Some time ago I was very touched by something, the kind of random, innocent, already-forgotten little interactions we have with strangers in our chaotic social survival. I was so happy I found a place to sit so I can read my book. I saw an elderly woman coming in, so I offered her my place. She was pleased, I was a polite ang mo, however she didn’t even give me a smile. The grandma next to her did (so funny, how in my memory of it, there is an elderly woman and a grandma, as if the latter was familiar, or close). She examined me closely, giving me head to toe looks. Not in a mean way, she seemed rather curious. After a couple of stops, the elderly women left the mrt. The second she was preparing to stand up, the grandma pulled my shirt, as a way to tell me to sit down next to her.

She probably didn’t speak English, this grandma. I will never know. What a grandma though! I thought it was so cute of her to observe these insignificant events. She wanted me to sit down. She wanted me to sit down next to her. She was wearing sunglasses, she had bright green trousers and a colourful shirt, her manicure was spotless, and she wore her hair curly. We didn’t speak, but we mutually agreed of our secret 5 minute friendship. But I was so heartbroken when the grandma sought my eyes as I was leaving the train. I wanted to say goodbye, I wanted to smile back at her, or wish her a good day. She definitely made my day a better day. Why was I unable to show my appreciation? The world needs more grandmas like her.

Meaning comes from difference, not reference

Today, I got excited for making sense of Gombrich’s limited concept of art and illusion. In my intellectual delight and exaltation, I explained to my boyfriend how Gombrich actually renders impossible any poststructuralist discussion of signification and representation. I got the most human and natural reaction that I so often have when thinking about my intellectual achievements for having studied anthropology and flirting with different systems of thought like structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism and so on, for the past 4 years: how the **** does that help humanity?

I am no stranger to the feeling that, while theory made my life beautiful by showering me with the joy of intellectual fulfilment, it really means nothing compared to real life struggles and disasters like the recent tragic news of the refugee boat sinking in the Mediterranean. I cannot deny the reality that the very possibility of my engagement with theoretical and intellectual debates is, essentially, a privilege, one that over half of people my age (to give an optimistic estimation) cannot afford. The fact that I owe the UK government a small fortune for this privilege makes it no less of a privilege. I often feel guilty thinking I could’ve chosen to do something more meaningful (more so with the financial consequence).

However, I tend to reject this qualitative thinking, for so many other people’s activity just is, and moreover, is necessary for the functioning of society. Intellectuals and the academic world have their function in their struggle of understanding human nature, human enterprise and humanity. They perpetuate intellectual and philosophical debates about our human nature. It is nonetheless more difficult to value the work of social sciences since they invented no remedy for cancer or found no ways of diminishing pollution through the use of solar energy. This is the same qualitative thinking that unfairly shadows the legacy of social science. Yes, I struggled so many times and yes, I hated the pretentious terminology. But I am thrilled at the thought of struggling even more, because, in order to understand the complexity of humanity, I need to take the necessary detour through theory. I also need to acknowledge and value the intellectual effort that has been done before me, and that allows me to understand and live the world the way I do. The human capacity to create categories of thinking and come up with theories and definitions, no matter how influenced it was by hierarchies of power, is infinitely fascinating. What is even more beautiful is how theories and definitions are always engaged with and contested. Were there no intellectual drive for contestation, what would the state of humanity be today?

Nonetheless, I just cannot repress my feeling of helplessness in the face of real struggle, which, unfortunately, in the 21st century, is still so pervasive. I live in my happy bubble of intellectual fulfilment, in a modern, wealthy Europe that’s becoming ever more fortified against the ills and destruction it is causing elsewhere. With all the necessary nuances, I am the definition of privilege. I have access to such joys and information that gets articulated in policy and affects the state of affairs worldwide. I have, therefore, a duty and an aspiration of becoming an organic intellectual, of taking my activity further and outside the privileged world of academia. However, you don’t need to be an organic intellectual to break the helplessness. Small is beautiful, we should be reminded. But since I can act upon this privilege, and get involved with policy and politics, and make a difference, as cliché as it sounds, I will dare to make it an aspiration, because I feel it is already a duty (definitely not the duty of the white saviour, in Europe I am not even considered white).

At the end of the day, I have also studied politics. I will end this by sharing the most insightful short conversation about politics I ever had.

