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.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Weapons of welfare

Weaponised welfare

Libertarians do not consider the welfare state to be a desirable end goal for society. The common feature in pretty much all their arguments is that an authoritarian model for welfare based on forcibly removing money from the people via taxation and offering some of it back to them as if it's a privilege is unacceptable.

Right wing libertarians add their own flavour to this critique; not only is there something fundamentally wrong with the system but it also encourages poor people to remain poor by enticing them into dependency.

 
Left-libertarians, who will also sign up to the same fundamental reason for its unacceptability, instead choose to make their focus three-fold. 1. Focusing on the structural injustices in capitalism that drive people into poverty in first place (actually existing capitalism, not fantasy capitalism). 2). Accusing the welfare system of being a clever way for capitalists to socialise their costs and keep revolution at bay whilst they are merrily privatising all the profits in the background 3) Focusing on the ulterior motives of those offering the welfare.

Contrary to the ridiculous assumption of people like Ayn Rand, the state is not a not simply a way for poor people to gang up on the rich and demand that they give them money! Libertarians armed with some context for their beliefs and an, at least vaguely, realistic social analysis know that the state is a predator, the armed wing of the 1% who hoard the earth's resources at the expense of everyone else. The truth of points 1 and 2 as to why left-libertarians are unhappy with the welfare state as an end goal for society I don't wish to question, I affirm them completely but in this article I will be focusing on point 3. I will demonstrate how in the UK welfare provision has historically, and still today, been used as a stick to beat the working class or more accurately to drive the working class around like cattle. I'm calling this weaponised welfare.

The recipe for weaponised welfare goes like this (note: this should only be attempted by people who have a monopoly on the use of force, if you don't have this or don't know what it is ask your government for help).

  • First you intervene in society and in the market to restrict people's ability to provide for themselves and force most people into wage labour contracts as a means to survive.
  • Add in high rates of unemployment. Once step one has been completed you then mix in a high minimum wage, this will ensure that people whose labour is worth less than it, will not be hired. For best results also create spurious mandatory entry barriers into a wide range of professions making it very difficult to retrain if workers are made redundant.
  • You will now have a bowl full of anxious wage slaves who know that renting themselves out to capitalists is the only realistic option they have to gain access to the resources they need to survive but who live in fear of becoming obsolete to the capitalist, getting sick and not being able to work or even just growing old and having no one around to help them.
  • You are now in a position to make them jump through hoops to be eligible for a basic welfare system that you have forced them to pay for. For a final touch add in some hate filled propaganda accusing those who have to rely on the welfare system of being feckless idiots and some cruel austerity measures and you have weaponised welfare!

Context

Nothing falls out of the sky so the first thing to do is try to get some context. This will mean taking a very brief look at some of the history of 'poor laws' and other welfare provision in English history.

Early poor laws

It was a little easier to see the real motives behind the earliest poor laws: The Statute of Cambridge enacted in 1388, for example was one of the first. The Black Death had struck in force 40 years earlier killing off around 50% of the population and the poor were hit disproportionately badly. This put the survivors in a position of unusual power.  There were not enough people to work the land of the feudal lords meaning the peasants were starting to be able to demand higher wages, demand for their work outweighed the supply. People were moving around the countryside looking for the best deals. In the decades prior to the act attempts had been made to fix wages at pre-plague levels, but they were failing, undermined by the facts of the situation and by competition driving wages up. The peasants revolt just a few years before in 1381 was, in part, a display of resistance to these attempts. The solution; the Statute simply put restrictions on the movements of the peasants. Without freedom of movement they had to accept the wages of whatever their local landowner was offering, punishment for breaching the new law was initially to be put in the stocks, a few centuries later it was execution for a third offence. The elite have always found it difficult to enact laws that are transparent about their true intentions so, familiarly, they tried to set the people against each other. The focus of the law was beggars and vagrants, since the rudimentary welfare that was on offer at the time was offered on a completely ad-hoc localised basis the people were told that the law was a good thing; this way they wouldn't have beggars from other towns coming in trying to take advantage of their generosity! Familiar?

