I am George Iordanou. I am interested in practical ethics and liberal political theory.

I currently work as a Community Services Consultant at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cyprus. Obvious disclaimer: All view expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinion of my employer.

I have a PhD in Political Theory from the University of Warwick. My thesis examines how to apply theories of Multicultural Citizenship to non-Western and highly securitised contexts. You can read the abstract here.

In this website I express opinions on stuff I know very little about; it’s basically a collection of my non-academic writings.

I write both in English and in Greek.

You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and occasionally Google+.

You can contact me here.

What makes a hero? — the elephant in the room (part 5)

Previous posts:

In this series of posts I try to make sense of what makes a hero. These posts are a record of my thoughts on the matter, and might not always be coherent. If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, I would love to read them either in the comments below, or via email.

This discussion is taking place in a room that has a big pink elephant at its centre, whom we have thus far ignored. The elephant screams that our understanding of human agency and the motivations that are so central to the analysis, have been abstracted so much that they do not describe human beings who, contrary to the account given here, are complicated and multifaceted, and don’t always make rational and calculated decisions.

The elephant is not only taking issue with the psychological simplifications that were made in the course of the argument, but also with the physiological simplifications. For instance, the elephant argues that when adrenaline kicks in, it is very difficult to distinguish between a reflex response and the exercise of individual agency. When high on adrenaline, one is hardly a rational agent able to make informed decisions, the elephant’s argument goes.

In most cases where abstractions are used, the usual routine is that reality is abstracted in order to avoid complexities, so that the competing principles at play are teased out and become crystallised. Ideal theorists claim that the complexity of reality is subsequently factored back in the theory, and the desirable principles generated from the idealised thought experiment, are weighted against considerations of implementation, scarcity and feasibility.

Unfortunately, the process of deciding what makes a hero, cannot fit the (idealised) process of ideal to non-ideal transition. The difficulty — and essence — of heroism, relies on the understanding of how a human will react in a high-stress situation vis-à-vis how she is naturally predisposed to react . Whereas ideal theorists abstract from human nature, assuming characteristics that are fundamentally non-human — like the assumption that everyone will comply with an agreed principle — the same cannot be done in our present discussion because we are interested at the cliff moment when a regular human does something out of the ordinary, possibly something that goes beyond his or her natural instincts.

To this end, and until we have more data about how humans react in such situations, the elephant will have to remain in the room if we are to reach any meaningful conclusions. Every statement that we make needs to be accompanied by the phrase “to the extent that we know.” Obviously, I’m not a natural scientist, so if anyone has any input, it would much appreciated.

What makes a hero? — two types of motives (part 4)

Previous posts:

In this series of posts I try to make sense of what makes a hero. These posts are a record of my thoughts on the matter, and might not always be coherent. If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, I would love to read them either in the comments below, or via email.

The earlier discussion on outcomes distinguished between outcomes in relation to the success or failure of the act — i.e. whether the children were saved from the burning school building — and the outcomes in terms of the personal detriment endured by the act-doer. A similar distinction is relevant in the discussion on motives. They can be divided into the motives prior to the act and the motives during the act.

To illustrate the difference between the two types of motives recall our fireman example. First the example with the motive that is prior to the act. A fireman might be outside the building and notice how fragile it is. He nevertheless decides that he will go inside and risk his own life to save the children. This decision contradicts his mandate, which requires him not to take risks that would jeopardise his  well-being. He is outside his contractual obligations — probably in violation of them — and nevertheless, decides to risk his life. His motives and the exercise of his agency kick in before the act itself and they end up driving the act.

In the second case, we have an example where the motive arises during the act. We have a firewoman in a regular work scenario. She enters the burning building. The firewoman, upon entering the building, realises the near-collapse state of the ceiling and nevertheless decides to move forth to the second room to try and save the kids. The moment the firewoman decided to move forth knowing of the possible adverse consequences of her act, was the moment she exercised her agency in opposition (or above) her mandate. It is at that point that her act yielded a hero-status, which is independent from the outcome of her attempt.

But, as with the case of outcomes in terms of detriment to the act-doer, it is the exact point where considerations of motive kick in that inform the extent of the heroism. The earlier the motive kicks in, the more grandiose the hero-status that will be attached to the act.

In the case of motives — the exercise of the individual agency of the actor — the distinction between earlier and later motives qualifies the extent of the hero-status that will be attached to the act. Both stages yield the original hero-status. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, the distinction is irrelevant to the original allocation of the hero-status and it only speaks to its magnitude.

This is not the case with outcomes. The success or failure of the hero-type endeavour — named the original outcome — is unable to yield the hero-status by itself. In fact, one can be considered a hero solely based on motive-related considerations.

The second type of outcome (described in previous posts as personal outcome), on the other hand, can yield both hero-status and qualify the magnitude of that status. Its primary role is, of course, to qualify the extent of the hero-status. Nevertheless, it also serves a secondary role, which is to provide insight into the motive. A person, for instance, who has injuries that testify to his endurance under detrimental for his well-being conditions, has exercised his agency — motive — to endure those conditions; thus he is a hero because of the exercise of his agency as seen through the personal outcome.

Before we proceed further with the discussion on motives, let us first address the elephant in the room; an endeavour that will be attempted in the next post.

What makes a hero? — thinking about motives (part 3)

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Previous posts:

In this series of posts I try to make sense of what makes a hero. These posts are a record of my thoughts on the matter, and might not always be coherent. If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, I would love to read them either in the comments below, or via email.

We now turn to motives. By the end of the discussion we must be in position to consider whether our determination of the heroism attached to saving the schoolchildren from the burning building changes if the random bystander is replaced by a fireman.

The parameters of the example remain the same. The only change is the actor. It is no longer a third-party, an unrelated by-stander that runs into the burning building. Now, the actor is a fireman whose very job description includes him going into burning buildings and saving people like the two schoolchildren trapped in the burning school. Under what conditions would that person be described as a hero?

Motivations are more important than outcomes. The motivations behind the hero-yielding attempt far outweigh considerations of outcome. The outcome only conditions the magnitude of heroism. The task itself, provided the right motives, is heroic irrespective of the outcome.

Is a fireman who goes into a burning building a hero? Only under certain circumstances where his mandate and his agency are in a disequilibrium. A fireman is someone who has signed a contract to fulfil tasks such as entering burning buildings and saving children. This is his mandate to which he has agreed. The mandate is contractually constrained by considerations of his own personal safety: he is obliged to keep himself, to the best of his abilities, out of harm’s way.

Thus, a fireman or a firewoman are heroes only when they exercise their individual agency in ways that violate their mandate, which protects their safety and constraints the amount of risk that they can take. A hero is he or her that goes beyond and against the mandate.

What about the fireman who unknowingly finds himself violating his mandate? He goes into the building but does not notice the extent to which the fire has corroded the ceiling. Miscalculating the circumstances our fireman enters the room and moves to the next one to save the two children. In doing so the building collapses and they all die. In this instance, the fireman is not a hero because his violation of his mandate was a product of accident or personal error, and as such, not an exercise of his individual agency.

The distinction of motives and outcomes is important. The outcomes condition and decide the extent to which an act or an actor is heroic, but not whether the actor has indeed partaken in a heroic act. The initial classification of an act as heroic rests on the actor’s motives. At this stage, the argument supports that an act is heroic insofar as the actor knowingly exceed any mandate he might have relating to the act in question.

In the next section, we will talk about different kinds of motives, in order to get a better understanding of the function of motives in evaluating whether an act is heroic.

What makes a hero? — outcomes (part 2)

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Previous post: What makes a hero? — introduction (part 1)

In this series of posts I try to make sense of what makes a hero. These posts are a record of my thoughts on the matter, and might not always be coherent. If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, I would love to read them either in the comments below, or via email.

This is the second post on What makes a hero? Here, I will explore two scenaria in order to tease out our intuitions on outcomes; whether the outcomes of an act play a role in determining if the act is indeed heroic.

