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June 04,2020

by Efrén Poveda García

#profitsoverpeople

“What a shame, because I was in possession of the appropriate argument . . . , the ultimate argument, the ace up my sleeve that would have settled the discussion: If an aggressive epidemic disease appeared, if it were transmitted through the air, she would be glad for the existence of a solid public healthcare system controlling the expansion of the disease by treating the majority of citizens (citizens who only have that system to rely on).

From a strictly selfish point of view, such a system favoured her interests as anyone else’s, unless she was one of those wealthy guys buying comfortable, ultra-modern, high-security bunkers and underground flats.

. . .

But even if she was, . . . [she had to be able to] understand that the excellent surgeon who would safe her from a severe condition in the future, or the biochemist who would find the cure for our hypothetical epidemic, could be dying or becoming impaired as we spoke owing to a lack of public resources.”

My words.

Mask

I wrote the fragments above a few weeks ago. However, I must admit a lack sympathy for the arguments in them. MY lack of sympathy, which kept me company during the writing process and of which I have been aware for a long time.

Regardless, I used those arguments. I used them because they seem logical, “reasonable,” pertinent, and, in some way, indisputable. (Even though it is proven that epidemic diseases tend to affect more in number and severity the poorest sectors of populations, this doesn’t mean that the rich are completely save.)

Several times in my life I’ve used those arguments. They work fine. They are handy. And that’s because they speak the language of power instead of the language of justice.

Furthermore, they are correct.

Yes! They are correct. My dislike for them doesn’t come from a procedural flaw. My dislike, instead, has to do with what the social, cultural and political context makes of them. With the fact that, in the image of the world promoted by the current global order, they not only make sense, but appear as the only valid thoughts in support of things as basic as high-quality universal education, healthcare, housing and nourishment.

In my view, this kind of arguments should at most be auxiliary, because there are indeed better ones which refer to what I see as the right reasons why social support systems must be implemented, and, most importantly, because there’s a dangerous potential in them that can only be neutralised by the best arguments.

But the temptation is always there…

Although I appreciate the gesture in most occasions, year after year I’ve grown tired of discourses that appeal to selfishness or economic reasons (which tend to be the same…) with the purpose of achieving what’s healthy or what’s ethically correct or what’ just (which tend to be the same…). From philosopher John Rawls (current touchstone of liberal / social democratic political theory) and his “veil of ignorance” to Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley and her defence of the environment.

Hyprocrisy - copia

Artwork ©Gary Taxali

Yes, you read right (no pun intended). Debbie Dooley is convinced that environmental change is happening and that we humans are causing it. Paradoxical as it may seem in an ultra-conservative Republican, she advocates renewable energy. Yet, the most interesting fact about her is what she has to say regarding how USA right-wing politicians can be convinced to take action on this matter. You can see her right here claiming basically that, in order to make her buddies listen to you, you must use their language. This means that, rather than appealing to responsibility towards other (present and future) humans and living beings, talking of “competition” (please excuse me, I need to throw up), “energy freedom” (y’know, good ol’ right-wing fake freedom) or “national security” (oh, how tired I am of wealthy nationalism) is the way to catch Republican attention.

More recently, a report by the OECD stated that obesity and its associated chronic diseases reduce the GDPs of member countries by 3,3% on average (due both to less productivity and medical care expenditure). After this and more data, they offered policy guidelines to prevent obesity. The title of the entry in their own website: “Tackling obesity would boost economic and social well-being.”

“Economic” first. That’s the way to touch the hearts of those who normally don’t care.

Sugarbomb

One more example: Spanish Merck CEO Marieta Jiménez reached, also recently, other CEOs of huge companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers to launch a platform called ClosinGap, dedicated, as a first step, to calculate the economic costs of gender discrimination for, again, GDP, although this time circumscribing their research to the Spanish economy. The figures provided by their work are certainly noteworthy. For instance, they have found that the health gap between women and men (due to a number of factors including lower salaries, unpaid domestic and caretaking jobs, the costs for physical health of these unpaid jobs, the effects on mental health of all the precedent situations, a medical science and outreach developed taking men as their main model and the habit of self-sacrificing to the benefit of others, which includes ignoring the presence of disease symptoms until they are in a very advanced state) causes an annual loss of €8,945 million. Even more impressive are the €201,913 million lost in unequal employment rates, a 16,8% of the country’s GDP. During a radio interview, the host presented this data as something that’s beyond ideology and could, therefore, bypass political opinions and prompt much needed changes. But, isn’t the use of these data for argumentation a way to support a precise ideological range?

