how they’d met most of the neighbors already. I wonder how people could see this—the Glassco home—as dangerous.</p><p>It’s not like people are fighting over foster children. We have more children seeking homes in Alabama than families seeking children. The latest report from&nbsp;<a href="http://dhr.alabama.gov/documents/Monthly_Stats/2017/STAT0617.pdf" target="_blank">Alabama Department of Human Resources</a>&nbsp;showed 6,028 children were in custody of the department at the end of June 2017. One lawyer I interviewed said 1,000 of those children are in need of new homes.</p><p>&nbsp;So, what’s our hope, or responsibility, for kids like Jay?</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A portrait of the Glasscos by their son, Jay, gifted to the author. Photo by the author.</p><p>There’s a narrative we’re asked to believe in the discussion surrounding same-sex adoption: A great battle exists between Christians and queers. If you are of the opinion that exposure to an LGBT lifestyle might turn children queer and therefore land them in eternal damnation then I’m not sure harm on earth has much argumentative power. But everyone I spoke to for this story, most of whom identify as queer, made a point to tell me they identify as Christian, too. Beyond a battle over the role of religion as it pertains to government, in Alabama, a law like HB24 is a battle over interpretations of Christianity.</p><p>As Reverend Jennifer Sanders put it, “The role of the government is to prevent harm. Now, it’s all about how you define harm. I think that’s what we’re arguing over.”</p><p>Sanders is one of 70 faith leaders who opposed HB24. The week before I came to Childersburg, I met Sanders at a café next door to Beloved Community Church in Birmingham, where she said she leads a congregation as active in social justice efforts as they are in Sunday worship. Sanders is a Christian liberation theologian, a lesbian, and a mom. She says she’s less interested in the outcome of this particular law than she is the liberation of the world from mankind’s harm. To her, the LGBT adoption battle matters only if lost. If won, it’s just a step toward equality in an inherently unjust system.</p><p>When I asked her how she entered conversations with conservative Christian ministers and policymakers, she said conversation doesn’t go far. “There tends to be a fair amount of smug disregard because people will treat you politely but that’s because they know they have the power, and your own power is curtailed by the structure.”</p><p>I tell Sanders about a moment in<a href="https://www.alabamaboundfilm.com/" target="_blank">&nbsp;Alabama Bound</a>, a film that follows lesbians in the state as they advocate for marriage equality prior to&nbsp;Obergefell v. Hodges, when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the country. I’d seen the film’s premiere a few weekends before at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. There’s a scene where openly gay Representative Patricia Todd is preparing for a pro-LGBT vote on the Montgomery Capitol floor, and GOP Representative Barry Moore walks up to her, gives her an awkward back-patting, side-hug and says something like: “You know I love you, girl, got all the respect in the world for you, but this ain’t gonna happen.”</p><p>&nbsp;The scene sums up the dynamic when it comes to marginalized groups gaining rights: Love ya. Ain’t happening.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Rev. Jennifer Sanders believes the fight for LGBT adoption only matters if it’s lost. Photo by the author.</p><p>In Alabama, White, evangelical, Republican men hold the power.</p><p>Alabama lawmakers pushed hard for HB24, placing duplicates in the House and Senate, sponsored by Representative Rich Wingo and State Senator Bill Hightower, respectively. Neither agreed to an interview for this story. Even though both have told the press the law isn’t about denying LGBT couples the right to adopt,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/02/26/515585721/lgbtq-advocates-fear-religious-freedom-bills-moving-forward-in-states" target="_blank">Wingo told NPR</a>that other states have seen religious organizations close their doors instead of working with same-sex couples. The burden on the state, he said, would be overwhelming if Alabama’s private, religious agencies shuttered. But no Alabama agency has publicly announced it would shutter. I attempted to contact Wingo multiple times over several months for this story, and didn’t hear back from his office.</p><p>Even though Wingo is credited for the law’s success, the reality is this law is one of many in a recent batch of so-called “religious freedom” bills strategically&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/02/26/515585721/lgbtq-advocates-fear-religious-freedom-bills-moving-forward-in-states" target="_blank">popping up</a> all over the country, backed by well-funded right wing groups. By passing HB24, Alabama joined Michigan, Virginia, and the Dakotas, where Republicans have approved related religious freedom bills. Even the name of the law—the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act—is strategic. (Still,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/new-alabama-gov-to-sign-law-protecting-religious-freedom-of-adoption-agenci" target="_blank">Conservative news outlets</a> celebrated the law as a victory in efforts to discriminate against LGBT couples.)</p><p>The law is particularly problematic, according to Eva Kendrick, the Human Rights Campaign Alabama State Director, when you consider LGBT minors are more likely to be in the foster system than their hetero or cisgendered peers, and LGBT couples are four times more likely to raise adopted kids and six times more likely to raise foster children than hetero couples, according to nonpartisan studies, like the 2014 report released by the&nbsp;<a href="https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/press-releases/new-study-sheds-light-on-problems-facing-lgbtq-youth-experiencing-homelessness/" target="_blank">Williams Institute</a>.</p><p>Kendrick, who fosters a baby with her wife, says only two adoption agencies supported the bill while nearly 70 faith leaders signed a letter in opposition. Because you have to be legally married for one year before you can adopt in Alabama, and adoption only recently became legal for gay and lesbian couples in the state, she says the law is mostly just causing confusion over who will or won’t work with them.</p><p>I tried to contact religious adoption agencies all over the state to ask about their policies on same-sex adoption. No one has returned my calls or emails. But Kendrick works with agencies statewide, and she said the attention the law is receiving has actually been a boon for same-sex adoption training. HRC has seen a spike in collaborative requests, and Kendrick said she’s trained more than 250 social workers in LGBT adoption courses. So the law may be having the opposite effect of Wingo’s intentions.</p><p>But even though same-sex couples have agencies to choose from when adopting, problems with the law still arise during family reunification for foster kids, according to Kendrick. Here’s an example: I spoke to Tony Christon-Walker, the Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships at AIDS Alabama, who worried he’d be denied parental rights when his half-sister lost custody of her son, Maurice. His sister asked Christon-Walker to adopt the boy. Christon-Walker, 50, is gay and HIV positive. A judge in Birmingham granted him parental rights, but if Maurice had been under the care of a private religious organization in Alabama instead, then under this new law, Christon-Walker could have been denied and would have no legal action to keep Maurice in the family.</p><p> The reality is, right now, no one really knows how this law will or won’t play out in court. I read&nbsp;<a href="https://legiscan.com/AL/bill/HB24/2017" target="_blank">the bill and its amendments</a>&nbsp;a dozen times until I began to feel the way you do when you repeat a word aloud until it loses meaning.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatherineWebb5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Tony Christon-Walker with his husband and their adopted son, Maurice. Under new Alabama law, same-sex couples like the Christon-Walkers might not be able to adopt children from their own families. Photo courtesy of the author.</p><p>As written, HB24 protects privately-funded adoption agencies in Alabama when they turn away parents based on “closely held religious beliefs.” That vernacular vagueness is confusing even to practitioners in the legal system; several lawyers told me they weren’t comfortable offering a definitive explication of the law’s application for this story. One lawyer, Shane T. Smith, cut to the core of what’s so confusing: “While I respect everyone’s closely held religious beliefs,” he said, “I know a lot of Christians who are fine with people who are divorced. I know some Christians who won’t associate with people who are divorced. It’s not just a lesbian or gay thing; it’s whatever they deem to be sinful or wrong in their doctrine.”</p><p>Hypotheticals run rampant: Could Catholics deny an adoptive parent who was previously divorced? Could Baptists deny the unbaptized? Could Wiccans deny worshippers of Sun Ra? If these religious groups meet the criteria for protection—owning and operating a privately-funded, state-licensed adoption agency in Alabama—then, in theory, they sure could.</p><p>But in all the confusion over what HB24 means for gay families, who can and cannot adopt and from which agencies, it can feel like the kids themselves get lost in the mix. And what are the consequences if kids like Jay spend more time, possibly their entire childhoods, in group homes or transitional housing?</p><p>For a lot of kids, that life leads to higher instances of traumatic childhood events, which psychological studies show can affect everything from earning power to emotional well-being. Christon-Walker and his son serve as an example here, too. He said Maurice was believed to have an IQ of 69 while in foster care. He’s thankful the judge in Birmingham “believes in family,” because today, Maurice is a well-adjusted kid thriving at a Birmingham private school. He likes to joke with other kids by asking them where their second daddies are.</p><p>When I asked Christon-Walker where Maurice would be if he hadn’t been able to adopt him, he started to cry. “I don’t even want to think about it.”</p><p>At the Glasscos, we’re all out back with Jay now, the sun setting over the hills.</p><p>The social worker has wrapped up her visit, and I finally ask them about the law.</p><p>“This law is a protection for the majority, for a group who doesn’t need protection,” Bailey says. I tell her about what I’d heard from people in Birmingham, about progressive change, open-minded judges, and welcoming adoption agencies. I tell them what Eva Kendrick of HRC (who introduced me to the Glasscos) said about the increase in training for LGBT adoption.</p><p>“It’s easy to say the law is not going to change anything for the worse. But how can you predict that?” Bailey wonders. “This month, they’re feeling gay friendly. Let’s say Mr. So and So, who usually puts foster care in the homes of gay couples, goes home and his wife just read an article about some pedophile and how he had boyfriends or whatever, and he says we’re not dealing with gay people anymore. Things won’t change immediately, but it just takes one person.”</p><p>They’re worried groups that have been quietly working with LGBT couples will suddenly have board members wondering what their same-sex policies are. Chelsey does an imitation of an evangelical adoption director: “Hey, y’all! Welcome! Thanks for coming to the back door!”</p><p>“Now they might close the back door,” Bailey says.</p><p>Chelsey says right now, they’re more interested in making inroads with their families than lawmakers. A few years back, they reconciled with Bailey’s brother’s family. Since Jay came into their lives, Chelsey says her parents are more receptive to a relationship with Chelsey and Bailey (before they were only comfortable seeing their daughter without her wife).</p><p>Jay is on the deck below, out of earshot, playing with the dog who licks him chin to forehead.</p><p>“Ugh. He’s so stinking cute,” Chelsey says. “It makes me want to shake his parents. We see all the potential.”</p><p>“Sometimes we think he’s a baby, then he’ll sweep the floor,” Bailey says. “I mean, where the heck did that come from? You can’t button your daggum britches, son.”</p><p>The Glasscos are hopeful they will be able to adopt Jay. “The guardian ad litem, social workers, psychiatrist are working tirelessly to assure he ends up in a safe and healthy home,” Chelsey says.</p><p>“There’s always a chance the parents wake up, have an epiphany, go out and get a job and start making good choices.” If that does happen, and his parents are able to offer Jay a healthy environment, the Glasscos say they’ll be heartbroken but also unburdened. Chelsey says they have to trust the doctors who tell them long-term care will bring Jay healing. “We keep thinking… about when he’s 18, and he’s an amazing young man going to be a teacher or a doctor or joining the military,” Chelsey says.</p><p>“Or going to be a plumber! Or an electrician or anything that contributes to society,” Bailey says. “Or a football player, a third string kicker who rides the bench and sets us up for life!” They laugh. Jay offers a not-so-subtle hint it’s time we wrap up our conversation and his moms get dinner going: “I smell pizza!”</p><p>As I’m leaving, Jay pulls a drawing from his pocket and offers it to me as a gift. I ask him to describe the scene, and he tells me it’s him and his moms cleaning up the yard while the dogs play.</p><p>One side of the house in bathed in light. The other in darkness. Jay says he’s afraid to go in the dark, but his moms are brave.</p><p>They aren’t afraid, he says, and someday, he won’t be either.</p><p>&nbsp;</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/jasmine-aguilera/inside-texas-megachurch-where-90-percent-of-worshipers-are-lgbt">Inside the Texas megachurch where 90 percent of worshipers are LGBT</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</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 religion and social transformation Katherine Webb-Hehn Care Culture Love and Spirituality Thu, 08 Mar 2018 20:35:08 +0000 Katherine Webb-Hehn 115984 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Gun violence has dropped dramatically in three US states with very different gun laws https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mike-males/gun-violence-has-dropped-dramatically-in-three-us-states-with-very-differe <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To have an honest, nonpartisan discussion about gun violence, we must look at what happened in New York, California, and Texas.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MikeMales1.gif" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Kristi Gilroy hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.