In the first scenario, our hero is someone who enters into a burning school and saves the lives of two children who are trapped inside. If our rescuer is a random bystander who is unrelated to the children that are trapped in the burning school, then we can reasonably, and without much controversy, argue that he or she is a hero.

Let us consider a twist to the first scenario. Would that person still be considered a hero if the school ceiling collapsed and she got trapped insight, effectively burning to death along with the two schoolchildren? We would probably say that she is indeed a hero.

Would she still be a hero if she came out of the burning building without the schoolchildren? Some people would hesitate to call her a “hero,” but would almost unequivocally call her act “a heroic act” or “an act of great heroism.”

What if the rescuer comes out of the building without the schoolchildren whom she failed to safe, but with severe burning injuries to her hands and face? The evidence of the detrimental effects of the act performed, will likely warrant her a “hero-status,” even if she failed to save the schoolchildren.

It therefore seems prudent to distinguish between the two outcomes.

First, the outcome in relation to the original act; in this case, saving the kids — call this the original outcome. This, I will henceforth argue, is secondary to our evaluation of whether an act merits a hero-badge.

What is most decisive in evaluating the hero-type statement is the second type of outcome: the costs suffered by the act-doer in virtue of the act she performed — call this the personal outcome.

Assume a second example that illustrates the distinction to a better degree. An aeroplane is flying over the desert. The two pilots are dead. A courageous flight attendant attempts to land the failing aeroplane. If he lands it and everyone but himself dies, it is unlikely that he will be called a hero; he fails on both outcomes. If everyone but two people and himself die, he will likely be called a hero in virtue of the additional two lives that he saved; he scores some points in relation to the original outcome. If everyone but himself dies, but in trying to land the aeroplane he manages to avert a further catastrophe such as the aeroplane falling on a major city, then we would unequivocally call him a hero; again, in relation to the original outcome. If all die, himself included, and we acquire knowledge of his attempt to avert the accident through the black box, then we will likely call his attempt a heroic one and him possibly a hero; this assessment is based on the personal outcome.

In the second example we have seen, the flight attendant is a hero irrespective of the destiny of the passengers — the original outcome — provided that he has endured personally detrimental damages. Thus, if everyone but himself died, he would still be considered a hero, conditional upon the personal detrimental effects generated by the act, or in relation to the act attempted; in this case, on whether he has endured any injuries or whether he has averted a further tragedy such as the aeroplane falling on a congested city.

To summarise the position thus far, we can say that a hero must be judged on the motives underpinning the act, as well as from the outcome of the act itself. The outcome can be divided into two categories: the success of the act itself, saving the schoolchildren or the passengers in the aeroplane; and the outcomes in relation to the effects that the act had upon the act-doer, whether the lady rushing in the burning school or the flight attendant trying to land the aeroplane died or suffer any injuries. The two different outcomes have been summarised under the terms original outcome and personal outcome.

In the next post, we will consider the motives behind the act, in order to find out what role, if any, personal motives play in determining whether someone is a hero.

What makes a hero? — introduction (part 1)

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In this series of posts I will try to make sense of what makes a hero. These posts are a record of my thoughts on the matter, and might not always be coherent. If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, I would love to read them either in the comments below, or via email.

I am always weary of people who call other people heroes.

What does it mean anyway?

That was, until recently, my immediate thought when confronted with a hero-type statement. My response was a product of performative conditioning. Simply put, when we observe the same phenomenon over and over again, we associate it with those that perform it, thus leaving the concept itself — heroism in this case — unexplored. In essence, the performative conditioning, the fallacy that I have been committing when confronted with claims of heroism, was that I associated the motives and dispositions of the actors making the hero-type statement with the phenomenon of heroism itself.

In this series of posts, I will try to make sense of what makes a hero. My objective is to develop a nuanced understanding of heroism; one that can be called to facilitate the evaluation of hero-type statements of the sort: “George is a hero” or “George has committed a heroic act.”

Such was my attitude towards the act of calling someone a hero. In my defence, most of the people I know who casually refer to others as “heroes,” come from the religious right. More often than not, they juxtapose the term “hero” with the term “traitor.” One can be a hero, or at least try to be one, or else, she is possibly a traitor, or at least suspect of being one. Any unusual act that diverges from the spectrum of expected responses to given social stimuli, tends to fall in either of the two categories. This dichotomy makes me uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, recently I was talking with a friend about Edward Snowden. We were talking about the Nobel Peace Prize, and whether Snowden should have been the recipient of the award. During our discussion I casually made the statement that Edward Snowden is a contemporary hero and as such should have received the prize. I argued that Snowden has given up a very comfortable life for the common good — the detrimental effect that the “Snowden revelations” had on Snowden’s own life, and the positive outcome of the revelations were, at the time, sufficient conditions for me to classify the man as a “hero.” My friend challenged me and argued that there is no such thing as a selfless act, and as such we should disperse with the concept of heroism altogether. Although I am sympathetic to the view that no act is absolutely selfless, since it would assume that individuals are disembodied from themselves and abstracted from their social contexts, nevertheless I do think that some acts have motivations or outcomes that make them exceptional.

First, let me talk to you about the ideal-type hero that I dislike. In this formulation, the hero sets the gold standard. There is something biblical about a hero. A normal individual commits an “abnormal” act and becomes elevated to a demigod-status. Demigods have followers who define themselves in relation to the ideal man, the hero — a living embodiment of the superhuman. The ideal of heroism is usually defined in relation to some group-defining and often exclusionary characteristic. Sometimes this characteristic is ethnicity, other times is religion, and often both. The man — it usually is a man — who exemplifies these values through his actions, gets the badge of heroism. Most heroes of this sort, become heroes by upholding esteemed societal values through violent means, either because they have killed “the others” or because they have prohibited “the others” from killing “us,” which means that they have also committed acts of violence.

The concept of heroism as depicted above is part of a cleansing process. It purifies the man and his acts in order to ensure that the ideal image will survive and inspire others over time. Alas, the cleansing is also dehumanising for it detaches the human vices from the acts performed.

We need to step back and consider the term “hero” without purifying the actors and their motivations. In fact, the distinction of “motives” and “outcomes” of a heroic act will enable us to better understand what it is, in the end, that makes someone a hero.

In the next post, two examples will be explored to tease out our intuitions regarding the kinds of outcomes that merit the hero badge.

On Useless Statistics

I run to podcasts. My favourite podcast is More or Less: Behind the Statsby Tim Harford. It is broadcasted weekly by BBC Radio 4. Tim humorously examines mainstream statistics that come up in the news. Listeners send their questions and he tries to analyse the numbers to examine the claims that are made.

moreorlessFor instance, in the latest show, Tim analyses two interesting statistics. The first, was that joggers who run for more than two and a half hours, for more than three times per week, are as likely to die as those who are couch potatoes, whereas those who run for up to two and half hours for less than three times a week and at a slower running pace, enjoy increased chances of survival of non-joggers and strenuous joggers alike. The conclusion reached by the statisticians who conducted the longitudinal study, eagerly circulated by mainstream media, was that strenuous jogging is bad for you.

Alas, the sample of strenuous joggers used was very low, only thirty six, and definitely not enough to justify such a grand conclusion. Moreover, the number of people in the strenuous joggers’ group who actually died, were two. One. Two. Only two. And we have no data about their cause of death. So if a strenuous jogger died in a car accident we would have no way to distinguish her from someone who died whilst running. Nevertheless, the runner who might have died in a car accident would still be counted towards the overall number of deaths of strenuous joggers.

The second interesting statistic was that the average number of legs per person is less than two. This can be verified statistically, but in reality, it tells us nothing. The statistic is technically true. There are more people with amputated legs than there are people who were born with three legs. Whilst the statistic is true, it doesn’t tell us much; it is illustrative of the sensational excitement that statistics can create, even in the absence of actual substance.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring the podcast to your attention. I hope you enjoy it.

