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Philosopher José Antonio Marina: ‘The fact that happiness has become fashionable is catastrophic’ | Culture




Philosopher and writer José Antonio Marina in Madrid.
Philosopher and writer José Antonio Marina in Madrid.Santi Burgos

History, that great compilation of events with which we try to understand the past through angles, perspectives, documents, dates, wars, empires, alliances, betrayals and a succession of events that more often than not are reshaped by the pen of the victors, has today a novel, original approach: Spanish philosopher José Antonio Marina, 83, explores it through the lens of the emotions, desires and motivations that pervade the search for happiness in his new book El deseo interminable (The endless desire), where he addresses the feelings behind the acts that have shaped the story of the past.

Question. Is desire the main driving force of history?

Answer. It is the great driving force. All of history is driven by motivations.

Q. Even Hitler and Putin?

A. Actions are prompted by desires, passions and fears, that is, by the emotional world. Some people make decisions motivated by their specific desires, and when they include others, collective desires are produced. That gives rise to the movements of history. Putin, for example, decided to go to war with Ukraine motivated by a desire to exercise power, to protect his money, the greatness of Russia, to take revenge on the West… whatever, but it is a desire, and only afterward comes the reasoning. In his latest speech to justify the war, he roused among the Russian people the fear of the West, the need to recover Russia’s greatness and the mobilization he wanted. The reasoning itself does not mobilize; it needs to be connected to desires. We are talking about power, one of the great desires that intervene in history, and no one stays there only by force, they have to rouse the obedience of the subjects. The Nazi regime was based on obedience, too, as is now the Chinese.

Q. Is the West failing to get the moral high ground from its leaders to sustain the credibility of the system?

A. After a booming period in democracies, today we see a certain distrust, and that is the great failure of the Western world. That is why illiberal democracies are appearing, with strong leaders who push legality to the limit. It happened with Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Putin, Orban, Kazynkski… suddenly they begin to be attractive within democracies. We Westerners are not recognizing the great achievements and there is an excessive distrust in the system that connects with the nostalgia for a strong leader. We only see China as an economic and technological power, when it turns out that it is a very strong ideological power that is proselytizing its model. We are so deeply obsessed with the economy that we don’t realize this, the extent to which Xi Jinping’s theoretical proposals are permeating.

Q. What is the problem of Westerners, from the point of view of emotions? We have plenty of reasons and arguments, but lack adherence to our model.

A. We have an excessively emotional political life, which generates great polarization. We have not managed, for example, to have an emotion related to the term “Europe,” or to “democracy.” We have failed there. And we easily return to the ancestral. The emotional centers are very deep in the brain and change very slowly. On the other hand, the cognitive centers are in the cortex, and they do so very quickly. For this reason, we can change our ideas very quickly but not our emotions, and the oldest ones strive to emerge. This is why wars always work the same way: I want to destroy you, I suffer and I want revenge. They are very old emotions that emerge when cognitive control disappears. Today, the streams of people fleeing from Kherson have cell phones, but they are fleeing exactly the same as always. Our emotional systems do not change, we are stuck in primitivism.

Q. Why are we so polarized?

A. For the same reason that the importance of identity has increased. One of the oldest emotions of humanity has to do with belonging to the group. In a globalized world, this starts to fade away, which generates fear. People want to identify with their group again. One of the ways for a group to come together is to oppose another.

Q. The external enemy.

A. All the confrontation of ideologies that takes place today is confirmation. That is what Putin has done with the West: we are the bad guys.

Cohesion can be found in the eternal values, everything else is dangerous. And if you look for an enemy you strengthen the group. The other does the same. The conservative and the progressive natures are inherited, a lot has been written about it, but in the conservative there is a physiological component, it prefers to avoid punishment, and therefore risk. It wants to return to safety. Meanwhile, the progressive prefers to get the prize, it takes risks, innovates. The problem is: who’s in the middle? A center demands to always assess different behaviors, and that is the least comfortable option.

Q. What are the big emotions of today?

A. Those of today, yesterday and always are the same and are universal: grief, joy, anger, fear and disgust. They are from everywhere, and from there the different cultures create variations or more complex feelings. And today, the most widespread is fear. Fear and the feeling of identity.

