Apr 032013
 
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I’ve watched, very sadly, the decline and fall of my beloved BBC.  Perhaps it was always going to be a government mouthpiece of sorts.  But whilst governments still represented the median voter, that their (our) public broadcasting systems also might molly-coddle the politicos … well, it somehow didn’t seem so important back then; somehow didn’t seem so grave.

Whilst there is clear evidence out there that the BBC has failed, for government-led ideological and propaganda reasons, to properly report issues of the day, I’m not sure – at least to date – whether anyone accused it of re-engineering the future.  But today I think we have such a case.  Today we get “The Great British Class Survey”.  Its top-down motivations can be better understood here:

Policy makers tend to focus primarily on the economic dimension of class. Concepts like progressive taxation (taxing richer people more heavily than poorer people) are a good example of this.

Increasingly, the social dimension of class is receiving some attention, with initiatives to improve networking opportunities for people who are otherwise socially excluded.

But the cultural aspect of class has so far largely been ignored, perhaps because it is a broad yet subtle concept that can be difficult to measure. The problem is, if we don’t measure it, we can’t know how important it is and how much it influences people’s chances in life.

Especially where we discover its publication will take place:

[…] The data from this survey will be analysed by Professors Savage and Devine and the findings will be published in a suitable peer-reviewed journal.

So essentially a massive survey, which serves to cement the idea that society should be described in a highly fragmented and supposedly snakes and ladders way (presumably looking to promote the idea of a meritocracy where everyone gets the opportunity to climb the multiple ladders of self-betterment), will be carried out through the BBC‘s sponsoring of a mass, and freely obtained, participation by maybe hundreds and thousands of licence-payers – only to end up a) in the naive data-crunching hands of academia, and b) in the insolently ruthless clutches of think-tank folk everywhere.

For the Lord only knows what’ll be made of the findings – or indeed how they will be used, in quite partisan ways, to drive further wedges into a future self-interested stratification of our nation.

But here’s a pointer if you still don’t fully understand the potential implications.  Try substituting the word “class” in the title of this survey with the word “caste” – and then see how you feel about it all:

Caste is a form of social stratification characterized by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a style of life which often includes an occupation, ritual status in a hierarchy, and customary social interaction and exclusion based on cultural notions of purity and pollution.[1][2] […]

Ring any bells?  Does to me, anyhow.

There is, after all, a very fine line between simply describing a situation and ending up prescribing it – especially through the critical framework you elect and the publicity you give to its launch. And the launch that has been given does, I’m afraid, make me doubt its future political neutrality.

In fact, whatever happened to the idea we were all human beings?  You know, those human beings at the suffering edge of 21st century history, who were encouraged so firmly to find ourselves “all in it together”.

Oh, these button-pressing, number-crunching academic, political and business leaders!  What blessed obsessions with getting to know us via our stats they do exhibit.

Don’t you really just love ‘em?


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Jan 212013
 
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Chris makes me feel utterly inadequate today.  As a member of the soft left, I am fairly in his sights:

[…] it’s the centre-left who are the utopian dreamers, and we Marxists who are the realists.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Political activists, and especially career politicians, are selected for the optimism bias; you don’t go to all those dull meetings unless you think (conventional) politics can achieve a lot.

Of course, it’s not just the soft left who suffer from the condition.  As he goes on to point out (and closer to my heart and own personal experience):

And it’s not just mainstream politicians who are the dreamers whilst I’m the sceptic. Stock-pickers who think they can beat the market and CEOs who think they can successfully control ther fate of huge organizations are just like centre-left politicians, exaggerating what they can achieve in the face of powerful and complex market forces.

But it’s his conclusion that really knocks me sideways – and makes me wonder if there is any point in (figuratively) continuing (the bold is, wearily, mine):

As it is, the question “what can politics achieve in a capitalist economy?” is rarely posed, let alone answered, by the centre-left. And until it is, they are likely to remain Isobel Crawley-type figures – perhaps doing a little good, but not challenging basic socio-economic inequalities, and leaving poverty and their own privilege largely unchanged.

