Mar 142014
 
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For just over seven years, I wrote this blog quite blindly.  I was reactive, puzzled, thrashing about where many (most) had already thrashed.  I sometimes wondered if it was infirmity which drove me on.  But in just over seven years, I was incapable of ever writing down – in a minute or two – the common denominators that drove me in so many of my posts.

Today, on the occasion of Tony Benn’s sad death, Brian Moylan sent my way this video.  In less than two minutes, it encapsulates everything (I now realise) that made me write for seven quite helter-skelter years.  Watch it – and you’ll see exactly what I mean.


http://youtu.be/Xfk0rfbDnXo

No.  I’m not unmothballing this blog quite yet.  I’m writing over at http://error451.me/blog and blinkingti.me quite happily right now – the former with relative interest from my readers, the latter with very little interest for anyone except me.

:-)

But hey-ho, that’s the life on the open seas.

And with that celebration of a life sincerely lived, I burrow my way back into the anonymity from which I have temporarily emerged.


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Oct 252013
 
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I suppose, in the end, we have to recognise Blair was right about one thing: we have to win enough votes to win an election before we aim to do anything else.  And in a world such as ours, to draft our appeal in terms of socialism, whilst guaranteeing a certain weight and moral validity, will hardly win any prizes for attracting the sensibilities of those whose votes make the difference between a lying halfway house of a Coalition government (as per the current one) on the one hand, and a proudly declamatory and transparent offering of tone and style (as per a future Labour one, perhaps) on the other.

Maybe we do need to accept that manifestos are vague pitches which most usefully encapsulate broad intentions – intentions which should be judged and perceived from such generous perspectives.  If we look to such a proclamation of promises with the beady eye of “will you, won’t you” conditionality, deception and disillusionment will inevitably be our lot.

We have to be more realistic to our political class.  We have, ourselves, to be far more generous to what they can deliver.

I know saying this will not make me popular.  Even so, I feel it now needs to be said.

We need to give our politicos space to preach a better world – even as we know they will deliver a less good.

Instead, I think it is elsewhere we need to focus our attention – our attention, not our ire.  This wave of history lapping at our feet – in particular with respect to its technological aspect – is driving our society towards a self-taught self-help socialism of determined communities, where both large and small companies and organisations various make their livings off the backs of a renewed focus on such a contextualised individualism (perhaps with every craftsperson’s right and precedent – “Artisans of the world, unite!” – to back up the way they conduct their commercial activities).  In my own case, I find myself teaching people across the globe the ins and outs of my mother tongue.  I feel myself to be, in a way, a victim of the zero-hour generation – and yet, at the same time, I think that I number amongst the very same generation’s most blessed of all.  Whilst I am still healthy, whilst I can still live my life in a reasonably independent way, this life is perfect for me: variety of timetable, customers and content make my work and life balance quite adequate.  And in my case, I have to admit, even as I accept I am suffering the curse of labour instability, that I have never been happier in this life.

I also have to recognise that without the infrastructures of the corporations, mainly American, which I have occasion to lambast most of my days, I would not be able to teach in that global context which makes my working-life so satisfactory.

So it is, then, I would like to suggest the following: if we are to continue, in our very British body politic, to have the kind of rather spurious game that pitching competing political manifestos against each other involves, maybe we should look mainly to the goal of refashioning the aforementioned tone and style through the selfsame hoary old sequence of political “promises”, this time understood by us voters in as kindly a way as we can still manage.

If Ed Miliband could just see his way to seeing our job, as a political party wishing to govern, in the light of an environmental concern (environmental, that is, in the sense of space – not in the sense of ecology), and even to seeing it as a trip, an excursion, a journey rather than a destination in itself, we could maybe, just maybe, aim to develop our electoral process to the point where instead of concentrating on the aforementioned spurious manifestos of what we should and won’t do, we could spend our time using them to honestly develop, promote and sell an appropriate tone and style for the future.

After all, leadership is so often a question of enabling others: not micromanaging their integrities, their actions and their personal contributions out of existence but giving them the freedom to lead themselves.

Precisely for the spurious political reasons and expectations I mention, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is now being expected to provide swathes of detailed solutions to a flurry of truly serious problems afflicting the country.

In reality, the political debate we choose to hold should be quite a different one: Ed Miliband’s Labour Party should be saying that in a self-learning and self-empowering generation of virtual connectednesses – even where this generation has been, and is being, persistently confused by all kinds of commercial and state-sponsored activities (both disgracefully illegitimate as well as clearly rather more sincere) – a new kind of socialism, a socialism which already exemplifies itself although we choose not to name it thus, a socialism which looks to connect evermore intelligent participants, a socialism which curiously – quite individualistically – self-engenders … this socialism I poorly describe must be the self-taught self-help philosophy on which we decide to build a better Britain.

We should not be expecting of Labour the answers to our problems.  We should be expecting of Labour the recognition that we are the answers.

And in and through such a profound recognition, our political parties – all of them – could show us they have the courage to ultimately accept the implications of such a humongous shift in the dynamics of British political process.


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Oct 122013
 
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Evgeny Morozov wrote this recently:

To say that “the Internet” is our “sharknado” is to accept that the current configuration of practices, services, and conversations – the Internet discourse – already structures how we talk,  what we say and what we do after all the talking is done.

It’s not that the current crop of Internet intellectuals are factually wrong or blinded by some false ideology. It’s that, in seeking to explain “the Internet,” they keep reinforcing a discourse that itself is in great need of disruption. Simply put, the Internet discourse has outlived its usefulness. [...]

Meanwhile, Chris suggests:

[...] Many professionals of around my age and younger downsize, step off partnership-path careers, leave to work for charities, become part-time consultants or singing teachers and so on. In a more abundant economy, many more would do so.

And then there’s the desperation many people feel with respect to latterday – certainly latterday British – politics, as it bumbles its way brutally from racist nods at awful Berlin Walls of immigration to “free” (presumably not as in beer) schools of a manifestly limited utility to ideologically driven privatisations in health, postal services and even – in this day and age of pained experience – profitably public East Coast rail services.

