“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
Just a week ago I was here at my desk, struggling to put my thoughts into words about the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup. And now here I am again. Heart raw against chest, soul heavy, struggling to find words that are fitting; struggling to remember with lightness; struggling to keep something of the past present.
The news that my friend, colleague and confidante Emma Lindley left us over the weekend is something that I am struggling to accept. The inner child in me is stamping its foot and demanding that the clocks be turned back. And all the adult in me can do is to trust in time. There will always be time, and it will always be too long and nowhere near enough.
In these occasions I feel there is a tendency to try and leave no word unsaid and no stone unturned and no achievement un-feted and no praise unsung. And actually, beyond remembering a person who was excellent, a person who was brilliant, a person who touched so many… I want to remember someone who is – and who will always remain – a friend.
Because Emma was a smile. Emma is a smile… And when we have made our toasts, and said our words, and cried our sorrows. When we as players have strutted on our sorry stage what remains is projects left undone, conversations left unfinished and things left unsaid. For the past does not package itself up neatly, ends tied up like the wrapping on a gift. That task is left to us here in the present.
I am proud to say that the RSA will soon be announcing its Emma Lindley prize. The prize, the exact content of which is still being decided in consultation with Emma’s parents, will seek to advance innovation in the field of mental health. The prize will seek to keep Emma and her interests in some way present.
We will update as soon as we know more. But for now… there is just time.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea
To the dead, we did it, we wrote out your wrongs It was said, they admit it, we sang out your songs.
To the dead, we did it, we wrote out your wrongs
It was said, they admit it, we sang out your songs.
There are many September the 11ths. Today – the 11th September 2013 – is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 military coup that saw in Chile’s 17 years of dictatorship under General Pinochet.
This morning I cycled down to the Chilean embassy to put my body where my heart is, and to pay my respects. Over the course of the day people – children, parents, victims, survivors, activists, sympathisers – read out the names of the disappeared and dead and laid a flower for every single one of them.
As each name was called out, all those present shouted “presente!”
This presente! proclaims: I am here, the disappeared are here, we are present. The act of being present, of making the past present, of making those who a state attempted to disappear present chimes to the very heart of why memory and past are essential to any lived now.
This presente proclaims: I am here, the disappeared are here, we are present
In the 17 years of Pinochet’s rule at least 2,000 were disappeared and at least 30,000 were tortured in ways that attempted to annihilate their humanity, dignity and essence of being. The history of torture in Chile is one of a map of secret detention centres and camps that criss-crossed Chile’s entire 4000 km of length. It was not until after its 2004 Commission on Torture that the mainstream press would even recognise that the torture was real; that the victims were real; that the centres existed.
Chile is still divided between those who would disappear the past, those for whom Pinochet was maybe ‘not good but necessary’, and those for whom the past is still now. These scars, replicated in all societies where the past has no real reconciliation, explode every now and then: from the violent clashes that marked this year’s 11th September protests, to the news that finally the alleged killer of the symbolic Victor Jara may be being brought to justice.
There is much to say on Chile; much to say on the role of justice and memory in repairing society. But that is for another day. For now, I am here, I am present, and I bore witness.
I am here, I am present, and I bore witness.
Gaia Marcus is a Senior Researcher on the RSA’s Connected Communities team.
Earlier today an invite to a conference entitled ‘The Right to Truth, Justice and Reparation in Latin America’ popped up in my inbox. Quite a long time ago – a previous life it seems – I was a Latin-Americanist, with a specialisation in Chilean memory politics.
In my work studying the effects of Chile’s 2004 Truth Commission about Torture I highlighted the way in which the Truth Commission had changed popular understanding of the facts: whether or not torture had actually happened; but did not affect the more generalised narratives of the dictatorship: the stories people told about the past, and the ways in which they situated themselves in those stories.
