Las Indias in English

An interesting life

las Indias Cooperative Group

Alan Furth

Alan Furth 4 ~ September 28th, 2014 ~ 0

When the economic aspect is the excuse for getting together

cecosesola40aniosThe flood of bad news about the economic and political situation in Venezuela that has prevailed in recent years is overwhelming and even depressing. That’s why the case of CECOSESOLA (Central for Social Services of Lara State), surprisingly (expectedly?) ignored by the media, is a breath of fresh air, a cheerful reminder that when people decide to take responsibility to live an interesting life and cooperate to achieve this, there is nothing to stop them – even when the decomposition of the social and economic environment reaches critical levels.

Half a century of Venezuelan cooperativism

feriacecosesolaCECOSESOLA is a network of communities devoted to cooperative production spanning five states of western central Venezuela. Most of its operations are concentrated in Lara state, specially in its capital, the city of Barquisimeto (home to more than a million people), where CECOSESOLA hosts popular fairs every week through which one third of all fresh food in the city is sold, mostly produced locally by small producers – a feat in a country that today imports the vast majority of the food consumed by its inhabitants. The 31 retail spaces distributed in Lara, Trujillo, Barinas, and Yaracuy states, mobilize among all 600 tons of fruit and vegetables each week, with annual sales exceeding US$100 million. And all this at prices that despite not being subsidized in any way, are usually lower than those of the PDVAL State-owned food-shop chain.

The history of the network goes back to the early 60s, when it became necessary to create a funeral service for the ten cooperatives operating in Barquisimeto at that time, created years before by Jesuit priests linked to the Gumilla Center. Today, in addition to food distribution and funeral services (in fact, the funeral home operated by CECOSESOLA is the largest in the region), the network has expanded its activities through 50 community organizations engaged in a wide variety of activities: agriculture and small-scale agro-industrial production, household goods, savings and loans, and a holistic health center that involved an investment of three million dollars and serves, in addition to members, thousands of barquisimetanos every year at affordable prices.

That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

centrosaludBut it was in the mid-70s when CECOSESOLA underwent a profound transformation in its culture and organizational structure. And that change was the result of an experience that brought it to the brink of financial collapse.

During those years, the government launched a program intended to organize the urban public transport system cooperatively, and CECOSESOLA embraced the initiative taking a government loan to buy 127 buses.

But almost immediately the prevailing mentality in a government-administered sector began to pollute the management of the business. A large part of the cooperative’s workers were seduced by corrupt municipal authorities, and cooperated with these and local entrepreneurs on a looting operation that resulted in the forcible seizure and dismantling of the buses.

That crisis led, first, to the idea of ​​getting into the food-distribution business: they removed the seats of some of the buses they managed to recover, filled them up with vegetables, and started going around neighborhoods selling what they bought at the wholesale market, at producers’ associations, and the only agricultural cooperative that existed in the region: “La Alianza.” The success of the initiative was what allowed them to pay the debts they had contracted with the State to buy the buses.

But mostly, the disastrous episode made ​​it clear that the root of the problem resided in CECOSESOLA’s organizational structure, which by then was as hierarchical as any traditional company, and therefore capable of being exploited by internal or external actors who might capture the higher echelons of management in order to take advantage of the cooperative spirit of the rest of the members.

From then they gradually began to test a number of organizational changes until reaching an almost perfectly horizontal structure that today is characterized by several interesting features.

Spontaneus order

reunionesabiertasThe more than 20,000 CECOSESOLA associates coordinate their activities through a series of open meetings and spontaneous formation of ad-hoc working groups where the boss/subordinate figure is nowhere to be found. They define all this as “an organization in motion, whose only formal organizational body is a flexible and changing set of open meetings: get-together spaces that do not obey a previous design, and are created or disappear according to the needs of the moment.”

Equitable compensation and rotation of duties

feriacar 0021,300 of the 20,000 CECOSESOLA memebers are associate-workers receiving the same weekly anticipo, an advance on a bonus charged at the end of the year. There actually are some differences among the advances received by associates, especially when it comes to people with higher consumption needs like parents that sustain their families.

Also, almost all job posts at the cooperatives that comform the network are rotative. This not only reinforces the sense of fairness regarding the realization of tasks, ensuring that all members, regardless of their qualifications, conduct cleanup activities and others that in principle would require less skilled labor, but also celebrates and reinforces multi-specialization as a core value ​​of the community. Although highly knowledge-intensive positions that require the realization of more complex tasks rotate less frequently, all members go through virtually all positions in the organization throughout their lives. Some members learn to write while performing office tasks, and even the health center’s doctors work at some point as cashiers at food fairs.

Individual responsibility as a basis for cooperation

The concept of responsibility has a strong presence in the vocabulary of CECOSESOLA members. As expected, when people put aside the notion of authority and understand how fruitful it is to work in an environment of freedom, they assume and internalize responsibility quite naturally. It is not only understood that long-term success will depend solely on the dedication and effort of each one of the members, but constructive criticism is celebrated as a tool to improve performance and, from a pragmatic, day-to-day point of view, members assume full responsibility for the financial losses caused by mistakes as much as they enjoy the financial fruit brought about by the successes: cashiers assume missing money at the cash machines they operate during fairs, merchandise losses are assumed by the team responsible for the corresponding area, etc.

Consensus as directing principle

Another important organizational change implemented gradually from the bus-business 70’s crisis that naturally complemented horizontalization, was the overcoming of electioneering as a collective decision mechanism, and replacing it for the search for consensus.

Today, members spend approximately 25 percent of their time meeting, discussing, and reaching consensus on management. For example, the design of the holistic health center building entailed three years of debates, and food fairs are held only three days a week, in order to devote the rest of the week to deliberate on broader issues related to them.

But beyond ensuring that management, products, and services are in line with the values ​​of the community and with the desired quality, the most interesting thing about these meetings is that members see them as an end: they are open conversations that more than being the basis for management planning, are also occasions for sharing meals, experiences, and strengthening the fraternal ties that in the end are what fuels their quality of life.

Or, as explained by one of the founding members in his own words, the meetings are not subject to economic management, rather the opposite: “the economic aspect is our excuse for getting together.”

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ September 25th, 2014 ~ 1

Separatists: migrate to continue being

Utah

For some time, I’ve wanted to edit and update all the strange stories I’d written for the first paper edition of “Phyles: From Nations to Networks,” and which in 2010, disappeared from the final edition of the “Network Trilogy.” Some, like the one dedicated to the origins of Esperantism (which would have been impossible to write without Pere Quintana‘s research) came to mind again and again while I was reading and researching contemporary movements.

nova-izrael-san-javier-urguaySo, these last few weeks, I dedicated my few free moments to it. The result is a small, short, and entertaining essay of 9,842 words: “Seperatists,” already available in html and which we will soon move to epub format in the Library of las Indias.

To rediscover “separatism” has been very interesting. In these recent years, its last avatars have evolved towards positions that no longer allow them to be classified as such. Seasteading has gone from being a foundation dedicated to making the dream of creating cities floating in international waters a reality to proposing “start up cities” to States that are discussing creating “charter cities” and “special development zones.” The movement closest to the original separatism that Zamenhof once espoused (a neutral community, with a neutral language, in a neutral place), the Esperanta Civito, is very far from proposing any kind of collective migration and is more evocative of any association for the defense of a “diasporic” culture than classical separatism.

And there’s no point even talking about attempts to create virtual countries. Following the bitter original experience, the disappearance of the recent Spanish replica less than a year after its foundation, and the similar fate of much-touted European attempts, there are few who will trust that new experiments in “digital Zionism” will amount to anything more than role-playing games. To summarize: separatism is dead.

wagontrainplains1And that’s partly why we can now enjoy the grandeur of their histories without having to focus on the miseries of one or the failures of another. If these stories have any use today, it’s as myths, as literary references. And in any case, it’s not bad to remember those who, in full effervescence of nationalism were able to advance their beliefs, their people and the desire to build a future for themselves, rather than simply accept the imagined community imposed on them by the State.

So with no need to say that, obviously, that things are very different today, I hope you enjoy Separatists.”

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish).

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ September 16th, 2014 ~ 0

How ISIL is changing your way of seeing the world

comic del EIIS publicado en twitterSurely, the saddest thing about the historical period in which we live is that the most decomposed and most destructive organizations are in the vanguard of generating consensus and social stories.

Jihadis, more than a decade ago, were the first to organize themselves in a really distributed way on a large-scale. Though the pressure of North American propaganda after the death of Bin Laden did everything possible to erase what was learned in ten years of netwar, and some analysts are again portraying Al Qaeda as a “traditional” organization, the truth is that at that point, American withdrawal fed decomposition in Iraq, and jihadis had already a large African corridor. Only the European strategic view — and surely out of mistaken motives and in dangerous contexts, could guess that the war had moved to a new level.

