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Ceasefire is a quarterly cultural and political publication, concerned with producing high-quality journalism, review and analysis. We cover a wide range of topics – from Arthouse to Žižek.
Updated: 5 hours 13 min ago

Politics | ‘Beyond disgusting’: Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel accommodation with hours’ notice

Fri, 2017-06-23 16:37

Today residents of Grenfell Tower were given eviction notices from their temporary accommodation in Kensington, in a move described as ‘barbaric’ by Radical Housing Network.

Residents of Grenfell Tower who had been staying at the Holiday Inn, Kensington, were told today that they were to be separated and moved by 4pm to other temporary hotel accommodation across London, in places such as Heathrow, Lambeth, Southwark and north London. Following intervention by legal observers, most of the residents have been moved together to a hotel in Westminster.

It is beyond disgusting that after all these people have been through – losing their neighbours and watching their homes burn to the ground – authorities are prepared to tell them that they have hours to pick up their bags and move to some unknown destination, separated from their friends and neighbours. It makes you wonder whether anything has been learned from the Grenfell catastrophe.

Moving people around who have been through horror and trauma from one temporary accommodation to another is barbaric and unnecessary, and speaks of a degree of callousness by the authorities.

Only yesterday, Sajid Javid was promising that all those made homeless by the Grenfell fire would be rehoused in the borough within a matter of weeks. The government needs to move fast to make good on this commitment to rehouse all those made homeless by this catastrophe, according their wishes and needs.

We still need answers as to what will happen to private renters, subtenants and homeowners of Grenfell Tower. We strongly suggest that, given the scale of the disaster – and the trauma, mismanagement and negligence surrounding this case – all tenants of Grenfell, not just council tenants, are prioritised for permanent social housing in the local borough.

If no so such social housing is available, we suggest Kensington & Chelsea council dip into their £274 million cash reserves to buy up property and turn it into social housing.

Grenfell Tower is an indictment of a broken housing system – one where council housing is systematically run down and tenants are treated with contempt.

It’s about time we had housing for people not for profit – and public investment in secure, decent, genuinely affordable housing for everyone.

Radical Housing Network is a London-wide network of campaigns fighting housing injustice. For all press statements see radicalhousingnetwork.org and follow @radicalhousing

Grenfell Action Group is a member of the Radical Housing Network, you can visit their website here.

Comment | This is an immense victory for Palestine, for British democracy and for the rule of law

Fri, 2017-06-23 15:26

Israel and Palestine. The names conjure up an image of a place that is hot, dusty, far away. It is not really a concern for the British people. Mainstream media coverage sheds lots of heat and little light. Whilst there is plenty of talk of ‘two sides’ and broad brush descriptions of the ‘conflict’, there is little appreciation of the realities of the situation.

Israeli officialdom have successfully presented this ‘two equal sides’ picture that bears no relation to reality. The hard facts are that this is a story of occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed, coloniser and colonised. The story is that of the native Palestinian people living under a brutal, military enforced apartheid regime.

So what can you do about your situation if you are Palestinian? You can reach out to the world and hope that they hear your call for justice. Palestinian civil society called for a worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli state in 2005. This call will last as long as Israel refuses to honour its obligations under international law.

Here in the UK, our country has a special role to play in building a just and peaceful solution for all in Palestine. In many important ways, Israel/Palestine’s history is Britain’s history. In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a hundred year ago this year, colonial Britain gave away historic Palestine to the nascent Zionist movement, without consulting the wishes of the 90% majority Palestinian population. Based on this fact alone, we in Britain have a unique responsibility to make it right for Palestine.

How do we heed the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in the UK? The movement here is strong, and full of immensely committed people. Many have previously campaigned against apartheid South Africa (such as our patron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn) and understand that successes are incremental. They can be few and far between. But every single one builds up momentum that eventually becomes a wave that can longer be ignored.

Sometimes, it becomes necessary to fight for your space and right to boycott in the most unlikely corners. In September 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government launched its latest anti-BDS measure. BDS is not accepted by the Conservative government – although 40% of Conservative voters think that it is reasonable. The minister for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, wanted to curtail divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law. In recent years, These companies have included include such corporate giants as HP, Veolia, and G4S.

In order to do so, Javid ordered for regulations be drawn-up prohibiting local government pension schemes from pursuing ‘divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries […] other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’ In other words, government employees pension schemes were prohibited from divesting from Israel for ethical reasons. This occurred despite a public consultation indicating that 98% of respondents thought this was the wrong thing to do. Pension holders would have been forced into investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

Divestment is a key tenet of the BDS movement. We believe not only that divestment from human rights-abusing companies is the moral thing to do, but that everyone should be free to make the choice to do this. We were deeply concerned that the government had moved to clamp down on freedom of expression and conscience to pursue the narrow political agenda of cosying-up to the Israeli government in the name of securing tidy trade deals in the post-Brexit era. We firmly believed that this was central government overreach into local democracy and into people’s pockets. Who is Sajid Javid to tell pension holders that they must both invest in and profit from human rights abuses?

We knew that this was only one measure the government had brought in against the BDS movement. If we didn’t stand up now, when would we see the end of this? We brought our concerns to Bindman’s LLP, a leading human rights law firm. They knew we had a case and presented it to the courts for judicial review. In March, we heard that our request for judicial review had been granted. Our day in court was to be 14 June, last week, the height of summer and the month of the fiftieth anniversary of the illegal occupation.

Yesterday, on June 22, we heard the best possible news. We had won! We defeated the government in court and proved they had acted illegally. Sajid Javid’s regulations have been struck down. They were unlawful and had acted outside the scope of his powers for an illegal purpose. It was an immense victory – for Palestine, for local democracy, for the rule of law, and for the right to peacefully protest against injustice.

The outcome is a reminder to the Government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda. To some, pensions might seem like small fry. They are not. This is about more than the right of citizens to put their money where they see fit in accordance with your ethics. This is about setting a line down in the sand – BDS is legal, BDS is reasonable, and BDS is here to stay until we see human rights and justice for the Palestinian people.

There is a long road to travel before we see justice – but with the law on our side, we will take forward our campaign for the Palestinian people with renewed vigour. If any of this chimes with you, get involved and become a member. PSC needs committed members to guide our course, contribute to the debate, and take part in direct action for Palestine. Join today and be a part of the movement!

Politics | ‘We mean nothing to them’: Grenfell, London’s Katrina

Mon, 2017-06-19 12:15

(Photo: Pierre Papet/Ceasefire)

Grenfell is being compared to Katrina, and for good reason. In the wake of the disaster, the relief effort was abandoned to local charities—as if London were a war zone undergoing state collapse instead of one of the world’s richest cities. Mosques and churches complained about ‘non-existent’ direction from authorities.

Survivors have reported, over and over again, not knowing where they will be sleeping, being stonewalled when they try to get information, receiving no information about missing family members and friends. One man had to ‘beg and cajole’ (his words) a nurse to find the children of his relative in a hospital. ‘Police are not identifying people,’ he said.

A woman reported having to sleep in a park with her eight-year-old child. ‘We’ve seen no one from the council. No one,’ she said. ‘We’ve lost everything,’ another survivor told a journalist. ‘How is it the mosques and churches are taking care of us and not the authorities?’

Mayor Sadiq Khan and the free London newspaper Evening Standard, edited by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under whose direction public services were decimated, promoted a crowd-sourced charitable fund for the victims—as if the survivors of a fire in a state-owned building, in the fifth-largest economy on earth, should not expect state compensation.

There are several reports that the local council refused to assist in managing, distributing, or storing donations. ‘Where is the council?’ asked a volunteer at a local meeting on Saturday. ‘This is something that we cannot do without an enormous level of planning and coordination.’ Krishnan Guru-Murphy reported the same day ‘a shocking lack of presence, organisation and authority’ in North Kensington ‘from local and national’ government’.

Another resident told a BBC reporter the official response had been ‘absolute chaos.’ This was four days after the fire. ‘I actually can’t describe just how invisible the state has been,’ wrote local resident and rapper Akala, who has been active in local assistance efforts, yesterday. ‘It’s actually been breathtaking how absent they are. It’s like there is literally no state,’ he added. By contrast, he pointed out, the level of community self-organisation has been impressive.

The same official disregard for working class, poor, black, brown, and Muslim lives that was responsible for the Grenfell fire continues to pervade the experiences of its survivors. The British state is one of the most powerful in the world when it comes to surveilling citizens and gathering intelligence on political dissent. Yet the same state disappears when it comes to assisting the victims of its own negligence. The Prevent programme monitors Muslim children at school, but has nothing to offer when they are burned to death in state-owned housing.

Virtually the only decisive action taken in the several days following the fire has been to jail a man for three months for posting a photograph of a the dead body of a fire victim on Facebook (he had been helping firefighters when he came across the body, and said he was concerned that it had been left unattended). This means the only person who has faced a criminal charge in relation to the fire is a black bystander.

Katrina was among the worst natural disasters of the twenty-first century, displacing over a million people. Grenfell does not approach it in scale. But the nature of the state response to Katrina—overbearing policing, paltry assistance—does bear commonalities with Grenfell’s aftermath. So does the role of race and class, and the ways in which gentrification looms over each disaster.

Just as black populations in New Orleans were more likely to live on low-lying land, the majority of children living above the fourth floor of tower blocks in England are black or brown (in a country which remains 82% white). Those children are also far more likely to live in overcrowded housing than whites.

It’s not a coincidence that so many survivors and local residents see the fire as, in some sense, deliberate: not a standalone event, but part of an ongoing process of violence and displacement—and not disconnected from the politics of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. At a demonstration on Friday called by residents of the area, many speakers connected the Grenfell fire to the process of gentrification that has long been pushing working-class people and people of colour out of the city.

One speaker, a relative of a victim of the fire, connected the refugee status of many of in the building to their fate: ‘They burned us in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Africa—now they burn us here, too,’ he said. (The first named victim of Grenfell, Mohammed al-Haj Ali, was a Syrian refugee. ‘We came from Syria to be safe here and now we are dying here,’ said his brother.) Another speaker promised to ‘speak for the dead’. ‘You call it a government? I call them a Mafia,’ he said. ‘We mean nothing to them.’

Ideas | From London Bridge to Finsbury Park, these are symptoms of a broken politics

Mon, 2017-06-19 07:00

The attack on Finsbury Park mosque comes amidst a string of other recent attacks and tragedies that have struck Britain in recent weeks. There is an understandable sense of shock, anger and despair as the nation tries to recover from events many feel they have no control over. It seems to me that we are living an unrelenting Groundhog Day scenario: attacks immediately followed by crass media commentary, followed by empty government promises, followed by a slow slide back into normalcy…until the next one.

This cycle doesn’t appear to show any signs of abating. This is primarily because, time and time again, the core issues fail to be appropriately addressed. The events that have taken place over the past year are not coincidental; from the murder of Jo Cox, to Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park mosque, there is a clear pattern that seems to be emerging. That is, these events are marked by the primacy of violence, and serve as concrete evidence to suggest that the current British political structure is simply no longer working. It is weak, and it is ineffective. People of all groups are understandably angry, alienated and disenfranchised.

Under years of neconservative, neoliberal governments, the cracks are opening-up widely to reveal the shambles of a dangerous political system that has consistently failed its people. In this light, New Labour’s re-embedding of its Tory predecessors’ neoliberal dogmas can be seen as a key driver for sowing the seeds of instability, doubt and social destruction, at home and abroad.

What has followed has been a recipe for disaster, which the current government can no longer cover up, as the effects are so far-reaching and palpable for all. The unstable climate of war and terror, alongside austerity and cynicism, have all combined to develop a toxic breeding ground for racism, xenophobia and division to thrive. The various terror acts coordinated by Muslim men are not simply the result of a perverse ideology, but more directly the outcome of a failed and broken foreign policy that has helped create and strengthen the threat. In a similar vein, the terror attacks coordinated by white men are not simply the result of mental illness, but rather the outcome of sustained policies, legislation and right wing rhetoric that has enabled white supremacy, Islamophobia, and anti-migrant discourse to flourish.

In a 2016 article entitled, “Beyond the Terror of Tyrants and Thugs”, the writer S. Sayyid writes:

“Faced with the challenge of an armed insurgency a government has to have the courage to refuse the simplicity of the war on terror and pursue a strategy of persuasion. This is not simply another iteration of hearts versus minds as a tactical response, but a strategic response. This strategic persuasion requires the articulation of a credible, attractive vision of an alternative future that even many of those who currently swell the ranks of DAESH and Boko Haram and other similar groups and gangs can buy into.”

Sayyid was writing about the Middle East, but his diagnosis holds true here in the West, too. Against the backdrop of the war on terror, Brexit, and ruthless cuts, the UK government has for years ignored the heart of these social problems, because – simply put – it is not in their interest to pay attention. This is a government driven by greed, not compassion. It is more concerned with maintaining special relations with the US and keeping rich ruling tyrants of the Middle East happy. It is more concerned with preserving the remnants of Empire, rather than embracing the diversity of its population. And it is more concerned with making the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer, rather than creating an equal and just system that offers everyone decent prospects.

Is it really any wonder then that the youth took to the streets of London in 2011? Is it any wonder that food banks have become a central feature of British society? Is it any wonder that while the government is contracting mega-prison projects, suicide rates amongst prisoners are at an all time high? Is it any wonder that tower blocks, filled with bodies from poorer communities, blaze in London’s night sky? And is it any wonder that people are ploughing through the streets of Britain in hateful, merciless killing sprees?

Self-interest over public interest is the hallmark of a weak and broken government, and the effects of this, although certainly tragic, are hardly surprising. When people have so little to hope for, and not much to lose, it is the primacy of violence, rather than that of the political and civic life, that will assert itself.

These constant, and somewhat normalized bouts of violence indicate strongly that this form of governance is severely limited, and no longer has the capacity to function successfully. In order to productively challenge the current chaos, we now find ourselves needing to re-establish this essential primacy of the political.

This means strong, selfless and courageous leadership, which is committed to embedding unity, inclusivity and hope. Only then might we be able to break this Groundhog Day cycle and collectively move towards ensuring a better, more stable future for all.

Photo Essay | After Grenfell Tower: On the decades-long war on social housing

Fri, 2017-06-16 16:26

For a few years now, I have been interested in examining the political and cultural tensions surrounding social housing in London. What I have found is that social housing has been under assault for decades, mainly from the private sector encouraged by governmental complicity and laxity. In essence, London is being cleansed of its poor.

In March 2016, whilst at Central Saint Martins, I began a project named ‘Going, Going, Gone’, aimed at raising awareness of the social housing crisis in London. I worked with the charity Defend Council Housing (DCH) who were in the middle of a big campaign, including a national march, against the Housing & Planning Bill which was going through Parliament at the time.

High rents, insecurity and rising evictions, overcrowding, waiting lists and homelessness are all some of the issues I have encountered when looking at social housing as a result of austerity measures that have been placed on people and places all around London.

According to DCH, there was a 60 per cent cut in housing investment in 2010, with ministers in 2016 announcing only a one per cent rent cut. After this week’s tragic events at Grenfell Tower, I wanted to bring attention to similar buildings in the Kensington Borough and highlight the fact this tragedy must be viewed within a much larger political and cultural context.

Trellick Tower (Pierre Papet)

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I visited the area yesterday to examine the risks affecting similar buildings in the borough. I spent the day photographing social housing within the Kensington area, notably Adair Tower, Trellick Tower and Hazlewood Tower.

My hope is to bring awareness of the many other buildings within the Kensington Borough that are under threat, and which are also in danger of not meeting fire standards and regulations. Inspired by artists such as John Hilliard, the photographs aim to visibly represent the impending disappearance of these buildings as well as the integrity and rights of the lives of their inhabitants.

