Aug 302012
 
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This tweet just came my way – and reminded me of a train of thought that unspools powerfully into the recent, as well as the not-so-recent, past:

It’s not good enough that #atos are following orders but DWP and Government are setting this agenda. It’s not just atos we need to change

And if truth be told, ATOS really isn’t the problem at all.  Rather, if anyone should be the focus of our ire, it is its hand-washing taskmasters in the Coalition.

It seems to me that, more and more, supposedly democratically-elected governments are getting the dirty work of less than transparent policy-making carried out on their behalf by private industry.  This is, in a sense, a strategy of de facto governance where democracy is absented from the process.  It works in the following way: in exchange for negative publicity which, in any case, legions of legal departments can generally vanish into relative thin air, private industries of transnational sizes are awarded humongous public-sector contracts.  And as this is a business-to-business relationship – thick-skinned government to hard-sold corporate – public opinion is pretty irrelevant to either party.  A perfect way of removing the need for approval from irritatingly well-informed and tech-savvy end-consumers, who were in any case beginning to make the business of corporate capitalism so very complicated and unpredictable.

Instead of selling to end-users who pick and choose, the most foresighted corporations are now choosing to focus their attentions on governments which – for various untransparent reasons – prefer to pick and stick.

The corporates get stability in long-term contracts despite the voter flak.  The governments get to blame the corporates if anything too unpleasant comes to light.

A perfect exchange of complementary interests.

More examples?  We have a recent story on how mobile phone access to the Internet is controlled extra-judicially by the private sector here (from the Open Rights Group of which I am a member) as well as a story from my own archive on how copyright owners can quite literally – and quite easily – make websites invisible to all sensible intents and purposes.

In conclusion, the case of ATOS – and the issues its behaviours and processes apparently raise – are not really attributable to the company itself.  It is, rather, the government – deliberately employing it as a shield to hide public services from a proper democratic oversight – which is mostly to blame and which should be brought to book.

And by focussing our attention on crucifying a supplier – a supplier which, admittedly, appears to have substituted the disabled as direct customer of this sorry cohort of political actors we call the Coalition – we may be ignoring the much wider reality: that in disabled services, in welfare and health, in Internet freedoms, in law and order, communications and social media more generally, allegedly democratic governments across the world are working out how to circumvent democratic controls by using private-sector firewalls.

This is a new kind of anti-democratic governance.

A de facto governance.

A governance which our cowardly leaders have cleverly put together outside the democratic process – in order that trusting voters and citizens ignore the real reasons for their despair.

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Aug 292012
 
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I read this headline in the Independent today – and find that my blood, for some reason, boils:

The lasting legacy of the Paralympics should be to see disabled people as equal

The truth of the matter is that this headline should read as follows:

The lasting legacy of the Paralympics should be to see able-bodied people as equal

We shouldn’t be trying to make disabled people like the rest of us – but, rather, be bringing the rest of us closer to the realisation that, sooner or later, we all will need the support the disabled are generally accustomed, quite rightly, to demand.

To not be able to do everything easily for yourself should not serve to define yourself in infirmity but simply form part of what life eventually throws at everyone – except, of course, the very very lucky few who may end up dying on their feet, playing a round of golf, with a full set of their own teeth and 20/20 vision.

But exceptions to the rule should not define how we run or contemplate our societies for the vast majority.  For to say that people as able-bodied as the paralympians competing over the next few days should be defined by the rest of us … well, this is as wrong-headed in its approach as anyone, or any society, could get.  It is, rather, the rest of us – individuals of varying ages whose ways of living generally choose to ignore approaching support needs, especially when, in our relative good health, we vote selfishly for governments, welfare systems and health services – who need to accept we should instead be defined by the disabled.

The disabled are not less than us, it is true.  Nor am I saying that.

What I am saying is that the so-called “able-bodied” need to accept that their destiny – one day or other in their lives – is almost certainly to face a similar set of circumstances.

Perhaps the best way to describe how I feel about this would be to say that those we describe in English as “disabled” are actually relatively youthful prodigies in the experience.  As a general rule, we arrive at their very same battles – at least psychologically speaking – when we contract a condition, which complicates life, more appropriate to late middle-age.

But that’s possibly only because we are luckier.  Or, even, simply late to the occasion.

And it’s not because they are essentially different from us, and in their difference must be seen as equal.

It’s rather because we are the same as they are – only we refuse, most of the time, to understand this.

In short, it is not they who are equal to us.

It is we who are equal to them.

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Aug 292012
 
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There’s been quite a lot of discussion around the subject of the unemployed over the past year or so – mainly as a result of a much-vaunted and allegedly never-ending boom of unregulated markets and behaviours sadly, and undeniably, busting again.

The unemployed have been cast respectively as victims, spongers, workshy and simply hapless by a series of politicians – each looking to push a particular agenda.

The current coalition government of Tories and Lib Dems seems to incline towards casting the unemployed as at least half-responsible for their state.  They find it difficult not to make the already unfortunate feel to blame for a significant proportion of the country’s ills.  I don’t know whether Tory leaders do this on purpose or not (though I am inclined to believe they are pretty calculating in what they do) – but the net result, whatever the internal motivations, is that the already unlucky end up feeling even more so.

Today I have read that whilst the tail of the Coalition dog, Nick Clegg, calls for a wealth tax, the little willy of the same beast, George Osborne, calls it the politics of envy.  Which then leads me on to the subject of today’s post: to what extent should our economies, cultures and education systems regulate the benefits of good luck?

