Friday, July 18, 2014
All the graphics are from the site Visualizing Palestine, a site dedicated to creating informative and impactful graphics about the occupied region. Check out many more of these images on their site
1. The Forced Exile of The Palestinian People
full screen: http://visualizingpalestine.org/Disappearing-Palestine
2. Maintenance of the Occupation
full screen: http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/Palestinian-Israeli-Peace-Talks-Settlements-Oslo
3. Continued Displacement and Destruction
4. A Pattern of Violence and Aggression
full screen: http://visualizingpalestine.org/timeline-of-violence
5. Illegal Detention
full screen: http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/Admin-Detention
6, 7 & 8. Segregation of Resources
full screen: http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/gaza-water-confined
9 & 10. Segregation of Travel
11. The Wall
full screen: http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/ICJ-Separation-Wall-Legality
Monday, July 7, 2014
Of course, to begin with, everything needs to be broached with caution. We need to remember to make distinctions
in our thought. To speak with tact is not always the same as silence even if in some situations the only real choice is a tactful silence. Yet this is not the case in a general manner. Thus in speaking in a general way, we can avoid this first, no doubt common objection, of preferring silence to dialogue. Similarly, there will be the plea to avoid mixing in these affairs, because, as we ourselves have quite openly admitted, we are neither Greeks nor have we spent our whole lives in Greek Anarchy. If this is admitted, there is no real shame in that. On the contrary, our position as outsiders might be considered as a benefit, both in being more free from insular dynamics and also to aid us in having some space to view things. Besides, as we are outsiders, we have little to lose, and if we have a small influence, then here again this helps us, since we do not have the illusion that with one text we can resolve a practical issue. But to begin a practical process of change and advance, a small text from marginal figures might indeed be suited to its purpose.
To aid us along this path, we should inquire what kind of change or development could one desire from Greek anarchy, apart from a general desire for victory? Anarchy has to deal with its own attempt at victory, and most difficult of all, also to prepare for its gradual fading away. The first dilemma would be to show that the change one demands is not abstract but rather rooted in the real situation of the time. So first we must show the situation and later we can elaborate further concerning practical affairs. Thus there would not be random ideas, but rather an exigency of the situation itself. Changes are already underway and our point is merely to act as a midwife, to aid the process of birth. Then our role obviously reorients itself from proclaiming an abstract demand to actually pointing out what is underway, with references to the concrete situation.
To commence with a brief overview of the political situation: the Greek State was shaken by December 2008, and this began the general process of decomposition we see unfolding before us, which has both positive and negative aspects. The state, from its own incompetence, corruption, lack of control and so forth, is on the brink of becoming a failed state—this is a sober analysis one can read from various establishment sources, not an illusory radical optimism. In this climate Anarchy itself is changing from a movement of aspiration and hope to a movement of reality. This necessitates a change in forms and ideas of the antagonist movement that have been shaped over time. But again, this is not something made up or imposed onto reality. December, and later Syntagma, February 12, and other developments, have opened up entire new avenues and possibilities for action, most of which, it should be noted, are basically offensive, since the old terrain has shifted. The neighborhood assemblies, new parks and squats, occupations, motorcycle demos, and yes, armed struggle, are all polymorphous changes that no abstract analysis created but rather an integral part of the changing reality itself. This does not need so much philosophizing, but only a quick reflection: Anarchy by definition changes as it gets closer to its goal since it becomes less a small group of believers than a general situation. The only difficulty with accepting this, again, is with lack of distinctions in Thought: often we say one day or one discrete point in time, “the big day” (le grand soir) will change everything; instead of reflecting that change always takes place in time with its delays and irregular progressions, so that the change from normality to Anarchy is a process of quite some time and certainly is in no way inevitable. A real analysis would point out the potential available for anarchy and situations where the state has been shaken. But this is obvious to everyone in the crumbling away of beliefs and buildings, the police on every corner, the splitting of political parties, the polarization of society, continued resistance by anarchists, etc.
Everything is getting more anarchic, or potentially more so, in a country that just a short time ago was the middle class success story of Europe. And to deny this, on the basis that we are not yet at Anarchy, is denying the evident reality of the process for the sake of an end that becomes unrealisable and separated from the world. No: the butterfly is leaving its hard, defensive chrysalis; the drab colors and immobility are being changed for something radically new. Or, to recall the old example of Themistokles, the traditional Anarchist way of inhabiting Athens—the classical movement and so forth—is passing as the city falls to the universal despotism of our times. But there is the chance for an audacious victory in a new element, to strike out on the great and stormy sea of revolution.
Just as a thing changes in time and so always is and is not, or is always coming-to-be and passing-away, so too Greek Anarchy is changing, just as the larger society and the world are changing. Anarchy itself is getting more anarchic.
* * *
What can help to bring out the best in this change, and what can be discarded? This basically is one major trend in this issue. In a general way, what is important to promote in order to conserve collective strength in the coming times? For us, as we are trying to show with our example (and thus, our theory is trying to be immediately practical), there can certainly be more openness and discussion in a public form with all the proprieties that should be observed there. To clarify: what exists now is much discussion, but generally in an informal and personalized manner or in a deeply bureaucratic manner (the assembly, to which we will return later). Neither way is the best medium for discussions and they bleed into one another in a deeply tragic fashion. Greek Anarchy is half a dysfunctional and small social milieu, another half a radically utopian political movement, but these should try not to intermingle with one another. And one foresees that in the future, they will continue to diverge. The personal is not the political, as in the misguided 60’s slogan. For us today the slogan must speak to the failure and feebleness of the New Left itself since, of course, the personal makes up a part of the political, as self-evidently persons take part in politics, but this hasty thought has confused the issue. This is the same error as in saying that the marble is the statue, or the paint is the painting. The personal is certainly related and a part of the political, but on the other hand this is so basic a claim and yet so obviously not everything that is in politics (just as the paint does not fully describe the painting). The movement is built upon friends, but politics cannot work only in this fashion, as is obvious, since a general political situation is always larger than the amount of friends, even friendly acquaintances, that one could have. These forms should separate themselves into their proper spheres, as friends are certainly the material for the political, but not the political in and of itself.