Look at the maps, not Facebook or Twitter

twitter eiilForget about the jihadist virtual propaganda machine and its capacity for recruitment across half the world. That’s already routine for a netocracy that’s been around for decades.

However, in that whole process, which is organic in a network like the jihadists’, the way of representing territory, or space — the great metaphor of power — is fundamental to understanding why the military operations area of the jihadis has expanded to a point that seemed impossible only a few years ago.

Maps are cultural constructs, ways of relating that condition the way we see reality, and how we see ourselves in it. The contemporary form of the map, which is at the very root of nineteenth-century nationalism, projects the ideal of the unity of territory and collective fate. The contemporary map is a “political” representation of the state and its aspirations (I still remember in high school, when they distinguished between “geographic” maps and “political” maps).

During the first stage of the emergence of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” the type of maps that the media used reproduced this very form of representation:

estado-islamico-territorios-1 estado-islámico-territorios-2

So, cartographic representation reinforced the idea of “State” with which the jihadist group adorned their name, associating it with the national idea of a state. But, paradoxically, the maps that ISIL’s propaganda showed were much more stylized, emphasizing territory much less than control of travel roues and waterways.

estado islamico estiliza

The implicit political message about the group itself and its growth reinforced the basic idea of netwar that we already had seen in Africa: borders are not borders; people live in cities and towns and travel along paths. Only those who move between them can consolidate power, because they control the paths. To control mobility, and with it essential supplies, is the base of a floating, agile, exhausting and resilient power. Territory is of no interest. It’s an empty desert (without people) and therefore, without value. Whoever controls nodes and vectors is the true state and today, from the city limits of Aleppo to those of Baghdad, that is a jihadist state. The map of the final program, the great territorial Caliphate, is only a consequence, an organic development, a limit that is built from the network.

A few weeks later, the hegemonic way of describing the war in Iraq on the map by the European press is entirely in terms of nodes and vectors:

estado-islámico-vectores

Jihadism has given itself a new way of mapping the world. This form of representation has allowed it to rethink itself and grow beyond which we could imagine. The media seem to have accepted it, perhaps mistakenly thinking that it would be less disquieting for the European reader, who is used to the nationalist cartographic story. But we can’t stop wondering what would happen if we began to represent Europe, its conflicts, its political movements, and its commercial spaces similarly.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ September 9th, 2014 ~ ~ 7 0

Esperanto and Go

brunorugerBruno Rüger was the first great Go activist in Germany. His tireless activity during the difficult years of the ’20s and ’30s sustained the first European magazine about Go and lead to the creation of the German federation. He was the author of the first didactic textbook for beginners and of nearly a dozen more books on the game, in the no-less-difficult years of the Cold War – when practically all the literature on Go in German had burned in the bombings and the country was divided in two antagonistic states – he had the courage to begin again and promote the game in the then-recently founded Democratic Republic of Germany. Before his death in 1972, he could paraphrase Bismarck saying:

I have placed German Go on the saddle and shown that it can ride alone.

What the homages and biographies on the Internet don’t usually tell is how he achieved level of play sufficient to beat Emmanuel Lasker himself in their first game, in an era where hardly any references existed and the isolation of European players was such that they had that build their own boards. It is known that he knew how to get ahold of Japanese literature of first level and exchanged letters with Japanese masters since the beginning of the ’20s. But they didn’t speak German and he didn’t speak Japanese. The mystery is solved by Rüger himself in a autobiographical review: he had learned Esperanto in the Teens, and through Esperantista correspondence networks, had talked with a well-known Japanese aficionado and player, Dr. Tsutsumi.

Sakata EioIt is the first reference that we have of the relationship between Esperanto and Go in the first years of the Western expansion of the game. But if we look a little we find that many of the figures that we have followed in this series, starting with Alan Turing, who was passionate about synthetic languages, actively spoke Zamenhof’s language.

But if the World War set back the expansion of Go in Europe by decades, la repression of the Esperanto by totalitarian regimes had a still more sweeping effect. And while Go maintained a certain development in the US during the war and benefitted from the libertarian boom of ’68, Esperanto always was a fundamentally European phenomenon, and France in the ’70s and ’80s, marked by the anti-utopian tradition of Marxism and the maximalism of social revolution, did not put linguistic democracy back on the table.

The re-discovery

invito al go ludoBut there was a place where Esperantism was developed after the war: Japan. Introduced early to progressive settings and intellectuals, the Esperanto movement, centered on Tokyo and Kioto, included more than a thousand of people for the first time in the second half of the Fifties.

In 1979, the “Japana Esperanto Go Asocio” emerges, led by Emori Minosuke, author of the first books on Go originally written in Esperanto: “Invito al Go-ludo” (also available on paper) and “Fundamento de Taktiko kaj strategio in Go-ludo.”

Fundamento de taktiko kaj strategioThe association soon leads to la “Internacia Go Asocio” with 150 members distributed across 28 countries, that, today, continues publishing an annual newsletter. Soon, they begin to work on a glossary that will give way to the first illustrated vocabulary and an extensive specialized dictionary of 400 terms.

Though not very active on the Internet, work of the original core has left an important pedagogical legacy that includes the translations of two books by the master Sakata Eio: “Facila Formaciado” and “Vivo aŭ morto,” making Go game with the most publications in Esperanto and embodying their motto: “Go-on per Esperanto, Esperanton per Go-or” (“Go, instrument of Esperanto, Esperanto, instrument of Go”).

Go en el Congreso Mundial de EsperantoWith that early push, the Internet reached Esperantism on the eve of the new century, and with it, there appeared new tools for basic learning, new groups of players linked to virtual game servers, glossaries, email lists and literary references.

Little by little, both worlds will approach each other once again, people will go back to playing Go at Esperantista congresses and a new kind of connector will appear, people like Russ Williams, habitual visitor of Esperantista congresses and Go tournaments, who organizes his summers around the congresses of one topic or another.

Conclusions

1909 Universala KongresoBoth Go and Esperanto were part of the culture of illuminated Europe before the Great War: open to the new, fascinated by the surprising Japanese development and the sophistication of Asian cultures. It was an era in which optimism and the idea of improvement began to be confronted by the darkness of the new totalitarianism, but in which faith in the future still seemed unshakeable. Destroyed by world wars, persecution, and the Cold War, both environments, which had overlapped, were reduced, and will have to learn to become networks.

It will be this profound community experience that, thanks to the Internet, breathes new life into them in new ways. I don’t know any player of Go that thinks of the game as an alternative to the once omnipresent hegemony of chess, but rather as a game that helps develop skills, self-control and values; similarly, there are more than a few of us who think of Esperanto as a stupendous community tool, independent from both its institutional role and from the social cost of English as the false “lingua franca.”

Esperanto and Go are still there, as free cultural tools, ready for those of us who want to use them to build our own meanings.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

Natalia Fernández

Natalia Fernández 9 ~ September 7th, 2014 ~ 0

When rebuilding is a vital option

If swamps could speak, their words would transport us to a rural Spain that decided to evacuate hundreds of villages during the 50’s in order to implement the “National Hydrographic Plan.” There are precious posts and photographs of those flooded villages, magical stories of bells ringing on key dates, and other popular legends born from nostalgia and pagan deification of the earth.

Iglesia sumergida en el embalseBut today’s story is about those saved at the last moment, those that, despite being classified as endangered by possible floods, were not reached by rising waters. Stripped of population, the weeds grew in tandem with the cracks on the roofs and facades. Soon, those villages became the image of desolation. They fell into administrative oblivion until they became a problem. What could be done with all those sites in ruins that represented a potential danger and even a cost to the State?

Classified as public domain, during the ’80s, the government started to negotiate the concession of their use for a limited period – about 50 years – in exchange for their rehabilitation and repopulation. At that time, unions took over various locations, now converted into resorts, schools, or craft-production centers.

Communitary models for various lifestyles

LakabeNear the Gabriel y Galán reservoir in Extremadura is Granadilla. Due to its artistic heritage, public agencies were responsible for its rehabilitation and revitalization model. It was decided to turn it into a school workshop in which young people from different parts of Spain learned a trade and enjoyed an experience of contact with rural life.

A completely different experience is found in Navarra, near the Usoz dam. Lakabe was occupied in the early 80’s by a small group of young people seeking to live in contact with the earth in a secluded and austere environment. Throughout this time, the community has grown to become one of the main leaders of the ecovillage movement.

