Jan 032013

It’s good to have your theories tested.  It makes you either discard or develop them.

That’s what’s happened to me tonight.

Even as it happened over a most unsatisfactory medium.


What unites the United Kingdom any more?  Our politicians trash us, the voters, repeatedly.  We, the voters, more than ever, hate our politicians exactly for it.

Cruel lies and half-truths pitch citizen against citizen.  Collaboration and cooperation become dirty words.  Survival and Darwinian economics become our leaders’ touchstones.

They accuse us of the very crimes our protectors – our defenders – accuse them equally of committing.  Whilst we are supposed to be defrauding the state, our leaders pass off as legitimised expenses their second homes; their trips to European football; their stately paddocks; their tax avoidance schemes; their ever-so-clever and totally legal kickbacks for payments and sponsorship deals carefully processed and rubber-stamped.

Whilst they accuse us of sitting on our butts with our curtains pulled, they hide behind their walnut-ridden boardrooms and pleb-gated residences of privilege.

Whilst they accuse us of wasting our time on wanting to support the most vulnerable in society, at the awful expense of the interests of a broader civilisation they spend most of their time supporting their conditionally-couched peers and equals.

So why is this happening?  Why do they say these things about us?  Why would they make us feel like shit if the real purpose of everything they did was to drag the country out of the miserable state that assails us?

I think the answer runs as follows.  They – that is to say, our leaders – want us to believe we are precisely as they have chosen to be.  They – that is to say, our leaders – want us to believe the only ways of being, seeing and doing which are left us are the ones they aspire to, practise and expound on a daily basis.  They – that is to say, our leaders – are attempting to complete a circle which started its journey thirty years ago.  They – that is to say, our leaders – are convinced that greed and humankind go together; greed is the only way; greed is good.

And what we forget, when we try desperately to shrug off their attentions, is that in a very great part we are children of the “greed is good” generation.

Just as Nazi Germany wasn’t just Hitler but a cocoon of historically preparatory threads, so the past thirty years have produced a generation of people which acts as one with the “greed is good” mindset.  Whether we are teachers, lawyers, doctors, street-cleaners, postmen and women, police officers, MPs, constituents, voters, families of voters, children, adults or pensioners legion, in some way or another we have taken onboard – via an osmotic and imperceptible process of assimilation – that dreadful mantra which states “I will only do something for you if you do something for me”.

The template?  Money and all its works.  The result?  We are only allowed to exist in latterday life if we are willing to accept the pecuniary value that our leaders (and here I mean our businesspeople just as much as our politicos) care to place on each and every one of us.  But if we resist being defined in monetary terms, all hell is let loose.

So we go with the flow.  Every man – and woman – for themselves.  And whilst the good times rolled unquestioned for most, we really didn’t care too much that we were being bent out of shape.

Bent out of shape severely.

Human beings are funny creatures.  When we feel good, we think poorly.  When we feel bad, we think presciently.  And thinking is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  So why do we choose to do it so little?

Why, in fact, do we need to feel bad in order to be able to do precisely what we’re best at?


What is the challenge, then, that faces us now?  Well.  Just that.  Not to go with the flow.  Not to allow those historically preparatory threads to snag us, to tie us up, to throttle our better instincts.

Our Coalition government doesn’t just want to win the next election; doesn’t just want to make it impossible for anyone to do anything different if they lose; doesn’t just want to fill the pockets of its sponsors; doesn’t just want to reimpose a previous and savage serfdom of hierarchies.


Above all, beyond all of that, it wants – desperately needs – to prove that the last thirty years are the only ways of being, doing and seeing.  It and its members have committed so fully to this conditional life – a life circumscribed so completely by monetary value – that any inkling they could possibly acquire of different ways of living would destroy all that ever-so-clever rubber-stamping and control freakery once and for terrible all.

What we need to recognise – and understand before it’s too late – is that Thatcher, New Labour and Cameronism are part and parcel of the same compact with the devil.  Not a supernatural devil.  Rather, the devil that is an unquestioned life.  When Google claimed for itself the mission of not doing evil, we all understood what it meant.  That, then, is the evil I talk about.  That is the evil which is currently bending us out of shape.

We need to liberate ourselves from the value the state has become accustomed to placing on us.  We need to thread different threads from the last thirty years.  We need to reject not only Thatcher and Cameron but also New Labour’s button-pressing.

