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writing for godot

Yes, I Write the Readers With a Lot of Anger (Creative Anger)

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Saturday, 24 October 2020 15:38

Human rights: Food for a confessional thought  ‘My Readers’

Human Rights Reader 550

[Every 50 Readers I write one that pertains to the process and thoughts that lead to each Reader coming to you; this also reflects about the process of writing-for-action and for-impact in general]

[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about the process leading to the birth of each Reader as I keep the implications for human rights center stage. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].

-The needed creative anger to address so many of the injustices at hand can only be mustered within the framework of an ideology consciously acquired.

-I am not 75 years old; I am sweet 16 with 59 years of experience… Yes, I may perhaps be in the golden age, but at my 75 years of age, I refuse to retire my rebelliousness, civil defiance and non-compliance. (Edmundo Moure) (…and keep in mind: We all become old at the same speed…) (Leonardo Padura)

The most influential writers are those who create moral and political clarity

-Let me start and set the stage for this Reader with a couple borrowed paragraphs to say that I identify with George Packer (the award-winning journalist ) who reflects on himself and his writing as follows:

1. I have been called a coffee-house pamphleteer,* a ready duelist, an unreasonable fighter for reason. The work I do only gets done in comfortless isolation, face-to-face with myself, but still with a sense of connection with other people since I strive to identify with a community and to write as its representative. When I click on an article, the first thing I want to know is which group the writer belongs to. (I assume this is your case as well). The group may be a political faction, an ethnicity or (in my case, a human rights activism) group. Once I know, this makes my writing a lot simpler. It tells me what you expect from my work, and even what you will probably think of it. Addressing a specific audience saves me a lot of trouble when doing my thinking.

*: This prompts me to ask: Am I an activist or an activist-scholar? …or neither and just a pamphleteer? To this effect, I can say: Trying not to be pamphletary, my Readers voice strong opinions and points of view. Perhaps what happens is that I am influenced by the maxim: “write pamphlets, not papers”. I am the first to recognize that: As far as I know, I have been a poor mobilizer beyond innumerable calls to action. My writings do not systematically elaborate on theories, but rather do produce pamphlet-like calls to action whose provocative theses are meant to bring about needed change. But do they? Be it as it may, I must consider the possibility I am part of the problem! (Dinah Miller)


2. For the Readers, I feel I need to find the right language that will cross the unfathomable gap separating us from one another. But the cultivation of followers cannot become an end in itself! If I have not got a community behind me, vouching for me, cheering me on, together with me mobbing our adversaries and slaying them, then who am I as a writer? I would risk being ignored. This is why I keep the sentences pushing the boundaries of free, committed expression just a few millimeters further out at a time. If, as a writer, I am afraid of the sound of my own voice, then honest, clear, original work is not going to flourish.

3. A writer can still write while hiding from the ‘thought police’. But a writer who carries the thought police around in his head, who always feels compelled to ask: Can I say this? Do I have a right? Is my terminology correct? Will my allies get angry? Will it help my enemies? Could it get me rated on Twitter? --that writer’s words will soon become lifeless. A committed writer who is afraid to tell people what they do not want to hear has chosen the wrong trade. He has to write from a position of moral certainty; to stand alone if need be; to tell the truth. Yes, the most influential writers are those who create moral and political clarity. Their light is meant to overpower subjects, not just shed some light on them. The glare is to be so strong that readers stop seeing the writer’s little flaws and contradictions. Good writing, as much as ever, if not more, is essential to democracy [and in my case to human rights (HR)] --and one dies with the other. I know that many readers hunger for good writing, even if they often, afterwards, stay more quiet than what the writer (I) would want them to be.

4. A couple upfront confessions

  • I am driven by the voracious desire of knowing it all, of being in the midst of all, of discovering the whys and the hows of everything HR-related.
  • I am a discrete active plagiarist which is licit since there is no Adam and Eve in the history of what is written. What happens is one has to know how to plagiarize, otherwise it is better to have the terrible irresponsibility of being original. (Jorge Luis Borges)
  • I have always been one of my toughest critics. I know that I have not pulled it off, that something is lacking, both on the Readers and in my own professional life. (Peter Hoeg) [This is not so much a compliment, but a statement of fact].
  • I do not look for themes and issues; they jump at me and I receive them as a slap on the face. (Louis Casado), and
  • As a rule, I do not read my old stuff for inspiration.

I write about the world, but not with the world

-The challenge I take-on is to exercises without inhibitions the complex trade of thinking.