RuestaWith a libertarian approach, CGT carried out the recovery of Ruesta, in the romanic heart of Zaragoza, on the banks of the Yesa swamp. Conceived as a creative social space where conferences and congresses of social and artistic content were held, today it is in the process of transforming itself into an ecovillage. Morillo de Tou, in the Aragonese Pyrenees, near the Mediano reservoir, was restored for tourism and rural purposes by CC.OO. Its economic model is based on services and activities related to tourism in a holiday resort context.

Ligüerre de CincaNearby, there is Ligüerre de Cinca, expropriated to build the dam of El Grade. The project, carried out by UGT, began under the cooperative formula with less than a dozen people, whose aim was the reconstruction of the town for using it as a resort. Today they have developed a sophisticated and quality offer, recovering the vineyards and launching their own winery, a spa featuring enotherapy, a hotel for events, and personalized packages, being able to accommodate up to 800 people in the holiday season.

Building one’s own life

These are communal adventures that have entailed common effort and hard work to achieve a sustainable economic model and commitment to the surrounding environment. Each of these examples has consolidated a community and has built different life models for its members.

They are radical examples of thinking of one’s own life as an integral option that we can shape from the bottom up with our loved ones, creating a shared economy based on making and selling valuable things for others.

This is a way of doing things that once again claims leadership after seven long years of crisis. Many will be moved by the need to find alternatives, others by a life option, an ongoing conversation, or both. Perhaps they are only marginal experiences in an economy going in another direction. Maybe they are the new settlers of an increasingly empty and unproductive countryside.

But what is certain is that that first generation of recovered villages, the people who made a life choice based on the act of rebuilding, show how small communities of determined people who are committed to a way of life can turn abandonment into vitality, ruins into homes, and inactivity into shared wealth.


Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ August 24th, 2014 ~ 1

The “international class” and the future of English as “lingua franca”

aburrimientoDuring our travels, we often meet members of a particular social group. Half jokingly and half seriously, we call them the “international class.” These are people of different nationalities who, having grown up and studied in Britain since childhood, have English-language skills that go beyond the proper handling of a foreign language. In our world, organizational and commercial skills are fundamentally linguistic skills. To the extent that firms have internationalized both their business and their rents since the nineties, those capable of seducing others using the false lingua franca easily won autonomy in corporate organizational charts, and became indispensable. They even reproduced themselves to the point of imposing English as the work language in the organization… which in turn often led to a shift in the composition of the management team and suppliers, among which, not surprisingly, native English speakers began to increase.

Of course, every material change and every imagined identity group bring parallel changes in the content of the conversations. The “international class” loves soirees between governments and “civil society”: great masses of non-conflictive-good-intentions that enshrine discourses that are fashionable in the Anglosphere as supposedly global stories. These spaces are generally good relationship and business environments, but obviously also serve to promote a true recentralization of conversations.

The “problem” is “non-English”

The system functions “organically” and successfully seduces many intelligent, non-billingual business people. Martin Varsavsky’s statements the other day are a good example:

I often find myself representing Spain because there are very few Spaniards who go to certain places where I go, I don’t know why… well, yes, I do, because they don’t speak English. I have spoken highly of Amancio Ortega, but it is amazing that he doesn’t speak English; nor Zapatero, or Rajoy; nor Aznar… well, now he’s learned a bit. But it’s a shame. In Spain, the problem is not Catalan, Basque, or Galician, the problem is English.

eventoIn other words, Amancio Ortega is an example of disrption for the managerial order of the “international class.” For them, as Varsavsky remarks, “it is a shame” that entrepreneurs like Ortega manage a global company in their own language. This bad example could even spread to politicians. Where is it all leading?

Of course! Managing in Spanish means giving an advantage to suppliers, managers, and executives whose native language is Spanish, and breaking up the centralizing logic of English. Because, first and foremost, the problem has to do, according to these champions of anglified globalization, with Spanish and French, languages ​​with enough native speakers as to satisfy any company’s needs in terms of suppliers and “native” experts in any field.

zaraSo, according to Varsavsky, languages ​​with fewer speakers “are not the problem”: as long as examples such as Inditex don’t proliferate, they will accept that, given the small scale of their labor markets, they will have to rely on professionals from the “international class,” and on companies managed by them.

Deep countertrends

But why is there so much violence in these statements? First of all, because there is an important countertrend: the reduction of the optimal scale of production multiplies market agents, and the globalization of the small decentralizes a great part of trade flows. So the global SME doesn’t bother to play the game of the “international class,” and doesn’t need to go through the Anglo-Saxon world to sell. If your market is not part of the Anglosphere, in the end, all you need to sell is to speak the language (or languages) of the destination country (or countries) of your products, regardless of whether it’s a language spoken by hundreds of millions of people or by a few thousand.

Second, at this point, unless the primary purpose of an organization is to capture the rents generated by supranational institutions like the EU, it doesn’t need to resort to the Anglophone labor market. Today, there are trained professionals in all languages. Languages ​​such as Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Basque, and Galician, are university languages ​​that prepare all kinds of specialists, while attempts to substitute English for mother tongues in higher education have proven to backfire.

Alternatives

If these countertrends continue to develop, the intended monolingualism of global trade relations will continue to erode, even if the discourse of the international class refuses to see it or disregards it.

Of course, we will see an even more intense development of economic exchange within the linguistic continua. And surely, when what matters is setting up teams of people with different mother tongues, other approaches will become ever more frequent. Some of them will be born out of an appreciation for multilingualism and will be based on the development of intelligibility tools. Others will think of a common language as software that can be chosen and adopted according to common needs. It’s possible we may manage to (quasi-)automate the translation of our correspondence between languages ​​of the same families, but also that synthetic languages, which are going through an identity crisis today, will experience a new flowering with new perspectives.

In short, we will not see one alternative to English as “false lingua franca:” we will see the emergence and consolidation of many in different areas and uses. We are not, as it would seem listening to people like Varsavsky, in a dichotomy between a correct, Anglophone, and enriching globalization on the one hand, and a localist and impoverishing closure, tied to languages that are useless ​​for an open world, on the other.

The alternative is between the recentralization of conversations, companies, and economic flows that posits the “international class” – whose strength grows with the new protectionism and the hyperdevelopment of supranational bureaucracies – and the distributed diversity of the globalization of the small.

In the latter scenario, as in many other issues, there is no single, inevitable, and unique future for all, but many: as many and as diverse as the communities that build them.

Translated into English by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ August 13th, 2014 ~ ~ 13 0

Learning about community and work with Adler

primera comunidad en el kibutzAs we discussed in the prior post, for Adler, our behavior is oriented by goals, by objectives that are formed in the first years of childhood. The point of departure is the “feeling of inferiority” of the child in its first community: the family. That feeling is not in itself negative, because, as Adler says:

The behavior of all our life movements is is to progress from incompleteness to completeness. Accordingly, all of our personal life path has a tendency towards improvement, a tendency to grow, seeking to be superior.

But if fear, rejection or the sense of not having a place of ones own where one belongs, inside from the family, they increase this feeling of inferiority in the child until it is overwhelming. It will be oriented toward wrong strategies: drawing attention, exercising power, seeking vengeance or isolation (creating imagined deficiencies or exaggerating real deficiencies, for example).

Because, as beings guided by goals, the strategies (right or wrong) appear when we are little. In the bosom of our community of origin and as a function of it, we give ourselves our first life objectives. It is then that our first prejudices also arise about others and about ourselves, which Adler calls “private logic.” The joining of life goals (acceptance, belonging, recognition…) with private logic (“friends always fail,” “no one loves me,” etc.) will give shape and coherence to our sensations and feelings throughout our lives, and with them, the way we live, our “lifestyle,” an important concept that Adler defines as

the set of strategies of behavior and safeguards that orient us towards our successes and our failures.

But what is it that makes that our lifestyle fall on one side (the useless side, the side of wrong compensation) or the other (the useful that allows us grow) for our whole life?

The Adlerian Virtus

Virtus y HonosThe Roman “Virtus” was virtue that consisted of having the courage necessary to confront fear in critical situations and be able to improve a difficult situation for one’s community. It was usually represented accompanied by “Honos,” a similar, though less demanding virtue that referred not to personal improvement for one’s own benefit, but to the assumption of the costs of being fair with outsiders. In classical Rome, it was associated with the army, and over time (and several semantic slides), became contemporary “honor.”

Adler’s “courage” looks a lot like its Latin ancestor. For him, it’s not right to expect a life forever free of distress. Distress is just the constant expression of our fear of failing and therefore being rejected. From childhood, distress points out challenges to us, situations in which we don’t feel valuable or strong enough, clever or capable enough, to get ahead. That feeling of inferiority to others and of fear of change is not, in itself, negative. Just the opposite — for Adler, the contrast between our limitations and our life objectives is the engine that gets our creative capacities moving.