&nbsp;Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images via YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>On February 15 2018, 17 teachers, students, and visitors died in a Florida high school, in a country where&nbsp;<a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/feb/14/what-we-know-about-mass-shootings/">mass shootings</a> have been devastatingly routine. This was followed by another day of despairing, angry furor over guns, schools, and shootings that replayed the same reactions from dozens of past shootings.</p> <p>Once the warring factions settle into their talking points and scapegoats, the debate rages on for decades with little sign of progress. America’s gun debate is like a Greek tragedy, with predetermined lines plodding to inevitable doom.</p> <p>The Right, represented by the National Rifle Association and Republicans, shows no interest in reducing the gun killing epidemic beyond prayers that the “good guy with a gun” (who never seems to be around) will save the day when a “bad guy” opens fire.</p> <p>Liberals’ dishonesty is more nuanced. Background checks and gun control have proven effective at&nbsp;<a href="https://everytownresearch.org/infographic-background-checks-save-lives/">reducing gun suicides and domestic shootings</a>(both very worthwhile goals), but not the gun homicides or mass shootings such remedies are invoked to redress.</p> <p>On both sides, destructive scapegoating of young people, whether they are suburban school shooters or immigrant gangsters, present blatant falsehoods. FBI tabulations show half of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/activeshooter_incidents_2001-2016.pdf/view">active mass shooters&nbsp;</a>are 35 and older, a large&nbsp;<a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/">majority are white</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsweek.com/white-men-have-committed-more-mass-shootings-any-other-group-675602">nearly all are men</a>. One middle-aged white shooter&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/us/las-vegas-attack-shooting-paddock.html">murdered more people in Las Vegas&nbsp;</a>in 10 minutes than the best available count of documented&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-13">murders</a>&nbsp;over the last 15 years that have been attributed to the Latino&nbsp;<a href="http://time.com/4783163/ms-13-gang/">MS-13 gang</a>, a favorite target of President Donald Trump.</p> <p>We can keep on quarreling over myths and prejudices, or we can start looking for new approaches, as many communities are doing in the face of national default. The hopeful thing is there is plenty new to say—if anyone is willing to say it.</p> <p>Let’s begin with one of the most hopeful and obvious: the massive decline in gun homicides in the nation’s three biggest states, concentrated among young people and urban residents all sides claim to be concerned about—so long as the discussion doesn’t challenge pet positions.</p> <p>Over the last 25 years—though other time periods show similar results—New York, California, and Texas show&nbsp;<a href="http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303782">massive declines in gun homicides</a>, ones that far exceed those of any other state. These three states also show the country’s largest decreases in gun suicide and gun accident death rates.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MarkMales2.gif" alt="" width="460" /></p><p>These major states containing seven in 10 of the country’s largest cities once had gun homicide rates far above the national average; now, their rates are well below those elsewhere in the country.</p><p>The declines are most pronounced in urban young people. Among ages 15-24, gun homicide rates are down nearly 80 percent in cities of 500,000 or more in the three largest states, led by declines—approaching 90 percent in New York City’s central boroughs, more than 80 percent in Los Angeles, and 74 percent in Dallas.</p><p>Isn’t this what all sides have claimed to want: big reductions in gun killings, especially among young people? Why, then, aren’t researchers flocking to our three biggest states and their major cities to analyze what happened there—or, at least, talking about their stunningly hopeful trends?</p><p>Anyone familiar with the gun debate will see the political problem right away. California and New York have the nation’s strictest and fifth-strictest&nbsp;<a href="http://crimadvisor.com/data/Brady-State-Scorecard-2015.pdf">gun control laws</a>, respectively, in the country, earning “A-“ ratings from the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bradycampaign.org/">Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence</a>, and low rates of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/gun-ownership-by-state-2015-7">gun ownership</a>. So, gun-rights conservatives don’t like to talk about successes in those states—nor about the fact that those declines in violence correspond with an increasingly racially diverse young urban population, driven by Latino, Asian, and African immigration.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MikeMales3.gif" alt="" width="460" /></p><p>On the other side, Texas has among the weakest gun laws in the country (“open carry” is its most recent gun-rights salvo, earning an “F” grade) and some of the highest rates of gun ownership. Gun-control lobbies are loath to acknowledge any success in Texas. So, we have to look beyond current gun politics and commentary to community-based initiatives.</p><p>Most major cities have gun violence prevention programs, but if these deserve some credit, we would need to study why they worked so much better in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego, and El Paso than in Chicago, Miami, or Philadelphia. If young Texans can show large declines in killings without tough gun controls, we need to understand what forces are at work in its cities.</p><p>Rather than jockeying for political advantage, we need to acknowledge young people of all races, who as a generation have sharply&nbsp;<a href="http://www.vpc.org/studies/ownership.pdf">lower levels of gun ownership&nbsp;</a>and numbers of gun killings despite continued high rates of poverty. White, Black, Latino, and Asian youth (Native American numbers are too small to determine accurate trends) each show much faster declines in gun homicide rates in the three largest states than do their national counterparts.</p><p>The pattern suggests a generational trend in the three major states’ cities—and to a lesser extent, nationwide—that urgently needs scrutiny. When youth homicide arrests in the city of Los Angeles fall from 680 in 1990-92 to 104 in 2000-02 to 17 in 2014-16, and the number of teenage girls&nbsp;<a href="http://homicide.latimes.com/">murdered</a>&nbsp;falls from dozens in the early 1990s to zero in the last 12 months ending February 15, 2018, it’s time to shake up everyone’s frozen thinking. Gun violence indeed remains an unspeakably tragic, American epidemic, but there is no excuse for recycling old futilities when dramatic and hopeful new information is at hand.</p><p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/gun-violence-has-dropped-dramatically-in-3-states-with-very-different-gun-laws-20180216?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180216&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180216+CID_b05a5cae1e6d28729ed9d8d569101cf7&amp;utm_source=CM">YES! Magazine</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/sarah-aziza/has-movement-to-prevent-gun-violence-hit-tipping-point">Has the movement to prevent gun violence hit a tipping point?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sarah-clements/gun-violence-trump-america">How to fight gun violence in Trump’s America</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/transformation/preventing-gun-violence-without-just-talking-about-gun">Preventing gun violence without just talking about the gun</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 gun control Mike Males Transformative nonviolence Care Thu, 01 Mar 2018 22:29:09 +0000 Mike Males 116233 at https://www.opendemocracy.net #MeToo, dialogue and healing https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/perry-dougherty/metoo-dialogue-and-healing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To give voice to our deepest experiences is to cultivate connection and collective healing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/PerryDougherty1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/healing-glow-dreamlike-ultraviolet-2324796/">Pixabay/Chulhwan</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Washington University, St Louis, 2002. We sit on the floor, friends and others, each of us holding vigil.</p> <p>I wonder if I will even be able to find the words if I choose to speak. There are fewer facts than I wish for—more self-judgments and denials than cohesive narrative.</p> <p>It is the story of a date gone bad—broken but intrusive memories, tainted, tamed, and tortured by reoccurrence and repetition.</p> <p>Heavy, loaded, and strange, the words that come out feel foreign on my tongue as if the story were not mine.</p> <p>There was the taxi cab, the woman giving herself a pedicure in the living room, my hurrying down the stairs and out the door only to realize I was locked in. There was having to go back inside to ask him to let me out of the gates.</p> <p>There was, if I let myself feel it, the sensation of watching my body on the bed from far up above where the wall met the ceiling by the doorway to the room. There was voicelessness and fear—the shame of knowing that I did not yell or fight.</p> <p>There was my wandering of the streets not knowing if I would find my way home or if I even wanted to. There was the feeling of a disorienting sense of safety or freedom in those dark, foreign streets—he was not there.</p> <p>For the first time, that night I give voice to the words: “I was raped.”</p> <p>I wonder if the sentence will ever feel real. I do not cry. I just sit in the room, on the floor, where we have all come to share our stories. I stay still and listen to others after I speak. The candles around us seem to offer some comfort of illumination and the darkness in which they flutter holds the safety of an emerging connection to myself and to something else unfolding and unseen.</p> <p>Daring to break our silences, even those that have kept us safe, is vulnerable work, no matter when or where or how we make the choice. Giving voice to stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault carries with it uncertainty, fear, and the possibility of re-traumatization. Those of us who have experienced the trauma of sexualized violence run the pros and cons of whether to tell people in our lives or offices or communities a million times over.</p> <p>Times may be changing. Our societies may be ready to receive these stories without questioning them or us. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement">#MeToo</a> has given us a sense of solidarity and togetherness. But even in this watershed moment we are left with the question of collective healing; of how to be in relationship with one another, grieve together, and rebuild a society without such ubiquitous violence.</p> <p>The only way I’ve found even a glimmer of hope for answers to these questions lies in the practice of dialogue, through which we come to understand ourselves and others, and from that understanding create the relational trust that’s needed to re-imagine and rename how we want to live together.</p> <p>To give voice to our deepest experiences is to cultivate connection. I have come to believe that sharing personal stories invites us to enter into transformative dialogue with oneself, with others, and also with the sacred. I have come to see much of my ministry as opening up spaces for people to be with one another in solidarity and dialogue, much like the one I experienced in St Louis that night.</p> <p>It is hard for those of us committed to working for peace, justice and healing to find safe places to honestly explore our stories. As the demands for outcomes, impact, and measurable change drive us toward easily quantifiable, transactional engagements, we are devaluing the power of sitting together with the simple task of naming the world as we have experienced it.</p> <p>As we practice giving voice to our experiences and listening to those of others in <em>non</em>-transactional environments, it is impossible to ignore the presence, understanding, and insight that emerges personally and collectively. Such spaces, I have found, are schools of healing, reconciliation, awareness, and spiritual growth.</p> <p>Paulo Freire, in his book <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy_of_the_Oppressed">Pedagogy of the Oppressed</a>, discusses this power: “To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Some may think that to affirm dialogue—the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world—is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans.”</p> <p>To engage in dialogue requires that we surrender the desire to control ourselves, others, and outcomes. Such a practice requires that we remain firmly and faithfully committed to the cultivation of an abiding and unconditional love, humility, faith, and hope—essential qualities of both our spiritual and practical co-existence. Speaking the story of my rape aloud for the first time back in 2002 did not heal me or free me from my pain and fear. But as I look back, I realize that in the moment I opened up and people listened. I unlocked the possibility for change within me, and maybe outside of me too.</p> <p>Whether sitting with an individual in spiritual direction, leading a leadership development effort or designing a community healing program, I’m consistently struck by the fragmentation of relationship that comes with suffering. With the wounds of trauma, we all crave a concrete path to healing—if only there were the equivalent of surgery and sutures. But trauma is different. The suffering following trauma can be as multifaceted as the wound. Often one’s connections to self, others, and the sacred cease or change so dramatically that they feel chaotic and meaningless.</p> <p>If relationship is to be a path to liberation, we must understand the nature of what it means to enter dialogue from a place of pain, loss or trauma. All of the people and places that have offered me something of healing—whether therapists or spiritual teachers, community healing events, 12-step programs, meditation halls or activist groups—have honored the power of dialogue through pain, discomfort, and uncertainty. They have allowed me to name my experience freely and openly, listen to myself and others, rename my experience, and embrace the interconnected nature of all life.</p> <p>This dance of dialogue has taught me what safety in relationship means. It has helped me to honor the depths of myself and others, and has enabled me to trust again. Slowly, I have realized that I am not alone, that the highs and lows can co-exist. I have realized that I can show up fully to life as it is.</p> <p>As I pay these gifts forward I am reminded of how much people yearn for spirit-filled opportunities to begin healing with others as a complement to their mental health care and other supports. At my organization <a href="http://stillharbor.org/">Still Harbor</a>, we remain committed to accompanying communities as they discover the power of dialogue-based approaches for healing together. We have offered such experiences in many ways over the years.