Another uncomfortable truth

Ever since 2018 began, more articles than usual have been dedicated to Karl Marx. It shouldn’t be a wonder, since May 5th this year will be the 200th birthday celebration of the renowned mathematician/economist/philosopher/journalist. People’s opinions are divided, of course, from one extreme to another. And that’s just scratching the surface of his genius: he did not leave anybody indifferent, so even those who were against his scientifically-based analyses got themselves thinking.

Marx’s disciples are quick to defend, while his detractors are happily rubbing their palms in delight. Okay, that last one might be an exaggerated caricature… but kidding aside, his detractors must at least be smirking because evidently, the global community has not evolved into a socialist system (even though some countries are leaning  towards this tendency). Their enthusiasm is such, that they are willing to throw away a solid, logical framework explaining (and pointing out the weaknesses of) the capitalist system, just because his ‘prediction’ is not yet coming true.

Regardless of whether Marx (and Engels, and Co.) predicted or strongly wished for a global socialist system (socio-econo-politico), there was one thing that everybody’s overlooked: the fact that even before the invention of private property, human nature has always been frameworked by greed (need for survival?). This means that regardless of the prevailing system, as long as it risks falling into the hands of a human being, it will always be doomed to failure. So let us leave the socialist aspiration aside and discuss this topic with the least possible “noise”. Let us only refer to a global community. Bear with me, my point will come in 2 minutes (3, if you’re a slow reader).

Remember in history class? when our teachers would point out that in pre-historic times, everybody had a function in the community? Every member: man, woman, any child that has undergone his or her rite of passage, would contribute to everybody’s well-being. It might be as a hunter, a gatherer, a builder, a witch doctor, etc…

Do you remember when we were taught that back then, vulnerable groups such as children, old people, the sick and pregnant women were protected and prioritized during the distribution of food or resting area?

When private property was invented, people started to increasingly go berserk accumulating, using their talents and abilities for the purpose. It didn’t matter whether it be for their family’s security, or for the joy of it because it had become the standard for success. This way, the concept of “common good” started to be pushed back to satisfy individual interests, something still strongly rampant until now.

So, how can we currently aspire for a society (that doesn’t even have to be global) that protects the weak, when we are made to understand that doing so could go against our best interests?

This pursuit has crossed borders, spreading worldwide, inciting men to take ownership of lands (and other resources) not their own and making them resort to plunder, leading to oppression.

Historical events have eventually shaped the world as we know it, and have allowed for material accumulation be enough to end hunger, poverty, and guarantee education and free health for all- maybe threefolds, even. So if the global material requisite is already present, why the delay in evolving into a society concerned with the common good?

Becuase of us. People. The ones that make up a community. Competition had gotten us scared to the point of resisting wealth redistribution, and insecurity had convinced us to support leaders who will defend our current and comfortable status quo.

How can there be a global community (socialist or otherwise) when each time a revolution is won, its leaders seem to forget about the people whom they fought for?

Furthermore, it must be recognized that this material accumulation we are witnessing have been achieved at the price of great pain and injustice (slave-trading, economic protectionism, illegal occupation, etc). And no matter how far back we trace, its implications are still carried around genetically, socially and culturally by the exploited populations.

So again: how can there be a global, humanitarian community when people are hesitant to be united because there has not been/is not a sincere desire for closure for past hostilities? How can this closure be achieved in the first place, if aside from not owning any accountability, the offenders have not shown/do not show an earnest intent for restitution?

Why is this even important? for the simple reason that for a global community to function, people must be convinced to participate and commit to it, worldwide.

So if we can’t even count on people’s interest to advance the common good under “normal” conditions, within their immediate environment, how could we aim for the same after a great change such as a systemic shift on a global scale?

I guess Marx had too much faith in mankind: he really believed we would evolve to become these compassionate, critical and “learned” race, who would not tolerate inequality and social injustices. But the truth is that we are only replicating past mistakes. Worse, those mistakes haven’t really been solved in the first place, they were just well-hidden from the ever-insensitized public.

Did he consider ceteris paribus with regards to the society’s disengagement to a capitalist system? He clearly didn’t expect the rise of the numbed middle-class, lured into consumption, competition and accumulation. Numbed to the point of believing that they too, are rich and belong with the elite; sedated to being oblivious towards their surroundings, let alone their neighbor’s suffering.

In effect

Marx’s prediction is not yet coming true. But will it ever come true? Some people, in their own little ways are individually exerting an effort to break away from the current systemic order. Some countries seem to be keen to experiment with the idea of wealth redistribution as the base for progress. It just might work. Who knows?

