“Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.”
A lot of terms are thrown around these days that allude to the possible shape of our future. Words like Technological Singularity, extropianism, postmortal, posthuman, and Transhuman. What do these words mean? What kind of future do they point to?
Can you imagine a “post-mortal” future where death, scarcity and the many problems we face today are no longer an issue? Would such future be sustainable? Storiesbywilliams discusses why such a trend might be desirable or even inevitable.
When I was sixteen I liked dancing. I couldn’t help it. It was the days of Cool and the Gang, Madness, the ELO, Phil Collins,… my tiny youthful body just had to dance. If you were a teenager in the eighties, you probably know what I am talking about – you were somehow dragged into this state of euphoria by this happy little tunes.
But see, the only problem was that while I was out and about shacking it many of my also seventeen year old classmates and friends, were already fighting for a cause the significance of which I could not fully grasp. The same cause that saw nearly two million people take the streets of Catalonia this week- the claim for Independence.
Why independence now?
You, as many others, probably don’t understand why. Why would the people of Catalonia throw away 300 years of history under Spanish rule, and revert to a state so far back in history?. Those who question why catalans insist on going down this road now, neglect the fact that the Catalan language and culture date as far back as thousand years before 1714, the year when Barcelona and its territories were incorporated to the Crown of Castile as provinces, within a centralised Spanish administration under a new Bourbon dynasty. The annexation of Catalonia was merely a political construct, a move in the board of political chess that kings and nobles played that had absolutely nothing to do with the people and the language and culture they were nesting for centuries. Yes, like most moves in history, one could say – the big boys do and undo as they please. Yes, exactly like that. But that doesn’t mean i’t s acceptable and it should remain unquestioned and unchallenged for ever.
In fact, the majority don’t even know where or what Catalonia is, let alone why it should constitute a sovereign state of its own. Why would anyone want to challenge unity and provoke division and possibly violence? For instance, Olga Khazan, from the Washington Post started her report with this comment:
Oh dear Olga, you thought you were opening your article with such a clever statement. But see, firstly, you are comparing apples with pears. The events of September eleven in New York and the way the people of that city have worked towards healing and recovering from such atrocity have absolutely nothing to do with the way a group of people express (very peacefully indeed) their feelings about their future and the future of their language and culture. Secondly, I personally hate this type of empty, tautological vocabulary that gets repeated regardless of the history and particularities of the event. And if you have read my blog, you know that I am all for finding similarities among us and working towards understanding. But, as I explained in my home page, “Why“, I am also all for respecting and promoting cultural and linguistic uniqueness and not allowing something as precious as that, which has taken thousands of years to develop to disappear under the blanket of globalisation.
That’s why more than one and a half million people marched peacefully and euphorically in the streets of the catalan capital city, Barcelona, and many others in surrounding localities – not hundreds of thousands like the Spanish media reported, not a million like other right wing media outlet claimed, over a million and a half –
in the midst of their prime,
and those that have been waiting for this moment for many years now.
And I, now that I should be prevented from dancing , I have the obligation to finally get my act together and help my friends and family spread the word and let the world know about the seed that has been planted this week. It is up to us now to broadcast this peaceful movement and explain why it is not about divisions, hatred, secession, rupture – It’s about peacefully restoring what political games and maneuvers once, many centuries ago, stole from a group of hard-working, peace-loving people. Because, now, thanks to the power of technology and social media, we are able to show the other side of the coin.
It is obvious that Spanish media works its hardest at concealing the significance and magnitude of events like this one. For instance, the day after the demonstration took place, my husband and I sat to watch the Spanish TV1 news shown in SBS Australia every morning and waited patiently for news of the demonstration to be shown. We eventually had to pause and see if we had got the news for another date because it was not until minute 22 that the newsreader mentioned a demonstration of hundreds of thousands that took place in the streets of Barcelona. But before that we had to endure 22 minutes of glorification of Mariano Rajoy (President of the Spanish Government), an 3 or 4 minute long presentation of an interview he had with the Finish Prime Minister as well as many of his speeches and self-praise.
But this biased coverage has not gone unnoticed internationally. French newspapers implicitly mentioned the same lack of reporting by Spanish TV and have accused some of the more conservative newspapers like La Razón and Abc of hiding the massive numbers that marched in the streets and the impact of the demonstration, only to refer to it briefly and to accuse it in these kind of terms: ‘Catalan nationalism, hand in hand with socialism, have carried out a show of sovereign strength in Barcelona, a proof of the politics of division that the catalan government promotes ‘. In the same line, reading some of the newspapers in the traditionally anti-catalan region of Andalucia, one would not have even known this event had ever occurred.
