The Problem With WhatsApp: The fowarding world in México

Before moving back to México I used to only use WhatsApp to communicate with my family. Everyone in the US used iMessage and before I had left home, WhatsApp wasn’t around yet. But by the time I came back last year, I knew I would have to accept the world of WhatsApp groups and the fun meme forwarding culture that dominates Mexican everyday life.

While I have embraced this texting app, there is something that continues to bother me about how information is passed along within it. It is not news that the status of information and facts in the media is in jeopardy. We all know about fake news and how easily people are swayed by poorly edited videos with bad music and images designed to get you to swing one way or another in the political and social fabric.

But the thing is, when a society receives most of its information through a single channel that depends on your close social network, double checking stories and news becomes second hand to the infallible trust you have for the messenger.

It’s been a year since I’ve officially joined as an active participant in group chats that involve my friends and family members and I’ve learned a lot about how different topics and issues surrounding our lives are discussed.

On one hand, WhatsApp offers a quick and easy way of organizing. It allows large groups of people to receive need-to-know information about gatherings, meet-ups, parties and even protests that are happening within a community. This became very useful during the 2017 earthquake in central México where people organized to get help and update people as well as gather resources. Also for general social use, if it weren’t for these chat groups, my social life would basically be non-existent.

Meme sharing is also a predominant aspect of WhatsApp. It is through satire that Mexicans have always dealt with the anger and frustration that comes with having a corrupt government that both steals and kills it’s own citizens. We take pride in our ability to have a sense of humour for something that we often feel is out of our hands. If you can’t laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, then what else is there?

WhatsApp is also how most conduct business. Emailing in no longer a viable way of getting things done as most don’t even check it. While most will tell you that they hate using it for their work, it is ultimately what happens because clients want easy access and the immediacy of personal service.

It also allows you to be updated in political ongoings. Inevitably, topics of politics, religion, and general world news often pop up. Everyone gives their own opinion; some share articles and links to back up what they say. Then someone decides that the conversation needs to come to a halt because they feel it’s either annoying, pointless, endless, or they have something more interesting or important to discuss.

This is where things get a little more complicated.

While WhatsApp is mostly used for social reasons, I have found that it is also where most get their news and/or is their source of information. I’ve often found myself double checking forwarded videos and chain messages that come with no source to realize that they’re mostly nonsensical and basically untrue. Many of these aren’t links or articles but typed up “news” stories that cross the line from news to propaganda.

For example, I recently received a chain message that asked Christians to pray for the execution of priests in Quaragosh, a city in Iraq, by the hands of Isis. Let me be frank; I’m usually biased against any praying chain messages that are forwarded to me. If a message adheres to a specific religion, I automatically take the information within the message to be untrue so I usually skip them. In this case, I took the time to read through it. As I noticed something wasn’t right considering Isis has lost most of its territory since 2016, and as a self proclaimed Googler of everything, I looked it up. And course, it was fake. Not only that, it was a chain message that had been going around for a couple of years. Once I’m aware of this I let the messenger know. I got no response and doubt that they let their messenger know.

Before moving to México, I received by direct message an eerie video about how Islam would be taking over the world in the upcoming years. The music had an ominous tone and the voiceover was speaking about how Christians must “stand strong against this trend”. I let the person that sent me the video know that, true or not if the religion is spreading, this was propaganda and to watch out for signs of this. All she responded was, “Well, I don’t know, but it’s scary.”

This year was the presidential election. Before AMLO won, videos were being forwarded around with what each candidate was saying at public forums. Dismayed and giddy, a family member showed me one she had received of our future president mumbling something to a crowd. After closer inspection I realized it had been altered. After pointing it out, she quickly moved past it and showed me another one.

There is something about how quick and easy these are passed along between group chats that all involve loved ones, that mostly no one bothers to close the app, open Google and do a quick little 2 min research. It’s easy to forward and receive messages that are designed to adhere to your sentimental side. All they need is the proper language and imagery.

How we respond to these is also problematic. Most read or watch the videos and, almost automatically, a biased conversation full of emojis and all caps ensues.

What I’m commenting is no different to what happens on Facebook and Twitter. But WhatsApp doesn’t have the heat on it that Facebook is getting even if does own it. It’s also meant for personal respondence so the idea of Mark Zuckerberg monitoring your messages is out of the question (although it probably happens). I’m also not one to decide who should think or believe what. I have my own biases like everyone else. But in México, WhatsApp is how we communicate for everything and this is problematic.

While the benefits are there, I’m often troubled about how opinions about important topics are being formed. While everyone’s opinions are (somewhat) valid, they are often based on falsely put together bits and pieces that come from ill informed, politically and religiously motivated sources that have been edited and watered down for easy forwarding. If we want to be an informed society that makes educated decisions which will impact our lives, we must all be aware of this and do our best to close the app, open google and do a little bit of research.

El Gran Experimento: una democracia fragmentada

El historiador y pensador de política, Alexis Tocqueville, escribió sobre el nacimiento de una nueva clase de democracia que el pueblo Americano intentaría fomentar. Creada bajo únicas condiciones y un contexto moderno, America estaría aventurando en lo que el llamó el Gran Experimento. Con estas palabras describió un tipo de esperanza la cual debía ser embarcada con cierta cautela advirtiendo sobre las potenciales amenazas totalitarias que pudieran surgir en su desarrollo.

Este 14 de febrero en el día del amor y la amistad, estudiantes que matriculan en el sistema educativo estadounidense volvieron a sufrir la violencia de un tiroteo dentro de las aulas de su escuela. En la escuela Stoneman Douglas en Parkland, Florida sucedió el tiroteo masivo numero 34 del año 2018. Un caso más en una lista larga de eventos de violencia en las escuelas públicas de Estados Unidos.