Adair Tower (Pierre Papet)

The tenant management company responsible for these tower blocks, KCTMO, previously suffered a fire back in October 2016, which affected Adair Tower (shown above), in north Kensington.

The fire regulation authorities delivered an enforcement notice requiring KCTMO to upgrade its fire safety standards, including the instruction to install “self-closing devices” on the front doors of flats in Adair Tower and the nearby Hazlewood Tower, built to the same design.

The external cladding, a feature of many nearby buildings such as the ones featured in this photo series, are currently being investigated as a potential factor in the fire’s rapid spread.

In 2016, Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was paid £11m by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to manage social housing. 

Hazlewood Tower (Pierre Papet)

Questions will need to be answered, many of which as a matter of great urgency: Were corners cut in the refurbishment works, as suggested by some residents? Why were residents threatened with legal action merely for speaking out? Why was so much money – millions of pounds – devoted to “prettifying” the tower for the view of outsiders, whilst none was spent on essential safety measures, such as sprinklers, lights and alarms?

Although a public inquiry into the events was announced by the government yesterday, buildings in the nearby area will have to be extensively assessed as a matter of immediate concern. The very least we owe the Grenfell Tower fallen is to do everything to ensure a similar tragedy never occurs again.

My photographs are inspired by British conceptual photography as well as the activist works of the 1970s feminist avant garde. I took inspiration from artist John Hilliard in visibly representing the impending disappearance of these buildings as well as the integrity and rights of the lives of their inhabitants. I took identical photos of the houses whilst altering the exposure and shutter speed to slowly fade the houses out of existence. I wanted to represent the inhabitants and organisations such as the Grenfell Action Group whose voices were not heard despite their repeated warnings of the dangerous and sub-standard living conditions, including fire hazards, in the tower.

This photo-essay is the first of a two part series. In part two, I will look at Social Housing buildings that are under threat of demolition across the capital, as they come under greater pressure from the private real estate market.

Ideas | The Welfare State is our living memorial: The Tory assault on it is a national betrayal

Thu, 2017-06-08 13:12

This is my Grandfather, Henry Curtis. He died on 24th November 1941, when the HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean after being hit by three torpedoes from German submarine U-331. Eight hundred and sixty-three men died on that ship. He was also one of half a million British people (and millions from other countries across the British Empire whose families later made the UK their home) that died during World War II. Countless others where injured, traumatised, widowed and orphaned.

As a result of this huge “sacrifice”, and responding to the Beveridge Report of 1942, a country crippled by war debt decided to build a better society for its citizens by establishing the welfare system via the Family Allowance Act and National Insurance Act of 1945; the Industrial Injuries Act of 1956; and the National Assistance Act of 1948. The crown jewel of this policy was, of course, and the establishment of the National Health Service in that same year.

Somehow, a country that had been at war for the best part of thirty years found a way to invest this money because that is what a state can do. It can decide how to collect money and how to distribute it. After the war, it was decided a more equitable, fair, supportive and social economy was required, and the government of the day set out to build one. While numerous inanimate statues, cold monuments and empty mausoleums were erected to commemorate the terrible human cost of the war, it was the welfare state and the National Health Service that became living memorials to everyone who had given up so much to secure peace and future prosperity. At the heart of them is the recognition that we are stronger when we work together, and that we have a responsibility to support each other in times of adversity. Any time someone receives assistance or care within that system the UK is remembering and enacting that philosophy.

Since 1979, that memorial has been systematically attacked by governments who felt the money needed collecting and distributing in a radically different way, and we began a process to overturn these post-war social protections and return to an aristocratic economy in which the common wealth works solely in the service of the rich by accumulating more and more money at the top. This has been done through the dogma of the “free market” and the “rolling back of the state”, which really only means placing state functions in private hands in order to produce shareholder value. This in turn has been established as the only kind of value currently permitted to govern our relations with each other.

This process has now reached its zenith or its nadir, depending on your political affiliation. The UK is currently at a crossroads, and the likelihood is that this year will be the one in which this living memorial is finally killed off. The welfare state and National Health Service will be fully dismantled by a Conservative government opposed to any sense of solidarity or collectivity, and who have repeatedly declared society—the very association of mutuality and dependency that contributed to allied victory in 1945—to be dead.

The rationale for this, we are told, is that the country can no longer afford it. The cry of “there is no magic money tree” has become the new soundbite of the 2017 general election. This makes no sense, of course, in an age of quantitative easing, which is nothing but the magical creation of money that doesn’t exist. It also makes no sense in an age of bank bailouts and decisions to spend £205 billion on a nuclear bomb to defend ourselves against fanatics blowing themselves up at pop concerts. The magic money tree is real. Its existence can also be seen in wave after wave of privatisation and the bargain basement sale of our collective assets. It can be seen in corporation tax cuts, tax avoidance schemes, and tax havens. Since 1979 successive governments have given the magic money tree to the rich who harvest its fruits by extracting more and more from everybody else as they they put less and less in to maintaining it.

Strangely, this is all being done by polical parties who continually fly the flag and make constant claims to patriotism. They even call on the iconography of World War II in their odes to the chauvinism of Brexit. Here, however, the idea of the nation is used to distract attention away from the real causes of our economic and social ills. We are told to hate the foreigner, be spiteful to the immigrant, and condemn the refugee, all of whom are portrayed as a burden and the true source of our new found precarity. Today, the only collectivity tolerated is the mobilization of tribal passions for the persecution of the powerless (unemployed, poor, homeless, disabled).

However, there is nothing patriotic in the social vandalism that has got us to this point. Quite the opposite, in fact. The presistent degridation of the idea of mutual aid, and the inexorable drift towards social crisis in the pursuit of personal wealth for the few spits in the face of everyone who contributed to the collective project to defeat fascism. Worse than that, it breathes life back into that heinous ideology. As  social protections are withdrawn and the common wealth is depleted, and as the country slips further into a politics of deepening inequality and social indifference, the only way the coming crisis will be managed is through a sharp increase in authoritarianism and an escalation in the the politics of scapegoating through which the anxiety, anger and hostility will be channeled. If the British people reject solidarity on June 8th they will sow division, and history tells us that never ends well.

 

Special Report | “We are doing the right thing for the right reasons”: A view from inside Europe’s biggest arms company

Thu, 2017-05-18 09:14

Activists march in London against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, carrying replicas of missiles currently used by Saudi Arabia’s UK supplied Eurofighter Typhoon war planes. (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“If I did not sincerely believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons then I would not be the Chairman of this company.”

The tone was righteous and heartfelt, but the cause was not. These were the words of Sir Roger Carr, the Chair of BAE Systems, when challenged by shareholders on why his company saw fit to export fighter jets to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

It is not a bombing campaign we read a lot about, despite it having lasted for over two years and having killed more than 10,000 people. Schools, hospital, homes and even funerals have become the sights of massacres as Yemeni people have been dragged into a humanitarian crisis. It’s no wonder that many refer to it as the ‘forgotten war’, although for the people on the ground the horror is all too real.

BAE has profited every step of the way from the conflict, with its Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets used right from the start. As I write this, they are in negotiations to sell even more aircraft. Where aid organisations and NGOs have responded to a terrible catastrophe, arms companies like BAE have seen a business opportunity. We saw this in Theresa May’s trip to the Kingdom last month, where helping flogging BAE weaponry was a significant theme.

Regret was not the order of the day though. Contrary to the vast majority of the evidence, a picture was painted of Saudi Arabia as a modernising and liberalising state in transition. We were patronisingly told that it is “liberalising at a pace that it can manage in the culture from which it comes from”, and reassured us that it was a ‘defender’ and not an ‘aggressor’ on the world stage.

Little was said about the terrible daily repression Saudi people face at home, where women have minimal rights and citizens can be sentenced to death for such ‘crimes’ as atheism and ‘witchcraft’, or the destruction that has been unleashed on Yemen. But why would it be? Turning a blind-eye to atrocities is what keeps the money rolling in.

The event itself was a dispiriting exercise in bluff, bluster and evasion. Taking place in a cold and sterile airbase in Farnborough, the AGM is the one time of the year that BAE is legally obliged to open itself up to the scrutiny and questioning of the public – or at least those of us who are prepared to buy shares in order to ask them questions.

There was an almost Orwellian touch to proceedings, with board members of Europe’s biggest arms company constantly telling us that ‘nobody benefits from war’; a claim which ignores the somewhat inconvenient fact that BAE is a company whose entire business model is based on maintaining the perpetual threat of war and conflict.

One point Carr was right about is that arms companies can only get away with the things they do because the government pulls out all the stops to help them do it. Time and again, Carr stressed that BAE does not make political judgements and that its allies are whoever the UK government says they are. In other words, dictatorships can be your friends as long as government ministers and civil servants approve.

The superficial and evasive claims of political neutrality ignore the millions of pounds that BAE spends on lobbying and trying to influence governments and politicians at home and abroad. Yes, the government is absolutely complicit in their actions, but no company can simply outsource its moral compass to Whitehall.

To Carr and his colleagues, human rights abuses and conflict are an inevitable side-effect of international relations. The repression and death that weapons cause is merely collateral damage in the maintenance of peace and stability, a peace and stability that can only come to be through even greater militarism and the sale of even more weapons. Everybody has weapons, the logic goes, so the bigger the weapons the safer you are.

Upon making my way back to Farnborough train station (with a BAE-provided vegetarian packed-lunch in hand), I couldn’t help but feel like I was stepping out of a dystopian, surreal and extremely cynical world.

Theirs is a world-view in which arming tyrants can bring peace and equality, and where the human consequences of war have nothing whatsoever to do with the weapons that are used or those who provide them.

They want the rest of us to ignore what they do and go back to our daily lives. All the while they will continue to tell themselves that they are striving for peace and making the world a little bit safer, one arms sale at a time.

See Also:

Special Report | What was Theresa May actually doing in Saudi Arabia? And who was she doing it for?
Politics | The UK Government must end its shameful complicity in the destruction of Yemen
Comment | This victory shows we can, and must, shut down the DSEI arms fair for good

Special Report | “We are doing the right thing for the right reasons”: A view from inside Europe’s biggest arms company

Thu, 2017-05-18 09:14

Activists march in London against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, carrying replicas of missiles currently used by Saudi Arabia’s UK supplied Eurofighter Typhoon war planes. (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“If I did not sincerely believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons then I would not be the Chairman of this company.”

The tone was righteous and heartfelt, but the cause was not. These were the words of Sir Roger Carr, the Chair of BAE Systems, when challenged by shareholders on why his company saw fit to export fighter jets to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

It is not a bombing campaign we read a lot about, despite it having lasted for over two years and having killed more than 10,000 people. Schools, hospital, homes and even funerals have become the sights of massacres as Yemeni people have been dragged into a humanitarian crisis. It’s no wonder that many refer to it as the ‘forgotten war’, although for the people on the ground the horror is all too real.

BAE has profited every step of the way from the conflict, with its Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets used right from the start. As I write this, they are in negotiations to sell even more aircraft. Where aid organisations and NGOs have responded to a terrible catastrophe, arms companies like BAE have seen a business opportunity. We saw this in Theresa May’s trip to the Kingdom last month, where helping flogging BAE weaponry was a significant theme.

Regret was not the order of the day though. Contrary to the vast majority of the evidence, a picture was painted of Saudi Arabia as a modernising and liberalising state in transition. We were patronisingly told that it is “liberalising at a pace that it can manage in the culture from which it comes from”, and reassured us that it was a ‘defender’ and not an ‘aggressor’ on the world stage.

Little was said about the terrible daily repression Saudi people face at home, where women have minimal rights and citizens can be sentenced to death for such ‘crimes’ as atheism and ‘witchcraft’, or the destruction that has been unleashed on Yemen. But why would it be? Turning a blind-eye to atrocities is what keeps the money rolling in.

The event itself was a dispiriting exercise in bluff, bluster and evasion. Taking place in a cold and sterile airbase in Farnborough, the AGM is the one time of the year that BAE is legally obliged to open itself up to the scrutiny and questioning of the public – or at least those of us who are prepared to buy shares in order to ask them questions.

There was an almost Orwellian touch to proceedings, with board members of Europe’s biggest arms company constantly telling us that ‘nobody benefits from war’; a claim which ignores the somewhat inconvenient fact that BAE is a company whose entire business model is based on maintaining the perpetual threat of war and conflict.

One point Carr was right about is that arms companies can only get away with the things they do because the government pulls out all the stops to help them do it. Time and again, Carr stressed that BAE does not make political judgements and that its allies are whoever the UK government says they are. In other words, dictatorships can be your friends as long as government ministers and civil servants approve.

The superficial and evasive claims of political neutrality ignore the millions of pounds that BAE spends on lobbying and trying to influence governments and politicians at home and abroad. Yes, the government is absolutely complicit in their actions, but no company can simply outsource its moral compass to Whitehall.

To Carr and his colleagues, human rights abuses and conflict are an inevitable side-effect of international relations. The repression and death that weapons cause is merely collateral damage in the maintenance of peace and stability, a peace and stability that can only come to be through even greater militarism and the sale of even more weapons. Everybody has weapons, the logic goes, so the bigger the weapons the safer you are.

Upon making my way back to Farnborough train station (with a BAE-provided vegetarian packed-lunch in hand), I couldn’t help but feel like I was stepping out of a dystopian, surreal and extremely cynical world.

Theirs is a world-view in which arming tyrants can bring peace and equality, and where the human consequences of war have nothing whatsoever to do with the weapons that are used or those who provide them.

They want the rest of us to ignore what they do and go back to our daily lives. All the while they will continue to tell themselves that they are striving for peace and making the world a little bit safer, one arms sale at a time.

See Also:

Special Report | What was Theresa May actually doing in Saudi Arabia? And who was she doing it for?
Politics | The UK Government must end its shameful complicity in the destruction of Yemen
Comment | This victory shows we can, and must, shut down the DSEI arms fair for good

Ideas | Fathers and Fascism: The Oedipal Landscape of the Le Pens

Sat, 2017-05-06 16:44

Overcoming castration: what happens when we get what we most desire? Depending on the relation to our structures of mind, it can be catastrophic.

Much has been written about fathers and fascism, ever since Theodore Adorno conceptualised the germination of fascism as psychologically relying on the submission to – and the continued unconscious presence of – an authoritarian father. Adorno wrote how the father is inaugurated in the mind not just as a terrorising object but, if remote, disciplinarian or unforgiving, give shape to a self-assailing super-ego.

Such a vicious super-ego results in the need to project these assaults outward onto, say, minorities or other groups castigated as weak. French colonialism was a good thing, according to the recent leader of France’s Front National. Tough medicine. Tough love. Character building.

What specifically does this have to do with fathers? The super-ego is decisively not the paternal function, its role more directly related to madness (psychosis) and that’s how it bears uniquely on Front National Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

For Freudians, the paternal function does not actually have to be a literal father, but rather a ‘third’ some sort. The paternal function, a pivotal psychic development, forms through any kind of consistent prohibition, negation or ‘no’. Sometimes it is the mother left to be the disciplinarian or arbiter of reality within families: to let children know what is possible, but critically also what is not possible.

On France’s political stage fifteen years ago Jean Marie, the senior Le Pen, made it to the second round in the French general election of 2002, but lost the final vote. Impossible for him, perhaps not for her. But can our own psychic landscape accommodate that? There’s the idea of a dead father and then there’s murdering him yourself.

