Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Predictions for 2015!


Predictions for 2015!

Introduction
Making predictions for the next year on New Year's eve is a complicated business. Normally people try to maintain a balance between saying something definitive and interesting but not really wanting to stick their neck out and risk looking stupid when none of it happens!
I don't care if I look stupid in a years time and I'd rather this was fun so here is exactly what I think will happen in the next year (focus will be primarily on the UK).

Politics

Conservative, UKIP, DUP alliance in power
There will be a General Election in May, the Conservatives will "win" but not have an outright majority, just as they didn't last time. They will win because no one likes Ed Milliband and Labours policy of just promoting a vision of 'austerity lite' will start to look very pointless to their more politically engaged supporters (or ex-supporters). 
UKIP will have gained 15+ seats and the DUP in Northern Ireland will have maintained their usual 8 or so (they're on 8 now, it doesn't swing massively in Northern Ireland). This will be enough for a coalition with The Conservatives which they will all probably decide to go for (despite rumours of Cameron saying he'd never do it). They will be loved by many and despised by many equally. 
The country will be more politically split than it has been for a while. Smaller parties will all do better than in previous years, due partly to the Scotland referendum and partly to the continuing influence of the internet and social media allowing to parties ignored by the mainstream media to get a louder voice. 
A big swing to the right in terms of rhetoric
Labour and the Lib Dems will be expecting this (the above) and the whole rhetoric in the run up to the election will take a decisive swing to the right as they try to desperately grab some power. It will get more and more okay to ruthlessly criticise immigration, austerity in general will not be questioned, labour will, of course, attempt to package it differently but it will remain clear that there is very little difference between the main parties, there will also be will be a focus on criminal justice and lots of love for the military from everyone. There is no doubt that politics in the UK is taking another big swing to the right (after the 1990's 'New Labour' swing). Admittedly lots of this has already happened, I'm really just predicting more of it. 
A new left- wing alliance
The Greens, Paid Cymru, the SNP and maybe the respect party will form a closer alliance (and maybe make it official) as they form a more radical (ish) left wing voice in lieu of labour who most people will begin to dismiss as pointless (also a good few of UKIPs seats will have been nicked off labour anyway). This will form a new minority left-wing.


The SNP will do well and there is a chance that the Greens might get one or two more seats. This group may start to talk openly about working more closely together pre-general election.


Society

A more divided society
As mentioned above, the UK will get more divided than it has been for some time. The Scottish referendum pushed politically engaged lefties further left than labour (which is hardly surprising since labour are firmly on the right wing by any objective standards). It is also true that Russell Brand will have had a noticeable impact. He will declare that this new left- wing alliance is the answer and is worth voting for after all. This will be hard to resist as he becomes more successful and more accepted by the mainstream. Most people will agree with him, some of us will question the focus on party politics but will not want to make a massive fuss out of a desire to keep the focus on the heart of the problem (the mainstream who have, and will continue to have, all the real power). 
Strikes, protests and riots
A core of activism will build up around this alliance of the lefty parties will cumulate in protests and strikes by the end of the year. Rioting would not be a surprise but it will probably be much more intentional and purposeful than 2011's riots. It's not going to have majority support by any means though, even amongst the working class. The whole activist movement won't be like it was in the late 70s when sizeable numbers where behind it, participants will be marginalised and it will be controversial to declare support for them at work or other similar settings. The mainstream media will not touch any of this action taking place until it gets violent and will obviously misconstrue it (as always). 
Drugs
The push for relaxation of legislation proscribing certain drugs will be loud and vocal by the end of 2015, louder than now, but the Conservative-UKIP alliance will resist it at all costs. Openly speaking out in favour of total decriminalisation of drugs will become much more socially acceptable, those who don't support it will begin to realise that they are fighting a loosing battle. Of course when de-criminalisation comes thoughts will turn to how to cash in on it, small businesses or self-employed drug dealers will be forced out of the market. It might surprise some people to see this impact poverty rates, especially where some dealers from poorer areas are making money off selling weed and cocaine to the middle classes at present.  

The economy

Capitalism is in crisis, it is becoming hard to tell if that is just for us (the people) or if the capitalist class is feeling it too (unlikely given the fact that wealth inequality extrodinarily high right now). 
There has been no real economic recovery, unemployment figures are dropping but this is largely to do with the massive explosion in zero hours contracts jobs and forced labour schemes for those on benefits (this removes them from official figures). The deficit has not been cut in any significant way and national debt is still accruing at a huge rate. If this is a real crisis, not a manufactured power/money grab as I continue to suspect, we will see real problems. Another recession now, with welfare cut the way it has been will see people facing destitution in ways we aren't used to in the UK, we will be shocked at the poverty that people are finding themselves in by the end of the year. 

Homelessness is going to explode. I'm close to certain about this one. By this spring/ summer, when the winter night shelters have closed up we will see more people on the streets than we have in 25 years. We will get used to shop doorways and railway stations being full of rough sleepers again, charities will struggle to cope. With squatting now criminalised this will be a big source of clashes with the police (I've already personally wittnessed this happening in a small way, it will get worse), some confrontations will turn into riots.
The extent to which welfare reforms have impacted the help available to homeless people is hard to over estimate, it has been nothing short of devastating. On top of this most of the funding the government handed out to smooth the transition period is now running out, a lot of it was set for two years and it will not be replaced, charities will also have to cut services when they are needed the most. This crisis will tempt the government to look towards measures to criminalise behaviour associated with homelessness but they will know that they have to be careful (anything too harsh that catches the public eye could atract people to the growing activist cause). The average age of death for homeless people, currently standing at around 47 years old will probably have dropped a few years by the end of the year, especially if next winter is a cold one as many people who are not used to the streets will be facing them for the first time.
Sign up to volunteer or donate some money to a local homeless charity now if you want to help avert this, I'm confident that we are on the doorstep of a crisis (I have done full time support work with homeless people, more or less, for 9 years and we've never seen anything like this and it's building), just google 'homelesness' and the name of your town/city, you'l get a load of options, most of them are very flexible as long as you can just offer to do your bit and pitich in with whatever they've got going on and I know from first hand experiance that the smaller local charities (the ones that aren't usually getting in big corporate sponsorship or government money) value every £1.00. 

Global 

I don't have anything hugely specific to say here on a global scale apart from that the west will continue to sour it's relationship with Putin and Russia and tension between certain elements within Islam and the west will continue to run high. The possibility of a convenient terrorist attack  or a handy excuse for another war is never off the table. 
Countries to watch:
Venezuela and Bolivia: I've expected military intervention from the west in these Latin American nations for a long time. Their governments aren't playing ball and aren't fitting into the 'Washington consensus' globally. They're on the hit list, no doubt about it.
Mexico: What will happen with the on-going 'almost revolution' in Mexico? I don't know to be honest. If it keeps snowballing it's going to be very significant
Parts of Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Tunisia The (Magreb desert): There is ongoing insurgency in this area, the risk of another so called 'terrorist state' forming in that area is quite high. They could easily join up with Nigeria's 'Boko Haram'.
Palestine/ Israel: (As if it's a difficult prediction to make). After the year it's had this year Israel knows that it is getting more and more isolated internationally. For some reason this is causing it to step up both rhetoric and action against Palestinians. If Israel began to loose some of it's key international support the balance of the conflict could shift a little. Are the west finding they have enough alternative solid allies in the Middle East area now for Israel to look insignificant and not worth the trouble? The USA is still clinging to Israel but even conservatives across Europe are backing away. 
Syria: Not specifically for the ISIS Vs the west conflict but to see what becomes of the Rojova Revolution in the North. Will it survive? I hope so (Google it). 
The USA: The USA is entering what will go down in history as another of the great civil rights movements. The mass protests against the police, especially police brutality against black people are growing and getting more militant. Even tonight as I write this reports are coming in that a number of police stations have been occupied by protesters. This will probably, eventually, lead to some reforms which will make it harder for more radical voices to continue to demand that they don't go far enough as liberals grow tired and are satisfied with the concessions being offered. This is happening at the heart of the empire so it is going to be of interest to a great many people around the world to see how this one goes. We in the rest of the world can only hope for a revolution in the US from a distance and show our support to those who are pushing things that way. 