Anoche, en una reunión de la ciudad que incluía a los estudiantes de la escuela, maestros, legisladores y miembros del cuerpo policial en Parkland, organizada por CNN y moderada por Jake Tapper, una de las víctimas le pregunto a Ted Deutch, representante del partido Demócrata, que si la democracia estadounidense se encontraba fragmentada en su estado actual. El respondió, “Sí, algo.”

El evento de Columbine en 1999 desató un debate nacional sobre la cultura juvenil, los programas de salud mental, el acceso legal a armas, y los intereses de la industria de este dentro de las campañas de los politicos locales y de ellos en Washington. Desde entonces, Estados Unidos permanece como el país desarrollado que más a sufrido tiroteos y muertes con uso de armas legales. Columbine se fue de ser un sitio a un evento que se vería repetido, encadenando una tendencia de más sitios convertidos en eventos.

Cameron Kasky, otro sobreviviente del tiroteo en Parkland, le pregunto al representante nativo de Florida Marco Rubio, contendiente en la última carrera al puesto de presidente, durante la reunion de ayer, “¿Podrá usted en este momento asegurar no aceptar más donaciones por parte de la NRA?”

La NRA (National Rifle Association) es la organización más poderosa en cuanto a la venta, administración, y politización de armas en Estados Unidos. Rubio, habiendo aceptado donaciones de ellos en el pasado y sosteniendo una calificación de A+ cual representa para la organización el registro de votaciones a favor de sus intereses por cada legislador, contestó la pregunta defensivamente al igual que ofensivamente, “Yo no soy quien invierte en ellos, ellos invierten en mí y mi visión.”

El tema de los tiroteos masivos en Estados Unidos ha impulsado a los estudiantes a movilizarse y buscar cambiar las leyes que los legisladores tanto utilizan como arma contra el cambio. No cabe duda que los intereses de los políticos se ven entrelazados con aquellos de la NRA y la necesidad de defender la posición que la constitución no es un documento viviente capaz de interpretación y modificación, pero uno que debe de leerse literalmente. Es decir, la segunda Enmienda, como el resto, fue la verdad legal y moral como se escribió y debe permanecer tal cual sin importar los cambios sociales, culturales, y tecnológicos que han surgido desde su concepción.

Fuera del debate del derecho a poseer o tener acceso a armas capases de disparar 30 balas sin necesidad de recargar y la falta de programas de apoyo a la salud mental, queda en el fondo el tema de cultura ¿Que sucede en Estados Unidos que su gente llega a obtener estas armas y buscan causar daño catastrófico?

En el 2002, el cineasta Michael Moore salió con un documental cual utiliza el evento de Columbine para hacer las preguntas que hasta la fecha no tienen respuesta. En discusión con el padre de una de las víctimas, Moore compara Estados Unidos con los otros países desarrollados que tienen pasados más violentos, sub-culturas más destacadas, más cultura de casería, y otros factores cuales los medios han dado como razón por los sucesos. Sin poder encontrar una correlación entre esas razón y el número de muertes registradas por armas, termina la conversación con una sencilla pregunta, “Si no son esas cosas, qué es?¿Qué es?” El padre le responde, “No sé.”

Estados Unidos sí fue un gran experimento. Max Weber escribió sobre el surgimiento y éxito del capitalismo occidental. Una combinación de la ética protestante y el espíritu capitalista. Tomando en cuenta los muchos factores que delinea y aceptando sus límites, queda la pregunta de: a cual precio tuvo Estados Unidos el éxito del cual surgió el “sueño Americano”. ¿Quién pago qué por este sueño?

En México ofrecemos mucho nuestra opinión sobre las posibles razones del cual tan seguido observamos a nuestro vecino sufriendo algo cual no entendemos. Algunas de ellas son falta de familia; la soledad, la falta de sentido humor, falta de comunidad, el materialismo y n-miles de razones por las cuales los observamos comprar armas y disparar hacia inocentes sin motivación alguna que vaya más haya de sus propios demonios.

Una maestra de la escuela fue entrevistada hoy dado a que utilizó la experiencia de una amiga maestra quien fue víctima del tiroteo de Sandyhook, Connecticut, para saber que hacer para proteger a los estudiantes en el momento que supo lo que sucedía dentro de la escuela. Dentro de la misma entrevista, la maestra de Sandyhook mencionó la necesidad de ver a este problema de manera más holística. Es decir, mientras podrás poner restricciones en el acceso a armas y tomar las precauciones necesarias para prevenir el mayor daño, existe un problema que va más haya de lo tangible.

Es esta manera de pensar que Estados Unidos debe tomar para poder mejor entender la división que se observa. Hay una falla en el gran experimento que en sus errores, como en cualquier experimento, debe poder lograr dejar el pasado ser pasado para avanzar a través de sus logros. No es decir que el pasado se debe ignorar, sino tomarlo como lección para el futuro.

Es un país que hasta la fecha no ha podido reconciliar con que fue y se es creado por sus inmigrantes, voluntarios o forzados. Es un país que no logra reconciliar con que dentro de sus logros capitalistas, no es inmune a la corrupción de sus propios líderes. Es un país que no logra reconciliar que sus logros no siempre se cumplieron con los métodos más limpios. Es un país que no logra reconciliar que el logró de otro no significa el fracaso de uno. Puede que el gran experimento, mientras ha sido fascinante observar y aprender de el, esta fracasando.

¿Qué es lo que el pueblo Americano esta sacrificando por ser parte de este gran experimento?