There are relatively finite terms of reality we all navigate: no one can be age seven forever. None of us can get everything we want. Not all decisions are reversible. Consequences exist. How we understand these amounts to our ‘grip on reality’, or more psychoanalytically worded, our sense of Self in relation to the world. An election candidacy that your father failed in previously very clearly puts at stake the existing psychic order of things. Fail and you are him, unusual enough, but win and you are successful replacement, exceeding him in the eyes of the world.

Freud’s Totem and Tabboo explained this paradoxical possibility: the advent of a tribe murdering their tribal leader, their father, and the guilt and horror afterwards. You might wish to overcome your place in the structure, but once you do, all previously established meaning is abolished. Psychoanalyst Rosine Perelberg’s book Murdered Father, Dead Father uses Auschwitz as a model of the world of the murdered father: a psychotic universe.

Marine Le Pen’s potential exists to not only become President of France, but in doing so, exceed her father on precise personal and political terms of their own family drama: fascism rising in France and the Le Pen’s Oedipal scene coincide. But are they similar figures? How closely following in the father’s shadow are the daughter’s footsteps? Le Pen Sr. has been estranged from Le Pen Jr. since 2015 when she played a pivotal role in expelling him from the Front National for making anti-Semitic comments. She has called their feud, “the hardest time of my life except childbirth”.

Marine Le Pen’s childhood was marked by her father’s politics; as an 8-year-old girl her home was hit by a bomb meant for him. In the last televised Presidential debate Le Pen stated, “Why would you [Macron] go to Algeria and accuse France of crimes against humanity?” a war her father committed torture during. Though the father called the holocaust’s gas chambers, “a detail of history’, the daughter had her own minor version of holocaust revisionism in denying French responsibility for the Vel’ d’Hiv Round-up of July 1942, wherein 13,152 Jewish Paris residents were rounded up in the Winter Velodrome, approximately 4000 of them children, with almost all sent to extermination camps and killed.

Is it possible for Le Pen’s political trajectory to have this relation to her father? Freud postulated little boys have an unconscious wish to kill their fathers and marry their mothers (and little girls to murder their mothers and possess their fathers), named after Oedipus, the King in Greek mythology. This was later extended, developing away from the early normative model towards an open Oedipus complex by 1911’s essay Leonardo Da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood. Da Vinici was raised by a single mother and was speculated to have been gay. In this respect Freud theorised Da Vinci remained both heterosexually loyal to his mother as the only woman he would ever love, but also, Freud suggested, identified with her in his romances with men. Oedipus requires no particular formula, therefore it is perfectly credible that Le Pen wishes to supplant her father despite her status as a woman.

Le Pen is in fact, as we all feel it, retrospectively addressing a universal castration fantasy. Castration means the inability to satisfy or realisation of limits to our powers or capacities. If Le Pen succeeds on Sunday night she will have overcome all measure of foreseen possibility, outstripping her father and family expectation: unseating him at the family dinner table once and for all. This is one reason her campaign, like Trump’s and popularism generally, is so exciting. Defying what we are told is possible, pushing against the limits of reality. There is no frightening outright chaos, but we feel the terms of what is allowed being reassembled.

Le Pen Jr. has stated she expects her father to telephone if she wins the Presidency, almost as if she knows such success will render him eclipsed. Telephoning in an attempt to maintain relevance or remind her he is still alive: she has not fully killed him off yet. The crux of the problem emerges: once your object of desire is obtained, what is left? Where does desire have left to go? Of course, the simple answer is it transforms towards a new object: a second term in office, a different lover, a greater literary legacy, a better house and so on. What might cause real trouble for Le Pen Jr. is that her desire is so tightly bound up with her father. Once he is no longer the linchpin of political destiny, once she replaces him and annihilates his structuring force in her mind, it could send meaning into freefall.

The obliteration of or lack of a paternal function is classically what facilitates a ‘psychic break’ resulting in psychosis. Freud’s Schreber Case is one such example. In winning, Le Pen will transcend her father and in doing so recast primal castration by negotiating a different psychological order, or descend into crippling madness (the latter firmly being better for France’s ethnic minorities.)

What does it matter anyway? Well, as the speculation over Donald Trump’s states of mind indicates, the psyche of political leaders affects their decisions; decisions the mass populace has to suffer. In an election wrought with Freudianism – let’s not forget Macron is married to his own symbolic mother figure, his former school teacher, a decade and a half older than him – the relation of fascism to authoritarian fathers should make us take up the questions of why it is that fervently patriarchal family units reproduce themselves in such politically violent ways.

Ideas | Fathers and Fascism: The Oedipal Landscape of the Le Pens

Sat, 2017-05-06 16:44

Overcoming castration: what happens when we get what we most desire? Depending on the relation to our structures of mind, it can be catastrophic.

Much has been written about fathers and fascism, ever since Theodore Adorno conceptualised the germination of fascism as psychologically relying on the submission to – and the continued unconscious presence of – an authoritarian father. Adorno wrote how the father is inaugurated in the mind not just as a terrorising object but, if remote, disciplinarian or unforgiving, give shape to a self-assailing super-ego.

Such a vicious super-ego results in the need to project these assaults outward onto, say, minorities or other groups castigated as weak. French colonialism was a good thing, according to the recent leader of France’s Front National. Tough medicine. Tough love. Character building.

What specifically does this have to do with fathers? The super-ego is decisively not the paternal function, its role more directly related to madness (psychosis) and that’s how it bears uniquely on Front National Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

For Freudians, the paternal function does not actually have to be a literal father, but rather a ‘third’ some sort. The paternal function, a pivotal psychic development, forms through any kind of consistent prohibition, negation or ‘no’. Sometimes it is the mother left to be the disciplinarian or arbiter of reality within families: to let children know what is possible, but critically also what is not possible.

On France’s political stage fifteen years ago Jean Marie, the senior Le Pen, made it to the second round in the French general election of 2002, but lost the final vote. Impossible for him, perhaps not for her. But can our own psychic landscape accommodate that? There’s the idea of a dead father and then there’s murdering him yourself.

There are relatively finite terms of reality we all navigate: no one can be age seven forever. None of us can get everything we want. Not all decisions are reversible. Consequences exist. How we understand these amounts to our ‘grip on reality’, or more psychoanalytically worded, our sense of Self in relation to the world. An election candidacy that your father failed in previously very clearly puts at stake the existing psychic order of things. Fail and you are him, unusual enough, but win and you are successful replacement, exceeding him in the eyes of the world.

Freud’s Totem and Tabboo explained this paradoxical possibility: the advent of a tribe murdering their tribal leader, their father, and the guilt and horror afterwards. You might wish to overcome your place in the structure, but once you do, all previously established meaning is abolished. Psychoanalyst Rosine Perelberg’s book Murdered Father, Dead Father uses Auschwitz as a model of the world of the murdered father: a psychotic universe.

Marine Le Pen’s potential exists to not only become President of France, but in doing so, exceed her father on precise personal and political terms of their own family drama: fascism rising in France and the Le Pen’s Oedipal scene coincide. But are they similar figures? How closely following in the father’s shadow are the daughter’s footsteps? Le Pen Sr. has been estranged from Le Pen Jr. since 2015 when she played a pivotal role in expelling him from the Front National for making anti-Semitic comments. She has called their feud, “the hardest time of my life except childbirth”.

Marine Le Pen’s childhood was marked by her father’s politics; as an 8-year-old girl her home was hit by a bomb meant for him. In the last televised Presidential debate Le Pen stated, “Why would you [Macron] go to Algeria and accuse France of crimes against humanity?” a war her father committed torture during. Though the father called the holocaust’s gas chambers, “a detail of history’, the daughter had her own minor version of holocaust revisionism in denying French responsibility for the Vel’ d’Hiv Round-up of July 1942, wherein 13,152 Jewish Paris residents were rounded up in the Winter Velodrome, approximately 4000 of them children, with almost all sent to extermination camps and killed.

Is it possible for Le Pen’s political trajectory to have this relation to her father? Freud postulated little boys have an unconscious wish to kill their fathers and marry their mothers (and little girls to murder their mothers and possess their fathers), named after Oedipus, the King in Greek mythology. This was later extended, developing away from the early normative model towards an open Oedipus complex by 1911’s essay Leonardo Da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood. Da Vinici was raised by a single mother and was speculated to have been gay. In this respect Freud theorised Da Vinci remained both heterosexually loyal to his mother as the only woman he would ever love, but also, Freud suggested, identified with her in his romances with men. Oedipus requires no particular formula, therefore it is perfectly credible that Le Pen wishes to supplant her father despite her status as a woman.

Le Pen is in fact, as we all feel it, retrospectively addressing a universal castration fantasy. Castration means the inability to satisfy or realisation of limits to our powers or capacities. If Le Pen succeeds on Sunday night she will have overcome all measure of foreseen possibility, outstripping her father and family expectation: unseating him at the family dinner table once and for all. This is one reason her campaign, like Trump’s and popularism generally, is so exciting. Defying what we are told is possible, pushing against the limits of reality. There is no frightening outright chaos, but we feel the terms of what is allowed being reassembled.

Le Pen Jr. has stated she expects her father to telephone if she wins the Presidency, almost as if she knows such success will render him eclipsed. Telephoning in an attempt to maintain relevance or remind her he is still alive: she has not fully killed him off yet. The crux of the problem emerges: once your object of desire is obtained, what is left? Where does desire have left to go? Of course, the simple answer is it transforms towards a new object: a second term in office, a different lover, a greater literary legacy, a better house and so on. What might cause real trouble for Le Pen Jr. is that her desire is so tightly bound up with her father. Once he is no longer the linchpin of political destiny, once she replaces him and annihilates his structuring force in her mind, it could send meaning into freefall.

The obliteration of or lack of a paternal function is classically what facilitates a ‘psychic break’ resulting in psychosis. Freud’s Schreber Case is one such example. In winning, Le Pen will transcend her father and in doing so recast primal castration by negotiating a different psychological order, or descend into crippling madness (the latter firmly being better for France’s ethnic minorities.)

What does it matter anyway? Well, as the speculation over Donald Trump’s states of mind indicates, the psyche of political leaders affects their decisions; decisions the mass populace has to suffer. In an election wrought with Freudianism – let’s not forget Macron is married to his own symbolic mother figure, his former school teacher, a decade and a half older than him – the relation of fascism to authoritarian fathers should make us take up the questions of why it is that fervently patriarchal family units reproduce themselves in such politically violent ways.

An A to Z of Theory | Augusto Boal: Legislative Theatre and Politics

Tue, 2017-04-11 12:01

In Legislative Theatre, democracy is a two-way exchange between legislator and voters. The elector should not simply be a spectator, but a participant, a spect-actor. (Photo: Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro)

Legislative Theatre

Boal developed the method of legislative theatre during his tenure (1993-97) as vereador (city councillor/MP) for the Workers’ Party, before the latter’s reconciliation with neoliberalism. When he was elected, Boal used half of his vereador staff allowance to hire Jokers. These Jokers pioneered legislative theatre with community groups, formulating proposals which were submitted as potential laws.

Boal describes the experience of being a vereador much like the masks in his theatrical work. It is like putting on a strait-jacket: People respond to him according to his role, not his personality. He is subjected to constant ‘mental pollution’ from bureaucracy. He emphasises that he never simply used theatre for party-political ends. He sympathises with the population’s hostility to the political class. But he also tried to use theatre and parliamentary politics to produce better laws.

As might be expected, Boal was subjected to hostility from the right-wing media and the political establishment – including a series of defamatory accusations and unsuccessful (but disruptive and expensive) court cases. One of the essays in Legislative Theatre discusses the history of representations of the Devil, in light of a literal demonisation by the mayor: the PT were accused of making pacts with the Devil.

Legislative theatre is rooted in ideas of participatory (or transitive) democracy. In this view, real democracy is a two-way exchange between legislator and voters, similar to Freirean education and Theatre of the Oppressed. The elector should not simply be a spectator, but a participant, a spect-actor. The relationship between legislators and voters should produce dynamisation, not catharsis. Election season in Brazil is already, according to Boal, an erotic or carnivalesque moment of public performance. Legislative theatre takes this process further, promoting participation.

More broadly, Boal calls for a participatory democracy. The centralising, authoritarian, normative tendencies of the state should be dismantled, and replaced by democratic organs at the base level. These organs should create a genuine dialogue between different groups, regions, countries, and so on.

The idea of legislative theatre is that sometimes, solutions to spect-actors’ problems are rooted in bad laws. Solving the problems requires changing the laws. Law is seen as an expression of someone’s desire. At present it expresses the desire of the powerful – but it can also express the desires of the people. The absence of a critique of the structure of law and normativity is a noticeable problem here.

Participation in this case is far deeper than simple “consultation” on policies. Some kind of collective policy formation occurs, which the representative expresses, rather than deciding. The process occurs with a range of affinity-groups or “nuclei”. In practice, most of these were from excluded or marginalised groups, but with great diversity among them. They included, for example, groups of black students, shanty-town residents, trade unionists, older people, people with disabilities, and ecological activists. In legislative theatre, outcomes need to be taken to other settings and re-tested. Shows originate in one community, but are performed and discussed in others. This is necessary to connect problems facing very different groups.

The thirteen laws resulting from this process mostly dealt with rights for people with disabilities, older people, mental health patients, and gay couples – for example, prohibiting discriminatory room-pricing for gay couples at motels, banning electro-shock therapy, and putting telephone boxes on raised platforms so blind people can find or avoid them. Boal rates his most important law as a witness protection measure. He also emphasises that the only law he formulated himself was badly thought-out, in contrast with the collective measures. He suggests that, in these thirteen cases, the theatre groups have made desire become law.

Social Problems in Brazil

The book Legislative Theatre also includes a number of Boal’s interventions and speeches during his spell as vereador. These interventions included a speech – “Memory and the Torture Chamber” – which arguably helped win the vote to preserve a notorious torture site as a memorial site. In this piece, Boal argued that the destruction of the memory of past human rights abuses leads to present atrocities such as the Carandiru massacre.

The two main problems in Brazil, according to Boal, are poverty and physical violence. The system keeps people poor and ignorant so it can control them. The problem of poverty is visible in manifestations such as begging and child sex work. But it has become invisible in itself. Capitalists dominate other groups (such as artists) through a law that only takes capitalist interests into account. Discussing the Candelária massacre, in which seven street children were murdered by police, Boal argues that the crime of the massacre should not make us forget the deeper crime that children were sleeping in the street to begin with.

Another recurring topic is corruption. Boal argues that vote-buying ultimately costs the people who think they gain. People who pay bribes to be elected will often pass laws which raise their voters’ cost of living. The political elite are condemned for breaking agreements – a situation which makes agreements virtually impossible, reducing everything to a conflictual arithmetic.

Land-grabs against poor people are another frequent topic. Officials simply ignore the lives of poor people when their invisible, unregistered settlements are in the way of development projects. The essay “Resignation” denounces the government’s failure to take measures against the predictable deaths and homelessness which arise from flooding every March. Another essay, “Elizete”, focuses on the problem of forced displacement.

Evicted people, and flood survivors, are resettled – but their food supplies go missing. The supplies are probably being stolen by other poor people during the delivery process. Boal suggests this is a case where people come to blows, or harm one another, because they are so poor. In a moving account, Boal denounces the police violence, above and beyond the norm, that displaced people suffered while protesting. And he recounts how, for one survivor, Elizete, mirrors have become triggering – she cannot look at herself as a human being. This piece shows starkly the inhumanity of capitalism and statism – and the problem of forced displacements has re-emerged as a major issue around the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Similar things also happen in Britain and neighbouring countries.

At one point, Boal exposes the ridiculousness of state repression. He was being tortured because of an offence which, it turns out, was that he spread the “lie” that, in Brazil, people are tortured. This incident is also worked into Boal’s play Torquemada.

