Help me, I'm poor!
Like everyone else, I’m stuck in doors. Like many, I suffer from two auto-immune diseases and am now faced with personal, and somewhat imminent, food security concerns. I am still long-term unemployed, living with two elderly parents, and the global pandemic is causing many organisations to indefinitely suspend their hiring process. As per usual, this toxic combination of boredom and fear has caused my brain to spit out some ‘interesting’ nuggets, like this blog post. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please don’t forget to #TipYourWaitress…we are all struggling, some of us more than others.
So, what do the following have in common: H.G. Wells, economic recession, Trump’s border wall, the Mean Girls movie, The Hoff, ‘Lucas Arts’, Dr Who, and feminist art/activism..? I wonder…
This lockdown has given me the opportunity to review past work, while struggling with motivation on my current work. I came across this competition blog post I did in 2013 for the International Society of Political Psychology, they wanted a ‘fun/controversial’ piece to entertain their members – I was happy to oblige and they chose to publish my output. The piece was titled “I ❤ Economic Recession?” and, thankfully, can still be found online.
As you can see, besides it’s entertainment value, it holds many truths which remain so in our contemporary time. As many have asserted, during the Covid-19 media coverage, the effects of the global pandemic on the global economy have certainly been similar to that during previous recession(s).
Indeed, one might consider it a form of comic realism and/or political allegory, similar to that deployed by H.G. Wells in his work:
“MARS AS A CRITIQUE OF IMPERIALISM
Wells did not occupy himself again with Mars and his socialist convictions guided his literary work toward a more political arena. For some scholars, even The War of the Worlds is not so much science fiction as a political allegory of the pre-WWI climate. According to the spokesman of the H. G. Wells Society, writer Emelyne Godfrey, “The War of the Worlds is a critique of imperialism and man’s hubris.” The writer explained to OpenMind that Wells was influenced by The Battle of Dorking, a fictional German invasion of Britain published in 1871 by George Tomkyns Chesney.
Beck agrees with this analysis. The story of an interplanetary war “allowed Wells to advance serious concerns about the contemporary world; he used the Martians to speculate, predict, warn and exhort society to reappraise existing modes of thought, or else face the consequences.” In fact, the Martian machines anticipated the shifting of warfare from the battlefield to the cities, which in the twentieth century would sadly become reality.
Technology was not the main interest of Wells either, writes Simon James, Professor at the University of Durham (UK), in a recent article in Nature. And yet, the author has well earned his reputation as a prophet of technology: the black smoke of the Martians and their heat ray device have been likened to chemical weapons and the laser, respectively. And the inventor of rockets propelled by liquid fuel, Robert Goddard, cited Wells’ novel as his essential inspiration.
As for Mars, we now know that it is an icy desert planet without any apparent trace of life. Perhaps the reality would have been disappointing to Wells. But his novel coined the mythology of the “Martian” as the hostile alien invader, and figures like Stephen Hawking have warned that a possible contact with a superior extraterrestrial civilization would result in the inevitable destruction of our own. We cannot rule out the possibility that the prophecy of Wells might one day become reality.” – Javier Yanes (2016)
It seems especially prophetic, post-Covid-19, that he had his Martian invaders wiped out by ‘bacterial infection’, on the cusp of their victory over Earth. Perhaps we might now see the Martians as a rather cruel depiction of the human race – consuming and laying waste to all in its wake, until a hidden microscopic enemy virus stops us in our tracks; forcing us to “adapt or evolve”, lest we face extinction – or more likely great loss and insecurity.
I really hope I don’t end up looking like these guys, post-self-isolation…
Since the lockdown, where have you been? What have you done..?
For example, I went to one of the most populous cities in the world for a feminist art exhibition by Judy Chicago (“The Godmother“), in the Brooklyn Museum, from the 1970s. The ‘Dinner Party‘, the “most famous feminist artwork of all time“. I considered online teaching materials about the piece. I literally went back in time, to a time before I was born. Using a screen/handheld computer and a search engine, I didn’t leave the couch in my living room.
