Inspired by Anda Lucia
I saw a man neath a bridge
Dug in snug in a ditch
A creature full of hope
A man like me
Full of undending dreams
That only he could see
A man with bare blue andalucian sky above him
And a clogged southern stream for his ragged robes
A torn matress for a bed of hopes
And a limp the doctors refused to cover
I met a man of culture
Immersed in the canvas of a dry river bed
Surrounded by walls plastered in sketches Picasso could never conjure
But in nightmares and torrents in some dystopian dream
A man neath a bridge with Michelangelo’s blue before his sandy eyes
A doctorate from the school of life
This mans steps are poetry in the script of life
An unsung Shakespeare neath a bridge
Whose tales will be told two thousand years on
By a generation that baulks at the fallacy of disregarded poets
Left to rot and mould, crumble and fall
Under the fierce Andalucian sun
Under a bridge trampled on by kitsch cats of the social elite
Run ragged by their crisis and their strife
Bent, broken, put to shame by a man under a bridge
Photo : Allan Kortbaek
Original Article written for TEDxKEA (TED talks) : This is the elongated version
“The human race is the most stupid and unfair kind of race. A lot of the runners don’t even get decent sneakers or clean drinking water.
Some runners are born with a massive head start, every possible help along the way and still the referees seem to be on their side.
It’s not surprising a lot of people have given up competing altogether and gone to sit in the grandstand, eat junk and shout abuse.
What the human race needs is a lot more streakers.”
Be a Streaker
“Stand out from the crowd,” “be different !” Inside us all there is a little child who would like to emerge from the shadow of the masses and just be him or herself; unabated, untamed – free. Yet in a world historically obsessed with uniformity, as many will contend, it can be taxing to ride against the current. In an age where food has been standardized, culture commodified and in which work life remains for many, a monotonous, mechanized monochrome labour of effort, it is clear that we need to break the pattern and strive to be ourselves.
Reiterating the ethos of TEDxKEA, one of our aims is that of giving ideas the wings they need to soar. In a world whose agenda is increasingly set by corporations with the capital backing that matches and exceeds the GDP of many a nation, too many bright ideas are all too often shot down before they have the chance to leave the nest. Moreover, many more sparkling ideas find themselves held ransom to the ideals and agendas of fat men with unending wads of cash and fringe perks that milk all that is good in an idea and turn it into a mechanized process of money – making. Social entrepreneurs, radical academics, the kid who stood up to the bully; society is replete with examples of people who, to quote Irvine Welsh “Chose not to choose life” (Cue the start of Danny Boyle’s critically acclaimed film, ‘Trainspotting.’) For these lone wolves, the barren wilderness of our corporate – agenda propelled world in which is a minefield that few traverse with their ideas and idealism intact.
From Whitman to Ginsberg; Individuality and its Roots
Movements towards greater individuality in mass society have their roots in the writings and actions of the likes of Oscar Wilde, William Blake, Walt Whitman and David Thoreau. Ardent skeptics of the monotony of the industrial age, these greats of our world were preoccupied with the dehumanization of culture and society that industrialization implied. For them, a return to the more “natural” patterns of human behaviour alien to the workings of industrialist society was a longing that manifested itself prominently throughout their writing. More recently, individuality has been promoted through the Beat generation of post WWII America in the fifties. For the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, the folly of a post war world moulded by the perils of conflict and the standardization of society thereof were lamentable elements of the United States that needed to be medicated through promoting the power of individuality. The so – called “Beatniks ” of the fifties formed a critique of mechanised, pro-nuclear America that was a backlash against, among other things, the anti – subversive McCarthyist movements of the decade. This was a group of free thinkers who were truly radical in thought and deed. Their works toyed with taboo subjects such as homosexuality and drug use, in themselves vehement rebellions against a regime that sought to standardize and commodify all aspects of social life. Indeed it was these more extreme manifestations, amongst other influences, that laid the cornerstones for the liberalism of the sixties, driven by the counterculture and hippie movements respectively. The works and lifestyles of the likes of Kerouac and Ginsberg inspired writers like Ken Kessey to pick up the baton and continue the drive towards greater individuality through literature such as ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (which was later recreated in Hollywood with Jack Nicholson playing his familiar wide-grinned starring role). From these humble fringe movements, the seeds of revolution were sown, as the horrors of the Vietnam war peaked, abroad and within America respectively. Feminism emerged as one of many screaming voices of dissent and a shift towards left politics ensued. The drive to individuality reached the upper echelons of society and the frameworks for a (slightly) more tolerant world were laid. The rest is history.
