beyond this crisis there will be more

and how will we cope?

All quotations are from
Capitalism Beyond the Crisis by Amartya Sen
The New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 5 &emdash; March 26, 2009

“Ideas about changing the organization of society in the long run are clearly needed, quite apart from strategies for dealing with an immediate crisis. I would separate out three questions from the many that can be raised. First, do we really need some kind of “new capitalism” rather than an economic system that is not monolithic, draws on a variety of institutions chosen pragmatically, and is based on social values that we can defend ethically? Should we search for a new capitalism or for a “new world”–to use the other term mentioned at the Paris meeting–that would take a different form?”

“The most immediate failure of the market mechanism lies in the things that the market leaves undone. Smith’s economic analysis went well beyond leaving everything to the invisible hand of the market mechanism. He was not only a defender of the role of the state in providing public services, such as education, and in poverty relief (along with demanding greater freedom for the indigents who received support than the Poor Laws of his day provided), he was also deeply concerned about the inequality and poverty that might survive in an otherwise successful market economy.”

“Keynes can be our savior only to a very partial extent, and there is a need to look beyond him in understanding the present crisis. One economist whose current relevance has been far less recognized is Keynes’s rival Arthur Cecil Pigou, who, like Keynes, was also in Cambridge, indeed also in Kings College, in Keynes’s time.”

Pigou not only wrote the classic study of welfare economics, but he also pioneered the measurement of economic inequality as a major indicator for economic assessment and policy.[7] Since the suffering of the most deprived people in each economy–and in the world–demands the most urgent attention, the role of supportive cooperation between business and government cannot stop only with mutually coordinated expansion of an economy. There is a critical need for paying special attention to the underdogs of society in planning a response to the current crisis, and in going beyond measures to produce general economic expansion.”

Persistence will win the prize

Here is the text of the official statement read around the world on February 4th, this one specific to the protest I attended in Boston.
The banner is from a march in (I think) Bogota.
Free Alf.jpg
The anti-narco-terrorism conversation continues. Can millions of people force change? We may have been disheartened – pacifists worldwide could not stop the war against Iraq, millions organizing against neo-liberal economic policies that keep the disenfranchised down have so far not had much of an impact on eradicating systemic injustice….however the number of wars in the world is down and a larger percentage of people worldwide have moved out of poverty than in any time in history. (See The Economist, The world’s silver lining, January 24, 2008.) However, each time we try to learn new tactics and improve strategies. Each time we gain new friends and allies; each time we strengthen bonds of collaboration. Each and every time we send a message to the wealthy and powerful that our tolerance for being pawns in their games of dominance is lessening.
The especial trick is not to close the vise so tightly that brutal and bloody violent resistance is the only option available to those on the other side. We have to keep squeezing, we have to force restructuring that enables alternative avenues for the expression of human desires, but we have to do it in such a way that we do not allow ourselves to become “them.” We have to do it in such a way that “they” want to become a part of “us.”

“the long trip home” (2008: 38)

Beginning to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ nonfiction concerning Colombian drug dealer Pablo Escobar‘s efforts to escape extradition to the U.S. is intense. Not only am I still feeling the effects of a friend’s “news of a kidnapping,” I am trying to imagine a way out for the millions of Colombians who only want to go about their daily lives, rather than being pawns in someone else’s brutal “game” for wealth and power. In the opening acknowledgments, Garcia Marquez’ describes the “belated realization” that, rather than a coincidence of several unrelated abductions occurring at the same time, his friend’s abduction was part of “a single collective abduction of ten carefully chosen individuals, which had been carried out by the same group and for only one purpose” (1996, tr. 1997, this version 2008).
I cannot seem to relocate a critical assessment of the anti-Farc protests of a few days ago suggesting that they would have no effect on the paramilitary organization. The individual quoted worked for some kind of Latin America watchdog group which has observed the situation for years. Echoing sentiments expressed by several Colombians who responded to my questions in the Facebook Discussion (UN MILLON DE VOCES CONTRA LAS FARC) and/or in my teaching weblog (A Place in Space), the regional expert argued that Farc is well aware of the popular sentiment against them and has already taken that fact into account with all of its on-going operations.
A review of Noticia de un Sequestro (News of a Kidnapping) by the New York Times offers Americans the chance

To walk a kilometer in Colombia’s shoes, let us imagine that we have a President who carries five bullets in his body as the result of an assassination attempt by drug traffickers. Let us imagine that Lady Bird Johnson and Amy Carter have both spent time in the hands of cartel kidnappers, living on tortillas, in fear of their lives in tiny cabins deep in, say, the Big Bend country. Bryant Gumble, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey have all been urged by their colleagues to hang in there while they, too, endure a spell in the hands of criminals with not too much education, hairtrigger tempers and extremely high-caliber weapons. Two popular Attorneys General, thought particularly close to the President, have been gunned down, along with several successive heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration and of their respective field offices, as well as numerous Congressmen and a few senators.