It’s not enough, by any means, to say: “Public is bad, so let’s use bad private instead.”

We have to believe in better.  We need to invent something new.  We must be far cleverer than our politicians seem to know.

We have to fight a dreadful fight – but in the full knowledge that the problem doesn’t lie in ourselves at all: instead, it lies in our politicians’ framing of our beings.  It lies in being children of the “greed is good” generation.  It lies in us needing to escape our fate at their hands.  It lies in them not wanting to allow us to change the position of the camera – nor even our position in the frame.

They think they have us by the balls.  But the balls they have us by is only a question of money.

Not a small matter when you don’t have it.  But just think what’ll happen when they finally push you so very hard that you don’t have any of it.

Their lives, their everything, their stashes of cash, their hold over every one of us … finally, one day, when you have nothing at all, it will mean nothing at all – their power, I mean.

When a man or woman learns how to value another in terms of their being and not in terms of their standing is that very precious moment when a man or woman, and that other creature too, is released of all the threads that snag.

And that’s the battle this Coalition government is consciously fighting to prevent.

The liberation of democratic voters from the slavery we are witnessing – a slavery which a concentrated wealth begets in the not-so-modern world of Western uncivilisation.

May 152012

Paul C tells us that socialists are daft to suggest Greece is better out than in the euro.  Paul E suggests that copyleft activists don’t get copyright at all.  In the meantime, I am beginning to wonder if the world is getting too complex for anyone to understand.

Before, we had experts.  Specialised folk who could boil down from a vast understanding of the ins and outs of a subject the essence an audience in particular might require.  But as life became more complex, such specialisms began to acquire an encysted relationship to each other: crossover skills are now the exception, not the norm.  Niches are what everyone strives to establish.

For a magpie mind such as mine, there is no place in the modern world of business and social interaction.

So when Paul C, from his undoubted ability to understand the self-fulfilling, tells us that the rest of us are speaking bollocks, and when Paul E, from his undoubted ability to disentangle the self-interested, tells us that the rest of us simply do not get it, there is little left for the rest of us to do but shake our heads in confused shame.

Only the real problem is that the Paul C and Es of this world are few and far between.  And whilst with the latter I would find myself on slightly firmer ground if pursuing my instincts to disagree, and whilst with the former I could not react without emotional bloodshed, with most of those often self-proclaimed experts out there we are now gaining an absolute right to totally distrust their judgements.

As the Sunday Times list of the top UK thousand demonstrates, those who have a lot and get it utterly wrong are rewarded with further power and wealth:

Top 1,000 on ST RichList increased their wealth by £155bn in 3yrs: enough to pay off Nat Debt: Many of the 1,000 caused crash to begin with.

It’s only the poor sods at the bottom of the pile who will get the poor pickings they most definitely do not deserve.

There is nothing unusual in what I am saying, of course: you know all of this; we all do.

But I do wonder if what has afflicted us isn’t a question of personal and evil greed, after all.  Rather, it may have a lot more to do with the fact that no one, whether at the bottom or the top of the pile, really has those magpie-mind skills I mentioned earlier on: we only know how to do well what our apportioned role in life allows us to.  None of us can manage, however, for reasons of training, education and upbringing, to bring to a world careering out of simplicity a broad and comprehensive understanding of its weaknesses.

No one at the top, no one at the bottom, no one anywhere can comprehend any more this world we survive in.

We are lost because the relationships between our component parts have become too complicated to appreciate their extent.  A single glance, whilst still enough to lead us to love at first sight, is no longer enough to allow us to understand the socioeconomic implications of our civic and political acts.

Democracy is a simple idea whose time has come and gone.

The world has become a tangled ball of wool whose complexity can only continue to multiply.

Paul C and E, if only there were more of your type.  Unfortunately, there aren’t.  We are doomed.

Apr 162012

Sergey Brin, of Google fame, argues the following:

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”

There are other things in this interview which I do agree wholeheartedly with.  This for example:

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet […].

To that list, in fact, we might care one day to add the UK.

Especially in the light of other news from yesterday which indicates that the Russians may be planning to embrace similar controls on their Internet in the future.