From the Garden of Eden of Individuality to The Sodom and Gomorrah of Corporate Agendas
What has changed since the swinging sixties ? Today, as we are all too aware, the ideals of individuality are still wholeheartedly counterbalanced by mass society and its standardization. This is true of the developing world as of the developed one. Advertising bureaus pelt and bombard us time and again with shrapnel of who were ought to be and what sort of stereotypes we should live up to; we are surrounded by billboards and print screens that mooch off the ideals of the sixties, the very same ideals that tie into the push towards individuality – freedom, being oneself, being different. We find ourselves at the mercy of advertising that puts iconic figures like Che Guevara on cigarette packets to feed the tobacco industry and the big fish that fester in it; the very same advertising that tells us to share a Coca Cola with our “brothers” and with “Kim” and “Michael.” We are encouraged to “Just Do It,” “Be free,” “Free your mind” and lots more, in the name of supporting our favorite brands and their sales in a neo -tribalist craze that has reworked the core of our communities. A quick glance at the slogans of most major corporations today will clearly show that it is hard to find examples that do not in some way or other align themselves with some of the rhetoric of the individualist drive of the sixties.
Let’s shift our focus momentarily from advertising, to another sector of the economy which concerns itself with people that stand out but ironically, almost hypocritically, is a gatekeeper for what is hot and what is not, thereby standardizing the very thing it tries not to. The modeling industry is one part of our world that remains dominated by one particular type of beauty – ratified and cultivated through fashion magazines and popular fads. Where are the ethnic minorities and those perceived as too large or too short or too “out of the realms” within this discourse ? Why is their beauty not considered legitimate enough to strut the catwalks of Paris and Milan or did we as a society simply come to the conclusion that their traits and characteristics are less appealing than others ?
To round off, we can delve into yet another area of society where mass standardization and the prevalence of one particular type of person dominates the arena, making it difficult for anyone who is different to have a say in the show; the corporate world which I have admittedly lambasted in this article. Again, there are telltale signs of an imbalanced narrative dominated by one type of person, men. Where are the women in this particular narrative ? A report from the English parliament earlier this year pointed out that In the UK, women constitute 51% of the population but only 23% of MPs; 24% of judges and 17% of FTSE 100 Directors. This points to a very obvious truth, namely that, sadly, most remain in secretarial or supportive administrative positions whilst men make the decisions that for better or for worse set the agenda for our world.
All of these examples from different sectors of the economy beg the question, where is individuality in this commodified mess ?
Fly Over The Cuckoos Nest
One could go on and on when it comes to chastising the nature of our world today. What is important is that we, collectively, find a way to work towards a solution to the society of mass production and untamed consumption. It is imperative that those with the drive, guile and wit to think outside the box and emerge from the sea of stragglers as people with ideas, do so unimpeded.
It is important that we, people of ideas and creativity, some of whom are reading these very words, carry these ideas over the parapet of corporate hijacking and onto the plateau of dreams that will help humanity address our core issues. When the multi-million dollar firms come knocking with dental insurance, a house, a car and wads of money for your brilliant idea, it is vital that we pursue what is morally and ethically correct, that our ideas aren’t hijacked and dragged across the barren wasteland that so many other plans now call their graveyard. If we have any aims of empowering individuals – you , me, the garbage man that passes by in the wee hours and our next door neighbour, we must have the strength to see our ideas through to the end and resist the financial seduction of those who wish to take the idea for themselves to use it to churn a handsome profit.