If you are born to a wealthy family, and acquire a millionaire lifestyle, as many of the current ministers in this government have so done, is that a throw of life’s dice we should simply accept and move on from?  Or do we believe that a good luck manifestly wasted – as perhaps God might argue of talent – should be in some way passed on to another more capable of making it work for the benefit of a wider society?

What I’m really trying to say is whether good luck should be regulated in terms of how those who are in its receipt fully make it work for society as a whole.  Should good luck be seen as an individual and libertarian selfishness – or should a moral aspect intervene, much as the above-mentioned talent, whereby the right to good luck must be a far more meritorious, as well as perhaps societal, matter?

A lot depends on the answer to these questions, of course: how we configure our welfare system, our health system, our education system – even our law and order system.  Now fairness most of us can agree upon – even today I feel, even Tories in their gentler moments! – as being a concept which should govern our societies and structure how we treat each other.  But good luck isn’t fair at all – even as most of us, yes, quite selfishly, would far prefer to have it in industrial quantities for ourselves than for others.

So where does that leave it in the general scheme of things?

Do we need to ameliorate its upsides in order to ameliorate its downsides?  Or is good luck something which adds an infinity to the world – a matter of always adding to human joy, inasmuch as such an addition to the life of one person implies no necessary subtraction from the life of another?

I wonder if economics and political thought have had anything to say about this matter.

As I wonder if anyone cares to care.

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Aug 282012
 
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This did get me thinking:

There is, though, another possibility. Maybe it’s not that Tories like the capitalist class, but rather that they hate the working class.

Chris’s thesis, well worth reading in full, and to which the above quote serves as a damning conclusion, could then be pushed even further than even he seems prepared to go: might Tories hate capitalists almost as much as they do the working classes?  That is to say, are they simply monstrous haters of people in general?

Certainly, in their measures towards allegedly absolute austerity, they don’t seem particularly interested in supporting the interests of many capitalists: whilst established financial-services sponsors of the Tory Party coffers do seem to get a look-in – in these cases continued growth and profit, as well as corporate socialism where requested, would seem to be exactly the objective of all good Conservatives everywhere – there are plenty of small, medium-sized and medium-large enterprises out there suffering the consequences of the Tories’ apparent dislike of anything smaller than a banking institution too big to fail.

And although in their workfare plans – where large companies were able to take advantage of the same something-for-nothing culture benefit claimants are apparently to be denied (we do of course see and understand how it’s OK to get something for nothing if you’re a corporation – but patently not if you’re a flesh-and-blood being) – there was clearly a degree of affinity exhibited for corporate capitalists, it didn’t really – even so – manage to convince; especially when all that terrible PR flak was generated about people being fired from gainful employments with large chain stores up and down the land – only then to be taken back as unpaid “volunteers”.

In reality, what’s going on here would actually seem to be as Chris almost manages to suggest: Tories hate people, whatever their allegiances, more than almost anything else on the planet – in fact, with all the fervour and casual cruelty of their politics, they would probably have beaten Genghis Khan at his own game.  If, that is, they hadn’t managed to bankrupt him first.

Conclusions?  Don’t ŧake it personally, you sick, disabled, poor and unemployed.  The Tories might hate you with a virulence that hurts – but, if truth be told, they hate their own almost as much as they clearly hate you.

After all, why do you think they measure absolutely everything in terms of how much money it could make them?  Simply, because they have forgotten – or, perhaps, even more sadly, were never actually shown – that humanity’s greatest gift to itself is precisely its capacity to do something for nothing.

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Aug 282012
 
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I tweeted something along these lines the other idea.  I suggested whether it mightn’t be a good idea for us to create decision-making processes which allowed our representatives to take decisions based on the merits of each and every case instead of on the basis of the interests that generally circled vulture-like around issues of the day.

Perhaps in order to achieve this we’d need to spend even more money on our MPs – but not so they could continue to flip their second homes or build even more duck islands; rather, so they would not need to entertain lobbyists or special-interest individuals for them to half-understand the complexities of modern civilisations.

MPs are, after all, only human.

Perhaps, then, we need to equip them with far more resources so they might have access to far more independent information and data – and their corresponding conclusions.

To be able to govern on the foundations of rational thought instead of the tribal instincts which bind supporters together in fear – that would truly be a step forward.

Surely.

In the meantime, these links have just come my way.  Localism as a way of generating bite-sized steps to a better governance.  It’s an idea, for sure – even as holding up the UK of four countries is perhaps, in the light of current independence instincts, a contradictory impulse, at least for the moment.

A question, maybe, of asking ourselves again when does localism slide into nationalism – and vice versa.

A final thought to be going away with.  In a hyper-interconnected world, with all its disadvantages and downsides, do we really want more joined-up government – the sort of government where all the current crop of ruling and opposition politicos aim to do is cement their ways of thinking and doing to such a point that future changes become both intellectually and financially impossible to brook?

Is, in fact, the much-vaunted joined-up government of recent times really what we want in our modern societies?  That he or she who holds the levers of power can power through all institutions and ideologies at one fell swoop is, long-term, surely terribly inefficient and mono-cultural – and, in the short-term, at the very least, tragically hubris-entertaining.

So is this really what we want of our representative democracies?  The hubris of the single-minded?

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Aug 262012
 
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A few days ago, in a semi-private exchange on Facebook, I was half-accused of being a “fruitloop” for using the abbreviation MSM – a clear sign, if there ever was one, that I was a conspiracy nut in the making.  The person who made the remark recanted politely when I replied in a reasonably unconspiratorial way, but it got me thinking even so – as you might imagine.