Historically, this slogan only emerged from the extreme self-denial and negation of the individual undertaken by Stalinism, so the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Perhaps we can endeavour to find a golden mean, which would both acknowledge the individual, and yet also encourage us to set aside personal differences, or more realistically, to strenuously work to manage them, when issues of over-arching importance come into play. If no existential respect is conceded to others, then not only are we deprived of a certain type of nourishment, but worse, then only force necessarily remains to demand a certain respect. This is in fact the very opposite of the correct relation of mutual respect, which should be in one sense unconditional in a small way, and in a large way, can only be freely granted. For more on this large theme, we have elaborated about negativity in this issue. But in brief what model or ideals can help us? Certainly, not the levelling down of critique, but rather a building up, the noble spirit of ἀγών, as Nietzsche saw, emulation and uplift. As Goethe said, “Divide and conquer, a good maxim. Unite and lead, a better one.”
As well, in terms of sustainability, the current model of activism or even the idea as such needs to be questioned. Most people do not have the requisite abnegation to reach the level of sacrifice demanded. And thus, predictably, this model has only worked in small groups for a small period of time, whence comes the famous burn-out or sell-out which inevitably seems to follow. Evidently the model demands too much, this being related to the vaguely Christian roots of the workers’ movement. Similarly we should re- think the idea of the common and reflect on how much is common already and on preserving that as an idea. For example, the welfare- state is doomed, but the idea that a community should care for its ailing, aged, unfortunate or infirm members is a most reasonable idea. But this can equally come about without the state and then it preserves its true character, which is spiritual. Furthermore, this thinking about the common would also apply to our effort since the activist method demands everything and leaves no space for varied
or partial commitment. But that is what most people can give. One resource we often do not think of because of an unfortunate tendency to materialism is motivation, which is perhaps the prime thing that keeps the movement going, even though (or seen more clearly, precisely because) it is spiritual. This collective motivation is often squandered in a thoughtless manner that makes things all the more difficult. Whereas if a small effort was made to conserve the collective motivation, one would not demand more or be satisfied with less but recognize varying levels of commitment without a hostile critique.
For a brief digression we should also inquire, what exactly is this Greek Anarchy that one speaks about? Not the varied experiences or the actual thing “in itself”, which no one trying to retain their sanity could attempt to define. We here are still persistently looking around Athens for ‘the anarchists’, and also for ‘Greece’, and ‘anarchy’, and as of yet have never really found them. Greece today is nothing more than an empty record of the ruined West, so we should just try for a brief genealogy. But it deserves noting for historical consciousness that this “Greek moment”, with its general strikes and riots and most especially its section of Greek Anarchy, is basically the last recognizable and influential remnant of the classical workers’ movement, which faded out in Western Europe and was discarded as unfashionable by French intellectuals a few decades ago. The only other exception (as we noted last issue) is in Spain, for reasons specific to its history. Greece, besides still having a residue of leftist revolutionism, is also an anarchic country. Anarchy can become a more real expression of something that has always existed in this Greece that could never unite its regions. Revolutions happen and change the lives of peoples, as they make an effort to cast off all their bonds, but on the basis of their prior life. France and Russia had both been the lands of reaction, aristocratic pomp, of authority- and yet that culture, too, was changed in revolution. So that 1789 was seen as the revenge of the Huguenots, the victory of the philosophes, as 1917 was that great revolt predicted by Bakunin, the millennial peasant rising in continuation with the legacy of the social-revolutionaries. But now we come to a new era of revolt: as Surrealism announced almost a century ago now, Marxism never developed the means to attack modernized parliamentary democracy. So it is in fact of the utmost import that Greece is probably the most middle- class country one could ever hope to find. Revolution here would signify leaving behind this middle-class world, the completed welfare-state, and going somewhere completely new, not simply universalizing the bourgeois revolution in peripheral countries as happened for example in Marxism.
At any rate, in critique it is very important to avoid the purely negative inf luence that would lead Greece into a similar sad state of apathy and vain intellectualizing that has made most of Europe such a frozen place. On the other hand it is important to note that Greece is, because of this, in a special way behind of Europe, in its form, and yet ahead in its content. This is also related to its backwards historical development, with fascism ending here the prior generation, which in Europe was the position of the New Left. Greece has not yet suffered the defeats other countries have suffered, and the form of its modernity is in this sense undeveloped. So the world has not yet really finished with the issues posed by the workers’ movement, because the real issue of the workers’ movement was always-already Anarchy (Marxism’s heaven is Anarchy so this theory too is oriented around an Anarchy it can never reach). In face of the global oligarchy (allied to Protestant nothingness) arrogantly imposing itself, the issues have clearly not gone away, yet only Anarchy retains some of the old force. But this is actually a hopeful situation since Europe is only more advanced into decadence than Greece. Anarchy is only a retrogression compared to the disillusion following Marxism in the sense of not having advanced so far into intellectual sophistries and poorly-founded hopes. And to close with a brief note, this workers’ movement both was dedicated to leaving behind Christianity yet also had some Christian or militant components.
In this vein, there exists both moralizing critique and a moralistic critique of morality in Anarchy, but elaborating a reasonable relation to ethics is surely on the agenda. Should we not rather leave others in the movement to be as mistaken or correct as they wish to be, since the true exists on its own, even in a world of falsity? Moreover, if we had more distinction in Thought we would find not absolute evil everywhere else except for the small circle of true believers (from whom we are always focused on excluding the impure). Rather people are not as supportive as we would have liked; or not at the level of their past behavior; or not at our own way of thinking, which is not the same as absolute evil. This idea or popular morality was itself suited to a time when a small movement confronted a gigantic world opposing it and so could pose an abstract negation to the world, since the relation really was such. Now that the chance to determinately negate a society actually poses itself (by which is meant destruction of the State without the reconstruction of a new State) we will find the need for much more distinction to bring about this goal successfully. To lump everyone together under one label is not fit for the moment, just as Anarchy as a movement already makes a tactical distinction between the Nazified police and Golden Dawn, on the one hand, and on the other hand, Syriza and many other groups. This is quite correct as these social forces are really quite different and the point is to see in what ways they are different and how the movement has to relate to this. Revolutions have always differentiated between officers and soldiers, volunteers and conscripts. Great tacticians have always known to give the enemy a “golden bridge”, as Kutuzov famously gave to Napoleon, as the Ancient Greeks gave to the Persians, to facilitate the disbandment. In a world where there are no more kings to kill, no real power but institutions and networks, it would certainly be a grave mistake not to allow things
to disintegrate as much as they will. To oppose to everyone the abstract levelling of death, which is itself already the principle of this dying world, would be a serious error. After all, the world of today is literally dying because it really is total deprivation and incapacity for any good—there is no good left in the official world and this is inherently related to its debility.