Other essays deal with the rise of organised crime in Brazil. Boal analyses organised crime as a spin-off from political violence. Kidnapping was used first by the military during the dictatorship, then by guerrillas in retaliation, and eventually became common practice. He sees crime as a kind of social regression. The absolute despotism of a drug lord is a regression to the earliest stages of monarchical power, when justice simply meant the king’s whim. However, the root cause is social injustice, which deepens hatred and fuels violence. In addition, the networks of police and criminals are interlinked. Boal is also careful to emphasise that massacres by state forces are also a huge problem, and disturbingly popular. For instance, shopkeepers hire police to kill street children.

There is a remarkable difference between Boal’s discussions of contemporary organised crime, and his fond memories for the chicken thieves of his childhood. The latter were brave and cunning, forced to steal to feed their families, while risking a thoroughly unjust lynching or expulsion by the community. Unlike today’s elite criminals, they had honour.

The Politics of Boal’s Recent Work

Politically, Boal’s early work, such as Theatre of the Oppressed, is clearly Marxist and anti-imperialist. His more recent work incorporates democratic, humanitarian and poststructuralist themes. The strand running through both approaches is Boal’s underlying humanism. Boal sees human beings as creative actors, with a calling to pursue freedom and happiness in an otherwise hostile world.

At one point, Boal suggests that people are constantly fighting against nature for survival and joy. This struggle for pleasure is both a right and a duty. It is sometimes suggested that people must change the world themselves – or else it will stay the same. The struggle for pleasure is the source of everything extraordinary in human life. In contrast, nature is seen as a Hobbesian law of the jungle, in which the strong consume the weak. Through the struggle against oppression, ethics is to prevail over nature. The debt to humanist modernism is clear here, and the worrying theme of domination of nature is a limit to Boal’s conception of oppression (See part 7). There is a certain ambiguity here, in that Boal both celebrates vital force, and attempts to disassociate it from nature. Life, or nature, itself has no meaning. Artists and madmen seek to give meaning to life, to order its chaos. Boal asks that they never cure our madness, and that all become mad in this sense.

However, we are forever haunted by our barbaric side. We have a predatory animal nature we cannot be rid of. For instance, we have to kill (plants or animals) to eat. Nature gives us this animal side. Ethics, in contrast, is a human invention. The role of culture is to transcend our nature and create an ethical world. Boal wishes to move towards a society without oppression. However, he also sees “society” in conventional, conservative or liberal terms, as a normative order protecting us from chaos. It is a type of civilisation which uses laws, commands and values to protect us from barbarism. Autonomy – everyone setting their own ethic – is defined as barbarism. We are responsible for creating a better future. We have free will, and cannot deny it. Putting profit before the welfare of others is unforgivable. Capitalism and authoritarianism are types of reversion to a barbaric animal nature.

This humanist dualism informs Boal’s critiques of capitalism and militarism. International relations are basically predatory, despite the illusions of diplomacy. Globalisation is simply another name for this ages-old predation. Boal would be in favour of globalisation of welfare. But instead, the quest for profits is globalised. This process homogenises people, making us all alike. The desire to privatise space is also taken to be a less-than-human, “animal” drive. It involves the capture of territory. The consumerist spectacle is part of this drive. In modern spectacular societies, each society tries to expand its spectacle as its territory.

Boal emphasises that he is not against types of business which are about satisfying needs, such as street markets. He is against the type of business which creates addictions or stimulates unnecessary needs. Boal is afraid that the values of profit and the market are displacing humanist values. Humans seek to expand ourselves – outwards as territory, inwards as poetry. Today, the outer form of expansion seems to have eclipsed the inner.

In addition, Boal sometimes sees social problems as resulting from barbarism. Repressive, rigid morality is taken to be an effect of economic scarcity, for instance in relation to sexual morality and pregnancy. However, when working with the MST, Boal found there was more democracy when people were in very poor conditions. Once they settled on farms, gender and age hierarchies resurfaced.

Boal clearly uses modernist categories for socially progressive goals. However, this kind of modernism is problematic. The figures used by Boal – the savage, cannibal, animal-like, hominid, primitive, barbaric, and so on – are associated with modern coloniality in its wars against indigenous groups, its practices of animal abuse and ecocide, and its perpetuation of Northern “humanitarian” imperialism. The idea of a separate humanity, superior to nature – and especially of a division into those closer and further from nature, with a preference for the latter – is closely tied-up with abyssal thought and resultant genocides and enslavements. It is dangerous to reproduce such figures, even if refigured as a progressive critique.

However, Boal gives an unusual twist to the humanist account. Usually, such humanist binaries serve psychological repression: we must contain our emotions and be instrumental and productive, so as to be “human” rather than “animal”. For Boal, humanism is aligned on the side of expression and de-repression.  The main types of modern power – capitalism, authoritarianism, mass production, imperialism, globalisation – are defined as forms of barbarism, marked with the sign of the inhuman. In a sense, Boal inverts the usual loading of the terms, at least insofar as they mark different groups of humans.

Boal’s argument sometimes seems to naturalise oppressive structures. All societies have more-or-less organised structures, ranks, and so on. Humans are herd animals by nature. Leaders always have charisma, and are usually of three types. Ideological leaders are followed for their ideas. Pathological leaders are manipulative, and zoological leaders are extremely egocentric tyrants. Although Boal believes that all societies need rules, he also believes that breaking rules is necessary to liberate us from oppression.

In Boal’s theory, social rituals are usually visual expressions of a society’s oppressions. They create mechanical ways of responding to oppressive situations. Boal isn’t necessarily against norms and normativity. He takes a position that norms are both necessary (for predictability) and in a sense undesirable. They are somewhat authoritarian, and suppress needs and desires. Boal uses the term “ritual” for particularly oppressive, imprisoning forms of normativity. This type of norm is not socially necessary. The process of dismantling masks and rituals reveals the oppressive relationships underneath. Some rituals are also ambiguous. Even misunderstandings of performances often contain useful information. Rituals can often be broken by acting in ways which defy their rules. For example, in one scene a boss sits on a tall chair behind a big desk. The worker or client has to sit on a lower chair. One actress subverted this by sitting on the boss’s desk.

Boal’s work has evolved in radical-democratic directions. In recent works, Boal writes of persuading or forcing governments to ask us what they should do, much as actors in Forum Theatre do. He contrasts this ideal with the current situation where society is simply a massive marketplace. After 911, Boal portrayed his theatrical work as a path for youths who were seeking a ‘true identity’ which had been suppressed by political rhetoric and censored media.

Boal’s politics become increasingly liberal in his recent work. After his earlier years of anti-systemic politics, Boal carefully reinvents himself as an advocate of the “rule of law”, rejecting his guerrilla years as a mistake. Boal now sees law as necessary to prevent a Hobbesian world where everything is permitted, a world he identifies with Brazilian organised crime.

Animals are seen as driven merely by survival at any cost, the “law of the jungle”, the “survival of the fittest”. Humans are separated from animals by ethics, which define how people should behave: ‘the individual judged by the norms of society’. Human rights are the highest form of normativity. Opponents of these norms are primitive or barbaric. There is thus a constant struggle between the ethics of “Civilisation” and the barbarism of those who reject normative constraint. The punishment of criminals, in line with judicial power, is taken to be coextensive with human rights, and the war of civilisation against barbarism. If people don’t fear retribution, there is disorder.

I find this piece deeply problematic. Boal does not seem to realise that this argument repeats standard reactionary arguments against social struggle and diversity, and a basically liberal view of normativity. Similar arguments can be – and are – used to defend all kinds of authoritarian laws and forms of state repression. The account, like others of its kind, is also largely inaccurate. Normativity is always the law of some against others, of ingroup against outgroup. Norms and law may have earlier origins, but modern law and law-enforcement arose with the rise of class society, and function to destroy horizontal relations so as to reproduce vertical power. Subordination to judicial power is an effect, not of progressive “civilisation” of a formerly evil humanity, but of the historical rise of concentrated power. (In fact, Boal also makes contradictory claims: “law of the jungle” as primordial, pre-human reality, or as historically emerging, Machiavellian ethic). In Boal’s earlier works, law gets a straighter, less liberal treatment.  While there are oppressors and oppressed, the law is always hypocritical. Law and order are simply rhetoric to hypnotise the demoralised masses.

The human world is no more peaceful than most animal species are among their own species, and more violent than many. So-called “primitive” (indigenous and non-western) groups are not marked by random violence, but by greater dialogue than “modern” social groups. Survival of the fittest is a capitalistic principle, far more than an indigenous or naturalistic principle (fitness relativity largely precludes Hobbesian readings in modern biology). And there is a world of difference between normativity – the coerced subordination to socially-imposed rules – and the process of ethical creation which Boal’s work elsewhere celebrates.

However, Boal uses this basically conservative argument in a progressive way. He portrays reactionary opponents of human rights as opposing normativity and law. In effect, he mobilises the idea of law against the discourse of sovereignty which suspends the law. This is an important point: someone who really believes in the law, or in dominant norms, would be just as condemnatory of police brutality as of any other illegal or immoral act.

In another essay, on Romeo and Juliet, Boal suggests that the emergence of centralised political power is a form of progress, against a diffuse medieval form of power. And in yet another, ‘The Individual and the Twenty-First Century’, he portrays then-current wars and crises, such as those in Rwanda, Angola, and DR Congo, as representing a return to savagery. This could, he argues, be the future of humanity unless we resist individualisation. He is also nostalgic for the unity of World War 2.

Later we are told that people have learnt a lack of respect, and that neglect of the poor is an instance of this. People need to be given the security of collective respect for an overall structure in which everyone knows their place. This seems a strangely characterological way of thinking of social relations, reminiscent of conservative views of social problems as social breakdown.

Boal’s slippage into liberal or conservative discourse is here closely connected to his humanism. However, the feeling of a lack of structure and meaning is also probably connected to the anxiety and decomposition brought about by neoliberalism. As capitalism moves from a phase focused on centralised power to a more diffuse form of hierarchy, core (or formerly privileged) groups experience a loss of structure, meaning and predictability – what psychoanalysts term a loss of the Symbolic. The enforcement of fixed norms as a response to this breakdown – a restoration of an authoritarian Symbolic, with or without leftist undertones – is an ultimately counterproductive, but common, response. The danger is that it restores the structure of sovereignty and therefore the reproduction of capitalism. The narrative of a meaningful humanity united by a meaning-structure and a common ethic is caught-up with modernity and its underside, colonialism. I feel that dissidents instead need to find ways to produce a diffuse Symbolic, or else do without it.

Boal is on less controversial terrain in his critique of globalisation. He argues that globalisation works mainly by atomisation. It has to individualise people to make them part of a global space, eliminating the intervening social levels. This in turn requires that practices of coming-together, such as demonstrations and popular organisation, be made as difficult as possible. But, like earlier televisual individualisation, this process does not make people increasingly unique. It destroys their individuality, making differences disappear, so there is no difference between one individual and another. And individuals ultimately lose their decision-making power to banks and corporations. Hence, paradoxically, we now need collective organisations to continue to exist as individuals – rather than as statistics or grains of sand. Boal also mourns the effects of neoliberal globalisation, such as the disappearance of crafts and skills, and the corruption of the political elite. He also warns that art is faced with death. Art will die without patronage. And if patronage is controlled by business, art will become moribund. The external priorities of funders will displace the inner vision of the artist.

Boal terms globalisation phagocytosis, a kind of absorption through eating at a cellular level. Globalisation breaks down borders between nations, but not those between classes. Therefore, it is accompanied by walls and borders springing up – from gated communities in Brazil, to anti-immigration policies in the North. He suggests that, if there is a society at all, then everyone in it must have a right to live. Without basic welfare rights, there is no society.

On the other hand, Boal still insists that social improvement is possible. Social harmony is ‘more or less’ possible, ‘almost always’. Everyone can be taken into account, even if all their desires are not met. Boal also maintains that anyone can do anything that any human can do – albeit better or worse. Overall, he still sees humanism as a progressive force, even in the face of the neoliberal onslaught.

For other essays in the series, please visit the In Theory column page.

An A to Z of Theory | Augusto Boal: Legislative Theatre and Politics

Tue, 2017-04-11 12:01

In Legislative Theatre, democracy is a two-way exchange between legislator and voters. The elector should not simply be a spectator, but a participant, a spect-actor. (Photo: Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro)

Legislative Theatre

Boal developed the method of legislative theatre during his tenure (1993-97) as vereador (city councillor/MP) for the Workers’ Party, before the latter’s reconciliation with neoliberalism. When he was elected, Boal used half of his vereador staff allowance to hire Jokers. These Jokers pioneered legislative theatre with community groups, formulating proposals which were submitted as potential laws.

Boal describes the experience of being a vereador much like the masks in his theatrical work. It is like putting on a strait-jacket: People respond to him according to his role, not his personality. He is subjected to constant ‘mental pollution’ from bureaucracy. He emphasises that he never simply used theatre for party-political ends. He sympathises with the population’s hostility to the political class. But he also tried to use theatre and parliamentary politics to produce better laws.

As might be expected, Boal was subjected to hostility from the right-wing media and the political establishment – including a series of defamatory accusations and unsuccessful (but disruptive and expensive) court cases. One of the essays in Legislative Theatre discusses the history of representations of the Devil, in light of a literal demonisation by the mayor: the PT were accused of making pacts with the Devil.

Legislative theatre is rooted in ideas of participatory (or transitive) democracy. In this view, real democracy is a two-way exchange between legislator and voters, similar to Freirean education and Theatre of the Oppressed. The elector should not simply be a spectator, but a participant, a spect-actor. The relationship between legislators and voters should produce dynamisation, not catharsis. Election season in Brazil is already, according to Boal, an erotic or carnivalesque moment of public performance. Legislative theatre takes this process further, promoting participation.

More broadly, Boal calls for a participatory democracy. The centralising, authoritarian, normative tendencies of the state should be dismantled, and replaced by democratic organs at the base level. These organs should create a genuine dialogue between different groups, regions, countries, and so on.

The idea of legislative theatre is that sometimes, solutions to spect-actors’ problems are rooted in bad laws. Solving the problems requires changing the laws. Law is seen as an expression of someone’s desire. At present it expresses the desire of the powerful – but it can also express the desires of the people. The absence of a critique of the structure of law and normativity is a noticeable problem here.

Participation in this case is far deeper than simple “consultation” on policies. Some kind of collective policy formation occurs, which the representative expresses, rather than deciding. The process occurs with a range of affinity-groups or “nuclei”. In practice, most of these were from excluded or marginalised groups, but with great diversity among them. They included, for example, groups of black students, shanty-town residents, trade unionists, older people, people with disabilities, and ecological activists. In legislative theatre, outcomes need to be taken to other settings and re-tested. Shows originate in one community, but are performed and discussed in others. This is necessary to connect problems facing very different groups.

The thirteen laws resulting from this process mostly dealt with rights for people with disabilities, older people, mental health patients, and gay couples – for example, prohibiting discriminatory room-pricing for gay couples at motels, banning electro-shock therapy, and putting telephone boxes on raised platforms so blind people can find or avoid them. Boal rates his most important law as a witness protection measure. He also emphasises that the only law he formulated himself was badly thought-out, in contrast with the collective measures. He suggests that, in these thirteen cases, the theatre groups have made desire become law.

Social Problems in Brazil

The book Legislative Theatre also includes a number of Boal’s interventions and speeches during his spell as vereador. These interventions included a speech – “Memory and the Torture Chamber” – which arguably helped win the vote to preserve a notorious torture site as a memorial site. In this piece, Boal argued that the destruction of the memory of past human rights abuses leads to present atrocities such as the Carandiru massacre.

