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One World Love turns to Global Panic

Have you noticed how the same managerial classes who had until yesterday been extolling the virtues of open borders and mass migration have switched gear in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? All of sudden the same experts and pundits who advocate a melting pot of all peoples with an integrated world economy expect all responsible governments to restrict our freedom of movement around our neighbourhoods. This means following Chinese and Italian examples by closing schools, sports centres, offices and other public venues and only allowing authorised workers to cross cordons sanitaires with heavy penalties for transgressors. Such draconian measures can only be effective with a compliant populace and a militarised police force. 

Don’t get me wrong. All early deaths from preventable illnesses are a tragedy. Every day over 3000 human beings die of tuberculosis, over 2400 of hepatitis B, over 2200 of pneumonia, over 2100 of HIV/AIDs, over 2000 of malaria, over 1600 of shigellosis, over 1200 of rotovirus, over 1000 of seasonal flu, over 500 of novovirus, over 400 of whooping cough, nearly 400 of typhoid and a similar number of cholera. So far this year 5547 people have died of a mutant strand of coronavirus out of a world population of around 7.8 billion. Coronavirus is an umbrella term for any of a group of RNA viruses that cause upper respiratory tract disease. Previous outbreaks were known as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), but most types of influenza and the common cold are caused by rhinoviruses.

What’s so scary about COVID-19 with a death rate estimated varying from a low 0.7%, based on the projected infection rate, to a high of 5%,  based on the initial outbreak? As of 14 March 2020, in the UK only 26 thousand have been tested and even in Italy with the highest coronavirus mortality rate in the world, only 60 thousand have been tested out of a population of over 60 million. In all likelihood the authorities have seriously underestimated the total number of infected persons with suppressed or mild symptoms, but able to nonetheless to transmit the contagion, while highlighting the number of fatalities, which even in the worst-hit regions are a tiny fraction of all deaths. In Italy, now with over 1800 coronavirus-related fatalities, the average age of death is just over 80 with the vast majority of deaths affecting people over 70. Italy has one of the world’s most advanced health services and highest life expectancies.

Let’s get things into perspective. The three biggest factors that contribute to a longer life span are sanitation, diet and lifestyle. If you keep clean, but not obsessively so you develop natural resistance to pathogens, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, again without overdoing it, you may now easily live into your 80s, only resorting occasionally to medications such as painkillers and antibiotics. Vaccines work in theory by giving you a small dose of a potentially lethal disease in the hope your body will develop long-term immunity. Likewise before the introduction of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, children were encouraged to catch these diseases before puberty to gain lifelong immunity. By the late 1960s the measles-related mortality rate had already fallen dramatically. It’s worth remembering that until the slum clearances of the early 1960s millions of people across the British Isles had to make do with outside toilets and only a washbasin instead of a bath and/or shower. Many would visit their local public baths, not to swim, but to wash their bodies. Being confined to a squalid dwelling is not good for your health. Believe it or not, exploring the great outdoors and swimming in unpolluted lakes and rivers is much better for your health. Anecdotally I recall my father claiming he was not allowed more than 4” (10cm) of water in his bath as a child in the 1940s to stop me using than my fair share of our limited hot water supply during the 1974 energy crisis and coal miners’ strike. Now we longer have weekly baths, but daily showers. Of course, we still catch the common cold and seasonal flu. However, vaccines have proven a blunt tool against these pervasive contagions, as they can only provide temporary immunity against specific strains. Vaccines adhere to the law of diminishing returns. A few well-targeted vaccines can boost your immune system and save lives. Herd immunity works by ensuring most healthy people have antibodies to fight viruses and bad bacteria (good bacteria are key to our digestive and immune systems) and thus not pass on these diseases to the frail with weak immune systems who would not respond well either to vaccines or the live pathogen. However, we have become so terrified of germs that we do not want to risk letting our immune systems adapt to constantly evolving infections as we have done rather successfully. Laboratories in China, Germany, Israel and Scotland are working on a vaccine. However, as Aaron Colen uncovered in the Blaze, the most frightening aspect of COVID-19 is its high reinfection rate among those who have recovered, meaning our immune systems may not respond to the virus and a potential vaccine may not protect against subsequent infections or may have severe adverse effects in otherwise healthy individuals.

The Medical Managerial Classes

Two schools of thought dominate the public discourse. One, supported by many leading virologists such as Prof. Karol Sikora and Dr Ranjeet Brar,  favours pragmatic steps to improve personal hygiene and protect the vulnerable, but not to panic unduly. If the virus has long incubation period and many healthy people experience few symptoms that could not easily be attributed to other common transient ailments, then COVID-19 is probably already spreading through the general population. Our focus should thus be on protecting those most at risk. The other approach, favoured by international health agencies, many opinion leaders and healthcare managers, calls for an Italian-style lockdown with schools, colleges, pubs, bars, restaurants and sports centres closed, controlled access to shops to avoid panic buying and limit social contact. While such drastic measures may slow the spread among the general population, they cannot disinfect those who have already caught it, or help the frail and elderly who do not need to work and can more easily stay at home. Moreover, young people crave social contact and will inevitably find ways to meet up with their friends. The health effects of sitting at home glued to computer screens for weeks on end may be much worse than the ill-effects of the virus itself. Obesity, diabetes and, narcotic abuse, associated with sedentary lifestyles in small rooms, are much bigger killers than coronavirus in Wuhan or Lombardy. And who is going to look after school-age children in an era where either both parents work or children only have one parent or carer at home? Many key service workers such as nurses, doctors, plumbers, electricians and cleaners to name but a few, are also parents who may have to choose between staying at home to look after their children or providing services critical for public health. If self-employed plumbers cannot enter premises without special permits or additional health and safety checks, leaks will go unfixed. Without clean water and reliable electricity, we could see a rapid spike in other infectious diseases.

The managerial classes, often posing on the radical left, believe we cannot cope without their endless busy-body intervention. Should we really forgo hard-earned civil liberties in the name of public safety? It is with great sadness that much of the left has thrown its rhetorical weight behind the usual suspects, such as Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown, calling for a complete lockdown with the police empowered to arrest transgressors. Only a few months ago the same technocrats wanted us to welcome open borders. Now they want us to stay indoors. The same actors support clamping down on free speech, while scaring us into accepting mandatory surveillance, probably under the guise of remote medical supervision via smart watches or RFID chips. 

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Power Dynamics

The End of British Exceptionalism

Scottish not English
Do our global policy makers welcome Scottish Separatism?

As the first exit polls came in after polls closed on Thursday 12 December, one key trend caught my attention. While the working classes in the Midlands and North of England had swung to the Conservatives, many voting Tory for the first time in their lives, Scottish voters had bucked the trend and shifted their support to the misnamed Scottish National Party, who in government have prioritised radical social engineering even more than Labour before them. As the Conservatives look set to win a comfortable majority, I monitored BBC coverage only to notice they displayed vote share for mainland Great Britain alone. Their reporters struggled to hide their glee that for the first time in history a majority of parliamentary seats in Ulster had been won by parties that support unification with the Republic of Ireland, with the moderate SDLP gaining two seats and the Alliance Party one seat. This clearly marks a move towards a secular Ireland detached from both the sectarian divisions in the North and from its cultural heritage. When Boris Johnson agreed a compromise with the European Union on the Irish backstop, did he know that sooner or later the province would merge back into Ireland anyway? It now seems the only distinctive features of Ireland's two jurisdictions, except for strong regional accents, are road signs in miles and prices in pounds Sterling in the North East, but in kilometres and Euros in the rest of the Emerald Isle. So Ireland may regain political unity just as it becomes a lot less Irish.

The SNP only really disagree with Corbyn's Labour on the constitutional issue and look set to emulate the transformative mass migration policies of Leo Varadka's Irish government (known as Project Ireland 2040). If the SNP had their way, Scotland may sever its ties with England, but will become a lot less Scottish as is already evident in many parts of Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, unlike Labour they ran a very sleek campaign that would meet the full approval of Guardian columnists and Blairites alike. Blair's advisors only really supported the Union to maintain social peace and keep alive the British wing of the Anglo-American military industrial complex. Traditional Scottish nationalists are correct in observing that the British Foreign office sees Scotland as a convenient location for their military toys. Now the European Defence Union is a done deal, international NeoCons like Henry Kissenger, Emanuel Macron, Guy Verhofstadt may turn the Franco-German alliance for their global policing operations rather than the UK. Other big businesses really do not care about the Scottish constitutional settlement.

For the time being, England's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (and yes I know he's technically the PM of the whole of the UK), has turned down Nicola Sturgeon's request for a second referendum on Scottish Independence, but it may well only be a matter of time before he announces a policy shift. With growing support for Scottish separatism coming not just from international academics and economists, but from former Scottish Labour politicians such as Kezia Dugdale, the outcome may depend on the unpredictable stability of the British and European banking systems. If Boris Johnson not only passes the Withdrawal Agreement, but successfully agrees a full divorce settlement with the EU in the form of Free Trade Agreement by the end of 2020 that would keep Great Britain out of the Single Market and Customs Union, we may just see a run on the pound which may increase the price of imports and cause the markets to panic leading to temporary disruption and hardship. The SNP could capitalise on such a scenario to win a narrow majority in a referendum. However, in the same time frame we may see the collapse of the Italian banking system prompting a continent-wide recession and widespread civil unrest as governments raise taxes to keep alive the Euro and bail out banks. Other European countries cannot expect German taxpayers to keep subsidising economic mismanagement in Southern and Eastern Europe, when they are struggling with their own social problems. In a Europe-wide crisis, Britain may seem a safe haven and support for Scottish separatism may welll dwindle. Some recent polls have suggested figures as high as 51%. However, if the central government can manage an orderly departure from the European Union and the UK as a whole outperforms most other European economies despite Brexit, then the case for Scottish Independence falls. The question remains whether our business elites really want to keep the Union or do they think they can play a nominally independent Scotland off against a future Kingdom of England & Wales, e.g. by demanding lower corporation taxes or de-regulations of biotech experiments (something like human closing may be unpopular UK-wide, but may just win the SNP's approval if meant higher investment from biotech giants)?

I think most people on the ground crave economic stability and cultural continuity, i.e. do not want radical economic upheaval, top-down social engineering or rapid migratory flows. The SNP is building its entire case for Scottish independence on continued EU membership and a wishful assessment of Scotland's potential revenues from oil and other natural resources. That would only work if Scotland retained full control of both its territorial waters and banking system. As a separate member state within the EU Scotland would have neither. Norway prospered because they could invest the immense proceeds of its short-lived oil bonanza in education, infrastructure and training for just 5 million citizens.

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Power Dynamics

How the Blair Era begat Corbynism

Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn
And how powerful forces commandeer youthful idealism to further totalitarian aims

Labour's new army of social justice warriors have learned a bitter lesson. While they may appeal to some special interest groups and social service professionals, they have lost touch with their base outside a few culturally diverse inner-city areas. As the results of the snap December 2019 election poured in, it turned out Labour's vote share of around 32% was not quite as low as many of its supporters may have feared. Let's get things into perspective, in 1983 under Michael Foot Labour's vote plunged below 28% and in 2005 under Tony Blair Labour managed to win a comfortable majority on just 35% of the vote. In both 2010 and 2015 under fairly orthodox centrist leaders Labour polled just 29% and 30.4% of the vote respectively. However, with a radically changed demographic the quirky arithmetic of the First Past the Post electoral system now works against them and favours the Tories and SNP.

Two cheeks of the same Backside

It's hardly a coincidence that both Blairism and Corbynism hail from the trendy inner London borough of Islington with sky high property prices and extremes of wealth. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson lived there in the 1990s as they planned to take over the Labour Party, as do Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry and Jon Lansman, the architect of the Momentum cult. Many Blairites had been Trotskyists, Maoists or Stalinists in their youth. They just recognised the need to embrace big business and strategically support the projection of US-led cultural and military hegemony. However, their goal has long been a technocratic one-world government that suppresses true cultural diversity and undermines the last vestiges of self-determination. Their apparent differences centred on short-term strategy, mainly support for destabilising global policing operations and endless debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Broadly speaking both Blairites and Corbynites come from the same privileged social class with an entourage of token working class acolytes. The sycophantic Blair babes of the early 2000s seemed to have now been replaced by a new breed of wishful thinkers such as Rebecca Long Bailey and Jess Phillips. It may be hard to understand the common purpose of Jeremy Corbyn, who rebelled against all of Blair's military escapades, and Tony Blair, who joined forces with George W Bush to invade Iraq. To the architects of a borderless new world order, these military conflicts serve mainly to destabilise nation states. Indeed they may welcome the destabilisation of Europe and North America in the 2020s as much as they relished the dismemberment of the Middle East and Central Asia in the first two decades of this century. Periodically they will engineer a changing of the guard, so the new management team can dissociate itself from the mistakes of the previous leadership. You can't get more pro-establishment than Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, now working for Facebook. Yet in public he claimed to have opposed UK involvement in the invasion of Iraq to earn street credibility among disillusioned Labour voters. Admittedly I almost voted LibDem myself before I fully grasped the consequences of the cultural revolution that started under Blair and has continued ever since under the fake Conservatives.