Partly, it got me thinking because of the two supposed disabilities doctors had cared to diagnose me with during my rather uncertain life: the first being epilepsy, at the age of ten; the second being paranoid schizophrenia, at the age of forty-one.  Now, whilst I spent my thirties relieved of the need to take tablets for an epilepsy which appeared in remission, life circumstances (loss of job, long-term unemployment, final inability to support my family and its financial needs) drove me in my fourth decade to what in hindsight I prefer to describe as a nervous breakdown due to reactive depressions of various kinds and for various reasons.

That the diagnosis at the time refused to contemplate interviewing my wife or attempting to understand the background leading up to my state of ill health, depending – instead – entirely on a) an interview conducted at four o’clock in the morning after days of not sleeping and b) observations from a parent whose behaviours had accompanied three major cases of mental ill health in my nuclear family, is something which even now still grates.  That the original diagnosis, as far the British state is concerned, still stands … well, perhaps you’ll understand me when I say that it grates even more.  Nonetheless, I have learnt to live with being seen thus by the medical profession – even as I have never felt disabled in my life.

You can, of course, understand better why the “fruitloop” tag half-applied me the other day made me think rather more deeply.  On these pages, I write in highly critical terms about corporate institutions and transnational movements which – at least to my eyes – appear to deliberately, and with great intentionality and organisation, spend their time prejudicing the lives of ordinary working people everywhere.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I am a fruitloop, after all.  Maybe the accusation is right.  Maybe everything I write about involves the gentle ravings of a medicated soul whose perceptions are clouded by Big Pharma.

Maybe the hyper-interconnected world we live in is a randomised putting-together of links and apparent narratives which, in reality, and sensibly viewed by those who can never be accused of fruitloopness, engenders no real connection between the aforementioned links and narratives.

Maybe everything that’s happened in Coalition Britain since Cameron came to power is simply an unhappy sequence of flailing and uncoordinated politicos who have no evil plan or proposition to overturn the socialising and ameliorating achievements of previous regimes.

Maybe the millions of people who now find themselves worse off are only worse off through terrible coincidence.

Maybe the thousands of people who now find themselves far better off are only far better off through curious synchronicity.

And maybe this hyper-interconnected world they’re selling us so proudly as a clear manifestation of 21st century intelligence is anything but a paranoia-inducing environment; anything but a far larger idea to turn our erstwhile privacies into the dust to which we will all – one day – return.

Yet you surely don’t need to be popping pills to wonder if an interconnected world creates paranoia.  That, after all, is what paranoia is all about: believing that everything has a reason, is consequential and contains meaning.

And that is the process which begins to take place when the virtual world seeps into the real.

Neither good for those the state decides must take medication for their own good – nor good for those the state decides must hold the reins of power.

So what’s your conclusion?  In relation to myself I mean.  Do you now see my writings in a fruitloopy light too?  Is there an audible sigh of relief as you realise you can discard fifty percent of what I say – or perhaps more – as the ravings of a madman?  Does a state-defined epilepsy-suffering paranoid schizophrenic have anything useful in political terms to contribute to a world he believes to be far from benevolent, far from supportive, far from socialising, far from humane?

Or can we argue that he has now forfeited his right to perceive reality as it is?  That he is just another victim of life’s random vicissitudes?  That his view of reality is inevitably more suspect than the officially sane?  That by definition a British cabinet minister has more of a handle on and right to engage with the suffering of millions than someone who’ll end up acquiring labels faster than an outlet village in Gordon Brown’s streaming boom of record-breaking turn-of-the-century budgets?

For they say you’re paranoid if you think you’re being followed.  So what are we doing, on an industrial scale, during the relationships we engage in on Twitter, Facebook and blogging?

Will no one else see that what was a sign of an illness has now become a massive norm?

Can no one else recognise that 21st century society requires us to rewrite a whole host of mental conditions?

And does no one else care to accept that he or she who perceives so much connectedness, in what we can argue is now a hyper-interconnected world, may actually be seeing the truth as it is – instead of continuing to invent a parallel world of distracting psychosis?

So it is, finally, I sigh to myself.

After all, it’s impossible for you not to be influenced by the above.

I just hope I can continue to deserve the right to bend your eye – and continue to influence, even if only in a small way, the direction and progress of my society.

What say you?  Am I mad, bad or sad?

Or am I actually – sometimes – in the right?

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Aug 262012
 
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I wonder if this Coalition government of Cameron’s isn’t living proof of and a definitive answer to the question I pose in the title to this post.  It was Paul’s article on the English GCSE smoking gun which got me thinking along these lines.  Especially where he says (the bold is mine):

Broadly, I think James is right to point the finger at Gove for deliberate political interference, but I think that interference may have been (deliberately) more indirect, and therefore deniable, than first supposed.

It seems to me that one of the prime dangers for the left right now – and more widely the buffeted people of this nation – is in overestimating the importance of being good at government for modern political parties to stay in power.

It seems to me, quite anecdotally I have to admit, that politics as a process and tool for the betterment of civilisation has morphed into a quite separate survival kit for those who belong to those self-contained shock-and-awe guerilla units which to date we have learnt to call political parties; which used to be sourced in and served to represent the interests of particular and well-defined sections of society; and which now – in their lily-livered triangulations – only manage to side with what they judge, well beforehand, to be the de facto winners in any and every political outcome.

And whilst New Labour for a while managed to attend stealthily to the needs of the less well-off, even as it preached liberty and freedom for the unnecessarily ostentatious, it’s this sub-Blair Coalition government of eagerly PR-focussed and cleverly Machiavellian types which has come to the final and destructive conclusion that it’s not the legacy you leave behind you, nor even what history says you do – but, rather, in each and every moment, when and who you do it to.