Similarly, Anarchy can make distinctions amongst itself without needing to impose a “one Anarchy” type of model. Or, put in another way, the “one Anarchy” would be all the different anarchies allowed and then something more, as the sum greater than its parts.
Anarchy would then realize it has a richness in itself that is basically a microcosm of the richness of the actual world outside of it in all its changing shapes and individuals. So that the society knows Anarchy
as the secret of its own dissolution, but Anarchy knows itself as
The old esoteric view of German Idealism, of developments in speculative Thought and events in the French Revolution corresponding (so Kant was simply the beginning in 1789, Fichte was its revolutionary phase, and Hegel the phase of victorious Bonapartism) also continued along in Lukács, where the development of the theory of revolution is linked to the reality of revolution itself. This is a quite enlightening way of viewing things and then we would see that the Thoughts in Anarchy express the world, not simply of phenomenal reality, but the world of Thought.
However this is correlated to the acts of Anarchy that also express the actual reality of the world today. This strange feeling anyone gets in a riot as the riot police are repelled by a deluge of Molotovs and this strange, curious, black feeling, the possession of a shocking new form of Liberty, as the riot police are forced to retreat, when the crowd still has possession of the street—all this can only happen because the spiritual state of the official world already is in a morbid sickness. Nothing can be destroyed that has much life in it; a healthy body recovers from a common cold. And the unconscious “anarchy” of white collar crime, intellectual confusion, the mass of suicides, imperialist wars, the surveillance state etc. is only expressing that the real truth of the moment is the conscious Anarchy for revolution. The real “truth” of the shopping glass window lies in its shattering or shuttering.
As Hegel tells us, History is the history of the advance of Liberty: to resurrect this idealist schema, we simply need add one more new form, that of penultimate liberty, of Anarchy.
Talking about the assemblies might be unwanted, but it should be stated. The assembly is most certainly a valuable tool for political organization. No one has ever denied that. However, the real question is: can a political movement always relate amongst itself in a directly democratic manner, and is this always profitable? Let us take the Villa Amalias eviction as an example, since this was when The Barbarian was founded and was quite a big event. To set the scene, afterwards everyone went for a cacophonous assembly at the polytechnic, with shouting and gesticulation for hours until finally people trickled off. The end result was much the same as what everyone was thinking at the beginning: there was the decision for a big collective march. Finally the firebombings that also took place afterwards, which most people probably supported or tolerated, could not have been collectively discussed in that manner. Thus the assembly does not solve everything, nor can everything be put to an assembly. Moreover did the assembly introduce anything new or rather was there already a basically collective sentiment in favor of a march? This is simply to reduce the assembly to its important but by no means all-embracing role, as the democratic assembly is not a panacea but a means of managing political differences. This would also be related to the classical observation that no political form is perfect and the most ideal form of politics is a mixture of the elements. More than anything the aim is a feeling of unity in a community. However, a political movement within itself has little political differences, almost self-evidently. It already has that unity. Thus the debate that takes place is either a caricature of a real debate that would take place in an open forum in any random neighborhood assembly, or a tactical debate that in many cases cannot be conducted openly, for clear reasons.
This curious or redundant character of some assemblies stems from the basic fact that the political unity is already there. Thus the question is immediately not “what to do” but “how to do it”, whereas real political debate demands a question of “what”, and then of “how”. Assemblies should most certainly be exported outside of specifically anarchist spaces (the polytechnic) to take part in a real collective life—and this is already happening. On the other hand though, this means the assembly is revealing its true function as a mass participative form of political education, not as something suitable for every occasion for a minority of militants. Just because armed struggle and other actions cannot be conducted or proposed in an assembly do not render them bad, simply it connects the moment of war with a monarchical or aristocratic type of decision, with which historically it was always associated, even in democracies.
Finally, what exists in the assemblies is in no way a pure direct democracy but because of the small and self-referential nature of the Anarchist community, it is always-already touched by the social scene and with other political forms like aristocracy. But this in no way is to say a thing is bad (unless we have the one-sided equation that only democracy = good), however it is to say honestly what a thing is.
* * *
Something to note, since it is unavoidable: Nihilist currents of anarchy are not the orphans abandoned on the doorstep of an unsuspecting Greek Anarchy, as was noted quite some time ago (by London Occupied in their work Revolt and Crisis in Greece). On the positive side, we again have to agree with Hegel that a split often confirms the vitality of a principle itself: since both sides find that what they thought was the outside world was in fact inside their movement, forcing them to realize that they never really left the outside world. And that this outside world, while touching the anarchist space, also is becoming touched by it in quite real ways. Then perhaps some potential would exist as the self-clarification is forced upon the two sides. This could become not the mirrored replication of a negative definition but the stimulus for elaboration of positive projects. As always, every difficult situation presents us with the truth of the great proverb that crisis is both a danger and an opportunity.
But assuredly more fruitful than discussing the well- worn polemic of non-social and social anarchy would no doubt be armed struggle and who does and does not support the tactic. Immediately we would find the need to make more gradations in Thought, between those who support unconditionally, some support more cautiously, some do not think it is the right time, a few are unconditionally against, etc.&c. This would help clarify things more and would show where Anarchy has a chance to go as the crisis situation deepens and where chances for some practical unity, even from different angles, might lie. From our own Northern history, the Calvinists and Lutherans of different countries all did work together to protect themselves against Catholic reaction in the 30 Years’ War. There were problems, but this did take place. From our anarchist history, Spain had many different stripes of Anarchists, and yes, even left Marxists working together in a fashion. The point is not to have perfect examples since everyone can point out the problems in these situations, but to establish the idea that in the heat of struggle, groups of different goals and forms can work together for tactical objectives, especially if they are committed to everyone making a tiny sacrifice on their own to achieve a collective objective.
