Tales of the world episode 64 – Of rats and men

Last week the Nobel Prize Committee announced that this year, the Nobel Prize for medicine went to three researchers for their groundbreaking work on discovering and confirming the existence of what the media calls the “inner GPS” of the brain, a system of “place” and “grid” cells, which, when activated, explain humans’ ability of orienting themselves in space.

Truly fascinating discoveries that essentially illustrate the physiology of human memory related to space and localisation in it.

Experiments performed on rats show that upon going to different locations, different types of cells get activated in their brains: one set is called “place cells” and store the location information for future times when they pass it anew. When they are moving, another set, called “grid cells” gets activated, as a grid would, thus providing links and a “map” that the animals build and store in relation to the environment in which they move.

It would appear that these discoveries can help with addressing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which alters the sense of orientation in the individuals affected.

In the meantime, in a part of our world which is quite different from the one I have just talked about, some other kind of achievements are recorded.

News is that the EU and Canada have finalised the text on their Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and they have made it public, claiming that civil society, if it so desired, could suggest changes to it.

You might, legitimately, wonder, what is the link between these two pieces of news. Perhaps, a little more detail about the second one will bring some hints.

The CETA between EU and Canada belongs to the same family of treaties as the TTIP, TPA and TISA.

Among the many technical issues it seeks to lighten up in matters of trade barriers, it also has the potential of introducing some serious structural changes in the way politics is conducted in any given country. All of this in the name of free trade and corporate profits.

The more one reads about these agreements, the more one realises one thing: beyond the obvious danger these agreements represent to national politics and leadership, through the power they give corporations to define “global public goods” and to otherwise, override political decisions, accepting these agreements would mean signing the death certificate of politics as process and as a function in society.

With their technical language that calls “laws” – regulations and political considerations “operational constraints” these texts, by changing the language in which we think the political, erase the link between citizens’ lives, their politics and even their economics.

The very notion of citizen is disappearing from these texts, in favour of “consumers”.  And consumers don’t need politics, at least not in the Greek “polis” sense of the notion; they need cost/benefit analyses and the illusion of making a good deal. They need not rights, or obligations, but regulations and fines and a GPS to take them to the closest mall. Thinking in these terms obscures the idea that taxes or rules could have an actual connection with people’s lives and the logic of their public duties. It abolishes the public space in favour of its privatisation, in which the individual ends up extremely exposed and vulnerable.

By giving corporations the right to see, comment and suggest changes in official texts of law, before, marks these words, before Parliaments see them, essentially gives these entities power in processes of which they would benefit entirely, without going through the labour and pains of actually contributing to or at least thinking about governance. For this kind of power, paying taxes – the ultimate argument constantly brought by corporations – is simply not enough; governance is more, or should be more, than just representing and addressing the needs of the actor with the highest contribution stake. These mechanisms essentially end up placing separate corporate interests above those of the polis and the community, and in the long run, deny the very reason of the existence of the set up of the State – with capital S. This, invariably, leads to war, the very state – with small s, of fear and isolation, which we’ve been trying to avoid for so long.

Now, isn’t it ironic, that at a time when science is able to demonstrate and confirm that humans and animals best perform in processes that emphasise links and strategic mechanisms involving memory and building connections, homo politicus, or whatever is left of it, is just about to give up this privilege by erasing centuries of experience and cooping itself up in the carton silos of self interest and indifference?