The hidden agenda behind the explicit criminalisation of sex-selective abortion

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Women, like men, live in societies and make choices based on the norms and constraints that exist within those societies. Accepting diversity means accepting the fact that different people hold different conceptions of the good life. As long as people make autonomous choices within those constraints, the government should keep out of it.

A British or an American-born woman will likely choose to abort her foetus if she has no means to support it, or if bringing it up would affect her circumstances to such as an extent that she finds unacceptable. She makes the choice based on the constraints of her community, which holds financial independence and material affluence to high regard.

Can someone meaningfully argue against that woman’s right to abort? Can one object on the grounds that she is forced into it due to the pressures imposed upon her by the cultural norms of western societies? I think not. Yes, you could object to the abortion on religious or other grounds, but not using the argument that it is a product of cultural oppression.

Gruesome as it may be, sex-selective abortion falls within the same parameters. Sex-selective abortion is a practice that responds to the norms of some cultures, in the same way as financially-motivated abortions are a product of decision within the constraints of western liberal cultures. Insofar as it is the autonomous choice of women, where informed adults exercise their agency over their reproductive rights within the inevitable constraints of their societies or cultures, the state cannot legitimately intervene. As such, the amendment to the law to explicitly criminalise sex-selective abortion, has a hidden agenda: to criminalise all abortions and in doing so to restrict women’s reproductive freedoms.

The state should not be in the business of regulating people’s lives. Rather, it should guarantee that the women in question make autonomous decisions without coercion, and that they are aware of alternative options available to them; options that they might so choose if and when they want to.

The state should guarantee that the women in question enjoy a substantive right of exit from their cultures. A right of exit is very different from forcing a woman to give up her reproductive rights. Similarly, providing a right of exit should not entail the destruction of her culture, as it provides context-of-choice for her – a term coined by the Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka.

Guaranteeing autonomous choice and a substantive right of exit for women, means that the state must guarantee that women have a right to education and that they are aware of the existence of a safety net beyond the structures of their culture. Both conditions rest on the availability of a welfare state that will provide educational opportunities, structures that will help women to get back on their feet if they choose to alienate themselves from their families and friends, and overall gender equality within society: in the job market, in universities, in the media, in the arts and, of course, in public office.

Restricting women’s reproductive rights is not the way to go. On the practical side, there is no way to enforce such a measure without the state shoving its nose into people’s private lives (the law already prohibits SSAs, the new amendment wants to recognise the “rights of the unborn” independent of the pregnant woman, as many academics rightly argued in a letter to the Telegraph). More substantially though, it doesn’t solve the problem. If it’s not sex-selective abortion it will be something else. And then something else. And some more. How far do we want to take it before our private decisions are first vetted by the value-system of the majority societal cultures?

A small state, as the one envisioned by the Conservative party, cannot guarantee people’s right to live their lives as they see fit. The erosion of the welfare provisions of the state leaves it unable to guarantee a substantive right of exit of individuals from their cultures. It can only act as a bully — by intervening and asserting its authority through a blanket ban on some practices, which rests on the arrogant superiority that women in minority cultures are victims of oppression who cannot make autonomous decisions.

In doing so, the sack of Aeolus opens and more restrictions on women’s control over their bodies is under way. Now it’s self-selective abortion, in a few years, provided that the majority culture deems it prudent, it might be all abortions, “our” abortions. When we talk about the rights of “others” is easy to miss how their restriction could backlash against the rights that feminists have fought for and won after centuries of oppression by us, men.

Am I the right person to talk about women’s reproductive rights? Probably not. I will never experience giving birth and I will never be in a position where I will have to make choices such as these. Nevertheless, neither are most western activists who campaign in favour of the explicit criminalisation of sex-selective abortions. The voices that need to be amplified, those we really need to hear, are the voices of women who face this choice.

If the objective is not to ban abortions altogether, if there is no hidden agenda against all abortions behind the proposed amendment, then we need to start talking about the empowerment of women and the unjust hierarchical structures that constrain the options available to them. We must engage with women who face decisions that we find problematic and learn from them instead of classifying them as victims of oppression who have no agency or control over their lives.

And history can teach us a few things on that. Not too long ago, France banned the veil in public schools. Three girls were expelled from their school for refusing to conform. A great debate took place, from which the only people missing were the three girls whose choice to wear the veil was considered problematic by the majority of French people. When the girls were later interviewed it became obvious that their decision to wear the veil was autonomous and reasoned, and that the veil was an assertion of their identity rather than a product of an oppressive culture that left them no other choice.

We need to avoid the restriction of women’s right to choose how to deal with their own bodies and we need to take positive steps to make sure that the choices they make reflect the exercise of their informed judgement and not the pressure of their families or cultures. Explicitly criminalising sex-selective abortions achieves neither objective. Instead, it will endanger the lives of women who will seek alternative — underground — means to get those abortions and will, at the same time, limit the reproductive rights of women in general, as is the objective of the so called pro-life group behind the proposed amendment.

Published in the Huffington Post. For comments head to the original article.

Περί του σεβασμού της θρησκείας

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Μετά τις δολοφονίες στη Γαλλία γίνεται μεγάλος λόγος για το σεβασμό προς τη θρησκεία (respect, το λεγόμενο).

Ο “σεβασμός” είναι κάπως ατυχής όρος. Δεν μπορεί να υπάρξει τέτοιο πράγμα όπως “σεβασμός στη θρησκεία του άλλου.” Σεβασμός στη θρησκεία, σημαίνει σεβασμός στο δικαίωμα του κάθε ανθρώπου να πιστεύει σε όποιο/ους θεό/θεούς επιθυμεί. Η πίστη του αυτή καθαυτή δε αξίζει a priori σεβασμού.

Δηλαδή, ο σεβασμός κερδίζεται και καμία άποψη δεν αξιώνει σεβασμού λόγω της φύσης της. Ο σεβασμός μιας άποψης είναι προϊόν πειθούς μέσω επικοινωνίας. Το δικαίωμα σου να διατηρείς και να εκφέρεις την εν λόγω άποψη είναι “ιερό.” Δεν είναι όμως προϊόν σεβασμού. Είναι δικαίωμα που κατοχυρώθηκε ως απαραίτητο κομμάτι της ανθρώπινης εμπειρίας για τη λειτουργεία της υψηλότερης των ανθρώπινων εφευρέσεων: της δημοκρατίας.

Ο σεβασμός λοιπόν, κερδίζεται και είναι προϊόν επικοινωνίας. Το ότι είναι προϊόν επικοινωνίας, σημαίνει ότι υφίσταται μόνο μεταξύ ατόμων. Οργανισμοί, κτήρια, σύμβολα και σχολές σκέψεις δεν είναι αντικείμενα σεβασμού. Δεδομένου ότι υπάρχει η ελευθερία ανέγερσης κτηρίων, δημιουργίας οργανισμών και διατήρησης συμβόλων από ανθρώπους που θεωρούν ότι αυτά έχουν αξία, τότε η δημοκρατική μας υποχρέωση τελειώνει.

Ο σεβασμός, κατά την αντίληψη μου, είναι προϊόν της διακριτικής ευχέρειας του κάθε ατόμου και αποτέλεσμα συνδιάλεξης. Κατ’ επέκταση ακόμη και η έκφραση “σέβομαι το δικαίωμα σου να..” είναι λανθασμένη. Το σημαντικό είναι αν αποτελεί δικαίωμα ή όχι, όχι αν το σέβεσαι· αν, δηλαδή είναι κατοχυρωμένη ελευθερία. Αν είναι δικαίωμα, τότε χρήζει προστασίας από το κράτος, ενδεχομένως και μέσω της χρήσης των κατασταλτικών μηχανισμών του. Αν δηλαδή κάποιος σε φημώνει, το κράτος οφείλει να σε προστατεύσει καθώς διακυβεύεται η ελευθερία του λόγου σου. Ο σεβασμός στο λόγο σου είναι τελείως διαφορετικό πράγμα, το οποίο έχει να κάνει με την ουσία εκείνων που λες και όχι με το δικαίωμα σου να τα πεις.

