Category Archives: Cultural political economy

Trend-Setter: Thilo Sarrazin?

“Coolhunting for the World’s Thought Leaders” is an actual academic paper by actual academics (Peter Gloor at MIT; Karin Frick and Detlef Guertler at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute in Switzerland). Its purpose: To create “a novel ‘Thought Leader Map’ [that] shows the select group of people with real influence who are setting the trends in the market.

from “Are These The Most Influential And Trend-Setting Thought Leaders?”

Today, inbetween the identification of operational risks and internal controls (my daily job nowadays), I came across this article about the biggest ‘thinkfluencers’ of 2012.

For my surprise, one of the trend setters happened to be this guy named Thilo Sarrazin, described as someone who wrote a “bestselling book arguing that genetically inferior Kurds and Turks were dumbing down Germany”.

I was surprised not because of the apparent popularity of such arguments in Europe but instead because of the lack of refinement, the rawness, of his discursive practice.

Sarrazin, a trend setter in 2012, is a good old-fashioned, no non-sense, straight shooter racist, using classic xenophobic language in public in ways that few germans have since the Holocaust.

That explains, in big part, his success: he’s breaking the taboo and trying to capitalize from being a frontrunner.

And that’s about it, mostly because his arguments are total shit.

Sarrazin defends two main stands of view: he’s “anti-euro” (“Europe Doesn’t Need the Euro”) and “anti-immigrant” (“Germany Does Itsfelf In”). His book “Germany Abolishes Itsfelf” sold over 1.3 million copies, proving that unconvincing books can convince quite a few readers (here in Portugal such books tend to be read by people who have yet to meet an immigrant).

He’s anti-euro because the southern economies of the euro zone are not ready and have culture and mentality issues that lead to lack of discipline. Because corruption, mismanagement, and indolence are endemic to southern European culture and Germany is being “black-mailed” to bail them out because it perpetrated the Holocaust.

Sarrazin defines himself as a man of numbers; but also as a man of poor sensibility. He believes that human life follows strict rules such as “hereditary factors”. Muslims and southern Europeans are hopeless because there are relevant genetic differences among ethnic groups working against them.

Some, like him, still (choose to) believe that some born smart and some born stupid. Traditionally, those belonging to the elite tend to think they born superior as a mean to justify their priviledges.

I don’t know if intelligence (or economic performance, for that matter) is hereditary.

I think one may have all the potential in the world but he’ll need the right conditions to make it grow. Inteligence (another arguable concept by itself) can be a difference maker in a world in which we all share equal opportunities; but it plays a minor role when we compare individuals in different contexts.

The real magic happens when people have the creativity and the ability to transcend the rules and prove reductionist theorists like Thilo Sarrazin wrong.

Let’s hope to get inspired by more open-minded, forward-thinking  trend-setters in the future. Let’s get inspired by those who approximate people, instead of separating them; by those who work to find solutions, not to agravate the problems (normally promoting their own personal agenda).

As for us Europeans, an isolated Germany serves no one.


I’m Waiting Here

Second song in a row here (don’t get used to this, I’m not turning ‘The Weather Forecaster’ into a music blog).

This brand new track by the iconic David Lynch is absolutely spot on. It’s dreamy, hypnotic, bluesy though not noir, inducing the listener into a warm melancholic state.

The video blends beautifully with the song.

Yesterday I started to read the book ‘La société du spectacle’ by Guy Debord. The main topic is the transformation of life into a representation. For him, the decline of social life under advanced capitalism can be understood as ‘the decline of being into having, and of having into merely appearing‘.

Though I’m having a hard time (I confess) getting into it I can’t wait to keep on trying. I’d love to share some thoughts about it on the upcoming days.

Have a nice week.

Anarchism in Portugal

Anarchism has very deep intelectual roots in Portugal even though some believe (and are probably right) that the anarchist heritage is not much of an evidence in our present society.

Júlio Henriques, for instance, makes the interesting point that the anarchist failure is observable in the common prevalence of verticalized forms of treatment (such as ‘você’ – equivalent to the french ‘vous’) among people.

The great José Cardoso Pires described Portugal in the 60s the ‘country of doctors’, in satirization of the Portuguese ‘titlecracy’ and our fascination for titles such as ‘sua excelência’, ‘senhor doutor’, ‘senhor engenheiro’ and so on.

Presently, decades after the Revolution of 1974, more horizontal forms of relationship such as ‘citizenship’ are still to fully develop, exemplifying the stratification of the contemporary Portuguese society and the maintenance of a set of values and institutions from more salazarist times.

Even inside the libertarian movement, and mostly since 1930, the very hierarchized communist organizations (with a little help from their Russian friends) have gained the edge over the traditionally more horizontal anarcho-syndicalist organizations that had characterized the movement from 1910 to 1926.

So what remains to be seen from the anarchist movements in Portugal?

The academic movement of the ‘geração de 70’ (also known as the Coimbra’s ‘gold Generation’) was deeply influenced by Proudhon‘s ‘Mutualism’. Eça de Queiroz, Antero de Quentral (notably on ‘Odes Mordernas’) and Oliveira Martins, among others, incoporated its core ideas into their work in a variety of ways.