Q. Is our model of precariousness not generating a detachment?

A. Yes, in some groups, and adherence in others. New technologies provide filter bubbles so we can interact only with those we want: gays, trans, Catholics, lesbians… We are globalized and developed in some things and returning to localism in others. And that often produces disruption.

Q. Have we not progressed?

A. We live longer, diseases are better controlled, fewer mothers and children die in childbirth, there is less hunger compared to the past, there is more schooling. But terrible collapses occur and everything falls apart. In the last century, two world wars, genocides beginning in Armenia and ending in Rwanda, huge famines with millions of deaths like the one in Ukraine, caused by Stalin, and the one in China, the raping of women as a weapon of war that we are seeing again… we have a kind of moral facade and the moment it cracks, a scary character emerges.

Q. Is ethical collapse possible today?

A. Yes, it is possible. It happened not so long ago in the most educated, the most technologically and scientifically advanced nation: Germany. The people who killed five million Jews were not mentally ill. They were ordinary people who suddenly saw the entire legal and ethical structure disappear. And very dangerous emotions emerged. Some are dangerous and others are protective, like compassion.

Q. Marx defined happiness as a struggle, others as well-being. How can the search for happiness be turned into something beneficial for the community?

A. There are two types of happiness: lowercase and uppercase. But since the 18th century we have become aware of another kind, a social, public happiness, the only one in which we can agree, which leads us to ask: in what model do we want to live? Do we want to be protected by law, or do we want force to prevail? To be compassionate or fierce? To rely on others or live isolated? Once I have that framework of rights and compassion, then I seek my private happiness. The idea of happiness is linked to the idea of justice, which is social happiness. I have to combine the two things and realize that isolated I have very few resources, I will be at the mercy of the most powerful, so I have to contribute to a framework of social happiness that protects me. And that is the dialectic that we forget all too easily. In Ukraine, for example, you cannot be happy because there is a framework of absolute public unhappiness that has been taking shape since the French Revolution with the welfare state. Herodotus used to say that when the king of Persia died, all laws were abolished for five days. People could kill, steal, rape. Why? So that they saw that they needed to be protected by laws. And we’ve forgotten that. The neoliberal or ultraliberal idea of a rule of law is that no one interferes with my rights because they will alter my freedom. They don’t know what they’re saying. You need others in order to fulfill your rights.

Q. Individualism and inequality prevail.

A. That is what makes it a very conflictive society. The fact that happiness has become fashionable is catastrophic, because everyone is being told to think about their psychological happiness and the relationship of happiness with justice, with ethics and with public happiness, is broken. It is a return to narcissism. The individual is being shut in their own happiness and breaking the bond with social happiness. The propositions of positive psychology are fiercely reactionary and unethical. We are in intellectual poverty and in an absolute collapse of critical thinking. Philosophy is in absolute crisis, thinking of aphorisms and trifles and spreading the idea from the American universities that we cannot disturb the students. And critical thinking is unsettling.

Q. What should we do?

A. We have to rearm ourselves, intellectually; we have a tremendous conceptual turmoil. There is a discredit of the truth from philosophy itself, because the truth cannot be reached; from religion, because the truth is revealed; from the politicians, because there are fake news; from universities, because the truth related to identity is not universal. That can end up tearing down great achievements such as democracy or ethics, which are based on universal truths. The critical thinking crisis is so brutal that we have to campaign to redeem the truth as something that can be achieved. The truth is difficult and people say: why am I going to make an effort if each one has their own? That in the end will only serve to validate the law of the strongest.

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Danish shipping giant Maersk ‘lobbied’ to be excluded from global tax deal





The Danish shipping giant Maersk held meetings with Denmark’s tax and maritime authorities to advise them on how best to shield the shipping industry from the OECD’s global minimum tax deal, according to a Danish media report.

Published: 8 February 2023 16:21 CET

The revelations, reported by broadcaster DR, come as the company on Wednesday reported record profits of 203 billion kroner, on which it paid just 3 percent in tax. 

They are particularly damaging to the company because of the claim last year from Maersk’s then CEO Søren Skou that his company was open to paying more tax, so long as it was through a global agreement via the OECD, precisely the sort of agreement the company was behind the scenes trying to exclude itself from. 

“It seems as if Maersk is playing a double game,” Lars Koch from the poverty charity Oxfam, told DR after he was presented with the evidence. 

