Apr 262013

I have already reported on this Rolling Stone article – its implications, for naive little me, are quite beyond horrific (the bold is mine):

All of these stories collectively pointed to the same thing: These banks, which already possess enormous power just by virtue of their financial holdings – in the United States, the top six banks, many of them the same names you see on the Libor and ISDAfix panels, own assets equivalent to 60 percent of the nation’s GDP – are beginning to realize the awesome possibilities for increased profit and political might that would come with colluding instead of competing. [...]

Rolling Stone goes on to say:

[...] Moreover, it’s increasingly clear that both the criminal justice system and the civil courts may be impotent to stop them, even when they do get caught working together to game the system.

Now since 2008 and the worldwide credit crunch, it would seem we have all been in a partial state of a residual and low-level war of attrition: the Occupy movement has, for example, characterised it as being the 99 percent lorded over – even literally “occupied” – by the 1 percent.  Some evidence would perhaps suggest that the top band is rather wider: let’s say the top 6 percent are actually represented by our current political actors.  No matter: whether 1 percent or 6 percent, the result is the same for the vast majority of the rest of us.  As Rolling Stone underlines:

If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it’s no secret. You can stare right at it, anytime you want.

No wonder our current crop of politicians are looking to monetise our lives: they, and more importantly their sponsors, are clearly dab hands already at gaming the system in question.  If life were anything else apart from money – you know, socially acceptable things like compassion, support, caring for and loving people – they’d be lost.  But when it comes to crunching the numbers and doing the paperwork, these coldly clever souls – people able to argue in a court of law that nowhere in our laws, processes or procedures does an obligation for banking corporations to compete with each other figure at all – are cruel intelligences capable even of taking our joyfully collaborative sides and corrupting them to such an extent that the act of collaboration once again means a cowardly and long-running war against freedom-loving human beings.

Collaboration under the regime of these 21st century fixers is clearly regaining its wartime connotations.  And that they should dare to sully the name of free markets in their self-enriching objective to fiddle whilst the rest of us burn is something we should not accept – nor dismiss as a reality everyone suspected.

For in truth, we are all collaborators in this nightmare.  We all must use and transform money to survive these days.  And it’s precisely money whose functioning is (apparently) being rigged.  So no.  This is not Nazi-occupied Europe – but it is a world where we must collaborate on the terms of those who are gaming the system that rules our lives.

A land of conspiracy theories?  Nah!  Like a flock of birds which changes direction all on its lonesome, patterns that are convenient may operate out of self-interest, without any explicit communication or agreement between the parties.  And I think, more generally, that’s really what’s happening here.  Human beings are very clever at analysing the implications of such patterns.  Have you never been at school, struggling with a mathematics exercise – answering the questions correctly without understanding why?  This, then, I would suggest, is what we are getting here.  That is to say, the massive and overarching skill of human intelligence to analyse a system and check out its weakest elements, without necessarily comprehending everything about the system itself.  What we are being taught to interpret as evil loophole-avoiding is, in fact, what we are all qualified to do – and will do whenever we have the opportunity.

The avoiding of loopholes, the hacking of computer systems, the furious blogging and social-network persecution of inaccurately misleading government and political statements, the collusion of Libor rates, the colluding behaviours described by Rolling Stone … all of this, everything we are seeing today, is exactly what should make us proud of what we are as a species.

What’s wrong with what’s happening isn’t that these individuals have gamed the system.  What’s wrong with what’s happening is that they’ve managed to game it against the needs of a much broader humanity.  They are right to use the analytical tools they use: they are wrong to do with them what they have done.  Our species is going to need these skills at gaming.  For we will more than likely have to game nature quite shortly, if we are to survive another century.

What we need to engineer is not an avoidance of gaming.  What we need to engineer is a gaming which benefits the 100 percent.

Wartime connotations?  Nope.  This is currently war itself.  An internecine civil war where the powerful are destroying their own.

And that’s where we’re at, right now.

And that’s what we need to recognise.

The enemy is within, even as it flocks so admirably.