If Morozov is right about Internet discourse having outlived its usefulness, and if everything we do right now is gravitating more and more to being dependent on all those infrastructures sustained by such unwisely received opinion, it’s hardly surprising that intelligent and thinking people might wonder more and more – as Chris’s professionals are clearly doing – of the value of this constant collaboration we call liberal democracy, in this 21st century now bemusing us.

Those few people now still reading this blog will understand where I am heading.  Over the past ten days or so, as I share less of what I am, and more importantly peer less into the vicariously shared lives of others I may barely know (at least face to face, at least person to person), I am slowly recovering a sense of peace.  I may not deserve this sense of peace.  There are others suffering dearly right now: the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed; the employed, too, who fear for their jobs; the employed who do not know from week to week where they will next earn a crumb of consolation; the employed who work in undignified conditions; the employed, even, in living hell.

So what right do I have to retire from a politics which inevitably affects you and me – whether I participate or not?  Perhaps because that politics, like our Internet discourse, like economies which serve themselves of people instead of – far more rightly – serving us, is at an end of times.  And we resist the temptation to acknowledge it.

For it’s not just the Internet which has been deconstructed by the surveillance state.  It’s all our liberal and free-market tendencies in our businesses; all our liberal and free-market impulses in our politics; all our liberal and free-market instincts in our writings.

And neither has this surveillance state consisted only of government spies.  In parallel, in tandem, sometimes in cahoots it would now appear, large companies have destroyed the conditions for healthy innovation: have destroyed the conditions which allow healthy economies to both evolve and – where necessary – commit timely revolution.

An end of times ain’t necessarily a time to end.  But it is a time to be honest and sincere: to be honest and sincere with not only each other but also, on a singular man-in-the-mirror basis, with ourselves.

Our Internet, our economies, our politics too … on the one hand, they’ve all become inefficient through systemic and individual greed and laziness; and on the other, through a despairing disconnect by the majorities the rest of us make up.

Inefficiency is obviously the mother of an end of times.  The question is whether we can recover our previous vigour, our previous sincerity, our previous honesty, our previous truths.

Yep.  I guess it is so.  A revolution of a cultural bent is needed.  Not that revolution, but one of a certain kind for sure.


http://youtu.be/PivWY9wn5ps


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Sep 202013
 
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Forget what you think about my writing style.  Forget – even – what you dislike about my politics.  This tweet of mine sets the scene:

Capitalism has so individualised our discourses that it’s become entirely impossible to talk about anything without talking about persons.

Politics has, in fact, become “peoplitics”.  Perhaps mutated (malignantly, at that) would be a better way of putting it.

And this next video encapsulates perfectly the result.


http://youtu.be/tkDfyLFFK84

Two massive fails from two professionals of the game.  First fail: Michael Crick, a journalist, becomes the news – and Channel 4, in its (lately) madcap pursuit of ratings notoriety, helps out where it can.  Second fail: Godfrey Bloom, a politician, lets rip his personal opinions and reactions – instead of focussing our attention on all the truly horrible things afflicting us.

Only neither will be perceived by anyone as a fail.  All this personalisation of absolutely everything has become a bloody par for the miserable course.  Myself (similarly in personalisation mode, it is true) (and as you might expect), I attribute it to the incessant drip-drip of corporate capitalism, as the beast continues to insist water-torture-like in its pursuit of monetisation nirvana.

And maximising monetisation nirvana inevitably means individualising our every repeating instinct.  If we chose, as societies, to do more of our stuff together – from car-pooling in the mornings to sharing carefully-planned community central-heating systems during the winter – we’d save our own little pockets tons of dosh.  But corporate capitalism aims to increase potential markets: everything must, therefore, be individualised to ensure as large a wasteful income as possible.

The side effect?  We don’t only buy as selfish people with little thought for others, we also talk about selfish others with little thought for selfless ideas.

Peoplitics indeed.

Where did it all begin to go so wrong?  Where did we all begin to think such trivial events counted so much for our progress – whilst our ideas, creativity and imaginings counted for so very little?


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Sep 052013
 
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If there is something I still admire about our North American friends – I mean, the USA bit and its colonial-like ability to teach us all about what they aspire to – it is their boundless optimism that everything has a fix.  In fact, the original philosophy of this blog you’re reading right now was precisely that: if only we think hard enough – where thinking hard enough we assume is possible – a solution to any problem will always be found.

I stumbled across a wonderful blogpost by Ben Cobley yesterday, on the subject of philosophising and how Western culture is creating the very conditions for relentlessly excessive thought – the kind that people suffering from depression manifest – to become far more common.  It’s called “A few thoughts on depression, and philosophy”, and, amongst other things, it touches on the link between our latterday consumer society and the trust that used to bind us:

[...] [Alastair] Campbell wrote a little book called ‘The Happy Depressive’, exploring his own experiences and depression as a public policy issue.

I won’t go into that book in detail here because I want to take a brief look at depression from a different angle, but one quotation wouldn’t go amiss:

“In the US, trust in other people being ‘nice’ has fallen from 60 per cent to 30 per cent in fifty years. It is the same story in the UK. In 1959, 60 per cent of people felt other people could generally be trusted. It has now halved. [Professor Richard] Layard [a Labour peer] believes that decline has matched the rise of consumerism which has been accompanied by a rise in the obsession with status, and envy of those who do better than us.”

This, if true, is a dreadful state of affairs.  Whilst I have no way of corroborating the stats, at my own anecdotal level there seems little wrong with the assertions.  The rise in mental ill health in Western societies has matched the introduction of neoliberal economic and sociocultural attitudes.  That there should exist people and institutions determined to make societies work to their own particular benefit at the expense of the poor and already highly disadvantaged should clearly not surprise us.  And that these individuals and entities should cover their backs by arguing it’s a natural state of affairs mustn’t lessen our resolve to fight back.

For here is where perhaps I diverge a little from Cobley’s space.  As he explains on his About page in relation to standard perceptions of the remorseless, monolithic and unremitting Left:

What especially interests me is the censoriousness and opinion control that is so pervasive on my side of the political fence. It seems that, far from being a free-minded and free-thinking Left, we are stuck in a denuded, conformist and also rather boring rut.

