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All in the Mind

The Daily Motorist Mindset

The recent cold snap over much Western Europe with temperature lows not seen since infamous winter of 1963 has prompted Daily Mail columnists and their avid readers to deny any human effects on our eco-system. Yep, just because we are gripped by Arctic weather, does not mean 800 million motor vehicles and 6800 human beings have zilch effect on the environment.

Climate is unpredictable as are weather forecasts or for that matter the side effects of the exponential rise in human activity over the last 60 years. Global warming was always a gross oversimplification, climate destabilisation is much more accurate. Switch off the Gulf Stream, and the British climate resembles that of Newfoundland. The Daily Motorist mindset is driven by the belief in a green conspiracy to stop them driving their cars 40 miles to work everyday and doing the weekly shop at Tesco with food trucked in from thousands of miles away. The whole economy, including service-sector-led boom of the late 90s and early to mid 00s, is fuelled by consumption, consumption, consumption. Can we continue to consume at this rate along with 2.5 billion Chinese and Indian consumers eager to emulate a Western European standard of living? We've been on a huge consumer binge. It has consequences. Only time and science will tell exactly what those consequences are.

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Reality Denial

When do we let our political judgements be swayed not by a rational analysis of the facts, but by self-interest, wishful thinking, superstition or just plain irrational prejudices? Whether rapid climate change is taking place and is caused by human activity is surely a matter of scientific analysis, on which I suppose one may hold different perspectives, e.g. one may return from an unusually mild southern Greenland only to witness subzero temperatures in Madrid. One`s objective analysis during a Spanish chill may sway against the global warming hypothesis, but if one used a weather event selectively to discredit much more voluminous evidence to the contrary that would be bias. Supposing, as a mainstream newspaper pundit, I wished to prove a majority of Iraqi people supported the US/UK liberation of their country despite all the trouble, with sufficient funds I could easily arrange for a group of pro-occupation Iraqis to acquiesce to a little public relations. Indeed I could simply choose my sample in an area renowned for its support of the US/UK invaders, such as the Kurdish north. What I`m alluding to is our ability to construct a reality that matches our aspirations and prejudices by picking the facts that suit our agenda,

Some of us might like to think only others are prone to biased constructions of reality. Indeed the very accusation of prejudice often serves as useful rhetorical weapon to defeat an argument, otherwise well supported. This often follows fuzzy logic, e.g. "You claim there are too many people in London. The BNP (xenophobic British National Party) makes the same claim. The BNP is irrationally racist. So are you. Therefore, I conclude only a warped racist could possibly believe London is overcrowded" or consider this "You claim we should take action to cope with climate change. So does the mainstream media representing big business, so you must be wrong". Well let`s consider these assertions. First the portrayal many tend to exaggerate the arguments of their adversaries. A statement like "Planet Earth cannot support six billion human beings at current rates of consumption in the long term" soon becomes simplified to "We`d better start culling excess humans now, so the rest of us can continue enjoy the same standard of living". Next comes a bold assertion about a common bête noire, an extremist grouping or demonised tyrant with whom is simply not done to sympathise. Sometimes media may have been so successful at marginalising dissident idea that the bête noire in question may actually present rational ideas, but the existence of genuine extremists and assorted nutters serves the establishment`s mind control agenda very well. Suppose a small radical Islamic sect called for the liquidation of all US millionaires.

The Problem Reaction Solution and Counterreaction

The basic difference between the infamous Italian Mafia, Camorra and Ndragata clans running protection rackets and modern states lies essentially in their size, influence and control of the mainstream media, but effectively they act as immature microstates within states often offering many of the same services. Paying a pizzo or protection money to your local Mafia boss may seem extortion, but effectively it`s what we do when we pay taxes. Sure, to some extent, government money trickles back to the general populace providing many of us with jobs and redistributing wealth in an inherently unjust corporate economy. Here are just a few examples of classic problem reaction solutions:

  • We have rampant crime, therefore we need more police, more surveillance and tougher sentencing.
  • We have terrorists and political extremists in our midst, therefore we need more monitoring of people`s everyday lives and clamp down on hate speech.
  • We have unsustainable immigration, therefore we need tighter immigration controls, more police, more social workers, more new houses, more money spent on integration etc.
  • We are facing an environmental crisis, therefore we should trust our leaders to impose greater controls on our irresponsible behaviour as private citizens.

Thankfully many of us don`t buy this logic. Why should we accept greater hardships because of macro-economic decisions taken by remote business leaders and politicians? All the above problems, if indeed they are problems, are created by an absurdly unsustainable and unbalanced economic system hooked on perpetual growth. Instead of asking "how should the state combat crime?", "how should the state deal with troublemakers?", "how should the state control the migration of human beings in a never-ending rat race?" or "how should the state and big business address climate change?", we should ask "Why do people turn to crime?", "Why do people resort to violence and hateful ideas?" or "Why are we facing an environmental catastrophe?". These more rational questions do not negate the existence or perception of real problems, but turn the questions raised by the mainstream media on their heads.

Nevertheless many of us react by negating the reality of the problems. A common notion on the liberal left is that "We don`t need Draconian legislation" (a conclusion I agree with) because crime has not risen recently and may have actually declined, a perception only possible if you live in a leafy suburb somewhere. Likewise we should value free speech, again a view I wholeheartedly agree with, because everyone is so tolerant and nice in these enlightened days, a perception only possible if you genuinely believe in the benefits of over twenty years of neo-liberal economics and social engineering. Next consider the conclusion that "we should not deport illegal immigrants, (and I would be loathe to trust the state to do so in anyone`s interests but their own), because we need more immigrants to boost our dynamic economy and do jobs we don`t want to do and besides this country can host tens of millions more (as long as we can continue importing cheap food)". Once again this conclusion tends to appeal to those who are doing fairly well and can afford to steer clear of the adverse side effects of unplanned economically driven migration. We see two sections of the mainstream media engaging in a phoney debate over immigration with both sides supporting the unsustainable model of perpetual growth that drives immigration in the first place. Some on the left are simply incapable of admitting that overcrowding will exacerbate the very socio-economic tensions we wish to eradicate, hiding behind a façade of cultural diversity, interethnic tolerance and international solidarity while relying on a globalised economy controlled by a small number of supranational corporations.

We see the same fuzzy thinking behind the looming environmental catastrophe, except here we see a distinct trend towards outright denial or downplaying of the evidence before us. To some extent it would be easier to argue with some left-leaning climate change deniers, if the mainstream media denied its reality. Why should we rely on former Vice President Al Gore to warn us of a pending disaster caused by human hyperactivity in large part due to his own country`s grotesque overconsumption?Yet we have let TV, Cinema and commercial Web services dominate our lives to such an extent, some of us only ever believe something when Hollywood-style edutainment movies endorse it.

The Rense Dot Com Mindset

Personally I`d treat many articles promoted by http://www.rense.com with the same degree of scepticism as I reserve for the Daily Mail, the favourite newspaper of Britain's disgruntled middle class. They remind us of some home truths, correctly identify some social problems and then pursue their own agenda. Rense Dot Com has recently featured numerous articles challenging the notions of Peak Oil and manmade climate change, while simultaneously providing a platform for one of the US`s most vehement anti-immigration crusaders, Frosty Wooldridge. That unsustainable immigration is driven by unsustainable overconsumption does not really occur to a narrow conservative American mindset that just wishes to conserve their uniquely prosperous way of life threatened by low-paid immigrants and politicians attempting to increase fuel taxes.

The Greg Palast Mindset

I`ve covered the strange case of the Frank Füredi sect (RCP => LM Mag => Spiked Online) with their characteristic form of technocratic polemicism. However, much more commonly on the left we encounter an ideological refutation of environmental hard truths to support an unremitting optimism for the human progress. Such social optimists are willing to identify and expose the reactionary or unprogressive nature of today`s ruling elites. They rightly participate in the rhetorical crusade against Bush, Blair, the IMF/World Bank and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, but somehow deep down still believe in the enduring myth of Western enlightenment capturing the hearts and minds of an oppressed underdeveloped world. Many on the left view the world in terms of good causes and are thus very susceptible to the emotional arguments of mainstream pundits promoting hidden agendas. Few could pretend life was easy for Afghani women under the infamous Taliban. I certainly would not like to live in a society in which women become little more than the property of their husbands kept in ignorance and under veil, but what right do we have to impose our worldviews on an autonomous community. Human rights is very relative concept with many trade-offs. When the warlords of the Northern Alliance gained power before the Taliban imposed its variant of Sharia law, women were regularly raped and many actually welcomed the protection these drastic laws claimed to provide, possibly in the same way many people in this country welcome the installation of CCTV cameras at every street corner, e-mail snooping and lynching of suspected paedophiles. The spectre of extreme misogyny served to dampen opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan and steer attention way from the true geopolitical goals of the exercise. Likewise leftwing immigrants rights campaigns fail to address the true causes of socially and environmentally unsustainable migration, often acting against the immediate interests of their own native working classes,

The Immigration Conundrum

The traditional difference between the left and right, at least in my simplified way of thinking, is that the former stands up for the rights of common people in general and the downtrodden in particular, while the latter defends the status quo often appealing to the forces of reaction against subversive and destabilising elements. In the fantasy world of the radical left working class British workers struggling to pay their mortgage or rent, forever in debt with their bank and doing overtime to settle bills and loan repayments, will, once politicised and enlightened, unite in struggle with the oppressed masses of the not-so-prosperous world. While we can cite many examples of Western European striking for better pay, improved working condition or against cutbacks or privatisation, we can cite few in which the same workers have taken industrial action in solidarity with much lower paid workers elsewhere. Indeed all evidence shows working class Europeans flocking to retail outlets to buy the very consumer goods whose deceptively low prices are only permitted only by favourable exchange rates or rather an injection of virtual money by banking cartels into high consumption economies. Whether you like it or not migration nearly always flows from economically and/or environmentally disadvantaged regions to more prosperous or more environmentally sustainable regions. The British didn`t colonise Australia just to get a suntan or enjoy a more outdoor lifestyle, but because by the late 18th century the growing population of Britain`s newly industrialised regions had become too much of a burden, so the excess population either died early through hunger or disease or emigrated. The same is happening today, except we see a movement away from countries currently undergoing structural readjustment to countries with plenty of virtual money, most of which have been or still are colonial powers. At the same time we see a smaller movement by the propertied classes away from the bustling metropolises of the wealthier countries to the greener and sunnier pastures of low-income countries. So while Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians flock to London, many Londoners are buying up properties at knock-down prices in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Qatar, France or Spain. However, in both cases we see the resurgence of 19th century divisions between a servant class and their professional masters. This is just fine, if you happen to own a house in London (currently a modest four-bedroom semi can fetch around £500,000 in many boroughs) and you don`t mind retiring or relocating. Many opt simply to move to the surrounding home counties and rent their London property. Indeed whole residential streets are now rented out to London`s new migrant classes with several families often sharing a Lilliputian three-bedroom house. The new immigrant classes fill two key gaps in the labour market, traditional hands-on skilled jobs that fail to appeal to young Britons and low-paid service-sector-servicing roles. The latter category encompasses anything ranging from bartenders, childminders, care assistants, bus drivers to newspaper distributors, but the apparent gap in the labour market would cease to exist if the clientele had less expendable cash and more indigenous young people were prepared to do these jobs as they did until recently. Currently a high proportion of home-grown fruit and vegetables are harvested by migrant labour. If we paid home-grown farm workers a decent wage and sourced all crops suited to our climate locally, prices would inevitably rise even more than they are now as a result of fuel crops and soaring oil prices, but we`d adapt by consuming less junk. The immigration wave of the early 21st century has in effect enabled an unsustainable consumer-led service-oriented economy to stay afloat. In one extreme case a Polish family doctor flew every weekend all the way from Poznan, Western Poland, to Glasgow, hired a car to drive all the way to remote area of Aberdeenshire to earn £2000 as a weekend general practitioner owing to a temporary shortage of qualified GPs willing to work in the area. As budget airline Ryanair announce cutbacks following recent rises in oil prices, we may wonder how long this absurdity can continue, burning umpteenth barrels of fuel to cope with the consequences of unsustainable hedonism and a rat race that attracts the best minds away from their provincial to the citadels of power and corruption.

