Including migrants in local politics is investing in the future

Ángel Marroquín

According to the last Census, 12% of the population in Ireland are migrants, a figure that has remained stable since 2012 (12.2%). Today, one out of every eight people has a migrant background.

Irish society is, in many aspects, a multicultural society. It is possible to see people of various nationalities, cultures, and religions walking its streets, working or studying in large urban cities and small towns in rural Ireland: supermarkets, pubs, small shops, and farms have a presence of migrant workers from European and non-European countries. This transformation has produced unexpected positive effects, such as the presence of numerous migrant families has boosted rural public schools, sports clubs and churches.

These situations show the many economic, cultural and social benefits produced by the contribution of migrants to Irish society. Each of us probably has a funny or thought-provoking experience prompted by a conversation with someone from another country in the post office queue, the supermarket, or a social event.

These daily interactions seem not to impact the local public sphere: in 2019, only 0.7% of the elected Councillors in Ireland had some migrant background. In the 2020 Monitoring Report of Integration, the Irish government stated that this situation “demonstrates a continued under-representation of individuals with a migrant background in politics” (pp.87-88)

This underrepresentation could be interpreted as apathy, lack of information, or a consequence of migrants’ participation barriers. The absence of migrants in local politics is a complex issue that presents the challenge of understanding migrants experiences of political participation, dialogue and democracy in their own voices. In other words, if migrants have the right to vote in local elections, we must approach this complex experience through their inclusion in the political affairs that concern and interest them.

It seems to me that this situation should make us think about the best ways to strengthen local democracy by opening spaces for the involvement of migrants in politics, especially at the local level. For example, in the 2014 local elections, there were 28 candidates with a migrant background, while in 2019, there were 56 that represented only three per cent of the total number of candidates.

Why is it important to pay attention to the inclusion of migrants in local politics?

Because local democracy is a crucial asset to face the future challenges for Ireland: reduction of carbon emissions, Brexit, Covid-19, poverty reduction, housing crisis, far-right movements, extremism, etc. On the other hand, from the sad British experience, we know that the exclusion of the immigrant population creates pockets of urban and rural poverty capable of producing effects of social exclusion that are difficult to overcome and impact several generations.

For these and other reasons, promoting the participation of migrants in politics is a way to strengthen the democracy on which the country’s future challenges depend. Including migrants, we invest in the future.

Photo: The Irish Times

Building a fire in Glasgow

Ángel Marroquín

In the story Build a Fire, Jack London tells the story of a man who, contrary to the locals’ warnings, takes the risk of walking to a nearby town to visit friends in the Yukon region of Canada’s boreal forest. It is Winter, and the temperature is extremely low, and even the dog that accompanies him walks reluctantly after him. The man has reached half the distance by the afternoon and decides to stop and light a fire to dry off and eat something. As protection, he thinks, he sets to light a fire under a tree. While doing this, the man moves some branches, and, caused by the fire’s heat, the snow resting in the branches falls, extinguishing the fire. The story ends with the man freezing to death while the terrified dog continues, alone, on his way to town in the middle of a snowstorm.

The story’s tension is, in fact, the man’s error when making the fire under a tree laden with snow. The consequence of that mistake is the one that finally ends his life. But on the other hand, the extreme climate makes the man’s error take a more significant proportion and become fatal. Nature ends up taking its revenge. There are no second chances in this game.

Isn’t this situation similar to the one we find ourselves concerning the current climate crisis? Aren’t we also lighting a fire under a tree when we cannot agree on regulations to stop greenhouse gas emissions and stop the excessive profits and lobby of the big oil companies? Or when we cannot protect the nature that sustains us or when we are unable to stop the madly consumerist lifestyle?

The last COP 26 in Glasgow turns out to be symptomatic in this regard. Hence, for instance, the absence of representatives from the most polluting countries on the planet: China, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Or the extent to which rich countries have failed to provide economic assistance to poor countries that do not have major responsibility for the historical production of emissions but are currently going through a crisis that they did not help create but must pay. Moreover, the extent to which governments are failing to involve civil society in discussions and proposals. In fact, the COP 26 blue room hosted more representatives of large multinational companies than activists, indigenous and young people. At the same time, we saw Australia refusing to commit to Methane reduction, while the UK’s involvement was nothing more than a compilation of phrases and what Greta Thunberg called “Blah, blah, blah”.

To this must be added an endless set of bombastic declarations: the end of deforestation by 2030, a plan to coordinate the introduction of clean energy, the commitment to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2020, the agreement to end coal plants between 2030 and 2040 or India’s announcement of net zero for the year 2070.

Some think that the results of the COP26 are on the right track and trust that the cooperation between the multiple actors and interests at stake will be strengthened. But, for me, what happened in Glasgow is like that fire that the man lit under the tree in London’s story: sooner or later, nature will end up taking its revenge against humanity, taking advantage of their mistake, their daring and stupidity. Who knows, maybe the man in the story was thinking about that when he felt a warm numbness creeping up from his legs and wanted to sleep while the dog walked away, looking ahead in the snow.

Unicorns

Ángel Marroquín

How many times our future has been in front of us, and we have not been able to see it? The day when two strangers shared a glance, and the fate of both was already cast, or the day we applied for that job that contained everything that would come, or a trip overseas that brought unexpected consequences and changed our lives forever. Some say that, when looking carefully, we can see the ocean in a drop of water. But, in the face of this existential myopia, we are also given the possibility of imagining the future, that is, to think what could become of us and those around us beyond the present moment. While enjoying a quiet vacation or commuting to work in a crowded city, we all enjoy the most democratic of rights: the right to dream and plan our steps forward amidst the world’s turmoil. Yet, we dream dedicatedly and often; our dreams become smoke that dissipates to give way to the cold and objective reality.