I would not say that I belatedly realized how awful the situation is between the democratically-elected government of Colombia and a forty-year-old paramilitary called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but I have definitely been on a steep learning curve. The challenge that focuses my attention is how to shift the overall dynamic from one of tit-for-tat literal violence to inexorable momentum that disbands FARC in its current formation and integrates Colombia into one non-warring polity. The popular, global demonstrations around the world against FARC on February 4th were impressive; they signal a level of emotional commitment from “the people” that needs to be harnessed in a constructive direction rather than fractured within by divisive politicking. How?
Obviously it is neither my place nor my desire to offer advice. What I can do, though, is synthesize the information I have acquired over the past few weeks since Alf and Ana were kidnapped, and continue to emphasize the power of language to literally and materially set a shape for the future. It does matter – very much – how the problem is described. In social scientific technical terms, the description of the problem sets the parameters for possible solutions. One way of understanding the power of socially constructing reality is through the concept of a frame (see a brief powerpoint on Framing.ppt presented yesterday at the School for International Training).

weird twist of synchrony

I’m receiving quite an education about Farc while learning more about myself as a participant in discourses. Two of Alf and Ana’s friends have commented on my susceptibility to rhetoric. I need to be firm in my response although I very much hope we can continue to dialogue, even if dialogue with Farc is an impossibility.
First, Juan and Javier, No! It is not that I believe in the words as a reflection of Farc’s actual intentions. I do know better than that. My initial info came from the wikipedia links posted at Thorny Days, not from any of Farc’s own self-representations (which is not to assume the wikipedia entry wasn’t originally made by a Farc member, however I do choose to exercise some trust that some compilation of minds with different political perspectives have checked out and contributed to the wikipedia entry). My view is more complicated, and my words are carefully chosen. I knew some of my thoughts were risky, but this is just it, yes? We live in risky times; how will we confront our own fears? How can we possibly manage our own pain?
Yesterday I began to read a book for my own dissertation research proposal: Stories in the Time of Cholera. The professor in a course I took last fall on “Language as Action and Performance” mentioned this anthropologically-based discourse analysis as a powerful demonstration of the power of language to shape horrific realities. The authors trace the institutional use of cultural reasoning to create and justify medical profiling,

“document[ing] the mechanisms through which denigrating images are generated through specific institutional practices and in response to concrete organizational crises, presented for public consumption, used in creating widely shared perceptions of people and events, and made the center of public policy” (2003: xvi).

I had not realized, before beginning to read, that the cholera epidemic was in Venezuela, and not too long ago (early 1990s). I was struck immediately by the rhetoric blaming Colombia (which is weird, since the Orinoco Delta is on the opposite national border, near Guyana). The deft analysis of the authors in showing how everyone’s talk about the Warao and other indígenas contributed to 500 deaths is absolutely compelling and scarily discouraging – how can such deliberately de-personalized forces ever be countered? Through the framework of medical profiling, the authors show how the words and stories of politicians, journalists, and even health care professionals create a racialized tiering of sanitary citizens and unsanitary subjects, thus pre-creating the rationale for the co-constructed inevitability of failure to prevent the cholera epidemic.

