Apr 262013
 
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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.


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Oct 302012
 
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This is quite an astonishing story.  I strongly advise you to read it in full.  It introduces itself thus:

The anti-capitalist protesters who occupied St Paul’s Cathedral were both morally and intellectually right, a senior Bank of England official said last night.

The report goes on to describe what was said in the choicest of ways:

“Occupy has been successful in its efforts to popularise the problems of the global financial system for one very simple reason; they are right,” Mr Haldane said last night. Mr Haldane, the Bank’s executive director for financial stability, was speaking to Occupy Economics, an offshoot of the Occupy movement, at an event in central London.

It also describes what was not said:

In the text of his speech distributed by the Bank last night, Mr Haldane made no reference to the techniques employed by the Occupy protesters.

Our response?  Read the whole of the story – and then cry out: “Hallelujah!”

*

You know what this means, don’t you?  The situation is far worse than any of us in the middle-class mainstream of political acquiescence ever imagined.  That the Bank of England should now be siding with people who at the time were treated thus is absolutely gobsmacking.  Keeping in mind its prior responsibility in the whole light-touch regulation era, it’s about as close as any organisation of its magnitude and weight is ever going to get to providing us with an abject apology.

If it weren’t for that awful hurricane affecting sixty million Americans, even the BBC might give this piece of news the prominence it’s clearly due.

Which reminds me.  I received an email from HMV this morning, in all its graphic-laden glory, which encouraged me to click and “see all” of the latest “BBC Kids” offering.

Is it really the moment to be carrying out such campaigns?  Does no one really not see – or, indeed, care about – the terrible sense of irony they might generate in those most intimately affected?

How carefully the establishment wishes to choreograph its decline.

Even as it’s that very real 99 percent which they have encouraged and allowed to suffer the most.

A 99 percent which – with the Bank of England’s most recent declarations – clearly, sincerely and inevitably exists.

The big question now is where that all leaves Cameron & Co.  In a sense, as beached as any political whale has ever shown itself to be.  And by a tsunami of an admission from an institution which stands at the very heart of the establishment the Coalition claims to sustain.

Anyone noticed?  Not yet.  Not really.

But they will …


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Sep 302012
 
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To cut short what could in other circumstances be a very long story, here’s a bit of evidence from Friday’s El País newspaper which – I think you’ll agree – clearly goes to show that the thesis of this post’s title may actually be true:

El presidente de Planeta, José Manuel Lara, ha asegurado esta mañana que si Cataluña acaba por independizarse el grupo trasladaría su sede social a otra ciudad de España. “Se lo decía al president [de la Generalitat, Artur Mas]: yo lo tengo más fácil que nadie. No hay ningún negocio editorial que tenga su sede en un país extranjero que hable otro idioma. Es absurdo. La sede se tendría que ir a Zaragoza, Madrid o Cuenca”, ha asegurado el empresario catalán. “La independencia es absolutamente imposible”, ha agregado Lara […].

Loosely translated, this becomes:

The president of Planeta [the biggest Spanish publisher], José Manuel Lara, has this morning declared that if Catalunya becomes independent the group will move its headquarters to another city in Spain.  “I said it to the president [of the Generalitat, Artur Mas]: it’s easier for me than anyone. There is no publishing business which has its headquarters in a foreign country which speaks another language. It’s absurd. The headquarters would have to go to Zaragoza, Madrid or Cuenca,” said the Catalan businessman.  “Independence is absolutely impossible,” added Lara […].

What’s more, Lara is reported to have concluded that:

“En una guerra del cava habrá muertos y heridos graves”, ha avisado.

Again, translating thus:

“In a war of cava [the Catalan equivalent of champagne] there will be deaths and seriously wounded,” he has warned.

Puzzled by the allusions?  I think the background will go something like this: the war of cava is a metaphor for fighting over the soul of Catalunya.  Cava is characteristically Catalan – everyone in Spain drinks it instead of French champagne.  It’s an icon of Catalan industry and something all the Spanish are accustomed to buy when they wish to celebrate a birthday, Christmas or other special occasion.  I’m unclear from the piece in El País whether Planeta’s president was speaking literally or figuratively, but the tone lately of the Spanish people I follow on Twitter who are against independence and Occupy (they do go together as both are perceived to be threats to the established order in equal degree) would seem to indicate either could be the case.

Something’s going on, isn’t it?

Instead of it being explicitly cast as a rewriting of the social contract, changing people’s entitlements and changing the way the society establishes its legitimacy, the dismembering of the welfare state is presented as a technocratic exercise of “balancing the books”. Democracy is neutered in the process and the protests against the cuts are dismissed. The description of the externally imposed Greek and Italian governments as “technocratic” is the ultimate proof of the attempt to make the radical rewriting of the social contract more acceptable by pretending that it isn’t really a political change.

And what’s more, it doesn’t seem it’s being allowed to filter properly into the outside world:

Spain and Portugal are having austerity forced on them because the EU authorities are trying to save (mostly northern European) commercial banks from the consequences of their reckless lending to the Spanish property market. The protesters are demanding national self-determination in the face of rule by bankers. This is something that might interest people in Britain. But it isn’t often framed in those terms.

Big bad business is now getting tough and playing hardball with the aspirations of ordinary people – people who are suffering from fifty percent youth unemployment and from a twenty percent national average; who believe in that national self-determination Dan talks of, whether at a nationalist or simply Spanish-state kind of level; and are simply looking to recover their right to inhabit (where not occupy) their public and municipal spaces of democratic discourse.

