There is No Anti-Elite

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere”

 

Theresa May condescendingly cackled as a rapturous applause erupted in the hall of the 2017 Conservative Party conference.

No longer was the Prime Minister going to tolerate the smug, cosmopolitan elite who spend their summers in San Francisco and winters in the Andorran alpine sneering down with disgust upon those who embrace national pride and British identity.

For too long the “citizens of the world” have had it all their own way at the expense of “ordinary, decent people”. And while the last three decades of  liberalization in the global economy have brought financial and cultural enrichment to the London elite it has come at the cost of devastating traditional industries and working class communities whose livelihoods depended upon the mining and steel industries.

Instead of trying to better understand this pain and work toward making globalization an inclusive project that works for everyone, elites have lazily opted to label those who are suffering as closed minded, nationalistic bigots.

The establishment has morally and politically failed to articulate a compelling vision of the future which includes a better life for working class people. Instead Parties have abandoned the poor in the dark corridors of Amazon warehouses to scrape by on the scraps of the gig economy.

Yet recent political events suggest this political ignorance is unsustainable. The rise of authoritarianism, increasing hostility aimed at immigrants and the collapse of political centrism reveal a rapid decline of faith in the liberal system. By downplaying the flaws of globalization, liberal elites have paved the way for self acclaimed “anti-elites” to claim the conversation and sprout the narrative that immigrants, experts and independent media are at the core of the problem.

Turkish writer Elif Shafak -a self described citizen of the world – best explained why anti-elites are not the answer to society’s ills:

“We have to make one thing very clear not everyone who voted for Brexit is a xenophobe, how could anyone think that? Not everyone who voted for Trump is an Islamaphobe and not everyone who votes in a certain way is a racist, of course they’re not it’s ridiculous!

But here is where I differ, the populist demagogues are also telling us that they are the spokespeople for the “real people” and I want us all to be very careful about that dichotomy. Who are the real people and who are the unreal people? What does that mean? We are currently seeing a shift in elites – one elite is losing ground [liberal elites] but let us understand that Marine La Pen is no less elite than the people she is criticizing. She is also part of the establishment. So many of the figures from Victor Orban to Vučić – one after another in every country, they’re also part of the elite except it’s a different elite with a different world view.”

The once maligned authoritarians of Europe are feasting on the crisis of European liberalism. Aided by the polarizing effects of social media they have exploited the anger and fear experienced by many in the precarious, instability of the twenty-first century. Part of that exploitation is trying to seduce us to believe the false dichotomies of an “elite” and “anti-elite”of  “patriots” and “traitors”.

In challenging the elite of cold-hearted globalization beware the elite of hot-blooded nationalism.

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Why Satire Isn’t Funny

It’s often promulgated that satire is the great weapon of the powerless against the powerful. Nothing can send the unhinged megalomaniac or deranged despot faster into a toddler tantrum than simply being laughed at.

Yet there is growing criticism that today’s mainstream political satire serves to promote rather than undermine the establishment and extremist politicians. By providing the likes of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg a platform to sit on comedy panel shows and project a “down to earth” persona, willing to “have a laugh” often at their own expense, the viewer (voter) is more likely to associate that politician with the entertaining likable character from TV as opposed to the extremist politician who wants to take away their healthcare or reproductive rights.

Author and scriptwriter James O’Farrell argues that politicians are actually desperate to be satirized as they know it elevates their profile and popularity. He is scathing of the smug, condescending, supposed “satire” of Donald Trump on shows such as SNL, arguing that there is rarely any meaningful or constructive purpose to sketches but that they merely exemplify the arrogant, dismissive attitude of America’s elite toward a serious threat to the future of democracy and global power dynamics.

“At times where there ought to be outrage, comedy substitutes it with ironic acceptance”

The countless number of comedians who masquerade as political commentators see Trump as a goldmine, an endless supply of gags. But is this laughter helpful? Or is it emblematic of the same ignorance The New York Times editor Dean Baquet acknowledged when saying  “we missed it” in relation to the paper’s failure to chronicle the rise and genuine appeal of Donald Trump in a grossly divided, unequal society before it was too late.