The Sick Man of Europe

Back in the 1970s Britain, as we then called England + Wales + Scotland, was known as the sick man of Europe, strike-prone, inefficient and basking in the glory of a bygone era of imperial and industrial strength. Thatcherism proved a very bitter pill to swallow, with unemployment rising officially to over 3.5 million and unofficially to over 6 million and millions of manufacturing jobs gone forever. The economic resurgence of the mid and late 1980s saw mainly the growth of services and trade. While the early years of the Major government saw a brief resurgence in the manufacturing sector through inward investment and a low pound, the current administration has overseen the almost complete outsourcing of what remained of Britain`s manufacturing base. Besides services, three industries dominate UK industry, military hardware, energy and pharmaceuticals, all relying on imported components and raw materials. In an idyllic past each community had the right mix of professional farmers, manufacturers, craftspeople and service providers. We all need and expect housing, furniture, plumbing, electrical power, domestic appliances, food, restaurants, roads, public transport, schools and healthcare, yet for some reason the professions essential to the provision of these goods and services do not appeal very much to young Brits, by which I mean anyone who grew up mainly in England, Scotland or Wales. As a result numerous essential professions were by the mid 1990s severely under-resourced. On a simplistic level people management, sales, media and leisure-related professions appeal much more to a generation raised on TV, pop music, movies and now video-games and the Internet. However, on a structural level we can observe that many traditional professions only exist as human resources within a larger organisation rather than self-employed workers and small tradespeople offering services to their local community. Rather than encourage entrepreneurism, the gradual takeover of a handful of supermarket chains and retail outlets of not only the food supply, but also furniture, clothing, DIY and commodity appliances restricts the scope of small businesses to essentially franchisees or minor service providers, or rather contractors, of larger corporations. If you grew up in a sprawling suburban housing estate, went shopping once a week at large supermarket, while your parents worked as loyal enforcers in a state-corporate system to earn credit to buy readily available goods, you may be tempted to opt for the easiest and least stressful means of making money. Thus the prospect of becoming a baker or plumber only becomes attractive, if the potential earnings offset the enormous effort required to learn the tricks of the trade and other members of one`s extended family or local community serve as professional role models. Instead too many people in this country have grown to consider such tradespeople as simple low-end and easily replaceable human resources or possibly quaint characters portrayed on TV sitcoms or seen in exotic backwaters. TV chef, Jamie Oliver, recently took his healthy school meals campaign to the wilds of rural Lincolnshire, only to discover school catering staff unaware of local vegetable suppliers literally a stone`s throw from the school grounds preferring instead to visit their nearest supermarket. Yet down on the ground farmers are compelled to hire cheaper migrant labour in order to maintain the low prices that the big supermarket chain impose. As always there are two sides to a story. Polish smallholders have been driven off their land because foreign food chains like UK-based Tesco and the French CarrÃÆÂ'©four group have taken over large sections of the distribution chain preferring to buy from a smaller number of large agribusinesses rather than from thousands of smallholders that had until recently dominated Polish farming. The resulting conglomeration and restructuring inevitably caused rampant unemployment and a huge pool of cheap labour. Not surprisingly many Polish newcomers to the British Isles consider the natives here lazy, spoilt little brats.

Would not have been better for the English, Scots and Welsh to relearn the skills we need to fend for ourselves, and leave Eastern Europeans to develop independently and sustainably rather than emulate the ultimately soul-destroying and unsustainable Anglo-American neo-liberal model.

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Blaming the Messenger

Spiked Online are at it again, jumping at the chance to blame common atrocities on the spectre of green fascists. To the likes of Frank Füredi and Brendan O'Neill a green fascist is anyone who doesn't believe in their technocratic vision of unlimited human and material growth, if indeed they believe their own propaganda. More is always better and anyone who says otherwise opposes progress.

A couple of weeks ago a school shooting in the Finnish town of Jokela captured the imagination of the European and North American media. A loner with the Internet pseudonym of NaturalSelector89 who had published a gun-toting video on YouTube, advocating the culling of much of the world's population, shot dead six fellow students and then completed his cleansing of the human race by turning on himself.

Although the importance of school shootings pales numerically in comparison with the slaughter taking place in countries ravaged by foreign occupation and civil wars, they form a regular part of a media spectacle obsessed with violence. Over the last few weeks the British popular media has entertained the gullible public with the latest on the murder of a female English student in Perugia, revelations of sex fiend responsible for the murder of Vicky Hamilton over 16 years ago, more on the Madeleine McCann story and, if that did not sate the appetite of necrophiles, the copycat accidental throat slitting during a sex game by the daughter of a wealthy businessman, now two-timing as a New Labour MP. Once you've consumed the appalling tales of shock and horror violence in the tabloid press, you can switch on the telly or game console and consume yet more, always portrayed as the acts of psychopathic individuals or justified revenge by their victims or their saviours. Indeed the two genres of media violence are often interpolated with ads for violence-themed movies alongside news stories and gory titbits of domestic news in the break between segments of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Whoever may be directly responsible for these atrocious acts, the media guides us subtly to the conclusion that we need to grant the state even more control over our lives. If Madeleine McCann had had an RFID chip implant, we might know her whereabouts by now, and if a CCTV camera had been installed in her bedroom we would have video footage of her abductor or killer. So why not go ahead and implant RFID chips in all children and CCTV cameras in all bedrooms. Honestly it will not be long before child abuse awareness raisers make such absurd calls. Without thinking some of us are letting the authorities turn this this country into a police state way beyond what George Orwell had deemed possible, all because law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from a freedom-and-democracy-loving establishment. Yet the very same establishment that purportedly wants to protect us against psychopaths and perturbed extremists, also promotes a lifestyle that breeds insanity and extreme disillusionment. Few of us can meet the high expectations set by a combination of the mass media and peer pressure. 'I must have a Wii gadget because I'll be the only person in my class without one and if you don't buy one you're a child abuser'. We can hardly claim that many Europeans lack the financial means to acquire essentials like food, water and shelter. Indeed malnutrition nearly always takes the form of eating disorders amid an abundance of readily available junk food and anorexic supermodels.

I can think of many problems that afflict today's youth, but somehow over-intellectualisation is not one of them. This should not come as a surprise to the author of 'Where have all the intellectuals gone?' and the founding father LM Mag group, Frank Füredi. Most youngsters are either too immersed in pop culture or wrapped up in their own personal issues to worry about the wider world. I don't see green fascists roaming the streets at night mugging innocent pedestrians or developing 3D simulations of a depopulation campaign to save mother nature from the curse of humanity. Instead I see disenchanted youths joining gangs in inner city ghettos and millions more alienated youths totally enraptured by virtual reenactments of fighting. One buys a 40 inch plasma screen in order to view gory scenes in their true glory, not apparently to view a documentary on climate change.

As Paul Flynn, one of the few critically thinking Labour MPs left, notes in his blog 'No British coverage I read mentioned anti-depressants, yet that have been a factor in 28 school shootings and stand-offs including the killing of 10 students in Columbine and 5 in Minnesota . The website www.ssristories.com/index.php has published the full lists.'

Now let us just briefly ponder on Brendan O'Neill's thesis. He claims that Pekka Erik Auvinen was somehow inspired by Finnish fisherman and ecofascist intellectual Pentti Linkola. The extreme pessimism and politically incorrect support for eugenics and authoritarian rule to bring the population down to more manageable numbers suits the arguments of technocratic polemicists fine. Pentti honestly believes humanity is doomed unless we urgently cull most of the world's human masses, but we should at least distinguish warnings from extreme reactions.

Tale of the Titanic

Consider the infamous Titanic ocean liner as a metaphor for planet Earth. The ship has a revolutionary new unbreakable hull and is heading full steam ahead for iceberg-infested water just to the south of Greenland. Like the global population the ship contains a huge economic disparity of passengers, some occupying the upper decks with luxury cabins, private bathrooms, dance halls and room service. Others occupying the lower decks packed like sardines. As nobody expected the unsinkable ship to go down, lifeboats could only save a small minority of passengers. As it happened they did not even suffice to save all the first class passengers let alone those in the lower decks.

Now, what would you have done if you had spotted the infamous iceberg in time. In hindsight most humane people would have done everything possible to alert the crew so they steer the ship clear of the iceberg and alerted as many passengers as possible so we could make the best use of available resources to save as many people as possible. So what would the position of the Spiked sect be? In a nutshell, don't panic! Place your trust in the wonders of human technology and enjoy the cruise. Those who claim the ship will sink and kill off 90% of the ship's passengers are misanthropic green fascists. Now the likes of Pentti Linkola, a rare specimen indeed, might advocate shedding excess passengers even before we hit the iceberg and might not attempt to steer the ship clear of the near-certain calamity, but most environmental realists would accept the harsh truth that we'd better act quick or we'll all die. If I advise you not to cross a busy motorway on foot because you might die, that's a warning. But if I drive my car at 70mph (112kmh) through a quiet village and run you over, that's called murder. Whichever way, Pentti Linkola's musings represent the mind of melancholic cynicism that can appeal to alienated individuals with an axe to grind. If you are bullied at school and treated as an outcast, you can hardly be expected to have a very optimistic view of humanity, a subject to which I'll return in my next piece 'Is another World Possible'. But let's be clear Pekka acted as a paranoid pushing innocent passengers off the upper decks of the Titanic long before the ship had approached icy waters. The analogy might not be perfect, but we still have time to avert disaster and the likes of Pekka and those killed by his deranged shooting fell victim to technocratic means of mind control.

Population Pessimists

You see the position of population pessimists, as we call the likes of Paul Ehrlich is quite simple to summarise. Human population took thousands of years to climb gradually with ups and downs, from a few hundred million (estimates for global population circa 0 AD average around 300 million) to 700 million at the dawn of the industrial revolution. It then took another 150 years through famines and widespread ethnic cleansing in the epoch of colonial expansion, to climb to around 1.2 billion, circa 1890. All subsequent growth in little more than century can be attributed to the petroleum revolution that significantly boosted agricultural yields and enabled regional specialisation through global distribution. So if this age is about to come to an end for hard scientific reasons, we may be in dire straits and thus need to adapt to lower aggregate consumption, an equation with two main variables per capita consumption and human population. Does that mean killing surplus people? No because if the pessimists are right, nature will take care of all human culling measures required to restabilise the ecosystem. The pessimists are merely predicting disaster. It's up to us to apply centuries of collective experience to avert this disaster or, at least, minimise the catastrophic consequences. Death and destruction is precisely what we want to avoid, but as I've pointed out in many other articles, will happen on a much greater scale if we fail to readapt to a post-petroleum age by consuming less and planning smaller, but viable and cohesive, families. So what if the population pessimists are wrong and, as the 1999 Channel 4 documentary, Against Nature, claimed the earth can genuinely support 32 billion human beings all with private motor vehicles, fridges and washing machines What if hidden somewhere below the earth's crust are trillions of cubic metres of abiotic oil and we will soon develop the technology to tame Mars's environment? Well in that unlikely scenario, we still have plenty of time to grow and fill the void. It's planning for continued growth that so drastically wrong.