But what to do with those castles built in the air? What to do with those detailed and creative plans that do not see the light of real life? What use could we give to the collection of that fantastic architecture of the soul carefully built on sand, facing the sea of reality? I don’t know, but I know someone who seems to know.

Eugene Byrne is a local Bristol historian and author who published in 2013 the book “Unbuilt Bristol: The City That Might Have Been 1750-2050”. Occasionally he serves as a tourist guide. His tour requires a bit of imagination: he has dedicated his local tours to showing buildings, monuments and projects that do not exist because they never materialised. Either because of the lack of financial support, their disproportionate nature or because they were considered ridiculous plans to those in charge of approving them.

Byrne focuses on what could have been. His interest in these projects raises questions to us, inhabitants of the present: Could some of these projects have made the city a better place? How would have they changed the face of the town? Unfortunately, we will never know because these projects are part of the future that we can only imagine but not see.

The question that awakens me is: Is the future in front of us like one of those buildings that we cannot see? What would happen if we could look into the future and see it as one of those buildings? What would we see?

But no. The only way to peer into that future is through plans, sketches and sketches that the imagination unfolds in our minds: the map of what the tomorrow could be—the language of the subjunctive tense and the approaches that fantasy and poetry bring to hand.

After all, the future seems to be a kind of unicorn. A word that describes something that does not exist, that no one has seen or will ever see, but that we can all imagine somehow. Perhaps, it is far enough for us.

Winning when you lose

Ángel Marroquín

Decades ago, a French sailor participated in the “Golden Globe Race”, the most renowned world-yacht race without stopovers and unmanned. The purpose of the race was to circumnavigate planet earth through the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The race started and ended in Plymouth, England. Our sailor, Bernard Moitessier, kept the lead for most of the competition and was the favourite to win the millionaire prize, the consequent fame and pride of being considered the best sailor in the world. But something happened.

Moitessier was crossing the Cape of Good Hope, southern Africa, for the second time and only one step away from the end. Then, however, he suddenly decided to change his course, and, instead of continuing towards Europe, he riskily turned around and returned to the Indian Ocean, arriving at Tahiti on June 21, 1969. Bernard Moitessier lost the race, but some say he won something else.

What was it that went through his mind on March 18, 1969, and that made Moitessier lose interest in success, money, media recognition, and fame after more than seven months of competition? What does this story have to show us as we enter the most uncertain chapter of a global climate crisis?

Perhaps Moitessier carefully considered all that he had obtained during the long voyage in the middle of the sea: the peace that the movement of the waves made him feel during the long nights on the ocean; the beauty of the wild solitude of the sea; or perhaps, the silver shining of the moon or the magnificence of the horizon. All these things are beautiful, intangible and invisible. Maybe all these things pierced his old being and revealed another being, one much more sensitive and open to other possibilities. Would he, then, be able to put all that aside and return to his old life? Would he be losing everything he had discovered?

However, the risks of returning were many for Moitessier: the provisions left were minimal; what to do if an accident happened before reaching Tahiti? A storm or a mishap with the boat? Wasn’t it wiser to win the race and then return, plenty of time and supplies? But on the other hand, what were the risks of going to England and winning the race? Wouldn’t it be like losing forever the possibility he had in his hands? Life doesn’t usually give second chances anyway.

In our lives, we have all encountered moments like this when we made definitive decisions. We all know these moments in which “there is no turning back”, but Moitessier’s story urges us in another sense: the internal assurance that we feel when we choose with the heart. And in those moments, we opt for the invisible, gratuitous, mysterious, hidden, beautiful things. Those that are “not bought with money” but at the price of something else … What William Blake called the thing that “is sold in the desolate market where no one is going to buy”. Those moments when we choose to take risks, be brave and abandon the cold certainty of economic reason and its calculations.

Today we are surrounded by calculated and tempting options, such as pursuing careers that will lead us to success, glamorous social relationships that promise enjoyment, jobs that promise to nurture every aspect of our lives. News outlets even offer the chance to flag only positive news to ease our confidence in the world. Yet, we are also surrounded by love and loyalties towards invisible things that we cannot buy with money: our attention, our care, our concern, the respect that we give and receive, the memories and beauty that we are capable of giving and receiving, in short, all the things that made the sailor in our story turn the wheel.

In your own life, you can advance to the goal that has been set for you, or you can choose to return and join the group of deserters among whom the name of Bernard Moitessier shines.

What are you looking for, Amal

Ángel Marroquín

A puppet is haunting Europe; her name is Amal. She is three meters tall and has walked about eight thousand kilometres across Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and France. Amal is currently touring England on foot.
Amal is an art action that seeks to raise awareness about refugee children (also called unaccompanied minors). She has been following the route that, in reality, many of these children follow alone in search of protection and security from war sites, from poor countries to rich countries.
Amal’s reception in these countries has been mixed: in some places, she has been welcomed with celebrations by adults and children, she has danced with them in their cities and towns. In other cities, stones have been thrown at her while the artists have been on the verge of being expelled because the inhabitants feel judged or do not have the time or humour for this kind of art.
In any case, it is worth asking: Why does Amal provoke these emotional outbursts? Could her presence help the dramatic situation of refugee children currently travelling through Europe?
The key objective of the artistic intervention is to awaken empathy in those who participate. How could one not feel emotion when seeing Amal dressed poorly, her eyes shining, looking around her curiously and emulating the behaviour of an 8-year-old girl? However, asking about the positive aspects of Amal does not shed light on what is sadly most familiar to us: the rejection of refugees. It seems to me that this is the point that we should try to illuminate.
What has led to the rejection of this artistic intervention is that it raises an uncomfortable question that challenges those who are faced with Amal’s presence and materiality: What would it be like to live as a refugee child? What would happen if my daughter was an orphan and refugee girl wandering around Europe? To what kind of experiences would she be exposed? How would she survive facing many closed doors? Unfortunately, it seems that in Europe, there are few people prepared to answer these questions while many are quick to ignore them.
Amal, with her wide eyes and hopeful walk, exposes the European emperor, who walks naked without knowing it.

