El conocimiento os hará libres y las fronteras os harán gilipollas.

jueves, 28 de agosto de 2014

PODEMOS, AND THE POWER OF IRRATIONALITY IN POLITICS.



A few days ago, I read in El País a remarkable article against the new political formation Podemos. In this article, the author Antonio Roldán stated firmly that we can’t associate Podemos with a serious left-wing political program. Every single measure of this party, like the 35 work hours per week, the revocation of all the pension reforms, the ilegalization of laying off workers in profitable businesses, the control of the European Central bank, or the refusal on repaying the public debt, would lead us to a deeper crisis than the one that we still are suffering. Instead of this, the author suggests what a responsible left-wing party should do.

The arguments that the author sets out for all these critics seem always reasonable and even quite rational, in economical terms. For instance, it has no sense to refuse repaying the public debt, when almost every month the Spanish state needs to go to the international markets and ask for more loans to keep the social services of his impoverish welfare state. But the problem is exactly this point. It’s useless to show a rational speech to a party that it’s based on the contrary. Podemos was voted by hope and despair, rage and anger; its electorate is mainly composed by people who have lost their faith in the system. So they cannot be convinced by nice words and arguments. They became too suspicious, after six years of crisis. I think, for instance, how easy should be to refute the article as a whole. If there are issues that a responsible left party can do –in a different way than the right positions, no need to say so- why haven’t they done anything in the last six years? Are sensible left-wing measures so weak and unpopular that they are not able to communicate any signs of hope to society?
But we could go further in the argument of the critics to Podemos. Even if we endorse the idea that it is not possible another politics than liberalism and austerity, with all the reasons that any conservative economist could give us, this would mean very little for this electorate. It doesn’t matter if in the long run, equilibrium and recovery comes back to economy; the problem is what will happen meanwhile, and who are going to be the winners in all the process. The farer the point of recovery is, the less attractive these politics are. As Keynes suggested once, in the long run we are all dead. Moreover, the less knowledge we have about the winners in the process, the less support we’ll have on the potential losers of the whole process. How attractive can be the idea of extreme austerity, if an important part of the unemployed will never get a job again? In that instant, rationality disappears in our social brain. Rationality turns into revenge. More than one will find attractive the idea of a complete rapture of all privileges, a direct attack on the system as a whole. They are not thinking any more in the advantages they get, but in the disadvantages they can cause on their enemies. So rationality means for them, how much damage I can inflict on the system and the people who are benefited by it –mainly the casta-, no matter the cost that it will take for me in the future. For a long time we have considered democracy choices linked to rationality, common sense and even social welfare. We can’t make this assumption anymore. Democracy, like in ancient Athens, or like in the 30s in Germany or Spain, can be dominated by revenge and death as well.  
We can imagine our crisis as the sinking of a social Titanic. When the ship is still working, low and high are happy enough to tolerate among them. But in the sinking, the priviledged are the only enable to reach the lifeboats. The lower, seen that their salvation is impossible, will choose between two options, help the priviledges to save their live, or try to kill them as well. It is not the case of the old man who leaves his seat for a baby in order to preserve the future; it is the case of an unfair system in which priviledge people haven’t done too much to deserve the place they have in the lifeboat. In fact, some of those priviledged people could be seen as outrageous villains –all the political casta for instance-. If this tale is true, why are we going to support the politics of the common sense? What reasons and arguments can the main two parties hold their position? As we see with fascism and communism, there is beauty in chaos and destruction. And after wiping out the present, there are always places for new buildings to rise.   

domingo, 24 de agosto de 2014

WITTGENSTEIN COMPLEX AND THE FAILURE OF THE PHILOSOPHER




For some people (and I include myself among them), there is an uncomfortable feeling in the air when you are in a meeting with strangers and someone ask politely about your job. Then you hesitate for a while and your brief answer is: I am a teacher, secondary school teacher. After that, the following question makes you feel almost embarrassed. “I am philosophy teacher”, you dare to whisper. If you are of this kind of philosophers, no doubt that you are under the Wittgenstein’s complex.  

