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MADNESS - July 2018 Phillip Morris

The Thing About Thanos

Screen capture from Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) available at Marvel Studio News.

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor-in-Chief

The last three Marvel movies were my favorites and some of the best examples of the superhero genre. The last two, Black Panther and the Avengers: Infinity Wars, really took things to a new level beating out Spawn for its special place in my heart. The stories were compelling, the action engaging, but more than anything, these are my favorites because they allow for some real critical thought. I’m hard-pressed to think of another superhero film, or any film in the broad spectrum of blockbusters, where it was possible for audience members to come away with diverging experiences. Usually, we’re all strapped in for the same emotional rollercoaster laughing, gasping, and crying on cue, but with these films, it’s possible to feel something rare: sympathy for the villain.

With Thanos and Warmonger, Marvel delivered two of the best antagonists of the current wave of superhero films. They were driven by personal, righteous causes that the audience was meant to sympathize with. They weren’t out to cause chaos and destruction purely for their own sake. They craved power for the good they could do with; Thanos to avert an impending disaster life creates for itself by imbalanced consumption, and Warmonger to stop the injustices faced by the African diaspora. However, rather than bringing balance and equality to the people of the world, Warmonger wanted to just flip the script and put his people in control, so between the two of them Thanos’ cause is more sympathetic, so he’ll be the focus of this piece.

It has now been over two months since Avengers came out, and four for Black Panther, so if you don’t know what happens in the movies, that’s on you. By the rules of all polite societies, it’s been long enough that spoilers can be freely talked about. Hell, it’s even been enough time for the subreddit r/thanosdidnothingwrong to gain almost 100K followers. Still, here’s your chance to turn back.

Screen capture from Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) available at Marvel Studio News.

For the first time in a while the main villain of in a superhero movie unquestionable won (Surthur got to bring about Ragnarok but he wasn’t the main villain; in another universe, Ozymandias reached his goal of world peace, but it isn’t expected to last). Throughout the film, Thanos makes his final push to gather the Infinity Stones. Just before the end, he gets his gauntlet on all six and finally makes his dream come true, killing half of all sentient life in the galaxy. Everyone not protected by theirs magically profitable status as an original Avenger was given a 50/50 chance of blowing away like dust on the wind. As any fan of comics will tell you, death is only a temporary set back for most heroes so I’m still looking forward to Black Panther and Spider-man sequels. I’m also expecting Marvel to keep to the high bar they’ve set for themselves with future villains.  In Thanos, I see a villain I can almost agree with.

Let me just say I don’t think his plan is in anyway a solution to the problems we face in the real world that have broadly been blamed on “overpopulation” or capitalism since those would largely be alleviated by reigning in greed, and properly managing resource distribution. But Thanos doesn’t exist in the real world and in his world, his solution works, despite being the bad guy. Superheroes tend to focus on solving the problem immediately at hand, which tends to be saving the lives of those in danger right now. Thanos is thinking on a larger time-scale, and not without reason.

He didn’t start out wanting to kill half of everyone. When he saw the path his planet was heading towards to tried to warn those in charge. He had to then watch his planet die when they didn’t listen to his advice. That’s what put him on the path of taking matters into his own hands, and successfully so. He mentions how Gamora’s planet was once in so much poverty that much of its population was left to starve to death, but following his culling, it is now flourishing. I don’t think there’s any suggestion he’s lying when he tells Gamora this. I feel the film’s presentation of Thanos’ motivation, as just preventing population growth from exceeding a level sustainable level, as a simplification driven by the fact that Hollywood isn’t really one to blatantly critique the systemic flaws in our society and generally thinks the mass audience is dumber than it is.

If you accept the commonly used definition of crazy as doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get different results, then superheroes are crazier than the villains they fight, and ultimately cause more suffering.  Most heroes don’t kill if they can avoid it (Thanos wouldn’t have won had the Avengers just killed one android). Instead of death, villains can expect to be placed in some form of containment be it in prison, an asylum, or another dimension. Much like how death cannot keep a profitable hero down, neither can any villain be permanently contained. They inevitably escape to wreak havoc yet again. Thanos, on the other hand, offered a permanent fix, then promptly retired. 

The thing about Thanos is he’s a bad guy for the right reasons. Killing half the population of the universe is, of course, traumatic, but trauma induces change. If life across the universe consistently develops in a way that eventually kills itself, then change is necessary. Doctor Stranger saw 14 million futures and still decided it was worth it to give Thanos the Time Stone knowing exactly what it would mean. It could be that ultimately Thanos was right, or more likely that Captain Marvel will be able to undo everything, but the fact that it’s possible to at least for a moment consider that maybe the bad guy has a point is a nice change of pace.

Jurek Wotzel MADNESS - July 2018

Politicizing Mental Illness in the Age of Absurdity

Photo by Cristian Newman

Written by Jurek Wötzel, Head Writer

The madman is a curious category. It works as the opposite of the ideal functioning person: everything that the functioning person is and does, the madman is not and does not. It is a concept that is essentially defined through what it is not, rather than what it is.

While medical literature did exist in premodern times, the scientific interest in mental illness explosively grew from the 1960s onwards. Modern forms of mental illness have been clustered under various terms nowadays.  Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorder, anxiety, psychosis, bipolarity, the list goes on. Categorization still largely relies on the statistical testing of patterns of lived experience. Both, reports of the inner feelings of patients and external observations of doctors, family members, and friends remain to be the main source for classification and diagnosis. While there have been some advances in uncovering physiological mechanisms lying at the heart of these mental illnesses there’s no consensus. There are researchers that believe serotonin imbalance causes depression, researchers who believe it is actually dopamine imbalance, and those who find the real reasons in genetics. Recently, a study found that our chances of becoming depressed in our lifetime is one in four – and if one of our parents had depression, it’s three in four.

The difficulties that we have with finding medical causes of mental illness may be overcome with time, but the dangers that come treating it a scientific problem will stay. One such issue sparked by the insufficient exploration of mental illness by medical researchers is that treatment often does not match the condition. Many times, chemical antidepressants prescribed by doctors bring little actual improvement and fight symptoms rather than causes. A meta-study by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre showed that across the field, antidepressants relieve the symptoms by 50% after two months, but those who have experienced incidences of depression know it comes at a cost. Yes, you sleep better, and your mood is improved, but then you also get the side effects.

Photo by Stefano Pollio

Another trending illness is ADHD. The UK National Health Service says symptoms of ADHD are essentially of two types: inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness. A closer descriptions of symptoms lists ‘excessive talking’, ‘acting without thinking’ or ‘interrupting conversation’ as problematic behaviors.