I love the Spanish.  I love their ways of thinking.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the fear and baggage gathering around the idea of a truly representative democracy, which in some ways both relate to the still unresolved contradictions of dictatorship, don’t half make it difficult for their elites and their intellectuals to believe in the innate wisdom and savvy straightforwardness of all those citizens in the street.

Citizens who, precisely because of what those elites and intellectuals have engineered between them, might now have to end up living in the street.


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Dec 012011
 
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One very good tool I learned at the gigantic corporation I worked at for over six years was to break difficult problems down into bitesized pieces.  As these corporations tend to make work incredibly boring by doing the same with their processes, nevertheless – as a way of thinking and dealing with the overwhelming – this is a powerful approach.

The #occupy movements are now doing the same with the massive issues and challenges to hand in our society.  Watch the following video and tell me if I’m wrong – and then if you’ve still got the wisdom to reassess your opinion, do so.  It’s only fair.


http://youtu.be/0dOPLJJIACU

So why do I think #occupy has learned from the big corporations? 

First, you must protest and raise awareness from as wide a constituency as you are able to.  This phase of any consciousness-raising must last as long as possible.  It’s important, therefore, to be as imprecise as is practical in order to gain as wide an acceptance of your movement as you can.  This is equivalent to Induction Week at any large company – and one can see this happening at #occupy movements across the world as protests stretch out to the maximum the time they inhabit public spaces.

Second, with those who now understand a little, you must put in place training processes – to improve the intelligibility to the outside world of people new to political endeavour.   This is equivalent to Training Month at any large company – and one can see this happening at #occupy movements across the world as tent universities spring up.

Third, you must put into practice all those things you have taught your followers – and continue to underline the importance of focussing on the enemy.  This in a large company is called Customer Service – only we never call the customer the enemy …

And – in a sense – the above is only now beginning to happen in the movements under discussion, as #occupy protesters learn the importance of targeting different audiences and assigning different messages to different groups of voters and potentially interested parties.

In truth, #occupy has had astonishing teachers and tutors.  The corporations which would run this world have transmitted a lot of important learning.  They have made us love and covet their products and services to such an extent that we know them inside out.  And once we come to the point where we know them inside out, there must come a time when we feel the need to turn them outside in.

That time has come.  And this video explains, to those still to be convinced by statistics, exactly why the #occupy movements are righter than you think.

They are not the flower-power children of the 1960s who would drop out of society in disgust.  If the baby boomers now in charge of governments are thinking this, then they are very very wrong.  No.  This generation is completely different – it’s a highly educated, practical and pragmatic group of problem solvers without peers in human history.  Flippantly put, we could argue they are the Game Boy and Girl generation.  And they are not looking – in their majority – to bring down society.  As the video points out, this is not a question of retribution but restitution.

Remember this, dear politicos – as you number-crunch and focus-group your unhappy ways to clumsily-held public positions.

Playing games was once the preserve of professional politicians.  Now the expertise has been massively acquired by whole swathes of amateur aficionados.

And this game, right now, has only just started.


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Nov 272011
 
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Norman has an interesting thesis:

[…] Even if the sense many Occupy-ers have that, in Jones’s words, ‘the overwhelming majority [of people] have divergent interests from those at the top’ is accurate, this is a fact about the breakdown of people’s interests and not about their political will. If you’re committed to democracy, any kind of genuine democracy, you still have to win this – popular opinion, popular will – and to demonstrate that you’ve won it. Until you’ve done this you have no basis for claiming that your protest obliges anybody, let alone everybody.

 I responded on Facebook thus:

[…] When closed systems like ours abuse over a period of time the established institutions, the reaction which results will inevitably be in the same mould – ie just as extreme. It’s happened in the software industry, so why not democratic discourse? You don’t want people taking matters into their own hands? Then probably better not to teach them via supposedly democratic institutions and behaviours that it’s the way of the world.

Meanwhile, what happens when the reality of democratic intercourse is distorted to such an extent that democracy essentially doesn’t exist?  This, for example (the bold is mine):

On a smaller front Occupy London has redefined politics in the capital in a manner unimaginable only a year ago. It has completely exposed the City of London Corporation for the secretive and anti-democratic beast that it is. It is now inconceivable that its medieval system of governance will continue. This isn’t wishful thinking on the part of the idealist me. Plans are afoot to kill the monster. Across the country, people have long been effectively disenfranchised by living in parliamentary constituencies where their votes counted for nothing because of the ludicrous first past the post system we used to count up their electoral preferences. In the City of London (the square mile inside the rest of London) corporations get more votes than human beings. […]

And then again, whilst little evidence seems to be perceived of a generosity of democratic heart by such protesters in the face of widespread manipulation – over time – by self-interested political and media professionals, examples of such generosity do nevertheless exist.  As the above piece goes on to point out:

Occupy London’s encampment was in situ on the crucial date for the registration of electors. The simple truth is that far more people passed through our camp on that date and are entitled to register as being homeless voters in the square mile than there are corporate votes registered in the City. The lists are being drawn up. The voter registration forms will be submitted. Doubtless, the City of London Corporation will resist these registrations. We will defeat that resistance by judicial review. Genuine democracy will prevail in the City and we will open up all the information which has been held secret from us: the cash accounts, the furtive lobbying, the whole damn lot. […]

So maybe Norman is right after all.  Maybe it is possible.  Maybe there are intentions afoot which aim to beat undemocracy democratically.