In all this critique, let me also make it clear that brilliant ideas and profit are in no way necessarily a bad thing. My argument stems simply from the banal fact that many of the profits made by multi-billion firms that prey off the individualism narrative are not sufficiently re-invested in society. This is pseudo-individualism, not the real thing. Whilst corporate social responsibility (CSR) is doing its bit to become standard organizational practice, it is clear we have a long way to go in order to address the issues that continue to divide society, many of which, essentially lie within the topic of class struggle and addressing difference. We have to adopt new strategies to combat this struggle and fight for the rights of all and this starts with a drive towards individualism – cultivating the skills and attributes of each and everyone individually for the common good. We need to “fly over the cuckoos nest” and escape the ensnarements of a commodified world. The TED brand has, since its inception over 30 years ago aimed to give people with ideas the frames with which to air their groundbreaking views to the broader public. TEDxKEA aims to do no less – and you can be a part of continuing the drive towards individualism, building on what we learned from the steps made in the sixties.
Original article written for TEDxKEA , available here: http://tedxkea.com/breaking-down-the-boundaries/
Turn on, Tune in and Shatter your Stereotypes
The Folly of Stereotypes
We are all guilty as charged when it comes to being horribly wrong about some of our first impressions. The shaggy haired, dodgy – looking bloke that just so happens to be a world class professional skater or the swank businessman clad in a suit who appears haughty and posh but, as it turns out, is a humble social entrepreneur with fairytale dreams of a better tomorrow. It is fair to say that, true to the old adage, a book must never be judged by its cover.
Let’s hit the nail on the head here by looking at a very recent example from our own dear Copenhagen; the young man of Middle Eastern background who appeared nervous as he studied literature related to terrorism for an upcoming exam whilst sat on the train last week. Mistaken for a terrorist by a fellow commuter, Alisiv Ceran turned out to be a keen university student from a modest background and of a pleasant disposition. The police and media hunt that ensued was nothing less than Post 911 tragicomic Hollywood material. Wholeheartedly unnecessary and blown out of proportion, this particular situation depicts the sort of fruits that are borne of stereotyping and profiling. The support that has gone out to Alisiv since ratifies the need for us a society to remind ourselves yet again of the perils of judging things at face value. Yet in a world of so many contrasts and variations, surely, it is quite normal and within the scope of human nature to come to conclusions based on the appearances of things ,at least at first sight. Or is it ?
One of the underpinning visions of TEDxKEA is that of harnessing the educational potential inherent in the diversity of Denmark’s institutions of higher learning. Stitching this vision within the broader fabric of the TED brand, which aims, amongst other things, to give wings to ideas and dreams, it is blatantly obvious that collaboration across diversity needs to be an underpinning tenet throughout. More often than not, diversity within academia and other fields of life has come across as more of a vice than an asset. This is true of collaboration between each independent university as it is true on a micro level, from one student to another. Within the grander scheme of things, we and our forefathers are witnesses to the horrors of what can come of unchecked stereotyping and the cultivation of binary oppositions. Plato once professed that only the dead have seen the end of war. Only the living have the power to change Plato’s cynicism, and part of this, starts with binning stereotypes in favour of a more objective perspective.
Danish Universities, a Stereotype Story
Many of us are no doubt familiar with the stereotypical view of Copenhagen Business school students as posh rich kids interested in money – making, or the equally patronizing profiling of Roskilde University students as a collection of hippies who party their way through their curriculum and wind up with degrees that society has no use for. The same goes for students of Denmark’s Technical University (DTU) – here, the prevalent stereotype is one of socially inept nerds who are excellent at gaming and little else. Another flamboyant stereotype is that of KEA students being sub-par graduates who end up with a pseudo degree that is overlooked within the greater scope of academia. We can extend the game to Copenhagen University and its faculties, where tales have been told of students well versed in a finely tuned academic rhetoric that is rooted in good values but that is overly academic and excessive. Wherever you go, whichever institution of higher learning you choose, you will invariably find a well-established albeit poorly grounded discourse that tends to define universities, their alumni, staff and students. As with many instances of profiling, these stereotypes are both poorly researched and poorly argued for. As is the case with other examples of profiling, these stereotypes are made from the cultural relativism of high income earners as well as low ones. They exist across the board, nestled cancerously within the skeletal frame of society.