True courage, Virtus, is the ability to confront our life tasks, to go from the useless side to the useful side when we make adjustments and compensations. It is decide to take risks and feel a sense of belonging.

Only those that are capable of finding courage and moving towards the useful side, considering themselves a part of a whole, are at home on this Earth and with humanity.

If Virtus is not a daily part of our lifestyle, the fear of being wrong — amplified by social rules based on social punishment of error — will lead us to look for “bad compensation,” which include fictitious paralyzing goals such as the “search for perfection” or strategies of compensation that provide us with a destructive feeling of superiority over others (obsession with earnings, exercising power, “staying on top,” etc.). Perhaps, simply, we try to compensate falsely some aspects of life with others, as if success in certain objectives could make up for deficiencies in others.

The community and “learning” about Virtus

1920 construyendo el kibutz Gan ShmuelOf course there are also right compensations, compensations that help us to grow, but, once again,there is the crucial factor in the whole Adlerian perspective: the Gemeinschaftsgefühl, community feeling, the knowing how to grow with others that requires and produces Virtus.

That community Virtus is none other than the overcoming of the fear of making a mistake, taking risks, and feeling like a part of something in common. It does not mean, as Yang, Milliren and Blangen remind us, not being afraid, but overcoming it on the basis of intelligence, patience, constancy and determination. The Adlerian Virtus is a capacity that can be learned and be developed, a “psychological muscle” that allows us to grow using cooperation and contribution when we understand that the good of the people we love is the ultimate meaning of of life.

The idea according to which community feeling can be learned and practiced is already in Epicurus, even though, interestingly, the above-mentioned authors recall the Confucian idea in which courage is tempered through “ritual, love of knowledge and the development of a certain feeling of righteousness.”

Cooperation and contribution

Sailors working on a deck covered in mangrove polesIn the Adlerian vision, in any case, “community spirit,” which is principally an attitude, can be developed through the practice of cooperation and contribution until it become an “ethos,” and an inseparable pair of values through which the individual him/herself judges the coherence and utility of his/her actions.

What capacities should be practiced to “learn to cooperate”? Adler points to the ability to identify with others through learning to hear and to have the view of the other, which we Indianos have always insisted:

Life presents us with problems that require the ability to cooperate to solve them. To hear, see or speak “correctly” means dissolving the “I” completely in another person or in a situation, and being identified with them. The ability to identify with others, which makes us capable of feeling friendship, empathy, sympathy, worry and love, is the basis of community feeling and can only be practiced together with others.

But cooperating is only one of the aspects of the community life. The other is contributing. Contributing, for the Adlerians, means including the other members of the community in our effort to improve and get ahead. The desire to contribute is made clear only when it is understood that there is no scorecard, no direct relationship between contribution and reward. The path of personal improvement and of community spirit is about wanting to give more than one receives. The well-being of the whole is the base of every contribution worthy of that name, and the improvement of one’s personal situation can only be secondary.

Why is the proposal so strong, so clear, so contrary to the dominant ideology concerning contributing? Because for Adler, contributing is what truly empowers each of us. Through contributing, we feel useful, we value ourselves, and we build our self-esteem. If we make cooperation a way of life, it takes hold of us and contributes to our identity. To contribute and feel that we contribute is the type of individuation that strengthens us and makes us grow.

Life tasks

adler dando una conferenciaFor Eva Dreikurs, surely the most influential Adlerian psychologist after Adler himself, the three life tasks of a person are

Work, which means contributing to the well-being of others, friendship, which encompasses all social relationships with peers and relatives, and love, which is the most intimate unity and represents the strongest and closest emotional relationship that can exist between two human beings.

The classical Greeks distinguished between four forms of love: storge (the “natural” affection that we feel for relatives or the neighbors for the simple fact that they are who they are), philias (sympathy with those with whom we share ideas, situation or objectives), eros (proximity based on what we get from a relationship, whether sex or any other thing) and “agape,” unconditional and disinterested love that starts with identifying with the other. Needless to say, the Adlerians understand both friendship and the love of a couple or family as agape, and that, of course, the key that makes it possible to reach it is, once again, the practice of cooperation and contribution in the framework of a strong community feeling. The love of a couple, love for family and fraternity with friends, are all sustained in the same way of relating — agape — and build, as a whole, la real community of each individual.

Dreikurs adds two more tasks, which she calls existential tasks: self-acceptance — knowing how to be alone and learning to deal with with oneself — and belonging — finding a community through which we can create meaning for our own life. Both are especially important for the analysis of that dimension of our lives that the Adlerians call work.

The relationship with work

colaborandoAdler defines work as “any kind of task, activity or occupation useful for community.” It includes not only professional work, but housework, caring for loved ones, visits to friends, etc. Work is that space which is both personal and social through which we develop our life goals, and find belonging and mutual dependence. Even if you’re unemployed, there is “work” in your life. The question is how it happens, and how much.

As for the productive work, the Adlerian view allows us to understand why many people are identified with purely “functional” professional environments to the point of what some call “workoholism.” The cold” environments of the corporate world, which reduce our “contribution” to predetermined and identical tasks that don’t really need conscious cooperation from and with others, make it possible to (easily and mistakenly) compensate for deficiencies in other life tasks… including those of one’s own work.

But not even the most mechanical employment, within the most rigid procedures, protects us completely from challenges. And challenges once again give us that feeling of inferiority that forces us to improve ourselves or leads us to imaginary compensations. The more hierarchical and structurally unequal the relations in a business are, the more incentivized the feeling of inferiority is, most permanent it will become, and greater the distress and fear of self-improve will be. That is why in general terms, the corporate world suffers from what the Adlerians call a “collective inferiority,” a shared fear of the life task of work and belonging, which is expressed institutionally through the obsessive substitution of conversational processes by “procedures.” The more rigid the procedure, the easier it is to hide in it, and the easier it is to pass the blame when something goes wrong.

asamblea kibutzOf course, even in the most rigid corporate worlds, leaders appear from time to time who transform the environment, creating true community feeling, using intrinsic motivation (so work does good for community members) more than extrinsic (economic reward, status or public recognition), strengthening cooperation and contribution rather than comparison and competition with peers.

But it’s difficult: paradoxically, the more community feeling the individual tries to develop in a “traditional” work environment, the easier it is for another kind of wrong compensations, inherited from childhood through our “private logic,” to emerge. That’s when we see attempts to get attention (procrastinating, bypassing bosses, faking illnesses, deficiencies of all kinds, victimization, claims of incompetency, etc.), to exercise power (the tyrannical boss and his “fix that for me,” the obsession with climbing the corporate ladder, etc.) and finally, rancor and different forms of verbal and symbolic violence (the aggressiveness of the vendor, the arrogance of the consultant, the bitterness of the functionary, the obsessive hatred of those who are fired or chastised…).

Would “flattening” the business be enough to eliminate these risks? Would a cooperative, or a community company, be safe from “wrong substitutions?” Certainly not. “Flatter” businesses and cooperatives don’t reach the extreme “feeling of inferiority” that the old structures create. It’s easier for them to avoid or face the problems, but in the end, they’re not safe from the “private logic” of their members, which is not born of the system of organization but of a “lifestyle” formed in the family experience during childhood.

colaborando kibutzWhat the Adlerians would recommend is to orient people towards contributing in those fields where they could make positive substitutions that reinforce them, insisting on “see with the other person’s eyes” and right from the beginning, promote the objective of “giving more to others than we receive.” All this must be within a general discourse that clearly unites the real community of each person with the objectives and outcomes of work.

And, obviously, they also recommend a different kind of job interview, starting with a certain comprehension of the lifestyle of the applicant, to wisely evaluate whether or not there is capacity to integrate him/her, and whether or not the organization, such as it is, can provide him/her with ways to overcome his/her own fears. In the same way that a person cannot be friends with just anyone, not every enterprise, network or community is good for the development of a given person… or the other way around. That’s why the Adlerians who are specialized in team selection ask things as “strange” as whether the candidates see the creating of meaning and life goals in the position they are applying for, and understand it as a way of improving others’ lives and their own immediate surroundings. Because, in the final analysis, for the Adlerians,

work is what we use to build our meaning of life and find our social and emotional belonging

“Facilitating” Virtus

beethovenAn common example of positive compensation is the redefinition of Beethoven from performer to composer, when he went deaf. It was a full neurotic crisis, and he even thought about committing suicide, but he came through it by compensating for this fundamental deficiency for the lifestyle and self definition he had chosen by developing another latent ability (composition) and redefining himself on the basis of that. To be able to do so meant a good dose of courage, of Virtus, because all his life tasks, from being comfortable with himself to the relationship with his circle of friends and his family and wife, were affected, and certainly he must have felt fear of being mistaken.