I believe the Left should be generous and welcoming, open and tolerant, but also committed and ethical in the way it behaves. I am against ideologies like neoliberalism and ‘Vulgar’ Marxism, and also some of the forms that have emerged around the politics of identity, including strictly deterministic versions of feminism. Ideologies like these offer simplistic, all-encompassing explanations about the way the world is while setting different groups in society against each other.

They give people an excuse to stop seeing, hearing and thinking for themselves.

And with this, I find myself disagreeing very little.  But interestingly – or perhaps (I’m beginning to wonder) I should say even coherently, in the light of the above data on Western mental-wellbeing – he also chooses to quote from Karl Popper in the following way:

“If you know that things are bound to happen whatever you do, then you may feel free to give up the fight against them.” ~ Karl Popper

Actually.

Right.

Yes.  Now, as I write, I can see why Cobley chooses this quote.  The choice and option to do something others might not understand often takes away the need to act in such a way.  To feel free to give up the fight against something quite overwhelming serves to empower us, just as freely, to continue such a fight.  On the other hand, to exhort one to fight – remorselessly, monolithically, unremittingly – often traps the person who should feel liberty is their goal in an emotional and political ambush of terrifying incoherence.

Only yesterday, Paul Cotterill tweeted thus:

Sick of Labour HQ emails telling me I must “fight” for stuff. Using a word devoid of actual meaning hinders organisation & solidarity.

And this:

Re Lab’s use of “fight”: The misuse of language in idle talk, in slogans and phrases, destroys our authentic relation to things (Heidegger)

That, I suppose, is what both Paul and Ben are getting at in their different ways – and where, perhaps, we might argue libertarians do have a point after all.  In whatever we do, we must feel free to choose.  That sense of choice – for the good and the bad – is what makes us these mysterious human beings living this mysterious life.  And the Left, if it wishes to track such behaviours, to maintain its primary connect with all the human beings it is looking to serve, must surely not forget the importance of that concept of choice.

Not just the more obvious choices such as which schools, GPs, medical treatments and social services.  No.  Far more importantly, for the persistence of vision all political groupings must maintain, is the recognition that humanity itself will inevitably tend towards one way or another of behaving.

The political question is not only identifying that way, though.

It’s also working out how to promote the way that least bends us out of natural shape.

What the neoliberals have managed is to promote ways that benefit their narrow interests – whilst claiming at the same time that these ways are inherently human.

What we need to do, as free progressives if you like, is accept that social engineering is the name of their/this game – and in this inevitable knowledge begin to understand that the pendulum of battle must swing back sooner or later.

And sooner, if we choose never to give up.

That is to say, by ignoring most of the current remorseless, monolithic and unremitting Left – and, in turn, by following Popper’s advice.  For only then shall we be truly human.

And only then shall our politics be truly accurate.


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Sep 022013
 
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Whilst the government called Ed Miliband “a fucking cunt” and a “copper-bottomed shit” for saying no to a repeat of Iraq, it would appear the French – who did say no to Iraq all those years ago – have known that Syria has had chemical weapons for at least thirty years:

The announcement comes after Sunday’s French paper, Journal du Dimanche, said French intelligence agents had compiled information showing that some of the weapons had been stockpiled for nearly 30 years.

And if the French have known it, surely the NSAs and GCHQs of the world have known it just as much.

Which brings us to the matter of a request by a UK company to export precursors of chemical weapons to the Syrian government last year.  Here we have the British government’s reaction, via the Lib Dem member of the Coalition, Vince Cable.  A little disingenuous to say the least:

The licences for the two chemicals were granted on 17 and 18 January last year for “use in industrial processes” after being assessed by Department for Business officials to judge if “there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end”, according to the letter sent by Mr Cable to the arms controls committee.

Mr Cable said: “The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.”

No grounds for refusal – except thirty years of stockpiling, Mr Cable.

Right?

So what do we have then?  A UK Coalition government, which commits austerity violence on its own population, gaily spending our taxpayer dosh on coming to decisions to export potentially dangerous chemicals to war-torn regions – war-torn regions where their government is one of the few which hasn’t signed international treaties on not using the WMDs that can be made from such chemicals … and this UK Coalition I talk of finds itself able to congratulate itself that it has complied with the law, even as it foul-mouths the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition for saying no to any resulting Western “intervention”.

Which by the way would, as a Facebook photo that just whizzed through my feed pointed out, involve members of our Armed Forces “fighting [in a way] alongside Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war”.

This, I feel most strongly, is the result of what we might term the psychodrama of austerity unspooling.  What I’m not quite sure of is whether we were brutal and incoherent abroad first – and then learnt how to be so at home.  Or, perhaps more likely, vice versa – in a (sociopolitical) vice of totally immoral proportions.

When you learn how to treat your own people as scroungers, wasters, chavs and layabouts, how much easier it must be to think that on the foreign stage you can prance your incongruences – brightly flailing their idiocy and unkindness without anyone caring.

He (or she) who can call the Leader of the Opposition a “shit” and a “cunt” is able to see all voters, all opponents, all anti-war activists, all thinking people who are unsure of this matter … everyone who does not instinctively agree with what only starts out as yet another drone- and cruise-missile-led adventure … well, anyone who does not automatically say yes is also going to be seen as a “shit”.  No wonder austerity is so easy for them.  We are simply bits and pieces of political (sometimes literal) cannon fodder in a cruel and global conflict.

The problem here, of course, and I leave it without resolution on my part, is that whilst Iraq was the war we should’ve said no to – a war, in fact, the French did say no to – perhaps this Syria biz is quite something else.

What’s more, if the French are prepared to declassify intelligence which shows Western governments knew that Syria had stockpiled chemical weapons for nigh on thirty years, and then did absolutely nothing about it, it surely does beg the following question:

“How can our own political institutions and structures choose to make money out of such evil political trajectories – and then expect us to vote in favour of anything the former propose?”

From chemical weapons to Saddam’s unspeakable WMDs to austerity politics where the poor are savaged by the consequences of the acts of the rich, even as the rich are able to emerge unscathed, we have a politics which is broken quite as badly as it ever could be.

No wonder we feel like being shits to the profession.  They’ve been cunts to us all along.


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Aug 042013
 
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Coincidentally, I was nattering about evil versus ordinary the other day on Facebook.  Some extracts from my side of the exchange:

Ordinary people, I mean. If only ordinary people ruled the world. Is it a condition of being ordinary that one cannot rule?