The story of the prevalent stereotypes generic to different Danish universities and institutions of higher learning, some recognisable, some perhaps unfamiliar (Illustration : Barbara Nino Carreras)
Flipping The Coin
Having said all this, it is important to note that, like our swank businessman with his pristine suit and posh mien, Copenhagen Business School students can just as easily be humble, socially-engaged philanthropists with the drive and guile of adept salesmen. They could also be (and there are no doubt some who are) driving range junkies with little or no empathy for the socioeconomic inequalities of our world. Similarly, as in the case of our shaggy haired, dodgy-clad lad, RUC students may be pragmatic left – wing idealists with ambitious hopes and dreams for a free tomorrow just as they may be the best minds of their generation wasting their young years being pseudo hipsters in the fake post Beat generation world that has laid waste to the liberal nous of the sixties. Denmark’s technical university (DTU), in similar vein, surely consists of a fair share of socially-astute, intelligent I.T and engineering professionals mastered in their craft. Conversely, it too, houses the antimatter of the ideal student that it intends to mould. For their part, KEA students can carry their weight within the matrix of post-graduation life, creators and innovators with technical and practical skills that are needed in today’s webbed world. It goes without saying that there are undoubtedly some who lack these attributes and who will simply go on to ratify the negative profile associated with this particular institution of higher learning. Students of Copenhagen university, as well versed rhetoricians and semioticians, shoulder the responsibilities of providing an academic perspective to various matters. Equally, there are some who are literature geeks with the social skills of a plank of wood. What is obvious from all of this is that there are different types of students at the various institutions of higher education in this country. Additionally, more often than not, the stereotypes cultivated by those alien to the workings of each independent organisation localize on isolated elements within the grander scheme of things that do not necessarily provide an objective worldview of each situation.
TEDxKEA envisions a situation in which the things that make us different from each other are the very same things that make us richer as a society. We strive to work past the banal brutishness of stereotyping our fellow students in such a way that we fail to harness the fruits of a fertile and diverse student body in a country laden with opportunities for young people. We aim to fuse the shrewd and practical savoir-faire of students of Copenhagen Business School with the humanitarian humility and neo-idealist drive of Roskilde university comrades. To this mix we add the aerodynamic verve of the well-crafted DTU engineer and for good measure, why don’t we toss the creative flair of KEA students into it all ? Our boundaries ladies and gentlemen, are endless and infinite. Our ideas, y(our) ideas are but specks in this infinite tapestry of open sky at the moment but they can, and surely will, with co-operation, collaboration and a touch of friendliness, turn into an orchestra of soaring dreams.
Welcome to the show, please put away your stereotypes for the duration of this transmission, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Original article written for The Local Denmark, available here :
A poem about greed
I am the long – haired steed whose hair bristles in the wind
My voice rattles the calm of the dying day
And steadies the winds of the night sky
The fine, fair-told fairytale that bluff threw in
A fair fish amongst the dark reeds
I am the man who would have been King
Reigned supreme over nine domains
The lad reduced to tears now clad in Midas gold
Of humble disposition turned pale
I am the wind the whim and the water
The ghost of an unending darkness
Of hopes and dreams and tattered hearts
Undone by greed, purged by jealousy
I am the the long haired steed whose hair is chiseled in the ages
My aura is spread thin across the barren plains
And my mantras lie ransacked, blood stains in the sand
None left to give, none to take