The Me Too movement and the lessons we might learn

The Me Too movement, which enabled women to make case of sexual harassment public and question the role of men in superior roles, has been one of the most positive developments in the last few years. I would hope, though, that the energy and attention created here, would enable us as a society to question other aspects of power as well.

The issues addressed by the Me Too movement have a lot to do with the intrinsic power structures within our society. Here it is about the way men in apparent positions of power treat women under their influence. But the systemic issues here, can be found in many other places as well. Naturally, the fact that the Me Too movement addresses forms of sexual violence and intimidation, makes it quite hard to compare these issues to others, without sounding apologetic. That I don’t want. People like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, who have become the poster children for what has been going on, should suffer for what they did and yet, we should be able to look further into the topic. Otherwise this would be a missed opportunity.

Fortunately, I have never been in a situation, where sexuality and power intermingled in a way that felt uncomfortable to me. Yet, I have experienced plenty of situation, where power and power structures prohibited an open and free discourse. This was the case in pretty much every job I was working in. Most commonly this was an issue I was having with people in superior roles to my own. I guess that seems to be quite normal. Of course, your boss has more saying in how things have to go and in the decisions that determine the inner workings of a company. Right? But is this the only logical way to go forward?

I am not calling for a communist system, where everyone (in mere theory) has the same saying, but rather I wonder whether we might not be better off with a more open and honest debate culture? I am quite sure that most people have experienced a boss who has made bad decisions. But the fear created by hierarchy prevents people around him or her to speak out. The lack of opposition is then seen as silent agreement. I have experienced that frequently. Opposition is seen as something that is trying to undermine one’s authority. And that, I believe, is not the way things should be.

But we come to accept it, since we all seem to accept the game of power and hierarchy. Critique, very often, seems to aim at the position someone is holding, rather than something constructive. And the moment we are criticizing someone, another person might see this as an invitation to criticize us and therefore our position. Naturally someone has to make decisions, but to make the best decisions, the best and most open feedback might certainly be beneficial. Sure, sure, many companies try to implement ways for their employees to give feedback up the hierarchy ladder, but I think that this might work only in the rarest of cases. Power needs fear to work – one might call it “respect”, but in the end it is fear.

The fear we might feel in the presence of our boss might be the fear our colleagues experience when encountering us. And we ourselves might be as well guilty as charged.

Yet, the game is not an open one. Most positions are not reached through merit, but rather through the inner workings of the power structure, where many people promote those that suit their needs and wants best.

Maybe in the coming years the debate that has started with the brave women who have come forward to question the roles people with power play, might enable us to ask questions that go even further. The way I see it, is that an open discourse should be beneficial in most situations. But this, we would have to learn first.

And yet, women do exist – who knew?

It keeps to leave me baffled to watch the visual world envisioned by different groups of Islamist propagandists and to notice the lack of any female characters. It is truly a world without women. I might have mentioned this before, but this – the non-existence of women – is harder for me to cope with than the brutal depiction of violence against men. I know that there exists every disgusting form of violence against women, but it seems as if this isn’t even worth mentioning. Please spare me with “but they are not allowed to depict women”. Bullshit. They are not allowed to permit any of the violence acts presented in these videos. Not showing women just makes it more evident how fucked up their whole ideology is. Women are considered the lowest of the low.

That makes the rare occasions, when women are actually visible, even more outstanding. From the ISIS-sphere, there is just a handful of videos, I know of, where black clad women are to be seen somewhere in the distant background. The closest to a female character you can get is a small girl of maybe 8 or 9 years old.

But I just stumbled upon a video I had collected last year but overlooked till now. I think it did come out in September of 2017 and it actually shows a female figure fighting. That is the only video of this kind I know. It might have to do with the notion that these battles might be part of a final struggle, that led the propagandist to use this “desperate” material. Of course, there have always been women amongst the fighters or serving as part of the security apparatus, but it has never been shown that openly.