</p> <p>In Boston, for example, we’ve trained trauma-informed &nbsp;‘companions’ in the art of spiritual listening to offer peer support to their neighbors in a community that experiences chronic violence in its streets. We’ve hosted monthly events and small group dialogues that invite people into an open, creative, and expressive space to share their stories of loss, fear, hardship, suffering and hope. This program has unlocked a powerful, transformative energy and a felt sense of connection for all involved.</p> <p>The profound simplicity of these principles is challenged only by people’s collective fear of the unknown, the fear of what might unfold when we invite people to show up and share their past, pains, and prayers. It can be hard to see others struggle. It can be hard to struggle ourselves. It can be hard to cultivate enough faith in our own spirituality to allow for the kind of authentic dialogue that leads us together toward healing. But I have discovered that in this, as in so much of life, it is well worth the effort.</p> <p>I used to say that suffering was my teacher. But in truth, I learned very little from mine until I started to name it for myself and in relationship with others. It was the naming and renaming of my suffering that set me on a path towards healing, growth, and happiness.</p> <p>My hope for all of us is it that we find the courage to create more spaces for this kind of dialogue. As we recognize and enter such places I am confident that we will begin to free ourselves from the oppressive silence of realities unnamed, unheard, and un-integrated. This, I believe, is the power of wholeness, relationship, and community.</p> <p><em>A longer version of this article appears in <a href="http://stillharbor.org/anchormagazine/2015/5/18/fierce-embrace-dialogue-as-a-path-to-healing">Anchor 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/desdemona-dallas/after-metoo-healing-from-trauma-of-sexual-assault">After #MeToo: healing from the trauma of sexual assault</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/emma-hyndman/invisible-metoo-anonymous-testimony-sexual-abuse">The invisible #MeToo: how anonymous testimony can help survivors of sexual abuse</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ted-comet/on-good-day-she-would-kiss-me-back-transforming-trauma-into-creative-energy">On a good day she would kiss me back: transforming trauma into creative energy and action</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 healing Sexual Violence Trauma Perry Dougherty Care Intersectionality Fri, 23 Feb 2018 07:30:00 +0000 Perry Dougherty 115986 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why mental health is the hidden cost of the housing crisis https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/lydia-smith/why-mental-health-is-hidden-cost-of-housing-crisis <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Our homes are supposed to be safe and welcoming, yet one in five adults in the UK suffer from mental health problems due to housing pressures.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LydiaSmith.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/anxiety-stress-depression-1157437/">Pixabay/TheDigitalArtist</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a></p> <p>For six years, Anastasia Miari has suffered from clinical insomnia triggered by anxiety.</p> <p>Like many other people, financial worries keep her awake at night. The 27-year-old freelance writer lives in a house-share in east London and pays £750 a month for her room, but is considering moving to cut down on her rent.</p> <p>“I get bouts of real anxiety but it doesn’t come in the form of panic attacks—it rears its ugly head in my sleep,” Miari told me in a recent interview, adding that she only slept one hour the previous night.</p> <p>“Basically, it is difficult to know how much money you’re going to earn every month and if your rent is super expensive, you can’t afford to save to buy a house. A place has just become available at a friend’s house and it is £100 cheaper a month than mine, but it’s a box room.”</p> <p>Our homes are supposed to be safe and welcoming places free from the pressures of everyday life, so it’s no wonder that housing problems have a major impact on our mental wellbeing.</p> <p>High rents, the threat of eviction, overcrowding, substandard housing and financial pressures brought on by the ‘<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jan/27/the-bedroom-tax-explained">bedroom tax</a>’ (in which tenants in social housing have their benefits reduced if they have a so-called ‘spare’ room) are all issues which can lead to stress, anxiety and depression, and which have a knock-on effect on all aspects of our lives from work to relationships.</p> <p>London is Europe’s most expensive city in which to rent according to recent research by the analytics firm <a href="https://www.eca-international.com/news/january-2018/london-remains-the-most-expensive-location-for-ren">ECA International</a>, but prices are rising across the UK, including in Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. And with increasing rents and stagnating wages comes financial insecurity, which plays havoc with our mental health.</p> <p>In fact one in five adults in the UK suffer from mental health problems due to housing pressures, according to research carried out by the <a href="https://england.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/housing_and_mental_health">charity Shelter</a>. In the worst cases, some people reported experiencing suicidal thoughts.</p> <p>According to the same source, around one in six adults also said that housing problems had affected their physical health too, in the form of hair loss, nausea, headaches and exhaustion.</p> <p>“Housing and mental health are closely related,” said Helen Rowbottom, policy officer at the National Housing Federation, when I talked to her. “The negative impact of poor housing on someone’s health and wellbeing is well evidenced. In many cases, it can prolong illness and escalate healthcare costs.”</p> <p>Housing problems not only cause mental health problems, they also have the potential to make existing conditions worse. People with mental health conditions are one and a half times more likely to live in rented housing, according to research by the <a href="http://www.nhsconfed.org/~/media/Confederation/Files/Publications/Documents/Housing_MH_021211.pdf">NHS Confederation mental health network and the National Housing Federation</a>, leaving them at higher risk of rent increases which perpetuate the cycle of stress and anxiety.</p> <p>In addition, since it was introduced nearly five years ago, the bedroom tax has hit some of the most vulnerable people in society the hardest, leaving tenants in social housing out of pocket just because they have a ‘spare’ room. Three-quarters of people paying the tax have had to cut back on food, according to a report published by the <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/removal-of-the-spare-room-subsidy-evaluation-final-report">Department for Work and Pensions</a> in 2015. Nearly half had also cut back on heating for their homes.</p> <p>It doesn’t take much imagination to link these problems to mental illness. Three months after the Department’s report was published, a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/38/2/197/1752995">study</a> in the Journal of Public Health found that all of the residents in one community in northern England—in which 68.5 per cent of the population live in social housing—reported stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of the bedroom tax.</p> <p>In a recent interview, Gareth Bradbury, a 54-year-old single father from Bolton, told me that his girls were nine and five years old when they came to live with him. The family lived in a three-bedroom house and he worked as a gardener to support his daughters, who went on to attend university.</p> <p>Then, a string of problems changed Bradbury’s situation. He had a heart attack and had to have bypass surgery, but later went back to work. While cleaning the gutters of his house he fell and seriously injured one of his legs, leaving him unable to work. When the bedroom tax was brought in in 2013, the added pressure on his finances took its toll on his mental health.</p> <p>“The bedroom tax came in and I have to pay £30 a week out of my benefits,” he said, “but I also need a car to get about so my disability [allowance] pays for that. I have been on meds for depression and I’m still on them. I went for a swap of houses to a two-bedroom house, but got knocked back. I was offered a one-bedroom flat but my daughters still come and stay with me so I could not accept it. I’m stuck paying this forever.”</p> <p>Against the odds, Bradbury says he has managed to cope. “I got on with my life and now I run a small group of volunteers called <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/936470503034948/about/">Bolton Community Kitchen</a>. We feed the homeless, vulnerable and elderly people of Bolton every Monday night. I’m a lucky one that will bounce back.”</p> <p><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/profile/anne-power">Anne Power</a>, a professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, told me that the bedroom tax has undermined people’s confidence in their entitlement to the “peaceful occupation of their home,” which is a legal entitlement—a right.</p> <p>“It has made them feel insecure when they simply cannot afford to pay the additional rent and many people have had to turn to family when they couldn’t meet the rent, increasing the feeling of being a burden,” she said. “Generally, welfare reform has greatly increased people’s sense of anxiety and uncertainty, which is the last thing you need in your home.”</p> <p>For Bradbury, his community has been a source of support during difficult times. But if you don’t have that kind of support and housing pressures are affecting your mental health, it’s worth getting in touch with Shelter which provides <a href="http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice">advice</a> on a range of issues, from falling behind on your rent to living in a home which isn’t up to standards.</p> <p>The mental health charity <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/housing/">Mind</a> also covers the impact of housing problems on mental health extensively and can provide crucial support, as can another organisation called <a href="https://www.rethink.org/living-with-mental-illness/housing/housing-options">Rethink</a>. Speaking to your GP about a mental health problem is always important.</p> <p>It may also be helpful to contact <a href="https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/">Citizens Advice</a>, who give free, confidential advice to people struggling with housing issues. Your local council may also be able to help in the form of a <a href="https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/housing_benefit/discretionary_housing_payments_dhp">discretionary housing payment</a>—an extra payment to people who claim housing benefit—which could help you if your housing benefit doesn’t cover your rent.</p> <p>Whether it’s the pressure of paying an extortionate rent or financial anxiety caused by the bedroom tax, Britain’s housing crisis is having a serious effect on mental health. What’s worse, this is a problem that is being largely overlooked, and with very dangerous consequences.</p> <p>When Brenda, from Manchester, was evicted from her home she spiralled into a deep depression. “You blame yourself and you feel a sense of total helplessness. I remember not wanting to go on and wondering if I should end it,” she told <a href="https://england.shelter.org.uk/media/press_releases/articles/1_in_5_adults_suffer_mental_health_problems_such_as_anxiety,_depression_and_panic_attacks_due_to_housing_pressures">Shelter</a>.</p> <p>Things began to turn around after she spoke to one of the charity’s advisors. “She was the first person who had asked how they could help me. It was the beginning of me taking back some control. I think about that call practically every day. All you need is someone to listen.”</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/rhiannon-colvin/why-aren-t-we-thriving-at-work">Why aren’t we thriving at work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/penny-wangari-jones/how-to-decolonise-mental-health-services">How to decolonise mental health services</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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> </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 Housing Rights Lydia Smith The politics of mental health Care Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:00:00 +0000 Lydia Smith 116128 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Is it gratuitous to link the scandal engulfing Oxfam with the need to transform NGOs and foreign aid?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Oxfam3_5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Recycle_for_Oxfam_or_you%27ll_be_sorted_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1501324.jpg">Wikimedia/Chris Reynolds</a>.&nbsp;<a title="Creative Commons" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons">Creative Commons</a>&nbsp;Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.</p><blockquote><p>“Tensions between reform and transformation are hardwired into the NGO community and look set to continue, unless or until some large scale shock arrives to force through more fundamental changes—like the end of foreign aid, or the removal of public credibility in the wake of some massive scandal, or a blanket ejection of foreign organizations by Southern governments. <strong>But those prospects seem remote</strong>.” <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</a> August 1 2016.</p></blockquote> <p>Well, ‘be careful what you wish for.’ Eighteen months after I wrote these words that “scandal” has come to pass, though exactly how “massive” it is a matter for debate. As <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfam#Allegations_of_sexual_misconduct_by_staff_in_Haiti_and_Chad">allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by a small number of Oxfam staff</a> in Haiti, South Sudan and Chad, and in some of its shops in <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-the-papers-43039432">the UK</a> have exploded around the charity’s head, there have been many forceful and legitimate demands to tighten up procedures, make reparations and strengthen accountability so that such instances are prevented wherever possible and dealt with decisively when they do happen. ‘Case closed,’ you might say.