(I had to look up the reference to Isobel Crawley, by the way.  You might guess which popular upper-class soap I haven’t found myself entangled by.)

So Chris argues we do a little good – but fail, at the same time, to “challenge” the basic socio-economic inequalities.  And yet what does this word “challenge” imply?  Verbal and/or physical violence of some sort?  Or a “democratic” “battle” within the confines of a capitalist discourse he so rightly condemns?  What, indeed, can politics achieve in a capitalist economy?  Especially the kind of capitalist economy which most of us now labour under, where politicians and business leaders interchangeably operate to the benefit of their own pockets, interest groups and mercenary aims?

What, then, is the alternative to violence of some sort or another?  Is there, indeed, anything not countenancing bloodshed which could do more than does the soft left already?  My mother has a solution, of course – consistently held: if only we loved each other more, we might achieve the change we are looking for:

It is so distressing to read about the injustices so blatant that the only understanding I can glean from this ‘world’ is that when the money – mammon – is the only goal to achieve in the world, there is no room for love and compassion towards people! The Judeo-Christian ethic has been eroded and something else has to be put in its place and we have got ‘it’ now: greed, avarice, selfishness – it has many facets but it is the one and same thing! Let us return to the God that we have abandoned for false gods! […]

So on the one hand we have my mother – half of my upbringing, in fact.  On the other, we have people like Chris – the other, far more logical, side of my character.  Yet, whether we reach our conclusions through faith or whether we reach them through science, it seems – right now – that the conclusions are becoming pretty much the same.

That awful situation where one is torn between logic and love?  There’s no bloody difference any more.  Society and politics are as shitty as they have become not because society and politics are shitty.

No.  That, my friend, is not the explanation.

My mother calls it “mammon”.  Chris calls it “capitalism”.  Either way, and whatever label you use, it’s hurting us more than it ever did in the past.

In fact it’s not our institutions which are failing us so much as our underlying, and practically unperceived, system of capitalist behaviours.

And so I ask for a solution – a way forward for my own small world.  I’m ready, as per my cowardly character, to be patient, meek and mild: to await the beneficence of the powerful even.

At least to a degree.  At least for a while.

Yet the examples continue to hurtle past our eyes.  This awful story from yesterday, for example:

The world’s 100 richest people earned enough money last year to end world extreme poverty four times over, according to a new report released by international rights group and charity Oxfam.

The $240 billion net income of the world’s 100 richest billionaires would have ended poverty four times over, according to the London-based group’s report released on Saturday.

As the charity goes on to say:

“We sometimes talk about the ‘have-nots’ and the ‘haves’ – well, we’re talking about the ‘have-lots’. […] We’re anti-poverty agency. We focus on poverty, we work with the poorest people around the world. You don’t normally hear us talking about wealth. But it’s gotten so out of control between rich and poor that one of the obstacles to solving extreme poverty is now extreme wealth,” Ben Phillips, a campaign director at Oxfam, told Al Jazeera.

This is the shit that is going down these days.

This is what creates the real pain and manifest anger.

So one final question to be going away with this evening: is there any kind of lesson to be learned when my mother’s love and faith reach the same conclusion as Chris Dillow’s perspicacious and rational mind?

And is there anything apart from violent civil conflict which will succeed in changing anything soon enough for the majority?


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Dec 232012
 
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Two – related – questions which have been gnawing away at me today:

  1. the battle that drives a fault-line deep into our civilisation – between the young who are willing but don’t have the power and the old who refuse to renew themselves and yet hang on to the bitter end;
  2. the chimera that is this thing the old call progress – a concept which justifies those ways of doing stuff, concentrating wealth and creating a certain set of privileges in the supposed interests of a broader societal benefit;

*

As I get older, and yet continue to recall my youth with dear fondness, I become more and more convinced that young people in general judge far more accurately what’s important and relevant to our world as a global whole than do people my age.  It must have been quite different when we lived in a time where life expectancies rarely led us beyond the age of forty.  The memories and instincts would have been sharper; the regrets would have been fewer; the tendency to self-justify would have been far less incessant.