The two main problems in Brazil, according to Boal, are poverty and physical violence. The system keeps people poor and ignorant so it can control them. The problem of poverty is visible in manifestations such as begging and child sex work. But it has become invisible in itself. Capitalists dominate other groups (such as artists) through a law that only takes capitalist interests into account. Discussing the Candelária massacre, in which seven street children were murdered by police, Boal argues that the crime of the massacre should not make us forget the deeper crime that children were sleeping in the street to begin with.

Another recurring topic is corruption. Boal argues that vote-buying ultimately costs the people who think they gain. People who pay bribes to be elected will often pass laws which raise their voters’ cost of living. The political elite are condemned for breaking agreements – a situation which makes agreements virtually impossible, reducing everything to a conflictual arithmetic.

Land-grabs against poor people are another frequent topic. Officials simply ignore the lives of poor people when their invisible, unregistered settlements are in the way of development projects. The essay “Resignation” denounces the government’s failure to take measures against the predictable deaths and homelessness which arise from flooding every March. Another essay, “Elizete”, focuses on the problem of forced displacement.

Evicted people, and flood survivors, are resettled – but their food supplies go missing. The supplies are probably being stolen by other poor people during the delivery process. Boal suggests this is a case where people come to blows, or harm one another, because they are so poor. In a moving account, Boal denounces the police violence, above and beyond the norm, that displaced people suffered while protesting. And he recounts how, for one survivor, Elizete, mirrors have become triggering – she cannot look at herself as a human being. This piece shows starkly the inhumanity of capitalism and statism – and the problem of forced displacements has re-emerged as a major issue around the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Similar things also happen in Britain and neighbouring countries.

At one point, Boal exposes the ridiculousness of state repression. He was being tortured because of an offence which, it turns out, was that he spread the “lie” that, in Brazil, people are tortured. This incident is also worked into Boal’s play Torquemada.

Other essays deal with the rise of organised crime in Brazil. Boal analyses organised crime as a spin-off from political violence. Kidnapping was used first by the military during the dictatorship, then by guerrillas in retaliation, and eventually became common practice. He sees crime as a kind of social regression. The absolute despotism of a drug lord is a regression to the earliest stages of monarchical power, when justice simply meant the king’s whim. However, the root cause is social injustice, which deepens hatred and fuels violence. In addition, the networks of police and criminals are interlinked. Boal is also careful to emphasise that massacres by state forces are also a huge problem, and disturbingly popular. For instance, shopkeepers hire police to kill street children.

There is a remarkable difference between Boal’s discussions of contemporary organised crime, and his fond memories for the chicken thieves of his childhood. The latter were brave and cunning, forced to steal to feed their families, while risking a thoroughly unjust lynching or expulsion by the community. Unlike today’s elite criminals, they had honour.

The Politics of Boal’s Recent Work

Politically, Boal’s early work, such as Theatre of the Oppressed, is clearly Marxist and anti-imperialist. His more recent work incorporates democratic, humanitarian and poststructuralist themes. The strand running through both approaches is Boal’s underlying humanism. Boal sees human beings as creative actors, with a calling to pursue freedom and happiness in an otherwise hostile world.

At one point, Boal suggests that people are constantly fighting against nature for survival and joy. This struggle for pleasure is both a right and a duty. It is sometimes suggested that people must change the world themselves – or else it will stay the same. The struggle for pleasure is the source of everything extraordinary in human life. In contrast, nature is seen as a Hobbesian law of the jungle, in which the strong consume the weak. Through the struggle against oppression, ethics is to prevail over nature. The debt to humanist modernism is clear here, and the worrying theme of domination of nature is a limit to Boal’s conception of oppression (See part 7). There is a certain ambiguity here, in that Boal both celebrates vital force, and attempts to disassociate it from nature. Life, or nature, itself has no meaning. Artists and madmen seek to give meaning to life, to order its chaos. Boal asks that they never cure our madness, and that all become mad in this sense.

However, we are forever haunted by our barbaric side. We have a predatory animal nature we cannot be rid of. For instance, we have to kill (plants or animals) to eat. Nature gives us this animal side. Ethics, in contrast, is a human invention. The role of culture is to transcend our nature and create an ethical world. Boal wishes to move towards a society without oppression. However, he also sees “society” in conventional, conservative or liberal terms, as a normative order protecting us from chaos. It is a type of civilisation which uses laws, commands and values to protect us from barbarism. Autonomy – everyone setting their own ethic – is defined as barbarism. We are responsible for creating a better future. We have free will, and cannot deny it. Putting profit before the welfare of others is unforgivable. Capitalism and authoritarianism are types of reversion to a barbaric animal nature.

This humanist dualism informs Boal’s critiques of capitalism and militarism. International relations are basically predatory, despite the illusions of diplomacy. Globalisation is simply another name for this ages-old predation. Boal would be in favour of globalisation of welfare. But instead, the quest for profits is globalised. This process homogenises people, making us all alike. The desire to privatise space is also taken to be a less-than-human, “animal” drive. It involves the capture of territory. The consumerist spectacle is part of this drive. In modern spectacular societies, each society tries to expand its spectacle as its territory.

Boal emphasises that he is not against types of business which are about satisfying needs, such as street markets. He is against the type of business which creates addictions or stimulates unnecessary needs. Boal is afraid that the values of profit and the market are displacing humanist values. Humans seek to expand ourselves – outwards as territory, inwards as poetry. Today, the outer form of expansion seems to have eclipsed the inner.

In addition, Boal sometimes sees social problems as resulting from barbarism. Repressive, rigid morality is taken to be an effect of economic scarcity, for instance in relation to sexual morality and pregnancy. However, when working with the MST, Boal found there was more democracy when people were in very poor conditions. Once they settled on farms, gender and age hierarchies resurfaced.

Boal clearly uses modernist categories for socially progressive goals. However, this kind of modernism is problematic. The figures used by Boal – the savage, cannibal, animal-like, hominid, primitive, barbaric, and so on – are associated with modern coloniality in its wars against indigenous groups, its practices of animal abuse and ecocide, and its perpetuation of Northern “humanitarian” imperialism. The idea of a separate humanity, superior to nature – and especially of a division into those closer and further from nature, with a preference for the latter – is closely tied-up with abyssal thought and resultant genocides and enslavements. It is dangerous to reproduce such figures, even if refigured as a progressive critique.

However, Boal gives an unusual twist to the humanist account. Usually, such humanist binaries serve psychological repression: we must contain our emotions and be instrumental and productive, so as to be “human” rather than “animal”. For Boal, humanism is aligned on the side of expression and de-repression.  The main types of modern power – capitalism, authoritarianism, mass production, imperialism, globalisation – are defined as forms of barbarism, marked with the sign of the inhuman. In a sense, Boal inverts the usual loading of the terms, at least insofar as they mark different groups of humans.

Boal’s argument sometimes seems to naturalise oppressive structures. All societies have more-or-less organised structures, ranks, and so on. Humans are herd animals by nature. Leaders always have charisma, and are usually of three types. Ideological leaders are followed for their ideas. Pathological leaders are manipulative, and zoological leaders are extremely egocentric tyrants. Although Boal believes that all societies need rules, he also believes that breaking rules is necessary to liberate us from oppression.

In Boal’s theory, social rituals are usually visual expressions of a society’s oppressions. They create mechanical ways of responding to oppressive situations. Boal isn’t necessarily against norms and normativity. He takes a position that norms are both necessary (for predictability) and in a sense undesirable. They are somewhat authoritarian, and suppress needs and desires. Boal uses the term “ritual” for particularly oppressive, imprisoning forms of normativity. This type of norm is not socially necessary. The process of dismantling masks and rituals reveals the oppressive relationships underneath. Some rituals are also ambiguous. Even misunderstandings of performances often contain useful information. Rituals can often be broken by acting in ways which defy their rules. For example, in one scene a boss sits on a tall chair behind a big desk. The worker or client has to sit on a lower chair. One actress subverted this by sitting on the boss’s desk.

Boal’s work has evolved in radical-democratic directions. In recent works, Boal writes of persuading or forcing governments to ask us what they should do, much as actors in Forum Theatre do. He contrasts this ideal with the current situation where society is simply a massive marketplace. After 911, Boal portrayed his theatrical work as a path for youths who were seeking a ‘true identity’ which had been suppressed by political rhetoric and censored media.

Boal’s politics become increasingly liberal in his recent work. After his earlier years of anti-systemic politics, Boal carefully reinvents himself as an advocate of the “rule of law”, rejecting his guerrilla years as a mistake. Boal now sees law as necessary to prevent a Hobbesian world where everything is permitted, a world he identifies with Brazilian organised crime.

Animals are seen as driven merely by survival at any cost, the “law of the jungle”, the “survival of the fittest”. Humans are separated from animals by ethics, which define how people should behave: ‘the individual judged by the norms of society’. Human rights are the highest form of normativity. Opponents of these norms are primitive or barbaric. There is thus a constant struggle between the ethics of “Civilisation” and the barbarism of those who reject normative constraint. The punishment of criminals, in line with judicial power, is taken to be coextensive with human rights, and the war of civilisation against barbarism. If people don’t fear retribution, there is disorder.

I find this piece deeply problematic. Boal does not seem to realise that this argument repeats standard reactionary arguments against social struggle and diversity, and a basically liberal view of normativity. Similar arguments can be – and are – used to defend all kinds of authoritarian laws and forms of state repression. The account, like others of its kind, is also largely inaccurate. Normativity is always the law of some against others, of ingroup against outgroup. Norms and law may have earlier origins, but modern law and law-enforcement arose with the rise of class society, and function to destroy horizontal relations so as to reproduce vertical power. Subordination to judicial power is an effect, not of progressive “civilisation” of a formerly evil humanity, but of the historical rise of concentrated power. (In fact, Boal also makes contradictory claims: “law of the jungle” as primordial, pre-human reality, or as historically emerging, Machiavellian ethic). In Boal’s earlier works, law gets a straighter, less liberal treatment.  While there are oppressors and oppressed, the law is always hypocritical. Law and order are simply rhetoric to hypnotise the demoralised masses.

The human world is no more peaceful than most animal species are among their own species, and more violent than many. So-called “primitive” (indigenous and non-western) groups are not marked by random violence, but by greater dialogue than “modern” social groups. Survival of the fittest is a capitalistic principle, far more than an indigenous or naturalistic principle (fitness relativity largely precludes Hobbesian readings in modern biology). And there is a world of difference between normativity – the coerced subordination to socially-imposed rules – and the process of ethical creation which Boal’s work elsewhere celebrates.

However, Boal uses this basically conservative argument in a progressive way. He portrays reactionary opponents of human rights as opposing normativity and law. In effect, he mobilises the idea of law against the discourse of sovereignty which suspends the law. This is an important point: someone who really believes in the law, or in dominant norms, would be just as condemnatory of police brutality as of any other illegal or immoral act.

In another essay, on Romeo and Juliet, Boal suggests that the emergence of centralised political power is a form of progress, against a diffuse medieval form of power. And in yet another, ‘The Individual and the Twenty-First Century’, he portrays then-current wars and crises, such as those in Rwanda, Angola, and DR Congo, as representing a return to savagery. This could, he argues, be the future of humanity unless we resist individualisation. He is also nostalgic for the unity of World War 2.

Later we are told that people have learnt a lack of respect, and that neglect of the poor is an instance of this. People need to be given the security of collective respect for an overall structure in which everyone knows their place. This seems a strangely characterological way of thinking of social relations, reminiscent of conservative views of social problems as social breakdown.

Boal’s slippage into liberal or conservative discourse is here closely connected to his humanism. However, the feeling of a lack of structure and meaning is also probably connected to the anxiety and decomposition brought about by neoliberalism. As capitalism moves from a phase focused on centralised power to a more diffuse form of hierarchy, core (or formerly privileged) groups experience a loss of structure, meaning and predictability – what psychoanalysts term a loss of the Symbolic. The enforcement of fixed norms as a response to this breakdown – a restoration of an authoritarian Symbolic, with or without leftist undertones – is an ultimately counterproductive, but common, response. The danger is that it restores the structure of sovereignty and therefore the reproduction of capitalism. The narrative of a meaningful humanity united by a meaning-structure and a common ethic is caught-up with modernity and its underside, colonialism. I feel that dissidents instead need to find ways to produce a diffuse Symbolic, or else do without it.

Boal is on less controversial terrain in his critique of globalisation. He argues that globalisation works mainly by atomisation. It has to individualise people to make them part of a global space, eliminating the intervening social levels. This in turn requires that practices of coming-together, such as demonstrations and popular organisation, be made as difficult as possible. But, like earlier televisual individualisation, this process does not make people increasingly unique. It destroys their individuality, making differences disappear, so there is no difference between one individual and another. And individuals ultimately lose their decision-making power to banks and corporations. Hence, paradoxically, we now need collective organisations to continue to exist as individuals – rather than as statistics or grains of sand. Boal also mourns the effects of neoliberal globalisation, such as the disappearance of crafts and skills, and the corruption of the political elite. He also warns that art is faced with death. Art will die without patronage. And if patronage is controlled by business, art will become moribund. The external priorities of funders will displace the inner vision of the artist.

Boal terms globalisation phagocytosis, a kind of absorption through eating at a cellular level. Globalisation breaks down borders between nations, but not those between classes. Therefore, it is accompanied by walls and borders springing up – from gated communities in Brazil, to anti-immigration policies in the North. He suggests that, if there is a society at all, then everyone in it must have a right to live. Without basic welfare rights, there is no society.

On the other hand, Boal still insists that social improvement is possible. Social harmony is ‘more or less’ possible, ‘almost always’. Everyone can be taken into account, even if all their desires are not met. Boal also maintains that anyone can do anything that any human can do – albeit better or worse. Overall, he still sees humanism as a progressive force, even in the face of the neoliberal onslaught.

For other essays in the series, please visit the In Theory column page.

Film | ‘Get Out’: A bone-chilling, discomfort-inducing, laughter-provoking artistic and political triumph

Fri, 2017-04-07 16:22

Chris Washington (DANIEL KALUUYA) is the guest of a very odd garden party in Universal Pictures’ “Get Out.”

Warning: This review contains plot spoilers

“I’d have voted for Obama for a third time”, the central father figure of Get Out assures us within minutes of coming on screen. Though the spectres of police violence and white victimhood are never far, it is the thinner end of America’s racist wedge that Get Out tackles head-on.

What’s revealed throughout is that seemingly superficial levels of racism, those of compliments (“with your genetics and build you could be a real beast in the ring”) or coy insinuation (“is it true?” [that black men are good in bed]), are reliant on an objectifying dehumanisation operating at a deeper, more unconscious level. This is aptly brought to the fore when the father deters the main character, and the film’s hero, Chris (played by Britain’s own Daniel Kaluuya) from entering the basement, by telling him, “there’s just black mould down there”. There always is.

White suburbia’s liberal racism relies on the surreptitious perpetuation of depraved, racist tropes. The basement, once more, is used in the storytelling to represent the subconscious. Racism is acted-out openly, yet at the same time goes unrecognised, pushed below consciousness. In Get Out this recognisable composition of liberal racism exists through the direct colonisation of black bodies: Transracialism. Appropriation, taken to its absolute height, is the wholesale taking-on of a proposed ‘blackness’ by white people. In Get Out, this is writ large, the literal taking over of black bodies by whites, who desire to live ‘through’ these black bodies for their perceived ‘talents’ and ‘strength’.