</p> <p>Except that critics have used this opportunity to castigate Oxfam, NGOs and foreign aid in much more general terms. What has occurred proves that <a href="https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5563124/corrupt-oxfam-chief-resign-sun-says/">charities are corrupt and incompetent</a>, they say, that they have <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5379143/Oxfam-admits-moral-failure-prostitutes-scandal.html">no ethics or moral value</a>, and that <a href="https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/call-to-end-taxpayer-aid-for-oxfam-over-cover-up-0zchqhgkq">aid should therefore be abolished</a>. Even friendlier critics like <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/14/oxfam-scandal-charities-international-development">Larry Elliot</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/12/the-oxfam-scandal-shows-colonialism-is-alive-and-well">Suzanne Moore</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/feb/13/oxfam-scandal-must-force-aid-sector-to-finally-address-its-own-power">Deborah Doane</a> (all writing in the Guardian) have accused Oxfam of abandoning its moral core, practicing colonialism and becoming little more than an international business. </p> <p>Meanwhile Oxfam itself is in turmoil, offering a delayed, incomplete and surprisingly cack-handed response which goes against its own communications advice and ignores decades of experience in how to handle revelations of this nature: tell the whole truth as soon as you find any evidence of wrong-doing; do everything you can to prevent it happening again; and don’t allow abusers to slink away silently into the rest of the system—regardless of any potential embarrassment, loss of funds or legal complications. Don’t hedge or fudge or offer unconvincing justifications of what you <em>can’t </em>do, and don’t wring your hands in public. </p> <p>Only <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/13/585304983/oxfam-official-resigns-amid-allegations-that-prostitutes-hired-in-disaster-zones">one head has rolled thus far</a> in this fiasco, but would you or I have done any better under such enormous pressures? Speaking as an ex-Oxfam manager, I’m not sure I would. And in any case, isn’t it a bit gratuitous to use the pain and trauma of all those involved as a hook on which to hang a lecture about the politics of the international system, or to mount generalized attacks that are largely spurious? </p> <p>I’ve been a critic of NGOs like Oxfam myself for many years, but I value the international solidarity they can help to build when they are at their best. I’m trying to see all sides of the story and avoid throwing any babies out with the bathwater, so for me the question boils down to this: is there a link between what happened in Haiti and what needs to happen in the aid sector more broadly going forward? If not, we should limit ourselves to addressing the case in hand and its consequences. If yes, there’s a legitimate claim that Oxfam and the others should use this opportunity to make those broader changes, and be held accountable for doing so.</p> <p>At the simplest and most basic level, abuse and exploitation happen when someone near the top of a hierarchy uses someone lower down who has less power, outside of a system of clear rules and accountability. The fact that this case concerns the hierarchy of an NGO or the aid industry more broadly is irrelevant—unless one believes that Oxfam is staffed by saints or that institutions behave more ethically just because they say so. We know that neither of these things are true, and I’m certain that we’ll hear more evidence to substantiate that fact in the coming months as other instances of abuse come to light in other settings.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.france24.com/en/20180213-oxfam-faces-new-sex-abuse-allegations-south-sudan-haiti">a recent interview with AFP</a> about the Oxfam furor,&nbsp;Mike Jennings, head of the Department of Development Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said this: </p> <blockquote><p>“Emergency situations are almost a perfect environment for these kind of activities to emerge. You have extremely vulnerable people...and a few people who are effectively controlling access to resources, or have huge amounts of power. Whenever you have those inequalities and variances in power, you have scope for abuse.”</p></blockquote> <p>That’s true, but ‘access to resources’ and ‘inequalities in power’ are not a given. They are formed in particular contexts by human hands, and they can be re-formed in similar fashion. Inequalities in power and resources are what Oxfam and the others were set up to confront and ultimately transform, not just in relations between men and women or employers and employees but throughout society and its institutions—and especially between rich and poor. You can’t secure those sorts of transformations unless you attack their constituent parts at the level of daily practice, and it’s here that the link between the specific and the general becomes a little clearer.</p> <p>For at least the last 25 years there has been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">a lively debate about power, aid and NGOs</a>, focusing on the inability or unwillingness of agencies to hand over control and share their resources—as opposed to building their own brands and competing for market share from their fundraising base in the global North, and notwithstanding the recent trend to decentralize some parts of their operations. There are echoes of this debate among the friendlier critics of Oxfam since the Haiti scandal broke. The central issue is that, while NGOs are happy to criticize inequality when it is caused by others—billionaires for example, or the World Bank or multinational corporations—they have not been prepared to face up to the inequalities for which they themselves are at least partly responsible</p> <p>Those inequalities stem from a failure to build or support indigenous institutions in order to remove the need for any foreign presence, and the taking away of political and intellectual space from organizations in the global South, and grassroots groups everywhere, in the worlds of advocacy, research and campaigning. </p> <p>If inequality is tolerated anywhere it can be reproduced everywhere; by contrast, if it is honestly acknowledged and dealt with in one part of the system it can act as a spur to confront other inequalities elsewhere. That, it seems to me, is the potential wider significance of what has happened in Haiti. But it’s important to note that reducing inequality doesn’t automatically curb sexual abuse and exploitation. There are no saints in the global South either.</p> <p>Hence, it is not gratuitous to link yesterday’s <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/14/us/parkland-school-shooting.html?mtrref=www.google.com&amp;gwh=D4F42DF244B0ACACCAEF3B24EE7C5B83&amp;gwt=pay">horrific school shooting in Florida</a> to the need for gun control across the USA. Specific cases call for a generalized response, not just improved security in one school. In the same way, putting measures in place to curb sexual abuse in one agency or country requires us to look more deeply into the inequalities that lie at the root of the problem, and to address them in a general framework. Although that may sound unlikely in the heat of the current moment, its results could be revolutionary. We may finally get a healthy, ethical and equal-minded movement for international cooperation to confront global problems. </p> <p>Can its own #metoo moment help the aid industry to question and transform its role in this way? When you face an outside threat to your integrity, and even to your existence, it’s difficult to focus on anything except circling the wagons in order to survive. But the emotional experience of vulnerability—the enforced stripping away of arrogance and defensiveness and inertia—can also create a space for acceptance, an acceptance that things do now need to change. </p> <p>At the human level we should all feel for Oxfam’s staff in these times, just as we must feel for those who have endured abuse and exploitation at the hands of a very small minority of their number. As the global leader of the NGO community Oxfam has a special responsibility to make sure this opportunity isn’t wasted. &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/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">What’s to be done with Oxfam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/guilaine/since-i-gave-you-phone-it-s-not-rape">Since I gave you a phone it’s not rape </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/no-you-can%E2%80%99t-%E2%80%98be-change%E2%80%99-alone">No, you can’t ‘be the change’ alone</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 foreign aid NGOs Oxfam Michael Edwards The role of money Care Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:11:33 +0000 Michael Edwards 116157 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Radical happiness: moments of collective joy https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/catherine-rottenberg/radical-happiness-moments-of-collective-joy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>True happiness is produced by cultivating our ties to one another: a review of Lynne Segal’s new book.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JaneyStephenson3_2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/sistersuncut/photos/a.1814453402116856.1073741847.1589626181266247/1814453455450184/?type=3&amp;theater">Sisters Uncut/Jade Jackman</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>In a recent Guardian <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/15/homelessness-report-working-families-stable-jobs-local-government-ombudsman">expose</a>, Michael King, a London ombudsman, warns of a new phenomenon—the rise of homelessness in the UK among people who have stable jobs and a steady income. In 2017 it is not unusual to see nurses, taxi drivers, hospitality staff and council workers find themselves on the streets after being evicted by private-sector landlords seeking higher rents. The problem of homelessness, King continues, can no longer simply be ascribed to drug addiction or mental health issues; rather, the erosion of the social safety net is what is pushing an ever-increasing number of people into precarity. </p> <p>It is in the midst of these devastating new realities that Lynne Segal’s book <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2576-radical-happiness">Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy</a> has appeared on the literary scene. In her new book, Segal adamantly refuses despair. Instead, she insists that we must never stop imagining and struggling for alternative—and, yes, even utopic—spaces and futures. This urging could not come at a more opportune time. </p> <p>As study after study has <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ray-filar/mental-health-why-were-all-sick-under-neoliberalism">shown</a>, levels of individual misery, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation are at all-time highs in the Anglo-American world.&nbsp; Meanwhile, the billion-dollar happiness industry—that&nbsp; “culturally orchestrated ideology of individual happiness with its ubiquitous commercial incitement to pleasure” as Segal puts it—continues to thrive, from positive psychology to mindfulness and the wellness movement: think Gwyneth Paltrow’s <a href="https://goop.com/whats-goop/">GOOP</a> and the explosion and popularity of <a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are">TED talks</a> endlessly exhorting us to foster a positive outlook. </p> <p>In her book, Segal posits radical happiness as the antidote, not only to the ersatz happiness that is sold to us via pills, apps, and self-help guides but also to the more general sense of despondency. Happiness, Segal gently reminds us, is not something we find; nor can it be bought on the market. Unlike the dominant ideology of individual felicity—with consumerism and individuated sexual desire mixed up with ideals of romantic love at its core—radical happiness is produced by cultivating and reaffirming our ties to one another and to the world. </p> <p>Thus, while love is central to happiness (both individual and collective), love is also infinite in its variety, making it imperative to expand notions of attachment and care well beyond heteronormative coupledom. As the title of the book suggests, radical happiness is therefore most accurately defined in terms of moments of collective joy, moments that are created when we are moved to go beyond and outside ourselves to act together with a plurality of others. Crucially, for Segal, these moments emerge as we forge communities that struggle together to ensure the creation of social conditions and infrastructure that would enable the greatest number of people possible to thrive. </p> <p>Much of <em>Radical Happiness</em> charts how and why this movement beyond oneself has become more difficult in the contemporary era. Despite the Anglo-American obsession with happiness and the thriving happiness industry, the populace is increasingly miserable. Segal draws on a range of thinkers from <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89mile_Durkheim">Émile Durkheim</a> to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Arendt">Hannah Arendt</a> to underline the point that that such widespread misery, even though it may be experienced at the individual level, has deep roots in social context and structures.&nbsp; </p> <p>One of these roots—and the preponderant one for Segal—is the rise of neoliberal governance, which has, since the 1980s and the era of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US, seen the steady dismantling of the welfare state and the social safety net. This has, as the book details, translated into increasing economic insecurity for ever more people. Not only has work become increasingly precarious over the past few decades but employees are also putting in more hours for less money, which, in turn, leaves people less time for leisure and, often, the ability to fulfill care commitments. Furthermore, neoliberal governance erodes any sense of social responsibility while fostering intensified individualism, which merely exacerbates feelings of isolation and <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/graham-peebles/pain-of-loneliness">loneliness</a>. </p> <p>This deepening cultural crisis is the direct result of on-going policies of austerity and privatization, which siphon wealth upwards at a staggering pace while eviscerating public resources, spaces, and community life. The <a href="http://wir2018.wid.world/">World Inequality Report</a> recently published data showing that the richest 0.1 per cent of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth so much that they currently have as much as the poorest 50 per cent, or 3.8 billion people. With rising rates of poverty and homelessness alongside deteriorating health and educational infrastructure, it really is no wonder that so many people are miserable and feel so alone. &nbsp;</p> <p>Radical Happiness is not, however, a gloomy book.