Monday, June 30, 2014

"Neoliberalism as Social Necrophilia: The Case of Greece" By Panayota Gounari

"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
unprecedented neoliberal experiment on a global scale. The neoliberal offensive is moving head on in the country and, if Chile "was the laboratory for the early phases, Greece has become the laboratory for an even more fierce implementation."(1) What we have in place right now in Greece can be best described as the "downsizing of a country"(2) that brings profound changes in its social and economic fabric. Greece's economy has shrunk by nearly one-third since 2007, and the debt has become unmanageable. Through cut-throat austerity measures, massive privatizations and cuts in the most sensitive sectors of public education and public health, the constant process of de-industrialization and the loss of sovereignty, it looks like "Greece will emerge as a poorer country, with a diminished productive base, with reduced sovereignty, [and] with a political class accustomed to almost neo-colonial forms of supervision."(3)
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 . . .

There is an 11.8 percent increase in child poverty, raising the number of poor children to 465,000 in 2011.(7) The Greek social and welfare state has been collapsing through draconian cuts in wages and pensions, massive layoffs and the violation of vested rights, of labor laws and of collective bargaining rights. All collective bargaining expired on May 14, 2013, and it has been replaced by individual contracts where workers become hostages of their employers. Base salary went tumbling down to 500 Euros monthly (400 for young people) - not to mention a retroactive salary cut of 22 percent (32 percent for youth) in February 2012.
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.

In the context of the Greek crisis, a new form of political domination has emerged, a renewed model of fascism, or another example of "proto-fascism.(10) The elected Greek coalition government has been systematically violating the Greek Constitution and shaking the foundations of parliamentary democracy by establishing a "side system" of legislation. Using "urgent legislative decrees" indiscriminately and regularly, the coalition government is bypassing Greek legislation to facilitate privatizations and sellouts. In addition, there is an institutionalized instability: Laws keep changing, and many laws are voted in and implemented with retroactive effect.
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.

Public schools lack books and other materials, and in many areas in the north of Greece, children stay at home on very cold days because schools cannot afford to heat the classrooms. Teachers are suffering terrible cuts in their salaries, and universities barely meet their minimum functional needs with cuts in laboratory and support staff that hinder the appropriate working of the departments.
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.

It is a challenging and complicated task to try to explain Greek people's lack of massive organized resistance the last five years given the radical deterioration of their living conditions. There is almost a reconciliation with death looming everywhere; people are slowly getting used to terror. The initial manifestations - gatherings in squares, protests and other acts of disobedience - did not acquire a more organized and consistent character, despite small local victories and the existence of a movement that daily struggles on many levels and sites. The power elites used the initial shock and paralysis to spread fear through what Naomi Klein has termed the "shock doctrine." It is common practice for business interests and power elites to exploit shocks in the form of natural disasters, economic problems, or political turmoil, as an opportunity to aggressively restructure vulnerable countries' economies. In this vein, popular resistance and dissent are squashed through symbolic and material fear and violence ranging from "catastrophic" discourses in the media to very real torture and repression.(15)
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
3. Ibid.
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.
9. Ibid
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

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

"Gated Communities for Rich and Poor" by Zaire Zenit Dinzey-Flores

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 Out

Ramiro 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.

Cemented Distinctions

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 Resources

Atkinson, 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

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Deep Anger! We need to rediscover something we lost along the way. -- by Darren Fleet with Stefanie Krasnow (Adbusters mag.)

In a better world, there’d be no reason to write this. In that world, plastic bags would be outlawed, rednecks would voluntarily stop driving those obnoxious Ford F-350s and the yogis in yuppie neighborhoods would stop believing that a hybrid SUV could save the planet. But that’s not the world we live in.

In this world, when push comes to shove, most of us are too comfortable to care, too polite to speak out. With so much at stake we need to rediscover something we lost along the way: our anger.

I’ve been around a while now and all I can say is that everything has gotten worse. Deforestation. Species extinction. Overfishing. Melting glaciers. CO2 through the roof. We won a few symbolic victories here and there, but the big picture is total loss. And that’s why this isn’t your standard a-better-world-is-possible-peace-and-love-we’re-all-in-this-together-be-the-change-you-want-to-see circle jerk that has become the cachet of an entire generation of professional activists.