Admitamos Nuestras Fallas

Estoy segura que ya casi todos han participado en la conversación de una manera u otra. Sale hasta por las orejas. Ha sido el tema más discutido (que no sea Donald Trump)  desde que surgió lo de Harvey Weinstein en Octubre del 2017 cuando Ronan Farrow, hijo de Woody Allen y Mia Farrow, reportó sobre él a través de The New York Times con varios exposées detallando los múltiples incidentes donde actrices se vieron lidiando con una situación cual no debería de ser permitida en cualquier ámbito profesional, público, y/o privado. Pero la conversación no es sencilla; no es blanca y negra.

Desde que surgió el tema sobre el acoso y abuso sexual en Hollywood, han habido todo tipo de respuestas en las redes sociales, en las cenas familiares, en las fiestas entre amigos, y hasta en el trabajo. Es un tema que muchos traemos en la lengua y es uno que no tendrá resolución tan pronto como debería.

Por un lado está el movimiento #MeToo, similar al de #MiPrimerAcoso en México, que a través de las redes sociales se busca atraer atención a lo predominante y común que es el acoso sexual hacia la mujer. Trata sobre solidaridad y sobre hacer dar cuenta que a casi todas las mujeres, definitivamente a muchos hombres también, pero especialmente a las mujeres les ha sucedido algo en algún punto de sus vidas que se pueda sencillamente clasificar como “acoso” si es que no es “abuso”. Aquellas que dirán, “A mi no.” Si, es posible que a ti no. Pero no lo más probable y regresaré a este punto.

Esta aquellos que no entienden o rechazan la idea de que esas actrices que denunciaron a Weinstein puedan llamarlo acoso cuando ellas mismas entraron a la habitación de hotel de Weinstein sabiendo muy bien sobre su reputación ¿Por qué alguien aceptaría una junta en un hotel con la persona más poderosa de la industria en la cual buscan trabajar y quién probablemente decidirá si serán exitosas o no?

Esta el Weinstein effect que ha causado que más voces salgan de las oscuras y denuncien a ellos en poder que han abusado de su posición social, económica, y política con fin de aprovecharse de alguien por una sola noche.

Esta la voz de la actriz francesa Catherine Deneuve quien rechaza al movimiento como un puritanismo en el tema de sexo y una amenaza al romance cotidiano que observamos en las películas de cine, en nuestros sueños cuando esperamos que nuestra pareja nos sorprenda, o hasta en nuestros secretos cuando fantaseamos sobre el vecino, el compañero de trabajo o el chico sentado del otro lado de la barra. Hay que dejar algo claro, el acoso no es romance y el romance no es acoso. Es importante saber esa distinción. 

Están aquellos que dicen que el tema merece un cierto balance; como si decir que el tema de acoso y abuso sexual necesita un lado que defiende …. ¿al acosador?

Luego hay historias como la que acaba de surgir donde una joven fotógrafa reclamó ser víctima del comediante Aziz Ansari. Alguien famoso, recientemente ganador de un premio Golden Globe y al cual se le reconoce por sus opiniones progresistas y liberales. Ella describe lo que parece haber sido una situación donde el actor se aprovechó de ella y él respondió con lo que se ve ser una respuesta genuina y honesta. Conclusivamente parece más como un cita que sencillamente no fue buena. Un encuentro entre dos, donde la comunicación falló y la poca actividad sexual que ocurrió fue incómoda e innecesaria.

Aquí es donde surgen las miles de preguntas que se han hecho desde de Octubre para los que siguen las noticias y desde mucho más antes para quienes conocen el tema: ¿Que debe de suceder para que uno pueda clasificar algo como acoso? ¿Quién decide que es acoso y que no? ¿Como se debe de lidiar con las emociones y sentimientos con aquello que sucede físicamente y verbalmente? ¿Cuales son las rayas negras y cuales las grises? ¿Hay rayas grises? ¿Como lidiamos con las diferencias culturales, sociales, y emocionales que surgen cuando tratamos el tema de sexo? ¿Quien exagera y quien no? ¿Porque a ella/el se le cree y ella/el no? ¿Como se debe de discutir el tema en público? ¿Como de debe discutir en privado? ¿Cuales son y donde caen las responsabilidades de algo que sucede en la sociedad general?

La ley se impone con el fin de proteger a aquellos que se encuentran más vulnerables ante una amenaza. Mientras en teoría la ley debe de apoyar en solucionar esta clase amenaza social, la realidad es que apenas y funciona a su mínimo potencial. Por un lado, la mayoría de las mujeres no denuncian contra sus acosadores porque ellas mismas no creen que lo que les sucede es valido como acoso o abuso. Esto es por muchas razones que incluyen amenazas por el acosador, la mujer pensando que ese trato no vale como acoso, no vale ella lo suficiente para denunciar, que fue su culpa, o se ha normalizado tanto ese abuso que no hace diferencia denunciar o no.

Es importante reconocer que mucho de esta mentalidad se le enseña a la mujer sistemáticamente. De la misma manera en que cuando sí se logra hacer una denuncia, automáticamente suelen cuestionarle lo que traía puesto, con quién estaba, que tomó, y otras ene Miles de cosas que se tratan de verificar por su lado antes de imaginar que exista un acosador.

Y por otro lado, el sistema burocrático no es de gran apoyo a víctimas y también de manera sistemática, le falla a quienes más lo necesitan cuando no los protegen de quienes les causa daño. Esto se ve reflejado cuando en muchos de los casos, las mismas autoridades también buscan culpar a la víctima por aquello que le sucedió.