&nbsp; Rather, after diagnosing the ills of the current Anglo-American political and social landscape it offers us hope, reminding us of the wealth of resources on which we can draw in order to continue struggling for alternative futures. Taking us back to the ancient Greeks, Segal underscores Aristotle’s notion of happiness or <a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/eudaimonia">eudonomia</a> as a form of human flourishing; it derives from activities we desire to do for their own sake, which are both noble and good. Happiness was thus conceived as <em>activity</em>, not a static emotional state. This is a crucial insight and one that could potentially reorient our understandings of pleasure and joy in the present. &nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, throughout the book, Segal taps into the resistance archive, drawing on a wide range of resources from socialist visionaries like <a href="http://robert-owen-museum.org.uk/">Robert Owen</a> to anarchist and political activist <a href="http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/">Emma Goldman</a> to utopian feminist fiction like Marge Piercy’s <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_on_the_Edge_of_Time">Women on the Edge of Time</a>. These dreamers and their political engagements serve as key resources for the on-going struggle to create a more egalitarian world, even as this task appears more daunting today than ever before. </p> <p>Segal also recounts her own participation in the woman’s movement in the 1970s, underscoring how her involvement in such a movement was utterly transformative, personally as well as politically. Collective resistance to oppression in its various forms—with its shared sense of agency—symbolizes for Segal the very essence of radical happiness. These movements or moments of collectivity are often fleeting, but they make us feel alive and hence happier. </p> <p>In other words, whether or not these struggles for a more egalitarian world ultimately succeed—and historically they most often have not—the very struggle to cultivate and (re)build a sense of the commons compels us to move beyond ourselves while reaffirming our connection to each other. It is precisely this kind of “acting in concert” to create a more just and better world that facilitates these life-affirming moments of collective joy. </p> <p>While Segal herself is perhaps best known for her feminist interventions—particularly her <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/1770-straight-sex">Straight Sex</a>, and for her more recent critical musing on ageing, <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/1634-out-of-time">Out of Time</a>—in the neighborhood of Islington in London (where she lives) she is renowned for her decades of radical activism as well as for her indominable spirit. Radical Happiness is a panoramic yet exquisitely detailed book, erudite but extremely accessible, and cautiously optimistic while scathingly critical. It is a tour de force and a vital light in these dark times. &nbsp;&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/janey-stephenson/subversive-power-of-joy">The subversive power of joy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/veena-vasista/wise-fools-for-love-arts-activism-and-social-transformation">Wise fools for love? Arts activism and social transformation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/fearless-collective/we-protest-by-creating-beauty">We protest by creating beauty</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 Catherine Rottenberg Transformative nonviolence Activism Care Culture Sun, 11 Feb 2018 21:48:54 +0000 Catherine Rottenberg 115999 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Can polarisation be eroded by design? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/alice-thwaite-jazza-john/can-polarisation-be-eroded-by-design <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How can society encourage more nuance and compromise when entrenched opposition is baked into consumerism and politics? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/alice-thwaite-jazza-john/c-mo-erosionar-la-polarizaci-n">Español</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/AliceandJazza.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/pair-man-woman-discussion-707509/">Pixabay/geralt</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0</a>.</p> <p class="normal">"People love those who are like themselves” said Aristotle in his <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicomachean_Ethics">Nicomachean Ethics</a> over 2,300 years ago. In 2018 we’re still tackling the same problem: how can we create cohesive communities that understand each other despite their differences?</p> <p class="normal">Research from the writer <a href="http://righteousmind.com/buy-the-book/">Jonathan Haidt</a>&nbsp; shows that polarisation between Republicans and Democrats has been getting steadily worse in the US for decades. What’s more, it seems that these different groups now regard each other with even more suspicion, and truly believes that the other acts for nefarious reasons.</p> <p class="normal">In the UK, both of us work on projects that aim to reduce polarisation. Jazza is a vlogger and podcaster known for bridging the political divide by <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dg7A-RLk-9Ag&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=eyTnW%2FoReCVOnIXRH%2Fa%2Fe%2FYrouYAKUJssXoj27p5BJo%3D&amp;reserved=0">interviewing the NRA (among others) on his YouTube channel</a>, and founding the <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Frightdishonourable.com%2Fcategory%2Fpodcast%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=7pwuijteQoPvabXjxPOrqGUvG7pSxWx%2FI4mzR002lyI%3D&amp;reserved=0">Right Dishonourable Podcast</a> which he hosts with <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Frightdishonourable.com%2Fauthor%2Fjimmy-nicholls%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=BzxOBFJCwOX2ENzYnxQKM12h7E4DBXq01RylKiNmdXI%3D&amp;reserved=0">Jimmy Nicholls</a>. Nicholls voted to leave the European Union; Jazza to remain.</p> <p class="normal">Alice is the founder and editor of the <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fechochamber.club&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=N%2BJzmX0FY3imHwdMC3hhDJvDlncbFrxNV0yh9TBR55o%3D&amp;reserved=0">Echo Chamber Club</a> which aims to introduce liberal and progressive metropolitans to views and voices they may not agree with. It’s been running now for over 18 months. As time has gone by we’ve both realised that polarisation seems to be something that’s baked deep into our society. What’s more, new communication technologies can amplify how these structures are exploited by politicians and businesses. In which case, what can we do about it?</p> <p class="normal">Debates about polarisation aren’t new. Social psychologists have worked on theories of ‘<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophily">homophily</a>’ since the late 19th century: the idea that people of similar age, class, gender, race and education, as well as political and values-driven beliefs, are more likely to gather together and network with each other. Now in the internet age, we have the power to network outside of our local geography—which may or may not alter this tendency—but for the moment the status quo usually leans towards in-group connection.</p> <p class="normal">Indeed, 2016 was the year that voters defined themselves along binary lines: unity or independence, remain or leave, Trump or Hilary. And 2017 was the year in which these trenches were dug even deeper and people settled in for a much longer battle. Despite reporting from hopeful liberal commentators suggesting that those who supported <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fprojects.fivethirtyeight.com%2Ftrump-approval-ratings%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=bJOA%2F%2BVr18rNykEAjU1EF3QDNBICfO9ITLNiZJDd0M8%3D&amp;reserved=0">Trump in 2016 are growing weary</a> and that <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fyougov.co.uk%2Fnews%2F2017%2F10%2F27%2Fthere-has-been-shift-against-brexit-public-still-t%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=lDZ3zHEcJPa5hpzYniHcW5Sd%2BBsJYCAXUi9BLoSwhnk%3D&amp;reserved=0">Brexit voters are slowly changing their minds</a>, there has been little change in how these individuals identify with opposing viewpoints.</p> <p class="normal"><a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.lse.ac.uk%2Fpoliticsandpolicy%2Fthe-polarisation-of-party-supporters-since-2015%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=8uhBIcHHZsUFYU7YdivLn3SOpiakDrufR3azwliukIc%3D&amp;reserved=0">Research from Jonathon Wheatley of the London School of Economics</a> shows an increase in polarisation along both economic and cultural lines among the British public in the run up to the 2017 election when the Conservatives lost their majority, when compared to the voters who rewarded ex-Prime Minister David Cameron with a majority in 2015. In the United States, the Pew Research Centre has been documenting the widening gulf between Democrats and Republicans <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.people-press.org%2Finteractives%2Fpolitical-polarization-1994-2017%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=COaNO0kqM%2BKZ8UDHiIJbrKw7YgFoDD0t6hMU3y%2BUnRM%3D&amp;reserved=0">for at least 30 years</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Polarisation is even cemented into the buildings that house our political institutions. Very deliberately for example, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Commons">Houses of Parliament’s Common’s Chamber</a> has two sides facing each other to seat the government and its opposition, with other parties squeezed in beside them. When the building was rebuilt after bombing in the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted the architect (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giles_Gilbert_Scott">Giles Gilbert Scott</a>) maintain the same adversarial design, which, he said,<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.parliament.uk%2Fabout%2Fliving-heritage%2Fbuilding%2Fpalace%2Farchitecture%2Fpalacestructure%2Fchurchill%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=N24SHWW4oLGmf5U2tjon%2BN8tLNvQXWY%2FlliwxzOfhgM%3D&amp;reserved=0"> was key in creating a system that worked because it was dominated by two parties</a>. In Churchill’s eyes the binary structure of politics was key to maintaining stability and power, favouring it above the crescent shape that’s increasingly used by legislatures that aim to be more open to cooperation and compromise.</p> <p class="normal">It’s clear that creating common enemies can reap rewards on the political stage, but the same is also true in other fields of life. Vin Clancy for example, is the moderator of the Facebook group <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/trafficandcopy"><em>Traffic and </em></a><a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/trafficandcopy"><em>Copy</em></a><a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/trafficandcopy"> (a network for entrepreneurs)</a>, and a self-described ‘growth-hacker’ who has built Facebook and Twitter accounts from nothing to tens of thousands of followers in a matter of days. When creating a new online community, he swears by the need to have a common opponent, not just a hopeful message (<em>“Vegans will save the planet!”</em>). <span>“A very good idea if you’re building a following, tribe, or community,” he says, “is to attack an enemy. It can be an idea or person.</span>”</p> <p class="normal">The pages of successful Instagram and Youtube stars often attack those who are ‘opposed’ to their mission. Take <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/Bdez2oTlZWX/?hl=en&amp;taken-by=kayla_itsines">Kayla Itsines</a> for example, an incredibly successful fitness instructor who gained recognition through social media. “Before you judge those of us who are committed to the gym as self-centred or superficial,” <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/Bdez2oTlZWX/?hl=en&amp;taken-by=kayla_itsines">she said in a recent post</a>, “realise for many of us it is our escape, our sanity and a place where we work not only on becoming strong physically, but mentally as well”. It’s important to these communities that they are working on something meaningful, and they can only attract attention if it’s believed that there is hostility towards their cause.</p> <p class="normal">Clancy’s techniques are aimed at the growth of online communities, but the creation of a community opposed to an out-group is nothing new. <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D_MfV0yA7bck&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=YSiTLvIC%2B1Sh68GSkFJYciOTg%2FihuOk5K9OB0eg2Has%3D&amp;reserved=0">Think Marmite</a>, for example, with their highly effective <em>“love it or hate it” </em>campaign, or Apple’s <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3De9s6Lfzdtfo&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=Wx95lPenDM5A7U4P3JhZvbIsQMkEafgSZce3DDbYjAs%3D&amp;reserved=0">&nbsp;iconic advertising</a> that divided the population between Mac and Windows users. A study in the Harvard Business Review found that <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fhbr.org%2F2013%2F11%2Fmake-the-most-of-a-polarizing-brand&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=2YlhNwU0a5rqFgeXMNGei1paM%2FIfla%2FrcQ3fmusdzo4%3D&amp;reserved=0">“highly polarizing brands tend to perform more poorly than others, but they also tend to be less risky”</a><em>.</em> Having a clear enemy provides a defined and loyal base, with a common cause to fight against.</p> <p class="normal">In which case, how can society encourage more nuance and compromise when entrenched opposition is baked into consumerism and politics?</p> <p class="normal">One immediate problem is that funding and support for initiatives which are trying to reduce polarisation is so difficult to come by. There are a wealth of public funds to improve society in the UK like <a href="https://www.nesta.org.uk/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI7p6FmJ7E2AIVQlcNCh2Pog6dEAAYASAAEgJd3PD_BwE">Nesta</a>, the <a href="https://www.national-lottery.co.uk/">National Lottery</a> and the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/index_en">European Commission</a> (for as long as the UK stays in the EU), but despite depolarisation being a non-partisan issue it is still treated as ‘political,’ and thereby lies outside the guidelines that donors typically set for charities and social enterprises. The Echo Chamber Club has been rejected by numerous funders for being ‘too political,’ and by more political donors as not being political <em>enough</em>.</p> <p class="normal">Crowdfunding provides an alternative source of support, but would you give your money to a cause that will further the goals of those you disagree with, or encourage a dialogue with your ‘enemy?’ In the United States at least, the <a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.engadget.com%2F2017%2F07%2F05%2Fobama-foundation-social-media-echo-chambers%2F&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=DdoPn4ZKpaGNHj8XCe4NcSztO3M%2B%2Fvf5a3KyXMhHHLM%3D&amp;reserved=0">Obama Foundation is awarding funds to combat echo chambers</a> and fight the ‘balkanisation’ of public discourse:</p> <blockquote><p class="normal"><span>“[We] now have a situation,” the Foundation says, “in which everybody's listening to people who already agree with them...reinforc[ing] their own realities to the neglect of a common reality that allows us to have a healthy debate and then try to find common ground and actually move solutions forward.”