Photo: The Guardian

You are the economy

Ángel Marroquín

Sometimes we forget that what we call “the economy” is always a relationship with another person: the cashier who checks out our stuff in the supermarket, the farmer who plants and harvests the vegetables we buy, or the bus driver that takes us to work every day. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all interrelated, linked to each other by a delicate and complex network of exchanges that sustain our lives.
The quality of these relationships is the quality of our economy. Therefore, it is worth asking what kind of relationships we want to have with others: Do we strive to extract the maximum benefit in the shortest time possible? Do we see the person in front of us as a means to achieve our ends? Or on the contrary, do we want to have a relationship of care and harmony with them? Do we want to know them and grow with them in our relationship? Understanding that no one will make these decisions for us is essential for the change we need in order to stop the current climate crisis. In our hands is the decision to take less of everything around us and stop worshipping the god of growth and economic progress and his dogmas.
To stop seeing the world with a consumerist, utilitarian and dominant desire is perhaps one of the urgent things we need to do as soon as possible. For instance, we need to end the unbridled tourist fantasy that put in the atmosphere tons of CO2 every minute, the insatiable hunger for entertainment that drives junk television, the maddened craving for novelty and excitement that feeds on the apathy of living.
But then, what kind of life should we choose to change the collision course in which we seem to have been programmed by the consumer lifestyle that we have agreed to follow?
It seems to many of us that there is no room for ambiguity at this point in the current climate crisis, and it is clear that this type of life should imply a conscious option for reduction. Less work, less consumption, less transport based on fossil fuels, less banality and celebrity culture, less luxury, etc. But it should also mean more: more meaningful relationships, more relationships with our neighbours, more time to develop as humans, more freedom. So, at the end of the day, who is free? Is free the one who has money and must constantly worry about making it grow and protecting it? Or perhaps the one who has time to spend with himself, with family, friends and neighbours is free?
Will each of us be able to make the necessary choices to narrow down our options just as the post-pandemic economic system recovers and the pressure on consumers to return to shopping, luxury consumption and accessory travel are increasing?
The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We will come to reduce our consumption and change our consumer lifestyle by reason or by force. By reason means driven by our risen reflexivity and awareness, collaborative work with neighbours and communities, resilience, education, etc. On the other hand, we will be forced to reduce our consumption as the climate crisis will alter the supply chains of our supermarkets, the clothing factories in the third world will be flooded. The cost of raw materials will increase, or we will have pandemics associated with mutations related to climate change that will drastically alter the economy.
Today, our survival and the legacy we will leave to future generations that already inhabit this planet depend on these decisions. Having all the information in front of us, are we going to decide to fail them?
I started this column by saying that the economy is a relationship with other people. The quality of that relationship depends on us: treating others with dignity and giving them opportunities to develop their uniqueness. Cultivating our relationships with others is a way of challenging that counterproductive and vicious cycle of consumer utilitarianism that so badly need to leave behind. Why?
Because we are the economy.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Ángel Marroquín

The mystery of a life can only be deciphered by who lives it. We come and go; we move around; we take and discard decisions only to return again and again to the same places, the same lights and darkness, the same landscapes and scents. And so often, we ignore the limits of our invisible personal prison.

Suddenly we realise that we are aware of something important. That is when things change: when the things around us change us. Then, again and again, we fall and must start walking again. Something trivial, a simple fact, insignificant in appearance, brings us back to the amazement of being alive and makes us aware of what we need or what we no longer need.

Something like this happened to a friend. In conversation, he told me: “My daughter is at that age when people begin to ask her, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I don’t care what she says, he told me, but I feel like a hypocrite trying to tell her: “Follow your dreams,” “Do what makes you happy,” because I haven’t done it myself. “

As soon as he finished the last sentence, I could perceive that something was changing in him. His secret had been revealed; his personal nightmare had been told. Yet, somehow telling it had allowed him to get rid of something.

As I listened to him, I thought about how all of us are carried away by the inertia of routines, monthly deadlines and involuntary forgetfulness. Without awareness, day by day, we find ourselves involved in a strange internal negotiation in which we are increasingly asked  – by ourselves – to act as the world wants and less as we naturally feel inclined to act and decide. Some call it “maturity” or “adulthood” to the process of adaptation to this annihilating routine.

The problem is that we are not negotiating with stones or some inert object. No. We are dealing with our lives, with the precious and short time that we have to develop that “wild and strange” singularity that each of us possesses, unique and unrepeatable and, in some form, sacred.

We have been led to believe that following our dreams should rhyme with success, social recognition, quality or reputation. But the more we seek these things, the more we imprison ourselves at a price we must later pay. For example, if we are not invited to an important work meeting, we feel rejected or diminished in our self-esteem. Still, we do not consider that to be in that meeting we must pay a high price: greater involvement in the subject, more hours spent preparing ourselves, drinking more cups of coffee talking about things we don’t care about, time spent on adulating our bosses, etc.

On the contrary, success can mean gaining the freedom to detach ourselves from those obligations that separate us from who we are, from our laborious, never-ending and challenging task of governing ourselves. Following our dreams perhaps means changing our life, winning rather than losing ourselves in the endless negotiation between ourselves and the world.

Anyway, the time will come for each of us when we find ourselves in my friend’s situation: wanting to tell a young person “follow your dreams”, “do what makes you happy”, and contrast our own life with the advice we are giving.

Good luck!

Photo: Sebastian Silva

Why is it so easy to imagine the end of the world?