How Millennials who grew up under Blair embraced Cultural Marxism

Back in the mid 1990s I wrongly saw Tony Blair as the heir to Thatcher. Indeed, New Labour embraced Thatcher-era privatisation, expanded private sector involvement in the National Health Service via controversial Private Finance Initiatives and continued to outsource more and more public services to commercial service providers. It steadfastly refused to nationalise the railways, but committed to the renewal of Britain's ageing nuclear deterrent and eagerly assisted the US military industrial complex in its global policing operations in the Balkans, Africa and in the Middle East. Tony Blair enjoyed being a loyal sidekick of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush alike. Many traditional Labour supporters opposed these policies from the left. The late 1990s were in the context of the impending cultural revolution a historical hiatus. Seven years after the Soviet Union had disbanded and 4 years after South Africa inaugurated Nelson Mandela as its first black President, representatives of Northern Ireland's warring factions, including Sinn Fein and the Ulster Defence Association, agreed to a ceasefire in the much heralded 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brokered by Labour's new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, but building on negotiations that had begun under the previous Conservative government. As devolved parliaments opened in Scotland and Wales, we seemed to be on the verge of a new era of greater social peace and prosperity, while retaining our cherished personal freedoms and cultural heritage. Alas few observers fully appreciated the scale of the impending cultural revolution as fewer and fewer young adults could get on the housing ladder and all too often succumbed to culture of hyper-dependence.

While Thatcher appealed to traditional family values and championed small businesses, Blair appealed to pop culture and embraced the entertainment business. In reality Thatcher-era reforms had not just destroyed millions of stable manufacturing jobs, they had prevented many young men from marrying and starting families as the primary breadwinner. Attitudes to traditional marriage had begun to change in the swinging 1960s, but the demise of secure jobs for working class young men without good academic qualifications meant many young women turned to the state rather than marriage to help them fulfil their natural desire for motherhood.

Despite the hype the all-powerful state has never really receded, it's merely handed over some of its operations to unaccountable large corporations with labyrinthine management structures, while expanding in other areas, most notably in social surveillance and welfare provision. Contrary to popular perceptions, public spending rose in the first years of the Thatcher government and only declined as a percentage of GDP in the more prosperous late 1980s as the economy grew and unemployment fell. In no year since 1946 has public spending fallen in absolute terms, even accounting for inflation. What really matters more than the proportion of the economy under direct state control is personal independence or the extent to which we are masters of our own destiny or beholden to external agencies. Over the last four decades a growing proportion of our income goes not to life's essentials but to rent, mortgage payments, loan repayments, insurance, commuting and various communication and entertainment services we never used to need. It's often much easier to divorce your spouse than to end legally binding contracts that limit your personal budget to a mere fraction of your theoretical net earnings. We spend much of our remaining disposable income in a handful of supermarket chains and other retail outlets, restaurants, pubs, gyms, leisure centres and clubs controlled by big business. In the early 2000s I had to reassess my earlier analysis that our ruling classes wanted to roll back the state leaving only bare bones public services for the poor. Instead it dawned on me that a growing underclass was trapped in a vicious cycle of welfare dependency, substance abuse, family breakdowns and myriad emotional challenges interpreted as mental illnesses. To escape this trap, you'd expect government agencies to help young adults gain the kind of skills that today's high-tech job market needs. Yet they only ever made half-hearted attempts at workfare and seemed quite happy for an influx of Eastern European migrants to fill vacancies that local youngsters could have snapped up with the right incentives, thereby denying hundreds of thousands of young adults of an opportunity not just to gain critical work experience, but greater personal independence.

One of New Labour's flagship policies, besides the national minimum wage, was the introduction of working family tax credits. On paper this sounded like a great idea making low-paid jobs pay and helping young families make ends meet. In practice it subsidised penny-pinching employers and naturally redefined families as any combination of adults and children who live together. More significantly, these new benefits were available to all EU citizens no matter how long they had lived in the UK or paid into the system. One of the main reasons many youngsters from deprived neighbourhoods in the North of England do not move to London to take advantage of a buoyant labour market and higher wages in the bustling service sector are sky-high rents and the hurdles you have to cross to gain access to housing benefit. I know from talking with many Eastern European bar staff that recruitment agencies and their extended ex-pat community would often help with shared accommodation for new migrant workers.

I still think New Labour missed a golden opportunity. From day one they should have fulfilled their promises by investing heavily in technical skills in the most deprived communities of their former industrial heartlands and weaned the welfare-dependent underclasses off benefits not through uninspiring temporary jobs, but through re-training and a culture of creative innovation. They could have expressed their love of continental Europe not through slavish devotion to a federal superstate, but by emulating German and Dutch vocational colleges and subsidised apprenticeships. If we lack good plumbers, mechanics, electricians, nurses and doctors, surely we can train our own. That doesn't mean we can't have exchanges with other countries, it just means employers don't have to keep recruiting from abroad because of a dearth of qualified candidates locally. However, it should now be abundantly clear the government's senior policy advisors had no intention of empowering the local working classes. As Andrew Nether revealed, they wanted to rub the right's nose in diversity, but their definition of right-wing did not mean a small band of wealthy stockbrokers and aristocrats, but rather the socially conservative native working classes. If you did not embrace our new multicultural reality and were not involved in our growing media, marketing and social engineering sectors, our globally minded managerial classes considered you an ignorant country bumpkin at best or a racist thug in urgent need of psychiatric treatment. By multiculturalism, they did not mean respecting the many cultures that have evolved gradually over many generations in different parts of the world, but rather a post-modern reality of parallel ethnoreligious communities struggling to intermingle and cope with cultural convergence in their new neighbourhoods alongside other groups of newcomers. Their idea of diversity is a wide range of ethnically themed restaurants, boutiques, dress codes and skin colours, more chicken tikka masala than smörgåsbord, but a convergence of lifestyles submerged by mass-marketed universalism. To the cheerleaders of fake diversity what matters most is helplessness, namely complete dependence on external authorities. They see identity groups as constituents thankful for more social surveillance to keep the peace. It hardly matters if Christian Afro-Caribbeans value traditional two-parent families or young English gay party revellers distrust Islamic fundamentalists in their neighbourhood, everyone is supposed to unite in their superficial diversity.

Who's behind Cultural Marxism?

Just as Blair built on many Thatcher-era policies favouring big business interests, Cameron and May continued New Labour's cultural revolution, with key public policies emanating not from nominally Conservative politicians, but from corporate thinktanks and NGOs. Increasingly over recent decades large corporations, nominally in the private sector, have promoted dysfunctional lifestyle choices and fake diversity.

You need only watch advertisements for leading retail outlets. They would once portray typical families broadly representative of their customer base, but today they clearly go out of their way to overemphasise diversity, often showing happy households with mixed race gay parents enjoying a meal with their Muslim neighbours. Rather than simply reflecting reality on the ground, advertisers seek to drive cultural change by presenting a rose-tinted glimpse of our projected future.

Take for example the controversy over self-identification of one's perceived gender, which featured in both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. This is still a fringe issue that concerns only a few confused individuals who have been persuaded to attribute their psychological challenges to a redefinition of gender roles. It turns out the Liberal Democratic Party had accepted a large donation from a pharmaceutical multinational that produces puberty-blocker drugs. Yet we are somehow led to believe by the virtue-signalling echo chamber of social justice warriors that the campaign for transgender rights comes from grassroots activism and not from corporate lobbyists. This begs the question as to why businesses that theoretically want to make profits and expand their clientele should invest so much money promoting lifestyle choices that greatly limit personal independence? It's because they need captive consumers more than conscientious workers who actually provide the products and services we need.

Cultural Marxism has only taken root in the millennial generation because both academia and big business actively promote it. You're hardly rebelling against the system if you're faithfully recycling talking points coined by advertising agencies. When I worked as a contractor in the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi (the advertising agencies behind the election of both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair), marketing staff would religiously read the Huffington Post and embrace the key tenets of identity politics. Social conservatism is much more prevalent in working class communities. Indeed the coming years may see the emergence of new and unexpected alliances to resist top-down social engineering. I think most parents across the British Isles disagree with gender theory lessons in primary schools. At least they would do, if they understood what their sons and daughters were learning in deceptively childish language. When mainly Muslim parents protested the No Outsiders programme in Birmingham schools, the mainstream media tried to dismiss these protests as the bigoted views of religious fundamentalists. If you watch Channel 4, you may have welcomed a break from the usual derision of the xenophobic white Anglo-Saxon working classes to focus instead on transphobic and homophobic Muslims. Sooner or later the parallel ethno-religious communities of our big cities may actually find common cause to resist wokeness and stand up for common sense. Finally people on the ground may realise how disparate groups are being played against each other.

What will happen to Momentum?

I suspect the masterminds of the Corbyn Cult knew full well they could never really win over the working classes outside their metropolitan bubbles. That's why they cheer on the proliferation of new welfare-dependent communities in large cities and the ethnic cleansing of many towns. If only we could extend the vote to 16 year olds or let new migrants vote before they've gained full citizenship? If only we could encourage more apolitical misfits to opt for postal votes in the hope they will opt for the nice party promising them more free stuff. While Blair's spin doctors knew how to appeal to the core Labour vote with platitudes about better education and job creation, Corbyn's handlers offered only patronising charity and public spending commitments they clearly could not honour. However, Momentum will not disappear, it will merely morph into a permanent vanguard movement driving dysfunctional lifestyle changes that ultimately serve the interests of the same big businesses, who for now, are happy with Boris Johnson's fake Conservatives. The only consolation prize is we may have at least exposed the true agenda of global totalitarians.

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics War Crimes

The Abolition of Britain and the rise of Global Governance

How the quest for greater independence is being usurped by power-hungry control freaks

I make no bets on the outcome of the snap General Election scheduled for 12th December. Last time a healthy Tory majority seemed almost certain until a couple of weeks before polling and after a disastrous Conservative election campaign. For the first time in recent history Labour did much better than expected. My hunch is Boris Johnson's party will win a comfortable majority of seats because the core working class electorate have lost all faith in Labour, but I doubt the resulting managerial team will do much to protect British workers from the excesses of globalism. I hope the government's ineptitude may oddly strengthen the resilience of ambitious youngsters as they realise the state will not help them fulfil their dreams and thus avoid succumbing to a prevailing culture of victimhood and entitlement.

We may well see another shift among the affluent managerial and business classes from the Tories to the misnamed Liberal Democrats (or the illiberal unDemocrats as I call them), while many traditional Labour voters either sit at home, strategically vote Conservative or flirt with the Brexit Party to keep out Labour, whom they now see as the party of unlimited mass migration, toxic identity politics and undeliverable spending commitments. However, in Scotland Labour will lose out not only to the Conservatives, but to a resurgent SNP capitalising on fashionable anti-English sentiment. They see Brexit as the brainchild of English Tories eager to resurrect the British Empire. If we assume current polling is correct, the political map of mainland Britain will be split into four. The Tories will dominate English shires and towns, the Liberal Democrats will do well in the most affluent neighbourhoods, while Labour will keep most of its metropolitan strongholds among its special victim groups, welfare-dependents, social engineers and trendy students. By contrast, owing to the vagaries of the First Past the Post system, Nicola Sturgeon's cult movement look set to snap up most Scottish seats, as the anti-SNP vote is too evenly split. The Brexit Party will be lucky to gain 1 or 2 seats in former UKIP strongholds, but they may succeed only in letting Labour hold on to a few more marginals.

The ongoing Brexit saga amid yet another General Election with very uninspiring choices has revealed two unwelcome realities. First most nation states have limited independence from global banks and corporations, supranational institutions and a well-funded network of nominally independent non-governmental organisations (NGOs) posing as humanitarian charities. Second, and perhaps more important, it has exposed what our ruling classes really think about democracy. If they cannot persuade the great unwashed masses to endorse their social engineering plans by electing a bunch of middle managers who will cooperate with the agents of change, they will destabilise your country and have you begging for their intervention.

Whatever the relative merits of the European Union may be, the outcome represented a huge kick in the backside for the metropolitan elite, who for decades have presided over the steady transfer of power from time-honoured local institutions to more remote international entities in the name of progress. Let us be under no illusions the EU is only a means to an end, not the end itself. There are many good reasons to welcome close cooperation among Europe's disparate peoples to protect our cultural heritage and defend us against the worst excesses of what we once viewed as neoliberal globalism, especially as a counterbalance to the North American and Chinese models with their extreme forms of plutocracy. Just 15 years ago in the aftermath of the joint US and UK occupation of Iraq, many of us wanted to distance ourselves from the British and American foreign policy establishment. Many of us hoped a Europe Community of independent peace-loving and democratic nation states with strong protections both for personal freedom and social justice could offer an alternative to Anglo-American capitalism.

While many other countries appeared insecure and in imminent danger of fragmentation, civil war and greater subjugation to imperial forces, Britain seemed impervious. Only the Northern Irish conflict ever posed a security threat, although behind the scenes the British Civil Service has long viewed the province as more of a burden than a strategic asset. Scottish and Welsh nationalism remained relatively tame disputes, quibbling mainly about the extent of autonomy within the United Kingdom. Few thought any major part of the UK would join another major superstate. The Republic of Ireland has since its inception remained steadfastly neutral, so even if Northern Ireland voted to join the Republic, there would be no fundamental shift in the balance of power. Leaving aside widespread opposition to the deployment of the Trident nuclear missiles in Faslane just northwest of Glasgow, Scotland has long been way too reliant on tight integration with the British military industrial complex for mainstream politicians to advocate military independence from the rest of the UK and from NATO, although this was the official SNP position until 2012.

