mil

I'm a Labour Party member, love the Internet, have worked as a volunteer on OpenOffice.org, am a trained editor, speak Spanish fluently and wish I could speak Croatian. I also find myself thinking, reading, writing, publishing and teaching for a living - and this blog serves to tie together these activities as I try and make sense of the world. I do hope you like some of what you read here - and may even consider leaving a comment or two!

Nov 272014
 
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This is a fantastic piece of writing, full of the kind of insights that make a non-specialist like myself breathe in deeply and say: “Why sir, of course!”

This bit in particular catches my attention (the bold is mine):

For all of human history, right up to about 20 years ago, surveillance has always been constrained by the laws of physics. You could not surveil all the people all of the time because you’d need half of them to do the surveillance and because the cost of moving atoms around to do it (people, paper-based files, etc.) was prohibitively expensive at scale. You could take it on faith that overly broad surveillance was extremely shallow and that deep scrutiny was expensive and therefore only targeted. That surveillance was based in the world of atoms created natural cost constraints that placed an absolute limit on breadth and depth. Your chance of being surveilled was proportional to the chance that such surveillance would be worth the investment. In other words, privacy has largely a function of physics throughout nearly all of human history. All of our habits, law, policies and culture up to about 20 years ago are built on that implicit assumption.

That is to say, if my conclusions are correct, surveillance has shifted up a horrible factor for the following reason: whilst in the past we had human-to-human surveillance, and the very finite nature of the resource was our salvation (as a wider species as well as discrete individuals), nowadays the tendency is for a machine-to-human dynamic, in order to limitlessly track all humans’ manifestations.

Just as the robots are taking over our economy – and our only contemplateable role lies in becoming accessories to the permanently humming communications of what will no longer be our gadgets but rather, clearly, themselves – so these watching devices, infrastructures and networks will massively, efficiently, coherently and entrappingly be able to contain not just half of the human miscreants who populate the planet – as previously our human-to-human surveillance interactions theoretically were able to manage – but the whole seething simultaneous mass of the sin-committing fallen, all together.

The enemies of our dearly-held free speech – indeed, of our sense of shared and global free will too – won’t be the NSA or GCHQ at all.

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if our anger isn’t seriously misdirected at both these institutions and their analogous instincts.

It’s not they themselves, as humans like ourselves, who’ll end up containing our humanity.  Instead, it’s the systems various they’ve been putting in place which will kickstart surveillance out of the parameters of human intervention.

So had you ever thought of that?  I’m sure you had.

But if not, it’s surely time to start.

If not, to be honest, a little too late to do absolutely anything about it.

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Nov 272014
 
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This came my way just now:

Income statistics and beliefs

It’s interesting to analyse, in the light of such data, how politicians might choose to react.  It’s clear, from these stats (and Montgomerie’s own tweet), that benefits are considered too high and pay considered too low.

Clear, also, that consensus is growing around the need to replace ameliorative measures such as tax credits with dignified measures such as living wages – though there’d still be a battle about what kind of living that might/should mean for the majority of currently poverty-stricken citizens.

What I’m really minded to consider, however, is how politicians are going to take onboard such prejudices.  Is it the job, these days, of politics to proselytise any more?  Are we supposed to thump our fists and soapbox the voters into submission?  Is our human history of madly impassioned political projects something we should embrace or shy away from?

In the current political landscape, I can only see UKIP doing any of the aforementioned.  And even here, I think the pedagogical side of proselytisation is entirely lost on their leaders.  For even here, in a sense, they’re simply coattailing the established parties.

In reality, the Tories and Labour have long histories of coattailing each other.  Where I have had to admire Ed Miliband is when he gets hold of an idea which is counter-received opinion, and pushes it persistently to the fore of the agenda.  Where I have had to lose my admiration for him is when he’s seems unable to maintain his ownership of such perspicacity – at least with respect to the media and the commentariat.  The living wage being yet another of these matters.  (But perhaps that’s ultimately not going to be a problem: perhaps the next general election will not be fought on the basis of what an evermore bubble-contained and self-congratulating press tells itself; perhaps, instead, it’ll be won or lost as a result of a hardy, short-term, five-year folk memory of Coalition incompetence, duplicity and barefaced porkie-telling.)

In a sense, Miliband’s been fighting an internecine battle where his instincts are to lead from the front, even as Party grandees insist on the old ways.

UKIP, meanwhile, pursues such old ways, as it looks to the stats above – and similar data on issues I’m sure are even closer to its heart – and says to us, with no desire to teach or train, that the casual evil we already think is fair enough, mate.  And let’s have another pint.

Despite the evidence-based implications and their downsides.

So if it’s no longer the business of politics to teach us about the world (as already alluded to, this may – in the light of multiple abuses, dictators and oppressors – be a good thing or not), and if the most politicians can do is coattail on voters and on each other’s prejudices, where is the necessary directed learning going to be taking place in our modern societies?  Who will teach as politics once aimed to do?  Who can illuminate our worldviews of our environments?  Will we have to witness a generation of entirely self-learning youngsters?

If only.

It seems to me, quite curiously, that the job of proselytisation – no longer that of elected representatives (no longer, in fact, that of flesh-and-blood teachers and trainers either) – has reverted to the big businesses that provide us with the consumer economies we so love.  It is through their grand, clever, funny and engaging marketing departments – but also through their impervious, aggressive, unremitting and unceasing legal departments – that we finally get the message.

We no longer learn from our politicians.  We no longer look for inspiration in our thought.  Rather, from such representatives, we simply look for a levered button-pressed reflection of all our prejudices which serves to re-establish our sense of comfort and commodity – which refuses in any challenging way to make us want to think.

And meanwhile, the corps take on the role of dependency nannies: nudging us here; nudging us there; nudging us everywhere.  Through every “like”, “poke” and “retweet” – until we all act as one.

No.  I’m not looking for another Cultural Revolution.  But I might be looking for a little bit more gumption than what we have.

Something which said to you: “I know what you know right now; I know a little bit more; and, what’s more, I’m interested in sharing with you the little bit more I know so that – together – we can progress our civilisation.”

But no.

That seems beyond us.

Instead, at least in the UK, our destiny is racist parties with hidden agendas (I don’t just mean UKIP either), riding coattails so easy to hang onto – as politics falls into mighty disrepair.

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Nov 262014
 
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I discover, this evening, that I’m a so-called “hidden” migrant:

Nigel Farage’s Ukip has called for the children of immigrants to themselves be classed as migrants – despite the fact that the party leader’s own two children would be included in that number.

The party highlighted a report issued today by the right-wing thinktank MigrationWatch UK, which said immigration’s impact on population growth had been underestimated by more than 1.3 million because babies of those coming to this country were not taken into account.

Meanwhile, for the moment:

Neither MigrationWatch nor Ukip suggested that the citizenship of those born in Britain was in question.

The rationale for inventing such a darkly-laden concept?  According to our dear Mr Farage’s political grouping (“whose wife,” the Independent story usefully reminds us, “is German”):

[…] the issue of “hiding” those born to migrants from statistics had “ramifications for healthcare and other public services”.