What we are part of, HereAndNow – me as an absolute newcomer, and “you” (specifically any who have suffered because of Farc, and particularly those who know Alf and Ana) – is “The Talk” that will determine the parameters of possibility for the future. Now, I needed to know the depth of the pain and passion of which Juan wrote. The words were effective: I had nightmares of rape last night. I am absolutely grateful for the education and the respectful tone, despite the obvious upset triggered by my words. We all need to be able to say “the hard words,” we cannot afford to run what Briggs and Briggs-Mantini describe as “the risks of leaving hard words out of the story” (xviii). So I hope none of you will stop confronting me on my misconceptions, ignorances, and even sheer idiocies. I cannot meet my own ethical standards if you do not insist on trying to shape them. Please do not let me off the hook.
At the same time, I believe how we characterize the real human beings who do make up the membership of Farc matters. I do not on any level agree with or condone their actions. But, let me just jump off on one of the starker facts: the forced conscription of eleven-year-old boys. Horrific, inhumane, unjust, yes. We can apply every epithet to that behavior and be correct. But what about those eleven-year-old-boys who have now grown into the young men composing some percentage of Farc’s “armed forces”? They had to survive, didn’t they?
How long and how persistently will we insist on punishing them for the fate they have had to live? Understand me, I am not excusing their actions. And – I refuse to put myself on some higher moral plane simply because I’ve never had to face the choice of killing someone or dying myself. Perhaps as an adult, now, I might, maybe, be able to take the ultimate stand and risk surrendering my own life rather than take another’s. As a child? Who among us can honestly make that claim? I am sure there are some, I do not intend to diminish anyone with that bedrock altruistic clarity. In reality, though, I think those individuals are truly rare.
No, I’m not suggesting any kind of blanket amnesty. I am saying that we must invent ways of talking that maintain some acknowledgment of humanity on the other side. Evil, as Hannah Arendt has tragically explained, is banal. And, perhaps we are not all susceptible, and/or can even break out of it despite socialization. If there is this chance, is it not the best and most effective way to insert an intervention that might actually cause the larger dynamics to shift? Meanwhile, we – injured and afraid – must not forget the common core of human instincts from which any abuse of power emanates. I do not say we excuse; I do not even say we go so far as to forgive. I do say we must understand, and from this understanding forge a better way.

grim realities & the force of spirit

I’ve just perused several blogposts about Ana and Alf. They are obviously remarkable people, their cadre of friends a passionate force of spirit.
A professor in the Social Justice Program challenged me, some years ago when I was learning about the range of discrimination and depth of oppression of people with disabilities – in particular, struggling with issues of accessibility. How far do we go, she mused out-loud, to “limit” ourselves in order not to deny access to someone who couldn’t be present (if for instance, someone wears perfume, or there is no ramp, or interpreters are not provided, or an activity requires the use of hands….) Her point was, the list is long, if we do everything to include everyone there will be nothing left to do. The matter of access is much more complicated than that reduction, but the sense of her point in context had something to do with the continual embrace of new struggles. I understood her thoughtful comment as a critique of my willingness to put energy toward “each new thing” and a question of whether shifting focus benefits social justice in the long run.
There is a danger of being overwhelmed by crisis, because there always is one right after another. The challenge is not to drop the previous struggles, rather, their lessons must be carried along into the new situation.
The lessons of previous kidnappings in Colombia are grim. The news headlines alone tell a discouraging story:
Efforts to Release Hostages in Colombia Stalled – an NPR radio commentary from two months ago, refers to an article printed in December: Bungle in the Jungle.
This appears to be a potentially pivotal time, actually, as Venezuelan President Chavez made a proposal just last week on behalf of FARC. Chavez has recently been negotiating the release of some hostages for some time (Fate Uncertain, January 1, 2008). Oliver Stone is even in on the action, upset after being invited to film a handover that did not occur. Just last week (January 10), two hostages were released.
My South American political knowledge is sorely shallow. I know Chavez came to power on a wave of working-class popularity, and has not made many friends among other governments in the region. He may also have lost some of his base … ? Aligning himself with FARC no doubt has all kinds of implications and serves multiple agendas.
What I have gleaned so far is that hostages are usually held for years. 🙁 I have not watched the “hostage appeal video” from last summer; I am sure the conditions are lousy and the treatment inhumane. How could it be otherwise? 🙁
All struggles that matter take time and involve many, many people. This isn’t going to be easy.

the bubble thins…

Friends of my friend were kidnapped in Colombia over the weekend.
Maria Claudia popped up in chat Monday, “Today is a weird day,” she wrote.
“Two of my best friends were kidnapped last night.”
“Oh my god.”
It is real. Violence creeps closer, no matter how hard we try to keep it at bay, no matter how thickly we deny that it could happen to us or those we love.
They were on vacation at a calm, quiet community along the coast of Colombia – their homeland – and took a boat ride with other tourists (a total of six were taken). Maria Claudia sent me a photo of the young couple, they look So Happy Together!

