Tag Archives: Anthopology

Freedom austerity

After the most recent EU summit in Brussels it seems the history has come full circle and democracy just died in the land where it was born. Greeks voted for anti-austerity government. Said government put to vote austerity measures that were suggested by the EU. After those were clearly rejected in a binding referendum, the Greek PM accepted terms harsher than the ones rejected just under a week before. And that there were no good solutions. And that Greek banks had no money and they really could use some. And that Angela is quite scary. But what about… what about the freedom?

Photo by Jorge Gonzalez –  https://www.flickr.com/photos/acampadapraga/5751397365

Have you ever asked yourself if you are free? As in: do you have freedom? Not freedom of speech or to leave or enter a country but a general, overarching and overwhelming freedom. If you live, as I do, in a Western democracy, you are probably inclined to say yes. I mean how could you say ‘no’? Every single month we hear about another country, be it Ukraine, Libya or Sudan whose citizens are fighting to defeat those in power. To gain their freedom.

In this way freedom is often defined by what’s missing. People lack freedom when they are not able to say what they think, to choose who makes laws of their country, or to leave the country they were born in. In this context the answer seems to be simple. We compare our situation to what is experienced by people in North Korea or Cuba, and we arrive at rather obvious conclusion – they are truly screwed, and we’re all right.
For a moment though let’s forget about all of those suffering in Syria, repressed in Russia or tortured in Iran. Let’s focus on a definition. How do you define freedom? Ability to do, say, think whatever you want, to behave in the way you want – I guess this would be the first thing that comes to mind. The Source of All Knowledge (read: Wikipedia) defines it as power or right to do as one wants. Can you though? Can you ‘do as you want’? I certainly can’t. In theory nothing stops me, I theoretically can do anything. Practically I am restricted by money, laws, cultural norms, social pressures, time obligations… (runs out of breath)… and innate abilities and probably some more obstacles that just did not happen to come to my mind this very minute.

All right then, we may not have total freedom, but why would we? It would probably not be too good for us anyway. So let’s be more specific; what is quite often understood as freedom is political liberty – democracy and the ability to choose who rules the country we live in, and, in this way to make our own laws. There is no denying that those of us lucky enough to be born in the West do live in democratic societies. Is democracy what we imagine it to be though? Is it really the rule of the demos – the people? Or is it a mirage; an illusiomn making us think that we are in charge, when the real power lies somewhere else?

With the eyes of my imagination I see Socrates circling the streets of Athens as he did 25 centuries ago. Walking around, starting conversation with strangers. As I write, he stops a random person, looks her or him in the eye and asks: ‘So, now my friend, tell me – are you free?’ Are you?

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Individual vs Society – What are the makings of long-term unemployed?

Many read biographies of rich and successful to find out what are the makings of the great. What do I need? What do I lack to become one of them? We are all in never-ending pursue of success and money searching for any tips, routines, things that we should or should not do to get any closer. But does anyone ever think what are the makings of long-term unemployed?

 

It seems to me that often the common understanding is that the unemployed is someone who does not want to find work. A person too lazy to grab multiple opportunities laid in from of him/her by employers and entrepreneurs. As a society we ‘help’ people into work by forcing them to volunteer and cutting or freezing their allowances. David Cameron wants to eliminate youth unemployment not by creating more jobs, but by scrapping benefits altogether for people under certain age. In the end, all that those lay-abouts need is a push in the right direction; an incentive to get up from the couch and get on with their lives, isn’t that right? No, it’s not!

 

It is neither nudge nor incentive they need. Unemployment is nothing like long holidays. It is dreadful, often depressing, embarrassing and demeaning, it is nearly a medical condition – chronic unemployment.. There is no magic switch that makes a person with a history of years or even generations of unemployment go back to work; just like it takes your body time and right kind of treatment to recover from a disease it takes time and a hell lot of work for a long-term unemployed to successfully join the labour market.  In my own opinion it all boils down to a situation into which a person is born. One may say that countries like US, UK or any other EU member are a land of opportunity. We should not fool ourselves. A person born in a household with issues ranging from long-term unemployment to substance misuse will have by far higher risk of becoming long-term unemployed themselves than a descendant of middle class parents. Even when the education is free and available a child needs encouragement, support and parents’ supervision to get through it. How many are there not getting any of it? And then there is social housing – a scheme meant to help, I suppose. but sometimes strikingly resembling ghetto’s for people we would rather not see on day-to-day basis. Estates or even whole districts often become a land without opportunity, producing more and more people damned to join the ranks of long-term unemployed. And then in the end, after all the denying of opportunities, marginalising and belittling all we have to say to those is – This is your fault! How is that fair?

 

For those looking for anthropological take on how we force people into black market economy I strongly recommend ‘In search of respect: selling crack in El Barrio’ by Philippe Bourgois