Summary


In conclusion. Conditions will get worse, unfavourable outcomes are likely across the board but the opposition will probably consolidate more and bicker less as things worsen. This will give a chance at change although lots of the obvious changes that might come about aim at reform, not revolution.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Whatever is statism?

Statism - an introduction

If we're going to discuss statism we're going to need to agree on a definition of the state. I tend to use my take on the classic Weberian definition:

The state is the dominant group claiming to have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force over a given geographical area (and maybe are at least somewhat capable of enforcing this monopoly and active in doing so? - not sure if we need that but you see where I'm going...)

Just like both neo-liberalism and capitalism you don't normally find people going round saying "I'm a statist". Statism is the belief or assumption that the state is legitimate, desirable or inevitable.

A person who believes the state to be legitimate may have an idea that there is a robust philosophical basis for the existence of states (either in their current form or in some idealised form). This may be the social contract theory, the idea that in a functioning democracy 'we the people' are the state or, I don't know, maybe there are some lunatics running around proclaiming the divine right of kings still!

A person who believes the state to be desirable will probably appeal to a consequentialist belief that the existence of the state is preferable to any alternatives they can conceive due to the fact that it produces preferable outcomes (such as more pleasure and less pain as in utilitarianism).

A person who believes the state to be inevitable may or may not fit into either of the first two categories,but the defining characteristic of someone who thinks this way is that they don't believe that another way is possible, that whether or not the state has a legitimate philosophical basis or produces more desirable results that human beings will organise their societies into states as a natural part of our nature.  


De-mystifying the state

Nomadic bands

In the beginning there was freedom. Before the coming of tribes, empires and finally nation states human society consisted of small groups of nomadic hunter gatherers, the last few of these survive today in places like the Amazon Rainforest and Papua New Guinea, they have a strong sense of equality, they mix work and play, they combine a form of communism with a sense of respect for the individual which prevents anyone from ordering anyone else around.

(Then this happened: http://www.filmsforaction.org/news/the_great_forgetting/)

Tribalism

About 10,000 years ago in the middle east, and shortly afterwards independently in other areas humans had recently developed agriculture and began to live in more densely populated communities. These communities began to produce a surplus of  basic essentials which allowed for the division of labour and a tribal form of hierarchy was established. It was still a far more horizontal and voluntary- ish society than a modern state but there can be no doubt that there was a chief and a professional class of warriors and other classic indicators of a move towards states. Many societies continued to exist and develop along these lines and some grew significantly complex. A crucial ingredient of statism was missing; monopoly in a geographical area. Kings were kings of a people group, not of an piece of land.

In examples such as Ireland before the invasion by the English a kind of pan-archism was established (which has been written about, controversially, by right wing -libertarians such as Murry Rothbard and David Freidman featured on the web here and here).

Empires

Some did groups did not continue to develop along these lines, some grew aggressively expansionist and formed the first empires, in conquering neighboring tribes they subdued the people and demanded tribute (taxation). It was around this time that density of human population, permanence of settlement and development of land for agriculture reached such a stage that monopoly control of areas of land came to be of prime importance. In a process that rarely happened overnight rulers began to consolidate their control of territory, not just people.

Nation states

As the old empires fell and split western Europe found that a power vacuum was left during the dark ages and the very begginings of the nation state began to come about. In England this process was only finalised in the centuries post Norman invasion of 1066. The king established by force that all the land he ruled over belonged to him and so his many tenants owed him rent (the beginnings of taxation as we know it). In addition the kings courts forcibly superseded local ones establishing a single set of laws to be followed by all in the land.

Nation states are more than this though and they did not gain preeminence even in western Europe until a much later date. A nation is a group untied under the banner of culture and ethnicity. So in the 19th century when countries like Italy and Germany were unified as nation states it was an attempt to unite all German people and Italian people under one banner. The preeminence of nation states across the world came about much later on, well into the 20th century as the colonial empires of European nation states broke up an arbitrary borders were drawn all over the world map to leave states behind as their legacy

History of borders: http://newint.org/features/1991/09/05/simply/  
Borders in Africa: http://freakonomics.com/2011/12/01/the-violent-legacy-of-africas-arbitrary-borders/




The state today

By it's very nature the state is violent, it is hierarchical and it is lawless and disorderly. This is true always and everywhere of states. No pacifist, egalitarian or simple believer in the rule of law and the existence of order in society can consistently support the existence of the state, monopoly on law and order is by definition lawlessness. The idea of the 'nation state' in particular is also inherently racist. Death at the hands of the state was the number one cause of unnatural death in the 20th Century (i.e. not from sickness or accident etc.); from famines, wars, genocides, executions, assassinations etc. etc. millions upon millions of lives were ended due to these violent monopolisers of violence.

Further, the state today enforces a system of global apartheid, segregating different levels of workers in the global corporate capitalist system, used to grab land, suppress resistance, harvest wealth and control movement by national borders.



 A very very quick bash of the main reasons for belief in the state

The idea that we need states is so pervasive that despite the clear costs of continuing to have them people feel little need to excuse their support for them and instead demand that those who question their continued existence must provide a case for such a preposterous idea.
  • Security, internal and external is generally brought up by the right. 
  • The welfare of the people is generally brought up by the left.


Secrutiy

The more horizontal a society is the more security is built in. War is not usually about genocide, where this has been the case it has been for very specific reasons, most wars throughout the history of states, empires and tribes going to war with each other have been about regime change. An extractive economy which harvests wealth effectively and effectively sucks the maximum amount to the top is a prime target for regime change, a horizontal one is not. The effort required to re-order it, the unavoidable guerrilla warfare, the mass resistance in the form of strikes, civil disobedience, slow downs and occupations would impose a cost so high on a prospective invader that another target would soon be sought out (obviously a horizontal society the world over would really go much further in eliminating this!).

Welfare

The perceived need for a welfare state is a fundamental lack of justice. The massive divide between the 'employed' and the 'unemployed', the unequal nature of land distribution. Profiteering off labour due to a monopoly on the means of production by a state backed capitalist class, interest on loans due to a monopoly on capital due to the monopoly of capital by a state backed banking class, rent on land and accommodation by a state backed landlord class and taxation directly by the state would all be eliminated or largely eliminated (give this a read: http://c4ss.org/content/12561). The specific needs for education to prepare young workers to produce in a capitalist society would be diminished, the specific health needs of a workforce in a capitalist society would be diminished.

The welfare state exists to placate the people, to ward off revolution and to keep a trained, healthy and productive workforce.

The welfare state, national infrastructure, the military, the police and most of the rest of it are ways in which the political and economic elite are able to socialise the costs of their system whilst privatising the profits. It is no substitute for true justice.

