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robertogreco : imprisonment   7

A letter to Rosa Luxemburg
"The socialist pioneer Rosa Luxemburg was killed in Berlin in 1919. In 2015, John Berger sits down to write a letter to her."



"Of the eighteen birds on the labels, I perhaps recognise five.

The boxes are full of matches with green striking heads. Sixty in each box. The same as seconds in a minute and minutes in an hour. Each one a potential flame.

“The modern proletarian class,” you wrote, “doesn’t carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern worker’s struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight.”

On the lid of the cardboard box there is a short explanatory note addressed to matchbox-label collectors (phillumenists, as they are called) in the USSR of the 1970s.

The note gives the following information: in evolutionary terms birds preceded animals, in the world today there are an estimated 5,000 species of birds, in the Soviet Union there are 400 species of songbirds, in general it is the male birds who sing, songbirds have specially developed vocal chords at the bottom of their throats, they usually nest in bushes or trees or on the ground, they are an aid to cereal agriculture because they eat and thus eliminate hordes of insects, recently in the remotest areas of the Soviet Union three new species of singing sparrows have been identified.

Janine kept the box on her kitchen windowsill. It gave her pleasure and in the winter it reminded her of birds singing.

When you were imprisoned for vehemently opposing the First World War, you listened to a blue titmouse “who always stayed close to my window, came with the others to be fed, and diligently sang its funny little song, tsee-tsee-bay, but it sounded like the mischievous teasing of a child. It always made me laugh and I would answer with the same call. Then the bird vanished with the others at the beginning of this month, no doubt nesting elsewhere. I had seen and heard nothing of it for weeks. Yesterday its well-known notes came suddenly from the other side of the wall which separates our courtyard from another part of the prison; but it was considerably altered, for the bird called three times in brief succession, tsee-tsee-bay, tsee-tsee-bay, tsee-tsee-bay, and then all was still. It went to my heart, for there was so much conveyed by this hasty call from the distance – a whole history of bird life.”"
johnberger  rosaluxemburg  2015  birds  objects  matches  matchboxes  phillumenists  imprisonment  freedom  proletariat  struggle  living 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Fellow Prisoners – Guernica
"The best way to understand the world, writes Berger, is not as a metaphorical prison but a literal one. And what better way to inspire solidarity than seeing ourselves (them) as fellow prisoners?"



"The wonderful American poet Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent lecture about poetry that “this year, a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that one out of every 136 residents of the United States is behind bars—many in jails, unconvicted.”

In the same lecture she quoted the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos:

In the field the last swallow had lingered late,

balancing in the air like a black ribbon on the sleeve

of autumn.

Nothing else remained. Only the burned houses

smouldering still.

***

I picked up the phone and knew immediately it was an unexpected call from you, speaking from your flat in the Via Paolo Sarpi. (Two days after the election results and Berlusconi’s comeback.) The speed with which we identify a familiar voice coming out of the blue is comforting, but also somewhat mysterious. Because the measures, the units we use in calculating the clear distinction that exists between one voice and another, are unformulated and nameless. They don’t have a code. These days more and more is encoded.

So I wonder whether there aren’t other measures, equally uncoded yet precise, by which we calculate other givens. For example, the amount of circumstantial freedom existing in a certain situation, its extent and its strict limits. Prisoners become experts at this. They develop a particular sensitivity towards liberty, not as a principle, but as a granular substance. They spot fragments of liberty almost immediately whenever they occur.

***

On an ordinary day, when nothing is happening and the crises announced hourly are the old familiar ones—and the politicians are declaring yet again that without them there would be catastrophe—people as they pass one another exchange glances, and some of their glances check whether the others are envisaging the same thing when they say to themselves; so this is life!

Often they are envisaging the same thing and in this primary sharing there is a kind of solidarity before anything further has been said or discussed.

I’m searching for words to describe the period of history we’re living through. To say it’s unprecedented means little because all periods were unprecedented since history was first discovered.