The Elizabethan poor law and it's subsequent refinements

In 1601 the infamous Elizabethan poor laws brought in a more formal uniform system but local parishes were still responsible for meeting the costs. It also introduced the workhouse. Poor people who could not find work were given it in the form of the workhouse, those who were considered to be in refusal of work were whipped instead.

In 1662 the act of settlement amending this was enacted formalising the way in which it could be decided which parish was required to support you if you were in need. Later this again was tightened to make it possible to prevent people even entering a parish they weren't originally from. Needless to say those people paying their wages were still very happy with these laws.

During the industrial revolution these laws became unsuitable, the elite now needed the people out of the countryside, the countryside was needed for sheep and the people were now needed to labour in their factories in the cities. These acts were amended and changed and by the early 20th century they were scrapped altogether. The entire poor law system was finally replaced with the National Assistance Act of 1948.

The situation today

The National Assistance act brought in a much more comprehensive system of welfare. Local area connection criteria and attempts to differentiate between the deserving and undeserving poor have remained though and these, just like in the past are still used to the advantage of the elite.

Housing and homelessness

Housing is a basic need, shelter, especially in a climate like that of the UK, is essential. Many people die without it. The average age of death for homeless people in the UK is 47 years old (a similar level to some of the poorest sub-Saharan African countries), other factors inevitably contribute to many homeless people's early demise but lack of housing is clearly the common factor in all cases. Those who can control access to housing therefore have a significant amount of power over the people.

In the past feudal lords who owned the land had control of the housing. Now access to housing for the poor is controlled by the local authority. House prices in the UK are artificially extremely high. There are two main reasons for this; the first are planning laws severely restricting where new homes can be built and which also bumps up the cost of land which is eligible for house building. The second is that in recent decades banks have created hundred of billions of pounds worth of new money and pumped a large proportion of it directly into property (when banks make a loan the money is created out of thin air and most big loans are for mortgages) this inevitably has led to spiralling prices. Rising house prices is a good thing for property developers, estate agents and wealthier older people who own their own homes, not so good for everyone else. Housing costs now eat up about 50% of people's take home salaries, in London it can go to over 60%. This isn't just mortgage repayments for those who can afford to buy, when prices rise rent rises with them. 

Without some kind of alternative provision millions of people would be priced out of the market for shelter completely. Whether they personally give a crap about that or not is unknown but what is known is that capitalists and the political elite don't like to risk revolution. A system causing millions of people to become homeless would invite it. The solution has been social housing (although the amount available has dropped as market prices have rocketed in the last three decades). Social housing is priced at below market rate (not to be confused with freed market rate!) for those on lower incomes and the unemployed. It is access to this that local authorities have control over and in 2011 the localism act gave them a lot more control over it. Prior to this there was a national standard that people had to have remained in an area for 6 months to establish a "local connection" to that area (which itself would have seemed a little harsh to those only having to stay for 40 days in Elizabethan times). There are now councils, such as Hillingdon in west London, who expect people to have lived in an area for 10 years before they are eligible for any help. The justifications for these rules is the same as it has always been, to prevent outsiders from coming to a local area and benefiting from the help available. The actual impact it has? Well if you are one of the millions who now have to either take social housing or live on the streets moving to another area to look for work or better wages is a lot less of an option.


This housing option may be available to you


The above is how you control people with the carrot, but the current system is no less afraid to use the stick than previous ones were. A new programme of 'assertive outreach' has local councils, the police and third party agencies who win contracts from the government out looking for homeless people who are outside of their 'local area' and attempting to drive them out. Tactics include waking them up at night as they try to sleep, confiscating their meagre possessions (including tents and sleeping bags in some famous cases) and trying to manipulate them into moving on. On paper this is a system to try to make sure that the local authority responsible for helping the homeless person is the one doing the helping. In practice this is social cleansing, the transitory nature of homeless people often means that they aren't anywhere long enough to establish a local connection or even if they are they can't prove it. Groups responsible for town centre management simply want them out, squatting in empty residential properties is now a criminal offence and police are being encouraged to use harsher tactics to get rid of them.