Conclusion

This has been your left-libertarian guide to states, statism and why it needs to go.

Thank you for allowing me to monopolise your time.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Whatever is Privilege?

Working out what is wrong in the world

I grew up with a sense that something was wrong with the world but I didn't know what; Was it socialism? Was it Muslims? Was it just adults? Was it Americans? Was it annoying celebrities? I wasn't sure, I had to try to work it out. Eventually I got there, or at least I got closer. I worked it out because I'm obsessive, I had time on my hands and I had pretty much all my other needs fulfilled, so, in a wonderful expression of self-actualisation I got there. On my journey I was able to debate it out, read books and endless amounts of online articles, watch films, see the news, ask people questions and listen to talks.

Eventually I realised that we live in a world where war, ruthless greed coupled with systematic violence, pervasive social hierarchy and selfish individualism were not just marginal problems, they were absolutely central problems.

I'm not like most people. This is not because I'm all 'political' and whatever. I'm not like most people because I had to work it out in the first place. Most people in the world know what is wrong because it defines their lives, it killed their brother, it threw them off their land, it raped them, it impoverished them, it spat on them in the street, it wore a uniform and shot them, it locked them up in jail...

This situation that I have found myself in is called having 'privilege'.

One big union pyramid scheme

Any society that has both violence and hierarchy built in to the way people meet their needs and wants tends to order itself into a metaphorical pyramid type structure. Our world was not always this way but it is now. There are a few people at the top of this pyramid who own most of the land, wield most of the political power and have most of the capital. These people make up what is known as the ruling class (some people call them the 1% or just the capitalists). But how did they get into this position? Adam Smith, the famous economist said this:

"Labour was the first price, the original purchase - money that was paid for all things".

What he meant is that it is those who actually carry out the work that create wealth. This includes everyone who put in the necessary effort and creativity to get the job done. But in the way our world works wealth does not remain with those who create it. 20 people in our world today control as much wealth as the poorest 3 billion. (Some of them even have audacity to suggest that this is a good thing because some their wealth will trickle back down). This is because the pyramid that is our society, and society everywhere sucks wealth upwards towards the top as it exerts violence downwards maintaining control and forcing it's own brand of order on those below. This pyramid is the context in which we all look to have our needs met, our need to eat, drink, have shelter, be try to stay healthy, to attempt to be happy, hopefully to have fulfilling relationships and even to express ourselves.

In order to get what we need we have to be of use to someone above us, in order to get away with being ourselves we have to avoid breaking the rules that those above us have set. This can mean having to get married in order to have somewhere to live and food to eat, this can mean having to work for a boss in order to get money to survive, this can mean censoring ourselves so we don't get into trouble or pretending we are someone we are not in order to avoid the consequences and it always involves obeying a myriad of rules and regulations. If we fail, if we aren't useful enough or if we don't even want to be used or if we break the rules then we face either punishment or destitution.

All of this means that the closer you get to the top the more hegemony you find. In our world this means the more likely you are to be male, white, educated, a citizen of a wealthy country etc. etc. If you are in this position you find that it has some interesting effects; people tend to give you the benefit of the doubt more, people listen to you more and putting it bluntly, people act like your life is worth more than others, sometimes much, much more than others.

Pure instinct

Going back to the theme at the beginning. Most people in the world have a instinct for what is going on, it is the air they breathe. When they talk about their oppression to people they know, they know that everyone knows what they are talking about. They don't sit in groups and debate it, they don't have fancy language for it, they just know.

Unfortunately for people like me (people who may not be a part of the actual ruling class but have had it fairly good in life), it can be almost impossible for us to understand what less privileged people are talking about when they tell us about their lives. They aren't used to having to try to describe it in ways that we will understand, they aren't used to being expected to debate it and they certainly aren't used to having to hear people being cruel about their situation. We have come up with comfortable stories which we think explains why we have it good but they don't. Stories about how poor people are lazy, how women are never happy and are always making things up, how people from some races are inherently violent and/or stupid etc. These help us deal with the bewilderment we face when we hear about oppression from people that face more of it in their lives than we do.

What now?

Having privilege isn't a bad thing, everyone should have it! It is also totally possible to have in some areas and not in others. it can all seem very confusing but it doesn't have to be. There are some very simple things that we can do if we want to be part of making this situation better:

  • Listen more: Don't speak over people, don't try to speak for people, don't accuse people of lying all the time. It doesn't mean that no one is ever lying about anything, but if we don't listen openly we risk dismissing people who really need to be heard.
  • Don't try to 'rescue': It's no good having people who have participated in oppressing you then deciding that it's their job to lead you by the hand to freedom. Instead we need to find ways to stop hurting people so they can heal themselves and their own communities/ countries.
  • Don't be an asshole.

It's been a privilege.

Friday, 5 December 2014

16 votes and no mule


Life expectancy in the UK is 81.5 years. Minus the first 18 years of your life you have 63.5 voting years in you. You get a vote (for central government) every four years. This gives you about 16 votes.

You have 16 votes to fix the following:


- Our head of state is a un-elected monarch.

- The powers held by parliament flow down from the un-elected monarch, not up from the people.

- The monarch owns every square foot of the land, even free-holders are just glorified tenants.

- The House Of Lords is an integral part of our political system and it is completely undemocratic.

- Prisoners do not get a vote (yes those people locked in cages, at the mercy of the state are allowed to have zero impact on it).

- The City of London corporation (the local authority for the area where most of our financial institutions are based) is completely undemocratic and has more power than parliament on its own turf and does whatever the corporations within its borders want it to do.

- There is no compulsion for those politicians who are elected representatives to keep promises which they made in order to get elected. These are broken so often it's not even a funny joke any more. Its also not illegal, at all.

- There are proven links with party funders and legislation enacted, famous instances of 'cash for questions' and 'cash for honours'. MPs regularly go on to have lucrative careers with groups that had lobbied them most closely during their time in power. The leaders of all three of the main political parties were educated at expensive public schools (read 'private schools' if you are speaking american English), it costs £40,000 plus to become an MP which obviously cuts most people off from the possibility of ever participating.



Let's face it, 16 votes to fix all this is a bit ambitious!

Give up on this fantasy that you live in a free country, that you have an impact on what goes on, that politicians are really representatives of the people. Some are better than others, fair enough, I can agree with that but the system is completely broken (for us). The problem is, representative democracy is a flawed concept from the very beginning, it's the lowest form of democracy and we aren't even getting that right. What we need is justice, freedom and equality. Radical solutions that strike at the root of problems not ones that tickle the edges of them.


The big three political parties in the UK are just teams of managers bidding for a contract to manage a massive corporation. The super rich shareholders, the directors and supervisors and workers don't change when an election happens which means that in reality no one 'in power' can get anything of any significance done that wouldn't have been done by all the other parties too if they were in power. When you cast a vote you are just asking for it all to be packaged in a way you can stomach better.

If you want change, and maybe you do and maybe you don't, you are going to have to get involved yourself.

12 votes and no mule if you are an Asian man
9 votes and no mule if you are from Bradford
7 votes and no mule if you are homeless
6 votes and no mule if you are homeless and female

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Spilling my guts

Confession time:

You know that thing when you hear someone describe their personal experiences and you know they're doing it to prove a much bigger point and you're all like; that's interesting but I'd really need to see some statistics on that if I'm going to believe it's a serious widespread issue and not just a personal problem that you are suffering from/ making up?

I'm putting that on suspension.