As a group, as a crowd, as a common intelligence … almost as an entity of shared common sense … well, that is how I see the young of today.  And not only of today but of ever and always.

So much time and energy is wasted in that eternal battle between those who manage the levers of power, and can thus assert their truths over the rest of society through simple megaphonics, and those who are still in touch with their childlike ways of seeing and doing.  The immediate urge to tell and bear witness to the truth is still present in so many young people – even as in people of my age it becomes dowdy, faded and somehow compromised by so many crossroads where recent wrong turnings only serve to compound the previous.

As we live beyond that moment of mid-life crisis, an unassailable reality of downhill dynamics which in other ages coincided with the burnished and contradicting bravery of the twenties, so we decide to hold onto the few privileges we have acquired in the hope that in some trivial way these will compensate our inability to win our arguments through truth.  Bound as we are to leave our childlike selves behind, we can only build our right to rule on the basis of indisputable precedent and historical baggage.  Starting from scratch, as the young are bound so to do, is a revolutionary act which elderly societies cannot permit.

And so we lose our early sense of absolute right and wrong – and replace it with quite another of imposed correctness and incorrectness.

Hit and myth – that is what people my age do to the young.  Firstly, we physically and mentally attack our subjects and charges; secondly, we propagate stories about how the world should be and why.  By doing the latter, we justify the former.  And by doing the former, we make the latter a self-perpetuating – and self-justifying – piece of cake.

Progress as defined by people my age these days is a lie.  There is too little about this concept of progress that benefits a wider society.

The concept of progress as defined by the compromises of our powerful elders is mainly designed to benefit their interests over the interests of the vast majority of us who survive in this latterday jungle of Darwinian behaviours.  And you know what’s so wearisome about modern life?  That this survival we are now getting accustomed to will take place over maybe seventy or eighty long years.

That’s what 21st century elders seem to be offering the societies they rule: misery, penury and the hollow comforts of painful perspective – that relative relief of the quite unjustly treated.

Not much, is it?

Not much at all.

Happy Christmas, if you believe.

And if you don’t, at least try to remember your youth.


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Sep 212012
 
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This morning, the big story was about a Tory toff swearing at the police for acting like plebs (translation: for doing their jobs) (I reserve the right to allegedly use the word toff, by the way, precisely because the toff in question allegedly used the word pleb).  As the BBC‘s Nick Robinson points out, the sequence of events was thus:

That the new Conservative Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, lost his temper with a member of Scotland Yard’s Diplomatic Protection Group, is not in dispute. What is disputed is what he said.

The officer’s Police Federation representative has confirmed his account of the row – first reported in The Sun: “Best you learn your f—ing place. You don’t run this f— government”

He is also said to have added another politically toxic four letter word – calling the officer a “pleb.”

Mr Mitchell insists he did not use any of the offending words although he has now apologised to the officer for failing to” treat the police with the respect they deserve”.

Now before we proceed, let’s examine that word “pleb”.  Wikipedia says this:

The plebs were the general body of free land-owning Roman citizens (as distinguished from slaves and the capite censi) in Ancient Rome. They were the non-aristocratic class of Rome, and consisted of freed people, shopkeepers, crafts people, skilled or unskilled workers and farmers[1]. Members of the plebs were also distinct from the higher order of the patricians. A member of the plebs was known as a plebeian (play/plɨˈbən/Latinplebeius). This term is used today to refer to one who is or appears to be of the middle or lower order; however, in Rome plebeians could become quite wealthy and influential.

Curious how being a free person, shopkeeper, crafts person, skilled or unskilled worker or farmer could morph itself – in what we thought was a meritocracy, at least of sorts – into an insult of such awfully class-ridden proportions.