“We have to accept that this is happening because otherwise you can’t make the decisions to make sure everyone is OK,” the spokesperson said.

“If the figures for migration don’t include children, you’re not taking the correct facts into account for public policy.”

Frankly, this is bollocks.  Sorry.  But it truly has nothing to do with healthcare or public policy.  Nor, indeed, with making sure everyone is OK.

But let’s be charitable, for a moment at least.

Even if it did have something to do, say, with healthcare, take the case of my good self to see how ludicrous this latter idea really is: my father is British, my mother Croatian (though she now has dual nationality); I me mine am British by birth (Oxford if you didn’t know – rather too foreign and beyond the pale, I accept).  But now I’m to be considered a migrant – and a hidden one at that (ooooohhh!  Maybe I’m even red and hidden under your bed …) – I pose the following conundrum to Mr Farage and his ilk: of the fifty percent of me which is “hidden” migrant, we have to add the fifty percent of what I now assume to be “hidden” native, because fifty percent of me by parentage is homegrown (even by these idiots’ own home-made definition).  So if this “hidden” migrant concept has been devised to help out with the correct and proper governance of our nation, which bit of my body parts will be judged as migrant and which will be judged as native?

Imagine the conversation if you can …

GP: No, I’m afraid that free-at-point-of-delivery for “hidden” migrants like yourself is no longer the case.

Me: OK.  But although my mum’s as foreign as they come (she speaks English perfectly, mind, so it’s just as well I told you – make sure you bill her the next time she visits), my dad’s about as British as you’d care for.  So whilst my [choose your body part] is distending itself painfully as we speak, which bit of its treatment do I need to pay for ‘cos it’s Croatian – and which bit of its treatment is free ‘cos it’s British?

GP: Hmm.  Good point.  Let me see.  Well.  The expensive operation will obviously be Croatian; the bandages and TLC, on the other hand, can be British if you prefer.

Once upon a time, there was this other idea, dearly held, which argued that bullying was in the eye of the beholder; that any case of bullying needed investigating if someone – anyone – felt that that bullying had taken place.

This was to get round those nasty people out there who claim that any horribleness was never the intention of the exchange in question.

We might remember this issue right now.

There is, after all, little difference between the self-belief of outright bullies and the craven certainties of “hidden” racists – especially when such racists deny ownership for “hidden” agendas (even as they continue to actively propagandise them):

So it is that the racist, as well as the bully I’m sure we have all experienced, manages with an incredible precision to occupy simultaneously two miserable and quite contradictory positions in society: that of victim and oppressor both.

Yet we should not allow the horrible things such people succeed in doing to provoke a similar hatred or reaction in ourselves – for just as surely as the cruelty they exhibit to others is a sign of a brutalising upbringing, so our response to their resulting brutality can only serve to define how uncivilising was ours.

There are two ways of dealing with racism and bullying: a) outright rejection and a terrible shunning or b) a generous engagement and a never-ending instinct to education.

I know which process I would prefer to be a part of.  Have you considered which one most closely resembles your own?

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Nov 252014
 
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OK.

Fair enough.

The Guardian reports that (the bold is mine):

Internet companies face intense demands to monitor messages on behalf of the state for signs of terrorist intent after an official report into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby said one of his killers wrote on a website – later named as Facebook – of his desire to slaughter a soldier, without the security services knowing.

Meanwhile, we get stories like this, describing the situation five years ago – that is to say, in 2009:

Millions per month

The leaked Snowden documents also contain numerous references to payments from GCHQ to Cable & Wireless in return for access to cables and infrastructure, some of is which listed as active well after Vodafone’s takeover.

[…]

In February 2009 some £6 million was paid to Cable & Wireless, now Vodafone, and a 2010 budget references a £20.3 million expense.

[…]

A July 2009 document shows that Cable & Wireless either owned or leased 29 out of 63 cables to which GCHQ had access to via partnerships, providing almost 70% of the total data accessible to GCHQ from the cables.

So not really fair enough, after all.

We’re being told, over and over again this week it would seem, in a concerted campaign bordering on an irresponsible panic-generation strategy of public fear, that more access to our online data is needed by various bodies.  Which bodies these are, I’m really not sure.  GCHQ?  MI5?  The police?  The government itself?  Paedophile politicians?  Posh parliamentary committees?  Craven police commissioners?  Newspaper journalists with the right ideologies?

What’s more, if we’re to believe even just a small part of what Snowden has let out of the bag, I’m really not clear how those who already – perhaps rightly – have relatively legal access to our data could have any more access than they clearly already do.  And if they currently don’t, and if they actually should have more, and if it’s possible at the moment for them not to be in possession of enough, why on earth are so many of those involved in the apparent business of planting and propagating all kinds of stories – in particular about the alleged omnisciences of our governments – doing anything of the sort in the first place?

It seems their bind runs as follows.  They either:

  1. Don’t know everything that’s happening on the web, but can’t admit to this because a) it would let the baddies know there are places to hide; b) more importantly, let the rest of us know that all those unaccountable billions spent on surveillance aren’t quite the value-adding bolt-ons to democracy we’d been led to believe; and c) give us the impression that our leaders are not only spinning the truth but are doing so mightily unprofessionally.
  2. Do know everything that’s happening on the web, but can’t quite admit to this since when a Lee Rigby-style atrocity hits the fan, in theory they’re directly responsible – what’s more, surely ripe to be (perhaps) class-action sued  – for not having done more to stop such crimes.

In the latter case, of course, the easiest thing out there is to distract the public’s attention by piling the pain on a Facebook for not having done what the security services were supposed, from the start, to have done themselves.

But that’s really really not fair.

For it doesn’t fit together at all, does it?  If in 2009, GCHQ was paying millions a month to a fibre-optic cable company to globally access Internet-carried traffic, just imagine what it was doing in 2014!  (With or without, I might add, the relevant legislative protection – which I suppose in such gun-slinging days as ours have obviously become is neither here nor there any more.)

Consequently, how can it be acceptable that government should now cast the first stone at Facebook for not having seen what GCHQ et al are bound to have “seen” first – even if they failed, in their googlingly overwhelming stream of daily zettabytes, to properly “observe”, “understand” and “act on” the right information?

If we were being charitable, we might say: “We understand the problem.  It’s like looking for an undetected euthanasia victim in a million sad cemeteries.  How do you know where to start?  How do you know where to end?”  But the problem here is, despite their current inability to process everything as we need them to, they’re apparently asking for even more data to not be able to usefully process.  It’s clearly not enough to access all Internet traffic, past, present and (algorithmically predicted) future; it’s clearly not enough to tie IP addresses to all our devices; it’s even not enough to automatically track and comprehend our social-network profiles, instincts and behaviours – and then stop us in our tracks when our tracks are typed as leading us toward violence.  No.  They must have more, far more than that: they must have the biggest sword of all to batter every one of us over our vulnerable heads with – in the full knowledge that the real baddies will always know how to construct, at the ordinary citizen’s expense, adequate shields to defend themselves from such overkill.