Indeed, these problematic behaviors can cause distress for the patient. Repulsive reactions of peers in school or nursery, as well as problems in managing everyday life as an adult, are common issues related to ADHD. However, framing these behaviors as a disorder ignores the fact that the social organization necessarily produces misfits. Those who struggle to function within the established society are given a medical diagnosis and a medical treatment with the aim to make their personalities fit in. For ADHD, the medications often given, Adderall or Ritalin, are strong stimulants that can have long-term side effects such as heart-rhythm disorders, psychosis, and addiction. Headaches, dizziness, and anxiety belong to the more harmless side effects the patient may experience daily.

The most dubious of all classes of mental disorder are those of the personality disorders. Among them are for example the ‘antisocial personality disorder’ and the ‘obsessive-compulsive personality disorder’. The NHS says that expressions of anti-social personality disorder are “manipulative, deceitful and reckless, and won’t care for other people’s feelings”. They often have histories of repeatedly breaking the law. Obsessive-compulsive behavior means that a certain thought causes stress and anxiety, which is then relieved by repetitive actions that temporarily relieve this. While the antisocial personality disorder does not come with pharmaceutical treatment, OCD is treated with an antidepressant, an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) which can cause insomnia, reduced sexual desire and has been found to double the risk of suicidal thoughts.

All these examples inherently have political relevance. We should ask ourselves to what extent mental illnesses are serious medical conditions of the individual or simply deviations from the norm – which could be totally fine to live with. Only our definition of what is normal produces the unnormal, which we for some reason cannot integrate in the workings of society. It is wrong to give strong drugs to children with the aim of making them behave like all the others, especially since many of the symptoms are based on social interaction in the first place. Even in cases when there’s no medical treatment as with the antisocial personality disorder, personality differences or non-conformism should not be treated as a medical condition, but accepted as a social phenomenon.

It is wrong to pretend as though the upsurge in depression is merely a result of increasing diagnosis rather than systematic causes that lie at the heart of the social order. In the past decade, depression has increased significantly among U.S. teens and it is estimated to become the world’s leading cause of illness by 2030. High-speed capitalism, the progressive up-breaking of stable social ties due to increasing job flexibility, and the constant fear of economic and social decline are just some of the societal developments linked to depressive disorders.

In general, I think there is a lot to be learned from investigating what is called mental illness. Often it can actually give us a hint at societal issues we would not have seen as issues otherwise. This can work in two ways. First, through addressing the question of whether something is an individual mental illness, or actually the symptom of a greater problem; and second, by questioning the extent to which the normalization of the individual is desirable. Repoliticizing mental illness instead of accepting it as a medical condition is crucial and it can be done by saving the debate from revolving around pure pharmaceutical expertise.

MADNESS - July 2018 Sarah Osei-Bonsu

Crude: The Black Curse of the Niger Delta

Photo by Forest Simon

Written by Sarah Osei-Bonsu

You know what’s crazy? Dying from poverty while surrounded by wealth. The Niger Delta is known for its wealth; it is literally coated in it. The Delta is Nigeria and Africa’s biggest oil producing region, generating Nigeria an approximated $10 billion per year. The ludicrousness is that this wealth pools at the feet of the poorest, taints their skin, and poisons their food. The wealth that is at the fingertips of those who need it the most is killing them instead. The coveted wetland has been tormented by the treasure it sits on for over 40 years.

Major oil corporations such as Shell, Agip, and ExxonMobil have stakes in the Niger Delta with catastrophic impacts. Protected by the government, these corporations act as invincible invaders exploiting and destabilizing the region and very rarely facing accountability. This makes the Niger Delta a paradigmatic case of environmental racism. The environmental and human rights violations are often left unresolved because the outcries of the local black populations hold less value than the black gold provoking the outcries. In trying to take power back, the inhabitants of the Delta have resorted to large-scale illegal harvesting, refining, and selling of the same oil that foreign corporations let leak into their communities, turning the government against its own people. This has turned the Niger Delta into a dark backdrop for a mad battle royale of local militias, large corporations, military raids, and embittered locals.

Once boasting a rich vegetation, the Niger Delta now looks like a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque landscape. Petroleum coats virtually everything; the soil, trees, even water are all highly flammable. The traditional livelihoods of the local communities such as fishing and farming have almost entirely been destroyed. Scarred and abused, the environment has turned against the people. Regrettably, the ones responsible are not there to face the consequences. This is a common phenomenon; environmental devastation is often visited on impoverished rural communities – in the African context, by foreign corporations. Environmental impact is usually not objective, the populations affected are not only impoverished, but there are often racial factors at play as well. These racialized approximations of value create environmental segregation with disastrous consequences for communities.

The Niger Delta has a tragic history with the oil industry, which includes decades of regular oil spills and oil-well fires. Oil contamination has severely damaged the environment; the high rainfall rate and riverland location mean that spilled oil is continually being washed outward and spread. In this way farmland, rivers, and potable water are corrupted.  The oil has penetrated the earth so deeply that agriculture has almost reached a standstill. Ecologists argue that damage can persist in the soil and plants forty years after an oil spill has occurred and been cleaned up. At this rate, the Delta doesn’t stand a chance at recovery. Petroleum so corrupts the groundwater reserves supplying the local communities, that one UN report observed a layer of refined oil as thick as 8 centimeters in a community well. Many oil spills occur from the facilities of these multi-billion dollar corporations, often without appropriate action being taken. For instance, in 2008 and 2009 Shell was responsible for a series of oil spills in the fishing town of Bodo, but Shell did not take action for weeks, and finally only offered the affected community a paltry compensation of $4000. The Niger Delta is a world where even culpability has become a commodity.

Photo by Dewang Gupta

The rapid increase in artisanal refining, where crude oil is refined illegally in makeshift facilities, is creating even more pockets of devastation. Impact areas are on the rise, but the level of damage cannot even be assessed because these enterprises are clandestine. The Nigerian government has taken steps to destroy this black market, going as far as out-right warfare. In the ongoing Niger Delta crisis, the Nigerian army has launched several offenses against rebel groups which have lead to many casualties, including alleged civilian deaths. The military has also made the local population its target, with regular spontaneous raids on villages, where they confiscate and dump any petroleum found. These are communities that have lost almost all other revenue due to petroleum pollution, resorting to trading in what is left: oil. These wanton raids by the Nigerian military are making an already vulnerable environment even more critical; a layer of petroleum left in the African sun is highly flammable and sometimes fires rage uninterrupted for weeks in the Delta.