It is, however, difficult – you will admit – to site oneself outside one’s own society.  If the #occupy protesters do manage such a feat (brought up as they have been in a mire of decades of that undemocracy I mention), they will have shown themselves far better politicians than those who currently rule our roosts.  Son of Thatcher, son of Blair, son of Cameron and all.

Good luck – and good on yer folks.

For we are waiting with baited breath.


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Nov 272011
 
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This deserves to be read all round the world:

Paranoia, like mental distress, flourishes in the absence of a public culture. When ideas can be discussed freely among equals, we can revise and improve overly simple explanations – just as we can challenge unnecessary complexity and technocratic obfuscation. Individuals can change their minds, or shift the emphasis of their concerns, without feeling humiliated. They don’t have to do what many critics of conspiratorial culture demand and embrace the conventional wisdom about politics and economics, with all its absurdities and obvious failure of logic, evidence and common sense.

I am not starry-eyed about occupations and assemblies. And it is far too early to make confident pronouncements about what they mean – their meaning will only be determined by what happens in the years ahead. But there is one lesson that we can take from them – and it is worth bearing in mind, I think.

Public speech is good for us.

If this tells us anything, it is that a profoundly individualised society leads inevitably to a degraded state of mental wellbeing.  Not because of what, thus unleashed, individuals may do; rather, because of what, thus bound, they can’t share.  In another part of this fascinating text (the bold is mine), we are told that:

[…] A number of people have said that they found the experience of being in the assembly profoundly beneficial. One young woman who suffers from anxiety said that she spent an hour in Saint Paul’s before she realised that she had been symptom-free the whole time. People have had a chance to talk with others about politics and economics, and so about the shared conditions of life. They have been able to acknowledge their disquiet and to situate it in the social realm, rather than in their autobiography or in their brain chemistry. That in itself has been an enormous relief.

And this (again the bold is mine):

Part of the inhumanity of the current order resides in the widespread insistence that individual, rather than the social order, is the proper object of reform. In what amounts to an attempt to suppress our political nature, we are told that we must make ourselves acceptable to what exists, to what is inevitable. But troubles in our lives are not our individual achievement. The language and images, the built environment, the power relations that shape our experience of life, these all form part of what must be considered when we consider the puzzle of our own troubles. Sadness is not a private property.

Here, then, in these few short paragraphs, we have a startlingly breathtaking understanding of the problems which drive so many of us – a quarter, they say, along the length and breadth of our lifetimes – to real mental despair.  A figure which, they say, is also rising – and does not include those who simply rub along in desultory disengagement.

And so it is that we need socialism not for profoundly economic reasons; that, in the light of all that has happened recently, is clear enough to see.  No.  The real reason why we truly need more socialism is in order to frame with a manifest justice that battle in favour of our most common instincts and impulses – instincts and impulses which an individualising society has clearly repressed: that is to say, those overwhelming desires to socialise our needs to communicate, compare and contrast with others in supportive and safe public spaces.

They have substituted our public spaces with private spaces of public use; they have substituted our municipal towns and cities with globalised online communities run on the behalf of money and commerce; they have substituted our supportive environments of yore with medication and therapies galore.  How can it not be the case that we might become sad and depressive in such damnably isolating habitats – unable to do anything but locate our social suffering in the personal sin of the culpable?

If the #occupy movements are able to move us on at all positively in the future, it will be in this attempt to regain the power and healing nature of that natural area of socialised communication – that comparing and contrasting I mention above which make us well, connected and humane again in a way that no other system may achieve.

This is why we must remake our institutions.  This is why we must support #occupy.


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Nov 212011
 
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This, from the Telegraph this morning, points us in the right direction:

Children as young as nine have been living among drinkers and hard drug users amid the squalid surroundings of the St Paul’s protest camp, a report has found.

Meanwhile, Luke Bozier neatly summarises the issue on our behalf in this tweet:

A sex offender, drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, defecation & urine. Occupy London has become a disgrace. http://t.co/NgK7pgyc

But he’s wrong about one thing.  It’s not Occupy London that’s become a disgrace.  It’s the fact that – as the Telegraph report can’t help pointing out – people who might do these things are homelessly roaming the streets of London in the first place:

“City of London social worker Joy Hollister said the camp had become “a magnet for very vulnerable people” attracted by free food, tents and clothing.

They have to come from somewhere.  They are not magicked out of thin air.  And that somewhere is precisely the streets of the richest city in the land.  Even as, in the midst of awful crisis, the wealthiest amongst us increase incomes by unimaginable amounts.

So before I finish this post, I would like to repeat Luke’s thoughtful tweet – though this time with a few pertinent links of my own:

For these are examples of the human condition, Luke.  And just ‘cos you don’t care to admit their existence, when hidden, doesn’t mean they don’t – even so – exist all the time.


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Nov 132011
 
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The “big tent” political strategy has many long-running adepts:

In the United States, during the latter half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the Republican Party boasted membership of big business interests, laborers (both of whom supported the GOP’s tariff strategy) as well as many African-Americans, due to Republican Abraham Lincoln’s abolition of slavery and the party’s stance on civil rights.