Anyhow, from what I saw on Channel 4’s main news programme this evening, the police would appear to be sticking by their version of events.  Which leads one to wonder if Mr Mitchell, an influential Tory figure, has actually lied at some point in the proceedings – despite his apology for failing to “treat the police with the respect they deserve”.

If Mr Mitchell did indeed say what it is alleged he said, I am moved to ask the following question: assuming Mr Mitchell told even a small porkie when he initially claimed he didn’t use the vocabulary he was accused of using, was he acting out of a desire to attack or defend?  Was it hubris that motivated him – or more simply shame? Was it a mechanism of fight or flight?

More widely, too, when Cameron & Co pull the wool over our eyes, as I firmly believe they are doing every day of the week, should we feel angry at them for the aggression they are committing or sorry for them for the bind that the real world of shabby government is now placing them in?

That is to say, are they running cruel circles around us – or are events beginning to encircle them?

*

One final thought.  If people like Mitchell, Cameron and Osborne are finding the weight of government so heavy as to make them fall into the casual habit of snapping aggressively at every symbol of an order which continues to stubbornly resist their charms (think of the lawyers, the doctors and now the police), only then to tell tall tales about what really happened, just imagine what they might be saying – or not saying – about the stuff they manage, even now, to keep hidden behind closed doors.

As I tweeted earlier in the day:

Govt reminds me of bit of Hitler: at trickiest time in its war against English, it sure knows how to alienate on all fronts. #historylesson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder.

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

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

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

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

Again, I wonder.

And ask you to wonder too.


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Aug 142012
 
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Wherever I’ve worked, at generally the most humble of levels, I’ve been trained to watch out for conflicts of interest.  But there’s a clear pattern emerging of late, of which this story (in Spanish) (robot English here) is but one example: if you’re powerful, interests never conflict.

In this case, an anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage judge who’s a member of the Opus Dei organisation sees no reason why he cannot pronounce on an appeal by the Partido Popular (the rancid right-wing party currently running Spanish politics) against the legal periods set out by previous regimes in relation to when and why one can abort.

Abortion is a difficult issue, of course.  But after our own experience of having to weigh up its appropriateness, I would never dare suggest that I should have a right to decide – a priori - on behalf of another.

It was on the occasion of my wife’s second pregnancy.  The local hospital did some tests – and for some reason, asked us to come back the following week to repeat them.

They refused to allege any reason and seemed to be hiding something.  When the results of both sets of tests came through, the conclusion was pretty frightening.  There was, it would appear, a pretty decent chance that our second child would be born spina bifida.  If I remember rightly, and as far as we understood, the consequences ranged from death at birth to a very unhappy childhood and/or limited opportunities to enjoy a fulsome life.

Hurriedly, they organised a distressing test in a Madrid hospital, which involved extracting blood from the umbilical cord – and which, in itself, at least at the time, involved considerable risk to the foetus.  All this time, my wife and I were talking over the potential decision of going ahead with an abortion. It was not a happy time.

The results of the Madrid test were, thankfully, positive and constructive.  The magnetic resonance they carried out showed a fully formed foetus with everything as it should’ve been.  We later discovered – the local hospital had no alternative but to come clean – that an error of calibration of the results had produced the initial scare.

A bad sad time for us both which, in the end, turned out happily.

With that child there was still an almost horrifying birth, as the very same umbilical cord got wrapped around his neck just as he emerged – a blue grey colour; a child of grand fortune indeed.

So all the above is why I would never presume to decide on behalf of a mother whether she should have an abortion or not.

That there are plenty of happy families with spina bifida children is I am sure a truth we should never fail to take on board.  That parents who face such a prospect in varying degrees of difficulty – or, indeed, for any other reasons which may encourage them to think twice – may soon, perhaps, in Spain not be allowed to decide for themselves, and all because a self-confessed anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage member of Opus Dei has decided he has every right to decide on legal matters relating to abortion, is – however – probably par for the course these days.