This silence contrasts with the coverage by international media publications like al-Jazeera, the Financial Times and the BBC, which highlighted the significance and reach of these demonstrations.
The eyes are now on Catalonia regardless of the level of coverage it gets from the rest of Spain. But it is very important for the world to know and understand that this is not about creating borders, boundaries, promoting divisions and rifts, like many in the Spanish governing Popular Party would have you believe. The movement for Catalan independence is about restoring what was a group of people lost in 1714 to the whims of kings, queens and nobles and giving them the much deserved opportunity to drive their own future.
Interesting article over last weekend in the Spanish daily El País reminiscent of the thesis and arguments put forward by many illustrious postmodernist authors and activists about the blatant manipulation of the cultural and linguistic discourse carried out by the Partido Popular (ironically – “Popular party”, PP), Spanish current right-wing government.
The three authors argued that the PP’s neoliberal, rightist mentality accounts for an immense political and financial power that not only imposes its radical economic and political model onto the people, but it also seeks to impose a change of thought and ultimately to achieve cultural hegemony. This project, they claim, is based on a systematic campaign of self-legitimation and discredit of progressive arguments by using the media which, is mostly dominated or at least influenced by the government. How is this consent achieved?
Using the following, and other, manipulation strategies, already referred to by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures and publications:
1. Creation (or borrowing) and diffusion of concepts and terms – competitiveness, wage moderation, creation of market confidence, privileges, co-payments, etc .These new notions draw a map of public life, the actors and their conflicts and are presented as unquestionable truths. And yet, their meaning and scope are never made explicit. The more imprinted in public life and in government policy they become, the lower their semantic precision. For example, “freedom” takes on a meaning related to “security”. BESCAM (the local Madrid police force)’s slogan is “Investing in security ensures your freedom.” As in Orwell’s “Newspeak” new ideas become “doublethink” or simultaneously accepted contradictory beliefs – The “Plan of Assurance of Basic Social Services” is the name given to the Castilla-La Mancha government’s cutbacks program. The “process of regularisation of hidden assets” promulgated by Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro is, in fact, a tax amnesty.
These “reconfiguration” of the language by right-wing leaders is a common phenomenon (think of Nazi slogans or the constantly repeated hackneyed phrases by Australia’s opposition leader Tony Abbott’s to make us believe that “boat people”are here to invade Australia). The Spanish right-wing party is manufacturing a set of convincing terms which oppose logic – “we cannot spend what we don’t have”, “free health services are unsustainable“, “only we have “common sense“. In fact, capitalism is based on credit and spending more than what one owns; public health services is not free but financed collectively by the public and therefore, common to all. But the simplicity of these slogans and their seemingly non-ideological nature make it easy for these tautologies to adhere to people’s minds and become unquestionable truths.
2. Appropriation of opponents’terminology
Admittedly, no one owns a language, but it could legitimately claimed that certain expressions are associated with specific traditions, stories and political identities. By usurping the terms of the left, the right wing simultaneously neutralises its opposition and attains a rebellious feel of sorts. Esperanza Aguirre, the current right wing mayor of Madrid, claims that the policies of the syndicates “are outdated, reactionary and anti-social.” Words like “change” or “reform” rather linked to progressive projects, are used in disguise to refer to what are actually counter-reforms. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said at the official commemoration of the 1812 Constitution: “The people from Cadiz taught us that in times of crisis not only is it necessary to make reforms, but one also has to have the courage to carry them through.” He used the symbolism of earlier reforms and reformist movements to justify and legitimate current cutbacks and dress them up as reforms.
3. Stigmatisation of certain groups
The government’s discourse refers to the unemployed as the beneficiaries of the labor reform, a lazy cast that needs to redeem its uselessness repaying the employed population with social work. For instance, Victor Grifols, president of a pharmaceutical company in Spain, proposes that “in times of crisis we could pay the unemployed 60 euros per week to donate life, earnings which could be added to their pensions.” With this proposal, the jobless body becomes a commodity, human waste that can be bought at a (minimum) price.
Some of the earlier government cutbacks also reveal a new type of paria – the sick person, now blamed for the country’s deficit and forced to pay for his/her weaknesses.
And this is the beginning, surely many other groups are bound to be falsely blamed, stigmatised and outcast.