I work with homeless people and the situation they're in makes me furious, I've got stats about how young homeless people die, how ill they are, what kinds of backgrounds they're from, but here is what it's actually like in my experience of meeting and sharing in small parts of the lives of hundreds of homeless people:

People are always asking me, when they talk to me about what I do; "to what extent do they bring on themselves though? Are they homeless because of stuff that has happened to them that they couldn't have done anything about or is it just, you know, just a lifestyle choice?

Most homeless people I've spoken to, once I really sit down and have a chat with them tell me that when they were children they were abused, usually sexually, often physically too. I'm not making that up, I've heard them say it through tears, through drunken confessions, through schizophrenic rantings, not just lots of them, most of them.

Almost all the homeless people I've known were born into families that were poor and struggling. You always get one or two that everyone knows came from a nice family or had it good when they were young but they're a tiny minority. They are born and die in poverty mostly.  

Lots of them can't read or write. This often contributed to why they were homeless in the first place, they couldn't understand the letters they got sent telling them they were getting evicted unless they do ...

Lot's of them have never worked. Before you judge that step back for a second, the other day I was trying to help a young guy who was getting frustrated because I wasn't getting very far in coming up with solutions for him. I was starting to get a bit annoyed too, defaulting back to prejudices and wanting to tell him to get on and do something for himself for once. In a 5 minute speech he made, stood up before walking out he told me that his mum didn't want him, that he was beaten up by his step dad, that he was put into care and passed from family to institution to family, that he has nothing to offer the world; no skills, no education, he doesn't even know how to speak right and dress right and the world has nothing to offer him either. Now what? If this is where I'm supposed to tell him to get himself together and sort it out I refuse! How can I say that when I've always had it so good?

You know, for a lot of people there is no resolution. We're conditioned by those bullshit films about how people pull themselves out of the gutter and go on and succeed to think that sooner or later they'll finally get it, they'll see the error of their ways and make all the changes they need to make, maybe spurred on by some kind of inspirational situation or after hitting rock bottom and knowing it was either change or die. Then there is the montage scene and then it's all better! Actually it's too late for lots of people.  Lots of the homeless people I've known over the years are dead now; two people I've known were murdered, more than I can count decided that it wasn't worth being alive any more, and killed themselves, one guy fell in a river and drowned, some of them died of liver disease, some just disappeared and haven't been seen again. 

I can't help imagine them as children after that happens, I don't know why but I always do it. Even then they mostly had it bad but I bet they all had at least one good day, I bet at least once they laughed and we're happy and forgot a bit about the pain at home. I hate the fact that they died in total indignity and far too early and now there's nothing anyone can do about it now.

And here's the worst part, I haven't even got an answer.  I'm not going to round this post off with a rant about how we all need to do this thing to fix it, or the government need to do or not do this thing to fix It, its a horrible, horrible tragedy and I literally don't know what to do about it. 

In my job we help people and sometimes it works but I don't have a grand story to explain what's really wrong here and what big thing needs to happen to make it all better! In the last year we helped about 100 people find a place to live, I'm thankful for every one, but it's getting worse, we've seen far more people this year than last and this is one small town in a wealthy part of England.  I left school wanting to change the world not having a clue about how hard it is just to impact one life for the better. It's incredibly daunting. 

If I've got anything at all to leave you with it's that if we want to make the world better it's going to take all of us. We don't need heroes but we need at least as much dedication as a hero has, but from everyone.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Whatever is neo-liberalism?

Whatever is neo-liberalism?


Neo-liberalism, like capitalism, is not usually a consciously accepted ideology it is a descriptive term. In fact neo-liberalism is best understood as the particular form and stage of capitalism that we are suffering under at this present time. Thomas G Clarke of 'Another Angry Voice' (a fellow UK left-libertarian with an ever so slightly more popular blog than this one) says that neo-liberalism is characterised by policies such as privatisation, de-regulation, globalisation and tax cuts. Sounds quite libertarian no? Well it might sound that way but let me assure you it is about as libertarian as Josef Stalin. Let's have a bash at seeing why, eh?



Privatisation


Some times there is a language problem here, right wing libertarians talk of 'private property', left wing libertarians talk of 'personal possessions', although they are not quite the same thing there is significant cross over between the two, they have much more in common with each other than either do with the communist proposal that nothing can be owned or possessed by an individual at all. Private property to right-libertarians goes a little something like this: A thing is your legitimate private property if you mixed your labour with an un-owned natural resource or acquired it through some kind of voluntary transfer from someone else who was a legitimate owner. So privatisation seems like it might be something to do with the state returning stolen stuff. You couldn't be more wrong.

The state does not steal for itself directly, even though politicians and top civil servants are paid quite generously they're wealth is meagre compared to societies richest capitalists:

This list of smirking idiots starts with the Duke of Westminster with about £14 billion:
http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/nation/britains-10-richest-billionaires-in-2014/

Or check out this extract from an article in the Guardian about land ownership:
"The UK is 60m acres in extent, and two-thirds of it is owned by 0.36% of the population, or 158,000 families. A staggering 24m families live on the 3m acres of the nation's "urban plot" – and not surprisingly buy into the idea that Britain is a severely overcrowded country in which land is extremely scarce."
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/aug/07/tim-adams-who-owns-Britain

David Cameron and his chums might be worth a few million or so each but they aren't exactly in the billionaires club. The state acts as the armed wing of the wealthiest 1% in society. In the USA this was proven in a study:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10769041/The-US-is-an-oligarchy-study-concludes.html

(I don't need a study to know full well that it's true here too!). Instead of making money for itself the state rigs trade to ensure that wealth flows upwards and does not remain with workers.

Let's take an example that has been big news recently; the privatisation of the NHS. The NHS was paid for by money that was taken from the people (all taxes are taxes on the people, Capitalists simply pass on the charge to workers and consumers, they never take a hit personally). The understanding was that in return we would be provided with a health care system that was quite good and was free to use, no one would be getting rich off the taxes we all paid in, we'd simply be provided with services.

Now as much as I don't agree to people having money forcefully removed from them the original deal was one of the nicer things that the state could have done with the money it took. Of  course some people were always going to be getting rich, big pharmaceutical companies were vying for contracts to provide medicines, companies supplying medical equipment were making big money etc. but on the whole the actual provision of the health care service was just a taxpayer funded service. Now, the privatisation of this service doesn't mean that all the people who paid for it are going to get their money back, it means that now, all the stuff you and I paid for is getting sold on to people who have the intention to make a profit on it, to make a profit off the money that you have no choice but to pay or go to jail... hmmmm it's starting to sound a bit less than libertarian already!

De-regulation

Surely, surely de-regulation is libertarian?! Not a chance my friend! If it did exactly what it said on the tin and applied to everyone equally we could talk about the libertarian case for de-regulation but de-regulation in this sense simply means making life much easier for banks and corporations. But banks and corporations are private sector right? Part of the free market? Let me quote Mr Kevin Carson on the extent to which banks and corporations are part of any free market:

"...the state creates and maintains the fictitious legal infrastructure of corporate “personhood”, limited liability laws, government contracts, loans, guarantees, purchases of goods, price controls, regulatory privilege, grants of monopolies, protectionist tariffs and trade policies, bankruptcy laws, military intervention to gain access to international markets and protect foreign investments, regulating or prohibiting organized labor activity, eminent domain, discriminatory taxation, ignoring corporate crimes and countless other forms of state-imposed favors and privileges".

