The Criminalization of Poverty

May 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

  There is a debate going on in Norway, particularly in Oslo, about what to do or rather not to do with Romani people. The discourse raging in the media goes more or less along these lines: Romani people come to Norway as beggars organized or not by human trafficking gangs, eat, sleep and defecate in the streets, and lately demand, supported by local actors, that the state should provide a minimum of service to them (like public bathrooms or a roof to sleep). Their presence in the streets either increases criminality or is plainly annoying. People interviewed think that either they should get a job (and not just beg for money), or they think that giving a couple of coins “is not going to solve the problem”. In conclusion, politicians have felt some sort of pressure to do something and in the city of Oslo they have recently introduced a law that prohibits setting up a tent or sleeping in public zones like parks or other green areas. Although this prohibition is mainly targeted towards Romani people camping in public areas, it also affects other groups like drug addicts and homeless who also happen to sleep in the streets.

The introduction, or rather the expansion of this prohibition, has also stormed a lot of criticisms and last night a large group of priests and other people working in humanitarian organizations decided to camp in a public park as a way to show their protest. They demand that if the state is going to penalize outdoor sleeping, they should provide alternatives for those unable to afford a roof. Particularly, it has been argued that there is an ongoing trend to criminalize poverty. Surely there are other ways to deal with beggars or homeless rather than by prohibiting their daily presence in our lives?


Nietzsche and Mankind

May 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

F. Nietzsche is probably one of the most questioned modern philosophers. Not even considered as a proper philosopher by some … And those who follow his thread are somehow doomed to controversy and misunderstanding. Yet, I think that some of his ideas are enlightening in so many circumstances. Think of this excerpt from “The Anti-Christ”:   “Man is absolutely not the crown of creation: every creature stands beside him at the same stage of perfection … And even in asserting that we assert too much: man is, relatively speaking, the most unsuccessful animal, the sickliest, the one most dangerously strayed from its instincts – with all that, to be sure, the most interesting!” (p.124)*

Or this other one along a similar line:    ” Mankind does not represent a development of the better or the stronger or the higher in the way that it is believed today. Progress is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea.” (p. 116)*

Watching videos like this one below makes you wonder where did Nietzsche got the inspiration for his ideas:

This is a video taken on April 30, 2013 at a session of the Venezuelan National Assembly in Caracas. I have to say that politicians fighting is not news, neither in Venezuela nor anywhere,  yet we insist on believing that somehow public discussions should be kept at a certain level of respect if not for what the other stands for, at least for what the concept of discussion/debate entails. That is a plurality of arguments and comments in exploring solutions,  examining proposals and so on, that invariably calls for negotiation. In the “heat of the moment” you may say regrettable things, opting for physical contact is … well, what do you think?

* F. Nietzsche “The Anti-Christ”  Penguin Classics. Reprinted 1982

Birds and Spirits and Venezuela

April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Not so long ago in a country torn by perennial political campaigning one of the candidates told the story of how, while praying in a small chapel, a  whistling bird flew around him three times. As he was looking at the photograph, which was nested among flowers, of the recently deceased president he understood the bird´s presence as a sign of approval – sent by the dead man´s spirit- of his intention to start campaigning for the highest office in the country. “He´s here with us now” “I knew immediately what the bird was trying to say”, emphasized seriously the candidate. The people surrounding him were listening intently. Here was a man not only sensitive enough to understand the language of birds, but also capable of transmitting further the message for the benefit of all of us. Even more, he was taking on his shoulders the responsibility of carrying on the will of the deceased hero.

Three times flew the bird around him. Like in a fairytale, realism and magic are forever intertwined in order to create a higher meaning. Is this the stuff of politics? It seems so, or at least, it seems like the present state of affairs is such that politicians or aspirants to the public sphere need to frequently resort to allusions to other worlds, spirits or evil/good dichotomies in order to explain or justify their actions (think of Bush´s “axis of evil”, Chavez “Smell of sulphur” in his famous UN speech, and so on). While such references would have raised many eyebrows, not to mention scorn in other times, the blossoming of this quasi-mystical understanding of reality seems to qualify the modern approach to the public. You may think these are just rhetorical tactics to reach the lowest common denominator in an audience, after all “intelligent” people don´t fall for these fairy tales. Maybe so. Yet, it is still unsettling that a discussion of the public should be built around these references, is this sustainable politics?

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