Archive for category: EQUAL TIMES
This May Feel Like the 1930s, but History Doesn’t Have To Repeat Itself
Sun, 08/14/2022 – 21:27
In 1982, the United Nations declared 9 August the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples everywhere, from Asia across to Africa and Latin America, are constantly battling to defend their cultures, their territories and, above all, their rights. The Chao Lay in Thailand, for example, are denied citizenship by the authorities, which fail to understand their needs as a nomadic fishing community. Meanwhile, the Amazigh people of North Africa are battling with authorities to defend rights such as their linguistic identity. In Kenya, the Ogiek, like many Indigenous peoples, are confronted with land grabbing and are often fighting against economic interests that are increasingly thirsty for natural resources. Also targets of racism, Indigenous peoples are proudly reclaiming their culture through one of the most universal means of communication, music, as illustrated by Quechua singer Renata Flores and Wayuu singer Lido Pimienta in Latin America.
We invite you to discover all these stories published by Equal Times:
The coronavirus pandemic has put Asia’s Indigenous communities under serious pressure
By Ana Salvá
Many communities have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, but for some, such as the Chao Lay, the global slowdown in travel and tourism has also given them some breathing space. The positive side effects of the pandemic for such communities are, however, few and far between.
The term Chao Lay is used to refer to three Indigenous groups (the Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi) who live on the popular Andaman Sea coast and islands of southern Thailand. According to the report Raising Our Voices to Save Our Future, published in autumn 2019 by the Indigenous Women Network of Thailand (IWNT) and the Manushya Foundation, some 13,000 Chao Lay live in 44 communities across five provinces in Thailand: Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Ranong and Satun.
Read the full article here->https://www.equaltimes.org/the-coronavirus-pandemic-has-put#.YvFAKXbMI2w]
Across the Maghreb, the Imazighen are pressing for rights and cultural recognition
By Ricard González
The wave of protests that has gripped north Africa since 2010 has presented an opportunity for social, cultural and political movements that were languishing in a region stifled by fossilised dictatorships. One of these is the movement advocating for the rights of the Amazigh people, an ethno-linguistic minority distributed throughout several of the region’s countries. “The international media made a mistake by calling the 2011 uprisings the ‘Arab Spring,’ which erases other groups like the Amazighs who were at the forefront of these struggles,” says Younis Nanis, an activist in the Libyan city of Zuwarah. Since the uprisings, their demands for cultural recognition have multiplied and while progress has been made in several countries, Amazigh activists have yet to see their aspirations fulfilled.
Despite a landmark ruling, Kenya’s Ogiek community are still fighting to return to their ancestral land
By Shadrack Omuka
It was a historic moment. On 26 May 2017, after an eight-year court battle, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights based in Arusha, Tanzania, ruled that the Kenyan government had violated the rights of the Ogiek people by repeatedly evicting them from their ancestral lands in the Mau Forest. The judgement, which found that the government had broken seven out of 68 articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ordered the government to take remedial action. But almost four years later and the Ogiek are still waiting for the implementation of the judgement. Conservation and environmental laws still deny the Ogiek access to live and hunt in the forest, while thousands of Ogiek and non-Ogiek settlers have been evicted from the forest over the last few years, even during the pandemic.
The sound of Indigenous resistance in Latin America
By José Fajardo
A new generation of musicians in Latin America are going back to their roots and using music to defend ancestral cultures that have been historically persecuted by the elites and established powers. They are mixing contemporary aesthetics and sounds, such as electronica, rap and reggaeton, with the music inherited from their ancestors to connect with young people and stop their history from fading into oblivion.
“My songs are a political act,” says Guatemalan musician Sara Curruchich in conversation with Equal Times. Born into the Mayan Kaqchikel community of San Juan Comalapa in 1993, her 2019 debut album Somos (‘We Are’) combines lyrics in Spanish and her native language. “Music has a remarkable ability to safeguard memory and raise public awareness about the racism we have suffered for centuries,” she says.
The aphorism ‘publish or perish’ began gaining popularity in Western academia in the first half of the 20th century. By the 1980s, it had become unquestioned truth throughout most of the world. It is now a refined and institutionalised process in which researchers are subject to increasing pressure to publish in academic journals owned by a handful of companies. In 2013, publishing groups Reed-Elsevier (now RELX Group in the Netherlands), Springer (Germany), Taylor & Francis (UK) and the US-based Sage and Wiley-Blackwell accounted for more than 50 per cent of the research papers and 70 per cent of the social science articles published that year.
