Categories
All in the Mind

Huxleyan School Report

This may seem a parody of postmodern social reality and eerily suggestive of a future dystopia, but it is only a slight exaggeration. Schools tend to focus more on mainstream socialisation, engaging with mass-marketed youth culture and pastoral care than with readingm writing, maths and real science.

Self Confidence
Sam's self-esteem has grown throughout the year. His phenomenal X-Box gaming skills have earned him respect from other class members.
Team-bonding Skills
Sam has participated in a number of activity-related team bonding sessions. He especially enjoyed the school's annual virtual first person shooter competition, where he engaged in a marathon Call of Duty: Liberation session as a UN peacekeeper in Paddistan liberating gay teenagers from a repressive regime.
Sexual Awareness
Sam has taken an active interest in the wonderful diversity of sexual orientations and family structures in our local community.
Self-marketing skills
Sam has begun to learn how to market his diverse skills to potential employers
Equality and Diversity
Sam joined the rest of the class in our exploration of the enormous benefits of the recent arrival of so many newcomers in our diverse neighbourhood. Sam also learned how to deal with misguided anti-immigration feelings.
Mathematics
Sam enjoyed a captivating interactive documentary about the history of mathematicians and computer programmers, laying the foundations of modern game development. Sam also learned how to interact with calculators and spreadsheets to solve common mathematical problems without unduly taxing his delicate brain or interfering with his other pursuits.
Language
Sam enjoyed interacting with our state of the art voice recognition software. He can now successfully use this application to tweet his views about the latest first person shooter games. His broad vocabulary has now extended to concepts such as humanitarian intervention and intellectual property.
History
Sam enjoyed several virtual re-enactments of historical events. He learned about many evil regimes of the past and about the wonderful progress towards a better world that we have made recently.
Self-care Skills
Sam has learned about the importance of personal hygiene, sartorial presentation and supermarket shopping. Hopefully, as he approaches his 18th birthday, we can fast-track him on our driving course so can travel to work and shop independently.
Project Management Skills
Sam learned how to manage personal and business projects, design cutting-edge PowerPoint presentations and gantt charts using special voice-activated wizards. Sam learned how to delegate difficult tasks, which he may not be able to undertake personally, to human resources. We investigated some common scenarios such as how to find a technician to repair one's washing machine or how to proofread a report with limited manual reading skills.
Sport
Sam is a keen Laser shooter and paintballer.
Technological Innovation and Environmental Sustainability
Sam is very enthusiastic about new technology and hopes to drive a solar-powered Ferrari when passes his test. He also has an extensive collection of game consoles and smartphones.
Social Awareness
Sam took a keen interest in our social inclusion project, in which we showed young people how to claim job seekers' allowance, incapacity benefit, child benefit, working family tax credits and single parents' allowance.
Mental Health Awareness
We have been very impressed by Sam's positive attitude to his ADHD and worked closely with him to ensure he keeps up to date with his medication.
Communication Skills
Sam interacts very well with classmates on a wide range of game-related subjects. He has also participated in a ground-breaking RFID chip implant pilot scheme, so he is regularly in touch with researchers from Neurological Research Trust.
Information Technology
Sam has familiarised himself with the leading brands of proprietary software applications and understood the key importance of copyright protection.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Having your cake and eating it

Imagine you had a choice of three political parties. The welfare party promised better public services, but admitted it may need to increase taxes. The small business party promised lower taxes, but admitted it will need to cut public services. However the magic bullet party promised to slash taxes and boost investment in healthcare, education and transport infrastructure as well as increasing pensions and disability benefits, a sure vote-winner for the economically illiterate. The extra funds would be raised by taxing billionaire bankers and printing money. Of course it wouldn't work, because the billionaire bankers would just hop aboard their yachts and sail to the nearest tax haven, while hyperinflation would devalue the national currency. This logic seems apparent to most reasonable people, but to many economists who believe it does not apply to economic growth. Somehow we can reap all the benefits of greater consumption without worrying about the long-term social and environmental consequences.

More disturbingly, many Greens buy into the growth mantra, especially in regard to welfare provision and open door immigration. Almost instinctively, many left-leaning greens, myself included until recently, tend to blame the grotesque waste of our times on the mega rich. If only a handful of billionaires would do without their private jets and yachts and let the unwashed masses occupy their secluded villas and concrete over their golf courses, we could easily solve all our environmental challenges. For such politically correct greens environmental disasters are not caused by over 1 billion vehicles worldwide that enable their owners to participate in a consumption frenzy or millions of Brits jetting off to Spain's beaches and buying imported goods with borrowed money.