 

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Fragility, naïveté…

This post analyzes the motivation of the play Muñeca de Porcelana (China Doll). It might contain spoilers. You have been warned.

Last Saturday, I watched the Spanish adaptation of David Mamet’s “China Doll”. My friend and I kept guessing why the playwright chose that title, but even at the end, we weren’t able to wrap our heads around the idea.

About the play

Muñeca de Porcelana isn’t just another conspiracy theory-based story. It shows one side of a filthy, golden coin- the price of fame, fortune and power, if you wish. Accordingly, it invites the viewers to guess, assume, suspect and mistrust what’s being said right in front of their very noses.

As dialogues get more intense, thinking becomes the only possible option, because at that point, viewers realize that they have somehow become an accomplice of something horrible, and they need an explanation. So they start rubbing their neurons together, to see if a filament of some sort would light up.

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Image courtesy of: https://madridesteatro.com

The scene starts with a pompous display of wealth and power, where the big boss- entrusted into the hands of the sublime José Sacristán– barks at his loyal assistant because the latter was handing him the day’s newspaper, when he didn’t really ask for it in the first place. The role of the devoted secretary is strongly portrayed by Javier Godino, the perfect complement to the seniority and experience of his counterpart.

What motivated the play?

The piece clearly insinuates that power is concentrated among an elite few; where having money is not enough to get in the “club”.  Membership depends on the family tree and perhaps any ancient personal favor from one clan to another (I doubt if there was one member of that club whose ancestry couldn’t be traced to a Mayflower passenger). Very distinctly, it also shows that even in places that boast of being bastions of democracy, it is still the rich and the influential who hold the key to the machinery of the society.

Oh, but being rich and influential are but tickets to join the club. To remain in it is another hurdle. Exhaustive training is needed if one is to thrive, and a crafty mind with zero moral sense is crucial to triumph. And so that, according to Godino, is the origin of the title, “China doll”. It refers to the fragility of the triumphant based on the fact that he is nothing but a product; victorious, yet always and forever conditioned by the existence of incriminating evidence against him. A chess piece inside the board he is trying to conquer.

The way I see it, the play’s motivation is to open people’s eyes to that filthy side of the golden coin, as mentioned earlier. I’m not sure how society behaved when Mamet launched this opus, but in this generation, people only tend to look at the brightness of an item, not minding the dirty rag that polished it clean.

In an interview, Godino said he had an impression that viewers seem to evade what Mamet is trying to demonstrate, because it causes distress. He alluded to the naïveté to which spectators hold on, as a way to fight the awkwardness. (They’re just missing the point, then. But hey, their money, their choice.)

The ending, though, didn’t distress me. It was just as one would expect people to act given the situation and their current condition.

Et cetera…

At the end of the day, we’re all porcelain dolls: fragile in our naïveté. They don’t say “knowledge is power” for nothing.

A short note on: What we criticize as adults, versus our messages to children…

… the future adults!

As a grown-up and before having a child, I used to believe that third parties shouldn’t meddle when a kid misbehaves. I was convinced that it would be unethical. I was so wrong.

As a child, I never really stopped to think about why adults would scold me. But as time passed by, I observed that: I bonded more with nice kids; adults would be more pleasant and agreeable to me; people (young and old) trusted me more… Me and my friends didn’t receive any “prizes” for obeying. The “invisible” hand of our surroundings took care of convincing us that being “good” is better than not.

As a parent, I’ve become even more sensitive to what habits my son could potentially acquire. Suffice to say that I give him positive feedback and encourage him to replicate behaviors that I consider “good” (for instance, when he puts his toys and books in their shelves); I ignore him when he does things I don’t like but can tolerate, and that wouldn’t put him in danger (such as whining) and, I reprimand him if he does something I absolutely cannot agree on (like throwing tantrums, wasting food or hurting our cat).

I started to observe adults and children more. And this is what I’ve detected:

If we don’t like liars,

If we criticize overly-dependent people,

If we get annoyed at those who don’t acknowledge their faults,

If we stay away from people constantly grumbling, and

If ungratefulness offends us…

Then why are we showing kids that lying is OK,

Or that being independent is scary,

That asking for forgiveness is unimportant (anyway, time heals wounds),

That throwing tantrums could get them what they want, and

Why don’t we say “Thank you” enough in their presence?

The fact is, it takes a community to raise a child. For parents like me, the role we have to play in a child’s development is very clearly set. But how could other grown-ups, non-parents, non-family members contribute to a child’s “upbringing”? Here are a few ideas:

Refrain from lying

Adults would tell kids they’ll “come back later”, when they won’t; or scare misbehaving children by telling them “the police would get them”; or some grown-ups simply don’t call children’s attention when caught lying.

