Language of the shitstem

Have you recently given thought to the language used in the economic world and financial institutions? In the Caribbean, I used to feast on the reports of the World Bank and IMF as we took on and contested the then Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). When I moved to Europe, the mysterious operations of the World Bank and the IMF conversation heartreceded into some back street of my consciousness. Though, I still had a massive distrust for their mantras, somehow dwelling in the belly of the beast gave me a false sense of assurance or security. The multiple economic crises over the last few years here in the ‘empire of the beast’ have kick-started my interest in our financial institutions and the failing economic theories that we continue to worship.

The difference though (from the 70’s and 80’s) is that I am now more baffled by the current lingo and economic theories. Reading Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 things they did not tell you about capitalism and The Bad Samaritans confirmed for me how much we are lured and duped by the lingo of financial institutions, economic theories and government’s economic policies. Ha-Joon Chang has observed that while “95% of economics is common sense”, there is a conspiracy to both make it look complex with a working assumption that ordinary hard-working people are idiots! What is not often recognised is that poor people anywhere “have to be entrepreneurial even just to survive”.

A few months ago I came across an essay titled “Bankspeak: The language of World Bank Reports” written by Franco Moretti & Dominique Pestre. And yes, it is from the New Left Review (March-April 2015). It is a fascinating read. Deploying ‘quantitative linguistic analysis’ the authors undressed or laid bare the operations and outlook of financial institutions (international ones). In a nutshell they showed how the grammar, language and descriptions of finance have evolved to give a false impression that these financial and banking institutions are there for our well-being!

They noted how early reports and documentation deployed nouns (like bank, loan/s, development, countries, investment/s, interest, programme/s, project/s, assistance, lending, growth, debt, trade prices) and adjec­tives like (fiscal, economic, financial, private, other, new, such, net, first, more). The point behind these earlier descriptors has been to show that:

“the World Bank lends money for the purpose of stimulating development, notably in the rural South, and is therefore involved with loans, investments and debts. It works through programmes and projects, and considers trade a key resource for economic growth. Being concerned with devel­opment, the Bank deals with all sorts of economic, financial and fiscal matters, and is in touch with private business. All quite simple, and perfectly straightforward.”

The current lingo of the World Bank though suggests a new set of ‘semantic manoeuvring’ geared at duping us all. In the two areas of finance and governance the adjectives and nouns (from the 90’S) are quite revealing. Around finance we find descriptors such as financial, fiscal, economic, loans, investment, growth, interest, lending, debt, fair value, portfolio, derivative, accrual, guarantees, losses, accounting, assets, equity, hedging, liquidity, liabilities, creditworthiness, default, swaps, clients, deficit, replenishment, repurchase, and cash. Whereas the earlier focus was on agriculture and industry, it is now on an overwhelming pre­dominance of financial activities. A look at the descriptors associated with governance throws up terms such as global, environmental, civil, ably supported by dia­logue, stakeholders, collaboration, partnership, communities, indigenous people, accountability. So climate, nature, natural, forest, pollution and even health and education have ended up around governance.

No wonder the World Bank can gloatingly describe its re-invented self (in 2012) as a financial body

“committed to achieving and communicating results. In its ongoing dedication to overcoming poverty and creating opportu­nity for people in developing countries, the Bank is making progress both internally and in the field, and it continues to improve the way it serves its client countries.”.

A fascinating deploying of terms such as dedicated, committed, serving, clients!

Moretti and Pestre further note how the language of the World Bank tries to redefine or perhaps camouflage the actual proclivity towards ‘faceless greed’ by describing itself through gerunds such ‘as accelerating its efforts in helping countries and economies in coping and growing’. So the World Bank is effectively re-branded (through linguistics semantics) as the good news for economic salvation: ‘working with the poorest countries’, ‘providing timely analysis’, ‘sharing knowledge’, ‘improving governance’, ‘fostering private sector and financial sector development’, ‘boosting growth and job creation’, ‘bridging the social gap’, ‘strengthening governance’, ‘levelling the playing field on global issues’.

One would be excused for thinking that what they offer is some form of economic nirvana here on earth – all for free. But, behind these morale boosting gerunds is a critical need to understand that the words ending in “ing” may more likely to be suggesting that our economic life is up ‘shit creek without a paddle’. Things are only always in progress of becoming – and so more promises are possible (which we lap up like puppies) but with very little hard evidence. In the meantime, we continue to spin in the creek churning our sludge. Yes – it may seem like all change, but with no achieve­ment and no future. The frightening thing is that this institution and its high priests are responsible for policies that will shape our economic well-being.