Also, in the United States, a very good example of this approach was the New Deal coalition which formed in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. This coalition brought together labor unions, southern Dixiecrats, progressives, and others in support of FDR’s economic program, even though these groups strongly disagreed on other issues.

In Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada is not strongly ideological or regional, but is instead open to members with a wide range of views. While some criticize the party for lacking in conviction, supporters argue that compromise is an essential feature of democracy.

In the United States, the Democratic Party has some big-tent features according to the dominant understanding of the US political spectrum. It has liberal and progressive, moderate, social democratic, and conservative wings.

Other famous examples of catch all parties include the Republic of Ireland’s Fianna Fáil, which has variously been categorised as socialist (according to former deputy leader Brian Lenihan)[citation needed] and neo-Thatcherite/neo-Reaganite, a description applied to the economic policies and politics of former Minister for Finance (1997–2004) Charles McCreevy. Fianna Fáil served in the coalition from 1989 to 1992 with the fiscally monetarist yet socially liberal Progressive Democrats, then with the social-democratic Labour Party and yet again with the Progressive Democrats, with Fianna Fáil tailoring its policies accordingly. After the 2007 Irish General Election campaign, Fianna Fáil formed a coalition with the Progressive Democrats, the centre-left Green Party and initially three independent TDs (MPs). The party suffered spectacular losses at the 2011 General election in part due to the current Irish financial crisis, where it lost 57 of its outgoing 77 TD’s being relegated into third place (Behind Fine Gael and Labour).

The Indian National Congress and Italy’s now defunct Christian Democracy both attracted such a broad range of support as to make them catch all parties.

When Gordon Brown became British Prime Minister in 2007, he invited several members from outside the Labour Party in to his government. These included former CBI Director-General Digby Jones who became a Minister of State, and former Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown who was offered the position of Northern Ireland Secretary (Ashdown turned down the offer).[1][2] The media often refer to Brown’s Ministry as “a government of all the talents” or simply “Brown’s big tent”.[3]

It’s clear that what we’re talking about here is anything but coherent.  But – in many cases – it seems to work.  For a while at least.

So if politicos can successfully practise it, why not the #occupy movements of “rainbow coalitions” across the world?  Why, in fact, do we choose to use this rather hippy-like term for anti-establishment movements which, nevertheless, may be couched in fair and measured reactions to aggressive and unhelpful realities – and yet, when we talk about the actions of establishment professionals, we use containing and inclusive language such as “big tent” and “government of all the talents”?

Compare, for example, the following perception from Rolling Stone (thanks to Patrick for the tweet which brought this to my attention) to the historical description of such strategies which I’ve already quoted from above:

[…] Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

The relationships inscribed by these two texts are really not all that dissimilar.  And if established political parties can legitimately act as catch-alls, can use Third Way strategies to neutralise their oppositions, then I would fairly suggest we should admit the possibility that general movements like these – which are against everything modern society stands for – also deserve at the very least a hearing from the wise in our civilisations.

For it does, in fact, occur to me that much as Cameron is son of Blair and Blair is son of Thatcher, so #occupy instincts across the world are more than likely – in some way – sons and daughters of all these clever and fork-tongued communicators.

And so it is that these “rainbow coalitions” may, in reality, be far less naive than we currently presuppose.  They have, after all, had the very best of teachers …


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Nov 132011
 
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Wikipedia Commons

John Naughton’s always excellent Memex 1.1 pointed us yesterday in the direction of an article by David Runciman in the Guardian on Friday.  The article’s thesis essentially runs as follows: the dynastic proclivities of the printed press have meant that democracy in Britain has been seriously undermined by the comparatively temporary nature of politicians:

[…] As well as having short attention spans, newspapers also have long ones. They are still there long after the politicians have gone, which means they always get the last word. At the beginning of the film The Queen, Tony Blair is ushered into Downing Street and told by his monarch that he is her 10th prime minister. It is not hard to imagine a similar scene being played out in the court of Rupert Murdoch. David Cameron, after all, is his seventh prime minister. Murdoch resembles the Queen in more ways than he might like to admit. As well as being autocratic, press power also tends to be dynastic (the Daily Mail still belongs to the Rothermeres; Murdoch is still desperate to pass some newspapers to his children, as his father passed some newspapers to him). A lot depends on being able to outlast the politicians. The web has undone plenty of things about the newspaper business, but so far it hasn’t undone that. Newspaper owners can keep their power in the family in a way that democratic politicians can’t, however much some of them (the Clintons, the Bushes) might like to try.

However, so the thesis continues, as printed news-gathering and opinion-forming becomes more and more web-based, and web-based ecosystems rise and fall with greater enthusiasm, the fierce hold which such organisations have been able to maintain over our democratic discourse will become less imposing and effective.

This leads us to realise, happily perhaps, especially in the light of youthful campaigns such as the #occupylsx movement, that – in order for democracies to function at all well – we need rolling change in all its pillars rather more than we need the traditional experience of old.  That is to say, we don’t only need to refresh the politicos on a regular basis; we also need to refresh the journos and – in particular – their owners.

The problem, of course, with such a conclusion as this is how – at the same time – we take advantage of the steady hands of wisdom which most societies over time quite rightly engender.

Even as there are some cases of longevity none of us would wish to ever promote.

That, then, is the challenge of democracies across the world.  Empowering the people to choose as they should in an environment of debate which – itself – does not become just as debatable.

Perhaps, again, in its rapacious pursuit of excellence, the web will come riding to our rescue.