This is called to the personal vision of philosophy defended by this philosopher. Everybody –coming from the ashamed fields of philosophy- already knows who was this thinker. Wittgenstein always understood philosophy as a rather useless knowledge, opposite to what science, and more especificaly, technique could offer to mankind: practical and useful wisdom, able to change the life conditions and enhance life conditions. Instead of that, philosophy was some kind of mistake in the human language, a nonsense jargon, deep questions without any satisfactory answer, but that human beings were condemned to formulate by some kind of magic spell on our nature.

For Wittgenstein, the abilites of a mason or a worker in factory are quite superior to all knowledge adquired by philosophy and pure sciences. It is quite known the anecdote when some of his best students asked him what study or occupation he should follow. Wittgenstein's answer couldn't be more disappointing: go back to your little town and learn something useful. Brilliant minds that could stand out in the fields of maths, physics or philosophy should better be sent to dark factories, in the opinion of Wittgenstein. An average worker who could make simple nuts or screws for a more complex machines was a real heroe for Wittgenstein, instead of philosophers and matemathicians.

Of course, all the story could be a complete paradox, and we could accuse Wittgenstein as a complete imposter if he were not doubting during his whole life about the dignity of being a philosophy teacher and a thinker himself; more than once he renounced to all conventions and left his promising scholarship and his job as a university teacher in Cambridge, becoming a soldier, a primary school teacher, a gardener, a stretcher-bearer during the war, or even an eremit. But looks are deceiving: we could object that this continous change of occupations were possible because Wttgenstein in fact was brought up in one of the richest families in the Austrohungarian Empire, and we could doubt that he has ever had any real problem of subsistence.       

            This negative vision of philosophy is at odds with Aristotle’s first concept of this knowledge. The macedonian thinker took philosophy in a very high steem, as a first science, completly free from any bounds with human needs. That was what made philosophy a major wisdom: its complete uselessness. Because it was useless, no tie or bound should be linked with any human need. Therefore, it was just thinking for the mere pleasure of thinking. The more abstract was the subject (as metaphysics) the highest and purest. But Aristotle’s society was a culture where handwork was a slave’s task, and not a noble occupation for free men. Philosophy meant something more than accuteness or inteligence: it was a social class symbol, a leisure for rich people.

Too much time have passed from Boetius, when he stated that philosophy was the only consolation he could afford in his jail, waiting for an unfair capital punishment, and wrote a memorable essay where he received the visit of a young lady, who comforted him in his last hours discussing about good and evil, death and eternal life.


            What happened between Aristotle and Wittgenstein? More than the eruption of science, it was the emergence of a new concept of work what have condemned philosophy to ostrascism, as too many other old sacred things. The old sense of nobility is translated after capitalism in terms of utility. All that once was sacred, vanished, Marx reminded in the Communist Manifiest. That is why after the industrial revolution and the fall of the aristocracy feelings in education, Aristotle’s view started to be seen as shameful.

     Even Wittgenstein was a weird example in his age, when an outstanding and powerful economist like Keynes still was writting sophisticated ethical works and was a refined antique collector, and a first range politian as Churchill was educated under the lectures of Gibbon and was able to write masterpiece books in the field of militar history. But the world they wanted to control and dominate, had different rules and they knew that: they saw themselves as a part of a decreasing intelectual aristocracy, condemned to dissapear in the long run with other terrible and beatiful things. 

      And throughout the wide period between the end of the Great War and the downfall of Communism, the sacred veil of philosophy vanished. It doesn’t count if this is the moment where more books and essays on philosophy are written. Philosophy is out of our lives and our culture, weak, improductive, and in a world definitively designed for profit in the short term as globalization is, becomes an imposible task to face. Recent surveys suggested that common people are unable to stay more than ten minutes thinking about themselves and the goals of their own lives. How could this task be the main occupation in their existences? How can current philosophers bear this overwhelming pressure from our own culture?  

domingo, 3 de agosto de 2014

LEARNING FROM THE GREAT WAR



For many of our students, II War World sounds much more familiar than the Great War. There are lots of differences between both conflicts that explain this fact. First of all, the Second war was a clear fight between good and evil, a clash of ideologies incapable to coexist peacefully (and even Spanish civil war may be understood as a  prelude in this conflict). Nazism represents for most of people the incarnation of evil, of human hatred and cruelty (although this is not the whole scene of the picture, since Communism wasn’t better).