Satire can be a brilliant means of entertainment but is it the politicians who are getting the last laugh?

Catalonia: Is Independence Worth It?

Author: Anna Pomortseva

Puidgemont in Brussels, members of Catalan Parliament under threat of imprisonment and more than 1000 firms transferred from Catalonia to Madrid, has Catalonia declared Independence ?

 

” 8 segundos de independencia ” – a new proverb for Catalonia, which speaks of a temporary phenomenon.

The temporary phenomenon is the time period of independence, when on October 10th Carles Puidgemont signed a declaration of separation from the Kingdom of Spain. However, after just 8 seconds he stopped the process. What was it? The failure of the referendum and the triumph of Madrid?

The decision of the Parliament of the Generalitet of Catalonia resulted in negative reactions among supporters of independence. Yet it is necessary to mention that the process of separation needed to be paused to guarantee security and stability for residents.

In dealing with such a volatile situation, Catalonia isn’t ready for an immediate and violent break in relations with Spain. Who will control borders, how will wealth and power be shared, and will a new republic remain within the European market ? The best case scenario would be if Madrid & Barcelona could discuss and solve these questions and salvage the Catalan economy from the turmoil it is in now. But it sounds like utopia, doesn’t it?

In Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which has never been invoked in Spain’s four decades of democracy, the central government is allowed to take control of any of its 17 autonomous communities during crisis situations and may restrict power in the region for a certain period of time. However, the Article does not give a right to completely abolish autonomy in the region.

Right now, the current process would have no influence on the economy. According to the available data, on October 22nd almost 1200 firms transferred their headquarters to other regions in Spain. The lists include CaixaBank, Sabadell, Gas Natural & Agbar. Companies explained their actions by citing how the uncertain political situation could lead to losses.

This is not hard to understand considering the complete chaos in Catalonia. Carlos Puidgemont has left Spain and fled to Belgium in order to avoid arrest. The decision came after the Spanish Prosecutor filed charges of sedition, rebellion and other violations against Puidgemont and members of the Catalan Parliament. One day later the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for fresh elections in December:

On October 31, Carlos Puidgemont announced in Brussels that the Parliament of Catalonia, which was dissolved by the Spanish government, recognized this decision and stopped its work before holding a long-term elections. Deposed leader Puidgemont said he was not trying to escape justice by travelling to Brussels; ” I’m not here to demand political asylum but in order to put Catalan crisis at the heart of the European Union ” he told reporters in Brussels. He added that his return to Catalonia depends on ” guarantees” of   “fair and independent treatment from Madrid “. It is important to also note that the former members of the regional government of Catalonia are accused of misuse public funds. The crime is punishable by 30 years in prison. On November 2nd, already 8 Catalan ministers have been jailed by a Spanish judge over their role in independence on October 1st that was declared illegal under Spain’s Constitution .

Puidgemont reacted to this decision in a televised address on Thursday evening, in which he claimed that “It is a very serious attack on democracy” and the elections on December 21st would be a “coup against the elections”.

There is still a huge divide between demonstrators. They are diverse, coming from all age groups and socioeconomic levels. More and more articles are highlighting that not all of Catalonia supports independence and many believe the Catalan government played their political game in order to meet their own ends.

“I want to be Spanish and I want to live in Barcelona. Who is the Catalonian government to take those rights from me ?” asked Maria Garcia , a resident of Barcelona.

Now on the streets across Catalonia we often here not “Si , Independencia Catalunya” but “Todos Somos Cataluna”, Spanish for “We are all Catalonia”

British historian Sir Antony Beevor believes in unity and that the separatist’s euphoria will be under threat of existence . He states, “Where the Catalans go from here , it’s difficult to tell -but one thing is certain: that the December 21 elections will show that there is not a majority in favor of independence and the world will breath a slight of relief , particularly the EU.”