My daughter once commented on the word “extraordinary”: she argued (without knowing the etymology) that “extraordinary people” were actually “especially ordinary people”. Surely, somewhere in our history, there are cases of the most ordinary being simultaneously the most glorious, without losing their prior condition.

Not my definition of ordinary. I’d use the word “evil” for that. Maybe “casually evil”. Not to distance such acts from myself, since I’m aware we’re all capable of evil, but instead to distinguish them from what we should aspire to. Ordinary, right now, is everything that doesn’t involve the people who’ve caused this crisis. And extraordinary is the capacity of such ordinary people to survive all the shit that continues to be thrown at them. I walked past a man today who was digging through the rubbish container next to the local supermarket. He was clearly looking for food. I’d call *him* extraordinary.

[...] I think I’m saying I’m aware human beings can contain a number of incompatibilities. I recognise my capacity to be evil *and* ordinary, and by so doing can resist the temptation to be the former better. [...]

Can’t say it clearer than that, though am happy to stand corrected (as, indeed, my FB contrincante left me stood the other day).

And whilst Chris covers something of the same ground here, equally coincidentally, in relation to perceiving wrong and perceiving evil, Rob concisely discusses the dreadful situation in Italy and Spain at the moment here.  Where I disagree with him most strongly is in one of his concluding paragraphs (the bold is mine):

All the while, some of us in the UK are still incandescent about MPs overclaiming their expenses, while others claim the incumbent government is “evil”. But the wrongdoers over expenses were rightly punished, and proportionately; the government is wrong, not evil.

And so I thought for a while too.  Until I stopped thinking so, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the bold is mine today):

Where the Tories are rankly wrong, however, and here Labour is still nowhere on the ball nor sufficiently appreciative of the error, is in not following up their initial analysis with a cogent and consequential train of thought: if we are to reduce the cost of benefits to the state, we also need to reduce the cost of living to the people (or, alternatively, increase the wages they earn); if we need to make cheaper a whole raft of processes, we need to ensure this doesn’t cheapen our moral take on society; if we want to convince people that opportunities are out there, success shouldn’t be defined only in monetary terms; and if society is to move forward in truly good faith, we must not only stop the corporate cancer of profiteering injustice – a cancer which incidentally the Tories currently depend greatly on for their funding – but also actively enable a proper and fair understanding of societal justice.

That Tories are only prepared to contemplate implementing the half of the equation which benefits their corporate sponsors, at terrible cost to over fifty percent of the British population in the round, doesn’t make them only wrong – it also makes them evil.  Evil in the sense that we are all capable of such evil; evil in the sense that we can be unconsciously capable of committing such evil; evil in the sense that unless we realise the former … well, we will surely be guilty of the latter.

There are none so evil as they who believe they know what is best for us.

None so evil as those who – rather than allow us to speak, act and engineer for ourselves – prefer to crusade from privileged top down, on our supposedly radical behalf.

A Very Political Evil.

A Very Tory Evil, in fact.

For you were right, you fearsome socialists of old.  The Tories, when unleashed, become evil incarnate.


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Jul 142013
 
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Iraq, if nothing else a misjudged war of choice in terms of its failure to democratically execute a post-war settlement, has left behind it fatalities galore.  There are the bloodied ones of course: Wikipedia gives us a list of many estimations here.  But there are other ones too.

I tweeted the following just now:

Current paucity of political leadership in our body politic is, in part, ‘cos Iraq wiped out the moral weight of too many clever people.

It bears further exploration and explanation.  So many politicians, both of Labour and of other parties, have been morally tainted by the decisions then taken.  A whole body politic, the United Kingdom body politic, putting its collective name to such decisions as it manifestly did, has had the meadow of its moral high ground scythed by the following years.

The figurative heads of brilliant brainy political wonks have been violently lopped off, as all kinds of moral gymnastics have taken to their declamatory stages.

I’m thinking in particular of people like David Miliband, a bright button of eloquent communication if there ever was one.  But there are, of course, many others.

What this has led to as a result is something quite tragic: the progressive side of this body being in power at the time, Labour’s ability – years later – to fight a rearguard action against Coalition evils has been mortally wounded by what it – in power and government at the time of Iraq – had unavoidably to take ownership for.

Yes.  It’s true that many notable Conservatives supported these decisions so many years ago now.  But they didn’t take the final decisions – they haven’t been wounded in quite the same way.  It’s almost as if we feel Labour should have known better.  Wars of choice fit badly with socialist principles, after all.  We don’t have quite the same perception for those who occupy Tory-land.

So why is this generation of politicos so rubbish?  Partly because the Labour ones cannot full-throatedly act in a principled way.  (Or at least in a way so many of its natural voters would judge to be principled.)  Yes.  They took ownership for their deeds, but continue – in the main – to fight a quite different rearguard action: that of justifying their positions when the history of implementation has clearly shown them to be wanting.

But this is not the only consequence of a conflict like Iraq destroying the ability of a generation of bright sparks to continue sparking as brightly as we need them to.  Assuming that pyramidal politics – that politics which insists on situating CEO-types fragilely atop heavy hierarchies – is the only politics we can expect, it’s clear that apart from the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, Iraq has also taken its toll – a decade later – on the people and politics of the United Kingdom.

What has the Coalition government learnt from Labour’s experience?  That in times of awful misjudgement – in this case, the econopocalypse of austerity-driven policy-making (a kind of Iraq-like impulse, if there ever was one, to redefine and redraw the landscape of a society from scratch) – what you must never ever do is take ownership.

So we have a government like Cameron’s which blames everyone and their bedroom-taxed abodes for the miseries that result from one-percent economics.  Stiglitz is right: the one percent are playing everyone else off everyone else.  And our current crop of politicians, now stuck in the mire of historical moral inefficiency, does exactly the same thing.

This generation of politicos is so rubbish not because it needed to be so.  Rather, because Labour on the one hand, hobbled by its lack of a historical high ground, and the Tories on the other, now having learned the lesson and importance of cowardice in political discourse, have lost their societal compass: they see the voters, you and me, as the corporate CEOs see their customers.  People unworthy of straight-talking; unworthy of sincerity; unworthy of open and honest communication.  To be messaged, massaged, nudged and finally cheated.