“Σεβασμός” δε σημαίνει ότι είσαι υπεράνω κριτικής. Αν πιστεύεις σε μια θρησκεία που θεωρεί, για παράδειγμα, την ομοφυλοφιλία ως προβληματική, τότε άλλα άτομα δικαιούνται να κρίνουν εσένα και τη θρησκεία σου. Δεν μπορούν να σου απαγορεύσουν να διατηρείς ή να επικοινωνείς αυτές τις απόψεις. Το δικαίωμα σου αυτό είναι κατοχυρωμένο λόγω της ιδιότητας σου ως αυτόνομο μέλος της πολιτικής μας κοινότητας.

Εκεί, λοιπόν, είναι που τελειώνει η ελευθερία του λόγου σου και ξεκινά η δική μου. Το δικαίωμα μου, δηλαδή, να κρίνω αυτά που θεωρώ προβληματικά. Δεν οφείλεις να σεβαστείς την κριτική μου. Ούτε καν οφείλεις να την ακούσεις. Δεν μπορείς, όμως, να τη φημώσεις.

Word and Endnote almost made my cry

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Today is Sunday, exactly a week since I realised that my referencing application broke my PhD by mixing the thousands of footnotes that I have. It was around 8am. I had waken up a few minutes before E., made us some coffee and turned on the computer. The plan was to keep editing until the bloody PhD is done. The night before, I was editing the “Conclusion” chapter and I noticed that its only reference was misplaced. I assumed that I had made a mistake, corrected it and called it a night.

The morning after, on Sunday, sitting at my home desk drinking coffee at 8am, I decided to go over the references to catch similar mistakes. It was during that time that E. entered the room, right about the time I realised that all my footnotes (more than a thousand) were messed — they were both wrongly numbered and wrongly located. I was already in a lot of pressure before that. I had set myself a deadline to send the corrected draft to my supervisors by Wednesday night. I teach all day on Mondays, therefore I could only work on the thesis on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A corrupted document was quite literally the last thing I needed.

It taken me around three hours to locate the problem. Having eliminated all other possibilities, it became obvious that the issue was either caused by the track changes feature of Microsoft Word or by Endnote. If it were the former I could possibly find a solution since other people would have already dealt with similar issues and a likely remedy could be found online. If it were the latter then the situation would be more difficult, because there are a lot of additional — external — steps involved and considerably less customer base for troubleshooting, and therefore less information available online. Unfortunately, by noon, it became obvious that the problem was caused by Endnote. I then tried to rearrange the footnotes by using a small programme within Word (a macro) in order to restore them to their correct location but, as these things go, it didn’t work.

It was afternoon and I was becoming increasingly aware that my day was being wasted. What was supposed to be a very productive day became one of anxiety and frustration — “how could this happen to me?” I kept thinking. I have more backups than one can imagine and my document follows judiciously all the good practices of Word. Three and a half years everything worked smoothly; how could this happen to me, and why, oh why now? E. was no cooler than I was. She was upset and worried, eager to help. When she is stressed she gets aggressive. So my raw anger and her aggressiveness made a rather explosive mix — and the document was still corrupt, no actual work was done and the clock was ticking for the Wednesday evening deadline. By then it was afternoon. I wanted to try a few more things, send an email to Endnote and plan my week factoring in the new obstacle. I decided to cut my losses. I only gave myself a few hours to try whatever could be tried. By then it was evening. I decided to stop attempting to fix the document, leave it aside, and deal with the issue after Wednesday. In the meantime I would keep editing the document with the messed up footnotes.

In the evening we went for dinner. Throughout the dinner I was thinking whether I should keep the PhD in a Word document using Endnote, or move it to LaTeX using BiBTeX. I understood that no matter what, I could no longer trust my current — Word and Endnote — setup. I had no guarantees that the same thing would not happen again a few days later. LaTeX and BiBTeX it was then.

This pretty much sums the trade-off. LaTeX has a steep learning curve but it can scale with little effort whereas MS Word is easier to use but becomes increasingly difficult the longer the document becomes.

The LaTeX solution had problems of its own. For one, it requires more technical skill. That wouldn’t be a massive issue because I used LaTeX extensively in the past. But, until then, I had almost no experience with its referencing system (BiBTeX) and I didn’t know how much time it would take me to move the text over from Word. Still, I decided that it was a gamble worth taking.

On Monday I spent my breaks between seminars and the whole of the evening trying to make LaTeX play well with BiBTeX. I also coded the design (the .sty files) of the new LaTeX document. On Tuesday morning I moved my references over to BiBTeX using a small shell script, and in the afternoon I continued editing the thesis for the Wednesday deadline. On Wednesday evening I sent the corrupted and edited Word document to the supervisors and had a beer at the pub before resuming work on the LaTeX document.

The plan was to complete the migration as soon as possible in order to have time to proof read the whole PhD before submission. The migration was completed on Saturday afternoon. The PhD is now in LaTeX and all the references work. It even looks better now — the typography and document design are much more elegant. This means two things. Firstly, that I can actually start reading the text rather than just move it around (remember that I had to reinsert each footnote one by one). Secondly, that today I can take a couple of hours off to watch the final F1 race (the only sport that I actually enjoy watching) and maybe cook Cypriot beans with parsley and smoked fish, which need time. Tomorrow will all be gone to teaching and “advice and feedback” but from Tuesday until the next Sunday I should finish (and submit?) the PhD. Then I will take a beer bath.

In all this, the official support from Endnote was amazing. They volunteered to sort the document out, and when they realised that it would take them more time than initially estimated, they emailed me to reassure me that they were working on it. Nevertheless, by the time they returned the document to me, I had already completed the migration.

If there is anything to take from this is that open and tried formats and applications are always better for troubleshooting, and that plain text will live forever and won’t get messed by a crappy word processor or a buggy third-party programme. Word is fine for small documents, but it doesn’t scale well. If you are someone working with large text, then do invest some time learning how to write in LaTeX and how to use sophisticated text editors like Emacs (calling Emacs a mere “text editor” sounds like a sacrilege, but you get the point).

Όταν πολιτικοί αλληλοσυγχαίρονται για την οικονομία

Matt Kenyon on food poverty

Στην Αγγλία οι περισσότεροι δικαιούχοι επιδομάτων είναι εργαζόμενοι. “Εργάζονται για να κερδίσουν τη φτώχεια τους”, λέει χαρακτηριστικά ο Owen Jones. Δηλαδή εργάζονται αλλά οι μισθοί που τους δίνουν τα αφεντικά τους δεν είναι αρκετοί για να ικανοποιήσουν βασικές τους ανάγκες, όπως για παράδειγμα την αγορά φαγητού για την οικογένειά τους.

Τον τελευταίο καιρό μάλιστα, όπως αναφέρει ο Aditya Chakrabortty στην Guardian, υπάρχει αύξηση μικροκλοπών, όπου πολίτες μη έχοντας φαγητό κλέβουν ψωμί και άλλα βασικά αγαθά από υπεραγορές. Κατόπιν συλλαμβάνονται, δικάζονται, και τους επιβάλλονται πρόστιμα τα οποία αδυνατούν να αποπληρώσουν. Το παράδειγμα της 35χρονης κυρίας Hill είναι χαρακτηριστικό. Η κ. Hill και το 18μηνο της βρέφος λιμοκτονούσαν. Η κ. Hill πήγε στην υπεραγορά, έκλεψε κοτόπουλο και σαπούνι, συνελήφθη και οδηγήθηκε στο δικαστήριο, όπου της επιβλήθηκε πρόστιμο £200. Ο δικηγόρος της, ο οποίος εργάζεται σε μια μετά-βιομηχανική πόλη όπως το Coventry, είπε στην Guardian ότι η πρακτική αυτή, όπου εργαζόμενοι αφήνονται να λιμοκτονήσουν ούτως ώστε να αναγκαστούν να κλέψουν, είναι τόσο διαδεδομένη που αποτελεί πλέον εθνική πολιτική.