However, after failing to change the country with their writting and revolutionary ideas, like they had promised to, such generation became known (along with other personalities such as Ramalho Ortigão) as the ‘vencidos da vida’ (‘the losers of life’).

Time would prove them wrong, as Portuguese cultural production (literature, film, music and so on) still has to find ways to depart from the Queirosian rupture/paradigm.

Portuguese anarchist movements were not able to transmit their legacy because many of them were dizimated in the final battles before the implementation of the Military Dictaroship (1926) in Portugal but also in the Spanish Civil War, fighting, guns on their hands, against Franco.

The ones who survived and didn’t ran way from the country were among the first victims of the Dictatorship, being quickly persecuted, arrested and deported to Timor or Tarrafal.

Their legacy is one of struggle towards auto-determination and emancipation.

Other, less direct, influences can be drawn from such movement. Proudhon has always favored local institutions, such as workers associations, cooperatives and cooperative credit unions for workers.

Some investors have since then reformulated Proudhon’s idea (he argued that no interests should be charged in such credit schemes) in order to construct strong businesses like Rabobank, Crédit Agricole and, of course, Crédito Agrícola here in Portugal, networks of local implemented mutualist banks.

Personally, the core idea I like to retain from the anarchist heritage is one that combines the right for individual emancipation of all human beings, the need for direct political action and the responsible practice of active citizenship.

From the ‘geração de 70’, more generally, we can learn the critical importance of conquering cultural spaces, outside the formal political scope, for political struggle.

Iranian press very annoyed with Argo’s success

As expected, Iranian press is getting nervous with all the attention ‘Argo’ is getting.

Quoting from Mehrnews:

In the era that politicization in Hollywood was very strong, and every awards and festivals in Hollywood had paid much attention to the anti-Iranian movie ‘Argo’, the 85 Academy Awards ceremony, unveiled the bare politicization in Hollywood.

In early February, when ‘Argo’ took home three BAFTA prizes, including those for best movie and for best director, Mehrnews defended:

The movie “Argo” which shows a distorted version of Islamic Revolution, has won three prizes from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) last night.

The selection shows that the Political approach rather than artistic standards was criteria for choosing the best film more than any time before.

On February 23, same site, there was the statement that the movie was not made to last due to its fixation on short-term policy goals:

In a news conference about the anti-Iran movie Argo and Oscar nominations, Behrouz Afkhami told reporters that “we need to consider this first; whether a film such as Argo or all the movies that are made with a short-term goal of propaganda, can leave a deep and lasting impression on the viewers’ minds or not and whether Iranian film makers should react to it.

In answer to a question whether awarding Oscar to Argo is really a blow to the Academy, the director, said “the fact that it’s been nominated for Oscars is blow to its prestige.”

So it comes with no surprise that, on February 25, Mehrnews accused Hollywood insiders of ‘sacrificing quality and artistic cinema to politic goals and slogans’.

Moreover, and as expected, the singular (sort of) presence of Michelle Obama was taken to the heart by such critics, interpreting it as the ultimate sign of what they believe to be the political manipulation of the cerimony:

Interestingly, in the current Academy Awards ceremony, presence of Michelle Obama was even surprising for the audience. One of official Hollywood reporters for the Oscar ceremony considered the attendance by President Obama’s wife to give the award for the best picture as ‘unexpected’ and very ‘surprising’.

This ‘unexpected’ and ‘surprising’ move by the US media and Hollywood activists showed the bare Hollywood scandals and politicization of the 85th Academy Awards ceremony.

The question here is that, in fact, even after cutting on the obvious layers of the iranian propaganda, ‘Argo’ presents a very one-sided view of the much more complex ‘Iranian Revolution’. It absolutely ignores the context, emphasizing the random violence against US officials over the causes, the goals or the ambitions behind the revolt of those Iranian people.


‘Persepolis’ took a very distinct approach by focusing on the everyday life of an Iranian middle-class family

More than 30 years before the ‘Arab Spring’, the Iranian Revolution was, in a very similar way, a movement of civil resistance against the authoritarian rule and social injustice. Despite the well known shortcomings (in short, oppression was not overcome), there’s an urgent need today to understand the mechanisms through which the Islamic Republic of Iran developed in the post-revolutionary period.

The critically acclaimed movie ‘Persepolis’ also drew great controversy in 2007, generating similar comments from Iranian press and officials. However, the movie took a very different approach from ‘Argo’, showing how the revolution affected the aspirations and the everyday life of an Iranian middle-class family, from an autobiographical perspective.

‘Argo’, it is clear today, is contributing to reinforce the clivage between the West and the ‘islamist’ other. In doing so, the picture openly transmits a derogatory image of the people of Iran, subjects of irrational violence against westerners and objects of manipulation by the CIA officials, which only serves the purposes of the Ahmadinejad’s rule.

Further politization by both sides (remember Michelle Obama) will only divert the public sentiments from more important things everywhere.