Workfare

The 'able bodied poor' in medieval times were expected to work, and were put to work in a workhouse if there was no alternative. Here they worked simply for their right to shelter and sustenance. Today's equivalents to the workhouse aren't hard to spot. Long term unemployed people, often trapped in economically depressed areas, (prevented from moving on to look for work by the impossibility of finding accommodation they can afford and their ineligibility for social housing outside their local area), are usually in receipt of 'Job seekers allowance' benefits. Since April this year many will be expected to work for 30 hours a week for 26 weeks in order to keep their benefits. A group opposing workfare 'boycott workfare' have listed 8 of these schemes nationally:



  •  Mandatory work activity
  • Work programme
  • Community action programme
  • Sector-Based Work Academies
  • Work Experience
  • Steps to Work (Northern Ireland only)
  • Day One Support for Young People Trailblazer
  • Derbyshire “Trailblazer” Mandatory Youth Activity Programme


  • They have also identified a number of large corporations who are taking people on these schemes as free labour. These include high street shops like Argos, Primark, WH Smith and Tesco who "accidentally" advertised permanent positions for people to work for free and live on state benefits. For many working people, who are constantly berated with headlines about lazy people claiming thousands of pounds of benefits and hearing language about 'scroungers and strivers' from politicians, it can be confusing as to why sensible people would be so opposed to workfare. There are good reasons to be opposed:

    1. The current system creates and maintains artificially high unemployment.
    2. Companies are making a profit from free labour.
    3. Companies are filling roles which otherwise would have required a paid employees to fill them but which can now be filed with someone who works for free.

    We are also seeing a resurgence in penal labour in the UK, the government want to increase the number of people who work from behind bars from 10,000 to 20,000 by 2020. Why? Again, a captive population who can be paid a tiny fraction of what they would get in a freer market making big profits for capitalists and doing work that could be done by paid employees instead.

    Conclusion

    The conclusion is simple and brief. We aren't fully there yet but the direction of travel is towards a society where the poor are generally confined to the area where they have a "local connection", where the social cleansing of homeless people is completed, where more and more positions in the lower ranks of government and mundane work for large corporations is done by people who are being forced to either work for free or face total destitution. Significant gains have been made towards such a society and more will come. Contrary to rhetoric free markets have not caused this, in fact free markets would destroy all of this.

    Remember the only tangible limit to government is what people are willing to put up with.

    Further reading:


    Thursday, 18 September 2014

    An individualist basis for society

    Methodological individualism and society
     
    People who understand economics have a half decent idea of how the human brain works, it doesn't tell you everything by any means but you get some basics.

    One of the basics that lots of economists accept is that we all act in our own self-interest. Its fairly hard to deny.
    This doesn't mean that we are all always selfish, it means we act to achieve ends that we have decided are worth pursuing. Since only we, ourselves can send signals from our brains to our bodies to make them act some level of methodological individualism is clearly necessary to understand society. In fact quite a high level when you appreciate that every human action and decision is ultimately undertaken on a purely individual basis.

    But methodological individualism alone does not sufficiently explain the way the world is or the way it could be if it was better. It doesn't give any credibility to the notion that society has any meaning at all.
    This isn't right.


    Aristotle put forth the idea that some things are worth more than the sum of their parts. An example could be like how all the parts of a car put together in the right way are worth more than them all scattered around on the floor. Society is the same but where exactly do we find the source of the added value?

    The answer is relationships (not just romantic relationships, all relationships). You can think of your relationship with anyone else and it isn't hard to conceive of it as something separate from the parties involved, something which has a certain vitality of its own. Relationships require effort to maintain and they can be healthy and unhealthy.
    Relationships add value, it is there that we find sufficient reason to think of society as a network, something that has life, that can be healthy or unhealthy, something more than just a name for multiple individuals, society is the sum of its parts + their relationships with each other. Relationships can be exchange based economic ones and they can be purely social ones or they can be a mixture of the two. Relationships can be peaceful and voluntarily entered into, or they can be based on force or threat of force. Relationships can be equal, or they can be based on hierarchy and power imbalance. But summed up they are what makes society more than the sum of its parts.
     