Upside-Down Thinking

In my humble opinion neither the extreme pessimists, those who claim the earth can support only a few hundred million, nor the the extreme optimists, those who claim we can happily embrace billions more human beings into our mass-consumerist lifestyle, are right. Personally I'd rather see a significantly lower consumption in the opulent world than significantly higher mortality through disease and starvation in the poor world. I kind of think on a purely pragmatic level we need to set priorities. We are already so interdependent that a prolonged power outage in a large city like London could kill thousands within days. Hospitals would shut and soon run out of supplies for emergency generators, refrigerated goods would rot, supermarkets would shut as would most places of work and education. Water pumps would fail and all supplies of bottled water would run out within hours. The whole place would grind to a halt and millions unable to flee. Indeed a tragedy could only be averted if other large state and corporate organised intervened promptly with a huge expenditure of resources. Just consider the fate of New Orleans in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina in times of plenty. The first victims are always the urban poor. If the United States can spend upwards of 400 billion bucks on invading and occupying Iraq, surely it could have devoted a small fraction of the quantity to saving its own citizens in its own territory? Apparently not, US multinationals need more oil to continue their addiction to economic growth at all costs. They don't really need 10,000 poor Louisianans as there are plenty more potential consumers and workers elsewhere. Their disappearance can be written off as unfortunate collateral damage of natural events beyond our control and possibly bad planning. You see as the human population becomes less sustainable, individual citizens become more expendable. Conversely the more sustainable the economy is in the long term, the more valuable its citizens. This is why the blind optimism of perpetual growthers relies so much on upside-down thinking. If, like me, you loathe the prospect of mass famines, internecine warfare, an encroaching police state and widening rich-poor gap, you'd favour powering down, consuming less per capita and stabilising population by lowering the birth rate. If, however, you don't care, are too concerned about your private high consumption lifestyle, taking cheap flights and one car per adult for granted, and would rather buy into the notion that a finite planet can support unlimited growth, then expect the worst. But high-profile pseudo-intellectuals like Brendan O'Neill should know better. They know green activists abhor violence and the multibillion pound mass entertainment business is controlled by a tiny elite wielding enormous power over consumers. While Brendan O'Neill probably reads the Guardian and Independent and pretends to see elements of fascism in the likes of George Monbiot (in reality a very conformist moderate), the masses consume a diet of the Sun, Sky TV, Ryanair and online gambling with plenty of boozing and video-gaming opportunities. Indeed the very unintellectual masses are deluged daily with Shop-Until-You-Drop propaganda, so much so that UK consumer debt has reach 1.3 million million pounds ('1.3 trillion). Are we seriously to pretend that Rupert Murdoch, a key supporter of Thatcher, Blair, GW Bush and Howard as well as the tyrannical Chinese regime, has the best interests of ordinary working people at heart. Yet it is in his media outlets that we hear the most outspoken Growth at any Price propaganda. Has Spiked Online offered Jeremy Clarkson a column yet? Your average gas guzzling motorist doesn't want to personally kill innocent Iraqis, Iranians or Venezuelans, but is perfectly prepared to believe a warped version of reality, in which they are victims of evil dictators whom our benevolent leaders have always opposed. Europeans driving across the wilds of Tanzania in their 4x4 Landrovers may wish car-less African villagers all the best, but are seldom prepared to admit that their lifestyle relies on resources that others are denied. Africa in the early 21st century has become a battle ground between Chinese, European and Anglo-American energy and commodity corporations.

Remember when you could smoke on the London Underground?

The first time I travelled on the London underground, sometime in the mid 70s, passengers smoked nonchalantly. Indeed this was just before separate smoking and non-smoking cars had been introduced. This would be unthinkable today for two reasons. First because the non-smoking majority no longer tolerates tobacco pollution, but more to the point, because attempting to light up on most tube lines anytime between 7:30 and 9:00am could very easily ignite other passengers as the mean gap between standing persons is seldom more than an inch (or 2.54 cm to be exact). Banning smoking on public transport led to a temporary improvement in air quality, soon offset by a higher density of passengers. You see if I don't have to share the same room with you, personally I don't care whether you smoke. Indeed if we share a large hall, I might tolerate your smoking fairly well, but if we have to share a metaphorical phone box, I might object to your smoking. Spiked Online's panacea would have even more people happily choosing whether to smoke. We'd need to quadruple the London Underground network. First we'd have to double it to cope with the current volume of passengers and then double it again to have separate networks for smokers and non-smokers. More people means subjugating ourselves to greater control over each others' lives. If you live in a small close-knit community you don't need extensive databases of sexual predators and potential terrorists, because everyone knows other members of the community and has time to vet occasional newcomers, but when people move house at the drop of a hat and few residents have any roots in the neighbourhood, we have to rely on the police, social services, CCTV cameras and RFID chips to defend us against dangerous individuals in our midst. Whether you like or not overcrowding not only reduces individual freedom and rights, but also tends to impact negatively on community relations.

Ironically the Spiked ' Sect tells would have us believe we can have our cake and eat it, i.e. we can continue to increase our burden on the ecosystem by relying even more on remote impenetrable technology and still enjoy personal lifestyle freedoms. Yet as sure as night follows day, technocratic elites take away our freedoms and put in their place a totally controlled fun culture.

A Note On the Spiked Sect

  • For those unfamiliar with Spiked Online, I'd better explain where it comes from. Posing as trendy progressives on the cutting edge of intellectual debate, the sect started life as breakaway faction from the old International Socialists, now Socialist Workers' Party, back in the mid 70s. They formed a far-left clique called the Revolutionary Communist Party, which took, shall we say without fear of contradiction, extreme stands on burning issues of the day, chiefly the civil war in the North of Ireland, steadfastly supporting the IRA and Sinn Fein even through some of the most indefensible atrocities against civilians. You name the issue and they tried to trump the rest of the radical left by assuming a more absolutist stance or dismissing more mainstream struggles as pointless syndicalism (like industrial action) or misguided counterrevolutionary revisionism. By the mid 80s they had honed their identity as the ultimate defenders of Marxist progress, seen purely in the simplistic terms that socialism represents not so much an alternative to the current world order but the next logical step in humanity's relentless progress from nomadism, through feudalism to capitalism and onwards to the dictatorship of the proletariat, guided by a vanguard party. Their vision of the future clearly reflected the prejudices of cosmopolitan Anglo-American elites. Rather than challenge rampant consumerism and large multinationals taking control of each and every aspect of people's lives, they embraced globalism as the ultimate humankind's destiny. Their focus moved away from the working class cause altogether as they attracted mainly upwardly mobile ambitious media studies students. However, they persevered with their role as the left's Devil's Advocate, especially when the left swallowed emotive humanitarian rhetoric on complex international crises such as the 1994 Rwandan democide, providing a semblance of radical anti-imperialism that appealed to small but influential clique of students.
  • By the late 1990s they had shed any pretence of competing on the far left, still dominated by the small neo-Trotskyite SWP. Their magazine, Living Marxism, became LM Mag and they began to campaign on largely lifestyle issues.
  • Just consider a selection of the Frank FÃÆÂ'¼redi's clique's stances:
  • The human potential is boundless and thus any attempts to cut consumption, oppose technological solutions or plan for gradual population reduction should be opposed as reactionary opposition to progress itself. In any debate with RCPers on the environment sooner or later you'll be accused at best as a misguided opponent of progress and at worst of green fascism bordering on genocidal neo-Nazism.
  • Humanitarian disasters are often a figment of Western propaganda. The RCP campaigned vociferously to challenge media bias against Serbs in the Balkan Wars and against Hutus in the 1994 Rwandan tragedy.
  • We live a culture of fear, reluctant to embrace the technological solutions that could enable billions more human beings to enjoy the wonders of post-WW2 Western consumerism.
  • The adverse effects of modern consumer products, whether drugs, food or electronic devices, are hugely overstated and, with rare exceptions, greatly outweighed by their benefits. Here the latter-day RCP can appeal to many disillusioned with establishment control freakery over issues like smoking bans.
  • All regulation is bad. No nuanced position here as to whether we should call on the state to regulate us as private citizens or them as large corporate and state organisations. This stances places them in good company on the left on issues such as deregulation of cannabis or free speech, at one with the likes of Noam Chomsky. So they defend the right of racial supremacists to voice their scientific interpretations, but also dismiss the influence of mass entertainment on the minds of ordinary working people with little time to access to alternative media. So they say no to a ban on smacking, but also no limitations of the widespread prescription of psychoactive drugs. Ironically this stands in contrast with LM Mag's efforts to challenge media bias over Northern Ireland, Rwanda and Yugoslavia as your average Guardian reader would be depressingly unaware of the countercurrent perspectives that the RCP once championed. It would certainly appear that the new corporate-friendly Spiked Online brigade seem much concerned about defending the right of bug business to intoxicate and brainwash the masses through junk food and moronic electronic entertainment than they do about the freedom of genuine dissidents whose ideas are being silenced. Increasingly in the US and UK we see censorship of dissidents through an overload of mainstream disinformation and, where dissident ideas gain some currency, media belittling and bullying of all those who fail to sing from the right hymn sheet.
  • We have the universe to conquer. I recall this rallying cry from an RCP event I attended in 1986. Should appeal to Star Trek fans.
  • Multinationals are good and pave the way for a new borderless internationalism.
  • The Chinese and Indian economies are booming and poised to overtake Western European per capita consumption in the near future. Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your life's savings.
Categories
Power Dynamics

Blair concedes Iraq Lies

Information Clearing House recently republished extracts from the late Robin Cook's diaries, in which Blair concedes that Iraq could not strike the West or even nearby Israel with weapons of mass destruction. It also reveals how the initial scepticism of some New Labour Cabinet ministers in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq soon turned into loyalty as Blairite rhetoric morphed into crocodile tears over the human rights of oppressed and disenfranchised Iraqis.

Some analysts insist the likes of Blair, Brown and Bush remain happily oblivious to their serial mendacity over foreign policy. Only recently Seymour Hersh, noted for exposing the criminal activities of his government at home and abroad, reiterated his belief that Bush and, by implication, actuals means what he says. Consider a human resources manager imparting the news that owing internal restructuring your services are no longer required, but thanking you nonetheless for all your hard work during your tenure at the company and appearing very concerned about your future. By their nature HR managers have excellent skills of self-deceptive false altruism. Their job is to manage a situation, ensure a trouble-free transition from one human resource to the new one avoiding any ill-feelings or recriminations and maintaining a façade of good employee and public relations. This is especially important with key technical staff who are likely to find employment elsewhere with one of their competitors. The last thing they want is for word to get out that they routinely stab loyal workers in the back. For the duration of the private meeting the HR manager may temporarily believe her own rhetoric, but deep down knows that only an hour earlier her line manager had told her to sack you and replace you with a less experienced, but more manipulable human resource. Indeed if the HR manager ever met you after your dismissal, she'd probably feign concern about your wellbeing and appear genuinely delighted that you've found a new job or devastated that you're still between jobs. The same principle applies to politicians. They're little more than project managers with excellent client-facing skills.