While the people of the Niger Delta deal with these environmental and armed threats, oil multinationals and the Nigerian government continue to make billions from the region. The stark disparity between the living standards at the frontlines of oil production and the revenue of the industry abroad is a case of environmental discrimination. This chasm is indicative of a divide which neglects one group of people while enriching the other. The black sediment beneath the earth is more important than black lives. The Niger Delta in terms of resources is one of the wealthiest regions in Africa, and yet its inhabitants live in the most deplorable situations, tormented by the misfortune of having been born on rich soil. The bloody origins of oil are rarely questioned as it fuels global economies. The Niger Delta is literally being kept in the dark. When the temporary spotlight is shone on the Delta, it has been fleeting and ineffective.

In an attempt to bring some sanity to this chaos, the Nigerian government launched the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme (NDAP) in 2009. This programme was at its core built on the human capital theory. This theory views an educated population as the most productive investment for society or for a state. And as such the NDAP sought to quell the mounting violence in the Delta by engaging with militants offering them an alternative path. State aid was awarded to militants, and amnesty granted if they dropped their weapons and agreed to enter vocational training that could re-integrate them into society. The premise was simple: forgive the boys, rehabilitate them, save the Niger Delta. Easy.

And yet the programme derailed. It became a channel for corruption. Many allegations have been made that Nigerian politicians were making money bringing in multitudes of people for ‘rehabilitation’ who were not even militants. This meant that a lot of the people who needed this opportunity were neglected.

What should have been a simple solution for these helpless people, ended up being another mockery with which the elite filled their pockets. Militant activity in the Niger Delta only returned with fuller force after the NDAP debacle. More militant groups arose in the Niger Delta with a vengeance. For instance the suitably named Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), whose contribution to the crime and violence cut Nigerian oil production in 2017 to its lowest level in over 20 years. With this, the illegal oil market has again become central to the livelihoods of the Niger Delta’s rural communities. If the NDAP had really lived up to its promise, the people of these communities would not have needed to return to this black market, because there should have been sufficient infrastructures in place to offer them a better way of life. It remains that oil is their only means of survival. Again, facing military raids has become routine.

The retaliation which inspires the Niger Delta Avengers is understandable. The Avengers claim to be more than just a rebel group, and have actual political aspirations. For them, vandalizing pipelines and terrorizing foreign corporations means bleeding out the oil industry in the region. It’s the logic of reprisal: I supply you, you get rich, and yet you keep me in poverty? No, there has to be a reckoning. But what follows in effect is retaliation from the government for being retaliated upon. What is often forgotten in this vindictive cycle is that the environment feels every blow from all sides.

As long as there is oil in the Niger Delta, the global economy will continue to get a hold of as much of it as possible, irrespective of the struggles on the ground. And the actors at the heart of the conflict will continue to play their parts too, because of a dismal thing called greed. How far are we willing to let the environment and human state deteriorate for material gain? The Niger Delta almost resembles a fantasy world and in this twisted drama the cast is driven to madness: all parties distrust each other, fear the combustible land and are driven to desperate points of survival. The fruits of madness are used to fuel a dysfunctional multi-billion dollar industry that the people of the Niger Delta do not benefit from. In this drama ,a kingdom crippled by greed is about to go up in flames.

Christian Hazes MADNESS - July 2018

Learning Insanity

Photo by Hailey Kean

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

Being Dutch is inevitably accompanied by a couple of long-lasting stigmas and traits. According to outsiders, but often also according to ourselves, every Dutch person loves cheese, uses a bike to get from A to B, and probably the most notorious habit: “going Dutch” on the bill.

A tradition the outside world is less acquainted with, but that an abundance of Dutch people detests, is what we call zesjescultuur. The fact that the term entails the Dutch word for the number 6 (zes) already makes it a bit more convenient for you to guess the habit’s gist. It is simply the Dutch equivalent of the culture of mediocrity plaguing education. A culture of obtaining a grade that barely meets the threshold to pass a test or a course reigns in the Netherlands.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of prominent Dutch newspapers write about the highly vexed topic of education. Newspapers such as De Volkskrant, Trouw, and De Telegraaf identify challenges, unveil problems and provide recommendations for the future concerning the Dutch education system. What caught my attention is the Dutch newspapers’ tendency to (over)emphasize the prevalence of the zesjescultuur. Lately, it seems to be the only thing they can discuss.

In my opinion, the tradition of the zesjescultuur in the Netherlands is largely non-existent: a contemporary Dutch myth.

There seems to be not a culture of mediocrity, but the opposite: a culture of having to excel in school. This myth is reinforced by the perpetual stream of news that argues that education has to improve and that the majority of the Dutch students are towards education.

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson

Together with the dawn of the efficiency pivoted thinking in Dutch education, particularly universities (companies that strive for profit, students are merely products and need to be fabricated as quickly as possible), the two amalgamated into an acceleration of the solidification of the culture to academically excel, including far-stretching consequences. Academic pressure takes its toll, mostly in the form of depression. Many students struggle psychologically; succumbing to the daunting pressure of having to perform. In South Korea, the leading cause of death amongst Koreans aged 15 to 24 is suicide thanks to extreme academic pressure.

Hopefully, the Netherlands (and elsewhere in the world) is able to circumvent such an extreme fate. The first signs are not hopeful. Recently conducted research in higher education in the Netherlands produced baffling figures: a quarter of the students copes with burnout symptoms, 1 out of 7 students face depression and suicidal thoughts which also frequently occur. Oftentimes, the detrimental effects of excessive academic pressure on mental well-being are less overt, but not less harmful. The instilled urge to perform and excel academically kills both self-esteem and happiness, and stifles creativity.

Severe academic pressure negatively affects physical health as well, ample research suggests. Insomnia, increased cardiac risk and an increased blood pressure are all valid concerns. The fact that a lot of students turn to coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol does not help either. What’s more, due to the increased focus on performance, education has become substantially more expensive. Many students build up a considerable debt at a young age, especially now that the Dutch government stopped funding students.

The obligation of (excessive) striving and prospering throughout one’s academic career is indoctrinated from a young age on. Many Dutch elementary schools have joined the quest for eradicating the lethargic youngsters. Schools sell and promote themselves with award-worthy marketing, promising to turn your little boy or girl into the next Nobel prize winner. At an age of about five, kids get exposed to government official tests for the first time. A flood of others will follow in the years to come. Most fascinating is the implementation of student-based rankings. A huge in-class billboard shows in which category a pupil belongs. The bright students are identified as “stars” (or something else in a similar vein), those who still need to make considerable progress are called “rockets,” and the hopeless belong to the category consisting of “moons”. But do not panic! If you work hard, outdo your 8-year old peers, and perform well, you can climb the ladder and reach the class’ upper echelons.