I dunno.  Just seems to me that surveillance law and process, as it stands, is mainly there to be able to point the finger fairly accurately – a posteriori – at the miscreants various of evil acts multiple.

But, sadly, wearily, not before.

Not in time to reliably prevent anyhow.

Something’s manifestly broken.  I don’t know if the lack of fit is our fault as demanding consumer-society subjects – or the spooks for not going down the route of getting and keeping us onside; for, instead, perpetually playing us out of the match and any constructively wider understanding.

And in the meantime, we as a civilisation blame our corporations for not doing the state’s job properly; our states for not doing the people’s job properly; our peoples for not doing a society’s job properly; and this society for not doing anything at all.

The blame game is a merry-go-round of truly adult pleasures.

And that euthanasia victim I alluded to perhaps all our Western democracies.

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Nov 242014
 
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Even when people who know better, know better, my political DNA makes it impossible for me to listen with an open mind to the fatuity of racist nonsense which spews forth from UKIP and its ilk.

See what I mean?

See?

I simply can’t say sensible things as people like Bob can.

Yet, today, something that came my way from a collaboration between the Guardian and the Royal Court has changed quite substantially how I feel on this matter.

Where the dichotomy of white-van man – and its rather darker subtext, white van-man – just made me squirm with the rank idiocy of the whole matter, unable as I was through the frame of my own prejudice to comprehend all that emotion honestly if offensively felt, the short almost ten-minute film I saw this afternoon, fruit of the above-mentioned collaboration, left me tweeting the following:

.@guardian @royalcourt Oh my Lord. That had me weeping. :-(

As another tweet commented shortly afterwards, though randomly (out of and back to the ether):

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance & change often begin in art, very often in our art—the art of words.

UKIP, in me, in their political misadventures, in their often – for me – primitively racist and homophobic statements, have only served to create and leave a sense of despair about my homeland: after all that we have suffered in the 20th century, we should now so easily revert and throwback to this tawdriness only makes me want to resist with everything at my disposal.

The Guardian/Royal Court film, however, speaks to me and my being through its art, in a way that people like UKIP never will through their politics.

And there’s a lesson in all of this, and it’s a lesson I think we ought to face up to: yes, UKIP is a horrible political grouping, but in a democracy like ours, however mediated, oxidised, even actively corrupted and damaged, we need in some way or other to learn how to understand others too.  On our terms, of course; naturally; it’s our right.  But if democracy is to be allowed to continue to negotiate us out of the far worse alternative of bloody civil conflict, then it must also be on the terms of those others.  Even when they act in manifestly bad faith.

I now understand UKIP’s voters – in particular, its attraction – as I was never able to contemplate doing so before.  And it’s not due to Hope Not Hate; it’s not due to Michael Ashcroft’s perspicacity; it’s not due to other rivers of virtual analysis; it’s not due to Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems or the Greens.  Entirely, for me, it’s due to a short, brave, sob-inducing piece of theatre; made by journalists and artists together; filmed in front of a coffin we see draped in a red and white English flag, ultimately shot in a heavily-pregnant black and white; a piece of art which moves from the individual to the national, from the historical to the personal, in one shocking sweep of rudely violent rhetoric.

So much pain.

So much breakage.

So much sadness at bridges both burnt and burning.

So much sadness which politics has never once allowed me to absorb; but which art, this time around at least, has managed to bring close enough for me to finally see why all this is happening.

They say our emotions blind us to reality.

But sometimes the most visceral of moments are keys to unlocking the truth.

Bringing people together, face-to-face, via technology which already knows how to bring them together, monitor-to-monitor, is the only way forward; the only solution out there; the only way to recreate the democracy we’re in danger of losing.

I dunno.  Maybe I’m not a political being after all.

What do you think?  Should I jack it all in?

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Nov 232014
 
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The Guardian reports the following this afternoon:

Liberal Democrats and civil liberties campaigners have welcomed new measures requiring internet service providers to keep data that identifies online users, but said it must not be seen as a way of reviving the “snooper’s charter”.

The Tory MP and civil liberties campaigner David Davis MP said the measure to link subscribers’ data to specific smartphones, laptops or other devices through their internet protocol (IP) addresses was a sensible change, but that it should not be used as a “stepping stone back to the old snooper’s charter”.

Considering the number of criminals apparently operating within the spheres of politics, security and policing over the years, I’m not sure this is actually the sensible change we’re being told it is.

One thing does occur to me, however – something which I’m sure others will also comment, but which I haven’t yet seen mentioned widely.  An example which happened to me the other day, as an example of what I’m talking about.

Some weeks ago I was cold-called by someone trying to convince me I had a problem with my computer.  It was the same old scammy script as always: “We’re calling about your Windows computer – it looks like it has a virus on it.”  They generally pretend to be phoning on behalf of Microsoft.  And thus it was this time round.  I acted with the caller as I do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, when I forestall their patter by telling them I’m a Catholic – in the case of my computer, the message I transmit is analogous: I only have Linux.  That soon enough frightens them into putting the phone down, way before I need to do the same.

On Thursday, I believe about the same time as the previous occasion, I received a second call with the same approach.  This time, however, the caller claimed to be calling from an ISP – I’ll spare their blushes and not say which.  The interesting thing was that the ISP they claimed to be calling from is actually, really, my ISP.  Whether really, actually, it was my ISP making the call in question is, of course, still under investigation.  They promised to call me back when they had more information.  I’m awaiting that call.

So.  To the bright idea of tying in some database or other users and their devices to specific IP addresses.  Great idea; it’s frequently the case anyway; in fact, if you have a blog with a stats plug-in, you often have a fairly good idea of where many of your readers hail from.  If it’s that easy to know without more complicated tech, it really can’t be difficult for the security forces to be doing the same.

It may, therefore, be that Theresa May’s proposals are little more than a formulating and legalising of current practice out there.

Whatever.

What I’m really worried about is a rather different set of circumstances: imagine that scammy call which claimed to be from my ISP, and which was looking to install a piece of spyware on my computer in exchange for my credit-card details, was made on the basis of customer data sold on by someone who shouldn’t have sold it on to anyone.  Imagine, now, tying specific customers and specific devices to IP addresses becomes evermore common practice, and gets registered and deposited in multiple databases all over: that’s a trail of identity information criminals could use to track, follow and hack very precisely not just into any old objective of random botnet construction but also targeted individuals and concrete profiles.  That governments who we would like to believe are not criminals need to do such stuff is bad enough.  But that the facilitating of such process and procedure makes it easier for the bad guys to do the same … well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

In a sense, we could argue by making more common the practice of matching users with IP addresses, we’re not just allowing our legitimate security services to ensure we’re not doing stuff we shouldn’t – we’re making it easier for criminal elements (whether scandalously within governments or traditionally without) to enter our consequently unprotected homes.

In my ignorance of the matter, all I can see is this: the government, while looking to make the web a better and safer place, is going to be giving the criminals – who, alongside us, clearly co-exist in this virtual world – the already vulnerable keys to our sitting-rooms.

And that really can’t be a good idea, can it?