The relationship between the government and business is not limited to some small band of cronies, it is the point. Corporations and the government are so entangled in one another that it would be hard to tell them apart, in fact there is no point in trying to tell them apart. De-regulating corporations is about the same thing as de-regulating the police or the military, not very libertarian at all!

Globalisation

Ah yes, this is that whole 'no boders' thing libertarians are always going on about right? Wrong! Globalisation is about freeing up capital, not people. In a globalised world capital and goods are free to cross national borders but people are severely restricted. Globalisation is simply another word for neo-colonialism. It's not even that goods and capital are being freely traded around the world it's a wealth transfer from poor nations to rich nations, characterised by monopoly rents on intellectual property, land grabbing, military interventions and economic sanctions on countries that won't play ball etc.

What is known as 'austerity' in the UK is not some noble plan for the state to shrink back to a more responsible size it is one piece in a global jigsaw that very few have been able to comprehend. The same jigsaw contains third world debt, the introduction of water charges in Ireland, land grabs from natives in Papua New Guinea, oil wars in the middle east.  This globalist aspect of neo-liberalism has accelerated considerably since the end of the cold war through so called "free trade" pacts and organisations like the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund as well as the UN and the EU. Private tyrannies, completely untouchable controlling everything we consume, from food to information in a smaller and smaller collection hands is the new name of the game and it is happening everywhere. To the point that new regulations now being introduced look set to make it possible for big corporations to sue governments for loss of earnings, if you think that sounds vaguely libertarian then you are forgetting who funds the government!

Tax cuts

I'll believe that when I see it. Whilst it is always the people who pay for the state, never the capitalists, the burden of taxation can fall more heavily on some demographics than others depending on the system of taxation used. Tax cuts means cutting for some and winning it back from others, it's a game, no one is trying to make your life more free and easy here, everyone is wondering how they can squeeze and extra penny out of you and whether that is through profiteering or taxation doesn't really matter anyway.

Conclusion


This has been your left-libertarian guide to neo-liberalism. Remember, power is always hostile and don't believe the hype. Unfortunately equal numbers of leftists and rightists have bought into the ruling classes 'free market' propaganda. There is nothing remotely free about any of it.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Whatever is neo-colonialism?

Neo-colonialism, what is it? the no messin' answer.

Neo-colonialism is the successor to colonialism or empire building. In the 18th and 19th centuries European countries were fairly advanced and powerful on a global scale. During that time they colonised most of the rest of the world. Why? Very simply, the point of a regime colonising a new piece of land is to extract the natural resources therein and to exploit the labour of the people therein. In the first half of the 20th century old school colonialism was phased out and neo-colonialism was phased in, same thing, exact same point, new tactics.

Here are the big 5 tactics as identified by me, that define neo-colonialism:

1. Intellectual property piracy: Intellectual property rights are a state guaranteed monopoly on access to and use of information. In a free market system when a company finds a new clever way to make a product more efficiently it benefits for a little while by being ahead of the game. Because no one else knows about the new way of doing things yet prices remain the same but the cost of production for this particular company goes down, this means profits will increase for a little while. With intellectual property laws in place the company can patent their new way of doing things to prevent others from copying them, thus giving them a permanent, rather than temporary, advantage (hmmm...). Intellectual property laws have been vastly expanded under neo-colonialism though, especially since the end of the cold war as groups like the World Trade Organisation have accelerated the progression of capitalism towards it's horrific predictable end. It is now possible to patent not just methods of production but products themselves and charge extortionate rents for access to them. This is how "brand names" are able to use sweatshop labour and then mark up the price to the extent they do, this is why crucial medicines can't reach parts of Africa where they are needed, this is why farmers in India are having to pay to access seeds that they developed and that pirate corporations have stolen and patented, even our genes inside us have been patented. Parent holders are overwhelmingly corporations based in wealthy countries so the whole thing represents nothing but a massive transfer of wealth from the global poor to the global mega-rich. This is a major reason why it is an unrealistic comparison to compare first world nations when they were industrialising with third world nations today. Third world nations are stuck in this position in a way that western nations were not.
Time to stop looking on with pity and start getting angry

2. Colonial legacy governments: Colonial regimes did not set up governmental structures to act as representatives for the people in the way that European liberal democracies claim to do. They set them up to hoover wealth up towards the top of the social, metaphorical pyramid. This has left the top spot in many countries extremely desirable, access to political power gives unchecked access to resources that, however much we dislike cronyism in the west, is unparalleled here. This has led to corruption, coups, civil wars, genocides and the like. This alone would be awful but those who occupy the highest positions of power in third world nations are not supposed to do it to grab resources purely for themselves; pressure and intimidation from western powers and corporations and the constant threat of economic sanctions or even military action for not playing ball means that they continue to open the doors for the exploitation of their people and natural resources to big western corporations.


3. Land grabbing: Following on from point two. Land grabs are a tremendous source of pain and suffering in the third world. Probably a billion people on this planet have no security in their land and accommodation. Third world governments use eminent domain powers to remove land from poor people and hand it over to corporations seeking to mine, cut down trees, farm etc. on it. Corporations also use manipulation and fraud to convince people to give up their land for much less than it is worth. Conservation charities have also been notoriously bad at this. Land grabbing is capitalism's original sin, it turns people into landless workers who are much easier to exploit, completely disenfranchising them, no about of generosity or 'compassionate capitalism' is going to make that better and capitalism itself simply wouldn't work without it (in Europe this process was known as privatisation of the commons and it made the industrial and agricultural revolution possible).

4. International borders: As described above, the global economy is set up in such a way that capital and goods flow freely out of poor countries and into rich ones,  people however do not. International borders, especially the fortified first world prevent poor people from escaping the hopeless poverty they face at home and going to the places where their wealth is enjoyed. Ordinary people in the west may not be the primary receivers of all this wealth but it is obvious from the way I used to be able to sit in an office pretending to scan bits of paper in my first job when I left school and do about 2 hours actual work a day and get paid far better than the vast majority of the third world that westerners do get thrown a good bit of the surplus of what is robbed from everyone else (I now work hard, but still).

5. Military action: At the end of the day, despite the fact that neo-colonialism has been an indirect form of empire building and empire maintenance it has not been shy about using the military as source of corporate welfare. Whether its big oil in the Middle East, the arms trade anywhere, mining companies in Africa etc. if the local puppet government can't handle a conflict which could threaten the continued pillaging by western corporations one military or another will be called in to restore, what has come to be known as 'peace', which you can read as 'the silence of the oppressed'.
Landlord Bear - find him on Facebook. 

The third world is not poor, it is being pillaged on a massive scale, this isn't the actions of a corrupt group of rouge corporations who could be named and shamed, this is the fundamental basis of the entire global economy.

If you can tell me how we can do something about this mess without a worldwide revolution I'll be all ears because the people who run this system have proved, time and time again that they will kill to protect it.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Means and ends, internal and external - thoughts

This article done got me thinking about the difference between means which are external to ends and ones which are internal.

http://c4ss.org/content/26616


I would like to suggest that all external means to ends are less efficient and usually less desirable than internal ones and people will go straight to internal ones if they have a free and open choice (obviously not always possible, as in the example in the article of learning a piece of music vs actually hitting the notes in order to play it, you won't get far unless you do both but lots of times there is choice).

My reasoning is simply through 'friction' you loose something by having to exchange what you've done for the actual point, if everything you do is part of the actual point then it is smoother and you don't suffer 'entropy' loss (if you will, and if I'm using that term correctly).