This time not via content – nor, indeed, through software code or technological empowerment.  Rather, far more profoundly, as a result of its fleeting and helter-skelter business models.

From 24-hour news to 24-hour politicians to 24-hour news-gathering organisations … it all comes full circle.  Yet, it does occur to me that as we guarantee the freshness of our democratic institutions, we run the risk not only of unnecessarily starting from scratch but also losing our precious sense of history.

On the other hand, perhaps that is all to the good.  Too many violences have been committed in the name of historical coherence.  Maybe we would all be better off without that dead hand of experience I describe.

So does democracy need change more than it needs that experience?

Whether we like the idea or not, I think over the next few years that is exactly what we are going to find out.


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Nov 072011
 
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A couple of weeks ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle as people resigned from various posts within St Paul’s Cathedral.  The #occupyslx protesters were making life difficult for everyone – and the Corporation of the City of London was looking to make life even more difficult than ever.  Then the subject of a report came up, commissioned to examine the City’s relationship with money and morals by an institute which depends on St Paul’s Cathedral for its existence.  It seemed it had been pulled because it made life embarrassing for everyone – allegedly, its publication might have seen (God forbid) the Church coming down on the side of the poor.

More recently, evidence that a smear campaign is beginning to take place has emerged – and it may only be a matter of time before the truth and honesty at the centre of #occupylsx is lost, at least here in Britain.

A feral press does not make for an adequate and sensible assessment of reality in the face of the pecuniary virtues of sensationalism.

Anyhow.  It would appear, at last, that the report I mention above has finally been allowed to slip into the public domain.  It’s not much more than twenty pages long – and I thought I’d pick out and reproduce those paragraphs which most caught my eye.

The Reverend Dr Giles Fraser in his Introduction has the following to say on morals and human relationships:

[…] over half of those asked thought the Big Bang had a detrimental effect upon the ethical behaviour of the City; and it is remarkable that 79% of city professionals did not know the motto of the London Stock Exchange – “my word is my bond”. One explanation for both of these findings may have to do with the way in which Big Bang took a great deal of direct human contact out of the act of  trading itself. According to that great Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, the face of the other is the primary site of moral obligation. Having all the right rules and regulations in place is all well and good – indeed, they are obviously essential – but the real tug to do what is right comes from looking into the face of another and recognizing an obligation to someone other than oneself. The fact that trading is nowso heavily mediated by technology and less reliant on direct human contact may go some way to explainhow a sense of moral obligation has come to feel less compelling. Furthermore, as a great many haveargued, morality is at its most robust when it is impregnated within a strong sense of community. The oldCity may have been an exclusive and inward looking club – but the benefit of clubs is that members often have a better developed sense of values and are able to hold each other to account for failing to live up to the club’s standards. As Albert Schweitzer put it: “Ethics is a state of solidarity with other human beings.”

On socialism for the rich:

[…] Governments had to step in with unprecedented levels of state support. Many rightly complained that when banks made huge profits the benefits went mostly to a few private investors and in extraordinary bonuses, but when banks made huge losses this became a public and taxpayer responsibility. This was socialism for the rich. And, for some, it was hard to see how all this bailing out of the banks didn’t simply incentivize further irresponsible risk taking.

On the Bible, money and sex (the bold is mine):

Another explanation for how challenging I found the work is to be found in the widespread belief,expressed very strongly in this survey, that the church has little of interest to say to the City. And it is interesting that, according to the figures, the City goes to church less than the general public as a whole.This is partly explained by the fact that the church itself is largely illiterate when it came to questions of finance. Despite the fact that, if you count up all the references, the right use of money is the number one moral issue in the Bible, the church has preferred to spend its time arguing endlessly about sex. […]

On the difference between capitalism and Christian ethics:

Capitalism and ethics – and not least specifically Christian ethics –can often feel like uncomfortable bedfellows. Since Adam Smith many have come to regard the pursuit of self-interest within the marketplace as a legitimate driver for the common good. Christian ethics works in such a very different way – asserting that the common good is generated by a selfless commitment to the other. It is no wonder the conversation between the church and the City can be a tricky one. But it is not one the church can duck. Which is why I hope this report will act as a stimulus for further debate.

Then we come to the report itself, and its Executive Summary, which I quote in full below (the bold, by the way, is theirs):

This research confirms and refutes numerous stereotypes about financial services professionals working in the City of London. In response to certain questions, the respondents play to type. For example, ‘salary and bonuses’ are the most important motivation for professionals working in the FS sector in London for 2 in 3(64%) of participants. ‘Enjoyment of the work’ comes a distant second. However, in other areas, they confound the stereotype of ‘greed is good’ capitalists. Most notably, FS professionals in London tend to think that bankers, stock brokers, FTSE 100 chief executives,lawyers and city bond traders are being paid too much. Moreover, most FS professionals in London think that deregulation of financial markets results in less ethical behaviour.

FS professionals in London tend to be positive about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in their companies, with the majority agreeing that CSR is discussed and incentivised in their workplace. They also tend to reject the notion that CSR has a negative effect on shareholder value. Most notably of all, 75% agree that there is too great a gap between rich and poor in this country, and 58% agree that companies should invest directly in deprived communities.

Levels of knowledge on the history of the FS in the UK varies considerably, with the most experienced professionals far more knowledgeable about the history of the City and the economy more broadly.