Ángel Marroquín

The economic system we live in is driven by the compulsion to take what you can in the shortest time possible without giving anything back. In that spirit, accumulating wealth is supposed to bring well-being, stability and tranquillity that you can pass on to your descendants to ensure that they do not have to start from scratch, as you or your parents did. Deep down, you work hard all your life to give your children a head start in the long and arduous race for survival. “Having more is better”, and accumulate is a sign of health and prosperity.
Under this relentless logic, who is willing to give up their place in the fight for resources that seem scarce? Those who have more, those who have less, or those who have almost nothing? Where is the reduction in consumption -that we need to stop the crazed wheel of progress based on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions that are killing us- going to come from? Not from the poor, of course, because their family depends on that scrap they manage to reach and because they rarely achieve more than what is necessary to survive (if you think I’m exaggerating, please honestly ask yourself if you could live on the minimum wage). It is tragicomic, but many of the poor countries of the Global South are not even in a climate crisis because they do not have the necessary resources to produce emissions. However, they will be the most affected by the consequences of climate change. Even more, they urgently need to produce more emissions to feed, clothe and educate their impoverished population.
But, on the other hand, the rich countries are not willing to give in, but for a very different reason. The excessive economic growth of these societies has produced the vast majority of the greenhouse gases that have us in the current climate crisis.
Since they started polluting earlier, they have accumulated the gains of progress. So they will stay in the prosperous places they are, seeking to entertain themselves and wait until the party is over. Isn’t that what the Pandora Papers show?
The scientific, artistic, and social progress that the developed world countries are proud of has been produced at the cost of global pollution and theft. Therefore, we should keep it in mind when queuing and paying to enter the magnificent and expensive European museums.
The idea that economic growth is the primary duty of the economy and that society must adapt or submit to this principle has been taught to us as common sense. None of the 20th-century ideologies has been as powerful and effective in their indoctrination as capitalism. This fact led the philosopher Frederic Jameson to say years ago: “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism”. Chan!
From Azerbaijan to Paris, passing through Bolivia, Zambia and Rotterdam, the ideas that well-being comes from material progress and that the exploitation of nature is the only way to ensure the material progress of society have been imposed through creating environmental depredation. But paradoxically, the progress, wealth and well-being achieved by countries at the cost of mortgaging their future have not been equally distributed within affluent and developing countries. A test? Every Paris has its Bangladesh, and every Bangladesh has its opulent Paris.
We have quite a few tools to imagine the end of the world; among the newest, we have the latest IPCC report, Save de Children, or the Oxfam reports. But, unfortunately, to imagine the end of capitalism, we have nothing. So if you think you can imagine it, go ahead and tell me what would the day after the world revolution look like?

Photo: Sebastián Silva: https://la-periferia-interior.tumblr.com/

Now!

Ángel Marrroquín

I recently visited a friend who was recovering in hospital after going through a severe illness. This friend had been on the verge of death. “I was about to kick the bucket!” he told me, laughing. I laughed too, but with less enthusiasm.

When the visit was over, I walked to the bus stop thinking, “what makes my friend feel happy after going through such an intense experience?

Going through misfortune allows us to learn what constitutes that kind of natural wisdom that older people show when they give us advice. But also the understanding that seems to spring from people’s experiences, lives, successes, great mistakes, and regrets. All of which seems reflected in that compendium of common sense capable of healing any wound.

This wisdom born from personal and social experiences has a significant advantage: it seems to make life better, lighter, closer, more assimilable. Every idea seems to fit a problem, a dilemma, a distressing question, a decision we must make to deal with a sensitive issue.

That is what I saw in the eyes of that man lying on the hospital bed, with a large scar on his chest and surrounded by nurses, electrocardiograms, ventilators and oxygen tubes. He was coming back from the dead, or rather, he had been granted a brief postponement before the final blow. In any case, what I saw in his eyes – and what motivated me to write this text – was the joy of being alive, the satisfaction and desire to live.

Seeking to explain this reaction, I came across the concept of “Post-Traumatic Growth”, which refers to personal growth and the newfound meaning that occurs after a person faces a significant challenge in life that forces them to change or adapt to new circumstances.

The point is that after facing critical moments (such as a severe accident, a life-threatening operation, immigration, escaping a catastrophe or political violence), people become more attuned to life. In other words, life means more to them, and somehow, things seem clearer. This change speaks of intensity and not of quantity or extension. It’s a mystery, but it happens.

Perhaps that was what was in the man’s gaze, a greater intensity of life, a kind of realistic hope. He didn’t seem to want to be eternal or not to die. On the contrary, he seemed to want to live what was left as if he saw in that something wonderful and unrepeatable.

As I was thinking about this, the rain intensified, and hundreds of tiny drops of water hung from my window pane on the bus. Then, as they were blown into the abyss by the wind, it seemed to me that each one of them cried out before falling: Now! Angel, Now!

Photo: Irish Times

Everything will be alright

Ángel Marroquín

Imagine you have an eight-year-old daughter who collects plastic bottles, washes them carefully, and then stores them in her bedroom to take them to the recycling place the next day. Every day she saves water, electricity and tries to motivate her classmates to do the same. Now imagine that she falls asleep crying at night, thinking about the state of the world around her. Did you get the notion?

Now tell me: What would you do to restore the peace of mind of this little girl after reading the latest IPCC climate change report?

What is the IPCC? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an international body that brings together scientists from around the world who report on the current state of the planet regarding Climate Change and its consequences. They published their latest report on August 9, which indicates that climate change already affects the entire world, and its effects will only increase over the next few decades.