It should be noted that the concept of holding referenda is becoming popular among regions nowadays. What does it mean for Scotland , Kurdistan , Basque Country and Catalunya to be separate ? Is it a right to self-determination or something more ? There are numbers of self-proclaimed states which are not internationally accepted and this is the major obstacle for such “communities ” in the international arena

Today,  many political scientists place more emphasis on the growth of nationalism as a precondition for separation . Simply said “back to the roots.” In the case of Catalunya , it is return to 1469 when the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castilie laid the foundation for a unified Kingdom of Spain .  There are no other reasons except the high level of nationalism in those communities to be separate from their country and call to the world that they have established new states. However, here is another question : Is it a possible for us to see a new referendum in the near future? Unilateral way to declare independence is an uneasy road for success.

An unrecognized state cannot join the UN or the EU , nor can they avail of the benefits of international financial institutions. Its citizens are less privileged than citizens of other recognized countries. There is always a possibility of territorial dislocations of newly formed states which may lead to contradictions between neighbours . Economic difficulties also can take place : a different currency , difficulties in attracting investment and often economic sanctions.

According to such scenario with so many disadvantages , new countries will face many difficulties on their road to independence . There is nothing to say it is impossible for such states to declare independence but they may not be internationally recognized and not hold status of statehood from the standpoint of international law.

It is a necessary question to ask: Is it worth it ? Instead of making a division of us on black and white , Catalan and Spanish , Turkish and Greek Cypriots , we should put our attention and maximum efforts to the burning problems in the world: poverty , pollution, climate change . As without the world , there will be no sense to the referendum.

This article was published in association with the IRAS Global Observer an eclectic blog of news, politics, history and philosophy from students at Jagiellonian University, Krakow: 

https://irasglobalobserver.wordpress.com/

Why Spain’s King Felipe Made The Strongest Case For Catalan Independence

Author: Dean Molyneaux

Can royal intervention solve a constitutional crisis? The Catalan experience suggests the answer remains ‘no’.

 

For many of a certain age in Spain, the appearance of King Felipe VI in a rare live television address to the nation yesterday will surely bring back memories of the turbulent transition from dictatorship to democracy that the country experienced in the aftermath of Franco’s death.

During those uncertain days, Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos I, made an unprecedented and succinct address on the airwaves, in order to delegitimise the military coup led by franquista military commanders who had barricaded themselves in Congress, while reinforcing the then recently ratified Constitution. It worked. The King became a national hero (for a while) and the Spanish nation was cemented as an indivisible constitutional monarchy.

After two short years on the throne, last night’s address was arguably Felipe’s first opportunity to win back hearts and minds not only in tumultuous Catalonia, where a protest and general strike had been ongoing all day in response to police brutality during the illegal independence referendum on Sunday, but also across the other regions, where an increasing disenfranchisement with the Casa Real has been festering since long before Juan Carlos’ abdication.

With thousands in the streets of Catalan towns and cities, national police being driven from their lodgings by angry hordes and the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence imminent, Spain is facing its greatest constitutional crisis since the coup of 1981. This is the time for leadership from above politics, a chance to demonstrate that monarchs can still play a role in steering the ship when everything below descends into chaos.

Yet Felipe VI decided to demonstrate all the intransigence of Thatcher in the early days. Unlike his father, who reacted to the coup in real time, Su Majestad had 48 long hours to consider how to best address his subjects. He went on to spend some five minutes reiterating that the Constitution should prevail and that the Generalitat (Catalan administration) had acted outside the law.

He’s not exactly wrong in the technical sense but when there are 700,000 souls tramping through Barcelona’s streets, a small dose of tact can go a long way. Instead, he focused on lambasting the Catalan government with the same terms that have been spun out time and time again by prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy and which have caused such great ire amongst many Catalans, even those nonsupporting of independence.

catalan referendum 1

An optimist would have predicted that the term ‘diálogo (dialogue) would be uttered, as it has been by many both in the streets of Barcelona and by the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). If the King wants dialogue, there is a good chance that the monarchist PP will give him dialogue. Instead, we heard the tired rhetoric of unity and perseverance – more like a secondary school politics class on the basics of democracy; lacking in fervour and devoid of any condemnation of the violent clashes which saw hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officers injured on polling day. Casualties? Nothing to see here.