This is, after all, supposedly the grand age of all individualisms.  How fitting, then, that politics should have become a guerilla warfare against its own voters.  The ultimate individualisation of all: that which turns those who cede all power to precious representatives into mere weapons of mass and mutual destruction.

We, as voters, are no longer the point of modern politics.  Neither is good government the aim any longer of all this politicking.  Rather, it’s simply become a battlefield for socially acceptable benefit claimants: scroungers off the state galore who use ourselves, the voters, as their more or less permanent means (lobbing us as they do back and forth) to a more or less permanent set of positions of employment.

Professional politicos – don’t you just love ‘em?  So obsessed with their calling are they that they’ve finally managed to split off the external objective – society’s progress – from their own internal needs.

A mighty purification of interests going on there.

A mighty purification indeed.

And is that sorry sound which I now hear actually yours truly falling into yet another clever trap laid by moneyed white Anglo-Saxon middle-aged men?

Middle-aged men, with their inevitable hands on the levers of power, who want to see the socialising and supportive – which is to say, overtly politicised – state fall into:

  1. a lazy unexamined disrespect; and
  2. a rigorously controlled disuse.

I do hope not.

But I rather suspect so.  Don’t you?

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Aug 252012
 
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As someone just observed, the most notable government worker in the most expensive government project has just died – and will now most certainly be mourned, without exception, the length and breadth of the US political spectrum.

As I myself just tweeted:

1st man on moon falls back to earth – but I’ll never forget amazing early morning images piped into our sitting-room. I was 7. #differentUSA

Neil Armstrong is dead – let his being rest in peace.  As indeed it should for anyone when anyone dies.

You’ll notice I tagged my tweet with the phrase #differentUSA.  I guess that those of you of a rather more critical bent will probably already be fuming that Armstrong’s journey to the moon was actually the result of the machinations of an industrial-military complex, whose race into space conducted between the US and the USSR – at the expense of rather more practical and urgent challenges down here on the planet itself – produced non-stick pans and very little else.

No matter.  I will always remember it.  Always remember those moments.  Always dream.

Perhaps, in reality, I should have tagged that tweet #differentMiljenko.  At the tender age of seven, and with the teachings of British socialism and Croatian Catholic anti-Communism only serving to confuse my youthful mindscape, I did in fact believe in the Land of the Free.

And I’d still like to.

It’s just I see precious little evidence of it any more.  Chris wrote a fascinating piece on obesity and imitation the other day.  I think it is relevant to today’s post.  No one is really evil or fat or thin or clever by choice.  But we can become all of these things – and more – out of a powerful and very human instinct to mimesis.

An example.  Lately, we have Apple and Samsung slugging it out over patent infringements galore.  The most recent judicial sentence, announced in the past twenty-four hours, requires Samsung to pay Apple around a billion dollars in compensation.  Apple has already announced it’s out to drop the shutters on more recent Samsung products.  I’m not going to enter into the rights and wrongs of the matter – there are perfectly valid arguments on both sides to justify their differing postures.  What I am really trying to get at here, however, is that just as Apple’s attitudes seem evermore restrictive and anti-American – in the sense of America equalling the Land of the Free – so the American government seems to be exhibiting parallel behaviours in its threatened or manifest treatment of alleged hackers, content pirates, whistleblowing individuals and organisations.

The list, in fact, is probably getting longer even as we realise how much we missed that other America.

So what worries me here is not that Apple or the US are breaking the laws of their lands.  For, clearly, they’re not.  No.  What worries me here is that the laws they have lobbied successfully in favour of break the essential spirit of what a #differentMiljenko once believed was a #differentUSA.

A USA which didn’t do something because it was legal and could get away with it – but, rather, did something because it was right.

Just as clearly, there’s a difference.

Who’s to blame, then?  The corporate cultures of recognisably successful and creative companies such as Apple – or the corporate cultures of recognisably successful and yet evermore impositional institutions such as the United States government?

Do structures such as the former reflect, guide and channel the latter – or are the latter becoming more and more tragic mirror images of the former, as the revolving doors of common interest create an atmosphere of suffocatingly awful legal righteousness?

And how can we ever, now, recover our belief in that country which managed so utterly to charm me in my naive and distant childhood – a childhood of grey, black and white video images beamed magically down to us from that satellite of a thousand and one romances?

The first step, I suppose, is to say and accept that we would like to.

The real questions however, perhaps sadly, lie elsewhere: firstly, do we still want to?  And secondly, is there any point?

Time – maybe – for one man’s small superpowered step to become a much more widely constructed and shared leap of faith?

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Aug 252012
 
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I haven’t got the technical skills or background knowledge to inform you of what’s going on behind the scenes – or perhaps that’s beneath the stones – of this unfair and unpleasant isle at the moment.  If you do want a rather more sophisticated set of updates, then Paul can supply you with several here, here and here.

In this post, instead, I speak as a parent – as well as a one-time trades union representative at a large banking corporation.  From what I’ve been able to gather, it would appear that someone or something has re-engineered the grade boundaries of the English GCSE exams – those that children in England and Wales generally take at the age of sixteen – in the second half of the year.  That is to say, those who took the exams in January were measured differently from those who took the exams in June.

The reason for this, I suppose, is that those in charge imagine not everyone is capable of achieving their goals.  And herein the absolutely distasteful part of this exercise: the people or systems – or whatever has engineered this – clearly believe that human beings are made to be unequal.  Under such an ideology, any education system which aims to bring the best out of everybody, and to similar effect, is doomed to ultimate failure – not because the educators are incapable of achieving the goal in question but, rather, because the politically inclined (whether in government or in large money-making exam corporations) feel it beneficial – for some reason – to continue disadvantaging the disadvantaged.