    Anarchism and society
     
    If we imagine someone who is completely self sufficient for their needs and chooses to avoid contact with others it would be accurate enough to say that they live in a default state of anarchy. Accurate, but pointless though. It's not even worth pointing out that someone who is entirely alone is not subject to violence and hierarchy!

    Anarchism that is worth talking about happens in society, not in individuals alone because it is about achieving right relationships with others. Peaceful, voluntary, equal relationships, achieving liberation for society and individuals together. In anarchism relationships which are violent, forced or unequal must adapt or end.

    I suggest that we need to stop primarily seeing other individuals as the limits to our freedom and begin to see them as the potential extension of our freedom. A new positive anarchism is going to make gains, convince new people, find solutions and seriously start building the new society within the shell of the old.

    I give this theological significance.

    Wednesday, 17 September 2014

    Property is power and power needs to be justifiable

    What kind of relationship is property?
     
    For a little while now I've stopped thinking of property as being a relationship between a person and an inanimate object. I instead think of it as primarily being a relationship between the one claiming ownership and everyone else, that relationship being based on a power imbalance where I demand the right to exclude others from possession or use of the thing in question.

    So I've attempted to make a Proudhon-esque sound bite:

    Property is power and power needs to be justifiable.

     
    Civilised culture Vs Uncivilised culture
     
    One of the primary differences between a civilised culture and an uncivilised one is found in answer to the question: Who is thought to be responsible for demonstrating whether power is legitimate or not, the person subject to it or the one wielding it? If those subject to power are expected to prove it is illegitimate then hierarchy is taken as a starting point, as a default, this doesn't hold up to facts; experience clearly tells us that we are all born equal! 

    Power must be asked to justify itself
     
    So power must justify itself and as every good libertarian will agree, it often can't. But when can the power to demand exclusive possession of property justify itself? What justification should satisfy any enquirer? I think the answer is simply when the person with the claim to it occupies or uses said property and came to do so peacefully, this is a natural, indisputable embodied claim on property (I.e. you can't have my house because I live in it and you'd have to kick me out to have it, or you can't have the tools of my trade because I'm in regular use of them and half the time you'd have to pry them from my hands to get them and the other half you'd have to break into my house and take them and we've already talked about my house!). I would suggest that anything beyond it is artificial and has only been conceived of in a statist environment where a monopoly on force has been utilised by a minority to enforce private property rights on a much, much wider class of stuff than this.

    What does this mean for Capitalism?

    In a free decentralised society absentee landlordism and capitalist ownership of the means of production are going to look very questionable. With no centralised land registry and the onus on the property owner to justify their claim to exclusive rights to it, will they be able to do so? I don't think so.

    Anarcho-communism and market anarchism, which is proper anarchism?

    A Short History
     
    Anarcho-communism got thought up in societies where peasant-village collectivism was the dominant way of life as industrialisation, the cumulation of the centralisation of state power and anarchist ideas were spreading in the later half of the 19th century.

    At the same time market/ individualist anarchism arose in societies where small scale industry and trade was very much a thing as industrialisation and the centralisation of markets in an alliance of capitalists and the state came about.

    To the adherents of both it seemed obvious what would happen if you removed the state from the equation: In places like Russia (where Bakunin and Kropotkin were thinking their great thoughts) the peasants would have been left alone to live in commune like villages. In places like the USA (where people like Spooner and Tucker were thinking their great thoughts) if you removed the state people would have been left alone to trade freely.

    When individualist/ market anarchists met anarcho-communists/ collectivists they didn't understand each other. An coms wondered why individualists were so obsessed with markets and competition, it sounded too much like people could still end up exploited by big business in their proposed society. Individualists didn't get why comunes were so important to the communists. It sounded too much like communism would be forced onto people.

    Some individualists explained that people would be free to live in communes if they wanted to, in a market anarchist society and some anarcho-communists explained that joining a commune would be optional in an anarcho-communist society, there was, and still is lots of confusion and misunderstanding within the two groups. Today more than ever it is common for both sides to
    wonder if the other are real anarchists at all.