Sea Change

Before around 2012 the European issue seemed very much off the radar. Transnational bodies like the EU, NATO and the UN were just facts of our increasingly internationalised lives, but not things we felt affected our everyday lives. Broadly speaking most Europeans opposed further centralisation preferring to keep control of economic, social and military policy at a more accountable national level, but many still believed our politicians somehow represented our interests at various international gatherings. We saw this in referendums in Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Denmark where voters rejected new treaties (respectively of Nice and Lisbon) only to see their votes either ignored or to be forced to vote again after cosmetic changes. However, we could also argue that the public have grown so disillusioned with the sorry state of national politics that they'd rather place their trust in shiny new progressive institutions that transcend traditional boundaries. For decades the establishment media has tried to persuade Europeans that they can trust the EU and NATO more than their local regimes with their chequered history of corruption and despotism. In the early 1970s not only was most of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain, but Greece, Spain and Portugal still had military dictatorships appealing to traditional Christian values to ward off the dual dangers of Eastern communism and Western decadence. Not surprisingly millions of younger Europeans welcomed the fall of these paternalistic regimes and embraced a new era of mass consumerism combined with a comfortable social safety net. While millions of Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese may be critical of the budgetary constraints imposed on their governments to keep alive the Euro, they still tend to associate the EU with the greater prosperity they've enjoyed since the 1980s. The situation in Britain is very different. The golden era of the British working classes was the 1950s and 60s. Sure we lacked many of the modern conveniences made more affordable by recent technological progress, e.g. many had outside toilets, coal fires instead of central heating and cars were still a luxury for many, but what mattered most is that the relative quality of life was steadily improving with a high level of upwards social mobility. A typical school leaver could aspire to getting a decent skilled job as an apprentice and earn enough to be able to marry, buy a house and start a family by his or her mid to late twenties, all without welfare handouts. We hoped progress would empower families to lead more independent lives while still enjoying the fruits of a civil society with a high degree of social trust and mutual respect. Little did we know that many of our mission-critical jobs would be first outsourced and then automated as big business had to rein in the collective bargaining power of trade unions. The long-drawn-out demise of British industry, kept on life support during the 1970s, weakened the resolve and resilience of the working classes, blamed for demanding unmerited pay rises, being too lazy and lacking the industriousness of their European and Japanese colleagues. Yet to this day, many observers simply blame Thatcher for turning off the life support machine that squandered countless billions on trying to save outdated industries that could not survive the challenge of global competition able not only to tap into a seemingly limitless supply of cheap labour, but to quickly close or retool outdated manufacturing facilities with little regard to job security.

I noticed even as long ago as the 1979 General Election that saw Margaret Thatcher's Tories win a healthy majority of seats, Labour had begun to shift its focus from standing up for workers' rights to championing welfare and public services. Thatcher managed to appeal to the aspirational working classes, the kind of people who wanted to own a house, drive a car, holiday in Spain and earn a decent living through a career in the growing service sector. While some workers adapted and some new light manufacturing outfits took the place of heavy industry, many youngsters in Labour's working class heartlands outside the more prosperous South East of England inherited the helplessness of their parents who had failed to adapt and thus became trapped on welfare or short-term jobs in call centres leading inevitably to dysfunctional households and social dislocation. Nonetheless a major rebranding effort saved the Labour Party as it embraced Thatcherite reforms, the information revolution and pop culture while promising not to raise taxes. I was an early sceptic of Blairite Magic. Somehow his soundbites lacked substance or analytical integrity, but one slogan stuck in my mind "Education, Education, Education". If you believed the hype, we were on the verge of a quantum leap in scientific excellence. The next generation would become talented doctors, inventors, bioscientists, software developers and robotics engineers. Alas very few did, but many more became recruiters, public relations officers, graphic designers, creative directors or worked on the peripheries of emerging high-tech industries in new-fangled specialisations such as forensic science or environmental science, learning how to engage with technologies that someone else developed to monitor other people's behaviour, market goods or ensure minimum healthy and safety standards. With such a dearth of tech-savvy innovators and entrepreneurs, British professionals have focused mainly on people management and persuasion, a sector encompassing not only advertising, public relations and entertainment, but behaviour and attitude modification through charities and education. For every engineer developing new technology to help us solve practical environmental challenges, there are many more climate change awareness officers or busy bodies lecturing parents on how to deal with tantrums without smacking. The net result is a dual culture of dependence, either on state handouts or on corporate largesse, and greatly reduced personal resilience. The first Blair government famously rebranded Britain as Cool Britannia, more about rock stars than scientific pioneers. Now the last gasp of British cultural innovation has been co-opted by the multibillion dollar entertainment industry and blended into a global culture disconnected from the specific locales of post-imperial suburban Britain. In the same period Global English has begun its shift from a high-status international language modelled on standard British or American English to a rapidly mutating form of NewSpeak inspired by a worldwide intelligentsia with little reference to the speech patterns of the transient residents of London or New York City. Native speakers have thus lost the relative advantage they once had over those who acquired the language later in life.

As a historical paradox the country that has given the world its dominant lingua franca now suffers from an acute identity crisis as progressive opinion leaders attempt to deny there is such a thing as a native English person. This mirrors trends in other European countries with almost identical claims going mainstream in Germany and Sweden too. National identity for many in cosmopolitan areas has been reduced to mere temporary allegiance to your country of residence in occasional sporting events.

What's left of Britishness anyway?

Many Ulster unionists are none too happy about Boris Johnson's deal to keep their province in regulatory alignment with the EU's Customs Union and Single Market with customs checks in the Irish Sea rather than along the meandering border with the Republic of Ireland. Increasingly only the Democratic Unionist Party defend traditional values, while Sinn Fein, claiming to represent the Catholic community, has recently endorsed positions on gay marriage, LGBTQ-friendly sex education and abortion perfectly aligned with the cultural left, but at variance with Catholic teachings. However, a growing proportion of the younger generation identify neither with Protestantism nor Catholicism and are very open to unification with what has become a secular Ireland. The British Deep State seems more concerned about the perceived Russian threat than subsidising Northern Ireland.

The begs the question whether the CEOs of UK PLC really care that much about the constitutional status of Scotland, now they know a nominally independent Scotland would both stay in NATO and join the new European Defence Union. Universalist media outlets treat Nicola Sturgeon's SNP much more favourably than the Brexit Party or even the Tory Party.

However, I sense a split between the Atlanticist and Europhile wings of British intelligentsia. Recent statements from Emanuel Macron, Guy Verhofstadt and the EU's new President Ursula von der Leyen have revealed a gradual shift from a unified European military command working within NATO alongside the USA to a European Army taking over from the USA in global policing operations in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. More disturbing is the growing hostility among the Western European elites towards Russia. In just a few years neo-conservative war hawks have shifted their lobbying operations from Washington DC to Brussels. To match US military spending, the Europe Union would have to double spending, something that would be very unpopular at a national level, but could only be justified by the spectre of a Russian and/or Chinese threat. Even if Trump is re-elected in 2020, US military adventurism has peaked. The federal government can no longer justify such a massive defence budget when they have bigger challenges at home with rapidly changing demographics. It's only a matter of time before someone like Tulsi Gabbard or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez becomes the president of a debt-ridden federation in a post-dollar world order, dominated by the Chinese and Indian economies.

Without Scotland and Ulster, England and Wales would be a very disunited place with London behaving more and more like a city state divorced from its geographic hinterland and parallel communities in many other towns and cities.

In all likelihood Boris Johnson's BRINO or Brexit In Name Only will avert Scottish Independence for a few years before other events overshadow it, Ulster quietly merges with a post-Christian Eire and the Scots turn against the SNP. Meanwhile continental Europe will struggle to cope with the fast pace of cultural and demographic metamorphosis, a looming banking crisis and an escalation of the civil unrest that has spread across France over the last year. We may just be able to salvage a federation of the British Isles, but with waning faith in traditional British institutions such as Monarchy (and far be it from me to comment on Prince Andrew's close friendship with American sex predator Jeffrey Epstein) this island seems ripe for Balkan-style destabilisation with the people's splat over Brexit serving as a trial run for a much deeper conflict over culture, identity and power.

Categories
Power Dynamics

The engineered breakup of the Yookay

Before sometime around 1990, while I lived abroad in Italy, most large institutions and the establishment media in the North West of Europe liked to refer a place called Britain and proudly used adjectives like British to include England, Wales, Scotland and, by loose extension, Northern Ireland too. Outside the UK confusion reigns supreme as England, Great Britain and United Kingdom are often used interchangeably. Indeed, many English people often struggle to recall the correct name for their country. This may sometimes lead to false positives with regular references to British Law, when as a result to the 1707 Act of the Union, Scotland has always retained a separate legal system and Northern Ireland's juridical framework has its roots in Irish common law.

If you want to be pedantic, then the island that comprises England, Wales and Scotland is Great Britain, while Britain alone may refer to just England and Wales and the United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland too.

Scotland and Wales have never lost their distinctive identities, but over the generations, and especially since the industrial revolution, there had been so much intermarriage and movement among the peoples of the home nations, that Scottish and Welsh separatism seldom gained more 25% of the vote. Welsh nationalism focused mainly on protecting the Welsh language after centuries of suppression, while Scottish nationalism only really gained momentum after the discovery of vast oil reserves in the North Sea in the 1960s. If anything Scotland has long been overrepresented within the Union, relative to its population, which has declined from around 1/9 of the UK total circa 1900 to less than 1/11 today (although still rising in absolute terms) with more than its fair share of prime ministers, entrepreneurs and inventors.

British identity grew in the Victorian era on the back of the industrial revolution and expansion of the British empire over a quarter of the Earth's landmass. Without Scotland and Ireland's plentiful natural resources and critical mass of engineers, Great Britain may never have gained such a large competitive edge over its main rivals, France and Spain, in its quest to colonise North America and dominate world trade. Although Britain's relative importance declined with the emergence of Germany as the main European powerhouse and the United States as the world's dominant economic superpower at the turn of the 20th century, British identity remained strong through two calamitous world wars and the Great Depression. Britain emerged from the Second World War very much as a junior partner of the United States with an oversized empire it could no longer afford to maintain, but it had at least escaped the worst ravages of Nazi occupation and widespread ethnic cleansing. The peoples of England, Wales and Scotland were still proud to identify with Britishness as the country transitioned to a new role as a medium-sized Western European power on a par with France, West Germany and Japan and subservient only to the USA. The old empire had become a motley collection of new nation states. Some, like Canada and Australia, retained very strong cultural affiliation, but soon integrated much more with the booming North American or East Asian economies. Others, like India and most of British Africa, retained the English language as a commercial and scientific lingua franca, but sought new alliances. The continuing importance of global English bears little relation to the current status of the UK. It is a legacy of Britain's Mercantile hegemony in the 19th century and the USA's economic and cultural dominance of the 20th century.

An irony of history is that despite losing two world wars and much of its eastern territories, West Germany regained its role as the motor of the European economy. Having your main industrial areas carpet-bombed may lead to temporary loss of human life and manufacturing capacity, but it certainly facilitates productivity-boosting modernisation. By the 1970s Britain was the sick man of Europe, plagued by industrial strife and inefficient infrastructure. Much of British industry either outsourced production overseas or gave up entirely, refocusing instead on the growing service sector. To add insult to injury, in the mid 1980s the Italian economy briefly overtook the UK's. Indeed despite recent economic decline, Northern Italy remains much more affluent than most of the UK with larger houses and higher car ownership. More recently India, Russia and Brazil have overtaken the UK's GDP once adjusted for purchasing power parity and it's only a matter of time before they do so in absolute terms too.

When did the new generation of UK citizens stop identifying as British?

It all depends what you mean by British? As a loose synonym of English, then most people in provincial England are probably happy to call themselves either. But only English is a true ethnic marker close to people's heart. Naturalised UK citizens, especially from Commonwealth countries, often prefer hyphenated British identities as being more inclusive. The more integrated someone with an immigrant background is, the more likely they are to identify as English, Scottish or Welsh. I used to think that the millions of Britons with mixed English, Scottish and Welsh heritage would more readily identify as British, but outside the London area, this no longer appears to be the case. Your childhood friends, especially in your core school years, tend to instil ethnic identity in you more than anything else. Just as the Scots are reasserting their rebranded Scottish identity, even if their parents come from England, Italy or Poland, so too are the working classes in provincial England once again identifying first and foremost as English.