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Nov 232014
 
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I’ve been variously bemused, perplexed, uncertain and – ultimately – horrified by the revelations which started to come out drip-feed journalism style – and have now become highly publicly-domained information of a strugglingly disorientating nature.

At the last general election, in 2010, the MPs’ expenses scandal cast a long shadow over our already weary relationship with British politics.

Now you’d think that with all the hagiography around the 1980s and Thatcher, and the number of Tories/UKIP supporters who’ve professed to loving the idea of retreading her legacy, there’d be some growing reservations to expressing such self-absorption – particularly in the light of this “paedophile Britain” series of stories.

At the moment I don’t see it happening.  Perhaps discretion is the better part of sincerity.

Anyhow.  I guess I see a pattern emerging.  What I’m not entirely sure about is who benefits.

This is how I see it progressing.  In the period leading up to 2010, expenses trashed our little remaining trust of politicians.  Cameron became visible on his many promises to clean the muck-ridden political stable-yard up.  Conservatives furiously re-branded with lovely logos of strong sustainable English oaks.  We didn’t quite believe him enough to give him a majority, but we did believe him just about enough to allow him to get his hands on a coalition process.

As the Coalition built up steam, it reverted to a Thatcherism of awful resilience; awful porkie-telling; further, deeper and more deadly implementation; and profounder violence against the subjects it was supposed to govern on behalf of.

As this process continued, it reverted even proudly to the 1980s (after all, remember all those – I’m sure sincere – tears shed at Thatcher’s funeral) – and I assume in the light of the recent news mentioned above, without any knowledge whatsoever of what’s now apparently seeping out at the seams.

But someone, some organisation, some people not in the limelight surely did know, all this time, what the legacy of the 1980s was really like.  This hidden scandal of monumental proportions is threatening to overtake the whole agenda of the 2015 general election – in much the same way as Cameron & Co came to power (I shan’t say “won”) an election on the back of the disgraceful after-effects of the expenses shenanigans.

What should’ve been an election run on the basis of the Coalition’s reputation and political behaviours is looking now to become a judgement – maybe ultimately a judgment! – on a political leadership and time which even New Labour seemed to demonstrate a certain respect for.

Who can now respect the 1980s?  Who can now respect Margaret Thatcher’s way of doing things?  Who can now respect her disciples – of which our latterday body politic contains so many?  Who now can respect the British Establishment?

And who, exactly, will all this growing mistrust most serve – perfectly timed, as it is, in the run-up to 2015 and the political change which conceivably will be ours, to redirect our attention away from what should’ve been a referendum on the last four years of tremendous political cruelty?

I don’t know the answer to this question.  I’m scratching my head.  It may be no one benefits – not even the UKIPs of this world.  The vacuum may be complete; the dangers multiplied a thousandfold.  If it took post-First World War Germany to hit Nazism in a decade, perhaps in a 24/7 news-cycle world, four years will be plenty enough.

If you’re wondering whether I’m over-analysing the events (you probably are), just ask yourself the following: why didn’t we find out about all this rubbish in 2009, during the lead-up to Cameron’s arrival at the top and the regime change this implied?

Why was the Coalition given four clear years to lead with a reconverted – more importantly, unbesmirched – Thatcherism?  How differently might life have been – over that period of time – for the working-poor, disabled and unemployed, if this hadn’t turned out as it ultimately did?  And what will happen now 1980s Thatcherism is to be trashed with broad and hugely unpleasant brushstrokes – where will the right-wing Tories and UKIP go; what may end up replacing them; who will ever dare to carry her standard again?

“Paedophile Britain” – it’s a scary, horror-inducing concept.

What’s worse, however, is once revealed, how will an already fragile body politic and culture react before what is clearly a story of foundations-shaking magnitude?

I don’t know about you; personally, I’m very frightened.

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Nov 222014
 
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I used to get pocket money as a kid.  It used to be (the old) sixpence.  It went up to (the new) 5p for a while.  And on my birthday I’d get a number of whatevers which corresponded to my age.

Different times.

Paternal times, obviously.  But not a bad measure in hindsight.

Today we live in other times: a society where we learn to be independent of government.  Not, however, of government’s business sponsors.  On them we become evermore dependent, at the behest of the very same government.

Three examples:

Walmart paternalistically prides itself in the following way on the contributions it makes to assuage hunger:

“In 2013, we donated more than 571 million pounds of food – the equivalent of 369 million meals – to local food banks and hunger relief organizations like Feeding America and its 200 food banks across the nation,” reads Walmart’s website. “We know we can make an impact nationwide by inspiring associates to fight hunger in their local communities. In fact, 4,100 associates volunteered more than 13,000 hours toward hunger relief efforts in 2013.”

Workers, however, respond differently:

“We don’t want your food bins or your bake sales. We work hard and we are not looking for charity. What we want is for you to pay us fair wage … so that we can pay for our own groceries,” said Cantare Davunt, who works part time at Walmart in Apple Valley, Minnesota, earning $10.10 an hour. She walks 20 minutes to work to save money on transportation and lives on ramen.

“I am working as many hours as I can get,” Davunt said. “I had $6 to buy groceries after I paid my bills [last month] – not credit card bills, just bills like electric and heat.” She added, “But even a month of ramen costs more than $6.”

It doesn’t require a soothsayer to see where this is all heading for: what with pre-paid government-sponsored benefit cards dropping money exclusively into the chosen pockets of large companies, it won’t be long before the dependency culture that IDS so vigorously claimed he was looking to remove will simply be shifted sideways:

  1. Paternalistic feelgood actions by transnational corporations with far more dosh than sensitivity will allow them to continue to live off government largesse, in the form of revised processes for welfare systems across the globe which ensure substantial percentages of the money paid out enters their deep pockets in a very 21st century way.
  2. Meanwhile, the working-poor, those who deserve to have the opportunity to work their way out of poverty, much (I would add) in the way IDS originally claimed he was aiming for, will find themselves equally dependent on large private-sector institutions which – quite parasitically – end up continuing to feed off the hierarchy of downtreading and downtrodden thus established.

And in a quite similar end, it’s quite possible that supermarket workers will have to go monthly, cap very much in hand, with their state-administered pre-paid benefit cards – in order to redeem their continued poverty-stricken dependences at the crumb-distributing tables of their very own auto-enriching employers.

Pocket money redefined for the 21st century.

An awful sleight-of-hand indeed.

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Nov 222014
 
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Are UKIP and the BBC made for each other?

The BBC has recent documented form: the NHS privatisation process was summarily ignored by its journalists.  We outside the BBC assume this is due to a deliberate and intentioned act of conspiracy – maybe, charitably, fear of a mauling at the hands of the Daily Mails of the world too – which leads most of them to act as one.

But what if it was the web itself which provided the railway tracks that defined the journey not only BBC journalists are taking but, more and more, all journalists who use this interconnected marvel?

Take a look at the following screenshot – or at least how it was rendered by the BBC website this morning when I first browsed there (the missing facts are, in fact, now completely missing!).

Reckless BBC factoids

As you can see, we have in a bulleted list “Fact 1″ and “Fact 2″ – but nowhere are the blessed beasts themselves to be found.