Feb 282013

It’s an old topic but both Norman and Chris feel obliged to revisit it.  Clearly, there must be something which keeps it up in the forefront of our minds.  It does in mine too – most days of my lapsed Catholic existence.  So why might this be?  Norman quotes from John Lloyd, writing in New Statesman (the bold is mine – and I particularly draw your attention to the use of the word “armoury”):

[...] the responsibility to protect remains a powerful moral imperative. It must remain part of the armoury of those states with the power and the will to stop tyranny where it is possible to do so and where intervention is likely to work – as it did in Sierra Leone, in Kosovo and ultimately in Bosnia. It may work in Mali. More thought needs to be given to how it might work in Syria. For the left, the responsibility to protect should be part of aprogressive view of global problems. That the principle has become synonymous with a kind of refurbished imperialism is a sign of decadence.

Meanwhile, Chris suggests the following:

One message of Lincoln is that even decent men must sometimes use unpleasant means to achieve worthy ends. [...]

Now there have been plenty of arguments over what the British Coalition government has been doing to its people over the past three years or so.  Most explanations on the left of the political spectrum seem to centre on stories of conspiring neo-conservatives looking to replace sensible British socialism with the corporate capitalist landscapes they already shape in the US to fill their ever-deepening pockets.  In fact, I wrote yesterday about two examples of where this might already be happening – first of all, in Greece; second of all, here in the UK.

On the right, meanwhile, the publicly acknowledged discourses seem to focus on seeing life in terms of the deserving and the undeserving.  We get language such as “scroungers” and “shirkers”, contrasted violently with those who “strive” for what they have.  Hard-working families versus disabled couch potatoes who cause local councils any number of financial problems at the expense of the “economically viable” in society.

Not such a massive gap between such attitudes and New Labour’s aspirational socialism, to be honest.  Something we, perhaps, do not readily recognise enough – nor often enough either, it would seem.

Yet it seems to me that without wishing to demonise any human being a priori – that is to say, solely on the basis of their politics – we need to examine if there isn’t a far more profound and fundamental fault-line causing all this awful disenchantment; all this societal dysfunctionality; ultimately, all this cruel mismatch between what we start out exhibiting, as birth gives way to initial innocence, and how we end up in the hours before death.

Can we honestly say that any human being ends up doing more good than bad?  If progress – real progress fairly conceived – is the measure of how efficient, competent and inclusive our democracies and wider civilisations are supposed to be, how on earth can we define this “doing good by doing bad” as any kind of convincing progress?

And here, exactly here, it seems we finally find our fundamental fault-line: whilst we on the left sincerely believe in a supportive human existence, you on the right sincerely believe in a warlike human existence.  Whilst we construct strange caverns of political duplicity to get past you all kinds of Machiavellian intentions – witness New Labour’s famous socialism by stealth, for example, in the honestly held and understood (even where failed) intention to create a tapestry of humanity – you perceive precisely our best efforts as terrible weaknesses bound to lead us all to damnation.  For you, the world is a violent place of conflict.  To deny this reality is to play manipulative games of self-deception.

On doing good by doing bad?  That is – perhaps – what the right has done since time immemorial.  Not out of a desire to do evil at all.  Simply out of a nonchalant acceptance of the animal within us.

“Transformative reconciliation” was a phrase which came my way via Twitter this early afternoon.

We certainly need more of that right now.

But, perhaps, in the violence the right is inflicting on us now – out of this firmly-held belief that since violence is inevitable whatever one does, better a doing-good style of violence than an entirely doing-bad one – “transformative reconciliation” isn’t even for those of us on the left to perform.

No.  The Tories are not Nazis.  At least, not yet.

But the battle enjoined may have a similar sense and insensibility.  It might be the case that we on the left have to consider John Lloyd’s terminology very carefully.  When he says the responsibility to protect “must remain part of the armoury of those states with the power and the will to stop tyranny”, perhaps – equally – we must apply it to our internal conflicts back home.

A war of a kind then?  Even if only figuratively couched?

Time to do good by doing bad?

I hardly suggest this lightly.  Democracy is a precious figure which, once lost, is truly hard to regain.

I just know that – somewhere along the road we are blindly treading – this Britain of mine, this homeland of mine, this nation of mine, will begin to look just a little like the earthquake-ridden anterooms, which, located all those years ago along all those Balkan fault-lines, destroyed millions of lives, as well as their corresponding tranquillities, that we felt post-war Europe had awarded us.