Το κοινωνικό παντοπωλείο του Coventry (food bank), για παράδειγμα, χρειάστηκε μέσα στον τελευταίο χρόνο να υπερδιπλασιάσει τον αριθμό ατόμων που συντηρεί. Η αύξηση ζήτησης των υπηρεσιών των κοινωνικών παντοπωλείων είναι ενδεικτική της κρίσης που περνά η εργατική τάξη την ώρα που η πολιτική ηγεσία αυτοδοξάζεται ανταλλάζονται συγχαρητήρια για την επιτυχή οικονομική ανάκαμψη της χώρας. Επίσης ενδεικτικό της ανισότητας και της κρίσης που περνά η εργατική τάξη είναι το παράδειγμα του ζευγαριού εργαζομένων σε μια από τις πιο δημοφιλείς αλυσίδες υπεραγορών της χώρας, των οποίων ο μισθός δεν τους επιτρέπει να αγοράζουν φαγητό από την υπεραγορά που δουλεύουν και αντί αυτού αναγκάζονται να χρησιμοποιούν το τοπικό food bank. Η αντιπαραβολή των εικόνων αυτών με τις ανταλλαγές αλληλοσυγχαρητηρίων των πολιτικών δείχνουν την έκταση της υποκρισίας των κυβερνώντων.

Το οικονομικό πλάνο που ακολουθεί η συντηρητική κυβέρνηση του Ηνωμένου Βασιλείου στα πλαίσια ανάκαμψης της οικονομίας είναι πανομοιότυπο με τις πολιτικές που προωθούνται στην Κύπρο: φιλελευθεροποίηση του ωραρίου των καταστημάτων, φιλελευθεροποίηση των συμβάσεων εργασίας (zero hour contracts), ιδιωτικοποιήσεις των κερδοφόρων κρατικών και ημικρατικών οργανισμών, γενικότερη μείωση του κράτους και των υπηρεσιών που αυτό προσφέρει, καθώς και τη σταδιακή υποβάθμιση της δημόσιας δευτεροβάθμιας παιδείας και την αύξηση του κόστους της τριτοβάθμιας εκπαίδευσης.

Στο μεταξύ, Κύπριοι κυβερνητικοί αξιωματούχοι, όπως οι Βρετανοί συντηρητικοί ομοϊδεάτες τους, μιλάνε για θυσίες που απέφεραν καρπούς, εννοώντας τη χειροτέρευση του βιοτικού επιπέδου των εργαζομένων το οποίο οδήγησε (λένε) στην ανάκαμψη της χώρας. Η περαιτέρω φτωχοποίηση της Βρετανικής εργατικής τάξης όμως, δεν μπορεί να ερμηνευτεί ως θυσία, καθώς αυτή προϋποθέτει την οικειοθελή παροχή κάποιου αγαθού, όχι την υφαρπαγή αυτού από το κράτος. Επίσης, η ανάκαμψη στη Βρετανία δεν είναι καθολική, καθώς εξυπηρετεί αποκλειστικά τις ανώτερες οικονομικές τάξεις που εκμεταλλεύονται την ευάλωτη θέση των εργαζομένων, αναγκάζοντας τους να δουλεύουν για ψίχουλα και να εξαρτώνται από τα επιδόματα της κυβέρνησης και από τα κοινωνικά παντοπωλεία.

Γι’ αυτό, την επόμενη φορά που θα σε καλέσει η κυβέρνηση να τη χειροκροτήσεις αραδιάζοντας σου κάποιο αριθμό ή παρουσιάζοντας σου την “έξοδο στις αγορές” ή τα “stress tests” ως επιτυχία, σκέψου πρώτα αν κατανοείς αυτό που καλείσαι να χειροκροτήσεις, και κατόπιν κατά πόσο αυτό εξυπηρετεί τα δικά σου συμφέροντα ως εργαζόμενο ή αν περιορίζεται στα συμφέροντα της τάξης που αυτοί προέρχονται και εκπροσωπούν, δηλαδή των εκατομμυριούχων μεγαλοδικηγόρων και τραπεζιτών που εν πολλοίς ευθύνονται για τη σημερινή κατάντια της χώρας που εσύ καλείσαι να πληρώσεις υπό μορφή θυσίας.

* Το γραφικό από τον Matt Kenyon για την Guardian.

Γκρεμισμένα Σπίτια

Φωτογραφία του Κώστα Κωνσταντίνου https://www.flickr.com/photos/constantinou1962/12016418005/

Μια από τις πιο ευχάριστες αναμνήσεις που έχω από την παιδική μου ηλικία, είναι στο παλιό mazda του πατέρα, να οδηγούμε κατά τις οκτώ το βράδυ. Στο αυτοκίνητο η μάμμα, που μόλις σχόλασε από τον Αμερικάνο όπου δούλευε μέχρι αργά, ο παπάς, ο οποίος όντας τραπεζικός υπάλληλος είχε σχολάσει προ πολλού, και εγώ, να κάθομαι στο πίσω κάθισμα, κρατώντας τις μαξιλάρες των μπροστινών καρέκλων, μπαίνοντας σφήνα μεταξύ οδηγού και συνοδηγού. Η αδερφή μου η Ειρήνη ήταν τότε αγέννητη, ή βρέφος. Φεύγαμε λοιπόν από τη δουλειά της μητέρας, καθοδόν προς το σπίτι, πάντα ακούγοντας μουσική. Μεγάλωσα σε ένα σπίτι που άκουγε μουσική, που πήγαινε συναυλίες, που είχε βιβλιοθήκες γεμάτες. Μια από τις πιο οικείες αναμνήσεις μου, θέλει τους τρεις μας να ακούμε το τραγούδι “γκρεμισμένα σπίτια” του Χατζή στο μεταχειρισμένο mazda 323 και να τραγουδάμε φάλτσα “γκρεμισμένα σπίτια μέσα στο σκοτάδι, έτσι είν’ η ζωή μας μεσημέρι βράδυ.” Κάποτε ο πατέρας σφυρούσε με τη χαρακτηριστική χροιά του στο ρυθμό του τραγουδιού, ενώ εγώ κι η μάνα μου τραγουδούσαμε “μη ζητάς κορίτσι μου ένα κορδελάκι, από τα ερείπια κτίζω ένα σπιτάκι.” Τότε ήταν ίσως η πιο ευτυχισμένη περίοδος της ζωής μου. Ένοιωθα ασφάλεια, ελευθερία και αγάπη, τα τρία συστατικά της ευτυχίας ενσωματωμένα σε ένα ρεφρέν, σε μια οικογένεια που για τα λίγα λεπτά του τραγουδιού γινόταν ένα, μέσα σε ένα παλιό mazda 323.

Κοντά εικοσιπέντε χρόνια μετά, κάθε φορά που είμαι λυπημένος, αλιεύω αναμνήσεις από τα παιδικά μου χρόνια, και τραγουδώ το “Γκρεμισμένα Σπίτια.” Μερικές φορές μάλιστα, το σφυρίζω δειλά, χωρίς δυστυχώς τη μελοδικότητα του σφυρίγματος του πατέρα.