4. Arguments based on simplicity and immediate understanding
“It is not a matter of right or left, but simply a matter of common sense,” said Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, President since 2008 of the PP in Catalonia. Mariano Rajoy’s well known appeal to “common sense” helps the party sustain a mental framework that makes people accept all imposed ideas as if they were their own conclusions, irrefutable expressions of pragmatism and the collective interest.
Euphemisms, attenuations, exaggerations, the defense of contradicting premises – all of these figures have been normalised in the right-wing rhetorical repertoire. For instance, Rajoy says it will do “whatever is necessary, even if I do not like it and even if I had previously said I was not going to do it.” The reduction of temporary teachers “should not be understood in terms of layoffs“, claims Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, “but in terms of renewal of contracts.”
5. Constructing frameworks of meaning
It’s easier for those in the public arena to enjoy more power when they control the framework of what can be said and debated. As it is, and after a protracted degeneration of public life, the PP owns a consensual logic of the system – there is only one reality and no option to interpret it.
6. Orchestration tactics
The insistent repetition of a slogan by different voices, in different times and places is now commonplace: ”unions survive on subsidies“,” teachers don’t work much at all“etc.. As the bellman in Lewis Carroll’s The hunting of the shark said “whatever I tell you three times is the true“. The right takes advantage of that “performativity” governing public statements and whenever a particular type of behavior is repeatedly normally, it tends to become normalised, or to become stigmatised if it has been repeatedly been labeled as an anomaly.
7. Using the power of the media to reinforce these mechanisms
The media helps the Popular Party spread new expressions and slogans while government consultants continue manufacturing statements and translate them immediately into a headline. Inversely proportional to the impact of these messages is the ability to answer them: any possible critical analysis by opposition forces are dissolved in a flurry of articles and editorial columns which achieve a much lower diffusion and influence than the government’s own propaganda.
Noam Chomsky has been warning us for decades now about this active (but subtle) use of the media to manufacture consent and achieve popular control. Chomsky has argued that editorial distortion is aggravated by the media’s dependence upon private and governmental news sources. If a given newspaper, television station, magazine, etc., incurs governmental disfavor, it is subtly excluded from access to information. Consequently, it loses readers or viewers, and ultimately, advertisers. To minimise such financial danger, news media businesses editorially distort their reporting to favor government and corporate policies in order to stay in business.
8. Moralising public discourse
Good or bad, normal or abnormal – these morally charged adjectives are attributed categorically and without room for discussions, appropriating the universality of the concept in dispute. The “normal, sensible people of Spain” to whom Rajoy tries to appeal to belong, undoubtedly, to the right. But by concealing its moral fundamentalism, the PP incurs a political paradox and so, PP advocates like former Mayor of Madrid, Ruiz Gallardón, attempt to assume the defense of women’s rights and the fight against the ingrained domestic violence in Spanish society with a counter-reform of the abortion law which, still limits abortion rights and reinforces legal violence further.
Let’s start by being aware of what is being said and done to us. And then, let’s show our indignation about the use of our own language, our own words, to treat us as brainless commodities with no capacity to analyse and counter-argue.
As always, I sit myself down in front of this old computer with the intention of start talking about A and somehow my train of thought just can’t stay in A – in a matter of seconds, it takes a life of its own and starts travelling from D to N, making a stopover in H and even going as far as Z. If I’m lucky, it brings me back to A but not without carrying a heavy load of scrambled thoughts and ideas that I then need to work very hard to make any sense of.
I get excited about many of them, I trash many others but ultimately, I get exasperated by this very testing, independent, self-absorbed entity in my brain that I try want to subdue by any means. And I wonder, is there a term for this emotion in the English language? Or in any other language for that matter? Is there a term that captures the frustration of a writer struggling to restrain a wandering, straying train of thought that refuses to stay in one and only one topic? There should be because I reckon this is an innate, genetically determined predisposition. At least in my case. I have always suffered from it, many of my teachers and supervisors had diagnosed it (and I thank them for their patience and support :))
How do I call the emotion I experience when I can’t control my very irritating wandering train of thought?
Anyway… (that’s one of the words I use to try to bring my extremely tangential mind to A and remember where I wanted to start), the question here is whether the aggravation I feel in the case I explained above can be described in a single word in a particular language. Just like whether, as questioned by American essayist Pamela Haag in her article Relationship words that are not translatable into English , is it possible to find words in the English language that describe emotions such as the Bantu word Ilunga – the willingness to forgive abuse the first time, tolerate it the second but never the third? Or, is it possible to find an English equivalent to the feeling expressed by the Polish words tgsknota (noun) and tgsknic‘ (verb)?.