Entonces, si ya sabemos que la misma institución que debe de protegernos de estos incidentes falla tan catastróficamente, mi pregunta es ¿porque a la sociedad en general se le hace tan complicado o difícil de pensar que existe la posibilidad de que estas cosas suceden con tanta frecuencia y con tan poca atención? ¿Por qué se nos hace tan difícil pensar en la posibilidad de que exista esta falla dentro de nuestra vida cotidiana con todas las otras fallas que suceden al mismo tiempo y que reconocemos con facilidad? ¿Por qué esta falla social no tiene credibilidad y todas las otras sí? ¿Por qué la corrupción sí? ¿Por qué el robo, sí? ¿Por qué el homicidio, sí? ¿Por qué la necesidad de mentir, de juzgar, de hacer trampa, sí tienen lugar y valor sentimental, legal, y ético dentro de nuestra sociedad pero la falla en que tratamos a los sexos de manera distinta y de manera anticuada, abusiva, injusta, y efectivamente dañina, no? Con todas las tonteras que hacemos como humanos diariamente, ¿porque a esta falla no se le da credibilidad? 

No pretendo saber cuales son las respuestas para cada caso que se presenta en los medios ni el entendimiento a las muchas complejidades de lo que es ser un humano hoy en día. Lo que propongo es que tengamos como sociedad la humildad de no asumir saber exactamente cuales son las experiencias de otros porque nosotros creemos que nuestras propias experiencias son lo suficiente para determinar las de los demás. 

Si en cualquier momento has sentido que nadie te entiende, que estas solo en tu experiencia, que si fueras a murmurar tus pensamientos al mundo, ese se caería encima de ti; tu tarea es tratar de tener la mínima compasión y dar a los demás el mismo beneficio de duda que tu quieres que los demás tengan contigo.

No somos una sociedad ciega ni inútil.  Entendemos que el hombre y la mujer tienen pasados muy distintos en la historia que compartimos y entendemos que en el pasado los hombres y las mujeres han tenido distintos papeles dentro de la sociedad. Entendemos que ha la mujer se le otorgó el derecho a votar en México en solo 1953. Es decir, antes de ese año la mujer no tenía el derecho ni de expresar su opinión y decidir por sí misma que clase de vida privada y pública quería llevar acabo. Es decir, mi propia abuela todavía no tenía el derecho de votar el año que mi padre nació. Eso es un hecho.

Pero ese hecho no garantiza el trato equitativo dentro de la sociedad. No garantiza que el jefe vea a su compañera como su igual. No garantiza que un marido permita a su mujer o hija atender a la escuela. No garantiza que a tu secretaria no le vaya a pegar su esposo por llegar tarde del trabajo. No garantiza que a la jefa no la tomen en serio para asistir a juntas donde los hombres salen a comer y a beber juntos para hablar de cosas que “no son para mujeres”. No garantiza que le crean a tu amiga cuando platique que alguien se la violo mientras caminaba a su casa. No garantiza que tomen todo esto en serio porque hay ciertas cosas que definitivamente no han cambiado.

Existe una falla en nuestra sociedad cuando ahora que sale este tema al aire, uno que es serio y que refleja una crisis existencial sobre que clase de sociedad y humanos queremos ser, tan fácilmente se le cuestiona su credibilidad. Tan incomodo el tema y tan cómodos están ahora, que el pavor a la posibilidad de que las cosas cambien hace que prefieran hacerse los ciegos y los negados que enfrentar uno de los retos más importantes en nuestra historia: admitir la falla y permitir que la otra mitad de la población, es decir, la mujer, pueda tener la voz independiente que tanto se le dice haber otorgado hace ya tiempo. Pero basta del habla y permítanse escuchar.

Y a mis amigas que dirán, “a mi no.” Les diré, que bueno por ustedes. Y sí, les creo, esa es la diferencia.

The unveiling of a lie.

Americans had to ask themselves once more: Why? 

Immediately after the tragedy of Las Vegas, the debate over gun regulation was sparked once more. Survivors of Sandy Hook and other tragedies were yet again reminded of how their government continues to fail them and their lost children on a regular basis. Day in and day out they must stand and observe as others lose their lives for the same reasons their loved ones did too many years ago and too recently. No change.

My Mexican friends and I are quick to judge these senseless shootings. While we agree that weapons regulation must be strictly set in place, another topic of conversation occurs…. “There’s definitely something wrong with Americans.”

My mother has said and will always say, “They are just such a loner based society. No family values. Too lonely.”

Others will remark, “These gringos are crazy.”

While I do believe in stricter and comprehensive arms regulations and a better mental health care system for my American friends, I believe there is something much bigger and heavier going on.

I recently got back from living in the United States where I was for 8 years. During my time there I noticed something peculiar about what being an American means. It’s not necessarily a type of character but rather an inhaling in of an endowed role.

Being an American is often in tune with being reminded that you are American. You live your Americaness on a daily basis. You are told to think of yourself as part of an exceptional idea. A part of a country built on the exceptional.

You sing the national anthem at sporting events, you recite the pledge allegiance at school, you hang your flags on the lawn. You praise your country and president alongside your spiritual and religious leaders. Your are, in every sense of the word, intrinsically American.

The problem is, no country is exceptional. I believe Americans are heart-breakingly realizing that.

In the recent events following the tragic loss of life during the September 19 earthquake, here in my country, Mexicans saw themselves, almost to their pleased surprise, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and support each other in a way that is not often seen in our country.

We are a people who cannot depend on anyone or anything for much, let alone survival. We are aware of what we lack and we understand the system in which we live in. Yes, we often protest and fight but it often leads nowhere and we collectively accept that. We are able to live relatively harmoniously because we have developed both the experience and good humour to do so.

It is that very same lack of faith in our governmental systems that gave us the strength to depend on, and lean on, no one but ourselves and each other. Expectations were not laid on an external system but on each and every one of us individually.