In simple: the heat waves that we have been suffering will last for most of the year, and the cold seasons will shorten. Extreme heatwaves will tend to exceed critical levels, endangering agriculture and human health. (Note that July 2021 became the hottest month on record so far on planet earth. This summer, Italy registered a record 47.1 degrees Celsius, and Turkey, Greece, and Italy suffered severe fires caused by these high temperatures). This heat will alter the hydrological cycle, even more, generating a global reduction in precipitation and producing intense rainfall (flooding) in geographically vulnerable places where poor people live.

Rising sea levels will increase and affect coastal areas with greater force, altering their ecosystems and annihilating the weakened biodiversity. As a result, thousands of species will be extinct forever.

The report ends by stating that: “unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced immediately, rapidly and on a large scale, limiting warming to around 1.5 ° C or even 2 ° C will be an unattainable goal.”

No, there are no signs that achieving this is even possible. What’s more, Covid-19 showed that after a slight reduction in emissions during the onset of the pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions rose again and reached their normal pre-pandemic levels in just a few months. In other words, the economy recovers and emissions rise, business as usual.

Now, look at the little girl and, if you dare, tell her that everything will be alright.

Photo: Special Patrol Group

Put the money where your mouth is

Ángel Marroquín

Once the lights of Glasgow go out and COP 26 has ended with applause, handshakes and flashes, someone will wonder: Good stuff, but who will pay for all these good intentions?

Obviously all gazes will point to big corporations, not only because they are the great generators of greenhouse gas emissions, but because at this point they are the only ones who have enough money to face the current state of the climate crisis. Even before Glasgow this phrase was blowing in the wind: “Tax the Rich”.

The issue is that the climate crisis that we are going through is not a business opportunity, but a matter of survival of the humanity and global justice, and the solutions are not only about to improve and distribute green energy or technology, but to achieve agreements that consider that: “We are not all in the same boat”, but some are coming in precarious boats, others in rafts, others floating on tires and others swimming as best that they can in the middle of the raging sea. But for this time, let’s look at those who come in the first class of the Titanic.

What do the super rich think about all this? How we can find it out?

One way is to go straight on to the eighth report, “Investing for Global Impact: A Power for Good 2021” by Barclays.

This report looks at the attitudes and actions of the world’s rich, their families, shareholders, top executives, and their charity foundations. Let´s see.

The majority of the super-rich believe that climate change will play a key role in their investment decisions ahead and 67% of them declare that they will adjust their business decisions to the emission reduction targets of 2 degrees Celsius according to the scenarios of the Paris Agreement. Well, well, well.

However, only half of the super rich think that it is possible at this point to keep the temperature below 2 degrees of temperature and only 61% believe that the COP 26 to be held in November 2021 in Glasgow, will reach substantive agreements to take charge of the climate crisis. There is not much faith between business people, isn´t?

But my favourite percentage is this. When asked if they would be willing to sacrifice their profits if their investments prevented the climate crisis? What do you think they answered?

72% of the rich would agree to do so.

Maybe it’s time for the super rich to put their money where they put their mouths.

Photo: Special Patrol Group

Missing in action

Ángel Marroquín

A few days ago, I watched the opening speech of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Naturally, I was curious about how Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would address the results of the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report.

Direct to the point, Guterres told the representatives of 193 countries gathered in New York: “We are on the edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction.” But, of course, the abyss had been made clear enough after the IPCC report and its catastrophic projections. But what did he mean by the wrong direction? Here are some bullet points of what came out, then, of his Pandora’s box:

• The significant gap between rich and poor that the pandemic revealed.
• The alarming state of the environment and the growing effects of climate change, especially in poor countries.
• The terrorist threat, violation of human rights in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and many other countries are simply not mentioned because the list would become endless.
• The growing threat of misinformation, confusion and mistrust spread over the internet and the adverse effects they cause on the population (polarization, ignorance or paralysis), breeding grounds for cronyism, populism or totalitarianism of all sorts.

My favourite part of the speech came when, feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of catastrophic evidence and bad news, the speaker launched a kind of lifeline or lifebuoy and said, looking directly at the screen: “Solidarity is missing in action when we need it most.” Great!

The issue is that solidarity is not missing in action but instead hijacked by a cartel demanding an impossible ransom. Each country member seeks to pay as little as possible, and ultimately the session ended without anyone making a decision. As we will see, solidarity will remain missing in action in New York.

Why?

Because solidarity means that one adheres to causes that do not respond solely to one’s interest, but one does it for the sake of a transcendent value, a collective one. In other words, solidarity means that one can suspend the ego for a moment and come to the aid of another person because one believes it is morally correct, especially in crises like the ones Guterres pointed out so carefully. But, unfortunately, there is no solidarity in the liberal world; there are only partners.

The countries’ representatives then looked at each other as if to say, “who is holding solidarity hostage?” Well, themselves. Most of their countries have love-hate relationships with corruption; they favour a lifestyle that presents millionaires and celebrities as role models; they sustain social inequality, gender inequality, discrimination, the poverty of the majority, and the wealth of a minority. All of them are afraid to regulate the markets of large companies; they all have education for the rich and the poor, they have their jails full of poor people.

Now, back to Pandora’s box. Who will help the Haitians who are on the United States border? Who is going to support the poor of Ethiopia or Yemen? Who will establish real restrictions on the big multinational internet companies and the millionaires who travel to space while the world is going to hell?

As you can see, we will continue walking towards the abyss with or without solidarity. Maybe we’ll meet there, who knows?