Because Virtus is the key ability to be able face these changes, several Adlerians highlight the figure of the “facilitator,” a person (or several) from the surroundings that, through their interaction, demonstrate and encourage living life in their community in “agape.” The question is how to transform an environment of coexistence in “facilitation.”

When it comes to tools, once again, a classical reference appears in Adler: the Socratic dialogue. The Adlerian reading of the dialogue seeks to work with the other to investigate the feelings and fears behind their actions. The analyst or facilitator never asks “why,” and attempts to keep the conversation on-topic through new questions and comments that remove the centrality of facts so that the “lifestyle” of the interviewee is expressed freely, becoming visible to both.

mayeuticaIn many Adlerian texts, it says that “people need encouragement like plants need water,” so the facilitator reinforces everything that points towards the “community spirit” of the other with positive comments. The objective is to reinforce the tendency towards “community spirit” if it exists, or simply make sure to replace the tendency towards zero-sum logic. It starts from the psychoanalytical idea of helping the person discovering their own “private logic,” prejudices and fears from childhood that are impeding change, as a way to gain the strength to overcome them. This can be summarized in “the” Adlerian question: “how would your life change if I had magical powers and could make everything you want real?”

Beyond this, Adlerian analysts have developed a whole series of tools, from questionnaires to ways of representing the family we grew up in, but dialogue has to be the device from which the most can be learned outside of professional practice. This was an idea that Adler himself supported, since always asserted that many of the problems that psychologists deal with can be overcome without their help. Surely his final hope was not establish a form of therapy, but a practical ethic based on a common sense that does not reject humor, paradox, or irony.

Conclusions

Few contemporary authors have been able to rescue the classical inheritance with the finesse and the originality of Adler. His great merit was build a story about the pivotal elements of our life, and above all, about how to improve them, that begins with the communal logic of our species and our desires.

It is a story from which we can learn a lot about how to develop, through the practice of cooperation and contribution, an individual and community “ethos” that empowers each and every one of us in the real communities in which we live our lives.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ August 12th, 2014 ~ ~ 13 0

Why we stopped believing in origins and essences

mapa copernicanoAs we have seen in previous articles of this series, the story of what we call “Western thought” is not all about Plato and his ontological and idealistic worldview:

The core of Platonism is the theory of ideas. According to this theory, the world as we perceive it is only a representation of another abstract world of unchanging ideas. Everything that is “real” for us is just a degraded form compared to its origin. This importance of the ideal and original nature of things (ontology) has shaped many of the ideologies that still live among us. For Christian ontological thought, the heir of Platonism, things are pure in their origin, for ideas are divine creations, and their “passage” through the world is nothing but a degradation, which only makes sense if history is understood as a road towards restoration, a return to the origin. This source would be God, as conceived by Christians, but the general template morphs into many avatars: the class emancipates itself and in turn emancipates all mankind in Marxism, the motherland that gains back its original essence through the assertion of a state of its own in a culturally “purified” identity, etc.

It was the accident of the rise and imposition of Christianity that established the essentialist worldview as hegemonic. The essentialist idealism of Plato and Aristotle will be Europe’s “single thought” for centuries. There was never a lack of contrary voices and thinkers, who built from Stoic and Epicurean perspectives, but the truth is that Platonism set up a core of ideas and prejudices so strong that it took something more dramatic than the development of science or large political revolutions to question them.

The Platonic nucleus of Western thought

That is why it is so difficult today to understand the failure of Copernicus. His empirical results now seem obvious, and the resistance of his peers to accept them seems fanatic. However, Copernicus was actually asking his contemporaries to abandon a whole intellectual machinery that had been built up for centuries, and which provided the framework for understanding and meaning — all this for the sake of a few results based on the observation of celestial bodies. His proposal meant becoming an intellectual orphan in exchange for very little. Copernicus should not have expected acclaim.

marxIn the medium term, ontological thought managed to rebuild itself, incorporating what the new empiricism and the new natural sciences were declaring. After all, science was riding a wave of economic and social changes that the power structures did not want to give in to… but it took them some time to digest them. The very idea of dynamics, of an almost permanent state of change that first seen in the Baroque and then in the Enlightenment, will also encompass the very conception of society with the American and French revolutions. With the invention and rise of nationalism in the early 19th century, the Platonic approach incorporates dialectics, the idea of an essential, internal dynamism to the nature of history that will also be considered as its driving force. Based on ideas from Thiers and historians of the French Revolution, first Hegel and then Marx will build the ultimate Platonic fantasy: the idea of ​​the existence of a series of “historical laws” that govern, over and above the people’s will and actions, the course of great social events, and that could lead the way to a new kind of perfect state based on a “scientific” ideology.

enfant sauvageBut ontological thought brought something else: a story of human experience, of what it means to be a human being in Nature and society. The Enlightenment had retained the idea that what defined a human being was their capacity not only for “practical reason,” but also for “moral reason,” and empiricist nineteenth-century science quickly found case studies (remember “L’Enfant sauvage“?) that “proved” that, indeed, humans  have an innate sense of justice, and therefore, of good and evil.

The Enlightenment idea of personal and social development through education and the exercise of reason translates into a “dynamic” conception of human experience in the 19th century. It was conceived as a coming from the immaculate, essential origin of moral reason that came “factory-installed” in us.

chagall

But that “natural” reason is increasingly interpreted as historical-moral reason. Hegel and Marx will culminate the Platonic pirouette with the horizon of a “new man,” a better man, closer to the ideal that would live within our moral core, waiting for its development. The road could be no other than the knowledge and subjugation of these “laws of history” which supposedly pointed towards a perfect state, either national (perfectly expressing and materializing the spirit of the people throughout history) or universal (a product and agent of the end of class society). The parallels with the religious world are obvious, and it is easy to recognize there the “shekhinah” (the historical course of the people of Israel towards God) of the Jewish Kabbala, the idea of ​​freedom as submission to the will of God present in the very word “Islam,” or universal redemption through the “second coming” in Christianity.

If nineteenth-century ideology begins the critique of religion, it is because somehow it has completely internalized the ontological notion present in the three monotheistic religions in medieval Europe. What Marx says of Luther can also be said of himself: “He removed the priests because he put a priest in the heart of every man.”

The World Wars and the genocidal State

soldados británicos 1916And so World War I arrived, that great “meat grinder,” the first systematic application of scientific and industrial rationality to war, with its wrist watches for synchronizing assaults and bombings as if they were production cycles.

The results play homage to the cult of large scales: during the first battle of the Marne alone, two million fighters slogged through the mud, and half a million were dead in four days. The Thirties brought the atrocities of building “socialism in one country” (a million dead just through collectivization efforts), the conquest of Abyssinia by Italy, and the Spanish civil war. And finally, the Forties will bring the main course: a new World War and the greatest genocide in history, the first done in an industrial fashion, making use of all the power of the best state machinery of the time.

The world is stunned. The Platonic ideal of progress based on the deployment of Reason collapses. But something beyond awe and dread was needed: the blowing up of the very roots of Platonism, refuting the “laws of history” and removing essentialist thinking from the story of human experience. It was imperative to put an end to essences.

Popper and Arendt

karl-popperThe first assault had arrived in 1936, the year of the end of the Abyssinian War and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Paraphrasing Marx’s critique against Proudhon, it was called “The Poverty of Historicism” and its dedication reflected directly the author’s mood:

In memory of the countless men and women of all creeds or nations or races who fell victim to the fascist and communist belief in Inexorable Laws of Historical Destiny.

The following year, Popper emigrates to New Zealand. He will spend the war years writing his final assault. In a way, he is working on his own “ultimate philosophical weapon.” At first, he intends to call it Three False Prophets: Plato, Hegel, Marx, but a friend gives him the final title: The Open Society and its Enemies. Like a classic demigod, he is accompanied by the great intellectual heroes of the age, the latest theorists of liberal society in a time when everyone thinks that the future belongs to communism and fascism: Laski and Robbins proofread the text, and especially his two great friends, Gombrich — dedicated himself to finding a publisher for the work in the middle of the war — and Hayek, who paved the way for its dissemination.

The book does not deserve to be summarized, but read with pause and delight. It is one of those books that change the lives of those who read them. It starts with going back to the original point, the death of Socrates, to narrate how and why Plato betrays the early spirit of openness that characterized Greek democracy and which had impregnated his master. He then tells us how his ideas, which carry the seeds of totalitarianism, pass through to his disciple Aristotle, and from him to Hegel and Marx, intellectual fathers of the forces that are massacring humanity at that time in the name of “scientifically managed societies” that would be arriving on the back of inevitable historical laws. From Plato’s assumptions, from those ideal origins to which the historical course would “return” us to through “nation-building” or the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” could only arise totalitarian societies dedicated to worship the structures that purportedly embody them. Repression, totalitarianism, war, are not the consequences of excesses: they are in the original program.