I’m not searching for a complex definition—there are a number of thinkers, such as Zygmunt Bauman, who have taken on this essential task. I’m looking for nothing more than a figurative image to serve as a landmark. Landmarks don’t fully explain themselves, but they offer a reference point that can be shared. In this they are like the tacit assumptions contained in popular proverbs. Without landmarks there is the great human risk of turning in circles.

***

The landmark I’ve found is that of prison. Nothing less. Across the planet we are living in a prison.

The word we, when printed or pronounced on screens, has become suspect, for it’s continually used by those with power in the demagogic claim that they are also speaking for those who are denied power. Let’s talk of ourselves as they. They are living in a prison.

What kind of prison? How is it constructed? Where is it situated? Or am I only using the word as a figure of speech?

No, it’s not a metaphor, the imprisonment is real, but to describe it one has to think historically.

Michel Foucault has graphically shown how the penitentiary was a late eighteenth-, early nineteenth-century invention closely linked to industrial production, its factories and its utilitarian philosophy. Earlier, there were jails that were extensions of the cage and the dungeon. What distinguished the penitentiary is the number of prisoners it can pack in—and the fact that all of them are under continuous surveillance thanks to the model of the Pantopticon, as conceived by Jeremy Bentham, who introduced the principle of accountancy into ethics.

Accountancy demands that every transaction be noted. Hence the penitentiary’s circular walls with the cells arranged around the screw’s watchtower at the center. Bentham, who was John Stuart Mill’s tutor at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was the principal utilitarian apologist for industrial capitalism.

Today in the era of globalization, the world is dominated by financial, not industrial, capital, and the dogmas defining criminality and the logics of imprisonment have changed radically. Penitentiaries still exist and more and more are being built. But prison walls now serve a different purpose. What constitutes an incarceration area has been transformed.

***

Twenty years ago, Nella Bielski and I wrote A Question of Geography, a play about the Gulag. In act two, a zek (a political prisoner) talks to a boy who has just arrived about choice, about the limits of what can be chosen in a labor camp: When you drag yourself back after a day’s work in the taiga, when you are marched back, half dead with fatigue and hunger, you are given your ration of soup and bread. About the soup you have no choice—it has to be eaten whilst it’s hot, or whilst it’s at least warm. About the four hundred grams of bread you have choice. For instance, you can cut it into three little bits: one to eat now with the soup, one to suck in the mouth before going to sleep in your bunk, and the third to keep until next morning at ten, when you’re working in the taiga and the emptiness in your stomach feels like a stone.

You empty a wheelbarrow full of rock. About pushing the barrow to the dump you have no choice. Now it’s empty you have a choice. You can walk your barrow back just like you came, or—if you’re clever, and survival makes you clever—you push it back like this, almost upright. If you choose the second way you give your shoulders a rest. If you are a zek and you become a team leader, you have the choice of playing at being a screw, or of never forgetting that you are a zek.

The Gulag no longer exists. Millions work, however, under conditions that are not very different. What has changed is the forensic logic applied to workers and criminals.

During the Gulag, political prisoners, categorized as criminals, were reduced to slave-laborers. Today millions of brutally exploited workers are being reduced to the status of criminals.

The Gulag equation “criminal = slave laborer” has been rewritten by neoliberalism to become “worker = hidden criminal.” The whole drama of global migration is expressed in this new formula; those who work are latent criminals. When accused, they are found guilty of trying at all costs to survive.

Over six million Mexican women and men work in the U.S. without papers and are consequently illegal. A concrete wall of over one thousand kilometers and a “virtual” wall of eighteen hundred watchtowers were planned along the frontier between the U.S. and Mexico, although the projects have recently been scrapped. Ways around them—though all of them dangerous—will of course be found.

Between industrial capitalism, dependent on manufacture and factories, and financial capitalism, dependent on free-market speculation and front office traders, the incarceration area has changed. Speculative financial transactions add up to, each day, $1,300 billion, fifty times more than the sum of the commercial exchanges. The prison is now as large as the planet and its allotted zones can vary and can be termed worksite, refugee camp, shopping mall, periphery, ghetto, office block, favela, suburb. What is essential is that those incarcerated in these zones are fellow prisoners.