Meanwhile, we have the Lib Dems.  Supposedly dedicated to a better and freer way of doing things.  Vigorous defenders of our liberties as the Snoopers’ Charter was kept at bay.

And all the time both GCHQ and the NSA were spending the decade taping our every electronic emission.

Under what would appear to be deliberately engineered loopholes.

Sink holes more like.

Black holes even better.

No wonder this generation of politicos is so rubbish.  They’ve been trawling, living in, inhabiting the London backstreets of an elitist perception of the masses.

It’s the first time that’s tricky.  The first time you savagely misjudge something – criminally, one might even say.  But after that, it’s easy sailing.

Our society doesn’t believe in the redeeming qualities of real redemption, either.

If you do something bad, you are to be classed as forever bad.

So it is that this generation of politicos is so rubbish because they are weak – and have chosen to be so.  But they are also so very rubbish because we are lazy – and prefer to define them in terms of a damning black and white.

We’re not all to blame exactly.

But neither are we free of culpability.

We don’t have the politicians we deserve.  We do have the politicians we have made.  Rubbish in, rubbish out – RIRO, if you prefer – is a law of the universe we seem to be subscribing too.

Not sure why.  Not sure it’s a free choice.  (Not sure if we even knew we were making it when we made it.)

Anyhow.  RIP, the UK body politic.  And maybe, shortly, invisibly so, rather a large number of its subjects too.


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Jul 022013
 
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This is what Chris Hedges is famously supposed to have said about the times we are living in:

We now live in a nation

where doctors destroy health,

lawyers destroy justice,

universities destroy knowledge,

governments destroy freedom,

the press destroys information,

religion destroys morals,

and our banks destroy the economy.

And this is what John, less famously but equally observantly, tweeted this evening about Hedges’ famous quote:

Read from the bottom up and you have the #coalition 5year programme ||   “@jilevin: The politics of destruction. pic.twitter.com/E2FPVzdT2p”

Meanwhile, Labour List just as presciently asks us whether there is anything these bastards (the Tories, don’t you know) won’t do for a profit, as hedge funds and venture capitalists look to invade our children’s education at the “vindictive” hands of the highly educational Michael Gove.  And I say “educational” advisedly: if you didn’t know the measure of what a full-throated Tory can do to a nation’s wellbeing, a few weeks following the antics of Gove will set you properly to rights.

In the figurative sense of the word, Mr Gove is a bastard politician like no other.  I feel ashamed for using this language, for lowering myself to his level, but the real evil he is committing with his multiply shallow provocations gives me little alternative.  His latest plan, disgracefully couched by the Guardian of all newspapers as doing away with the “tyranny of six-week school holidays” (I imagine because Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education counterpart, isn’t averse to a bit of bastard politics himself), is so utterly unthought-through as to shock me to my core.  Giving all schools and headteachers the right to fix the dates of terms and breaks is not only going to play havoc with families who have children in different schools – it’ll also make it extremely difficult for part-time workforces, on which a hedge-funded and venture-capitalisted education system will learn to depend even more, to organise their time.  My wife being a case in point: under the current system, she already works as a language assistant in several schools, none of which by themselves would ever be able to offer her a full timetable.  So whither her holidays, come Gove’s Brave New World of 2015?

In fact, can things possibly get any worse?  Well, I wouldn’t put it past them to try.  As the Coalition previously announced not so many months ago, our NHS records will be handed over to private companies to carry out their life-science miracles, which, by-the-by, will serve to handsomely engorge their bottom lines.  But why, then, stop at health records?  All that yummy private data we now realise has been collected by government for yonks now, a kind of state-run just-in-case just-in-time Dropbox for the managerialist classes, surely will begin one day to weigh heavily on the finances of the Big State, Big Gove-rnment economy.

What, in the end, is to stop them from even privatising our privacy?  Sell off those dirty dark secrets to the highest bidder: now that’s a plan!

In his Labour List piece linked to above, Mark Ferguson rightly poses the question around how far these bastard politicians we describe are prepared to go in their pursuit of ultimate control over almost anything.  The real problem is, of course, that they are “line of least resistance” actors and actresses: unable essentially, in the absence of any serious talent, to impose their own agendas, they operate in an environment – with the corresponding tools of rank monetisation – which they know will allow them to stay atop the fragile and awkward pyramids they’ve all become so unseemingly attached to.

They may say we deserve our political class.

But I really don’t think this is true.

Our political class has given up on politics: all that’s left is brazen self-enrichment.

If only our politicians were politically-minded folk.

Now there’s a thought.

A politics without bastard practitioners, anyone?

Ha.

Ha.

Bloody ha.


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Jun 262013
 
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I’ve just read Peter Watt’s book “Inside Out”.  I read it in just two sittings.  It’s been quite a while since I last read a book in such a short period of time.  It’s not a long book; round about the same as my favourite Fitzgerald book in length.  It’s a good read because it makes you see something you thought you knew in a different way.  Probably a completely different way.

Peter Watt has been ghost-written in this tale; but no ghost-writer was ever so true to the necessary mechanics of a story as Isabel Oakeshott.  There were no laborious diaries to rely on and the buccaneering flavour of what often plumbs the abyss of personal tragedy is accentuated by such an absence of unnecessary detail.

It reads a bit like a Jeffrey Archer bestseller – and I mean this kindly: in its exhortingly page-turning style, you cannot fail to breathe the roller-coaster atmosphere that a “good versus evil” politics of the tribe inevitably engineers.

I have never met Mr Watt but I do feel, in his manifest self-awareness, in his sometimes painful appreciation of his own foibles, he earns himself the moral right to pass judgement on others who obviously did him a severe disservice.

I am late to his “Inside Out” Labour Party – the book itself was published in 2010 – but through the awful narrative which describes the arc of destruction which the need to generate party-funding on a rolling basis clearly generates, I understand better the actions of people like Tony Blair – accumulating the millions they unhappily do, once out of the financial holes they previously sensed.  What drives men and women to work to guarantee their economic independence to such an obscene degree?  Perhaps the kind of situations Watt lived for two terribly rough-and-tumble years.