As a Spanish general recently observed (page in Spanish): “The fatherland is more important than democracy.”

So is that the terrible place we are slowly being driven towards by the righteous Tories?  (Or, indeed, by our stealth-riven selves?)

And if so, how on earth should we properly react?

By doing bad ourselves too?

Is that really the only way?

Sep 112012

I wasn’t a very good trades union representative, even though I think I did my best.  I don’t like hierarchies in the least, and – as I suggested already here – trades unions are bound to have them as much as the management they always face over the negotiating table:

Just as opposition politicians often end up acting in much the same way as government politicians … just as trades unionists construct secretive hierarchies that mirror their secretive companies … just as pre-fight boxers growl cruelly at each other … just as little children love and bully each other in equal measure … so the victors of the Cold War – those freedom-loving heroes of the West who spoke of liberties unbound to generations of downtrodden and persecuted Communist masses – are beginning to look more and more like their one-time, and allegedly vanquished, competition.

I used to work in a very large banking corporation.  It was a curate’s egg of a company – even more so when, because of the financial crisis in 2008, it had to be hurriedly taken over.  Some things it tried to do well, despite the sectoral environment in which it operated; other things it did manifestly badly, possibly despite its good intentions.  Once taken over, its good intentions dropped off.  That’s what mergers and takeovers, I think, tend to do to the sensibilities of industrial relations.

The union I worked for I have to say was hierarchical too.  Not damagingly so, though – necessarily and inevitably as explained in the paragraph quoted above.  About as member-focussed as it could have been, operating as it was under the constraints of stock market restrictions on information flow and communications various.

Or at least those were the reasons always given.

Onto a positive, though – and this was a biggie.  One of the very best understandings union and management had before the takeover went as follows: as HR would find its resources cut back year after year, its ability to reach effectively into the workplace was dramatically and irreversibly reduced.  Meanwhile, substitute intranets which aimed to brainwash through daily repetition did not, in any way, replace managers who face-to-face might be able to make a workforce laugh for the rest of the day with an offhand comment which costs the company nothing to engineer.

Now I was lucky enough to have a couple of team leaders who knew how to liven up the mornings.  Not every department was the same – and, in fact, information to that effect from the union would often feed back to reps just to remind us how lucky we might be.

Which is where, for those unluckier areas of the company, the positive understanding between union and management kicked in: trades union reps were seen by the company (again, I insist, prior to takeover) as extensions not of company policy but, rather, as integral and productive parts of the human resources and industrial relations processes.  For example, a rep who was effectively trained up in Health & Safety could safeguard the company’s reputation just as much as the lives and wellbeing of their members.

This confluence of interests – which did not, a priori, need to compromise the independence of the union – meant that the company could have an overt, unusual and publicly declaimed industrial relations policy of positively encouraging membership of one of the three TUC-affiliated trades unions which they recognised.

Surely, and in times of crisis even more so, an industrial relations policy which looks to build on and train up representatives’ knowhow is a far more sensible and adult response to economic woes than a primitive, almost caveman-like, approach to interfacing poorly with one’s competition.

Especially when you’ve got what is essentially a civil war unspooling all around you.

Apr 262012

I’ve seen this and other pieces on how the fight is not over yet for that or the other.  They horrify me.  It seems that the belligerent amongst us have finally got their way.  Those who run corporate vessels as if they were battleships – and I assume this will be the vast majority of CEOs – have finally turned our civilian society, that democracy which once stood healthily apart from business and its conflict, into a test-bed and simulator for their clever and destructive mindsets.

I speak so sadly today partly because I am three-quarters through a short piece of political clarity called “Common Sense” (no, not that one – but related to and influenced by, of course).  It’s written by Dan Hind, and it reminds me of a lot of what you will find on my own blog – both currently and over the years; except, of course, that he writes far more to the point than I ever manage to do and with the intelligence that real learning brings.

My writing, unfortunately, is often tangential brainstorming and unfinished.

There is nothing unfinished nor tangential about Dan’s.

Nor does he ever give the sensation of an unknowing thrashing-about-in-the-dark.

The piece is compressed and pincer sharp – and clearly understands the enemy.