so happy together2.jpg

I’ve been keeping their faces in mind, envisioning them safe, imagining processes that will lead to their release. A pastiche of memories and associations float in and out of consciousness. The young man in Qabatiya, Palestine, who argued there is no solution for the Palestinians except to increase the violence until the world forces Israel out; the apparently base “human” instinct of aggression and need for power/control – and how this is exacerbated by constant and unrelenting exposure to the prosperity of others, and how we, the others, persist with our pleasures: intent upon our own islands of happiness amidst great suffering.
FARC. Sure, I know the acronym. Well, I’ve read it. Heard it. The Spanish acronym translates to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The history of the group is complicated – associated with a communist movement and the illegal drug trade. FARC has been around since 1964; they are strong and organized enough to run an internal government (called a secretariat) with large-scale organizational strategy conferences, and have been involved in international peace processes. In other words, they are not just going to go away.
Their tactics are abominable, but their ideological goals are not – at least, if they intend to live what they say they seek, then they are in a weird bedfellow relationship with many contemporary peace activists and anti-neoliberal-capitalists. As I say, IF they are primarily motivated by “fighting against privatization of natural resources [and] multinational corporations,” then these are aims shared widely. That they use paramilitary violence (while ostensibly arguing for its end), is qualitatively – but not necessarily substantively – different from the official uses of military (and other) violence sanctioned by democratic and communist governments worldwide. The “other violence” is less overtly horrific, but the violences done by policy are part of what FARC ostensibly says they are against. I’m hedging, here, for a couple of reasons.

  1. I am just learning the blunt outline of the conflict, let alone any of its nuances.
  2. If Ana and Alf are to be released, it will be because there are ways to talk with FARC, not only against them.
  3. To talk with them means to allow them some benefit of doubt.
  4. What kind of doubt? That there is a nobility buried somewhere underneath the deliberate and active use of physical, mental, and emotional terrorizing.
  5. On the chance that those honorable intentions can be surfaced and given life in ways that alter the contours of the opposing sides,
  6. with the hope that the conflict can actually shift, in order that
  7. others may be saved through the prevention of future acts of violence and
  8. the aspirations of the FARC community can be legitimately satisfied.

I cannot help but draw parallels to the situation in Palestine. Israel must withdraw. This is the physical and institutional fact. Israelis must move out of the only-always-temporary comfort of The Bubble, must surrender their attachment to the story/history of their own horrific victimization. We in the US must do the same regarding our intent to bolster our status regardless of the fate of others – especially those we know are different; those who think, feel, believe, and perceive the world on other terms than those with which we are most familiar.
We – humanity – must find a way for difference, plurality, and heterogeneity to coexist.

Index: Dialogue Under Occupation (DUO)

Posts regarding the conference this past November (2006), in chronological order (most recent last). I still have some notes I’ve been planning to write up and add to the archive. (We’ll see if/when I get around to it…perhaps soonish?)
February 22: Dialogue under Occupation (DUO)
November 4: Decentering Conflictual Discourse (DUO)
November 9: Polycentricity (DUO)
November 9: Turning disagreement to dialogue (DUO)
November 10: Independent Nation of Hawai’i (DUO)
November 12: Thin-Slicing (DUO)
November 13: Language (DUO)
November 29: “Begin” (DUO)
December 15: Shovrim Shtika” (DUO)

Does your spirit squint?

Ideological Politics

Some months ago I was nearly skewered at the pinpoint of a rapier. I deflected the blow and mine enemy did retreat. I was accused of Nietzschean ressentiment, of being an unwitting participant in “the revolt of the slaves in morals” because of my “depriv[ation]…of the proper outlet of action” and thus particular behaviors were perceivable as reactive attempts “to find [my] compensation in an imaginary revenge” (“Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad” p. 19).
I hadn’t yet read Nietzsche then, so wasn’t aware of the extent of the insult. Reading The Genealogy of Morals now, I can readily perceive two constitutive/constituting elements that brought forth the judgment:

1) the rationale for characterizing me as having succumbed to the so-called slave morality at the sublime ideological level, and
2) that the epistemology which justifies this judgment of my character was motivated dialectically; as an essential response to certain unfortunate dynamics that played themselves out in the beginning of “Communication in Crisis” conference planning. (Which, let it be duly noted, was a resounding success.)

Confessions of an Academic Type Applied

I’m working on point one: the accusation of slave morality. Being of a more heteroglossic rather than essentialist bent I’m less inclined to accept Nietzsche’s polemical terror at what he calls the victory of the priestly-aristocratic caste (using the Jews as his exemplar) as a death knell for humanity. My own self-assessment now is thus a combined yes-and-no affair. (In fact, it seems evident to me that Nietzsche drops hints that he himself is not quite so disdainful as he deliberately seeks to appear.) Indeed, there is an important distinction to be made between stereotypical labeling of aristocratic or slave morality and recognition of the typical characteristics in diverse individuals. I did react – on the basis of emotions Nietzsche valorizes as aristocratic – and I did react – on the basis of another, uncontrollable situation in regards to which my emotions were unresolved.