And yet, to his credit, he appears to have recovered a massive attachment to a life of sense and sensibility.  It is not right to call it a tragedy, after all – in this piece of literature, the good guy redeems himself a thousandfold.  Family, as well as a certain detachment from tribal Labour, allows him to acquire an even keel, even as the ship of an amoral state collapsed around him.  That he didn’t go down the route of vengeful politicking – unless, of course, you count this book as an example of his game – is also to his credit, underlining as it does the importance of human relationships in politics.

And this last matter is what I think I will take away with me.  Politics is a helter-skelter where the best politicians do invent it as they go along.  Yet the very best of them all – the ones who really hit the heights, the ones condemned to ultimate injury and deception – are not only off-the-cuff imagineers of the kind of dreams we would all like to believe, they are also firmly attached to ideas and opinions which only history will ever be able to decide if they finally lead to ennoblement or infamy.

What I like about “Inside Out” is that it tells a terrible tale of a terrible party machine from the point of view of someone who refuses to abandon it.  And he even likes to ensure we perceive the evil which spews forth is far more due to an ingrained dysfunctionality of structures than the people themselves.

I begin to wonder if Mr Watt mightn’t deserve – mightn’t even be harbouring thoughts of – a return to a more active role in this tribalism that is the British body politic.  But whilst the rest of us might gain, he himself – he and his loved ones – would certainly suffer the consequences.

I really wouldn’t wish it on him – or them – again.

I once came close to real despair in my own working-life, mainly due to the half-lies and half-truths of a highly dysfunctional man.  I can appreciate myself, therefore, from very particular experience, what dysfunctionality can achieve; what it can lead to; what it can break.

So for me, this book has connected on two very important levels: ten years ago, when I distrusted my own perceptions and felt the evil breath of helter-skelter.  And now, when distrust of what I see and sense is just about the last thing which occurs to me to feel.

In the end, when I put this short book down and reflect, I realise I truly like the man who allows himself to be portrayed in this way.

Fitzgerald’s book wrote it better, of course – but, even so, the words were never more precisely, nor appropriately, said.

For all of us, that is:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further … And one fine morning -

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

To sum up, “Inside Out” has its layers of anger, its layers of pain, its layers of betrayal – its layers of traditional tribalism.  But it also has a melancholy acceptance that some things can only be survived, not vanquished.

To not be bitter – or, at least, to know how to contain any remnants of bitterness – is a mighty achievement indeed.

Difficult enough in the disconnected lives of us serfs; almost impossible in stratospheric politics.

Fancy telling us your secret, Peter?  Bottle it, brand it – and you never know, there’s a new politics on the horizon.

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!


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Jun 202013
 
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I used to be involved quite heavily with local politics.  Now I just pay my dues, and very occasionally attend special meetings.  Most recently, this involved the first (serious) hustings I believe I’ve attended in my life.  Prior to this, I attended a quite different way of doing grassroots politics – and before the aforementioned, I was very kindly visited by hopefuls in the election process already alluded to.

Shoots of a different and more hopeful way of connecting perhaps; moments when politics looks as if it might become a question of enabling existing forces rather than leading the damned into the valley of death.

:-)

I do feel obliged at this point, however, to explain: my wife has never been in favour of anything at all I’ve done with politics.  She doesn’t like my writing; she sees envelope-stuffing and door-stepping as irrelevancies in a wider landscape.  She is intelligent, well read and has a clear understanding of the political situation in her own country, Spain.  We used to agree that Spain and Britain were different.  I used to suggest this was why I thought volunteering so much of my free time in exchange for nothing tangible in return was actually quite a sensible thing to do.

Recent scandals in the United Kingdom have made this latter argument impossible to sustain.

Where not impossible, certainly tricky.  For the moment, I have lost the ability to return her fire.

For I realise now that my wife may, in fact, be right in her judgement: political volunteering, anywhere in the world, is quite the biggest waste of time and emotional investment one could possibly contemplate.

And I realise the huge scale of the task facing Labour at the next election.  Not only will it involve convincing enough people to deposit their trust in it as a party of government again, it will also find itself in the challenging position of having to persuade people like my wife (though obviously not my wife herself – she is understandably a lost cause by now) that the kind of volunteer and altruistic political activity which wins elections is actually worth all the bother.

Where the word “politician” becomes a synonym of “graft”, so people like my wife – intelligent, busy, hard-working individuals who are at the age where they’ve already seen it all before – are bound to look to convince their nearest and dearest to choose a different way of participating in democracy.

These are the politics of a purely economic democracy, maybe we could argue: forget the ideas, concepts and theories that maintain the worlds of the wonks, and, instead, just earn a Darwinian living in this savagely inevitable environment as best you can – as best you can or, indeed, as best you might.

How to convince my wife – and tens of millions like her – that political activity is really worth it?

Don’t ask them to wait on the heavy-handed results of your words.

Change their worlds for the better – and change them now!


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Jun 172013
 
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Few places I can reach on the web this evening tell me what Blair said in a Times interview on Saturday.  This curious outlet does, however (the bold is mine):

Former Labour leader Tony Blair has warned his successor Ed Miliband to avoid the “politics of anger” by pushing to hit the super-rich with greater taxes.

The former Prime Minister said that pursuing such a policy “won’t necessarily change the nature of your society”, going on to defend the rise of the wealthy as “the way the world goes”.

In the past we’ve been frequently told, unendingly told, that we deserve the politicians and business leaders we’ve got.  In particular, the politicians.  And especially because we vote for them.

Now Blair adds a second reason: we have the rich and powerful we have because that’s “the way the world goes”.

He has something else to say, though – something else also pretty sad:

“There are two types of politics today: the politics of the anger and the politics of the answer,’ he said in an interview with The Times on Saturday.

“I prefer the politics of the answer. [...]”

The answer being that which the powerful prefer to predigest and expel over the rest of us.

I don’t agree.

I don’t agree at all.

This is the reason why.

When the rich and powerful separate themselves so clearly from the rest of society (as Blair so obviously does), the rest of society can’t be a reflection of – or, indeed, related to – the rich and powerful.

We really don’t vote for them – particularly when they cleverly impose their will.  We really don’t owe them anything – especially when they ingeniously argue we must.

Nor can these individuals realistically represent our very obvious needs.