Three thoughts:

One: Explicitly intentionally violent revolution is by definition an external means to the desired anarchist end of a peaceful anarchistic society. Therefore it is less efficient and is therefore probably usually only pursued by people who (probably subconsciously) prefer violence for it's own sake. Starting now by building the new society in the shell of the old is a 'straight to the point' solution. With violence, like it or not, you are doing one thing with the aim of exchanging (broad definition of exchange) for something very different. Its not that I can't see the idea, I can.

Two: Working for a wage in order to be able to exchange that wage for things you actually want/ need (food, shelter etc.) would decrease in popularity in a free society and advances in technology would probably take us in the direction of getting things we want directly, in enjoyable ways. Example: Growing your own food takes longer and eats up more energy than just going to work for a few hours and buying it all from the supermarket. But, say you don't like work, but you love growing food, in that case growing your own is a free hobby and results in free food at the end, win win (free if you are saving seeds/ composting waste etc.) going to work costs you the hours and the effort that you spent doing something you didn't enjoy for it's own sake (even if it is relatively few hours), for the same end result.

Three: Lots of what Christianity says about ends not justifying means could just as easily be framed as; means which are external to ends are not only less efficient but are unacceptable in terms of ethics. Jesus' message that the kingdom of God had already come amongst us was a call to get straight to the point, no waiting around or trying to do bad things and hoping for good results.

This marks the end of my thinking for the morning.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Why I have decided not to eat anything for a week

Introduction

Throughout history there have been a variety of reasons why people choose to fast and a variety of ways of doing it.

Some fasts include just cutting one or some foods from your diet but not everything, some fasts occur only during daylight hours, some fasts include only drinking liquids but not eating solid food and the most complete version of the fast is declining to eat all foods for a period of time, in this only water and salt are consumed for the preservation of life.

The fast I have chosen is pretty much the final one, for one week I am having nothing but water and a few times a day I’m mixing this with rehydration sachets (the kind you have when you have diarrhoea) to keep me going to work and looking after the kids etc.

The trigger for me choosing to do this was the vote, at 5pm last Friday (26/09/14) over the decision whether or not the UK should join the coalition, led by the USA, to bomb targets in Iraq with the aim of defeating the group ISIS. I decided a day beforehand that if this vote went in favour of taking such action that I wouldn’t eat for a week. I didn’t really know why I was making the decision to do it at the time, apart from being pissed off by the whole thing and knowing that there was little I could do to change what was happening. I have now had time to reflect more on the 'why?' and have some answers below.

Why was I so against such actions?

Philosophical/ theological reasons

Primarily for the reason that I am resolutely against all war and violent conflict, because I don’t believe that it is possible to solve anything this way. Arising from my Christian faith is a simple belief that transcends the whole question of whether actions in themselves are intrinsically right or wrong or whether it is the likely consequences of an action that make it the right choice or wrong choice. Right actions produce right consequences and wrong actions produce wrong consequences, God has created the universe in such a way that the two are linked. Violently attacking other people is wrong and therefore as a Christian I can say, with all confidence, that it will produce the wrong results. Who decides the rightness and wrongness of the results of an action? God does, but God has given us a brain. I don’t believe that it is the intention that Christians make timeless, context-less statements, like the above, alone. I believe that we must make a case, particularly for those who don’t share our faith but also for those who do but are not seeing clearly.

Practical case

Terrorists or freedom fighters or both?

The facts of the situation are that ISIS does not have a large amount of fighters, at present on the news they are reporting anywhere between 7,000 and 30,000. They are currently occupying an area which is roughly the size of Britain. It is an uncomfortable truth that despite their clear barbaric intolerant nature ISIS have a sufficient level of support amongst the people who live in this area to maintain it. ISIS are a Sunni Muslim group in a majority Shiite nation, Sunni’s in Iraq have been marginalised and oppressed, along with other groups such as Christians and minority sects. The national government, put in place and maintained by the western powers who invaded and destroyed the country about 10 years ago have been no different. ISIS is a response to this, it is a retaliation by oppressed people against oppressors. That doesn’t mean that I support ISIS, that’s just what it is. Their treatment of women, religious minorities, hostages and their attempt to impose radical Islamic Sharia law on the area the hold prevents me from lending any level of support, but facts are facts, ISIS are freedom fighters, in their own eyes and in the eyes of many of those whose land they are occupying.

Further radicalisation

ISIS are not a conventional western style army, they do not have army bases and airports for us to bomb, they exist amongst the civilians there and the line between civilian and militant is blurred, this is probably the reason for the lack of certainty western intelligence people have over the true numbers of militants being faced. Bombing then, therefore, will be difficult. Anyone who suggests that it will be possible to carry out airstrikes in this area with the intention of taking out ISIS and not destroy infrastructure, housing and kill innocent civilians is deluded, it will happen and it will severely piss people off. This will almost certainly lead to more radicalisation, more hate and ultimately more people choosing to fight with ISIS and other terrorist organisations. Apart from the fact that killing civilians and destroying infrastructure in a poor country is, of course, wrong in itself, it clearly isn’t a very good plan in the long term.

Ulterior motives of those who push us towards war

Many of those people who want war in this region stand to benefit or have close connections with people who stand to benefit. The main two industries which do well from Middle Eastern war are arms dealing and oil.

Arms dealing is big business, arms dealers in the west, including the UK, have flooded this part of the world with weapons. ISIS and other terrorist groups do not have weapons factories, their guns and landmines and whatever else they use don’t fall down from heaven. Weapons are sold to a number of Arabic states who support ISIS on some level, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, many of their weapons will have come from there. Many more will have come from arming the Iraqi national army, which ran and dropped their weapons in the face of ISIS attacks. Arms dealers like war because it is the primary cause of demand for their products even if ISIS’s weapons are obtained indirectly. People who are connected to people who make these decisions will push us to fight instead of enacting an arms embargo which is the obvious solution simply because that isn't in their interest.

Oil is another factor. Its common knowledge that oil is big, big business and people have long suspected a tendency for western powers to be quicker to jump into a fight in a nation where there is a lot of oil than one with no desirable resources. I can’t say I fully understand the whole situation with regards to oil but I know the basics: ISIS already have control of some oil refineries, they are already selling it to Syria, they will not be likely to conduct any trade of the oil they have in a way which is favourable to the west, they will not make transactions in dollars and they will not be pressured into supplying it cheap. This isn't a good thing for western capitalists making billions from oil and so the drive to fight ISIS and get them out of there is being made by them too.

The alternatives

If one was to believe in the legitimacy of the state but was against war I think one would be pushing for an arms embargo, more effective national aid to rebuild Iraq after we destroyed it, facilitating peace talks in Syria and negotiating settlements. I do not recognise the legitimacy of any states and on an individual level the realistic alternatives are limited to giving to charities which are known to operate in affected areas. So what are my big solutions?

I propose that the oil underneath Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people and most specifically to those who work to extract it, if they choose to extract it. It is not owed to the west and if it is to be sold to the west then trade should be conducted on both an entirely free and entirely fair basis. Corporate welfare for big oil, which includes everything from tax breaks and subsidies to the exercise of the eminent domain powers of states to seize land for refineries and pipelines to wars that are fought on their behalf must stop.