5. There are few public intellectuals left. The problem is that our shifty, chaotic day-to-day praxis purportedly makes time for theorizing scarce. Is the time of avant-garde intellectuals over? No. Intellectuals must see themselves as rearguard intellectuals, must heed the needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens and find out how to use that as a foundation for their writing. Otherwise, citizens will be defenseless before those who deviously purport to speak their language and understand their deep concerns and ultimately‘move-in’ on them. (In many countries these would be, though not only, the conservative evangelical pastors or the radical Muslim imams, who ultimately stand for capitalist and for patriarchal domination). (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


6. As for me, I am more and more lured by the prospect of using my energies to foster a peaceful social revolution since those frustrated (like I myself am) cannot simply remain inactive and silent. The strife will come despite us and our (futile?) efforts as intellectual activists. It is just a matter of time… and many among us may be actually delaying it with a ‘do-gooder’ attitude. What is under judgment of the Readers today is my using my 45 years of professional life to change any ruling exploitative, oppressive and alienating international and national political system.**

**: Do we simply not do what we preach, collectively and/or individually? Have any of us sparked any new activism commensurate with the task and challenges at hand? Have we created conceptual frameworks only to ignore acting more decisively and dedicatedly on the basic causes of HR violations? If so, this is equivalent to intellectual double standards …and I am as guilty as anybody. (Michel Latham)


7. So many of our academics and intellectuals ought to find more popular writing outlets such as blogs and other such mass consumption publications (podcasts?) that allow them to reach out with their prose craft. Especially social sciences academics must not consider those outlets at odds with scholarly pursuits. (Douglas Hunter)

I never saw a (crooked) bridge I didn't want to burn (John Kiriakou)

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez famously said he tries to explain things in his calculated, explicative way so that it leaves as little room as possible for questions, because he hopes to leave every question of his readers responded beforehand. I cannot claim this for my Readers.


8. I prefer and seek to know and tell the truth. For that, call me ‘negative’, if you want, and avoid what I write and share just as much as you like. Positive accounts mostly make you feel better while you are safe and content --in a fake reality though. Moreover, it is not about the specific points I make, it is all about how I try to position them in the Readers. (David Hoffeld)

9. It is actually partly as a reaction to what I see and partly as a personal challenge that I sit down to write the Readers. I know that part or all of my analyses and conclusions may be taken just as an intellectualization, that everything sounds easier on paper (or the screen) than in reality. Not being realistic is a judgment that history can change! What may be unrealistic today can very well become true tomorrow --if we work for it, with decision. I hope I succeed in stressing to you perhaps a different angle of the problems we all face --and perhaps make you share some of my concerns and a little bit of my aggressiveness.

10. I strongly feel our own society has lost any sense that we are fighting for anything except to patch-up the same kind of world that has produced the chaos we are-in now.*** Many of us have come to this understanding grudgingly. The Readers, therefore, keep pounding this.

***: Making nice diagrams and building impressive econometric models of the kind development economists so much enjoy is no longer cutting it (did it ever?).

Some of the technicalities

-In the Readers, I do not pretend to be adding much new information, but rather more often attempt to systematize what is being said by others.

11. I clip materials that go into the Readers, of which there is a trove, from everywhere, both from fiction and non-fiction. It often ends up being too much to sort and to fit into the non-systematic classification categories I use. (Some of this material I fit into my iron laws). I choose to share this material with you for you, at your discretion, for you to use it in your work. So, be prepared for this true brain storm to continue coming. Ultimately, the Readers aim to liberate you and me from the power of myths.

12. The Readers talk about many of the things the materials I constantly review bring up; I just try to put them in simpler words. (The materials I select actually seek the answers to the things that bother me). There are times I find a line or two that make a dozen things I had half-known more definite and clear for me --and I pass that-on to you. Often, such sentences first make me restless; I put them down just as separate thoughts that help me get them out of my mind until I can use them in the right place. This then adds to the list of things that I get to know better and better about --believe-in and thus share.