In the late 1990s I noticed a shift in the mainstream media, especially in one of the last institutions to incorporate British in its name (the BBC). All of a sudden presenters and politicians started to avoid references to Britain and Britishness in favour of the Yookay, the United Kingdom, just "this country" or weird concoctions like England and Wales or England, Wales and Scotland if one or more parts of the UK were excluded. Tony Blair's New Labour government seemed happy to acquiesce to demands for greater devolution in Scotland and Wales, although support for the Welsh Assembly only won the narrowest of majorities in the 1997 referendums on the matter. As Scotland and Wales had suffered much from the industrial decline of the 1970s and 80s, devolution seemed like a long overdue constitutional reform. In the early years Labour dominated both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish parliament but had to seek an alliance with the Liberal Democrats due to the new mixed proportional representation voting system. For a while the Scottish National Party's failed to make any significant headway. As recently as 2005 the SNP gained just 17.7% of Scottish votes in the UK general election after polling a disappointing 20.9% in the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, despite the unpopularity of Blair's Iraqi misadventure. Four years later the SNP under Alex Salmond managed to pip Labour at the post winning 31% against 29.2% and just 1 more seat. The SNP formed its first minority government. Yet in the 2010 general election the Scots bucked the national trend with Labour gaining 42% of the vote, possibly because Gordon Brown remained popular north of the border, and the SNP just 19.9%. A year later the vote shares of Scotland's two main parties were almost reversed in the 2011 elections for the Scottish Parliament, giving the SNP a working majority and paving the way to the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence. Few observers would have predicted that in just 10 short years support for Scottish separatism could rise from a rump of 20% to just shy of 45%. The big question is why David Cameron's coalition government so willingly acquiesced to the SNP's demands

Mood Change

Traditionally the main institutions of successful nation states tend to resist separatism. We may be accustomed to the acrimonious breakup of unstable federations like the former Yugoslavia or the more amicable divorce of Czechoslovakia, but many have long suspected foreign intervention in their demise. When the levers of political and economic power move from compact nation states to supranational bodies like the European Union or NATO, the business classes shift their allegiance from their current national entity to the remote organisations best able to protect their commercial interests. In the era of international commuting, outsourcing and globalised supply chains, nation states appear to growing sections of the professional classes as anachronisms of the 19th century, discredited by the excesses of fascism and national socialism. If a country the size of Italy has limited operational autonomy, constrained militarily by NATO and economically by the IMF and the EU, what chance does a country the size of Slovakia, Croatia, Latvia or indeed Scotland have? Despite the much-maligned project fear during the Scottish independence referendum, the main arguments hinged on social security, oil revenues, currency, Trident nuclear warheads based in Faslane and Scottish jobs dependent on UK military contracts. Big businesses, while preferring easy access to the nearby English market, seemed almost indifferent. Tesco does not really care whether Scotland is nominally in some abstract entity called the UK as long as it can continue to bribe local councils to expand its retail empire, which now stretches as far as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Thailand. The main reason the British Civil Service wanted to avert Scottish independence was the country's tight integration into the British armed forces and, more importantly, NATO, but the SNP ditched its earlier opposition to NATO in 2012. Until recently the United States relied on the UK as its most loyal ally in its various military endeavours around the globe, but with shifting global alliances Uncle Sam is suffering from battle fatigue. The failure to overthrow the Syrian government and the rapid rise in China's military budget and soft power have led military lobbyists to seek new vehicles for their nation-building operations. Recent US-led wars have done little to project American power, something much better accomplished by US-based tech giants. If anything, the USA's military adventurism has weakened the country's soft power, while the main hubs of technical innovation are moving away from California and elsewhere in the United States to the Far East, China, Russia and Europe. We should watch not so much the sales revenues of tech behemoths, but the concentration of talented engineers able to drive future innovation. Gone are the days when the best Chinese, Russian, Korean or Japanese engineers would be snapped up by American multinationals. Today, they often have better opportunities in their home countries and thanks to the wonders of modern telecommunications can collaborate with others around the world without having to emigrate. When the CEOs of American IT enterprises like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are happy to lambast the current resident of the White House and seem more concerned with adhering to the edicts of the Chinese government than training young American software engineers, it must be crystal clear that they owe no special allegiance to their fellow Americans.

The Brexit Delusion seen from postmodern Scotland

Some believe the outcome of the 2016 referendum on the UK membership of EU marked a protest against the excesses of globalism and the disenfranchisement of the native working classes. Yet for all the bluster about taking back control and national self-determination, the United Kingdom appears less united than at any time since World War Two in the terms of social class, national identity and outlook on life. There are many good democratic reasons to advocate the transfer of power from remote superstates to viable nation states, but while a clear majority in the English provinces and in most of Wales voted to leave the EU, Scotland, Northern Ireland and inner city areas of England voted to remain. Two groups in particular opposed any attempts to restore national sovereignty, the affluent professional classes, especially in academia, and Britons with a recent immigrant background. The results in Scotland would have been very different if the SNP had opposed continued EU membership as they did the 1975 referendum. Many Scots voted to stay in the EU because they believed it made Scottish independence easier if the whole of the Former United Kingdom (FUK?) remained deeply embedded in the EU facilitating seamless trade and movement of people.

Let me suggest they were wrong for two simple reasons. First the Brexit saga has provided Nicola Sturgeon with a pretext to call another referendum on Scottish separatism. Second joining the EU as a separate member state would make Scotland a net contributor but without any subsidies from the UK government. So unless crude oil prices return to the heady heights of $120 a barrel, the SNP will be forced to drastically slash public services and welfare spending, especially as all new member states have to join the ERM and prepare to adopt the Euro. No pragmatic Scot could contemplate such socially divisive policies that could turn Scotland into a wetter and windier version of Greece under the now disgraced Syriza government (who promised to reverse EU-enforced austerity before agreeing to another loan requiring even greater cutbacks than anticipated). While many English workers have bought into the illusion of a strong and independent UK outside the EU, the Scottish working class have sold a European pipedream that reflects the widespread middle class affluence of 1990s Germany much more than the grim reality of Macron's regime unable to contain open revolt from his country's yellow vests movement.

The SNP's love for identity politics and mass migration have set the party's leadership on a collision course with their supporters who overwhelmingly want Scotland to be more Scottish in the traditional sense and less like the multicultural chaos they see in England's metropolises. It appears the SNP leadership would be quite happy for Glasgow and Edinburgh to emulate London and Birmingham, while many of their supporters would much prefer the Norwegian model. Scottish nationalists and Northern Irish Republicans have been co-opted into the virtue-signalling no-borders movement. Their leaders not only oppose traditional family values, they want to redefine Scottishness or Irishness to mean temporary loyalty to your current jurisdiction rather than longstanding family ties or full cultural assimilation.

Over the last decade Scotland's main cities have belatedly succumbed to the lure of global harmonisation, with segregated transient communities, gentrification of inner city neighbourhoods and sky-rocketing property prices in the wee nation's capital. The SNP's priorities have at best addressed short-term populist concerns, e.g. removing bridge tolls and offering free prescriptions, and at worst transferred more power to a centralised police force and invasive social services, especially the notorious named person act.

Most disturbingly the SNP's education policies have significantly lowered standards, widening the gulf between the offspring of Scotland's professional classes who can either provide an intellectually stimulating home environment or afford private tuition and the rest whose stressed parents struggle to deal with precarious employment and unstable relationships. The SNP may champion Scotland's integration with the rest of Europe, but it's made foreign languages optional guiding underperforming students to easier subjects. You might imagine that Scotland's love affair with the games industry might have inspired a new generation of budding programmers. Alas tech companies struggle to find local whiz kids for mission-critical software development roles. The main advantage of moving an IT business from London to Scotland is not the availability of local talent, but lower property prices and smaller social extremes. If you have to import your best developers from Poland, Ukraine or India, then London, once a magnet for the best and brightest professionals, has no inherent advantage. A small country dependent not only on international trade, but also on imported human resources only has limited leeway to fine-tune its fiscal regime and employment laws to attract greater inward investment. The Irish government may have tempted Google and Twitter to set up their European HQs in its capital city, but the multinationals hired mainly non-Irish staff driving up property prices while a growing number of born and bred Dubliners are homeless. Under its new Taoiseach, Eire (more commonly known as Republic of Ireland) is currently undergoing its fastest rate of cultural transformation since it gained independence in 1920. Irish journalist, Gemma O'Doherty, has gone as far as to describe the government's Project Ireland 2040 initiative as state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, aiming to add 25% to the existing population while the country's best and brightest continue to emigrate. The leaderships of Sinn Fein and the SNP may appeal to anti-British nationalist sentiment, but advocate socially engineered post-national identities for their respective fiefdoms.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alastair Campbell

The post-national Alliance

One photograph captures more succinctly than any others the duplicity of politicians we once believed had some principles, the spectre of Nicola Sturgeon hugging Alastair Campbell. I remember seeing Nicola speak at a small demonstration in Glasgow against the UK's enthusiastic participation in the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo back in 1999, a courageous stance that involved challenging the bias and disinformation of much of the mainstream media. The SNP also opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but fast forward to the current year and the same SNP has shifted its focus from opposing military adventurism and making the case for full fiscal autonomy to supporting full integration with the European superstate with its own plans for a unified military command and fiscal harmonisation. Rather than being deployed in conflict zones as British soldiers under the auspices of NATO, Scotland's future military personnel could well serve in places as diverse as Ukraine, Mali or France as part of the new European Defence Force. Over the decades many high profile politicians as diverse as Bill Clinton and François Hollande have built their political reputations on opposition to imperialist wars, only to fall into line once in power. So what do the likes of Tony Blair's former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, and Nicola Sturgeon really care about? Their appeals to Britishness, Scottishness or working class solidarity have only ever been ploys to win electoral support. Both have failed their core electorates dismally, much preferring global grandstanding over local solutions. Alastair Campbell may have strategically supported US-led military interventions and nominally opposed Scottish independence, but that's mere water under the bridge when faced with the prospect of the dismemberment of the wonderful European Union and the potential unravelling of a greater project to bring all countries within the purview of a one world government. Both appear diametrically opposed to the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but are they? As Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson fell into line with the foreign policy priorities of successive US and UK administrations to push for regime change in Syria and seek confrontation with Russia. While previously critical of the Iraq war and disastrous interventions in Libya and Syria, Nigel Farage has remained loyal to Donald Trump's presidency.

Could Brexit be a mere charade to engineer the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Reading between the Lines

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by British civil servants and EU Bureaucrats under Theresa May's premiership did little to restore sovereignty to the British electorate. The UK would nominally be outside the EU, but still bound by the rules and regulations of the Customs Union and Single Market, all for a little extra control over labour mobility from EU countries, e.g. not allowing workers to claim in-work benefit until they have paid into the system for at least 5 years. Given the much greater challenge of smart automation displacing millions of monotonous manual and clerical jobs, the native workforce would compete over fewer and fewer entry level jobs. The only way to make a success out of greater economic autonomy would be to invest heavily in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), all areas where British students lag behind their Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Indian counterparts. Yet while the public debated the dreaded Northern Irish backstop, that would stop the UK from striking new trade deals independent of the EU until it had definitely resolved the Irish border issue to the EU's full satisfaction, the UK government was busy agreeing to military unification with the armed forces of other EU members with hardly a murmur of dissent from any of the parties represented in Westminster. The DUP were too obsessed with the constitutional status of Ulster, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour probably welcomed the move. While the military budgets of most continental European countries, with the notable exception of France, have remained subdued over the last 20 years, they have begun to creep up as European military integration became a reality. Germany's former Minister of Defence and now President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had the blessing of US-based military strategist, Henry Kissinger for Europe's remilitarisation. Global strategists owe no special allegiance to their nation states. In the mid to late 20th century it made sense for the superpowers to contain the military ambitions of the main European countries, but with monetary union and only nominal national sovereignty, in the eyes of world chess players, a unified European military command can assume the role of global cop in conflict zones in Africa, the Middle East and most disturbingly of all seek direct confrontation with Russia. One thread that unites most European federalists is their visceral hatred of Vladimir Putin's Russia, whom they accuse of meddling in European politics, while simultaneously letting American and Chinese tech giants run vast swathes of the continent's telecommunications infrastructure. In the dying days of her administration Theresa May agreed to let Chinese multinational, Huawei, manage the roll-out of the UK's controversial 5G network, only a couple of years after the same government let China's General Power Corporation build new nuclear plants in the UK despite obvious security risks. With the current pace of globalisation it may not matter if the British Isles are whole or only partly in the EU, our lives will be managed by the same corporations.

The Ultimate Con Trick

Many EU-flag-wavers have suggested the true aim of Tory Brexiteers is to hand over British public services to North American big business, which could potentially lead to the privatisation of the revered NHS. There's only one flaw in this analysis, the neoliberal dream of dynamic private enterprises competing in a regulated free market is on life support. Neoliberalism has outlived its purpose as the main driver of economic growth and technological innovation, as big business no longer needs the services of most working age adults and relies instead on welfare largesse to subsidise its customers. As private healthcare can only serve those able to pay, the global trend is towards public healthcare, not least because local authorities prefer one-size-fits-all social medicine with mandatory vaccinations, mental health screening and regular check-ups for common medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma. In early capitalism, successful enterprises remained largely indifferent to the plight of the great unwashed masses. Today the largest commercial ventures do not want only to satisfy their consumers, but to actively shape their lifestyle and thus to regulate their behaviour. Gay Pride Parades are no longer fringe events of a marginalised minority, they're sponsored by banks, supermarkets and mobile phone networks with the full blessing of local authorities and the police. New shopping centres bear little semblance to their geographic surroundings with variants of the same ubiquitous brand names and chain stores. Slowly but surely our urban landscape is beginning to resemble a maze of playgrounds with different sets of prefects monitoring puerile plebeians. At the same time countries with proud histories, strong traditions and distinctive cultures have become mere social engineering pilot projects.