As an aside, there was a positive debate in the anarchist space concerning anonymity and identity, to which we point our readers and which is available at Contrainfo in English (A Debate on Anonymity). The issue concerned being anonymous or proclaiming a group name for radical actions undertaken. At any rate, philosophy always is concerned with finding unity in division. Here, we can find that both sides are anarchists, they agree on violent tactics (itself already an advance over typical Protestant debates) and where they disagree are on particular tactical matters concerning the presentation of acts of sabotage. But for us, the particular and contingent character of various acts already implies an impossibility of assigning any position normatively, since the real question at hand is the singular
meaning of each action and the liberty of the actors to decide the question: would a formal organization, or an anonymous, or a pseudonymous, or no claim of responsibility at all, give more meaning to the acts performed? And also what are the actors themselves trying to communicate and how does this function?
So perhaps in this way, at a philosophical level we may say that we have found ourselves again at Hegel’s dictum of the “identity of identity and non-identity”. What should be underlined is the positive fact that the debate was conducted in texts at a reasonably high level (varying interpretations of Homer, something always to be commended) and clearly laid out the contending positions in basically de-personalized texts. Thus the final result of the debate was not winning for either side, as it so rarely is, but a positive gain for Anarchy as a whole, and offers a model of how to raise and manage differences in a type of theoretical forum.
* * *
If Anarchy is not able to resolve these problems, then it is clear one runs the danger of the unhappy prior experiences of either the French, Russian or Spanish variety of revolution. It might degenerate into factional violence and from there degrade into the unrewarding victories of betrayed revolution in France or Russia. Or on the other hand, it may be too spiritually weak and not have enough faith in itself to push its goals to completion as in Spain. Without a way for managing differences and resolving conflicts in a fashion other than that of the Greek village— constant informal discussions and explosions of emotion, threats of physical violence and appeals to the elders to act as arbitrators—Anarchy does run serious dangers as its importance becomes ever more serious. Especially if we have taken Anarchy to mean not a revolutionary self-discipline but no discipline at all, which anyone could imagine might develop poorly in stateless scenarios. But to point out a danger, in no way implies it is certain to happen. To take a part, however small, in a constructive process is the best way of ensuring that an unhappy outcome will not take place. Happily, the problems are small right now. Yet that is not a reason to ignore them or brush them under the rug, just to avoid a momentary discomfort. If these little issues are ignored, like a small wound or a minor illness, they can fester and get much more serious. While if they are treated with the healthful tonic of frank but respectful proliferation of discussion and resolve at an individual level to carry out the ideas, then they will no doubt help the organism grow stronger—even if this in itself is not the ultimate solution to every problem. Finally, this will also help the lands with less developed movements to expand and grow. So the issues are, as the Greek developments themselves, both specific and universal, just as we are dealing here not with any one incident but general trends.
Thus, that is the reason for this intervention and for most of the articles in this issue. Basically these are ideas that are fairly common and have come up repeatedly in our discussions with others. So there is not anything new being presented nor is there the tacit assumption of a lack of thought in Greek Anarchy; rather, what is at stake here is a bringing-out into the best form and a reasonable manner of presentation, attempted in a respectful way. These last are also not new to Greek Anarchy, but in our view these are some things that could most certainly and profitably be multiplied in the movement.
* * *
Monday, June 30, 2014
"You can use the 600 Euros that you will find on me to pay our health insurance. I paid the rent yesterday. I am sorry, my daughter, I could not take more suffering just to put a warm plate on the table - a bloody plate. Make sure that our daughter goes to college and never
leave her alone. She should get the house that we have in the village."
This is the suicide note of a 50-year-old woman to her husband. She jumped off a high wall in Crete, Greece, last week and is hospitalized in critical condition. She is one more victim of the deepening
financial crisis that is trying the limits of Greek people since 2008. According to the Greek Census Bureau, there has been a 43 percent increase in suicides in austerity-chained Greece since the beginning of the crisis. Unofficial accounts bring the number to 4,000 deaths so far.
Greece is the most recent and historically
I glance through snapshots in the news: grim faces, desperate eyes, angry gazes, frustration, and, most of all, fear. The city of Athens is slowly turning into a cemetery for the living. The transformation of the city, both as a physical and as a symbolic space, is shocking to the eye; as a public space and a habitat for its people, it now gets fragmented into deserted stores "for rent," broken façades and abandonment apartment windows and balcony doors tightly locked behind iron bars for "extra safety," carton beds and, along them, homeless people's possessions: an old dirty blanket, oversized worn out sneakers, plastic flowers, empty water bottles, stale bread. Different parts of the city palpably illustrate a degenerating social fabric, as more Greeks are now joining the ranks of what Zygmunt Bauman has called "human waste"(4): unemployed, working poor, immigrants, all the outcasts, victims of "economic progress," preys of rampant neoliberal policies, "casualties," real victims to what the Greek prime minister has recently called a "success story" on the road to privatization and the wholesale of Greece's national assets and sovereignty.
Greece is radically and violently transformed into the land field of "wasted lives" in the giant trashcan of global capitalism. Witnessing as I do this novel form of social necrophilia that eats alive every inch of human life, workspace and public space, I cringe at the sound of the words "sacrifice," "rescue" and making Greece, according to the claims of Greek PM Antonis Samaras, a "success story." Whose sacrifice and whose rescue? Who succeeds and who loses? Numbers are telling.