</span></p></blockquote> <p class="normal">In addition, our structures of communication are fractured, and perhaps even exacerbate the problem. The British population may no longer be effectively represented by the traditional left/right dichotomy but by what the Economist has labeled “<a href="https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.economist.com%2Fnews%2Fleaders%2F21702750-farewell-left-versus-right-contest-matters-now-open-against-closed-new&amp;data=02%7C01%7C%7Cd79da6270dcf45d06eea08d5536abd66%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636506640286534770&amp;sdata=DWvnubhRSmEmLOr%2FtjZD0h4Ok47%2FVrzxH%2FA2FgOYoTQ%3D&amp;reserved=0">The New Political Divide</a>” of an “open and closed” society, with internationalists and social liberals on one side and nationalists and social conservatives on the other. However, the chasm that split society between 48 per cent of ‘Remainers’ on one side and 52 per cent of ‘Leavers’ on the other in 2016 is still very wide.</p> <p class="normal">When you tune into <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t1q9">Question Time</a> or the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qj9z">Today Programme</a>, you’re more likely to hear individuals talking past each other than finding common ground. The BBC aims to practice impartiality, but enforcing a false political binary between left and right is no longer a useful way to achieve this. One of the reasons the Echo Chamber Club has succeeded is that we don’t force any of these false binaries in political discourse, presenting not just conservative points of view but also Hindu voices, perspectives from software engineers, academics on North Korea and lots of other perspectives that aren’t part of the dominant discourse. Establishing a non-linear narrative requires this kind of philosophy.</p> <p class="normal">On <a href="https://rightdishonourable.com/category/podcast/">The Right Dishonourable Podcast</a>, the format of forcing a Brexiteer and a remainer to understand each other's’ point of view rather than simply debating it helps to counter the combative nature of other talk shows and the regular news cycle. We’ve held conversations with YouTube darling of the alt-right Carl Benjamin, better known as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/SargonofAkkad100">Sargon of Akkad</a>, and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/SargonofAkkad100">were able to get a men’s rights activist to talk about Scottish </a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/SargonofAkkad100">independence</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/SargonofAkkad100"> and Parliament’s Brexit bill in 2016</a>. This type of calmer, conversational media exists in other pockets on the Internet too, like Leena Norms’ <a href="https://www.acast.com/imnotbeingfunnybut"><em>I’m Not Being Funny But…</em></a>, Dylan Marron’s <a href="http://www.dylanmarron.com/podcast/"><em>Conversations with People Who Hate Me</em></a>, and the new <a href="https://www.kialo.com/">Kialo site</a> in the US. These are examples of using media to ‘break bread’ rather than ‘cross swords,’ and we need more of them.</p> <p class="normal">But even with greater support and resources, it will be very difficult to overcome polarisation whilst it remains profitable to create niche communities and entrench division in politics. &nbsp;Nevertheless, we have to act and act quickly. Recognising that anti-polarisation efforts are a deeply political act, but one which is as neutral as political acts can be, is a good place to start in healing the deep ruptures of society.</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/alice-thwaite/escaping-from-echo-chambers-of-politics">Escaping from the echo-chambers of politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/when-will-there-be-harmony">When will there be harmony?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani/five-ways-to-build-solidarity-across-our-difference">Five ways to build solidarity across our differences</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 Build Bridges Jazza John Alice Thwaite Care Culture Tue, 16 Jan 2018 22:20:58 +0000 Alice Thwaite and Jazza John 115578 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fire and fury: the psychodrama of a very stable genius https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ian-hughes/fire-and-fury-psychodrama-of-stable-genius <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Donald Trump is portrayed as a narcissist, but what exactly does that mean?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/IanHughes4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Donald-Trump-Trump-Alzheimers-Warning-Dementia-1750965">Max Pixel/Free Great Picture</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0</a>.</p> <p>The release of <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Fire-Fury-Inside-Trump-White/dp/1250158060/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&amp;qid=1515789001&amp;sr=8-1">Michael Wolff’s book <em>Fire and Fury</em></a> has heightened concerns about Donald Trump’s mental fitness for office. In <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/01/03/whats-surprising-and-what-isnt-in-the-new-trump-tell-all/?tid=ss_tw&amp;utm_term=.fc0b01a459ec">her review of the book for the Washington Post</a>, Jennifer Rubin says that it shows Trump to be “an unhinged man-child utterly lacking in the skill needed to be president”—despite Trump’s assertion that in fact he’s a “<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/06/politics/donald-trump-white-house-fitness-very-stable-genius/index.html">very stable genius</a>.” </p> <p>In the Guardian, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/05/fire-and-fury-republicans-donald-trump-party?CMP=share_btn_tw&amp;utm_content=bufferb7aeb&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer">Jonathan Freedland writes</a> that Wolff’s revelations “prove—yet again—what a vile, narcissistic and dangerous man we have in the Oval Office.” And in the New Yorker, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/fire-and-fury-is-a-book-all-too-worthy-of-the-president">Masha Gessen, warns</a> that Trump’s White House is “waging a daily assault on the public’s sense of sanity, decency, and cohesion. It makes us feel crazy.”</p> <p>Is there any way to get beneath the daily assault on our sanity and try to understand what might be driving the chaos of the Trump Presidency? A good place to start is with the word that many say best sums up the man, which is <em>narcissism</em>. </p> <p>As Wolff reports, “I will tell you the one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common. They all say, ‘He is like a child,’ and what they mean by that is he has a need for immediate gratification. It’s all about him.” And ‘It’s all about him’ is a pretty good definition of narcissism.</p> <p>Psychologists are at pains to stress that it is not narcissistic for a person to value a quality in themselves that they actually possess, or to want to be admired and valued by others. What’s problematic is when someone loves and admires themselves excessively for qualities for which there is little or no foundation, a condition known as “<a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder">narcissistic personality disorder</a>.” </p> <p>The characteristics of this disorder are well known: a grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; an exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration; a lack of empathy and an inability to recognise how others feel; disregard for the personal integrity and rights of other people; and relationships marked out by a sense of entitlement and the exploitation of others.</p> <p>The ancient <a href="https://www.ancient.eu/Narcissus/">myth of Narcissus</a> conveys these features powerfully. The myth tells us how the handsome Narcissus was doted on by the nymph Echo, whom he rejected. In retaliation, the gods decided to punish Narcissus by making him fall in love with his own reflection in a mountain pool. Every time Narcissus reached out to this image of perfection, the image fragmented, eventually causing him to die of sadness. </p> <p>To fathom the psychological origins of narcissistic personality disorder and the real meaning of this myth, we have to go back to the earliest days of infancy. In very early childhood, when a baby’s mind and brain are still developing, it is thought that they are unable to distinguish between themselves and the world around them. At this stage in their development there is a magical, omnipotent quality to the child’s experiences. </p> <p>They cry and are automatically enveloped in a warm soothing embrace. They are hungry, and warm milk is quickly conjured up to satisfy their needs. Physical discomfort from a soiled nappy is magically dispelled whenever it’s required. In these earliest days, the infant is the world and the world responds to their every need. But life does not continue in this magical vein for long.</p> <p>This state of “primary narcissism” <a href="https://disorderedworld.com/2015/04/07/how-neuro-science-is-proving-that-freud-was-right/">as Freud called it</a> is soon disrupted as the child experiences the inevitable frustrations that occur as the mother and father slowly withdraw from the intensity of care that was necessary in the first few months of life.&nbsp; Now the child’s every wish is no longer immediately and magically satisfied, and the existence of an outside reality begins to break in.</p> <p>Psychoanalysts refer to this crucial period of development as the beginning of <a href="http://www.melanie-klein-trust.org.uk/internal-objects">“object relations.”</a> The child’s dawning and painful realisation that an external reality exists, and that they are not the sum total of the universe, happens when the child’s mind is still a bundle of loosely interacting parts. The infant’s first relationships are not only to people outside themselves, but also to the fragmented and developing parts of their own mind.</p> <p>Two of these fragments of the mind, the “<a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201306/the-elements-ego-functioning">ego</a>” and “<a href="https://www.verywell.com/what-is-the-superego-2795876">superego</a>,” are familiar to us. The ego is the part of the psyche that we most readily relate to as the ‘self.’ Freud described the ego as the part of the personality that enables the individual to delay immediate gratification. A mature ego acts as the seat of judgement, rationality and control.</p> <p>A second part of the mind is the superego. According to psychoanalysis, as the intensity of the mother and father’s care is slowly reduced, the child deals with the terrifying feelings of loss and anxiety that result from being left alone by internalising aspects of the caregiver within their own mind. This internalised image is the superego. It plays the role of an ever-present carer, guarding over the thoughts and behaviour of the child, and eventually comes to act as the source of conscience and guilt. </p> <p>In the infant’s mind, two other psychic parts are also initially present that are less well known in popular discussion—the <a href="http://www.sakkyndig.com/psykologi/artvit/russell1985.pdf">“ego ideal” and the “narcissistic self</a>.”</p> <p>The ego ideal is that part of the mind which holds onto the belief in the child’s omnipotence despite all evidence to the contrary. Refusing to adapt to the limitations placed on it by the external world, the ego ideal continues to exert relentless demands for grandiosity and perfection. And like a cruel circus trainer, it stands ever ready to pour scorn on the ego should its unattainable standards for omnipotence and control of the external world not be met.</p> <p>The fourth part of the infant psyche—the narcissistic self—contains the child’s natural drive for love and admiration and their desire to be looked at and admired. In early infancy, the narcissistic self has a heightened intensity that reflects the infant’s existential need for attention. During the course of normal development, the narcissistic self eventually loses its original all-consuming quality and becomes the source of healthy self-esteem. </p> <p>Under normal circumstances then, as the child matures, their developing ego manages to moderate the extreme demands for perfection and omnipotence of the ego ideal, and to contain the childish exhibitionism and desperate need for acclaim of the narcissistic self. As a result, as psychoanalyst <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/06/03/reviews/010603.03edmundt.html">Heinz Kohut writes</a>, the mature personality becomes dominated by the ego—which &nbsp;exercises a measure of rational control—under &nbsp;the guidance of the superego which sets realistic ideals and moderates behaviour through a healthy modicum of guilt.</p> <p>Hence, during the course of normal psychic development, a person acquires a measure of humility, the recognition of external reality, and the acceptance that others are not here simply to serve their own needs. But these qualities are not those that people see in Donald Trump. Instead, as Wolff reminds us, “it’s all about him.”</p> <p>A number of quotes from <em>Fire and Fury</em> about Trump’s behaviour are consistent with someone with narcissistic personality disorder—someone whose psyche is dominated not by a mature rational ego and an ethical superego, but by the immature parts of the infant psyche, namely the narcissistic self and the ego ideal.</p> <p>For example, <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/58345679-fire-and-fury-inside-the-trump-white-house">Wolff writes that</a> “Bannon described Trump as a simple machine. The On switch was full of flattery, the Off switch full of calumny. The flattery was dripping, slavish, cast in ultimate superlatives, and entirely disconnected from reality: so-and-so was the best, the most incredible, the ne plus ultra, the eternal. The calumny was angry, bitter, resentful, ever a casting out and closing of the iron door.” </p> <p>“[<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/01/03/whats-surprising-and-what-isnt-in-the-new-trump-tell-all/?tid=ss_tw&amp;utm_term=.59f2d9611a27">Trump] neither particularly listened</a> to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. He demanded you pay him attention, and then decided you were weak for grovelling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered, and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his performance—without making him angry or petulant.” </p> <p>These quotes suggest a mind dominated by a constant battle between the childish exhibitionism of the narcissistic self and the unattainable demands of the unforgiving ego ideal. Every interaction is a desperate attempt to prove perfection and omnipotence against the background of a constant fear of shame and humiliation. </p> <p>In the ancient myth, Narcissus eventually died of sadness because every time he reached out to himself his self-image fragmented and disappeared. Every time he tried to know himself he found that there was nothing solid. </p> <p>The myth’s message for our times is a warning that people with narcissistic personality disorder are driven to live out their lives by damaging others and pursuing their grandiose destructive dreams—often at enormous expense to society—because they are psychologically incapable of coming to terms with the Fire and Fury that lie within.