Our pride as Mexicans did not come out because we believe in Mexico. It came out because we believe in ourselves as a people. In observing our own acts, we became aware of our identity not as a nation but as a human collective.

Not only has this event caused an uptick in pride, Donald Trump’s attacks on our country since his candidacy unintentionally raised our self awareness and patriotism.

While the United States has undoubtedly been one great experiment with unparalleled achievements on the global stage, the increasingly self proclaimed exceptionalism became dangerous when the powers that be took it from the people and made it theirs. Politics and government became too intertwined with Capitalism and self interest. 

Being an American stopped being a concept of and for the people but a facade for the rich and powerful to hide behind. A veil through which to take advantage and rip away from those who have simply been told that they have been given the gift of being American.

That facade, that veil, is being removed.

Now, it would be facetious of me to not clarify something. This is about a very specific kind of American. It is the white, male, American. It is a white and male veil and it is a white and male exceptionalism which has held the facade in place. It is not to say that this exceptionalism hasn’t been fed to all. It has and is. It is the only non discriminatory thing about this country. But it is that same very veil that has Mr. Trump, the president, tweeting about football players rather than doing, literally, anything else.

I don’t know for a fact that this is directly correlated with the non stop shootings. But I do know that there is a sense of disappointment. This disappointment is no small thing. It is the breaking of an image and idea of who and what it means to be an American. Even in the worst of times, Americans have always believed in that exceptionalism. But that high expectation is a heavy boulder to carry.

I am sorry for my American friends. You are a great country and you are a great people. I was honored to have lived in your country and in, what I consider to be, one of the world’s most brilliant cities. I believe you have been cheated. Cheated from the opportunity of figuring out who you were before someone else decided for you.

Now, take your rage and burn that veil.

The Legitimization of a Tyrant: The Tradition of Wealth in the American Politic

 

In an article for New York Magazine titled “America Has Never Been so Ripe for Tyranny”, politically conservative British blogger Andrew Sullivan, evokes Plato’s Republic. Not to explain but rather bring to ground the reason behind the current Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. In what the United States has always looked to achieve as a democratic republic, may have also prompted a susceptibility to a pseudo rogue candidate. While once inconceivable and even a public joke, Donald Trump’s rise as a to-take-seriously candidate, under the microscope, his rise is nothing but if not a cautionary tale. While not clairvoyant, as Sullivan states, Plato described how the regime of tyranny was, or could be, the direct result of a state without social boundaries and no direct authority, therefore a fully pure democracy.

This essay looks to establish how Donald Trump’s rise as a perceived legitimate political leader had a natural course through the traditional authority type, as per Weber, and his campaign’s historical significance through his use of speech acts. I look question Trump’s rise as a purely charismatic leader through the utterances of “he says it like it is”, but rather one of the traditional authority of the unity between democracy and free-market economics in America. I look to further explore how his speech acts, whether or not he becomes president, make him historically significant through what has become public consent of them. While the historical repercussions remain to be seen, his viability to be president regardless of his temperament; has opened up questions, not only about the electoral process, but that of the fundamental issues that arise out of the words “we the people”.

“And such men,” I said, “will desire money just as those oligarchies do, and under cover of darkness pay fierce honor to gold and silver, because the possess storehouses and domestic treasuries where they can deposit and hide them; and they will have walls around their houses, exactly like private nests, where they can make lavish expenditures on women and whomever else they might wish.” (Plato, 548b, Book XIII)

 

“Instead of men who love victory and honor, they finally become lovers of money-making and money; and they praise and admire the wealthy man and bring him to the ruling offices, while they dishonor the poor man.” (Plato, 552b, Book XIII)

 

Plato saw the rise of an oligarchy regime, what we currently consider to be the political power of Wall Street, the means by which democracy would follow.  A democracy in which freedom for wealth is the coveted means for a life worth living. A democracy from which then the greediness of money-making would prepare a tyrant to rise. What Plato couldn’t have had a premonition of were the coming historical events which would form the quintessential American tradition; the democratic freedom for money-making.

 

The Authority of Wealth

 

The theme of this 2016 election season is the breakoff of the political establishment. All CNN exit polls, as of now, have demonstrated that the general population is dissatisfied with the state of political authority. On the one hand, republican voters are angry with their own party feeling discontent with liberalism taking over the Commander in Chief seat, while democratic voters are disappointed with the current president’s legacy, one they view as too weak to embody the change he once espoused. On the other hand, it is the feeling of disenfranchisement the general public feels as an after effect of the events occurring between 2001 and onward, including the Iraq war, Katrina, and 2008 financial crisis. It is of no surprise that the American public should reflect discontent towards the powers that be. But it is at their own dismay that their options for president for the next four years have come down to the most disliked candidates of all time, including a wealthy celebrity with no political background.

In his essay “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule”, Max Weber delineates what he conceived of as three types of authority that are available to be personified; Legal-Rational, Traditional, and Charismatic. In order for an authority to become legitimized there must be a certain obedience and loyalty to whom holds power and a belief in that legitimacy. Legal authority is based on the normative rules on which belief on their legality rests upon. Traditional is established in the believed sanctity of tradition through which he in power will exercise authority. And Charismatic is the devotion to an exceptional, heroic or exemplary character.  For the purpose of this essay, and because I see no road for how it could apply, I will set aside Legal Authority for it has no role in Donald Trump’s candidacy and there is no law that prohibits him from being so beyond any idealistic or moral sanctions. Therefore, I look to compare Weber’s Traditional and Charismatic forms of authority for the purpose of narrowing down to which type Trump may fall under.