I came to this distinction between fact and narrative through my reading of all available mainstream newspapers before, during and after the torture commission, as well as through in-depth interviewing of relevant actors. I found that the establishment-sanctioned understanding of torture had gone, to paraphrase, from ‘a couple of communists beating each other up’ to ‘a systematic attempt on the part of the state to annihilate the human dignity and identity’ of at least 30.000 victims.
What had not changed, however, was the understanding of the 1973 coup as being ‘not good but necessary’: Pinochet and the repression and austerity he imposed were seen as having been necessary for the economic development of the country. Torture as a historical fact had changed, but the wider narratives that these episodes of torture slotted into had not changed.
It strikes me that this distinction of fact vs. narratives is quite useful when thinking about austerity politics in Europe and the UK today: it feels that we are seeing far more of the latter, with scant attention paid to the former. This is a pity, as it is well understood that people tend to really change their minds not due to facts, but due to stories, human-interest tearjerkers winning over stats every time.
We are in the paradoxical situation where George Osborne’s good housekeeping argument – if your household were in debt you would not spend more – and Ian Duncan Smith’s seemingly fictional families where “three generations […] have never worked” have more political currency than, say, the news that Reinhart and Rogoff’s academic justification for austerity has been completely discredited, even by the authors themselves. Even though Reinhart and Rogoff have personally corrected their error, Osborne today told ‘The Today Programme’:
“We need more time to dispute your complete dismissal of the work of Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. They made a very substantial contribution to our understanding of the impact of banking crises on economies”
Last week, the RSA played host to two very interesting talks about Austerity, each emphasising how their facts ran counter to the political narratives used to uphold the unprecedented levels of austerity that we are seeing in the UK today.
Mark Blyth spoke of the historical intoxication with the idea of Austerity from Locke onwards, which was widely accelerated throughout the 1980s with the rise of ‘absurdly mathematical economics,’ which hinged on mathematical models that ‘collapse under the slightest pressure’. He argued that leaders such as Osborne and Merkel were now ‘boxed in’ by austerity politics: having argued this far, this hard, Blyth holds that Osborne probably knows austerity ‘is pants’ but he cannot turn around and say ‘sorry guys, my bad’: it would be political suicide.
Smythe: Osborne probably knows that austerity ‘is pants’. Problem is that the coalition is politically boxed in. #RSAausterity
— Gaia Marcus (@la_gaia) May 23, 2013
David Stuckler argued – pithily – that austerity kills, and that the supposed benefits of austerity have not materialised. To cite the hard case, in Greece we have seen a 200% rise in HIV infections, the return of previously eradicated diseases such as malaria, and a 60% increase in suicides; the UK has also seen a rise in ‘economic suicides’ and increased TB, and we are yet to see the full impact of cuts.
— Dawn Foster (@DawnHFoster) May 22, 2013
Beyond country by country examples, Stuckler pointed to how the IMF held that they had “underestimated the negative effect of austerity on job losses and the economy”.
— Mairi Ryan (@Mairi) May 22, 2013
So having given you all my facts, I turn full circle. If the facts point in the opposite direction of the accepted narratives, what can be done? We can now hold that the fear of political suicide is leading to actual real economic suicides; we can hold that a scantly evidenced, ideologically based attack on the nature of the state is having dire effects on its citizens. But this is my reading of some available facts, and you will agree or disagree depending on your personal stance on the economy and the state: other people’s data is easy to discredit.
In my work in Chile I found that the only time that people’s narratives had changed around the dictatorship was when they themselves had been personally affected. Does this mean that we all have to suffer job losses or health deterioration; will we all have to have a nasty brush with ATOS or suffer the ill-effected of half-baked privatisation first-hand?
Both Stuckler and Blyth have a suggested rule in common: first do no harm. When I was studying my memory politics the damage had already been done. Austerity politics is being streamed live, and the facts are stacking up. What stories can we start telling in order to make ‘doing no harm’ the politically expedient option?