***

It’s the first week in May and on the hillsides and mountains, along the avenues and around the gates in the northern hemisphere, the leaves of most of the trees are coming out. Not only are all their different varieties of green still distinct, people also have the impression that each single leaf is distinct, and so they are confronting billions—no, not billions (the word has been corrupted by dollars), they are confronting an infinite multitude of new leaves.

For prisoners, small visible signs of nature’s continuity have always been, and still are, a covert encouragement.

***

Today the purpose of most prison walls (concrete, electronic, patrolled, or interrogatory) is not to keep prisoners in and correct them, but to keep prisoners out and exclude them.

Most of the excluded are anonymous—hence the obsession of all security forces with identity. They are also numberless, for two reasons. First because their numbers fluctuate; every famine, natural disaster and military intervention (now called policing) either diminishes or increases their multitude. And secondly, because to assess their number is to confront the fact that they constitute most of those living on the surface of the earth—and to acknowledge this is to plummet into absolute absurdity.

***

Have you noticed small commodities are increasingly difficult to remove from their packaging? Something similar has happened with the lives of the gainfully employed. Those who have legal employment and are not poor are living in a very reduced space that allows them fewer and fewer choices—except the continual binary choice between obedience and disobedience. Their working hours, their place of residence, their past skills and experience, their health, the future of their children, everything outside their function as employees has to take a small second place beside the unforseeable and vast demands of liquid profit. Furthermore, the rigidity of this house rule is called flexibility. In prison, words get turned upside down.

The alarming pressure of high-grade working conditions has obliged the courts in Japan to recognize and define a new coroners’ category of “death by overwork.”

No other system, the gainfully employed are told, is … [more]
johnberger  prisoners  solidarity  metaphor  2011  adriennerich  yannisritsos  zygmuntbauman  imprisonment  panopticon  jeremybentham  capitalism  nellabielski  power  tyranny  hanstietmeyer  cyberspace  misinformation  rumors  commentary  humankind 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Chris Hadfield on Twitter: "With celebrity death and elections taking the media by the nose, it’s easy to forget that this year saw a great many positives. Let’s look."
[See also: "99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year: Our media feeds are echo chambers. And those echo chambers don’t just reflect our political beliefs; they reflect our feelings about human progress. Bad news is a bubble too."
https://medium.com/future-crunch/99-reasons-why-2016-has-been-a-great-year-for-humanity-8420debc2823#.tj7kowhpd

"With celebrity death and elections taking the media by the nose, it’s easy to forget that this year saw a great many positives. Let’s look.

1. The Colombian government and FARC rebels committed to a lasting peace, ending a war that killed or displaced over 7 million people.

2. Sri Lanka spent five years working to exile the world’s deadliest disease from their borders. As of 2016, they are malaria free.

3. The Giant Panda, arguably the world’s second cutest panda, has official been removed from the endangered species list.

4. @astro_timpeake became the first ESA astronaut from the UK, symbolizing a renewed British commitment to space exploration.

5. Tiger numbers around the world are on the rise for the first time in 100 years, with plans to double by 2022.

6. Juno, a piece of future history, successfully flew over 588 million miles and is now sending back unprecedented data from Jupiter.

7. The number of veterans in the US who are homeless has halved in the past half-decade, with a nearly 20% drop in 2016.

8. Malawi lowered its HIV rate by 67%, and in the past decade have seen a shift in public health that has saved over 250,000 lives.

9. Air travel continue to get safer, and 2016 saw the second fewest per capita deaths in aviation of any year on record.

10. India’s dogged commitment to reforestation saw a single day event planting more than 50 million trees, a world record.

11. Measles has been eradicated from the Americas. A 22 year vaccination campaign has led to the elimination of the historic virus.