UK PLC (the British version of USA Inc.) is so enmeshed with the world economy, that it no longer needs the loyalty of its hapless inhabitants, known affectionately in Germany as Inselaffen (island apes) partly due to their drunken antics in Mediterranean resorts. The business elites only supported the UK's continued existence to placate remnant patriotism and maintain a tightly integrated military industrial complex.

I seriously doubt whether Boris Johnson, whose family can trace their roots to Germany, Russia and Turkey and who was born in New York city and partly schooled in Brussels, cares more about British self-determination than his pro-EU siblings or the likes of Richard Branson for that matter. They probably care even less about Ulster, the ramifications of Scottish separatism or even the future of the Conservative Party. A no-deal Brexit may not be such a big deal after all for Boris's corporate friends, but the mainstream media could easily blame Brexit for the looming European financial meltdown as Germany fails to bail out insolvent Italian banks and the London Stock Market crashes. With rising unemployment and a devalued currency, Scotland and Northern Ireland may well vote to leave the UK, conveniently blaming the hated Tories for inevitable cutbacks to public services. That may well be one of the better outcomes. The worst case scenario may be a Yugoslav-style civil war.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Getting a taste of your own medicine

Corporate censorship

How hate speech laws have come back to bite their proponents

This week Corbynites, who often call for the no-platforming of social conservatives, were on the receiving end of antisemitism allegations. Yet the same BBC stands accused of suppressing the scale of rape gangs to appease the Muslim community. It seems we must now think twice before expressing any opinions that may be deemed misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, antisemitic or in any way critical of our emerging Brave New World of rootless world citizens. For a while it seemed these constraints only applied to the evil far right or rather those who took a firm stand against social engineering, but now censorship hinders dissent on the left too.

More and more people with different political outlooks are getting well and truly fed up with the BBC's lack of objectivity, its narrow focus on a small set of perceived threats, its elevation of minor news stories to push an ideological agenda and its dismissal of much more important events as mere side effects of progress. In short, the BBC does not, as it claims, dispassionately report on a changing national and global reality with a wide range of divergent perspectives. It selects which news stories best serve its preferred narrative, often turning reality on its head by choosing exceptions rather than rules, and counteracts what it paradoxically calls fake news from the alternative media.

Yet the BBC does not just piss off opponents of UK involvement in endless wars in the Middle East, critics of unbalanced mass migration, social conservatives not totally on board with the LGBTQ++ agenda or dissident scientists concerned with the adverse effects of mass medication. It has now alienated hundreds of thousands of leftwing activists in Jeremy Corbyn's enlarged Labour Party, who take a strong stand against the Israeli government's repression of Palestinians and its role in destabilising other countries, not least the well-documented close collaboration between Israel and Saudi Arabia in a fateful triangle with the Pentagon.

The BBC's flagship current affairs documentary programme, Panorama, has a long track record of carefully timed hit pieces to smear opponents of British foreign policy, defame dissidents or destroy the reputation of organisations who in some way challenge corporate interests. In 2013 on the eve of a crucial parliamentary vote to authorise RAF airstrikes over Syria, the BBC aired Saving Syria's Children, in which crisis actors reacted to a staged chemical attack, purportedly launched by Assad's air force against innocent civilians. Robert Stuart has spent the last six years compiling evidence to conclusively prove the whole event was faked before the term #fakenews gained currency in everyday speech. The BBC's John Sweeney is a propaganda veteran of the British government's campaign to win support for Tony Blair's ill-fated invasion of Iraq when he championed the cause of Iraqi Kurds. Later the same journalist targeted the Scientology church, bankrolled apparently by a few wealthy Hollywood celebrities like John Travolta and Tom Cruise. Neither of these controversies are open and shut cases. The Kurdish people, spread over parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, have long wanted an independent homeland, but their cause has also long been exploited rival regional powers in their quest to destabilise their enemies. While the British government has historically turned a blind eye to the repression of Kurds in Turkey, US, UK and, dare I say, Israeli secret services have given logistical support to Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria. To put it another way, it's in the geopolitical interests of the main corporations behind the US and UK Deep States to destabilise all regional powers who undermine their hegemony and to seek alliances with any disgruntled factions. However, the military-industrial complex today encompasses the growing biotech and mind control sectors. While an independent Syria may be a thorn in the side of US and Israeli plans to prevent China and Russia from gaining greater influence in the Middle East, the Church of Scientology is an arch opponent of psychiatry and psychoactive medication and thus a threat to the biotech industry's grip on the collective psyche. I would add that Ron Hubbard's cult is an easy target that has merely co-opted a radical 1960s critique of psychiatry so they can present their behaviour modification system, known as Dianetics, as the only solution to our emotional challenges. I'm naturally sceptical of any well-funded cult-like organisation, but I suspect the BBC's main target here was not the Church of Scientology at all, but critics of psychiatry and their relentless drive to reframe all personal challenges as mental health issues.

An objective account of the Syrian civil war would look not only at the government's human rights record, which in the Middle East is unlikely to be very clean, but also at the funding and ideology of the various rival militias who controlled vast swathes of Syrian territory between 2011 and 2018. Before 2011 almost uniquely in the Middle East the Syrian government has managed to prevent its disparate ethnic and religious communities from killing each other and to avert the menace of Islamic fundamentalism. To do so, it sometimes had to resort to repressive means, such as torture, and incursions against insurgents, most notoriously President Hafez al-Assad's 1982 crushing of Muslim Brotherhood rebels in Hama. Sadly all regimes in the Middle East have to deploy coercive means to subdue internecine warfare among rival factions.

Panorama commissioned John Sweeny to do another hit piece against a rabid Zionist, someone who had himself photographed standing on an Israeli tank proudly waving the Star of David flag. Stephen Yaxley Lennon, mainly known by his stage name of Tommy Robinson, has made a career out of his campaign against the spread of radical Islam and some of the worst practices of the burgeoning Muslim communities in many towns and cities across the UK such as their failure to integrate with wider British society, their perceived takeover of entire neighbourhoods with vigilantes enforcing aspects of Sharia law, their apparent visceral hatred of British armed forces and, most notoriously, their grooming gangs targeting vulnerable non-Muslim teenage girls. For the sake of clarity, I can sympathise with any community that opposes the British role in the projection of US military adventurism. On the 2003 march against the Iraq war I marched for a while alongside one of the biggest contingents, the Luton branch of British Muslim Council. While I don't blame individual soldiers for joining the army, I do not think they helped defend anyone back home. Indeed British military adventurism has only made the UK and British ex-pats prime targets for terrorists. Tommy Robinson's home town of Luton now has a Muslim majority in its school-age population. Non-Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds tend to send their children to suburban schools with a lower Muslim intake, while thousands of former Lutonians have simply upped sticks and moved to outlying market towns and villages, a phenomenon once known as white flight, but it's by no means exclusively whites who are metaphorically running for the hills.

The radical left has struggled to come to terms with divided communities, preferring instead to paint a blissfully naive picture of a united working class battling a few isolated racists spewing their hatred. The main flaw in this argument is that internecine hatred comes both from some radical Muslims and the wilder elements of the former English Defence League who have now regrouped as the Football Lads Alliance. Contrary to the BBC's simplified narrative, the battle lines do not divide whites from blacks, but Muslims from anti-Muslims.

Much of the avowedly antiracist left rejoiced as the Old Bailey set a legal precedent by jailing Stephen Yaxley Lennon for the subjective crime of contempt of court, when all he did was announce the list of men convicted of gang rape of minors, which was already in the public domain, as they returned to court for sentencing. Compare and contrast reporting restrictions enforced on these sex abuse trials involving 1000s of innocent girls, with the media's lynching of disgraced entertainers like Rolf Harris and Cliff Richard. The BBC even hired a helicopter to take aerial footage of a police raid on Sir Cliff's property at enormous public expense. From a legal standpoint it's irrelevant whether Mr Yaxley Lennon had himself been found guilty of physical assault on more than one occasion, the law should be applied equally to all. More worryingly, no jury was present at the trial.

Some will argue correctly that Tommy Robinson merely jumped on a bandwagon and did nothing to expose the scale of rape gangs targeting non-Muslim girls. Indeed the whole Tommy Robinson phenomenon would not exist without a captive base of disaffected working class youths and a little financial help from pro-Israeli pressure groups, most notably Australian-based Avi Yemini and the Canadian social conservative group, Rebel Media. The latter channel has admittedly countered some mainstream media bias on topics as diverse as sex education and mass migration, but is unashamedly pro-Israel and critical of all major Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which it defines as terrorists. We now have a distinctive political current that loathes Islam, loves Israel and champions national sovereignty and aspects of social conservativism with high profile advocates as varied as Katie Hopkins and Ezra Levant, to which we could add Gerard Batten's faction of UKIP and Anne Marie Waters' For Britain movement. This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with American politics where the Christian right has long been closely allied with the Netanyahu wing of the pro-Israeli lobby.

This must seem odd to some observers, as traditionally American Jews have been at the forefront of campaigns to relax immigration controls and promote alternatives to traditional families. Many on the radical right have blamed Hollywood, with its disproportionate Jewish influence, for subverting traditional Christian values.

Is the dispute really about anti-Zionism?

The so-called International definition of antisemitism is now so broad as to equate any criticism of the Israeli State or undue influence exerted by financiers and media executives, some of who may be Jewish, with the kind of pathological hatred of Jews that led to the Nazi Holocaust. Is it antisemitic to state correctly around 22% of all Nobel Laureates are Jewish, that the USA awarded Israel a $38 billion military aid package in 2016 or that 5 of the 7 Chairs of Federal Reserve since 1970 have been Jewish? I guess it all depends what conclusions one reaches from such easily verifiable facts.

Despite its close ties with successive US administrations, Israel is only one piece of a much larger jigsaw. To put the Palestinian conflict into context, more Muslims have been ruthlessly murdered by the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran and by Islamic fundamentalist militias than by Israel. The ongoing bombardment of Yemen is putting at risk the lives of as many as 20 million Yemenis, while the British RAF trains Royal Saudi Airforce pilots.

Many true Zionists accuse the BBC itself of antisemitism in its appeasement of the Islamic lobby in the UK. Few English, Scottish and Welsh people harbour ill feelings towards Jews, have very strong opinions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or are obsessed with undue Jewish influence in finance or media. Most strong views, one way or the other, inevitably come either from radical political activists or more commonly from those with family ties to the Middle East. So which community in early 21st century Britain would be most likely to distrust Jews, blame Israel for many of the world's ills and cast doubt on the orthodox version of the Nazi Holocaust? Let me give you a clue. They are not old age pensioners who still remember the Second World War or virtue-signalling refugee rights campaigners, but neither are they ordinary working class Christians or trade unionists. Even outspoken critics of Israeli government policy like George Galloway have taken a very firm stance against both Holocaust denial and against the likes of Tommy Robinson. So let's scratch our heads and think which group of disaffected people with strong religious views might blame Jews not only for the Middle East quagmire, but for Western cultural decadence and its addiction to debt? What kind of staunch labour voters would view world history since the 1917 Balfour declaration through the prism of an almighty conspiracy by Zionists to control the globe? It may sadden some, but there is only one logical answer to the above question. It also helps us explain how Labour could miraculously hold on to the marginal seat of Peterborough in a by-election with nearly ten thousand postal votes or around 30% of all ballot papers cast. While the Palestinian conflict may be just one of many causes that many leftwing activists like to champion when they're not fretting about food banks, disability benefit cuts, global warming, veganism or LBGTQ++ rights, in the minds of many radical Muslims it justifies their jihad against Jewish power. The problem is most Labour activists either turn a blind eye to rampant Judaeophobia among some of their radical Muslim comrades or they are blissfully unaware of it.

Besides, the Israeli issue has long divided the Jewish community itself. Some of Israel's most outspoken critics such as Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Gilad Atzmon are themselves Jews. One hundred prominent Jews signed a letter to Guardian defending Chris Williamson, suspended for claiming Labour was too apologetic about antisemitism. More perversely, the only associate of Jeremy Corbyn who has ever called into question the scale of the Nazi holocaust is another Islington resident coincidentally of Jewish heritage himself, Paul Eisen, who even more intriguingly is also a close friend saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon. A few Labour activists, such as the MP for Derby, Chris Williamson or Edinburgh trade unionist Pete Gregson, may obsess with the Palestinian issue and the pro-Israeli lobby, but they have both vehemently denied hating Jews as lifelong opponents of any form of xenophobia. Indeed both could be described as xenophiles generally welcoming high levels of immigration.

Freedom of Inquiry

A common analytical mistake is to assign collective responsibility to an entire category of humanity for crimes committed by a tiny subset of such groups and then to censor debate about key issues that affect us all through guilty by association with a few bad apples. Censorship of ideas creates an atmosphere in which people are scared to ask important questions and challenge orthodoxy. The spectres of Islamophobia and antisemitism do not serve to protect either Jewish or Muslim interests, but to silence dissent. If you care about Muslim lives, why not protest against UK logistical support for the ongoing bombing of North Yemen? If you care about antisemitic hate crimes, then you might like to have word with a few radical Islamists who learn Judaeophobic diatribes in their mosques. If you care about historical truth and our future as a free-thinking species, you may want to join me in taking a firm stance against the steady erosion of intellectual freedom.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Race, ethnicity and religion

100 metres final 2012

Few subjects trigger stronger feelings than race, ethnicity and religion. While related, these three anthropological concepts have distinct meanings and are not as readily interchangeable as many ideologues may prefer. Broadly speaking race refers to our genetic inheritance, ethnicity to our cultural background and religion to our belief system. While we cannot change our genetic inheritance or choose our upbringing and the community of our early years, we may, at least in liberal secular societies, adapt to new cultural influences and choose our faith later in life. Put another way, while race is a matter of nature alone and religion is wholly nurture, ethnicity is at the crossroads between society and biology.