The propaganda is full of heroic male characters, yet this short, 30 something second snippet is the only video I know of that not only talks about fighting women, but “shows” them. But it stops short of giving the figure a face and therefore an identity.

A hard drive and a jar of random genes

Space flight finally makes the big news again. That certainly has a lot to do with clever PR from new private space companies. There seems to be a renewed space race and people are thrilled about it. I am too. Launches can be watched live. Cameras show every absurd angle of the rockets mid-flight. The whole stuff just seems to be extremely cool and many people want to join the hype. It has been a while, since the last person set foot on another celestial body, so it seems to be about damn time to aim higher than just the moon. A manned trip to Mars finally seems to be in reach and beyond that merely a question of time and stamina. And, of course, these trips must be manned, what would be the point of it otherwise? Here, I guess, we are touching a field I am extremely interested in: authenticity.

When looking up to the moon, it gives a warm feeling imagining that someone – a real human being – has been up there. Touched it – at least to the extent that is permissible by the surrounding vacuum. Has set his eyes on it. That makes one dizzy and proud. How far has humanity come? But why the hell should I personally give a fuck? It wasn’t me that had been up there, and if it would have been me, the same problem would arise for you.

The pictures brought back by astronauts from Apollo missions, are stunning. And to some extent they let us picture ourselves in these situations. It is great PR work and enables us to dream, even though almost none of us will ever set foot on another planet. And here is the key point I am struggling with. Why should anyone ever travel to another planet and if they do, what exactly is it, that we as humanity are sending to outer space?

Don’t get me wrong, I am entirely for an expansion into space. It sounds like a logical step to me. I am questioning some of our ideas behind manned missions though.

What exactly is it, that we are trying to send to space?

Is it a way to gather information? Well, with the increasing pace AI is developing, why would we need “real” human beings for that? Sure, astronauts take the nicer selfies on the surface of mars, but other than that, the information an astronaut sends back to me, is on some very basic level indistinguishable to me from the information sent back by a computer-controlled rover. Both sets of data rely on my imagination for me to be thrilled by it. It is both equally abstract to me. But we remain social beings, that easily feel as if the actions and experiences of others are our own. That might be the key point here. Technology outpaces our little monkey brains, but we still expect that the stories about far and distant places are told by hunters and gatherers who travelled there in person. So, oddly enough, a picture taken by a fellow human being still feels more authentic than a picture taken by a camera that controls itself.

It seems as if we only value events and things that are perceived by ourselves. This is understandable, since our own horizon is always limited by our perception. Things like language and writing are so important because they extend our reach. Yet there always has been so much more going on than anyone was aware of. The frustration this has created is quite old. At least as old as the question whether a tree that falls without anyone around makes a noise. We tend to need our perception in the equation for things to really take place.

Let’s face it though. This was never the right way to look at things – maybe the only one we could fully understand – and things are changing drastically. If we are looking at the amount of information that is being processed today without any human interaction or attention, we come to realize that we are already being left behind. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but rather it now becomes merely more obvious. It came as a shock, when we realized that there might never be any polymaths again. Polymath as someone who has a understanding of all available knowledge a certain era could provide – an idea that was especially popular during the renaissance or maybe during our romanticized view on the renaissance. But I wonder if someone like Galileo would have survived on his own on a desert island. Could he have fed himself? Or did his knowledge not include basic concepts of hard labor?

Even Galileo would have missed almost everything around him. Humans just work that way.

Even if Galileo would really have had a perfect understanding of everything, how would other people have benefited from that? Galileo did write books, sure – and some of his texts got him into deep trouble -, but most people did not read them and the information they were containing was quite limited. If you know something I don’t, you might teach me some aspects of your knowledge or you might make me benefit from your knowledge in indirect ways, but your direct experience can never be shared.

So, if you land on Mars, your own experience of the situation is limited and even more limited is your ability to share your experience with others – even with fellow astronauts who join you on your journey.