</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/danger-there-s-centrifuge-in-white-house">Danger: there’s a centrifuge in the White House</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/real-clash-of-civilisations">The real clash of civilisations</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 Ian Hughes Empathy Care Culture Sun, 14 Jan 2018 22:31:32 +0000 Ian Hughes 115635 at https://www.opendemocracy.net After Erica Garner’s death, I can’t breathe through the tears https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/zenobia-jeffries/after-erica-garner-s-death-i-can-t-breathe-through-tears <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In praise and memory of a great advocate for peace and social justice.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ZenobiaJeffries3.gif" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, leads a march of people protesting the Staten Island, New York grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner in July, on December 11, 2014 in the Staten Island Neighborhood of New York City. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images via Yes! Magazine.</p> <p>Three weeks before her death, anti-police violence activist Erica Garner spoke in an interview of the trauma and struggle that caused&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv6gSl4JcFA">Kalief Browder</a>’s mother to die of heart problems—literally, a broken heart. Browder was the 16-year-old boy from the Bronx accused of stealing a backpack in 2010 who then spent three years in an adult prison, often in solitary, without being convicted. After he was released, he struggled with mental health and eventually took his own life.</p> <p>In the&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/BenjaminPDixon/status/946436687588192257">interview</a>, Erica discussed her own trauma of seeing her father, Eric Garner, killed by a New York police officer, her own health struggles, and the stress of fighting injustice since that summer day in July 2014.</p> <p>“This thing, it beats you down,” she said to podcast and YouTube show host Benjamin Dixon. “The system beats you down to where you can’t win.”</p> <p>Erica shared that she felt her father’s pain watching the viral video that shook the nation, showing New York police officer Dan Pantaleo putting her father in an illegal chokehold, killing him. “That same pain when he said he can’t breathe. That same pain when he said he was tired of being harassed” by police officers.</p> <p>But the self-proclaimed daddy’s girl, the oldest daughter of Eric Garner’s children, stated emphatically, “It’s hard, but you have to keep going. No matter how long it takes, we deserve justice, and I want to get justice for other people.”</p> <p>Erica was tireless in fighting for justice for her father, whose death was ruled a homicide, although no charges were brought against Pantaleo. She died fighting for police accountability and justice for others.</p> <p>Like so many others’, my social media feeds were flooded with the news of Erica’s death on Saturday. People expressed their own pain, anger, frustration, and sadness.</p> <p>But I had no words. I could barely make out my own emotions. I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of quick sentiments. I didn’t know Erica personally or professionally. I didn’t follow her work. My reaction was similar to when I saw the “I can’t breathe” video of her father’s killing, similar to when I saw the killing of Philando Castile, the killing of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/when-they-shot-terence-crutcher-this-time-i-watched-20160922">Terence Crutcher</a>, the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.</p> <p>There was only numbness.</p> <p>But now the tears won’t stop.&nbsp;<em>I can’t breathe </em>through the sobs.</p> <p>I remember the fatal chokehold that took Erica’s father’s life. I remember the image of a Black child being gunned down by a police officer at the park. I remember the image of a Black driver being shot while reaching for his identification, his girlfriend screaming when he dies on camera, the sound of their 4-year-old daughter consoling her mother. “It’s OK, Mommy, I’m right here with you.” Pleading with her mom to stop “’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”</p> <p><em>I can’t breathe&nbsp;</em>through all this remembering.</p> <p>My tears will not bring her back, and they will not get the justice that she fought for so personally and passionately. But maybe these tears, along with these words, can touch a few hearts.</p> <p>And maybe many words and many tears can spark a lot of people—tens of thousands, millions—to join the movement to end the oppression of marginalized people in their communities.</p> <p>And maybe those people will propose legislation that refuses to give police violence a pass, and that fully prosecutes wrongful acts of policing. This is something the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/the-call-to-end-the-war-on-black-lives-starts-with-accountability-20161103">Movement for Black Lives</a>&nbsp;has already begun.</p> <p>And maybe out of that will come the Eric Garner Law or the Tamir Rice Law, or pick a name—maybe just the Black Lives Matter Law, which sees to it that police officers are not allowed to just retire following an act of violence. Maybe this law will instead suspend them without pay during an investigation of a killing, a rape, harassment—any form of police violence. Maybe this law will encourage just and appropriate charges. And maybe convictions, too.</p> <p>And maybe all the programs that have been proposed to actually train police officers in implicit bias and de-escalation will be mandated for every policing agency in the smallest town to the largest city—rural, urban, suburban, county, state, and federal.</p> <p><em>I can’t breathe&nbsp;</em>through all these maybes.</p> <p>Erica died fighting for justice. Like her father, her heart gave out from the task. She died seeing the person who killed her father not be held accountable for taking his life unjustly.</p> <p>I do not want to die knowing that I said nothing. Did nothing, knowing that oppressed people every day are dying unjustly at the hands of police, moving along with my days numb, as if that is just the normal way things are. It is not normal.</p> <p>So I will fight through the numbness and the tears, and offer my words.</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/after-erica-garners-death-i-cant-breathe-through-the-tears-20170103?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180105&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180105+CID_c325be1d4f4e3aa12eddef67b19b729b&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=After%20Erica%20Gar">YES! Magazine</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/zenobia-jeffries/why-redneck-revolt-says-deal-with-racism-first-then-economics">Why Redneck Revolt says deal with racism first, then economics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/alexis-buchanan/blacklivesmatter-makes-some-people-angry-isn-t-that-good">#BlackLivesMatter makes some people angry. Isn’t that good?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/zenobia-jeffries/what-dna-ancestry-testing-can-and-can-t-tell-you">What DNA ancestry testing can and can’t tell you</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 Zenobia Jeffries Transformative nonviolence Activism Care Intersectionality Thu, 11 Jan 2018 22:12:17 +0000 Zenobia Jeffries 115577 at https://www.opendemocracy.net It’s time to reconsider the meaning of ‘animal welfare’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gary-francione/it-s-time-to-reconsider-meaning-of-animal-welfare <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Current standards simply make us feel better about the continued exploitation of animals.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GaryFrancione.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/horse-pure-arab-blood-eye-look-1843081/">https://pixabay.com/en/horse-pure-arab-blood-eye-look-1843081/</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0</a></p> <p>At the end of 2017 British Prime Minister Theresa May <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-fox-hunting-manifesto-pledge-downing-street-michael-gove-a8127281.html">abandoned</a> the Tory manifesto pledge to hold a free vote on repealing the legal ban on using dogs to hunt foxes. May’s decision followed complaints from Tory MPs that support for repealing the ban, while popular in some rural communities, had cost them votes during the 2017 general election. The pro-hunting position is very unpopular.</p> <p><a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/fox-hunting-theresa-may-general-election-british-public-animal-cruelty-a7765746.html">Polling</a> released in May 2017 showed that almost 70 per cent of British voters were opposed to fox hunting, and half were less likely to vote for a pro-hunting candidate in the general election. Opposition is not limited to fox hunting. A <a href="https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/attitudes-hunting-2016">2016 poll</a> indicated that, in addition to the 84 per cent opposed to fox hunting, significant numbers of people in the UK were opposed to deer hunting (88 per cent), hare hunting and coursing (91 per cent), dog fighting (98 per cent), and badger baiting (94 per cent).</p> <p>Why is there such opposition to these activities?</p> <p>The answer is simple: we <em>care</em> about animals. We believe that they matter morally. We reject the position which prevailed before the 19th century that animals are merely <em>things</em> to whom we have no moral or legal obligations. Instead, most people embrace the <em>animal welfare</em> position which has two key components.</p> <p>The first component is that—although animals can be used for human purposes—we should not impose <em>unnecessary</em> suffering or death on them. The second is that when we do use animals, we have an obligation to treat them ‘humanely.’</p> <p>The activities to which most of the British public objects involve imposing suffering and death on animals where there is no necessity or compulsion to do so; it is wrong to make animals suffer or to kill them when the only purported justification is that humans derive some sort of pleasure or amusement. The use of animals for frivolous purposes is tantamount to denying their moral value. Most people reject that.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that, although most people regard the imposition of unnecessary suffering and death on animals as immoral, their actual behavior is not consistent with their moral position. They participate in imposing suffering and death on animals in situations where there is no necessity, and in which the treatment of animals is anything but ‘humane.’</p> <p><strong>‘Unnecessary’ suffering and death.</strong></p> <p>Most people eat animals and products made from animals, and both involve a great deal of cruelty. In the UK alone, more than <a href="https://www.hsa.org.uk/faqs/general">one billion</a> animals are killed every year for food. Many animals are raised in intensive conditions that constitute torture. Even those who are raised in supposedly more ‘humane’ circumstances suffer distress throughout and at the end of their lives.</p> <p>This is not just a matter of meat. The cows used to produce milk are repeatedly impregnated and have their calves taken away from them shortly after birth. And all animals, whether used for meat, dairy, or eggs, are subjected to terror and distress at the abattoir.</p> <p>Is <em>any</em> of this suffering and death ‘necessary?’ Is there any <em>compulsion</em> involved?&nbsp; The answer is no.</p> <p>No one maintains that it is necessary to consume animal products to be optimally healthy. The UK National Health Service says that a sensible vegan diet can be <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Vegetarianhealth/Pages/Vegetarianhealthqanda.aspx">“very healthy,”</a> while mainstream health care professionals all over the world are increasingly taking the position that animal products are <a href="https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/06/advice-from-a-vegan-cardiologist/">detrimental</a> to human health.</p> <p>We don’t have to settle the debate about whether it is <em>more </em>healthy to live on a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. The point is that a vegan diet is certainly no <em>less </em>healthy than a diet of decomposing flesh, cow secretions and chicken ova. And that’s the only point relevant to the issue of whether suffering and death are necessary or not.</p> <p>Moreover, animal agriculture constitutes an <a href="http://science.time.com/2013/12/16/the-triple-whopper-environmental-impact-of-global-meat-production/">ecological disaster</a>. It is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the burning of fossil fuel for transportation, and results in deforestation, soil erosion and water pollution. The grain fed to animals in the United States alone could feed <a href="http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat">800 million</a> people. Against this background, what is the best justification we have for inflicting suffering and death on animals?</p> <p>The answer is simple: we think they taste good. We derive pleasure from eating them. Eating animals and animal products is a tradition, and we have been following it for a very long time.</p> <p>But how is that position any different from the justification offered for animal uses to which most of us object? How is palate pleasure any different from the pleasure that some people derive from participating in blood sports? There is no difference<em>.</em> Fox hunting, badger baiting and dog fighting are all traditions. Indeed, almost every practice to which we object—whether involving animals or humans—involves a tradition valued by someone. Patriarchy is also a tradition that has existed for a very long time, but that says nothing about its moral status.</p> <p>Many people oppose hunting foxes because they can see no morally significant distinction between the dog they love and the fox who is chased and killed. But what is the difference between the animals we love and those into whom we stick a fork and a knife? There is no difference. The dogs and cats we love are <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sam-earle/how-should-we-feel-about-feelings-of-animals-we-eat"><em>sentient</em></a>—just as are the chickens, cows, pigs, fish, and other animals we exploit. They all feel pain and experience distress; they all have an interest in continuing to live.</p> <p><strong>‘Humane’ treatment.</strong></p> <p>If most of our animal use cannot plausibly be characterized as ‘necessary,’ what about the second component of the animal welfare position—that we have an obligation to use animals ‘humanely?’ This is also a fantasy.</p> <p>Animals are <a href="http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1156_reg.html">property.