13. In the Readers, I also try to use a sense of timing that can be made compelling to you readers. Because words have consequences****, I do not want you to just finish reading and be done with. There should be a mild surprise --and perhaps a worry-- left in your mind. (…Or perhaps a bit of healthy guilt?). (John Bayley)

****: Some reflections on these consequences: a) Words fly, what is written stays. (Titus Flavius Vespasianus to the Roman senate), b) All that is ever been done in the world, both good and bad, has been done through words, c) Words are packages that have multiple meanings, and, careful!, some words speak for us in unexpected ways when we are distracted. (Jorge Majfud), and d) Here is where I learned a lot about how to express a thought in words (

14. Let me explain to you that turning to the politico-journalistic genre called ‘miscellanea’, as used by many good writers, allows me to use the apparently disjointed approach to HR you find in the Readers --that deliberately avoids any attempt to systematize issues on HR and tries to instill a dose of skepticism, humor, passion and pain. And so I have done for now over 12 years uninterruptedly sharing with you my most obsessive themes. (Albino Gomez) My prose remains a prose of ideas, but also a prose of combat.


15. Finally here, I have an impressionist’s eye and another utterly realistic eye. With one, I see general strokes, wrinkled surfaces. With the other, I distinguish figures and clearly defined edges. When I focus from nearby, the attributes of what I see interchange. Then, with the first eye, I see perfectly formed shapes, while with the other, I see a world of clouds and fog. One eye helps me write the Readers, the other to drive my motorbike. (Daniel Pizarro)

Since it is always good to close with some openings for the future…

-If the Readers are meant to be empowering: where am I to direct my energies? To peers? To the general public? To duty bearers? To claim holders? Are the Readers the wrong forum to help anybody to become empowered? Are the Readers just periodic critical writings that transcend the respective occasion? (Robert Alter) These are questions I ask myself a hundred times over.

16. Make no mistake, these seemingly abstract issues that I write about are matters determining the lives of millions of people. (H. F. Johnson, ex Minister of international development of Norway) But things that I think I have, over-and-over, proven to be right in the 45 years span of my experience in development work, have, one time too many, fallen on deaf ears. Do you share this feeling? Not being facetious, has not much of what many of you and I have tirelessly done been (almost) as useless as rearranging the furniture on the deck of the Titanic? (Think HR…). (R. Ricupero) I have to confess, it has not been only like hammering on closed doors, but on closed minds. (Susan George)

17. Having been a full-time consultant for many years now has left me islands of time where I start ruminating and revising old notes. (Is this what they call falling back on experience?) Over the years, I have had a bias against writing books. Doing so makes you go to a miserable time. You have to fight with reviewers and editors and with numerous rewrites, and then, books are forgotten in some shelf or to-read-pile –or, worse, you have to work on a new edition… I am convinced of the power of short weekly or fortnightly pieces, especially if they chain and lock together as the Readers try to do. So, I will continue in that vein. Some people may hate them, but they are the fewer …and you always have the option to unsubscribe. I strongly feel that my story should continue to be narrated in a way that is compelling and thus attractive for you to accept. Only this will make the Readers living documents.

18. Many years ago, in my youth, I saw things as being easier. I do not know if it was because I was younger and I thought we were going to conquer the world, or I was simply immature, or because the world has really changed so much in these last decades. But, in any case, do not despair. Of course(!), the problems of the world must be fixable. If not, why continue living? I mean we have to live our lives --yours as much as mine-- embracing the idea that the problems are fixable. We cannot look at life any other way. If there is something we came to this world to do before we leave is planting a small seed to do something better. (Marcelo Colusi) So, I commit to do my part.

19. There is so much distance between what I have wanted to say and what I have succeeded in saying over the years that, after it has been published, I sometimes get a cold sweat when I reread my own Readers. But if I would not write/have written them, I would show a lack of courage --and that, perhaps, some of my readers would not like. (Juan Gelman) As George Soros said, I am proud of the enemies I may have.

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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All Readers are available at


-Every writer is dead with his latest writing, because he gave all his blood, all his life into it and he must be born again. (Jerzy Kosinski …being gender insensitive)

-If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of? (Albert Einstein)

-Many of you are probably familiar with the term “armchair activist”. This label describes someone who takes strong stands on the internet or social media, but rarely does anything more, especially if it involves leaving the comfort of their home. When this activism has no connection to the actions we need to take in the real world, it does not do much more than help us pretend we are part of the solution --mea culpa? However, in recent years we have witnessed the power of the internet and social media to unite all kinds of people in the fight for all sort of HR issues. Advocacy online through blogs, podcasts, postings (and Readers…) can inspire people to get out of their apathy and into the struggle. The ability of social media to allow us to speak up for justice and HR makes it a great organizing tool. The necessary thing to remember about this, though, is that activism does not end when you log off. (Hesperian)

Acknowledgements: I am indebted here to my intellectual mentors Luis Weinstein (who initiated me in the art of clipping) and Urban Jonsson (who stung me with the inquisitiveness for HR). your social media marketing partner
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