How on earth could they possibly when, at the same time, admitting their stratospheric differences?

From Blair’s own mouth, from Blair’s own words, he shows us he is no socialist.  No socialist would ever give in to a world as he describes it; no socialist would ever say there was nothing to be done.

Nothing to be done – except to refuse to get angry about a planet where the needy die needlessly every day; nothing to be done – except to trot out criminal platitudes about an economy where the wealth of the wealthy concentrates off the backs of the needless deaths of those needy.

Blair’s right, of course: this is “the way the world goes”.

And that’s why we are socialists, precisely so it doesn’t.


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Jun 142013
 
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I’ve just spent two wonderful days in the company of very clever people, at the welcoming hands of the University of Manchester.  Sometimes I felt – from my position as an interested observer and (just about) mere citizen witnessing the event – that some of the English needed translating for my cloth ears.  But even where I struggled to get a handle on some of those terms which escaped me, none of the presentations in question failed to engage in some constructive way.

These were high-powered concepts which matched the serious times we are living.

As you will see from the programme link above, a broad range of subjects was covered.  The deprofessionalisation of mainstream journalism – in particular photo-journalism – and its corresponding issues of ethics and professional integrity linked in quite clearly with the progress which volunteer translator communities had made in the radicalisation – even the overt politicisation – of their labour.  The “crisis readiness” we are all being educated into possessing, that instinct to being prepared to film or snap any and every notable event, in particular those events which occupy the tragic public sphere, neatly engaged with Russian experiences in what was termed “shovel” organisation: the small, localised and politically non-threatening community organisation that has recently begun to accompany not only natural disaster but also relatively impactful man-made and administrative incompetence.

From many of the papers presented, it was clear that those of who occupy spaces in the Western Anglo-Saxon world are barely – if at all – aware of the prejudices we hold: from the mass digitalisation of government documents in Russia to the humongous (and highly active) online participation of the Chinese to the curious state of second-generation immigrants in Italy, the planet as presented through the lenses of these thinkers is never as simple as it looks.

Democracies which treat their citizens like second-class objects of disparaging discourse; one-party states which allow considerable internal dialogue; anarchist groups which organise in such a way as maintain their “brands” and their virtual presences; hierarchical structures which repeat but do not solidify; volunteers who are driven by imbalance to provide contrasting imbalance; worlds where a powerful couplet of bias and its corresponding transparency replaces that ever-so-durable veneer of traditionally institutional “objectivity”.

Frame being so important as it clearly is, we were presented with examples of highly contrasting journalistic practice.  These ranged from citizens in cases of extreme involvement to distancing drone footage attempting to shrug off its surveillance overtones; from overtly biased and authentically stolen moments to manufactured product, clearly pre-packaged and pre-digested primarily for the benefit of bottom lines; from devolving Silicon Valley web instincts to Hollywood-like impulses to teach podcast skills through star-riven trainers.

Essentially, that is, the push and pull between a civic contribution to a broader intelligence and that sliding scale of reward which greater “competence” often chooses to finally demand of the “consumers”.

Where we choose to volunteer, we start out on a journey of societal collaboration.  Where this reverts to being more a case of primarily learning a craft, that old old need to earn a living kicks in.  But in the grey area between one and the other, marvellous things can still be achieved by civic-minded witnesses of events that require mindful empathy.

I’ll be writing in more detail over the next couple of days on a number of the papers thus presented yesterday and today.  In the meantime, here’s a final thought to be going away with: universal education, a glory of latterday progressive societies and perhaps a key reason for the much wider deprofessionalisation of society all of us are manifestly witnessing (from the already-mentioned craft of journalism to teaching to legal practice to even – in Google’s wonderfully weird world of medical search – that doctoring whose bedside manner we thought we would never give up), is no guarantor that progressive behaviours or beliefs will spread.  In fact, universal education is only able to assure us that all parties on all sides of political conflict will become powerfully better at their own particular brands of prejudice.

It is our responsibility, therefore, on understanding that citizen media does not necessarily equal constructive democratisation, to ask ourselves one simple question: what sort of citizens – and therefore what sort of citizen mediators – do we want to become?

And only in defining this answer, and in fixing its location on the spectrum of behaviours the web currently displays, will we ever manage to rescue all the fascinating potential of citizen media from what might otherwise be interpreted (and ultimately seen) as the clutches of a universally educated cruelty.

____________________

Further reading: you might find the abstracts of the papers given of interest.  They certainly make interesting rereading for me, as I strive to sort my way through so many rich and splendid ideas.  A case of a citizen witnessing his own information overload perhaps?

:-)


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Jun 082013
 
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During the recent Prospective Parliamentary Candidate selection process here in Chester, which ended yesterday with the election of Chris Matheson, I’ve been blessed with several visits from a number of candidates. This, for me, was positive.  I was, therefore, looking forward mightily to the result.

This is the confirmation I received via email not long ago:

To all members:

At our parliamentary selection last night, Chris Matheson was selected to represent us at the next general election.

The selection process has been a long and hard one, generating an enormous amount of work. This has been made easier by the help I have received from a large number of people – thank you if you were one of them! This same teamwork will enable us to fight a strong campaign behind Chris, who I am certain will be an excellent candidate. That campaign begins now.

Sadly, my favoured candidate didn’t win; I did preference three candidates though – and I believe all of them ended up in the top three.

It was, I think (correct me if you know better), the first hustings I’ve ever attended.  Just shows how much of a politics wonk I actually am.

One of the speakers (not a candidate) described the evening’s events as moving.  And they were.  Held in a saintly church, they brought together many members who had, I am sure, drifted away post-Iraq.  This was, in a way, an opportunity for healing to take place.

The music that was played counterpointed the process beautifully.  The first two pieces, deliberately or not, as follows.

“Come Together”


http://youtu.be/axb2sHpGwHQ

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”


http://youtu.be/3a7cHPy04s8

Presumably that Rolling Stones’ anthem reflected the sadness four of the five candidates would shortly be feeling.