Weber defines the charismatic leader as the individual with attributed virtues which set him apart from ordinary men and, “treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” In order for such attributes to be observable as authoritative, they must be recognized by those subjects whom will be under such authority. “If proof of his charismatic qualifications fails him for long, the leader endowed with charisma tends to think his god or his magical or heroic powers have deserted him.” With this kind of authority, no hierarchy is required as it is up to he who holds power’s whim what his staff and corporation will look like. He stands outside of the normative and rational and “repudiates the past.” He goes onto say that the charismatic leader is opposed to the rational and traditional forms of economic considerations. Weber describes it as:

 

“What is despised, so long as the genuinely charismatic type is adhered to, is traditional or rational everyday economizing, the attainment of a regular income by continuous economic activity devoted to this end.”

 

“From the point of view of rational economic activity, charisma is a typical anti-economic force. It repudiates any sort of involvement in the everyday routine world.”

 

While this kind of authority is often attributed to figures such as social movement leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, religious figures like Muhammad or Jesus Christ, or even sect figures, it is necessary to secularize this concept. We must question what “standing apart” from “routine” really means in the context of the american secular constitutional practice. In thinking of a charismatic secular leader, initially, descriptive notions as to whom Donald Trump is as a politician all lead to the antithetical fact that he is not a politician, therefore charismatic. A man that stands against the routine of politics of which the general public is dissatisfied with. Not a politician but a businessman. He is observed as having exceptional qualities which his followers do not question. His campaign has no hierarchy, is self funded through personal wealth, has been propelled by his personal use of social media and public appearances, and bases itself on selling to the public the sentiment on which their collective consciousness leans towards, anger towards the establishment. An establishment which has now found questioning itself due to his rise to popularity within it, the Republican Party. It’s not that the Republican Party is questioning its own agenda, but its own future stability as Donald Trump rearranges and scrambles what they had previously firmly believed to stand for.

But what Weber describes as the charismatic leader also comes into direct conflict to whom Donald Trump is, in fact. Donald Trump’s wealth is the one thing on which he stands. It is a wealth acquired by the routine of everyday economizing as established by the laws of american politics and free-market economics. He is the archetype individual created by the unification of the regimes of oligarchy and democracy; prompted through inheritance and motivated by the love of money-making, as described by Plato. An individual whose past political participation has meant funding, through wealth created by everyday economizing, the everyday established routine politics. It is the very wealth on which he stands, the same reason why his followers follow him blindly. While his speech acts are a secondary aspect to his rise, which I will further follow with, it is the tradition of money-making and the spirit of capitalism that I argue legitimize him as a leader.

Traditional authority, as described by Weber, is the legitimate handing down of power on the basis of the sanctity of order. “The person or persons exercising authority are designated according to traditionally transmitted rules. The object of obedience is the personal authority of the individual which enjoys by virtue of his traditional status.” The obedience that is given to him is based on, first, the concept that he follow traditional rules which he claims to represent. If these rules are broken, he endangers his own authority. Secondly, a “double sphere” in which the leader is bound by a specific tradition but is free of any specific rules. While resistance may occur when tradition is broken, it may be justified through the claim that what is new has “always been in force but only recently to have become known through the wisdom of the promulgator.” This type of authority needs no staff or administration. Those that are loyal to him come from ties of personal loyalty, patrimonial recruitment or favourites. Bureaucratic administration is often absent and there is no basis for technical training, fixed salaries, or a regular system of appointment. While this kind of authority is often attributed to monarchies or clans, I argue that Donald Trump is the traditional leader that was to naturally arise in The United States.

In the introduction to this essay, I deliberately labeled Trump a “pseudo rogue candidate”. Rogue because his rise in popularity was not seen as conceivable by most; he goes against the same establishment which he is representing, he is knowingly offensive to many demographic  groups, and he is not bound by any moral, idealistic, or political isms. But pseudo because he is tied to one very important ism; Capitalism. While more than half of republican and democratic voters view Wall Street as untrustworthy, Donald Trump is a representation of the majority of elites whom have taken advantage of legal but exploitative loopholes in order to expand their wealth. It is the structure which his followers are angry at the very same one through which he has become now legitimized. It is the tradition of democracy and free enterprise, I argue, which has legitimized Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. While he is not the traditional politician, he is the traditional representation of the legacy of capitalism, particularly Reaganomics. He is the idealized life worth living ingrained in the american collective. It is in this way that he does not require the tradition of politics, but the tradition of the sanctity of money-making and wealth. It is the tradition of corporate rules, money management, and free-market economics which decommissions any need for the traditional political resume and archetype presidential temperament. He is bound to his wealth as an authority but unbound to the rules of the establishment. His being a demagogue becomes irrelevant through the belief that his wisdom as a businessman eclipses the need for truth. It is by his wealth through which his followers rationalize untruths and prejudices as truths rather than by his own ability rationalize arguments. It is known his campaign is tied to no one but himself. His staff is tied to him by nothing but personal ties, self interest, and favoritism rather than merit and appointment. Therefore, I argue that it is the tradition of an idealized life worth living espoused by democracy and free-market enterprise the very reason which makes him a legitimate traditional authority regardless of his ability to be president.

 

Speech Acts and The Power of a Demagogue

While I argue that the rise of Donald Trump as the presumptive republican nominee had in fact a natural course, it is not to say that his campaign is free from being a possible historical event. A second aspect to his rise in popularity heavily rests upon his public persona. It is this part, a part constructed by his speech acts and performative utterances, that make him the most offensive demagogue in modern politics. And it all began on the very day he announced his candidacy.