Photo: Special Patrol Group

Sister Hope

Ángel Marroquín

I once met a nun who had worked for many years as a missionary in China. One day she invited me to a Chinese restaurant. She chose a seat not far from the kitchen entrance. We ate, we paid, and after a while, she said to me: Wait for me here, it won’t take too long.
She let herself into the kitchen in a quick move, hurriedly started talking to the workers around her, and handed out brochures. At that point, the owner or supervisor of the restaurant arrived, rebuked her and began to push her away. She raised her voice and yelled something in Chinese to the workers. Finally, a couple of men came and moved us aggressively to the exit. I was confused and a bit afraid. She, however, seemed to know well what she was doing and moved confidently.
Later, she told me of her mission. She went to Chinese restaurants and tried her best to get into the kitchens. She knew well enough to suspect that she would most likely find undocumented workers who did not speak the language and had no contact with people.  She knew well enough to suspect that these workers worked for miserable wages in shifts of twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week. The accommodation was deducted from their salary, which sometimes consisted of a mattress on the room floor adjoining the kitchen.
Sometimes, someone would pass some information on to her about specific restaurants or shops. Then she would go, rushed her way in, and spoke in Chinese to the workers, inviting them to free language classes, knowing that learning the language was the key to knowing their rights.

Photo: Desastres de la guerra, Goya. “Y son fieras”

Counternarratives

Ángel Marroquín

One of the things that one ends up missing these days is something that can be called truth. The abundance of maliciously manipulated information is so large and widespread that it has created an atmosphere in which we all suffocate, and no one can open a window to let in the fresh air. The media and social networks increasingly resemble more a gas chamber than the eco-technological paradise promised by the gurus of Silicon Valley.

It is no mystery that society began to lose the ability to believe in its institutions during the sixties and seventies, driven by protest movements, postmodernism, and the postwar lifestyle’s weaknesses. It was the time to overthrow idols. The youth of yesterday were ready to let go; so, throwing oneself into the European streets to protest was a form of hopeful rebellion (far from the hopeless ambition of our militants who congregate in Trafalgar Square). Today we know that it was but the beginning of a cycle of cruel, non-reciprocal and nihilistic love for the market. The entire world began its path towards scepticism and global distrust.

As any son or grandson of a 60-year-old knows, the main legacy of those years was that the market was enthroned in the place left by the ideologies, the party and the intellectual. Then, everything became relative and customizable. From there to Trump, there is only one step.  One step that was taken.

Neoliberalism and the Thatcher-Reagan decade led politics to become a high-end manipulative tool, fueled by the mass media, the rise of the internet, and obedience to the powerful. As usual, TV and the Internet appeared first as channels to improve culture and quality of life; however, they subjected people to market domination and accumulation imperatives. This is what is called a relationship of cruel optimism.

The world has not stopped because of any of this, and this is how today we have been bequeathed with a world in which the media and the powerful are capable of creating their own alternative reality and making us believe that it is the truth. Fake news, fact check, alternative facts, counter-narratives, and post-truth are all concepts that tell us about a runaway world that walks in the darkness with its eyes closed. If you think this is just a habit of the powerful, you are wrong. People have embraced these counter-narratives, which have morphed into a kind of new common sense. Today, as we listen to everyday conversations and comments on public issues, we often witness the creation of a post-truth, live and firsthand.

We are not yet aware of all the implications that this new era of post-truth will bring. However, one thing we have been witnessing amidst the rise of populism and climate change sceptics is that for many people feeling strongly about certain facts is enough to claim that they have the only truth about it. We live challenging times, indeed.

(c) Photography by Sebastián Silva. https://la-periferia-interior.tumblr.com/

Why do you feel that you are entitled to ask?

Ángel Marroquín

Last Saturday, I attended a talk about the book entitled “This Hostel Life” by Melatu Uche Okorie. The book is about her experience as an asylum seeker in the Irish asylum system. When the time for questions from the audience came, a middle-aged woman asked: “I would like to know why you had to become an asylum seeker and leave your country?”

Calmly, the writer told this woman that this was a private matter and that she was tired of being asked this question; thus, she would not answer. In return, the writer asked: why are you interested in knowing the reasons that led me to request asylum in Ireland?

To which the surprised woman responded hastily: “Because we take many things for granted here, we do not value them, and we believe that they exist in the same way all over the world.” But that was not what the author had asked.

What was asked of the refugee and writer was to tell her “true story” and explain why she sought refuge in Ireland. Then, having heard her story, listeners would give themselves the right to judge it.

This situation made me reflect on the right we believe we have to ask another person personal questions, the relationship imbalance between the person who asks and who is asked, and the ambivalent power of stories.

When are you going to have children? Where do you come from, originally? Why did you come to this country? How long do you plan to stay in this country? These are all innocent questions and, sometimes, they can stimulate or facilitate a conversation with anyone in a waiting room or at the bus stop. But the innocence behind these questions is only apparent. Why? Because at the centre of these questions, there is an element that is not innocent: the social asymmetry between the person who asks and the one who is asked. Who would dare to ask a powerful woman in their 40s: When are you going to have children? Who would ask a tall and elegant executive with a hard-to-place accent, where do you come from?

We often ask personal questions to strange and known others simply because we feel entitled to do so. This right stems from the security that this person has no power to refuse to answer, to be silent in front of us. They have to tell their story because we want to hear it. And many times, we want to listen to it for the wrong reasons.

Beyond this asymmetry, what worries me is that, as we saw in the case of the writer, wanting to know a story is underpinned by the need to confirm our unconscious bias. In other words, the question seems to be a way of corroborating the prejudices that the questioner already had before asking this question. But why do we need to affirm our prejudices? Because we feel safe surrounded by them. But that security is born of fear, and it is fragile. Because only weak security can lead to seeking it outside, validating prejudices judging the stories of others.

Beyond the effect that the stories produce on the ears and prejudices of others, there seems to be a beautiful mystery in them. If we receive them and love them, stories can change us. 

Well, well, well. What do we have here?