Hannah ArendtBut something was still missing. Platonism and idealist ontological thought had gone beyond placing ideal figures on the origins of the great historical subjects (nation, class, etc.) It had also placed them at the heart of what human life itself means, on that supposedly innate sense of justice, of right and wrong, that would be our moral reason.

In 1957, the Mossad receives a tip: Adolf Eichmann, who organized the logistics of the Nazi death camps, was hiding in Buenos Aires. The young Israeli secret services kidnap him and take him to Jerusalem for trial.

Hanna Arendt realizes the historical importance of the moment and attends the trial sessions. The common explanation for the morality of the Holocaust does not convince her. She had lived through the rise of Nazi Germany and the way her own teacher and former partner, one of the great European intellectuals of the prewar period, Martin Heidegger, had ended up in collusion with the regime, while she had to go into exile to avoid extermination. She just could not believe in the idea of a million inherently evil, sadistic Nazis, enjoying a conscious moral choice, clouding the moral judgment of millions of other Germans through charisma and propaganda (a thesis from which sprang the anti-consumerist discourse and the anti-advertising paranoia of the counterculture). She had been there, and it had all “come of itself” through many small and endless concessions to power, to comfort, to safety, to common ideas about the need for a state that would restore the economy and the tranquil order of progress… Millions of Germans were accomplices of eugenics, repression, the Jewish and gypsy genocide, but they acted like zombies, not as moral beings who choose openly and consciously.

EichmannThe trial, and the defense that Eichmann opts for, give her the key to a simpler, more obvious interpretation, but which implies demolishing the foundations of what hegemonic Western thought had defined as a human being: the banality of evil.

I merely point out a phenomenon that, in the course of the trial, became clear. Eichmann had no reason except those demonstrated by his extraordinary diligence towards his personal progress. And by itself, such diligence was not criminal.

Eichmann would have been utterly incapable of murdering his superior to inherit his post. To put it in plain words, we can say that Eichmann simply never knew what he was doing. Eichmann was not stupid. Pure and simple thoughtlessness – which in no way we can equate to stupidity – was what predisposed him to become the greatest criminal of his time. And while this deserves to be classified as “banality,” and may even seem comical, and although even with the best intention it is not right to attribute Eichmann any diabolical depth, it is also true that we cannot say it is something normal or common.

To explain this, Arendt will need to distinguish between “thought” and “judgment” in order to indicate that the social development of the century has led to a point where “the very framework within which the understanding and judgment of [the society in which we live] could emerge is gone.” In other words, the ability to judge and discern between good and evil is a cultural construct, not an intrinsic quality. There is not a function that we supposedly come into the world with by virtue of being human, and that education and experience develops or stunts. Things that Platonism had shown us as part of our ROM, our inalienable essence, from moral reason to love, are conditioned by the environment and depend on our will to be incorporated into our lives. They are as optional as a printer to a computer or a GPS to a rental car. Their denial, what we call “evil,” does not have to be conscious, nor particularly sadistic or malicious. It may simply be… banal. In an elegant way, Arendt takes up the stoic thread according to which evil does not exist by itself – it is simply a dramatic and sad sort of stupidity.

Conclusions

So far in this series, we have discussed the idea that what we call “Europe” and “Western thought” has their roots in medieval Christianity and what that meant: the imposition of the Platonic-Aristotelian ideas as a structure of basic understanding of the world. This structure serves as a common basis of the great ideological systems of the great European expansion and Modernity.

But if as we have seen, thanks to Popper, these ideas can only lead to totalitarianism, and as Arendt said, we really are not “configured at the source,” as they claim, what is left of the European experience? What remains of the Western thought that we associate with the ideas of freedom and diversity that characterize an open society? Cynics, Stoics and Epicureans represent alternative paths to the necessary sorpasso of Modernity, to that postmodernity which we cannot renounce without accepting the revival of the Thirties that is taking shape underneath the social decomposition in which we live.

But how can life and history be thought of without a single system? How can we live morally in a world that is not based on all-powerful gods or inexorable historical laws, without essences or determinant origins? Which way is up in postmodernism?

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ August 10th, 2014 ~ ~ 13 1

Fraternity and its paths

fraternitasOf the three elements of the revolutionary triad -Liberty, Equality, Fraternity- the third seems the most vague and difficult to define. Perhaps this is so because it is usually argued for in two opposite ways that are usually presented rhetorically as equivalent. But they are not.

Aristotelian Fraternity

The two major religions of the West, Christianity and Islam, speak of the “first Christians” and of the first three generations of Muslims, the “Salaf,” and try to extrapolate the fraternity that allegedly united the members of those small communities to define the ‘ought’ of their two major constructs: Christianity and the Umma. But equating the feelings in a small community whose members share a purpose and a way of living to an imagined community of millions of people unknown to each other is not straightforward. It is a problematic conceptual leap that was built during the Middle Ages, at the height of Aristotelianism.

Hitherto, the term “fraternity” had a much narrower sense. For the Epicureans, who valued it very highly, it was a form of friendship, the product of a shared experience, and therefore an interpersonal relationship that could only live in real communities.

aristóteles

But Aristotle took the opposite route. He based the concept of fraternity on his Metaphysics: following Plato, fraternity would be based on the equivalence relationships among the abstract ideas that inform things. That is, fraternity would be based on those characteristics we share with others, and thrive within imagined communities: those where the alleged members cannot all know each other, but they can recognize each other through the features they have in common. Thus, sharing a passport or a cultural background would make us co-nationals, being of the same sex would make us fellow men or women, sharing a certain age range would make us part of “youth,” “adults,” or “the elderly,” etc. And what is more important, the idea of ​​the nation to which we would belong, that of masculinity or femininity, of youth or of old age, would define our interests, our way of being, and even our affections.

One might say, following Antisthenes the Cynic, that the concrete, real horse is one thing, and the abstract idea of ​​”horse-ness” is another; and that, similarly, fraternity within a real and concrete community of Christians, Muslims or retirees is one thing, and it’s quite another to think that Christianity (the imagined community formed by all Christians), the Umma, or the “senior citizenship”  will or should produce fraternal relations between people that don’t know each other for the simple fact of sharing a particular characteristic. mercaderes

This is the somersault between the fraternity of Stoics and Epicureans -the joy of living and learning together in community- and Aristotelian fraternity to which, we are told, we should aim for at the heart of large-scale political and social imaginary constructs, supposedly of a more elevated nature than the modest reality of our families, friends, and actually existing networks.

But is this not obviously the great Western myth? No. The origin of fraternity as political myth, the fraternity of the first medieval urban democracies, was based on the real community of life, work, and celebration that was Medieval Art. And nothing was further from its spirit than pretending to be or to represent an abstract and universal collective. foucault

The Aristotelian concept of fraternity entered politics not through medieval communes and the first democracies, but through the development of absolute monarchies. Foucault tells us how the state then begins to experience a new form of power. Rather than limiting itself to establishing norms and punishments, it now pretends to condition and statistically guide the behavior of its subjects, conceptualized as the “body politic of the king” (later to become the nation). To do that, it first starts splitting that first imagined community into delegate subjects (social classes, races, etc.), linked together by alleged collective interests and fraternal ties which have, since then, allowed States to make constant calls for sacrifice for the common good.

But let’s not forget that, as Popper tells us, the monster that is the Platonic “common good” and its corresponding Aristotelian conception of fraternity necessarily lead us towards totalitarianism, national wars, and barbarism, just as in the Middle Ages the fraternity of Christianity and the Umma were rallying cries for the Crusades and Jihad.

Conclusion

meshThe underlying definition of fraternity shapes the prevailing forms of social cooperation: it will determine whether we see it as the result of relationships among peers, or the product of mediation – and therefore centralization – through external institutions.

For the descendants of Aristotle, from the Sun King to Lenin, through Hegel and nationalism, the community will be a spirit that will not have a body without a king, a ruling party, a State, or more or less coercive and more or less “participatory” external superstructures.

For the descendants of Epicurean and Stoic communitarianism, the community is the natural space for direct cooperation between peers with no mediator needed.

This dichotomy has traveled through the history of Europe and is found at almost every historical crossroads. Even in the collaborative economy of recent years, in the dilemma between centralized services that purport to represent and group abstract communities of persons defined by their consumption habits, and the distributed logic of P2P.

