Vision/Derision – Equity/Equality – Challenging Conceptual Realism

By Orde Levinson, Artist and Writer, Magdalen College, Oxford University, United Kingdom

November 16, 2020

A messenger of Hope comes every night to me,

And offers for short life, eternal liberty…

Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,

And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire.

The Prisoner: Emily Brontë

In my last post, Vision, Picasso, Zola and other stars of the past rose in my mind. Are we in the age where we back to vision from Derision? From Trumpism? Do we dare say the moment was imagined and has passed. Do we dare stoop to strategies like this? Derision’s following is huge, its masters still proliferate – each Derisionary (endless list of them today – the rule, not the exception) speak many languages. A communal, spiritual base? But is Trumpism and Derisionism really that new a vision? A new way? Or is just the last explosion of a world we knew as much as Impressionism heralded the end of a vision and not, as was thought, the beginning of a new one.

Sure Impressionism broke rules, showed us purple shadows for the first time, painted outdoors, and looked to the effect, not the detail – a different vision and a different truth for sure.  But Cubism was the true beginning. Its vision Conceptual Realism. Visionary Music called itself Atonal. Is there a name for the visionary writing of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Becket? Or the current Svetlana Alexievich’s Boys in Zinc? Is equity the base for a new vision – the irresistible force pushing against immovable blocks of equality – a potential merging of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity?

Does Equity have an essential bearing on politics today or is simply impossible to achieve – a pipe dream that smokes from the chimney in some pleasant winterised Luberon mas of Provence, France? A glass of rubric red wine to accompany with a Liverot cheese staked out on the plate. For who will decide who deserves to be treated better? And how? A Luberon dream ending in tears?

But a chord has been struck. Everywhere. Thai’s challenge for example by Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul on their home vision against an untouchable king with the three fingered gesture of the resistance fighters of The Hunger Games. This sense of the unequal (and probably doomed initially) fight lingers. Everywhere there speaks a voice of equity. Sometimes with excruciating pain as Dana Williams Moore’s words after Storm Eta hit Guatemala: “ I started to cry. I have nothing, absolutely nothing, and I am in pain.” From pain comes resistance, hope perhaps. Resistance is a vision and it is that the individual is now conceptual. Derision is now but the bedfellow of corruption – perhaps always has been – and with all the derision against races, peoples, colours, sexuality – not just a corruption of the soul and humanity but corruption of vision to a one dimensional (post truth) examination in every sense. It is a surface vision of effects. The end of an era. Trumpism and its adherents are a last flash. Not a new way at all. But a return to the old alternate ways will be a failure of vision as Trumpism with Trumpism arguable the key contender in this new world.

What is this chord? Around the time of Cubism Atonal music (which didn’t follow tonal systems or hierarchies much like Trumpism breaks with the past) made every note equal it is said. Or tried to, but an approach that was more perhaps equality than equity. Equity is akin to Bushido the moral sense of justice and the courage to carry it out. The vision seems that equity and equality are on a collision course – that there are two polar opposites fighting now and nations like Brexit Britain, USA 2020 elections are split down the centre one foot in the past nostalgia one foot in an uncertain future vision. The MAGA and Brexit are but pandemic like re-actions as well to a lack of equality – MAGA, take back control, has as its base a feeling of inequality (perhaps justified with China’s theft of IT and approach to business).

It would be a travesty if the vision going forward derides those riding on the back of other (losing) horses. Equity must be central – not backpfeifengesicht- the need to slap someone in the face who definitely has it coming. Trumpism like impressionists constructed his post truth world in derision the cult of the individual seeking the betterment of all (but the very opposite to Janteloven) and it resonates with some 72 million people and achieves an intensity that would be ominous to overlook and dismiss. But it is our people, not the other 77 million. Those ‘non-believers.’ But is equity not housed in the uniqueness of the individual? And if so, is the road to hell paved with good intentions. In Trumpism? Do we confuse the two when we come to Trumpism.

Equity is thinking. Conceptual, that is from all angles, above, below, side. It is thoughtful listening and observing and evaluating. Equity is simple, subjective, each situation is unique, individual yes but fair even though different to a passionate goal of Janteloven. Equity is not unequal treatment being meted out – that is such lack of equality that has lead the USA DoJ to sue recently Yale University for so called affirmative action which is grounded in equality. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) has filed a case against Harvard for its ‘discrimination’ in evaluating academic grades along with other factors such as historical discrimination, personality traits (kindness, respect, courage, honesty) a sort of equity approach. Grades are not the only criteria which may mean a student with a higher grade is ‘unequalised’ but equitised. A recent case of Farah Alhajeh, a muslim in Sweden concerning discrimination illustrates equity and equality in court. The company argued that its staff were required to treat men and women equally and could not allow a staff member to refuse a handshake based on gender or religion and refused to employ her as an interpreter. Sweden’s labour court found the company was justified in demanding equal treatment for both sexes – but not in demanding that it be in the form of a handshake only given that she had placed her hand on her heart in a greeting gesture. The court said it “had taken into account “the employer’s interests, the individual’s right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom“. A Cubist approach.

Tolstoy wrote: Happy families are all alike.’ but it’s the alike that makes the happiness – the end result of a spiritual quality of respect, of equity. The Alike is equity. Not equality. And the unhappy families the stress is on ‘in its own way’. The striving for equality against equity has its own individual result. Equality is en plein air – it can show us things anew, it can change our vision but it is the end of era not a beginning. Equity cannot be achieved through equality but equality can be, perhaps can only be achieved through equity. Inequity undermines humanity.

At the 2020 (no vision test result) Conservative Party conference, U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel referred to “do-gooders” and “lefty lawyers” in a speech on what she called the “broken” asylum system. Derision. Her electrifying shower of signifying an end of an era. 100 years ago was written:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Another article can deal with why the best lack all conviction – but in hope there is a tentative step to a new Vision.  Luke Templeman of Deutsche Bank strategy dept suggest a 5% tax of a home worker’s salary paid for by employers. Estimate is some £6.9bn a year (UK), and to use it to pay out grants of £2,000 a year to low-income workers and those under threat of redundancy.  Do not forget the words above of Dana Williams Moore.  Luke estimated workers in the US will now spend 4.6bn days a year at home rather than in the office. This is equity in practise. WFH (work from home) offers direct financial savings on expenses such as travel, lunch, clothes and cleaning and one third of people want to continue working two days a week from home once the pandemic is over.

The attempt to seek refuge in two-dimensionality in order to flatten out the world is doomed to fade. Relationships always have hope in them – the triumph of hope over experience – the human condition. Equity is not being indifferent – Indifference is truly dreadful  – it is so cold, so turning away – and it’s a turning away from knowledge – what happened – how did it come about? What is the identity we seek for the human condition, for the world. Certainly basics like all creatures, shelter, food. But true identity is not a body, is not a mind but a spiritual entity which is evolving now – and which I have called conceptual realism.

That said, we may never have equality in the world, but with vision we may have equity.

Featured Photo: Velasquez : Vision of the Christian Soul