Ένα τόσο λυπητερό τραγούδι μου προκαλεί ευφορία, καθώς είναι συνυφασμένο με το αίσθημα ασφάλειας και ευτυχίας που χαρακτηρίζει τα προεφηβικά μου χρόνια. Τραγουδώντας όμως τους στίχους αντιλαμβάνομαι το νόημα τους και κατσουφιάζω. Κανείς δεν σφυρίζει πια, και τα γκρεμισμένα σπίτια, ένα τραγούδι από τα πολλά στο ρεπερτόριο των φερέλπιδων αριστερών της εποχής, αποτελεί πλέον πραγματικότητα. Βρισκόμαστε προ ερειπίων, χωρίς όμως πρόθεση ή προοπτική ανοικοδόμησης. Κανείς πλέον δεν σφυρίζει. Λείπει η απαιτούμενη ανεμελιά. Τώρα φόβος και δουλοπρέπεια. Και θυσίες για αόριστες πατρίδες και συγκεκριμένους δικαιούχους. Και τεχνοκράτες στις τηλεοράσεις να μιλάνε για εξόδους από μνημόνια, την ώρα που γκρεμίζονται τα σπίτια. Με προτοφανή αδιαφορία για τις ατομικές ιστορίες, για προσωπικά δράματα, για τον άνθρωπο μετά τους αριθμούς.

Γκρεμισμένα σπίτια μέσα στο σκοτάδι,
έτσι είν’ η ζωή μας μεσημέρι βράδυ.
Μη ζητάς, κορίτσι μου, ένα κορδελάκι
από τα ερείπια φτιάχνω ένα σπιτάκι.

Η φωτογραφία είναι του Κώστα Κωνσταντίνου

Πρώτη ανάλυση του αποτελέσματος στη Σκωτία

scotland polling

Η ώρα είναι 00:30 ώρα Αγγλίας. Η έρευνα του YouGov δείχνει το ΟΧΙ να προηγείται με 54%, έναντι 46% του ΝΑΙ. Δεν πρόκειται για exit poll, αλλά για έρευνα με ομάδες ατόμων που ερωτήθηκαν πριν και μετά τη ψηφοφορία τι προτίθενται να ψηφίσουν και τι τελικά ψήφισαν.

Είναι αξιοσημείωτο ότι η προσέλευση στις κάλπες ξεπέρασε κάθε προηγούμενη εκλογική διαδικασία στη Σκωτία και κάθε πρόβλεψη αναλυτών και δημοσιογράφων που ασχολήθηκαν με το δημοψήφισμα. Μάλιστα, ο αριθμός εκείνων που ψήφισαν ταχυδρομικά ανήλθε στο 96% του συνόλου εκείνων που εξέφρασαν πρόθεση να ψηφίσουν με αυτόν τον τρόπο, που είναι πραγματικά εντυπωσιακό.

Ο διευθυντής της YouGov, της υπηρεσίας που προέβηκε στην (μόνη) έρευνα ψήφου μετά τη ψηφοφορία, δήλωσε ότι είναι 99% σίγουρος ότι το ΟΧΙ θα επικρατήσει. Άρα, ελλείψει αποτελεσμάτων, λειτουργούμε βάση των προβλέψεων της YouGov, οι οποίες είναι διαχρονικά ακριβείς.

Λειτουργώντας λοιπόν με την υπόθεση ότι το ΟΧΙ θα επικρατήσει, προχωρώ στις τέσσερις σημαντικές παραμέτρους που θα κληθεί να αντιμετωπίσει και να διαχειριστεί η Βρετανική κυβέρνηση.

Η πρώτη έχει να κάνει με την οικονομία που έχει πληγεί από την αβεβαιότητα των προηγούμενων ημερών. Οι αγορές φαίνεται να αντιδρούν θετικά στο ενδεχόμενο του ΟΧΙ, με την ισοτιμία της στερλίνας έναντι του δολαρίου να καταγράφει αύξηση.

Η δεύτερη έχει να κάνει με την εσωτερική κατάσταση στη Σκωτία. Τις τελευταίες μέρες έχουμε δει την αύξηση του εσωτερικού διχασμού μεταξύ των υποστηρικτών των δυο πλευρών. 10% των ερωτηθέντων δήλωσαν ότι έτυχαν παράλογης αντιμετώπισης (“unreasonable behaviour”) από τους υποστηρικτές του ΝΑΙ, και 5% από τους υποστηρικτές του ΟΧΙ. Επίσης, είδαμε να εντείνονται και να πληθαίνουν οι εθνικιστικές τάσεις, οι οποίες θα πρέπει να κατευναστούν (και να ικανοποιηθούν σε κάποια βαθμό) τις επόμενες μέρες και εβδομάδες.

Η τρίτη παράμετρος έχει να κάνει με τις υποσχέσεις που δόθηκαν στου Σκωτσέζους τις τελευταίες μέρες. Οι τρεις ηγέτες — Κάμερον για του Συντηρητικούς, Μίλιμπαντ για τους Εργατικούς και ο Κλέγκ για τους φιλελεύθερους δημοκράτες — δήλωσαν επανειλημμένα ότι τα κόμματα τους θα υποστηρίξουν περαιτέρω αποκέντρωση και μεταφορά πολιτικών εξουσιών στη Σκωτία και αλλού. Τώρα απομένει να δούμε κατά πόσο θα τηρήσουν τις υποσχέσεις τους, και με ποιο τρόπο θα το πράξουν. Συζητείται μέχρι και η υιοθέτηση ενός ομοσπονδιακού μοντέλου.

Η τέταρτη παράμετρος έχει να κάνει με τα εσωτερικά του κυβερνώντος κόμματος, των Συντηρητικών, όπου ο Ντέιβιντ Κάμερον νοιώθει την καρέκλα του να τρίζει. Αρχικά έκανε το λάθος να συμφωνήσει στο δημοψήφισμα νομιζόμενος ότι το ΟΧΙ θα κέρδιζε πανηγυρικά. Τις τελευταίες εβδομάδες οι δημοσκοπήσεις έδειχναν ότι η αναμέτρηση θα ήταν οριακή. Ο πρωθυπουργός εφησυχασμένος άργησε να αντιδράσει, και όταν ενεπλάκη δεν ήταν αποτελεσματικός. Χρειάστηκε να επέμβει ο πρώην πρωθυπουργός και βουλευτής των Εργατικών Γκόρντον Μπράουν, ο οποίος ανέλαβε την ανεπίσημη ηγεσία της πλευράς του ΟΧΙ τις τελευταίες μέρες. Ο Κάμερον καλείται να υπερασπιστεί την καρέκλα του. Το κόμμα του με τη σειρά του καλείται να διαχειριστεί τη διχόνοια στους κύκλους του, όπου οι backbenchers (βουλευτές του κυβερνώντος κόμματος που δεν εμπλέκονται στην κυβέρνηση, κυρίως πιο ακραίοι) έχουν κηρύξει πόλεμο στην κυβέρνηση και προσωπικά στον Κάμερον.

Σας καληνυχτίζω. Συγχωρέστε τυχόν προφανή λάθη, η ώρα είναι προχωρημένη κι εγώ μισοκοιμισμένος. Αν προσέξετε κάτι, στείλτε μου μήνυμα.

Scotland’s big day, morning thoughts on devolution and inequality

20130216_BRP002_0

Today is the big day. The Scots are voting for or against their independence from the United Kingdom. Some thoughts before I start my day.

The polls show the two sides starting the day head-to-head, with a slight advantage given to the Better Together campaign. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is safe to say that the tendency towards decentralisation will continue, and more powers will be devolved to Scotland. Quite a lot of focus has been placed on the devolution of powers, mostly to reassure those that have been flirting with a YES vote. The message is clear: this is not the end of the road, more powers will be coming to Scotland anyway, there is no need to break-up the union for this.

The Tory angle was also interesting. Don’t vote YES just to get rid of the effing Tories, the Tory Prime Minister said. But the problem is not as simple as “Scots don’t like the Conservative party”. Even if the Labour Party was in office, with it being at the right edge of most social-democratic parties, the problems would persist. The UK would still be a neo-liberal economy, it would still be a nuclear power, and the City of London would still be a state within a state that feeds off from the rest of the UK that has to pick up the tab every time there is a crisis.