Parents can contribute a lot to the solidification of academic pressure. Their role can be summarized with one simple, yet powerful, sentence: there are not a lot of gifted children, but there are a lot of parents with gifted children. Parents to (intentionally) overestimate the abilities of their kids. Parents obviously want the best for their offspring, but the academic pressure they impose on their children might backfire. Children undergo intense pressure in order to fulfill dreams that are sometimes not even their own.

Progress and the need to perform in school are undoubtedly important and justified. The youth needs to be motivated and stimulated in order to develop, not just for their own sake but also for that of the world. Education is invaluable and its fruits are sweet. At the same time, striving comes at a price and poses an inescapable trade-off. Should we always strive for the highest attainable or rather take it easy and aim for general well-being and happiness? A healthy balance should be found, especially when taking into consideration the rapidly enhancing intense nature of society and contemporary life. A step in the right direction might come in the form of pursuing the Humboldtian education ideal. The leitmotif of this school of thought is academic freedom, which is a two-fold concept. Universities should be independent from governmental influence and external economic constraints. But there should also be academic freedom from within, meaning that students themselves are pulling the strings of their educational journey.

Education might be the blueprint for successful living, but let’s refrain from an excess of zeal.

Issues MADNESS - July 2018

July 2018 – Madness

Banner by Mia Müller

Dear Infected,

There’s so much craziness going on in the world now that it appears we, as a planet, are going insane.

The US is leading the charge in support of those who deny climate change, while at the same time acknowledging that climate change related incidents are getting worse. Even more shocking is the temporarily halted program of separating families at the US/Mexico border because the trauma of such an event is something the leadership doesn’t really care about. Across an ocean, Europe continues to lament the trickle of refugees coming to its borders, despite the fact that most stay in the region they originate from. It can be frustrating, depressing, maddening that world leaders can carry on with such policies as if they aren’t inherently wrong.

If you’re feeling insane, take comfort that in a mad world only the mad stay sane.

With this in mind, the theme for July is Madness. It is our hope that an organized expression of our feelings will work as a form of collective therapy.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Pandemic Team

Nike Vrettos TWISTED MORALITY - June 2018

Getting What You Ask For

Photo by Milada Vigerova

Written by Nike Vrettos

Consent is an unavoidable part of current news headlines. The #MeToo movement triggered intense public debate around what is considered correct and incorrect behavior, particularly among university circles, and especially within my friend group. As I was talking about rape culture and un-consensual sex the umpteenth time, I started to think: the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world do not resemble the scary figure that I was taught to fear. Most sexual abusers look common, harmless. They are not ominous men, wearing black rubber suits and a whip, ready to handcuff you any moment. So if “normal” looking individuals are struggling with consent, how do the ones who are said to be deviant, the kinksters of the world, deal with it?

I started to do my research and gradually uncovered novel aspects of the BDSM (the initialism of Bondage & Discipline/Dominance & Submission/Sadism & Masochism)  that I had previously been oblivious to. I luckily had the opportunity to interview Valerie (a pseudonym used to protect her anonymity), a woman in her early 20s, who identifies as bisexual and practices BDSM.

In my interview with Valerie, she elaborated on the importance of consent in the kinky world and beyond. When I phoned her I expected a rough, sexy, deep alluring voice. Yet, her mellow voice ringing with a slight Dutch accent reminded me more of a petite teen. I had the image of a Cinderella-like blond girl in my head. She had a giggling, contagious laugh and talked about bondage as lightly as about the weather. As if it were the most mundane thing in the world.

One thing is fairly certain: in our culture, it is considered immoral to hurt someone. As a civilized member of society, you should not punch your neighbor in the face, and you must never be physically aggressive towards your partner, the person that you love and hold dear.

By stark contrast, members of the BDSM community take pleasure in exactly what we, “Vanilla” people, find worthy of condemnation – hurting the one you love or allowing yourself to be hurt by them. As a consequence, their practices have an odd twist that many struggle to fathom.

Despite common perception, rape culture and a dithering attitude towards consent is not a critical issue within the BDSM community – it is, predominantly connected to the “Vanilla” sex culture. Still, for some obscure reason, it is the former which is condemned as violent and immoral. Casual hookups and committed relationships alike are negatively impacted by the uncertainty surround sexual interactions. All too often, we cross our fingers, wish for the best and assume that our partner truly consented; that you have read the body language correctly. This can create a dangerous mixture of miscommunication, denial, and oblivion.

Photo by Dmitry Bayer

Yet, consent still isn’t a clear-cut concept, as confusion still reigns over the topic. The question remains: what does consent really imply? An expressed, explicit ‘yes’? Mere suggestive body language? Suddenly, the supposedly easy and ideally enjoyable setting of intimacy becomes an awkwardly risky situation. No one wants to be called a rapist.

There are many positive aspects of consent and consideration the average sexually active person can learn from the “abnormal” BDSM community. For the BDSM population, consent is not a question of sexiness, but rather focuses on making one’s partner feel as secure and comfortable as possible. Valerie elaborated one interesting aspect of the BDSM community, the so-called “safe words”. Before engaging in BDSM, couples agree to safe words which indicate a complete stop of an action in case lines are crossed for one partner, or they feel too uncomfortable to continue. “One agrees on them before doing anything. You can have checklists that include non-verbal gestures or a word or sentence, or ‘how much do you like this on a scale from 1-5’.” She pointed out that it is unacceptable to start things which are not pre-agreed on; this would counter the practice of the pre-negotiations.

When we touched on the topic of consent, Valerie explained that instead of trying to interpret consent through body language, it is made very clear whether one consents. This is pivotal: “If I agree with you on slapping that doesn’t mean you can also whip me.” This kind of negotiation as part of sexual practice is particularly relevant when you navigate between actions that can injure you. In mainstream sex life, consent as an affirmative action is treated as being outside the sexual act itself, yet it is something that it cannot (and should not) be separated from.

“Consent shouldn’t only play a role in the context of BDSM. Understanding your partner’s limit is something everyone can benefit from, also for those who don’t engage in kinky stuff.” Clear boundaries and a genuine interest in what makes one’s partner feel comfortable and what doesn’t is important, regardless of gender or sexual preferences.