Saving Humanity

But maybe the key reason for manned space travel would be to save humanity from looming doom, by expanding out to space and therefore, limiting the chances that all of humanity might be whipped out by a single catastrophe on a global scale.

What exactly is this “humanity” mentioned here?

The most basic understanding of humanity might be “all humans”. Sending everyone to space would leave Earth empty. Maybe we should, instead, select a few ambassadors to represent what humanity is – I wonder how that might go. When the US sent 20 white men to the Moon, they thought of them as ambassadors for humanity. That selection makes little sense from today’s perspective.

So, if we try to be more careful, who choses these representatives? And what would be the characteristics they should fulfill? Sure, after some decades, the group of people living somewhere other than Earth might be big enough to be a good enough representation for human society, but that is not the argument I am trying to make.

We have long reached the point, where “humanity” has little to do with actual humans. Humanity might be the knowledge we have accumulated, rather the genes we carry. This move away from humans as the key factor for society and global culture is certainly going to accelerate in the future. The stuff we would like to preserve might in fact have little to do with people like you and me. Why then should we care so much in sending little me or little you to the stars? Might not a hard drive and a jar of random genetical material be the better choice?

Again, when we say that we are afraid for the fate of humanity or life in general, most of us actually mean that we are afraid for our own life’s. Maybe the ones of our children and pets. But beyond that it becomes utterly abstract. I am not saying that humans are not worth preserving, but if we want to send intelligence and life to other planets, for them to being colonized or fertilized, maybe sending a couple thousand humans might not be the most reasonable choice. Sure, preserving my own genes would be the decision I would make – that is what my genes ask for. But would that be the best way to move forward? I doubt it.

Like so many generations before us, we are witnessing the future from the point of a spectator that won’t participate in the fun stuff. I guess that this is OK. I don’t like it either.

Things are changing all around us. Technology has become part of evolution and this accelerates the pace at which things move forward. We might feel left behind, but that is not new in the cycle of life and death. Maybe we are going to reach the point, when we – as human individuals – are just not a key part of future developments anymore. It must have been a terrible sight for early humanoids in the African savannah, when they were witnessing the next evolutionary step in the form of other humanoids carrying sticks.

Revolution as a Reference

Recently I went to an exhibition opening. There were some video projections, the content did not really matter. While holding a glass of wine, I came to talk to an elderly man. He mentioned to me that the videos did remind him of some Fluxus works, he had seen in one of the earlier Documenta shows in Kassel. Back when he was a student there. He went on to complain about Fluxus and the new work he had just encountered. I found that interesting. He could still describe the Fluxus works in great detail, after so many years. He was talking about him not understanding what he had encountered back then. But still, the works had left such a deep impression with him. I questioned him, if, in a week or two, he might still be able to remember any of the content of the new work on display at the place we were just visiting. He was absolutely certain that he would not.

That is quite important, I guess. I am struggling with folks like Joseph Beuys and Fluxus as a whole, but maybe these works did fit the time they were created in. They have been powerful enough, that after fifty-odd years, someone might still be confused to the point of talking about it. They must have been extremely authentic. Maybe this gets lost on me, since I am born many years later and the circumstances, in which I have encountered them is all so different. To him, they certainly had a huge relevance. He did not seem to like these works all that much, but even from disgust might come something deep.

But what would be the relevance of the new work then? I am not mentioning the show, nor the artist, because it would be unfair to boil it down to it being just a reference to some Fluxus piece. But it seems as if it nevertheless misses relevance to today. It did not leave me baffled, nor did it make me feel the slightest bit inspired. The conversation I was having with this nice man, easily outshone the art presented.

There are plenty of “new” works that copy the struggles fought by old ones. The revolution we might need to fight today, would look different than the revolution that was fought by Beuys and CO. So, when young artists create works that copy other people’s struggles, the work might be easily recognizable, but it’s relevance is at least questionable. At least.