12. After a century, Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves has been proven correct, in a ‘moon shot’ scientific achievement.

13. China has announced a firm date for the end of the ivory trade, as public opinion is becoming more staunchly environmentalist.

14. A solar powered airplane flew across the Pacific Ocean for the first time, highlighting a new era of energy possibilities.

15. Costa Rica’s entire electrical grid ran on renewable energy for over half the year, and their capacity continues to grow.

16. Israeli and US researchers believe they are on the brink of being able to cure radiation sickness, after successful tests this year.

17. The ozone layer has shown that through tackling a problem head on, the world can stem environmental disasters, together.

18. A new treatment for melanoma has seen a 40% survival rate, taking a huge step forward towards long-term cancer survivability.

19. An Ebola vaccine was developed by Canadian researchers with 100% efficacy. Humans eradicated horror, together.

20. British Columbia protected 85% of the world’s largest temperate rainforest, in a landmark environmental agreement.

21. 2016 saw the designation of more than 40 new marine sanctuaries in 20 countries, covering an area larger than the United States.

22. These marine reserves include Malaysia’s 13 year struggle to complete a million hectare park, completed this year.

23. This also includes the largest marine reserve in history, created in Antarctica via an unprecedented agreement by 24 nations.

24. Atmospheric acid pollution, once a gloomy reality, has been tackled to the point of being almost back to pre-industrial levels.

25. Major diseases are in decline. The US saw a 50% mortality drop in colon cancer; lower heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia.

26. Uruguay successfully fought tobacco companies to create a precedent for small countries looking to introduce health-focused legislation.

27. World hunger has reached its lowest point in 25 years, and with poverty levels dropping worldwide, seems likely to continue.

28. The A.U. made strides to become more unified, launching an all-Africa passport meant to allow for visa-free travel for all citizens.

29. Fossil fuel emissions flatlined in 2016, with the Paris agreement becoming the fastest UN treaty to become international law.

30. China announced a ban on new coal mines, with renewed targets to increase electrical capacity through renewables by 2020.

31. One third of Dutch prison cells are empty as the crime rate shrank by more than 25% in the last eight years, continuing to drop.

32. In August went to the high Arctic with some incredible young artists. They helped open my eyes to the promise of the next generation.

33. Science, economics, and environmentalism saw a reversal in the overfishing trends of the United States this year.

34. @BoyanSlat successfully tested his Ocean Cleanup prototype, and aims to clean up to 40% of ocean-borne plastics starting this year.

35. Israel now produces 55% of its freshwater, turning what is one of the driest countries on earth into an agricultural heartland.

36. The Italian government made it harder to waste food, creating laws that provided impetus to collect, share and donate excess meals.

37. People pouring ice on their head amusingly provided the ALS foundation with enough funding to isolate a genetic cause of the disease.

38. Manatees, arguably the most enjoyable animal to meet when swimming, are no longer endangered.

39. Grizzlies, arguable the least enjoyable animal to meet while swimming, no longer require federal protection in US national parks.

40. Global aid increased 7%, with money being designated to helping the world’s 65 million refugees doubling.

41. 2016 was the most charitable year in American history. China’s donations have increased more than ten times since a decade ago.

42. The Gates Foundation announced another 5 billion dollars towards eradicating poverty and disease in Africa.

43. Individual Canadians were so welcoming that the country set a world standard for how to privately sponsor and resettle refugees.

44. Teenage birth rates in the United States have never been lower, while at the same time graduation rates have never been higher.

45. SpaceX made history by landing a rocket upright after returning from space, potentially opening a new era of space exploration.

46. Finally - The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years, giving hope to Maple Leafs fans everywhere. Happy New Year.