Children are not dumb (more on that later), they’d get the untruth of a lie. And believe me: however they might react when they realize they’ve been lied to, is less important than the message that stays with them, “adults lie, so it must be ok to lie.”

Don’t lie to children. Don’t underestimate their ability to process and assimilate information.

Encourage autonomy even in the smallest acts

There are those who treat toddlers like dumb human beings… and you know what? they are not.

Sure, they can’t discuss the socio-economical effects of a capitalist China (yet), but they are very sensitive to what goes on around them, and are perfectly capable of understanding and following instructions, according to their ages.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if and when toddlers start to show interest to do something by themselves, we, as adults, should guide them in doing so– making sure they won’t get hurt in any way. Then, congratulate them if they get it, and encourage them to try again if they don’t.

(Click here for some ideas on age-appropriate chores for children. It’s just a list of ideas, because “carrying firewood” obviously doesn’t apply to everyone.)

Ask for their forgiveness…

… and ask them what exactly displeased them. This would teach them accountability.

As I grow older, I realize I’m not meeting a lot of adults who are able to acknowledge their mistakes, and even lesser ones who could recognize having hurt somebody else’s feelings and apologize for it.

A sincere “I’m sorry” would do.

Ignore kids throwing tantrums…

… and avoid laughing or showing any sign of amusement when a kid is being scolded for throwing tantrums.

Nurture an attitude of gratefulness

I heard somewhere that gratitude is one of the most empowering human feelings, because it’s something we can control. We can choose at anytime of our lives, regardless of how we feel, to feel thankful. Thankfulness also nurtures positive thoughts, which could turn to positive words, and in turn, could translate to full-blown, positive actions. Who wouldn’t want that?

Set an example by thanking children for any small favor they do for you or for others. A simple “Thank you” will do.

– The End-

We criticize so many things in our day to day lives- an activity that leads us to wish for the opposite of what we have in front of us. Most of the time, however, it stops there. Unfortunately. I mean, life goes on: the barista hands you the tall latté, your kid starts playing with boogers, the train arrives…

But, would it be possible for us to just follow through with an action, and not stop on the “wishing” phase? We can actually pursue that train of wishful thinking with a deed, try and turn that wish into reality. Sorry if I’m being demanding. Maybe we won’t live to see it, but we would have made a difference, no matter how small (marginal, as the economists would say).

Thank you.

 

 

Beyond feminism

Last month, people everywhere, everyway have been unstoppably discussing feminism: its current state, desired state, history, anecdotes, personified examples dead or alive, individual views, etc… It is so empowering to see so many support, or at least debate about the topic. We are silenced no more. And by “we”, I mean EVERY SINGLE WOMAN on the planet: from the Alaskan tundra to the lone Pacific Islands; from the ignored and unwanted baby girl somewhere in Sri Lanka, to the trans woman beside me, struggling for inclusion. It matters not where we come from, what we do, what we think of or how we choose to fight and be heard. We are being heard. So, thank you, sisters.

This got me to start thinking about the origin of the feminist movement. Although the dynamics are very complex and specific geographically and historically, the root is simple, really: an oppressed population group who started to join forces to fight for their own rights. A population group deemed weak by other members of the society- an idea that was spread throughout time and space. Until this group’s supposed “weakness” was encouraged, fuelled and even expected.

The deeper I meditated about this and the more I read about it, the more I collided with other materials which showed me the ugliest façade of human nature: the desire to conquer and of power. In their search to transcend their own time and limited space, humans have always sought to overpower those they considered as weaker members of their communities. Hence the wars, pillaging, colonizations, and treacheries, to name a few. Just then, dear reader, it was during this journey when I realized that throughout the history of mankind, women are not the only victims of social injustice and neglect.

Without going very far back in time, nor having to enter certain latitudes, let me introduce to you the first two most neglected members of the society: the children and senior citizens. In this order, because at least senior citizens could vote, therefore, some politicians would actually include their interests in their platforms. But children (minors)? what good are they? and if what I’m saying were a lie, then why isn’t there a serious effort from governments/societies to care for the environment, the heritage of today’s youth?

Next in line: the indigenous communities.

Followed by: people experiencing adapted mobility (I can’t think of a better way to say “disabled”).

Then we have: the youth.

Then there are our LGBT neighbors…

People with rare diseases…

Does the list go on? I certainly hope it does because it would mean we are more aware of their existence and perhaps society could start including them in making decisions. And I hope that in time, we would stop making this list and start making up other kinds of lists…

The injustices suffered by these groups could not be equated to what women have experienced all throughout the existence of written language. But shouldn’t this be the very reason why we should empathize with them, and make their struggle a bit easier along the roads we have tread before? liken it to an older sibling, who has paved the way for the younger ones’ lives to be a bit less difficult.