    Their critiques of modern society

    In my opinion individualist anarchism has a much more striking and relevant critique of western capitalism/ statism and therefore of the whole global economy which it now dominates. Example: I was reading an article shared by an ancom about boycotting some big American football event in the USA, the reasons given mainly centred around the fact that it is a brutal game and that some prominent players have been accused and some found guilty of rape and violence against women and got off very lightly by their bosses at the clubs. I agreed with the violence against women bit, if there is a culture of accepting that then that's disgraceful. I didn't care at all if it was a brutal game, I'm not the players mummy, they can choose to play a brutal game if they want!

    What wasn't mentioned was that big sports statiums are usually built on land seized by the state, that the police provide them security for games paid for by money forcibly extracted from people by taxation whether they like football or not, like how they receive all kinds of other subsidies from the state (and tax breaks), like how their kits and other equipment are made in sweatshops in countries where rigged "free trade deals" struck up between US govt and the govt of whatever poor country is making them are keeping millions in poverty.

    Why wasn't this mentioned? Because anarcho-communism as a theory, in my opinion, just doesn't have much to say about that stuff, it certainly doesn't have anything very original to say.

    Conclusion

     
    In conclusion they are both proper anarchism but they have been promoted by flawed humans who couldn't or didn't want to understand each other because they want their thing to be the best. But in my opinion market anarchism has much more to say to the world right now than anarcho-communism does.

    Friday, 12 September 2014

    Libertarianism, left or right?



    Left wing tendency

    Having a left wing tendency, I feel, in its very broadest sense describes an individual who has a general bias in favour of the welfare of the masses and against the relatively small number of people (the elite) in whom political and economic power is concentrated and against their rigid social hierarchy. People who have a left wing tendency have a lower social dominance orientation.

    This is broad, I know its broad, it is intentionally very broad. In fact I’d say it includes most people and most of those who it does not currently include could change fairly easily under the right circumstances.

    Left wing tendencies and right wing ideology

    Right wing political ideologies can be categorised into three main types:

    1.        The first is characterised by those who, despite living in an elitist society, refuse to challenge the status quo. They will often claim non bias but accidentally promote its legitimising myths and promote the interests of the elite anyway (the centre right).

    2.        Those who do challenge the status quo but in an exclusive way (i.e. popular fascism/ nationalism).

    3.        Those who actively promote the interests of the elite, knowingly (psychopaths)

    Numerically the centre right (Group 1) are in the majority, in the UK supporters of all three major political parties fall into this group and even UKIP are probably on the far right fringe of it (ignore what they all say about themselves) as well as the stance of pretty much the whole mainstream media. But wait, this sounds contradictory, didn't I just claim that most people are on the left wing? This is not a contradiction but a paradox:

    Genuinely left wing political positions are held by only a tiny minority. Most people have a left wing tendency personally but are stuck trying to express it through the prism of right wing political ideology. Genuinely left wing political positions are based on an explicitly left wing social analysis, i.e. that the elite have gained their position in society unjustly and maintain it unjustly and generally that they use their position in society to exploit, oppress and rule over everyone else. The solutions proposed by these left wing political positions are known as radical solutions, solutions which strike the root of things like poverty and injustice by removing the buttresses that prop up the social order which causes them, instead of just trying to mitigate their impact and leaving the social order mainly untouched. But as I said, most people fall into group 1 of the right wing ideologies. These are the accidental supporters of the status quo, without them the right wing would be nothing but a few fringe nutters. To identify them you can look out for the following attitudes:

    ·         Success in this society can be achieved simply by working hard for it.

    ·         Some people are naturally more capable that others, that’s why some are rich and some are poor.

    ·         White-heterosexual-male normative statements revealing the remnants of imperialism still present in the right wing.

    ·         Socialism has be proven not to work in Russia, capitalism is the only sensible option left open to us.

    ·         Usually all the classic bullshit about governments (apart from libertarians still stuck in group 1, more on that below).

    How do group 1 (most people) get stuck in this position? Often through indoctrination (by education and the media), lack of understanding of alternative positions, cultural expectations and pressure etc. These people need to be kept sweet, remember they're not assholes at heart, so their leaders (who usually belong to group 3) talk a lot about things like freedom and equal opportunity, but it is expressed in a way that implicitly favours the elite or just repeated so frequently that people believe they have it irrespective of whether they do or not (see Americans believing that they are the freest nation on earth despite having the highest rate of incarceration on earth).