Ángel Marroquín

Stories create realities and change them. Do you not believe it? Read this story and tell me what you think…

A humanitarian worker walks in the middle of a desolate road leading to a rural town in a third world country going through a never-ending civil war. A pickup truck rushes down the road, lifting a cloud of dust. Shots are heard from AK47s. The pickup stops, and an armed group of men take the humanitarian worker by force, accusing him of spying for the enemy and threatens to behead him in the next town.

The humanitarian worker is terrified. Lying on the floor, injured and bleeding, he looks at his captors and thanks them effusively for saving his life by taking him away from that dangerous road. The humanitarian worker continues expressing gratitude to his captors until he convinces them that they are his saviours. So, in the end, they believe it and release him on good terms.

Well, well, well. What do we have here? Two stories collide. In the first one, a spy disguised as a humanitarian worker is captured and promptly beheaded while filmed on a mobile phone and uploaded to YouTube. In the second one, we have a humanitarian worker rescued from a very dangerous road by a guerrilla group passing by and who gave him a ride to a safe place, parting in good terms.

We are born, live and die within stories. Stories that are told about us, stories that we tell about other people and, the most interesting of all: the stories that we tell about ourselves.  The angle from which a story is told, the details that stand out and the final punch line of the story are places where the author’s signature, trembling pulse, firmness of his line, or ironic laugh can be seen.

Out there are people who do not have anything else but their story. An asylum seeker, a migrant child, a woman victim of gender violence, or a transgender youth. Their stories become a powerful expression of a social situation ignored by the media establishment (which prefers homogeneous, reassuring and massive stories). Their stories are sometimes the only thing they have to negotiate or win the favour of the public in a world that is largely hostile to them.

These people resemble the humanitarian worker, walking alone on the road.

In their positive version, their stories inspire others. Moreover, they can produce significant changes in countries’ social and political narratives, especially on issues such as abortion, climate change, people living on the streets, people with disabilities, youth suicide, etc. Why?

Because stories can produce empathy. People can connect, put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, and see, for a moment, how different their life is from theirs. Unfortunately, the power that stories mobilise has led to an increasing instrumentalisation of stories to support certain corporate and political views. Still, at the same time, this has led to activist groups today being able to create and share stories about marginalised groups that years ago had neither voice nor vote.

In the negative version, the stories associated with these groups can increase the prejudices and obstacles these groups already face. For example, we see this tendency when negative stories arise about welfare recipients, asylum seekers, Arab refugees or immigrants, or people of colour inserted in drug trafficking or prostitution networks, etc. This version of the stories leads to the expansion and strengthening of prejudices about them by propagating negative stories.

Today many people are walking on the road with which I started this story. You and I are in the pickup truck. It is up to us to tell and be convinced by stories that lead to the release of the prisoners and not their beheadings.

(c) Photography by Sebastián Silva. https://la-periferia-interior.tumblr.com/

Monza, Sunday, September 12, 2021

Ángel Marroquín

One of the things that Lewis Hamilton cannot afford to do is to stop and think. What characterises a professional Formula One pilot is mental focus, attention to detail and fast information processing to achieve successful driving. All these skills are vital in Formula One.

It is vital because the risks faced by the pilot are innumerable, and all of them deadly. Motor Racing Teams as Red Bull, McLaren or Honda have developed increasingly lightweight, aerodynamic and safer cars. However, these new features also make cars more fragile and dependent on the pilot’s performance.


Hamilton started his career in 2007. He has won the world championship seven times, and he has the world record of 99 pole positions won and has been on the winners’ podium nearly 175 times. However, none of these facts prevented him from being involved in a serious accident on Sunday, September 12, at the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza.

The accident occurred when Max Verstappen lost control of his car and crashed into Hamilton’s vehicle. Both drivers were fighting, point by point, the Formula One championship of this year, 2021. As I write, Verstappen has been sanctioned for reckless driving and had a few points deducted.

What I find interesting is Hamilton’s reflection after the accident -that could well have cost him his life-. In an interview, he said: “It was a big shock. I’ve been racing a long time, and we are taking risks out there all the time” “It’s only when you experience something like that that you get that real shock, and you look at life and realise how fragile we are “.

Hamilton is a professional pilot, but his reflection can easily be on the minds of each of us in our daily lives. Do we need a moment of danger to hear our soul whispering into our ears: “Remember that you will die”, “You will take nothing to the grave”.

After this “Memento Mori” last Sunday in Monza, do you think Hamilton will drive as before? Will he be able to consider what happened to him? Will he think about this while he drives at full speed to the last section of the track that will lead him to be the Formula One champion once again? We will never know. But what we will know is that each of us is in a hurry living our lives, taking risks, facing obstacles forced to make quick decisions. While all this is happening, someone has put a fluorescent billboard in our internal motorway that says: “Monza, Sunday, September 12, 2021”.

Photo: The Guardian

Searching for the light

Ángel Marroquín

One of the most challenging issues today is to make sense of what is happening around us. Without all-encompassing ideologies, without the power of religion or the promise of a social revolution in sight, we are faced with our worst nightmare: neo-fascism and the far-right gaining ground with fake news and post-truth. “The desert grows,” said the sad philosopher. Today we look at each other, and we understand what he meant.

Because none of us has any doubt about the erosion in which we live when we think about the figures that the pandemic has thrown out to our face: an increase in the number of children living on the streets, an increase in drug, alcohol and violent pornography consumption, an increase in suicides and domestic violence, and so forth.

While these figures have not yet shifted, the market promotes rampant consumerism and celebrity lifestyle to make the economy grow. Such is like a patient with gastric cancer trying to heal himself by eating hamburgers nonstop.

But not everything is lost; altruism has not diminished. For instance, we still see thousands of people trying to make values such as solidarity, fraternity, equality or freedom come true in countries like Afghanistan, Chile, Hong Kong or Belarus. Sadly, in these countries, those fighting for better lives are shot by the police, imprisoned in isolated prisons, or simply disappear without leaving a trace.