A friend told me once that it’s such a pity the term “feminism” is having a negative connotation, when all it really wants to convey is “equality”. I respect and believe this. I am an advocate of this, and my conscience is clear, my soul proud, and my heart grateful when I declare myself a feminist.

But I strive to be more than a feminist. In my narrow point of view, defined by my scarce time here on earth, beyond feminism, is humanism.

A tale as old as time…*

“As long as there is any property, and while money is the standard of all other things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few, the rest being left to be absolutely miserable.”

“It was evidently quite obvious to a powerful intellect like his that the one essential condition for a healthy society was equal distribution of goods – which I suspect is impossible under capitalism. For, when everyone’s entitled to get as much for himself as he can, all available property, however much there is of it, is bound to fall into the hands of a small minority, which means that everyone else is poor.”

Can you guess who penned these words?

Adam Smith?

David Ricardo?

Karl Marx?

Rose Luxemburg?

Noam Chomsky?

NO.

It was Saint Thomas More, in the 16th century.

Think about it.

 

*Title borrowed from the “Beauty and the Beast” theme

 

 

Colorfulifesite responds: Is spirituality compatible with wealth accumulation?

My automatic answer would be: NO. Why? because of the simple reason that wealth is expressed in what’s physical and ephemeral, whereas spirituality concerns itself with the intangible and eternal (like a memory, a proverb, or values passed on from generation to generation).

Yet upon deeper pondering, it occurred to me that it might be just the way we choose to understand the question. Let me explain: in what way are we inquiring about the compatibility of spiritual interest with the burden of accumulating wealth?

As a mother, I see both matters as compatible. Accumulating material things would help me raise my family (cat included!) more comfortably. This would give them a feeling of safety, and being loved, as they are well-provided for. And with our basic needs covered, we could “worry” about the next-level needs such as esteem and self-actualization, both of which are strongly connected with spiritual growth. 

This is only me, of course: a career-woman living in a developed country, lucky enough to have a livelihood and a strong social network of support.

What about the woman who’s the exact opposite of me? a younger, single female, living in a poorer country, with no job and no one to rely on? would she have a stronger or equal faith than/as what I have? would she be more spiritually mature than I am? is she holding on to spirituality as her means of consolation, or is she really maximizing her full potential in spiritual development because she’s not distracted with “worldly” and “material” concerns?

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Image courtesy of: http://love-peace-gratitude.blogspot.com.es/p/spiritual-wealth.html

As a citizen, my stance only became more confounded the day I read the Dalai Lama utter the following statement:

The economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis … as well as the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and [it] cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons, the system appeals to me, and it seems fair. (“Of course the Dalai Lama’s a Marxist”, The Guardian)

because wealth distribution is only feasible after there has been prior accumulation! (Karl Marx actually predicted that capitalism would evolve in a more socialist/communist system and the material wealth that has been accumulated would make a fairer redistribution possible.)

Therefore, to be able to apply the moral principles the Dalai Lama spoke of, it is necessary (but not limited) to have “something” with which to materialize those concepts. For instance, buddhist households must have enough rice to give alms to the monks, if they want to express compassion. And how would they have “enough” rice to share if they hadn’t previously saved and accumulated it? Although this is not the only way compassion can be practiced, it is one very important aspect to consider.

Inspired from the same above-mentioned article about the Dalai Lama, I started to form my final conclusion. It also noted that:

[…] relief of suffering can only come from the realisation that pleasing ourselves doesn’t bring happiness – instead we must try to work skilfully and compassionately with others, as part of interwoven systems of connectivity that bind us together.

I believe that the accord between material abundance and spirituality boils down to the INTENTION of accumulating wealth in the first place.

Individuals who aim to earn a lot of money to fulfill their roles as breadwinners are not only executing their obligation, but they are also practicing generosity, compassion and patience towards others. This undoubtedly cultivates the spirit.

Households who save and invest their money to guarantee a good future for the younger members are exercising generosity and sacrifice, to say the least. This sets an example for other family members and therefore expands the cause of spirituality.

A society that allows the public use and enjoyment of environmental wealth (forest and seas, for example), who redistributes existing richness to the less-privileged are implementing social and economic justice to its citizens. This makes indiviual spirituality flourish, may it be through the soothing effects of being surrounded by nature, or the satisfaction of being assured of one’s survival.

My final answer then is a YES. Accumulating wealth is compatible with spirituality provided that the intention for doing so leads to practicing moral principles and advancing the cause of spirituality.