The Triumph of Pity

Photo: © John Stadnicki, 2020

 

Equality does not exist. It has never existed. And yet, experiencing or witnessing inequality can bring one a sense of boiling anger. If the feeling gets too unbearable and it keeps me awake at night, I pick up a Christopher Hitchens book. There is vindication when reading Hitchens specially because he is much angrier than me. I suppose one could say that everything could be worse than they are (‘look abroad, look in the Far East, North Pole, Russia’), though in the current socio-political context, they will probably get worse. Until they do, my anger presents itself as a seductive space which I visit as I would visit a freshly dusted home.

I recently came across a paper written by the academic Barry Richards (Bournemouth University) which discusses anger against the ‘establishment’ in the context of the Brexit referendum, giving it a compelling psychosocial dimension*: anger as ‘narcissistic rage against otherness of the authority’ (2019). The social ‘rage’ felt in 2016 materialised in a rejection of the EU’s perceived authority, in an attempt to reclaim promised freedoms which, up to that point, people did not even think they had missed. The populist propaganda played an important role in mobilising that sense of anger, but it must have stemmed from somewhere else, at a far deeper level. Richards talks about a range of socio-economic conditions which nurture the collective anger; among them, the growing economic inequality, the loss of institutional sovereignty, the social tensions fitting into the equation ‘them and us’.

Although often (but not always) anger can be irrational and misunderstood, it can become a projection of one’s sense of humiliation and loss of dignity, a symptomatic difficulty in accepting authority. In social terms, authority can take different forms and shapes and it makes its presence felt in social organisations as well as in leadership structures. Anger projected against institutions and leaders is a weakness in democracy; it makes society receptive to manipulations from charismatic frontrunners (individuals or institutions) who/which place themselves outside the corrupt system that the public is ‘upset about.’

The issue with projected anger in complex democracies needs further attention. With multi-media types of interaction, anger is often, and easily, used as a form of social communication. At the same time, it is an inefficient, if not weak, strategy when it meets well-rehearsed discourses from leadership figures who shout loudly, clearly and repeatedly that they would ‘get things done.’ Going further, the cynical aspect of this theory is that the establishment itself knows this too. The establishment knows that anger:

a). can be projected (therefore it has little impact on the practical aspects of governance) and

b). can be manipulated (therefore people can be given ample new reasons to direct their anger at).

More than that, the establishment understands that if a reasonable proportion of the population has enough material resources to participate in the democratic exercise, the anger simmers for a while without reaching boiling point. And even if it reaches that point, the finger points at the angry, and relatively few, elements within the society, accused of flouting the public duty or the civic responsibility.

In this context, my anger confirms the fact that I am not a good citizen but a narcissistic victim of my own inability to control my feelings. My anger is a symptom of my humiliation and a result of my lack of resources. My anger makes me worthy of pity.

 

© Maria Stadnicka, May 2020


* Richards, B. (2019) ‘Beyond the angers of populism: a psychosocial inquiry.’ Journal of Psychosocial Studies, 12 (1-2): 171-183.

Midlands in Lockdown / Week #10 / At Eye Level

Photography © John Stadnicki, May 2020

The Earth Inside / Week #8 in Lockdown / Midlands, United Kingdom

You wander countless streets

pass a pandemic that seems

to go on forever.

But nothing is eternal.

Photography © John Stadnicki, 2020

Rite of Lockdown / Week #7 / Midlands / United Kingdom

 

Rite

 

Sunday lingers on scent of paint,

tobacco and spring. Our kitchen-war

sprouts from a conversation on books

about people we both know. I say

 

I’d met doctor Zhivago queuing

at Nero’s, heard him asking a barista

about the fate of taiga-trees

at the height of a mining season.

 

You think they are cut short then stop

growing. I lock my paperbacks

in a cupboard; they remind us

of all the ink twisted in verse, seeded

 

in layers of gravel. Our verbs reach

the pit of a quarry, and seal over.

Snow forests shoot up in tears,

we trip over extension cables in our flat.

 

© Maria Stadnicka, May 2020


Photography: © John Stadnicki 2020

The Small Print of Progress: Reaction to Action

Photo: © John Stadnicki, April 2020 / Gloucestershire, UK.

In 1997, Manuel Castells published The Power of Identity warning about the danger of globalisation in a world ill-equipped to control its own expansion. Castells criticised the UN, accusing the top bureaucrats of lack of action and misunderstanding of the nature of a global society facing unprecedented human migration, multi-national production chains, competition and artificial economic stimulation.

The book discusses the practical faults within our systems which promote geo-political competition on one hand, while economies are driven by inefficient externalised production chains, on another hand. Global market fragility and profit-driven progress have become realities which are now making the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic difficult to manage.

For over two decades now, the scientific community launched repeated warning that a pandemic was inevitable, but our socio-economic systems are still taken by surprise and unprepared for the current social, medical and economic challenges.

The pandemic undoubtedly offers a few lessons for us all. Lessons about what deserves to be trusted and valued, appreciated and developed mid and long-term. The principle of ‘Après moi, le déluge’ [‘after me, the flood‘] has become a danger threatening to destabilise, if not destroy, communities. If ‘a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe’ (Edward Lorenz) then we need to accept the reality that we are as safe as the weakest among us. The way out of crisis comes from understanding the basic principles which brought up our chaos.

Photo: © John Stadnicki, April 2020 / Glocestershire, UK.

Governments have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for five months already, and their best shot at managing it is the fierce competition between research centres to produce their own test kits and vaccines. As borders shut between countries that, not long ago, had common economic interests, contracts for protective equipment are signed electronically. and the higher bidder wins. Always wins.

As the race for the next Nobel in medicine takes ground, communities struggle to make sense of what constitutes a necessary journey out in town, at a time when years of prosperity have been wiped off the economic whiteboard in a matter of days. It shows how fragile the system was in the first place, how easy it can be to undermine the stability of societies that got their priorities wrong. Across Britain, the political class has given itself another year in employment with local elections postponed until 7 May 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The employed majority finds itself at the mercy of financial rescue packages, negotiating the small print of bureaucracy.

Unprecedented times, precedented actions.

© Maria Stadnicka, 23 April 2020


You can also read ‘Power to the Powerful’, February 2020.

 

Gallery

Midlands / Lockdown Week #2

Photography: © John Stadnicki, April 2020, Gloucestershire, Midlands, United Kingdom.

Gloucestershire in Lockdown, April 2020

Photography: © John Stadnicki, April 2020


The photographs were taken on the way to local shops in Stroud and Gloucester, Midlands, Gloucestershire, UK. 1-2 April 2020.