I’m a child of the “awareness generation,” the one who grew up learning to reduce, reuse and recycle. I remember first learning about global warming and climate change in high school in the 90s. Back then it was called the Greenhouse Gas Effect. Most of my early environmental knowledge came from classroom videos about acid rain, slash-and-burn logging in the Amazon and the hole in the ozone layer. There was also the slogan “think globally, act locally” plastered across my Social Studies 11 class wall. Those of us who cared two cents about anything believed in that mantra religiously, even though by that point almost everything around us—the school supplies, the clothes on our backs, even the food in our stomachs—came from across an ocean.

At the same time that we were learning to be more conscientious about our market choices, the global bazaar was pried open by the WTO, NAFTA and GATT trade regimes, effectively eliminating any possibility we had to make truly environmental choices. Before we were even old enough to know about our carbon footprint, it was already ten times that of a kid in the developing world. Meanwhile, our history books were full of inspirational Gandhi, MLK and Mandela quotes, all driving home the point that change, even revolution, was sentimental, nice, easy, positive. The first time the cops threatened to arrest us at an environmental protest, we shit our pants. Turns out positivity has its limits. And that’s exactly how we got into this mess.

There’s nothing worse than interorganizational bitching, especially among environmental campaigners and NGOs. We’re like a bunch of abused children taking out our frustrations on each other when we should be unified and directing our focus elsewhere. But since we don’t have the collective gumption to stand up to the man, we squabble among ourselves; it’s the only way to release the impotent rage we all feel. Even so, I have this to say: every time I see one of my environmental heroes jump on the corporate bandwagon to say some stupid-ass shit about how there are no sides in the climate struggle—how pessimism is an affront to the imagination—my heart breaks.

Recently, best-selling environmental author, TED talker, anthropologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Wade Davis went down that road. In an interview with a Vancouver newspaper he reflected proudly on his days as an energy company consultant, saying, “In all these resource conflicts, there are no enemies, only solutions.” This kind of well mannered sweetness, in the face of such a violent problem, is our greatest problem.

So if we’re going to get serious about disrupting an increasingly apocalyptic horizon, we’ve got to challenge the feel-good Hallmark sentiments that inundated my generation. We have to say fuck the TED talks, with their sincere but vacuous optimism. Fuck the positivity gurus claiming the world is not dying, it’s only changing. And fuck environmentalists willing to play nice with Big Oil and Big Energy, saying things like: “you’re not going to stop the tar sands. It’s naive to think you can,” as Davis recently proclaimed. This type of thinking sounds a lot like those fearful souls who thought apartheid was too entrenched to defeat, that Big Tobacco was too rich to take on, that austerity was too fixed to shake—that there’s nothing you, or I, or we can do in the face of a multi-trillion dollar industry. Truth is, nothing on this Earth is inevitable.

Last year, I watched in amazement as a group of radical First Nations scholars brought down the house in Vancouver at an academic conference called Global Power Shifts. Rather than reply with academia’s standard response when confronted with a social issue—“that’s problematic”—they had the guts to take a stand. One in particular, Dr. Glen Coulthard of the Yellowknife Dene, delivered a paper saying that folks on the front-lines of land, climate and environmental battles in Canada are tired of being told not be angry; that given the ongoing process of colonization, theft and exploitation, anger is not only the natural response, but the only moral response.

What he hinted at was a resurgent anger. Deep Anger. The type of anger that overturns tables, defends the weak from the strong, would rather die than live on its knees. Most mainstream environmentalists don’t like this kind of language. It means you have to do more than sign a petition. It means you can’t count miniscule corporate concessions as victories. It means you have to let yourself unravel a bit.

In our culture, anger is seen as impolite, brutish, violent and indulgent. It’s politically incorrect. It makes people squeamish. We’re afraid of anger like we’re afraid of obsessive passion and overt eroticism. Anger is dark and dirty, but Deep Anger is a form of empathy, care, even love.

Psychologists explain that anger is a natural and appropriate response to violating behavior, to situations where our boundaries have been crossed. Not having a say in whether or not ecocide is going to happen—and being asked to participate in a calm and nice debate about whether or not the tar sands should expand or not—is a violation of our boundaries. Yet somehow, we’re expected to smile and keep our imaginations open as if positivity were the goal of the movement.

The great irony is that, despite our civilization’s claim to reason, there is a deep irrationality, a fatal blind spot blocking out emotion and sanity. We’re so deeply in denial about what is happening to our planet that we’re risking our own extinction.

Unless humanity breaks through the denial, unless we start to get angry—fuckin’ angry—then we won’t ever be able to accept the challenge at hand. We won’t ever be able to rise up and face our planetary reality … we won’t ever be able to fight … and we won’t be able to win.