Researchers and university professors are obliged to fulfil a series of requirements or ‘merits’ each year, the most significant of which is the publication of academic papers. These papers are evaluated according to the ‘referee system’ or peer review in which two or more specialists are appointed to judge whether an article is suitable for publication. Public institutions such as Spain’s National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) or Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) are responsible for overseeing the accreditation of the merits upon which researchers’ careers and salaries depend.
“The problem is that the obligation to publish a certain number of articles in a year is incompatible with the actual research work itself, which goes through phases of greater and lesser productivity. The criteria is more quantitative than qualitative, which is perverse,” says Pilar Pinto, lecturer at the University of Cadiz and candidate for a PhD in art and humanities. In addition to this pressure to publish, academics are also expected to have a good number of teaching hours.
According to Pinto, the evaluation system plays a significant role in the choice of research topics: “The journals propose topics for their dossiers, which influences what we decide to research and write about.”
This system also forces researchers to avoid more complicated – as well as more interesting – questions that cannot be resolved in just a few months time in a single paper. This is particularly concerning in areas such as mathematics and philosophy.
“In mathematics, the sowing process is long and you don’t know when you’re going to harvest. The more complex the problem the less certain you can be that it will lead to something you can publish. So the system pushes young researchers to abandon more profound topics in order to focus on something that can easily be resolved, taking something that is already published, for example, and simply improving some calculations,” explains mathematics PhD Mattia Perrone. “Researchers are rewarded for understanding how the system works rather than for their ability,” says Pinto.
The business of academic publications
The points that researchers receive for publishing articles depend on the journal’s ranking according to its index or ‘impact factor,’ calculated according to the number of times it has been cited compared with its competitors. The higher a journal scores, the more effort researchers will make to publish in it, which feeds into pattern that reinforces certain types of journals and topics. The highest scoring and most sought after journals ask as much as €1,500 to evaluate an article for publication, an amount usually paid by the university department.
“The only people able to be part of the academic elite are the ones who can afford it. The system is designed for the interests of the United States and Europe. Paying such amounts would be unthinkable in Argentina,” says Alexandre Roig, lecturer at the Universidad San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, academic secretary and former dean of IDAES. Moreover, the best-ranked journals are in English, which excludes many researchers who are not fluent in the language.
Originally designed as a guide for librarians in choosing which publications to acquire, the ‘impact factor’ has become an index of scientific quality and turned leading academic journals into profitable businesses.
They charge authors for evaluating a publication but do not pay the evaluators, who must settle for the compensation of adding one more line to their CVs. So while most researchers have been trained at public universities and work for public institutions, their work is subject to the standards of privately owned journals.
And universities provide a captive audience for these journals. University departments are forced to spend a significant portion of their budgets on subscriptions to certain publications in order to keep up to date with scientific literature. Reading a single article on the web can cost between €20 and €50, while an annual subscription to a journal costs between €2,000 and €20,000. In many cases, publishing companies require that subscriptions last a minimum of several years and that they include several journals. Faced with such abuses, Swedish and German universities decided to cancel their subscriptions to Elsevier’s publications in 2018 when they could not reach an agreement they considered fair.
In this model, public money invested in research is transferred to certain publishing companies. “Access to knowledge is being limited,” says Perrone, who says he had to pay €30 to access an article he himself had written. Another effect is that academics tend to divide their research results into as many articles as possible, a practice known as ‘salami slicing’. The result is an increasing number of published papers that are of decreasing interest. And journals charge for evaluating each one of them.
In 2018, cOAlition S, a consortium supported by the European Research Council (ERC) together with national funding agencies from eleven EU countries and Jordan, Zambia, the UK and the US, launched Plan S (for ‘shock’) in Europe. The initiative will force researchers to publish their work in open access journals and repositories. Originally planned for 2020, Plan S is now expected to come into effect in 2021.
However, it is unclear what impact this initiative will have. Some of the most influential journals are already taking their own steps in this direction, such as Nature, which launched an open access system to publish part of its content in a way that is compatible with Plan S. The catch is that publishing there will mean paying much higher fees, which can approach €9,500.