Categories
Power Dynamics

A Numerical Paradox

If we want to strike a sensible balance between individual freedom, self-realisation, social cohesion, democracy and good community relations, we should be aware these noble aims can only coexist and thrive in optimal socio-environmental conditions that have stood the test of time. For too long we have worshipped the abstract world of economics rather than the concrete world of ecology that ultimately determines our real quality of life. If history has taught us anything, it should be that all predatory empires come to an end sooner or later and only those civilisations that live within their means survive more than a few generations. The American dream, on which the current hyperconsumption model is based, may well prove to be one the shortest-lived empires in global history, lasting little more than century.

I've corresponded with a friend about the biggest paradox facing humanity, scarcity and numbers. While well informed and sincere, he insists that latter-day Malthusianism is ideologically driven by misanthropy. For the ruling elite we are just numbers of human resources who can be manipulated as workers, soldiers, managers or consumers. We all know the feeling after travelling in the overcrowded public transport system of a bustling metropolis, only to witness on a quiet break in the country vast expanses of greenbelt serving as little more than the private playground of the new aristocracy escaping the social pressure cooker we call a city. We may then contrast the conspicuous waste of food in wealthy countries reliant on imports to sustain their standard of living with the near famine conditions of much of the world's poor still reliant on local produce. If only these resources were shared more equitably, we could all live happily ever after. I don't know how many times I've heard or read that the world produces four times the food its population needs, a figure pulled out of the hat way back in the early 70s. As most of us have long ceased to have any direct involvement in the harvesting or production of the goods we consume, our whole concepts of abundance and scarcity are manufactured. In post-industrial Britain few of us can remember the time when small close-knit communities would provide most of life's essentials. Such attempts to recreate a self-reliant past are parodied in TV sitcoms like the Good Life of the early 70s or dismissed as the pipe dreams of New Age communities. Some experiments in ideal conditions have met with some success. The Findhorn community near Inverness, Scotland, comes to mind, but that's in a relatively sparsely populated region that is surprisingly fertile for its latitude, but unpopular owing to Scotland renowned dreich weather. The whole of the UK population would not survive if everyone joined a similar commune.

Instead we rely on technology and trade to feed over sixty million UK residents, now projected to rise to over 75 million by 2050 as per capita oil, gas, coal and potable water resources dwindle. This means not only the widespread use of petrochemical to boost agricultural yield, but huge economies of scale. Last year nearly a billion animals, mainly chickens and turkeys, were slaughtered to meet the country's insatiable demand for meat, most of it sold through a handful of supermarket chains. Although the pastures of much of Scotland, Wales and Northern England are dotted with characteristic sheep, most food-grade livestock is raised in buildings, transported to large abattoirs possibly over 100 miles away for slaughter, prepared and sold in bulk to large retail chains. Without refrigeration and/or preservatives such a food distribution would be impossible and we'd have to eat produce originating from a relatively small radius with the exception of low-volume non-perishables such as spices.

Anyone Been To Inner London Lately?

Take the 266 bus from Acton all the way to Cricklewood as I had to the other day owing to a strike by low-paid Silverlink workers (London's inner city overground rail network). It took over an hour to travel 8 miles (13km). Not only was the bus laden with an underclass recently imported from Eastern Europe and various Asian locales, the streets were lined with newcomers, many towing suitcases, and a never-ending parade of Internet cafés, pawn shops, betting shops, pubs, mobile phone shops and buffet bars, in short more reminiscent of a bustling third world metropolis and a society in moral decay than the cultural and economic hub of the civilised world. One cannot escape a foreboding sense of ephemerality, with the social fabric teetering on the brink of civil war. Contrast this reality with recent events held in London's Earls Court Exhibition Centre urging Brits to buy property to Spain, Bulgaria, Cyprus and even Berlin and the globalist tendency to break up traditional communities becomes apparent. What is obvious is the near total absence of wishful-thinking Guardian and Independent readers on London buses outside some trendy central districts. Sadly most just vote with their feet, wallets or automobiles, while subconsciously denying the incipient disaster, framing it in media-filtered terms of global warming or blaming foreign dictators. If so many Poles are unemployed at home and urged to migrate to the UK, might it be because in the post-Stalinist era foreign multinationals like Tesco have moved in to take control of the labour market. Yet those who deny the disastrous socio-environmental effects of overcrowding are as myopic (or short-sighted as non-Guardian readers might prefer) as those who choose to deny the human role in triggering climate change.

Today's shrink-wrapped Independent leads on the Italian government's purported intolerance for immigrants, discretely slurring even the mildest critics of globalisation as xenophobes. Ironically the countries we associate most with tolerance, such as Sweden or Finland, are those that attract fewer desperate migrants and have more available land and resources, while former bastions of open-door immigration like the Netherlands and Denmark have seen a huge backlash from their native populations. Contrary to popular misconceptions the debate is not between freedom of movement and harsh immigration controls, but between market-driven driven migration, as favoured by neoliberals, and sustainable communities able to control their own destiny within limits imposed by nature and non-destructive technology. You cannot have it both ways by letting big business exploit cheap labour and letting ordinary citizens have a say in the country's migration policy. No-one can deny the untold human suffering and human rights abuses all over the planet from Iraq, to China, the US, Nigeria to humble old Blighty. Yet the neoliberal media entertains us with the illusion that only foreign politicians are to blame and encouraging more overpopulation and more overconsumption is the answer rather than the problem. With around the same surface area and population as the UK, Italy has witnessed a huge influx of newcomers and is simply unable to cope with the inevitable structural and social difficulties that result from migratory pressure caused by a failed economic model. If the Balkans had not been destabilised, if Eastern European economies had not been taken over by Western multinationals, if oil-rich Middle Eastern countries were in control of their own destiny, if Africans could reap the benefits of their own resources and be left to develop within the constraints of home-grown technology, none of these migratory pressures would exist. A mass exodus from the world's trouble spots is a direct result of the globalist policies that the neoliberal media promote in an endless self-reinforcing cycle of social and cultural transformation.

One wonders where Independent editorial writers and other advocates of massive economically driven immigration live. On a parallel planet would seem a good answer, but more realistically they live in a Bohemian bubble where wealth generated largely by the propaganda industry meets a plentiful supply of cheap labour. If you earn £200K per annum, as many in the media business do and most neoliberal pundits get much more, and can afford the mortgage on your four bedroom townhouse, then the availability of cheap labour brings many benefits in the short term. Housemaids, child-minders plumbers, gardeners, painter-decorators, general handymen, hairdressers, massageuses and purveyors of sexual services, once offering their services at a premium are now very easy to recruit and replace at the drop of hat. They moneyed classes enjoy eating out and discussing their media projects amidst a vibrant café culture, staffed predominantly by new immigrants. This is what economists mean by a flexible labour market. Of course, it is absolutely true that many indigenous Brits are either unwilling or simply unable to perform these tasks, but this is largely because a culture of instant gratification has persuaded them that they should aspire to cushy careers rather than real jobs where they might get their hands dirty.

The most absurd argument that the Independent has used to justify the government's immigration policy is that an ageing population needs more carers and presumably young British workers are simply too busy to take time out of their new media careers to care for their elderly relatives. As life expectancy is almost the same in the UK and Poland, but lower than in Italy, France, Spain or Greece, one wonders who is going to look after elderly Poles and Ukrainians, if their offspring are busy serving work-shy, disabled and ageing Brits.

Carrying Capacity

No rationally minded empiricist (and I see no conflict between empiricism and rationalism) would deny a finite planet imposes limits on growth. Just in case you fantasise colonising Mars or some more hospitable earth-like planet in a distant solar system, please bear in mind the huge logistical problems in taming an environment millions of miles or scores of light years away from our home planet, something that may take millennia even when we acquire the technology. For the time being we'll have to make do with planet earth whose human carrying capacity depends largely on two factors, our per capita consumption and diligent use of technology to reduce our impact on the ecosystem that provides us with vital oxygen, water and nutrients. Currently we rely on a technocratic elite, whether under state or corporate auspices, to provide the majority of the globe's inhabitants with sustenance. Whether you're a Chinese factory worker or a French office worker, you use high-tech tools you could not conceivably make on your own and act as one small cog in much more complex industrial machine, even where the purpose of your job is clear. You might know how to assemble the components of your tools, but extracting and processing the raw materials is beyond the means of most of us. To co-ordinate numerous micro-specialisations and achieve sufficient economies of scale, we need a large and disciplined organisation, able to delegate responsibility for implementation of its business objects to lesser minions. Suppose a large retail chains wishes to offer European consumers affordable mp3 players, to cut costs it outsources production to a Chinese manufacturer, who in turn decides how to maximise its competitive edge over European rivals. In this case the European retail chain merely dictates the price and lets the Chinese manufacturer decide how to deliver the desired goods at the requested prices. Thanks to the logic of globalised trade, if the Chinese manufacturer raises prices to pay its workers better, the European buyer can simply source the same products elsewhere. Logically we may also argue that if the Chinese workers earned more, they'd be able to buy more consumer products, but then if the price of consumer products rose beyond a certain level in the opulent world workers would buy less affecting something we call consumer confidence. More important it is unlikely that all the raw materials required for the budget mp3 players (petroleum, silicon and aluminium) could be sourced from China alone.

If your idea of utopia is based on the more affluent neighbourhoods of the USA's sprawling suburbs with their double or triple garages, water sprinklers and easy access to large road network connecting residents to the centres of work, leisure and shopping, the world has almost certainly long surpassed its medium term carrying capacity. Just consider the futility of driving twenty miles from a plush gated neighbourhood to an office building for the sole purpose of writing reports and attending meetings whose concrete purpose few participants comprehend. The only reason these tasks are not conducted remotely is the crucial role of people management in the modern corporate bureaucracy. If people worked from home, they might not only lack motivation, but might start to unleash the kind of creativity that corporate control freaks can ill-afford. They need workers to be fine-tuned to a hive mentality and all, metaphorically, bat for the same team, hence the importance of bonding rituals such as drinks after work on Fridays, conferences or weekend breaks. Only a fortunate few highly skilled freelancers can choose for which masters to serve and on what terms and even they have travel far and wide to socialise with their corporate clients. While short-term fixes such as tele-working with the wonders of broadband and Web cams, may save some fuel, the Suburban lifestyle still requires us to travel long distances to procure food, clothes and other wares, drop the kids at numerous activities and participate in a leisure culture, the alternative often being exclusion from real flesh and blood social life. The incessant drive to suburban bliss in much of the prosperous world has not only fractured traditional communities, but driven millions to depression as they feel unable to compete on new terms dictated by media role models. A quick tour of many lower middle class housing estates in the UK soon reveals the stark reality that most residents are engaged in some form of virtual reality with home cinemas, game consoles, Internet access to gaming and gambling sites or even just busy bidding or selling on ebay. When it comes to actually replenishing supplies, off we go to the nearest retail chain. When life at home gets the better of us, we might splash out on some form of mass-marketed entertainment. Dunfermline, the ancient seat of the Scottish Royal Family with a proud history, now offers its residents little more than four large supermarkets (two Asda outlets, one Tesco and a smaller Somerfield) and a new retail park with an Odeon multiplex cinema, fitness centre, bowling alley, bingo hall and the usual array of chain restaurants. The town has no greengrocers and only one butcher's. If you don't like mass-marketed fake individualism, you can either migrate to remote rural retreats relatively untouched by corporate Gleichschaltung or as it is known today, cultural harmonisation, or return to the cosmopolitan urban heartlands long abandoned by the indigenous working classes, but where there is usually a critical mass of human beings interested in some form of alternative lifestyle and where ironically it is still possible to live a varied life away from the country's dominant cultural institution, TV. However, only a select few can afford the exorbitantly priced properties in the gentrified inner urban locales of London, Manchester, Edinburgh or even humble Cardiff, leaving only substandard crowded accommodation for those unable or unwilling to commute.