</a> They are chattel. They are things that are bought and sold. It costs money to protect animal interests, and the property status of animals ensures that, as a general matter, standards of animal welfare (whether mandated by law or adopted by industry) will always be very low. We will protect animal interests when we get a financial benefit of some sort from doing so. Most of the time, welfare standards will be linked to the level of protection that is needed to exploit animals in an economically efficient way, so these standards will (to the extent that they are even enforced) prohibit nothing more than <em>gratuitous</em> suffering.</p> <p>Animal welfare standards in Britain are claimed to be amongst the <a href="https://www.worldanimalprotection.org/news/ground-breaking-animal-protection-index-assesses-animal-welfare-around-world">highest in the world</a>, but the treatment accorded to British animals is still appalling. To say that animals in the UK are ‘humanely’ treated would be false using <em>any</em> plausible understanding of that word.</p> <p>On some level we all know this. That is why we have seen the rise of a niche market in Britain and elsewhere that purports to provide ‘higher-welfare’ meat and animal products. But as various <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3489317/And-call-free-range-s-disturbing-images-16-000-free-range-hens-crammed-shed-fact-conditions-approved-RSPCA.html">exposes</a> of this niche market have shown, the promise of ‘humane’ treatment is never realised. We may give animals a bit more space; we may allow them to see a bit of sunlight; we may allow cows to spend a bit more time with their calves before they are taken away from them. But these changes are minor in their effects even when they are implemented.</p> <p>Animal welfare organizations campaign against the ‘abuse’ of animals. But even if all of these abuses stopped and all animals were treated in perfect accordance with applicable laws and regulations, the situation would still be terrible. Animals would still be killed without there being <em>any </em>necessity to do so, and even if we transformed animal agriculture in the direction of family farms there would still be a huge amount of morally-unjustified suffering and death.</p> <p>In fact, standards of animal welfare are not about animals at all; they are about <em>us.</em> These standards make us feel better about continuing to exploit animals. They were formulated at a time when most people thought that killing and eating animals was necessary for human health. No one can reasonably believe that any longer.</p> <p>Therefore, it is time to examine the moral justification for <a href="https://aeon.co/ideas/a-humanely-killed-animal-is-still-killed-and-thats-wrong">using</a> animals. As someone who maintains an <a href="http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/"><em>animal rights</em></a> position rather than an animal welfare position, it is my view that we cannot justify exploiting animals for <em>any</em> purpose, including biomedical research aimed at finding cures for serious human illnesses, any more than we can justify using humans whom we believe are cognitively ‘inferior’ for such a purpose.</p> <p>But even if you do not accept the rights position, the position that you probably do accept—that it is wrong to inflict <em>unnecessary </em>suffering and death on animals—makes it impossible for you to avoid the conclusion that the use of animals for any purpose that does not involve true compulsion or necessity, including the use of animals for food, clothing, and entertainment, must be ruled out. Any other position relegates animals to the category of things that have no moral value. We see this where fox hunting and other blood sports are involved; it’s time that we see it in other contexts too. &nbsp;&nbsp; &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/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 even"> <a href="/transformation/andy-west/i-stopped-eating-animals-because-of-human-rights">I stopped eating animals because of human rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rupert-read/how-whales-and-dolphins-can-teach-us-to-be-less-stupid">How whales and dolphins can teach us to be less 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 Transformation Vegan politics and animal rights Gary Francione Care Culture Environment Sun, 07 Jan 2018 22:51:48 +0000 Gary Francione 115516 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How whales and dolphins can teach us to be less stupid https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rupert-read/how-whales-and-dolphins-can-teach-us-to-be-less-stupid <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Learning from the other inhabitants of our ‘blue planet.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/rupertread.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Upside down dolphins and killer whale or orca. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/rumpleteaser/5025633919">Flickr/Rumpleteaser</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="Default">For those tens of millions of us who have been watching the extraordinary ‘<a href="http://www.bbcearth.com/blueplanet2/">Blue Planet II</a>’, the final programme in the series (which looked at the human-caused threats facing the seas) may have come as both a wake-up call and a disappointment. Disappointment, at what we’ve done to this beautiful planet. And perhaps also, disappointment that the BBC didn’t look deeply enough into why these harms have happened.</p> <p class="Default">What emerges when we reflect more profoundly in this way?</p> <p class="Default">The background to what we’re doing to the oceans includes, crucially, this: that the world is possessed by the ideology of possessive individualism, which comes in different varieties: liberal, neoliberal and libertarian. This possession is utterly disastrous, at a moment when we need to think and act collectively, politically, and <em>as a civilisation</em>, not just as an aggregate of individuals.</p> <p class="Default">What would it mean to really take seriously our identity as a ‘we’, our belonging to each other and to our homes—<em>our</em> common home? To be <em>us</em>, rather than just a lot of ‘me’s?</p> <p class="Default">Central to such a transformation is the need to overcome the prejudice—the very idea—of the ‘individual.’ It is not persons who are the fundamental units of social existence, it’s embedded communities.</p> <p class="Default">We are born into community, and in this respect our political starting point should never be the fantasy of the ‘social contract.’ That fantasy, of the individual-as-person allegedly prior to society, dangerously gets in the way of the ultra-long time-scale of community. Individuals die. The community lives—unless it stupidly commits itself to death.</p> <p class="Default">We humans seem very far from understanding this at present. The situation is pretty desperate. Might we be able to learn from other animals who seem, in the ways they live, to have a better grasp of this crucial point? Could other animals possibly have anything to <em>teach</em> us? And even if they did, how could we understand it?</p> <p class="Default">Perhaps in the way indicated by cetologist <a href="https://www.cumbria.ac.uk/study/academic-staff/all-staff-members/volker-deecke.php">Volker Deecke</a>. “To appreciate other people’s cultures”, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Grandest-Lives-Eye-Whales/dp/1578051479">he once wrote</a>, “you have to shed your prejudices—strip yourself down to where you are just human and then build up your understanding. With [orcas]…you must strip all the way down to just being a mammal, then start from scratch trying to imagine how whales perceive and interpret the world. Imagine ‘clicking’ [focusing a sonar beam] on another member of your society.”</p> <p class="Default">Or consider Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell’s well-regarded book, <em><a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo12789830.html">The cultural lives of whales and dolphins</a>,</em> with its audacious title about the <em>cultures</em> of these beings—really? Are they genuinely cultural? Roughly speaking, a culture exists if there are substantial specific traditions that are inherited by way of teaching, learning and emulation, rather than by way of genes.</p> <p class="Default">Whitehead and Rendell show that there’s little possibility of debate over this question when it comes to cetaceans like whales and dolphins, which are social species with their own cultures. Take a famous example: <a href="http://cetus.ucsd.edu/voicesinthesea_org/videos/videoHumpbackSong.html">Humpback Whales singing</a>. It’s now been shown that different groups of Humpbacks alter their songs in patterns that look much the same as human fashions. We are still somewhat far from understanding what these songs mean, but we already know enough to see that they’re far more clearly cultural than most bird songs.</p> <p class="Default">Or take this example, which was a clincher for me: the way that some groups of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whale">killer whales or orcas</a> ‘go on holiday.’ They travel hundreds of miles to interesting, warm parts of the ocean, and hang out and play. They don’t eat or engage in sexual activity there. When they have had a good rest, they return, as it were, ‘to work.’</p> <p class="Default">We can probably understand all of these phenomena to some degree by rough analogy to ourselves. And it’s truly extraordinary that cetaceans have managed to maintain and develop their cultures when one considers the quite fantastic butchery that they’ve been subject to at human hands over the past few centuries. Imagine humanity, from a far lower initial base of numbers, being then taken down murderously to about a thousandth of its size, and what <em>that</em> would do to <em>our</em> cultures. This is what we have done to cetaceans. It is incredible in its barbarity, cruelty and stupidity. It is soul-rending. And yet, they manage to go on.</p> <p class="Default">Whitehead and Rendell suggest that another mark of culture, which we should look for in cetaceans to confirm that the adjective “cultural” is appropriately applied, is social stupidity—it is possible for cultural beings to be stupid or sub-optimal in ways that are not open to uncultural beings.</p> <p class="Default">This too we can understand at a suitably high level of abstraction by reference to ourselves—we are all too familiar with human stupidity at scale—but the point about such irrational or incoherent behaviour is that in its specificity it resists such understanding. Thus we’ll typically say of people who we describe as doing something stupid, “But that’s <em>stupid,</em> why are they doing it?”</p> <p class="Default">Stupid social behaviour like this is very unusual in the animal world, though more often than not, we’ll assume that animals lack the cognitive capacity to be capable either of relevant intelligence <em>or</em> stupidity. However, Whitehead and Rendell offer a powerful example of cetacean behaviour that could be considered stupid in this way: mass strandings.</p> <p class="Default">Some mass strandings can be explained by reference to pollution that makes the cetaceans in question ill; or by reference to the sonar with which our navies are filling our seas, indiscriminately and highly-destructively. But there are plenty of cases which don’t fit this kind of model, cases where one or some of the pod are beached ill or wounded while others are fit and healthy.</p> <p class="Default">It certainly appears stupid that the latter are unwilling to save themselves even when their conspecifics are doomed, <em>unless</em> we change the frame and, instead of asking repeatedly, ‘Why won’t this dolphin save itself, or even allow itself to be saved?’, we step back to think about whether the notion of ‘self’ in play here may be prejudicial. Perhaps the cetacean sense of self transcends what for us are divisions between individuals.</p> <p class="Default">To understand cetacean society, we have to let go of philosophical and ideological assumptions about the separateness of living beings from one another, assumptions which seem natural to us re human beings—though perhaps only because we are so deeply captive to an ideology of individualism: we don’t see it, for it’s the sea <em>we</em> swim in. Instead, we may have to contemplate the lived reality of what <em>we</em> would call ‘larger-than-self’ individual as indivisible identities.</p> <p class="Default">I’d argue that, if cetaceans were able to speak to us, and were part of a pod undergoing a mass stranding who we were seeking to lead back out to sea, they might say something like this: “You ask me to save <em>myself</em>. But you haven’t understood that it would be part of <em>myself</em> that I would be leaving on the beach if I did as you asked.” If we could understand <em>that</em>, then we might have a much better chance of survival on this planet ourselves. <em>That</em> would be ‘being <em>us</em>.’</p> <p class="Default">Then we might be better placed to think as a civilisation and to survive, for we would feel directly the reality of all the others who we are committing to suffering or death through our actions—and maybe then, we wouldn’t be able to go on doing these things.</p> <p class="Default">Cetaceans expand our sense of what is humanly possible<em> vis-a-vis</em> relationships and community. Or perhaps they exceed it. They indicate a spectrum along which we are far from reptiles (who have no interest in their own young, and will eat them if they come across them), but perhaps not quite as advanced as cetaceans.</p> <p class="Default">What kinds of beings do we need to become in order to survive the coming ecological devastation, and in order to avoid accelerating it beyond the range of civilisational survival? I would say: communitarian animals, <em>not</em> libertarians, liberals or neoliberals. I think cetaceans present us with an enormous clue as to what that could mean, if we are willing to hear them.</p> <p class="Default">Maybe reflecting deeply on how cetaceans <em>do</em> sometimes walk willingly into mass strandings might help <em>us</em> to figure out how not to walk into our own global suicide, because, in a way so wonderfully, they’re unable or unwilling to imagine leaving each other, as we see played out in the incredibly-moving way they actively resist being saved.</p> <p class="Default">But perhaps we’re only doing so because, unlike them, we find it too easy to imagine leaving each other, and in particular, leaving our children to their fates. Maybe we can learn to be more like cetaceans—who simply will not do this.</p> <p class="image-caption">Thanks to Silvia Panizza and Sam Earle for really helpful comments on earlier drafts of this piece.</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-eisenstein/oceans-are-not-worth-24-trillion">The oceans are not worth $24 trillion</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/margi-prideaux/when-tiger-has-no-value">When a tiger has no value</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 Rupert Read Care Culture Economics Environment Tue, 19 Dec 2017 21:56:01 +0000 Rupert Read 115351 at https://www.opendemocracy.net