In performative utterances, not only can reality be described, but history may change its course. J. L. Austin’s “felicity conditions” set up “rules” to determine when an utterance may cause such a ripple effect in a situation: sincerity, authority and orderliness. There are those that are “low types”, where interruption is not possible as there is an agreement as to who has authority to declare an utterance (much like in a marriage, “I now you declare you husband and wife”, for example), and are judged by simply their failure or success. And then there are those performative utterances where the course of action is muddled by their political context. Thomas Keenan uses Derrida and Arendt to further explore how it is that authority is granted in the public political arena. Whom or what gives the right to a public political utterance and does it speak to truth and justice? If they were to be interrupted in such utterances, would it work? Donald Trump’s presidential announcement speech was formulated. While he was not reading from a teleprompter, the context allowed him to say what he knew were utterances that would propel him into the public arena. And due to the context; truth became irrelevant.

His announcement took place on June 16th, 2015 inside a building bearing his own name:

Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I’m not doing that to brag, because you know what? I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to, believe it or not.”

“I’m doing that to say that that’s the kind of thinking our country needs. We need that thinking. We have the opposite thinking.

“We have losers. We have losers. We have people that don’t have it. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain.”

“Sadly, the American dream is dead.

But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.

Thank you. Thank you very much.”

In an unorganized speech, where he used prejudices and falsehoods, he officially became a candidate for president in the 2016 election by declaring himself as such. It was because of the context, a podium, a crowd, posters, and an interrupted speech, that his announcement became successful regardless of public opinion. Unfortunately, his falsehoods have not been the demise of him. Even though every one of his public appearances is welcomed with protests, he has formed a context  in which interruptions have become failures. Only one public appearance was canceled due to fear of endangering the public, but since then, every single speech act has been followed through.

We could argue that his popularity is based on him being a demagogue, or as some put it “saying it as it is”; but that fact is, he isn’t. Demagogues aren’t new to the public arena. An article from The Atlantic, as early as July 2015, compared Donald Trump to Joseph McCarthy. Both opportunistic candidates that preyed on the public’s fear. While Donald Trump uses immigration and a wall to instill fear and hatred, McCarthy used the Cold War to propel fear of Communism “taking over the american value of freedom and safety”. But the article itself was calling for the end of his political career, waiting for others to denounce his demonization of immigrants. Almost a year later, he is the presumptive nominee for the Republican presidential ticket.

What makes him so different? How is he granted emancipation from truth and fact? While we may argue that it is because he has amassed so many supporters which is why he is protected by those that oppose him, I argue that it is the context of the situation that allows him to continue to promote populist prejudices through the media. This is a context, I argue, established by two facts: (1) he is running for president and therefore is given a platform and, more importantly, (2) he is granted consent as a traditional authority by the public. It is the very authority of wealth, previously discussed, which allows him to be unquestioned. It is because he represents the life worth living, separate from politics, that he is granted immunity from falsehoods and legitimized as a public political leader. He is not a politician, and more importantly, he is not one of the people. He is the “exemplary” individual that represents the American dream. He stands apart from those that struggle financially, as one who has built an empire. His failures and falsehoods don’t matter as long as he is able to promote his wealth and product. A product based on the individual, not truth. He sells the concept of “making deals” based on the concept of unchained power. The very same kind of unchained power that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

The problem then, for his followers, is when he utters “we”. Who does he mean by we? American nationals? The laborer? Farmers? Businessmen? Men? Women? His speeches are full of, if anything, contradictions. He has demonized, not only immigrants, but the country of China, for example. Freely labeling China as an abuser of a globalized economy and trade, he has, as the traditional authority would, claimed that as a businessman, it only makes sense to have taken advantage of immigration laws to further grow his enterprise. Taking advantage of EB-5 program to fund Trump Tower, it is through his wealth and elite status that he is able to do so. His claims become legitimized the moment he declares it as simply “making good deals” and therefore being able to create more wealth. It is this attitude that legitimizes him as an “exemplary” authority in his supporters eyes, regardless of its contradictions.

While he once claimed that he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and still not lose support, I argue that it is not about what he does or says. It is about what he represents. Preying on the public’s fear of the “other” has been analyzed and criticized frontwards and backwards, and failed to do anything to his popularity. He is a demagogue; a racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and self contradicting demagogue. But nonetheless, his followers do not care. He remains to be a traditional authority. The legacy of free-market economics, unchained power, a non politician and a tyrant that represents the “all-american” dream. Historical, because he  is all those things.

 

Notes and References

  1. Sullivan, Andrew. “American Has Never Been So Ripe For Tyranny: Democracies end when they are too democratic”. New York Magazine. Print edition: May 2, 2016 http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html
  2. Aglesta, Jennifer. “Dissatisfaction, anger dominate year-end review of Washington”. CNN: December 19, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/29/politics/cnn-orc-poll-views-of-government/
  3. Beamon, Todd. “CNN Exit Polls: Anger, Dissatisfaction Strong Among GOP Voters in 3 States”. CNN: March 15, 2016 http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/exit-polls-voters-angry/2016/03/15/id/719244/
  1. Staff. “Here’s Donald Trump’s Announcement Speech”. Time Magazine: June 16, 2015. http://time.com/3923128/donald-trump-announcement-speech/
  2. Beinart, Peter. “The New McCarthysm of Donald Trump”. The Atlantic: July 21, 2015 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/donald-trump-joseph-mccarthy/399056/
  3. Drucker, Jesse. “Trump Tower Funded by Rich Chinese Who Invest Cash for Visas”. Bloomberg Politics: March 6, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-03-07/trump-tower-financed-by-rich-chinese-who-invest-cash-for-visas
  4. Plato, , and Allan Bloom. “The Republic”. New York: Basic Books, 1968. Print.
  5. Weber, Max. “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule”. Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions 4(1): 1-11, 1958
  6. Keenan, Thomas. “Drift: Politics and the Simulation of Real Life”. MIT, Grey Room 21: 2005

Making a Case for the Open Critique of Religion

taken from solarviews.com
taken from solarviews.com

When I enter conversations about religion with friends, I often find myself leaving them with unshakable labels set upon me. Labels which I find both offensive and incorrect. Some of them include: closed minded, judgmental, stubborn, and somehow elitist. I am not going to attempt to make a case for my opinions on religion. But I will attempt to illustrate the problem with labeling me as such when I do make such attempt.