A slip of the virtual pen, clearly.  But in its slip, it reveals how stories are put together: an intro in bold, an overview paragraph, a pair of factoids designed to build up and support one position or t’other (in this case I presume Nigel Farage).

Isn’t it so easy to choose to follow the crowd; to accept received opinion; to confect a reality as per the framework the website template provides?

And wouldn’t it be even easier to ensure – by way of self-interested template design – that one’s workforces did just that?

No need for conspiracy.  No need for dark deeds.  The guarantees of charismatic leadershipobedience without ownership – multiplied a thousandfold wherever a content management system was present.

Maybe it’s not the BBC journalists we should be raging at after all.

Who knows?  Maybe, again, it’s the machine-to-machine web that’s slowly encroaching on all our decision-making, perceptions and humanity.  Maybe that’s what’s at fault.  And maybe such a web of trammelled truths is precisely why the UKIPs of the world are hitting their mark.  Prejudice lends itself to unquestioning repetition: what is a website template if not the CSS of reality?

____________________

Update to this post: further reading has just come my way.  This talk by Emily Bell says lots of lovely things.  Worth reading in full, here are some excerpts which caught my eye:

  • “To have our free speech standards, our reporting tools and publishing rules set by unaccountable software companies is a defining issue not just for journalism but the whole of society.”
  • “The fourth estate, which liked to think that it operated in splendid isolation from other systems of money and power, has slipped suddenly and conclusively into a world where it no longer owns the means of production, or controls the routes to distribution.”
  • “Of course, every algorithm contains editorial decisions, every piece of software design carries social implications. If the whole world connects at high speed in 140 characters it changes the nature of discourse and events.”
  • “If there is a free press, journalists are no longer in charge of it. Engineers who rarely think about journalism or cultural impact or democratic responsibility are making decisions every day that shape how news is created and disseminated.”
  • “Every time an algorithm is tweaked, an editorial decision is being made.”
  • “If Facebook can nudge your emotions towards happiness or sadness by manipulating what you see, can it use obscure algorithms to influence something more sinister, such as, for instance, the way we vote?”
  • “[…] In order to preserve our role in any robust way, we must stop relying solely on the tools and platforms of others and build our own.”

And the conclusion of so much concentrated intelligence?  Yes.  Precisely that most socialist of ideas: design, build and own the means of production!

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Nov 212014
 
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I read this evening that UKIP plans to choose the next government.  Meanwhile, also this evening, President Obama tells us:

Part of the reason why America is exceptional is that we welcome exceptional people.

Two of my three children are looking to go and make their lives in the US.  I don’t know if they will be successful, but what I do know is that they don’t want to continue living in the UK.  They are Spanish by both birth and nationality, and have done good by the English education system – but the culture they find here is tired and, of late, even offensive.

My third child isn’t keen on the US for several sensible and statistically undeniable reasons; equally, however, neither do they want to spend the rest of their life in the country I was born in and used to treasure dearly.

When I was living a mid-life crisis in Spain during 2002-2003, all I dreamed of was going to New York or Massachusetts or somewhere cool like that to forge a different future for my family.  It was furthest from my unhappy mind to return to Britain at all.  Maybe those times have influenced my children.  Or maybe other things have really affected their judgement.

Either way, with Farage & Co’s fingers on this sleazy disuniting country’s buttons of despair, I can’t help seeing plenty of damn good reasons which justify my kids’ perceptions, whether objectively fair or not.

After all, who’d want to live in a country where a minority of prejudiced wealthy white males were in a position to impose their worldviews by hook or, indeed, crook on two ancient political parties with supposedly long, durable, coherent and honourable traditions?  Who’d want to stay in a country where a person’s origin was used as a tool to lever power on the backs of equally fearful – equally cowardly – conservative and progressive politicians?  Who’d want to live in the presence of a suppurating cauldron of dishonest politicking, as the most working-class of our citizens were ultimately used by all the political elites as the kind of figurative cannon fodder their blessed First World Wars would’ve welcomed with open bayonets?

Who, now, ever, never, would want to migrate to #UKIPingdom?

Only one thing.  To my grand surprise, I feel great sadness that my children don’t love half their legacy as I used to; that they have never had the clear opportunity to do so, for one reason or another; and that now they have all too many opportunities to point out with careful, reasoned arguments Farage & Co’s petty – and casually cruel – fascisms.

Even as those who in my youth – on both ends of the political spectrum – defended and sustained the values that forged a common repulsion of Nazism and all its works, Communism and all its cruelties, and socialism and all its finally foolish expectations.

So where are these statesmen and women I mention to be found any more?  Where are these ordinary folk, these community leaders, these political activists, these public figures … these individuals who fought in different ways – but to a common end – to permanently vanquish the casual petty cruelties which Farage & Co’s fascisms now aim to resuscitate?

Damn it.

Damn it.

Damn it again.

If you lot – you professional politicos, you supposed enablers of democratic discourse – care more about a tweet of flags and white vans than this “going down a societal plughole” of the #UKIPingdom I mention, then I may indeed find myself eventually obliged to give up on ever convincing you otherwise – but what I shall never give up on attempting is this proving to my children that England is a place of historical grandeur, particular wisdom and beautiful inhabitants worth their sympathy, defence and – yes – pride.

The England I remember, the England I loved, is not the #UKIPingdom my kids have every right to despair of.  If the First World War was the battle of my great-grandparents’ generation, and the Second World War the battle of my grandparents’ generation, and the Cold War the battle of my parents’ generation, today, right now, this minute I write, the sleazy disuniting #UKIPingdom is the battle of all our current generations.

Our democracy has never represented us more poorly than these past four years.  And though they claim to be a silent majority, in a free, democratic and liberal society only the suspiciously motivated prefer to be so silent in their majority.

Whilst liberal democracy … well let that, once again, be all the motivation we ever need.

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Nov 212014
 
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They’ve been saying that social media would win the next general election.  What they really meant was that social media would lose the next general election.

As I pointed out in my previous post, we now have a society where the first thing which occurs to us is to focus (generally in an unkindly way) on individuals – not just in the feminist contexts already recently described but in politics, current affairs and celebocracy more widely too.

In truth, at least for me, with memories of the Militant faction still surprisingly fresh in my political brain, whilst Militant itself was constrained by the two-party system, and probably felt – at least at the beginning and as a result – that entryism into Labour was its only practical alternative, UKIP has quite a different panorama to deal with.

In a world where coalition instincts, political flux and backroom deals which welch on election promises become quite normalised, UKIP has realised that entryism’s dynamics lend themselves to reversal.  Perhaps a little like the SDP in its time – a dynamic which none of us misses any more, and which in much of what it tried to do looked to peel off waverers from Labour by promoting and lionising impulses to rank disloyalty.


“Centre party chooses new name”

And even as Tory complacency seems to be the order of the day, the Militant of 2014 is doing its job.  Whether UKIP ends up as 2015 Coalition partner to the Tories or not, the Tories short-lived rebranding of its nastiness will be long forgotten where not deliberately vanquished.  And whether Farage ends up in person ruling the roost of British politics or not, his legacy, what the Tories and Labour both are becoming, will surely reign over the dreadful landscape the UK is reverting to.