Richard Heinberg ) has considered the changes required to reduce aggregate human consumption while saving as many lives as possible. While mainstream politicians may pay lip-service to the challenges presented by climate change or rising crude oil prices, they are completely incapable of considering any alternative to the dominant mantra of our times, the need for constant economic growth and greater globalisation. Critics of economic migration and outsourcing are routinely lambasted as reactionary isolationists with little respect for the world's poor or wonders of ethnic diversity. That mass migration at historically unprecedented levels destroys genuine cultural differences and exacerbates social inequality to the detriment of the poorest and to the benefit of the moneyed professional classes hardly occurs to many wishful-thinking Independent or Guardian readers, as they contemplate ads for a Volvo people carrier or a cheap European city break. Waste-reducing initiatives are seen as dialogues between positive-thinking citizens and large corporate institutions. We may asked to consider whether Tesco should reduce packaging, charge for plastic bags or sell sturdy reusable carrier bags, but not whether we should rely on multinational grocery chains for life's essentials. We entrust our future in distant experts whose importance only large corporate or state media outlets may determine. Instead to power down, we need to rethink the whole concept of progress by relocalising agriculture, production and distribution. Rather than appealing the Tescos and Walmarts of the world to source more of their produce from local providers, we should switch to an alternative network of local independent farmers, retailers and manufacturers to drastically cut food miles and plan for a more sustainable future, but in large cities like London such reasonable solutions would only be feasible with radical depopulation. Instead the powers that be seem hell-bent on permitting the construction of three million more homes in the Southeast of England, already Europe's least sustainable province in terms of fending for itself.

Get a Grip on Reality

Before you read another Independent shock horror story about the imminent deportation of a small number of Zimbabwean asylum seekers, consider the real victims of globalised insanity. Zimbabwe is a nation founded, moulded and thoroughly exploited by British colonialists. When the country finally gained independence and majority rule in 1980, 7 million people could be fed by a self-sufficient farming and the proceeds of tobacco plantations and minerals. 27 years later with around 13 million inhabitants, the flight of many white-owned businesses, previously the country's prime source of the hard cash it needed to import technology only available abroad, and vast tracts of former farm land laid barren owing to the effects of soil erosion and climate change. The British media, including the liberal lefties, conveniently blames Robert Mugabe and mismanagement of land reform. The harsh reality on the ground is that any government that doesn't toe a line dictated by the IMF and the the World Bank will, unless it has vast reserves of natural resources like oil or uranium and masters the technology to exploit them, be compelled to power down, and in the case of most so-called developing countries with a rapidly rising population, have to cope with rapidly declining per capita resources. Thus is just two decades Zimbabwe has transitioned from a net food exporter to a net importer. Had its population remained stable, land could have been redistributed more equitably and bought itself time to develop the technological infrastructure required for long -term sustainability, but the myth of material progress divorced from environmental reality, ironically shared by Marxists and neoliberal capitalists alike, has condemned the country to dependence on international trade. However, Zimbabwe's neighbours have profound structural problems of their own. The US and South Africa have long funded civil wars in Mozambique and Angola. Zambia has swallowed a bitter IMF-administered pill condemning much of population to starvation conditions with a dramatically lower population growth estimates, and South Africa with 40% of its working age population jobless has struggled to accommodate refugees from the rest of the Africa. Unlike the peoples of the British Isles in the late 18th century Zimbabweans have nowhere else to go, so why not accommodate them all in London, England. In my 1999 visit I was rather taken aback, after spending a couple of weeks in South Africa, to meet so many well-educated unemployed Zimbabweans. Despite horror stories of Mugabe's autocratic rule, the country's education system resembled that found 1950s Britain with little attention devoted to literacy in either Shona or Sindebele and plenty to English-medium basic education, reading, writing and arithmetic. Despite all the Pan-African rhetoric, the new African ruling elite has by and large attempted to emulate the model of development pioneered by their former colonial occupiers, which is hardly surprising as most graduated in European or American universities. You have cars, we want cars. You have home cinemas, we want electronic gadgetry too. Now if we had the technology to let millions of Indians, Chinese and Sub-Saharan Africans enjoy the same high-consumption lifestyle, that would, at least in theory, be exceedingly good for our economy.

What is beyond dispute is that millions of Africans live in very precarious conditions and are denied rights we take for granted, such as easy access to potable water, safe shelter and a cooked meal every day. Never mind whether they are locked up in jail for daring to criticise their local line managers, let us look at what our multinationals are doing, yes the same friendly institutions that via lobbying firms like Price House Cooper or KPMG shape our government's policies. Well Exxon, Texaco and BP Amoco, key supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, consider the Angolan exclave of Cabinda their personal fiefdom, paying kickbacks to the former Marxists now in technically charge of Angola. The civil war in former Zaire, now affectionately known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with its at least three million excess deaths, largely concerns control of mineral resources. As for Darfur, has anyone noticed the copious reserves of black gold in a region extending into neighbouring Chad. To understand the real intentions of the globalist British elite we need look no further than historians Niall Ferguson and in, more overt terms, Robert Cooper, former advisor to multimillionaire keynote speaker Tony Blair. Roberts unashamedly advocates the recolonisation of Africa, but cunningly adorns his greedy intentions with humanitarian waffle. The lobbying efforts of many professional political advisors close to the New Labour establishment have not only helped large corporations secure lucrative PFI contracts or forced health and education services to waste tax payers' money on expensive proprietary software solutions, but have also secured state funding for multibillion pound military hardware projects such as the Eurofighter, which have never been deployed in defensive operations and whose only conceivable use would be in wars of resource appropriation. More important they have represented private security firms such as Blackwater supplying mercenaries to war zones like Iraq. Unlike many new army recruits, hardened mercenaries often boasting experience in Africa's forgotten wars (indeed many were raised in Apartheid era South Africa), have few qualms about shoot-to-kill policies. As

Stephen Lendman notes ()

The Bush administration believes anything government can do private business does better, so let it. And that applies to the military as well with Blackwater and SandlineUSA's powerful emergence Exhibit A. Author Jeremy Scahill portrays the company as "the world's most powerful mercenary army" in his frightening new book about it. It describes a "shadowy mercenary company (employing) some of the most feared professional killers in the world....accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences....largely off the congressional radar." It has "remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus" with unaccountable license to practice street violence with impunity that includes cold-blooded murder.

The numerical paradox is that immigration proponents who claim human rights abuses as a reason to let in more newcomers grossly understate the problem and evade their responsibility for human suffering. If Britain's population grows, as predicted, by a further 15 million over the next 40 years, mainly through immigration as the indigenous people count is actually declining, this is but a small drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds or even thousands of millions who may meet early deaths as a result of the failure of the current globalised high-consumption model of development. 15 million is but 1.5% of the Indian population or 2% of the Sub-Saharan population. More important current migration policy depends entirely surplus wealth generated by large corporations who produce little of what we really need. Besides banking and media, the three biggest UK industries are now the defence (read attack), energy and pharmaceutical/biotech sectors, all engaged in controlling access to vital resources and undermining economic autonomy. We could add other arguments such as the inevitable brain drain of countries of net emigration, but the most important fact is when the temporary economic boom that drew so many to the centres of wealth accumulation bursts, we will face social and environmental disaster.

Many of us aspire to noble aims such as social cohesion, democracy, tolerance, good community relations, plentiful and essential resources and more important breathing space for each individual. Before you think of the vast expanses of inhabited land in North Africa, Siberia, Northern Canada, Central Australia, Antarctica and the Pacific Ocean, just remember only a small fraction of the earth's land mass lends itself to comfortable human habitation. With oil extraction now past its peak and with alternatives sadly much less feasible than many of us would hope, we will have to readapt our lifestyles if we are to salvage the best of what humanity can offer. That means powering down everywhere, less consumption beyond that essential for sustaining life, less migration to high consumption areas and more economic incentives to lower the birth rate in proliferous nations. A stepping stone to a more sustainable world is to make each community responsible for its own actions. Globalisation lets wealthy communities export pollution and import food and cheap labour. If a community can sustain itself autonomously balancing material exports and imports, then nobody has a right to dictate their behaviour. But if a community depends on global banking cartels, handouts from remote governments and patented technology only available from a handful of multinationals, it has no freedom and any remnants of democracy are a mere illusion.

Many leftists don't like any talk of population simply because that might mean eliminating many of those already blessed with life on this planet. It's hard to imagine a society more obsessed with slaughter and destruction more than our own, though usually only through virtual media and possibly because we are largely shielded from its immediate human consequences, but the earth's carrying capacity is not moral issue, but a scientific one. By blindly placing our faith in the power of human ingenuity to cope with an unprecedented rise in our population, we are merely sowing the seeds of our own destruction, but by reversing gear we will actually allow more people to live more peacefully, more fruitfully and over more generations, just not all at the same time and in the same place. To survive as species we need to refocus our attention on the quality of human existence rather than quantity of potential consumers.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Alan Greenspan in his memoirs.

Why did the US and UK invade Iraq? Theories abound, but here are the top four:

  1. To get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
  2. To overthrow an evil dictator and extend democracy to the Iraqi people.
  3. To aid Israel in its quest for global domination.
  4. To secure control of strategic oil reserves.

If you've read any of my previous musings, you'll know which I think is the correct answer. The real question is why so many liberal lefties and antiwar activists choose to believe variants of the first three theories. Let us suppose Iraq did have deployable nuclear missiles, as Iran might have and Israel certainly has, would this not prove the first theory right? Never mind the failure of inspectors to find little more than remnants of past chemical weapons projects in a country devastated by sanctions, that is not the primary reason why the US administration has spent over US$ 200 billion invading and occupying Iraq. If they cared about the WMDs of other countries, then presumably China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brazil and North Korea should be of greater concern and let's not forget the nuclear arsenal of France and UK that the US usually deems friendly countries. Not even UK government ministers believe WMDs were the real reason for Britain's support. It served as a mere pretext to secure a UN rubber stamp for Anglo-American geostrategic aims.

However, many pundits have lent credence to the second excuse. Some would have us believe that even if the US and UK did it for their own self-interest, the Iraqi people benefited through their first multi-party elections and greater freedom of expression. This version of events assumes democracy can exist without any effective control over the economy of the country over which the elected officials nominally have jurisdiction. From a psychological standpoint I'd suggest most leftists who pretend Iraqis have somehow benefited from the invasion are simply in a state of denial. While they criticise the neocon elements behind the Bush Junta and Brown/Blair subsidiary in the UK, they somehow believe the US and UK are progressive forces for good, largely because they see progress in terms of the value system prevalent in trendy upper middle class circles of San Francisco, New York, London and Sydney. I can just see the likes of Peter Tatchell lecturing Iraqi students on sexual politics in a newly opened Starbucks in downtown Baghdad with Bono's U2 music in the background. Bono and Tatchell may have voiced their opposition to the invasion, but their idea of progress is very much the consumerist dystopia that made Bono rich or bankrolled Peter's lifestyle campaigns.