With the excuse that grade inflation is taking place – for surely the fact that so many pupils find themselves passing the exams is a manifest demonstration that they are failing to properly test – what none of this power-hungry group of social illiterates even cares to consider is the alternative option and explanation to all this revolting success: that pupils these days live in a knowledge society crammed full of technology; that somehow this makes them a degree or two more knowledgeable than previous generations; that we might wish to allow all our deserving pupils to compare themselves proudly to other countries’ cohorts – and thus get the internationally valid certification they could so easily acquire; and that, in so doing, we would prefer to engender opportunities for our very youngest to contemplate ambitions which go beyond simply resigning themselves to the poorly-paid jobs it would seem people like Michael Gove want them to limit themselves to.

Let me explain how it seemed to work in the company where I acted – for a short time – as a trades union representative.  Everyone received annual objectives at the beginning of the year.  The important ones were handed down from on high; the sops to our sense of individuality were “negotiated” between line manager and worker.  Once everything was agreed upon, and signed off by those who did the “grandparenting”, we worked over the year together with our managers on the basis of monthly 1-2-1 interviews.  In these interviews, we had to take along evidence that we were complying with the aforementioned goals.  At the end of the year, it was determined whether we had hit our goals or not.  But here came the catch: although it was never clearly admitted, there did seem to operate a kind of distribution curve.  That is to say, even if everyone in a department demonstrably hit their targets, in particular perhaps because it was a very good department, the budget available to reward such behaviours was finite.  Under such circumstances, and where a substantial number of workers did achieve what was required of them, the boundaries between underachieving and achieving were suddenly made finer.  Not before the event, however – rather, afterwards!

Can you imagine the sense of injustice that this generated?  Well.  We didn’t have to imagine it – we lived it.  Every year too.

Which is why I think, as both parent and ex-trades union representative, I have every right to comment on what appears to be a disgraceful episode of shifting goalposts halfway through the year.  When the exam system should be employed to demonstrate to the world that our education infrastructure is creating tech-savvy and thoughtful young people – young people capable of working either at home or abroad with equal finesse and competence, on the back of a proper recognition of their skills – instead it would seem that some foolish corporately business types are importing obvious examples of unjust and incompetent people-management strategies into the motivation, assessment and final grading of a young workforce in-the-making.

A workforce which deserves far more than to be made a global laughing-stock by an education hierarchy which sadly appears to know no sense of shame, no sense of decorum – and, finally, worst of all, no sense of political or sociocultural propriety.

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Aug 242012
 
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Like the idea of throwing tomatoes at social miscreants – you know the sort: those who upset the status quo in general and received opinion in particular?

Well, up until recently the stocks of old didn’t really have their 21st century alternative.  But now it would seem Twitter is rapidly morphing into a virtual equivalent.  This, for example (it’s not the only example out there), from Sunny over at Liberal Conspiracy today.  Notice I’m not taking issue with the wider position being taken by Mr Hundal – rape is rape is rape is rape.  We can all agree with that.

Yet in much the same way as a few days ago I argued that – in relation to women’s issues – mindsets out of the Middle Ages seemed to be taking hold, so I might be inclined to argue that Sunny’s persistent harrying (as I say, not the first example I’ve seen in a blog such as his) of an offensive tweeter – and their foolish attempts to cover up the damage a posteriori – doesn’t half contain within itself similarly medieval instincts.

The problem of course with latterday social media is that all of us are publishers at nominally the same hierarchical levels.  The truth of the matter, though, is that there is – as Dave Semple pointed out the other day – an inevitable re-establishing of elites taking place which means we as simple tweeters cannot choose our moment of notoriety.  We may wish to declaim certain things and hope, quite naturally, that these come to the attention of the elites – but almost certainly what they will eventually (if ever) pick up on will be that which shows us in the worst light.

Again, let it be understood that I see why in this particular case Sunny felt obliged to bring it to our attention.  It’s politically relevant; it’s news; it’s clear that George Galloway and some of his supporters have done nothing to improve their public image or standing.  It ties in with the Akin and Assange stories.  It’s perfect all-round as a communication, consciousness-raising and left-leaning strategy to pillory those who clearly deserve pillorying.

And yet … and yet … I fear this strategy.  I fear where it might eventually lead us.  I fear who might learn to happily employ it.  I fear how it might make it more difficult for other emotionally-charged issues to be even thought about – even contemplated.

So does no one else feel these things I feel?

Does no one else believe that being right might not necessarily give you the right to be righteous?

Humility anyone?

Or is that just me being foolish?

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Aug 242012
 
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Rick describes thus the attitudes of the supposed New Tory Right:

Last week, a group of Tory MPs abandoned all that stuff about ‘hardworking families’ and branded this country Lazy Britain:

Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.

It’s rubbish, of course. Fact Check pointed out that our full-timers work some of the longest hours in Europe and, even when you add in our relatively high number of part-time workers, we still work longer hours than the Germans. As for the productivity argument, Chris Dillow dealt with that, noting that there is a strong negative correlation between hours worked and productivity. Just working harder, then, won’t improve our economy and, in any case, shouldn’t we aspire to be more like the richer countries that work smarter, rather than the poorer ones that work longer?

Chris had already concluded that (the bold is mine):

I’m pretty sure, then, that Raab is talking rot. What I’m not so sure about is why. One possibility is that he’s so blinded by free market ideology and by romantic ideas about entrepreneurs and managers that he just cannot see that some free market reforms are of negligible benefit and that some bosses are less than heroic.