As to the 2nd point, regarding a dialectical essentialism, my opinion is also dual-toned. Yes, in the “first” instance (during initial conference planning, counted as “first” in others’ external perception of my behavior; rather than from that point with which I would initiate the chain of events) I was deprived of action in the proper zone; that zone (alluded to above) had nothing to do with school or the department in any way. Events (dynamics of group relations) within that initial configuration of the conference group triggered certain visceral memories from the other zone and my lack of power there was transferred and projected by me into the conference group: definitely improper. So the dual overlay was between two entirely different situations and contexts; some would (and did, as I recall) suggest that I violated certain boundaries. Of course, reducing the analysis of the “first” incident to this conflation on my part neglects recognition of the actions that called forth such a response of resistance.
In the second instance (regarding a procedural proposal for departmental student governance), which incurred the accusation of resentment, something else was going on. I am less confident in hypothesizing what that “something else” might be, as doing so requires making generalized attributions: please read them as tentative and provisional. I am not claiming to know, only speculating. It seems possible that my earlier “bad” behavior (“bad” because it was sanctioned) planted certain seeds of doubt and/or suspicion among some peers, which possibly lay dormant until triggered by a new situation with a somewhat similar context – many of the same individuals, at least.

Real World Ways of Dealing with Difference

This will seem like a tangent, but my dentist’s office made me a present today. I’m in the midst of having two teeth crowned. They offer certain discounts depending upon how one makes payment. I wanted to minimize my cost and had proposed paying for each crown separately using two different modes of payment. This would take maximum advantage of what I could afford. I was told separating the bill wasn’t possible; the discounts only applied to a certain overall minimum. This occurred last week.

Today, I was back for a routine cleaning and the office manager told me that they had revisited their decision and now wanted to make me a gift of the discount, in keeping with their policy of providing exceptional customer service. Of course, I was delighted! She explained what happened as me giving them “a proposal that was a little bit foreign to us.” No one had apparently ever wanted to pay in the configuration I proposed, so they needed some time to think about it (and – to their credit and my benefit – they took that time.)

Academics and Backlash

With that framing in mind, if we return to the second instance (in which I was proposing a particular addition to the operating rules of the department’s student government which – as the discussions unfolded over a few all-department meetings and several intermediary conversations – invoked questions of overall organizational mission), it seems possible that what transpired was something along similar lines? I proposed something “a bit foreign” and explained it in possibly even more foreign/obscure terms (a theoretical language not shared by everyone as well as in an atypical discourse for this kind of setting) and there was a reaction from the group that stunned me with its force.

I would be surprised if anyone intentionally meant to blow me out of the water; rather, I speculate (emphasis on speculate!) that there were enough similarities between this situation (with the CGSA) and the previous one (with the conference planning group) that it opened up or called forth a reaction from some who had possibly (I’m just guessing, hypothesizing!) felt deprived of suitable methods of action (punishment?) to sanction my improper behavior in the first go-round. (I simply – a solution that seemed satisfactory enough at the time but perhaps not sufficient?)
I think this logic makes sense only dialectically, because it relies on certain essentialist assumptions. Such as, if I acted up/acted out once then I’ve always got that capability, i.e., it must be my nature. Where the logic breaks down, (I’m more confident about this), is dialogically. If language is alive and meaning is always heteroglossically co-produced then what necessitates essentialism? At this point, the accusation of resentiment can be as easily turned the other way? In this regard, dialecticalism has the characteristics of a sublime ideology. I think what I felt in the second instance, overwhelmed as I was, was the juxtaposition of both dialectical and dialogical possibilities. A dialectical reading requires (relies upon and reinforces) stereotyping; a dialogical reading enables the possibility of a shift in established (dialectical) dynamics. Happily (at least for me!), such a small-scale shift appears to have occurred among some of my peers. I am grateful. (Does this make me a sublime slave?!)


Rise up mine foe! (Dr. Metropolis advises, however, that I should not be too eager. Chapter Twelve, in How to be a SuperHero.) Ok, so, like, whenever. But note the call of aristocratic morality: “it acts and grows spontaneously, it merely seeks its antithesis in order to pronounce a more grateful and exultant ‘yes’ to its own self” (p. 19).