People tend to mate with other members of the same ethnic group who share the same core cultural traits and moral codes. At least this was the norm before the current era of easy long distance transport and international commuting. As a result in-group racial diversity wanes over successive generations. While racial differences are a product of gradual genetic adaptations over extended periods of separate evolution, ethnic allegiances are much more fluid. Historically outlier tribes have regularly merged with more successful communities to form new larger national groups. However, full integration is often hampered by divergent racial profiles within different social classes of a large ethnic group. In the age of colonisation, many new nations were formed this way. Although Brazil and the United States of America have distinctive national cultures, social classes still reflect the racially segregated reality of the slave trade. Both countries are products of relatively recent European settlement of what we once called the New World and supplanted well-established indigenous nations.

In Europe and much of Asia, modern culturally homogeneous nation states evolved from smaller organisational units such as fiefdoms, principalities or city states. Over time larger nations helped accelerate the process of ethnic integration, usually favouring the culture of the more influential urban professional classes. Regional differences remained strong in much of Europe until the advent of compulsory schooling that spread literacy in the standard national language. Nonetheless the concepts of nationhood and ethnicity are usually closely related. The former has to be more inclusive of variant and minority identities, but neither necessarily matches current geopolitical boundaries, e.g. the Hungarian nation may be either the citizens of the geopolitical entity of Hungary with internationally agreed borders, whether or not they consider themselves Hungarian, or the aggregation of settled Hungarian-speaking communities spread over a wider area in parts of neighbouring Slovakia, Ukraine, Vojvoidina and Transylvania. To confuse matters further, we may refer to larger groupings of people with shared racial and cultural characteristics as ethnoracial groups, where broad ethnic categories correlate strongly with genetics, but often to the exclusion of minorities within cultural communities that do not share these traits. The last UK census asked broad-brush questions about racial and ethnic identity with categories such as white British (in England and Wales), Scottish (in Scotland only), Afro-Caribbean, Black African, Indian, Pakistani and East Asian. These categories, reflecting migratory and settlement patterns in Britain since the 1950s, are of questionable value to anthropologists. Historians seldom hesitate to distinguish native Australians from subsequent settlers who arrived from Europe, and later from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. A native Australian is someone who can trace their ancestors to the land Down Under before European colonisation displaced them from the continent's most fertile regions. Yet terms like native British have all of a sudden become problematic as it excludes everyone who descends from more recent migratory waves and more poignantly implies a significant break from the recent past.

One of the greatest ironies of recent history is that the same forces of first mercantile imperialism and later global corporatism that led to the almost complete ethnic cleansing of Australia in 18th and 19th centuries are now having similar effects in many towns and cities across Western Europe, as the autochthonous peoples become an ethnic minority in what they once believed was their country. In both cases we see a sudden break in cultural continuity that disproportionally impacts people with the least economic means.

The world's leading religions have long transcended both racial and national boundaries, although religion is often a key ethnic identifier, e.g. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or Croats and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. Christianity spread from the Middle East among largely Semitic peoples to Europe and West Asia and as far as India Sri Lanka long before the expansion of European empires. Likewise Islam expanded to Indonesia in the east, to Morocco in the west, to Zanzibar in the south and Bosnia to the north long before the current era of mass migration. While some religions may be more common among some ethnoracial groups, e.g. Hinduism has spread mainly in the Indian subcontinent, they are belief systems that govern morality and socialisation.

Some would prefer to deny race exists at all, thus confusing ethnicity, relying on strong cultural bonds which anyone could adopt with enough willpower, with genetic traits beyond our control. While traditional groupings like Sub-Saharan African, Caucasian or East Asian oversimplify our genetic ancestry to fit broad criteria such as geography and complexion, no serious anthropologist can deny biological differences within the human species on ideological grounds. Science has to distance itself from politics. Sometimes small adaptations that evolved gradually over thousands of years of natural selection in distinctive habitats can lead to big differences to performance in competitive pursuits and occupations. It's not a coincidence that the world's fastest sprinters are overwhelmingly of Caribbean African descent. White Europeans and North Americans only faired better in the first half of the 20th century because they had access to better training facilities, but with an even playing field small evolutionary adaptations within subsets of the same species matter. The fastest white European is Christophe Lemaitre, who only broke the 10 second barrier for the 100 metres dash in 2010, compared to Usain Bolt's 9.58 seconds. That difference may seem small, but would leave the Frenchman around 4 metres behind the world record breaker. This begs the question whether genetic differences could impact intellectual performance. However, to muddy the waters analytical intelligence may vary greatly within members of the same ethno-racial group. A complex society needs both conscientious workers able to follow instructions in a socially cohesive way and more creative innovators with strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but often lacking in empathy. Nonetheless it is not beyond the realms of scientific probability that if tens of thousands of years of separate evolution can lead to differences in physical pursuits such as running or swimming, adaptation to new hostile environments, requiring the development of new technologies, could lead to neurological differences among subsets of the human population. Is it a mere coincidence that East Asians are overrepresented among hardcore software developers? These are big and controversial questions that only objective and dispassionate science can answer.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Extinguishing Open Debate and Personal Freedom

In the age of narcissism, mass-consumerism and hyper-dependence

All of a sudden, the streets of major European cities are full of impressionable virtue-signallers demanding immediate action against our modern way of life to save the planet from the spectre of man-made climate change. I instinctively sympathise with rebels, even if I don't always share either their analysis or priorities, but are these latter-day hippies really rebelling against the system or are they simply being used to soften public opposition to unpopular policies that could empower global corporations to limit the personal freedom of all but the privileged few? Moreover, why has the British media remained almost silent about ongoing yellow vests protests in France as it champions climate activists and their celebrity spokespeople?

If we are to begin to tackle the very real environmental and human challenges of the new millennium to help us regain our sense of purpose in life and restore our symbiotic relationship with the rest of our wider community and mother nature, we must be prepared not just to sacrifice some of the ephemeral luxuries of our era, but also to critically examine the long-term human implications of the technological solutions we put in place.

There we go, I said it. There's much more to life than abstract money and economic growth, but does that mean we should suddenly stop all wasteful activities that contribute to our carbon footprint like driving cars, taking cheap flights to foreign beach resorts, buying ready-packaged convenience foods, filling our wardrobes with more garments and shoes than we really need, having one or more power showers a day, ironing our clothes, overheating or air-conditioning our homes and offices? There's no getting away from it, but our modern way of life thrives on consumption and public image. In practice we have little choice if we want to succeed in mainstream society. If you want to build a life around a successful career and attract the right calibre of partner, you'll need means to turn up to work on time in a fresh and presentable condition and be culturally attuned which usually means partaking in some form of inevitably commercialised recreation. Almost everything easily accessible to most urbanites these days is commoditised, including access to the great outdoors off the beaten track. There may still be plenty of seemingly untouched wildernesses, but they're usually pretty inhospitable environments without the right equipment. Whether you like or not, any sudden change to our way of life would lead not just to massive disruption and economic stagnation, but to much avoidable loss of human life. For a start millions of people with physical handicaps or ageing bodies rely on energy-intensive assistive technology to undertake some of the most basic tasks of everyday life. Our eco-warriors may fleetingly imagine a bright future of fit office workers cycling to work with their reusable coffee mugs, before they consider everyone else who need other means of transport to do the shopping or visit friends and family, or heaven forbid, do a practical job that requires a motor vehicle and/or other high-consumption tools.

The real environmental challenges

The aggregate human impact on our planet's ecosystem has risen exponentially since the advent of the industrial revolution, especially since modern medicine and the green revolution, boost farming yields as much as seven-fold, spread across the developing world in the 1960s. We have escaped the much-feared Malthusian trap largely because of an unprecedented rate of technological innovation. Despite dire predictions of mass famines by the year 2000 in Paul Ehrlich's infamous 1969 book, the Population Bomb, the proportion of malnourished children has fallen dramatically as the global people count approaches 8 billion. Somehow despite growing numbers of mouths to feed, desertification of vast tracts of previously arable land and late rain seasons, infant mortality has continued to decline in Africa, India and South America. More strikingly the biggest development over the last 20 years has been the rapid urbanisation of Africa, meaning most of the continent's teeming masses are within easy reach of food distribution chains. If you like statistics, here's another. As recently as 2015 only 42% of Indians had access to a toilet in their home. When I first visited India in 1982, most people outside the major cities had to cope without access to the mains water supply. Today the figure is 82%. Yet each water closet requires extensive infrastructure such as sewage treatment plants. Now you might naively imagine that Sub-Saharan Africans and Indians are so glad to benefit from modern plumbing and electricity that they'd be happy to settle for an eco-friendly urban existence riding bicycles to work and wearing only second-hand clothes. Alas while many may not have much choice, those that can have already embraced mass consumerism. The real problem is not the prospect of 10 billion human beings, but the environmental challenge of accommodating the 3 to 5 billion vehicles our future global citizens will inevitably want to drive by mid century. Even if we can persuade more people to use public transport, walk or cycle where feasible, we will still need to deliver raw materials and manufactured goods thousands of miles to meet growing demand.

Yet in the face of all hard evidence, many principled environmentalists insist the main problem is a mere by-product of our modern lifestyle, CO2 emissions leading to catastrophic climate change. I'm not going to fall into the trap of disputing the hard science linking CO2 emissions from industrial activity to climatic instability. However, we should at least have the intellectual honesty to analyse similar claims made over the last 30 years. Some ice-sheets are expanding and some are retreating. Average global temperatures have barely changed. Some deserts have grown while some arid regions have been reclaimed as arable land. Irrigation, fertilisers and greenhouses can easily offset any shortfalls due to regional events such as late rain seasons or soil erosion. The real problem is whereas only 30 years ago most Africans and Indians were subsistence farmers, they are now trapped in the same techno-industrial complex as Western Europeans or North Americans with consequences for personal freedom that many observers have failed to foresee.

The Technocratic Trap

Hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers are in intimate contact with mother nature. Their livelihoods depend on a mix of hard work and their interactions with their immediate ecosystem. In just two generations more than half the world's population has escaped the limited prospects of traditional low-tech lifestyles, only to fall into a new trap of hyper-dependence on global distribution chains, banking cartels and tech giants. Had they remained in their traditional settlements without access to electricity, telecommunications or modern medicine, much higher infant mortality would have contained population growth, but leave isolated rural dwellers in blissful ignorance of the wonders of television, smartphones, refrigerators and microwave ovens. Yet governments, big business and NGOs saw it as their mission to reach out to every stranded community on the planet to ensure they participated fully in modern education and preventive healthcare. Some remote regions bypassed the transitionary era of community television halls and public phone booths to embrace the marvels of smartphones putting locals in immediate touch with a consumer world they had only heard about before from occasional visitors and returning relatives. Unsurprisingly millions abandoned their ancestral homelands to seek fortune in big cities often coming into contact for the first time in their lives with extremes of opulence and helplessness. In today's bustling metropolises the main cause of worklessness is neither a lack of resources nor a lack of investment in education. It's an economic system that commoditises human beings as mere economic actors and has become so efficient at satisfying insatiable consumer demand that it has few practical jobs for the world's new urbanites other than as temporary sales reps or van drivers. Early capitalism relied on masses of workers to produce either essential goods or satisfy the consumer habits of the upper middle classes. Today large car manufacturers only need to a few thousand production workers to meet the automotive needs of whole nations. With the next wave of smart automation, a few hundred highly skilled robotics engineers will be able oversee the production of millions of vehicles. While the service sector will continue to grow, we will all become dependent on tangible wealth generated by a technocratic superclass.

Politically Correct Narratives

The world's managerial classes face two key dilemmas. First how can they manage the expectations of billions of new consumers. Second how can they prevent the underclasses from demanding more than their fair share of the goods that our techno-industrial complex can sustainably produce without triggering unmanageable populist backlash from the middle classes of wealthier countries as they stand to lose most from any levelling of per capita consumption? The answer is to come up with a humanitarian narrative that appeals to the wishful thinking middle classes, but does not offend the billions of new consumers in the developing world. The climate change narrative is neither the gospel nor a complete hoax as some naysayers may claim. It's simply a camouflage for much bigger environmental and social challenges that it would be, to put it mildly, politically incorrect to discuss openly. What are the managerial classes going to do with all the superfluous consumers if and when their economic model no longer needs us? Whether our planet can sustain 4, 8, 16 or 32 billion human beings may be a reasonable subject of scientific inquiry, but technocrats will only respect the masses if they do not challenge their hegemony. They cannot just tell useless eaters in developing countries to stop breeding. In today's climate of political correctness, that would be outright racism. But they can incentivise mass migration from poorer regions to trigger internecine conflict between newcomers and the native working classes. This creates a perfect storm where the perceived threats of far-right xenophobia among the native peoples and religious fundamentalism among many migrant communities serve to limit free speech and open debate. Climate change thus becomes a catch-all explanation for all disruptive changes to our way of life. Why do working class Europeans have to welcome millions of newcomers from disparate cultures into their neighbourhoods? Climate change. How do we explain the rise of Islamic fundamentalism? Climate change. Why are millions leaving their homelands? Climate change. How do we explain London's knife crime epidemic or riots in once orderly Swedish cities? You guessed it, climate change as locals cannot cope with heatwaves. If climate change is supposed to be such a big emergency in North Africa and Middle East, why have the urban middle classes there embraced automotive culture with a passion that would make Jeremy Clarkson look like an eco-warrior. Most large conurbations in countries as diverse as Nigeria, China, Turkey and Malaysia are practically gridlocked with a mix of private cars, minibuses and lorries.