“We can see from the access to documents the number of meetings and close and confidential dialogue”, he added. “Here they agree and inform each other about what Denmark should argue in these international negotiations on a tax agreement and they work actively to safeguard Maersk’s interests by exempting the shipping companies.” 

The broadcaster report was based on internal documents obtained from the Ministry of Taxation and the Danish Maritime Authority. 

The documents show that in June 2020, representatives of the company held a meeting with the Ministry of Taxation in which they they discussed strategies on excluding shipping from the OECD agreement on minimum tax. 

Soon afterwards, the industry lobby group Danish Shipping (Danske Rederier), where Maersk plays a leading role, wrote to the Ministry of Taxation and the Danish Maritime Authority warning that the OECD proposal “creates considerable uncertainty in our hinterland”.

Then in June 2021, a representative from ​the Danish Maritime Authority thanked Danish Shipping for supplying it with arguments it could use to push for shipping to be excluded, saying, “it was extremely well done. A thousand thanks for your efforts.”

Finally, when shipping was exempted from the OECD agreement in July 2021, a representative from Danish Shipping thanked the Danish Maritime Authority for “the orientation and for being aware of the special challenges of shipping”. 

Mette Mellemgaard Jakobsen, Maersk’s head of tax, admitted that her company had tried to influence the process.

“We were specifically concerned about how these rules would be implemented, and we had a concrete concern that it would create an increased distortion of competition,” she told DR. 

“For us, it is absolutely crucial that we are not put at a disadvantage compared to other shipping companies around the world. That is why global agreements are the most important thing for us.”

Rasmus Corlin Christensen, a researcher in international tax at Copenhagen Business School, said that Maersk’s double game was quite “striking”.

“On the one hand, you support and work for global solutions, the shipping industry included. But at the same time you can see that, at least when it comes to the global reforms that have been discussed in recent years, they did not want the shipping industry to be covered.” 

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The Whale: Fatphobia on the screen: Society ‘would really prefer for fat people not to exist in public’ | Culture




Contemporary TV fiction does not shy away from polarizing topics. From the capitalist nightmare of Severance (2022) to the mental health issues of Euphoria (2019,) shows increasingly incorporate social debates into their plot lines in response to a growing interest. Gone are the years of the 1990s escapism of Friends and The Office’s controversial canned laughter. Now, for a show to succeed, it must actively participate in the cultural conversation.

This trend is particularly reflected in awards like the Golden Globes, which recently recognized socially engaged productions such as Abbott Elementary or The Bear. Despite this progress, most of these shows haven’t yet broken one of the last taboos in fiction: the lack of body diversity and representation of fat characters.

Anti-fatness is an accepted, widespread discrimination – tiny airplane seats, body-related comments – and fat people remain culturally marginalized. Society “doesn’t like talking to fat people, looking at fat people, believing fat people [and] listening to fat people,” says Lyla Byers, a researcher at Virginia Tech. “We would really prefer for fat people not to exist in public.”

As a result, obese people can suffer serious health consequences. “When I was a child, I suffered medical violence; I was very thin but a pediatrician put me on 18,000 diets,” says Spanish actress Laura Galán Montijano, who starred in the award-winning Piggy (2022). “She was obsessed with my weight, she used to weigh me every week.”

Even some medical terms like “obesity” or “overweight” are problematic, based on a non-inclusive metric: the body mass index (BMI). “BMI was never meant to be used to measure individual health,“ says Byers. “It’s way too simple a measurement for way too complex an issue,” adds Jennifer Graves, author of Framing Fat, a book that challenges the dominant weight discourses. “There are still significant civil rights issues that fat people face in terms of lack of protection against discrimination in the medical system.”

Laziness, stupidity, gluttony or having low sexual capital are some of the concepts associated with fat people, according to Jeanine Gailey, a sociology professor at Texas Christian University. “The cultural messaging is that fat is the worst thing one can be,” Gailey says. These stigmas are internalized by producers, who fail to include diverse perspectives. “When [women] are not desirable according to beauty standards, we’re not featured on screen,” says Montijano.

Laura Galán Montijano in a scene from the movie 'Piggy.'
Laura Galán Montijano in a scene from the movie ‘Piggy.’