    These people need to be convinced that their ideology is actually helping society or they will walk away. The elite distract them by directing attention away from themselves and point to those challenging the traditional status quo accusing them of being the real danger to society. The enemy are lazy people, jealous poor people, people who are challenging social hierarchy (which will lead to the collapse of society), childish people who want the impossible etc. Not those who rule over us and exploit us. Interestingly enough in tests they have actually been found to have a higher social dominance orientation than group 2 (
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_dominance_orientation#Connection_with_right_wing_authoritarianism) which I suggest is probably due to the quality of the myth they’re buying into and the fact that despite the utter shite they talk group 2 are actually trying to challenge the existing social order and therefore are capable of being much more critical of it at times.

    It is a mistake to focus on their philosophy alone when trying awaken Group 1, in truth their actual philosophy, context-less, is a mixture of good and bad (freedom, for example, really is a good thing even if in practice it doesn’t seem to be living up to what might be expected of it). Instead primarily it is the social analysis, the versions of history they know, the understanding of their wider context that are truly terrible, it is here that even the most naturally left orientated people get trapped trying to express it through the right's lens. 

     I don’t even know what to say about Group 2 I usually think of them as 'counter elite', usually idiotic psychopaths instead of intelligent ones. Some are just desperate and insecure.

    Libertarianism within the reach of the elite and libertarianism outside their reach

    Libertarianism is slightly unusual. The modern libertarian movement, largely originating in the USA is still sitting there looking at the world through a classic group 1 right wing prism. On the whole it lacks a holistic and accurate social analysis but it still represents a possible threat to the elite for the strangest reason; it represents a threat because it takes their stated values too seriously (of course psychopaths don’t really have values). The things the elite talk about, that are supposed to be the basis of their legitimising myths are picked up and used as weapons against them (at least against the government) but without ever really leaving their worldview. Without proper understanding of context libertarianism looks around to see who is infringing on its freedom and can only really see direct state intervention in their lives, which the state claims it is doing on behalf of the poor, and they attack that.

    Whilst libertarianism as a movement has not made the mental shift to the left and embraced leftist perspectives on a full range of issues it is, in my view, going to go that way if it is going to go anywhere. If it does not it remains within reach of sections of the elite that will want to use it for their own gain, to provide apologetics on their behalf, to form allegiances with them, to defend them against leftist attacks. If it stays there its threat is going to be completely neutralised.

    Libertarian philosophy in the hands of those with a left wing tendency and armed with an explicitly left wing social analysis would be way beyond the elite’s reach. It has weapons but so far it has pointed them mainly at those who support mixed markets within a social democracy and a welfare state, just another group who have bought into the essentially right wing worldview but are trying to soften it a bit. The weapons need to be pointed at elitist capitalists, capitalism needs to be recognised for what it actually is not for what it could be in theory. A full understanding needs to be gained not just of what is wrong with the state breaking the non-aggression principle but why it does so and on whose behalf. Libertarians who still argue that the state aggresses on private property mainly in order to force them to help the poor are going to need an education or be ostracised from the movement.

    Example of hitting where it hurts

    I have argued and will continue to argue that the way in which primitive appropriation has taken place, particularly during the transition from feudalism to capitalism (forcible privatisation of the commons amongst many other violent acts) in the west and during colonialism globally (war, robbery etc.), and also still very much occurring today in land grabs and state intervention on behalf of capitalists, is capitalism's original sin. No amount of charity and generosity and good works can make up for it, restitution now can only come in the form of revolution and the subsequent homesteading of capitalist/state property by workers, tenants and citizens who occupy and use it and therefore have a vastly more legitimate right to it than those who have stolen it and their heirs (note, transfer of ownership of the means of production to the workers, uh oh, socialism!). Libertarians, on principle, are calling for a massive scale redistribution of property from the capitalist class to the working class, much bigger than any pretend leftist mainstream political party are calling for.

    Break out of the right wing worldview if you are still in it, libertarianism, fully armed, is completely incompatible with it.