Anyhow, in this saintly broad church which I hope Chester’s CLP will become under Matheson’s guidance, there is plenty of work to be done.  If Labour is to win nationally, Chester is one of the seats which must be on its hit-list.  Let’s hope, then, for the benefit of all those voters and families who are currently suffering under the violence of Tory misrule that Matheson, his team of workers and the grassroots apparatus – which Chester members and sympathisers could revert to being given half an intelligent chance – are able to wrest from the incompetents in our politics control of what should really always lie in the hands of the people.

I am, as you will see, a romantic a heart.  Perhaps the next and final song, which I heard last night in that glorious setting, at least ends up describing me the best.

“Desperado”


http://youtu.be/rE-U5e78WHc

Good luck to those who would enjoin this battle.  We truly, really, sincerely need them to know how to win.

And win not only one election but sustainably so – for many more.


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May 282013
 
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We’ve been informed that politics and Machiavelli go together like bread and butter.  Well, I recently had to give up the butter side of the agreement and exchange it for cholesterol-reducing spreads.  So maybe it’s time we gave up Machiavelli.

To accept resignedly that cruelty is our lot is not something I am prepared to go along with.  The real problem is as I tweeted this afternoon, whilst describing politics as poison:

@itiddly Poison ‘cos politicians & businesspeople live in each other’s pockets. Politicians should enable society, not their bank accounts.

I added later on in a separate conversation:

@robmanuel Politics has seeped into absolutely everything, which means that business now controls everything thru’ the hand of politics.

The operative word really is “seep” too.  It’s become a contaminating water source.  Something that irrigates our every act and move.  But instead of with a refreshing and healthy recovering of an equilibrium we can all share, it’s reverted to something very medieval; almost primal in fact.

I read today that Moody had upgraded the US banking system from poor to standard (I do, of course, mean from negative to stable).  This provoked the following sorry train of thought:

Imagine the banking system gets sorted. Not hard to contemplate given all the taxpayer money thrown at it. & how will that help me exactly?

The same people at the top, the same people who caused us such grief. The same mindsets; the same attitudes; the same expectations.

But with the disastrous result that they will believe themselves confirmed in their arrogant behaviours.

Politics is pwned by the private sector through and through.  This is not only bad for politics; it is bad – long-term – for the private sector too.  Corrupting behaviours always lead to inefficiencies in processes and procedures.  Where those in charge believe a price can be paid for silence, the silence that is bought will neglect to illuminate the thinking of those who would make life more effective for such organisations.  Society is built on the individual actions of people, departments, divisions, national organisations and transnational headquarters.  Where you contemplate corrupting the people on such a large scale, you contemplate corrupting the headquarters.

That is how politics has become a poison.  A poison which is corroding our society from within.  Capitalism is destroying its efficiencies – and taking us speedily along with its swirling tornado-like destructions.

I was just listening to an interview with the Spanish politician and writer Alfonso Guerra.  In a few short phrases, he explained so very clearly what is going wrong.  Better, far better, than I ever could.

“Guerra” in Spanish means “war”, by the way.

And this politics as poison is about as unconscionably insidious a war that has ever been coursed against the people.

What next?

What’s left?

What else can we do?

I’ve signed a multitude of petitions.

I’ve written a multitude of blogposts.

I’ve tried to engage with a multitude which seems evermore lost.

I’ve tried to engage with my more rational side in a multitude of ways.

Yet our governments, and our business leaders through our governments, through the tools that are politics and political parties, insist on continuing to monetise our every instinct; insist on reducing us to ever lower denominators; insist on turning beasts who are not animals into the most degraded of creatures on the earth.

Where did this poison originate?  How can we resist what is happening?  Where will it end if not in the death of every blessed human aspiration we once believed worth possessing?

Politics as poison – and we the laboratory rats.  Is that what we’ve finally come down to?


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May 192013
 
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So the Danes won the Eurovision song contest.  And their doing so made me realise the following: we need more musicians in politics.  Watch the video first – in particular the penny-whistle guy – and then I’ll explain.


http://youtu.be/k59E7T0H-Us

See what I mean?  No?  The penny-whistle guy provides a haunting theme – a haunting motif – that punctuates the song wonderfully.  He plays it to the maximum of his abilities – and yet, even as he does so, he must spend most of the time counting bars.  I remember this lesson very well from when I used to sing in a choir.  We once did “Carmina Burana” – the gong section is, of course, going to be the most impressive and memorable for any young lad participating in any kind of music.


http://youtu.be/AdIpoE2LEps

Counting the bars to shine when you are needed; subsuming your ego to the roundness of a beautiful whole; creating life out of love for your art … yes, the penny-whistle and gong guys of music’s greatest moments certainly have something to teach the rest of us.

I mentioned yesterday how music was being used by the Labour Party to enable, engender and develop a sense of community.  As I said in that piece:

Live encounters; real events; natural extensions of hopes, fears, ambitions and futures.  All of this and more can be found in a Labour Live performance.

Meanwhile, today Chris posts on a broader perception of what political activism does (or more importantly doesn’t do) for its participants (the bold is mine):

Now, I don’t say all this to claim that all party activists are loons. That phrase “from an economists’ perspective” is doing some work; I’m speaking here of cost-benefit considerations and abstracting from the crooked timber of humanity which causes some sane people to become activists.However, these thoughts are consistent with a recent empirical finding - that political activism, unusually amongst voluntary activities, does not make people happier.

And as I point out at the bottom of Chris’s post:

I did go to a Labour Live event this weekend though, and, in relation to the “being happy or not” theme of your conclusion, wonder if Labour isn’t onto something far more important here. The evening involved excellent live music, young and old people, people from Chester and people from further out. This was about as close to happy as political parties might get. The reward before the pain of envelope-stuffing, even.

And it does make me think that if political parties start to give before they ask something of one, the conditions for party-political volunteering might reach a tipping point in favour of happy collaboration over manic belief.

What I see in music – the selfless nature of good music-makers whilst they are making their good music – is what I think we need to promote in civil society.  The best kind of music-making is, after all, like the best kind of socialism: creative; adding to the world; supporting people in their aspirations to do better; working together to common goals; each person finding a niche which allows them to participate to the best of their abilities.

If only we could sell socialism as Labour Live sold music this weekend in Chester.

If only there were more penny-whistle guys in politics.

*

An example here.  Listen to this interview first.

Now watch this.


http://youtu.be/xf6d0Ko-tW0

Now buy it.


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