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

sábado, 18 de enero de 2014

CON LA COMIDA NO SE JUEGA


Este es un vídeo grabado en clase de cuarto de la E.S.O. para un concurso de consumo responsable por parte de Manos Unidas. La idea original es de Rodrigo Antón; actores principales: Javier Bohoyo y Clara Parras. El Sr. Tibb estaba tras la cámara e hizo el montaje posterior. El sonido se mejorará en breve.

miércoles, 15 de enero de 2014

IS LUXURY OUTRAGEOUS? TULPENMANIA IN THE AGE OF CRISIS

      Is luxury something that we can discuss as a moral issue?  Undoubtedly, it will depend on the context whether we can answer yes or no to the former question. Taken only as a way to enjoy life, luxury is just one more tool to obtain private happiness. Its ethical approval will depend on what we think that happiness consists. If you think that luxury will carry you to an hedonistic or epicurean idea of morality (carpe diem and pleasure as the path for felicity), then you will enjoy it. If, on the other hand, you think that luxury in the end will become more a trap rather than a tool to obtain happiness, then you will reject this way of life (from an ascetic vision, e.g.). But this is a very narrow point of view of what luxury means. Because luxury (and luxuries) have, overall, a social and economical meaning, anything can become a matter of luxury. Even what we think that is the opposite of luxuries, such as the ascetic Buddhist or Christian vision of what is life, could be seen as an attitude of luxury, that not all people in a particular society could afford for themselves. It's not something casual or at random  that neither most of the ascetic monks and eremites of old Christianity and Buddhism nor the first post-material hippie wave in the 60s were coming from middle or upper classes.The desire of leaving this world, with all their luxuries and commodities is a typical thought shared by sensitive rich people. Buddha was. Socrates too. And it's Don Quixote -a man from the low gentry- and not Sancho Panza -a mere vassal, a servant-, who is able to dream of becoming a bucolic shepherd. So, first thing to be taken into account, luxury is a very flexible concept that can be extended to any behaviour and material object. 
    What makes something luxurious? It goes without saying: the scarcity of something  prompts it to enhance its value or double its price on a free market. This economical point of view would let economists to forget the ethical point of view of this subject, in the sense that we don't ask about the people's intentions and therefore, luxury is merely a question of particular likes and dislikes. However, the hidden intention of a luxurious behaviour is not in most of times, the epicurean goal of enjoying a particular pleasure and taste it deeply, but the feeling of social distintion. The first use of silver and gold in history was that one, for instance: to separate, make distinctions among people. Low and upper classes, nobles and vassals, rich and poor. Some economists stated that luxury desire is good for economical improvement. Even when luxuries are only enjoyed by a very short group in a whole society, they encourage the economy, in the sense that they are spending money and transferring it from one hand to others. But there is no agreement in the best benefits of consumption in a society as a whole  -if it´s concentrated in few hands or, if by the contrary, money is widely spread in society and the gap between rich and poor is not too wide-. After more than four decades of disagreement, Keynesian and monetarist followers are still discussing this point.
     But the economical approach is only one possibility of the problem. As we said before, luxury can be outrageous for most of the people when is a mere way to show inequalities and lack of reciprocity between members of a society or group. If you add to this lack of opportunities for promotion -low classes will never loose their poor condition- and high unemployment, and small groups of people whose privileges are untouchable, we are talking about a perfect storm for social rage. Why the Spanish society has such a strong feeling of injustice in these years of crisis? Why have politicians been pointed out as main suspects in this crisis, when for sure crisis has burst out for much more complex circumstances than the decisions of Prime ministers or autonomic presidents? The reason is as simple as crisis is complex. Politicians are responsible not for the whole crisis, but for the deep sense of inequality and unfairness than seem to irrupt in most of the Spanish people. Their privileges have been hardly removed or suppressed; fall of real wages seems not to be with them at all. They don't feel involve in the huge effort of the whole country that have accepted a huge cut on their welfare and social rights. And this makes society to feel extraordinary disappointed with our current situation.  Frans de Waals, an eminent dutch biologist, suggested in the last decade that the feeling of justice, inequality, empathy and reciprocity appears in animals, not only in human beings. Even he postulated that empathy and reconciliation are  much stronger feelings than violence or aggression.  If ethical concerns turns out to be one the strongest feelings in some animals and our own hidden nature. Why we dare to think that this wouldn't happen in our country too?       
   

domingo, 5 de enero de 2014

MR. SCROOGE AND THE NEED FOR EMPATHY IN OUR SOCIETY

      A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is one of the most well known tales of all times, especially in this time of the year, and maybe one of the best well written in English literature. It's not only a typical tale about Christmas, it's a strong call for empathy in the Victorian society, not as far away from our times as we could think at first glance. The way that Dickens expresses this is well known for everybody who has read the tale once: the haunting of three spirits into the house of Mr. Scrooge, the greedy and shrewd old man whose only thoughts are related to business and profit. It's the story of a transformation of mind and soul. It happens at Christmas but could be adapted to any season. Unfortunately, our concerns for mankind seem to appear strongly in these remarkable dates.
      At the beginning of the story, when Mr. Scrooge received the visit from Maley's spirit, his old business partner, he's moved by fear. Of course, his first reaction is that he doesn't believe in anything that appears around him. For sure it must be a creation of his own imagination. But fear is stronger than rational skepticism, and after  Maley's threats and mournings, he went back to bed really scared and terrified. Fear of eternal punishment is the starting point of a soul in a process of transformation. But this is not the end. If we read the whole tale, we don't think that in the last pages of the story Mr. Scrooge is moved only by fear. 
     What happens in between? This is the real magic of the whole tale. The feeling of empathy appears so strongly that Mr. Scrooge became a new man, "as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man as the old city knew". The first spirit stirs up his old memories, bringing him back to his childhood as a lonely and isolated boy, obligated to stay alone in the boarding school on Christmas day. And here Dickens is able to change the reader's view of Mr.Scrooge. The feeling of empathy begins with our own vision of Scrooge. Who would be able to judge an old man who has suffered such a sad childhood? In fact we start to think that Mr. Scrooge is not only a bad man because of his own will. His path on life was traced by others, starting with his own father. The second spirit allows Mr. Scrooge to obseve the life of others (he can see but not be seen): his nephew, his employee and the spirit of the whole city. We can swap intentions, look though the eyes of the others, wonder at lives much different that ours. Finally, the third spirit, dark and silent as the grim reaper, shows Scrooge the consecuences of his acts. Not only his dark fate, when Mr. Scrooge can stare his own grave, but the fates of others, such as the little disabled child Tiny Tim, who will be dead for then. 
     It's true that Dickens tale has no political intention (although there are references to the politics of his day, like the terrible Poor law) but its ethical impact is quite remarkable. I have the feeling that this tale could move more hearts than the formal explanation of Kant's categorical imperative, too abstract, too philosophical for the readers of all ages (however, both of them moves in the same direction, the importance of empathy to recognize our ethical duties). I agree with Richard Rorty when he wrote that literature is much more effective than philosophy in order to encourage the people to act or do something. 
     Nowadays everyone has his own particular Scrooge. When we decide to close our eyes, when we decide not to listen to the demands of our brothers, we are acting as Mr. Scrooge. Humbug, he used to answer every time he was asked about Christmas, charity or love. I wish our politicians, the financial world and most of us had a similar experience to Mr. Scrooge. Unfortunately, nobody neither believes in magic nor in Christmas spirits anymore, and fairy tales are only told to children and more of the time, adults don't pay much atention. "Humbug", they think.    

(Thanks to Sara for the text correction).