Unemployment rates are currently climbing to 30 percent, the same percentage Greece had in 1961. As a point of comparison, unemployment in the United States in 1929 was 25 percent, and in Argentina in 2001, it was 30 percent. More than 70 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than a year, leaving most to rely on charity after losing monthly benefit payments and health insurance. This percentage does not include young people seeking a job for the first time, employees without insurance and part-timers. Unemployment is up 41 percent from 2011, and for those 15-24, it has reached 51.1 percent, doubling in only three years (5) and setting a negative record for a Eurozone country.(6)
The IMF/European Central Bank recipe is generating wealth in the global financial casino, while 31 percent of Greeks live at risk of poverty, according to Eurostat (2012). These statistics put Greece in seventh place in poverty percentages among the 27 EU countries. More specifically, in Greece: 28.7 percent of children up to 17 years old; 27.7 percent of the population between ages 27-64; and 26.7 percent of Greeks older than 65 live in the poverty threshold.
By social necrophilia, I mean . . . economic policies and austerity measures that result in the physical, material, social and financial destruction of human beings . . .
In March 2013, the government announced additional pension cuts of up to 20 percent. According to the Labor Institute of the National Confederation of Greek Workers (2012), new measures dictated by the Troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) will lead to at least a 35 percent deterioration of salaried employees' and pensioners' lives. As an example, since the beginning of 2011, 113,268 people have disconnected their telephone landlines to decrease expenses. With a 19 percent increase in the cost of electricity, 350,000 people now live without electricity in Athens. Additional taxes on property have ravaged the middle class that is now "paying rent" in their own houses through new taxes and fines imposed. Quality of life is radically deteriorating for Greek people.
This neoliberal experiment, as currently implemented in Greece, breeds destructiveness and death and resonates with forms of "social necrophilia." By social necrophilia, I mean the blunt organized effort on the part of the domestic political system and foreign neoliberal centers to implement economic policies and austerity measures that result in the physical, material, social and financial destruction of human beings: policies that promote death, whether physical or symbolic. The goal of the ongoing capitalist offensive in the form of a neoliberal doctrine is to destroy symbolically and physically the most vulnerable strata of the population, to put the entire society in a moribund state to impose the most unprecedented austerity measures that generate profit for the most privileged classes internationally.
Erich Fromm, Frankfurt School philosopher, social psychologist and psychoanalyst, provides both a metaphor from the realm of psychiatry, as well as the tools to make the case for a reified market society that is being forced to start loving death: its own. In his seminal work on the Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), Fromm defines necrophilia as "the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures."(8)
In the case of the Greek neoliberal experiment, however, beyond destroying for the sake of destruction, there are real economic interests at stake. There are bets and speculations in casino capitalism, and the game is on in Greece for banks and other large financial organizations. Social necrophilia here can be understood as the state of decay, the material and social degeneration of society, and the destruction of social fabric, where illness and death loom for the poor as a result of an economy dying through specific political choices while profit goes to big banks and multinational corporations. Love of death or the politics of social necrophilia can be illustrated in Greece in a) the rise of fascism and b) the shocking increase in illness, suicide, addiction and spread of infectious diseases since the beginning of the crisis.
In the Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (9) Fromm makes the case that necrophilia is a product of fascist thought, as he discusses the example of Spanish Falangists who used to shout, "long live death." Fascism finds expression both in government discourses and policies as well as in the rise of neo-Nazi Party Golden Dawn. Love of death is currently manifested in Greece in that rise of Golden Dawn.
In a necrophilous state of affairs, the system in charge operates with the conviction that the only way to solve a problem or a conflict is by force and violence, both symbolic and material, usually failing to see other options.
Beyond the constant constitutional violations, the disappearing public space is a central feature of Greek proto-fascism. The landscape taking shape since 2009 is not too far from the kind of totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote about: a "totalitarian government does not just curtail liberties or abolish essential freedoms; . . . It destroys the one essential prerequisite of all freedom, which is simply the capacity of motion which cannot exist without space."(11)
Motion is not only inhibited and/or prohibited, as for example, in the case of prohibiting demonstrations in the center of Athens when Troika officials visit, a practice reminiscent of the curfews during the German occupation of the '40s. Furthermore, what motion there is, is watched, with heightened surveillance and cameras installed throughout Athens. In a necrophilous state of affairs, the system in charge operates with the conviction that the only way to solve a problem or a conflict is by force and violence, both symbolic and material, usually failing to see other options. This also explains the increased exponential violence employed by the state the last five years as manifested in shutting down protests, criminalizing dissent and activism and torturing arrested protesters as well as pre-emptive arrests in every mobilization.
Alongside symbolic violence manifested in economic, political and discursive form, there is an intensified move toward militarization and authoritarianism. To this end, and while massive layoffs are taking place in the public sector, the Greek state spends more money on hiring and training law enforcement officers. More interestingly, there are close ties between the police and the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, whose members are nostalgic of Hitler and the 1967 Colonels' Junta. Golden Dawn - now pronounced a criminal organization - is involved in running "paramilitary operations that systematically attacked migrants, leftists and gay people."(12) Eighteen of its MPs are already incarcerated, and a number of its members have been involved in violent attacks, gun possession and even murder as in the fatal brutal beating of Pakistani immigrant Shehzad Luqman and the cold-blooded murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a young leftist anti-fascist activist and rapper.
The "public" is being abolished in favor of the private, through a process of devaluation, vilification and degradation. A case in point is the ongoing demonization of public functionaries, public school teachers and university professors, and doctors working in the public system of health as lazy, incompetent, in need of constant evaluation and with the Damocles sword of investigation should they dare to disagree. Everything "public" is left to decay, by cutting off funding, staff and support and creating a fertile space for corruption and violent competition.
Malaria, a disease officially eliminated 40 years ago, also made a comeback in 2012.
The Decaying Body
"It's simple. You get hungry, you get dizzy and you sleep it off," said the mother of an 11-year old boy who has been suffering hunger pains at school.(13)
Necrophilia is further manifested in physical terms in the ways the human body is degenerating, ravaged by illness, malnutrition, drug abuse, HIV and suicide. People looking for food in the trash. There are homeless people in every corner; mini slum communities all over downtown Athens. Walking south, toward the center, thousands of people wait in line to be served food by soup kitchens that provide over 30,000 free meals a day. Plenty of people queue up for possibly the only meal of their day. Welcome to the "human waste" line.