“The organisation of the Dinner Party repays attention for its simultaneous subversion and deployment of historiographic and genealogical structures from literature and art. It challenges some cultural practices – the traditional focus on male achievement in historiography, and the privileging of fine art in art history – while replicating others. Its strict periodisation of the past is not the only hierarchy in play, although it is the most visible. The triangular arrangement of the table groups the women into three periods: from ‘prehistory to Classical Rome’, from the beginning of Christianity to the Reformation, and from the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution.” Carol Atack (2019)
“In the beginning of her career, she’d avoided approaches traditionally associated with what was derogatorily referred to as “women’s work,” but now she wanted to honor them as art forms. In step, she began to study china painting and needlework. These would become The Dinner Party’s material building blocks: Chicago envisioned the work as a massive banquet attended by 39 historical women, each represented by a porcelain plate and an embroidered runner alluding to their personalities and accomplishments.
In the exhibition, detailed, obsessively notated preparatory drawings for the plates and runners (which underwent many iterations) reveal Chicago’s painstaking process. So do works like Broken Butterflies/Shattered Dreams #3 (1976), which she made alongside The Dinner Party as something of a cathartic release. The piece comes from a series of painted porcelain tiles that Chicago smashed after she fired them. “They were a way of her trying to figure out how to use china painting,” Hermo explains of the body of work. “They were also a release of the frustration Judy was feeling when she realized she was just one woman facing down the epic problem of the lack of women’s representation in history.””Alexxa Gotthardt (2018)
Incidentally, I’ve also been desperately seeking to recapture my youth, by trying to finally crack ‘Day of the Tentacle’ – an awesome Lucas Arts game from my youth (1993). It is always important to maintain the work-life balance, and remember to make time for frivolous enjoyment.
But, if we are to embrace and enjoy our new found virtual movement and access, we must also accept and acknowledge the rights of those fleeing disaster, conflict, and resource scarcity elsewhere. To do so, we should finally and loudly assert the fundamental ethical and legal harm of borders and walls. After all, as this global pandemic has shown us, Italy particularly, we are all vulnerable to becoming a refugee – even within our own country!
What would it mean, to have a World without borders..? What does that look like..?
As Tad Daley (2019) highlights here, the concept of a ‘World Government’ or ‘Global Society’ based fundamentally in human rights law, was first championed by Wells, and has since been argued for in the face of global challenges (such as the climate change threat):
“It has become a cliché to observe that the First World War served as the launching pad for almost everything of international consequence during the long and painful subsequent century. But one consequence, in the very long run, could prove greater than any other: It ultimately gave rise to a movement to abolish war through the political, institutional, and constitutional unification of humankind.
How Could Any War End War?
The contention that the Great War might serve as “the war to end war” originated with author H.G. Wells in a series of articles released just months after the start of the conflict. Wells argued that the unprecedented scope and scale of the war, combined with globalization, presented the opportunity for humanity to find a way to govern itself as a single unified community.
Wells argued that war between nation-states, as well as the maintaining of permanent military forces by each state to defend itself against all others, could be abolished by the creation of a supranational state. Wells hoped that the end of the Great War would bring about the final consummation of this idea.
Once, There was a Movement to End War
Wells died in 1946, deeply despondent about the human prospect in the wake of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. However, those atrocities did bring about a brief but incandescent social movement, which proclaimed that the abolition of war — in the wake of the peril now posed by the prospect of global atomic war — was both an absolute necessity and an achievable historical goal.
In the years immediately following World War II, the world government idea was heatedly discussed and debated in dormitories, cocktail lounges, dinner parties, and symposia of every sort. For about five years, the movement to bring about a world republic was every bit as much a social and political force as the women’s rights and gender identity and racial justice movements today, or the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements in the 1960s, or the labor movement and women’s suffrage movements in the first few decades of the century.
Prominent figures of the day openly advocated the establishment of a world republic, and the idea even attracted formal American legislative support. No less than 30 state legislatures in the U.S. passed resolutions in favor of world government. And a 1949 joint resolution in the U.S. Congress, which declared that “it should be a fundamental objective of the foreign policy of the United States to support and strengthen the United Nations and to seek its development into a world federation,” was co-sponsored by 111 representatives and senators of both parties, including future presidents John Kennedy and Gerald Ford.