These days, powerful people don’t seem to care to keep up appearances.  Their hubris overwhelms any shame they used to feel.  Conspicuous consumption becomes a right – even a twisted duty.

No interests conflict so much as the poor, sick and disabled’s – all the time, as they attempt to survive an evermore Darwinian mindscape.

And meanwhile, the already wealthy see no need to justify their incoherences.

The incoherences of the 21st century.

The new paradigm for being rich.

A century of free education leads to compulsory rugby for the plebs.  And as David so rightly points out in yet another sharp piece on the whys and wherefores of latterday politicking (the bold is mine):

Fact is, private schools do indeed produce proportionately more Olympic medal-winners but they aren’t anything like as good at this as they are at making barristers, journalists, doctors, CEOs or members of Her Majesty’s Government.  That this state of affairs hasn’t led a host of politicians and pundits to call for a reworking of schools’ timetables prompted an uncharitable thought: could it be because they believe running around a track is a more suitable ambition for the lower orders to harbour, rather than having them entertain ideas about running things?

This is war, ladies and gentlemen.  But what’s more, the very worst kind.  Undeclared war by the already powerful against the already weak.

Brazen.  Shameless.  Wicked.  Evil.  Nothing else comes to mind.


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Aug 122012
 
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This started out as a comment to a reply Dave Semple posted in his “Requiem for a Blog”.  I thought I’d reproduce it here because I feel it may have a wider applicability to others who may frustratedly feel the same at the moment on the subject of left-wing participation in the blogosphere in particular – as well as social media more generally:

“But as a great man once said, philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Yes. That is very true. I still do wonder if what we need out here is a better feedback mechanism.  So much of what we have written gets taken onboard (that’s my firm belief) – and yet we can’t be absolutely sure it has at all, because a comment isn’t made even as a conclusion is quietly reached.

Blogging see-saws between furious trolling on the one hand and an uncommon reader silence on the other.  The happy medium – where the comments are just as important and frequent as the OPs; a happy medium which I have to say has often been found on TCF – is not widely apparent elsewhere.  So if you were looking to engage people and get them off their backsides, in our monitor-facing virtual world you already achieved quite a lot.

It’s clearly not enough, of course – and your appeal to change the real world in order that as a side-effect the blogosphere be conquered is revealing.  Everyone wants a job.  That individuals use their freely offered-up writings to lever such positions of paid employment is only human.  That it should corrupt the potential power of the blogosphere was perhaps inevitable.  That the solution is to retire from a game you feel you cannot win – and which you conclude in any case is secondary to the real task at hand – is, however, in my gently expressed opinion, not a viable option.

But I do respect the thought processes which have led you to such a conclusion.  Those I cannot deny – they are as totally coherent as one could want.

Perhaps you’re simply not a natural editor- and blogger-in-chief?  Too impatient to sit back and let ideas take their unpredictable and unrecognised course?

Or perhaps you were once a natural editor- and blogger-in-chief – and now you’ve grown into something else?  Doesn’t mean you have to reinterpret the past – or conclude that the tool that got you thus far is generally corrupting, weak and inappropriate for left-wing agitation.

That the big bloggers scurry rapidly to become as MSM as possible is their choice.  It doesn’t, however, have to be ours.

Each to his own is the principle which I think might operate here.

I’m never going to be able to stand up physically in front of a crowd and lead them intelligently through the steps a revolution should take.  I simply cannot do it – I would physically shake.  I *can* gather my thoughts in front of a computer screen and put them together reasonably cogently.  If you are prepared enough and capable enough to do the first, and are good at organisation, and can see clearly enough to communicate your vision in first person, then do so.  And let others, who are only just setting out on their journey of understanding, creep there slowly by beginning to write and communicate tentatively in public.  Where that is what *they* want to do.