The third reason has certain appeals both on the hard left and within the Muslim community. To entertain this theory, we need to distinguish three groups, which many critics confuse, the Israeli government, the Israeli people and anyone with Jewish connections. The three are not the same, except many in the third category will tend to sympathise with policies and actions of the first, but that is not a given. Beyond doubt many of the key instigators behind the US/UK invasion had close ties with the Israeli government. I need not name names as this ground others have covered extensively. I'd consider this alliance little more than a marriage of convenience, but the inevitable Iraqi insurgence and growing instability hardly benefit ordinary Israelis of any faith. Not only does the conflict lead to greater migratory pressure to Israel's neighbours, but it fuels the civil war against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian terroritories. Some variants of the "They did it for Israel" theory claim Israeli business interests have their eyes set on acquiring vast quantities of real estate in a dismembered Iraq in alliance with Iraqi Kurd leaders. Now why would Israel want to extend its borders to include territory inhabitated by a largely hostile population in which Jews would be a very small minority? More likely is the thesis that Israeli military and business ventures acts a proxy for a wider axis of US, UK and other global interests. That Kurdish and Shiite distrust of the traditionally Sunni-dominated Iraqi regime has been manipulated is beyond dispute, but to extend its borders Israel would need an army much larger than the 200,000 odd US and UK troops currently stationed in Iraq. Israel is currently one of the most dangerous places in the world for practising Jews. Indeed many Russian Jews prefer Germany and most Iranian Jews have turned down large financial incentives to relocate to the Promised Land.

There are two ways to analyse power structures. One is simply to look at the ethno-religious composition of the world's elite and assume they act in the best interests of poorer members of their respective groups. However, a quick look at the world's leading bankers, oligarchs, multinational CEOs, corrupt politicians and other power brokers may reveal the over-representation of some groups and the other under-representation of others, but the gulf between this group and the rest of the world is several orders of magnitude greater than that between middle class Western Europeans and ordinary Ethopians. This elite comprises both the likes of Alan Greenspan, cited above, and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia as well as the CEO of Russia's Gazprom, Japan's Sony Corporation and India's Mittal. They owe no more allegiance to their countryfolk than is strictly necessary for public relations purposes.

However, there is another reason some prefer this Israeli connection theory to the much more obvious oil motive. They fail to believe the resources on which our high-consumption economy with a record human population are becoming scarcer, thus threatening civilisation as we know it. Many politcally correct utopian dreams rely on continous growth to accommodate unrestrained immigration to high consumption countries while others countries catch up with Western European living standards. Currently such a lifestyle depends on fossil fuels and the only realistic alternative that could hope generate anywhere near the same capacity remains the nuclear option. Faced with hard ecological facts, many leftists enter a state of denial, which in its extreme form may even lead them to refute the evidence linking human activity with climate change. Why? Because if we have to rethink our model of development and adapt to much lower levels of aggregate consumption, then, as Richard Heinberg puts it so succinctly, the party is truly over. While it's easy just to urge a reduction in consumption in wealthy regions, the obvious consequence is that the earth record population of 6.5 billion human beings risks rapid implosion. What is certain is that the more the wealthy few continue to indulge, the greater the resultant die-off.

Another analytical error common on the wishful-thinking left is the notion that the US/UK invasion of Iraq has somehow failed. This could only be true if we assume they wanted to bring about a stable and notionally democratic Iraq. They need the spectre of a civil war between rival ethno-religious groups, of an emboldened Al Qaeda and of the involvement of a Islamic Fundamentalist Iran to justify their continued presence. Indeed with the passing of the Petroleum Act and agreements for permanent US bases on Iraqi soil, the US presence there is very much for medium to long term.

They didn't do it for oil, but....

That leaves just one theory. It comes as no surprise that in BBC and CNN discussions on Iraq, oil is seldom mentioned in this regard. The Israel theory suits them fine, because they can then paint opponents as paranoid antisemites, who'd blame Israel for everything from global warming to cultural decay. They no longer entertain the first theory, preferring a mix of ill-defined geostrategic (national security) motives and selfish altruism. Many intellectuals in the public eye have long recognised this reality, but tend to qualify any oil motivations in terms of strategic control, i.e. "They didn't invade Iraq because of oil, but o gain a foothold in the Middle East so they stabilise the region in line with interests of US and UK multinationals." This is like saying "My wife doesn't work as a nude model for the money, but to stabilise our joint financial situation.". However clever such obfuscatory reasoning may appear, gaining control of oil producing regions is the same as grabbing oil, even if you do not use it yourself, but sell it to your competitors. Right now the US economy can source most of its oil from Mexico, Canada, Coolombia, Venezuala and Nigeria, but sooner or later without control over Middle East and Central Asian fossil fuel reserves the US economic model will flounder. Believe me if they could solve the problem by converting thousands of square miles to rapeseed plantations for bio-diesel or 4 metre tall Miscanthus elephant grass, they would. What peak oil deniers fail to recognise is the concept of EROEI or Energy Returned On Energy Invested. If you need to invest immense energy and reallocate vast swatches of farmland to grow fuel crops, it becomes little more than a temporary fix. The same applies to the nuclear option, it requires huge investment and hard-to-obtain uranium. It may be feasible for advanced countries like France with cosy deals with Uranium exporters like Niger to generate 80% of their energy this way, but if we used atomic power to replace fossil fuels we'd soon run out of uranium that can be easily isolated, all this without considering long-term storage, radioactivity, security and potential catastrophic accidents.

What if the US hadn't invaded Iraq?

In the short term the invasion of Iraq has cost the debt-ridden US economy dear. An estimated 250 billion US bucks squandered on one military venture could theoretically save millions of lives if diverted to third world aid. With over 300 US soldiers dead and certainly hundreds of thousands more Iraqis slaughtered, the left falls into the trap of considering this venture a failure. It may seem odd that just as the US prevented Iraq from selling its oil in Euros, the US dollar has fallen from €1.30 in 2001 to just €0.71 in September 2007, while the currency of resource-rich and sparsely populated Canada has gained significantly and for the first time in 30 years is about to overtake the nominal value of the US dollar. At the same time Russia is rising from a financial abyss. Suddenly world leaders from China, France, India to the United Kingdom, are courting Vladimir Putin and turning a blind eye to his government's human rights abuses, which actually pale into insignificance when compared to the true horrors of recent US military crimes or those of the former Soviet Union. What's more former Russian Oligarchs are fuelling the artificial property boom in London with their untold billions. Why? what's going on? How can supposedly advanced countries like the UK and US be at the mercy of Russia, Canada, Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia? Could it be because the immense financial wealth of the City of London and New York Stock Exchange will soon be worthless unless it can be translated into the commodoties we need to drive our high consumption lifestyle? Just think by 2010 Russia will be the primary provider of gas to UK homes. These countries hold the keys to the survival of the global economy because they are only ones remaining with a substantial surplus of material resources, but they comprise only a tiny fraction of the world's population. The big consumer nations, China, India, USA, Japan and the European Union will vy for these prized resources. If the US had not acted promptly to prevent its competitors from striking favourable deals with Iraq, it would have lacked the necessary military might in the region to prevent Saudi Arabia and Iran doing the same. The mounting chaos in Iraq provides a pretext for the long-term presence of US troops next door to Iran and Saudi Arabia with troops already stationed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Anyone denying the oil motive is guilty of the worst pedantry to avoid admitting the obvious. The US and UK have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to acquire control of liquid black gold to maintain, at least temporarily, their economic power. That makes New Labour politicians not just liars, but as they were no doubt aware of the true reasons for the invasion, guilty of greed, death and destruction.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/qcc2YXY-COc

Bird and Fortune couldn't have put it more succinctly

Categories
All in the Mind

A Very Human Animal

What is in your genes and what is not?

The nature versus nurture debate has long presented us with a false dichotomy as nurture, i.e socio-environmental influences, is very much part of nature. But many commentators have narrowed the definition of nature to refer only to genes, the mere blueprint or genotype that determines our potential subsequent development. To simplify matters, consider a newborn girl. Assuming she does not have pervasive brain damage, her future depends in large part on her upbringing and a multitiude of socio-economic and other circumstantial factors. Whether the girl becomes a university researcher twenty five year later or ends up as a prostitute roaming the streets of a foreign metropolis depends not on her inherent intelligence, but on the opportunities that arise in her life. Yet sadly the great advances in our understanding of human behaviour and intelligence are undermined by an obsession with behavioural or rather psychiatric genetics. Every day the mainstream media entertains us with news of new discoveries linking behaviour and facets of intelligence with genetics. Of course, in true PC form ther suggestion is seldom spun in terms of the genetic causation of intellectual superiority. and thus of ethno-racial superiority, but certainly takes us down that slippery slope. Is your child not doing very well at maths? Don't blame the teacher, TV, computer games or a culture of instant gratification, it is, or so we are led to believe, all down to his or her genes.

An Arithmetic Digression

Mathematical aptitude varies enormously among the general population. Some of us can perform amazing tricks with mental arithmetic. We probably paid attention in primary school maths lessons, learned our times tables and have continued ever since to make numerous conversions and comparisons. If I read the government has spent two billion pounds on something, before I scream what a waste of money, I work out how much that is per affected citizen. Thus if 2 billion were the annual expenditure on NHS-provided dental care for the whole of the UK, that would be fabulous value for money at just around £33 per UK citizen. Two billion is a very large number but divided by sixty million people yields a much smaller number, barely enough to employ a single dental assistant for an hour and without counting the cost of equipment, supplies and administration. Yet apparently some of us fail to reckon in such large numbers. The psychological impact of a Sun headline lamenting a government overspend of 20 million would probably differ little if the quoted figure were 20 billion, as your average casual reader just gauges 'a very large number'. Of course all this pales into insignificance when compared with the national personal debt of over 1 trillion (10 to the power of 12 or over a million millions), but that's whopping £16,600 per citizen or around £36000 per worker (all 28 million of us). Million, billion, trillion or quintillion? Who could care about the additional zeroes? The truth only a minority of us actively apply our minds to these problems on a regular basis, but could if the results justified the mental effort. Much is down to early training, but new skills can be learned with a slightly greater application of one's mind in later life too. If you understood basic concepts early on in life, you'll probably retain a comparative aptitude for number-crunching throughout your adult life. By contrast if you failed to grasp these concepts as a child due to lack of motivation, you might forever claim a natural or possibly inherited deficit in all matters of arithmetic and readily believe that the brains of number-crunching geeks differ fundamentally from yours, wired for managing relationships. Ever heard someone claim "I'm just not very good at languages", which basically means "As I can get by quite well in my own own language, I just couldn't be bothered to learn another. I'd rather apply my mental effort to something more rewarding.".

Precious little evidence reveals any biological basis for dyscalculia or innumeracy, in all but the most extreme cases with obvious intellectual deficits. Indeed numerical skills vary enormously across both cultures and historical epochs. Anglo-Saxon lacks words for number units greater than a thousand. Units greater than that are expressed with Latinate words like million, while Sanscrit-derived languages all have words for a hundred thousand (lakh) and ten million (crore). By contrast many languages of remote ethnic groups isolated from the rest of humanity until recently, lack words for numbers greater than ten or in some cases two or three. The entire Roman Empire was built without place-value notation or the concept of zero. Both modern decimal and binary notation use a place value system, e.g. 100 in decimal represents ten to the power of two, while in binary it represents two to the power of two or four. The ancient Romans used letters to represent the most common decimally rounded numbers and as a result the numeral representing 73 => LXXIII was counterintuitively longer than the letter C representing 100. Yet if we expressed all numbers in binary, few would confuse a personal debt of £100 0000 0000 (1024 GBP) with a corporate debt of 1 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 (1,048,576 GBP). If we were to express the World's human population circa 2000 in binary it would be staggering 1 0110 0101 1010 0000 1011 1100 0000,0000, plenty of room for cultural diversity without adding another zero. My point here is that systems of representation shape the way our brains process complex phenomena. A computer program to represent the geometric movements of a walking human being could in its finest detail contain thousands of instructions, but more commonly this is simplified by calling standardised routines, limiting the same program to less than a hundred lines. However, your average person performs this action apparently without any greater expenditure of valuable intellectual resources.