  • Most do not know the London Stock Exchange’s (LSE) motto (just 14%).
  • Most FS professionals are not aware of earlier recessions in the UK around 1980 and 1990/91.
  • Many are not completely familiar with what happened after the financial‘Big Bang’:
    • 2 in 5 think that the LSE crashed following the ‘Big Bang’.
    • 1 in 3 disagree that the financial markets were deregulated.
    • 2 in 5 are not sure whether firms were allowed to be owned by an international corporation, although 42% say that was the case.
    • The majority do not know that minimum scales of commission were abolished and whether individual members of the LSE ceased to havev oting rights.
    • More than two-thirds (69%) did not know that the financial ‘Big Bang’happened in 1986.

In the year of the 25th Anniversary of the financial ‘Big Bang’, these findings are particularly pertinent.

Finally, 41% of FS professionals in London currently believe in God, which compares to 38% who do not. However, findings suggest that they are not active about their faith as 47% say they never attend a religious service or meeting, apart from special occasions. 76% of FS professionals do not agree that the City needs to listen more to the guidance of the Church.

In a sense, then, it would seem that the Church has managed to shoot itself in the foot.  By focussing on the morality of the sexual aspects of our latterday life, it has virtually abandoned any real engagement with the morality of money.  Indeed, it would seem that this has taken place primarily because the Church can’t avoid getting involved itself in matters of very big money – in order that it may continue to operate as a corporate institution itself.

We only have to see the disclaimers at the beginning of this report to realise how similar this is to a content corporation selling us DVDs with interviews whose opinions thus contained it might not care to agree with:

St Paul’s Institute is a part of the wider mission of St Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral does not necessarily share the views of all of those who contribute to the web site or event programmes. Rather, the cathedral supports and endorses the Institute as a space in which this important discussion can occur.

A little better than ads telling us not to pirate films through illegal downloading, I do accept.  But, all the same, it does strike me as a mite mealy-mouthed to say the least.

Unnecessarily mealy-mouthed is what I really mean.

Why can’t a church, for goodness sake, have the courage of its convictions?

*

One lesson which does seem to clearly emerge is that the City professionals who were interviewed may wish – at some point or another – to form part of the generalised cry against greed and excessive remuneration which the 99 percent do proclaim.  Even as they form, in their majority, part of a generation which appears to totally ignore the reality before the Big Bang of massive deregulation.

A story and a half to tell there too.  A generation without a historical perspective is a dangerous generation indeed.

Which makes the moment when someone decided to pull the report all the more baffling.

Even-handed, to an extent, it lays bare the fact that even in the City you can find human beings.

Now why on earth did anyone want to muffle that message?
____________________

Update to this post: the #occupylsx protesters have just published this commentary on the above report on their website.  Worth a read.


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Nov 062011
 
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This has just come my way via the always attuned Paul Waugh:

David Willetts tells #murnaghan “it would be appalling if we had a repeat of those shocking” student demos of a year ago

It seems that soundbites like these, when they are bidden to make their way through the ether, are deliberately fashioned to distract and confuse.  Corporate capitalism reserves itself the right to continue on its merry way, as it detonates the potentially constructive mechanisms its close cousin could inscribe (though even here, some would beg to question such positions).  Meanwhile, those who protest the robbery which takes place behind the closed doors of tax-havened boardrooms must be of an intachable reputation.  And yet, with this last point we must not argue.

For if we were to do so, people like David Willetts would have every right to bandy the cheap politicking a person of his intellectual stature should surely otherwise resist.

To link a priori public demonstrations with physical violence, without recognising – as publicly – the private aggressions and selfishnesses of people who refuse to believe in any kind of civic society at all, is utterly unreasonable.  If Mr Willetts truly believes in the latter, as I think he would honestly have us understand, such opinions need to be far more measured and intellectually profound in their dimensions.

If we are to maintain the moral high ground – if we are not to step down to the levels of those who support the Tory half of Mr Willetts’ governing coalition – then we need to precisely avoid the violence he unjustly alludes to, even as we maintain our firmness in the face of the private machinations I mention above.

Whilst nation states such as the United Kingdom lead us to understand that at the end of sometimes empty diplomacy there lies only the final military threat of bombs and bullets in international relations, it is our job in civic society to ignore such mindsets – and use our intelligence to invent new ways of effective peaceful protest.  As Scarboroboy points out about the video I link to in my previous post:

@eiohel Yep. And with a chorus of people all repeating, and ready to lead, the speech it is impossible to eject the ‘lone’ demonstrator.

It will be important to engage with professional politicians one of these days – but that time has not arrived as yet.

Nor should it.

And in the meantime, slowly and carefully and wisely does it.

That’s the real choice we should take away from the self-interested pronouncements and intellectual vacuities of the Willetts of this world.

Don’t allow such professional politicians as these to do what they have always done: twist people’s truly-held beliefs to their own selfish and short-term ends.

Continue to be true to yourself – but also more astute than the opposition would care you to be.


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Nov 032011
 
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I’ve been writing quite a bit recently about the subject of the twin attacks by this Coalition government on two of the fundamental pillars of the Welfare State – first, on evidence-based mindsets in the NHS and the law not understanding politicians who don’t care about evidence; second, on how the government prefers to save less money on Legal Aid than the professionals propose  – at the same time as cutting more services than it needs to; and third, here and here on how some members of the government itself may actually aim to make money out of these attacks on the Welfare State.