Regardless of where you stand on the legality of the referendum and the need to adhere to the Constitution – which, let us not forget, does not permit regions to secede from mother Spain without an amendment – it is hard not to conclude the best short-term solution some form of dialogue between Madrid and the various players in the rather fractured separatist movement.

The outcome of this is anyone’s guess but if it restores calm across the region and prevents the deployment of troops, it would be a good place to start. The present strategy of inaction, one of Rajoy’s signature moves, while tentatively threatening to invoke Madrid’s constitutional power to suspend the Generalitat, will undoubtedly lead to more civic action, likely in the form of strikes and mass protests. The net result of that? An even more bitter division than exists at present.

What is sad is that from a Spanish perspective, the King has truly scored an own goal. A significant number of those in the silent majority who were either passively or actively against independence, now find themselves disgusted with the treatment of Catalan civilians by state forces; many interviewed in the street described it as a watershed moment. Even though dedicated separatists would naturally disregard any royal message as basura, there was an open net when it came to the millions of other Catalans who wanted to hear compassion, rather than accusation.

They are now rightfully angry at their King as well – the one man who could have commanded some degree of moral authority. Felipe’s intervention may prove to be as irrelevant to the current crisis as it looks to be on the surface but it will surely leave many in Spain and abroad questioning the relevancy of a monarchy already viewed as out-of-touch by many, not to mention thousands fewer monarchists in Catalonia.

 

Dean Molyneaux read Hispanic Studies at Durham University and is a Law Graduate of Trinity College Dublin. 

There’s no such thing as an ‘Unpaid Intern’

The legal loophole for exploitative labour is expanding at an exponential rate.

Remember the days when we used to work for money? Well welcome to the world where you work for experience in the hope that one day you’ll be lucky enough to work for money. That’s the bleak reality for many young people in Ireland today faced with little option beyond unpaid internships, emigration or unemployment.

You’d be justified in thinking such a pernicious phenomenon as not paying people for work must have caused quite a stir. Well guess what? You’re dead wrong. Unpaid internships have nonchalantly become the norm while crowds in the colosseum of public opinion fervently cheer the corporate lion as she devours the young and spoiled, smartphone generation.

Rare does a week go by without the media letting off some steam on the Avo-toast munching, millennial punching bag as the cold hard facts and figures of rent prices, extortionate mortgage rates and looming student loans are quickly dispelled by a story that a twenty-two-year-old spent 3 euro on coffee! Argument Won!

Yet with new CSO figures revealing that 500 graduates a week are leaving the country, those who were bowing to cranes and rejoicing “recovery” have been left puzzled and scratching their head. It’s not difficult to see why people who wear suits and work in Grand Canal Dock are questioning why the whining, spoilt brats are flocking in their droves.

Unpaid work is still a heavily sector-specific problem. If you want to work in a bank or corporate law firm – the moral gatekeepers of society- you can still expect to be paid handsomely. But look to the arts, academia, public health or journalism and you’ll see the vital organs of our society collapsing around us. Is there any long-term plan for their survival? For a country which prides itself on producing some of the worlds most acclaimed artists and musicians’, we seem awfully content with a bland, spreadsheet future of tech and finance.

Creative jobs are rare, generally located in Dublin and nine times out of ten contingent on previous experience. If anyone can explain to me how a young person is expected to work for free in Dublin for six months with its stomach churning rent and transport costs, please let me know.

Ivanka Trump recently gave it a go when she published a piece online entitled “how to make it work as an unpaid intern” with some brilliant advice on how to get by working for free with your measly billion dollar bank account.

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Ivanka epitomizes the classist, exclusivity of unpaid internships. “What’s the big deal just live off money from your parents?” and if the poor people really want to work in film or graphic design they can slog it out as a kitchen porter for two years, save up and get the reward of working for free in Dublin for a few months.