World Peace Through World Law
Today, prominent individuals with a large historical vision occasionally put the idea of a world state on the table. “If you ever wanted an argument for world government, climate change provides it,” said Bill McKibben in 2017, arguably the most prominent environmental advocate in the world. In 2015, Bill Gates gave a wide-ranging interview to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung about the global landscape. In it, he said: “The UN system has failed … We are ready for war … We have NATO, we have divisions, jeeps, trained people. But what is it with epidemics? … If there were such a thing as a world government, we would be better prepared.” And in 2017, Stephen Hawking, “Since civilization began, aggression has been useful inasmuch as it has definite survival advantages … Now, however, technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all … We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason … This might mean some form of world government.”
But despite these outliers, the idea that something like a world federation might someday serve as the solution to the problem of war is conspicuous mostly by its absence from the public policy debate. Most people are neither for it nor against it, because most people have never thought about it, and may not have even heard of it.
But the idea might yet rise again, for the same reasons that drove Wells to make “the world state” his most passionate cause and conviction a full century ago. While many Americans embrace nationalism, many others in the U.S. and around the world insist that one’s allegiance to one’s nation can be accompanied by one’s allegiance to humanity.
“A federation of all humanity,” said Wells, “together with a sufficient measure of social justice to ensure health, education, and a rough equality of opportunity to most of the children born into the world, would mean such a release and increase of human energy as to open a new phase in human history.” Perhaps, some distant day, that just might become the war that will end war.”
But, I have noticed, this area of IR and the research network itself is dominated by men. The concept of ‘World State’ also raises conspiracy theory concerns about the ‘Deep State‘ and the perceived loss of perceived fundamental individual rights, such as gun ownership in the US. The conspiracy misinformation/propaganda states that the ‘Deep State’, is a small cabal of unelected officials hoarding control and power, a shadow state within the state. But, crucially, the H.G. Wells concept of ‘World Government’ or ‘Global Society’, is founded on human rights, equality and democratically elected representatives. It is a path towards peace. He also argued against some of the problematic journalistic practices many have recently railed against. Favouring a direct, unedited news feed for all. For those of us currently concerned about the viral spread of misinformation, this seems like a worthy idea.
How could this concept be improved by a greater feminist engagement, after all, Wells was a well known feminist sympathiser. Chicago’s feminist ‘Dinner Party’ concept, may hold a clue. I think we would all benefit from a Feminist Foreign Policy conceptualization of the ‘Global Society’; an integrated system based/focused on fundamental human rights, equality and the abolishment of oppressive hierarchical systems, as well as better labour practices. Surely, this is what is needed post-Covid-19..? We should be using this unprecedented global lockdown to be thinking about and discussing this, as well as enjoying our new found virtual freedom of time and space movement. Could Chicago’s dinner party concept be used, via a social media platform, to organise and discuss a potential ‘Global Society’, for example..?
In 1987, Ronald Reagan (another controversial media personality US President) famously said, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!“. The wall in question being the Cold War ‘iron curtain’ border, between the Soviet East and Neoliberal/Capitalist West (fault-line in Germany).
It finally came down in 1989…the night Knight Rider saved Germany, with a Mic, a jacket, and a freedom song. Is this the most 80s thing you’ve ever seen..?
As I suggested in 2013, and subsequently in my PhD thesis (to some extent), in such testing/unstable times – we may benefit from altering our perspective/mindset and how we perceive the problem. As some feminists have suggested, in seeking to overthrow or infiltrate capitalism, perhaps we should think like a ‘disaster capitalist’. If we see it as a challenge, or better yet…an opportunity – what might we gain? What might our future look like..?
The Math Of It All
And as for the provocative question in the title: Yes, there may well be (or could be) an up-side to this madness – this almost global pandemic lockdown shows us that territory/borders are and always have been meaningless! Therefore, the wars fought over them, and the legal infrastructure(s) to enforce them also become meaningless. Lets embrace the opportunity this historical moment affords us, and seek a peaceful and truly global future. This could be the moment the tide turns against totalitarian populism. This may also be a great opportunity to truly democratize the world wide web, but (as its creator notes) we must make it work for everyone now.
Stay safe everyone, be kind to each other. I hope this, somewhat controversial, blog post provided some much needed edu-tainment – in these dystopian times. And don’t forget, to…”Toss a coin to your Witcher!“