Meanwhile, Political Scrapbook published a post yesterday on the subject of the “backwoodsmen” (and presumably “backwoodswomen”) who have suddenly found time to attend to their financial interests and vote in the House of Lords on the NHS bill currently going through Parliament.  This is PS’s list of the self-interested.  And interesting reading it most definitely makes.

Finally, from our pantheon of the selfish, I link to a report which has come my way via the excellent Sound Off For Justice campaign.  I think it deserves to be reported here in full, as it relates to all the complicated and distracting stuff highlighted above – essentially designed, as far as I can see, to unfocus and distract us from the task of defending all this good about the UK.  Here it is (.pdf file hosted on Google Docs).

So in the light of all the above, what has happened to this Coalition government over the past year and a half?  It seems to me that they planned to throw at us so many changes and amendments to our ways of doing things that we would feel entirely unable to fight them on any front.  Yet the final result of all their movement, their fear of committing Blair’s mistake of a lost first term, has been a stretching-far-too-thinly of most government attention to the detail which differentiates good governance from the bad.

The full explanation of what really underlies all this misery?  They’re an incompetent bunch – not up to the challenges which lie ahead.

What can we do?  First of all, not engage.  Keep a healthy distance, in fact, from their soiling habits and customs.

And second?  Well, I’m not sure yet.  Something, I do hope, however, will occur to us.

We are, after all, those millions and millions of crowdsourcing eyes which open source software so often has turned to its advantage.  But we do need to shift gear from our politicos’ belief in representative democracy to a greater understanding of what participative democracy might look like.  If Obama’s election showed us anything, it is how the channelling of disparate hopes can move electoral mountains.  In the posterior definition is when the dissatisfaction and unhappiness sets in.  But surely that is because movements like Obama’s – even in this 21st century – still move from the joy of participative politics during elections to the misery of representative politics during government.

Our task – as open sourcers, as bloggers who believe in a world of free speech, as people who would prefer a better world where democracy meant communication at all levels – is surely to achieve that shift to participation across the whole range of political activity.

The #occupylsx movement – and their friends in other countries such as the US and Spain – have encountered the context and the form they need to sustain their morality.

It is up to the rest of us to understand their grand achievement of bringing together so many people – and work out how to successfully build upon it without making it that dispiritingly dirty representative mode all over again.


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Nov 012011
 
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I wrote about the End of Morality the other day – it seemed to chime with a lot of people.  At one point, I said the following – out of intuition more than anything else (the bold is mine):

Sometimes it is just as important to track what is outside the frame – those blind spots Chris mentions – as it is to track what is made apparent.  That the Church of England has commissioned a report which would support the position young protesters had taken in relation to a key moral issue of the day – and that it then chooses not to publish it because its corporate sponsors might take offence … well, this is utterly unpardonable.

Intuition, however, can be a worthy workhorse of the truth.  Today, Political Scrapbook has done a bit of digging – and it’s come up with precisely the evidence which confirms exactly why St Paul’s Cathedral should care to bury a report on how 500 bankers feel about their lucrative earnings and bonuses.  As PS usefully points out:

Alongside a plethora of corporate donors to its 300th anniversary campaign, St Paul’s Cathedral Foundation lists its “corporate partners” as:
  • Lloyds Banking Group (worth £20.9bn)
  • Fidelity Investment Managers (privately held)
  • CMS Cameron McKenna (revenues £225m)
  • London Stock Exchange (worth £2.3bn)
  • Sarasin & Partners (privately held)
  • BGC Partners (worth $811m)

PS then proceeds to draw our attention to a post written back in October by Richard Murphy, where he makes this analysis of the people who were at the time taking the decisions behind the scenes at St Paul’s, and in which he comes to the following conclusion:

Now it’s not for me to judge.

But that looks like a very high association rate with the 1% to me.

And the St Paul’s Foundation is going to provide an objective report on the protests in the City? I have my doubts.

Guilt by association?   Not a nice thing to observe.

Or, indeed, accuse another of.

But it’s all getting to the point where the evidence is becoming overwhelming.  Under previous regimes, government kept the wealthy and greedy at bay by regulating to a certain degree their activities.  Now that the financial sector has gutted most governments of all their ready cash, through the socialism of the rich they provoked and visited upon our already unhealthy economies, it really doesn’t seem this is happening any more.  Whilst interest rates are at their consistent lowest for years, credit and charge card rates to consumers out there seem to maintain healthy margins for the banks. 

And the tripling of student loans can’t harm their balances either.

And sudden unemployment, and the growing indebtedness it provokes, certainly can’t make the corporate sponsors of St Paul’s all that unhappy about those recessions they apparently prefer to dream about.

The truth of the matter is that the societal support that Christianity – at least in the late 20th and early 21st century – has managed to engineer is beginning to vanish into thin air as the need to keep massive institutions in the money begins to drag down their ability to choose between humility and resources.

Yes.  As I pointed out earlier – the evidence is overwhelming.  People in power are now happy to exert it unashamedly.  And they don’t care if the divisions between poor and rich increase or not.

Perhaps, in reality, what we’re really seeing here is the consequence of New Labour’s years of deathly aspiration for all.  Whilst trickle-down economics was meant to improve the lot of the breadcrumb-searching poor as the economy improved unequally at the hands of the hugely-enriching wealthy, I ask myself whether we have properly examined the psychological and emotional impact of all these messages of state-sanctioned aspiration on the communal body of the rich – people who were already clearly well-versed in the matter of egoism.