This accounts for a lot of what we see within our own society: for example, how traditionally black hairstyles on white people do not only receive the same policing, but can work as a form of cultural capital. This works in most cases as an undoubtedly racist contortion. Justin Bieber is a case in point: It is no coincidence Bieber matched his dreadlocks with gang bandanas on his recent Purpose music tour. The teenie-bopper image was to be finally cast aside with a scaffolding of black masculinity. A performance deemed safe enough on Biebs so as not to deter ticket sales.

Another dimension of “whiteness as power” is its incredible ability to commodify, turning otherwise-censored ‘blackness’ directly into capital. This adorning of whiteness with gestures of ‘blackness’, through cultural re-appropriation, reaches its apex in the taking on of black identity itself: ‘Transracialism’. Rachel Dolezal has brought this term into mainstream discourse, most recently through her appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, though the integrity of the category remains a matter of contention. In Get Out, the white characters literally bid at an auction to determine who gets to steal and occupy the black body on offer. Lured into their rich, secluded, suburban trap, Chris is next on the list.

The fact that fetishism enables the colonisation of black bodies is made crystal clear throughout the film. Chris’s friend from back in Brooklyn, Rod, tells police officers, to their incredulous amusement, that he believes black people who’ve gone missing are being made into “sex slaves”. However, Transracialism goes one step further: whites taking themselves as a black sexual object: Feared, lusted after, defended against, almost every libidinal quality possible. This necessarily involves a degree of narcissism, which the – inevitably – white person (because blackness cannot intrude on white society) is entitled to enjoy in every way possible — even, when they fancy it, through adopting blackness.

As such, Blackness is a territory to be plundered, whilst whiteness exists as a category that is totally impervious and unassailable. Fetishism requires dehumanisation to exist, with the humanness of a person, the recognition of the subject, transferred instead into an object, making it human instead.

What Get Out demonstrates is that being black, like being white, is a structural position and that entails a permanency. That each is a state of ‘being’ beyond any combination of identification, skin shade or cultural production. There is a sociality constituted by power that designates black or white subjectivity, a lived reality, far beyond identity selection.

This is what makes white colonisation of black bodies necessarily a subjugation of those black bodies. Get Out’s white characters (Grandma and Grandpa), who have stolen and are now occupying black bodies, still live white lives, free from racism. Socially-constructed positions cannot be chosen via mental identification. Like how Dolezal, though now a social pariah, still lived a racially privileged (however violent) childhood and continues to enjoy living free from racist presumptions (despite her denials)

Experience is not simply a person’s recollections of experience, but what they were subject to. The Transracial figures of Get Out enjoy the same autonomy and lack of racist expectation to be able to negotiate their roles – as gardener and maid – which are soon revealed as play-acting for the benefit of the Chris character. The only authentically – i.e. actually – black person in the household, violently endures all of the repercussions that identity entails.

There is another central aspect of the film that all audiences can probably recognise: the outwardly wholesome norms of White American life are actually built on a past that is sinister and rotten. Furthermore, the racism of white people is as much to do with aggressive envy, fragility and insecurity as with anything else. More importantly, the fact that black bodies are superfluous to the specific psychological processes of white racism, is also why they are its ready target.

Get Out’s ending brings the audience to initially see a police car and think, “it’s the cops, he’s fucked!” Cue audible gasps. Chris, our hero, is to be cast as a ‘typical’ black criminal and likely shot down on sight. It’s so brilliantly done that we initially fail to notice that the film has won literally its entire audience over to its political position. For achieving that alone, it has to be up there with the best film endings of all time.

Get Out manages a seamless concoction of bone-chilling, discomfort-inducing and laughter-provoking moments, whilst at all times being relentlessly political in a way that takes you with it rather than through bashing your head into its metaphorical placard. The fact that this has made it all the way into mainstream cinematic fodder is surely due, in large measure, to the remarkable impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Racism, like sexism, is predicated on the power – and located within the mind – of the beholder of these oppressions and privileges. It does not matter whether black people identify as white, in the same way in which it does not matter whether women call themselves by any other name. They remain subject to the same conditions. What Transracialism tries to do, thus, is attempt to obfuscate that social reality through contrived manipulations of rhetoric and language: Who is really oppressed today? Isn’t it cool to be black now though? Doesn’t social construction mean something doesn’t exist finitely? Surely subjective fluidity means we can change subject position at will?

In this context, Get Out reveals the impermeable structural nature of oppression, the rotten white core of liberal racism and the fetishistic heart of Transracialism.

Film | ‘Get Out’: A bone-chilling, discomfort-inducing, laughter-provoking artistic and political triumph

Fri, 2017-04-07 16:22

Chris Washington (DANIEL KALUUYA) is the guest of a very odd garden party in Universal Pictures’ “Get Out.”

Warning: This review contains plot spoilers

“I’d have voted for Obama for a third time”, the central father figure of Get Out assures us within minutes of coming on screen. Though the spectres of police violence and white victimhood are never far, it is the thinner end of America’s racist wedge that Get Out tackles head-on.

What’s revealed throughout is that seemingly superficial levels of racism, those of compliments (“with your genetics and build you could be a real beast in the ring”) or coy insinuation (“is it true?” [that black men are good in bed]), are reliant on an objectifying dehumanisation operating at a deeper, more unconscious level. This is aptly brought to the fore when the father deters the main character, and the film’s hero, Chris (played by Britain’s own Daniel Kaluuya) from entering the basement, by telling him, “there’s just black mould down there”. There always is.

White suburbia’s liberal racism relies on the surreptitious perpetuation of depraved, racist tropes. The basement, once more, is used in the storytelling to represent the subconscious. Racism is acted-out openly, yet at the same time goes unrecognised, pushed below consciousness. In Get Out this recognisable composition of liberal racism exists through the direct colonisation of black bodies: Transracialism. Appropriation, taken to its absolute height, is the wholesale taking-on of a proposed ‘blackness’ by white people. In Get Out, this is writ large, the literal taking over of black bodies by whites, who desire to live ‘through’ these black bodies for their perceived ‘talents’ and ‘strength’.

This accounts for a lot of what we see within our own society: for example, how traditionally black hairstyles on white people do not only receive the same policing, but can work as a form of cultural capital. This works in most cases as an undoubtedly racist contortion. Justin Bieber is a case in point: It is no coincidence Bieber matched his dreadlocks with gang bandanas on his recent Purpose music tour. The teenie-bopper image was to be finally cast aside with a scaffolding of black masculinity. A performance deemed safe enough on Biebs so as not to deter ticket sales.

Another dimension of “whiteness as power” is its incredible ability to commodify, turning otherwise-censored ‘blackness’ directly into capital. This adorning of whiteness with gestures of ‘blackness’, through cultural re-appropriation, reaches its apex in the taking on of black identity itself: ‘Transracialism’. Rachel Dolezal has brought this term into mainstream discourse, most recently through her appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, though the integrity of the category remains a matter of contention. In Get Out, the white characters literally bid at an auction to determine who gets to steal and occupy the black body on offer. Lured into their rich, secluded, suburban trap, Chris is next on the list.

The fact that fetishism enables the colonisation of black bodies is made crystal clear throughout the film. Chris’s friend from back in Brooklyn, Rod, tells police officers, to their incredulous amusement, that he believes black people who’ve gone missing are being made into “sex slaves”. However, Transracialism goes one step further: whites taking themselves as a black sexual object: Feared, lusted after, defended against, almost every libidinal quality possible. This necessarily involves a degree of narcissism, which the – inevitably – white person (because blackness cannot intrude on white society) is entitled to enjoy in every way possible — even, when they fancy it, through adopting blackness.

As such, Blackness is a territory to be plundered, whilst whiteness exists as a category that is totally impervious and unassailable. Fetishism requires dehumanisation to exist, with the humanness of a person, the recognition of the subject, transferred instead into an object, making it human instead.

What Get Out demonstrates is that being black, like being white, is a structural position and that entails a permanency. That each is a state of ‘being’ beyond any combination of identification, skin shade or cultural production. There is a sociality constituted by power that designates black or white subjectivity, a lived reality, far beyond identity selection.

This is what makes white colonisation of black bodies necessarily a subjugation of those black bodies. Get Out’s white characters (Grandma and Grandpa), who have stolen and are now occupying black bodies, still live white lives, free from racism. Socially-constructed positions cannot be chosen via mental identification. Like how Dolezal, though now a social pariah, still lived a racially privileged (however violent) childhood and continues to enjoy living free from racist presumptions (despite her denials)

Experience is not simply a person’s recollections of experience, but what they were subject to. The Transracial figures of Get Out enjoy the same autonomy and lack of racist expectation to be able to negotiate their roles – as gardener and maid – which are soon revealed as play-acting for the benefit of the Chris character. The only authentically – i.e. actually – black person in the household, violently endures all of the repercussions that identity entails.

There is another central aspect of the film that all audiences can probably recognise: the outwardly wholesome norms of White American life are actually built on a past that is sinister and rotten. Furthermore, the racism of white people is as much to do with aggressive envy, fragility and insecurity as with anything else. More importantly, the fact that black bodies are superfluous to the specific psychological processes of white racism, is also why they are its ready target.

Get Out’s ending brings the audience to initially see a police car and think, “it’s the cops, he’s fucked!” Cue audible gasps. Chris, our hero, is to be cast as a ‘typical’ black criminal and likely shot down on sight. It’s so brilliantly done that we initially fail to notice that the film has won literally its entire audience over to its political position. For achieving that alone, it has to be up there with the best film endings of all time.

Get Out manages a seamless concoction of bone-chilling, discomfort-inducing and laughter-provoking moments, whilst at all times being relentlessly political in a way that takes you with it rather than through bashing your head into its metaphorical placard. The fact that this has made it all the way into mainstream cinematic fodder is surely due, in large measure, to the remarkable impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Racism, like sexism, is predicated on the power – and located within the mind – of the beholder of these oppressions and privileges. It does not matter whether black people identify as white, in the same way in which it does not matter whether women call themselves by any other name. They remain subject to the same conditions. What Transracialism tries to do, thus, is attempt to obfuscate that social reality through contrived manipulations of rhetoric and language: Who is really oppressed today? Isn’t it cool to be black now though? Doesn’t social construction mean something doesn’t exist finitely? Surely subjective fluidity means we can change subject position at will?

In this context, Get Out reveals the impermeable structural nature of oppression, the rotten white core of liberal racism and the fetishistic heart of Transracialism.

Ideas | “The revolution will be self-parody!”: Pepsi, Kendall and the Recuperation of Protest

Thu, 2017-04-06 16:17

The satisfying click of a soda can. The sprawling urban metropolis at dusk. The lone violinist serenades the city from a skyscraper rooftop. The jet-black fringe of a smouldering craftsman-musician drips crystal sweat, which spits to the touch of the white-hot sparks of his musical metallurgy; the artist as artisan. A young Muslim woman pores over her photography of marching protestors, nostalgic for an alternative present. A celebrity model holds a pose of stony-faced resilience in a hotel doorframe, symbolically linked to the pictures of protest: both are public spectacles reduced to revered images.

Frustrated by their lot, multicultural twentysomethings hang out of balconies, slinking out of implausibly spacious apartments into the orgiastic fervour of the streets. We are witnessing an uprising in a ‘eutopia’, very much an ‘other place’ as Thomas More originally intended for the term. Dancers gyrate; musicians pull out their instruments and begin to play; never mind the cacophonous sensory overload of nonsensical noise and movement that this would create; because we have the rallying cry of modern reggae, thundering over the scenes of ecstatic play. Our celebrity, entranced by the commotion, abandons her corporate commitments, eschewing her photoshoot – I won’t be part of your system! – and reappears moments later, her blonde highlights replaced by her, presumably natural, brown hair; her luxury dress replaced with…um…luxury denim, and immediately heading to the front of the march, exuding the charisma of a leader, and welcomed by her generational peers.

We’ve all seen that Pepsi advert by now. The one in which intersectional, intergenerational antagonisms between power structures and the oppressed are reducible to our shared yearning for the cool, refreshing taste of carbonated sugar water. The demands of the young are inexplicable to an economic narrative that posits consumerist individualism as emancipatory freedom. The complexity of social experience, deracinated by the ideological sausage-machine, appears to us as an urban spectacle pitting a multicultural millennial generation angry at ‘the Man’ against handsome, ‘love-to-hate-to-love’ police officers, WHO ARE JUST DOING THEIR JOB™; a job that apparently doesn’t require the military-grade hardware they usually wear with resplendent self-assurance.

Protestors march with a euphoria usually reserved for Coachella, lofting placards with triumphalist slogans such as ‘Peace’, ‘Voice’ and ‘Join The Conversation’, an ephemeral populism that exists solely in the ketamine-dreamscape of a DNC press officer, the ludicrous tin-ear for social movements that only corporate advertisers could truly conjure-up (the sort of commercial ‘imagineer’ who thinks the phrase ‘stay woke’ belongs in Starbucks literature). But who to represent the downtrodden masses, the lost generation, the children of the internet age? Who else but Kendall Jenner, a woman who grew up under the spotlight of the entertainment-surveillance complex, famous because her sister was made famous because her mother insisted that they flog their privacy to become famous. Kendall Jenner represents millennial culture for late capitalism because she is a social media entrepreneur, which is presumably the height of all aspirations for ‘digital natives’.

Thrust into the spotlight through no fault of her own, she is then criticised and castigated for being famous for fame’s own sake, and therefore has become the poster-girl of the millennial stereotype: a narcissistic opportunist obsessed with self-promotion, because aren’t all young people simultaneously overcome with awe and jealousy at her views, ‘likes’ and followers? Aren’t we all just YouTubers with boxes of self-printed t-shirts and hoodies, desperately hawking exaggerated versions of ourselves to one another? Don’t we love chatting away on BookFace and Read-It, talking to our favourite friends and corps? With the right dank meme, we can change the world. Like, comment, subscribe!

Every once in a while, the world as it is represented to us by capitalist realism unfurls, a gentle updraft under the viridian curtain that incidentally exposes the wizard. The wallpaper of the haunted house peels back and snaps like pork crackling on a roast hog, and oozing from behind the waxy surface emerges a jowly grotesque, the squealing contorted face of a beast in repose: the monstrous death-throes of a global economic order.

Before eventually pulling the ad under the weight of universal incredulity and outrage, PepsiCo were initially quick to defend it: it represents diverse people uniting in a ‘spirit of harmony’, it claimed. But the symbolic violence has already been perpetrated: the police are extra-judicially murdering your community on racial grounds? Tear-gassing students marching to protest the wage conditions of college cleaners? The state allowing the police to pass on people arrested for minor offences onto immigration officials at the latter’s discretion? Look past these wrinkles in the social fabric, and the triviality of your experience, to the truth that will unite us all: we’re all consumers! Don’t worry, millennials! If your product is good enough, the cops will buy it!

That must be what we’re angry about, right? No-one is downloading your app? All political grievances are thematically reduced to a versimilitudinous naïve wail for peace, collectively asserted in an idealistic, globalised public sphere in which the world seems to be fine as it is. Political protest is represented as an ahistorical carnival without content, the irrational impertinence of youth in revolt, demanding of the system what is already produces, and for whom it already caters.

Finally, our photographer has found an image worthy of her time! Kendall Jenner offers a cop a refreshing can of teeth-numbing bubble syrup, straight from the metaphorical fridge, and he obliges, an intentional cultural reproduction of ‘the flower in the gun’, the spirit of the 60s, the baby-boomers remembering their own churlishness in the face of the American empire. The assembled erupt in a jubilant roar of victory as the police officer sips on his sugared water, and turns to his fellow law enforcer with a look that says, ‘when consumer products are this delicious, maybe we should all just get along?’ Aww, doesn’t the police officer look so sympathetic and reasonable?