Surely, certain aspects of BDSM practices are used also as means to abuse, such as strangulation or physical restraints, but the key difference is the consent behind the act. Valerie added that people within the BDSM community known to abuse others under the cover of BDSM are clearly overstepping boundaries and are called out within the community. “Trust plays a significant role in BDSM practice, more maybe than in normal Vanilla sex, because so much can go wrong. People who abuse others and then point to us are wrong. We value consent very high”. Her voice was urgent and stressed the importance of her point. Asking for consent isn’t only about accepting your partner’s boundaries but also an honest self-reflection on your own. It is not at all about seizing your partner or playing the role of the ‘submissive’, but about acknowledging what you feel in the moment. Knowing your own boundaries eases the preemptive talk and allows you to discuss your partner’s, which isn’t unsexy at all. Quite the contrary, it shows that you care and value what the other one wants.

We should understand that sexual assault based on short, inviting dresses or misleading body language is the result of how insufficiently we as a society deal with sexual consent. By looking at what our society deems as “immoral” and “violent” kink communities and how they handle consent, the general public can certainly learn a lot. Talking and educating oneself (and others) about consent is the only way to diminish the risk of traumatizing sexual assault for both sides: men and women.

Perhaps, the “normal” ones are the individuals we should most be afraid of when we walk alone at night. Perhaps the normal ones are the ones who really misunderstand and actively ignore safe consensual practice. Perhaps, the “abnormal” crowd already has it all figured out. Perhaps, the normal ones ought to be a little more abnormal – for everybody’s sake.

Contributing Writers TWISTED MORALITY - June 2018

Half Actualized: Why getting better is getting slowed down

Photo by Kumoma Lab

Written by Rachel Plett

Maslow’s Hierarchy is a triangle-shaped theory of psychological health. It’s probably popped up at least once in your feed, posted by one of your self-help guru friends. It starts with clean water and enough sleep, and ends with being the best you can be and finally founding that iguana cafe you’ve always dreamed about starting. You know, the one where folks can get a good latte and cuddle with big lizards at the same time. What’s less-known is that later in life Maslow added another tier to his self-help pyramid called self-transcendence. Props to Abe for adding the dimension of caring for others; but in asserting that caring for others comes after, or is morally superior to, caring for and discovering yourself, the man made a mistake. By defining self-actualization as a precursor to self-transcendence, Maslow reveals the ways in which his thinking is touched by his era and gender. All this would be NBD if this categorical error was confined to one humanist psychologist, however, this particular bias extends beyond psychology into our social, governmental and monetary systems, where it has had a profound impact on the ways in which we organize societies, governments, and markets – that is where things begin to get problematic.

Before getting into the history and economics, let’s take a look at the logic and assumptions behind putting self-transcendence at the top of the pyramid. Self-actualization is defined, simply, as the discovery and fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities. It is essentially exploring and understanding what you’re good at and who you’re capable of being. Self-transcendence is doing something for the sake of someone else, or because of a moral/ideological stance; most moral/ideological stances are beliefs rooted in how one should treat “others.” There’s nothing in the definition of self-actualization that would make it a defacto precursor to self-transcendence. If anything, self-transcendence reads best as a subcategory of self-actualization; a good way to discover your talents and potential.  

The issue with thinking about self-actualization as we currently do is that it’s regularly reinterpreted as self-interest – interest in one’s self, personal advantages, growth, and improvement. However, knowing yourself and looking out for yourself are not the same thing. Knowing yourself (self-actualization) is the goal; focusing on yourself (self-interest) and sharing with others (self-transcendence) are the parallel means of achieving that goal. In reality, everything we know about ourselves stems from our reflections on the other’s reactions to what we do. In the words of the excellent hippy Alan Watts, “Self and other define each other mutually.”

On an individual level, putting self-transcendence at the top implicitly suggests that meaning and the personal growth, joy, and satisfaction that comes with caring for others should be postponed until after one has hurdled a long (often growing) list of self-interested goal posts. This sets up a toxic “I can’t be good until I’m good enough” cycle.

It also contributes to a misalignment of self-interest and self-transcendence within society – where one is imperative and the other is impossible. The attainability of self-transcendence within society – more often referred to as altruism – is an ongoing debate that, all to often, elevates altruism to an unrealistic, unrealizable “God status” that one can’t, and shouldn’t be held accountable to. What is worse, some scoff at the whole idea as being a religious fantasy, a psychological balm devised to make this “dog eat dog” world bearable. By making altruism appear as something so unattainable or unreal, we say to each other that the best you can be is Kanye, while dismissing the path to becoming Mother Teresa, Ghandi, or MLK Jr. as impossible. So we reward absorption, enrichment, and dominance with our time, money, and attention, and wring our hands together in bewilderment, wondering why, with all this wealth, the world isn’t getting better faster.

Photo by Jose Martin Ramirez

One (if not the biggest) hindrance to this envisioned better world is the fact that we – western, politically democratic and economically liberal societies – have institutionalized the subordination of self-transcendence (caring) in relation to self-interest by relying, almost exclusively, on tax dollars and donations to fund the work and economics of caring. This institutional arrangement creates a perverse incentive system that puts economic quotas on caring and turns self-transcendence into a luxury experience reserved for the well-off, rather than presenting it as an inborn motivation that each of us should be rewarded for acting upon. The alliance of market capitalism and philanthropy is the institutionalization of the “do good after you’ve done well” relationship discussed earlier, and while the desire to recycle one’s excess should be lauded, there are a few issues that emerge from this arrangement. One of the most obvious being high net worth individuals, removed as they are from need and the social issues they aim to impact, generally lack the knowledge and on the ground insight to effectively impact the problems they aim to solve. Another issue is the fragmentation of the capital market that funds the caring economy. According to the SSIR, $390 billion in philanthropic donations are made annually, plus many hundreds of billions in government grants and contracts. However, because those contributions come from hundreds of different foundations, faith organizations, as well as state and federal governments, they create a capital market that is inherently volatile and subject to the whims and pressures of those with political and economic power, rather than being responsive to the needs and demands of the issues and communities actually being targeted. Finally, by setting up a system where the money for care work comes from donations or tax dollars, the system ensures that self-transcendent activities and enterprises have to survive on a trickle of the economic rewards generated by the provision economy, our self-interested endeavours, rather than growing organically to meet our demand for a better world.