If we speak the language of capital, aren’t we reinforcing the logic of individualism and selfishness instead of bringing a new and better one perhaps that which has set the protection of the environment and the defence of an equal right to health and labour opportunities as goals to the stage?

If I have to be honest (and that’s the whole point here, isn’t it?), I must say that these initiatives feel obscene. As obscene as the race to be first in the creation of a vaccine for Covid-19 due to the enormous profits it will generate.

Obscene all of it. And, oh, how I like obscenities because they speak truths. The fact that ClosinGap, the OECD and Debbie Dooley need to resort to the speech of capital reveals the undemocratic and unethical workings of the system underlying elections, alleged sovereignties and supranational “warrantors.”

Or are we supposed to believe that our hypothetical vaccine will benefit the entire humanity? It is extremely doubtful that “the entire humanity” will have access to it. We can imagine that the cost of the product will be high according to the high demand and that, as a consequence, some governments will be unable or unwilling to pay for a sufficient number of them. I can even picture scenarios where particular countries blackmail other countries by threatening to cut vaccine supplies.

Obscenities are devoid of hypocritical propaganda. They make plain without a hint of shame how things really work. They make plain without a hint of shame that our destinies lie in the hands of the private interests of a small portion of the population.

Now, what if obscene speech can, given the adequate circumstances, really help improve a specific situation, not because we present arguments devoid of ideology (I hope to have made clear that the use of certain kind of data is ideological), but because they appeal to the appropriate private interests? Is it a duty to use it at the cost of reinforcing a damaging logic? At the cost of normalising the logic of individualism, the logic of the rule of selfishness?

Someone could tell me that, when economic figures refer to GDPs, the target of the reports are states, and therefore, that there are no private interests involved. To this I would answer, first, that what these messages appeal to is each citizen’s private interest (“if your country spends more in obesity prevention, you will end up paying less taxes”), contributing, like I said, to normalise selfishness as the adequate source of political demands; and, second, that the image of good-willed states representing citizenry is, unfortunately, very naïve.

Your Rights Are My Rights

At this point, it is necessary to notice that, according to the exposed logic, if women discrimination didn’t damage GDPs there would be no reason to try to eliminate it. The same goes for obesity. And the same goes for healthcare when (mistakenly) advantaged people don’t feel that a good public system benefits them.

In the logic promoted by the dominant social and economic configuration of our world, ethical behaviours and fights for justice can be assessed as dumb, ingenuous or, in a more technical language, unprofitable that is, worthless. Here’s the danger I talked about before. If such a logic is accepted as the only realistic or, even worse, as the only comprehensible way to justify demands, then many just claims will be out of the picture.

In fact, the claims by Dooley, the OECD and ClosinGap aren’t enough by themselves to convince anybody of what’s really just. What Dooley could at best achieve is the adoption of a sustainable development model designed according to the capitalist imperative of economic growth, when the only sustainable path right now is probably that of degrowth. Equally, giant producers of bad-quality food will, for example, substitute sugars with artificial sweeteners (also bad for our organisms) and use the label “healthy.” As for ClosinGap, they aren’t questioning the deeply entrenched distribution of roles and power relationships which assumes that it is other women (racialised, lower-class, immigrant, older…), perhaps with better salaries and better health, who will still have no other choice but to take care of the children of mothers earning the same salaries as men in their high positions in business.

But let’s not forget that economic laws are not natural laws. Economic laws are human-made and can be human-changed. For now, they have managed to influence our inner constructions of the world by locating self-interest in the centre of social life. Self-interest, in fact, is the only economic “notion” most citizens (educated or not) are taught throughout their lives.

There is, nevertheless, a force within us. A force that’s contrary to self-interest. A force getting stronger and opening cracks. It is called empathy.

Eyes

(To avoid misunderstandings, I must clarify that I don’t think empathy is more natural or intrinsic to us than selfishness. What I think is that we have been socially programmed to be guided by the latter and leave the former for a very reduced realm, if any, of our lives.)