Creativity versus discipline
Another consequence, especially for developing countries, is the disconnect between research and local realities: “What is valued is publication in indexed journals rather than the possibility of applying knowledge locally. In Argentina, research has become increasingly professionalised while becoming less interested in applying scientific advances,” says Bruno Fornillo, PhD in political science, CONICET researcher and lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires. “The evaluation criteria to which scientists are subjected are unreasonable because their idea of excellence is measured in terms of publications in global journals with no link to realities on the ground.”
This, Roig believes, is one of the reasons for what he describes as a crisis of legitimacy in the social sciences: “Peer review is valuable, because it guarantees rigour of research. But if it becomes the only form of validation it excludes social validation, and science thus turns its back to society.” Roig proposes other forms of validating scientific knowledge: “Presenting results to the subjects of your research, participating in public debates, communicating the results not only through writing but also through drawings, audiovisual media and art.”
However, the current system is a long way from encouraging creative forms of research and communication: “It’s common to hear young researchers say that academia is not their place. But academia should be a place for critical thinking and creativity, not for reproduction,” Roig adds.
In the 1960s and 1970s, intellectuals were visible public figures, teaching at universities while being deeply involved in social struggles of the day. May 1968 and the French intellectuals are a perfect example. A few decades later, against the backdrop of an expanding neoliberal model, a system has been put into place at universities that generates huge profits for a group of companies.
But profit may not be the only motive: “My impression is that the model is designed to keep intellectuals from being a ‘nuisance’,” Fornillo ventures. “It’s a disciplinary system and, as such, it is contrary to knowledge. It’s about strengthening a certain hierarchy,” Perrone adds.
Meanwhile, the researchers immersed in this logic of productivity are losing the capacity for critical thinking and reflection on their own practices. As Roig puts it: “Today, Pierre Bourdieu’s book would not be called The Craft of Sociology, but The Craft of Someone Who Specialises in Writing Papers.”
Less than three finger-widths, around four or five centimetres, separate the neocortex from the amygdala: our reason and our emotions. For centuries, thinkers and poets thought them to be worlds apart. It took the arrival of neuroscientists using censors capable of reading brain activity to prove that, in addition to their proximity to one another, reason and emotion work closely together – although one is always faster and stronger than the other.
“When we make a decision, whatever it may be, our emotional areas are always more active than our rational ones. We know this thanks to technological advances that allow us to visualise how the brain is activated. The amygdala, our emotional centre, lights up much more quickly than when we are thinking,” explains David Bueno i Torrens, PhD in biology and director of the Chair on Neuroeducation at the University of Barcelona.
When faced with a decision, reason can serve as a filter for discarding less sensible options. However, as Bueno i Torrens explains “the final decision is emotional” – and brands, traditional media, social media, and political parties know it.
In 2015, the Harvard Business Review warned of the arrival of a new emotional era. According to the publication, businesses can as much as triple their sales by employing emotions in marketing. As philosophy professor José Carlos Ruíz argues, immediacy, individualism and false connectivity account for the central role that emotions play today.
“We are living in a society where the past has lost its consistency and seems to be of little interest, while the future has become unpredictable. What we are experiencing is an expansion of the present and emotions are oriented to this, to living and experiencing the moment. The instant, the ephemeral, is the only thing that counts.”
In his most recent book El Arte de Pensar (The Art of Thinking), Ruíz warns that “the balance between reason and emotion has definitively tipped towards the latter.” And while the temptation to appeal to this most urgent and visceral part of the human being has always existed – think of the bread and circuses of Ancient Rome – our current technologies allow us to mobilise emotions ranging from anger to joy as never before.
Few would disagree that social media has helped to intensify the emotional climate. Feelings such as indignation, joy and even grief, previously reserved for the most private sphere, are now displayed, shared and transformed through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram into something viral, something contagious.
“The digital architecture of social media privileges the expression of emotions. It privileges the audiovisual over the written, the controversial over the moderate. All of this makes us more emotional,” explains Javier Serrano, a researcher on emotions and the media at the University of Navarra in Spain. The present phenomenon of ‘virality’ is driven by emotions, firstly because they are faster but also because, in our over-informed society, they always win the battle for our attention. Studies have shown that content with greater emotional intensity tends to be shared more, regardless of whether the emotions are positive or negative.
“Social media didn’t invent emotionality but its business model seeks to enhance the emotional. Dozens of engineers have designed the product to ensure that you stay as long as possible, provide data and want to come back,” adds Serrano.