If self-interest and self-transcendence are companion paths to self-actualization, and provision and caring are dual requirements for our health and wellbeing, how have we made it to 2018 with an efficient economic system for one and a proverbial cash pinata for the other? Part of the answer is the rise in monogamy and the domestication and disenfranchisement of women. This shift in norms and the social contract coincided with the rise of agriculture and private land ownership. Compared to the 300,000 years of humankind, monogamy is a relatively new social innovation. Current research suggests that monogamy did not emerge as a normative behavior until around 12,000 years ago; the same time society transitioned from hunter-gatherer tribes to agrarian settlements. With this transition came growing obsession with the concept of property and women got folded into this narrative. With few exceptions, these emerging agrarian societies began to treat both women and land like assets; units of productivity traded among families rather than independent citizens. As financial and governing institutions began to crystallize, women were famously excluded from the conversation; they were denied the rights to representation, vote, and own property. Furthermore, as the delegation of the of society’s three fundamental activities – protection, provision, and  caring – formalized, women’s biology predisposed them to become the primary participants in the caring economy. The benefits and injustices of this arrangement are hotly debated and not the focus of this article (many others have covered this debate and done it better). The focus of this article is the impact this arrangement has had on the evolution of our economic systems and financial institutions; what we’ve gotten right and what we’ve neglected to build in.

Photo by Rob Curran

Despite what the ideologues would have you believe, capitalism is not a natural order. It’s a social system that has evolved over thousands of years. From the first green revolution to the current data disruption, it has been enabled and renegotiated with every productivity evolution. Capitalism is a cultural system rooted in the need for individuals and investors to turn a profit. This system orchestrates a positive feedback loop where greater efficiency means more productivity (more stuff), lower prices, more demand, more money, and ultimately greater efficiency again. By design, capitalism rewards provision and motivates self-interest. It’s the best system we have for incentivizing increases in efficiency and productivity that make it possible to provide a growing variety of better quality products and services to global markets. This excess doesn’t always make it to where it’s needed, but it is produced and distributed at peak efficiency. This efficiency is a testament to the success of capitalism as a social system.

If all we required is provision to be healthy and happy, then capitalism is the only economic system we would ever need. For a growing majority, however, wellbeing no longer hinges on provision. Increasingly, our individual and collective happiness hinges on the opportunity we have to hope, find meaning, and forge durable connections; all outcomes that are tied to caring and self-transcendence. That we are drowning in an overabundance of products and options while fretting about the fraying edges of our social fabric, and struggling with loneliness, existential anxiety, and growing tribal animosity is a testament to the fact that uses for capitalism are limited to efficiency and provision and it is failing when it comes to incentivising and rewarding prosocial outcomes that are continually growing in demand.

Social liberals blame this unraveling on social media, and social conservatives point to the decline of family values, but everyone agrees that when both adults in a home “work”, time pressure and stress increase. But, there it is, in that word, “work.” We don’t see self-transcendence as a viable economic motivator. We don’t see care-work as work. We definitely don’t treat caregiving professions like good jobs and the reason for that is simple. The major formal institution that governs exchanges of the care economy’s value is marriage. In this system women and the value generated by the work they do, are traded as an asset between father and groom. But people aren’t assets, and being a care-worker should not economically shackle one person to another, nor should the economy that incentivizes this kind of work be confined by the profit motives of the provision economy and/or the political jockeying of political and religious leaders. Caring needs its own economy, one that can grow or shrink with demand; one that can take into consideration the idiosyncrasies of care-work that prohibit it from fitting comfortably into the dynamics of capitalism.

Traditionally, women have done most of the of the work in the care economy: caring for children; caring for the sick and aging, organizing communities, fortifying social safety nets and norms, and investing in education. In some cultures, if the productivity of one woman wasn’t enough you got another wife – in others, you bought a slave. Either way, the development of socioeconomic contracts that can efficiently broker the exchange of value within the care economy have been stunted by the fact that, for most of our history, care workers have been treated and traded like property. Even when institutions have stepped in, those institutions have been devoid of female leadership. Religious organizations like the Catholic Church were among the first to bring a formal structure beyond matrimony to the care economy; while nuns were the primary purveyors of care, women were barred from priesthood and therefore from the design process of one of the first civil society institutions. The same is true for government. At the time governments began establishing social programs women didn’t even have the vote, let alone equal representation in civil society and government. So, while the policies and norms were laid down for the system we have now, almost none of the primary actors informed or deliberated on the process. Man to man exclusion has led to demonstration, revolt, revolution, and war, and while this may have been disruptive and bloody, it has driven market economics of the provision economy to evolve in ways that the economics of the care economy have not.       

The communist/capitalist debate is hack. Today, the majority of countries have mixed market economies – a mixture of command (government controlled) and market (privately held) structures. However, as we discussed earlier, the care economy is mostly a command economy with limited accountability to end consumers. There are other and better answers to the question of: “how do we incentivize self-transcendence and economically reward the work of caring?” (other than through taxes and tithing). Hope, generosity, empathy, idealism, love… These are all powerful, self-transcendent motivators. The fact that we haven’t designed an efficient system to tap into and empower them is proof of the limited amount of innovation and insight that comes from excluding more than half the population – the half tasked with self-transcendent work – from the design process; not proof that the motivation is not genuine or actionable. Self-transcendence is only second to self-interest because our founding fathers and famous philosophers wrote it to be so, while their wives were busy transcending themselves every day in caring for their families, friends, and community.

Give it a little time. Us ladies are just getting to the table.

Contributing Writers Creative Pieces TWISTED MORALITY - June 2018

GreenWar: Because the Earth is worth the fight!

Photos courtesy of GreenWar

Presentation by Selçuk Balamir, Mathieu Grosche and Shabnam Zeraati

GreenWar – Corporate Identity from GreenWar on Vimeo.

Wars have always caused major destruction and loss. But they have many positive externalities as well. We would not have tin cans if Napoleon had not urged his engineers to invent a way to conserve food. We would not have computers, if the Germans had not wanted to conquer the world. And even the internet was invented by the Pentagon.

So let’s face it: wars are here to stay. It is quite unrealistic to anticipate the end of wars in the 21st century. At the same time however, it is equally impossible to ignore the environmental challenges in front of us: if we expect to keep on fighting throughout this century, we cannot just sit and do nothing about the climate crisis, deforestation, disappearing species and so on.

Our sustainable military development company GreenWar is an innovative brand adopting a unique strategic position in the industry. We see ourselves at the crossroads of arms manufacturing and eco-design. We can help you make environmentally-friendly, energy-conserving, carbon-neutral, ecological conflicts.