The Greek governments that assumed the role of the executioners of IMF/EU directives since the beginning of the crisis in 2008 have demonstrated a particularly necrophilous character, and they have done so unapologetically. Αn increasing number of children have been passing out in schools because of malnutrition; there are embarrassing shortages in public hospitals, where patients often have to buy their own gauze and medication from an outside pharmacy while admitted. People without health insurance with severe illnesses do not have access to treatment. Malaria, a disease officially eliminated 40 years ago, also made a comeback in 2012, with cases being noted in eastern Attica and the Peloponnese.
There are increasing numbers of suicides (close to a 43 percent hike) that rank Greece number one worldwide in suicides the past five years. There are alarming new cases of depression and mental illnesses. A recent study conducted by the University of Ioannina found that one in five people facing financial problems presents psychopathological symptoms. There is also a 200 percent increase in HIV cases.(14) At the same time, significant funding is cut from psychiatric hospitals, public drug rehabilitation centers and other social and welfare provisions while the system tries to "abort" vulnerable social groups such as HIV-positive women, drug users and people with mental illness.
With the 40 percent surcharge the government has slapped on heating oil, thousands of households have remained cold during the winter while people are returning to wood stoves, the out-of-control use of which has generated poisonous toxic smog over the city of Athens. Bodily decay goes hand in hand with environmental destruction: Greek soil is ravaged as mineral resources are overexploited in the name of profit. Large forest areas, such as the Skouries forest in Halkidiki, are turning into vast mining sites, where private companies exploit the natural wealth of the country, while poisoning the soil, the air and the water.
The more human qualities are attributed to the markets, the more real people are robbed of their own human substance.
Shock helps the system implement antisocial and harmful policies that citizens would normally object to. Being in a state of shock as a country, says Klein, means losing your narrative, being unable to understand where you are in space and time. The state of shock is easy to exploit because people become vulnerable and confused. They are robbed of their vital tools for understanding themselves and their position in the sociopolitical context. People become unalive things and the market becomes alive. While people are slowly losing their humanity, with the government abandoning its social and welfare functions, "markets" become the new referent people should care and worry about, as if they were something alive.
Although lifeless things, markets acquire a soul and a character in the neoliberal discourse. One can observe an interesting phenomenon in the official government discourse, loyally reproduced by mainstream media: a continuous attempt to ascribe human properties to markets. The "market" as a noun, subject or object, is projected as the overarching authority, above and beyond everybody, the entity that should be kept happy and satisfied - another manifestation of necrophilia as people have to die to keep the market alive. The anthropomorphism of the market is illustrated when "markets" are used in the mainstream media in sentences such as "the markets showed satisfaction today" or "the market is struggling," and "we need to convince the markets," "we should appease the markets," or "let's wait and see how the markets respond." The invisible market's "reactions" give legitimacy to the "human sacrifices," as all "market feelings" depend on increasing antisocial austerity measures that relegate a large part of Greek productive population to the unemployment trashcan. The more human qualities are attributed to the markets, the more real people are robbed of their own human substance. It seems as if the system needs to dehumanize people to "humanize" the market and then, possibly re-humanize them in the new market society, as a new kind of people robbed of any sense of agency.
In the Greek people's quest to find their lost narrative, to "renarrativise" themselves in a collective way (16), the ability to consciously disobey and to fill the concept of hope with a real, feasible political project are two very important imperatives. To paraphrase Fromm, at this point in Greek history "the capacity to doubt, to criticize and to disobey"(17) may be all that stands between the future for this country and its end. In articulating a political project and a narrative against capitalist necrophilia, there is a need to put at the core critical and radical thought that, when blended with the love of life, may take the struggle to the next level. Instead of getting confined to reforming or amending the current situation, people need to strive to imagine that which is not, desire it and work hard to make it happen.
* This article draws on my forthcoming book chapter "Neoliberalism as Social Necrophilia: Erich Fromm and The Politics of Hopelessness in Greece" to appear in Miri, S., Lake, R. & Kress, T. Reclaiming the Sane Society: Essays on Erich Fromm's Thought. Boston: Sense Publishers.
1. Hall, S., Massey, D. & Rustin, M. (2013). After Neoliberalism: Analyzing the Present. In Hall, S., Massey, D. & Rustin, M. (Eds.) After Neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto; London, UK: Soundings, p. 12.
2. Sotiris, P. (2012). The Downsizing of a Country.
4. Bauman Z. (2004). Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge, UK: Polity, p. 4.
5.INE GSEE/ADEDY. (2012). Greek economy and employment: Yearly Report 2012. Athens, Greece.
6. Eurozone Unemployment Reaches New High (2013, January 8). BBC
7. Greek National Committee of UNICEF. (2003). State of Children in Greece 2013. Athens: Greece.
8. Fromm, E. (1973). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: Henry Holt, p. 369.
10. Giroux, 2008, p. 21-22). Giroux, H. (2008). Against the Terror of Neoliberalism Politics Beyond the Age of Greed. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
11. Hannah Arendt The Origins of Totalitarianism (1973, p. 466)
12. The Guardian
13. Alderman, L. (2013, April 17). More Children in Greece are going Hungry. The New York Times.
14. Henley, J. (2013, May 15). Recessions can hurt but Austerity kills.
15. Klein: Klein, N. (2008). The Shock Doctrine. New York: Henry Holt.
16. Edmonds, L. (2013, April 26) "Is Greece in Shock?" Naomi Klein tells Enet how her bestseller The Shock Doctrine relates to Greece. Eleytherotypia Online.
17. Fromm, 1981
Panayota Gounari is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research focuses on the politics of language in the construction of neoliberal discourses in education and society, as well as on reinventing a theory for critical pedagogy. She is a co-editor of Critical Pedagogy: A Reader (Gutenberg 2010, with George Grollios) and and a co-author of the Hegemony of English (Paradigm 2003). She has authored numerous articles and book chapters that have been translated in many languages.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Sociologist Zaire Zenit Dinzey-Flores discusses how the concentration of class and racial privilege in gated communities takes place alongside the spatial concentration and confinement of the poor. She argues that gates help sort and segregate people, physically and symbolically distinguish communities, and cement inequality.