Yet the disproportionate wealth of the banking and business classes depends on an economy hooked on consumptive growth. They thrive on more cars, fridges, cheap holidays in the Sun, booze, cosmetic surgery etc. sold to the masses. In the aftermath of 2001's 9/11 disaster, George W Bush famously urged his fellow Americans to show their patriotism through shopping. In the UK as manufacturing facilities moved abroad, new shopping malls, leisure centres and casinos sprung up everywhere. In the ensuing years both the US and UK governments continued to subsidise mass consumption, underwriting dodgy loans and letting a tarantula-like finance sector lend to low-wage workers and, especially in the UK, to welfare dependents. New Labour's much hailed flagship policy of working family tax credits (alongside others that went to those who didn't work) fuelled the country's biggest shopping spree. Back in my days, in the late 60s and early 70s, many children felt lucky if they received a lego set, an action man or a plastic helicopter. Now, they expact the very latest and greatest games console, a laptop and/or smartphone, yet their parents real earning power has actually declined. This is largely because houses used to be a lot cheaper, electronic gadgets were considered luxuries and most children still lived in traditional families.

Now imagine another choice between three hypothetical political parties. The first party wants more economic growth and an open door immigration policy, while admitting this may lead to greater dependence on imports, a larger population more roads and more building on arable land as well as a potential social conflicts. The second party wants a greener environment and greater social cohesion, while admitting the country's GDP may decline and its international competitivity may suffer. This may sound like a choice between accepting a high-stress job as a stock broker and running a small family farm with a few acres of land. While the stock broker employs a team of underlings to expand his empire, the smallholder painstakingly builds a farm that will feed not just his family, but provide gainful employment and a sense of true purpose for future generations, handing down skills from father to son and mother to daughter. In the short-term and given good economic fortune the stock broker role may well yield much more, but in long term the finance sector is just a giant ponzi scheme with a few lucky winners, but many more losers. The third option, one currently proposed by many on the mainstream left, is to have a greener, happier, more prosperous future with endless opportunities and fun for all simply by rebranding everything we do now as green.

Imagine somehow we can continue to grow both in numbers and in carbon footprint, while miraculously reducing our collective impact on the environment. In this fantasy world, bad diesel-fuelled 4x4s will be replaced not with fewer journeys, bicycle and trains, but with trendy more expensive electric cars. It matters little that such vehicles not only require more resources to manufacture, but rely on electricity generated elsewhere effectively merely displacing pollution. To many on the left, political correctness trumps environmental responsibility. Should all disabled Indians drive specially adapted cars? Maybe that's a big untapped growth market. Suggesting paraplegic Indians make do with mere wheelchairs could lead to accusations of racism and intolerance of the physically disabled. As it happens big business loves green solutions where it sells. Big business does not market gas-guzzlers because they pollute, but because they drive profitable consumption. If they could sell solar-powered helicopters made of recycled paper, they would, but such vehicles are pure fantasy. Likewise if the earth had bountiful supplies of abiotic oil below its crust or wind energy could power millions of irons, washing machines and fridges with minimal investment in wind farms, then why would they be pursuing environmentally risky and expensive strategies like hydraulic fracturing or deep-sea drilling ?

A pragmatist may seek a compromise between a maze of multilane highways and shopping malls and a Quixotic return to an idyllic agrarian age of green fields, windmills, hardworking peasants and horse-drawn carts. However, an unlikely coalition of corporate lobbyists and wishful thinking leftists would like to have their cake and eat it. They want to see our economic numbers continue to grow, but believe technological innovation can lessen our collective impact on our precious environment. So we can allow more people to drive more cars to bigger supermarkets making bigger profits and offering better products, but still have a greener environment. Indeed in such an optimistic scenario greenness just becomes another commodity one can purchase. A two-bedroom flat sandwiched between a motorway and a high-speed railway line is usually much cheaper than a similarly-sized apartment in a quiet suburb overlooking a park. Likewise a few million quid, bucks or Euros can buy you an exclusive villa in verdant surroundings complete with solar panels and its very own wind turbine. The rich love greenery and who can blame them ? As the world become more crowded and climate disruption makes many regions uninhabitable, we can expect unspoilt nature to be a luxury only the hyper-rich can enjoy.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Rebel without a cause

Do you like to indulge in drugs and booze ? Surely only boring losers would abstain from the exciting social life facilitated by binge drinking, cocaine parties and ecstasy-enhanced all-night raves. Maybe you like to gamble or play first-person shooters online with your virtual friends and imaginary foes. And what self-respecting young adult would not watch hardcore horror movies and gory action thrillers? You might even enjoy rapid-fire techno music and gangster rap. Could you conceive of a better way to unleash your inner demons than a visit to the nearest laser shooting range or a whole weekend of unadulterated paint-balling? It's hard to deny the growing popularity of these pursuits.