The most critical problem pertaining to the relationship between the UK and Scotland, and the only persuasive argument that the populist Alex Salmond has given, is that the UK is one of the most unequal places in the western world. The biggest challenge for the UK is not the continuation and enhancement of the process of decentralisation. Rather, it is how to ameliorate the inequalities that are so deeply engrained within the fibres of its society. The top jobs, all in London, are going to privately-educated white males; working-class people are not represented in the parliament; university graduates are forced to go to London to seek employment with unpaid internships and sky-high rents. All these are examples of how systemic inequalities work in the UK, which cause the stark variations between the core and the periphery.

The UK might survive this time but it will not be able to maintain the trajectory of rising inequality for long. And this is where the Labour party comes in. If anything, Scotland has sent a clear message to Ed Miliband, that the majority of Labour’s electoral basis want the party to be much more than a welfarist version of the Tories. This is something that was obvious from Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday. I can only hope that Ed Miliband got the message.

Time to get to work now. I leave you with the hope that tomorrow Scotland will still be part of the UK.

Το δημοψήφισμα της Σκωτίας και η Κύπρος

scottish_flag_and_union_jack

Το δημοψήφισμα για την ανεξαρτησία της Σκωτίας θα λάβει χώρα την Πέμπτη, 18 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014, με μοναδικό ερώτημα το αν πρέπει η Σκωτία να γίνει ανεξάρτητη χώρα ή όχι. Αν η απάντηση είναι ΝΑΙ, τότε η Σκωτία θα παύσει να είναι μέρος του Ηνωμένου Βασιλείου.

Οι υποστηρικτές του ΝΑΙ, υπό την ηγεσία του Άλεξ Σάλμοντ, ισχυρίζονται ότι η Σκωτία είναι μονίμως στη σκιά της Αγγλίας και ότι τα πολιτικά δικαιώματα των Σκωτσέζων υποβαθμίζονται, καθώς όλες οι σημαντικές  αποφάσεις λαμβάνονται στο Westminster του Λονδίνου. Ο Σάλμοντ διατείνεται ότι οι Σκοτσέζοι δεν έχουν λόγο στην εκλογή της κυβέρνησης του Η.Β., αφού παρόλο που ψηφίζουν συστηματικά τους Εργατικούς, ως κυβερνών κόμμα εκλέγονται οι Συντηρητικοί, κατά παράβαση της πολιτικής βούλησης των Σκωτσέζων. Μάλιστα, η καμπάνια υπέρ του ΝΑΙ έχει σαν κύριο μότο της το “Διώξτε τους Συντηρητικούς μια και καλή”.

Από την άλλη πλευρά έχουμε τους υποστηρικτές του ΟΧΙ, με την καμπάνια “Καλύτερα Μαζί”, υπό την ηγεσία του Άλιστερ Ντάρλινγκ, βουλευτή των Εργατικών και πρώην υπουργό οικονομικών. Η καμπάνια “Καλύτερα Μαζί” βασίζεται σε δυο πυλώνες. Ο πρώτος πυλώνας είναι η αβεβαιότητα για την επόμενη μέρα, και η έλλειψη λεπτομερούς πλάνου από πλευράς των υποστηρικτών του ΝΑΙ, με ιδιαίτερη έμφαση στον Σάλμοντ, ο οποίος στο πρώτο debate φάνηκε να βασίζεται σε ευσεβοποθείες για το μέλλον, παρά σε κάποιο στρατηγικό πλάνο. Ο δεύτερος πυλώνας είναι η βεβαιότητα ότι η χώρα θα βρεθεί σε δυσμενή οικονομική κατάσταση καθώς δε θα έχει έλεγχο του νομίσματος της, το οποίο είτε θα ελέγχεται από την Κεντρική Τράπεζα της Αγγλίας, είτε από την Ευρωπαϊκή Κεντρική Τράπεζα, αναλόγως του αν η Σκωτία θα μείνει στη στερλίνα ή θα υιοθετήσει το ευρώ. Σε κάθε περίπτωση, η οικονομία θα πληγεί, καθώς διάφορες εταιρείες και τράπεζες ήδη εξέφρασαν την πρόθεση τους να μεταφέρουν τις εργασίες τους στην Αγγλία, εάν και εφόσον το αποτέλεσμα του δημοψηφίσματος είναι ΝΑΙ. Οι υποστηρικτές του ΝΑΙ ισχυρίζονται ότι πρόκειται περί προπαγάνδας.

Αν επικρατήσει το ΝΑΙ, τότε το Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο, η Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση και η Σκωτία θα βρεθούν μπροστά σε κάποια διλήμματα. Σε επίπεδο Ηνωμένου Βασιλείου, οι Συντηρητικοί θα βγουν νικητές, καθώς οι Εργατικοί θα αποδυναμωθούν, δεδομένου ότι η εκλογική τους βάση θα συρρικνωθεί σημαντικά χωρίς τους Σκωτσέζους. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι για τις επόμενες δεκαετίες το Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο θα κυβερνάται από Συντηρητικούς. Ο αρχηγός των Συντηρητικών και Πρωθυπουργός του Η.Β., Ντέιβιτ Κάμερον, θα δεχθεί πιέσεις από το κόμμα του για να παραιτηθεί, οι οποίες όμως θα είναι χαμηλής έντασης, καθώς η απαίτηση της παραίτησης του εκλελεγμένου πρωθυπουργού εν μέσω συνταγματικής κρίσης, ενδεχομένως να οξύνει την κατάσταση.

Στα πλαίσια της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης υπάρχει σύγχυση σχετικά με την αντιμετώπιση μιας ανεξάρτητης Σκωτίας που θέλει να είναι μέλος της Ένωσης. Το μπέρδεμα έγκειται στην έλλειψη πρόνοιας για το πως να χειριστεί η ΕΕ μια πρόσφατα ανεξάρτητη χώρα που αποσχίστηκε από άλλη χώρα-μέλος της ΕΕ. Όπως φαίνεται, η Σκωτία θα πρέπει να καταθέσει καινούρια αίτηση ένταξης. Σε τέτοια περίπτωση τα πράγματα σκουραίνουν, καθώς οι νεοεισαχθείσες στην ΕΕ χώρες υποχρεούνται να ενταχθούν και στην Ευρωζώνη, υιοθετώντας δηλαδή το ευρώ ως νόμισμά τους. Παρόλα αυτά, στην περίπτωση της Σκωτίας, το ενδεχόμενο υιοθέτησης του ευρώ είναι απομακρυσμένο.

Οι νομισματικές επιλογές της Σκωτίας είναι τέσσερις. Η πρώτη είναι να συνεχίσει την επί τριακοσίων χρόνων νομισματική ένωση με τις χώρες του Η.Β. Αυτή η επιλογή είναι μάλλον απομακρυσμένη καθώς δε φαίνεται να υποστηρίζεται από την Αγγλία και από την κεντρική της τράπεζα. Η δεύτερη και πιο πιθανή επιλογή είναι η διατήρηση της στερλίνας ως το νόμισμα της ανεξάρτητης Σκωτίας, χωρίς όμως τη νομισματική ένωση. Εδώ όμως έγκειται το εξής ερώτημα: ποιος θα εγγυηθεί ή θα κάνει bail-out τις τράπεζες της Σκωτίας αν προκύψει ανάγκη δεδομένου ότι η κεντρική τράπεζα της Αγγλίας δε θα είναι δεσμευμένη να επέμβει. Οι υπέρμαχοι του ΝΑΙ ισχυρίζονται ότι η τράπεζα της Αγγλίας θα βοηθήσει, όπως έκανε και στην αντίστοιχη περίπτωση της Ιρλανδίας, γιατί έχει οικονομικά συμφέροντα από τη Σκωτία όντας η πιο μεγάλη χώρα-εισαγωγέας προϊόντων της. Η τρίτη επιλογή είναι η ένταξη της Σκωτίας στην Ευρωζώνη, το οποίο είναι απομακρυσμένο ενδεχόμενο, κυρίως λόγω της κρίσης που περνά η Ευρωζώνη και της αβεβαιότητας του μέλλοντος αυτής. Η τελευταία, τέταρτη επιλογή, είναι η υιοθέτηση καινούριου Σκωτσέζικου νομίσματος που δεν έχει σχέση με τη στερλίνα ή το ευρώ, και είναι μάλλον κακή επιλογή, καθώς είναι ιδιαίτερα δύσκολο να κερδίσει την εμπιστοσύνη των επενδυτών ένα καινούριο νόμισμα.