Anna Wierzbicka’s work on defining emotions in different languages
Australian linguist Anna Wierzbicka has spent many years putting some thought into this and has come to the conclusion that although the above Polish terms have no simple, monolexemic English equivalents, it is possible to explain in English what the relevant feeling is, if one uses semantic primitives to decompose the complex Polish concept(s) into parts whose names do have simple English equivalents:
X tgskni do Y (“X feels ‘tgsknota’ to Y”) =
X is far away from Y
X thinks of Y
X feels something good toward Y
X wants to be together with Y
X knows he or she cannot be together with Y
X feels something bad because of that.
In her 1986 essay “Human emotions – Universal or culture specific?,” Wierzbicka sees some potential similarities between the Polish tgskni and several English words such as homesick, miss, pine, nostalgia, but maintains that they all differ from one another and from the Polish term as well (and I quote her directly just to illustrate the magnitude of her understanding of the different nuances of the terms):
“For example, if a teenage daughter leaves the family home and goes to study in a distant city, her Polish parents would usually tgsknic’, but one could not say that they were homesick for the daughter, that they felt nostalgia for her, and one would hardly say that they were pining after her. One could say that they missed her, but miss implies much less than tgsknik. One could say to a friend, “We missed you at the meeting,” without wishing to imply that anything remotely similar to pain or suffering was involved; and yet tgsknit does imply something like pain or suffering (in fact, the best gloss I have come across is “the pain of distance”). The word miss implies neither pain nor distance. For example, one can miss someone who has died (“My grandmother died recently. You have no idea how much I miss her”). But one would not use tgsknic’ in a case like this, because tgsknic’ implies a real separation in space. In this respect, tgsknic‘ is related to homesick. But of course homesick implies that the experiencer him or herself has gone far away from the target of the emotion.
The exact similarities and differences between tgsknic’ and homesick can be seen if one compares the explication of the former concept, given earlier with the explication of the latter, given here:
X is homesick =
X is far away from his or her home
X thinks of his or her home
X feels something good toward his or her home
X wants to be there
X knows he or she cannot be there at that time
X feels something bad because of that.
Pining differs from tgsknic‘ in its single-mindedness and its, so to speak, debilitating effect:
X is pining after Y =
X is away from Y
X thinks of Y
X feels something good toward Y
X wants to be with Y
X knows that he or she cannot be with Y
X feels something bad because of that
X can’t think of anything else because of that.
Miss, as a form of emotion, can perhaps be explicated as follows:
X (Jane) misses Y (Sally) =
Y is not with X
X thinks of Y
X would want to be with Y
X thinks that being with Y would cause him or her to feel something good.
Universal emotion terms?
It seems natural to assume, then, that each language will have it own set of emotion-words that are used to define those emotions that the members of the culture recognise as important to them. We can assume that these language-specific sets overlap and, perhaps, that the closer two cultures are, the greater the overlap between their respective sets of emotion words. But we can also assume that the more distant apart a culture is from another in space and conceptualisation, the harder it would be to share specific emotions. And that is certainly a challenged faced by translators and interpreters and professionals of intercultural communication.
But is it equally natural to assume that there may be a set of fundamental, universal, presumably innate human emotions shared by all regardless of culture-specific idiosyncracies?
According to Izard and Buechler (1980: 168), the fundamental emotions are
( 1) interest,
I, like Anna Wierzbicka, am not happy when I see English-centred claims of this kind. The fact that the English language seems to be perfectly capable of encapsulating supposedly human universal emotions makes me feel quite uneasy. I look at the list and I have a pretty certain (although I’m in no way able to prove it) that quite a number of ethnic groups will not share the feeling behind the English terms contempt or disgust. Wierzbicka, in fact, explains that the Polish language does not have a word corresponding exactly to the English word disgust or that the Australian Aboriginal language Gidjingali does not seem to distinguish lexically fear from shame.
If Izard and Buechler were Polish or Gidjingali speakers, we might have a different list of “universal emotions”. Ethnocentric research is a risk we are accustomed to, we just need to be able to question it and challenge it when necessary. Producing a list of ten shared human emotions is a pretty big claim and certainly one that needs to be carefully considered.
This ridiculous train of thought of mine, though, is still frustrating the bejesus out of me and I have no word to call it. If you experience the same, in whatever language, and have a name for it, share it, please.