You can find more about its writing and publishing here at his site, as well as initial observations on process from myself over at my gently moribund progressive-publishing blog here.

In its short and succinct overview and analysis of where the public domain of democracy now lies, it shows us exactly why we have reached the point of inflexion that is this year – a year which has dramatically followed the Occupy movements of the last.

I believe the last quarter of this “Common Sense” will tell us what we can now do to recover our ability to fashion, engineer and enjoy a proper democracy.  In this sense, I am sure it will provide us with the means to brighten up our shared futures – if we so wish.

In the meantime, I do ask myself if democracy must equal that civilian war I feel we are now immersed in.  Can we not contemplate a mode of discourse which allows us to relate to each other as sentient adults?  Do we have to be forever on opposing sides of the political fence as far as our rhetoric is concerned …  whilst, when atop the greasy pole, on the same side as far as filling our deepening business-influenced pockets is concerned?

Can we not make one final effort to get process properly and constructively in its place, so that democracy really does represent the cumulative voices of the public?


Further reading: you may be interested in a post of mine on why the Occupy movements’ time has not yet arrived.  In the light of Dan’s “Common Sense”, I’m beginning to wonder if I was in fact right.

It’s time may already be upon us.  It may come sooner than we think.

Jun 162011

I’ve just read this from the BBC on the civic meltdown in Greece:

There is a social crisis under way and I think it is different from the one our history books teach us to expect. It’s not like the cracking of the state, or mass unrest, but simply that the Greek state – whose reach was never far into society – is beginning to lose its grip slightly on the actual functions a state should do.

The article goes on to point out:

It cannot decide its economic policy; it can’t convince its own people of any good intent; the rule of law is imposed hard here – with the impounding of yachts bought through tax evasion – only to break down somewhere else, as people begin to pledge non-payment of bills for the privatised utilities.

It is not anarchy here, but – to use another Hellenic word – neither is there catharsis. As the conservative daily Kathimerini put it in an editorial last night: “Prime Minister George Papandreou does not seem to be on top of things anymore.”

In a sense, there are parallels here in Britain.  Perhaps we won’t reach such levels of distress for a while yet, although the public sector strikes planned for June 30th could quite easily serve to radicalise people even more.  There is a small difference, however, between Greece and ourselves: the truth of the matter is that over here in Britain we are in the grip of a government which deliberately goes out of its way to make us feel we are not on top of things any more.

The famous shock-and-awe effect, in fact.

Meanwhile, what’s happening in Greece is the rapid seeping-away of all sovereign legitimacy as the international financial institutions ensure – as happened in Asia a decade and a half ago – that their friends in high places are able to duly retrieve their booty before a country and its people are allowed finally to collapse.  As Adam Curtis pointed out in his recent documentary series and Wikipedia summarises thus:

The 1997 Asian financial crisis began as the property bubble in the Far East began to burst in Thailand, causing large financial losses in those countries that greatly affected foreign investors. While Bill Clinton was preoccupied with the Monica Lewinski scandal, Robert Rubin took control of foreign policy and forced loans onto the affected countries. However, after each country agreed to IMF bailout loans, foreign investors immediately withdrew their money, leaving the tax payers with enormous debts and triggering massive economic disasters.

Perhaps Greece is not so much a foretaste of things to come as a reminder of things that have gone.

Daylight robbery is what this is really all about.  A daylight robbery which channels the livelihoods of ordinary folk into the pockets of the rich and undeserving.  Greece may not be a case of a property boom gone bad – but it is most definitely an example of a wealthy world which doesn’t know how to function on behalf of the opportunities and welfare of the majority.  And there the parallels are absolutely in sync.

This capitalism we talk so proudly of is so demonstrably inefficient at what it claims to be best at.  It uses and abuses government intervention when it pleases – and completely ignores the intellectual incoherence this generates.  It preaches the natural cycles of rise and fall – and then creates institutions, organisations, companies and corporations which serve to outlast any and all discrete human life on this blessed planet we sadly inhabit.

And meltdown in our civic societies happens precisely when the poor know not just that the rich are always going to be on top but that, also, they don’t care to hide it any more.