And this is so because ever since the origins of European and Western thought, fraternity is a basic concept with two possible readings… that lead us through opposite paths.

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 69 ~ July 24th, 2014 ~ ~ 13 0

Community and personality

adlerAlfred Adler is in the expository handbooks that university textbooks are because of his debate with Freud and his departure from the Psychoanalytical Society, of which he was the first president. The big headline tells us that this early rupture in the psychoanalytical world was due to Adler’s resistance to accepting Freud’s theory that the origin of neuroses is in the repression of the libido.

But nothing is more unfair for something intellectually interesting than to see it reduced to headlines. And certainly, if there is a case in contemporary thought in which the headlines have hidden the content of a work to the extreme of looting it, is that of Adlerian psychology. And yet today, the great ideas and concerns of Alfred Adler turn out to be strangely current and suggestive.

A communitarian conception of personality development

Lexico y apuntesThere’s a lot of the Epicurean teachers in Adler. For him, the idea of communal belonging is central. We define ourselves and complete ourselves in a family community from birth, and we feel our deficiencies in relation to those around us. With them, we try to complete ourselves, compensate for deficiencies by developing other skills, and mature a through of improvement and contribution, an ideal form of a healthy Gemeinschaftsgefühl – community feeling. In this context, our personality is built not only with desires, but with goals and objectives through which we grow and overcome our feelings of lacking.

The drive for meaning, a willingness to improve the inferiorities that we feel at every moment of our development, will feed a life cycle of learning that makes us grow, since our problems, at the same time as our feeling of belonging, our definition of community, are expanded from our family to the surroundings, and finally project the idea of contribution towards humanity as a whole.

From the viewpoint about the family as community, Adler put the accent not so much in conflicts of the discovery of sexuality and desire as on the place of the individual in the structure of the family network. He wondered about the derivatives roles of being a boy or girl, or the place in birth order, to reconstruct expectations and understand the feelings of lacking and abandonment in the early phases of childhood, especially prior to eight years old.

familia AdlerBut if, for whatever reason, we don’t feel part, if the family as first community of belonging doesn’t serve to support us and overcome those first insecurities, a whole series of wrong goals appear that seek wrong compensations for the vacuum of meaning in life that come from not feeling community protection: the search for attention and recognition first, the need to exercise power over others later, and finally, when the pain makes fruitlessness of all these false goals obvious, bitterness and the desire for revenge. It is the pathological path, the path of inferiority complexes, empowered and exaggerated by a hierarchical culture of falsely competitive values, exclusion and individualism.

With a whole series of issues going unanswered, or even worse, badly answered, the individual will develop defensive or defeatist narratives, and will develop a private logic made of convictions that often times contradict their own common sense. In it, there will be false reasons for the exclusion of others and for inaction itself. The attempt to fit everything together and justify avoiding aspects of some of four four big fields of Adlerian relationships (work, love, sex and other people) make up a lifestyle recognizable by its critical elements — among other things, because of its moments of violence and its feelings of guilt. These feelings, to Adler, are reactions of common sense to the inaction that private logic leads to. A healthy person, for Adler, does not have feelings of guilt: s/he learns and acts accordingly through contributing and from renewed effort.

Meaning and belonging

KibutzNot long ago, Javier wondered if there was a relationship between the dysfunctional development of productive scales that reinforced the destruction of community settings and the massive emergence of a series of personality disorders beginning with World War II. Adlerian psychology would undoubtedly respond affirmatively: deprived of real community, the human experience can only be plunged into a lack of meaning, and an erroneous substitution of an interesting life with strategies of power and revenge.

But once the experience of community is made possible, Adler’s thought is optimistic and trusts in the capacity for personal strategies of compensation, within a healthy community setting, have to build people more and more empathic with humanity in general. In an inclusive real community, it is our problems and deficiencies that help us grow and make our life interesting. Additionally, healthy personal development leads to expanding the borders of the family community towards a more and more extended real community, towards friends and classmates or co-workers; and finally, from abstract forms and the generosity of the communal relationship towards a general empathy towards humanity.

In fact, while Freud was pessimistic and denied the possibility of a non-nuerotic culture and society, Adler understood the development of community spirit, Gemeinschaftsgefühl, not only as a basis for individual therapy, but as a way of social transformation, as a path that, if developed, would modify the way a society sees itself and change the way it manages its inevitable conflicts.

Ceremonias del día de la bandera en EcuadorOn the path of the development of community spirit, Adler, child of his time, accepted that intermediate onion layers could exist between the feeling of belonging to a community and love for what is generically human: abstractions like national identity or class. But experience leads us to think that, in general, imagined communities, and especially the nation, have a different nature. Recent empirical works in the field of international adoption show how the adoptive parents who are most resistant to giving a place to the biological mother in the story of the origins of the child, were the most inclined to include those same children in courses on the culture and national tongue of the country in which s/he had born, even though s/he has no memory of its use, having been adopted prior to learning to speak. These same families are the ones that least often allow contact with the biological family to continue. The national story of the country where the child was born serves to substitute for the memory of the family of origin. A similar thing occurs where States drive strong nationalism: the family history, beyond a certain point, normally the grandparents, is confused and blurs with the official history of the nation and its myths. National identity seems like a virus that reproduces by inserting itself into community and family memories to be perpetuated using their own mechanisms of reproduction (domestic stories, the memories of living relatives, the stories of life, etc.).

Aristotelian identities, which belong to imagined communities, are corrosive to Gemeinschaftsgefühl — Adlerian community spirit — not a consequence of its development.

Communal microsociology

AsambleaBut maybe the most suggestive of Adlerian contributions today is not his social hopes, but rather the fact that the logic of the goals and the definition of the lifestyles are the basis for a true communal microsociology.

We’ve known for some time that systems of industrial organization that practice participatory methodologies in collectives that don’t share broad reflection and previous interaction, end up reinforcing charismatic or professionalized leaders as the only way to overcome the risk aversion that transparency exacerbates. The result, in the end, produces those same indifferent attitudes that were criticized as characteristic of traditional systems.

Seder de Pesaj en un kibutzThat is why businesses, even the ones that seek democratic innovations, easily become sick communities. In the first place, because are not usually formed out of the deliberation of their members, so generally there’s no excess of community feeling. And when ideas are brought in from outside, the changemakers usually think that changing procedures or rules is enough. The results, logically, fall well short of expectations. In practice, the leaders themselves very frequently end up continuing mistaken strategies: anxiety for recognition, the need to exercise power to be affirmed… all very Adlerian.

No wonder in other realms with similar problems, from the communities of neighbors to boards of foundations, courses and manuals on coexistence abound. And in all these collectives, that microsociology outlined in the Adlerian proposal, seems to be clamoring to become community knowledge.

This is the least-developed line of Adler’s ideas, but also, surely, one of the most powerful, above all if we accept the original epicurean idea that sums up all his thought: the feeling of belonging to a community, and the experience of create meaning from it, are basic for healthy personal development… at any stage of life.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

What is «las Indias»?

Manuel Ortega4 ~ August 24th, 2014 ~ 0

“Not-English” is the world’s most spoken language

bla_blaIn many conversations about the expansion of languages and the use of English as a lingua franca, we hear statements about English being the most spoken language in the world. It is important to remember that the reality is quite different, the most spoken language in the world is “not-English,” i.e., all the other languages. The figures, which can be found in “The World Factbook,” clearly reflect this reality. In the light of this fact, it should also be noted that beyond the figures, the important points to note in the discussion about overcoming language barriers and the adoption of a lingua franca, are others, namely the rents and power structures supported by the adoption of a national language as a lingua franca, in this case English, and its limitations beyond superficial interactions.

Functional English, like all jargon, is useful for superficial interactions. For example, when a waiter in a cafe in Antalya describes the view of the sea as very beautiful. But it reaches its limits in the context of university education, a higher intellectual function that fully mobilizes our language skills. Because only on rare occasions do we see the same level of precision and nuance in a learned language as in the mother tongue. That iron law of linguistic competence is confirmed even in countries known for their knowledge of English.

David de Ugarte69 ~ July 26th, 2014 ~ 1

Bruce Sterling against the disguised recentralization of the “Sharing Economy” and “Smart Cities”

brucesterlingWhat happens if the taxis of major cities are replaced by Uber? What if a central part of your urban transportation system depends on an app based on California? Do you think that a city hall could stand up to an multinational with the kind of battles it wages against taxi unions? What happens when your streets and your cars are commodities that are coordinated thanks to software and a set of rules that you don’t control? And perhaps the most clarifying: Do you really think that in California would let its transportation system be run from Barcelona?

