The Triumph of Pity

Photo: © John Stadnicki, 2020

 

Equality does not exist. It has never existed. And yet, losing it creates a sense of boiling anger that keeps me awake at night. When it gets too unbearable, I pick up a Christopher Hitchens book to feel a sense of vindication; there are people angrier than me, and things could be worse than they are. In the current socio-political context, they will probably get worse, but until then my anger is so seductive that I justify it to myself as well as to people around me.

The academic Barry Richards from Bournemouth University looks at 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) irrational and misunderstood, anger can become a form of projection of our own 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.

Fruit Season

Gloucestershire, Midlands, UK / May 2020

I figure out that if you live by water and feel hungry, it takes an afternoon of chewing yesterday’s leftovers to feel mud on your tongue. And if a passer-by gives you a bad apple, you ought to be thankful, appreciate what you’ve got, watching others dying of starvation. But when you hear that the well-wisher was God, which happened to be running late for a meeting in the nearby mansion, you wish you had spat the rotting fruit back at Him. God could have done better. By then it is too late. The meeting He was rushing to would be running on and on for years. For as long as your lifetime.

© Maria Stadnicka, May 2020

Short Summary of Strategic Combat

Illustration © Claire Palmer 2020

after Kasparov vs Karpov, 1986

 

The playground is open, with white to move.

D4 F6. A few pawn boys make a safety zone

out by the swings, waiting for Father to fall for the ruse.

 

C4 G6. Everyone calls the queen Sis’ Loretta

when she jumps over the Treatment Room’s steps

to the battlefield. The fifth move: Q to B3.

 

By the eleventh round, the game enters

a phase of hand-to-hand combat. Father attacks,

we defend on each side. Sister gets hurt,

 

two pawn boys, sacrificed, but nobody castles.

Our fight, bishop to rook. Checked on the playground

as the last knight falls at the match point.

 

Most pieces are gone on both front lines. Thirty-one

moves. Checkmate. From the opposing team,

Father says we are playing a game bigger than us.

 

© Maria Stadnicka 2020


Published in ‘International Times’ on 8th February 2020.

Grandfather Talks Modernity

© JStadnicki 1995

During the 80s, grandfather had the habit of listening to Radio Free Europe on a crackling wireless which worked only if bashed about a few times. I understood very little of what was said in news bulletins and documentaries, but some words kept coming up in conversations he’d have with friends at the village pub. Over a couple of beers, it felt as if their banter about freedom, dictatorship, justice was a disguised form of perversity which made no sense to me at that time.

Even now, recollecting those Friday catch-ups, their invectives sound pointless, though I’ve tried numerous times to find out what they were actually upset about. It must have been in the mid 90s, after grandfather died, when searching through a pile of his old stuff I found this:

Modern dictatorships come about gradually through policies which limit the access to information, books, art, and support an education system reliant on overheads, statistical outcomes and hierarchical leagues. They emerge in communities that support equality and diversity while slowly reducing the means which offer disadvantaged people and their families the benefit of services with real impact to their lives.

Modern dictatorships embed themselves in services which monitor and limit freedom of speech, and flag out people who disagree (or have the potential to disagree) with official discourses; they also produce political directives to serve partisan interests, while dominating the public discourse with narratives designed to create fear and panic.

Modern dictatorships ask citizens to report friends, colleagues, neighbours, and scrutinise differences between people instead of promoting inclusion and common purpose; they also make people obsess over how bad things can be, when they should stimulate creativity and learning. If people are born equal, they should develop equally. This cannot happen when they are scared. There is no progress after punishment, just pain and bitterness.

 

© Maria Stadnicka 2020


Published in International Times on 1st February 2020.

Particulars

I went out to town and took pictures
of people in queue at the shopping mall.
A third of them had been there since Friday;
pilgrims waiting for new prayer beads.

They sat on the pavement holding
their thoughts in tightly zipped handbags.
The sun kept quiet in one corner watching
the autumn busking outdoors
when a beggar stopped, asking everyone
for directions to the nearest abattoir.

Nobody knew precisely where the roads led
but smiled back at him
through the surveillance cameras.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in Litter magazine, 22/02/2019.

Landscape with Buses

 

On both sides of the frontline,

orchards in bloom.

People buy and sell goods,

occupy central squares,

dogs run after barefoot children

with grain baskets – linen flags.

Buses on schedule, taxis in queue.

 

Business as usual.

Gunshots, grenades, mortars.

 

Stray barks come out of houses

with blown-up windows. Splinters

rising – morning’s canines.

Soldiers wake up to the call to prayer,

switch radio on, shave by the roadside.

Nametags rest in shoe polish tins,

heat bakes bread already sliced.

Buses carry wounded further inland.

 

Poem published in Sweat, Ink and Tears, 8th Jan. 2019, available here.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Your Stripes Represent My Future

 

There are a few things I don’t care about. And one of them is which royal is going to give birth to which royal. As my friend, Mickey Mouse, used to say in his song…

I remember you was conflictin’/

in a black dress under a white coat /

and I fought /

that face I’ve seen somewhere else /

in a movie about the abuse of power. 

La, la, la, la, la, lah! 

Those around me keep on running /

I stand and convince myself /

the stripes I’ve got represent my past /

but yours /

represent my future. 

La, la, la, la, la, lah! 

No chance in the doggy-doggy fight /

I’m convinced /

that dress is bullet proof

I’m convinced it’s against repetition

and revolution and honesty.

That dress is against me, babe!

Further information, in International Times.

Picket Line

Photography: @JStadnicki 2018

I wanna protest

against Trump but mama says

I’ve got eczema,

there’s ironing left

to do,

the lawn, the beds,

bleach,

scrub the stairlift,

move the mouse-trap from A to B

once I’ve finished with that I should

make a start at

boiling jam.

Seventy-quid-train-fare should feed us all

the week after the picket.

I wanna protest

against mama but Trump

turned the noise right up

in my slum we think

earmuffs should do

she has a whole load of washing

my homework needs checking

for subversive context

a neighbour lost a cat and

she’s now on the phone with 111.

I am not heard.

 

@Maria Stadnicka, 2018

Measurements

 

Photograph: ©John Stadnicki, Calais, August 2017

In Calais. Two years have passed since my visit to the ‘Jungle’ camp. Now demolished. Without migrants. And I get to measure time in a different way. Not as a linear construct or development or progress. In such matters, ‘time’ is not an objective concept. Time is measured in memories, stories which have been told and then forgotten, wasted. In Western political terminology, time is the dissociation from tragedy combined with the hopeless expectation of a historic healing. It is anonymous, evanescent. And so are thousands, millions across Europe and beyond.

Photograph: ©John Stadnicki, Calais, August 2017