Where Militant infected Labour’s organism like an awfully debilitating political virus, UKIP acts more like an apple in the politicised Gardens of Eden we’re inhabiting these days.  Its attraction is bright and shiny, even red, green and dissonantly blue on occasions – but, at the same time, its centre is rotting to the core our once shared senses and sensibilities.

That Emily Thornberry should casually tweet unhappy petty prejudice is part of the problem, but not all of it.  More unhappy is the fact that under New Labour, a militant tendency (where not the Militant Tendency) remained throughout the nation.  The pressure cooker of the politically correct only served for many to ape attitudes they didn’t actually believe in.

The problem isn’t only that our politicians – as representatives and enablers of democratic process – refuse to shoot from the hip.

The problem is that we – as voters and participants in democratic process – have got used to not shooting from the hip ourselves.

No one, neither professional nor professed, is in the game of truth any more.  If, indeed, they ever were.

And that, precisely that, is why social media’s going to change nothing; why it’s going to continue perpetuating this long-time destructive instinct of British politics: that is to say, the instinct to decide elections not on the basis of what people believe in and proclaim but on the basis of what they are ashamed of and only ever let slip.

And in this way, UKIP – the Tory Militant of 2014 – have discovered the future before the rest of us: you win elections by telling people exactly what they believe the silent majority around them are already thinking.  It’s not that most of us really do believe such rubbish – the dynamic is something quite different to that.  What UKIP – the Tory Militant of 2014 – are doing is playing on our fears that a political avalanche will overtake us and leave us stranded.

This is not the dynamic of coalition democracy.

This is, rather, the anteroom of serious civil conflict.  Perhaps a curiously low-level and particularly 21st century war of a civil nature.

UKIP don’t say: “Believe and follow!”

UKIP, instead, ask: “Are you with us or are you against us?”

And where have we heard that before?

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Nov 192014
 
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This article by Julie Bindel, published yesterday on the Guardian newspaper’s website, is interesting.

Certain caveats beforehand (I don’t want a storm of unhappy responses): I’m a man, so like the English in the Scottish referendum, I honestly get the feeling that I have little right to hold an opinion here; also, I get most of my understanding of the world from social networks these days – and if that’s not an example of mediated media, then I don’t know what is.

Mind you, I stopped tweeting at my previous Twitter account, @eiohel, precisely because the heavy weight of so much of that timeline was just too much for my delicate soul to deal with.

So I reverted to the backwater that is @zebrared.  And here I am.

All by-the-by; but also in the way of an explanation for what follows.

A couple of choice phrases from the article linked to above (the bold is mine):

  • “The current climate of McCarthyism within some segments of feminism and the left is so ingrained and toxic that there are active attempts to outlaw some views because they cause offence. Petitions against individuals appear to be a recent substitute for political action towards the root causes of misogyny and other social ills. Petitions have taken over politics.

I’d also argue that personalities have taken over almost everything else.  I’ll explain this assertion later.

More choice phrases (again, the bold is mine):

  • It would appear we have forgotten how to target institutions. The tactic du jour is to wind up a crowd and shut down any nuanced discussion or debate. Patriarchy is being left to its own devices while bad and unpalatable men are being taken to task one by one.”

And finally (the bold my doing once more):

  • “We built this movement on a desire and willingness to question and challenge old assumptions and truisms. We are in danger of becoming autocrats who would rather organise a pile-on than try to change systems. The life blood of feminism is in danger of becoming bile.”

To be honest, I don’t think this is a symptom of decay in feminism.  Or, at least, not just feminism.  The malaise is infecting far more areas of our society than that.  Those of us who affect more than a glancing interest in politics – and as inveterate bloggers, what’s more, a politics which once proudly proclaimed the personal as political – have, paradoxically, long bemoaned the importance of personalities in latterday political discourse to the exclusion of what we variously argue as being the far more relevant matters of policies, the grassroots, party activists, even ordinary voters and their communities.  We’ve had plenty of examples too: one clear one from my own party, Labour.  Whilst Tony Blair reigned over the movement, most of its incongruences seemed well hidden, papered over, perhaps (at least on a good day) non-existent.  As soon as Gordon Brown came to power, the personal contrasts couldn’t have been more marked: almost overnight, the Party started coming apart at the seams of what practically seemed a bogeyman’s sack.

So.  That a certain kind of feminism (the type that targets institutions and structures with thought, wit and accuracy) should become contaminated with the celebocracy of generations brought up on reality shows too numerous to mention – and when I say reality shows, I also mean current affairs programmes which prefer to invite the notorious instead of the informed, any ratings-pursuing day – is, actually, hardly surprising.  The petition-itis mentioned is but another symptom of such a focus on notoriety.  And what in our civilisation is more notorious and worthy of comment than the downfall of an individual – any individual, famous or infamous for whatever it might be – whose misfortune, stupidity or plain rank idiocy allows us to breathe quite relieved that “But for the grace of God, go I …”?

The vicarious thrill of experiencing the fear, riding the rollercoaster and escaping the condemnation was never more apparent.

If the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” article is anywhere on the button (and I revert to my early caveat – I don’t as a relatively privileged upper-middle-aged man even know whether I have a right to type these words), then feminism – the kind that deconstructs a patriarchy which surely incarcerates us all, whether woman or man – has fallen foul of the instincts described in my post this evening.  In celebrating the importance of the individual, in underlining that every woman, child and oppressed soul matters, we have slipped slowly, silently, sneakily and ultimately over the no-man’s land that lies between a kind, generous, inclusive individualism on the one hand and, on the other, that starstruck, nasty, almost fascist celebration of media-generated idols which Chris Dillow at “Stumbling and Mumbling” has recently been exposing.

It’s sad, bad and very wearisome.  But it’s far far worse, this McCarthyism we perceive, this state of play we experience, this degeneration into lynch-mob behaviours … when perceived, experienced and observed in fields of thought we thought impervious to such influences.

Today, I read with horror that a quarter of all British people questioned want migrants to leave Britain.  (That means a quarter of the people I walk past every day want four-fifths of my family to leave the nation I was born in.)  Then I see my political party reacting with words of consolation for such philosophers of the human condition, and wonder, really, how on earth we got here.

If the touchstone of early 21st century feminism now believes it’s in crisis and has problems … well, surely it’s time we all believed the same: wherever we stand; whatever gender, belief system or century we feel we occupy; however we look at the world that cruelly fails us.

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Nov 182014
 
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Both talk and policies about wealth are terribly repetitive.  Whilst right-wing parties still pretend to attribute a mysterious force to the idea of trickle-down economics – you know, the stuff where rich people get so rich that the crumbs which fall from their tables acquire a mystical power to raise the poorest satisfactorily from rank to relative poverty – the left-wing of at least our political spectrum doesn’t half engage with the idea of taking money away from the wealthy.  And when I say “take money away” I mean not only lots of it but also almost any way possible.  Consequently, the higher that level of wealth, the more punitive, aggressive and intrusive the measures to control it must be.