My rasta friend was correct (years ago): ‘the shitstem (system) will eat you for breakfast, lunch and dinner’!

© jagessar August 23, 2016

A divided nation(?)

‘All this stupid little country has to do is stand in line and do what it is told for one miserable day, but can it do that?’[Pascal Sauvage in Johnny English]

‘It is an unmitigated disaster, English.’ (says Pegasus). ‘I couldn’t agree more, sir.’ (responded Johnny English) [in the film John English]

Perhaps that Rowan Atkinson film Johnny English was more forward thinking that we would have expected. The day after, with ‘yes’ for Brexit, is despair for many (at least around 48% of those who voted), triumph of insularity for cropped-cropped-20151016_081131.jpgothers (most of the 52%), a sad day for the EU, a nightmare for the money-world, and a divided nation battered and exposed.

One commentator noted that he ‘went to bed in Great Britain and work up in Little England’! For some of us, though, our experiences suggest that we have always been sleeping and waking in a divided nation and in little insular England. Myths about ‘great’ and ‘united’ are just that: myths propagated by a certain kind of narrative to ‘put us in our place’. Great Britain’s back-side, front parts and whole un-shapely body politic have been laid bare and the ‘crab-in-barrel’ in fighting will now continue with venom. All force will now be unleashed to find scapegoats to exorcize the demons or jumbies that have been let out!

To be objective – we have lots of history here but it is history which is the result of encounters with others during Britain’s expansionist excursions, not to mention the ways in which the flag of St. George’s tried to hoist itself in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Without these encounters there is no English history: if only the English can understand this.

Perhaps, if you are like me, you who would not lose any sleep over what 52% of little Britain think of themselves! I may live here for years but do know my place – that of an outsider, sometimes overtly but mostly subtly!  As Salman Rushdie noted years ago,

“…Britain is undergoing a critical phase of its post-colonial period, and this crisis is not simply economic or political. It’s a crisis of the whole culture, of society’s entire sense of itself. And racism is only the most clearly visible part of this crisis, the tip of the kind of iceberg that sinks ships.”

For years of conquest and looting and centuries of being told that you are far superior to all the foreign looking/speaking people have left a smell that has seeped into and across all of what make us as a nation. And while some have tried and are trying to neutralise the smell, here we are today with more insularity.

Given our tendency to historical amnesia through efforts designed at making us only recall just what has transpired a week ago, it would be timely if we remind ourselves of the late Margaret Thatcher’s famous victory address at Cheltenham:

‘We have learned something about ourselves….’a lesson which we desperately need to learn. When we started out, there were the waverers and the fainthearts, the people who thought we could no longer do the great things which we once did, that we could never again be what we were. There were those who could not admit it, but- in their hearts-they too had their secret fears that it was true: that Britain was no longer a nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world. Well, they were wrong.’

The leavers are delighted. I am not. I now know the places I am not welcome to (and some of these are multi-cultural). I am not fooled by the mantra of Britain’s independence nor her commitment to interdependence. All bloody rhetoric, selfishness, and a yearning for that ‘great’ which has always been tied up with others. And yes, some may suggest that the vote is about people protesting ‘austerity’. Well, I hope life gets better for all of us but I am not hopeful.

Mahatma Gandhi when he came to visit England was asked what he thought of English civilization. He replied: ‘I think it would be a good idea’. Perhaps, now is the time.

© Jagessar  24 June 2016





They say you should not ‘judge a book by its cover’. But in my world of diversity and intercultural awareness work, monitoring covers is very important for a number of reasons. Besides giving one a quick ‘bird’s eye’ view of what to expect (or not) and then to be surprised eitheDSCF1205.JPGr way, a ‘cover’ can also be just that – a facade to or a ‘cover up’ of the reality. These days in publishing (especially in theology and religious studies) you will find the most amazing covers, often vibrantly exotic along with deceptive titles that may lure you into thinking that the content would be some ground-breaking or real ‘kick-ass stuff’. I have lost count of times I have been disappointed. If you do not believe have a good perusal of our 2nd hand bookshops!

 But back to what I really want to zero in on: by chance I came upon ‘the European Conference on Christian Education’ and a conference currently in the process in the UK (May 9th to May 13th) on the theme: “Accompanying children on their faith journey – Thinking as, living as and being a lifelong disciple‘’. Timely to say the least!