The documentary The Social Dilemma vividly portrays this dynamic. Every time someone clicks ‘like,’ ‘love,’ or ‘sad,’ they are not just sharing a mood but most significantly they are sharing valuable personal information that, with the right algorithm, can tell a lot about a person. According to research from Stanford University, 10 ‘likes’ are enough for anyone – be it a commercial brand or a political party – to know as much about you as a family member or close friend.
Technology companies didn’t invent emotion but they have been able to make the most of it, including popularising the use of what is now considered the smallest unit of emotionality: the emoji, a symbol symptomatic of this era, capable of replacing real expression with virtual expression, of replacing words with images – faster, more effective, direct to the amygdala.
Recent findings in the field of neuroscience reveal the power of emotions, for example, when it comes to shopping. It is known that customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are 52 per cent more profitable than customers who are simply satisfied. That is why advertising is armed with emotional artillery aimed at finding the quickest shortcut to the part of the brain that it is most interested in.
“Messages with an emotional component are more likely to be processed impulsively,” explains Bueno i Torrens. “If you only appeal to the emotions, it’s easy not to pass through the filter of reason.”
For some time now, political discourse has been adopting the same strategy, substituting emotional impact for arguments. In his book La Política de las Emociones (The Politics of Emotions), professor of political communication Toni Aira describes how feelings rule today’s world. “Humans have always toyed with emotions, but their ability to do so has increased exponentially. It’s not just that you can connect more with your audience and their moods, it’s that, through algorithms, you can monitor them,” he explains.
In his book, Aira profiles different political leaders according to the emotion that pervades their discourse: Vladimir Putin and revenge, Boris Johnson and optimism, Donald Trump and hate. When the latter was elected in 2016, the Oxford Dictionary chose ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year, a term that has a lot to do with the emotions. Post-truth is ‘felt truth,’ the victory of feelings over facts.
As Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News and campaign advisor to Donald Trump, once said: “If you tell people what to think, you’ve lost them. But if you tell them how to feel, they’re yours.” The 6 January storming of the US Capitol by a radicalised mob loyal to the now ex-president (number 45) provides a perfect example.
Exaggerations, inflammatory slogans and the permanent disqualification of the opposition are capable of provoking the most apathetic person and simplifying the most complex issue. “A dichotomy has been established: with me or against me,” says Aira. “It is a constant dialectic of election campaigning. Every day seems like election day, and that has a perverse side. When you reduce everything to a question of winners and losers, the only thing that matters is winning.”
According to French essayist Christian Salmon, we are living in an “era of confrontation” in which the winners are those who make the most noise rather than those who construct the most coherent or compelling narrative. The media – which, as Javier Serrano points out, “also benefits from the emotional shockwave” – multiplies the effect of this noise, building audiences that are increasingly divided into simplistic categories, communities divided by emotion at visceral odds with one another.
“There is both ideological polarisation and affective polarisation,” explains Neftalí Villanueva, professor of philosophy at the University of Granada. “Affective polarisation is an attitude that has more to do with desires than with beliefs. People do not necessarily commit themselves to a series of ideas. What they do is express their support for one group and their rejection of the group they consider to be its opposite.”
Polarisation in itself does not necessarily have to be negative – it allows us to disagree, to express contrary opinions. According to the professor, it becomes dangerous “when we become indifferent to other people’s motivations. This is linked to affective polarisation. The more fanatical I become about the political identity I adhere to, the more irrational it becomes for me to pay attention to other people’s reasoning.”
Thinking is tiring
We are all vulnerable to the tyranny of emotions and the reason for this is essentially physiological. “Emotions consume little metabolic energy while reasoning consumes significantly more. Thinking is tiring, so when we’re already tired for other reasons, emotions come easily simply because they are not very tiring,” says Bueno i Torrens.
If this is so, today’s acute and precarious living conditions are undermining reason, making any shortcut all the more tempting.
Is it possible to find a balance for this excess emotionality? The answer is yes, although the solution is not intelligence but critical thinking, which is not the same thing. There are very intelligent people whose cognitive biases lead them to seek out only the information and data that confirm that which they already believe.
Critical thinking, on the other hand, entails intellectual humility, curiosity and openness to other points of view. As Carlos Ruiz argues, it is possible to be emotional – in fact it is inevitable – while also having well developed critical thinking. “I hope that sooner or later someone will realise how important it is to teach critical thinking, especially to younger generations. We should start by recovering the capacity for wonder and above all work on questioning, activating the rational, being more humble,” he adds. “Maybe that way we will be able to lower the current emotional temperature.”