I also put forth that the west owes a very significant debt to the people of the Middle East, not as aid but as compensation. They have been robbed both of their resources and their countries have been destroyed as well as millions killed. Massive compensation is owed by western governments, (enough to bankrupt them hopefully). This should be paid in the form of direct payments to individuals, not to armies and NGOs and other people who will waste it on paying themselves. This should come with a grovelling apology.

Finally I propose that peaceful solutions and education should be promoted and talked about, the marginalisation of oppressed communities in the Middle East has resulted in them being vulnerable to indoctrination by people who prey on them for their own gain. Terrorism does not thrive amongst people who feel included, amongst people who are educated, amongst people who are enjoying a good quality of life and have little conflict with others. Individuals from all parts of the world who feel they are in a position to should help to try to spread a message of peace and conflict resolution, particularly to these areas which have suffered so much trauma.


What do I hope to achieve?

Having now had a chance to reflect on what I'm doing here is the point:

Fasting for a specific purpose, as opposed to involuntary starvation, has been undertaken to various ends for thousands of years. In the ancient world where hospitality was considered very important people who had been wronged were known to sit on the doorsteps of someone who had wronged them and ask for justice, saying that they would not leave or eat until they got it. Allowing someone to starve to death on your doorstep was unthinkable, the issue would then be brought to some kind of court or gathering for discussion. One of my reasons, which reflects this in a way, is to highlight an injustice and bring attention to it for the purpose of bringing this war before court of public opinion in a more just, fairer and more truthful way than it has been so far.

In the Catholic Church fasting is often done as a form of penitence. Whether I like it or not I have been complicit in this system. My taxes are used to fund the war and I am one of many who benefit from the results of it; wealth for western people (particularly capitalists but some is thrown to the people too) and poverty for Middle Eastern people. I am sorry that I have been complicit in this and whilst I am not in much of a position to stop being complicit in it I am doing this as a sign that I resent that.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church fasting is often something done to improve personal discipline and guard against gluttony. My tenancy towards gluttony isn’t really a focus here, although it is real! I do like the idea of fasting improving personal discipline though. I’d like to think that the discipline that I am learning from refusing to eat for a week will also be able to be put to other uses, particularly in the struggle against global corporate capitalism, oppressive government, war and social hierarchy.

In summary I want to achieve more attention for the facts surrounding this latest attack on the Iraqi people, I want to publically display my regret at being complicit and resentment at not being able to do much about that and finally I want to learn some discipline for the wider struggle.

I write this on the third day of my fast, I have four more to go. It has been difficult, my head has ached, my concentration has been lacking, I felt faint once or twice and to be honest the thought of going the rest of the week without eating is actually quite a scary one, I’ve never attempted anything remotely like this, and I’ve barely even skipped a meal before now. It isn’t a fun thing to do, it certainly isn’t something I’m doing to draw attention to myself, it simply wouldn’t be worth doing for that, I’d much rather the food than any attention on me but I felt this was the right thing to do and I’m sticking with it. I decided to write this up and share it on the basis that part of the point was to get attention for the cause, whilst it makes me uncomfortable talking at length about myself and something I'm doing it just has to be done.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

In defence of being angry

(if it's red then it's bitter, dry, cold, hurtful sarcasm, like a knife)

How nice everyone is

Nearly everyone believes in all the nice things: Unity, equality, freedom, having a calm rational discussion when we disagree with others etc.. These amongst other similar principles and values are the irrefutable orthodoxy in our day. Only religious fanatics, Nazis and psychopaths deviate from our accepted doctrine.

That's fine, I for one am in the club on this one, part of the team; team enlightenment, team rational thinking, team liberal, team freedom, TEAM WESTERN CIVILISATION, GO TEAM!!!! And it was all going well until it got weird.

Why should anyone be angry when everyone is SO nice?
 
Cries for unity, I noticed, we're usually used to try to justify the worst amongst us. Pleas for peace we're covertly used to silence the oppressed. Those claiming to be neutral and unbiased about issues that matter always seemed to just defend the status quo. The encouragement to be calm and rational in disagreement was used to patronise people who shouldn't be calm, people who were angry and had every right to be angry.
 
The fa├žade of niceness is used to be very, very 'un-nice'.
 
Too many people like to pretend that they're all lovely and care about everyone equally. Like when Christians say that we "hate the sin but love the sinner" when we're talking about gays. Catchy little phrase no? Mental shortcut to what to do and say when confronted with hard questions right? We act like we're genuinely neutral about the person, our focus is, we say, is on the fact that we treat them no different to anyone else we just don't agree with certain things they do. Wow! 10 points for us. Except that we don't bother acknowledging how badly gay people have been treated throughout Christian history, we don't consciously remember that gay people are still in fear of their life in some parts of the world and that those who will attack them and hurt them are doing so on the basis of the same set of beliefs we hold. We don't believe how badly people are being treated in our own churches. We don't get outrageously angry about it all, no, we just know what to say if we're cornered.
 
Its like when white people claim to be colour blind when it comes to race... colour blind in a world where we dominate everyone and everything economically militarily and politically... that's cute. Instead of going mental about how unjust this is, we say; "It's okay because we don't hate people just because they're black or brown", sometimes we even say that we don't even notice what colour they are! Its lucky for them really, since they're often so hostile to us (I like to head straight for the moral high ground too).
 
Its also just like when men say that we aren't comfortable with feminism, no, we just believe in equality for everyone, but the choose not to see that there is no equality. Saying we're for equality doesn't achieve anything, fighting on the side of the oppressed does... but that's just reverse sexism right?
 
The best people in the whole wide world
 
The most despicable and most dangerous of all is our assumption, not just of neutrality, but of the general good of our "betters". People who are exceedingly wealthy, people who are 'experts', people who have political power, people who lead, teach, advise etc. We seem to have a built in assumption that they probably want the best for us and that they probably know best.
 
So when the police shoot someone, the person probably brought it on themselves, when we must bomb another country our leaders know best, when the mega-rich amass fortunes beyond our comprehension they probably earned it all legitimately. We hold all this in tension with our assumption that kids being naughty in school probably have a mental problem or a personality disorder (and aren't just resisting being shoved through a system that treats them as disposable if they don't fit the mould), that homeless people are probably irresponsible (not everyone else for letting them freeze to death on the streets, no that isn't irresponsible at all), that people in the third world are probably a bit lazy, people who get arrested for things are probably guilty etc.
 
The language we use is loaded, we never tell people in power to learn to take some responsibility for themselves, we never tell them that they need to learn how to make an honest living, we never tell them that they need to be the change they want to see in the world.
 
A pattern emerges. We assume that those higher up the food chain are better than those at the bottom. This is the nature of hierarchy within human relationships, it is cruel and anti-social in the extreme. It is a lie.
 
The truth is that our "betters" are usually patronising, insulting, thieving criminals who treat us like animals. We are managed and manipulated to live as they want us to live, through the media, through schooling, through advertising through speeches and books, through behaviour management we are coerced into being calm (even drugged into being calm) to be good little worker-bees and not make a fuss.
 
The truth is that in this world, the real world, the only one we have, their good is too exploit us and our good is to resist their efforts to exploit us. The sooner we wake up to this the better. We can't have unity until we are all equal, we won't be calm until we are all free, there is no room for neutrality in an unjust world, take sides, get angry and stay angry until its fixed.
 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Polemic Against Crap Music

My Journey home

When I finished work this evening the first thing I did was put some music on. I was the last one leaving the office so I put my headphones on at my desk, selected my punk playlist and turned the volume up as loud as it would go.