 I was curious about the organisation and event as a few of my colleagues who are responsible for children and youth ministry were in attendance: one is listed as keynote presenter. I was even more curious to see how the theme would be dealing with diversity – desperate to be surprised with some real progressive stuff. What a disappointment, with me ending up cursing myself for creating more anxiety and frustration to a sabbatical I am enjoying, by visiting the webpage. This intercultural lure can be costly!

 Of course the whole programme is White European. But even more baffling, to the point of becoming painfully amusing, is the slide or power-point show to introduce participants to the conference and to London and the UK. Take a peek at these slides and let me know what you think of them. Or have a critical look at the conference programme. They can be found on this page but  click on introduction to the conference. Is this the Britain you know, experience and live in? At least the two newly elected mayors would have a task on hand to convince those who prepared the PPT that actually Britain is more diverse than their stereotypical representations. Were the locals on the planning group sleeping or is this also their views?

I wonder what kind of children these organisers have in mind when they planned this programme. Should I be gracious and trusting to think that they have in mind a diversity that represents the ethnic make-up of many of our churches in our cities all across Europe? Some of the input speakers claim to be contextual practitioners. I wonder what context they will be speaking to, from and for! And, one would think that their excursion to London would also include visits to experience the multicultural vibrancy of the city. I hope the colleagues from my Church who are attending this gathering will at least point out some of this overbearing nonsense. Perhaps, I am expecting too much of them, for as a Church we cannot claim to be any better!

In the meantime, I have sadly arrived at the point (I thought I had departed from it sometime ago) where I would say to all BAME people interested in Christian Education and the nurture of their Children and Youth: keep your progeny far away from such ‘White mind-benders, events and programmes’! And do ensure that what you offer them will be multi and diverse in every way (not a reversal to what the above is offering). And if you need resource or help on resources that would be more relevant for them: try out all the writings of Anthony Reddie, check out the links on this webpage, and a host of other links such as this, among others.

jagessar May 11 2016

Fear and the agents of fear

To say we live in troubled times may be stating the obvious, though for many in our part of the world, it seems like business as usual. Yet, it would not take much scratching of the surface to uncover that ‘fear’ of multiple sorts loom sAcrobatichroud-like over most of us. Gandhi was right to observe that “the enemy is fear”, not hate. There is the fear created
and reported through the media; the fear of the unknown and what the future holds; fear of an unseen bogey-person, fear of the threat to our economic well-being (not enough to go around), fear that grows into a suspicion of the ‘other’; fear of those who are different from us. Advertising, political agendas, news coverage and social media all send the constant message that people should be afraid – that is very afraid.

It is a long list. Fear though, if left to its own imagination, only grows and turns us into what we do not wish to be. It distorts the goodness in us and the way we see others and their goodness. It feeds prejudices in unhelpful ways. Studies have shown that fear is the enemy of reason – distorting emotions and perceptions and often resulting in poor decisions. Research has also shown that fear breeds causes more violence, mental illness and trauma, social disintegration, job failure, loss of workers’ rights etc  and that pervasive fear ultimately paves the way for an accelerating authoritarian society with increased police power, legally codified oppression, invasion of privacy, social controls, social anxiety and a more vulnerable society.

Take, for instance, what is currently referred to as the migrant/refugee crisis at the gates of Europe (as only one example)! Look closer at what drives the responses from governments or groups of citizens or the media? Would I be wrong to suggest that it is largely fear be it religious, cultural, political, economic, security, sexual, as well as fear of the ‘other’? More and more head-teachers and experts for instance will point to ‘fear’ as a contributing factor to the demands placed on schools to be policing students/pupils for terrorist inclinations. And the progression of so-called enlightened democracies towards ‘security states’ is located on instilling fear in us to control our behaviour and collect information. Hence, it follows that the operational ethos or the mind of the ‘security state’ mind is paranoid and capable of creating fearful situations out of propaganda and mis/disinformation.

If, as a Japanese proverb puts it, ‘fear is only as deep as the mind allows’ then our current fears – real, imagined, constructed or imposed – should not be lightly dismissed. Those who would wish to manipulate and stay in power will continue to feed and deploy fear and one of the ways they are currently doing that is to shape and control the language for discourse on the public square.

We need to locate the fears and the methods deployed, bring them to the surface, understand where they come from, how they are fed and nurtured, and urgently consider what we need to do to exorcise them from out life together. Otherwise, we all end up living impoverished lives. The way of God who offers of full life for all demands nothing less. Walls of separation, creating of fears to control and manipulate, and habits of stinginess are contrary to the Jesus way. No wonder Martin Luther King arrived at the view that he must “stick with love” as fear or hate “is too great a burden to bear”.

© jagessar February 17 2016