And, when fiction does introduce fat characters, they are often reduced to old-school stereotypes, from the bullied girl of Debby Ryan’s Insatiable (2018) to the idiotic, slothful Homer Simpson. “Many people in society watch these shows or these movies, internalize these portrayals and believe these things about fat people,” says Ariane Prohaska, a researcher at the University of Alabama. “It leads us to treat fat people differently and to treat ourselves differently, in a way that makes us believe that we have to constantly be improving our bodies.”

Reducing obese people to caricatures especially affects traditionally marginalized minority groups, such as women, people of color and the LGBTQI+ community. “Body size intersects with other dimensions of oppression,” says Prohaska. “So, women of color, particularly Black women, face a lot of stigma.” Big Shirley, a recurring character on the television show Martin, is a classic example of a problematic portrayal of fat Black women on TV, as is America Ferrera’s character on Ugly Betty.

Fat white women have managed to diversify their roles in American fiction thanks to the work of actresses like Melissa McCarthy or Lena Dunham. But “Hollywood Fatness” is not representative of the US a whole. Chrissy Metz, for example, said in 2016 that as part of her This is Us contract, where she played a woman struggling with eating habits, she had to lose weight. Later, however, she retracted her comments. “Gatekeepers, the people who are behind the scenes deciding what stories Americans are going to buy, tend to be white, wealthy and male,” says Virgie Tovar, a writer and expert on body discrimination. “This creates a cycle of the same kinds of stories being told over and over again.”

When it comes to queer men, fiction narrowly focuses on the body cult that characterizes part of the community through masculine, beefy characters such as those in Élite (2018,) Smiley (2022) or in the last season of American Horror Story. “It really is paradoxical that the diversity the LGBTQI+ community demands is not practiced within it,” says Roberto Enríquez, critic and creator of Queer You Are (2021.)

In the show, Enríquez self-fictionalizes his own youth through Gabriel Sánchez and Carlos González, who embody the double discrimination the director has suffered because of his sexual orientation and his body. “I was clear that, if I was going to do the show, I was going to do it my own way,” says Enríquez. “They had to be fat characters because that was the story I was telling, how they face life with those bodies, how they face rejection and desire.” In an interview for ICON, Sánchez spoke of the danger of stereotyping fat people. “If you’re fat, they make you do fat things. ‘I fall down and break the chair because I’m fat; I’m fat and I eat four pastries in 10 minutes.’ The fat guy always has scenes where he is binge-eating.”

Actors Gabriel Sánchez and Carlos González.
Actors Gabriel Sánchez and Carlos González. Pablo Zamora

If LGBTQI+ stories are still disruptive, triggering far-right censure, those that incorporate artists with non-normative bodies, away from the imposed canon and with plots beyond those of physical obsession, have an even greater subversive impact. “Queer bodies and fat bodies are seen as excessive, so when you have queer fat bodies, they are doubly destabilizing,” says Jason Whitesel, a sociologist at Illinois State University and author of Fat Gay Men, which examines fat stigma within gay male communities. “Most of our shows are put together by people who think the queer community is best represented by thin or muscular people.”

Even though fat suits are still employed by the entertainment industry, fiction has progressed from the rather cringeworthy “Fat Monica” episode of Friends. In The Girls at the Back (2022,) Mariona Terés plays Leo, a millennial woman who plans a trip with her friends after one is diagnosed with cancer. Terés, with a leading, cliché-free role, believes that many things have changed in recent years, albeit slowly. “We are seeing different bodies on screen, but we have to keep changing the clichés,” she says. “The next step is a fat woman playing a sexy character, in a romantic relationship with someone, and normalizing that her body is beautiful, that she can eat whatever she wants and fuck whoever she wants.”

María Rodríguez, Mariona Terés, Itsaso Arana, Mónica Miranda and Godeliv van den Brandt in the opening episode of 'The Girls at the Back.'
María Rodríguez, Mariona Terés, Itsaso Arana, Mónica Miranda and Godeliv van den Brandt in the opening episode of ‘The Girls at the Back.’JULIO VERGNE/NETFLIX (JULIO VERGNE/NETFLIX)

Besides expanding the narrative complexity of fat characters, fiction must increase their range of roles away from one-dimensional supporting characters haunted by their physical appearance.