There are countless more examples, big and small. If you refocus on the things that are working, your year will be better than the last."
chrishadfield  optimism  2016  improvement  trends  humanity  earth  environment  economics  health  poverty  refugees  crime  news  imprisonment  incarceration  prisons  us  canada  india  reforestation  forests  vaccinations  measles  manatees  tigers  giantpandas  wildlife  animals  multispecies  endangeredanimals  change  progress  oceans  pollutions  peace  war  colombia  government  srilanka  space  science  pacificocean  china  energy  sustainability  costarica  electricity  reneableenergy  britishcolumbia  ebola  ozone  africa  uruguay  smoking  disease  healthcare  dementia  mortality  environmentalism  italy  italia  bears  grizzlybears  spacex  gatesfoundation  angusharvey 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Reading Proust in prison - Austin Kleon
"Daniel Genis spent ten years in prison and read over one thousand books:
He read “In Search of Lost Time” alongside two academic guidebooks, full of notations in French, and a dictionary. He said that no other novel gave him as much appreciation for his time in prison. “Of course, we are memory artists as well…,” he wrote of prisoners in his journal, in the entry on “Time Regained.” “Everyone inside tries to make their time go by as quickly as possible and live entirely in the past,” he said. “But to kill your days is essentially to shorten your own life.” In prison, time was both an enemy and a resource, and Genis said that Proust convinced him that the only way to exist outside of it, however briefly, was to become a writer himself… Later, when he came across a character in a Murakami novel who says that one really has to be in jail to read Proust, Genis said that he laughed louder than he had in ten years.

Murakami might be on to something. The people I know of who’ve read a stupendous amount of books in a certain period of time have lived in a kind of sparse, prison-like existence. When the depression hit, Joseph Campbell moved to a shack outside of Woodstock, New York, and read nine hours a day for five years. When I was 20, I spent 6 months in Cambridge, England living in a room the size of a broom closet, and that’s when I read Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Joyce, etc. (At one point, Genis’s father tells him to read Ulysses in prison, because “he wouldn’t have the willpower to get through it once he became a free man.”) My friend was in the Peace Corps for two years in Africa, and he said all there was to do at night was smoke weed and read. He read a couple hundred books.

Maybe that’s what college should be: two years where your rent is paid and you do nothing but read…"
danielgenis  reading  concentration  attention  prison  imprisonment  isolation  harukimurakami  proust  josephcampbell  marcelproust 
july 2014 by robertogreco
The Thoreau Problem | Rebecca Solnit | Orion Magazine
"If he went to jail to demonstrate his commitment to freedom of others, he went to the berries to exercise his own recovered freedom, the liberty to do whatever he wished, & the evidence in all his writing is that he very often wished to pick berries. There’s a widespread belief, among both activists & those who cluck disapprovingly over insufficiently austere activists, that idealists should not enjoy any pleasure denied to others, that beauty, sensuality, delight all ought to be stalled behind some dam that only the imagined revolution will break. This schism creates, as the alternative to a life of selfless devotion, a life of flight from engagement, which seems to be one way those years at Walden Pond are sometimes portrayed. But change is not always by revolution, the deprived don’t generally wish that the rest of us would join them in deprivation, & a passion for justice & pleasure in small things are not incompatible. That’s part of what the short jaunt from jail to hill says."
walden  selflessness  via:steelemaley  justice  revolution  change  2007  protest  imprisonment  civildisobedience  walking  berries  deprivation  freedom  rebeccasolnit  thoreau 
february 2012 by robertogreco
There is a context to London's riots that can't be ignored | Nina Power | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
"As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as "social problems" (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world."
london  uk  violence  politics  policy  riots  2011  ninapower  inequality  society  crime  imprisonment  mentalillness  equality  disparity  wealth  selfishness  individualism  competition  unions  wealthdistribution  mentalhealth 
august 2011 by robertogreco
THIS CANNOT PASS (updated) « LEBBEUS WOODS
"The Light Pavilion by me and Christoph a. Kumpusch is already under construction in Chengdu, China. I here state publicly that I will not accept another project in China until Ai Weiwei is released unharmed from detention or imprisonment."
aiweiwei  lebbeuswoods  stevenholl  architecture  china  humanrights  freespeech  2011  imprisonment 
april 2011 by robertogreco

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