Is it not conceivable, then, that what we are witnessing now is the result of a trickle-up effect which has taken place over a decade and a half – and which has removed all remaining signs of shame and selflessness from the top echelons of society?

All those carefully crafted messages designed to convince the less well-off in society that they were simply temporarily embarrassed millionaires have actually led the real millionaires to lose any notion of embarrassment about their state.

In reality, it’s we who have taught them to think of themselves in such a way.

Not a generation of baby boomers.  A generation of booming babies – both.


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Oct 292011
 
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This item came my way via my good friend Brian on Facebook, who – in turn – came across it on the following Facebook page, DareToDemand.

For those of you, then, who don’t care to have Facebook access, here is the comparison in question.

And although I have always been inclined to look favourably on collaboration, cross-party action and a broad comprehension of my fellow man and woman, in the light of the above polarisations – which any sane human being would surely wish to avoid – the future doesn’t half look bleak.

And whilst the Tories and the Lib Dems are ripping themselves up over Europe, and Europe is ripping itself up over the Euro, all we can do – those of us who choose – is to rearrange the green benches in parliaments across the globe.

*

Meanwhile, some further reading on parallel goings-on: a thoughtful piece from David tonight, over at the Methodist Preacher blog, on the subject of the occupation outside St Paul’s in London.  As he concludes (the bold is mine):

So I think back to the days when I was one of the few elected politicians who actually took on capitalis, and paid with my livelihood.. I opposed the Labour Party’s re writing of our Clause IV. I still believe that a mixed economy with various forms of common ownership such as mutuals, co-ops and nationalised strategic industries are still the best way forward. These can only be achieved by arguing the politics, winning the argument and getting elected. Against such a long term strategy the occupy LSX is little more than a passing stunt. I just hope that it raises consciousness, not dulls it.

I’m not sure I necessarily agree with everything he says – I would prefer that there could be a space for the hope expressed by the Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street to the seemingly inevitable, encompassing and even deadening realism of the professional politicos out there – but I think there is a smidgen of truth in it we have to recognise.

Even as we should also recognise the right we all have – still – to continue daring to demand.


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Oct 282011
 
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I’ve been quite fascinated by how this story developed.  Let’s track the train of events.  First, what the police did – and presumably communicated to the journalists …

Infra red images taken by a police helicopter during the early hours show that only around 20 of the 200 tents on the encampment actually have people staying in them.

… because if the police hadn’t told the journalists, why would it have occurred to them to carry out their own experiment in the first place?  As a result, then, we get this:

The Daily Telegraph has shot its own video of the St Paul’s camp using thermal imaging equipment which appears to confirm these claims.

The footage, shot at 1230am on Tuesday Oct 25 shows a multitude of darkly coloured tents around the courtyard indicating those that were unoccupied.

It would appear most of the protesters are heading home to sleep in their own beds at night rather than staying onsite.

And so it’s the turn of the rent-a-politician to get involved:

“It is like a phantom camp – a big charade,” said Matthew Richardson, a Corporation of London councillor, who is calling for action to be taken.

“It just shows that most of the people don’t have the courage of their convictions and are here just to make trouble and leaving your tent here overnight is a good way to do that.”

So, Mr Richardson, if those people had had the courage of their convictions – and had chosen to stay overnight – you’d be quite happy with at least the principle of the protest.

Only today we discover the thermal-imagining thing is possibly all tosh – especially (as might be considered logical) if the protesters are using insulated sleeping-bags.

Some of the protesters hired the same camera from the same company (see video above) in order to put the story to the test. What they found immediately was that the heat signature disappears when someone walks behind a tent. Even when no fewer than five protesters climbed into a tent (which is, after all, designed to retain the maximum heat possible) the camera barely registered their presence.

Their conclusions are supported by a military scientist specialising in camouflaging soldiers against thermal imaging technology, who told the Guardian:

They cannot make the assumption that they have made from those images. The way they are set up, you wouldn’t be able to tell if there’s anyone in the tent or not, especially if someone is sleeping in an insulated sleeping bag … I wanted to set the record straight because that’s just rubbish science.

Our conclusion?  Oh dearie me.  The chain of events in question looks like it happened thus: first, some police drew a damning conclusion; then some police told some journalists where to look; then some journalists drew a damning conclusion without checking their facts; then some journalists told a handy politician what they’d incorrectly discovered; then a handy politician declaimed the scandal up on high without doublechecking the veracity of what he was saying; then the protesters decided to doublecheck the scandal and discovered it mightn’t be true; then some other journalists interviewed someone who knew; and then this someone who knew, an expert in the matter, confirmed that what the police had told some journalists who had told a handy politician who had told a lazy media who had told a gullible public which had chosen to lap it all up was all a load of exquisitely structured rubbish – and, quite possibly, deliberately and knowingly fabricated.

Maybe it’s time we asked Councillor Richardson two main questions – as well as a supplementary:

  1. Firstly, would he now acknowledge that the #occupylsx protesters do have the courage of their convictions – and therefore deserve to stay?  
  2. Secondly, in order to be able to demonstrate such courage, does he really wish to oblige them to freeze unnecessarily?
  3. And thirdly, as a supplementary to the second, is it now OK for them to use insulating materials without incurring his made-up wrath?


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