But of course this does not mean the end of casualties. Quite the opposite actually! At GreenWar, we see well beyond the simple human criteria. We are in a global ecosystem where each and every being contributes to the cycle of life, where “human loss” equals “unleashing springtime”. Death should not be perceived as a loss, but as an essential part of natural cycles. Cradle-to-grave and all that.

For us “sustainability” means to satisfy the need of the present generation to wage wars, without compromising the need of future generations to wage theirs. At GreenWar, ecology is a war that never ends.

Photos courtesy of GreenWar

Here is our flagship product. Bullet for the Earth is made out of eco-friendly materials and it contains seeds that grow after use. Thus every shot gives a chance to make a tree grow. Would soldiers not be more motivated, if ammunition contained rare plant seeds? After all, they would contribute actively to the cycle of life. Enemies could become trees, a true benefit for all.

Many scenarios are possible; lost bullets, bodies left in battlefields and mass graves might all potentially give life to whole forests. An offshoot can also be sent to the soldier’s family along with his ID tag, making it possible to plant it in one’s garden, keeping the memory alive for generations. The seeds contained in the bullet are of different species. Hence a large variety of forests will take place after every war.

Next year we are launching our new product: seed bombs. Much more effective than individual bullets. Drop one and let a thousand flowers blossom!

Photos courtesy of GreenWar

We run a partnership programme with Monsanto, famous for their terminator seeds, to develop genetically modified seeds specially designed for particular conflict zones. India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, the Balkans… you name it. We make it.

We are also pleased to have worked with the Obama administration, which obviously did not impede the  US war efforts, but nonetheless opted for more environmentally-friendly alternatives. I watched Mr. President himself give a little gesture towards Mother Nature: a fighter jet that runs on biofuels. Named the Green Hornet, it was Launched on Earth Day.

Fortunately, the US is not the only one seeking solutions! A few years ago, we were invited to this charming event at the European Parliament, the best place in the universe. It was such a timely initiative, considering that 2010 was the year of biodiversity.

However, I must admit that I was utterly disappointed when we were told that we should not expect fancy new weapons. Instead, the panelists spoke about awareness-raising campaigns reminding soldiers to switch off the light before leaving the room. If European soldiers are getting killed during convoys transporting bad, unsustainable diesel fuel to military bases, it is because of the unsustainable soldiers that forget to turn off the lights. Henceforth, the panelists agreed on the need to invest in renewables.

The world is a pretty dangerous place, but it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. We strongly believe that wars of the third millennium can be ecological, humanistic and poetical. Men should have no reluctance about going to war, they should have a good reason: ecology. Because the Earth is worth the fight!

MADNESS - July 2018 Sarah Osei-Bonsu

Mais qu’est-ce que vous faites ici? The French Army in Africa

Photo by Joe Mcdaniel

Written by Sarah Osei-Bonsu, Staff Writer

On 5th April 2018, thirty Islamic State (IS )militants were reported killed in clashes with the French army in Mali. This followed intelligence of an armed terrorist group of an estimated sixty individuals positioned three kilometers north of the Nigerian border. This area has been a suspected haven of the IS and the French operation was allegedly an intervention to chase out these jihadist offshoots. The successful operation was not an isolated operation; in recent years the French army has expanded its military presence in Africa stating the primary objective to be fighting radical Islam. There are currently about 4,000 French troops stationed in Mali alone, and although their stated intentions might be good, their actions say otherwise.

The increase in terrorist attacks in Europe has generated a lot of public awareness and concern about radical Islamic terrorism manifested in Jihadist groups such as the IS. With France being one of the countries hard hit by terrorism – with the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks in 2015 – it has also become one of the most decisive players in fighting radical Islam at its core, unafraid of using military action to do so, notably in the Sahel region of Africa. Under this pretense, France has led several military operations in the countries where it has military bases on the continent. It established Operation Barkhane in Mali in 2012 as a reaction to a Jihadist insurgency, but this has grown into a permanent counter-terrorism effort across Mali and several of its neighboring countries. This means that since 2012 there has consistently been French military action in the region. These kinds of operations are largely successful at fighting terrorism, however, even though they are seemingly for altruistic reasons, this French military presence has a darker connotation of a colonialist legacy and foreign disruption in Africa.

France’s colonial presence in Africa dates back to the sixteenth century. French imperialism and colonialism were very severe for those living in its African territories both in hard power and in soft power. Colonization ended in most of Africa in the mid-20th century, and decolonization in most Francophone countries had an understandably anti-France tone. Despite this, France maintained a military presence in many of these states, and continued to intervene in African states over the years following decolonization, with their military presence intensifying recently. This increased presence is often seen as a form of peace-keeping in that it claims to serve the interests of the local people by protecting them against Islamist groups. However, this is not wholly the case. Many locals support these militants as legitimate political groups because they often represent cultural minorities and oppose the (French-backed) government. At the same time, these operations are killing Malian civilians. French writer Raphael Granvaud, spokesman for the NGO Survie, says “It is clear that France’s military operations in Africa led to civilian casualties […] The French army is doing everything it takes to hide civilian casualties, this is why we do not know the exact number of civilian casualties caused by the military operations by France.” And Granvaud claims these are not the only crimes France covered up during its military presence in Mali, alleging that many cases of sexual and physical assault by French soldiers have also gone unreported. French claims of blamelessness have gone unchallenged by both the media and major international organizations.

Photo by Ken Treloar

As problematic as these allegations are, France’s military presence is supported by the United Nations and a wide network of bilateral military and defense treaties with African countries. It should be noted that these were initially given in isolated crises, for instance after Mali’s Tuareg rebellion in 2012. Six years later, it seems France has overstayed its welcome. In the name of fighting terrorism, French troops have remained in Mali and through continued military operations France is gaining (or shall I say regaining) political influence. This isn’t counter-terrorism, it’s neo-colonialism.

France does not have the leverage that it had on Mali in colonial times and the immediate post-colonial period, but it wants to remain a major player in the region. Counter-terrorism gives France a geostrategic stake in Mali once again. While there is a genuine interest on France’s part to fight terrorism in its military missions in Mali and neighboring African countries, this form of intervention coupled with the Franco-African history is worrying. Despite the increased military presence being supported by politics of ethics and diplomacy, these kinds of intrusions in the form of long-term ‘aid’ are damaging to Mali and the continent as a whole.