The horror of these situations is there. However, it seems as if nobody cares enough, primarily because of the avalanche of irrelevant information that submerges these tragedies and makes them all the same: pieces of something we can barely distinguish in the informational ocean that moves incessantly—traces of information that nobody even can remember clearly. And it is in this repetition of triviality seasoned with tragedies that we find the most dangerous manifestations of the world today: the lack of meaning. In a world in which the truth is manipulated according to the convenience of the richest, the powerful and their stakeholders, the lines between good and evil are erased: no one can play the role of truth. We all appear to be guilty until proven otherwise.

Parents, teachers, tutors and self-help gurus and political leaders are questioned because of their inability to embody the good they proclaim or teach; their inability to express the difference between, for example, courage and cowardice (even less to show their children, students or guides how a brave person behaves).

On the other hand, there are authorities interested in manipulating those that seek certainties. Those are the fascists of the right and the left. They are easily recognized because they offer shortcuts, immediate solutions and speak using great words. In short, we all know them, which does not make them less voted or irrelevant in each election!

Faced with this current dark situation, I want to share a story with you:

A teacher close to his death decides to make this moment the last act of teaching for his two disciples. So the old master wakes up his two young students at midnight, lights a torch and leads them into the middle of a thick forest. Once there, the old master extinguishes the torch and remains silent. Then the youngest of the disciples asks him:

Are you going to leave us alone here in the middle of this darkness?
Then the old man responds: “No, I am not going to leave you here in the dark”… “I am going to leave you searching for the light.”

Things you learn in bed

Ángel Marroquín

Many things in life are learned in bed. One of them is Hope.

A sick person in a hospital bed has a lot of time to think and review the old movie of their life. They have time to repent, be proud, happy or sad with their modest accomplishments and personal frustrations. But as the illness progresses and the blood pressure and heart rate worryingly fluctuate, little by little, the mind tilts towards hoping. Then, the sick person will want to improve and stop feeling the inclement pain of the disease pressing strong. Finally, they will want to return home or escape from that disturbing place called Hospital, which seems like a cold and sad prelude to something much worse.

Hospital and Hope appear united. However, their unity is as unconvincing as the plea of innocence of those convicted guilty or the last-minute regrets of those drowning after a shipwreck in the cold, salty ocean in the middle of the night.

Those who are ill and hope to recover have no hope really. Their urgent desire for the cure of pain has instrumentalised the aspiration of recovery. Nobody can judge them because nobody is in their place tonight in that lonely, cold bed near the window. Even so, they are playing their last chance: they want with all their heart to improve, and they cling to the only thing that is left: a genuine, immaterial and delicate desire—their personal, poor and fragile Hope.

Probably our protagonist will die anyway, their family will mourn for a while, and then they will divide what they left and forget. Someone, perhaps, will leave flowers on their grave from time to time on their birthday. That’s the way that the world goes.

But the mystery of Hope will continue to illuminate the way for other patients at the Hospital that we call Life, and that mystery will continue to be invoked there.

What have we learned, this time, in this bed?

That true Hope is useless, fragile and gratuitous. And that is its usefulness. That it is not directed towards anything in particular and cannot be directed towards our own ends, that is neither sold nor bought, that it does not possess and cannot be possessed.

At the end of the day, each of us will have a chance to try to answer this question in our way in our own bed.

(c) Photo: Cover Album A momentary lapse of reason, Pink Floyd, 1987

Work responds by telling a story

Ángel Marroquín

Work has changed since the pandemic began. Unusual things, such as teleworking, Zoom-meetings or telecommuting, became the new normal. Meanwhile, countries do everything possible to return to pre-crisis productivity levels and support the economic sectors such as tourism, hotels and restaurants, which have taken longer to open their doors to their customers.


So far, so good. Everyone is optimistic, and those who have been able to save are preparing to spend the money on vacations abroad, renovating their houses, or crowding the newly opened shopping centres. Owners and shareholders rub their hands thinking about their future earnings and the end of this financial hard time.

In this context, it is difficult to predict the direction in which the world of work will move and if this direction will change some features that have become quite repetitive of today’s work: physically strenuous, precarious and low wages jobs for the poor, youth and immigrants; highly competitive, cognitively demanding and equally precarious jobs for the middle class and managerial luxury for the remaining 1%.

We know that the world of work will not be the same after the deep existential questioning experienced during the Covid lockdowns. After all, we have had time to think about the essential things in our lives: whether or not we like our current job, whether or not we love our wife or husband and so forth.

The answers to these questions are there, and they have revealed how we all kept operating on automatic pilot before Covid 19. (Spoiler Alert: Yes, divorces, domestic violence and the use of alcohol, consumption of pornography, antidepressants and drugs increased). But let’s get back to the point.

Am I willing to sell my time and talents to make the owners of this company richer? Is it possible to live in a different way than the one that takes me home from work every day and vice versa? How can I work without work dominating my entire life?

At this point, as in the classic tale, the work faces the Sphinx of Thebes in order to save the land from a pestilential plague that has the hard-working servants, enthusiastic worshipers and employees of the month in a dire state.

The work should answer this question:

Why continue working in a world that is dying?

The work then responds by telling this story:

A honeycomb sensor has recently been developed. This sensor reports in real-time the temperature, humidity, movement and sound inside the combs. If the temperature is very high inside the honeycomb, the bees stop producing honey and try to cool the honeycomb through the movement of their wings (thus, stop ‘working’). The sensor helps honeycomb owners to maintain the temperature at an optimal level that allows the bees not to be distracted and work until death in the production of honey.

The sphinx vanishes, the city is freed from the plague, and everything returns to normal.