Culture and Numeracy

Are we to conclude that remote tribes of Papua Guinea with only basic numeration lack the inherent calculation skills that come naturally to ten year old Indonesian money changers, informing tourists in two or more languages of the exchange rate of their chosen currency (Euros, Yen, AUD or USD) in seconds, putting to shame most modern British school kids still struggling with their 7 times table? How do we explain that most British school kids circa 1960 had mastered their 12 times table before the age of ten and would learn to calculate the height of a tree in feet with a yardstick, clinometer and tangent table, while modern teenagers often struggle to accurately calculate how much change they should get from a tenner? Genetics explains very little here, yet arithmetic performance varies considerably. As a case in point, until nine years ago the world of programming remained a mystery to me. I sort of understood the transformation from rudimentary instructions into simple routines, which could then be handled as objects, but I would have struggled to interpret a simple Javascript function. Much that seems obvious to seasoned programmers appears quite daunting to otherwise intelligent newbies. Yet once you've got your head round one C-derived language, you can easily learn another. For me PHP proved a godsend (metaphorically speaking) because it let me experiment with procedural code and simple functions to produce meaningful and rewarding results. In the last three years I've transitioned to object-oriented PHP, Java, C++, Python and C# and am currently learning Ruby. At some stage something clicked. I successfully transferred a set of mathematical and linguistic skills I had developed for other purposes to a new domain. So I didn't learn vectors, matrices and quadratic equations for nothing in my high school years. All this dispells the myth that people are somehow born to excel in a given subject.

What Genetics does determine

We'd be mistaken to conclude genetics has no bearing whatsoever on the formation of our personalities and intellect, just that most of us have tremendous untapped intellectual potential, which will probably never be fully exploited except in the most fortuitous of circumstances. What exactly does a marketing consultant do, that millions of other humble souls cannot? He or she can simply offer experience and more important is well integrated into a network of like-minded professionals. I've personally witnessed project managers for IT companies give their mega-buck clients factually contradictory technical explanations, but embellished with fanciful buzzwords and pushing all the right psychological buttons. They are more concerned with persuasion, spin, public relations and perceived customer satisfaction than providing clients with key information about software development process. I've met a KPMG e-government expert who had no knowledge of HTML tags let alone XML, but could quote the percentage of businesses who use Microsoft Word (â„¢) to justify the premium rate office suite's continued use in the public sector where free alternatives are available. Yet without HTML tags the Web would be little more than a disorganised directory of unlinked files. Next time you buy a washing machine, ask the sales assistant what an electric motor is. Despite considerable dumbing down, I think most store assistants realise a washing machine needs one. Yet consultants, often earning way in excess of £100,000 a year frequently display the most amazing levels of ignorance in the very subjects, on which they are supposed to advise local councils. Why? Because they lack the motivation to learn such trifling details and can attain much better results by remaining faithful to their bosses and focusing on what we tend to call people skills and report writing.

So do we explain that person A became a high-earning consultant, and his sibling, person B, ended up teaching English abroad in second rate language school before retraining as a programmer? Do they have fundamentally different brains or have circumstances just programmed their respective brains to concentrate on different aspects of life? I would suggest that with the exception of individuals born with severe brain damage, our genetic differences determine mainly physical and motor-sensory attributes. While access to sports facilities and training play an important role in deciding who will belong to the next generation of tennis champions, undoubtedly a high proportion of us will never attain such heights of dexterity no matter how hard we try. In cruder terms the World's fastest sprinter can run a thousandth of second faster than the next fastest man and probably within one hundredth of a second of scores of other athletes who have undergone a severe training regime in their physical prime. That the difference in performance among the world's top athletes is so minute belies the conspicuous fact that this more than almost any other pursuit is the most dependent on genes and most prone to subtle genetic variations between different racial groups, e.g. most of the world's top sprinters carry genes from Sub-Saharan Africa, while most of the world's top swimmers are either of European or East Asian descent. Minor adaptations have thus led to huge differences in competitive sports within the same species.

Somatopsychic Affects

Many of use understand the concept of psychosomatics, the way our state of mind affects our bodily functions. If you feel depressed for whatever reason, you may change your eating and self-care patterns gradually losing the will to live or may succumb to the lure of recreational or psychoactive drugs with equally deleterious effects on your longevity. However, less well understood is the concept of somatopsychology, the way your body influences your state of mind and development of your personality. The two obviously interact in a vicious cycle, in which your sadness causes you to neglect care of your body, which changes the way others treat you and may fuel downward spiral of depression. However, we are not all blessed with a photogenic, hypersexy and athletic physique that may compete with today's role models. The media inundates us with images of what we should look like, which features are most treasured. Despite all the empty rhetoric about tolerance and diversity and just being yourself, if you lack the implicit qualities required to compete socially and fail to develop the necessary compensatory skills, life can get very tough. An extremely high percentage of jobs in postmodern postindustrial countries like the UK require either excellent client-facing or teamwork skills. Both require you to act out complex social rituals, heavily reliant on your cultural integration, sense of self and mastery of numerous gestures.

Using Genetics only when it suits an agenda, but downplaying it when it doesn't.

It comes as a perverse irony that today's corporate establishment adapts the genes versus memes debate to suit its own agenda. If it wants to sell mind-altering drugs, then emphasising the role of genes works best, but if it wants to sells cosmetic surgery, for some reason the role of genes is deliberately and counterintuitively downplayed. Otherwise those who need cosmetic surgery most to compete in a society obsessed with superficiality might claim state aid or guaranteed places of work. Thus if you have ugly teeth, acne, a slightly crooked nose, wrinkles, small breasts, a small penis or are going bald, you do not simply exhibit a perfectly natural variation of the human condition, but suffer from a degenerative disease caused in large part by your lifestyle or failure to follow the advice of dentists and social workers. Of course, diet, exercise and basic self-care affect your general appearance and health, but anyone whose travelled to the remotest and financially deprived regions of Africa only to see smiling people with gloriously white teeth should cast some doubt on the theory that bad teeth are caused solely by a lack of oral care. Like it or not, some of us are just blessed with ultra-resilient teeth. Some of us fall victim to tooth decay despite regular brushing and modest consumption of refined sugar, while others can get away with a relatively carefree attitude to dental care and still flaunt white teeth after happily devouring cakes or boozing all night long. As an inherently physical feature it stands to reason that teeth, hair, skin and genital organs are subject to genetic variations, all of which need not matter in a tolerant society that emphasises people's inner beings rather than their exterior manifestation. Maybe we should insist on TV presenters with stained and misaligned teeth, but once a critical mass emulates Hollywood looks, the sheeple will follow suit.

Multiphrenia

Over the last three to four decades our whole sense of self has metamorphosed. Kenneth Gergen theorises that the modernist, rational and firm sense of self has given way to a postmodern multiphrenia, in which we adapt our sense of self to the occasion as we engage with an ever-widening multitude of people in different locales and contexts, something known as social saturation. One markets oneself in the same way as one markets a consumer product.

Look at me! I'm youthful, into fun culture, have shining white teeth and a degree in project management and am fully trained in Microsoft Office TM. I'll impress your clients and bond with my colleagues.

We all love to declare our politically correct devotion to tolerance and diversity. Unfortunately this tolerance does not extend to those whom the system cannot fully exploit, somehow out of sync with the new social hierarchy unable to accept the superiority of the new class of people managers and manipulators.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Scientific Orthodoxy and Scientific Fact

Open letter to George Monbiot

I just read your recent piece (3 May 2007) on Alexander Cockburn's anthropogenic climate change scepticism and his reliance on one scientist. Let me first state that broadly speaking I'm with you on this one. Irrespective of our exact scientific interpretation, it seems obvious that the exponential rise in humanity's overall impact on our planet's delicate environment (consumption and population) has had some effect whose full impact only future generations will experience.

However, your approach equating climate change deniers with 9/11 truthers worries me for several reasons. The only thing the two groups really have in common is that they challenge the received wisdom as popularised by the mainstream liberal media such as the Independent and the BBC. However, let us be in no doubt the former group enjoys large backing from corporate lobbies and pitifully little support from grass roots activists, while the latter group receives only limited funding from a few isolated entrepreneurs, but much more support from a large grass roots movement including many relatives of those murdered in the 9/11 attacks. Indeed it cannot escape my attention that in another recent piece (Guardian, 6 February 2007) on the purported insanity of 9/11 truthers you favourably quoted a Counterpunch investigation to explain how intense heat caused by burning aircraft fuel could have distributed evenly along 400m long piles causing the towers to collapse vertically from the bottom rather than bend and topple at the point of collision. Indeed please just consider the long list of those who doubt the official conspiracy theory (in which Osama Bin Laden ordered 19 mainly Saudi Arabian hijackers to kamikaze passenger jets into strategic buildings of US military and financial power) includes not only David Ray Griffin, who has extensively dissected the official 9/11 report and answered just about every scientific point you have attempted to make, but also Richard Heinberg, auhor of the Party's Over, Democrat representative Cynthia McKinney, Michael Meacher and Andreas von Bülow, former State Secretary in the German Ministry of Defence. History teaches us that the establishment has never had a monopoly on empirical truth, but your reply to Cockburn's article focuses not on scientific analysis of substantive facts, but on suspect concepts such as “peer-reviewed†research or a “scientific consensusâ€. Peer review merely means that research has been reviewed by someone else in a position of trust employed by corporate or state institutions. Peer-reviewed research has been used to support the safety of genetically modified organisms with terminator genes, deny the side effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or claim that new behavioural categories such as ADHD have genetic or polygenic roots (cf. Jay Joseph, the Missing Gene). The overall bias of peer-reviewed research tends to reflect the vested interests and bias of its funders. Currently biotech and pharmaceutical multinationals represent a huge lobby perfectly prepared to spend billions in funding research and public relations to sustain whatever scientific thesis suits their interests. Pitifully little research money is channelled into investigating the psychosocial causes of childhood behavioural problems or the dangers of genetically modified crops, so dissident researchers are soon lampooned as mavericks or even as conspiracy theorists, whose work has not been peer-reviewed. If you go against the grain in today's world of intermeshed corporate, state and non-governmental entities, your work simply does not get peer-reviewed, little more than an establishment rubber stamp.

Second we should take a quick look at Alexander Cockburn's motivations. Honestly I think he's an old timer who sees progress in terms of extending to millions of the world's poor the same prosperity we take for granted. As a brand of commercialised libertarianism has accompanied this steady rise in material living standards, some mistakenly see progress as evolution towards society in the most enlightened middle class enclaves of the US and Western Europe. Consider the cultural microcosm of the aspiring intellectual elite who congregate in the Starbucks where I sit at the heart of a larger Borders store. Most would almost definitely consider themselves progressives, yet all are indulging in a form of politically correct consumerism, reassured their coffee, or at least some of it, is fair trade and very aware of most of the issues you raise in your regular Guardian columns. Indeed your books are often on prominent display alongside those of Naomi Klein. They have, if you like, been peer-reviewed or rather vetted as safe for public consumption unlikely to rock any boats.

Science does matter and it is surely too important to leave to a technocratic elite in bed with a historically deceitful corporate establishment.