“What I hope is that diversity is broadened in all senses,” says Carlota Pereda, director of Piggy. Without financial support from production companies, projects with leading fat characters will struggle to be developed. “When you’re looking for funding, some people won’t support you because they consider it a personal project just because you’ve put a non-normative character in the leading role.”

Although fiction lags behind a society that is largely critical of negative representations of fat characters in productions like The Whale, the industry will eventually accept that non-Hollywood bodies exist and deserve to be represented, with complex storylines and free from humiliating fat suits. “I do think we’re going to see more and more diverse people on screen,” says Terés. “It’s a slow road, but we’ll get to the other side.”

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German defence minister makes surprise Kyiv visit




The brinksmanship has won plaudits from some who argue that by holding out, the German leader managed to get the United States to reverse its stance and send Abrams tanks — bringing about a bigger win for Ukraine.

But other analysts warn the weeks of delay may have left a deeper mark on Scholz’s international reputation, while also hurting Kyiv’s chances against Russian troops on the battlefield.

“The SPD chancellor has achieved one of his biggest aims: delivering battle tanks only in step with the Americans,” wrote Die Zeit weekly.

READ ALSO: Fact check: How much help has Germany given Ukraine?

Scholz’s “unusual and risky move… worked”, it added.

Conservative broadsheet Die Welt called it a “coup” for the chancellor. “Scholz has managed to get the US to change course,” it said.

‘Won’t be pushed’

In recent weeks, as allies and Kyiv alike harangued him for tanks, Scholz stressed the need for international coordination and ruled out going it alone on the heavy military equipment.

With an eye on public opinion, Scholz has been careful not to appear to be hawkishly leading the charge when it comes to military supplies to Ukraine.

Fielding questions at the Bundestag following Wednesday’s announcement, Scholz pointedly avoided playing up the powerful Leopards’ capabilities and how they could affect the outcome in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: What difference could Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks make in Ukraine?

Rather, he repeatedly underlined that it was and is “right that we did not let ourselves be pushed into this but that we rely on and also continue on
close cooperation”.

It was perhaps not a coincidence that Scholz’s announcement came after public opinion shifted slightl in favour of sending tanks, with 46 percent for and 41 percent against on January 19.

Directly addressing fears of Germans, who have favoured treading lightly around conflict zones since World War II, Scholz pointedly said he would ensure that any support for Ukraine would be provided “without the risks for our country growing in the wrong direction”.

Asked later on ZDF public television whether his hesitation had led to a “loss of trust” among allies, Scholz rejected the criticism.

“Everyone knows we are making a big contribution, also compared to other countries, in terms of support for Ukraine — not only financially and with humanitarian aid but also with weapons.”

But some analysts said his concern for domestic politics may have cost Ukraine on the frontlines.


In the meantime, “several months” had been lost in the defence of Ukraine, while Scholz was “more concerned with domestic politics” and an issue he did not see as a “big vote winner”, Chatham House analyst John Lough told AFP.

Fears that moving too rashly would lead to an escalation in the war were exaggerated, too. Even without tank deliveries, “the Russians have escalated anyway”, for example by targeting critical infrastructure in Ukraine, Lough said.

Amid the ruckus, particularly with neighbouring Poland accusing Scholz of dithering, analysts point to the damage done to Germany’s reputation.

Bild daily piled on the pressure at home, accusing Scholz of cowardice. But a day later, a high-profile defence ministers’ meeting of Ukraine allies last Friday still failed to break the deadlock on tanks.

The delay was “embarrassing for the German government”, said Lough.

READ ALSO: Germany gives greenlight for Leopard tank deliveries to Ukraine

Olaf Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) comments on the Russian attack on Ukraine during a press conference at the Chancellery on February 24th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Sudha David-Wilp, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office, said moving in lock-step with the United States gave Scholz the “political cover he needed” to say “yes” to German tank deliveries.

But his short-term win was not “necessarily good for Germany because it has lost a lot of trust” with key partners, David-Wilp said.

The way the tank drama played out “clearly shows that the US needs to play a leadership role in Europe” and its security, while German leadership remained “elusive”, she said.

Yet, for all the apparent damage to Scholz, there might be a winner.

The unexpected US tank commitment means that officials in Ukraine have “all kinds of different kit now”, David-Wilp added.

By Sebastien Ash

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