As the journalist of the BBC article I linked to above concludes:

And I will repeat the point about hostility to the media: it’s not a problem for me and my colleagues to be hounded off demos as “representatives of big capital”, “Zionists”, “scum and police informers” etc. But to get this reaction from almost every demographic – from balaclava kids to pensioners – should be a warning sign to the policymaking elite. The “mainstream” – whether it’s the media, politicians or business people – is beginning to seem illegitimate to large numbers of people.

The mainstream is no longer main.  It’s not even that it ever was – but until today there was never anything else to publicly demonstrate the lie it represented: the disjunctions it fashioned.  For it is social media which has served to show us all a far truer reflection of the reality of our poverty-stricken and hollow lives.

Those lies at the very centre of that binding nexus of marketing- and advertising-tied feature journalism – a nexus which claims to provide us with tough and brave truths when in reality it’s never been anything more than a bunch of clever angles.

Update to this post: the Guardian publishes the following report tonight on powerplays galore.  Just makes me want to heave.

Dec 152010

Bryonny makes some sad points on the back of a couple of articles you can find on the New York Times  and Slugger O’Toole, both of which deserve to be read and reflected on.  I am taken by her comments towards the end of her post, where she points out – quite accurately – that:

There is a rather reductive political tendency (ahem cough cough Labour party) to assume that lack of money is the sole factor in influencing what marginalised people are able to do.  Putting all the focus here misses out the mass of invisible barriers that serve to lock down things like access to university.  These are things like access to childcare, lack of assistance for mature students, and bureaucratic barriers like who can provide a reference.  There are fears of not fitting in, of not having the ‘right’ academic habits.  It isn’t plain sailing once enrolled either: one of the biggest issues the equity advisers I knew battled was how to help students get their study done when their families neither understand nor sympathise.

She then concludes (the bold is mine):

Fees have probably trebled.  It’s nothing to applaud.  It is something that now needs to be lived with and the agenda of those who supposedly care about disadvantaged students must turn towards supporting their participation rather than reiterating that they simply can’t go.  Being poor in Britain is a constant process of being told that you can’t.  Change doesn’t happen by having more voices say it.

I was reminded of the incomprehension from without that I suffered from when, at the beginning of the Nineties whilst living in Spain, and from a depressing and impotent distance, I experienced the war in Croatia.  And I was moved to respond to her view of what’s happening in Britain at the moment in the following terms:

I’m not sure we’re yet at the stage of understanding the unhappy common sense behind your last point.  When regimes change, many good things are undone – and hope is the last thing we lose.  Now you suggest that we should lose hope in order that cooperation – or participation, at the very least – is the only alternative.  But we are not ready to lose the hope we must one day lose that awful things may yet be prevented – if not within and via the confines of Parliament, then through demonstrations and other non-Parliamentary activities.

That time will come, mind – if the Coalition doesn’t fall apart in the meantime (another hope many in the most tribal reaches of the Labour Party will hang grimly on to). 

When we do lose all hope in protecting the achievements of the last decade, the conversational discourse you mention will have been successfully imposed from without.  And we will have no alternative but to sit round the table with the enemy.  But that’s because regime change on the scale we now have in Britain is actually a civil war of sorts.  And war is a completely different matter.  You have to go through bitter conflict before it becomes too painful to ignore the inevitable end-game.

And if I must be rigorously honest, in answering Bryonny’s reasonableness, I find myself hunting down my own truth.  The Coalition have declared war.  This is clear now.  They believe they will be on the winning side – that history, in a way, for many reasons (some yet unclear), will support them in their almighty battle to turn upside down what had seemed so certain; to disembowel a whole society.

They may, indeed, win; they may, indeed, lose.  I suspect a more likely outcome – as with most civil wars – is that a broader society in general will suffer and skip a generation, will have to come to terms with outrageous mistakes on all sides – and eventually, as I point out above, sit down at the same table as their sworn and terrible enemies.

Our current dynamic in British politics is arguably couched in the discourse of such a war.  But until we lose almost everything, I doubt anyone will care to have that conversation.

Until we lose almost everything, we still hope we can fully overcome and destroy the opposition.

Of such awful stuff is true civil war made.

And that, in figurative and dialectical terms, is the future we are headed for.