But when Brin talks about the carve-up of the free and open Internet, I am inclined to want to take the position that Google itself is not entirely without blame.  Brin is clear that some of the forces ranged against his – and our – baby include the following:

[…] the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

Whilst I agree that the entertainment industry wishes to have its cake and eat it – for I might argue that if an existing structure isn’t appropriate for your distribution needs, why take the decision to distribute on it in the first place? – the walled gardens of Facebook in particular are surely a reaction to Google’s monopolistic dominance of the aforementioned freedoms it avows it is in favour of.  As I wrote some time ago on the subject of pernicious paywalls, the worldwide web in its native form is a truly beautiful thing:

To date, the Internet can be characterised and defined by two things: firstly, it has been more a space of discourse, more a flat hierarchy of multiple communication impulses, than a controlled business channel of traditional producer-consumer relationships.  Anatomically speaking, more like a global brain with its extensive network of redundant neurones sparking off each other than an intestinal system which helps process a beginning, a middle and an end.

Secondly, its fundamental tool – the hyperlink – has changed how we read information quite profoundly: the promiscuity of search has taken over from the power of a previously framed narrative.  Through that promiscuity, we look for answers to questions which tumble out of thoughts we must – over and over again – addictively pursue.  Neither is that beginning, middle and end predestined any longer – nor, often, repeatable.  The uniqueness of the narrative experience that each user of hyperlinks brings to the often very private storytelling they engage in as they surf the Web keeps millions of people obsessively tied to their PCs at the end of a multitude of long working days.

These two defining concepts – space and linkage – are what have made the Internet the force that it is today.  And for the vast majority of publishers who currently connect to the Web, this Internet is exactly the Internet they need.  They’re not looking for a mass-market reach to publish their content; instead, they have friends, colleagues and interest groups who actually choose to read what they are publishing, and do so night after night without prompting – quite without the seduction of competitions, bingo, free CDs or tickets to the cinema.

Google, however, has built an advertising empire on a set of hidden search algorithms which it allows to be massaged quite blatantly.  From sponsored ads which sit at the very top of its search results to websites and their URLs which creep up the rankings via carefully lodged supporting links from key sites across the web, the industry of search engine optimisation (SEO) is to Google what, in its heyday, the concept of third-party ecosystem was to Microsoft.  It sells the basic idea and principle to eager paying customers; it supports the legitimacy of the search model in question; and, finally, it helps keep other players firmly out of the market – essentially in order that Google, quite paradoxically, might convince a whole planet that when it monopolises the open Internet it is actually making all of us as free as could be.

No mention, for example, of all the data it has collected on us in order that its model of a “free” Internet might be better monetised on behalf of its shareholders.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I like Apple’s business model either.  Nor is Facebook quite what I thought it might be even a couple of years ago.  But I do get the impression that whilst Google’s landgrab did take place on a relatively open Internet, its ways and methods since then have only served to create a simulacrum of openness – a simulacrum where in reality those in power can move their favourite souls up and down the popularity stakes almost at will.

That original dream of Google’s, to make useful information available to anyone, has been gamed, distorted and messed around with – even, I might suggest, and quite arguably, by the company itself.

On such an open Internet, who wouldn’t want to create parallel universes?

Facebook and Apple aren’t the reason we’ve lost that dream.

Facebook and Apple are simply the symptom of Google’s greed.

Jun 252011

KatrinaNation knocked me sideways with this particular tweet just now:

In 2010,World Wealth Report estimated 103,000 people of 7 bn. on planet controlled 36.1 percent of world’s wealth.Taxing richest off table!?

I am, for a change, quite speechless – or, perhaps, that should be wordless.

Aren’t you?

Meanwhile, just take a look at how some of the almost 7 billion others are judged by the unintentionally patronising eye of Western journalism to be engaged in a victory of poverty over Indian injustice.  The story of micro-entrepreneurs – as couched in this piece – does kind of allow us to turn a blind eye to the 36.1 percent concentrated in the hands of the richest among us, who themselves barely deserve the description afforded the slum-dwellers.  For yes, the latter are entrepreneurs – absolutely true.  But they are driven not by reasonable necessity – that necessity which leads admirably to invention – so much as a disgraceful imbalance of resources between those at the top of the pyramid and those at the bottom.

They are not imaginatively creative but desperately imaginative.  And it is by our acts that we have put them where they are.

Let us never lose sight of this – even as we like to brush aside the intellectual incoherence which resides in believing that out of our systemic lack of equality the rest of the world will somehow find its salvation.