But you’d have thought that the experience of the crisis – which has seen bankers get multi-million bonuses whilst good workers lose their jobs – would have disabused anyone of the just world theory that capitalism rewards talent and effort. There’s comes a point when a cognitive bias shades into a psychiatric disorder.

This leaves another possibility. It’s that Raab is simply taking sides in a class war. He wants to further empower bosses to bully workers, even if this has no macroeconomic benefit.

Meanwhile Dave, in a comment to my own post, argues the following:

I think your middle paragraph nails it. Do you remember Gordon Brown declaring that boom and bust economics was dead? The truth is that this was pure hokum, in the best traditions of Francis Fukuyama and the end-of-history-death-of-ideology brigade.

Life is a battlefield, but we’ve forgotten it. We’ve had it easy.

Eric Hobsbawm wrote a book about the short twentieth century, from 1914-1991. This is probably mistaken. The twentieth century as an idea lasted until 2008. The fall of the Soviet Union and the fall of the veil behind which capitalism hid, with the crisis and the cuts, are two sides of the same coin. It just took a while for both to be revealed.

Now, I think, we have returned to political struggle almost as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, with no socialist bogeyman to scare people away and no entrenched Stalinist politicians to betray the movement with their bad tactics. We have a clean sheet, for the first time in a century. As prior to WWI, capitalism has geared up for an assault.

If we resist hard, we risk running the same gauntlet as before – war, depression, devastation, even perhaps genocide. But this time we will not make the same mistakes.

And so my question is this: who’ll be best placed to learn from the 20th century – capitalism or its victims?

I wonder.

Victims, throughout recent media history anyhow, have occupied the condition of the passive put-upon righteous.  The noble black man in Hollywood cinema you simply know will die the first in the convoluted plot-line so constructed; the screaming woman who can only be saved by a (generally) white knight in shining armour … how the good must die – or at the very least suffer – on the altars of pathos and tragedy our societies so love to casually devise.

Yet the worldly experience of the US Civil Rights Movement, of feminist struggles everywhere, of men, women and children who have striven to create their own worlds quite at the margin of the consumerist freedoms our century wants to limit us to … surely all of the above shows us that victims do not have to be passive, do not have to lie down and suffer – can, after all, action and lever and inspire positive change.

Yes.  I think Dave is right.  We are right back at the beginning of the 20th century.  And so it is that politicians like the New Tory Right which Rick describes so accurately are simply incapable of appreciating exactly what this means.  They are so wrapped up in capitalism’s tendency to substitute true renewal with simple dog-eat-dog tail-chasing that they are unable to see beyond their short-term hubris.  Their version of capitalism has become so technically and intellectually corrupted – so damnably inefficient on its own terms, for God’s sake – that the seeds of its own destruction have been sprouting for a very long time now.

Will the 21st century, then, be the century that the victims of capitalism learn properly from a previous century’s history – learn properly that being a victim doesn’t have to mean resigning oneself to becoming a downtrodden subject?

Again, I wonder.

And ask you to wonder too.

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Aug 232012
 
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David’s post on not posting any more is throwing up a whole host of interesting ideas.  Coupled with the news that Though Cowards Flinch has been included in the British Library web archive, isn’t time – dear ex-blogger – to reconsider what is clearly a premature retirement?

In the meantime, your capacity to comment on and analyse with commitment what is closest to your being continues to please me.  In response to my own thought

It may of course be that the Internet and web are best-placed to transform certain kinds of politics over others. Perhaps better suited to everything-goes libertarianism than socially supportive and human-transforming ideologies?

Dave responds thus:

[...] Whilst I wouldn’t agree that the internet has transformed any particular ideology, I think you’re on to something trying to separate out whether or not particular ideas or models of campaigning have been more or less altered by the internet.

We can’t ignore the online epiphenomena of real-world politics, like Ron Paul or Barack Obama and their online coterie.

But at the same time, the actual power-relations of the capitalist state exist in the real world. If you don’t want to challenge those, then the internet is your dream come true, because it is just another way of beaming centrally-approved content into the homes of millions. It worked for Obama, and when he got elected, that movement of millions who supported him, gave online donations etc, was promptly ignored.

Anyone that doesn’t want to challenge capitalism, which is a relation between people and not an abstract idea, can exist in the aether – as a media face or a net personality, cultivating a select corner of the available total audience. With all their twitter profiles, this is how our current political elite exists. A socialist can’t exist like that, because a socialist wants to challenge people’s passive acceptance of (or even disorganised resistance to) capitalism.

If Dave and I together have reached any point of interest here, it is that – in quite a coherent way, considering the original Internet was created by the American military to allow communications to survive the buffeting of a nuclear war – with the Internet underneath and the worldwide web on top, such structures are best suited, intrinsically so in fact, to perpetuating corporate capitalisms in their more or less purest forms.  And that those who would get something for nothing should beat the copyright giants of the world (and here I refer to the recent battles around SOPA, PIPA and ACTA) is entirely in consonance with a periodical tendency of capitalism to chase its own tail.  Not renewal, though – simply a process of vicious dog-eat-dog.

That there are no ground rules in that pure ideal of the Internet and web at their most paradigmatic is something which reminds me – even if not you – of capitalism at its most simultaneously hands-off and interfering.  To paraphrase Henry Ford, you are free to be free as long as the freedom you want is the freedom I offer.

This is what I think Dave is getting at when he concludes:

The best way to win that argument is not simply to make it abstractly, it is to organise. Organisation changes the conditions of struggle, turning them from hopeless to hopeful, and it happens in the real world, as it too is a relation between people. That is why the internet cannot and never will play a “transformative” role in socialist politics. It can merely assist, like distributing leaflets and socialist newspapers and having branch meetings.