By the time I was walking out of the building I had Poly Styrene of X-Ray Specs shrieking the chorus to 'Oh Bondage Up Yours' into my ears over that classic distorted guitar of late 1970s British punk-rock, her, then 16 year old, band mate's saxophone playing and some poorly recorded drums. It was wonderful. I walked to the bus stop as the playlist continued. I wouldn't have cared if the bus didn't come, I'd forgotten my headphones for the last few days so I was enjoying myself too much to notice most of what was going on around me. As I got on the bus I sat amongst other tired people going home from work, they were falling asleep, their heads resting on the windows. I was getting re-energised, Jake Burns of the Stiff Little Fingers was explaining to me through the lyrics of "Alternative Ulster" that "They say they're a part of you, but that's not true! They say they've got control of you, but that's a lie!". By the time I was walking past the kids playing the street outside my house I was practically marching along to Rancid's, Roots Radicals.

In short it wasn't a bad commute home this evening and I like punk... a lot.

I first got into punk music in a somewhat serious way in the summer of 2002 (which I will now take you back to), it was the Queen's Golden Jubilee and the Sex Pistols had re-released God Save The Queen in celebration. I bought it. It was glorious. I was playing drums, badly, in a band with friends in those days and it was a lot of fun. We would record live sessions on a little tape recorder that had a built in microphone and imagine promoting the recordings and becoming famous. There was also a current of thought amongst us that we would probably change the world in the process.

Now I'm not suggesting that punk music is the only music worth listening to, but ever since I realised that music could make your brain explode or your face melt off or heart stop I've wondered why people listen to all that crap you hear on the radio, or on MTV. There is genuine talent in every genre; artists who love what they do, who are creative and experimental and sing about things they are passionate about. So why does it seem to be the most boring, unimaginative, soulless shite that get's popular?

Allow me to take some stabs as to why:

Intellectual property

First against the wall in our search for who or what is responsible for crap music is the concept of intellectual property (IP).

IP completely redefines the concept of what you can own, it 'encloses' and 'privatises' thoughts, ideas, designs, sounds etc. and artificially labels them as private property. Access to these things can then be regulated by law; copying music without paying for it is called theft or piracy even though it deprives the original producer of nothing.

IP laws are forms of state granted monopolies, monopolies on the use of the products of someone's mind, which can be bought and sold. These have their roots in the mercantilism of colonial times where completely unaccountable, for-profit companies such as the Dutch East India Company (the world's first multi-national) were granted the sole right to conduct certain types of trade, either in a specific area or of a specific type. These monopolies were handed out to friends of those in power and were extremely lucrative, attempts to compete with them were squashed, brutally. This puts the big, artistically barren, filthy rich record labels in appropriate company.

Post-scarcity

In practice we live in a post-scarcity age when it comes to most types of information, including digitally recorded sounds. Music can now be reproduced with virtually no effort in a usable form right at the point of consumption; it's called downloading a track onto your phone and listening to it! This means that in a free market it would have little more commodity value than thin air. A big proportion of the millions, and probably billions being made off music is generated from forcing people to pay to access illegitimate IP. This is what gets people who don't care about music sniffing around looking for the big money. Sorry musicians but once you've recorded that music and put it out there in the big wide world you shouldn't be able to keep claiming it belongs to you and trying to make money off it, is that really so awful? Well, I suspect most of those artists in the charts right now would think it was pretty awful, but I also reckon that their the loss of their collective artistic legacy would not be detrimental to the human race so I don't care!

The effects of a centralised music industry

Another reason for crappy music is to do with the centralisation of industry. The level of centralisation of political power in a country, tends to be mirrored by the centralisation of industry (in state-capitalist societies like soviet Russia it was almost absolute). As more monopolies are handed out and competition is squeezed out with red tape that smaller scale groups can't meet and special privileges for the bigger ones our country is heading that way too. Big businesses are like giant pyramids with orders flowing down from on high. If it's those fat, bald rich guys in suits are running the show is it any surprise that the music is a little bland?

Big record labels are the result of a centralised music industry, the alternative is the colourful patchwork of smaller labels, self-employed musicians and musicians co-ops that you would find in a free market.

The big record labels don't give artists much control over their art instead they churn out 'manufactured music'. Lots of the songs aren't written by the artists, some songs aren't even written by 'artists' at all instead scientists come up with formulas for what will get stuck in people's head most successfully. The songs are about making money, looking just right, finding the perfect partner etc. The accompanying music videos are advertisements for a lifestyle that probably doesn't even really exist It is designed to keeping people coming back for more, always feeling like their own lives don't measure up, maybe hoping some of the perfection of celebrity musicians will rub off on them.

I don't even know who these eejits are
Ultimately it is no different from all the crap churned out by all the other big corporations. Like the kinds of art you see in the 'home ware' section of Wilkinson's (high street chain store), mass produced generic pictures of some flowers or city lights to hang on the wall, copies of which will hang on the wall of ten thousand other homes. There might not be anything inherently wrong with them but you don't enthusiastically buy them all up and call yourself an art lover.

Censorship

By censorship I'm not talking about an individual radio station refusing to play a song or a band drawing public criticism for their message or their actions. These things don't matter, they're simply a fact of life in a world where people have differing values and notions of what is acceptable. What matters are actual attempts to use force to shut people up.

Censorship of music can be official and organised, like a blanket ban on certain artists, (the kind of thing countries like China are into) or any form of official state enforced planned censorship. Rage Against The Machine once stood on stage naked for 15 minutes in protest against the 'Parent's Music Resource Center' (PMRC) who had successfully campaigned for the introduction of 'parental advisory' stickers.

It can also be much more unofficial and ad hoc, like police harassing a band with a revolutionary message, or turning a blind eye to assaults on them or damage to their stuff whilst providing free security at the gigs of 'safe' popular musicians. The anarchist punk band 'Crass' reported being constantly harassed by the police during the 1980s in the UK. Musicians are also often banned from entering some countries to play if their message is deemed to be too disruptive. In an increasingly authoritarian society, where anti-terror laws are used to silence all kinds of dissent self censorship is a genuine concern. If you are choosing to never record a track in the first place for fear it could get you into trouble you are still being censored.

How does this contribute to the popularity of crappy music? Crappy music, which is safe and promotes things that are making capitalists rich and has their stamp of approval simply does not get censored whilst things outside the box often do.

Solution - The liberation of creativity

It could be said that punk was supposed to be part of the solution to all this. It popularised the kind of music anyone with a bit of energy and talent could make, it came with the DIY ethic (write it yourself, play it yourself, record it yourself, produce it yourself, promote it yourself etc.) and a determination to be independent.

Smaller labels like Epitaph, run by musicians and for musicians may still be making money off illegitimate IP laws but they represent at least a step in the right direction, towards artistic integrity and the liberation of creativity. Even better than this are the small musicians co-ops and labels like 'Copyleft' (you see that they've done there?) whose tag line is 'no rights reserved'.

In general though if there is a solution here it is to try to support artists with integrity who love the music for it's own sake, go and see gigs down at the pub, go to a battle of the bands or whatever it is people do these days, start a band yourself if you want to. If you can abandon the big labels completely I think it is a worthwhile thing, although I think it's worth really trying to avoid the "punker-than-thou" asshole stereotype that usually comes with taking this course of action. Try to remain calm when someone says they're really into punk because they listen to New Found Glory, or whatever the punk-pop equivalent is in today's world. We're all allowed to have guilty pleasures.