The blogosphere often serves as a mechanism of self-initiated consciousness-raising.  Yes.  It’s inefficient, lumberingly repetitive and leads to so many people reinventing the wheel.  But it also means that once such a state of awareness is reached, a real sea-change of understanding is auto-cemented.

Truth of the matter is that what we’re unable to achieve right now is a useful appreciation of how to tap into those very permanent sea-changes – and take advantage of them for our own ends.  But they *are* out there – and they *do* exist.

Don’t give up on social media, Dave.  Even if it simply means you choose to use it behind the scenes, only.

And I would say the same to all of you out there who find it difficult to maintain the patience of ages.  Publishing – a measured historical act which, under social media’s auspices, has morphed into an instantaneous tool for rapid communication – even now sustains its ability to lay down future paths of unknowable development.  It’s true.  Sometimes we don’t know if what we are doing will lead to a modern “Mein Kampf” – or, alternatively, to a truly brave new world we can all be proud of.

But there is nothing we can do about those unquantifiables – all that is open to us is the choice between an irreproachably perfect inaction or a criticisably imperfect participation.

I know which choice I’d prefer to make.

So what about you?

Where are you going to stand?


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Aug 072012
 
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I’m generally inclined to consider the world operates more on the principle of stupidity than conspiracy – but the latest piece of sub-editing of our realities today by the BBC does rather beggar belief.  Whilst USA Today headlines the story thus:

“Former Lloyds Bank exec admits $3.8 million fraud”

the treasured, impartial and aforementioned BBC decides we must all of a sudden become astonishingly even-handed.

On its website, for example, it uses the miscreant’s name to define the agent in question – with no mention in the text of the headline that she was a banking executive at all:

“Jessica Harper admits £2.4m Lloyds Bank fraud”

What’s more, in the intro to the article in question she is actually described as a worker – no more, no less.  In the body itself, the BBC can’t avoid calling her “head of fraud and security” – but that’s about as high up and emotive as the language gets.

However, if that doesn’t convince you something may be amiss – it may, after all, be that according to its house style, and in that egalitarian spirit we used to so value the BBC for, every stratospheric executive across this globalising world is now to be described as occupying the role of simple “worker” – just take a look at the headline as it appears in Google Reader on the selfsame broadcaster’s RSS feed.

No mention whatsoever, then, of her executive nature or degree of responsibilities.

What is going on here?  Am I really reading too much into this?

Or will the blessed Beeb now begin to talk about Comrade Cameron, Brother Branson and Sister Nadine?

And can we expect a flurry of trades-union-membership applications from the upper hierarchies as their newly empowered workers’ consciousnesses remind them of the importance of class solidarity?

I do think we should be told.

Don’t you?


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Jun 162012
 
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Alex provides the data, if data was still needed, about the IMF and the Greeks. All I am minded to remark is that whilst billions of euros have been withdrawn from Greece in the first half of the year by private investors, escape from the country’s miseries isn’t so easy for the workers who might wish to emigrate out of them.  Capital versus labour – it’s always the same story: freedom of movement for the former (with all the traumatic implications for ordinary people’s economies which such freedoms lead to); all kinds of practical barriers, including media prejudice in host countries, for the latter.

This is perhaps one excellent reason why Greeks should leave the euro but stay in the European Union.  Get that competitive edge back which Europe’s denied varying velocities lost – but hang on any which way you can to the right to work wherever you want.  Beat the capitalist investors at their own game perhaps?

Meanwhile, here’s another piece of evidence about how the world we live in is unfair: in this case, how the fall in trades union membership mirrors exactly the rise in wealth inequality (graph here).  Our intuition might have told us that trades unions battling against amorphous and various employer organisations would help, in an imperfect civilisation, to create less unfair societies – but this post goes much further than massage our prejudices.  This post confirms a reality with immediately understandable data.