It’s almost as if the capital they protect has provided the symbolic content to frame them in a positive light! The beauty of the ideological inversion is borderline poetic: it’s the state and its institutions that do not appreciate the majesty of capitalism: the youth understand consumerism better than the old- move out of the way, granddad, I’ve got chains to run into!

As I write, my country is suturing itself from its European allies, like a samurai from his innards, in an act of economic self-flagellation, and indeed may tear itself into its component parts. Our unelected Prime Minister has just been to Saudi Arabia, where she refused to denounce the bombing of Yemen and, instead, was busy furthering arms sales to the despotic kingdom. Meanwhile, our trade minister cosies up to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, a man who has openly encouraged his citizens to murder drug addicts, and all but admitted to having murdered ‘criminals’ himself.

As fascism under the guise of ‘nationalist populism’ festers across rural Europe like mad cow disease, the liberal democratic order puts its fingers in its ears, and sells the electorate bland, millionaire ex-bankers as ‘enigmatic centrists’. Across the Atlantic, an orange gibbon in a hairpiece spouts conspiratorial drivel whilst threatening nuclear aggression, and the only consolation available comes in the form of erudite think-pieces. I’m going to need something stronger than a Pepsi. The revolution will be self-parody.

Ideas | “The revolution will be self-parody!”: Pepsi, Kendall and the Recuperation of Protest

Thu, 2017-04-06 16:17

The satisfying click of a soda can. The sprawling urban metropolis at dusk. The lone violinist serenades the city from a skyscraper rooftop. The jet-black fringe of a smouldering craftsman-musician drips crystal sweat, which spits to the touch of the white-hot sparks of his musical metallurgy; the artist as artisan. A young Muslim woman pores over her photography of marching protestors, nostalgic for an alternative present. A celebrity model holds a pose of stony-faced resilience in a hotel doorframe, symbolically linked to the pictures of protest: both are pubic spectacles reduced to revered images.

Frustrated by their lot, multicultural twentysomethings hang out of balconies, slinking out of implausibly spacious apartments into the orgiastic fervour of the streets. We are witnessing an uprising in a ‘eutopia’, very much an ‘other place’ as Thomas More originally intended for the term. Dancers gyrate; musicians pull out their instruments and begin to play; never mind the cacophonous sensory overload of nonsensical noise and movement that this would create; because we have the rallying cry of modern reggae, thundering over the scenes of ecstatic play. Our celebrity, entranced by the commotion, abandons her corporate commitments, eschewing her photoshoot – I won’t be part of your system! – and reappears moments later, her blonde highlights replaced by her, presumably natural, brown hair; her luxury dress replaced with…um…luxury denim, and immediately heading to the front of the march, exuding the charisma of a leader, and welcomed by her generational peers.

We’ve all seen that Pepsi advert by now. The one in which intersectional, intergenerational antagonisms between power structures and the oppressed are reducible to our shared yearning for the cool, refreshing taste of carbonated sugar water. The demands of the young are inexplicable to an economic narrative that posits consumerist individualism as emancipatory freedom. The complexity of social experience, deracinated by the ideological sausage-machine, appears to us as an urban spectacle pitting a multicultural millennial generation angry at ‘the Man’ against handsome, ‘love-to-hate-to-love’ police officers, WHO ARE JUST DOING THEIR JOB™; a job that apparently doesn’t require the military-grade hardware they usually wear with resplendent self-assurance.

Protestors march with a euphoria usually reserved for Coachella, lofting placards with triumphalist slogans such as ‘Peace’, ‘Voice’ and ‘Join The Conversation’, an ephemeral populism that exists solely in the ketamine-dreamscape of a DNC press officer, the ludicrous tin-ear for social movements that only corporate advertisers could truly conjure-up (the sort of commercial ‘imagineer’ who thinks the phrase ‘stay woke’ belongs in Starbucks literature). But who to represent the downtrodden masses, the lost generation, the children of the internet age? Who else but Kendall Jenner, a woman who grew up under the spotlight of the entertainment-surveillance complex, famous because her sister was made famous because her mother insisted that they flog their privacy to become famous. Kendall Jenner represents millennial culture for late capitalism because she is a social media entrepreneur, which is presumably the height of all aspirations for ‘digital natives’.

Thrust into the spotlight through no fault of her own, she is then criticised and castigated for being famous for fame’s own sake, and therefore has become the poster-girl of the millennial stereotype: a narcissistic opportunist obsessed with self-promotion, because aren’t all young people simultaneously overcome with awe and jealousy at her views, ‘likes’ and followers? Aren’t we all just YouTubers with boxes of self-printed t-shirts and hoodies, desperately hawking exaggerated versions of ourselves to one another? Don’t we love chatting away on BookFace and Read-It, talking to our favourite friends and corps? With the right dank meme, we can change the world. Like, comment, subscribe!

Every once in a while, the world as it is represented to us by capitalist realism unfurls, a gentle updraft under the viridian curtain that incidentally exposes the wizard. The wallpaper of the haunted house peels back and snaps like pork crackling on a roast hog, and oozing from behind the waxy surface emerges a jowly grotesque, the squealing contorted face of a beast in repose: the monstrous death-throes of a global economic order.

Before eventually pulling the ad under the weight of universal incredulity and outrage, PepsiCo were initially quick to defend it: it represents diverse people uniting in a ‘spirit of harmony’, it claimed. But the symbolic violence has already been perpetrated: the police are extra-judicially murdering your community on racial grounds? Tear-gassing students marching to protest the wage conditions of college cleaners? The state allowing the police to pass on people arrested for minor offences onto immigration officials at the latter’s discretion? Look past these wrinkles in the social fabric, and the triviality of your experience, to the truth that will unite us all: we’re all consumers! Don’t worry, millennials! If your product is good enough, the cops will buy it!

That must be what we’re angry about, right? No-one is downloading your app? All political grievances are thematically reduced to a versimilitudinous naïve wail for peace, collectively asserted in an idealistic, globalised public sphere in which the world seems to be fine as it is. Political protest is represented as an ahistorical carnival without content, the irrational impertinence of youth in revolt, demanding of the system what is already produces, and for whom it already caters.

Finally, our photographer has found an image worthy of her time! Kendall Jenner offers a cop a refreshing can of teeth-numbing bubble syrup, straight from the metaphorical fridge, and he obliges, an intentional cultural reproduction of ‘the flower in the gun’, the spirit of the 60s, the baby-boomers remembering their own churlishness in the face of the American empire. The assembled erupt in a jubilant roar of victory as the police officer sips on his sugared water, and turns to his fellow law enforcer with a look that says, ‘when consumer products are this delicious, maybe we should all just get along?’ Aww, doesn’t the police officer look so sympathetic and reasonable?

It’s almost as if the capital they protect has provided the symbolic content to frame them in a positive light! The beauty of the ideological inversion is borderline poetic: it’s the state and its institutions that do not appreciate the majesty of capitalism: the youth understand consumerism better than the old- move out of the way, granddad, I’ve got chains to run into!

As I write, my country is suturing itself from its European allies, like a samurai from his innards, in an act of economic self-flagellation, and indeed may tear itself into its component parts. Our unelected Prime Minister has just been to Saudi Arabia, where she refused to denounce the bombing of Yemen and, instead, was busy furthering arms sales to the despotic kingdom. Meanwhile, our trade minister cosies up to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, a man who has openly encouraged his citizens to murder drug addicts, and all but admitted to having murdered ‘criminals’ himself.

As fascism under the guise of ‘nationalist populism’ festers across rural Europe like mad cow disease, the liberal democratic order puts its fingers in its ears, and sells the electorate bland, millionaire ex-bankers as ‘enigmatic centrists’. Across the Atlantic, an orange gibbon in a hairpiece spouts conspiratorial drivel whilst threatening nuclear aggression, and the only consolation available comes in the form of erudite think-pieces. I’m going to need something stronger than a Pepsi. The revolution will be self-parody.

Special Report | What was Theresa May actually doing in Saudi Arabia? And who was she doing it for?

Wed, 2017-04-05 16:50

Throughout Theresa May’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week, a lot of the debate has focused on whether or not she should be there. Should the UK, many journalists wondered, be friends with a regime that arrests teenagers and threatens them with crucifixion? That has committed war crimes and left seven million people on the verge of starvation in Yemen? That doesn’t let women drive cars?

Clearly not, but another question – one which has been far less explored – is why, exactly, was Theresa May in Saudi Arabia, and whose interests was she representing? In her interviews, she has talked a lot in broad terms about post-Brexit trade, but she will have had one trade in particular in mind: the arms trade.

Saudi Arabia is, by far, the largest buyer of UK arms, with over £3 billion worth of fighter jets and bombs having been licensed in the last two years alone. These include the same kind of aircraft currently flying over Yemen, and the same kind of bombs that have been falling from the sky on Yemeni civilians for months.

Saudi Arabia has been a long term cash-cow for UK arms companies. Last August, the share price of BAE Systems, the UK’s biggest arms company, jumped as analysts predicted the company would sell another batch of 48 Typhoon fighter jets ‘within six months’ for around £4bn. Eight months on and, despite many high-level British-Saudi meetings in the mean time, there is still no deal.

In travelling to the Kingdom, May is sending a strong message of endorsement to the Saudi regime, one that Whitehall hope will be rewarded by arms sales. In this regard, May is following in the footsteps of British Prime Ministers going back as far as Thatcher. Whenever a big arms deal is up for discussion, they’re on the first flight to Riyadh.

Even members of the British Royal Family are not above working for arms dealers. In February 2014, Prince Charles flew out to Riyadh, where he donned traditional Saudi robes and participated in a sword dance at a function sponsored by BAE. The following day, the company announced it had agreed a price on its sale of 72 Typhoon fighter jets to the Kingdom.

So why are our politicians prepared to clock-up so many air miles for companies like BAE? It can’t all be because of jobs. After all, BAE is a multinational private company that employs far more staff abroad than in the UK. It’s often said that the arms trade is a money-spinner for the UK. It is not – it’s only a money-spinner for the arms companies’ shareholders.

The arms trade is actually a very small part of the economy – it counts for 0.2% of jobs and only 1.4% of exports. However, it has always enjoyed a very loud voice in the corridors of power. The importance Whitehall puts on the industry is obvious. As Bob Keen, head of government relations at BAE, told the House of Commons Defence Committee “it simply is not possible to do a major defence deal without fundamental government support.”

One reason for this is because of their slick and well-funded lobbying operations, and the way they work hand-in-glove with Whitehall. Data compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) shows that the government and arms companies have hundreds and hundreds of meetings every year. While some are on operational matters, many others will be lobbying meetings.

A number of senior arms company directors enjoy access to a web of high-level governmental advisory bodies. One of these, the Defence Suppliers’ Forum, brings arms company chief executives together with MoD heads, including the Defence Secretary. The arms trade even has its own department in Whitehall: the Defence & Security Organisation, which employs 130 civil servants and military personnel, with the sole purpose of selling arms. It also works with industry to organise and facilitate major arms fairs, like the annual DSEI, which will next be taking place in London this September.

One symptom of the relationship is the well-worn revolving door between government and the arms trade, with many high-ranking government officials later moving into employment with arms companies.

A stark example of this is Dick Applegate, a former Chief of Material (Land) at the MoD who joined Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, where he is now Head of Strategy. In 2012, the Sunday Times exposed Applegate, recording him boasting of how he lobbied to secure £500m of government money for Elbit. Applegate was filmed admitting he’d applied pressure by “infecting” the system at “every level.”

Looking to BAE, its in-house team includes Oliver Waghorn, who used to work for then defence secretary Liam Fox; Brooke Hoskins, a former private secretary to Labour business minister Stephen Byers and Chris Rees, who used to work in parliament for Mark Menzies MP.

However, the issue goes way beyond the choices of a few individuals. It is systemic. Research from The Guardian found senior military officers and MoD officials had received approval for over 3,500 jobs in arms companies just for the period from 1996 to 2012. Furthermore, arms companies regularly have staff seconded to the same government departments that are responsible for buying and selling their wares.

There is no doubt that the lobbyists do an effective job. Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook characterised well BAE’s influence over Whitehall when he said “the chairman of BAE appeared to have the key to the garden door to No 10.” He added that he “never knew No 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to BAE.” The personnel may have changed since then, but the relationship is the same.

Two years ago, campaigners managed to obtain the guest list for an arms industry dinner in central London. All of the biggest companies were there, and so were the politicians. In total, 40 politicians made it on to the guest list, including senior ministers and reps from Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

May has rightly picked-up a lot of criticism for her failure to challenge human rights abuses, and for her complicity in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. But it’s always worth remembering why she is doing it, and who she is doing it for. The problem is not so much May as an individual, it is the culture and system that has allowed arms companies to gain such a major influence over UK government and policy.

May claims that the goal of her foreign policy is to promote the UK’s ‘national interest’. In reality, in Saudi Arabia she is promoting one narrow interest above all others – that of the arms companies. It’s a testimony to the arms trade’s lobbying operation that she believes they are one and the same thing. As long as arms companies are influencing policy then it will be one that serves their interests, irrespective of the humanitarian consequences.

See also: Politics | The UK Government must end its shameful complicity in the destruction of Yemen
See also: Comment | This victory shows we can, and must, shut down the DSEI arms fair for good 
See also: Special Report | DSEI 2013: Impeding the world’s biggest arms fair.

Special Report | What was Theresa May actually doing in Saudi Arabia? And who was she doing it for?

Wed, 2017-04-05 16:50

Throughout Theresa May’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week, a lot of the debate has focused on whether or not she should be there. Should the UK, many journalists wondered, be friends with a regime that arrests teenagers and threatens them with crucifixion? That has committed war crimes and left seven million people on the verge of starvation in Yemen? That doesn’t let women drive cars?

Clearly not, but another question – one which has been far less explored – is why, exactly, was Theresa May in Saudi Arabia, and whose interests was she representing? In her interviews, she has talked a lot in broad terms about post-Brexit trade, but she will have had one trade in particular in mind: the arms trade.

Saudi Arabia is, by far, the largest buyer of UK arms, with over £3 billion worth of fighter jets and bombs having been licensed in the last two years alone. These include the same kind of aircraft currently flying over Yemen, and the same kind of bombs that have been falling from the sky on Yemeni civilians for months.

Saudi Arabia has been a long term cash-cow for UK arms companies. Last August, the share price of BAE Systems, the UK’s biggest arms company, jumped as analysts predicted the company would sell another batch of 48 Typhoon fighter jets ‘within six months’ for around £4bn. Eight months on and, despite many high-level British-Saudi meetings in the mean time, there is still no deal.

In travelling to the Kingdom, May is sending a strong message of endorsement to the Saudi regime, one that Whitehall hope will be rewarded by arms sales. In this regard, May is following in the footsteps of British Prime Ministers going back as far as Thatcher. Whenever a big arms deal is up for discussion, they’re on the first flight to Riyadh.

Even members of the British Royal Family are not above working for arms dealers. In February 2014, Prince Charles flew out to Riyadh, where he donned traditional Saudi robes and participated in a sword dance at a function sponsored by BAE. The following day, the company announced it had agreed a price on its sale of 72 Typhoon fighter jets to the Kingdom.

So why are our politicians prepared to clock-up so many air miles for companies like BAE? It can’t all be because of jobs. After all, BAE is a multinational private company that employs far more staff abroad than in the UK. It’s often said that the arms trade is a money-spinner for the UK. It is not – it’s only a money-spinner for the arms companies’ shareholders.