“You drive to the gate. The community is in the shape of a U. You come in one gate and leave through the other. When you get to the gate, you will have a dial pad. You have to dial my number. Here is the number. Wait for me to answer. I will ask you who you are. You will tell me. Once you talk to me I will push the button to open the gate and let you in. The gate will open. You will be allowed in. You will drive to my house. I will be outside waiting for you.”
Following Ramiro’s careful directions, I entered Extensión Alhambra a subdivision of colorful, concrete, one and two-story single-family homes located in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, in the southern part of the island. Extensión Alhambra which looks like a mid-century American suburb, was intended to be an exclusive community for middle- and upper-middle-income families, its name evoking Spain’s famous Moorish castle, the Alhambra. When it was built in the early 1970s, Extensión Alhambra was open to all. But in 1993 residents took advantage of a 1987 law (Ley de Cierre, or “closing law”) that permitted communities to build gates for protection. With that law, many previously open and private middle-class housing subdivisions were gated—part of the vast array of communities worldwide that form neighborhood associations, erecting fences and fortresses, and taking protection into their own hands.
Less than half a mile from Extensión Alhambra is a very different kind of gated community. Here, in a development called Dr. Manuel de la Pila, twenty low-rise multiple-dwelling buildings, totaling 906 units, comprise the largest public housing community in the city of Ponce. Dr. Manuel de la Pila is one of 337 public housing projects built in Puerto Rico as part of the massive post-war U.S. federal public housing push that by the second half of the twentieth century had furnished Puerto Rico with more public housing units than any U.S. city—after New York.
Like Extensión Alhambra, when it was first built Dr. Pila was an open community. But early one November morning in 1994, two years after a private firm had taken over its management, three helicopters carrying national guards and police descended upon the project, officially occupying it. Operation Centurion, popularly known as Mano Dura Contra el Crimen (Strong Arm Against Crime), had dictated that the largest, presumably most dangerous public housing projects should be gated in order to reduce crime. Over the course of four years, nearly a quarter of
Puerto Rico’s 337 public housing developments were “rescued” or “occupied,” leading to arrests of residents, the establishment of police outposts, and the erection of fences to control movement. Dr. Pila became a gated public housing development.
Gates and guards have typically been ways for privileged communities to “defend” themselves, creating secure residential environments. In their quest for security, gates symbolize “withdrawal [from the city]” and they also produce fear, according to
Teresa P. R. Caldeira, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California. Promising to protect residents from crime, as well as from fears of declining property values and loss of prestige and exclusivity, gated communities enable affluent residents to imagine that they can leave the unruly, dangerous spaces of cities behind.
The concentration of class and racial privilege in suburbs, fortressed enclaves, securitized buildings, and private islands takes place alongside the spatial concentration of poverty in ghettos, favelas, and barrios. Residential gates for the rich have also led to the rise of gates for the poor—in favelas in Brazil, South African townships, peripheral urban migrant settlements in China, and even in some public housing developments in the United States. The built environment sorts and segregates people, physically and symbolically distinguishing communities from one another. Whether one is locked inside or kept outside is determined by one’s race, class, and gender. In both kinds of gated communities, controlled access points restrict movement in and out. However, living in gated communities of the rich and poor are vastly different experiences.
The privileged gates of Extensión Alhambra offer a retreat into a secure, idyllic community; newly privatized street and sidewalks are restricted to sanctioned, paying community members, who can decide who is allowed inside. In the impoverished community of Dr. Pila, in contrast, government and private overseers control the movement of residents. So while the gates of Extensión Alhambra permit their affluent residents to exert greater political and social influence over their home turf, in Dr. Pila they have the opposite effect, diminishing residents’ power. In privileged communities, gates lock undesirables out; in poor communities, they lock them in. In both cases, gates are erected to serve the interest of the upper classes, who are primarily white. In other words, gates reproduce inequality, and cement or—to use Michel DeCerteau’s term—“politically freeze” social distinctions of race and class.
In And/Or OutRamiro greeted me warmly. To enter the well-appointed homes and interior gardens of Extensión Alhambra, where he lived, I had to find people who would vouch for me and arrange for me to gain entrance. Once inside the gate, I had to justify myself and answer their interrogations about who I knew, what I was doing, and why. I came to understand that the residents of Extensión Alhambra were suspicious or confused about me because of my brown skin, which contrasted with the light-skinned people depicted in the photographs sitting on Ramiro’s living room coffee table. According to the 2000 Census, most residents of these privileged communities racially identified as “Caucásico” (Caucasian) or “Blanco” (white)— “race symbols,” in the words of economist Glen Loury, which are enlisted to help navigate these newly privatized community spaces. Negotiations of membership and belonging occur; outsiders and insiders are sorted and profiled.
The residents of Dr. Pila know that they are the ones affluent Alhambra residents wish to keep out. “The controlled access in Extensión Alhambra allows people from that area to enter,” one woman explained. “They think people from public housing want to go there to rob them. For them, we are society’s scum.” Another Dr. Pila resident agreed: “When they put up that gate in Extensión Alhambra, it was so that the people from public housing would not go there, so that the vermin would not enter.” Residents of both private and public communities told me that a race credential was required for someone to enter community spaces. A resident of a nearby private upper-middle class community that had been unsuccessful in putting up gates said that her whiteness prevented her from entering Dr. Pila: “I would be in a panic,” she said, “because I feel different even physically [as a] a blonde woman!”
Gates separate adjacent neighborhoods, freezing race, class distinctions, and demarcating social distances; they segment identities and mark the “unmarked.” Gates position and remind specific bodies of their rightful place, delineating identities and neighborhood limits, and discouraging movement. They also remind people that public housing is dangerous. Together with media representations of crime, they reinforce the idea that dark young males, in particular, are unemployable, dangerous, and criminal.