The corona-crisis has been responded with acts of civic responsibility and the creation of bonds of solidarity. At least some voters, citizens, human beings, are realising the importance of universal healthcare systems as much as the fact that the lack of a proper budget for them ends up killing people. Perhaps some of them think about this as a matter of personal safety, but for others this whole situation may be awakening empathy and opening channels for it to flow.

It’s time to fight for public support systems, and to do it for the right reasons. 

Am I defending with all of this a banishment of selfish-economic logic from our discussion toolbox? Despite the conclusions that could be derived from all the above, I am not. We mustn’t forget in what world we live in, nor the advantages of pragmatism. Although my arguments are by default based on empathy, if I have to, if I find myself in a context where the wrong arguments can encourage a partial improvement, I will use them. But I’ll be completely aware of what I’m doing. My mind won’t be trapped by a misguiding logic. And, as long as it doesn’t endanger the positive, although not ideal effect, I will not use it alone. I will not use it without including an (“idealistic,” “childish,” “ignorant”) appeal to empathy, without trying to make my interlocutors see who they are being and how sorrowful that is.

Who knows? Perhaps some sparks guilt or even empathy will shine among the currents of the electric storms within their brains.


Image Credits:

Overthinking Too, by Shaylin Wallace (smwvisuals.com, IG: @smwallday)

Justice, by Gary Taxali, 2020 (https://www.garytaxali.com/, IG: @taxali)

Intervention by Genevieve Blais (https://www.genevieveblais.com, IG: @genevieveblaiseart) for her series Black Death (IG: @plaguehistory)

Hypocrisy, by Gary Taxali, 2020 (https://www.garytaxali.com/, IG: @taxali)

Sugarbomb Combo, by Viktor Hertz (www.behance.net/viktorhertz, https://viktorhertz.threadless.com/, IG: @viktorhertz)

Your Rights Are My Rights, design and photography by pghonesty (IG: @pghonesty)

The Eyes, Chico, by Sahra Gök (https://www.behance.net/sahragokprofile, IG: @saharart_, @sahragok)

Thanks to all the artists for their generosity.

June 04,2020

by Efrén Poveda García

#profitsoverpeople

“What a shame, because I was in possession of the appropriate argument . . . , the ultimate argument, the ace up my sleeve that would have settled the discussion: If an aggressive epidemic disease appeared, if it were transmitted through the air, she would be glad for the existence of a solid public healthcare system controlling the expansion of the disease by treating the majority of citizens (citizens who only have that system to rely on).

From a strictly selfish point of view, such a system favoured her interests as anyone else’s, unless she was one of those wealthy guys buying comfortable, ultra-modern, high-security bunkers and underground flats.

. . .

But even if she was, . . . [she had to be able to] understand that the excellent surgeon who would safe her from a severe condition in the future, or the biochemist who would find the cure for our hypothetical epidemic, could be dying or becoming impaired as we spoke owing to a lack of public resources.”

My words.

Mask

I wrote the fragments above a few weeks ago. However, I must admit a lack sympathy for the arguments in them. MY lack of sympathy, which kept me company during the writing process and of which I have been aware for a long time.

Regardless, I used those arguments. I used them because they seem logical, “reasonable,” pertinent, and, in some way, indisputable. (Even though it is proven that epidemic diseases tend to affect more in number and severity the poorest sectors of populations, this doesn’t mean that the rich are completely save.)

Several times in my life I’ve used those arguments. They work fine. They are handy. And that’s because they speak the language of power instead of the language of justice.

Furthermore, they are correct.

Yes! They are correct. My dislike for them doesn’t come from a procedural flaw. My dislike, instead, has to do with what the social, cultural and political context makes of them. With the fact that, in the image of the world promoted by the current global order, they not only make sense, but appear as the only valid thoughts in support of things as basic as high-quality universal education, healthcare, housing and nourishment.

In my view, this kind of arguments should at most be auxiliary, because there are indeed better ones which refer to what I see as the right reasons why social support systems must be implemented, and, most importantly, because there’s a dangerous potential in them that can only be neutralised by the best arguments.