The French presence is actually destabilizing the region, by making local governments more dependent on their military support. While France’s counter-terrorism operations in the north of the country were in the best interests of the current regime, the government is suffering now as a result of it. Due to the fact that France is undertaking operations across the Sahel region, Mali is now feeling the spillover effects of insecurity, such as refugee flows. In Mali there have already been makers of destabilization like escalating levels of corruption, unemployment and low living standards. Incoming refugee populations place additional pressure on these infrastructures and systems in Mali, which are already deplorably weak. Many Malians are themselves being externally displaced because of these conditions, according to the UNHCR, the number of Malian refugees peaked to 145,000 people in 2017. And in 2018, Mali is the 27th most fragile state in the world. This insecurity keeps France in a powerful position in Mali and Africa. These states are becoming increasingly unstable while France progressively increases its presence; this looks more like occupation and re-conquest than neutral intervention.

What French intervention in Africa demonstrates is that good political intentions can often produce adverse effects. The bigger issue is about more than French military action in Mali; it’s how Africa has been, and continues to be, the playground for the West. African lives are lost as a result of this and the media doesn’t talk about it because it falls within the bigger picture of the West’s vendetta against Islam. Africa offers a spectacle for the moral endeavors of the West but we don’t stop to look at the long-term consequences of such intervention, and refuse to acknowledge that Africa is still being subjugated because of it. The problem is not that France has returned to upset the power balance in former colonies, but that it never left. This perpetual presence of the former colonizer means decolonization never completely removed the top-down power structures, and that France still has the power to do whatever it wants in Africa.

Christian Hazes TWISTED MORALITY - June 2018

The Gateway Kingdom

Photo by Ludo Sawicki

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

It was a bold move from Emmanuel Macron to visit Morocco as the first Maghreb destination, shortly after having been elected president. Macron’s predecessors frequently opted for visiting Algeria first, instead of its long-standing regional rival Morocco. Both countries constituted the invaluable core of the French empire in North and West Africa and the post-independence relationship between colonizer and colonized has been complex and often ambivalent.

Nevertheless, Macron’s choice to promote Morocco to France’s first state visit destination is not totally a surprise. Aside from some periods of accumulating tension, France and Morocco have always been on good terms with each other. This relationship caused both countries to substantially influence one another in an abundance of facets.

French involvement in Morocco is especially evident and worth taking a closer look at. The former colonizer, who granted Morocco independence in 1956, remains Morocco’s largest trading partner as well as its chief investor. Two fitting illustrations of France’s endeavours are the recently erected Renault fabrication plant in hub-city Tanger, and the establishment of a Moroccan equivalent of the Train à Grande Vitesse. This high-velocity rail service is the commencement of fulfilling Morocco’s wish to modernize its infrastructure. The “fastest train in Africa” will make traveling by train in Morocco considerably less time-consuming. Macron has vowed to ensure France’s commitment to the Moroccan cause of realizing economic emergence, industrial development and the implementation of political and institutional reforms. A logical consequence is that France has the honor to call itself Morocco’s paramount bilateral donor.

When it comes to the political sphere, one does not have to search long to unveil French influence. Strong Franco-Moroccan political ties have the by-result of spawning a growing stream of concerns regarding the return of ‘Françafrique’. French general consulates are in abundance in Morocco, a phenomenon not quite unique to the country. The extensive network of French embassies and consulates across much of Africa is a remnant of colonial times. Less overt, or obvious, instances of the French finger in the political pie of Morocco are the joint action programs on climate change, combating terrorism, and the growing presence of French cultural institutions.

Even the more trivial Moroccan domains couldn’t escape the French claws,inevitably bearing the mark of its former colonizer. During a meeting in Marrakech, I asked a young Moroccan sports journalist who had just recently launched the site League Live for his opinion on the fact that many football trainers for the Moroccan squad are born and raised Frenchmen. He confirmed that the Moroccan football federation has a tendency to appoint French trainers, but that it doesn’t stop there. French staff is also deployed to train the Moroccan youth squads. Not merely in the light of the national squads, but also concerning that of the Moroccan clubs. As expected, the French style of playing has now become the status quo in Morocco.

Not unimportantly, when asked for Morocco’s chances at surviving the group stage of the upcoming World Cup, the journalist advocated for discarding the French way of playing. Instead, “parking the bus”, a highly defensive tactic that aims at conceding as few as possible goals, ought to take precedence.

Is France driven by genuine goodwill? Or are there underlying motives that hint to self-interest? A mixture of both? Could that be possible?

Like any other country, France craves expanding its operations into broader markets, and Africa is the “new” El Dorado. The continent’s riches, when it comes to natural resources, attracts an abundance of foreign partners. Morocco possesses a great deal of natural resources itself, such as phosphate reserves and fish, but the kingdom is also seen as a potential portal and connector to the African hinterland.

Photo by J. Audema, 1905

During colonial times, the French only shared their hegemony on the African continent with the British. Now in 2018 a lot has changed. France’s near total domination has vanished into thin air. With Germany, the United States, and most notably China and India joining the fray, France has receded substantially compared to their position only a decade ago. France’s deteriorating competitiveness is a chief culprit, which is mostly due to the floundering French economy. The economically booming states of China and India easily outgun France when it comes to financial means. But it is primarily the former Francophone Africa turning its back on France that proves to be fatal for the latter’s languishing domination in Africa. From Senegal to Madagascar, they yearn to reduce their dependence on Paris. This also explains why many African countries turn to non-French investors and benefactors.

It is, in addition to the already strong bonds, Morocco’s envisaged role as the gateway to the new El Dorado that explains France’s reinvigorated interest in bolstering its partnership with the kingdom. In 2013, King Mohammed VI explicitly stated that the African continent is Morocco’s top-priority in light of international relations. The kingdom’s expanded political and economic footprint in Africa marks the inception of a new era in multilateral collaboration between Morocco and the other, predominantly Sub-Saharan, African states. Morocco’s recent return to the African Union and its accession in some regional cooperative pacts couldn’t have a better timing.

Obviously, France cannot miss out on this opportunity. France’s narrative is one that emphasizes the shared quest that both countries are to embark on: pursuing joint interests, involving multiple facets of life.

Former French Prime-Minister François Mitterand stated in 1957 that “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21th century”. The daunting fear of losing Africa is still relevant to contemporary France. This says a lot about the current relations between the two. Although de jure decolonized, Francophone Africa is still of the utmost importance to France. Plus, it remains connected to its former colonizer as if nothing has changed ever since the struggles for independence were ultimately rewarded with independence.

Admittedly, France preserves various and important stakes in the cultural, political and economic ties between Africa and the self. But this is nothing in comparison with the power and status that it once enjoyed in the African Backyard. Regardless of the still evident French influence, it is slowly waning.

It is the latter and a hint of optimism that make me conclude that the fear that Mitterand voiced is finite.