Any discussion of their potential long-term psychological or, indeed, neurological side effects would open another can of worms. Gamers are adamant that their favourite vice has no adverse psychological effects and endlessy recycle the theories of industry-friendly experts. However, many participants still feel they are somehow rebelling against someone or something. At the back of their mind are images of puritanical clerics, admonishing them not to sin against God, their grandparents telling them to turn down that awful noise or some populist politician promising a crackdown on drunken and disorderly behaviour. By conjuring up these effigies of a bygone establishment (against which to rebel), today's hedonists can always cite former opponents of cultural progress such as Mary Whitehouse (mainly concerned with pornography) or the occasional conservative columnist decrying our youth's obsession with these unworthy pursuits.

Oddly these apparently subversive acts of rebellion are a multi-billion business. Booze, gambling and gaming millionaires have friends in very high places. Indeed the UK government not only deregulated gambling, but went as far as granting video game businesses special tax breaks and reaping huge windfall revenue from the licensing of premium adult services on 3G mobile. Advertising for these hedonistic goods is ubiquitous in all media from billboards to the sides of buses, TV ads and, of course, the Internet. Saturday morning shoppers are greeted by sales teams promoting Sky-TV contracts, paint-balling fun sessions and the latest and greatest shoot-em-up games, all with the full blessing of the shopping centre management. Such endless promotion is often punctuated with ads for financial services. A growing number of public places resonate to the deafening blast of loud fast-beat muzak, supposedly to entertain and enliven customers. The entertainment business promotes even technically illegal drugs by glamorising narcotised pop stars and providing venues for mind-numbing sounds, which frankly can only be enjoyed under the influence of MDMA (ecstasy). Away from the remotest rural backwaters, it is practically impossible to avoid advertising for these pursuits. Today abstaining from all such indulgences sets you apart from the rest of the crowd, especially if you're under 40.

In my misspent teenage years I briefly identified with the so-called punk scene, yet another expression of youth culture reflecting the anxieties of the age of consumerism, industrial decline and economic uncertainty but skilfully exploited by big business. I could see plenty wrong with the world around me. Screaming at the top of my voice "God Save the Queen and the Fascist Regime" seemed an apt act of rebellion against the hypocrisy of teachers who would allow little discussion in class or against class mates more interested in football and cars than overthrowing the capitalist establishment. Of course, most Punk music was absolute drivel, barely listenable and anyone paying attention could easily learn how wealthy media executives manipulated the masses, not just to boost their bottom line, but to channel all dissent through safe outlets. All was revealed in the 1979 exposé movie "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" on the Sex Pistols' short-lived stardom.

My father worked for the military-industrial complex and despite all the grandiose talk about freedom and democracy, life seemed pretty monotonous with little room for manoeuvre. One just had to fit in and go with the flow, although compared to the current era a wider of selection of hobbies and special interests were acceptable. If you wanted to collect snails or build rudimentary radio transmitters from electronic kits rather than play football or hang out with the cool kids, that was just fine. In reality the mid 1970s saw, comparatively speaking, the greatest level social equality and general prosperity that had ever existed in Britain and in the pre-PC era there seemed to be much more heated political debate. Revolutionary trotskyists and devout catholics with very traditional views on family and marriage could somehow coexist in peace or antinuclear campaigns as I discovered during my CND days. With no Internet, only very primitive video games and a limited choice of terrestrial TV stations, rebellious teenagers were attracted more to outdoor activities, clubs and protest groups. Yet gangland crime was mainly confined to a few inner city areas, pubs would close at 10:30 and few young adults could afford to frequent nightclubs on a regalar basis. To put things in perspective it was not until the late 1970s that basic video game consoles and video recorders became affordable. If you wanted to unleash your dark side back then, you might consider joining a gang or the army, but most kids just played with Action Men, slingshots and plastic guns, nothing even approaching the hyper-realism of today's games, but at least providing great haptic feedback, i.e. contact with the real physical world. If you chewed the head off your Action Man, you had a headless male doll and could not simply restart the game and parents were back then much less inclined to surrender to infantile pestering for a replacement toy. Your only option was to paintakingly repair it. As detailed by Canadian authors, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in their 2004 book the Rebel Sell, the advertising business has simply co-opted all deviant strands of contemporary counter-culture. even if the ideologies, associated rightly or wrongly with past regimes or revolutionary movements, have been re-marketed as mere brands that may appeal to non-conformist individuals seeking to set themselves apart from dominant cultural brands. MacBooks tend to appeal to more creative nonconformist types precisely because they are not a regular laptops preloaded with Microsoft Windows and associated with boring conformist office workers. While digital revolutionaries would run a free and open source Linux distribution, many of us would hardly bat an eyelid at the sight of a jeans clad advertising executive whose top of the range MacBook Pro not only sported an illuminated Apple logo but also a CND peace symbol and a Che Guevara sticker. It would also not surprise us if the very same advertising executive were discussing a comarketing venture between a leading gay bar chain and paintballing events company. It is all just a game.