So.  That’s why I’m beginning to wonder if the problem isn’t elsewhere; if the problem isn’t on both sides of the argument – and principally the assumptions people are making.

What is wealth, after all?  I remember reading a long time ago a book about the newspaper mogul, Robert Maxwell.  Apparently his life of wealth was more a game of musical chairs: he didn’t own very much of “his” wealth; instead, he apparently had access to a great deal more of what we might term “other people’s resources” than perhaps he should ever have been allowed to.  Yet at the time his empire strode the world, most would’ve seen him as wealthy: a man to be heavily taxed for sure; a man to be punitively intruded upon as already described.

And so we have policies such as the “mansion tax”, currently issuing forth from the Labour Party.  If you own a house (or maybe if you occupy one which you have mortgaged to the hilt), and valued to a certain degree, under a Labour administration you will have to pay an annual tax on the societal cost of your possessions.  If you like, this is probably little more than the “bedroom tax” in reverse – except we’re looking to apply it to the very richest instead of the rather poor.

Maybe, as such, it’s fair enough as an example of rumbustious politicking – but it doesn’t half seem (to me, at least) an arid and sterile act of policymaking, which positions – as in a predictable mirror-image that only serves to allow the enemy to continually define you – the Labour Party in no better place intellectually than the government it aims to vanquish.

Is this all wealth can manage to be?  Is this about as imaginative as we can get?  Do progressives have to be eternally framed by arguments their oppositions use against them?  After all, it must be awful for anyone who professes to be of the open-minded and thoughtful left for people to say the following about you – and not only say it once but repeat it heavily over the decades:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” #QOTD

There are I suppose two alternatives:

  1. Aim to spread wealth equally so we are similarly poor or similarly well-off (always depending, I suppose, on where you’ve started out and where you’ve found yourself ending up) – I can imagine that here a) taxation systems would play a big part in attempting to achieve this goal; and b) universal basic incomes could also contribute constructively to its implementation.
  2. Aim to allow concentrations of wealth only where and when value is demonstrably added over time.  We would not stop being punitive about the kind of concentrations which just have rich people sitting on their wealth; we would however reward any and all concentrations which allowed us to achieve wider societal goals that Parliament, a bespoke tribunal of the people or any other democratic process could design.

What kind of societal goals could those be?  In no order of importance, then – just as they trip out of the ideas-generator:

  • Dignified, humanly fulfilling and educationally expanding work.
  • Inclusive organisational patterns of relationships, at all community, corporate and political levels.
  • A re-establishment of that liberal bond between responsibilities and rights.
  • An intuitive openness in governance in all kinds of institutions, so that honesty, sincerity and informed debate are to be prized and held dear above all.
  • Profit to be understood primarily as that which benefits the whole of society, and only secondarily the interests of more traditional investors.
  • A careful appreciation, development and implementation of technology, with the aim of putting it at the service of people and not the other way round.
  • A sustainable approach to all our environments – whether natural or human-made.
  • Ultimately, an evidence-based approach to all kinds of decision-making processes – even as the plethora of information available these days should not freeze our collective ability to take such decisions in a timely manner.

I may not be the best person to argue these things;  I may not have the most visible soapbox; I haven’t even developed the idea in any implementable way; and yet, even so, with all these caveats, what I do suggest we in Labour should engage with from now on in is thinking far more imaginatively about the whole idea of wealth and its functioning.

There’s no room in the future for the kind of politics which glories in weary gesture-making.

The future’s too serious by far for that.

Until we accept that grand things can sometimes be achieved by putting large, perhaps at first sight obscene, amounts of money in the hands of a single organisation or deserving hub of organisations, and that sometimes by so doing a helluva lot of wasted time and energy will result, we will not be able to win over what so many voters will always intuitively comprehend: money begets money, and often in a tremendously multiplying way.

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Nov 182014
 
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Paying taxes is essential for forging a solidarity society.  It goes without saying – though I shall repeat it anyhow: in times such as these it would seem many deliberately neglect to remember the issue – that without taxes, we would have even more homeless; even more working-poor; even more people choosing between fuel and food; even more slowly bankrupting sick; even more uneducated and illiterate fellow citizens.

But what happens when the government in power is using our hard-won taxes to deliberately shift and transfer from the public sphere the public wealth that taxes create?  What happens when the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition that we currently suffer intentionally looks to reward its business sponsors for their continued support by stealthily privatising the NHS, schools, Legal Aid (where they care to leave it standing – if standing and not stumbling is the word), policing and prison services – and Lord only knows what else?  What do you do – how should you respond – when you discover large companies negotiate special tax breaks and deals various with government agencies – all at the cost of the taxpayer?

What happens – and how should politically sensitive, sensible and coherent voters like ourselves react – when we feel our taxes should be used to support our less-well-off partners in society (the aforementioned poor, unemployed, sick and disabled) … taxes we’d be only too happy to pay if the circumstances were such … and yet in truth we discover such taxes are being used to do little more than swell the greedy coffers of corporate capitalism?

What options do we have?  Do we have any?  In a society like this, how exactly must thinking, thoughtful, considerate, law-abiding subjects decide to act?

For by paying our taxes dutifully as we have to, with governments like the ones we labour under, we are simply feeding the share prices of the world.  And with so much human poverty swilling about, this surely can’t be right.

Can it?

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Nov 172014
 
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Miranda Keeling does Twitter brilliantly.  This example today got me thinking:

Woman in a train station: Look, McDonald’s, next to Starbucks, next to KFC. I feel so proud of humanity right now I could go live in a cave.

And I am just as bemused myself.  From search engines like Google to corporate capitalism like the trio mentioned above, choice seems more to make us lose the courage of our convictions than inform our ability to make considered decisions.

So is decision-making not hard-wired into human DNA?  Were we only (are we only) a decisive species when the choices available became few and far between?  Is this why in times of relative peace and tranquillity we apparently revert to a weird and difficult indecisiveness – unable, as we seem to be, to move energetically forward on almost anything?

And is war, human conflict and how we behave during such violence, actually not a result of our innate warlike tendencies but, rather, a result of the closing-down of options and alternatives – in a sense a liberating closing-down?

In the absence of choice, we have no alternative (literally!) to being decisive: the decisions are taken for us by the very absence of distracting other routes and ways.

It’s been said before I’m sure: the consumer in presence of little alternative is a much happier student of life.  You waste far less of your time on trying to come to a conclusion to purchase; you spend far more of your time thinking about conclusions really worth reaching.

Yet, in amongst all the relative confusion of the aforementioned, and even its apparent irrelevance, there is a serious and difficult point to be considered: what if this ever-increasing losing of the courage of our convictions – this growing inability to say, communicate, exchange or write down without first incessantly doublechecking the veracity of what we think we can remember against its actual reality – has long-term implications for the future of all human beings?