But the temptation is always there…

Although I appreciate the gesture in most occasions, year after year I’ve grown tired of discourses that appeal to selfishness or economic reasons (which tend to be the same…) with the purpose of achieving what’s healthy or what’s ethically correct or what’ just (which tend to be the same…). From philosopher John Rawls (current touchstone of liberal / social democratic political theory) and his “veil of ignorance” to Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley and her defence of the environment.

Hyprocrisy - copia

Artwork ©Gary Taxali

Yes, you read right (no pun intended). Debbie Dooley is convinced that environmental change is happening and that we humans are causing it. Paradoxical as it may seem in an ultra-conservative Republican, she advocates renewable energy. Yet, the most interesting fact about her is what she has to say regarding how USA right-wing politicians can be convinced to take action on this matter. You can see her right here claiming basically that, in order to make her buddies listen to you, you must use their language. This means that, rather than appealing to responsibility towards other (present and future) humans and living beings, talking of “competition” (please excuse me, I need to throw up), “energy freedom” (y’know, good ol’ right-wing fake freedom) or “national security” (oh, how tired I am of wealthy nationalism) is the way to catch Republican attention.

More recently, a report by the OECD stated that obesity and its associated chronic diseases reduce the GDPs of member countries by 3,3% on average (due both to less productivity and medical care expenditure). After this and more data, they offered policy guidelines to prevent obesity. The title of the entry in their own website: “Tackling obesity would boost economic and social well-being.”

“Economic” first. That’s the way to touch the hearts of those who normally don’t care.

Sugarbomb

One more example: Spanish Merck CEO Marieta Jiménez reached, also recently, other CEOs of huge companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers to launch a platform called ClosinGap, dedicated, as a first step, to calculate the economic costs of gender discrimination for, again, GDP, although this time circumscribing their research to the Spanish economy. The figures provided by their work are certainly noteworthy. For instance, they have found that the health gap between women and men (due to a number of factors including lower salaries, unpaid domestic and caretaking jobs, the costs for physical health of these unpaid jobs, the effects on mental health of all the precedent situations, a medical science and outreach developed taking men as their main model and the habit of self-sacrificing to the benefit of others, which includes ignoring the presence of disease symptoms until they are in a very advanced state) causes an annual loss of €8,945 million. Even more impressive are the €201,913 million lost in unequal employment rates, a 16,8% of the country’s GDP. During a radio interview, the host presented this data as something that’s beyond ideology and could, therefore, bypass political opinions and prompt much needed changes. But, isn’t the use of these data for argumentation a way to support a precise ideological range?

If we speak the language of capital, aren’t we reinforcing the logic of individualism and selfishness instead of bringing a new and better one perhaps that which has set the protection of the environment and the defence of an equal right to health and labour opportunities as goals to the stage?

If I have to be honest (and that’s the whole point here, isn’t it?), I must say that these initiatives feel obscene. As obscene as the race to be first in the creation of a vaccine for Covid-19 due to the enormous profits it will generate.

Obscene all of it. And, oh, how I like obscenities because they speak truths. The fact that ClosinGap, the OECD and Debbie Dooley need to resort to the speech of capital reveals the undemocratic and unethical workings of the system underlying elections, alleged sovereignties and supranational “warrantors.”

Or are we supposed to believe that our hypothetical vaccine will benefit the entire humanity? It is extremely doubtful that “the entire humanity” will have access to it. We can imagine that the cost of the product will be high according to the high demand and that, as a consequence, some governments will be unable or unwilling to pay for a sufficient number of them. I can even picture scenarios where particular countries blackmail other countries by threatening to cut vaccine supplies.

Obscenities are devoid of hypocritical propaganda. They make plain without a hint of shame how things really work. They make plain without a hint of shame that our destinies lie in the hands of the private interests of a small portion of the population.

Now, what if obscene speech can, given the adequate circumstances, really help improve a specific situation, not because we present arguments devoid of ideology (I hope to have made clear that the use of certain kind of data is ideological), but because they appeal to the appropriate private interests? Is it a duty to use it at the cost of reinforcing a damaging logic? At the cost of normalising the logic of individualism, the logic of the rule of selfishness?

Someone could tell me that, when economic figures refer to GDPs, the target of the reports are states, and therefore, that there are no private interests involved. To this I would answer, first, that what these messages appeal to is each citizen’s private interest (“if your country spends more in obesity prevention, you will end up paying less taxes”), contributing, like I said, to normalise selfishness as the adequate source of political demands; and, second, that the image of good-willed states representing citizenry is, unfortunately, very naïve.