Intellectual Honesty

In an ideal world we could all maximise our happiness and prosperity and minimise human suffering. We could literally have our cake and eat it, enjoying the wonders of modern technology and pristine nature, meeting all natural human desires, such as our instincts to go forth and multiply and to compete with each other, while ensuring everyone's emotional and material needs are fully satisfied. One of the biggest achievements of the liberal enlightenment was the recognition of other people's free will, namely the right of all human beings to act as autonomous living and breathing agents endeavouring to fulfil their personal ambitions. This means giving people equal opportunities to prove their worth and affording enough space for everyone to find their niche. Alas we are not all equally blessed either with extraordinary physiques or with exceptional talent.

This means each virtuous ideal conflicts with other ideals. For instance, the desire for scientific excellence and technological innovation may come at the expense of equality if we are to motivate the most talented engineers, physicians and inventors. Like or not, capitalism proved much more successful at driving innovation than command economies like the USSR or Maoist China. Yet even the Soviet Union had to reward its scientists and engineers handsomely to play catch-up with the West. Likewise, our natural desire to spread our genes and raise families may ultimately conflict with our wish for a clean and hospitable environment, especially if we want our large families to enjoy all modern conveniences. And last but not least, technofixes may indeed boost our carrying capacity and at least temporarily overcome the contradictions of rapid techno-social change, but usually come at the expense of personal independence, meaning any perceived liberties we may enjoy rely on infrastructure and technology controlled by remote organisations entrusted with the power of life or death over us.

Simply stating that these conflicts exist does not mean wishing for the worst outcome, but being smart enough to foresee other adverse effects and avert catastrophes. We should always consider drastic solutions with the utmost caution. Overpopulation is not, as many would prefer to believe, a myth, but a likely scenario if we fail to adapt fast enough to a new environmental reality beyond our control. The point is who's in charge of our destiny? In a socially engineered world at the mercy of a handful of tech giants who oversee every aspect of our lives, it's easy to imagine that unscrupulous bureaucrats may hatch plans to limit natural procreation to maintain an optimum population level and to prevent certain categories of people from challenging their grip on power.

However, our wishful-thinking extinction rebels present an apocalyptic vision of our near future lest we adopt drastic measure on a global scale that will not only restrict our personal freedoms, but also drive into the clutches of the very technocrats they claim to oppose. Few will retreat to self-sufficient farms in remote wilderness, but many more will be confined to micro-apartments in large conurbations under continuous surveillance.

Categories
All in the Mind

Language is more about Meaning than Words

Tower of Babel

I recently dived into an almighty row with a bunch of EU flag wavers replying to a message celebrating International Native Language Day. You see I'd like to celebrate it too, but the subtext implied EU citizens in the UK promote linguistic diversity. So let's think this through. Once abroad mingling with the locals and other newcomers, emigrants tend to neglect their own language unless it's widely spoken in their new country or they join a network of compatriots, in which case they're not integrating. Native English speakers are seldom inspired to learn other languages these days, as they can get by with English alone in many tourist resorts and cosmopolitan cities around Europe. Indeed in some places if you try to speak the local language, your interlocutor will answer in English, either because this comes as second nature to them or because they want to flaunt their proficiency in a more prestigious medium of verbal communication. No self-respecting go-getter wants to be written off as a country bumpkin unable to converse fluently in the global lingua franca. Like it or not, globalisation tends to strengthen strong languages to the detriment of weaker tongues. Some government agencies may pay lip service to local heritage by insisting on bilingual or trilingual signs, but unless all languages involved are actively spoken across multiple domains of everyday communication, they act as little more than an exercise in public relations. Some may try to deny this reality pointing to initiatives to revive endangered languages like Welsh, Basque or Romansh or embracing bilingualism as a way to reconcile the rather obvious conflict between worldwide cultural convergence and a desire to retain our diverse cultural heritage. I'm the first to stress the benefits of learning more than one language to expand your intellectual horizons and escape the semantic prison of monolingualism. A distinction that may seem crystal clear in one language is not in another, e.g. in English we have separate verbs for feeling, hearing and smelling, all referring to different forms of perception, but in everyday Italian all three can be sentire. Naturally context usually makes it clear which sensory organs perceive a phenomenon. By contrast English has two catch-all verbs, get and set, which cover a vast semantic range, often only understandable in context, i.e. with reference to other words, e.g. I got it may mean I understood the message or it may literally mean I obtained it depending what it is, which is partly why native English speakers tend to specify the names of common objects and concepts rather than resort to ambiguous pronouns (e.g. wash the dishes or do the washing-up are preferred as set phrases rather than grammatically and semantically correct constructs like wash them where them refers to the dirty dishes your partner just mentioned).

Not just Etymology

However, many amateur linguists fall into the trap of focusing solely on etymology. It helps us trace the cultural evolution of a language community through words alone. Most linguists would classify English as a West Germanic language with a large Graeco-Latin vocabulary, acquired largely through Norman French, supplanting or supplementing Anglo-Saxon words. Between the 10th and 13th centuries Old English underwent a rather dramatic transformation from a close cousin of Old Low German with three grammatical genders, five cases, inflected adjectives and a much more flexible word order to a simpler but more analytical tongue by Chaucer's time. We can't trace the exact progression of this metamorphosis as Norman French and Latin served as the main vehicles of written communication after the new Norman aristocracy had displaced the old Anglo-Saxon ruling class. However, etymologists fail to explain why Middle and Early Modern English had so few Celtic loanwords, but has diverged morphologically from contemporary languages spoken in adjacent regions of continental Europe. One would expect that a synthesis of West Germanic and French, itself evolving from the vulgar Latin adopted by former speakers of Gaulish, a Celtic language, would yield a language resembling Flemish in syntax and semantics. Yet middle English diverged not just from its Germanic and Romance cousins, but from Brythonic too (Cornish and Welsh spoken as far north as Cumbria and Galloway) in discarding grammatical genders and most inflexions (except plurals and the Anglo-Saxon genitive). Modern insular Celtic languages have two grammatical genders and a VSO (verb- subject-object) word order, unlike English which has a stable SVO order, and always place adjectives after the nouns they describe, unlike English where they usually precede the nouns they modify. Until recently anthropologists have offered two explanations. First that old English prevailed over autochthonous Celtic languages because of its higher prestige. Second that invading Anglo-Saxons drove the Celts to the western fringes of the British Isles. Brythonic dialects survived in Cornwall until the late 18th century and in Cumbria until 12th century. However, examples of written Insular Celtic predate the earliest records of written Germanic. Although most literature in the Roman period was in Latin, a tradition that continued in academic circles for many centuries thereafter, Celtic inscriptions can be found over much of Western Britain, but not in most of what later became England. As Christianity spread to the British Isles between 5th and 7th centuries mainly from the Celtic West, another clue that the Anglo-Saxons did not culturally eclipse the extant Celtic civilisation, but genetic evidence suggests they did not supplant the local population either. In over 200 years Anglo-Saxon migrations from continental Europe would add around 5% to the gene pool. Analysis of the haplogroups extracted from the Y-chromosome DNA of skeletons reveals gradual migratory patterns responding largely to environmental changes. As much as 75% of the gene pool of the settled British population, before recent waves of migration since the 1950s, can be traced to settlers who arrived in these Isles between twelve and four thousand years ago. Subsequent migrants added to the gene pool and assimilated over a long and protracted period. In Roman times the ruling classes and their foot soldiers made up little more than 1% of the population. This begs the question: Why would a mainly Celtic-speaking people abandon their native tongue in favour of a newly imported Germanic language that lacked the prestige of Latin, while leaving few traces of the Brythonic vocabulary or syntax, something we'd normally only expect to happen in the event of large-scale ethnic cleansing, which is alas unsupported by the archaeological evidence?

Substrate Languages

Arguably languages do not so much disappear as fall into disuse as the descendants of the original speakers adopt more prestigious speech registers. It took vulgar Latin around 800 years to supplant Gaulish and the pre-Indo-European Vasconic tongues of Aquitane (related to modern Basque). This followed a process of gradual acculturation of illiterate commoners with the more erudite urbanites, who had already adopted Latin. We see a similar process today in many of Africa's burgeoning metropolises where newcomers discard native African languages in favour of street slang based on a mix of the official language (English, French or Portuguese) with morphology and phrases borrowed from their ancestral languages. In France Latin evolved into French and Occitan. In Iberia it morphed into Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese. Yet in none of these regions was Latin or even a closely related Italic language the dominant tongue before Roman colonisation. Moreover, in none of these regions did the Romans displace most of the indigenous peoples, who gravitated over many centuries to more prestigious modes of communication contributing to a radical restructuring of Latin's successor languages, e.g. Latin had three genders, 6 cases and an underlying Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) word order, more akin to Sanskrit or old German than to modern Italian or Spanish. So Gaulish and Aquitane live on as substrata of modern French influencing not only its morphology, but its semantic range, e.g. the French penchant for counting in twenties with baffling forms such as quattre-vingt-dix for ninety has its roots in Gaulish and mirrors the old Welsh pattern of only having second tier numerals for twenties rather than tens (e.g. thirty one would be twenty eleven). Oddly most words of Celtic origin in modern English were not borrowed directly from Welsh or Gaelic, but came to us via French (e.g. ambassador, beak, brave, budget, car, cream, change, embassy, glean, gob, piece, quay, truant, valet, vassal etc.). So why would Celtic exert more influence on Old French than on Early and Middle English? Did Anglo-Saxon invaders succeed in persuading the natives to ditch their mother tongue completely where the Romans had failed? However, there is an alternative hypothesis that displeases Celticists and Germanicists alike: Most of the ancient tribes of Roman and pre-Roman Eastern Britain may have spoken pre-Indo-European rather than Celtic languages, which were later came into contact with tribes speaking a purported fourth branch of the Germanic family, once spoken in the Low Countries, thus facilitating the adoption of a lingua franca based on Anglo-Saxon, but with significant pre-Indo-European substrata. Modern Dutch and Flemish are based on Frankish dialects of West Germanic, which may have supplanted fourth branch dialects. More important surviving Old English manuscripts may well reflect an erudite variant of insular Anglo-Saxon rather than common English dialects. Contrary to popular belief, Roman and Greek scribes of the era did not usually identify the origin of the thousands of indigenous tongues they encountered so much as the tribes that spoke them and their relative mutual intelligibility. Greek scholars first applied the terms Keltoi to refer to tribes of Dacia, a region now straddling modern Bulgaria and Romania, long before the Slavic expansion. Besides the Celtic languages of the Western British Isles may have themselves displaced earlier pre-Indo-European languages, so both the Celtic and Germanic dialects spoken in the British Isles evolved atop substrate tongues spoken by illiterate indigenous tribes. This leads us to another bone of contention. Did the Picts of Northern Scotland and Ireland speak a Celtic language or did they, as some scholars suggest, speak a pre-Indo-European tongue? All we have to go by are place names and Ogham inscriptions. Scottish Gaelic, which prevailed in the Highlands and Islands until the Highland clearances of the 18th century, came to Scotland from Ireland between the 5th and 8th centuries. To complicate matters further the Picts may have borrowed much of their later vocabulary from Brythonic (precursor to Welsh) before merging with Gaelic under the rule of Dal Riata. A common mistake many linguists make, especially when only limited textual sources remain, is to analyse only the etymology of words that resemble cognates in other known languages. This often leads to false positives. Just because the word for king in language A has a cognate in language B does not mean that language A borrowed the word from language B or that both languages evolved organically from a common ancestor with gradual changes with pronunciation and meaning. It's often more likely that both languages borrowed the word at different times from a more prestigious tongue that may have since lost its pre-eminence.

As we see today with the proliferation of English-like words, neologisms and trademarks in the world's 7000 surviving native tongues, we cannot judge a language merely by the origins of its commonest words. English has gained over two thirds of its vocabulary since the earliest literary works of Old English, but before its expansion in the colonial era English evolved as the lingua franca of the peoples of England, Southern Scotland (where it was once known as Inglis before being renamed Scots when the Scottish aristocracy abandoned Gaelic), the Pale around Dublin and parts of Wales. A language is thus a speech code handed down through generations and shared within a community. Speakers are free to borrow words from other languages and integrate them creatively into their own, assigning new meanings and combining loanwords with other words to express new concepts and nuances. What matters most is mutual intelligibility and cultural continuity, providing a frame of reference for shared experiences and history. Cultural discontinuity occurs only through ethnic cleansing, mass migration or colonial repression of native cultures. However, unless a people is completely eradicated, their ancestral tongues are still likely to influence the way they speak their new language, especially before the advent of universal compulsory schooling.