If capitalist choice is making us unable to say, do or act in any context without tremendous self-doubt invading our souls (will it – should it – be McDonald’s, Starbucks or KFC?  And if one or t’other, what kind of burger with what kind of sauce; what kind of coffee with what kind of snack; what bargain deal with what kind of dessert; in short, what kind of fast food kick will it be this time?), what does this mean for the integrity of our thought – for the ability humanity needs to be able to move forward with confidence into the unknown?

Surely this strangling – almost at birth by now – by (what we might term) “grand-choice capitalism” … this strangling I say of how we perceive and form opinions of our selves; of how far we can advance by treading sure-footedly on ground which is objectively anything but sure … well, it can hardly help us look to the future with the brashness, bravura and courage we need; the brashness, bravura and courage we’ve displayed, in fact, in the best moments of our collective histories.

Something’s going very wrong here.

Something’s gnawing away at individuals’ abilities to stand on their own two feet; to talk from their own soapboxes; to express their own positions; to declaim their own thoughts; to be fully, concisely and decisively different from all their fellow men, women and children.

Something quite terrible.

Something, we might say, abysmal.

Abysmal … as in “abyss”.

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Nov 162014
 
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Eric Joyce MP wrote a very clever piece yesterday, with the aim (I think) of deconstructing Ed Miliband’s current manifestation of Labour.  I’d like to try and do the same with this clever piece, in the forty minutes before I start my next online English class.

Here are some of the things he says, interspersed with some of own observations:

Joyce: Labour’s pitch at the moment is that everything in this country is screwed. I’m sort of reluctant to accept that, given that if everything were screwed it would surely have taken more than 4 years for it all to become screwed – wouldn’t it? I mean, screwing everything in 4 years would be an absolutely world-class effort and I really don’t think we can credit the Tories with anything world-class at all. So I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that ‘everything is screwed’ might also be aimed, subtly, at the 13 years of New Labour government which preceded the 4 years of Tory government.

Me: If Labour was saying everything was screwed, then politics, democracy, business and community would be screwed for just about everyone.  As it is, what’s screwed is not – for everyone – these four hoarsepersons of the econopocalypse as such but, rather, for a far too significant minority.  If Joyce is happy to argue they’re operating equitably for quite a few people, so demonstrating they’re not really screwed as Labour says, then we need to agree to disagree.  That these four hoarsepersons always work fine for the well-to-do should mean our politics gets out of the habit of congratulating itself when the stats demonstrate little more than this.

And whilst we’re on the subject, I don’t think anyone outside New Labour should reasonably argue it screwed everything:

  1. It put the roofs back on public services.
  2. It brought a kinder neo-liberal approach to much of our economics, even to the point where some argued it was a sort of socialism by stealth.

Screwed, however, was:

  1. The strategy of PFI for putting those roofs back on those public services, and which is now enabling all kinds of horrible behind-the-scenes privatisation deals in, particularly, the NHS.
  2. Tuition fees, which brought us unnecessarily to the top of the Coalition slippery slope of violently increasing the indebtedness of people at the beginning of their adult lives.

And meanwhile, positively ugly was:

  1. Going into Iraq, without a post-invasion plan.
  2. Promoting all kinds of faith, academy and foundation schools, without thinking through the splintering future implications.
  3. Not taking on people like Murdoch and News of the World, even as something must have been known – at least by those in the know!

So New Labour was great at putting back together Thatcher’s spilt milk, but it left untouched – even moved on – her privatising and corporate-market instincts.

Joyce: The only other way of understanding ‘everything is screwed’ is that democracy is a zero-sum game and when people healthily exercise their right to change the party/ies of government then any good stuff which went before gets negated. Unless, of course, ‘everything is screwed’ is designed as a counsel of despair encouraging us to question the value of democracy itself?

Me: Read this and then come back to me on this matter.  Either something very horrible happened many years ago, something New Labour failed to address (way after the event of course, when it should’ve and maybe could’ve) – or someone/something is now deliberately destabilising democracy with even creepier manoeuvres designed to do just as Joyce says.  But I doubt it’s the current Labour leadership which is driving this creepiness forwards, and I doubt it has anything to do with a wider Party strategy to criticise everything and anything.

Joyce: [There’s a very good bit next on the complicated implications of the so-called mansion tax – you need to read this because here I do have to agree it makes a lot of sense.  Though aiming to screw the rich who buy “mansions” ordinary people would no longer be able to afford anyway – what with the savagely rising costs of living which London is manifesting already – is quite a bit better than not screwing them at all. – Editor]

Joyce: So, let’s see, this is the plan up one of Labour’s sleeves. Place at the centre of the general election an increase in NHS expenditure funded (even although the sums don’t add up) by having regular middle-class folk move out of London in order to be replaced by much richer folk from overseas; promise the Scots – almost none of whom will pay the new tax – that the folk actually paying the tax will have no say whatever in how that money is spent in Scotland. And for good measure ensure that the Scots, who may well hold the balance of UK power after the election, can have all the say they like when it comes to telling the English mansion tax payers how their tax pounds must be spent. Meanwhile, imply that everything is screwed because all the UK-wide parties have made things that way.

Me: The bit about the NHS is horrible.  If the sums don’t add up, and Joyce must know because that’s his business to do so, at the very least he should say:

  1. Labour is over-promising here because it doesn’t want to explain the reality.
  2. I, however, am prepared to explain the reality: people, even under Labour, will die over the next few years where in other times, pre-credit crunch, pre-austerity and pre-whatever-you-want they wouldn’t have.  Partly because even Labour doesn’t know how to do the numbers; partly because it’s no longer the business of politics to enable life for the vast majority of the far less-well-off.

Or maybe the pressure of having to give a class at six o’clock is pushing me to being terribly unfair.

*

Just a piece of advice to the realistic politicians out there (and I say “realistic”, I promise you, without a smidgen of irony): don’t forget that the far less-well-off are living horrible lives at the moment – not because there isn’t enough dosh swilling around out there but, rather, because it’s uselessly concentrated without a productive use being made of it.  To focus on saying the sums don’t add up is to give weight to the arguments of all wealth concentrators.

Instead, I suggest, we make a list of what needs to be done.

And then do the sums in such a way that what needs to be done, can be done.

That, I think, is what’s behind Labour’s current strategy (even if, sometimes, of late and before, it’s not as clear as a politically professionalised approach should be able to make it).

That, and not some evil knife in the back of three grand election victories – victories which Blairites have every right to be proud of.

So a final thought: all yous New Labour souls – so sensitive with your our history, perhaps understandably so, perhaps reasonably so – do try and remember what it was like not to have the advantages New Labour demonstrably delivered to a large majority of the country.  For not having those advantages has returned in four short years to far too many of our fellow citizens.

And this is precisely because the Tories haven’t been incompetent at all.  Over those four short years I mention, they’ve sneakily used the cloak of incompetence to fool the very best political, scientific, medical, legal and educational minds, in order that they be allowed to continue dismantling practically everything constructive the UK represented.

Labour hasn’t been battering its collective head against Blair & Co since 2010 – nor is it doing so at the moment.  In the light of this Tory competence, still unacknowledged from a strategic point of view, it has far more important things to do than that.

That’s what it’s been doing – and what it continues to need to do.  Give it the credit it deserves.

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