Politics is a dirty game, why did you study politics?

Well, I am not sure I want to have a political career, but I wanted to know how the world functions.

And did you find out?

Meaning comes from difference, not reference

‘you do not go to the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to lose your personality, to become anonymous…and then something extraordinary happens: you hear silence speak’ (Edmund Jabes)

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we all lose hope at some point

The world is not driven by passion, the world is driven by money. It has always been like this. I had dreams of exploring different cultures naively thinking I’m a citizen of the world, slaving my **** off doing unpaid internships and volunteering for a better world, I waited impatiently to be selected for financially funded conferences and workshops for the leaders of tomorrow. It’s time to wake the **** up. I have been nervous about the way I would sell myself for a job interview I never managed to get, but I got it all clear now. No, I don’t want to involve emotionally for jobs that fight corruption through effective policy, or build sustainable economies, I don’t want to delude myself with humanitarian projects that are poorly implemented. I want to make money.

So if you, my dear interviewer, will give me the chance to work for your company, let me first tell you that you have the privilege to face an estimated £100 000 investment. Me and all the unemployed graduates out there. I have £20 000 debt for my university fees, and my parents probably paid as much if not more each of the 4 years I’ve been living in London for my daily expenses. What are you going to do with an investment of this value? I don’t have much practical skill, I am not an engineer or a doctor. What I have is a strong background in social science. And a little passion left, because the thought of living my life in misery for doing what I like killed most of it. I don’t want a lot of money, because of which I will probably kill myself for not having the time to spend it. I want a decent life and a decent job, and for the investment that’s been done in me I think I should be able to make that happen.

Wait, I lied. I did have an interview, only one. For a job completely unrelated to my academic background. That was a job in financial investment! It seems now trendy for anthropologists to become financial consultants! Unfortunately, being naive and proud enough, I did not want to prepare and research interview tricks and key issues, so I did not go further with the recruitment. It’s a ruthless world out there, and I am naive enough to believe in signs and human quality.

No, I was naive. I am not anymore. I can discuss problems of identity and global media, cultural imperialisms, what culture is and how it has been commodified and monopolised in a market of mechanic consumers. But you, my employer, don’t need my insightful social analysis, what you’re after is my cheap or ideally free labour. But if you judge me in a purely economical framework, I might become of more interest to you. It is sad that you have to relate to me like that, but probably it is the only way you will make a more accurate judgement of my value and potential.

we all lose hope at some point

the coming question of the 21st century

I have often had incentives to write my thoughts down but I always got caught up with matters of style, format and purpose and never actually took the time to build up a consistent diary. But here I am, once and for good, at the beginning of my blog. Being a student and essentially a very curious individual fascinated by different ideas and beliefs, I discover new ideas and challenge old ones; I try to make sense of the world around me and have an informed opinion on contemporary issues.

My latest inspiration comes from my latest hero, Stuart Hall, who was so right in saying that ‘the capacity to live with difference is the coming question of the 21st century’. This is so true in a world where war, propaganda, hatred and discrimination are build on difference, be it political, ethnic or religious. I am pained to find out that educated people my age think that imperialism is an old story about power that finished with colonisation in the 20th century. I am outraged by the biased, uninformed journalism and media that harm innocent people. We are all experiencing a vital, daily struggle in our interaction with society, with media, with information. The battleground of power is psychological. The battleground is our discourses. The fight is between ideas.

Therefore, as an independent thinker as everyone should be, why not participate in the debate? Everything that happens in this world affects us to some degree. We need to be weary of our sources of information. Representation and symbolism are powerful structures that colonise and manipulate our minds. We should all try to be organic intellectuals, to do something with the information that surrounds us everywhere we are. First, we need to reflect on it. And second, take it further from the intellectual debate, and realise its political potential and effects in daily life. I am not saying that everyone should be a politician, but that everyone should be able to think for themselves. Improving life conditions will come as a necessary condition afterwards. It is like a moral duty when you untangle the mysteries of power – you will want to make the world a better place and can only start by making your own judgements and contribute to the debate.

Although tense, challenging, and sometimes painful, it is how I want to live my life. It is often rewarding, beautiful and gratifying. Better a Socrates unsatisfied than a fool satisfied.

the coming question of the 21st century