Gloria's Stick: Why Violence Afflicts The Poor

Two Argentine authors dig deeper into the causes - and cycles - of poverty in Latin America.

Some 4 million in and around the Argentine capital live in poverty
Some 4 million in and around the Argentine capital live in poverty
Javier Auyero and Fernanda Berti


BUENOS AIRES — Rubén had disappeared from home in Buenos Aires a few days back. His mother Gloria says they could not find him anywhere, until they received a text message from a female neighbor who had seen him in a neighboring area “taking drugs in bad company.”

Gloria and her husband went to get him. “When we returned home, I put him in the bath tub and beat him like hell,” Gloria says. “I used a stick and literally beat him as hard as I could. I swear I’m not a bad mother. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

At 17 years old, Rubén has been out of school for a while now. Every now and then he picks up cardboard boxes to earn a bit of money. He would probably say his mother beats him a lot. But, she says in her defense, “I won’t tell you how we had to pay some dealers 450 pesos ($56) that he owed them. They were going to kill him if he didn’t pay.”

Across Latin America, violence disproportionately affects those living at the bottom of the social heap. The continent’s more outlying regions, where the poorest live, are where we find the greatest number of victims and where homicide rates are highest. Debates usually focus on public violence, which occurs in the streets, illustrated by the threat hanging over Rubén.

But rarely does anyone talk about the other violence, the kind that occurs at home like the beatings Gloria gives her son.

The dynamic between Gloria and Rubén is sadly repeated with shocking frequency in the capital’s marginal districts, and it reveals that categories of violence that are regarded as separate phenomena — public violence and domestic violence — are really deeply linked. It is impossible to understand one without comprehending the other.

But history speaks of something much deeper, which could be called “popular ethics.” Let us think for a moment about what is happening in the lives of this mother and son, and carefully listen to Gloria.

She uses violence to avoid a greater evil, even as she believes, without any contradiction, that applying physical violence to her son could make her a “bad mother.” In the many months of research we carried out in the Buenos Aires area, on repeated occasions and in different circumstances, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters told us they wanted to live in peace, that they wanted neither to see nor participate in house fights or street brawls.

In contrast to what certain prejudiced and stigmatizing opinions — based on no evidence at all — are telling us these days, the poor are not violent nor do they have particular “values” creating a propensity in them to value violence positively.

The story of Gloria and Rubén shows us that it is their living conditions that present them with quandaries. “I don’t know what else to do,” she says. She does not know how to protect her son from being murdered over a drug debt, and she uses violence as an “ethical” form of parental care.

If you were Gloria, with an addict son threatened by creditors and minimal resources for his treatment, would you not do the same? Wouldn’t you grab a stick and use it to protect the cherished child? And try to wash and beat out of his body all the misery and suffering the social and political order produces every day?

* Javier Auyero and Fernanda Berti are the authors of La violencia en los margènes (Violence on the Margins), published in Buenos Aires.

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How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.

Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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