Happy New Year from the RSA Action and Research HQ everyone, and please join me in wishing a slightly belated Happy First Birthday to the Social Mirror project! It’s just over a year ago that Nathan Matias and I brainstormed the idea of Social Mirror in the RSA’s London offices. Last year focused on ideas and prototypes. This year, we will be testing our ideas and sharing the software more broadly.
Social Mirror is a tablet application that you can use to measure, visualise, and see the potential for change in online and offline networks. It’ll be like having a portable version of me that you can carry around in your pocket, and we hope it will make it easier for all to examine and change the connections that shape their day-to-day lives. We are now exploring its practical use in public services, starting with a pilot in Knowle West, Bristol.
Nominet Trust Funding
This August, Social Mirror received funding from the Nominet Trust to take Social Mirror from a prototype to tested software. The funds are supporting a community-based health project in Knowle West, Bristol that will be testing out Social Mirror from March, 2013, through to August 2013. We will be blogging as we go at http://www.thersa.org/action-research-centre/public-services-arts-social-change/connected-communities/social-mirror and socialmirror.org.uk, and expect to share our results in the last quarter of 2013.
Laurian Gridinoc has joined the team to take our software from a prototype to community-tested . Laurian is a semantic web, data visualisation, and user experience expert, who joins us after a year working at the BBC for the Mozilla Foundation as an Open News Fellow. Laurian will be working with us and our community partners over the next few months to create a robust, usable technology for network surveys and social prescribing.
Social Prescribing in Knowle West
Our new Nominet Trust funded project is testing how Social Mirror might make social prescribing more effective and locally embedded. Social prescribing is when GPs and other health practitioners ‘prescribe’ local activities and/or community resources instead of drugs or more traditionally medical interventions.
By testing the app’s effectiveness in different contexts – such as among GPs or other health practitioners – the RSA will evaluate the impact of social prescriptions on people’s mental wellbeing, their sense of attachment to and participation in the local community, and their use of public services.
We will be releasing our very first publically available prototype this month! It will have a focus on social prescribing for the time being, but should be fun to have a play with. Check out our video for the time being, maybe follow us on twitter, sign up for the newsletter, and we will be back in touch very soon!
It is an exciting time in the RSA’s Connected Communities team. Alongside our academic partners UCLAN and LSE, we are approaching an interesting milestone in our seven-site, five year Connected Communities programme that seeks to understand how community and social connections affect people’s well-being, and how to use this information to best plan local projects.
Having analysed the links between well-being and social/community connections for thousands of people across seven sites (as shown in the map above) we are now getting to the stage where we can take stock of emergent findings, and start planning how to use these findings to help fund-raise for and support evidence-based project in each of the local sites.
We are now finishing up the community playback of findings in each site (click here to see what happened when we went to Mersey to playback findings and discuss new potential interventions) and just held an annual partner’s event to playback overall findings and plan next steps. If you ever wondered what a travellign wellbeign and connectiosn road-show looked like, have a look-see at this here storify to see what happened, tweet by tweet.
So far, so complex, but I am trying to help shed light on the complicated links between well-being and connections by putting together the beginnings of a connectedness toolkit?
Essentially, context matters; each area is different, but similarly so. Key themes emerging are the need for social support, the relative nature of social vulnerability, the importance of how people’s aspirations link to their area and context, the importance of feeling part of something, and the importance of being able to effect change and to see change being effected. Click here for the colourful storified version, and Watch This Space for further updates!
The best things about this job are the wonderful people I work with, and the inspiring projects that they are involved with. This week I went up to Merseyside to playback some of our research findings, and to find out what the local community wants to do with them….
Find out more, by clicking this here Storify link!
As a type this I am sitting on a train that has unwittingly and unwillingly gone rogue. We are a train in search of direction. We are driving; we have a driver; we have a guard; we even have a spare driver. But there is no-one in charge. It is not clear at what speed we should be going, where exactly we are going, how we are going to attach ourselves to our sister train, where we should be stopping and at what time we are supposed to arriving, wherever it is that we are aiming to be.