From the Facebook page "Connect The Dots USA"

Finally, an image I published not long ago from a Facebook page I’m subscribed to called “Connect The Dots USA”.  It clearly indicates how difficult providing social and welfare services will become in the future, especially as the real levels of tax American corporations pay are so far below the nominal 35 percent.  Remember, these are the same bodies which use public roads, pollute public land, sell junk food to schoolchildren and sign overblown contracts for the provision of public health services – as well as make money out of publicly funded armaments and IT projects (so many of which curiously tend to run dramatically over budget).

All examples, in fact, of the ways they have chosen to take advantage of federal and state infrastructures which they no longer see the need to contribute to.

And I am sure – as well as fear – that the situation in the UK is becoming evermore analogous.

Of course, it goes without saying that those of us on the left have often been accused – perhaps accurately – of class envy.  This argument would have us believe that we don’t act out of a pragmatic understanding and acceptance of the world as it is.  Rather, we refuse to accept that life is unfair and that such injustices are a given for those who have the good or bad fortune to be born into this universe.

After fifty years on this planet – yes, I share my birthday with that literary-fest that is Bloomsday! –  I can’t argue with the partial truth of that assertion.  But where I do disagree with the Darwinian capitalists is in their implicit understanding that life – and the world in general – is only as unfair as it must be.

Today’s three examples give those of us who believe in social, economic and cultural justice the right to sustain the position that this world is an unnecessarily unfair world – and from that moment onwards, fight to eliminate any unfairness which escapes the necessary injustices of an often incomprehensible universe.

If those of us on the left are looking for a pragmatic way of channelling the manifest – and long-predicted collapse – of capitalism, we could do far worse than to argue that in that point which lies between an unfair and an unnecessarily unfair existence we can usefully pursue a popular and realistic revolution.

A popular and realistic revolution we could use to revalidate the latterday left.


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Apr 262012
 
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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.


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Nov 082011
 
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I don’t know if Patrick has coined this word, but if he has, congratulations on a felicitous discovery:

.@eiohel Precisely. The econopocalypse being used to cover/excuse the steam-rolling in of an extreme Tory state. Feels like class war to me.

It was in response to a short exchange we had on how Tory politicians cover their ears and just spout received wisdoms.

And the term is indeed appropriate.  For it involves a new kind of class warfare: a class warfare which denies its own existence.  Like referred pain, it claims to be elsewhere in its real location: we are here to save the economy from the excesses of a social democracy in the thrall of neo-liberalism.  And how?  By imposing even more neo-liberalism!

From the Legal Aid bill which aims to take immigration, clinical negligence, welfare benefits and other serious matters out of scope to an NHS bill designed to fill the pockets of corporate sponsors, this Tory-led government is using this “econopocalypse” of an excuse to (as Patrick so clearly points out) drive a painful wedge between Christian ethics on the one hand and the most extreme version of Darwinian capitalism you could contemplate on the other.

A class warfare which is ashamed of itself?  Or a class warfare which, for strategic reasons, hides its very deliberation and intentionality from sight?

The latter I think.

Don’t you?


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Jul 152011
 
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I used to work for a company which broke up a certain section of its workforce into hunters and farmers – hunters were the salesforcey types who achieved new business and farmers the support staff who ensured new and existing customers stayed put.  It was a good and useful definition – an exact analogy which cut through much prejudice.  It helped both parties and the outside world understand better their roles and interactions.

Whilst reading my Kindle edition of today’s Guardian in the doctor’s surgery this morning, I came across a similar piece of clarity described by Allegra Stratton (the bold is mine):

It is at this point that sociologists normally reach for samples of opinion from swing voters and core voters, from the upper, middle and working classes. But this is a very old school way to slice and dice the country. Graeme Cooke, at one time head of David Miliband’s brains trust, has since been working on a thesis that the electorate has changed as much as the challenges for politicians.

He has analysed the British Values Survey and broken us all down into three types: Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers. These are dispositions, not policy proclivities. These are the new tribes, and they do not have life-long loyalties to political parties.