All these questions are part of the conclusions Bruce Sterling draws about “Smart Cities.” The discourse on the “Sharing Economy” has detoured the debate and hidden the project of recentralization of networks and the power of the Internet giants. But it’s still there. And as the father of cyberpunk reminds us, it not only has political consequences in the city, but globally, and geopolitically.

So, does Sterling want to close the door on the “Sharing Economy” or the “Smart City?” Absolutely not. He’s simply reminding us that is a battlefield on which the different subjects must recognize what network structures and what architectures of power create a world where we have space. And in recentralization, there’s no space for citizenship.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

David de Ugarte69 ~ ~ July 13th, 2014 ~ 0

Community and happiness

imageThe Philosopher’s Mail, the blog of Alain de Botton and the followers of atheism 2.0, published an article about the Epicureans. Its most interesting aspect is that, in a nutshell, it proposes that Epicurean communitarianism is based on its founder’s minimalist definition of happiness:

With his analysis of happiness in hand, Epicurus made three important innovations:

Firstly, he decided that he would live together with friends. Enough of seeing them only now and then. He bought a modestly priced plot of land outside of Athens and built a place where he and his friends could live side by side on a permanent basis. Everyone had their rooms, and there were common areas downstairs and in the grounds. That way, the residents would always be surrounded by people who shared their outlooks, were entertaining and kind. Children were looked after in rota. Everyone ate together. One could chat in the corridors late at night. It was the world’s first proper commune.

Secondly, everyone in the commune stopped working for other people. They accepted cuts in their income in return for being able to focus on fulfilling work. Some of Epicurus’s friends devoted themselves to farming, others to cooking, a few to making furniture and art. They had far less money, but ample intrinsic satisfaction.

And thirdly, Epicurus and his friends devoted themselves to finding calm through rational analysis and insight. They spent periods of every day reflecting on their anxieties, improving their understanding of their psyches and mastering the great questions of philosophy.

Epicurus’s experiment in living caught on. Epicurean communities opened up all around the Mediterranean and drew in thousands of followers. The centres thrived for generations – until they were brutally suppressed by a jealous and aggressive Christian Church in the 5th century. But even then, their essence survived when many of them were turned into monasteries.

De Botton forgets that that Epicurean, familiar, and mixed monasticism of the 5th century, common and even dominant in places like the Iberian peninsula and the island of Ireland, was gradually enclosed from Rome and finally removed with the Gregorian reform. The spirit of Epicurean communitarianism would then begin to thrive in a very different environment. But that’s another story.

Translated by Alan Furth from the Spanish original.

las Indias20 ~ May 17th, 2014 ~ 1

Market activism

Aesires en acción (From Indianopedia) Market activism is our term for the design and trade of products with the goal of spreading values and ideas. The name was coined in 2012 by Juanjo Pina from “aesirs,” based on a previous debate on entrepreneuralism held by “las Indias Group of Cooperatives” since 2009, linking the idea of the phyle to the medieval arts and guilds:

We believe the kind of knowledge that enables us to make beautiful and socially useful things cannot be reduced to technical knowledge. It must contain a social meaning, a work ethic and a worldview. Goods offered in the marketplace carry with them a vision of the world, of social projects and a moral points of view.

Some examples

  • In 2007 the indianos combatted «rankism», a narrative on the blogsphere spread by the media that we saw as a danger to its distributed structure. As a response, we developed feevy, the first dynamic blog-roll for blogs. It not only made it easy to link and share audiences between blogs, it made it obvious that the “star blogger system” was just a media myth. Feevy had soon 60,000 users/blogs, making it possible to map hundred of thousands of blogs in Spanish and how they were connected. We called this map the map of flowers, and was, itself, a refutation of the narrative imposed by the mainstream media. Feevy, carefully developed not to use personal data, was programmed as free software, and its platform sold later to a a big firm.
  • Since 2011, the whole “neovenetianist milieu” did its best to transform its knowledge into useful tools to combat the European unemployment crisis:
  • In 2010, Alain de Botton launched his atheism 2.0. His main tool would be “The School of life,” an international chain of stores supplying consumer goods, courses and motivational seminars for businesses

las Indias20 ~ April 22nd, 2014 ~ 0

Vote for Guerrilla Translation in the 2014 OuiShare Awards

Our friends of Guerrilla Translation are among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. You can vote for them or in any case know a little more about them and this Awards.

las Indias20 ~ February 11th, 2014 ~ 3

The fruits of an interesting life

festival-de-las-linternasToday our front page has a new banner: series. That’s what we have called the thematic threads that have been forming since we started to focus “El Correo de las Indias” on the idea of an interesting life. And in fact, the first series tries precisely to answer the question what is an interesting life? This leitmotif that was born in another series, the only one now finished: “Towards a new narrative,” by Juan Urrutia. And of course, we can’t leave out our love of cooking, our pulp heroes, and Go. They all continue growing and will appear again in the future. For the moment take a peek, and we hope that you’ll like them.

(Note from your translator: if there are older posts you want to see translated, please leave a comment!)

David de Ugarte69 ~ February 7th, 2014 ~ 0

What’s left when the state falls?

These days, the press all over the world is talking about the Michoacan self-defense movement, since the Mexican State is confronting them, after letting the “Knights Templar” camp there for years. This mafia was the beneficiary of decomposition, accelerated by the State itself, of the formerly, and sadly celebrated “Michoacan family.” The debate is now the typical trap of decomposition between the defense of the monopoly on violence by the state and the verification of a captured and corrupt state that for years abandoned the life and treasure of thousands of people to a terrible mafia.

So rather than entering the debate, I’d like to draw attention to an element of “self-defense” and the form that its process of legitimation took: the reemergence of a series of forms, like open town councils, which come from the birth of urban democracy in medieval Europe.

These forms are not “natural,” but rather cultural and historical. Born with urban development, they became revolutionary in community revolts, and reappeared in the open crisis of the Napoleonic wars – which led to the birth of the Mexican State – and during the large civilian conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. And now they return in the middle of decomposition. Quijote told Sancho on the path to the island of Barataria to “be careful of your vassals or they will take the government from you or form communities by themselves.” The “Long live the commoners!” shout is heard in the Michoacan town halls. In my view, there are issues here to reflect upon and learn from.

las Indias20 ~ February 5th, 2014 ~ 0

Interesting people

marianoypilarTomorrow we will publish a beautiful post by Mariano Gistain answering what is an interesting life to you?

Before him, Michel Bauwens and Kevin Carson paved the way, and Steve Herrick, Daniel Bellón and Mar Abad not only wrote and provided posts, but joined the team to present us with new articles.

So, the most gratifying thing about “El Correo de las Indias” in this new stage is not, as we expected, debates about the direct economy, or even the exploration of new topics and ways of living… but rather the friends, the people who are joining us to do it… and surely, those still to come!

Steve Herrick7 ~ December 14th, 2012 ~ 9

Seeking feedback

English-speakers, I need to hear from you.

There is a thriving cooperative movement in Spain and throughout Latin America. In the English-speaking world, and in the US particularly, we hear nothing about it (apart from Mondragon). Some members of my co-op want to remedy this situation. This would likely take the form of an e-book with around a half-dozen essays in it, written by academics and established movement members, and translated by us. It would sell for around $2, and assuming the first one does at all well, there would be more.  I received several generous donations for my work on the Indiano Manifesto (thank you again!), which gives me hope that a larger number of people would support this work with smaller amounts.

So, the question for you is, would it be worth $2 to you to hear what Spanish-speaking cooperators are doing these days, in their own words, professionally translated by fellow cooperators? What topics would be most interesting to you, or, conversely, least interesting?

Steve Herrick7 ~ December 14th, 2012 ~ 2

Buscando retroalimentación sobre la traducción

¿Qué pensáis los lectores?

Hay un movimiento cooperativista vigoroso tanto en España como a lo largo de Latinoamérica. El mundo de habla inglesa, y EEUU en particular, lo desconoce (con la excepción de Mondragón). Algunos miembros de mi cooperativa (ubicada en EEUU) quiesieramos cambiar eso. Pensamos hacerlo en la forma de un e-libro con unos seis artículos escritos por académicos y participantes en el movimiento, y traducidos por nosotros. Lo venderíamos por unos US$2, y si tiene buena acogida, publicaríamos más. Varias personas me dieron donaciones generosas por mi trabajo en el Manifiesto Indiano (¡gracias de nuevo!), lo que me da la esperanza de que más personas apoyarían este esfuerzo con cantidades menores.

Mi pregunta es, ¿creéis que vale la pena crear semejante fuente de noticias para una audiencia de habla inglesa? ¿Cuáles son los temas más importantes — o, por el contrario, menos importantes?

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