Here in the first carriage we are party to the confusion that happens when something is put in motion – in this case a train – before anyone is quite sure of where and how it will end up in whatever becomes its destination. London is the aim, but apparently the route is now completely scrambled: via the valleys, not via the coast, to the chagrin of whoever it was who may have been heading to Horsham.
Now, in the case of this train, it is quite clear that it was quite unwise to pack us up on our merry way without having a clear plan of how the track-side fires (!) were going to disrupt our progress. Cue very stressed workers, many frantic phone calls to locate the elusive signaller, and, no doubt, some pretty angry passengers who found they were on an entirely different journey to the one they had signed up for.
In the case of community development on the other hand…. well this train-ride feels pretty apt. You generally have some vague idea of where you want to end up – the final destination a thriving community – but all tend to disagree on what the stops will be along the way, and how the various bits of the map join up to form the picture as a whole.
Back on the train, the complexity continues. If we stop at three bridges, how will we connect to our sister train in Hayward’s Heath? Will there be more fires along the way? Will the elusive controller ever show up? Real-life often feels like this. Conflicting priorities and schedules that all glue together – or not – in ways that are often unclear at the start, and likely to change once we are in motion.
If you want people to be happier do you focus on connecting people to volunteering opportunities – shown to improve well-being – or maybe try and include major employers in project design? Do we have the skills to attract the employers we need? Would a young person’s project now make all this easier five years down the line? If you highlight a great local person as a local champion will it make things easier for them – maybe through recognition and funding – or will you just over-burden them with continual requests for unpaid Big Society mongering?
As it turned out, the rogue train was faster that it would have been, scheduled; order was eventually restored and fires – one hopes – finally put out. But community development? Well that all feels rather rogue at the moment: entrenched difficulties, little funds, conflicting versions of what will work… I suppose that the secret is that when it comes to the ultimate aim – flourishing communities – no-one is actually charge. There is no manager to complain to. So what are we going to do about it?
I think mapping is important: it would be useful if everyone trying to change a given situation is a least clear on the ‘you are here’ side of things. I think being honest about what you can and can’t do is important: no-one can solve everything, and that is ok. The RSA is interested in the idea of viewing public servants more as facilitators than as solvers; at encouraging experimentation instead of labouring away that the same projects that do not quite work. What do you think?
It’s not just your legs that benefit from a good work-out: they say that learning new things is the key to keeping that most treasured possession: your mind. How often do you give yours a good work out? How often do you learn new things, challenge your known things, challenge your assumptions and your words? My word is ‘networks’, my assumptions leftish by way of human rights, and I know that I do not challenge these enough.
One of the wonderful things about working at the RSA is that you are always learning. Indeed there are so many ideas and experts and projects and concepts floating around that sometimes you feel a need to stop learning; to draw a protective line around that which you do know – mother hen-like – and say “stop, these are my known things, stop muddling them up!”
As it never pays to count one’s chicks (however well-known they may be) it was interesting to read Paul Ormerod’s new book – Positive Linking – and chair his RSA talk about it. We have very different takes on what exactly a network is, and it was fascinating to see how he got to his. As someone who went from being a social historian, to Latin Americanist, to human right-ist to sociology-tinged social network scientist of the Portes-ian school, my understanding of networks is as follows:
“Networks are not a thing; they are a way of understanding and representing the world. A social networks perspective seeks to understand the way in which discrete units – nodes – are connected and affected by the relationships between them.”
But whilst we may pretend otherwise, social network analysts do not have the monopoly on the network, be it social or otherwise. Facebook and Co stole it to mean ‘online platform where we steal all your data and you get the illusion of having friends’; Economists have long meant ‘Network Effects’ to be ‘that value created by economies of scale on the demand side’: my mobile phone becomes valuable when everyone else has one; often Network just means ‘group of people somewhat interacting with each other’.