Your Rights Are My Rights

At this point, it is necessary to notice that, according to the exposed logic, if women discrimination didn’t damage GDPs there would be no reason to try to eliminate it. The same goes for obesity. And the same goes for healthcare when (mistakenly) advantaged people don’t feel that a good public system benefits them.

In the logic promoted by the dominant social and economic configuration of our world, ethical behaviours and fights for justice can be assessed as dumb, ingenuous or, in a more technical language, unprofitable that is, worthless. Here’s the danger I talked about before. If such a logic is accepted as the only realistic or, even worse, as the only comprehensible way to justify demands, then many just claims will be out of the picture.

In fact, the claims by Dooley, the OECD and ClosinGap aren’t enough by themselves to convince anybody of what’s really just. What Dooley could at best achieve is the adoption of a sustainable development model designed according to the capitalist imperative of economic growth, when the only sustainable path right now is probably that of degrowth. Equally, giant producers of bad-quality food will, for example, substitute sugars with artificial sweeteners (also bad for our organisms) and use the label “healthy.” As for ClosinGap, they aren’t questioning the deeply entrenched distribution of roles and power relationships which assumes that it is other women (racialised, lower-class, immigrant, older…), perhaps with better salaries and better health, who will still have no other choice but to take care of the children of mothers earning the same salaries as men in their high positions in business.

But let’s not forget that economic laws are not natural laws. Economic laws are human-made and can be human-changed. For now, they have managed to influence our inner constructions of the world by locating self-interest in the centre of social life. Self-interest, in fact, is the only economic “notion” most citizens (educated or not) are taught throughout their lives.

There is, nevertheless, a force within us. A force that’s contrary to self-interest. A force getting stronger and opening cracks. It is called empathy.

Eyes

(To avoid misunderstandings, I must clarify that I don’t think empathy is more natural or intrinsic to us than selfishness. What I think is that we have been socially programmed to be guided by the latter and leave the former for a very reduced realm, if any, of our lives.)

The corona-crisis has been responded with acts of civic responsibility and the creation of bonds of solidarity. At least some voters, citizens, human beings, are realising the importance of universal healthcare systems as much as the fact that the lack of a proper budget for them ends up killing people. Perhaps some of them think about this as a matter of personal safety, but for others this whole situation may be awakening empathy and opening channels for it to flow.

It’s time to fight for public support systems, and to do it for the right reasons. 

Am I defending with all of this a banishment of selfish-economic logic from our discussion toolbox? Despite the conclusions that could be derived from all the above, I am not. We mustn’t forget in what world we live in, nor the advantages of pragmatism. Although my arguments are by default based on empathy, if I have to, if I find myself in a context where the wrong arguments can encourage a partial improvement, I will use them. But I’ll be completely aware of what I’m doing. My mind won’t be trapped by a misguiding logic. And, as long as it doesn’t endanger the positive, although not ideal effect, I will not use it alone. I will not use it without including an (“idealistic,” “childish,” “ignorant”) appeal to empathy, without trying to make my interlocutors see who they are being and how sorrowful that is.

Who knows? Perhaps some sparks guilt or even empathy will shine among the currents of the electric storms within their brains.


Image Credits:

Overthinking Too, by Shaylin Wallace (smwvisuals.com, IG: @smwallday)

Justice, by Gary Taxali, 2020 (https://www.garytaxali.com/, IG: @taxali)

Intervention by Genevieve Blais (https://www.genevieveblais.com, IG: @genevieveblaiseart) for her series Black Death (IG: @plaguehistory)

Hypocrisy, by Gary Taxali, 2020 (https://www.garytaxali.com/, IG: @taxali)

Sugarbomb Combo, by Viktor Hertz (www.behance.net/viktorhertz, https://viktorhertz.threadless.com/, IG: @viktorhertz)

Your Rights Are My Rights, design and photography by pghonesty (IG: @pghonesty)

The Eyes, Chico, by Sahra Gök (https://www.behance.net/sahragokprofile, IG: @saharart_, @sahragok)

Thanks to all the artists for their generosity.