And whilst the Internet underneath and the web on top can assist far more easily those who would reproduce its underlying ideologies, this does not mean – once we become aware of the game – that we cannot refashion them to our own ends.

We do, however, have to become aware of the game: for if we use the Internet and web without too much consideration of their natural states, we run the risk of being shaped without our knowledge, permission or adult consent into believing that everything-goes libertarian freedoms are preferable to socially transforming alternatives.

And nowhere – in my book at least – will I care to accept that perpetuating an existing order is less interfering than creating a new one.

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Aug 222012
 
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Carl argues that participatory democracy messes around – to a wider detriment – with what generally requires expert attention.  Meanwhile, whilst two thousand schools have been shifted stealthily to the private sector under the hardly hawk-eyed gaze of the media outlets which we suppose are there to make representative democracy work – and a cursory trawling through any number of social media streams will reveal horrifying statistics relating to the sad stuff going on behind the scenes – I don’t half get the feeling that the gloves are now off in representative democracies across the world.

Good people like Carl may – whilst still supportive of a wider participation in democracy – secretly believe for all the right reasons that it does more harm than good; but whether he is right or wrong, it’s kind of beside the point.  The people in charge – for quite a while now – care so little for the wellbeing of the majority of the planet, except inasmuch as their trickle-down philosophies allow them to keep the barbarians on their sofas and at their TV dinners, that whether we wish to idly and intellectually tinker with our democratic systems or not, we simply do not have the leverage to combat the naked power the rich are now manifesting.

We’ve lost.  That’s the bottom line.  This is a historical – where not historic – victory of the moneyed.  They have gutted competitive capitalism for their own purposes, perverted the free market and sold us mountains of gadgets as supposedly freedom-apportioning tools – in a world where their controls over what we say, share and communicate become ever-encircling.

Yes.  The gloves are most definitely off.  If the British media are able to ignore what Mr Gove has been doing over the past twelve months, and below the radar of the British public’s proper understanding of what’s really being done with their patrimony, then it won’t be the only time they’ve done it and it won’t be the last.  For without a vigorous and truly independent media infrastructure, the whole of representative democracy’s integrity comes tumbling down.

Which is where, I would suggest, we find ourselves at the moment.

As a final thought, and possibly a retort, I must say I do believe in participatory democracy – at least over the rank perversion of the representatively democratic ideals we are now witnessing everywhere.  Professional politicians are anything but members of a profession these days: they are generally business people who walk into the job through a revolving door; who – sometime in the future – will walk back through the same door into another job in the outside world; who see politics mainly as a tool for self-enrichment; and who wouldn’t know a public-service ideal if it landed flat-footedly and naively on their champagne-breakfasted tables.

But the worst of all of this is that the corruption I mention above is actually, awfully, inefficient.  Our societies won’t just disintegrate morally – they’ll also fall apart technically.  And all because those who run them now only have one single tragic philosophy: “I know best.”

For them the crowd is not a source of magnificent wisdoms but – rather – a mob of gammas from which hard-earned cash is to be winkled.  Not human beings.  Not even voters.  Just stupid stupid stupid consumers whose buttons are so easily pressed.

Is that the side you wish to be seen on Carl?  Really?  The side of the experts who know how to put things together for the benefit of the few?

I’m sure it’s not the case – but I can’t help feeling it’s where you might be headed …

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Aug 222012
 
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Those of you who regularly read these pages will know I’m not a fan of what I’ve termed Darwinian capitalism.  The idea that humans in their economic environments should aim to reproduce the conditions that make us most similar to the beasts that populate this earth – instead of amplifying the socialising aspects which differentiate us most from such tooth-and-claw dynamics – is not something that immediately attracts me.

But today, this morning, as I awoke from sleepy unconscious contemplation, and found myself making churros and croquetas for breakfast, I realised that sadly enough we don’t even have Darwinian capitalism.  This is not survival of the fittest but survival of the sneakiest.

The ground rules run as follows: we set up governing structures where the state pays for roads, schools, hospitals and other communications structures; for inspection and oversight systems and procedures; for the writing and implementation of laws; and for security services which help guarantee social order.  In exchange, we are obliged to contribute taxes to make it all work.  This includes future services such as pensions and health and social welfare support for the elderly, who always require more support than the young in society.

You then spend your whole life participating in such an unspoken social contract – only for an economic crisis like the one which currently assails us to pull the rug from under the feet of the poor and middle classes, and thus change the ground rules forever.

Only the ground rules haven’t been changed.  Rather, we were led to misunderstand them.  Life, the economy and everything isn’t structured to provide everyone with opportunities: life, the economy and everything is structured to allow the sneaky to win over the honest and open; to allow the cunning to beat the sharingly creative; to allow the foxily brazen to undermine the sincere; to allow the selfishly individual to overcome the gently social.

This isn’t even Darwinian capitalism.  The playing-field is mined – and battle only commences once we, the poor and middle classes, have struggled across its entire expanse.  The powerful, meanwhile, sit on the sidelines, appearing to spectate more than participate.  And when they do finally enjoin battle, it is with a society so sodden by the mud of unjustly opaque ground rules that the final result will never be in doubt.