The Quirks of Insular English

English syntax differs from its continental neighbours in a few important respects. Many scholars have explained the language's rapid transformation following the Norman conquest by its demotion to a vernacular spoken mainly by illiterate peasants. However, why did this not happen to many other European languages, which were seldom written before the Renaissance. Latvian successfully retained its highly inflected grammar despite only gaining a sizeable literature during the Latvian Awakening of the late 19th century.

  1. English has a rich variety of verb tenses with auxiliary verbs that convey important semantic distinctions between progressive and simple tenses, e.g. I play versus I'm playing as well between I've played and I played. Spoken French, Dutch, German and Northern Italian have all converged on a simpler range of tenses with a strong preference for simple forms for the present or near future and the present perfect (e.g. I have done) for past events. By contrast modern Celtic languages use continuous tenses for both progressive and simple actions. English distinguishes a general statement such as She plays the guitar, implying a habitual activity performed with some degree of competence, from She's playing the guitar merely describing her current activity.
  2. English uses the present perfect for events that started in the past but are still ongoing. Other European languages always use the present tense unless the referenced event has finished, e.g. "I've been waiting two hours for the bus" means I'm still waiting. Otherwise we would say "I waited two hours for the bus".
  3. English has lost grammatical genders and cases, but retains gender-specific pronouns referring to people, some animals and occasionally to personified objects (e.g. referring to a country, ship or car as she/her). This loss is not unique to English. It happened to Bengali, Armenian and Afrikaans too, but we cannot explain it simply by its temporary demotion to a vernacular or by the influence of neighbouring Celtic languages which have all retained grammatical genders.
  4. To maintain a consistent SVO word order, English uses auxiliary verbs for questions and negations, e.g. Did you wash the dishes? and I didn't wash the dishes. In early modern English the main exception to this rule was the verb to have, e.g. "Have you a match?" and this form persists in many set phrases and more conservative and literary varieties of English. In modern spoken British English the possessive aspect of have is often emphasised with got (e.g. have you got a match?), while in American English the form "Do you have a match?" is more common. Both constructs ensure a regular SVO order in both statements and questions. The verb to be may seem an exception, but as an intransitive verb it never has a direct object, only a subject and a subjective complement e.g. Is John a farmer? Doesn't need another auxiliary verb to remain unambiguous.
  5. English prefers possessive pronouns rather than the reflexive or dative possessor constructs common to most continental languages, e.g. "I washed my hands" translates "Ich habe mir die Hände gewaschen" or "Je me suis lavé les mains". English also tends to specify possession much more often than other languages, e.g. "I rode my bike" is more colloquial in most contexts than "I rode the bike" (which would usually mean "I rode a previously specified bike"), but one could also say "I rode my sister's bike". The Anglo-Saxon genitive is firmly ingrained in colloquial usage, Martha's bag rather than the bag of Martha (not usual in native spoken English), as it maintains the expected word order with modifiers preceding nouns.
  6. English stresses the distinctions between definite and indefinite objects as well as between known and unknown quantities. Thus "the women" refers to a specific subset of womankind identified earlier in the discourse, while "women" without a determiner refer to adult females in general. Likewise "the wine", "some wine" and just "wine" refer to different degrees of specificity, "I like wine" means "I like wine in general", while "I like the wine" may mean "I like the wine you just poured into my glass" and "I'd like some wine" just means I would appreciate an unspecified modest quantity of wine", but does not carry the same emphasis as literal equivalents in other languages although it is broadly comparable to the French du vin or Italian del vino. In other European languages these distinctions tend not to be so important. French, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish all have much stronger colloquial tendencies just to use the definite article, so "les femmes" may be both specific and generic.

The above aberrations from the continental European norm would suggest the enduring influence of substratum languages on the evolution of spoken English.

Neurolinguistic Programming

Psychologists have long been aware that the words and phrases we choose to express ideas can affect someone's willingness to believe a message, follow an order or internalise a new concept. Large organisations invest billions in the art of gentle persuasion, not just in advertising, but in public relations, awareness raising and increasingly in management via neurolinguistic programming (NLP). If your boss calls you to her office for a wee chat, you may reasonably wonder what she wants from you. Is she about to sack you, ask you to work overtime or offer you a pay rise to stop you leaving? Rest assured that most modern human resources managers have learned not only how to impart unwelcome news, but how to deal with awkward employees, who do not take kindly to management bullshit, e.g. an HR manager may engage in polite conversation about your children's progress at school and your last summer holidays and then thank you for your hard work over the last year, but none of this matters if the whole purpose of the meeting is to inform you of the termination of your employment at the company. If the HR manager had just said: "Hello, Mr Jones, you're fired", the gist of the conversation would be the same.

Neurolinguistic programming is about much more than marketing. It serves to reframe common events and concepts in a way that suits the interests of the managerial classes, in short persuasion. When you hear middle managers and politicians claim they did not get the message across to their target audience of employees, consumers or voters, it's an implicit admission that their NLP techniques failed, not that their policies are wrong.

Although the mismatch between English spelling and pronunciation presents a challenge to many learners, the language has proven very versatile in adopting new ways to express common concepts without having to alter its core grammar or syntax. Yet when the transgender lobby wanted to instil in the public mind the idea that gender may be non-binary, they devised a new set of pronouns as alternatives to he/him/his or she/her/hers. One may now be known as zhe/zher/zhers or they/them/theirs. Spoken English has long used the second person plural when the sex of an abstract person is unknown especially when combined with someone e.g. "Someone has left their phone on the table", but a sentence like "Kim gave me their key" would be ambiguous in English. Indeed Canada has enforced their use via its controversial C16 bill. Professor Jordan Petersons correctly defined this as imposed speech, going against the Anglo-Saxon tradition of a free market of new terms which are voluntarily adopted, albeit, I may add, with a little help from the advertising industry. Should a central committee decide which pronouns we use to describe other people in our social group any more than it should adjudicate on the correct term for tablet computer (something most people call an iPad).

Many organisations now employ copy-editors whose remit extends way beyond correcting typos or amending grammar, syntax and style to focus the core meaning and narrative that language conveys and to expunge all politically incorrect references. For instance, the British Foreign Office urged the UN Human Rights Committee to change the term pregnant woman to pregnant person. Until recently, nobody would have been offended by the assumption that only women can become pregnant, a concept deeply entrenched in most naturally evolving human languages. In the early 21st century not only do some biological females identify as men or non-binary, but artificial wombs may one day enable biological males to experience motherhood. However, simply swapping old gender-specific terms for new neutral terms can produce some very hackneyed phraseology. New concepts, such as the normalisation of fertility treatment as a common means of procreation, have to be promoted via special interest news stories and celebrity endorsements, before the public at large can readily accept them. As Diane Ravitch detailed in her 2004 book, the Language Police, textbooks are being rewritten to reflect the postmodern obsession with political correctness that effectively closes our minds to a wide field of legitimate scientific inquiry.

One thing is for sure, while the diversity of spoken tongues is shrinking, language is evolving at an unprecedented rate both to reflect our rapidly changing human ecosystem and to alter our perception of reality.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Falling Apart

Technocracy

In the age of Coming Together

The beginning of the end for neoliberalism

How can we reconcile shifting alliances and growing cultural divisions among parallel communities in the same geographic region on the one hand with the long-term trend of global convergence on the other? We see this at multiple levels. Is the USA reverting to trade protectionism after outsourcing much of its manufacturing base to China? Is the EU leadership distancing itself from the US? More intriguingly, why is Israel courting nationalist movements across Europe while appearing almost neutral in the rivalry between Russia and the USA?

In the old neoliberal world order as it emerged after the demise of the former Soviet Union, the US-centred military industrial complex reigned supreme in all four main spheres of domination:

  • Strategic technology, especially computing and bioscience
  • Culture, mainly via the entertainment and news industries
  • Finance, facilitating the acquisition of strategic natural resources and exerting power of national governments
  • Military might, ability to resolve disputes by force or to destabilise potential rivals should the other means of persuasion and coercion fail.

Without technological supremacy, no power can gain control of the media, banking or military. More important, in an increasingly interconnected world the battle of minds and money matters much more than old-fashioned physical force. Once a country is locked into the global banking system, dependent on trade and abstract wealth generated abroad, military force is not just unnecessary, but often counterproductive.

The US military industrial complex has just suffered one of its worst setbacks since the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975. You wouldn't know it if your main source of news is CNN or BBC, but the United States squandered billions on the deliberate destabilisation of Syria with the primary purpose of overthrowing the current government headed by Bashar Al Assad. If the narrative we have heard from the mainstream Western media were remotely correct, i.e. that Assad loyalists are responsible for most death and destruction, then how can they explain the scenes of jubilation as Syrian Defence Forces retake the last enclaves held by Islamic fundamentalist militias? How can they explain that nearly all religious and ethnic minorities in Syria feel safer under Assad than under Al Qaeda, Al Nusra or ISIS? How can they explain that most ISIS fighters were not even Syrian? Yet we really have to ask why the promoters of a purportedly democratic and tolerant multicultural world would back some of the most intolerant religious fundamentalists imaginable?

The NeoCon cabal may still infest the White House, but the new generation of media-savvy American political leaders from Tulsi Gabbard to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have grown tired of bankrolling the Global Police Force or at least being held responsible for proxy war shenanigans in far-flung regions. Donald Trump's unexpected electoral triumph put paid not just to Hillary Clinton's dreams of becoming US President, but to his country's role as the guardian of the New World Order that emerged after the fall of the old Soviet Union.

The North American and European big business classes are fast reorienting their strategy around a new multipolar reality, commanded by a network of Deep State operators with no vested interests in the wellbeing or cultural excellence of any country. The next two decades are likely to see a growing divide between the native working classes who see their interests best protected by compact nation states they can hold to account and the technocratic elites with their armies of middle managers and professional persuaders who aim to guide the masses to their vision of a socially engineered progressive future. In the neoliberal era, which is fast receding, business leaders hoped that market forces alone could regulate consumer behaviour. The hidden hand of free market capitalism would not just produce more fuel-efficient cars and faster computers, but could segment the leisure and education sectors to cater for all variations of hedonism and sophistication. Just thirty years ago it seemed we would all eventually converge on a lifestyle inspired by the ephemeral North American dream of widespread middle class affluence. We can retain the illusion of democracy as long as governments appear to cater for the aspirations of their citizens by providing the core services advanced societies need and ensuring a relative equality of opportunities without interfering unduly in family and community life. As long as malcontents compromise a small and easily manageable minority whose misfortunes can be appeased with social welfare and low-key policing, the majority may retain the illusion of personal freedom. Fast forward to early 21st century Britain and the disconnect between the remnants of the old working classes and the affluent professional elites is all too apparent. On a median salary of just 30K it is practically impossible to get onto the housing ladder within easy commuting distance of the most lucrative cities. You'll spend most of your income on accommodation, transport and utility bills. It's hardly a surprise that more and more young adults live with their parents, which also explains the rise in young people claiming some special vulnerability status to gain access to subsidised accommodation. Some governments have tried all sorts of tricks to hide the scale of worklessness. The first is to encourage most school leavers to go to university rather than learn practical skills as apprentices. Rather than prepare young adults for today's competitive job market, it devalues degrees for all but the most challenging subjects at the best colleges. The second trick is to expand the definition of learning disability to encompass anyone who struggles to some extent with a range of intellectually taxing tasks. The third is to promote part-time and zero-hours contracts that merely supplement welfare handouts and act as a kind of occupational therapy.

The Battle for Self-determination

Opposition to growing technocratic centralisation shares one common denominator: self-determination of communities and private citizens. However, to take back control of our lives, we need to retain some degree of functional independence and bargaining power to handle interactions with other key players. This works at multiple levels. Self-sufficient communities are better able to resist the temptation of succumbing to the economic influence of more powerful organisations as long they retain ownership of their land and maritime resources. As private citizens we have much more bargaining power if we're not expendable, i.e. we do a job that very few others can do. If your sole purpose in life is to behave yourself and not to rock the boat, your life is at the mercy of your supervisors and carers whether or not you technically have a paid job because you offer nothing more than your good will, which may be an admirable trait if combined with other skills that other people need.

We face a choice between dependence on global corporations and acquiescence with myriad agencies of social control or greater autonomy at a personal, family or community level. Today's rebels may be hard to place on the traditional left to right scale, but the one thing most of us share is a desire to redress the balance of power away from emerging technocratic elite to ordinary people, so we can decide how to run our lives as autonomous human beings with free will.

For all its faults, the neoliberal experiment kept alive some positive aspects of regulated capitalism enabling the middle classes to thrive and leading perhaps to the most sustained rate of economic growth and technological innovation since the industrial revolution. Yet it's fast becoming a victim of its own success as growing swathes of the middle classes in the world's wealthiest countries fail to compete as their jobs are outsourced or automated. A mixed economy cannot survive with most of its population reliant on welfare handouts. The populist left wants to tax the tech giants to bankroll their panacea of a universal basic income. Only a fool could believe they'd subsidise our online shopping and leisure pursuits without wishing to control our behaviour and suppress what's left of our personal autonomy.