What I have found in my endeavor for open religious discourse is that the attempt itself appears futile. But here is my overall point; it shouldn’t be. Setting aside the religious versus non-believer arguments, the simple premise that religion should be an avoided topic, un-debatable, or even a sacred one, is mistaken. Here’s why: regardless of what you believe, you cannot deny that the world we live in is a social one. Everything that revolves our everyday is a product of ourselves. Science, government, economies, education, the family, gender roles, etc. If religious, you may argue that all of these are the result of an almighty god, what he (or she) set forth for us to endure. But we must break this down to the fact that these institutions and concepts of being and living are comprised of people. People make them what they are. The term ‘social construct’ is a social scientific one which accepts that everything beyond the natural sciences is a product of us.

Again, some of you may disagree with this because you believe that somehow everything was designed. But even if that were true, a fact remains: everything is open for critique. Politics, family life, government, economies, education, gender roles, etc. The role of media, the role of social interaction, the role democracy, the role of social movements; have all been to remodel and reshape how these institutions go from politics to truth, and vice versa. What begins as a conversation leads to a wider opinion of masses. This is how the social world works. Now, the problem with the labels set upon me when I talk about religion is that they stop that from happening. Yes, I am stubborn in a lot of ways; hard headed more like it. But I believe there is a misunderstanding of what my role in the conversation is. Yes, I am criticizing religion. That is the whole point of my interest in entering such a discussion. But the problem is that because I am doing so, I am inherently viewed as in the wrong. I ask the question then, why are we able to use the same tactics for politics and social rights, but not for religion? What would happen if democrats weren’t allowed to critique republicans (or vice versa) on the basis that it would be intolerant? What would happen if the suffrage movements were viewed as going against something sacred?

Some of the arguments that have been held against my wanting to challenge the conversation on religion include: tradition, spirituality, and comfort. Sociologist Gabriel Tarde, made the point to not confuse Tradition with Opinion. That something is traditional, does not mean it is opinion nor that it is free from it. Opinion is of present time and those who once held what is now traditional as opinion have come and gone. That Seppuku, or honor suicide, was once an ingrained traditional act by Japanese samuri, does not mean that it should be retained in the fabric of Japanese modern civil society. It was once viewed as a sacred and honorable act, we now view it significantly different. Had we followed holy books to the letter to present time (which generally doesn’t happen), our social world would be immensely catastrophic. Therefore to say that one cannot critique what is traditional seems senseless to me.

I’m also often criticized for critiquing what some consider purely spiritual (this is where the label of closed mindedness tends to come in). Yes, I do have problems with that argument. That you somehow feel an inward “blessing” from your religious beliefs does not take away from the fact that your belief is not yours. Sorry (not sorry) to say it. My dear Neo-Atheist heroes, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, always point out that what you believe in was most probably indoctrinated in you. Your religion is as much yours as is the political party you support. Yes, there is a type of emotional aspect that comes in to play as much as nationalism does. But you are as randomly a catholic, for example, as you are Mexican (I’m using my own background here). And it also is not coincidental that those two identities come hand in hand. Geography matters. Therefore, to say that I cannot critique something because it feels intangible to you is not a proper argument. That your behaviour was molded by the religious views of your parents, is not a personal spiritual concept. That in some cultures and religions, women still retain a second-class citizen role, is not a personal spiritual concept. So the argument that your experience is of personal spirituality; I simply don’t buy it.

Now, the one of comfort is a complicated one. It is often said that lack of belief is for the elite, while belief is for the downtrodden. I understand why this is often said. “Some people need it.” My response is: they need their community, their nation, and their government. We as people have built institutions with the purpose of facilitating life. We have reworked and reshaped economic models to better fit our survival. We have created governmental institutions to ensure our safety and civility. And we have created the concepts of family and friends to further support our private and increasingly individualistic lives. Of course these all need work, but to say that someone ‘needs’ religion, and it tends to be the poor or marginalized, I believe, is to undermine the deeper problems that are in those social groups. It is to accept or believe that they can’t be helped. When I am critiquing what you label was what someone needs, does not mean that I am being negligent to them. It means that I look to hold true what the roles of government, community and country are meant to be. It is not only about critiquing religion, it is about critiquing everything. If you believe they need it, the question then is: why? And then, we can get to work.

I’ll admit something, when talking about religion I do get heated and often emotional. I understand how those reactions come off as negative. I do need to control my temperament. But while for some this conversation seems pointless, it matters to me and many others. It matters not only as a general subject but as a personal one. Growing up in my community, I realized women often feared being chastised and reprimanded in a way men didn’t. I often found myself angered by this and at times rebelled. The concept of a fearful God haunted me when I stepped over lines, and the concept of a benevolent God simply offended me. By the time a let go of this split-personality God, I was able to take responsibility for myself and become more understanding of others. While it may seem contradictory to the religious, I became much more compassionate.

So, I will continue attempting to critique and debate religion. I believe it to not only be worth it, but necessary. And while I do so, if I continue to be labeled closed minded, judgmental, stubborn, and somehow elitist; so be it. But hopefully it won’t be for long.