What is clear is that whatever you understand a network to be, human beings tend towards connecting, interacting and sharing, and this tendency shapes the human experience to a large extent. Human beings, connected, are often good: we are forever creating on the shoulders of giants, and creativity, sharing, generosity and compassion make our human experience the wonderful journey it can sometimes be. Human beings, connected, are also often bad: the more we hear something, the more we believe it to be true; sometimes leading fellow human down twisty filter bubbles in which we – us – are all that is good in the world, and they – them – are all that is bad.
So to help keep my mind active, and to use the good things about human beings connecting tendencies to challenge the bad bits – excessive reliance on my filter-bubble and my known things – I’m helping out with a (non-RSA) project that is trying to break down filter bubbles and share knowledge outside, around and between our little Silos: The Thought Menu. We’ll be covering everything from Revisioning Europe, to totally sustainable mobile phones, to what exactly the New Aesthetic is.
It kicks off this Friday with a jam-packed evening of a communal soup dinner and talks about everything from teenage trust online, meditation in prisons, how creativity can help with climate change, and how to get great projects done for little or no money. Given the tile of this post, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m most looking forward to Dr Tamara Russel and her talk on ‘What happens when I train my brain: The neuroscience of meditation training’.
Please do feel free to come along, and please tell us all: how are you training your mind?
Now the HRA basically put the European Convention on Human Rights –drafted by UK lawyers – into domestic law. The UK has one of those funny dualist legal systems where the government can sign up to *any* international treaty, but until domestic law is drafted, those treaties do not apply domestically: see discussion here.
This is why Pinochet 1998 was such a big deal. As the UK had only incorporated the prohibition on torture in 1988 there had to be proof that – in a dictatorship lasting from 1973-1988/89 – there had been actual torture occurring in 1988. Before that the UK would not have had any legal provisions that would have seen the prohibition on torture as the jus cogens – a law that trumps all other laws, such as diplomatic immunity or territoriality – that it is now seen as being, and laws cannot be used retroactively.
In any case, I digress. My question is: what do you think are *actual human rights*? The HRA only covers political and civil rights: as in to life, freedom from torture, to a just legal system, to free and fair elections etc… The main debates are generally around over Strasbourg’s slightly kinder understanding of ‘the right to family life’ and what actually amounts to ‘cruel and inhuman treatment’: for housing, for example, the House of Lord’s test used to be irrationality – only if a local authority was irrational would they step in – now it *should* be reasonableness.
Personally, I do not think the HRA goes far enough: the UK has consistently refused to accept that Economic and Social Rights are justiciable – something you can fight for in court – and frankly, it should.
Over to you.
A quick 250 words I whizzed together for a Guardian ‘people’s panel’: what do you think? Is Facebook good for you?
Ask me in the pub, and I’ll probably tell you that Facebook has been good for me. I have bits of friendships and bits of heart scattered across the globe, and if I could get my 87 year old Italian Nonna to join Facebook or – gasp – embrace video-chat, then I would. There is only so much love you can put into a badly formatted SMS, and global warming feeds my guilt every time I step onto a luridly orange plane. But ask me at work – with my social network analysis ‘expert’ hat on – and I’ll tell you that I do not know.
As part of a balanced, calorie-controlled social diet, social networking is great. I watched a friend I trapezed with as she debuted in a Chilean soap; I see my friends’ kids from Sud-Tirol to Santiago; and those kids will grow up knowing there is a hell of a world out there. But people relying on the internet for social support do badly: like relying on desserts and chips for all your nutritional needs. The internet is not as democratic as it’s painted: twitter obeys power-laws, and you see the full extent of the twisted rabbit-holes that people’s minds sometimes fall into.
We have a maximum amount of people we can be close to: too many friends can be as harmful as none at all. If Facebook is the cherry on top, you’re probably doing fine. If it’s you main meal, you need to get offline.