By all means polemicise against climate change deniers, but please do so based on science and do not suggest that only an elite in the pay of big business and big government have a monopoly over scientific analysis. Despite all the rhetoric we hear from very mainstream political and business leaders, I do not see any abatement in orthodox economists' addiction to continuous material growth. The government are forging ahead with plans to expand airports and provide more gambling opportunities with an economy based on abstract financial, marketing and personal services nobody really needs. The same ruling elite who preach a “don't worry, be happy and trust us†philosophy, also invest millions in belittling, subverting and as a last resort criminalising dissident intellectuals. Just because some popular conspiracy theories are plainly wacky, does not mean all unorthodox perspectives should be tarnished with the same brush or are even conspiracy theories at all. Let us not forget in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair described the “war for oil†slur as a mere conspiracy theory circulating on the Internet. On 9/11 it is the establishment, not their naysayers, who entertain the public with a grotesque conspiracy theory defying the laws of physics. The establishment can no longer deny the reality of climate change, because you cannot lie very long about medium-term weather forecasts and the human impact on the environment is undeniable to all but the most hardened followers of Frank Füredi's Spiked Online sect (who incidentally agree with you on 9/11, but never mind). As for motivation, while it may seem superficially plausible that US imperialism in the Middle East may have induced a bunch of extremists to perpetrate atrocities against the civilian American population and some have hypothesised that US has been drawn into a war that it cannot win, copious evidence, which you have yourself quoted, shows that US plans to conquer the world's largest source of cheap and easy fossil fuels in the Middle East and Central Asia predates the first (Persian) Gulf War at a time when the US oil imports accounted for less 50% of domestic consumption. Their actions are entirely consistent both with their high-consumption economic model and with the peak oil scenario (which the likes of Alexander Cockburn and Greg Palast also deny). History is replete with examples of governments instigating and perpetrating atrocities against sections of their citizenry to engender a climate of war and hiding this reality from their own population. Without such levels of government deceit the huge crimes against humanity such as Nazi Holocaust or the largely forgotten forced famines in Belgian Congo, Ukraine or British occupied Bengal in 1943-44 would not have happened.

If we accept that Bush and Blair are not motivated by high humanitarian ideals such as spreading democracy and women's rights, defeating tyrants or ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, then we have to weigh the merits of two explanations for their behaviour: the systematic pursuit of power or inherent contradictions of our current model of development. I submit that the driving force behind the current wave of imperialist conflict is ultimately the latter, but inevitably engenders the former with increased levels of ferocity as supply fails to meet growing demand for limited resources on a finite planet.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Two add Two equals Five because Four is a Racist Number

Racism, or more correctly in most cases xenophobia, is matter of ethics. It seems fair to conclude that racism has no place in any caring society because nobody benefits from being victims of prejudice based on arbitrary ethnic distinctions. In the real world prejudice is a natural by-product of extreme variations in wealth, rampant materialism, heightened social competition and growing duplicity (namely the contrast between our anti-racist rhetoric and selfish behaviour). I doubt the Hotel Ritz has a specific policy to bar natives of Mozambique, but few Mozambicans could afford to stay there just one night if they saved up for a whole year. It's a club that cunningly excludes anyone who can't pay, but is probably surprisingly tolerant of any billionaires with genetic traits that may otherwise be subject to prejudice.

By comparison environmental sustainability is a matter of scientific inquiry. Naturally as our appraisal of the facts is imperfect, we may reach different conclusions. Supposing someone stated that "Britain's long term carrying capacity probably ranges between 20 and 40 million, because blacks are ill-adapted to our culture". The conclusion may be correct, but is not supported by the premise. The stated rationale is of course inconsequential to the matter at hand, makes an extreme generalisation, assumes the superiority of our culture and is as such patently racist. The country's carrying capacity is an equation of total human impact (population times per capita consumption), available resources and efficiency. As available resources can be temporarily boosted by plundering resources from other regions and the sustainability of new technology is open to debate about its side effects, different interpretations of the same empirical data may lead to different conclusions, but ideally not biased by emotions.

Now let's suppose I called a plumber to investigate a leak with water dripping down slowing through a tiny crack in the bathroom ceiling after a week of subzero temperatures. I may feel better if he informed that by simply filling the crack I could stop the leak. If, however, the leak came from a burst pipe and as soon as I turned on a tap downstairs water would come gushing down flooding the whole house, I should like to know. It may cost me £200 to employ the plumber to replace the burst pipe now, but that's still cheaper than several thousand pounds to repair any damage that may result from a flood. So an honest and dependable assessment would be in my best interests, however much I hate rip-off plumbers.

In the recent debate in the UK media over immigration and the fact the kingdom's population has just topped sixty million, liberal pundits have accused proponents of tougher immigration controls of racism, while the gutter press has highlighted the criminality of some sections of the immigrant community. So by this logic whether or not this archipelago can support a population of 60 million and continue to run such a huge trade deficit in food, raw materials and manufactured goods boils down to mere taste. Liberals are supposed to be supercool and tolerant of all things groovy, so we just need more immigrants enriching our diversified multicultural melting pot, while reactionaries selfishly hate all newcomers. Some are at least consistent in slamming the green movement altogether. Spiked Online, formerly LM Mag, has long advocated material and demographic growth as the only means to progress. In a 2005 Channel Four series on the immigration debate, one of Spiked Online's regular columnists, Kenan Malik, showed picturesque scenes of vast expanses of rural East Anglia to substantiate the claim that Britain could support millions more human beings. Viewers were not asked to consider how many hectares of farmland, woodland, raw material extraction (mining, oil drilling etc.), industrial estates and how many cubic metres of potable water each resident needs. The UK can only survive with its current population and level of consumption because we import most of what we consume and export a good deal of the pollution generated by our lifestyle. This is only feasible if other regions produce huge surpluses and are willing to buy services from us. The harsh reality is that the island's medium term prosperity is tied inextricably to global trade and, more specifically, international finance. Should the US economy collapse and with it leading multinationals responsible directly or indirectly for hundreds of thousands of the country's best paid jobs resulting in a crash of the housing market and mass unemployment, how could we afford to source the relatively cheap imports we now take for granted? Spanish tomatoes seem a better deal because fossil fuels make it relatively inexpensive to ship tonnes of refrigerated fruit and veg thousands of miles and store them for several months. With fossil fuel prices destined to rise as the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) decreases, we may soon have to relocalise our economy, using up every acre of available farmland. If predictions of dwindling per capita energy resources owing to the recently named phenomenon of peak oil prove unfounded and we have a bright future with nuclear energy and/or abiotic oil, then these assumptions had better be based on hard science rather than wishful thinking. However, wars of conquest in the Middle East and the behaviour of the world's superpowers (US and China) reveal growing competition over access to vital energy resources. The sum of two and two is easy to verify. Claiming it were five, would in effect redefine the meaning of five unless we were to conclude that 2+2 = 2+3. Likewise, the arguments of many neo-liberal apologists for global hegemony do not differ much. A scientifically flawed statement is wrong whatever the ethical rationale. They appeal to our emotional empathy with the plight of the poor to support the introduction of more cheap labour into a country with an artificially inflated economy.

"Britain's carrying capacity is much bigger than the current population because to suggest otherwise would be racist".

Again the premise does not substantiate the claim. If we are genuinely motivated by altruism, we might consider how best to help people in the regions of greatest emigration. However, even a cursory analysis of migratory flows would reveal a very different picture than just a continuous stream of new immigrants to wealthy countries. As cheap labour flows into the country, chiefly to help big business, more and more well-to-do native Brits buy property abroad, so Spanish, Cypriot and Bulgarian coastal resorts are filling up with ex-pats as Poles and Lithuanians flock to London, leaving whole communities in Eastern Europe deprived of their younger population and acting effectively as a brain drain. As a result the economies of many Eastern European communities begin to depend on income earned abroad leading natives to abandon agriculture and seek employment with export-oriented businesses reliant on global trade, locking them into a global system dependent on cheap fuel and technology controlled by a handful of transnational corporations.

Rather than foster a climate of reciprocal respect and tolerance, these trends further disempower local communities and generate growing distrust towards outsiders. Ironically the ruling elites play a shrewd game of sewing the seeds of xenophobia by shipping cheap labour to regions with higher incomes and suppressing dissent within native working classes through the imposition of political correctness. Fifteen years ago in the grim years of Thatcher's rule, many unemployed blamed the government or big business for their plight, but fast forward to 2006 and many unemployed are persuaded they have a mental illness or lack key skills that many new migrants have.

In all fairness it is xenophobic to demand more than the average global living standard. So if the world can only support 650 millions personal motor vehicles, we'd better raise our person-to-car ratio to 10:1 rather than the current 2:1. If current technology and energy resources can only supply each global citizen with 1600 kg of oil per year (based on 2001 figures), then the UK should cut its 4000 kg per capita to 40% of its present level, indeed to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels we'd need even greater reductions, unless we seriously believe that all 6.5 billion global citizens can sustainably consume as much as Western Europeans do.

Revised statement: "The UK's high-consumption lifestyle is xenophobic because it affords us with a bigger slice of the global cake than our proportion of the global population warrants".

Now that begins to make sense. Of course one could state "The UK can support a much greater population because genetically modified food, nuclear energy and outsourcing of all industry to Mars will significantly boost our planet's carrying capacity" which would make sense if the rationale were scientifically feasible. Likewise one could assert that "2 + 2 = 5 if the value of the number two increments by one after the plus sign". It's the same fuzzy logic.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Technocracy and Science

Science
Study of the physical world and its manifestations through empirical observation of natural phenomena and monitoring of systematic experimentation.
Technology
the study, development, and application of devices, machines, and techniques for manufacturing and productive processes
Technocracy
Power based on the control of technology in which scientists, engineers and technicians useful to the ruling class may enjoy high social standing and exert influence

Broadly speaking a better understanding of our physical environment, origin, capabilities and limitations helps us plan our future and learn from our mistakes. Science is applied to develop technology, but may also reveal its adverse effects. Technology may be beneficial or detrimental and have good or bad applications, while technocracy concentrates power in the hands of those who control technology. If we aim to build a fairer, more open and democratic society, scientific research is not just good but essential, while technology should be applied only if it enhances our enjoyment of life and benefits the long-term sustainability of society as a whole.

The short-term benefits of new technology may lead in the long term to conflicts over the distribution of resources, empower the masters of technological know-how and radically alter the fabric of society. Just consider the immense impacts of television and automobiles on wealthy countries over the last 60 or so years. Together they have discouraged communal transport and entertainment and encouraged mass consumption and the atomisation of communities and families. Many workers commute over 30 miles to benefit from lower property prices or safer neighbourhoods. Cultural life revolves around mass entertainment whether it's multichannel TV, radio, high-profile interactive web sites (which nearly always require a dedicated team of content managers), mass-marketed pop music, movies or pulp fiction. The tentacles of big business reach far and wide. Opponents of such developments are inevitably dismissed as luddites. Think of the benefits. TV educates, informs and shows parts of the world most viewers would never see. Cars broaden horizons beyond the parochial bounds of one's home village or town. Supermarkets provide a variety of food products local grocers could never hope to match and at more competitive prices. Sooner or later even traditionalists are driving to church, watching soaps on TV and doing the weekly shopping at sparkling new supermarkets 10 miles away. While we're lulled into a false sense of freedom, we have inadvertently empowered an even tinier elite to run our lives. Without fossil fuels, electricity and potable tap water our lives would soon grind to a halt. While consumers use and admire the wonders of technology, few can either create or control it. Our governments fight wars over resources needed to sustain a lifestyle promoted by the mass media.

Common sense holds that technology should serve people and not the other way round. We need a more thorough application of science and less blind faith in technocracy.