If only we did have a real Darwinian capitalism.  In a world where brains can frequently beat brawn, it’s possible that those with considerable support needs might – even so – still win out.  But Darwin has nothing to do with the travesty of justice we are now witnessing.  Pensions which collapse in value; social security systems which are cut so tax rebates and exemptions can benefit grand corporate institutions; banking systems which continue to feed off and profit from the carrion their inefficient managements have converted our economies into … this is not the survival of the fittest; nor the evolution of the most intelligent; nor the development and progress of the species.  This is, rather, the institutionalisation of a casual corruption: so casual we are unable to properly see it for what it is.  A corruption of the virtues and tools of all that humanity is best at: a contamination of goodness and professionalism; of a desire to be efficient and honest; of an instinct to treat others as one might prefer to be treated oneself.

No wonder those who legally rob and steal from our societies – those who set up the rules and regulations with sufficient leeway to allow for their every whim – then fiercely proceed to criticise and condemn those who will inevitably remain far weaker than themselves.

The former know they’re evil in what they do – even if only at a subconscious level.

Meanwhile, the latter are only just beginning to realise the truth.

Perhaps too late to make any difference.

So that’s where we find ourselves: stupid wool-pulled-over-the-eyes broadly educated voting populaces who generally play by rules which the rich and powerful have designed to their own perfection.

Not in the intellectually coherent belief that a libertarian approach to life is simply better for humanity and its social health but, instead, out of a truly hubris-laden comprehension that their deep pockets deserve far more wealth than ours – and just because they say so.

Meanwhile we – who have allowed them to get exactly where they are – deserve everything which now makes our life a misery.

Not because we’re less fit.  Just because we’re not sneaky.

Simply because we’re unhappy to dish out the shit the rich and powerful have come to revel in.

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Aug 212012
 
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It’s curious that for such a supposedly voluble and open-minded part of the political spectrum as the left, so many taboos – both of dogma as well as more emotional – should prevent us from discussing freely all alternatives.  If New Labour contributed anything positive to the political process – even where not practice – it was in its pick-and-mix approach to ideas.  That it went too far – and perhaps deliberately detached itself from its origins – shouldn’t blind us to the fact that open-mindedness is generally an intellectual virtue.

I am minded to consider the issue in the light of this interesting Compass email I received a few minutes ago:

Hi –

We all know there are issues the left find it hard to talk about – immigration, crime and punishment, why people seem to be more sceptical of the state than the market, limits to economic growth, patriotism, faith and population have all fell into this category at one time or another.

Sometimes it’s because we think some issues are already given too much attention, other times it’s because we’re scared of saying the wrong thing, sometimes we think the conversation takes place on the right’s terms and not ours.

Whatever the reasons we don’t want to ignore these issues any longer. In the autumn Compass will publish a series of short articles on the ‘elephants left in the room’ and I want you to help. We want to know what issues you think are being ignored by the left and most importantly why and how we should respond to them.

Please send us an article of up to a 1,000 words which focuses on the issue you think is the most important elephant in the room for the left. We’ll publish all the best entries on the Compass website and I will pick my top three to be published in the final document.

The deadline for entries is September 17th 2012

Send entries to info@compassonline.org.uk

There shouldn’t be any issues that we can’t talk about. If we don’t have the right answers yet then we have to work out the right ones through dialogue and debate. If we feel that we don’t have the right language then we must discover it. If we are not addressing the issues that people care about then we can never be successful as a movement.

Thanks for your help with this.

Let’s get the elephants out of the room.

Lisa

Lisa Nandy MP

My reaction to the above?  I think it’s an excellent idea.  In my case, my biggest worry is the creeping private fascism – to paraphrase Roosevelt (more here) – that appears now, more and more, to be afflicting our Western societies.  No longer would it seem that government’s goal is to stand as mediator between markets, business, societies and ordinary people.  Instead, a brutalised and corrupted version of capitalism – in its most extreme corporate manifestation – is destroying all the virtues of self-alignment and control that a truly free market would contribute.

And if the left must be honest with itself, this has happened under nominally left-wing regimes just as much as we could argue it is due to the casual – and lately well-documented evil inefficiencies – of the right.

Anyhow, if I can get all that down in a rather less aggressive way than is my wont, I may yet participate in what looks like a much-needed initiative.

Recover the breath of intellectual fresh air of early New Labour times – without sanctioning its supping-with-the-devil instincts to champagne-and-canapé its short cuts to the political top.

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Aug 212012
 
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It’s pretty clear now, isn’t it?  After yesterday’s news that the NHS brand is to be “developed” for overseas consumption, and as waiting-lists at home begin to grow dramatically, the real face of Tory strategy is revealed for all to see.

Like the commonest and cheapest asset-strippers of all, we’re not even really looking to take care of the core business.  Rather, it’s a buying-up of the name, a moving of the customer focus and manufacturing base abroad – and an ultimate maximisation of shareholder interests to the expense of other so-called stakeholders (in other words, patients, doctors, nurses and local communities).

So who and what did we vote for when we elected David Cameron?  If the reality behind the rebranded face of New Toryism has anything in common with the current US Presidential contest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the banks and other financial institutions which make so much of their money out of mergers, change processes and other massive modulations of wealth various.

Via opensecrets.org

After all, as many have already observed, fifty percent of all Tory Party income comes from those who will benefit directly from the commercialisation abroad of the NHS.

Gut the brand at home and lay waste to its integrity – even as abroad you build up its power?  What else could you expect a PR politician such as Cameron to come up with?  This is absolutely the world as seen through the prism of marketing.

This is the marketing of policy-making taken to its final and unrecognisable degree.

And this was a man who claimed our health services were safe in his hands.

He’d cut the deficit and not the NHS, right?  Lord only knows what negligences might have happened if Cameron had become a surgeon instead of a politician.

Jack the Ripper was nothing compared to Dave the Asset-Stripper …

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