The arms trade is actually a very small part of the economy – it counts for 0.2% of jobs and only 1.4% of exports. However, it has always enjoyed a very loud voice in the corridors of power. The importance Whitehall puts on the industry is obvious. As Bob Keen, head of government relations at BAE, told the House of Commons Defence Committee “it simply is not possible to do a major defence deal without fundamental government support.”

One reason for this is because of their slick and well-funded lobbying operations, and the way they work hand-in-glove with Whitehall. Data compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) shows that the government and arms companies have hundreds and hundreds of meetings every year. While some are on operational matters, many others will be lobbying meetings.

A number of senior arms company directors enjoy access to a web of high-level governmental advisory bodies. One of these, the Defence Suppliers’ Forum, brings arms company chief executives together with MoD heads, including the Defence Secretary. The arms trade even has its own department in Whitehall: the Defence & Security Organisation, which employs 130 civil servants and military personnel, with the sole purpose of selling arms. It also works with industry to organise and facilitate major arms fairs, like the annual DSEI, which will next be taking place in London this September.

One symptom of the relationship is the well-worn revolving door between government and the arms trade, with many high-ranking government officials later moving into employment with arms companies.

A stark example of this is Dick Applegate, a former Chief of Material (Land) at the MoD who joined Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, where he is now Head of Strategy. In 2012, the Sunday Times exposed Applegate, recording him boasting of how he lobbied to secure £500m of government money for Elbit. Applegate was filmed admitting he’d applied pressure by “infecting” the system at “every level.”

Looking to BAE, its in-house team includes Oliver Waghorn, who used to work for then defence secretary Liam Fox; Brooke Hoskins, a former private secretary to Labour business minister Stephen Byers and Chris Rees, who used to work in parliament for Mark Menzies MP.

However, the issue goes way beyond the choices of a few individuals. It is systemic. Research from The Guardian found senior military officers and MoD officials had received approval for over 3,500 jobs in arms companies just for the period from 1996 to 2012. Furthermore, arms companies regularly have staff seconded to the same government departments that are responsible for buying and selling their wares.

There is no doubt that the lobbyists do an effective job. Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook characterised well BAE’s influence over Whitehall when he said “the chairman of BAE appeared to have the key to the garden door to No 10.” He added that he “never knew No 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to BAE.” The personnel may have changed since then, but the relationship is the same.

Two years ago, campaigners managed to obtain the guest list for an arms industry dinner in central London. All of the biggest companies were there, and so were the politicians. In total, 40 politicians made it on to the guest list, including senior ministers and reps from Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

May has rightly picked-up a lot of criticism for her failure to challenge human rights abuses, and for her complicity in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. But it’s always worth remembering why she is doing it, and who she is doing it for. The problem is not so much May as an individual, it is the culture and system that has allowed arms companies to gain such a major influence over UK government and policy.

May claims that the goal of her foreign policy is to promote the UK’s ‘national interest’. In reality, in Saudi Arabia she is promoting one narrow interest above all others – that of the arms companies. It’s a testimony to the arms trade’s lobbying operation that she believes they are one and the same thing. As long as arms companies are influencing policy then it will be one that serves their interests, irrespective of the humanitarian consequences.

See also: Politics | The UK Government must end its shameful complicity in the destruction of Yemen
See also: Comment | This victory shows we can, and must, shut down the DSEI arms fair for good 
See also: Special Report | DSEI 2013: Impeding the world’s biggest arms fair.

Comment | She’s not indifferent … We are: On our Culture of Denial in the ‘War on Terror’

Tue, 2017-04-04 14:02

This second photo shows the same woman visibly distressed as she passes the scene of the attack on Westminster Bridge. (Source: Jamie Lorriman/The Guardian)

Following the recent tragic events in London, which led to the death and injury of several people, an image went viral of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman walking past some of those injured in the attack whilst checking her phone. The image circulated like wildfire across numerous social media platforms and was accompanied with commentary that infused the image with Islamophobic tropes – of barbarism, evil, comfort with violence, and a lack of care. As the image went viral, it was used to signify something more than the reaction of this single woman and, instead, was deployed to point to a broader problem of Muslims and Islam. Since then, the woman has released a statement about her sadness at the horrific, shocking, and numbing terror attack.

The outrage over the alleged lack of care for mass violence was particularly puzzling in a week in which the death of 230 civilians at the hands of western coalition forces in Iraq and the death of nearly 50 civilians in a US airstrike in Syria went by without considerable public outrage. Added to this,  images from the London attack also showed other people, who did not carry visible signs of Muslimness, walking unfazed past the same scenes.

Aftermath of a US airstrike in Mosul, Iraq which led to the death of 230 civilians. (Source: The Guardian)

Beyond providing an ostensibly legitimate outlet for outrage at Muslims, the image seemed to be illustrative of a practice that is all too familiar: denial. Whether it is ignoring, downplaying, or justifying state violence that is regularly visited upon ‘Others’, the practice of denial is commonplace. In its most organised and pernicious form, denial is part of a broader political culture that has been purposefully cultivated over a long period of time and deployed to hide and justify state crimes. It involves the deliberate destruction of evidence of state crimes, such as when the British government destroyed documents of colonial crimes in Kenya.

Given the centrality of language in the perception of social realities, denial involves the cultivation of a political language which constructs a universe with a favourable moral compass, and moral boundaries that legitimise and delegitimise ideas and behaviours in ways that serve broader political objectives. In a 1946 article entitled ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell identified this practice and argued that political language was organised around “the defence of the indefensible”, and to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”.

This use of language to hide criminality is alive and well in our times. In a 2012 article Glenn Greenwald outlined the methodology used by the Obama administration to count deaths resulting from U.S. drone strikes in a way that would make civilian deaths all but disappear: all military age males (typically twelve years of age and over) killed in a strike zone were counted as ‘militant’.

Finally, denial involves the dehumanisation of vast swathes of the world’s population through language that excludes, via popular culture (see for example films such as American Sniper and its portrayal of Iraqis; television shows such as 24 and its portrayal of Muslims and Arabs; and newspapers such as the Daily Mail in which a cartoon compared refugees to rats), as well as by institutional practices that encourage a view of prisoners as something other than human (see for example the US military practice, as documented in Taxi to the Dark Side, of using a separate vocabulary to designate prisoners as ‘PUCs’ or ‘Person Under US Custody’).

In an episode of Charlie Brooker’s television show Black Mirror, we see an image of the future in which this institutional practice of othering is taken to new extremes as soldiers are implanted with a chip that makes civilians appear as bloodthirsty zombies (affectionately known as ‘roaches’), which enables soldiers to kill them with guilt-free abandon.

An image of a ‘roach’ from the television show Black Mirror. (Source: Google)

The culture of denial is organised into what Stanley Cohen calls a ‘Spiral of Denial’ which represents the principal means through which denial is operationalised. At the top of the spiral, an allegation of criminal conduct is firstly denied outright (‘it didn’t’ happen’). Often times, this is enough to neutralise the accusation for a number of reasons: the destruction of evidence, the difficulty of finding witnesses who are willing to testify and so on.

If evidence does exist to corroborate the allegation it is moved to the second stage of the spiral where the criminality of the conduct is downplayed (‘it’s not what it looks like’). In this stage political language is used to transform mass civilian deaths into ‘collateral damage’, torture into ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, military invasion into ‘self-defence’, and colonialism into a ‘civilising mission’.

Finally, if this is not sufficient (because, for example, it can be shown that the term ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ does meet the requirements of the definition of torture) the allegation moves into the final stage of the spiral, where it is neutralised away (‘it was justified and not illegal’). Tony Blair has responded to claims about the illegality of the invasion of Iraq at this level by appealing to a higher loyalty: it was justified because it secured national security. A recent example of the spiral of denial in action was that of a case in which the US air force attacked a hospital in Afghanistan in 2015, after which, the US military gave four different accounts of the events in four days.

The advent of the information age means that access to information and breaking news is easier than it has ever been. The psychological burdens of denial are significant, and especially so in the context of a ‘War on Terror’ that produces daily atrocities and has resulted in the death of at least one million civilians, with the total number probably closer to the two million mark (which says nothing of the extensive physical and psychological injuries of the ‘War on Terror’, and the destruction of whole nations).

And yet, even if we are capable of justifying this damage, we are nonetheless aware of its existence because of the saturation of news and information. For instance, even if an airstrike on a housing complex is rebranded as ‘unintended collateral damage’ we are still familiar with what it entails: massive loss of life, injury, and destruction of property. In this onslaught of reports about western conduct in the Muslim world, an image of a Muslim walking past a terror attack in London, seemingly unfazed, is the more significant image because it allows us to unburden ourselves and neutralise our feelings of guilt by pointing to Muslim indifference at ‘our’ suffering (which is why the woman in the image came to signify Muslims and Islam in general).

In short, by being able to condemn those who might have reason to condemn us, we not only neutralise any sense of guilt associated with our indifference at ‘their’ suffering, but we also further entrench our psychology of denial by denying the legitimacy of their accusations since they can be shown to be equally indifferent.

Instead of cultivating a psychology of denial, we need to use such moments of tragedy to reflect on the cyclical nature of violence and adopt ethical positions against all violence of this kind. We need to collectively fight for more democratic accountability of our governments and state institutions, since our primary responsibility rests in holding them to account.

Finally, we need to recognise our collective humanity so that we can challenge the dehumanisation of other people and undermine cultures of denial. Failure in these endeavours means that we will fail to recognise terror and suffering in its fullest sense, because there are, as Mark Twain reminds us in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, two reigns of terror:

“The one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak… A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

Comment | She’s not indifferent … We are: On our Culture of Denial in the ‘War on Terror’

Tue, 2017-04-04 14:02

This second photo shows the same woman visibly distressed as she passes the scene of the attack on Westminster Bridge. (Source: Jamie Lorriman/The Guardian)

Following the recent tragic events in London, which led to the death and injury of several people, an image went viral of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman walking past some of those injured in the attack whilst checking her phone. The image circulated like wildfire across numerous social media platforms and was accompanied with commentary that infused the image with Islamophobic tropes – of barbarism, evil, comfort with violence, and a lack of care. As the image went viral, it was used to signify something more than the reaction of this single woman and, instead, was deployed to point to a broader problem of Muslims and Islam. Since then, the woman has released a statement about her sadness at the horrific, shocking, and numbing terror attack.

The outrage over the alleged lack of care for mass violence was particularly puzzling in a week in which the death of 230 civilians at the hands of western coalition forces in Iraq and the death of nearly 50 civilians in a US airstrike in Syria went by without considerable public outrage. Added to this,  images from the London attack also showed other people, who did not carry visible signs of Muslimness, walking unfazed past the same scenes.

Aftermath of a US airstrike in Mosul, Iraq which led to the death of 230 civilians. (Source: The Guardian)

Beyond providing an ostensibly legitimate outlet for outrage at Muslims, the image seemed to be illustrative of a practice that is all too familiar: denial. Whether it is ignoring, downplaying, or justifying state violence that is regularly visited upon ‘Others’, the practice of denial is commonplace. In its most organised and pernicious form, denial is part of a broader political culture that has been purposefully cultivated over a long period of time and deployed to hide and justify state crimes. It involves the deliberate destruction of evidence of state crimes, such as when the British government destroyed documents of colonial crimes in Kenya.

Given the centrality of language in the perception of social realities, denial involves the cultivation of a political language which constructs a universe with a favourable moral compass, and moral boundaries that legitimise and delegitimise ideas and behaviours in ways that serve broader political objectives. In a 1946 article entitled ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell identified this practice and argued that political language was organised around “the defence of the indefensible”, and to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”.

This use of language to hide criminality is alive and well in our times. In a 2012 article Glenn Greenwald outlined the methodology used by the Obama administration to count deaths resulting from U.S. drone strikes in a way that would make civilian deaths all but disappear: all military age males (typically twelve years of age and over) killed in a strike zone were counted as ‘militant’.

Finally, denial involves the dehumanisation of vast swathes of the world’s population through language that excludes, via popular culture (see for example films such as American Sniper and its portrayal of Iraqis; television shows such as 24 and its portrayal of Muslims and Arabs; and newspapers such as the Daily Mail in which a cartoon compared refugees to rats), as well as by institutional practices that encourage a view of prisoners as something other than human (see for example the US military practice, as documented in Taxi to the Dark Side, of using a separate vocabulary to designate prisoners as ‘PUCs’ or ‘Person Under US Custody’).

In an episode of Charlie Brooker’s television show Black Mirror, we see an image of the future in which this institutional practice of othering is taken to new extremes as soldiers are implanted with a chip that makes civilians appear as bloodthirsty zombies (affectionately known as ‘roaches’), which enables soldiers to kill them with guilt-free abandon.

An image of a ‘roach’ from the television show Black Mirror. (Source: Google)

The culture of denial is organised into what Stanley Cohen calls a ‘Spiral of Denial’ which represents the principal means through which denial is operationalised. At the top of the spiral, an allegation of criminal conduct is firstly denied outright (‘it didn’t’ happen’). Often times, this is enough to neutralise the accusation for a number of reasons: the destruction of evidence, the difficulty of finding witnesses who are willing to testify and so on.

If evidence does exist to corroborate the allegation it is moved to the second stage of the spiral where the criminality of the conduct is downplayed (‘it’s not what it looks like’). In this stage political language is used to transform mass civilian deaths into ‘collateral damage’, torture into ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, military invasion into ‘self-defence’, and colonialism into a ‘civilising mission’.

Finally, if this is not sufficient (because, for example, it can be shown that the term ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ does meet the requirements of the definition of torture) the allegation moves into the final stage of the spiral, where it is neutralised away (‘it was justified and not illegal’). Tony Blair has responded to claims about the illegality of the invasion of Iraq at this level by appealing to a higher loyalty: it was justified because it secured national security. A recent example of the spiral of denial in action was that of a case in which the US air force attacked a hospital in Afghanistan in 2015, after which, the US military gave four different accounts of the events in four days.

The advent of the information age means that access to information and breaking news is easier than it has ever been. The psychological burdens of denial are significant, and especially so in the context of a ‘War on Terror’ that produces daily atrocities and has resulted in the death of at least one million civilians, with the total number probably closer to the two million mark (which says nothing of the extensive physical and psychological injuries of the ‘War on Terror’, and the destruction of whole nations).

And yet, even if we are capable of justifying this damage, we are nonetheless aware of its existence because of the saturation of news and information. For instance, even if an airstrike on a housing complex is rebranded as ‘unintended collateral damage’ we are still familiar with what it entails: massive loss of life, injury, and destruction of property. In this onslaught of reports about western conduct in the Muslim world, an image of a Muslim walking past a terror attack in London, seemingly unfazed, is the more significant image because it allows us to unburden ourselves and neutralise our feelings of guilt by pointing to Muslim indifference at ‘our’ suffering (which is why the woman in the image came to signify Muslims and Islam in general).

In short, by being able to condemn those who might have reason to condemn us, we not only neutralise any sense of guilt associated with our indifference at ‘their’ suffering, but we also further entrench our psychology of denial by denying the legitimacy of their accusations since they can be shown to be equally indifferent.

Instead of cultivating a psychology of denial, we need to use such moments of tragedy to reflect on the cyclical nature of violence and adopt ethical positions against all violence of this kind. We need to collectively fight for more democratic accountability of our governments and state institutions, since our primary responsibility rests in holding them to account.

Finally, we need to recognise our collective humanity so that we can challenge the dehumanisation of other people and undermine cultures of denial. Failure in these endeavours means that we will fail to recognise terror and suffering in its fullest sense, because there are, as Mark Twain reminds us in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, two reigns of terror:

“The one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak… A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

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