Rafa, a dark-skinned, bored young man who lived in Dr. Pila, explained, “You go and ask if they have [any work] and they say they don’t. And then they give the job to the favorites.” Residents of public housing projects often spoke about being turned down for jobs, which they saw as related to their place of residence. Don Ramon, an employer at a job fair organized by the social workers in Dr. Pila, said he was there to offer job opportunities that were typically denied to residents of public housing. Dinora, a resident, described a job interview. When she got there, the supervisor asked her where she was from. “When I told him I was from Dr. Pila,” she said, “his attitude changed to ‘I’ll call you if anything comes up.’ He went from an attitude that the job was for-sure to an attitude, once I said where I lived, of ‘I’ll call you later.’”
The physical and symbolic meaning of the gates were obvious to public housing residents. As one woman told me: “By putting up our gate,” they’re not interested in “protect[ing] our community, or its residents.” What they are doing, she said, is “isolat[ing] public housing from wealthy people. They have no reason to think they’re better than us. We’re all people.” The gates cement physical separation. Public housing residents resent not being able to take their children to trick-or-treat during Halloween in the more privileged areas. Opportunities for engaged contact are practically nonexistent.
Getting Inside The Gates
Getting inside Extensión Alhambra takes careful planning. Ramiro’s screening interrogation gave him decisive control over my entry and presence in the public streets and sidewalks of the community, much like the power he and his neighbors wield to make decisions about who enters their private home spaces. With the Closing Law that allowed private communities to gate themselves in the interest of safety, security technology came to facilitate the control rich people exercise over private spaces. Private guards follow orders through telecoms or telephones; electronically-powered gates allow owners to exert control through remote beepers, security spikes and electric currents, administering entry and exit as they see fit. In private communities, residents and visitors are welcomed into safe havens protected from outside perils. Whether one is welcome depends on who is seeking entry, and who is doing the credentialing. This credentialing is done by residents; in public housing, in contrast, the government makes such decisions, seizing control from residents. The gate in Extensión Alhambra “is private,” a resident of Dr. Pila told me: “here it is controlled.” When a temporary fence was first built, residents of Dr. Pila thought their own gate would function similarly to that of Extensión Alhambra, with residents controlling entry either through remote access or granting approval to the guard. But in time, their ability to control entry diminished. Rather than work in the service of residents, a police sentry with a one-way mirror came to control residents, federally inspired zero-tolerance regulations demanded that residents be screened, and the government appointed social workers to organize community activities. Residents, not visitors, came under scrutiny. As one woman explained: “I have been stopped, and asked what building I am going to, what am I going to do. They see the face of a crook in me.”
To enter the gated caserío (public housing) was, as one resident said, to lose the capacity to “move freely,” and instead to be controlled, isolated, and actively barred from freedom of contact both inside and outside. Just as residents’ movements were restricted, so were mine. Upon entering Dr. Pila, visitors and residents are signaled to stay out or wait by a sign in front of the guardhouse that reads: “Residential zone with controlled access. Any resident or visitor without identification must identify himself at the entry. Visiting cars are subject to search. Housing Administration.” The sign is a reminder that entering public housing makes one suspect.
As they block access to outsiders and turn public spaces—the street, the sidewalks—into private community property, these gates expand the power of privileged insiders over urban space and development. The gates that lock some in and others out hand control over the city to the privileged, giving the poor little recourse, little control, and less and less power.
Puerto Rico illustrates the ways social inequalities are physically and symbolically articulated in residential urban built environments throughout the world, underscoring differences in power and agency. Throughout the world, security policies have become a popular way to address feelings of insecurity in urban areas. Gates in residential areas and public spaces, security guards, security cameras, and metal detectors sort and divide city residents. In China, for example, new urban migrants are being locked in enclaves in the city’s periphery. There, as in Latin America and the rest of the developing world, as well as in the United States, grave social inequalities are spatialized in residential neighborhoods, new technologies delimit insiders and outsiders, and the rich exert power over the poor.
Community gates signal and reconstitute deep social inequalities, both imagined and real. For the rich, the public is increasingly privatized; for the poor, the private sphere is increasingly subject to public surveillance. For both, social activities are limited to the family unit and to intimate and exclusive spaces. Those who can afford to do so “bowl alone” and live alone. Those of lesser means are subjected to monitoring, control, and surveillance in their places of residence. This bunker mentality diminishes the spontaneity of public life.
Although the gates of Puerto Rico’s public housing are not in operation today, the fences are still there. The police no longer patrol the grounds, and only a boarded-up guardhouse remains. Entry and exit is no longer formally monitored, but the remains of the public gates continue to interfere with everyday routines, segregating and re-inscribing social inequality. Meanwhile, the gates around the private enclaves continue to be fortified by technology. The gates of the poor and the rich face each other, turning residents away from the city and its salutary social promises.
Recommended ResourcesAtkinson, Rowland and Sarah Blandy. Gated Communities: International Perspectives (Routledge, 2006). Provides a wide array of gated community case studies.
Blakely, Edward J. and Mary Gayle Snyder. Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States (Brookings Institution Press, 1999). The first book-length work on gated communities, it provides an account of how gated communities emerged in the United States.
Caldeira, Theresa P. R. City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo (University of California Press, 2000). Examines gated communities and their relationship to crime and class segregation in Brazil.
Costa Vargas, João. “When a Favela Dared to Become a Gated Condominium: The Politics of Race and Urban Space in Rio de Janeiro,” Latin American Perspectives (2006), 33(4): 49–81. One of the few examinations of gates in poor communities, it explores the relationship of gates to urban poverty and race in Brazil.
Low, Setha. Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America (Routledge, 2003). Provides a historical background of gated communities and uses ethnography to see how privilege is contained behind gates.
Safa, Helen I. The Urban Poor of Puerto Rico: A Study in Development and Inequality (Rinehart and Winston, 1974). The first and only book-length study examining life in Puerto Rico’s public housing.
Zaire Zenit Dinzey-Flores is in the sociology and Latino & Hispanic Caribbean studies departments at Rutgers University. She is the author of Locked In, Locked Out: Gated Communities in a Puerto Rican City, from which this article was adapted.
source: American Sociological Association