The argument often rolled out to justify the current dynamic is that companies simply cannot afford to pay young people and the wage of “work experience” is the best they can offer. The last time I checked non-payment for work wasn’t an option on the table for businesses and we hadn’t (yet) amended the minimum wage laws to exempt young people. But spend thirty seconds skimming Linkedin’s list of graduate entry jobs and you’ll quickly see unpaid six, even nine month “internships” being offered at an alarming rate.

The minimum wage exists for a reason. It’s not just for show. It’s to protect people from the very exploitation and systemic greed which unpaid internships are capitalizing upon through peoples’ desperation for work.

The youth unemployment rate in the EU may be decreasing but non-standard forms of employment are rising exponentially. Unpaid and unregulated internships are replacing entry-level jobs and the app economy is luring people into insecure, zero-hour contracts.

If businesses genuinely can’t afford to pay their interns the minimum wage then they are either not commercially viable enterprises or illegally and systematically breaking society’s most basic and fundamental bargain.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Donald Trump unintentionally promoting a liberal agenda In Europe?

 

Author: Fillip Steffensen

When Donald Trump won the 2016 US election, pundits predicted a populist backlash against past decades of fiscally and culturally liberal policies. Porous borders, terrorist threats and the decline of the manufacturing industry were blamed for the emergence of populism. However, 6 months after the inauguration of Donald Trump, the world -especially Europe – has experienced what I would call a liberal backlash rather than a populist backlash.

In the following article, I will endeavour to explain why Donald Trump is unintentionally promoting a liberal and cosmopolitan agenda rather than his own populist agenda.

The idea first struck me in December when political latecomer, Alexander Van Der Bellen, defeated populist Norbert Hofer in the second ballot of the Austrian election. The first election was held in May with only an insignificant margin separating the two candidates. In the re-election, however, Van Der Bellen triumphed with a margin of approximately 8 percentage points.

In other parts of Europe, pundits dreaded the prospects of candidates like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders being successful in their respective elections. Although both candidates did perform very well in polls months before the elections, their support declined severely as election day approached. In Netherlands, the support for Geert Wilders’ party amounted to about 22% in polls. However, his support decreased dramatically – hitting only 13,1% at election day:

Graph 1

 

Additionally, in the subsequent French elections Marine Le Pen was expected to gain ground in polls. However, as election day approached, her support declined:

 

graph2

 

The same trend applies in the 2017 UK election in which UKIP support collapsed, falling numerous percentages. After reaching its peak popularity in polls, the German populist party, AfD also seems to have lost favour from the electorate – nonetheless, we still anticipate the elections in September with great excitement.

It is not only in elections that Trump seems to have ignited a counter-reaction. Another way to examine this tendency is by looking at polls measuring the development in opinions from year to year. I find it striking that favourability ratings for free trade and NATO – which Trump is not particularly fond of – have increased. For instance, Trump spent lengths expressing his discomfort with trade deals and NATO – therefore, It is intriguing that perceptions of free trade and NATO have shifted towards a more liberal view among the respondents:

graph 3

 

What’s more interesting is that favourability ratings have increased following a period of long time pessimism. In other words, the zero-zum perceptions have been substituted with a liberal and positive-sum perception of the economy. During his campaign, Trump also questioned the necessity of NATO. In a resentful manner, he threatened that USA might not comply with the musketeer oath. But, as the figure below suggests, the favourability ratings of NATO increased after a long period of decline – even in semi-authoritarian and populist countries like Poland:

 

graph 4

 

Conclusion

The evidence presented above suggests that the election of Trump has ignited a counter-reaction. The statistics above are only a fraction of polls and election results supporting this thesis.

Nevertheless, in the above, I have presented compelling evidence suggesting that Trump has mobilised a backlash. In other words, Trump seems to have promoted liberal values and policies.

The German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote about a theory of pendulum. In short, according to Hegel, contradiction is at the core of human progress. The idea is that contradicting positions are being resolved into a new position. This way, the “pendulum” swings between thesis and antithesis, and eventually develops into a third position.