Κλείνοντας να πούμε δυο λόγια για το πως η ενδεχόμενη ανεξαρτησία της Σκωτίας θα επηρεάσει — αρνητικά κατά την εκτίμηση μου — την Κύπρο γενικότερα και την Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία ειδικότερα. Το πρώτο σημείο έχει να κάνει με την πολιτική παντοδυναμία που θα αποκτήσουν οι Συντηρητικοί. Ως πολιτικοί απόγονοι της Θάτσερ είναι υπέρ των πολιτικών λιτότητας, τις οποίες θα συνεχίσουν να προωθούν στην Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση, κάτι που δεν συμφέρει χώρες όπως η Κύπρος, που χρειάζονται κίνητρα για ανάπτυξη. Παράλληλα, τα τελευταία χρόνια οι Συντηρητικοί επιδεικνύονται στην προώθηση αντι-μεταναστευτικών πολιτικών, οι οποίες επηρεάζουν αρνητικά πολλούς από εμάς που εργαζόμαστε στο Η.Β. και θα επηρεάσουν πολλούς άλλους που προσπαθούν να εξασφαλίσουν εργασία σε αυτό ελέω της οικονομική κρίσης που μαστίζει τις χώρες του Ευρωπαϊκού νότου.

Το δεύτερο σημείο έχει να κάνει με τη δημιουργία κλίματος αποδοχής αποσχιστικών τάσεων, καθώς και της αναγνώρισης νέων κρατών που προκύπτουν από αυτές. Θέλοντας ή μη, τέτοιες τάσεις θα επηρεάσουν και ενδεχομένως να ενδυναμώσουν τις προσπάθειες της Τουρκοκυπριακής ηγεσίας για αναγνώριση της ΤΔΒΚ, κάτι που πάει ενάντια στα συμφέροντα της Κυπριακής Δημοκρατίας και των Κυπρίων πολιτών που θέλουν επανένωση.

Παρόλο που η πικρία των Κυπρίων που πανηγυρίζουν υπέρ της ενδεχόμενης διάλυσης του Ηνωμένου Βασιλείου είναι κατανοητή, τα συμφέροντα μας ως Κυπρίους είναι υπέρ του ΟΧΙ στο δημοψήφισμα και υπέρ της διατήρησης του Η.Β. ως έχει. Καλές οι ατάκες περί αντιστροφής του “διαίρει και βασίλευε”, αλλά η πραγματικότητα είναι άλλη, και οφείλουμε να την αντιληφθούμε, μακριά από λαϊκισμούς και εκδικητικές διαθέσεις.

Δημοσιεύτηκε στην Καθημερινή (12.9.2014), στο Sigmalive (12.9.2014), στο CyprusNews (13.9.2014), και στον Πολίτη (13.9.2014, σελ. 14)

Time to rethink the book ban

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A Cypriot was stopped at Stansted Airport because he was carrying emergency flares with him. The person that will likely carry mini-explosives to the airport is either a potential terrorist or “stupid and naive”, and it makes sense for the authorities to assume that he is the former. As it turned out, the defendant was not a terrorist.

If this was a story about a 22 year-old with a box of distress signal mini-flares in his luggage, then there would be nothing controversial about it, besides perhaps the fact that the police actually returned the flares to him once they charged him. As it turns out, the problem were not the flares, but rather a book he was reading, called the Anarchist Cookbook, which was published in 1971.

Five months before his airport arrest, Andreas Pierides, a Cypriot student at the University of Southampton’s Business School, was photographed by a fellow train passenger reading the Anarchist Cookbook on his kindle. The eager co-passenger reported Pierides to the police and handed them over the pictures of Pierides reading the prohibited book.

The Anarchistic Cookbook, featured here on Vice, was written to express the anger of its author William Powell, who explained in the Guardian that he wrote the book because he was “being actively pursued by the US military, who seemed single-mindedly determined to send me to fight, and possibly die, in Vietnam.” It includes instructions on how to create bombs, LSD and other fun stuff.

It is prime time for an open debate about the practice of banning books. Not only because it violates people’s freedom of choice and expression, but also because it is impractical and costly. This debate needs to take place in light of the expiry of the copyrights of Hitler’s magnum opus Mein Kampfarguably the most controversial book of the previous century. The copyrights are currently held by the Bavarian state government, which prohibits its publication in Germany. In 2015 the copyrights will expire, and the German politicians will be called to decide whether to ban the book or not.

We live in an era were only rudimentary knowledge of computers is needed in order to browse the internet almost completely anonymously. Leaving all moral justifications aside, the sheer costs in money and privacy of banning books are enormous; so much so that it makes it irrational to maintain that banning them is either desirable or even possible.

The enforcement of such laws require the secret service agencies, be them the NSA or the GCHQ, to constantly monitor the activities of their citizens, and to apprehend them not for the crimes they have committed, or for the crimes that they are thinking about committing, but about the potential crimes that reading a book might lead them to commit. Do we really want to live in a twisted geeky version of the Minority Reportwhere citizens are arrested for future crimes they had not even considered committing?

The violation of people’s privacy, albeit the most important consideration, is not the only non-moral cost involved. The motivation that drove the fellow passenger to call the police on Pierides was guided by what I assume were well-meaning concerns about public safety. If fraternisation in a democratic society is curtailed by suspicion, mistrust and security considerations, it will gradually lead to the erosion of that society, because it will undermine the capacities of its citizens for cooperation and — dare I say it — comradership; necessary for the implementation of any redistributive programme by the government.

Banning books is as misguided as it is banal; it misses on how societies and individuals evolved with the popularisation of the internet. The internet created more open societies. It enabled people to transcend their cultural boundaries and to use the tools of other cultures to reform their own. Along with a culture of openness, it created a new kind of citizen, the scavenger citizen. Citizens that have access to enormous amounts of data that they skillfully navigate in order to find what they are looking for. The scavenger citizen is much more critical than the previous, analog citizen, and much more able to examine and reject new pieces of information.

The scavenger citizen deliberates over issues online, transforming the way political debate and deliberation takes place. The fear that books will adversely influence this new type of citizen, shows a complete mistrust towards their abilities and creates a flair of mystery around the subject-matter of the book, making it more attractive to young people who tend to be more susceptible to exoticised topics.

There is a dilemma here that we need to address: we will either live under a constant worry for our well-being in a securitised society that considers the private sphere as the place where potential terrorists are groomed, or we will try to achieve a more equal and inclusive society that trusts those living within its bounds. The more we emphasise security over equality, the more home-grown terrorists we will see. The way to tackle the problem is not by banning books or by monitoring every private moment of free citizens’ lives. The only way to make people less eager and less susceptible to influence of extreme ideologies is by providing them with a structure of equal opportunities, an inclusive society that does not exclude them because of their religion, language or skin-colour.

The issue on whether to ban books or not is not an isolated topic. It is part of a wider discussion on multiculturalism, economic and social inequality, and the freedom of choice and expression of people living in liberal countries. If people feel excluded from the society they live in because of the diminished life-chances that they have, they will be more susceptible to be influenced by extreme ideologies, and more eager to radicalise. The solution is not to proclaim that multiculturalism has failed and embark in a full speed attack on people’s freedoms, but rather to try and think about multiculturalism as linked to economic and social inequality, and to figure out how best ton integrate people from other cultures into your country.

Until the challenges are seen as part of a wider bundle, governments will keep censoring books and violating the privacy of their citizens to defend their “freedom from fear,” as George W. Bush used to say.

Published in the Cyprus-Mail on August 31st, 2014, under the title Time to rethink the book ban