Secondly, it seems that the Second was more definitive  than the First. At the outbreak of the war, all politians and militar staff thought that this should be the definitive war that would solve all the problems between the European nations, but the fact was that most of the conflicts that prompted the outbreak of the Great War remained mainly unsolved after the conflict. Moreover, historians understand the second war as a continuation of the former. In opposition to this, a new age starts after 1945, in which Europe is going to lose his preminence in geopolitics forever, and becomes merely a stage in the confrontation of the new two supreme world powers, USA and URSS.

Finally the inner history of the Second War seems more attractive to study. The blitzkrieg was more brilliant than trench warfare. Strategist like Rommel, Montgomery or Patton are much known than the Great War dark generals, stuck in a old fashioned way of warfare and unable to understand the impact of technology in the frontline. Undecisive bloody battles were fought for five years in the Great War, meanwhile the II WW campaigns were dynamic and seemed that any of them could change the tide of war and the winner side. From 1915, soldiers in the frontline stopped to understand what they were fighting for and despair and nonsense started to spread out. Existentialism had its origins in the trench warfare and pacifists started to rise their voices in opposition to war, like Russell in the UK. Only Americans could think that they were fighting for freedom when they joined war in 1917 for different reasons than Europeans did in 1914. In the Second, from the first day till the last bullet was shot, people were fighting for ideas or they were made to believe that.



But these assessments could lead us to a serious mistake: to consider that current and future wars are more similar to the IIWW and not like the Great War. American society tends to judge any war in terms of good and evil; fairness and mischief. It worked in the beginning of the Cold War, but it was soon revealed that it wasn’t a mere conflict of ideologies but of interests and power. Nowadays, holy wars against terrorism are always tainted by economical and geopolitical interests (oil and Israel mainly). The main reasons in our present conflicts are just greed from one or both sides, and the faint moral advantage that one side can offer from the other, is its own weakness (as it happens in the Palestinian conflict, for instance). Tucydides was right, almost 2500 years ago, when he assured that the origin of most wars relies on too much power in one side, and fear of that growing power on the other. Athens was too ambitious, and Sparta too scared, so after all diplomacy failed, war started.   

These circumstances were present in the first worldwide conflict,
as it’s perfectly showed in the works of Margaret MacMillan in The war that ended peace. The Great War was a scary addiction of greedy selfish interest, suspicion from all sides, plus enormous miscalculations, and these conditions make the conflict more interesting to learn, especially in the previous period to the war, where complex reasons created an unbreathable atmosphere that ended in a shared war declaration. It’s extremely hard to find good reasons that enable to legitimate one of the fighting sides from the other. Some could say that the Triple Entente was fighting for democracy, but it wasn’t since Russia was on this side. For British and French, political and economical purposes easily banned any kind of moral biases against the Russian autocracy. This changed a little bit, since Russia left war after the bolquevis¡h revolution and America entered in the conflict due to the German terrorist attacks against neutral ocean liners like Lusitania, but for then, all moral superioriy had disappeared in both sides.
But what made IWW an exception from all the previous conflicts were the terrible miscalculations from all the political and military elites. There were two main mistakes: a diplomatic one and other based in the proper warfare. Politics in the previous years of war was becoming more and more intrigating and destructive. Elites of different powers were playing a complex chess game, where little countries were considered as pawns, and often changed alliances in order to fulfil their national interests. In addition to this, political game was only played inside the government offices and Royal palaces of Europe with little regards for transparency and public information. This led to four crisis at least in ten years, that could end in a war outbreak, mainly centered in the Balkans and Morocco. It was just a question of time that military conflict should emerge, and all the countries were getting prepared for this unpleasant context.    

The second miscalculation came from the impact of technology and industrial society in the manners of warfare. All the countries thought that war would last only for a few months, consisting in a brief and powerful military campaign where the enemy should be overunned or vanquished. Nobody expected that trench warfare came out, and technology created an impasse that would last four bloody years. And of course, nobody could imagine that fighting for trifles, they would lose everything in the end of the conflict. 


All these sound familiar for the present. Conflicts are getting more difficult to discern in moral terms (the “good side” promptly disappears), increasingly being a fact of power, and mistakes are in the order of the day. Just taking the example of the Ukraine crisis, the destruction of the civil aircraft in the hands of one of the sides in war was an unexpected fact in the conflict, with unknown consequences for the conflict. And unfortunately, these unpredictable consequences are paid with  civilian and innocent blood.