Hegelian philosophy seems far away from Trump. However, as mentioned in the introduction, the Western world has been dominated primarily by fiscally and culturally liberal reforms since the fall of the Soviet Union. Albeit this policy had great support in the first decades following the fall of Soviet Union public sentiment shifted within the 21st century. For years, political pessimism thrived in certain regions, which eventually led to the emergence of political movements agitating for nationalist and semi-authoritarian policies.

This created fertile political ground for the emergence of the populist movement which eventually culminated with the election of Trump. As this radical and populist movement formed, the evidence suggests that the pendulum has swung in both directions and is now stabilising in the middle. In other words, the pendulum has stabilised in a position between two contradictions (liberalism/populism) and has now settled in a position in the middle.

 

Fillip Steffensen is a Danish blogger and contributing writer at The Conversation Room.

We’re All Foreigners and We’re All Mad.

Author: Melina Zacharia

 An attempt to link together two quotes of two very different writers:

Jack Kerouac in a Letter to John Clellon Holmes saying,

“All of life is a foreign country”  

and

Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland saying,

“We are all mad here”

 

There are approximately 7,5 billion people in this place we call Earth and not even one of us can really claim that she or he belongs in one place or another. I mean really claim it, putting aside the proud shouts of patriotic clichés of how much of an American, French, English, Greek or German we are. We have a nationality, but what that entails no one can firmly say. A nation can be defined by many factors and “land” is the last of them. Some claim to be “citizens of the world”, well, that doesn’t explain it either. When it comes to claiming territory or declaring a nationality I side with J. Kerouac one that one, when in Letter to John Clellon Holmes he noted “All life is a foreign country”.

 

Trying to break down the meaning of this quote will only result in chasing our tails. The dead don’t answer and I have no intention to bruise my fists banging against the hard soil. The way I can personally interpret it is that one, we all come from everywhere and nowhere. There wasn’t a moment in human history that wasn’t marked by some kind of population mixing, so who is to say which are our true origins. All of life is a foreign country,  as every country is a foreign land as much as our birth land.

 

In 2016 Momondo, an online travel search engine, launched an interesting experiment that was later widely disseminated through social media. They tried to find out how diverse we, as humans are by testing our DNA, they called it “the DNA journey”. Even though the concept was commercial with purely for-profit purposes, a point was made. No one is just one thing, and in that context all life is a foreign country, for no country is our own.

 

Surely, we have things that reflect the “where” of where we come from, small indicators like our language or even our taste in music. Those however are cultural characteristics that were built with the passing of time in each territory. All those features were influenced by things like, the weather, the order between war and peace, population movements but not from a geographic position on the map. The link we feel with a specific territory is purely emotional, and that is what makes us feel as we’re home. The traditions, the way of speaking or even the way of living does differ from place to place, but this fact never stopped us from keep on mixing cultures and traditions.

 

culture-importance

 

Let us make an leap towards another direction as bizarre or even irrelevant as it may seem at first. From “no man’s land” let us to travel to Alice’s Wonderland, “We are all mad here, I am mad you’re mad” says the Cheshire cat. If there is one thing that unites us more than our common roots that might be our common inclination towards madness. Madness doesn’t discriminate in terms of colour or nationality and that is what makes it a constant as firm as gravity.

 

In the books, later transformed in many movies, Alice is afraid to walk in Wonderland as she’ll have to walk amongst mad men. The cat then gives her the naked truth by saying “We’re all mad here”. Right there, the cat sums up the truth about the one thing that no country can claim for its own, our common denominator, madness. Madness as a state of being, as a state of mind, not as a disease. One cannot but admire the timeliness of a phrase that even though taken from a children’s book, written in the 19th century, is more in tune with the reality today as ever.

 

Nowadays, all the big conversations seem to boil down to two things: What is our place of birth and second, are we mad enough to keep tearing each other apart. As if the first would be implicitly connected with the second. But are we truly content with that way of order? Alternatively, try imagine wiping the slate clean and continuing in life with that one truth: “we’re all foreigners and we’re all mad”. Now, this would be an interesting twist in the world narrative, wouldn’t it?

Melina is a writer and has a podcast on discussing ideas and challenging people to be better. You can follow her excellent blog here:

https://cosmonotes.org/