Pioneers (41% of Britons) are global, networked, like innovation and believe in the importance of ethics. Prospectors (28%) like success, ambition, seek the esteem of others and if they think a party can help them help themselves, they are on board. Settlers (31%) see things in terms of right and wrong, are wary of change, seek security and have a strong sense of place – patriotism and national security motivate them to vote.

And it would seem that where politicians manage to cut across and satisfy all three strands – as Ed Miliband appears to do so over the News of the World scandal – a jackpot of sorts is hit.

So what are the implications?

All the social classes split up in roughly the same proportions. Settlers were most numerous after 1945 but as people became steadily more affluent, “post-material attitudes” dominated and so now Pioneers are the largest group.

And so to Murdoch. Pioneers would have liked Ed Miliband to tackle Murdoch long ago but while they are a big group, they are not big enough to wage a campaign and indeed, eventually, win an election. A fortnight ago Prospectors would have been wary of what they would have thought a quixotic campaign against Murdoch. Settlers would have disliked the squall of a fight. After the Milly Dowler hacking revelations, a campaign suitable for Pioneers suddenly became appealing to Settlers too. Prospectors joined in as it became clear to them at some point that Miliband was “winning”.

Prospectors are looking for someone who can advance their standards of living and social status.

It’s reductive, yes, but it shows the spectrum of dispositions with which we all have come to the Murdoch tale, and will bring to future moments of reckoning. And it’s how political strategists will be thinking about events.

This is fascinating stuff – as fascinating as the hunter-farmer dichotomy I mentioned at the beginning.  I’m only just beginning to absorb its truths.

The world gets far more complicated – for this is perhaps the end of class warfare as we have known it.  A completely new and far more level playing-field for us all.  Perhaps the political equivalent of open-data access, in fact.  For here you have to satisfy every social class’s needs. 

And those politicians, who think they need to use new technologies to broadcast the same messages as before in order to connect with the social classes of old, will not only be sadly and confusingly mistaken but will also eventually find themselves out of the political running through an apparently bewildering lack of any fault of their own.

They simply won’t get things their electorate does get more and more because their concept of the electorate will be woefully inexact.

Not only the politicians – I daresay even those businesspeople who ignore these new ways of seeing.

In fact, I daresay even those businesspeople who believe closing down newspapers and resigning from posts are actions in themselves sufficient to compensate for previous ills.


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May 142011
 
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This story (more reaction from Labour Matters here) is utterly unbelievable:

For the children of Wandsworth, the age of innocence ends this autumn when their council puts a price tag on playtime.

To help fund £55m worth of budget cuts, councillors in the south London borough have decided to charge children £2.50 to use the local playground.

The reason being?  As follows:

A survey carried out at the playground by the council revealed that half of the children came from neighbouring boroughs.

A council spokesperson adds most unfortunately:

“Why should Wandsworth taxpayers subsidise children from other boroughs?”

So is this what Coalition localism really means?  Firstly, putting children themselves on a par with taxpaying adults and requiring them to directly support, at point-of-delivery, the services their parents have already paid for.  Secondly, a fragmentation of territories to such an extent that children will begin to feel they have no right to mix and match with friends from other areas – unless, that is, they have the financial resources to pay for meeting up with classmates.

This is the first step, clearly, to a wider brief: if the rationale behind introducing the charge is that “your” children are not “mine” to look after, the future could hold out:

  1. ID cards based on the community you belong to which demonstrate you have a right to use its services
  2. an approach to childcare which leads us to believe there are first-class citizens – those children who belong to our community; and second-class citizens – those children we will classify essentially as interlopers from without, who, we will argue, simply serve to wilfully drain our precious resources in times of crisis

This is truly the meanest and most disagreeable symptom of Coalition politics I have seen in twelve months of mean and disagreeable symptoms.  We are most definitely not in it together.

Another victory for the dividers and maintainers of class warfare in our society.


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